Ode to Transitions

In order to tell you where I’ve been over the past few months, I have to share how I got here.

Most of the biggest transitions in my life over the past five years began and ended in a taxi cab. When I moved to New York City after graduating from college, I was filled with excitement and a young naivete about journalism as I stood in line at the airport waiting for a cab. I had never been to New York, but I was moving to Manhattan to become a writer — more specifically a journalist, and later, after hard work, I wanted to become the editor of a women’s magazine. I had it all planned out. I was going to conquer this foreign and unwelcoming city — even though I was just 21-year-old and had grown up in a rural Northern California town without a stoplight (or cabs, for that matter).

Big Apple? I was ready to take a big bite.

I wanted to learn from journalists who wrote for national newspapers and magazines, and gain experience at a magazine while studying for my Master’s at New York University. And, I was ready to take whatever the city was going to throw back at me, despite never having been there before. Ever.

What followed during my first two weeks in New York, were the agonies of finding an apartment during the height of the real estate market. (We’re talking pre-recession, people!) My boyfriend, Daniel (who later became my husband) and I needed to find a true one bedroom (that did not look out onto a brick wall and had a kitchen) for under $2,000 somewhere near the Village, where I would attend class for J-school.

However, we also needed to be near a subway stop so Daniel could commute to downtown Brooklyn easily. Boy, was that a lot to ask. We had only two weeks before my classes started, but the school wouldn’t give me any money to pay for a deposit on an apartment, let alone my books. I had graduation money, which was running a little low after experiencing my first summer without a job. I had worked all through school and decided to give myself one summer free from working minimum wage. Thankfully, my future in-laws helped make the work-free summer and new apartment a reality — without them, it would have been impossible.

We finally found a place amidst the sticker shock, humid heat and our aching feet. It took a pushy broker and $10,000 to move into our first apartment in the East Village on 3rd Street at 2nd Avenue, but it was ours! Who knew we’d need three months’ rent and a huge brokerage fee to get a place on such short notice? Yet, we were starting a new chapter in our lives. The apartment was tiny, but we loved it. We didn’t have air conditioning or much closet space. No matter, our little second floor walk-up was home. We even had a view of a park — well, ok it a quiet, squirrel-filled historic cemetery, but for $2,100 a month it was totally worth it.

Fast forward through new restaurants, friends, classes and jobs — our East coast lives had rapidly changed our outlook on the world and each other. During our time in New York, I buzzed around the city reporting stories on a woman comic writer, a stabbing in Williamsburg, a young jewelry designer and then got the amazing opportunity to work as a web intern for my favorite magazine, Marie Claire. Each week was filled with new stories, books, lessons and adventures, as I learned the subway lines and fell in love with living in NYC.  And I wasn’t the only one to find a passion for my career path. Daniel worked his way up at an e-commerce start-up, got to know Brooklyn, found us cool concert venues and discovered trendy restaurants and hot spots before they were popular. It was as if the world continued to unfold before us through grid-like patterns of the city streets and the boom of internet businesses where we started to find our niche.

Image via Wikipedia

Over the past few years, our lives in New York were not limited to the city. I spent part of a summer in Africa reporting stories from Ghana. Daniel moved to India for nine months to help manage a new office in Jaipur. He also traveled to Australia and New Zealand. After grad school I joined him in India for a couple months before we were married in the summer of 2008. Life continued to change.

For me, post-grad life in New York included freelancing and working as an Associate Online Content Editor for teen news network, Channel One News. For two years I worked for Alloy Media + Marketing, learning the inner workings and demands of a daily network news program and what it’s like to edit and maintain a website with a really small staff — it was the best opportunity a young journalist could attain. Writing, editing, publishing and working cross-functionally with teams in marketing, sales, broadcast, design and engineering.

I could go on and on with how much I will forever live in an “Empire State of Mind,” but living in the city that never sleeps can be tough. To be honest, some of those people aren’t sleeping because they are just out having fun — they are working second jobs, writing in the middle of the night and searching for their next big break. Mine came just before Christmas as the snow began to fall.

I was offered a job in Southern California. Daniel and I had started our careers in New York and then, on December 22, with only a few weeks to prepare, we left it all for my new job as an editor for Demand Media. So much has happened since moving to California: new jobs, friends, an apartment, two cars…. but I realized in the move I lost touch with my writing, some of my friends and great things that made my life special because I was overwhelmed by the sheer amount of changes we’d made. Then I remembered that the things I love most don’t just disappear. We just have a to make a little effort and find new adventures in the City of Angels.

Glad to say things are back on track (just on another coast with significantly fewer cabs).

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Vacation: The Work-Free Me

I finally took a real vacation this year. I waited for cheap flights and a really good excuse to take some time off. Last week it was my friends’ wedding and a whole lot of family time. And, there’s nothing like a vacation to get some perspective.

Two Saturdays ago my husband and I set off to Southern California for five days where we spent time with family, ate some really good Mexican food (since it doesn’t exist in NY) and went through some old clutter in his parents’ new house. I also found some time to blog and catch up on my reading.

It’s funny how easy it is to do exactly what you want when you have free time. I’m not really sure why I don’t make more of an effort in the midst of my normal work week routine. My excuse is that I’m always tired, but really, if I just made an effort to prioritize things, they would be better. Working full-time shouldn’t consume my entire life — at least that’s what I’ve been thinking since my vacation.

So, after visiting the in-laws, we headed up North for five more days and visited my friends and family and went to our friends’ wedding in Berkeley. By this time I’d actually stopped stressing over the work I wasn’t doing and it was refreshing.

That’s the funny thing about vacation — I stress over the fact that I’m not doing anything. And, I think that’s the point in taking more than a four-day weekend, because then you eventually relax.

Anyway, my souvenir from my vacation was a new quest to improve my time management — I’m great at work, but when it comes to making the best of my work-free time — I’m ready to make a change. Below are my renewed goals post-vacation:

1. Don’t stay up too late. What’s the point? You need sleep, stick to the hours you need, you’ll accomplish more if you’re rested.

2. Make an effort to be at work on time, so you can leave on time. While showing up at 9:30 is fine in my office, getting in at 9 a.m. is better because then I won’t stay until 6:30 or 7 p.m. Leave at 6 p.m. and there’s more time in the evening.

3. Take time to do vacation tasks when you’re not on vacation. Read a ridiculous book all evening. Go for a walk. Paint your nails. Go for a long run. Whatever.

4. Stop thinking about work. Set a time after which you will not think or talk about work. Stressing over work in off hours is not healthy, it begets more anxiety.

5. Have fun. I know some people don’t need this reminder, but I totally do. I get so focused and absorbed I even schedule fun. Fun can be spontaneous too!

Alright those are my words of wisdom from my trip to California, let’s hope they stick!

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Hung Up in Houston

It’s a strange thing, being in airports. I imagine them as these micro-versions of the cities where they are based and travelers from other U.S. cities are like foreigners looking to find their own cultural souvenirs, or metaphorical passport stamp. Yes, sometimes these places are home to concentrated evil that we’d all like to forget after canceled flights and lost luggage, but other times, I think there’s something to be found.

Last weekend I was in Bushland. No, that’s not in upstate New York. I’m talking Houston, Texas — real Bush Land. George Bush Intercontinental Airport, to be exact. I was there on a layover to California. Like Texas, the airport is big. It was also filled with some sizable travelers, a shift from the coffee fueled tiny technorati of John F. Kennedy International Airport and Laguardia in New York.

And, Fox News was everywhere. From the Fox News Channel stores to the gigantic Fox News Sky Box, it was clear I wasn’t in Liberal Land anymore. As a news junkie of all things not Fox, this, in itself was completely foreign and about as scary as eating chicken feet. Though, I’d probably eat chicken feet before hanging out in the jumbo sky box.

As I sat in the terminal and Sarah Palin jabbered on the screen above, I searched my feet for ruby slippers. When they weren’t there and my flight was running late, I couldn’t help but examine the buxom faux blondes and broods of boy scouts sneezing on each other. “Is conservatism contagious?” I thought. (Oh, gosh, now I’m thinking like a Republican! Ha!)

In all seriousness, I had a small revelation at this moment in the Lone Star State. All of these people, laughing and spending time together. This is America too. We are not all cracking snarky jokes in our “Yes You Can” and “Believe” t-shirts. Though I detest conservative politics and the media Republicans propagate, there are hot-blooded, Palin-applauding Americans who believe I’m the weird one.

So often I rant and feel bitter about the insane tea party and the millions of people who bought Going Rogue…and worse, voted for George Bush. But, in reality, some of those people are highly intelligent tax payers who may even be related to me. I guess you could say visiting the Houston airport was a reminder that there are Americans outside my eco-friendly, feminist, Obama-bubble. And, even though I hate propaganda, bigotry and republican politics — that doesn’t mean it’s not part of America, our families and our reality.

For me, conservative politics is like fast food. I know it’s really unhealthy for me and I try not to eat it, but others can’t resist its appeal even though studies show there are bad effects from consuming them.

Speaking of food, after I ate what I could of my too-large vegetable burrito, I went to the bathroom to wash my hands. Inside were receptacles for needles. Diabetics, huh? Guess all the beef, fast food and Texas toast got to some.

Well, that’s the beauty of being American and having the freedom to travel, hold our own beliefs, politics and diets. At least you aren’t the only one who needs to dispose of medical waste. Now if only I could fit one of those Fox News signs into the needle box.

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A Woman’s Work Is Never Done

An Analysis of Documentaries About Women in India

A look at how women’s work has changed to make a more modern India.

After 60 years of national independence and the election of the first woman president, Pratibha Patil, India is one of the world’s most rapidly developing nations.  With nearly half of its population below the poverty line, India’s diverse economy is built on the cultural effects of women’s roles.  Here are five documentary films illustrating the intersection of Indian culture and gender over the last decade.  See how women’s rights issues and cultural traditions collide to create a more modern India.

Miss India Georgia (1997)

Topic:  Cultural Pageant Contestants

Awards:  Athens International Film & Video Festival; New England Film & Video Festival

Summary: In America, first generation Indian mothers work hard to teach their daughters the balance between their Eastern past and Western future.  With pageantry as the backdrop, this film follows four contestants and their families as they prepare for a cultural pageant.  Watch the girls explore “being Indian enough” and being “like everyone else.”  Don’t miss the colorful teen angst and 90s fashion trends depicted in this film about beauty, gender roles, and cross-cultural family values. (Duration: 57 minutes)

Eye-Opening Extract: “You gotta always put in that cultural crap.”

Nalini By Day, Nancy By Night (2005)

Topic:  Off-Shore Outsourcing

Awards:  Black Maria Film & Video Festival

Summary: After receiving a call from a telemarketer who pronounced her last name correctly, Indian-American Sonali Gulati explores the boom of outsourcing in India.  In cities like New Delhi, calling centers are the most coveted positions for many middle-class urbanites who don’t mind answering to a pseudonym like Nancy Smith and practicing an “American” accent.  This film focuses on the economic benefits and contradictions between the U.S. and India with a sense of humor. (Duration: 27 minutes)

Eye-Opening Extract: 1 Telemarketing Position Creates 1-2 Additional Jobs

Born to Bondage (1999)

Topic:  Overview of Women’s Traditional Roles

Awards:  None

Summary: For centuries women have been treated as second-class citizens in India.  Treatment towards poor and “untouchable” women is even worse.  The dowry custom, child marriage, female infanticide, child slavery and prostitution, are common practices. This film investigates the detrimental effects of cruel gender customs, ineffective legislation and illiteracy. Find out why women’s rights are violated and how the economy and population are affected at the expense of women’s lives.  (Duration: 40 minutes)

Eye-Opening Extract: “In my next life I want to be born a boy.”

Science for Survival (1995)

Topic:  Women’s Progress and Influence in Modern India

Awards: None

Summary: As more women enter science, technology and medical fields, doctors like Vandana Shiva are dedicating their work to a more balanced and sustainable, “polyculture,” ecosystem for India by embracing biodiversity and seed varieties in farming.  They have also discovered the positive effects of blending modern and traditional medical practices.  This film is a well-organized and fact-filled piece about how women are improving the future of India. (Duration: 50 minutes)

Eye-Opening Extract: 50 kilograms (110 pounds) of silk is sold for 141 rupees ($3.55).

Born Into Brothels (2004)

Topic:  Children of Sex Workers

Awards:  Academy Award for Best Documentary; 12 Film Festival Awards

Summary:  This film is the Oscar-gold standard for films about India.  Provocative, yet, stunning shots of the red light district in Calcutta combine with a lovable cast of would-be photographers.  Fly as high as the kites they play with on rooftops or sink down to the reality of their lives in the brothel.  Either way, this film lets you walk in the dredges of Sonagachi, where the cluttered streets are framed in the kids’ camera lens as they momentarily set aside the physical and emotional abuse they experience daily. Become invested and involved in their escape from a life where their mother’s work hinders their way out. (Duration: 85 minutes)

Eye-Opening Extract: “Now I feel like taking pictures.”

Controversy Over Film Faction

Bollywood Film Banned

Learning about the culture of Rajasthan could probably take a lifetime, but I enjoy reading about how the modern and historical cultures influence each other.  This week Bollywood released a new film called, “Jodhaa Akbar.”  The story is a blend of film and fact, a popular trend for historial dramas or “factions.”  This particular story is about a princess who has an alliance marriage in order to create peace across different parts of Rajasthan.  The theme seems like a common trend in film-making, a way to teach people about history and entertain them.  However, some critics disagree.  The film was banned in cities like Jaipur because Rajasthani community groups are saying that the film promotes itself as fact, when certain aspects of the film are fictitious.  I read an interesting, yet, meandering article about the controversy.

Betraying the Past

Here are a few poignant paragraphs from the article:

“The controversy created by the film Jodhaa Akbar and the opposition mounted mainly by sections of young Rajputs in Rajasthan raises a number of issues related to historical facts, poetical license of a creative and imaginative work of cinema or art, modern Rajput identity and the rising intolerance in the country.

It is true that factually the name of the Rajput princess married to Akbar probably was not Jodhabai, but it is not disputed that Rajput a princess from Amer-Jaipur was married to Akbar and other Rajput princesses from various Rajput states except Mewar or Udaipur were married to successive mughal emperors, often the marriages being arranged by Rajput mothers of mughal princes. This was part of a political alliance begun by enlightened and secular Akbar and by Rajput kings who were discerning enough to accept the realpolitik which could promote peace so that the kingdom and its people could flourish economically and be socially harmonious. […]

Rajputs in Rajasthan, being small in numbers, are politically marginalised and divided. Many young people are unemployed and poor while other castes and communities like the Jats and Meenas have become more economically and politically powerful and have secured reservations, sometimes unjustly. These Rajput youth are trying to mobilise and express their anger by rallying to causes of honour and purity which gives them solace through a sense of identity and superiority in difficult times of transition.

Unless the young people in the country get proper education, employment and a wise leadership they will continue to rally around communal, regional and caste causes of narrow identity, past hurt and imagined purity of honor. The rich legacy of a composite, diverse and tolerant cultures is under threat. The threat is based on the false equation of a rich and complex cultural intercourse with impurity which is than translated as dishonour. The threat is projected as shrill moral policing as in the case of Jodhaa Akbar, as in the case of Raj Thackerey’s exclusivist Marathi ‘son of the soil’ pride, as in the hounding of Tasleema Nasreen by Muslim extremists. We Indians need to know that there’s only a thin dividing line between honor and intolerance, between pride and prejudice.”

Giri and Sadan saw the film this weekend during a visit to New Delhi.  Sadan mentioned that it was rather long — a whopping four hours, to be exact.  I asked him if he thought the film should have been banned and his response was, “No, it’s all monkey business.  It’s a bunch of rubbish.”  Apparently, some “community groups” dispute different issues in order to get money.  Sometimes they say a film should be censored and then they are paid off by studios in order to show the films.  I asked Sadan if he thought it was because of the Hindu-Muslim alliance that people disliked the film.  He doesn’t think so.  Sadan thought the movie was good and did not need to be censored.  He just wished it was shorter.

Move Over Toast

Indian Foods Part 2 — Breads

February 27, 2008

My bland diet has inspired me to write about different types of Indian breads. Daniel and I went to a swanky wedding at City Palace with Giri, Sadan and some of their friends. With long buffet tables of catered food from local hot spots, I kept to mild dishes and fresh breads from the tandoori. When it was time for dessert, each person at our table inspected each other’s picks from the assortment of jalebi, fruit salad, kulfi, caramel custard and ice cream. They laughed at me when they saw my joy in eating naan and fruit salad for dessert instead of the other more desirable options. But, hey, naan is not as common in Indian cuisine as Naan n’ Curry in Berkeley (now House of Curries), or the countless other Indian restaurants in the States led me to believe.

Breads are an essential part of meals in Northern India. For breakfast, lunch or dinner they serve as both eating utensil and source of carbohydrates. For some families, breads are a vital source of calories if they cannot afford vegetables or proteins for at every sitting. Therefore many variations on this Indian staple exist. To quote my favorite Indian recipe website, making bread is only limited by “one’s taste and imagination.”

Naan will always be my favorite type of Indian bread. It’s fluffy and can be seasoned with everything from garlic and onion to something simple like butter. I may be condemning myself as a tourist for loving this simple fare, but it’s delicious, what can I say? Traditionally, cooks prepare naan in a tandoori oven. At a party I once watched a man in a turban knead the wheat and yeast dough into balls as music played and women in saris danced. It was hot near the oven, but he stayed close as each naan cooked. When one was done, he’d flatten another into an oblong gob. Then he’d reach inside the round, pit-like tandoor and smear it on the side. The bread bubbled slightly as it rose and colored from the flames. He made enough naan to feed about fifty guests. But you don’t need a tandoori oven. You can make it for yourself on a baking sheet. I’d recommend wearing a turban though, it looks cool.

Recipe: www.indianfoodforever.com/indian-breads/naan.html

Roti (Chapati)
At the home-stay we eat rotis more than any other type of bread. A roti or chapati is typically made of wheat flour and ghee. The dough can be combined with different greens or types of herbs to create flavor. I love to eat wheat rotis with guava jelly. Sometimes I add peanut butter, making a classic favorite I grew up eating on bread or a tortilla.

Recipe: www.indianfoodforever.com/indian-breads/besan-ki-roti.html


Puri and Battura
A puri is flat bread that puffs up from frying. It reminds me of the way corn tortillas puff up when you fry them at too high of a heat. The difference between the corn tortilla and a puri, the puri stays puffed and you can put food in it like pita bread. Sometimes we have puris made with yogurt called batturas. Battura is traditionally eaten with a gravy bean dish. I like the garbanzo bean dish flavored with ginger, called Chole.

Puri Recipe: www.indianfoodforever.com/indian-breads/puri.html


Battura Recipe: See About Video Blurb


Paratha Stuffed parathas are a great snack. They are sort of like a quesadilla with potato or spinach in place of cheese. And instead of salsa or guacamole, we have chutneys and sauces to add flavor. When I eat parathas, I enjoy dipping them in tomato chutney or mint sauce (both of which are in season right now). I’ve had aloo (potato) parathas most often, but I would like to try a palak (spinach) paratha sometime.

Recipe: www.indianfoodforever.com/indian-breads/aloo-parantha-tandoori.html