Monday, December 03, 2012

New Job + Update

Paul was accepted into a government-assisted program, which grants him a minimum wage salary to learn small business skills with other budding entrepreneurs. 

It was pretty competitive this year as they received 80 applications and narrowed the candidates down to 20. However, the first month has been a bit of a joke because the instructors have been focused on teaching life skills (i.e. showing up on time, learning to finance a car, etc.).  But Paul says the pace is picking up: the students are expected to register their businesses and apply for HST numbers in two weeks.

I've been working at an advertising agency called McLaren McCann. They're pretty well-known or so I hear (their sister company in Australia produced the "Dumb Ways to Die" viral video).  I've never worked in advertising, so it was a little intimidating at first. I'm in the TV/radio department, so I support the producers.  The job has come pretty naturally to me because of my experience as both an executive assistant and assistant director, so I can handle complex paperwork and understand the production pipeline. It's a one-year mat leave contract, so it's relatively short, but at least I'll have some agency experience under my belt, hopefully making it easier to find work after this. ("Agency experience" is a very big thing for recruiters; I've been turned down for not having any in the past.)

Anyway, so far, I really enjoy the job. I only got it because I had stayed in contact with someone I had worked with on that TV show "Being Erica" and she recommended me to her friend who happens to work there.  Her friend overheard the producers talking about how they were desperate to find someone to cover for the woman leaving because the person they had initially offered the job to turned it down. So the producers went through HR and received over 250 applications in two days, forcing them to pull down the ad. That's when my resume found its way to the department head's desk. She invited me in for an interview the next day and offered me the job the following morning. 

Good thing, too. My employment insurance application had been extended only a month prior to getting this job offer and I wasn't keen to see where I'd be once it stopped this upcoming March.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Anniversary weekend

Paul and I are celebrating our three-year anniversary this weekend and we're getting married!

Not really.

His parents brought up the subject when they asked when we'd be tying the knot. I told them all I want to do is elope at city hall and then take close friends and family to a fancy dinner. "But," I added, "we don't have money for dinner so we can't get married."

We updated the website with an engagement gallery today after meeting with a potential client who was interested in the full nine yards. It was interesting to see that she was unfazed by our rates. I felt it was necessary to change our pricing structure after determining that we'd like to cater to a more up-market clientele. 

As much as I adore our first couple (the bride and I are now friends), I want to limit our exposure to bargain hunters. Incidentally, those were exactly the sort of customers who contacted us when our prices were low. Our friends and family all suggested we offer rock bottom prices so we can gain experience and raise the prices over time. We chose to follow their advice, but it felt like we were compromising too much and it was a lose-lose situation all around. After speaking to more people, we realized that by nearly giving away our services for free (after overhead), we were helping to raise red flags in the minds of more discriminating brides. In essence, we were implying that we had something to hide or were too insecure to let the work speak for itself.

So we've concluded that there is little to no relationship between the quality of pictures and pricing. It really comes down to marketing, style, and customer service. Although Paul doesn't have many weddings under his belt, our "branding" materials are consistent across the board. We have a professional-looking website with matching business cards on quality card stock and we're also partnered up with a luxury album maker from across the pond.

Rather than selling ourselves short and trying to have universal appeal, Paul and I agreed to just let him be himself and focus on his strengths so we can stand out in our niche and target people who aren't making decisions based solely on price. Frankly, I don't want to start a trend of being recommended because we're the type to give deep discounts to secure short-term business. I know we'd both be disappointed if we delivered a bang-up job and someone said, "Yeah, our photographer was great and the best part? You can always haggle down the price." Although a viable strategy for people who want to make a quick buck and never look back, we'd like to build something larger from this.

Granted, our parents have told us to do anything and adapt to everyone's needs because we're missing out on a "goldmine". I tried to explain to them that if a bride wanted a photo booth service with kooky props as well as paparazzi-style photos on her very own red carpet (we've been asked to do both), it will dilute Paul's portfolio. Moreover, if he did hire a second shooter, he will not be able to guarantee consistency and quality, which will hurt his reputation in the long-run. And really, since that kind of stuff isn't Paul's expertise, who'd want to hire him anyway? It's simply unrealistic to scramble around, renting unfamiliar equipment and paying strangers off Craigslist, just to fulfill the odd request from brides who stumbled upon our site by accident.

Anyway, my mom thinks I'm talking crazy (she only cares about making money and how I'm missing out on all that money) and maybe I am. But it's important to me that our business has integrity because the lack of it helped underscore precisely why I hated my previous jobs.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Sisters! Why u so suck?!

An unedited email I sent to a friend, reproduced here:
My sister just came by and told me she wanted an iPad. "For what?" I asked. She says it's for school. She says her e-books [textbooks] are only available online and, to read it offline, she'll need to download an app for the iPad. 
I said, why don't you just read it on your laptop at home? She says it's hard to read and type up notes at the same time. I told her she was bullshitting me and that many people survive school without an iPad. 
She says she already asked mom and mom agreed. I told her not to exploit mom's ignorance about technology. She says her eyes get tired reading off a laptop. I told her, an iPad is a laptop with a smaller screen and no keyboard. 
Then I said, "You flunked out of school. You need to fix your study habits first before you reward yourself with a novelty gadget." 
She says an iPad will help her study better. I told her she can stop feeding me shit. 
Then she stormed out of my apartment and told me to fuck off loud enough for the neighbours to hear. I replied, "Get a job. Improve your study habits. Stop lying to mom. And learn to save money!" 
She retorts that she'll pay for it with her OSAP [student loans] money. C'mon! And she's studying business? Learn some budgeting skills. She has too many screws loose. I can't believe we share the same DNA. 
Oh! And she also tells me I'm out of touch because iPads weren't invented in my time so I don't know how necessary it is. Wow ... I'm old, stupid, and senile, apparently.

Now I confess, I own an iPad 2, but I told her it's not meant for long stretches of reading. I let her compare it to my Kobo e-book reader and the latter was considerably lighter and more comfortable to view and hold.

Backstory: My sister got kicked out of university after spending her sophomore year on probation because her marks were too low. She was accepted into a bachelor's program at a well-regarded college two towns over and started school last week. During our long-winded argument, I kept reminding her that it was her poor study habits that resulted in where she is now. (My sister's also the type to binge drink, wait in line at clubs, has no interest in current events other than celebrity gossip, etc. She's basically an airhead is what I'm saying.)

Paul says when we have children, I will be Tiger Mom material. (He'll be Panda Dad.) He's told friends that I don't take crap from anyone, including him. He respects this about me. But he also criticizes me for being too insistent for an admission of guilt. Paul says it's hard for some people to admit to mistakes even if they make a mental note to never do it again.

Granted, I would've had more respect for my sister if she admitted that she wanted an iPad because everyone else has one and she bought into the hype.  I also would've had more sympathy if she hadn't blatantly lied to our mom about needing one for school, knowing our family is experiencing some major financial difficulties. In fact, she told me only days ago the rent she collects from her roommates is barely helping her break even every month, and yet she wants to use her student loans to buy a stupid toy for herself? What has she done to deserve a pat on the back? Are people handing out trophies for stumbling home safely?

As you can see, our sibling rivalry runs deep. Even with six years between us and two decades to get used to her existence, we cannot be in the same room for more than an hour without fighting. She thinks I'm the biggest hardass and I think she's the biggest dumbass. If there is a god, he must be laughing because he gave me the hardest karmic hurdle to climb and I'm still at base camp.

Friday, August 03, 2012

Olympic-sized hurdles or: How job hunting is more nerve-wracking

The second interview with Disney Canada went well. HR called me in for the 3rd (and, one can only hope, final) round before making a decision. I was told they'd need someone by October 1, but if the candidate can start a month earlier, even better.

It's scheduled two weeks from now (due to vacations) and they've allotted 2-hours for me to meet the HR manager, the manager of marketing and promotions, as well as the director of the whole kit and kaboodle in consecutive time slots. 

I'm not nervous, but I am perplexed and hopeful that this job will pan out for me. (Perplexed because, uh, what the hell did they see in me?) It will require traveling to Florida on a near monthly basis to oversee and host PR events pertaining to Disney-owned properties (parks, resorts, and cruises).

I told my friend that the interviewers must have really responded to my energy because, on paper, I feel like I'm the least qualified out of the possible resumes they must've received. However, the hiring manager liked that I had a retail sales background; spent time as a print and broadcast journalist, and could converse in basic French. And though I had admitted that I had no formal or informal training in PR, she reassured me that it was much easier to teach someone how to do PR than it was to turn someone into a people person. (Good point!)

My friend Ray once called me the "ultimate schmoozer". Looks like those skills finally found a use.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Crappy Day

I woke up to the news of the massacre in Aurora, Colorado, and it broke my heart. As trivial as it sounds, as a teenager, I used to take mental notes of escape routes for imagined situations just like this. (I was mildly OCD and, of course, I have also been very fortunate.) But what happened in that midnight showing brought up fears I thought I had long gotten over. Movie theatres are intentionally engineered to sever you from the world. There are no windows and doors are discrete. Witnesses described the murderer shooting at people racing for the exits because there was no other way out. I can't even imagine the panic and confusion that struck these people. The gas canister produced a thick cloud that eliminated their vision and all around, their screams punctuated by the rat-a-tat-tat of bullets penetrating burning flesh.

Within that short span of time, the movie theatre - a bastian of escapism and community recreation - became a death trap and a living nightmare.

***

Paul shouted at me to watch out, but it was too late. I ran over a field mouse. He said he felt it under the wheels and observed it flying off to the side of the road. I went home and cried. To comfort me, he recalled an incident where he nearly hit a rabbit and felt compelled to return to the scene of the crime to clear his conscience. He said he saw a set of footprints on both sides of the street and held out hope that the cute bugger made it home alive.

Paul once stopped his car after seeing a mortally wounded baby raccoon. He stayed with it until it passed on and called Toronto Animal Services. The woman called him back once he got home and said they found the body. He broke down and asked her how she does it. She started crying, "I just take it one day at a time."

(My sister thinks we're one of those bizarrely close couples who could switch genders and still remain entirely unchanged. She might be onto something.)

Thursday, July 19, 2012

First date went well

I had a business meeting with a friend of a friend who introduced me to the senior editor at Canadian Living magazine for some potential freelance assignments. Shortly after our coffee chat, I received a call from Disney Parks Canada:

"Are you still interested in the PR position?" asked a sweet-sounding woman on the line.

"Yeah, absolutely," I replied.

She quickly scheduled a phone interview with the office manager and, apparently, I passed and am going through to the next round. The conversation went by in a blur. I don't remember ever having been this nervous for an interview before. The thoughts I wanted to express and the words actually slipping out of my mouth were so out of sync; I might as well have been experiencing an out-of-body moment. And since I couldn't articulate my thoughts as well as I could have, it made me even more flustered.

It didn't help matters that she prefaced one question with an apology and preemptively warned me about its breadth: "If we could go back in time for the launch of [a well-known animated blockbuster], how would you plan the event?" She wanted to know who I'd invite and why; what it would look like/what would it include, and how I'd wrap it up. The hardest part of that question was coming up with enough elaborate, yet purposeful, ideas to meet the standards of a global conglomerate with seemingly unlimited funds. On the fly.

I mean, the biggest party I'd ever attended was a friend's wedding reception two years ago. Girl had expensive taste (the undecorated space alone was $10K/night), but not even close to Mickey & Co.

I hope to make a good impression next week when the interviewer flies in to meet with the remaining candidates. There's a very high probability that I won't get the job because I don't have any real PR experience (I'd just crafted my previous experiences to match what the ad said), but the posting did say French language abilities and a journalism background would be considered an asset.

So we shall wait and see.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Wedding photos + rambling thoughts


Here's a sneak peek of our friends' wedding. Paul uploaded some photos of their big day on his website. Take a look!

***

Paul and I were walking home last night and he told me about this great start-up idea. Immediately, I dragged him into a bookstore and asked someone to direct us to the e-commerce section. She led us there and we got a-talking. Apparently, she's also a small business owner who started her own publishing company so she could distribute her own children's books. It was late, so we had to leave, but not before I gave her our business card.

Since last night, I've been brainstorming and reaching out to people in my network who might be interested in contributing to this idea.  We already know it's going to be a high capital, IT-heavy venture, so I made sure to emphasize that without discouraging them.  There are similar business models in existence in the United States, but they have some glaring flaws when it comes to dealing with international customers. Paul thinks there's a void there and power abhors a vacuum.

We're going to do some research and start pounding out a business plan so we have a better sense of what we're getting into. It's not enough to know that we need a lot of money; we need to know where it's going. I'm excited about this project because it sure beats sending out resumes and getting zero interest.

I'm not as freaked out about being unemployed as I was the last time I lost my job. I think it's because I have a better understanding of what I want to get out of life in general. Or more specifically, I know exactly what I don't want out of life and that's working behind a desk all day, vying for promotions, and hoping the money they give me quells the voice in my head that tells me how disappointed I am for not having contributed one iota to society.

My last boss was an overweight paranoid cokehead in her mid-forties. Everyday, she schemed and pointed her fat finger at anyone who challenged her authority. The executives were a bunch of bean counters with little appreciation for the creative process and ordained her as their dowsing rod to find profitable projects (from what I hear, no success yet).

After that experience, I've determined it's better to get by on rice and beans than support egomaniacs.  Ah, true communist at heart. If only that utopian ideal had prospered rather than have collapsed under the weight of its ineptitude.

Correction: I believe in the free market, but having seen so many banking scandals (including the newly unveiled Libor affair) and the subsequent complacency of politicians (they only do something when citizens throw enough of a fit), I realize not even capitalists believe in free market capitalism. That would mean too much risk. Instead, to quote a commenter at the New York Times, "It's command-and-control socialism for the wealthy, cut-throat capitalism for everyone else." Amen.

Saturday, July 07, 2012

This is screwed up!

So, I am a little obsessed with Rocco Luka Magnotta right now, not only because my media friends in Montreal are in a total tizzy over his story since he's, like, batshit crazy and his alleged lover/victim was a student at my alma mater and it's been picked up by the Chinese community.

Okay, those are pretty good reasons because I love a good scandal (especially one to which I have a tentative link, however remote). 

But I discovered today, right before going to watch a matinee showing of Magic Mike*, that my friend - sitting a short distance from me, sharing spoonfuls of her Jamaican peas and rice, looking at me with her big Persian doe eyes - had gone to high school with this now-infamous killer.

As I described to one of my other friends: "She said they used to smoke up together, he came from a fucked up family with a dirty ass house, then he moved away and went gay for pay."

Somewhere, somehow, something went wrong 'cause you don't start killing kittens and dismembering guys you meet online unless someone convinced you to stop giving a fuck about LIFE.

Also, a month ago, I discovered my cousin's high school boyfriend was murdered and they found his decomposed remains 11 months later on the side of a road north of the city. 

I was like, "Holy shit! How'd that happen?!" 

Details were not forthcoming. Apparently, three of his friends went missing a week after his body was discovered. They weren't suspects, so they didn't have a motive to run, unless ... they knew too much.

Damn! They don't make 17-year-old Chinese kids like they used to.

*Magic Mike left me with an afterglow. I need to find me a male revue to visit.

Thursday, June 07, 2012

Slow growth

Paul and I met with Phil, our new business mentor today. He's the VP of a commercial real estate conglomerate and said our business proposal was "bang on" in describing Toronto's current market conditions.  Although he also gave us some pointers, it was nothing we haven't already previously discussed or thought about on our own. But it's nice to get an objective opinion from someone with legitimate business acumen.  Phil also observed that we make a good team because while Paul is artistic, I'm the hustler. So of course, no sooner had we left his office, I received a text message from a former coworker asking me if Paul was available to take informal portraits for several board members of a mining company. I jumped at the chance and booked the gig less than an hour later. $300 for an hour's worth of work. Not too shabby.

It might be a good networking opportunity as well since most people don't usually get the chance to have their photos taken by a professional.  And I, frankly, want to aim for a wealthier demographic. We shall see ...

***

My birthday was this week. Received many, many well wishes from friends all over the world, including a phone call from my Swedish friend* currently living in Turkey.  She's been there for four years, working for an economic organization to help spread capitalism to the third world (latest target: Kazakhstan. She says it's worse than how Borat described it). Another friend, whom I met during my professional stint in Beijing, made the leap from television news to being an infrastructure and IPOD consultant (whatever that is). I know she comes from a pretty well-connected family: her mom is some kind of professional networker who connects people stateside to China and, I guess, everywhere in between. (In fact, my friend's [much-hated] cousins are socialites who are regularly featured in Vogue China.) So I think that's how she ended up doing what she's doing and making serious dough. 

I wouldn't say both of these friends are exceptionally happy, but both of them are similarly materialistic. That's not a value judgment. They're doing exactly what they need to be doing to support the values that are important to them. However, I must wonder if their seeming dissatisfaction originates from neglecting or denying their other values in pursuit of the most clear and obvious one. That's something I've been in the process of untangling through my own self-exploration, heavily supplemented by the book I'm reading called The Renaissance Soul by Margaret Lobenstine. I should have read this years ago!

I'm not a self-help fan, but this book has been a huge eye-opener. She not only describes why people like me are always itching for new challenges, but that we don't necessarily have to start at the bottom if we decide to take on a new industry. She gives really practical advice and encourages diversifying your skills, especially considering how volatile the job market is everywhere. Lobenstine also says that while it is important to focus on a few things at a time, you shouldn't feel pressure to commit to any of them.

The book really is empowering (and I realize how schmaltzy that sounds). I didn't realize I had so many sellable skills or there exists people who also have my brand of curiosity, indecisiveness, and craving for stability. Great book, I highly recommend it!

*We met in a History of Economics class. She used to crane her neck to see my marks since I consistently achieved an A+ average on assignments #humblebrag. I thought it was creepy and, being a journalism student, assumed economics majors were just hyper-competitive. Later on, I jumped to the possibility that she must've had a sapphic crush on me. Then I realized she only talked to people she deemed smart and good enough to be her friend. Don't get me started on the moral implications of that observation #morehumblebrag.

Friday, May 25, 2012

No wonder lawyers are the butt of jokes

On Monday, I sent an email on behalf of my parents to their (now former) landlord, requesting the return of their deposit.

I receive an angry email chain written by him and his lawyer describing our request as being ludicrous since he had to pay the bailiff to shut us out and he's lost income during this half-month ordeal.

So basically, the landlord increased my parents' rent by 40-percent (which is illegal, I hear), then locked them out with no prior written warning, then threatened to take us to court. When I called his lawyer to confirm all this, he said he'd throw us a lifeline: 

"We keep your deposit, you pay me a thousand dollars, and [my client] will agree to forget about the whole thing."

I was taken aback: That's blackmail! My mom says if he wanted to sue us, why hasn't he gone ahead and done it? He keeps threatening to do it.  When I initially spoke to his lawyer, I brought up that my parents aren't the most tactful because they're immigrants who have trouble with the language, so they can come off cruder than intended. He says, "I'm Hungarian and Hungarians like to bicker. But this is Canada, you have to do it by the standards of this culture."

I know the landlord already treated my parents like crap because they're "stupid immigrants," but they're fighters and don't take things sitting down. 

Initially, I was sympathetic to the landlord because I know how frustrating it is to deal with my parents. But the more I understood the situation, the more I saw it as someone who felt entitled to being a bully and wanted to beat my parents into submission. I don't care how crazy my parents can be, they don't deserve to be treated like this: they know their rights and their way around a courtroom. 

My parents retained a lawyer and plan to sue the shit out of them. "Who does he think he is?" my mom said. "A Chinese loan shark?"

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Stepping stone

Paul and I met with our photography clients today. The woman returned to Toronto from her studies in Australia, while her fiancé drove down from Ottawa to meet us. Although it might've started off as a business chat clarifying contract details, it ended up being a wildly entertaining, extended conversation with new friends. We got along great and she said she'd pass along our business card to her wedding planner.  There might even be an added engagement shoot in our future, if things work out in our favour. (However, they're not scheduled to marry until October.)

We need to push past this summer before we can honestly assess our business potential. The first wedding we've committed to is happening at the end of June, but this couple unexpectedly requested an engagement session scheduled for tomorrow, so there will be something new on the website sooner than we thought.  Hopefully, that will help bring in more Internet traffic.

My Employment Insurance kicked in yesterday, so I'm not nervously counting my pennies anymore as much.  Getting out, meeting new people, even writing on my blog, help alleviate the crushing weight of my depression.  Close friends and strangers tend to describe me using variations of the word "vivacious," but only Paul sees my frailties.   

Last night, we were supposed to meet some friends at a trendy hotel to celebrate the woman's birthday. (They were visiting from Massachusetts.) Paul has been a friend of her boyfriend's since high school. As I was putting on my party dress, I made the mistake of vocalizing my anxieties, which completely took over once we were on the road. By the time Paul started searching for parking, I had to forcibly blink back the onslaught of tears.

So Paul held my hand and kissed me sweetly until I stopped hyperventilating, made an excuse to his friends about not being able to make it, stopped to split a poutine with me, and drove our asses back home. I am grateful to have found a man with a tender heart and infinite patience who loves me as much as I love him. Because while I am the stronger of the two in social situations, he is the anchor that keeps me from floating too far away.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Remember the social contract

Omne trium perfectum. Everything that comes in threes is perfect. This, evidently, includes bad luck.

My parents were locked out of their store last week. The landlord increased the monthly rent from $3K to just over $5K. Although he didn't give them any prior notice, it would be more expensive to duke it out in court. So, after a series of unfortunate events, my parents are now forced to leave with the supervision of a $40/hour bailiff on the premises (a location they've occupied for the past 15 years).

Man, it must feel nice to sit back and evict whomever you like because you're not satisfied with the amount going into your coffers.  All I can do is shake my head and quote Jean-Jacques Rousseau:
"Man is born free, and everywhere he is in chains" (Of The Social Contract, Or Principles of Political Right, 1762).
Is it any wonder that the global protest movements (however undefined and, at times, willfully violent) are rising up in such numbers and frequency? It's as if there is a collective epiphany to rid the powers of their determination to keep lives, in the words of Thomas Hobbes, "solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short" (Leviathan, 1651).

We are experiencing an unprecedented technological revolution, yet roadblocks are put in place to prevent access to generic drugs, proper education, and environmental preservation.  Instead, these discoveries are implemented to computerize the banking system with little oversight, purchase costly and unnecessary fighter jets, and invested in the fight against wrinkles as if aging is akin to a disease.

Paul says I read too much and need to stop allowing what I read affect my life. I tell him I'm afraid to bring a child into a world that is in such turmoil. He says I'm not even close to being ready to conceive. (True.)  I tell him I'm afraid I will never have the earning power to take care of "it" and and nurture "it" and prevent "it" from becoming a serial killer with a penchant for sniffing women's panties.

He says I should take a nap. I think I need a vacation. But then I start worrying about my personal finances ... and the cycle begins.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Swan Lake: Live!

The Bolshoi Ballet is on the Toronto leg of their North American tour and Paul snagged us a couple of tickets. I've never attended a "real" ballet before (dance recitals, including my own, don't count), so I was super excited to finally get to see one in person.

The good: The costumes were breathtaking. I felt a lump in my throat within minutes of the curtain rising, that's how quickly it moved me to tears. The tutus were sumptuously embroidered with frothy layers of candy-coloured tulle and the dancers splayed their legs in the air like they weighed nothing at all. (Paul and I tried imitating their impossible leaps while walking the dog.) Everything was perfect except ...

The bad: I was disappointed by the director's decision to use blue LED lights during the swan maiden sequences. Not only did the lack of contrast tire out my eyes, but they strobed every time the swans were re-introduced so the dancers had a noticeable red "shadow" around them, like you were looking through 3D glasses.  The blue also flattened the stage so it was difficult to distinguish the dancers and follow what they were doing, since they were all wearing white and the background was a black translucent mesh illustration. In other performances I've seen on TV and elsewhere, the lights did not change the dancers' skin tone and costume.

I was also a little disappointed by the ballerina playing Odette/Odile. She didn't have the precision I expected from the Bolshoi, like current principal dancer Svetlana Zakharova (below):


Granted, Svetlana's abilities are unmatched, but I shook my head a little when my swan tried to hold her position en pointe and kept wobbling to stay upright. I admit I can't even come close to doing what these ladies do, but I also didn't get dressed up to see the world renowned ballet company showcase poor balance.

I mean, check out Svetlana playing the black swan:


The video quality's not great, but you can see the precision in each move. What I saw today was someone who looked very tired. Although people shouted in approval when she completed the infamous 32 fouettés, again I couldn't help noticing the wobbling. I was expecting more of this:


Moral of the story: Blue lights make me grumpy!!!

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Thoughts about the economy

My friend Jon asked me to explain to him the role of credit rating agencies in the global economy.  It got me thinking: I sure have a lot to say about the global economy even without a finance degree.

I posted this video on my Facebook wall last night and commented that, "it has become more apparent than ever why people need to opt out and live simply. The Greeks are right to fight against complacency and eternal servitude. If increasingly austere measures are the trade-off for more loans, then it's time to revert back to the feudal system and call a spade a spade."

The Northern Hemisphere was thisclose to an economic catastrophe back in 2008, yet Canada's Tories think our slightly more regulated banking system shields us from the worst of the storm. But as that video details (her dad knows good PR!), Canada is at the mercy of private banks, too.  Although credit is an integral component of modern-day capitalism, why must they be doled out by banks with investment branches created for the sole purpose of making more money? It boggles the mind how companies are capable of quickly moving billions of dollars across borders and how quickly they can lose billions of dollars out of sheer stupidity and hubris.

I once scheduled a meeting between Jamie Dimon and my then-boss, which was preceded by a fancy luncheon on Park Avenue in New York City.  I coordinated the trip with another JPMorgan executive and it had the feel of a casual stroll to the Oracle of Delphi (although we all know the real oracle lives in Omaha).  I think my boss went there looking for investors, so I understand the importance of loans to help build and expand businesses (empires?), but must they be so excessive and destructive to the point of enslavement?

Only twelve years into the new century and the whole world has run afoul. It really is a shameful time we live in. On a personal level, I am taking jobs out of desperation, which atrophy the skills I was trained to do. On a macro level, the European Union is on the brink of breaking apart due to the unchecked greed and naive optimism of those fluent in jargon. Everywhere you look, youth employment is pitiful (though there's no shortage of Baby Boomers and Gen X'ers arguing laziness is the cause).

Canada's Finance Minister Jim Flaherty spoke out recently about putting strict conditions on Employment Insurance -- yes, insurance that employees and their employers pay into. He seems to think it's a government welfare program. Hey, Jim? Rather than forcing people to take jobs that are across the country for shitty pay, why don't you increase the minimum wage so people don't have to rely on desperate measures? What an SOB.

This is Canada, for fuck's sake! The land of hockey, maple syrup, and... uh, political cronyism, apparently.  I can't believe this is the country I grew up in: The authoritarian rhetoric, the corporate shenanigans, the anti-environmental discourse, and the place where wealthy investors (rather than immigrants with actual skills) are welcomed.  Ugh ...

As general as this sounds, I've always maintained the 1980s is to blame. Those were the formative years for people now in charge and its values -- work hard, play hard -- stayed with them long past its expiration date.

New blog

I've been editing Paul's blog entries since its inception, but now I'm helping him write entries, too. Here's the link to the first one as a contributor.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Blog facelift?

Paul says my blog template is out-of-date and out-of-shape ("... but charming!"). I kind of like that it's prehistoric in Internet-terms. A former friend designed it for me back when we were in high school. I wonder where he is now? Making millions, probably (see: Arty Ziff).

It's sort of tragic (and frugal!) that I've kept this journal going for so long, using it to work out my myriad issues instead of expensive therapy (coincidentally, Paul's dad is a psychiatrist). Speaking of Paul's dad, he thinks it's stupid that young people need university degrees nowadays to be an office bitch. "Why do you need to go to school to be a secretary?" he asked, not expecting an answer.

"They're called receptionists/coordinators/assistants nowadays," I said. "I just saw an ad requiring a college or university degree to be a babysitter."

Paul says his parents are getting more and more impatient with him since all their friends' children are moving on with their lives. (His cousin already has two kids.) My mom calls me nearly everyday, pleading with me to go back to school: "Employers will respect you more. Make mommy happy, go to law school!" Oh yeah? Let me jump right on that. Sign me up for more short-term fixes and long-term burdens.

My best friend, LL, is currently in NYC working at a corporate law firm to pay off her debt incurred at Harvard. She plans to quit in a year or two to pursue more human rights-related cases. (That world is so beyond my sphere of experience, it's as if I'm reading a sci-fi synopsis stored in a particularly strange-looking book jacket.)  Anyway, she said she met up with alumnae from her alma mater and these ambitious ladies all had graduate degrees. (Please hold the side of surprise.)

"Maybe you want to think about getting one?" she suggested. The thing is, these women are all professionals and getting another degree is simply another accepted (expected?) convention on the road to, I dunno, ultimate power? World domination? A water tower filled with jewels and gold coins? (Hell if I know what goes on behind those shiny mahogany doors and Prada dressing rooms.)

I know everyone means well, but it's difficult for me to reconcile my belief system and the one based on an implicit paradigm that equates good grades with personal success. I did well in school, but a 3.8 GPA could not have done less for me. (Maybe life would've been different if I rounded that shit up: "You do good in school?" "4.0, sir." "Here's a handful of money, meet me on my yacht.")

My sister is dropping out of university soon. At first, our family cut her some slack because her friend died in a freak accident the summer before freshman year. However, this is her second year and her grades just aren't picking up. (Funny, 'cause she had the grades to get into this prestigious school.) She does the readings (and I believe her), but nothing's clicking. She didn't have the marks to stay in her major and only Geography would accept her when she switched (my mom insisted that she get a degree, any degree at this point). But even that isn't helping her stay on track. She's terrified of telling our parents.

I told her, Fuck it, you're not meant for university.  I know she's done some event planning and enjoyed doing it, so I told her to use her student loans to get a college certificate for that and start her own damn business. "That way," I said, "you don't have to take shit from no one." (Granted, she has a lot more tolerance for shit-taking/-talking than I do.)  I think it's better for her anyway. Her people-pleasing prowess was getting on my fuckin' nerves. It was rendering her impotent in making her own choices and turned her into an arrogant, mouthy know-it-all (oh right, a teenager).

Thursday, May 10, 2012

We have pro-lifers in Canada, too!

Paul and I saw this billboard last week when we made a pilgrimage to Justin Bieber's hometown. We both did a double take. It's not the sort thing you commonly see in the big city, but I guess it's blasé out in rural Ontario? 



I don't agree with the message (really? The Holocaust?), but you have to admit he's better than Don Draper in knocking out a message. All that sign needs are some glitter stars to send it back to Geocities, circa '98. Hear that Tourism Canada? Here's evidence that the Great White North lets loons be loons! Sell it!

P.S. We also went to an alpaca farm. Sooo cute! We call this one Bob Marley.

Tuesday, May 08, 2012

Christian Dior - "Secret Garden"

Although Chanel has over-referenced "Last Year at Marienbad" (1961) in recent campaigns and collections, Dior's fresh take is modern and commercial.  It's also a nice introduction to the clean lines headed for Dior under Raf Simons's creative leadership.

Depeche Mode was an inspired choice of music, although the band was probably selected for its name as the association is too cute to be a coincidence.

Job search

I had a meeting with a recruiter yesterday about a proofreading opening at a newswire service. The pay was shit and she was trying to be slick. "I have a hard time reading you," the lady mentioned at one point. "I can usually see where I stand with people, but you're very focused." Yeah, I'm focused about not getting screwed!

Later that evening, I turned down the gig. Don't you hate it when you're getting fucked and they tell you it's an opportunity? Like, lady, don't tell me I get full benefits; just give me more money so I can eat. "This is a place you start your career," she repeatedly claimed, like it was making her wet every time she lied through her teeth. I asked about high turnover and she reached for her glass, quickly shifting her eyes away from me. Judge Judy says you're talking baloney!

I'm looking for jobs, but I'm also being more selective. I don't mind a little bit of administrative work, but women tend to be grouped together as super organized keeners and I'm not built for that.  (Seriously, when do you ever see men filing papers and baking muffins for the whole staff?)  I don't know how many times I've seen my bosses receive cakes and candies from promotion hungry cronies.  Can't do it, I just can't play that game. Makes me nauseous, likely gives me gas, and reminds me how much I don't belong in the restrictive corporate hierarchy.  (That, or I haven't found a job that allows for much, if any, autonomy.)

I've been editing Paul's entries on his photoblog lately.  I enjoy it because he writes like he's submitting a Ph.D thesis, so I help him dumb it down.  It puts my skills to good use, and I get to do whatever I want without obeying some incompetent overlord. (Except Paul's pretty dreadful at remembering to do stuff too, but at least I can withhold sex. Kidding!)

Thursday, May 03, 2012

Another stint in unemployment

I got fired from my job as an executive assistant. Again. This time, I was at least given a reason.  My boss made a request for six Comic Con tickets.  Matt, our LA contact, told me he had permission to ask our former parent company for only one or two (since it was embarrassing enough to crawl back to them for help). She responds: "We're an animation studio and we can't get six tickets for me? I want six tickets!"  (This trip wasn't even business related.)

So I wrote back the now-infamous email: "[My boss] is adamant that she wants 6 (!!!) tickets. Since I don't have a firm grasp of the limitations/obstacles you're facing, would you mind speaking to [her] directly? I tried to explain that registration ended in February, but she's insisting …"

Matt got mad at her, sent my email to our company prez, who sent a nasty email back reprimanding her for her behaviour. In the crossfire, I was fired because my email was "disrespectful" and thus, disloyal. It didn't help matters that when I, upon her request, forwarded my email to her, I edited out the last sentence in fear of offending her (as she is sensitive to real and perceived slights) and my omission was easily discovered.

I had a feeling that I was signing my own proverbial death warrant when I sent that email because, although relatively benign, it was clear my contempt for her was struggling to escape in nearly all my daily correspondences. The whole studio secretly calls her a "3-year-old with a hand grenade," a perfect descriptor of her childish tyranny ever since she was promoted.

When she broke the news to me, she also said we didn't "click" and hadn't "clicked" in a long time. In my defense, it's hard to develop chemistry with someone so self-absorbed and narcissistic. Although in her defense, my work had been slipping lately and I was making stupid mistakes.  Part of it was because I was dissatisfied with my job: the description had changed drastically after she got her raise. I was more her personal assistant (e.g. cleaning out old food and dirty utensils from her desks and running errands) than an executive assistant (e.g. production-related work).  Simply put, I was bored and didn't make an effort to improve. (I was searching for jobs on company time for a couple of weeks by then.)

***

Paul received his acceptance into a business mentorship program today. Basically, it means the organization has found a match for him in the community who he'll meet once a month and produce a report for every month for six months. I only know of one entrepreneur in my circle of friends (and we're only acquaintances), so I think this will be valuable guidance for us as a photography venture.

Every time I look at a list of career possibilities, I become restless, anxious, and scared. I know there are no shortage of people who hate their jobs or don't have one, but for me, it's an internal ordeal. I was reading the recent Vanity Fair excerpt about Barack Obama's early life after graduating from Columbia University and it was so relatable! He was also drifting from job to job that paid the bills but held no meaning until life grabbed him by the balls and took him to Chicago (where the first Black mayor was elected earlier that year) and the city had a need for community organizers.

I feel like maybe getting fired is that sign; the clouds opening up and the angels crying, "Hallelujah!" My job wasn't difficult (my boss was, but not the job) and I know people at that company who had way bigger responsibilities. And yet ... I couldn't hold onto it. Maybe I'm not meant to hold on to it - I wasn't happy anyway. 

Wednesday, April 04, 2012

Paul's blog now up and running


Another day, another baby step. Paul finally picked a Wordpress theme that satisfied him and launched his photography blog.

(On the left is a photo he took at a friend's wedding.)

I think it'll be good for him. He plans to make it a forum to share his thoughts on photography and film. He also talks like a nerd, so he asked me to help him edit his entries (or contribute entire posts).  Although I think the dual voices might make an interesting mix of technical babble (his) and irreverent enthusiasm (me).

Someone called him with a wedding request today and he has an interview with a local wedding photography company next week (which he got after I took pains to persuade him to cold call a list of downtown studios).  It's like pulling teeth, trying to convince introverts to do anything! I love him, but it's sometimes exhausting having to teach him the basics of negotiation and banter.

I mean, he's a beautiful man, but I told him half-jokingly that just because he easily catches the attention of gay men doesn't mean he can wing it with women.

To be honest, if I could, I would quit pursuing my career to work with him full-time.  We make a great team so I really want this to happen for him.  I was also born into a family of entrepreneurs, so managing a business and writing cheques (literally and figuratively) would be the ultimate dream.  After years of freelancing gigs after university, I realized it's important to develop skills that would allow you to make a living especially during lean times.  I graduated into a recession and remember going from job interview to job interview, competing with people with two decades of newsroom experience under their belts.  So I made ends meet by teaching piano at studios located in different cities, just so I could earn enough to get out of my parents house.

Paul has a gift, but he needs to learn how to monetize it. That's where I come in. I'm an impatient person by nature, so I'd be lying if I said he figures things out at a seemingly slower pace.  He's no fool, but I think his social anxiety has been a major hindrance. He's improving though. It's like once he does it and feels his way through it, his nerves no longer bother him.

Saturday, March 31, 2012

Life goes on

After months of ups and downs, Paul has finally decided he's had enough of the film business (for now). He launched his wedding photography website this week. So far, he's already received some casual enquiries. That's a good sign, right? I told him the first year - hell, the first 5 years - will be an uphill battle, but hoping someone will have the decency to pay you for an honest day's work isn't a sure fire way to live your life either. He's talented, but he needs to exploit that for his own gain rather than someone else's.

As for my job, my contract will be extended once more. I'm really enjoying the transition to supporting the (now) senior vice president of production. She manages all the creative aspects of running an animation/VFX studio and I've been allowed to see and hear things rarely accessible outside the inner circle. It's been a real eye-opener.

Although I get paid a decent salary (i.e. enough for me to own a home - with some help - and live modestly in an expensive city like Toronto), it's the mentoring opportunities that's really keeping me interested. I've rarely encountered someone in this job market willing to train from pretty much the ground up. In fact, my boss never even looked at my resume during my interview (I found it last week stuffed in her drawer with a coffee ring on it). She went with a gut feeling, recognizing that perhaps my freelance background mimicked her own career path. In any case, she has been promoting a philosophy of promoting from within. I've seen many people transition into different roles during my short time here and I strongly believe there's room for me too (although I really enjoy where I am now).

A lot of friends are getting married lately and some already have or trying to have kids. Most of our friends are either in their early- or late-twenties, so I've seen how the economy has prevented them from escaping the tail end of an already extended adolescence (including me). We have trouble securing a first job, we take longer to settle into a career, and we wait longer to find partners and, eventually, have children. I told Paul he no longer has the luxury of securing something he loves -- he needs to create his own opportunities and git 'er done! There is no perfect job; just gelling with your coworkers is enough to be happy. I tell people that my teenaged self would've told you that I wanted to end up in something creative, but I resolve challenges everyday in creative ways without ever having to hold a paint brush or carving tool.

I think I'm just more realistic about where self-contentment comes from. Until you're confident in yourself and genuinely appreciate your own contributions (to society, life, relationships), you'll always feel like you're undeserving of big dreams. It's why children from wealthy families end up successful. Sure, family connections and nepotism might be at play, but these folks don't stay relevant for long (for the most part). I've read that children who grow up in comfortable or affluent households rate their abilities higher than they actually are. This confidence, misplaced or not, is the root of their self-determination.

I see it in my and Paul's vastly different upbringings. His parents, like mine, came to Canada with the expectation of a better life. When that did not come as planned, they followed the rules and tried their best to assimilate. His dad had to go through medical school all over again only to become what he already was in Soviet Russia. Paul was a shy kid and his parents sheltered him from discomfort and potential pain. Taught him to be polite and never impose, especially on strangers. So he never imposed and shied away from attention because that was the "right" thing to do. He was told that school was the path to success, so he enrolled in another four-years of university again. His parents didn't want to see him disappointed, but they also didn't offer him alternatives because, frankly, as part of the intelligentsia (four generations deep) they didn't know of any. They're pragmatists, not hustlers. They need all the information before making a decision.

My parents also came to Canada and toiled for many years, but by the time my siblings came along, my parents had instilled in me the belief that with hard work, nothing was impossible. (That, of course, was just another narrative delusion.) They're lifelong entrepreneurs, not intellectuals. My dad's the king of "faking it until you make it," the ultimate salesman. For instance, he once talked his way into being a cobbler without any experience mending shoes. When his employer confronted him, he said, "That's how my last boss taught me. Why don't you teach me your way?" He was also offered a job as a bus boy at a Chinese restaurant after he'd already opened a chain of stores just to fuck with the maitre d', who had mistook him for someone fresh off the boat. My dad played along and acted so grateful and the maitre d' was quite pleased with himself, having offered my dad something like three bucks an hour. Later, the restaurant owner told the man what my dad actually did for a living and had a good laugh at his expense. (As for my mom, she's a real hustler: she might not be able to debate the finer points of geopolitics, but she can squeeze out a dollar every time she takes a shit.) Anyway, instead of telling myself someone was better than me at doing something, as a kid, I'd ask, "Why not me?" During a trip to Italy at 17, I had no trouble talking to a pair of retired chemistry professors while my mom's friend shirked away, embarrassed by her own lack of formal schooling. Due to my uninhibited socializing, I met a range of people from all walks of life and these contacts became invaluable in my job search because I felt like, yeah, I can easily sustain a conversation with these successful people, therefore I can be successful, too!

So I dream big because I've been in its periphery, but nowadays, I just want to get on with it. I wish Paul had more confidence in himself because I know his talent can only carry him so far. If he had it his way, the rest would be up to me.