For the last year I’ve been participating in a book club. Normally I’d roll my eyes at that kind of activity, but with our first book being “My Sister, the Serial Killer” by Oyinkan Braithwaite, paired with the boredom and loneliness of pandemic life, this book club couldn’t have been a better fit.
A few months ago we read “Luster,” a novel by Raven Leilani. I’d seen the book front and center on the shelves at Dog Eared Books in the Castro and had flirted with buying it several times, so when it was chosen as our book club pick I was excited.
Luster is about Edie, a 23-year-old woman living in New York City who begins a relationship with Eric, a man in an open marriage. She’s an artist and after losing her nine-to-five, finds herself struggling to survive. She’s then taken in by her boyfriend’s family and builds unlikely relationships in the process.
What’s interesting is that our book club discussion of Luster was split pretty evenly down the middle, with the moms and older generation finding it depressing and the younger women finding it funny and relatable.
I was in the latter camp. I’m a details person and this book is rich with them. Leilani pulls out all the stops for a female millennial audience. I laughed, I marveled, I cringed with knowing, I shook my damn head. You find that Edie, the main character, has and continues to live a hard life, yet you also know Edie because you’ve been Edie. As a girl, her prized possession was a Spice World VHS she received for her birthday. After one particular disappointing and sexless date, she goes home alone and eats half a rotisserie chicken. I am the exact audience for this book.
Over Thanksgiving I experienced the pure majesty of having six paid days off for a total of 10 calendar days away from the office, a.k.a. my kitchen table. The fruit stand that I work for shuts down for the full week of Thanksgiving, and we were gifted Monday 11/30 off as a thank you from our team’s leadership. Last year for the holidays I was a contractor, so actually getting paid time off was a really big deal.
Since I’d been holed up in my 400 square foot San Francisco apartment since March, I decided to book some travel. A much needed and long overdue trip up the California coast to see one of my ride-or-die homies in Mendocino, and a flight out to Utah to visit my aunt for Thanksgiving. Certainly some huge risks I was taking, but I weighed it, and decided that I needed to just bite the bullet and see my people. Plus I did a solo Thanksgiving the year I’d just gotten back from my Eurotrip, and it was the pits. My pets and I ended up eating a lot of turkey.
The Mendocino trip was definitely a #TreatYoSelf situation. Since I sold my car this time last year, I had to book a rental for the drive up. Normally I’d just book whatever the cheapest car was, which would typically end up being a Kia Soulpatch or a Nissan Versa, which is essentially a roller skate with a steering wheel. But this time I scrolled down a bit and found myself lingering over the Dodge Challenger. Since it always says “or similar,” you never really know what you’re going to get when you get to the lot, but sure as shit, when I walked onto the Mission Enterprise lot, I saw two gleaming Challengers sitting right next to each other just waiting. A few years back I toyed with actually buying a Challenger (my brother bought me an SRT Hellcat hoodie for Christmas that year), so this was a bit of a dream coming to life.
The agent walked up, checked me in, and asked if I would like to rent the V6, or the V8 R/T Hemi for my roadtrip. Is that even a question? While I was waiting, another agent asked if I’d been helped yet. I told him “Yeah I’m waiting on the Challenger.” He asked which one. “The Hemi,” I replied casually. He paused, looked me up a down for a split second, and shrugged “Ok” as in “I see you.” Just hearing the throaty monster fire up with the push start was pure happiness.
After not having driven a car since my last rental six months ago, I was pretty nervous driving off the lot. Especially on the roads surrounding Enterprise, which strongly resemble an M.C. Escher drawing.
I briefly thought, Crap, this might be too much car for me. But that was a fleeting thought. This land yacht was disgustingly powerful — and perfect. Opening her up on the highway, listening to the gears shifting, changing lanes, it was intoxicating. I’d been warned by folks before about the Challenger’s blind spots and hot damn, were they right. But as my brother joked when I told him about the adventure, “I guess there’s no need to check blind spots when you’re doing 140 miles per hour.”
I was responsible, but I did have some fun driving on 128, the 70 mile long stretch of two-lane highway that carries you from 101 out to the coast. It was a breathtaking drive, you pass grapevines and vineyards, farms, cute country storefronts, then you pass through cool, dark, spooky redwood forests, and finally get spit out onto Highway 1 hugging the twisty coastal cliffs. I took about as many pictures of the car as I did of the trip itself, natch.
That first night I got in to the AirBnB, my friend came over and we drank some wine, smoked a spliff, solved the world’s problems, and soaked in the hot tub to this view.
The next day, we loaded up in my friend’s truck and set out for adventures. First stop was a little Mendocino headland hike and a visit to the tide pools and scenic cliffs. Stella was wound up, so getting her to stop and pose for a picture was damn impossible.
It’s been just over two years since I moved to the Bay Area from Atlanta. I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how completely different it is out here and what it’s like living in San Francisco from a displaced Southerner’s perspective. It’s impossible to capture all the little details when someone from back east asks me “How is California treating you?” Usually I make some generic comment about how nice the weather is, or how crazy it is working in tech. But here’s the full answer — my collection of observations, musings, and rants about San Francisco and NorCal (yes, it’s really called that).
First, let’s make one thing crystal clear. Despite my drivers license and impending jury duty summons, I will never be a San Franciscan. However, there are times when I’ve come dangerously close. These include when I:
Developed a concerning Birkenstock tan
Cooked and enjoyed my first vegetarian quinoa bowl
Referred to every patch of green space in San Francisco as “the dog park”
Finally got a Clipper card
Ordered a vape through Eaze and it was delivered to my apartment in three minutes
Sold my car
This last one is pretty crazy and happened in November. It was a very strange and bittersweet moment, especially considering that I’ve never been without wheels since I was 16 years old. I’ve always needed a car, but not so living in the Mission. I never drove the damn thing except to move it for street sweeping, and when I did, it was a nightmare trying to find parking. Sometime I would just treat myself to an $80 parking ticket as a kind of fuck-it tax.
But I’m chauffeured to work in a luxury coach with Wi-Fi and I live a five minute walk from the BART station. Lyft is also piloting a rental car program in San Francisco, so there are plenty of options for getting around. This morning I rode an electric rental bike to the gym. But mostly I prefer to walk. Some days I walk seven miles without even realizing it!
As I mentioned, I live a neighborhood called the Mission. It’s the home of Dolores Park, brilliant street art, countless shops, bars and restaurants, and is a place where people come from all over to people watch, wear their leather jackets and feel cool. It’s like if Little 5 Points and a mariachi band had a baby. On a one-block stretch of Mission Street you can get a street pupusa, a bootleg copy of Gilmore Girls season 3, a $4 happy hour whiskey ginger, a pair of glittery pink hot pants, and a hair cut at a salon called WERK. Continue reading →
[Now Playing: “That Place” by The Lion’s Daughter]
“Our earthly bodies will surely fall But the love we share outlives us all” – “Only Memories Remain” by My Morning Jacket
Yesterday I stood at the gravesite at Rest Haven Memorial Cemetery in Louisville, Kentucky in the pouring rain and said goodbye to one of the dearest people that I’ve ever had the privilege of calling a friend.
Melissa Witt was smart as a whip, quick-witted, funny as hell, curious about the world and how it worked, a brilliant artist and designer and a kind and loving friend. She could pick up new languages and their accents at the drop of a hat. When we went to Tulum, Melissa’s accent was so impeccable that people thought she was a local.
I’ve always been fascinated by the strange and subversive, so when I began to learn about Surrealism in art school, I was hooked. I pored over Dali paintings, spent a semester studying Frida Kahlo and fell in love with the beautifully executed, yet off-kilter work of Rene Magritte.
Rene Magritte (1898-1967) was a Belgian surrealist painter who explored the concept of the untrustworthiness of images. His work constantly pushes you to think, what am I really looking at? “The Treachery of Images,” one of Magritte’s most famous pieces, depicts a pipe, with the words “This is not a pipe.” The point here is that it’s not a pipe, it’s the image of a pipe.
“The Treachery of Images”
Magritte Exhibit at the SFMoMA (May 19 – October 28, 2018)
Recently, I was lucky enough to attend the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art’s Rene Magritte exhibit, which contained 77 of the surrealist master’s original paintings and drawings. I also opted for the audio tour, which contained commentary from the museum’s curators, people who were close to Magritte, and even famous artists like Jeff Koons.
The following is an amalgam of direct quotes and paraphrasing from the exhibit and audio tour, along with my own thoughts, reflections and commentary. Continue reading →
Last month I had the extreme privilege of attending an international user experience (UX) research trip with my team. The locations were Barcelona, Spain and Athens, Greece. Some from our team also attended a third leg of the trip in Casablanca, Morocco, but I wisely planned on only two countries for this trip.
As I wrote this on a plane over the Adriatic Sea from Athens to London, I was completely exhausted after averaging 3-5 hours of sleep per night, was braindead after days of intense focus, observations, note-taking and discussions, and I missed my bed and animals. The experiences of traveling abroad are beyond compare, but the idea of returning to the comfort of home is intoxicating.
So what is UX Research?
Many companies in virtually every vertical do market research. User research is a little different, so here’s my informal definition.
Tech companies that design products like apps and websites should not design and build them in a vacuum. They should be making decisions around a number of factors, two of which include data (logging how people actually use the product and drawing conclusions from that data) and user experience research (UXR), which just means talking to regular non-techy people about how they use our app. UXR encompasses a vast arsenal of techniques such as focus groups, on-the-street intercepts, in-home interviews, lab studies, usability testing, A/B testing and much more. The general goals are to understand how people perceive and use our products, and to get feedback on what they like, dislike, would change about our concepts, and how their ideal products would look and function.
So we did this work! For two days each in both Barcelona and Athens. We worked hard and gained a ton of useful insights.
Now for the Fun Stuff
I should be upfront that this was (gasp!) my first trip to Europe, so a lot of things I observed may seem run-of-the-mill to seasoned travelers, but I found them interesting, hopefully you will too. The following is a collection of my thoughts, observations and experiences from the trip.
I recently moved to Silicon Valley to work at Facebook which has been an incredible experience. One of the perks of my job is that I’ll get to travel all over the world on user research trips. I also support a team located at Facebook’s Seattle office, which I visited two weeks ago.
My face when I’m judging bearded douchebaggery on Instagram. Credit: Jennifer Hanson
Seattle has been on my travel bucket list ever since I first obsessively listened to Nirvana’s “Nevermind” in my room as a kid. I should also mention that I’ve been dressing like this for the better part of ten years, so it really did feel like, as one bartender put it, “Welcome home.”
(To make it even more meta, I’m wearing a Nostalgist shirt, which is an amazing Seattle-based noir shoegaze band).
In a nutshell, the trip was dope. I got to reconnect with an old roller derby teammate and met a bunch of cool people while I was out and about. According to several sources, making friends in Seattle is not a terribly easy thing to do; the struggle is so common it’s been dubbed the “Seattle Freeze.” My only explanation for this is that over the past few years, I’ve discovered that I’m at my best when I travel alone. I’m more interesting, I’m funnier and apparently better looking. There’s also a little bit of magic in knowing that you may never see the people you meet again. Who cares? Continue reading →
Yesterday I had plans to meet a friend for drinks at a German joint called Der Biergarten in downtown Atlanta. Not wanting to deal with downtown parking or driving after a few steinfuls, I booked an Uber to pick me up from my house in Cabbagetown. Immediately after hitting “Request UberX” the driver calls me.
“Hi! This is Jared, your Uber driver. How are you?”
“I’m good, and you?”
“I’m great. So how are you?”
Pause. “I’m fine,” I say hesitantly, having not the slightest clue what is happening.
“I wanted to ask if it’s OK if I have a friend riding with me.” No explanation as to why.
“Yeah that’s fine,” I reply. My first thought was that he’s simply giving his friend a ride somewhere and is doing double duty. My other thought was that it’s probably just two dudes riding around like we used to do when we were in high school and the only things to do were drive around, or hang out in the Walmart parking lot or in the woods. I found out immediately that it was the latter. Continue reading →
There was a point when I was in elementary school that my mom was pretty much my best friend. When I first started school and she still had her paper route she would sometimes let me stay home sick so we could play hooky. We’d get McDonald’s for lunch and rent movies like Splash from Blockbuster. We’d laugh and joke. Probably make fun of things as we were wont to do. There’s a scene from the movie “Say Anything” when Diane Court’s father is trying to figure out what’s going on with her and he implores her, “You know you can say anything to me.” That’s how it was with my parents, I could say anything to them.
I remember once I got old enough to start going out with friends and start making big girl mistakes they sat me down and told me: No matter what you do, what happens in your life whether you kill someone, get pregnant, rob a bank, anything. We will help you. I never forgot that.
When I was really little, before I started school, mom worked a paper route and many times I would go with her. She would wake me up at three in the morning, make us each a cherry Pop-Tart wrapped in a napkin and a little glass of milk for the road. We would drive out to a bank where all the paper deliverers met and rolled their papers for the morning. Then we would drive through the Trailer Haven trailer park while it was still pitch dark and mom would cruise through the lanes and whip the papers out the window of her Toyota while she played Fleetwood Mac.Continue reading →
In June of last year, I started working as a copywriter and content creator for a gargantuan national retailer, by far the largest corporation I’ve ever worked for. Along with learning the veritable alphabet soup of job position and department acronyms, I started to become keenly aware of the liberal, one might even say egregious, use of corporate jargon.
The jargon goes far beyond laughable terms like “synergy” and “paradigm shift,” and has weaseled its way into everyday, non-meeting conversations. Some are barely noticeable, like physical tics, and others are so horrifying they make you want to move to Iowa and become a beet farmer, leaving the board rooms far behind. Continue reading →