Friday, May 29, 2009

Musical Discovery

One of my coworkers decided a few days ago that she was sick of the music on her iPod. (She used the word "hate", but I don't think it was entirely accurate.) So she proposed an iPod swap. I went for it, and we've spent a few hours on each of the last few days listening to each others' collections.

This is a wonderful exercise, which I highly recommend to anyone who is in a position to do it.

My greatest joy of the exercise, so far, has been the discovery of a singer/songwriter named Joanna Newsom. I am absolutely hooked, and intend to buy her albums when funds become available. She has this magnificently unconventional singing voice which she uses to great effect with a unique delivery. Plus, the woman is a rhyme machine!

My favorite lyric goes like this:

I killed my dinner with karate -
kick 'em in the face, taste the body;

This artist is definitely my musical discovery of the year, and I can make no stronger suggestion to you, reader, than this: Listen to Joanna Newsom!

You can find a page of her fantastic rhymes here.

You can get a sample of her sound by checking out the video here.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

02009 New Year's Resolutions #21 and #22: Optimism and Gratitude

I recently found out that I am scheduled to be part of a big round of layoffs from my full-time job. My scheduled date of termination is July 3.

This is the sort of news that could be fairly devastating. (In this case, it is not.)

I am being uncharacteristically optimistic. In fact, I have generally been keeping on the optimistic end of the scale for the last few months.

This is a strange sensation.

I, as you may or may not already know, am a world-class pessimist (despite my "be positive" blood type). This is not a point of pride. It is simply a statement of truth. My longstanding habit has been to always believe that things will go badly. To some degree, this acts as a bit of a built-in cushion. Rarely do things go as badly as I anticipate, and I'm therefore generally pleased with outcomes. However, when outcomes do turn out to be awful, at least they don't come as a shock.

When I was in college, I took an Abnormal Psychology course. My professor was Martin E. P. Seligman, a guy who (a) had the most soothing male voice in the world and (b) wrote a book entitled Learned Optimism. I did not ever get around to reading the whole book. But I read enough to grasp that the basic premises were (a) that it's possible to train oneself to be optimistic and (b) that being optimistic has definite benefits.

Which leads me to my twenty-first New Year's Resolution of the year (and no, it does not involve reading the aforementioned book):

I resolve to be more optimistic than is my natural tendency.


As it happens, just four days before I learned that I am being laid off, I was hired to a new part-time job. This is a job that I had wanted for over ten months, ever since I first heard of it. The way I heard of it is that Beth told me about it. She had heard about it from a former coworker who had started working for this company a few months earlier and told Beth about it when he stopped in to visit her workplace. So I contacted him in early June of 02008 and then bugged him every few months to ensure that he would not forget to let me know when an opening occurred.

Well, he e-mailed me in April and let me know that an opening was available for a part-time position. I wanted the job to be full-time, but at least this was a chance to get my foot in the door. So I contacted the appropriate people, had an interview, and got hired. I still hope that it becomes my next full-time job. Clearly, with the impending loss of my current full-time job, the ideal timing for the switch would be sometime in July. (See above re: my new optimistic attitude.)

Anyway, this contact apparently stopped in to Beth's workplace yesterday to chat with her about how things are going. As they were talking, he apparently mentioned to her that they (my new employers) are afraid that they won't be able to hold on to me. Apparently, the fear is that I'm "too smart". The implication is that intelligent people need serious mental stimulation in order to stay satisfied in their jobs. Without said stimulation, I guess smart folks are supposed to get restless and feel the need for something more.

Note: I take this "too smart" comment as a great compliment. What I take away from it is that perhaps I comport myself in such a way as to not come across as a dolt. That's nice to know.

Well, the truth is that I have a pretty good sense of what keeps me happy. As far as work goes, it's largely a matter of (a) doing rather than delegating and (b) feeling as if I have actually done something at the end of the day — even if that something needs to be redone the next day. This job definitely satisfies both of those desires.

Beyond that, this new job provides me with lots of additional benefits. Among them:
  • No longer spending all that time at work staring at a computer screen. (I've been doing that for over 15 years and I'm tired of it.)
  • Getting some fresh air.
  • Getting some exercise.
  • Getting to see some pretty scenery.
  • Having a schedule that allows me to see my darling wife for a significant portion of every day instead of basically having to live for the weekends.
  • The satisfaction of knowing that I am part of the supply chain for ice cream — which I am convinced is the happiest food there is.
  • The knowledge that my job simply can not be outsourced to China or India or Vietnam (which I understand is the new "hot" market for taking American jobs).
You might expect from my long and ever-growing list of New Year's Resolutions that I am the sort of person who likes to set goals for himself. This is simply not the case. I like to get through each day as it comes. Beyond that, my long term goals are pretty simple: 1) I want to spend a larger percentage of my time with Beth. 2) I hope to someday retire. That's pretty much it.

Shorter term goals tend to be merely steps along the way. And in a very real way, this new job will move me closer to both of those goals. The first is obvious, as I will soon no longer be on an opposite work schedule to Beth's. The second is a bit more abstract, but basically it boils down to this: For me, retirement is a situation that brings with it the idea of no longer exhausting my mental capacities as someone else's employee. Which brings me to my twenty-second New Year's Resolution of the year:

I resolve that if/when it becomes a reality, I will be filled with gratitude for something that may seem strange to others: The blessed opportunity to have serious thought be strictly a leisure activity.

I love to engage in serious thought. I always have interesting ideas kicking around my head, and they provide me with a great source of amusement. When my mental energy is assigned to someone else's priorities, this is more a drain than it is an inspiration. To my way of thinking, work should not be what we live for. Interesting thought, on the other hand, is not at all a bad thing to live for. If my mind were not capable of providing me with intellectual stimulation, then I might welcome an intellectually challenging work environment, just to keep me from going batty. I am thankful that I am not in such a situation. My mind does not seem at all in danger of leaving me in a state of endless boredom, thank you very much!

[And no, I am not suggesting that the new job allows me to simply show up and check out. It does require attention. It just doesn't require what might be termed "advanced thinking".]