Thursday, June 29, 2006

Going to the Office (or The Long and Winding Road, Part II)

I just arrived home from a whirlwind trip up to my company and back. I say “whirlwind,” because our offices are located a 3 ½-hour drive from my house (often known to take five hours when the gods decide this is a perfect opportunity to see how I’m doing on the patience front, devising all kinds of assessment tools, from endless miles of road construction, to freaky snowstorms in early April, to summertime motorcycle rallies). I left last night, and came home this evening. Some of my more intrepid colleagues have been known to make basically this same trip back and forth in one day, in order to meet with those at our sister company. (Did I ever mention I’m in awe of some of my colleagues?) I don’t typically make the trip unless I can spend at least two nights there, but this was for a special event.

I have to admit that by the time I get home from a trip like this, I’m not looking too favorably upon this whole telecommuting business. On the way up, I’m wishing I lived a little closer. By the time I walk back through the door of my house, I’m eyeing it with the intent to sell. I’m ready to call my boss and say, “Okay, time to make some room for me in the office.” But then I start worrying that Bob will never be able to get a job if I do that, and we didn’t just spend three years schooling him in order for him to hang out doing nothing.

Thus my thoughts turn to wondering how quickly a good psychologist could get me over my fear of piloting a small aircraft. Meanwhile, I’m wondering who we can get to donate money to the cause, so we can afford the lessons and the plane. Years ago, I dated a guy whose children lived a three-hours’ drive from his house. He’d gotten so sick of the drive, he’d taken up flying lessons, so he could fly himself down and back. I used to think he was being a big baby. If we had parted more amicably, I’d have called him up the minute I got home tonight and apologized by saying “goo-goo” and crying into the telephone.

However, it’s now been close to two hours since I got home, and I can already tell I’m beginning to lose my baby fat. That drive wasn’t so bad. (I don’t have to get up and shower and get out of the house tomorrow morning. All I have to do is throw on some shorts and a tank top and get to work.) That drive gave me lots of time to think. (I don’t have to fight holiday traffic coming home from work tomorrow, as I’ll already be home when the office closes.) That drive allowed me to spend really good, intense, quality-time with my colleagues. (I can sit out on the deck with my work tomorrow, since it’s supposed to be a nice day.)

At this rate, maybe I’ll have reached the pre-teen years by my next trip and will just be thinking about personal chauffeurs rather than personal airplanes.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

The Baby Question

Somebody recently asked me if, now that I’m working from home, Bob and I are finally going to have a child. Well, this was a new and interesting take on "the baby question." Not to mince words here, but no. First of all, I know myself well enough to know I wouldn’t be able to work at home and have a child. I greatly admire those who can. Secondly, if I were going to have a child, I wouldn’t have waited until I was over the age of forty. Again, I greatly admire those women who do. Somehow, the whole notion of pregnancy never sounded like a rip-roaring time to begin with for me, and now that I have things like a bad back, even when I’m not carrying around an extra 25 pounds all day long, it seems even less so. Besides, I can barely keep up with my ten-year-old dog. I’d hate to see the kinds of circles a five-year-old human would run around me.

What annoyed me most about this question, though, is that it’s still being asked (although in a different guise now that I have a home office). I thought once I’d been married for ten years and had reached the age of forty, people would quit asking. Instead, the question just seems to change from "children" to "child." I’ve never understood why asking women this question is so acceptable in our society. I mean, when a woman announces she’s pregnant with her third or fourth child, does anyone ask her, “Are you ever going to stop having children?” No. They celebrate just as much as they did with her first. But try being a straight, married woman in this society who remains childless. You’re free game for all kinds of questioning, not the least of which is, “Are you ever going to have a child?”

I wonder what this person would have said if I’d responded, “No, I’m working from home not so that we can have a child, but because I’m finally going through menopause and was afraid the hormonal imbalance would cause me to kill a few colleagues.” Sometimes, I just want to say, “You know, I always meant to have children, but somehow, I just never got around to it.” The truth of the matter is that my biological clock seems to have wound itself down rather than winding itself up. It sounded more like a time bomb back when I was 23 and falling madly in love with every man I met who was way out of my league. By the time I’d reached 29, right around the time most of my friends were getting pregnant and having children, it was down to a faint tick (no tock). By 34, it was completely broken, and I had no desire to waste time looking up a clock repairman.

Everyone says, “but you love kids.” It’s true. I do. I love panda bears, too. But I bet no one would ask me if, now that I’m working from home, Bob and I are finally going to start raising pandas.

Monday, June 26, 2006


It's raining again. We're not in ark mode quite yet, as those poor souls down in Maryland are (at least according to the news reports), but I'm beginning to wish humidity-cutting knives were standard wedding presents for brides and grooms on the U.S. East coast, because I could use one right about now. It would be far more useful than all the candlesticks that seemed to be in vogue the year we were married. Of course, I'll be eating those words when the big thunder storm hits later, and we lose all our electricity. I'll also be cursing myself for hiding most of them away in closets where we can't find them.

I'm not one who typically likes to complain about the weather. I usually like to be the smug one, proving my superiority by never whining about it and telling those who do to shut up because there's absolutely nothing they can do about it. And why on earth people who choose to live in the Northeast would complain about the cold is beyond me. Either they grew up here and know perfectly well winter comes in September and lasts till May, or they moved here, having heard about it all their lives (like I did). Either dress in layers (which even this dumb Southerner knows how to do) or move, but don't tell me how cold it is.

But then, that's not really very fair of me. I moved here because I happen to be one of those rare human beings who likes weather extremes. Please don't plop me down somewhere like San Diego and make me spend more than a season there. I'd go mad with the boredom of all those sunny days, blue skies, and warm temperatures, with nothing but a very occasional rainstorm to cause people to run for cover. Give me record-breaking temperatures (either high or low, I'm not picky), exciting thunder storms, a little hail now and then, and I'm in seventh heaven. I'd probably draw the line at Hurricane Katrina, but that's about it. As a matter of fact, I'm a little annoyed with my home of choice. When I moved here, I was under the impression that blizzards strike much more frequently than they actually do.

As I sat here today, contemplating whether or not I really needed to go run a few errands at lunch, and deciding not to because I didn't want to go out in the rain, I realized I'm probably becoming even more annoying to my weather-whining friends. Telecommuting has made me almost completely immune to what's going on outside. I was never one much for checking the weather, but now I really couldn't care less. If it was hot yesterday, I'll throw on shorts this morning. If I later get chilly, I can always change into jeans or throw on a sweatshirt.

Quite obnoxious, I know. However, this complete obliviousness to Mother Nature and her whims also means I'm not going to be prepared should a rare tornado hit. And knowing my luck, it will be that tornado I always hoped would just rip off the roof of the office (or the school back in those days) in the middle of the night, harming no one, but closing everything down for a few days. You see, those of us who telecommute for my company are not allowed to take time off if the office has to close for some sort of weather emergency. And if the roof blows off my house? Well, I'd have to take vacation time to deal with that.

So, I think it's time to wipe that smug smile off my face before Maryland opens up its flood gates up this way.

Saturday, June 24, 2006

Business Travel

The other day, I was trying to decide whether I resent business travel less or more now that I’m working from home. Then I began to wonder when I became someone who would use the word “resent” in the same sentence as “travel.” I can remember when I was interviewing for the job at the last company I worked. My then boss-to-be told me the job would involve some travel and asked if that were okay. Okay? I wondered what kind of idiot would answer “no” to that question. I’d always dreamed of being one of those people with a corporate credit card, zipping around from one city to the next, racking up frequent flyer miles, and hanging out in airlines’ executive lounges.

Somehow, these business travel dreams had always been so bright. They’d never taken into account such things as missed flights due to blizzards, hotel rooms that are always stationed next to noisy elevators and ice machines (I’m convinced reservationists turn to each other as soon as they hang up the phone with me and say, “Emily’s coming to town. Quick, book up all rooms except the one next to the manic ice machine where the teenagers in town for the cheerleading contest plan to hang out all night giggling, screaming, and ‘practicing’”), dealing with exhibit booths that are nearly impossible to assemble or that arrive sans essential parts, or getting hopelessly sick and spending two days in a hotel room in San Diego wistfully looking out at the beautiful blue skies, bright sunshine, and palm trees. Deal with those sorts of things, and it doesn’t take too long before “resent” becomes an appropriate verb.

I've come to the conclusion, though, that I actually resent it less now that I’m working from home. It always seems like such an effort to get away and to leave the piles of manuscript pages all by themselves with no one to care for them. But then how nice it is not having to worry about the broken dishwasher that needs fixing; the laundry that’s engaging in it’s favorite pastime of piling up to the ceiling; the bills that act like boomerangs, reappearing the minute the check is mailed; the car whose engine warning light has decided to make a regular appearance; and the peach-colored carpets that are in such need of cleaning, your neighbors have been commenting on how they love that shade of brown you’ve chosen for the living room. When you work from home, and don’t have an office to escape to everyday, these things sit around, each about the size of Jaba the Hut, glaring at you with their milky eyes. How nice just to be able to shut the door in their faces and take off for a few days, as you have far-more important things to do halfway across the country.

I think I’m going to have to come up with another appropriate verb. Possibly “relish?”

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

"Beam Me Anywhere but Here, Scottie"

My sisters and I were recently discussing the benefits of teleportation (well, mostly the benefits. We did consider the possibility of suddenly finding our father's arm hovering before us, his voice calling from a distance, wondering if we can help him with this *&$! teleport thing). Are we the only ones, or has anyone else noticed an unprecedented lack of speed on the part of all twenty-first century geniuses to develop this form of travel? That's the problem with geniuses. They're just so inconsiderate. I mean, who cares about cloning and fingertip-sized telephones? I just want to be able to get from point A to point B without having to set foot in an airport.

Unfortunately, I have to set foot in one tomorrow. And I still haven't recovered from setting foot in one two days ago when my entire traveling experience was a nightmare. First, by the time I got from my place to the airport, which should have been a 45-minute trip, I could practically have driven halfway to Chicago (my final destination). I still have no idea why we sat in traffic just long enough to convince me I'd missed my flight. Luckily, my flight was delayed.

Normally, I hate delayed flights. Delayed flights are why I travel light and never check my luggage. (I've discovered the hard way that luggage, when left on its own while you sit for hours on a runway wondering if your flight is ever going to leave, will take matters into its own hands and hop aboard a flight to Key West while you're heading for NYC. ) This time, though, I felt nothing but relief when I was told my flight had been delayed. The feeling of relief began to wane a bit once we hit the 40-minute mark with no evidence of a plane in sight. By the time we reached the hour mark, I'd forgotten what relief was. After boarding and then sitting on the runway for 45 more minutes, I was reminded of John Cleese's wonderful line from the movie Clockwise in which he says it isn't the despair, that he can take the despair. It's the hope he can't stand (I so often relate to that line).

Who says flying is the quickest way to get there? I just want to know where I can sign up to be a volunteer in human teleportation experiments, preferably by tomorrow.

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Another Post that Has Nothing to Do with Telecommuting

I figure if all I discuss is telecommuting, everyone (most especially me) is going to get bored. Therefore, I’ll do what comes naturally to me and stray (often) from the topic at hand. Just in case you were wondering, I was the undergrad who would go to the library to research Roman gods, get completely sidetracked by a book on the difference between the way Ancient Greeks and Ancient Romans treated women, then another book on the role of elephants in ancient history (I was a victim of what my colleagues in the library profession called “browsing the shelves,” which is a wonderful thing when one doesn’t have a paper due in three days), and emerge from the library hours later without a single source for my paper.

So the topic today is amusement parks. More specifically, what happens when two people over the age of forty, neither of whom has been to one in at least twelve years, decide it’s been too long since they rode a roller coaster. They were right: it had been too long since they’d ridden a roller coaster.

When I was fifteen and eager to ride any roller coaster I could find within a 200-mile radius of where I lived (which means not too many, since I grew up in North Carolina, and the fair only came to town once a year), I had no idea that I was setting the stage for what would, in later years, become my tendency towards lower back and neck problems. Let’s just say one of the most renowned roller coasters in this country is not the best thing for such a person to ride. However, it was fun (why do some of us think being terrorized at speeds of sixty miles per hour on rickety rails in little carts that could fly off the tracks without the least warning is "fun?") as hell (maybe that’s it. Those of us who would describe hell as fun deserve this sort of torture, I suppose), so I still rode it three times, managing to grab that most-popular front-row seat on the third ride.

Other rides were not quite so pleasant. What’s happened to us that we can no longer ride something like the “Tilt-a-Whirl” without making sure we haven’t eaten anything in the past 24-hours? Why does it make us moan instead of giggle, the way it used to do? I was the one who would brag at age ten about how many times she’d ridden the “Oaken Bucket,” what our amusement park called that big bucket-like ride in which everyone lines up against the wall, and it spins so fast the pressure sucks everyone against the wall, and then the floor drops. Now, I can imagine, I’d be looking for a different sort of bucket, if I were to ride such a thing.

Then there are the bumper cars. They should be renamed “legalized whiplash cars.” Ambulance chasers should be lining themselves up at the entrances to these rides instead of wasting their time out on real streets. But no, somehow doing permanent damage to one’s neck, all in the name of fun, seems to be one of the last of the lawsuit-free arenas in this country.

Massaging our necks after a spin in the bumper cars, Bob and I sat watching those who were either brave or stupid enough to ride something that would have made Spanish Inquisitors green with envy. Not only did it swing people up and around and upside down numerous times, but it also paused in the face-down position and sprayed all the riders with cold water. Bob turned to me and asked, “What is it about human beings that makes them want to subject themselves to that?” Just as amazed as he was, I answered, “I haven’t a clue,” then suggested we go try again for that front-row position on the roller coaster.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Ellen Degeneres -- My Love

Why is it that when one telecommutes, everyone else in the world thinks she isn’t really working? Why do they suddenly assume she has all the time in the world? I’ve noticed that the first remark people seem to make when I announce I telecommute is, “Oh, that must be nice. You have really flexible hours, don’t you?” The thought bubbles above their heads read “’Flexible hours’ = ‘only work when the spirit moves you.’”

At least, I assume that’s what they’re thinking. Otherwise, I can’t imagine why they (in this case, oh, I don’t know, “they” could possibly be husbands) seem to think that you can now be the sole errand-runner in the house, since, they, of course, have to be at work all day long. Nor why they (a family member, possibly) might say something like, “Well, you can do your work anywhere, right? Dad has five doctors’ appointments coming up…” Or (no need to consider who might utter this free-for-all) “Oh, you can take this afternoon off to come do this with me. You can always work tonight.” Right. Like I want to be working from 6:00 – 10:00 at night (all right, I know I often do anyway, but that’s a “feel-good-about-what-I-do” sort of working, not a “guilty-because-I-took-a-three-hour-long-lunch” sort of working).

These sorts of people are annoying enough, but the most annoying are those who insinuate you really must not be working. How cushy it must be to sit at home all day, eating the proverbial bonbons and watching the soaps on T.V. I want these people to know, first of all, that it’s Toblerone bars and Cadbury Cream Eggs (that is, when it isn’t Girl Scout cookies and cheese), not bonbons. Secondly, it’s Ellen Degeneres, not the soaps.

Okay, here’s my dirty little secret. I love Ellen Degeneres. If I hadn't been so positively distracted by the extraordinary sex appeal of males all my life, Ellen would be my kind of woman (well, Ellen and Hilary Swank). And, yes, one of the nice things about working from home is that, when I want, I can quit work at 4:00 p.m. (since I can also start work at 7:00 a.m.) to watch her, because that’s what time she comes on in my T.V. Land. The really cool thing is that I can quit work at 4:00, watch her, and then go back to work, if I so desire.

Television is not a favorite leisure-time activity of mine. In the days when I was never home, because I was commuting, turning on the T.V. was the last thing I ever thought of doing. Home time was for reading and cooking. I can’t tell you a thing about the latest shows. I’m probably the only woman in America who’s never watched a single episode of American Idol, Desperate Housewives, or Survivor.

Personally, I lost interest in television around season six of Frasier. This had nothing to do with losing interest in the show, one of – if not the – best sitcoms ever produced. (I have no idea why such a clever, hilarious, intellectually-inclined show, sometimes worthy of Shakespeare in its ability to pull off comedy of error, ever managed to make it so successfully in this country. It gives me hope, though, that it did.) My problem was that I couldn’t be bothered to figure out which night it was on, since it kept switching. I found it much easier to pick up a book than to try to keep up with it.

Television has become more appealing as of late. I find myself actually checking the TV listings, especially now it’s so easy to do so online and to pick the version geared toward the mega-expensive-television-viewing medium of one’s choice, which means (just like in the old days) the channel numbers listed actually match the ones on my T.V. That was when I discovered Ellen comes on at a good time for me. I’m usually beginning to run out of steam around 4:00 p.m. If she has someone hot and energizing on the show (use your own imagination here. I’m not sharing mine), I can be galvanized into action, so that I sit back down at my computer and deal with that difficult issue I’ve been ignoring all day. If she has someone on who’s so sleazy and annoying (I’d much rather name names here, but I will restrain myself) that even her dancing doesn’t perk me up a little, I can decide it’s time to call it a day and resort to the enticements of the kitchen, while inserting an old Talking Heads c.d. into my c.d. player and imagining David Byrne would like to dance with me.

I wonder if Ellen realizes how much power she has over productivity in the workplace.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Genie or Genius?

I love computers. Without computers I wouldn’t be able to telecommute. I also wouldn’t be able to blog or (worse) read others’ blogs. But, after today, I need to refine that thought a little. I love computers until Something Horrible Goes Wrong. Today was my first day back from vacation. In other words, this was not a day that could be wasted on Something Horrible Goes Wrong. I had lots of work to do, work that involved, among other things, accessing and printing PDF files. But instead of accessing and printing PDF files, I spent a good deal of the day wishing I were back in an office.

Parts of life were just grand when I worked in an office, for instance, that part in which your printer suddenly decides that every PDF file must have its own special language only the computer and printer understand. This language includes lots and lots of recognizable letters, but none that when strung together form any recognizable words. Oh yes, and the printer's discovered the drama of making frequent use of question marks and exclamation points as well. Quite obviously, it's decided it’s had enough of that silly old WYSIWYG nonsense. What it sees and wants is far more important than what you do.

What’s grand about this when working in an office instead of working from home is that a wonderful genie from the M.I.S. department can be called, and this genie will come to you and fix the problem. Everyone in every M.I.S. department for every place I’ve ever worked is well aware of how I feel about them, but in case you, dear reader, are not, I will explain to you that if we celebrate Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, and Administrative Assistant’s Day, I have no idea why we don’t celebrate M.I.S. Genie Day. And, like the mail room assistants I mentioned in my Post Office Bother post, I should have spent more time bowing down to them when I had the chance.

Now, instead of having these wonderful people who just walk in and fix my computer woes, I have to email or call our helpdesk and pray I understand whatever he (if you were paying attention, you may have seen his cameo in Aladdin) says I need to do to fix the problem, so I can do it on my own. I’ve long since given up on worrying about looking really stupid, mainly because I can’t look much stupider than I already do, being someone who, yes, has made the mistake of thinking something horrible has happened, only to discover she’s accidentally unplugged a cord. Therefore, I’m sure every time I call, I sound just like a frightened first-time parent calling the pediatrician, especially since, when looking stupid is no longer an issue, weeping uncontrollably over the phone is still an option.

Unfortunately, throwing the printer down the stairs or out the window still isn’t an option (I, not being Pete Townsend, able to destroy my work instruments with nary a thought to the cost). It’s too bad, because after downloading two upgrades, doing some scary removal and reinstalling of our web client, which I was sure would cut me off from the office for life, and rebooting my computer about a thousand times, I’m still going to have to see if Berlitz has any Printerese interpreters. It would be so nice to just throw the whole thing down the stairs and forget about it. Even nicer would be to find an ancient-looking bottle at the bottom of the stairs with rubbing instructions.

Sunday, June 11, 2006

The Long and Winding Road

My niece, whose arrival in this world, I swear, my sister just called me last month to announce, is graduating from high school this weekend. Thus, on Friday, I made the 8-hour drive (solo, since Bob had to work all weekend) to my parents' house in Virginia, so we could all drive down to North Carolina together for the big event. Back when I was in my early twenties, I used to love to take long road trips. I could have put together a box of tapes, climbed into the car, and happily driven from Seattle to the Florida Keys, barely giving it a second thought. Nowadays, I seem to revert to my six-year-old conviction, which was that on my list of horrible things to have to do, a long car ride ranked right up there with going to the doctor for vaccinations.

I carefully put together a collection of about 20 cds, representing a wide variety of music, everything from Ella Fitzgerald to The Magnetic Fields to Elizabethan lute music and George Jones and Tammy Wynette. I'd been on the road for a whole two hours when I began to wonder if I'd unknowingly been slipped some acid or something when I was making this selection of what was obviously some of the most boring music ever written and performed. I passed a Walmart, a place I never shop, and was tempted to stop to go buy something new and different. I'm glad I didn't. I might have had a difficult time explaining to Bob upon my return why we now own The Lollipop Tree, Tubby the Tuba, and Bobby Sherman (all favorites of mine circa age six) cds.

This was also around the same time I began to get hungry and to be in need of a bathroom, so, naturally, I hit the point at which one lane was closed for paving, and we all sat in traffic for about half an hour. This gave me time to think about what I wanted to eat, which was, of course, a Whopper, Jr. I didn't have to read Fast Food Nation to be someone who never eats at fast food restaurants, ever. I know Burger King is one of the absolute worst, that the planet has been devastated by the company's need to farm and slaughter billions of cows, but then, I remember how my mother used to occasionally pick me up from kindergarten and take me to Burger King for a Whopper, Jr. (actually, it was for half a Whopper, Jr. back then) as a huge treat and that the only thing that ever broke up the monotony of a long car ride in those days was a stop at Burger King. To hell with the cows and the planet, I wanted a Whopper, Jr. I also wanted a bathroom. In fact, even more than a Whopper, Jr., I wanted a bathroom.

Did you know there are practically no Burger Kings in the entire state of Pennsylvania? I didn't, either, until I was trying to find one. Every exit had everything else under the sun, just no Burger Kings. My stomach was doing battle with my craving. By now, it just wanted to eat, and it didn't much care whether we were eating Whopper, Jr.'s or cows' eyes and nostrils (which, of course, by the time I was ten, I was wise enough to know had been ground up and put into Whoppers and Big Macs along with a couple of rats for added flavor). My bladder wasn't being too picky, either. She was trying to convince me back when we were sitting in traffic to just pull over and run off into the woods, but my imagination, which had pictured some huge greasy-haired, tattooed, and toothless truck driver following along behind, had reined her in. I gave in and pulled off at a McDonalds.

Have you ever known anyone who had trouble finding parking at a McDonalds? I mean, even when every (quite obviously, extremely imaginative) teenager in my hometown used to hang out in the McDonalds parking lot, no one ever had trouble finding a parking space. This time I thought I was going to have to get back on the road and drive to the next McDonalds, but just as I had almost circled the place twice, I spotted a car pulling out and grabbed the space. Enter McDonalds, where the reason for the lack of parking became abundantly clear: a birthday party with about 30 five-year-olds and their mothers in attendance. Normally, I feel extraordinarily guilty when I walk into a restaurant, just use the bathroom, and leave, but waiting half an hour for a hamburger is not what I'd call "fast food." I told my stomach to shut up as I climbed back into the car. This was destiny. We were meant to eat at Burger King, not McDonalds.

We finally hit a Burger King in Linglestown, PA. This was highly appropriate, as Linglestown sounds like something out of the jolly parts of a Bass and Rankin Christmas special. I'd been mocked and shunned by my peers for my musical tastes, and realizing I'd never fit in, had left on my quest for the Whopper, Jr., traveling across the treacherous closed-lane highway, inhabited by the Evil Mr. Road Rage, and had finally arrived at Linglestown, the home of the only Burger King for miles around. I had one last hurdle, though. The Burger King was planted in one of those mega strip malls in which you can see it shining brightly off in the distance, but the maze to get to it keeps leading you to parking lot barriers that keep you from getting there. But I made it. I got there; I got my Whopper, Jr., the cold Whopper, Jr. that left me feeling queasy during the rest of the drive down to Virginia, my stomach reminding me this hadn't been his idea.

Thursday, June 08, 2006


When I first started talking about telecommuting, it seemed so many people in my life tried to discourage me by saying, “you’d be too lonely,” or “I can’t see you doing that; you’re going to be so isolated,” or “how are you going to meet people?” People advised if I were going to do it, I’d better try to find others in town who telecommute and have regular lunches together with them. I wish I weren’t so impressionable. They actually had me worried. I pictured myself completely cut off from the outside world. No one would ever call me. I’d never meet anyone new. I’d be like that weirdo on an episode of Law and Order: SVU I saw, who never left his apartment. He did all his shopping online and only communicated with people via email. And then there were injuries to think about. What if I fell down the stairs and broke my back? I could be lying there for hours before Bob, the only human being with whom I’d ever have contact, came home to find me.

Then I snapped out of it and realized this was me. Despite a life-long fear of not being liked and having no friends, I’ve never lacked for company. In fact, sometimes when people extol one of the virtues of doing something as “It’s a great way to meet people,” I feel like coming back with, “That’s nice, but can you please tell me a great way to get rid of people instead?” It’s not that I don’t dearly love all my friends. I do. It’s just that I get invited to do way too many things, things that sound like great fun with people I adore, people I don’t want to let down by saying “no,” a word that doesn’t much like to exit my mouth. But before I know it, I'll discover it’s Tuesday night, I’m booked solid every evening for the next week and a half, and I want to kill myself, because did I mention I’m also someone who desperately needs lots and lots of time alone?

And then, it seems, I’m always meeting more really fun and interesting people, and I’m inviting them to do things with me before I can help it. Sometimes I think life would be so much easier if I were just a complete misanthrope. Imagine what it would be like to be able to say, “No, I don’t want to be introduced to Joe. I hate people,” or “Thank you, but it wasn’t very nice to meet you, so please don’t ever call me.” Then, on those cold, rainy nights just meant for curling up with some classic DVD I know I love accompanied by a pot of tea, I wouldn’t find myself dashing from the car to arrive soaking wet in a freezing movie theater to watch some movie I’m not really sure I even want to see. Nor would I find myself rattled by a phone call just when I was in the midst of learning how to make my own cinnamon rolls. I wouldn’t have to pretend I’m sick to avoid attending a party full of strangers (I’d rather find myself sharing a jail cell with Hannibal Lechter than to have to attend a party full of total strangers).

So, no need to worry about my becoming isolated. Isolation sounds great to me. As a matter of fact, leave me alone. Act as though I don’t exist. Have parties and invite everyone I know, but don’t invite me. Then, I can curl up all by myself and spend my evenings wallowing in self-pity, wondering “What’s wrong with me? Why doesn’t anybody like me? Why can’t I meet people?”

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

The "Haves" and the "Have Nots"

Last night I was arguing with my friend Elmo. This is not an unusual event. If someone were to past life regress me, we’d probably discover that 400 years ago Elmo was my older brother or my father or something. I adore him, but he inspires my argumentative nature to climb to the tops of the sorts of mountain peaks typically ascended only with family members.

Anyway, I was arguing with him that those of us in the publishing business should just accept the fact it’s going to be harder and harder to hire truly good, experienced people unless we’re willing to let them telecommute. This is especially true for publishers thinking about publishing their materials in electronic formats. Try telling that rare person you find who actually has programming and editing experience that, sorry, she has to move to Nowhere Ville, USA, because she can’t, otherwise, possibly learn your peculiar computer systems. Mr. Competitor will snap her up in a heartbeat and offer to buy the house for her from which she will telecommute, while encouraging her to revamp his own outdated computer system. (I know a tiny bit about this, having a sister who both edits and programs. Don’t ask me why those programming genes wouldn’t have anything to do with me. They must have gone off clubbing with the artistic and musical genes that also wanted to avoid me once they discovered they weren’t part of the lucky crowds invited to my other sister’s and brother’s places.)

Driving home from this relaxing evening I’d created, I had this other thought. Telecommuting is going to be the wave of the future as far as defining the “haves” and the “have-nots” in our world. (This is probably just a variation on Thomas Friedman’s World is Flat, which I have yet to read, but which people are constantly telling me all about.) I was beginning to envision a world in which all the high-paying, professional jobs were for those who worked from home. Only the lowly “skilled” workers would still have to be away 9-12 hours a day, commuting to do things like building homes for all the telecommuters.

Right about now, you should start imagining all of my multiple personalities freaking out. My bleeding-heart self was chiding me for setting myself up to become one of the “haves.” I should get out while I can, sell everything, and go do something truly meaningful, like caring for sick children in Guatemala. My wannabe hipster self was thinking, “Cool. You’re actually on the cutting-edge for a change. Now don’t blow it. We have an image to keep up here.” My materialistic, imperialistic self was in complete agreement about not blowing it, telling me I had to work ever harder to ensure I maintain this status while wondering what I’ll be worth ten years from now. What will I be paying the “have-nots” to go to the post office and do my laundry for me? Will I have my own submersible parked in the garage of my little ocean-view vacation getaway on the island of Saba?

I calmed them all down with a new thought. Maybe Phillip K. Dick could have figured out a way to create doctors and lawyers who never had to leave their homes for work, but, somehow, I don’t think they’re coming in my lifetime. And Ursula K. Leguin could write the how-to manual on turning them into “have-nots,” but that won’t be happening on this planet anytime soon, either. We all watched as my little “tele-ocracy” spun off into space.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

"May I Suggest a Book You Just Have to Read?"

Every so often, I get nostalgic for my former profession. I really have no idea why, since I was a librarian in the public library world, which means working some nights, some Sundays, and lots of Saturdays (always the Saturdays you’re invited to big events, like relatives’ weddings, and have to swap days with someone else). Most of the time, instead of researching interesting reference questions, you’re fixing the jammed printer for the 100th time in two hours. Meanwhile you're mustering all your strength to ignore the patron whose comments in the business world would allow you to buy that ocean-view mansion in the Caribbean, since you’d be able to file a big fat sexual harassment law suit against him, but against whom you can do nothing here. Nonetheless, one of the libraries in a town near mine is looking for a teen services coordinator, and I found myself fantasizing about the position. This job would pay much less than I’m making now, would involve a forty-five minute commute, would definitely mean working nights (the only time teens are awake), and I certainly wouldn’t be able to do it from the comfort of my own home. So what could my fantasy possibly have entailed? Why becoming the only adult in these teens’ lives who understands them! We’d discuss books, movies, music, computers, T.V. shows… I’d rescue them from their teenage misery; I’d inspire them to become caring citizens of the world; I’d change their lives.

Yeah, right. That’s what I thought I was going to do when I made the decision to become a librarian for adults. It was such a noble profession. People were going to walk through the doors of that library, and we were going to do nothing but talk about books. I would stretch their imaginations, encourage them to read things they might never have read otherwise, provide them with just the right materials to help them make major decisions in their lives. I’d change the way they felt about The Librarian. (I’ve just realized I forgot to mention delusions of grandeur when I was discussing my psychological disorders in my June 2nd post.) I’m not quite sure how long it took me to realize that the most frequently asked question wasn’t, “Could you recommend a good book?” but rather “Where’s the bathroom?”

I've recently become wise enough to realize my fantasies are just that: fantasies. I don’t really want to go back to working in the library world, well, not unless it means being able to set myself up in a big, comfy chair, feet propped on an ottoman and read (when no one is engaged in an animated discussion about books with me) for eight hours under a sign that says, “Reader’s Advisory: let’s talk about what you should be reading,” while being paid my current salary. Better yet, let’s make that a sign over my front door, so I don’t have to leave my house. Wouldn’t that be a fun job? Basically, a never-ending book discussion group. Sounds terrific, but the realist in me who is constantly trying secretly to poison the dreamer, is already shouting about the downside, which she can’t believe I seem to have forgotten: reader’s advisory is a damn difficult proposition.

When I did work in the library world, I once attended a reader’s advisory workshop. We were encouraged to read books we normally wouldn’t, which was one of those many, many “uh-duh” moments I've encountered in my life. Why I’d never figured out, without being told, that I’d have an easier time helping the person who loved a particular fantasy writer find similar authors and titles if I’d actually read that writer and others of her ilk, is one of those unsolved mysteries best left unexplored. I love to read, and I don’t tend to think of myself as an extraordinarily picky reader (I mean, does a raving alcoholic really distinguish between Bombay Sapphire gin and cough syrup?), so I didn’t think it would be such a hardship to read even the books that got the worst reviews in all my favorite journals. After all, some of my favorite movies have received rotten reviews. I’d broaden my horizons and check out some of the most-often-requested authors at our library, so I could be The Best Reader’s Advisor Ever. I went back to the library and happily pulled off the shelves books by the #1-bestselling authors of the day.

I tried. I really did. However, not only did I find I was reevaluating my previous thoughts about hardship as they pertained to reading the books, but I also discovered a new unbearable hardship: keeping my arm from tossing them into the nearest trashcan. And this is when I began to discover that being a librarian maybe wasn’t the best job for me. I mean, how can you smile and treat kindly the person who comes in and requests such books, when, you discover (much to your “open-minded-and-tolerant” persona’s horror) all you can think is, “The townspeople’s tax dollars really shouldn’t be wasted on you and your pathetic reading habits?”

But, let’s be fair and put aside this horrible, judgmental, snobbish side of me. Reading books is just such a personal endeavor, how successful is anyone, really, at advising others on what they should read? I have a few reliable sources in my life. Bob is a fantastic advisor, but every once in a while, he hits something (like one extremely brutal spy adventure whose gratuitous torture scenes were just a little too graphic for my imagination) that just doesn’t cut it. My oldest sister is great when it comes to recommending fun “chick lit” written by authors who actually know a little something about stringing words together to form sentences, but she’s not a big fan of the supernatural, and I am. My other sister inspires me to read classics I’ve never read, but she can’t tell me much about anything written after 1940. My brother and I, since we were teenagers, have shared a love of such contemporary writers as Tom Robbins and John Irving, but he also loves to read the sort of huge history tomes that convince me I have the world's worst case of ADD by the time I hit page 2. And I have plenty of friends who’ve been pretty consistent in inspiring me over the years to pick up great books I've loved. Oddly enough, two of the best recommenders of books I’ve known have been former bosses. I’m still waiting for the day one of them shares a book with me I can honestly say I don’t like, but it has yet to happen.

I think I've been pretty good at recommending books in return to all these people, from time to time at least. Still, getting it right, all the time, for everyone who walks into the library looking for a good read, is a tall order and one best left to those who don’t begin to doubt their very existence when someone walks in and says, “That was the worst book I’ve ever read. How could you possibly have recommended it?” So, I’ll stick with editing books and leave the tough/life-altering decisions up to others. I mean, could you imagine my having to deal with a teenager who walks up and tells me she idolizes Jessica Simpson while informing me she found it impossible not to throw my latest book recommendation into the nearest trashcan?

Sunday, June 04, 2006

Pinching Pennies

I did two things this week that have made me appreciate my telecommuting status, yet again, and to decide, despite what Friday's post may have insinuated, I don’t care if I wind up a patient in a psychiatric hospital (as long as they let me move around and don’t keep me bedridden). The first thing I did was to get an oil change in my car for $40. The second thing I did was to fill up my gas tank for $42.15. (Incidentally, you can tell this means I don’t drive one of those hideously ugly, monstrous SUVs that so many advertising-influenced Americans, who have to drive under such extremely challenging conditions -- all those wide, smoothly-paved, clearly-marked, suburban streets -- have been suckered-in to believing they need in order to be safe, while demonstrating that, although they may look like suburban parents, they’re really “ruggedly cool” adventurers who just might take off on a safari at a moment’s notice). I can’t believe getting an oil change is now cheaper than filling up my gas tank. Back in my living paycheck-to-paycheck days, oil changes were those things I was always wondering if I could make do without, because they were expensive. I never thought of them as a bargain. But now my tendency to pinch pennies is asking, “Hmmm. Can I make do without the gas and just spend my money on those cheap oil changes?” Possibly, if I can keep those bothersome post office trips down to only one a week.

These sorts of thoughts are constant reminders that I’m my father’s daughter. He loves to credit his ethnic heritage for his inability to part with his pennies (Scottish and Jewish. Really. Can you think of a worse combination, especially when paired with growing up during the Depression, an era that could have inspired even Richie Rich to stash away some of those wheelbarrows of allowance he received each week?). My father was well-known for replying to monetary requests from his kids with, “I’m sorry, honey, but I haven’t got a dime in my pocket,” once prompting my brother to ask, “I know, but what about some dollars?” He would drive five miles out of his way in order to save 5 cents on gas. We wore hats and gloves in the house during the winter, because if 55 degrees was “room temperature” in Great Britain and “good enough for Queen Elizabeth,” it was “good enough for us.”

With this sort of an example, you can see why I spent a good deal of my childhood trying to figure out ways to earn my own money. But, I soon discovered, I was just as enamored with figuring out ways to keep from having to spend it, an unrequited love over which I still pine. Thus, when I started thinking about ways this telecommuting business is saving me money, the sparks began to glow in my heart again. Not only am I saving gas money, but I don’t have to buy clothes to prove I’m as hip and trendy as my colleagues. I don’t have to worry about forgetting my lunch and having to either starve all day or fork over money for an overpriced deli sandwich. I don’t get invited to happy hours anymore, so I don’t have to pay the price of a six pack for one beer, nor do I have to pay our teenaged neighbor $5 to come walk and feed Lady, because I’m not home to do so. The pennies are just piling up. I’m going to have to borrow one of Richie Rich’s wheelbarrows.

Okay, let me enjoy this a little while longer before telling me my electric bills are on the rise.

Friday, June 02, 2006

Psychological Disorders

My friend Kathy, who was a fellow psych major with me in college, unlike me, has actually done things like worked in psychiatric hospitals. Through the years, she’s informed me that I come right up to the lines of so many psychological disorders, but I never seem to step over any of them. In other words, I’m almost a bipolar-paranoid-obsessive-compulsive-overachievement-needy-anxious-hypochondriacal-masochistic-antisocial-eating-disordered-alcoholic-borderline personality. Almost, but not quite.

Today (my toes maybe stretching just a wee bit over that paranoid line), I began to wonder if telecommuting is going to induce me to take a couple of “giant steps” (I can picture those long-awaited, happily-exaggerated steps I determinedly took as a child playing “Mother May I?” Since I was inevitably the smallest player, my giant steps were completely unthreatening, equaling two baby steps from most of my rivals) over that obsessive-compulsive line. I really shouldn’t care about this, though, right? I mean, with the popularity of such things as the TV show Monk, I would just be as trendy as the next guy or gal.

Here’s why I was questioning my psychological stability. For reasons that are unimportant, I drove Bob to work this morning (he’s working as a chaplain this summer at a hospital a half hour’s drive from our house). Now that I’m working from home, I’m used to being “at work” between 7:00 and 7:30 every morning. Today, I didn’t sit down at my computer until 8:15 (please don’t remind me that was early back in the days when I commuted to work). I spent a good deal of the morning focused on my panic over how I was going to get through my to-do list before I had to leave at 4:00 to get him.

As every true obsessive-compulsive person should, I make a to-do list every day. I once read in one of the many self-help books that used to be an addiction before I discovered worry, alcohol, and Ambien, to-do lists should consist of no more than six items. I dance right up to that overachievement-needy line, though, and mock from this safe distance, those who can only accomplish six meager tasks a day. My lists typically include a dozen tasks. Guess who only ever completes about half the things on her list each day. Could it be that person whose sneakers are firmly planted at the suicidal line?

The telephone rang while I was happily checking off one of the items on my oh-so-efficiently organized and beautifully-aligned to-do list. How could anyone possibly let the phone ring without checking caller i.d. to see who it is? But wait a minute. It was my home line, not my work line. Can’t check that one. That would mean I wasn’t working. I’ve carefully allotted every second to work-related tasks only. You mean I used to take personal calls when I was at the office? Well, but in those days, it wasn’t so trendy to be OCD, so tracking those seconds wasn’t as important.

11:00 rolled around. I have a set routine now. From 11:00 – 12:00, I work out and take a shower. Couldn’t do it today. No time. But then I started to get antsy. If I don’t work out, my heart might suffer. I might have a heart attack, and then I’d have to miss weeks of work. Okay, I’d cut my 45-minute workout to 30 minutes, sponge bathe, and shower tonight. If I had to, I’d pick up Bob and finish work when we got home.

Bottom line? I finished working at 8:30 tonight. If Bob ever leaves me, I’m giving Monk a call.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Post Office Bother

I wasn’t going to write about this, because I knew it would probably be extremely obnoxious to those who might read it who have an hour-long, one-way commute to work. Well, actually, I was going to write about it anyway, but I was going to apologize profusely to anyone who has such a commute. However, last night, I was perusing one of my favorite blogs Bookworld (if you like to read, check it out You can thank Becky, my friend who introduced it to me) and came across a psychological phrase I’d forgotten: hedonistic adaptation. How could I possibly have forgotten something so useful? In a layperson’s nutshell, it means people adapt very easily and quickly to good news or situations, with barely a thought, let alone a marvel. So now I don’t need to apologize, because I’m just going to blame today’s post on hedonistic adaptation.

Yesterday morning, I had to go to the post office to mail things for work. Thanks to the glories of email and being able to send most documents as attachments, this is something I don’t have to do as often as I would have fifteen years ago (yes, I do know people who telecommuted, even back in those days. I don’t know how on earth they managed). I’ve discovered I just hate the bother of having to go to the post office. I never knew that one thing I was really going to miss from my office days was that handy little box, where I just deposited everything that needed mailing, and those magicians, the mailroom assistants, would take care of it for me. No figuring out postage, no saving receipts that will have to be mailed themselves, so I can get reimbursed. Just poof! and everything went where it needed to go. I wish I’d spent more time bowing down to the mailroom assistants.

The post office is only about six miles from my house. I used to have a 24-mile/45-minute commute to work. I found myself on the drive back wondering: why am I so bothered by having to take the time to drive over to the post office? Well, the explanation became perfectly clear once I logged onto Bookworld: hedonistic adaptation. I’ve already completely adapted to the good news that I don’t have to leave the house for work. Thus, when I find I do have to leave the house for work, I resent it. I should have been in some psych experiment for adaptation timing, as I’m pretty sure I adapted to this fortunate situation, not giving it a single thought, around day two of working from home.

It’s a dangerous thing. I saw an ad on TV for a label maker, extolling its virtues, one of which is that it will print out postage labels. I’m not one who is typically swayed by advertising, but this was quite a convincing ad. It first grabbed my attention by demonstrating how annoying trying to print labels with a standard printer can be. Since I’ve had a little bit of experience with that, I was impressed with how well those advertisers knew their market. I immediately found myself wondering if I ought to go down to Staples or Office Depot to see if they had one. Then all I’d have to do is walk down to my mailbox to deposit my mail (almost as good as that little box in the old office). Walking would be a good thing. It would help me burn off those chocolates I had to eat yesterday. But then I realized I’d probably start resenting having to go to the mailbox twice in one day, and besides, I couldn’t be bothered to drive over to Staples.

Now, I'm just wondering if there’s anyway to induce something called hedonistic amnesia that would make me forget all the good things about working in an office, like not having to bother about mail.