Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Day 285: Little Miracles

OK, so I crushed the interview. Had a solid, well-articulated answer to every question (well, unless they caught my bizarre slip of counting off "A, B, 3..." WTF?) and I had two questions back for them that they responded well to and showed I grasped the core work issues.

But I always feel like I interview pretty well. I do the homework, but in my time as a journalist I've been the questioner so many times the forum doesn't rattle me. I always get a little nervous at the start because of the normal butterflies when you get into that arena and it's on.

Encouraging words at the end, as they tell me they have a "tough choice" and they will be making the call soon.

For what they need, I've got all the tools. That's one advantage to a few trips around the block. I feel good about it. I'd hate to be a bridesmaid once again, but it's out of my hands. For what it's worth, the entire situation was providential and fast-moving. Yesterday I was delaying sending in my package because I wanted to take the hounds to the park. Then the car died, so I punted and came back in and completed the application. Two hours later I had an interview set up, and that was today. So that car stalling out was fortuitous.

I've had a few of these little miracles occur in my life (thanks, Jeremy Roenick; thanks, Tom Petty cover band)... these "ZuZu's petals" moments. Maybe this is another one.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Day 284: A New Hope

(Winks for you Star Wars fans...)

So, a really good opening fell out of the sky here Saturday, and the package with my credentials is already with the right people.

This one is unexpected, but it would be a strong, strong fit. Obviously one's need to have a job causes a certain amount of flexibility... you might take something that's a little less than ideal simply out of desperation. That's not the case here. This is a position that contributes something excellent to the world. And that's something that outweighs any sort of other incentive, really.

I'd like to do something good. Newspapers were good because they used to be the Fourth Estate. Not so much now.

PR was a high-paying fun job, but at the end of the day, you weren't adding a lot to the world karmically. I loved the job but it wasn't exactly solving problems.

This one is a prize. I'm going to be hopeful.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Day 280: Beauty

There's more than you realize. Even when you think it's very dark. Darkness can be beautiful. Penn is black as coal and at night I can hardly see him outside. Still beautiful.

Some people believe the world is only a few thousand years old. Science says it's more than 4.5 billion years old. Since only a very few of us even live 100 years, the age of the earth doesn't matter as much... our time is incredibly short.

Do me a favor. Hell, do yourself a favor. Even if you only do this for five minutes, it will help: breathe in the life and the beauty around you. Listen to some inspiring music. Look at the sky. Look at the trees, their bark, their leaves perhaps beginning to hint at budding... watch them sway in the wind. See the perfect nature in an animal or any other living thing. See the perfect nature in a stone... it was alive once.

Give your mind a rest from thinking about bills, plans, politics, errands, tasks, sports, drama... these precious seconds are racing by. Will it give you perspective and peace to enjoy this small part of your history? Notice the things in your world that will be here in some way long after you are gone.

Last year I was in Muir Woods. The redwoods there are centuries old. They have seen more than we can imagine. It was an honor to be in their presence. Their silence was important to consider.

Allegedly humanity is at its height now. Technology has given us capabilities that would make us seem like supermen to people living when our great-grandparents were born. We can fly. We can see global events as they happen from anywhere. We have conquered many lethal diseases.

Yet we still hate too much. We kill too much. We have taken a lot of this technology and used it to build walls instead of bridges. What is wrong with us?

This is why I want you to see the life and the beauty around you. You need to get in touch with what is real. Things that endure. The planet endures, despite our best efforts to kill it. Love your mother.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Day 279: Who I am

This will be a typical rambler. I didn't even know I was going to write it until two minutes ago, so, as Di would say, "Bear with."

First I will presume that everyone can share in some of these sentiments. And if you can't... for God's sake, share your secrets to success with others! We can use the encouragment.

I am intense. This is not always a good thing. When it comes to competition, I can be a real pain in the ass. In work environments this can be a good thing because it means I will always put a great effort forward and try my best. I want to represent myself and my company through a great job. However, in other settings being intense/competitive does not always work. Instead of enjoying a friendly game of softball or basketball, or fantasy football, I can be cutthroat. Why? What does it matter? Winning is fun, but playing should be its own reward. This is something I must improve.

I am loyal. But I haven't always been. In fact there was a time when Team Me was the only team that could count on me. As Henry Hill said in "Goodfellas" -- fuck you, pay me. This also is not pretty. I'm a lot more of a team player now. If you've stuck with me through the worst of times, that carries a lot of equity. This list is short, BTW. Being loyal means being trusting, and it's hard for me to trust people a lot. I've been burned. Who hasn't?

I have faith. Not faith in religious things... about that, I have many unanswered questions. I have studied religious behavior and religions a great deal. Let's face it: as living beings, we cannot know what happens next. My faith is in the wish of most beings on this planet to be good. I think we mostly strive to be good, to live good lives, to do no harm. I believe that we can all peacefully coexist. I also believe we may be a long way from it, maybe not even in my lifetime. But it's possible. I also have faith that someone will hire me not just to plug a hole but to add someone to their team who will live that profession. It's why I cannot bring myself to apply for a job promoting widgets when I don't care for widgets. I could never represent weapon-makers or Masters of War. I must pursue things that share my values.

Love is not all you need. But it is a lot of it. You have to have the capacity to care deeply about people, even those who don't necessarily return that feeling. This is difficult... sometimes you have to wait a long time. It finally worked with my father. I wanted to give up but I couldn't make that last step. I'm glad I didn't.

I have many flaws to correct. I'm somewhat self-absorbed. This has actually gotten worse as my joblessness has gone on... I spend so much time worrying about it that I don't "water the plants" around me and take time to provide the attention to other matters that I should.

I'm educated just enough to think that I have the answer for just about everything. This is obnoxious and a bad habit I need to adjust. I don't like not being at the top of my class, but sometimes I don't know everything. (It was so hard to write that last sentence.) I want to be the smartest and the best. A lot of times I am. But not all the time. So I need to get over myself.

I don't adhere to Lent, but lint adheres to me. But seriously folks... I'm going to take the season of Lent and conduct an experiment. I'm going to make some sacrifices, starting with soda. It's out. I'm also going to try and avoid all fast food.

Those are the easy choices. The more challenging ones will be trying to be a more considerate and less selfish person. I'm going to try and be the kind of person my dogs think I am.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Day 271: Carpet-bombing

How should one consider the "carpet-bomb" approach when looking for a new job?

An old friend of mine is a very successful ad salesman whose philosophy for success emphasizes the value of "carpet-bombing" potential clients. Carpet-bombing is a military strategy (also known as saturation bombing) that targets a particular area with a rain of bombs covering the area like a carpet. It's pretty brutish, but effective if you want to indiscriminately flatten a certain target. The drawback is it's a very unfocused approach -- but it's unfocused because everything in sight is the target.

Harris appropriated this idea for ad sales. His thinking was if you were working 10 potential clients and succeeded in getting half of them, you had five clients. But, you might only get one or two. And then you've spent a great deal of time with not a great return on your time investment.

But by carpet-bombing 50 clients, a 10-percent success rate yields the same ROI as getting half of the 10 you courted. For Harris, making lots of sales calls meant scoring lots of wins, and the percentage of success was less crucial.

It's a bottom-line approach. Results. My friend makes some pretty good money.

Using the carpet bomb approach in applying for jobs is going to be my strategy the next couple of days. Now, the drawback to this approach in applying for jobs is that you're less able to craft 10 highly specific cover letters on a given day. There simply isn't time. As in the case of recruiting sales, providing lots of customer service and attention is a time-consuming effort. The problem is if that effort doesn't pay off with the sale, you've spent a great deal of time and resources on a dry hole.

Generally, I think you should go that route anyway. A well-conceived cover letter and the due diligence of strong research on a company's corporate persona and how it fits with your job goals is really the best way to make a strong first impression.

Carpet-bombing is going to require more generic cover letters. It's going to be harder to stand out that way. It's got some risk. In warfare, everything is blown up. Sometimes, useful targets and non-military casualties are often wiped out. This is obviously not optimal. If you're one of 500 applicants for a job and your cover letter is too generic, you're going to be just another faceless applicant.

Is that worth the risk?

I'm not sure. But I'm frustrated and so I'm going to change some things up. More than likely what this means is in an ideal day, I'll find one or two great prospects, and spend the hours needed to craft very considered and focused approach that might land an interview.

But in addition to that, I'm going to find some second-tier possibilities that could work. For those, they'll get the quickie cover letter and a place in the waiting line. And maybe one of those will work.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Day 268: Musical luck

There are some advantages to having been around a while. As I listen to the great Ryan Adams sing "Burning Photographs" I remember some of the great concerts I've been able to see.

I saw Ryan Adams in a tiny club in Dallas before he became "RYAN ADAMS." He was fronting a decent little band called Whiskeytown.

I saw The Clash on their "Combat Rock" tour at a bowling alley in Dallas. 1982. A day before they recorded their video for "Rock the Casbah" in Austin.

I saw ZZ Top in a hall that held about 1,200. Wintergarden Ballroom in Dallas.

I saw the Stones on a rainy Halloween day in 1981 at the Cotton Bowl.

I've seen Neil Young four times. Not often enough.

I've seen the Jacket three times now. The first was in a little club and I was on the front row.

I saw The Eagles on their Hotel California tour on 7-7-77. Some unknown named Jimmy Buffett opened for them.

I saw the Allman Brothers in August 1974, at the first concert held in Texas Stadium. The Marshall Tucker Band and Joe Walsh opened.

My first concert was Steely Dan opening for Elton John on his Goodbye Yellow Brick Road tour. August 1973 in the Cotton Bowl.

I saw the Who, with Stevie Ray Vaughan opening. Also at the Cotton Bowl.

I saw U2 four times, starting with their unforgettable fire tour. One of the best was when they played Texas Stadium with openers Bjork (fronting the Sugarcubes), and Public Enemy.

Who've you seen?

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Day 266: Unanswerable

Penn came to stay for a while on Tuesday. The Humane Society will have a pet adoption event from 1-4 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 11 at Petsmart in Fayetteville, AR.

Look at that face.

I know that a lot of pet people assign human emotions to animals. What I don't know is how much of that is imagined, and how much of it is real. I can say with confidence I've seen animals display characteristics that would indicate happiness, anger, sadness, shame, love...

Penn was abandoned... dumped on the side of a road. It's a miracle that he survived long enough to make it to the HS folks. If this winter had been like last winter, he probably would not have survived.

Which would be a shame, because he seems like he will be a great dog. He's smart. He's already close to mastering crate training and some basic commands such as "sit" and "stay." He is comfortable in a crate, and almost completely housebroken.

Yet some hellbound jerk ditched him alongside the road like a piece of garbage.

Look at that face. This picture was taken after about 10 hours at home with Penn the penguin. I've seen it a few times since. He has already grown attached to us. He has already found a favorite place on the couch... he wants to get so close to you as to be welded together. I saw that look on his face and thought about how tough his life had been in these few short months. He's had to fend for himself. He's a tiny little guy but growing. He's got some toughness -- he had to or he'd be dead -- but at heart he responds extraordinarily to attention and love. He wants to please.

When I took this picture I felt like his eyes were pleading with me to show him something positive, something good about people. Because most of the people in this guy's life have been unworthy. I don't want to disappoint him.

Someone once said we should aspire to be the person our dog thinks we are. A good goal. I want Penn to know that he's worthy of being loved. That shouldn't be that hard, because he's a sweet little dog.

M said something last night that was spot on: In a way, it's a good thing that Penn was dumped. Because the terrible person that did that has no business owning any animal, much less one as wonderful as this little guy.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Day 263: Snarkless

I woke up today determined to go snark-free this week.

Being a wiseacre is kind of my thing, but sometimes it just gets old. I've been trained to believe the cynicism and skepticism are quite useful tools. There's absolutely nothing wrong with a healthy questioning of the status quo: if you're not probing ways to make things better, then you might as well be dirt-napping.

But we live in an age of unrelenting carping and smart-assery, and it's just exhausting.

Now, I don't encourage the pendulum swinging too far in the other direction. If I have to choose between living in Snarkville or Pleasantville, I'll take Snarkville. It's more realistic. (Snark-related: "A pessimist is an optimist with experience.") Some people want everything filtered through rose-colored glasses, and a pig in a bowtie is still a pig. Snark is often honest with a dose of sarcasm. I think it's dangerous to look at our world and expect things to get better merely by having a positive attitude. You can't wish away the crap.

Where snark wears out its welcome is when it's just bitching about a problem with no solution proffered. I learned a while back that it's perfectly acceptable to complain about a work process or life situation, provided you've got some modifications in mind. If you rant about something and walk away, you're a crank. If you rant about something and produce possible course corrections, you're a person of action.

I hate not having a job. Lately I've had vivid dreams that are all "problem scenarios" and the entire dream consists of some Sisyphian task that can't be solved. Last night, I was trying to fix a customer problem that involved his credit card number. The card just wouldn't work, no matter how I tried to enter the numbers, call support, etc. That was the dream... endless entry of card numbers, never succeeding. Earlier this week I was in a building (that reminded me of the David Glass Technology Center) that I couldn't find a way out of... just this massive, cold, monolith with no readily discernible points of ingress and egress. Another recent dream involved a lengthy plane ride, followed by a lengthy cab ride, followed by arriving at another giant industrial building just long enough to sign my name once, followed by exiting the building, hailing a cab, and returning to the airport to fly home.

A little stressful. But I'm working on solutions. You have to try and put yourself in positive-aura situations. And so I'm taking a little snark break this week.

I announced this earlier, and scalawag Zak responded: "Screw you." So fortunately I'll have snark just a click away if I need it.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Day 262: Superb Owl

I wish I had been the one to come up with that...

So there's a big football game today. Naturally I will be watching, since it's the last one until February.

The first one I remember watching was SB IV between the Minnesota Vikings and the Kansas City Chiefs. I was 10. Since my two favorite teams were the Dallas Cowboys and the Oakland Raiders, I couldn't root for the Chiefs (a team that had abandoned Dallas for KC years earlier, and the Raiders' top divisional rival). The Vikings lost, a post-season tradition.

The next year Dallas made it, and lost in heartbreaking fashion to the Baltimore Colts. I had a poster of Dallas QB Craig Morton on my wall. After the devastating loss, in tears and bitter about Morton's three interceptions (two of which ended Dallas' last two possessions and set up the Colts' winning field goal with five seconds left in the game), I removed his poster from my bedroom wall.

My Cowboys finally won it all the next year, with my childhood hero, Bob Lilly (I wore his number in high school) making one of the game's biggest plays, sacking the Dolphins quarterback for a 29-yard loss. I have a picture of a group of neighborhood kids getting an autograph from Roger Staubach at Love Field before the Cowboys boarded the plane to go to New Orleans.

The 1972 Superb Owl I remember because it featured the hated Redskins losing to the only team to run the table in a season. The Dolphins won again in 1973. That game was played in Houston but I don't remember much of it because I had met my first "girlfriend" (i.e., the first girl who let me kiss her). I should have learned a valuable lesson then: the Superb Owl is much more important than a girl.

The next game was the Steelers' first win, a 16-6 snore over the hapless Vikes. That game featured a 2-0 halftime score.

The 1975 SB pitted the Steelers and my Boys. This game started my hate of the Steelers, who won with some ridiculous catches by Lynn Swann. The Cowboys had gotten to the big game that year via the first "Hail Mary" play (knocking off the top-seeded Vikes) and blowing out the Rams. We were so excited we went to Love Field to greet the plane as it returned from LA. Hundreds of fans were there. It was kind of nuts.

Oakland got their first title next season (beating the Vikes... I see a pattern here). I don't remember their SB win (behind coach John Madden) as much as I remember an epic playoff win over Pittsburgh to get there.

Dallas got their second of five Lombardis the next season, behind rookie RB Tony Dorsett. The blowout of the Broncos was facilitated by FOUR interceptions of their QB... some loser named Craig Morton. I should have put his poster back up for that one. I was a freshman in college and watched the game in a darkened dorm lounge with a bunch of other people.

The next year I had a TV and watched in my dorm room as the dreaded Steel Curtain got lucky against my Boys. Two words: Jackie Smith.

The Steelers won another one next year against the Rams. The Rams had knocked Dallas out in Staubach's last game. Mixed emotions. With four trophies, I was sick of Pittsburgh.

The next three SBs were also tough to take... each NFC representative (Philly, SF and Washington) beat Dallas in the NFC championship to get there. SF got there via "The Catch." I recently watched a replay of that game and it was like trauma therapy... SF would go on to be another team that became reviled as a matter of course from being a Cowboys fan.

I watched the Niners beat Cincy at the home of the Williams brothers, Jeff and Al.

The next six SBs were all blowouts, terrible games. After the 1988 season the Niners beat the Bengals on a last-minute, field-long TD drive that was a great finish, but the game was a bore prior to that (3-3 at the half). Plus, bombastic Dick Enberg and blowhard Merlin Olsen called the game. Yecch. I remember this game only for the ending and a ghastly injury to Tim Krumrie.

The next SB also sucked: Sf beat Denver 55-10.

The four following SBs were all Buffalo losses. Only the first one, Wide Right, was close. Dallas was back and won the last two, so that was pretty enjoyable. Dallas finally got revenge on Pittsburgh two years after that.

The Owls in the last decade have been fairly entertaining; all of the New England games have been memorable. Their first win, I won a hundy betting on them... they were huge underdogs. Their win over Carolina was an entertaining game and featured the wardrobe malfunction at halftime. They beat the Eagles once, which was excellent, and their loss to the Giants was the Helmet Catch game that ruined the Pats' bid to go 19-0.

Today the Pats have a chance to get some revenge. I'll be watching.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Day 260: Belief

Growing up, we were a dog family, but our dogs weren't housedogs. As a result, the idea of dogs in the house (except in extreme weather conditions) was a nonstarter.

That changed with Moose.

Moose is now 5 years old. The only way we could have a dog was to have him in the apartment, since we didn't own our home and didn't have a contained yard for him.

The experience has deepened my appreciation for dogs. I've posted many times and in many places about the positive effect Moose has had. When Piper came along two years ago, it only enriched that experience.

This week the local Humane Society posted a picture of a pup that had been abandoned. This dog immediately struck something in me. He has a cute face and markings, and there's just something about him that tells me he'd be a great pet.

Our HSO (and probably yours) always needs more pet food for the animals they try and foster and place. So yesterday, we purchased a couple of small bags and some treats (total: $17.08) and took them to their offices in hopes of meeting that guy pictured. His name is Sparky, although we prefer Penn.

He's quite a catch -- a three-month old Shar Pei/Lab mix who has already mostly been crate-trained/housebroken and is your typical wiggly puppy. We're going to foster him for a few days and see how it goes. I admit it: I'm smitten.

Now, the rational side of me says: We've got two dogs. It costs money to have pets, and I don't have an income right now. We've managed our money well, and M has a good job, so we're OK... not behind on any payments, still some money in savings, no debt. Our landlord is a little iffy on pets, we had to coerce him a little. We're responsible pet parents... they don't damage the apartment, and we clean up after them. They're not barky or aggressive in any way. But a third dog might not go over well. The bed gets crowded at night with 100 pounds of dog, and this new one might add another 50 by the time he's grown.

There's lots of arguments against another dog, and not a ton for.

Except for what my friend Kevin said the other day: dogs make you happy.

And he's (as usual) completely right. These guys have added a lot to my life. Right now they just came upstairs and are shuffling around. Just taking a sniff. It's nice.

The question has become, do we do what is the conservative, most predictable approach, or do we save a dog that was abandoned by his previous owner? And in the process, do we add something fun and pleasant into life? Sure, it costs a little more when money is tight. For some people, pets are an accessory. For us, they're family.

Another friend had the same situation with her cats. Erin said when she met them, she knew immediately. How do you turn your back on this simple affirmation of life?

I'm not sure how this will play out. But I believe that ultimately, you can't let your difficult times rule your life. You should live life on your own terms and if happiness is available, you should accept.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Day 258: Futures

A shadow has been cast across Gawd's Country this morning, all because of a tall kid in high school...

Everyone here has been breathlessly following the exploits and machinations behind Hometown U's pursuit of football hotshot Dorial Green-Beckham. The 6-6, 220-pound receiver from Springfield, Mo., is the top-rated WR (and No. 3 prospect overall). Hometown U lusted after him, as did his homestate school, and big names like Alabama, Oklahoma and Texas. Just a few days ago, Hometown U. was considered probably the place he would choose to play, although Mizzou was making a late charge.

Half an hour ago, he chose Mizzou.

The backstory on this kid, who has been adopted by his white foster parents, is very Michael Oher (the kid in "The Blind Side" and now a pro with the Baltimore Ravens). He's had a tough early childhood, but football and his new home have given him some stability and security.

Against that backdrop, it's probably not that surprising that he chose a school close to home. As a football move, it's terrible. If DGB has aspirations of a pro career, they didn't grow that much today. He'd have a better fit in an offense that could showcase his considerable talent -- Hometown U might have been the best fit in the short-term, Oklahoma was also a good fit, and at Alabama, he'd have his name splashed across TV sets a dozen times or more a year.

Hometown U fans are almost beside themselves in missing out on this kid. He's a puzzle piece that was tailor-made for their title hopes in 2012.

But here's the thing Hometown U fans just don't get: It's not about them. No matter how bad they want it, just because they do does not mean a damned thing. The Hometown U fans kind of need to get a life. It's not that big a deal if a kid goes elsewhere. In DGB's case, the best choice for him as an athlete was probably to go to Alabama. The competition there is the best. The team is the standard of excellence. The coaching would prepare him as well as anywhere for a pro career. The football choice is not Hometown U.

Nor is it Missouri. If this was a business decision, DGB would be wearing red next season.

It's not necessarily an education decision, either. Any of those universities could have served this kid's needs. If he's bright enough, I'm pretty sure that he could have been offered a free ride at Stanford.

In the end, it appears that DGB's choice was made significantly because he felt safe close to home. He won't be winning any championships, but he will feel more at peace mentally. Given what the kid's gone through, can anyone blame him?

As a Hometown U alum and follower, I'd have loved to see the kid starring here this year. He'd have been a sensation. A lot of people here are rending their garments and gnashing their teeth at the news that DGB is going elsewhere.

Instead, the best move is to wish the kid the best of luck. Well, that, and be glad he at least didn't sign with Alabama.