Sunday, October 25, 2009

YOU Can Change the World

I read this editorial in the NY Times yesterday, and I wanted to share it.

Changing the World
Published: October 26, 2009

"One of the most cherished items in my possession is a postcard that was sent from Mississippi to the Upper West Side of Manhattan in June 1964.

“Dear Mom and Dad,” it says, “I have arrived safely in Meridian, Mississippi. This is a wonderful town and the weather is fine. I wish you were here. The people in this city are wonderful and our reception was very good. All my love, Andy.”

That was the last word sent to his family by Andrew Goodman, a 20-year-old college student who was murdered by the Ku Klux Klan, along with fellow civil rights workers Michael Schwerner and James Chaney, on his first full day in Mississippi — June 21, the same date as the postmark on the card. The goal of the three young men had been to help register blacks to vote.

The postcard was given to me by Andrew’s brother, David, who has become a good friend.

Andrew and that postcard came to mind over the weekend as I was thinking about the sense of helplessness so many ordinary Americans have been feeling as the nation is confronted with one enormous, seemingly intractable problem after another. The helplessness is beginning to border on paralysis. The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, nearly a decade long, are going badly, and there is no endgame in sight.

Monday morning’s coffee was accompanied by stories about suicide bombings in the heart of Baghdad that killed at least 150 people and wounded more than 500 and helicopter crashes in Afghanistan that killed 14 Americans.

Here at home, the terrible toll from the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression continues, with no end to the joblessness in sight and no comprehensible plans for fashioning a healthy economy for the years ahead. The government’s finances resemble a Ponzi scheme. If you want to see the epidemic that is really clobbering American families, look past the H1N1 virus to the home foreclosure crisis.

The Times ran a Page A1 article on Monday that said layoffs, foreclosures and other problems associated with the recession had resulted in big increases in the number of runaway children, many of whom were living in dangerous conditions in the streets.

Americans have tended to watch with a remarkable (I think frightening) degree of passivity as crises of all sorts have gripped the country and sent millions of lives into tailspins. Where people once might have deluged their elected representatives with complaints, joined unions, resisted mass firings, confronted their employers with serious demands, marched for social justice and created brand new civic organizations to fight for the things they believed in, the tendency now is to assume that there is little or nothing ordinary individuals can do about the conditions that plague them.

This is so wrong. It is the kind of thinking that would have stopped the civil rights movement in its tracks, that would have kept women in the kitchen or the steno pool, that would have prevented labor unions from forcing open the doors that led to the creation of a vast middle class.

This passivity and sense of helplessness most likely stems from the refusal of so many Americans over the past few decades to acknowledge any sense of personal responsibility for the policies and choices that have led the country into such a dismal state of affairs, and to turn their backs on any real obligation to help others who were struggling.

Those chickens have come home to roost. Being an American has become a spectator sport. Most Americans watch the news the way you’d watch a ballgame, or a long-running television series, believing that they have no more control over important real-life events than a viewer would have over a coach’s strategy or a script for “Law & Order.”

With that kind of attitude, Andrew Goodman would never have left the comfort of his family home in Manhattan. Rosa Parks would have gotten up and given her seat to a white person, and the Montgomery bus boycott would never have happened. Betty Friedan would never have written “The Feminine Mystique.”

The nation’s political leaders and their corporate puppet masters have fouled this nation up to a fare-thee-well. We will not be pulled from the morass without a big effort from an active citizenry, and that means a citizenry fired with a sense of mission and the belief that their actions, in concert with others, can make a profound difference.

It can start with just a few small steps. Mrs. Parks helped transform a nation by refusing to budge from her seat. Maybe you want to speak up publicly about an important issue, or host a house party, or perhaps arrange a meeting of soon-to-be dismissed employees, or parents at a troubled school.

It’s a risk, sure. But the need is great, and that’s how you change the world."

The article inspired me to take action. Granted, the action I took was to write a letter to my congresspeople encouraging them to pass legislation to prohibit cell phone "exclusivity deals" (meaning when you buy a particlar phone, you can only get service from one company). But I did take some action. And I don't think I would have done anything if I hadn't read this article.

Do you feel like you have the power to change the world? Our country? Your neighborhood? I would love to hear your thoughts.

Have a great day.

Jessica O.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Matt's Newest Art

One of my favorite interior designs in our last apartment was Matt's painting on the wall. For anyone who didn't see it, here it is. It covered the entire wall of the room right when you walked into our apartment. When we moved, Matt had to paint over it - such a bummer!

Now that we own the property on Grafton Street, we decided that Matt would paint another mural on the wall and that it would stay as part of the apartment when we moved. I came up with the idea of him painting a picture onto the wall and hanging a frame around it, which fits much better in this space than a full wall painting. Here it is!

How fab does this look?! Matt is so talented. And I absolutely love how the picture looks like it is set back in the frame because it is actually painted onto the wall. So far, we've gotten a great response from potential tenants when we tell them that this comes with the apartment.

On that note, I would love to hear anyone's suggestions (realistic, crazy, imaginative, anything) for new ideas on how we can entice a tenant to rent our apartment. We are renting it for $1695, which, believe it or not, is below market rate for a house in Echo Park. We are currently offering a free painting of two rooms any color and a $500 flat screen TV or Best Buy gift card for a 2-year lease. The most difficult parts of finding tenants are that it's October (not many people moving this time of year) and that there are so many units for rent in LA. Erika told me yesterday that this is the lowest apartment occupancy in LA since the 80's. So, I would love to hear your ideas. Anything goes.

Last night I watched Annika and Blythe, Erika and Evan's daughters. They are so adorable!! I was really happy to spend some one on one time with them and to get to know them better. My nana always used to tell me a story about the first time she watched me as an infant. Apparently I cried and cried almost the whole time until my parents came home. As soon as my dad took me, I stopped crying. I remembered this story last night watching the kids. Blythe (who is 4 months old) was the most delightful baby all evening - smiling, laughing, happy until about 20 minutes before Erika and Evan came home when she started crying and just couldn't stop. As soon as Erika took her into her arms, she stopped right away. Definitely a mama's girl and so cute!

The other good news is that Matt is launching a new company on November 1st. It is called Kaizen Imagery and provides head shots and demo reels for actors. This is a hugely under-served market in LA (everyone wants to be an actor but not many companies think of servicing them). The most innovative part of their service is that they will provide a consultation with each actor to help him/her determine what type of roles they could be cast in. This will help actors focus their careers and audition for rolls that fit their look, acting skills, etc. The company is a group effort between Matt and three of his friends, and Matt will be running the demo reel department.

I got a Crate & Barrel catalogue yesterday, and I got so excited for the holidays! We are going to Ohio for Thanksgiving (and already have so many fun plans) and then to Portland for Christmas for a wonderful, laid-back Olmon family Christmas. I can't wait!

Have a great Wednesday.

Jessica O.

Friday, October 16, 2009

The New Optimalist

I am a perfectionist, which I have only just realized. I mean, I always knew that I like to keep my house clean and there are a lot of things that I like to be a certain way, but would I have described myself as a perfectionist? No, not really.

I told Marissa and Jill about it and they laughed with disbelief that I was just now realizing this. Oh the lovely state of denial!

So this has all come about because I have been reading The Pursuit of Perfect. (Such a good book by the way and I recommend it to anyone who thinks they may have perfectionist tendencies.) The best part about the book is that it shows that by being a perfectionist, you are actually setting yourself up for a life of negativity and disappointment. No one, no event and no situation will ever be perfect. I will never be perfect. Even more, a perfectionist always notices the parts of a person, situation, etc. that aren't perfect, which can lead to a very unhappy life. The other part of perfectionism is believing that there is one path to reach a goal, a straight line from Point A to Point B. That there is one way to accomplish something.

I was reading the book last weekend, and I was up on Sunday night, laying awake in bed thinking about it. It seems to explain so many things about me, my life, my personality. I think of reaching a goal as having to take certain steps to get where I want to be. Of course, there are times that this is helpful, but there are many times where life has pushed me in a different direction and I have gotten really frustrated. This also explains why I sometimes feel like I am a negative person. Now I realize, it's not that I'm a negative person, it's just that I'm looking at everything and seeing what's not perfect or right about it. Also being a perfectionist is why I try to control events, people, my future...lots of things in my life. The beauty of this all is that I've somehow gotten the clarity to see my life in this new way. It's like being able to see a part of myself for the very first time.

According to this book, the solution is to work towards being an optimalist. An optimalist can also work towards goals, but realizes that the journey from Point A to Point B may go in a different direction than you had imagined - it's much more complex than the perfectionist straight line seems to be. By realizing this, the optimalist can enjoy the journey to Point B and is present enough to see new avenues or opportunities as they may arrive.

All I can say is that this week I have been seeing my life through a different lens. It is weird and exciting and hard. Hard because I'm still seeing things the way I always have but now I also see how this viewpoint is impacting my life. After each realization, I try to think about the new way. Instead of noticing what is wrong, I try to notice what is right. I try to remember that no one is perfect and I will never be perfect. I am trying to let things happen as they are, rather than trying to make them happen exactly how I think they should. Most of all, I'm trying to experience life as it is rather than trying to change it into how I think it should be.

Jessica O.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Odin's Sling

At Sam's request, here are some pictures of Odin in the sling. Even when I put him in it last night, he became really calm - just dangling by my side. I think he loves it. No, I'm not going to start carrying him around in the sling! But it's perfect for a mini dog in a busy airport.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Fab LA Weekend

On Friday night, Matt and I went on a date to see District 9. So good! I won't ruin the movie for anyone, but it is frightening to watch because you can really imagine the plot of the movie happening in this world. It was also cool to watch because of the story behind the movie. Peter Jackson (director of Lord of the Rings) wanted to produce Halo (super popular video game) with Neil Blonkamp as the director. The studio was worried about having a first-time director direct such a big film, so Peter and Neil made District 9 instead. The movie cost $30 million, which is practically nothing considering the special effects. It has already made well over $100 million. A Hollywood fairytale for a movie that is different, creative, and suspenseful. I love it.

On Saturday morning, Matt and I got up early to remodel the little garden in our yard. Some of the plants had died, and it looked terrible. So we bought plants (on sale!) at Home Depot and spent the morning digging, cleaning and planting. It was really nice because the day started out overcast, and then it became a beautiful sunny day. I found some ancient artifacts that looked like they had been buried for years - a permanent marker, a bottle cap, a lid, etc. - lots of garbage (but more fun to think of as artifacts). The first photo is our newly planted garden.

Last night Kate, Erin, Fawn and I took Maria to Gordon Ramsay, a restaurant at The London hotel in West Hollywood, to celebrate Maria's move back to New York. Maria and I recently became friends, and I am so sad she is moving back to the East Coast. I can tell she is someone that I could be great friends with - super fun and always interesting. The lighting in the restaurant was fab. We had champagne, tasted a variety of foods, and enjoyed the ambiance at the restaurant.

Today we had an open house for our apartment...we're so ready to move! We just need a renter.

Have a great Sunday.

Jessica O.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Living in the Present

One of the things that has been most important to me in the past year has been learning to live in the present moment. So simple yet so illusive! My mom sent me this story, and I wanted to share it here:

Washington, DC Metro Station on a cold January morning in 2007. The man with a violin played six Bach pieces for about 45 minutes. During that time approx. 2 thousand people went through the station, most of them on their way to work.. After 3 minutes a middle aged man noticed there was a musician playing. He slowed his pace and stopped for a few seconds and then hurried to meet his schedule.

4 minutes later: the violinist received his first dollar: a woman threw the money in the hat and, without stopping, continued to walk.. 6 minutes: A young man leaned against the wall to listen to him, then looked at his watch and started to walk again.
10 minutes:

A 3-year old boy stopped but his mother tugged him along hurriedly. The kid stopped to look at the violinist again, but the mother pushed hard and the child continued to walk, turning his head all the time. This action was repeated by several other children. Every parent, without exception, forced their children to move on quickly.

45 minutes: The musician played continuously. Only 6 people stopped and listened for a short while. About 20 gave money but continued to walk at their normal pace. The man collected a total of $32.

He finished playing and silence took over. No one noticed. No one applauded, nor was there any recognition.

No one knew this, but the violinist was Joshua Bell, one of the greatest musicians in the world. He played one of the most intricate pieces ever written, with a violin worth $3.5 million dollars. Two days before, Joshua Bell sold out a theater in Boston where the seats averaged $100.

This is a true story. Joshua Bell playing incognito in the metro station was organized by the Washington Post as part of a social experiment about perception, taste and people's priorities. The questions raised: in a common place environment at an inappropriate hour, do we perceive beauty? Do we stop to appreciate it? Do we recognize talent in an unexpected context? One possible conclusion reached from this experiment could be this: If we do not have a moment to stop and listen to one of the best musicians in the world, playing some of the finest music ever written, with one of the most beautiful instruments ever made....How many other things are we missing?

I wonder how many people passing by were so caught up with the chatter in their heads that they didn't even notice the music. How many times have I done that?

So, I propose you take a minute right now to appreciate the moment - where ever you are and whatever this moment includes. I am too.

Jessica O.

Spending, Spending, Spending

I just read a book called Your Money or Your Life. I strongly recommend it. The premise is that we all choose to spend a certain amount of our precious time here on earth working (i.e. earning money). Therefore, every time you buy something, you are basically exchanging a certain amount of your time on earth for that thing. Because the time that we have on this planet is limited, it should go without saying that we should be super-conscious of what we spend. The book goes on to help you figure out how much you really make per hour (after you include commuting, clothes for work, therapy (if needed from work!), lunches, etc.). After you have that figure, each time you go to spend money, you can think, is this item worth X hours of my life? If not, you don't buy it. If it is, you can buy it and enjoy it even more knowing that it is a worthwhile purchase. There are many more details and many other parts to the book, but this is the basic idea.

It really makes me think differently about that coffee I loved to get in the morning before work. Or that dinner I went to with friends because I hadn't seen them in a while and I felt like I should. What I most appreciate about this philosophy, is that it makes you much more conscious about spending. Much more thoughtful about whether something is worth buying to you rather than buying because you feel like you should or because you supposedly need this item. Very enlightening and a great new way of thinking.

Jessica O.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Mini-Trip to Columbus & LA Living

I had such a fabulous trip home to Columbus. The perfect end to my vacation. I got in on Thursday night, and Neetie picked me up from the airport. We went to my dad's where I got to see Odin for the first time in over 3 months! He was so excited - it was something I will always remember. Tina had also made a birthday surprise for me with a balloon, little pastries that I love, and a dish with 30 candies (which my mom and I promptly dug into). So thoughtful! The other highlight was that Odin could now be a show dog. My dad taught him to jump through a hoop. Seeing Dad's excitement and Odin performing the trick were priceless.

Mom and I spent the next day relaxing and the afternoon in Half Price Books. I love that store! She introduced me to the Clearance Section with a bunch of books piled up for $1 or $2. Excellent browsing and so very nice to be together.

And that night was my 30th birthday party! It was at Mom and Bill's house with Dad, Tina and Marissa. We had pink balloons, a champagne toast, chocolate covered strawberries (a gift from Erin!), my favorite mini-bread appetizers, fabulous Italian food, chocolate cake and gifts. To top it off, at the end of the evening, we all went outside and sat around the fire pit in the backyard. (This is one of my favorite activities at Dad and Tina's). I really could not have had a better time or enjoyed myself more. Really.

Then Marissa and I left and went to the Short North for a drink. It ended up being just us, and we did a mini-champagne wine tasting and just talked into the night. What a birthday celebration!!

The next day, Dad and I went to Waffle House. Oh, so good. Does this trip sound like it included a lot of eating? It was. But I loved every minute of it. Even more, I loved every minute of the family (and friend) time. It felt so good to be home. Odin and I left that afternoon. I bought a life-saving device, a sling, on the internet to travel with Odin. He absolutely hates to be inside a bag or carrier. So after lengthy searching, I found a sling online where his legs and head can dangle and I have straps over my shoulder. I'm sure it's a sight...but probably one of the best purchases of the year.

Lately I have been considering the option of moving back to Cbus. (Well, ideally, it would be traveling the world and/or living in Paris first and then moving to Cbus.) This is the craziest thought because I have never ever thought that I could live in Columbus or Ohio for that matter. Really, I have always thought I wanted to live in a big city. I don't know exactly what it is or why I've been thinking this, but it is on my mind. I'll keep you updated.

So, for now, I'm back in LA and back to work. The best part of being back to life is that our required year has passed and we are ready to move out of Echo Park!! If you don't already know, this year has been extremely trying to say the least. Echo Park is an up and coming neighborhood, which means that it is still gritty and dirty with some parts that are nice and some parts that aren't. We have dealt with everything from barking dogs - so many barking dogs, to living next door to our tenants (not advisable), to living in an apartment with no sunlight, to snarling dogs behind fences that scare Odin and us while we walk, to living far away from all of our friends, to moving away from a fab apartment and a walkable neighborhood, to...well, you get the point. We haven't been the happiest.

So our year is up, and we're ready to go!

We are having open houses and doing everything possible to rent out our unit so that we can move to a new place in November. Our options are Venice (on the beach) or Miracle Mile (where we were living before). So keep your fingers crossed that we find the perfect renters.

Another big change that has come about is that Matt and I are into super-saving. We have been living it up in LA for the past 4 years - mostly doing what we want to do, and now we both feel like we want to save - For Paris? To buy another apt.? Only time will tell. But we are moving forward with the plan. It's a new way of life for us - an experience that I plan to share the ups and downs of right here on my blog.

I hope that you have a great weekend.

Jessica O.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Ancient Rome

Another fabulous tour by Context Travel!! Our guide, a Roman history expert, took us through the Palatine (the ruins of the emperors' palaces), the Forum (the ruins from the ancient city center) and the Colosseum (where the gladiator games were held). This was a four hour tour that began at 3pm. The first area we went to was the Palatine. I was thrilled that we had a guide because there are only some brick walls standing, tiny groupings of what was once gorgeous marble floor, a small museum and some other random pieces of buildings. But she made the area come alive. She explained that the area was once covered with the palace of the emperors of Rome (around 100-400 AD or so) with the most luxurious accommodations. The ceilings were 3 stories high, the floors and walls were covered with marble that was imported from the most distant lands of the Roman empire, there were underground tunnels for the slaves to move around the palace, and there were beautiful fountains with running water in courtyards within the palace. If we hadn't had the guide, I probably would have walked through in 20 minutes with the the history in mind.

We got the same type of information about the Forum. The most interesting story from the Forum was that ancient Rome had something called Vestal Virgins. These were women that were picked (at age 6) from wealthy families to keep the everlasting fire of Rome burning. Apparently this was the highest honor for a family to have, and the virgins were almost treated as well as the emperor and his family - including being given the best seats (opposite the emperor) at the Colosseum. These women had to be virgins until they were relieved from duty at age 29 (literally old maids by then). If they had sex while they were Vestal Virgins, they were buried alive, and the man was stoned to death.

The other interesting part of the Forum was that there are still several buildings standing. Just amazing. Really the only ones that survived were ones that were turned into churches. The guide also showed us drawings that show that even through the 1700s, most of what has now been uncovered as ancient Rome was buried beneath the city.

Our final stop was at the Colosseum. We arrived at sunset, about one hour before it closed. Again, it was virtually empty! Super cool. Even though the Colosseum is something that you see images of all of the time, it was the least interesting historically. It was built by the Flavian emperors (who were a different family than the original Caesars) to win over the people of Rome. The Colosseum was a huge stadium for gladiator and animal games. Of course, it was also an architectural feat of the times and fascinating in that most of the structure still stands today. The best part of our tour of the Colosseum was that it was almost empty and it was sunset. It was like being in a museum at night, and you could almost feel the history in the silence.

That night, we had our final meal in Rome. We both ate pasta and went home to relax before our early flight to London and then to Los Angeles. With the time difference, we left Rome at 8am and arrived in LA at 3pm. How fab!

I left the next day for Columbus. I'll write more soon.

Jessica O.