Monday, October 31, 2005

I'm not sure which is the greater praise...

"This organization has seen a lot of consultants come through, but you ladies have by far been the best."

"You can be a real pain in the ass, you know that?"

Thank you! Thank you, very much.

Friday, October 28, 2005

Escape from the Land of the Mole People

Today I jet off to sunny Phoenix, Arizona for the culmination of my current consulting project. It's a pleasant, sunny 75-85 degrees in Phoenix right now, and while the grey mire of the long, sunless winter has not totally taken hold here yet in the lush Pacific Northwest - a little sun break will be mightily welcome.

Phoenix is home to my favorite hotel in the world, though sadly, I will not be staying there. The beautiful Biltmore Hotel. Though exact attribution for the architectural design is somewhat disputed, it is a Frank Lloyd Wright building through and through. The Wright Foundation is charged with design decisions for every update, replacement, and expansion, ensuring that the Lloyd Wright style and standards never waver. It is lovely - lovely in a way I can't fully describe, not just pretty, or luxurious, though it is both of those. It's more that every single little detail has been thought through. Anything you seek, you will find at your fingertips. Everything will feel exactly the way you think it should, the right cushiness or firmness, warmth or coolness. It's like being in a spooky dreamland where little fairies follow you around and make everything just as your heart desires it, a moment before the desire even becomes conscious thought.

I was put up at the Biltmore a few years ago while in Phoenix on business. I remember calling Enrico that night from my room, having just returned from one of the seven fantastically mosaic-ed swimming pools - the one with the three-story-high, lit fountain, and the bar built into the pool at water level with little mosaic stools - and wimpering, "I love this hotel. This is the Best.Hotel.Ever. I want to live at this hotel and never leave."

Last year, my sister stayed at the Biltmore on business. Telling someone how much they're going to love something is usually fruitless and annoying, and she greeted my rapturous praise with polite patience, although she started to come around after calling ahead to inquire about the swimming pool and getting transferred to the "pool concierge." That was a clue, right there, to the Biltmore experience. They have a frickin' pool concierge. By the time she came home, she was a fully vested member of the club.

So, when said I was going to Phoenix on business, she said "Oh! Are you staying at the Biltmore??" Sadly, no, I replied. And we had a moment of reverential, wistful silence together, punctuated only by that yearning, simpering sound Homer Simpson makes when he's thinking about doughnuts.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

The baseball math that matters

I'd like for the White Sox to win the series, even though they're not my team, but I'd prefer they not do it in a clean four-game sweep.

I'm from a Chicago family but we're a Cubs family, and never the twain shall meet, although admittedly a few cousins have married into Sox families and gone over to the other side. That's ok, I understand that marital peace does sometimes require major sacrifices. But back in the day, my mama would take her change of clothes to church and catch the South Shore in to the city with a few of her 40+ cousins to see the Cubs play ball on a Sunday afternoon. A Cubs family we were then, and a Cubs family we shall remain.

So, the Sox don't get as much credit for being from Chicago as you might think, but I admit to some fondness for the old Comiski Park, which was a sweet little ballpark. And it gets brownie points for being named after a fellow "hunky noodle," as my aunt used to inexplicably refer to those of us of Slavic descent. Yeah, I have no idea, but she's passed on now so I'll never get to ask.

And yet, the Sox tore down that sweet little ballpark and replaced it with a monstrosity named after some big corporation. Plus, the hunky in question was supposedly a real SOB.

So, to sum up, it seems the mathematics of baseball goes something like this:
Chicago Team - Wrong Team + Charming Ballpark + Hunky Noodle - Demolished Charming Ballpark - Mean Hunky = Team should win, but not in a clean sweep.

So just for tonight - go Astros.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

A squirrel, a hummingbird and a towhee walk into a bar...

On Saturday we had an amazingly beautiful day, which was a gift because usually by now we are huddling for warmth in the dank, pouring rain and watching the daily sunlight quotient dwindle at an alarming rate. Enrico took the dogs for a hike in the woods, and I stayed home in the peace and quiet.

As I was making my lunch, I looked out on the back patio, and you'd think our back yard was being used as the set for a Disney movie. A hummingbird flitted about the fuscia, extracting the last morsels of nectar from the remaining flowers. A squirrel dug industriously in one of my flower pots, either burying or retrieving something. And a striking bird that I eventually identified as a rufous-sided towhee was rummaging noisily in the dead leaves. I was able to identify this bird with the help of our bird book, which reported that in addition to having notable wing markings, the rufous-sided towhee "rummages noisily among the dead leaves."

No doubt, had the dogs been home, this happy nature scene would never have happened. They would never have allowed it. I stood at the window and admired the sunlight glinting off the hummingbird's pretty green feathers, and it was good.

Monday, October 24, 2005

A behind-the-scenes look at the art of consulting

"At first, I was looking at the diagrams you drafted and I was thinking yes! This is perfect! And then I thought, well, no it's not exactly perfect, and I tried to make it perfect by adding some stuff. And then I thought, well, this is the kind of thing where we have to either nail it perfectly, or else everyone will get fixated on critiqueing it and we won't get anywhere, you know what I mean?"

Sigh. "Yes, I do."

"So then I started thinking about what we should do instead and I just got confused."

"Yes! I, too, got confused."

"That thing you said in the meeting, remember? Where everyone said 'Yes! That's it!' - That's what we need."

"Dammit, I don't remember exactly what I said. What did I say?"

"Don't worry, we'll recreate it. It is a shame about those diagrams though, they have so many pretty arrows and colors. You know how I love color and arrows, right? But it's just not perfect, you know?"

"Yep. I do know."

Sunday, October 23, 2005

A Schoolhouse Rock moment

As an update on the private investigator class: The third class did, at last, pick up the pace. More substance, fewer war stories on the theme of Court Cases of Yore. So, I'm glad I didn't bail.

Plus, we were doing the Fourth and Fifth Amendments, and how can you not love the Bill of Rights? In fact, part of my homework is to re-read the Bill of Rights, and damn if it's not an incredibly crafted document. Some of those early Americans - they may have held slaves, and oppressed women, and had all kinds of objectionable views, but nonetheless they were really onto something.

So, I present them here, the first ten amendments to the United States Constitution, as ratified on December 15, 1791. If only Schoolhouse Rock had set them to a pithy tune, an entire generation of Americans would no doubt have them memorized, which just might make the world a better place. (Yes, I can still sing the entire preamble to the US Constitution, thank you very much.)

The Preamble to The Bill of Rights

Congress of the United States
begun and held at the City of New-York, on Wednesday the fourth of March, one thousand seven hundred and eighty nine.

THE Conventions of a number of the States, having at the time of their adopting the Constitution, expressed a desire, in order to prevent misconstruction or abuse of its powers, that further declaratory and restrictive clauses should be added: And as extending the ground of public confidence in the Government, will best ensure the beneficent ends of its institution.

RESOLVED by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America, in Congress assembled, two thirds of both Houses concurring, that the following Articles be proposed to the Legislatures of the several States, as amendments to the Constitution of the United States, all, or any of which Articles, when ratified by three fourths of the said Legislatures, to be valid to all intents and purposes, as part of the said Constitution; viz.

ARTICLES in addition to, and Amendment of the Constitution of the United States of America, proposed by Congress, and ratified by the Legislatures of the several States, pursuant to the fifth Article of the original Constitution.

The Bill of Rights

Amendment I. Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

Amendment II. A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.

Amendment III. No Soldier shall, in time of peace be quartered in any house, without the consent of the Owner, nor in time of war, but in a manner to be prescribed by law.

Amendment IV. The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

Amendment V. No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the Militia, when in actual service in time of War or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offence to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.

Amendment VI. In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the State and district wherein the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the Assistance of Counsel for his defence.

Amendment VII. In Suits at common law, where the value in controversy shall exceed twenty dollars, the right of trial by jury shall be preserved, and no fact tried by a jury, shall be otherwise re-examined in any Court of the United States, than according to the rules of the common law.

Amendment VIII. Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.

Amendment IX. The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.

Amendment X. The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Belated half-marathon update

I don't know why I never got around to blogging about this, but my friend just sent me a picture of us from the race which reminded me about it...

As you may recall if you're a regular reader, 48 hours before the race I had a cold and wasn't sure if I could run. But I got up that morning and felt pretty good, so M and I started the race out together. She was a little nervous. We were going at a pace that was a little slower than usual for me and a little faster than usual for her, but I felt good at the modest pace and decided to stick with it, and with M.

The race course for the Royal Victoria Half-Marathon is beautiful, through parks and charming neighborhoods and along the water. The weather was perfect, overcast and probably 58 degrees. I felt great for about 9 miles, and then my knee started to really hurt - an old IT band problem which I can generally keep under control with regular yoga, but I hadn't done a lick of yoga the whole week before and BOY was I regretting that by about kilometer 15. So, for the last 4K we had to do a mix of running and walking, which was a disappointment, but we finished and we finished together, which was very nice. We hadn't really expected to run the race together, since I'm usually a quicker runner. But at the end, when my knee hurt like hell and I told M to go ahead (since at that point she was having a fabulous race), she said Nope: we started together, we finish together. Which is pretty much the spirit in which we did the whole thing. We'd like to do another one sometime.

Enrico was, of course, the perfect support team, cheering us on at key points and meeting us at the end with dry clothes and taking a few pictures along the way. Speaking of which - here we are, still feeling mahvelous in the park at mile 6-ish.

I can't top this for good entertainment

MoxieVanilla is back, and seriously, she can out-blog my ass any day of the week that she sets her mind to it.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Oh, the weight of it all

Today Zena and I made one of the most important decisions of our business partnership: We selected a powerpoint template. The public face of Flora & Zena, Inc. Consultants don't write reports any more, did you know that? We just produce "decks" with our detailed analysis reduced to pithy bulleted lists and insightful diagrams. In fact some of my colleagues actually charge a "report-writing penalty" for clients who insist they need a written document.

I suppose one could find that troubling. But who am I to buck the inexorable changing flow of things?

Anyway, she picked a template that I had used for a retreat that I facilitated a couple years ago that was INCREDIBLY FRUSTRATING despite my ABUNDANT preparations, sending me into a fit of PTSD when I saw it again and forcing me to take a 90 minute nap.

Being in business is hard work.

The plot thickens

Last night I spent a frustrating time trying to make Excel's graphing feature produce the visual presentation that I wanted. It didn't seem like it should be hard, and in fact when Enrico got home - he is an Excel whizz, being a spreadsheet jockey for a living - he assured me that it should be able to do exactly what I wanted. I assured him that I'd tried just as he described I should, but had encountered only failure.

"Well," he said sagely, "you know what the problem must be, don't you?" I stared at him blankly. "Clearly, it must be the work of Freston!"

I gasped. Of course, the dastardly Freston would be in league with Microsoft!

Meanwhile, I am totally charging the client for the time I spent fighting with Excel, 'cause I can't ever get that 45 minutes of my life back.

Monday, October 17, 2005

It is the work of my nemesis!

Yesterday we went to see a play version of the book Don Quixote by Miguel Cervantes, which I've never read because it's 900 pages long and was written in 1600, and that brings back traumatic memories of my least favorite parts of French lit class. But, Enrico had read it, and wanted to see how you'd turn a 900-page book into a play, so we went. I like plays, I almost always enjoy myself at the theater.

Anyway, it turns out that one of the things the famous Don Quixote does, in his madness, is create an imaginary nemesis, Freston. (Which simply must be pronounced with a vigorous French accent, e.g. FresTOn.) The giants turn out to be windmills? It must be the work of Freston, who has cast an enchantment to prevent my glorious victory over the giants!

That's what I need, an imaginary nemesis. From now on, when Enrico comes home at the end of the day and I'm still in my pajamas and the dogs haven't been walked and the sink is full of dirty dishes - It must the work of Freston!

Sunday, October 16, 2005

Is there such a thing as consultant malpractice?

I am wondering if Zena and I may be accidently working ourselves into a niche as Cleaners. That is, consultants who come in and clean up after other consultants.

Seriously, I don't consider myself the Goddess's gift to management consulting. I have colleagues whom I consider to be truly gifted. I know, what the hell is a gifted management consultant? Well, there's J, who has an enviable ability to turn heaps of information into creative, clear and compelling presentations. There's B, who can extemporaneously come up with an analogy, metaphor or mental model that is instantly helpful for any thinking style. And there's Zena's laserlike ability to focus people on the most critical issues, no matter how muddy they seemed just a moment before. I, on the other hand - I'm more of a jack-of-many-trades, mistress of none.

But we've recently seen a couple examples of consultant work that - well, let's just say that if I EVER produce anything like that, may I be forced to leave the country and change my name out of shame.

So there are a couple situations (and I'm not naming anything, so don't make any assumptions about who I might be talking about, you locals!) where somebody else's work needs to be done over, properly. At that point, the potential client is a little desperate - they have a deadline with a funder, or a board, or some important constituency, and they're about to have egg on their face. There's only so much we can do on such a tight timeline, we say. That's fine! they say, knowing that we will produce more in two weeks than the last guy did in two months. How do they know that? Because nobody could possibly produce less.

And, because we are conscientious. We may say "we don't have time to do a thorough job," but if the question is important, and significant decisions are going to be made as a result of the work - well, we do the legwork required to get an answer we feel good about. How can we do otherwise in good conscience?

I've come to believe this is the mark of a good consultant. I once had one working for me who was discounting his rate considerably for a good cause, and he kept saying "I'm not satisfied with this answer yet, I want to do X analysis first." And, being a consultant myself, I'd say, "That's fine, but you know, it's out of scope." Out of scope or scope creep are consultant-speak for "work outside the subject-matter or time that I bid for this gig." But he'd do it anyway, because it was necessary to get an answer he felt good about. You either eat the hours, or you cut back on some other aspect of the project, or maybe if you're lucky you can renegotiate with the client. But you don't just hand in crappy work.

As I think about it, all the colleagues that I think really, really highly of - they all take this approach.

I don't really want to get typecast as a Cleaner, and ideally the job would never be necessary. But Jiminy is it possible to create such a meaningless spreadsheet?

Friday, October 14, 2005

This is for you, Shelly, if you're still reading

List (I haven't done this in a while!): Books about finding yourself

I know I may LOOK like I have it all together, with my self-employed lifestyle and my sugar-daddy husband with the plush gov'ment benefits, and the Plan B private investigator school...but the fact is, this comes from several years of naval-gazing and asking over and over "what do I want to be when I grow up?" Yeah, I still have no idea. But I've read a ridiculous number of books on the subject.

Most books about finding your bliss lay out a simple process: Inventory your skills, experiences and interests. Think creatively about what income-generating activities would use them. Create a carefully crafted plan for getting from here to there. End of story!

I think this is a load of crap. One of my favorite "What do I want to do with my life" books backs that up: Working Identity by Hermina Ibarra (and really, doesn't she get bonus points just for having a fabulous name like Herminia Ibarra?). She's a Harvard type who actually did some research into the process people go through when they change professions, and found that, as experiential learners, people actually tend to make major transitions over the course of a few years by basically trying new things out a little at a time.

Anyway, following are what I consider the best books to read if you are asking the question: What should I do with my life? And after that are a bunch of other books along the same lines, just in case your thinking style is different from mine.

The A List:

  1. Working identity: Unconventional strategies for reinventing your career - Herminia Ibarra (2004). Talks about finding your way by crafting experiments rather than neat little flowcharts. Kind of the antidote to What Color is My Parachute or whatever that's called.
  2. When work doesn't work any more: Women, work and identity - Elizabeth Perle McKenna (1998) - This is the book to read to get you out of the mindset that you should have a full-time, respectable job. She basically argues that the feminist revolution won us the wrong thing: It simply won us the right to be our fathers, working overly demanding jobs out of the home with little to no role in the many other elements of living daily life. Instead of creating a world where women and men live that life - though it's fine if they want to do that - the feminist revolution should have reconceptualized work to give everyone an opportunity to find fulfilling paid and unpaid activities.
  3. What should I do with my life? - Po Bronson (2002). Just inspiring stories, but they're interesting and the kind of thing that can open the mind.
  4. The Artist's Way - Julia Cameron - This is a book originally written to get blocked artists "unstuck," but it's become a cult favorite for getting unstuck in general and reconnecting with the creative part of yourself.
Less obvious, but very good:
  • Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life (1995) - Anne Lamott. About writing, but also writing as a metaphor for life. Just a great book.
  • Composing a Life - Mary Catherine Bateson (1990 / 2001) - the daughter of Margaret Mead and Gregory Bateson writes a set of vignettes about interesting women and how they've tried to improvise rich, multifaceted lives.
  • Gifts from the Sea - Anne Morrow Lindbergh (1955). A lovely meditation on life originally published in 1955, but reads just as timely today.
Off the beaten path:
Soulcraft: Crossing into the mysteries of Nature and Psyche - Bill Plotkin (2003). Ok, this one is a little out there. And don't ask me how I picked it up, I don't remember. What I like about it is his premise that Western society does a poor job of noticing, supporting and marking major life milestones and transitions; other societies have done a better job of facilitating coming-of-age and other transitional moments. As a result, we're kind of stunted on our paths, unable to notice when it's time to move to something new and lacking in tools to do something with that awareness.

The B-List: If you do like the linear inventory-and-diagram approach, these are ok.
  • Wishcraft: How to get what you really want - Barbara Sher (1986 / 2003)
  • Making a living without a job - Barbara Winter (1993)
  • Finding the perfect work: The new career guide to making a living, creating a live - Sarah and Paul Edwards (1997 / 2003)
  • The practical dreamer's handbook: Finding the time, energy and money to live the life you want - Sarah and Paul Edwards (2000)
Related list: Books about living simply and keeping life organized. If you're quitting your job, starting a business, or trying to reduce your day job so you can try new things - saving money and time are useful things to do. Also, if you've decided your bliss involves creating designer cow-bells, well, you'll probably need to stick with the simple life for the foreseeable future.
  • Your Money or Your Life - Vicki Robbin and Joe Dominguez. A classic, though I'm dubious of their conclusion that you can become financially self-sufficient by investing solely in T-bills. But, their concept of equating expenditures with the "life energy" required to earn the associated money is helpful, I think.
  • Voluntary Simplicity - Duane Elgin (1981 / 1998). Also a classic, which went out of print but is all the rage again. More philosophical than applied, driven by the environmental and psychic consequences of overconsumption.
  • Choosing Simplicity: Real People Finding Peace and Fulfillment in a Complex World - Laura Breen Pierce. Part of the second wave of the voluntary simplicity movement.
  • Organizing from the Inside Out - Julie Morgenstern. No woo-woo utopia here, she's all practicality about getting control of your physical stuff.
  • Simplify your life: 100 ways to slow down and enjoy things that matter - Elaine St. James. McNuggets of simplicity wisdom, ranging from obvious to kinda clever.
  • Getting Things Done - David Allen. If you work a busy white collar job, I actually think his methodology is very effective for organizing time, email, and paper, and getting more done.
  • Speed Cleaning - Jeff Campbell. Seriously, these people have studied the science of cleaning and know how to do it faster.

But she's had a lobotomy!

I have an unproductive habit of sizing up my perceived shortcomings, comparing them to other people, and finding myself lacking. Don't get me wrong, overall I think I'm a person with healthy but not overweaning confidence, who likes herself pretty well. (Thank you, parents!) But I have this bad habit of thinking, "Boy, why can't I seem to do X?" and quickly following it with, "especially because Mary Jane is doing X just fine and she doesn't even have the use of her right hand! What kind of wimp am I, anyway!?"

This week I have been so very, very tired. I know it's just the cumulative effect of a half-marathon, a trip out of town, a head cold, two client deadlines, and poor sleep due to crappy hotel beds and a hacking cough. All perfectly reasonable. But my business partner, who has been carrying the bulk of the load on the new client job while I finish up my old ones, HAS FOUR-MONTH OLD TWINS. So I think, "Boy, why am I so tired when Zena has infant twins and probably never sleeps? How lame is it that I'm leaning on her to get through this week?"

I know this is completely and utterly ridiculous. Zena herself laughs at me and points out that this is exactly why we prefer to work in partnership instead of solo - to level out the ebbs and flows of work and time/energy. She also has a very wise saying: Don't judge your insides by somebody else's outsides.

So one of my goals for my older, wiser 40-year-old self is that I'll learn to transcend this pointless habit.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

The joys of animal experimentation

I have been reading the most recent book by Stanley Coren, a PhD psychologist and canine behaviorist. I have been intrigued by canine psychology and sociology ever since we got these dogs. One thing that I love about living with them is that it's a constant cross-cultural experience. I'm a person who's studied five foreign languages, three of them to a level between competent and fluent. I am a citizen of two countries and I've lived in two countries (not the same two). I have visited 20 countries (four of which no longer exist) on three continents. It's fair to say that other cultures fascinate me.

Wolves and other wild canines have been shown to have extremely complex social structures and communication systems; domesticated dogs are basically wolves stunted into permanent puppyhood and bred to accentuate certain natural characteristics and de-emphasize others. But nonetheless they are all canis lupus - the wolf, the chihuahua, and the St. Bernard. Scientific research suggests that domesticated dogs have roughly the cognitive abilities and linguistic comprehension of a human two-year-old.

So living with dogs means learning another culture and language. Much as dogs may learn human language and habits - something wolves are very bad at, despite their superior intelligence - we humans must still learn and integrate into our daily behavior the fact that a direct look in the eye, or a smile, means something completely different in their culture. If you have multiple dogs, you'd better learn to read the language of tails and eyes, if you want to spot trouble before it erupts.

Anyway, reading this book totally makes me want to conduct experimentation on my dogs. I read about this research, and I think, "Hey, I wonder how long it would take my dogs to learn to go the long way around a V-shaped fence in order to retrieve a treat?" The book also makes me realize that both dogs are at an age where their cognitive abilities will start to decline. We will have geriatric two-year-olds on our hands. As much as Nelly's uncanny intelligence is occasionally terrifying, the prospect of her senility is much, much more so.

Happily, my urge to conduct harmless psychological experiments and my desire to keep Nelly in posession of her faculties are synergistic, because it turns out that dogs, like people, stay sharp into old age by eating antioxidants and challenging their minds in constantly new ways. Nelly and Toby need the doggie equivalent of the New York Times crossword puzzle and a good game of Boggle every now and then. Nelly especially likes to be challenged intellectually. When she was a puppy, she'd throw herself obsesively into a new game, until one day she'd decide she had milked all there was to learn from it. Done fetching tennis balls, never to do it again. Disembowling stuffed animals? Been there, done that. So I think she'd appreciate some new puzzles to solve.

I'm starting with a game where they have to remember whether the blue cup or the red cup has the treat under it, and bump the right one with their nose to get their reward. It's too, too fun.

Why I am the nightmare student

First - yes, I did finish the half-marathon despite my head cold. It was great fun. More on that later.

Because right at this moment - despite having a mountain of work to do - I am more inspired by last night's PI class, our second. I'm feeling like the instructor - the lawyer - is spending too much time on "war stories," tales of past cases that are admittedly interesting but have nothing to do with what he's supposed to teach us that night. The people in the class (which shrank from 40 to 28 people, interestingly) seem to eat it up though, like they can't resist a behind-the-scenes perspective of their favorite tv legal drama.

My impatience with this, and with some of my fellow students, is making me realize that I am something of a nightmare student. I attribute this to a few things.

First, the high school I went to was rather eccentric in many ways, not the least of which was that with some exceptions, we weren't actually required to attend class. This gave me the radical belief that education is a two-way social contract: The value of the learning experience should be sufficient to merit the student's time, and if not, the student has the right to boycott. Now I don't think you get to boycott just because something is hard. If a subject is reasonably required of everyone in your situation, you don't get to quit just because you struggle with it, or it isn't your cup of tea. But if it's badly done or makes blatently disrespectful use of your time - it's a poor value exchange and you have the right to balance things out by reclaiming your time and mental energy back. It is for this reason that in high school I learned a great deal of chemistry and US history, and very little physics or geography.

Speaking of US history, here is another reason why - at least in the case of PI school - I am a nightmare student: I already know something about law. More than I realized, actually. My odd high school was in fact a curriculum laboratory at a public university, and in my junior year, the college of education decided it didn't need the lab any more. In order to keep it open, the university integrated it as a stand-alone unit - still a curriculum lab - but in order to make that financially viable, for the first time they accepted regular public school funding from the state of Illinois. This brought with it some rules. One was that the funding was attendance-based, so they started making us go to class (the bastards!). Another was that the state required a one-semester "civics" class of all high school graduates - to ensure every graduate knew the basics about being a good US citizen.

Now in our junior year, we had the most rigorious high school US history class ever created (don't ask me how I know this, but it's true). So, presented with the requirement for a "civics class," school authorities had no idea what they could possibly throw together for our senior year that we hadn't already learned in spades the year before. Because the school was a curriculum lab, some enterprising law professor at the university decided he would use this opportunity to pilot a basic law class for high school students. So we had a one-semester class, taught by college-level law faculty, which covered the basic areas of law (criminal, civil, constitutional, international) and also a trip to the law library with a law student to learn how to look up case law. It was great. Plus the girls all thought the professor was really hot, which was a big plus at that age. Unfortunately, I think the class was only around for a couple years and then the handsome professor got busy or bored and it ended, like so many experiments at that school. (Like the semester of formal logic required in my 7th-grade year, which trained every one of my classmates to score in the 95th percentile on those damned "logical reasoning" sections of standardized aptitude tests.)

Anyway, it seems like more of that material stuck with me than I realized.

The last reason I am a nightmare student is because I have taught. Not as my main profession, but I've taught graudate-level classes and numerous workshops for colleagues. My mantra is, if I'm going to get dinged for the amount of substantive content in my class, let it always be said that I covered too much rather than too little. I'm fanatical about making things substantive and applicable, and I know that with some work, this is a completely reasonable thing to accomplish as a teacher. So I expect the same courtesy when I'm in the student's chair.

So, I hope the class gets a little more focused, but I have to admit, if majority rules, the majority of people seem to be grooving on the war stories. I don't feel like the war stories meet my usefulness standard for the educational social contract, and to add insult to injury, attendance of 8 of 10 sessions is required to pass the class. It just goes against my grain. Damn radical upbringing.

Friday, October 07, 2005


I just might be able to run by Sunday. We'll see what happens. If not, I will be an enthusiastic cheerer-onner for my friend.

So - off to my other country!

Mother Nature can be so capricious

With my half-marathon a mere 48 hours away, I woke up this morning with A COLD. Sore throat, stuffed head, headache. I'm not sure 13 miles is doable in this state, given the constant stream of oodge draining from my sinuses into my lungs. The lungs are a pretty critical member of the team on a 13-mile run.


Thursday, October 06, 2005

Because I know you're curious

I am still very busily trying to meet client deadlines this week while also preparing to be out of town for the half-marathon/wedding anniversary weekend, but - I know you are wondering about the first day of private investigator school.

It was a bit anticlimactic. First we met the three instructors for the year and learned about them and the structure for the course - all of which was covered in the informational session I attended before applying to the program. Then the lawyer took over and we did a little review of the court system in the U.S. Most of which I knew, but that's ok. I learned a few things.

What was interesting was the diversity of people in the class. About 40 students, of all ages, roughly evenly split between women and men, including: some paralegals and lawyers; a (female) bounty hunter; forensic nurse; retired high school biology teacher; accountant; engineer; realtor; computer programmers, of course, because this is Seattle and you can't throw a stick without hitting a computer geek; a couple guys who worked in security or the military and threw around the term "Homeland Security" WAY too much for my comfort; retired business people; some people who just thought it sounded interesting; some people who just needed a new job and this seemed better than most; and me.

I described myself as a professional nonprofit interim executive and consultant. Although I don't have a long tenure doing the interim work, I AM starting a new gig this week and I thought it had the most easily explained connection with private investigation: You have to get into a situation and try to figure out what's really going on. I also didn't want to list my potential interest in writing murder mysteries, because somebody had already done that and come off sounding really pompous about it.

The lawyer instructor was fascinated by my job, as it turns out. "Professional interim executive? Seriously, that really exists as a job? Who knew." He had me explain how it works in more detail during the break, and asked whether the same thing exists for schools principals and headmasters (yes) and for-profit business (dunno, but I assume so). It's always a good day when you get somebody to say about your profession: "No, seriously, that's actually a real job?"

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Holy Moly

Just thought I'd take the five free minutes I have between commitments to say - holy Hannah, THIS is what it's like to be busy! A feeling I have not truly had since B.I. (Before Italy, aka May). In the course of one week, I am:

  • Finishing up three contract jobs (well almost - one is done, and next week is the end point for the other two)
  • Potentially starting a new interim executive job
  • Starting private investigator school (tonight)
  • Re-starting Italian conversation classes
  • Hiring a bookkeeper for the organization whose board I'm on, to save me from the horror of having to run payroll myself, as the Treasurer
  • Running a half marathon
  • Cleaning my house for the sake of the dogsitter who will stay here while we're away at aforementioned half marathon
  • Celebrating Enrico's and my tenth wedding anniversary
Yowsa. All good, but yowsa. How do people with children do it?? My head would explode. I am in awe of all you parents out there.

Monday, October 03, 2005

Heat, glorious heat!

We have successfully turned on the furnace! We have been gradually easing Nelly into furnace season, based on the advice given to us by the vet shrink last year for dealing with Nelly's debilitating furnace fear. It seems to have worked. The furnace runs, and she shows little sign of anxiety. Of course, we have not yet turned on the electrostatic filter which is the true source of her terror. That will be much harder. The furnace only became scary by association with the filter. Without the air filter on, the blowing air makes me sneeze and wheeze a bit, so I'm anxious to move on to the filter. But - one step at a time. And boy howdy, is it ever nice to have heat in the mornings. I can actually get myself out of bed before 8 am.

How does one desensitize one's dog to a furnace, you might ask? You train her to relax on command, and then slowly expose her to the sound of the furnace. Literally, over a period of months we have rewarded her with yummy treats for "relaxing." More specifically, she is rewarded for adopting the physical characteristics of being relaxed. Kind of the "fake it till you make it" approach: if you act relaxed, you will become relaxed in spite of yourself. In the case of a dog, that means she gets a little snack when we ask her to sit with her ears forward and her mouth closed, looking me calmly in the eye.

"She's really going to figure out that I'm rewarding her for having her ears forward and her mouth closed?" I asked Dr. Lynn, dubiously. "That seems awfully subtle."

"She will absolutely figure out that's what you want," Dr. Lynn replied. "Dogs are extremely good at picking up on that kind of thing. And Nelly is a very smart dog." So now, I can actually coax my dog to relax on command. In theory, according to Dr. Lynn, this is also how we'd train her to stop wanting to beat the crap out of every dog she sees. But like I said - one step at a time.

Saturday, October 01, 2005

I'll have to try that some day

The fundraiser I went to this week was organized by a friend of mine, and it was a huge success. Many people, good times, lots of money raised. The mayor came and declared an official day in honor of the organization. A big success all around.

Of course, that kind of thing only gets pulled off with lots and LOTS of work, especially when there's a fundraising staff of one (my friend). She was totally wrung dry by the time it was over. On top of it all, on the morning of the event itself, she had to close on buying her condo at 8 am - having worked until 4:30 am in preparation for the evening's event. So she went to her condo closing IN HER PAJAMAS.

Now, that's the kind of nerve I aspire to have some day. You know, after the bank and the mortgage broker and the insurance company have all investigated you with invasive scrutiny, judging whether you're responsible, you pay your bills, you have a good job, you're not likely to lose your good job, but you'd be able to pay your bills anyway...after all that, once everything's a done deal, just to screw with their heads - show up for your closing in your pajamas.

That's not why my friend did it, of course. She did it because she was almost psychotically sleep-deprived and couldn't manage to dress herself. But still - it's an inspiration to me.