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Friday, August 31, 2007

Drama/class

The book I'm currently reading (which I expect to finish and review no later than this weekend) has gotten me thinking about class in America, the original "classless society." (That's technically not the same as a society with "no class," although sometimes it turns out that way.)

As far as reading is concerned, there seems to be more genuine drama to be found at either end of the class spectrum, especially as the ends seems to be expanding while the middle gets "squeezed." Some of us are ambivalent about reading about middle-class drama; we may be able to relate easily, but that's because we're living it, so why would we need to read about it?

The drama of the "underprivileged" comes from lives that are full of insecurity, in a material sense, and often hanging by a thread. This week, the news is full of articles commemorating the second anniversary of Hurricane Katrina's strike on New Orleans and the Gulf Coast, and of the people and places devastated by the storm, many of which are still unlikely to recover. Some of these articles remember to mention that the areas most affected were full of people who didn't have much in the first place - it's a poor, and poorly-educated, region - but when you lose what little you have, that's losing a lot, and the everyday struggles to care for and house self and family provide enough challenge, suspense, and quandaries that there's not much time for other life drama. Yet sometimes, as Adrian Nicole LeBlanc's excellent book Random Family: Love, Drugs, Trouble, and Coming of Age in the Bronx describes, the ways that people answer these challenges - crime, drugs, teenage parenthood - just increase the drama. And there's the case of people like Jeannette Walls' family, as she describes them in her memoir The Glass Castle,
whose choice of a precarious existence is fascinating, if difficult to understand. I've been offering examples of real-life "lower-class" drama because, aside from The Grapes of Wrath, I'm having trouble thinking of fictional ones, although I'm sure there must be many more. Whether or not these stories come from real life, though, I think one of the reasons that we're drawn to them is that they help us appreciate not living with that kind of drama. We are intrigued by the details of lives different from ours, and wonder how we'd manage similar circumstances. We may come away feeling more grateful for what we have - even if much of it comes by virtue of having been born in a different time and place (as one of my book-club members noted during our recent discussion of The Kite Runner), and not through anything we've actually done - and, perhaps, more enlightened about those who don't have as much.

My current read falls on the other side of the class line - it's a drama of the "over-privileged." In thinking about this, I find that a sizable amount of my preferred fiction reading seems to fall into this category. The characters in this type of drama don't have to worry much about meeting their physical and material needs - and one often finds references to the makes, models, and quality of their possessions, as well as their drive and desire to possess more of them (although if that's too big a focus, you'll lose me quickly - I'll look at catalogs if that's what I'm interested in). But even more than that, they're the ones who can and do confront the existential dilemmas, rather than those of day-to-day existence - life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness (the rights to which the original U.S. Constitution would have applied only to the privileged anyway). They have the time and the energy to devote to what they want, rather than what they need, and the resources to pursue it. They can have adventures. They can agonize over the emotional consequences of infidelity more than the practical ones (whether they can afford a lawyer and how to support their kids). They have better opportunities, although they don't always make better choices, and so their drama often comes from that - lives that look full from the outside, but feel empty. The details of these lives intrigue us differently, and seeing that people who seem to have much more than we do still have problems is another thing that helps us appreciate what we don't have to live with.

Here in the middle, many of us aren't struggling as much with the basics of life - today, anyway. Thanks to the desire many of us have to live like the over-privileged without fully having the means to do it - which society no longer seems to discourage - we're running up credit-card balances, buying houses without equity, and not putting money away for the proverbial rainy day, and we may be a lot closer to the under-privileged end of the spectrum than we really want to think about. We may need two incomes to provide for our families, but be managing on just one, whether due to single parenthood or the choice to have one parent at home - which brings to mind that the "mommy wars" are a media-fueled middle-class conflict and probably not an issue for the women at either end of the socioeconomic spectrum. (And here's a perspective on that particular "choice," via A Daily Dose of Zen Sarcasm - no comment, just sharing.) But these matters aren't taking up all of our energy - we're still concerned about our relationships, our work, our communities, and all those other "quality of life" things too, and being pulled in all these directions is what defines us as being in the "middle." That's our drama. We're living it, and we're sharing it with each other (offline and on)...and when we want a break from it, I think we look to either side for the more "extreme" varieties.

I tend to function best with a minimum of drama in my life, and that may be why I find it in the stories of others. But I know there are plenty of people who - consciously or not - have a need for drama and will create it for themselves if it's lacking; they can look to either side for ideas.

So, what have we learned?

I believe in karma. I believe that what goes around comes around. And thanks to my deep Catholic roots - even if that plant's not getting much water lately - I believe in penance. I've spent most of the last two days doing it.

My conflicted relationship with my job is becoming an old story around here. But we've spent a lot of time together for the last couple of days - 12 hours at the office yesterday and a full 8 today - on a project I was informed about last week, and actually made plans for. Unfortunately, "plans" in this case is probably too specific a term - I had it on my calendar, but it was apparent by yesterday afternoon I'd had no clue how long it was going to take, and I was forced to ask for a last-minute extension (which didn't turn out the be a problem; the requesters were aware they hadn't allowed much lead time).

But it's done now, and a lot of the things I had to do in the process of compiling this report were necessary for another project I need to get done soon, so it was worth it. My work's actually pretty well laid out - with actual plans - for the next couple of weeks.

I've been reminded how much I actually do like my job when I'm engaged in something that really absorbs me and lets me try something new. I've also been reminded that I don't like working under pressure, and don't do it well; I spent much more time that I would have liked going back and fixing stuff. I've been reminded that procrastination is not my friend.

I keep saying "reminded" instead of "learned" because none of this is news to me. But sometimes I find I need to go through an experience like this as a refresher course - it's kind of like reincarnation. The thing I hope I've learned this time is that the writing/blogging during the work day has to go. I've been trying to limit it to my lunch breaks, but if I'm on a roll with something, it can be hard to redirect to what I'm getting paid to do, so I'm going to have to break the habit. I can allow myself a quick meme post first thing in the morning. As the day goes on, short breaks to check my feeds and maybe leave a comment or two somewhere aren't so bad - they're actually helpful - but I need to enforce some limits. Plus, I've made it through the last two days without doing any serious writing, and I've obviously lived (and will probably be getting a lot out of my system this weekend!). Besides, if I can stay focused on work during the workday, I might manage to get out of the office on time more often.

iPod Random 10 8-31-07

"The Laws Have Changed" - New Pornographers
"Red Dragon Tattoo" - Fountains of Wayne
"River of Love" - Pat Benatar
"Soulful Shade of Blue" - Neko Case
"Probably" - Lisa Loeb
"I Hate Myself for Losing You" - Kelly Clarkson
"I Me Mine" - The Beatles
"Last Goodbye" - Jeff Buckley
"Little Too Late" - Pat Benatar
"Sweet Baby James" - James Taylor

Looks like it was a woman's world today, but sometimes I wonder about how that "shuffle" thing on the iPod actually works. I know there are some very well-represented musicians on mine, but two Pat Benatars and two Neko Cases (counting the New Pornographers here) in a "random" ten tracks? Hmmm....

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Weather report

This southern girl felt right at home when she stepped outside at 5:45 this morning to walk the dog. It was already 73 degrees, and the humidity was thick. When we got downstairs to the open sidewalk, we discovered it was actually drizzling - rain has been rare this year anyway, but in the summer it's especially unusual.

Unfortunately, this is one of the three things I miss least about the South.

Southern Cal is scorching right now, but we normally experience a dry heat, and it really does make a difference. Low humidity allows the overnight temperatures to drop noticeably (at least 30 degrees most nights) and provide cool mornings and evenings, and the body does adjust to that quickly. But we're definitely in a sticky stretch right now, and since the warmest months here are August and September, we may be in for this for awhile. The humidity and lack of wind will help hold down the fire danger, at least...

Welcome to paradise.

Booking Through Thursday - "Statistics"

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There was a widely bruited-about statistic reported last week, stating that 1 in 4 Americans did not read a single book last year. Clearly, we don’t fall into that category, but . . . how many of our friends do? Do you have friends/family who read as much as you do? Or are you the only person you know who has a serious reading habit?

I posted about that report here last week, and also mentioned it over here - people were scandalized, but then again, as this question notes, we're preaching to the choir.

This question seems to be somewhat of a companion to last week's. I probably read more than most people I know, but I'm surrounded by people who enjoy reading - I just read faster than many of them, and make it more of a point to make time for reading, I think. As I wrote last week, my family is full of readers, and books have been a point of bonding with quite a few of my friends too...after awhile, I seem to find that if I don't have the reading habit in common with someone, there are a lot of other things we don't have in common either. My first husband read so much for his work that he didn't really read much for fun. (See what I mean?)

My second husband, on the other hand, has always enjoyed reading and is doing more of it since we've been together, and he's happy about that. So am I.



Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Rules of the road

Stolen (with permission) from A Daily Dose of Zen Sarcasm:
Yield ≠ merge
Left Turn Only lane ≠ your personal merging lane
No turn signal = No letting your rude-person butt in
Flashing RED light = Stop, then proceed with caution
Flashing RED light ≠ "Let's see who can get faster to the intersection!"
Flashing YELLOW light = Proceed with caution.
Flashing YELLOW light ≠ "The road is mine, bitches"
Flashing YELLOW light ≠ Stop. Go. Gooo....ssttttooopp! GO!
Pedestrians ≠ Bumper fodder (unless jaywalking in high-traffic area)
The bird = always a humbling experience coming from an elderly woman.
This was part of a very funny post on modern etiquette and lack of same, but as a Los Angeles driver, this was the part that most captured my attention.

Wiki Wednesday 8-29-07

It's the first day of school, and time to learn something!

1. Go to Wikipedia.
2. Click on "Random article" in the left-hand sidebar box.
3. Post it!

(I forgot to include the instructions last week...oops!)

Traveling back in time and down under to see what was notable about 1948 in Australia:

Events

Arts and literature

Sport

Births

Deaths




Tuesday, August 28, 2007

A little "liking your job" followup

Lifehacker points to a post on the Life Learning Today blog that offers "25 Tips to Become More Productive and Happy at Work." I think I may have mentioned that this has been a challenge for me of late. Like many lists of this type, some of the "tips" are a little redundant, and they won't all work for everyone all the time, but there are a few that caught my attention:
Choose Happiness, Humor, Enthusiasm, Gratitude, Kindness, and a Positive Outlook. Being productive and competitive in business doesn’t mean that you have to be serious all the time. Smiling doesn’t mean you’re not working hard. Enthusiasm doesn’t mean you’re not competitive. Being positive doesn’t mean you’re blind to challenges. Choose to enjoy your time at work. Find others who are like this and spread good cheer. It’s contagious and it grows. Try to avoid gossip and negative chat. It can be tempting, but it doesn’t serve anyone well, including yourself.
*Accept That You’ll Never Finish Your Task List. For perfectionists and overachievers this is as frustrating as a greyhound forever chasing the mechanical bunny around the track. Get off that track. Just make sure you work on your most important stuff first. Let the fluff slide, not your priorities.
Take Breaks. It’s a fact that taking breaks will increase productivity. It’s been proven in studies. If you need to, find someone to help ensure you take a morning and afternoon break.

*Drop Unimportant Tasks. Delegate or delete the non-essential items from your to-do list. The best way to do this is to always do your most important things first. Somehow, miraculously, extraneous things will fall away.

*Pace Yourself, Especially on Bad Days. Go slow. Don’t be in a hurry. Just take one thing at a time and keep moving forward. If you’re having a really low day, you might even want to take care of yourself by "playing hooky."

Take Your Vacation Time
. Try doing something different. If you always go on a trip, try taking a more local vacation, and really get some good rest time. Or if you always stay local, try visiting a new place. Variety is one of the keys to happiness.

Ask for Help. Don’t be afraid to collaborate with others. Don’t wait for your company to tell you what to do. Think creatively about how you can work with others to generate a greater result than if you had each worked on this alone.

Adapt. Adaptation is the number one survival skill of living organisms. Those that don’t adapt, become extinct. In the work world, the same is true for companies, whole groups, and for individuals. Be open to change. Give it a chance. Adapt to new things while using your experience to guide you, and you will have great success.
The article notes that improvements in your work life can trickle into the rest of your life too - which really shouldn't be news, since it's hard to keep each part of your life in its own little box. And having said that, quite a few of these ideas are relevant and useful off the job, too...I've starred (*) a few that reminded me of some of the things that came up in a discussion about "the juggle" over here.

The gutless wonder(?)

I tend to think of myself as being on the shy and timid side, especially in person. I'm not unfriendly, but I don't often make the first move. I'm also a conflict avoider with known passive-aggressive tendencies. And as I've mentioned here before, I'm an introvert. I seem to be much less of one in writing and online, but the computer provides a "screen" in more ways than one, and while it may help me be more comfortable expressing myself, it doesn't change my basic nature or personality.

But for some reason, I've been told more than once that I have a lot of guts or courage, and it always takes me by surprise, like this comment I got last week:
...this might be completely presumptuous of me to say, but you have a ton of guts - your career choices, your blog, the great articles you've written for the site! We're lucky to have you. Really, very lucky. Thank you!
One of my old friends back at the zoo gave me a sweet gift when I left there to move cross-country, along with a card wishing me well and telling me that she "admired my courage." This was a woman I thought was pretty courageous herself - she left an abusive short-lived marriage, and pursued her master's degree while coping with a full-time job and chronic fatigue syndrome (and eventually, a new relationship), so that meant a lot coming from her, but I didn't think I was being especially brave. In fact, in some ways I felt like I was running away, but I sincerely believed that my post-divorce adjustment would go a little smoother if I were somewhere that I had family, and wasn't likely to run into my ex (and future Wife 2.0) at the grocery store. But realistically, I guess that moving 1800 miles to a place you've never lived before, without a job waiting, and being on your own for the first time at age 38 could be considered a pretty gutsy move.

But I feel that maybe it was a gutsy reaction to having been gutless for a long time. I'd known that my marriage hadn't "felt" right for some time, and that I didn't feel fully myself within it, but I was trying to downplay it and live with what I had until First Husband started the major boat-rocking that led to our eventual divorce. And even during that process, it wasn't something that I wanted, and I kept quiet about a lot. Even later, when I'd been away for awhile and was starting to see how I was changing, and coming to accept that maybe he and I hadn't been the best match for each other, I was still struggling, and learning to live with a low-grade depression.

Yes, learning to "live with it," and at times actively resisting doing anything about it - especially since I was pretty sure it would have been even worse if I hadn't left Memphis. An article by a personal coach that I read recently talked about accepting yourself before you can change yourself, and in a perverse way, I may have felt that "living with" these feelings was a way of "accepting" my life. Change can be a big scary thing, and I'd been through some HUGE change in a few short years - but much of that was in the circumstances of my life, and not so much in me. The "normal" I'd come to live with might not have been the greatest, but at least I knew how it worked - or more accurately, didn't want to know how it didn't work. Ironically, it was First Husband who rocked the boat again, this time with his announcement that he was getting married again, which was what finally pushed me far enough to call a therapist - which even I have to acknowledge was a brave thing to do. The work we did was eye-opening, even in the early stages of CBT, and I made pretty fast progress, especially with the support of my sister and a dear friend who's like a brother (a very gay brother, and a guy who warrants a post all his own some day). I got some excellent tools that I'm still using, and about six months later I was ready for another brave step - into the dating pool. But since I'm less introverted online, I made that step from behind the computer screen...and the communication with my "match" went so well in that setting that when we met in person, we felt like old friends already. We're now two months shy of our first wedding anniversary.

I don't think I've ever thought of blogging as being a particularly brave thing - at least not my version of it, which began as a place to keep a record of my reading. It's clearly expanded from there, and I think it is evolving into a personal blog that truly does reflect me, but I don't consider it nearly as "personal" - by which I guess I mean "revealing" of life details - as many of the other blogs I read. There are things I don't talk about, and people I won't mention by name, and I generally don't court controversy. Even so, I guess there is quite a bit of my life out there - including my perceptions and opinions, which are plenty revealing in their own way - so I suppose I should give myself more credit for taking a chance on this.

One tricky thing about self-image is that you can find yourself holding on to a picture that doesn't square very well with your present reality - not letting yourself get confused by the facts, so to speak. That can be an obvious factor in matters like body-image issues - seeing yourself as fat when you're really not, for example - but it comes into play in less physical "images" too. And despite being able to point to a few examples of courageous actions during the last few years of my life, I still tend to see those times as anomalies that are out of character, rather than characteristic of the person I've grown to be. Maybe they're not anomalies, though - these actions are prompted by thoughts and impulses which can only come from me, so I have to wonder if I'm really a "gutless wonder" after all.

Ten on Tuesday: 10 Things You DO Like About Your Job

Since I appended five things I liked about my job to last week's list, I'm going to tweak this assignment just a little bit, and make my list "10 Things I Like About Having a Job." As usual, these are in no particular order (except for the first one):
  1. The ability to support myself financially
  2. The ability to contribute to my family's financial support (this would really be more like 1a, but I couldn't get the numbering to work that way)
  3. Mental stimulation and challenge
  4. Personal development
  5. The opportunity to meet people I might not otherwise know
  6. Getting out of the house
  7. Health insurance
  8. Feeling like a productive, contributing member of society (sometimes)
  9. Always having a general-interest conversation topic
  10. Gaining a greater appreciation for weekends and holidays

Monday, August 27, 2007

Today's "Gratitude 5"

Post-weekend, Monday-morning, quickie edition

Family time this weekend - bowling, board games
Kitchen time with The Girl - preparing Saturday evening dinner together (a new pasta salad recipe, fried chicken from Safeway, and chocolate mousse for dessert)
Little morning chats with The Boy - some days I'm not the first one up, and he's looking to be sociable
Learning there's a very good after-hours Pediatric Urgent Care clinic in Thousand Oaks (unfortunately, having to learn about it the hard way - a very sudden-onset ear infection for The Boy)
Not at all family-related - starting to get regular commenters on this blog, and seeing subscriber numbers going up!

Friday, August 24, 2007

iPod Random 10 8-24-07

Karen's Random Tens are usually much more interesting than mine, so check that out. (Her blog has inspired both this meme and "Wiki Wednesday.")

I'm not sure what's happened in the last couple of weeks, but the interference with my car iPod adapter, which goes through my FM tuner, seems to have disappeared. This is what I listened to on the way to work this morning, with comments:

"Stupid Girls," Pink (she doesn't want to be one - you go, girl!)
"Smart Woman (In a Real Short Skirt)," Jimmy Buffett (anything Jimmy is a great lead-in to the weekend)
"Essence," Lucinda Williams (found you a smart woman, Jimmy!)
"The Tigers Have Spoken," Neko Case (and another one!)
"Rocky Top," The Flying Burrito Brothers (for the first time in 5 years, Chris probably won't be in Neyland Stadium during football season, but still - GO VOLS!)
"Borrowed Bride," Old 97's ("life comes apart at the seams, it seems" - one of my favorite lyrics, and so often true)
"Don't Let the Sun Catch You Crying," Gloria Estefan (a very soothing interpretation of the British Invasion-era classic)
"Like a Prayer," Madonna (smart woman? savvy, at least...)
"Cruel to Be Kind," Nick Lowe (loved this song since 1980!)
"Jumpin' East of Java," Brian Setzer Orchestra (swinging my way into the parking garage at work)

They probably won't read THIS, either

I know there are bigger things to get wound up over, but my head-shaker of the day comes via Lisa at Books. Lists. Life - an AP poll finding that 1 in 4 adults didn't read a single book last year. Not one.

I know that some people aren't readers, but I can't grasp that concept any more than I can understand people who don't like chocolate. Granted, this survey only concerned reading books, not other media (periodicals, blogs and websites, instruction manuals, cereal boxes, etc.), but still.
Who are the 27 percent of people the AP-Ipsos poll found hadn't read a single book this year? Nearly a third of men and a quarter of women fit that category. They tend to be older, less educated, lower income, minorities, from rural areas and less religious. (That last item makes sense when you see later in the article that the Bible and religious works are the most popular reading categories.)
The story has some interesting factoids and stats about habits among those who actually do read:
Among those who said they had read books, the median figure with half reading more, half fewer was nine books for women and five for men. The figures also indicated that those with college degrees read the most, and people aged 50 and up read more than those who are younger. (I think plenty of younger people are reading, but just not books.)

People from the West and Midwest are more likely to have read at least one book in the past year. Southerners who do read, however, tend to read more books, mostly religious books and romance novels, than people from other regions. Whites read more than blacks and Hispanics, and those who said they never attend religious services read nearly twice as many as those who attend frequently. (One might assume these people aren't the ones reading the Bible.)

There was even some political variety evident, with Democrats and liberals typically reading slightly more books than Republicans and conservatives. (My only comment on this finding is...I'll refrain from comment.)

The Bible and religious works were read by two-thirds in the survey, more than all other categories. More women than men read every major category of books except for history and biography. Industry experts said that confirms their observation that men tend to prefer nonfiction.
It's interesting to encounter this on the same day that Booking Through Thursday participants were writing their posts about how family influenced their reading. Tall Paul and I were talking about that, and we think it really is an "indoctrination" process.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Tuesday, Part Two...

Following up on posts from a couple of days ago:

Tall Paul read my list of "10 Things You Don't Like About Your Job," and since I'm usually no more than ten feet away when he reads my posts, he makes his comments in person.He told me that if you take out the commute (lucky so-and-so - he goes against the traffic flow and skips the freeways), and replace "pervasive low-level anxiety" with "pervasive medium-level anxiety," he could have written the same list. We're definitely made for each other...

But according to the criteria mentioned in a recent post in Time's "Work In Progress" blog, neither of has a truly miserable job. (Well, I don't, at least - I shouldn't speak for him.)
Blogger Lisa Cullen talks about Pat Lencioni, author of the "fable for managers" The Three Signs of a Miserable Job. Lencioni suggests that while a "bad" job is a subjective perception, there are certain constants to a "miserable" one:
The first is anonymity, which is the feeling that employees get when they realize that their manager has little interest in them a human being and that they know little about their lives, their aspirations and their interests.

The second sign is irrelevance, which takes root when employees cannot see how their job makes a difference in the lives of others. Every employee needs to know that the work they do impacts someone’s life – a customer, a co-worker, even a supervisor – in one way or another.

The third sign is something I call immeasurement, which I realize isn’t actually a word. It’s the inability of employees to assess for themselves their contribution or success. Employees who have no means of measuring how well they are doing on a given day or in a given week, must rely on the subjective opinions of others, usually their managers, to gauge their progress or contribution.

Not surprisingly, as a leadership/organizational consultant, he suggests that more effective management would address all three factors.


The "networking ambivalence" post got adapted for a Work It, Mom article, and now the seeds of an actual network are being planted. The publication of the article on the site generated a couple of network invites, and I was challenged by Jenorama to invite 10 new people a day to join my network. That's a little too challenging for me, but I did extend several network requests last night, and all were accepted, which is very gratifying in a Sally Field kind of way.

Just as it was back in my book-trading days on BookCrossing, when I didn't usually participate in transactions with total strangers, I don't think I'll ever be comfortable with inviting a completely unknown quantity. Still, as I get to know more members through their articles, blog comments, and forum participation, I may be a little less inhibited about sending those network requests.

(Oh, and word to the small number whose blogs I comment on frequently, and/or those who do the same here - there's some overlap - I hope it's OK if I consider you fine people part of my "network," too!)

Booking Through Thursday: "Indoctrination"

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Using a suggestion from Erin today:

When growing up did your family share your love of books? If so, did one person get you into reading? And, do you have any family-oriented memories with books and reading? (Family trips to bookstore, reading the same book as a sibling or parent, etc.)

I think "indoctrination" is absolutely the right word to describe my experience. Reading is definitely a family tradition for me. Both my parents have always been readers, but especially my mother, which is particularly notable given her legally-blind status, even with glasses. (I still believe to this day that the deterioration of what little vision she had was a factor in her post-menopausal depression and early-onset Alzheimer's.) I was reading by myself by the time I was four, and at that point I didn't want to be read to anymore - I lacked the patience to sit and listen.

Weekly trips to the library were one of our favorite treats. My father had cousins who owned a bookstore, and I remember a few visits there as well. My aunt was an elementary-school teacher who often picked out books for my sister and me. As I got older, I started buying more books and borrowing them less often from the library, and I would often raid my mom's bookshelves.

The family tradition has continued with my son, and I'm glad that even though I can't claim any credit for it, my stepkids are big readers too.



Today's "Gratitude 5"

  • An overcast morning, which makes a primarily easterly commute much easier on the eyes
  • Late-summer "light" traffic (by L.A. standards, anyway) that reduces said commute to under an hour (assuming no serious accidents like the one this past Monday)
  • A new manicure that hasn't chipped yet - it's been 14 hours and some of them were spent sleeping, but you'd have to understand my bad luck with nail polish to know how much I appreciate this
  • A slice of red velvet cake (for a coworker's birthday) and a cream-cheese brownie with coffee - both yesterday, but not at the same time
  • The memory of the first place I ever tried a cheesecake brownie, the Ithaca Bakery, and my dear long-time friend, the soon-to-be Rev. Ann, who was with me at the time

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Disorder in the court

These legal laughers come from the book Disorder in the Court: Great Fractured Moments in Courtroom History, and were part of an e-mail I got from a friend earlier today. Be glad you weren't one of the court reporters who had to stay calm and record it while these exchanges were actually taking place.

And to think I once intended to go to law school...
ATTORNEY: Are you sexually active?
WITNESS: No, I just lie there.
---------------------------------------------------------------
ATTORNEY: What gear were you in at the moment of the impact?
WITNESS: Gucci sweats and Reeboks.
______________________________________
ATTORNEY: This myasthenia gravis, does it affect your memory at all?
WITNESS: Yes.
ATTORNEY: And in what ways does it affect your memory?
WITNESS: I forget.
ATTORNEY: You forget? Can you give us an example of something you forgot?
_____________________________________
ATTORNEY: What was the first thing your husband said to you that morning?
WITNESS: He said, "Where am I, Cathy?"
ATTORNEY: And why did that upset you?
WITNESS: My name is Susan!
_____________________________________
ATTORNEY: Do you know if your daughter has ever been involved in voodoo?
WITNESS: We both do.
ATTORNEY: Voodoo?
WITNESS: We do.
ATTORNEY: You do?
WITNESS: Yes, voodoo.
_____________________________________
ATTORNEY: Now doctor, isn't it true that when a person dies in his sleep, he doesn't know about it until the next morning?
WITNESS: Did you actually pass the bar exam?
____________________________________
ATTORNEY: The youngest son, the twenty-one-year-old, how old is he?
WITNESS: Uh, he's twenty-one.
______________________________________
ATTORNEY: Were you present when your picture was taken?
WITNESS: Are you (kidding) me?
______________________________________
ATTORNEY: So the date of conception (of the baby) was August 8th?
WITNESS: Yes.
ATTORNEY: And what were you doing at that time?
WITNESS: Uh.... I was gettin' laid!
_____________________________________
ATTORNEY: She had three children, right?
WITNESS: Yes.
ATTORNEY: How many were boys?
WITNESS: None.
ATTORNEY: Were t here any girls?
WITNESS: Your Honor, I think I need a different attorney. Can I get a new attorney?
______________________________________
ATTORNEY: How was your first marriage terminated?
WITNESS: By death.
ATTORNEY: And by whose death was it terminated?
WITNESS: Now whose death do you suppose terminated it?
______________________________________
ATTORNEY: Can you describe the individual?
WITNESS: He was about medium height and had a beard.
ATTORNEY: Was this a male or a female?
WITNESS: Guess.
_____________________________________
ATTORNEY: Is your appearance here this morning pursuant to a deposition notice which I sent to your attorney?
WITNESS: No, this is how I dress when I go to work.
_____________________________________
ATTORNEY: Doctor, how many of your autopsies have you performed on dead people?
WITNESS: All my autopsies are performed on dead people. Would you like to rephrase that?
_____________________________________
ATTORNEY: ALL your responses MUST be oral, OK? What school did you go to?
WITNESS: Oral.
______________________________________
ATTORNEY: Do you recall the time that you examined the body?
WITNESS: The autopsy started around 8:30 p.m.
ATTORNEY: And Mr. Denton was dead at the time?
WITNESS: No, he was sitting on the table wondering why I was doing an autopsy on him!
____________________________________________
ATTORNEY: Are you qualified to give a urine sample?
WITNESS: Huh....are you qualified to ask that question?
_______________________ _______________
ATTORNEY: Doctor, before you performed the autopsy, did you check for a pulse?
WITNESS: No.
ATTORNEY: Did you check for blood pressure?
WITNESS: No.
ATTORNEY: Did you check for breathing?
WITNESS: No.
ATTORNEY: So, then it is possible that the patient was alive when you began the autopsy?
WITNESS: No.
ATTORNEY: How can you be so sure, Doctor?
WITNESS: Because his brain was sitting on my desk in a jar.
ATTORNEY: I see, but could the patient have still been alive, nevertheless?
WITNESS: Yes, it is possible that he could have been alive and practicing law.

Wiki Wednesday 8-22-07

Some reading that will lead you to more reading, if that's your thing:

Instead Of Three Wishes: Magical Short Stories (1995) is a collection of seven fantasy children's stories by Megan Whalen Turner.

  • "A Plague Of Leprechaun"
  • "Leroy Roachbane"
  • "Factory"
  • "Aunt Charlotte And The NGA Portaits"
  • "Instead Of Three Wishes"
  • "The Nightmare"
  • "The Baker King"

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Out of network? Networking ambivalence and me

"It's not what you know, it's who you know." Well, honestly, it's probably some of both, but I prefer to play up the "what" over the "who" because I am a miserable networker.

I'm not unfriendly or antisocial (usually); I'm an introvert. Many of the personality traits of introverts are me in a nutshell, such as:

· Desire private space and time
· Are happy to be alone - can be lonely in a crowd
· Become drained/overwhelmed around large groups of people
· Need time alone to recharge
· Prefer to work on own rather than do group work
· Act cautiously in meeting people
· Form a few deep attachments
· Think carefully before speaking (practice in my head before I speak - and especially before I make a phone call)
· Become absorbed in thoughts and ideas
· Limit their interests but explore deeply
· Communicate best one-on-one

(Note - this list was adapted from a blog post related to gifted education - it seems that introversion is found much more often among gifted children. Hmmm.)

Even my blog is an introvert.

These characteristics make it a challenge for me to participate in traditional networking activities, although I've tried to overcome it - sort of. I've joined professional organizations - but don't go to meetings. I'll attend a seminar - but I'll bring a book to read before it starts. It's not that I'm incapable of socializing - it's actually become a bit easier for me as I've gotten older - but I've just never gotten comfortable with it in the context of "networking." I've also internalized a lot of early, and probably old-fashioned, teachings about not being "forward" or "pushy," and waiting to be asked rather than asking - plus, there's an intimidation factor and fear of rejection fed by receiving a lot of put-downs and brush-offs in my younger years. Consequently, as you might imagine, I don't have much of a professional network - mainly a few people I've worked with who have also become friends, and it's too geographically dispersed to be of much practical use.

And yet, I understand the value of having a network, so I keep giving it a shot. It seems that for someone like me, who among other things is more comfortable with writing than talking sometimes, online networking might be a great approach. (Hey, online dating worked out really well for this "eHarmony Success Story.") Work It, Mom! recently complied some online-networking tips from discussions in their forums:
  • Find some blogs written by people in your field/industry and become part of the conversation. Post relevant comments, respond to other comments, ask good questions. It takes time, but you will then become part of this blog's community and can meet people who might be good for your network.
  • Ask people for advice. What you can do is send an email to a person whose comment you liked or found relevant and ask them if they would have a short bit of time to talk to you about their (job/career/expertise/insert here whatever the purpose of this part of your networking is.) Also, don't hesitate to email the blog author directly and ask for feedback on something/a question about developing your career/writing/whatever fits your life at that time.
  • The key to networking is to do this on an ongoing basis and establish these relationships slowly.
  • Another important aspect of networking is giving something back to your contacts. So say you had an email exchange with someone - send them an email later on with a link to a site they might find interesting, or a book, blog, video, article, etc.
I've been doing some of these things for a few months now, but they're in connection with my blog, which has almost nothing to do with my career (wish it did). I don't even have any real desire to find blogs in my field. There are some HR and management blogs that I read regularly and learn from, but accounting blogs? I'd like to be interested, and I'd be open to suggestions about any to check out, but the fact that my expertise is pretty narrowly focused leaves me out of a lot of topics; non-profit accounting and finance don't involve many tax or SEC concerns, and most of the non-profit-oriented blogs I've come across are program- rather than administration-focused. (Oh, maybe that's a specialty blogging niche I could explore! Probably not - as I said, I'd like to be interested, but I'm just not.)

One of Work It, Mom's purposes is encouraging networking opportunities for its members, and the article offers some site-specific recommendations:
  • Check out some mom's profiles and read about their careers. Leave them a post on their profile or send a message with a question you might have.
  • Comment on articles written by other members and/or send them a private message saying you liked the article and here is a follow-on question.
  • Post questions/thoughts/topics on forums or in Q&A and connect with professional moms that way. After a good exchange with someone, send them a message through Work It, Mom! with a follow up question, comment, or resource for them.
I've been doing these things since I joined the community. I've left comments and participated in the forums, I've rated nearly every article I've read, and I've written a few for the site as well. Still, one thing I just can't get comfortable with is flat-out asking someone to be part of my network, even if we've had a number of online exchanges - it's the fear of rejection thing. And I'm still waiting to be asked to be part of someone else's network. Now, I understand that ideally, networking is a mutually beneficial relationship, but it may not always be clear early on what exactly those benefits might be. Still, if "who" you know really does matter more than "what" you know, could it be that you just never quite know how knowing a certain "who" might turn out to be valuable?

And in the midst of all this, I have to wonder whether most people are populating their online networks with people they already know off-line - LinkedIn basically recommends that approach (and Jory Des Jardins has a fantastic post re: LinkedIn "ettiquette" on BlogHer, btw) - but not having much of an existing off-line network is my problem in the first place. I also wonder about my own motives in networking seemingly just for the sake of networking; I'm always open to helping people if I can, but I've gotten every job I've ever had the old-fashioned way, and I don't have my own business to market. Is it coming from that fear of rejection and its flip side, wanting to feel (and see onscreen) that I'm included? Is the fear that I won't be included part of what's keeping my away from the "social networking" websites like Facebook? (Truthfully, I'm pretty sure my age is a factor in that one too.)

Maybe I need to internalize another lesson - the one in this list of tips that says "do this on an ongoing basis and establish these relationships slowly," let this evolve more organically, and just relax. Or maybe there are other people who are just as ambivalent and afraid of rejection as I am, and we'll end up being part of each other's networks eventually.

UPDATE 8/22 - An adaptation of this post has been published on Work It, Mom - and I've got two people in my network there now. :-)

Ten on Tuesday: 10 Things You Don't Like About Your Job

Since I'm trying to cultivate more positivity in my life, and particularly as far as work's concerned, I wasn't sure I was going to write for this week's topic. But it's too hard not to. As usual for me, this isn't in any particular order.
  1. The commute - but I haven't yet found similar work I can do closer to home
  2. The perpetual sense of crisis
  3. The pervasive low-level anxiety
  4. The way it seems that no one really knows what anyone else does
  5. The way it seems like no one really wants to learn what anyone else does
  6. The territoriality of some departments
  7. The hoarding of information
  8. The cliquishness
  9. The difficulty in getting people to follow proper procedures and channels
  10. The seeming lack of interest in knowing what the procedures actually are, or should be
Sheesh, this is depressing. It's not the work itself, it's the culture, apparently. Why do I work here again?

Well, next week's Ten on Tuesday will be the opposite of this week's, but I feel the need to get a headstart on it now and counteract all this unpleasantness with a special edition of Today's "Gratitude 5" - Things I Appreciate About My Job:
  1. My boss, who pretty much "gets it"
  2. My departmental coworkers, who work hard and do their best
  3. My work itself, which still holds my interest most of the time
  4. The relative stability of our agency (read: job security, or as much as can be expected these days)
  5. Working in the nonprofit sector, even though what I do doesn't directly serve anyone

Monday, August 20, 2007

Just finished: "The Kite Runner"


The Kite Runner
Khaled Hosseini

I bought this book over a year ago, in anticipation of its being a selection for my book club, but the member who was going to pick it ended up dropping out, and I just wasn't motivated to pick it up until another member of the club chose it for our meeting this week.

Despite the fact that everyone I know who has read this book loved it, I've been rather ambivalent about reading it myself, and I'm not sure why. All I really knew was that the novel was about two boys and Afghanistan, and I think I may have been expecting something more "warlike," for want of a better term, and that's really not my thing.

Now that I know better, I am a little sorry I waited so long to read this but I'm glad I finally have. The Kite Runner is about two boys, and follows one of them into adulthood. It's also about family and community, religion and politics, theft and lies. And it is about Afghanistan, a country that's not quite as much in the public consciousness now as it was when this was originally published in 2003 - we've been a bit distracted by other countries in that part of the world - but a place that shapes these characters profoundly. Oh, and the title is explained pretty early in the story.
Amir and Hassan grew up together in Kabul in the 1970's - close in age, both motherless, with Hassan and his father as servants in the home of Amir and his father, but treated as part of the family. This all changes when the boys are twelve, and Amir's inaction upon witnessing a terrible incident involving Hassan creates guilt and conflict that separates the "family." Further separation occurs several years later, when Amir and Baba escape Afghanistan, now occupied by Soviet soldiers, and start a new life in California. Amir marries and becomes a writer but is called back to Afghanistan by an old family friend, who reveals a long-kept secret and sends Amir on a rescue mission back to his native country, now under the control of the Taliban.
Amir is a very human and conflicted character, whose struggles with his feelings of unworthiness and cowardice are relatable. The story is full of drama and well-told. Afghanistan, both before and after its years in turmoil, is vividly drawn and a character in its own right. Themes of self-knowledge, integrity, justice, and redemption underlie the story.

I understand why this book has been so highly regarded by critics and readers alike. I read so much that sometimes things don't stick with me for very long (which is actually one of the reasons I started this blog), but I don't think I'll forget The Kite Runner any time soon. I don't think I can honestly say I loved it, but I was engaged, intrigued, and moved, and I'm not sure a novel can do much better than that.

Rating: 4/5

Other bloggers' reviews:
Maw Books Blog
Melody's Reading Corner
Hey, Lady! Whatcha Readin'?
Blue Archipelago

Today's "Gratitude 5"

It's a little more challenging to get into the gratitude mindset when it's taken two hours to get to work on a Monday morning, after a night of sleeping poorly, but here we go:

I'm glad it didn't take me three hours to get to work.
I'm glad I signed up for the traffic-alert phone calls on Traffic.com.
I'm glad L.A. radio has stations that do traffic updates every 5-10 minutes, even if it means I have to listen to AM radio to get them.
I'm glad I made it to work before the two new people who are starting today got here.
I'm glad my husband understands waking up with a case of the Mondays, because he did too.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Today's "Gratitude 5"

Reflecting at the end of the weekend, I'm grateful for some people and things:

My husband, who vacuumed, dusted, did laundry, and cleaned off the patio today
My son, who calls his mom in Southern California to ask her to check the weather radar for Washington DC, where he's headed to a baseball game (the Nats lost)
My apartment, which is nice and clean (I did the chores Tall Paul didn't do)
My job, where I have two new people starting in my department tomorrow
Getting time to read this weekend - I'm more than 2/3 done with The Kite Runner, and a lot more optimistic that I'll finish it before Book Club meets on Friday

Seen this weekend: "Hairspray"

At the risk of sounding like a bad blurb in an ad, Hairspray may be the most fun we've had at the movies this year.

I grew up with a weakness for musicals, and while Hairspray comes up short on what I consider one of the big qualifications for a classic of the genre - songs that can stand apart from the narrative - it's still a fine example of why the form never quite goes away. Singing and dancing your way through a story just adds a little something to it.

Hairspray is based on the 1998 John Waters film of the same title, which became a Broadway musical a few years ago. I've never seen the original, but my understanding is that it became a lot more mainstream in the conversion process, although the basic plotline wasn't altered. Set in Baltimore in 1962, early in the civil-rights era, it's the story of teenager Tracy Turnblad, who dreams of becoming a dancing regular on "The Corny Collins Show," a local variation on "American Bandstand" (which was still broadcasting live every afternoon from Philadelphia in those days).

Tracy knows she doesn't quite fit the mold looks-wise, but she knows she can dance and she believes that life should be fair, so she'll make it. And because life should be fair, she's going to bring Baltimore's black teenagers along with her from their once-a-month "Negro Day" to be regular dancers every day on the show too. Tracy's a big character in every way, but what matters is her personality and heart - you can't help rooting for her.

The cast is great, starting with newcomer Nikki Blonsky as Tracy. Some have prior experience with musicals, including Zac Efron, a veteran of Disney's High School Musical, but I'm starting to wonder if it's a requirement for Queen Latifah to wear a blonde wig in every period musical she's in. Then there's the Grease connection, times two - although when I associate Michelle Pfeiffer with musical performances, I try not think of Grease 2, but rather of how she was the "fabulous" in The Fabulous Baker Boys. And as Tracy's mother Edna Turnblad, John Travolta is not only entirely convincing, but can still dance even in dresses, heels, and lots of curvy padding. I was amused by Brittany Snow as Amber, who seemed like a "mean girl" twist on her character Meg Pryor in American Dreams (I still miss that show a little).

The kids will learn a little recent history, and you'll all want to laugh and sing and dance in the aisles - take the family to see Hairspray.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Today's "Gratitude 5"

Things I'm grateful for today and every day:

Tall Paul
My stepchildren, the Tall Kids, who will be back from Camp Grandma this weekend and back in school a week from Wednesday
My son, not so tall and not such a kid anymore, who has a job that uses his degree, his own apartment, and a nice girlfriend three months out of college (although he's actually had the girlfriend longer than that)
My mother-in-law, operator of the aforementioned Camp Grandma
My sister, whom I now live across town from after many years of cross-country separation

Something extra to be thankful for today (but actually happened yesterday):

The driver of the red pickup truck that actually held back and waved me ahead to merge from the 170 freeway on to I-5 yesterday afternoon on the way home, instead of speeding up to pass me before I could change lanes. You might have to drive in Southern California to appreciate just how special it is when that happens.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Today's "Gratitude 5"

Along the lines of Wednesday's post, I'm going to try finding five things I'm grateful for every day. I may not post them every day, and they won't be in any sort of rank order when I do list them here. Today I have these:

My husband, who makes me laugh, likes baseball, and actually reads my blog (but that's not why I listed him first ;-)!)
Friday, and not much planned for this weekend
Feeling a little less overwhelmed at work lately
Sunshine
Air conditioning - even though it's not good for the environment, all that sunshine has been making it bloody hot lately!

iPod Random 10 8-17-07

"Sugar on My Tongue," Talking Heads
"Where Do the Children Play?" Cat Stevens
"Piece of Work," Jimmy Buffett with Toby Keith
"Creepin' In," Norah Jones with Dolly Parton
"Up the Junction," Squeeze* (a happy little song about your life falling apart)
"Strapped for Cash," Fountains of Wayne* (a happy little song about dodging a loan shark)
"Mountain Angel," Dolly Parton (a sad Appalachian ballad about a woman gone 'round the bend)
"Footloose," Kenny Loggins
"Everything About It is a Love Song," Paul Simon
"Seven Bridges Road," The Eagles

This is actually pretty representative of the general wackiness of my playlists.

* Double bill at the Greek Theater this past Monday (shoot, we could have gone! the kids have been at Camp Grandma all week!) - this will most likely be the concert I most regret missing this year.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Home is not necessarily where you buy it

The rarely-dull, often-controversial "Brazen Careerist" seems to have an especially "brazen" tone today in her Yahoo! Finance column about "5 financial calculators you should use cautiously." #4 on her list caught my interest:

4. Renting vs. buying calculator

It used to be that the American dream was about buying a house. Today, the new version of the American dream is about time and personal development -- and the best way to get more time is to not be tied down to a house.

You don't need to worry about repairs and maintenance and earning enough to "buy the most house you can buy." You also have more freedom for personal development if you can move around easily. So it's time to get over the idea of owning a house as the achievement of the American dream -- it's just holding you back.

Before most of us turn 32, our jobs typically last less than two years apiece. Yet it doesn't usually make financial sense to buy a house unless you plan to stay in it for at least five years. And most people who want to make a career change stop themselves because of their financial commitments (read: mortgage). What's wrong with this picture?

Clearly, for a lot of people, buying a house is an unnecessary, career-limiting decision.
I don't always agree with Penelope Trunk, and while I don't know if I'd frame buying or not buying a house as a career-limiting decision, she does have a point about home ownership tying you down in various ways.

But as reports about the "subprime meltdown" should be reminding us, buying a house doesn't necessarily equal owning one these days. An "interest-only" loan is exactly that, and it's the principal payments that build equity and create ownership. I feel for a lot of people who could potentially lose their homes because they didn't understand what they were signing up for, but the situation arose from the whole "American dream" thing - which we've all been fed for a long time, and which lenders played into by relaxing standards and lowering "barriers to home ownership" that may have existed for a good reason. This may be one of those things that, like entrepreneurship, isn't necessarily for everyone, like it or not.

We've been talking about this a lot around our house, which is actually our rented apartment and will probably continue to be that for a long time. Ten years ago - in different locations and different marriages - both my husband and I were homeowners, but we're just not seeing that happening for us together. Since we actually do understand what "interest-only" and "zero-down" mortgages mean and don't want to get caught in that, we have the traditional "barrier" of a down payment - and in our Southern California market, that can be a big barrier without another house to sell. And with joint-custody arrangements involving two school-aged children, moving somewhere less expensive isn't a realistic option for us at this time either. So we'll rent, we'll save up what we can, and we'll be grateful we do have a comfortable place to come home to, even if we don't own it.

Wives for everyone!

This strikes me as a twist on my post yesterday on the topic of "me" time - a New York Times feature on Monday about no one having time for anything, essentially. The article talks about women not only (still!) bearing most of the domestic responsibilities - or at least the worry about what's not getting done - even if they work outside the home, but research that shows this "second shift" holds them back career-wise.

I really don't think any of this is "new" news, but it's certainly still a struggle. Domestic tasks may take up less time overall than they did in our parents' and grandparents' day, but the time available to get them done has shrunk even more, especially in single-person, single-parent, and two-earner families, which covers a lot of territory. And when there are family responsibilities that may conflict with work, they do tend to land more heavily on the mom/wife, and husbands have been known to take that for granted. (My husband's first wife was a SAHM, and there are some things he'll still comment that he never knew much about during their marriage, because she "just took care of them." And in my own first marriage, the divisions were pretty clear even though we both worked. Things are different now.) Couples therapists state that this is a very real equality issue.

Tracy Clark-Flory comments in Broadsheet that this "wife envy" is sparked by "working under a corporate model that relies on a vision of domestic life that plain doesn't exist for most people anymore." I think there's something to that, but I'm personally acquainted with quite a few people that actually do have some version of this domestic life. I agree with Susan's comment on the Working Moms Against Guilt blog that referring to someone to handle the home front as a "wife" is rather sexist. I know that during my single years, there were plenty of times I wished there were someone else around to hand things off to, but I wouldn't have framed it that way, and I think Mojo Mom's post about this article makes a great point about how belittling these tasks as "women's work" ignores its benefits in home and career success. But it also strikes me that women who want "wives" to do these things may be devaluing them just as much as men are.

Basically, there are things that everyone needs to have done, one way or another, in order to keep our homes and lives running smoothly. We have trouble making the time to do these things ourselves, and we may be unable or unwilling to pay someone to do them for us, so we may wish for another family member - a true "helpmeet" - to take that job. We're all stressed and overextended, and there aren't any ideal solutions that don't involve major life changes and compromises - so much for "having it all."

UPDATED to add this sort-of-related link to Thursday's On Balance posting on the "fringe benefits of housework" for both wives and husbands. It's a chuckle, but I agree with "Rebeldad" Brian Reid that "(d)oing your fair share around the house is as much a sign of love and caring as a bunch of roses. And -- let's face facts -- a marriage where the floor-mopping, pan-scrubbing and kid-chasing is spread evenly is probably more likely to be a marriage where both spouses have the energy at the end of the day to, ahem..."

Rock and roll, part 2

Our Chatsworth shaker last week was small time.

This is an earthquake. Bad times in Peru today, and a reminder that it's an unstable world in more ways than one.

Want to have it all? Start young...

I had to unsubscribe from the Huffington Post feed, because I just couldn't keep up, so now I look to other bloggers for the heads-up on posts worth reading over there. Mojo Mom identified this post by Laura Vanderkam as a "must-read," so I did.

Vanderkam suggests that women who have managed to "have it all" - the career, the marriage, and the kids - may have benefited by becoming mothers earlier in life, rather than later, and effectively "raising" their families and their careers at the same time.

(T)he only woman CEO of a Fortune 50 company (WellPoint's Angela Braly) is a mom. And not just a mom of one kid, as Linda Hirshman, author of Get to Work, suggests women should have to make it professionally.

Braly is worth studying, because the general sense from all the mommy-war books out there (from Get to Work to Caitlin Flanagan's The Hell with all That, and so forth) is that it's nearly impossible to be a good mom and have a big career simultaneously, or that it requires very stark choices, like having just one kid. Sylvia Ann Hewlett sparked a firestorm a few years ago with her claim that 49 percent of corporate women earning over $100,000 a year were childless at age 40. Then former Harvard President Larry Summers fanned the flames with his statement that the most prestigious jobs required complete devotion to work during your early years, and hence wouldn't be open to women until they were willing to sacrifice their personal lives.

But for all this talk, many of the world's most successful women do it all just fine. Meg Whitman, the CEO of eBay, has two grown children, as does Geraldine Laybourne, the CEO of Oxygen. Rep. Nancy Pelosi, the first female speaker of the House (a most prestigious job if there ever was one), has not one, but five grown children.

Emphasis on "grown." Pelosi, 67, got married at age 23 and had her babies shortly thereafter. But many young women these days hear that they should plan their lives in the opposite order. The best way to have it all, we hear, is to focus on building a career -- getting tenure, making partner, getting the corner office -- and then having children. This leads to a compressed baby-making schedule, since few women manage to have children after age 40 naturally, and even assisted reproductive technologies have limited success on older women.

...I think these women are on to something, and not in a Danielle Crittenden, What Our Mothers Never Told Us anti-feminist kind of way. There is a professional case to be made for having babies young, as long as you're willing to build a career at the same time.

For starters, even if you do plan to scale back while your kids are very small, career timetables mean less now than they used to. If you -- as a woman who knows what she wants -- get married at 25, have babies at 27 and 29 and spend two years in business school during that time, you can start focusing on your executive career in your early 30s as your children are getting less dependent on you. Given how many people spend their 20s finding themselves, you may actually be ahead of schedule -- and you won't face the agonizing choice later on of having babies when you're at the top of your career.

(snip)

One of the most exasperating aspects of the mommy lit out there is that most of the writers are older. They say things like "oh, I worked like crazy until I got pregnant after a year of fertility treatments at age 39, and then I just couldn't stomach the hours away from my baby. So I had to quit at the peak of my career." Then they draw some conclusion about the incompatibility of work and family, the injustice of society, etc. ...the worst aspect of the whole "career, then kids?" or "kids, then maybe career?" debate is that it buys into the un-feminist notion that the two can't happen at the same time.

As Avon CEO Andrea Jung, who became a mom around age 30, once told a Wharton audience, "There are a lot of games and concerts that I miss, but never the most important ones. There are also a lot of days and meetings at Avon that I miss -- but never the most important ones." Those ground rules let her raise kids and become CEO, without the stark choices that changing the rules later can make you face.

I'm not a CEO - doubt I ever will be, don't think I even want to be a CFO, which is more in line with my career track anyway - but overall, this was how it worked for me. I was in my early 20's with a young child and a young career, and both grew together. Vanderkam's comment that "When you have kids (early), you build your career according to rules that you'll be able to live with as a family" is spot-on. You can't set precedents of working impossible hours, or at least both parents can't (unless you happen to have an extra wife at home), since you have other demands. You also may have to set some limits on the amount and/or type of activities your kids can participate in, or those hours will become impossible too. (And it's never too soon to start learning about time management.)

But when I was the younger working mom, I knew few others like me. Most women my age were following the "build your career first" model, and now they've got the young kids and are trying to figure it all out, even in some cases "opting out" for awhile. Meanwhile, I've gotten to know women 10-15 years younger than I am, college graduates with young kids and lots of potential, and I've wondered why they've started families so relatively early - but Vanderkam's post has given me some possible insight about that.

I'm dipping my toe into the "generational feminism" waters here, but I noticed that Vanderkam's examples of women who had "made it" with career and kids at the same time are all in the front end of the Baby Boomer demographic, and a lot of the "mommy lit" she mentions is coming from later-period Boomers and Gen-Xers. No comment other than noticing.

The thing is - well, actually two things come to mind:

According to most of the research out there, having kids will likely set back a woman's career and earning potential no matter when it happens - so is it better to have that happen earlier, when there's less to lose?

It does not have to be a one-or-the-other choice, but it's pretty unlikely that you can have it all, and have all of it, all of the time. No matter when you try to do it, having a career and kids at the same time will always involve a "juggle," a "balancing act," or whatever you want to call it. You can't give 100% to your family and 100% to your work and be 100% successful at all of it 100% of the time; it's physically, mentally, and emotionally improbable, not to mention mathematically impossible.

Hair apparent

My hair is fairly thick, a little coarse, and on the curly/wavy side, and without strong control measures it tends to...well, expand. This little jingle popped into my head as I was drying it this morning (you may know the melody):
Don't try to make me wear a beehive, I said no, no, no
Yes I have big hair, but if you go there I won't go, go, go
That won't make it shine
It looks like 1959
I'm not gonna wear a beehive, I said no, no, no
With apologies to the real Beehive girl, Amy Winehouse, whom you may have read is in rehab after all. Too bad...I think she's the real deal. Hopefully she'll get it together.

Booking Through Thursday 8-16-07: Monogamy

btt button

One book at a time? Or more than one? If more, are they different types/genres? Or similar?

(We’re talking recreational reading, here—books for work or school don’t really count since they’re not optional.)


I've known people who have their "bedside" book, their "traveling" book, and their "waiting in line" book all going at once. I've tried that kind of thing, and I'm not good at it at all. It works a little better if they're different types of books - one fiction, one non-fiction - but I can't do more than two at once, and I always drift more toward one than the other anyway, so one book at a time really works better for me. But since I'll usually start the next book just as soon as I finish one, I guess you could call me a "chain reader" or a "serial (book) monogamist."

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Personal Thanksgiving

Deb Owen has two terrific, related posts this week on her "8 hours & a lunch: a search for balance & sanity" blog. (As an aside, she happens to be unmarried and childless, in case you thought that working moms were the only ones looking for those two things!)

Tuesday's post concerning making "gratitude" a daily practice is a reminder that it's worth remembering - often - that while we spend a lot of our time and energy going after what we don't have, or bitching about what we can't have, we can forget to appreciate what we do have. It may sound Pollyanna-ish, especially if it looks like we don't have very much - and in that case, you might try looking at it from a relative perspective ("At least I'm not as bad off as so-and-so...") - but we probably have more than we realize. Deb's suggestion that we take a few minutes every day to be grateful isn't really radical, or even new, as she acknowledges - the "Gratitude Journal" was first popularized in the book Simple Abundance in the mid-1990's - but she suggests that it's potentially life-changing.

let me make a suggestion. take five minutes. just start with five. get up and be grateful. breathe. think of five things that are just great in your life. think of the people in your life to be grateful for. it will absolutely change your entire day. think of the roof over your head, your new iPhone, the dog (or cat, if you must). if you're having that bad of a time of it right now, then just be grateful that you're breathing! be grateful for what you have right here, right now. and breathe.

"gratitude is the memory of the heart." it's remembering all the times that things have gone right. it's remembering all the good things that people have done for you. it's remembering your family taking care of you when you were sick or that friend that reminded you that you are beautiful just when you needed it. it's remembering every smile that meant something or the guy that held the door open for you at the gas station or that time that you felt that sense of accomplishment finishing a big task.

every major religion and even the spirituality crowd all talk about the benefits of gratitude. gratitude will lower your blood pressure. gratitude will also change your approach and make you more open. gratitude, it turns out, is the starting point for other things coming into your life. gratitude will also get you closer to silence, and to being able to hear that intuition that will tell you exactly what the next steps to take are.

five minutes. just to take a moment and be grateful in whatever way works for you.

Wednesday's post is a companion piece emphasizing that appreciating what you have is not the same as settling, if what you have isn't really what you want in your life - the post is titled "it's called gratitude, not groveling (do. not. settle.)." Being "grateful" that we have anything at all, because we don't feel like worthy of any more, isn't what we're after here - it's how we become stuck and unhappy. At some level we know that, because we've chosen it, even though usually it's one of those situations where it feels like we don't have any choice, and that's how we got there in the first place. She also makes an important distinction between compromise, which can be a perfectly valid short-term solution, and settling, which is pretty much giving up.

gratitude is not about settling. you know how it happens. we get tired. we give up, if only a little...and then we decide to settle. that's right. we decide to. we choose to. that realization can hurt. because it puts the responsibility squarely on our shoulders for where our lives are at that moment. but it's the truth. we choose to settle. and settling is just a form of giving up.

you know how it happens, we choose to ignore that little voice..we get into the marriage or into the job, and we convince ourselves that we are so unworthy that we should be grateful to have anything at all. and we sit there. stuck. unhappy. wondering.

we wonder what we could do if we tried. we wonder what it would have been like to take a different path. and now that we're on the wrong one and unwilling to move, frozen in fear of losing what we didn't really want in the first place, we become more and more entrenched in a life not meant for us.

compromise. yes. take the job that isn't the job if it's a stepping stone to get you where you want to be. if it provides experience or education that leads you in the direction you want to go, then take it....for now. but don't give up.

I can see how the "gratitude practice" might lead to complacency if you think you're life's pretty good, but I think what Deb's two posts are trying to put across is that it can be truly empowering and inspiring, and I'm going to give it a try. Especially now, I have much more to be grateful for in my life than I've had for a long time.