Monday, August 30, 2010

It's just not fair.

I have a few blogs in my head that I have been thinking about writing but sometimes something happens and it changes everything. This might not be long or it might be overly long but I feel like I should write, and so I will.

Life is sometimes unfair.

Today I heard the sad news that a woman I used to work with lost her battle with cancer. I started to say a friend of mine, but that is not entirely true. We were friendly, I respected her. If I had stayed at the agency longer after she had started work there we might have become friends, but as it stands we were co-workers. But she was an impressive woman and I wanted to share some memories of her. I think that is the mark of a good life, leaving people behind who remember you fondly.

Colette came on at L/N towards the end of my time there. Colette was going to be a production manager for us. Along with working hand in hand with Scott to help run the business. When she walked in the door her first day she thought we all knew that. She assumed that the details she had worked out with Scott had been shared with us. So she walked in and started trying to change the way we had always done business. Needless to say she didn't win many friends. I sent her an email her first day welcoming her to the job. She sent me one back very grateful for the welcome (she was very pregnant and highly emotional) and we started corresponding.

Eventually she shared with me that she didn't understand why people weren't accepting her. I said that she just needed to give it time as we all had our own ways of doing things and it was hard to change on a dime. That's when she realized that the prep work she thought Scott had been doing, the groundwork she thought he was laying for her arrival hadn't been done. Now at this point she had a few options, she could have kept doing what she was doing and figured that eventually we would all fall in line. She could have gotten mad at Scott and told him off. She could have done a lot of things. But what she did was take a step back, re-look at the office and the dynamic we had working there and start over. She apologized to a few people that she felt she might have offended with her brusque start and she kept doing her job. I found that to be impressive.

My last few weeks at the agency Colette took it upon herself to try and mend the fence between Scott and I. She and I talked quite a lot and I have to believe she did the same with Scott. "Life is short," she told me, "too short to be this angry with each other." I explained to her that it was too late for Scott and I but that I appreciated her trying. My second to last day she finally had a breakthrough on one side of the equation. Scott sent me an email and asked me to lunch the next day. My last day. He waited until my second to last day to ask me out to lunch on my last day. I already had plans. I thanked him for the offer but let him know someone else had asked me out that day. He told me to change my plans. I invited him to join us, but said that I would not cancel my lunch as that would be rude.

When I shared with Colette that he had asked me to lunch the next day and that I had turned him down and why she shot back at me that I was being very "third grade" about the whole thing. I corrected her and said that actually I was being very kindergarten about it. That my mother had taught me at a very young age that if you made plans with someone you didn't cancel them if you got a better offer. Which is exactly what Scott viewed himself as. I told her that I wasn't giving him a pass because he felt he was better or more important than the person I was having lunch with as they had asked me to lunch two weeks earlier. I also let her know that I had invited him to join us but he declined. She told me she thought I was being very childish. I told her I disagreed with her but she was entitled to her opinion. The next afternoon as we all said our final goodbyes to each other she pulled me to the side and let me know she had rethought our conversation and felt she might have over stepped. She didn't apologize for what she said, as I feel she believed she was right, but she apologized for stepping on my toes. I actually laughed. I gave her a hug and told her that was the best "I am sorry you took what I had to say badly" apology ever.

Like I said, I respected her and she and I might have become friends eventually. We just ran out of time at the agency. We saw each other a few times after I left and then after the agency closed down but we didn't have the base to continue a close relationship. And our opinions of Scott were too divergent for us to ever become extremely close. I don't regret that. People come in and out of our lives and not all of them become friends. But she was a smart woman. A strong woman. A good mother. A loving wife. And she left behind many who will remember her with respect and fondness.

My heart breaks for her husband and her children. She was much too young to leave them and too young to leave all of us as well. But I hope that there is some comfort for her family and friends to know that those of us she touched will never forget her. She was quite a force to reckon with.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Bummer books

Taking a little side trip blog day here...

After a conversation with C this morning and the cover of Time magazine this week I am compelled to write a short side trip blog on bummer books. I am not talking about sad books that you need a box of tissues by your side to get through, or books that were just depressing or downers. I am talking about books that got impossibly high hype and set your expectations and then....meh...or worse.

I read The Passage this summer, along with everyone else. The two weeks before its release I got recommendations from 4 different literary sites, Stephen King and Amazon on advanced reads. THIS was THE book. It was vampires. It was post apocalypse survivors. It was brilliant. It was wonderful. It was right up my alley! And for the first 100 pages it really was. The problem is the book is 784 pages long. It took me weeks to read. Not because of the length. I can devour a 700 page book in two days. But I would put it down and just not be motivated to pick it back up again. There were splashes of great stuff...but then the author would my attention would flag.

Then I got to the end. And I had to go back and re-read the last chapter because I was sure that I had missed something. But no, I hadn't. The author had left me hanging. Over 700 pages and I still don't know the basic information about the characters that I needed to have to be invested in them, and to understand them. Looking at another review I see that it is part of a planned trilogy. But it's too late for me now. I won't read the other two books if he does publish them. I just don't care anymore. I am more than a little angry that I invested as much time and energy as I did.

Then here was my dilemma. C wanted to read the book as well. Do I tell him what a disappointment I thought it was or do I let him read it with the same expectations of it being a good read that I had? Hmm...well I decided that I would let him read it without telling him I didn't like it and see what he thought. Who knows, maybe it was just me? I could tell fairly early on how he was reacting to the book. It took him WEEKS to read it. This is the kid who can read the entire Harry Potter series in a week. All seven books of it. While composing a song, playing hours of video games and running random errands with me. Last night he finally finished the book and had the same thoughts that I did. Mainly "What the hell?" So at least I know it's not just me.

Jonathan Franzen is on the cover of Time this week. Back in 2001 he wrote a book called The Corrections. Google this book if you have a chance because the list of awards it received would take me ages to write out. This was the book of a generation! So of course, I read it. And I HATED this book. I wanted my money back, my time back and the part of my brain where this story had taken up residency back. The characters were unpleasant. The situations were unpleasant. The writing style was pretentious. You know THAT guy? The one who uses the 50 cent word not because he likes it or knows it or feels it would fit the situation better but because he assumes you don't know it and that way he can tell you what it means and feel just that much more superior to you? Franzen is that guy.

So those are two of my Ugh books. The Twilight series might fall into that category except I wasn't really holding out much hope going in. I had heard equal parts good and bad and I was hoping to be pleasantly surprised, so when I wasn't and when I just didn't like them it wasn't so much of a disappoint as an oh well. What are some of yours? Books that everyone else seemed to love that you had hoped you would find wonderful that you just don't get. Or worse, just can't stand?

Monday, August 16, 2010

A job of Olympic proportions!

Now on to the next job...can you believe I still have five more jobs to go? Yeah, my resume is long and varied!

So anyway...we moved to Colorado Springs. Now there are times and places where you need to take advantage of what a new area has to offer. CS had two things going for it that were different from Portland. One was a lower cost of living so I could cut back to part time work and not impact our budget too terribly and the other was the Olympics. The headquarters for the USOC is in Colorado Springs. When I started looking for work it just happened that USA Boxing was looking for an accounts receivable/accounts payable clerk and it was a part time position. Perfect!

The first thing I had to do to get this job was convince the CFO that I knew I was overqualified for the position and I was perfectly fine with that. Overqualified is always one of those things that make me laugh. Yes, I understand that if you are overqualified and bored you won't stay in a position long, but if you are overqualified but looking to take a step back then lucky day for the employer! After meeting with Linda a few times and reassuring her that I was looking for just a part time job that I could do while C was in school and no more I was hired.

After I started Linda and I came the realization that though I might have be overqualified for the job the person who held the position before me was seriously under-qualified. Linda was also new to her position having come over from USA Table Tennis just a few months before. We figured that the person doing my job must have figured out that she wasn't going to be able to get away with the shoddy work she had been doing after working with Linda for just a few weeks and so she quit. It took Linda and I probably three months of digging and re-posting to get the books straightened back out and we were catching things up to a year later after that. But my love of forensic accounting made the job seem more like a nice challenge than a horrible situation.

Then the problem of what happens when you are overqualified for a position hit. Linda had hired me for a part time position, and once we got everything straightened out for the most part, I realized that the job wasn't even part time. It was more like semi-part time at best. So I needed something else to do. I had a few options, I could look for another part time job either within the complex or out in town, I could look for an entirely new job that needed more hours to cover or I could find something else in USA Boxing to do. I decided to find something else in USA Boxing.

One of the side things that Accounting took care of was handling tracking the merchandise we received to outfit the athletes. This area had gotten pretty short shrift in the past and Linda knew that our inventory counts were probably not accurate. So I said I would take inventory. Little did I know what that meant...I thought it was the one room of items in the office. Well, yes, it was that, plus three off-site warehouses. The first day I went over to the warehouses I was shocked. There were boxes of shoes, of trunks, of t-shirts, bags, gloves you name it there were boxes of it, stacked without any rhyme or reason. So I did what anyone would do and I fixed it. Organized all three warehouses, took a detailed inventory and then took over the outfitting from the trainers.

Okay, so it's not what anyone would do. And it's not what was expected of me. But one of the things that I learned from my parents is that if you are going to do a job, then do it. And do it well. And do it to the best of your ability. I was being paid to work so work I did. And I really liked it. By adding outfitting to my job description it gave me a chance to get to know the athletes and the coaches instead of just sitting behind a desk all day entering numbers into a spreadsheet. I really got to feel like I was part of the team. These were my kids. I set them up with their gear, I talked to them about training, I teased them about growing out of their boots in the four months between bouts. It was a more fulfilling job experience for sure.

And again, it wasn't what I was hired for. It was something I found that I could do to fill the day. I knew what it was like to have a job where you got paid and weren't busy. Watching a clock and waiting for time to pass so you can leave is awful. Being so busy time flies by is much better. So there were days where I sat at a desk and entered numbers and there were days where I went to the warehouse and hefted boxes and pulled gear. I think it might be the first white collar/blue collar reversible job!

The other thing I learned in this job is that working for a non-profit organization that is ruled by committee is a challenge. Let me rephrase a CHALLENGE. There was the USOC committee, there was the USA Boxing committee, there was the USA Boxing subcommittee system and all of the members of USA Boxing and they all felt like they can probably tell you and the trainers and the media team and the executive how to do the job. It was amazing. They were all sure we were trying to rip them off and we were all sure they were nuts! But as long as we had each other in the office to check in with and make sure we weren't losing our minds we held it together.

Here is a quick story to illustrate the level of crazy we were dealing with. When I took over the outfitting one of the things I did was put in a system. Before that people were just given the keys to the warehouse and they would go get what they thought they needed and possibly write it down or possibly not. Now, there was a ton of paperwork that was supposed to be filled out, there always is, but no one was doing it. So I stopped the random key give-outs and everything actually had to be requested. Fill out a form and within two days you would have your gear. We outfitted athletes and coaches before each tournament, and so the second thing that was fixed was the number of items going out. Before I took over no one was keeping detailed enough records to know who had what gear so before every single tournament each athlete and coach would get an entirely new set of gear. We are talking travel bags, polo shirts, boxing trunks, boxing shoes, work out shorts, you name it they were getting new.

So now I had records, so that meant, you only got what you didn't already have. Or you got one new set each year. That was it. So at first I was fairly unpopular, as you can imagine. See, the coaches were taking the extra gear and selling it at their gyms for extra cash. Nice, right? Well, now they only had the gear they needed and no more. But still before a big tournament there was a lot of gear to sort and ship. I usually made sure they had all of their new things about a month before they would have to travel. Here is where the crazy story starts...

Spring break of one year we took a family trip to California. So a week away from the office then back to work. There was a tournament coming in a month so my first few days back would be outfitting. But then as sometimes does...the worst thing happened. While we were gone my sister-in-law's mother died. Now my sister-in-law and my brother have been married since I was 5. She has been a part of my family for as long as I can remember. It was not even a question that I would head back to Albuquerque to be with her and be there for the funeral. While I was gone Linda sent out an email letting people know what had happened that the gear would be delayed a week but they would still have it three weeks before the tournament.

So I got back and got to work on getting everything sent out. My first day back one of the coaches starting calling asking where the gear was. I asked her if she got the email Linda sent out explaining why I was out and why the gear was delayed a week. She had. I asked if they were traveling early to see if there was any reason why she would need the gear any sooner than three weeks before the tournament. No, she wasn't. She just wanted the gear now. I told her again that it would be there by the end of the week. And she told me it was just really inconvenient to have to wait a week. So, I told her that I was really sorry that a death in my family had inconvenienced her. And she said...Thank you. She took my sarcastic bitchy apology as a real one. Like she deserved an apology because a death had delayed her t-shirt. This is the level of crazy we dealt with daily.

So two things from that part of the job I took with me that I will never forget. One is if you are asked to sit on a committee for an organization, always remember that you are not doing the job every day. You are just coming in here and there to see what is going on, so trust that the people you hired to run the organization know what they are doing, until and unless they give you reason to do otherwise. And the second thing is, it's important to have allies in your work environment that you can touch base with to make sure you are still sane and it's the other people that are crazy!

Okay, so that was my time in Colorado working for USA Boxing. I went from part time AR/AP clerk to Part-Part time AR/AP clerk and Part time Merchandise manager. But CS was not the place for us to stay (another blog, maybe a series on the places I've lived?) so when the opportunity came up we were back to Oregon. And you all know where I went from here...

Friday, August 13, 2010

Work work work

Okay, because I hate to leave things undone I am going to crank out the rest of the work series and then move on to the next batch of blogs banging around in my head!

So when we left off (MONTHS AGO)I was working for the agency for my first go round. As you might remember I told Jack the most I could promise him would be two years. Shortly after my second anniversary I let him know that I was giving notice. We were moving to Colorado Springs in two months (lots of notice) and thank you for the experience. Jack responded in a completely Jack like way. He said "I don't suppose it would help if I called you a miserable bitch and told you to leave your husband." From Jack this was high praise and translated to, I will miss you very much. Thank you for all of your hard work. One of his daughters told me that he took my leaving harder than he took his first wife leaving. I took it for the hyperbole it was and was grateful for the compliment.

What I am going to cover here isn't really something I learned by doing a job but what I learned by leaving one. Hiring decisions are so incredibly important. As I was leaving one of my responsibilities was finding my replacement. Now I had done some interviewing for receptionist positions and giving second opinions on other new hires in the company so this wasn't completely new territory, but this was finding someone to replace me. It's kind of odd to do that. Don't we all sort of think of ourselves as irreplaceable? And here I was not only knowing I was replaceable but having to find the person to do it as well!

The first thing we ended up doing is redefining my job. Jack didn't want the new bookkeeper to do anything other than keep the books. Since I was handling all of the interoffice personnel issues as well. I was full charge bookkeeper/office manager/den mother and I was handling a large load of the KFC account as well. The way big companies like KFC work is they have more than one advertising agency. They have the national agency that creates most of the ads you see on TV. Then they have the local agency that actually places those ads and creates local print, or local TV or radio ads. With KFC a lot of the work we did for them was in tracking how effective those ads were. So sales, customers, coupon redemption. Part of my job when we took on the KFC account was to streamline this reporting and then handle it. Now that I was leaving it was going to all be turned over to the account assistant to handle.

So after taking out the personnel issues and the KFC piece I really felt like we were looking at a part time position. I was already only working from 9-4 each day so it wasn't too much of a stretch to me to imagine someone could handle the remnants of my job in 3 days a week, or half days every day. After interviewing a LOT of people it came down to two women. One woman was working another part time job and would be able to work W-F at L/N. The other woman was really hoping for full time work but would settle for working half days at L/N. The first woman was my choice. She was my age (this is important in a minute) she had a really stable work history (I thought Jack would like this) and she just seemed very laid back. The second woman had worked as a bookkeeper for advertising agencies in the past (plus for her) she was very buttoned up, professional looking, older than me by a few years. But in my opinion icy and rigid.

So I sent both people in to meet with Jack and with Scott as he now owned 5% of the company. My recommendation was strongly for Option #1. After reviewing resumes and interviewing both women Scott let us know that he had actually worked with Option #2 before. And then proceeded to tell us stories about the Agency Principal and Option #2 having screaming matches in the hallway over issues. Screaming matches in the hallway. Okay, well that settles it, Option #1 it is! But wait...he doesn't like Option #1 because she seems old. Excuse me? She's actually younger than O2 and she is MY age! Well...she's's hard to explain. So then I figure it out. She's not quite as style conscious as O2. She wore a plain khaki skirt and blouse to her interview instead of the business suite O2 wore. She wore her hair down in a loose ponytail instead of styled into a helmet.

As soon as I pointed out that he was choosing style over substance he switched his track and said it was really because O2 had the agency experience and O1 did not. I pointed out that I didn't have agency experience when I started and I worked out just fine. Like petulant children we both turned to "dad" and argued our case. And Jack being Jack told us to figure it out. So I told Scott again that I highly recommended O1 but it was ultimately his call since I was leaving and he was the one that would have to work with the new person. So O2 was hired. And like the drummer from Spinal Tap this started the revolving door of bookkeepers.

She was just as awful as she had been the first time Scott worked with her. She made the office a miserable place to work and eventually they let her go. After that came Kathy. Kathy was the Cassandra bookkeeper. She tried and tried and tried to get Scott to hear the truth when he wouldn't listen or believe her and she finally had to leave to keep her own sanity. Then came the drinker, then the nutcase, then the thief. Eventually Laurie came into the picture and if only she had been there either after I left or after Kathy left things for the agency might have gone better. But sadly it was too late.

Now, I am not saying that that one bad decision in hiring O2 over O1 made the difference in the agency surviving. But I did take the lesson that hiring the right person for the job is the most important thing you can do for any company. Skills, aptitude and attitude are important. Style can be worked on. Heck, skills can be worked on if the aptitude and attitude are strong enough! So if you are in a position to add to your company, make sure what you are adding is positive and not negative. Option #2 had proven herself to be difficult to work with in the past, people don't generally change enough to make bringing them back worth it. And chemistry, especially in a small company, is so very important. These are good lessons to learn and I am grateful I got the chance to learn them. And especially grateful I learned them via panicked emails to Colorado instead of by actually having to work with O2!

Thursday, August 12, 2010

People online are closer than they appear part two....

What do you do with news like that? My heart broke. Not just for my friend who was going to have to deal with loss of her father. Not just for her children who will never get to have that relationship. Not just for her husband who will have to figure out how to comfort his wife over her loss. But selfishly for me as well. This was my chance to meet face to face someone I had become very close to over the past year and I was devastated that it wasn't going to happen. And of course that made me feel very selfish. So I did what I felt I had to and told her exactly that.

I replied to her email and let her know how sorry I was for her loss. And then I told her, selfishly I still want you to come. She wasn't going to be going "home" to New Mexico until the following week so all she would be doing is sitting at the house grieving. She and Jack already had arrangements for the kids to be taken care of, so really, she should still come and let us try to help her. I asked her to think about it. And if it felt right to come to Toronto anyway. We talked about selfishness and what is appropriate and what isn't. There is no book on grieving. And when you are grieving the loss of someone who took their own life then it becomes even more complicated. So who is to say what is right and what is wrong. What I knew is that I wanted to see my friend, now more than ever. I wanted to hug her and tell her it was going to get better and I wanted to make her laugh. So I wanted her to come. And I told her that I knew I was being selfish, but one of the best things about my friend Juice is that she understood that selfish in this case means I love you. She said she would think about it.

So when I got to Buffalo I had no idea if she was coming or wasn't. But there were a lot of other people that were coming that I couldn't wait to see. So the excitement was still there but tinged with a little sadness for Juice and a little nervousness over meeting people face to face. What if I got there and discovered that they really all were much cooler online and that I didn't like any of them in real life? What then? What were they all really like? I was about to find out! After a restless night (hotels next to the airport are good in theory but not so great in practice, noisy!)I was up early and waiting at the airport for Corrie's flight to get in.

Now, I had warned everyone that I am a hugger and toucher by nature so they should expect to be greeted with hugs and to have hands patted, shoulders rubber, legs slapped the whole time I was around. And I also warned Corrie that I have a horrible sense of direction so navigating our way to Toronto could be a challenge. True to form I greeted Corrie with a hug and got us lost on the way out of Buffalo! Great start right? But Corrie laughed and said she expected it, since I had been upfront, and we were off to a swimming start for the weekend!

There are two moments from our drive that let me know for sure that Corrie and I were going to be just fine friends in real life as well as online. The first was at the border crossing into Canada. We got up to the guard and gave him our passports. Now I am from Oregon and Corrie is from Pennsylvania so that started out his questions.
Border Guard: "Why are you traveling to Canada?"
Corrie: "To visit friends"
Denise and Corrie inside head voices *please don't ask, please don't ask*
BG: "Where are these friends from?"
Corrie: "Umm...all over the world really"
BG:"How did you meet these friends?"
Denise and Corrie inside head voices *crap, crap, crap*
Corrie: "It's a convention"
Denise: "For a game"
Corrie: "Online"
BG: *rolls eyes* "Okay"

Denise and Corrie burst out into laughter

Neither one of us really wanted to just fess up and say, "Look we are huge nerds who are on our way to Toronto to visit with friends we met online playing a game where we pretend to hunt virtual mice. OH! And we are also celebrating the one year anniversary of an online news magazine that is devoted to the same game" We decided we must have looked really suspicious for a little bit as we tried to figure out how to answer his questions without saying what we were going to Canada for. And in the end we had to say it anyway.

The second thing that happened was as we were talking about expectations for the weekend, Corrie said she had been really worried that no one would like her. I laughed out loud. Actual laughing, not just saying LOL even though she is an online friend that would have just been weird...anyway...I laughed and I said, "That's the difference between you and me. I was worried I wouldn't like anyone and you were worried no one would like you!" That cemented it for me with Corrie. She is the same age as my oldest nephew and I had always kind of felt that older sister/aunt vibe with her and this just set that in place for me.

So we made our way into Toronto found a Michael's to pick up supplies for a cake that Corrie and Stephanie were making for The Nibbler made a ton of jokes about the number of Staples in Toronto and picked up Jared from the train station. Poor Jared. Corrie and I were both starving, tired, in need of coffee and more than a little giddy. We took to calling him "Free Health Care" and that was that. "Hey, Free Health Care, what street should we turn at?" "Hey, Free Health Care, where should we eat?" Trust the time it was hilarious! At least to Corrie and I, and Jared was a good sport about it.

Now all the time this is going on we are getting calls from the rest of the group. They have gone down to the devs' offices and were on Feed Back Friday (a live video chat the devs do on Friday mornings) and are now playing Rock Band and will be back to the hotel later. Every time we get a message we can hear SCREAMS of laughter in the back ground. Now we are really excited to meet everyone and a little bummed we didn't get in to Toronto the night before.

We get to the hotel, grab some lunch, Jared and I launch into a discussion on comics and science fiction movies as Corrie starts the realization that I am a much bigger nerd than I even appear to be online! While we are waiting for everyone to get back to the hotel I get a call. It's Juice! She and Jack decided to come! They come down to our room and I get to hug my friend for the first time. Now remember this is in the middle of being giddy over seeing everyone. Opening the door and seeing Juice and Jack (sounds like a drink doesn't it?) standing there, knowing what she was going through, knowing how much pain she was in, I felt like I could just swallow her up in a hug and try to take away that ache. And for the first time since Wednesday when she told me what happened I was able to.

That is the one thing that is hard with having friends all over the world. Some situations just call for a hug. Or a hair brushing. Or a kiss on the forehead. And it's really tough to do that through a computer. So one of the things I will forever be grateful for with this trip was it gave me the chance to hug my friend when she needed all the hugs she could get. It gave me the chance to hold her hand. To kiss her cheek. To whisper in her ear that I loved her and that if she needed me I was right there. And to brush her hair back while she cried. And the other thing that I will be grateful for was the opportunity to take some of that pain and put it on the back burner for awhile.

Because let me tell you, it was not a sad trip. There were touching moments while we all cared for Juice in our own ways. There were tears, but mostly the tears were from laughing so hard. There were jokes started, jokes continued, old friendships solidified and new friendships made.

When everyone got back to the hotel it was one long match of names being shouted! Skippy! DraGGUn! Aurum! Sam!! Stephanie!! Matt!! Justin!! Karen!! Michele!! Corrie! It was chaos I tell you! Skippy and DraGGun (Lisa and Nadine in the real world) are answering to both nick names and real names. People are laughing and talking over each other trying to share stories of the trip so far. Computers and phones are out so we can all keep playing the game while we chat. Plans are being made for the evening. And the laughter just keeps going. By the end of the weekend my face hurt and my throat was raw from laughing so much. In case you were wondering everyone was MUCH cooler in real life than online. Funnier, sharper, quicker, kinder and you could touch them, see them and hear them! Scrunch hair that needed scrunched, rub shoulders that were sore, look at someone's face as they laughed, hear them laugh, hear accents that were outrageously cool and could lead to more laughter when the accent collided with the understanding of what was said....

Now, one of the funniest things for me is that when we all got back home and were in the forums talking about the trip people wanted to know what the devs were like. Had we talked to them? Had we spent time with them? These are the guys that made the game we all play. And truth be told over the years we have sort of turned them into our version of rock stars. So going in to Toronto we were all excited to meet them. And we did. One group spent time in the office, the rest met them at dinner that night. And they were really nice guys. They designed a shirt in honor of The Nibbler and we all got one. They had other shirts as well for us. They were gracious and funny and nice. is the part that I noticed that night and told every one soon as we met them, shook a hand, thanked them for the game, maybe made a little small talk...we were right back at a table with each other.

And that is the beauty of the game for me. And that is the part that I will always be glad I found. These people are my friends. No matter where they live. No matter how often I get to see them face to face. They are my friends. They are the people I talk to almost every day if not every day. They are the people I worry about when things aren't going well, celebrate with when they are. They are the people that I can't wait to see pictures of their vacations, their new babies, their kid's first day of school. These are my friends and my online family. I missed those that couldn't make it to Toronto.

Friday night was the "Official Dinner" and we saw other Mousehuters that had come in just for dinner. Spent time with the devs, ate a ton, and then headed back to the hotel to keep visiting. I am not a night owl so I turned in before everyone else, but let me tell you the party went on well into the night! The next day I got my first taste of Tim Horton's coffee. Yes, it's as good as everyone says it is. The donuts were okay...but the coffee...yum! We went our separate ways for the day. Some went shopping, KJC, Matt, Steph and I went to the Hockey Hall of Fame, Juice and Jack spent some time alone. We all met up again in the afternoon for more stories and then had one last "Family" dinner together. It was great fun. Mexican food in Canada. Who knew? Then back to the hotel room. We made a video for the group in the UK that KJC and Skippy were going to see the next week. We laughed some more, drank some more, visited online with people that weren't there in the room and just enjoyed being together.

I wish I could make it to the UK when they do their meet and greets. I would love to travel to California and Colorado and visit my friends that are there. I know if I am in Florida I have friends there I need to get a real cup of coffee with someday. The UK, Australia, New Zealand, Bulgaria, South Africa, all over the States yeah, I have friends there. We are the Zoo and I wouldn't have it any other way.

Oh, and one last story...leaving Canada we hit the border crossing. This time Justin is with us as well. We hand in three passports again with three different states listed.
BG: "What was the purpose of your visit?"
Corrie and Denise burst out into peals of laughter.
Corrie: "We went to meet friends."
Denise: "We play a game with them online."
Corrie:"On Facebook"
BG: laughs..."My wife does that silly stuff. Have a safe trip home"

People online are closer than they appear....

Here is one of those "wrapping up loose ends" blogs I promised. Last November I did one of those things you hear about "other people" doing and you think they are nuts. And I said I would write about it when I was done and I never did, and since I am about to do it again, I figured it was time to write!

I want to start by talking about why I didn't write about it right away. You all know from reading other blogs of mine that I believe my blogging is just that, mine. It represents my stories. They are my life, my views, my experiences. If you happened to be in my life at that time you end up in the blog. Sometimes it will be flattering and sometimes it won't. But since they are my stories I feel like I have the right to share them.

But sometimes in life as you are experiencing your little story you intersect with someone else's big story. This was one of those times. At first I tried writing just my story and leaving out hers, but it was such a big part of the experience I couldn't do that without the whole thing falling apart. So I put the blog aside for awhile. But I really wanted to tell the story so it kept banging around. I wrote and rewrote it in my head from every angle I could think of, but the only way to really talk about the experience was to include everything. So I sent off an email and I asked what she would think about me talking about her story in the middle of mine. And luckily for me, she said she would actually love if I did since the whole experience was sort of a blur for her this would be a way for her to experience it again. So here we go...

A couple of years ago I started working on my own at home. I was still doing some advertising work, but part time and from the kitchen table as the agency I was working for is in Salt Lake City. I was just starting on building my massage practice and even when I did have a client it's mostly quiet work. After Brent left for work and I dropped Christopher off at school for the day I was alone. For the first time in a few years I was totally alone during the day. I wasn't in an office with a group of people, I wasn't in a classroom, I wasn't anywhere but home. And it was weird. I missed chatting with people about nothing. You know the stuff, how was your weekend? Where did you get those shoes? What's for lunch? And honestly, I was lonely. Which is an odd thing for someone who is basically a loner to admit.

So anyway, during this time a friend of mine in Louisville (Chris this is all your fault) sent me an invitation to play a game on Facebook. Mousehunt. Anyone who is friends with me online knows that I play and play and play this game. Now. But it didn't really start out that way. I accepted the game invite and started playing. It's a simple little game, bait your trap, catch a mouse. There are different kinds of mice and different places you can go. It's really basic and I probably would have lost interest in the game but one day a few months after starting to play I clicked on the button that said, "Forum". Now, I had steered clear of any forums online for the most part because in my experience they were full of people being rude to each other. Just not my thing. But for some reason on this particular day I was bored enough to start reading some of the threads. And I saw people chatting and talking with each other, not only about the game but about their kids and their weekends and what they were making for dinner....

Chatting about nothing! And as I read I thought that everyone playing the game must have known each other to start and that I had just stumbled in by being a friend of a friend of one of these people. So I just read their posts, I didn't post anything of my own. I kind of felt like the new kid at school who didn't want to barge in. But just reading their posts was fun. Then here and there I would post something. And people would post back! It was amazing! I was having conversations with people again, now granted they were all...someplace else...I had no idea at the time where they all were, but we were chatting! Brent and Christopher would come home and I would tell them all of the goings on on the boards. Who was doing what and when...and...yes, I know, this is the point where people say, "But they aren't your real friends, they are just people online."

But what makes someone a "real" friend? Are you telling me that my morning cup of coffee with Teri, Corrie and Ashley didn't count as coffee with friends just because Teri was in Florida, Corrie in Pennsylvania and Ashley in North Carolina instead of all of us sitting at a table together in Oregon? Or that my jokes with Jessica weren't funny because she was in her office in Ohio while I was on my computer in Oregon? Or that the design work that Sam did for my anniversary was any less sweet because it came from Canada instead of downtown Portland? Nope, sorry, not buying it. Over the months these friendships grew and more and more people were added to them. Then the one year anniversary of the game came.

Melissa (a player in Australia) came up with the idea of meets all across the world. There wasn't one near me and I wasn't up for setting one up but when the pictures started going up online of everyone meeting and I got a chance to "See" the people I knew interacting together...well...I thought next time I am going to do that! Then the "invitation" came. The developers of the game (devs) were hosting a dinner in Toronto and everyone was invited. I really wanted to go. I looked into tickets, I talked with Jessica about maybe flying in to her home town and then driving up with her. I talked to Karen about ticket prices and how she was affording the trip (lots of connecting flight and red eyes!) I donated some money to a fund to bring one of the players up from South Africa (we raised enough money to buy a ticket for a "stranger" to make a trip to meet other "strangers" but that is another story) but in the end I backed out of taking the trip. I let that voice in my head that said...This is out.

Then the pictures came in from dinner. Seeing KJC and Justin laughing so hard that they were falling over. Seeing Aurum for the first time! Seeing Sam and Nadine and knowing that it wasn't crazy to want to visit friends, it was normal. So NEXT TIME I wasn't going to back out. If I could afford it, I was going to do it. Turns out that a lot of people felt the same way. So a next time was already being planned.

The Nibbler, if you don't play the game this means nothing to you, but if you were a player during this stretch The Nibbler was your daily go to. You read that like you read your local paper. It gave you updates on the game but more importantly it directed you to the funniest, smartest, more entertaining threads in the forum. Oh and there was quote of the day...if you got quote of the day you were an instant MH celebrity. Crazy right? But it wasn't. It was a group of friends finding something that they all had in common and making a game within the game around it. Anyway, Karen (KJC) and Jessica (JCS or Juice) had started The Nibbler and it's one year anniversary would be a perfect excuse for a trip to get together again!

This time I wasn't going to miss it. I planned with Steph up in Vancouver, BC to see if she was going, I planned with Corrie and we decided to share a room and a ride from Buffalo to save money, I planned with Lisa (Skippy) who was flying in from Australia to see if we could fly across country together (her dad is in Washington and she would be going there first), I planned with KJC to see when she would be arriving, I planned with Justin on rides to and from Buffalo, I planned with Sam and with Aurum and with Nadine on when they would be arriving since they all lived in Canada and would be coming in from closer distances. And I planned with Juice to make sure she was coming since she and I had both backed out for our own reasons on the last trip we had vowed to each other that we wouldn't miss the next one.

So plans are in place. I was flying in to Buffalo Thursday night, Corrie would get there Friday morning and we would drive to Toronto where we would pick up Jared at the train station and then pick up some supplies for the party. The rest of the group was going to get there Thursday and would go to the devs office for a tour on Friday morning and then meet us back at the hotel. I was nervous and excited and couldn't wait to get going. I had heard from a few people that they thought I was nuts to fly across country to meet a stranger to go to another country to meet other strangers so I had sort of stopped telling people what I was doing. But it didn't stop me from looking forward to it. Or stop me from wishing I could afford to fly to London for the UK meet that was happening a few days later! Karen and Vikki and Ben and Steve get the picture. Lots of people to meet and so much fun to be had!

Then Wednesday night I got an email from Juice. She wasn't sure she was going to make it after all. She had just gotten word that her father had taken his own life.
And this is where her big story intersects my little one.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010


For the past year I have been doing a little self challenge on Facebook. It's the 365 Photo Challenge. Every day for a year you take a picture of something from your day. I took the idea from a Facebook friend who took it from a Facebook friend and some of my Facebook friends have taken the idea from me and run with it as well. I only have 8 more photos to take and I will have made it my year. It's been fun and it has been a challenge at times. Remembering the camera, remembering to take a picture, deciding what to take pictures of, trying not to judge if an event is "worthy" of a picture, balancing the number of pictures of the cat with the boy so the boy doesn't complain...yeah, there were challenges!

But now I am nearing the end and I am trying to decide what my next challenge will be. I keep coming back to writing. I did a little mini challenge of blogging everyday for a month last year and I got through that one. Could I blog every day for a year? Probably not. Could I blog once a week for a year? Probably but is it really a challenge? Shouldn't challenges make you stretch a little? I like taking pictures but I am a little multi-focused at times so committing to actually getting a shot of the day every day was the challenge for me. What could I challenge myself with in regards to my writing?

I thought about it for a few weeks (yes, the next challenge has been on my mind for awhile) and I ran the idea past Brent and C last weekend to see what they thought and I think I have come up with my new challenge. Ready? I want to be a published author by my 43 birthday. Ta da! Challenge! The rules are simple, it can be anything, short story, magazine article, web article, book, poem...anything. As long as it's someone else publishing it and I get paid. The paid part is the challenge. I could submit a ton of writing to different sites and hope they pick up an article, but to get paid for my that is something to stretch for!

So what that means for you is a lot more writing of mine to read. I need to write more and more often to make sure I am writing something I can try to get published. Ride a bike around the block before deciding to take a spin up to Mt. Hood! A friend of mine is trying to get her book published right now and is writing about the process she went through in writing it. One of the things that struck me was she starts the same way I do. She "writes" in her head. Works the whole scene out, the dialog, the setting everything, and does this over and over before she puts it on paper. I do the same thing. I cannot tell you the number of blogs and stories I have "written". But I have a problem with that next step of taking it from my head to the page. So the first challenge for me will be actually WRITING!

So watch this space for a flurry of activity. I will be finishing up some loose ends, things I have said I would write about (and I my head!)and new things. And I will write about what I am doing towards being published. The first step I took? Updating my wishlist on Amazon with a ton of "How to Get Published" books! It's a start right?

Here's to challenges both big and small!

Sunday, August 1, 2010 know you are a dreamer...

Since seeing Inception I have had a blog about the movie banging around in my head. First off let me lay down the ground rules. I was lucky enough to see the movie without anyone spoiling anything for me so I want to make sure I don't spoil it for anyone else. That being said, if you read past this first paragraph there are and will be plenty of things in the movie spoiled. So turn back now if you haven't seen the movie as of yet. I really honestly think it's a movie best seen without anyone else's opinions in your head. Okay, so are we clear then? Nobody who doesn't want to know about the movie should read any further. If you do and you have the movie spoiled for you, then it's a self inflicted wound, no crying. And the second rule is if you are reading this and want to comment and your comment will have any spoilers in it, please comment here and not on the facebook post linking you to my blog. Thanks!

Okay, so this isn't a review of the movie, there are lots of those out there that you can find if you are interested, this is what I've been thinking about because of the movie since watching it. And this movie made me think. And then think some more. As you can tell I liked the movie. Leaving the movie I really couldn't imagine anyone not liking it, I liked it so much. But since then I have had a few conversations with people who didn't like it, either they didn't get it, they thought it was trying too hard to be "deep" or they thought it didn't make enough sense. I am sure there are a ton of other reasons why people didn't like it, but again, this isn't really about liking or not liking the movie, it's about what I thought about.

Back to the spoiler issue. I think Inception more than a lot of other movies is really best seen without many expectations as to how you think it should go. I think going in it is best to have as open a mind as you can. I really equate it with the concept of the architect in the movie. The architect builds the framework of the dream and the dreamer fills it with their own world. Christopher Nolan wrote and directed the movie, but really what he did was give me a framework to fill with my own experience. Now, Nolan is someone in Hollywood I trust. If I pay my money to see a movie he is involved with then I believe going in that it will be interesting. I might not like it, or I might really like it, but it will be something worth seeing. So that helped for me to let go and experience the ride. I wasn't fighting it, I wasn't questioning every step, I was just enjoying what he was putting out there for me. And because it was Nolan, I was paying attention. I knew he would give me lots of little things to chew on and look for and experience if I just paid attention.

Can't get a more direct life tie than that can you? How many times in our lives do we get in trouble because we have expectations about an experience built in BEFORE we even have the experience? I know I do it all the time (I did it with this movie as well, it's Nolan...I trust him). I don't want to go someplace or do something and so I've already decided before I even go that it will be lame and boring and no fun. But I also know that if I can step back and just have the experience and let it be what it will be I will be much more likely to have a good time. Or at least not a miserable one. And I know that if I just pay attention to the world around me I will have lots of things to chew on and think about and experience.

Then there is Cobb's version of Mal that lives in his self conscious. There is a point in the movie where Ellen Page's character asks Arthur what Mal was like in real life, and Arthur says she was a lovely woman. But you would never guess that from the Mal we "see" in Cobb's head. That woman is horrible. Selfish, violent, possessive, mean. Do we tend to do this to people in our lives as well? We project on them who we think they are. Even people who we know as well as we possibly can we tend to fill in things in their personalities that are more us than them.

Brent and I have been married for almost 24 years, we have been a couple for 25 and we were friends for a few years before that. Christopher is my child. I've watched him grow up and become his own person and I tend to think I know him very well. But every once in awhile they will surprise me with something they think. We will be having a conversation and if someone were to stop them and ask me to fill in the rest of the conversation I would think I could. But that's the thing...I THINK I could. But what they actually think or say at times doesn't match at all what I think they would think and say. Those times I try to really remind myself that the only person you know everything about is yourself. And that I need to really make sure I am listening and learning from them still. That they are having experiences everyday that are changing them and changing their ideas and world views so I need to remember that the guys I knew yesterday are not the same guys that are here today.

Cobb froze Mal in his mind, locked her in memories that he replayed over and over again, writing all of her dialog to match what he THOUGHT she should say and be like. Because of his guilt. He let his guilt change his memory of her, used those memories to punish himself. Do we do that as well? How about all of the time? We cast our memories with heroes and villains and we edit and cull the memories down until everything we have matches that vision. It wasn't until the end that we got a glimpse of how sad Mal was, how lonely and scared she must have been walking through a life she felt wasn't real. Can you think of people in your life that you have memories of that have them as an absolute beast or an absolute saint? Is it possible that the hero is really an ass at times and the beast is really a saint to someone else?

And then there is the whole over arching movie idea. What is real and what is a dream? The first time that I heard the ticking during a scene that was supposed to be an "awake" scene I talked myself out of it. I decided that I hadn't really heard the ticking...then it happened again. And again. And again. And then there were the edits. Scenes started in the middle, we never saw how they got anywhere...but isn't that the way every movie is? So was that because it was a movie, or was it because all of it was a dream and none of it was real? And does it matter? I thought it did. I really really REALLY wanted to know. I waited all through the movie anticipating the pay off in the end. That's the way movies should work. You watch them for a few hours and then you get everything wrapped up in a nice neat little package. That's the deal. So that's what I was expecting. And that's what I thought I really needed to enjoy the film. And then that tricky bastard didn't give it to me. The top is still spinning...the screen goes black...we can hear it it slowing down? The full theater that I saw the movie in erupted. There were gasps, shouts, people yelling NO! Then there were applause. And I was one of those applauding.

See? We all THOUGHT we really wanted to know. Is he awake? Is he dreaming? Is he really home now? We thought we HAD to know to fully enjoy the movie. But for me, at least, not getting what I thought I really wanted, made me like the movie even more. The switch was instantaneous. I went from thinking I had to know, to realizing that I liked not knowing even more. That it changed the movie from Nolan's story to mine. That by not telling me I could decide on my own. I could make the story mean anything I wanted it to. Architect/dreamer. And honestly, I haven't decided yet.

So back to our day to day lives. How many things do you think you need to know? How many things do you think you need to have to make your life okay? And what if you let those things go? Just accepted what was coming your way and enjoyed it for what it is, not what you think it should be? Stopped trying to hold on so tightly, control everything and everyone so much. Just looked at the world as a framework that you were filling right then. Not pre-filling...filling on the spur of the moment. Not expecting and anticipating the ending, just experiencing life as it happens.

These are the things that have been bouncing in my head since I left the movie. How many times do we overly anticipate how other people are going to react? How many times do we think we have to know how things are going to end up before we can decide if we like it or not? How many people have we written as the hero or the villain who aren't? How much of our lives are we living in the moment they are happening and how much are we pre-filling?

Now you know why I really liked Inception. The movie itself was highly entertaining, an exciting heist flick with outstanding special effects. But the the ideas have stuck with me and caused me to spend the better part of the last week turning the plot and the implications over in my head. Well worth the cost of admission if you ask me.