Sunday, February 28, 2010

A Release from Hope

I actually received an e-mail this week from one of the publishers I applied to. It was a couple of form grafs saying although they considered me, they found someone more suitable. Basically, a rejection letter. However, I prefer to think of it as a "Release from Hope," no matter how tenuous that strand of hope may have been.

Don't get me wrong: I don't hold my breath for every job I apply to. I have no Great Expectations. But I do try to keep a little flame of hope burning.

I have to confess that's getting harder to do, which may be exacerbating my "under-the-weatheredness." I visited my local unemployment office this week to find out if I really needed a lawyer to combat the mysterious offense I'd made (see "Ouch! The IDES of February Are Hurting Me") and was told to "be patient with them." They're "behind." I should keep making my regular phone calls and someday soon I'd get another letter from IDES saying where I stood. (Of course, if it's as incomprehensible as their previous letters, I still won't know where I stand.) I wasn't in trouble. But no one could tell me whether I was or wasn't eligible for benefits.

So I've had no income for a month and I'm not sure whether there will be IDES income in the future. Makes me a little SCARED … WORRIED … TROUBLED … STRESSED … DESPONDENT … ALL those emotions I've been holding at bay by writing Lull. They've been waiting in the wings for this moment to bully me.

But I'm going to look to George Eliot for strength:

"But what we call our despair is often only the painful eagerness of unfed hope."
Middlemarch, by George Eliot

[Art by Vermeer.]

They'll Get By With A Little Help From Their Friends

The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) is about to begin. Why should we care?

Because these are the folks who decide just how endangered a species is in relation to international trade laws. And I suspect some of their decisions are tied to local economies and power bases. So they can be nudged. The more of us who nudge, the better off bobcats and tigers will be over the next few years.

"Think occasionally of the suffering of which you spare yourself the sight."
—Albert Schweitzer

The Humane Society has made it easy for us to get involved. Just click on "nudge" to get more information and sign one or all of the petitions on the HS Web site.

But you have to act today. (No, that's not a lame marketing tactic. That's me telling you about this at the very last minute. The petitions have to be signed by March 1.)

I know, I know. There are a gazillion causes we could/should get behind. But saving a few wild felines via petition shouldn't be too straining for us. It's a small act of kindness we can't justify ignoring.

Hello Again...

Some parts of me have been under the weather these past few days, and sitting at the computer is an exercise in pain management right now. I know I owe you a few posts—but please forgive me for keeping them brief.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

WordGazing: In Which Lill Adjusts Her Freudian Slip

It's time to come clean:

While applying for a job this afternoon, I suddenly worried that I'd written a word on Lull that merely rhymed with the word I'd intended to write. I'd intended to say "The First Great Recession of the 21st Century," but instead wrote "The First Great Repression of the 21st Century."


Frankly, I think either one works from the perspective of the jobless. But I wasn't trying to be clever. And I hate making mistakes, so I've replaced the two errant consonants.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

We Could All Use A Little “Circular Helping”

We no longer purchase the Chicago Tribune. This is due in part to its cost and our cost-cutting, but it’s also a result of the downsizing of the paper—both in dimensions and in content. Periodically I pick up the Tribune’s free outreach rag geared toward Millennials. My husband enjoys scanning it and then adding it to our growing stack of papers intended for use in our pending move.

One of these free papers was lying about the other day and I leafed through it. In the blog column roundup was a recruiter’s comment to “Get a Job in Chicago: 10 Tips from Local Recruiters,” an article and slide show posted by Katie Rogers on her BrokeAss blog. Here’s the tip:

Stay positive.
“We all want the job market to improve. We are all a bit beaten down by the economy. But the people who only look forward and bring a positive attitude will outshine those who have grown frustrated and jaded.”

Okay. I can agree with that. But here’s how the recruiter responds:

“As a recruiter I could not agree more with the statement of ‘Staying positive.’ All too often I interview people or read resumes about people’s poor luck recently. Yes, we all experience hard times, but if you cannot stay positive during a tough time then how would you handle a difficult situation/customer if I were to place you in the job itself?”

Excuse me? Since when did handling a tough customer or situation in the workplace become equivalent to worrying about whether you’re going to be able to keep a roof over your head and looking a bit glum about it? Are interviews going to start including questions about our survival skills during the First Great Recession of the 21st Century? Do you ever hear a “poor luck” tale and feel a twinge of compassion?

I believe this recruiter meant well. She provides three more tips for the job-hunter in her comments and closes with this paragraph:

“I hope this helps, and I interview people all day long, so if anyone every needs tips please let me know :)”

(Note: I didn’t retype that. Nor did I add the emoticon, which is what leads me to believe she meant well.)

In a wonderfully synchronous moment, I opened management expert Dale Dauten’s Laughing Warriors: How to Enjoy Killing the Status Quo to this wisdom:

“Hiring is circular helping—the goal is to find the person who will contribute the most AND benefit the most.”

The caps are Dauten’s. The idea is golden. Of course it’s unwise to hire people only because you feel sorry for them. But if they really could be of value to your organization and they will benefit from your job offer, isn’t that a best-case scenario? The cliché Win-Win?

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

The Kind of Day Today Is

"[Y]ou can't help respecting anybody who can spell TUESDAY, even if he doesn't spell it right; but spelling isn't everything. There are days when spelling Tuesday simply doesn't count."
—From The House at Pooh Corner, by A. A. Milne

[Photo: Original toys that inspired the legendary Pooh tales.]

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Visit a Sanctuary Today

Sorry I was so whiny yesterday. I periodically (well, most of the time, really) don't listen to my own advice and let things like poorly written letters from people in a power seat get the best of me.

To counter yesterday's lame post, I give you the Church of a Reader (it's really a room in the Austrian National Library) and a bit of uplift from Irish poet John O'Donohue:

"Your identity is not equivalent to your biography. There is a place in you where you have never been wounded, where there's a seamlessness in you, and where there is a confidence and tranquility in you, and I think the intention of prayer and spirituality and love is now and again to visit that inner kind of sanctuary."

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Ouch! The IDES of February Are Hurting Me

IDES is the acronym for the inappropriately named Illinois Department of Employment Security, which has recently caused me more pain than my mouthguard can handle.

"I like nonsense; it wakes up the brain cells."
—Theodor Geisel (aka Dr. Seuss)

The kind of nonsense IDES has been sending to me wakes up my brain cells, all right—the ones connected to anger. Let me explain.

Back in December, I received notice that my unemployment benefits would continue without any action on my part. And so they did. Until I made my claim for benefits covering the last week of January and the first week of February. In Illinois, the "Statement of Certification" IDES sends spells out exactly which weeks you're answering questions about. And when I called, I was told my benefits ended in January. I could call a particular number to find out more.

Of course I called the number. But there was no further information other than that I could leave a message and they'd get back to me.

The mailbox was full.

Then I received a new statement on February 11 saying that I was deemed ineligible because I didn't make enough money during My Year of Unenjoyment to qualify. Well, no sh_ _, Sherlock! as a college acquaintance of mine used to mutter. But I thought continued benefits were based on the same numbers used to determine my original benefit amount—that is, my earnings prior to being laid off.

I tried not to get too worked up over this confusion because on the top of the VERY SAME STATEMENT were instructions on calling in my next claim for benefits. Top or bottom? Which would you choose to believe?

I went for the top and, on my assigned day this past week, called in my claim. The Teleserve voice told me my claim was accepted.

Two days later I received a thick envelope from IDES containing three notices:
1. An explanation of my rights.
2. Another statement saying I'm ineligible; only this time, it refers me to the "adjudicator's determination," which was not enclosed. My "interview" (read: hearing) is scheduled for seven days from the date of the statement, which was forward-dated to the day it actually arrived in my mailbox (the other notes in the envelope had earlier dates, so that was nice of them, I guess).
3. The regular "Statement of Certification" telling me when to call Teleserve next (as if all's well).

I knew before Christmas that IDES was having trouble keeping up with the Federal extensions granted to the jobless. In fact, state employees were having to override the computerized system and enter information manually. A friend of mine was told this by an IDES staffer. But I assumed they'd be caught up by now. (Or maybe they ARE caught up and my ineligibility is a bigger problem than I thought.)

How much extra work do these communication snafus cause the IDES staffers? How many times a day do they have to explain what these notices mean to people like me? IDES staffers deserve to know who wrote this tangle of the English language—or better, who approved it—and then mete out some justice.

I wrote to IDES. Volunteered to look over their communications with the outside world and edit the content for easier comprehension. On the other hand, if IDES was trying to be trying—if this was a strategy to exasperate the jobless to the point that we'd give up making claims and the government would keep the money—then they're doing a fine job.

[Portrait of Anger by Patricia Lange.]

Friday, February 19, 2010

WordGazing: It's Only A Letter

Years ago, I had a publishing client whose boss—the owner of the publishing company, no less—thought proofreaders unnecessary. As a former journalist, he believed writers should be held accountable for their writing mistakes; that is, writers shouldn't make any mistakes. Hence the reason this publisher had no staff proofreaders.

What the owner failed to consider, aside from the fact that precious few writers are perfect, were the myriad goofs and glitches that can occur over the course of production: Copy moves, falls away, gets rekeyed by designers, changes fonts—you name it, I've seen it happen.

This all came back to me this morning when I opened an old issue of ARTnews magazine. Staring at me was this ad copy:

If the world tresures it, Huntington T. Block insures it.

The company was announcing its six new staff members—most of them vice presidents, none of them proofreaders. The copy is Block's slogan and is probably on all of the company's marketing materials.

Now most of us can be forgiving and see the typo for what it is: a mistake. After all, only one little letter dropped out, and a fairly useless one, at that (Andrew Carnegie would have been proud). We can still comprehend the meaning of the sentence.

However, there will be others who take the typo as a sign of how their art might get treated by Block: carelessly. The insurer will never know how much potential business it lost from this one omission.

Clearly, details matter. I bet no one at Huntington T. Block would dare suggest that proofreaders are unnecessary.

[Black Iris II by Georgia O'Keeffe.]

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Of Art and Dogs

"It's very simple. Dogs and cats and other talented animals have tails; their tails, with their thousands of flourishes, provide them with a wonderfully complete language of arabesques, not only for what they think and feel and suffer but for every mood and vibration of their being, for every infinitesimal variation in their feeling tone. We have no tails, and since the more lively among us need some such form of expression, we make ourselves paintbrushes and pianos and violins…"
—Hermann Hesse, in Rosshalde

[Photo by Melissa McDaniel.]

A Twist on the Heartless Bastards Who Lay Us Off

It's easy to vilify the people who hand us our pink slips. Even folks who haven't received a pink slip can watch George Clooney in Up in the Air and get a cinematic taste of the experience.

But sometimes the person on the other side of the table is genuinely compassionate. And sometimes that compassionate person is so racked with guilt and sorrow that dire circumstances become worse.

Folk artist Stephen Huneck, famous for his Dog Chapel (where a sign reads “Welcome: All Creeds, All Breeds. No Dogmas Allowed.”) in Vermont, was one such employer. Devastated that his failing art business forced him to lay off most of his employees, he took his own life last month.

And then, as is so often the case in the art world, his death "revalued" his art and with the renewed interest and sale of his works, Huneck's wife was able to hire back most of the employees who had been let go.

Kind of puts our joblessness in perspective, doesn't it?

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Get Lost in Translations

Weeks and weeks ago, writer Aleksandar Hemon showed up in Time magazine—a whole page devoted to him. In fact, he's gotten lots of mainstream press recently, as has his publisher, Dalkey Archive Press (which I've mentioned on Lull numerous times). Hemon's book, Best European Fiction 2010, is being touted as a must-read, especially for folks who take their translations in small doses.

If you're like me—an avid reader who reads very few new translations of books—it's time to stretch and see what we've been missing. In addition to the Dalkey Archive Press, check out Open Letter Books, the University of Rochester's publishing arm that specializes in translations.

Or go to UR's literary site, Three Percent. The name is a reference to the percentage of all books published in the U.S. that are translations. Translated literary fiction and poetry represent only 0.7 percent of the books. With numbers like this, you probably won't find a translated novel on that 3 for 2 table at your local Borders.

So rely on these Web sites to give you the latest news about translations, and synopses that will help you choose something you're interested in. Then, expand your world with a novelist you don't know.

"A book is an axe to the frozen sea around us."
—Franz Kafka

[Art courtesy of Picasso.]

Monday, February 15, 2010

Everything New Is Old: The State of Spelling

I’ve developed a habit of writing down ideas, overheard comments, interesting news, films to see, and reminders on the nearest piece of paper. I carry teensy notebooks in my pockets and have unused page-a-day calendars around the apartment for this purpose.

Today, the clumps of papers cluttering tabletops, journals, and books confronted my brief but victorious decluttering agenda. On one scrap of paper was this:
light spelled “lite” in Victorian collage album

Ah yes. I saw this at the Art Institute in an exhibition called “Playing with Pictures: The Art of Victorian Photocollage.” It stood out to me because I’ve listened to so-ooo-oo many people bend my ear about the appalling influence advertising and lazy writers have had on our language, especially during the Hippie ’60s era. Yet contrary to the etymology given in dictionaries, here was a variant spelling used, with perfect penmanship, by an educated, well-read noblewoman of the Victorian era.

Another scrap of paper held this piece of a speech (“The Alphabet and Simplified Spelling”) by humorist Mark Twain:
“[S]implified spelling is all right, but, like chastity, you can carry it too far.”

He was addressing industrialist Andrew Carnegie, who at the time was a proponent of a movement to reform our spelling to match our pronunciations: “enuf” for enough, “bizness” for business. Carnegie was even willing to fund it. But Twain took him to task, calling it a piecemeal approach. He proposed, instead, an entire overhaul of our alphabet—which he believed was the source of our confounding language.

You see? Our language is ever-shifting. Some people want it to stand still, while others can hardly wait to reshape it into alignment with their own interpretations of language principles and societal needs. The “Mad Men” of mid-century America weren’t the first to play around with spelling.

Carnegie would have appreciated today’s texting/IMing culture and the practical truncation of words. He wouldn’t have had to fund the change much today; it’s happening on its own.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

All We Need Is Love

"I claim there ain't
Another Saint
As great as Valentine."
—Attributed to Ogden Nash

Need a poem to customize that card for a special someone? The Poetry Foundation has posted several categories of love poems—teen, erotic, romantic, humorous, even break-up. And for lovers of poetry, the Foundation has a special deal today on subscriptions. Half off—today ONLY!

"Everything that counts is for love … It’s the engine of life."
—Annie Proulx, in
The Shipp
ing News

"The Eskimo has fifty names for snow because it is important to them; there ought to be as many for love."
—Margaret Atwood

Looking for something to read today? Find your holiday spirit in We So Seldom Look on Love. This short-story collection from Barbara Gowdy looks at love from numerous angles and pushes the boundaries of traditional definitions of loving relationships.

[Hearts figure prominently in Jim Dine's work. For more info on the artist:
• Jim Dine bio and timeline

• Jim Dine video on his creative process

• Jim Dine in museums]

Saturday, February 13, 2010

A Look at Unemployment from the Other Side of the Résumé

I don’t remember what I was searching for the other day on the Internet, but I came across an article from Workforce Management, a magazine I once (when I had a job) relied on for source material. The pub is written for HR folk, and I thought a few of the remarks quoted in the article might be of interest to Lull’s unemployed readers.

The second graf frames the seriousness of our situation:
“The most conservative official estimates indicate that 15 million unemployed workers are now chasing 2.5 million jobs [sic] openings. A more realistic estimate would show that there are 10 unemployed workers for every open job.” The boldface emphasis is mine.

Note that this does not say there are 10 unemployed people applying for each job. No, no, no! There are 10 people for each job opening. This does not take into account anyone’s match for the job, nor does it represent how many actual candidates apply for the job.

According to John Younger, CEO of recruiting firm Accolo, “The average number of applicants across the board, including applicants for executive positions, is more than 200 per job. In the first hour that we looked to fill an executive assistant position, we received 500 applications and shut down the search.”

500? You can hardly blame them for shutting down the search. But the more frustrating number reported here is 1. Our window of opportunity to be considered for some jobs is ONE HOUR. This means that we need to be sitting at our computers at just the right moment, viewing just the right job board in just the right category and be able to write a customized cover letter on the spot.

What’s worse, though, is that Younger continues with this tidbit:
“A lot of companies are afraid to use broad distributions, so they don’t even post jobs and go only to one networking site—for example, the hiring manager’s alumni association.”

Again, this is perfectly understandable from where the hiring manager sits, but it further narrows the opportunity for applicants. I recently applied for a job that I found out later from an insider was probably already promised to someone before the job ad even got posted. The ad was merely a formality.

This is what we’re up against, my friends. But the worst? Younger says employed candidates are preferable to unemployed ones. In fact, he says, “[S]ome employers are vehemently opposed to hiring anyone who is unemployed … .”

Well, isn’t that peachy?

Granted, this is not an investigative report; I’ve given you only one perspective from one publication. But I think it’s worth knowing, if only to use the next time someone asks you what’s taking so long for you to land a job.

On one hand, this information can make us feel hopeless. But on the other, it can give us the courage to go out on a limb—to try unusual tactics, to apply for positions we’re not perfectly qualified for, to not try so hard to write whatever it is we think some HR person is looking for. Our chances of winning a job are about as good as winning the lottery. The important thing is to stay in the game.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Job-Hunting by Numbers

Today I happened upon a job board that had two unusual features. Each ad included these two figures:
1. The number of people who have applied so far for the position
2. The number of times the ad has been viewed

Is this useful information for job-seekers?

Perhaps. In some cases.

In my case? Well, 270 people have already applied for the job, and the ad had been viewed 13,421 times before I saw it.

So how would those numbers make you feel? Happy for the competition? Or discouraged by the odds? Eager to apply? Or ready to throw in the towel (or the keyboard)?

Of course, if you were the one to actually get the job, these numbers would sweeten your victory.

Again, the fact that the mainstream press continues to cite 6 as the average number of applicants per job annoys me—first, because reporters take it as gospel, and second, because it paints an inaccurate picture of the plight of the unemployed.

Last night while walking with the pooch, I saw something that looked like a shooting star. (My husband said it was more likely aliens.) I'm hoping it was a sign of good things to come for us—on this planet or another.

[Photo courtesy of Tony Cook.]

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Disco Gal Comes Clean

It occurred to me yesterday while trudging through the snow to the grocery store (because our car is on “respite” again from working) that Tuesday’s post might have misled you. You may believe the quoted disco lyrics gave you insight about my taste in music.

But you’re WRONG! Let me explain.

First, the lyrics were appropriate to the subject matter.

Second, the songs were drifting through my head because my husband and I had just watched Young[at]Heart, a documentary on the senior choral group of the same name. [Blogger won't let me use the symbol for at, hence all the brackets.] These elderly yet spunky singers perform new (often slower) arrangements of rock, R&B, and punk tunes backed by a few superb instrumentalists. The DVD includes music videos of the Young[at]Heart Chorus performing the Donna Summer and Bee Gees songs I quoted.

The magic of the film is the audience. For some audience members, it’s the first time they’ve ever understood the lyrics to half the songs. For all audience members, the music of Jimi Hendrix (“Purple Haze”), Sonic Youth (“Schizophrenia”), James Brown (“I Feel Good”), The Clash (“Should I Stay or Should I Go?”), and David Byrne (“Road to Nowhere”) takes on entirely new dimensions.

Yet what’s most interesting to watch are the reactions of the audience and how they change over the course of the concert. Younger generations may roll their eyes initially, or reveal embarrassment at the unseemly pairing of geezers with classic rock, or just laugh. But by the end of the show, every generation reaches the same conclusion, many with tears in their eyes. Even the audience of prison inmates.

Everyone feels a message of hope. A message that life does go on and we owe it to ourselves to make the most of it. That no matter how bad circumstances may seem now, or how many ways we’ve screwed up, there’s a second chance ahead if we’re willing to take it.

So if you’re in need of a pick-me-up, rent Young[at]Heart. It will give you some real insights about the human condition.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

How Are We Today?

You don’t have to “believe” in climate change to realize our world is in peril. Consider this stat published in National Geographic last month:

Fifty years ago, 450,000 lions roamed the Earth. Today, their number has dwindled to 20,000.

I dare anyone to do the math and deny the tragic story behind the equation.

Acoustic biologist Katy Payne recounts in Silent Thunder her encounter one night with a low-hanging branch, which left her with a superficial but bloody head wound. The African scouts she was with began moaning—and didn’t stop moaning until they saw the next morning that she would be fine. The Shona people Payne worked with had a strong sense of bonding—of “we.” If one person hurts, everyone hurts. “If you are well, then I am well, too,” they would say.

To be stewards of our planet, we would be wise to take this Shona perspective one step further and include all elements of all ecosystems into our bonded circle. “I am well if the Himalayan black bear is well, too.”

However, as I wrote in “Closing the Book on Salt,” the Himalayan black bear is far from being well. It’s being poached for common salt, among other things.

This one problem seems easy to address in my mind. Companies usuall
y engage in philanthropic endeavors, and one of the big salt companies could make Myanmar poaching AND mountain tribes its charitable effort: Donate iodized salt to the tribes. The people stay healthy, the animals get to live, and the big salt company balances out its destruction-by-mining business (sort of).

Of course, halting the demise of the lion populations—or of any other creature or organism in areas shared with humans—is not so easy. Solutions must be good for both wildlife AND people. As Payne writes:

“[T]he community that includes us all is larger than any of us knows, and its health reflects the quality of the relations between all of its parts. I am well if you are well. I am well only if you are well, too.”

When I saw that NG stat about lions, I thought of Rachel Carson—the pioneer ecologist who first warned the world of the dangers of pesticide use—who once said:

“One way to open your eyes is to ask yourself, ‘What if I had never seen this before? What if I knew I would never see it again?’”

[Pics of lions and elephants from the African Wildlife Foundation.]

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

"I Got All My Life to Live…And I'll Survive"

hen I was a kid, my family's visit to a wax museum scarred me for life. I have no memory of the exhibits we saw save for the man who was buried alive. I have trouble breathing just thinking about it.

For my recent birthday, a friend gave me The Worst-Case Scenario Daily Survival Calendar 2010: A Day-By-Day Guide to Surviving a Year's Worth of Peril. It's the perfect gift for someone who barely survived 2009. And when I randomly opened it, what do you think showed up?

"How to Survive If You Are Buried Alive."

My God! This WAS the perfect gift! I could read that tiny page and put all my fears to rest.

But once I started reading, it became clear that the instructions (and hence the positive outcome) were predicated on several factors:

1. You had to be buried in a coffin—not just dumped in a hole and covered with dirt.
2. You had to be wearing a shirt (not a tube or halter top or low-cut dress).
3. The coffin had to be unlined and made of soft wood.

My first thought was, What kind of editor missed this? Too many unusual circumstances had to fall into place before you could save yourself. My second thought was, I'm still terrified that some thug will bury me alive! [Sounds of wheezing and choking.]

But I gave the calendar another chance and found it full of interesting and useful trivia. It has "Today's Hero" and "Today in Survival History" anecdotes sprinkled throughout—from the doctor who established America's first blood bank (right here in Chicago) to the release date of the BeeGees' chart-topping "Stayin' Alive." Its survival tips range from the practical ("How to Find Direction without a Compass" and "How to Survive in Frigid Water") to the silly ("How to Escape a Bad Date" and "How to Survive If You Have No One to Kiss on New Year's Eve").

So it seemed logical to me that surviving a layoff would score a page. But I haven't found it…yet. I'm going to keep looking, though. And you can be sure I'll share the news with you once I find it.

"Ah, ha, ha, ha, stayin' alive, stayin' alive…"

Monday, February 8, 2010

The Magic of Cost-Cutting Language

I've applied to several universities lately, plus a magazine about farming. This seemed reason enough to start reading an old Jane Smiley novel called Moo—a satire of life at a Midwestern university.

In the first few pages, I found this interesting perspective from the provost on "cutbacks":

"Cutbacks, on top of cutbacks already made, were in the air, though no one had yet used the word, which was a technical term and a magical charm to be used only at the time when items in the budget were actually being crossed off. It was a technical term in that you could refer to "shifting resources" and "reallocating funds" right up to the moment you told some guy that his research assistant was being fired and his new lab equipment was not being ordered, and it was a magical charm because it instantly transformed the past into a special, golden epoch, the grand place that all things had been cut from."

Moo brings back unsettling memories of my husband's experiences with university politics and a quote that so perfectly explains the problem:

"University politics are vicious precisely because the stakes are so small."
—Henry Kissinger

Fortunately, unlike university politics, Moo is funny.

[Hog research figures prominently in the opening pages of Moo. I tell you this only because it's an excuse to share the cute pic of a teacup pig.]

Sunday, February 7, 2010

It's Here: America's Super Duper Stupor Bowl!

As you may already have guessed, I am neither a frequent sports spectator or participant.

Football especially repulses me. I've seen enough victims of stroke, head trauma, dementia, and other neurological upsets to know that the extent of damage often goes undetected initially, and the consequences affect more than the victim. This is why I cannot comprehend the entertainment value of men repeatedly bashing into one another. My brain categorizes it as violence, but my perspective is not shared by a majority of Americans.

"Lill," one of them might say. "Those men are padded from head to toe—plus they're well trained, well conditioned athletes who know what they're doing. They'll be fine."

I would guess that the padding allows harder hits, lulling players into believing they're protected from severe injury. This belief may be true of much of the body, but not the head. And now researchers and a few retired, addled NFLers back me up.

Just as I've always thought, you can't hit your head over and over again without scrambling your noodle. There doesn't have to be blood or a skull fracture for a brain injury to occur. And for some players, the extent of the damage doesn't surface until middle age when their brains give way to early dementia. Sure, their bodies may be kept in great shape from exercise and doctors' repairs. But what good is a great body with a broken control center? What good is a Super Bowl ring if it renders you an emotional and intellectual invalid?

Some players are pressuring the NFL Commission to come clean on the truth and to provide better support for the healthcare needs of players once they've left the league. Even Congress is getting involved, and the issue made the front cover of Time magazine recently.

Time's overview of the situation contains two ideas from football players which are simple to implement and brilliant in their positive approach to a solution:

Idea No. 1: Tackle from the hips and thrust upward, causing the head to move away from the action. This technique is already being adopted by youth league coaches.

Idea No. 2: Change the language used to discuss football. At first glance, this may seem trivial. But as pro players Kyle Turley and Kevin Mawae know, language = culture. The references to military strategy and the euphemisms used to describe head injuries (e.g., a big hit is a "ding," getting knocked unconscious is "getting your bell rung") should reflect the truth. Surely English is broad enough to offer an alternative vocabulary that's firm, emphasizes winning without brutality, and inspires competition without visions of combat.

Of course, more will have to be done to prevent aging football players from becoming America's largest scrambled noodle club (my husband's pet name for people, like himself, who have experienced a head trauma). As Hall of Fame linebacker Harry Carson, who suffered through 12–18 concussions, put it: "I know that when you sustain a brain injury, it doesn't go away."

Okay. Grab your nachos or your foie gras or whatever you serve your Super Bowl guests and go watch two teams of mammoth, muscle-bound, padded men crash into one another because it's their job (and their passion). Then thank your lucky stars it's not your noodle getting scrambled.

[Pic of Chicago Cardinals by Nate Fine. Disclosure: My uncle, Loyd Arms, played for the Cardinals in their 1947 championship year—back in the era when players were muddied and bloodied in nearly every game.]

Saturday, February 6, 2010

We Don't Have To Be Contortionists To Get A Job

I stumbled upon this quote the other day and it got me noodling about job fit:

"If I got places, sir, it was because I made myself fit for 'em. If you want to slip into a round hole, you must make a ball of yourself—that's where it is."
—From The Mill on the Floss, by George Eliot

My Head Hurts

I just donated 500 grains of rice by answering some math questions. I would have donated more, but apparently I've forgotten how to divide negative numbers. There's a link at the right of Lull to Free Rice. Use it to feed the world. Test your knowledge of languages, mathematics, art, geography, or chemistry. It's good for you and good for someone else.

We Don't Have to Settle for Off-the-Rack Jobs

Finding a good job fit depends first on our awareness of the variety of jobs that exist. If you're like me, your counselors in high school and college had not one conversation with you about work. So many of us are ill-prepared to choose a path toward our future.

Crossing Disciplinary Boundaries for Well-Rounded Employees

Enter British conceptual artist Chris Evans. He set up events at European art schools at which police officers made recruitment presentations. Initially, these presentations were merely meant to be elements of what would become Evans' video art installation and book. But a funny thing happened on the way to the gallery: Some art students actually signed up for t
he force.

Evans continued setting up the events, now with a dual purpose in mind. He saw that art students needed to know about other careers since most of them would never become working artists. And he believes police forces should reflect the diversity of our society, a notion that typically focuses only on ethnicity and doesn't include sensibilities.

Recruiters should take note and set up their own events in performing and fine arts schools as well as in liberal arts programs. And they shouldn't stop there.

Ouch! My Job Fit Feels A Little Tight

Once people are in the workforce, it's easy to get stuck in a single track at a single company or industry. Yet in truth, as we acquire new skills and new confidence in the workplace, we need to reexamine the direction we're taking. And we should do it with the company's blessing and assistance. Perhaps someone in accounting could be more useful, not to mention more satisfied, in the Web department. Or maybe a designer is better suited for a career in marketing. Maybe, horror of horrors to the HR department, a new career direction means t
he employee must move to a new company. (This, by the way, is an old management philosophy—that our goal as managers and employers is to make people widely employable not just for our organization but for any organization. It's a philosophy that continues to buck against an entrenched mindset of corporate ownership: "We trained you, you're ours.")

Career trajectories don't have to be a straight ascent up some imaginary ladder. As we change, so can our jobs. Great companies know this and act on it. But the rest of the business world has a lot of catching up to do.

Where Do I Belong?

For years I've harbored a desire to work in a museum, especially an art museum. But doing what?

Well, while riffling through my back issues of ArtNews magazine yesterday, I was reminded of a position I believe I'm now suited for. I don't think the position has a title. If it did, it might be something like "Art Sentry/Caregiver."

The art is The New York Earth Room, a permanent Dia Art Foundation installation of dirt in a Soho loft. 280,000 pounds of it, to be precise--the brainchild of Walter De Maria.

The employee buzzes visitors into the building, answers questions about the work and artist, and tends the soil and room—eliminating mold, mushrooms, footprints. It's a Zen-like job, manned
for nearly 20 years by Bill Dilworth. I've linked Dilworth's name to a 2009 interview with him. If you watch it, you may understand why it made me want the job even more (he gets to read on the job!), and why it dashed all my hopes of ever getting the job (he's 50 years away from retirement AND he LOVES the job).

Sigh. But my point is, Who knew? Who knew such a job existed? Granted, it's not for everyone. And 20 years ago it might not have been for me. But today I might jump at a job ad that reads:

Set hours
Work alone in loft space

Must love art

Greet visitors

Answer questions
Keep earth pristine

[Head by Picasso.]

Friday, February 5, 2010

A Warning for Clever Folk

Here's a chuckle to wrap up your workweek (or, as is the case with many of us, your looking-for-workweek):

"Never engage in a battle of wits with an unarmed person."
—Author unknown

[Boy with a Sword by Édouard Manet.]

Thursday, February 4, 2010

After Working Like A Dog…

Awww. It doesn't get better than this. Baxter and his assistant are home from rescue operations in Haiti. Happy to be home, happy to have helped.

You can see pics and video of their experiences in Haiti on the Web site of the Search Dog Foundation, which still needs donations to meet the Woodward/Newman Foundation challenge.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Be All You Can Be

I'm reading a work of fiction, published in 1995, by a popular novelist. I'm not really enjoying it, but it has made me think about how different life was pre-9/11.

The main character wanders from the beach in her swimsuit one day—where she was on a vacation with her extended family—and hitchhikes to a small American town where she's never been and knows no one. She purchases a dress on the town square, rents a room at a boarding house, and hears from the boarding house proprietor that
the woman who previously lived there left behind a secretarial job down the street. Our main character promptly heads over to the law office and announces she intends to fill the vacancy.

She starts work the next day for minimum wage. (Was it really that easy 15 years ago to walk out of one life and into another? To step into a job without first showing a résumé, providing 3 references, and filling out 5 pages of application questions?) She notices that her new self doesn't smile so much, dresses more severely, seems less warm and easy-going. She passes no judgment on this.

But we can.

There's a lot of chatter out there about the unemployed reinventing themselves—follow our dreams, do what we love, do something else, be someone else. This fictional character reminds me that we have to remain in control of the metamorphosis. To let it happen without our participation and guidance is to watch ourselves become people we may not want to be.

[Pictured is a Revenge of the Fallen Transformer toy. I don't know what the movie of the same name is about. I prefer to think of the "Fallen" as the Jobless, rising to glorious new heights, armed with whatever it takes to beat unemployment this year, colorfully noticeable. We may have been down, but we're not done, baby.]

Monday, February 1, 2010

In Which Lill Begins Anew

The other night, just as the pooch and I stepped beyond our gate for her last Tai Chi walk of the day, an opossum appeared. S/he waddled from the property south of ours into our yard—purposefully crossing to the north side where she entered the pooch's fort.

There's no sign declaring ownership of the fort, but you can see it on the pooch's face. The opossum was trespassing onto sacred ground.

The fort is a small area sequestered behind the rhododendrons between the spirea bushes and the building. The pooch hides there sometimes, or digs, or plays with imaginary friends. She loves her fort. But one of the new tenants recently discarded a Christmas tree there—a magnet for wildlife, including tagalong fleas. The pooch is now forbidden access to her own cathedral. In fact, she's hardly allowed in the yard at all because the new tenants don't pick up after their dogs (yet another good reason to move).

As the pooch and I watched the opossum cross our yard, I noticed that this opossum sighting differed from the previous ones:
1. The marsupial wasn't a mutant. Its coat looked healthy; it had a complete tail. (I didn't get a look at its face, though, so maybe it had a third eye or something.)
2. The pooch had no interest in befriending the critter, but watched it respectfully.

Hmmm. These were clues, but to what? Here's how I'm choosing to look at it:

The healthy opossum marks the end of an anomalous year—a year of melons in the lake, lost vision, a fabricated eviction, stealthy stress, body altering, and forced time off (i.e., joblessness). It was a year of freak occurrences and, though I tried not to let it get the best of me, consuming grief.

The healthy opossum ushers in normalcy and stability. And I think even the pooch looks forward to that.

I'm ready to don bright hues, think of myself as looking for a new workplace rather than as unemployed, add connections to my LinkedIn profile, and let other people assist me as I enter my future.

My Year of Unenjoyment is over, the first decade of the 21st century has slipped into history, and I'm happy to say farewell to both!

[Goldfinch photo by Lara Ellis on The Daily Green; opossum photo from NatureWorks.]
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