Category Archives: work

It’s Your Life, Don’t You Forget

I’ve been thinking lately, which frankly, tends to get me in trouble. From more than one area of my life, I keep hearing from and about people who are having to push against family or societal pressure to succeed or define their life success in the very narrow way of school, career, marriage, house, kids. There may be stuff to achieve after this, I’m not sure. Or maybe once you get all that stuff, society leaves you alone to your mid-life crisis. The whole thing leaves me scratching my head. Although does it? That’s where the thinking comes in.

If you are an English major or other humanities major or an artist/creative of any kind, your career path will most likely be rather interesting, not terribly lucrative, and it will follow the beat of its own drummer. Mine certainly has, and it’s only been in the last 5 years that I have landed in a comfortable spot, where I actually get paid decent money to write things that matter most of the time and have a personal life too. I fell into the trap of sitting back and thinking, how do all these people get caught up in that narrow definition of success?

And then the bad movie special effects kick in, the calendar pages flip back, and the ominous narrator intones, “It was the 1980s — the height of the Ronald Reagan years and Gordon Gekko in the movie Wall Street declared that ‘greed is good’ … ”

My honor student status in high school made it seem like I was just as good at math and science as I was at English. But that says more about the quality of the school than my academic achievement. I do remember an emphasis on the practical, which translated to studying science in college. And that’s when I was exposed as a science and math fraud. My ass got consistently and sequentially kicked in Bio 101, 102, Chem 101, 102, and Calc 101, 102. This honor student was suddenly looking at C’s and Ds and a GPA that hovered around 2.5.

Sure, I got an A in my writing class, but that had been fun and easy. Somewhere along the way, I had picked up the idea that fun and easy was wrong. I thought life should involve suffering and be a hardscrabble scramble in order to “count.” This may be a stab in the dark, but I wonder if being raised Catholic and seeing Jesus hanging on the cross every week, which I was made to understand I was responsible for, had anything thing to do with that?


The idea that something being easy is not always the right way to go only makes sense if you’re trying to train for a marathon by running one fast mile and stopping. That’s too easy, and you ain’t gonna cross that finish line before dark.

So there I was at the end of freshman year, with a GPA on life support, but still invested in the idea of life being practical and hard. So I did what any dumb, sensible person would do and took up accounting. This turned out to be just as bad as the science classes and I was suffering, so I knew I must be on the right track. I did enjoy the guy I sat next to who loved accounting and was making methodical plans to work for what was then the Big 8 — although I think they are down to 4 now. I could have listened to his confident plans all day long, but I should have been paying more attention to the connection of his accounting joy and his success in the subject. Instead, I wrote poetry in class while the professor droned on about first in, last out, or last in, last out. I got another D.

As a super ironic aside, a number of years later I was the sole administrative person for a tiny nonprofit and got put in charge of the books with monthly help from an accountant. It took me a year of her visits to truly understand what happened to the numbers when I put them in the accounting software columns and they popped out on the balance sheet. I always came out of those day-long sessions with a huge headache. Once when I was really discouraged, she told me I understood the process better than most of the college accounting graduates they hired. That is a rather frightening thought, but I’m guessing these were not my joyful Big 8 guy, but people who were trying to be practical and pursue the narrow definition of success.  I wish them the best and no headaches.

At the end of sophomore year, with my GPA still in the toilet, I had no practical place left to go. I threw up my hands and gave in and became an English major. I suppose if I had gone to a small school with advisors who gave a flip, I would have clued in sooner, but what fun would that be? There’s something to be said for failing rather spectacularly to teach you something. And once I switched, for the first time school wasn’t a grim struggle, it was actually pleasant and even fun sometimes. Who knew?

And then I also learned the more valuable lesson not to care what people thought, because I knew I had tried and was confident that this was the only thing I was good at. Oh to be sure, I endured a fair amount of sneering. “English major! What are you going to do with that? Teach?” Which is actually also snubbing teachers, BTW. Journalism was also not my thing, so I concentrated on my own writing and fell into nonprofit administration as a source of income. Then I had to endure the “Oh, you’re a writer? What have you published?”

Did I always feel confident? Of course not, when you get that 5th, 10th, or 80th publication rejection, you kind of think, what the hell am I doing? But now I’m starting to understand that I had a couple of key advantages, which seemed like disadvantages at the time. One, early on in life, I learned I did not have strong enough skills in any area that would have put me on the society-endorsed path. Also I’m allergic to gray corporate cubes. So I had no other option than to figure out how to succeed with the writing skills I had. Two, I come from a working class background, which I tried to run from in college and after. It came with high expectations in the moment — do your chores, do well in school (or don’t bother me with teacher notes that you’re screwing up). And it also came with low expectations for a future life. And that turned out to be an extraordinary gift, that I am only now fully appreciating.

Benign neglect combined with being kid number 4 (which one are you?) allowed me to find my own path and define success in my own way. I do recall my father pressing some rather random career choices on my siblings, so here is a formal thank you to them for wearing him out first. By the time he got to me, benign neglect has set in.

Life isn’t easy, no matter what path you choose — even those who pick the society- and family-sanctioned path will struggle at some point, so you might as well put your effort towards the skills that are fun, easy, and worth your while.

To paraphrase a Catholic call at the end of the Mass, go in peace to love and serve the skills you have. It’s much better than a headache.

Photo credit: Still from the Talk Talk video, “It’s My Life.”

You, Sir, Are a Failover

Remember when corporate gobbletygook was just about “creating synergy,” “shifting a paradigm,” and “leveraging a best practice”? I miss those days now like I pine for the good ole days of a Bush senior presidency.  I’m in communications, so for the most part I get sales emails about making better videos, increasing my company’s social media presence, or how to organize company photos.  I use an iPhone, I primarily do internal, non-social media communications, and I work with doctors, so charts and graphs, yes! Photos of people, no. But at least these sales emails are in the ball park. I recently got this email from Jeff — never heard of the company and have no idea what it or he does:

“I just wanted to check in to make sure you received my previous emails.

I am hoping we can connect this week to discuss your infrastructure and ways our managed DNS can provide you a great web-based UI for record management, quick propagation time (think seconds not hours or days) and of course advanced features like active failover to keep your sites up and running without you having to even think about them.

Are you available Wednesday at 1pm? If so, I can send along a calendar invite this afternoon.

Best, Jeff”

Ooooooh, Jeffy, Jeffy, Jeffy. Where does one begin?

I just wanted to make sure you have enough blood flow going to your brain. I have no idea what DNS is, and if I have to look it up, your email is already taking up too much of my time. Perhaps it’s related to DNR — do not resuscitate? Maybe DNS means “do not suscitate,” which sounds more efficient. After all “re-suscitate” indicates you’re doing it again. So suscitate must mean don’t even bother. Let the poor bastard go. Jeffy, just let it go.

“A great web-based UI.” OK, I’m familiar with UX, user experience, so I’m not a complete luddite. However, I have no idea what UI is, unless you mean “urinary incontinence,” which seems a little personal, even for someone who works in a hospital. Also, my understanding of the condition is that it’s not really that great, either in person or web-based.

“Quick propagation time (think seconds not hours or days).” Is that what the kids are calling it these days? Oh, those crazy young ones, who can keep up? I mean, sure, sometimes I like it quick, but hours can also be kind of fun on a lazy, rainy Sunday afternoon. Seconds just seems wrong, and frankly physically difficult, if not impossible. Days feels a tad too long, unless maybe it’s a group kind of situation at a resort with a nice pool and a hot tub. Oh, and a pool bar and good snacks. Are the Chippendales invited? Not that I’ve actually thought about it. Wait, what are we talking about again?

“Active failover.” Oh my. First of all, Mr. Failover, if that is your real name, you have not spent the requisite time in the slow march of English language users to move from two words, to hyphenation, to one word. Sorry slick, thems the rules. I’m sure your cousin “crossover” took years to go from cross over, to cross-over, to crossover. Word people don’t like step-skipping show-offs. Of course people would actually have to use you in real sentences and conversation outside of annoying business emails in order for you to evolve; frankly, you seem doomed to be forever trapped in email. Crossover is laughing at you from the dictionary.

Second, this reminds me of a phrase my ex used. He’s a hospice nurse, and when a patient is in the final stages of being on this earth, they call it “actively dying.” As a word person, I always found this phrasing odd, especially because the person at that point is in a coma. My response was, “does that mean the rest of us are passively living?” That’s perhaps a topic for another blog or a philosophers convention. So, Jeffy, I say unto you, what about the advanced feature “passive fail under”? Since I have no idea what failover is, I can’t begin to guess at passive fail under, but in these socially turbulent times, it seems like it’s our duty to be more inclusive and open. We should try to examine all versions of a thing, for example, don’t stop at white experience, but also look at black, brown, blue, yellow, and red to get the full picture. Your language implies active failovers are better, but I can’t really know that until I know what a passive fail under is, can I, Jeffy? Or a passive failover or an active success over. See where I’m going with this, Jeffy? Like the lady in “Stairway to Heaven,” there’s a sign on the wall, but I want to be sure, ’cause you know sometimes words have 2 meanings. Or in your case, no meanings.

So, to answer your question, Jeffy, I am not available at 1 pm on Wednesday, or ever, really. But thank you so much for giving me some blog material. I do think you have brightfuture in some other business, unless of course you’ve got a passive failover. Those are the worst.

Best, Sandy








Beocat Could Eat Beowulf for Breakfast: Part 1

In days of old, my brother’s successful quest a few weeks ago would have been immortalized in song. The court poet laureate would have been summoned to hear the heroic tale of the fearless and valiant man who spent several months (that’s several  years in Olde English, armor-laden, horse-riding time) meticulously planning and executing a dangerous mission, battling nature herself and saving a village.

The poet would be sent off to pen the enduring lines that would be recited for centuries in the royal court, then sung enthusiastically by drunks in taverns, and finally forced to be painfully memorized by bored high school kids in freshman English.

It started with a few of those wily creatures found around witches and James Bond villains: cats. The local villager (aka our dad) started feeding strays. And, for a few years, like a cute dragon that has hatched from an egg and isn’t very big and hasn’t yet learned to breathe fire, it was all fun and games. But then a funny thing happened on the way to mother nature. This year several batches of kittens were born, and said villager started feeding them all. Suddenly, a few cats became 13. In addition to the possible risky things that can happen when there are 13 feral cats about, even a word girl like me understands enough about math and exponents to know that next year, we’d have 50 cats and a lot of ‘splainin’ to do, Lucy.

The siblings batted it around for most of the year. It was part of a bigger discussion around caring for my aging parents. And since my dad reads this blog, I will also say they are doing amazingly well, but they are pushing 90, so no shame in getting some help. And it really was my siblings — they were great about letting me launch the kid this year, so for the cat thing, I looked up a few feral cats websites, got nowhere, and declared the problem intractable.

And this is why a legendary epic will never be written about me.

My 2 sisters also looked into the issue, but over months of research, they came to that often inevitable red tape dead-end: the feral cat organizations or city wouldn’t touch them because they had been steadily fed, and the legit pet people would charge as if it were one beloved house pet with a big pet health insurance policy. Also, my sisters were distracted by those other pesky things like our parents’ medical procedures and doctors appointments.

But Sir Mark Beocat, as he will henceforth be known, had set his sights on, er, “fixing” the problem of the fertile feral cats, and would not be deterred. His months of relentless, heroic preparations came down to this: 1 week, 13 cats, 16 humane traps, cat trapping boot camp, 1 helpful pet organization, 2 willing veterinary clinics, and pounds of the stinkiest bait food you can imagine.

What happened next? Tune in next week!






Top 6 Posts of 2017

Well, kids, looks like we made it through year 1 of the Cheeto flea, and that alone is worth celebrating. But even better would be to forget about him altogether. As you run the highlight reel of the past year in your mind, acknowledge the not-so-great stuff, but give priority to the good things — the people, places, and events that gave you a lift. I’m reminding myself as much as you on this one. I think of myself as a positive person, but I’ve been noticing that I can get focused on the one bad thing sitting amongst all the good stuff. So I’m going to try to keep an eye on that in 2018. I’m also feeling like my tank is empty, and, yes, I had a big year (as the posts below will attest), but most of the big things are past, so I also wonder if it’s real or a habit? I will keep an eye on that, too.

But for now, it’s time to look back a bit, take a deep breath, and head out to 2018.

6. The big news of the year was getting the kid launched, and it was official with this post. In the process, there were highs, lows, lots of wine, and a few moments of full-blown panic. But the deed got done with Mission Accomplished.

5. I reread this one, and thought, damn, that’s good! I’ve been feeling less than inspired lately to write. In keeping with my positive theme, I’m going to recall the words of a painter friend many years ago, when I was hit with my first case of writer’s block. I had just finished a bunch of essays and thought, now I’m ready for the next thing. But I wasn’t. The faucet had nary a trickle. He told me not to worry — I was merely filling up again. So, I’m going with that. Don’t know how long the filling will take, so be prepared for reruns if you’re a long time reader and for cool old stuff if you’re new. In any event, this piece reminded me that, yeah, I still have some writing mojo. Happy Anniversary.

4. That this one is in the top 6 makes me laugh. I thought it was just me, but apparently this was something a lot of people could relate to. For the love, Leave the Curtain Rods.

3. Because I have memory issues, er, I mean, I live in the moment like Eckhart Tolle. I’m a super advanced human, I swear. Anywho, I thought this one was about Cheeto flea, but it was more subtle than that. Either way, it never hurts to remember It’s a Marathon not a Sprint.

2. I just reread this one, and it reminded me I have a blog to finish about bystander intervention. Also, it reminded me that Life moved with me to my new apartment and is still sitting in my chair, giving me the look, and motioning me to get her another drink. Happy new year, bee-atch! Dammit!

1. Oh, Celine. I hope where ever you are, you have all the happiness you deserved when you walked among us. Goodbye My Friend.

So there it is, friends. I wish you all you healthy, hopeful new year. We can totally do this. We always do.

Same as It Ever Was, Sorta

I FaceTime with my 87-year-old mom nearly every Friday night. Pretty cool, right? Lately she’s been telling more stories from the past, some she hasn’t told me before. What struck me about some recent stories is how, at the core, they are similar to what people experience today, only back then there were a lot fewer resources to help.

Take job hunting. My mother talked about how hard it was for her to find a job in her early 20s. Sound familiar? It was the early 1950’s, so the economy was fine. Yes, she was a woman, so that was a strike against her. But she wasn’t looking for a career, she was just looking for a job. She was turned down at a little general store in town because she had the same last name as a cousin who’d been fired from the store for doing something bad. My mom wasn’t sure what. There were easily 20 or more cousins in town with the same last name, so that seems somewhat short-sighted, judging a whole family based on one bad apple. The fact that there was a high probability that there was more than one bad apple in that bunch is inconvenient to my story, and therefore irrelevant.

Also, it’s ironic because if they had bothered to get past my mom’s last name, they would have learned she had recently left the convent. What more validation of an honest person can you find? And, no, she wasn’t discharged because of rosary grand larceny or embezzlement of the priests’ sundry fund.

Of course, it was the convent thing that was really messing up her search. At that time there weren’t too many career counselors and coaches to help. Heck, there weren’t even resumes. Just my mom filling out applications and trying to explain where she’d been in the past several years. You’d think that the nun gig would have been a more common thing back then, especially in a town where there was a Catholic church for each of the town’s immigrant groups — St. Stanislaus, St. Anthony, St. Anne — you get the picture. But apparently employers found it just as weird as they probably would today. But today she’d have an army of online and in-person career coaches and websites telling her to emphasize her loyalty, passion, and commitment to her work. And how about “excellent ability to take direction”? She left the convent because she got very sick from the physically demanding chores of hand-washing priest vestments, praying for hours, sleeping very little, and Oliver Twist-like food. The first time she got sick, she returned home to recover and then went back. The second time she got sick, the Mother Superior told her it was a sign she was meant to do something else. She would have stayed if they had let her, so I think you could add “ability to follow through.”

She finally landed a job in the office of a car dealership, but then there were other male shenanigans to contend with. Here’s hoping the starts to change, 60 years later.

The convent thing of course followed her into the dating scene, but the few dates she told me about seemed a lot like the letters I read in a daily relationship column. There was the guy who took her out once, but when she was kind of clueless about the goodnight kiss thing, she never heard from him again. She connected with another guy on the 1950s version of eHarmony — a Catholic pen pal club. That helped make the ex-nun thing less of an issue. They wrote a number of letters back and forth and my mom got excited and thought things were going really well — until he told her he found someone. At least he didn’t ghost her.

So all as a way of saying, sometimes I like to think I  have it harder than others. But, I really don’t. Not only can I learn from those who came before me, I can Google “ex-nun resume tips” and “how to give a kiss.” And that’s pretty cool.


Writing Excavation

Before I get into my blog proper, I need to detour one second for this brilliant tweet from @DrAndrewThaler: “Folks, I think we need to start coming to terms with the idea that the rapture happened and only David Bowie and Prince made the cut.”

And now back to our regularly scheduled shenanigans: While packing and decluttering before I moved, I went through my filing box of writing. Oh what a treasure trove of the good, the bad, and the incomprehensible, masquerading as mastery. Here are some of the more interesting (humor me) highlights:

This one I like — I’m not a natural-born poet, brevity being rather foreign to me. However, I do have my moments. I used to take a bus to the train to get to a 7 am meeting in Boston. One thing writers are good at is turning an unpleasant obligation into art, or at least something more palatable.

Early spring bus ride, 6:20 am
The light is so nice
It’s the planet and the sun
We’re doing the tilt.

I found a lot of random notes about possible essays from when Lucas was little. Which either shows my unbridled optimism or delusional tendencies — I had no time or energy to write an essay, but as they say in yoga, intention counts. This one made me smile:

When Lucas was about 8, he played soccer. His coach Giuseppe was from Italy and had a pretty heavy accent. We used to laugh that his son who was also on the team and a great player was the ringer — the kid probably had been kicking a ball around before he could walk. The rest of Lucas’s team was pretty much what you’d expect from a group of rag-tag, half-hearted 8-year-olds. The better teams always thought they had the game in the bag until Giuseppe’s son started weaving his way around them as if they were standing still. I also loved the way Guiseppe told the kids that “practeeks” would help them win. Short of having a wine flask to help take the edge off sitting through 8 am practices in 35-degree fall weather, the Italian imported ringer and the practeeks got me through.

In an unmarked manila folder I found a thin, plastic see-through record, a 45 size, but a 33 rpm. If you are younger than 35, this sentence may make no sense to you. Kind of like this one makes no sense to me (randomly found on a celebrity gossip site): Javi and Briana rub their romance in Kailyn’s face. Who are these people?

Back to my see-through record. It does play on my record player. (Yes, I have one, read all about it here: Put the Needle on the Record). The record is called “Star Track: Stephen Saban’s Greatest Hits,” and has excerpts from interviews by the “hottest” 80s stars, with a slant toward comedians: Judy Tenuta, Julio Iglesias, Bruce Willis, Debbie Harry, Steven Wright, Emo Phillips, Lily Tomlin. I listened to it, and it’s pretty incomprehensible — there is no theme or organization, just famous people saying random things. It says “Details” at the top, which I think means it was from the hip, happening 80s magazine of the same name, which I did not subscribe to. So the mystery remains: why was this (presumably) in a magazine, who the hell is Stephen Saban, how did I get this weird thing, and for the love, why did I keep it? Was it one of those, “Oh, this will be worth a lot on eBay in the future!” moments? We may never know as I threw it away, but was fun to find.

There were many painful attempts at fiction and interview notes from when I spent a few months as a stringer for a weekly local newspaper. Neither genre is my forte, so that’s part of the pain. But it’s not a bad thing to be reminded that being a young writer is what it is — bombastic, obvious, overly earnest, and just plain bad. But I had to write all that stuff to get where I am now: bombastic, obvious, underly earnest, and less bad.

And I’ll leave you with a deliciously bad piece of writing. Here is the winner of the 2017 Best Unoriginal Sentence: Hers was a beauty that was best seen through drunken eyes.

Thank you very much.

Jump Up, Jump Up and Get Down

About 3 years ago I saw a picture of myself, and I could no longer deny that the extra pounds I kept telling myself were only a few had set up permanent residence in my midsection and were expanding faster than a development of McMansions on sold-off farm land. I lost the weight the only way I knew how — slowly and changing one habit at a time. I was able to maintain my weight for quite a while, with the understanding that the McMansions would encroach eventually, even if I kept my eating and exercise routine the same. Thanks a lot, perimenopause; if ever get my hands on you, you are going to pay. Oh, wait, I already am paying. Grrrrr.

Of course, I wasn’t quite able to keep everything the same. It started with a month-long  IT project at work a year and a half ago, working every day and tethered to a small room. I added 5 pounds during that time and was only able to get rid of a few. Then this spring and summer was Kid Launchapoolza with graduation cake and parties and traveling to colleges to pick the One, then more traveling to the One for orientation, and then the trip to see the total eclipse in South Carolina (which was totally amazing.)

As you can imagine there was a lot of eating out and not a lot exercising going on. Then at the end of September I moved. So even if I hadn’t run off my will power like a crabby old man scaring kids out of his yard with a rake, it didn’t have a chance with the pots-are-packed-I’m-too-tired-to-cook-oooh-look-there’s-a-takeout-menu.

So here we are. More farm land has been sold and the McMansions are rising again, so it’s back to the grind.

Step 1) Look the McMansion straight in the window and don’t pretend it’s a tiny house.

Step 2) Lock down the food situation and get back on track. Of course, I decided to do that during the most stressful week at work before a big function. All I could think of was that scene from “Airplane!”: “Looks looks like I picked the wrong week to quit sniffing glue!” Indeed. I compromised and held the line on my eating, but not the wine. Baby steps. But that event is done, so now staying on track seems like a breeze. The alcohol is under a separate contract.

Step 3) More exercise. In the spring, I confidently told people that when the kid goes off to college, I’m most definitely going to add another day at the gym, another yoga class, I’ll have so much time!

Turns out the problem isn’t so much having time, as it is getting off your McMassion and actually doing it.

In the hunt for the yoga class, I realized I haven’t matured at all since I last wrote about how I’m like Jerry Seinfeld and his girlfriends. So much for my efforts to be a more open-minded, tolerant person. Which kind of negates all that yoga represents, so my apologies to the tradition and it’s more pure-hearted practitioners. I like my one Iyengar class, and I can’t seem to replicate it. There are 5 yoga studios in close proximity to my house, 2 within walking distance, and I can’t find a class to go to. It’s either too early, too late, too easy, too fast, too hot, too many people, too serious, too flippant, too…too.

The better bet is more exercise, and that’s only because I had a small breakthrough earlier this summer when a friend and I pulled out a jump rope and we started jumping. As in, tie one end to a pole and one person swings it while the other jumps. It was perfectly embarrassing. My brain still remembered being a 7-year-old jumping effortlessly and lightly. However, my 52-year-old body was like, “Um, say, what, now?” I was out of breath almost immediately. And after a number of false starts and trying to remember how the heck to do it, I had to lay down in the grass to recover.

It was the best day ever.

I had the little kid response: I’m going to get a jump rope! I’m going to jump every day! I’m going to be in great shape! And then I had the harried middle-aged response: I forgot about it.

That is until I saw a sign in my gym outlining the rules for jumping rope — Stay out of  doorways! Be mindful of those around you! Little kid got excited all over again–jump ropes! The adult in me hesitated. It was one thing to jump outside with a friend, and another to do it in a gym where people are increasing their cardio something or other with grim precision. The universe saw I could use a nudge, and a few days later I was on the train. It was packed and there was one open seat. The reason? The woman standing in front of it was resting a framed picture on it, and the women sitting next to the seat had laid her hoola hoop across it.

I made a beeline for it.

I first nicely asked Picture Woman to move her stuff. She did and also made a sour face and shrugged at Hoola Hoop Woman; as if to say, it’s her fault not mine. So I nicely asked her to move her hoola hoop, which she nicely did. I shot Picture Woman a look –the adult version of sticking my tongue out, and told Hoola Hoop Woman she could rest it on me. It’s not like it was going to fit in her lap. I never chat with people on the train, but how can you not chat with Hoola Hoop Woman? We talked about how fun hoola hoops are (she uses her for exercise), and the next thing I knew, I was telling her about the summer jump roping. She exclaimed it was great exercise and her friend had lost a lot of weight doing it. When she got off the train, hoola hoop in hand, she patted me on the shoulder and said, “You can do it!”

Technically, I haven’t added any exercise, just swapped stationary bike to jump rope. But I’ve started jumping at the gym and I am totally getting a hoola hoop. I just have to get off my McMassion and do it!