Flash Fiction: Story takes a 5-minute potty break

“What does it take to tell a story?”

This is what Paul thought as he hovered over the toilet.

“Who was it that suggested hovering anyway?”

It was a terrible idea, but this is where he found himself. This is where he found himself after turning a handful of ideas into actionable items. That is to say that he had acted on decisions he had made. He was using words like actionable. Also impactful.

Paul was concerned with the actionable impact potential of his hovering hump. The water was a good 12 inches below his ass. He hated dirty toilet seats. “But this is ridiculous,” he thought.

Water splashing his bare ass would have a regrettable impact on his day, which includes a—potentially impactful—conversation with his boss.

He was thinking about telling his boss that he’d fucked up. “But really, I don’t think of it as a fuck-up,” he thought.

“This guy deserves that full package. His special circumstances are special. In this one case, I get a chance to help a guy who needs help.”

“Financial Aid is business, Paul,” his boss might say. “We help people, but we want to help ourselves too,” she said.

“So many times, she said it.” Paul thought.

“We can’t help these people if we don’t follow the rules, cross the i’s and dot the t’s.”

“Yes, she speaks like this,” he would say to himself. “These people, and mixed-up idioms.”

Paul didn’t hope to help all of the people he saw through his office. Well, he did, actually, but he’d given up on that a while back.

“But this guy’s story is crazy. He fled persecution. Immigrated here. Worked in restaurants. Got put in the hospital when the people he fled found him. Spilled all this to INS. Got covered. Now he needs money for school. For a career.” This is the staccato story that Paul will be forced to tell.

“No,” she’ll say. “We can’t do it and take the chance that it hurts our standing.”

Paul dropped his load. No splash.

“Fuck,” he said. “I clipped the seat.”

Posted in Writing | Tagged Fiction, Financial Aid, Flash Fiction, Immigration, Short Story, Student Financial Services, White Collar Work | 1 Comment

Copy for UVaClubs — Winter Party Ideas

I wrote this for the purpose of providing ideas that Regional Engagement Officers could share with volunteers.  — ajh

Winter is coming, and with it, the opportunity to hang out as only ‘Hoos do. Whether the party is out in the cold or cozy inside, lively or reserved, ‘Hoos know how to do it better than anyone else.

Here are some ideas to get it going in the cold months coming:

1) Potluck dinner with seasonal foods, recipe share.

How could this not be a huge success? Seriously, show me one person who doesn’t like food.

What you need: Plenty of people who like to eat, and a handful of people who like to cook.

How it works: You can set rules to only include in-season and locally cultivated foods. You could add a theme for a particular holiday or cooking style. Be sure to share recipes. Get the competitive juices flowing with a cook-off competition centered around a particular dish like a chili or pumpkin pie.

Why it’s cool to party this way: The pleasure of breaking bread in good company is universal. Jazz it up with a Jeffersonian Dinner structure.

2) Year-in-review via YouTube

December is our time to remember and YouTube parties are great fun for that purpose. This is also a great idea to pair with a cook-off (see above) or an Ugly Sweater party (see below).

What you need: A computer connected to a TV. Google Chromecast also works great for YouTube parties.

How it works: Limit submissions to the past year and collect them based on category (e.g., humorous, tear-jerker, awkward, etc.). Start with a little pre-game mixer to lubricate your laughboxes.

Why it’s cool to party this way: YouTube is here to stay. Maybe. We already share YouTube videos in work emails and Facebook posts, but why not share the the top viral or most poignant videos of the year.

I mean really, what does the fox say?

3) Have fun inside, on location.

Do you suffer from “I can’t be in public alone” syndrome? Don’t fret. It’s very common to feel uncomfortable going to a restaurant or movie alone. College exists so that we can meet friends for life and then use them as insulation against uncomfortable loneliness later.

Have something you want to do this winter? Invite local ‘Hoos along.

What you need: A place that has stuff to do, like a bowling alley, movie theatre, live theatre, museum, brewery, winery, sports arena, art gallery, etc. Get involved with, or start a service project in your community and involve ‘Hoos with Cavaliers Care.

How it works: Get ‘Hoos to meet you at a great place to see cool stuff or do fun stuff.

Why it’s cool to party this way: All opportunities here are cool whether you’re engaging in community service, taking in the latest entertainment or participating in high culture.

4) Bad Santa, White Elephant Gift Exchange

By whichever name you call it, Bad Santa parties are popular because they’re just so fun. It’s an icebreaker, a party game and organizing theme all in one.

What you need: A gracious host and a gift limit. $10-$20 usually yields an interesting assortment. A reasonable price ceiling keeps envy under wraps.

How it works: Rules vary by region and personal flare so feel free to put your stamp on this twisted tradition. Create a system where one person chooses a gift and then is at the mercy of the next person in order who has the choice to steal away the gift just chosen or pick her own.

Why it’s cool to party this way: It’s a cheap investment. It gets everyone involved in a ridiculous process of giving and stealing presents. Require gifts to be handmade to add a DIY element to the festivities.

5) Super Bowl Party

It’s the Super Bowl. The only reason it’s not a national holiday is because it always takes place on a Sunday.

What you need: A host with a big TV, or a favorite neighborhood sports bar.

How it works: These parties kind of work themselves out. The NFL provides the entertainment: commercials, halftime performances and, you know, the actual game. Have everyone bring a food dish, and BYOB.

Why it’s cool to party this way: More people watch the Super Bowl than vote or go to church, combined. Probably.

6) Holiday Lighting Tour

We love lights. Maybe it’s because we still fear the night and its unknowns in our DNA. Some will have the chance to see the Tree Lighting at Rockefeller Center or the Lighting of the Lawn on Grounds. For the rest of us, our neighborhoods are full of people who put the work in arranging and showing off their lights.

What you need: A place with a lot of lights. It could be a well-known street that is gung-ho for decoration and holiday spirit, a city park or a tree lighting.

How it works: Walk, carpool or caravan. Pick a spot to meet up before the tour for introductions and after the tour for libations.

Why it’s cool to party this way: Because you might get to see insanely awesome light shows like this:

7) Winter Film Series

How many people re-watch It’s A Wonderful Life or Miracle on 34th Street every year? Friends don’t let friends watch holiday movies alone. Mix it up with Elf or Fargo in between the classics.

What you need: Willing hosts with television and a film selection with a broad appeal.

How it works: Choose the frequency (weekly, every other week, monthly) and select the films. Rotate homes or venues. Bonus if you can get a local coffee shop or pub to hold the event.

Why it’s cool to party this way: It’s cold outside in the winter, which makes film screening inside a perfect winter activity. Also consider the talent you might take in: Jimmy Stewart, James Caan, Will Ferrell. That’s cool.

8) Tool time skill share

Growing interest in sustainability and a lagging economy encourage finding new ways to make our favorite stuff last longer and exploring new ways to express ourselves artistically. Tap your talented base of Wahoos and learn a new skill this winter.

What you need: A garage or workshop with some open space.

How it works: Skill shares are growing in popularity and the cold winter months offer the time to take on projects because there is less to do outside. Organize around a type of tool or task group. Poll your constituency and see if anyone has a skill that they’d like to share. Skills could be something like the tools and troubleshooting process in fixing a leaky faucet or how to sew patches into your favorite jeans. This can get pretty broad so be sure to pare it down to make it manageable.

Why it’s cool to party this way: Learning is cool. Ask Mr. Jefferson: “Knowledge indeed is a desirable, a lovely possession.”

9) Ugly Sweater party

These parties are popular around Christmas, but you don’t really need to limit yourself. Around Valentine’s Day, for example, might be an even better time to rally together in full force around absurd fashion and community in opposition to the atomizing nature of Valentine’s Day.

An Ugly Sweater Party is perfect to pair with a clothing drive because Cavaliers Care.

What you need: Ugly, ugly sweaters. Try your local thrift store, or that sweater your grandmother knitted for you when you were too old to be getting hand-knit sweaters (but c’mon, is one ever too old for grandma’s knitting?).

How it works: This is a party that begs for a contest. Judge winners in categories like funniest, most awkward, most embarrassing to wear, etc. Anyone can host the party, but it also is highly portable. I imagine that it adds quite the extra psychological edge in pub trivia, or offers a nice preliminary for a wine tasting excursion, for example.

Why it’s cool to party this way: It’s not, but that’s why it’s cool. Apologies, but do you not understand the lessons that hipsters taught us?

10) Fireside storytelling

It’s not exactly a Jeffersonian dinner, but a theme built around FDR’s fireside chats is also a great idea to open up and connect to each other, with some modifications. If the point of the Jeffersonian dinner is deep conversation, then a party built on a fireside chat points towards performative revelation. Storytelling is an ancient and contemporary human skill, endemic to our ways of life. How could it go wrong?

What you need: Start with a fireplace, your own or that of a local establishment. Embrace narrative around a theme.

How it works: A recent example in Charlottesville involved Information Technology professionals telling personal stories that in some way reflected an “Epic Fail.” Participants told their stories on stage to an audience at a local coffee shop. Example themes around which to center stories could be: “on Grounds,” “two heads are better than one,” “first times,” “forever young” or “wahoowa.” Stories don’t have to contain intimate revelations nor do they have to be knee-slapping funny. You could have judging or ranking of the stories as to how well each one played on the theme (ironically, sincerely or otherwise).

Why it’s cool to party this way: Stories connect us. It’s a great way to get to know people because even if the language someone uses in a story is facetious, the themes often remain an authentic individual expression. Besides who doesn’t love the chance to show off a little bit?

Posted in Copy | Tagged Alumni Affairs, Alumni Engagement, Alumni Relations, Event Planning, UVA Global Network, UVaClubs, Winter Parties | Leave a comment

How to Move to New York City (Without a Job)

This post first appeared on the UVA Global Network.

The true New Yorker secretly believes that people living anywhere else have to be, in some sense, kidding. — John Updike

New York is romance; it engenders unmatched love in its residents. We’ve seen the movies and read the books. I decided it was time to get adventurous and make something happen. Vision and opportunity I had, but how do you get to New York with little money and no job? Get creative, and follow these three simple steps.


Everything I knew about New York City derived from Seinfeld episodes.

Step One: Find a patron.

This is the most necessary step. As you may have heard, New York is expensive. Average rent in Manhattan was over $3,000 in 2012. The good news is that warmhearted patrons are everywhere waiting to part with their hard-earned largesse. As the enterprising youngster in search of material for the finest bildungsroman this side of “Bright Lights, Big City,” all you have to do is ask.

I couldn’t find a patron so I found a friend, which I don’t recommend. Friends make unhappy patrons. Mixing friendship and money is like having beer before liquor (never sicker).

Parents are unhappy already because you don’t have a job so they make better choices as patrons. Unfortunately, your parents don’t live in the city so you still have to find a place to sleep at night.


A friend and I at Rudy’s Bar in Hell’s Kitchen. Does my process work?

Step Two: Find a couch.

Friends are a bad idea as your major funders, but they often have serviceable couches.

My friend lived in Brooklyn. Brooklyn is cool. Knowing cool places is a crucial skill on par with knowing the subway (HopStop saves lives). For the best couch-surfing experience, find a friend in one of the cool neighborhoods. If you’re unsure, look for vegan cafes, bars with long lists of IPAs, and record stores that sell vinyl.

I’ll assume you’d like to keep your friends so the next step is to find gainful employment.

Step Three: Find a job.

I was sleeping on an IKEA futon in Brooklyn, jobless, the night before my 30th birthday. Never do this. It leads to long nights.

Be ready to network. Unlike catered networking events in college, this hustle will make you feel dirty. Asking about jobs was my opener at parties. Luckily the hustle is just as much a part of New York culture as a bagel and lox. Fresh faces are looking for a way in and longtime residents are looking for a way up.


Everything is better on a boat, including the view of Manhattan’s West Side.

Two months after I arrived, networking got me a job with a windowed office overlooking 8th Avenue. I moved to Manhattan. Days of tailoring cover letters were finally over. Veni, vidi, vici, New York.

Moving is hard. New York is harder. But you’re young and resilient; you’ll come out strong and prosperous. I eventually left the city, but I still walk fast, drink hoppy IPAs and enjoy the Brooklyn-like restaurant scene in Charlottesville.