Tuesday, January 25, 2011


My husband and I have both been working from home for a couple of years now.  It’s easy to get distracted when you’re at home all day – especially when you have a partner in crime – but I like to think that I have some self-discipline.  Sure, I take frequent breaks, but they’re all short in duration.  Work still comprises the bulk of my day.  At least that’s what I tell myself.

Yesterday, some very official-looking regulators showed up at our apartment unannounced to chat with my husband about his business.  When they knocked on the door, my husband and I had just woken up and were still lounging around in our pajamas.  We had just invented a really fun game where we hit balloons with hockey sticks, so the living room floor was covered in birthday balloons.

The regulators noticed how flustered we were, so they apologized and pointed out that in my husband’s paperwork, he had listed his office hours as 9am to 5pm, Monday through Friday.  My first thought was, “Wait, is it seriously Monday already?”

My next thought was, “Oh my God, I’m the laziest person ever.”  It was official business hours, and there I was loafing around in my pajamas, playing with balloons, with my computer turned off.  I had been caught red-handed.  Even though they had come to talk to my husband and not me, I felt like saying, “Okay, regulators, you got me. The jig is up.”

Thankfully, my husband is a true professional and immediately switched into business mode.  While he addressed their questions, I hid behind my laptop and tried to look busy and focused, but all I could think about was how lazy I was.

At some point, my husband mentioned that I was a writer, and one of the regulators pointed to our artwork and asked if I was a children’s author and whether I had done those children’s book illustrations myself.  I heard my husband explain, “No, that’s just our taste in art.”  After an awkward silence, he added, “She writes humorous essays.”   I was about to appear in the doorway waving a copy of the small-time regional magazine that I had been published in when the guy asked, “Oh, like for The New Yorker?”

Long. Deep. Sigh.  "No, I have not been published in The New Yorker.  As I'm sure you've deduced by now, my writing career is a sham.  But, hey, look what I can do with this hockey stick and a balloon!"

I have since vowed to start working at coffee shops or the library or even the building lobby – anywhere where blowing up balloons is frowned upon.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Best Careers for 2011

Even though they’re totally subjective and meaningless, I still read those “Best Careers” articles on the off chance that I’ll have a career epiphany: “Astronomer! OMG, why have I never thought of this before?!” Both U.S. News & World Report and CareerCast (via the Wall Street Journal) recently released their lists of the Best Careers for 2011.  Having read both, I’m just as confused and directionless as I was before, if not more so.

Here are the careers that made it onto both lists:

  • Accountant
  • Actuary
  • Financial Advisor
  • Film Editor
  • Technical Writer
  • Dental Hygienist
  • Medical Lab Technician
  • Occupational Therapist
  • Optometrist
  • Physical Therapist
  • Court Reporter
  • Civil Engineer
  • Computer Software Engineer
  • Computer Systems Analyst
  • Meteorologist

The big winners seem to be math, science, and technology – no surprises there.

Technical Writer did make it onto both lists, so apparently writing can be a wise career choice if you limit yourself to only the most boring subjects.  I wonder if it’s possible to combine technical writing and humor writing.  “Warning: Young children should not be left unsupervised with the juicer.  They’re lousy at making juice.  Also, do not touch the sharp blade.  Unless you have a hangnail that needs trimming, in which case, proceed with caution.”  Seriously, if user manuals were more entertaining, people might actually read them, and the world would be a safer place.

Overall, there were very few creative careers on either list.  In fact, the U.S. News list was so short on creative careers that they had to combine them with service careers into a single category called “Creative and Service.”  Personally, I found it bizarre that Curator and Multimedia Artist were in the same category as Heating, Air Conditioning, and Refrigeration Technician.

Because their categories confused me, I decided to make up my own categories.  First, I created a category called “It Takes a Better Person Than Me,” which included Firefighter, Registered Nurse, and Special Education Teacher.  These are certainly noble professions, but they’re not for everyone.  You really have to like people and want to help them.

The U.S. News list included the job "Meeting Planner," as in someone who "manages all facets of meeting preparation."  This compelled me to create a special category called “Seriously, That’s a Career?”  (Not only is it a career, apparently it’s one of the best ones you can have!)

Most of the list falls into one giant category that I call “Fundamentally Flawed.”  Now, before anyone gets offended, let me preface by saying that I’m sure that there are people out there who are happy and successful at all of these careers (and good for you!), but a) you’re not my target blog audience and b) I have a special gift for finding the downside of a particular career, so you shouldn’t take it personally.

Glancing down the list of best careers, it only took me a few seconds to dismiss most of them...

Massage Therapist: Yeah, um, kneading, rubbing, and stroking someone else’s flesh does not sound appealing to me.  I can’t help but picture a client covered in back hair.

Marriage Therapist: Ugh, I hate being around couples when they’re fighting.  My stress level spikes just thinking about it.  My response to everything would be, “Oh my God, just get divorced already!”

Computer Support Specialist: I can’t imagine anything more frustrating than assisting a technologically impaired individual over the phone.  Last month, my mother spent seven consecutive hours on the phone with a computer support specialist who tried (and failed) to get her wireless printer set up.  I suspect that at this very moment, that guy is on a park bench somewhere, drinking out of a brown paper bag, still traumatized by the whole ordeal.

After eliminating all of the best careers, I read the online article comments.  The rampant spelling mistakes made me feel smart, and the bickering was entertaining.  My favorite comments were the bitter Executive Assistant who insisted that her job was “the worst” and couldn’t understand why it didn’t make the “Best Careers” list; the all-out brawl between the Bricklayer and the Chemical Engineer; the Locomotive Engineer who bragged that he gets to "ring the bell and blow the whistle"; and the heated debate on the merits of Philosophy, sparked by #16 on the CareerCast “Best Careers” list: Philosopher.  Here is just a small sampling from that debate...

“Philosopher. LOL.”
“Only in America is "philosopher" a joke. No wonder this country is going down.”
“You all can try to defend your philosphy [sic] and some of these other career choices and I will be glad to get my fries from you next time I go thought [sic] the drive thru.”
“No, it's a good gig! I coalesce the vapors of human existence into a viable and logical comprehension!”
“Philosophers? No way. Sure, I mean, they are super smart and in their dangerous, sexy way, the most daring and intense people imaginable. But are we really to believe that their job ranks above hedge trimmers? Really?”

It’s actually quite refreshing to see people who are so passionate about their career choice.  I can only hope that, someday, I too will love my career enough to post an insulting comment.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

A Great Work of Fiction

I enjoy writing about my own life.  It’s a fascinating topic – one that I never seem to tire of.  Unfortunately, the market for light-hearted, humorous memoir is rather small.  I’ve noticed that the memoir pieces in literary journals and magazines usually involve some sort of trauma: being stricken with a horrible disease or losing a loved one in a senseless tragedy.  And although I consider my life to be riddled with disappointment and drama and horrific struggles (like my ongoing addiction to television or the fact that my breakfast taco came in a corn tortilla even though I specifically asked for wheat), I realize that other people might find my life mundane.

If I really want my work to be published, I should probably branch out and start writing fiction.  As Katherine Paterson once said, “I am constantly writing autobiography, but I have to turn it into fiction in order to give it credibility.”

The more I think about it, the more it seems like a good idea.  I’ve always been imaginative.  As an only child, I spent countless hours playing with my dolls and stuffed animals, and I not only gave them names but personality flaws, sordid backgrounds, and conflicting motives.  I used to pretend that my two identical Cabbage Patch Kid dolls were twin sisters named Mandy and Sandy who were torn apart by jealousy and competition.  If that isn't the makings of a great fiction writer, I don't know what is.

Even when you have a natural inclination, a blank page can be intimidating.  Where do you begin?  All great stories have great characters, so it makes sense to start with the protagonist.  Unfortunately, creating a three-dimensional character out of thin air is no easy task.  I always end up basing my characters on real people.  I’ll start with someone who looks and sounds a lot like my mother.  Then I’ll give her a mean streak and a drug problem to spice things up a little.  But then I worry, what if someone who knows my mother reads this and thinks, "Oh, I always knew she had two sides to her!  I wonder how long she’s been hitting the pipe."

I have the same problem with screenwriting, but since I’m usually writing a comedy, the worst case is that I make a hilarious joke at someone else’s expense.  And I’m sure everyone realizes that it’s all for the sake of the joke.  That’s the beautiful thing about comedy: you can get away with almost anything!

Perhaps I should write comic fiction.  A Confederacy of Dunces has always been one of my favorite novels.  Of course, the author eventually committed suicide because no one was willing to publish it.  It was his mother who finally got his novel published, and it took her eleven years.  And I don't have half the writing talent that he had.

The other challenge of writing literary fiction is, well, making it literary.  I scored in the 99th percentile on the GRE Verbal section, so in theory I know lots of big words.  I just need to practice using them.  Recently I started incorporating fancy language and rhythm into my everyday speech.  Instead of asking my husband “So whaddya want for dinner?” I’ll say “When we come together this evening to gormandize, what succulent fare do you envision on your plate?”

I'm also considering signing up for an online writing class.  I enrolled in a fiction writing class once before, and I crumbled under the pressure and dropped out after the very first class.  Hopefully it goes better this time around.  

Saturday, January 8, 2011

A Career in Modeling

My Blogging for Dummies book recommended that I pay attention to the web statistics of my blog but felt the need to warn me that web statistics are “geeky” and that I would probably find it to be “a tedious experience […] like watching paint dry.”  On the contrary, I find it fascinating!  I love to see my successes and failures neatly displayed in table format.  Plus, the free statistics software that I use keeps track of the referring page for all of my site visits, so when someone finds my blog through a Google search, I can see what search terms they used.  Here are some of the search terms that have led people to my blog over the past couple of days:

bitter housewives
most embarrassing moment in business presentation
geek femme fatale
night job at gas station
unpublished writers bitter
austin texas full of crappy jobs
waitress short skirt forced or required
“quit my job in finance”

I often Google the phrases myself to see where exactly my blog falls on the list of search results.  If it happens to be number one, I get very excited and immediately show my husband.  “Look!  I’m the first result when you Google “most unathletic person!”  I once bragged to him that I was the first result for “big peckers biter,” and he just stared at me and shook his head.  (I assume this person meant "bitter" but I can't say for sure.)

When the search terms are actually relevant to my blog, I like to check out the competition.  I try to imagine the person doing the Googling and then I ask myself, "Which link are they most likely to click on, and why?"

If you Google “quit my job in finance” (in quotes), my website is second on the list, but I think it’s safe to say that most people click on the third link, which is titled “Hottest Girls on Facebook: Vol. 1” and features a half-naked girl who supposedly quit her job in finance in order to pursue modeling (i.e. posing in lingerie and posting the pictures on her Facebook page).  Um, yeah, I can’t really compete with that.

Although, come to think of it, I did briefly consider a career in modeling.  At just shy of five-eleven, I was officially the tallest person in the eighth grade.  The first thing I did was sign up to play basketball, but it didn’t go as well as I had anticipated; I was the only player in the league to go the entire season without scoring a single basket.

After I quit basketball, I decided to take up modeling.  I felt certain that I would be a working model in no time.  At fourteen, I was already taller than Cindy Crawford, and I figured everything else was just make-up and flattering lighting.  I knew the first step would be to put together a portfolio.  A guy who claimed to be a modeling agent had once approached a pretty friend of mine and had encouraged her to spend $500 on professional photos.  I didn’t have $500 to spend, but I did have a camera and a mother who was willing to do anything for me.  So, I put on my shiny purple shirt from TJ Maxx (designer fashions for less!),  slathered on some purple lip gloss, and had my mother take pictures while I posed and gave her detailed instructions on where to stand and the proper angle for each shot.

Since this was before the days of America’s Next Top Model, everything I knew about posing came from the pages of Seventeen magazine.  I was under the impression that models should appear sad and pensive and gaze slightly upwards and never directly into the camera.  With this in mind, I readied myself by pretending to read a depressing poem on the ceiling.

I had to wait 24 hours for the roll of film to be developed, and when I finally tore open the envelope and flipped through the prints, I was, in a word, horrified.  What immediately struck me was how hideously misshapen and skinny my nostrils were.  And there I was, in every picture, tilting my head back as if I were trying to show them off.  I suddenly remembered a boy on the school bus who had once called me “Quarter Slots.”  I hadn’t given it much thought at the time, but now it made perfect sense.  I had been oblivious to my own serious deformity!  I spent the next few days analyzing my various shortcomings before I finally decided that modeling was not for me.

Recently, I tried to find those pictures.  I spent at least an hour digging through old photos in my parents’ storage closet, as did my mother, but there was no trace of them.  I suspect that I threw them away, or burned them, a long time ago.

So what’s the point of all of this?  Well, I'm glad you asked.  Allow me to summarize.

Important Lesson #1: Never throw away embarrassing items.  Someday (five or ten or fifty years from now), you may find these things entertaining.

Important Lesson #2: Just because you’re tall doesn’t mean you’re meant to be a model or an athlete.  It could just mean that you’re meant to be taller than everyone else.

Important Lesson #3: Web statistics are neither geeky nor boring.  When used correctly, they can provide inspiration for new and embarrassing posts such as this one.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Seven Years Ago Today

Earlier this afternoon, while I was staring at the calendar and counting the days until I can start watching television again, it occurred to me that exactly seven years ago today I put on my working girl shoes and started my first full-time, permanent job.  (Well, “permanent” in the sense that it wasn’t a summer internship.)

The job was in New York, working for a boutique financial consulting company.  There were only twenty employees, mostly young, single, mathematically inclined individuals like myself.  I was scheduled to start in January, when the company had its annual retreat.  So that’s how I began my career: on a party bus, with a bunch of geeks, headed to Vermont.

That was also the day I met my husband.  He was originally supposed to interview me, but thanks to a lucky turn of events, he was out of the office that day.  Given his obsession with spreadsheets and my complete lack of Excel knowledge, I’m sure he would’ve been dead set against hiring me.

But as it happened, the first time I saw my husband, he was sitting in the front of the party bus, typing away on his little laptop, while the rest of us were playing drinking games.  I remember thinking that he looked very smart.

An hour into the trip, we stopped at Hooters.  I took the opportunity to check in with my parents, who couldn’t wait to hear how my first day on the job was going.  “Yes, Dad, everyone is very pleasant and professional.  We just stopped for, um, coffee.”

Once we were back on the road, one of the guys coerced my future husband to join our game of Quarters. (If you’ve never played Quarters before, it’s pretty simple: you try to bounce a quarter off the table into a cup, and if you succeed, you point your elbow at someone, and that person has to take a sip of beer.)  I don't remember our first interaction, but I’m really good at Quarters, so I like to imagine that it involved me sticking my elbow in his face and ordering him to drink.

When the bus finally arrived in Vermont, my co-workers and I waded through a sea of empty beer cans and stumbled into the hotel parking lot, where the two senior partners were waiting to greet us.  First on the agenda: company pictures.  The photographer was already there, so I had exactly ten minutes to change into my business suit and practice looking sober in front of the bathroom mirror.  Here is a blurry, low-resolution copy of my individual photo:

It’s actually not a terrible photo.  When the pictures went up on the website, we all sat around the office trying to discern who was the drunkest, and I don’t think my name was mentioned once.

After our drunken photo shoot, we went to a party hosted by one of the partners.  My future husband was the only person who didn’t attend.  He claims that he missed us as we were leaving and didn’t have anyone’s phone number, but he’s never been one for parties, so I doubt he was very torn up about it. Meanwhile, I was having a wonderful time shotgunning beers with my boss and betting him that he couldn’t scale the two-story brick fireplace.  (FYI, I was right.)

Hands down, the best first day on the job ever.  Three years later, that wonderfully dysfunctional company was bought out and disbanded.  And a year after that, I married the guy with the laptop.  How fitting that at this very moment, he’s sitting across from me, typing away on his computer and looking very smart, while I try to think of something more fun to do.