Monday, July 31, 2006

True Isolation

Imagine arriving at your place of employment one day, eager to attack the tons of work that awaits you after just having taken off two days (because this is 95% more likely to happen if you’ve just taken some time off). As you walk up from the parking lot, approaching the double glass doors of the office building, you discover a chest-high barrier erected all around the building's perimeter, blocking your entry. You’re standing there, puzzling over this situation, wondering what on earth this barrier is doing here, when you see one of your colleagues approaching. Ah, some help. Maybe the two of you can figure this out together. But then, your colleague does an amazing thing. She leaps right over the barrier and waltzes on through the doors.

Well, that didn’t look too hard. Maybe you can leap over that barrier, too. You take off your sandals, back up to get a nice running start, and launch yourself at what you think is just the right moment. Instead of sailing over the barrier, as you imagined yourself doing, though, you come crashing down into it, and are left in a crumpled heap still sitting on the parking-lot side of it. You stand up and dust yourself off, while checking for broken bones. Meanwhile, that smug guy from accounting you’ve never liked comes prancing up the sidewalk. He’s laughing at you as he manages to maneuver the barrier like a first-place horse at a steeplechase. Right behind him is that good-looking guy from marketing. You step aside, hoping Mr. Good-looking wasn’t also a witness to your failed attempt, and watch him as he practically steps over the barrier. He doesn’t even back up to give himself any kind of a running start (well, you always knew there was something special about him).

Many more of your fellow employees manage to make it across that barrier while you stand there, wondering if you should attempt it again. This is getting ridiculous. You’d planned to be at work early and were hoping you’d have at least something done by now. You can see everyone else inside, sitting at their computers, getting their (much-less-important-than-your) work done.

It looks like the coast is temporarily clear, so you decide to attempt another leap, with less success than the first. Undeterred, you try again. And again. And again. Finally, you have to admit that you’re just not an Olympic high jumper, even if everyone else who works for the company is. So, now you wonder what you should do. Maybe you should go to Starbucks and get some coffee and see if the barrier’s been removed by the time you return. Maybe you should see if there’s any work you can do sitting outside the building. Maybe you should take the day off and go home and do some work around the house. And, as you try to make up your mind, that damn clock just keeps ticking away, while all your important files lie tantalizingly just beyond your reach.

Welcome to the world of the telecommuter when the company web server is on the blink.

Sunday, July 30, 2006

The Mighty Armadillo

Bob and I had the good fortune to attend an environmental broadcast news summit on Friday. One of the speakers at this summit was James Hansen, an expert on climate change from NASA, who presented us with a very gloomy picture of the state of the world in light of global warming. He had many slides, most of which were bar graphs, charts, and maps to help depict all this doom and gloom, but the one slide that stuck out in my mind was the one of the “lowly” little armadillo, whom most humans would probably consider to be a very pea-brained and insignificant little species.

But you see, the armadillo apparently doesn’t need all these charts and graphs to understand that the temperature is rising in the world. He’s already figured that out, and you know what he’s doing about it? He’s migrating. That means he’s showing up in places in Arkansas where people are not used to seeing armadillos, because it’s getting too hot in the places he used to call “home.” One day, if things don’t change, we may be seeing armadillos in the Northeast.

Meanwhile, we human beings, with our big brains and supposed intelligence, first of all, need someone else to tell us how our climate is changing, because despite the fact we’re all sweltering in record-breaking heat waves all over the world this summer, we can’t really tell to what degree things have changed. And, when someone else does tell us what’s going on and how we’d better make some changes fast (Hansen says within ten years), many of us decide to pretend those people are wrong. We go out and buy bigger brand new S.U.V.’s to replace the ones we just bought three years ago; we want to “keep our standard of living” just as is, and don’t want to make any sacrifices in order to reduce carbon dioxide emissions; because we're suckers for their advertising, we support the big businesses that are doing everything they can to get around energy-saving laws; and we lie around with our air conditioners set on “maximum” bitching about the heat this summer.

If the oceans keep rising at the rates at which they’re currently doing so, due to climate changes, huge portions of countries like Bangladesh may very well be under water within the next century. The next century. We’re not talking millions of years here. Yet, is anyone really doing anything about it? Is anyone even being as smart as the mighty armadillo and migrating to higher ground? No wonder armadillos have been around longer than humans. My bet is that they’ll still be around long after this brilliant, superior, and extraordinarily arrogant species known as homo sapiens has brought about its own demise.

Friday, July 28, 2006

MWF Seeking Wife

I don’t know what’s happened to me. I was the child in our family who had the well-organized and tidy room, the one who requested a vacuum cleaner for Christmas one year, the one who at the age of three would stand at the dishwasher and help her mother load the knives and forks and spoons, waiting for the day when she could graduate to loading plates and glasses. I hated clutter and chaos and had to have everything just so. Now I live in a house that seems to be an experimental laboratory for creating new Greek and Egyptian gods. Maybe what happened is that life, and a space much larger than a child’s bedroom, as well as the discovery of things far less loathsome than cleaning toilets, got in the way.

When I tell you my house is a mess, I’m not talking here about the kind of "mess" some people will bemoan. I’ve walked through the doors of many a house in which the owners apologize for the huge mess, and have been blinded by shiny glass table tops, streak-free windows, stainless white carpets, and pastel walls sporting no marks whatsoever. I look around rooms that hold nothing but furniture and neatly arranged entertainment centers. Where are the endless piles of newspapers and books? Where’s the stain on the kitchen floor that marks the spot where the dog food bowl goes? Where are the jackets draped over the dining room chairs? And why is the table free of junk mail, unpaid bills, the bird feather found on the last walk in the field, a half-eaten bar of chocolate? Where’s the closet that’s so stuffed full of junk the doors have broken? I’m desperately looking for signs of human occupancy, let alone the "huge mess." Then I discover it. I walk into the bathroom and find a couple of hairs in the sink. I take a walk out onto the patio, where three children’s toys lie abandoned in the middle of the floor. "Hate" would be a rather harsh term to use to describe the way I feel about people who manage to keep these kinds of homes, so let's just say I don't like them very much.

When I first started telecommuting, I thought things would change. I was sure I’d feel like tackling the clutter and finally having "a place for everything and everything in its place." I was convinced that the house was always such a mess, because I worked all day, had a long commute, and was just too tired to do anything about it during the week. I was also convinced that it was all Bob’s fault, whose homemaking skills are worse than mine, and who deserves to have his face sketched in Webster’s next to the word "packrat." He won’t throw anything away, which means we have constant battles, because I see no reason to save plastic spoons from picnics and cardboard coasters from every pub and bar we’ve visited around the world.

I’ve been working from home for four months now, and I think I’m going to have to admit nothing’s changed. I don’t get up at six and spend an hour tidying and mopping before I sit down to work every morning. I know, that sounds insane, doesn’t it? But I actually had visions of it being something I might do once I no longer had to jump in a car and fight morning traffic. You know, sort of trading one insanity for another. What I’ve discovered, though, is that I much prefer no insanity. I’ve also discovered that I’m responsible for a good deal of the mess. After all, those size 7 shoes left around in the living room and the study don’t fit Bob’s feet, and all those publishing journals scattered about in the "Santa Fe" room hold absolutely no interest for him.

That’s why I’m in search of a wife. You see, I'm still not particularly fond of the dirt and the clutter, but I don't want to have to do what I know I would in order to be rid of it. I'm too busy working and reading and writing and cooking. I'm looking for the sort of wife who loves to tidy and clean, and who loves to deal with repair men and plumbers, so things don’t just sit around unfixed for months on end. She doesn’t even have to cook, as I’ll take care of that (although it would be awfully nice if she’d take my lists and do all the grocery shopping for me), nor will she have to take care of any children.

I’ve looked at the map, and I’ve discovered I don’t live too far from Stepford. Maybe I should go on a little kidnapping expedition…

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

More Visitors

Boy, it’s amazing how many people from your local standup comic’s repertoire actually do come calling during the day, something I never knew when I wasn't working from home. First I had the vacuum cleaner salesman, and then, yesterday the Jehovah’s Witnesses stopped by. I guess I’d better prepare myself for the Avon lady and the chimney sweeper next. What I really wish is that Publisher’s Clearinghouse would come a-knocking with that multi-million dollar check (even though I don’t subscribe to any magazine through them). With my luck, they’ll be the only ones who can’t find my house. They’ll mark a big red “unable to deliver” next to my name, which will then show up on some huge ad with the warning “Don’t let this happen to you!”

Usually, when the doorbell rings, I don’t pay much attention. Everything that’s sent to me from the office is sent via DHL overnight delivery, and the DHL guy just comes to the door, sets the package on the stoop, rings the doorbell, and leaves. This sets Lady off for a good two minutes or so (Bob and I were once looking at the Sheltie rescue site, considering adopting a companion for her. One of the questions the site asks is, “Are you aware that Shelties are barkers?” This has become a huge repeated joke in our household). Yesterday, however, the doorbell rang and “the barker” wouldn’t stop. I finally dragged myself away from the computer to look out the window to discover no DHL truck in sight. (I’ll say one thing for Jehovah’s Witnesses; they have patience and endurance to stand out there for more than two minutes listening to Cujo waiting on the other side.)

Sighing, I made my way downstairs to discover the source of Lady’s frantic concern. There they were, a young man and woman dressed in business attire, holding their copies of “The Watchtower.” Bob, who is far kinder than I, would happily have opened the door to these people, explaining how he’s in the ministry himself, while inviting them in and actually looking as though he might read their pamphlets. My reaction is to roll my eyes upon seeing them, open the door just enough to let Lady race out, with the hopes she’ll scare them away (she never does. Her ferocious bark becomes all wagging tale and pleads for petting the moment she’s sharing the front stoop with whomever the evil attacker was when she was trapped on the inside), and then spend the next few minutes uncomfortably wondering how long they plan to stay, especially since I’m not inviting them inside, while assuring them Lady won’t bite if they want to pet her. I barely listen to them, while I fantasize about the perfect response to their presence, which I haven’t got the guts to say. I mean, maybe I would if they were wearing baseball caps and giving me the finger or something, but I’d have to have absolutely no heart to be bitingly sarcastic with two people looking so innocent and hopeful.

Jehovah must have been witnessing my extreme discomfort, because they stayed a blessedly brief amount of time. As I shut the door, I realized I should actually admire these people. They have some kind of guts finding their way to houses tucked away on dead-end streets, ringing the doorbells, unannounced, of complete strangers, risking dog attacks, or even human attacks (whether verbal or physical). Only those who have to deliver mail and other packages put themselves in the same sort of danger on a daily basis. And think of how many homes they probably have to visit, before some sucker actually comes to the door, and of those, how many actually become Jehovah’s Witnesses. It’s either guts or sheer lunacy. Maybe next time, I’ll invite them in, pretending I’ve confused them with the Publisher’s Clearinghouse check-delivery guy. They deserve something a little more interesting than their standard “got chased by an old man with a shot gun again” stories.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Tele Meetings

I’m not one who relishes the thought of video conferencing as standard practice for those who conduct their business from home. I really don’t want to have to worry about making myself presentable to colleagues and authors before 11:00 a.m. every morning, and it’s hard for me to believe I used to do that without thinking (and used to climb into a car for a 45-minute drive as well). Last week, I met a bunch of other telecommuters, and one of the things that always comes up when fellow telecommuters yak is how much we all love rolling out of bed, pouring cups of coffee or tea, grabbing some food, and being at work by 7:30.

Those of you who’ve been following my blog, know that around 11:00, when I’m ready for a break, if I’m not in a meeting, I will stop, work out, and then shower. Pre-11:00 a.m., I usually look like one of those patients you’d see wandering around on the psych ward of a hospital – no makeup, hair unwashed and barely combed, sporting ratty running shorts and exercise bra, and walking around barefoot. The only thing missing is the teddy bear or baby doll clutched to the chest.

However, if I’d chatted with these fellow telecommuters a little while longer, I’m sure we would have eventually gotten to the topic of telephone meetings. More specifically, how much we hate them. I’ve never thought of myself as someone who was good at picking up on body language. Smile at me, and I’m likely to look behind me to see who’s there. Stare at me, and I’m convinced I’ve spilled something on my shirt, and you’re too polite to point out the spot. Ignore me, and I’m very happy to be out of the limelight.

Suddenly, though, I’m feeling like I could have co-authored one of those pop psych books on body language, you know Does He Love You? His Stance Will Tell You, or some such thing. I had absolutely no idea how expertly attuned I was to body language and facial expressions during business meetings. Over the phone, if you can actually hear what’s going on, everyone sounds the same. The voice, I’m discovering, especially when echoed over a speaker, and despite what fiction-writers might indicate when composing dialogue, does not tend to state things “angrily,” or “coyly,” or “impatiently.” The actions and expressions that go with that voice tell you what it means. When holding a receiver to your ear, straining to catch every word, and to figure out exactly who’s speaking now, you can’t see who’s looking at whom. You can’t tell who's pushing back from the table. You can’t tell who’s falling asleep and who’s riveted. You have no idea if everyone’s rolling their eyes or not in response to what you just said.

And then there’s the silence. Silence, believe me, when you’re sitting at one end of a receiver, knowing there are supposed to be at least five people sitting around a table at the other end, is anything but "golden." "Basement bomb shelter black" is what springs to mind. Especially if you were the last one to speak. Sometimes I wonder if everyone has just left the table, and I’m being broadcast over that speaker phone like some kind of village idiot. Maybe after a while, the cleaning people will come wandering in, smile to themselves over the fact that fool actually thinks people are listening, and press the button on the conference phone, silencing me forever.

Okay, so when, exactly is video conferencing going to become a mainstream form of communication? If you call me and see me clutching a teddy bear to my chest, you’ll know what kind of damage teleconferencing has inflicted over the years.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Books I (Somehow I've managed to have the foresight to predict this probably won't be my first post on books)

We’re a little over halfway through the year, and I was looking over my book journal (which I keep) last night and reflecting on what I’d read thus far this year. I decided, inspired by all the other great reading blogs out there, I’d put a list in here of my six favorites thus far. I’m going to skip actual descriptions of the books and just relate my reactions to them (because, after all, it’s all about me).

The Homemaker by Dorothy Cranfield Fisher – this book was originally published in 1924 and is one of the best explorations of sex roles I’ve ever read (far better than Maureen Dowd’s Are Men Necessary? When Sexes Collide, which I also read earlier this year). Every book discussion group in existence should put this book on its list. I wrote in my journal, "What a horrible commentary this book is on our society. I couldn’t help thinking what I always think: we still haven’t come that far."

Julie and Julia by Julie Powell – Julia Child, cooking, humor, and blogging. What’s not to like? This one literally had me laughing so hard I was weeping. And, of course, the added plus was that when I was done with the book, I could go read the blog.

How Did I Get to Be 40 and Other Atrocities by Judith Viorst – okay, even if you don’t think she’s the best poet you’ve ever read, you have to admit she certainly voices so many of your thoughts. I wrote about this one, "Books like these make me love women and all their similarities, as well as their willingness to honestly share their feelings with those who need and want that kind of honesty."

The Risk Pool by Richard Russo – if it’s one to be re-read (with all the billions of unread books I have to tackle), then I don’t really need to say much more about it, except that I’ll read it in bits and pieces, very, very slowly, because I truly don’t want it to end. I wrote about it, "I don’t forget much, even if I put the book down for a week and pick it up later. The characters are so memorable, I fall right back into it – like picking up conversations with friends I haven’t spoken to in years."

The Owl Service by Alan Garner – my friend Elmo introduced me to Garner, and I can’t believe I had never read him. He would have been right up my alley when I was thirteen or so. This one was both extremely spooky and highly romantic – a wonderful combination. I wrote about it, "I adored the ending: romantic in the truest sense of the word, not in the way it's been disguised and ruined in this day and age."

Juan in America by Eric Linklater – completely "unpolitically correct" in every way imaginable, but I can forgive it, since it was first published in 1931. And besides, the premise is so very clever. An amazingly fun romp! (An interesting aside: this book was confiscated from my grandmother once when she was in the hospital, because she was laughing so much, the nurses thought she might rip her stitches.)

And a note. 2006 was yet another year (inspired by an exhibit at the NY Public Library) in which I tried to get through Leaves of Grass and just couldn’t. I would despair over the fact that I’m completely un-American, because I just don’t like Walt Whitman, if it weren’t for the fact that I adore Edgar Lee Masters, Edgar Allan Poe, William Faulkner, Willa Cather, and Mark Twain. If I'm keeping company with those folks, there’s got to be some hope for me.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

The Parented Trap

(I've decided from now on, if I post on the weekends, I'm not even going to pretend what I write might have anything to do with telecommuting. I've got too much other stuff floating around in my head that wants to be on center stage. My only fear is that it will then refuse to leave the stage, but we'll see...)

When I was pre-school age, my mother decided to take some cooking classes and dropped me off in the nursery that was provided. For some reason, still unknown to me, the woman who ran that nursery always insisted on carrying me up the stairs when we went outside to play. She didn’t carry anyone else, just me, and I hated that. I was perfectly capable of walking up the stairs by myself, thank you. This, I’m pretty sure, was when I decided I couldn’t wait to grow up and do things my way, on my own. Well, I’m still waiting.

I must present myself as being completely incompetent, because I seem to bring out the parenting instinct in everyone I know. My male friends all become over-protective fathers cautioning me not to run during rush-hour traffic, to make sure my bicycle tires are always pumped, and not to go anywhere alone after dark. My female friends waste their time encouraging me to eat more when I’m already stuffed to the gills. They remind me to check the weather and to pack my umbrella when I’m traveling, and they tend to get very upset with me when I have the slightest sniffle and insist on working.

The year after I graduated from college, I lived in a house with six young men. You’d think at that age, none of them would have had the slightest interest in father-like behavior. My female friends (after inviting themselves to come spend weekends with me) all said, “Lucky you! Think of all the dates you’ll get with all those boys around all the time.” Wrong. Almost immediately, I found myself enmeshed in a web of over-protectiveness. I invited my brother’s best friend to one of our first parties, someone I’d known since he was about three years old. The next day, I was grilled by very skeptical and concerned voices about “That guy you hung out with all night.” You see, he wasn’t one of them and so was immediately suspect. Forget dates that year. No one was brave enough to stand up to the scrutiny of six pairs of eyes in order to take Emily to a movie. (Although it was nice to have a built-in excuse for something at which I’d never had much success.) It wasn’t just dates, though. They always wanted to know where I’d been, where I was going, how much I’d had to drink, why I didn’t take better care of my car, etc. You can see why I only lasted a year with them, despite the fact I was very fond of all of them.

At that age, I was still so fresh from my biological parents’ womb, though, it didn’t really bother me too much. After all, I’d spent the majority of my life being parented. As I began to approach thirty, however, and I still had roommates “taking care” of me (female this time), male friends wondering why I didn’t take better care of my car, and colleagues who insisted on driving me home from work, because they didn’t like the idea of my walking alone, I began to wonder when I was going to be allowed to grow up. And now that I’m well past the age of thirty, it’s becoming ridiculous. I really don’t need people telling me what to do with my money. Quite obviously, I’ve managed quite well for years, keeping myself from becoming homeless without their advice. I don’t need people telling me how to eat. Since I’m neither anorexic nor obese, I must know a little something about it. I don’t need to be told to be careful when I’m in New York. What do they think I’m going to do, walk around in Central Park at night, dressed in a bikini, flashing hundred dollar bills?

So, people have been carrying me up the stairs all my life, and it doesn’t seem they’re going to stop anytime soon. Maybe it wouldn’t be quite so bad if only they'd pay all my bills, keep the house clean, and take care of all the home repairs for me as well. Then I’d have more time for my stuffed animals and their tea parties.

Friday, July 21, 2006

Dressed for Success

I was thinking today how I really ought to get rid of about 90% of the clothes overflowing my closet and dresser drawers. Most of them are things I’m never, ever going to wear (even if I do find myself working in an office again). After all, I work in publishing and don’t plan to suddenly make a switch to corporate finance. Talk about a business that created "casual Monday." I don’t need to have four "power suits." Okay, so when I visit the office, people aren’t dressed in my current favorite, which is basically workout clothes until I’ve worked out and showered, and then shorts and a tank top (no shoes), but they are wearing shorts. Somehow, though, I just don’t seem to be able to part with much (especially shoes, which I’m hardly wearing at all these days).

I hate anything that makes me seem like a typical "societally-defined" female, so what’s with this clothes and shoe obsession? I’m also not one who normally has a "the-more-the-better" attitude about things (well, material things, anyway). I’m someone who can blithely give away almost anything (expensive jewelry I know I can’t be bothered to take care of, fancy kitchen gadgets that never get used, even books I know I can easily pick up at a library if needed. You name it, if I’m in a "this-house-is-too-damn cluttered" mood, you’d better hang onto anything you don’t want to have to buy back from The Good Will), but show me that sleeveless hot pink blouse I bought three years ago and have only worn once, and I’ll suddenly find myself thinking, "Yes, but I just might need that for a summer pool party." Forget the fact I never attend summer pool parties.

What makes it all the more ludicrous is that I despise shopping (except shopping with my mother who can walk into a store, pick something off the racks I would never have dreamed would be right for me, suggest I try it, and the next thing I know, I’m walking out of the store with something that will become an all-time favorite. She should have been a personal shopper). The idea of spending an afternoon at the mall is about as appealing to me as spending a night on General Zaroff’s island. I want all these clothes I see that look so great on others, but I don’t want to have to make any effort to get them. I just want them magically appearing at my house in the perfect size, making me look slim and beautiful. How on earth did I manage to accumulate all these clothes? Granted, online shopping has greatly increased the size of my wardrobe, but then, of course, I always run the risk of having to return things, especially pants, which are particularly hard to buy when you’re not 5’8" tall, so it still isn’t ideal.

Every time I decide to start going through my clothes with an eye towards getting rid of stuff, though, I rationalize everything I own as something I might need for a business trip. You know, God forbid someone might see me wearing the same suit in Chicago that she saw me wearing in D.C. six months ago. I’m sure she was taking meticulous notes on Emily’s wardrobe. And by the end of this little exercise, in which I’ve maybe found a couple of stained blouses and a ripped t-shirt to discard, you’d think my business trips rivaled a 19th-century debutante’s visits to London or something, with a need to change clothes every hour on the hour.

Maybe I should start using this stuff. Maybe I should start getting up in the morning and dressing as though I had somewhere to go. Nah. If I suddenly find myself taking a wrong turn on the way to the post office and end up on General Zaroff’s island, even if women in the movies can escape such dangerous games dressed fetchingly in 4-inch pumps and a tight pencil skirt, I know I’m going to want to be dressed in my workout togs.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Good Neighbors

Now that I’m telecommuting, I’m seeing my neighbors much more than I ever did. We live on a very nice street with some very interesting people. Well, that is, we used to live on a very nice street with some very nice people until those two women moved into the last house on the left with their two children. Now, we have to worry. I can feel the threats to the rest of the families on our street already.

I can't believe this has happened to me on my very own street, the one place I always thought I'd be so safe. What could be more scary? Certainly not something like America’s current economic crisis. I mean, we all know those elite private boarding schools and all-summer-long-sleep-away camps where all the billionaires get rid of (I mean send) their children, are so much less of a threat to American families. And you know, what better way to instill good-old-family values than for most children in America to be living in homes in which both parents are working long hours and still have to worry the whole family may end up homeless any day now, while the neighborhood school may be closing down, because it doesn’t live up to the No Child Left Behind standards? I say, if only these testing companies would hurry up and figure out a way to get those number-two pencils into those tiny little hands in the womb, maybe we could stop building schools altogether in some neighborhoods and spend those tax dollars on something important, like invading Bermuda (I heard they’re hiding WMDs in the Bermuda Triangle, you know). And let’s test the parents, too, to see whether or not they really deserve to own homes.

Meanwhile, I saw these new neighbors of ours, two seemingly-devoted mothers (don’t let them fool you) on my street talking to the teenager who lives a few houses down. Despite the fact she talks about boys all the time, I just know they’re busy planting seeds in her head and plan to turn her into one of "them" as soon as they can get her alone (you know, the same way that neighbor on your street turned you straight when you were a teenager). And I can tell by the way they wave and smile at me, they’ve got home wrecking on their minds. If they come knocking at our door while Bob’s not here, you’d better believe I’m not opening it.

I’m most worried, though, for the young couple with their baby boy who live at the other end of the street. How on earth are they possibly going to explain this family to their poor son? And what kind of a pervert will he become growing up on a street like this? Or worse yet, he might become some sort of “girlie man.” I’m really going to have to talk to his parents and tell them to get out now, before it’s too late. Take a loss on the house if that’s what’s necessary. This is their son we’re talking about here, and I’m afraid some damage may have already been done, because that little boy is just so loving and affectionate. Can’t have that. Can you imagine anything worse for the American family than affectionate men? I just know our new neighbors, and others like them, have been ruining our tough, strong, patriotic men for years, so that now so many of them are nothing but wimps, who’d rather protest a war than fight like real men.

It’s just overwhelming. I’m terrified. What can I do to save my neighborhood (and my country)? I know; I’ll do what my president would tell me to do in such worrisome times. Where’s my credit card? I’m going to go shopping.

Saturday, July 15, 2006

If I Only Had the Courage

We’re in the midst of an incredible heat wave right now. I’m headed up to Maine on business tomorrow, where I hope I’ll encounter a cooler clime, but Bob and I were stuck today with the question, “Where do we go to beat the heat?” We don’t have central air conditioning (another oddity I often ponder. The summers here are relatively short, but during their two month or so duration, it can be brutally hot with a brutal humidity to accompany the high temperatures. Yet so many of the pre-21st-century-non-McMansions that house most of us common folk don’t have air conditioning. In the South, where I grew up, the winters are relatively short but can get bone-chillingly cold with a bone-chilling dampness to accommodate the low temperatures, you’d be hard-pressed to find a house that doesn’t have central heat). We could go to a movie for about a two-hour-long reprieve, or we could go spend hours inside a nice air-conditioned museum.

I opted for my all-time favorite, The American Museum of Natural History. We’d been meaning to “complete” the Darwin exhibit, which we’d started back in January when my brother was visiting (you don’t really want to be a poor soul dragged to a museum by Bob and me. Any exhibit that a guide estimates will take about an hour will take us about five). And I was interested in their Imax movie on cave exploration. They also have a new lizards and snakes exhibit. I’m weird. I love reptiles, particularly frogs, but if I can’t have frogs, lizards are a fine substitute.

Whenever I visit this museum, I always wish I’d become a zoologist. This, because I loved animals, and loved to visit zoos, and was fascinated with every episode of Wild Kingdom was what I wanted to be when I was eleven years old. Unfortunately, so many people made fun of me, I dropped the idea. I just wasn’t brave enough to withstand all that ridicule (besides, one boy completely convinced me that “girls can’t do that.”)

Thinking of this, though, made me realize I might have pursued many career paths if it weren’t for the chicken factor. Public ridicule is the least of my worries when I consider these other cool but “bravery-needed-in-spades” careers. Here’s a sampling:

CAREER: Divemaster and Scuba Instructor
Why: Are you kidding? Scuba diving all day. Need I say more?
Chicken factor: Dealing with out-of-shape, drinking-a-beer-just-before-the-dive, cowboy-wannabe tourists who decide they want to leave the underwater tour and dive down to 150 feet, just like they “used to do when they were Navy Seals.”

CAREER: Arctic Explorer
Why: I love the cold. I love snow and ice. Pictures of the Arctic have always mesmerized me. Plus, I’d never have to worry about how I looked going to work. Who can tell underneath all those layers?
Chicken factor: I’m quite attached to all twenty of my fingers and toes and don’t particularly want to lose any of them to frostbite. And then there’s Into Thin Air

CAREER: Detective
Why: Well, I’ve read enough mysteries and seen enough on television to get awfully cocky while sitting in my armchair, thinking “That idiot detective should have done this, not that,” and “It’s so obvious. What’s taking her so damn long to figure it out?”
Chicken factor: I can’t even bring myself to hold a gun, let alone shoot one, if needed.

CAREER: Ice Skater
Why: Have you ever seen anything more magical than a pro on ice? And I want to be paired with one of those Russian men in tights, who has one of those adorable accents, who would lift me like that.
Chicken factor: I can’t even walk without tripping, I’m so uncoordinated. Besides, I’d have to constantly worry about every detail of how I looked going to work.

If this is what a visit to The Museum of Natural History will do to me, it’s a good thing I didn’t go see Superman Returns to beat the heat.

Friday, July 14, 2006

Sorry, No Sale

One of the downsides to telecommuting is that you’re home for the vacuum cleaner salesman. Yes, you read that correctly: vacuum cleaner salesman. You may have thought these people were jokes, that they didn’t really exist, that they were just figments of many, many comedians’ imaginations. Or even that I was making it up just now as a joke. I would like to bless you for your refreshing naïveté. About three days ago, I was just as naïve. Then I got the phone call.

The phone call was as deceptive as they come. A cheerful woman asked how I was doing and then told me my neighbor had suggested she call, because they were offering a coupon to clean the carpets (or floors) in two rooms of the house, and she had thought I might like to have this done. (My neighbor’s seen my house. She knew as well as I did how desperately my carpets needed cleaning.) All I had to hear was two rooms cleaned free, and I was ready to sign on the dotted line. The problem is, that was all I heard. Somehow, in my excitement over the fact that I wasn’t going to have to rent a carpet cleaner and clean them myself, I’d missed the fact that this was not a carpet cleaning business, hoping I’d see what a great job they did and want my whole house done. This was a vacuum cleaner business.

I’m not such a dummy that I would ever believe I could have the carpets in two large rooms cleaned completely free. I knew there was a catch. Bob and I take advantage of these sorts of “free deals” all the time. I mean, if you don’t mind spending an hour taking a tour of a time-share you’d never dream of buying (especially when you like to do things like test the reaction on the guy’s face when he asks you what your dream vacation is, and you say “an African safari.” Not too many time shares out there in the African jungle waiting to swap with "your" little condo on Cape Cod), you can get some pretty cool stuff, like a free weekend in Cape Cod or a helicopter ride in Hawai’i. However, I’m enough of a dummy not to realize this little carpet-cleaning steal was going to take up two hours of my time in the middle of the afternoon, the afternoon that I'd planned to devote to working on the first of five manuscripts I’m going to be receiving over the next two weeks that absolutely, positively have to get into our production department on time. I thought I’d let the carpet cleaner person in, work while the carpets were cleaned, sit through a fifteen minute spiel about how easy and inexpensively they could do all the floors in my house, tell them I didn’t need anything else done right now, and then get back to work.

Enter the kid who drove you nuts in grade school with all his stupid jokes and gimmicks, carrying his $2000 vacuum cleaner. (Again, you read that right. I didn’t accidentally type an extra 0.) He’s, of course, going to give it to me for a steal: $1500, if I agree to buy it right now, and he keeps calling his boss (and, I kid you not, he actually refers to him as “boss”) to get the price down, since I’m obviously not leaping at the chance to buy this thing. He’s also involved in some contest in which he’ll get to go to Cleveland if he sells the most vacuum cleaners in the next fifteen days, and he keeps telling me this. Cleveland! I mean, if he’d said an African Safari, or even Greece or something, I might have wanted to help him, but Cleveland? Meanwhile, he’s showing me just how filthy my house is, because I don’t have a vacuum cleaner worth a dime (none of this is anything he needed to tell me, and rather than making me want to buy this outrageously priced machine, I’m just getting more and more depressed over my horrible housekeeping skills, which are non-existent.)

Then, I realized the poor guy really had chosen the wrong house. I hate to clean. There’s no way he'd ever convince me (even if he looked like Adonis, promised to vacuum my whole house in his underwear, and would be able to go on an African safari with one lucky customer of his choice if he sold the most) to spend $1500 on something that would sit in my closet and make me feel guiltier than the Nordic Track I’d bought at a tag sale and never use. I could just imagine it smiling up from that “super strong titanium exterior,” so hopefully, wishing I’d use it not just quickly to vacuum a few rooms every other week or so, but also use it to vacuum up the dust mites in that filthy mattress its friend who sold it to me had shown me it was so good for doing, and to vacuum my ceilings and walls, and to clean the carpets more than once every five years, and to blow up air mattresses.

I absolutely did not need to be told that I should be vacuuming my mattress every week. And you know what? Since he used “the all-purpose cleaner” not the special stain remover, I still need to clean my carpet. He was ushered out the door, and I was stuck working till 8:00.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Enthusiastically Telecommuting

One evening last week, Bob came home all excited for me to take with him the Enneagram Type Indicator Test. This is a psychological assessment he’d been introduced to at work. Full disclosure here: I’m a complete sucker for any type of psychological testing. I haven’t done it yet, but I’ve toyed with the idea of paying a fortune to find out if I’m an ENTP (or whatever the letters might be on the Myers Briggs). Thus, no arm twisting was needed that night.

We didn’t take the full test. What we took was the online sampler (for anyone who’s interested), which “cannot guarantee that your basic personality type will be indicated, although your type will most likely be in the top three scores in this personality test.” Well, I was so excessively a “Type 7, The Enthusiast” I see no need to take the full test. Especially since the description fit me to a tee. Bob is a “Type 1, The Reformer.” His fit him perfectly, too. What an amazing little test to peg us both so accurately.

Except, then I started to think about it. I was focusing on the “high-spirited,” “playful,” and “constantly seek new and exciting experiences” bits. Begrudgingly I admitted, as well, that I can “…misapply my many talents, becoming overextended…” I completely agreed (while yawning) that I can “…become distracted and exhausted by staying on the go,” and that (annoyed with the length of time we spent looking at Bob’s results, while I wanted to see what mine were) I “typically have problems with impatience and impulsiveness.” When I took a closer look, though, some of the major traits didn’t seem to describe me at all.

The first traits listed were “extroverted” and “optimistic.” Well, there may be some who think I’m extroverted, because I’ve paid close attention to what it takes not to be a complete social outcast in this society (and I have a desperate desire not to be hated by everybody), so have learned to act accordingly, but my instincts are to stay holed up away from others and to read and write all day. Skip the tiny little detail of the husband going crazy and chasing me with an ax, and I would have loved to have been Shelley Duvall’s Wendy in The Shining. And my whole life revolves around believing the worst is about to happen, so I can always be pleasantly surprised when it doesn’t. Only a fool would go around expecting and thinking the best, winding up constantly disappointed.

My introversion and pessimism are what have made me such a great candidate for telecommuting. I stay holed up and read and write all day (granted, not novels, biographies, and blog posts, but rather proposals, sample manuscript pages, and emails. Still...) I’m convinced this job and my telecommuting status can’t possibly last, because I like them so much (and nothing I like this much ever lasts), so I work extra hard and accomplish much more than I ever expected I would.

Can you imagine an “enthusiastic telecommuter?” Does she give her motivational speeches to the dog? Does she go around inspiring the living room furniture to exceed its goals? The enthusiast is the one who arranges the birthday parties and the surprise baby showers, isn’t she? I’m not about to have all those people come burrowing down into my hole.

Okay, so I was enthusiastic about it all initially. Now, I’d just say, psychological tests are a lot like horoscope descriptions, aren’t they? List a billion traits, and you’re bound to hit upon some that ring true. Just don’t think about it too much, and you can happily believe you absolutely are such a Pisces.

I think I’ll save that Myers-Briggs money for a full-body massage instead.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Editors and Authors

(My apologies to those of you whose life-long ambitions may have been to become editors. You may just want to skip today’s post, as it will seem highly insensitive.)

Despite the fact that as a child I might refuse to finish reading a book in which details I considered significant had been botched (e.g. a child’s age was given as ten, but then we were told she was in seventh grade without being told she was a genius who had skipped a couple of grades). And despite the fact that as I grew older, I’d do the same when authors got easily-researched dialect wrong (e.g. “y’all” happens to be a Southern conjunction for “you-all.” “You-all” is plural. Southerners do not all suffer from multiple personality disorders. No one in the South would go up to a friend sitting alone on a park bench and ask, “How y’all doing?” anymore than Northerners would walk up to a single friend and ask “How are you guys doing?” ). And despite the fact I’ve also been known to abandon books that have far too many typos in them (I have to note I’m actually extremely lenient when it comes to typos, having been humbled by how many I make. By “too many,” I mean at least one per every three pages or so. After all, published books are supposed to have been copyedited and proofread by at least two people). Despite all this, I never dreamed I’d become a professional editor.

But here I am. I fell into it really quite by accident. First, I took an entry-level position at a small legal newspaper that gave me a tiny bit of publishing experience. Then I went off to the library world, and once I had my Master’s degree in that, discovered a reference publisher that was looking for someone with a library degree. I explored the position, decided it sounded interesting, and didn’t get the job. A few weeks later, I was called back and offered the job, because the number-one candidate had never shown up to work. I was so desperate to do something new and different, I swallowed any pride I might have had over not being number one (besides one of my former bosses in the library world with whom I’d come to have a great relationship had told me I don’t interview well, so I felt lucky to be offered anything), and took the job. I had no idea what I was doing. Many would say I still don’t. What I do know is that “my” authors have a power over my moods stronger than any hormonal fluctuations caused by such things as PMS.

My friend Kevin and I, among others, share this mood-related-to-authors trait. We can both be quite ebullient when we’re having “good author days.” These are the days in which authors deliver terrific manuscripts ahead of schedule, tell us they couldn’t have written their books without us, applaud our brilliance, and tell us they have another book, already half-written on one of the hottest topics in the news today. On a day like this, I’m ready to die, feeling there’s nothing more I need accomplish in life.

Then there are the bad days. Half my authors call to tell me they can’t possibly deliver their manuscripts on time. Two much-awaited proposals come in only half done. I get a bad peer review back for a proposal I was sure was going to be the company’s next bestseller. I think things are looking up, because a package arrives in the mail that can only be a manuscript. It is, but it’s 300 pages long and was supposed to be 600 pages long. Meanwhile, Senior Management is telling me none of my books is allowed to fall off of this season’s list.

On days like this, Kevin and I have talked of moving to Scotland, a place where it’s dark, cold, and sunless a good deal of the time to match our dark, cold, and sunless moods. It’s a place where we can read and play golf (Kevin) all day long or read and cook (me) all day long. It’s a place where people don’t seem to have the need to express themselves in flamboyant prose. They’ll give you the facts straight, and you need edit nothing. Sometimes, they won’t even speak to you at all, which is fine.

But, as with almost everything else in life, if I truly were to give up editing, I know I’d miss it. I’ve come to realize very few relationships are as symbiotic as a good editor-author one. The publishing industry is changing so rapidly these days and is so overwhelmed, it seems old-fashioned meaningful author-editor relationships are on the decline, a fact I regret ( for example, when I read Patrick Dennis’s biography last summer, I was amazed at the things his editors did for him -- personally delivering manuscripts to his house, writing endings for his books. I don’t know any editors these days who have the time to do such things – it so often seems I’ve lived a life in which I’ve missed the “Golden Age” of everything, including publishing). When I’m editing, I value the relationship I have with my authors. When I ask fellow editors to edit something I write, I equally value that relationship (I haven't known many who can successfully edit their own work).

So, I’ll stick with it a while longer. Who knows? Maybe one day, Kevin and I will run into each other as retirees in warm, sunny, bright Bermuda. It will have to be at the library, though, as you’d never catch me out on a golf coarse.

Monday, July 10, 2006

Soft Pages

The other day, I went to get my hair trimmed, and while I was waiting, noticed the newest issue of "O" magazine sitting on the table. This was the summer book issue, so it caught my eye in a way this magazine normally wouldn’t. Over the years, Oprah Winfrey has been known to rave about some really awful books, but occasionally, something truly terrific catches her eye, and though I used to hate her for all the undeserved attention she gets (not to mention the money, personal cook, personal trainer, etc.), I have to admire someone who has galvanized large numbers of the American public into doing something that takes a little more thought than just sitting around watching Fox News all day. Also, I recently saw an interview with her, and she’s an extremely smart woman who’s used the system to do an awful lot of good. I can be bitterly jealous, but I really can’t hate a person like that.

Anyway, I was most intrigued by the letter from Harper Lee I knew was in the issue and quickly flipped through to find it. I loved what Lee had to say about ebooks v. print books:

Can you imagine curling up in bed to read a computer? Weeping for Anna Karenin and
being terrified by Hannibal Lecter, entering the heart of darkness with Mistah Kurtz,
having Holden Caulfield ring you up -- some things should only happen on soft pages not
cold metal.

Actually, I didn’t love that. My right brain (you know the synthetic, concrete, nontemporal, nonrational side of the brain) loved it, because it could gather it up in its arsenal of things (being nonverbal, it doesn’t really know they’re words) to throw at my left brain (you know, the analytic, rational, digital, linear side). Meanwhile, my left brain was seething with impatience, wondering when I was going to stop feeding all this sentimental crap to my right brain, which certainly doesn’t need encouragement.

These days, especially since I work in the publishing industry, I’m beginning to feel like one of those poor souls whose corpus callosum has been severed to prevent seizures. I grew up with books (was basically afraid of computers until forced to use them for work when I was in my twenties), and I love them with a passion that borders on insanity. I love the look of them; I love the feel of them; I love the smell of them (both that brand new smell, fresh off the press, as well as that wonderful musty smell I associate with my grandmother’s collection and used book stores); if books were to become a food group, I’d love the taste of them. I find bookless homes to be cold and impersonal. I’ve chosen careers, sacrificing some of the magic books have always held, in order to be surrounded by them all day. I want and need Harper Lee’s "soft pages." After all, computers don’t absorb tears the way book pages do.

But that’s my right brain speaking. My left brain will tell you a book is merely a medium. My left brain will salivate over digital possibilities. It wants to sleep with Steven Jobs and the entire staff of Wired magazine. It believes humans have progressed from telling stories to drawing pictures on cave walls to papyrus to the printing press for a reason, and that the designer ebook reader is the next step (it wants a green one, although it’s not quite sure why, since aesthetics aren’t one of its main interests). It envisions something the size and shape of a paperback book onto which it can load twenty different books to take on vacation and easily slip into a handbag. It loves blogging and the ability to interact with what other writers write as well as to hear what others have to say about what it’s writing. And it will constantly remind my right brain how awfully, awfully fond it (rightie) is of the look, feel, smell, and sound (something a book can’t give it) of the IMac.

Right now we’re at a stand off. My right brain is threatening to keep my left leg from functioning, so I can’t walk across the room. My left brain is threatening to make my right hand pick up a hammer, not a fork, when I sit down for my next meal. Maybe I should go back to hating Oprah, along with her warmongering magazine, after all.

Saturday, July 08, 2006

Isolation II

(This must be series week.)

On Thursday, I left the house around 4:30 for my favorite destination the post office. As I turned on the radio to discover nothing much had happened all day (yet again, I find myself needing to rephrase that. Nothing much was going on in the USA, nor with any of its citizens, that would grab the attention of the ADHD-infected American public – no runaway brides, no runaway vans carrying O.J. Simpsons, no new births for Angelina Jolie. By the way, as my sister pointed out to me, have you noticed how no one ever had a baby before she did?), I realized I’ve become almost completely cut off from what’s going on in the outside world. If another 9/11 were to occur, unless the target this time happened to be very small Northeastern towns over-run with dry cleaners and banks, thus marking my town as the perfect spot, when would I find out about it?

We subscribe to The New York Times, but I’m an evening paper-reader. I take a quick look at the headlines in the morning, as Bob rifles through to get the sports section to enjoy with his breakfast (no rule against reading at the table in our household, no matter how rude I was brought up to believe it is), and set it aside until I can settle down with it either just before or just after dinner. I’m surprised this ritual has survived since I began working from home, but it has.

When I commuted to work, I depended on the radio to keep me informed. For a while, I enjoyed “Imus in the Morning,” but his shtick eventually became tiresome, and I found myself disagreeing with him more often than not, which often meant arriving at work in a bad temper. I switched to CBS’s “all news, all the time,” but then standard commercial news broadcasting also began to get on my nerves. Too much “much ado about nothing.”
Ultimately, cringing over the fact I’d become my parents (I should be listening to Bruce Springsteen, The Jayhawks, and David Bowie CDs on my way to work, not boring, half-whispered, monotone voices raising politically correct issues), I started tuning in to NPR, which I soon discovered helped decrease my NYT’s reading time by half, thus allowing me to get to the crossword puzzle (dessert) more quickly. (I don’t know what my attraction is to the crossword puzzle. I can never complete it, except on “idiot Monday.”)

When I was actually in the office, my colleagues kept me informed. I’m not one who visits many news websites, except NYT’s, which I often dismiss, rationalizing I’ll read it in the evening (aside from Doonsbury, of course, which is only available via the online version). My co-workers were the ones who informed me, just prior to my attending some meeting, that an airplane had flown into the World Trade Center. My reaction was, “Oh, some lunatic losing his way.” By the time I exited that meeting, half the company was trying to crowd into our office manager’s little office, because he had a small T.V. in there. Everyone was telling us both towers had been hit, as well as the Pentagon. Bob – another conduit of information for me -- happened to work at the same company with me, and we had, in a rare moment, both been in that meeting together, so we were together when we received this news. I was busy thinking, “Gotta be some new Neo-Nazi moron behind this.” Bob’s first comment was, “Osama Bin Laden” (he reads more than just the sports section of the NYT). Soon after that, the office closed, and we all went home to spend an afternoon glued to the television.

Nowadays, the television is right across the hall from my office, in the same room we spent that memorable afternoon, yet I’m at my computer paying absolutely no attention to the news. Bob’s in a hospital where no one’s watching the news except those patients willing to pay for television access (only someone with a truly Machiavellian nature could have come up with that one. There you are, lying in bed, most likely in extreme agony, possibly unable to hold up a book, while a TV hangs in a tantalizing manner above your head. Want to turn it on to relieve some of the boredom and possibly to distract from the pain? Well, it’s gonna cost ya!). The patients might tell others a boat with a bomb just sailed into Indian Point, but as I’ve always suspected, and Bob’s experience has confirmed, no one pays attention to patients.

So, here’s my plea. I’m isolated. If something significant happens between 7:30 a.m. and 5:00 p.m. on a weekday, will someone please email me to let me know (especially if I need to evacuate my home and head to safety)?

Friday, July 07, 2006

Food II

Back in the days when Bob and I were first married, we established a tradition of celebrating “hump day.” (I’ve just realized that when discussing newlyweds, this term might conjure up something other than what is meant here. Those of you who are headed in that direction with it, have fun.) I wasn’t particularly unhappy in my job at that time, but I also wasn’t particularly challenged or thrilled by it, either. Bob, on the other hand, was pretty miserable. Weekends were a godsend, and we looked forward to them with relish. Thus, making it halfway through the week to “hump day” was a true accomplishment, something worth celebrating. Wednesday night became Mai Tai night. Bob had found a great recipe for Mai Tais that reminded us of our honeymoon in Hawai’i, and even during the winter months, we came to appreciate this mid-week treat.

I’d truly forgotten what it was like to have a need to celebrate being halfway through the week (with Bob in school the past three years, and our be separated most Wednesday nights, “Mai Tai Night” has sort of disappeared), until recently. In an earlier blog about my various psychological diseases, I mentioned my obsessive-compulsive exercise schedule. What I didn’t mention is that I absolutely despise almost all forms of exercise, and I only do it for two reasons: 1. I have a very mild heart condition that requires it, if I don’t want this condition to go from being very mild to ruining my life and 2. I love food, don’t particularly want to live off carrot sticks and Slimfast, and would be a good candidate for the fat lady in the circus by now if I didn’t have an exercise routine. What I don’t do is exercise every day. During the work week, I exercise four times a week, and weekends are for taking long walks, nothing else. My new hump day has arrived.

Wednesday is the day I don’t exercise. On a Mai-Tai-hump-day-comparison scale, there’s absolutely no contest. A no-exercise-hump-day wins hands down. But I’ve discovered something even more wonderful about this new hump day. It gives me a full hour for lunch. This means, now that I’m home with a kitchen, I can actually cook lunch! (Those of you who hate to cook can stop reading this here.) My approach to cooking, based on my hero Mark Bittman’s philosophy, is to get the most flavor out of the fewest number of ingredients and not to waste too much time on the process (something that was very important back in the days when I often didn’t get home from work until 7:45 or so). Thus, I tend to cook things I can make in half an hour or less.

One of my favorite lunchtime treats is mushroom stew. I created this alternative to oyster stew (one of my all-time favorite soups) when I married a man who didn’t like oysters and who loved mushrooms as much as I do. It’s the same recipe, taken from The Joy of Cooking, only I sauté some mushrooms and use them instead of oysters, and it can be prepared in about twenty minutes (I now know why oyster stew was a Christmas Eve tradition in our house when I was growing up). During these summer months, I’ve taken to throwing things on the grill for lunch. I’ve created a killer barbecue sauce whose secret ingredient is Diet Cherry Pepsi (a repulsive drink that Bob sometimes buys out of the soda machine. An unfinished bottle had been hanging out in our fridge far too long one day when I remembered reading about someone making a barbecue sauce with Coke). I especially like this one, because cooking with soft drinks (we’d never call them “sodas” down there) sounds so Southern, and I like to remind myself it’s important to stay grounded in my roots.

Another thing I like about Wednesday lunch is just being able to make things like a grilled cheese sandwich, corn on the cob, or mashed potatoes. Office lunchrooms, especially those whose only source of heat is a microwave, don’t lend themselves to this sort of food. Granted, mashed potatoes can be reheated in a microwave, but they’re never quite as good. I can also make myself a hotdog (one of those foods I know I shouldn’t eat, for all kinds of ethical and health reasons, but which I just love to have every now and then. I don’t feel quite so guilty now that I can buy organic).

None of this really sounds too much like “cooking,” per se, but when you’ve been tied to microwave lunches for over fifteen years, you can afford to be a little less than rigid when defining the term. And if I do decide I want my favorite baked ziti recipe for lunch, fresh out of the oven, well, it’s now an option.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006


I’ve never been one who much understood the appeal of fireworks. When I was a child, the noise bothered me, and the actual displays were always rather disappointing. I’m not sure exactly what my demanding little mind wished to see, but its desires went unmet. I just remember anticipating boring evenings, sitting in itchy grass that clung to my sweaty legs and swatting mosquitoes, every time I was invited to a fireworks display. More often than not, the “grand finale” was nothing but a huge boom that forced me to cover my ears and shut my eyes, so that I never saw if the lights were worth the noise. My one big hope was that an ice cream man might show up, and I’d be treated to a Fudgsicle.

This year, Bob got it into his head that he had to go see the Macy's Fourth of July fireworks display in Manhattan, and he, of course, wasn’t going to do this without dragging me along. He often drags me along to things I don’t think I want to do. Sometimes I’m convinced it’s just so he can say, “I told you so,” when I end up enjoying myself immensely, but I know it's really just because he wants to share everything with me. (Luckily, he’s not allowed to drag me into the hospital rooms with him these days to view mangled bodies.)

So off we went (despite the fact it meant getting anything more than about five hours of sleep before having to get up and work today was going to be impossible) to a prime spot on the closed ramp of the FDR Dr. We had a perfect view of the East River. We were even armed with some 3-D glasses a couple of cops had given us on 23rd St. The problem was, we had over two hours to kill before the fireworks were expected to begin, and for some inexplicable reason, I hadn’t brought a book with me.

I wondered if I could overcome my shyness long enough to go join a group of people who had at least been smart enough to bring a deck of cards, while Bob said to me, “No, no, no. We don’t need books or cards. We’re here for the full experience.” Well, if this “full experience” meant sitting on an itchy cement barrier, bottom getting sorer by the minute; regretting my choice of a short sundress to beat the heat, which made maneuvering said barrier an activity likely to attract perverts interested in beating more than the heat; and hoping an ice cream man might come along, knowing full well he wouldn’t; it was an experience I would willingly have foregone.

I’m not sure exactly when things changed for the better. All I know is that they did. First, we became involved in worrying about the disappearance of two teenaged girls from California who’d gone off in search of a bathroom, and who had infuriated the mother in charge of them by turning off their cell phone, so she couldn’t reach them. Meanwhile, their friend who had stayed behind, was busy telling the mother that the Fourth of July is the day more people are killed than any other of the year (great statistic, if it’s true). I have to admit a secret (and crass) wish that we might be witnesses to something truly interesting (but that would, of course, turn out all right in the end).

Suddenly, teenagers having returned safely and sulking over the mother’s anger, we were sitting next to six-year-old Destiny and her eight-year-old sister Dominique, whose impatience and excitement became contagious. Destiny could spot fireworks in the distance being set off in Brooklyn and wanted to know why they were so far away. Bob explained they weren’t “our” fireworks, which caused her to become even more impatient. She had a point. Why did Brooklyn get to have fireworks before we did?

But, at long last, the show began. What was it like? Did the noise bother me? Was I disappointed? All I can do is quote Destiny, whose first comment was, “This is like spring flowers,” and whose final comment after many, many “This is so cools!” and “Those look like jellyfish,” and “Look at all the cubes,” was, “This is better than a rainbow!” Next time Bob wants to drag me to something I don’t think I want to do, I’m going, and I’m bringing along little Destiny to help me do it right.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006


The office has been closed for four glorious days (almost unheard of in corporate America. I wish the Fourth of July fell on a Tuesday every year). A four-day weekend is the perfect time to pursue my never-ending quest for relaxation and simplicity, which is constantly encountering dead ends set up by a “busy-ness bug” that’s taken up residence in my brain. This bug loves to keep me on my feet, as well as to make my life as complicated as possible.

I had toyed with the idea of keeping my computer turned off all weekend, as a means to achieving a relaxed and peaceful state of mind. Enter said bug, the one I’d hoped had gone off on a little vacation to someone else’s brain. I won’t even bother to call my computer-off idea “unlikely,” as the bug began to stare longingly at my laptop. “Impossible” would be the operative word here. To appease it, I decided just to check my email. I rationalized that it wouldn’t take me long, because my coworkers wouldn’t be around, and if they were, they wouldn’t be expecting an immediate response from me. I could mull things over in a sort of relaxed way I normally don't do, before emailing them back. My subconscious did a superb job of hiding all thoughts of authors behind a black curtain. I completely forgot that they just might be using this holiday as a nice block of time for writing and might have questions for me.

The bug jumped up and down with glee as I logged on. Oh look, I finally had that annotated outline someone had been promising me. How could I resist taking a look at that? And how could I not respond to the person asking if I still needed an endorsement for an upcoming book? I’ve got five manuscripts due in on July 15th. Certainly, those authors deserve answers to all their questions.

Then, something wonderful happened. It was the equivalent of the bug hitting a windshield. I lost service to our web client. I couldn’t even connect to our alternate email site (granted, I didn’t try awfully long and hard). Time to turn off the computer, pick up a Toblerone bar, and start reading that mystery I grabbed at the library the other day.

Sunday, July 02, 2006


During the majority of my working career, when I was either stationed in offices or at a library, I used to engage in that oh-so-original activity of thinking about what I would do if I ran my own company. I was, naturally, going to be extraordinarily good to all the employees, making decisions with their best interests in mind and empowering them by letting them help make those decisions. I’d read about all the companies at which employees are really happy, and they all seemed to encourage self care. Therefore, at my company, we’d have a free gym membership, a cafeteria with healthy food, and occasional spa visits. We'd have a daycare center, so parents could be near their children. People would be allowed to bring their pets to work. We’d also have a “nap room,” where employees could take short power naps.

I couldn’t quite figure out how this nap room would work, though. Would we have beds? That sounded like a terrible idea for many, many reasons, not the least of which was giving whole new meaning to the term “office shenanigans.” Would it just be a quiet, dark place with comfy recliners? And how could it possibly work without being a shared space, and, yet, who’d be able to sleep with that annoying co-worker snoring loudly from across the room? It just didn’t work. Yet, every afternoon, when I became completely exhausted and unproductive, taking those “brisk walks” around the building, so often recommended for this slump period, and splashing my face with cold water in the women’s room, I’d wish I could find some place just to take a quick nap.

Eventually, my nap idea evolved into that oh-so-sensible mid-day siesta period enjoyed by our neighbors to the south. The company would just close for two hours during the day, for lunch and naps, and people could go home. (After all, both my doctor’s and dentist’s offices do this, making it impossible to get lunch-time appointments. If those responsible for saving people’s lives and mouths can do so, why shouldn’t everyone?) Those who lived too far away could keep sleeping bags and air mattresses (like those good old days when we all had mats at nursery school for the naps that no child actually needed) and set them up in their offices. Those lucky dogs who never felt the need to sleep, could spend the time running errands or going to the gym or watching a movie on the company T.V. set up in the company lounge. It was the perfect solution.

Well, now I don’t need to own a company. I can take a power nap every afternoon if I want. And yet, somehow, I don’t seem to be able to bring myself to do so. It’s as if I feel I shouldn’t be allowed, since those in the office can’t. I don’t know why that is. After all, I don’t feel I shouldn’t wear cut-offs and walk around barefoot just because my colleagues can’t. I don’t decide I can’t throw a load of laundry in the washer and dryer just because my colleagues can’t. I don’t feel I shouldn’t pet Lady just because my colleagues can’t. But somehow, I draw the line at taking a nap, which on some days would probably be a better idea than doing laundry.

I’m worried about this Puritan-like work ethic I’ve been developing. I'm not sure it was so strong when I was working in the office, and it doesn’t bode well when it comes to answering that question about being able to separate my work life from my home life. Next thing you know, I’ll be burning all the books in our house except the Bible and hunting down witches.

Then again, did Puritan women (or men, for that matter) ever worry about separating work life from home life? I think it’s time to change out of the cut-offs and into a long, simple dress (preferably black) with an apron. And where are those sensible black boots of mine? Oh yes, and I'm sure those two women who recently moved down the street have put a spell on me...