Friday, April 27, 2007

Ian's Meme

I know. I know. One of my 2007 blogging goals was to quit being enticed by memes, and this makes two in a row. But, I just had to run with Ian’s satirical meme (especially since his descriptions of my memes made me laugh out loud). And since it's satire, it doesn't really count as a real meme. So here it is.

Oh, and Ian, P.S. you must have picked up all my bad spelling habits while copying your sisters, because I didn’t even realize you’d misspelled “gnat” (silent “k,” silent “g,” who came up with these ridiculous things? Why not just spell it “nat?”) until my spell check caught it. Then again, I think that bad spelling gene just runs in the family, and there’s nothing we can do about it. We’re in good company. Gerald Durrell was a self-described notoriously bad speller.

If you fell through the rotten boards on your front porch and got stuck and became parched with thirst, what would you rather have to drink, chilled dirty sock water or warm flat Sierra Mist?
I don’t have a front porch, so, thank God, don’t have to make such decisions.

What would you rather do, make love in an outhouse or win free tickets to see the Eagles?
Are the Eagles playing somewhere like Hawai’i? And are all expenses paid? If so, then, I’d take the free tickets. (I ask, because these are the kinds of deals offered by a lot of the “classic rock” stations in Connecticut: be the ninth caller and go see some has-been band you never liked in the first place – in The Bahamas!)

When you were a child, what would you rather do, climb a tree or copy your sisters?
Copy Tarzan by climbing trees (hey, Ian, we should do a post on such games as “Tarzan and the Jungle Boys” over on Ian and Emily one of these days).

If you were stuck on a desert island would you rather have a TV/ DVD player that doesn’t work because there is no electricity on a desert island, or ten of your favorite books that are unreadable because they were drenched by the monsoons?
The TV/DVD player, because I don’t have as much hope and expectation wrapped up in TV/DVD players as I do books. Thus the disappointment wouldn’t be as great.

Of all of your neighbors, who is your favorite?
Cheyenne and Riley, the two huge mutts who live across the way and always race out to bark at me ferociosuly, even though they know perfectly well who I am.

How many gnats do you think have bitten you while you have been out on the porch writing this post?
None. The gnat problem in CT isn’t nearly what it is in NC. Besides, it's still winter up here.

How far are you willing to go for a cheap laugh?
I would start a blog that was supposed to be on-going commentary about my first year of telecommuting, realize that didn’t provide me with enough funny material, and then just start blogging about anything that came to mind, if I could make it funny.

How far would you go to get more people to read your blog?
Shhhh. I don’t want any more people reading my blog. Don’t tell anyone about my blog. Only a very special select group of people gets to read and comment on my blog.

Why do you blog?
It’s an addiction almost as bad as reading.

If you get to heaven and you can find out how many times you did something throughout your lifetime, what would it be?
How many times I've stubbed my toe.

If you were making up a fake meme and you ran out of ideas for questions, what would you do?
Ask my brother for some ideas.

If you were sitting in a hard wooden chair with the gnats biting you would you be: a) uncomfortable, b) ready to end this post, c) hungry and very itchy, d) torn between your desire to get attention through humor and your desire not to be consumed by little flying ants?
I'd probably be pissed, because I'd paid a fortune to come to this gnat-infested place on vacation, thinking I'd get to sit out on a front porch, sipping Sierra Mist, and enjoying myself.

If you are secretly superstitious and have a fear of the number 13, how many lame questions would you add to your fake meme in order for it not to end on the number 13?
I’d add 2 to make it look like I meant to have 15, as so many things come in multiples of five.

If you had the opportunity to drop Dick Cheney in the middle of an extremist Sunni militia encampment in only his briefs, would you take it?
I know I’m supposed to be a Christian, but…

Meanwhile, in keeping with this being an evening focused on Ian, I've also posted over here. Two posts in one night. Can you tell I'm procrastinating? I'm supposed to be packing for the nearly week-long whirlwind trip Bob and I are about to make down South to visit with two churches that are interested in him and squeeze in some time with family members (unfortunately, not far enough south this time to get all the way down to Ian's)? Tell you all about it when we get back.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Does Size Matter Meme

I got this one from Charlotte. It seems she and I could have a contest to see who walks the loudest.

How do you feel about your height?
I wish I were taller. I’m not particularly short for a woman (5’3”), but I was short all during my youth and still think of myself as short. Besides, we live in a man’s world, and in that world, 5’3” is short. 5’8” seems like a good height for a woman to me. But knowing my luck, if I were suddenly to wake up 5" taller, that five inches would be added to my neck or my forehead, say, rather than to my legs, which is where I want them.

Has your height helped or hindered you in your professional life?
Neither, that I know of, as far as promotions, etc. go. I will note, though, that at my former company, for a period, I was the only female manager in my department, and three of the four men with whom I worked towered over me. There were a few times when I can remember walking into a managerial meeting before everyone had sat down and taking a mental gulp, despite the fact I adored all these men and wouldn’t have called any of them threatening in any way. I chalked this feeling up to leftover instincts emanating from the oldest region of my brain, which still believes we all live in caves and might get knocked over the head and dragged to one that’s not so nicely decorated, and convinced myself I was ignoring it. In reality, when we got down to the business of talking, I probably spoke up and stood my ground more firmly than they would have thought I could to compensate for these feelings, so maybe my short stature has helped me.

Is society biased against short people?
“Yes,” says the one who wishes bookstores and libraries would spring for more than six stepstools and ladders to cover their thousands of stacks and who recently had the very embarrassing experience of having to ask a tall man (okay, he wasn’t even really that tall, but he was tall enough to reach it) who was walking by to please reach for her the last coconut cake on the back of the top shelf of the grocer’s freezer. Of course, now I’ve just embarrassed myself further by proving how desperate I was for a frozen coconut cake.

Is society biased against tall people?
Against tall women, I think so, but not against tall men. Again, it’s a man’s world.

Do people make annoying remarks about your height?
Not really annoying, but because I always seem to fall in love with men who are at least a good ten inches taller than I am, I have always been attached to men who have come up with some sort of nickname that incorporates the fact that I’m short. For instance, Bob affectionately refers to me as “The Midget,” but I call him “The Giant,” so no harm done in our politically incorrect name-calling.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Invitations and Some Very Nice Pens (Oh Yes, and a Book or Two)

Having been someone who’s loved to write since she first started tracing letters onto paper at age five, I’ve always had somewhat of a pen fetish. Deliver any bad news you have to deliver (“your house is being repossessed,” “I’m leaving you for a nineteen-year-old exotic dancer,” “the company is reorganizing your job out of existence…”) accompanied by a fine new pen just dying to be rolled across blank pages, and I’ll probably smile, give you a hug, and go in search of said pages.

When I write stories (and sometimes even blog entries), I almost always write the first draft in pen (or pencil). I’m not exactly sure why: I can just as easily compose with a keyboard. I suppose, though, I find composing without one more soothing. And I do love the convenience of it. I can write anywhere without having to worry about plugs, power cords, batteries, sun glare, etc. It stands to reason, then, that if this is my preferred method of creative writing, I need nice pens, right?

I married a man whose pen fetish is as bad as mine. Worse, really. I worry if I spend too much money on a pen, always aware of my absent-mindedness and the fact that I could very easily lose it. Bob, on the other hand, has no such worries, and he collects fine pens the way some people collect fine jewelry (or rather, I give them to him on present-giving occasions, which makes such occasions nice and easy for me). I’m often sent into a state of panic when I see him casually slip one of these into a shirt pocket and walk out into the big, wide world where I am sure it wants to leap, never to return (mine aren’t allowed to leave the house, except on very special occasions, and then only in boxes in tightly secured bags).

A week ago Saturday, we had a real dilemma. I got an invitation to go to a tea in Manhattan hosted by Persephone Books. Bob got an invitation for a special pen expo at The Fountain Pen Hospital, also in Manhattan on the same day. We hemmed and hawed, considered going to both, but since there were other things we also wanted to do while in the city, finally decided being tempted to buy more books was a bad idea, since we're going to be moving soon (at least we hope. A post on that is waiting to be written, and it's bigger than the telecommuting ones that are still lined up, so it will probably beat its way to the front of the line soon). Pens are much easier to transport than books. Besides, the Persephone Tea cost money, and the pen expo was free.

Big mistake to think we’d be saving money. You can’t take two pen fanatics, put them in a store full of mouth-wateringly beautiful and heart-attack-worthy expensive pens and expect to get off cheap. I’m proud to say I did not succumb to the $3000 glass and sterling silver pen that made me understand why some people feel the need to push others to their deaths on their way to the top of the corporate ladder where they can rake in my yearly salary in a mere month.

I did, however, decide I needed to complement the Faber-Castell pencil my former boss gave me as a Christmas gift a few years back with a similar roller ball and ball point. I mean, doesn’t everyone need a complete set? And then there was the Mark Twain signature fountain pen. Everything was 25% off. When else would I ever find these pens at these prices? We got Bob a beautiful Caran d'ache pencil (this purchase was not the least bit influenced by the delicious Swiss chocolates the Caran d'ache woman was giving away). I love Caran d'ache. I used to get those metal boxes of colored pencils (the ones with the Swiss Alps painted on the top) when I was a child, and I wouldn’t have any other. So, we bought four writing instruments and didn’t even come anywhere close to spending even a quarter of the cost of that silver and glass pen. What a bargain!

We left Fountain Pen Hospital, and I decided we needed some nice, new, blank books on which to test our new purchases. I wracked my brains (I mean, we were in the middle of Manhattan, where it’s just so difficult to find anything you want) and couldn’t think of any place better to buy these than the Strand Bookstore. After all, it was so conveniently located a mere forty blocks up on Broadway. While there, I decided I might as well check to see if a few books on my TBR list were available. The Strand, although a fabulous place to browse, with its “18 miles of new and used books” is typically disappointing if you arrive with specific titles in mind. Wouldn’t you know it? This was the day, of all days, I hit pay dirt when I checked the shelves for Rose Macaulay (some of you may have figured out that I’ve become quite obsessed with her lately). Last time I was there, they had nothing of hers. This time, they had five books, The Towers of Trebizond being the only one I’d read. I chose two. I toyed with T. of T., because I love it so (it was lent to me, and I don't own it), but then I decided against it. You know, that would have been conspicuous consumption. Bob, not to be outdone by me, found two books of his own: a short story collection by Wallace Stegner and another by Raymond Carver. And, then of course, there were the blank books.

All right, so we decided to save money by going to the free pen event. We decided we shouldn’t add to our book collection when we expect to be moving sometime in the next half year or so. We spent a fortune on pens, and we came home with four books. There’s something wrong with this picture.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Blogging for Newspapers

Yesterday morning, I was listening to a story on NPR about a newspaper in Boston that’s looking for bloggers who live in the city to act as local news reporters. It’s a very interesting idea, and I immediately perked up, even though my coffee hadn’t yet finished its own perking. The argument was that bloggers know more about their communities than some reporter coming from outside does. What an interesting idea. I bet many bloggers know more about certain subjects than many reporters do. Here’s an example, just off the top of my head: math educators might happen to know a little more about the “math wars” going on in the American education system than a self-declared-math-hating journalist. If papers like The Wall Street Journal tapped into math educators blogging on the subject, and got one of them to write their articles, maybe I wouldn’t be so infuriated every time I read an article on the subject and would stop coming away thinking, “That reporter doesn’t have a clue. How could she have written that? Didn’t she do her research?”

Now, I know, reporters are supposedly more objective than those in the field, and maybe it’s a good idea to try to have an objective voice when discussing controversial topics like: why do American students lag so far behind students in other countries when it comes to mathematical ability? But let’s take a different sort of example. Yesterday’s New York Times had an article about chimpanzees in its Science Times section. One can’t have an article about chimpanzees without mentioning Jane Goodall. Wouldn’t it be cool if that article had been written by someone who’d actually worked under her rather than some reporter who was just researching her? I’m not saying there’s someone out there blogging about his/her experiences working with Jane Goodall, but there could be (honestly, I haven’t looked). Think about how much more information that person would have. The possibilities for this sort of reporting seem endless when one thinks about the vastness of the blogosphere.

Even more interesting about this report was that the bloggers for this Boston paper would actually see their names in print. The idea, as I was able to gather, is to print their blog entries in an actual newspaper. What a nice transition for those who are eager to be published. They wouldn’t have to abandon their comfortable blogging zones.

It doesn’t sound like there could be a downside to this for the blogger, does there? Well, then I listened on to find out that this paper doesn’t plan to pay the bloggers. Maybe. Eventually. But not yet. What? Can you imagine a paper approaching someone and saying, “We’d like you to write stories for us, but we’re not going to pay you?” Unless you’re a college intern, doing it solely for experience, or happen to be independently wealthy, you’d be nuts to agree to that. I hope any blogger approached by them realizes this, especially if he or she wants blogging legitimized. Everyone knows that the key to legitimization is cold, hard cash. I mean, lawyers don’t run around providing free legal representation in the hopes that they’ll become recognized in the field. Aspiring writers shouldn’t either. And imagine how much money the owner of a paper can rake in if he doesn’t have to pay his reporters (or at least is only having to pay those few he hires who aren’t bloggers). Even more important, though, is: what’s in it for the blogger at all? Bloggers already get to blog about anything they want with no pay. Suddenly, people are going to be asked to blog about things someone else dictates, and still not get paid, all for the slight chance that they might be recognized and maybe then be able to publish something that pays? As far as I’m concerned, Corporate America strikes again. Only this time, the worker bees aren’t getting even a tiny drop of the Queen (or King) Bee’s honey.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Not Much to Say

I don't think much can be said this evening except that my heartfelt thoughts and prayers are with all those in The Virginia Tech community and their friends and family members. I hope others will pass on thoughts as well.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Sense of Humor: R.I.P.?

Somehow, somewhere, over the last few months, I seem to have lost my sense of humor. I just can’t figure out what’s happened to it. I’m a bit suspicious, knowing it, that “lost” may not be the word I want. I think it’s playing a trick on me and is hiding somewhere, because every so often, for a few special occasions like on Thursday nights when 30 Rock is on or when Bob and I go see a performance of The Cocktail Hour on stage, it materializes. But most of the time, it seems to be hiding in some deep, dark tunnel underneath a city street somewhere, the sort of place that echoes with mysterious voices and maniacal laughter where it knows I won’t dare set foot to try to find it.

I first realized it was missing when I picked up the audiobook version of Little Children by Tom Perotta a few months back. The jacket on the CD cover declared that this book was nothing short of brilliantly funny (granted, the subject matter didn’t scream “funny,” but I’ve been surprised in the past by good comic authors who can make any subject laughable). I was looking for a good laugh and eagerly inserted it into the CD player as soon as I got out to my car to find myself somewhat amused by the opening playground scene and its depiction of suburban motherhood. But that was the only amusement I was able to squeeze from what I found to be a hauntingly sad portrayal of 21st-century suburban life where people haven’t a clue what they want or need, and everyone is looking for a scapegoat for his or her own unbelievably wretched unhappiness.

Shortly after that, I picked up the audiobook version of Prep, a book about which I’d been curious for some time. This one also promised to be “funny.” I found absolutely nothing – seriously, N-O-T-H-I-N-G – funny about this gut-wrenchingly poignant portrayal of one of the most painful periods of a girl’s life. I did, one morning, find myself crying while listening to this book on my morning walk, but not once did it elicit even a slight chuckle. When I returned it to the library, I decided to take a look at the print book to see what its jacket copy had to say. Guess who endorsed it as funny. Tom Perotta. Well, if those two think they’re funny, I’d hate to see what they’re like when a loved one dies, and I hope I don’t ever end up in their company at a dinner party.

Thinking that maybe my sense of humor is just becoming wary of audiobooks, I decided to try a DVD. Holy Smoke was hailed as a comedy. Okay, I don’t know about you, but I wouldn’t call a movie that takes me from butterflies-in-the-stomach in the beginning to cats-with-sharp-claws-in-the-stomach at the end a rip-roaring comedy. Maybe I’m odd, because although it was a very good movie, it just wasn’t the sort of thing I would describe to a friend thus, “Ohmigod, I was laughing so hard, I couldn’t stay in my seat while watching this one.” That’s the sort of thing I might say about, oh, I don’t know, There’s Something about Mary, maybe (I’m waiting to read somewhere that that one is a three-hankie tear-jerker).

Finally, encouraged by rave reviews in The New York Times and The New Yorker, Bob and I, desperately in need by this point of some gut-bursting laughter, decided to watch The Sarah Silverman Program. After the first episode we watched, I decided I was just being a bit dense or dumb. I must have missed something, because it had promise. It seemed like it could be so funny. So, I waited a week and watched it again, which is when I decided “dumb” was the right word but not to describe me.

You don’t know how much I’ve been missing my sense of humor. I count on it, especially when I’m down. I don’t understand why it’s chosen to desert me. Oh, wait a minute…hold on…I think I hear something. Was that it peeking through the pages of Rose Macaulay’s Crewe Train? Oh, and there it seems to have been flashing subliminally across the TV screen as we watched Casanova. It even came along and popped up to say “boo” a couple of times while I was sitting in the theater watching The Queen. I guess it’s not really gone after all. Maybe it’s just chosen to be a little more subtle these days, which is something I can truly appreciate.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Books Aren't My Only Passion

Buoyed up by my first litblogging imitation, I’ve decided to confess I have an obsession with something other than books. It seems to be one shared by most book fiends I know: music. I probably don't need to note then that books aren’t the only objects to accumulate at the rate of breeding mice in our house. CDs do as well. Say what you will about Amazon and the demise of brick-and-mortar stores (okay, if you won’t, I will, “Damn the demise of good brick-and-mortar stores where you can chat with knowledgeable clerks and flip through and hold the merchandise!”), but what a fabulous one-stop-shopping place it is. If someone had told me when I was thirteen that one day I’d be able to go to this place to order books and music together and have them delivered right to my door, I would have wished the years away at Mach speed rather than my more leisurely “please-just-a-little-faster-so-I-can-be-a-grownup-and-do-what-I-want” speed. Well, we all know that grownups don’t always get to do what they want, but it’s nice to have my own money with which to frequent Amazon.

I love all kinds of music, but what I want to discuss today is maybe the equivalent of the best of the “chick flick” or “chick lit.” Too bad I can’t think of any musical term that rhymes with “chick.” I’m stuck with “chick music.” (Feel free to help me out here if you’re aware of some clever phrase for this genre.) I’m not talking here about sappy, supposedly romantic singers who rarely write their own lyrics and who are played ad nauseam on Lite FM. I’m talking about those tough, passionate, sexy women who pull you up on stage with them and ask you to participate, making you forget you can’t carry a tune to save your life and that you weren’t even able to master the recorder when everyone was taught to play it in music appreciation class, let alone the guitar.

I thought I’d highlight five of my favorite examples. These are women who just don’t get nearly the attention they deserve as far as I’m concerned. And, in case you haven’t heard of one or two, in my eagerness to force my taste on others, I’m providing CD recommendations, so you can go sample some snippets over at Amazon.

(In alphabetical order, lest you think I have a favorite.)

Iris Dement – I actually got to meet her once: so shy and sweet. Her music is much more country than folk with, at times, a hint of the influence of rock. Thus, she’s got a bit more of a twang to her than others I like. She hits you with beautifully sad melodies, as well as an extremely critical eye focused on our culture, especially in songs with these sorts of lyrics:

“Living in the wasteland of the free
Where the poor have now become the enemy
Let’s blame our troubles on the weak ones
Sounds like some kind of Hitler remedy…”

If these words are striking a chord with you, wait till you hear the actual chords. Try The Way I Should.

Deirdra Flint – funny, funny, funny, funny folk (and great fun to see perform). But she also surprises with some very poignant songs. I used to walk around talking about how I wished I could be the Tin Man and have no heart. Little did I know she’d written a song about this very thing. If you’ve ever been a bridesmaid or had to escort one, you should love “The Bridesmaid Dress Song,” in which a bridesmaid’s huge, pouffie dress saves her from drowning. You can find both songs on the superb The Shuffleboard Queens.

Michelle Shocked – I had the pleasure of seeing her perform in her home state of Texas. I’d just arrived in Austin from Dallas where I’d seen Michael Stipe of R.E.M. stand up on stage and mock the audience (just a little aside here: I’m a huge R.E.M fan, but had been down on Stipe for years for his smugness until I saw him in New York two nights after Bush won the 2004 election. He was terrific! Or maybe it was just the fact that – smug or not – he looked so good when he stripped down to his underwear). Michelle was so refreshing after that evening in Dallas. You’ve never seen a performer so happy to be there and so into what she was doing. Her story-telling ability was surpassed by anyone I’d seen on stage up until that point, and we got the added bonus of her father joining her for the last few songs. She’s a wonderful combination of country, folk, and rock and has a beautiful, haunting voice. If you’ve never heard her, try Arkansas Traveler, which highlights her folk-y side (and has the added bonus that she worked with a lot of other great musicians to produce it).

Syd Straw – you don’t get much better than this when it comes to fabulous bluesy-rock with a strong and very beautiful female voice. Her songs will make you think (I love the line “My sphinx is a jinx.”) I was lucky enough to see her onstage in a small venue back when she was with the Golden Palominos, but I like her much better on her own. She’s only produced two solo efforts, and of those, I’ve only got the wonderful War and Peace, one of those rare CDs on which there isn’t a single song I don’t like. Maybe I should go buy the other one...

The Nields – their energy on stage is truly amazing. I love the way they sort of jump around to their folk-rock sound like excited children, and their strong, edgy, and sexy feminist leanings are very powerful. How can you not like a group with lyrics such as:

“I used to be young,
Now I am old,
I used to be hot,
Now I am almost cold.
I used to be hard as candy,
But I’ve been sucked on too long…”?

And their version of “Lovely Rita” is better than the one by what's their name? The Beatles? A good first listen is Gotta Get Over Greta.

In writing this, I’ve realized I’m quite partial to folk. I’ve also realized that by limiting myself to five, I’ve made this exercise quite difficult. I have many, many other favorites in the world of female performers, but these will have to be it for now. Would love some recommendations from anyone reading this who has any, especially if you know of some who are similar to these five.

Saturday, April 07, 2007

Telecommuting: One Year (and a Bit) On

On Thursday, I had a couple of meetings with people from my sister company, where I used to work, so I decided to spend the day working from that office. Doing so made me very aware of thoughts and questions I have pertaining to telecommuting, which I have now been doing from my home for just over a year (to be exact, I moved home on April 1, 2006). These thoughts and questions have decided they belong somewhere other than inside my head where no one can see or hear them. They’ve been pounding on my skull, reminding me that I once created a blog that was supposed to be all about them. They were supposed to have a special home where they could reside and not be overcrowded by worries and sudden cravings and depressing thoughts, all of whom seem to think they own the inside of my head. So, I’m letting the telecommuting thoughts free this morning, and let me tell you, they are some very happy campers, as they line up, ready to take the plunge from brain to computer screen. Here’s what they have to say:

1) Please, please, please don’t ever make me go back to working in an office again. The 45-minute-turned-one-hour-for-some-mysterious-reason commute with all those idiots on the road, tailgating me and trying to get ahead of me (why? So they could hurry up and get to their places of employment, which I’m sure 90% of them complain about being so awful?) left me in anything but the relaxed state I’m used to being in these days when I sit down at my computer in the morning. I didn’t get my morning walk. Listening to NPR while those same tailgaters are coming dangerously close to head-on collisions in their eagerness to get around me in no-passing zones is not the same as listening to NPR while making coffee and getting breakfast together. For that matter, drinking coffee from a travel mug is not the same as drinking coffee from my favorite flowered mug.

2) How does anyone ever get anything done in an office? Did I really used to be able to tune out all those conversations going on around me, along with the ringing telephones and the urges to look up every time someone walked by?

3) Why didn’t I go broke when I worked at an office? At the moment, I don’t tend to leave the house unless I have to. Thus, I’m not tempted by those things on the “outside” nearly as often as I was when I had to leave the house every single day and drive to a place that’s dangerously close to a Barnes and Noble (the closest super bookstore to my home is a 25-minute drive away). Granted, on Thursday, my former boss took me to lunch, so I wasn’t tempted to forego the perfectly good lunch I’d packed in order to run out and get some sushi (something I was prone to do back in the day), but B & N was calling my name when I hit some traffic trying to get home and decided it might be a good idea to just wait for the traffic to subside. After all, I’ve been meaning to pick up a new moleskin notebook. Of course, once through the door, I had to pick up a book as well (Ella Minnow Pea, for those of you who are curious, a book I’d forgotten I wanted to read until I found it just staring me right in the face, asking to come home with me). Oh, I also had to go to the drugstore to buy a sympathy card for a friend. While there, being a good capitalist, I decided I’d better get some Easter candy before it’s all gone, because, after all, I’m sure all the Cadbury Cream Eggs in all the stores around here are going to sell out by Easter.

4) Telecommuting is something best done when husbands are not home all day ostensibly job hunting, but really wanting your undivided attention, or at least wanting your help with mailing things, writing letters and essays, and finding the leftover soup in the fridge. But, I’m beginning to realize, he’s less of a nuisance than all that noise in the office was. Still, I’d be lying if I didn’t say I’m looking forward to the day when he’s gainfully employed in a non-telecommuting position. Of course, then everyone can look forward to hearing me, The President of The Grass-Is-Always-Greener Society, complaining about how a pastor’s wife should really just call herself a widow.

5) I love my “celebrity” status when I do visit the office (either my old one or my new one). These are people who would probably all be whining about me and sick to death of me if they had to see me everyday, but instead, I get greeted with warmth and affection whenever I’m around. It’s like the long-distance relationship in which two lovers never see each others’ faults, because they’re always on their best behavior when they do get together.

6) That being said, this long-distance lover still wishes she could hang out more with her colleagues. I always have such a great time when I do.

7) My early fears of not being able to balance work and home life in an effective way have proven to have been completely unfounded. I suspect this is because I so enjoy what I do, I’m not tempted to avoid work and become a daytime-TV addict who never changes out of her pajamas. What I’ve discovered is that I also value my personal life enough to be thrilled to have more of it now that I don’t have to commute to work and work on other peoples’ schedules instead of my own. That’s not to say I don’t have the occasional day in which I’m still at work at 9:00 p.m., but I also have the occasional day in which I’m really not very productive at all (things which happened even when I wasn’t telecommuting).

8) I’m more of a loner than I ever thought. I love the solitude telecommuting gives me. Now, if I need or want to interact with others, I have to schedule those interactions, which gives me more control over them, and more time to prepare for them.

9) I still hate telephone meetings. I much prefer face-to-face meetings, even when it means a long drive. But I want to have my meeting and immediately leave the premises.

10) I still have no idea how to convince others that working from home does not mean “available in ways others aren’t.” I hope I figure out this one before I officially become “the pastor’s wife.”

There you have it: proof that I sometimes still use this blog as a forum for talking about telecommuting.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Bait and Switch by Barbara Ehrenreich

(My apologies to all you wonderful litbloggers out there for this rather cheap imitation, but I promised Cam I’d post on this book today. Also, I’m keeping up with one of my 2007 blogging goals of embracing my inner litblogger: this is my first blog devoted solely to a book I’ve just read.)

When I read books by Barbara Ehrenreich, just as I do when I read books by Sarah Vowell, Mary Roach, or David Rakoff; I first have to get past the green hue my skin takes on as I think about the fact they all managed to catch the calling I missed while I was so busy worrying about such things as food, clothing, housing, and health insurance (like those I just read about in this book). Am I the only one who would love to be able to visit all kinds of historical sites, interview residents and tour guides, pretending just to be a very interested tourist? How about traveling all over the world to try to discern whether or not ghosts are real? And then there’s posing as a white-collar, corporate-America-type, trying to get a job, as Ehrenreich did for this book. Once the acting’s done, you get to spend your time putting together a collection of witty essays or chapters for books people have already agreed to publish (probably with a nice little advance against royalties to help pay for all that travel).

But, all jealousy and envy aside, I picked up this book thinking I wasn’t going be all that sympathetic. I didn’t think I could feel the pain of whiny, laid-off executives who have always felt a sense of entitlement, and who are having trouble finding new six-figure-salary jobs. As they so often do, my prejudices astounded me. Despite these prejudices, though, I was still well aware of the fact that it’s easy for me to be dismissive of such people, because I have no debt, have no children, and have had steady employment since graduating from college, and that means I’ve been making a decent salary for some time now. If I were suddenly to lose my job, rather than grasping for another job in the corporate world, I’d probably see it as an opportunity to explore other career paths (psychologist, nutritionist, freelance writer all spring to mind).

I had approached the other Ehrenreich book I’ve read Nickel and Dimed with a much more sympathetic and open mind. That book is about the blue-collar workers of America: people working their butts off in jobs most of us white-collar pansies could stand for maybe two hours, many of them working more than one job, and they were still unable to make ends meet. That book made me feel there’s something very wrong with America, and it also reinforced my long-held belief that “The American Dream” (like winning the lottery) is only really attainable for a very lucky few.

But then I started to get into Bait and Switch and realized that this book also reinforces my long-held belief. I gather from Ehrenreich’s experiences (she decided to pretend to be an out-of-work public relations specialist and gave herself a year to try to find a job with a corporation) and from what she tells us, we have a glut of people (many whose parents were probably those work-their-butts-off-blue-collar Americans who wanted more for their children) who are finding life in the corporate world to be tougher than the lives their parents had. Their parents probably pushed them to get an education, believing a college degree would guarantee success. They’d never lack for a decent job with decent pay. They’d move up in the world. Well, it just “ain’t so.”

Remember how in the old days, only those with the right connections got jobs? Well, it’s not the “old days.” Nothing’s changed. I guarantee if you grew up in a family in which your father was CEO of Major Corporation, and you went to Ivy League School of Choice, and joined the right clubs and fraternities, you’re not one of the ones suffering today. However, if your father worked on the assembly line of Major Corporation, and you went to State U on scholarship, and you couldn’t afford to join clubs and fraternities, but made straight A’s in all your business and communications classes, the subject in which you majored, you probably lost your job at Minor Brothers Company going on twelve months ago now, have applied for countless numbers of other jobs, and still barely get a response from anyone.

As this book got into the details of how difficult it is for these people to find jobs, my sympathies rose. Ehrenreich approaches the subject with a wonderfully wry eye (why I like her so much), but after a while, even she can’t hide the fact that hidden beneath all the absurdity (job “coaches,” “networking bootcamps,” etc.) is the incredible sadness and disillusionment. When she reveals the life of the “bootcamp” leader, it’s almost enough to make one cry.

One of the most disturbing chapters in the book is The Transformation. Here, we basically learn that women can’t win in the corporate world when it comes to appearance. They’re either too beautiful and can’t be taken seriously, or they’re too masculine when they need to be more feminine in order to be “approachable.” My question is: why aren’t men seen as “unapproachable?” Aren’t they the prototypes of “masculine?” (But that’s a subject for a post on What We Said.)

Ultimately, I came away with very similar conclusions as Ehrenreich’s, which is that despite the fact that those selling advice to people looking for jobs will say that the most important factor is “attitude,”

...What they need, too, is not a “winning attitude” but a deeper and more
ancient quality, one that I never once heard mentioned in my search, and that is
courage: the courage to come together and work for change, even in the face of
overwhelming odds. (Barbara Ehrenreich, Bait and Switch, New York:
Metropolitan Books, 2005, p. 237).

I also came away from this book more aware than ever that I’m extraordinarily lucky, that somehow I’ve managed to find the Summerhill of companies in and amongst all the Etons and Harrows. She quotes Steven Covey, noting that he says that to achieve a level of passion in the workplace (“passion” is apparently a very important part of “attitude”) you need to:

...induce pain…As long as people are contented and happy, they’re not going to
do much. You don’t want to wait until the market induces pain, so you have to
induce it in other ways. (Stephen R. Covey, The Eighth Habit: From
Effectiveness to Greatness
, New York: Free Press, 2004, p. 4)

I work in a place where people are more passionate about what they do and more productive than anywhere else I’ve ever worked. We avoid pain. Ask any of the employees, and they’ll tell you they’re contented and happy. When our parent company conducts its employee satisfaction survey every few years, ours is the only one that consistently scores sky high, way above the rest of the pack. We’re also financially successful. We’re proving Stephen Covey wrong.

I, like Ehrenreich, believe America can change. More companies could be like the one where I work. However, it isn’t going to happen unless those who work for corporate America decide to shake it up a little, until people start joining together, putting their feet down, and saying, “this isn’t right.” Corporate unions might be a radical idea, but they just might change things for the better.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

Now Leaving from Gate...

I wish when “givens” were being passed out to babies the year I was born, I’d been at the front of the fast-moving line. I would love to have had such “givens” as: leave twenty minutes before having to be at a destination ten minutes away and never arrive late. Or this one: never have to wait at a doctor’s office or in an emergency room. And wouldn’t it be nice to be the person who lucked out with: breeze into any restaurant and always get a table right away?

But no, I was stuck in the back of the slowest-moving line (a predestined “given,” I suspect). My givens were all floating around in muck at the bottom of the barrel. Some of them, I’ve just come to accept without much thought these days: if there's a stall in a crowded women's room that won't lock, that's where I'll end up, necessitating all kinds of acrobatics with arms and legs to at least suggest a sense of decency to those on the outside, because there certainly isn't an ounce of it on the inside. Blizzards will only strike on days in which I’m supposed to be somewhere far away. I will never get sick at a convenient time when I’m dying for an excuse to lie abed reading Agatha Christie, eating crackers, and drinking tea for a few days, but rather when I’m traveling, have company, or have tickets to some once-in-a-lifetime event.

However, the given that never fails to frustrate me time and again is: my plane will always be departing from gate Z99. No matter what airline I’m flying. No matter what city I’m in nor where I’m going, I will always have miles to walk to get to my gate, and the less time I have to catch my plane, the farther away the gates will start to get from each other. I might think I’m almost there when I’ve reached gate Y79, but silly me, I’ll soon discover there’s this whole other wing of the airport, once you get past the Y gates, where the Z gates reside. Or, maybe I’ll get a little excited, because I get my boarding pass and discover my plane is leaving from Gate C3, but after following the poorly-marked cement-tiled trail that leads to the C gates, I’ll find I’m being herded onto a train that drops me off at a building in another city (you think I’m joking, but have you ever been to the Atlanta airport? I’m convinced half the planes that fly out of it are really leaving from Savannah), and I still have another mile to walk once I'm in building C to get the the actual gate. Every once in a while, I’ll get a boarding pass that announces I’m leaving from gate A10 (never “1,” but maybe “10”). This will be the airport designed by sadists who had a great laugh over the fact that they were going to put the gates in reverse order, so A99 is actually the first gate one reaches after making it through Check Point Charlie Security.

I’m sure I wouldn’t be quite so frustrated by this given of mine if I were one of those women who checks huge bags of luggage and carries on nothing but a tiny little purse and a Reader’s Digest magazine. But, I’m not. I’m one of those women who even if she’s checked luggage, still has a computer bag whose zipper is going to break any minute from the overload of laptop, plugs, books, toiletries, and work files. It weighs about as much as a hefty toddler. (Another given is that I will forget when I’m packing such a bag that I’m going to have to carry it for ten miles.) If I’m bringing my wheelie carry-on with me, it will not roll smoothly along like everyone else’s wheelie carry-on (probably because theirs has nothing heavier in it than a pair of slippers, a toothbrush, and a lightweight pair of pajamas), but will teeter on its wheels, get cranky if it spots something in the distance it might at some point have to maneuver around, and topple over at the mere suggestion of turning a corner. Place a computer bag on top of it, and it will refuse to move.

I’ve decided I’m turning over a new leaf, though. I am no longer going to let this given frustrate me. I’m going to laugh at it and tell it what a favor it’s doing me, with all the aerobic and strength-training exercise I’m getting. I’m going to make it wish it could go back to the bottom of that barrel.

Now, I just need someone to come along and remind me of this tomorrow when I’m gasping for breath, racing to find gate Z99, as my computer bag strap slips off my shoulder, yet again, causing the bag to go smashing into little old ladies, sending them to the ground to break their hips. Anyone want to volunteer for the job?