On any other day, I would have barely paid attention. But these are not ordinary times. So I stopped, and I watched, and I wondered, as the sandpipers played by the crashing waves, unaware of the strange things occupying my mind in these strange times.
Yesterday, I tried my first panettone ever. It was delicious! It wasn’t mind-numbingly delicious, and I probably wouldn’t go out of my way to buy one again, but I enjoyed it, and I’d definitely eat it again.
I had never eaten panettone before, probably because of its reputation as a dry and terrible mass-produced holiday tradition. I was drawn to this particularly panettone thanks to a David Chang podcast, where he interviewed Roy Shvartzpel, its creator. Chang’s podcasts are an acquired taste. They are borderline insufferable, a weird see-sawing act of self-aggrandizement and self-flagellation. I’ve recommended episodes to a few friends, and they all complained that it was too bro-y. Still, I’ve enjoyed several of his interviews for their insights into those who are obsessed about craft and, to some extent, the Korean-American psyche.
This interview almost struck the wrong side of this weird balance. I was intrigued by Chang’s bold pronouncements about this panettone and also hyperaware of his proclivity to exaggerate. I was intrigued by Shvartzpel’s origin story as a hoop obsessive, but put off by his comparing his game to Steph Curry’s. I almost turned off the podcast several times, but when they finally got around to talking about Shvartzpel’s story as a cook, I was entranced. His story about how the Italian panettone master, Iginio Massari, took him in made me weepy. And I’m a sucker for honest stories about the grind, especially when they’re about small businesses.
His story made me interested enough to look into buying one of his cakes. They cost between $30-60, outrageous in comparison to the $5 monstrosities you can find at your grocery store, but within the realm of reason when you compare them to buying a high-quality cake at a good bakery. Still, I wasn’t compelled enough to buy one.
That changed earlier this week. I’m in Southern California visiting family and was shopping for groceries when I saw boxes of his panettone on sale. It’s the holidays, I was with family, and it was right there, so I ended up springing for a box, praying that I would not be filled with regret later.
Last night, after a delicious dinner, we finally opened the box and had a taste. As I said, it was delicious. I could see how it might be easy to overlook the craft required to get it to taste as good as it did. However, it was nowhere close to The New York Times’ assessment, which I found hilarious:
His domed wonders are unworldly in their featherweight texture: the tender crumb dissolves on your tongue, almost like cotton candy, were cotton candy spun from butter. They seem paradoxically rich and ethereal at the same time.
I’ve only had one experience that I can remember where a baked good lived up to its hype. When Arsicault Bakery opened in my neighborhood in 2016, I wasn’t super interested. I’m neither a croissant nor really any baked good fanatic. When Bon Appetit named it America’s best new bakery later that year, I was even less interested. I’m hype-averse, and I’m even more line-averse.
About a year later, I finally tried one, and I couldn’t believe how incredible they were. I’m usually a chocolate or ham-and-cheese croissant guy, but when I go to Arsicault, I always order the plain, because I don’t want any of those other adornments to interfere with the light, flaky, buttery goodness of these masterful creations. For the most part, folks I’ve shared them with agree with my assessment, although, I hear the occasional, “They’re just croissants,” or, “They’re not as good as they are in France.”
There have been studies showing that the more expensive we think a bottle of wine is, the better we think it tastes. The brilliant J. Kenji Lopez-Alt showed that we all think farm-fresh eggs taste better, even though we can’t actually taste the difference. I guess what it comes down to is that we like what we like, regardless of the reasons why. I don’t necessarily think that’s a bad thing.
I took my second ever photography class recently. Once again, the focus was on story. Dorothy Kimmel of the Richmond District branch of the San Francisco Public Library organized this wonderful workshop, which was led by photojournalist Frederic Larsen. The idea was simple: Get people from the neighborhood to document the stories of the neighborhood through photography.
I chose to photograph the community that comes together in the wee hours of the morning at the Music Concourse in Golden Gate Park. The idea started last year, when I did a six-week stint at Koi Fitness’s bootcamp. The trainers and participants were wonderful, and I discovered that they were just some of many who gathered at that same spot every morning at sunrise.
Not being an early morning person myself, I was curious about who these people were and what drew them to that place. I also realized how beautiful the park is in at dawn and how wonderfully meditative it feels. My goal was to capture the mood and the stories through pictures.
You can view the complete set above or on Flickr, and you can watch me below presenting my work at a reception for the project last night.
I shot this over the course of two weeks. It was a tremendous learning experience. Briefly:
- Telling stories is different from taking snapshots. It takes work and commitment to get the shots you want. More importantly, it takes time to gain the trust of your subjects and access into their lives. I was frustrated and intimidated by this in the early stages of shooting, but over time, I saw what a difference it made to simply show up every day.
- There’s this crazy idea that storytellers are supposed to be passive, neutral observers. There’s no such thing. How you integrate into the story has a huge impact on your ability to tell it. As I got to know people, I gained their trust, and I was able to take more intimate, interesting pictures.
- I was self-conscious about taking pictures of strangers without their permission. What I discovered was that many people invited me into their lives because of my camera (along with showing up every day). It gave me access that I would not have been able to get otherwise.
- Taking the actual shot is actually one of the least important parts of being a good photographer. I’ve already mentioned one — gaining access. The other is curation. The best photographers take bad shots; they’re just disciplined enough not to show them.
- Curation isn’t just about highlighting your best looking shots. It’s about picking the best shots that tell your story. Pruning my set was hard enough, but eliminating shots I loved visually but did nothing for the story was painful. And, it made for a stronger story in the end.
I feel like I’m just beginning with this story, and I hope to continue shooting, but here it is for now. I’m very appreciative of the opportunity to do this work and to get feedback and guidance from Fred, Dorothy, Natalie Shrik (who filmed an awesome three-minute documentary of the project), and all of my fellow workshop participants. Thanks especially to those folks who let me photograph them, especially the wonderful folks at Koi Fitness.
As always, I love feedback! Let me know what you liked and didn’t like, and why. Please be honest; I have thick skin!
My face has been up on a San Francisco billboard on 10th and Howard for the past week. I knew the billboard was up, but I didn’t have a chance to see it until today, and I didn’t tell anyone that my face was on it. I wasn’t being modest, I was just busy, and I didn’t think to tell anyone about it.
Frankly, I didn’t really think that anyone would discover it on their own. Sure, a billboard is huge, and it got good placement, but I personally tune out billboards, and my picture was just one of many.
So I was delighted and amused when I started getting texts and emails from friends and colleagues this past week confirming that it was indeed me on that billboard. In theory, I should have expected this to happen, but the reality is that I’m so immersed in my own little, mostly digital world, it’s easy for me to forget the immense power and reach of good ol’ fashioned analog media.
Which brings me to the real story — the story of the billboard itself and the tool, called Louder, that enabled the billboard to happen.
A few months ago, my friend, Christie George, posted on Facebook about an anti-Muslim smear campaign where a certain individual with lots of money and very little sense was purchasing hateful ads on San Francisco city buses. Christie and her friends were organizing a counter campaign to purchase a prominent billboard stating, “Hate has no place in our city.”
The proposition was simple. If enough people gave a little bit of money, we could fight fire with fire by amplifying a message that truly represented the people of San Francisco. As a clever bonus, the billboard would include pictures of the donors. Almost 100 people donated, resulting in a successful campaign and the billboard that is up today.
This notion of crowdfunding advertising is brilliant, and it is made possible by a tool appropriately called Louder. Founded by Colin Mutchler and Christie, Louder is a community organizer’s dream tool, because it enables movements to level the media playing field. Just as Kickstarter is enabling anyone to invest in projects they care about, Louder enables anyone to amplify messages they care about. This goes well beyond Facebook likes or online petitions, resulting in broader reach and greater impact.
I am proud to have been a minor contributor to such a worthwhile campaign. I especially loved getting to experience this innovative way to make a difference.
I’ve learned an incredible amount over the past decade helping changemakers work more collaboratively and skillfully. (If you don’t know me or are not a regular reader of this blog, you can read up on my background.)
It was a fulfilling, but difficult path, and I’d love to find ways to make it easier and safer for others who are similarly motivated and with similar values. This was a big motivation for founding Groupaya, and I loved every chance I had to do it.
Even though I’ve left, I’m still fortunate to have great people requesting my help. I say no to most requests, but if the project is small or informal enough, I’ll occasionally say yes. I’ve been using these projects as opportunities to give associates real-life opportunities to practice, with me at their side giving guidance along the way.
I’d like to do a lot more of this. I’m curious if there are other changemakers out there in the world (or who at least read my blog) who would be interested in working and learning with me on small-scale (for now), real-life practice opportunities.
Here’s what I’m looking for:
- Living in San Francisco. If you’re not here, I still want to know you, but right now, I want to focus my energy on people who are local.
- Passion. If you’re in it for consulting leads, go elsewhere. If you’re in it because you’re passionate about changing the world, about activating the potential of groups, both large and small, and about learning, then I want to know you.
- Beginner’s mind. This is the big one. I want people who are anxious to learn at all costs and who aren’t too high-falutin’ to get their hands dirty. (Literally, in some cases.) Motivation and attitude are far more important than experience. Definitely don’t flash your OD / OB / OL degrees or your facilitation certifications or your daily consulting rate at me. I don’t care, and it will likely bias me against you.
You don’t have to be a consultant, aspiring or practicing. In fact, I’m particularly interested in working with changemakers embedded in organizations.
Interested? Drop me an email (eekim-at-eekim-dot-com) or leave me a comment below. And please share this with others who might be interested!