Work in Progress

Somewhere along the way of work, homeownership, and parenthood, I stopped updating this website. I am optimistic that I will not let my negligence continue unchecked and that I will soon update this site to encompass the breadth of what I do: writing, editing, photography, and stationery design.The little hands of a life changer.


Hanging by a Fiber

Newspapers and magazines have predicted the death of print for years. With Newsweek enduring only in pixels and Saturday USPS deliveries on the butcher block, I re-living the last breaths of 35mm film again.

The end of print doesn’t bode well for me, as an editor and stationer. But I haven’t been doing much to save it. Google Reader is a constant companion—though not for much longer—as is my Kindle and iPhone. In looking at the realistic future of my business, I continually gut-check myself as to when I would reach for the physical over the digital. Five instances come immediately to mind:

Thank you note written and sketched by Aptly NotedSketch thank you note to my in-laws for sending homemade cookies.

  1. Thank you notes: Firing off an email of appreciation is sometimes all time allows, but a handwritten note carries with it sentimentality and literal weight. It takes the sender time to compose it. Much of life passes by undocumented. With that one note, the writer captures a moment of time in an expression of gratitude.
  2. Letters: Perusing archived and historical letters is a more intimate experience than robotically paging through one-line emails. Paper can be musky, yellowed, and deteriorating, but it’s a direct connection to someone years or centuries apart.
  3. Travel reads: Catching up on news on my iPhone is great until I disappear underground on the subway, fly 20,000 feet above the earth, head out to a remote destination, or even ride in a moving vehicle. Screens aren’t easy to ready when the reader or the screen is jostling up and down. Mobile is indisputably convenient, but a printed-pulp based product is reliable.
  4. Photographs: I have cradled my DSLR on 30-mile hikes and become its human shield in the rain. But I still don’t own a digital picture frame. The stark contrast of the LED or crystallized display against a room’s ambient light turns a nostalgic memory a miniature screensaver. I don’t print many photographs, but the ones that make it to paper are cherished.
  5. Textbooks: Though college is admittedly a distant memory, I still can’t imagine surviving classes without surrounding myself with sprawled-open textbooks, manually highlighting salient equations, and rifling through 500 pages in a last-ditched effort to absorb one more piece of information. 

As I try to convince myself why print will survive, more reasons to choose print over digital fill my mind. Yes, I understand that by blogging instead of journaling, I discredit my argument, but I have resolved to do better with my sketchbook this year. I’m only three months behind on my resolution.


Shhh...Introverts Uniting

When I tell people what I do for my full- and part-time jobs, my enthusiasm often prompts the response, “Oh, you’re so lucky that you have your dream job.” The tone of their voice flattens by the slightest note, and I find myself hastily assuring them that the hours are long and the pay not great.

How I procured my full-time job—technology editor for a national magazine—dovetails with a book I recently devoured in small bites during my subway commute. Reading Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, by Susan Cain, was like learning that I’ve been wearing my shirt inside out in a room where everyone else has forgotten to wear one, period.

As a child, I was breathlessly shy, a trait patently shared by my family. As I grew older, I weaned myself away from the isolating comfort of shyness. After reading Quiet, I realized I was a highly-functioning “socially-poised introvert.” I enjoy public speaking when I am thoroughly prepared—which means I’ve rehearsed the presentation at least five times. I like meeting new people but keep a small, close circle of friends. During work meetings, I speak up when I feel I have something valuable to contribute, have internally edited and reviewed the most succinct way to say it as not to take up floor time, and then fret afterward on how others perceived my participation.

But I continue to struggle with incorporating the “extrovert ideals” that Western businesses value: a passion for networking, speaking up in public, and closing out bars with colleagues.

The most surprising takeaway from Quiet was learning that not everyone experiences the same pangs of social anxiety that I do. Some people love jumping into a pile of strangers, talking loudly and at length about themselves, and simply not worrying how others perceive them—such as the shoppers with 54 items in the self-checkout line, brazenly oblivious to the queue of people sighing behind them. Actually, I don’t want to suggest that extroverts are inconsiderate.

The book is a great read if you suspect that you are part of the 30 percent of the population who are introverts. You are not alone if your recharge method of choice include pajamas and Netflix over pumps and cocktails. Incidentally, my alma mater recently surveyed their undergrad and grad students and found that on average only 33 percent of respondents classified themselves as extrovert. The breakdown by major is particularly fascinating.

Pressure Survey by The Tech, MIT

Though Quiet is not a self-help book, it contains many notable points, including:

“[Introverts] listen more than they talk, think before they speak, and…express themselves better in writing than in conversation. They…dislike conflict.”

“While extroverts tend to attain leadership in public domaines, introverts tend to attain leadership in theoretical and aesthetic fields.” (Quiet quoting from Leadership Development for the Gifted and Talented).

“Once you understand introversion and extroversion as preferences for certain levels of stimulation, you can begin consciously trying to situate yourself in environments favorable to your own personality—neither overstimulating nor under stimulating, neither boring nor anxiety making….Your sweet spot is the place where you’re optimally stimulated.”

I am content with my creative and individualistic profession. I will probably never be the CEO of a Fortune 500 company, or speak at a TEDTalk; reading Cain’s description of an introvert’s perspective in her section “The Myth of Charismatic Leadership: Harvard Business School and Beyond” as well as her chapter on Asian Americans resounded heavily on my empathetic introvert nerves.

How does my plug for this book relate to identifying your dream job? Cain offers three points toward this goal, summarized here:

  1. Remember what you wanted to be when you were growing up. The specific answer may be unrealistic (“a mermaid!”) but the “underlying impulse was not.”
  2. In your current position, toward what opportunities and tasks do you gravitate? For example, recruiting, mentoring, peer review, programming, design, etc. Even if meeting strangers uncomfortable, the task of bringing on prospective hires may make it worth the discomfort.
  3. “Finally, pay attention to what you envy.” I always cheered when I hear of friends passing their engineering licensure exams, but the people I really envied were those whose names appeared on the mastheads of the technology, design, and art magazines I loved to read.

Of course, though my name will soon appear on the mastheads of five magazines, I’m too much of an introvert in my humility to even look at it.

The Scotland Highlands: A dream recharge place for introverts.


Hey, Big Spender

My credit card has been busy for two quadruple-digit reasons. The first was my new MacBook Pro, currently nestled in my lap. To date, my personal computers had always PCs, which are perfectly fine for my left-brain, engineering side that enjoys Bill Gates–step-by-step methodology. I even used Adobe CS3 on my most recent PC: a stlll-chugging Toshiba Satellite, which I not only bought from a brick-and-mortar store, but one called Circuit City.

At Syracuse University, I had my first meaningful date with Macs. Something happens when you sit in front of a design object that looks good and works effortlessly. It’s like doning a pair of Louboutins or a Prada bag—not that I own either, as this post reveals where my money goes.

You know what a MacBook Pro looks like; here’s a photo I edited using CS6 on my new MacBook Pro. I took this photo on the Highline in New York, but with CS6’s updated Content Aware, who knows what is real? (Everything is, actually.)When my Satellite started groaning each time I previewed a RAW file, I made the leap to a 13” MacBook Pro. I did not pay the extra $800 for the Retina display though I did pace at the Apple store between the withs and withouts enough times to rile up the blue-shirted geniuses. As a photographer, I thought I would surely need the Retina display. But I couldn’t justify the cost for a gratuitous feature that wouldn’t necessarily benefit my business. Who knew what my clients, print-processing labs, and friends were seeing on their screens?

I did assuage my acquiescence with a 24” HD LED external monitor, which cost much less than $800.

And what greater reason to buy a MacBook Pro than to run memory-taxing, processor-hogging design software? A legitimate (take that, Accountant!) copy of Adobe CS6 Design Standard now fills my bottom menu bar.

In early September, Adobe offered a 10% discount for its products; 10% off $1299 doesn’t stop the ache from the sucker punch, but at least it staunches the bleeding.

Adobe does offer a Cloud subscription service, but at $59 per month (or $29/month if you commit to a full year and catch the promotion), that’s still $708 a year. And you need presumably a reliable Internet connection to run the software. If I was cool enough to be a video editor and had to choose between the Cloud and the $2,599 Master Collection, then the Cloud would be a great deal. Those Adobe pricing executives know what what they’re doing.

Some people argue that Adobe price gouges its customers (even upgrades start at $275), to which Adobe responds by silently staring at the black market software on every college student’s laptop. Before venturing further in this topic, I will return to ogling my MacBook Pro and list my favorite short cuts.

Preface: For recovering PC users, the Command button is your go-to shortcut key instead of the Control button. Also, if you still mouse over to click the Go arrow in your Internet browser address bar or to hit OK in any dialogue box, please stop. Hitting Enter or Return will get you there much faster and keep your fingers on the keyboard.

I juxtapose this patronizing tone with the fact that several of my favorite MacBook Pro shortcuts occur with the Trackpad. (Note: I set my trackpad to respond to taps instead of clicks because doing a finger pushup on the pad feels like I’m denting it.) 

  • Two-finger scroll: It’s better than the space bar, arrow keys, and certainly the scroll bar because it works on nearly anything that has more information than the screen can show: including a drop-down menu, website, or table. It’s graceful and barely distracts you from your primary task. On web browsers, scrolling left and right with two fingers takes you to previously-viewed pages.
  • Three-finger upsweep: To see miniature versions of all the windows you have open, this swipe is more fun than cycling through applications with Command-Tab—though maybe not as fast.
  • Command+arrows: Up and down take you to the top and bottom of the page, left and right take you to Home and End, respectively.
  • Control+Tab: Switch between tabs in programs, such as Internet browsers (my current choice of browser is Google Chrome)
  • Command+W: Closes out the too-many windows I have opened, but not the application itself. 
  • Command+Q takes care of that. 

The one thing my PC-reflexes still seek is a Delete button to erase text from left to right (different from Backspace). Maybe it’s because I’m left handed, but I’m accustomed to deleting text in a forward motion. With the help of Google, I’ve found relief via the Fn and Delete keys. Now if only I can stop swiping fruitlessly at the trackpad on my other PC laptops.

[Note: The post has been updated to include the delete shortcut.]


The Business of Starting a Business

July has been busy in terms of my full-time job and personal life; as it’s pretty obvious, I haven’t made much process on my web portfolio. But I’ve also made this month’s priority to get my business affairs in order for my studio’s new location.

Starting a business can seem intimidating, particularly for someone on their own. I am all for regulatory oversight and appreciate the regimented process that forces an aspiring business owner to think through and establish the structure of their endeavor. The tricky part is that licensing requirements for a business vary by state so this post is not a catch-all by any means.

Washington MonumentThe Washington Monument makes a better photo than a pile of paperwork

Before I registered my business, initially in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, I spent months pondering on its name and stringing words together. What did I want people to envision when they first heard my business’s name? Did I want an obscure reference to my past, which could make for great story telling in the “About” section, or clever alliteration that dazzled in depiction? Including my own name would negate the additional process of registering a fictitious name, but then I would be up against thousands of other nebulous name-baring companies that can suit faces, but not storefronts. Though Dow, Merck, and Kraft all demonstrate self naming can be successful clearly.

Beyond the personal decision of name selection is SEO potential. The claimed URLs—at least in the .com realm—are astonishing. Really. Someone has already registered AnyColor Door Design, or AnyFlower Press? You bet.

After months of scribbling notes and narrowing down to one final potential name, I had the breath-holding moment of checking whether the business name was available in the Commonwealth through its online database.

Next came company structure. The choices include sole proprietorship, partnership, and corporation, the latter two of which come with a bunch of legal caveats and formalities beyond the former. I went with the sole proprietorship because I would be the only owner of my company, which would stay small for the time. Should I have expand significantly in the future, I can revisit the possibility of switching my entity structure. The downside of a sole proprietorship is that I am personally liable for the business, which—knock on wood—won’t be a problem ever.

With these pre-planning decisions made, I had a few other items to check off before I could begin the actual paperwork. I needed a taxpayer identification number. I initially used my SSN but didn’t like giving it out on everything from my business bank account to credit card applications. Applying for an employer identification number (EIN) from the IRS may sound interminable, but honestly, it was the easiest part of this entire process; I applied online and received my EIN in 5 minutes.

The next two procedures vary by State: registering for a tax account to pay the appropriate taxes—e.g., use, sales, employer withholding—to the state agency or department. In Pa., I registered with the Department of Revenue online and received confirmation along with a notice of my filing due dates. Then I had to register my fictitious name with the state’s Corporation Bureau and advertise in a newspaper and legal publication located in my business’s county.

D.C. has been a little trickier. In a series of quasi-Catch-22 moments, I have spent multiple mornings detouring from my morning commute to visit the district’s Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs (DCRA). Rather than lingering on my mishaps, I’ll point to the general order of steps here. Follow them closely, D.C. residents! For budding printers and designers in other states, research your state’s specific requirements.

If all goes well, I’m one or two DCRA visits away from establishing my business in D.C. I also have to check in again with the IRS to ensure my business paperwork points to my new location. Then I will officially be open for business—again.

Lincoln MemorialPedestrians and drivers take a moment to admire the Lincoln Memorial