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Sunday, January 27, 2008

Accomplishing more in less time

Because I have a limited amount of child-free work time each week, I want to maximize the ratio of butt-to-chair and finger-to-keyboard efforts. As a result, I barely leave my desk when I am home alone.

This effort to maximize my work time is reminiscent of an old habit from when I was employed full-time in an office that was not attached to my living room: I've started eating at my desk. I microwave leftovers and eat behind my keyboard, barely conscious of the fact that I've lifted and lowered my spoon 17 times before my bowl of lentil stew is empty. Pangs of hunger are gone, but my palate barely remembers the taste. This is a very important reason as to why I NEVER bring a bag of anything to my desk.

I mentioned my working-through-lunch habit to Photographer Friend a couple of weeks back, and she told me that she always takes a full-hour lunch break. My initial thought was that seemed decadent when there is so much to accomplish in such a short amount of time. But the reality is that taking a break boosts productivity.

As a result, I will give this a try. It won't be this week (since I'm trying to pack the house for our move). And it won't be next week (since I'll be trying to get us unpacked in the new house). But I like the idea of a mandatory break. A few minutes to reflect on what I've accomplished. Or maybe I'll use the time to read a book. Or flip through a magazine. Or maybe I'll just stare off into space as I savor my leftovers.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Shedding a piece of me

A journal and a pen were my constant companions as I meandered through junior high school, as I recovered from the boy who crushed my spirit in college, as I felt unsure of myself at my first professional writing job. Eventually my personal prose were traded for tales of chief executives and corporate earnings. When my son was born, the tales were traded for the struggles of motherhood.

My tattered collection of journals serves as proof that I was a writer long before I took any class or received any degree that affirmed my talents. I will always keep those journals. They can instantly transport me to a dorm room, my first apartment, a concert, an exact moment. The words let me relive my first kiss, the subsequent heartbreak, the dramas of college life, and the struggles of being a daughter, a teenager, a woman, a person, a friend, a lover, a fiance, a wife, a mother.

I also have other, less-personal proof that I'm a writer. They too are books filled with stories, emotions, and tales--none of which are my stories, my emotions, or my tales. I have a mountain of journalism textbooks. They contain bits of my past as I think of the professors who taught me, the classrooms I sat it, the assignments I typed. And they have followed me over the years. From Stetson Hall, to Symphony Road, and Queensbury Street in Boston, to someone's basement while I studied in London, to Kelton Street in Allston, to a storage closet while I was in Boulder, to Laguna Street and Lincoln Avenue in San Francisco, to Mill Valley, to San Carlos. Along the way, those textbooks were packed and unpacked. Packed and unpacked. Stored and displayed. Thumbed through or ignored. They have followed me through school, my career, my travels, my life.

As I prepare to move again, I am torn over those textbooks. Do I pack them and unpack them yet again? Those books certainly contributed to where I've come, but they aren't the reason for my accomplishments. I was a writer long before I ever read them, and I will still be a writer even if they aren't stacked on the shelves around my desk.

Mostly, I'm tired of packing them and unpacking them. So I think it's time to let them go, even though it feels like I'd be losing a part of myself.

Monday, January 14, 2008

I think I'm a little jaded

An increasing number of men are taking time off from their careers to care for their kids. When these dads decide it is time to reenter the workforce, they will face many of the same challenges that millions of women have been struggling with for decades--how to you overcome that several-year resume gap?

I can't help but wonder if overcoming resume gaps will become easier for men and women as more men need to accomplish the same thing that has been a longstanding, prickly challenge for women. Or will it eventually become easier for men to get back in? Sort of a knock, knock, wink, wink re-entry? An old-boys network kind of re-entry? As I wonder about this, I start thinking about the same sort of questions that I think about when I am perplexed as to why Viagra is covered by many insurance plans when birth control pills are often not covered. Or why men continue to make more money than women for the same job. Inequities are everywhere. As a result, I guess I would not be all the surprised if men one day had an easier time overcoming those years away from desks, meetings, and conference calls.

While this phenomenon of more men staying home is in its infancy as fathers trail-blaze their way to playgroup and Mommy and Me classes, we won't know for years if my theory is right. For now, some men who are ready to go back to work are taking advantage of programs that were designed to help women "on ramp" back to work, according to Maggie Jackson's article in Sunday's Boston Globe, called "On-ramping' not just for women anymore."

While women are the primary participants in these kinds of refresher courses, more men are joining in. Dartmouth, for example, debuted a "Back in Business" program in 2006. Of the 72 participants in the program's first two years, 16 percent were men, according to the article. Lehman Brothers has also seen a jump in the number of men interested in its "Encore on-ramping program," the article said.

Perhaps I should spend less time wondering if, how, or why and focus instead on the fact that there are more programs helping people--mothers and fathers--successfully move back into the work-world.

Friday, January 04, 2008

My search for pleasure

I'm not really sure what gives me pleasure anymore. But I'm not the only one who has this problem. I'm in the middle of reading Eat, Pray, Love, and Elizabeth Gilbert writes about her inability to "relax into sheer pleasure." When she is in Italy, she eventually comes to the realization that all she wants to do in Italy is "to eat beautiful good food and to speak as much beautiful Italian as possible."

At this point in my life, I don't have the luxury of going to on a trip by myself to figure out what I really want to do, to find out what makes me happy and gives me pleasure. I take yoga because it makes my mind and body feel good, but I'm not sure I'd describe all the stretching and all those shaking muscles as pleasurable. Any other free time I have is filled with tasks or chores. If it's not, I feel like I'm wasting time. That is probably why I have such a hard time just sitting in a comfortable chair and reading. Waste. Of. Time.

I used to gain pleasure out of walking in the Marin Headlands every morning with my dogs. It was my favorite part of the day. But I don't have dogs anymore. I don't have mornings to myself either. I used to gain pleasure out of backpacking with my spouse and sleeping in a tent. I don't have the luxury of going out of town sans children. I enjoy writing. Or I should say, I like the finished product, of feeling that I accomplished something. But I'm not sure I would describe the whole process as pleasurable.

Really pleasurable things probably don't have a purpose outside of being pleasurable. Eating chocolate. Sipping lattes. Soaking up the warm sun from a hammock. Sleeping late. I think I'll start brainstorming on how I can take more trips without kids, to explore pleasant things, and to do things for no other reason than they might be enjoyable.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Important life lessons learned by watching Flashdance

As 2008 begins, it is important to consider some very important life lessons from the movie Flashdance. I watched the movie for the first time recently with some of my fabulous friends during one of our nights in. Considering I'm such a huge dance fan, I'm honestly not sure I how made it this far in life without ever actually seeing this movie. Perhaps I was too young--I was only 10 when it was released. Or perhaps I was too busy to watch the movie because I was so busy cutting the necks off of all of my sweatshirts. Without further adieu:

1) At least you put yourself out there.

Getting over the fear of rejection is difficult. I know I'm guilty of this for sure. But if I never try anything because I'm afraid of being rejected or not succeeding, then I will never get anywhere. And I imagine rejection is sort of like playing a guitar: at first it really hurts, but eventually you get all calloused and you don't feel it anymore. And along the way, you learn to play guitar.

2) When you give up your dream, you die.

If we aren't constantly striving for something, what is the point? We should all look forward to achieving something, or going somewhere, or doing something. I believe in my book and my writing. If I didn't, I'd only have piles of laundry, muddy footprints on the carpet, and the whines of wee folk to fill my days. I know there is so much more to me and to life than chores and plugging my ears when my kids are annoying. Even when I'm discouraged or feeling bummed or overwhelmed, deep down I still believe in me. I know I have my husband and my family and friends cheering me on, but when it comes down to it, I need to be the one picking myself up and driving myself forward. That other stuff is hugely important, but I need to be the person who is most clearly looking out for me.

3) Not a quote, but still an important lesson learned: How to take my bra off without removing my shirt.

A timeless skill. Happy 2008!