Friday, April 29, 2011

A deluxe apartment in the sky

Today was not relaxing. I went into New York on Thursday evening for dinner with future co-workers, then crashed at my friend Brian's place but didn't get the best night's sleep because I was tossing and turning. I woke up with back pain and spent the day running (seriously, running) around half of Manhattan, looking for an apartment to move into in a month's time.

My broker and I saw lots of different types of places in neighborhoods including the Financial District, the East Village and the West Village, but ultimately I decided to go with a studio in Hell's Kitchen, the last place I saw. I've heard mixed reviews of the neighborhood, but the superiority of the apartment and its building were too glaring to ignore, and ultimately that's what rent is paying for. Compared to the others, it was a bigger place (though still quite small), extremely nice, up on the 36th floor, with views of the river, great amenities in the building, near things to do and near the subway. It's no coincidence that the best place was also the most expensive, but I only went $25/month over my limit, so I think I came out OK.

I have to say that today was a little scary, and I wasn't anticipating that. I think that all throughout graduate school, this move to New York to become a consultant has seemed like a neat story, something interesting to talk about (and blog about). But it's such a huge change that it's almost felt like it was happening to someone else. Over the past 24 hours it's never felt more real. I was actually eating with Deloitte people talking about lots of details about the job, and then I was filling out an application for an apartment in Manhattan. And it became more real, and tangible, that my life is indeed going to be these things. I'm going to wake up in the apartment I selected today, make my way a couple blocks toward a subway, and head off to work as a consultant.

This was both very exciting on one hand but suddenly a little frightening, too. One of my fears is that New York, while exciting, makes me feel a little lonely, and I'm hoping that the friends I have who live there will have time for me, that many of my friends from SOM will end up there, and of course that I'll make new ones. That's one area of my life I've been very lucky; even as I was sometimes frustrated by my career and my financial limitations as a journalist in Texas, I somehow managed to have lots of good friends. I think New York is such a busy and tiring place, with so many strangers swirling around you, that being with friends is critical to keeping a level head. (I do already know a couple guys in Hell's Kitchen, so that's fortunate.)

Anyway, it's been exhausting and fun. This weekend will be very work-intensive. I have about 54 papers to grade for the class I TA, as well as my own final projects and exam prep. Gnite.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Square footage

Quite frankly, I'm a ball of stress, and this will continue for at least 10 days. I can barely process all that's on my plate. But I think I'll feel better once I've secured a place to live in New York, which will be my mission tomorrow. Fortunately, for this task, I have enlisted the assistance of a broker, recommended through a classmate/friend who has a lot of experience in the city. Yesterday, he sent me 18 listings, and tomorrow we're going to look at about 5-8 of them. My hope is to return to New Haven with a place.

I'm really looking forward to living in the city. One adjustment I will have to make is downsizing. I'll be making a good living, but because I am determined to live in Manhattan in a nice place, the trade-off is square footage. Most of the listings I received were for studios, with a few one-bedroom apartments (or "junior one-bedrooms," a term I'd never heard before), with areas no greater than 550 square feet.

I'm trying to imagine that area. My one-bedroom apartment back in Fort Worth was 800 square feet, and there was actually too much space for my stuff. But my apartment in Dallas was 695 (and two stories), and it was barely enough room for my things. So 500 does concern me a little. But this is also an opportunity to unload some pieces I truly don't, or won't, use:

1. My weights and bench, which because I go to the gym a couples time a week I only use about once a week these days. If I take a building with a gym, I'd be happy to sell this.

2. My black leather chair and ottoman, currently used primarily as a receptacle for mail and dirty clothes, and only rarely for reading.

3. My dining room table and chairs, which currently live in storage and, after four years, have been used for their intended purposes only a handful of times.

But these types of concerns still live slightly out on the horizon. When I visit places, I want to concentrate on the feel and emotion of the space, which sounds all new-agey but which I've come to believe is key, after many years at many different addresses. I know I can adapt to even the strangest and most limiting of physical characteristics. I even once lived in a bedroom attached to a garage in an elderly woman's house, without so much as a chair. What matters is charm -- that homey feeling, or that sophisticated aura, the intangible energy that gives a home personality. I once lived in a place like that. It wasn't really special on paper -- just a two-bedroom, one-bathroom apartment, the bottom floor of a duplex, without a dishwasher or garbage disposal or anything particularly amazing about it. But there was something about the colors, the way trees would sway in the sunshine outside the windows, the way the angles snaked around to make the place look bigger than it was ... the little things that don't show up in a real-estate listing. That's what I'm looking for ... much to my broker's frustration, probably.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

What 8 months of winter do

It's 70 degrees and sunny. Although I barely remember what this is like, or who was president the last time it was this nice in New Haven, I knew enough to realize I should take advantage and try to begin the slow, arduous process of regaining color on my skin. Especially since I'll be in St. Thomas in two weeks, it's important to get a base, or something resembling one.

Today in one of my courses, Navigating Organizations, we discussed status, and how increases in status can come with consequences, such as not being challenged or exposed to new ideas. We watched a funny clip to illustrate the point, from "The Devil Wears Prada," a film I enjoy watching. Note the way Meryl Streep's character, Miranda, disregards common manners, chooses not to bother with mundane tasks (like hanging up her coat) and doesn't seek or consider opposing views. In the movie these things are played for our amusement, but they are also genuinely symptomatic of real-life increases in status.

In this same course, we recently did an activity called a leverage inventory, where we asked former co-workers and supervisors to complete a rather detailed survey about what types of "influence tactics" we tended to use at work. The questions asked for observations about behavior, as opposed to judgments about them, so the idea is to provide students with honest feedback about what they do and don't do, not whether that's good or bad. The behaviors fall into three categories:

1. Relationships (things like allocentrism, networks, team-building, coalitions)
2. Rhetoric (ethos, logos and pathos)
3. Meta-tools (strategies about strategies, like agency, intentionality and situation awareness)

We were then carefully categorized and rated against our peers. Of the 68 categories, my highest z-score (the one where I was most above the class average) was "Uses stories to help make my points," a sign of pathos. My lowest z-score was "Is able to tolerate conflict," which falls under "might." Both of these results make sense to me. I was a journalist, so I indeed like to tell stories. And I was a youngest child with two much older (and not particularly emotionally supportive) brothers, so it's very ingrained in me to do everything in my power to avoid conflict at all costs.

This limitation actually had consequences today. For the class I'm TA-ing this quarter, I ended up being in charge of helping groups of students reschedule their final activity if they had a conflict. I found myself caught between unhappy students and an unresponsive administrator. To avoid conflict, I politely waited for the administrator to say "go," as I kept increasingly impatient students in limbo, trying to appease them with jokes and reassurances that everything would be OK. Finally, with decision time upon us, I had to put my foot down and get answers, so I went over the administrator's head and resolved this issue, which had been brewing for almost a week, in 10 minutes. The moral: My desire to avoid conflict just made things worse, and if I had been mightier from the start, I would have saved myself a lot of headaches.

Sara Bareilles (who shares my birthday) has a beautiful bridge in a song (at 2:02 below) where she sings, "All my life I've tried to make everybody happy while I just hurt and hide, waiting for someone to tell me it's my turn to decide." That's a sentiment more symptomatic of a victim complex than I would like to attribute to myself, but I relate to the phenomenon where the more you try to please everyone, often the more pain you will endure. That's unsustainable, and thus ruins your ability to make everybody happy. So that balance between sternness and appeasement is critical.

So watch out for yourself, and go out and get some sun sometimes.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Problems are a thing of the past

Today I turned my final problem set, perhaps for the rest of my life. It was for my Investment Management course. The questions were about fixed income and forward markets. I wish I could call it my best work, but with just five more days of class, it's a little hard to give such matters my all. I am far more interested in looking at New York City apartments online!

Another last-of-its-kind event today was my final admissions interview. As I've mentioned previously, this was my favorite of my many school activities. Coincidentally, on my way to the interview, I ran into a prospective student I interviewed a couple months ago who was admitted (in part, no doubt, because of my glowing recommendation) and was on campus visiting, trying to make his final decision about where to go. He has to choose by Friday, from an array of very prestigious programs. But this person's real struggle was one of culture; he loves Yale SOM's culture, but just isn't sure about whether it's the best fit for his particular career goals, given the course offerings (or lack thereof, in his particular niche field of interest).

I naturally can't answer that for him, but I do think a cooperative, friendly culture helps students take risks, connect with one another and gain confidence, and if you're not in a comfortable environment, you won't be successful. To that end, I'd always lean toward the best fit, assuming you're deciding among schools in the same tier. For some people that is Harvard. For others, it's most certainly not. When I attended a Harvard information session back in 2008, I was uncomfortable. I felt like a goofy two-headed alien, in fact. That was a signal to me that I shouldn't apply. I'm probably not the right person for that program, and that's probably not the right program for me. When I visted Yale SOM, I felt much more comfortable, and it made me even more excited and eager to attend.

There will be lots of other "lasts" over the next few days and weeks -- last class, last presentation, last exam, last paper. My mind hasn't really absorbed it at all. I get sniffly just thinking about it. Better get back to work and continue ignoring the inevitable.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Guests keep a house in order

If ever you feel like your apartment needs tidying up, invite friends over to play games a few days in advance. It will prompt you to pull out the Swiffer and go through your stack of mail.

Lately, I've had two kinds of guests. Friends, as usual, and prospective future tenants, who have been dropping in regularly to see our apartment. I am surprised it wasn't scooped up by the first visitor. Maybe our decoration and cleanliness skills are detracting from the apartment's natural beauty.

Speaking of home-seekers, I'll be looking for apartments in New York with full force next week, in the hopes to have this very important, exciting and somewhat overwhelming task wrapped up. I still keep flipping on my priorities but ultimately feel this unjustifiable need to live alone in Manhattan in a luxurious shrine to my awesomeness, even though that's not a wise use of my money. But I value these living years in terms of new experiences, and that lifestyle is something I want to try. I don't like seeing other people's lives and wondering what they're like. I like to try on lives, like shirts.

I'm more than ready for spring. We had a one-day burst of warmth and beauty a couple weeks ago, but it's been slow-going ever since. It's currently 44 and raining; the high today is 53. Right now in Fort Worth, where I moved from, it's 72, with a high of 91. Ninety-one!

These next two weeks are going to be a shocking disaster as far as work goes. I have long projects and papers in three classes, final exams in the other two, and an immense pile of grading around the corner for the class I TA. But then it all ends with a bang on Friday, May 6. I just have to keep that date in mind. After that, it's warm beaches, friends and family and good times forever.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Sally's does exist after all

New Haven is famous for pizza, and the two pizzerias with perhaps the largest reputations and longest lines are Pepe's and Sally's. Both are in a lovely area known as Wooster Square. Some friends and I tried Pepe's last fall and since then had made several attempts to eat at Sally's, its nearby rival. But it seemed like each time we went, it was closed. This began a long-running joke that Sally's was an urban legend, and not a real place. I refused to believe it until I saw it.

My urban-legend theory is now officially debunked.

To eat at Sally's, you need to block off considerable time because you're looking at two absurdly long waits, one in the line outside, and one after you've ordered. I think they are playing up to the power of anticipation. All said, we arrived at about 8 and left at maybe 11. And all we ate were four pretty straightforward small pizzas. They were good, though. The most original was the white potato-and-rosemary pizza. Sally's also distinguishes itself by serving its pizzas without cheese unless you request otherwise, so we tried it that way with the meatball. The idea is to emphasize the sauce, which was good.

But especially now that I'm a bit more business-savvy, and marketing-savvy, I do look at a place like Sally's through a skeptical lens. I wonder if equivalent pizzas delivered by Domino's would even be noticed as anything outside average. Far more importantly, though, is that we had fun. Great conversation and laughs. And we can check Sally's off the ol' New Haven Bucket List.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

I will not bow! Or will I?

Tonight I performed three original songs, about 10 minutes of music, as part of an arts advocacy concert organized by a young woman from the music school who I know from a course I'm taking this semester called Leadership Strategies for Music Presenters, taught by the dean of the music school. I was originally under the impression that the purpose of the show was to feature performers from outside the music school, and indeed that may have been the original vision, but in reality I was one of only two amateur acts; the other was a string quartet consisting of students from some of the science programs; and they were hardly amateurs.

To be honest, performing was terrifying. I say that knowing that the audience was small, the venue comfortable and the occasion low-stakes. I didn't think I would be so nervous, but in the moment I really got shaken up. I hadn't performed in a "recital" since college, 10 years ago, although I have played before an audience, though, at a couple weddings since then. Those occasions were also terrifying, come to think of it. Maybe I don't like playing the piano in front of people! Good to know.

I do like feedback, though, and sharing personal things, so that was my motivation. It's an odd proposition to play original songs for an audience. I've been writing songs since I was about 9, and there are several dozen I've done as an adult that I like, so which ones should I select? Which ones are the most "me"? To steal language commonly reserved for the designers on "Project Runway," what do I feel really represents who I am as an artist?

But I chose. It was a good evening, and I was glad that some friends came out for support. Friendly faces are nice to see in an audience.

I think I've made some awfully good friends at SOM. But there are still some people I don't know. To correct that, I've been setting up some coffee chats with classmates whose paths I never really crossed. My first one was this week, with a girl named Michelle who comes after me in alphabetical order. Therefore, I will be reading her name at commencement. I'd heard about her from time to time, but we were just in different cohorts, classes, clubs and social circles, so somehow I never met her.

Anyway, I was grateful she accepted my somewhat bizarre invitation. Inspired by how well that went, I then invited the person before me in alphabetical order, who I also haven't met. We're having coffee tomorrow.

FYI, there are about 230 people in my class. So it's not totally criminal that there are still people I haven't met. But I have a few more weeks to make a dent.

Oh give me a home

It's fun to look at New York City apartments, even virtually. The more I peruse, the more my imagination runs wild. And the less certain I am of what I want.

Manhattan or Brooklyn? Studio or one-bedroom? Alone or with a roommate? Historic or modern? Near hipsters, bankers or families? Austere or Lavish?

And baked in those choices are fundamental questions of priority. Do I really care about a view? About sunlight? About floors, dishwashers, doormen, gyms, parking, high ceilings, etc? And regarding neighborhood, how much do I care about being near things to do, and what kinds of things am I really talking about?

Fortunately, being in a position to ask these questions is an awfully fortunate "problem" to have. And I'm looking to rent, so my decision isn't permanent. No reason to put too much pressure on this decision. At the same time, I would love to know that in the next couple years I'll be moving into somewhere I might actually stay for, oh, 10 years. Wouldn't that be something for a rootless wanderer like me. I could invest in personalized envelopes!

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Roller derby and fishing

Yesterday, I went to the roller derby, and today I went fishing, which was fun and outdoorsy even though we didn't end up with anything to cook. (No worries -- I had chicken and rice.)

The roller derby was fun; it's always good to get out of Yale sometimes and do an activity elsewhere in Connecticut. We refer to our company in such cases as "townies," aware of course that this is funny because it's a bit derogatory toward non-Yale of Connecticut. I'd been to a roller derby back in Texas. I think I wrote a story about it. Anyway, one needn't understand the rules to get the basic gist, that aggressive-acting women skate counter-clockwise, elbow each other sometimes, and fall down.

Fishing was a bust in the fishing sense, but a great time in the outdoor-enjoyment sense. And best of all, it's free. Well, cheap. We bought worms. Anyway, in all a good weekend. I'm hoping that my upcoming job with Deloitte will afford me work-free weekends, at least most of the time. It's nice to have 2 of 7 days totally to oneself.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Shirtless fire thrower

As a co-leader of Q+ (the LGBT group at Yale SOM), I'm often asked about the gay scene in Yale and New Haven, and I more or less say that from what I hear it's fine if that's your bag, but that I really don't know. I'm gay, and happy to have gay friends if they possess other qualities I look for in a friend, but I've never been compelled to seek out the gay scene, which I associate with late nights, parties, clubs and soap opera-worthy interminglings.

I'm an early riser. I like sunrises and breakfast. I like one-on-one interactions and small groups, singing along with the radio in the car, reading over coffee, talking and snacking in a living room. I like games and interesting articles and things that are beautiful or challenge my mind. I like flowers and silence and sunlight. I don't like dark rooms, and I don't like night time. I don't like noise, or moving awkwardly to bad music. And now I don't drink, and only very rarely have a cigarette. Maybe I'm just a dorky old man, but the "scene" doesn't really fit my tastes.

I can partake of the scene a couple times a year, but for me it's the emotional equivalent of going to a baseball game. It's something I never think about unless I'm there, so someone usually has to suggest it and take me there. And if I'm there, it's fine, but I'm also kind of keeping an eye on the clock.

This has nothing to do with having a problem with being gay or disliking gay people. On the contrary, I've been out since high school and have no problem with being gay at all. I wouldn't have co-led Q+ otherwise. Do I like gay people? Sure, to the extent I like people, but what does that mean? Do I like people from Kansas? Some, but not all. Do I like vegetarians? Some, but not all. Those aren't relevant dimensions to me. I have gay friends, but they're not my friends because they're gay, they're my friends because we get along.

Last night, two first-year students threw a reception at their house for LGBT and allied admitted students, and when that disbanded, a couple of us went to a party hosted by some gay Divinity School students. That's where I shot the video above, of the fire thrower. There, among the people I spoke to was a first-year PhD student in psychology (fresh out of undergrad, I assume). He asked if I was a prospective student, and I said I was a second-year MBA, about to graduate in a couple weeks. From what I could hear amid the cacophony, he said something like "Really? Wow ... So you must never come out," meaning of course that he didn't recognize me. I also interpret the surprise to imply being almost accused of actively avoiding the gay scene, as if it's the default and I had to opt out of it by doing other things with my time. The truth is I feel like I go out a lot, but of course he wasn't asking if I leave my house, he was asking why I don't spend my time with the gays. To that, I ask myself, "Why would I, necessarily?"

This weekend, I'm going fishing with Matt, one of my best friends. Matt's straight. Some of my closest friends are straight guys, in fact. Most are straight girls. Some of my friends are black, and some are not. Some are married, others single. They are fat and thin, older and younger, American and international, Southern and Northern, analytical and creative, able-bodied and disabled. If I were to tally, I dunno, maybe 10% of my friends are gay, reflecting the population at large. It might be even more. But I just don't care about that. I want to be around people who are nice, funny and interesting, people I can talk to and trust and feel good around. People who get me, and who I get. Why do I care who they kiss?

Friday, April 15, 2011

A literal sign of our legacy

I got a little dewy-eyed today when I strolled by the club fair. This is Welcome Weekend, when admitted students visit the campus -- some have decided to certainly come to Yale SOM, and others have not. Among the activities is a club fair, mostly manned by the first-year students who have been chosen or elected as club leaders for next year.

I co-led two clubs this year, Q+ (the LGBT group) and the Human Capital Club, which I co-founded with my friend Erika. The purpose of this club is to help students learn about careers on the "people" side of business, which can include human-capital consulting (which is what I'll be doing after school), human-resources management, organizational design and strategy, training and development, and so on. Many business schools have such a club; ours did not, and now it does.

I was so delighted to see the official blue "Human Capital" sign shown above. Last fall, when our club wasn't yet "official," we had to borrow some space at the Operations Club table and do a sign-in sheet with a makeshift, handwritten sign. But now that we're officially approved, we are here to stay, and that's a nice feeling.

At noon, I attended a rather straightforward town hall meeting with the dean-designate, Ted Snyder, who is coming to Yale SOM next year from the University of Chicago. He discussed some of his plans for the school and took questions. I foresee much change on the horizon for my beloved school -- and even if that change is for the better, it's still a tiny bit sad to know it will change. The school is moving into a new building, for example -- a modern glass structure currently under construction and set to open in 2013. The class size will go up a bit, from the roughly 230 it's at now to as great as 300 (still small for a top-tier MBA program, granted, but a 30% increase in size isn't insignificant, especially when it comes to class cohesion and intimacy). It will be interesting to see what becomes of the Human Capital Club, among other things, under the new dean's leadership. I have no idea what his views on this are.

I love SOM and therefore want to see it be the best it can be, and like any school (or anything at all), there's room for improvement. There are some improvements that would be universally deemed as such; there are others about which there might be disagreement. Time will tell what kinds of "improvements" come to the school after I make my exit next month.

2 for 2 on ice

Every year, the second-year students play the first-year students in an ice hockey game known as the Garstka Cup, named for one of SOM's deputy deans (and our accounting professor in the core). Last year, my class won, and this year, they won again, 5 to 2. It was a good time.

This event coincides with Welcome Weekend, which consists of events for admitted students, some of whom have accepted their invitations to Yale, some of which are still deciding. Last night, the LGBT groups at SOM and the law school teamed up to have a mixer, at 116 Crown. We get a lot of questions from prospective gay students about how many LGBT students there are at SOM, and the honest answer is that there aren't many. There are 6 self-identified out students in my class, and 9 in the class below me. The numbers are much larger at the law school. But depending on how much socializing with LGBT students is a priority, the Yale community is quite large, and quite accepting.

Many more fun Welcome Weekend events are to come, including a talk this afternoon by the incoming dean! I look forward to hearing from him.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Don't judge -- just give me a headline

Today's section of Innovator -- a first-year class for which I am a TA this quarter -- was a memorable repeat of a class we had last year during which Mark Sebell, CEO of Creative Realities, led a session on brainstorming and building upon absurd ideas without judgment. Our other special guest this year was Laura Walker, President and CEO of WNYC, and thus the topic had to do with some new ideas for radio.

There are right and wrong ways to brainstorm, which a lot of people don't realize. Often a brainstorming session is misinterpreted to mean a disorganized free-form time during which people throw out ideas. But there's a process to a good brainstorm, and it involves a section where everyone's statements start with "I wish ..." and another during which everyone's statements begin with "We could." Sometimes great practical ideas stem from what began as impractical, ridiculous ideas. And the more absurd the idea, the better. And Sebell also encourages people to speak just in headlines -- get right to the point. To often, we stammer around with unnecessary setup and explanation.

The students came up with great ideas and seemed (generally) to be pretty engaged! Innovator is an interesting class; it's very important, and a lot of fun, and yet still some people resist. I can't understand it. Who doesn't like to be creative and talk about neat stuff?

Perhaps more importantly, if you visit the website, you will see a video featuring a gorgeous guy who also visited our class today. Distracting!

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Hot pot

As part of SOM's April Foolery, a set of regular fun activities organized by students, a group of us last night enjoyed a hot-pot Chinese meal. This is where you dip veggies, meats and other things into a large pot of boiling broth. You can then mix or dip the results with some sauces. It's a fun activity with a mild aspect of danger, as one is dealing with raw foods (and raw egg).

Afterward we felt the need for frozen yogurt at one of those places where you pile on the toppings and pay by the ounce. Therefore, by the night's end, I didn't even want to think about all the various competing things sitting side by side in my stomach. The gym this morning was well-needed.

Food is an integral part of the MBA experience -- so much revolves around lunches and dinners. Today, for example I attended a lunchtime speaking event with Jed Bernstein, a Broadway theater and television producer who was one of the first graduating classes at SOM ('79). Since food was there, and free, I had a delicious Thanksgiving-type sandwich with turkey, stuffing and some other goodies on it. And there are more meals to come this week, including tomorrow night's Club Transition Dinner, where we hand over control of clubs and discuss our experiences. There's always food all over the place, basically. Last week on my way into a class, there was a sandwich platter out in the hall, and I grabbed one. Don't even know what it was from. You do crazy things when you're living on student loans and hungry!

Because of all the regular food. exercise has also been integral. My friend Matt and I have been dedicated and are still going two or three times a week, bright and early at 7 in the morning. I find that if I don't go in the morning, it never happens. And I'm a morning person anyway, so it's not painful.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Fading in and out

For the third -- and I reckon final -- time in my business-school exerience, I'm getting the chance to employ my previous-career video skills, which by video-production standards may not have been anything to brag about, but which by MBA standards are, well, pretty kickass.

My first time getting to doodle around with video editing for a class was second quarter, during Negotiations. One of our assignments was to film a negotiation, and then we had to edit each others' videos. This was fun. Then at the end of Innovator last year, fourth quarter, my group chose to do a video in lieu of a paper, per an option for the final project. I think it was this choice that earned me a coveted Distinction, and hence is why I'm TA-ing that class this quarter. And, finally, in my Navigating Organizations course this quarter, we were assigned groups of four and asked to do a video of up to 5 minutes, employing some persuasive-communication techniques we're studying. We could choose one of two topics -- the light one, which is trying to get people to go to the beach in the winter, and the more serious one, which is trying to get people to sign up to be organ donors.

We picked the latter. I'm excited about our project, in progress. In my editing hands, it's coming off on the dramatic side -- like a public-service announcement -- but I think it'll do. My group members (which, although randomly assigned, happened to be three of my closest friends) and I had to enlist some non-SOM people to "act" for it. These subjects include my friend Matt. I had to get him to act like he's not an organ donor and explain why. Our message is that people's excuses, although they may seem benign, have life-threatening consequences! (I am, by the way, a donor.)

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Who is this woman, this Oprah?

I'm interested in pop culture, more so than many other types of culture, and thus enjoyed yesterday's book reading and Q&A with Kathryn Lofton, author of Oprah: The Gospel of an Icon, at Labyrinth Books. Lofton is an assistant professor of Religious Studies and American Studies at Yale. Read a bit more about it here.

Oprah is an intriguing media icon to weigh in on, but I hadn't previously considered her "sermonizing" as religious per se, and I left the talk seeing how religious frameworks do indeed apply to her, from her humble beginnings to her androgyny to her congregation of an audience. I consider this a piece of a larger American idea of Mogul as Hero, which we discuss rdea of egularly in a course I take called Strategic Leadership Across Sectors, taught by Jeff Sonnenfeld (one of our "BFD" professors). Professor Sonnenfeld applies the hero-journey mythology to modern-day executives, convincingly. What that says about us, and our values, is of course great fodder for debate. 

Anyway, this larger-than-life aspiration seems often in business school to be framed as a given aspiration, or a calling any of us might answer. I don't think an MBA is a path any likelier to lead to greatness than any other path -- Oprah doesn't have one -- but our program's focus on management and leadership leads us to discussions about our goals and visions, and how we can best use the tools of power to shape the world. I have an internal block against this type of talk and don't seek "power" per se; I just want a good job I enjoy that's stimulating and provides. Still, if I can clearly envision myself in a organization's higher-level jobs, I may want to be in them.

On another topic, I dabbled in a bit of karaoke yesterday at one of our April Foolery events. These are daily activities for students at SOM, ranging from sports to meals to whatever. The party then ended at a friend's house in the form of the American Idol game on PlayStation, or one of those newfangled consoles ... everything after NES is modern to me. Back in Texas, karaoke was like my part-time job. Now that I'm a non-drinker I had to rely on my own courage, not Long Island Iced Teas, to get me up there, but I did it nevertheless, twice. It helped that the stage was not the center of patrons' attention.

Speaking of "old lives," for one of my classes we're putting together a persuasive video (more or less a PSA), thereby allowing me again to use my video-editing trick from days of yore. Our job is to try to incorporate some theories about persuasion to get people to want to be organ donors. I may try to post the final product here.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Counselor flashbacks

It's been a busy week -- no surprise -- with some moments where I, as a second-year, felt a bit like a camp counselor. One of my involvements this year was as a Second Year Advisor for the Leadership Development Program (LDP), a year-long course for first-year students in which they explore values and commitments. It's a program that has faults and limitations and is not widely appreciated, so much so that it is being shelved next year. But I enjoyed it last year (which is why I wanted to be an SYA this year).

My favorite of the sessions last year was the one that the students plan. Our activity was a speed-dating type of event where we went around and talked about first impressions vs. current impressions of one another. It was both helpful and a good bonding experience. This year, the group for which I'm an SYA decided to go to a local indoor climbing facility and climb. I declined to participate because I figured this activity was for them, not me ... and I felt it would totally undermine my credibility as an advisor if they saw me struggling to do this activity. (I'm joking, sorta.) Anyway, they had a nice time. Not sure it was as valuable as my session last year, but c'est la vie.

I am also, this quarter, a Teaching Assistant for Innovator, a first-year course on innovation, as the name implied. Thursday's class included this activity, in which groups try to build a tall tower out of uncooked spaghetti, tape and string, that will support a marshmallow. The punchline is that young children are very good at this activity because they don't plan, they just start experimenting. This approach is sometimes best when one doesn't know whether an outcome is possible. MBAs, on the other hand, tend to be more methodical, and run out of time or build sub-standard towers. Our classes confirmed that this is true.

TA-ing is fun (and you make a bit of money); plus it's a good way to review material. Innovator is a particularly cool class. In general I've enjoyed my activities this year that have connected me to the class coming up behind us. They're a good group. They're also going to have an interesting experience at SOM because the new dean will be joining them next year.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Darlin', I love you, but give me Park Avenue

It was an interesting weekend. On Saturday night, I saw Nameless Forest, a "play" better described as a "dance piece" incorporating sculpture, audience participation and, my personal favorite, lots of male nudity. Beyond that it's hard to describe ... just part of the Yale artistic community's culture, in which one feels unintellectual and uncultured for questioning or objecting to, well, anything. I'll miss it. 

And on Sunday, I went to Rhode Island to visit an old friend from college and hang out with her family, which now includes three daughters. We went to Wrights Dairy Farm and saw cows and roosters. It was a nice little area that naturally smelled farmy. It was a far contrast to what I'll be experiencing in a few months as I move to New York!

I've been in touch now with two brokers, both through suggestions from classmates who have lived in the city. It's very exciting to see what my money can buy me, although everything is about trade-offs that I'm not totally certain how to make. What is more important to me, floor space, or in-building amenities? Proximity to subways or new renovations? How flexible am I on price? I fear going overboard with what I can "afford" and then struggling with the cash I have left over after taxes, rent and loans. By my calculations, my goal rent should be about $2,000, but when a broker sends something that looks absolutely amazing for $2,500, it's easy to start justifying the expense (even though in my previous life I would/could never have nonchalantly bumped my rent up by $500 a month).

City life is going to be a real delight, I think. I'm on the edge of my seat. 

Saturday, April 2, 2011

This blog

Here's the ultimate meta topic: a posting about this blog.

I was just thinking about whether I would consider this blog a success, for either me or anyone. I think I'd give a B. I'm proud to have regularly posted and not slacked off. And I would rather have done this blog than done nothing. But overall I'm not sure my vision was well-executed.

My original thought was that my transition from newspaper journalism into an MBA program would interest friends and strangers, and be something fun to document for myself. Before beginning, I decided not to be anonymous because I figured it would be too limiting. How could I, after all, say anything specific or interesting about this experience without identifying myself? What would be left to say?

All the same, identifying myself has prevented me from discussing personal developments and opinions that some people may want to know. I have to consider that a classmate, professor, future employer or family member could find these musings, and that makes some topics off-limits, such as gossip about my classmates, how much money I'll be making at Deloitte, my romantic life and personal family matters. I've alluded to these areas, but only broadly. I just can't discuss these topics here in depth and maintain any piece of mind that it won't come back to haunt me.

I've sought to balance three things: (1) keeping a journal for myself, (2) sharing news with friends, and (3) sharing information and perspectives for people interested in what it's like to be a journalist pursuing an MBA. Unfortunately, these three things aren't always compatible. If this were a diary, I would write more about my feelings, worries and personal affairs. If it were strictly for friends, the style would be less formal, and the specifics more personal. In trying to aim mostly at #3, I've sanitized things a bit and, at worst, been somewhat mundane. I often don't realize this is the case until I go back and read; then I'll notice that there are ruts where all I ever seem to talk about is how busy and stressed I am. Of course I also sometimes discuss off-topic matters, like a movie or song. I'd do that regardless of the audience.

Anyway, I'm going to keep plugging away until commencement (May 23), so my last post will probably be May 24 or so. Then I'll close. When I'm finished, as time allows, I might try to massage out the boring stuff and perhaps pull the whole thing into a more entertaining narrative (like a book, I suppose). Like I said, I'm glad I did this. I hope it hasn't been too painful to stay with me.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Why is everyone so mean to Rebecca Black?

When I was a journalist, my coverage area was usually entertainment, and I have been an avid follower of music for 20 years. I've seen, along with everyone, overnight Internet phenomena come and go. But this Rebecca Black thing really gets my blood boiling.

The cruelty and ridicule this poor thing is enduring is outrageous, and this country should be ashamed of itself. She is a 13-year-old child! She had an opportunity to do what was more or less a silly bit of karaoke and a mall-quality video, posted it online for fun, and is loathed? On what grounds? Yes, the song is unprofessionally written, produced and performed. Why does its existence anger people so? And why is that anger directed at the child? She didn't even write the song.

It pains me to think about the fact that this kid, who we can imagine is sensitive as she is a human adolescent, is going to be scarred and traumatized by this ridiculous swelling of cruel group-think.

She needs some sort of professional handling, and I think one of two things needs to happen. (1) The video is removed, she refuses to do any sort of further interviews or public appearances, moves to a new town with her mom, changes her name and goes into therapy. (2) Her mother hires a media-savvy manager, or small team of people, who are good at handling children's show-biz careers in a caring way, and who can somehow leverage this sudden fame into a career in the entertainment business. Option (2) probably needs to begin with some kind of damage-control video that says, in effect, "Hello, I am a child, I was given a chance to sing a silly pop song and put it online, which I did."

When I was 13, I was writing songs on the piano, with lyrics, that I would be mortified if people heard today. And had YouTube existed then, I might have given an attempt to post a little video -- little, skinny me, singing a ridiculous song I'd written. Thank goodness I had the freedom to live out my dreams in my head instead of trying to do it on YouTube.