Friday, August 31, 2007

Christina 2.0

That was the subject line of the e-mail that my boss sent out last week, announcing that I had found a new job in a new field and was leaving in two weeks.

A few days before that, I'd had to interview someone who wanted to work for my future former employer. She was bright-eyed and eager and seemed impressed with everything about my job -- even my colorless, impersonal desk -- because it sat under the glow of the three letters printed on posterboard and attached to a concrete column in my office.

A few weeks before that, a guy wrote to me on my personal e-mail to say that he had found my address on the Web and wanted my advice because he wanted to find a job just like mine. I did the best I could to help him and the interviewee, not only because of their earnestness but because they represented the hopes I used to have. I remember being like them, wanting to work for a major news organization or media outlet and thinking it would be the greatest.

Now I've worked for at least three major media outlets, in a capacity I never could have forseen when I was in college. When I went from undergraduate school to the job market, the Web as we know it didn't even exist. How odd to find oneself earning a living from a word that had no meaning for you as a child. Even for me, a kid who got some tutoring in BASIC at 8 years old and grew up with video games, the evolution of the InterWebs was unforseeable and blindsiding in a way that was simultaneously exhilarating, perplexing and depressing.

The exhilarating and perplexing aspect of the World Wide Web Revolution was that it seemed as if our generation was being handed the chance to define something, to shape not only our individual jobs, but an entire medium. We were doing something unprecedented, or at least it seemed that way.

The depressing aspect came with the realization that the thing you built today might well be obsolete next year; that other generations often saw your work as either confusing, or unimportant, or both; and that when it came to content, much of what was being created actually was not unprecedented but rather quite similar, and often inferior, to its "old media" counterpart.

Still, getting into Web work put me in a relatively Good Position, as good as could be expected for a girl with nothing but an undergrad English degree and an average work ethic. I had some very cool experiences and got to work for at least one journalistically respectable outlet. So why wasn't I happier? Why was I always nosing around on job and career sites, looking for more?

It was a bit like dating: I'd have a shot with some guy, a good guy that many women would love to have, and I'd be sitting there trying to twist my mind around being particularly glad about it.

Most normal people in this situation think, "Oh well, I tried this [job, man, whatever] out and it wasn't for me. Time to move on." In self-esteem-challenged people such as myself, it evokes the response, "There must be something wrong with me if I'm not into this. After all, [company, man, whatever] was nice enough to like me -- I owe them something. Maybe I'll keep trying for a few months longer and see if I can become the right person to match this situation. Or better yet, why don't I find something that's slightly different but more or less the same, and torture myself with that for awhile?"

Ultimately, I never became that sought-after version of myself, the one who wanted to advance up the Web media ladder and have the company-issued Blackberry or "director" in my title. Instead, I got comfortable in my discomfort. For awhile, I stopped trying to imagine something else for myself. Whatever ambitions I had within my field atrophied completely. I was stuck.

Now I'm taking a pay cut (something, I feel compelled to say, that would be infinitely harder without being married to someone who is supportive and makes enough to float the difference) to go work for a tiny company that throws cooking parties. It has the potential to be fun, challenging, yummy, busy, social, frustrating, boring, disappointing, tiring. But the point is, it has potential. I've been separated from my own career for a long time now. It feels bittersweet, but I'm finally completing the divorce.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007


Two months ago, we left the Haight (the Hate) and moved into a new place at the very top of the Potrero Hill neighborhood, a strange confluence of the industrial (Anchor Brewing is down the street), the yuppie and the disadvantaged.

Not long after we moved in, I was sitting at a place nearby called the Thinker's Cafe (yeah, they sold me a beverage anyway) and overheard a middle-aged guy with a sweatered little dog and tinted shades approach two cops who were on their break at the next table.

"Hey, guys, I'm sorry to bother you, but I live over on 23rd and Missouri? And I was just wondering, those gunshots I hear? Where are they coming from?" The cops pointed toward the projects that are just down the hill from my place. "Oh! Okay, and should I bother calling the police?" the guy asked. Oh yes, the cops said politely, feel free to call us. Everyone went back to their lattes.

I didn't experience what the man was talking about until a weekend afternoon about a month later, when gunshots sounded outside our window. They were loud enough that I actually dove from the couch to the floor. A police car sped by shortly afterward, but nothing else came of it, that we know of. Pretty soon, it was back to joggers and couples on walks.

The first word that comes to mind describing this new setting is "bizarre," and our many windows offer ample opportunity to contemplate it. Directly behind us is a fire station, where we can hear the three-tone signal before a truck goes out and see them grilling dinner in the back. My husband likes to wave to the truck through our living room window as it leaves on its assignment. (We can't tell whether or not the firemen can see him, but it's comedy gold for me.)

Off to the northeast (top photo), we can glimpse the Bay and AT&T Stadium -- we had a nice view of the fireworks when Bonds hit his record-breaking homer this week. On the south side of the house is a concrete water treatment plant surrounded by a wall of lumpy, netting-covered earth. On the west side, there is a brand new modern home going up and another glimpse of a view (bottom photo) of the city. And to the north, right next door? You're looking at it, at left. That's the view of our next-door neighbor's yard.

The people who live there have been quite friendly, on the few occasions we've crossed paths. One afternoon, as we were standing at our door watching the cat explore his new outside territory, an elderly woman with missing teeth emerged from the screened-in porch. "You have a cat?" she said. "I wouldn't want the dog to get at him... I came here to give my grandson money to clean this mess up." She waved her hand across the yard, and we nodded vigorously. "It's especially not good for me. It's hard for me to get around," she said. We introduced ourselves and she went back inside the porch.

Later, we found out that the dog she mentioned had killed the previous tenant's cat. It was, we were told by our downstairs neighbor, "an ugly scene."

Despite the grandmother's intentions, the place remains as hazardous-looking as ever. I get a perverse pleasure from staring out the window at it, imagining what the inside must be like and projecting the reaction of the city officials who surely one day will have to inspect and condemn it. They'll walk through with flashlights and face masks, making world-weary jokes a la Law and Order: "Hey Murphy, got a trashcan?" or "Sheez, maybe the maid quit."

The older man who lives there kindly directed us to our place on Carolina Street when we went to see it for the first time. "Sorry to be blocking the sidewalk!" he and his pal said cheerfully, presiding over a pile of junk that perhaps had tried to escape from his house.

Our future home didn't look much better than his, at first: It was under renovation and completely in shambles, full of the tenant's poorly chosen stuff. The exterior remains nothing to write home about, the bathroom looks like it belongs in an elementary school and the kitchen counter is topped with a marbled perwinkle blue plastic that looks like it was installed at least 40 years ago.

Still, inexplicably, I became obsessed with getting in here. I had dreams about it, lost sleep waking up at 4:30 in the morning thinking about it. I drove by during the day, stalking it, both before and after we signed the lease. (Incidentally, have you ever had a song creep in on you and haunt you along with an idea, absolutely defining a moment in your life? For me, the song here was "Tel Que Tu Es".) The three weeks between seeing it and moving in seemed interminable.

We danced around after moving in, feeling like kings: a washing machine with no coin slot! A little office! A yard with a grill! "It's a real place," we said, perhaps overly grateful after years of living in cramped urban apartments with almost no amenities. I found it remarkable that most people you pass on the street in this part of town actually smile and say "hello," instead of "Spare any change for a beer?"

We're settled in, but living here still feels simultaneously like being on vacation and being in exile on a foreign planet. A whistling wind, along with views (just squint!) of the water and fog over the city, are punctuated by noise from the 53 bus line, the fire station, kids on their way to the neighborhood center down the street, hip-hop booming from beat-up cars, dressed-up old people on their way to Sunday church and white thirtysomethings walking their babies and dogs. It feels isolated, yet highly trafficked by a dozen intersecting microcosms.

The fact that one of those microcosms is a fire station led our renter's insurance company to bump the premium down. Fortunately for us, gunshots and killer dogs probably don't merit an adjustment.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

The Anti-Blog.

Not too long ago, I was out to dinner with some friends and the subject of blogs came up. "Why would anybody have a blog? I mean, who has time for a blog? I would rather do other things," my friend said.

"Yeah, I don't get it. Does anyone read them?" the other person at the table said. They seemed genuinely mystified.

Somehow, this provoked very little embarassment or defensiveness on my part, maybe because I don't actively court an audience for this blog and thus do not get much of one. "I have a blog," I said, "But I can see what you're saying." We talked about the surfeit, surplus and superfluousness of all the bloggity-blogging out there.

Yes, I'm part of the problem. But even before that conversation occurred, I had been feeling less inspired to post here. Whether it's a temporary bout of ennui or something more lasting, I haven't felt a major urge to "share" anything lately. The other day I found myself searching my memory for some recent instance of entertainingly painful humanity, nagged by the fact that the blog slate was blank. I used to have a little list of topics in the hopper that I was excited to write about, but that had dried up.

"If you don't catalog yet another one of your crazy neurotic moments for public consumption, it's really no one's loss," I told myself. "Let it go..." And so I have. (That's the trouble with those Buddhist philosophy books I've been reading lately: Sometimes they can be a handy way to buttress one's own laziness.)

It seems I'm not alone in this blogging fatigue. The pbdotc says he "is tired of his own cringe-worthy insights about world affairs." And a top food blogger in San Francisco just wrote that she has lost her appetite for the pastime.

My appetite for reading blogs, on the other hand, has not diminished. I still faithfully visit my favorites, and still find new ones to appreciate. But between blogs, the rest of the Internets, magazines, books, regular radio, XM radio, Netflix, downloaded shows, streamed shows and -- oh yeah -- actual daily human interaction, sometimes the last thing I want to do is add another voice to the mix, especially when it's the internal one I listen to all damn day.

So is blogging fatigue really about getting tired of listening to oneself, or is it also a need to trim the fat from an overloaded media diet? Are you blogging? Is your head still in the game, are you focused? Or are you drifting away from the chatter?