A Journal of My Mid-Life Crisis
7 February 1999 - All Over the Map
I've got a lot of random odds and ends this week, which is probably a sign that I should just go ahead and do entries more often, but that is a move I am not ready to make.
Part 1: Hell with Fluorescent Lighting
I notice odd patterns among people I work with, things that reveal a subconcious pattern in the way our bosses hire us. Project teams are composed of former New Yorkers, of chocoholics, of people who studied viola in 4th grade. My current organization is united largely by a slightly twisted sense of humor.
I mention this partly to explain the section title, which came from email circulated in our group this week. Among the suggestions of one-liners that should be on buttons or t-shirts was "An office is Hell with fluorescent lighting." It hit home when we had our monthly division "all-hands" meeting. Our division head was trying to make a point about how stressful our program director's job has been lately. He started off talking about how he usually thinks we work in a pretty good place, with big offices, lots of windows, comfortable chairs, bagels to eat, etc.. But, being from the midwest, he sometimes envies farmers, who get to be outside and enjoy the rhythms of the natural world. Then he reminds himself that every now and then the farmer has to shovel out a barn full of manure and the envy goes away. But the person who has to envy the farmer is the guy who cleans out septic tanks, who knows that the next day all he has to look forward to is cleaning out yet another septic tank. "This week," he concluded "Dan has been envying the septic tank cleaner."
I, on the other hand, had an excellent week at work. I have probably solved a problem that has been festering for over two years, simply by asking one person one question. We've been wrestling forever and ever over one requirement in a specification and it essentially turned out that the person who everyone thought was just being a jerk about it didn't actually understand the way everyone else was defining the parameter the requirement involves. It's not quite closed yet and I'm not breaking out any champagne until everything is signed off, but it's now down to wordsmithing.
I also mentioned finding patterns in work groups because it is the real reason that people do or don't get hired, even though it's rarely conscious on the part of the person doing the hiring. When you interview a person, you already know they are technically qualified for the job. You talk with them to get some sense of how well they'd fit in. I once interviewed a guy whose response to the standard "why are you looking for a new job?" question was "Hughes treats me like shit." I wasn't particularly offended by the language, but was bothered that he was so clueless about business etiquette as to badmouth his current employer. I found myself wondering what tactless things he would say to the Air Force or to contractors. In short, he wasn't the right person for a job in an environment where people skills are often as important as technical knowledge. I think about this every time I read another story about an affirmative action related lawsuit.
Part 2: Storytelling
I am making a concious effort to tell some older stories that I haven't done in a while. Toward that end, I had planned to tell "The Baker Woman and the Miller's Daughter" at Long Beach Storytellers on Wednesday. But, when I got there, I realized it was February and that meant time for a love story. So I dug out "The Neglected Princess" instead. After I told it, Nancy asked me if it was new, and I realized it's actually about six years old now. And it still exists only in my head, not on paper or on tape. I really ought to tape it, at least. At the risk of sounding immodest, it's a damn good story.
I was supposed to go to a workshop with Diane Wolkstein on Friday night, but that got canceled. It's just as well since I was exhausted. Part of my exhaustion from was having been up late on Thursday night because I went to the Dreamshapers' meeting in North Hollywood. True Thomas is trying to get me involved in Dreamshapers and I am trying to figure out what I want to do. I think he's doing a great job of developing regular venues. But I have reservations because there are significant differences in his ideas about what should be happening in Los Angeles with respect to storytelling and mine. I still think there's a way that I can work with True to our mutual benefit, but I need to sort out what I am and am not willing to do.
Part 3: Bibliomania
I have finally gotten caught up on reading back issues of Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine. There's a particularly delicious story by Jeffrey Deaver in the latest, a story which had the rare quality of both surprising and disturbing me. And I read Five Novels by Daniel Pinkwater, which I bought largely because it includes the long out-of-print Alan Mendelsohn, the Boy From Mars. Then I went on to Ellen Ullman's Close to the Machine and I'm not quite sure what to think about it. It was interesting, but I'm not sure it reveals more about how technogeeks think than, say, Ceej's on-line journal.
So the unread stack is shrinking. Most of my books are in storage, which is not entirely satisfactory, but I just don't have the room in my apartment. A lot of the unread books are things that are "improving." Genre fiction, social commentary and books about Shackleton get read quickly, but the classics sit around for ages. I've been stuck halfway through Thucydides for about two years now, for example.
Which reminded me of something from high school. Somewhere I had gotten a booklet that listed things that college-bound students would be expected to have read before starting their higher education. What seems weird to me now is that I actually believed I would be at some disadvantage if I hadn't read, say, Sartre's No Exit. I don't regret having read lots of "great books" but they haven't made a measurable difference in my life. They come in handy when playing trivia, but that's about it. Still, the large number of important books in the unread stack suggest I haven't gotten past the idea that I'm somehow obligated to prefer these to the fluff I usually read.
Despite which, instead of another attempt to slog through Thucydides, I started Elizabeth Ann Scarborough's The Godmother's Web instead. I like the way Scarborough uses folklore in this series, but I don't care much for Native American folklore, so it will be interesting to see if she can make it work for me.
Part 4: Musical Evangelism
I finally got around to sending tapes of assorted odds and ends I had promised to various people, all of whom have probably long since forgotten about the promises. The net result of this is that a casual acquaintance in Calgary will hear "Nobody's Moggy Now" as it was meant to be sung. Ron will hear that and Adam McNaughton's "Oor Hamlet" and can introduce them to his folk song club. And Bill will try to memorize McNaughton's "The Scottish Song" which is a sequel of sorts to "Oor Hamlet". Assuming anyone can get past the thick Glaswegian accent, that is.
Making the tapes reminded me of how much I love to introduce people to music they might not otherwise have heard. The tricky part is deciding just what they might like. Sometimes it's easy - I know Saori and Bob like The Tannahill Weavers and The Old Blind Dogs, so Sheer Pandemonium is a safe bet. But I've taken on the task of expanding John's musical horizons and that's going to be a bit more challenging. I'm guessing that someone who thinks Sinatra is the pinnacle of musical achievement will like The Cats and Jammers. The harder part is figuring out how he'll react to music I am quite passionate about that is not as easily categorized. What can I tell someone to get them to listen to Pierre Bensusan, Malavoi, Tom Ze or Steve Riley and the Mamou Playboys? (The latter is a particular challenge as I've gotten the impression that Cajun music is essentially unknown outside North America.)
Part 5: Compulsions R Us
A couple of weeks back I said I'd explain why I buy 8 pieces of sesame candy when I buy it. This is a really stupid compulsive thing, but fixations on numbers are a common problem for compulsive people. As Lauren would say, "they have medication for that now." But it doesn't disrupt my life enough for me to be willing to pursue pharmacological solutions. At any rate, even numbers are more comfortable than odd numbers for me and powers of two especially so. If I have to have an odd number of something, it should be a multiple of 5. Numbers like 9 make me really uneasy.
It's not like I go around counting grains of rice I eat. It's pretty unlikely that anyone would ever realize that I won't take the last M&M in the dish because it's one M&M and not two. I don't think I do this with anything other than food, either, but it took me so many years to even notice that I did this with certain foods that I may very well be running subconcious word counts all the time.
Now, how many lines is this entry?
Copyright 1999 Miriam H. Nadel
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