February 28, 2009

Today's Economic Headlines

In this morning's paper:

  • Citibank sells 36% of itself to the US Government
  • Defensive Tackle Albert Haynesworth gets a $100 million contract from Washington Redskins, including $41 million guaranteed
  • Passengers of Ryanair may have to pay 1 £ to take a pee
Um.  Yeah.  What the fuck?

February 25, 2009

haiku wednesday - February 25, 2009

This week's words are

No time this week. Gaakk. Composed all on the train. Running to meetings now.

persistent, callous
snow, sleet interfere with plans
endless winter cold

challenge, interfere
persistent pressure makes change
soothe my callous heart

persistent whining
callous mom lets kid run wild
should I interfere?

February 23, 2009

Shona Shows Well

Our dear friend McKoala has pointed out that Shona Snowden has shown quite well in a short story competition at Women on Writing. Although it was not a winner, her story Recreating Home placed runner-up and is well worth reading. There are some lessons to be learned in her story about description and mood. Go read it, then pop on over to McKoala's blog to congratulate Shona indirectly.

February 18, 2009

haiku wednesday - February 18, 2009

This week's words are

No time this week. Gaakk.

impulse to stay home
candid chat with boss fixed that
can't risk job these days

risk some candid snaps
impulse is to share with friends
facebook now owns them!

candid kitten glee
pounce impulse strong in this one
risk of shredded drapes

February 15, 2009

Dos Veces

We went to a restaurant tonight called Sweet Tomatoes, a competitor to Fresh Choice. My wife returned from a visit to the restroom talking about discrimination. I visited the men's restroom to see if it existed there, too. Here's what I saw:

Yeah, the sign in English says, "Employees must wash hands." But the sign in Spanish says, "All employees must wash hands two times." The implication would be, of course, that we would rather have Mexicans handling our food than English speakers. Since the Mexicans would wash their hands twice. (Living in California, it's pretty safe to say that most Spanish-speaking restaurant workers are Mexican.)

I am wondering what possesses the restaurant to put up two different sets of requirements based on the type of language you speak. Presumably, bilingual people must wash their hands three times.

2009 San Franciso Writers Conference, over

Day Two of the SFWC was a bit of a letdown for me in that I worked in the "cafe" nearly all day and got to see only one session. That was partly by choice so that the other volunteers could go see sessions they really wanted to see and because there weren't any that I really felt were unmissable. But the big letdown was that I spent the previous 24 hours amping up my courage to read a couple of my poems in public--imagine your first reading being in a crowded room at a writers conference in the second most literary city in the US--and then all the readings simply failed to happen.

The third and final day, however, was a good day for me. I attended two of the three morning sessions. One was another poetry panel, very interesting. It consisted of two editors of small literary journals with umpteen years in the business and tons of personal publications. The other session included an editor from Chronicle and an agent reading the first pages of children's books and offering quick critiques. Helpful and entertaining.

Most useful to me throughout the conference was the networking and chatting time, both with the volunteers and the presenters. I also got reacquainted with a couple of agents I had met previously, and got reinvigorated for my writing. (The reinvigoration is cool, but I don't think it will actually end up creating more free time for me after I go back to the real world.)

The coolest thing for me was that the two agents I met last year who declined to represent my work, both remembered what I had given them (a year ago!) and both said they had liked it very much but it was just not quite right. The other coolest thing is that my story "35 Across"was selected for publication in the conference anthology. The anthology is in editing now, and it is due to be out in two or three months.

Tomorrow, back to the real world where I will be dealing with a huge increase in responsibility at my Day Job, including a doubling of the size of the department I manage and an increase in the number of programs under my purview. When will I find time to write, to leverage this enthusiasm, to keep progressing?

February 13, 2009

2009 San Franciso Writers Conference, Day 1

This is my second year volunteering at the San Francisco Writers Conference. This is a terrific conference. Volunteers do a lot of work, but we also get to catch some of the sessions and meet tons of interesting people. My biggest observation from the first day is how absurdly nice everyone is. The presenters, the volunteers, and especially the attendees. Maybe I just got lucky in whom I met (it was Friday the 13th after all).

I managed to catch the last 10 minutes of the lunch keynote by Richard Paul Evans, who was insightful and entertaining. I wish I could have heard the whole thing. One of his main points was that through fear of failure, we often choose failure. As in, "I might have my story rejected, so I won't send it to that magazine," thereby guaranteeing it won't be in that magazine. He made some other points, but that was my big takeaway.

I also managed to catch three sessions when I wasn't working the cafe or helping out with other odd jobs and recording. (All the sessions will be available on CD or as mp3 files at a later date from www.vwtapes.com.

The first session, about "tweens and teens" focused on middle grade fiction, featured Melissa Manlove of Chronicle Books and Jennifer Laughran of Andrea Brown Literary Agency. It didn't quite go off as planned, but it was still an engaging session with great audience participation. Unfortunately, most of the questions centered on "is my book middle grade or YA." There were some great tips from both speakers about approaching a tween audience, though.

The second one I attended was a poetry panel including some local luminaries. It featured some spirited and some thoughtful discussion about poetry in general, about becoming and being a poet, and about their personal experiences. The panel comprised a diverse enough set of backgrounds to keep the conversation moving. My one big takeaway was that success in poetry starts small with individual placements of poems in various journals, and that most books of poetry are about 50% previously published poems. The panel was moderated by Kit Kennedy and featured Joan Gelfand, Connie Post, and Clive Matson.

The last one I caught was the best of the day for me, a workshop by Brad Henderson and Andy Jones, two lecturers at UC Davis. They started their own poetry version of NaNoWriMo of sorts, called "40 days, 40 poems." The idea of course is to force yourself to write a poem a day for forty days, regardless of length, quality, subject. The result is that you stop waiting for inspiration and instead start seeing it lurking all over the place, and you force yourself to write when maybe you wouldn't otherwise. I stumbled upon this concept myself last April during national poetry month when I blogged a poem a day for all 30 days of April. That turned into the Unlucky 26. During this workshop, they gave us four minutes to compose a four-line poem to a very specific prompt. Each line was given its own mission, and we had to write something about a person, place, or thing that had made some emotional impact on us in the past week. Then we read our poems to each other (so those dying for another recording of me reading my work can buy the mp3 of the session when it comes out).

Some were shockingly literary for four minutes. A few people wrote two poems in that time. F'ing overachieving showoffs. Here is the four-line poem I came up with in the four allotted minutes:

Flotation Device
300 pound widebody wedged into an airplane seat
beachball with arms can't reach her carry-ons
nods off, her teddy bear clenched tight
why does she prefer the window seat?
I was about the 12th person to read. Everyone before me, and everyone who read after me, were treated to applause. Fortunately, I did not get any applause at all. I got laughter. Which I took to be a rousing success.

I've got two more days of volunteering. I'm not actively hawking anything this year because I brought Andie's Gold last year, and the crop of agents is pretty much the same people. If any of you out there are reading this and are going to be at SFWC the next two days, look for me.

February 12, 2009

And now I completely lose your respect for all time

Robin once again has pulled together the nut jobs among us who are willing to voice our writing on line. McKoala has come up with the theme: How about we turn Valentine's day around? Read something slushily romantic in the least romantic way possible?

Yeah, well, I did a ton of slushily romantic goopy crap poetry when I was courting Mrs. Pete back in college. I was 21, and today I am so mortified by the squooshy gooshy lovey-dovey drivel I produced that I can't believe it actually worked. So, after looking through a half dozen of these saved scraps of paper, I had to pick one from the remaining pile at random before I died of embarrassment reading the rest. So here is the one I picked. The text is below. The YouTube shows the original page from 20 years ago.

Your room at 3 a.m.
December 15, 1988
Some say
talk is cheap
with you
it's priceless

You lay on your bed
your legs tucked up
eyes showing the time
smile soft and warm

the room was cold
but I was warm
when our eyes met
we were so close

undeniably close
you looked so cuddly
for a moment I was
your pillow

held so tight to your chest
held so close to your cheek
soft gentle skin
unbelievably alluring

a coy smile almost inviting
we both wished
we both burned
but "reality" held on

even at 3 a.m.
alone in your room
we didn't touch

but somehow we embraced
our psyches, our souls
touched and held
a bond much stronger

than any possible
physical merging
we say it must wait
it is not realistic

but perhaps that night
was reality
an undeniable bond
awaiting recognition.

February 11, 2009

haiku wednesday - February 11, 2009

This week's words are

Wow, these words are a harsh indictment of Obama's first week, eh? "The disarray of the bailout only serves to validate the screeches of the uneducated rabble." These words can go together in so many ways. I wish I could allow myself more than 17 syllables! With 8 taken, I've only 9 to play with. (I know, I know. Whine, whine, whine. Get over it already.)

disarray of socks
teen rabble play strip poker
validate moms' angst

tin soldier rabble
validate rebellion fears
hope in disarray

Paris disarray
the rabble validate us
let us keep our heads

February 10, 2009

What a Fool Believes

Following up on my lamentation of the injustices of gotcha journalism yesterday, I wanted to mention that there are some level heads out in the world. The Motley Fool takes a noncommittal stance on whether the Vegas event should have been canceled. But the Fool also points out a few things that the AP and Reuters and other wire reports fail to mention. To wit:

In fact, when the TARP funds were doled out last October, Wells Fargo made it clear that it (a) didn't need the money, (b) didn't want the money, and (c) found the entire bailout absurd to begin with. Nonetheless, the TARP funds were forced down its throat by then Treasury boss Hank Paulson.
Meanwhile, every article mentions that Wells Fargo lost $2.55 billion in the fourth quarter of 2008. Very few of these articles include the additional facts that unlike many competitors, the company posted a net profit for the year of $2.84 billion; they also closed the Wachovia deal and took a big hit in the Q4 numbers from that.

I normally don't blog about my company too much because, frankly, apart from the role I play I really don't know a lot about our industry. So now I'll shut it and just watch it unfold. I've said my peace and then some.

February 9, 2009

recognition events

Last year, I was honored with a service award by my employer and invited to a four-day recognition event across the country. I was allowed to bring a guest. Fortunately for her, my wife was able to accompany me by making the winning bid (it was "you get to keep your imponderables intact") .

I won't lie: It was a hell of a lot of fun, and most of it felt like a vacation, not a business meeting. But also much of it was business.

I work in an industry that is essentially service. It's a knowledge industry where the workforce is the competitive advantage. It's not competing on manufacturing quality or technology advantage or flavor or cool design or distribution efficiency. At its core, our success depends on the employees doing a better job of helping customers.

If you compete on technology, you invest in technology. If you compete on flavor, you invest in flavor. If you compete on efficiency, you invest in efficiency. If you compete on customer service, you invest in employees.

The recognition event I attended was not a vacation for top executives or crooked sales people who made their numbers by bilking little old ladies out of their life savings. Mostly I met administrative assistants. Computer programmers. Back-office staff. Mail clerks. Phone support representatives. Bookkeepers. Project managers. All of them received top performance ratings and awards from their peers in the company, which allowed us to be invited to this special event.

When it was over, the only thing I wanted to do in the next 359 days was work my hardest to win another award and another invitation to the next year's recognition event. The event had worked its magic on me--and on every one of the other people I met there. All of us, already top performers, wanted to go back and improve on our solid achievements. When I returned to the office, people asked me how it was. I could tell they were hoping to get invited next year, too, and they were redoubling their efforts to outperform me. A healthy competition.

Shortly after that, my group was reorganized into an area that was no longer eligible to attend that particular event. Although I was disappointed I wouldn't be eligible, I actually had hoped that my coworkers would have the chance to attend because (a) they deserved it as much as I did and (b) I wanted them to feel the same pride and reward I felt coming out of the event. The 2009 event was recently canceled, and I feel a deep sadness that the people who deserve to go will be denied that opportunity despite the company having a strong enough year to acquire a major competitor and post an annual profit.

The people hurt by canceling these events are not the executives. The people hurt are the people most deserving of the recognition. The bookkeepers, the administrative assistants, the computer programmers, the project managers. The people who work hard to support their families and to help customers day in and day out, who were nominated by coworkers or customers for outstanding service.

It just makes me sad, and mad.

February 4, 2009

haiku wednesday - February 4, 2009

This week's words are

I can't believe I haven't posted since last Wednesday. I had some real trouble with this week's words. I think it's because I'm a purist and try to use the words in the form they're presented, without changing them (e.g., nerves, crumpled, etc.)

crumple note--the nerve!
illicit activity?
no, my dog did NOT!

they crumple in death
bullets end illicit plan
each nerve blood-pricked, raw

shot numbs oral nerve
illicit dentist chair games
rinse, spit, crumple cup