25 November 2013

DC Concerts: Dec. 2013 / Jan. 2014

Everyone asks me how I keep with upcoming concerts in DC. The answer is simple: scour the websites of reliable venues; know good folks who send invitations to house shows; and pick up the paper every week. Since I go to all that trouble, I will gladly share the spoils with you in the form of a regularly-updated list.

EDIT: This list has expired. Please click here for the latest list. ]

05 November 2013

DC Concerts: November 2013

Everyone asks me how I keep with upcoming concerts in DC. The answer is simple: scour the websites of reliable venues; know good folks who send invitations to house shows; and pick up the paper every week. Since I go to all that trouble, I will gladly share the spoils with you in the form of a regularly updated list.

[ EDIT: This list has expired. Please click here for the latest list. ]

19 September 2013

Take My Advice: Five Principles for Your Job Search

The Internet is full of advice on how to find a job in a professional field. So are your friends, colleagues, and career counselors. All of that advice all boils down to this: 
  • figure out what work you want to be doing and can reasonably achieve;
  • target specific organizations in your field; 
  • build a network of professional contacts through informational interviews; and
  • get those contacts to push your resume when/before job openings arise.

Simple. Effective. Also, difficult. Slow. Frustrating. Makes you want a magic button to press to make it happen now. Makes you scour the Internet for that magic button. 

I will save you the trouble: there is no magic button. From 6 months in the job search trenches, I have learned that much. I proffer instead 5 basic principles for a sane and successful job search.

1. Get something current on your resume. Now.
No one will talk you if your plate is empty. Employers think you are a pariah if there is a blank space for your current position. When I returned to Washington, D.C., in March 2013, I already had a gap in my resume. I almost never got to explain this gap until I got something to fill it (with a part-time opportunity in my field that started in July). After that, responses to my resume were more enthusiastic and my interviews were more successful. 
Even if you are waiting tables or waiting out a big life event, volunteer or consult part-time in your field (or on the edges of it). You will be more desirable if you seem already desirable.

2. Build a deep network.
Advertisements will not get you a jobs; people will. Start your network with people you know and people who have reason to think you are generally competent: friends, colleagues, family, neighbors, and fellow alumni from your school(s). Ask around. Do not be shy. Go to networking events if that works for you. Hold informational interviews and always close by asking for 2-3 further contacts in the field. 
I returned to Washington with a strong existing network of friends and alumni, which I built out through 60+ informational interviews. My networking yielded contacts at the organizations at which I wanted to work; they were glad to push for me at the right moment.

3. Brush off the failures.
When teenage me asked for advice on dating, someone wise told him that you need to fail nine times to succeed on the tenth. Exponentialize that for a job search during a recession: you need to fail 99 times to succeed on the 100th time. I applied for roughly 30 positions before I started getting results. Be persistent, even in the face of the barrage of failure. Channel your frustrations into something constructive like an artistic, athletic, or intellectual pursuit. For the record, I wrote songs.
Nevertheless, do not be a dog chasing cars. Do not apply for jobs you that would make you miserable. You will need your strength to battle for positions you care about. 

4. Brush off the platitudes.
People who like you will often pile on the encouragement about your job search. They mean well when they say you will find something soon. They are genuine when they say with your experience you should not have any problems. Being built up, however, also means you may feel worse when your search gets long and complicated. When the ego-boosting is done, shrug off the pleasantries just as you do with the setbacks. Thank your friends and colleagues regardless. They mean well.

5. Do not get lost in online advice.
Job search blogs and career advice websites love to point out tips and tricks for achieving success. Spending hours trying to process these work-arounds, clever wordings, and self-help strategies will do only one thing: make you miserable -- because your existing, un-wily approach-to-date therefore must explain your failure to date. 
Yes, your cover letter may need some editing, but ask a person, not a website. Friends, family, and career counselors can give feedback that balances the "you can do better" with the "you are already doing well".

21 August 2013

What Do You Do?

I hear it immediately: the hesitation.

The eternal Washington, D.C., question hangs in the thick, swampy summer air like a funhouse specter: "what do you do?" The specter follows the underemployed from networking events to backyard barbecues, from baseball games to Saturday nights-on-the-town. It contaminates the water supply, slips through the useless charcoal filter on the overpriced pitcher, and permeates the bodies of all who travel in certain circles. If you stick around long enough, if you do what you do, you parrot it back in perma-loop, second only to "hello" as the interpersonal greeting of choice.

You are intended to have your response/defense ready for the quick draw: I do something important. I make policy. I break policy. I serve drinks but I intern at somewhere special. I am a student. I have started my own business. I rule a small island nation.

Unemployment and underemployment pull back your sharp-edged words and your confidence. They put you in a conversational de-militarized zone. Off limits.

You are not allowed to be looking or uncertain. Not from a place of weakness. If you are -- which we all are at all times in this town, unless we have submitted to stagnation or retirement -- you are not encouraged to admit this to anyone but close friends. D.C. places a palpable stigma on the professionally undead, for they are known to want. They hunger for job leads, contacts, help, insider info, something, anything, please. They email regularly to tell you they still exist.

So what do I do? I reconsider my career path. I rely heavily on my support network. I write new songs. I visit the museums. I bicycle to Rockville, or to Falls Church, or simply through the National Mall at night. I consider moving to another city. I have lunch with my mother and grandmother. I fantasize about an end to the hesitation. I attend free concerts and outdoor film showings. I interview for jobs. I network extensively. I grab the $5 tickets to the baseball game. I invent new, creative cocktails in my kitchen. This is my life, and I am living it.

I feel it immediately: the hesitation. The desperation. The embarrassment. The scramble to justify existence for this networking event, this backyard barbecue, this over-loud bar, this self-important city.

"I am figuring out what comes next," I offer meekly. "So, what do you do?"

13 August 2013

An Employment Narrative

Looking for work is frustrating. The constant quest of long-term underemployment and unemployment is soul-crushing. All too often, we feel compelled to bear this burden in solitude. I say, no longer. Many have followed the same rotten path that I now tread, and it should not be a shameful one. The time has come for me to come forward with my stories.

Let us begin with a brief summary.
  • I left a good government job in the fall of 2011 to pursue a dream: exploring another country with my wife while she completed a fellowship. In the dream, our sojourn to South Africa would be life-affirming and empowering. I would build unique, emerging-market experience while we lived the good ex-pat life. Reality was far less simple.
  • In August 2012, I wrote a piece about my professional struggles in South Africa for The Billfold, entitled "Things I've Learned While Looking for Work in South Africa." I discussed the perils of South Africa's broken immigration system and the Catch-22 in which I sat: I needed a job to get a work visa, and I needed a work visa to get a job. The piece was published under a pseudonym due to concerns that my frank words might harm my then-pending visa application. I need not have worried.
  • I left South Africa in March 2013 in a cloud of frustration. The South African system had failed me. My employer -- and the used-car salesman of an "immigration practitioner" with whom they had set me up -- had let me down. I was done with the bullshine, so I returned to Washington, D.C., to find the next step.
  • I promptly spent the next five months on a D.C. roller-coaster of informational interviews, job applications, rejection, and the eternal so-what-do-you-do. I am not out of the woods yet, but I am on the edge. And from this vantage point I can see the forest through the trees.
Over the coming weeks I will post a few brief essays about my 2013 job search and what it has taught me. Be warned that I am no guru; I am merely an introspective and curious soul. My frankness in a public setting is designed with a simple message: you are not alone. I am not alone. I look forward to sharing my experience with you.

10 June 2013

Illegal Music Downloading: An Economist's View

One year ago, David Lowery (musician of Cracker and Camper Van Beethoven fame) wrote a blog post in which he decried the practice of illegally downloading music. The post proved a subject of great argument that summer, with other musicians and tech folks chiming in with surprising intensity.

I take an economist's view of the issue: if the Internet has brought the market value of recorded music to zero, this constitutes a market failure. In the event of a market failure, an economist would prescribe government intervention. I will briefly describe the problem with illegal downloading and then offer several solutions for government intervention. Finding them lacking, I conclude that only enlightened consumerism will do until governments can better address the problem.

31 May 2013

Avocado-Fig Smoothie

Come, let us visit Morocco. (Many of you have come this way with me before, but let us go again. You need a vacation.) Morocco will enchant the visitor. The mesmerizing medinas, the marvelous markets, the daunting desert, the oracular ocean, the alluring alliteration, the capacity of street vendors to hassle you in ten different European languages, and so on. When the visitor needs a break from enchantment, however, the visitor needs to obtain an Avocado Fig-Smoothie.

The Avocado-Fig Smoothie is the ideal amalgam of sweet, rich, and light. Once you find the raw ingredients, creation comes at the press of a blender button. 
Avocado-Fig Smoothie (serves 2)
1 ripe avocado
2 cups cow's milk (or almond milk, or vanilla whey protein and water)
6 figs (preferably canned or dried, or even a few dollops of fig jam)
pinch salt
sugar/honey to taste
1. Remove the avocado from its protective casing in the manner of your choice.

2. If your figs are dried, please mince them with a sharp knife -- especially if your blender is not cutting edge. (Do not waste fresh figs in this recipe; eat them alone, or with close friends.)

3. Put all ingredients except sugar in the blender. Blend until thick. 

4. Add pinch of salt. Add sugar/honey to taste. (Melt the honey first or face disappointment.) Blend again.

5. If too thick, add more milk. Stir with ice to chill.

Now visit Morocco with your mouth. Please take your friends with you.

29 March 2013

The OK Guide to Cape Town: Wine

Wine Farms

·      Kleine Zalze - great wine that is also great value wine  especially the white wines. Laid-back attitude. Open late on Saturdays. Terroir restaurant is here.
·      Villiera - Gorgeous tasting area in a courtyard under oak trees. World-class sparkling wines and great, diverse overall selection.
·      Peter Falke - stunning farm with a small selection, which you can enjoy whilst lounging in the stunning atmosphere. Open until 7 every day except Monday.
·      Neil Ellis - sourcing wines from all over the Western Cape to make amazing varietals and world-class blends.
·      Vergenoegd - gorgeous Cape Dutch building and gardens that host runner ducks, good cheapies, and great expensive reds varietals.

·      Rickety Bridge - delicious wines with tasting area overlooking the vines. Do not miss the chenin blanc and semillon.
·      Solms-Delta - great wine farm that also features ethical labor practices and an edifying museum on local history. Try the sparkling Cape Jazz Shiraz.
·      La Bri Estate - very pretty small farm with our favorite Shiraz.
·      La Petite Ferme - stunningly beautiful wine farm. Incredible white wines. Book for lunch and come early for a free tasting.

Charming little town with great value, high-quality wines.
·      Groote Post
·      Ormonde
·      Darling Cellars

Hermanus / Hemel en Aarde Valley
·      Creation - incredibly beautiful view over the wine farm. The Syrah Grenache blend was one of our favorite wines in South Africa. The lunch is also famous, and the Chardonnay cheesecake is divine!
·      Newton Johnson - famous for its pinot noir, which is a regional specialty (but a tough grape in the rest of the country). Stunning location and home of Heaven restaurant.
·      Hermanuspietersfontein - famous for their Sauvignon Blancs; the reds are also amazing. Overall one of the best wine farms in South Africa. 

The OK Guide to Cape Town: Coffee and Booze


·      Deluxe Coffeeworks (25 Church St) - tall ceilings, solid and well priced coffee. This is pure coffee bar. No tea, no snacks, but they really turn out a great espresso and the crowd is hip and pretty to look at.
·      Heaven (Greenmarket Square) - cute little space in the Central Methodist Mission church.
·      Truth Coffee Cult (36 Buitenkant St) - steam-punk coffee palace with huge, atmospheric seating area; decent nibbles; and servers wearing excellent hats. Great place to work or people-watch.
·      Bean There (58 Wale St) - 'fair trade' coffee roasters with a nice cafe too. If you take your coffee seriously, so do they. Free cup of joe when you buy a package of coffee to brew at home.
·      Bread Milk and Honey (10 Spin St) - great, well-priced coffee and very tasty snacks, especially for breakfast. They can make an proper iced coffee a rarity in Cape Town. Well-rated but expensive lunch buffet.

Booze - [ note: cocktails will NOT compare in quality to cocktails in major U.S. cities. Visiting Americans might want to stick with the wine, which is much better value and high quality ]
·      Roxys (14 Wandel St) - pleasant dive/diner.
·      Kitima (Hout Bay) - lovely, old house with a great cocktail menu. You can order their food from the bar (see Restaurants).
·      Clarkes (133 Bree St) - several inventive cocktails make this a good early-evening stop in town.
·      Julep (Long Street, alley near Long Street Cafe) - cool, intimate, dark space with solid cocktail list. Best when they are not playing loud dance music.
·      Planet Bar (76 Orange St) - spacy (and spacious) lounge in the Mount Nelson Hotel that offers solid, boozy cocktails with worldly ingredients. Expensive.
·      Black Ram (Tamboerskloof, Corner of Kloof Nek Rd & Burnside Rd) - cool space with a nice but pricy selection of microbrews, wines, and booze. Very crowded and smoky on weekends. A see-and-be-seen kind of place, especially for hipster types.
·      Orphanage Cocktail Emporium (227 Bree St) - Victorian orphan-themed menu delivers tasty cocktails with stunning presentation and decent small plates. Pleasantly dark inside. More tea, Vicar?
·      Tjing Tjing Rooftop Bar (165 Longmarket St) - cool vibe with mixed indoor/outdoor space. Good music, wine, and cocktails.

28 March 2013

The OK Guide to Cape Town: Arts and Culture

Good spots for live music in town include Zula Sound Bar and The Waiting Room (Long Street); Straight No Chaser for serious, intimate jazz (Zonnebloem); and Mercury Live and theAssembly (Zonnebloem) for dance and rock. Further out, there are some decent spots in Observatory with erratic schedules and talent (Tagore's, Obviouzly Armchair; Obz Cafe; Mojo's).

Artscape, the Fugard Theatre, and the Baxter Theatre generally put on good productions that from an international perspective are amazing value.

Maynardville Open-Air Theatre makes for a great picnic and show in Wynberg during the summer.

Be on the look-out for interesting theatre festivals, especially the free public-art festival Infecting the City (in March).

Cape Town has a number of good small galleries and exhibitors. Here are a few favorite spaces in town:
·      Salon 91 (Gardens, 91 Kloof St)
·      AVA Gallery (Town, 35 Church St)
·      SMAC Gallery (Town, Cnr Buitengracht & Butensingel)
·      SA National Gallery (Company's Garden; small but usually solid)
·      Erdmann Contemporary (town, 63 shortmarket St)
·      Commune1 (town, 64 Wale St)

Woodstock is a fun neighborhood for gallery hopping and offbeat shops.
·      A Word of Art (rotating)
·      Stevenson Cape Town (160 Sir Lowry Rd)
·      Goodman Gallery (176 Sir Lowry Rd)
·      Blank Projects (113 Sir Lowry Rd)

Urban wanderings: 
·      Long Street: antique shops, hip boutiques, and colorful facades
·      Bo-Kaap: Cape Muslim history, brightly painted houses of every shade
·      Company's Garden: pretty garden in town with many museums and great views of the mountains
·      Woodstock: art galleries, grungy urban renewal, and funky shops
·      Sea Point Promenade: stroll along the sea wall, stop as you wish at beaches and saltwater pools
·      Muizenberg / Kalk Bay: take the train to cute beachfront towns on the False Bay side; decent swimming, cute boutiques, delicious seafood (a.k.a. the perfect day-trip)