Proper Placement

When we went on our epic trip to South America several years ago, we decided to rent out our home . . . about a month before we were leave. This forced us to clean out some stuff and pack away everything else for storage in a mad dash. After living in the same place for over a dozen years, we had naturally accumulated a lot of stuff. Moving out was a good exercise – it forced us to get rid of things we hadn’t used, or hadn’t gotten around to getting rid of before, like a broken filing cabinet, our CRT TV, etc.

Now we’re doing the same thing again. Some boxes were never unpacked since our South America trip! This time, there’s less stuff to purge, since we got rid of the obvious ‘low hanging fruit’ last time. But with longer advance notice, the process is slower, since I can be deliberate more about that to keep or discard. This is not a good thing: I feel like I’m dragging things out, and in the end, it’ll be another frantic mad dash to finish it up.

Last time, we knew we were coming back within a year, so we kept all our furniture and appliances. This time it’s long term and long distance, so it requires a different approach in deciding what to keep and what to discard. There’s also a timing issue: some items I am still using (bed, tea kettle), so I’ll have to wait until the last to get rid of them (and hope I’ll find a quick taker). Others like the pressure cooker I haven’t used in years I could sell now on craigslist.

I’d read both Marie Kondo’s  The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up and  Spark Joy. One of her premises is to keep only things that spark joy in you. Even if they don’t have a practical use, you can still keep them. Conversely, if something is functional, but doesn’t spark joy, you should get rid of it anyway. Regrets, swung both ends of spectrum.

OCD: One personal hang-up is slowing me down. Some items have worth and value and value to me, and while I could just give it to a thrift shop and forget about it, I want it to go to  a good home. This isn’t even a pet I’m talking about, but inanimate objects. Yet I feel concern for its welfare even after we part. It’s a bit like leaving a job under amicable circumstances: you hope the person after you will take care and do well in those tasks that used to be yours, even after they are no longer your responsibility. Legacy issues.

I want the my discards to go the appropriate someone or someplace where it will be appreciated, used, and even needed. Even things most people would simply throw away, I try to find a use for them. I want to recycle things and avoid adding to landfills.

Finding the right recipient for different things takes a lot of work and thought. Which one of my friends would like it or could use it? Who has tastes or interests which are similar to mine? What good cause/charity would take it? It’s an obligation and a responsibility.

I have been foisting things on people. My friends are probably cringing each time they get an email from me “Hey, want a . . ?” But I also don’t want my discards to become a burden on others. Problem is I’m at that age where most of our friends already have their own established households, and/or trying to get rid of de-clutter/ downsize also, so they don’t want to take more stuff!

Sometimes I give something to a friend who wants it, which makes me happy, yet slightly guilty because I know they have too much stuff cluttering their home and I’m adding to the problem! I sold an insulated teapot and a set of nesting colanders to an acquaintance. When I went to drop them off at her house, I was surprised by how much stuff she had piled up around her place. She’s really into cooking, so I’m sure she already has a teapot and a colander. But these were really nifty versions, so I knew she would also appreciate them.

My four main avenues to discarding: (1) emailing/talking to our friends, (2) Freecycle (an online bulletin board for giving away stuff for free), (3) craigslist (both for selling and giving away for free), and (4) donating it to the appropriate charity.

Some of my recent adventures in discarding . . .

Lonely Planet books (travel guides):


I had a hefty collection of LP’s, now very outdated. Still I’d kept them because I thought one day I would write up travelogues, and use them then as reference. And sometimes it’s fun to read the descriptions of how things were before they became how they are now. Neighbourhoods they didn’t mention or even told you to avoid, which have now cleaned up/gentrified, like Times Square. Restaurants that have since closed down. (I don’t like the new format of Lonely Planet, it’s not as informative as the older layouts. Nowadays, I tend to check out the latest editions from the library, rather then buy them, to save money and space, since I still like browsing hard copies.)

I did an email blast to my friends who are afflicted with wanderlust. I was quite surprised when I got quite a few takers for the books. It’s amazing how some destinations are so in-demand. Every one wanted Pacific Northwest. Europe locales were popular too. No one wanted Venezuela . . . or Brazil. I guess I don’t know anyone going to the Rio Olympics. (I ended up never going to Venezuela.)



I collect bandannas and use them for travelling. They are versatile, multi-purpose, decorative, and keepsakes all in one. A makeshift towel, a jaunty scarf for my neck, I can also tie them up to bundle gummi bears or pinon nuts.

The recipient was a no brainer: Fifth-graders at Lincoln School for science camp, where bandannas are used as lunch plates, i.e. ‘crumb-catchers’. Last time I chaperoned, I had brought along one extra bandanna, for just-in-case. But there was more then one student who hadn’t brought a bandanna. So now those ten bandannas can be spares for future science campers.

Bike water bottle:

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I spent $13 mailing a bike water bottle worth $2 to Hong Kong! Yes, I am THAT anal. But Pat really wanted a pull-top water bottle. “Remember those palmolive dishwashing liquid bottles?” he asked me. When Pat takes his dog for walks in Tsimshatsui, he rinses the spot where Brownie has done a number one with water. Pat is a very, very responsible pet-owner. So I gladly sent it to him.




Holey socks and ratty old T-shirts with fraying collars that thrift shops won’t want because no one would want to buy them:

I had accumulated a lot of them to use as cleaning rags, but I don’t clean often enough! A friend of a friend of Anne’s collects them for a group who will use them as stuffing for the pet beds and toys they make for a local animal shelter. It warmed the cockles of my heart that I was helping unknown Fidos and Fluffys out there. And I still have holey underwear to use as cleaning rags.

Ironically, when Marcella organized a crafts booth at Zoe’s school last year, she recycled the stuffing from a dog bed that her dogs had torn up, for the students to use in making pumpkin pin-cushions.


It’s hard to get rid of winter things in the summer – people don’t think about unseasonable things. I foisted a couple of them on Anne. One she liked, because it’s machine washable. The other was a cashmere one I wore around the house quite a bit. She didn’t really want it “I’m a sweatshirt person!” but I persuaded her that come winter, she could wear it under a sweatshirt, and she’d thank me for the warmth and coziness!


I discovered there’s a non-profit program called Prisoners Literature Project here in the Bay Area. They will take all old dictionaries, thesaurus, current text books, self-help books, how-to books (especially drawing/art) and books by/about people of color, because there’s a constant demand for them amongst the incarcerated. You can drop them off in the hidey-hole under the stairs at Moe’s Books in Berkeley, so it’s very convenient.

This is a case of giving your items to someone who really NEEDS them rather than just casually wanting them. You might be able to sell such books, or you could donate them to a thrift store where eventually someone would browse and buy them. But those in jail who are trying to improve/educate themselves would most appreciate them, since their access to books is most limited.

I emailed one of the project coordinators to double check what they would and wouldn’t take, because I didn’t want them to be burdened with things they couldn’t use. Hardback books are generally a no-no, because they can potentially be used as weapons? There wasn’t as much demand for books by/about Asians – not too many people of yellow color in the prisons around here, I guess.


In my 20’s, I liked visiting art museums, and buying postcards of the works of art in the museum that had spoke to me. I also bought postcards of tourist attractions, since often they looked better than any photo I could take with my 35-mm camera. Now I had too many. But who needs postcards nowadays when you’ve got smartphone cameras and digital mail?

Perhaps prisoners could use them to send notes to their friends/family outside of prison? I consulted PLP again:

“Thanks for thinking of us regarding your postcard collection.  Because we’re a ‘books-to-prisoners’ group, we don’t receive prisoner requests for postcards; but we do get plenty of requests for art books (particularly drawing & painting).  If you’d kindly donate a shoebox or small filebox of postcards, we could tuck them into packages, along with the art books.  I don’t think we’d be able to take more than a shoebox full. As you suggested: Please omit any nudes. FYI, prisoners seem most interested in drawing and painting (representational, not abstract), and sometimes copy the work.  Few have access to sculpting materials.”

I could understand PLP being a little wary of getting too many postcards, if they didn’t get many requests for them. I sifted through for censorship, keeping Manet’s Le dejeuner sur l’herbe and Matisse’s La danse II. I had enough to fill one of the Lindt boxes in which I had stored some of my collection.

“OK, the postcards will be in a small pink chocolates box (less than a shoebox) at Moe’s,” I wrote back.

“Thank you for giving prisoners a gift much more valuable than chocolates!”

I never thought about that. If I were in prison, would I long more for art postcards or chocolates?

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A teapot missing its lid:

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This garnered 5 wanters on freecycle! (I suggested using it as a planter, which is what I used it for, for a water-based creeper plant.) Maybe that did the trick: a bit of copywriting to give people ideas of desiring something they didn’t even want.

There’s a reason why I’d kept it for so long. I used to use this a work. I dropped the lid and broke it at the office on September 11th.



TV tray tables:

I think it was the strawberries that did sealed the deal.

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It takes some effort to sell stuff on craigslist: not only do you have to write a compelling-enough description, but you have to stage it for photo, setting up the lighting. Lots of people are selling the same item you are selling on craiglist, so how do you make yours stand out other than low balling the price? I’m convinced my TV tray tables sold quickly because I put a bowl of strawberries on top of one in the photo . . . and my description said “Strawberries not included.”

Wooden blinds:

We replaced our kitchen blinds recently. They still worked, the wood slats still in good condition, but the paint was starting to flake off from countless sunny mornings. I didn’t want it to go to landfill. Perhaps someone could use it for a Burning Man orcraft project.

Things I give away for free get posted on freecycle. Things I sell go on craigslist. Having no takers on freecycle, so I posted it on craigslist as well, since that gets a wider audience. I had 2 takers. I offered it to the first respondent, who volunteered that he would use it for gardening, either as a trellis or shade structure.

He also offered to give me some tomato and pepper seedlings in return, which was icing on the cake. I wasn’t looking to get anything for the blinds, being happy enough they weren’t going to a landfill. I asked if he had basil instead. I had made caprese salad last week, and bought a bunch at Milk Pail, forgetting that I should have gone to Trader Joe’s instead to buy a plant for a little more money.

He wrote back:

There’s a quote “Every time it’s different and every time it’s good” I read in a BBC magazine interview about making pesto that’s stayed with me. I think it says so much about basil – how can one not fall in love with basil and the art of making pesto.

Yes I do have couple basil plants remaining but it’s not doing well (think it was too cold). I’ll bring them and also bring some seeds. Unfortunately I mixed fhe seeds by mistake during harvest last year and I forget which one is which (3 kinds – I think Italian Genovese basil is the smaller black seeds).

You meet some pretty thoughtful people through random craigslist transactions.

A blue cheong sam:

Other people I know have the same philosophy as I do in wanting their discards go to someone they know, rather than a complete stranger, in which case, they’d rather keep it themselves even if they have no use for it.


My step-mom was culling some old clothes, and came across a blue cheongsam, a gift she’d never worn. It was polyester brocade with flowers, the type you’d find in souvenir shops in San Francisco Chinatown selling to tourists.

I accepted it, more to relieve her of clutter, rather than to wear it myself. I ended up foisting it on my cousin on my mom’s side and mailed it to her in Minnesota. She has two daughters and two nieces who might have fun playing dress up in it. There’s no Chinatown in Minnesota, so I think they would appreciate its exotic Chinese-ness more than people in California.

Black patent leather rainproof boots:

I gave them to Truc. We have shared memories of the boots: I got them at Bloomingdales, when we were on a trip to New York. They fit her. I’m glad she has them now, I’ll be able to see them again.

Tall purple suede boots:


They are flat and comfy, not “slutty”, an impulse buy from Nordstrom Rack. But I understand that they are not to most people’s taste. I offered them to two high-school age girls (daughters of friends), but no takers.






I’m going to stop writing here, and stop procrastinating, as I have lots more stuff to get rid of, and to pack. Well, actually, I’m going to procrastinate some more and go cook/bake.


Lagniappe (2013-) 2014

1. Blurred Lines    Robin Thicke featuring T. I and Pharrell
Was admittedly apathetic to this when first heard on Beats Pill commercial.

2. Fernando    ABBA
Visited the ABBA museum in Stockholm this fall. Flashback to Fernandomania.

3. Camino de Rosas (Road of Roses)    Alejandro Sanz
Very taken with his raspy voice.  The ‘plot’ in the music video is mildly hilarious.

4. Boys of Summer    Don Henley
Saw our first cover band concert—Eagles, at an Indian casino of all places. (This track might be missing from some of the hard copy CDs).

5. “O Moon” from Dvorak’s Rusalka (opera)    Renée Flemming

Optimism of anticipation before cold hard reality kicks in. Big fan of Renee Flemming. Watched the Met Opera broadcast this spring; and got to see her in Capriccio in Chicago.

6. Olive Tree  橄欖樹 (gan lan shu)    黃江  Huang Jiangqin
Cousin-in-law Wei Long Tao (Yan’s husband) performed this at a concert for the Chung family reunion in Vancouver that was a birthday party for 3 family members celebrating their 90th birthday. When I heard the original version as a child, I thought it was sung by Teresa Teng, but it’s actually 齊豫 Chyi Yu. I also found out that the lyrics were written by San Mao 三毛, who had also translated Mafalda (my favourite/ a famous Argentinian cartoon) from Spanish to Chinese.

7. They Don’t Know    Tracey Ullman
Song in Arizona café brought back memories of Rodney on KROQ pushing this then-Fox star.

8. It’s a Hard Rain’s A Gonna Fall    Leon Russell
We went to Yoshi’s with Bill (who knew Leon in high school!) to see him. 
Prior to his concert, the only song of his familiar to us was another cover of this Dylan song from Born on the Fourth of July.

9. Me Gustas Tu    Manu Chao
From the ipod of a travelmate in Salar de Uyuni in Bolivia. But it was Matthias (my cousin from Switzerland who was doing a school stint in Chile) who told us the name of the singer.

10. Chop My Money    Henhouse Prowlers
Bluegrass cover version of a Nigerian hit by P-Square, which we discovered on NPR while on road-tripping through Nevada on our way back from our Canadian (Jasper and Banff) and American (Glacier) Rockies national parks trip.

11. Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)    Tanghetto
Bought cheap tix to a performance by this electro-tango band in Salta, Argentina. Fortuitous discovery. Best 25 pesos we spent on whim.

12. Vivir Mi Vida    Marc Anthony
On days when we didn’t hear this song in South America, it felt like something was amiss

13. I Believe That We Will Win
Props to Navy on this cheer, not the US men’s soccer team nor San Diego State.

14. Seven Nation Army    The White Stripes

We watched all but 3 matches of the 2014 World Cup.

15. Cadillac Ranch    Bruce Springsteen
Requisite soundtrack while visiting this Amarillo, Texas attraction.

16. Bailar Contigo (To dance with you)    Carlos Vives

Part of our South America soundtrack memory. The plot of the music video is sweetly romantic.

17. Serpentine Fire    Earth Wind and Fire
Opening number in Buenos Aires concert of tribute band led by original EMF member Al McKay.

18. ต่างใจเดียว  (tang jai dieow)    ละอองฟอง La Ong Fong
Discovered this group on the Thai music channel on a trans-pacific flight!

19. Darte un beso    Prince Royce

Part of our South America soundtrack memory

Holiday gift of company and time

I’ve been very lethargic this past holiday season. We didn’t do a Xmas newsletter at all.  No lights went up, and neither did the advent calendar. We did the lagniappe rather late. 

I made Joe do all the shopping for Christmas presents. That’s pretty drastic, considering how he loathes to shop. But I still got what for me is the best part of Christmas: wrapping the presents. I love raiding the stash of used gift-wrap from previous years to wrap new presents in the vain hope that maybe this will be the year the recycled stash will be depleted and we would be forced to start using virgin new gift wrap next year. The challenge of gauging the just-the-right size paper for the item, without too much excess to avoid trimming it down.  How to strategically positioning the paper to minimize the sight of creases, rips and scotch tape scars, etc. Editing the old label on the wrapping paper so that it says “To From Joe; To From Linda”

But I did feel a bit guilty for being so Scroogey and Grinchy; so in a fit of desperate inspiration, I came up with the following gift certificate letter . . . which I have only managed to send to half of my intended recipients (folks who would normally get an Xmas letter from us.)

Friends and family who got this reacted so fabulously, I’m publishing it here as well. If nothing, I figured it was the gift of a chuckle. I did two versions, one for friends/family, and a more sedate version for work colleagues.  I thought about doing a version for out-of-town friends, i.e. there are some things that can only be fulfilled in person. But it was hard enough to get around to posting this here . . .


Seasons Greetings!

This Christmas, I’m not getting you anything that can be gift-wrapped, because I have no ideas whatsoever for the perfect gift for you. I’m lazy, I’m cheap, and I can’t overcome my anathema of Christmas carols played ad nauseum in stores. Besides, you’re better off without the reindeer mug with petrified peppermint-hot-cocoa mix, pungent bath salts, or the snowflake-shaped candle, which I could have resorted to, if I caved in to the convention of gifting for the sake of giving.

Instead, this greeting/message represents a far better alternative for you: a gift certificate of my time. Time is money, but the currency I offer you is my invaluable assistance, my undivided attention, my entertaining company, or some priceless combination thereof. The side-benefit of this offer is the chance for me to spend quality time with you.

We all have busy schedules. We are also isolated, by distance, or even by bad traffic and poor transit. It is that much harder to make the effort and time to spend with each other. It’s ironic because I make a living making transportation system improvements.

Redemption of this gift certificate is by your request to me at any time in 2013, subject to my ability and availability, and whether it will be sanuk (fun) to fulfill your request.

Below are some examples of redemption: this is not an exhaustive list. You may request other items or favors for my consideration. (No illegal or unethical ones. Morally dubious, maybe.)

  1. Trip-planning: you need ideas on where to go, what to do, and where to stay in (fill in name of country I’ve been to.)
  1. You need a ride to and from the dentist for your wisdom-teeth extraction.
  1. Your delayed flight from Shanghai arrived at 3 AM at SFO. Transit has stopped running. You may call me up for a ride from the airport.
  1. You spotted your ex at a party with a new partner who is twice your height and net worth. You may bawl and/or bitch to me, and I will commiserate with a sympathetic ear. Even at 3 AM. (So long as I’m not picking up someone from the airport at that time.)
  1. You need to vent about your work-related issues: pointless bureaucracy, clueless colleagues, excessively long meetings. I will commiserate with discretion.
  1. You need help decoding a menu or map that’s in Thai, Chinese, French, Spanish, Italian or German. (Accuracy not guaranteed.)
  1. You want to attend an opera/Amharic poetry reading/Monster Truck Jam, but can’t get anyone to go with you.
  1. You need to deliver something via sustainable transportation (bike, transit, walking.) I may subcontract this to my friend Anne.
  1. You need a ringer for your trivia team.
  1. You need someone to volunteer/work at your fund-raiser event. I will do so with charm and efficiency. (Fulfillment subject to my approval of the cause.)
  1. There’s a unique restaurant you really want to try and you can’t get anyone to go with you because it features bizarre ingredients (all ingredients start with the letter ‘v’) or an unusual setting (involves climbing 7 flights of stairs.)
  1. You need a bridesmaid, or a secular marriage commissioner at short notice. (The former is conditional on the dress.)
  1. You’re trying to decide if you should take the new job you’ve been offered, stay at your old job, or start your own artisanal toothpaste business. I’ll listen to, bounce ideas, and analyze with you. (Results, however, are not guaranteed.)
  1. You need someone to do the swim portion of a triathlon a training buddy to bike, swim or hike with you. (I ABSOLUTELY do no running.)
  1. You want to take a class in music sight-reading/foraging for mushrooms/Bollywood dance, but can’t get anyone to sign up with you.
  1. You need to put together a menu for a ten-course Chinese banquet, where the diners will include one vegetarian, two people allergic to shrimp, and one person who will eat nothing with onions or eyes.
  1. You need help editing your writing: resume, memoirs, grant proposal, etc. (For the latter, I’ll even throw in checking the math.)
  1. You need help harvesting produce from your backyard. (Especially if some of it is going to a local food bank.) If you need help weeding, I will subcontract this to my grandmother Lydia.
  1.  You need a babysitter for 3 hours while you and your partner go on an adult date. (I will not change diapers. However, I will let your kids jump in puddles – you are forewarned.)
  1. You’re looking for perspective on being only child, the superiority of fruit at farmer’s market over supermarkets, why black is a terrible color for clothing/accessories, the advantages of regular soap over anti-bacterial sanitizer, why you should always carry reusable chopsticks and swimming goggles, etc . . . I’ll give you an earful.
  1. You need someone to explain and discuss the birds and the bees with your pre-teen.
  1. You want to travel on your dream-trip, but can’t get anyone to go with you – visiting forts in Rajasthan, hiking to the bottom of the Grand Canyon, a week in the Hermitage in St. Petersburg, a road-trip across the lower 48. (But if it’s the Taj Mahal or the Forbidden City, you’re out of luck.)

Happy New Year 2013! 


Movies revisited

We caught some movies over the break: bought used versions for ourselves, and others as gifts which we got to watch anyway.

Napoleon Dynamite: I got this as an Xmas gift for Joe. He likes the one-liners; I’m just enthralled with the solo dance routine. “Can we just fast forward to that scene?” I asked. No. My 4th-grader niece asked “How come everyone in the movie goes around with their mouth open?”

Strictly Ballroom: I guess I’m dating myself when I think of this as the romantic/feel-good/chick-flick movie of my niche generation. I love the Australian camp of early Baz Luhrman . . . along with . . .

Priscilla, Queen of the Desert: The flip-flop dress! Guy Pearce went from this to Ed Ecksley in LA Confidential (another one of my favourite movies)

Princess Chang Ping (Dai Nui Fah): I got this for my mom-in-law, a Cantonese opera. The duet in the final scene is about the only Cantonese opera song that is universally known: even I know it! The story is about the last surviving daughter of the Ming Emperor (who forced his wives and children to commit suicide, and then followed suit himself as the Manchurians invaded China). It was nocely done: M-i-L liked it. My dad-in-law and I could barely follow along the plot even though there were Chinese subtitles on the bottom of the screen.

Once Upon a Time in China III (Wong Fei Hong III) – I got this for my dad-in-law. It’s fun watching the older HK production films that featured the younger and sprightlier Jet Li (or Jackie Chan or Chow Yun Fat), as opposed to the Hollywood films that never quite ‘got it’. This particular one of the franchise features the interesting chicken and centipede ‘fights’ in a different take on lion dance-fights.

A Christmas Story: I didn’t like this movie the first time I watched it, at my cousin Terry’s, who really liked it. But it grows on you . . .especially when TBS showed it repeat non-stop for 24 hours.

Lagniappe 2008

This year, they were mostly Joe’s picks . . . .

1. Life In Technicolor – Coldplay
For those of us burnt out on Viva La Vida
2. Paper Planes – M.I.A.
Featured in Slumdog Millionaire
3. American Boy (Feat. Kanye West) – Estelle
Someone actually likes us Yanks
4. Tequila Makes Her Clothes Fall Off – Joe Nichols
Heard uniquely country lyrics on radio in San Diego over Thanksgiving.
5. Gold Digger – Kanye West Feat. Jamie Foxx
Ray Charles’ inspired hook.
6. Big Time Sensuality – Bjork
Think Wayne’s World
7. I Walk The Line – Johnny Cash
Pretty much sums up Celia’s work (paid and unpaid) this year
8. Bang The Drum All Day – Todd Rundgren
Plans delayed by the recession.
9. Juke Box Hero – Foreigner
Not surprised this is on Guitar Hero.
10. Low [Feat T-Pain] – Flo Rida
We couldn’t remember exact lyrics during trivia contest.
11. Boiling Frog – Pat Wynne
Another one of those songs you catch radio surfing in the car
12. Heat Wave – Linda Ronstadt
80+°F in November in Bay Area. Al Gore is grinning somewhere.
13. Nine Million Bicycles – Katie Melua
Beijing population: 17 million humans; 3 million cars. Now, about those Olympic blue skies . . .
14. Disturbia – Rihanna
Her overplayed “ma ma se, ma ma sa, ma ma coo sa” song was another trivia question
15. Suburbia – Pet Shop Boys
Inclusion here motivated by previous song title.
16. Subdivisions – Rush
Word association game continues …
17. Crazy – Willie Nelson
Might be the most country songs we’ve ever put on these CDs.
18. Joy Spring – Clifford Brown & Max Roach
Because we’re in need of good cheer . . which can be found on KCSM
19. Islands In The Stream – Bee Gees
Not the usual falsetto and some different lyrics from the Kenny and Dolly version.
20. New Soul – Yael Naïm
Apple’s replaced Gap for annual catchy commercial tunes.

On the nightstand recently . . .

These books were pretty good . . . Why? They almost inspire me to do the things that they do, like travel, write, run (yuck!) and draw cartoons (can’t)

Paul Theroux’s Ghost Train to the Eastern Star
Amy Chua’s Day of Empire
Harumi Murakami’s What I Talk About When I Talk About Running
Lynda Barry’s One Hundred Demons

Ghost Train is Paul Theroux’s retracing of the journey that started it all in The Great Railway Bazaar. Definitely stirred up the travel bug in me. To ride trains end on end, with the luxury to read and read and do little else. . . .

Day of Empire is based on an intriguing concept: that empires were successful in part because the rulers practiced plurality and ‘tolerance’ for the various ethnicities/cultures/ religious beliefs of the peoples being ruled over. Chua uses several overly simple (and contrived) historic examples to make this point, and how it applies to the world today. I don’t know enough history to come up with examples to refute it, although I’m sure they exist.
On a mundane level, I see it as affirmation that Silicon Valley’s dominance and prosperity as an economic ’empire’ is due to its multiplicty of restaurants, so that you could go a whole month without eating the same type of cuisine twice!

I don’t like running. And I’ve never read any of Murakami’s work. But this book is about writing as much as it is about running. As a wannabe writer, of course I’m interested in how successful writers do what they do. It’s making me want to write again.

Lynda Barry: There’s more to her than Marlys!

The yin and yang of my work

So I’m currently commuting to Oakland for two part-time gigs that add up almost to full time. By coincidence, they’re in the same building. I didn’t arrange it this way, it just happened. So every morning I step in the elevator and have to consciously think about which floor button I will push.
It also feels a little odd that I have a desk at each, but I have to either stock each of the desks with the same item (i.e. upstairs tea mug, downstairs tea mug), or go up/downstairs to retrieve an item (cell phone charger, commuter coffee cup) from my other desk down/upstairs!

These two agencies happen to be sister agencies, or maybe sibling rivalry would be a better description of their relationship. They both cover the same territory, work with each other, and even have some similar programs. But it’s interesting that their corporate culture is very different. One is more feminine, the other more masculine, so I’ll call them Company Yin and Company Yang.

I first got the gig at Yin as a subcontractor staff for a specific program area. Yang was a place where I used to work a long time ago. One of their staff was going to be on maternity leave, so they called me into substitute for her, which I agreed to, with the understanding that I would not work on any program areas that would pose a potential conflict with my work at Yin.

So it’s been a couple of months now, and I’ve been realising some of the differences between them. I don’t think I prefer one place over the other, in addition to the qualities listed below, there are other things that impact my opinion. I’m just sharing my amusements with them both here.

Yang: Soda pop. Chocolate cookies with nuts and burnt toffee bits (which are absolutely irresistible)
Yin: Water (from a dispenser). Fresh fruit.

Yin: Gouache paintings done by MFA types like those in art galleries, but with transportation themes like biking, walking, etc.
Yang: ‘Motivational’ prints of the type you see hawked in the SkyMall catalog, landscape photos with captions like “Drive”, ” Excellence”, etc.

Yang: dark
Yin: light

Yin: very outward focused on public outreach/communication/input and awareness
Yang: tends to self-driven, they go ahead and do things their way

Yang: mostly engineers/male
Yin: mostly program managers/female

Yang: hard to come by
Yin: hard to come by

Yang: Male
Yin: Female

The funny thing is that even thuogh I’m working on different topics at each agency, my paticular project at each is on the same trajectory: “we need to develop a new program, so (1) research what’s out there, (2) see what the clients would want, (3) sort the options based on short, medium, or long term, (4) make some recommendations . . . I feel like I’m in a weird deja vu ‘Groundhog Day’ cloud.