Sunday, November 1, 2009


Somebody I love said this: Looking for a job is like reading a book, on which every single page is written the word "no." You think you've read the story, you're ready to put it down and at the end of the last page suddenly appears, by itself, the word "yes."


As most people who have ever met me now know, I got the job.


Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Over, maybe

It is possible that I will never have to write a cover letter again, or lose sleep over a morning interview. It is possible that I will be in a position where I work with people I like and admire, and work for a director who is balanced, upbeat and respectful. It is possible that I will recover the confidence which got swallowed by companies who never wrote back, or who said, "thanks anyway," because I don't care who you are, the longer you're on the market the easier it becomes to see their point.

I had a second interview today with the organization I just bloggedy-blogged about. It went so well, there was actually laughter in the meeting and that glorious question at the end: "How soon could you start?"

I hope, I hope.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Pick me

The only thing worse than a discouraged job seeker is a jaded one. Here's how they're made:

As I expected, there were others who attended the group interview I bloggedy-blogged about the other day - all of us in our pumps and suits and portfolios thinking we were there to be interviewed for an admissions counsellor position for a local college that caters to the "economically challenged" college student.

Forty of us.

It was not a group interview, it was a mob interview.

Herded into a little employee cafeteria, we were shown a PowerPoint presentation of the position particulars and before the second slide was clicked, were advised to "make no mistake, this is a sales position and you will be expected to make 80 to 120 phonecalls A DAY to recruit those college students, who, oh yeah, will also need a little counselling once you get them in the door."

Those of us not interested in this opportunity were invited to leave at the break. Some, like me, didn't wait that long. Some talked about the distance they'd come. They wanted to get a jump on the ride back.

There is a perfect word for any employer who would pull a bait and switch in times like these and exploit the already discouraged, and in the case of those who remained in that room, desperate, job seekers out there. The word is cruel. I'm luckier candidate-wise than many so I converted my anger to resolve, but the ones who stayed...

Luckily, candidate-wise, I interviewed for a position today that I would love so much, it was all I could do not to blurt out in the middle, "Pick me!"

Unfortunately, my interviewer was so complete and thorough in describing the position and organization that I had only skimpy questions at the end which Google says is bad. I could only sigh and say, "It sounds wonderful," which it is.

Not the punchy closing I'd planned, but a great interview anyway that left me with hope and optimism on the heels of Monday's experience which only left me in want of a bright room and a shower.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Brain space and breathing

I have a group interview later. I'm intrigued. It could be a panel I face, or I could be part of a panel. But here is what I will not be doing today:

Googling "group interview" again.

Like anyone interviewing these days I'm already antsy and over-focused on "my game." But as I've told every member of my brood at one time or another, "your task isn't turning into someone worthwhile before the interview, your task is to get through thirty or sixty seconds of anxiety without crumpling to the floor because you've forgotten to breathe."

So I've prepared my speech, and can now discuss myself with poise in under two minutes without saying "and, um, let's see," and my outfit is on a hanger next to my pumps. If I Google anything else about "group interviews" I will learn about the "NUMBER ONE QUESTION YOU MUST BE PREPARED TO ANSWER BECAUSE EVERYONE ELSE WILL BE" and it will be something I've somehow missed until now, and my insides will freeze, and I will have lost the opportunity to weave it into the speech I practice each morning after I drop Sam off and drive home pretending to be on Bluetooth.

No, I'm closing the book. No more cramming. I'm going to the treadmill where I will work on the presentation of me until it sing-aling-dings. Later, I'll go to my group interview and there will be some twenty-four year old there who's nervous and uncomfortable and I'll think of one of my children and forget about the treadmill and say what is truer than anything: You're better than you think you are before an interview. It will only take a moment or two for them to know it.

She'll get that job or maybe another one if she buys that, and so will I.

I have yet to see that kind of advice on the Debbie-Downer internet.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Unpack the Everything

My suitcase of Everything wouldn't zip recently so I unpacked my Advanced Cognition class. I regretted this decision for a surprisingly short period given my Everything-thing.

Now I'm hanging out with the Video Professor ("Try my product?") learning Microsoft Access because in my job search I'm finding that if you don't have Access don't even try to bag at Hannaford.

It's a nice tutorial, and I zipped through the beginning and got 100's on the "video quizzes," because I'm an Excel user, but I soon had trouble paying attention in my home classroom. First, the Video Professor's voice reminds me of a neighbor I had when I was small and I began to wonder if he (the neighbor) was dead or alive while the VP was talking about the difference between changing fields in tables and I had to arrow back. Then I began to feel hungry and wondered if the cantelope downstairs was any good, and then I clicked on Janet Reid's website to see if she was posting again, and then I was wondering if it would be okay to wear boots to an interview while the VP was talking about the "view" tab and I had to arrow back again. Then I was wondering if I should make Sloppy Joes for dinner and what the interviewer would look like, and if black would be a bad color for a top and then it was time for another video "quiz," and I had to arrow back even further. Then I got a 50% on the quiz which made me feel UnSerious about my Goals, on top of being hungry and conflicted about interview attire, and finally, I abandoned the task to play hide-and-go-seek with the cat which he learned as a kitten using Video Professor.

As for Everything-ness, I've learned something in the aftermath of breaking up with Advanced Cognition. It's that law of diminishing marginal utility again, that concept from college days of olde that even I couldn't believe I understood the first time it was explained. It's heady to think you're finally doing Everything you want to, until the exhilaration becomes stress, the overscheduled days become short, and the want to becomes "have to" so that soon, you're feeling so robbed of fun, you're breaking up with Everything and sitting under your desk hiding while the cat counts.

So this month, I didn't learn Access, but I did learn limits and I'm wearing a lavender top with a black skirt and not eating the cantelope and picturing a great interview with someone who has his or her own Everything to worry about, and that's Everything enough for now.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Woe is my classmates

Last night, I engaged in a sample-size debate with my professor that was exciting, and interesting and inspiring until I looked around and saw my classmates doodling and checking the clock.

Balance - where art thou?

Two weeks ago, I felt like I used to feel on the playground in the fourth grade. Now I'm Reese Witherspoon at Harvard. Or I will be after I see Eddie at the salon, later. Well, no, I won't ever be Reese Witherspoon at Harvard with or without Eddie's help. But I won't be that girl in the plaid dress with her finger in her mouth near the swings anymore either, and that's a relief.

I have to digress: I have a fundamental belief about parenting. No matter how old you are, no matter what stress befalls you, no matter what, no matter what, no matter what, it's easier than being a kid in grades four through eight and sometimes ten. It helps to remember, when children are wretched at any point in this range, that it's still easier to be you.

So my own student-child Courtney Dollface and I talked yesterday about the little glow that comes after you speak out in class, engage others, and get that reinforcement in return even if forces you to face your inner praise junkie. It's especially yummy to realize that as long as we engage the world it doesn't end. Ideas that are released into the world - through a novel, in a classroom - create a very inviting place for the new ones.

So I will no longer be thinking about withdrawing after all, for at least five more days.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Woe is me

Woe is me.

I wrote this in response to a reading in my Advanced Cognition class where we talk each week about how we think.

Since the earliest forays into the examination of thought with the unreliable introspective method, studies have turned in the direction of more testable connections, from the observable cause and effect relationships between external variables and behaviors to the scrutiny of neural operations to dissect external influence on internal behavior.

I think it looks great. I just don't know what it means.

Not only that, but after all the queries I've drafted, it looks naked without a hook: "While the clock ticks, and the neurons fire, there is only one question to consider: Will the answer lie in Connectionist Theory? And will it come in time?"

I will be in this Cognition class until December 15. All the high-achiever ghosts in my closet of I-thought-we-were-done-with-this are up from their naps now, unhappy, catching up with each other and looking over at me.

On the other hand, I will be a better thinker, and a more considerate listener. I won't be the guy who sat in front of me in traffic with a bumper sticker that said:
"Don't Blame Me. I Voted For The White Guy."

Now there's a guy who could use a little cognition.

Woe is me, but woe-er is he.

There. Perspective.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Quick, give me your PIN

I'm wondering what the hit rate really is for scammers who paste a bank logo atop an email and send it out like this:
Because of unusual number of invalid login attempts on your account we had to believe that, their might be some security problem on your account
So we have decided to put an extra verification process to ensure your identity and your account security

Breaking this down:
"...we had to believe that..." I just don't like the disappointed tone.
"...their might be some security problem on your account..." Their isint.
"...So we have decided to put an extra verification process to ensure..." Put an extra verification process where? Someone got interrupted while they were typing.

People do go to the link and they do give out their security codes and socials. I can almost not stand to think of someone doing that.

I think I'll write back and tell them that their little scheme and.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

3 out of 2 people have trouble with fractions

A while back I enrolled in classes to finish my degree and God help me, I started them last week. There are two for now: Cognition, and Politics of Crime and Justice. I knew Cognition would help keep my brain limber with all that mental yoga, the other seemed like it would be "Cops" in the classroom - bound to inform future novels if I didn't actually start drafting a character or two.

I was explaining to Sam, our sophomore, how my confidence slipped like a gear on the first night when my professor made the distinction between cognitive theories and cognitive applications (one is whether to dress Barbie in a tennis outfit or a business suit, the other is why we recognize Barbie) and warned that we should all be ABSOLUTELY sure this was the course we wanted. Absolutely sure. I wanted to raise my hand and say "I give up, is it?" Sam told me that I now understand what 99.5% of ALL kids in EVERY high school go through EVERY DAY.

Note: Why do people say 99.5%? It sounds unresearched. People should say, "Now you know how 86% of students in 92% of American schools feel," but anyway.

The first forty-five minutes of last night's class was horrible. The professor talked matter-of-factly about experimental methods in psych research and everyone was nodding like they knew what that was and so please get on with it, except for me because I was having a heart attack.

Like this:

Professor to the class: recall that a within-subjects design requires exposure to a number of independent variables hence the carry-over effect.

Me to me: Recall? I knew this? When did I know that? Why am I here? I’m over my head, I don't remember this. It's a mistake. I’m withdrawing.

Then something happened and I remembered this and that and then more and then a lot from Research Methods fifteen years ago and started raising my hand (Here is where Vivaldi's guitar concerto belongs because it was the psychology class or else it would be the Rocky theme) and I was saying things like “inferential” and “sum of the squares,” and I sailed through the rest without a single other thought of quitting.

I told this uplifting little story to Sam this morning on our ride. He thought it was "awesome." And then he asked me if I knew the only other animal that cries from emotion? I said, "Dear God, don't let it be dogs," then I gave up and he told me it was the elephant.

I looked at him upset, and he read my mind. "That's right. Dumbo was real."

Ha ha ha ha.

Within subjects, 99.5% of us can have a good time with knowledge if we point our cognition in the right direction.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Kind people

It is heady and depressing to finish a book that has taken close to two years to write, it’s a little like having a senior graduate, you want them where they’re going. You don’t want them to leave.
I want this book on an agent’s desk and I want to write it again.

Sooner or later, the floor stops sliding around and the clouds break and the world opens up again with the time that is now available for other projects that won’t result in shelving the book for awhile. I’ve had passing thoughts already about the next project but it all starts with the exercise of observing life, making notes, making assumptions about what people do and don’t do to live in the world each day. I’ve got a list now, people at the airport, at the supermarket, at the vet, at Staples, and at the countless places where I stop for lunch and pretend to read while I actually eavesdrop if my kids aren’t with me to say, “Stop it.” And that was where I saw two people today that I will remember for a long time.

It was at Subway, where I eat often, book/notepad at the ready, and there was a man I’ve noticed is there at least as often as I am, maybe more. Always at the same table, he sits by himself because he never brings company. He avoids eye contact while he eats and when he’s through, he doesn’t linger but stands and collects his wrappers, then throws them away on his way out. He is about five-seven, probably not more than a hundred and forty pounds. He is always well dressed with gray hair and a beard that are neatly trimmed. He is also severely handicapped with feet that point toward each other, hands that he keeps clasped together, a head that is always cocked as if to listen closely, and eyes that he never raises above waist level. His mouth is crooked, one side doesn’t move. He was born this way, or he was in an accident, or maybe he suffered a stroke but he had the look of someone who lives in the world with doing. I've never heard him speak but I've imagined it would sound muffled, or garbled.

Today, he was before me in line and when the sandwich clerk asked him what he wanted he said in the clear, articulate voice of a college boy, “I’ll try the Roast Beef today.” He was asked if he wanted it toasted and he said, “Sure, why not?” Then he ordered almost every vegetable item, and some mayo, and shuffled to the register, where he presented a frayed Subway card and waited to have the total deducted from his points. The card didn’t work. The clerk swiped it, swiped it again, and again and finally the man turned his head toward me and said, “go ahead and help her instead.” And so I paid, but I walked to my seat and watched while the clerk continued. Finally he said to the man, “I’m really sorry. I don’t know what to tell you, it’s not taking your card.”

I began to wonder how I’d pay for his lunch without embarrassing him when the supervisor emerged and said to the man in a mock-scolding tone, “Did you wash this thing again?” I heard the man laugh and the supervisor said to her clerk, “He’s got a ton of points, let this one go.” Then she turned to him and said, “You’re good to go. After you eat, come and see me and I’ll get you a new card.”

He came to a table in front of mine, sat down and assumed his eating posture; head down, all business. I said, “Hey, that was close!” And he looked around, confused. I leaned so he could see me it was me talking and I said, “Hey.” He looked at me with very startled navy blue eyes, smiled a half smile and said, “Yeah, they’re good to me here.”

Because I’m shopping for themes and the people who live them, I considered the assumptions I make about people as I craft their stories, real or imagined. But today’s was a show of the difference between sympathy which serves the conscience, and kindness which serves others.

The ones who are kind, do what they do the way they tie their shoes and start the car. They are the ones I love to write about, because they make life what they wish it could be in reality. The way writers do.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009


Date of birth: 8/19/09
Time of birth: 10:25 AM
Weight/Length: 103,525 words.
Name: The Right Guy

Baby is well but in need of clean up. Mother is tired and happy and looking forward to a trip later on to the drive-thru at McDonald's.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Bigger Everything

My Everything got bigger recently when I decided to finish my book, find a job, AND finish my degree at night in the fall.

I admire my kids for their respectful patience when I tell them things that are not particularly interesting to them. But l love my kids +++ for the way they reacted when I told them I was going back to school. There was a genuine pause while they recovered from the surprise, then:

Courtney: “Wow. Wow. That is awesome. Really, I am so proud of you…”

Drew: “I just stopped walking. Are you kidding? I am so proud of you…”

Jacqueline: “Are you serious? That is so cool. I am so proud of you…”

Sam: “Awesome. Are you going to post pictures of yourself getting hammered at parties on Facebook now?”

And, I like people from the start if they remind me of my kids.

I met one yesterday, a Courtney-esque young woman - about that age, smart, nice, and especially nice to me because she was my academic counselor and I was, well, probably like her mom.

I wanted a Psychology course that required three pre-requisites and I had only two. She hopped on the computer and said, “I’ll e-mail the professor right now and let’s see if we can get his permission!”
She pulled up the courses I took ten years ago.
“Wow,” she said, looking into the screen, “Your grades were awesome.”
“Thank you,” I said, sounding mature-awesome.

There are only six courses involved, it will be over in a blink. I’ll do well because I’m Serious. I’ll befriend people because I’ll never be one of those “older” students who come into the classroom and instantly befriend the professor. But I may be the oldest one and it does give me butterflies, so today I called my Jacqueline Flower who is a sophomore at B.U. to give her a chance to boost my confidence.

“Are you kidding? I see students like you all the time, nobody even thinks about it anymore. ” It was all I needed, but she went on… “Seriously Mommy, when you go in, it will be so easy…” and, "It's no big deal, you'll see. It won't make any difference..." until I changed the subject.

I was a little intimidated by the prospect of being surrounded by so many younger, traditional students. But they have been the most supportive and awesome-est of all.

Thank you Dollface, Flower, CocoPop, and Sam Man.

I love you.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

A present from Internet Hell

As promised, a present. Compared to the opening of the last post, I have an uplifting attitude story. (I would have rewritten the last post but I had a character ready to run someone over in a crosswalk and they were waiting for me).

I stopped on the way back from What’s Next land to use the rest room in Internet Hell and got lost for a week.

“Internet Explorer cannot find the website...”

Nothing makes a morning wilt faster than those six words on your screen when you have job boards to search, and “what are the contents of a high school science lab” to google for your next chapter. You sip your coffee and try again, thinking it didn’t hear you the first time. The message pops back up. It is very similar to the feeling you get when you turn the key in your car and hear a couple of feeble clicks before the battery dies. You know you’re not going anywhere.

Most satellite providers have an abundance of numbers for people in internet crisis to call and at the other end, in Bombay I believe, is an insufferably polite person who speaks to you as though someone is looking at them with a clipboard. But polite as they are, if you’re a C- in the technology department like I am, everything you say to explain your problem with the internet makes it sound like it just won't come when you call it.

You start with “Hi, my internet isn’t working” and the Bombay person asks you a beginner question like the name on your account and you answer that with confidence and ask if he knows why the internet isn’t working. He says “I would be very delighted to help you solve this problem today Missus Bone-ee-fant and I am sorry for your trouble,” and you say “Oh, it’s not your fault,” and you’re thinking this is going kind of well so that when he asks something about your modem you ask him what does it probably look like and where does he think it might probably be in your house? He pauses because he thinks you’re talking to yourself and then he realizes you’re really asking him so he tells you it may be a little box in the garage. So out you go in your pajamas and soon you say, “I found the fuse box, is it probably near that?” and this actually seems okay because you’re talking to an internet wizard who is so much smarter than you are right now, he probably has magic powers and can see right into your garage all the way from India to help you out.

Sooner or later he says, “If I may trouble you to stay on the line for a very short period, I will research this matter,” and you say “Sure, that’s okay,” and while he goes across the room in Bombay to get “Internet for Dummies” so he can speak your language, you find a CD that you thought you lost between the seats in your car and also your glasses on the floor in the back which means you won’t have to call all the restaurants you’ve been in for two weeks. By the time he’s back, you’re playing your CD and wearing your glasses and feeling kind of happy again and then he breaks up with you and tells you he can’t do for you what a “tech visit,” will.

Your spirits sink because you know from experience that whoever shows up won’t be a Bombay type but a swaggering, gum chewing, eye contact avoiding, insolent type who behaves as though someone called them in on their day off. And you know you won’t even see the tech for a week or more because in ThisEconomy everyone’s cutting back and fewer techs are taking on the same number of calls.

You don’t tell your Bombay person you wish he would try again - you’re only internet-stoopit, not stoopit-stoopit – but you want to say, “Oh, don’t go.”

Our tech turned out to be a cartoon compared to the surly type of yesterEconomy. Our tech seemed grateful to see us and delighted to show us where our problem originated and what we could do about it, and how we could prevent it in the future. He didn’t check his watch or blink too hard when he was asked a question, he even made an internet-joke or two. He gave me a thumbs-up and a wink when I asked how it was going, and was nice to the dog when she got in the way.

We’re zipping along again, not that I have any idea why, because my internet lesson went the way of my ninth grade Early American History, but I can google again. All is well. Until I see those six little words appear on my screen again, all is well. To those of you who have asked me if I’m “done with the blog,” I’m not.

And Jordan, the answer to your question is: There’s no such thing. There’s only one. And it might change it’s furniture around but once it moves in, it never leaves. Do not be fooled by imitations. More on that later.

Love, Case Number 331185TGRT

8.5% is a big, big number.

I haven’t lost interest in blogging, I’ve been visiting the land of What’s Next again. I brought a present that is still being wrapped, in the meantime here is a melancholy, depressing opening because the news these days is just too damn cheerful.

Yesterday, I listened to two people having a conversation in a supermarket (where else?). They knew each other from someplace long ago. Maybe college, maybe a bar, I couldn’t make it out. They established in the first two minutes that ThisEconomy sucks. One’s spouse was laid off. The other lost his job in November. For the next four or five minutes, and I know this because I had reason to be in earshot (I did, Courtney, I did) it was an ailment contest: “I had the hip finally done in January…” “I know, I had my second knee replacement in three years…” and so on until they went one way to the deli and I went the other to Soft Drinks and Seasonal Decorations. Behind me I heard, "So who did your hand?"

I went out of my way to smile at one of the people when I saw him later until he shrugged and smiled back. I wanted to say, “Don’t pick up,” because we crossed each other in the wine aisle, but I didn’t.
8.5% unemployment will make a lot of people idle who don’t wish to be. It will draw a wandering eye to things that usually go unnoticed; the way the house has settled, the way the sky looks at four o’clock, the dog. It will create hypochondriacs who work at small problems until they are big enough to capture the stress that has no place else to go.

It will do other things. It will change outlooks as self-elevated, intolerant people lose a job and understand how they intersect with others. Except for a certain sulky, spoiled someone who works at a certain sports store near me and needs to be pushed off her chair by my brother Tom, it will make grateful, appreciative workers out of the disinterested, unmotivated ones.

8.5% unemployment will change attitudes. Some of them will be worth passing on.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Jordan and the cage key

My movie son Jordan has an IQ of 60,000, is a brilliant cellist with the New World Symphony, has the intensity and intrigue and weird gorgeousness of a Versace model, but is utterly near sighted when it comes to some ugly things about human nature that plague us all - like jealousy.

Jordan was concerned today about his tendency to get jealous. I told him jealousy is paradoxical – the thing we have in common with everyone while being the thing that can separate us from everyone. I didn’t actually say “paradoxical,” because Tom will push me off my chair if I use words like that, or “enthralled” in normal conversation. I said “interesting.” As tempted as I am to use those words when I talk to Jordan, he is not the slightest bit tempted to hear them.

If I didn’t love my movie son Jordan, I could be jealous about his brilliance. It’s out there on the stage making him principal cellist for the New World. My brilliance doesn’t have knuckles yet.

Such as.

So Jordan, it’s not our job to banish jealousy. It is our job to understand that jealousy goes to the party alone, enters from the outside, meets up with a corresponding emotion on the inside, and then takes a little walk with it in the moonlight, hand in hand, until it falls off a cliff and takes you with it.

It’s metaphor Thursday.

Jealousy is Travis. It's bossy and big and will pretend to get along with the other healthy operating emotions like: love, humor, gratitude, confidence and faith. But it doesn’t. It can’t. It’s trying to kill them. It’s 200 times stronger and if it gets near the other emotions, it will maul them. Jealousy belongs in its cage at all times. It's not meant to be domesticated.

If someone lets jealousy out, they need to be the one who puts it back with a clean diaper on. If your love person flirts with another to make you jealous, or compliments someone on something you wish you had/could get/will never get, they must be the one to put the jealousy back.

If you are the one who tries but fails to attract extra attention, or takes your love person’s casual curiosity about someone too seriously, or says something like “what’s the thing you find least attractive about me,” then you have to do it. Jealousy happens when something or someone illuminates your private shortcomings in the eyes of a person you want to impress. It runs a few laps inside, meets up with envy and regret and by the time you’re ready to spit it out, you’ve made it another person’s fault.

Jealousy also happens when someone acquires something you feel you deserve and want but can't have, or worse, may never get. I feel jealous when someone writes something I wish I'd conceived first or becomes famous for an idea I have scrawled somewhere downstairs on my Someday tablet. I used to hate jealousy, and I still don't love it. But now when I'm jealous, I don't compare my lack of success to someone else's brilliance. I look at my baby brilliance and use the examples of others to show it what it can be when it grows up.

My father told me a joke about a man who repeatedly hits himself in the head with a block. When someone asks him why he says, “because I love how it feels when I stop.” The best thing about putting jealousy away, is the feeling of peace that tippy toes out in its absence.

Remember, Jordan, as well as off-screen children everywhere: As human as it can be to feel jealous you can't bring your jealousy with you to lunches or parties, or the classroom, or the bedroom or the stage because it won't get along with the other feelings you need there, it will eat them. It’s Travis and it needs to go back in its cage. Have you seen the canines on jealousy?

Some things we hope are true, Jordan, are. Jealousy tries to make them untrue. Lock up that cage and break a leg.

xo MM

Friday, February 13, 2009

Mummy and the gas station attendant

When I was younger, I called my mother “Ma.” When I got older and felt it made us sound like hillbillies, I switched to “Mummy.” For some reason, the very word “Mom,” sounds tired to me and makes me think of people rolling their eyes as they say it. Nobody rolls their eyes when they talk to my mother.

Among hundreds of other good things, my Mummy is the queen of unconditional love. When we were very young, there was someone in our neighborhood who had just gotten out of jail for killing a gas station attendant. My mother marveled at his mother’s willingness to take him in and give him a room without blinking because she was “his ma.” Some liken their fierce, boundless love for their children to the mother-bear thing, the grizzly-mama thing. My mother likens unconditional love to that woman who took her son back even though he once killed a gas station attendant.

But on Tuesday night, at age 73, she was admitted to the hospital with excruciating abdominal pain. They were after the gall bladder, given the symptoms, but when the cat scan showed “an obstruction with an unknown cause,” which "could be anything," they came back dressed in scrubs. Before I had a chance to notify my siblings, she was being wheeled to surgical suite #2 and I, holding my cell phone which now rang with frantic return calls, was being asked to say goodbye.

“You have to do it now.”
I hugged her around the tubes.
“Goodbye, Mummy. I love you. Thank you.”
“And I love you, Darling.”

Is there a bigger word than Goodbye?

I wandered around for a while until I felt the breakdown coming and then I called my friend Maureen. Fifteen minutes later, the elevator doors opened and there she was. I said, “I’m not ready.”

For two hours, I alternated between overreacting and knowing I wasn’t overreacting. For two hours I thought about the daughter I’ve been, the mother she’s been, and the very poor job I’ve done with my side of that equation. I wondered what I gave her. It was hard to see around the glare of all she’d given me, and hard to think straight, wondering who would love me still, even if I killed a gas station attendant.

My husband, friends, and the siblings who could make it were there. But as the night wore on, I moved away until I was around the corner and it was there, on the phone to my out-of-town brother and trusted confidante Tom (raised with me by my mother after the divorce), that I realized I gave my mother more than stuff. I gave her back to my own children.

I believe with my entire heart, that each of my children knows they can call me at any age, at any hour of the morning, drunk or sick or laughing or crying and I’ll sit on the floor in my bathrobe and talk to them until they can go back to bed. I think each knows I will hop a plane, I will drop a plan, I will get into the nearest vehicle and will be at their side before they’ve had time to reconsider, if they say the words, “Can you come here?”

I’ve given my mother gifts of time and love. I’ve complimented her perms and shoes and invited her out for glasses of wine and Broadway shows. But more than that, I’ve been her in my own children’s lives. When they’re sick, when they’re sad, or worried, or happy, or quiet, or when they’re any of these things and alone, I believe my children know someone in the world will know everything they’ve said or done, and will still give them a room. There is no better report card when you’re a parent. My mother is high honors in this regard, and I’ve tested her more than once.

She came out of the surgery like a champ and will have a happier, healthier life as a result. And I have been given a chance to shore up my side of the equation.

But her reach is far and long. Her great-grandchildren will know her, even if they never meet, if I do this right. This week, I learned a lot about doing it right, in two of the longest hours we’ve both lived through.

I love you, Mummy.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Sheer hose and jungle animals

I print a lot of things I don’t send out like drafts of things that need actual page editing. Then I turn it over and recycle. It’s frugal and right now like most people, I’m doing Everything to be Frugal.

I’m also doing Everything to know the software I might need in my job search and I was in the middle of a self-teaching Access course (“Buy my product!”) when my mind went for a walk. In a terrible sudden flash I lost all the sensation in my brain and I knew – I knew – I’d sent my resume out to an Important Employer on the other side of a short story. And not some tidy O Henry tale full of deserving, virtuous people but two pages about a guy who wears red contact lenses and hires himself out as an “eliminator” of extortionists.

Until recently, I thought pre-interview anxiety was the worst thing you can feel after grief, guilt, remorse, and embarrassment. But nothing is worse than that freefall into the panic abyss while you figure out if you did or didn’t just ruin your life. Right away, I called my mind back into the house and quickly it recalled for me that I actually emptied the paper tray before I started printing out the story of me and not the guy with red eyes. But I was left thinking about the power of that moment when I wasn’t sure. More than feeling stupid in those seconds I felt exposed, like I’d just walked through town wearing only my imagination underthings, which are unique but not appropriate for the occasion.

In a job market that is standing room only these days, experts are everywhere with rules about what NOT to say, how NOT to come across, and yet be yourself as if you are even still in there under all that prepping. I guess it’s good to be told that dark stockings with white pumps look unsophisticated, but if we’re all going to read the same rules and wind up behaving the same way, well, that’s a lot of sheer hose. It requires balance to remain unique too, and express things you are that others aren’t.

In the 80’s, I was a HR recruiter working for an organization with over 70% turnover. I was in the infancy of my executive-ness, so all I did was interview and hire, sometimes twenty or more employees in one week. Everyone who walked into my office was nervous and afraid of saying the wrong thing, or coming across the wrong way, and some seemed to need a little more oxygen than we had in the room. If I had an applicant who was a total wreck, I’d look them in the eye, and say: “All right, listen. If you’re like everyone else, you’re not comfortable right now, but don’t worry. I won’t ask you anything hard. Just tell me this. If you could be any kind of animal in the jungle, what would it be?” They’d freeze and I’d say “I’m just kidding,” and that was that. The ice was broken and the applicant got to show their uniqueness in how they reacted. Unless I got a poet type who took the question seriously, it worked like a charm.

Tomorrow, I’ll interview for something I want very much. I’ll be busy today reflecting on my accomplishments, doing final research on the organization, and deciding what kind of jungle animal I’d be in case I’m asked.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Less is kinda more

I’ve been gone awhile on a cognitive vacation. I didn’t want to come back until I had presents.

Here’s one: Barack Obama needs to push Joe Biden off his chair.

Here’s another: If you want to get over the fear of something, fear something bigger.

But here’s my favorite: Less done well can make you happier than more done kinda.

When I returned to school in the early 90’s to finish a degree in psychology, I was terrified to learn I’d have to take a course in micro-economics. I’d had one already as far as I knew, but it was at Northeastern in the late 70’s and my professor’s accent was so thick, and he covered material so dense, I could have been taking a course in chair design and wouldn’t have known it. So when I went back later, before the teacher even entered the room and said “Good morning,” I was convinced I would be the one raising her hand a half minute before the end of class to shove one more awkward question in before facing that bright blue book alone. Nothing made me feel stooooopit-er.

I was anxious, but it was in the way of my determination so I resolved to get over myself and raise my hand and that was what I did. At first, it was only once during the class time. Then I kinda liked the sound of my own voice and it was more often. Then it was annoying even to me, how eager I’d become to find out what I didn’t know. By the end of one class late in the semester, someone asked a question about that “law of diminishing something or other,” and the teacher turned to me suggesting I explain. I gave him a “Really?” look. Then I began, “The law of diminishing marginal utility means…”

I’ve learned two things in the writing years since I bought Stephen King’s On Writing and said, “That looks easy.” One is that writing, nevermind career writing, is damn hard. Second, that writing invigorates me like a run in the snow used to invigorate my dog when she stayed awake for more than twenty minutes a day. Now there is a third thing I know. I can’t do it full time anymore. It’s not just The Economy, it’s that law of diminishing something or other: more hours available to write, does not mean better or even more writing. More hours available means more hours of not being productive OR paid, and these days, well. If you should, and could be working, and you aren’t, aren't you a little like the lady in the mink coat at the soup kitchen? Holding on to the thing that is, um…incongruent with reality?

Not for me. I am hanging up my mink and going back to work. With three kids in college and in This Economy, blah blah blah.

I had a boss who used to say: “Kids off the street,” when he was ready for our department to roll out some major initiative. I’ve been published and will be again, but kids off the street, now. I’m lucky. I’ve kept my skills up to date, I know where I want to go and what I want to do and have started in that direction. Only essays and the novel will keep their jobs. I’m laying off op-eds and shorts. My writer-blog will have to take on more responsibility without extra pay.

The rest of the time I intend to spend in a job I love, working for someone I respect, in a place I’m proud of. I know where it is and I’m going to go and get it. That’s it. That’s enough.

That’s actually not less, is it? That's actually kinda more.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Happy Birthday Dollface

My dollface is 23 today. She's in Rochester, but also in my heart, in that special room that says "First Baby" on the door with her name underneath.

I'm keeping an eye on the clock the way I do on her birthday, thinking back: what was going on now? How about now? At around four o'clock, I remember thinking it might not be so bad to have only one child. By five-thirty, I was asking the nurse to bring me a gin and tonic with a cracker and cheese plate. Not really! Ha. Can you imagine?

I asked her father to bring it.

Anyway, my lovely daughter has had a place at the top of my list of greatest blessings (and it's an impressive one) for a long, long, long time. She's brought laughter and love and luck into my life in ways I never expected. Her music passion has literally changed my life, and not just because I learned what a viola actually is, but because it's everywhere. I miss my girl? I listen to a symphony.

Also, there's nobody else who enjoys character shopping as much as I do; sitting in a bus or train terminal and "guessing the stories," or analyzing the mood of people stuck in traffic based on their bumper stickers. She does killer Fargo impressions and once reminded my husband and me that it was our anniversary and not to forget. She truly is - awfer cute.

Two words for my daughter that are not Happy Birthday: Thank you.