The Forest from the Trees


Sometimes I am so focused on the minutiae of my life that I don’t see the forest from the trees.  But now I am beginning to see where I had come and where I am going.  Perhaps driving this a-ha moment is a new month whose arrival assuredly signals the ending of another year, or gaining an extra hour in the day gives the impression of having more time.

Whatever the case may be, it has been a long, strange journey at times marked by more sleepless nights that I could remember.  During one of them, I was surfing on the net and came across Conan O’Brien’s commencement speech to Dartmouth University’s class of 2011.  In closing, he said, “Work hard, be kind and amazing things will happen.”

I’ve certainly put in lots of effort to return to some kind of equilibrium and distributed enough good will and faith to those I’ve met. I guess the amazing thing is surviving and the relief of getting through situations relatively unscathed.  As I get older, I appreciate these moments so much more–even more than words can say.


Wanderlust Back

Tea and Sympathy:  A stop at Chantal Guillon for macaroons with my foodie younger cousins.

Tea and Sympathy: A stop at Chantal Guillon for macaroons with my foodie younger cousins.

My cousins from Sacramento came to visit recently for a weekend, and while snacking on the most delicate macaroons in Chantal Guillon in Hayes Valley, our conversation turned toward our trips abroad and our divergent experiences.  I had a more romantic interpretation of being in Paris than my sister, and my cousin went to Europe with a study-abroad program.  Nonetheless, we agreed we would go again, and my other cousin has become more open to overseas travel.

It’s a test in patience to wait for one part of my life to catch up with another that is already established and for years dying to move forward.  I’ve wondered when I would ever give myself permission to want to travel again, since I still had to consider getting back on my feet work-wise.

Now I feel certain this is the moment to return to my natural inclination to see more of the world.  A job eventually becomes routine, and the past is forgiven.  Other aspects of my life need more attention, especially the things that are most important to me.  While perhaps more progress could still be made, the time for magical thinking and action can now take flight and soar.

Oltrarno square

Memorable Oltrarno square where I bumped into a Florentine Adonis during my last major trip in 2008.

Birthday Hopes and Dreams

After celebrating another birthday in May and experiencing a period of loss and change, I think of Thomas Pastorius, who passed away last year.  Considered the first microbrewer in Pennsylvania, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, he also marked the coda of my high school journalism career when I interviewed him for one of my last articles in North Catholic’s Trojan News.  Unbeknownst to me at the time, he would open Penn Brewery at the bottom of Troy Hill Road by the Fall, while I was starting college.

Although my meeting with him was brief, he was a gracious and generous man who fed my fledgling ambition by basically giving me something grown-up to write about.  I am now in rather awe the prescience of standing and speaking with him in the dank and dark interior of the old Eberhardt and Ober brewery below my high school before its grand transformation.

But as life would have it, his dream of an on-site brewery and restaurant proved to be a high-maintenance job.  One’s passion could also produce much anxiety and frustrations–that much I too do understand.  Throughout my career, I’ve gone in and out of the thing I love to do most.

Another birthday does give me pause, and a refocusing of sorts is in order, for starters, infusing more positive energy and a healthier balance during work weeks.  And if I’m lucky, I may even capture a little of the thrill “Mr. Beer” once had of crafting brews–often times the hard but, in his mind, the right way.

Mission Accomplished

I wrapped up August attaining what I had set out to do when I first announced my project, Brassring 2.0, by landing a full-time permanent job.  But my quest probably started the day I was laid off in February 2009.  So I actually banked three years what essentially was working out how I felt and viewed work.

For most people, it’s a no-brainer.  You work to earn a living, and if you’re lucky, you work because you love what you do.  Your job is your calling.  But I suppose I was looking for something deeper or more of something that I couldn’t quite put my finger on it.  Then I fell ill on my birthday this year, and it was, of all people, Gloria Steinem who put it in perspective for me to the point that I even wrote a required job essay entitled, “How I Reconciled with Gloria Steinem,” which basically expounded on my blog entry.

There is value in work because of the commitment one brings to the task.  When I worked weekends for three straight weeks in August, there was no question how committed I was to every project no matter what it was.  I also brought a sense of leadership to the job and understanding that I have a life outside of work, but for the time that I am there, I would give my time and talents wholeheartedly.  I found out what I was missing was consciously knowing the intangibles of what makes work worthwhile and even pleasurable and that I myself brought my own signature stamp to a job I would eventually claim.

Dream a Little Dream

I remember watching Liz Masakayan on TV growing up in the burbs when a sport that is beach volleyball was in its infancy.  I was awestruck by her athleticism and  all her competitors in general because it seemed you had to be an all-around athlete to succeed.

I thought how cool it was that she could just be known by one name, her surname, which was four syllables long.  And I dreamed that one day I would meet her.  And so, I did.

(Cover photo & photos by Aaron Chang)


In Good Company: A Happy Hour martini at Fuzio's

I never really knew what networking was about until the job market forced me into it.  As a newbie, I thought it was about collecting business cards much like accumulating Facebook friends today.  But after almost 20 years in the workplace, it’s really about making meaningful connections.  When it goes right, it could lead to good things, and at the very least, you are putting yourself out there.

Like meeting anyone for the first time, I go into them with my gut instincts, especially the people you come upon unexpectedly.  These in particular feel like they are created from the ether and act as signposts pointing me in the right direction.  For instance, at one networking function for Music In Schools Today, a local organization that supports music education in public schools, I met a wonderful retiree I will call my New Jersey aunt who lives in Alameda, CA.

For someone who really never had an aunt to speak of growing up, I am pleasantly surprised by these chance meetings with sixtyish women, which might also explain my recent obsession with the TV series, “Murder, She Wrote” starring the ageless Angela Lansbury who played the good-natured mystery sleuth writer Jessica Fletcher.  She was everyone’s aunt, who gave the right kind of advice and support with whatever troubled you.

Women north of 60 don’t have anything to prove because they’ve seen and done it all.  They’re comfortable letting things go and waiting for things to come to them rather than forcing things to happen.  Don’t get me wrong.  I’m sure there’s plenty of effort poured into the things they do, but they make it look so easy, so natural, much like Brenda W., with whom I recently had the pleasure of sharing Happy Hour at Fuzio’s.

She had just come down from work in the tower upstairs and wasn’t going to be hurried, as she deliberately extracted a book from her bag and set it on her lap.  When pressed to order, she politely told the woman behind the bar she wanted to decompress and relax first but went ahead and asked for the white bean dip with chips.  We struck up a conversation that began with where to place her purse at the bar and winded down with family, weekend plans and her intention to see a movie across the way if she felt like it.  In between, I found out she’s a native of Cleveland, OH, which, to a Pittsburgh, PA transplant like myself, is reason to put a stop to things immediately.  But when one has lived in California for years, previous identities fall away, and we’re all simply—for lack of a better word–Californian.

I often end my networking interactions by distributing my business card.  Brenda told me my name sounded like a movie star’s, despite my demurs that show business commonly prefers short and simple, easily identifiable monikers.  But she said who cares because that’s what it sounds like to her–the magical stuff a special aunt who came from the slim seam of the space-time continuum is supposed to say.

If I Could Turn Back Time

Soup's Up: Bun Rieu

So I’ve been on a soup kick the last few weeks because it’s rainy and chilly in San Francisco.  But I just wanted to share one more that I tried from Soup Junkie, a pop-up food vendor that shows up on certain days in the Window on 1599 Howard and 12th Street and DaDa on 86 2nd Street on Market and Mission.  I arrived at DaDa just as the vendor was closing shop, but she graciously packed me up their signature Bun Rieu to go.  I was told the crab and tomato broth does settle and render itself salty after a few hours and to dilute the saltiness add more water.  Indeed, when I got home, I heated up the rich broth in a pot with a little more water and once it came up to the right temperature, poured it over the rice noodles, pork meatballs, water spinach and cilantro topped with a lovely crab omelette.

The last two weeks was a walk down memory lane when I was working at the PR firm Hill & Knowlton.  I used to work for the Regus Group, a business solutions company with properties around the world, and one of its centers was located in the neighborhood near Levi’s headquarters.  I took the opportunity to visit with my old manager and friend who gave me helpful advice.  As I took a shortcut through Levi’s Plaza to the Regus center, the Starbucks, where I used to take refuge, is still housed there, as well as RJs, the pricey grocery store and deli across the uneven, bumpy street I crossed on Sansome where I nearly killed myself in heels.  The thoughts that entered my mind were how most of my career was a baptism of fire, and now that I have a sense of perspective, I realize it is all a learning experience with plenty of interesting and funny stories behind it. 

For instance, the closest I came to ever working for Levi’s was temping in its accounting department and moving merchandise, even operating a forklift, in its factory now museum on Valencia Street.  The latter was a rare joy.  Not only was I comped a pair of pre-branded jeans, but how many could really say they walked the cavernous historical warehouse on their resumes.  Anyway, the point is if I had planned my career more strategically and had a mentor to guide me, I would probably be better off.  However, for someone so eager to be grown-up when I was in school, I would have missed out on meeting the people I encountered and unique moments as a younger worker in the jobforce.  I would lose out on the proverbial music between the notes put simply by John Lennon’s verity that life is what happens to you while you’re too busy making plans.

Noodling in the City

This month was a nice balance of contract, volunteer and networking opportunities, and I even squeezed in a bit of personal writing.  They are all learning experiences, which have also bolstered my confidence, and I believe will culminate in attaining that elusive job.  I worked a rather interesting conference, and it’s amazing how much they cost to attend.  I like to think my outings with my friend Wendy are mini-conferences that for a nominal fee I could get a fairly good return on my investment, especially where food and art is concerned.

We were back in the Mission at the art space, “Secret Alley,” for the release of Lucky Peach’s third issue (Cooks and Chefs) by McSweeney’s Publishing.  Chef Ryan Farrar of 4505 Meats and Magnolia Brewery provided scrumptious pork chicharrones and lovely brews.  Lucky Peach under the McSweeney’s imprimatur is the creation of New Yorkers Chef/Owner David Chang of Momofuku, writer Peter Meehan, and Zero Point Zero Production—producers of the Emmy Award–winning Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations.   It’s edgy food-writing with a literary bent a la Chef Bourdain.

Wendy and I hung out for as long as the pork snacks, pizza slices and beer could sustain us, after which we made a beeline for Nombe, the Japanese restaurant where we ended up when we were in the neighborhood last.  Its hand-made ramen wasn’t available at that time.  But thankfully, at least for us, the place this night wasn’t bursting at the seams.  We went ahead and ordered bowls for ourselves, and the noodles had that nice “chew” one would expect from such a dish.  Noodles in Asian culture signify a long life. However, in the short term, I will take a good month.


Time to Mingle

I am in full-on networking mode, applying online to communications and office operations jobs and later checking in with my connections on social media, like Linkedin, for contacts in the departments and places where I had submitted my applications.

I am also vigorously pursuing networking opportunities on such sites as and community organizations like the Manilatown Heritage Foundation.

Slowly Yet Surely

From the offices of Wiley & Sons publishing firm

The last two months I accepted contract work with a publishing firm and property management company, which provided informal networking opportunities as well as established a work history with job agencies.  I am also lining up informational interviews and cultivating my contacts from last year.  All these efforts, I believe, are building deliberately toward the end goal to secure a job that is the right fit for my skills and experience.