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.

p.s. the 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.


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.


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."


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.


Adopted in the last century

Sometimes I meet people who've been adopted, or who have adopted kids, and I tell them that my dad was also adopted. Because he was born in the 1920s, adoption wasn't openly discussed, so he didn't know about his origins until later. I've been binge-watching Red Oaks (which I'll write about once I finish Season 3), and in some respects, it reminds me of some of my family's experiences. One time I told my dad that I wanted to get a bling ring, and he gave me one that looks like an ostentatious wedding band that a character wears in Red Oaks. The ring he gave me was made in the 1940s and wasn't meant to be a wedding band; it was a fancy men's ring, but and he didn't really like it. It looks sort of gaudy but it's fun, so I wear it. My dad wasn't tacky; he was highly educated, well-read, and dressed well, even when he was teaching in a public high school.

I was recently looking through my online files and found the eulogy that I wrote for his funeral. I'm posting it here because it expresses my gratitude for the people who helped him out, and to show how an adopted person from almost 100 years ago shared similar feelings to adopted people now.

Recently I asked my dad when he was the happiest, and he said his childhood; he had a very good childhood, which was the beginning of his long, fulfilling life. What bothered him though, through his old age, was the fact that he had found out that he was adopted. He didn’t find out from his parents but from another kid, and from that point forward, while he continued to have a good life, he felt like the enjoyable world he thought he had was somehow artificial, not what he thought it really was. The family that his parents said he had--cousins, aunts, uncles (he was an only child)--were not *really* his family because they weren’t biologically linked to him. 

I kept telling him that he was very lucky to have been adopted by a supportive, stable, well-off family who gave him everything he wanted (except for a BB gun). It didn’t matter that they weren’t biologically connected to him; they *were* his family, the family that chose him and brought him into their lives. And he was taken care of in various ways; even during the Depression, when a lot of the country barely had anything to eat, he had his own bedroom in a nice neighborhood in Youngstown Ohio, played golf with his cousin, ate large meals with homemade desserts, rode his bicycle around the neighborhood...and after he moved to Canton he lived out the Depression and many of his adult years there in comfort. 

Fast forward to his old age, when I spent a lot of time with him due to his physical limitations and illness. It became clear to me, while he still spoke of what I call an existential perception of existence (as he described the fact that he was adopted, so he was essentially “alone” in the world), I noticed that there was a *larger* family that had adopted him. Of course, family members called him, visited him, took him out, and made sure he was okay. But the family extended from there; it was the family of society. 

Many people who had no familial ties were very good to him. Friends and neighbors took him out, offered to help him in any way needed, talked to him, and treated him with respect. And it even extended beyond that. Many people, including strangers, treated him well and encouraged him. On a number of occasions, people he did not know at all would walk up to him and help him get out of a chair or out of a car. A cashier at Jewel would hand him a tissue when his nose was runny. A waitress would give us free meals. A man who didn’t speak English would give him a thumbs up. A woman would step out of the way to make room for him and his walker, telling us that she understood since she, herself, helped elderly relatives. The incredible reaction of people around him helped him to not feel alone.

As he got older, he became a relaxed person who had a very good attitude and lived in the moment. He pretty much never worried. I think his positive attitude and pleasant demeanor opened up doors for him, and caused others to respond favorably. Thanks to all the people in his life (as is evidenced by all the people here), the excellent doctors, nurses, and non-medical staff at Evanston Hospital, Glenbrook Hospital, and the Kellogg Cancer Center, he was able to live--and die--in dignity. 

His life serves as a reminder that even the little things we do can have a huge impact on another human being. I feel that this is important to remember as we see increasing evil in the world, because the good we do can offset the bad. 


Just because they got lucky doesn't mean you will too

I've been thinking about this for a long time. I think that when someone hits the jackpot in a difficult industry and gets lots of attention for their incredible success, other people think they can achieve the same thing. But it's way more difficult and impossible than the hype makes it seem.

For instance, there are successful authors who are interviewed on major national shows, get paid big bucks to speak at events, and who get their books optioned for movies. They are wealthy, successful, popular, and are never short of an interesting experience around the corner. They hang out with other successful, interesting people and they are fully participating in the culture to the level that they want. Other writers look at them and think that what the pros have achieved is attainable, so they hold on to that dream and plug away and talk about their own bright future, even though it's a total long shot. The same can be said about musical performers, influencers, national TV anchors, comedians, talk show hosts, artists, etc. People look at all those majorly successful people and think what they've achieved can be duplicated, but such success is very rare.

Back to the writing example: I recently met a couple of successful writers. One of them tried to get an agent and get published, but was having no luck. Then the cultural expectations and publishing business changed, so the door was open to them, and they got a good book deal, a loyal readership, marketing and publicity support from the publisher, and it seems like they can make a living from their writing. They were flown across the country and put up in a hotel (and maybe paid?) to speak to a group. 

Contrast this with what usually happens, which is when a writer has to pay their own way for any kind of trip, and they're lucky if they're asked to speak anywhere. They're also really lucky if they get an agent's attention, because people usually have to pay to speak with an agent at a conference. For every writer who gets a book deal and publicity support from a publisher, there are thousands who are hoping for that chance but will realistically never get it.

Another writer I met broke through in a different way. They got a certain kind of education, got short pieces published, made important connections, got a book deal and then a movie deal. They've been reviewed and interviewed in prestigious outlets and have representation. Whenever a writer gets exposure, I'm sure many aspiring writers think they, too, can take that path and get the same results. But it doesn't happen that way and seems to be random. 

Even writers who get published don't necessarily get the publicity support they need. They have to hit the pavement and do their own publicity, which ends up being a business in and of itself. So after they've spent a long time writing, they have to put forth extra energy to get attention and try to sell books, and they're very lucky if they manage to sell 1,000. People say that having to make back an advance is hard, but many writers don't even get an advance, so they're pretty much starting from scratch. Or they have to recoup the money they've spent on editors, etc. because they weren't successful or favored enough to have someone in the business provide the editing and other tools they need. Basically, when a writer has the backing of a publisher who is willing to pay them something up front, plus do their publicity, plus collaborate with them, that writer is really in a special group. But because such successful writers are interviewed and speak publicly about their journey, many people think it's possible to do the same, and there are companies making money off such dreams. 

And again, I can apply these concepts to other areas, especially creative pursuits. We see the successful people being celebrated, but it will rarely happen for other people. They can express encouraging words for all the hopefuls out there, but the positivity is just messaging; it rarely gets realized. But someone I was talking to had a good point: people have to be ready for opportunities, so it's important to develop talents and skills in case a door opens. 


Guest post: experience in 1970s downtown Chicago

I ended up getting a Letter to the Editor published in the Chicago Tribune about how downtown Chicago isn't a scary place, and mentioned that the 1970s and 1980s were worse. Then Marilyn Cosentino, a coworker from Daley College, sent me a link to a post she wrote about an experience she had in downtown Chicago in the late 1970s. I am reposting it here instead of merely linking to it.

The Night of Terror

called the parental homestead to see how Sibling #6’s Special Olympics basketball tournament had gone. Father answered the phone; I never actually learned how the games had turned out. And despite having been at the basketball tournament with Sibling #6, the most mundane of topics can quickly become hot button social commentaries for Father. “Boy, have you been watching all the trouble in Egypt?” he asked. Then, without missing a beat as the two events are connected in ways perhaps only a lunatic would immediately comprehend, he added, “Do you remember the night of terror?” I laughed. Even though I wasn’t a participant, how could I ever forget the night of terror?

Many years ago, my Irish Aunt was in town for a visit. She spent a few weeks with us before taking the Greyhound on an unmercifully long journey to the upper reaches of nowhere in western Canada to visit her daughter. Downtown, where the bus station was located, was little more than a cesspool. There was no Millennium Park, no flower boxes, and lots of criminal activity during the day, let alone at night.

The Aunt’s bus to the middle of nowhere Canada was departing the Greyhound Station at around ten o’clock at night. While late 1970s downtown was shady at best, the Greyhound depot was Starsky and Hutch type stuff. Working security there one night, Father noticed a guy hanging around that looked an awful lot like one of the country’s ten most wanted at the time. The guy took off when he noticed Father giving him the eye, but eventually Father made the arrest. It turns out he was one of the guys on the wanted poster. Like I said, the bus station was real life Starksy and Hutch.

Anyway, as Mother didn’t drive, the job of getting the Aunt to the bus depot fell to Sibling #2. Along with the Aunt and Mother, Sibling #2 brought along the Boyfriend to provide some semblance of protection. It was one of those stiflingly hot summer nights where the air is so heavy and unmoving you feel like you just might suffocate so Sibling #2 had on the air condition in the old blue wagon on the drive downtown. Now, should she have known better? Of course, but the Boyfriend had some entitlement issues so I’ve no doubt the air was on for his sake and not for the sake of the Irish Aunt so completely unaccustomed to Chicago’s height of summer mugginess.

Everyone was a bit on edge to begin with, what with the heat and having to descend into the bowels of the city to bid the much loved Aunt adieu. So naturally, about a mile from the depot, the blue wagon caught on fire. (We refer to it as the blue wagon to distinguish it from its predecessor, the yellow wagon.) Turns out Sibling #2 really should have known better about use of the air conditioner. Thus began the night of terror.

In a scene reminiscent of Scooby Doo, they decided to split up. Sibling #2 and the Boyfriend set out in search of Father who was on duty somewhere downtown, to let him know where his car, with its melted air conditioning belt, had been abandoned. Mother and the Aunt found a cab and took that to the bus station. After getting her sister on the Greyhound, Mother began walking back to State Street where she would catch a bus home. The problem, of course, is that Mother’s sense of direction is never particularly good. And when the underworld of derelicts that crawled the streets began to accost her and literally paw at her, she fled in a blind panic. I can just picture Mother, dressed in one of her signature paper thin t-shirts with the sleeves and neck cut-off and a pair of really short running shorts, streaking through downtown in absolute flight mode.

Turns out she was running in the right direction as she eventually ran right past Father, who was hanging out in a dark doorway. He called out to her as she sped past, but she was so terrified, his presence didn’t register even when he repeatedly called her by name. He gave chase and when he finally caught up with her, he had to grab her in order to get her to stop. When Father tells this story, his eyes crinkle up as he chuckles over his disbelief at seeing this familiar looking red-haired woman sprint past. We all have trouble catching our breath because we are laughing so hard as his eyes turn into two moons in imitation of Mother’s unseeing, terror-filled eyes. I’m sure the event probably left a deep, damaging gouge in Mother’s heart, but that doesn’t seem to detract from the event’s hilarity. And I’m not sure why Father was standing around in a dark doorway. In fact, it has never occurred to any of us to ask him about it. This is, after all, the man who would run home from work in subzero temperatures and shrug off our concern for the large black patches of frostbitten skin on his body by saying, “It’s nothing. Just dead meat.” Really, why wouldn’t he be hanging around in a dark doorway?

Meanwhile, Sibling #2 and the Boyfriend had set off from where the car had died near State and Wacker. They walked south on State, with groups of undesirables literally circling them and making sucking noises and “come on, baby” type comments to Sibling #2 and threatening comments to the Boyfriend. Like Mother, Sibling #2 was fond of the little outfits. Therefore, she was also experienced with having sucking noises directed at her, but never by groups of people that would circle her while doing so. Eventually, they made it to the Burger King on State and Congress where Father sometimes hung out to protect the non-criminal element that unwittingly entered in search of sustenance. As he was lurking in a dark doorway at the time, they instead found a different police man at the Burger King who then radioed Father and told him where he could find his car.

Sibling #2 and the Boyfriend then caught the #62 Archer Bus home. Father also put Mother on a #62 Archer bus and she, too, got home safely. The Aunt made it to Canada and then back home to Ireland, where she was able to regale her countrymen with her harrowing tale. As for Father, by the time he got off work much later that night, the car had cooled off sufficiently enough for him to drive it home, not quite the worse for wear.

And while I only wanted to find out about a basketball game, Father, ever the police man, used a favored lunatic parable, The Night of Terror, to reinforce the importance of serving and protecting. As Father discussed in great detail, whether it’s street protests in the Middle East or criminal gangs in Chicago, both are rooted in a fundamental break down in basic humanity due to our unfailing acceptance of intolerance and inequality coupled with a devastating lack of compassion for our fellow man. When burdened with all that, I could see how a basketball game might seem rather insignificant.


I like people who like people

A while ago, I was talking to a boss about how much work they have and how many fires they have to put out. They also have to deal with lots of different people in different jobs and departments, and it all adds up to complexity and what seems like a bunch of headaches. But the boss simply said, "I like people." And I believed it. I rarely hear people say that they like people, because I think a lot of people don't like people. They just tolerate them, or act friendly and then talk about them when they walk away. People are, of course, able to run their personal lives how they want, pretty much, but when it comes to work, it's important that managers like people. (ok, I just realized this is related to another blog post that I wrote: If you're in the people business, like people)

I've experienced managers who don't like people. They don't say it, but it's clear they don't. They want the position, money, and/or title, but they don't want to deal with people. They seem to want to work alone and avoid interaction, or they have little tolerance for questions or comments. They don't even like small talk. Why are these people working with people? They should make room for people fans who want a management position and who are willing to learn how to most effectively maximize their human interaction.

Outside of teaching, I haven't had to manage people, but I really like people. And I like working for people who like people, because they have a kind of appreciation of people's quirks, and aren't afraid to leave their office doors open, or walk around the place to see how folks are doing, or answer their phones and emails when there are problems. It's very important to have private time, and no one should have to work 24/7, but it's really great when someone takes the time to explain something or say hello instead of expecting people to work like robots devoid of emotion.

And it's not about avoiding confrontation and doing only what others want you to do in order to be liked. People who like people can have standards and give constructive criticism, and still like people even when they don't really reciprocate. It's really an appreciation of human beings and all the drama of life. Those are the kinds of people I like and enjoy working for; they know not everyone is perfect, and they appreciate diversity, not just in terms of ethnicity and background but viewpoints as well. People who like people don't mind if people disagree with them; they're fine with discussing something and will listen to someone else's varying opinions, because they know that the world is vast and not everyone is the same. Plus, they know that only knowing others who agree with them is limited; there's so much to explore, and they're not afraid to dive in.

Sometimes I meet people who explicitly state that they don't like people and don't want to deal with them. Other times people I encounter act in a way that reveals how repulsed they are by people, especially those they can't control or who don't match up exactly with their standards. We're not going to like everyone, but people should at least give others a chance, and give them a break when they mess up or aren't perfect. Some people are so petty that if someone doesn't look or act in a way that they want, they blackball them and make them feel small. Others simply shut people down; they can't stand small talk or attempts to connect (unless everyone is busy working or making a deadline, which is understandable) and cut off the conversation. All they want to do is function in their own space and don't want any kinds of interruptions to their own agenda.

Now that the social world is changing during this virus, the anti-people folks who have jobs or situations where they don't have to interact with people can thrive because they can just remain alone, and the new societal framework will support them. I want to say more about this topic, because this is really more of the work-related aspect of it, and in the general world, I really like people who like people, so maybe that deserves a post as well. But the bottom line is that when I get the chance to work with people who like people, it makes the work environment a lot more pleasant and less detached or cold.

p.s. Amazon Kindle book and print book at the Eckhartz Press site, www.wickerparkwishes.com 


New year, new job

I think I've already written four or five versions of this post because I feel like I'm over-sharing or being too detailed and personal. But this work-related milestone is worth noting because I started this blog when I was always working at home (before it was a trend or a social-distancing necessity) and needed an expressive outlet, and now I'm not working at home all the time anymore.

Okay, so after many rewrites and revisions is this: the bottom line is that I have gotten a full-time job after 30 years of not having one. I've only had one since becoming a post-college adult, and that wasn't even in the USA. I've been working for myself, then eventually as a one-person business (established in 2009), since the mid-90s.

Even though I have written the amount of years more than a few times in previous posts, I still feel uncomfortable about stating that because in some industries, there seems to be a bias against people who are older than 35 in the workplace. But don't worry, ageists; I'm technologically savvy, exercise regularly, have good references, a solid work ethic, and am adaptable. I wouldn't have gotten the full-time job or have been so busy, even during the pandemic, if I weren't capable. 

I'm one of those people who has benefits that seem to make up for the pay. And I'm not being falsely modest about my deflated situation; I should get paid more for my experience and attention to detail, but let's just say the cash doesn't seem to be flowing that much, so I am still doing other jobs in addition to my full-time one. I always thought that if I took a full-time job, I'd quit freelancing and teaching, but I've spent too many years building up that equity to stop doing it. So right now, I'm simultaneously working in academia and in the non-academic world. I was even asked recently if I could teach yet another class, but I have no time left. I wish I could do it all, but I can't.

Even when the take-home pay doesn't seem like that much, having benefits seems like a luxury. For several years, if I didn't work, I didn't get paid. If I got sick, I didn't get paid. If I wasn't given a class to teach or wasn't given hours at a part-time job, I wouldn't get paid. Now I can take paid time off, can get sick, and can even take a personal day. I'm still getting used to it. Over the years, between all my gigs, I've called in sick only once in over a decade and have rarely gotten sick because I've figured out how to stay healthy. I'm not going to become a slacker, but at least I have that buffer now. 

Before I took this full-time job, I was offered five full-time jobs, and I didn't have to apply for any of them; they asked me to work there after seeing what I could do. Even though the money was better, I didn't take them because I really liked working for myself and living on the edge, essentially. It was an adventure to stay in the game and stay sharp. But when this full-time job came up, I had a good feeling about it and applied. I had already done the job temporarily, so I knew what to expect in terms of responsibilities, but I was worried about office politics and mean girls/guys. I hadn't grown up with such people in my sphere, but now that I've encountered them in my adult life, they're enough to cause me to avoid the whole scene. I was also worried about going to the same place every day, sitting at the same desk, doing the same things. My days used to be complex and different; many times I'd wake up and forget where I was going. Now I know that eventually I have to go to that full-time commitment, even if I have to do one of my other jobs before that. 

But so far, it hasn't been bad, though it took a month to get used to it. The first couple of days I closed my door and didn't talk to people because I couldn't believe I'd committed most of my hours to one place. I can't make appointments or go to the gym at random times during the day any more, so I have to do things after business hours or take a chunk of day to go to the doctor. I used to do freelance work, play tennis, then resume the work. I don't even know when I can play tennis again, or if I'll be able to meet people to play with who are at my mediocre level. I need to explain to people why I can no longer join their Zoom groups during the day, and if I want to meet up with people, or just talk on the phone, I have to do that on weekends or at night. My part-time schedule, where I had to show up at a physical location, was random, but I worked around it and it added to the thrill ride-type of existence. Now my days are solid. I feel more calm, but I can't let go of having to have a backup plan in case the situation dissolves.

I was just talking with someone who worked at other places full time, so they didn't have to adjust like I did to showing up five days a week. But we both agreed that because the environment is professional, the job is enjoyable. No drama like at other places. Plus, my boss is probably one of the best I've ever had, maybe the best. They allowed me to keep teaching, trust that I will put in the forty hours (which I do), and trust that I will meet the deadlines. They leave me alone to do what's needed, and their constructive feedback is polite. I'm never yelled at or demeaned, and I can discuss issues when needed, and work independently successfully. I also don't feel like I have to dumb-down my speaking style with them, end my sentences with question marks or vocal fry, or act like an airhead to get their attention. It is very hard to find good bosses and non-toxic workplaces, and here's where I highly recommend the Asshole Survival Guide, which is a must-read for anyone who is working anywhere. 

What I realized working full time is that I like to be in control of the process and work flow. Previously, I was in control of how I was shaping my work life, but I always had to follow what someone else wanted, and if I implemented it to their liking, I stayed employed. I couldn't really speak freely to suggest another way because the other person had already set a process that worked for them, or they basically didn't like people and didn't want to engage in unnecessary conversation. As long as I could effectively fake introversion and stay subservient, I was fine. I even had to be careful about what my emails contained; they could not include any personality. Now, even though I'm still working alone, which is what I've done for years, I don't have to fake bland introversion in emails as well as offline; I can add a smiley face, and it won't be held against me.

Now I'm the one in charge, and it's fantastic. No one works for me, but I'm still in charge of my occupational slot. I work with wonderful people who are conscientious, friendly, and deadline-oriented. I really appreciate them because I've worked with people who blow off work and don't care if other people have to pick up the slack, and others who mock the idea of having a work ethic. Since I can get work done on time or according to an optimal plan that I've created, people rarely bother me because the system I've set up goes smoothly. It's satisfying and seems nerdy because the accomplishment is in the details of implementation. Overall, I'm treated well, not nitpicked, and not perceived as weird, intense, or serious. At the end of the day, I essentially feel like I haven't worked. Because I have other gigs, I am tired, but I feel a lot more grounded and am really enjoying life.

I think one great characteristic of solopreneurs like moi is that we are used to being super-productive because the consequences of laziness or lying include losing hours, a class, a project, and our reputation. If we're jerks, people won't want to work with us. If we're high maintenance and can't learn things on our own or work independently, people won't want to keep us around. We are constantly being assessed because if we fail, we won't make money. So I should be able to be well-employed for the rest of my life because I bring a lot to the table. And as long as employers are open-minded to hiring Gen X'ers like moi who don't take anything for granted, I should be considered for future work as well.

p.s. Amazon Kindle book and print book at the Eckhartz Press site, www.wickerparkwishes.com 


I finally took a vacation

I recently went to Southern California for a family event, and I made it into a mini-vacation that was very different than the life I live in Chicago. Even before the pandemic, I didn't travel much, so I wanted to be sure that the few days away would be enjoyable.

We (husband and I) had unused credit-card bonus points, so we decided to use them to get business-class plane tickets to LAX. It was easy to get through O'Hare because they were organized about checking documents, etc., and it wasn't as scary as I thought; most people were wearing masks, were polite, and were social distancing. There was no obnoxious behavior that I'd seen in viral stories about airports and airplanes. 

When we got on the plane, we settled into our business-class seats. A flight attendant asked if I wanted champagne or water. The choice was clear: champagne of course. Everyone on the plane was great; again, no screaming passengers or people refusing to wear masks. Since it was early in the afternoon, I figured we'd get to California in time to see the beautiful sunset over the Pacific Ocean before joining the family later that night. But the plane just sat there. Then we heard an announcement saying that we had to wait until they made some repairs. No problem, got another champagne. Then they told us to get off the plane and wait for another one. I figured it wouldn't take long, but it took over six hours before we were on a fresh plane. So our vacation started out being stuck at the airport for seven hours. We got a free meal in the food court, but Day 1 of California was gone.

If you care about virus precautions in addition to good weather, beautiful scenery, and delicious food, Los Angeles County is the place for you. Most people at the airport wore masks, even at the car rental place, and I've heard the vaccination rate is more decent than other areas. Since we were traveling in January, there weren't a lot of tourists around, so the mindset of those around us seemed to be of people who were used to following public health measures. 

By the time we got to Redondo Beach it was past midnight, and no one was outside. Since we rarely travel, we decided to make the trip more special by staying at a resort in a bay by the ocean. There were no ambulances or sirens that I usually hear in my neighborhood, just seals making noises on their lounging platform. I could see twinkling lights in the distant hills and smell the ocean, and I felt like I'd landed on another planet. 

I only got a few hours sleep because we had to get to Rancho Palos Verdes in the morning, and I wanted to wake up early to enjoy what we'd missed the day before when we were stuck at O'Hare. Our room faced a small bay that opened up to the Pacific Ocean, and the seals were continuing their party on the platform, diving into the water as if they were also fluid. Birds kept their wings open as they glided onto the water, then turned in their wings to float neatly on top. I watched them whenever I could, and wanted to take a picture or video of their elegance, but I didn't. I decided to enjoy the animals and the sea in the moment to keep that feeling with me, because I knew I'd leave that planet and would want to retain its sparkle with no barriers.

Stand-up paddle boards, sailboats, and motor boats passed by, including the fire department and other water authorities. Even though I never took any pictures, I will never forget what I saw because it was so different than what I experience every day. I saw large, beautiful homes in the hills of RPV and neatly cultivated and grown flora in the area. The plants and flowers are different from the Midwest, adding to that otherwordly experience.

It was hard to leave all that nature behind to go to the City of Los Angeles. After we dropped off the rental car at LAX, we had to get a bus to Union Station to take the Amtrak sleeper back to Chicago. Even though I love cities, especially downtown areas, I wasn't expecting much from downtown LA because I'd been there before, and it seemed to be gritty desolation. Once I got there, though, I was pleasantly surprised. The Union Station building is incredible. I live in a fantastic architectural city, but there are no buildings like that one. In the front are beautiful flowers and trees, and it's located in the old part of town, pretty much where the city began. 

And the area was lively. There was Mexican music in the historic area across the street (El Pueblo de Los Ángeles Historical Monument), and because our train wasn't leaving for a couple of hours, we walked over. Several people were dancing and listening to the music, and there were stalls selling handmade items and jewelry. I bought a colorful purse that I will definitely use once the weather in Chicago becomes warmer. The atmosphere was lively, and the historical buildings were well-preserved, which added to the quaintness of the square. The weather was perfect and I had a great time, especially because I didn't expect all that festive activity and cheerfulness.

Then we rode the Southwest Chief for a couple of days until we arrived at Union Station in Chicago. The pandemic had affected Amtrak staff and travelers, so the train was smaller than usual (I'd taken it a few times before) and there weren't as many people, so social distancing was possible (and most people were wearing masks). On the way to LA, Arizona is featured more during the day, but on the opposite trip the train goes through a lot of Arizona at night, so we ended up seeing more of New Mexico during the day. Both Arizona and New Mexico have awesome, in the true sense of the word, red rock formations that look like supernatural  sculptures, making the desert look like a planet related to Mars. All the nature that I saw from the train was humbling. And a positive aspect of winter is that I could see more beauty beyond the leafless trees, whether in Colorado or Kansas. When I've taken the train in non-winter months, all I've seen was green and flatness in the Great Plains. But winter adds another dimension, and the snow that I usually see in patches in my area creates a borderless blanket in the countryside.

I got back a couple of weeks ago, but I'm still thinking about my vacation out West. It was probably one of the best trips I've taken in recent years. I was tempted to take pictures or videos, but I decided to totally live in the present in every moment, being a participant or real-time observer rather than removing myself to try to capture what is best seen as-is.

p.s. Amazon Kindle book and print book at the Eckhartz Press site, www.wickerparkwishes.com


I wish I understood this Timo Torikka interview

I saw Timo Torikka in a couple of episodes of one of my favorite shows, Maigret (the French version with Bruno Crémer), and I kept wondering how he learned to speak such fluent French even though he's from Finland. I found an article in French that is now gone, so I did another search and found a French interview with him about "his life, his career, and his relationship with France" ("sa vie, de sa carrière et de sa relation avec la France"). I was excited to read it because I would finally find out about him, and if I didn't understand some words, I could easily look them up. 

But then I saw that it's a video interview, and the whole point of it is exactly what I want to know: "Comment Timo Torikka a-t-il fini par jouer en français et en France?" If I knew French well enough, I'd know by now because I would've watched the video and skipped to the parts that answer my questions! 

But now I have to figure out what they're saying. My French is horrible even though I studied it and translated it into English for more than a few years, but it's easier to read than speaking or listening, and if I don't understand what I read, I can look up the words online or in a dictionary. 

I turned on the video's CC which are French words generated by YouTube to attempt to transcribe the dialog, so I can understand it ok, though it's not precise. But the bottom line is it's difficult to understand what they're saying. Frustrating!

I'm sure if I ever go to France, or even Montreal, my French will improve because I will hear it all around me and will try to speak it. We have to use different parts of the brain for different language functions, and the speaking part of my brain is underdeveloped. I have the same issue in Spanish, though I have no excuse for not trying to speak because there are many areas of Chicago where I can speak to people from Latin America. I rarely see or hear French people in Chicago. But especially during this pandemic time, I should make more of an effort to improve those language skills. Bon chance to moi.

p.s. Amazon Kindle book and print book at the Eckhartz Press site, www.wickerparkwishes.com