La Resistance

I was in Paris the day of the attacks. That evening, I had been out with friends in Montmatre. I was tired and starting to get sick and nearly didn’t go out. If I hadn’t gone out, I would have likely fallen asleep before the attacks which means my family and friends would have had to wait eight hours before knowing I was safe. My friend, who lives in Paris, nearly took us to a restaurant next door to the attacks. These “sliding-like-door” decisions have not escaped me. I was lucky to have left Paris unharmed both physically and emotionally.

While the news outlets were focusing on the horrors of the attacks, I wandered the streets of Paris as a tourist and observer. I witnessed an entirely different side of humanity – the will to defy terrorism by going on with life. The museums and tourist attractions were closed but the cafes weren’t. Tourists and locals alike filled the streets without fear. I saw the desire to deeply connect with one another despite our backgrounds. At the hotels I stayed in, seemingly aloof Parisians shared with me their feelings of shock, noting it could have been them. One wondered how she’d be treated at the airport the following week while flying to Iran. Another noted that he never called to check on his friends in Beirut but they had checked on him.

The second day after the attacks, I went to the Place de la Republique. It felt weird being voyeuristic but then again, how could I not witness this? I heard people singing and came to join the crowd. They were fumbling through the lyrics with no native English speakers leading and I nearly went up to the front to help but couldn’t get through. You can see me for a split second behind the guy in the yellow sweater at the 13s mark in the Hey Jude video. I had the sense that people weren’t singing for attention but truly singing their hearts out – a timeless method of catharsis. It was truly a beautiful moment – a reminder that we all have more in common than we have differences. That we are resilient and, especially if we come together, we will get through whatever challenges face us. And that we will not let violence or fear control us.

The Myth of Childhood Innocence

While researching for my novel, I stumbled upon my diary from the late 80’s to early 90’s. Throughout the hard-covered, bejeweled, lockable book is the usual insight into my development and life – stories switch between my home life to my school. My spelling shows continued, dramatic improvement. My focus jumps from the trivial and self-centered, to the insightful and worldly- all within one entry. At 10 years old, in the early 90’s, the only exposure I had to the outside world was through television, my parents, school and friends. I was, and still am, a member of Generation Catalano or as Buzzfeed describes, stuck between Millennial and Gen X – optimistic, yet cynical. Digitally savvy but I didn’t have a cell phone until I was in college. The only “facebook” I had access to was a printed handout given to incoming freshmen.

Despite the lack of connectivity, at 10 years old this is what I wrote:


Dear Diary,

My main goal in life is to be useful for health, food, clothing needs and saving the earth from hate and pollution. The reason why I’m telling you this is because we just had a war. There is no more fighting, but we still need to figure out how to defeat Hadam Husane [Saddam Hussein]. Because of the war, many people spent more money for guns, bombs, and other weapons. Many people have lost their jobs. I thank god that my father, instead, got a promotion. We are lucky to have a house. Many people have been killed. Some because of the war. The rest from cold-hearted people. More people are selling crack to support their families.

The rain forest is getting killed more and more every day. In fact, I was watching HBO and they had a movie dedicated to saving the rain forest. More whales are getting killed. Their blubber provides candles and lipstick.

I was astute to the atrocities and hardships of the world.

Nearly a quarter of a century later, our level of connectivity has evolved but our world has not. Children today are exposed to the harsh realities of the world and no amount of parental sugar-coating will protect them. These findings have been validated through consumer research. The Sound  found that Generation Z is a more mature, self-aware generation than Generation Y – and possess a sense of wisdom beyond their years.

Even Generation Z’s pop-cultural references fail to hide the realities of the world. Over a decade ago, Harry Potter broke the rules of typical children’s literature when it killed off various characters – a far cry from the G-rated, Disney cartoons of the 80’s and 90’s. Millennials learned that while the world was fraught with problems, resilience and their own special magic could solve them. Following Harry Potter, The Hunger Games pushed the notion of child innocence even further – in this world, children weren’t just fighting evil, but forced to fight each other to violent deaths.

But unlike Gen X or even my in-between generation, children today have the tools to make a measurable, positive impact on society. Beyond growing up with computers and smartphones, they live in a world where any question can be answered through Google or any skill gained for through YouTube. Teenagers like Tavi Gevinson are using their social presence to inspire. Students like Neha Gupta are using their access to web-design and ingenuity to make the type of impact in college that entrepreneurs like Bill Gates started making during his second career as a philanthropist. Generation Z are so resourceful that they even seek brands that help them acquire new skills, according to the latest Cassandra Report.

Every day, we are all exposed to new atrocities and situations that feel so beyond our control. But we are on the brink of a positive change. Empowered Millennials are overtaking the workforce, reaching more than 50% in 2015. Compassionate Gen-Zers, whose lives have been shaped by the recession, a government fraught with special interests, the realities of climate change and a world where there’s no denying our inter-connectivity – are eligible to vote in the 2016 election.

I look forward to a future where every ten-year old can make their dreams of saving the world from hate and pollution, a reality because the future is now.

The Circle Game: Big Data & the Gutenberg Press

I’ve read about two pages of Nate Silver’s “The Signal and the Noise” and already, my mind is blown.

Often in advertising, we look at everything we do as something that is new and hasn’t been done before. Social has replaced mass marketing, T.V. commercials.. and that’s a one-to-one relationship we’ve never seen before. Or maybe we saw that 75-100 years ago before radio ads and television ads – when the “advertising” you were primarily exposed to was the “content” you received from your store sales associate. Your one-to-one relationship was right in front of you and you could shake their hand.

Content strategy is the new, never-before, never-seen, form of digital and social marketing. Or maybe magazines and the brands that have influenced their content have just shifted to distributing their content on Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest. Our grandparents might remember cookbooks and recipes sponsored by Betty Crocker, but these forms of “content” are completely foreign to the digital generations of 2015.

Advertising isn’t the only history that repeats itself. Silver points out in his introduction that the power of data first took hold in the 1400’s, when Gutenberg invented the printing press. Suddenly, books that would have cost upwards of $20,000 a copy could now be available to the masses. Information that had literally passed hundreds of hands like a game of telephone could be distributed without error. This one invention created historical upheaval. Powers that thrived on and subsequently abused being the gatekeepers of knowledge, suddenly had formidable foes calling their bluffs. Populations questioned everything they thought they knew- from over a thousand years of teachings.

When the dust settled, Western society entered a renaissance, followed by a period of enlightenment. A way of life built on divine, unquestionable and unverifiable power nearly disappeared around the globe. All but figureheads remain.

The Gutenberg Press is a relic discussed in history classes. But the power of information is apparent to us in everything we do. When we talk about big data, we talk about consumer trends, the ability to better sell products, better know our customers, our audience and maybe our world.

But it’s more profound than that. It’s no surprise that the genesis story of the Western world is centered around knowledge – the symbol of Eve yanking down that apple of knowledge for Adam. Understanding our generation’s Gutenberg Press is understanding the power of knowledge. We are seeing corporations, institutions and even governments fall- as knowledge of their true intentions sweep through our browsers. We are seeing communities find salvation as news of their plight enter our hearts. The rate of change is accelerating at a pace we cannot imagine. While one might turn on the news to see disturbing images of injustice that desperately need to change, I see the truth being revealed- one story at a time. These stories have already created an unprecedented amount of change, one that can’t be credited to our president alone, but to an entire country of people, armed with newfound knowledge.

I’m optimistic. What’s next?

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East to West – My Journey Across the Country

Processed with VSCOcam with n1 presetIt’s a quiet, gray, Saturday morning. After a week of sun and mixed clouds, the Seattle weather has finally settled in. I’m sitting in my new apartment, nestled in one of Seattle’s more younger neighborhoods, Capital Hill. After five days with my stuff from the movers, I’m finally unpacked.

I lived in New York City for nine years, minus a brief stint in San Francisco and New Jersey. I remember my arrival to the city distinctly – on Christmas Eve of 2005, my new roommate informed me that she picked me to co-occupy a tiny one bedroom converted to two on St. Mark’s in the East Village. For four years, starting January 2006, I lived on one of the most trafficked, crazy streets in Manhattan in a quiet apartment run by slum lords who occasionally turned off the hot water without warning. Then the Upper East Side. In San Francisco, I couldn’t listen to Jay Z and Alicia Key’s latest hit “New York State of Mind” without getting a pang of momentary sadness. Then back to NYC- three years of a “Brooklyn tour” hitting Prospect Heights, Crown Heights, Park Slope, Williamsburg and Carroll Gardens. Finally, back to the Upper East Side or Yorkville.

My decision to move across the country didn’t come lightly. It involved countless pros and cons lists. Some soul searching. Talking to friends and family. I think I even tried to meditate. Ultimately, I decided that I was ready for a change and that whatever I decided, New York would still be there. Change I will get. As a result, my coast has changed, apartment, job – from freelance to full time. And my favorite – even my operating system will change at work given that I’m now in a Microsoft town.

During my research into what decision to make, I came across countless blog posts where people declared they were over New York City and consequently leaving. I had these moments- walking 15 minutes to the subway where everyday, I’d look up thinking I was further along only to realize I was only at First Avenue. Then getting crushed on the 6 Train. Sometimes I felt like I wasn’t gaining traction in my career, felt like I couldn’t afford all New York City had to offer. But then I had those small moments that were so uniquely New York. Stepping into a wine bar with my pros and cons list where a group of French people argued at the end of the bar. The muscular bartender, who I stereotyped as being from Long Island (I’m from Jersey, I can think these things), actually hailed from Hawaii. The trans performer dancing and singing his heart out at the Union Square subway station. A January dim sum gathering with long time friends. Or walking by the church I was baptized in, feeling a sense of pride as I thought – I’m a real New Yorker.

Recently, philosopher Ruth Chang’s TED Talk on how to make decisions was floating around the internet. She speaks about how people try to quantify decisions. Will moving to Seattle be the better option, or is staying in New York the right decision? Ultimately, with both offering their own pros and cons, neither tips the scale as being a clear winner or loser. This is considered a hard decision. Instead, it’s up to me to choose what kind of lifestyle I’m seeking. What am I willing to give up in order to get? What new experiences do I seek that are worth giving up all that is comfortable and familiar? Who do I want to be?

We make our choices and then adjust our life to build around those decisions. So the next time you see another “Why I’m Leaving New York” blog post, take it for what it is – an attempt to rationalize a decision that they may need outside support on. For those fortunate enough, where you live is a choice. It’s a choice to experience certain aspects of a lifestyle while sacrificing others. It’s a choice to experience the unfamiliar or choose to live among the familiar. It’s a choice to make your life the way you want it to be.

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