Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Hello again

It's been a while.

The last few days have been difficult. Sick pet. Sick me (a fresh cold). Ridiculous weather... 42 and rain. A lovely, late fall day in mid-Spring. Other stressors.

Does everyone who "creates" something analyze it? I know I do. The things I write sometimes I look at and evaluate them. Did I make a point. Did I HAVE a point? Sometimes I think I'm just a hack. I've made money off this hackery, so obviously I have SOMETHING. But how does it rate?

Wait, don't answer that...

Unless it's with a heartfelt rave! But seriously, folks. I have doubts. The erosion of the last few days has ebbed me to a low place.

Maybe I'm just too tired.

Neil said "the days fly past til we lose our grasp..." I hate the speed of time these days. I never feel like I have enough time to take in what's happening. There's such a rush to get somewhere. But where? Is the destination going to be worth the days spent getting there?

I admit to a little fear. I worry about many things. Am I living my life the right way? Do I matter?

It seems like I rarely get out of April unscathed. I really hate April.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

My Lucky Life

I'm five weeks into the new job, and I really love it. A great group of co-workers. Everyone seems to be rowing in the same direction.

An anecdote:

About two weeks ago I made a recommendation that was valid, but rejected. It wasn't anything huge; a superior made a call and that was that.

A few days ago he came by and sat next to me for a minute. He said he "owed me an apology" and proceeded to say that in retrospect he perhaps should have used my recommendation, and that he felt badly about how quickly he dismissed it. He then told me that he hoped I would continue to bring ideas to him.

I was floored.

First off, it was initially his call and I respected it. I didn't take it personally that he didn't OK my idea. I felt it would be a good thing, but in the heat of the moment we went another way. It's his job to make those choices -- and my job to offer suggestions that may further the mission.

But the list of work environments where someone will come back later and do what he did is very, very, very short. Especially in my experience.

Now that I think of it, a few nights earlier I had another superior send me a chat note more or less about the same type of thing. She also offered a mea culpa.

This isn't just professional -- it's courteous, considerate and the mark of good people. It's kind of like when you send out a job application and await a response. I understand that places get deluged with applicants, but the professional and human thing to do is to at least acknowledge receipt. While a personal response/rejection would be ideal, it's 2013, and it's pretty easy to send an automated form/response that tells people their submission has been received, and if they pass muster, further communication will be issued. Additionally, once a decision has been made, those who weren't selected should receive notification. People are counting on getting those jobs; leaving them hanging is cruel and unprofessional.

Having looked for a good job for many months, I am perhaps still in a honeymoon phase, and maybe that's making this good situation seem even rosier.

But I don't think that's it. I genuinely like these people and this company. It feels like a great fit. And every day I get to go to work, I am excited and enthused about it. It's stimulating, fun and ... well, after those first two, do you need anything else?

All this to say that, thanks for your patience, dear visitors, if you've been checking in for fresh updates. I've been doing other things and haven't had quite as much time to write. My days off are now Wednesdays and Thursdays, and I spend them doing "normal" things that the gainfully employed do: running errands, attending to housekeeping duties, and so on.

I've been mindful that I haven't written much, and I don't want to let that lapse. Writing has been a tremendously important and useful outlet for my energies in this last two years of substantial transition. It's been perhaps my most reliably positive productive activity.

And those of you who have stopped by have no idea how much your mostly silent support has strengthened and encouraged me. Just to know that my thoughts are interesting enough for you to spend the occasional few minutes often fed my soul and spirit immeasurably.

Thank you.

I've got a lot of things that I've got to do to keep building and rebuilding my life. Expressing myself here is one that needs to be maintained. Count on it.

Friday, July 5, 2013

Here we go...

I start my new job tonight.

It's a great opportunity. In a couple of ways.

First there's the job itself. It's with a reliable company that has been in business almost 200 years. My two visits onsite have revealed a commitment of resources and a professional, talented team. I'm thrilled to start work with my new colleagues.

But there is a bigger opportunity.

When I started my dream job in LA, there was a flicker of self-doubt as I began. I was in a relatively new industry, among top-flight practitioners, and I was clearly the greenhorn of the bunch. Yet, I had tremendous responsibility. Was I up to it? I wondered.

But then I had to give myself a pep talk. It was a little Stuart Smalley-esque, but relevant anyway. I knew I had the ability, although still much to learn. I had to give it time and trust my instincts.

I think it worked. My last point to myself was: "You're in Hollywood. Play the part."

A new job is an opportunity for a truly fresh start. You haven't made any mistakes. The shine is totally on your star.

What will you do with that?

Don't squander it. Don't give anything away. You never get a second chance to make a first impression. I want to wow these people. I want to have them come away from our time together and have them say "Wow, we struck gold with that one. What a great addition to the group."

How do I accomplish this? These things are on my list:

  • Have a great attitude. Be positive, encouraging, and involved. Don't bring your personal problems into the mix.
  • Be a team player. Help out whenever, however you can. Take on more.
  • Be reliable. This means things like being punctual count.
  • Listen and learn. Even an old dog can learn new tricks -- if you're open to them.
  • Push yourself. I've got enough experience that I know a lot and don't go into this job as a rookie. But coasting is a mistake. Develop your talents. Find ways to improve. Set lofty goals.
I'm ready. Let's go.

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Time is on my side

Yes it is.

One of the big worries that has cropped up in my mind the past two years while looking for work is how much time has passed.

Not just the time lost in the search, but the time in my life.

I "think young" (Rodney D. Young?) but I'm also a realist: I'm at an age where age discrimination happens. Employers think they can get someone cheaper, more compliant, more tech-savvy, whatever.

I worried about this, although I honestly don't feel as if I was ruled out of anything because of my age. I made it onto the short list of two great jobs in LA.

When I didn't get the editorship of the alt-weekly I interviewed for, and the job was given to a 20-something woman who actually listed babysitting on her Linked In profile and transitioned into the job from her previous gig selling dresses, I had some concerns. Was it age that worked against me there? It sure wasn't experience.

I tend to think that my failures there, however, were not mine. Science has determined fairly conclusively that island populations tend to regress and die out because of the incestuous, limited gene pool. My previous location was somewhat of an island, and I think that isolated situation worked against me. I always felt I wasn't "of" that place as much. I not only wasn't in the "Good 'ol boy" network, I wanted no part of it.

The concept of a meritocracy is always what I want. Can you do the job? Will you devote yourself to the WORK first? Will all of your efforts be in the service of the profession?

That's how I operate in a job. I just can't be half-assed about it. And, I have no tolerance for workplace politics and bullshit that have NOTHING to do with why you're there.

Who has the energy for that? If you're pouring yourself into the work, maximizing your abilities to improve whatever business you are in, there shouldn't be any time left over for frivolous, non-business-related game-playing.

But where I was, this was a significant part of the equation. It wasn't what you knew, it was more who you knew. You had to "manage up." You had to suck up. That's not my strength.

I manage "down." The people who actually do the work are more important than those who oversee the work. Think about it: generals don't fight the wars, soldiers do.

So my policy has always been, focus on the soldiers.

But that place is long behind me now. And very soon, I will be working at a place that has looked at my body of work and said, "this person can help us be better."

And I will help them be better.

I'm relieved, excited, very happy... and validated. I was evaluated on objective merits. That's all I've ever wanted.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Some Good, Some Bad

I landed a longer-term part-time assignment last month. At the time it happened I was told (twice) that the job paid at a rate of $17 per hour.

Not Walton money, but money that would come in handy, and money beyond the scale of the other jobs I'd been working for the district. As a classroom aide, I made $66 per day. As a substitute teacher, the rate was $80 per day; $85 after 20 days of service.

The job was to provide one-on-one monitoring and work with a troubled six-year-old boy with fairly pronounced anger issues. On May 16, the kid had a meltdown in the classroom, throwing items, screaming, and uttering a variety of colorful threats and expletives, the highlight of which was telling a girl he'd put something in her vagina.

I don't think I even knew that word until I was a teenager.

Anyway, this type of work isn't my favorite thing. It's unwinnable. The most optimistic outcome is to manage the situation, and hopefully provide enough guidance and oversight to let the class proceed somewhat normally.

After four of the five weeks, I'm fairly pleased with the results. He's reduced his outbursts significantly; the last few days of the week went quite well.

Just not for me. The district has decided to fuck me over, now saying that the person who told me (twice) that the rate for this gig was $17 per hour was mistaken, and that I'd get the sub teacher rate.

Now, odds are very likely that had they said at the time of the job that the rate was regular teacher sub pay, I'd have taken it.

But that wasn't what they told me. Contractually, I think this is no contest: they offered, I accepted, then they said they fucked up but too bad so sad. But I have no hammer. If I fight them on this, I could probably win. But it'd be the last time they let me work there.

Welcome to the Modern American Workplace, where you're going to eat it.


During class Friday, before I found out what was happening to my pay situation, I got a call. I quickly shoved it to voicemail, but the local number intrigued me. A little later I had the chance to listen to the message, and return the call.

Guess who's got a job interview Friday?

Friday, May 17, 2013

It's An Anniversary

Two years ago I got laid off.

It was an all-around shitty deal. As I've come to believe, layoffs are a failure of the top management. Only in sports are those at the top given the axe. If the strategy fails and the players screw up, the players don't get fired. The coach gets fired.

Too bad it doesn't work like that in the real world. The big boss can completely earn more than he's worth, then set a strategy ensuring failure, and then when things inevitably go south, what happens? Layoffs.

How does this make sense? Do the workers in staff positions make the big decisions that run the thing aground? Of course not.

Anyway. The bureaucrat responsible for my layoff was a cold fish who to this day has never worked in the private sector. After sucking at the government teat his whole life, he landed this cush job making six figures via a contact in his good-ol-boy network. As he no doubt learned in his government gig, he instilled a climate of silo management and fear, developing a total top-down, suck-up-to-move-up atmosphere.

Although the business was on the surface very people-oriented, that wasn't this guy's personality. Everyone else there (with one notable exception) was good with people. This guy was just a phony. I still cannot fathom how an NPO with an overall budget of $1.5 million a year can justify paying its CEO more than $100,000 a year. But I guess that's me.

The title of this post is a poke. Bearing this title, Mr. Warmth used to send a company-wide e-mail every year on an employee's anniversary. I always saved them to use for employee news. What I found out after the first year was that he essentially re-sent the same e-mail every year. I thought it was lame and insulting. First, that someone was that lazy who couldn't be bothered to create something authentic and not canned every year. We didn't even have 30 employees... it wasn't like he had to look hard to find out about his people. But that would have taken an effort.

The limp attempt at annual recognition was apparently not worth the bother. For me, I found it demeaning. I wasn't so stupid that I didn't know he'd made no effort to be heartfelt, sincere and original.

This is not what this post was supposed to be about.


The last two years have been hard. We had gotten out of debt and built savings of $10,000. Not Rockefeller, but more than I'd ever had on hand in my life.

Then suddenly I was without an income. I got some UI for a while, then managed to land a part-time job. Then we moved, and I started all over. The savings is almost completely gone. Further, we now have some debt. I don't want to get into the gory details, but let's just say without a major change, we're beholden to some others for the near-term future. That +10k is now the opposite.

All because a short-sighted exec with no real-world business experience was running the show. Military men aren't great at taking suggestions from people smarter than they are, unless they're higher in rank.

Yes, Colonel Clink, I am and will always be smarter than you. I don't know how you sleep at night. You put my family in a real hard way. You put others in an even tougher position. Did you ever think about cutting your own salary to make sure others weren't hurt? No, you didn't. I know because your pay is public record. You're one of those clueless hypochristians.

But this is not what this post was supposed to be about.


Since December, I have been able to work on a freelance basis for our town's public school system. Sometimes it's as a classroom aide, other times it's as a teacher. It's been a marvelous experience, potentially life-altering as I feel a real calling for this work.

I've always been someone who felt like money was great, but not as important if it meant sacrificing some of the fabric of my soul.

Journalism at one time felt that way. There was a nobility to providing a daily historic record of our lives.

Then the business got sold to slackers and hucksters who put a price on truth and booked passage on a slow boat to Idontgiveafuckistan. The people like me who were passionate about the work wound up getting either squeezed out because we'd accrued a living wage and benefits, or because we weren't glossy-eyed kids yet to see the sellout and less ready to question the drift.

Those of us who were journalism lifers had always believed it was holy to confront authority and bullshit. We were all a little stunned to realize how that rot and corruption and mission-shirk had crept into the doored, corner offices. It had always been us against them -- them being the charlatans and chiselers outside the fourth estate. When we found out that the charlatans and chiselers were now our bosses, we became hunted almost to extinction.

Alas, this is also not what this post was supposed to be about.


What this post is about is that after working sporadically with these schools, I've not only enjoyed the work but approached each task with the utmost professionalism I can bring to the job. So if I come in expecting to do one thing, and find that I needed to be reassigned to something else, I've smiled and taken on each challenge. This has created some interesting days.

Yet at the end of each one, I've emerged tired, but sublimely happy to be in that environment. I've faced things I never have before, but tried to observe others, use good judgment and pursue the goal of helping young children learn in any way I can contribute.

I always worry about the things I don't do as well with, but I think that's normal for anyone with a conscience. At least, it should be.

This morning I was slated to sub as an aide in a kindergarten classroom. I'd worked with them before, they're great kids.

I was in the room, and went down to the gym to help corral the pre-first bell students. They assemble in the gym awaiting the start of the day.

This morning, the last 10 minutes prior to the bell was a "dance party." Let me tell you, if you don't think seeing more than 100 students dancing, a lot of them in lines, is a great start to the day, you've got things to learn. Adorable.

Kids this age are just without guile.

When I got back to the classroom, I was asked to go down to the office. Turns out I needed to work with a fourth grader who has someone assigned to him to help keep him on point.

I've been put in this role a few times and it isn't my favorite thing. But I admire the district's devotion to the kids who need a little something more, as well as its devotion to making sure the other students have a good shot at a less-distracting work environment.

The day went well. The student was a good kid with some focus issues. I don't know if Hank done it this a way, but I always try and find a way to make a connection with these kids. It's that reporter training coming in handy: if you can get someone to relate to you on a personal level, and break down that barrier, then you can get to some truth.

Kids have underdeveloped minds. That's what school is about, teaching them to develop their intellect. If some kid has some issues that stand in the way of that, when they're my charge I want to help them get over or around those hurdles so that they can get to the learning part of the thing.

I was very cautious and cool around my student this morning. I was told by his teacher -- a phenomenal educator -- that the student had a good rapport with the regular I was standing in for, and that he was sometimes cool to new people. So I felt it was very important to be non-threatening and calm.

In time I found moments to help. The breakthrough came in art class.

For this class, the teacher had an assignment and allowed the students to move to a new location if they wanted to.

He sat at a different table with three other boys. In moments, two of them got up and left the table. My student sensed rejection. He laid his head on his crossed arms on the desk. I think he started to cry. I sat down and placed my hand on his back and asked what had happened.

"They didn't want to sit with me. They left me."

"That's not your fault. That's their decision. I won't leave you. I will stay with you, I want to see your work."

It seemed to turn then. Two other boys at the table completed this odd set. I was pleased when the art teacher came by later, smiled, and said "This is the right mix."


A bit later I was called back to the office.

The Conductor told me of an opportunity to do 1-on-1 work with a student through the end of the school year, which runs through June 21. Five weeks.

Of course I will do it. And at almost double the rate of pay, that money will be a real shot in the arm. We need it.

But I would have done it at the same rate, because these people have shown faith in me. They make me feel valued.

Coming two years after someone threw me away like I was trash, it gives me hope.