Helping nonprofit customers

I work at a company that wants to democratize decision making via “digital experience optimization.” In other words, we’ve created a technology that allows businesses to do online testing and use data to drive their decision making. As we’ve grown and seek to become viewed as a more enterprise-focused business, what unfortunately also happens is that customers who are smaller and, well, pay us less money, tend to fall to the wayside in terms of love and attention they get. Sadly, this has affected customers in our nonprofit sector, who by definition are time and resource-strapped, but they really need someone to guide them in the right direction.

So I got tapped by our nonprofit/charitable giving lead to see if I could help some of these customers by reaching out to see what stage of testing maturity they are at, and what assistance we could provide them to be successful. The hardest thing with working with these customers is figuring out if they even want to be helped; as with any person, people can only be helped if they want to be helped. We cannot force things upon them. Now, what does that sound like?

It’s really annoying when customer frustrations remind you of the frustrations you have in your personal life with your own family.

Racism justified then, racism justified now.

Today, we started our holiday weekend in North Carolina by having a Southern biscuit sandwich breakfast and driving out to Greensboro, North Carolina, to visit the International Civil Rights Museum. Although the Little Rock Nine at Little Rock Central High School tends to be more well known and covered in American history courses around the country, the “A and T Four,” also known as the Greensboro Four, the four black activist students at North Carolina Agriculture and Technical University, is also a notable group: In February 1960, they protested segregation in the form of sitting at the “Whites Only” lunch counter at the local Woolworth’s, which ended up sparking a movement across the entire south that emulated this sit-in against “separate but equal” in the thousands. The museum provides a fully guided tour, and it is built where the old Woolworth’s with the lunch counter actually was. They preserved the lunch counter/diner just as it was back in 1960 when these sit-ins occurred. It reminded me of the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis that was preserved where MLK was assassinated by building it into the Lorraine Motel where he was shot and killed on his balcony in 1968.

Our guide, Dillon, did an incredible job recounting endless facts of the atrocities that happened during this period in our history and the Civil Rights Movement in general, and you could tell by the way he talked that he truly cared and was emotionally invested in social progress for all. He became the most choked up recounting the lynching of Emmett Till, the 14-year-old black boy who came from Chicago (non-segregated) down to Mississippi (obviously segregated) in 1955 to visit relatives and was kidnapped, mutilated, shot and killed, and then dumped with weights attached to him into a local river. All of this happened to him simply because he had a debated interaction with a white woman, who ended up accusing him of touching and flirting with her. This led to her husband and his half-brother kidnapping him and brutally murdering him. They said that Emmett didn’t understand the social and racial ‘caste’ system of the South.

Emmett’s name is memorable because he came up many times during history courses, and his sad, gruesome story is at every major civil rights museum and monument across this country, including the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis, the Brown vs. Board of Education historic site, the Rosa Parks Museum, among others, that we’ve visited. His mother, so enraged and distraught at the injustices her young son faced, chose to have an open-casket ceremony so that the world could see with their own eyes what the white racist South had done to her poor son. This is not something anyone would wish on anyone, even those they hated.

Not only did those two white men get away with the lynching, they publicly said while being recorded that they did not think they did anything wrong. They were fully acquitted. Nothing ever happened to the white female accuser, even though she very recently admitted (because she’s still alive) that she actually lied during her testimony and what she said Emmett did never actually happened. Even though I’d heard and read about the story before, Dillon gave a far more detailed account of what happened, and it disgusted me when it suddenly hit me: I realized how similar this was to the false accusations that white people have today against black people that cause the police to accost, arrest, and even shoot and kill black people. These stories have become more and more reoccurring in the news in the last several years. A black owner of a popular hipster lemonade shop in San Francisco almost got arrested while opening the doors of his own business one morning because a white person called the police, saying that it looked like some black man was breaking and entering into the shop. A white man prank called 911 to lie and say that a black man was pointing a rifle at people while walking through Walmart in Ohio; the police showed up and shot innocent John Crawford, simply because he was a black man. Crawford is now dead, and his family is trying to get justice and is failing to get the peace that they deserve. And there’s also the case that seemed the most senseless to me in Philadelphia when a white female worker calls 911 because of two black men in the store who haven’t bought anything. These two men got arrested for “trespassing,” and Starbucks in the end had to mutually agree to let that white female worker go, and publicly apologize to the world for how stupid and short-sighted they had been in this occurrence.

All of these stories are the modern day 2018 versions of the Emmett Till lynching. When I hear these stories, I think it’s just the more “acceptable” and “nuanced” way to be racist and discriminate now. No one wants to acknowledge it, especially our Republican and white supremacist “friends.” But funnily enough, when I did a Google search for “Emmett Till” after we left Greensboro, this July 2018 Huffington Post article entitled, “The Word of a White Woman Can Still Get Black People Killed,” is one of the first results that shows up, which hits the nail on the head of all the feelings I had leaving the museum.

These echos, these parallels, these evolved iterations of discrimination, these are just one of a myriad of reasons that history is so important. You’re supposed to understand the past to learn what’s worked, what hasn’t, and not to repeat the horrors of the people before us. If you want to ignore the past, you will just be more narrow-minded for it in disregarding the atrocities of the past, and instead, you will continue these atrocities into the future and blindly believe we live in a new, different world. The world is certainly getting better, but that’s because of the people who are actively working to create progress and social justice for all, not the ones who are just sitting around denying anything is wrong to begin with.

But you know what also made me sad visiting a museum like this? In the same way with really well written, balanced pieces of everything our country debates about, from gun control to healthcare to gender and race-based discrimination to immigration, the people who would truly benefit from learning all of this will likely never come. Ever. And that is really depressing to me.

Going solo at a wedding

A colleague and I were talking about the concept of going solo to a wedding. He told me  that he hates going to weddings since he’s almost always attended without a plus-one, and as an introvert, he hates socializing with people he doesn’t know. People tend to pair up at these events, and as someone who goes without being paired up, he feels like the weird outlier. Weddings make him want to go to the corner of the room and fall asleep.

I am actually quite the opposite in mindset. I’ve gone to a lot of weddings with a date, but I’ve also attended quite a number without a plus-one and have been perfectly fine; in fact, at the weddings I’ve attended by myself, I always had a really notable and memorable time. At the last wedding I went to alone in March 2017, I had so many conversations with everyone from the grandfather of the bride to all the friends in attendance of the bride that I still thought about them days after I left. I consider myself more of an introvert than an extrovert; maybe a “closeted” introvert because most of my colleagues would never label me an introvert since I’m generally fairly social and friendly with everyone, especially new people. Being social at events like weddings is always a gamble, especially if you don’t know many people in attendance, but the worst thing that will happen is that the person you speak with will bore you to tears for a few minutes (or however long you allow), so then you just move on to the next person. It’s not so bad, really. If you do have a plus-one and you’re having a separate conversation that isn’t going so well, you can end it and latch onto whatever conversation your plus-one is having. That definitely can act as a crutch in times when you do not feel like being the screaming extrovert.

Today, I had a number of really interesting conversations with friends and relatives of the groom, and even had a chance to catch up with some of the groom and bride’s friends who I’ve previously met. I went a lot later than I thought I would and really enjoyed myself. And even if Chris had come with me, it’s not like we’d be glued at the hip to each other; we tend to be fairly independent people and have our own conversations at social events unless it becomes relevant to include one another due to where we are standing or the topic at hand. I’ve always loathed couples like that, anyway.

When chatting with friends and family of the groom today, it was so obvious how loved he is by the people in his life. And it was even more obvious how much he loved all of them, including me. He and the bride love food, culture, travel, and of course, the people in their lives, and that was pretty much everywhere as a theme of their wedding, being here in diverse and beautiful Vancouver, having local and sustainable foods and even ice cream on their reception menu, ensuring transportation is provided to and from the wedding ceremony and constantly checking in with people personally to ensure everyone has arrived safely (when you’re the groom!), and even providing the most thoughtful wedding favors in the form of local and organic maple syrup (because who leaves Canada without bringing home maple syrup?), a Canadian airplane magnet, and even a compass with their initials on it — all wrapped in a little drawstring patch with a map of North and South America.

When they first met, they bonded over their shared passion for films. So their wedding ceremony was actually full of famous movie quotes of films that they enjoy. It was so great to see their personalities and passions come through everywhere. They wrote their own vows, short and sweet. Surprisingly, this is the only wedding I’ve been to, well, other than my own, where the couple wrote their own vows.

Instead of table names, they went with photos of significant people who had passed on in their lives who could not be there to share in their wedding day; when they described this, I immediately started tearing up, especially knowing how close Adam was to his stepfather, who passed away just a month before Ed did. He is someone I have heard many things about from my friend, especially that he was likely the most intelligent person he’d ever known in his life; I was actually seated at that table. He was also very close to his biological father, who had passed many years before, who was represented by another table. It’s the personal touches of a wedding that always get me… assuming they are done.

During the MC’s speaking moments here and there, he noted that the bride is actually not a stereotypical “bridezilla” at all, and that on the contrary, she’s been extremely calm and collected throughout the wedding planning process. It is actually the groom that has been his own version of a “groomzilla,” obsessing over the little details and all the possible things that could go wrong, even as the wedding was happening today, even the choice of words coming out of the MC’s mouth, which were quite comical and borderline questionable (funny to me, though) at times. It is certainly true of the friend I know, but I know he does it out of love. He knows people are flying from around the country and the world who normally do not do a lot of travel, and so he wants to know that they all feel like he’s provided them a wedding that was worth traveling all this way for. It’s part of how he shows he loves the people in his life, by obsessing over whether everyone else is having a good time and enjoying this experience he has provided. His amount of care and generosity truly knows no bounds. I felt very grateful to be a part of this day for him and his new wife.

Office of sore wrists

A colleague had been complaining about experiencing sore fingers and wrists, likely due from a combined excessive use of computers (hello, work) and playing too much Nintendo Switch, so I suggested she try to use my Dynaflex Pro Gyro Powerball. Ed actually bought this for me back in college, so now at least 12 years ago, at the recommendation of our family chiropractor. I’ve used it on and off over the years when my wrists or elbows have acted up from computer use. My colleague used it at the office and brought it home to use it in the evening, and miraculously, her soreness completely disappeared overnight. Multiple colleagues then played around with it today, prompting another colleague to order one on the spot after seeing me use it, as he noted that he had been experiencing pain in his wrists lately.

These are first-world, white-collar problems that I’m helping to resolve, Or actually, if we had to be more accurate about this, Ed is still helping people even after his death, people who have no idea who he is, and who he will never have the chance to meet.

Cutting for Stone

I just finished reading one of the most gripping fiction novels I’ve read in a long time, Cutting for Stone. I’ve always been an avid reader, but with current events/daily news, podcasts, and food blogs and publications, sometimes it becomes a challenges to juggle all the content out there that I want to read. The amount of information to consume can be very overwhelming, so I’ve made a goal to read at least one book per month. Although I’ve been leaning more towards nonfiction (I suppose it’s in an attempt to better understand the world around me and how people think and why), I do still crave fiction and how imaginative it can be. I like the feeling of being transported into another life, another reality, even if it’s only temporary.

This book came recommended to me in March 2017 by my friend’s grandpa. I was in Arizona for her wedding, and during her reception, I had over an hour-long conversation with her grandpa, who was a retired heart surgeon. Being a Jewish heart surgeon in a red state, he certainly had a lot of opinions and perspectives that we discussed. It was a very intellectually stimulating conversation, as I learned so much that I hadn’t before just by speaking with him. He truly was as great as my friend always said he was, and so open about sharing. During this conversation, when he shared with me how passionate he was about treating patients with empathy and care, he told me the book that he strongly recommended I read to understand a doctor’s perspective, what pulled him into medicine and being a surgeon, and how strongly he felt about making a patient feel cared for and respected during treatment, and that book was this one. I immediately noted it down on my phone and finally got to it this month, and I have zero regrets.

The general synopsis of the book is this (there’s no reason for me to summarize it if the publisher already does it so well):

“Marion and Shiva Stone are twin brothers born of a secret union between a beautiful Indian nun and a brash British surgeon. Orphaned by their mother’s death and their father’s disappearance, bound together by a preternatural connection and a shared fascination with medicine, the twins come of age as Ethiopia hovers on the brink of revolution.

Moving from Addis Ababa to New York City and back again, Cutting for Stone is an unforgettable story of love and betrayal, medicine and ordinary miracles–and two brothers whose fates are forever intertwined.”

It’s a complex story that combines familial ties and drama, politics, religion, medicine, and love in a way that I never really thought about before. It details disease and medical treatment and surgery only in a way that a doctor could (the author is also a doctor and professor of medicine), but even as someone who knows very little about the study of medicine, I actually found these detailed explanations extremely interesting. And the story really draws you in after a slow start. The bond between the two twins is so strong that as they were conjoined twins at birth with their head connected, throughout their childhood together, and even as adults in troubled times, they found solace in sleeping together with their heads touching. Towards the end of the book, with all the tragedies and deaths that occurred, I found myself in tears thinking about their sibling love for one another. I know I truly enjoyed a book when I’m sad that I’ve finished it.

The power of sibling love. It’s like what they say in the book: it can be so strong that when one sibling dies, it’s as though something in the surviving sibling has died, as well.

These are a few of the quotes that really stood out in the book to me:

From the Middle East folktale “Abu’s Slippers”: “The key to your happiness is to own your slippers, own who you are, own how you look, own your family, own the talents you have, and own the ones you don’t. If you keep saying your slippers aren’t yours, then you’ll die searching, you’ll die bitter, always feeling you were promised more. Not only our actions, but also our omissions, become our destiny.”

“Life, too, is like that. You live it forward, but understand it backward. It is only when you stop and look to the rear that you see the corpse caught under your wheel.”

“Wasn’t that the definition of home? Not where you are from, but where you are wanted?”

“We are all fixing what is broken. It is the task of a lifetime. We’ll leave much unfinished for the next generation.”


Dear Ed,

In the last five years since you passed on this day, I’ve occasionally awakened in the morning, feeling bad that it’s been some time since we’ve spoken. “I really need to call Ed to catch up,” I think. And then suddenly reality hits me, and I feel like a total idiot because the realization that you, my big brother, the only person who shares the same blood running through my veins, are dead and have been dead this whole time, grips me, and I sink into a miserable abyss. Sometimes, it is still a shock to me that you’ve been gone all this time even though it clearly doesn’t make sense.

The American playwright Thornton Wilder once wrote, “The highest tribute to the dead is not grief but gratitude.” That could not be more true. In the last five years since you’ve left this earth, I also consciously wake up to the feeling of gratitude for everything I’ve been fortunate to have had: good health, my loved ones, my experiences — my experiences with you for the 27.5 years we shared on this earth together. I still grieve you, and sometimes I still feel broken that I’ve lost you, but above all, I am grateful for what you taught me, how you selflessly loved me and gave me things, both material and not, that have helped shape me into the person I am today. Because of you, I try to live each day with meaning, with purpose, to prove to you that this life is worth living. I always did love a challenge; I still want to prove you wrong in this case.

I still see you everywhere, and I hear you everywhere. It doesn’t seem to matter where in the world I am. I can still feel you with me, even if the thought is unrealistic or just flat out absurd. When I listen to songs like “Silence” by Marshmello and Khalid, or “Million Reasons” by Lady Gaga, I think of you and think you would have liked those songs. When I was in India, I kept thinking about how you’d like certain dishes we were eating, or how you’d grimace at all the wild animals walking amongst us in the streets. When I’m at work chatting with my colleagues and enjoying my time with them, I wish you could have had similar work relationships that I’ve been privileged and lucky to have had. There is an entire world of experiences that I believe you were robbed of. And it hurts me sometimes when I think… why am I so lucky to have these experiences, and you were not? It’s just not right. It’s not fair at all.

I’m sorry that this world could not keep you safe. I am sorry that I could not keep you safe. I am limited in my ability, in my reach, in my grasp of you. I’ll never stop being sorry for the wrong that was done to you. It’s a pain that never seems to stop for me no matter what I do.

I love you. I miss you. I hope to see you in the next world I will call home. And I hope you will be waiting for me.

With love and longing,

your little sister Yvonne

“Dancing Toward Bethlehem”

In another sampling of “Yvonne remembers her dreams” again, last night, I dreamt that I was standing in a music studio with Brian Littrell, the lead (or who I considered the “lead”) singer of the Backstreet Boys, and we were discussing the poet Billy Collins’s poem “Dancing Toward Bethlehem.” I’ve recently started re-reading poems that I enjoyed back in high school and college for nostalgia’s sake, and also because I’ve been reading the more modern poetry of Rupi Kaur. This was a very odd discussion, though, because we were exploring how to dissect and potentially rearrange this poem to make it into a song. I have no ear for anything, but Brian was attempting to make certain lines of the poem into a chorus and hum tunes for what he thought was fitting, while I was trying to figure out which parts of the poem would be good for a chorus and/or a bridge.

The strangest part of this entire dialogue and exchange was that we never once took our eyes off each other’s eyes. It was as though we had the poem memorized, and the only place our eyes could look towards was each others’.

I don’t even know what that means.

If you were interested, this is the magical poem we were deliberating over:

Dancing Toward Bethlehem

by Billy Collins

If there is only enough time in the final
minutes of the twentieth century for one last dance
I would like to be dancing it slowly with you,

say, in the ballroom of a seaside hotel.
My palm would press into the small of your back
as the past hundred years collapsed into a pile
of mirrors or buttons or frivolous shoes,

just as the floor of the nineteenth century gave way
and disappeared in a red cloud of brick dust.
There will be no time to order another drink
or worry about what was never said,

not with the orchestra sliding into the sea
and all our attention devoted to humming
whatever it was they were playing.

Steam cleaned engagement ring

My engagement ring was always too small. When Chris first proposed with it four years ago, we struggled to get it on my finger, and then really struggled to get it off. It’s always been the most frustrating when it’s hot outside because that’s when my fingers swell, just like my mom’s do, and I’d need to pry it off after applying soapy water to my hands. So finally, a couple weeks ago, I decided to have it sent in to be resized just a half size bigger, and when it came back, it was amazing: you’d be shocked to see what a difference just a half size in a ring makes. Not only that, the company also tightened all the prongs and professionally steam cleaned my ring, so now, this ring looks almost better than it did when I first received it. When I opened the box, I couldn’t stop staring at how clear it looked. It was almost newer than new, and in some ways, looked like a different stone.

Since I’ve started wearing it again, I’ve gotten no less than half a dozen different people asking me if I just got married or received a new engagement ring. Today, while having my highlights redone with my hair stylist, she randomly exclaimed, “Wow, girl! I love your ring! It looks like brand new! Did he get you a new one?”

It’s definitely not new, but it certainly feels like it’s new all over again given all the attention this ring has suddenly started receiving again. This professional steam clean really paid off, even though it cost nothing.

Extroverted introvert

This week, I’ve spent four intense days in our San Francisco office, and also at our offsite at the Grand Hyatt in downtown with my team coming from across the globe. It’s been extremely enjoyable for me to connect in person, in meetings and over tea and meals, with my colleagues, some of whom I call friends. It’s been non-stop catch-ups and walks with so many people since I’ve arrived. I love seeing colleagues and friends I have not seen in a while and reconnecting with them. I enjoy sharing random anecdotes, travel and customer stories, and laughing about ridiculous experiences. I love learning new things about people that I didn’t know before. I’m always curious to find out more about everyone, to uncover the things that others do not know. As an extrovert, I derive so much energy in the presence of others, particularly those I find intellectually stimulating, humorous, and fun to be around. But as an introvert, when all of this is done, as it is for me tonight as I am headed to the airport to return back to New York on a red eye, I relish my alone time and enjoy not speaking to anyone, putting my earbuds in and listening to my book or my music. I enjoy being in the company of no one I recognize or know, and not being obligated to speak to anyone or have any type of conversation. Though I am the type of person who enjoys striking up conversations with complete strangers, when I’m in transit, especially when flying, I’d prefer not to chat at all unless it’s initiated by someone else.

I feel my extrovert and introvert all the time. They’re not necessarily at odds, but while some like the labels of being one or the other, I feel very firmly in the center of both.

My brother stood out.

After lunch at home with my parents yesterday, we went to the Columbarium to visit Ed. After spending some time cleaning the glass of his niche and peering into the little world I built for him, it was time to bid him farewell for now. On our way out, I went into the main building and ended up meeting the new family service counselor. She’d actually been there for a couple years now, and we had just not met yet. Part of her job is to go around to each of the halls in the Columbarium to do routine checks of each niche to make sure each is in good shape. She asked me what my brother’s name is, and I told her. “Edward?” she repeated, surprised. “Wait, is he in the Hall of Olympians? He’s the one who has the Simpsons family with him?”

I almost lost my breath. I just stared at her and felt chills all over my body. How is it possible that in what is probably thousands of niches throughout this historic building that she could remember Ed’s over all of the others?

When she first began about two years ago, she walked around and browsed the niches, trying to get a feel for the place that she called her new workplace. She said she immediately noticed Ed’s niche. Ed’s niche was the one that touched her the most, and she kept wondering what happened to him and what the stories were behind the Simpsons and the other trinkets that decorated the surrounds of his urn.

She said that she felt for me because she also lost a sibling recently, as well. A couple of years ago, she was on a family vacation with her four siblings and parents when suddenly, one of her sisters was found dead in her hotel room by their father. She was just 34. “34?” I said. “Ed was just a month shy of his 34th birthday when he died.” Our eyes just locked. “That is just too strange, too much of a coincidence,” she responded pensively. Her sister also had a decades long struggle with depression. Another sister had attempted suicide. It was all too real for her, too.

She told my dad and me that we did a really good job decorating Ed’s niche. My dad shifted a bit and cracked a little smile. “Well, that was all Yvonne,” my dad said, looking down, still smiling. “Yvonne did everything and organized it all for him.”

“Well, then, you did a really great job,” she said to me. “I don’t think you realize how many people you unknowingly touch and how they can feel your brother through his niche.”

She said she was so happy we met, and that she got to meet the person who decorated that memorable niche. I’m still feeling strange that this meeting occurred, that we have these tragic commonalities, that she was so touched by my brother’s niche that she’d remember it and say it stood out from the others. I wonder if Ed was listening to that conversation.