Friday, January 29, 2010

The unknown future rolls toward us

I am trying to get ready to step into the darkness. I am gathering writing together to be submitted into a contest. I am preparing to be judged. And it is really scaring me.

The thing is, I really feel I need to take this step. Please don't give me the argument that I am just writing for myself. Sure, on some level that's true. But if it were really true, well, I'd be keeping a diary, with a request that it be destroyed if something were to happen to me. The fact is I'm writing this blog: I want readers. But I want happy, friendly readers. Readers that just tell me how funny and brilliant I am.

But that's the easy way, isn't it? Now is the time for me to put it out there, at least at some level. It's time to scrape together some pieces that are inside of me, put them on paper, and hand them over to a stranger and say, "well, what do you think?" It's a bit like falling in love: you have to put yourself out there and hope that the other person won't reject it. And, like falling in love, I have to know that no matter what happens, I'll be alright. That I'll be a bit richer for the experience.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

This modern world

As most of you know, I'm on Facebook. And like most of us on Facebook, you have a variety of "friends": you have your close friends, you have your family (Hi Mom!), you have work friends, college buddies, those friends of friends. I try to keep my number of friends reasonable, to people I actually communicate with now and again. Usually when I friend someone (funny how "friend" became a verb), there's that brief burst of communication when we first make contact ("Hey, tell me about your life!"), a few back and forth emails, but then you just watch the status updates. If something major happens, well, you might post something on their wall or send them an email. That's all you need, that's all you expect.

A while ago I friended a guy from high school. He was a senior when I was a freshman. He was always friendly, always funny. I remember him as this positive force. Just the kind of guy you always felt you could go to if you needed someone.

Shortly after I friended him, we did the email exchange and these were just some of the sweetest emails you'd ever read. He told me about how happy he was with his life. When he described his girlfriend, it was with so much love. And he was a great friend to have on Facebook: good status updates, no invites to join "Farmtown" or whatever ridiculous game was popular that month. So, although we weren't close in high school, I was glad I put out that friend invite and he accepted.

A few months ago I noticed that he hadn't had any updates for a while. I didn't think much of it. These things happen; people fall off of Facebook. But just out of curiosity, I stopped by his page, and there was a notice from his girlfriend: he had passed away suddenly about a month before.

I was shocked. I didn't even know how to react. Do I cry? Do I cry over someone I haven't seen in over 25 years? A few emails, that's all we exchanged, but this really hit me. I suppose this is part of this modern life: the death of a Facebook friend. I'm glad his page still exists. I know that one day it will be gone, and it will hit me again, the day I notice it's gone.

Will this be how we learn our friends are gone? My parents read the obituary pages, but I don't. I don't read the local papers; I don't know anyone who does -- how would I know if something happened to that buddy from college? I don't know if I like this modern world. Not for this.

John, you are missed.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Get out the fork

This is a follow-up to the 5-year plan post as well as a bit of a response to Vaguery (hey, shout out!)

I am realizing that, as important it is to plan, it is also important to actual do. Not to say to go in without a goal (that would be silly), but maybe to stop having goals so far away that they feel like they'll never arrive. Or at least, not to have them as the only goals.

I need short-term goals. The goals I can achieve in a few months, or, at the most, less than a year. These are the scary ones. If I have something that occurs 5 years away and a year goes by where I didn't get any closer, whatever -- I still have 4 more years to get it done. If I set a 3-month goal, while it's a "smaller" goal, those 3 months go fast. So, if I plan to "write a book" in 5 years, no problem; if I have to produce 50 pages of writing by the end of April: gulp!

I've always been an "eating-the-elephant" kind of gal. You know, one bite at a time. I need to break down my projects into the bites. I get overwhelmed too easily. Although I think I'm better at breaking down the goals at work; I probably give work goals too much importance. I need to tell myself that my personal goals, my life, is really just as important. Maybe even more important. I have spent too much time over the past few weeks thinking about planning, about doing. I need to start chewing. Because that elephant, she ain't getting any smaller.

Like the French philosopher RuPaul said, "Girl, you better work."

Saturday, January 16, 2010


I have been thinking about 5-year plans. Anyone who's every had a job in business or a bigger company knows about 5-year plans. Now, I think that 5-year plans at work are a joke. Let me clarify: it's good to have a 5-year plan for your career; it's stupid to share them at work.

Okay, here are the problems I have with the work 5-year plan:
1) You pretty much have to always lie. After all, what are your options:
(a) I want the same job (which will be interpretted as, "I have no ambition.")
(b) I want *your* job (which, of course, is threatening to some managers.)
(c) I want a completely different job (which comes down to, "then why are you here?")
(d) I want to be retired (see "c")
(e) Anything but this (once again, see "c")
(f) Seriously, I have no idea (which is interpretted as being without direction.)
So what you have to submit is a version of "I want a slightly better job than what I have now (which conveys a certain amount of ambition but not enough to be threatening to you, oh manager of mine)." Ideally, you should need a small amount of training that you can do without interferring with your current workload.

2) You may be held to it. Let's say you think you might want to get additional training, like a degree or something along those lines. Maybe you think you'd like to get your MBA. So, you put it on your 5-year plan. And maybe you take a course at night (or on-line or whatever) and you know what? It's just taking too much time from your *life*. You'd rather go out and watch bad movies with your friends. Or play Mafia Wars on Facebook. Or whatever. Just not work on a degree. But then it's two years later and you're being asked by your manager what the progress is. And you have to say, oh, nothing. Bad employee!

Or maybe you think you want to be a manager, but then after you learn a bit more, you decide that you don't. Or the other way around: you never thought you wanted to be a manager, but later you think you might. People sometimes change their minds. It's alright most of the time. But you sure as hell don't want HR or your manager to pull out some plan you had 4 years ago and hold you to it.

3) You have to share it. And you don't know who will eventually get it either. Are you working for the same person you were 5 years ago? With the same management structure? The same company goals? The same job title? I doubt it. You could have a 5-year plan that involves a lot of training because your current boss is into that, but then you get switch to someone who views it as a waste of time, and then they might hold it against you. "Don't you already know how to do your job?" You never know how someone else might interpret what you wrote for another audience.

I'm actually a fan of a person having a 5-year plan. But it should be yours and private and flexible. Do you think that my current 5-year plan matches my plan from 5 years ago? Do you think I'm where I thought I'd be, where I'd hoped I'd be (well, actually, I'm probably not too far off, but that's another story)?

If I sat down and wrote a 5-year plan for myself, a real one, it wouldn't be working my way up the workplace ladder. No way. It would involve wiring maybe a novel and travel to fun places and walks with wonderful people and great conversation and flexible time and self-exploration (oh, get your mind out of the gutter), but not hopes and dreams of becoming a principal writer and managing a small group of project-related junior level writers (which is what I'd put if I was submitting one to HR).

Submit your 5-year plan below:

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

A couple of rants for ya'!

Rant 1: Carry-on baggage. First off, why, exactly, do the airlines charge for baggage you check but not for the baggage you carry on? The weight is the weight. Just put it in the price of the ticket. Or, if you don't want to do that because otherwise folks will be bringing on body bags of stuff, just charge by the total weight. Put it all on the scale, purses, laptops, the whole bunch, and charge, I don't know, 10 cents a pound. Done. And why not encourage people to check the bags. Really, how much more pleasant would flying be if you didn't have to fight for overhead space with that business guy who is shoving a garment bag, a suitcase, a computer, and his coat in the space above you? Charge for carry-on, I say. Especially with all this extra security nonsense.

Rant 2: Mariah Carey. I don't know if you heard about this, but she won this acting award at the Palm Spring International Film Festival and she got a little kooky with her speech. Now, I haven't actually seen it, but I've read about it and it seems she was a little excited/drunk/rambling. But, you know what, who cares? She was obviously thrilled to have won the award and for once it's kind of nice to have someone who is just babbling instead of thanking their damn agent and press manager. Wasn't she supposed to be over about 5 years ago? I remember when her label bought her out and her career was supposedly done, I told someone that I wish I could buy stock in her, because I knew she'd be back. (I'm not Mariah Carey fan, but she's got pipes and she knows what the people want.) So, shut up Sean Penn and the press, and let the woman enjoy herself.

Rant 3: Woman and sleep. So, there's this whole thing on the Huffington Post about women not getting enough sleep and that's the hot new year's resolution. The New York Times then did a story on it saying that women didn't get enough sleep because they're expected to do more than men. To which a number of men wrote back and basically said, well, that's because women are stupid. (See, we're stupid because we choose to do housework and have babies and pick partners that don't help us enough.) Yeah, there's no pressure from society to do most of the housework and take care of the kids. None at all. And if you don't believe that, do this experiment: watch television commercials for an hour. Just flip around. Count the number of men doing the cleaning, watching the kids. Sorry, no credit for the guy screwing up the cleaning, so the wife has to shake her head (with a smile) and show him how it's done. Yeah, that's all stupid women coming up with the conclusion that they should do the housework.

Monday, January 4, 2010

And you got me wanting you

As I poured sugar on my cookie sandwich (the key ingredients are white bread and brown sugar) with my side of mashed potatoes and rice, I realized that, yes, I have let carbs (along with an extra few pounds) back into my life. And I'd love to say that I have the self-control to cut back or limit the carbs, but I always find that if I open the door a crack, eventually I'm back to the old habits.

I hate that my personality is such that it's all or none, but, especially with food, it seems that all or nothing works the best for me. So, as of today, it's good-bye to the carbs for a bit.

I have a time limit in mind. I'm keeping it to myself, but I figure I have a fighting chance if I can see an end. Then, I'll go from there, taking "vacations" or whatever will work for a while. But, for now, good-bye delicious Snowballs and Jo-Jos.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

The Journal of Helene Berr

Recently I finished "The Journal of Helene Berr". Who was Helene Berr? She was a Jewish student in Paris during World War II. Anne Frank 2? No, she didn't go into hiding, and, well, unlike "The Diary of Anne Frank", this wasn't very good. (and God makes another mark in the "Hell" column.) Let me defend that statement. This is a journal, kept mostly for herself, so there are passages where it's just a cryptic statement about her day (I just opened the book randomly and there was one: "I received two postcards today." Nothing more. I don't want to read that. It's filler. It adds nothing.)

I completely blame the editors and publisher. The part of the book that is the journal is less than 250 pages, fairly large type, with plenty of spaces. A good portion of it is just day-to-day, described in a way that requires you to have a reasonable amount of knowledge of what went on in WWII, as well as a willingness to not care about who was whom throughout the journal. They had a choice: (a) edit it down and make it a one of those long, interesting articles in "The New Yorker", (b) do the work and give us lots of footnotes, explain who there people were, what happened to them, give us the complete story, or (c) (lazy choice) throw it together and just go with it because there are enough fans of Anne Frank that would read this book without the work. They chose (c).

There are some beautiful parts. There is a section on the anxiety of writing, when she realizes that others might read this, that really touched me. "There is the considerable repugnance I feel at thinking of myself as 'someone who writes', because for me, perhaps mistakenly, writing implies a split personality, probably a loss of spontaneity, and an abdication (but maybe these are prejudices)." This is lovely and touches me, but there isn't enough of it (which goes back to the idea of this as an article rather than an entire book.)

It is interesting to read it, knowing what happens. Knowing what was actually going on. At one point her father gets arrested and they are sure that the Germans will be fair. (When the family is asked to send along warm clothing, there is a part of you, while reading it, is thinking, "oh no." Surprisingly, he actually is released, only to be arrested again later.)

She doesn't survive. This isn't really a spoiler as it's on the back cover. She dies 5 days before the camp is liberated.

I guess if you're a real geek about this sort of thing, you should read it. Maybe get a used copy or something. Read the background information that (for whatever random reason) they put at the end first. Seriously, that's where they explain the organizations that she's a member of, why her dad gets released, etc. Oh, those editors.