Wednesday, April 16, 2014

The Playoffs Are Here!

For six teams, the playoffs begin tonight, but for my Blackhawks, it’s going to be Thursday night against the St. Louis Blues. I really hope that the Blues continue their slump and go four and out. In fact, I'm expecting that, so it should totally happen, right?

Overall, I’m feeling a bit bittersweet about the playoffs. After a whole 82 game season of having NHL Gamecenter, I’ve grown used to watching hockey (almost) every day. I’m too cheap to buy cable or satellite TV, especially at the package levels that would get me NBC Sports Network, so that means my watching-hockey-on-TV-from-the-comfort-of-my-home-every-night days have passed.

For the playoffs are aired only on NBC networks. And while I’m glad to see that they’re planning on airing two games on Sunday, as well as one on Saturday, on the free over the air national broadcast I’m still disappointed that I can’t watch every single game at my leisure, pants-optional, at home, for a reasonable price. I’ll have to strike out to a place that provides visitors with cable or satellite television viewing for the mere price of a pitcher or two of beer.

The first year I was into hockey, that place was Hooters. The next two seasons, my husband and I would head over to Table Rock, as it was in easy walking distance of our apartment at the time. But now we’re in a new apartment and the choices are different. So this year, I’m going to hold a playoff of my own and pit nearby sports bars against each other for the honor of being my new go-to spot for the NHL Playoffs!

Round one will include the newly installed Tilted Kilt (I hear the food is terrible at this chain, but it is close), Busters Sports Bar (I know nothing about this place), Cheerleaders (relatively close, I hear it's got good food), The Refuge (found using Google Maps, looks a wee bit fancy), the Ram (also on the fancy side) and the Eastside Tavern (biking distance, which might count against it).

From these, a comprehensive testing will reveal those that make it to round two, based on atmosphere, beer, price and distance from my apartment.

Round two will be a hard fought battle for the right to be the place where I toast the Stanley Cup Champions.

Unless those Champions are not my Chicago Blackhawks.

In which case, the prize will be the right to be the place where I drown my sorrows in anticipation of a better playoff run next year. . .

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Dream Job

The other day at lunch one of my co-workers asked me what my dream job would be. 

Last week, a different co-worked asked me what superpower I would have if I could have any superpower, and I said I didn't know. One person claimed invisibility, another mind control... I mean, telepathy would be neat, but seeing as how it's not a real thing, it could be anything. And my nature is to pin things down, so I would have to explain just what kind of telepathy I meant. 

So I just said I didn't know and let the moment pass. 

I gave the job question a bit more thought, because I had heard a talk on strategic planning just before lunch. I was thinking about what my personal plans and goals were, and I gave a real answer. 

"I think I'd be a travel writer. Travel to exotic locales and write about them. And then get paid enough for writing about them to travel to the next place." 

My co-worked seemed unimpressed by this answer. His answer was the more typical kind of answer people give for this question, like saying "I'm fine" when someone asks how you are. A playboy billionaire, maybe superhero on the side. 

Sure, being independently wealthy would be fun, or, at least, it sounds like fun to me. But it isn't a job. It isn't work. And it certainly isn't a calling. 

In one of the afternoon sessions for the day-long workshop I was attending, the speaker asked us what we had wanted to be when we grew up. And I remembered that when I was young I wanted to be a doctor and cure Multiple Sclerosis. I don't necessarily remember this from when I was young. I remember this because my mom (who has MS), reminds me of it on a monthly (at least) basis. 

But in the end, that wasn't my dream job. It wasn't a job that I wanted to work towards, and I didn't. I started to dream other dreams. I landed in the job that I have through luck and some hard work, but I never went to school for this particular job. I never dreamed of working with software, but it turns out that I'm good at what I do. 

But I would absolutely love to write and publish Hike with Me: Machu Picchu... 

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Patience

I always liked those magnets with the saying, "Patience is a virtue I do not possess." The first phrase was written in a flowery cursive font, while the second went bold, red and sans serif.

I know that the wheels of bureaucracy are gigantic, slow and subject to stalling out. I know this.

But that doesn't mean I have to like it.

I could have tried to get my hiking account traditionally published. I could have tried to figure out what publishers might be interested in such a project and done my research and my homework and submitted a manuscript and crossed my fingers. But I didn't have the patience.

For that project, I wanted the now. I didn't want to send it off with hope and hear back a year, or more, later that they didn't want it. Thanks, but no thanks. I wanted a gift for my mother that I could physically send to her as quickly as possible.

Barry Eisler has written on Joe Konrath's blog about publishing being a lottery. He brings up three data points necessary to make a decision on whether to participate (potential payoff, odds and cost of ticket). I think one point that was left out of that consideration was the fact that no one in their right mind would buy a chance for a lotto ticket for an unknown drawing that would be held in six to eighteen months. Don't call us, we'll call you. I think that that blog post leans more toward considering the publishing of a book being equal to buying the lotto ticket, and submitting a manuscript is more like trying to buy a ticket for a drawing to get the privilege to buy a lotto ticket.

Not that self publishing didn't require patience, but it was on my own terms. I had to wait on myself to finish the text, choose and format the pictures. Reformat the pictures...

And I got impatient with myself at times, but I'm okay with that.

There might be other projects where I choose to submit myself to the task of patience with the bureaucracy of traditional publishing, but there might not be.

Honestly, I think I've had enough of bureaucracy for now. I mean, it's been almost six months and I still can't talk about the thing that I can't talk about, because I don't want to jinx it (nothing to do with books, alas).

a>head
a>hit
a>keyboard

(Strange what I'll do for nostalgia: I listened to all 54 minutes and 26 seconds of this Daft Punk Random Access Memories remixed with "Everybody to the Limit (Come on Fhqwhgads)" even after I realized that it was the same song remixed into every song on the album... it was hypnotically repetitive. I'm listening to it again right now...)

Patience is a virtue on which I am running seriously low.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Sales

It seems like every time I talk to my mom, she tells me how much she loves my book. And I thank her, and brace myself for the inevitable next question.

"How many copies have you sold?" she asks.

I don't know what she means by that question, but to me, it feels like she is trying to get some number that she can brag about to her friends. I usually don't answer her directly. I'll tell her that I haven't checked lately, or that it doesn't really matter how many copies I've sold at this point, that it is early in the book's life and there's plenty of time for the book to sell.

Sometimes I tell her that sales should pick up once I release the second book of the series, which won't happen until after my next solo hike. Maybe before the end of the year, but no earlier than her next birthday (November).

Other times I try to look up my real time sales data and tell her the figures so she can stop asking me.

In my more charitable moments, it does occur to me that she might be asking me in order to check on whether the friends who said they would buy it have bought it or not, but I can't tell who bought my book, just whether a copy was bought.

I have to admit that I prefer the approach of my in-laws. Every time my husband talks to his dad, it seems that he and his wife have hand sold more copies of my book, or at least shared the reading of it with some of their friends. I wish I could afford to buy a bulk of copies to send to them for direct sales.

It's a good learning experience, writing and publishing a book. Now, if I can just get my hands on some other bit of good news to distract my mom...

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

A Shorthand of Understanding

One of the problems with texting is the lack of a sarcasm signifier. Sarcasm does not translate well over text, even among friends who know each other well enough to read the messages in the voices of the senders. But when you spend enough time with someone in person, and get a sense of their personality, and they get a sense of yours, you can begin to communicate more easily in text, with the sarcasm understood either implicitly or by personalized indicators.

And I’ve found that this difficulty is not limited to texting. Email can also fall prey to the lack of a common shorthand of understanding. When my husband first began to engage in email with his sister, he used what has been his habitual indicator for an expression, which is to put stars around a word to indicate a feeling, e.g. *smile* or *wink*. She was really confused for the first couple of exchanges, but (I think) she caught on eventually.

Intentions are another thing that don’t translate well on typed text. Even in a hand-written letter, I’d be better able to convey some intentionality, some hint of personality, when I’m being ironic or hyperbolic or when I’m trying to be more serious or vulnerable. Face to face, of course, would be ideal, but it is not always possible to meet and thoroughly get to know someone before electronic correspondence commences.

Most of my work emails, for this reason, are extremely formal. There are a very few people that I communicate with by email or chat in a casual manner, when I’m at work. Otherwise, it is all about formal language, following the template offered by a technical communications class of making clear what it is I intend for the email to do. If I am presenting a series of choices, then bullet points will invariably make an appearance. If I am asking a question or making a request, then I will absolutely include the word “please.”

And if I’m not at work, then who knows what’s going to come out in an email! With the formality, I consider somewhat how the email will be received. If I know the person, but not well, then I would rather that they consider me stuffy than sloppy, thorough rather than difficult to understand. In personal correspondence, I tend to both over and under think my words. There is no template, no habit of phrases and usages, and, frankly, I just don’t have that much personal correspondence anymore. I am absolutely horrible about keeping up with anyone. Posting on Facebook is pretty much how I let family and friends know I’m still alive out here in Idaho.

It’s not that I don’t like them (most of them - let’s see, how to make that clearly a joking sort of reference? There’s the ;) but that messes up with the parenthetical, so how about the *wink* but that might not translate well on a mobile device, so, there’s always jk, but I abhor shorthand that doesn’t stand for something in Latin…), it’s just that I have waited too long, and I no longer know how to start conversations with people I haven’t seen in years. Or it’s just that I’m pretty sure there are some people who are still mad at me for something, but I can’t remember what. Or I’m just not in the habit of writing correspondence anymore.

I'm going to write up a cheat sheet. It will be included as a signature in all my personal emails, just like my work email has a signature including my business information. It will contain such helpful hints as: 
  • Italics mean sarcasm. 
  • Bold means loud, but not yelling. 
  • All caps is yelling. 
  • ** around a verb is an expression that I am making. 
  • >< around an expression is hyperbole. 
  • <> around an expression is understatement. 
  • “” around a single word or short phrase, when an actual quote is not being made, indicate a word label that is not quite correct, but I don’t know a better way to phrase it.
  • !!!!! - An excess of exclamation marks means this email account has been hacked - unless they are in italics.

Then, when I’m completely misunderstood, I’ll just point to the documentation and ask why they didn’t read it ("Did you see the memo about this?" - just not the same written down!). Because that works so well at work...

Friday, March 14, 2014

Vegas!

I got to attend a conference through work this last week in Las Vegas - Nevada, not New Mexico, thank goodness. I flew out with my boss on Saturday March 8th and we arrived just after noon. The plan was to go to the Penn & Teller show that night, but first, we had to go on an epic journey.

We were staying at the MGM Grand, because that's where the conference was, and the only way to get the early bird rate for the conference was to stay there. We checked in, dumped our luggage in the room and decided to walk over to the Rio to pick up the tickets we had ordered for the show.

The concierge almost laughed when we said we would walk there. It turns out, distances are deceptive in Las Vegas. Everything is farther away than it seems. While we were directed to cross the street to take the free tram from the Monte Carlo to the Bellagio, we then walked the concrete mountain, with no shade, to get over the highway. And it wasn't that close from the MGM to the tram - even once we entered the Monte Carlo, it seemed to be a half a mile away, through the lights and smoke and dinging of the casino. It seemed that our journey would never end.

After we got over the highway, we were able to get into the Rio fairly easily and the nice young woman who gave us our tickets also told us about a free shuttle that ran across the highway to Bally's. Funny that the concierge at the Bellagio (across the street from Bally's) failed to mention that...

So we took the shuttle and then walked down Las Vegas Boulevard, in search of something to eat. Okay, in search of something to eat that looked good. I was thinking Italian. The first spot that we found was in Planet Hollywood's Miracle Mile, and as we walked around that mall, I recognized the cloud painted ceiling as a place that I'd been before. That would make sense, because I'd been to Las Vegas once before, when I was 13 - way too young to appreciate it, but we had gone by Planet Hollywood.
I don't remember this from when I was 13 though...
I ate some lasagna, which was good, if a bit rich. The salad was better - which was good because it cost a lot more than I thought a salad should cost. After we ate, we went back to the hotel and discovered that the conference center was about 10 miles from our rooms. Okay, that's not true. More like 5 to 7 tenths of a mile. So much for thinking that staying at the place where the conference was held would be an advantage!

We rested up and waited, having decided that a taxi would be the best way to get to the Rio for the evening's show. We left around 8 and made it in plenty of time to listen to some pre-show jazz.
Not bad seats - Penn and Mike Jones played jazz stage left.
 I saw the crowd of people on the stage, but I didn't want to go and figure out what was going on. I relaxed and listened to the jazz and took a nice little selife.
I know I get cold, so a fleece vest and a scarf were my protection.
Then, when the song ended, Mike Jones announced that the audience was invited to go up on stage to examine a box and sign an envelope. My boss did not want to go with me, but she encouraged me to go - not that I needed much prodding. I went on down and got in line to look at the box and sign the envelope, bopping along to the music as I wound my way around the stage. When I was close to the box, the young woman in front of me turned around and asked if I would take a picture of her in the box. I agreed, and asked if she would do the same. Her name was April and I liked her style.
I'm in a box! 
Then we kept going and each signed the envelope before returning to our respective seats. Neither of us had seen the show before, and both of us were quite excited.
April's hands signing the envelope after I did. 
Then I went back to my seat and got ready for the show to start. There wasn't long to wait, since I'd spent a lot of time on the stage in line. I was rather shocked that the theater had a full bar in the lobby, but I guess there are bars everywhere in Vegas.

The show began, and it was a lot of fun, even though in the mezzanine level the audience participation was quite limited. I can understand why it would be more difficult to pull someone down from there, but I still felt a bit pouty about it. However, I did get to see Zeke for the participation that did include the mezzanine, so that was neat, since he is mentioned in the Sunday School podcast now and then.

The funniest words in the show, said by an audience member brought on stage, were "It's not a real cow." I could have sworn I could see tears in Penn's eyes from laughing so hard at that response.

It was fun, and I would do it again, even though it's way outside of my budget in the normal course of things to fly to Las Vegas and pay for show tickets. After the show, as I'd heard, Penn and Teller did meet and greets in the lobby, and I got to have my picture taken with Penn.
He's so tall! And I might also be pretty short...
I did not take the opportunity to also get a picture with Teller, even though I did enjoy listening when he was on Penn's podcast. I had a time constraint, because I was already signed up to do a 5K at 7am the next morning, it was already past midnight, it was daylight savings time and a travel day and my boss and I were tired. Okay. My boss was tired... Still, it was good that I went to bed when I did, because it was hard enough to wake up the next morning with the sleep that I did get.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

This Blog Entry Will Not Be Graded

Last semester, I had some worry about writing papers about literature. Sure, my college degree involved a lot of paper writing, but it was different. At St. John’s, primary sources were the only sources we used. Here, I would have to strive once again with my nemesis from high school - the research paper!

And it turned out to be not so bad. We were given a framework of a type of literary criticism and, within that framework, we were free to choose what we wanted to write about. For one paper, we even got to choose what texts we would write about. Not choose from a list given by the instructor, but open parameters - choose a play from antiquity or Shakespeare and one from the last century or so and compare them. It was a freedom that I relished, and I produced my highest scoring paper of the semester from it.

This semester is a little bit different.

Instead of providing a framework of text and type of criticism, there is a different kind of framework. The instructor provides a list of topics, each including a specific text. There is a research component, though only one outside source is required.

That’s fine.

Actually. . .

No.

It’s not. The “topics” are lists of 5 or 6 or 10 related questions that are supposed to help focus the main question (which is not, I might point out, underlined).

But what really gets to me is that a draft is required to be turned in with the paper, and both must have the thesis sentence underlined.

Yes, just in case either I don’t know, or the instructor can’t tell, the thesis sentence must be underlined. 

I feel like I’ve been booted back to sixth grade, where the teacher almost flunked me in Vocabulary because I refused to regurgitate the exact, word-for-word, definitions from the workbook.

I feel like I’m in a losing game, because no matter what I write for my paper, it won’t be what the instructor is imagining as the answer to these overly thought-out topic questions.

I feel kind of bad for printing out my rough draft… See, I use the “word vomit” method of drafting. I’m not going to change that just because the instructor wants to read it. Okay, I changed it a little bit. I took out the whining and the swearing. Most of it. (I hope.) But I’m not going to write a one or two page draft, because that’s not what I do. So for my seven page paper, I handed in a fourteen page draft. Poor trees!

And I can hardly get started on the way I felt about the minimum word count/page requirement. My husband called it the instructor’s way of putting us in a round room and telling us to pee in a corner: 1500 to 2100 words in seven pages in MLA format.

But guess what? Seven pages in MLA format is more than 2100 words!

There’s a part of me that was quite tempted to figure out a way to expand the amount of ground that my words covered by using a thesaurus and finding the longest words possible. But then the lazy part of me won, and I just wrote 2200 words, barely sneaking on to seven pages.

At least there will only be two more papers for this class. I’m going to try really hard not to cringe when underlining the thesis.

But it won’t be easy.