+ My first week at Google

Thousands of miles from home, I've finally started my first week as a "Noogler", a new hire at Google!

The Mountain View campus is quite something, comprising of dozens of buildings, and what's great is that the company provides a free, regular wi-fi enabled shuttle service from San Francisco. I'm currently staying at Hotel Union Square, in a lovely room which overlooks Powell Street, so the shuttle service is a great perk which allows me to get a taste of city life over my next two weeks working out here.

I walked into my orientation building, and the first task was to set up a login name and have a photo taken for my badge. After a brief (free) breakfast in a nearby cafe, I then sat down to a brand new MacBook Pro... it's lovely and shiny and I've started adding Google stickers to it so I don't accidentally pick up someone else's! If that wasn't exciting enough, the loos cater to every girl's need. With complementary hair straighteners, mouthwash, hair clips and a HEATED toilet seat, a trip to the loo is definitely a step-up from the skanky Patriot Court toilets I was used to in my old office at Slough! *update* as soon as the main orientation was over, the complementary straighteners and hair dryer disappeared so I'm not sure if it was a one-day perk only!

Theres's dozens of restaurants to choose from across the campus. I've eaten Japanese food, Indian food, sushi, Chinese food... and that doesn't even count the cooked breakfasts, gold-leaf chocolate cupcakes and the snacks I've devoured from the micro-kitchen! I'm trying to say no to all of the amazing treats, and it's not like they don't offer healthy alternatives, so I guess as long as I make the use of the free dance/fitness classes and one of the gyms at some point it will all balance out. Further to that, there's also a lovely tradition they have which is "tea time" in a nearby building every afternoon. From lemon and ginger tea to earl grey, the teas from across the world are normally offered in conjunction with a piece of cake or stilton, salami and bread.

I've spent most of the week recovering from jetlag so social events have been few and far between, but last night the team lead took us to us house for a lovely barbecue and smores evening. I wish I had a bit more spare time to see the sights of SF (it's been five years after all!), so for anyone who assumes I'm just sunning myself and strolling around the city are wrong!

Today is my fifth day at Google, which can only mean one thing... my first TGIF experience. This involves sitting in front of hundreds of Googlers in the main restaurant, where Larry and Sergey take questions from employees from the nearby stage. I'll be wearing my red beanie hat along with my new Google t-shirt, quite a sight I'm sure!

Some photos from my travels around the campus:
Me outside one of the Google buildings


main campus

Google bike - free to use to get around campus

+ My Very Own Flat

I'll be moving into my very own flat on July, and I've already gone into overdrive in my hunt for some top-notch finds to adorn my new abode. I have so many ideas for what I want to do to make the place feel like home, so below I'll share some of my ideas and online discoveries!

Film and book cover posters

Spineless Classics offer bold art prints on which, up close, you can read the full and complete text of classic literature, from The Great Gatsby to Midsummer Night's Dream.

Book Storage

The flat I'll be moving into already has lots of shelving units to store all of my books and DVDs, but I love the idea of using my possessions to make attractive plinths/columns which can then be used to house a vase, a photo frame or even a fruit bowl (as seen below):

The Selby

A Girl's Guide to Decorating by Abigail Ahern

Creative Wine Storage

Having my very own space allows me to stock up and be the proud owner of a drink's cabinet. In reality it will probably be limited to a few bottles of my favourite wines (my fave red is a Malbec and my favourite white is the Spanish Marina Alta if you must know), so I'll need some creative ways of storing these in my new pad:


Apartment Therapy

+ Reading Ulysses

Ulysses I started reading Ulysses in July 2011, and after various sincere attempts to get into a routine of fitting this book around my daily life, I lost my enthusiasm halfway in. However, I have carried it on my commute more often than not, and finally made it to the end of the book.That doesn't mean this book is now finished and ready to send off to the chrity shop.

This is the first book I've ever read where finishing the book is actually the beginning. My intention was to read it free of any critical influence, study guides and chapter-by-chapter summaries, and I'm glad I did. Here's my advice for anyone who wants to read James Joyce's seven-year effort (and a quick note to remind you that 2012 is the year it becomes property of the public domain):

* Don't be disillusioned if there's vast swathes of prose you can't make head. or tail of. Just continue to let the sounds of the words splash around your mind, looking up problematic words where possible, but the important thing is not to STOP. I honestly believe the first reading of Ulysses should be approached like a wise relative - you may not understand everything they are try to tell you but that doesn't mean you should therefore turn your back on them! And what is a mystery today will almost certainly reveal itself on a second read, or when you finally get round to analysing the book itself.

* Don't set yourself reading goals by page. One page of Ulysses might take you two minutes, another much, much more! Instead, view the task of reading Ulysses as an evolving activity that should not be made into a competition and rite of passage!

* Listen to recordings of James Joyce's voice to imagine how the book's if vocabulary and nuances would sound if uttered from the man itself. I found a YouTube clip of Joyce reading aloud.

* Read other book simultaneously. I made the mistake of refusing to read other prose while reading Ulysses, but this is setting yourself up to be very frustrated! Inevitably, There might be periods of days or weeks when the thought of re-opening Ulysses makes you shiver in fear, and if you don't have a less challenging book to fall back on in those times of despair you will be novel-less, and I can think of nothing worse on the world!

* I didn't do this myself, but I've heard watching the film can be a nice way of introducing you to the main story arc without interfering with your own opinion-forming of the book itself.

* If you haven't already, download a Dictionary app to your smartphone if you can! This is invaluable when reading Ulysses on the go, although some words should be read firmly tongue-in-cheek, as Joyce has the wondrous habit of inventing quirky words and conjoining separate words into a new one.

I only actually found out about Frank Delaney's episodic podcasts Re: Joyce AFTER I'd finished the book, but I really think they will help crack through the fear that prevents a large majority of people ever even turning to the first page. No-one should miss out on attempting this novel just because of the hype and critical minefield that surrounds it, and Delaney's voice calms the nerves as he demystifies the prose.

I think I'll write another review once I've really read into the novel a bit more, as I feel like I have only just scraped the surface and there's a lot more rewarding reading to come.

+ 2011... What a Year You Were!

2011, more than any other year, was a year of contradictions for me.

This was the year I turned a quarter of a century, and when I was younger I assumed all 25-year-olds know everything and have their lives sorted... How wrong I was!

When I'll look back at this year, my memories at first might be overcast with the sheer bleakness that dominated the news: more focus on the recession, more unrest around the wold, and a surprisingly high level of ignorance than I'd ever thought possible!

This year has been one of trying to stay strong in the face of horrible twists of fate for me. People I'd started to get used to having around left the country for new jobs or adventures. I took on a new challenges at work which I had never envisioned at the start of the year. And to top it all, many of my friends went through tough experiences that tried even my unfaltering optimism that good things DO happen to good people.

And as hard as this is to admit, I realised more than ever that seeing the best in people can come back to haunt you. People who I viewed as 'not like the rest' turned out to be more cowardly, selfish and hurtful than I'd ever thought possible, and if I'm honest this is the year more than ever that I've started to realise truly honest people are a rare breed. I also learnt that settling and overlooking deal-breakers in a man is never worth it, it's plain self-harming! Allowing yourself to fall for someone you know isn't actually good enough for you means you're only setting yourself up for disaster further along the line. 

This was also the year I travelled abroad four times, and I learnt so much from each experience! Berlin was intense in its raw cityscape, shattered from the violence of the past and yet it managed to impress upon me an unforgettable adventure in music, history and the brilliant sense of freedom that comes with living the life of a traveller, no matter how short the actual trip.

Valencia seduced me with its lush gardens, idyllic and uncrowded beach; the slow pace was just what I needed to confront me with the realisation that life doesn't have to be as frantic and isolating as London would have you suggest.

Bali and its islands were diverse in their beauty and ability to blow you away. The Balinese people were so damn happy, and can you blame them considering how stunning their homeland is?!

Amsterdam, like Berlin, instilled in me a sense of fun and freedom so easily lost when your life is dominated by a 9-5 existence. Relatively small, the city did make me appreciate the London sprawl but I envy the lifestyle of late starts and nonchalant commutes cycling across cobbled streets.

As well as travels, I feel like I'm starting to realise what I want more from life than ever before. I guess that's an inevitable part of getting older, but this I what I've learnt in 2011:

+ I need to have more faith in my ability to take on anything thrown my way.

+ I will always, always have the travel  bug and need to succumb to it far more often than I already do

+ This year I've been deceived and lied to, pickpocketed, evicted and screwed over a few times, but I honestly believe bad times need to be experienced to appreciate the good.

+ Life doesn't follow any logic and people aren't as clear-cut as we've been led to believe. In essence, we really are all just a jumbling mass of molecules struggling to make sense of who we are and what we're supposed to do with our short stay on this big chunk of rock!

+ Getting my phone stolen taught me that as a generation we're so more reliant on technology than we ever admit to. And this also means that our whole social structure is to some event not even 'real' any more- the virtual world of the Internet plays a big role in shaping relationships with people and staying up to date with the lives of close ones. As a side note, these days social identity is as much about how we project ourselves online as how we act in social situations, and gives us all scope to judge and be judged. 

+ When life seems to be mucking up at every choice you make, the one enduring thing you can truly rely on is your sense of self. All we really have is our own moods and whims to guide us through life and everything else is transient and unreliable.

I am both excited and apprehensive as to what could happen in the next twelve months, but am willing to give it a shot and make each experience my own :)

+ Destiny's Kisses and Dope-Slaps

The most life-changing events in our lives are not really down to us. I read a quote the other day from David Foster Wallace's novel Infinite Jest, which beautifully elaborates on the seemingly serendipitous nature of life:

"Both destiny's kisses and its dope-slaps illustrate an individual person's basic personal powerlessness over the really meaningful events in his life: i.e. almost nothing important that ever happens to you happens because you engineer it. Destiny has no beeper; destiny always leans trenchcoated out of an alley with some sort of Psst that you usually can't even hear because you're in such a rush to or from something important you've tried to engineer."--David Foster Wallace

I'm of the opinion that achieving success in life is entirely down to you, in so much as that you can influence events and the course of your life more than many people think. When you crumble at the hand life might have dealt you, ask yourself, "what choices did you make that led you here?" Sometimes, people are completely blind to their role as an agent of the very thing most important to them; their own life!

I'm not suggesting that everyone in the world has the power or means to become whoever they want to be. After all, life is about give and take and it's sadly inevitable that some people's gain is only possible with the eventuality of another's loss. Take the job market. It's very tempting to assume that you DESERVE your cut of what the world has to offer, but to everyone else you're a stranger who's no more deserving than the next person. And the same applies to money, relationships, security - almost anything that means anything to people. All that matters is recognising your little place in the world, and accepting that the number of people who care about your fate might not be as big as you think!

I first read the quote below a week or two ago in one my daily emails from Writer's Almanac. It got me thinking about what's more important in shaping our lives - our own gut instinct and emotions, or logic and reason? After all, although we can do our best to influence the route of our lives, much of it is down to chance and the actions of others.

"My great religion is a belief in the blood, the flesh, as being wiser than the intellect. We can go wrong in our minds. But what our blood feels and believes and says, is always true. The intellect is only a bit and a bridle. What do I care about knowledge. All I want is to answer to my blood, direct, without fribbling intervention of mind, or moral, or what-not."--D.H. Lawrence

Are we responsible for everything that happens to us, or is it all just the luck of the draw? I can't stand anything more than people who believe their failings in life is all down to other people. Surely it's all about responsibility for your own situation in life and making sure that you do everything you can to increase your chances of luck smiling on you!

"That which we manifest is before us; we are the creators of our own destiny. Be it through intention or ignorance, our successes and our failures have been brought on by none other than ourselves."--Garth Stein

"Destiny is not a matter of chance, it is a matter of choice; it is not a thing to be waited for, it is a thing to be achieved."--William Jennings Bryan

Life doesn't come with a step-by-step guide to how to get everything you want or reach where you want to be. At the risk of sounding like a crazed self-help book addict, as long as you avoid blaming others for the low points in your life, and appreciating the role you play in your own happiness, you're on the right track. If anything, recognising your own powerlessness in your own life can be pretty empowering. You can spend less time agonising over your day-to-day choices and just be, safe in the knowledge that that true empowerment is letting go of the non-existent power you were so sure you yielded over your own life!