Monday, May 31, 2010

A Good Day at Work

When I started working for my present employer, most days were good days. Now, the reverse is true. To be fair, when I started working for my current employer it was December of 2001. The firm had six employees and I was all of the support staff (everything from answering the phone to rebooting the mail server or performing light carpentry) and we now have 13 employees (we once had as many as 16) and I am only responsible for the firm's IT. Also to be fair, even after the unfortunate events of 2008, they still pay me and (I assume) my fellow support staff members much much better than they could afford to pay us all in 2001.

But that is all background information. Suffice to say that the atmosphere at my place of employ is horrible. This is particularly saddening since all of my coworkers-even those I don't particularly get along with-are ethical, hard working folks. There's not a bad apple among them. In spite of this, because of management problems, I can't even collaborate well with my friends among the staff.

However, every once in a while we have a day or two that reminds me of the big happy family that we used to be (the one that some of us are still pretending we are.)

On Friday I arrived to find a crowd at my cubicle. I was at first a bit concerned, but this crowd didn't look like an angry mob, in fact, they were smiling. They were smiling because my cubicle-mate Aaron* was planning to propose to his girlfriend this afternoon at lunch. Marc and Ellen were standing around talking to him about it. Aaron was smiling a little and glowing. Ellen marched off to reschedule a meeting that the three of them had with our boss Henry from later in the day to Right Now, so that the deck would be cleared for Aaron sooner, rather than later.

Word spread. Erin, who did not get to the office until 10 because she did Junior Achievement on Fridays (and, incidentally, had stopped off at UMB to pick up my textbook for me for summer session-thanks Erin) came over as soon as she had changed from her flip flops to her office heels. Janie, the office manager was soon over in our neck of the woods as well. I realize that I had never considering proposing marriage to anyone, but I had no idea there were so many complicated parts to asking someone "will you marry me?" Perhaps the complicated parts have been added because it's such a scary question to ask.

I'm going to go all existentialist for a moment and say that "Will you marry me" is a speech act. It's a rare situation where saying something is in fact doing something. Perhaps that's why Aaron, who is a quiet type was willing to discuss this with us, his coworkers, before asking his girlfriend this so-important question. Erin wanted to make sure he had gone the traditional route and discussed this with his girlfriend's father first (he had) and then there were other points that she raised-had he planned on telling the restaurant? "They can make sure you have a table outside or a quiet table." she pointed out.

Aaron flourished under all this feminine attention. He wouldn't show us the ring (fair enough.) He had booked a trip to Paris, which he had discussed with me and Marc. We hadn't realized when he asked our advice that he hadn't told the girlfriend about it yet. It was to be a surprise engagement gift. "You do realize," Marc said with an eyebrow raised "That you have raised the bar for Erin's Boy." We all laughed.

Someone suggested presenting the ring on a dessert. "Oh no!" I said, "Then you'd get to go to MGH to have her stomach pumped." Several people nodded their heads wisely.

Someone asked Ellen how her husband had proposed to her. "Well we'd gone to see these fireworks. And he said he needed to talk to me and pulled me aside. He was sure I'd noticed the bulge in his pocket from the box with the ring in it-I hadn't."

Our boss, who had broken his hip and consequently was more likely to buzz people on the intercom than go see them hobbled over with his cane to say a few hopeful words to Aaron.

I was sure that while the young ladies of the firm were all aflutter about Aaron's impending engagement, the middle aged economist would be too hard nosed to be much affected. I was wrong. I heard her squealing like the rest of the girls when she heard the news. I went down to our main conference rooms where one of our interns was waiting to have a meeting with her and explained that she was delayed because "Aaron is proposing to his girlfriend this afternoon."

I watched the rest of the firm show up and offer their best wishes throughout the morning. The other owner, Richard, showed up and said "What's this I hear?" with a big smile on his face. "Did someone post a status update to our company's facebook page-come and see the condemned man while you can?" I asked. Richard laughed, but every time he passed our cubicles for the rest of the morning he said "tick tick tick tick."

"What a good thing she isn't meeting you in here." Janie remarked. "We'd all stare at her."

"Where are you going for lunch?" Asked Erin "We could all go there as well." Weird as it sounds, I could see this happening.

Finally it was 1 PM and Aaron was still in the office. "What are you doing here?" I asked. "Get out of here before someone assigns you a project." Finally he did leave a few minutes later. He seemed all chuffed and full of sunlight. He stopped to talk to the office manager and I saw her hand him some gum before he left. Clearly we had done all we could for him.

*Names changed to protect the innocent

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Cantabridgienne's Laws

A few weeks ago I was over at my friend Ellen's house and I remarked that she seemed to be buying premium cat litter for her two cats. She looked me straight in the eyes and said "Never. Skimp. On. Cat. Litter." We laughed and then she said "In fact that's Ellen's Law number five." I had forgotten that Ellen had laws, even though she has had them as long as I have known her (although she can never remember what all of them are).

I decided it would be interesting to write Cantabridgienne's Laws. In a way they were already written, since there are several rules I try to live by-I just needed to put them down on "paper?" in HTML? I call them Laws although it would be more appropriate to take a Pastafarian view and call them "I'd prefer it if you did's."

So here are my laws, although they're more guidelines than statements-there's nothing in them about how a body in motion tends to stay in motion.

1) What Could Possibly Go Wrong? Consider this question repeatedly throughout whatever project you are working on.

2) Find useful partners. You will never work as well on your own as you will with someone else to check your work.

3) Have snacks available. Eat them *before* you are starving.

4) Grunt Step Grunt Step gets you over the top. (This one is actually one of Dad’s Laws.)

5) All questions are allowed If and Only If all answers are allowed. Alternatively, don’t ask the question if you are not okay with all possible answers. (This one is also an adaptation of one of Dad’s Laws.)

6) Wherever possible, tell the truth. Try to state your actual concerns or interests instead of making up a story that you think will “play better.” It makes things easier.
a. Try to use “I am concerned” or “I feel” paired with “does this make sense?” or “do you understand why I might feel that way?”

7) Find the rule set that is applicable. Read the documentation or the regulation or the syllabus. Do this before you start the project.

8) Save the packaging.

9) Do your homework up front. If you have done a good job of planning you can reuse your good efforts later on. This works for everything from school work to SEC audits.

10) “There is no ‘Try.’ Do or do not.” Judge yourself and others by what you or they have actually done. Do not be guilty of Mauvais Foi. (Yoda and Jean Paul Sartre).

11) If you want to make something happen-make a plan, even if your plan is to tell your friends or your calendar to remind you to think about the project again in three months.

12) When you are on stage stay in character.

13) Carry a pair of comfortable shoes.

14) Do try to see the humor in the situation. It's not funny now, but maybe it will be in a few hours/drinks. They call it the Human Comedy-not the Human Tragedy for a reason.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

MGT 650 and loud Music

It's a week and a half ago. I'm standing out in my back yard trying to clear my head so that I can finish writing the paper I'm working on. I'm nothing but a bunch of nerve endings at this point in time. In a few minutes I know that my teammate and co-author of this paper that's worth 40% of our grades, is going to call. And I know that when my phone* rings I am going to jump out of my skin. I listen to the loud sounds coming out of my computer. Green Day is screaming about something in there. I wonder if perhaps one of the reasons that I'm feeling so jumpy is that I've been listening to this sort of thing for the past month.

The morning after I lost my wallet I had to go deal with the RMV and my bank and credit card companies. It was already crunch-time where I work (because it was time to put out quarterly reports) but in spite of this I still had to deal with these other things ASAP. Because I knew this was all going to suck and because losing my wallet (or having it stolen) always makes me feel bad, I decided that a little psychological reinforcement was in order. I found my earphones and decided that I was going to listen to music all the way into Boston that morning and all the time I was walking to the Bank, the RMV and then to work. Think of it as the psychological equivalent of taping and wearing an ace bandage on your sprained ankle. Music was my ace bandage.

Some of you are probably thinking "Huh? What is she talking about? I listen to my iPod on the T all the time, so WTF?" I love my music, but I had very good reasons for not wanting to hear it all the time. For one thing, I like my music Loud. Listening to loud music through ear buds is bad for your hearing, so I don't do it unless I need to. It's one of those "in case of emergency break glass" options. Well, the emergency came in the form of Lost Wallet +Quarterly Reports + MGT 650.

As predicted, I did have some hearing problems. About two weeks into allowing myself to listening to loud music all the time I wasn't required to deal with other humans, I was sitting in my friend Mike's truck headed out to errands (his truck has an awesome stereo system and we planned on listening to really loud music that afternoon) I mentioned that maybe we should keep the volume down a bit because "My ears feel like they did the day after my first GBV concert. I stood in front of the speakers the whole time. The day after that concert I couldn't call my parents because listening to voices on my phone hurt my ears too much."

He replied "You sound like a teenager." Which amused me, because I didn't discover the joys of loud rock and roll until later in my life.

The crisis zone stretched to encompass the rest of the semester. Suddenly there was a presentation due and a paper as well as that giant paper we'd been working on all semester. Oh, and for fun, there was a Sunday I had to go into work before one of these papers was due. I was needing more music all the time just to keep me sane. The magic of my old favorites (the Clash, the Ramones, the Sex Pistols and the Modern Lovers) was wearing thin. I needed loud music, but it needed to be newer loud music. Then I remembered that I had always meant to check out Green Day. Afterall, when I went to Lollapoloza in 1994 (?) they were the only band I liked and I had enjoyed them when I got back to college after that event and my friends had played Dookie for me.

I got Dookie and it helped me through a paper and a half. Because this is 2010 and if you like a band, you can watch you tube videos of them, I started watching Green Day in action in breaks while paper writing. I liked what I saw. But, because I care deeply about my music cred I asked my arbiters of musical taste about whether or not it was okay to like this band. I started with my buddy Mike, who was grading papers across the table from where I sat writing a paper at Gulu Gulu Cafe. "Green Day? That's Bratty Younger Brother Music." he opined. "But you're younger than me so maybe it's okay." I asked my younger sister what she thought of Green Day and she recommended another album. I asked my friend Dan whether or not Green Day counted as Punk Rock (Dan's opinion was particularly important-not only did he introduce me to the Pixies but he has shut me down on a few occasions by saying "Not Punk Rock!") His response was "I have never willingly listened to Green Day."

So according to everyone but my younger sister, I was listening to trash. I quickly decided I didn't care. Along with my full time job (complete with difficult boss) I had tons of coursework to do, and of our three person MGT 650 team (most of the teams have four people) one member had checked out. So we were now a two person team, and we had a giant paper to write. At this point in time I could have forgiven myself for developing a love for Madonna or Lady Gaga.

But I hadn't developed a Madonna obsession. I was all about Green Day. I didn't care if I was sick of them the minute I handed my paper in-so long as I stayed sane between now and then. I chose Green Day because I like loud punk rock and as I've mentioned I'd already worn out my old favorites. More importantly, watching them on youtube performing live has been helpful or hopeful. Billy Joe is the lead singer and lead guitar player. That means he's being Joe Strummer and Mick Jones at the same time. I've watched him captivate and motivate crowds. He is competent, charismatic, a little bit scary and wears eyeliner better than I do. Although I do not want to be a rock and roll hero, I would *love* to be competent, charismatic and a bit scary**. I don't need to be this way all the time-just at game time.

And from my unfortunate point of view game time stretched out over several days as two of us struggled to do the work of four people. By the end, the loud music wasn't any help. By the final day, I had switched over to Brahms Requiem, just to calm my nerves.

In the end I admit that newer Green Day (including their new Broadway Musical) is very derivative. It bears the clear stamp of earlier American rock and roll. And while I like the way they've combined some of the elements, it's still not up to the standards of the Clash or the Beatles or even the Shins. But that doesn't matter. For starters, Green Day helped get me out of MGT 650 with most of my sanity. Futhermore, there's such a thing as taking one's musical taste too seriously. For me admitting that I like some band that's not pure rock and roll genius is a good thing (although if anyone wants to recommend some nice loud band that's as good as the Clash and the Ramones I'm all ears. I'll be needing more music next term.)

*I've changed the ring tone to Police On My Back, so it's just going to add to the cacophony
** and yes I'd also like to be able to apply eyeliner well as he does