Thursday, December 31, 2009

In Which Miss Lill Greets Her Favorite Day of This Year

Today is the last of a horrible, no-good, awful, rotten string of days called 2009.

Yet, as fraught as the year was with villains and crises, I am delighted to report on two good things that occurred recently which will set the stage for a much-improved 2010.
1.
My eyes have recovered from surgery and I can get new glasses, after which I should have no trouble with my vision.
2. Mr. Slimy’s lawyer accepted our offer to leave our lease 8 months early. We paid our August rent—for the third time—and have 8 months in which to organize/pack/sell/move our lives.

We now begin 2010 with a time frame and a goal. We will continue to be under the jurisdiction of the court until September 1 of this year. The benefit of this oversight is that Mr. Slimy can’t try to charge us extra for using the Dumpster or collecting our mail without landing in court again. He’s stuck with our lease and our rent until we go.

Mr. Slimy will continue being who he is and probably thinks he won the case. So the outcome wasn’t justice, but it’s palatable and it was on our terms rather than Mr. Slimy’s.

All in all, this dreadful year is ending on a high note. I’m packing it up, tagging it “Emotional Baggage,” and leaving it at the station. I’ll never forget it, but I’m not carrying it with me into the future.

We rarely do anything out of the ordinary to celebrate New Year’s Eve. But one year my husband cut out brown-paper people on which we wrote our regrets. We took these to the beach and burned them as fireworks ushered in the New Year.

I’m thinking of doing that again, only this time, instead of regrets, we’ll detail every yucky thing that happened to us and describe every smarmy bully who tried to make us miserable.

Oh dear. I have to run; so much to do. The old pen and scissors are going to be quite busy in preparation for tonight’s cathartic ceremony.

Burn, Baby, Burn!


[Sculpture by Frederick William Pomeroy; painting by Salvador Dali.]



Wednesday, December 30, 2009

“La Vita è Affanno”

he title of this post is another quote from Wallis Wilde-Menozzi’s Mother Tongue. It was the favorite saying of the grandmother of the author’s husband. Translated, it means “Life is troubling.”

Amen.

I finished reading Mother Tongue the other day and can now add it to my “Reading through the Lull” list. What started slowly finally captivated me with tales of loss, discussions of politics and philosophy, and descriptions of Italian history I knew nothing about.

A third of the way into the book is this passage detailing Wilde-Menozzi’s preparation to move to Italy from the States:

“What is that pile on the lawn? … There is your bed. Children’s toys. Everything that wouldn’t work on the 220 current. A stereo as big as a 1950s car. …

I couldn’t bear to sell those things or any of the rest. …

The idea of dispersal, of setting a price—a nickel, a quarter, seven-fifty—for the intimate rubbed objects, the things hidden in drawers, the use of cups and saucers, nauseated me and made me nervous. I didn’t want to see people snooping and bargaining over my things. I gave them away. The morning the Goodwill scheduled the pickup, I left the house, as if I could put a bandage on those years.”

And here she describes her connection to books (in both excerpts, the italics are hers):

“Books, whose weight has broken the backs of all your suitcases, were the main physical objects carried across. You kept most of them. They are the unavoidable Sisyphean premise to any suitcase you pack. Their numbers and variety … are an awareness that you question but cannot imagine living without. Paid for in calluses, regrets, an itinerant attitude toward any possession except those arranged in hard-won patterns of discovered orders—you never leave a place without an intense load. In honoring books, you feel you are what you contain and carry and hope to keep alive.”

In another time and place, these passages may not have resonated so deeply with me. But The Lull has heightened my awareness of loss and memory and baggage and identity. I understand not wanting to know or see what happens next to my possessions, but rather to harbor them in my imagination for all time. I have felt and paid for the weight of my books and still they hold their place in my heart.

I’m glad I waited all these years to try reading Mother Tongue again; it turned out to be just the right time.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Reading through the Lull: A Window into Others' Lives

“My father only let me finish fifth grade and after that he beat me if he found me reading.”

Those are the words of an elderly Italian woman in Wallis Wilde-Menozzi’s memoir Mother Tongue.

Can you imagine? I’ve been reprimanded for reading when I should have been doing something else (cleaning my room or going to sleep). But to be forbidden to read at all! To be punished for acquiring knowledge, or for traveling to faraway places though you haven’t stepped beyond the front door, or for vicariously enjoying a character’s pleasures and lifestyle that you’ll never experience otherwise.

Employed or not, most of us have freedoms we often fail to recognize. The simple act of reading Lull is but one example.

Today I’m grateful for the freedom to read, the skills to comprehend a written language, and the eyesight necessary to enable both.

[Art: A Girl Reading, by Frank Duveneck]

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Sturm und Drang

The holidays seem like ancient history this morning. Our household is focused on the future—three days from now, to be exact.

December 30 is our next court date. The lawyers were hoping to have our case settled before this. But rather than negotiating lawyer-to-lawyer, they handed over the responsibility to their clients, namely me and Mr. Slimy.

After several unsuccessful phone conversations with Mr. Slimy, I told him I thought it best for us to negotiate in writing. I requested that he write up what it was he wanted from us and have all of his partners sign and date it. I didn't want him coming back again to say that his partners wanted something other than what we'd just agreed to. He said that was "impossible" for his partners were all over the country. [Hmmm. How do multinational companies do it, do you suppose?] Besides, he continued, he had full authority to make decisions for the corporation. I could look it up with the State of Illinois. [Right. So why has every previous conversation ended with "I'll have to run this by my partners"?] But after making a few more contradictory or implausible remarks, he agreed.

The very next evening, an envelope was slipped under our door. In it was a poorly written letter stating that we had all agreed that my husband and I would pay August rent plus $1,400 in lawyer's fees.

WTF?

My husband and I had reluctantly said on December 8 we would pay the $1,400 just to end the madness. Ever since that day, we have repeatedly said we refused to pay BOTH the rent and the fees. And now it felt like we'd just stepped back in time, no closer to a resolution than we'd been nearly three weeks before.

I countered Mr. Slimy's proposal with one of my own, one that didn't involve any upfront payout. I offered to leave our lease 8 months early. He stood to profit $4,550–$6,400, depending on how much he increased the rent and whether he rented our parking space separately. This was more than enough to cover his legal fees. I was going to put my proposal in the infamous rent box, the very spot where our August rent check had "disappeared" and called his answering service to let him know that.

The woman asked me if I wanted to talk to Mr. Slimy. I said no, I just wanted her to give him my message. She told me to "Hold on," and then suddenly Mr. Slimy, who could never be found at that number before, was on the phone. He asked me to tell him my answer to his proposal. I said the whole point of negotiating in writing was to avoid these phone conversations during which we seemed unable to communicate clearly. I said I could e-mail it to him to expedite the process. He eagerly gave me his e-mail address, which just happened to include the number of his street address—another place I was unable to reach him back in August when I was so desperate to resolve the problem.

Eleven minutes after e-mailing my letter, Mr. Slimy wrote back. He wanted to make sure we were on the same page. His summary of the new agreement was that…
1. We would leave 8 months early.
2. We would pay the $1,400 he wanted.
3. We would pay all our future rent.
4. We would not pay the August rent.

Same page? We weren't even in the same book.

I wrote notes about the many conversations that had taken place and sent them along with the proposals to my lawyer. I asked him to please talk to Mr. Slimy's lawyer and explain what a deal we were offering.

Of course, the holidays fell at an inopportune time for our case and we've not heard from our lawyer.

So I'm going to write a detailed explanation today for the judge about why this eviction case is even in his courtroom, enlightening him as to the facts and history that the lawyers have so far omitted. Lull postings may be a little light until Wednesday.

My wish for the New Year? A roof over our heads that we can afford. No, more than that: to not be taken advantage of by unscrupulous people. Or better: to defeat the unscrupulous people who try to take advantage of my husband and/or me. (The last few years have produced a long list of these individuals.) Or: to learn how to recognize unscrupulous people before they have a chance to undermine us; to acquire more skepticism and rely less on trust.

[Art courtesy of Edvard Munch.]

Saturday, December 26, 2009

A Day to Keep on Giving

Today is Boxing Day, a day reserved to show our gratitude (with money and gift cards) to the people who provide services to us: caregivers, mail carriers, newspaper deliverers (there are a handful left), cleaning specialists, and anyone else who regularly helps us get through our lives.

Today is also my husband's birthday. Talk about a rotten draw. So the holidays aren't quite over for us. I'll get back on the job-hunting/blogging track tomorrow.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

"You Say It's Your Birthday, It's My Birthday Too…"

Birthdays can be a lonely time for displaced workers whose work had been their entire world. No jokes about getting older, no birthday greetings or gifts, no free lunch.

But folks who have December holiday birthdays already know the routine. For years, their birthdays have come and gone without much fanfare. When you compete with Santa and Jesus for attention, the outcome is pretty clear.


Today is my birthday. But I'm not complaining. With Santa and Jesus, I feel like I'm in excellent company. And my family never cheated me out of gifts or attention. They even gave me a holiday-related name, which I plan to reveal in 2010—with your help.

Here's my birthday wish that YOU have the power to make come true:
Get more readers for Lull.

E-mail a favorite post (you just have to click on the envelope icon at the end of the post) or send them the URL to Lull's home page. Encourage them to be followers; be a follower yourself. I need to show visitors that people outside my inner circle are reading. And, by all means, please comment!

Once the audience expands, then I'll feel comfortable enough to discard my pseudonym and write under my own Christmasy name.


It's hard for me to ask for help, dear readers, but I really need it now. Help me be a new, authentic me in 2010.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

St. Nicholas in Our Midst

I have always believed in Santa Claus, or at least in his undying spirit. And why not? He meets desires, bestows surprises, and rewards goodness. But not everyone shares my perspective.

Most children learn all-too-early that department store Santas are fakes. Shirley Temple said she learned the truth when she sat upon St. Nick’s knee and he asked for her autograph.

I was older than most children when I finally asked my mother about it. She was at the stove, cooking dinner and unable to escape the dreaded question.

First she asked me why I wanted to know.

As I recall, there were older kids in the neighborhood who’d been sharing the no-such-thing-as-Santa news, using it to intimidate and harm. And their victims, in turn, used it on the meeker children. I kept this information to myself. I simply told Mother I’d heard something about it.

She asked me what I believed.

I thought seriously about this and realized then that my father was a stand-in for St. Nick. But I considered the charade to be such a noble and loving gesture that I decided to continue honoring the tradition. I told her I still believed.

Years on, when I discovered Santa wasn’t a completely fabricated creature—that a St. Nicholas had actually walked this Earth once—the news seemed to validate the esteem I’d long held for the gift-giving pageantry.

When my husband-to-be and I set up house in Andersonville, formerly a thriving Swedish community of Chicago, we started seeing a large, old fellow on street corners and in parking lots—whose full, white beard hung down to his ample chest, who rarely uttered a word but missed nothing with his sage-like eyes, whose cart was too densely packed to differentiate any specific items.

He asked for nothing. He was just there.

At some point, a Husky-ish pup took up with him. The creature was as still and silent as the man, unusual for a young canine.

I couldn’t see these two without wondering—without believing—that here was St. Nicholas incarnate, watching us at eye level to see how well we carried on his spirit of giving and kindness and compassion. I couldn’t see these two without pangs of sorrow, thinking how far short our society falls in comparison to the Master of Giving.

But I also couldn’t see these two without hope for mankind and without thinking: Yes, I Believe.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

My Dog Is So-ooo-oo Slow…

How slow is she?

Slow enough that a woman recently asked me if we were doing Tai Chi together. She thought we were quite the unusual exercise buddies.

Now every time I walk the pooch, that old song "Everybody Was Kung-Fu Fighting" cranks up in my head. Only my version goes "Everybody Was Tai Chi Walking."

Strangers wonder why I'm smiling.

Monday, December 21, 2009

"And Justice for All…"

Here's the Lady Justice that speaks to me right now. A little bedraggled, yes? She's the 2001 work of Rodrigio Duran.

Our "vicious" (as my father refers to him) landlord is now trying to charge us for the items we have stored in the basement—that we've always had in the basement as have other tenants stored their property in the basement. He wants to set up a "fee schedule" today or he's clearing everything out.

For every remark the landlord has made to me on the phone or in writing, he has made a contrary remark as well. He slides around Truth like it's an Olympic event and he's headed for the Gold, baby.

Santa? Do you see what's happening here? I'm pretty sure I know what list Mr. Slimy is on, but I'm wondering if he's been on it since childhood or if this slippery behavior is something new. Did something dreadful happen to him for which I should show him my compassion?

How often does Goodness win over Smarminess? What are my odds right now?

Sunday, December 20, 2009

5 Days 'Til Christmas

The countdown begins. Retailers have been reminding you since August.

But don't despair. Keep these words from philosopher Immanuel Kant in mind as the season of giving and getting approaches its climax:

"One is not rich by what one owns, but more by what one is able to do without with dignity."

Leaving Mind-Mapping to the Master

hile writing "Of Mallards and Men," I had to resist my desire—my sense of obligation, really—to research mallard society. I hate bringing up a subject when I have little background to offer on it.

Part of this compulsion stems from the pleasure I derive from teaching. But mostly the compulsion is rooted in the boundary-free roamings of my mind as it ping-pongs from one image to another, from one question to another, from one thought to another. I want to take you on that journey with me, but I can't write fast enough. What's more, I'd never finish a post.

The master guide of such a journey is Paul Metcalf. Are you familiar with his works? I wasn't until I visited the Web site of Dalkey Archive Press.

In the literary fiction genre, Metcalf's writing is the real deal. In fact, much of what passes for literary fiction these days should be categorized as beach reads next to Metcalf's oeuvre.

I'm reading Genoa, which includes heavy doses of Herman Melville (Metcalf's great-grandfather). Why Melville? Simply because the protagonist is thinking about certain Melville passages and the author weaves the excerpts and references into the story. In fact, numerous fiction and nonfiction excerpts may be found in Genoa as Metcalf opens his protagonist's mind (and his own) to the reader's eye. His research is exhaustive (and likely exhausting—Genoa predates the Internet) and makes for an astonishing read.

But Genoa has not been a quick read for me (the portability issue being one obstacle) and I have to return it to the library. I plan to scout used bookstores in the future and get my own copy. Until then, dear reader, you may wish to enter the worlds of Metcalf on your own.

Reading Through the Thick of It

Now I feel like a wuss.

In a recent post, I talked about the portability of books as a factor in how quickly I finish them. Then I saw this monster.

It's the entire collection of Miss Marple adventures by Agatha Christie—one hand-sewn spine and 4,032 pages. Dubbed the world's thickest book, it's a limited edition only. You Christie enthusiasts out there will have to act quickly to snatch one up.


Saturday, December 19, 2009

Escaping the Island of Misfit Toys

If you've watched any network telly lately, you've probably glimpsed the Island of Misfit Toys—a no-man's land where imperfect toys from Santa's workshop are exiled, never to be loved by a child or placed in a home. This make-believe world from the creators of the animated Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer is also airing as a commercial blasting the poor cellphone service of a major provider and we see the coveted iPhone dumped among unwanted toys from previous generations.

Misfit toys and unemployed people have much in common: We're useful (though perhaps not in the way our previous employers expected or understood), we want to be recognized as such (even an autoreply saying "Thanks for applying" would suffice), and we yearn for a sense of belonging.

I came across this sentence in a book this morning:
"Place is the true core of the universal."

I don't know the original context in which poet and physician William Carlos Williams wrote it, but it certainly speaks to me in my present predicament—as I think it does for great numbers of people on this planet for a host of reasons. How much despair has bewildered us—how many graceless acts have been committed because someone had no sense of place or belonging?

Finding your place isn't always easy. It requires time, honesty, introspection, perseverance, intuition, and careful deliberation. As poet Anne Sexton wrote, you have to…
"Put your ear down next to your soul and listen hard."

Sometimes we're forced into exploring our souls, as I was earlier this year. When the possibility arose that I might lose my sight, or a portion of it, I had to rethink my dream career of being a book editor.

What else can I do? What else do I want to do? What parts of me have I ignored all these years? What do I care about?

As author Susan Chernak McElroy wrote in "Other Angels: One Woman's Bible":
"I pressed on with my goal to make my outer life look more like my most genuine inner life, whatever that was. … Gathering, even defining, a genuine life for myself out of the old was the task of my lifetime."

Indeed.
No one is going to rescue me from the Island of Unenjoyment. I have to do it myself. I have to rediscover where my place is and then map out a way to get there.

On the other hand, if Rudolph happens by to show me the way, you can bet I'll follow.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Spellbound: Art and Letters

What happens when visionary art meets a poor speller?

Mistakes! That's what happens. Errors for eternity.

Any time I walk into a gallery or museum and notice words on a canvas, I grow tense. What stupid homophone will have tripped up an artist this time?

Now don't get me wrong. I'm not a Miss Thistlebottom who complains to her local news station that the news anchor ended a sentence with a preposition. I don't redline friends' letters to me and send them back as a "teaching moment." Nor am I the kind of editor who fusses over split infinitives in a campaign speech that's supposed to sound conversational. (All true stories, unfortunately.)

But I'm friends with enough visual artists to know that, for many of them, spelling is not their strong suit. And I suspect they know this about themselves as well. So why in the world do they take chances—mingling type and visuals—without allowing a wordsmith to give the work a once-over?

Case in point: The Ad Reinhardt cartoon above was in a book I was reading recently. (Visit Hilary Pfeifer's blog for a larger version.) I intended to take time reading every little bit of it, but first I scanned it. And where do you think my eyes fell first? On the misspelled surname of Georgia O'Keeffe. I wasn't looking for it; it jumped out at me.

Maybe I'm alone in my frustration. Maybe I'm cursed with an affliction. Let's call it spellbound: to be caught and transfixed by misspelled words. (Is this usage in the OED?)

Perhaps this is a side biz for me. I'll charge a flat fee to give my editorial seal of assurance to artists that the words in their work won't embarrass them. That they've used the right word with the right meaning and the right spelling.

What do you think? Ridiculously inconsequential idea? Or entrepreneurial path off the dole?

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Rage Against the Machine

Employees at many (most?) companies consider the HR people "them" or "other." The reasons vary, some undeserved. But earlier this week I got a full dose of the mayhem an HR department can cause.

I was doing what unemployed people do with their time: applying for a job online. Here's how the madness unfolded.


Eureka!
I found the job late Saturday. It seemed like one I was qualified for, so I started researching the company.

The company was fairly large (room for career movement), produced goods I wouldn't mind being affiliated with (nonfiction books), and was headquartered in an historic town (a picturesque relief from my current situation). All good.

Only one problem: There was a deadline for applying. I had until midnight to get my cover letter and résumé put together.


Deadline Looming
I wrote the cover letter and proceeded to fill out the online application. At the top of the app., some fields were asterisked in red and a note explained that red indicated you were required to complete those fields. Looked at another way, the fields not asterisked in red were optional.

So I skipped filling in the work history beyond the 12 years at my last job and at 11:45 pm, all I had left to do was attach my cover letter and résumé. The app. software allowed me to choose any one file but not actually attach it. When I chose my second file, it seemed to replace the first one. Then the program wouldn't allow me to delete the file and start over.


Deadline Hits
At midnight, I decided to write a note about the difficulty—explaining I would try to find a workaround—and hit "Submit" just to get the app. in by the deadline. Then I e-mailed the company that created the software and searched the Web for someone outside the HR department at the publishing house to send my files to.

Surprisingly, I reached a live person at the software company around 2 am. We volleyed e-mails for a bit, but to no avail. At 5 am I finally went to bed, no closer to a solution than I was 5 hours before.


Monday, Monday…
Can't Trust that Day
Though I wanted to call the publishing house first thing in the morning, I was due in court as a witness AND, more to the point, my cellphone service sucks. I couldn't risk a dropped call while I was asking for a favor.

So I called in the afternoon and the very polite receptionist said she'd talk to HR on my behalf. She called back moments later to relay the following information from "them":
1. They received my application at 12:15, so it was too late.
2. I submitted an incomplete application.
(Remember all the fields I said weren't marked "required"?)
3. But they'll allow me to submit a second application.
(How? They'd already taken down the listing from all the job boards.)
4. They accept only Word docs.
(Not the file types listed on the actual application: .pdf, .txt, .rtf, and .doc.)

Did they think I would just slink away? Give up? Little did they know that all the bullying life's thrown my way this year has given me a new kind of determination. All I'd wanted was an e-mail address I could send a couple of files to. But I'd do it their way.

So I found a way to open a generic application on the publisher's Web site and I answered every bloody question—even if all I wrote was "NA" or "I don't know." I wrote a note about it being my second attempt, then realized what time it was.

Drat! It was 5 minutes before I was supposed to meet a friend. I called him to say I'd be late, but all I had to do was press a few buttons and I'd be done.

But as soon as I hung up from my friend, I hit the button and…the Big Nothing AGAIN. I ended up copying and pasting my files into the little box I'd used to write notes. I had no time to review or proofread anything, which is a shame because so much can go awry when moving text from one software program to another. I shudder to think what my letter and résumé looked like to the readers at the other end.


On behalf of job-seekers everywhere, I have a message for HR people:
You should choose technology that says and does exactly what you expect. Want a Word file? Then the app. shouldn't say it accepts four different types of files. Want every field completed? Then say so. If the software provider can't customize it properly for you, then find someone else who can. Don't ignore the defaults of the system. They can give false impressions to candidates, wasting your time and theirs.

Say what you mean and mean what you say.

Thankfully, I know an HR department isn't necessarily a reflection of the company for which it toils. And I know the HR department isn't responsible for the programming. But still. HR bought the program, didn't it? Did anyone bother testing it? Is it not compatible with Macs? Why wouldn't it upload my files?!

Maybe it's just my karma kicking in. But if what goes around really does come around, then whoever signed off on that application may find themselves eliminated from Santa's Good List.

Oh, you better watch out…

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

O Tannenbaum…

Look at this tree I found on Musings!

Maybe I don't have to buy a tree for the holidays. I can just put my personal library to work.

Taking the 365 Challenge

I've no idea where the 365 Project originated, but oodles of bloggers have taken it to heart. Lots of them post a pic a day for their version; others post a poem or drawing.

But the other day I came across a woman who chose as her challenge to read a book a day!


A WHOLE BOOK EACH AND EVERY DAY?! To prove what, exactly?


Granted, some were quite short, making it possible to stretch a longer book across several days. So really she simply read 365 books over the course of a year. But still.
What did she get from it? Did she enjoy any of the tales? (I confess I was so appalled I didn't take time to read through her progress and reports. And I failed to save her URL for you. Sorry.)

I'm at a crossroads right now with some of the books I've been reading bit by bit over the months. I've lost the mood for them. I don't want to give up on them, yet I don't want to race through them just to be able to say I finished them. I want to feel changed by them.

Part of the problem is that all of them are fairly thick or oversized in some way, which means they're not very portable. I can only read them at home. Unfortunately, one is a library book and it's dreadfully overdue right now. That's one I'm probably going to have to start again in the future when I have a big block of time to devote to it. It's not like me not to return a library book. (Santa? You know that, right?)

Well, you're not likely to see me devise a 365 Project for Lull. There are only two things I manage to do each and every day: Walk the pooch, and Worry. Those are challenging enough for now.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Start Your Week with this Goal in Mind

"If we act so that our actions are beautiful, then we act rightly. We should act so as to add to the sum of beauty in the world."
—Grandfather Horseman, paraphrased in Alan Drengson's "Being with Animals"


[painting by Franz Marc]

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Eat, Drink, and Live Large

Dear Unemployed Brethren,

This month brings a number of holidays and occasions for celebration, which can be especially dispiriting for those of us with limited funds and limited cheerfulness. But take to heart this Maugham quote and do something or go somewhere that lifts you into a different realm, that provides you with a unique and positive memory you can recall years from now.


"Excess on occasion is exhilarating.
It prevents moderation from acquiring the deadening effect of habit."
—W. Somerset Maugham, in The Summing Up

Sure, some will criticize you for it. But they don't understand the numbing state of unenjoyment we've endured for so many months now. Take flight just once. Your future depends on it.

Baron Ambrosia promoting Bronx Flavor


Friday, December 11, 2009

Judging a Book by Its Cover

We just returned from court where the most significant thing that happened took place in the hallway.

The landlord's lawyer accused us of scamming the pro bono agency because, well, just look at the way we look. It's obvious we're wealthy.

I gave him "the eye."

But our lawyer leaned down (he's basketball-eligible tall) to his opponent and said, "You're mistakenly equating wealth with class. These people have class." (I loved him for that!)

Later, as we said our goodbyes to our lawyer, my husband said, "Well, we have to catch our limo now."

Right-ee-o!

Thursday, December 10, 2009

It Ain't Over 'Til…

Geezo Pete! I realize I hadn't signed on the dotted line or heard the you-know-who sing, but hardly a day had gone by before my slumlord left me a new message.

He wanted to remind me that in addition to the court costs, he still wanted his August rent.

Oh, right, Mr. Slumlord. Do you mean the rent you ignored on August 1, the subsequent phone calls and e-mails regarding said rent that you wouldn't respond to August 8–17, the replacement check of August 17 that you returned? Is THAT the rent you want NOW?

I agreed to pay only your court costs of $1,400 to get you off my back. Nothing more.

And so it goes…

AWAD O' What?

AWAD. It's the acronym for A.Word.A.Day, a service unlike any other that builds your language skills (specifically your vocabulary) one e-mail at a time.

I've been getting it long enough now that I should be a better—or, at least, a more interesting—wordsmith. But I don't read it every day as I should. And I must confess that I've kept it a secret from you for a while now.



But this morning, I'm feeling especially generous. Check it out. You, too, can become part of a "community of more than 800,000 linguaphiles in at least 200 countries."

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Who's Laughing Now?


esterday morning, on my way to an appointment, I stood at a slushy intersection waiting for the light to change. After the light turned yellow, a driver whizzed through, spraying water toward me. As I jumped back, I started laughing. Then I realized I was laughing and thought, What a great response to a_ _holes and their a_ _holish behavior! If laughter is the best medicine (as Reader's Digest has long touted), then I may soon be the healthiest person I know!

The night before, I'd had the same reaction to a voicemail message left by my landlord. He was trying to "reach out to me" by offering to:
1. Let us stay through the end of our lease as long as we paid our rent on time [as if we haven't paid on time!] and
2. Stop the lawsuit if we paid his court costs.

This "reaching out" has been unfolding since the week before Thanksgiving and I thought the lawyers would handle it. But my lawyer, as usual, hasn't communicated much with me. Long story short (I know, dear Lull readers, I've been promising you details of the case for months now but frankly, I can't bear to write more about it), late yesterday afternoon, after many e-mails, phone conversations, and heated discussions, I caved.

We're paying the court costs because:
1. I'm the only one crazy enough to make this a matter of principle.
2. Our lawyer doesn't appear to be our advocate, nor does he seem interested in fighting the case, meaning the likelihood of him winning is a stretch.
3. We can no long coexist with the intense stress this has put on us.

When I left home to go to college, my grandmother's parting warning—which I did not understand at the time—was this:

"Be careful, Lill. Some people aren't as nice as you think they are."

Boy Howdy was she ever right! It took a few decades for it to sink in, but I get it now. I get it loud and clear.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Are They Crazy? Quitting a Job During a Recession

Three individuals I know have walked away from their jobs in search of…something better, something that pays more of the bills, something more challenging.

In fact, two of the three even moved to parts unknown—with their dogs—to start fresh (and no, they’re not running away from anything; and yes, dogs add complications when you’re on the road or looking for new digs).

All three are what I’d call “free spirits” and are not risk-averse. I wish I could say the same about myself.

I’ll keep you posted on how they fare.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

The Pooch Tries a New Position

“Why are you looking at me like that? I’m comfortable!”
—The Pooch

Fight the EPA Today

I wish I'd been able to tell you this sooner: Prairie dogs need your help. NOW.

I know, I know. For many of you, these little guys look like the vermin you try to keep away from your living space. But hear me out.

The EPA is about to grant 10 states the right to poison these little critters. It's by no means a humane death, and it will no doubt harm other populations.

Now 10 states don't sound like many in a country of 50, but the truth is there are only about 12 states in which the 4 species of prairie dogs in the U.S. live. One species lives only in Utah; another lives only in Wyoming and Montana. The species the EPA is targeting resides in the Plains states, but there is crossover with other species. And here's a funny kicker: The EPA itself is trying to rescue the black-footed ferret from extinction, which feeds on the black-tailed prairie dogs the EPA is now about to poison.

I'm no scientist, but I'm pretty sure destroying one element of a food chain will affect another.

Do prairie dogs a favor and sign this petition today. The deadline is tomorrow.

I have to run now, but later I'll address the intricate language system prairie dogs use in their tight-knit communities. I don't think you'll be able to dismiss them as vermin in the future.

"If you come close to the truth,
there are consequences."

—Dorothea Lange

Good Writing Yields Flour Power

I've just learned that a writer I've had the pleasure of working with has a Web site detailing her double life as a baker and student. It's called Flour Girl. (Be sure to visit from one of the links I've given so you end up in the right place; Google may not take you to the Flour Girl I know.)

Flour Girl has recently been awarded a home on Chicago Now, a site of bloggers blogging about everything Chicago. Check out her gingerbread Hancock Tower.

Oh! And if you live in Chicago, go there often—it's how bloggers get paid. Takes about 200 click-through
s for a blogger to make a buck. But I think they get paid only in $5 increments, so really it takes 1,000 visits to get the tally going. (What? Did you think writing was easy money?)

Bizzy, Bizzy, Bizzy

hank Heavens!

My Internet connection seems to have stabilized. I should be able to post a bit more regularly now.

We have a lot of catching up to do.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Finding Joy in a Jumble of Steel Cylinders

Christmas is coming.

I know this because holiday tunes have aired since before Halloween; the day after Halloween, neighbors were hanging lights and decorating trees; and yesterday the baby I saw in the back seat of a BMW was wearing a Santa hat.


When I trekked to the lawyer’s office the other day, the train dropped me off on State Street—that Great Street, as the song holds—midst shoppers and tourists and panhandlers and workers playing out their day against a backdrop of shimmering, beckoning store windows.


Christmas was in the air. And every bit of positivity I’ve tried to sustain through The Lull vanished. A serious case of woe hit me, just as it has in past Decembers.


Christmas is a time of obligatory giving, which is a great deal of pressure to be under for someone who thrills in giving the perfect gift to each person on her list. Worse, the brilliant ideas I have stretch far beyond my financial means. Never is the chasm between the haves and the have-nots so obvious in a big city as at Christmastime.

But then a sculpture caught my eye.


I detoured to the lobby of the
Inland Steel building, where an abstract crisscross of golden steel cylinders hung suspended from the ceiling. It was an enormous three-dimensional asterisk-like star held in place by silver strings of steel anchored to the ceiling and to the pool rising from the floor beneath it. Carefully placed lighting illuminated the sculpture, reflecting light in the water and off the ebony polished marble walls. It was the mastermind of industrial designer and sculptor Richard Lippold.

I continued watching light play off it for some time, and my mood started to lift. Small wonder. Its title?
Radiant One.

Once I left and crossed the street to continue my trip to the lawyer’s office, I spotted a
Chagall mosaic adorning a public plaza.


Two great works of art in the same city on the same block!

I felt like I was the only one seeing them. They lifted my spirits, blurred my perception of the uglier side of Chicago and Christmas, and moved me forward into the day.


They’re no substitute for giving the perfect gift to a favorite someone, but they were the perfect gift for me in that moment—art as Rescue Remedy.

Portent of Winter

Wednesday night brought the first snowfall to my neighborhood. It didn't last long—turned to rain after its initial showy presentation.

As much as I dread the coming months of fierce winds, icy sidewalks, and movement-impeding layers of clothing,
the first snow of the season is magical to me. It deserves my reverence . . . celebration. I hope I'll always feel this way.

"When I no longer thrill to the first snow
of the season,
I'll know I'm growing old."

—Lady Bird Johnson

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Of Mallards and Men

Before The Lull, I never had time to watch television. Work always beckoned, as did the pooch and other responsibilities. Same went for my husband. Hence our decision to remain cable-free.

The decision has saved us money over the years and prohibited us from watercooler discussions about the latest episode of whatever show has captured the public's devotion.

Sometimes the decision has put us at a pop-cultural disadvantage, but more often its shock factor has entertained us: "What do you mean you don't have cable? Do you not have a television?!"

Yes, as a matter of fact, we have a television. And lately, thanks to Netflix, we've been catching up with Mad Men. We're just getting through the first season, which is so steeped in stereotypes of the era that it's sometimes difficult to stomach, especially the dynamic between the men and the women.

For those who have forgotten and those who never knew women's place in the workplace of yesteryear, Mad Men brings it home searingly. It wasn't that long ago. "You've Come A Long Way, Baby"—that old cigarette slogan—means a lot more when placed in the context Mad Men provides.

I was chewing on this the other morning when the pooch and I strolled to the beach. Every year, about 12 ducks winter at our beach. And true to form, there they were—7 males and 5 females.

I wondered about this gender imbalance and what it signified. I know nothing about mallard behavior. Were some of the males juveniles? Or had some of the females not yet chosen a mate? Did the females feel safe or insecure with the extra males around?

Though the ducks flee from other dogs who delight in terrorizing birds, they've always relaxed around my pooch. Which makes her happy because their every movement enthralls her.
But that day, as the mallards dipped and dove for breakfast, one of them sounded an alarm. They all swam or flew away from us—all but one.

The lone duck was, I believe, the one who had sent her brethren away. And as if to answer all my earlier gender questions, she alone continued eating and swimming in the contours of the rocky mount at one end of our beach. Sure, she swam in a male-dominated society. But her mind flew in an independent direction. She could take care of herself—even if it entailed some underhanded (underfeathered?) means.

Ahhhhh. Another smile brought to you by the beach. Who needs cable for entertainment?

Friday, November 27, 2009

I Can’t Control My Karma

I still have some unresolved issues with my phone/Internet/cell provider and I have to confess I’ve not come clean with them about one serious obstacle: karma.

My work family grew to accept and try to offset the extraordinarily bad luck I had in three different areas of my life:
1. Technology
2. Public Transportation
3. Restaurants

For example, in our offices, the writers and designers used Macs while everyone else had a generic PC. Every 15 months or so there was an uprising from the CFO and IT Director about getting rid of the Macs (largely because the IT department didn’t have anyone to service them). And each time, I led the brigade to denounce their reasoning.

Even so, my little laptop periodically “acted out” in mystifying ways. One time, every e-mail in my inbox (and we’re talkin’ a LOT of e-mails here) disappeared. Didn’t scurry into another folder, didn’t end up on some clipboard somewhere—just went poof! Another time, every file in a folder containing one year’s worth of 8 monthly publications, including revised files, began to open. Frequently, I would have only my Web browser open while researching something and suddenly Word would “hijack” the browser—the window showed the browser, but the menu at the top of the screen was from Word.


I was the only one who had such problems with a Mac. (I was also the only one who could go to a fine-dining establishment and have a bug or a broken piece of steel equipment in my dessert, or be served the wrong order. Other people started ordering for me.)

When my company finally hired an IT person who vowed to help the Mac faction, my boss made it clear to the fellow when he introduced us that I was a special technology challenge.

Of course, the young whippersnapper said something to the effect that karma has nothing to do with anything. He was of the binary generation.

No, no, insisted my boss. It wasn’t just technology; it was anything to do with food and public transportation as well.

Everybody got a good laugh out of it.

Slowly, though, Mr. IT started to understand my tech karma. At first, he thought things were “operator error”—that is to say, my fault. But he came around and warmed to me, trying to find workarounds so I could keep production moving. But he still didn’t buy into the karma explanation.

Then one wintry night, he happened to be waiting for the same bus as I was. We chatted a bit before it came, then went our separate ways once we boarded.

Before the bus inched its way through traffic past the downtown area, it broke down. Everyone was ordered off to wait for another bus. This was at least a weekly occurrence for me. Mr. IT, however, came toward me with his jaw dropped.


“That’s NEVER happened to me before. You DO have bad karma! I didn’t believe it before, but I do now,” he said, keeping his distance as if my karma were contagious. “No offense, but I’m going to get on a different bus now because I have to get somewhere.”

And with that, he walked to another stop for a different route toward his destination.

As for my possible karmic interference with phone/Internet/cell issues at home, maybe there are some things better left unsaid.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

My Year of Unenjoyment

This week marks the one-year anniversary of my getting the boot from my job of 12 years. I kept working for the company until January 30, to "help them through the transition." But during that time I was neither a full employee nor an unemployed one. Just a hard-working outsider.

We've heard all sorts of horror stories about layoffs, like the manager who set off the fire alarm in order to corral his staff in the parking lot and give them the boot en masse. So I have to admire the owner of my company for allowing the employees he chose to keep to go to a nearby saloon with the employees he'd just let go. Everyone had a chance to graciously say goodbye to one another.

On the other hand, I may be the only person who's been laid off by a CEO and then pulled into his office later the same day because he couldn't wait to tell me how the new structure was going to work. How he was going to meld editorial staffs from different divisions into one cohesive unit, how he would be editorial director of all, how he would turn it into a news bureau of reporters (his dream had long been to have his own newspaper-ish organization—this at a time when nearly every newspaper in the country was failing).

He was genuinely excited about the prospect and eager for me to share in the thrill. I was aghast at his insensitivity to my own future outlook. All I could muster was, "I always wanted to have a reported newsletter in my division. I'm sorry I won't be here when it finally happens."

I suppose he did me a favor, however unintentionally. I have a hard time dealing with mercurial behavior in people who hold powerful positions. Or I used to. This has become one of the lessons—and blessings—from my year of unenjoyment: that my standards and expectations of civility are not always shared by others. The sooner I'm not affected by these differences, that I don't make them so important in my life, the better.

"We can only be said to be alive in those moments when our hearts are conscious of our treasures."
—Thornton Wilder


This Thanksgiving is not as grim as last year's. After a year of reflection, I find it easier to let go of the disappointments and anguish (though not to forget them). I now look forward to whatever future awaits. I'm still anxious about it, but I'm not pining after the worklife I had where I had it.

I'm thankful for this change of perspective, and to my friends, family, readers, and colleagues who have supported me during the transformation.

A Most Happy Thanksgiving to You!

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Gearing Up for Thanksgiving

Still unemployed? Still counting pennies and running low on blessings?

If you're searching for something to be thankful for this Thanksgiving, how about this: READING.

Yes, just the fact that you're reading this blog is cause enough for celebration. All over the world, others aren't so fortunate.

In fact, according to Open Books, a literacy advocacy organization, some 20% of U.S. adults can't read a story to a child. That's 44 million Americans unable to nurture a love for books in their children through positive example.

Nina Patawaran is trying to make a difference in the number of readers in her homeland with the Philippines Dictionary Project. She's been sending children's dictionaries to the schools and been rewarded with news that the children's grades have risen 15% simply because of the new tool.

If you're looking for a good cause to donate to, $8.50 will get one of these special dictionaries to a child and open a brighter future for him or her. Or donate your time to a literacy project closer to home (wherever home is for you).

Reading is everything to me. I can hardly imagine my world without it. I may not have a job when Thanksgiving rolls in tomorrow, but I'll still be able to comprehend a menu, savor a poem, thrill to a travelogue, follow a recipe, relish a short story. Through reading I can access the worlds beyond my small home base. I am grateful for this. It is a blessing everyone deserves to have.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

A Little Something from Hallmark










Sometimes the best thing to do is just look in the mirror and say,
“What shoes go with this stress?”

On the Edge But Hanging On

Hello again.

I must be the only person in the world who's been told, "Your Internet connection is too fast." Say again?

The Internet speed I've been paying for is too fast for the conditions of the lines. So I've been "downgraded" by the repairman.

Now I have to call my service provider to find out if they bothered to downgrade my bill. And to let them know that I've had only intermittent service, even though I bought a new modem, and I can knit a scarf while waiting for a new Web page to load (that is, if I could knit). My Internet connection times out almost as much as my cellphone drops calls. And this on top of everything else that's wrong with my world right now.

I wonder if the lass in the illustration sees Hope on the horizon. I'm ready for my ship to come in…
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