5.06.2023

Message in a bottle

Posting online is like a message in a bottle. We write something or post something to connect with the outside world. It's easy to write something for ourselves in a diary, or take pictures and keep them in our camera, or write down observations in a notebook. But when we do something online, we're reaching out by turning ourselves outwards, throwing something out there to see if anyone is passing by who might notice.

Years ago before social media proliferated digital, people wrote confessional, personal blogs. I used to do searches for a phrase and stumble upon someone's thoughts and struggles, and know that I wasn't alone when I had a more isolating work situation. I also "met" people online who were blogging and met some offline, and even put together the Down the Block anthology to help expand independent creators' voices. 

I don't think all the writers in the anthology (published 15 years ago) are very active online anymore. Some have become busy with their own work and offline lives so they don't care about posting online, and others have migrated to LinkedIn and social media outlets. 

Social media is immediate, and I don't think people have the patience or interest to write something longer, hoping someone will read it. The ones who do commit to writing longer articles usually have a tangible goal, to become successful in monetizing their writing or integrating it into their profession; they want their blogs/online articles to serve a purpose, to get attention that will lead to something bigger. When we put something on social media, we can get quick feedback instead of waiting to see if anyone has noticed our blog post. If you're not famous or saying compelling things on sites such as Substack, regular blogging is just throwing something out there, hoping someone will find the bottle that you threw out into the digital ocean. And on social media, when people don't get likes or comments or re-shares, they wonder if they're being heard and worry if they're connecting with friends and a larger audience. So the bottle they're throwing into the ocean is just floating, which makes some people feel anxious or rejected.

I'm probably being nostalgic, but I miss content that doesn't try to boast. I'm not saying there is no authenticity online, but it seems like various people are trying to get attention in their online (and app) posts via pictures, tweets or updates, and there's a kind of competition going on ("look at how much fun I'm having" "here's my outrageous opinion" "here's how you can maximize your click-throughs"). I've achieved what I've wanted via my online content, but I'm hardly any more popular than I was several years ago. I don't want to post to get attention, though it would be fantastic if someone higher up in the food chain would notice me, and the novel that I'd put all of my energy into and tried to go as deep as I could within a character's thoughts and feelings took off.

Because I've seen the evolution of online content (and the Web just celebrated its 30-year anniversary), I've been able to compare how it used to be with how it is today. There are some feelings I have that people have disagreed with, especially young creatives who have grown up with digital. It's not that it's all bad, but it's sort of sad about how it's become transactional and a wall of highlights, as if people are shouting from a stage "look at me!". A recent column by college student Olivia Krupp effectively articulates what the current issues are with social media. 

But the bottom line is that we can all create content instead of getting someone's permission to share our creations. The gates are open and it's not like it was for centuries, where only the privileged, well-connected, or chosen could express themselves publicly.

p.s. e-book version of my debut novel is still at Amazon, and the price for the print version has been reduced: buy at the Eckhartz Press site.

Down the Block by Margaret

4.19.2023

If you're in a bad situation, quit!

Chapter 3 of one of the best advice books I've ever read, The Asshole Survival Guide, begins with Robert Sutton saying, "I believe in quitting" and that's what I did. I wasn't going to consider myself part of the Great Resignation because I quit last year, but Greg Iacurci at CNBC says 2022 was the "real year," so I'll take it.

After the above paragraph, I wrote more than 1000 words about a series of bad work experiences that led me to resigning, but it was too specific and seemed too ranty. No one had read the draft, but a wise person said I should not post it, so I'm not.

Instead, I want to reiterate what I said a while ago when I first read the book: know how to identify a toxic place and, I'll add now, Get Out!

My situation was a toxicity that I was tolerating, though I wasn't oblivious as I'd been in the past. Since I read that book, I've decided to never tolerate abuse and that approach has generally worked. But one way toxicity can be revealed is how an organization responds when a worker reports dysfunction. That's what Sutton's book explains. He says if people try to take action and nothing is achieved, then it's time to leave. Statements such as "that's how they are" or "they didn't mean it" or gaslighting the victim instead of taking action about the perpetrators are red flags. 

So here's my advice: if you feel horrible and have been treated badly, bullied, abused, anything less than respected, make a plan to get another job and leave. There are many examples of bad behavior at the Ask a Manager blog.

Here's another reason to leave: if you're not paid fairly. If a company pays other people well but comes up with excuses to pay you thousands of dollars less than your predecessor and inexperienced coworkers, find a job that pays better and quit. (And expert Allison Green says it is totally legal to find out what other people make.) If an organization does not require workers to show up nor do much work for much better pay, yet expects you to do more for much less money, then find better pay elsewhere and leave. Even just looking for other work will make you feel better. But it is not normal or fair for people to get paid well for not doing much, while you have to meet standards for thousands of dollars less. Don't rationalize it. It's not right. You are worth more. You are worth your experience. 

Which reminds me of another reason to leave: if a company chooses people based on their age or other superficial features, and you see them get ahead or better pay based on what they're perceived to be instead of what they can actually do, find a place that values human beings if you feel like you're being overlooked or not as appreciated as the favored ones. It doesn't matter what you say or do; if they reward someone based on looks, there is nothing wrong with perceiving that as unfair, and if you don't want to work in a place with such values, then find a better place. 

Kim Parker and Juliana Menasce Horowitz reported: research for the Pew Center revealed "low pay, a lack of opportunities for advancement and feeling disrespected at work are the top reasons why Americans quit their jobs" in 2021. Yup.

What really was the last straw for me was what The Asshole Survival Guide details. At that moment, I thought "I'm going to quit," but waited a while until I would not be quitting in anger and would be prepared with another plan. I kept thinking about Sutton's explanation of why quitting is better than staying in a toxic situation, and how in the past I had not quit and regretted it because enduring the situation had only harmed me. And I feel fantastic. 

Setting boundaries is powerful. Once I put in my notice, I felt like I'd built a concrete booth around me that no one could penetrate. I was asked to stay longer, then asked to be on call to answer questions for no pay, which just reinforced my correct decision. No regrets! I had a great experience but it was time to move on, and I immediately worked in much better situations with fair pay and no abusive/backstabbing treatment. One company I work for even has a system for dealing with abusive coworkers; there are specific people we can contact, and there is no tolerance for behavior that is detailed in The Asshole Survival Guide. 

So my advice to you is, again, to find a better situation and quit. The pandemic gave us the opportunity to reflect on what's important. Don't waste any more time suffering fools or giving your best to an organization that doesn't appreciate it. Go where you're wanted and don't look back!

p.s. e-book version of my debut novel is still at Amazon, and the price for the print version has been reduced: buy at the Eckhartz Press site.

1.11.2023

Using Google Translate to report news

I was reading an article in the Miami Herald about an ancient wishing well in Germany. At the bottom of the article it said, "Google Translate was used to translate the news release from The Bavarian State Office for Monument Protection." I was surprised to see that because I hadn't seen such a description before. 

So I did a search and found another Miami Herald article about ruins in China, which states that "Google Translate and Baidu Translate were used to translate the news release." When I clicked on the journalist's name, it linked to The Kansas City Star and says that she works at McClatchy, which is a media company owned by a hedge fund. The ancient well story was there, but it was linked to The Star instead of the Miami Herald. From that bio page, I clicked on another story about an ancient pantry in Germany, and at the bottom it says, "Google Translate was used to translate the news release from the W├╝rzburg District Office."

I've used Google Translate in my free time to understand online content, but I've never used it for paid work. I don't know if this is an issue for journalism. For instance, did someone need to verify the translations? What if the translations are not accurate or don't want to be? Not only do online, AI, and machine translations need to be edited in the target language, but if they're being reported in a news outlet and by journalists, the information should be accurate. 

At least the stories link to the original press release, so if anyone wants to look at the source, they can. I think this can speed up the reporting and content-creation process, but it should be done responsibly. I think it's really cool that we have such technology to connect with information around the world. When I started translating several years ago, it was time-consuming and there weren't a lot of online resources, so I had to buy some pretty hefty dictionaries. 

p.s. e-book version of my debut novel is still at Amazon, and the price for the print version has been reduced: buy at the Eckhartz Press site.

12.11.2022

Once Upon a Christmas Carol - an Audible Original

I just finished listening to the Audible original Once Upon a Christmas Carol by Karen Schaler (who I did a three-hour livestream with ["with whom I did a three-hour livestream" for the grammarians out there]), which will eventually become a podcast (because it's taking a while to edit the audio of such a long interview). Karen's Audible original is honestly fantastic. 

My parents were from the generation that grew up with radio, and during the Golden Age of Radio, there were many dramatic shows that included skilled voice actors and sound effects (which were Foley since digital was decades away). And because my parents talked about retro radio, I often listened to old-time radio shows every week on Chicago radio stations (before the Internet existed). So it's interesting how radio/audio has come full circle. For years, radio had talk, music, and entertaining bits. Now that we have digital options, companies like Audible create dramas that sound way better than those mono AM shows of yore.

There are many reasons why I like Karen's Audible original: it's total escapism because it's a positive, uplifting story that takes us to a small quaint town in Washington state, which is miles away from where I live. The story is excellent: she is a master of story structure! I wish I could write like that, and I aspire to make my own storytelling structures as tight as hers! There is romance, mystery, hope, adventure, friendships, warmth, professional insight, psychology, and more. The voice actors are convincing and sound authentic, to the point that I want to meet those characters and go to those places in real life. I also like how it ties to the Los Angeles, big-time music business scene, which is escapist for me as well because it shows me a part of the entertainment biz that I don't know about, and that in itself is fascinating. And it also shows the positive and negative aspects of social media and PR, crisis communications, and journalism. It's both practical and magical, and even asks the big question: what would you do if you knew you couldn't fail?

If you want to get into the Christmas spirit and escape the monotony and drudgery of regular life, definitely listen to this Audible original, and listen the whole way through because it will all make sense and will be tied in a nice Christmas bow.

11.21.2022

Thankful to be employed

I'm one of those lucky people who was over-employed during the pandemic. I was working at least five gigs at the same time, and one part-time job that was 100% in-person went from a couple of days a week to more, at times several days in a row, because they had to limit the workers in the company. I also had a part-time job that became at-home a year before the pandemic because there was a shift from a W-2 situation (where I had to work in-person in an office) to a 1099 situation (freelance). So between those two part-time jobs, I was working essentially full time. I also was teaching online and in-person, and I did freelance digital work for a couple of companies. So at times I was working up to 80 hours a week, and I never dipped below 40. I can't believe I was able to do all that and never got sick or missed a day of work, nor miss deadlines or anything. I even filled in for other people who were sick. Now that I work a mere 50 hours a week, I look back at that time and am amazed I handled it all without even feeling stressed. I guess I really liked working to the max and was running on adrenaline. 

Then last year, the almost impossible happened when I got a full-time job. I had been working at the same company part time for seven years, and sometimes filled in for someone who eventually left for another opportunity. After freelancing, working part-time jobs, and running my one-person business for several years, it was very weird to have to go into work every day at the same place. I thought the office politics and other drama would be a nightmare because I was tied to one place. But it's been wonderful. My coworkers and boss are fantastic, and I like the work. I've met new people and have had a great time. I feel a sense of satisfaction and peace and actually feel successful. I'm not financially successful, but I have zero issues, which is worth a lot. Everyone I have to directly interact with is responsive and responsible, and they're all really nice people. I have zero stress, no drama, nothing negative. I'm also totally in charge of my work flow; I don't have to work within someone else's framework, which is very satisfying. I didn't know that I'd totally enjoy being in control of my own work flow, but now that I've experienced it, I want to keep working in such a situation. It's very satisfying to decide how to do something, who to ask to do it, when to get it done, etc. I always get everything done early or on time, and because it's on me and I am able to accomplish it, it's even more rewarding. Also, my boss leaves me alone because he trusts me, and he also doesn't mind that I have a personality. I don't have to fake introversion to survive. And a nice bonus: I have a large office with a view. I often don't turn on the lights so that I can see the sun, and when it becomes dark, the city lights are my wallpaper. The whole situation is unbelievably great.

I've also been teaching, and because one school has consistently asked me to teach and the classes fill up pretty quickly, I can no longer teach at another school. I'm lucky that I was able to teach at both schools for a while. Now that I have a full-time job plus teach some classes, one school keeps asking me if I can teach a class over there; every semester they ask me, which means a lot because it's nice to be needed, but at this point I only have time for subbing. At the other school, I'm having a great time teaching because I really like the students, and my bosses there are supportive as well. So right now, I have the full-time job and the teaching, which still makes me over-employed but not at the level I was at earlier this year (the W-2-turned-1099 part-time job ended in the summer when my boss retired). And I don't work with any difficult people or jerks (and this is where I want to plug the excellent book The Asshole Survival Guide, which everyone should read).

I'm not talking about my work situation to be publicly fake. I'm seriously glad that I'm still employed because some people have lost their jobs or they've had a tough time during the pandemic. Because of all the negative news and the changing economy, I sometimes worry about what's going to happen. I hope I'll continue to work for the rest of my life because I have no plans on retiring; there's still a lot to do.

p.s. e-book version of my debut novel (I'm working on a second one) is still at Amazon, and the price for the print version has been reduced: buy at the Eckhartz Press site.

11.13.2022

No worries

A lot of people are now saying "no worries." It's a trendy phrase that I wasn't going to comment on until I heard someone use it in the wrong way. 

This is what happened: I made an appointment, which was cancelled a day before. I rescheduled the appointment and arrived a bit early. As I was waiting, the receptionist said that the person I was waiting for was going to be late, and asked if I could reschedule for three hours later. It wasn't the best situation, but I decided to go to the gym and get something to eat to make the delay worthwhile. I said okay, and the receptionist said "no worries." Let me break this down.

Receptionist: Sorry, she can't make it on time. Can you come back at 3:45?

Me: Okay. I'll see you later.

Receptionist: No worries.

Hmmm. Why would she say "no worries" if I'm the one who was inconvenienced? After all, this was the second cancellation from their end, so I should be saying "no worries." I didn't even say anything to prompt her to respond "no worries." I just said "okay."

But it didn't stop there. I was walking back to the place to go to my newly scheduled appointment, when my phone rang. It was half an hour before the appointment was supposed to start.

Receptionist: Sorry, she can't come in. Can you reschedule another day?

Me: What about tomorrow?

Receptionist: No, she's not available tomorrow either. She's not available until Wednesday.

Me: I work all day and night Wednesday, so I'm not free. 

Receptionist: What about next weekend?

Me: Okay.

Receptionist: No worries.

Again, nothing I said would prompt her to respond "no worries." There were now three cancellations. The last cancellation was right before the rescheduled appointment, and there was no reason for me to be in that neighborhood; I'd gone there just for the appointment. This would be a more appropriate use of the phrase:

Receptionist: Sorry about all of the inconvenience.

Me: No worries.

But there was no apology from the business for me to respond to their flakiness with "no worries," though I don't use that phrase anyway. I think the receptionist has heard "no worries" so often in our culture that she's made it part of her own speaking style, but it's really supposed to replace "no problem," which I still use. Maybe the newer trend is to just say "no worries" independent of a context because it's become cool or something. Btw--it's a phrase that came from Australia, at least according to Meghan Jones from Reader's Digest (I inherited a subscription from my mother-in-law and still subscribe).

Now that "no worries" has saturated the speaking culture, I'm wondering if there's room for a new trend, such as saying "de nada."

8.29.2022

I finally watched Red Oaks

Whenever I want to write about TV, I think about the disparaging comment I saw that someone made about this blog years ago, that they didn't see much language-oriented content. That's because I've had this blog for several years, and when I started it, I was editing and translating a few languages, so my work life was all about language, and I wanted to express my observations and love for it. But I was working at home alone so much, I started to have the TV on in the background, so I started to write about that and other things. Fast-forward several years, and we now have lots of streaming shows.

I've had access to, or have watched, various shows and pilots, and have even read scripts to see how the heck they write that way, because it's super-difficult. During the summer, I heard someone speak who was involved in Red Oaks, and people commented that the show was really good. So I immediately watched the pilot, and I was like, okay, what's this? It reminded me of a cheesy 80s movie. But then I realized that was the point. It wasn't mocking such movies nor was it satire, but it put us in that world and communicated a sincerity and warmth that wasn't portrayed in those movies. Then I watched all three seasons right away. What I consistently saw was that the writers/creators seemed to like people. I have no idea if they really do, but it felt that way because all the characters were grounded, even though some were silly or exaggerated. But there was a sincerity and warmth throughout the entire show that I really connected with, even though there were crude jokes and scenes a la obnoxious 80s movies. I'm not a fan of vulgar or explicit content, but I wasn't focusing on those aspects, just enjoyed the characters and stories that were in an era that I was familiar with.

I actually wrote a ton about this show in the original post, but decided not to go live with it because I realized that I'd written a thousand words just about the female characters (in a complimentary way). Now that I've set the post aside for a couple of weeks, I'm still thinking about the show, and I'm still thinking about the characters, even though since then I've watched other movies and shows, including I, Tonya and Pam & Tommy, because, while those biographical works have excellent acting and the non-Americans absolutely nailed the accents, Red Oaks is totally original and all the characters and storylines are great! 

First of all, Paul Reiser is an incredible actor who absolutely mastered his character. The writers even skillfully put his background and motivation for wealth into conversations he had about his family and his desire to be successful. I have met such people, and Reiser makes it all seem authentic. His portrayal of an ambitious man is so spot-on, I'm not surprised that he's been such a success in Hollywood.

And I love his wife. Because this show is mainly a comedy, she seems like a caricature of the stereotypical wealthy husband's wife who maintains her beauty and enjoys the fruits of her husband's labor. But what makes her so enjoyable to watch is that she is strong and she loves him and cares about their daughter in the best way she can. It's also revealed that she was with her husband from their early struggles to their comfortable present. He loves her and she loves him, and honestly, I like seeing such relationships on shows. The writers seemed to make a wise choice to counteract greed and conspicuous consumption with love that we can clearly see. She's also blunt in a humorous way. She seems obnoxious but as the series continues, we see how she's multifaceted and strong. I have also met people like her and don't aspire to befriend such people, but her character was fascinating and fun to watch.

Their daughter is a character who looks and acts like a combination of Ally Sheedy and Molly Ringwald, which was a clever decision because the show takes place in the mid-1980s, and they were definitely popular during those years. She is like women I've known, whose rich parents support her and who likes to live on the wild side, different than her privileged upbringing. When I saw her go through her experiences on the screen, I kept thinking that she's a version of the kind of woman I wrote about. Because I'd met people like her, I wanted to capture such a character in fiction, but some people who read my book didn't believe that someone like that could exist. But yes, there are wealthy young women who want to go off the track and party and date guys and live crazy lives because they've grown up with restrictions, and they can afford to take chances. Even though the character in Red Oaks is more subdued than mine, I was glad to see her included because her scenario wasn't far-fetched. 

About the pretty women: this was another area where it seemed to me like the writers juxtaposed what we see and what we experience via their actions. Of course, every Hollywood creation is going to have attractive people. What bothers me is when they're objectified, a topic that has been written about for eons. But basically, when I see beautiful women on the screen and there isn't much depth, or when the guys are given more gravitas and the beautiful women are mere eye candy, I tune out. There are various examples of shows and movies created around guy characters where their female love interests are: 1) dumb/ditzy; 2) would realistically be unattainable because they're way more beautiful than the men, and the men might show boorish qualities and the women inexplicably ignore such negative traits and brainlessly go out with them; 3) there doesn't seem to be a productive role for them other than they're hot and that's it. 

Kate Mulgrew infamously criticized the Star Trek: Voyager bosses for bringing Jeri Ryan to the show, and even though Seven of Nine was obviously very popular for how she looked, she was smart and had depth and an extreme seriousness that was humorous. Even though I saw through the show's creators' T-and-A tactics (which they also used in Enterprise, which I quickly bailed), I stayed with it because she's a good actor and her character was interesting.

And that's what the Red Oaks creators seemed to do; they included the beautiful people for typical Hollywood aesthetics but didn't seem to objectify them. The two beautiful women who worked at the country club were nice people and had feelings. They were people to me, not just some excuse to include perfect-looking people in a show to get ratings. The guys who were interested in them weren't the stereotypical pigs, but they still had obnoxious aspects, harkening back to those silly 80s teen movies. But again, the situation had depth and reminded us of what we'd been served before, but with a more earthy and heartfelt twist. I don't want to give away any details (because it seems like a lot of people haven't seen this show), but one of the seemingly loser guys who is interested in one of the perfect-looking women ends up being way more than we think he is.

What the pretty women decide throughout the series demonstrates that there is more to them than just a perfect body and pretty smile. The aerobics instructor is really sweet and positive, which is also consistent with some people I've met in the fitness world. And the lifeguard character is sincere about overcoming the struggles in her life, and we see that growth by the end of the series. I don't want to give away what happens, but it's great. Basically, we often see beautiful people get ahead in life even when they don't have skills or a pleasant personality, and they use their looks to gain access. We don't see that in this show. Yes, looking a certain way helps, but they work hard and have positive traits, which I don't always see in real life, especially in certain industries (and I could write a whole blog post just about that).

And since I'm into accents and this is, at the core, a language-related blog, I was very impressed with Craig Roberts' accent. His American accent is so good to the point that I had no idea that he came from Wales. Of course, he is a good actor and has a flatness about him that makes him a likable main character who is navigating the ridiculousness around him. One of my favorite quotes from the movie is when an older man at the club tells Roberts' character, "You know what we did back in my day to find ourselves? We killed Nazis." There are so many moments like that in the show, and combined with some performances of other talented actors, including Ennis Esmer, who aced his accent via his thoroughly entertaining character (he was the show-stealer), and the fantastic Richard Kind, who is totally believable as the father, it's a show that is rooted in authenticity rather than a clever concept or agenda.