Friday, August 24, 2007

Climb Aboard The Funship

I've been thinking a lot lately about the paths we choose in life--probably because I recently underwent a career shift and am also going back to school for the first time in more than four years (scary).

In college, I majored in journalism. It's hard to remember now whether I chose that because I deeply wanted to be a journalist, or because I wanted to get paid to write and reporting seemed like the best way to accomplish that. Either way, that's what I did and eventually--after a prohibitively expensive undergraduate education, a few non-paid internships and a brief stint of unemployment--I landed a real reporting job at a newspaper in Southern California.

Journalism is one of those jobs that look extremely glamorous and interesting on television and in the movies, but which in reality consists of more drudgery than you could possibly imagine. I'm sure it's quite a fabulous life if you're a New York Times columnist or spend your days in the White House press room, but I was a city reporter at a mid-size regional newspaper, and therefore spent most of my time at city council meetings listening to officials harangue over land use zoning and whether to allow another Wal-Mart in town.

Not to say that the job was all bad. Even the most ordinary lives and places have extraordinary moments, and occasionally a story would come along that was truly interesting and inspiring. But after a while I just burned out on it--the long hours, the crappy pay, the nightly deadlines, living in the burbs and wearing my car into the ground by chasing down stories through two counties.

So a few months ago I took a new job and went in a different direction. I still work in media and still write for a living, but it's a totally different experience. Now, my days are structured and relatively low-stress. I work with great people who promote a healthy work-life balance and bring in a salary that keeps me above the poverty line.

Day-to-day, I'm so much happier and less bitter than I used to be. But there's this small, nagging part of me that wonders if maybe I've robbed myself of something by taking a path that's smoother and, in some ways, less challenging.

My friend Susannah has this great word for experiences that suck while you're going through them, but which you remember fondly once they're over. She calls it "funship," which I assume is an amalgam of Fun and Hardship. Funship is the trip you take where everything goes calamitously wrong, but which provides you with the best stories to laugh over and share for the rest of our life. (And really, who remembers the trips where everything goes swimmingly?) Funship is the battle scar you end up being grateful for, even thought it hurt like hell at the time.

I realize, in hindsight, one thing that I do miss about the daily news grind is the funship--like the time shortly after I started the job that I was sent into the mountains to cover a wildfire while wearing open-toed wedge-heeled sandals. (What I learned from that experience is that a reporter always carries jeans and an extra pair of sneakers in his or her car). Or the afternoon I spent staking out a goat farm where the father of a wanted man was purported to be living. Or when, as a lowly intern, I was sent out in the middle of the night to investigate the reported appearance of the Virgin Mary in a hospital window.

At the time, I cursed the job and the gods of news for putting me in such ridiculous situations. But now that I have a little distance I'm grateful for those years at the newspaper, even if I have no real desire to go back to them. They challenged and shaped me; at times they pushed me out of my comfort zone and tested my limits.

It seems like sometimes we try so hard to insulate ourselves from funship--not just in our jobs, but in our lives as a whole. I guess it's natural to crave security and a life free of frustration. But why is it that, when we look back, it's the unexpected adventures and the minor catastrophes that enrich our lives and make us more interesting dinner conversationalists?

Whatever path lies ahead of me--whether it's straight or crooked, rocky or well-paved--I both hope, and fear, that it's full of funship.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Hip To Be Square

One of the more interesting aspects of life in Los Angeles is the ability to observe hipsters in their natural environment. Of course, the species* can be found in virtually any major metropolitan area, but in L.A. they seem to flourish like hothouse flowers.

Because I enjoy indie music and movies, and have several friends who are wannabe filmmakers, I occasionally find myself hovering on the fringes of hipster culture. But even after four years in Southern California, I still feel more like a cultural anthropologist than a member of the tribe. Maybe it's because my bangs--despite being carefully sculpted by a Beverly Hills stylist every six to eight weeks--never seem to fall quite right. I've tried the leggings under an oversized shirt thing a few times and, while I thought it looked rather fetching, I still walked around all day saying to myself, "good God, I'm a 26-year-old in tights!"

Alas, unhipness seems to be coded into my DNA, like the Midwestern twang I've never quite shaken and my inexplicable love for Kenny Loggins (who, I have on good authority, is dead sexy in concert).

While I can take solace in the fact that I would probably be the coolest person at a Kenny Loggins concert, such is not the case in my daily life. Still, living in the epicenter of tragic hipsterdom does have its moments--like when you're at a Los Feliz bar (which, incidentally, is located next to a cafe called the "Bourgeois Pig") and a group of people in funky hats at the table next to you break into an impromptu script reading. Or when you show up at a concert in Echo Park and see Santino Rice from Season 2 of Project Runway standing outside the venue

(I fear I may be going overboard lately with reporting my celebrity sightings. But then again, what's the point of living in the superficial cesspool that is L.A. if you can't regale people with stories of bumping into the enfant terrible of reality television outside of Echo Park clubs?)

When I saw Santino, resplendent in skinny black pants and a hot pink bandanna underneath a fedora, I suspected I was a little out of my coolness league. Surely enough, the Bishop Allen show was chockablock with waifish twenty-somethings sporting stovepipe jeans, black-rimmed glasses and artfully sideswept bangs.

Still, my lack of the proper accoutrement did nothing to damper my enjoyment of the show, and Matt and I even decided to splurge on t-shirts to advertise our love of all things Bishop Allen. Matt was at first reticent, fearing the t-shirt would suggest he was trying to acquire a false geek-chic aesthetic, when his look is really more straight-up geek. But I talked him into it and, if I do say so myself, he looks dead sexy in it.

On a side note, if you get a chance to check out the band, they're pretty great. I stalkerishly feel like I have a connection to the two frontmen, who formed the group while living in Boston in the early 2000s. (The band is named after the street they lived on in Cambridge.) Also, they have both been featured in this guy's movies, who used to work with Matt's friend Kate at the Trident Bookstore on Newbury Street.

As you can see, me and the band are practically BFF.

Anyway, midway through the show I noticed a guy standing near me who appeared to be even more out of place than I felt. The poor sod was at least 40, and was wearing stone-washed jeans, a button-down shirt TUCKED IN and some kind of bizarre cowboy boot/loafer hybrid upon his feet. At one point between songs he leaned over to the young Elvis Costello doppelganger standing next to him and said, rather sheepishly, "what do you think the average age here is, "25?"

Costello just shrugged his shoulders dismissively, and unhip old guy returned to his place at the edge of the group. Part of me wanted to go over to him and offer some words of comfort--something about how maybe no one ever really feels like they fit in and it's all just bullshit anyway.

But of course I didn't actually go up to him and say anything. In the end, I figured he probably just got lost on the way to the Kenny Loggins show.

* In case you are wondering if you meet the criteria to be a true hipster, you may find this helpful.