Monthly Archives: June 2009

Breaking a “sacred” contract

I’m  not a big proponent of marriage (before you pass judgment on this seemingly-hypocrite statement, read on), so when I read Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off by Sandra Tsing Loh, I found myself nodding, chuckling and pondering. Growing up, I had these elaborate big fat Indian wedding fantasies (at one point in seventh grade, I remember making a scrapbook of Neeta Lulla’s bridal collection) and had even picked out the probable names of my unborn children.

But as I grew older and started noticing the loveless marriages that abounded everywhere, it made me question why people chose to stay in a social contract that was more of a burden than a beneficial, emotionally rewarding, heart warming relationship. The answer, more often than not, was children. Couples had become a family and it was important to stay together for “the sake of the kids.” Forgive me, but I think that is the weakest argument to present. Children are no fools. They can sense the tension between their parents. They don’t turn deaf when their folks are yelling at each other. They know. They understand. And, they remember. More emotional scarring happens in this situation than when couples decide to mutually separate and come up with a reasonable way to ensure a stable environment for the kids. Easier said than done, right?

“So why don’t we accept marriage as a splitting-the-mortgage arrangement?” asks Loh. The laws of the land and society dictate marriage as a useful enterprise to engage in. But conforming to societal pressures makes it a rather painful arrangement. In some cultures more than in others. If you weren’t married, for example, you wouldn’t have to spend Thanksgiving with your husband’s family and buy tons of presents for your wife’s cousins. Of course, you could choose to, but my point is, you wouldn’t have to.

I think for the most part, a marriage for a woman only serves to offer protection from wandering males (not adequately either sometimes) and loads of social norms to ascribe to in return. You become a wife, a caretaker, a cook. And I would have resisted being stereotyped this way had my Indian parents not thrown a tantrum about their only child crushing their lifelong dreams (yes, that’s the kind of stuff parents dream about!). It would have been a miserable situation to be in had my “husband” and I not entered into a secret agreement of treating this relationship not as a marriage, but rather as a friendship. He is no husband, and I am no wife. Our marriage could be called a sham…for after all, all it is is a combination of hormones that clicked. He having a good amount of testosterone (the “director”) and I being ruled by estrogen and oxytocin (the “negotiator”). And I think, for us, this “marriage” works only because we don’t treat it like one — it’s not a “sacred” contract bound by social dictats, it’s simply a desire to be with each other, to share, to laugh, to love.

We are, in many ways, like that “long-married husband and wife” who have “pleasantly agreed to be friends, to set the bedroom aglow at night by the mute opening of separate laptops.” But, no — we’re not “done with it.”

I highly recommend reading the article and posting your thoughts.

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Connected for life

As I was reading The Way We Live Now – The Overextended Family, my thoughts kept wandering back to 2001. The year when my husband and I “met.”

What started as a random e-mail conversation connecting us through the intertubes halfway across the world, turned into a “virtual” courtship that resulted in an online wedding and a lifelong relationship.

Who would’ve thought that in those Skype-less days, when digital cameras were just being launched and Web cams were quite the luxury item, that we would have managed to forge such a strong bond through emoticons embedded sporadically in daily e-mail threads? As Orenstein says in her article, “there is something exquisitely intimate about the disembodied voice” — conversing via e-mails allowed us to be honest, share our inner-most thoughts, express strong opinions and just take the time to get to know each other. We exchanged photos off and on, but there was no Facebook or Twitter to keep each other updated every minute. Although we bridged the physical distance between us via two, sometimes three, e-mails a day, we relished the freedom that this 7807.6-mile online relationship provided. For a year and a half we lived on opposite ends of the day-night cycle, yet were completely in tune with each other’s worlds — his in San Jose, Calif.; mine in Lucknow, India.

By the time I arrived in the States to get my master’s in journalism, we had met in person once — for three days — followed by a year of  e-mails, hazy webcam photos, mini-video snippets and occasional phone calls. The only difference now was that we were in the same country (still different time zones) — we kept the communication channels open, the only way we knew how: through the Internet. And when we moved in together two years later, that’s still how we communicated.

“Dinner is ready,” I would IM him from the living room and he would appear from the bedroom a minute later. Most of our in-person verbal fights would get resolved over e-mail or Google talk the day after (sometimes we still take that route). We hardly ever called each other unless it was an emergency.

Now each of us has an iPhone – the “always-on” device. I text him to pick me up from the bus stop; we send pictures of “events” during lunch; we share videos. Our lives, although separate for the eight-to-nine hours at the workplace, still seem connected. He answers some of my question of the day on Facebook prompting extended conversations over dinner sometimes. (Yes, we have a lot of those face-to-face talks, in case you were wondering.) But we still don’t use the phone to call each other.

Our friends don’t understand how we operate. Sometimes I don’t either. But, I do think that technology has afforded us the opportunity to be with each other, to know each other and to relish each other in ways that couldn’t have happened otherwise.

Sometimes, communication technology can intensify closeness in a way a talk on the couch can’t.

We found comfort in words that appeared on the screen, in pictures that froze a moment in time, in tidbits of our daily lives captured by smiley faces. We’ve laughed, we’ve cried, we’ve fought, we’ve loved. What started as a random e-mail conversation, has turned out to be an intertubal, albeit real, connection for life.


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America isn’t the world. The world is not America.

I was going through some of my old files yesterday and found a report I’d written right after visiting a high school in Iowa. It was an eye-opening experience, to say the least. And I’m sorry to state that these experiences aren’t just representative of Iowan highschoolers, they pretty much reflect the narrow worldview Americans have.

May 17, 2004

My first reaction after the questions started pouring in was, “American kids need more global education!”

I had gone to Tipton High School as the first of many visits to make a presentation on India, the country I hail from. This excursion was part of the International Classroom Journey (ICJ) program, sponsored by International Programs at The University of Iowa. ICJ is a resource for internationalizing eastern Iowa’s K-12 classrooms by exposing students to different world cultures through interactions with study-abroad returnees and international students and scholars at The University of Iowa.

Perhaps, my expectations were too high from the 10th graders I spoke to. But I had imagined they’d know much more about the largest democracy in the world than they did. Unfortunately, they thought Mahatma Gandhi was the first prime minister of India and that it took six hours to travel from my country to the States. Barb Carey, the class teacher, expressed her sadness on the ignorance of the students and blamed their limited knowledge of the world on the way the curriculum was designed. “I think the media are also to blame for this narrow perception of the world. We don’t get as much international news as we should,” she said.

Amy, a 17-year-old, enthusiastically asked me if we celebrated birthdays in India and was surprised when I replied in the affirmative. Britney, a shy 16-year-old, wondered aloud if Indian women waxed and I had to show her my legs as proof that we did!

I realized that children here grow up with certain images of India. The Taj Mahal, poverty stricken villagers, dirty overcrowded streets, impoverished illiterate children, caste system and spicy food, being the most common.

With little or no global education being incorporated in their syllabus, they rely on prevalent stereotypes and the limited information their teachers provide them with. “There is no actual percentage of international education mandated in our curricula,” said Carey. “It is difficult to expose students to international cultures in this small Iowa town but not impossible.”

I showed them a Power Point presentation which included the images they readily recognized and a lot of other cultural icons they gaped at in amazement.

It was never so for Vitalis Torwel, a journalism student at UI from Nigeria. Torwel said that he studied American history and music in his school. “Globalization has permeated one way into cultures the world over; for Americans, though, their world is restricted to their national boundary only,” he said.

Jenna Kashou, a student in the Liberal Arts College, who went to Spain on a study abroad program for an entire semester said, “I was so excited about spending four months in a country I didn’t know much about. I wish we were taught more about countries like Italy, Jamaica, Japan or Sri Lanka while we were younger.” Kashou added that Spanish was the most popular foreign language students learnt in American colleges and inclusion of other languages in the curriculum would go a long way in piquing interest in other cultures.

What surprised me most during the two hour presentation was that I knew more, about not just the U.S. but many other countries at their age, than they ever would. I had comparison studies of the U.S. and Indian parliamentary and legal systems in ninth grade; I watched American soap operas to the extent that Oprah Winfrey, Friends, The Bold and the Beautiful, and Baywatch were part of daily school gossip; we ate Dominos pizzas and Mc Donald’s burgers and wore Nike apparel and Reebok shoes; we, as children, were exposed to so much more.

I came away from the school with an invitation to pay a second visit. “Students here need international ambassadors to give them real time first hand information,” said Carey.

I could not agree more.

Jason Jones, a reporter on The Daily Show, had a similar experience rather recently when he found out how knowledgeable Iranians were of American history and how ignorant Americans (at least, New Yorkers) were about Iran.

Is it really just a question of blaming the media? Or is it more of a cultural attitude of ignorance is bliss? Or is it that Americans think they can’t be bothered with the rest of the world? Californians are probably more aware of globalism but they certainly don’t represent the average American.

Thoughts?

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Good Web writing is a skill

For those of you re-purposing, or producing, news content as well as magazine-style features for the Web, here are a few handy pointers:

  • Make it concise – you don’t want your readers scrolling through reams and reams of text. Good writing doesn’t necessarily have to be lengthy.
  • Break it up – subheads help the flow of the story/informational article and are also good for those who don’t read everything, i.e. the “scanners”.
  • Make it compelling – pull the best quotes, showcase the strongest visuals, write tight.
  • Hyperlink – your article is not a standalone piece on the Web. Link it to other meaningful content that readers will appreciate. Be a connector, but don’t overdo it.
  • Edit – be your own editor; chop, refine, rewrite. Always proofread everything and double-check hyperlinks.

Understand and respect the medium and always remember to cater to your audience. Web content should be quick, provide pertinent information that’s easy to grasp and be of value. If you put yourself in the readers’ shoes, you won’t go wrong.

Bottomline: Make your Web writing clutter-free, lucid and engaging.

Here are some more tips:
10 Tips for Good Web Writing from About.com

Writing for the Web from Sun.com

Have more tips to share? Add ’em in the comments.

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Interview tip: you’re a CEO

Perhaps, you’ve never thought of your name as a brand before and yourself as a company — but indulge me for a minute here.

When you go for an interview, what are you really doing? Selling yourself.

In a stipulated amount of time you present a brief synopsis of your achievements, you gloat over your accomplishments, you showcase your strengths and acknowledge your weaknesses, you put your best foot forward and convince people who’ve never met you before to invest in your talents.

This scenario is very similar to a CEO of a startup meeting with VPs to secure funding for his next big idea. He brings to the table a strategic vision and a stable business plan — much like you, the interviewee.

When you look at the job description, check off things you have done and can do, while circling those you don’t have an expertise in but want to learn. You also think five years out (at least three, if not five — stability is important). Where will this job take you? What can you add to it beyond the essential duties? Think about how the company can help you grow…chart a career path for yourself but never forget how you will add value to the company. What do they not have that you bring? Passion is great, but also show them ambition.

When you walk into that room, think of yourself as a CEO, not an interviewee. What makes a good CEO is what’s going to help you get the job.

  • Leadership matters — don’t expect to be babysat. Employers appreciate employees who take initiative.
  • Teamwork is critical — be a team player and a team builder. Respect others’ expertise and inspire trust.
  • Experience is key — internships help and so do part-time jobs.

Good CEOs also:

  • Think outside the box — be open to new ideas. Everyone follows the beaten path because it’s easy. Challenge yourself
  • Believe — in yourself! There’s only ONE of you. Leverage your uniqueness. (How do you do that? Specialize, but remember not to box yourself in).
  • Always look to improve — you may think you’re perfect, but you’re not. Acknowledge your weaknesses and work on them.

Illuminate the room with your personality, ideas and talent. Walk in believing no one can do this job better. Walk out knowing you did your best.

You are your best ambassador. Go get ’em!

(Thanks to Juan Escobar for planting this idea in my head 🙂)


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10 tips for journalism students who’re job hunting

  1. Know why you are interested in the job — is it the money, the work, the people, the company name or something else? In all likelihood it’ll be a combination of factors. Remember to factor in your passion.
  2. Be web-savvy even if your job description doesn’t demand it.
  3. Know that journalism jobs, as glamorous as they might look, don’t pay much to start off with – you really have to love the field to stay in it.
  4. Remember your starting salary dictates future raises – don’t apply to jobs that do not meet your basic salary requirements; it will only cause heartache and frustration.
  5. Research the industry — know the trends, have your finger on the pulse of the next big thing but also be knowledgeable about the history of progression.
  6. Keep yourself updated –- in today’s day and age you cannot use excuses like “technology scares me” to get out of a situation. Use your free time to learn new skills and find new opportunities to use those skills. Self initiative goes a long way…
  7. So does a portfolio of clips.
  8. Create a website or blog to showcase your skills. Just like you google your prospective employer, they google prospective employees. Let there be something in cyberspace that leaves a good impression and lets your personality come across. And, remember, to make those “photos of a personal nature” on your social networking accounts private.
  9. Think about your career path, not just this specific job at this particular moment.
  10. With good basic writing skills, you can do a variety of things –- it doesn’t have to be the end of the world if you didn’t get that much coveted newspaper/magazine job to start off your career. Hang in there and continue to polish existing skill sets while acquiring new ones.

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Five tips for journalism/PR newbies

  • Love writing: If you don’t absolutely love writing, don’t take a job in which you’ll spend more than 75 percent of the time working with, and around, words. As with everything else, writing becomes second nature with practice but if you don’t enjoy it to begin with, there’s no reason for you to get yourself stuck in a job you’re going to hate. Remember, even fields like broadcast journalism, PR and marketing require a significant amount of writing expertise – you may not have to write flowing prose, but you have to be a good writer to discern the mediocre from the awe-inspiring, jaw-dropping, eye-opening, heart-pumping story for the camera, sales pitch or news release. Remember: Good writing compels action.
  • Take genuine interest: Whether it be a full-length magazine feature or a short piece in the newspaper, you have to take a genuine interest in the subject. Only then will you be able to have the person, or the gadget, or the place you’re writing about come alive for your readers. Remember, it’s not about you – you’re merely the story-teller, the conduit between the reader and the subject…step back and focus on your subject.
  • Decide the focus of the story: Think about what the reader will take away from your story – are you imparting information? Is the purpose of your story to inspire someone to donate? Do you want the reader to buy a product? Is the story one that evokes thoughtful discussions? Or is the purpose simply to give the reader a feel-good moment? Once you know what you want to achieve with your writing, you’ll know the right questions to ask.
  • Don’t miss the deadline: Missing deadlines is sacrilege. Publications run on a tight production cycle and you’re a major cog in that wheel. If you miss your deadline, it holds up the art, designing and proofing are pushed back, time-sensitive material that may have had to be included cannot be anymore, you’ve lost a certain amount of professional respect and all in all just messed up the process. That said, there will be times the stars are not aligned for you to meet those deadlines – make sure you talk to your editor and get an extension, or have an evergreen story you can plug in if that hole in the magazine absolutely must be filled by XX date. Yes, these are times when your story might be killed. Meet that deadline!
  • Don’t let writer’s block get to you: It happens to all of us – we have great interviews, excellent quotes, wonderful stories waiting to be told and we just don’t know where to start. Maybe you know what the ending will be…perhaps you’ve figured out the middle….just start writing and when you’ve finished your selective rummage through the quotes, step away. Take a walk, exercise, log on to Facebook (or not, if your company discourages visiting or has blocked social networking sites) or simply do something else to take your mind away from your story. When you look at it with a fresh pair of eyes you’ll see it all coming together for you. Don’t be afraid of rewriting – a story often goes through several drafts before it reaches the epitome of perfection.

Bonus

  • Read every day: You not only get a chance to learn something new stylistically or even add to your ever-increasing vocabulary, but your mind actively analyzes and critiques, helping you on your way to becoming a better writer. And when I say read, I don’t mean just scrolling through your friends’ Facebook status messages and tweets.

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