Sunday, October 31, 2010

The next courses up for bids

Oh, classes. How I appreciate them when I have the time. Second quarter (known around here as Fall 2) just began, but it's already time to start bidding for spring courses. The process starts tomorrow and ends in two weeks.

Second-year students' curriculum consists of nothing but electives. First-year students do not take any electives in the fall but can take one or two in the spring. Second-year students get first dibs on spring courses, and then first-years can bid. We each have a certain number of points (500, I think, although that's immaterial) that we divide amongst the classes we want. There are only a few courses where demand exceeds supply; in those cases, the highest bidders get the seats. Students can access records of previous years' bidding results to gauge which courses are likely to be over-sought and require high bids.

This semester, I am enjoying my courses but went pretty "hard" with my choices, partly because I felt it was important to work on those skills while I have the chance, and partly because there weren't many "soft" courses offered. For the spring offerings, there are more OB (Organizational Behavior) classes than in the fall, which literally is to say that the number of OB classes offered in the spring is not 0. So I am going to load on those, both because they are relevant to what I hope is my career trajectory, and because I enjoy them. But I'm also going to take one non-SOM course and one "eat my vegetables" type of course. Here's the lineup I'm currently considering:
  • Behavioral Perspectives on Management. This was priased by a friend as the best class she took at SOM, and it's taught by a professor I had and liked last year for Managing Marketing Programs. This looks at how people make decisions and behave.
  • Strategic Leadership Across Sectors. This is taught by Jeffrey Sonnenfeld, who is an accomplished person and famous around here. The course description is a little hard to nail down, but it begins: "This course takes a comprehensive view of the value-adding impact of top corporate leaders and how they revolutionize their enterprises, their industries, and the world economy." Sounds good to me.
  • Navigating Organizations. Topics include power and authority, organizational structure, social networks, traits, persuasion, coalitions and status. Just Spring 2.
  • Investment Management. My vegetable. Portfolio optimization, equity investing, fixed income, alternative investments, international markets, derivatives, and so on and so on ...
  • New Italian Cinema. A film studies class that looks at Italian movies since 2000. Has a weekly screening on Sunday night.
In addition to these courses, I am also a teaching assistant for the Economics and Financing of Journalism, a quarter-long course I would have taken as a student had the TA opportunity not arisen. Because the class wasn't offered last year, there are no second-year students who have taken it. I figured I might as well throw my hat into the ring, since I indeed dealt with the economics and financing of journalism over the summer, and that appears to have been ample qualification for the position. What breaks my heart, though, is that I was supposed to TA Employee, a first-year course, and I would have been able to do it if this journalism class had remained in Spring 2 as it was originally scheduled. But it was moved up to Spring 1, now conflicts with Employee, and I cannot do both at the same time. (I literally can't; it's against the rules.)

So that's the plan!

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Haunted hayride

If I died and had to linger around this planet as a ghost, one thing I don't think I'd do is sit in the woods, awaiting tractors whose beds carry innocent people sitting in straw, just in the hopes that, should such an odd and obscure thing transpire, I could run after them screaming for a few seconds. I would instead use my lack of physical being to do neat things like fly, and I would "haunt" places I can't typically go, like the Oval Office, and the bedrooms of hot celebrities. Or maybe I would travel through time and re-observe my childhood, although I have no reason to believe that being a ghost would enable me to move through time. Still, though, I wouldn't waste away the eternal years in rural isolation, and I wouldn't bother scaring people. I mean, if I wanted to scare people, I could do it now, while I'm still alive. Maybe I do just that, unintentionally.

But to each his own. Apparently several ghouls get some sick pleasure out of scaring the living, as was evidenced in the haunted hayride I attended last night. The picture above doesn't do this set-up justice, but it was basically the only decent photo that came out of my flash-less iPhone. They did a nice production ... elaborate with many segments, including a maze, a spinning tunnel, a hayride ... you got a lot for $12. And I did shout once, when we were in a pitch-black maze and something jumped in front of me.

I'm not a frequenter of haunted houses, so my superlative statements should be taken with a grain of salt, but that said, the scariest "haunted house" type of thing I've seen was actually the horror portion of Tussaud's Palace of Wax, in the Ripley's Believe It Or Not museum in Grand Prairie, a town in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. I went to write a story when I worked at the Star-Telegram, and was totally alone; I never saw another person. And, as dumb as it sounds, I was so repeatedly startled by sudden blasts of noises, flashes of light and ghastly imagery that I grew increasingly nervous and on-edge, to the point that I was relieved to get the hell out of there. That complex had a traditional wax museum, the haunted portion of it, the Believe It Or Not exhibits and a mirror maze (pictured). Why am I telling you this? Who knows. Maybe you'll find yourself in Grand Prairie someday, looking for something to do with kids, and remember these words.

Maybe I'm just stalling doing my Corporate Finance homework ...

Friday, October 29, 2010

Three shows in a row

This week has rather reminded me of my old life as an entertainment journalist because I've seen two movies in theaters, and last night attended the opening of a play at the Yale Rep. It was Edward Albee's "A Delicate Balance," quite reminiscent of his "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf." I don't know if I've ever seen such an amazing set. The performances were impressive in isolation but seemed a bit mismatched as an ensemble, as if each actor were in a different play. It's a good play but does wear on one after a while; I felt that way about "Virginia Woolf," too.

Yestersday was also the successful execution of a panel I helped coordinate for the Human Capital Club; three consultants from Deloitte came to share their experiences in dealing with human-capital issues and opportunities that arise in M&A deals. It was well-attended -- shy of my ambitious goal of 50, but still solid at 30. It's a bit of an odd feeling to sit in a room somewhat helplessly as an event unfolds that you did all you could to coordinate properly but whose value is still left up to chance. But I'm very pleased. It was a great discussion and good event-planning experience for me. Plus it gave me another chance to plug the Human Capital Club, which my friend Erika and I are founding this year.

Today I hit the gym and have been highly productive, attached to my computer and trying to take care of the small mountain of tasks that piled up during the week (while I was apparently busy being an audience member). Now it's off to the barber and to pick up some dry cleaning so that I can look my spiffiest as I head into next week's wringer of job interviews in New York.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Definitely see Waiting for Superman

The Education Club at Yale SOM last night sponsored an outing to see the documentary "Waiting for Superman," which examines the failures (and possible salvations) of the U.S. public school system. I'm very interested in education and always have been; if I were to go the nonprofit route after school, this is the industry I would pursue. And this movie is pretty eye-opening. 

I went to private school from kindergarten through third grade, then switched to public school for 4th through senior year. I've always had a lot of pride about my school but know that I was lucky to live in a wealthy-enough area that my school was well-funded. Also, my school was free of one of the main problems with public schools that this film points out -- union restrictions that prevent incentive structures from rewarding good teachers and pushing out bad ones. My school district was the only one in the county that offered teachers merit-based raises, so it attracted good teachers. And furthermore I went to high school during a particularly peak time in the school's life cycle: Most of my teachers had been there for at least 30 years and have since retired, so they'd had the benefits of lots of experience and practice.

Education is obviously a deeply complex issue that elitics strong opinions about the root cause of the problem: Inadequate funding, parents disengagement, weak teachers, lack of technical innovation in the classroom, mind-frying video games and TV, poor nutrition for kids, drugs, generational culture, apathy on the part of the kids themselves, etc. Seems to me it's really an ecosystem of problems, although even after seeing this movie it's still not obvious to me how bad the "problem" really is, or what role a compulsory classroom education should play in kids' upbringing. Anyway, it's a great movie that brings up all kinds of issues, including tracking, standardized tests, teachers unions, charter schools and their lottery systems for admissions, and so on. Definitely catch it if you can.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Getting freaky

Last night, I attended a free screening of Freakonomics, a new documentary (based on the bestselling book) produced by Yale SOM alumnus Chad Troutwine ('02). He opened the screening with about half an hour of Q&A and was a dynamic and interesting speaker. The movie has had an unconventional release, first being available on iTunes for $11, and just recently being available in theaters. Turns out that, according to Chad anyway, it's the second highest-grossing documentary of the year if you include all revenue streams, although the box office figures in and of themselves have been disappointing.

The movie presents vignettes from the book, each with a different director. This approach immediately reminded me of a documentary I enjoyed called "Paris, je t'aime," where every story takes place in Paris. I just realized this morning that Chad also produced that film. I thought the multi-director approach worked a bit better in "Paris," where each vignette was shorter and totally self-contained. In "Freakonomics," there were common threads -- including interviews with the book's authors -- so having different directors seemed sort of extraneous and distracting. And, like "Paris," the quality level really varied. The bits about paying kids to get good grades and whether Roe v. Wade has caused a reduction in crime rate were more interesting than the segment about cheating in sumo wrestling, which felt like it was never going to end.

Another school-related screening tonight, of "Waiting for Superman," to which I look forward.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Monday play by play

6 a.m.: Alarm goes off
6:15 a.m.: Wake up, make apples with peanut butter, glass of milk, check e-mail, deal with things that need responses.
7 a.m.: Matt picks me up in his car to go to the gym
7:10 a.m. to 8:30 a.m.: Exercise
8:45 a.m. to 9:15 a.m.: A more proper breakfast of granola, yogurt and vegetarian sausage patties
9:15 a.m. to 10 a.m.: Shower and dress in suit
10 a.m. to 10:20 a.m.: Walk to film studies class
10:30 a.m. to 11:20 a.m.: Attend class
11:20 a.m. to 11:40 a.m.: Walk back home, deal with more e-mails, eat an apple
12:30 p.m.: Arrive at the Career Development Office for job interview
1 to 1:45 p.m.: Interview #1, a case, goes pretty well I think (missing Corporate Finance, which I'm supposed to have from 1 to 2:20)
1:55 to 2:35 p.m.: Interview #2, behavioral interview, goes pretty well I think
2:35 to 3:15 p.m.: Tend to e-mails that need my attention
3:15 to 3:45 p.m.: Interview a prospective student who wants to come to Yale
3:45 to 4:15 p.m.: Complete and submit a report about that student, tend to more e-mails
4:15 to 4:45 p.m.: Meet with first-year student interested in interning at the AP this summer; drink a Diet Coke and eat a granola bar
4:45 to 5 p.m.: Walk home
5 p.m. to 6:45 p.m.: Change clothes, print out some cases and lecture notes, read, eat cheese and crackers
7 to 8:30 p.m.: Meet with Data Driven Marketing study group to do case write-up, at friend Carolyn's apartment
8:30 to 9 p.m.: Meet with Competitive Strategy Group to discuss case write-up, at school
9 to 11:45 p.m.: Back to Carolyn's to finish case write-up, have two glasses of wine
Now: This

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Apple-picking and second class-wide spam

This afternoon I accompanied some first-year students on an apple-picking outing at Bishop's Orchards, a massive bucolic expanse with a suprisingly wide variety of apples. (Background information: Among my many activities this year, I am a second-year advisor, or SYA, which means I help organize a seminar/class series for first-years called the Leadership Development Program, or LDP. To assist in their bonding outside of school, I arranged this outing.)

Anyway, I came away with some fantastic apples that I quickly gave away to some of my classmates with whom I met this afternoon to prepare for our consulting interviews tomorrow. There are five of us up for these full-time positions, although I don't know how many people they will take; they took two last year. Every practice case helps stamp out the butterflies. It's going to be a killer day tomorrow -- gym, class, two interviews, conducting an admissions interview for a prospective student, and two group write-up meetings.

Meanwhile, I just sent my second-ever class-wide spam, urging people to come to a panel I'm helping organize this Thursday about human capital, M&A and the pharmaceutical industry. It always makes me nervous to send such things because I worry I'll make a typo. Sure enough, I did. Sigh. I do try.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

I had a vision of love, and ...

Today I cased and cased and cased, fighting a cold. Then, to unwind, I did what any 31-year-old man would do on a Saturday night: made a cheese sandwich and enjoyed some Mariah Carey live performances over an ice-cold diet root beer. I'm secure enough in my popularity to own such evenings. Yes, there's a party tonight ... a big bash, where there will be lots of boys and where the booze will flow. But I'm under the weather and need to be alert tomorrow as I prep for my interviews Monday. So, in I'm staying. Really.

Anyway, this brings me to a crucial point, which is regarding the song "Vision of Love" by Mariah Carey, among my 10 favorite Mariah Carey songs. I love it because it's classic, soulful, has a mesmerizing vocal performance and ends with what I always perceived as a haunting final line. To bring folks up to speed, the song is about how after hoping and praying that love would materialize from the protagonist's vision, it did, and thus the protagonist is "eternally grateful." So it's a happy and uplifting song about wishes coming true.

The song continues in this vein and builds to a swelling climax until, in the last line, the music suddenly gets minor, and she sings, "I had a vision of love, and it was all that you turned out to be." Even when I was 11, this gave me goosebumps. I took that to mean that she had been delusional or kidding herself throughout the entire song and that her dreams actually hadn't come true -- that she mistook a "vision of love" for a real love and was left disappointed.

I can't find anything online to corroborate my theory, though. It could be I'm reading just a bit too deeply into lyrics written by a teenager. I hope this comes up in my interviews Monday. I think there's a pretty good chance. Still, though, maybe I should return to brushing up on articles about the latest trends in the HR industry ...

Friday, October 22, 2010

Back to New York

For all its bums, trash and crowds, New York is still a magical place. As I stepped onto the streets in the cold drizzle yesterday for a less-than-36 hour visit, I felt immediately happy and at ease. I was away on a mini-vacation, and back where I had such a wonderful summer.

The trip was brief, but a nice getaway, especially because I am a bit wound up about my job interview Monday. I spent the first few hours strolling with my friend Brian, starting at Chelsea Market and going through the Meatpacking District, the West Village, and somehow back at the Yale Club by Grand Central Station. Lunch happened somewhere in there. We regailed each other with humorous tales of how piled-up our lives have been since summer.

I also visited my friend Kristin, who I worked with back in Fort Worth, and we had a nice time catching up, drinking and eating, including at an excellent pizza place in Brooklyn called Franny's. Another highlight was a delightful breakfast of homemade ice cream sandwiches and a latte. "Why?" you ask? "Why not!" I reply.
We also saw the movie The Social Network at what I believe was the dumpiest theater I've ever been in, with a bevy of broken and missing seats. I just looked the place up -- Pavillion Park Slope -- and discovered this humorous collection of scathing reviews. I quote:
  • "SO filthy, I cant believe the health department doesn't shut this place down. All I want is to watch a movie in my neighborhood without worrying whether or not I'm going to catch the plague from the blackened, disgusting seat upholstery."
  • "There is obviously a huge management problem here. There are lots of broken seats, sticky floors. dirty bathrooms. bad smells. And now there are posts on local forums of bed bugs spreading around in there. I'm willing to bet this place will get closed down by the health department very very soon. It's so bad, that it seems like it's being done on purpose to write it off as a loss or something. What a shame, great location."
  • " I like the Pavilion because it has an old-fashioned feel - quirky architecture, murals on the walls, and generally a good selection of movies. On the other hand, it feels like a bit of a firetrap!"
Oh, things I should've known before I went. Anyway, that movie's good. I think because it's about real people and a very recent event (i.e. still unfolding), there's a particular pressure on the filmmakers to be 100% accurate, and that's naturally an impossible standard when one is trying to reconstruct conversations and make a film entertaining. It was still enjoyable and informative in a grain-of-salt kind of way that skeptical journalists such as myself view these types of things. And nicely acted.

Now I'm back in the Have.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Something is fishy

Tasks I perform in the kitchen have become stress-relievers to which I look forward. Cooking breakfast, cooking dinner, doing dishes, cleaning up ... These are activities I can get behind, because they remove me from the worries and concerns of interview prep, club-leadership business, courses and whatever else occupies my mind. They also remind me of pleasant, simpler times.

Also relieving a bit of stress is Ophelia, my roommate's cat. It's taken her long enough, but she's warmed up to me, coming to cuddle on the couch and engaging in chit-chat. It may not hurt that I made fish for dinner, and puddy cats love fishes. I also made baked sweet potato, sauteed asparagus and a big ol' salad with alfalfa sprouts, raspberries and blue cheese crumbles. I wonder if, before now, I've ever typed the word alfalfa.

Because I like to cook and clean, I probably won't hire help of that nature after I complete my MBA and become immediately filthy rich, since that's what happens and stuff. What will I spend my money on then? Fancy cars? Exotic vacations? The answer is probably student loans, taxes and rent. Sexy.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Give me a hand

Today I was invited to interview with a consulting firm for whom I would very much like to work. This is good news. The bad news is that consulting interviews are famously stressful, and I have never done one. In these interviews, you are, apparently, asked the typical types of behavioral questions ("Tell me a time when you overcame a challenge," "Walk me through your resume," "Explain why you want to do this," etc. ... although, actually, those are not questions, those are instructions). And in the latter half of the interview, you are given a case, or a problem to solve.

In most consulting interviews, a case is usually a strategy type of problem with calculations attached to them. The interviewers want to see how you approach and solve problems, to determine whether you are a logical and clever person who works well under pressure. For the firm interviewing me, though, the cases are supposedly more abstract, which could be good news for me, because I'm an abstract kinda guy.

Last night, I attended a fondue party, which eventually transformed into playing a game on the floor that caused the downstairs neighbors to slam what I assume was a broomstick against their ceiling, perhaps in Morse Code for "Shut up, please." The hosts of this party were my friend Jeremy and his wife, Tracy. Jeremy was in my pre-assigned work group of four last year, and thereafter we have voluntarily worked together in groups in several classes. He was, among other things in his past, a consultant. And what I have found to be true of the former consultants in our MBA program is that, on average, they're just the best at everything. They solve problems quickly, know their way around a spreadsheet, throw together beautiful PowerPoint presentations in the blink of an eye, have an energetic and positive demeanor in groups, and are just good at getting right to the point. Observing this is part of what prompted me to at least sorta-kinda explore consulting: I would like, in my career, to be someone with these traits. I don't feel I'm there yet, which is why I may not get the job, but I think I have potential, which is why I may get the job.

I had a great internship at the Associated Press over the summer, but at the same time I do envy my classmates who had the types of internships that ended with an official full-time offer. That would be such a relief and would really let me focus on learning, and my many activities. Then again, there's something to be said for not shutting any doors just yet. 

Monday, October 18, 2010

Elbow in my side and a burnt finger

The travel experience back to JFK was far superior to the travel experience to LAX. We weren't rushed and arrived in plenty of time to check bags and even sit down for lunch at the airport. But I was amused enough by my Row 38 neighbor that I had to document it. It's a bit difficult to see in the photo because his jacket his so dark, but I think it's clear that this gentleman has crossed into my personal space by at least a few extra inches, given that for a great deal of time his elbow was pressed into my flesh. I also foolishly gave myself a pretty amazing blister on my left pointer finger because I touched the overhead light, thinking that to turn it off I had to push it in (which is true on another airline). Turns out, no, there was a button to operate the light on the armrest. And it turns out that the metal center of the overhead light seems to heat up to about 5,000 degrees. Dangerous. But, you know, great flight otherwise.

I thoroughly enjoyed and got a lot out of Reaching Out, but it's also good to be back. I'm thrilled to have the opportunity this week to do some work for my various (excessive, frankly) voluntary and extracurricular activities, all of which are both deeply fulfilling and alarmingly time-consuming. I've been at it since 8, and it's nearly 1. And I did all my tasks to the wonderful odor of paint, as building maintenance today came to touch up some areas of the apartment that were stained and water-damaged from some heavy rains. Looks fresh and good as new, a suitable complement to my attitude going into the week. I'm always very impressed by the responsiveness and quality of the maintenance here. And relieved I don't have to do this kind of thing myself, as a renter.

In addition to those tasks, I hope to catch up with and get ahead on some school work, forge ahead in my career search and, I hope, do some reflection. It's important to step back sometimes and try to get a clear mental picture of where this is all headed, and to gain some enthusiasm and focus to that end. This is probably a good week for that, with no assignments hanging directly overhead like a 5,000-degree reading light.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Lay on the loot

Our Yale crew has been making out like bandits at Reaching Out. First, before I even got here, I won a drawing for free airline tickets on American. Sweet. Then yesterday, I won a $250 stand-up mixer in a drawing because I threw in my business card at the Whirlpool booth at the career expo; always do that. It's a nice appliance (that I would never in a million years buy), although it's going to be a pain to carry back. But those victories are wimpy and uninteresting compared to that of Jason, a first-year student in my program who won first place in an essay contest and thus will receive $3,000. It's nice when a trip more than pays for itself.

And on the job front, both the first-year students who came along have had a couple job interviews for summer internships. That doesn't seem to be as common a procedure for full-time jobs, which is what I'm looking for, although I was invited for an interview somewhere but declined (because, well, it's in Louisville ... I frankly can't imagine what words could come out of their mouth that would make me, at this stage in my life, move to Louisville). 

I've discovered a few neat career opportunities because a lot of the companies here don't visit or recruit at Yale. That's one of the drawbacks of being in a smaller program that's not in a major city; we do get some big companies coming to campus, but there are an awful lot we don't get (like P&G, J&J and other ampersandwiches).

The speakers have been a highlight. Pictured above is Dustin Lance Black, Oscar-winning screenwriter of "Milk." He stressed the importance of coming out, especially as we all become business leaders. And this afternoon we heard a fantastic speech from Brian Graden, a big shot in the entertainment industry who's also a Harvard Business School grad and an excellent public speaker. The theme of his talk was challenging the adage "It's all about who you know"; he says that saying implies that other people hold the key to your success, but in fact, you do. We also heard a very interesting speech by Meghan Stabler, a senior manager at CA Technologies who transitioned from male to female.

And, of course, we had a blast going out last night. A blast.

We leave tomorrow. So sad.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Hopped off the plane at LAX

Two fellow Q+ members and I have made it to Los Angeles safely for the national Reaching Out MBA conference, no thanks to me. Various fiascos and errors made the trip very stressful, causing us to arrive barely in time to board the plane, and for my checked bag to make the next plane. But the bag has been delivered, we're all here, and we enjoyed the opening reception. All's well that ends well, but I need to invest in a good weekend travel bag that's small enough to be a carry-on, because my old, boat-sized travel companion has seen better days, and caused me grief. (Gift idea!)

Today's agenda is quite extensive: Industry panels throughout the morning, a career expo in the afternoon, and a dinner and reception whose keynote speaker is Dustin Lance Black, Oscar-winning screenwriter of "Milk" (and total fox). Updates to come.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Venture Capital: Fin

This week marks the end of Fall 1, our first quarter. I had five classes, four of which are a semester long. The one that was only a quarter long was Venture Capital, which met at 8:30 a.m. Monday and Wednesday. I just left our final lecture; next quarter, I'll have just four classes, and none of them start before 10 a.m. This is exciting.

VC -- as it's often abbreviated -- was a good class, taught by Olav Sorenson, who was new to Yale SOM last year. VC firms comprise individuals who raise money and look for high-potential start-ups to invest in. Because they are start-ups, they are risky investments, but that also means they can yield a high return. The class took us through the process, including identifying good investments, structuring agreements, adding value to the project, valuing the deal and exiting.

I doubt I will spent much (or any) time in this world in my career, but now I know more about it. And isn't that was school is all about? The class isn't 100% over yet; I'm in a group of five that is writing a paper on a start-up that's looking for funding. Half our energy has been spent trying to understand what the technology actually is and does. The other half is, I suppose, dedicated to what to say about it. We're also supposed to present our findings in a special three-hour class session this Friday, but I'll be in Los Angeles.

My other four classes are going well. I don't have any midterms (and, come to think of it, don't recall hearing of anyone having any). Then again, the distinctions in the labeling of assignments is sort of arbitrary. We had, for example, our first problem set due in Corporate Finance on Monday. She could have easily called that a "take-home midterm exam," which it basically was. Something about the word "exam," though, causes fear to grow in the hearts of MBA students.

In my only non-business class, Theory of Media (in the Film Studies department), there are both undergrads and grad students in the class. The undergrads are required to meet for regular sections with the TAs and do both a midterm paper and a final. The grad students meet with the professor regularly and only do a final paper, but it's supposed to be a more in-depth project than what's expected of the undergrads. That said, even the standard for "in-depth" is in the eyes of the professor, who is a pretty laid back guy and just wants us to bring our sensibilities to bear on some subject of the class that interests us. I think I'm going to investigate location technology and look at it both as a business and as a "prosthesis," a concept we discussed in class whereby types of media replace our senses (and supposedly weaken those senses the more they're used). I thought of this when I reflected on how much I rely on my Google Maps app to get around, as well as the GPS in my car. Who needs to memorize street names or understand cardinal directions when you can have a little machine tell you what to do?

The four classes I have that are a semester long are the first semester-long classes I've had at Yale SOM; all my classes last year were a quarter, or less. So Fall Break next week poses an unprecedented chance to catch up on some readings and theoretically get ahead in my classes. I've never had this kind of regrouping opportunity. I think that, relative to my classmates, I'm about average for keeping up with classes, but I do sometimes fall behind. But I forgive myself of this because I am pretty involved in extracurricular stuff. Anyway, I hope next week I do something nice for my future self and take some time to, say, go back over some Corporate Finance readings, for no reason other than to try to understand them. Imagine.

Monday, October 11, 2010

My coming out story

In honor of National Coming Out Day, and in light of the recent media coverage of suicides, I'll share my coming out story.

It's bizarre to think it's been 15 years since the first time I told someone I was gay. When you build up to that, it's a huge deal. Then afterward, particularly years afterward, you don't remember what the big deal was. "What did you really think was going to happen?" you ask your former self. The big deal, I think, is that if you're gay but haven't told anyone, you have a mismatch between the identity everyone else sees and the one you see in yourself, and that can't continue in a healthy way. But making the choice to bring your inner identity out is hard because of the deep level of self-exposure, and drastically altering your outer identity is hard because of the uncertainty about how everyone will react. Coming out is both of these things, so it's not small potatoes. Even if you "act gay" and think that only a deaf and blind person wouldn't guess it, it's still pretty terrifying to confirm it publicly and change the context in which everyone in your life relates to you. It's exactly the kind of thing you love putting off until tomorrow.

Unfortunately for me, I shared my childhood home with right-wing Christians, which is to say homophobes. (Side note: I think it's ironic that those characteristics so often go together, since right-wing should mean freedom-loving, and Christian should mean compassionate. But I don't make the rules.) I grew up knowing no gay people, seeing no (or very few) positive portrayals of gay people in the media, and hearing mostly derogatory characterizations of gay people; I still remember my dad saying at the dinner table that all the goddamn homosexuals should be sent to an island and that the island should be destroyed. I remember my mom being scared and disgusted when I told her a man had smiled at me, warning me to ignore him because he was probably gay. I remember my older brother saying bisexual people were even more "fucked up" than gay people. I was too little when all these things happened to even know what gay was (although perhaps on some deeper level I remember these things because I really always knew), but certainly I remember being assured that gay people were gross, terrible, scary, un-American and evil. That these messages are not healthy for a gay kid is obvious; I'd actually argue they're perhaps even more harmful for a straight kid, but that's another issue.

I think I first started to realize I might be gay in 7th grade, and I was certain by 8th, although I didn't think for a moment I would ever tell anyone; I fought it and was determined to keep it a secret, date girls, marry a woman and fool everyone until I was dead. Fortunately for me, around this time I started to forge some very special friendships, mostly with girls, and these bonds of trust were what prompted me to start confiding my feelings. I'm not sure when and how I would have come out if it weren't for my friends.

I went to camp for six consecutive summers, 1990-1995, and made friends I'm still close with today. The first three people I came out to were friends from camp. The first was in the fall of 1995, when I was a junior in high school. I told her on the phone (she was in Florida); she was very supportive (and turned out later to be bisexual). Unfortunately for her, she became the only one who knew my secret, so I relied on her a great deal to talk about all the fears, feelings and concerns I hadn't been able to share with anyone for so many years. I'm very grateful she endured that, because I'm sure it was annoying -- she was, after all, an adolescent with her own crap to deal with. A couple months later, I told another friend from camp (who in turn revealed to me that she was a lesbian), and a few months after that, I told a third friend from camp, a guy (who, to my total surprise, told me he was also gay).

I'd never made a coming out plan; it just unfolded naturally. And this was a very nice way to test the waters, with people who turned out to be queer, no less. I got to have those long conversations without having to go all-in with an identity change at school. It really doesn't get much easier than that.

Then my senior year started. At that time, I hadn't told anyone at school, even though I'd developed some very close friendships. Being out at school meant not controlling the information and the private conversations people might have, and that freaked me out. Plus, having to tell my friends at school was too real, too face-to-face, and too likely to get back to my parents. I hadn't even so much as been on a date with or kissed a guy (how could I, when I didn't know any gay kids), but I was still worried about what people would say.

I may not have ever come out at school if my senior year hadn't taken an unexpected turn when I developed a crush on a classmate I suspected was possibly gay. That was a tricky situation. Any boy would be nervous about befriending a crush, then add the gay thing, the being-in-the-closet thing, the no-romantic-experience-whatsoever thing ... and, atop all that, just being a nervous person in general. Nevertheless, I was 17, and kids that age do pretty bold things, and I started looking for ways to talk to him.

I started building up the courage to tell some of my closest friends at school that I was gay, one by one, and that I had a crush on someone and wasn't sure what to do. I was very lucky that they all reacted well. Some just listened, which I appreciated, and others actively helped me get into situations where I could get to know my crush a little better.

Slowly, the pretty boy and I became friends, and after several weeks we finally built up the courage to come out to each other. We dated until I went to college.

Not long after we got together, we decided to be out at school, which basically meant we told friends, told them they could tell whomever they wanted, and acknowledged that we were a couple when asked. And we had an amazingly positive experience. We didn't exactly make out in the halls, but I think we carried on like any other couple at school, and between us we had a pretty large circle of friends that spanned two classes (he was a year younger than me). Nobody bothered us, even once. Being in a relationship made coming out a thousand times easier, I have to say, because I was going through it with someone else, and I felt like I was living in an example that proved being gay was OK and could look like any other normal relationship. Again, that may seem obvious now, but at the time I'd never met a gay couple. So as I began to internalize that our relatoinship looked OK from the outside, I became OK with it on the inside. I eventually started slowly telling my family. Nobody kicked me out.

Anyway, that's my story. It was a very exciting, scary and thrilling time, still one I look back on fondly. Nothing's more empowering than letting out a secret like that. It's very painful to feel like you have to hide something fundamental about yourself, and being gay is a fundamental thing. Many people think "gay" is a label that describes who you're attracted to; that's why they think it should be a private matter, and something like National Coming Out Day is just an intrusive, discomforting, unnecessary nuisance. But being gay is about a lot more than who you're attracted to. It shapes all your relationships with friends, family and the world. It changes your worldview, the way you see violence, art, children, clothes, love, religion ... I'm not saying gay people all have the same views on those things, I'm saying that being gay shapes your views on those things in whatever way is personal to you. Gay people are different from straight people, and of course different from one another, and Coming Out Day is, to me, about taking steps toward creating a world where we understand we're interconnected, each of us special, and that we can't allow our world to be one that permits certain types of people to systematically be made to feel lesser, because they're not.

The wheels of the car go nowhere

When I was giving tours last year, a common question among prospective students was whether they would need to have a car. I generally said no, because it's easy to live within walking distance of school, and if you are within walking distance of school, you are within walking distance of downtown. So there are plenty of restaurants, bars, barber shops, theaters, clothing stores, aggressive thieves, gymnasiums and other things that, back in Texas, I'd have to drive to. Well, the thieves were within walking distance.

It's nice not to have to hop in a car whenever you want to go somewhere, but when you stay within a walking radius of the School of Management, you miss out on things like Jenelle's Waterfront Cafe, where I brunched with a couple first years on Sunday. As you can see in the picture above, it has quite a nice view, and it's in New Haven proper, to my surprise. Like being on a very brief vacation. It made me realize that my deep familiarity with my immediate surroundings is counterbalanced by an almost comical unfamiliarity with anything more than two miles away.

That "very brief vacation" was certainly needed, as this is the final week of the quarter, and crunch time. I don't have it nearly as bad as the first-years, who have exams this week. I remember it not so fondly.* But even though I don't have the same exam pressure this year, I'm up to my Adam's Apple in rather high-stakes deadlines, for reasons too boring to list. (I'm still trying to keep with my earlier resolution not to make this blog a to-do list ... It's not easy, since that's so much of what's on my mind, but I'm just thinking of you.)

Anyway, I'm looking forward to the L.A. part. I think it's going to be a lot of fun. So will the week off thereafter! I'm looking forward to that week very much. Gonna get caught up. Gonna get ahead. Gonna determine a Halloween costume.

*Tidbit: When I look back at the posting about studying for my micro exam a year ago, I barely have any idea what I'm talking about. So much for learning. But I did well on the exam.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

You win some, I've heard

I made an original observation today: You win some, you lose some. Yesterday I lost more than once. First, BCG decided "not to undertake employment opportunities" with me (i.e. "buzz off"). This was neither a surprise nor a particular disappointment, although I might have been flattered had they at least wanted to interview me. Then, in the evening came the far more fun form of losing -- at the hands of friends, as part of a delightful game night with several of my neighbors. There was a great deal of laughter.

Today I set myself up for more yet-to-be-determined wins or losses -- preparing with classmates for a case competition at Reaching Out (national LGBT MBA conference) in L.A. next week, and then working on another cover letter ... for a position, I might be so bold to say, in which I am highly interested, and somewhat optimistic. I will know whether I've "won" the first round of this new game in a couple weeks.

I made this observation last year, but it takes quite a bit of core confidence to go through the many rejections and setback one endures at school. There are, of course, rejections and setbacks even outside of school. But I think there are more here. But it's nice to know that, through it all I can still make a ridiculous and unimportant video. 

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Whataya want from me?

This afternoon, I was really in the mood to read, work and learn. I am a student, after all. But that's hard to do when you're wildly popular and have a phone that's connected to e-mail. Check out the times in the screen grab of my inbox above. As you can see, my phone buzzes or meeps pretty constantly. A couple (maybe two or three) of these messages were mass communications; most, though, required attention and a response, often quickly or somewhat soon.

So imgaine me, on the couch. Books and papers to my left and on my lap. Highlighter and pen in hand. Calculator on the table. Spreadsheet open on my laptop. Phone next to me. I read a sentence, and hear a buzz and a meep. I read another sentence, hear a buzz and a meep. I start jotting a note, and hear a buzz and a meep. Clearly, not I'm walking the most direct path toward learning. So I closed Outlook and turned off my phone, dedicating myself to at least one hour of no communiction. It was a productive and enjoyable hour; of course, then my future self had to deal with an hour's worth of e-mails. But I think this was a better arrangement than my previous strategy, which was like watching a ping-pong tournament.

Guess it took me long enough to figure this out. So if you try to reach me and I don't respond right away, know that I'm studying. That's it, studying.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Free flyin'

The film I saw Sunday for my Theory of Media class was shot in 1929 and captured everyday life. This life included old-time automobiles as well as horse-drawn carriages. And it made me wonder: Why, in our push to be eco-friendly, does no one advocate the return of the horse-drawn carriage? It uses no gas, and it's cheaper than a car. Come on, people. Look to the past for answers.

The horse above is Rodney, the unofficial mascot of the Yale School of Mangagement. I was only half paying attention, but I think what really happened is that a guy in our class brought him into school about a year ago and declared him the mascot. He's more or less been there ever since. I took this picture of him this afternoon; he's admiring the Yale Cup, which appears to be a trophy of some kind. (Sometimes I think I'm not adequately connected to my school and its various traditions...)

Continuing on the horse-drawn-carriage theme of travel, this weekend I will be enjoying another old-fashioned form of transport, the train, as I go into New York to visit friends. I think. The plan seemed a lot more possible before I got thrown two somewhat last-minute assignments. Now I'm not sure it's going to be possible, unless I commit about half my time in New York to working. Thanks to my still-going membership at the Yale Club, which has a library, this might not be such a crazy proposition.

And, closing out this travel theme, I was delighted to learn today that I won a round-trip ticket on American Airlines, good for the next year to any destination in the U.S., Mexico, Canada or the Caribbean! Pretty cool, eh? I entered the drawing when I booked my tickets to Reaching Out, the LGBT MBA conference in L.A. later this month. Maybe I'm the only one who entered. Regardless, I won.

That makes me a winner. It's about time.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Makes you wanna screen

This evening I attended a screening (in the beautiful auditorium of the Whitney Humanities Center) for my Theory of Media class. My friend Matt was kind enough to accompany me, since, you know, why not.

The film was Man with a Movie Camera, a 1929 silent Russian documentary that features groundbreaking cinematic techniques, like fast motion, split screens, jump cuts and stop motion animation. Although it has no plot and no characters, I was gripped because I like candid footage of ordinary people. Well, sort of ordinary, in this case ... the film had a bit of a propaganda feel to it, too. That aspect reminded me of Triumph of the Will, a Nazi propaganda film I saw in an undergrad film studies class. I've had a real all-American education.

When I signed up for this class, I was under the impression that screenings would be weekly (because the syllabus said there were weekly screenings ... guess that's an inside joke in the film studies program). But this was our first one; not sure if it will be our last. I was looking forward to screenings because I never seem to watch TV or go to the movies these days, so being forced into escapism would suit me fine.

For several weeks, I've had the first disc to the first season of The Wire sitting in the living room, courtesy of Netflix. It's never been the right time to start it, and I also can't make up my mind whether I want it to be something I can relax with on my own time, or something I turn into a regular social event by inviting friends over once a week to watch it with me, like some of us used to do for LOST. This high-stakes dilemma may be a moot point; I never seem to find the time to watch it regardless of whether I'd be doing it alone or in a group.

I hope I can get away to see a movie or two during Fall Break, which begins Oct. 15. I wouldn't mind seeing The Social Network and, if it makes it here, a documentary called Waiting for Superman, about the public education system. These days, I generally prefer documentaries, just as I prefer nonfiction books. 

I may not find time for full TV shows and  movies, but I can find time to sneak in an SNL skit or two ...  

Friday, October 1, 2010

The recovery cycle

Back when I was working in Texas, I nursed my share of hangovers. For the first few years of my newspaper career, I worked evenings (3 p.m. to midnight or so) alongside other young 20-somethings who appreciated a cold pitcher or two or more after quittin' time. Back then, living alone, with really no responsibilities beyond showing up to work, it was no big deal to sleep in, feel lousy and be unproductive the next morning. Just get a breakfast taco and a Coke, chill in front of the TV, and make it back to work at 3. Those were the days, kinda.

But these days, there's a much higher opportunity cost (ooh, I'm so businessy) to a late night out. Having an unproductive morning in the aftermath of a late night can have pretty major repercussions, ranging from the obvious to the perhaps not-as-obvious:
  • If you're feeling run down, you may not to want to do homework; this may result in being behind.
  • If you decide to proceed with homework anyway, its quality may not be up to par.
  • A late night tends to be an expensive night. And there can't be too many of those on a grad student's budget. (I'm already wondering how I'll make it to early January with the pittance that remains of my fall loan deposit.)
  • A late night tends to be an embarrassing night. And there can't be too many of those, either, especially because your friends at business school are also becoming your professional network. Pretty sure most professional people would advise against dancing on tables between tequila shots, say.
  • A late night in New Haven may very well involve a rather lengthy walk home; given all the muggings (or attempted muggings) that happen around here, that may not be a top-notch scenario.
  • A late night tends to be an opportunity for excessive calorie intake, thereby derailing the, say, 575 calories you burned at the gym that morning ... not that the chocolate malt at lunch didn't already undo that.
  • Oh, and speaking of the gym, forget about that plan the morning after. You may end up with a friend at your door, texting, wondering what's becoming of you.
  • Impaired judgment can result in weak decision-making, including bizarre rants. You know it's bad when your roommate laughs at you so hard she writes down something ridiculous you said and posts it on the fridge, so you'll have a good laugh in the morning.
  • Late nights can create messes that need to be cleaned up the next morning.
  • People who've had late nights may forget to, say, close windows, and that's not good news if wildly heavy rains fall overnight.
I could continue, but I'm so tired ... had a late night, see.