06 July 2007

Interview by Emily

Emily of Telecommuter Talk recently participated in the Interview Meme. I agreed to play along by answering 5 really great questions Emily asked me. The following are my responses. Emily, as usual, made me think.

If you'd like to be interviewed, follow the rules at the end of this post. My answers were lengthy, but that isn't a requirement!

1. You love the Hudson River. What's one word you would use to describe it, and why?
One word? Are you kidding? I think you knew I couldn't describe it in only one word! There are so many to choose from: tidal, shimmering, blue, brown, green, deep, historic, ghostly, cold, barrier, brackish, welcoming, boundary, lively, life-giving, polluted, treacherous, mesmerizing, changing, timeless. How could there be only one word to describe something so varied?

To elaborate on any of these would require a separate post, but here is one of many reasons I'd use "historical": Alexander Hamilton rowed across the Hudson to Weehawken, NJ for his fatal duel with Aaron Burr. Burr hid out on an island off the coast of Georgia, but was never indicted and finished his term as Vice President; Hamilton rowed back across the mighty Hudson to New York City, knowing that he would die. (Who could blame him for not wanting to die in Weehawken?)

I am enchanted by all rivers, and would probably use any or all of the above to describe just about any river. Standing on the bank of a river, I feel that I am apart from it, yet a part of it; on the bank, and floating with the current down stream. There is a quality about rivers that stands apart from the dimension of time. A river can be serene, but water is powerful. The Hudson can look like a perfect backdrop for sailboats on a clear summer day, but can turn into a frenetic monster when a winter storm kicks up.

Tidal rivers intrigue me even more than other rivers; the ebb and flow of a river emphasizes both its changeability and its predictability. I love watching the tide go out, seeing the currents eddy and swirl as the river is pulled out to the sea. If I lived at the shore, I think I'd be the kind of person who kept obsessive notes about the tide, and would often wander to the banks to see what had been strewn on the shore. But, as much as the low tide uncovers items lost to the water and reveals continual changes to the shoreline, high tide brings a reassurance that the river will always come back to reclaim and deposit more. With the Hudson, it is easy to overlook this, human achievement in glass and concrete in New York so dominating the view. But the river knows. Take a closer look next time you drive along West Side Highway, or across the George Washington Bridge, are at Chelsea Piers, or at any spot along either side of the Hudson: man can harness the river, but we can't completely own it.

My work for the last several months has brought me to an office overlooking the Hudson. It is always a tempting distraction to look out the window at the skyline of the greatest city in the world. Last week I stayed in Jersey City and had the pleasure of discovering that one can sit along the river in the evening, looking East, and watch the sun set as it reflects off the buildings of lower Manhattan onto the Hudson. Absolutely beautiful! Emily, that's my one word. Except it's two.

Here is a link to my favorite poem about a river. It is also a poem about love. What Any Lover Learns, by Archibald MacLeish

2. You have quite a few blogs to which you contribute. What's your favorite thing about blogging?
Well, obviously, anyone who blogs for reasons other than monetary ones (I don't know anyone who really makes money blogging, although I suppose some do) blogs because it is an enjoyable pastime. Unlike diary-keeping or journaling, activities that blogging is often compared with, blogging, as I see it, should be about communicating -- exchanging -- ideas. A journal is private; while I might be pensive and introspective when I blog, what I write is intended to be public, to be read by others.

I like the feedback (write more comments, please!). I like sharing ideas with others and reading what they think as well. I sometimes wish that I was able to respond more immediately to what my favorite bloggers write so that it can be more of a conversation -- but then I'd never get much work completed, books read, or blog posts written!

Blogging has provided me with an outlet for writing. Some people criticize blogs for being slipshod, for containing grammatical errors, for being too self-absorbed, for not being well-thought or well-written. The blogs I like to read are not like that; they are written by intelligent, thought-provoking writers who care about what they write. Sure, the style is informal, but that doesn't make it an example of poor writing. I think that my writing --not just on my blog -- has improved since I started blogging. The practice of writing frequently for an audience, even a small one, is a worthwhile endeavor.

3. What's your favorite thing about supervising people in the workplace, and what's your least favorite thing?
What a question to respond to after a difficult week! I always wish that I could be the type of manager who is very nurturing and mentoring, but I don't think that I've developed those skills enough yet. What has been a challenge to me and will help me to be a better mentor in the long run is to remind myself that those who I manage have motivations that often have little to do with me, my goals or the goals of the organization. Realizing this helps to understand that they aren't intentionally or maliciously trying to be contrary to the stated goals, but usually are acting because of something intrinsic to their nature. For example, someone who spends too much time socializing isn't necessarily a "slacker" because she doesn't want to do her job, but is trying to fulfill a personal need for interaction with other adults. Recognizing that can help deal with the situation in an effective, professional manner.

My least favorite thing about managing people is having to deal with negative personnel issues: employees who don't get along with coworkers, those who would rather gossip or point fingers at others than accept responsibility, etc. If these issues become paramount and affect work and it forces me to put an "action plan" in place, I hate it. Too often, those plans don't result in changed behavior but rather a change in personnel. I've had to fire people in the past -- both because of performance issues as well as layoffs that had nothing to do with the quality of the individual's work. It is a horrible thing to do. After the first time I had to fire someone, I went home and spent most of the next day sitting in my garden drinking whiskey and crying.

I have worked both as a functional/department manager as well as a project manager where I didn't have personnel responsibilities for those on the project. Although not without its drawbacks, the project management role is my preference because of the angst that surrounds so many personnel issues. In such a role, one can be a leader and a mentor, but you don't have to confront someone who is spending too much time chatting on the phone with their love interest, or listen to lame excuses when they are concerned about admitting they're absent because of a sick child and have used all of their allotted sick time, or acting in a passive-aggressive style because they think they should have been promoted to your job. If it interferes with the project, you can bring it to the attention of their boss; if it doesn't interfere, you can ignore it.
4. When you were fifteen years old, what did you think you wanted to be when you "grew up?"
A journalist. Or a nurse. Or an architect. I've had many different careers in my life, but never one of these.

I would have made a better doctor than nurse (see comment about not being nurturing in #3 above). Nursing seemed like a safe and acceptable position when I was 15. By the time I got to college, I knew that I had options to pursue non-traditional careers and was not limited only to "appropriate" careers for women like teaching or nursing.

I am interested in the aesthetics of architecture, but, while not innumerate, I never had the mathematical skills for dealing with the technical aspects of the profession; nor do I have the necessary artistic skills. I still marvel at those who design buildings that are both functional and objects of beauty.

I write, so I came closer to "journalist" than anything else. But, I abandoned J-school after 3 semesters. I didn't like the quick paced deadlines or the reporting of just the facts. And, I find journalism today to be far more shrill and biased than I naively thought it was when I started college 30 years ago. What passes for news today, whether it be opinionated political reporting, celebrity gossip, or corporate shilling, would bore me if I had to surround myself with it on a daily basis. I prefer writing when I can think through the facts and derive some meaning from them. And I want to pour over every word to be sure it is just right -- something that deadline driven journalism would not have allowed me to do. I should have known during my first journalism class that this was not the right field for me. We had to write a news article about a recent stabbing in the city. While I did do the assignment, I also jotted down a damn good poem inspired by the event (A friend read that poem and thought it so creepy, he dubbed me "Edgar Cammie Poe".) I no longer have the poem, but it was great. But it wasn't journalism!
5. (This is the question I think I'm going to give everyone, given I've been reading The Time Traveler's Wife): if you could travel in time, where and when would you go?
This is a tough question for me. I have traveled extensively and have often visited places that I have read about in fiction. Yet, I've never understood why people want to go to a place specifically because they read about it in a novel -- no matter how much locale plays a part in the work, it doesn't really exist in that manner except in the book. I wonder how someone could not be disappointed when visiting a place that differs so much from an author's interpretation of the place. 221B is a fictional place in a very real London, but the portrayal of that city was a creation based on Conan Doyle's perception and imagination.

But, that doesn't mean that I wouldn't time travel if I could. I would want to see various historical events as they played out: to witness Lincoln delivering the Gettysburg Address; to hear Mozart playing one of his symphonies for the first time; to discuss the Suffragette Movement with Susan B Anthony; to see a protest led by Gandhi; to have sat in a beer garden listening to the debate when people first heard about Martin Luther nailing his 95 theses to the church door in Wittenberg; to talk about books and politics and ideas with Thomas Jefferson; to be in Paris to paint with Berthe Morisot and Mary Cassatt in the 1870's and 50 years later, to have been able to party and philosophize and write with Hemingway and Fitzgerald and Gertrude Stein. The list is endless. I think I would always want to travel, choosing a different place and time at every chance I had.


1. Leave a comment saying, “Interview me.”
2. I will respond by emailing you five questions. Please make sure I have your email address.
3. You will update your blog with the answers to the questions.
4. You will include this explanation and offer to interview someone else in the same post.
5. When others comment, asking to be interviewed, you will ask them five questions.

04 July 2007

If I had read what you had read

Julie at Bookworm posted this interesting question recently:

Imagine meeting someone who has read the exact same books you have. No more, no less. What would that be like?

The responses on her blog ranged from "how boring" to "fascinating". My opinion falls closer to the "fascinating" end of the continuum. First, I would find it curious if someone had the same reading history as me. I'm not sure which would be more intriguing: to find out why they had read the same things, to discover whether they had read them at similar times during his/her life, or to persist in determining if such a bizarre coincidence were in fact true.

Certainly, having degrees in English means that there is a certain population that is likely to have read the same texts as me. As a former high school English teacher, there is a larger population -- both teachers and students -- that would have similar reading lists. I could list other groups with whom I would have some reading commonality: the members of two different book groups; bloggers who have recommended books to me and whose recommendations have led me to books I might not have otherwise considered; friends who have given me books; colleagues who share similar professional interests; contemporaries who read the same popular books at various points in my life -- every girl in 5th grade read the Little House books, in 7th grade it was Flowers in the Attic, in high school it was Centennial, college Atlas Shrugged, The World According to Garp and The Thorn Birds, an eclectic list that only shares the common denominator of popularity at certain points in time.

But, just as likely, there are books that others may have read that I haven't ever considered reading, or that I read at different times. Watership Down, for instance, was extremely popular when I was in Jr. High. I didn't read it until I was in my late 20's, as part of an assigned reading for an Adolescent Literature course. Cognitively, there would have been differences between my reading the book at 13 and reading it at 27, but, more importantly, as my reading of the book was for a purpose other than just enjoyment, I would have approached the text differently. I may be one of the few readers of mass market books on the planet who has not read The DaVinci Code. For good or bad, that book has insinuated itself into popular culture and I could no longer have an uninfluenced reading of that book. My reading of it would be influenced by what comments I've heard or read about it (ranging from a co-worker recommending it, to a family member describing it as "a good airport read when it's the only thing in English available", to an acquaintance stating that I had taken a political stance by not reading it), by the media hype surrounding the book and the subsequent movie, by the plagiarism trial, and various parodies of the book that I've seen. Without that, though, my experiences still would have influenced my reading of the book. Putting critical evaluation of the book's merit aside and looking at the book only as a story read for entertainment, and assuming that I had never heard of the book, reading it the first week it was published, I still would have been influenced by my prior knowledge of church history and theology; my Catholic childhood, and my exposure to Renaissance art.

If I were at a cocktail party and met someone who read exactly the same texts as me while an undergrad, would our reactions to the book be the same? Our perspectives would be influenced by the philosophy of the schools attended and individual teachers, and methods of criticism. Our interests in the texts and the time period in which they were written would be different as well. Someone interested in dramaturgy would read Shakespeare's plays differently than someone who approached them with an interest chiefly in Elizabethan language. Someone who loved teaching Freshman English might not understand why I found discussing the same short stories incredibly boring, and might not understand my frustration that only a few Seniors I taught ever wanted to understand Emerson. Someone who read Aristotle, or Moliere, or Camus at age 20 in the late 70's (like me) would have brought an entirely different perspective to a work than someone who read the same works at age 20 today.

Would it be fascinating to meet someone who had read the exact same books as I had? Of course. But our experiences could never be the same, as we would bring different backgrounds to that eclectic list. The fascination would rest mainly with how different our experiences with those books would be.