Friday, May 29, 2009

A Bad Week at Work...

I've only had to work three days this week yet it feels like the longest week ever. It hasn't been a great week at work. Some weeks are just like that; no matter what you do, everything just sort of seems...wrong.

It doesn't help that I'm going through one of my phases where I wonder if I'm in the right job. I go through those periodically and, often, this is the time when I'd start checking to see what else is out there. Given this awful economy and the lack of jobs, it's not a good time for me to be getting the urge to leave.

It's not that I don't like my job. Mostly, I do. It's a little dull, I will say that. In my job in Los Angeles, I had a billion things to do, I had a student worker to supervise, I was always getting phone calls asking for assistance and I felt very necessary. This is the polar opposite of that job. I sit quietly at my desk, leaving only for meetings or lunch. I have no one calling me for help. I have no one to supervise. I'm...a little bored.

The thing with my company is that the software we build is very complex. It's complicated. It takes years to learn the nuances. Yet, I'm learning. We have other products that are not so complex and I've tried to make myself knowledgeable on those. I'm responsible for testing the products and finding bugs. I find a lot of bugs. Yet...that's pretty much all I do. This is the type of company where everyone works hard and there's no time for affirmation or validation. There's no 'gold star' system other than the politics. I'm not good at office politics. I'm also a creature who, once in a while, needs to hear 'thank you,' or 'good job' from my manager because otherwise I convince myself that I'm utterly useless to a company and if I got eaten by a landshark or knocked over by a stray cable-car, they would just hire someone else to plod along the way I do.

Thus...my itch to find something else. I'm sure that what I do at my job is important to someone. I know that with every new job, there is a learning curve. Yet that seems to be the excuse around here for everything. I've now been here nine months...I don't think I'm so new anymore. Truth be told, I'm bored out of my skull most days. This doesn't mean I don't get my job done, I do. I've tried to push my way to the front to let people know I'm willing to do more but my attempts seem to be futile. As long as my team 'partner' remains here, she will be more experienced and knowledgeable than me and thus be the person called on for new projects, new responsibilities.

I suppose it's a matter of putting my time in. I'm trying to work through this restless stage by remembering that I like it here, which I do. I like my coworkers. I like the casualness of the office. I just don't like being at the bottom of the food chain when I used to be a lot higher at my old job. I know, I'm just whining now. This is a rite of passage with any job. I had it at USC where I had to deal with the Franks of the world before I found my steady footing there. It's just a matter of patience.

Aside from my restlessness with my job, yesterday was not a good day. We have these listservs that allow bulk emails to be sent to the subscribers of the list. Well, we have had a little shift in our company dynamic this week leading to an employee no longer being...employed here. That's all we, as employees, know. A note from our president went to the listserv informing our clients of this staff change. As soon as I saw the note, I knew that a former colleague from USC would not be able to accept that simple statement, he'd want to know more. As predicted, less than 15 minutes later, I had an email from my close friend who still works for my old employer in which she indicated her boss, my former colleague, had asked to find out what was going on. I said the exact same thing to her as the listserv. Simple...right?

Except, no. My former colleague, never a favourite of mine, attempted to email his wife with the news, identifying both myself and my close friend by name and making it sound like I had given the information before it was public. Except, instead of emailing his wife he emailed the entire listserv.

Now the entire contingent of our clients and staff were led to think I had given out confidential information. Needless to say, I had to be on maximum damage-control with our company president and my coworkers to make sure they knew that I hadn't broken confidence, that my former collegue was just a twit. Even though I received an apology from my former colleague, the damage was done: I looked unprofessional and childish for gossiping.

Thus...bad day at work. I'm hoping today will be better. I'm hoping that if I work dillegently and test my software well, at some point, I'll get an affirmation that I don't suck at my job and that the company is glad they hired me. As I said, it's just a matter of patience.

I've just never been very good with patience.

Happy Friday and have a great weekend.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Crime and Punishment in Washington D.C.

It is a hot and muggy day out there. It's been humid for a while. I'm not fond of that. It means that your clothes stick to you, your hair clings to the back of your neck and even when there's a breeze, the air is still cloying. It's supposed to thunderstorm today. I'm hoping it does so that the air is clear.

It was really hot and sticky in Washington D.C. for part of the weekend. The slightest movement makes you feel nasty and nothing you can do will stop it without seeking air conditioning. It's not a bad thing; my friend and I alleviated the heat by stopping to dip our hot feet into a fountain.

As is the nature of mini breaks and long weekends, once you're back and life has resumed its normal pace, it's easy to feel as though it was a long time ago even though it wasn't. I only flew in yesterday but one work day and one evening back in my place has me feeling like it was days ago instead of so recently. I hate that feeling.

The trip was wonderful though. As I said in an earlier post, I've been to D.C. before so I didn't feel the need to explore the monuments and buildings. Instead, we did things that wouldn't be on a new tourist's first stop.

For example, my friend introduced me to a new museum. Now, for those that know me, they're aware that I have a, uh, bit of a 'dark' streak. I tend to be fascinated with the darker elements of life as well as the light. Then again, you may have already picked up on that from this blog. Through the course of my life, I have been fascinated with the psychological profiles of serial killers, loved the romance and violence of the classic Mafia world, enjoyed learning about pirates. Even recently, I think I mentioned a fascination with the brutality of historical torture methods.

I promise, I'm not mentally disturbed. Well, ok, so I do have a few...interesting...ways of looking at things but I'm not really some closet unabomber waiting to launch my attack on the post office or something. I like the post office very much. I wouldn't know how to build a bomb. Considering that I get upset if I hit a squirrel on the road, I doubt very much I'd be a very good bad person.

Yet, I'm intrigued by them. I can't help it. Which is why I was so excited to discover this museum in Washington D.C. It's called The National Museum of Crime and Punishment and it is fantastic. It's full of information about serial killers, mobsters, hackers, and the law enforcement personnel that caught them. It even has a section on pirates. It's one of those brilliant museums where you actually get to 'play'. For example, you can attempt to crack a safe (first time, thank you very much). You can hack into a computer, you can get your mugshot taken, be fingerprinted and test your powers of observation in the CSI lab. They film America's Most Wanted in the basement of the building which lends the museum an overall feeling of authenticity and reality.

In short, it's the perfect museum for me. We went on a day where there were very few visitors. This was both good and bad. It was good for us because we could do all the hands-on stuff without having to wait in line but it's bad because it means that people aren't going which always is a risk for a museum.

I've been to the National Spy Museum in D.C. too. This is also a great museum with lots of hands on stuff. There are some interesting exhibits but also some very, very boring ones. It's always crowded. I enjoyed that museum but the Museum of Crime and Punishment is way better. It's set up to be informational without being creepy. Yes, there are some darker items on display, memorabilia from serial killers and old-fashioned torture instruments, for example. Yet there are also displays on the FBI, a CSI lab where you can see how TV shows compare to the reality of CSI and a police 'training' area. I got to drive a patrol car simulator. I crashed.

I really hope that museum gets some patronage. It's such a little gem and it deserves some recognition. If you're going to D.C., I highly recommend that. I also recommend eating at Matchbox, an American-bistro type restaurant with the best mini-burgers and pizza I've had in years. It's just down the street from the museum too which makes it doubly convenient.

So, even though I'm back into my normal routine and it seems a lot longer ago that I was at the museum when, in actuality, it's only been two days, I can remember what I saw. It's good fodder for a writer as well as satisfying that slightly dark streak I have trapped inside. It was a wonderful weekend full of good things.

And, as an added bonus, it makes my week really short. Tomorrow is Friday. Bring on another weekend!

Happy Thursday.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

The Economy of Flying...

Just a quick post today as I'm back from my trip and work is calling to me. The perils of getting up at 4:30 a.m. and going straight to work involve having a fuzzy head, no guaranteed source of caffeine save for nasty airplane coffee and a meeting the minute you walk in the door.

That being said, getting up that early to fly is always an interesting experience. You see all sorts at airports at 5:30 a.m. in the morning. For the most part, it's prime business travel time. This means you see lots of people in suits groggily clasping giant cups of coffee and tapping away on their laptops. There's also the recreational travelers, like me, who probably had to get up that early for a reason and are desperately trying to look awake but not having much luck. Then you see the ones who are so heavily asleep that the sound of their snores is the only thing you can hear. I can't tell if they're travelling for fun or purpose.

Me, I'm not a fan of flying. I used to be, back in the days when flying was fun. I never thought I'd be one of those people who said, "when I was younger...." but I'm saying it: When I was younger, flying was fun.

I'm not talking about the magic of flying because I'm still astounded at that. Every time I'm in a plane travelling at top speed down the runway, I imagine a giant bird building up speed and then gracefully hopping up into the air to soar to the destination of choice. I don't think I'm so far off with that. When we land, I love the comforting bump of the plane's wheels hitting the tarmac of the runway because it means the flight was safe, we made it and it's almost time to get off.

No, I'm talking about the fun of flying. Those were days when you could hand your luggage in at the ticket counter and not have to pay to put it on a plane. Those were the days when you got to choose chicken or fish. Yes, the food was generally revolting but having the food carts come down the aisle without having to debate whether it's really worth the $5 for the snack box that you could probably throw together for about $2, was still a nice feeling. The food broke up the flight, seperated it. Then there were the movies. Some airlines still show movies. Most don't. Now, if you get a packet of peanuts, you're very fortunate.

I remember the best flight I ever had. Granted, it was to the UK and international flights do still provide food and movies but back then, only about 8 years ago, flying was fun. Not only did we get free wine with dinner and any time the drink cart came round and we all got hot towels to refresh us, not just the spoiled first class folks. The flight attendants brought baskets of Toblerones around as a mid-afternoon snack. Yes, that really happened. No, I am not making it up.
Nowadays flying has become a rote thing. It's a means to an end. I miss the days when the flight was part of the vacation/adventure. I miss the days in which people could get on a plane and have a few hours of uninterrupted peace with no telephone, no internet, just an excuse to blissfully read for pleasure. My last flight offered in-flight internet service which meant that had I been travelling for business, I, like so many others, would have felt guilty for not working when I could, for not checking my email instead of curling up with a Sookie Stackhouse novel.

The sad thing is that I know airlines had to cut the luxuries to cover costs but I haven't noticed that ticket prices have gone down. I suppose we need the airlines as much as they need us. Yet it doesn't mean I don't miss watching a bad movie on a plane or complaining that my dinner rolls is still frozen in the middle. My honest theory is that when you're trapped in a giant metal box with no way out for several hours, that frozen-in-the-middle-dinner-roll and gelatinous chicken dish is still exciting because it breaks the monotony.

Still, I suppose as long as I can get where I need to go without having to panic about connections, that's something. Of course, if you fly Delta/Northwest, that doesn't happen but...well...here's hoping. I therefore dedicate this blog to my parents who had to spend the night in Atlanta because they were delayed on their connecting flight and missed their flight to London yesterday.

On the bright side, mum and dad, at least they'll feed you. Then again, maybe that's not such a bright side.

Happy Wednesday.

Monday, May 25, 2009

"Clean House": Rewarding the Underserving for being Slobs...

So, I did say I wasn't going to blog much due to the fact that I'm on a lovely mini-break and staying with my good friend in Washington D.C but due also to the fact that I'm a chronic writing addict and that I had a bloggable subject...here I am.

The beauty of a mini-break with a friend I know as well as my friend Saz is that we can be perfectly content doing something or...doing nothing. She's lived in Washington D.C. for quite some time which means this isn't my first visit to see her. This also means that I've seen most of the touristy stuff like the memorials and the White House and all that. Of course, just because I've seen the memorials before doesn't mean I can remember which is which monument/memorial. I've been referring to the Washington Monument as "the big pointy thing." I have several pictures of the big pointy thing. I probably should remember its real name.

Anyway, Saz and I have been friends for many years, since high school and we know each other pretty well. Which is why one of our morning activities is sitting around in our pajamas and watching whatever mindless fluff we come across on TV.

A note about Saz. She's a Type A personality and very comfortable with that. She's the type of person who, when you plan a break with her, will produce a detailed itinerary bound and in a folder organized by date including reservation numbers, phone numbers and anything you could possibly need. She's also chronically organized. She'd make a fantastic professional organizer. Me...I'm a Type A point 5. I can be organized but sometimes I get a bit distracted from organization and I get a bit cluttered.

Since Saz has an interest in organization, she has watched show on TV in the past called "Clean House" that I think originated on the Home and Garden network and is now on The Style Network. Well, the premise of "Clean House" is a team of professional organizers and designers go to people's houses and reorganize them, redecorate them and make the a "clean" house. Which you probably got from the title.

Well, we watched an episode from a few years ago entitled, "The Messiest House in America." It turned out to be a family named The Loria's from New Jersey. Well, their house was disgusting. The house was huge. There was not an inch of space including the enormous basement that did not have clutter and mess littering its surface. The family consisted of a mother and her two daughters. Well, while I know TV exaggerates, from what I saw, that mother needs some serious help.

Apparently, the sad story on the episode is that the husband/father of the family passed away three years ago and since then the family just lost their will to clean. As a result, the house became nothing short of an utter pigsty that made you want to shower. Every inch had junk strewn on it.

Ironically, the mother believed it WAS clean. She claimed to like organization. When the "Clean House" team came in to talk to her, it resulted in a lot of arguing. The mother felt everything was necessary to keep, the TV team felt that they needed to get rid of most of their stuff.

I have to agree with the Clean House team. To an extent, most humans have a materialistic streak. We like our stuff. We can't help it. Yet this family, including the two daughters, needed seriously counseling because there's stuff and then there's excess. The TV team always stages a yard sale to get rid of the junk. It became a tug of war just trying to get the family to stop taking stuff from the yard sale and putting BACK in the house. This included such necessary stuff as a giant fish, old lunchboxes, old calendars and the kind of junk you see at yard sales and wonder who on earth had that stuff to begin with.

Finally, the yard sale happened only after the family was given an ultimatum: Cooperate or the TV team leaves. So...the family gave in but not without much childish sulking and snark.

The TV team got to work. They turned the house from a disaster zone into something from a home decorating magazine. It was stunning. Of course, we, as watchers, wondered if that was gong to do any good because obviously the problem went WAY deeper than just cleaning a house but, well, the results were stunning.

The family was...pleased. They seemed to like it, even the awful mother. The TV team left, mostly satisfied. Then...they showed "A Year Later."

By this time, the mother had increased her awfulness. Yes, the house looked mostly like it did when the TV team were finished but there was more clutter. Also, there was ingratitude. I wanted to punch the mother in the face. She had the nerve to say she wishes she'd never let the TV team in, that she liked the stuff she'd accumulated prior to the home makeover and she wishes she'd never let the show into her house.

Well, I can safely say that the knee jerk reaction from the design team AND Saz and I was pure disgust. This woman is sick. The daughter who had nominated the house for the show anyway clearly was having a hard time. She was the only one of the family still trying, still wanting to be organized. The mother and the other daughter were still sulking that their clutter had been taken away and, in fact, had pulled much of their crap out of the neat storage area from the basement. The storage area had only been set up to accomodate the crap that had been collected when, truly, the designers had wanted to create a game room instead. However, the family's insistence that they keep much of their 'treasures' meant that there were a thousand storage bins instead.

Now, my reaction to this show is...mixed. I love the idea of what they're doing. I think it's a nice gesture. My problem is that it almost seems to be rewarding the unworthy. This family, the Loria's had lost their husband/father. Almost every family has some sadness overhanging them. There's always a sad story to be found. And yet, this family, the Loria's, had responded by just throwing crap on the floor. Most people still manage to keep their houses clean even when life sucks. Yes, there are times when we all avoid cleaning, we all have better things to do.

Yet, we all also know that there is a difference between clutter and an outright craphole. This family were too self-absorbed, too greedy to clean their house. The mother calls it 'retail therapy', I call it greed. There is materialism and then there is collecting things for the sake of having 'stuff.'

"Clean House" is a good show. I admire the work the designers/organizers do. I think it's amazing. And yet there seems to be something wrong with taking a family like the Loria's who clearly can't be bothered and rewarding them by giving them new furnishings, new appliances and polishing their house into something beautiful. If they had appreciated it, I wouldn't be ranting. They didn't appreciate it and to make things worse, a year later, they were selling much of the stuff that the TV team had placed in their home into a YARD SALE!.

What's the point? Why reward a family for bad behaviour when, clearly, it's not about the messy house, it's about the mess that lies within these people? I have to say, it doesn't seem right, it doesn't seem fair.

After watching it, I see that they're accepting applications for "Clean House" episodes, asking viewers to invite the team into their messy home to tidy up. I have an idea. I'm moving to my new house in a little over a month. It needs painting, it needs updating. What if I take all my moving boxes and throw my stuff on the floor? What if I just make the biggest mess instead of unpacking properly? Do you think I could get the team to come in and redecorate my place? I'd get new appliances, new paint, new furniture....it seems like a perfect solution.

Except...I'm capable of cleaning, organizing and tidying up my own home. While it seems like an easy solution, it also seems slightly wrong. It's tempting though. After all, if a family like the Loria's can be rewarded for being slobs, why can't I?

Because I'd feel guilty, that's why. And therein lies the difference.

Thanks for reading my rant. Happy Memorial Day!

Friday, May 22, 2009

The Beautiful Promise of a Long Weekend....

At long last it's Friday. Not only that but it's the Friday before a long weekend a fact, for which, I am very thankful. Of course, today also happens to be a major day at work. The software project that I have worked on diligently for the past couple of months is supposed to be released today. This means its all hands on deck until we release it.

In the meantime, however, I'll try to do what I'm told and do what I can and try not to raise any red flags. I find that a safe way to get through the day.

And once I get through the day, the weekend begins. Once more, last night, I discovered my evening time dissolve in front of me even though I tried to make the most of it. I decided last night would be a good time to switch my wardrobe from winter to summer. It was a multi-tasking project because it would also help me figure out what to pack for my trip to Washington D.C. this weekend as well as for me to figure out what still fits.

Sadly, though I used to be a skinny Monkeypants, these days, I cannot brag about that fact any longer. While I'm not heavy by any means, I believe I must surrender to the fact that I am no longer in my twenties and can eat whatever I like while maintaining the silhouette of a stick-insect. These days, what I eat does matter. For the most part, I will say, I'm actually comfortable being a little heavier, being a little curvier. The only time I'm not happy is when I realize that the beloved clothes that I had no problem wearing in my slimmer days no longer fit and I have to find strategic ways to hide the less svelte parts of me. Summer makes this hard. However, while I am determined to continue my exercise program after the trip, I think I must accept that I will most likely never again fit into a size four and must change my perspective to fit what size I really am.

Last night, I found several pairs of trousers and shorts that I no longer fit into or, if I do, probably shouldn't. I also found several tops that will no longer suit me because I felt a little like the Michelin Tire Man. I could get depressed about this. I thought about getting depressed about it. Then I thought about what to have for dinner and the urge passed. For the most part, Michelin Tire Man aside, I do have plenty of clothes to get me through the summer.

That's the nice part of a wardrobe switchover; it's almost like shopping in your own closet for a while. You remember items of clothing that you bought and forgot about. You realize you have a pair of flip-flops to match almost every piece of clothing, sandals for most. It's a lovely feeling to look at the lighter, thinner closet and not see the heavy fabrics of winter wear anymore.

Don't get me wrong, when I switch back in the Autumn, I'll go through this again. I'll feel like I get to shop in my own closet again. It helps that I'm a bargain shopper and at the end of the season, I'll find items that have been ridiculously marked down because the season is over. I buy these clothes and then, when the season rolls around the next year, it's like a present to myself. At the end of the winter, for example, I found two lovely sweaters on sale from the original price of $30 to a lovely $3. I wore these sweaters once this year. Next year, they'll be staples of my wardrobe.

Today is the first day I've dressed in proper spring attire for work. We're a casual bunch- t-shirts and jeans are acceptable. Yet I like dressing up a little, wearing a skirt and sandals, for example. I find that it makes me feel better, even when I'm not having the best day. I'm hoping today isn't going to be like that, that it's going to be a good day where things run smoothly, our software gets released and I can go home and relax in the knowledge I did my part of the work, even if, as part of a team, I'm just a bit player.

And, if it doesn't go well, I have the prospect of a lovely trip to Washington D.C. to spend with my best friend to cheer me up. I can't think of anything better.

Happy Friday and have a great weekend.

Ps. I'll try to blog next week while I'm away but if I don't get a chance, I'll be back on Wednesday.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

In Which I Confess that I have an Addiction....

This week has not been a fantastic week. It hasn't been bad but it's been one of those weeks in which somehow time has slipped away from me and I'm not entirely sure where it went. I've had no TV to watch since Monday so, technically, my evenings should be open wide with time to do everything I want.
Except that doesn't seem to happen and I have no idea why.

Then again, when I analyze what I do in the evenings, I do seem to be spending a rather large amount of time...wasting time. Last night, I thought I'd use the leftover filling from the butternut squash ravioli I'd made a while ago to make more butternut squash ravioli. This time, however, I'd try using the pasta roller that I'd 'borrowed' (read: stolen) from my dad who had received it as a gift several years ago and never taken out of the box. Well, I have to say, it is a fantastic invention. I took my dough and rolled it through and within moments I had lovely thin sheets of pasta. It was quite tasty if I do say so myself. Thank you, Mario Batali, for making me believe I can actually cook. Seriously, I love his recipes; they are delicious yet nice and simple.

Yet, as you can imagine, that took a while to make though not long to eat. Which meant I'd already spent a good chunk of my evening making dinner which I consumed in less than ten minutes. I enjoyed it though.

I also confess, I know where a very large chunk of my time is going. I have a horrible addiction and it's time to put it out there. I'm addicted to a game on facebook called Bejeweled Blitz. I HATE this game because I can't stop playing it. Each game lasts one minute. You have to line up three or more jewels of the same type by shuffling them around the board. You get to see your friends scores and the goal is to beat them. I'm very competitive. I'm last at the moment. This means I have to try to beat at least the score just above me.

The game is horribly deceptive because I find myself thinking, "Oh, it's only a minute," and I play. Then I decide I cannot possibly stop playing until I get a decent score. Then I get a decent score and I want to beat it. Then I have a bad game and I think "no way can I end with such a crappy score..." Before I know it, I've killed 30 minutes.

The other unfortunate side of this addiction is what I call "The Tetris Effect." Anyone who's ever played Tetris for any length of time knows the danger of it; it means that for at least several hours, you will mentally still be playing Tetris. Your brain will try to be fitting things together, Tetris style, for quite some time even when you're not playing the game. Bejewelled Blitz is having this effect. I knew I had a problem when I was talking to my coworker and trying to rearrange her face so that I could move her nose up in line with her eyes and have a line of three. This also occured in a meeting in which they projected a computer screen and I started to try to mentally line up the file icons so I could get some points.

I have a problem. I need to stop playing this game. Yet like any good drug, it's calling my name. It says, "Captain Monkeypants, come play! Come put your Green Day CD on and get comfy and forget the world for a while in our shiny, shiny jewels! Come on! You know you want to, you know you do."

I end up giving in. I hate it. I need to go to Bejeweled Blitz rehab. Fortunately, I'm going away this weekend to stay with my best friend for a few days. I shall use this period to detox. I will come back from Washington D.C. without the urge to line up jewels in my mind. At least...until I play again. Which I won't. I hope.

So...maybe I, uh, do know where my time is going in the evenings. Though I did start writing a short story last night so that's something, at least. I just kept trying to line up the words of my story so they could make a row, like in Bejeweled Blitz.

Yes, I know I have a problem. The first step is admitting it...right?

Happy Thursday.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Always Look on the Bright Side of Life...

I'm really late blogging today due to work commitments. I hate when work gets in the way of fun.

I had to give a co-presentation today on a software product I've been working with. I'm not terribly fond of speaking in public or even speaking in front of a group but, over time, it's become easier. It really helps when you know what you're talking about. The more you speak, the easier it gets, this I've learned.

Unless, of course, it's your first product demonstration for the company that fairly recently hired you and the company president decides to sit in. Then...all common sense and experience goes out the window and you turn into a stuttery bag of nerves.

This is what happened to me. I know the product, I know how it works. One of my special skills is that I can talk both technical speak and user speak which translates to me helping normal people figure out what the technical jargon means. I'm usually pretty confident when I'm talking about something I know well. I enjoy it.

Today, I didn't. Today, I feel like I just want a nice big sandpit in which to bury my head. It was ok except when I'm nervous, I talk too fast. I have a British accent. Combine the two and you realize I'm a little incomprehensible when I first start talking. That wears off quickly: I slow down, I relax...I'm doing ok.

Then...the software blows up on me. I'm supposed to be showing it to a client to try to persuade them to buy it and...it doesn't work. Our server crashes. The demo has suddenly gone from organized and controlled to a frenzy of disorganized chaos. I managed to recover but the damage was done. Not only did I show a weakness in our product but I got flustered in front of my boss.

So, now it's all over, I'm having the typical "may I go jump off a cliff?" reaction I always get when I don't do my best. I like to be good at things. I like to prove that I am good at things. I'm my own worst enemy when it comes to criticism- I'm harsher on myself than I ever am on others. I'm not good at what I deem failure, even if it's not really a failure. I like to be good at things. The problem is, there are some things I'm just not good at.

I always hated realizing that as a child, much as I do now. If I was interested in something, I wanted to be good at it. I loved watching gymnastics when I was little, I loved watching Nadia Comaneci. I took gymnastics, practiced when I could but the sad fact of the matter was I wasn't very good. I had that built-in fear of hurting myself that the best athletes seem to lack. I was cautious. I couldn't do a fancy vault because I would stop myself for fear of falling. I had to realize there were limits to the "You Can Do Anything!" encouragement that I heard.

There are many other things in my life that I've realized for which I will never reach above an average level of expertise. Mostly, I'm ok with this. Yet I've always wanted one thing, one defined thing in my life that I am good at, that I can do without fear of failing, without fear that everyone will laugh at me when I fail.

I'd like to say that's writing which is why I don't take rejection well. I'm not sure that's true though. I adore writing, it's easy for me to do. It's something I don't have to think about. I can throw words together and come out with a product much like a chef does with ingredients. But...I don't know if I am any good at it. I suppose it's all relative on who is judging us really, isn't it?

Yet it is the thing that I'm most comfortable with. It's the security blanket I turn to. This is probably why I'm using it to come to terms with the fact I feel like I blew my demo today. Chances are, I really didn't but....it feels like it because I know I screwed up.

Yet, as always, if I take a step back, I realize it was my first one. I realize that having the software break meant I'd found a bug that we can fix before we release it. I know I'm good at finding bugs because I'm good at breaking software. That I know I'm good at. I just wish I hadn't found the bug in front of a potential client. Or in front of my boss. But I didn't get fired so...always look on the bright side, right?

Happy Wednesday.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Milk, Cookies and an Obligatory Nap in the Workplace...

There's a quote on my calendar today. It says: "Think what a better world it would be if we all, the whole world, had cookies and milke about three o'clock every afternoon and then lay down on our blankets for a nap"- Barbara Jordan.

I find that to be an interesting quote. In theory, it sounds like a lovely idea. I've always wondered what would happen if companies instituted a required nap/relax hour in the afternoons for everyone. It would be rather nice, at least in theory. Yet, based on experience in working in offices, I don't think it's much of a reality.

Don't get me wrong. I think it were announced in an office meeting room to the staff, their first reaction would initially be one of happiness and content. I mean, who wouldn't like to be given a designated lazy time, complete with snacks to soothe you to rest? From my own point of view, I like the idea but even when I was little, I coudn't take naps. I tried but I'd end up lying there awake. Finally, my teacher let me get up quietly and read a book in the corner while the other kids slept. I'd rather have gone to bed earlier back then and not interrupted my day with sleep.

I wonder if I'd be able to nap now. I can't even sleep on a plane very well at night. I can never shut my mind down for long enough to really sleep. Though, I will say, when I lived in L.A., there were days in the height of summer when the thermometer crawled past 100 degrees in which movement of any kind seemed exhausting and after a morning of activity, my roommate and I would flop on our beds and not move for a while. I think that might have constituted a nap.

Yet, my personal napping habits aside, I still don't think that the idea of having a regular 3 p.m. milk and cookie break complete with nap would work in an office. Here's my interpretation, based solely on experience:

Setting: A conference room in a small company. There are about 24 employees seated around a large table with some seated in the corner of the office back from the table. The four managers are also seated around the table. There are doughnuts at one end of the table. Some people are eating them.

Company President: We have some good news! We've decided that you work hard and we'd like to reward you by giving you cookies and milk at 3 p.m. every day followed by an hour nap.

There is murmured whispering. Some people are smiling. Others...are not.

Employee #1: That sounds great but I'm on a diet. (She pointedly looks around at the people eating doughnuts. At least one employee looks embarrassed and lays their doughnut down). Will there be healthy snacks as well?

Company President: Well, it's a milk and cookie break so no. We'll try to have some lower fat options.

Employee #1: Those won't help. They're not on my Weight Watchers.

Company President: You are also permitted to bring your own snacks.

Employee #2: I'm lactose intolerant. As you're probably aware, this is a medical problem. I cannot drink milk. What will you do to cater to that?

Company President (a note of irritation in his voice): There will water.

Employee #3 (quietly from the corner of the room): Do we have to take our nap?

(A pause.) Company President: Well, if you can't sleep, we can't force you.

Employee #3: Will we have to work an extra hour to make up for the hour we're sleeping?

Company President:(glancing at the other managers): Well, we discussed that and for now, we agreed not to do that. However, if productivity does go down, we will rethink the whole thing.

Employee #3: What if I need to work through my nap? Can I leave an hour early to compensate?

Company President: No.

Employee #4: But if we have vital work to do, why shouldn't we work through our nap and then just leave early to go nap at home?

Company President: Because the nap is company sponsored. If you nap at home, it isn't.

Employee #3: But if we're losing an hour of work because of this, it isn't fair. I have important work to do. I shouldn't be penalized for being efficient.

Company President: A nap is not a penalty.

Employee #3: It is if you need to work. You're saying I have to drop everything and nap. I'm being required to drop everything and nap.

Employee #5: What if we have a meeting scheduled at 3 p.m.?

Company President: Don't schedule meetings for that time.

Employee #6: Sometimes we have to!

Employee #3: Yes! Are you saying that the people we're meeting with are napping too?

Employee #4: And if we're travelling for business, do we still have to nap? I mean, technically we're on the clock, so are you saying we have to nap for an hour?

Employee #5: Right! And what if we are travelling. Do we take milk and cookies with us? Will we be given a per diem?

Company President: FINE! I TAKE IT BACK. NO NAP OR COOKIES FOR YOU!!!!!

The only thing I exaggerated in this discussion is the length. If it were a real meeting, it would go on for at least another 30 minutes. It may seem ridiculous but, believe me, I've heard this discussion in one form or another throughout a lot of my working life. Management try to be nice but the employees don't get that or they abuse it. It's sad. If you're wondering, I would not be any of the employees in the discussion. I'd be the one quietly sitting there trying not to laugh because of the ridiculousness of it. Then I'd go and write a blog about it.

No, my company hasn't tried to institute a milk-and-cookies-and-nap policy but they have tried various other mini-perks that have worked against them. They tried to require us to take a 30 lunch because they felt like it was good to have us take a break, stretch our legs, get some fresh-air, etc. That did NOT go over well. People felt targeted because of their child-care situations. They were used to skipping lunch and leaving early. While I agree that is rather nice, it is also nice to have a 30 minute period in which I can actually NOT work and it's ok.

Anyway, until I read my calendar, I had no idea what to blog about today. Fortunately, the quote inspired me. I, personally, would rather like to have milk and cookies at 3 p.m....as long as it wasn't an obligation. Also, I'm not actually big on cookies. I like milk but not always. There's just no pleasing us all, is there?

Happy Tuesday!

Monday, May 18, 2009

Seaweed in the Ocean of Life...

Today is definitely a Monday. I woke up in a haze of confusion, wondering where that noisy music was coming from only to realize it was my alarm clock and it was supposed to be making the noise.

When I finally made it to the office, I discovered a slew of emails requiring me to jump right in to work because there was urgent stuff to do. Why the urgent stuff can't be requested earlier is beyond me. I've never understood those people who say, 'hey, by the way, I need this stuff in about two hours' when they knew they would need it three days ago. Yet, as a sometimes-procrastinator, I suppose we all do it. I just wish they didn't do it in ways that affect me.

I also discovered that I have a meeting scheduled to for the time I normally leave so...yay me. I had every intention of starting my exercising after work again tonight having taken a break because of the insanity of buying a house.

However, on the plus side, it is a Monday after a lovely weekend. I didn't even do anything exciting, I just out with my family. It was a really nice relaxing weekend. For the first time in years, my siblings and I were alone at our parents with no significant others, no children...just the core of the family. It was unplanned but so nice.

Next weekend is also going to be fun. I'm off to Washington D.C. to visit with my best friend. I can't wait. She's one of those friends I can go out and do stuff with or just stay in and watch episodes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer or Prison Break and still have a great time.

So, really, even though I'm swamped already and I just walked in the door, I shouldn't complain. I have a lot to look forward to and a lot of fun behind me so work is really just that inconvenient thing that pays my bills and gives me something to do from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. each day. I don't mind my job; it's interesting and I work with a fun group but...it's really just my job. I was watching a rather daft film last night, "The Day the Earth Stood Still," with Keanu Reeves and Jennifer Connolly. I didn't like the movie because I tend to like alternate-reality where the aliens do destroy earth just because it's more interesting than the hero(ine) saving the day by the purity of her humanity. Ooops, probably spoiled that for you but, believe me, it'll save you the almost-two-hours of sitting through a movie that doesn't pay off.

Anyway, one thing that I did like about the movie is that it made me think a little. Jennifer Connolly plays an Astro-biologist. In the beginning, she and a bunch of other scientists are recruited to help with a Top Secret Government Operation. That's the part that made me think. Whether we're talking about my day job- software products specialist- or my 'evening job' of writing, it's not likely I will ever be important enough to be taken by a helicopter to a secret government facility to help save the world.

I notice that a lot in movies and TV and even in real life. There are those people who are so good at what they do, so specialized that there aren't many people who can do their job. I have a friend who is a rocket scientist, literally. I have a friend whose husband is a forensic expert in bugs and gets called to consult by the FBI. Then there's me...not likely to be called by the FBI unless I'm the one being investigated. Which....I hope not.

It's a strange thing to realize that in the giant ocean of the world, I would probably be the seaweed. It adds a certain something and those that like Asian food like to eat it but...it's not exactly something that gets featured by the Discovery Channel very often. It might pop up on the Food Network but it'd be pounded and manipulated so much that by the time it ended up in a dish, it would barely be recognizable.

You might think this depresses me. Well...not really. I admit, there are days when I would love someone to read one of my unpublished novels, love it so much that they rush it to publication upon which people would say, "your book changed my life." Yet....sadly, despite my overractive imagination I'm a realist.

Yet, because I'm a realist, I can also see that in my little corner of my world, the books that I write do change someone's life...mine. Each one changes me a little, makes me learn more about the world around me, about myself. With my day job, my role in this company may not be of earth-shattering importance but the mere fact that I'm required to get some work done urgently and quickly means that someone here needs me to do my job. To the place writing my paychecks, I'm a necessary entity. Without me, the work doesn't get done. Though someone else could be trained to do my job, at this moment in time they haven't been which means that at this moment in time, I am necessary and of vital importance. I might not be saving the world but I'm helping keep my company going.

That's something good to think about on a busy Monday morning.

Happy Monday.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Friday Ramblings: Philosophers, Brazen Bulls and (of course) Green Day...

I was robbed of my rainy day yesterday. I got out of work to discover the betrayal of the sun who had stolen the rainy day away and conquered. Currently, the sun is shining this morning even though the rain is supposed to move in later. We'll see. I think the only true way to predict the weather is to stick your head out the door and see what it's currently doing. Predicting any further than the current minute is a bit iffy.

Not to worry. It's Friday and it's sunny. I can't exactly complain about either of those two facts. As an added bonus, Green Day's new album has been released. If you haven't bought it/downloaded it, do it now. If your computer is anything like mine at home, if you start on iTunes now, you might have it by this evening. I was hoping to put the, uh, 'full' version of the album on my iPod instead of the sneakily obtained version I got last week. However, for now, I'll have to settle with that version. By this evening, I can put my pre-ordered iTunes version on my iPod along with the four bonus tracks. This is a good Friday.

As always, I'm glad it's Friday. It's been a rather long week for some reason. It's been TV season finale week for some of my shows which means as of next Monday after 24 finishes, I'm done with TV until Fall. I might watch some on DVD but since I dislike almost all reality-TV, I barely tune in for anything during the summer. It's rather liberating, actually. It means I can focus on getting my stuff packed up to move. It means I'll have more time to write. And yes, sadly, there are some nights where I'd rather watch TV than write.

Speaking of writing, I've noticed I'm not the only post in response to Nathan Bransford's blog. A lot of writers seem to be disagreeing with my point of view. I like that, actually. I still stand by my claim that writing is a craft, not a profession but it's interesting to hear other writers disagree. For the record, I also will claim 'blogger' as part of my identity. I don't get paid for that, either. I was thinking about that...where does the craft end and profession begin? What about philosophers? People are philosophers but...there aren't many professional philosopher jobs out there. Do you ever pull up Craigslist or Monster.com and see "Wanted: Philospher?" Does anyone ever want a philosopher? And yet....almost every university offers a degree in it. Interesting.

Sorry, I'm digressing. Well, actually I'm not sorry. It's a Friday post. I always digress and ramble on Fridays. I think it's because I stay up too late on Thursdays. Last night it was because of the stupid Grey's Anatomy season finale. Which, in my opinion, was pretty awful but I have a TV blog for ranting about that. I suppose its inevitable that even the good shows go downhill at some point but...I was hoping it wouldn't happen to Grey's which has suddenly decided it wants to be ER when it grows up.

Anyway, moving on...I've discussed philosophers, Green Day, TV and weather...I suppose I could throw politics in but I'll leave that to those that know more than me. I confess, I'm not terribly political. I want to make up stories for a living, would you really want to hear my opinions on politics?

I do keep hearing about waterboarding though. Apparently that's a hot topic along with the discussion of torture. I watch 24, waterboarding seems like a mild torture method after seeing Jack Bauer grab a hacksaw or use a hotel lamp and bowl of water to electrocute a suspect into talking. Also, I found an article on the website "How Stuff Works" the other day about ten brutal torture methods from the days of yore. Wow, people were cruel! The worst was this giant bronze bull, called the Brazen Bull, in which they'd trap their victim, lock him in and then heat the bull over a fire so the victim would roast to death, literally. When he screamed, his scream would be modulated so it sounded like the bull was roaring. There were others. I won't spoil your dinner with them but wow...when it comes to punishing people, we humans are creative. And brutal.

Ok, I think that might be enough random thoughts for one Friday. You might start thinking I'm a little dark and twisty since I seem to be fascinated with torture methods. Not that I support torture but I am fascinated by creativity in doing so.

Perhaps I ought to talk about something happy and bright like...butterflies and flowers. There are some lovely lilacs beside the entrance to my apartment building. They smell heavenly, even when it rains. There, you can have that as the image with which to finish reading my blog, not the giant bronze bull. That I just brought up again. Oops.

Have a great weekend!

Thursday, May 14, 2009

The Gift of a Rainy Day

Before I write today's blog, I'd like to thank Nathan Bransford for responding to yesterday's blog about "Writing as Identity". It's always nice to know that people are reading the words you write and I do actually agree with him after rereading my blog: Our opinions are not so different after all, just different vantage points, I suppose.

Moving on. It's a really rainy day out there today. It's been thunderstorming on and off since yesterday. It's a very Midwestern spring day. Even down here in my basement cubicle, I can hear the heavy rain beating down and making me glad to be inside. It's supposed to be like this for the next few days.

I love days like this. I think it harkens back to the fact that I was born and raised in the UK where rain happens as often as it's sunny. When I moved to Indiana, it also rained a lot. Thus, when I moved to Los Angeles and I had too many ham sandwich days thatI realized how much I did enjoy rain. Rainy days like this are the best because if you look at the weather on Google, it shows rain for the next few days. This means it will keep raining and I won't be disappointed because the sun will come out.

That probably sounds a little strange. Imagine that. What I mean is that when it's a rainy day, I like the idea of a rainy night in which I can go home from work, make something comforting and rainy-dayesque for dinner and then curl up with a book or good TV show, listening to the rain beat down. Better yet, it's good writing weather which means I can sit at my PC and hear the rain pouring down and mixing with the music I have playing. There's nothing more disappointing than planning an evening like that and then, when you get home, the rain has stopped and the sun is trying to come out from behind the clouds, thin and weedy but still managing to brighten up the world and stop the rainy day.

I don't hate evenings like that. Sometimes after a couple of rainy days, they're rather nice. In those cases the sun isn't greedily trying to steal the thunder from the rainy day but, instead, is making a guest appearance to promote the sunny day that lies ahead tomorrow. It's welcome then. We can't have all rainy days.

I think today I'm safe. I think the rain will continue and I'll be able to enjoy it through at least the next couple of days. I'm hoping to squeeze in a little writing tonight. Of course, given my penchant for writing darker stuff when it rains, perhaps I should wait. I'm trying to write something a little happier. Well...maybe not happier but a little less "world of the dead" like Sleep or less gritty like St. Jimmy or even less brother vs. brother like Rainlight.

That's the thing. I'd love to come up with something nice and safe, like chastely brooding vampires who sparkle in the sunlight. The problem is I like the other kind of vampires better, the ones who drink human blood, hide in dark alleyways and always have a witty comeback. I like the sensual dark side of traditional vampire, rather than the current popular version.

I suppose I should stick with what I enjoy. Besides, I'm crap at trying to keep things on a happy, uncomplicated path. I try that and then I ask myself, "ooh, what if..." and then the nice sunny path takes a detour in the dark shadowy woods and it begins to rain and...

...You get the picture. Hence the fact I enjoy the rain as much as I enjoy sun. I'm a firm believer in needing the shadows to emphasize the light and vice versa.

Thus, I shall enjoy this lovely rain day, letting myself get wet as I go home so I can shower and throw on my lazy clothes and curl up with a hot cup of tea. There's nothing better sometimes. It's a renewing sort of day, the world around me closing down for a while so that when the sun comes out, it knows it's appreciated.

Happy Thursday.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Writing as Identity: Money or Love?

Today did not begin well. I refuse to accept that as an omen that the day is doomed. I will, however, keep my smoke detector in my hall closet for a little while as a punishment for being so sensitive.

I burned my toast. The entire building now knows. In order to stop my smoke detector from making the piercing horrible noise that is still ringing in my ears an hour later, I had to quickly rip it off the ceiling and throw it in the closet. As I am not a giant, this involves standing on a chair. Unfortunately, the chair almost tipped. It did not, however, and I am taking that as a good sign.

I also got trapped by a train today. The tracks wind sleepily through town and it's inevitable that you have to cross them at some point. There was a train just sitting on the tracks almost the entire way through town and I had to go around. Fortunately, it gave me a chance to listen to more Green Day and nibble on my burned toast and contemplate life.

More specifically, it gave me a chance to contemplate my writing. I read an agent's blog yesterday that made me think a lot. The agent is Nathan Bransford, an agent who blogs fairly regularly. I'm not actually a huge fan of his, not only because he set the record for rejecting one of my queries- twelve minutes after I emailed it- but because, based on his blog, he tends to come across as a little superior and that sometimes rubs me the wrong way.

He had a blog a couple of days ago about "Writing as Identity" in which he said how unsettling he found it when people defined themselves as writers. By this, he was referring to the writers who say "I am a writer. It's who I am." These are the writers who claim that writing is like oxygen, that they cannot live without it. His claim is that people shouldn't define themselves by what they do in their spare time, for example, comparing it to someone who is enjoys reality TV but doesn't walk around claiming "They are a connisseur of reality TV." Well, no, Nathan because that would be both silly AND embarrassing.

However, while my first reaction was to be offended and angry at him, I stopped and thought about it. I know I set up this blog to talk about writing, to give me an outlet so I could write often and regularly yet...was I guilty of the charges he laid down? Am I self-indulgent enough to think of myself only as a writer and everything else secondary?

Given some of my posts on rejection and how personal it feels, I am guilty. Nathan says ofof these writers that, "They've stopped enjoying the writing process, and because writing is so wrapped up in their self-conception, they can't bear the pain of rejection and instead look outward for blame."

He might have a point. I do that at times. Hence the fact that I'm boycotting Amazon.com. I don't know how not to feel that I'm disappointing those characters who've charged me with telling their story. I'd say I'd like to be more businesslike about my writing and not make it such a personal thing but, well, what kind of writer would I be then? I used to dabble in journalism and I hated the impersonal nature of it. Anyone can use words to describe facts but not everyone can make those facts interesting and readable.

It's clear from his blogs that Nathan Bransford is a rational creature, one who thrives on the business side of being an agent rather than the creative side. There's nothing wrong with this except his job as an agent is to represent writers. Given some of the comments on his blog, there are definitely writers out there who write because they can, because they can earn money at it, writers who don't have any emotional tie to what they do. I find that fascinating; not because I can't do that but...I don't want to. I thought about it. I've done it. I hated it.

Believe me, I'd sometimes rather love to divorce myself from writing so that I could just do it but not care about it; it would be less draining and disappointing. But...then why would I do it? I like my job in software. I like my friends and family. I have a life outside of writing. But it's writing that gives me that passion, that thrill, that realization that makes me feel like I'm complete. I've had my ephiphany moment where I just knew. From then on, I wrote. I can almost hear Nathan groaning that this is exactly what he meant. I will say that while I could live without writing in my life, that it isn't the oxygen that keeps me going, it does make my life that much brighter, more enjoyable. People don't need sports but it doesn't stop people from dressing head to toe in their team colours, putting up posters and banners, drinking out of mugs while using a mouse-pad adorned with their teams-logo, does it? Sports enhance people's lives. Writing enhances mine. Try telling a die-hard Red Sox fan that their team means nothing, that it's just a stupid hobby. I dare you.

I do tell people I'm a writer sometimes. Most of the time, I don't bother unless it comes up in conversation. This blog is about as nametaggy as I get as to the fact that I'm a writer. I don't go to coffee shops with my laptop so people can see that I write. I don't pull out my notebook everytime I'm with friends and there's a silence so that they can see I'm a writer. I don't carry Stephen King's On Writing with me all the time even though I love that book.

Yet I can't stop my brain from constantly seeing stories in everything around me, hearing an idea from a song on the radio (or, in my case, my iPod). I can't stop myself from filing away news stories for future plot points. Sometimes it would be nice to be able to turn that off. I've actually tried and it doesn't work. I'm still figuring out how to steal something someone told me and work it into a story, even when I think I'm not thinking about writing.

Originally, Mr. Bransford referred to writing as a hobby. He changed that, I think because he realized that saying that was a wee bit condescending. Yes, writing is a hobby for me because it doesn't pay my bills. Yet since I've been watching the Food Network, I've started to love cooking. Yet don't go around thinking I'm a chef and I never will. I consider Mario Batali and Bobby Flay to be chefs just as I consider J.K. Rowling, Neil Gaiman and Stephen King to be writers. I consider Beethoven, Mozart, Green Day and Andrew Lloyd Webber to be composers and musicians. You know why? Because that's what they are. I guarantee in all of the cases I cited, those people enjoy it, they do it because they have no choice: it's their path in life.

I'm not arrogant enough to suggest I'm in the same league as J.K. Rowling, Neil Gaiman and Stephen King. Yet...is it because they get a paycheck that we get to say "they're writers?" Is it because they are fortunate enough to get paid for it that they have the permission to be a writer? Or is J.K. Rowling really just a former unemployed single mother who happened to write one of the best children's books and become a multi-millionaire because of it. Is it always about the money?

It would make sense that to agents like Nathan Bransford, that would be the case. It's his job to get writers to the point where they're making money so that he can make money. Yet...where is that line? I suppose he has a point that stamp collectors don't go around claiming to be a stamp collector and making that their identity. Reality-TV watchers don't claim that's who they are. I don't deny that there is a line between claiming to be a writer and actually being one. I am a firm believer that a writer has to write to be a writer. They can't be a coffee-shop dabbler who thinks they are a writer but doesn't do more than read books about it, make outlines and tell people about it. A real writer just writes because we love it. So what should we call ourselves? People-who-have-full-time-jobs-but-have-this-horrible-need-to-go-home-and-make-up-stories? Should I call myself a story-maker-upper-hobbyinst instead of a writer? Or am I allowed to say I'm a writer because...I am? Does making money at what you love grant you the title and identity or is it the thing itself?

I suppose it depends on how you look at it. I like my way better. Naturally. I suppose Mr. Bransford would probably argue that I am one of those writers that he criticized and the reason I'm writing this is because he rejected me. I would argue that's not the case. I just think there should be two sides to every argument. This is mine.

Happy Wednesday!


Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Sleepy in the Morning and Along Comes James...

I think I'm still half-asleep this morning. I slept a little too well last night, to the point where my alarm clock woke me up rather abruptly and I felt robbed of my comfortable slumbering bliss. I've been trying to wake up since I got out of bed. I took a different route to work to try to wake my mind up. That's the beauty of all the students being gone; I can drive through the middle of the campus without fear of accidentally hitting one of them. It's not easy to avoid sometimes. They dart in front of your car in the oddest places, thinking that they have enough time to get across the street. Of course, when I'm less than ten feet away when they start to cross, it's always a little scary.

However, this morning, I didn't even come close to hitting one. I was able to amble along my way, my Green Day blaring and taking in the fact that it is a beautiful, clean, crisp Spring morning. The sky is cornflower blue, the clouds little far-off white puffs, the green is the deep green of newness. It's a lovely day.

I'm still not awake however. I'm obviously awake enough to observe just not...to think. For example, our new HR manager was being very nice and making the office coffee this morning. Lately, that's my job. I don't mind but it's nice to have a break. She said she didn't think she could make it as good as my coffee and I responded, "I doubt it." Now, I actually didn't mean to say that because it wasn't at all what I meant to say, even in my subconscious. What I meant to say was "I doubt you could do worse," because, frankly, nothing can make the office coffee taste great. I'm not even sure why. We use a good brand. It just occasionally ends up tasting like dishwater and I'm not sure what causes that. So, I accidentally managed to sound horribly arrogant AND insult our poor HR manager. Needless to say, I had to backpeddle and explain about my non-working brain.

I think my lack of alertness in the mornings can be actually tied to the radio. I know that sounds a little...odd but I believe it to be true. When I lived in Los Angeles, I used to listen to KROQ which is my favourite radio of all time. Not only did they play my kind of music, they also have good DJ's. I loved Kevin and Bean, their sardonic, bitter and hilarious morning show made my commute to work so much more enjoyable. I'd listen to them while getting ready in the mornings, letting their snarky comments slowly wake me up because they made me think. Granted, they didn't always make me think in the most politically correct way but they'd often raise questions that would make me have to stop and pause to see how I'd answer.

I miss that. I have found a radio station here that plays pretty good music. It took me a while of listening to 96 Rock out of Cincinnati and wanting to brain the ignorant, misogynistic morning hosts Gamble and Finn every time they spoke before I was desperate enough to spend some time with my radio, trying to find something, anything better. Well, I found it...sort of. The station is WHSS, 98.5. It's a local channel actually out of a high school. They play good music, not too much new stuff but enough of the real rock/alternative stuff I used to get in L.A. to make me happy. The downside is that...it's a high school-run show. This means they haven't quite...got it together the way a commercial station does. They don't have any commercials which is a huge bonus. They don't have many DJ's. Mostly it's just music which is fine by me.

It's their morning "show" that simutaneously amuses me and...frustrates me. I say "show" because it's really just a news report. It's given by a nice boy named "James Ryan, the Sports Guy." It's supposed to start at 7 a.m. Sometimes it's on a 7 a.m. Mostly, it's not. There are days where there is no James Ryan at all and thus I don't get the weather report I was hoping to hear. When there is no James Ryan there is...no one else. I'm not sure but I can't help but think there has to be more than one nice high school student who'd like to do the news and weather. Perhaps there could be two 'James Ryans'. When James Ryan does come on the air well...that's interesting too. I always know when he's about to come on because I'm listening to a song and there's this moment of silence in the song, like someone puts their finger on the pause button. Then the song continues. A few moments later, James Ryan comes on, his rather-long intro also has a long pause before it so you end up having another 6-10 seconds of silence again before his jazzy little intro starts.

I'm not going to pick on the intro itself because, at least, he does have an intro. I'm going to pick on the fact that the sound engineers haven't quite learned the art of letting a song finish before playing the intro to James Ryan. This means you'll be listening to the Foo Fighters and then, suddenly, there's silence and along comes James. In the middle of the song. Again, I know it's a high school station but...well...it's the end of the school year so by now, I'd like to think the people working the station might have got the hang of working the controls. It's a music faux-pas to cut off an artist in the middle of song.

Because Mr. Ryan is usually late with his broadcast anyway (it usually starts closer to 7:05 a.m. than 7:00 a.m.), I can't help but think he might as well wait for the song to finish. Especially as after he's done with his sports reporting and the music starts back up again, the song that was interrupted is played again. This isn't so bad when the song was interrupted after about 30 seconds. This morning, however, the song was 98% finished before James Ryan interrupted it. So I got to hear the same song twice.

Anyway, I'm not actually picking on the radio station or James Ryan. I'm actually rather impressed that a radio station is being run out of a high school and that it does play such good music. More than anything, I'm rather fond of listening James Ryan in the mornings. He's part of my routine and, as noted yesterday, I'm a creature of habit. I think my irritation with the morning show also goes back to my need for consistency in my life; it's not consistent and while some people are ok with that, it drives me a little crazy because I'm a usually-on-time kind of Monkeypants who gets panicky if I'm going to be late.

So, while I'm relieved not to have to listen to Gamble and Finn in the mornings and I do enjoy the musical stylings of WHSS, I do miss my Kevin and Bean. I miss their snark. I miss their music. I miss their giveaways. I miss the fact that I was commuting with my roommate while listening to them and they slowly woke us both up and got us going into the day.

I'm guessing when I move, I'll have to start again with my quest for good radio since WHSS has a rather small bandwidth and their signal won't reach me in my new home. For now though, I do salute their efforts to provide this little corner of Ohio with some good music and a chance for the future DJ's of America to have a place to start.

Happy Tuesday!

Monday, May 11, 2009

I am a Creature of Habit and Routine...

I am a creature of habit and routine. Over the years, I have fought against this, trying to be more spontaneous, trying to embrace alternatives to the usual but, over the years, I have learned that nothing can be done about it: I know what I like, I know when I like to do it and it takes me a while to get used to something new.

There have been times when a change in my planned routine is welcome. Usually it's on a day that I've planned to be productive and someone says "let's go see a movie" and I say "Ok!". Sadly, this is the highlight of my spontenaity, no matter how hard I try.

Take for example today. It's Monday. It is my routine on Mondays to make myself get out of bed after a night of not sleeping well. I never sleep well on Sunday nights. It's a throwback to those Sunday evenings when I was in school when I'd have homework to do, bullies to avoid, the chance of getting anything less than an 'A' in a class. I would sleep badly then, dreading the beginning of the week. Nowadays, I don't have that sense of dread but I still sleep restlessly, lamenting the end of the weekend. On Mondays, when I do get up, I have a mini-rationalization session with myself as to why I HAVE to go to work today, even though the thought of sleeping more or doing nothing all day appeals. Then, when I finally get up, it takes me a while to actually wake up. I never have the energy to make coffee on Monday mornings, choosing instead to drink the vile office coffee when I finally make it to work.

This Monday morning was exactly the same, even though I tried to make it different. I woke up twice in the night, one time because it began raining hard, the other just because I couldn't sleep. I had the usual "I don't want to go to work today debate with myself." I lost. I'm at work. Again...I am a creature of habit.

So, here I sit on this Monday morning. It's gloomy and grey outside but the sun is attempting to come out and I think as the day passes, it will brighten up. It's quiet driving through town today; the students at the university have all left for the summer and the usual joggers, early morning-class goes who stumble to the bus stop and students who wander into the street without looking because they're too busy texting as they walk to actually notice what's going on them are absent. It's very peaceful and nice out there. I loved working on USC's campus; during the summer, the pace slowed and though work still had to be done, the pressure was less.

That's not the case with this job since I no longer work for a university but I do think living in a college town will be similar. I'm supposed to go out with coworkers tonight to see "Star Trek" and have dinner. Having dinner will be a pleasure because only the 'townies' will be around and the aura of calm will have already infiltrated the town. Actually, I will say, that for me, I am being spontaneous tonight, normally I spend Monday evenings watching House and 24 and making something nutritious and good for dinner. I'm not worried. I use Hulu.com for all my television needs now when I miss an episode. (Thank you, Hulu for making it easier for me to be a creature of habit and not miss an episode of my shows).

Yet even with the newfound calm of this little town, it's still a Monday. It would be a monotonous day except that I'm currently listening to the new Green Day album which is not available for sale until Friday but which the band has generously provided a way to listen to it online. Of course, this does mean that there are ways to get the album ahead of time and listen to it on one's iPod. Which I would never do because I am a good Captain Monkeypants.

Whatever. I have to snicker at that because I'm listening to it on my iPod even now. Yes, some would call it theft. Others, like me, would call it an emergency. What do they expect? You do NOT tease a Monkeypants like me with great songs like "21st Century Breakdown" and "The Static Age" and make me wait a week. Besides, I've already pre-ordered the CD so I'm going to purchase it when it does officially get released. This is probably rationalization but I'm a firm believer in paying for good music and so I will. I just don't think it's nice to be mean and taunt us with the good stuff and then say "you can't have it for another week."

I'm a huge Green Day fan. I think I've mentioned that. They're a band that I've loved for many years. They inspired an entire novel with their last album. Listening to this new one? I'm already getting ideas. It's different from American Idiot in many ways. It's older, wiser, less rebellious but still inherantly Green Day. I haven't quite figured out the story yet because I haven't listened to it enough but when you hear a song like "The Static Age" and you get a happy thrill in the pit of your stomach because you know you've just fallen in love with a song on first listen...you know it's good.

I love Green Day because they know how to reach everyone. They have enough angst and anthems to keep getting young rebels interested in their music for the first time but they have enough experience and wisdom to be able to give those of us that have followed them for a while a new version of who they are. It works for them. I can't say this album, 21st Century Breakdown is better than American Idiot because I just don't know. At the moment, I'd say not because it's hard to replace your favourite album of all time with something else, even by the same band and, as aforementioned, I am a creature of habit and routine. However, who knows, after a few listens, I may change my mind. I'm open to the possibility.

So, though in many ways, it's a typical Monday, I'm trying to make it different. Not so different that I feel like the universe is out-of-whack but different enough that I don't look at it like it's Monday, the enemy to my weekend freedom, the mantle of having to be responsible and productive wearing heavy on my shoulders. Unfortunately, there are some things that you just can't change though and even with great music, it's still a Monday. I shall go forth into the day, armed with my Green Day and ready to work hard. I'll also try to talk myself out of going home and trying to figure out how to set my DVR to record my TV shows with my HD converter box just so I can watch 24 on the night it airs. I keep telling myself that's what Hulu.com is for but old habits die hard. Especially when you're me.

Happy Monday.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Mothers, Fridays and Disturbances in my Peace...

It's another wet and soggy morning. Yesterday, at least the sun came out. Today I think it's going to remain gloomy. The fact that it's Friday more than makes up for that fact though. I'm a big fan of Fridays.

I can't say it's been a bad week. It's been a there week. Weeks like this are definitely not a bad thing but they also don't have anything to really distinguish them, to make them special. I did get two more rejections but given I'd forgotten I'd ever submitted to the rejectors, that didn't seem as bad as it could have. Buying a house is good for distracting you from everything else.

I finally have boxes in my apartment. I can start packing. Anytime now. I'll get right on that. I hate packing. The problem is that I need a lot of the things I'm going to pack since, you know, I'm still going to be living in my apartment. It's hard to know what to box up aside from books. I mean, I use my kitchen so I need most of the stuff in there. The really useless stuff that I don't use regularly is still in boxes from the last time I moved so that part is easy.

I think I'll look at the boxes for a while longer. Then I'll figure out what to put in them. As long as I'm packed by moving day, I think it's ok to procrastinate just a little longer.

It's Mother's Day this weekend. I suppose now would be time to pay tribute to my mother. All I can say is that...mother's don't get better than her. She'll think I'm being sappy if I get sentimental on here since she can't stand the sappy stuff. So I won't. But I do want her to know that even when I'm a foul-tempered beast (and even when SHE'S a foul-tempered beast), I couldn't ask for more in a mum. Thank you, mummy-lady for always being there for me, even when I'm positively horrible, over-emotional and stressed-out. You're the best. Ever. Also, your chips are much better than dad's. Just thought you should know that.

Moving along (though I could talk about my mother for hours because she really is the best), this week, as a whole, has gone by quite quickly, a fact for which I cannot complain. I was hoping it would be quiet and not require much productivity. For the most part it didn't yet it still didn't seem like I had much time to just...relax. When I did try to relax, it was after hours, lying in bed trying to read or to watch TV. Let's just say that even with headphones on....there are things I can hear through my ceiling and, again, I wondered if a hard hat was going to be necessary. There were, um, other noises coming from above me last night, noises that I really, really did not want to hear, noises that told me far more about my upstairs neighbour than I ever, ever wanted to know. Sadly, I'm pretty certain that last night, everyone in our apartment building could hear those noises. I kept telling myself: "I'm moving soon, I'm moving soon..."

I am moving to a one level house with no walls attached to anyone else's dwelling. At this point, I can't help but think "THANK GOODNESS!!!!!"

Again, I'm not a prude, for the most part. People have fun with sex and I'm very happy for them but, well, some of us aren't having fun like that that. Some of us are pathetic enough to be in our beds alone, watching downloaded episodes of Iron Chef America and wondering exactly what on earth would possess someone to try to make ice-cream out of trout. However, there is a level of discretion that I do prefer, especially when you know the person having such a, uh, spanking good time.

Enough said about that.

So...it's been...a week. My blogs haven't been quite as exciting as they can be; I know my house-buying has to be getting a little old so I promise that I won't talk about it too much again. It's getting to be the new snow of my blog and if you've read any of my winter blogs, you know I love my snow. I forget sometimes that just because I love something doesn't mean that people love hearing about it all the time.

Anyway, sorry for the random blog but, it's Friday and I've noticed that on Friday's I have a bit of a habit of being random and uncollected. I'll be better by Monday. I'm hoping the weekend will refresh my brain and my stress level. If not...well, I'm sure you'll hear about it next week.

Happy Friday!

Thursday, May 7, 2009

A Grey and Humid Day...

It's a humid day out there today. It's not quite raining though it seems like it wants to. A cloud of steamy dampness is floating everywhere and everything feels just a little heavier than normal. I'm not used to the humidity anymore; very rarely is it humid in L.A. Instead, it's just an intense dry heat that feels like it's drying you from the outside in.

I have a feeling I'll be wishing for that heat come the summer months. I know here in the midwest, the thermometer can read a mild 80 degrees but when you factor in the humidity, it feels like it's 105 degrees out there.

Yet, like everything else, everything seems better from a distance. I know I used to HATE that Los Angeles desert heat. The intensity of it is insane. You can feel the heat beneath the soles of your shoes, sinking up from the asphalt. There are 'heat traps,' areas that store the heat and when you find one, it feels as though you are trapped in an oven. The air takes your breath away and you long for a breeze to make the heat fade, just a little.

Then, when the breeze does creep up, it's hot and sultry and it makes you sweat instead of providing a reprieve from the sun-baked world.

It's the nights the provide the relief in the end. That's the beauty of living in a desert. The days will roast you, turning everything yellow. But the nights are cool, chilly even. It's a sharp contrast and it means that if you leave your windows open, the night air will provide at least a little relief.

That's the different between the heat of humidity and the heat of the desert. There's no escape from the sticky air. Here, at night, it will remain so that without air conditioning, even a thin sheet while you sleep is enough to make you feel as though you're being strangled.

Summer is my least favourite season. It always has been. When I was in school, I enjoyed not having to go to school and having the weeks of freedom that the summer holiday provided. I do appreciate the fact that the world is warm and sunny and the flowers are blooming but I don't enjoy the inevitable onslaught of summer heat, 'the dog days of summer' as they're known. I like the mornings, the dew fresh on the grass, drenching my feet as I walk. I like the evenings when the sun begins to set, the sound of crickets chorusing and bringing in the night. It's the days I don't like. I feel like I should be outside because I can be but then when the heat starts to prickle, the idea of being inside in the air conditioning, a cool drink at my fingertips starts to appeal more.

It's not that I don't appreciate summer. I know a lot of people like the outdoors and love that they can stay out longer and enjoy the warmth. They do things like swim and go camping. I don't like camping. I like swimming though I tend to think of it more as 'flailing in the water.' I like to water dance which means I twirl and float and splash a lot to the rhythm of the music in my head. The trouble with that is that I'm the only one who knows I'm water dancing, everyone else worries in case I'm drowning or they complain that I'm splashing too much.

I do appreciate summer food. I love salads and fruits and vegetables. I love walking barefoot in the grass. I love spraying my parent's dogs with the hose. I call that "The Hose Game." Sadly, now when I ask the dogs "Who wants to play the hose game?!" (with great enthusiasm, I might add), they scurry away the minute I edge towards the hose pipe.

Summer will be here soon enough. For now, I'm going to continue to enjoy spring and hope this humid spell passes. Unless it brings with it a nice thunderstorm to break the air, it's going to get old rather quickly. I don't like days that begin with a grey nothingness; I want them to do something.

Yet, I suppose in a month or two, I'll be wishing for the milder temperatures of days like this and wondering why I was complaining. For now, there's still some Spring to enjoy, the tulips are in full swing and the scent of lilacs hangs in the air. This, I have missed over the past few years. If it comes with a side of humidity, I think I can live with that.

Happy Thursday!

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Oh, To Be Nine Again...

Today is one of those days where I have a million little ideas for things to blog about but mostly they're lost in the haze of my mind which is currently sluggish with sleeplessness and stressed about life.

It's during somewhat stressful times that I have a strange little yearning to be a kid again. Not a high-school type kid but back to about nine or ten. Life was so much simpler then. I was old enough to understand some things but blissfully ignorant of others. I probably have a completely different notion of how I was as a child to the way I really was but I suppose that's true of everything.

I was a reader, just as I am now. At that age, I think I was obsessed with Enid Blyton books. If you're not British, the name might not ring a bell but, trust me, she was the queen of children/young adult books at my age. She was a pre-J.K. Rowling if you take away the magic and just focus on life at Hogwarts. Of course, now, she's horribly dated but when you devoured books as quickly as I did at that age, you tended not to mind.

I know my mother used to want me to play with dolls. I really, really tried. I had the dolls. I had a pram. I had a tea-set. I'd get everything set up and I realized that I'd much sooner drink the tea myself and read a book than try to pretend my stupid dolls were talking. Which is ironic, given that I like my imagination and still use it as much as possible. I just didn't get dolls. They didn't do anything. Well, ok, so I had one that you could give a bottle and it would pee. At the time, I thought that was actually pretty cool. Now I wonder what possessed me to think a doll peeing was cool. Maybe it's because I've held babies and they've peed on me. When you have baby-pee on you, you tend to realize that it's not cool. It's actually a bit vile, actually. Fortunately, I've liked all the babies that have peed on me so I didn't drop them in disgust and say "EWW! GET IT AWAY!". Not that I didn't think about it.

Now, my brother and I did have these cool bath toys that my relatives from Germany brought us. They were little boys that were standing up holding their you-know-whats. When you filled them with water and squeezed them, they would send shoots of pee at one another. When you're a kid, that really is one of the funniest things ever. I'm sure my mother got tired of us. We tended not to care where the water streams actually went.

It's amazing how easily amused you are as a child. Then again, being totally honest, if I had one of those peeing boy dolls, I'd probably still think it was one of the funniest things ever.

Yet aside from the peeing dolls, I just never really understood what to do with them. The dolls were never forced on me; I actually used to ask for them for Christmas. Then when I got them, I would change their clothes and bath them and then...that was it. There were times when I'd beg to take my dolls in their pushchair or pram up the road to the shops with us when my mother would go. She'd sigh and let me knowing full well that she'd get stuck pushing the dolls pram/pushchair home because I'd be bored of it. My mother was very good to me and let me do it anyway.

Truthfully, all I ever really wanted to do was curl up with a book when I could. I was an active little kid, enrolled in all kinds of activities like ballet, brownies, gymnastics and country-dancing. Yet I still managed to be an avid reader, pulling out a book whenever there was a lull in the world around me. I could escape into the books, become part of the world, feverishly tearing through each word to get to the next.

Nowadays, I still like to do that. It's just harder. My fellow writer, Samantha Elliot, wrote a blog last week called "Embracing How I used to Be" in which she, too wondered why it was harder to find time to read, how her priorities had changed over time.

Truth be told, I wonder that too, sometimes. To escape into a book these days is more of a luxury than a necessity, the way it seemed to be back then. I find time but there's always something else to do, something that calls louder. I have more responsibilities, more awareness of the fact that while I want to be reading, there are other things I have to do. Yet, when I look at it, do I really have to do them? Can't I just say "phooey on it!" and read anyway?

I can. Occasionally, I do. Sometimes the appeal of a book is so strong, it allows me to ignore the world around me for a while. Sometimes, when life gets too stressful, the pull of a book allows me to escape and ignore life for a while and, for the most part, I emerge from my reading session feeling better, realizing that nothing is ever as bad as it seems. Sometimes it takes a visit to another world, another person's life to realize that the black cloud of stress and anxiety is really just a series of small events and if I take each one at a time, I'll look back and wonder what I was so worried about when it's all passed.

Yet it doesn't stop me from looking back and wishing I was nine again somedays. Give me a Cherry Coke and an Enid Blyton book and I'd be perfectly happy. I might even attempt to play with dolls again. You never know, maybe I'd like them this time.

Though I doubt it.

Happy Wednesday.

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