Archive for December, 2006

Kate tagged me and I will oblige. Five things most people are unlikely to know about me. Hm! This is hard.

  1. I had a crush on Kirk Cameron from 5th grade to 7th grade. I wrote him letters telling him I admired his work. I had a poster of him that sometimes scared me with its loominess in the middle of the night. kc.jpg
  2. I still have, and wear, some of the makeup from my wedding 9.5 years ago. It’s a Clinique concealer stick.
  3. My most frequently recurring dream involves my being in charge of a large vulnerable group in a dangerous situation. Past groups have included immigrants, the physically disabled, the elderly, the morbidly obese, toddlers on goats, the mentally ill, and lost ghosts. Past dangerous situations have included crossing a mountain pass in winter, fording a wild river in puffy down coats, and traversing the rotting floors of an old building.
  4. My middle name comes from the name of the street the hospital was on.
  5. I can’t stand to have a blanket covering my face. I’m sure that I will run out of air, though I know a blanket is permeable. I am also bothered when other people put blankets over their faces and I may try to rescue them.

I’ll tag Karen Joy. And Stephanie.

Back from Oregon! We set foot in the Willamette Valley a few days after one of the rainiest weeks on record. Even the pavement seemed squishy. Within two seconds of being outside I felt my perpetually chapped lips begin to absorb the moisture of the Oregon air. Ahhhh….. the relief! There was fog and a few showers, but most of the week was clear. Dr. G and I set off into the woods in search of a Christmas tree. We wandered for hours down tinier and tinier trails and roads, to no avail. The roads and trails were covered with huge fallen trees that had lost their purchase in the saturated soil. Undisturbed frost had grown inch-long crystals on trees and grasses. It was all very lovely, but there were no good Christmas trees. We gave up and headed for a tree farm, where we acquired a lovely stout fir that put all those woodlands trees to shame.

The week also included playing with a kitten that purred constantly, building a chocolate-mint graham cracker house, going to a craft fair, doing our favorite hike (a three mile climb through old growth forest, with the trail beginning across the street from the house), and attending a family party. We went to the craft fair to do a little detective work.

Yes, detective work. For the past few years, Dr. G’s parents have received handwritten Christmas cards from “Glenn and Marie.” No last names, no return address. His parents don’t know them. They talk about their grandchildren, their illnesses, and their hobbies. This year they even invited them to a party at their place because it has been “TOO LONG”. They also included a clue: Glenn would be selling wooden bowls at the fair. However, there was no one there named Glenn exhibiting wooden bowls or anything else. I think it must be a joke, and a pretty good one.

Glad to be home. Today it’s raining in Phoenix. It’s more like mud falling from the sky than rain. If you want to see some pictures from Oregon, go to our flickr page and check out the first two pages.

In my last post I talked about my interviewing strategy (aka, Memorize Myself).  That is all well and good, some might say, if you happen to be naturally confident and good at talking to people.  The rest of us schmos are doomed to struggle nervously.

Actually, I am not naturally good at talking with people.  ( My sister has legitimate reasons for calling me Ms. Non-Sequitur!)  I am also not naturally confident; it is not unheard of for me to fall into a self-criticism trap in which I analyze each thing I say and do as i say and do it. This is lame of me.  So how do I escape nervousness before and during interviews?

1.  I really, truly, spend time memorizing myself.  Just like the times tables, baby.  Now I’m so used to the process that I just do the occasional update.  At first, I made lists and columns and drew matchy-match lines between them.  You could even make flash cards: draw one from each pile (Values, Skills, Characteristics, Stories) and make a coherent answer out of them.  After awhile it gets easier than:  “Quick!  What’s 12 times 3? 36!”  Very little thinking is required in the crucial moment.  That way I don’t freeze up like an otter pop.

2.  I guarantee myself good results.  The best thing I ever did for myself was get rid of absolutist, either/or thinking.  The results of an interview are not a) a job offer or b) failure.  Instead, an interview includes a range of possibilities and outcomes, many of which will be positive.  But just in case everything goes horribly awry, I always promise myself a hot fudge sundae from the dollar menu on the way home.  That way I know for sure going in that something good will come out of it in the end.  Other positives:

  • I will get to explore an area of the city I am unfamiliar with
  • I will look good and get out of the house
  • I will meet, and have substantial conversations with, interesting new people
  • Even better, those people will have experience and expertise in my field, and I’ll be able to have substantial conversations with them about it
  • Even if I turn out not to be a good fit for this job, people will remember me for other things that come along.  And, I will remember them, too, once I actually land a fantastic job and need to develop a professional network.
  • I could actually get a new friend out of it (happened to me once, so always a possibility…)
  • I could get offered a better job than the one I applied for (that happened to me once, too)
  • I will become more at ease in the interview setting and learn from others and myself
  • Even if I end up feeling horrible, it will be a good opportunity to learn. At the very least, I’ll know how not to act when I am an interviewer grilling some poor soul.
  • Hot fudge sundae!

3.  I deliberately don’t think about how my interviewers might be judging me. That’s just borrowing trouble.  Maybe that alleged scowl means the person is displeased, or maybe she is just trying to hold back a burp.
4.  I act like myself.  It requires too much concentration to pretend I’m “better” than I am, and it will backfire in the long run.  If an employer isn’t going to be able to coexist peacefully with my personality and working style, it’s better to find that out now.  Of course, I do make an effort to emphasize my strengths.  I also don’t mean by “personality,” bad habits that will be a canker on the buttocks of any setting, such as frequent complaining or not keeping one’s word.   Self-confidence does not require others to graciously accept one’s flaws.  It does, however, include the discernment to accept my various traits as neutral or positive parts of me, and to look for work partners who can do likewise.

5.  I pretend that I already know and trust the people in the room.  As a bit of an introvert, it is sometimes difficult for me to connect with new people.  I can find myself thinking, “This is a waste of effort.  I’m putting myself out there for someone I will probably never see again. This stranger has power over my life and I resent it.”  It is easier for me if I think of it as a continuation of a relationship that has already begun, and will likely continue in the future.  After all, the interviewers have read my application and spoken with me briefly on the phone.  They already have a sense of who I am and where I’m coming from.  They may soon become my colleagues, or members of my social circle or professional network.  In addition, even one conversation with someone can be rewarding, regardless of any longterm “benefit” I get from the person.  Most people are interesting and even friendly, meaning that the odds are that my trust is not misplaced.

Unfortunately, I have yet to figure out how to fight the clammy hands phenomeon.   Those crease marks I get from sitting on them are almost as icky as the sweat.  Oh well.

Off to visit relatives for a week come Monday, in a pre-internet setting.  Check you after  Christmas!  May this holiday reveal to you your truest, most long-lasting treasures, and increase your thankfulness for them.

I’ve got another job interview on Friday. This one will be interesting because I’m not sure exactly what I’m interviewing for; it’s the result of a personal contact rather than applying for a posted position. I do know I’m supposed to bring writing samples. I’m still trying to decide between the bodily fluids survey I did on the blog and the poem about a parasite busting out of a crab’s gut. Tough call; they both have their separate charms. The more gore the better, right?

Nervousness isn’t much of an issue for me. Usually, good things result from job and networking interviews that I do. I walk away with some kind of offer– not always the job I applied for, but something (once I got offered a better job, but usually it’s a worse one).

Since I have such positive outcomes, I thought I’d share my magical interviewing secrets with my fellow unemployed stalwarts, sitting in their cold garrets memorizing commonly asked questions. First, I never memorize other people’s lists. Instead, I memorize my own self. There are four big wicker laundry-style baskets kept in my mind’s work-related storage area. They are labeled “Values,” “Skills,” “Characteristics,” and “Stories.” Almost any work story, good or bad, can be useful in an interview, so long as it has a little drama. I keep three or four items in the first three baskets, and six or seven in the fourth. I like to have everything out where I can see it mentally, without too much piled up.

My first goal in an interview is to project an accurate picture of myself by emptying those baskets during the course of the questioning. For any question that is asked, I quickly decide which two things from the baskets I can emphasize best in my answer. Then I pick a story that includes those elements. It’s a simple mix-and-match formula.

For example, let’s say an interviewer prompts, “Describe a time you overcame a challenge.” I look in the values bucket and pull out “clear, honest communication” I look in the characteristics bucket and pull out “learn quickly.” From the stories bucket I grab that time I went ahead on a project without clear direction and had to do it over afterwards.

My answer will be pretty short. “I have always valued clear communication between me and my colleagues. Its importance was highlighted for me when, for the sake of efficiency, I moved ahead on a two-week project to develop the new cheesy snacks policy without clear direction. Two days before deadline, my boss told me I had gotten it all wrong. Though I initially felt discouraged, I listened carefully to her advice. Then I did some extra research in the academic literature and gained a new understanding of the melted havarti situation both historically and worldwide. With these two sources of knowledge, I quickly learned and applied a new strategy and was able to complete the project by the deadline.”

My second goal is to be relaxed and real. The question-answering technique is a bit formulaic, which could work against me, especially in a long interview. So my style of interacting is to behave as I would among friendly colleagues, or with a boss with whom I have a good relationship. Interviewers are trying to imagine how they would feel about sharing an office with me or supervising me, and when they sense authenticity, they like it. They don’t have to guess about what my real personality is.

I crack occasional jokes, I talk about poetry, I make eye contact, I look for ways to connect with my interviewers. Before and after the interview I make small talk and ask advice about the area–hikes, home-buying, whatever. When the interviewers ask something difficult, I just say, “Wow, that’s a doozy. What an insightful question. I’m going to have to mull it over for a second.” Then I take a drink of water to stall until I can come up with a response. After all, in my past jobs, I have never been afraid to admit I need a little time to figure something out. Why should I pretend otherwise now?

My third goal is to help both the interviewers and myself imagine my future place in the organization. I want to get a feel for how it would be to work under or alongside them, and I want them to imagine me doing good work with them. This part is a little trickier. There are three steps. The first is doing research on the company in advance (yay internet!). The second is decoding the values of the interviewers from their questions and interviewing style. The third is asking good questions.

Research is simple– I look at an organization’s whole website, as well as anywhere it appears in the news or academic literature. I look for quotes from the CEO or people that will be over me. Sometimes I even work the info into my answers, where my values and the organzation’s values match up.

Decoding the culture of a workplace is a little tougher, but it can be done. For example, at one interview, I had an exact number of minutes to answer each question, and they were taped to the table in front of me so I could read along with the asker. I could guess from this situation that the department would be unlikely to view tardiness or vagueness kindly.

At the end of an interview, I ask the questions I really want to know the answers to, although always couched in neutral language. “How would you describe the culture of the workplace?” “Who would be my supervisor?” If the person interviewing me would fill that role, I ask, “What is your management style?” I ask how long people typically stay in the position, and what they move on to next. I also ask if they are anticipating any major changes in the mission or organization of the department, and where they expect it to be in the next few years. Usually, they won’t tell me the real answer, but they’ll hint. I stop after about three questions.

If they answer me by referring to me personally, rather than a hypothetical employee, I know I’ve met my goal. “Oh, you would get to sit by the window and eat our experimental sharp cheddar fortnightly.” Yes! I’m in! Sometimes people are surprised to find themselves being interviewed by me. But hey, I gotta know what I gotta know. No point in signing myself up for 40 hours a week of total mystery.

So that’s it. One, two three, shazaam! They dub me Assistant Vizier of Tasty Cheeses, if I so choose. Now, if I could just figure out how to GET interviews for the jobs I want most…

This past weekend I was in Portland, Oregon for the wedding of a college friend. It was a simple, lovely affair, and Sarah looked beautiful in her beaded gown and tasteful green shoes and Jonathan looked handsome and happy. I would post a picture if I had not forgotten the camera back at the house where I was staying. One of the things I noticed about the wedding was that the lighting was just right: neither too bright nor too dark, just warm and intimate. Sadly, we missed the grand exit when Sarah donned a “muppets” coat for the run to the car. Gotta love the whimsy! My favorite part of the ceremony was when they said their vows, which they had written themselves. They were heartfelt and real. It seems like only yesterday I spent a weekend with them in New York, politely examining the window displays and billboards so they could smooch! ; )

The other really fun part of the too-brief trip was hanging out with other college friends, the same gang we hung out with in Alaska back in April. Aaron and Irene hosted Dr. G and me and Nate and Betsy and their gang. I was coloring with one of the kids, and we took a break to count to forty in silly voices and rhyme back and forth, and I thought to myself, “Gee, this is entertaining, and not far different from how I spend my time when I’m alone.” (Too much information?)

Nate reminded me of the funny “science” papers of Jeremy Lavine, about lightning and El Nino. I wish I had been subversive enough to write stuff like that when I was in high school. The poor teacher’s comments are classic– you can tell that s/he has no idea what to do with this kid. Sample line from an essay: “They think lightning is a lie perpetrated by people with a vested interest. At their own peril!!!”

And awhile back, another friend reminded me of these Weight Watcher’s Recipe Cards. Watch out for the Mackerelly! (Warning, occasional cuss words).

Well, I don’t know what’s up with my last post. Seems like there must be a missing closing tag somewheres, but that’s all part of the style sheet hidden away on the server in the far, far north. I did “view source” for good measure, just because I could. It works fine in Firefox, for what it’s worth. Maybe it’s the new Internet Explorer that has the problem, not my widdle biddy web page. If you are burning to leave a comment, just click anywhere on the underlined text.

Ok, check out the parasite fungi video clip from David Atenborough, which I foundon the blog of the Parasite King, Carl Zimmer.  It is amazing, if you find giant spores growing out of the heads and bodies of insects amazing.  I do.  And the filming is beautiful.

My ears were getting hot just now and I couldn’t figure out why. “Who is talking about me behind my back? Is it angels?” I asked myself. Then I realized I had put on big headphones to listen to music about an hour ago, but had forgotten to actually turn the music on. Whew! Headphone-free life is good.
Here is a description from a job I applied for on Monday:

“The ideal candidate enjoys learning; is inquisitive, creative, and attentive to detail; is well organized, dependable, assertive, and goal oriented; is able to work well independently and as part of a team; and is comfortable working in a fast-paced, deadline-driven environment. We are looking for someone with excellent writing, project management, and client services skills. ”

And yet, here it is Wednesday night, and they still haven’t called! Did my doppelganger get the job first?

I got my first flip phone. I don’t know what the big deal is about flip phones. It seems easier NOT to flip than to flip. Before my phone-answering strategy was look, push button, talk. Now it is look, flip, look again, push button, talk. My phone flipping hand is going to get overdeveloped muscles. In what should be simple interactions, people’s eyes will slide nervously to the wide, sinewy claw that was once my phone-answering hand. I will have to remember to switch off. Calls from the east coast, I will answer with my right hand. Calls from the west, with my left. But how coordinated do you have to be to look, flip, push, and talk with your non-dominant hand?

It so happens that I have two adorable nephews, whom I dote upon as a good auntie should. They are probably the nicest, smartest kids in the universe (apart from the children of all my friends, who are also the nicest and smartest, in a different way). I don’t blog about my nephews much because their parents retain chief bragging rights. But I have explicit permission from Noah’s dad on this one.

Noah is 3 and a half, and when he speaks he articulates at least as well as Laurence Olivier, if not better. Lately he’s been really into rhyming; he even rhymes himself to sleep. Over Thanksgiving weekend I heard more rhymes than I heard in an entire year of poetry grad school (plus one morning he woke me up early to ask what it would be like, if we all had to bury our food in the dirt before we ate it). It’s fun to get Noah to say multisyllabic words because he pronounces them so accurately, in such a high-pitched little voice. Recently my brother Ryan (his dad) was playing this game.

Ryan: “hey noah, can you say encyclopedia?”
Noah: “no, i can’t say that”
Ryan: “try it”
Noah: “encyclopedia”
Ryan: “can you say deciduous?”
Noah: “deciduous.”
Ryan: “can you say reciprocate?”
Noah: “reciprocate. what does that mean?”
Ryan: “to do it back”
(ryan hugs noah, laughing and impressed; noah hugs back)
Ryan: “what are you doing?”
Noah: “I’m reciprocating!”

I don’t have a recent picture of the two of them together, but here’s Noah dressed up as a sea lion, followed by Ryan with his other son, Judah. You can’t see Ryan’s nose, but hey, it’s an overrated feature anyway.
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Ok, having taken this quiz, I now feel it is measuring geekdom more than nerddom. It feels terrible to score only in the 20th percentile? What did I do wrong, O quiz-makers? Is it because I don’t have my I.P. address memorized? Nevertheless, it is a quiz, and it has pictures of really old scientists with big hair. Coolio.

Before we get there, here is a sample thought I have had lately: A recent post of mine began with “What happens to 131 pictures when a memory card goes on the fritz? Do their pixels just disassociate?” I later had fun realizing that I inadvertently referenced Langston Hughes: “What happens to a dream deferred?/ Does it dry up/ like a raisin in the sun?” who in turn referenced Proverbs 13:12, “Hope deferred makes the heart sick.” Cool! Digital cameras and King Solomon, together at last. Without further ado, the quiz:

I am nerdier than 20% of all people. Are you nerdier? Click here to find out!

A few months ago on a scenic drive, we passed an intriguing closed road to Horseshoe Reservoir. A fire had burned through and we were curious about what a burned desert looked like. Saturday we finally got our act together enough to load up the bikes and head out there. The GPS said it was 10 miles to the lake; twenty miles round trip was a challenge, considering our 2:30 pm start time and complications related to my recent pants size impairment (e.g., frequent wheezing on difficult terrain). But, if the road was paved and all low rolling hills, we could manage it. We figured it was a chance for a nice ride on a car-free road, even if we didn’t make it all the way. As it turned out, it didn’t start with rolling hills but a steep two-mile climb to the top of a ridge. Dr. G has that pioneer constitution that allows him to summon sufficient strength and energy for adventures, no matter how much sitting around precedes them. I was a little wobblier and a lot wheezier, but we made it. Then the road turned to dirt. Sand, ruts, gravel, and dirt to be exact, and all downhill.

Facing that downhill grade caused me to send up a little prayer of thanks once again for my Peace Corps bike training, humiliating though it was at the time (imagine a town’s worth of hollering boys following a consipicuous 30-person bike parade every Friday). We learned to bike through sand and water and over ruts and boulders, and I did all of it in ankle-length dresses. Now I can face rough terrain with a little adrenaline and almost zero fear, though real mountain bikers would sneer at my speed. We rattled downhill for a few miles and stopped to shake out our sore wrists. “You go on!” I said nobly. “If I go any further, I have serious doubts about my ability to get back up.” Dr. G was having none of that. We were stopped next to a trail, so we ditched the reservoir plan and scrambled to the top of the ridge instead. Right where the trail petered out, a sign appeared, declaring the area an archeological site and forbidding us to dig up or remove anything.

We scoured the hillside and found nothing human. Sad, I thought, that our observation skills were so ill-tuned to archeology. We admired the full moon rising above a peak in the late afternoon and decided to walk along the ridge awhile, toward a rocky point. The point was much rockier than any of the surrounding territory. “Hey,” I said, “Look at this rock shelf along the path. It’s perfectly straight. I detect human activity!” Dr. G raised his eyes to the rocky point just ahead of us. “Those are walls!” he said. We had stumbled upon a collection of ancient fortified stone buildings, perhaps 20 or 30 spread across the ridge. Many of the walls had caved in, forming jumbles of river rock, but many others were still standing strong. I stepped down into what appeared to have been a cooking area, judging by the black smoke stains on the rock. The ground was littered with potsherds and sharp flakes of black shiny rock similar to obsidian (though the rockhound Dr. G insists that it was not actually obsidian).

Everything we clambered over and touched was at least 500 years old, since the last native inhabitants had left in the late 1400′s. Later internet research uncovered a description of a similar hilltop fortress in the area that was around 900 years old. The shards of lovely red and buff pottery felt just like my own occasionally broken ceramics, and I felt a connection with the ancient women who had made and used them. “Who are you people? What were you doing up here?” I kept yelling. It was a vertiginous 500-foot drop to the dry creekbed below. They had hauled both rocks and water up to this windy point and settled.

The shadows were already growing long. Just one more structure, we kept telling each other. I just want to check out the one on that point. Finally the sun dipped behind a ridge and we knew we had to book it. We scurried back down the hill and I put my bike in the lowest gear and pedaled until my thighs started to burn, then I got off and walked it until my quads started to burn, and so on for the whole uphill stretch. Dr. G taught me how to do switchbacks while riding, and that eased some of the pain. When rubber finally touched the the ridge top, it was pretty much dark. A few gulps of water, a few moments absorbing the deep desert quiet beneath a rusty sky, and we went for it. Dr. G was soon out of sight, cruising around the turns, a brake-free biker if there ever was one. I imagined the heat streaming off my knuckles and ears in long orange streaks until they petered out, leaving my extremities totally numb. I rounded a bend and there was the car, lights on, doors open. The adventure was over. There are some days when everything that passes my senses feels like a gift, and this was one of them. So, as always, thank you to the good gift giver.




What happens to 131 images when a memory card goes on the fritz? Do their pixels just disassociate? I had big plans for rabbits, bowls, and petroglyphs but apparently there are consequences for waiting weeks to download photos to the computer. The other day the memory card went kaput mid-sunset extravaganza. Oh well. It was under warranty.

One of the walks we went on recently was inspired by the atlas, which showed a little marker for “petroglyphs” somewhere behind our grocery store. We parked at a nearby church and found a paved pathway. Lo! We came quickly upon a jumble of boulders with carvings both old and new. Dr. G spotted the first petroglyph, a swirl that looked organic enough that I doubted his sharp eye. (Note to self: do not doubt Dr. G’s sharp eye.) We clambered up and around and found lizards, people with antlers, squiggles, and all kinds of things. There was also the word “DAN” which I assume has more recent provenance.

The best thing about the glyphs was touching them. I ran my hands over the gentle indentations and thought about other hands that had done the same, five hundred years ago or more. Most of the artifacts around here are from the industrious Hohokam people, who vanished in the late 1400′s, leaving behind buildings, petroglyphs, and irrigiation terraces, among other things. There are three long, straight piles of rock running down the valley toward our condo complex, and I wonder if they are also Hohokam, though my musings are unconfirmed.

The petroglyphs we found are pretty simple; they meander in horizontal spirals around all sides of the rocks. Some are composed mostly of straight lines, others of spirals and squiggles. My favorite lizard’s tail curls up like a lolipop. I love 3-D art, but there are so few opportunities to actually touch it. The last time I got to touch some cool art was when one of Henry Moore’s pieces — it looked like giant separated joints–stood outside the Hirshorn for a year or so. That was great; I could practically hug it. I don’t think I was really supposed to but oh well, it was outside on the sidewalk! The petroglyphs are tactile in a more small-scale, mossy porous rock kind of way. It’s fun to compare the old with the new, imagining ancient teenage boys and more recent ones connected by their graffitti.