Dress for Success (Or at Least the Interview)

Category : articles

(Originally posted at Heart of Glass magazine.)

It’s hard enough finding a job, and the last thing you should have to stress over is what to wear to the interview. But the hard truth is, it matters. First impressions are everything, and your interview starts the moment you walk through the door.

(Note: My experience is limited to a corporate setting, and may not be applicable to every field. Use your judgment!)

Perhaps needless to say, a suit is your best option. But it’s difficult to afford one when you’re unemployed. Luckily, we have other choices. You don’t need to dump your non-existent cash on a suit if you present yourself well.

As a general rule, don’t show up in an outfit too revealing. I’m not suggesting that turtlenecks and trousers are your only option (though that can look classy!), but don’t select a low-cut top or a barely-covering-your-bum skirt. You’re not there to impress them with your fashion expertise–you’re there to prove you’re a professional, and if your cleavage is hanging out during the interview it’s unlikely they’ll remember much of anything else. And this isn’t the image we’re going for.

Stick with something simple, yet striking. A pair of black or grey trousers or a pencil skirt, paired with a button-down top or ruffle blouse. And there’s no harm in wearing a cardigan in place of a suit jacket. During the colder months, be sure to wear a nice-looking coat. Ski jackets and hoodies will be looked down upon, but peacoats are always a good choice. (If you don’t have one, ask a friend or relative. Surely they want to aid in your job searching.)

And don’t be afraid of color! Interviewers tend to remember those who add a splash of color. Don’t go too bold (try to resist anything bright), but grey, dark blue, and purple can be striking. Business doesn’t have to be all black, all the time.

Oftentimes accessories make the outfit, but don’t overdo it. A silver necklace or bracelet can spice things up without being too in-your-face. And if you’re wearing a suit jacket or cardigan, add a little brooch. Nothing too flashy, just something to dress it up a little.

Personally, if I were interviewing right now I’d wear either a grey suit with a dark purple button-down shirt, or a black pencil skirt with a ruffled top. They’re not too bold, and they fit me well. Make sure your clothes fit. You can have the greatest outfit in the world, but if it looks like you raided your parents’ closet you’ll appear both silly and incompetent.

And be confident! Walk in smiling, and shake your interviewer’s hand. They may be in charge, but don’t let that intimidate you. Don’t be conceited, but prove you know your stuff. All this work preparing can be for naught if you slouch and mumble during the interview. Stay professional; you’re not chatting with a friend in the pub. Interviews can be stressful enough, but at least you can be comforted knowing you look fabulous.

Book v. Movie: Dune

Category : movies

I felt something of a sci-fi reject not having read/watched Dune. With all great classics, it was intimidating. What if I didn’t understand it? Or what if I didn’t like it? As expected, I was quite fond of the book. (The review is four stars, but I’ve considered bumping it to five.) It’s a must-read. I feel complete having read it.

So how does the movie compare?

The movie is good. I’d go back to reject status if I didn’t say that right away. And with all great books-turned-movie, they leave out a lot of detail. A lot. For instance, did you know that Paul had a son? Or that Jessica wasn’t supposed to drink the Water of Life, being pregnant?

I felt like I was putting the pieces together throughout the film, filling in the gaps from what I know from the novel. Yes, the movie stands on its own, but it’s watered down. There’s so much more in the book—this isn’t simply Paul’s rise to power. It tackles familial bonds, politics, and loyalty. It’s searching for the unknown.

And the ending is completely different. I don’t want to spoil too much, but the emperor’s daughter had a larger part in the novel. Or, rather, a part. She may have provided the introduction in the film, but we learn so much from our hidden narrator in the book. And she has a fairly large role in the end, even if she barely speaks.

There is one scene that—dare I say?—I like better in the film version. When Paul drinks the Water of Life, I almost missed it in the book. He didn’t tell anyone, so even the reader didn’t know it had happened. Yes, the film was more dramatic: It was this whole big ceremony. This man is attempting something that other men have died from. It deserves dramatics.

Can we also discuss how adorable Paul is? Excellent casting, friends of the early 80s.

There was a mini-series in 2000 that I want to check out as well. I’m curious if it goes into more detail, being longer. At the same time, I’m skeptical over remakes on classics. There are some things you don’t mess with, and Dune (whether it’s the book or the film) is timeless.

Bookstores: The Drama Book Shop

Category : bookstores

Foursquare is great. I put in my location and my desired destination, and it gives me options. And that’s how I stumbled upon the existence of The Drama Book Shop.

I honestly expected a little hole-in-the-wall place upon visiting, and while the store is tiny there’s a lot of great stuffed crammed in there. And the place was packed. I went right after work, and every available chair was occupied with customers. (Which also means I felt weird taking photographs, so my collection is sparse.)

All the way in the back (about where I’m standing to take this photo) is what I expected of the place—shelves of plays. And there’s certainly no shortage. I happened upon a copy of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, which I’ve been meaning to read for ages, so I nabbed it. But the store isn’t just an impressive collection of plays. There are things for all facets of drama: Screenwriting, acting, design, you name it. It’s a dramatic mecca.

I also discovered a nifty little book titled Daily Rituals, which I had to own, which tells tales of how writers fit their craft into their lives. Writers are a finicky bunch. Perhaps I’ll learn something about motivation (and eccentricity).

And I’ll leave you with this dress made of paper, because… why not?

Dictionary Additions

Category : society

The Oxford English Dictionary is always adding new words to its masses, but the most recent word-dump has some people questioning the overall… intelligence of our society. While “twerk” has been around since the 1990s, it has finally found a home in the dictionary. And you may not ever want or need to look up “selfie” in the OED, but it’s there now.

Besides these apparent embarrassments of our language, there’s a whole slew of fun terms the OED has recently added. How could I dream of venturing to the stars without space tourism? And I’m ashamed how many times I’ve used the term squee without it being a official part of our lexicon. But there it is! Now I can safely add it to my future novel.

Before you start ranting about the “youth of today” and the decline of language, remember who’s to blame. The majority of the new words focus around social media, and isn’t that the center of our lives? If you don’t like the addition of unlike to the dictionary, then don’t spend half your day on Facebook. Just throwing that out there.

Let’s not forget, though, other great terms that have been added during the past couple years:

  • flexitarian (n) a person who has a primarily vegetarian diet but occasionally eats meat or fish.
  • Godwin’s law (n) the theory that as an online discussion progresses, it becomes inevitable that someone or something will eventually be compared to Adolf Hitler or the Nazis, regardless of the original topic
  • lifecast (v) create a three-dimensional representation of a subject from a mould of their living body
  • metabolic syndrome (n) a cluster of biochemical and physiological abnormalities associated with the development of cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes
  • ripped (adj) informal. having well-defined or well-developed muscles; muscular
  • tray bake (n) a type of cake or similar sweet food which is baked in a square or rectangular container and cut into individual pieces for serving

You take the good with the bad. I’m not going to justify quasi-recent additions such as “guyliner” (eyeliner worn by men (why can’t we all just wear eyeliner??)) or “totes” (slang for “totally”), but somewhere beneath the derping—another new addition—and the twerking, there’s still a hint of snobbery that dictionary purists are searching for.

Book v. Movie: City of Bones

Category : movies

It’s been over two years since I’ve started fawning over this movie. As fans of The Mortal Instruments, we never thought movie release day would arrive. August 2013 was so far. But you know I was in that theater on opening weekend. I may have gotten a little misty-eyed during the opening credits.

It’s been four years since I first read City of Bones (Four years? Really?), so my memory is a little hazy. Perhaps it’s better that way. But I’ve accepted that movies are never as good as the books. I expect them to be a supplement of sorts, a thing only the book-reader would enjoy. And that’s exactly what this film was.

If you hadn’t read the book, you’d likely be confused. And it tries to compensate for that—it crams so much information into the first half-hour that there’s a lot of explanation rather than actual plot. And even some major plot points are swept under the rug. (Simon gets kidnapped by vampires and suddenly doesn’t need his glasses? And no one questions this.)

But overall… it’s pretty good. Some of the acting is a little cheesy, and the plot is difficult to follow even with a knowledge of the books. But it’s gorgeous. The institute is even better than I imagined it, and the Silent Brothers give me the heebie-jeebies—just as it should be. I won’t claim it’s the best cinematography I’ve ever witnessed, but that doesn’t mean I won’t see the next installment on opening weekend, too.

Summer Essentials

Category : reviews

When I was in school, I anticipated the “summer reading list.” Mostly to see what books I had already devoured, but also to scope out new ones. I don’t have a proper summer reading list anymore, since I don’t have a three-month vacation in the middle of the year (don’t I wish), but I can still offer you a few of my favorite light reads to enjoy while you’re hanging out by the pool.

  1. High Fidelity, Nick Horby
    A 30-something record store clerk has issues with life, love, and his job. And he’s a music junkie, peppering his inner monologues with obscure music references. When you’re done with the book, I recommend the movie as well (Hello, John Cusack).
  2. Amy & Roger’s Epic Detour, Morgan Matson
    A cross-country road trip with a guy you barely know, dumping your mother’s pre-arranged itinerary to create your own adventure. If anything says summer, it’s this.
  3. Naked, David Sedaris
    I don’t recommend ever reading Sedaris in public. Because you will laugh, and continue to laugh, and you will consistently annoy everyone around you. Unless you’re into that kind of thing.
  4. On Writing, Stephen King
    With summer comes new adventures and grand goals, and for many of us that means finally writing that novel. Stephen King offers some great advice about it. He knows a little about that “writing” thing.
  5. Ender’s Game, Orson Scott Card
    The movie is coming out in the fall, so this one is a given.

Or you could disregard this entire list and read one of the longest novels of all time, but that’s entirely up to you. (You better believe I’m eyeing up In Search of Lost Time.)

image source: stock.xchng

Book v. Movie: Atlas Shrugged (part 2)

Category : movies

I’m faced with a dilemma here in reviewing part two of this film. (My part one reaction is here which, you may recall, wasn’t great.) On one hand, I’m still jarred by the fact they’re watching television and using touch-screen technology and things like that. On the other hand, it was a great improvement to part one.

In this part of the story, all the great minds are starting to disappear. A concert pianist disappears during intermission. An engineer vanishes in the middle of working on a great invention. And there are no warning signs—one day they’re working, and the next they’re not. And the movie does a fantastic job with this. There’s a clear divide between the successful, brilliant people and the ones living in the streets. (Granted there seems to be no middle class at all, but we can blame that on the novel.) It’s obviously counting down to something major, and that something is happening soon.

Apparently there was a complete cast change from the part one. I watched it so long ago that I don’t remember. I do remember disliking Dagny’s actor, but I quite liked her this time. Perhaps it was an improvement.

If I’m going to complain about one thing, it’s Francisco D’Anconia’s role—that is, he hardly had one. He has an obvious history with Dagny in the novel (beyond just childhood friends), and he was one of my favorites so I’m disappointed that he gets overshadowed in the film.

And now, part 3 won’t be out until next summer. That’s the best part of the book. (I can’t wait for the John Galt speech.) Perhaps I’ll re-read the book during my wait.

Traveler Food and Books

Category : bookstores

If you’ve ever traveled I-84 crossing in Massachusetts, you may have noticed this sign off the highway.

Admittedly, I did not notice this sign until my cousin pointed it out to me, and for close to a year I’ve been wanting to visit. It’s not that often that I head up that direction, but I had time on my way home from my last Boston trip and thought it was time to stop in. As you can probably tell from my photo quality it was a dreary day in the northeast, and a pit-stop at a diner (with books) seemed like the ideal lunch break.

Look at this cute little place! (And also the interior of my car.)

As advertised, there are books. And food. After I shook off my umbrella and stepped inside, I knew this was the place for me. Most dining establishments greet you with a counter or a hostess or some other food-related thing, but here we open the door to… books.

Yes, I do believe I will fit in.

I was seated beside a bookshelf, which I picked through while waiting for my mushroom and spinach omelette. They offer three free books with your meal, so I didn’t mind the $8 omelette so much. I didn’t want to look weird and mosey around the place while others were eating, but I did find a hardcover copy of Tim O’Brien’s July, July on a nearby shelf. Might as well swap it out for my old paperback version!

And if that’s not enough, they have a used bookstore downstairs as well.

I was anxious to get back on the road, since the rain was starting to come down again, but I could have easily lost myself in these narrow shelves. They have a great collection of old and leatherbound books, which I will definitely check out on my next trip. And they’re super-cheap, so I could feasibly leave with an armload of books.

If you ever find yourself crossing the Connecticut/Massachusetts border, check it out. Get your free books and some good old fashioned diner food. I quite enjoyed the break from the sudden downpour outside.

The Opus

Category : writing

Write my music? When do I get time to write my music?
—Mr. Holland

If you’ve never watched Mr. Holland’s Opus (it’s practically required watching for former band geeks like myself), Mr. Holland is a composer. Or, rather, a composer who takes a music teacher job so he can actually support his family. And only teachers understand the whirlwind of being a teacher—grading papers; working after hours; aiding students who need the extra help. And in this whirlwind, Mr. Holland’s opus lies abandoned on his piano. He stares at it mournfully, plunking out some notes before crashing for the night.

When do we have time to write our opuses?

I started reading Jennifer Egan’s The Keep and our main character, Danny, is caught up in his whirlwind: life is New York. His cousin, Howie, invites him to the middle-of-nowhere Europe to work at an abandoned castle (I’m not far enough into the book to understand this), and Danny brings a satellite dish to stay connected. Meanwhile, Howie is going on a rampage about how media has corrupted us and people don’t create anymore because we don’t have to; other people create and we blindly follow.

Writing is hard, whether it’s words or music or whatever you’ve been planning to compose. And it’s only made more difficult by this whirlwind, by life. We go to work. We take work home, we updates our blogs, we catch up with friends. We stay up at night playing games, or watching movies, or being wrapped up other forms of entertainment that other people have created for us. Next thing you know it’s one o’clock in the morning and that Word document for your novel is still blank.

Howie, even though he’s probably scaring Danny in his triage, has the right idea. Not that I suggest we ditch our homelands and buy medieval castles, but we need to slow down. Do you have to spend two hours at night playing facebook games? Or watching The Princess Diaries for the third time that week? (Guilty as charged.)

But as composers, research is important. We have to keep up with what’s new, read the latest books, check up on some blogs. But we spend so much time on other people’s work that we ignore our own. Maybe we do need a cabin in the woods with no WiFi.

Occasionally when I’m be away from home, and don’t bother checking my blogs, I return and don’t see the point in going back into the social sphere. Because my mind is finally clear, and it feels like I have no obligations. We must clear our minds, and only then will we find the motivation and the time to create. Take a day, or a week, or even a month and disconnect. Yes, you have to work and take care of your basic necessities. But do you need to read your favorite blog the moment it’s updated? Or answer a text message the second it’s received? It will still be there when you come back.

Creation is a part of our identity. I feel empty when I’m not writing. Even this long-winded blog entry has sparked something in my brain, and I want to get back to outlining my long-overdue novel. Entertainment is great, but don’t forget about your own work. Don’t neglect your opus.

Ender’s Game: the Trailer

Category : movies

Let’s ignore the fact that my “getting back into blogging” posts often include videos. (Truthfully, there are a few things I’ve been meaning to blog about so stay tuned.)

In the meantime, enjoy the trailer for Ender’s Game. It looks awesome. They better not botch up this book.