Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Wendy's poem

As you can tell, I did not spend much time writing today. But while I was at Wendy's with Annelise, I did manage to compose a poem about the restaurant, on the greasy take-out bag. 

At the bar, e.g. what happens when I drink, even sip alcohol



(special effects included. George Lucas, are you listening?)

My name is Peter Lu. I am 21 years old. I am single. I live in New York, and I am single. Tonight, I went to a bar, for the first time in what felt like a very, very long time. I am not tipsy. Repeat, I am not tipsy. Let me tell you what happened.

First, know that I’m sitting outside my door, sprawled on the linoleum floor, computer in lap. Wallet next to me, cell phone on vibrate, 3:35 a.m. This is probably the first relevant detail. The second relevant detail is that my green button-down shirt is unbuttoned 3 buttons, revealing all-too-pale-for-a-Californian skin. The third relevant detail is that my shoes, which James sold to me for $20 after they hurt his feet, are squeezing my heel and my big toe against the warm, claustrophobic fabric. The last detail you should know is that the air conditioner is next to me, and the circulation feels nice against my lukewarm face.

In terms of series of events, all I can tell you is that, from 5:50 p.m. until now, I’ve embarked on many voyages, all dastardly quests at self-serving relevancy (this blog, anyone?). There were two dinners: one in K-town, where the soup bowl was twice as big as my face; and one in Williamsburg, where the beef brisket was so tender my tongue forgot there was food in my mouth. I can tell you I returned to K-town -- where the waitress was from the K-pop music video of my dreams and the rum tasted like cherries and vanilla ice cream -- to, eventually, make fun of two 25-year-olds on an elevator and discuss the perils of online dating with a 40-year-old. I can also tell you that, in the middle of typing this entry, my floor-mate whisked me back to her messy room to tell me about flapper parties, her presence on the board of 9 organizations, and her religious devotion to Nyquil. I hope she never stumbles on this blog. Cute girl, though.

I also want to say that the rest of this week in New York will be one of the best weeks I will ever have as a human being living on planet Earth. It’s the events and the people, but it’s also because of a natural outpouring of the happiness and excitement that had been repressed so viciously this month. It wasn’t like I was unhappy, per se; more like I was fed up with what the world had to offer. I was disenchanted with the social victuals I had painstakingly procured, impassive about my day-to-day work, frustrated with my own lack of excessive hubris. But no more! After all, I did tonight what I should have done years ago: utilized all the tools of my education and my introspection to come up with a grand, final, bombastic list of all the philosophies and aphorisms and keep-in-mind’s that have been percolating in my brain for the last 4 years.

(A reader’s guide to:) why you should do what you want:

because you, fellow reader, are blessed with far more opportunity than the people around you, or, more specifically, the people in countries with GDPs less than $2,000
because you are a mere mote on the space-time continuum, already evaporated
because nothing, absolutely nothing, is ever such a big deal
because your gchat statuses are epic
because you are the shit

Bonus edition, (notes from a flaming redhead):

infinite possibilities
eff the haters
if you’re not having fun, you’re doing something wrong
go 200%, because if you fail, you’ll hit 100%
with confidence, you’ll have much more leeway
surround yourself with positive people
mindfulness

love.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Jayson and the Giant Beach: First Three Chapters


1.

Up until Jayson was 10 years old, he lived with his mum and dad in a colourful house by the sea. Hermit crabs would waddle by his porch, and he would observe them with a magnifying glass. Soft, green glass pieces would wash up in the waves, and he would collect them in a small burlap knapsack. Seaweed rope would lie on the sand, and he would use it to decorate his sand castles. He played by himself at the beach every day, and it was the perfect life for a quiet boy like himself.

Then one day, Jayson’s father went to work (he was a fisherman) in the deep sea and he never came back. It was a terrible accident, caused by a terrible storm, and the only things that were ever recovered were pieces of his small schooner, the Maritime.

As you can imagine, Jayson’s mum was soul-searchingly distraught. She hired a boat to go looking for her husband herself, and only came back a week later when they had run out of food and fresh water. She cried for days and days, and when she ran out of Kleenex, she just let the tears run down her face and fall, all heavy and wet, onto the plaid couch in the living room. Soon, her bright, peachy skin turned a scabby shade of gray.

While Jayson was almost equally sad in the days immediately after his dad had disappeared, he soon became far more concerned about his mum, who had taken to sitting indoors and watching the telly on mute, her eyes glazed over the screen. “I have to do something about her mood,” Jayson thought. He proceeded to do all manner of Good Deeds to cheer her up: cooking her soft-boiled eggs sprinkled with cinnamon (her favorite), collecting fresh chrysanthemums for the kitchen room table, even emptying his piggybank to buy her a new set of crochet needles and a brilliant ball of yarn. Every time, mum would look at Jayson with loving eyes and tell him he didn’t need to be doing this, but her compliments were hollow. The twinkle in her eye was still missing; whatever Jayson did, she was never quite as happy as he wanted her to be. It wasn’t long until she  sold the cozy seaside house and moved across the country to live with Jayson’s grandparents.

2.

Their names were Grandma Lucy and Grandpa George, and while they were nice – they always called Jayson “sweetie” or “darling” or, on occasion, “you little squirt,” they were getting a bit long in the tooth. Both had supper at 5 p.m. and watched the telly until 8 p.m., then curled up in bed with a thick book before falling asleep thirty minutes later.

While mum settled into their routine almost instantly, Jayson became antsy. He wasn’t hungry at all at 5 p.m., didn’t like the talk shows that were on the telly, and simply didn’t know how to calm his body down to sleep so early. Every night, he spent 4 hours tossing and turning, picking up and stretching and dropping the wisps of thought that floated into his head.

They lived – Grandma Lucy, Grandpa George, and now mum and Jayson – in a weathered wooden cabin in on the edge of a dark, swarthy pine forest, hundreds of yards away from their nearest neighbors. The forest was a shade of emerald green, and was so thick and knotted Jayson couldn’t see 20 feet into the thicket. Even on a sunny day, the forest seemed to absorb all the light, turning even darker and more brilliant.

“See this forest, Jayson?” his Grandpa had said to him one night after dinner, two weeks after he had moved in. “Legend has the trees here are made stronger than anything humans can handle. This patch of forest has been here for over 1,000 years. Loggers have tried multiple times to build a city here, but this patch is as far as they’ve ever gotten – the forest was too thick, even for their machines.”

“Have you been inside before?” Jayson asked.

“Yes, but only as a child. And I’ve been lost many times!” Grandpa looked Jayson in the eye. “Promise me you won’t go in there alone. I’ll take you one day, but only when the sun is out.”

“Yes, Grandpa.”

Of course, there weren’t many sunny days. It seemed to Jayson that it would never stop raining: one day, there would be torrential rainstorm; another, light foggy drizzling. Even when the sun was out, gray clouds would buttress its rays and sprinkle down raindrops. Jayson wanted to hold Grandpa George to his promise, but he was getting old, and the rain made Grandpa prone to catching colds.

Jayson hated the rain. At least when he was living near the sea, the water was tucked away along the shore, the sand absorbing the excess. Here, the water made the land vomit, turning solid ground into black mud and slushy puddles. Because of the rain, it was no more fun for Jayson to play outside.

After a particularly boring evening, with a dinner of spaghetti with clam sauce, Jason tucked into bed. Would life always be this drab? All he wanted was a crack of pure sunlight. 

3.

It started on one of those sleepless nights, when Jayson was in bed still wide awake. He was thinking about the earthworms that had crawled onto the front porch, all shiny and spastic, and was about to move on to the next thought queued up in his brain when he heard a “croak” through his window. It was an ugly, nasally sound, full of dents and phlegm, and it cut through the pitter-patter of rain through his window. Jayson tried to shut it out of his head, but it came like clockwork: croak, croak, croakkkk. croak, croak, croackkkk. While it seemed harmless – Jayson assumed it was an old bullfrog – the sound went on for what seemed like hours, until finally, Jayson crawled out of bed, unlatched the rusty crank for the window, and pulled it open.

“Hello? Is anyone there?” Jayson was immediately stricken with how foolish he was. “It’s definitely not a person,” he thought. So why was he saying that?

Then, suddenly, a the same nasally, pungent voice creaked out: “I’m right here! What took you so long? Come out immediately!”

Jayson stumbled back. He looked around at his room: there was his desk, pencils and papers and his piggybank on top. He looked at his closet: his clothes, all four sets of them, were hanging somberly. His bed was as he left it, the sheets rumpled up from when he got up. Everything was completely, absolutely, normal. He was definitely awake. So why was that—

“Did you hear me? You’re already late!”

It was that voice again!

“Hullo? Who are you?” he asked, pushing his nose against the window screen, trying to peer out into the darkness.

“No time for questions!” The voice, despite being low and croaky, was growing desperately more adamant. It seemed to be coming right underneath his window. “Hurry up before the rain stops!”

“Why? What’s going on?” Jayson asked. He waited, but there was only silence. Quickly, he grabbed his flashlight from the closet, but the window screen prevented him from shining it onto the creature. All he saw were puddles, and more earthworms.

“Hold on, I’m coming,” Jayson whispered. “Stay where you are.”

He slipped on his rainboots (without his socks), and strung his flashlight’s carrying loop around his left wrist. There was usually a purple and white umbrella by the front door, but he couldn’t find it, so he grabbed his grandpa’s oversized blue raincoat instead, and rolled up the sleeves.

Before he walked out, he looked back into the house. Nobody else had woken up or had made a sound, and he could hear his grandpa’s deep breathing coming from the bedroom down the hall. Never once had Jayson snuck out of the house, or had ever wanted to. But tonight, he was going to do it. Little did he know he wasn’t coming back for the next 10 years. 


Notes for future:



Ok, so I have to make the characters all mean. They have to hate Jayson. Damn. But can’t dwell. At a certain point, have to stop iterating and just write a draft, because I know it’s going to change.

passing out notes about invisible people – writng the note will make them come alive!

Always a question: is it gripping / bombastic enough?
Which age group am I tackling?
More character development. Why is he studious? What makes him going out alone so special? Why isn’t he scared of the dark?
Read the sister’s grimm – is my story exactly like this?
More grandpa instilling wisdom/ Do we need that scene?
Do we have to put more dad in it? Not sure if he misses his dad or not – is it the reason for his quest? Hmm. We need a reason for his quest. Like James – giant peach. Peter Nimble – escape with the eyes.
does Jayson read books? does he believe in fairy tales?
her mum loved playing hopscotch with him
scene with dad – jayson is dreaming about dad. maybe in beginning more of dad and him playing. we need to have a slave master character that Jayson escapes from? More detail about the people involved in the story?
super mischievious sidekick – stop that! maybe playing tricks is good after all!
Superpowers: bag to create water anywhere. seed to make forests sprout up anywhere. and a piece of coal to create fire.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Links, Week 2: Ivy League Pornographer, Influence-Meter, Catcher in the Rye Assassination



This week, I spent 32 hours online (rescuetime). That's almost 5 hours a day. And that's on my personal computer! At work, I'm on 6 hours a day. Add it up: 62 hours out of 144 in a week. Mid-summer resolution: cut back to 40 hours total. At least the links section will be really good this week, right?


BlogsJohn Song Says, the only blog I read.

Writing: Tomatos, porn, and a book by Sam Benjamin, Brown grad; guys who love fat chicks. An interview with a great book designer and how a book jacket is created. What Gay Talese's schedule looks like everyday; how Beyonce and Gaga work; AIM and hedge fund domination. Why Grace Jung doesn't read Murakami and an ex-pat brat; Rosanne Barr's great missive on making it as a female in TV. Future reads: The Delivery Man and the best books of 2010.

Fashion: Anna Wintour has assistants who will link arms to carry her down the stairs if the elevator takes too long. The September 2004 issue of Vogue was 832 pages, 700+ of which were ads. Terry Richardson's absurd photo diary (NSFW, some). And Guy Evans, a newbie.


Guitar: 10 greatest guitar players of all time; the fascinating death of John Lennon that had everything to do with Catcher in the Rye interpretation from Mark Chapman. Places to rent a guitar in NYC.

SportsAmerican leagues are socialist, Europeans are capitalistsports psychology for the modern age; Lebron: "I’ve never understood people who get off on LeBron’s failures. Why would anyone ever root for mediocrity? Why do people want to see the greatest talent since Jordan underachieve?"; Robert Rowell is finally gone; Jan Vesely gets tongue on draft day; Chris Webber clowns a horrible GM; Heat still favorites for the 2012 NBA Championship. And the Kansas City Royals have an unbelievable farm team. Oh, and the Athletics suck

Social interactionsmissed connections everywhere in NY, illustrated and in print; slight turn of events movie; why did Anthony Weiner put those pictures online? The whore complex; is this a Brown University joke?; you're sweet, but I'm not sexually attracted; 33 ways to introspect and a couple ways to build confidence; what you call doing nothing; 51 year old and a 16 year old marriage; the m/female ratio in California was 166 to 100; the best online dating site on the West Coast. And sit up straight!

Tech: Find out how influential you are; increase traffic to your blog; Amazon controls our lives; great new tech start-ups; Dear Internet, please don't bubble us; personal preferences on hunchcheapest coolest earphones I'm going to get; Dropbox hacked (scary); Yahoo CEO gets Carol Bartz owned, berated, gets defensive.
Random: best eyeglasses shop ever; hipsters and their taste in music25 weird fetishes; Mike Maruca's compassionate soul; tips for hailing a taxi in NY; the penis song by Cameron Diaz and Selma Blair; why Obama will might lose by Rove.

Is there an easter egg link? Maybe, but I'm not telling. 

Saturday, June 25, 2011

The horror, the horror: Commuting from New Haven to New York



Every day between June 6th to June 17th, I commuted from New Haven to New York. Nobody should ever have to endure the pain I did. Here is my story.

The week after graduation, I’m crashing with Daniel Ayele; I’m a mendicant with a suitcase of clothes and twice as many books. My summer plans are in flux (read: I have no idea), so I spend my days waking up at 2:30pm, eating at Booktrader, playing Bubble Trouble with Zach, thinking about inner confidence, and watching the NBA finals in the basement of Pierson.

Fast forward a week: I’m crashing at Warren’s sublet, a beautiful apartment stocked with a guitar and vocabulary flashcards, and I hear back from Abrams Books – yes, they’re willing to hire me, can I start on Monday? I sign up for housing at a college dorm. Problem is, I can’t move in until 2 weeks after my internship starts. So to bridge the gap, I go online to Craigslist and let subletters know I’m up for grabs. I even use Padmapper, that’s how serious I am. Nobody responds positively. So on Sunday night at 1am, I’m still in New Haven, when I have to be in New York on 18th and 6th Ave in 7 hours.

The first train ride isn’t so bad: I’m brimming with adrenaline, ready for my first day of work, and proceed to conquer the day. On the train ride back, I fall asleep, and come back home rested.

The second day is when it gets ugly. The routine for the next 9 days looks like this: wake up to alarm at 6:20 a.m. Dress and pack and preen in 10 minutes. Run to train station by 6:37 a.m. Board train with 2 minutes to spare. Find a window seat. Prop my backpack between myself and the window and lean my head against backpack. Prep myself for wave of sleep that will inevitably hit after my heart has stopped beating because of mad dash to station. Give conductor my ticket. Fall asleep, and wake up when train arrives.

Simple, right? The only problem is that I felt like crap the entire way. The 6:20 wake-up call left me soporific. Leaving the apartment without eating anything left a gnawing feeling in my stomach part physiological and part psychological: I was hungry, and felt hungrier knowing I wouldn’t be eating until 8:45 a.m. Running to the train station in business casual was discomfiting and uncomfortable, not to mention sweaty. Sleeping on the train was awkward, especially considering that every seat gets taken. I needed to stretch my legs underneath the seat in front of me, and would inevitably play footsie with a 45-year old investment banker. There was nothing to prop my head on except for the vibrating window panel, so I used my hand instead, which is too untrustworthy to serve as a pillow. I would squeeze my hands between my thighs because it was so cold, which made it look as if I needed to pee really badly. When I woke up, I had a dry, desiccated, scratchy feeling in the back of my throat.

I want to say there were positives: that it felt great waking up so early; that I met some interesting people on the train rides; that the experience made me appreciate how close everything at Yale was (20 minutes to the top of Science Hill? No problem!) But that would be lying. Mostly, I spent the first two weeks while on the commute feeling like my brain was wrapped up in gauze, pathetically thinking to myself that I just needed to make it through these first two weeks before I could really start living. When I returned to New Haven, I’d discover (ironically) a second wind of energy and end up staying up until 1 a.m., or, on one night, setting up this blog, until 4 a.m. And I’d have to wake up at 6:20 a.m., regardless.

I never did end up finding a sublet. I found a promising lead, except that the guy was slightly crazy. And I don’t think I was ready, at least mentally, to move to New York eiher. As for the commute, I ended up adjusting. I realized that I didn’t have to sprint-stop-sprint-stop to the train station; a steady, slow jog the entire way would do. I un-tucked my shirt while jogging, realizing I could tuck it back in before I got to work. I realized that the front car of the train, which is always closest to the platform entrance, was always absurdly empty (maybe because everyone always assumes it already filled up!). Sleep onset became instantaneous, and my dreams were always on the waking surface of my brain, playing themselves out, so that I could remember everything afterwards. Finally, I developed the uncanny habit of waking up right as the doors opened to let everyone out at Grand Central.

Small victories, of course. I was losing the war: the commute to work took from 6:20 a.m to 8:45 a.m., and the commute back was 5:45 p.m. to 8:15 p.m. Once, I was riding one of those new Metro-North trains, the brakes failed, so we had to de-train and wait an hour for a new one. That day, my commute was 6 hours and 10 minutes, work was 8 hours and 45 minutes, and sleep was 5 hours and 30 minutes; I had 3 hours and 35 minutes for myself.

Needless to say, no matter how much I loved living at Yale, I was stoked to move to New York. My commute is a measly 12 minutes each way. Of course, now that I’ve been here for exactly a week, a different set of concerns have cropped up (for example, today I woke up at 3:14 p.m., and never left my room). But that’s a story for another day.

Friday, June 24, 2011

"You're only as good as your last haircut": Rafael's, the best barber in East Village



My high school yearbook quote was probably the worst out of the 660 people in our graduating class: 
“Well, art is art, isn't it? Still, on the other hand, water is water! And east is east and west is west and if you take cranberries and stew them like applesauce they taste much more like prunes than rhubarb does. Now, uh... now you tell me what you know.” ~ Groucho Marx 
About an hour before I submitted it, I was grappling with an alternative:
“You’re only as good as your last haircut.” ~ Fran Lebowitz
I couldn’t decide. The Groucho quote was so funny and flippant that, as a friend pointed out, it might have been the “sleeper” quote for our class. Of course, there was also the distinct possibility that the Marx quote would be a complete flame-out, too try-hard and weird to warrant anything other than an irreverent remark. 

The Lebowitz quote was more true to myself: after a trim, Asian-barber $12 haircut, I always felt like a superstar. The only problem was that the quote was too narrow in scope; I wanted to capture the world, but all Lebowitz gave me was a quip about confidence. 

I ended up sticking with the Marx quote for a now-nugatory reason: the Marx quote had more words, and I wanted to own more "yearbook space." Of course, when the yearbook came out, I couldn’t stand to re-read my quote; and, double of course, nobody really cared. I hope it never gets brought up at my high school reunions.

The Lebowitz quote, though, still rings true to this day. It was ringing in my head this Wednesday, when I decided to stop by Rafael’s for a friendly neighborhood haircut. I had last cut my hair May 6th, at Phil’s on Wall Street, by a Filipino barber who was great the first time (I told him, “This was the best haircut I’ve received in college”) and hasty the second. I found Rafael on Yelp – typed in "barber," and his name showed up for East Village with a 5-star rating. The reviews were uniformly awe-inspiring. I was sold.

I arrived at 6:30pm. Rafael was busy with a customer, so I waited for 20 minutes before popping into the chair. He brings out his Eastern European (?) accent and asks me, “How long since your last haircut? A month? I can tell, it's been a month. So how do you like your hair? Listen, at Rafael's we’re going to try something a little different. You had your hair cut like this before, so we going to try a little this instead, and you tell me if you like it.” 

I asked him how my head shape affected hair style, how my slightly curly hair affected ideal hair length, and how many regular customers he has. Unlike any other barber I’ve been to, he stopped cutting and answered my questions until I was satisfied. He threw out dulcet words like “blend,” as in, “For your back of your head, I’m going to do a blend”; “natural,” as in, “It’ll look natural, this blend”; and "smooth," as in, "This natural blend, it looks smooth."

The haircut took 40 minutes, and at the end he trimmed all my awkward neck hairs with a razor and shaving cream, in what looked in the mirror like slapdash swipes but felt like a baby's breath. (Reminds me of that story, “Just Lather, That’s All.” Is that weird?) After I paid and gave him a 29% tip, he shook my hand four different times in a minute and said four variations of the sentence, “Thanks for coming, I’ll see you in a month.” Crazy thing is, I think he does this with everyone.

It's two days later, and I can still rub my hand against the back of my head and hear the carpet-like bristles swish. The lines are still visible. Most importantly, the ratio of hair-length on the side of my head to the top of my head (1:3) makes my face look less round and more oval.

Plus, it’s $14. $11 for newcomers. Damn. Fran Lebowitz would be proud.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

$4 dinners in New York City: Peanut Butter Jelly Time!



I’m writing this post because I ran out of peanut butter. That’s a euphemism for “dinner.” You see, since I moved to New York on Saturday, my dinners have consisted only of the 4 major (Whole) Foods groups:

peanut butter
organic whole wheat sourdough
baby carrots
plain nonfat non-rBGH yogurt

The bread is my carbohydrates; the peanut butter my protein; the yogurt and carrots my vitamins. I never expected that they would satiate my hunger, but the crazy thing is, eating 2 slices of bread, 4 tablespoons of peanut butter, 30 baby carrots, and 10 ounces of yogurt every night makes me more full than the all-out buffet dinners back in college.

It’s also amazing how little money each costs. All together, they were $20. That’s $4 a day for dinner. Insane! I attribute it to the peanut butter: my 18 oz jar (slightly bigger than a Coke can) packs 3200 calories, 128 grams of protein, and 32 grams of fiber. For $3!

For breakfast every day, I quaff two packets of instant oatmeal in my Berkeley 2011 mug. I’ll eat an apple around 10:30am. Lunch, I admit, I go out for – Chipotle, Hale and Hearty, the Mexican truck, a $1 pizza place. But that’s it, I promise.

$4 a day on dinner. $8 on lunch. $1.50 on breakfast. $13.50 a day in NYC? Not bad, right?

Right now, I’m finding an almost perverse joy from spending as little on food as possible. Part of it’s my nature, but part of it’s also counterbalancing the first two weeks of this internship, when I was still living in New Haven. Because of the commute and the lack of viable supermarkets, I bought meals three times a day: 2 parfaits ($7.56) for breakfast; something fatty for lunch ($8); and something oversaturated for dinner ($8). I felt slightly profligate, and wasn’t convinced the food wasn’t somewhat noxious to my immune system. It got so bad I started waking up in the middle of the night to pinch my stomach, convinced my body fat index was increasing (kidding! But I did start pinching myself. I’ve stopped now). Moving to NYC, and taking a trip to the Whole Foods, was my salubrious solution (did I use that word right?).

My austere dinners are soon going to be untenable. They feel variegated enough right now, but I know it’ll become unbearable in a week. Until then, I’ll going to try and save even more money. For example, if I made my own salads, that’s another $4 shaved off. But breakfast and dinner – I can’t see a way to cut prices without sacrificing my health. If you have any ideas, I’d love to hear them.

Oh, and weekends are exempt. Stomach, get ready for some ramen tomorrow. Mmmmm.

Friday update: after peanut butter week, I went to Totto and Ippudo for lunch and dinner. Two of the best ramen shops  in New York (Ippudo has 2756 reviews; 4-stars). Ippudo was like, 1.5x better than Totto (noodle consistency/stringiness, broth saltiness, temperature). Totto was $12. Ippudo was $26. $38 in a day -- that's more like NY living, right?

Monday, June 20, 2011

Test of your skills: What not to do on OKCupid



(Read about the end of my OKCupid saga, after you're finished here.)

If you’re like me, you’re wary of online dating sites. Face to face interactions are just so much more robust. Online, body language is invisible; response times delayed; spontaneity manufactured. And the pictures and descriptions – they (ick) might not even be the real person.

So of course, I joined OkCupid yesterday. 5 days ago, an acquaintance of mine, who’s 25, convinced me of the viability of this new medium of guy-girl interactions: “Everyone’s on it now. There’s no stigma anymore.” And, she noted, did you know that 20% of all relationships now start…online? Who was I to argue with those numbers?

Making a profile on OkCupid was easier and more efficient than signing up for Google, Facebook, or Twitter. I was literally inside its not-so-walled-off ecosystem in 20 seconds. And with its game mechanics (“Add a picture to increase your profile to get to 25% completion!”) I couldn’t resist but enter my basic information (Asian), then start filling out match questions (“Right now, are you happy with life?”), submit personal details (“What’s the most private thing you’re willing to share?”), upload some pictures, and view my “best” matches….really, it was like Yalestation Dating on steroids. Except that here, most profiles on the site seem to be serious business.

By yesterday night at 3 a.m. (don’t ask me how late I stayed up, because I won’t tell you it was 6 a.m., 2.5 hours before I had to be at work), I was at 75% completion – and for the next stage, I needed to send out 20 messages to potential matches. I stopped then. I don’t think I was mentally ready to engage with this online world. And left to my own devices, I’m not really sure if I would have sent out any messages. Thankfully, my college roommate (let's call him by his middle name...pinball) took care of my decision for me. While I was at work, pinball (whom I’d given access to my account, though email) sent 100 messages to 100 females. This was the text he used, verbatim:

"Hey you look really cute! I'm brand new to NYC, so would love to have a partner in crime to explore the city with-- let me know if you'd like to meet up for a drink!”
-Peaches

On the whole, not too shabby. (Reminds me of the couple messages he sent on Yalestation, heh, a couple months back.) But I did a little more digging, what with all the data mining power in Web 2.0 (3.0? which version are we at?), and found this: Exactly what to say in a first message. OkCupid’s team of engineers analyzed thousands of first messages to determine which mix of words produced the highest rate of response. I encourage you to read it. For the rest of this entry, let’s focus specifically on pinball’s message. How successful was it, framed against OkCupid’s metrics?

According to OkCupid, the first commandment of online “message game” is to be literate. Messages containing “ur,” “r,” “u,” and “ya” literally do 20% worse than the “average” message on OkCupid, which has a 32% response rate. So, for pinball’s message? Check. No misspelled words, subtle punctuation cues approximating real talk (“…with – let me…”), and laconic prose “…so (I) would love to have…” Great stuff.

The second commandment is to avoid physical compliments. “Sexy,” “beautiful,” and “hot” do 10-20% worse than normal; “cutie” checks in at 26%, under the average rate by 6%. On the flip side, “cool,” “nice,” “fascinating,” and “awesome” all do very, very well – messages with “awesome” almost hit 40% response. Pinball’s message? Not so hot. He starts out with “Hey you look really cute!” that’s staid pick-up lingo; the message conveyed is more “let’s hook up” than “you seem like a really cool person.” Of course, the flip side to this is: females who actually respond to the “cutie” message will probably be more down to…uh…yea. (Or just nicer! Or less attractive – but that's a different post.)

Rule 3 is to use an unusual greeting. “How’s it going” gets nearly a 55% response rate; “what’s up” and “howdy” are almost as good, at 45%; on the flip side, “hi,” “hello,” “hey,” and “holla” are all between 25% and 32%. Pinball used “hey” – at 30%, it’s just below par for the course.

Rule 4 is to bring up specific interests. Niche words like “band,” “metal,” vegetarian,” and “zombie” actually produce 40% response rates when put in messages! If you write, “you mention,” “good taste,” or “noticed that” as syntactical cues to your interest, the percentages are similarly as high. Pinball’s message? The statistically deviant words were “brand new,” “partner in crime,” “explore,” and “drink.” Interesting words, but not tailored to the receiver.

Rule 5 is to be self-effacing (for males only). Saying “sorry,” “apologize,” and “awkward” are all 10%+ moves to make online. Online, humility wins the day. Was pinball’s message humble? Not really—but he wasn’t arrogant, either.

Conclusion? Pinball’s message was nice, na├»ve, and generic. Not negative, but not positive either – more like an automated spam message sent to an email account, either deleted or left on the linoleum floor to gather virtual dust. My prediction for the actual response rate? I’m guessing 8% -- of all the moves made, the lack of personalization will play the largest negative role. The “cute” opener comes in a kind-of-close second. The 8% who respond, of course, won’t care, having already been *blown away* by my ceiling-to-floor Myspace picture poses (jaykayyy).

And as for future steps: an A/B randomized trial – how much does a personalized message improve responses rates? Stay tuned.

One final thought: there’s an entire post that needs to be written about my philosophy on dating, thoughts on online dating efficacy, the role of statistics in interpersonal relationships. For now, take this evaluation of OkCupid messaging with a grain of salt.

Links, Week 1: Bro Bible, Guitar, Fairy Tales, Introverts and Adam Morrison


First installment of what I'm up to online. I'm averaging around 4 hours a day, ish?

Writing: Jay Caspian Kang on Lebron's meltdown and his poker addiction; the original Grimm's Fairy Tales, free on Google Books (read Cinderella); answers to the most viewed questions on Quora ("What does it feel like to be stupid?"); the New Yorker Summer fiction edition, on Weiner and a great story by George Saunders; myths about introverts; book country; Malinda Lo and Jenn Weiner on how to get published.

Sports: NYT magazine on the career of Bill Simmons; the best game Adam Morrison has ever had (Morrison: 2 rings. Lebron: 0); the best comebacks in basketball history, compiled by Brobible.com, as well as Tracy McGrady 13 points in 33 seconds (still unbelievable to watch) and Oregon vs. USC (6 points in 2 seconds; start at one minute mark). The Heat Index (always great); and golf's next era, with Rory Mcllroy. And pretty much every article on Grantland.

Guitar: Currently learning Paparazzi, by GagaShe was Mine by Aj Rafael, Forget You by Cee-lo, Hey There DelilahJust a DreamTeenage DreamThe Show Goes On.

Random: the best blog theme, mistylook; the best barber on the Lower East Side, Rafaeltext game; the Rockaways.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

4 years at Yale


When I have writers block, the best remedy is to keep pounding out words, even if the bulk is pure doggerel. The second best cure is to capitulate to the amateur poet inside me. I know I've been promising all these essays, but for now, here's an all-encompassing poem about, well, Yale.


Bella Villa

We stripped on a warm day,
saw faces: yellow, tan, small noses
and slight frames, hipsters in
converse and cotton. A sherry, a ben.

We walked toeing crowns,
hometown and major,
steps and a swipe on a broken
couch, an empty container.

We caught wax dinners,
let napkins fold our facades, plates
criss-crossed with thin dry green beans.
They were all so promising.

We found a lighthouse streaming
purple light, piano minor keys
and a vase stuffed with
ripped posters and soggy ink.

Turn around and no island, but
a storm and earthy leaves;
gowns; old basketball shorts;
our rooms, piles of melancholy and socks.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

So you want to write a short story?

From January to April this year, I was able to pick the brain of Michael Cunningham, Pulitzer Prize winning author (The Hours). I practically transcribed his lectures in our seminar; unfortunately, I shipped most of my notes back to Cali. Not a good decision, especially if I'm going to be writing a couple short stories this summer. Here's what I can remember from seminar, about how to write fiction:
  1. Buy into the idea of the expected surprise: whatever the story's climax, sprinkle delicate hints beforehand. An example would be mention of a grandfather clock before the dramatic moment (death).
  2. Set your story in a specific time and place by using the slightly odd detail: the “thin, empty vase” that contributes in an underhanded way to a sense of foreboding, romanticism, or anxiety, or whatever you want to convey.
  3. Make images and actions entirely precise. Verbs need to be completely accurate. Beware of the pathetic fallacy – we ought not to attribute human qualities to the inanimate (whispering pines, babbling brooks). Think always of the exactness of objects.
  4. After you’ve written your story, think: how can I make this shorter? what can I take out? You don’t need 10 different details; you just one effortless detail that will place you in the mood/moment.
  5. Your characters should not cry.
  6. Beginnings and Endings: The opening line should give the reader no choice but to read on. Open with a paragraph that is as vivid and beautiful as you can possibly make it. Endings are much harder. One vague tip is to promise the reader something, and then give the reader something else. Set up something and give it to them slightly askew. Don’t introduce forward momentum; rather, deepen the character study. The end of a story should almost introduce another story, or a nice subtle, tonal shift. Subtlety will get you far.
  7. Alice Munroe said: All my characters are lovers. Not in the literal sense, of course, but as relationships – there are always relationships between people in your story. Don’t shortchange them, no matter how briefly someone appears.
  8. In many sad moments, there isn’t just sadness.
  9. Remember that in today’s modern workshops, Moby Dick and Great Gatsby would be massacred. So take all advice with a grain of salt.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Exhaustion writing


There have only been 2 other nights in my life when I've wanted to go to sleep more than right now: on my 21st birthday, around 1:30am, after a cab ride from Santa Monica to Century City, with the feeling of puke jumping the queue in my esophagus; and when I was 5 years old, when my father woke me up at 3:30am so we could catch our SFO flight to Maui.

There might be a story about tonight. It might be about how being tired approximates being drunk; about the impoverished decision I made to cauterize my body unnecessarily; about how, circling aimlessly in exhaustion, my word choice tends to fall off a cliff (cauterize? really?). But even if there was a story, I don't think I could tell it. So here's an easier task for my mental state right now: let me just tell you what happened today.  

A 8:40 a.m. wake-up call by Jason; my legs were exposed in the sun. Jeans and a wrinkled v-neck with black dress shoes. Awkward. We grabbed free breakfast on the 5th floor: carrot juice, 2 Granny Smith apples, a poppy seed bagel. "We'll definitely hang out this summer." Arrived at the office late; 9:15am. That's 2 days in a row. Nikki McClure signed books, she made it out to Peter (Mary Ann, thank you). I sent the copy back home. 3 hours of meetings -- ALA, Spring '12, publicity responsibilities. A visit from the CEO. "Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday. Let's grab lunch one of those days." I made jokes, like "Diversity of experience." Stayed 30 minutes late, worked on rejection letters, desk cleanup, time-sheets. Drinkology. At Grand Central: nervous, paralyzed, cognitive dissonance. Train was a 1.5 hour nap. The Liberty apartment: Sahara chicken wrap, guitar, and the best basketball comebacks ever. Guitar-and-gossip fest: unexpected, pleasantly amused. Awkward screw dates, misspelled texts, people to not like. Quora, Yahoo Answers, Tumblr, Youtube, Analytics. Then I passed out.

Eraser Knob


Currently working on a long read about my relationship with alcohol. Until then, here's a poem, about all my work this week sorting through children's books manuscripts. 

Eraser Knob

My eraser knob, sad, nearly gone
chewed, gently, on the lawn. 
An anteater nibbles, wishing, bit,
frustrated with progress, slowly, spit.
He paws precise, munches the milk
chocolate balls. I seep into the silt.
Tar and dirt, the colors brown --
I'll buy another, one knob gone.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Why this blog exists


Writing a blog, when you don’t have a reason to write a blog, reeks of megalomania and dross. That’s why this blog almost never existed. And yet, here we are, eyeballs to page. It's partly because I want to keep college friends informed of my post-college life; to document NYC, and later the Philippines; to gather a body of current work in case I ever apply for a real writing job; to become rich, famous, beautiful. But this baby was born only when I realized I needed to become a better writer. Since senior year ended, my verb bank has been atrophying; my adjectives are only tangentially accurate; I’m not witty or natty enough; and after college, the equanimity to sit down to write just isn't there. I’ve been a stock tyro, and it needs to stop.

Of course, the easiest way would have been to get a real job. But my applications to internships across the country (Virginia, San Jose, Roanoke) went unanswered, presumably because of my lack of experience. I’m working in publishing this summer, at Abrams Books, but that’s more the business of print, not the intricacies of writing. Of course, if over the summer I land a job at a publication -- say, Grantland -- you can bet my Berkeley 2011 beer mug that I’ll stop writing here. But until Bill Simmons emails me, I’ll be on as peripatetic a journey as he traveled starting out, by writing online, and praying to God a voracious editor reads it.

The only way, then, to effectively improve my craft (other than taking a $9000 4-week class at NYU -- #omgsoexpensive) is to write -- but with accountability and investment. I’ve kept a private journal for 8 years now, writing every day, but there’s no pressure to craft a sentence, primp its meaning, or even go back and edit. I’m starting a blog because, even if 2 people read it a day, I’m held accountable for my prose. This blog is a commitment device, seeing as how my words will start showing up in a google search from now until...forever. Thus the blog. If I’m ever going to take writing seriously, it starts here, and it starts now.

This blog is about writing and psychology. How to write, applicability of psychological concepts to daily life, and tangential interests: the transition from college, guitar, confidence-building, lists, start-ups, juicy gossip, etc. I know -- I'll get more traffic if I focus on just one area, and master it. But if I can't be a polymath in real life, can't I at least try to write like one?  

Couple of rules for the blog:
  1. One post everyday. No exceptions. I’ll provide new content everyday. Some days, it’ll be 2 sentences; maybe a haiku, but you’ll get something. Some times, there’ll be more than one post. Exciting! (This will force me to write, even when I don’t want to.)
  2. My writing only. All content will be new, birthed out for the world to see. No reblogging funny videos or other people’s writing. Everything here will be fresh. (One exception – see number 4).
  3. Every kind of writing. Every week, I’ll have at least 1 post surrounding each: fiction, non-fiction, and poetry.
  4. No poor writing. This combines the first two rules, but is important enough to merit its own paragraph: I’m not going to write poorly. If I have written poorly, feel free to email me and tell me where I went wrong. If you help me out, I’ll send you a $5 Amazon.com gift card. No lie. We’re all winners here, folks.
  5. Weekly link dump once a week, on Sundays. Rest on the Sabbath. What I’ve been reading and watching, mainly.  

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Archive of Previous Work


Allow this one post for self-indulgence: I’ve never organized my work in one place, and it seemed reasonable to compile it here for easy reference. So, now: all my work that resides in the bowels of the internet:

YDN, organized not by date, but by the 2011 NBA Finals.

Dirk – when the pressure's on, you just know he's going to perform.
Wade – killer instinct, except for the rare occasion when he dribbles it off his foot. Sigh.
Terry/Kidd -- seasoned vets, smelling the finish line.
Lebron – eek.
Midnight at Yale:
  • Quick hits: bucket list, and another bucket list. I really like making lists.
  • Snow sculptures: Nothing except for the best sculptures on campus. Junior year, James and I had the 2nd best sculpture with the Totoro (after our evil bunny rabbit was knocked down); senior year, Nate and Ed and I did the 1st place turtles and igloo.
Assorted publications:
  • Mitrah A., for Yale’s 50 most beautiful people. Lot of fun doing this one.
  • Of mules and men, Yale Wheel. About my summer in Ecuador. A related video of my experience with food too, on Vimeo.
  • World Hunger, Yale Herald. I’m embarrassed just to link to it, it’s so bad. At least my freshman year Herald articles about ping-pong, IM squash, Kate Grace, and volleyball aren’t online.
  • I also interned for a stint at the New Haven Advocate, and produced 11 briefs on the state of the city (and country).
  • Asian American Students Alliance: there is not much – the real documents are offline.
Finally, my two forays into the blogosphere:
Find me on Quora!!!