Sunday, July 25, 2010

Pie and Ice Cream

At breakfast today one of my friends, describing another mutual acquaintance said “he’s only gotten laid like 3 times in the last 3 months.” I responded with “Um, Please.” By which I meant “My ex kicked me out in October of last year and haven’t had anything remotely approaching a romantic partnership since then so I am not at all in sympathy with anyone who has, at the very least, gotten laid anytime in 2010 and is complaining."

I do wish I had a boy. It would be nice to have someone to wear nice skirts for, and someone upon whose shoulder I could occasionally put my head. Someone who would gently laugh at me and hold me around my waist while putting his head on my shoulder (and, um possibly provide other services which I will not describe.) While G&M Rental Boyfriend Services is wonderful, it would be nice to have someone who felt *obligated* to help me lift heavy things or install my AC. It would also be nice to have someone to sort out my “Windows PCs can’t use my AirPort” problem (yes, I know, I could probably sort that one out on my own, but it would be less of a chore to do with a friend and all my nerd friends are Mac People so...)

I'd love to have a special friend I could plot things with. It would be nice to have what Vonnegut describes in Mother Night as a “Republic of Two” where we made our own language and had our own signifiers-intimate as a pair of lace panties, but subtle enough that we could telegraph meaning in public without anyone understanding. (“No one else knows, but I’ve just signed at you that the guy to your left forgot to take his pills this morning.”)

But that is all the ice cream on top of the pie. And the pie itself is often filled with “who left the laundry un-dried?” and “didn’t I ask you to pick up the dry-cleaning/do the dishes/vacuum the carpet/walk the dog/pay the electric bill/book a hotel room?” And dear reader, lest you think I’m too hard on men, I admit I’m flaky enough to have forgotten to do any of these things. The pie is filled with compromises and arguments, with things that are hard to do along with things that are fun to do.

For example-“Let’s buy a house together”
“Okay-sounds like fun, but to save money for said house you should stop spending money on gadgets, clothes and pedicures.”
"Um, but I like my gadgets and pedicures--why don't you give up your Magic habit instead?"
"We could both give up comic books?"
"Are you mad?"
Or alternatively
“Let’s hang out sometime.”
“Lesse-I have class on Tuesdays and Wednesdays and I have a team meeting on Saturday so when? Oh, and I have to work late on Thursday.”

I cannot be having discussions over whose job it was to put the trash out during Term Time. Neither do I have the emotional energy to pitch a fit because I'm feeling unloved (or possessive.) Instead, I need to be spending my energy on digesting my own stomach over papers and problem sets. And I need to save all my patience for my classmates/teammates who can only meet at inconvenient times. So not only am I profoundly uninterested in dealing with the more difficult parts of a relationship-when school’s in I *cannot* deal with them.

I am still-9 or 10 months (depending on how you count) out of my last relationship-so very uninterested in dealing with the difficult parts of the pie that I find myself forgoing the ice cream on top relatively happily.

No, that’s a lie. I really wish I had one small scoop of ice cream to put on top of my sunburnt summer.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Myself a week ago

It was a week ago and I was on the Green Line headed into work. I had a final exam in Econ that night. It would have been nice to have a boring day at work during which I could redo the most recent problem set for the third time and re-read the chapter on Keynesian multipliers for the fifth time, but as luck would have it, I had 250 or so quarterly reports to string together that day. In fact, if it hadn't been quarterly report day I would have been at home stressing and obsessing in peace. But it *was* quarterly report day, so in to work I went.

I do not, as a rule, allow myself to wish it was a later date-for who should wish any part of their life-even final exams away? (A case might however be made for stomach flus, severe hangovers migraines or anything else involving severe pain, but that's it.) However, as I sat on the trolley I was feeling impatient with the Green Line for moving so slowly (delaying the start of my unpleasant but necessary day) I felt a queasy but familiar feeling in my stomach.

This must be how superheros who are reluctant to use their super powers must feel (the ones who can turn into a werewolf or an atomic bomb, but only at great pain or the ones who can turn themselves invisible but feel like they've got bees in their ears if they do). I knew I had what it would take to get through the day okay and I also knew that it would be no fun at all.

I had already done the most recent Econ problem set three times. I was pretty sure that during the course of the day, even though I was processing quarterlies I'd have a chance to do it a fourth time. I had gotten as much as possible out of my notes (for a change they weren't very good notes so this was not much of a feat) and I'd read the relevant chapters in the book a few times (this was not very productive either-the book is terrible and I only considered it as a last resort because my notes were not helpful.) So by the time I sat down to take the test I would have done all that I could do to learn the material.

Quarterly report processing, while unpleasant (It doesn't matter if I put a sign up on my cubicle saying I'm not to be bothered-my boss will come in and bother me anyways. The result is, to paraphrase Stephen King, like trying to put together dynamite with someone clashing cymbals near by and administering electric shocks to you at irregular intervals) is something I've done often enough that I could probably do a good job of it even if I had to do it at three AM on two hours sleep.

Dealing with both of these situations together (school stress + quarterly reporting stress) is a relatively new phenomenon. Last term I lost my wallet because of the combination. This term I got through it okay. As I projected it wasn't fun. The software that mashes together performance reports, invoices commentary and cover sheets* broke twice. I did exchange rate at AE (aggregate expenditure, or GDP in Keynes's model) calculations while it was broken while waiting for tech support to call me back. I calmly explained to my boss that yes it was broken, but I knew why and it was probably a quick fix (I could have fixed the problem myself but I didn't want to muck around in the code-let the people who wrote it do that--it's what we pay them for) and that yes in fact, there was no one else I could call to demand that they fix the problem.

When I'd done all the problems I could possibly do, I read Paul Krugman's blog. This came in handy as there was a question about "hardcore Keynesians" and the liquidity trap on the exam.) And then I left work to go deal with that Econ exam thing.

This was also no fun at all, but nothing I couldn't handle. When I finished I walked to the Red Line instead of waiting for the shuttle bus while singing Voi che Sapete to myself.

*the reason we have software to do this is that financial reporting is messy. We need to send Ms. X her reports and her nephew's reports and her mom's trust fund report. We also need to send the accountant her mom's report-but not her reports and not the invoice for her mom's trust and we need to send her sister her nephew's account only. Humans are bad at getting this sort of thing done--especially if there are other humans jumping up and down and demanding to know if it's done yet. Software is great at this sort of thing.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Better Than Expected

Today I had to let my boss drive me to Microcenter. I needed DVI to VGA adapters and I had to buy them in person because there are plenty of DVI to VGA adapters that have the wrong number of pins in the wrong place. I’d already been to Best Buy and Radio Shack with no luck so it was time to visit Microcenter. And I was accepting a ride from my boss, in spite of the fact that he and I have not been getting along (to put it mildly.)

We were doing okay for a Monday. He scheduled a 9 am meeting with me to discuss IT expenses over the first half of the year. That could have gone badly. There’s no better way to start my day than explaining to my boss what I’ve spent his money on. Especially since he doesn’t understand any of it and has to be reminded each time what everything is. However I remained a Guardian of the Cheerful Tone and we got through it without raised voices or bloodshed.

Still, even (or indeed especially) after that, riding to Microcenter with my boss was pushing my luck. There wasn’t much to be done other than accept his offered ride because 1) It was likely to rain 2) I was wearing new shoes and would have been in much pain if I’d taken the T and walked from Central Square 3) really, it would be awfully rude not to.

One of the ways this sort of exhibition would normally backfire is that I hate to shop and my boss loves to shop. However, I love Microcenter. A USB fish tank? How did I live without one? Laser pointers? Awesome. A little micro duster just for keyboards? I wants it. Oh hey and an adapter that will allow me to plug my dog into an RJ-45 jack.

Unlike the light-weights at Best Buy, I was sure that the Microcenter staff could solve my adapter issue without looking at me like I had three heads, or didn’t know what I was talking about. I was right. A quality 10 minutes spent in the adapter aisle and I was all set. Meanwhile my boss had found a memory card for his camera and was proudly telling me that now when he comes to Microcenter he “understands more and more about the products.” I smiled indulgently and added a 6 pack of compressed air to the pile of stuff he was buying.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Bastille Day or why I Shouldn't Write Advertisements

Nine years ago I had to work a Saturday shift at Brookline Booksmith. It was a morning shift and they happened to asked me to write something on the A frame wipe board that sits outside the shop. Since it was July 14th I thought I’d write something witty and francophone. I wrote “’Allons enfants de la Patrie, le jour de gloire est arrivĂ© !’ Ten points if you can sing the whole thing.”

I figured that the most of the good people of Brookline would look at the sign and think-“Oh! That’s the French National Anthem they’re quoting” and walk away (or, preferably walk into the bookstore-drawn in by our clever reference) pleased with themselves for noticing that and pleased with us for bringing it to their attention. I figured a much smaller select set would know that La Marseillaise is actually appallingly long (I just looked up on wikipedia and it has 7 verses) and that no one (certainly no American) in their right mind could be expected to remember all of the lyrics. That was the joke.

Apparently it didn’t quite take because when I got back from lunch the front desk called for me to tell me that an elderly female had come into the store to say that she had been walking up and down Harvard Street for an hour trying to remember the lyrics to the first verse and that she was now ready to recite them to the appropriate authority and receive her ten points.

If this had happened six months to a year later-when I was more sure about what was okay to do, I would have listened to the old lady recite and handed her a few coupons with good cheer. As it was the front desk said “We’ll pretend you’ve gone home.” And I agreed to that.

When I wrote the thing on the board outside of the store, I was making a joke-remember all the words of the Marseillaise and we’ll give you ten points. The Booksmith doesn’t give points, but that doesn’t matter because I was asking the impossible. I might as well have written “Derive Pi for us and we’ll give you ten points.”(not that there was anyone at the store—myself included who would have understood if there had been any takers to that one.) And no one picked up on that.

Which is why I should not write advertising copy.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Paul Simon

When I was a teenager and just learning to love rock and roll, my parents’ musical collection was disappointing. Everyone else’s parents had liked the Beatles or the Rolling Stones or some other cool band from the 60s. The only album that my parents had that was cool was Parsley Sage Rosemary and Thyme. Simon and Garfunkel were cool. When I hear “I am a Rock” I still think of Cathy sitting on the floor in our friend Liz’s living room when we were all in high school. It was hot and we were all wearing shorts. Cathy was seated facing the stereo so that the music would pour over her.

But I didn’t really like Paul Simon’s solo work as much as I liked the Simon and Garfukel’s teen pop work for a long time. I tried for years to figure out what “Me and Julio Down By the School Yard” was about. Did the narrator knock up some girl? Did he kiss a boy? Finally one of my friends disappointed me by saying “With Paul Simon it’s always about rhythm. He figures the rhythm out first and then writes the lyrics.” I accepted that (sadly, because I’m all about the lyrics.)

But, having studied literature, I remember that it’s acceptable to think about things other than what the author meant when studying his or her words. What I have found, and what has made me like Paul Simon’s solo work more as I’ve gotten older is that he sings about growing up—not the growing up that’s done from age 12 to age 18, but the part that’s done from age 18 to age 90. Most of the pop songs and ballads I liked (and still like) as a kid are love songs. But Paul Simon can write interesting songs about what happened after the Uptown Girl hooked up with her Downtown Man.

Fat Charley the archangel files for a divorce. You are the burden of my generation I sure do love you, but let’s get that straight. One man’s ceiling is another man’s floot. And my personal favorite I don’t expected to be treated like a fool no more-I don’t expect to sleep through the nights.

It may be true that Paul Simon starts out with rhythm and then comes up with lyrics-as a side project but he has done an admirable job of writing up and singing about some of the less interesting, uncomfortable parts of life that come after the prom the wedding. What if after a while it turns out that you and your prom date aren't in love anymore (It's just a habit like saccharine) or even if you do still love each other, there are still bills to be paid and annoying neighbors to be dealt with. As such, I’ve come to appreciate his solo work more as I’ve grown older. As I’ve dealt with the unglamorous bumps and bruises of becoming a grown up (for real!) it’s been comforting to have his tenor voice in the background telling me to have a good time because it’s alright.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Thoughts about UMass Boston

UMass Boston feels more like high school than it does like college. Perhaps that's because it's so big or perhaps that's because I get to and from it on public transportation. Perhaps it's just that it's, um, a good deal more multi-cultural than Carleton College. Which is like saying that there's more chance of snow in Boston than there is in Miami.

I was extremely proud of myself for actually getting accepted into an MBA program, and I'm kicking myself for not applying 3 years earlier. But I kept thinking that it would all be too Hard and that I wasn't going to be smart enough do well on the GMAT and besides I'd never get accepted anywhere (after all, my undergraduate grades-about which I can do nothing at this point-were not at all impressive.) So I was thrilled to discover that 1) I was not too dumb to take the GMAT 2)I could in fact get into a graduate degree program.

Of course, because I'm me, I quickly came up with excuses for why this is not such a big deal.("It's just a commuter school-it's not like you got into Sloan-or even Northeastern." "Everyone else you know got their degree at least 5 years ago and you're only getting an MBA-it's not like it's an MFA.") My inner-German is very good at that sort of thing. And I have to admit, sometimes I feel like a stock character from a sit-com the middle-aged divorcee* going to night school to get her advanced degree.

To be fair, some of the reason that I see getting into UMass Boston's MBA program as less of a big deal is that I have noticed, in the 1.5 terms I have been there that the professors are less strict with their grading than the professors at Carleton College or the teachers at Stuyvesant High School. Yes, I know-you're shocked. You are clutching your pearls and calling for your smelling salts.

I know I've when I've handed in A quality work and when I've handed in work that is not my best effort. So it's a bit of a shock to get an A for less than perfect work. I know-this is not a bad problem to have.

However, it has been my experience with education that you get out of it what you put into it. I do not want to start putting less effort into work because I can get a good grade easily. Of course I want to get good grades, but if there's actually something to be learned then I want to learn it.

The other most important factor in getting a good education is your fellow students. The instructor matters too, but not as much as your peers. It doesn't matter if Einstein is teaching you-if you are surrounded by droolers you will not get much out of the class.

MBA work involves a lot of team work. I strongly suspect that the whole point of any MBA program is to teach you to deal with other people. Yes there are courses in Change Management and in Accounting, but learning the subject matter of these courses is less important than learning to Work Well With Others and to get them to work well with you. You get one grade for your team projects--if you wrote the whole paper yourself while all your teammates were on Cape Cod you all get the same grade.

The teamwork aspect of the experience keeps me from being a slacker. It's not enough to impress the professor-I must impress my teammates. However, the hard part is not just doing your part, but making everyone else do his or her part. If you go through the program and just do all the projects yourself then you haven't learned what you needed to learn, because the point is not to learn to write a 20 page paper on Econ or Marketing or Organizational Analysis but to learn to collaborate with other people.

And who are these other people? My peers vary from kids who who just graduated from college to people like me who work full time and have decided to go back to school. As I mentioned above, UMass Boston is a pretty multicultural place. There are a lot of students from Asia and Europe, but strangely enough there are almost no African Americans among the student body. That's strange but it seems to me that it is not unusual for Boston.

It's true that my fellow students are not all the sharpest tacks in the box, but Flying Spaghetti Monster, they work hard. The guy who sits behind me in my Econ class works 12 hour days and he's taking two courses this session. This means that he's in class four nights a week. He says he gets about five hours sleep a night. Last term both of the guys I was working with were taking two classes (I only took one) and they both worked full time.

I don't know how potential employers will consider me or my classmates when we go up against some American Beauty Rose from Sloan School, but I know who I'd prefer to work with.

*I'm not really a divorcee since we were never married, but nine years?