Book Review: The Winter of Our Discontent

January 15, 2009

200px-johnsteinbeck_thewinterofourdiscontent1

The Winter of Our Discontent

John Steinbeck

 

What an amazing time in history in the United States to rediscover the classics.  Steinbeck’s “The Winter of Our Discontent” is just one such classic to rediscover during these dynamic global economic times.

 

Steinbeck’s main character, Ethan Allen Hawley, begins his first quarter century of life renowned for his simple, honest living.  After a series of events and in an effort to please his family with wealth above all other things, Ethan succumbs to many types of economic speculation.  While his reputation as an honest man remains in tact, his friends’ lives become “up for grabs” and his family begins to exhibit behaviors increasingly dishonest.

 

Steinbeck ends his novel with an ambiguous ending, with either resolution resulting in tragedy.  One thing is for certain, the extreme ending indicates Steinbeck’s predilection which demands a cataclysmic change in perspective in order to prevent more lives lost in New Baytown.

 

The novel eschews idleness, dishonesty, and speculation.  Steinbeck prevails in communicating that the American Dream is possible, and that most have already discovered it.  Steinbeck also admonishes his characters who believe that the American Dream demands idleness, dishonesty, or speculation.

 

The Winter of Our Discontent describes 1960s America as a country typified by all small towns coming down from industrial changes and growth, and ultimately leading up to the Presidential election which would lead the country further into a recession in 1961, the year Kennedy was elected and so ensued the Bay of Pigs.

 

Reading good literature such as Steinbeck’s works is a great way to use leisure time while under the grips of our current recession.  Not only is it a productive use of one’s time, but since good literature is fiction, it can give us insight into the hearts of those great minds who experienced tragedy before we will have.

 

In the current recession we are bombarded with news reports of dishonesty and speculation not limited to the Blagojavichs and Madoffs of this country.  But let’s all take some tutelage from Steinbeck and realize that now is NOT the time to continue to profit off of dishonesty and speculation, but to use our idle hours to create simple, honest lives which cherish family, friends, shelter, and occupation.

 

Let’s be grateful for that which was brought on through simple means and blessings that we already have rather than lament that which we lack.  Let’s celebrate what our honest, righteous living has provided us, and motivate ourselves to continue living as such in order to achieve more.

 

And if our dishonesty has provided us more means and blessings, let’s alter future tragic histories and make examples of ourselves by returning to a more honest existence.  In fact, let’s celebrate those who commit to honesty and commit to doing better.  Let’s use Ethan Hawley’s story as our example.  Ethan lived an honest life, and even though he continued to have his honest reputation, his dishonest actions created more loss than anything he might have gained through speculation.

 

Now, more than ever, is the time to be honest about our discontent.  Now is the time to lay an honest foundation under which we will create the long-lasting contributions we so desperately need to give to this world.  This book review and blog entry seems incredibly esoteric in that there are no actions steps on how to survive and thrive during our dynamic economic times typified by our current recession.  We must only challenge ourselves to do better; we must compete to be increasingly honest with one another.  Our thoughts must dictate our honest words and our honest words will dictate our honest actions.

 

Let’s celebrate character rather than celebrity.  Let’s celebrate what we have not lost through honest actions rather than lament what we might gain through dishonest action.  Let’s all use The Winter of Our Discontent as an inspiration to create the world we want our children to inherit.

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I am so sick and tired of my clothes…

January 14, 2009

This is a stock photo, not actually my closet

This is a stock photo, not actually my closet

 

 

 

Have you ever been sick of your wardrobe?

 

Nothing fits right, things are too lose, too tight, or have lost their shape!

 

Currently, I’m in the middle of this closet battle.  Last May, I spent about $300 on clothes and shoes to last me until June 1, 2009.  Since then I haven’t purchased much except $120 on four pairs of shoes, $100 on make up, and $10 on hair accessories (to bide my time between SuperCuts).

 

It seems like such a small issue, and I often wonder if men ever have the same problem.  I’ve worked mostly with men since obtaining my BA, and they typically have fewer clothes than the women I know and they rotate their clothes in a predictable fashion (i.e. “this is my Monday shirt” or “I didn’t do laundry so I have to wear my Friday pants on Wednesday”).

 

The times when I’ve felt the best about my wardrobe are also the same times when I’ve been living really healthy with exercise and appropriate eating habits.  While my weight tends not to fluctuate more than +/- 10 lbs, I notice a different between tone muscles and atrophied muscles in the fit of my clothes.  Even if my clothes felt looser, having muscles and a nice woven belt to cinch up and define my waist usually made me feel more confident in my attire.

 

Also, most of the professional women I know who are drastically cutting their wardrobe expenses too, find that they too are sick and tired of their wardrobes.

 

Some advantages to going a year without purchases new clothes:

 

  1. Learning the difference between cheap and quality clothing.
  2. Knowing which stores and brands are offering clothes that last.
  3. Thinking creatively with a tailor to modify existing choices into altered items that feel “like new” and look great.
  4. Taking shoes to the cobbler and stretching out the life of even cheap shoes which look great for years.
  5. Learning to make quality purchases when shopping based on known clothing patterns and focusing on items that require less expensive care (i.e. dry clean free).
  6. Learning to purchase items with a more “classic” fit for longevity and “filling in the blanks” with cheaper quality items that are trendier.
  7. Taking advantage of mix and match wardrobes for a comment worthy unique style (zebra heels, a puma pull over, and cropped gaucho pants: HOT!  I get many compliments on this combo).
  8. Using clothing as a barometer for healthy living.  The better the clothes fit, with proper care, the better care taken on the body in the clothes.
  9. Thinking creatively with friends, family, and the internet for free swapping opportunities.
  10. Re-selling clothing online and through consignment.
  11. Learning the re-sale value of clothing in to target future purchases more profitably.
  12. Taking the time to research before replenishing the wardrobe in order to snag the best deals on the best wardrobe additions.
  13. Feeling completely comfortable with tossing, donating, and re-selling clothing that has been properly loved and well-worn.  This avoids the guilt pangs of clothing purchases that are tossed, donated, and re-sold before the tags have been removed.
  14. Creating a highly efficient wardrobe which respects each article of clothing, ease of access for use, and properly represents the value placed in each purchase. (I literally use my jewelry bulletin board and purse hooks to decorate the wardrobe areas in my bedroom—for which I’ve received many compliments—and which allow me to fully utilize my purse and jewelry collection).
  15. LESS CASH OUTFLOW ON CLOTHES = MORE SAVINGS!!!

 

Are there any disadvantages to shopping hiatuses?  I can’t seem to think of any…can you?


Book Review: Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs

January 13, 2009

Chuck Klosterman’s “Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs” is an expose on American culture from the 70s and 80s.  In particular, Klosterman narrows in on such topics as “This is Emo”, “Porn”, and “Being Zack Morris.”  While I skipped the chapters on heavy metal cover bands and most conversations about sports, I did enjoy Klosterman’s writing style and fresh perspectives on recent pop culture, most of which will never receive any other literary attention.

 

I would describe Klosterman’s style as boisterous and pedantic.  Klosterman could probably write a book on anything that hasn’t been dissected well and form a well written opinion on it.  In a lot of ways, Klosterman’s style reminds me of Frankfurt’s “On Bullshit” where Frankfurt uses a standard philosophical essay and techniques to write an article about nothing really, in fact, he writes an article which is as much about bullshit as it is bullshit in it of itself.  Comparatively, Klosterman writes convincingly about obscure topics in the same way, however, Klosterman comes off much whineier and more scattered than Frankfurt.

 

What Klosterman clearly is begging for subconsciously is a girlfriend to love and hate his mediocrity in her own mediocre way.  This woman will be plain but fascinated by Klosterman’s late night waxing on about pop culture trends.  In this way, Klosterman will lose all his material and the time to write about such material to this special woman.  Klosterman is one in an increasingly long tail of postmodern writers on pop culture and really write about nothing at all.  Klosterman joins the ranks of Larry David, Seinfield, and David Sedaris.  All awkward with too much single guy time on their hands and praised for celebrating their brilliant discoveries while watching TV, doing laundry, and interacting with non-family, non-co-worker social circles.

 

Why read “Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs”?  Because you are eager to read about a postmodern perspective on pop culture and the nostalgia such topics ignite within you.  For instance, I really miss Saved by the Bell, and Klosterman’s commentary on the mysterious appearance and disappearance of the female characters, senior year Tori in particular, was especially riveting.  You will also enjoy Klosterman’s commitment to excellent grammar, diction, and syntax.  You will not enjoy “Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs” if you hate pop culture and you hate postmodern commentaries from the likes of the aforementioned comedians in the previous paragraph.  Oh shit, happy reading anyways!


Conflicted: See-Sawing on and off the wagon

January 12, 2009

 

I have goals, I have to-dos lists, and I know my priorities—then why do I fall off the wagon?  For each additional year that I age, I notice that long term habits actually take longer and longer to implement in my life.  Why is this?

 

Well, to explain my lifestyle is getting much better, and there was a time a few weeks ago where I was sad and fell into bad habits.  I had to mourn the end of a long friendship and the end of being gainfully employed and paid regularly.

 

Well, now it’s time to state that it’s a fact: I’ve fallen back into bad habits.  Some examples: smoking cigarettes, sleeping less regularly, not working, procrastinating, watching TV, etc.  Thankfully alcohol and food consumption patterns are in check for me right now and they did not make the list…I’m proud of this fact.

 

So how do I keep promoting my strengths in life and conquer my bad habits?  Well, how do you?

 

For me, I eliminate bad habits more effectively when I focus more time on my good, simple, concise habits that help me reach my goals.  For 2009, I’ve decided on 8 important categories in my life and monthly goals for each.  I have a long list of “goals” and “rewards” which I will assign to each month of 2009.

 

My categories:

Personal (usually health related, but something only I am affected by)

Professional

Social

Spiritual

Financial

Relationship

Educational

Misc

 

For January, I have assigned goals from my list and I’m well on my way to accomplishing these goals.  I put my goals in a list on the back of an old business card and I keep it in my wallet.  I look at this card for inspiration and focus.

 

I’m not sure where I read it, but people generally underestimate the time it will take to accomplish short term goals and overestimate the time it will take to accomplish long term goals.  Hopefully this method will reveal a better pattern of time management that I can use when stretching my future month’s goals.

 

But why make a list of rewards?  Well, I want to add an incentive to relish in when I accomplish my monthly goals.  Right now, since I’m very frugally conscious I even assigned price limits to each reward so I can sort and know where to choose depending on my financial situation.  An example of an expensive reward includes: a full one hour massage, mani/pedi, and some extra pamper service purchased at a nice day spa.  An example of an inexpensive reward includes: one full day dedicated to completing an art project.

 

My rewards are very reasonable, and for now, the rewards mostly involve give me one full day to enjoy an activity that I truly love doing like art, reading, and cooking.

 

What do you do to manage good and bad habits?

 

How do you accomplish your goals?

 

How do you re-focus after “falling off the wagon”?


A recession, now what?

January 9, 2009

What to do in a bear market?  When the going gets tough, the tough get…in shape.

 

Regardless of the definition of what a recession is, we’re in one, and the outlook is grim for the job market and rising inflation.  Now what?

 

So, you’ve reviewed your portfolios, you’re adequately insured, and you’re facing impending layoffs.  Compound this by the fact that you’ve reduced spending and you may have to sell your home.  The magic 8 ball tolls: outlook grim.

 

But experts say that we’ve been through bear and bull markets in a cyclical fashion since the nascence of the United States economy.  That is to say, what we Americans are facing today, is neither unique nor original.  Sure, the analysts and pundits will report the numbers and charts they want to report.  But honestly I digress, because this entry is less about the macroeconomics, and more about each individual’s microeconomics.

 

There are places for improvement.  Since there are myriad blogs and sites to reference for personal finance information, I would like to address another opportunity available to everyone in this recession.

 

Ask yourself the following questions:

  1. Am I in shape?
  2. Could I be in better shape?
  3. How’s my diet?
  4. How could I improve my existing diet?
  5. Do I have any clutter in my house?
  6. How many unopened boxes do I have from my last move, still unopened?
  7. What are the top five hikes within a reasonable distance from my house?
  8. What about training for something competitive?
  9. Do I have ironing I could do?
  10. What about general repairs on clothing, shoes, household items that I could easily tackle myself?

 

Bear markets and recessions allow each of us the opportunity to dream and lay the ground work for the future.  This is our time to lace up a pair of sneakers and go for a “free” run, try making the BEST cup of coffee from home, and read the $1.25 Sunday newspaper cover to cover.

 

Now, many people already do these things.  But I will tell you in the San Francisco Bay Area, my unofficially sample observations indicate to me that people aren’t focusing on the virtuous “life after consumption.”

 

Any reasonable person can only work so many hours a day for so many days in the week.  Even unemployment research, work, resume prep, and writing cover letters are tolerable for a few hours each day.  But what about using some extra time to volunteer for a charity or cause?  The charities I volunteer for usually gift free tickets to cool events where I work for half of the day and enjoy the rest of the day.  Such events like a professional soccer game and icerair.com are specific examples of this.

 

So brush off that old, never ending to-do list, as in “to-do when I actually have a mystery week off.”  Start to tackle those items, and heck, brew a pitcher of Crystal Light or other beverage I know you already have in your pantry and invite friends over.  Have an “ebay selling” party.  I’ve already copied all my CDs onto my external hard drive and I’ve been selling the cds on half.com.  I’ve made profit before from selling books in this way, and I’m keeping track of my expenses for shipping and supplies in order to track when this endeavor will reach profitability (not including my time however).

 

If now isn’t the time, then when?  Schedule that dentist appointment, physical, eye appointment, whatever your coverage will bear, do it!  Have you research rates on your cell phone plan, auto insurance, etc?  Do you track every penny you spend?  Do it now, when you’re spending less—it’s already less work J.

 

Concerned about your job?  How about writing about it?  How about meeting with a career counselor?  How about studying for the LSATs, GMATs, or GREs?  Learning is relatively cheap, and buying books is always an investment if you actually read and learn from the books you buy.  Better yet, what books on your shelves do you have yet to read?  Consider a book swap with friends.  You get the idea.

 

Create an emergency fund or continue to diligently fund your e-fund.  Start dreaming about your home, repairs, and other things you currently cannot afford but will be able to afford someday.

 

Start small.  Start exercising ten minutes a day.  After 30 days of that, fund your e-fund an additional $100 per month.  After 30 days of that, quit smoking.  And so on and so forth.

 

Most importantly, the internet and blogosphere offer accountability and anonimyty to achieving your goals.  Leave comments on the blogs you like and become an active blog subscriber where appropriate.

 

I will conclude my listing my favorite blogs on goal setting and general learning:

 

  1. www.Iwillteachyoutoberich.com
    • The URL says it all, and Ramit Sethi is an entertaining author.
  2. www.TheSimpleDollar.com
    • Trent is the most consistent blog poster I have come across.  It’s instinctual that I continue to read his blog because I actually know which times of day he will update his posts.
  3. www.WellHeeled.Wordpress.com
    • A wonderful journal which chronicles the Young Fabulous and Not so Broke lifestyle of another amazing 20-something blog writer on finance, career, and personal relationships.
  4. www.FabulousFinancials.com
    • There are only good things to say about Single Ma, the author of this blog.  I appreciate her humor and wisedom.
  5. www.Shanelyang.com
    • The best how-to blog on the internet.  Shanel is a very intelligent person and her easy to read writing is indicative of this fact.
  6. www.ZenHabits.net
    • Did you accidentally ever look for this blog using “.com” instead?  Ha, I have on many occasions.  But seek this blog with the “.net” address for inspiring articles on how to reach any goal and live a fulfilling life.  Leo has made quite a life for himself, and he is an example to learn from.
  7. www.DumbLittleMan.com
    • My original subscription to this blog was a borderline obsession.  This blog is all about the “top 5,7,10, etc ways to live better”—or many variations of such topics.  I enjoy reading this blog when I’m looking for inspiration.
  8. www.SearchEngineLand.com
    • Because I love online marketing.  Learn all about the web and related current events here.  You will be a leader in your career by incorporating this blog into your weekly career readings.
  9. www.fortefoundation.org/blog/forum/forums_08.html
    • Any female thinking about business school should check out this blog.  It’s been a great blog for inspiration and it’s also great for resources to getting into business school and related professions and careers.

Book Review: Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close

January 8, 2009

Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close
By Jonathan Safran Foer
Houghton Mifflin, 2005

 

A fast-paced novel for all ages with an adult slant, Foer’s Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close is well worth the read. Two stories—one about a father, and one about a son—are exposed in this novel through the eyes of young Oskar Schell. Oskar lost his father in the World Trade Center during the events of 9/11, and this novel explores his grief and life in the years following his loss.

 

Oskar takes the reader through Manhattan on a quest with unpredicable conversations and vague solutions. A parallel story of war and tragedy is interwoven through Oskar’s story for an “all too neat” big reveal toward the end of the book.

 

At the end of this novel there are specific questions which beg to be asked and answered by the reader regarding the current state of world affairs, war, tragedy, and conflict.

  

What is most surprising about this novel is that it is as much a piece of modern art as it is a piece of modern literature. The book has specific visual elements that engage the reader’s senses beyond the mere words on paper including, but not exclusive to, a series of blank pages.

 

On a personal note, this reader found that reading the novel allowed for a safe emotional space to ask herself about the events of 9/11, the current state of world affairs, and the loss of innocence which rusults from acts of violence.

 


Pounding the Paving Tour: Day 1

January 7, 2009

 

I took the suggestion of many professional contacts and from What Color is Your Parachute 2009.  I actually started to take my resume directly to the firms I want to join.

 

I decided to make a list of the top 50+ consulting firm, visit the office closest to me, and ask about the application process.  Yesterday was my first day, and while I what brought to me to exhaustion yesterday is providing me energy today.  I believe that is due to better habits after a two week vacation.  I was surprised at the nervous butterflies in my stomach the entire day.  However, today I feel more confident in the process.

 

Taking Note:

 

-It’s easier to find someone to speak with in suburban offices

-Doormen were my gatekeepers in the major urban offices

-While the doorman were extremely helpful for my cause, I could not get passed any in the urban areas

-Some doormen gave me the name/contact of who I can call

-Sometimes, when a company has Corporate HQ for recruiting in other cities, they don’t want to see you in irrelevant cities

-Unless you’re recruited on campus, there is almost always an electronic process to follow for competitive firms

 

The Process:

 

1. Most resources for this process are not found online, but I highly recommend purchasing What Color is Your Parachute 2009, or better yet, split the cost with a friend who is also looking for a job.  To make my initial list, I found it helpful to use excel to organize the “Top 50” list from Vault.com.  I added in a few other “Top Firms” and “Top Diversity” firms that didn’t make the “Top 50” list too.

 

2. I created a binder to store my: lists (with addresses and contact info), notes on each company, directions for each day to visit 4-5, and many copies of my resume.

 

First Day Reflections:

 

I cannot say how important planning and a focused industry list are for this exercise.  Having a focused list allows me to systematize my cover letter writing process and I learn a lot about one single industry.

 

This is my second attempt at “Pounding the Pavement,” but the first attempt where my plan, list, and pre-work (see Binder in #2 above) were sufficient enough to get me moving this time.  Last time, I neither had thought about a plan/script nor had I created one list for ONE industry (rather I had 3-4 industries all mixed up without focus).

 

I’m going to seriously consider it a waste of my time to try to get by more doormen in the major urban office locations.  I think I’ll focus more deeply on those online applications.

 

I’m going to go to each office with cover letters AND my resume.  It will require a few extra pages to print, but I will need the cover letters for the online applications already.

 

Wow, am I super lucky to have a car and the means to transport myself to the non-urban firm locations.  I realize this is a very beneficial luxury that is not available to all job hunters.

 

I’m a pretty outgoing person and I’m comfortable talking with people about anything including jobs and applications.  However, this is EXTREMELY impossible to do if you are not seriously committed to the field of firms you are visiting.

 

Passion is what will drive this activity and overcome any hurdle.  I say that because I’ve been very successful at business to business sales, and this is a challenge even for sales professionals like me.

 

This should go without being said but, I wear a suit to every visit, carry a nice portfolio, wear comfortable women’s business shoes, and smell clean and nice.

 

I am still pursuing other leads and applications not included on my list, so I figured 4-5 companies and applications per day would be just the right number to sustain this activity until the end of the list.

 

Conclusion:

 

After two and a half weeks of this process, I will have applied to over 50 firms, met some amazing people, and I will have created an entire competitive analysis of the top 50+ firms in my desired field and geography.  I know I will learn a lot about myself and my career through this process.  I’m committed to making this work.

 

Please let me know if anyone else has tried this.  What tips do you have for success?