Sunday, January 31, 2010

Closing the Book on Salt

At last I've read the final page of Mark Kurlansky's Salt: A World History. I started it a year ago, which is by no means a reflection of Mr. Kurlansky's writing abilities. My snail's pace is a result of the unusually short attention span I've been afflicted with while unemployed. It seems that for every bit of history I want to absorb into my brain, I have to first push aside the worries that take up so much space there.

But now I'm done and I feel liberated—free to start a new round of books in the year beyond My Year of Unenjoyment.

Salt is filled with wondrous details about world history—which, of course, includes the tragedies that salt has incited. Wars were fought over it, countries' borders were changed or eliminated for it. Kurlansky interweaves histories not only of countries and powermongers, but also histories of commerce, cultures, cooking, exploration, and technology. If you're a trivia junkie, this is a must-read. Some tidbits:
Detroit sits on a 1,400-acre salt mine.
Prior to the 7th century, the Italian mainland was quite a distance from Venice—the commercial epicenter for salt and other commodities of southern Europe. The water between these two land masses was called the "Seven Seas." And the phrase to sail the Seven Seas meant, literally, to sail this 25-mile stretch filled with sandbars, which required skilled navigation and probably a dose of luck.
Many countries mandate that iodine be added to salt sold for consumption in order to prevent thyroid problems. In China, this requirement forced many small salt producers into the black market for varying reasons: They couldn't afford the iodine, they didn't want this extra governmental control over their businesses, they thought the additive would taint the purity and taste of the salt. Some of the black market salt producers conduct business with Myanmar highland tribespeople who live too remotely to purchase treated salt from their own country. For the Chinese salt, they trade exotic endangered animals used by the Chinese for medicinal purposes. Sadly, the salt the tribespeople believe to be iodized is not.
What goes down into a salt mine doesn't always come back up. Scores of animals used for transporting were left to die (or were killed) in abandoned salt mines. Today, trucks, tractors, bulldozers, and other equipment lowered into salt mines piece by piece and then assembled underground are left there once the mine is no longer productive. Companies say it's not cost-effective to do otherwise.
A salt mine in Poland began holding daily Catholic church services for its workforce in 1689. The miners began carving religious figures into the rock salt,then a chapel complete with bas-relief scenes on the walls and ceiling. The miners continued carving through the decades—chandeliers, a ballroom, dining tables—and soon the salt mine sparked a new revenue stream for the government: tourism. Affluent guests visited and attended parties courtesy of the Polish Crown. And the Wieliczka Salt Mine Band accompanied the revelry (salt mines apparently have excellent acoustics). Today nonroyals may tour the mine.

Finishing Salt has been an uplifting way to start the final day of My Year of Unenjoyment.

And now, dear readers, let's toss a pinch of salt over our left shoulders as we look toward a brighter new year.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

In Which Lill Reaches An Unemployment Milestone

One year ago today, it was my last Friday at my job.

It was the day I would sign COBRA papers and accept the severance package I'd been offered two months before of one week of pay for every year of service. The same package had been offered to all the layoff victims. However, when I read through the release documents on January 30, 2009, the severance payment had been reduced by more than half.

As I was thinking this morning about the two men who had orchestrated this sleight of hand, I pulled a page from an old word-a-day calendar. The word for the day? Invultuation.

According to Mrs. Byrne's Dictionary, it means "attempting injury by sticking a doll with pins." How appropriate. And how enticing.

A year ago, when I first felt the sting of this betrayal, I asked a lawyer about it and he said the reduced severance was more than unethical—it was illegal. But it would cost me all of my severance money to sue and it could have dragged through the court system for years. Plus I worried about how a lawsuit would affect the remaining employees. Would there be more layoffs simply because I was trying to get what I'd been promised?

I decided to appeal to the conscience of these men. Tried to reason with them. But in the end, I did just what companies hope for in cases like this: I walked away without most of my severance, without any of the more than 80 days of time off I'd accrued, without hope of recovering any of this.

I've tried to let go of my anger toward these men. I try not to see them as cruel, irrational liars. The kindest perspective I can take is to regard them as desperate. They concocted a way to hang on to a little bit of the money the company was hemorrhaging and they used it. It was a small amount of cash for a company, but would have made a tremendous difference for me.

"The real tragedy of human existence is not that we are nasty by nature, but that a cruel structural asymmetry grants to rare events of meanness such power to shape our history."
—Stephen Jay Gould

Whenever I check my bank balance—to make sure I can cover the next bill or buy a few groceries—January 30 stirs in my mind. I don't know if I'll ever forget it. I wonder if the two men will?

[The Voodoo Hoodoo Spellbook can be found at Planet Voodoo; the doll is from Voodoo Authentica.]

Friday, January 29, 2010

Books on the Brain

y quest for employment centers largely on books for two reasons: 1) I adore them so, and 2) I'm an editor by trade. It's a perfect match and I just have to convince hiring managers/HR professionals that I can add value to their organizations. Which is what I'll be doing today. And probably tomorrow and the day after.

Which is to say, dear readers, I haven't much time to spend with you.

However, in a bit of television I saw last night, I was reminded of a term that ties in nicely with an earlier post about Brian Dettmer and a post I've been meaning to write about Victorian networking. In the program, an artist had purchased a number of science books and grangerized them to become graphic elements in his controversial artwork.

Grangerize has two meanings:
1. To mutilate a book by clipping illustrations, photographs, text, etc., out of it.
2. To illustrate a book by adding elements cut from other books.

According to, the word's coinage is linked to James Granger (1723–1776), an English clergyman whose Biographical History of England had blank leaves for illustrations that were to be filled in by readers with their own selection of pictures, clippings, etc. A kind of robbing-Peter-to-pay-Paul scheme. [Hmmm. That's a cost-saving measure for current publishers to consider.]

Do you see? Even while watching television my mind boomerangs back to books—their production and preservation. Now if I can just get across my passion in a cover letter without sounding sappy…

[Artful drop cap designed by Jessica Hische.]

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

The State of Unenjoyment

Did you hear him? It's official. Our president stated what my mother refuses to believe: America's jobless send out one cover letter after another and never hear a peep from the prospective employer.

I feel vindicated.

But it's too late for writer Neal Hirschfeld. He already suffered a meltdown over the lack of response and plotted his revenge. Read his dramatic(ally humorous) tale on the New York Times site for a chuckle and maybe a plan of your own.

[Thank you to the Lull reader who pointed this out to me.]

Hoovering the Web for Posterity

While perusing a back issue of Mother Jones the other morning, and after the mag sent me running to my cupboards to determine how many foods I bought containing unnatural amounts of corn syrup (not too many, as it turns out, though I discovered my backup can of peas contains SUGAR, for goodness' sake!), I read an interview with author William T. Vollmann. I've not read any of his voluminous works, but he has a cult following and he mentioned something I wanted to share with you.

Vollmann isn't a big fan of the Web largely because of its mutability of information. He would like the Library of Congress to make "archival hard copies of the Internet each day. Because then you would have copies of something you could trust 100 years from now."

Can you imagine? A Big Slurp of the Web every day and stored for infinity. This would be a researcher's dream and a forest's nightmare.

Vollmann lost me with the "hard" copy part. The reams of paper and storage space necessary for such an endeavor are unimaginable. Better to keep it digital. But still: Capturing every change made to every Web posting in the world every day.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Dress for Success

Thought we'd kick off the final week of January with this classic Richard Avedon juxtaposition and a note from 18th-century lexicographer Samuel Johnson:

“Language is the dress of thought….”

Choose your words carefully, dear readers.

[1940s gown by Christian Dior]

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Lull Spreads Its Borders

It's official: Lull is on Facebook. You can get there directly from the fan box created at the bottom of Lull's right margin. You can also become a Facebook Fan here; above the fan box, you can become a Lull follower. So many ways to be so many things (with the exception of employed; if I could do that for you, my life would be complete).

So please take a moment to become a fan and/or follower of Lull. There are no obligations once you do. I won't spam you or send you unwanted e-zines or talk about you or ask you to do anything you don't want to do. Just identify yourself as a fan or follower. It would make Lill's day.

In Which Lill Reminds Managers of Their Humanity

This week my sister applied for a marketing position at an upscale food market. She spent a great deal of time customizing her cover letter and résumé because she was genuinely excited about the job. She WANTED the job. She NEEDED the job.

She hand-delivered her bid for the position to the manager of the market. And he personally accepted her envelope. It's unusual for managers and HR folk to meet candidates in person at this stage of the hiring process. So he gets points for showing his face.

But his face was hardly welcoming. Never cracking a smile, he warned my sister that he's received more than 100 applications already (a few more than the 6 the press tells us about) and he'd only be contacting the cream of the crop.

I'm sure what he said is true. And perhaps he meant well. But with a dour disposition, he dashed every hope my sister had for the job. He could have conveyed the same information with a smile and a caring tone in his voice.

Dear Managers and HR professionals,

Who made you the Royal Guard of the company? Who said you have to maintain a poker face and act like a bloody robot to protect the company? Who do you think IS the company?

It's the people, of which you are one.

Job candidates aren't the enemy; employees aren't the enemy. So why treat them as if they are?

Obviously you know what the job market is like. You're the one who has to sift through hundreds of résumés. Now imagine, for a moment, what it's like to be the person represented by said résumé. Imagine a person whose unemployment benefits have run out, a person who is relying on the kindness of friends for shelter, a person who still has financial obligations and no way to meet them.

Or forget the hard-luck scenario. Just see people as people. Your first goal is to Do No Harm, regardless of how you may feel.


I can say this because it used to be my job to advise managers and HR folk on how to communicate and behave with employees and colleagues in the workplace. I can say this because I used to be a manager and I understand the difficulties of the role.

So I hereby decree that anyone involved in the hiring process of an organization take a deep breath and summon a little warmth into their "game face." It's not an indicator of the job candidate's chances. But it does make you a better ambassador for your organization. And a better member of society.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Unemployed Laze About While Taking Money from Our Government

I've been noticing the number 6 lately in the news. It's the estimated number of people who apply for each job opening. And it riles me every time I see it. So I thought I'd address my concerns with a letter to one of the writers perpetuating this mythical number.

Dear Ms. Easton,

I'm not certain whether your recent article for Time magazine, "A Limit to Compassion," was meant to be commentary or a report. But for as many stats as you paraded along with their origins, there's one that stands out as highly suspect:
"With an estimated six people applying for every job available, there's plenty of merit to that argument."

I'm surprised you didn't use this estimate as proof that the unemployed aren't trying hard enough to get jobs. Heck, I had more competition in high school for my seat in the orchestra.

Though you don't say where this estimate comes from or how it was tabulated (and why don't you?), I suspect it's from—a job board search engine that arrived at that number merely by dividing the number of unemployed with the number of job openings. The estimate has gotten a lot of mainstream press coverage.

A Reality Check
First, Americans should understand that job openings are open to everyone—not just to the unemployed. And's estimate doesn't include the number of employed people who are applying for positions alongside their unemployed former colleagues.

Second, share that estimate with any unemployed person or HR staff member receiving résumés right now and I think you'd get a different story. Granted, some positions require such unusual skills that few people qualify to apply. And some positions are in locations that few people want to brave the weather or the distance or the local culture to take. But especially in industries that are hemorrhaging (e.g., publishing and car manufacturing), competition for jobs is fierce.

I don't doubt that lots of people (myself included) will run through all their unemployment benefits. But the economists tell only a partial tale.

The Story Behind the Story
While I'm on the dole, I'm looking for a job. And I'm applying for jobs—across the nation. And I know I'm not alone in this.

No, I've not applied to be the bagger at my local grocery store yet (though I have offered to give them a seminar on the art of bagging, something that clearly eludes the staff where I shop). No, I've not tried to get freelance work. That will be the first thing I do when my unemployment benefits run out. Actually, I'm gearing up for it already—making lists of contacts, software and equipment needed, organizations to join, seed money needed. But ideally I'd like a full-time job that uses the skills I have and offers some challenges to boot. Or just uses the skills I have. And here's where's math gets wonky.

I applied to some job openings months and months ago that are STILL OPEN. Some employers have outrageous expectations of the skills candidates should have. That's their prerogative. But it doesn't get the positions filled. And then those positions remain in the job vacancy rate.

Unlike many job-seekers I know, I don't lie about my abilities. So if a job ad says I need to have extensive knowledge of astronomy, I bypass it. And I DO apply for jobs in my industry that are rungs and rungs beneath the height I'd reached. I don't have a problem with downward mobility, but many HR people do. They think I'll resent the low salary once on the job and become a problem employee, or that I'll not be able to take direction from anyone since I used to run the show, or that I'll not be able to accept a supervisor younger than myself, or that I'll want to move up too fast, or that I'll be too set in my ways to adapt to a new set of rules and processes. These are valid concerns. So I try to address them in my cover letters.

Yes, these are desperate times. But job-seekers have to be careful: The job needs to pay enough to live on (which is why I've abandoned hope for a job in NYC). And the job needs to be in a location that serves their family's needs (e.g., my husband requires medical care that's typically found only near large medical facilities and research universities).

There are thousands of people who could never meet the expectations of the jobs I'm applying for, but could be fine receptionists, accountants, or personal assistants. If I fill the receptionist opening, I will have reduced the options for those people. While I have unemployment benefits coming in, I'm choosing to avoid this scenario. Without unemployment benefits, I may have to acquiesce.

The Outlook on Job Reform
The job market needs more than new jobs. It needs a drastically transformed mindset on the part of managers, HR specialists, and recruiters. It needs application systems that work for the applicants as well as the companies. It needs internships and apprenticeships that are open to noncollege candidates. It needs CEOs who understand the value of training and the value of making every employee broadly employable rather than trained only for one niche in one company.

Ugh. I could go on. But time is precious and my job-hunting awaits. I will be applying for three positions this weekend, and I can assure you that I will have to best many, many more than 5 competitors for each one.


[Art attributed to Gabriel Metsu.]

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Oops. I'm having trouble getting the pup situated on Lull. Until I do, you'll need to use one of the links in the post below to donate money toward rescuing Haiti's animals.

The Animal Rescue Site, to which this pup would take you if I let him, is making donations to Haiti when you purchase gifts from the site. You can reach the Animal Rescue Site through the purple paw in the right margin of Lull. (I hope you're clicking on it each time you come to Lull. It's an easy way to donate food to shelter animals.) To be honest, though, I advise donating through one of the animal welfare organizations listed in the "Who's Helping Haiti's Animal Population?" post.

Who's Helping Haiti's Animal Population?

This past week, an unprecedented number of rescue dogs and their partners have flown into Haiti from all over the world: Russia, China, Peru, Great Britain, Taiwan, France, Mexico, and the United States. As Michael Antonucci, a board member with the Search Dog Foundation, says, "It's everybody’s emergency."

The nonprofit Search Dog Foundation recruits shelter dogs, teams them with firefighters, and trains them to find survivors in disasters—all of which is provided free of charge to fire departments throughout the U.S. And to help with the costs of the Haiti mission, Joanne Woodward and the Newman Foundation have made a $100,000 challenge. If you want to help the SDF meet that challenge, call 888.459.4376. You can follow the progress of the SDF in Haiti on Facebook and Twitter.

That's how the animals are serving the humans of this disaster, but what of the Haitian animal population?

Haiti has a very large stray dog presence. (You can view photos taken in 2003 of some Port-au-Prince pooches for an idea of their lives before the earthquake hit. Warning: Not for the faint-of-heart.) Wayne Pacelle, CEO of the Humane Society, writes on his blog: "One difficulty is that there are no organized animal welfare groups anywhere in the country, and no animal shelters or veterinary schools. This lack of infrastructure will complicate any response."

But fortunately, animal welfare organizations aren't undone by complications. Here are a few that were on the move last week in the Dominican Republic, waiting for a green light to enter Haiti:
The WSPA (World Society for the Protection of Animals) is partnering with the IFAW (International Fund for Animal Welfare).
The Humane Society teamed up with the Humane Society International, the Humane Society Veterinary Medical Assn., and the Veterinary Care & Humane Services - Caribbean Project of the Dominican Republic.

Visit any of the linked Web sites to read more about the organizations' efforts or to donate to those efforts to help the farm animals, the wild creatures, and the pets of Haiti. I've added a link to the right as well. When tragedy strikes, it affects the entire ecological chain—not just the folks featured on the evening news.

"Tossed dice at birth. Still rolling."

Today's headline is taken from the Smith magazine site, publishers of the popular Six-Word Memoirs books.

Legend has it that author-of-few-words Ernest Hemingway (seated above in Paris, 1924) was once challenged to write a story in six words. The result?
"For sale: baby shoes, never worn"

You'll find some terribly clever (and some not-so-much) writing on the site from celebrities and common folk. "Not quite what I was planning" probably speaks for a lot of us, while wordsmiths have to appreciate "It-girl married IT guy. Capital mistake."

This was on my mind for some reason yesterday, and job-hunting descriptions started to emerge:

Putting my all into a vacuum.

Slim odds, excessive self-promotion, tenuous hope.

Jumping through hoops to get nowhere.

Here's my résumé. Hello? Anybody there?

An exercise in reduction. It certainly brightened my dour mood. Try it and see. If nothing else, it's a worthwhile diversion from the task at hand.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

I Coulda Been A Contender

Last night in the mail was an announcement from my bank. By registering my check card at a special Web site, I get a chance to win the grand prize of $10,000 each time I use my check card.

Of course, I'm already behind because I received the mailing late. (Guess I shouldn't expect otherwise in the city known to have the worst postal service in the nation.) The contest started 5 days ago, and in the last 5 days I've used my check card for all the bills and groceries I can afford to pay and purchase until the end of the month.

However, one of the prizes is $5,000 for the essay that best conveys how $5,000 will help the writer have a great 2010. I was all ready to start my essay until I got to the critical part of the rules, which I read aloud to my husband. After submitting my essay, I have to get people to vote for it—rely on all my networks. The essay with the most votes wins.

My husband started shaking his head. We both knew our combined networks couldn't make me a winner.

Whatever happened to pure merit? To substance? To quality over quantity?

Oh, right. That involves real thought. And thought hasn't been necessary since we started issuing zero-tolerance policies. Thought is so last century.

[Art courtesy of Rodin.]

Homing In on My Purpose in Life

Just returned from a 3 AM outing with the pooch.

The acoustics outside were eerie. Every flutter of a plastic bag, every scrape against pavement of a plastic bottle, every dry leaf could be heard as if amplified in a concert hall. The pooch was on high alert.

We were headed for home when, just a few doors down from our building where we sometimes see a bunny, we (really, I since I had to draw the pooch's attention to it) spotted an opossum.

We watched it as it ambled north between a row of bushes and a building. But when it stepped out of the bushes onto a walkway, I saw its most unusual tail. Rather than the long hairless prehensile tail of most opossums, this one had what can only be described as a silver-and-black bottle-brush tail (sans handle). That is to say, it was about the length of a cocker spaniel's tail and the hairs stuck out every which way.

Now you may recall that in early September I saw another mutant opossum. And I was told long ago that there's some lore about sighting opossums (or maybe it was because the opossum I saw was white). Anyway, what are the odds of seeing two mutant opossums when there aren't that many normal ones around? What does this mean?

This is beginning to feel like the melon mystery of September, as yet unsolved since I never saw a third melon in the lake. Time will tell if these nocturnal creatures signify anything.

But tonight's opossum meant one obvious thing to my dog: Life is too thrilling outside at 3 AM to be stuck inside on a 3rd floor. I managed to get her into the building, but she immediately parked herself in the foyer, awaiting the next adventure.

[Found the pic on Retrieverman, though I don't know that he was the photographer.]

Monday, January 18, 2010

Dig Into Your Pockets

"True heroism is remarkably sober, very undramatic. It is not the urge to surpass all others at whatever cost, but the urge to serve others at whatever cost."
—Arthur Ashe

I typically refrain from commenting on world events. There are zillions of other blogs and news sites on which you can read the facts or the truth or scandalous lies.

But what's happening in Haiti can't go unnoticed. And regardless of what our financial circumstances may be, we must find a way—no matter how small—to help. There's a widget to the right that, with a click, will take you to the American Red Cross to make a donation. Show your heroism.

[Art courtesy of St. Pierre Toussaint.]

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Salt and Dream Jobs

Though I'm learning more than I ever expected to know about salt from Mark Kurlansky's Salt, it's the secondary material that really interests me. For instance, he mentions Sarah Josepha Hale, who edited Godey's Lady's Book from 1837 t0 1877. Now, I know nothing about Ms. Hale except that she held a dream job for 40 years. She was 90 when she retired from the magazine. Can you imagine?

That's the life I used to fantasize about. However, after trekking the job-hunters' trail through 2009, a one-year appointment is looking pretty good now. But to want to keep going to work every day through your 70s and 80s must be some kind of wonderful.

Do you know what kind of work that would be for you? At what kind of place? With what kind of people? If so, then you've figured out the job you should have.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

I’m TRYING to Be a Good Little Job-Hunter, But…

Once I finally left my tangle of covers yesterday—and had my coffee and ate my breakfast and finished reading Michael Ondaatje’s Divisadero and pilled the pooch and took her for a walk and tried to get her to eat some breakfast—after I was finally ready to face the day, I got down to the business at hand. Namely, to finish my application for a particular job.

I thought I’d applied for the job on Monday. I saw the job opening last week. I’d researched the community this job is in and shared my excitement with my husband. I’d sent my résumé and carefully worded cover letter to the e-mail address listed in the ad. It had been a stunningly simple and hopeful process, and maybe a little too easy.

Then the e-mail came through saying I also had to apply online on the university’s hiring system.

Ugh. Another step, but no big deal. Yet I’d done enough of these to know I needed a chunk of time to complete the online application.

So on Wednesday, just as I pressed the button that said I promised I hadn’t lied about anything, just as I was feeling self-satisfied about finishing the application just in time to go to a writers’ meeting I really wanted to attend, they popped up.

THEY were 8 questions, 6 of them requiring essay answers.


I was nowhere near done! And I couldn’t sit through a meeting with this on my mind.

So I skipped the meeting and outlined what I wanted to say. On Thursday I wrote; on Friday, I wrote some more. I did the final editing today, including a paragraph regarding the typo in one of the questions.

Now if I wanted a job as sous chef or scenic designer or manicurist, the typo would have been a nonissue. But when you’re applying for an editorial position, it’s a hateful little Pandora’s box. Was it intentional? What do they prefer I do? Here’s what I wrote on the subject (and didn’t submit):
[Regarding the last word of this “question”: Is the spelling intentional? Are you monitoring which candidates bring up the extra i? Which candidates make snarky comments and which ones try to be tactful? Do you assume that candidates who don’t mention it don’t notice it? I confess I’m conflicted about how to respond in these situations. But if by not mentioning it you perceive me to be a bad editor, I thought it best to note it.]

Now to the reason I didn’t submit it.

After I copied and pasted each of my spectacular answers and reworked them to look good on-screen in the too-tiny boxes (that didn’t expand for easier viewing) with the too-tiny type, after I agreed to background checks and other snooping, and after I hit SUBMIT with relish, red instructions spilled over my window. The red said my application had serious errors in it that I needed to correct.

What had I done wrong? I had exceeded the 1,200-character answer limit.

They couldn’t have told me that UPFRONT?!

I would have followed a character count if I’d been given one. Now I had to hack away at my prose. And that’s about all I’ve been doing today. I used the Word Count function in Word to monitor my success, adhering to the character count WITH word spaces. My comments about the typo were the first to go. And finally, I was ready to hit SUBMIT again.

And guess what? According to this application system, Word doesn’t know jack about counting characters. Now I had to keep cutting and submitting and cutting and submitting until my answers got accepted.

THEN it was time to attach my cover letter and résumé and optional attachments. There were all sorts of rules about how my documents were to be formatted—rules about fonts, columns, software programs. It was at this point that I decided they would have to take what I had for them. I wasn’t about to reformat anything after already spending days on their application. I thought I’d address the typo in one of those “optional attachments,” but the system skipped over that part.

C’est la Vizsla. Time to move on. Life’s too short.

(And I dare just one of you blaggards out there who think the jobless are lazy parasites to comment on this. Go ahead; test my wrath.)

[See “Rage Against the Machine” for my previous rant against HR and their choices of technology. Art courtesy of Frida Kahlo.]

Friday, January 15, 2010

Sometimes My To-Do List Streamlines Itself

"...I arise in the morning torn between a desire to improve (or save) the world and a desire to enjoy (or savor) the world. This makes it hard to plan the day."
—E. B. White

A note for my jobless brethren: I love this quote. But let's be honest. Sometimes we first have to choose to get out of bed. First things first.

[Art courtesy of Van Gogh.]

Thursday, January 14, 2010

What's Moby's Link to Lull?

This photo is a clue, as is the post about Paul Metcalf.

As I was searching for something completely unrelated on the Web, I came across a BBC interview with the musician Moby. I listened to only the first minute or less of it and learned something that related to my reading.

Moby's full name is Richard Melville Hall—Melville after his great-great-great-great-granduncle Herman Melville. But his parents thought a nickname might suit him better until he could grow into his serious name. He's been the diminutive Moby ever since.

Writer Paul Metcalf also hails from the Herman Melville family tree: He's Melville's great-grandson, and it was in Metcalf's home that the Billy Budd manuscript was discovered after Melville's death.

Now what's the likelihood that you would know these bits of trivia if you weren't a Lull reader? And to think that my unemployment brought it all together. It's a small, interconnected world after all.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Becoming One with the World

You may remember that I read several books at a time in addition to magazines and journals. My choice of reading material is determined by several factors: my mood, the book's portability, the amount of time I have to read.

Last month I intended to finish all the books I'd started during my year of unemployment before adding any new ones to the mix. Thought I'd make a fresh start in February.

But then I read about the Gold Rushers using camels in California (from Mark Kurlansky's
Salt: A World History), which reminded me of an ad in Bark magazine that mentioned camels used in the Civil War. Both sounded preposterous, so naturally I checked into the matter. And it's true! (The last of these camels was spotted in Texas in the 1940s.) It ticks me off that throughout every miserable history class I sat through covering the War between the States, this information was never presented. What a great way it would have been to capture a kid's attention.

Then I thought about the other ways my reading has overlapped—that three very different books each taught me something about Italy (
Eat, Pray, Love - language; Mother Tongue - politics; Salt - commerce); that Lawrence Weschler's Everything that Rises converged with a poem about the Sava river by a Serbian poet I know; that when I randomly opened The Big Book of Favorite Dog Stories, I was faced with a John Muir tale, and I'd just watched a television program about him.

My multiple-book approach to reading reminds me that the universe is one magnificent web of interconnectedness. It reminds me that I'm not alone (comforting) and I have much to learn (humbling).

So I started a new book this week, and just as the characters drove into Petaluma, California, so did my sister. There's something calming and meaningful about such happenstance. And who doesn't want a little calm and meaning these days?

[Art courtesy of Madeleine and Picasso.]

Searching for a Spider Web

here was no posting yesterday because I couldn't get online. I hope it was a fluke and I don't have to involve my Internet service provider again.

While browsing the Web this morning for a painting of a spider web, I learned about a 15th- or 16th-century Austrian painting technique that some artists still use. Rather than working on cloth canvas, the material of choice is a gathering of spider or cobwebs.

I know that an artist may work on any material that will hold the paint, but cobwebs never entered my mind. Guess I lack the imagination or resourcefulness of those long-ago Austrian peasants.

Monday, January 11, 2010

My Job Takes Concentration and Balance

Let's start the week off with a chuckle. This is (kind of) what I'll be doing today with cover letters.

[Photo courtesy of I Can Has Cheezburger.]

Saturday, January 9, 2010

The Job-Hunter's Closer

I've been writing cover letters today and periodically trying to figure out why the "Next Blog" function on the top NAV bar of Lull isn't working. I came across the Sleep Talkin' Man blog on which a woman posts some of the crazy things her British husband utters in his sleep.

One in particular struck me as the closing statement I'd like to insert as a P.S. in my cover letters:

o you like what you see? No? Well, bloody look harder. Strain your eyes!

Just sayin'.

[Artful drop cap by Jessica Hische.]

Giving New Life to Old Tomes

WARNING: Today's post may shock you.

You know I love books. And you've probably guessed by now that I'm the type of person who feels actual pain when I see a book tossed into the garbage. (Yes, I know there are some really bad books out there, but still.) Furthermore, it hurts me to see pages ripped from rare books and put on the selling block, regardless of how artful those single pages are.

That said, what Brian Dettmer does to books is nothing short of extraordinary. And from what I can tell, he seems to choose books that have a limited lifespan—reference books, instructional guides, and text books. So, in a way, he's extending their lifespan by transforming them into sculpture.

The piece shown here is Science in the Twentieth Century—and it's already sold.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Give Your Tree A Fond Farewell

If you're wondering what to do with that dry fir in the corner, here are a few ideas:

King Knut (ruling 1080–1086) declared Christmas a 20-day celebration. So don't worry about dismantling your tree until St. Knut's Day, which spiritedly marks the official end of the holiday season on January 13. Trees were traditionally thrown from windows.

By some calendars, the official end of the season falls on Candlemas Eve, February 1. Displaying a tree beyond this date could bring bad luck. I wish I'd known this years ago.

Of course, you can always recycle your tree. Or you can go the ReadyMade route and transform it into a coatrack.

On the other hand, you can turn the tree dismantling into a drinking game. My father tells of a friend of his who, decades ago, left his fir up until St. Patrick's Day every year, at which time the fellow invited all his friends to a party. My father's memory is [ahem] a bit foggy on the details. But I suspect party-goers couldn't take a swig of anything unless they first removed something from the tree. Somehow they managed to safely strip the tree of ornamentation every year and have fun [read: get sloshed] doing it. For unemployed readers: A BYOB soirée may be just the pick-me-up you need when March rolls in.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Bizzy, Bizzy

Dearest Lull Followers,

My apologies for neglecting you this week. I've been stepping up my job-hunting efforts—thinking through a résumé redesign, parking myself on LinkedIn, making connections, recovering from a botched interview—and hunting for new specs (which was easier back in the day because there were very few boutiques to choose from for unique glasses; now it's difficult to find specs that you don't already see on five other people). Plus I've been up with the pooch in the middle of the wintry night every night. I'm a wee bit tired. She probably is too.

I must confess that I really expected to have a new job by now. January 30 will mark my one-year anniversary of unenjoyment and it would be great to hit that milestone with a job in the bag. But I know what the reality is likely to be. And I know what that is going to feel like. I'll have to mark the date somehow. It will probably involve more burning people.

Chin up. Shame and hurt brushed aside. Put your perseverance on full throttle. Here we go into 2010…

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Wise Words to Live By in a Wicked World

"Forgiving is not forgetting; it’s actually remembering—remembering and not using your right to hit back. It’s a second chance for a new beginning. And the remembering part is particularly important. Especially if you don’t want to repeat what happened."
—Desmond Tutu

[Photograph by Mirjan.]

Sunday, January 3, 2010

WordGazing: When Politeness Collides with Meaning

s I walked across a local park recently, I saw a large wooden sign that gave me pause. I had to read it twice to make certain I was reading it correctly. Here's what it said:

To aid your enjoyment
please eliminate
ball playing

Besides the obvious lack of punctuation, the word eliminate confused me about the message. Had the writer of this warning used a dictionary, s/he would have discovered these definitions for eliminate: to put an end to, to get rid of, to expel (to force to leave)—none of which convey the real meaning of the sign.

It's not a mandate to rid the park of things (ball players, dogs, litter) that are already there. Nor is it suggesting that people would enjoy their park visits more if they eliminated one or more of the items listed. It's a plea to park users to prevent any of these things from being in the park in the first place. People aren't being given permission to "put an end" to dogs; they're being asked to NOT play with or walk their dogs within the park's boundaries.

Sometimes when we search for a way to say something politely or to say it without ruffling anyone's feathers, we get trapped in a world of euphemisms and synonyms and quickly digress from our original intent. Sometimes the best way to say something is the most straightforward way:
So everyone may enjoy this park,
the following are prohibited:
ball playing

Saturday, January 2, 2010

The 2010 Clock Ticks Letter by Letter, Word by Word

If you’re already struggling with your New Year’s Resolution, or if you couldn’t think of anything you wanted to commit to, here’s a way to pass the time: a book challenge.

Book challenges seem to be quite the rage among readers of book-related blogs and Web sites. You can join a formal one or create one of your own. There are three variables to consider when making your selection: time frame, genre, and number.

1. Time Frame
How long will the book challenge last? A month? A season? A year? And how well does that fit into your lifestyle and responsibilities?

2. Genre
This can be a known literary genre or a specific category. For instance, you could read books that have been adapted into films, or books from the New York Times Bestseller list, or books written in the 1920s. As far as genres go, all apply: bodice-rippers, Christian mysteries, paranormal thrillers, YA, etc., etc. My only caution here is that if you intend to boast about your participation in the challenge, choose a genre you will be proud to crow about.

3. Number
How many of these books will you try to read within the allotted time frame? It shouldn’t be too easy for you or it wouldn’t be called a challenge.

A book challenge isn’t right for everyone. But it can be a useful motivator in some situations. In fact, I’m going to encourage my father into one. His health has considerably reduced his usual activities and goals. Making a competition/game out of reading the books that line his walls could give him a focus for what he calls his “low-energy days.”

If you want to be part of a group effort book challenge, you may find some like-minded people on these sites:

Book Awards Reading Challenge

Six Book Challenge 2010

100 Book Challenge 2010



Booking Mama
The Memorable Memoir Challenge

J. Kaye’s Book Blog
The 2010 Young Adult Reading Challenge

[Please ignore the color variation in the list. I'm experiencing some technical difficulties with the posting.]

Whether you join a challenge or not, let me know what you’re reading (or listening to—audiobooks count, too). I’d like to create a list of what Lullers are reading.

Make 2010 memorable—one book at a time.

[Portrait of Emile Zola by Edouard Manet]

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