Sunday, December 14, 2014

Hey there-- I moved

I have moved my blog to WordPress.  I'm still Standing can be found at renatamanzoscruggs.com
See you there!

Friday, December 12, 2014

Deja Vu All over Again--The Fall of My Discontent

     Like mother like son . .  the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. . .  he comes by it honestly . . a chip off the old block . . .
    I haven’t mentioned how my son is doing at college.  That’s because—he’s not.  
    Let me back up to 1978.   I went to high school in a small town in Maryland.  Purportedly, less than 10% of the students went to college.  I don’t know if that is true or not, but it felt like it at the time.
    As you can imagine, I was a square peg in a round hole.   I found myself plopped down in a new school at the beginning of 10th grade.  The first day of school, I dropped my purse getting out of the bus, and the contents spilled out onto the curb.  Not an auspicious beginning. 
    Back then, I don’t think parents chose their homes based on the school district—at least mine didn’t.  My dad bought the house because it was big enough to blend two families—ours and my stepmother’s.  She brought along two college age kids and her mother—Elsa (more on this train wreck later).
    When it came time to pick a college, my guidance counselor (bless his heart) presented me with two choices—UMBC and College Park.  I told him I wanted to go to school out of state and he told me I would never get out of the state of Maryland.  That was the wrong thing to say to me. 
    As a result, however, I had no idea where to apply. 
    My father was a first generation American on his father’s side and the first member of his family to go to college, thanks to the GI Bill after World War II.  He had grown up in Hartford, Connecticut, so he steered me toward Ivy League colleges. 
    Ignorance is bliss—I set my sights high.  I applied to Yale (my first choice), Cornell, Barnard (Columbia) and Georgetown. 
    I was heartbroken when I got waitlisted at Yale.  In hindsight, it was a blessing.  When I went to visit it later on, I hated it.  It was cold and dark and foreboding.  And the kids weren’t at all congenial.  I’m sorry, but Yankees just aren’t as friendly as Southerners.   
    I was accepted at Barnard and Georgetown, both city schools—what was I thinking?  I should have applied to a school like Princeton, or UVA or Duke, but as I said, I didn’t get any guidance counseling in high school.   I assumed UVA was like Maryland, just farther south.  To be fair, the University of Maryland has come a long way since the 1970’s.   But back then, when my stepsister attended, she stopped going to classes mid-semester and still passed most of them.
     I chose Barnard.  Barnard is a renown Seven Sisters School (like Vassar) that is part of Columbia University.  Margaret Mead graduated from Barnard.  So did Martha Stewart, Cynthia Nixon (Sex and the City) and Erica Jong, author of Fear of Flying.  If you don't know who Erica Jong is, you need to Google her.  And Joan Rivers went there too.  With such distinguished alumni, how could I go wrong?
      I had been admitted to an Ivy League school!  My dream had come true, or so I thought.  
Barnard College-- not like I remember it.

    Barnard is located smack dab in the middle of NYC.  Not only that, but it’s situated on the edge of Harlem.  In the late 1970’s, New York was dirty and unsafe.  Although there were two parks on either side of the University, students were cautioned to stay out of them.  My only reprieves from concrete were off limits.
    I thought I would love living in New York—the museums, the theatre, the shopping—but wait—these things all require one thing—money, which of course, I did not have.
    My dorm was located on the corner of 116th and Broadway.  Six floors up with a great view of the subway stop.  I could see guys peeing against the building across the street at night.  It was a prison.  I hated it almost from the first day. 
 
New York City Subway during the 1970s. 
Even my fearless big brother wouldn't ride it.
    What I didn’t realize at the time was that Barnard was pretty much a commuter school.  Many of the students lived on Long Island, New Jersey and Connecticut.  They went home for the weekend.  In fact, the cafeterias on campus closed for the entire weekend. 
    There was very little social life on campus.  I don’t remember many parties.  Fraternities and sororities were not popular there.  Most students took advantage of being in the city, and so the social life on campus was nil.  Studio 54 was in its heyday then, but I never saw it.
    My first roommate was a party girl from Massapequa on Long Island.  She had many friends at Barnard; my role was to serve as her social secretary, taking phone messages.  One of her friends, what we now call a friend “with benefits”, was an ex-boyfriend who was “pre-engaged” to someone else.  That someone else went to another school, so the two of them enjoyed frequent booty calls in our room.  Talk about awkward.  That meant the only place for me to hang out was either the empty lounge or the library. 
    I got sick of answering the phone for her, so I moved down the hall to a room with a pre-med student.  That was almost worse.  She studied all night, making sleep almost impossible for me, even with a mask and ear plugs.
    The girls on my hall were not exactly pleasant.  One told me to “go back to Peoria.”  Really?  That’s how you greet newcomers?  Where was Joan Rivers when I needed her?
      Many of the students were religious, so their social life revolved around their temple.  Not being Jewish myself, I didn’t get invited to share Shabbat with them.
    Once it got cold, things got even worse. The cold was a biting, seep into the bones kind of cold.  Everything around me turned gray—the sky, the buildings, the sidewalks, the streets.  I missed seeing the color green.  I missed being able to take long walks.  Well, I could have, of course, but I didn’t relish the thought of getting mugged along the way.


Before Prozac, we had Stella Doro
     Predictably, I got depressed.  Even Elton John failed to provide solace. On the weekends, I lived on Stella Doro Swiss Fudge Cookies, a popular treat among the Jewish girls because they were Kosher.  Depressed and pudgy, my dream of college turned into a living nightmare.
    If there was one silver lining in all this, it was that the depression made me confront lingering issues from my childhood, namely my convoluted relationship with my mother.  I finally began to see a therapist, who helped me immensely.  Thank God for therapists.
    As I mentioned in a previous post (Christmas 1971), my mother left us right before Christmas when I was 11 and went back to Nova Scotia.  We did not hear from her for six years.  During that time, my father married a teacher named Doris, and my dad bought the house on Elmhurst Road in Severn.   
     Then, unexpectedly in 1977, my father kicked Doris out, took me to lunch, and told me he was getting back with my mother.  I was so stunned I lost my appetite—something that rarely happens to me! 
     Naturally, my father expected us all to take the change in stride and roll with it.  “Getting in touch with one’s feelings” was a concept lost on my dad.  In his universe, he was the sun and his children were but satellites revolving around him.    
     So my mother moved back in when I was 17.   I was glad to have her back, but at the same time I was conflicted because she had abandoned me, and it hurt.  I spent many nights during my teens sobbing at night, wondering how she could have left us with no explanation. 
     We never talked about what had happened or why.  It was as if it had not happened—sort of like the ending of the second Bob Newhart show when Bob wakes up with Suzanne Pleshette, his TV wife from the first show, and discovers the second show was all just a dream.
Waking up from a dream
     My life, however, was far from a sitcom.
     The therapist advised me to ask my mom why she left us, so I called her one day and asked her.  She told me she was so worn down by my father’s emotional abuse that she felt she could not take care of us.  She said she chose what she thought was the best course of action for us.  She was probably right.  She had moved back in with her parents, and bringing four young children along would not have worked.  Her parents old then, and were weird.  Just plain weird.  Again, that’s another story.
     So all of this was swirling around in my head during the fall of 1978—loneliness, depression, weight gain and emotional turmoil.
     Nevertheless, I went back after Christmas break, which was called “intercession” because of the large Jewish population at the school.  That was another thing—no Christmas on campus.  Why didn’t I go to see the tree at Rockefeller Plaza?  I don’t know. I guess I was too miserable by then.  Besides, who would I have gone with? 
     After the second day back at school in January, I knew I was not going to make it.  I called home and asked them to come and get me. 
     Ironically, while I was waiting for my dad to drive to New York, I had the best time.  I stopped going to classes, so I visited museums and saw a Broadway show (Chapter Two by Neil Simon).  If only that could have been my life in New York all the time.   Dam classes and poverty got in the way.  It never occurred to me to skip classes and have some fun.
     I can’t begin to describe my disappointment in having to drop out of college.  College had been my dream since I was a small child. I studied by butt off so I could go to college.
      All four of us children were expected to go to college, and I couldn’t wait.  I loved school.  Most kids hate it, but for me, it was a refuge from my home life.  I was good at school.  At school I received all the positive reinforcement that I never got at home.  At home I was never quite good enough.  At school, I was a star.  Of course, like the guys in the Big Bang Theory I was a nerd and got made fun of, but I didn’t care.   I knew wasn’t going to peak in high school. I knew that my day was coming.  And that day would take place at college.


Do you want to know what I looked like in high school?
Picture Amy Farrah Fowler with short hair-- and no tiara either
    To finally arrive at college and find that it was not what I was expecting and hoping for was the worst kind of disappointment.  Moreover, I was back living in the house of horrors.  My parent’s second marriage was disintegrating, and the fights and screaming and emotional abuse had returned.   It was déjà vu all over again.
     Next, Part Two:  The apple falls right under the tree 

  

 

 

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

That's just Me

THAT'S JUST ME
I don’t fit
on a velvet cushion
That’s not me
I’d rather sit
on a big old pumpkin
That’s just me

If you need a shirt
I’ll give you mine
That’s just me
If you have a melody
That needs a rhyme
Call on me

When I look around
I see a world
that’s full of love
That’s just me
I know there’s evil
But I won’t succumb
That’s just me

When I feel like a square bolt
Trying to squeeze into a round hole
The awkward fit will take its toll
So I have to say
That I have to stay
True to myself
That’s just me

(c) 2014 Renata Manzo

 

Thursday, December 4, 2014

I'd Rather be hiking, said Boogie Pilgrim

       When the weather gets cold, my thoughts turn to . . . hiking and camping deep in the woods.  How I love to snuggle up in my Mont Bell 0 degree sleeping bag.  I love to walk along the trail in the cold, because the walking keeps me warm.  Then, when I get to the shelter for the night, someone (not me) builds a big fire.  After I've fired up my JetBoil stove and eaten my oh so yummy dehydrated meal, I munch on Oreos and watch the fire.   Hiking burns a lot of calories, so high calorie foods like Oreos are a must.
The "Freezeree" at the Paul Wolfe Shelter
January 2012
The temperature got down to 17 degrees
     Because I backpack, I can get pretty far away from civilization. There may be other people at the shelter, but other than that, I have the entire forest to myself when I hike alone, which I sometimes do.  Most times, however, I hike with Buck Wild, Grass and Snow Cone. 
       Now, Billy and I are not on the same page when it comes to hiking and camping.  He likes to hike, but his idea of roughing it is a Motel 6 without cable.  So, we are planning to buy a pop up camper.  It's the perfect compromise between Billy's need for a warm comfortable bed at night and a home-cooked meal that is not dehydrated, and my need to get outdoors and sleep in a tent.  Plus pop ups are inexpensive and we can tow it with our van.  
Our next home
     I'm doing some research on them now, so I joined "Pop Up Portal", an online community of pop up camper owners.  It has so much useful information, and unlike a certain other website for AT hikers, the folks there are nice, not snarky.  They don't complain about stupid questions or tell people to "do a search before asking a question".  Yes, the same questions are going to be asked over and over again by newbies; get over yourself.  But that's not what Pop Up Portal is like.
      The other day I was reading about campsites.  Oh boy, here's the downside of car and RV camping.  The campsites seem to be crowded and noisy.  A lot of them don't have any kind of barrier between the sites.  How is a person supposed to "get a way from it all" in an environment like that?  With electricity, water, sewage and even WIFI, why bother to leave home?  A lot of RV's even carry antennas so the "camper" can watch TV.   If you are going to bring your home with you, why not just stay home?
     According to the forum, campsites are plagued with raging drunks, pothead teens, rednecks having marital disputes, and worse yet, jerks who cut down live trees for firewood.

The Paul Wolfe Shelter
      No thank you, give me the Paul Wolfe Shelter any time.  It doesn't have electricity or indoor plumbing, but it is several miles from the nearest road.  The only way to get there is by walking.  Instead of a heated bathroom, there's a privy up the hill that Mike S. from ODATC keeps in pristine condition.  The shelter is located on a gorgeous stream with several small waterfalls, at least during the wet weather months. 

Mill Stream next to the Paul Wolfe Shelter
Mike's pristine privy
      ODATC stands for the Old Dominion Appalachian Trail Club, which is one of the many volunteer clubs that maintain the Appalachian Trail.  The AT, all 2180 miles of it, is maintained entirely by volunteers.  
         Anyway, if pop up camping is going to involve camping in a forest of Winnebagos, I think I will pass.  I'd prefer to "boondock", which is to camp in places without hook ups or heated bathrooms, usually in national forests.  I'm hoping that as we explore the U.S. and Canada over the next few years, we will be able to camp in places like this the majority of the time. 
      Nothing will bring our adventure to a halt faster than a night or two next to drunks whooping and hollering until 4 a.m.  On the Pop Up Portal forum, the members described campers firing up their ATVs in the middle of the night to drive to the bathrooms.  And setting off fireworks for hours on end, night after night.
        If I don't get a good night's sleep I'm crankier than usual.  And my filter, which has worn thin over the years, will disappear altogether if I have to deal with a-holes.  I'm likely to get myself shot by some banjo-toting hillbilly. I'm not exaggerating; some of the stories on the forum made Deliverance look like a Disney movie. 
Lead me to the Long Green Tunnel, otherwise known as the AT
         So, with that in mind, I wrote a little ditty about the AT.  It goes to the tune of "Boogie Pilgrim" by Elton John.  Boogie Pilgrim is my trail name.  AT thru-hikers usually have trail names, which are either chosen by the hiker, or given to the hiker by other hikers in honor of something stupid the hiker did or some attribute of the hiker.  Wrong Way,  Lightfoot,  Buck Wild and AWOL are a few examples.  One guy I met was called Medicine Man because his mother, a nurse, packed him an 8 pound first aid kit.  Another guy I met in the Smokies, who was from Tasmania, was called Vegamite.  Then there was Snoring Sarge, whose name is self-explanatory.  Nice guy, though.

Boogie Pilgrim on the AT

I’m on the trail
I hiking from south to north in a season
Up each hill and down each hill
I’m either too hot or cold or I’m freezing
Feels like I’m gonna make it, gonna make it
I’m gonna hike like Boogie Pilgrim

Boogie Pilgrim
Hiking the AT
All kinds of weather
Down on the mail drops
Down on the side trails
Boogie Pilgrim
It never gets easy
No it never gets easy

My hike’s complete
I hiked the trail the way I wanted
Walking on the AT every day
Sometimes I pooped and sometimes I peed
And I took a shower when I needed
But my hair got dirty, dirty, so dirty
And the hiker funk always stayed with me
Just like Boogie Pilgrim

(c) 2014 Renata Manzo
 

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Christmas Morning before the Age of Affluence

      
Renata on Santa's lap circa 1960's
     Remember Christmas in the 1960's?  Back when most people had real Christmas trees (or those aluminum ones) and decorated them with colored lights and lots of tinsel?   I used to sit in front of the tree at night, in my little white rocking chair, and stare up at the lights, thinking about Christmas morning.  Santa usually brought what I had asked for (up until 1971, that is), and then he would add a surprise or too.  My favorite Christmas present of all time was my Easy Bake Oven. 

The original oven
 For those unfamiliar with this, it used a light bulb to bake the cake!
 
      Back in the day (I can't believe I'm old enough to say this), back when most moms did not work and most families only had one car, we got presents twice a year:  on our birthdays and at Christmas.  There was a third occasion that was especially wonderful, and that was when our Aunt Cecelia would visit from California.  She always brought us presents wrapped in colored tissue paper and several boxes of See's Candy!
      But other than that, if we wanted something special, like a bicycle or an Easy Bake Oven, we had to wait for Christmas or our birthday.  Once I had given my letter to Santa to my mom so she could post it to the North Pole, I would think about Christmas morning constantly.  I could not wait to receive whatever I coveted that particular year.  I think this longing made the presents extra special, don't you? 
      When my children were young, I tried to do the same thing, but I never quite managed to surprise them as I hoped. The problem was, I believe, that presents are no longer special.  If kids want something these days, they get it immediately.
     My kids were never made to wait until Christmas, in spite of my lobbying.  Every year around October, it would seem that Guido would want something, and I would say "you have to wait until Christmas!"  But Billy, being the softy that he was, would buy it early and call it a Christmas present.
    I don't think that counts at all.  There was something about opening the gift on Christmas morning that made it special.  Once or twice I even took the item and wrapped it up after it was received so that it could be opened again on  Christmas.  But of course, without the suspense and longing, it just wasn't the same.  
     This is not intended to be a rant on how our society is going to hell in a handbasket.  I'm sure my children will have fond memories of their childhood Christmases.  I took great pains to ensure that they never had to endure a Christmas morning like mine in 1971.  (See previous blog entry on this topic.)
     It's just that Christmas has lost its magic for me.  My sister made a gorgeous advent calendar that I hang every year.  When the kids were young, they loved to put the ornaments on the advent tree.  Now they can't be bothered.
 
 Forelorn Advent Calendar
      I guess that's what grandkids are for!  Right, Joy T. and Kathy F.?  I can't wait!  Then, hopefully Christmas will be special again.

     In the meantime, I find Christmas magic in the Nutcracker ballet and my brother-in-law's world-famous (they really are) Christmas lights.  You can view them here (Collingwood Lights), but better yet, you should see them in person.  He lives at 1801 Collingwood Road in south Alexandria, Virginia.  You can visit his website, Collingwood Lights, for directions and links to more pictures and videos. 
     

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

The Moral Bottom Line: What Happens when a Private Equity Firm Buys a Company

But you'll never get to pick and choose
She's bought you and sold you
There ain't no shoestrings on Louise
  No Shoestrings on Louise
Lyrics by Bernie Taupin
(c) 1969 Dick James Music Ltd.
 
    Once again, corporate America treats people like chess pieces.  When I got to work on the Monday morning after Thanksgiving, I was greeted with the following headline:  "Buyout Firms Said [to] Vie for World's Largest Cigar Company."  World's largest cigar company; gee, I wonder which company that is?  Yup, it's mine.  We  knew this was coming, but now it has hit the street in a big way.
    According to Rueters UK edition:
"Nov 28 (Reuters) - Swedish Match AB and Skandinavisk Holding, the owners of Scandinavian Tobacco Group (STG), are in talks with private equity firms about a possible sale of the cigar maker, two sources familiar with the matter said on Friday.
First round bids are due on Dec. 18, the sources said.
Bloomberg reported earlier on Friday that CVC Capital Partners Ltd, Rhone Capital LLC and Pamplona Capital Management LLP were bidding for STG, and that the company could fetch about $2 billion."
Is that money or pot? 
I thought it was ground up bills at first, but now I'm not so sure.
      Being the research geek that I am, my first thought was to do some research on what happens to employees like me when a company is bought by a private equity firm.  The results of my research were unsettling, to say the least.  For example, I found a blog entry by an engineer who worked for Silver Lake, which was bought from eBay by a private equity firm.  The title of  his blog entry:
"How employees get screwed in private equity deals".  Oh, goody, something to look forward to.  The heart of the article describes how the employee got screwed out of vested stock options when he left the company, all because he did not understand the following provision of the stock option agreement: 
“If, in connection with the termination of a Participant’s Employment, the Ordinary Shares issued to such Participant pursuant to the exercise of the Option or issuable to such Participant pursuant to any portion of the Option that is then vested are to be repurchased, the Participant shall be required to exercise his or her vested Option and any Ordinary Shares issued in connection with such exercise shall be subject to the repurchase and other provisions in the Management Partnership agreement.”
     I've been practicing law for almost 30 years, and I can't make heads or tails out of this sentence.  Yes, this is all in one sentence.   To make matters worse for this poor schmuck, he didn't have access to the Management Partnership agreement, so even if he could understand the legal mumbo jumbo, he could not have read the other agreement to fully understand what was going on. 
     What is going on?  The same thing as always-- some people are making money off of other people's misery.  Once again, "the rich man can ride, and the hobo, he can drown."
     As usual, the comments are more enlightening than the article itself, as the comments address both sides of the issue.  One commenter noted:
"You should look at it from the investors’ point of view too. If there are people willing to work under such terms, then why should they give more generous benefits to employees, especially for the ones who are not fully dedicated to the company? I understand you are angry because you left before the MSFT deal and lost all your options, but investors didn’t screw anyone. All this information was communicated clearly and employees knew that they will lose the options if they leave earlier. You should read the terms carefully."
     Really?  As the blogger points out, the information was NOT "communicated clearly."   This employee certainly did not know that he would lose his VESTED options if he left or was fired. 
     Moreover, even if what happened was entirely legal, that does not make it ethical or moral.  Father Michael Crosby is a Capuchin Fransiscan monk who owns stock in the major tobacco companies so he can attend their annual meetings and lecture the Board of Directors on their lack of morals.  He once said to the Board of PMI: 
"The bottom line may be profit, but there is a deeper bottom line, and that's the moral bottom line . . .  so I would respectfully ask you to examine your consciences along with your pocketbook."
     Yeah, right.  As if that's going to happen at any company, let alone a tobacco company.
     Yet, there is a bright side of the article (for me at least).  The blogger's first bit of advice is to "lawyer up." 

    This doesn't help me much, however, since I can't understand the option agreement either.  That's not my forte. 
     The bottom line for me is that this is now a waiting game.  One thing I do know for sure at this point:  when the new owner arrives, whoever it is, they will be cleaning house.   It's likely that my job will be on the cutting block.  But that's ok.  I've got a plan . . .
And I won't break and I won't bend
But someday soon we'll sail away
To innocence and the bitter end
And I won't break and I won't bend
And with the last breath we ever take
We're gonna get back to the simple life again
Simple Life, Lyrics by Bernie Taupin
(c)  1992 Big Pig Music Ltd.
 
 


Saturday, November 29, 2014

The Communication Continuum

      My eyes are blind, my ears can't hear
And I cannot find the time
"Tonight", lyrics by Bernie Taupin
1976 Big Pig Music

     I have this theory about communication in the workplace.  I developed this theory after working in a law department that had awful--no--virtually non-existent communication.  It was the first time I had ever encountered such a phenomenom.   After all, much of a lawyer's work involves communication.  We write briefs and legal memoranda, we argue motions and cases before courts and administrative hearing officers, we give presentations and do training.  So you would think that communication would be inherent in any lawyer, especially one who manages an entire department.
    But sadly, such was not the case where I used to work.  I had never worked anywhere before where there was no communication when people joined the department or left the department.  Even if the person left under clouded circumstances, there was usually an e-mail that said something to the effect of "Clarence Darrow has left the company to seek new opportunities."  "Seek new opportunities" is the universal code for fired. 
     People work in companies; they are not machines.  People get married, have children, run marathons, win awards, retire, and all sorts of such things.  Why not share these events with the department? 
         I can understand concerns about privacy, but what's the harm in announcing that a long time employee has retired?  Some people don't like to have their personal information shared, and that's ok. Check first.  But more likely than not, the staff will want to share their good news. And the recipients will want to know the good news. Why? Because they care about each other.
     Here are some actual examples of poor communication.
      I found out three months after the fact that a manager in our litigation section had retired. I knew this guy personnally, not well, but I would have sent him a card congratulating him if I had only known.
      I found out one of my colleagues was pregnant only when I saw her carrying her six week old baby.  I would have sent her a card or given her a baby gift.
      I found out a new office manager was joining the staff from the folks in the department he was leaving.
      I was never told that the previous office manager had left the company to "seek other opportunities."  I only found out when I went to his office two weeks later and saw that it was empty.  What kind of management allows that to happen?  And then refuses to apologize for the lapse?  Or worse yet, blames me for not asking?  Asking about something I didn't know about?  That doesn't make any sense.
     I used to complain to my boss that I never knew what was going on in the department.  Not being a member of the "management" team, I was not invited to staff meetings with the GC.  Instead, I had to rely on the "trickle down" theory of communication, which clearly did not work very well.
     Do you know how my boss responded when I told her I didn't know what was going on?  She said, and I quote:  "what do you want to know?"
    Really?  What's that saying-- I don't know what I don't know?   I guess I was supposed to guess, and she would tell me if I was on target or not?  Like a game of 20 questions.  This was just one reason that I often said to her, and I quote:  "This place is whacked.  You know that, don't you?"  And she would reply, and again I quote:  "It's our culture.  I'm not going to change it and you are not going to change it." 
       In other words, get used to it.  Yet, even with all the Welbutrin, Zoloft and Lorazapam I took, I never could get used to the lack of communication.
     You might say-- what difference does it make?  I say it makes a big difference. 
     First, and most obviously, it is difficult to perform your job well with limited or inaccurate information.  And information is transferred from one person to another through-- yup, communication.  I apologize for getting so basic, but clearly there are people in management who have yet to grasp this fundamental concept. 
    Second, the lack of direct communication between the boss and the minions creates what I call the filtering effect. 

   I liken the management team to the layer of sand that lies between the earth's surface and the underlying water source (aquifer).  This layer filters rainwater as it soaks into the earth before it reaches the aquifer.  The filter removes some of the inpurities in the rainwater.
     This layer is essential to the groundwater cycle, but devastating when applied to human relationships.  Why?  Because all communications are being filtered by this management team.  In practice, it means that the minions are never quite sure if they are getting complete or accurate information from the Boss-- since it is filtered through the management team.  As I said above, it is difficult to perform a job well with limited or inaccurate information.
       The reverse is true as well.  Information from the minions to the Boss is also filtered by the management team.  The team makes sure that the Boss only hears what the management team wants her to hear.  It seems to me that the Boss, just like the minions, is getting the short end of the stick.  What kind of Boss would want to operate under such a system?  Plenty, it seems.
     Third, poor communication inevitably leads to the lack of collegiality, cooperation and collaboration.  These in turn,  produce low morale, which in turn negatively impacts productivity.  Hence, open and direct communication between the boss and the minions ultimately improves productivity.  And makes everyone happy (or happier, or less unhappy) to come to work. 
     Here's what the Communication Continuum looks like:
 
      Here's how it works.  Let's say that instead of relying on the unreliable management team to convey information, both personal and professional, the boss does it herself.  Actually, she doesn't have to do it herself; her staff could write the e-mails, and then she sends it under her name.  This creates a direct connection between the boss and minions, and lets the minions know that she knows who they are, and perhaps even cares about them.  My husband and I had a joke that the GC probably thought my name was "Roberta." 
        Here are some examples of how poor communication can be turned around:
       "Let's all welcome Walter Mitty to the department as the new assistant office manager.  He replaces John Stamos, who left the company to seek other opportunities.  Walter comes to us from the Finance department.  When he's not raising his two children, he likes to compete in Cross-Fit competitions."
       "Congratulations and best wishes to Mary Teegarden on the birth of her second child, another girl, who weighed in at a whopping 12 pounds!  Who knew a woman so small could have such a big baby!"  Ok, I probably wouldn't include the part about the big baby, but you see what I mean.
        "Kudos to Mary McClain who just finished her first marathon!
         "Kudos to Roberta Kobe for creating 1,000 handmade cards for Operation Write Home".
    Communication should not only be in written form.  Successful managers meet with their staff on a frequent and informal basis.  For example, instead of eating at your desk or in the executive dining room every day, wander over to the cafeteria and sit with a random group of your employees.  Do it often so the shock wears off. 
      The boss at my former company came to our floor so rarely that when she did, you could almost hear Stanley Tucci shouting "Gird your loins, people."  Bosses should not have to arrive with advance warning.
      When people connect with each other on a personal level, they discover they have mutual itnerests, which helps build rapport.  Also, it's a lot easier to be snippy with someone you don't know.  If you know and like the people you work with, an atmosphere of collegiality will organically emerge.  It's not enough to call the department collegial at the quarterly all-department staff meetings.  How would a boss know unless she actually spent some time in the department?  Her staff probably told her the department was collegial.  Which is what she wanted to hear, after all. 
    It's also important to provide opportunities for the employees to socialize with each other on an informal basis.  The water cooler type of thing.  Bring a box of donuts once in a while.  Celebrate birthdays with the entire department, not just a small group of cubes.
     In one law department I worked in, the GC had his office on the same floor and did not have his own bathroom.    He had to walk down the hall every so often.  He would take that opportunity to say hello and ask people how they were doing.   Again, we saw him so often that he wasn't scary.
     I can hear the excuses now:  Well, we are so spread out, and plus we are all so busy, especially me.
    Well, if a boss is going to focus on managing up instead of managing down, she won't take the time to get to know her staff.  If the staff is big and spread out, that's all the more reason to focus on communication. 
       People who care about each other tend to work well with each other.  Collaboration creates positive morale.  A negative environment builds walls.  Managers seem to undervalue the importance of morale.  As long as everyone is getting their work done, what difference does it make?  Plenty.
      Let's say one admin is working on a huge project for her boss.  They are getting ready for a big meeting.  She has to put brochures together, create notebooks, nametags, etc.  She could do it by herself, but it would be faster and easier to do it with help.
     At the next cube, another admin is done with her work for the day.  She can either surf the net, or offer to help her colleague.  If the department is collegial and collaborative, she's more likely to help.  If morale is low, she's more likely to say, screw it, what do I get out of it? 
     Which leads me to the final link in the continuum-- productivity.  If morale is low, productivity is going to suffer.  People will do their jobs and not one bit more.  If they don't feel appreciated, they are not going to go the extra mile.  Why bother if no one notices or cares?
      On the other hand, in an environment with true collegiality and collaboration, everyone works together toward a common goal.   
      It's not rocket science, people.  It's just common sense.

    





   

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

I'm Thankful For All that I'm Allowed

And I've got all that I'm allowed
It'll do for me, I'm thankful now
The walls get higher every day
The barriers get in the way
But I see hope in every cloud
And I'm thankful, thankful
I'm thankful, So thankful
I'm thankful, I've got all that I'm allowed
All That I'm Allowed, lyrics by Bernie Taupin
© 2004 HST Management Ltd./Rouge Booze, Inc.
 
 
On Monday I whined about everything that's going wrong in my life.  Today I focus on everything that's going right.  And there's plenty to be thankful for.

 
  1. I'm thankful I'm married to the best man I've ever met.  Why do I love Billy?  Let me count the reasons.   He's kind and generous to everyone he meets.  He has a fabulous sense of humor.  He has stuck by me through a lot of really bad stuff when he could have walked away.  He's much fun to be with.  We laugh a lot.  When one of us feels down, the other provides support.  He's the ying to my yang.  He's still adorable after all these years.  Those twinkling blue eyes and charming smile have not faded in the least.  He's a fantastic cook.  He empties the dishwasher, does the laundry and cleans the house.  He loves his children more than anything.  He's nice to his mother. He's nice to my mother.  HE'S MY BEST FRIEND.
  2. I'm thankful that our children are healthy!  This should be number one. And number two.  I know several people who have had children with cancer.  I can't imagine the emotional pain that must cause.  I can feel it just thinking about it.  Then there's the parents who have lost a child.  That pain must be excruciating.  Our children can be pains in the you-know-what, but they have always been healthy.  I love them both to the sky and back and all the ocean.
  3. I'm thankful that Billy and I are healthy too.  Billy's dad died of a very rare disease that robbed him of the last few years of his life.  It was horrible to watch.   Billy's mom lost her best friend way too soon.  So, I am grateful that Billy and I are so healthy. 
  4. I'm thankful I have a loving family.  My mother, although misanthropic, does love me.  She just has trouble showing it.  My baby sister is the sweetest.  By older brother is the glue in our family.  We shattered after my Mom left my dad in 1982, and we each went our separate ways to heal.  But he brought us all back together, slowly but surely.  I love him very much.  And his wife is like a second sister to me.  We can't wait to see them at Thanksgiving, along with my nieces and nephews, all of whom have grown into amazing adults.
  5.  I'm thankful for my friends.  My friends are awesome.  I've moved around a lot over the course of my life, and I've made wonderful friends at each stop.  I started to name them, but that would take a book in and of itself.  You know who you are.  I know I have not kept up with them as I should, but I'm so grateful for the friendships I've had over my life.
  6. I'm thankful that my career has given me financial security and allowed me to give my children a comfortable childhood.  The primary reason I went to law school was financial.  I never wanted to be in the situation my mother allowed herself to endure.  I was going to make sure that I could always stand on my own two feet.  Ironically, I married a man who would never even think of pulling the awful stunts my father pulled (like picking fights just so she would get upset.  Who does that?  My dad).   I've never had to make a choice between paying the phone bill or putting food on the table.  My children never had to worry about where their next meal was coming from. 
  7. I'm thankful I was able to give my children a happy, secure childhood. This is due completely to the parenting skills Billy taught me. The skills I brought to our marriage were not exactly up to Dr. Spock's standards (Doctor Spock, not Mr. Spock, Star Trek fans). There was always laughter in our house. We ate dinner together almost every night. We went on fun vacations with the kids. 
  8. I'm thankful we have money for retirement.  I'm about as lame as it gets when it comes to financial planning.  So is Billy for that matter.  Thank goodness for 401k plans.  Upon good advice, I've invested the maximum amount I could for the past 28 years.  I've also been lucky to have good employer matches at most of the places I've workd.  I pick the mutual funds at random.  Seriously.  I have no idea what I'm doing.  I rarely change the investments.  Even so, the money has added up over the years.  So I have one less thing to worry about.
         You know what is so interesting about this list?  It's not interesting at all. There's nothing fancy or expensive on the list.  No yachts, no houses on the French Riveria, no fancy cars.  A Prius is hardly what you might call fancy, and a minivan?  Well, that speaks for itself.  You can't take your job to bed with you at night--unless you are sleeping with your boss, which is generally not a good idea.

       It's the same list most people have.  Why?  Because no matter who you are, these are the things that matter-- love, health, family, friends, security.  That's it.  And it's plenty to be thankful for.  I'm a lucky woman after all.

     If you're worried and you can't sleep
    Just count your blessings instead of sheep
    And you'll fall asleep
    Counting your blessings
    Irving Berlin



Monday, November 24, 2014

It's Getting Dark in Here

It's getting dark in here
Don't want to leave
Shadow's falling
And I believe
Wind's picking up
Things so unclear
I'm afraid of my shadow
And it's getting dark in here . . .
Don't talk about angels
Or how I'll be saved
I'm no coward
But I'm not that brave
Rags are blowing
Rain's getting near
I'm done with running
And it's getting dark in here
It's Getting Dark in Here, lyrics by Bernie Taupin
© 2004 HST Management Ltd./Rouge Booze, Inc.
 
I'm at the point now where I'm just laughing as each new thing goes wrong.  There's nothing I can do about any of them.  I can't mention some of them, because they have to do with the house I'm trying to sell.  But suffice it to say, we will be pouring more money into the house before we can sell it.  We just replaced the kitchen appliances with stainless steel, because buyers want to see an "updated kitchen."  And Billy, the ultimate handy man, is replacing the fixtures, lights and mirrors in the bathrooms, and painting the vanities.  The rooms look fantastic.  But so far, no dice.
 
Then there's my job.  I love the job.  The work is interesting and the people are friendly.  The vibe here was very warm.  I say was, because it has changed recently.  The company is owned by a joint venture, and the minority owner wants to sell.  Headquarters in Denmark told us there might be an IPO on the Danish market.  But then in October we received a due diligence request that seemed to us to be much more detailed than an IPO would require.  Now the word around here is that we will be acquired likely by-- wait for it-- a large tobacco company.  It could be my former employer, or it could be BAT (British America Tobacco).  Either way, the new owner already has a base of operations in the U.S. and will probably not need more lawyers.  Possibly the only people who will keep their jobs are a few in marketing.  Merry Christimas.
 
The good news for me is, IF I can sell my house, I will probably retire.  Billy and I are going to buy a pop up camper and hit the road.  But see the first paragraph.  It's a VERY BIG IF right now. 
 
It's easy to praise God when things are going well.  We thank God for all the good things in our lives.  But if God is responsible for the good things, isn't he responsible for the bad things as well?  Like many, many people, I struggle with this. 
 
Oddly however, the more things go wrong, the more I dig into my faith.  What choice do I have, really?  Is God testing me, like Job?  I doubt it.  I don't think God does that any more.  He apparently turned over a new leaf around the time of the New Testament.



 
 
I've always believed that worrying is a useless emotion.  It doesn't change the outcome, and it's negative.  It increases stress.  I have enough stress right now, thank you very much.
 
 
So I've turned this matter over to God.  I pray every day, sometimes several times a day.  I'm not quite sure what he is doing right now, because the tunnel is getting darker instead of lighter, but I still have faith. 
 
If you could spare a prayer, I would be most appreciative.  Also, please share my blog and leave a comment, so I will know I'm not alone.  
 


Tuesday, November 18, 2014

And Now for Something Completely Different: Lawyer's Love Song


LAWYER’S LOVE SONG
 

Before we met I thought my partner
Would be a lawyer
Just like me
(Except you'd be a man)
We’d speak our special language
Only lawyers understand
By day we’d argue subject matter jurisdiction
At night we’d lie in corporeal possession

Chorus:
This is my lawyer’s love song
The words are mostly latin
And I’m afraid they’re rather long
The main thing I need to express
Is res ipsa loquitor
Our love speaks for itself

With you I find
Accord and satisfaction
There’s no way to deny
Our mutual attraction
We should get into privity
I’d love to see your briefs
You’re my motion in limine
A prima facie case of masculinity
 
We all know love
Comes without a warranty
It might last forever
Or it might end terribly
But I’m sure my love for you
Supersedes my doubts and fears
With you, a covenant of love
Cannot possibly disappear

 

 

 

 

 

Thursday, November 13, 2014

I'm a Clown! LOL! I'm laughing! No, I'm crying

Now there's some sad things known to man
But ain't too much sadder than
the tears of a clown
When there's no one around
 Smokey Robinson - The Tears Of A Clown Lyrics | MetroLyrics
 
 
How can a man who seemed so happy and could make us laugh so histerically that we peed our pants, be so desolate that he hangs himself?

 
It may happen more often than you think.  According to Ildiko Tabori, who counsels comics at the Laugh Factory in Los Angeles, depression and bipolar disorder are more pervasive in comedians than in the general population.  Psychologist helps comics Stand Up to Pressure, by Christopher Goffard, Richmond Times-Dispatch, November 10, 2014.

She has been counselling comics in the wake of William's suicide.   As the initial shock of his death wore off, anger took its place.  More than that, Williams' death unnerved many comics, in part because "Williams represented the pinnacle of talent and success in their field."

"It's scary because so many people think the answer to their happiness is going to be that kind of accomplishment. . . what if those things don't make me happy?"

Sound familiar?  This view is not limited to comics.  Every day on Facebook I read post after post with inspirational messages that say much the same thing.   Like this one, for example:
 
 
No, that's not the right one.  But it's good, isn't it?  Try these instead:
 



Really?  "Be Strong"?  If only it were that easy! These are probably fine if you are not suffering from a medical problem such as depression.
 
Although affirmational messages can be a useful part of one's cognitive therapy, affirmations alone are not going to "cure" depression.  One needs a combination of the right meds, therapy and, in my opinion, a faith in God.  The last part is optional if you don't agree. 
 
It appears that Robin Williams had been doing all these things -- he was sober, he was taking his meds, and presumably he was going to therapy.  (I don't know about his feelings towards God).  And yet, unfortunately, it was still not enough. 
 
The one thing that I have learned on this journey is that these feelings are cyclical. Somedays you feel good, some days not so good.   And for women, these feelings can be tied to the menstrual cycle.  Unlike many women, I never tracked my cycle.  It was unpredictable, so I didn't bother.  I just stayed prepared.  Every month, without fail, I would start to feel depressed at a certain point and feel like I wanted to die.  It took me YEARS to associate these feelings with my impending period.  Why did it take me so long to figure this out?  Besides being stupid, you mean?  I think it's because each and every month, these feelings crept up and felt brand new.  I never associated them with the same feelings I had the previous month.  I felt like Drew Barrymore in 50 First Dates. (This is a sweet and funny movie if you accept it for what it is.)
 
 
Drew Barrymore and Adam Sandler in 50 First Dates, 2004
For years, people will analyze Robin Williams' death and second-guess what happened, and what could have happened. The latest is that he was suffering from hallucinations due to Lewy Body Dementia.   But we will never know for sure. 
 
For those of us still here, we must continue to perservere:  “So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”  ― F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby
 
Maybe that's not such a good quote.  Try these instead:
 
When you're weary, feeling small,
When tears are in your eyes, I will dry them all;
I'm on your side. When times get rough
And friends just can't be found,
Like a bridge over troubled water
I will lay me down.
"Bridge over Troubled Water," by Paul Simon
(c) Paul Simon Music
 
 Someone saved my life tonight, Sugar Bear . .
So save your strength and run the field you play alone
"Someone Saved My Life Tonight," lyrics by Bernie Taupin
(c)  1976 Big Pig Music Limited
 
 
If you are feeling bad, call that person who is your bridge over troubled water.  Let someone save your life tonight.  Things always look brighter in the morning.   I'm sure Elton John felt that way after John Baldry (Sugar Bear) saved his life.
 
 

 

 





Tuesday, November 11, 2014

The Downside of Managing Up




 I had lunch with a former colleague the other day, and I asked about her boss, who was also a friend of mine.  She said all the boss did was "manage up."
   Boy did that bring up some bad memories.  It seemed most managers and directors and up  at my former place of employment focused on managing up, to the detriment of the people they were supposed to be managing.
   I was summoned to a meeting once by the senior attorney who managed the group I was in.  She chastised us for not being more collegial.  (She did not see the irony in this).  (You should have seen the look on the bantam rooster's face.  He thought he was the boss! More on him later.)
   One of the things she said that stuck with me was: "Your job is to make your boss look good."
   Wow.  And I thought my job was to provide legal services to the company.  I guess not.  For a 50 year-old woman, I was pretty naïve.   That's what I've been missing!  Silly me thought that if I did my job well, that in itself would make the boss look good. 
    Welcome to the world of managing up, or as we use to call it, brown-nosing.
 
Don't we all feel this way at some point?
     So what exactly is "managing up"?  Once again, a fancy name is given to a concept that has always been in everyone's vocabulary.   In its simplest terms, it means to focus on your relationship with your boss in order to get the best results for yourself, according to W2W Link.
    Before starting this post, I did some research on the topic of managing up.  To my surprise, all I found were tips on how to do it.  Like this one from a well-known blogger:  7 Ways to Manage up.
    It wasn't until I found this article in the  New York Times that I read anything negative about managing up.  In this article, Kim Bowers, the CEO of CST Brands, says she prefers people who are good at managing down rather than up:

I put people into two different categories: people who manage up really well and people who manage down really well, and I love the latter. If I find someone whose team would walk across hot coals for them, that’s the person I want to work with because I know there is authenticity there, and they are supporting their teams and vice versa. It’s the folks who manage up really well but have this underlying storm all the time who concern me because you don’t know if they’re just trying to charm to cover up. You want to make sure they’ve got the base behind them to go forward.

    Thank you Kim!  A good manager is a good leader who inspires his or her staff to do their best.
    I also found an interesting article in Forbes.  In this article, the author says what I had been thinking for several years as I attempted to navigate a corporate culture intent on managing up to the exclusion of everything else:  "While the premise of “managing-up” is sound, the reality of how it’s most commonly implemented is representative of everything that’s wrong with business today."
     You see, I was good at managing down.  I had a staff of four women who operated the contracting process.  They were awesome.  I taught them what they needed to do, and then let them do their jobs.  They handled every issue they knew they were capable of handling, and came to me when they needed help.  The clients LOVED them.  And, if I can believe what they told me (and I think I can), they liked working with me.  I like to think it was because I did not micro manage them.  I let them do their jobs, but I was always available when they needed me.  I also did not treat them like second-class citizens.
    Right before I left that pit of dysfunction, I asked my staff why I couldn't seem to handle the corporate environment. 
    "Because you care," was the answer.



     Another good example of how managing up can be detrimental to a healthy work environment was the VP of one of the departments (excuse me, "business functions") that I supported.  She had a degree in finance or accounting, and it showed.  One of her directors told me once that she rejected his expense report because he had over-tipped on a business meal by something like 85 cents.  I don't remember the exact amount, but it was under a dollar.
    Why did she do that?  Well, because the company had a policy about tipping, and he did not comply.  So the expense report had to be rejected.  Her management was counting on her (no pun intended) to manage the budget and control costs, and she was more than up to the task.
    Did she stop to think about how demoralizing it is to have an expense report rejected because of 85 cents?  Apparently not.   (She also axed the Christmas party that her predecessor held every year, but that is another story.  It will be called "How the Grinch Stole Christmas."  Wait.  That title is taken; I'll think of something else.)
    My friend at lunch explained that her boss did not understand what she did. 
   For example, "metrics" and "service levels" are ways of measuring performance.   My friend's boss kept asking her for service levels-- how long does it take to do a contract from start to finish?, she asked.
    That depends on many factors, my friend tried to explain, including the complexity of the deal, whether the business terms keep changing (which they often do), and how willing the other side is to negotiate.
    Just give me some numbers, the boss insisted.  Is it one week, 6 weeks, 6 months?
    The answer is, all of the above.  But the manager, who had probably already promised her manager that she would come up with some metrics, insisted on it.  Since she had no understanding of how the contracting process operated, she could not understand why metrics don't work on a process that has multiple variables that are out of the purchasing agent's control.  If she had taken the time to learn the process, she would have known better than to ask the question, and, better yet, she could explain it to her boss.
    I'm not saying that people should not manage up.  It's key to getting ahead.  But if managing up is practiced to the exclusion of managing down properly, what is the cost?

    These are my top 10 downsides of managing up:
  1. The manager does not have the staff's backs.  A brown-noser will sacrifice a minion in a heartbeat. 
  2. Lack of mentors.  Mentors care about the people who work for them.  They try to help their mentees get ahead.  If the manager is consumed with keeping her boss happy, there is no time or focus left to mentor anyone.  
  3. Managers don't bother to get to know the people who report to the people who report to them, i.e., the minions.   I would argue that it could be somewhat demoralizing to stand next to your boss's boss, someone who should know who you are, but should, and have the boss not say hello or good morning, or shine my shoes, bitch.  The boss had no idea who she was.
  4. Managers make promises to their bosses that their subordinates are forced to deliver, even when they don't make any sense.  I call this "writing a check that your a-- can't cash."  This used to happen all the time.  A director would promise his manager that he would get a contract signed before x date, and come hell or high water, it had to be done. This usually resulted in the company giving in on business or legal terms, just to get the damn thing signed. 
  5. Results matter more than people. In order to get a promotion, a manager has to deliver results. A promise made must be kept, no matter what the cost to the folks who report to the manager.   
  6. Managers can't make accurate performance evaluations because they don't understand fully what their staff is doing.  As if the performance appraisal system is not political enough already, it becomes a crap shoot.  It reminds me of frat brothers voting to admit new members and someone throws a black marble into the bowl.  Blackballed.
  7. Managers don't advocate for their staff in the appraisal process.
  8. Managers don't know what is really going on because they never hear the truth from their subordinates. Isn't that the essence of brown-nosing-- only telling your boss the things you think he wants to hear.  This can lead to disaster for the manager if he or she is caught unaware by his or her director.  Or perhaps the GC being reamed by the CEO in front of the senior management team.   And we all know that doo-doo rolls down hill.  So who ultimately gets the blame?  The minions.
  9. It makes for a sucky place to work.
  10. Morale, and therefore productivity, suffer.
Please feel free to comment and add your own example of managing up run amok.  I'd love to hear your thoughts because sometimes I wonder if I'm missing the mark.  I know I can't be the only person who feels this way.  At any company.