Monthly Archives: December 2012

Here’s (Nearly All of) Why 2012 Was the Best Year Ever


Spoiler Alert: This one could get kinda sappy. But I have to tell you it could have gotten a lot sappier. Trust me on this.

I didn’t have such high hopes when 2012 started. Let’s look back a bit: I was working as a contract copy editor for Red Ventures at the time. The writing on my contract said the job would (or could) end in early February. I’d been told it would last through February. Considering the few bites I’d had from casting my resume out pretty widely since “my sabbatical” began in December 2009, I wasn’t very encouraged on the job front.

But pretty soon after we reported back to work – the office had shut down the week between Christmas and New Year’s, but as a contract worker that just meant I’d had a long stretch with no pay – we got the word: We were extended through at least March.

That meant I could concentrate on the cruise I’d given Karen for her birthday in September 2011 (pretty sneaky of me to give her a gift that I got part of, right). Particularly, it mean I needed to get a passport, because it would be my first trip outside the country (unless you count our trip to Baltimore a few years ago – but that’s a tale for another day).  Anyway, I detailed the passport experience (as always, in excruciating detail, here).

In between all that, I got a nasty case of vertigo. My doctor warned me it could last weeks, even months. For once, though, I got a break. I was better in a very few days. Though the idea of the vertigo recurring, especially given that I wasn’t altogether sure about my sea legs anyway (there’s a seasickness story here that I’ll save for another day, too). Anyway, I’d signed up for the cruise to happen in mid-May, with the idea that I’d move it to later in the year if necessary.

In March, we found out that the contract would be extended for three more months. But this would almost certainly be the last extension. Would there be any permanent hires, I (and many others) asked. Not likely, my boss told me. Which would have been devastating. But I wasn’t too so sure. I thought that (a) she was preparing us just in case, or (2) she didn’t really know.

Things kept changing rapidly. The other two editors and I were told later that there probably would be jobs for a handful of writers but not for editors. Then that there might be jobs for editors. Then that there wouldn’t. Then that there would.

But very little definite info came out. So Karen and I did what we do: We went on with our lives. Specifically, we went on our cruise, which would take us from Charleston to the Bahamas and back. I detailed it here, but here’s the short version: We loved it. There was no recurrence of vertigo, and we had a great time that we really still haven’t stopped talking about. So if you don’t want to hear about it, don’t ask!

One of the best things about the cruise was that it put us incommunicado for a few days. When we got back, we found out that Red Ventures had sent out invitations for writer interviews among the contract workers. (I’d indicated interest in both writing and editing jobs.) I didn’t get an invitation. No problem, I thought. They didn’t send it because they knew I was on the trip.

Turns out I was wrong. They intentionally didn’t send one. “We think you’re a better fit for the editor position,” the explanation in my email said when I asked about it. Which made me feel good – at first. I mean, there was some rejection there. And the editor position was no sure thing.

A couple of days later, the invitations to interview for the editor job came out.

My co-worker Heather and I would be interviewing for positions – we didn’t know whether there was one or two or none. But we made a pact, and we stuck with it. We wouldn’t compete. Which is to say that we wouldn’t try to advance at the expense of the other. And we’d share any tidbit we got about the process. Our dream was that we’d both get hired. We stuck to that the whole way.

We interviewed, and nothing happened for several days. It felt like months. But finally, we had appointments to speak with the head HR person (reality check: it was only a week later). Heather’s was first; mine was in the late afternoon. Heather got her offer. I was overjoyed for her, but now I was really nervous. Finally, my time came.

I had to go upstairs. Susan took me into a meeting room. I noticed she had a folder in her hand. That was a good sign. Inside it was an offer letter, which she took out within a minute or so. She went over a lot of stuff after that. I didn’t hear any of it. I had a job. Since then, I’ve had some amazing things happen at work: The CEO stopped me one day to tell me he keeps hearing great things about me. A few days later, he invited me to sit at the big boy table beside him during a company meeting.

The job offer came at the end of May. But more good stuff would happen to me, too. In July, I reconnected with some old friends in Jacksonville at Potterpalooza, a ssort-of engagement party that my former boss Elliott Potter was throwing for his son, Jake. We got to see a lot of folks we hadn’t seen in years. And did I mention that we were at the beach!

We took another short beach trip with the kids later that summer.

And I still wasn’t done with traveling. In early December, my company took its annual trip. To the Caribbean. In this case, the Dominican Republic.

There was a little work: We had an awesome meeting the first day. I talked about it a little here, particularly about some lessons I learned, though I don’t think I mentioned the topless beach outside my hotel room. Or the casino. Or the hilarious videos my colleagues put together.

But  I didn’t mention the other lesson I learned, which was how much I missed my family. Especially Karen. Because traveling just wasn’t as fun or interesting without her. We’ve grown so close it’s frightening. In a good way.

Something else fantastic happened, too. But it’s not my news to share.

But move over, 2012. Because 2013 is gonna blow your doors off.  And I’m not talking about the cruise we booked, either.

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How the Fury Sounds and Why it Signifies Nothing


“Happiness is those who sing with you…” Those are lyrics I once sung as Schroeder in a Little Theater production of You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown. It was a long time ago. And I think they make a lot of sense to me, maybe more now than ever.

I’ll explain.

My company took a trip last week to Punta Cana in the Dominican Republic. There, I said it. Not bragging. Just fact. We played. A lot. But we also had a meeting. That’s what we do. And heard two fantastic speeches. 

I won’t go into great detail, but both moved me, and I’d like to tell you why (bail now if you want – that’s probably what I’d do in your slippers).

The first speaker said something I thought provocative: You’ll never be successful in your profession until you lose the fear of being fired. She’d been fired twice (from sort of the same company). The second time she didn’t fear it. And trust me, she is successful.

I got to thinking about my own career. Many of you know I got laid off from the magazine at the end of 2009. It was devastating: I was 52 years old, a wagon wheel maker in a world now dominated by cars. I had no job, no future.

It was the BEST thing that ever happened to me.

I’m not going to say I thought so at the time. But I think back to the way I was when the layoff came. The speaker said losing the fear of being fired was important because until you did, you always held back. You never really threw out the bold ideas, you made sure you covered your ass for every potential mistake. You became timid, walking around with shields up all the time, filtering what came in and what went out. How do I plead to that? As Megaphone Mark Slackmeyer said of John Mitchell: “Guilty! Guilty! Guilty!”

New Arthur, as I’m rebranding myself (it’s what I do), doesn’t fear that so much anymore. He’ll throw out dumb ideas all the time in meetings. But you know what? Some of them aren’t as dumb as I think they are. Apparently.

The other speaker was a guy named Shawn Achor. He’s written one of THOSE books, the kind I always wave off. Like the Seven Habits of Highly Irritating People Who Move and Cut the Cheese, or whatever the names of them are. I don’t care.

I do care about Shawn’s book (or at least his discussion of it, which made a lot of sense). It’s called The Happiness Advantage. It’s all about ways that being happy makes you more productive. I believe that. I’ve always believed that, I guess. Not Pollyanna happy or Pangloss happy. Realistic happy.

It’s what we do at my new job, too. We try to stay happy. We work hard. We play hard. We work harder.

The boss at my company, Ric Elias, often says the following words: “I choose to be happy.”

Here’s when he started saying them: After he survived the plane crash into the Hudson River in January 2009. The one where Captain Sully landed the plane successfully. Click here if you want to hear a TED talk by Ric on what he learned as the plane was crashing. I highly recommend it (like all TED talks, it’s not very long).

Anyway, we got back to Charlotte Sunday afternoon about a half hour early. It had been a good flight. The spinach “lasagna” sucked, but the cheesecake actually was pretty good. 

We zipped through customs, even the luggage came out pretty early. It wasn’t until we got outside where the shuttles were picking people up that things broke down. And it was only with Long Term 1, where I had parked Thursday morning. Early Thursday morning. 5 a.m. Thursday morning. Which meant leaving my house at 4 a.m. Thursday morning. (Yes I know saying 4 a.m. Thursday morning is redundant, but it sounds more powerful, dammit, so I’m doing it.)

Turns out 15 minutes passed without any shuttles going to Long Term 1. 

Turns out 30 minutes passed without any shuttles going to Long Term 1.

People griped. To one another. To drivers of the other buses. To anyone wearing a uniform. My friend Patrick, who rode with me to the airport, and I didn’t gripe. We were too tired to, mainly. And we just wanted to get home.

About 10 minutes later, the first Long Term 1 bus pulled up (they had closed the lot, so nothing was coming from it – and I think they forgot people might be coming in that needed to go to it). It wasn’t a big bus, but we both made it on.

The big guy in the blue shirt didn’t. We didn’t know him. He wasn’t with my company. He had been one of the gripers – to anyone who would listen. Which meant he wasn’t at the curb when the bus pulled up and we started cramming into it.

That didn’t stop him, though. He screamed at the driver. Then he screamed some more. Then he cursed the driver. I don’t think he realized how stupid he sounded to everyone else, even the others who hadn’t been able to get on the bus.

There was a time I might have been that guy. I’ve been angry at sales clerks and other service people before, and I’m pretty sure I’ve made an ass of myself in the process. 

Not any more. I’m singing a different tune these days. I’m happy. And I hope a lot of people will choose to sing with me and Schroeder. 

Is it hard to be happy today, given the unspeakable events of yesterday? Yes, it is. I don’t know the answer. I won’t pretend to. I’m grieving, too, for those little children and the families that will miss them and even a tiny bit for the poor soul who couldn’t see the horror in what he was doing. 

But I’m also living. I still choose to be happy.

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A Christmas Tree-t, or Was it Really Stealing?


Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn’t before! “Maybe Christmas,” he thought, “doesn’t come from a store. Maybe Christmas … perhaps … means a little bit more!”

The occasion: We’re going to get our tree today. Which means a little visit from the Ghost of Christmas Past (not the one who points the creepy finger).

My first Christmas tree memories are of stealing them. I’ll explain.

I guess the mind plays tricks on you when you hit 35 or so and are trying to remember your youth. But I remember it always being kind of snowy when I was growing up and we’d go to pick out our tree.

Of course, I remember it being snowier then anyway. (Kind of a contrast of the way Harper Lee remembers times being hotter in To Kill a Mockingbird: Somehow it was hotter then … Ladies bathed before noon, after their three-o’clock naps, and by nightfall were like soft teacakes with frostings of sweat and sweet talcum. But I remember it snowing two or three times or more a winter.

When it did, my brother and I would take the sleds out – he always got the long, cool one – and find a hill, usually with our friends Harry and Eddie and whomever else showed up. We’d stay until we were too wet and cold and then some, then trudge back to the house, where we’d shed all our boots and wet stuff in the basement. (Strange, I don’t ever remember picking that stuff up. Wonder what happened to it?) Once we’d warm up some, my mom would make some snow cream. (As an aside, I wouldn’t eat snow cream today, because I’d be scared it was acid snow cream.)

Anyway, on the day we’d go to pick a tree, we didn’t pile into the car. Not usually, anyway. We’d put on our snow stuff and go trudging through the woods. People did that, in those days. Now it’s called trespassing – and not very advisable.

But it was a different time back then. My friend Mike and I would go exploring in the woods all the time. DIdn’t matter whose property we were on. But we walked all around in every direction. Our moms had no idea where we were or how to get in touch with us. Ever. And if we were thirsty and ran across a stream or brook in the woods, we’d drink from it. Can you imagine drinking surface water these days? I can’t. Not even on a bet.

Back to trespassing through woods on a snowy evening. Or afternoon. My mom and my brother and sister and I would put the snow gear on and take the long sled out through the woods. We’d check out trees until we found one that would suit our house. Not too tall or too wide or anything else. I forgot to mention we took an ax and a saw, too. When we picked The One, we’d chop/saw/pull it down, tie it to the sled and head home, where we’d hang those giant lights and glass balls and tinsel and sometimes spray it with artificial snow. And then we’d wait for presents to appear under it. My mom was kinda sneaky about that. She’d wait a long time before putting any packages under the tree. Or she’d put some under there with no names. Yes, she tortured us that way.

It was great.

***

Through the years, Karen and I have embraced the fresh tree thing, though not the trespassing. For a while, we even did the cut your own tree thing at lots out in the country. When we lived in Gastonia, the Hellmouth of Weird, we’d drive down to Clover, S.C., to get our trees. Except for this one year. It was 1994 …

We were pregnant, or Karen was. Very pregnant. The OB put us on anytime notice, probably pretty foolishly. Because as it would turn out, it didn’t happen until early morning Jan. 5. We didn’t know that then.

So we decided it would be a good thing to try a new Christmas tree lot. In Lincoln County. Near Vale. Wherever the hell that is. And keep in mind, I’ve been there.

Anyway, the night we decided to go, it started sleeting. Not terribly, but not so great, either. Here’s how long ago it was: We were using MapQuest directions. And of course we couldn’t see any street or road signs. Even if there had been street or road signs. We got lost. Real lost. In the sleet. With a 17 month pregnant person in the car. Probably not my shining moment as a husband.

We did finally find the lot. And picked out a tree in the dark. And cut it. And found our way back home. Safely. And still childless (sort of).

That tree, as it turned out, was one of the prettiest we had. But the best present wasn’t under it. We didn’t get it a few days later.

***

These days we still get natural trees. But we don’t cut them. There’s a great little lot around the corner from our house. The family that runs it is from the mountains. They tie the tree to your car for you. They’d probably follow you home and take it off the car and into your house for you.

We likely won’t decorate it until tomorrow. And who knows when the presents will go under it? But I can say one thing for certain. The BEST one won’t be under it.

“I don’t want expensive gifts; I don’t want to be bought. I have everything I want. I just want someone to be there for me, to make me feel safe and secure.”

_ Princess Diana

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