Reflections on Ten Years

Wednesday marked my tenth anniversary at Diamond Comic Distributors.

Part of Diamond’s culture revolves around the daily “Service Anniversaries” e-mail.  HR sends out an e-mail to the entire company acknowledging those employees who are celebrating an anniversary, and then people throughout the company, some you’ll know, some you won’t, will send you congratulations.  Suffice it to say, my email inbox was overflowing with congratulations on my ten years on Wednesday.

Some people reply to these congratulations individually.  Others wait and send out a group thanks.  I’ve done both over the years; it’s easier to keep up with the former, the latter takes a little work.  Heck, some people don’t even acknowledge the congratulations at all.

I sent out a group reply at the end of the day.  I’d finished writing a catalog section for the July issue of PREVIEWS — my one hundred and twenty-first issue — and, without any other pressing task, started to compose.  I had a rough idea of what I wanted to say on the occasion of my tenth anniversary — I knew the anniversary was coming and had pondered it for a few weeks — but when I knuckled down to write I struggled to begin.  I don’t know how many openings I tried, nor did I keep track of the material I discarded, but the openings were many and the blind-alleys were extensive.  Eventually — two hours later! — I had something I was happy with, though I see now that it needed a little more polish.

What follows is that group response:

I wanted to take a moment and thank you for the congratulations and well-wishes on the occasion of my tenth anniversary with Diamond.  I spent part of the day trying to think of something profound and witty to say, but in truth words fail me.  Marketing gave me a card this morning, and I truly had to fight back tears; it wasn’t the kind of thing I expected.

When I think about when I started with Diamond a decade ago, I couldn’t have imagined being here ten years later.  Honestly, I thought I’d stay six months, leaving when my grandmother died.  But she lingered on, I had a talent for the work (writing at the scale that I do doesn’t daunt me and I learned more about VBA programming than I’d have ever learned otherwise), and after she died I’ve stayed.

I would struggle to point out things that I’ve worked on these last ten years that I’m truly proud of because I’ve worked on so much over the years that they recede into the distance; I finish something, I’m already into something else, and the feeling I remember is not the satisfaction of completion but the stress of the process.  I’m very self-critical, as anyone who has read my self-appraisals knows, and I almost always feel better about what I’ve done, once I’ve had time and distance to reflect; I may hate what I wrote in PREVIEWS one month, but if I reread it two months later I find it’s nothing to hate at all.  I think that I make what I do look easy, when it’s really nothing of the sort, or like magic, when really all I did was to solve a problem that anyone could have solved given the time and understanding.

I enjoyed going to the Retailer Summit in Chicago this year.  As I said to anyone who asked, it was my first Diamond trip in my ten years here.  I didn’t know what to expect, I wasn’t always sure what to do when I was there, I certainly enjoying signing copies of PREVIEWS for people who came to the booth at C2E2, and I saw some things that we can do better in the future (things that I’ve made notes on but haven’t yet turned into anything coherent).  But what I enjoyed the most came when we were handing out the exclusive comics to retailers after the dinner Friday night.

I handed the retailers three comics — two Dark Horse titles, one IDW title — but that wasn’t, for me, anyway, the thing that truly mattered.  What mattered was that I said, to each and every retailer, “Thank you for coming.”  Sometimes, “Thank you for being here.”  Or, “We couldn’t do this without you.”  Our retailers are our customers, we’re in business thanks to them, we value them, and it was important to acknowledge that and say that.  The thing I always tried to instill in my staff as a manager for EB Games (where our company value statement was “It’s all about the customer”) was to treat our customers like they were friends, to welcome them into our space, and to thank and appreciate them.  It’s a little thing, and those little things go a long way.

I’ve rambled on a fair bit, as anyone who knows me knows I’m wont to do.

Again, thanks for your kind wishes.  I couldn’t do this without you.

On the Year that Was

With 2016 drawing to a close and 2017 about to begin, I decided to take a look back at 2016 and spotlight the best (or most significant) blog post of each month.  Some months — July, quite notably — were more difficult that others; there were a few months, like March and August, where I only posted two or three times in the month.

There you have it, the year that was 2016.

An Angel Tree Package for the Office

As the company has done for a number of years, a Christmas tree was put up in the lobby and, a few days after Thanksgiving, Angel Tree stockings were hung.

I had decided long ago to participate in the Angel Tree program this year and, when I was passing by the lobby area on other business and saw they were up, I stopped and spent a few minutes deciding upon which one to pick.

I chose, similarly to last year, a boy, eight years-old.  I signed my name to a sign-up sheet on the front desk, and, with a spring in my step, back to work I went.

There wasn’t any guidance with the stockings as there were with the Angel Tree tags a few years ago.  Those tags indicated ideas for toys and clothing sizes.  I had to operate blindly, but I was fine with that.  You see, I already had a half-dozen items at home for my Angel Tree recipient.  I wouldn’t say I had a plan for the recipient, per se, but I knew this was something I wanted to do, and since I knew it was something I wanted to do I saw no reason not to start buying items.  And if there had been guidance, the recipient was still going to receive the things I had bought.

I didn’t have a budget.  Instead, I was going to buy strategically.  Like last year, I was going to do a box of stuff.  If I was out at a store and I saw something that intrigued me, I would buy it.  In October, then, I started buying items here and there, so by the time the stockings were hung on the tree I had a box of stuff ready to wrap.

That was my strategy, then, and when I was done the recipient would receive a wrapped box, he would unwrap it to find the box was filled with more wrapped boxes, and he would then unwrap another half-dozen interesting things.  An eight year-old, receiving an Angel Tree package from the Salvation Army, probably wouldn’t be looking at the brightest Christmas. Every little bit helps.

With the Angel Tree gifts due at the office on Monday morning, Wednesday night after work I sat down and started wrapping.  I gathered up the wrapping paper out of my coat closet — most of it Peanuts related — and found my Scotch tape.  plugged in my Christmas tree, and queued up Christmas-themed episodes of The Thistle & Shamrock to really get the festive spirit going.  Time to go to work. :)

This is a complete overview of the items I had on hand:

For those who wonder about these things, the part of my living room bookshelf you can see holds part of my Beatles library.  (There are more Beatles books in my bedroom.  And my dining room.  I have Beatles books everywhere.) From the left, there’s Philip Norman’s Shout!, then Mark Hertsgaard’s A Day in the Life, and next to it is Bob Spitz’s biography of the Beatles.  Mark Lewisohn’s Tune In is on that shelf, as is Ray Coleman’s Lennon.  The missing book (seven spots over from the left) is Ian McDonald’s Revolution in the Head Third Edition as that’s presently in my bedroom; I was rereading the entries on “Free as a Bird” and “Real Love” recently due to the 15th-anniversary of George Harrison’s death.

Let’s take a look at the items individually, and I will muse upon them as I go.

First up, a Rey puzzle based on Star Wars: The Force Awakens.

Rey puzzle

I also had a Finn puzzle.  The Rey and Finn puzzles were actually the last two items I bought for the package.

Finn puzzle

One of the first items I bought was an Australian collection of Peanuts comic strips.  I found this at Ollie’s Bargain Outlet, and it was all of two dollars.  “This is nice,” I thought, and I thought it would make a good Angel Tree gift.

Peanuts collection

Also found at Ollie’s, but not on the same trip, nor the same Ollie’s, was this Matchbox-esque car!  They had all of these baseball die-cast cars, and I couldn’t find any for any team I liked.  If I wanted the Phildelphia Phillies or the Texas Rangers or the Miami Marlins or the Houston Astros, they had plenty of those.  Cubs or Nationals?  Heaven forfend!  But they also had this 2012 World Series car.  “Why not?” I said.  “Kids love Matchbox cars.”  And yes, I’m well aware that this one is by Lionel, not Matchbox. :)

World Series Lionel car

Next up, a coloring book!  I picked this up on the same Ollie’s trip where I picked up the Peanuts collection.

Justice League coloring book

Coloring books require crayons!  This was one of the last items I bought.  I picked these up at the 5 Below across the street from Diamond’s offices.

Crayons

While I was at 5 Below, I also picked up this Spider-Man action figure.  Kids love Spider-Man, and kids love action figures. :)

Spider-Man action figure

A DVD!  This is the Babar movie from a few years ago.  (Come to think of it, I’m surprised there hasn’t been a live-action Babar movie along the lines of the recent Paddington Bear.) When I was young, I loved Babar, so this was an easy choice.  I think it was three dollars at Big Lots.

Babar movie

Kids need stuff to build with, and I was intrigued by this Mega Bloks set.  This also came from Ollie’s, and it was the most expensive item in the box (at seven dollars).  I got this at the same time as the World Series Lionel die-cast car.

Mega Bloks Jeep

And we need a book!

Also from the Ollie’s trip where I get the Mega Bloks set, I found a book on baseball for young readers — Michelle Green’s A Strong Right Arm, a biography of Negro League pitcher Mamie Johnson, a woman who played for the Indianapolis Clowns in the 1950s.  I read it after I bought it — it’s not very long and it’s written for young readers — and I quite enjoyed it.  The book talks about growing up in the segregated South in the 1940s, discovering one’s talents, and pursuing one’s dreams.  Though I don’t know who is receiving the book, I saw important messages in the book for everyone.

A Strong Right Arm

And with that, my wrapping was done!

Oh, I still had the Sega All-Stars die-cast of Tails, but I had no idea how to wrap that due to the shape of the package and, as I would soon discover, I wouldn’t have had room for it in the box.

Pile of presents

Then I selected a Christmas card out of my collection and began to pen a letter from Santa Claus.

This is something I’ve done with the two Angel Tree packages I’ve done.  I was inspired by J.R.R. Tolkien’s Letters from Father Christmas, and the first two I did were quite elaborate.  They weren’t illustrated like Tolkien’s — I’m a shite artist — but I spent time talking about what life was like for Santa Claus.

For this card I wrote about how the elves were loading the toys in the sleigh, how the gnomes were making the final pre-flight checks, and how Mrs. Claus was shoving Santa out the door.  Christmas, after all, is the one time of year he gets him out of the house. :)

The card written, I filled the Diamond shipping box, used a little bit of filler paper, taped it up, and wrapped.

Wrapped box

Again, for people who care about such things, the bookshelf to the right is my graphic novels bookshelf.  It’s largely alphabetical, and you can see my Hellboy and Invisibles collection at the top (there’s a Batman shelf above it), Lucifer and The Maxx on the next shelf, and my Sandman boxed set below that.  On the bookshelf to the left, there are Doctor Who books visible at the top (with a shelf of Sherlock Holmes books above that), Fritz Leiber’s Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser books (in their Dark Horse editions) and Michael Moorcock’s Elric books (in their Del Rey trade paperback editions of a few years ago) on the shelf below that, and Fantagraphics’ Peanuts Every Sunday collections and my Harry Potter collection, with a selection of Panini’s Doctor Who collections in between.

I didn’t keep track of what I spent, but it was right around thirty dollars.

I killed one roll of wrapping paper.  I had bought a new roll just in case — Peanuts, unsurprisngly — then never used it.  The roll of Scotch tape was much diminished when I was finished.  And I limited myself to a single bottle of Highland Brewing‘s Oatmeal Porter as I wrapped.

Satisfied with my work, I sat on my couch and listened to Archie Fisher talk about Christmas in Glasgow on The Thistle & Shamrock.

Thursday morning I took the package into the office and dropped it off with Human Resources.  I had done my duty, I had brightened a stranger’s Christmas (or would, two weeks hence), and I could get on with the business of sending my publications to press.

Publishing.  It is merciless with its deadlines. :)

An Eeyore Day at the Office

Yesterday work passed in a haze of malaise and gloom.

I can chalk that up, in part, to the catalog section I was working on.  Sixty-four pages of catalog copy.  Around page 10 it felt endless.  At page 30 it felt impossible.  At page 45 it felt interminable.  The word “orrery,” used precisely, is in there, and Sailor Pluto had me idly wondering of Sailor Eris and Sailor Makemake.  I completed the sixty-four pages.  The end of September’s catalog — the catalog copy, anyway — is in sight.  I’m not there yet, but I can see it.

The main thing?  The gloom?  I felt like I’d been demoted at work.

I wasn’t.  Nothing about my job changed.  My title remains the same.  The people I report to are the same.

Psychologically, though, I felt that I was.  Or, more accurately, would be a few months hence.

The reason?  In December, to take into account the Labor Department’s new overtime rules, salaried employees will be reclassified as hourly employees if they make under $47,500.  Which covers a great many people at the office, myself included.  I’ve been a salaried employee, first with EB Games, now with Diamond, for the last sixteen years.  Part of my identity, something that mattered, will be taken away.  I know, it’s a small thing, a trivial thing, but it still felt like a demotion, like my work wasn’t valued.  More than that, a loss.

(And yes, I’m fully aware of how much of a privileged First World Problem this is.  I have a job, yet I’m roiled over how my job is classified.)

Some people in the department have concerns; I know that a few people talked to the department director, though not what they conversations were about.

I have questions.  Questions I’m still formulating.  Questions I’ll write down over the weekend.  Questions I’ll type up and send off.  Questions I may never receive answers to; communication at the office isn’t a strength.

The company has every right to reclassify its employees.  Management needs to do what they believe is in the best interests of the company, short-term and long-term.  I simply want to understand the reasoning behind the decision, the goal the company is attempting to achieve with this move, whether the implications have been taken into account.  That’s not too much of a want.

This Year’s Angel Tree Package

Last week was… not the best.

I should clarify.  It wasn’t bad.  It was simply stressful.  And hectic.  And tense.  And all of the things that a week that where the catalog and orders go to press usually is.

Thankfully, the week ended with the Nerd Prom — the Employee Appreciation Party (or the Christmas Party) — and after the week that had been, the Nerd Prom was muchly needed.

Last week, the Christmas tree in the office lobby was put up, and it was decorated, as it always is, with stockings for the Salvation Army’s Angel Tree program.

I did the Angel Tree for the first time three years ago — and enjoyed it — but for various reasons, mainly not checking the tree at the right time, I didn’t the last two years.

As I walked past the tree Wednesday afternoon — or was it Tuesday? — I looked at the stockings on the tree, saw one for a “Boy Age 7,” and took it.  My week had been overwhelming to some extent, and the thought of helping someone who needed help I saw as a way of balancing the karmic scales.

(Yes, the Salvation Army sucks, and there are sound reasons for never, ever associating with them, but there’s also a seven year-old boy who needs something for Christmas.  I can overlook the Salvation Army’s problematic aspects if I can use them to help a person.)

Unlike three years ago, where I had a hang tag that had a short want list and clothing sizes, all I had to go on this year was “Boy Age 7.”  I then got some clarification from Human Resources about whether or not I had to use the stocking; after all, three years ago I didn’t.  I was told that I could put anything in whatever I wanted; the little bit to identify the recipient was all that was necessary, and it needed to be visible.  I could work with that.

Clothing was out — I had no idea what size to buy for, and I didn’t want to take a chance of buying the wrong size.  “A gift receipt!” you’re thinking, and I considered that, but then I thought through the problem — would this child have an adult who able and willing to go to the store I bought the clothing from to exchange it?  I sadly realized that wasn’t an assumption I could make.

I settled on following the gameplan from three years ago — buy a bunch of small, inexpensive stuff, wrap it individually, then box it in a Diamond shipping box and wrap that.

Let’s see what I did.

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That’s the stuff, except for three things that I left on my coffee table, pre-wrapping.

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I decided early on that I wanted to get my Angel Tree recipient some coloring books.  And I did — I found two at Ollie’s Bargain Outlet that I thought would work.  One was a Spider-Man coloring book, the other was a Star Wars Rebels coloring book.  Coloring books require crayons, so I picked up a box of crayons at Big Lots Saturday night before the Nerd Prom.

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Also picked up at Big Lots on Saturday night, this set of Batman-themed Hot Wheels cars!

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Friday morning I stopped at Target before work to buy Coldplay’s newest (and possibly final) album, A Head Full of Dreams.  I saw this LEGO set and picked it up at the same time.  (It also almost got put back when I couldn’t find the Coldplay album.  I eventually located it; even though it was release day, it had been banished to the back of an endcap.  Thank you, Coldplay, for being there!)

Not pictured, there was also an off-brand LEGO-compatible building set of a fighter jet that I found at Big Lots.  It was a decent sized set, about 160 pieces.  This gave him two things to build and play with — the TIE Fighter and a fighter jet.  I, personally, was more interested in the road construction crew set Big Lots had — it had a concrete truck! — but since I’d already purchased the TIE Fighter, I wanted something else air-related so they could dogfight.

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I thought my recipient needed puzzles.  I bought three.  One was a lenticular Avengers puzzle, and then I bought these two Star Wars puzzles.

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I wanted to give him a book of some sort, but I had no idea what to give him.  (For Christmas when I was seven, my parents gave me a copy of Carl Sagan’s Cosmos.  The year before, so when I was six, or it may actually have been the year before, they gave me The Chronicles of Narnia.  These weren’t helpful touchpoints.)

I saw this book, The Peter Yarrow Songbook: Favorite Folk Songs, at Ollie’s, and I was instantly taken by it.  It’s a picture book, and two dozen classic folk songs are printed and illustrated.  Plus, there’s a CD of Peter Yarrow (the Peter of Peter, Paul, and Mary) performing the song.  It, too, was the sort of thing my parents would have given me at that age.

Not pictured, I also bought a book on the Smurfs at Ollies.  It was a cute introduction to the characters.

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This I pulled from my personal collection.  Patrick Mconnell’s Mutts, which chronicles the adventures of the cat Mooch and the dog Earl, is one of my favorite comic strips, and it would be the right speed for a seven year-old.

Not pictured, there was also a Transformers calendar that I bought at Dollar Tree.  Also not pictured (and not wrapped, because there was no good way to wrap it) was the first issue of Titan Magazines’ Star Wars Rebels magazine; this was left on the giveaway table at the office a few weeks ago, and I decided to pass it on.

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And here’s the resulting wrapped packages.

I then sat down and wrote out by hand a short letter from Santa Claus to the little boy about the important things in life.  Then I discovered that I no longer have any idea how to write the word “Santa” in cursive.  (I can do my signature.  Otherwise, I’ve forgotten cursive altogether.)

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I didn’t have a lot of room left over, and I couldn’t have fit anything else into the box even if I’d wanted to.

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I taped up the box then wrapped it in A Charlie Brown Christmas paper that I also bought at Big Lots on Saturday night.

This morning I took the box into work, taped the necessary identifying materials to one side, and turned the package over to Human Resources.

All told, not counting the Mutts book out of my personal library, this came in under thirty dollars.  The most expensive things were the Peter Yarrow book and the LEGO-esque jet fighter; each of these were five dollars.  My goal was to buy strategically, to get a lot of things, and I’m sure there’s stuff there that I’m sure he’ll enjoy. :)

I can’t fix the world.  Sometimes, in my darker moments, I’m not even sure I can fix myself.  I can make things better for one person, though, at least for one day.  I’ll count that as a win.

Merry Christmas, little boy. :)

The Semi-Colon Is Never Not Stylish

About a year ago I had to edit some copy a colleague had written for the catalog.  It was a thoughtful, well-written piece, and it also happened to run over five hundred words, which was about two and a half times the number of words that would fit into the space we had on the page.  The first paragraph itself was a single sentence of roughly a hundred words, enlivened with commas and em-dashes — and none of the punctuation was ill-placed or abused.  Nonetheless, the piece had to be edited.  For every five words she had written, I could keep maybe two.

We discussed the piece and worked through the edit together.  Ultimately, we couldn’t come to an agreement on how to edit the piece; there was simply too much material that had to be discarded.  Not just fat, but muscle, ligaments, blood, and even bone.  There were ways of getting the piece under 180 words, but it was always at the cost of losing something vital, maybe an important fact, maybe some emotion or depth.  We found another place to run a more lightly edited piece.

What I remember most about this experience is not the editing itself but instead the discussion my colleague and I had about punctuation.

Punctuation is part of the rhythm of writing.  It shows the reader how the writer’s mind works and how thoughts developed.  An ellipsis shows a thought that trails off.  A comma is a pause.  A semi-colon may be a longer pause, or it may be an indicator of a tangentially related thought.  A parenthetical indicates something the reader should know, but it’s something that doesn’t neatly fit into the central flow of the thought.

I have punctuative quirks —

· I’ve never seen a comma I didn’t like.
· F. Scott Fitzgerald taught me everything I need to know about the use — and abuse — of the em-dash.
· The semi-colon is never not stylish.

My work — writting catalog copy — has had an effect on the way I write.  I went through a period where everything received an exclamation point because that was the house style.  I thought my abuse of the em-dash was Fitzgeraldian, but I was restrained in my em-dash usage compared to the house style.  (Over the last few years, I’ve started to pull back from the em-dash edge; in most cases, the em-dash was used where a comma more properly should go.) Where I thought a semi-colon or an ellipsis should go, the house style was to use the em-dash, even though the em-dash isn’t any sort of replacement for either.  I found that the house style infested my personal writing, and it is a struggle sometimes to wrest back my control.

(There’s another way the house style has infested my personal writing.  I use lots of transition words now.  When I write a sentence, I often feel that I need to start the next sentence with a “So” or “Because” or “Then” or “Suddenly.”  It’s something I have to watch for, especially in the drafting stage, because transitional words are so difficult to root out once they’re on the page because years of catalog copy that uses them has made me blind to them.)

My fondness for the semi-colon stems from two things — college and computer code.

In college, I took some history courses from Dr. John Rilling at the University of Richmond, and his style was to lecture for an hour, non-step.  There was no textbook, just a list of topics he has a classmate write on the chalkboard at the start of class.  The only way to keep up was to take notes from beginning to end of the class, and the system I developed was to start writing at the start of class, scribble each thought as it happened, drop a semi-colon, and keep going across the line with the next thought.  I would leave class each day with two pages, front and back, of notes from the class which I would then transcribe in my dorm room into something that made sense, that wasn’t as written through with semi-colons.  Come exam time, I had essentially written my own textbook for the class based on Dr. Rilling’ lectures.

Computer code, particularly CSS and PHP, uses semi-colons to denote an instructional end-of-line, probably because people don’t ordinarily use the semi-colon.  With the work I’ve done in WordPress over the years, it’s no wonder the semi-colon instills me with no terror whatsoever.

I like using strange punctuation, too, like the interrobang, the bastard child of the question mark and the exclamation point.  I would use it at work, but our systems are incapable of recongizing it.  (Yet, our database interface is perfectly fine with unprintable characters that turn text invisible and inaccessible in our system.  I have not figured this one out.) Yet, I dream of the day when I can express myself with interrobangs.  Don’t we all‽

I also enjoy parenthetical asides, as you may have noticed by now.

If writing is a roadtrip, words are the destinations of writing and punctuation is the roads and the scenery, the thing that gives the trip its character.  Punctuation is the scenic overlook or the rustic gas station with a battered Tab sign from the 1970s hanging from a old pole by the roadside.

Punctuation will take you places.  Treat it well, and punctuation will make the journey exciting.  Study the writers you love and see how they punctuate their work.  Think about how their punctuation makes their words flow.  Try adding a comma or linking two sentences with a semi-colon.  See how different punctuation can make your prose feel.  Find the punctuation that feels right for you.

Remember, the semi-colon is never not stylish. :)


On a coincidental note, WIRED posted an article today on obscure punctuation and its origins.  If you wonder where the hashtag (or, as I prefer to think of it, the pound sign), slash, interrobang, or paragraph mark came from, check out their article.


Topic taken from The Daily Post‘s “By the Dots” prompt.

On a Life Round-Up

Where does the time go?

Don’t answer that.  It’s a rhetorical question.

Life has been busy.  There have been writing deadlines, both work-related and personal-related.  There has been some personal stuff occupying my time — and driving me half-mental.  And there has been working on WordPress code for the new website.

Let’s take these in order, since I’ve not done a “life update” in a while.

Writing

Work has been endless deadlines since summer.  Nothing unexpected there, it’s the life I signed up for.  I’m wrapping up work on the November catalog in the next few days, and then it’s a pause of a day or two before diving into the December catalog.

Yes, I know.  It’s not even Halloween, and I’ve already written about Valentine’s Day stuff.

One thing I’ve noticed recently is that I don’t “recover” from the monthly catalogs the way I used to.  I think my brain’s getting a little tired.  This happens every eight months or so — I get worn down and I stay in this worn down state for two months or so until I spring back recharged.  That’s where I am at the moment, I’ve bottomed out.

That said, I’ve been feeling strangely creative.

At Shore Leave I mentioned to a few people that “The Ginger Kid” was the first piece of fiction I wrote in eighteen months.  Since I wrote “The Ginger Kid” I’ve felt the creative juices.

In recent months, I’ve brainstormed ideas, written some plots, and last week I wrote a new short story.  In the weeks to come…

  • I have an outline I did some work on in March and April that I want to finish.  It was a neat idea, it was something I could toy around with on the train, but I didn’t finish it and I lost interest.  However, I would like to finish it because it might prove useful.
  • The Merlin outline.  This week I printed it out so I can tear it apart and put it back together as something not-Merlin.  And that’s my NaNoWriMo plan.
  • Work on the podcast scripts.
  • Brainstorm ideas for a fantasy concept that’s nagging at me.
  • Oh, and there are two non-fiction articles to write in the next six weeks.

That sounds like a lot.  I don’t think it is.  I think it’s eminently doable. :)

Personal Stuff

Well, personal stuff is personal.

Suffice it to say, I’m feeling situationally depressed by certain things happening.  At times I feel alone and bereft of friendship, but that’s not the reason for feeling situationally depressed.  Rather, it’s a series of known unknowns and unknown unknowns.

It will pass.

WordPress

Yes, I’ve been talking about this site redesign forever.

The end, however, is truly in sight.

I’ve written out three pages of notes that explain what still needs to be done.  That sounds like a lot, but notes are largely instructions to myself about how to accomplish what I want to do in seven areas.  This is something that I think I can finish with a solid weekend’s coding.  There’s a custom taxonomy to implement (and I’m not sure that what I want to do is possible), some page templates to test, and one persnickety bug to squash.

That’s the round-up on things.

Before we go, let’s listen to Mr. Rogers talk about how important PBS funding is:

On Retail Experiences

I have an account at DailyKos, the progressive online community, though I’ve very rarely used it in the past six or seven years.  Maybe I’ll post a diary once a year, maybe I’ll log in and make a comment on a post that interests me.

Maybe.

This morning I saw a diary entitled “Confessions of a Retail Worker: $8/hr is generous sez higher-up.  Intrigued by the title, I clicked through.  It told a tale I found familiar — someone was working the retail life, and they were underpaid and unappreciated.  Having spent many years in the retail trenches, I know both.

(I should note for the record, though, that retail is not the only job sector where employees are underpaid and unappreciated.  It happens in every job field.)

So I posted a comment, giving another perspective.  Here is what I wrote…

Until five years ago, I was a store manager for EB Games and GameStop in the Raleigh, North Carolina area.

As an EB Games manager, we were entrusted with a lot of power.  We had our guidelines about where things had to go in the store, we had a payroll budget, we had sales goals, but beyond that, we got to do things pretty much as we saw fit.  EB Games, basically, allowed creative thinking.

Eighteen months before I left the company, we were bought out by GameStop.  We were told for months that this wouldn’t have any effect; we weren’t to think of this as a buyout/winner-loser situation, we were to think of it as a merging and blending of the two cultures.

September approached, and I started doing interviews for my Christmas season hires, and I’d settled on three really good candidates.  Raleigh isn’t that expensive a place to live, but it’s a growing place, and there’s a lot of competition for good workers, so I knew all along that I’d never get away with paying minimum wage, because someone else, someone with social skills, would be able to go somewhere else and get more.  The manager over at Crabtree paid about $2.50 over minimum, I paid closer to $1.50, sometimes $2.00 over minimum.  My part-timers only worked about 8 to 12 hours a week; they were usually high school or college kids who had other interests and concerns.

Even though we weren’t technically part of GameStop at that point (the government’s approval didn’t come until February, as I recall), GameStop started meddling with EB’s culture.  And as we were gearing up for Christmas hiring, the edict came down that, per GameStop, we had a wage scale for part-timers.  The maximum that we could pay was 23 cents over the federal minimum wage, unless the store was in a state with a higher state minimum wage in which case the maximum was the state’s minimum wage.  (The only way an employee could get that maximum, by the way, was if they had a PhD and spoke three languages.  We had a chart with 11 questions, we had to document the answers, and we had to submit the completed chart with the new hire paperwork.)

This disrupted all of my Christmas hiring plans.

I understood GameStop’s view — lots of young people want to work with video games because they love the product — but I thought it was a short-sighted view.  What a company pays (and is willing to pay) says a lot about how a company values its employees.  The kind of person I would want to hire could just as easily get a better paying job at Barnes & Noble, which is why I was willing to pay more.  GameStop took that away, because GameStop believed that no employee was valuable and that every employee could be replaced.  (As I would learn once the merger was complete, even the manager wasn’t valuable.  A GameStop manager is, basically, a well-paid part-timer, with many responsibilities but no rewards.  Even our ability to write a store schedule was taken away, as the schedule was written for us in Texas, and we simply wrote in the employee names when it arrived.) GameStop’s managers couldn’t understand why EB stores had significantly less turnover; as an EB manager, I couldn’t understand why GameStop’s culture of employee turnover had been encouraged and allowed to endure.

I valued my employees.  I know a lot of EB managers valued their employees.  Everyone that works in a store, especially a little store that has maybe six employees, is in the boat together.  You become a team, and you all pull your weight.

Not every company — and not every manager — feels that way, though.  Sometimes it’s the person.  But I think, more often than not, it’s the culture.  And that’s really unfortunate.

On Applying for a New Job

I applied for a new job several days ago.

Last week, a news organization posted on opening for an editor in their Washington, DC offices.  At first, I was intrigued.  Then, I thought it would be cool to apply.  Then I thought I wasn’t qualified.  Then I thought I shouldn’t bother to apply.

Why was I counting myself out?  I look at what I do now, I look at what I’ve done in the past, and then I look at what this position would require, and I see nothing I am incapable of doing.

And so I convinced myself to apply. :)

I don’t need a new job.  I’m quite happy with the one I have.  Oh, it could pay better, but that’s a complaint about all jobs since time immemorial.  I enjoy my work.  It’s creative and challenging and fulfilling.  I know it’s not a job that will last forever, but as long as it does last it will be a blast until that last curtain falls.

Yet, I couldn’t let this opportunity pass me by.

To apply, I needed three things — a resume, writing samples, and cover letter.

I did some substantial revisions on my resume after Christmas; my last resume was the one I put together almost four years ago when I applied for my current job.  I think I added a bullet point to one job, took a bullet point away from another job, and added my new mobile number.

Much to my surprise, of the two pieces of the puzzle that remained the cover letter was the easiest of the three to write, and the writing samples were the hardest to assemble.

What made the cover letter easy, since the cover letter is often the most difficult piece of the application process?  I interviewed myself, asking myself the questions an interviewer would ask.  “Why are you applying?”  “What have you done that is applicable to this position?”  “What in your experience qualifies you for this position?”  “Why should we hire you?”  Once I had worked out the answers to these questions, because these are the questions a good cover letter should answer, writing the letter itself proved painless.

Also, working out the answers convinced me even further that I should apply for the job.

Settling on the writing samples, however, was far more challenging.  I’ve written — brace yourself — over three million words of copy in the past four years.  How do you distill that down into three samples?

I slapped a bunch of work on a flash drive, and read through it in chunks large and small.  Ultimately, I settled on three articles; the marketing copy is more representative of what I write daily, but it’s not as interesting to read.  I went with the interview with William Shatner from 2009, a feature article on Michael Moorcock and Doctor Who from last summer, and a straight-up reportage article on a vendor’s new publishing initiative.

The three pieces assembled, off to Washington, DC they went.

Will I get the job?  Will I even get an interview? I have no idea.  I had to take the shot, though.

I do know this, however.  I have a metric fuckton of writing to do today at the office. :h2g2:

On My Desk at the Office

This is what happens when the TARDIS makes an unexpected landing in Gotham City…

The TARDIS

“What, are you dense?  Are you retarded or something?  Who the hell do you think I am?  I’m not the goddamn Doctor!”

Doctor Who, as only Frank Miller could imagine it…