Tag Archives: work

Vacations That Are and Aren’t

There are vacations that refresh, and then there are vacations that don’t. There are vacations where that create memories, and then there are vacations that don’t. There are vacations that are, and then there are vacations that aren’t.

My husband and I have had plenty of wonderful vacations, with scads of natural wonder, historic locations, local events, and places to explore. We’ve been to England, Monserrat, Croatia, and most recently Ireland, to name a few. (We also had a great time in Benson, AZ. Why Benson? “Benson, AZ” is the theme song to a sci-fi movie called Dark Star, which only a few people ever saw. What’s there to do there? Exploring caves, star-gazing, and visiting rock shops, among other things. But I digress.) We often returned exhausted rather than refreshed, but we’ve made memories that will last (I hope) until we’re older and grayer.

However, a gentleman of my acquaintance, who prefers not to be named, is on one of the vacations that aren’t.

He’s going to spend eleven days with, let’s say, his beloved ancient aunt and his cousin who live in, let’s say, Colorado. He has done this before, so he knows what he’s getting into.

What he’s getting into is work. Not his normal, paying work, though. His aunt has a long list of chores for him. And when I say chores, I don’t mean washing the car, which his aunt still does herself. I mean re-graveling the driveway. Clearing out a huge attic. Painting the porch. Installing a generator. Fixing the washing machine.

Or all of the above.

It’s like a “stay-cation,” only with airlines involved. And without the sitting on the porch with a drink with fruit and an umbrella in his hand and his feet in a kiddie pool with The Wild Jimbos singing “Let’s Talk Dirty in Hawaiian” playing on an iPod with an auxiliary speaker. He does it because he really, truly loves his aunt. She’s in her 90s and needs the help.

(What he doesn’t really, truly love is her taste in music. And TV shows. And movies. And news. All of which she plays at high volume because she is hard of hearing. Fortunately, he just acquired a tablet that has been loaded with streaming services, radio stations, books, and other media that he can browse to his heart’s content. With earbuds, of course. But I digress. Again.)

At least his cousin is going to do the cooking. Except that the cousin cooks for a week at a time, and they have it every day until it’s all gone. The gentleman of my acquaintance cooks too, but not usually after a day of working in the hot sun. Then, his major concern is rehydration, which will likely include iced tea rather than drinks with fruit and an umbrella.

What I’m having is the stay-cation. Without the kiddie pool and The Wild Jimbos, though. My husband is also going to be out of town. I have writing assignments at the moment, so I’m pretty sure I can fill up my days with that and a bevy of dancing boys. Well, and binge-watching cooking shows on The Food Network. It won’t be thrilling and memorable (unless the dancing boys turn out to be real rather than imaginary), but it should be relaxing, with no annoying sweat (except for possibly in case of dancing boys, see above).

The peace and quiet will be welcome. I don’t always like my husband’s taste in movies, TV shows, and music either, and he plays them very loudly. (Hearing loss may run in the family.) It’s much easier to write and type without auditory distractions other than the cats meowing for food.

I think, however, that both I and the gentleman of my acquaintance will need a few days to recover from our assorted vacations before we get back to real work. Not that we’re likely to get much of a chance. Ah, well. There’s always the next real vacation for my husband and me to look forward to. Maybe we’ll even go back to Benson.

More salted caramels, please!

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A Three-Bunny Morning

I used to work third-shift at an alarm security company. At the same time, I was going to grad school and teaching English 101 at the university. The alarm company job was both vaguely interesting and supremely boring.

Basically, I was the person on the other end of “Help! I’ve fallen and I can’t get up,” as well as monitoring business openings and closings and calling the cops or the fire department if an alarm went off in the middle of the night. I had to call the business owners too, and some of them were well beyond rude, especially when the call proved to be a false alarm.

I liked the job for the solitude – I was the only person in the building on third shift. (As you’d expect for a security company, the building was thoroughly locked down tight at night.) It was pretty quiet most nights, so I could read my assignments for the master’s degree and grade papers for English 101 while waiting for the alarms to sound. But on windy or stormy days there would be loud beeping from the machine spewing out false alarms and then the clack-clack of my IBM Selectric as I created the nightly reports.

One of the worst things about the business was that, what with both the job and grad school, I was frequently so short on sleep that I was afraid to drive myself. (Another worst thing was that the bosses would grant other workers time off for their kids’ school activities, but I couldn’t take off to study for a big exam. Or for any family-type holidays, like Easter, Thanksgiving, or Christmas. But I digress.)

What does this have to do with bunnies, you may ask? The bunnies were an after-work, early-morning bonus.

My husband, saint that he is, would sometimes drop me off at the security company late at night and come to pick me up early in the morning, to drive me to the university. Often, he got there a little early and parked behind the building to sit in the early morning light for a few minutes while I neatened my area and punched out. Sometimes, he got there ten or fifteen minutes early, just to look at the small field between the security building and the house across the way.

When I finally got to the car, if we had a few extra minutes, we both contemplated the field and counted the bunnies. The field was a place where they gathered and ate and hopped.

The thing about bunny-counting was that you had to pay close attention to the field. The bunnies were well-hidden in the long grass. Only when a bunny moved did you really notice that it was there. A wiggle of the ears. A movement towards another clump of grass. Bright eyes looking around for potential predators.

Some mornings we spotted only one bunny, and that was okay. Sometimes, if we waited a little longer and really concentrated, we saw more than one. We took the number of bunnies we saw as an omen for the day. The more bunnies, the better luck we would have. A three-bunny morning was a pleasant way to start a pretty good day. Some days we saw four or five bunnies and felt ourselves blessed. Once we even saw seven bunnies. It was a spectacular day.

Now we live in a house where there used to be woods, but the trees are not there anymore. Still, sometimes we see baby rabbits in the spring and well-fed rabbits in the fall, making their way across our walkway and devouring things my husband has carefully planted. (We also see many squirrels, a very fat groundhog, the occasional deer passing through, and multitudes of birds and butterflies.)

Bunny-counting days are long gone. I don’t even know if the security building and the house with the bunny-field still exist. I miss the days when we would have a leisurely bunny stakeout as we waited for the day to begin. The morning light, the calm expectation, the excitement of spotting a bunny’s ears, the three-bunny morning – these are things I miss.

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Retirement and Reality

I officially retired last year, when my birthday hit the federal standards, and I’m here to tell you, it’s not all it’s cracked up to be.

The commercials on investment – sorry, “wealth management” – would have you believe that retirement means a lot of opening your dream business, building your own Wright flyer, and washing elephants in Africa. (Or maybe India. I didn’t get a close look at the elephant’s ears. But I digress.)

What I’ve found is that in retirement, not much has changed for me. Oh, I get a modest infusion of cash every month via Social Security, which is certainly more than welcome. But I haven’t been able to quit my job. It’s freelance – not the sort of job that boasts retirement benefits. And the 401k from when I did have a job like that is long gone, eaten up by a voracious spell of unemployment owing to health problems.

What this all means is that life before and after retirement are markedly similar. I still work that part-time freelance job (which is not, thank God, over the limit for what a person on SS is allowed to earn). I still have to forego foreign travel. I take surveys to earn enough points for dinner at a nice place (within a very limited definition of a nice place). At the end of the month, I doubt my decisions on how many cable channels are enough. I have to buy my wine at Aldi.

Of course, there are benefits. The federal government sees to that (so far). That deposit that appears sporadically between the 9th and the 16th of the month (don’t ask me why) makes a huge difference in my lifestyle and my nerve endings. I am indeed grateful that I do not (yet) qualify for SNAP benefits as well. I am able to pursue my hobbies of yelling at whippersnappers and waving my cane at them.

I know it’s idiotic to use television and as a standard of what life will be like, but I can’t help looking at all the TV shows and commercials. Retired people romp with their grandkids and even babysit them (I don’t have any grandkids and likely wouldn’t babysit them if I did). They play golf, a “sport” I detest. They invest. They have fulfilling sex lives. Their dentures fit. (I don’t have dentures, but it’s the idea of the thing that’s important here.)

Of course, I wouldn’t know what to do with that sort of retirement if I had it. Work has become a habit after these many years and, though I’m sure I wouldn’t miss not doing it, it provides a sense of purpose and familiarity. I traveled when I was younger and could get around without a rent-boy to carry my luggage. There are still places I would like to see, but the places I have been were pretty amazing. If I had the choice to save that money (and I suppose I did), I wouldn’t. Perhaps when and if my memories grow dim, the sights I’ve seen will become distant blurs. But having had the experiences is something that I treasure.

And really, I am blessed, even in this not-quite-idyllic retirement. I still have my husband and we have our cats. We have a roof over our heads and food on the table. We have friends and family and an assortment of other things that, as they say, money can’t buy. I know that not every person of my age and state of life can say the same. (And there is something wrong with a system that lets that happen.)

So, even if I don’t have the golden-sunset vision of retirement, I am largely satisfied with what I do have. Someone else will just have to wash those elephants’ ears. I’ll make do with the kind they have at the local bakery.

 

What the Client Wants, the Client Gets

It should be a truism that you always give the client what he or she wants, but sometimes it’s extra-difficult. Not to say that clients are picky, but, well, let’s just say that clients are picky.

Although sometimes vendors can be, too. As a case in point, I remember a magazine that I worked on that needed an illustration of a slice of pizza. Not a difficult thing to draw, and there are reference materials everywhere if one suddenly does not remember what pizza looks like. And we would have taken any kind of pizza – supreme, pepperoni, veggie, ham and pineapple, spinach and feta, double anchovies – whatever.

But the illustrator we often worked with came back a few days later, no illustration in portfolio, and informed us that he couldn’t do the assignment because he was a vegan, or some brand of vegetarian that would have nothing to do with milk products, and couldn’t bring himself to draw cheese.

We were miffed. First, that he hadn’t told us sooner about his cheese-drawing aversion. There were any number of professional illustrators in the area who had no such qualms. Second, because we weren’t asking him to eat pizza or buy pizza or something else that might reasonably have caused him qualms by supporting the pizza industry. Just a simple black-line drawing of a slice of pizza. You couldn’t even see the cheese, really. You just knew it was there. But apparently even that was too much for him. But we knew what we wanted. We wanted cheese on our pizza.

Sometimes you do have to wrestle with your conscience to fulfill certain jobs. I edited for a religious client for many years, whose religion I did not espouse. I came to terms with it. As far as I could see, I didn’t have to believe the beliefs I was writing about; I just had to respect them, understand them, and make them intelligible and appealing to the readers. Whatever else I believe, I believe that religious publishing companies should not restrict themselves to only like-minded believers in their hiring. And yes, I wrote for them too, on non-doctrinal topics like charity and more official ones like prayer services.

Many freelance writers and editors and even the occasional illustrator must make these decisions – whether what the client wants is something you feel comfortable giving. In general, my advice is to suck it up and do what the client wants.

To use a trivial example, I stand firmly behind the Oxford comma, but if my client’s style guide doesn’t, out it goes, no matter how much it pains me. In those cases, the style guide wins. And the client.

Writing for children can be the most difficult assignment of all. Clients who assign writing that will go into textbooks are the worst. They specify not just story length, but also reading levels (there are programs that calculate this in any number of systems – use whichever your client likes),  grammatical forms (e.g., dental preterites), and even phonics examples (two words per paragraph with diphthongs, for example). Then try to make the writing creative and engaging.

One set of children’s stories I worked on was a doozy. Instead of word count, the client wanted 15,000 characters-plus-spaces (a measure I had never heard of, but fortunately Microsoft Word has). Then there were nine separate characters, each of whom had to play a role in every story. There were other requirements, too. An abstract. Pull-out quotes. Illustration descriptions. Not to mention specific topics. And a schedule that required a story every five days. And I did it all, thankful for the work.

I have blogged about writing children’s stories before (https://wp.me/p4e9wS-cD). One of the things I said was:

I believe that requiring writers to abide by rigid rules makes it less likely that the story will be appealing. And if the story isn’t appealing, I believe it is less likely that the children who read it (or are supposed to read it) will get anything from it.

But that’s not my call. It’s the client’s.