Friday, July 31, 2009

A Birthday Bash for Word Enthusiasts

I decided to check out this weekend's events in the city. Typically, I find out after the fact and well up with regret that I missed something fabulous. I selected my trusty Flavorpill bookmark (choose your city; I like to pretend I live in London) and noticed that it's the 300th anniversary of Samuel Johnson's birth year. At first I thought today was his birthday, but it's not until September. I guess when you celebrate an entire year, you get 365 opportunities to justify eating cake.

To honor the lexicographer, some artists were commissioned by Dr. Johnson's House to create installations. It's a pity Dr. Johnson's House doesn't have any job openings. It has so much of what I've been looking for: preservation, architecture, history, language, the arts, and education all tied neatly into one enterprise. If it had an animal sanctuary on the grounds, it would be perfection.

Anyway, if you're in London, check it out. If you just need an excuse to eat cake or throw a party, now you have one. 

Big News from a Small-Town Newspaper

A shoebox filled with zucchini bread was in my mail yesterday, courtesy of my mother. To prevent the loaves from moving around, she had crumpled up pages of her local newspaper and inserted them between the bread and the walls of the box. As I crossed the kitchen to throw away one of the pages, I scanned the headlines. (It's an obsession for me: If it can be read, I'll read it—food packaging, notices on trees, fine print in junk mail.) One headline jumped out:

"100 canaries seized in bird fighting ring"

What? Was my hometown news rerunning articles from The Onion?!

Surely canaries was short for Canary Dog, or Perro de Presa Canario, powerful canines originally bred in the Canary Islands. Maybe a proofreader stuck bird into the headline (proofreaders can be exasperatingly literal-minded).

So I took a closer look. The article was written by the reputable Associated Press and the "ring" was brought down in Connecticut of all places. Perhaps when you're driven to watch animals fight yet stay under the radar while doing it, canaries are the discreet choice. Oh, they had finches, too. (I'm not linking you to the disgusting details. If you want them, you can Google them yourself.)

I don't always pay attention to the news; it's too distressing. As you know, job-seekers have to keep their chins up. But if fiction and reality continue to converge—if I can't tell the difference between The Onion and The Herald—then there's no refuge from human folly.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Solitude in the City

Yesterday I rose at 4:00, which wasn't nearly enough sleep for me. But it's one of my favorite times of the day because it's so blessedly quiet. The typical city soundscape—airplanes' hum, cars' honking, children's hectoring, phones' ringtones—is set on mute and my brain seems to fire on more cylinders in response. When I was employed, I enjoyed editing during this time; in fact, could get twice as much accomplished.

Yesterday, I spent the time roaming the Web for job opportunities. Cardinals sang in the background and from the next room came the penny-whistle snore of my hound. 

Then a shrill cry broke the spell. I don't know if the cry itself makes me shiver or if  (more likely) it's knowing what that cry portends. 

It was a hawk. What kind, I'm not sure. I've observed three different varieties in my neighborhood in the last year: peregrine falcon, marsh hawk, and goshawk. At one time I could tell the difference between the hawks according to what they left behind of a meal. I'd share it with you, but now can't remember and haven't been able to find the original source of that information.

As I've mentioned before, I'm delighted to have any kind of wildlife variety in the 'hood. And I realize every creature has to eat. I just don't like hearing the hawk's dinner bell. I've seen the terror it wreaks upon the pigeon community and can only imagine what it does to the bunny community. I'm food chain–averse and prefer to focus on the nonviolent aspects of animals in my midst.

When I start overempathizing with animals (how can you not empathize with them, though?), I should call to mind this quote  from orator Robert G. Ingersoll: "In nature there are neither rewards nor punishments—there are consequences."


Monday, July 27, 2009

"If It's Not One Thing, It's Six!"

Today's headline is from my grandmother, who exclaimed this whenever the gods seemed to be against her. 

Last week while driving to a doctor's appointment, I slowed to a stop sign and heard a serious thunk and scraping sound. My grandmother's adage came to mind, along with a few expletives.

We'd just spent more money on belts than I cared to put into our jalopy; not long before that, the brakes needed attention. Now it's the exhaust system. All of this during the incomeless Lull.

Yes, indeedy. If it's not one thing, it's six.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Just Say NO to Books

Being unemployed requires restraint and discipline to stay within a budget, live more simply, and eliminate excess.  And I was doing fine until Friday, when a friend told me that the 25th Newberry Library Book Fair had started.

This is a grand research library that raises funds with a donated book sale each year—a sale unlike any other. Someone always discovers a rare monograph, a first edition, an out-of-print favorite there. And since it's the 25th event this weekend, it's likely to be the biggest ever. (The Newberry plays a role in Audrey Niffenegger's The Time Traveler's Wife.)

I feel trapped somewhere between being grounded and struggling through rehab (neither of which I've ever experienced, by the way, but I've enough imagination to get the gist). The spending freeze that unemployment dictates can easily be interpreted as punishment—punishment for losing a good job, for not finding another right away, for relying on government handouts. But worse than feeling punished can be the ache of suppressed desires. And books create a near-addictive craving in me.

Now admittedly I have a goal to reduce my library inventory, which only reinforces the decision to skip the big sale. But the way I FEEL about the decision must be similar to the reaction of a newly sober 12-Stepper invited to an alcohol-fueled party of close friends. I've been in hypergear ever since, trying to keep from thinking about competing against fellow bibliophiles for treasures—to forget about scanning hundreds upon hundreds of spines for the one I don't have, the one I could get for my sister, the one I wouldn't have paid full price for but don't mind purchasing for a buck, the one that's so stunningly illustrated that I can't not have it. 

Hmm. I'm thinking about those books right now: what they smell like, why they've been surrendered to the sale, the history they represent of their authors' lives, whom they're going home with instead of me.

The sale ends today, so I'm in the home stretch of my self-imposed restraint. Nevertheless, I have to continue keeping busy.  

Farewell! My laundry awaits . . .

Thursday, July 23, 2009

May Ye Never Be "Marginally Attached"

Years ago, business consultants created the buzzphrase "engaged workers" to describe the level of enthusiasm and loyalty employees had for their organizations' business and senior management. To be engaged was to be beyond motivated. An engaged worker understood the mission of a company and gave 110% to help the company accomplish it. And, of course, the consultants—for a price—could not only measure the engagement levels of employees but train them to become engaged. It was (still is) a handy piece of English for managers to flaunt during performance reviews, and when choosing whom to lay off next.

Now comes a new bit of buzz out of the U.S. Labor Department: "marginally attached" workers. Only they're not workers since they're not considered part of the workforce; they're not even really part of the unemployed ranks. They're the folks who have been unemployed and are giving up the search for a new job. The marginally attached include former workers who have chosen to return to school, have become a caregiver to a relative, and those who are too sick to search.

The good news is that the Labor Dept. is recognizing this trend. The bad news, of course, is that any one of us could end up adrift in the trend. This brings to mind a line from Ouida's A Village Commune: "Take hope from the heart of a man and you make him a beast of prey."

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Tuck This Into Memory, Fellow Job-Seekers

"Walk like you have somewhere to go."

That's the title of a forthcoming book by Lucille O'Neal, the mother of NBA star Shaq. It's also good advice for the unemployed. 

Though we may feel aimless (not to mention hopeless and useless), we can't act that way. Nope. Uhn-uh.

Put one foot in front of the other and walk with surety. Who knows? You may end up exactly where you want to be.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Let the "Recognition Cup" Runneth Over

Before The Lull, when I was advising managers on how to improve their (inappropriately named) "soft skills," one of the "must-dos" that couldn't be repeated often enough was Give recognition whenever you can.

This came to mind last week when a dear friend gave me an unsolicited and unexpected compliment. It was meaningful first because I believe she was being genuine. But second because I realized how long my Recognition Well had been dry.

Most of us crave recognition, whether we own up to it or not. We crave it at work, in our social circles, from our families. Not the 15-minutes-of-fame variety, either. We want the genuine article, sans shiny adjectives and dramatic adverbs. And I suspect I'm in good company when I say I received precious little recognition in the workplace. 

It's wearing. Without recognition, our perspective starts to shift; our self-esteem erodes.

I noticed a video on The Kindness Center Web site called Validation (scroll down the screen to see it). I haven't watched all of it yet, but the premise is spot on: A downtrodden fellow goes to pay for his parking and instead gets told how much he matters. Word spreads and pretty soon, folks are parking at the lot not to go shopping but to get "validated."

Corny? Maybe. But it points out two truths:
1. Validation/Recognition is necessary to well-being.
2. We need to give as good as (or, in this case, better than) we get. That is, how much recognition do you offer to others?

Make recognition a two-way exercise today. Whether you're giving or getting, I guarantee it will make you feel better.

Monday, July 20, 2009

My Deadline Looms . . .

This is my last month to find a job I really want. After this, I just have to find a job.

It's not the tack taken by many displaced workers, and I realize it's probably frowned upon by the unemployment office, but why not try to get the right fit?

Job-hunting is more than sending out a résumé each day—the requirement for those of us pulling an unemployment check. If there are any folks out there who are succeeding with a cookie-cutter approach to cover letters—that is, using one basic letter, maybe making tweaks to it as needed, for all job applications—then I'm jealous. Because every job I've applied for has been different enough from the previous one that I've not repeated more than about a paragraph of my original letter.

And just finding a job to apply for takes time. Besides desiring the job opening advertised, I feel I have to be equipped with the skills required to successfully perform the job before I apply. I've seen a lot of jobs I'd LIKE to have. The one at NASA comes to mind. I know people who would have answered the ad regardless. But I don't want to pretend I'm something I'm not. And I don't want to fail at a job. So I didn't apply.

I've seen jobs I have more than enough experience to excel at but the company wasn't desirable or the responsibilities weren't challenging. And I've seen jobs that didn't pay enough or weren't in a locale that I want to move to. But those are exactly the jobs I'll have to start applying for next month.

Time for a little praying/chanting/meditating and magic.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

A Shy Person's Prayer

"Need a teleprompter for my life."
Beck, on Modern Guilt

Confessions of a Beta Blogger, Part 2

(As noted in Part 1, I've ignored basic blogging guidelines by writing under a pseudonym and not writing about my area of expertise. Both were a conscious choice on my part and now I'll tell you why.)

My expertise is teaching people skills to managers—or, teaching managers how to balance compassion with the bottom line. I lived it and breathed it for the past 12 years and, frankly, The Lull is a chance to breathe something new. Take a break. Renew my interests in other subjects.

More important, though, Lull is a response to a wicked, politically motivated rumor circling the company that laid me off: She's a technophobe, a Luddite. The gossipers supported this rumor with the fact that I'd never posted any comments to our Web sites, forums, blogs, or social media sites. (They didn't know, I suppose, that I'd been feeding ideas to my writers and letting them have the honor of posting.) What the gossipers failed to do was ask questions. Like "Why don't you post any comments?"

Of course, had they asked questions, they would have arrived at the truth. It's a failing of many, many managers who want only to control a situation, not understand it. Had they bothered, here's what they would have learned about me:

I'm shy. I'm most comfortable with people one-on-one; more than three is too many. I avoid large gatherings, including festivals, parties, networking events, weddings, and funerals. Facebook, Twitter, and forums feel like large gatherings to me.

I joined Facebook several months ago because it's the first step in WowOWow's internship program. I reached out to only one of the people I knew on Facebook and invited her to be my friend. I thought this would be enough to satisfy the WowOWow requirement and allow me to move on to the next step. But immediately I received friend invitations from numerous Facebook members, which mortified me. I realize that getting friends is the goal for most Facebook users; it just wasn't my goal at the time. This has stymied my advancement in WowOWow's program.

I know I need an online presence. I appreciate the power of social- and business-networking sites to help connect lost loved ones, plan a revolution, and get a job. I'm just not ready yet.

Lull is my way of going to the "party" without actively participating in it. I'm the one in the corner—observing, making mental notes, and enjoying the spectacle. If you stop by, great; if you don't, that's okay, too. I just need to be a wallflower for a while before I get the nerve to do more.

Using an alias is merely a safety net. When I step beyond my introversion, I'll post my real name and maybe my photo. (However, you should know that both the wooden cat and the real one in the current pic are far more photogenic than I am. I don't want to scare readers.)

So there it is. I'm not a cat and my name's not Lill. If that's a problem for you, let me know. We can talk about it one-on-one.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Which Way Am I Headed?

"Are you going to Heaven or Hell?"
Call 773-_ _ _ - _ _ _ _ ."

That's what the back of the van said, in the spot where it usually reads "How's my driving?" The side of the van listed the kinds of work offered—something related to lawn care. I didn't pay much attention because I was looking to see if the Heaven/Hell number was the same as the company's number. It wasn't.

I wondered who answered the phone and how long it would take to hear a forecast of my future.

It reminds me of the summer when I was about 12 and acquiesced to spending the day with a girl I hardly knew.

"She wants you to go to camp with her, that's all. It'll be fun!" assured my mother.

Since mothers never lie, off to camp I went. But as soon as I got there, I knew it wasn't the camp I'd expected. It was Bible camp.

By the age of 12, I already had serious doubts about my religion; other religions, too, for that matter. I wanted PROOF about Noah's ark, Jesus's lineage, and Adam's rib.

So when the preacher looked out over the chapel filled with children and asked, "Who would like to meet Jesus?" I raised my hand high. Who wouldn't want to meet Jesus?

Apparently, every other kid but me. I was ushered away from everyone's view out into a dark hallway and put in the care of the church janitor. While "camp" continued in the chapel, the janitor and I continued standing where we'd been placed in the dark hallway.

For a moment, I thought it was a test of my biases, a test I could ace. It didn't surprise me that the Lord of Hosts would surface in the 20th century as a janitor.

It did surprise me, however, to discover that this janitor not only wasn't Jesus, but didn't even know Jesus. Hadn't even MET him.

I'd been boondoggled.

Fastforward into the 21st century, where I'm not so quick to take the bait. Will I be going to Heaven or Hell?

Only the janitor knows for sure.

Friday, July 17, 2009

How to Make Everybunny Happy

Today's morning walk with the pooch included this observation from a neighbor—a 40ish-aged man packaging a 12ish-aged boy—who makes observations in lieu of conversation:

"Too bad they don't make buggies small enough for her to pull. You could fill the buggy with bunnies and everyone could have a good time."

Actually, my dog LOVES bunnies. Whenever she spots one, she stands statue-like while her entire body twitches in anticipation. From a safe distance, she watches until her anticipation gets the best of her. Then she springs into a single jump intended to shoo the cottontail away (though often this doesn't work the first time and she has to spring again). Once the diminutive creature is on the move, so is my pooch—to sniff every inch of ground it had crossed.

That's it. No chasing, no hunting, no scare tactics (except for the spring in the air that took her a while to develop). She just watches and sniffs.

So pulling a pack o' bunnies in a buggy may very well be a good time—if not for all, at least for her.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Confessions of a Beta Blogger, Part 1

One troubling aspect of being unemployed is doubt. 

You begin to question not only your accomplishments of the past, but also your potential for the future. Past successes seem like illusions, future successes are unimaginable, and there you are in between.

It's hard to live in the moment when the moment is exactly where you don't want to be.

I have a friend whose antidote to this—her punishment, really—is to apply for yet another job, any job. It helps her push past the doubt and reground herself. I admire her for this. It's brilliant, really. I just haven't been able to do it.

I had an attack of doubt yesterday about maintaining Lull. The first wave hit as I was reading a former colleague's blog. His writing is precise, witty, and energetic. He's a writer by trade and by passion. Also by biology: Both his parents were writers. I started comparing our writing styles and soon all the joy I'd felt about creating Lull had disappeared.

Then the second wave of doubt hit. On Penelope Trunk's Brazen Careerist blog, she offers advice for first-time bloggers. Apparently, I've already made two grave errors with my blog: 1) Not covering ground that's within my expertise, and 2) Writing under a pseudonym. This made me feel like the kid in the corner donning a dunce cap.

Trunk's reasoning for her advice is sound. And for the record, I'd already considered the same points long before I started Lull. Yet I chose a different path. Why?

(Read the answer in "Confessions of a Beta Blogger, Part 2.")

Monday, July 13, 2009

One Job App. Down, How Many More to Go?

Whew! I just submitted a very long online application for a government job. It's taken forever to complete and has been the anvil on my head for days. 

Now I feel lighter. And I can't imagine that many other application processes will prove as daunting as that one was. Easy times ahead!

Sunday, July 12, 2009

She's Not Lassie

I'd show you a picture of my dog, but like many other things, she's afraid of having her photograph taken. It's not about the flash, either. And it doesn't matter whether it's a Hasselblad, a camera phone, or a throwaway camera. She knows what you're about to do and she wants no part of it.

(I realize I haven't used her name yet. I'm saving that for a full-blown column about her adoption.)

In addition to being part Smooth Collie (meaning she has a short coat rather than a "rough" one as we're used to seeing on Lassie), she's a White Collie, a breed apart and seen/appreciated more in the U.K. than in the U.S. Calvin Coolidge had White Collies as did Queen Victoria, whose dog looks quite similar to my pooch.

Blood Relations and Revelations

When you walk a mixed-breed dog, you spend a lot of time letting strangers tell you what breed you really have. 

My mutt's been labelled a Greyhound, Akita, German Shepherd, Border Collie, Pointer, "Coyote Dog" (apparently bred in the southwest U.S. to chase and kill coyotes—typically a cross between a Greyhound for speed and a Pointer or other hunting dog for stamina), English Shepherd, and Spaniel.

They may be right. I looked into getting her DNA tested. On one Web site, pics of some clients' dogs are posted along with their blood lines. Time and again, some Mastiffish canine would prove to descend from Chihuahua ancestry. I decided against the testing. I wanted to spare people from hearing that the 65-pound animal leaning into them was a Papillon-Beagle mix.

My husband and I tried making up breeds so we wouldn't have to play the guessing game with strangers. Long ago, on a trip to some Greek islands where dogs ran loose and mated freely, we saw lots of dogs that looked just like ours. So one time we said she was a "Santorini Hound." And to the couple who noted her as "most unusual," my husband declared her a "Cartoon Hound." They believed him. We felt bad and reverted to the truth.

However, sometimes we meet someone who sheds a bit of light on the breed dilemma. A woman asked me yesterday if I had a Smooth Collie. I said I didn't know but thought perhaps there was some Smooth Collie in her.

"Does she exhale loudly and go 'Hrrrmph' when you haven't done what she wants?"

"Yes, yes!" I cried, like I'd finally found my dog's long-lost sibling.

We chatted for a bit about Smooth Collie traits while my dog basked in the attentions of the woman. But then it was time to part ways.

Hrrrmph, indeed.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

More Zestful Living

Regarding Yesterday's Post: Wanted to alert you to the blog of a former colleague of mine—another person (and fine writer) who knows how to get the most from life. He's on a road trip right now and will be sure to have plenty of insights for us when he returns.

Overheard While Walking My Dog

As a pod of bicyclists came toward us, one looked up at the 19th-century stone church to my left and called out, "I've always liked this church. God DAMN that's a pretty church!"

Friday, July 10, 2009

Congratulations! You're One of 14+ Million!

If you're a no-collar (or as the Feds say, displaced) worker like me, you're in good company. And 14+ million is likely a conservative number. For me, being part of such a large group takes some of the edge off (and the shame and embarrassment) of being unemployed. Of knowing that someone chose me to be unemployed.

But that's only one element of our new lot in life. There are other "edges" to file down: paying bills, purchasing necessities, and remaining courageous while pursuing a job, to name a few.

I'm lucky in a way. My husband and I already lived within our means when he lost his job in 2006 because of an injury, at which time we drastically reduced our expenses. In case you're new to this reduction-in-force/reduction-in-living game, here's a short list of the changes we made:

• No more bottled spring water

• No more dog toys or accessories

• No more just-because-I'm-thinking-of-you gifts for one another or other impulse purchases

• No restaurants

• No trips

• Buy clothes and books from thrift stores instead of boutiques and department stores

• Ride a bike on errands rather than driving a car

Because my employer never paid me market value, my unemployment check doesn't feel much different. And with the government helping out with our healthcare costs, we only had to tweak our already-slim budget. Now I buy groceries according to what's on sale, I eat leftovers from meals I didn't like in the first place until they're gone, I use a razor until it's nearly dull before switching to a new one, I let my hair grow rather than going to the salon.

But I've failed to do the most important thing in the midst of all these changes: Live. Once you cut out all the fun in your life that cost money, it's easy to trap yourself into having no fun at all. To become reclusive. To hit a point of stasis.

It's not so much what you do, though, as how you think. I was reminded of this the other day while reading Steve Crescenzo's eulogy for his father.

It's a lesson in making every day the BEST it can be under the circumstances. It's a lesson in living large by eating well, playing hard, and spending time with who matters to us. It's a lesson we must never forget, regardless of our circumstances. 

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Old Frock, New Body Woes

This morning I put on a hand-me-down dress my sister sent me years ago. Most of my favorite clothes have been inherited from my older sister and her friend—two tall, svelte women with impeccable taste.

For the record, I share their taste but not their build. Yet I've usually been able to make their clothes work for me.

Today this particular dress feels a bit snug across the back. It doesn't look bad, but last Spring I was so thin I had to cinch it with a belt to keep it from dragging the ground.

I blame The Lull.

It's not that I'm not doing anything while being unemployed. It's just that there's more food at hand while I'm doing it.

Plus my dog dawdles. I know how lame that sounds, but I used to walk her 4 miles a day; now we're lucky to go a couple of square blocks. The phrase putting on the dog has shed a new meaning on me: My new girth is a manifestation of my dog's age creep. But I don't hold it against her.

I suppose there are other "no-collar" folks out there who already had a healthful nutrition and exercise regimen in place and aren't fazed by The Lull. I'm just not part of that crowd.

Hrrmph. More new habits to develop, more change to embrace. Can't wait until I'm the New Me . . .

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Time Out of the Bottle

Here's an odd thing about being unemployed: time. I used to have to keep track of it, allocating minutes to whichever project I picked up. I was constantly juggling, too; rarely had the pleasure of seeing one project through to completion before starting another one. Deadlines were stacked one on top of another and there was no downtime. Minding the clock was such a habit that now I have to stop myself sometimes from writing down how long I spent reading the N.Y. Times, how many minutes it took to get a glass of water, how many hours went by as I looked online for job opportunities. I actually have more time now that I don't have to monitor it.

During a lull, time can fritter away. During a lull, it's wise to develop new habits.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Suicide or Murder? A Case Punctuated by Amateurs

I watched a crime drama the other night in which the police declared a woman's death an open-and-shut suicide. But when a private investigator arrived on the scene, he took one look at the suicide note and knew better.

The telltale clue? An errant apostrophe. 

The woman had been an exceptional English teacher and the p.i. knew she wouldn't be caught dead inserting an apostrophe in the possessive its.

That alone didn't solve the case—merely opened it back up. But criminal minds best be warned: Those elementary English lessons do pay off in the real world. Good writing skills are important no matter what your line of work is. And something as small and seemingly meaningless as an apostrophe can lead to justice.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

What Would PETA Do?

I live in an urban area where we're accustomed to four kinds of wild creatures: pigeons and sparrows in the air, and squirrels and rats on the ground. Anything else is exotic.

As is typical of urban buildings,  ours has strips of wire spikes atop all the windows, doors, and ledges of our back stairway to prevent these creatures from cohabiting with us. And with the exception of some delightful purple finches who managed to make a nest in the outermost corner of our stairway roof a few years ago, the spikes have successfully fulfilled their purpose. Until now.

This Spring, some pigeons attempted to build a nest in the inch or so of space between the spikes and the wall. They failed.

But they tried again behind the spikes above a window, where another inch or so of space granted them success. It was a narrow, haphazard nest that left little room for the adult pigeon, but it was enough.

I was thrilled. How often do you get to watch baby pigeons? My neighbor, whose back door was opposite the sentry adults, was less thrilled.

I curtailed my trips down that back stairway—partially because I didn't want to traumatize the nesters, partially because I didn't want them to traumatize me. They didn't always stay on the nest. More often they were sitting on our third-floor landing or on the railing. A trek down our stairs incited frantic cries and frenzied movement from the birds. And dodging their waste matter now caking our stairway was unpleasant.

Soon enough, though, two babies could be spied in the nest. And last weekend they literally flew the coop. Our avian squatters were moving on.

I was relieved. Until last night.

I was headed down the back stairs to the basement and when I reached the second floor landing, there was a new pigeon nest. Well, "new" may not be the appropriate adjective. Remember the failed home-construction attempt of the first pigeons? Some of the twigs fell away from that nest onto the wood flooring below. The new pigeons hauled those few twigs into the corner of the landing, which isn't really a corner unless the outer door of the apartment is ajar. Which it is right now only because someone didn't latch it properly. But the pigeons didn't know that. They probably view the door as some kind of armored protection for their two eggs. They probably view themselves as brilliant.

One pigeon stood guard near the twigs. I spoke softly to her/him, hoping to get past without a conflict. But then on the first-floor landing were two more pigeons acting AS IF they had a nest there, above the door. But there was no nest to be seen.

I don't know what this means. I read Birdy and watched Little Voice, but can't recall anything that would help me understand our pigeons' behavior. I haven't researched it yet and, frankly, I'm a little afraid of what I might learn.

Those two eggs on the ground aren't safe. If by some miracle they suffer no damage and hatch, then most assuredly the infant birds are vulnerable to any number of predators.

Should we intervene now? Move the eggs? Put vegetable oil on them? (Isn't that how the gull and geese populations are reduced?) Guess I have some Googling to do.

I like animals and I want to do what's best for them. But I'm not keen on sharing space with pigeons. Or any other creature that I worry may attack me as I'm trying to use my own stairs.

What would PETA do?

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Warning for AP-Style Zealots

"If you take hyphens seriously, you will surely go mad."
—John Benbow, editor at Oxford University Press

Catch a Curveball, Change Your Life

Curveballs have been on my mind lately. Not because it's baseball season, but because people so often engage curveballs to describe the unplanned in life. Lately it feels like nothing but curveballs have been lobbed at me.

Now I'm not a glass-half-full kind of gal. I don't believe I have to catch the curveball to have it change my life. It can do that just as well when it slips through my fingers or lands far from my grasp. I can look at it as a positive change or a negative cross to bear. Or I can just look at it.

What kind of curveballs have come my way? Oh, the usual stuff: medical emergencies, job loss, reversal of fortune. I won't bore you with the litany.

I've learned to keep my mouth shut when I'm tempted to ask "How much worse could it get?" I've learned to count my blessings.

This is not to say that I'm comfortable with curveballs. On the contrary, they knock me off-balance and make me fret.

On the other hand, I feel a new kind of serenity about my future. I don't say "This isn't fair!" or "Why me?" I neither dwell on my misfortunes nor fantasize about getting a big break. I'm working on living in the moment.

Qué será, será.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

A Note for HR Folks and Their Suppliers

Hunting for a job is a daunting task for me. I'm squeamish about self-promotion and absolutely refuse to "fudge" about any skills I have or wish I had. I don't submit my résumé to you unless I'm certain I can succeed at the position you are advertising.

And that's where things get iffy.

The Job Board

My hunt takes place exclusively online. I visit a number of aggregate sites that pull in ads from a variety of job boards, so I'm familiar with a variety of formats. Some are inadequate for an HR specialist to properly list an opening; few allow for creativity in the description. The immediate workaround is a link to the more desirable listing on the advertising organization's Web site. Beyond this, I would encourage job boards to survey their users—both employers and prospective employees—to continue to improve the sites.

But job boards are the least of my problems with job-hunting. 

The Ad

The first obstacle to my quest is the person (or committee) who wrote the ad.  Kudos to the folks who understand the difference between "preferred," "desired," and "required"—and actually include this language in their job ads. And kudos to the folks who can put one word in front of another and have them make sense. But a pox on the rest of you. 

I've seen ads for positions that carried the title I'm qualified for, but described tasks in such jargon-laden language that I had no idea what I would be expected to do. I've also seen ads that didn't use jargon but still failed to make sense. I know that job-seekers apply to your ads in spite of these shortcomings. But don't take that as evidence that your ads work. It's merely evidence that some people are desperate enough for work that they'll take a stab at any opening, appropriate or not. 

I'm not interested in working with people who can't put a sentence together. Nor am I keen on working in an organization that depends on jargon to communicate. The sad truth is that in many cases, these bad ads don't reflect the culture or nature of the organization or department. They merely reflect the writing skills of the person (or committee) who put the ad together. Which means that you are likely screening out many qualified candidates who could have been a great fit for the position (me, for instance!).

The Process

The second obstacle to my quest for employment is the application procedure. I realize that automating this part of the hiring process is a boon for HR departments and a nice revenue stream for suppliers of the software. But when was the last time you asked job-seekers for feedback on your application procedure? 

I understand that asking 20 essay questions weeds out the tire-kickers. Here's what I don't understand:

• Multiple-choice questions that don't provide a space for additional comments. I find that in many cases, my answer is not among the list. I could randomly select an answer, but that would be a lie. And at the end of every application I've seen so far, I'm not supposed to press "Submit" unless I verify that everything is true. I could leave the question blank, but then I couldn't even move on to the next screen because the software requires an answer to every question. So please leave a space in which I may provide an explanation.

• No way to "Save" my responses. Some programs allow this, others don't. Think about this for a moment. During the course of the one or two hours it can take to complete an application, any number of things can go wrong—a power outage, an Internet disconnection or timeout, an interruption or personal emergency, a mistakenly pressed button or key. Without a Save feature, all the work prior to these calamities is lost. I realize this has no direct impact on you, but it does show your lack of regard for the job-seeker.

• No overview. Most of the software is structured so that every question has to be answered on one screen before being allowed to continue to the next screen. How many screens are there? How long will this take? I know I can put in bogus answers just to go from screen to screen and then edit every answer afterwards. But what a waste of precious time! Why not present a screen that shows the entire application? Then I can work on the questions offline and submit thoughtful, informed answers later.

I could go on. But I'm wondering how enlightened some HR people are. Here are a few Web sites and blogs to enrich your career:

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