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Sorry I’ve been MIA, but this is what I’ve been up to lately.

In other news, this blog will migrate to another site in the next few months. At that point I may update more regularly. No promises, just hoping to get back into it.

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Shyness is Vulgar

I’m a big fan of Penelope Trunk’s Brazen Careerist blog because it’s an interesting and brutally honest mix of career, love and life advice.

Trunk is a newspaper columnist who gives weekly career advice and also the founder of three start-up companies including Brazen Careerist, a social networking-styled “career management tool for next-generation professionals.”

She also has Asperger’s Syndrome.

Asperger’s Syndrome, if you’re not familiar with it, is  an autism spectrum disorder. People diagnosed with Asperger’s typically exhibit difficulties with social interaction. These difficulties usually manifest in behaviors that cause the person to appear at best, aloof, disinterested or merely awkward and, more commonly, inappropriate and rude.

Trunk, who frequently writes about her autism,  is aware of how others often view her but that doesn’t mean she can easily change her behaviors. After all this is the woman who set off an Internet firestorm after she infamously tweeted her miscarriage

The tweet in question: “”I’m in a board meeting. Having a miscarriage. Thank goodness, because there’s a fucked-up 3-week hoop-jump to have an abortion in Wisconsin.”

Reaction, not surprisingly, was intense.

Here’s just a snippet of Trunk’s response to the vitriol.

To all of you who said I should not be happy about having a miscarriage: You are the ones short on empathy. Any woman who is pregnant but wishes she weren’t would of course be grateful when she has a miscarriage. Yes, there are many women who want the baby and have a miscarriage. I was one of them. I cried for days. I get it.

But if you have ever had an abortion, which I have, you would know that a miscarriage is preferable to an abortion. Even the Pope would agree with that.

And what is up with the fact that just one, single person commented about how Wisconsin has a three-week waiting period for abortions? It is absolutely outrageous how difficult it was going to be for me to get an abortion, and it’s outrageous that no one is outraged.

Go read the rest of that post, please.  It’s honest in a way that’s both cringe-inducing and admirable. I only wish I had the guts to be so forthright.

In November, she wrote a post about how to “leverage the advantages to being an introvert at work.”

As someone with Asperger’s, Trunk wrote, it’s often difficult to have “normal” workplace relationships–she has to try much harder than most to fit in – even at the company she founded:

The workplace is set up to reward extroverts. The bias against introverts in American society is well documented, including research that shows that a spot on the cheerleading team foreshadows career success much more reliably than a spot on the honor roll. Also, workplace catch phrases that annoy everyone are especially annoying if you’re not an extrovert: Toot your own horn! Your career is only as strong as your network! Let’s do lunch!

I’m not autistic but I am extremely introverted and I know this has, at times, affected everything from the kind of projects I work on and what kind of support I seek to my overall job satisfaction.

The first time I worked at the News & Review I had the luck to fall in with two smart, extremely talented women – one is something of an extrovert, the other more reserved, like me. We formed a tight-knit group within which I felt confident and happy. I believe this affected how I related to others and, as a result, I was a little more extroverted.

My next job was at an online music magazine in New York. The building was in a Wall Street high-rise, everyone wore designer clothes (seriously), partied late into the night and hobnobbed with famous people. They were nice to me and polite but I had trouble connecting with even one person on anything but the most superficial of levels. This came as a blow to me after the SNR and I know it affected not just my happiness but the job itself.

Subsequently, I’ve learned that one of my challenges is to push at my own social boundaries, to reach out to others, to initiate conversations. Of course, that’s easier said than done. And it’s even more difficult these days because I work two part-time jobs. I’m an adjunct professor — which means I’m part-time, have no office and am only on campus for a few hours each week. I also work part-time at the SNR and I’m typically in the office for about 10-15 hours a week; the rest of my work happens at home or in the field. Sometimes if I’m working on a cover story I’m there even less which means I have to try that much harder to build and maintain those relationships.

Trunk’s advice, however, is  to try — but not by completely negating what makes you you.

“Introversion is an important thing to have in a workplace – the trick is having introverts that understand why they’re so valuable,” she writes.

Among the advice she gives introverts is to “take control of your work” and “have confidence in your knowledge” and, perhaps, just as important, “give 10 minutes than go”

“Make a  connection, really contribute to the conversation, and then ten minutes is enough. …. (E)xtroverts often have anxiety that they cannot get access to the introverts in their life – because they are always leaving to be alone. Introverts can alleviate this problem by being fully attentive for a short time and then leaving.”

With that in mind, sometimes I think I got lucky with my choice of profession. Being a journalist and now a teacher forces me to regularly interact with people. It’s nearly beside the point that I dread the seconds before an interview or the moments before I step into a classroom. Once I’m there, especially if I feel confident with what I know, what I want to ask, what I want to say, then I find it easier to talk and forget why I was so anxious to begin with. Journalism in particular has been such an asset to my life in this way – I say, only half-joking, that I wouldn’t have any friends were it not for my job. It forces me out of my shell, it gives me the confidence to talk to others, hell, it’s how I met my best friend and my husband.

Which isn’t to say that my shyness still doesn’t present a struggle but the advantage of growing older, I guess, is that I recognize this and can at least endeavor to make small changes or,  better yet, sometimes give myself the freedom to just not give a shit if someone thinks I’m weird for sitting at my desk with headphones on, working in my own little world.

Friday Night Lights

Pacers 4 Life

I’ve spent the last five weeks of my life immersed in this Grant High School football story. The Grant High Paers won the 2008 CIF championship. It was the first time any Sacramento-area team won a state football title.

At first I wasn’t exactly sure of the story’s focus; generally I thought it would be a look at how that win did–or didn’t–change the team. But ultimately, although that idea lingered, it also shifted as I got to know some of the players. Running back Devontae Butler – the undisputed star of the team– and his best friend quarterback Glenn Deary were both nice enough to talk to me, answer my stupid questions about football and, more important, open up about their lives and their ambitions. Along the way, I learned that Butler and Deary have been best friends since age 6 and are now thinking about playing ball for the same college team. These are two extraordinary kids, on and off the field and I really enjoyed getting to know them.

It probably goes without saying that, along the way, I became extremely invested in these kids. No journalistic non-bias going on here, at least not when it came to hoping that they’d go all the way to the next bowl game.

But life happens and that win was not meant to be. It was difficult to walk out on the field after Rocklin’s win and see 16 and 17-year-old young men crying.

A heartbreaker but I think that with the support of family and friends, these players – Butler and Deary in particular– will  do just fine. I hope so. I never really kept up with local high school football before this story but researching it I learned of the many former Grant players who started out strong only to stumble —Tommy Hall is the worst recent example.

That cliche “It takes a village ….” ? Never more true. These kids are smart and talented but they’ll need the whole damn neighborhood to succeed. But, really, don’t we all?

Revolution Snuggie

Snuggies let me raise the roof
Raise the roof in your snuggie

Yikes, I didn’t realize it’d been so long since the last update; the last two weeks didn’t get away from me–they clobbered me. Papers to grade, holidays to hold, cover stories to write. It feels like I’m only just now coming up for air and still the semester isn’t even over yet. Anyone want to grade final papers for me? I’ll pay you in cookies (kidding LRCC, kidding…).

I’ve basically been in survival mode the last few weeks, grading and writing non-stop, not seeing much of friends, my only downtime coming late at night when I finally head to the couch and Cory pours me a glass of wine and I try to bring my breathing down to something normal, something that will let me approach sleep.

As it’s finally and blissfully cold, this ritual also includes the nightly donning of fleecy pants, hoodies and slippers (sexy, right?). Lately I’ve been joking about how I want a Snuggie— you know, the fleecy “blanket with sleeves.” It started when Cory and I were trying to figure out our Halloween costumes and nearly settled on the laziest costume of all time: Snuggies. Seriously, how rad would that have been? Well, I thought it would be anyway–cozy, drink-friendly, cheap and effortless.

That didn’t happen but, still I joked and then, spurred on by a suggestion from Becca, I decided to write my column about Snuggies.

I didn’t tell Cory this so imagine my surprise when he came home from work on Monday–just hours after I filed my column–with a gift: My very own forest green Snuggie!

I opened it that night all set to get as snuggie as possible….but ….

Well, here’s how the Snuggie web site tries to sell you on this fleecy invention:

The Snuggie is perfect for:

* Traveling in the Car
* Night Time Pub Crawls
* Chilly Office Buildings
* Sporting Events
* Cold Movie Theaters

Here’s what they don’t tell you about the Snuggie:

* It’s constructed for an NBA player – seriously it’s long enough for me to wear while standing on Beno Udrih’s shoulders
* It’s got extra long, baggy arms, it kind of looks like you’re wearing a Hogwarts robe — one constructed for Hagrid
* It looks like it was constructed in one of Kathie Lee Gifford’s sweatshops — yeah, it’s that bad.

And yet I wear it. I wear it on the couch, I wear it while typing, I wear it while I’m napping. So far, however, I think I have too much of a personal sense of shame to ever–ever–wear this damn thing in public. If I ever do, stick a fork in me, I’m done ….

Day 245 of My New Life

Eight months ago today I was laid off from my job at the Sacramento Bee. It was a horrible day but then again it wasn’t.

The company had announced its plans for layoffs about six weeks prior to the actual date of bloodletting; we knew the job eliminations were coming, we just didn’t know exactly how many people would be “permanently separated” from the company or, exactly when it would happen. Without going into all the boring specifics it finally came down to union negotiations and a hotly debated vote.

By Friday, March 6 we all pretty much knew that the following Monday would be The Day. Our bosses asked us to let us know where we’d be that morning — just in case, you know, they needed to reach us.

After weeks of worry, it was a relief to finally have that day come — even when I woke up suddenly at 4 a.m. on the morning of March 9 and said to myself, “you’re going to get laid off.”

Somehow, right then and there, I just knew that my job of nearly nine years was done.

The tap on my shoulder came at about 9:20 a.m. (and yes it was a tap; the cliched tap …but to be truthful I saw my boss out of the corner of my eye about 10 seconds prior to the tap and so I knew then and not by the power of her executive touch).

I was led downstairs into a conference room where I found a manager, a small sheath of papers and a box of Kleenex.

It all happened very quickly; the manager seemed truly upset. I think he may have even said something akin to “It’s not you, it’s us …” Regardless, I just felt numb.

Upside: I didn’t have to cover a story I’d been dreading.

Downside: It was my mother’s 60th birthday and I had to call her with that news instead of just a celebratory birthday greeting.

Fast-forward eight months and my life feels very very different. Very different and mostly better.

Eight months is a long time — almost enough time to gestate a baby and in a way, I feel as though I’ve conceived of a new life. One that follows my own standards for creativity and happiness.

I’ll admit that finances have sometimes — OK, quite often–been a worry but thanks to many factors (cutting back on extraneous spending, freelance work and the Bee’s severance package), we’ve made it work. It’s also been emotionally hard; I knew I didn’t want to spend the rest of my days at the Bee but it’s still tough when someone breaks up with you, whatever the reason and no matter how good it ultimately is for you.

But now here I am working two part-time jobs, teaching English at Sacramento City College and writing for the Sacramento News & Review and, quite honestly, I can’t imagine going back to my life before.

I love teaching for the most part. I don’t love grading papers but I love talking to students in the classroom — some of my kids (and I think of them all as “kids,” even the ones who are older than me by decades) are absolutely wonderful in their desire to learn and grow; they have great senses of humor, they even get my weird jokes. Sometimes after a particularly good class session I actually feel giddy and enormously optimistic about the world. Granted, I do have some, um, “problem kids” but dealing with their issues (mostly of the attitude variety) has also taught me a lot about communication and the importance of trusting in my own authority.

I also, of course, love writing. Being back at the News & Review is exciting and rewarding. I’m sure there were some who questioned my return after nearly a decade but when they approached me about freelancing and, then later, brought up the job opportunity I knew in my gut that it was the right thing to do. Here is a newspaper that values creativity and good reporting and voice and enterprise; it just feels completely right to be there again.

One of the best aspects of this new life (245 days, more or less) is the flexibility it gives me. I think I may be busier than ever but I get to work from home a lot and set much of my own schedule. In the last eight months that’s afforded me the chance to write more — I’ve started a screenplay and a book. I’ve written several personal essays and jotted down a handful of new poems. In other areas of my life I’ve also found time to cook more and even joined a gym. All of that feels pretty damn good.

Thanks to everyone who helped me out during the last eight months — everything from job and writing contacts to just a much-needed word of cheer or support.

I am truly grateful for everything.