Friday, September 25, 2009

Crafting a Work Day

Working from home on various projects affords a great deal of flexibility. But sometimes, in my obsessively-planned world, flexibility isn't what I'm looking for.

I kept pretty regular hours even after high school. They were not atypical for a college student: up until about midnight or later, sleeping through to ten and getting ready for class at eleven. Your time is basically your own to decide whether to study or write or goof, but there are still the absolutes of class time providing a rigid backbone, and eventually you fall into a pattern of dividing the hours a certain way.

Of course office life is defined by the nine to five. You know when to wake up, and you know that during the day you will be working, leaving your personal activities for after the drive home. This of course does not apply to things like Facebook, which seem to have wormed their way into the workplace as the number one time waster, causing employers to shake their heads. But basically, there are allotted hours for you and allotted hours for your work.

Working from home is very different. I suppose if I had a regular position for which I was simply working remotely it would be easier to create a work day in my living room, tackling the same eight-hour workload from the comfort of my sofa. But with a myriad of things to do, writing, researching, watching old episodes of TV shows to log online, there's no set period of time I must devote to each activity. I do set my alarm in the morning, and generally wake up around 8:30 each day to start up the computer and brush my teeth, grabbing a yogurt as I open up all the windows of my browser (at two of which devoted to social networking) and get settled in for the day.

I work on my articles, adding links to whatever is going up today and adding content to others scheduled to go out later in the week. I also look up other things I could write about soon, to keep my calendar full. My goal at the moment is to publish an article every weekday, sometimes more if there's just an embarrassment of content riches. I'm also taking frequent, short breaks for walking, just a few laps around the house or the block, trying to keep a foundation of movement in my day. Then there's the job searching, which is regularly random, checking the usual sites for something new and exciting that will pay me. And of course, thinking up ideas for posts here! It's all very exciting.

Lunch takes as long as it takes, though I could probably keep that around 30 minutes if I really wanted to, and then it's the same again as the morning, only with some DVD-watching paired with furious note-taking. Plus planning for dinner, which I have taken responsibility for. My culinary skills would wow you. Did you know you have to take the plastic off of the cheese slices? Kidding.

Anyway, the mix of work and extraneous activity is relaxing, and everything gets done. The only problem comes at night, when I could be knitting (I knit!) or reading a magazine, but I still feel the urge to work, and if I'm not, I feel just a little bit guilty. Since I always can be working, it seems lazy to not be doing a little work all the time. I think this tendency is magnified just because I'm not making money, so I want to feel that I'm actually working, justifying myself and every hour of my day. Which doesn't seem very healthy.

So I'm trying to keep regular hours for work and play. Of course I'm writing this in the evening (posting it in the morning), as I take notes on the latest Project Runway episode, which gets logged mostly on Saturdays when Lifetime deems it fit to put the episode online so I can time out the scenes. Maybe I can't schedule out my time as rigidly right now, and maybe that's a good thing. It means I can have a friend over to watch movies while I write, or nap away a headache and work later into the night. It's good to stretch my adaptability muscles every once in a while. I'll think of it as training. Wait-lifting (gotta end with a pun).

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Odometer Sentimentality

Driving is not my favorite thing, but it's something that's required to get from one place to another, particularly when you don't live in a fabulously public transit urban area. I could walk to the grocery store, but I'd be taking my life into my own hands, given the spotty sidewalk availability and the speed of traffic. People aren't so always used to pedestrians around here. So driving is the way it's got to be.

Most of the time I'm on my own in the car, listening to the radio, singing along, and let's be honest, sometimes pretending I'm in a music video. There's nothing like an open stretch of road and your favorite song of the week playing full blast (or at least semi-full blast, don't want to burst an ear drum). But a lot of people, maybe even most, sing in the car. It's the mobile equivalent of a shower, just a little drier. There's something that I do in the car that I've never heard anyone else doing.

There are two odometers in a car: one with the total mileage for the car, and another that can be reset, generally used for mileage per tank of gas. It counts miles to one decimal point. This may sound ridiculously basic to describe, but I'm setting a scene. When I get up to around two hundred miles on one tank, I have a nostalgic little ritual I almost always go through. Remember that one decimal point? That means that at two hundred miles, the odometer reads 2000. I begin to think of where I was in 2000, what was happening. I began high school in 2001, and memories of lunch in the cafeteria and my first poetry slam come to mind. I remember each year as the wheels turn beneath me and the miles go by. 2005, there goes my graduation and my first year in college, the friends I made and the memories we shared.

It's only a matter of moments before we reach 2009, today. I remember how driving this same car years ago I imagined this year and what I would be doing, graduating and leaving school. It seemed so far away then. Now, it seems to be slipping away faster than it does on the dashboard. Before I know it the years are flying by. 2014, five years from now, what will that bring? 2017 I turn 30, will anything have changed. The decades go by, and soon I can't calculate my age fast enough, and the moment has passed. Back to singing and driving.

It may be only a mile or two, but it's an interesting reminder of where I've been and a well-developed moment to consider where I'm going (in more ways than one). Maybe other people do it as well, but for me, this is a personal moment brings smiles and a few hopeful tears. There I am, alone in the car, alone on the road, just pushing on. I can't go back. Even if I shifted into reverse, the odometer would keep going forward.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009


A lot has been made of the recent outbursts of incivility in the American cable news media. As someone who is able to take in a lot of these 24-hour channels these days, I thought I'd make a comment or two on how they treat news and how they create news. Also, I wanted to write some more about tennis, considering how well it's symbolizing something more widely applicable at the moment.

On the other side of the news, there was Serena Williams' outrageous verbal attack on a lines woman at the semifinals of the US Open. I watched it unfold live, and it truly left me aghast, literally with my jaw dropped. It was a Twitter trend within minutes, and everyone knew this was the watercooler moment of the tournament. I accept that it was a big deal, but as the days went on, I saw this as a greater cultural example of what we deem to be newsworthy.

The night after the cursing, threatening and jaw dropping was the women's final, with Kim Clijsters facing off against Caroline Wozniacki. And Clijsters won, heralding her return to tennis, winning a grand slam in her third tournament back. It was an amazing story. But not amazing enough. Clijsters didn't trend on Twitter, and no one cared that a mother won the US Open for the first time in nearly three decades.

And then, in a five-set stunner, Juan Martin Del Potro managed to end Roger Federer's 2,200 day winning streak at the Open. Again, not nearly as much attention was paid to this as Serena losing a match and throwing a fit.

The pundits seem to wonder why this fit of rage is spreading. With Joe Wilson's outburst to Kanye's VMA "performance," this makes for a convenient little story about our society's anger and growing incivility. And they ask why. What I don't understand is how they can't see why. If Serena had won against Clijsters and then the championship, only ESPN would give it more than a passing thought. Of course Serena didn't do it with publicity in mind, but she did appear at the VMAs to poke fun at the incident less than 24 hours after it happened, and at the same time as Clijsters was playing against Wozniacki. Hmm...

Why are people acting so outrageously? Because that's the only thing that gets attention. Juan Martin Del Potro is a twenty-year old who had never been to a grand slam final before, who beat arguably the greatest player ever. But it was Federer's slight loss of temper with the chair umpire that interested everyone. If Serena had simply come back against Clijsters and won the match, there would have been no snarky comment to make at the VMAs, and there wouldn't be nearly as much publicity for her newly-released memoir. In being so shocked, are we simply promoting this behavior? Like children acting out for parental attention.

How can you address a problem without discussing it, without promoting it? You tell me.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Insert Pun Here

"It's a Love Match," "Serving Up Fun," there's a slew of wonderful puns I could use to begin this post, but let's not, shall we? Instead, let's just jump into my favorite sport, and why I love it.

Being from Texas, football would be a logical assumption for my favorite sport, but I've blown hot and cold with it. For one thing, why bother having a clock, when the last five minutes of a game can go on for half an hour? And why so many guys on a team who only seem to be able to complete one aspect of the game on their own? I like soccer (or as my mother would say, "real football"), but generally only international events like the World Cup where the stakes are high and the games are competitive. There's something about the fact that "friendlies" can end in a tie that seems to go against the general quality of a sport.

No, tennis is the one for me. There is no sport where an athlete is so alone in their play. Even golf, an individual sport, players have caddies to discuss shots with a choose clubs. The closest a tennis player gets is the roar of the crowd and sly signaling from their box. But it is up to them and no one else to keep their mind in the game.

There are so many stories in tennis. You have Federer, the best out there right now. I've been a little ambiguous in my feelings for him because it does get a little dull knowing who will ultimately win a match or tournament. No matter how many gorgeous shots he hits, it doesn't get interesting until someone returns them (just one reason I love Nadal so much). But when Federer shows emotion, that's when I love him. When he lost the Australian Open, he was clearly devastated, and when he won the French Open for the first time, completing the career Grand Slam, he was full of joyful tears and disbelief. I admire his skill, but it's the desire I require to root for someone. For the same reason that I care so much for characters in books and movies, I love to see a player enjoy the win of their life.

By the same token, I do suffer when a favorite player loses. I've been a fan of Andy Roddick since 2001's Wimbledon, where he lost to eventual winner Ivanisevic. My fandom is simple: I don't just want him to win, I know he can, and it's disappointing when he doesn't. When he won the US Open I was ecstatic. When he lost the epic Wimbledon final to Federer, I was in tears the rest of the afternoon, but consoled by the fact that he almost beat Federer, something no one thought he could do there.

The women's game can be just as interesting, though the drama of a break of serve isn't as high because it happens more often. But with Clijsters return, and the amazing run of Melanie Oudin, there's always something popping up to make life interesting. I won't comment on the recent kerfuffle with Serena Williams' outburst, I'll just say that it's a shame Clijsters didn't get her winning moment, and that this is what most people will take from the match, and possibly the tournament. Why is it people seem to only tune into tennis when someone is yelling?

One of the advantages to working at home is that I can do what I like while I work, which includes watching hours of television coverage on grand slams. First, Wimbledon, my first and favorite tournament, and now near its end, the US Open, with its own special place in my heart because I was there last year. There's nothing quite like being able to watch every single moment of each round (or at least every moment they decide is important enough to show me). It's not the same to see the score update online or watch the recaps at night.

I love waking up every morning to the ESPN or CBS team. Anyone not in the US won't know what I mean when I talk about "Pammy," "Killer," "Cliffy," "MJ," "BJ," along with Dick Enberg and John and Patrick McEnroe (who I like to think of as "Knick-knack, Patty-Mc"). But truly, were I to go to another event, I'd be just as excited to see these guys as any of the top players. The many hours they spend together covering tennis makes them friendly and jovial with each other, adding an extra layer of pleasure in my viewing and bringing a few laughs to the matches.

Other than the commentators, there is simply the game of tennis. These past two weeks have given me plenty to feed off of as I work from my computer and walk around the living room to keep myself active. When it's all over tomorrow, there will be a gap. I'll miss waking up and looking at the schedule of the day, and hoping for a "Technically Speaking" feature from the commentators. I'll have to wait until January to get the same quantity and quality of tennis. And by then, I hope I'll have a job, which might prevent me from enjoying every minute of coverage as I have recently. But I'll still be watching closely, breathless as the live score window updates on my browser (while of course still doing my work to the utmost!).

Some people have soap operas, but tennis is where I get my stories. There is triumph, comeback, success against all odds, and there is disappointment, loss, injury and heartbreak. It's just a ball being knocked around a few squares, but it's so much more. To me at least.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

What do I Owe You, Mr. Sparks?

Hello all! I apologize for the lapse in blogging over the past few days. It was influenced by the three-day weekend, the US Open, and a sudden burst in workload. Labor day was not that exciting, and I'll write on the US Open a little later, so let's discuss the events of the week, including my very exciting Tuesday.

I've been working on my various projects, getting a fashion branding website up and running with almost all the content co-written by me, which is very exciting. I've also been logging information on two television shows, which takes more time than you might guess. But what has really been taking my attention away from my loyal little blog, is A website which has local branches offering topics ranging from Charter Education to Joss Whedon, Examiner hired me on as their Austin Literature Examiner a few weeks ago, and I've been steadily posting articles there with moderate success. I knew I could count on a few friends on Facebook and Twitter to follow my links and gain myself a few pages views, but yesterday things were very different.

Tuesday is the day of book releases, and this Tuesday was the release of Nicholas Sparks' new novel. Sparks is a popular writer who has found a great deal of fame in having his movies adapted into blockbuster chick flicks that make you cry and realize how unromantic your life truly is. His newest book is already in production as a movie, and the screenplay was actually written before the novel. I wrote a little article about it's release, treading lightly between promotion and criticism. Sparks' novels are popular mainstream fare that aren't quite my cup of tea, but they are certainly well-crafted, and anything that gets people to read today is great by me. But the article was fairly straightforward, and as I published it, I expected the same 20 or so views from my friends and a few strangers interested in the novel.

Boy, was I wrong. As I checked my page views, I had suddenly climbed to over a hundred, and was the most popular article of the moment. I was shocked. How did this happen? Just one article on a popular author, and suddenly everyone was reading my words. Bolstered by this success, I went ahead and also wrote an article about the newest novel in the Dexter series. This was not as explosive, but still managed to grab some attention.

By the end of the day, I had received 234 page views! This earned me a place as one of the top five Austin Examiners. Even if this only lasted for a day, it was so exciting, and such a boost to my confidence. This showed me that I could find an audience and find at least a glimmer of success just doing what I'm doing now. Now I've fallen from the rankings, and my latest article is getting modest numbers (though I think slightly elevated), but the memory of yesterday will keep me satisfied for a long time.

It didn't make me rich, but it made me hope. And so I feel I have to ask: What do I owe you, Nicholas Sparks, for the hope?

Friday, September 4, 2009

Take a Look, It's in a Book

I just published an article online about the recent end of a PBS show, Reading Rainbow, and I thought it was worth discussing it here. I'm a huge believer in public television, and I wish this country would invest more to guarantee its future. I think that PBS was immensely important in my informal education, inspiring me to love what I was learning for something more than grades.

As everything seems to be moving more and more towards teaching basic skills only, I wonder what happens when all you know is how to read and not why. Of course it's important to learn spelling and grammar, but the next level is using it, and if you don't use it, it's a skill half-learned. I remember spending so many days in public school on standardized testing that was truly a waste of time, because it dealt with things I had already learned, but I still had to take the test, and most classes taught to the test rather than to the actual subject. If you only learn grammar for the sake of a test, that's negative reinforcement in my view, and that will only go so far.

What Reading Rainbow, Wishbone, Mister Rogers Neighborhood and other PBS shows did for me was beyond what I can explain. It was just as important as my parents reading to me at night and having some truly involved teachers. These shows influenced my way of thinking about learning and reading, and without them, I don't know who I would be. Perhaps I was always meant to be a word person, maybe it's in my DNA, but even if it is nature, certainly this nurture was critical.

So it's the end of an era. I hope that budding wordsmiths will still be inspired to explore reading and writing, but I fear that this might be a loss for them. Maybe I need to buy some of the DVDs if I ever have kids, because who knows what will be on television by then.

Anyway, if anyone wants to read the article, you can find it here.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

The Symbolism of Shoes

On a recent shopping excursion to DSW, I spent nearly an hour contemplating a very important decision: to buy or not to buy. That is indeed the question. Whether tis nobler in the mind to suffer life without a really cute pair of shoes, or to just suck it up and pay the money.

Decisions aren't normally easy for me anyway, but make that decision about shoes, and it becomes about something more than footwear. Because when I'm thinking about a pair of shoes, I'm thinking about what I'll be doing when I wear them. And recently, my weakness has been for black dress shoes that I could wear to work.

It started with just a few good staples, low heels, cute but sensible, which caused me to buy a pair of bright pink sneakers in retaliation against such "boring" choices.

This trend has expanded to include more fashionable booties, still black, but more interesting (and less comfortable). It went from relatively subdued Franco Sarto... quilted patent pleather...

...and finally, to the decision which took an hour to make.

Why did it take me so long? Well, there's the fact that the shoes I've just shown you are pretty similar, the heels are very high, and that I just hate spending money in general. Those were negative, but they were countered with these: the shoes are all somewhat different in the details, there's a platform which makes the heels less extreme than they seem (plus I used to be able to walk in stilettos in high school, need to retrain my feet), and when it comes down to it, they were $20 because they were 70% off (I heart clearance).

Those things all even out, which normally would make me lean towards not buying, because stinginess will always win. But the all-important factor, me seeing myself in the shoes, is what made the difference. And here's where this becomes relevant to the blog (thanks for sticking with me!). What I see with these shoes is a fabulous, twenty-something me, working and going out dancing and just generally being cool and awesome. When I was in elementary school, we took several field trips to the capital building, and I remember listening to the clicking of heels on the granite floors, and thinking that that was what adulthood sounded like. From the look to the sound, shoes represent so much more to me than footwear. It's about where you're going in them.

So it was the idea of the shoes, rather than the shoes themselves that I bought. And I figure that it's worth investing in the idea of my future self. And in the meantime, I can practice by wearing them around the house.