My Inklings of Coherence

Meandering to the beat of a different drummer, these are my thoughts. If you are offended or angered by this blog, or feel it is of low-quality, please accept a full refund of your contribution.

Saturday, May 28, 2005

A Change in the Format

Yes, we have decided to change up the format. We will now be All Pop, All the Time!!!

No, just kidding. Like I would ever limit myself to just pop rock!

Due to the obvious fact that my "blogs" have become more like overbloated, unedited ramblings than just quick, short notes, I have decided to just keep one or two post up here on the front page, and keep everything else archived to your right (my left, go figure). Please check the titles and pick and choose which ones you'd like to read if you've missed any.

You'll also notice that many of the entries are linked to each other. This is part of my writing process (yes, there is a "process" that produces this drivel). When I start writing, other ideas spawn, so I use the current entry to leap into a new one. Or it could be that I needed to give some background on a topic and put it in a different entry. Either way, follow the links!!

No, I can’t work here anymore.

The problems at work summarized in one interaction (and yes, this really happened):

Boss (looking at a hardcopy of a press release I prepared for her review, that she has marked up and edited in red ink): I have gone over the press release you prepared. It is not up to the level we need. There are things in here that need to be reworked. We have got to get to a place where you are submitting things that don’t need so much revision. There is a certain way that we do things around here and you have got to get to that point. I am going to need you to go back to your desk and rework this so that it is more in line with what we are looking for.

Me: Okay. I understand there may be some things that you would like for me to do differently than I am used to. I can go back and fix them. What would you like for me to fix?

Boss (putting the copy back in her folder!): Jeff, I can’t hold your hand and walk you through all of this. These are things that you are just supposed to know. I’m supposed to get you to the point where you can do this on your own.

Me: I realize that. We obviously have different ways of doing these things. Please, let me know what it is that needs to be fixed and I will take care of it.

Boss: Jeff, I have given you plenty of resources for you to go over. There are copies of releases that I have written that you pattern this after.

Me: I know. I used yours as templates for this.

Boss: Yeah, I can see that. But, still there are things that just aren’t acceptable here.

Me: This is only the third thing that I have written here. I need to have a better idea of what it is that you are looking for.

Boss: Well, I can’t just tell you how to write these things. I want to see your talent and you come up with.

Me: But you just said that I should go over your work and use them as patterns.

Boss: Now Jeff, you told me when I hired you that you had all of this experience writing releases and other things. I need to see that. I want you to go back to your desk and go over this again and fix it and give it back to me.

Me: When I spent 3 hours writing this yesterday, I went over it several times. It sounded good to me. If I go back to my office and “go over it again” it will still look good to me. I need to know what it is that you need fixed.

Boss: I need to know that you can do this on your own. In a couple of months, you will be working in a satellite office and I won’t be there to tell you how to do this.

Me (to myself): But you are here now!!!!

Me: Okay, I’ll go over it again.

Yeah, I don’t work there anymore.

The fruits of the channel search

Just wanted to write a little about what I’ve seen on TV recently.

***SPOILER ALERT**** If you haven’t seen the season finale of LOST, and you care, please don’t read on.

I watched the season finale of LOST and, it revealed nothing. Disappointing? Not really. Normally, I would be hacked off that a season finale that was so pumped up, on a show where “everything has been leading to” something, didn’t actually solve anything. But they did a pretty good job with this one. While I would certainly like all of the secrets of the island and its inhabitants to be revealed already, I realize that that would mean the end of the show. So, yes, you’ve hooked me until next fall.

There is another show on that I have become very pleased with. “Meet the Barkers” on MTV. Now, I’m not generally one to watch MTV programming much, I guess I’m still a little bitter that they don’t actually play videos anymore. But, I happen to catch this one the other night during my brief bachelor-hood, and I was pleasantly surprised. Background: Travis Barker is the Mohawk drummer for punk rock band Blink-182 (a pretty cool band) and has married Shanna Moakler, former Miss USA and now an actress. Shanna has a 6-yr old daughter and the two have a 2-yr old son. The show is a reality show that just follows them around during their everyday lives. To me, this is a mix between the Nick and Jessica show and the Osbournes, but this beats both of them in my book. Why? Because it is so much more real and genuine. Travis and Shanna really seem to like each other and they seem to have such a normal relationship. It is really cool to watch them interact. She is not stupid like Jessica, he actually cares for his family unlike Nick, and they aren’t in love with themselves like that whole Osbourne clan.

I know there are probably lots of people (actually there aren’t lots of people that will ever read this) who will think that this is way out of left field for me to be commenting on. But you know what? It is really nice to see a couple who may not look “normal” act completely normal. In my opinion, we could use more “normal” people in this world.

At the back of the Unemployment line

Humbling. Frustrating. Two words that I would have to use to describe the last week. I am on the job hunt. Because of some brilliant maneuvering on my part, I find myself unemployed without any definite plans. Yeah, more than a little scary.

When all of this came down, I had a plan. That plan has begun to take its sweet time in resolving itself. What I thought would be a relatively seamless and painless transition has become very much not. Once again, things just don’t seem to be moving at the speed of Jeff. When it is so obvious that it could very easily move along the time line that I have in mind, someone or something decides that we will do it completely differently.

So here I am, having made a promise to my sweet wife and kids that I would never let them go hungry or lose this house that we worked so hard to get. Throw in the added pressure and embarrassments that this is all due to my ineptitude, things are lookin’ rosy.

What’s the plan? Well, Sunday afternoon, I hit the classifieds. There are two definite job possibilities that I have already begun to work on, but the time frame (see above) is a little longer than desired. I find three more possibilities in the paper. Now, I realize that re-entering my “field” and finding a good full-time job that will continue along my career path may take a few weeks to pan out. So I also need to find something to bridge the gap. I figure that can’t be too hard. I’m a smart, responsible, drug-free, hard working guy who has experience doing several things. I should be able to find something pretty quickly, so long as I don’t set my expectations too high. Just something to endure in the short term. My first lesson in humbling myself. I realize that I got myself and my family into this situation; I am going to have to endure some things to fix it.

And so, it’s off to the “temporary employment agencies”. I have learned that these places usually fall into one of three categories, none of which were especially encouraging for me. First, you have the agencies that specialize in secretaries, admin assistants, exec assistants, etc. These people are looking for experienced typists, filers, and payroll and accounts payables folks. Oh, and they usually are looking for females. Not that I want to turn this into a gender equity thing, nor do I want to be accused of being a male looking to take away even more jobs from females, but I would be terribly surprised if any of these agencies have ever placed a male in any of these positions. Second, you have the agencies that specialize in sales positions. But the rule is, you have to have experience in sales to get any of these positions. Yeah, I know, the vicious cycle. Third, you have the unskilled labor agencies. These are the folks that advertise for the ditch diggers, warehouse workers, the truck loaders, etc. Their trick is that you need to be pretty mechanically inclined (i.e. having driven a forklift, some kind of technician, drive a full-size truck, etc.) Seeing as how I am a male with only white collar experience and not in sales, my prospects seemed to be dimming. But you know what? This is for survival and I need to humble myself and put in the leg work. So, by Tuesday, every agency in town had a copy of my resume.

Then came my next humbling experience. In need of immediate cash, I fell back on an old college trick: plasma. For about two years in college, I was a regular at the plasma donation center. I, along with many of my classmates, would spend the 3-4 hours a week, laying in a bed, watching a movie with blood being drained from our arms, and then collecting our $50. When you are in college, $50 a week can go a long way. And even though I was 4 years of full-time professional work removed from starving college days, $50 would still go a long way.

Unfortunately, my plans to quietly re-enter the college plasma scene were nixed when I found out the college plasma place was closed. Luckily, there was another center open on the other side of town. So off I went.

Now, I don’t want to sound racist, classist or any other kind of –cist, but this was a humbling crowd. And I’m sure I raised some I brows when this big white guy, dressed in a shirt and tie, fresh off dropping his resumes off for $40K a year jobs, shows up at the plasma center. But you know what, this is what I had to do for my family.

I know, I may be coming off a little disgustingly self-righteous and playing the martyr card a little too much, but you go through that and tell me what I’m supposed to say. You lay there with you college degree, work experience and realize that you may be lying next to somebody who is going to use the $30 to go buy crack. Then, go apply for jobs at Wal-mart, Target, Albertsons and various labor unions, where you have to list your previous employers, your duties and responsibilities and your pay. Then turn in the application and watch the lady’s face read it and just look at you like you’ve either got three heads, a liar, or a complete incompetent. Then tell me that you can think of anything other than, “this is for my family and I need to do whatever I can for them.”

Signs, signs, everywhere are signs?

“Be ye not a seeker of signs,” so goes the spiritual counsel. Well, I guess maybe I can be found guilty of that occasionally, but it is for good reason. As a faithful and prayerful person, I am looking for answers to said prayers. I have had enough experiences to know that those answers don’t always come to your ears. And since the big red phone on the wall that is connected to the man upstairs hasn’t rung lately, I do try to keep my eyes open to possible answers in the things that are going on around me.

Case in point:

As I have described, things at the old salt mines weren’t going so well. In fact, recently I was at a very pivotal and crucial point. I had to re-evaluate my situation. I had come to the realization that some changes needed to be made, but I’d decided that these changes need to be made to me internally and that I was just going to have to work harder to make this work. I was not to the point where I was looking for an out. However, then the “alternative” entered the equation. Was this a sign? Perhaps.

Friday night, Erika and I are enjoying a romantic night at Wal-mart (yeah, try to keep up with us!) As we are pushing our buggy, we pass a guy that I recognize. Immediately, the thought process begins (and we’ve all gone through this): Hey, I know him. Do I say “Hi”? Do I just give the nod? Do I ignore him thinking he wouldn’t recognize me? Well, usually, I take the last option, because people don’t usually recognize me and it prevents some uncomfortable situations. But for some reason, I give the nod and a wave. Sure enough, he recognizes me, and comes over. He was a casual acquaintance that I had at my previous job and was now the head of HR at another place. He asked how things were going at my new job and I told him, sure things were great. (I’m going to hell for more than just lying) He then asked if I was interested in making a switch b/c he was about to fill an opening that he thought I’d be really good for. I told him it was doubtful b/c I was making a pretty good living where I was. When he said he could probably make it worth my while to make the switch, that’s when this became very interesting.

Now, was it a coincidence that this guy happens to run into us on a Friday night at Wal-mart (when everyone knows we go to Wal-mart on Saturday night!), in the middle of my job quandary and make me an offer that meshes the best of both worlds from my current and former employers?

A sign? Is this guy a messenger? Or am I possibly reading a whole lot into a rather benign incident? Whatever it is/was, it did accomplish two things: it was a great confidence boost that someone would actually think of me for a job and think I could do it (and this was definitely a time when I needed a boost), and it gave me the courage to make a change with a fallback plan. I guess how it all turns out will determine from whence this message came.

So much for that

I am no longer employed. LTM and I came to an agreement: neither of us wanted me to continue working there. A little background:

After 3 plus years working for the state of Louisiana, I came to a crossroads. Always on the look-out for a new and better (read: more money) job, I had actually received an offer. A very attractive offer, one that would double my salary and had some very interesting long-term possibilities. Now, the decision had to be made: continue with the state that offered lots of flexibility, a good working environment and little stress, but with little money, empty promises, and not much of a future; or jump to a job in the private sector that would require harder work, longer hours, a cube, but also much better pay and benefits, and long-term possibilities. I decided to leave my comfort zone and pursue a more comfortable way of life for my young family. I though I was ready to make the leap.

So I go through with the difficult break-up with that nice steady girlfriend to take my chances with the hot chick who just showed up.

I work in public relations. That involves writing, creating, organizing and basically being on top of everything that is going on. When I was told that this new job would require those things, I of course felt competent. This was nothing new to me. Boy was I wrong.

For the first month, all I heard was how busy my supervisor was. So busy in fact, that she didn’t have time to really give me anything to do, other than sit and wonder about how things were going to be. After the first month of nothing, people kept asking, “So, how’s the new job?” “Fine, I guess.” I hadn’t really done enough to form an opinion. Immediately, people began to interpret my response as “Oh no, he’s miserable and he hates it.” That wasn’t really the case. Like I said, there really hadn’t been anything to base an opinion on. I had a really nice computer and a camera and a nice paycheck. Other than that, there really wasn’t much that I had experienced.

The second month continued much the same way, but slowly picked up. I began getting more assignments. These assignments, however, where vague and non-descript. “Write a PR Plan for this project.” Okaaaay. Any more details you want to give me? “I’m too busy to explain everything, just get it to me.” Alrighty.

And so our relationship progressed (or degressed?). I was given vague assignments, which I completed incorrectly and/or without the required urgency. I eventually came to the realization that the game was: I will give you an assignment that I have specific demands for, but I won’t tell you what they are; you need to figure that out. And I will give you a deadline, but I really want you to work on it like it is the most important thing in the world that is due two minutes ago and that the entire company will fall apart if it is not done exactly right the first time.

And when said assignments were completed and submitted for review, that is when I would learn just how little I knew about this job that I had been trained in and had worked at for the last 4 years. According to some people, it was amazing that I had even graduated with a degree at all, much less with one in Communications. Real confidence building stuff.

And if all of that wasn’t enough, I apparently just wasn’t “perky” enough, dammit! You can’t really call yourself a PR person if you aren’t everyone’s best friend and in everyone’s business, can you?!

Well, I began to realize that I wasn’t achieving these lofty goals, so being a good employee and wanting to be successful at my job, I went to my boss and tried to discuss these things. The gist of the conversation: Jeff, I can’t hold your hand and explain everything to you. You have a perfectly good manual that should vaguely explain these things to you. And besides, I am entirely to busy with everything to help you out. You need to work harder and decide whether or not you think you can handle this.

Now, as most good managers know, when delivering criticism to an employee, it is a good idea to motivate them by complementing some of the things they have done well. Someone missed that memo. When the compliment wasn’t offered voluntarily, I was gracious enough to open the door myself. “So, when I do complete the assignments that are given, just like you ask, what do you think of them?” “Well, there is still some work that needs to be done. We need to get you to a point where you can run the entire company next month (well, sort of)” I pressed again, just please, give me something that I can feel good about, please. “So, is there anything that you have been pleased about?” “Well, I have been very pleased to see that you have been coming in on time every morning.”

That’s it? Are you freaking kidding me? My most redeeming quality is that I’m not late?!?! Well, yeah, I’ve been coming in an hour early everyday to keep working on these assignments!!

Needless to say, all of this was beginning to take its toll on me. I had been battling some internal things to begin with, and this was really starting to put me over the edge. It got to the point where Erika, having exhausted much of her compassion and patience, had declared that she could no longer stay with me the way I was. Something had to change.

It was around that time that the alternative entered into the picture.

Well, I was quite ready to give up on this yet. I hated to think that I was as incompetent as I was made to believe. Another “come to Jesus” meeting. Mind you, by this time, I was such a rattled basket case that I had doubts that I could even sign my own name inside of that office. Well, my boss and I basically gave each other ultimatums. I was told that my latest assignment would be reviewed and if it wasn’t up to the standard formless guidelines, then I shouldn’t be surprised if some disciplinary actions had to be taken. I told her that when I came back to work on Monday, that unless there was a change in the environment, then she shouldn’t be surprised if I handed in my notice. I told her that this had become personal and that I worked to provide for my family, that’s it. I was not going to sell my soul to the company store, and I wasn’t going to allow a job to destroy me inside.

Well, Monday morning, we had a classic exchange that was followed by my issuing my own “memo”. It basically said that it was evident that I was not capable of meeting the desires of my superiors with regards to this position and I would hate to be a hindrance to the company as a whole.

So here I sit. There is certainly a sense of failure. There is also fear and self loathing. It really sucks to realize that you were deemed incompetent at the only thing you’ve ever done professionally, and that now you have to figure out a way to feed your family and keep the lights on.

I try to think of the things that I will take away from this experience. The only thing that comes to mind is the dark hole in me. The one that is covered up by that big “LOSER” sticker. Nothing like taking that leap of faith into the darkness and realizing that, yep, its darkness and you should’ve stayed in the light genius.

O solo mio

There are times when things go just the way you had them planned, and then there's just about every minute of my life. This week, of course, was no exception.

As I am writing this, I have been alone in my house for about 6 days. Yes, my wife and kids are on a summer vacation of sorts, visiting my sister in Brownsville, TX, for four days, and now crashing at an old friends' in Houston. The plan is for them to be home tomorrow, we'll see.

Now when this trip was planned a few months ago, the prospect of spending a week or so on my own had a certain allure. As hard as it may be to believe, I have never spent this much time alone in my home, in my entire life. Yes, that's right. Sure, Erika has taken a couple of trips since we've been married, but for usually just 2 or 3 days, and often there have been children left behind. And before Erika, I was leaving at the old homestead, and well, mom and dad just really weren't the travelling kind. And with 3 brothers and sisters, even when they did leave, I certainly wasn't alone.

Anyway, I had some ideas of how this week would go. I would pass the bulk of the day at work, then have my evenings to myself. Call up some old friends, go to dinner where I wanted to eat, go to movies that I wanted to see, stay up late watching sports that I wanted to watch, etc. And it seemed like an equal and fair trade-off between me and Erika. Yes, I would child-free, but I would still be working 40 hours a week. And yes, she would have the kids, but she would be at the beach and doing fun stuff with them. I figured that was pretty even, meaning I could enjoy myself here without those nagging pangs of guilt that tend to rule my world whenever I try to have fun.

Well, if it had worked out like that, then it wouldn't really be my life now would it? All of those plans and the rest of my freaking world came crashing down last Monday. Long story short, my job had finally sucked enough that things came to a head (for the extended version, see here.) Well, with a plan in mind, I made the decision to make the leap of faith and make a change. I told LTM that I was no longer able to work in the environment provided, and I would be leaving in 2 weeks. Now, when the vacation plans were made, I certainly didn't think that I would be working my last week at LTM while everyone was gone, but hey, I had a plan and didn't think it would be that big of a deal. Besides this needed to be done.

Well, when things around here crash down, they usually go straight through the floor and into the basement. When I arrived at work on Tuesday, I found a nice letter on my desk that basically said "We don't need two more weeks of you, please do not come back tomorrow" (except without such compassion.) That was a little unexpected. Now, I am unemployed, and my great plan is quickly slowing to a crawl. Oh yeah, and vacation is supposed to start in 3 days. Great.

Erika's immediate reaction was to cancel all travel plans, sell the house, live in the car and start finding foster homes for the kids because we would certainly be starving to death in 2 days, and the man upstairs was probably laughing the whole way. (Well, maybe I'm exaggerating, but she was understandably upset.) Now, I hate upsetting Erika. I am only really happy when I know she is. Sometimes I'm still not, but I am never really happy if she's not. This was not how this was supposed to play out. So, I've become an incredible failure to the love of my life, and my great kids are going to miss out on the great summer vacation they've been planning for months. Could it get worse? More than likely.

I made the decision that, to hell with it all, the show must go on! I told Erika that we would be going through with the trip plans. That in fact, this would work out better because the trip was just about paid for anyway, and being alone at home would allow me time to try to straighten everything out. Another long story short, she agreed and off they went and here I am.

Truth be told, when faced with the prospect of being in this house with my wife and kids stare at me while I flipped through the classifieds trying to find a job that would probably involve cleaning toilets, flipping burgers or digging ditches for about 1/4th of what I was making 2 weeks ago, made me want to crawl into the tiniest of holes and implode. That was just not something I thought I could do.

So here I am. Alone. Fortunately, and I thank the heavens above, Erika has been reporting that they have been having a pretty good time. Me? Not so much. This is definitely not what I had planned. Instead of working like normal folk, I have spent my days, dressed in shirt and tie, riding around in 95 degree heat, dropping off resumes and filling out applications. Dinners out? No, try dinner by way of the Wal-mart samples and a 32-oz Mountain Dew from the corner store that's on sale for 50 cents. Movies? No, at home by myself, flipping channels with no real interest. Friends? Coming to the realization that I don't have any real "hang-out" friends w/out Erika, and besides, do not want to have to explain everything that's going on.

So, how have I been spending my time? Well, now that everyone in Baton Rouge has a copy of my resume, and has received the "follow-up" phone call, I am trying to do as much as I can around the house to make it nice for Erika when she gets back. Trying to be productive and get yard work done, get the house clean, hang doors, etc. I guess its my way to try to redeem myself in her eyes. Doubtful, though.

No, this hasn't exactly been the week that I had in mind. And that in itself really sucks. As much as I love my wife and my 3 kids, every now and then, the loner in me rears its ugly head. Usually I feed that need by staying up late by myself in the living room watching TV after everyone has gone to bed. This week was the chance to live the batchelor life that I never really wanted, but was indeed curious about. Perhaps, someone thought that I couldn't be trusted to have a week to myself without serious trouble and problems. Maybe I would have enjoyed myself too much. Hey, just looking for the silver lining.

Monday, May 09, 2005

The Gauntlet has been tossed!

Oh, she's done it now.

My dear sweet wife has tossed the proverbial gauntlet.

In one of her latest blog entries she has dared to question the relevance of Mr. Alton Brown and "Good Eats", minute for minute the MOST informative show on television. Why would someone waste their time watching a show about cooking food that they will never prepare, she wonders.

Take that back!

Before I begin to defend that which is "Good Eats", I will first attack and discredit the critic, as is the American way. (Sorry honey, but all's fair in love and blogs.)

My wife questioned the appeal for this show when it is she who believes that our cable television line-up consists of Home and Garden TV and some other stuff to fill in when they are rerunning the same show for the 3rd time. She is the one who is on a first name basis with every designer, seamstress and carpenter on that channel. She is the one who would walk into a room with a TV on and change it to channel 54 strictly out of habit without even looking. She is the one who will mention half way through a show, that she has already seen this one, but not make any moves to change the channel. She's the one who can quote design styles and tastes of these people on the shows that, by the way, all happen to be set in LA or Canada for some reason. Apparently there's no real good designing going on in Arizone, Georgia or Illinois. But I digress.

So why do I mention these things? Well her "hang-up" with my desire to better myself and learn the intricacies and interesting facts about the cooking and food preparing world is that I will never use this information. Acccording to her, my skills in the kitchen are limited to heating up fish sticks and corndogs. Well, to her I say, just when are you going to use all the crap that there showing on that channel? At some point, it boils down to picking a color and painting. Ooooh, big secret. And while I am at it, what service do these design shows actually provide? Maybe at some point it may have been helpful to learn how to decorate a room "on a budget", but it has gotten completely ridiculous. Notice I used " " around "on a budget," that's because that is the most unbellievable statement on television, outside of "reality TV". I could decorate the hell out of a bedroom for only $1,000, provided you give me the free expert labor of two carpenters, a professional designer, 27 production assistants to do the set-up, clean-up and painting, oh and all the contacts at the supply stores that give me stuff for free for only mentioning their names. Yeah, that is useful information to us here in the real world.

The difference with "Good Eats"? Alton Brown fixes meals that I have heard of, using ingredients I could go to the store and buy (he even shows the stores where he buys stuff), and he gives useful information along the way. No, I may not get up and fix every meal that he instructs (why would I when I have 3 kids to feed that won't eat anything that doesn't begin with Mc), but I am bettered by watching it.

And that my friends, is "Good Eats".