Sunday, May 29, 2005

Ten Things I Wish I Had Done

I don't really like pinpointing and dwelling on regrets, but I just came across a meme on this topic here (which linked back to here) and decided I'd play along. It's sort of in the same spirit of "Ten Things I've Done That You Probably Haven't," with perhaps less accent on the positive, I suppose.

So here's my list... Ten things I wish I'd done (or, in some cases, am glad I did but wish I'd done a bit differently).
  1. Spent more weekends traveling and going out to pubs during my semester in Scotland. I was worried about spending too much money, which was a valid concern, but I probably missed out on a lot of cultural learning opportunities and life experiences because of it.

  2. Minored in art. For years, I thought I would pursue art in college, but in my senior year of high school, when I decided I wasn't cut out for a career in that field, I abandoned it entirely. Years later I realize that an English degree and a writing-related career would actually be supplemented quite nicely with the design skills and background that an art minor could have provided, and I wish I had considered that at the time.

  3. Saved more money in my first years out of college. Where did it all go? I have some thoughts, but it baffles me nonetheless.

  4. Started considering a house purchase earlier than I did, and then spent more time looking and budgeting before I felt the pressure of people telling me to "BUY NOW, before interest rates bolt upward!"

  5. Reacted to Valentine's Day 1990 somewhat differently than I did.

  6. Just outright asked the guy who consumed most of my social time and thoughts my sophomore year of college whether he "liked me liked me" and whether he might like to date me for real, instead of just pseudo-dating me (particularly since everyone we knew thought we were dating anyway).

  7. Lived on Grand Avenue (or a neighboring side street) in my mid-20s, instead of in apartment complexes in the suburbs.

  8. Learned to ski when I was young enough not to be afraid of velocity, inertia, and gravity and the injury that might result from them.

  9. Appreciated my piano lessons.

  10. Taken more chances.

Probably several of the items on the list (as well as other regrets and doubts not on the list) can actually be traced to that last one. Luckily, however, it's one I can still work on, I suppose.

Thursday, May 26, 2005

Inappropriate uses of the office refrigerator

Maybe my co-workers are spoiled because there aren't so very many of us, so we usually don't have to fight too hard for space in the kitchen fridge. I still think it's inappropriate to store the following in space meant to be shared by many, however:
  • A six-can case of pineapple juice
  • Five identical yogurt cups
  • Frozen meals and Hot Pockets you have not eaten in over six months*
  • Approximately 84 protein/nutrition bars (the contents of seven bulk-packaged boxes, none of which are marked "refrigeration required")**
  • A jar of olives
  • A whole cucumber***
* I've considered three possible explanations for this one: 1) Owner of said meals somehow forgot s/he ever brought the meals to work, and therefore doesn't want to eat them for fear that they're actually someone else's lunch. 2) Owner of said meals is the receptionist who was fired last year, and apparently didn't think to clean out the fridge after she cleaned out her desk. 3) Owner of said meals is worried s/he may one day be trapped in the office during a blizzard or hostage situation, and fears there will be nothing to eat but microwave popcorn and Splenda packets. Unlabeled mystery flavor Hot Pockets may become currency in this scenario, so apparently preparedness is key. (I'm guessing #2 is the most likely explanation, however.)

** I know exactly who these belong to, and what makes it even more ridiculous is that his house is two miles from the office, meaning he's never more than five minutes away from his own refrigerator, where it would be more appropriate to store such a surplus of protein bars. He also owns the place, however, so clearly he gets to make his own rules.

*** Not so much inappropriate as just plain weird. Seriously.

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

I have no idea what color my parachute is.

I had a meeting last week with a woman who works in an area called Distributor Finance at Ecolab. From my understanding, the majority of her job deals with getting distributors for Ecolab's products placed on the right pricing contract and reconciling discrepancies when distributors think they're on a contract different from the one to which Ecolab has them assigned. As she explained this to me, I was surprised to note that my primary reaction was not, "Wow; that sounds boring," but instead, "Hmm. Who knew that was a job?"

I'm used to people looking confused or apologetic when I tell them what I do for a living. I can only imagine the looks this woman gets when asked about her job in pleasant small talk with new acquaintances at parties. Then again, maybe she doesn't get the same glazed eyeballs reaction when she explains her job as I've seen when I explain mine, because maybe she just says, "I work at Ecolab," and people respond, "Oh, I see," and conversation moves on to the weather or traffic or some other fairly universal time-filler topic. Most people are not that genuinely curious about or interested in other people. If you don't believe me, start thinking about how often you've seen someone truly wait for an actual response after extending the thoroughly lame and yet socially acceptable and all-pervasive greeting of "How are you?"

I've been thinking a lot about jobs lately, though, which is likely why I gave more than the usual amount of thought to the Distributor Finance expert's position. I've stayed at my current job probably longer than I should, mostly because whenever I work up the energy to consider looking for a new one, my laziness reminds me that I have something better to do... like watch four hours of Sex & the City on DVD or catch up on my idle Web surfing. So I settle into my comfortable little rut for another several months, plugging along doing the same thing I've done for months and years past. I realize I'm lazy and averse to change; I'm just not exactly sure how to remedy that.

What's strange is I never had any intention of being a technical writer in the first place. Yes, I was an English major in college, and I took some classes from the tech writing and editing tract, but it was mostly just to gain some "more immediately relevant to the business world" coursework to accompany all those literature and humanities classes on my transcript. I do enjoy knowing I'm part of a rare group of liberal arts grads who are actually doing something directly related to their degree, but technical writing is not what I thought that thing would be. That doesn't mean I dislike it in particular; on the contrary, I think the fact that I don't hate it actually supersedes laziness on the list of reasons I've stuck with it for so long.

All of this leads me to wonder... How many of us are actually doing what we thought we'd be doing in our lives? How many of us really even know what it is we thought we'd be doing? (I know I don't.) And how many of us are doing something our friends think we're completely well suited for, while inside we're fantasizing about some totally different career?

Lately I've seen evidence in particular of that last one. Not to say that the career we choose once has to completely characterize and limit us forever, but I couldn't help but be surprised to learn that my reference librarian friend thinks it would be fun to be an accountant (because she likes to "play with [her] calculator"). Likewise, I never expected my friend who's working towards a certification in human resource management to say she thinks she'd enjoy grading papers. I find it less of a stretch to imagine my Web programmer friend running her own "sustainable home" products business (as she's said is her dream), but that's just because I know it's a cause she feels passionately about, and she could very likely become one of those lucky and ambitious people who takes something that's meaningful and important to them and manages to turn it into a career. (Clearly she's far less lazy than I.)

With these examples in mind, I've tried to consider what I might like to do if I were to switch careers entirely. The fact that I can't help but notice (and point out to my friends) the prevalence of misused apostrophes and quotation marks on menus and commercial signage seems to indicate that I am, in fact, in the right field for me. And yet, every day when I see our postal worker (a woman about my age with a red ponytail and very toned legs) bring the mail to our office, I can't help but think, "What a cool job. She gets to walk around in a great neighborhood with beautiful old houses, get some fresh air and exercise, be alone with her thoughts, and drive a neat little truck with the steering wheel on the wrong side." I have no idea how much letter carriers make, but government jobs have great benefits, right? Then again, there is the weather to consider... Lately I have no desire to be outside any more often than necessary, since this unending rain has doused both my spirits and my shoes repeatedly the past two weeks.

Sometimes I think I'd like to be a travel agent, but I'm pretty sure that it's only the perks of that job I want. Organizing other people's vacations, constantly calling airlines and hotels to iron out issues and lobby for deals--these are things I really have no interest in, I suppose. I like libraries, so I've considered whether I could be a librarian, but my librarian friend wants to be an accountant, so I'm not sure what that tells me...

Lately I've been thinking that maybe I don't know what my dream job is because perhaps it's something I don't even know exists. Aside from the Distributor Finance lady, I've met other people who make a living doing something I never knew was a job. In my knitting group is a young woman who was recently hired as an archivist for my favorite Twin Cities based retailer. Archivist? Has that ever had a table at Career Day? Even though I understand the basic goal of her job (organizing and somehow filing corporate documents and records and what-not), I still have no idea what it really involves--what specifically she does when she goes to work every day. The details of her job are just as foreign and intangible to me as those of my electrical engineer friend's, and she gave me the same suspicious "Are you patronizing me?" look as he did when pressed for an explanation.

A friend of a friend is a food scientist, and I had a similar reaction when I met him a few years ago. I know that unusual new food products are introduced all the time; I just never stopped to think about how someone has to come up with all those products, and that person's job has a title, and that title is Food Scientist. This friend of a friend worked for Dairy Queen, which means he was partially responsible for the Scooby Doo Mystery Crunch Blizzard Flavor Treat® that had my dad pooping blue for two days back in 2002. (I realize you didn't need to know that, but neither did I and I still had to hear about it; life's a bit unpleasant sometimes.) I've certainly seen worse ideas than the Scooby Doo Blizzard, however (Ore-Ida's very frightening Funky Fries and Heinz's equally scary purple ketchup quickly come to mind), and I'm also aware that I have food scientists to thank for Freschetta pizzas and the surprisingly tasty new Take 5 candy bar (for which a food scientist at Hershey's deserves some type of Excellence in Snack Food Innovation award).

Hmm. Now I'm hungry. How I went from Distributor Finance and career crises to purple ketchup and Take 5, I have no idea, but now I need to go rifle through my cupboards for something clearly bad for me to eat when it's clearly past the time of night when I should be eating. So it goes, and who am I to fight it?

Thursday, May 12, 2005

Blame it on the rain

Dear Rain-

OK, yeah, we get it. Trees, flowers, nourishing the soil, blah, blah, whatever. But you've done your job; everything’s all green and pretty now, so... enough. I'm cold, I'm wet, and I'm tired of wiping water droplets off my glasses with my shirt each time I come inside.

And don't even get me started on that dude you came in with--your buddy Cold Front. A little bit of snow on the first day of May was amusing, OK? Gave us all a little something to laugh about and pretend we're shocked by... But now it's mid-May, and I shouldn't be paying for heat anymore, and... enough already. Really. Sheesh.

The love: not feelin' it,


Tuesday, May 03, 2005

In the cards

My birthday was more than six weeks ago, but since I'm very lazy and oftentimes surprisingly oblivious to my surroundings, I just got around to taking down my birthday cards. I'm sure Queen Latifah, with whom I share a birthday (same date, different year) had all her cards and gifts put away weeks ago. She probably had a whole room full of cards, and still didn't have them scattered about for six weeks. But she probably has someone to do that sort of thing for her, right?

In any case, in putting my cards away, three things made me laugh, despite the fact that I'd obviously seen them all before (and in fact had been staring right at--or through--them for weeks):

  1. From my little sister, a card that said this: "My cookbook says if I don't have two eggs, I can substitute three egg yolks... I don't think my cookbook understands my problems."

  2. From my good friends Dale and Jenny, a hand-made card that simply reads, "This card would be better if you were reading it in Branson." This probably isn't funny to anyone except me and them. If you don't think it's funny, you've probably never had to explain why your mother and father are so fond of the place Homer Simpson described as "what Las Vegas would be like if Ned Flanders were in charge."

  3. From my 93-year-old grandmother, it was not the card that made me smile, but rather what was inside the card--a $1 bill, secured in place with not one, but TWO firm staples.

  4. I should not still find amusement in this, as every card I've received from my grandmother in the past 13 years has held a dollar bill stapled inside. The second staple is new, however. I suspect she's getting more leery and cautious in her old age. Nothing is certain; the mailman can't be trusted; but that second staple will somehow ensure that her dollar bill arrives safely intact.

    In the past, Grandma has sometimes provided a suggestion as to what I might do with the dollar. Once she said, "Have a hamburger." Another time she suggested it might be useful in filling up my gas tank. (Apparently she was aware of rising gas prices, but not aware that it takes more than half a gallon to drive to work each day. Maybe she thought I had other old ladies sending me dollar bills as well, and together they would provide enough cash to fill the entire tank.) This one, however, was my favorite: "Here's a dollar. You can buy six popsicles. But don't buy red. You'll look like you're wearing lipstick." I think I was 23 at the time. If my grandmother thought cherry popsicle-stained lips were whorish and scandalous, I can only imagine what she must think when she watches cable TV. Bless her little 93-year-old heart.