This is my generation, baby

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Not to belabor a point, but … Write thank you notes! We’ve just received our second handwritten one from a prospective summer intern – it just so happens that both of these candidates go to Lafayette College, my alma mater. We’re getting down to the wire with the selection process and I realize that the thank you note, virtual or otherwise, serves a secondary purpose of helping us to keep track of our interviewees. We’ve conducted about fifteen interviews, many of them back to back. The thank you note is a necessary step toward keeping one’s hat in the ring. 

I don’t read my horoscope every day but this was from Thursday:

You don’t have to come on strong to make your point –

on the contrary others will be more receptive to what you say

if you say it calmly and clearly and with no hint of a threat.

They want to believe you, so don’t make it difficult for them.

This is good advice for me to follow every day. I can get a bit … emphatic … when I’m worried that my point isn’t getting across; I’ve said before that one of my lifelong struggles has been knowing that I’m being heard and that my opinion is being considered – this comes as much from doubting the strength of my own convictions, or questioning my judgment, as it does from any external forces. As such I tend to “come on strong to make my point” and this can easily backfire. This horoscope echoes one of my favorite quotes, which has become a lengthy mantra of sorts:

Calmness of mind is one of the beautiful jewels of wisdom. 

Lately people have been telling me that I seem much more calm than I used to – this is good news, as I’ve wasted a lot of time being anything but calm. Calm helps me consider things rationally, get the recipe right, find my keys. I wish it helped me write my f’ing novel. I’m having serious writer’s distraction these days. The quote above is from James Allen, by the way.

The other day I had the opportunity to impress a taxi driver – and myself – with my newly gained awareness of professional soccer. He asked me if I knew anything about the sport and I told him that in fact I’d been to a PSG game. Against Bastia. He implied that I likely had a crush on Ibrahimovic, to which I replied that I’m more of a Cavani gal. I went on to say in an offhand, in-the-know way, that Sweden isn’t playing in the World Cup. He said he was going to watch soccer all weekend and I mentioned the Liverpool/Chelsea game Sunday morning. I told him I’d been schooled by an Arsenal fan – and he told me that that’s his team, too, and that he dreamed of seeing them play. I let him know that that dream could come true as they’ll be in NY this summer to play the Red Bulls.

This was fantastic!  This was Kismet! He from Uganda and me from NY with so much in common, so much to talk about … and then he honked at the car in front of us and said, “I knew it – a woman – you women should not have drivers’ licenses. Women do not know how to drive.” I mentioned Danica Patrick but he’d moved on to talk about “the gays”. How gay men are not men, they’re women. From there he segued into Obama, letting me know that if I voted for Obama I must be racist. That anyone who voted for Obama was racist.

I kept my mouth shut and what I hoped was a beatific smile on my face until we reached my destination.

At least we had soccer.

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Come on, come talk to me

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I’ve learned a fair amount about millennials in recent weeks – now that I write that I’m not sure it’s correct; is the current batch of college students part of the millennial generation? I’m not going to break stride to look it up. I’ve been interviewing college students – whatever they’re known as collectively – for summer internships at the agency. I could now teach a Learning Annex course on how to interview for an internship – or any job, for that matter. Shite – is the Learning Annex still around or am I living in the past? Both?

This generation? Ends its sentences? As though they’re questions. It’s cringey – but I suppose it’s understandable; it’s their vernacular. My generation liked and um’ed its way through its early 20s. What surprises me more than the inflection is that their colleges and universities don’t guide them in interviewing do’s – including, I’d venture to say, speaking more assertively. Don’ts are limitless – do’s are easier to quantify. I “blame” the institutions because all of these candidates come to us through their schools’ career centers. 

This group is also prone to beginning sentences with “So” – e.g. “Tell me about your courses this semester.” “So, I’m majoring in Communications …” I wonder where that comes from. I wonder where that comes from?

I’ve babbled before about the lost art of letter writing. Of the ten people we’ve interviewed thus far, we’ve received seven emailed “Thank You” notes and one “Thank You” card. An actual card, made from heavy paper stock, handwritten in ballpoint pen (you can’t have it all), placed in an envelope and stamped. That’s absolutely not the only reason we’ve accepted her into the program, but it didn’t hurt. On the flip side — and it’s highly possible that I’m expecting too much and that we now live in a world where language is treated much more casually than I’m willing to admit — but on the flip side is the email I received that said, “I learned about your internship through my career center and it would be awesome if you guys take a look at my resume.” With a cover letter like that it would be more than awesome, it would be the stuff of fantasy.

I asked a friend recently whether he still kept in touch with his ex-boyfriend; they broke up about a month ago. He said, “No, we’re not talking. I mean, he didn’t delete me from Facebook or anything.” I get it – Facebook deletion is a statement of sorts, but it’s also so easily done that it’s more of an impulse, really, than a message. We’re a mere keystroke from breaking up and reuniting; some of us have done so multiple times in the course of one night. Who’s to say (that’s a quote from the generation prior to this one) how pointed a statement “unfriending” is – when the definition of “friend” has become so mutable? I had a falling out with someone a while back and deleted not out of anger, but because seeing the friend’s news and photos just made me sad – like picking at a scab versus allowing it to heal.

“Unfriending” in the real world is painful, though sometimes it’s inevitable; sometimes people reach an impasse in communication. That’s why openness and willingness to listen are so very important; it’s the only way for relationships on any level to thrive. When I was very young I recall a teacher telling me how unhealthy it is to keep bad feelings inside, to harbor anger or resentment, how doing so can lead to all kinds of sicknesses. I don’t know if that had a direct impact on my need to purge my every thought, and I don’t know that doing so has necessarily made me a happier person. But I do know that most of us have an intrinsic need to be heard and understood – really heard and really understood – and that’s how I try to relate to other people. It doesn’t always work and I don’t always do it well, but if you are in my life, know that that is my intention. 

Je me souviens

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In Paris we were taken for Germans, in Quebec for native Spanish-speakers. Have just returned from an enchanting first trip to Quebec and it was a lovely respite despite it being, according to last night’s bartender, “the worst time of year to visit.” She said this because the weather’s warmed up enough that the massive piles of dirty snow on the sides of the streets are beginning to melt, but the flowers have yet to bloom. It’s too late in the season for cross-country skiing and too early for trips to the vineyards on the Ile d’Orleans or for certain bits of commerce that shutter in winter to reopen. 

This did not matter; we dined beautifully at some of the city’s best restaurants and walked the cobblestone streets, drove out to la Chute-Montmorency, a waterfall higher than Niagara Falls, and circumnavigated the Ile d’Orleans to have lunch at a Cabane a Sucre, a sugar shack. How is it that I’ve gone this long having heard of neither Montmorency nor the institution of the sugar shack? For the uninformed, which is, likely, the vast majority of the world, these are large restaurants where maple syrup is made that serve typical Quebec fare family-style – everyone eats the same meal and the tables are mostly communal – with live music and dancing. Most of the food incorporates fresh maple syrup and the piece de la resistance is the tire neige – taffy made by pouring maple syrup on fresh snow. These places are celebrations of the joie de vivre that we found everywhere in Quebec; the people there love life and love sharing their city and culture. There is no pretense to be found and, according to the gentleman who took us on a walking tour one afternoon, no crime, either. In Quebec City, that is – Montreal is a very different animal. 

The history of the city is fascinating and, typifying the spirit of its people, the oldest monument there is one of reconciliation, with the names of the French and English officers who battled one another on the Plains of Abraham carved on opposite sides of the obelisk. On this trip I took three modes of transport I’d never taken before – a funicular, a gondola (the kind in the sky, not on the canal), and a horse-drawn wagon. I challenged my fear of heights – more a fear of falling – every day, and I spoke French as best I could; the Quebecois accent is very different than the Parisian, but I managed fairly well. 

And this morning as we left the hotel the bells of Notre Dame were ringing and snow was falling. A perfect ending to a seemingly endless winter in a town that loves Christmas — no one’s yet taken down their decorations, or perhaps they leave them up year-round.

What I love about travel is that it’s impossible to return from it unchanged, with one’s horizons unbroadened. 

Merci, Quebec – a la prochaine!