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Letters To My 18-Year-Old Self

A couple of weeks ago, I dug up from the recesses of the Internet – mercifully, password-protected – a couple of blog posts I had written from when I was 18. I expected them to be bad. So bad, I read them with one eye closed, cursor hovering over the ‘x’ button. But you know what? Aside from a bad analogy there and a wistful trope here, they weren’t terrible.

In fact, for better or for worse, I was pretty fundamentally the same at 18. I still loved creative stuff, designed a lot, wrote some, was eternally fascinated by street art, and busted my gut 5 times a week canoeing. (Okay, so I don’t canoe any more, but the rest, I swear, is the same.)

At the same time, I read with a twinge of sadness at how I thought I knew what I wanted, at that age, for the rest of my life. “I never want to betray myself into following a “high-flying” career path I hate,” I wrote. “All I want is a stable job that pays the bills, and lets me sing and design on the side.”

Well.

We all know life isn’t as simple as that. Gosh, Geneve, you were so unprepared for how the next 6 years would change you, I found myself saying. You had absolutely no idea. 

And then it all came flooding back – the whirlwind of everyone else’s ambition, applying to colleges overseas, the faint hope of scholarships, and the twinges of envy of those who could afford the leap on their own. All at once, the dreams we were told we had to pursue reached a frenzied apex. University, it seemed, was the be-all and end-all of life. It would pave the way for the next 30 years or so of our careers. No room for mistakes. We had no idea.

I shared this with a good friend of mine just last week. We were classmates during the time and recalled with a certain wistfulness just how young we were then, and just how much we thought we knew about ourselves. “We’re probably going to look back in 20 years and say the same thing about now,” she said. But I guess that is my point:

“At 18, or at any age really, but even more so when you are young – you’ve got to be really lucky or have looked into some sort of crystal ball to know what you’ll be like in 5, 10, 20, or even 50 years.”

At 18, or at any age really, but even more so when you are young - you’ve got to be really lucky or have looked into some sort of crystal ball to know what you’ll be like in 5, 10, 20, or even 50 years. People constantly change. And hopefully they learn with every episode of adversity and triumph. The years after I graduated Junior College I found within me a deep wellspring of ambition – goodness knows where from – that would have astounded my 18-year-old self. Perhaps all that happened was that I became more confident in my ideals and values, and had more opportunities to flesh out my views on the world. In short: I grew some.

Anyway, TL;DR,  my friend and I are mulling over the idea of starting a writing exercise of some sort. It is tentatively titled “letters to our 18-year-old selves” (I am sure Tumblr has every permutation of that URL already taken, so we might have to regroup on that one) and will hopefully feature nuggets of insight on growth and learning, and what we would say to our fresh-out-of-JC selves. We’re thinking it might even take on an open format, with people contributing, since so many of our friends’ experiences were unique – but nevertheless featured common undercurrents.

Ultimately, we hope to reassure and encourage, and put it out there definitively that it is okay to not know at 18. It is okay to be confused and scared, especially when so much is expected of you. That paths in life are not absolute, and that mustering the courage to take the next step, no matter what it is, will always be rewarding. That there is often more room for making mistakes than people will have you believe. That confidence and perhaps even passion will come with time. 

After all, and I say this with incredible hope, what are you but a lifelong work-in-progress?

Posted by geneve in new projects, thoughts Read More

16 Aug / New Stuff

New stuff! New stuff! New stuff is in the works!

I’m in the midst of trying to make my site less design-centric in order to incorporate some of my writing and multimedia projects. Problem is, it’s always going to look more appealing with photos and graphics up front, so how do I give everything else equal airtime?

Still looking for a solution. Relishing the challenge. :)

Posted by geneve in from this desk, thoughts Read More

If you’d asked me 12 months earlier, I’d have referred to myself as a “Designer.” I was knee-deep in my internship at The Second City, and loving every moment of zaniness it presented to me. I was also putting out branding suites for Harvard College Faith & Action, my own freelance shop, and preparing to take on a couple of wedding design gigs.

Then Disney happened.

Okay, I love being dramatic. I don’t mean, the Disney internship fell into my lap – I mean, I did actively pursue it. People I speak to regularly might even say that I was obsessed with getting it. So at some level, I knew even then that I wasn’t just a designer, since the gig that I really wanted (and ended up getting) was one in media relations & issues management, not in graphic design. The job description sounded challenging, which made me want it even more. So what changed?

I guess I knew that at some point, I had to diversify. Design has never been my only skill, although it was one I had the most fun with. I realized, however, that the projects I loved most continued to be the ones I could build and manage on my own. And then it became clear - I loved challenge. I loved planning and managing as much as I loved design. I was happiest in gigs that could stretch me and allow me to think strategically. This was an important realization for me, and one that allowed me to learn as much as I did at Disney. Because I felt like the skills I needed to succeed at this internship didn’t come as naturally – writing, for instance, and research – I knew I had to work twice as hard. I asked questions, read up extensively, and tried not to be daunted by expectations. And occasionally, I volunteered my design skills. I’d say that it is entirely to my team’s credit that they took a chance on someone whose latest job on their resume was a design one. I wonder what they saw in my application – I still wonder – but I couldn’t be more grateful.

“Because I felt like the skills I needed to succeed at this internship didn’t come as naturally – writing, for instance, and research – I knew I had to work twice as hard.”

And then I fell in love with it all – the thrill and gravity of managing important issues, the fast-paced nature of problem-solving in a business context, the exhilaration of being “on the ground.” The writing got easier, I gradually gained the trust of my team, and I found opportunities to put in my two cents. My strong software skills – the ones honed by years of graphic design – even made me a technical resource. At the same time, I saw how members of my team (they have, combined, more than 100 years of expertise) managed complex situations with confidence and ease. Proverbial teddy bear clutched to my chest, I wanted to be like them someday. 

I think I finally have some semblance of clarity: an understanding of visual communication, i.e. design, can only make me a more well-rounded communications professional. Those skills don’t run counter to my career; They serve to enhance it. The more tools I can put on the table for any future employer, the better off I will be.

So what do I call myself now? I don’t know. I still design. I also write. I have planning skills. I can’t ignore the fact that I will be a civil servant soon. I guess I’ll leave it open-ended for now. :)

 

This blog post was originally written for Northwestern University’s EPICS Blog.

Walt Disney famously said, “All our dreams can come true if we have the courage to pursue them.” For me, picking up and leaving Evanston had been one of the most intimidating things I’d ever had to do. But doing it led to one of the most incredible experiences I’ve had in my life – interning for Walt Disney World Resort in Lake Buena Vista, Florida.

Team-Disney

Since I’ve been here, many of my friends have asked me what is like working for Disney. “For one, I never have to explain what the company does,” is what I usually say. In truth though, I’ve been having a blast. As part of the External Communications team, I’ve been actively engaged in writing, research, and content planning – all the things that make up a solid media relations internship.

But what’s made my time here truly one-of-a-kind has been the opportunity to be part of such an incredible variety of meaningful experiences: I’ve produced a video featuring Disney employees (here called Cast Members) talking about their moms. I’ve assisted in a live broadcast of Good Morning America. I’ve written a story that got picked up by a local TV channel about Princess Belle reading to preschoolers. I even helped build a neighborhood playground as a Disney VoluntEAR. And, as of earlier this month, I can officially count myself one of the first to ride Magic Kingdom’s highly anticipated newest attraction, Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, as part of an international press event attended by more than 250 media.

“The one thing that ties it all together is the desire to tell compelling stories with humor and heart. This… is the driving force of what Disney does.” 

I suppose the one thing that ties it all together is the desire to tell compelling stories with humor and heart. This principle is the driving force of what Disney does, and stems the legacy Walt himself left behind. For me, it meant learning early on how to write a press release or a Facebook post with an understanding of what moves people. Here, the power of a good story is never underestimated.

One last thing – I’ve found it amazing how easy it is to reach out to other Cast Members, despite the company’s sheer size. In fact, it is part of the corporate culture to allow for opportunities to meet other professionals, something I’ve seen people do with much enthusiasm. After all, the range of roles at Disney is so broad and diverse that there is great deal of interest in what others do. There is almost a sense of kinship in the way people within Disney regard each other – I’ve never seen anything quite like it.

Ultimately, my time at Disney has been immensely energizing, and an unmatched experience. There is just so much to learn here, and the best part is, your work makes a real difference, both within the company and out in the community. I suppose it isn’t unexpected that Walt Disney himself said it best:

“Most of my life I have done what I wanted to do. I have had fun on the job.”

 

Posted by geneve in internship, thoughts Read More

Here’s a recent post from the Second City Network written by Andel Sudik and visually conceptualized by me. The blog post came to me as a regular list, but the Editor was looking for something they’d never before considered: incorporating artwork into the humor. I proposed a solution – what better way to say-something-without-saying-anything-at-all than with an infographic? See if you get any smarter after reading this one.

This was originally posted on The Second City Network.

SCN_13_REASONS_YOU_MUST_002

Hello everybody! I’ve got a fresh new site!

So this has been a long time coming. I say farewell to my old blog, at last. For a time, it will sit pretty in some unknown subdirectory on cyberspace, but once the beta-testing for this new site is done, I will archive it forever.

I loved my old site. I think I was experiencing some sort of separation anxiety from it, which is why I took so long to change the theme. It was simple, functional, clean – but I knew it lacked the potential to take me into the future. While I loved its simplicity, it wasn’t mobile-friendly at all – as some of you pointed out to me – it could only display 12 portfolio items, and the blog pages remained much to be desired. So, against my will, I took this summer to develop a new site based off a new theme, so that I could futureproof my website and my brand.

So ignore my nostalgia, friends! Do let me know what you think of this new site below. It is fully responsive, has cool animations, and has a ton of random functions such as the ability to make

 

95%%
Cool Pie Charts

Current Exhaustion Level (%)

and

 

Awesome
10%
Progress Bars
100%

 

So, you know. Pros and cons.

In truth, though, redeveloping your website is hard work. I’ve done this before for clients and student groups I’ve been in, and each time you fear to death the unwelcome encounter with “Error establishing database connection” or worse, a completely blank screen. And every time you think you’ve got yourself completely covered, a new error pops up to stall you. I don’t think I could have done it without the help of my good friend, Chin Yang, a veritable prodigy, who also happens to be a very nice guy all around. So here’s a public shout out to him!

So enjoy my new site, everybody! There’s going to be a bunch of new content up very soon, where I outline my work with Harvard College Faith & Action and talk about Second City (again). (I promise it’s still awesome.)

 

Posted by geneve in thoughts Read More

People who’ve known me for a while may have an inkling that I adore street art. I’ve written about it, tried to mimic it, spent an unhealthy number of hours thinking about it, and occasionally, when I am in a braver mood, debated about it. So when the whole Sticker Lady controversy bubbled up last year, some people asked me what I thought. Back then, in the midst of the issue, I took a backseat, even though I had my opinions. Now that the whole thing has died down, I am finally going ahead and writing about it. (This, perhaps, is what would make me a terrible current affairs blogger.)

skl0

 

For better or for worse, street art was thrown into the limelight last year when artist Skl0 – infamous for the tongue-in-cheek stickers like the ones above – was arrested for vandalism of public property. This came after her work gained significant traction both online and in public space (she had distributed the stickers for others to put up, as is a common practice with many street artists such as Shepard Fairey of OBEY fame). The issue bubbled and bubbled and took over everyone’s social media feed, birthing a substantial backlash and a subsequent online petition. All in all, if you were below 30 in Singapore you had to be living under the a rock in order to not have heard of it.

At the time, what fascinated me most about The Sticker Lady issue was not the fact that she was hauled to court, but the widespread assumption that this consequence was unique to Singaporean laws.” 

As it were, I heard about this whole thing while I was halfway around the world under my proverbial rock in cold, cold Chicago. Coincidentally, I had just written a tedious but heartfelt paper for a class on the significance of street art and why it had to remain illegal in order for it to thrive, and this case popped up as if to taunt my position on the matter. At the time, what fascinated me most about The Sticker Lady issue was not the fact that she was hauled to court, but the widespread assumption that this consequence was unique to Singaporean laws. (A barrage of comments on the paternalistic, backward nature of the local government ensue.) Although there are most certainly other examples of the nanny-like responses of Singapore authorities, what I realized was sorely lacking was the knowledge that other countries have equally strict laws about graffiti and vandalism of public space. For example, Chicago has banned the sale of spray paint within the city limits, and keeps the cans securely locked behind counters in surrounding suburban areas. It spends more than $9 million on graffiti removal a year, slapping white paint indiscriminately over tiny scrawls and sprawling murals alike. The same is true for many other cities within the United States – just Google “graffiti laws USA”. And, as with any creative community in any city, there has been a backlash. Responses run parallel to those heard in favor of Skl0′s work back home: that there should be a delineation between malicious graffiti and public art, that the law should allow for the flourishing of creativity, and that the injudicious use of white paint was even uglier than the scrawls to start with… at least the graffiti painters had a sense of style.

I suppose what sets Singapore’s response apart… is that the local government is just so darn efficient at cracking down on people in general.” 

I suppose what sets Singapore’s response apart from these “battles” raging on everywhere around the world is that the local government is just so darn efficient at cracking down on people in general – which I am sure is the envy of many city officials in the United States. Along with the fact that there are fewer graffiti artists in this country than a place like Chicago, Skl0′s art was easier to single out from the outset, and easier to pursue. Thus the difference lies in the enactment of vandalism laws, not in the intent. (Note that I say this of the artist’s stickers – her Shepard Fairey “Limpeh” spoofs may be a different matter altogether: )

 

LIMPEH 2

 

Another thing that bugged me so much about the Skl0 case was the cries of people for the law to distinguish between “bad” graffiti and “good” public art. Although the intentions behind this sentiment are of the right heart, they are more difficult to enact than they seem. It is my personal stand (and you can most certainly disagree) that it is not the place of the law to determine what is art, and what isn’t. If the law decides tomorrow that aesthetically-pleasing graffiti pieces are art, and everything else is vandalism, then it makes an assumption that art must be beautiful. What about conceptual works that are intentionally jarring? How about thought-provoking text? Similarly, if the law decides tomorrow that only pieces that “do not look like graffiti” (i.e. no spraypaint) can be considered street art, then it is making a decision based on particular social connotations of certain styles. If the law decides tomorrow that it is only going to pursue graffiti works that do not originate from those who call themselves artists, then it is making an assumption about the self-identities of those taking part in this social movement. Ultimately, any decision the law makes that is any more discriminatory than it is now will be challenged by contentious new works that pop up.

The fact is, street art, public art, graffiti – whatever you want to call it – has a nature that stands innately in opposition to the law. People must recognize this as its beauty and not its downfall.”

The fact is, street art, public art, graffiti – whatever you want to call it – has a nature that stands innately in opposition to the law. People must recognize this as its beauty and not its downfall. Despite the many styles, mediums, and messages that exist, every piece of work that is intentionally put on the streets has one common theme: it is there to take back public space. It is there as a reminder that a city is not made a city by its structures and walkways, but by the heart of its people. And because of that, sanctioned graffiti – work made legal – will never have the same sort of impact as a throw-up that appears on the side of a wall in the middle of the night, or stickers that multiply as if by magic to admonish and encourage testy pedestrians. Unfortunately, this means that graffiti artists will always be at risk. However, for many, this risk is acknowledged and is part of the job. You need to step out of the status quo in order to challenge it, after all.

The bottom line is this, I suppose: Street art is a movement happening before our very eyes. A social movement, an art movement, an urban movement – it is all of those. Mark my words – it will be celebrated in the distant future as exactly that, even if it is not thought about in that way right now. And as with every movement that came before it, it comes with a desire to change perceptions, to overturn social norms, and to challenge the status quo. None of these things the law will particularly like, but the law has its own functions to fulfill in other areas of society. The controversy Skl0 has sparked because of her stickers only go to show that her work is valuable, and that the movement is surely making an impact in Singapore.

I hope she is the first of many.

 

Posted by geneve in thoughts Read More

I am running a little social experiment based on my hunches about why some of my portfolio posts are getting far more traffic than others. My most popular post is K & J’s wedding – to my surprise, clearly, because it is off to the side – and for the longest time I thought it was because people liked looking at wedding things. But is this really the case, or is it getting far more hits because it is exceptionally clear from my home page what kind of project to expect when the square icon is clicked? We shall see: I’ve now made all my portfolio posts painfully clear at the outset, outlining each project title with my specific contributions. I wonder if this will change things… time to watch my site stats like a hawk over the next few weeks.

In other, more graphic design-related news (versus that of the science of human psychology), I am excited to be embarking on a new brand identity project with a student group based out of Harvard!

Posted by geneve in graphic design, thoughts Read More

behance-logo-blackI hereby declare – rather belatedly – that I am now a functioning member of Behance! (If you hadn’t already guessed by the overlarge image up there^, or the title of this post.) I’d always been a little testy about spreading myself too thin and trying to update too many platforms at once – as you can see, I’m already struggling with just one – but the community on this network is like none other. If you’re on Behance as well, join me! I hope to be more update-y on my littler projects there. (Also, in celebration: Note the addition of my newest footer icon at bottom right.)

Posted by geneve in thoughts Read More