Good Business

February 25, 2011

I received this lovely message today from a relatively new friend whose business I support:

“I’m busy responding to emails and dealing with remarkably less garbage than usual … and it got me to thinking about people I like. You’re cool because you do what you say and you follow up with things. You have no idea how refreshing it is when someone does that.

I just wanted to send a note. Positive feedback FTW.”

I began supporting his modest start-up because he had a solid, focused idea and buckets of enthusiasm.

I loosened up my traditionally padlocked purse strings because I genuinely like his product.

I was already a fan and a customer. This note elevated my commitment to his work.

Every dollar we spend is an investment in someone’s work. And starting a business is cultivating relationships, because initially we work with those we like.  Of course, then it’s up to them to keep us coming back for more.

That’s just good business.

More on the Ranking System

January 21, 2011

I had a conversation with Heidi a couple of days ago that has been on my mind since.

Among other things, I was thanking her for her recent comment on this here blog and was reminded of Alicia.

Alicia provided tremendous encouragement when I first started blogging. She requested and published my rumination on booze and what our choices might say about us.

That day, Alicia wrote this to me:

“Today you will find out who your real friends are in the Twitterverse. They will retweet you and/or publicly celebrate the fact that you have the gift of words.

The ones who remain conspicuously silent will disappoint. Take it as a backhanded compliment: Your success today highlights some real or imagined inadequacy that they have.

Either way, you win.”

At the time, I thought it was lovely and generous. A year later, it’s so much more.

It occurs to me that it’s a continuation of the ranking system I introduced as rationale for leaving Facebook. In it, I wrote,

“There are one hundred thousand reasons why some fall off the radar but only one reason why others don’t.

Because you don’t let them.”

We can spout what great friends we are all day long, but our actions define us. How do you evidence your friendship?

It’s wonderful to always take their call and be available and supportive. Invaluable even. But what do you proactively do? You call them, of course. You make the time to reach out, to feel around in some mounting darkness to grasp their hand and hold it tight. You make an effort.

In bloggerverse terms, I have a suggestion.


Post a comment on blogs written by your friends.

They labor over theirs just like you labor over yours and feedback is incredibly gratifying and encouraging. A comment shows your friends that you support them and want them to succeed.  Granted we only have so many hours in the day and can’t feasibly read everyone’s every post. No one should blame you for not doing that, but everyone will value you for trying.

Also, subscribe. I am giddy when I receive an email that Dorothy has published a new post. I can’t wait to read it and offer even a simple acknowledgement of her work. I’m not so good at checking Google Reader every day. Admittedly, the email option makes it much easier for me to prioritize my time to ensure that I let her know how much her friendship means to me.

Ranking system.

I’m so grateful to my friends who take the time to share their wisdom on FeliciaCago Land. I plan to practice what I’m preaching here much more in 2011.

Because you’re worth it.

Am I Racist?

January 20, 2011

To preface, no one has called me a racist.

I was involved in a benign discussion on Twitter that got me thinking about the ever expanding usage and application of the word. To reiterate, I was not called a racist and no one was wrong or right in this scenario, in my opinion.

It was simply a conversation that I wish to share here.


Me – Ordinary joe. A nobody with an overdeveloped sense of justice, a wicked love jones for the power of words, and a big mouth.

Guy entitled to his opinion – A smart, civically-engaged man.

Innocent – Poor guy whose tweet I found amusing and retweeted. Related: from Alabama, as am I. NOT to imply that anyone is guilty, only that Innocent did not engage further.

It begins with me giggling at Innocent’s tweet:

Guy responds with this:

I prickle, but attempt to diffuse:

Yes, I could have simply ignored it, potentially avoiding more Twitter Fatigue. But I didn’t. Neither did Guy:

I find the generalization of generalizations a bit unnerving. I believe that context should always be considered. So I push, as I am wont to do:

Now, of course I don’t believe Guy hates Alabamians and I’m 100% sure he had no idea that Innocent and I are from Alabama. I offered this unfair accusation to equate with his. And to be funny. Guy does not seem amused:

Guy is absolutely correct. Unfounded claims add nothing to discourse.

But the other part of this really gets to me. No one chooses to believe anything? They just believe? Um.

Our beliefs are informed by experience, education, cultural and environmental influences, and myriad other outside forces.

One isn’t born believing in or doubting God or rooting for the Detroit Lions. Our parents, friends, teachers, clergy, or even strangers serve to form our beliefs until we, hopefully, choose to research and explore the foundation of those beliefs in order to strengthen them or to create new ones.

All by choice.

But by now it’s late, it’s bedtime for me as well, and I’m trying to embrace the notion that I initially ascribed to him in my mind: “Dude, lighten up.”  So I attempt to diffuse again:

Guy kindly tolerated my silliness:

To Guy’s credit, he hasn’t yet blocked me, which I greatly appreciate because I hope this leads to the discourse he referred to and surely values as much as I.

Racism is evil. Identifying and ending racism is everybody’s job.

First, I get it.  Generalizing about any race as superior or inferior is, at the basest level, just plain incorrect.   Generalizing about any demographic as any one charactistic is probably incorrect.  Case in point, an earlier tweet by Guy:

Should someone reprimand him for generalizing about vegetarian girls? Of course not.  Also, blind people do go to movies. But whatever word might be used to connote discrimination about vegetarian girls and blind people probably does not have the immense power of the word racism.

The accusation of racism can destroy careers and reputations in an instant. To bandy about this term is to diminish its meaning. Paul Wachtel posits that “for some people it has lost its impact, lost its power to shock, to evoke guilt or revulsion. A term that once referred to the most deplorable and shameful of traits and actions has been extended to include virtually universal human characteristics and to include within its purview practically everyone in our society.”

I believe it is prudent to apply the term carefully and responsibly.

Second, it was a fucking joke. On Twitter. Jokes can absolutely reflect racism and be hurtful. This one seems pretty harmless to me.

I hope Guy will see this and not be offended. Perhaps he will choose to weigh in. I welcome his feedback and yours.

And yes, I clearly have way too much time on my hands.

Twitter Fatigue

January 17, 2011

The phases of Twitter are well documented.

Whether there are Six phases or Forty-Six, the extremes are what I like to call Attrition to Addiction.

First, they tell you, you’ll dismiss Twitter as far too overwhelming. You’ll abandon, possibly for months and return only reluctantly because people you respect keep telling you it’s not what you think.

And then you’re hooked.

The fun, for research nerds like myself, is discovering what people respond to and how to effectively be heard over the din of millions. It’s watching a personality emerge in 140 characters until you just can’t wait to meet this brilliant, hilarious, ravenous, succinct, and simpatico-in-every-way gadabout behind the quip.

I do not recall my first real tweet but I believe it was in August 2008.  (A free Wow Bao treat for the first person to sift through all 20,000+ of mine to post the first in the comments.  Must redeem in Chicago.)

It began slowly, as it always does. Testing the waters. Coming to terms with the utter narcissism of it all. Getting into the proverbial groove.

I have blogged about the Phonatics timeline, which marks the beginning of my “Addiction” phase. As I approach the end of 2010, I realize that my entire social and professional life this year has been informed and influenced by Twitter.

Attrition to Addiction.

But what comes next? Because that’s where I am.

I propose that the next in the Twitter timeline of phases is Fatigue.

Fatigue is characterized by, but not limited to, the following:

  • You dread planning tweetups because the people you love say, “Ugh, I won’t come if so-and-so is going.”
  • You dread attending tweetups because so-and-so will be there.
  • You were giddy at the rollout of Mute functionality.
  • You make a new acquaintance with someone who informs you of your bitter rivalry/disagreement/argument with someone you’ve never met or even heard of.

Fatigue differs from Attrition in that you don’t want to walk away from the platform altogether because you’ve seen how powerful it can be. You haven’t lost interest. You’ve lost tolerance.

I’ve met more incredible people and made more lasting friendships in 2010 than in all my prior years on the Earth combined. I’ve grown professionally and cultivated clients and referrals all from Twitter. I wish to continue to do so.

But the honeymoon is over.

Much like that unceremonious but crucial point in a romantic relationship when the shit gets real, Twitter Fatigue sets in when the gloss fades. And in a romantic relationship, I generally love this part. I’d choose First Year over First Date any day because that’s when it gets good. And deep. And dirty. That kind of intimacy will decide whether you want more or no more.

So what have I learned after a year of Twitter?

I’ve learned that you people are fucking mean.

Perhaps it’s the assumption of intimacy that is bothering me. The ease with which people will take offense, lash out, or diminish another’s reputation or point of view. In real life, it’s simple to avoid toxic people. We just avoid them. Remember the ranking system? On Twitter, you simply can’t without being mean.

I’m not perfect. I’m quite often considered rude. But I won’t be mean.

Is there a difference, you ask? I think there is. Rudeness is often unintentional because it is defined by an individual. Meanness is always intentional.

A gal once told me I was rude because when asked my opinion about a restaurant she loved, I replied, “I went twice and didn’t enjoy it.  I should try it again.”

She then told me that I must have no taste.

Which was rude and which was mean? And wouldn’t it have made more sense if she were my sister or my best friend as opposed to someone I was just meeting at a tweetup?

So my cowardly solution has been to close ranks, develop a thicker skin, and manage my expectations of Twitter a bit.

On the flip side of this argument is my obsession with an Abe Lincoln quote that AnnMarie shared over dinner: “I don’t like that man.  I must get to know him better.”

Perhaps I have it all wrong.

How To Get Over Yourself

November 1, 2010

"Grumpy Hulk Need Mindy Time!"

If you have a blog or a website, you’re probably utilizing tools to monitor and analyze the traffic to better understand and grow your audience.  My friend Leyla wrote a great post about Using Analytics to Get the Most From Your Blog Posts this time last year and revived it today for an anniversary run.

As Leyla aptly outlines, these tools can help you to understand where your traffic originates, which ads are effectively driving traffic, and what content keeps them coming back.  The keywords section resonates with me this morning.

Keywords tell you which words or phrases were searched that led an eager, motivated surfer to your little corner of the web.  These are illuminating because they can tell you objectively how your content is perceived.

Or they can tell you that you’re fat.

I woke up to this rather shocking slap in the wordpress this morning.  This juicy nugget of analytics tells me little about my blog’s reach but it did deliver.

Initially, I obsessed (as I am wont to do) over the reality that someone recently encountered me at a happy social function, possibly engaging me with a smile, a hug, and promises to catch up one-on-one over lunch only to be thinking behind glassy eyes, “Dang, Felicia has gained some weight.”

What boggles my mind is that this person was motivated to actually SEARCH for information behind this weight gain.  What did this person expect to find?  A reason perhaps, or a discussion thread devoted to the topic. God forbid.

And then something wonderful happened.  I started laughing.  You would think being faced with the words that women fear more than death would give me a moment’s pause to blush or cry or vomit or something melodramatic.  Truth is, I was contemplative and then I was laughing.  And this reaction delights me.

I was too chicken to participate in Rachel‘s brilliant No-Makeup Week campaign for all the usual excuses.  It stands to reason that being called fat would appeal to the same ingrained self-image issues and cripple my confidence for at least a few minutes.  But it didn’t and here’s why.

I come from immigrants.

I grew up on public assistance.

I know people who are hungry right this moment.

I will never, ever complain about having too much food to eat.

I love and I am loved in return.  And I always try to be kind.  These things make me who I am.

So thank you, anonymous searcher, for the morning laugh and lesson.  This concludes my attention to the matter.  I have gained some weight and I think I look fantastic.  I will obsess no more.

And besides…you’re ugly.

My sweet future mother-in-law, Diane, loves to forward emails.  I tease her about this and she insists that she only sends the interesting ones. 

She sent a real doozy last week, which sparked a great conversation on today’s educational system. 

Supposedly, someone got his hands on an 8th grade final exam from 1895, and don’t you feel foolish for discounting Granny’s 8th grade education, dummy? 

Snopes filed this one under “false” but went on to NOT say that this test is not an accurate representation of 1895 standards.   Instead, those beloved Mikkelsons write about what the difference in test standards actually means, so I still don’t know if this is a real test from 1895 or not. 

What I do know is that these questions measure true knowledge better than the multiple choice answer-fests I grew up with and that dominate the education landscape still.  I continue to believe that the advent of the Scantron Age, while making teachers’ lives easier, did a tremendous disservice to generations of students.  Diane, a retired teacher, agrees.

Regardless of whether this is real and accurate or not, I think it’s interesting to review.  Depending on your age, you may not remember a time when questions required essay response rather than filling in a bubble. 

How would you do?

“What it took to get an 8th grade education in 1895.”  Allegedly.

Grammar (Time, one hour)
1. Give nine rules for the use of capital letters.
2. Name the parts of speech and define those that have no modifications
3. Define verse, stanza and paragraph.
4. What are the principal parts of a verb? Give principal parts of ‘lie,’ ‘play,’ and ‘run’.
5. Define case; illustrate each case.
6 What is punctuation? Give rules for principal marks of punctuation.
7 – 10. Write a composition of about 150 words and show therein that you understand the practical use of the rules of grammar.

Arithmetic (Time,1 hour 15 minutes)
1. Name and define the Fundamental Rules of Arithmetic.
2. A wagon box is 2 ft. Deep, 10 feet Long, and 3 ft. Wide. How many bushels of wheat will it hold?
3. If a load of wheat weighs 3,942 lbs, what is it worth at 50cts/bushel, deducting 1,050 lbs for tare?
4. District No 33 has a valuation of $35,000. What is the necessary levy to carry on a school seven months at $50 per month, and have $104 for incidentals?
5. Find the cost of 6,720 lbs. Coal at $6.00 per ton.
6. Find the interest of $512.60 for 8 months and 18 days at 7percent per annum.
7. What is the cost of 40 boards 12 inches wide and 16 ft long at $20 per metre?
8… Find bank discount on $300 for 90 days (no grace) at 10 percent.
9. What is the cost of a square farm at $15 per acre, the distance of which is 640 rods?
10. Write a Bank Check, a Promissory Note, and a Receipt.

U.S. History (Time, 45 minutes)
1. Give the epochs into which U.S. History is divided
2. Give an account of the discovery of America by Columbus .
3. Relate the causes and results of the Revolutionary War.
4. Show the territorial growth of the United States .
5. Tell what you can of the history of Kansas .
6. Describe three of the most prominent battles of the Rebellion.
7. Who were the following: Morse, Whitney, Fulton , Bell , Lincoln , Penn, and Howe?
8. Name events connected with the following dates: 1607, 1620, 1800, 1849, 1865.

Orthography (Time, one hour)
[Do we even know what this is??]
1. What is meant by the following: alphabet, phonetic, orthography, etymology, syllabication?
2. What are elementary sounds? How classified?
3. What are the following, and give examples of each: trigraph, subvocals, diphthong, cognate letters, linguals?
4. Give four substitutes for caret ‘u’.
5. Give two rules for spelling words with final ‘e.’ Name two exceptions under each rule.
6. Give two uses of silent letters in spelling. Illustrate each.
7. Define the following prefixes and use in connection with a word: bi, dis, pre, semi, post, non, inter, mono, sup.
8. Mark diacritically and divide into syllables the following, and name the sign that indicates the sound: card, ball, mercy, sir, odd, cell, rise, blood, fare, last.
9.. Use the following correctly in sentences: cite, site, sight, fane, fain, feign, vane , vain, vein, raze, raise, rays.
10. Write 10 words frequently mispronounced and indicate pronunciation by use of diacritical marks and by syllabication.

Geography (Time, one hour)
1 What is climate? Upon what does climate depend?
2. How do you account for the extremes of climate in Kansas ?
3. Of what use are rivers? Of what use is the ocean?
4. Describe the mountains of North America .
5. Name and describe the following: Monrovia , Odessa , Denver , Manitoba , Hecla , Yukon , St. Helena, Juan Fernandez, Aspinwall and Orinoco .
6. Name and locate the principal trade centers of the U.S. Name all the republics of Europe and give the capital of each.
8. Why is the Atlantic Coast colder than the Pacific in the same latitude?
9.. Describe the process by which the water of the ocean returns to the sources of rivers.
10. Describe the movements of the earth. Give the inclination of the earth.

Get the ANSWERS.

Coming Home

June 13, 2010

Home is not a familiar concept to me.  Roots are not in my dna.

I’ve lived in Vietnam, Alabama, Texas, California, Florida, Montana and now, Illinois, and not just in one house per state.  I’ve had 5 addresses here alone.

I am a nomad.

I moved to Chicago from Houston in July of 2003.

I had explored a handful of neighborhoods in advance to decide where to begin my new life here, and settled quickly on Uptown in order to be close to my beloved Vietnamese food.  Yes, anyone who knows me knows of my devotion to all things Phonatical, so it comes as no surprise that proximity to edibles would factor heavily into my decision.  Obviously, it wasn’t just food.  What psycho would choose where to live based on a $7 bowl of soup?

Being close to “Little Saigon” is a way for me to be close to my mother, who died in 2000.

Although I was born in Vietnam, I remember nothing of it.  My family came to the US during the Fall of Saigon when I was just 18 months old.  We somehow landed in Alabama and stayed until I was 18.  Through a series of circumstances not to be explored in this blog entry, I was around almost no Vietnamese influence until I was legal.  18 months to 18 years as an Alabama outcast.  Awesome.

It’s not at all that I struggled with my half-Vietnamese identity.  It’s more that my mother was entirely my Vietnamese identity; as long as I had her, I didn’t need to explore further.  I was a visitor to her world, and she was my interpreter.

And then she was gone, and I understood.

Flash forward to 2003, and to the subject of this post.

I have been researching the economic contribution of ethnic enclaves for one of my many side projects, and came upon this Chicagoist post about Argyle Street from 2005 discussing the gentrification of the area.  I doubt much has changed since then, except that the Red Rooster sits empty now, reprimanding me for not peeking in at least once when I had the chance.

It reminded me of my first day in my new home on Winnemac.  My fabulous new neighbors were filling me in on where to go for this and that, then offered that Clark street was a block west and boasted great shops and restaurants I would surely love.  But, they said, I should steer clear of the area one block to the east: Broadway and Argyle.  I stubbornly replied, “Yeah, that area is the reason I moved here.”

While I understand that their purpose was only to warn about the perception of crime in the area, I recall feeling sad that they may have missed out on so much the area offered.  For them, Argyle was simply to be endured as the fastest route to the Red Line.  They had ventured into a couple of the well-lit places with more familiar menus, but skipped the ones with ducks hanging in the window.  They had never experienced the many restaurants, gift shops, tea and herb specialists, plants and fragrant lemon tree vendors, grocery stores, bakeries, or of course, the people.

Dan B and I were chatting about a lovely place just under the Argyle stop called Thai Binh, whose hostess, the owner’s daughter, is as much a part of the experience as the food.  Linda is charming and welcomes any questions about the area or her family business.  One time, she seated me and went back to the corner where she seemed to be negotiating a residential lease for her father.  By the way, she was about 12 at the time.  One Yelp reviewer references helping her with her algebra homework during dinner.  Ha!  I hear she’s off at college now.

Some argue that ethnic neighborhoods in Chicago or in any metropolitan area keep immigrants from assimilating into mainstream society.  Others believe they are simply an alternative way of adaptation that conflicts less with maintaining cultural distinctiveness.

I am fascinated by each argument and many that lie in-between.

All I know is, Little Saigon is the closest thing I have to coming home.

When women suffer professionally at the hands of men, figuratively, we yell sexism.  But at the hands of our sisters, what should we yell?

I once attended a panel discussion for and about women in a particular industry.  It isn’t pertinent which industry, only that the speakers, the moderator, and most of the audience consisted of women.

I don’t recall the question, but in response, a panelist shared an anecdote about the time a man took credit for her idea.  The crowd went full-on rhubarb in collective, sympathetic agreement and the conversation degenerated into a Men-Hold-Us-Back extravaganza.

I’m sure the brave males in the audience were regretting their decisions to be progressive.

I recall thinking these women would be better served defending themselves from women and men alike.

Equal opportunity, and all that.

I was so fortunate to have fantastic, mentoring bosses when I first started working.  I’ve written about great lessons from Andrea and will write about Sam (a he-mentor. Gasp.) very soon.  As a result of these positive experiences, I wasn’t really prepared for what I have witnessed.

Jan* used to show up at work crying about her boyfriend who had a drinking problem.  She would insist that we keep the door locked because he might storm in and hurt her. Once, she said she was scared to go home.  She put her work on my desk because she was too upset to do it. She would wail, “Don’t you understand!?! I’m homeless!  I HAVE NO HOME!”  It was always something.  By the way, Jan was 45, and I was 23.  I have to believe that you were expecting the opposite.

I never said anything negative about her behavior.  I tried to take the high road and simply put the work back on her desk and walk away.  She in turn told our boss that I was being unprofessional.


Years later, another situation found me navigating landmines.  A new lady boss, Jane*, came in to the department and told me behind closed doors that she felt her male boss was deferring to her male counterpart too much.  She needed me to help her gain respect in the department.  She wanted to be sure that she spoke for our team in meetings.  The projects I worked on should be presented by her.  The traveling I had done for a year would be done by her from now on.  It was better for our team this way.

I was naive.

I knew I’d been had when I overheard her telling her boss that I simply didn’t participate and didn’t want to travel anymore and that I should be demoted.  Ohhhhh.  When I quit the next week, the head of HR wanted to know why and I simply said that things had changed in the department. It was just time to move on.  I thought I was being professional, taking the high road.  Leaving gossip and emotion out of it.  A year later, I found out that she had told everyone she’d fired me.

Here’s the thing about the high road.  It’s bullshit.

I’m convinced that the person who invented this concept was an asshole who wanted honorable people to keep their mouths shut so that he/she could travel more freely on the low road.

These are two separate issues, hence the two titles.  Both make me wonder what I could have done differently, but since I can’t do anything differently, I’ll just ready myself for future attacks.  Nowadays, I understand that it’s possible and necessary to stand my ground and defend myself without sounding overly emotional and defensive.  My side must be heard and must be conveyed effectively.  All in all, excellent learning experiences, both.

Oddly enough, I’ve never had an equally diabolical experience with male colleagues or bosses.  Yet.

*names have been changed to protect the lame.

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