The Sure Thing

I had an opportunity to apply for a new job.

I’ve decided not to do it.

It’s a good opportunity, local, pays well. I’m more than qualified and it would be an interesting opportunity to build a program from the ground up.

The opportunity also fell into my lap right at the time that things are uncertain in my day job. The career-type job I’ve been doing for 14 years now. Our big bread & butter project has been nearly killed and no one seems to know what the future will hold. As there always is in the consulting business, there’s lots of uncertainty.

Applying for this local job would probably be the smart thing for me to do.

It’s a city job and so come with all of the security a government job implies. Good benefits. No selling to clients. None of the “maybe we won’t fund this project this year.”

That’s always the lure of the good job opportunity: security and certainty.

On the other hand, taking that job would derail my writing for a long time to come. I’d lose my well-established writing schedule. A new job, especially one requiring me to supervise a staff to build a new program, would absorb huge amounts of my attention and energy.

A long time back – late 90s – I made a choice to leave my PhD program and get a job that would allow me to hone my writing skills. I cut bait, ran with my MS, and took a job as an editor/writer. I wrote on the side and my essays began to see light of day in magazines.

Then someone offered me a better job. Nearly twice the pay, private company. Terrific opportunity. Of course I took it. I’m still with that company and I do a good job for them. Better than I had originally planned on, in fact. But I have my rhythm now. In the last few years, I’ve been building my novel-writing skills. If Obsidian doesn’t sell soon, I think Sterling will when I finish it.

Writing is once again receiving attention in my life.

If I applied for this new job? I would be moving away from what I decided long ago was most important to me.

So, I’m making a deliberate choice. I’m not changing anything. If the day job does collapse, I’m better off picking up work here and there to pay the bills, so I can continue to write. This time I’m not opting for the sexy and secure choice.

I’m going for uncertainty. And all the possibility that uncertainty offers.

Moon over China

I’ve been kind of mad at the Chinese lately.

I know this isn’t a reasonable thing to say. I also I’m not alone in my sentiment.

China, their products and philosophy about them have become a huge part of our lives. Individual, corporate or government decisions to add poisonous supplements have affected even our beloved pets. A lot of this comes down to the Chinese having a very different perspective on the world. Many of their values are simply not the same. I know this.

There’s a Chinese philosophy called Hei-Ho. It’s a martial strategy, really. Basically the idea is that however you can win is fair to do. Whatever gives you and edge over your opponent is good. Ethics don’t apply. I think this kind of idea underlies a lot of Chinese choices we don’t understand, like adding poisonous melamine to spike the apparent protein content in a food. If it sells the food, then good, and too bad for the person you’ve tricked.

Then, yesterday, I read this article, which made me want to get on a plane and go feed a few zoo managers to the tigers. Basically a mass grave of 40 rare and endangered animals was found at a Chinese zoo. Financially strapped, the managers decided to feed the big cats bean cakes instead of the more expensive meat. It sounds absurd, but I know how they were thinking. I worked with a bunch of Chinese grad students for a while, and one asked David to look at her fish, because it seemed sick. He took one look and said it was malnourished. She said that couldn’t be, she fed it everyday. When he asked what, she said noodles. Good noodles like she makes for her family. David explained that the fish needed protein. She argued. If noodles were good enough for her family, they were good enough for her fish. This gal was a PhD student in Engineering.

If people can live on bean cakes, so can tigers. Meat is a luxury.

So I was angry about this yesterday. Grieving for the beautiful animals so dependent on people who are foolish at best and cruel at worst.

In the late afternoon I set up my new patio furniture. Which is, of course, made in China.

It came in boxes, in pieces, for me to assemble. Each piece was wrapped, first in careful origami-like folded paper, then in bubble wrap, then taped into cardboard pieces to protect it. Two pieces were joined together with a tie for stability, but the knot was set up so I only had to pull one end and it slipped apart with simple elegance.

I started thinking about the person who tied that knot for me. Who took such meticulous pride in wrapping the paper around the metal arms, so they wouldn’t be scratched. I’m thinking it was probably one of those country folks we read about. The ones who go work in the city and see their families maybe once a year, if there’s a spot on a crowded train. People like the employees at the zoo who told reporters still more animals are close to death, but who have no choice but to feed them what they’re told to.

We went to Scotland a few years ago, at the height of worldwide anti-American sentiment. We were nervous that people would say mean things to us. But no one did. People did ask us about American politics, but they always put it in terms of what our government was doing. It’s possible the Scots understand better than most that the government isn’t the people, but we were grateful that they took for granted that what Bush & Cheney said didn’t necessarily reflect how we saw the world.

I suppose that’s why it’s ridiculous for me to be mad at the Chinese. Being part of the world means connecting person by person, not in great swaths of judgment.

Thank you, unknown Chinese person – I really like my new patio furniture.

Death and Taxes

Quite the thunderstorm rolled through here yesterday.

After quiet snowfall since December, the fury of the storm startled us. Lighting whipped out booming thunder. Rain and hail pounded on the roof and skylights with equal fury. In the way of Spring, the squalls passed through, ominous dark giving way to sunshine, until the next row of boomers passed over.

Yesterday a well-known, and generally regarded as successful, literary agent was tweeting that she needs a second job. She said that people don’t understand how literary agents do and don’t make money because the association rules forbid that transparency. But she asserted that agents in their first five years don’t make any money.

I wouldn’t know.

But I do know she works for a large literary firm that theoretically should pay her some kind of salary or wage. I suspect they also work for commission and that, over time, those commissions are where agents really start bringing in the bigger dollars. I suppose it’s possible that her agency doesn’t pay her a living wage. New York City is certainly massively expensive to live in, so a “living wage” means something totally different there.

The thing is, when people start talking about how much money they need to live, that could mean anything at all.

I follow this one blog from time to time, called Debt Kid. It used to be all about the one guy, who tanked himself financially doing day-trading and how he turned his life around and climbed out of truly enormous debt ($300K+).

(As a total aside, I don’t like the blog nearly as much now. He brought in other people to blog about their out-of-debt journeys. I don’t “like” all of them. Their voices and stories don’t speak to me. I only bring this up because I notice this with group blogs — I don’t really like it when the blog I visit isn’t the person I like to “hear.” Something to keep in mind, anyway.)

At any rate, sometimes there’s still interesting stuff and he recently posted about how where you live affects your spending habits more than anything else. Not the city, but the neighborhood. There was an article out at about the same time on tax breaks and discussing how people making upwards of $500K/year can complain that they can’t possibly afford to take a greater tax hit. Those people truly believe that. Of course, their expenses are high. And if all of their neighbors are making $1 million/year, then they are the poor folk of the neighborhood.

It’s an interesting thing to me: how much money is enough. The Tony Robbins money-making movement is based on the idea that if you’re not making more money this year than last year, then you are essentially dying. In that view of the world, a person either grows or dies. And once the trajectory moves downward, it’s very difficult to reverse, if not impossible. A personal and financial death spiral.

Which is just absurd.

I think, anyway.

Fight Club (Chuck Palahniuk) was a good book and a good movie partly because it addressed the idea of stuff owning you, rather than the other way around. It also showed that you can always walk away from it. People only have to have what they think they have to have.

Seasons are cyclical. The winter gives way to the tumult of Spring. Storms hit and move on, leaving gentle sunshine behind. I don’t have to make more money than I did last year. Whatever I have will be enough.

Quality of Treat

I’ve never been a coffee drinker. Even in college, when everyone else was heavy into coffee for all-nighters, I hit Cherry Coke instead. Even when I started living with David, who practically injects coffee before he gets out of bed, I never drank it. I liked the scent of it. But, really, all my drugs of choice are pretty much sedatives.

I didn’t get the Starbucks thing, the coffee hut thing, the tall/skinny/mochafrappaloopychino thing.

Then, about two years ago, I got serious about losing weight. It’s the old story. Woman hits 40 and realizes that she can’t keep gaining three to five pounds a year. Realizes that she can’t kid herself that she’s just a little overweight, that her body fat percentage is now in the OBESE category. I can’t tell you how horrifying it was to face that I had to apply that word to myself.

I did a little South Beach, to get me started. I worked to get the belly down, but I found it ultimately unsustainable. Then I hit Body for Life. I’ve lost over 20 pounds of body fat, down about 15 pounds overall. (I added some much-needed muscle.) And I discovered the sugar-free, non-fat latte.

It’s sweet, creamy, warm and delicious. And I can have it for a treat. Instead of a cookie, instead of a coke. Most of the coffee syrups don’t use aspartame, which as a former neurophysiologist, I won’t touch. Over time, I’ve become particular about my latte-acquisition. Starbucks is my friend — I travel a great deal and I love that I can almost always find a Starbucks and that they’ll give me exactly what I want. Sure, I’ll try the local coffee house, but I don’t like arguing about what sugar-free means. (Yes, I know that was a Dunkin’ Donuts, but the principle remains.)

Yesterday, I bought a thermos-cup. I polled everyone I ran into (okay, pretty much) for a week about their thermos-cup preferences. This is a new realm for me. I found one yesterday that meets all characteristics of the ideal cup. Today, David went and got me a skinny caramel latte in my new mug. An hour later, it’s still hot! (Did I mention I’m a slow drinker? David thinks it’s unnatural. Could be my coming late to the coffee game.) It’s stupid that this makes me so happy. I fully intend to take it with me to Indiana tomorrow and refill it before I get on the plane. I’m looking forward to this.

I’d feel more dumb about this, if my friend, the actress and director, Lesley Malin, hadn’t responded to my FaceBook post with how much SHE loves her thermos-cup and how it’s transformed her quality of life.

And yet, we went to see Slumdog Millionaire last night. (Yes, it finally made it to our town.) It’s easy to feel guilty about our rich lives, in comparison to those shown in the slums of India. That kind of suffering is incomprehensible to me. My suffering is avoiding sweets and crunching weights. Maybe I can count in the job stress, which seems to increase in a slightly greater percentage than the raise that accompanies it. I work hard for the money I make. If a little thermos-mug gives me so much pleasure, so be it. Call me shallow. At least I have my treat.