Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Overheard at luncheon for co-op students

Location: A popular tex-mex restaurant with “cowboy” deco

Issue: a hand painted sign:

Life is a long trail
Ride a good horse

Pretentious co-op student: What is that suppose to mean…life is a trial?

Me: It says trail not trial…life is a long trail, ride a good horse

Pretentious co-op student: It doesn’t make sense.

Me: Yes, it does – it means have fun while you’re alive

Pretentious co-op student: Life isn’t a trail…it’s a state a being

Me: (silence)

Pretentious co-op student: It isn’t a trail – the sign doesn’t make sense. I don’t get it.

Me: (silence)

Sunday, August 20, 2006

The taste of New Orleans

Every now and then something strange happens that triggers a memory. Tonight we had fish and mashed potatoes and I was transported.

I don't really like fish. Let me rephrase that - until recently, I didn't like fish. I now enjoy salmon. And tuna, but that's really chicken in a can (just ask Jessica Simpson).

Unfortunately tonight we had battered Atlantic sole (which was mistakenly grabbed instead of Atlantic salmon). Mashed potatoes are great - they are hard to screw up and I have no issue with them. It's the combination of the patates and the fish that did me in.

About four years ago I went to a conference in New Orleans. The actual conference was from Monday to Wednesday, but I decided to take advantage of the situation and fly down on Saturday, with A. The city is absolutely crazy and amazing. You could get lost there. I mean you could just forget that there is a world outside and decide to stay - that is if you can manage to limit your time on Bourbon Street. During our short stay we checked out a number of things and did a lot of walking around. Of everything that I remember about the trip, the one that stands out seems like nothing special.

It wasn't the 3-for-1 Happy hour that goes on every day at all the bars on Bourbon Street. (Side note - this is a bad, bad thing)

It wasn't the amazing community of plantation styled mansions that we toured through on a trolley car. (I saw Anne Rice's house- woo-hoo!!)

It wasn't the endless number of alleyways that weren't just used for displaying art, but all seemed to have courtyards at the end with gardens and fountains.

It wasn't the absolutely amazing deco of the buidlings (I was in love with the "lace" balconies) in the French Quarter.

It certainly wasn't the conference.

It wasn't the Audobon where I got to touch a shark and saw the teeniest seahorses ever.

It wasn't this really cool piano bar where two pianos faced each other and played any request that was made. The two women seemed oblivious to the fact that there were about a hundred people watching them, that is until the song ended and they looked for a new idea. I don't think you could have stumped one of them. Although they primarily stuck to "oldies", I'm sure I could have yelled out "China" by Tori Amos and she wouldn't have paused longer than needed to move her fingers to the keys.

It was a little sandwhich shop that I had probably walked by ten times and never noticed, until my last evening in the city.

To backtrack a bit - the conference was dull (read: technical) and I did my best to follow, but it was long. What made the days even longer were the in-house lunches with fellow-conference guests. The conversations were slow and boring. The agenda boasted that "traditional Louisiana" lunches would be served. Uh-huh.

On the last day, lunch was battered catfish with mashed potatoes. I will remind you that at this time I did not like any fish, but was game to give it a try. Hell, when in Louisiana, eat what Louisianians do. After one bite I knew my opinion of fish had not changed. I ate my mashed potatoes, but was still hungry. Unfortunately there was absolutely nothing else. No buns, no veggies, no salad. Nada.

A smarter person might have left and gone to buy something, but I was tired. I get homesick when I travel alone and A. had left two days before. I didn't feel like hunting down something else, so I ate (choked down) the rest of the fish.

I felt sick to my stomach for the rest of the day. In fact, when a few of the other people in the conference asked me to join them for dinner at an Emeril restaurant - I passed. I had no appetite and just wanted to crash. I went for a walk and finally spotted the sandwich place.

Why I went in - I don't know.

The place was small, but bright and clean. Sandwiches were not pre-made and I suddenly felt hungry. While I waited for the owner to make my food he chatted with me. I must have looked like crap or down and out (and I certainly felt that way) because he was very "motherly" to me (it came VERY naturally to him).

Another customer came in - presumably a regular - and while the highly delusional man ranted about not getting his welfare cheque and trying to find work and blah, blah (I zoned out), the owner just listened. The guy never ordered anything and the owner never asked him to leave. Eventually he did and the owner just smiled at me and said something about the guy having a hard time and just needing to vent.

The place was an escape where this man made a good, but completely forgettable sandwich. It's what he didn't charge for that made it worthwhile. I kicked myself for not finding the place sooner, but then I probably wouldn't have appreciated it as much.

That night the fish finally swam upstream and I slowly started to feel better. I was worried that I would have a relaspe on my early morning flight, but luckily all stayed down. After that I couldn't even smell battered/fried food without getting nauseous and certain combinations of spices still make my stomach flip.

Despite this choice ending to my trip - I kept thinking about how nice the sandwich shop man had been to me and likely to everyone else that went in it. In a city where things can get blurry and unsteady, he went out his way to be perfectly clear.

And tonight, a piece of battered sole reminded me of all of this.

I guess eating fish is good for your memory.

Friday, August 18, 2006

Put me in coach...did you hear what I said?

The inspiration for today’s entry is based on a conversation that I had with a co-worker yesterday. I’ve blogged about hearing before, but that was more of a physiological nature. My issue is more about listening.

How many times have you heard someone say that are a good listener? Pretty often. Most people consider themselves good listeners (myself included), but I would argue that most people aren’t (myself included). We do listen, but half the time we’re thinking about what you’re going to say or how this relates to you.

This is where the story began – with the co-worker commenting on how his “coach” turned all his comments into, “well let me tell you about me…”. In fact, my boss does the same thing. So do many other people I know. (See, I just turned the conversation around to me!)

I was floored by the situation. The whole concept of a coach is to listen, offer personal experience and guidance, but then turn it back to the person being coached and relate to their issues.

It would be like going to a therapist and saying – “you know, I’m having serious issues with my partner…” and the therapist says, “well, you think that’s bad…my husband is so difficult to live with…and so were my first and second husbands…let me tell you what I had to go through..”

Methinks the coach needs coaching.

Why is it so difficult to sit and listen to another person? Sometimes we just don’t want to, but many times it’s like everything around us is making it near impossible.

In a society that seems to abhor inactivity, sitting and talking – particularly on the phone – is a no-no. You should be doing something else - maximizing your time – and, above all, be busy. Why else do people feel the need to talk on the phone when they are walking down the street, driving, making dinner, doing laundry, and writing reports…

At work, if I decide to make a (*gasp*) phone call, I feel like all the lights in the room suddenly go out and a spotlight shines on me. Sitting at my desk and talking on the phone is like a red flag telling everyone who walks by – She has nothing else to do. I feel the need to strategically place papers on my desk and glance at them when I’m talking.

Nodding is important.

And keep laughing to a minimum.

Once in awhile I just don’t give a crap and I turn to face the window. This means that anyone walking into my cubicle will see my back. Most people, with the exception of our high school summer student, understand this as a do not disturb sign. The fallout is that I’m not really giving the person I’m listening to my undivided attention. I can’t possibly be taking in everything they say if I’m busy pretending to look busy.

Anyone with kids or who has tried to talk to someone with kids knows that distractions are inevitable. Trying to pretend as if one of your kids didn’t just chase your other child through the living room, swinging a plastic baseball bat, isn’t easy. So forgive me if I ask you to repeat what you just said.

I’m bad with the distraction thing when I’m talking, but I would like to think that when it comes to the important talks – job interviews, coaching sessions, heart-to-hearts that I’m not only going to hear what you say, but I’m also going to listen to what you’ve said.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Jeepers Creepers

You know those people that just give you the creeps. Sometimes you’re not sure why – there’s just something off with their “aura”. When faced with people like this, I find I can’t even make eye contact. This is unfortunate when the person is someone you see every day – like at work, for example.

I believe in trusting your intuition. I don’t always practice this idea, but I think it’s can be very accurate. Whether it’s choosing which cashier line to get in (this is where I frequently fail to heed my gut warning) or meeting a new person.

However, why are we able to make these judgments about people? It can’t be based solely on physical appearance. I’ve met some people that appeared “normal”, but my instinct told me they were assholes. And I was right.

Then there is the handful of people that I’ve had an instant dislike for. Actually, I can’t even say dislike since I didn’t know them. I instantly found them repulsive. Seriously. I didn’t want to be near them, I didn’t want to look at them, and I certainly didn’t want to talk to them.

Call it the age-old chick-egg conundrum, but whether I found them to have weird mannerisms because they were creepy or whether it was the combination of all the weirdness that made them creepy…I don’t know. They often have a weird/annoying laugh, they seem to stare just a little too long (and often), they try just a bit too hard to be funny/helpful/smart. Overall, they are just socially awkward.

There was a guy who used to work here. He gave me the creeps – his Dahlmer look, his attitude, everything. I didn’t have to work with or near him, so I didn’t give him much thought (just a wide berth). One day I had Violet in at lunchtime. She was about 3 or 4 years old and obviously very curious about everyone and everything. She was looking all around the lunchroom when Mr. Creepy walked by. Immediately she leaned into me as if she was afraid and whispered, “I don’t like than man”.

She had never seen him before and I had never told her about him.

Could the two of us be wrong?

I think not.

I’ve worked with a few other choice people and I don’t think it’s a coincidence that they not longer work here. It supports the idea that they are just not cut out for working with other humans. I’m sure somewhere there’s a successful slaughter-house or private dump that is thriving under the direction of these individuals.

Sometimes I feel bad for my assessments, but then I have to think that the gut-feeling or intuition that we have has to be a defense mechanism to protect us from the bad people in the world. How many people have had bad experiences and said, “I knew something was off with him/her”, “Something didn’t feel right about the situation”, “I knew I shouldn’t have gone into that dark abandoned house where five people had been killed the summer before”.

Come on, rejecting your instincts is the whole premise of horror movies. Go camping in the woods where there’s a witch. Go into the basement where you know the killer is hiding. Walk down the dark alley wearing a skimpy outfit…(oh wait, that’s also the premise to whore movies…). Nothing good comes from ignoring your gut-feeling.

So now I have the dilemma of having a creepy person as a boss. Avoidance works most of the time, but there are times when I will have to talk to him.

In his office.


And that freaks me out more than any gore and suspense filled movie. Somewhere, someone is whispering – “Don’t go in there!!”.

Oh wait – that’s my gut talking.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Just say no to safety nets

(written August 6, but I only got around to posting it this morning. Hey, I'm on vacation!)

Every once and awhile I wake up in the morning and pull the covers back over my head. I just know that any kind of interaction with other people is going to be difficult. I can just sense my impatience and frustration. When birds chirping in the trees annoy you – you know it’s going to be a tough day. Strangely enough, this happens to me every month.

This was my frame of mind the other day. I muddled through the day trying to do minimal damage to those around me (namely the kids). I even found myself staring at the massive trees surrounding my house, trying to calm down. I started to think of what these trees would have endured in the sixty some odd years (I’m guessing) that they existed. Seasons, storms, insects…but then they didn’t have to put up with whining saplings. “Mooooommmm…he’s got more sunshine than me.” “Tell him to stop put his branches in my space.” I can imagine the response – “So help me, if you don’t stop complaining, I’ll get an axe and cut you down myself!”

So much for inspiration from Nature.

I survived (and so did those around me) the rest of the day. The next day the alignment of the stars must have been more favorable as I didn’t feel the need to flip out on anyone. I went to get my hair done, which has a secondary benefit of letting me catch up on my Cosmo reading. Good thing – I had almost forgotten about that “one move proven to drive him wild”…this mag is a truly a rag, but it’s like candy…okay in moderation.

There was an interesting little article on how to get ahead in your career and no, it had nothing to do with that “one move proven to drive him wild”. It was a myth-buster kind of article. I only remember one part and only because it was related to something I’ve been brewing in my head. The idea is that we shouldn’t be so concerned about making a five-year plan and sticking to it religiously.

I like things to be planned. I like to know what’s coming around the corner. I’m a relaxed and competent driver until I'm in a new area and don’t give me any kind of directions (or warnings) of where I should be going. The idea of a five-year plan sounds like something I should be enthusiastic about. And I was.

The problem with this idea is it becomes a crutch and an excuse to not take chances. It’s a good reason to postpone doing things (that’s not until year three, sorry) and it’s just too neat and pre-packaged. Don’t get me wrong, people should think about what they want and try to figure out how to get there, but not at the expense of missing out on opportunities.

The whole concept of living with a safety net is something I’m starting to question. I don’t mean I’m canceling anyone’s life insurance policy. But you might start to live with the attitude that if your job (for example) doesn’t work out – then I’ll just leave. I’ve talked to many people who say the same thing about their work, their relationships, and even their whole situations. If this doesn’t go the way I want it to – then I’ll bail. The key to this is to have a Plan B (the fall back job, the post-marriage set-up, the travel to Europe trip). The trouble is that people start to invest a lot of time in planning Plan B. More time than they are investing in improving the current situation.

What if you did your job with the attitude that I will do my best, even if you’re looking for a new job. Why create a self-fulfilling prophecy by doing crappy work and having people re-consider why you were hired in the first place. Act like there isn’t a Plan B.

The same goes for relationships. A number of years back I decided to get rid of my safety net. I decided that as long I contemplated what I would do IF something happened that I was operating with the wrong frame of mind. When you get rid of the safety net, you’ve increased the odds that you’re going to get hurt if you fall, but the thing is you can’t assume that you’re going to fall.

So - I equate the safety net with a five year plan. It will keep you safe, but it may also keep you from appreciating the experience. If you’re always looking towards what’s coming next then you may miss what just happened.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

She Ain’t Pretty…She Just Looks That Way

Her ego wrote cheques incredibly fast,
But her personality didn’t have the cash

“She Ain’t Pretty…She Just Looks That Way” – Northern Pikes

I love these lines.

I hadn’t heard this song in forever and then yesterday I found myself singing along with it during the car ride home.

I know a few people that this might have been written for, but some of them don’t even look pretty. It’s amazing how much a nasty personality can make a person look bad. And, I don’t mean someone who’s having a bad day or is tired – I mean the inherently nasty. Those people who feel they are truly better than others, but can only achieve this by cutting everyone else down. And they do so every waking moment of their lives.

I’m sarcastic and I’ve toed the line of bitchiness, but I don’t think I’ve intentionally crossed over to the Dark Side. To me sarcasm is a type of humour (although one that is not universally appreciated) and a defense mechanism.
Nastiness is base, it’s rude, and it’s ignorant. It's something that comes from a person's core and permeates to the surface. Even if that person has nice features, they somehow become distorted.
Kind of like that Stephen King story about the "oil spill" that lurks in a peaceful lake and picks off these teenages stranded on a floating warf. It looks harmless enough until it's sucking the skin of a screaming kid - then it's too late.

The nasty people that I know love to be the center of attention and will do (and say) just about anything to shock their way into the spotlight. Thinking of sparring with one? Just be prepared to climb down into the gutter. I’ve experienced the competitiveness of one such nasty person who just cannot let it go. She has to have the last word and odds are it will only have four-letters.

I should add that women do not hold dominion on nasty. There are some guys out there who qualify very easily. They are usually related to the nasty women (again, in my experience).
Truly, these people scare me. Not intimidate me - scare me.
The list of what they won’t do is much shorter than what they will do. Even scarier than a nasty person, is a nasty person who's being nice to you. You just know that something evil is brewing in that head and you’re wondering whether you’re going to be the target.
So what to do. My usual tactic is to avoid these people, but if I do have to interact with them, I become uncharacteristically quiet.
And polite.
Sometimes I think that landmines would be easier to navigate around.
And they would probably do less damage.