Tag Archives: reflections

Happy 6th Birthday, Culture Cookies!

29 May

It’s that time of year again: my blog birthday! I love that WordPress sends an alert, because it’s truly a reason to celebrate. Six years is a pretty long time to keep up any sort of personal project, don’t you think? Especially when you’re not monetizing it ūüėČ

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Just feels fitting to give this post a cake. Even if it’s only a picture of cake.

I started this blog as a personal outlet for things I loved to do, but wasn’t getting out of my job at the time. Back then, I was a management consultant and my days mainly consisted of spreadsheets, process flows and PowerPoint slides. I missed writing essays, and¬†decided to start a blog so I could¬†write about anything on my mind.

This blog has carried me through so much since then: a cross-country move,¬†several apartments, job swaps, relationships. I ran into one of my loyal readers the other day¬†(Hi Mary-Lynn!) and we¬†chatted¬†about how I post less frequently than I used to. That’s partly because of my second blog, which¬†often steals my attention away from this one. But it’s also because my relationship to this blog shifts over time, depending on what’s happening in my life. Like any hobby, its role fluctuates depending on what I’m doing and how I’m feeling.

Culture Cookies began as a¬†space for commentary and long-form writing. Then I shifted into¬†a brand strategy job, and spent my days thinking about consumer behavior. I’d read trend reports, conduct consumer research and think about how brands should express themselves. That meant marketing and behavior were always on my mind, so many of my posts ended up touching on consumer psychology, social commentary and brands. Even though the blog synced somewhat with what I did at work, it was still an outlet for long-form writing since most of my “official” work still ended up in PowerPoint slides.

Now here we are, May 2017, and suddenly: writing¬†is¬†my job. I get to write for work, day in, day out.¬†But¬†while I do see lots of¬†data (I’m a business writer!), and I do often write about consumer behavior, my daily work¬†doesn’t focus on spotting behavioral patterns anymore. ¬†And I do think that has had an impact on this blog. In the past six months or so, I’ve written much more personal reflection than¬†social strategy or marketing analysis. It makes sense: switching jobs last fall marked a big change in my life, a change that prompted lots of self-reflection. So naturally, the blog evolved again.

But as I told Mary-Lynn the other day, I miss the old Culture Cookies. I enjoy writing personal essays, and don’t plan to stop, but I do want to beef back up the other parts of this blog that I’ve sort of abandoned for the past ten months. Consider this my blog birthday pledge: I¬†pledge to reboot my marketing talk and behavioral commentary. It’s time to turn more of my scheming scribbles into actual posts.¬†I already have a couple of drafts in the works, and promise to share them in the next few weeks.

As always, thanks for reading. Hope to see you back here soon!

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Into the Memory Box

16 Apr

When I walked into my childhood bedroom a couple of months ago, I found a plastic box sitting on my desk. The box held a scattered assortment of things my mom had found around the house: souvenirs from family trips, commemorative pins, jewelry I used to wear as a kid.

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Many of the things in that box felt pleasantly relevant today. A bracelet from my first¬†trip to Paris, when I fell in love with the city and the language. The baton necklace isn’t something I’d actually wear today, but I still proudly call myself a baton twirler‚ÄĒand even taught a baton class at work last week. The cable car necklace,¬†a souvenir from¬†a family trip to San Francisco, is even more special now that I’ve lived in SF for 5 years.

But then we get to the gold necklace on the left, the one that looks like half a heart. That’s part of a¬†classic friendship necklace, the kind that’s broken in two to symbolize everlasting friendship. Except…I have no idea who had the other half.

There’s something funny about that. At some point in time, I considered someone important enough to split a friendship necklace with them, declaring our everlasting friendship. And yet here we are, probably 20 years later,¬†and I haven’t a clue who had the other half.

To be fair, those things weren’t exclusive relationships. I split friendship necklaces and bracelets with many people over the years…often at the same time. This necklace wasn’t like a written decree to ONLY be best friends with that one person, despite what “best” technically implies. I had several “best” friends, some “bester than others.” Even as a (word obsessed) kid, I found the fact that you could have more than 1 “best” friend a tad confusing. But I called lots of people my best friend back then.

So back to our mystery: who had the other half? My life swirled around over the years from school to school, hobby to hobby. I can think of many candidates for¬†the other half, but nothing’s confirmed. Odds are that I’m not close to that person anymore, since my world changed so much over the years, and¬†mostly shifted away from people I knew as a kid.

When I was really young, I accepted that friendships broke, and you moved on. You switched classes or changed levels at ballet or moved, and that’s just how things went. But as I got older, I resisted the idea of friendships that end. These days, I’m terrible at letting go of friendships. I hate the fact that someone who mattered¬†so incredibly much¬†to you at one point in life, could matter very little later on. It hurts to think¬†about people who defined certain years of my memories, but no longer pop up in my world today. It pains me when someone drifts away, and I feel so incredibly bad when I’m the one who drifts away, too. ¬†I want to keep all the people I like close, in my life, as much as I can.

But that’s just not how life works. I’ve gotten a little better over the years at accepting this truth about friendship: not all friendships last forever. The right people will stay in your life, and both sides have to put in effort and energy and care for that to happen. You have to invest in the relationships that mean the most and work the best. And you have to accept that sometimes, you’re just not someone else’s “friend priority” when they do their own round of investing and working and prioritizing.

I still treasure memories of people who meant something in the past, even if they’re not around now. I’m grateful for whoever had the other half of this necklace, because even if I can’t place who it is, I know they must have been important to me at a particular time in my life. I’m grateful that back then, they meant enough to me for us to declare ourselves BFFs, believing we’d be there for each other through thick and thin. Even if that didn’t last, maybe the true purpose of the necklace was the¬†support it gave us at the time. Sometimes you just don’t end up BFFs, despite buying jewelry about it. Still, it’s nice to know that at some point, I felt so strongly about someone being meaningful that we should wear symbols of that friendship. And it’s nice to know that when I was young and needed that friendship, someone was there for me to wear the matching half.

It’s Ok to Quit

5 Mar

I’ve wanted to learn how to knit since I was in high school. A friend started to teach me our senior year, but we never made it past the first few steps. For years, knitting was a “someday” hobby.¬†Someday I’d learn,¬†when I had the time, and when I had the chance. I held onto my needles and yarn and partially knitted scarf,¬†planning to finish it whenever I could.

I got my chance this January, after years of anticipation. A friend invited me to join her knitting class, and I jumped on the class. I showed up to the first class so excited to finally learn how to finish that scarf.

And then, after all that time: I din’t like it! I enjoyed creating something, and that my effort produced something tangible right in my hands. But I didn’t like the process. I didn’t get sucked in and lose track of time. I didn’t find it relaxing.¬†Practicing felt like a chore, rather than a hobby I’d choose to do for fun.

So, I quit.To be fair, I quit earlier than I would have liked. I had to miss class 3, which made class 4 pointless. But regardless, I just knew I wasn’t going to keep it up. Some might say I gave up too soon, ¬†or that I’d like it more once I got the hang of it. But you know what? I¬†simply didn’t like it.¬†And that’s ok.

We don’t have to like everything we try. We don’t have to be good at everything we try.¬†It’s 100%¬†normal, in fact, to dislike some of the things we try, and to be bad at them.¬†I think it’s human nature to want to excel at everything, to be a person of many talents. And it’s also human nature to beat yourself up a bit when you’re not good at something or don’t enjoy it. But sometimes, hobbies aren’t a good fit for your skills or your needs, and then it’s time to move on. There are too many amazing things¬†this world to spend time on hobbies you don’t like.

It seems like it should be a letdown that after all these years, I don’t even like the hobby I’d been dreaming about.¬†In reality, it felt like a tidy ending to a longtime dream. Telling myself that it’s ok to dislike something and it’s ok to quit actually felt really good. It was a nice reminder to focus my time and energy on the things I really like, rather than trying to make every little thing work.

Of course, the urge to try new hobbies won’t end here. I have plenty of hobbies already, from writing this blog to baking¬†my way through¬†every recipe possible.¬†Still, there’s something so enticing about trying something new and entering a whole new world of possibilities.¬†I doubt I’ll ever get sick of trying new things‚Äďjust don’t expect me to like all of them!

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Off the Road

11 Dec

This time last year, I was staring out a hotel window at a smoggy LA scene. The day before, I¬†was in Austin. The week before? S√£o Paolo.¬†I wasn’t on an intentional adventure‚Äďthis was business travel. All three stops were for focus groups. I tried to make the most of it: an early morning dash for donuts in Austin, a quick museum stop in S√£o Paolo, trying a new restaurant in LA. Mostly, though, I sat in focus group facilities,¬†scribbling notes about consumer behavior¬†and eating an inordinate amount of M&Ms (a focus group staple).

And now¬†here we are, a year later, and I have zero business trips planned. After 7 years of frequent, often chaotic business travel, I’m officially off the road. It’s largely a relief‚Äďbut there’s also something bittersweet about it that I’m still trying to process. My new job will involve the occasional business trip, but most the time, I’ll be home sweet home.

Switching myself off from business traveler mode has actually been one of the weirdest adjustments to my new job. On the one hand, I’m elated. Business travel can be so tiring, and it made my life really fragmented too. I could never quite plan ahead, I never committed to weekday plans more than a week out, and I always knew there was the possibility I’d have to hop on a last-minute flight.¬†I struggled to set good habits because¬†once I’d gain momentum, the next trip would come along and disrupt it.

And yet: there’s something beautiful about popping up all over the place.¬†Business trips took me places I probably wouldn’t have been to otherwise: far-flung suburbs, extremely small towns, medium-sized towns that just don’t make most tourist itineraries. I’m full of stories from the last 7 years, some treasured and some reviled. That time I got lost in Alabama and ended up at a pecan farm. All the late, late night drinks and early, early breakfasts with NYC pals, crammed in to accommodate my work commitments.¬†The months I spent¬†staffed in New Jersey,¬†barely seeing anything beyond my hotel and my client site.

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Waking up in Sao Paolo

This lifestyle shift is really impacting me right now. I find myself thinking about¬†the feeling of checking in at a new hotel, pondering how much time I spent in airports, remembering all the times I dragged my suitcase around a new place.¬†Planes and hotels were¬†such a big part of my life for so long, whether I liked it or not.¬†Being on the road had some exciting moments but more importantly, it was familiar. Lack of routine¬†was¬†my routine for so long, and it’s sort of bizarre that the pattern ended.

A more open calendar means opening up my life: the lack of movement means I can move forward in new ways. But, I’m still figuring out how this whole “non-business traveler” thing works.¬†I’m trying to establish a better routine. I’m saying yes to weekday plans.¬†And above all else, I’m savoring the feeling of staying still.

Since I keep a¬†sort-of diary,¬†it was really easy to map the places I’ve traveled for work. So naturally, I had to do it. This map only reflects locations, not frequency. For example, I hit up LA a few times in 2013 alone. Maybe someday¬†I’ll add frequency in… but for now, the data-geek side of me finds this map pretty satisfying on its own.

On The Other Side of Town

21 Apr

Last week, I took a vacation to the other side of San Francisco. I rented an Airbnb in the Outer Sunset neighborhood, a little under 7 miles from my own apartment.

I realize you may find this odd – and I do understand. With so many compelling places to travel, staying close to home may sound like a missed opportunity. But I’ve long been intrigued by the idea of different “versions” of a city.¬†Even if you and I live in the same city, our experience will be markedly different depending on our neighborhoods. Living in a different part of the city shifts your daily “center of gravity.” It’s what you see, where you go, who you meet. It’s the lens that defines how you experience the city, and how you interpret the city’s culture. Living on the western edge of San Francisco vs. the eastern edge literally means seeing everything from a different point of view. Your relation to the city’s landmarks shifts,¬†and your conception of the city’s heartbeat¬†shifts, too.

When I travel I love to wander, trying to uncover the threads of that city’s life. I do a pretty good job wandering¬†San Francisco, too, but I’ve always wondered what it’d be like to live across the city. I’ve wondered what it’d be like to have an distinct¬†center of San Francisco gravity.

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Looking toward Sutro Tower

And so, I embarked on vacation to the other side of town. I picked the Outer Sunset because its character and composition are very distinct from where I live. The area has always intrigued me, for some reason, and I’ve always wondered what it’d be like to live there. It’s close to the ocean, and has a bit of a surfer-like, laid-back feel. I live¬†in the midst of city congestion, near a street full of bars, and narrow streets. I love my neighborhood, but I certainly wouldn’t call it relaxing.

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Headed to the ocean

My boyfriend and I spent a few days wandering the area’s nooks and crannies, letting ourselves unwind. It turned out to be the perfect getaway for what I needed, in that moment. The right dose of change, and the right level of inspiration. We crossed off several things on my San Francisco “to do list” that I’d just never made it to before. We spent time at coffee shops, my boyfriend working and me writing. We went to neighborhoods I’d never seen before. We walked along the ocean,¬†looking toward the same San Francisco landmarks we usually see, but from a new¬†perspective. We got a taste of what it’d be like to have a different San Francisco life.

I’d love to do this over and over, trying out the myriad areas of San Francisco that interest me. In reality, I know my next vacation will take me further away, because there are just so many places I want to explore. Still, I hope this can become an annual tradition- stepping out just far enough beyond my own¬†slice of the city, to shift my center just a little, to change my point of view just¬†enough to reflect on the many shades of San Francisco.

Craving a City

14 Feb

Sometimes I wake up craving a city. I get out of bed, and imagine that when I walk out the door, I’ll find myself someplace other than San Francisco. Sometimes I’m in a Chicago mood. Other times it’s Madrid. Just last week, it was Arkansas.

I’m not¬†entirely sure what drives these “cravings.” I’ve lived a good number of places by now, and each one does remind me of a particular stage of my life. I’ve also been a business traveler for so many years- and the first few years, I was on the road every week, headed to the same place for months at a time. So those places factor into my city cravings, too. They make it messier, in fact, since I never really lived there, but went there so often.¬†I have no roots in those places, but I do have a bond. Sometimes I find it hard to grasp that my story ties to¬†so many places,¬†and that my life has been such a web of locations, projects, people. I suppose¬†it’s common in today’s world, but at times I wonder what it’d be like to live in 1 place your entire life, and leave only for vacation.

When I first moved to San Francisco, I thought feeling like I¬†should be in Chicago made a lot of sense. After all, I’d just spent a few years there, and I barely had any friends here yet. So I’d regularly miss Chicago, miss my friends, and feel like I was in the wrong place. I’d expect to walk outside my building and see the bricks of Lincoln Park, the curve of Lakeshore Drive, the grandeur of downtown Chicago. Instead I’d walk outside to light gray sidewalks, the ascent of the Fillmore hill, the elaborate Queen Anne homes. I’d get on the 45-Union to go to work, rather than the 134-Stockton/Lasalle Express. I’d walk up to a 4-story office building, rather than a skyscraper kissing the Chicago sky.

Nostalgia is a simple explanation for these “cravings.”¬†And it can be triggered by people, moods, weather.¬†Whenever the weather hits a specific shade of crisp, it takes me back to St. Louis, and to my first true “fall” season, the first fall I spent away from Southern California where the seasons blend together.

And yet- it’s more than nostalgia, I think.¬†I can easily wish to be back on 2012’s vacation to Hawaii, but that’s longing, not a feeling of belonging. When I wake up with city cravings, I feel like I’m in the wrong place- that I was meant to be somewhere else that day.¬†The Arkansas example is a good one. Back in 2010, I spent several months commuting to/from Bentonville, Arkansas every week for a consulting project. I certainly didn’t lay roots there- we stayed in a hotel each Monday to Thursday, and flew back home Thursday nights. And yet, thinking about Bentonville takes me to a specific mindset and feeling. When I woke up last week and imagined I’d be stepping into the lobby of the Aloft Bentonville rather than my San Francisco home- it surprised me a great deal. For some reason, I just felt like I was supposed to be in Arkansas that day.

Every city has its own rhythm and flavor. When you walk through its streets, you feel a certain way. The building blocks of a city combine to produce something excitingly distinct: the architecture, people, tastes, smells. The way the air feels. The way the people interact. And when you spend time in one of these places, it sticks with you. Something about that experience seeps into your soul, hooks into your psyche.¬†And once it’s there, it’s there. To be uncovered someday, perhaps by a sign, a memory, a mood.

A look at some of the places I’ve called home:

 

How Do You Measure A Year in the Life?

30 Dec

Earlier this year I read an article about a designer who publishes an “Annual Report” about his life. Nicholas Felton uses a series of charts and data points to clue others into what’s happened to him in a given year. But unlike the Annual Reports you see in business, this isn’t about financial results and board member bios. Instead, Felton’s reports provide a glimpse into his daily life. And unlike traditional family holiday letters that focus on big accomplishments and personal changes, Felton’s reports span all parts of life. Throughout the year, he uses digital tools to capture mini-reports about where he goes, what he eats, who he sees, etc. His tool checks in on him every 90 minutes. Some reports end up being quite “exciting” – for example, a trip for a wedding. Others feel quite mundane – for example, data showing he’s at work more than most other places. But when you put all the details together, even the mundane ones, it creates a really fascinating infographic that measures a year in his life. For example, in¬†2012¬†he sent 47 reports from hotels and 185 from cabs. His most-visited store was a Safeway grocery store in Palo Alto. His least-social day was typically Sunday. He attended 12 live performances throughout the year.

Interestingly, Felton’s day job is designing the Facebook timeline. But unlike what we post on Facebook, his annual reports capture more than the “notable” (though let’s be honest, everyone has their own interpretation of what’s “notable” enough to share on Facebook!). ¬†We may think that our years are defined by exciting trips and social celebrations and personal growth.¬†But in reality, our yearly fabric is woven up of so much more than that. ¬†Felton’s reports made me think about how I document my own life. I do keep some personal journals, but I certainly don’t write down how many times I go to the grocery store or see a particular person at work.

In honor of Felton’s idea, here are a few “data points” that help measure my 2013. I didn’t use as precise a tool as he did, of course, but thanks to my journals and online account management tools, it’s pretty simple to do some rough estimates.

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And one last thing: here’s a quick round-up of what happened on this blog in 2013. As always, dear readers, thanks for tuning in to Culture Cookies. Hope to see you all back in 2014!

Top 5 Posts Published in 2013 (Non-Food)

  1. Holiday in Spain 
  2. Send My Regards
  3. Did I Get It?
  4. The Thrill of Traveling Alone
  5. Be Nice to Tourists

Top 5 Posts Published in 2013 (Food)

  1. Piece of Cake
  2. Wave the Flag
  3. Pumpkin Lovin’
  4. The British Are Coming!
  5. Full of Surprises
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