Friday, April 25, 2014

The Bold Italic at USF: Jennifer Maerz Makes a Guest Appearance

Last week our humble Feature Writing class received a visit from the managing producer of The Bold Italic, Jennifer Maerz. The San Francisco based website has been growing in popularity over the past few years, and Maerz was kind enough to impart some words of wisdom to the aspiring writers of USF.

As managing producer for a successful magazine/website hybrid that we’re starting to see a lot more of, Maerz took some time to talk with the students and answer questions about our uncertain future. She tried to ease our troubled minds with some suggestions for how to prepare ourselves for the professional world.

Right out of college be comfortable writing online. Internships are always valuable even if you're not interested in that particular field. Take what you can get, because it could lead to something bigger and better. It’s also important to trust your voice. It might change over time, but remember to be true for it. Try to seek out the publications that write about things you're interested in.”

As students we are constantly being bombarded with advice for the real world or pushed to prepare ourselves for graduation. It gets old hearing what we should be doing with our lives from people who are older than us, but Maerz took a different approach. Maybe it was her calm, quiet voice, or her admission to being “a punk rocker at heart”, but either way, Maerz wasn’t off-putting, and that’s always a breath of fresh air.

Maerz also took some time to discuss The Bold Italic, describing what kinds of writers/stories they look for to match the tone of their site. She describes The Bold Italic as “silly, pro LGBT, feminist” and one that doesn’t “take anything too seriously.” Contrary to many professional publications, writers for The Bold Italic don’t have to have 10 years of experience and a vast store of writing samples to be considered.

What she looks for instead are “stories where people write about race or racism that is unobtrusive, people posing situations not as any one person being wrong, but instead about their experiences, what has happened to them, and what they learned from it.”

The website’s editors try their best not to completely edit what their writers say, but Maerz confirmed that, if a story seems racist or overly crude, they will not run it.

“We don't want to print something that we think would be spreading something negative. We also cut out things that are bias or homophobic.” As they should.

The Bold Italic’s aim is to appear in some ways as a “conversation with the city”, featuring writers and stories straight from the city they are representing. The site features, stories, anecdotes, and humor pieces—all of which have to do in some way with San Francisco.  

Maerz also stressed the importance of being up to date and savvy with your social media use. She described her use of Facebook, not so much as a tool to communicate with her friends, but more as a means of creating an online presence for herself. Facebook, she says, can be an extremely useful tool for self-promotion. If a student has writing or a blog, she encourages them to post links through Facebook as a way of getting the word out.

“I say yes to almost every friend request I get, because I don't see Facebook as a platform just for sharing my personal life, I see it as a way to further myself. At this point no one really cares about what you do on Facebook, the most they'll do if you post too much is take you out their feed, so post links to things and share your stuff! We're in an era now where everyone is posting selfies and self-promoting. So it’s important to get yourself out there in a positive way.”

Still, despite an ever-increasing attempt to stay relevant, Maerz does worry about being out of the loop and losing touch with her young audience. Although she claims that “writing about music keeps you very young”, she still doesn’t want to be the one to decide what’s important to San Francisco. For this she turns to the throngs of new writers entering the professional world every year.

“The more you can show that you have an online presence the better. We need someone who really knows the publication and really gets what we're about. Be a confident person and a strong voice in your writing will show.”

Monday, March 31, 2014

Exploring the Exploratorium

I’ve never been a fan of large crowds or excessive noise. Amusement parks, malls, and even some bars (sad to say) can prove too much for me. With that being said, I took a huge step outside the parameters of my comfort zone this past Saturday when I agreed to accompany a friend and the child she nannies to the Exploratorium, at its new location at Pier 15 on San Francisco’s Embarcadero.

It was a mild day for exploration. It was sunny and cloudy off and on, but not exceptionally windy. My friend Brittany and her watchling, Mait, were anxious to indulge in the process of exploration offered by the museum. The two were veterans of the Exploratorium, usually making an appearance about once a month—but this was my first encounter. Although I do hate crowds and noise, I still possess a bit of a soft spot for children’s museums. They’ve usually got games, shiny things, and stuff you can touch. I really couldn’t ask for much else. Thus, I decided to brave the noisy masses for the sake of childhood wonder.

Founded in 1969 by American physicist Frank Oppenheimer, the Exploratorium is a museum and learning laboratory in San Francisco that provides interactive exhibits for guests, in hopes of igniting curiosity and encouraging exploration. As opposed to the often cold and rigid structure of other educational museums, the Exploratorium gives its visitors the chance to actively engage with the exhibits. The “no touching” rule does not apply here—and therein lies all the fun.

As the three us neared the building’s entrance, Mait was fit to burst with excitement. The closer we got, the more rapidly his 6-year-old mouth began to fire off statements, questions and declarations pertaining to the magical things laying just within the museum doors:

“Did you know they have a machine that lets you stand inside a REAL tornado?? The smoke just floats around you it’s like you’re INSIDE a tornado—like actually inside. Once when I was here I played this game that tests your memory with a computer and I have a REALLY good memory—have you played a game like that? I play it all the time. We can play it inside, I bet they still have it—or the magnet things that look like sand!!—I just know you’ll love it here, it’s SO fun!”

He continued on like that for the duration of our time in line, adding his own observations to the commentary as they came to him. After about 10 or 15 minutes our young explorer’s prayers were answered and we were allowed to pass through the doors.

The main gallery was a vast concrete structure, scattered with exhibits and various objects that showed their true function only after close inspection. Our youngest (and most excited) member wasted no time in herding us toward his favorite area of the museum. He took mine and Brittany’s hand, pulling us with remarkable force to the south gallery, which housed a multitude of tinker machines. There were kids all around the museum, but their numbers were greatest by far in the south gallery. This area was full of interactive games, challenges, and experiments. There were one or two young employees in Exploratorium shirts helping kids and explaining exhibits to them. The two I saw both looked young, probably around my age or possibly a couple years older. I started chatting with one employee while Brittany chased Mait around, trying to tell him he couldn’t take the marbles from one of the exhibits.

“Don’t even worry about it, kids always try to take the marbles,” Nikki Damien, 23, says to me, “we’ve got a big box of replacements in the back.”

“That’s a relief,” I told her. “How long have you been working here?”

“Just about five months,” replied Damien, “it’s kind of hectic sometimes—weekends are pretty busy. But I actually like it a lot, the atmosphere is exciting.”

I was about to return the small talk when the weight of a small boy collided with me. Mait had launched himself onto my back and was now clinging to me with exceptional force. I told him the piggyback ride was going to cost him. He giggled with excitement.

“I put most of the marbles back,” he whispered in my ear, “but I kept ONE in my pocket, don’t tell Brittany!”

I gave him a wink and told him we could keep it between us. That’s the beauty of not actually being the nanny; I always get to be the fun one and tag along on adventures while Brittany has to be the one to lay down the law. Far less awesome for her, to be sure, but I guess someone’s got to do it.

A few moments later we found our warden, panting and winded from chasing her escaped convict, and together we continued to make our way through the museum. Mait rode happily on my back for a whole three minutes until another attraction caught his eye and he began to flail wildly, demanding to be set free to investigate. We followed his hurried footsteps to a collection of tall glass cylinders near the back of the museum. Each of the 7 cylinders held a different amount of water, each representing the height of the tide in San Francisco bay at specific hours during the day.

“What’re these?” Mait asked. Brittany read him the paragraph-long description that was propped on a podium near the tubes. He listened longer than I thought he would, but soon realized he hadn’t much interest in tidal patterns and moved wistfully along to browse the last few exhibits. The Exploratorium’s new facility has huge windows that look out on the bay, so the lot of us spent the remainder of our museum visit looking for sea lions and sailboats. End-of-day-count: sailboats-4, sea lions: 0 (unfortunately).

The crowd had died down only slightly as we made our way back through the museum, stopping briefly at the personal lockers to get our bags and Mait’s toys. When we got to the exit there was a young cheerful employee, doling out Exploratorium stickers and high fives to young and old alike. His name tag read: DYLAN!— matching his personality with equal fervor. We all happily received our high fives and Mait planted his sticker on his chest like a sheriff’s badge. He wore it out proudly and with a very impish grin. 

"Did you have a good time, Mait?" I asked.
He nodded aloofly, but still grinning. I could tell he had a good time. 

Monday, March 24, 2014

The Day They Made Cats Trendy

Crazy cat ladies, it’s finally your time to shine—the fashion world has officially made cats trendy, so you can wear your over the top cat attire without shame. By now anyone who shops regularly will have noticed that cats have made a cozy place for themselves in almost every mainstream retailer. Urban Outfitters and Forever 21 sell anything from cat loafers to cat-themed home accessories, while Popular retailers Top Shop and Nasty Gal both stock a ton of cat sweaters, as well as beanies and bowlers with little cat ears, shirts, socks, scarves, and more.

Nasty Gal
Urban Outfitters
(boys like cats too)
Book-Urban Outfitters
odd...but trendy

Even celebrities like Miley Cyrus, who are popular with younger generations, have been seen sporting everything from cat shirts to a skimpy pair of feline print underwear at the 2013 American Music Awards. Fashion designers Karl Lagerfeld and Oscar de la Renta have also drawn inspiration from cats for their collections.

Cat prints emerged on the runway in Mui Mui’s spring 2010 collection. From there, they filtered down into wearable, everyday fashions like the ones commonly found in retail stores. Since then cat fashion has grown in popularity, earning the status of “trendy”. But this is not because the newer generations love cats anymore than older generations. Lots of people like cats. Lots of people have always liked cats. The difference this time is that fashion has provided an outlet for cat lovers to share in and express their love through clothing. Whereas it would have previously been odd to wear cats on your clothes, it is now considered quirky and fun.

“They were unexpected. They were intentionally cutesy, which made them funny”, says Katherine Bernard in her Vogue article, “they flipped the notion of being a “cat lady” from something dumpy and lonely to a source of wit and pride. That moment of playing with expectations is what can make fashion interesting.”

However, as with most things that start out unique and quirky, the cat fad has evolved into a popular trend in mainstream fashion over the past four years. Now we observe hipsters and fashionistas feeling frustration, much in the same way indie music lovers do when everyone starts listening to that song that they’ve been “listening to for like ten years now”. It’s the feeling you have when you like something you feel makes you unique, and because of this you feel a kind of ownership over it.

Being an avid and self-proclaimed cat lover for the better half of my life, I often find myself saying “ugh, everyone’s wearing cat stuff now…cats have always been my thing. I’ve been rocking some kind of a cat shirt since 2nd grade”. But realistically, anyone who has ever really liked cats can argue the same. 

“I actually like dogs better in real life I think”, says Taylor Reifurth, a girl I saw wearing a black and grey cat sweater from Urban, “I just see a lot of stuff with cats on it in stores and I like the style. The cat clothes are funny to me—it’s like a joke almost”.

We can’t be sure exactly how long with cat fab will endure, but Karl Lagerfeld’s 2014 launch of cat inspired accessories proves that it’s not quite over yet. And I say, let there be cats. I feel like I’ve been wearing over the top cat attire for years now—way back to when I wore tails into the grocery store and any other public place I could swing it. The only difference now is that the clothes for sale are cute and trendy because the fad is widely popular, giving us more options as consumers. It is currently an option to buy “in style” cat clothes, whereas options in the past were not always considered in style. So, while the option to buy trendy cat clothes is real and alive, I’ll be taking advantage. Let the soft-padded paws of feline style tread on.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Travel - Cincinnatiti, Ohio

This travel article comes from National Geographic's Traveler Magazine. I found it interesting because it talks about cool things to do in Cincinnati Ohio...and I always assumed Ohio didn't have much going for it. On the contrary, the city has a vast collection of underground beer catacombs from the Victorian era. This guy went, explored the catacombs, and sampled all the beer.

I thought the article was a bit long just to talk about a trip to Cincinnati. I got bored reading not because his writing style was off-putting, but more because I don't have a direct interest in beer or how it's made... Nevertheless, I liked his word choice and descriptors and the fact that you can tell he talked to a lot of locals to cover their views on the city. He also shows evidence of extensive research on the places he visits and gives the history of each. If I liked beer, this article would probably appeal to me. Lucky for the author, I'm sure there are a lot of beer drinkers who are now stoked to go visit Cincinnati.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

"Feline Fashion for the Cat Lovers in All of Us"

I was looking through fashion trend stories on Marie Claire's website and happened upon this little blurb:

The article was very short with minimal words, focusing instead on the visuals, and comparing the latest fashion trends to pictures of similar looking cats.

I was obviously all for it, but it also made me realize that these women's fashion magazines really know their audience. I don't know any real stats, but I'd be willing to bet that a whole lot of women read Marie Claire, and that a good portion of those women really like cats too. Plus, for whatever reason cats are trendy right now, so incorporating a quirky article about fashion + cats could draw in younger audiences.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

LA Times Feature Story: Emilia Clarke

The LA Times magazine did a profile on Emilia Clarke from HBO's series Game of Thrones. I'm not familiar with the show, but I liked the way the author framed the intro. She discusses Clarke's role in the series with specific emphasis on the actress's portrayal of a woman who possess "inner strength and authority". Instead of focusing on the generalities of her acting career or whatever, the author frames Clarke's story using what makes her and the character she plays unique. She ends with a quote that reinforces the author's main point.

Emilia Clarke has a certain kind of nubile beauty that’s irresistible to casting directors. She’s one of those child-women who’s all bee-stung lips, broad brow and soft, round visage, a facade of über-innocence that’s always hiding anything but. On an actress like Mila Kunis, a baby face is the alluring mask of a bad girl. But in the case of Game of Thrones star Clarke, it’s the portal to a type of young female character you’ve rarely seen, one whose womanly side isn’t largely expressed by her sexuality but by a solid core of inner strength and authority.


Indeed, Clarke’s admits to currently “dating her work,” and she’s grateful for the unusual platform it provides. “One of the many things I love about Dany,” she says, “is she’s given me an opportunity to fly the flag for young girls and women, to be more than just somebody’s wife and somebody’s girlfriend.”

Friday, February 14, 2014

Eat at BurmaSuperStar

Bring on the Samusas

Does anyone actually know where Burma is? I’ve never been great with geography myself. So, naturally when I opted to spend my Monday night dining at a Burmese restaurant, I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect. I’d heard good things from a few different people—plus I’m always excited to put new food in my mouth.

My three friends, who are always looking for an excuse to go out to eat, joined me for dinner. They were an awfully picky bunch, however, and I had some initial trepidation about allowing them to accompany me. I’ll try and eat almost anything; as a foodie, most things please me, and I wanted all of us to order a variety of dishes to sample. Even though I didn’t get my way on the lamb samusas, our selections were definitely worth a second trip.

The restaurant was small and casual, but there was no lack of hungry customers. When we arrived there were three other groups waiting outside under the tiny awning for a table. I thought a crowd like this on a Monday night must mean good things…and good it was. Collectively, we probably took a solid 20 minuets to decide what we wanted—the menu was huge and everything sounded tasty.

We started out with the restaurant’s famous Burmese SamusasI was confused at first because I’d eaten a samosa from an Indian food stand before and loved it…but what was with the one letter difference? We ended up throwing caution to the wind and take the risk. The samusas came out 3 to a plate. Their exterior was crispy, thin, and flakey, similar to the fried outside of a Chinese egg roll. The insides were filled with spiced mashed potatoes, lentils, and onions, so perfectly textured they practically melted in my mouth…I think they must have tasted like the way silk feels. They were served with a thin, spicy sauce, similar to buffalo sauce. The table out voted me, so we got veggie samusas instead of lamb. That was probably the biggest disappointment of the night. Next time I visit this place, I’ll be sure to go with someone more strongly stomached. It’ll be someone like me, who doesn’t have any moral issue eating lambs.

I’ll forgive the lamb thing for now. When it came time for entreés, each of us ordered something different and shared the dishes family style. According to the menu, the Vegetarian Samusa Soup had been featured in both Food Network and the Bay Area Backroads. In my head I pictured Burma SuperStar featured in Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives, the annoying host with frosted tips yelling about how much we all HAD to try this soup, and I was convinced. It was served in a large bowl, perfect for sharing. The broth tasted almost like Japanese Miso soup mixed with a mild yellow curry. In it were small slabs of potato, lightly pre-baked, onions, shredded cabbage, pieces of fried falafel, and topped off with several mini samusas. The small flakey pastries soaked up the broth and were so easy to bite into that they almost melted in your mouth. Over all, I was a fan.

Next came Lettuce Cups, like the samusas they came three to a plate. They were presented so simply, it almost looked like there was no way they could be anything more than bland. Three romaine lettuce leaves were stacked together next to a pile of chopped veggies and cured pork. Each of us took a leaf and filled it with the minced creation and readied ourselves for the plunge…then something amazing happened. Never in my life have I tasted something so deliciously cured. The dish’s plain appearance completely threw me for a loop. The crispy crunch of the lettuce combined with the warmth and flavor of the pork and veggies was almost too much to bear. Chopped pieces of pork, spiced tofu, mushrooms, pickled radish and water chestnuts have never been combined in a lettuce leaf in a more perfect way. Maybe it was the sauce the meat was cured with; it tasted almost like teriyaki, a sweet almost smoky flavor. I obsessed over the lettuce cups so much that one of my friends gave me hers. She passed it to me with a look of amusement, “you need this more than I do”.

Finally, with our plates fully cleaned and not one morsel of pork left to be found, we gathered ourselves together and took turns rolling each other home—I don’t think I’ve ever been so full or content. All that’s left to do now is to count down the days until I can once again return to Burma SuperStar.

Burma SuperStar:
309 Clement St
San Francisco, CA
Credit cards: all major
Appetizers: $8-11
Entrees: $12-16
Atmosphere: conversational, great for groups

Service: friendly and efficient