Monthly Archives: January 2016

The Blizzard of 2016 and Some Thoughts about My Job

While I was hoping for a day or two to enjoy being left to my own devices, guilt-free, while a snowy storm raged outside, it didn’t start out well.  My boss started emailing me at 7:30 a.m. to ask me to arrange a conference call with some colleagues in London to discuss a matter that (to me, anyway) was a waste of time and effort.  I feel like that about most of the “tempests in a teapot” that get heatedly debated in legal negotiations:  highly unlikely circumstances and scenarios that nevertheless need to be accounted for and argued over, sometimes quite antagonistically, even among entities that are supposed to be business partners.  Inevitably, the biggest battles are saved for the 11th hour before some arbitrary deadline, threatening to derail the transaction entirely when the issues in dispute could have been discussed in a reasonable way at the very beginning of the negotiations (but it never works out that way).  Balls get dropped, items get missed, because it’s a fire drill of massive proportions (and paper) just to get the deal done on time.  Delays and conflict and arguing for the sake of arguing – it is all so alien to me.  “Trust” seems to be a dirty word.

My boss can sometimes get overwhelmed, partly because he is trying to manage multiple chaotic deals at once and partly because he is an old-school guy who has made much admirable progress with technology but is still dinosaur-ish when it comes to simple things like saving documents into the firm’s file management system.  I could offer to do more; I only work part-time, after all, so I could conceivably fit a few more hours of work into my reasonably flexible schedule.  But the problem is that there is a certain point at which I cannot help.  Despite my decade-plus of experience in this field, I am not qualified to make the assessments and decisions that need to be made at a higher level, where a lot of these transactions get hung up.  I can take care of the bulk of the gruntwork – and of course nagging, which is another despised aspect of my work:  I am literally a Professional Nag (“Where is this document?” “When can we expect an answer?” “Why didn’t you make this change?” “What is the status?”) – but ultimately everything has to go up the chain to the boss.

On this particular deal, we are also going through a transition with new in-house counsel for a long-time client.  The newbie’s predecessor was someone whom we have been advising for years, and we had developed a certain style of working together.  The incoming attorney is simultaneously more hands-on and less experienced, more independent while in some ways more needy, all of which has created an interesting dynamic with my boss and made me even more of a sideline player.  But I continue to be on-call and available throughout it all, which is why I woke up early and aggravated on a morning I would have loved to stay in bed to send text messages to London to set up a conference call.

This transaction is the latest prime example of why I am not well-suited to do work of this nature and can really only provide value in a limited role, and only when given clear instructions.  I’m bright enough, I know, but the subject matter is beyond me and I don’t have the intellectual curiosity to delve any deeper.  I am also not a bold risk-taker or a confident decision-maker, although I’ve managed to survive 56 years of my life with these weaknesses, and I’ve even achieved some minor successes along the way.  I am not ashamed of my limitations.  There is still a great deal I can do for my boss in my current capacity and remain useful (see above:  Professional Nag), and I am nothing if not cost effective for my company, earning them nearly four times what they pay me per billable hour.  But deals like the present one are very difficult for me.  There is just too much irrelevancy and excess and needless back-and-forth.  It’s mentally exhausting.  Nothing is smooth, nothing is easy, even when the people you’re dealing with are pleasant (which they often are, and which I always try to be, until pushed to frustration at which point I can become uncharacteristically testy).  There is always SOMETHING ELSE that needs to be done.  It is never-ending.

* * *

The storm itself thankfully did not involve any disasters – no power outage or collapsing roof or flying objects bursting through my front window – despite over two feet of heavy, wet snow and whipping winds over the course of an entire day without let-up.  I dreaded the dig-out, but my ex played “shoveling elf” and cleared my steps and a path on my deck before I even got out of bed!  There was also a lovely man in a hooded parka, who I did not recognize but who I assume lives nearby, who kept passing by on the sidewalk in front of my house all day Saturday with his snow-blower, trying to stay ahead of the onslaught.  And then yesterday, two kindly neighbors helped me release my car from its wintry prison, aided by some ice-melt and temperatures in the upper 30s.  By today, it was 45 degrees and mild and the dirty snow piles have shrunken considerably.  Someone joked that we’ve had two days of winter this year and it would be just fine with me if that’s ALL we have.

I hate the winter.  I hate the cold and I really hate the snow.  But I feel stuck right now.  I can’t envision moving to another part of the world – to Florida, say, or somewhere in Central or South America where it’s warm year-round – because I (and J.P. Morgan Chase) own this house and, even after I get it elevated with generous assistance from New York State (if my contractor ever calls me back – ugh! – another post for another day), I will never make enough to pay off my mortgage and afford ANOTHER house, even if it’s in a lower-cost jurisdiction.  The seed is there, though.  I think that someday soon I want to become an ex-pat in some sunny locale.  My daughter can have the house (in fact, she has asked me to promise her not to sell it, but that may change if she pursues a career that will involve travel to exotic sites to work with indigenous creatures, which is what she would like to do), so I will need to figure out how to afford to live elsewhere on a very limited income.  I confess that my retirement funds are sparse and shrinking daily, especially given the recent market volatility (whatever that means – I am clueless; I’m also deathly afraid of my so-called “investments” losing rather than gaining value).  As I think I’ve mentioned before in these posts, I HATE MONEY.  I hate NEEDING money.

I’m confident that I’ll sort out my future home in due course.  But mark my words:  Wherever I do end up, there WON’T be snow.  Hurricanes and earthquakes, maybe brush fires and mud slides – BUT NO SNOW, thank you very much.

 

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More Whining About Time

Here’s the thing:  I am proud of the fact that, since last March, I have been posting a weekly blog, like clockwork, every Tuesday night/Wednesday morning.  It was a goal I set for myself that I’ve managed to achieve, and I will continue to pursue that goal.  But the quality of what I post varies widely from week to week, which is evidenced by the fact that sometimes I “advertise” my weekly blog post on Facebook and sometimes I don’t.  (But rest assured, there IS a post every week.)

Oh, I have lots of ideas for more in-depth posts, nostalgia pieces, controversial topics, social commentary – all of which require uninterrupted TIME to whip into shareable shape.  As I’ve often complained in this blog, time is something I lack, or at least I perceive that I lack.

I work part-time, at least four days a week from home.  Ordinarily I am able to bill – that is, charge to a client – about 5 hours of work a day, on average.  So what happens to the OTHER 16 hours of the day (allowing for a generous 8 hours of sleep)?  How could I possibly complain about not having enough time?

Pet care:  maybe an hour or two, tops, between walkies, feedings, poop-scooping, playtime and daytime (as opposed to nighttime) cuddles.  Internet trolling occupies a good chunk of my day, especially when I’m in “waiting mode” – i.e., standing at the ready for someone to respond to a voicemail or an email so that I can take the next required action – because I can easily interrupt it, if need be, as I’m not deeply invested in what I’m doing (which is usually reading articles, playing Words With Friends and “Liking” things on Facebook).  That easily occupies two to three hours of my time, maybe more, over the course of a typical day.  [Another time-wasting addiction I’ve recently discovered is a game (I guess you would call it a game, but you don’t actually win anything) called “Neko Atsume: Kitty Collector,” developed by HitPoint Studios, where you’re gifted with fish icons to be used for buying food and toys and other goodies for an entire community of virtual cats and then you keep track of their visits to your neighborhood with photos and mementos.  That pastime is a particularly good time killer when you’re standing on line or waiting for a train.]  Three to four hours every night of hockey games and/or favorite TV show watching to close out the day’s activities – we’re getting up there into the 9-10 hour range, added to the 5 hours of work, and there you go.  And on the one day a week when I go into the city, factor in another 4 hours of travel (but at least I get to read).

Truth be told, there are a few spare hours I could free up for more satisfying pursuits, but I seem to be stuck in a deep, deep rut and I don’t know how to get out.  Given my seasonal lethargy (I was one of the first people I know to claim to have SAD – seasonal affective disorder – which may explain those few moments of peace I experienced today in a warm car on a sunny but frigid day:  sunlight is supposedly the cure for SAD), now may not be the time to incorporate things that require energy, like exercise (at least an hour, between prep and cool down), although some may say that’s EXACTLY what I need to combat the torpor. At the very least maybe I could set aside some time for reading for pleasure rather than research.  I finally started the new John Irving novel, Avenue of Mysteries, and I’m finding it typically enchanting, but what I wouldn’t give for an hour or two when I could just curl up on the couch with the animals and immerse myself in his gorgeous prose rather than taking it in snippets before my eyes close at night.  Even better, I could perhaps resurrect my lagging correspondences with friends near and far.  One would think the ease and immediacy of email would have removed the obstacles to telling people you’re thinking about them WHEN YOU’RE ACTUALLY THINKING ABOUT THEM rather than putting it off until the perfect moment when I’ll have the time to write the perfect thing (which of course I never have), but that seems not to be the case for me.

I envy folks who can emerge from the cozy cocoon of bed in the quiet morning hours and get writing or other creative work done before the hustle and bustle of the day takes over, probably because I seem to be incapable of doing such a thing.  I DON’T emerge.  I think about getting out of bed, but then I just edit the alarm time on my iPhone, flip over the pillow to the cool side and go back to sleep.  Or at least I TRY to go back to sleep, but many times I don’t.  Instead, I’ll just lie there dreading the day’s work ahead and/or beating myself up for not getting out of bed.  It’s not a great way to start the day, but it’s pretty much how every morning begins for me.  I wish there were a “cheerful and energetic” button on my iPhone instead of the “snooze”.

I need a project, an inspiration.  I have my blog now, so that will likely be the vehicle for my explorations, but it needs to be something that will be the catalyst for changing my whole perspective, because I’m not enjoying my life as currently configured, and I’m not contributing much to the betterment of mankind.  Two years ago, my inspirational project was volunteering at the local animal shelter, ultimately even including being a foster mom to homeless creatures (right now, we are pleased to be hosting the adorable Fritzie).  Last year, it was my blog.  What will my 2016 inspirational project be?  So far it remains undiscovered, but it’s still only January . . .

In the meantime, maybe I can start trying to grab the day back from time-wasting activities, in much the same way as I’ve begun keeping a “joybook”.  Every night before I sleep, I write down at least one thing that brought me joy that day.  Some days it’s tough, especially when it’s bleak and grey and cold outside, and work has been more annoying than usual, and the Rangers have blown another game.  It’s usually the animals, but it can sometimes be as simple a thing as driving in my warm Fiat Pop on a cold sunny day, listening to a new song (Shearwater’s “Quiet Americans” – good stuff!), with a head free (if only for that moment) of work and other worrisome thoughts.  That was bliss.

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Bowie is Dead – Long Live Bowie

The first song I heard on WFUV when I turned on the radio Monday morning was an intriguing cover by Rikki Lee Jones of Bowie’s “Rebel Rebel”.  I had never heard it before.  It also struck me as odd to hear it THAT morning.  Friday, January 8th had been Bowie’s 69th birthday, and also the release date of his 25th and latest album, Blackstar, so WFUV had featured his music and covers of his brilliant songs on FRIDAY.  Why Monday – why TODAY?  When I heard Nirvana’s version of “The Man Who Sold the World” come on next, I KNEW.  I immediately ran to my iPhone to look at the news.  Yes, as the world was discovering on Monday morning, David Bowie had died the night before.

What an amazing artist and person Bowie was!  My first true crush, a genius, my hero.  He sang songs that touched me deep inside, in places I wasn’t aware I possessed.  I knew every word of his early canon.

I’ve written about Bowie numerous times already in this blog – see, in particular, “Some Thoughts About David Bowie”, 4/7/15.  [BTW, the writer I cite in that article, Ben Yakas, has posted a superb retrospective piece on the Gothamist website:  Ben Yakas, “Remembering David Bowie at the Speed of Light”, Gothamist, 1/11/16, http://gothamist.com/2016/01/11/remembering_david_bowie.php?utm_source=Gothamist+Daily&utm_campaign=1a1489916d-RSS_EMAIL_CAMPAIGN&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_73240544d8-1a1489916d-1315029.]  I almost didn’t want to devote my blog post to him today, given the glut of tributes from EVERYONE lauding his legacy in far more poignant ways than I could ever hope to do.  Bowie was universally revered and his influence widespread.  But I feel like I have lost a cherished family member.  He has been a part of my life since I was an impressionable pre-teen.  I could write about nothing else.

It was a testament to his longevity and brilliance that he released an entirely new album on his 69th birthday, and he also just co-produced an Off-Broadway piece called Lazarus that garnered universally awe-struck reviews.  I’m grateful that he lived long enough to see these projects completed.  It is also now clear that they were intended to be Bowie’s “parting gifts” to those of us who loved him.  Just look at some of the lyrics from his new album:  “Something happened on the day he died/Spirit rose a metre then stepped aside”, from “Blackstar”, the opening track; from “Dollar Days,” “Don’t believe for just one second I’m forgetting you/I’m trying to/I’m dying to” [“I’m dying TOO”?]; and perhaps the most moving lyric, from “Lazarus” (together with the hard-to-watch-but-impossible-to-look-away video):

Look up here, I’m in heaven

I’ve got scars that can’t be seen

I’ve got drama, can’t be stolen

Everybody knows me now

Look up here, man, I’m in danger

I’ve got nothing left to lose

I’m so high, it makes my brain whirl

Dropped my cell phone down below

Ain’t that just like me?

In his inimitable fashion, Bowie has captured for posterity, to share with the rest of us, the final transformation in his changeling’s life.

Bowie is dead – long live Bowie.

We’ve lost so many of our generation’s best artists.  Just a few come to mind immediately in connection with Bowie’s passing:  Freddy Mercury (who of course sang the brilliant “Under Pressure” with Bowie); Elvis (who shared a birthday with Bowie); Stevie Ray Vaughan (who accompanied Bowie on his Let’s Dance tour); Lou Reed (Bowie’s idol and collaborator), John Lennon (whose son, Sean, considered Bowie his second father).  There are the recent deaths of Lemmy Kilmister and Scott Weiland, two rock legends that lived probably longer than anyone might have predicted given their lifelong self-abuse, and the “27 Club” and other young musicians who killed themselves (by guns or drugs or otherwise) while just on the cusp of their potential fame – the list goes on and on, and it’s going to get even longer; the older we Boomers (yes, I’m a tail-end boomer) get, the more icons we will lose.  It sucks to get old, man.

And yet some grizzled chestnuts keep pumping out quality material:  Keith Richards (remarkably somehow still alive at 72), Paul McCartney, Elton John, Van Morrison, David Gilmour, Chrissie Hynde, Bowie’s good pal Iggy.  Keep on going, guys.  Go till you’re a HUNDRED.  Outlive us all.

Of course, the music DOES live forever.  Bach and Mozart were the rock star equivalents of their day and their music is appreciated and still played, daily and worldwide.  The artists may die, but the music is immortal.

During the lunchtime hour from 12 to 1, WFUV features a “Mix Tape” listener-suggested playlist.  Yesterday of course DJ Carmel Holt featured exclusively Bowie music.  She chose to go chronologically, playing mostly his biggest hits as requested by his fans.  I had proposed “Satellite of Love” by Lou Reed, which Bowie co-produced (with the late and sorely missed Mick Ronson) and on which he sings backing vocals, but given Carmel’s chosen format, it didn’t make the cut.  I figured I’d try again today (Tuesday) and was pleasantly surprised to see that some OTHER listener, while asking for Billy Idol’s “Eyes Without a Face”, also said “Nancy Lucas suggested Lou Reed Satellite of Love yesterday. Still sad.”  I seconded her choice, and today Carmel played it.  “Satellite’s gone up to the skies,” sings Lou.  I shed a few tears hearing Bowie’s glistening tones on the background “bom-bom-bom”s.  I like to imagine that Lou and David are dueting again somewhere on that soaring final chorus (with the magnificent Mick Ronson on piano!), making glorious music for the cosmos.

So Much To Watch, So Little Time

As I do every January, I started a diet with the new year.  I’ve also resolved to wake up earlier, exercise more, and be more productive on every personal and professional front.  This, of course, is exactly the opposite of what the experts tell you to do, because you will inevitably fail in at least one – and most likely all – of your endeavors.  But I do it every year anyway.  There’s just something about starting over at 1, with a fresh clean page in the date book . . .

The new year also marks the return of a few of my favorite TV shows:  Downton Abbey (final season!), Shameless and Suits.  I’m looking forward to Bill Maher’s reappearance in January, especially with the presidential campaigns and primary seasons kicking into high gear, and John Oliver’s in February, in both cases after extended holiday hiatuses (“hiatii”?).  John Oliver actually had a great little web-exclusive teaser about how the key to your New Year’s resolutions is managing your disappointment when they break down (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pxM3tvHowaM%5D).  [An aside:  I’m warming up to Trevor Noah’s iteration of The Daily Show, which also returns this week, but sadly there will never be another Jon Stewart (although Stewart himself is set to make a reappearance on TV in 2016 in some form of another, and I can’t wait to see what he comes up with).]

When it comes to returning dramas, however, the TV powers-that-be seem to revel in torturing us with cliffhangers and forcing us to wait months – in some cases, nearly a whole year! – for answers.  The epitome of this is Game of Thrones (my love for which I trumpeted while Season 5 was in full swing – see “Fandom”, 5/12/15), which isn’t set to return until April after ending with Jon Snow’s shocking is-he-or-isn’t-he death way back in June!

I remember, when I was a kid, September was the key month when all your old favorites TV shows would return after their summer breaks – only three major networks, remember! – and you’d also look forward to seeing what new shows there would be.  But I don’t recall any suspenseful endings, per se – the first time I can remember being left hanging at the end of a season with a “what will happen!” shocker was “Who killed J.R.?” on Dallas.  Rather, it was looking forward to watching the new season of The Brady Bunch to see how the kids had changed, or what new songs they’d be singing on The Monkees or The Partridge Family.

Some old favorites will also be returning after the fallow holiday period:  Grey’s Anatomy (which I still enjoy, especially as they manage to continue to find pretty boys to add to the cast, the latest being the gorgeous Giacomo Gianniotti – where did HE come from?); Elementary; and my new favorite, Limitless.  But there is never enough time to check out new shows, no matter how highly recommended (Life in Pieces) or well reviewed (I read so many “10 best” lists on which I knew NOT A SINGLE SHOW!  How embarrassing!).  I keep thinking I might be able to binge-watch a full season of something.  I most recently tried it with You’re the Worst, which is only a half-hour show so I figured I could get through them more quickly.  I did like the show, with its quirky anti-love story and dry-as-dust humor, but I couldn’t establish a routine and they didn’t have all the episodes free on demand, so I’ve effectively abandoned it.  Lately I’ve seen a bunch of interesting trailers and ads for original content on Netflix and Amazon Prime and Hulu – yikers!  – that I’d actually have to pay more for than my already sky-high cable bill.  So much to watch, so little time.  It’s even worse during hockey season, when there are a few games every week to occupy my TV-watching hours.

And don’t get me started on the huge list of movies that I’ll never find the time for – if I can even manage to find the films, in whatever medium they might be available.  I’ve been debating reinstating my Netflix account, which I allowed to lapse a couple of years ago – again, because I had no time to watch the movies that were accumulating in my queue.  There isn’t a very broad selection of streaming movies, either, and I don’t want to get movies on DVD because then I’d have the added hassle of having to send them back when I’m done (which might be weeks or months after receiving them).  I do have a Blu-ray player but I don’t think I’ve ever used it!  Besides which, the movies I want to watch are mostly documentaries and indies, as well as classic punk cult films like Smithereens, Times Square and Penelope Spheeris’ The Decline of Western Civilization, which were not on the Netflix roster last time I checked.

So, I have limited time to watch TV or movies – what about reading books?  I just reserved the latest John Irving novel, Avenue of Mysteries, and I’m so excited to read it because I love everything he writes, but when am I going to squeeze it in?  I do get nearly a full hour to read, each way, when I take the train into the city once a week, but the Irving book, if I get it in hardcover, will probably be too large for easy transport.  I’ve been reading the last available book in the A Song of Ice and Fire series, which I can chew in small pieces, and I definitely want to finish it by the time GOT starts again in April.  I also just picked up a cool graphic novel I’ve wanted to read, I Was the Cat, written by Paul Tobin, illustrated and colored by Benjamin Dewey (Oni Press, Inc., 2014).  Graphic novels are also good options for reading in little niblets.  But having a couple of hours to just immerse myself in a novel?  That’s a luxury I don’t often have.

As if there wasn’t enough media overload to torment me, now there’s podcasts – when am I supposed to find time to listen to THOSE??  Because I’m fortunate enough to work from home, I’m able to follow a couple regularly – I never miss Marek v. Wyshynski or The George and Tony Entertainment Show – but there are so many podcasts out there that I’d like to try, covering every conceivable topic.  I just haven’t figured out how and, most importantly, when I can devote my more or less undivided attention to them rather than just having them be background noise.  Music is best for background; podcasts require too much of my focus to be part of a multi-tasking repertoire.

I’ve come to the conclusion that I’ll need to live to 150 just to catch up with all of my lists of TV shows, movies, books and podcasts!  How do people find the time?  I envy and admire them.