Friday Pix: Recommended Reading For the Weekend

July 31, 2009

This Friday I direct you to some recommended reading around the blogosphere:

1. NPR’s list of books that helped us grow up. A friend of mine just found a copy of Deenie in her basement-sigh!

2. And speaking of literature, if you’re a David Foster Wallace fan (or wanna-be, like yours truly) you might want to join in the Infinite Summer project, an online book club that’s reading Wallace’s Infinite Jest over the course of this summer (only one third through-there’s still time to join!) While you’re at it, a helpful reader pointed me to this interview with DFW posted on the reader’s blog, Rough Fractals.

3. For those of us looking to jump start our job hunt during the recession, have a look at this video resume. You will not be disappointed. (Hat Tip: Marci Alboher, Working the New Economy).

4. The New York Times’ Judith Warner talks about what it’s like to mourn in middle age.

5. For the visually inclined, take a look at this collection of living pictures formed by thousands of U.S. soldiers. Very cool!

6. Finally, I love the concept of this blog, A Midlife Of Privilege. (Subtitle: A WASP stops to consider.) Love it!

*****

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Tips For Adulthood: How To Figure Out If You’re A Manager or a Maker

July 29, 2009

Every Wednesday I offer tips for adulthood.

I’ve written before about how – on many of the world’s most pressing issues – most people sort neatly into one of two camps: Coke vs. Pepsi. Boxers vs. Briefs. Pet vs. Anti-pet.

In keeping with this concept, the Freakonomics blog linked yesterday to a fascinating post by a guy named Paul Graham about what he calls “managers vs. makers.”

On one side of the divide, you have a group of workers – usually managers – who divided their day into tiny bite-sized chunks and for whom meetings – even spontaneous ones – constitute the essence of their job. On the other side, you have what he calls “makers” – i.e. computer programmers, writers, artists – who need large blocks of time to carry out tasks and who find meetings onerous and inefficient because they cut into their productivity.

While the thrust of Graham’s article is to make each type more sensitive to the style/needs of the other sort of worker, figuring out which sort of worker you are before you embark on a career choice could also save you time and headaches down the road. (Trust me. I myself have a maker’s soul trapped in a manager’s body, which probably explains my own schizophrenic career choices along the way.)

To that end, here are five ways to figure out if you’re a maker or a manager:

1. Do you like working in increments of one hour or three hours? If one, you’re a manager. If three, you’re a maker. I have one friend who claims that she can be productive in 20 minutes. She is definitely a manager.

2. Does the prospect of a meeting fill you with anticipation or dread? My husband – the quintessential maker (he’s an academic) – hates going to meetings. Me? Despite being a writer, I love them. They’re social, they bring focus to the day and, most of all, they provide at least the possibility of getting something out the door (which, if you’re a writer/artist/fill-in-the-blank creative type is often elusive.)

3. Do you always have Outlook calendar open on your computer? And do you actually use it? If yes, you’re a manager. You like to schedule things. If no, you’re a maker.

4. Do you ever forget meetings? As Graham notes, one of the problems with meetings if you’re a maker is that you have to remember them. I don’t think I’ve ever forgotten a meeting in my life. But I know plenty of makers who get so caught up in whatever they are doing (I name no names) that they completely lose track of time.

5. Are you on twitter? All social networking requires that you spend a certain amount of your day away from whatever it is that you do. But Twitter – because it is so fast and furious – is the uber-managerial 2.0 tool. When used religiously, it forces you to constantly interrupt yourself to tweet an update about your life, mention an article, or react to breaking news.

How about you? Where do you fall on the manager/maker scale?

Oops, sorry. Gotta run. I have a meeting to get to…

Image: MYSTlore News and Events in Outlook 2003 by Soren “chucker” Kuklau via Flickr Under a Creative Commons License

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Seeing Is Believing: Why We Need A Public Health Care Option

July 28, 2009

As the health care debate heats up in the States, I’m weighing in once again on the joys of socialized medicine over on PoliticsDaily.com.

Today, I’m talking about my husband’s eyesight…bear with me.

It’s a post about what his contact lens coverage under the NHS tells us about the dire state of those who live in America with “pre-existing conditions.”

Have a look (no pun intended!)….and please do leave a comment. This debate has reached a boiling point!

Image: 115/365 E FP – TOP by foreverdigital via Flickr under a Creative Commons License.

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Say Good Bye to the Grown Ups?: Gordon Brown and New Labour

July 27, 2009

I’ve talked before on this blog about how politicians on both sides of the aisle in the U.S. have been employing the discourse of “grown ups.” In particular, Peggy Noonan – a prominent conservative columnist at the Wall Street Journal – has repeatedly called upon (her own) Republican party to “grow up,” most recently in her analysis of why Sarah Palin was bad for the Republicans.

But the “grown up” discourse is not just prevalent on this side of the Atlantic. Over in Great Britain, a new “grown up” discourse is also emerging, only this one is directed at the Center-left Labour Party. As the Tony Blair-Gordon Brown era appears to be coming to an end, columnists here are calling upon the emerging leadership in the Labour Party – the so-called in-betweeners – to stand up and make themselves heard. It’s still not clear whether this charge will take hold within the public imagination, but I find it interesting to see the parallels in political discourse across these two countries.

Over at Politics Daily today, I talk about Gordon Brown’s slow-burn decline over the past year and why  – regardless of your political affiliation – it might be time for a change. Have a look

Image: Gordon Brown Sauce by Rakka via Flickr under a Creative Commons License.

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Learning to Love Your Lisp: Life Lessons From My Five Year Old

July 24, 2009

My five year-old daughter has a lisp.

Not an in-your-face, over-the-top Sylvester the Cat “Suffering Succotash'” sort of thing. But a fairly straight forward, middle-of-the-road inter-dental lisp.

Last Fall, we took her to see a speech therapist to work on it. And even though I knew that the therapy would prove helpful, I secretly dreaded going. In my mind, you see, the lisp was a stigma. It was something that set her apart from the other kids and made her more difficult to understand. And so I approached the topic of speech therapy with her very delicately, afraid that she’d be ashamed to tell her friends at school why she needed to leave early every Monday afternoon.

Boy was I off base.

Not only did my daughter love going to speech therapy every week, it became a tremendous source of pride for her. She loved having a challenge that she could clearly identify and then – with a bit of elbow grease – overcome. She poured over the exercises the speech therapist sent home. As the weeks wore on, she mastered “ch” then “sh” then “zh” then “j.” And while we never quite fully nailed the “s,” the therapist is confident that with the progress she’s shown so far, if we wait a little while and come back to it, she’ll master that as well.

So we put it aside, a bit wiser for the wear.

Fast forward to this summer when we watched not one, but two movies back to back in which a major character has a lisp. The first was The Music Man, a film whose praises I believe I’ve sung before. In this movie, the character of Winthrop – played by a very young Ron Howard (of Opie and then Richie and now Famous Director fame) – is so stymied by his own lisp that he barely speaks to anyone outside his family. (Take a look at Howard and co-star Robert Preston singing  Gary, Indiana.) My daughter was so taken with this film that she began requesting that I sing “Wells Fargo Wagon” every night before she went to bed, just so she could sing the part where Winthrop lisps.

Then we went to see Night At The Museum:  Battle At The Smithsonian. Here, one of the lead adult characters – Kamunrah (played by a hysterically funny Hank Azaria) – has a lisp. This really caught my daughter’s attention. Half way through the movie she leaned over and whispered: “He’s a grown up and he has a lisp!” Following her lead (because I’d learned a thing or two by now), I answered, “Yes, he does! Lots of grown ups have lisps.” She was positively enchanted. The next morning she took out all of her “s” work from her speech therapy folder and insisted that we begin working on it again.

This experience was instructive for me on so many levels. First, it reminded me that – as with so many things – we end up learning so much more from our children than they do from us. For me, the lisp was a weakness to conceal. For her, it became a source of empowerment.

Second, it also reminded me that one of the hardest things to learn as a parent is how not to burden your children with your own issues.

Finally, I got to re-memorize the lyrics to “Wells Fargo Wagon.” Imagine my delight!

*****

Sorry, folks, it’s been a short work-week so my Friday pix will have to wait. If you want to catch up on my “must reads,” head on over to Twitter, where I tweet them all week long at:  http://twitter.com/realdelia.

Not on Twitter yet, you say? Use this as an excuse to sign up!

Image: Wells, Fargo Wagon by ViperWD via Flickr under a Creative Commons License

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Tips For Adulthood: Five Ways To Lower Your Expectations

July 22, 2009

Every Wednesday I offer tips for adulthood.

So this morning I was riding a bus and I happened to read an op-ed by Eric Weiner in the International Herald Tribune about happiness. The basic thrust of the article (which appeared in Monday’s New York Times) was that Denmark has once again been ranked as “The Happiest Country in the World” according to a Eurobarometer survey. It’s a distinction that this country has held for the last 30 years. The article goes on to argue that the reason that the Danes enjoy such happiness is that they have lower expectations than the rest of us.

Hmmmm. As someone who regularly sets the bar too high in just about everything I do, I had trouble swallowing this at first. But when I thought about it, I realized that Weiner – and the Danes – have a point. After all, lowering your expectations doesn’t mean letting go of your dreams, as Simon James notes in this funny and spot-on post on the Freelance Writing Jobs Network. It just means approaching life with a somewhat different mindset.

In that spirit –  and if for no other reason than to knock Denmark off its happiness-survey perch – here are five tips for lowering your expectations:

1. Accept that B+ is OK. Or, if you prefer a baseball analogy: stick to base hits. You don’t need to knock it out of the park every time. I have a good friend who’s a self-employed IT consultant. At one point in her career, she decided to take on more work without increasing her hours so that she could still spend a reasonable amount of time with her kids. “How did you manage that?” I asked. “I don’t deliver A level work all the time anymore. I finally realized that B+ is OK.” I thought about that comment for years. Which brings us to…

2. Realize that No One Cares. I think that many of us harbor this sense that the world is watching – and judging – every last decision that we make. I myself walk around with a panel of elders – a semi-circle of aging wise men who collectively monitor my every move. But the hard truth, folks, is that most people don’t give a sh$# what you do with your life. They’re too wrapped up in their own lives to bother with yours. And once you realize that no one’s watching, you can ease up a bit on yourself.

3. Recognize that Happiness May Be Fleeting. Another way to say this is that sh#$ happens and you can’t control much of what comes your way. The Danes themselves apparently temper their “happiest” status with the expression “lige nu” which means something like “for now.”  When you embrace happiness as a scarce commodity, it enables you to  enjoy what you have right now instead of always reaching for the next frontier.

4. Imagine the Worst Case Scenario. Sometimes, when I’m really freaking out because I fear that I’ve failed to achieve one of my goals, I imagine the worst possible thing that could befall me in that arena. And when I do that, I usually realize that I haven’t hit rock bottom and consequently appreciate whatever it is I have accomplished, even if it falls below what I wanted. Case in point: I’ve written a novel. But, so far, I haven’t managed to sell it. The worst case scenario is that I’ll never sell it. And that would really suck. But then I remind myself that unlike two years ago, I’m no longer talking about writing a novel anymore. I’ve actually done it. And I feel a bit better.

5. Move to Denmark. If all else fails, move to Copenhagen. I hear they have excellent pastries.

Image: Morning Buns by Cacaobug via Flickr under a Creative Commons License.


RIP Frank McCourt: The Promise of Old Age

July 20, 2009

I was very saddened to hear that author Frank McCourt died yesterday at the age of 78. McCourt’s best-selling memoir of his poverty-striken childhood in Ireland – Angela’s Ashes – received the Pulitzer Prize in 1997 and stayed on the New York Times Best-Seller’s List for 117 weeks, including 23 at number 1.

But the most inspiring thing about McCourt was not just that he overcame an objectively “miserable childhood” – featuring an unemployed, alcoholic father, a life-threatening illness of his own and the death of several siblings – to achieve international literary recognition. What’s inspiring about McCourt is that he published this memoir when he was 66 years old.

I remember once reading an interview with McCourt back when the book first came out in which he admitted that while he’d sat down to tell his life’s story several times, it was only at age 66 that he finally found his voice.

And he’s not alone. Increasingly, old age seems to be a phase of life when people not only discover new talents or take on new hobbies (on that note, be sure to visit my favorite jokes website), but actually flourish professionally. I recently got an email from a friend who told me that her mother – a scientist  – who recently died felt that she’d done her best work in her sixties. Then there’s architect Frank Gehry who just celebrated his 80th birthday and is still going strong.

A recent study by the Pew Research center on aging in the United States found that most adults over age 50 feel at least 10 years younger than their actual age. Older adults also said they had experienced the negative aspects of aging — including illness, loneliness and financial difficulty — far less often than younger people anticipated.

As I begin to feel those creaky aches and pains and watch as both my kids crush me in Monopoly, it’s tempting to conclude that I’ve reached the beginning of the end. But people like Frank McCourt remind us all that there’s always more life ahead.

Thank goodness for that.

*****

If you’d like to hear my rant about that newest American rage – the all-pet airline – head on over to PoliticsDaily.com.

Image: Frank McCourt by Irish Philadelphia Photo Essay via Flickr under a Creative Commons License

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