Coffee heat rising

A break in the clouds…

Hallelujah, brothers and sisters, yonder breaks a beam of light through the clouds!

Yesterday developed into surprisingly de-toxifying day.

First off, I discovered the reason the MacBook was throwing out messages to the effect that it couldn’t hold all the data stored on iCloud was…ohhh, wait for it… BECAUSE… The damn computeris somehow CLONING ALL THE DATA FILES ON ITS HARD DRIVE…over and over and over again.

Call up the AppleCare people and reach the first tech there that I’ve ever talked to who hadn’t a clue. She had never heard of such a thing and didn’t know what to do, so she made me an appointment with the Apple “Geniuses.” Like I have nothing else to do with my time…

Whenever I get off the phone with her and calm down a bit, I think to do a Web search. Find an Apple user’s forum where a) some guy says you can get rid of the redundant files by shutting down and rebooting, and b) they will eventually come back. Another user reports that this is a function of the Sierra operating system. Say what????

Well, I’ve had this computer for two years and it’s been running on Sierra for almost that long and I’ve never seen endless strings of duplicate files before. Presumably older versions of Sierra didn’t do that. When the guys in Tennessee replaced everything in this device’s innards, they would have had to reload Sierra, and in doing so, they presumably would have loaded a slightly newer iteration of Sierra. Hence: iterations, all right: thousands of them!

Really, that was the straw that broke the camel’s back. I just CAN. NOT. DEAL. WITH. THIS. SH!T any longer!

At that point, I about decided to shut down The Copyeditor’s Desk. The computer headaches, the DropBox headaches, the PayPal headaches…all conspiring at once: it’s more than I can handle.

Naturally, the minute I make that decision, a new Chinese mathematician e-mails in a sweat, needing to get 10 (typeset!) pages of new copy edited and jammed into an article that’s already been provisionally accepted. He, however, is at the Great Desert University, where I have spies. And he has a bank account. So he at least can pay me. However, that means I have two book projects in hand, another pending, this math thing, and a computer that is laboring to undercut me.

But… But, indeed: his piping up reminded me that not all Chinese mathematicians, scientists, and scholars of business management labor away their lives on the Mainland! A whole lot of them live in the United States. And they can pay with checks. Or get their universities to pay with checks.

And how hard is it to make nice to these folks and cultivate that set?

He blinked not at all at my bracing  per-word rate, so I will be paid fairly for turning his golden words into publishable copy.

This sounds sooo weird, but I love copyediting these Chinese scientists’ copy. The beauty of a math paper is that if its author says something stupid, I don’t know it. That, alas, is not true of work in just about any other discipline. 😀

And most of the stuff is strangely interesting, at base.

He wants to meet next week and trudge through the new content, face-to-face. That’s a new one for me, but it should be interesting. I figure if I can make nice to him and not persuade him that I’m a complete idiot, he may refer me to colleagues.

Whiled away part of the day with another new client’s effort at science fiction writing. That was light and amusing and did not leave me in a rage. Which is good. Always good.

In the morning, I tested the blood pressure again — still obsessing about whatever it was that happened in the wee hours the day before yesterday. Back down into to fairly normal range: average 123/77. One reading was an amazing 115/75. Not bad for a 74-year-old, eh?

So I think it’s safe to assume the episode in the night was a stress attack, not a life-threatening cardiac event.

That alone relieved a whole lot of stress. So did the idea that I might simply fold The Copyeditor’s Desk and really, seriously retire retire.

And in the evening, we — the Women’s Schola — sang at Compline, a particularly lovely end-of-the-day service that, being absent the hoopla of a mass and all that, is a lovely, contemplative moment entirely sung and presented by candlelight. Meditative, it is. And a very fine antidote to crazy-making stress.

This service — Compline — is in my opinion the most lovely and spiritual event in the church’s entire repertoire. Hardly anybody seems to know about it: attendance can be numbered in the single digits. This is too bad, because a whole lot of people are missing out on something that ought not to be missed.

And now…away! Off to pick up the Old Folks, the first traffic-traipse of the day.

Ouch! Ugh! and Whew!!!

Whew! It’s hotter’n’a three-dollar cookstove. The air conditioning just ran through what it defines as a cooling cycle and shut off. Still frying in here. Need to go out and fall in the pool again.

Ugh! Reports have it that Apple is going, oh (grumpily) hallelujah, to replace our fine defective goddamn keyboards, for freaking FREE!

So. I guess Monday I will have to traipse over to the Biltmore and hand this thing across the counter, there to have it gone for several days, probably the better part of a week. How can I express my annoyance?

Okay, okay, OKAYYYY you’re right! How can anyone complain when a company wants to make one of its fiascos right all by its little self, not being forced to do so by the federal government?

All very nice, I’m sure. But for what this thing cost, shouldn’t we get a keyboard that…well…you know…works? From the git-go?

Having to attach a Microsoft(!) external keyboard is the least of the annoyances. Yesterday this fine expensive little beast experienced not one, not two, but three system crashes. Plus FireFox crashed, apparently overloaded by having too many tabs open. (Is that even possible?)

These crashes occurred while I was working on the Drugging of America book, sweating over a chapter that has, to give you a clue to its complexity, 83 endnotes. Woulda thought I was gonna die, thank you very much, without the damn computer stumbling around all evening long.

So it was 11 p.m. by the time I wrestled that mess into a corner and then posted Friday’s chapter of The Complete Writer.

And finally, ouch! Now we have some direct evidence that stress makes me clench and grind my teeth at night.

Stopped wearing the mouth guard after the burning mouth episode, which hurt quite a lot and took a good three weeks to clear up fully.

Apparently this was ill-advised. Woke at 5 a.m., sat up, and…YOOOWWWWW!!!!!

Worst pain I’ve EVER felt!

It felt like somehow I must have dislocated my jaw.

In my sleep??? HOW???

Whatever…it was just excruciating, and I thought I was going to have to go to the emergency room…A-fuckinGAIN!

Managed to stagger in to the bathroom, heat up a wet washcloth, and apply. Still couldn’t close my mouth, but did contrive to get online and find, at the TMJ site, the advice that less is more. They’d posted a little physical therapy exercise that supposedly would help this phenomenon.

Couldn’t get any worse. So tried it out, and damned if it didn’t help.

These things always, invariably happen to me on the weekends. So calling the dentist was off the table. Oh well.

By 9 a.m. it had calmed down enough to be more or less tolerable. Resuscitated the mouth guard and left it in all day. That also seemed to help. I guess.

What fun.

Unable to chew anything…luckily a very ripe (and delicious!) watermelon was sitting on the kitchen counter. So that was a lot like eating sherbet. But less fattening.

This afternoon it was off to the nearby Sprouts in Crime Central to pick up a cucumber. Developed a craving for xergis, a cold soup perfect for a day like this. And it doesn’t have to be chewed. 😉

Sprouts has a security guard looming at the front door these days. That’s good. I guess. Yeah. I live in a neighborhood where the local grocery store has to post guards to keep its customers from being brained or running off in terror. Ducky.

You’d think Sprouts would have a decent cuke, wouldn’t you?

Not so much.

You had your choice:

Organic…  Armenian-type, wrapped in plastic but wimpy, no longer than a regular old-fashioned cuke, but thinner. Looked pretty puny under the plastic wrap: dented, scratched, verging on wilted.

Inorganic… Encased in wax.

The inorganic cukes were a buck apiece, but a) I hate that wax stuff and b) by the time you peeled off the contaminated skin, not so much would be left. The sickly-looking organic cukes were two bucks apiece(!!!!!).

Wave good-bye to the security guard…jump in the car…head down to AJs.

There the Armenian-style cucumbers also were $2 apiece — but you’d expect to pay that in the Jewel of Richistan. AJ’s is Arizona’s answer to Whole Foods, only it costs more.

Food’s better, too.

While there, picked up a package of overpriced dog food, obviating the need to drive out again on Monday, when the hounds will run out of the batch they’ve got in the fridge. So that was good.

At any rate, I’m pretty sure this jaw/TMJ thing is a direct result of sitting in front of the damn computer tearing my hair until 11 p.m. and then falling straightaway into the sack. It confirms the dentist’s suspicion: stress. And it explains where the stress comes from.

Working on a computer is a constant exercise in low-grade stress, punctuated by moments of frustration, rage, and despair. Last night’s Triple Crown crash-fest was more extreme than usual…but the fact of the matter is that a computer is a box filled with endless aggravation.

That notwithstanding, today I finished another chapter. It’s rather slight — only about 1670 words. But I decided it would be good to insert the “How to Read a Scientific Paper” squib closer to the front than originally planned. Follow that with the NNT chapter, which will require a degree of science-buff sophistication from the reader.

In theory, with chapter 2 I now have enough to put the proposal together and start sending it out. But I think I’d rather have a more solid chapter to include in the proposal, and the NNT rant is it. It will take two or three days to write that, I expect, using the original blog post as the bare-bones draft.

Really, the relevant posts are functioning like preliminary outlines. This stuff grows like algae on the side of the pool. And of course every word of the content has to be rewritten to sound like something a university press would care to publish… Bloggish doesn’t make it.

It’s 7 p.m., I haven’t finished the current chapter of Ella’s Story, which needs to go live on Monday. And I’m too tired to function. To reiterate:

Ouch! Ugh! and Whew!


Tempus fidgets

Time does fly, and with it our little concerns and mores. When I entered a link to one of this site’s “pages” in yesterday’s post and then had some trouble persuading the software not to link to the old URL, I happened to read over the contents of “The Poison Poppy.” Time adds a great deal of perspective: getting your bowels in an uproar over a $220-a-month pay cut seems pretty silly, compared to a 100 percent cut in pay!

These days I feel a lot calmer about the money situation (among other things). As a matter of fact, where next year’s financial pickle is concerned, I no longer care. If I end up living under the Seventh Avenue overpass, tant pis. I’ll be in good company.

For about three years there, I was in a constant state of uproar; during one of those years, I was in a chronic rage.

The whole flap over the destruction of my swimming pool, which took place shortly after I moved in to my present home, created a great deal of angst and downright fear, particularly after a judge would not let me, SDXB, or my lawyer leave his courtroom until after Mr. B*** was seen driving away from the parking lot. Having two barracuda lawyers urge me to sell my house and flee—and describe in exquisite detail what they imagined Mr. B*** to be capable of—was pretty bloody terrifying.

None of that hysteria died down until M’hijito proved, by installing a phalanx of infrared cameras, that the ensuing pool pump “vandalism” incidents were happening because the equipment was defective, not because Son-in-Law was hopping the fence once a month to fool with it. But overlapping that was the Great Desert University’s ballyhooed partnership with PeopleSoft, which led to five months of incorrect paychecks, missed retirement contributions, an attempt to void 200 hours of accrued vacation time and declare me ineligible for vacation, insane abuses of my staff members, wrong information (surely  not outright lies?) from HR, and a $220 de facto monthly pay cut. And this was superimposed over the slowly but steadily growing issues surrounding My Bartleby, the single most unholy personnel issue I have ever had to deal with—one that dragged out over four excruciating years.

Looking back on it, I realize how close to a breakdown I must have been. It’s no wonder I ended up in the hospital with stress. What is a wonder is that I survived at all.

Well, now that only two months remain in my tenure with the Great Desert University, I no longer feel an irrational hatred for the institution (it’s like hating rainfall or the moon in the sky). True, a trip to Tempe does evince a flinch reflex, and I do look forward to never having to enter that burg again.

In spite of the year of unemployment and enforced penury coming up, I feel comfortable about the future. Money happens, after all. Some things are better than a regular salary. Some things are worse than penury.

Layoff: The emotional journey

Over at A Gai Shan Life, Revanche (one of our favorite readers & writers) reports that the predicted layoffs have struck her company and she also is about to join the ranks of the unemployed. We should have quite the campsite, all of us laid-off bloggers dwelling together under the Seventh Avenue Overpass. I propose we call it W-ville. Oh! Sorry. Politics again! 😉

At her site and in a comment to a post below, Revanche describes experiencing a roller-coaster of emotions in response to the anticipation and finally the confirmation of the layoff. Several other bloggers have described wild swings from elation (free at last!) to panic (uh-oh!) to depression (OMG!). Fortunately, she’s managed her money well and has enough to tide her over until 2010, by which time she undoubtedly will have found another job. The panic and depression phases have got to be a lot worse for those of us who haven’t had enough time to shovel out of debt and accrue an emergency fund. But prepared or not, apparently that series of reactions is normal for everyone.

As I remarked some time back, we wouldn’t call it “work” if working were expected to be fun. The vast majority of employees work hard and don’t extract a great deal of personal satisfaction or joy from having to earn a living. But what might be a more or less neutral attitude—i.e., that’s just life—has for many of us turned pretty negative as morale at stressed workplaces heads for the city sewer. Low morale, pinched budgets, and fear make for a toxic environment that anyone in her right mind would be happy to escape. So it makes sense that your first reaction to a pink slip is hallelujah, brother!

The next thought that enters your mind is what on earth am I gonna do? The realization that you’re still going to have to pay your bills and eat, paycheck or no paycheck, is one scary critter. If you’d like to spook yourself a little more, take a look at this interactive feature at, an item that will take your breath away. There’s a reason we’re all blogging away at three in the morning: we can’t sleep for worrying. And it’s a good reason.

Then sooner than later, depression sets in. It doesn’t take long to realize that the few employers who have job openings are so swamped with applicants they don’t even bother to respond to your carefully crafted résumé and cover letter. If you’re the kind of person who defines your self-worth according to your job, you feel as though you’re suddenly not worth much. Even if you recognize the important difference between you and what you do, you can’t help but feel that you’ve lost control over your circumstances.

I think there are only three ways to deal with this: plan, plan, and plan.

Plan for your mental health. Lay out some easy-to-follow strategies to keep yourself from going nuts. Most of these are obvious and most are inexpensive: get regular exercise, cultivate friendships, join groups or get more active in the groups you already belong to. Eat well. Stay off the sauce and refrain from using recreational drugs. And especially get yourself out of the house, so you don’t sit around and mope. If you can afford a trip or even just two weeks of informal vacation time at home, give yourself a break during the first days after the layoff.

Plan for the short term. If you have some advance warning—or even if you suspect the ax will fall but don’t know it for sure—build that emergency fund, stock up on food and other necessities. Think through ahead of time how to apply for unemployment, where you will look for work, and what you’ll do until you land a new job. Consider how you might build any current side income streams into bigger or more reliable sources of money. Update your résumé and draft a basic cover letter that you can customize for each job application. And build a list of sites where you can start applying. Don’t forget government agencies, BTW—check out USA Jobs, whose search engine kindly suggests new terms after you’ve entered the keywords that come to mind. If anyone’s hiring, it’ll be the feds.

Plan for the long term. Contact your creditors and try to negotiate short- or long-term ways to ease your loan obligations. Think through whether you can afford to take work at lower pay than the job you just left, and if so, how much lower. Consider whether any alternative kinds of employment would suffice; can you do something altogether different to make a living? Find out whether you can borrow against your 401(k), and if so, how much. Decide how long you can stay in your current circumstances before you have to make a major change, such as renting out a room or subletting your apartment, moving back in with your parents, selling a vehicle, or even defaulting on loan obligations. Think about whether you can relocate, and if so, where. And consider the possibility of going back to school: even though you’ll be racking up student loan debt or borrowing from relatives, at least student loans will keep a roof over your head, you can get health insurance through a college or university, and you’ll be doing something constructive by building new job qualifications.

Some of these are scary prospects. None of us wants to have to think about them. But facing them down and preparing for them does help to rebuild a sense of having some control over your life. I think that feeling of being out of control is the worst contributor to fear and depression. Making some plans, even if they have to be finessed or if they never need to be put into action, goes a long way toward smoothing out the emotional peaks and valleys of the layoff roller-coaster.

On the Mountain

Yesterday, for the first time in many a moon, I took a much-needed hike up North Mountain, not far from my house. Besides having reached a peak state of out-of-shapeness, I’m getting fat, and the stress from the crescendoing din about the job situation is giving me a chronic bellyache.

As I was walking up the mountain (and starting to feel better), it occurred to me that I may be better off living on lots less income and living with lots less stress.

And the stress level, of late, has been measurable in astronomical units. In August we were told to expect an announcement around September 15 to the effect that almost everyone in my job classification would be laid off. Then the story was that the university’s president could not make such a decision without approval from the Board of Regents, which meets in the first week of December—hence last winter’s round of Christmastime layoffs. That date came and went. But now, in January, our rabid legislators, unleashed as our governor leaves to join President Obama’s cabinet, have decided to gut all three universities by way of taking out their loathing for Communists and Darwinists (which is what they think resides in a College of “Liberal” Arts and “Sciences”: not a joke!). Everyone’s salary is cut by 12%, and that’s just for starters. The president himself—no mere rumor-monger—has announced that 1,000 people will be laid off before the end of the fiscal year. Nontenure-track lecturers have already been told they will not be renewed after this semester; much more bloodletting is to come.

No wonder I feel like I’m going to throw up every time I eat! It’s not cancer: it’s GDU.

Reflecting on my career, such as it is, it struck me that if you count the years I was in graduate school, when I taught two sections a semester as a “teaching assistant” (read “slave laborer”), I have been working for the Great Desert University for about 25 years. There was an SAHM interlude where I freelanced, wrote three books, and worked on the editorial staffs of two large magazines. But otherwise, almost all of my work life has been spent at That Place.

And lemme tell you, working in any department of That Place is by definition stressful. When I was in graduate school, a “teaching assistantship” meant you were handed a set of books and two sections of 25 freshman composition students and told to build a course—unsupervised. There was a one-semester T.A. seminar, which carried no credit and which was a grand waste of time. By the time you prorated the salary over the number of hours this job entailed, pay was significantly less than minimum wage. But you got a tuition waiver. Since the Arizona constitution mandates that public education will be provided for citizens at a cost as close to free as possible, at the time a tuition waiver did not amount to much.

Teaching freshmen…OMG. In the first place, freshmen are not quite a step removed from high-school kids. If I had wanted to teach adolescents, I would have gotten a teaching certificate, not a Ph.D. in English. Freshmen face all the difficult developmental issues that high-school kids deal with—sex, friends, lovers, parents (complicated by the kids’ first solo flight into the world), teachers, drugs, alcohol, cars, race, class, gender, and all that—to which are added the vicissitudes of life as we grow older: deaths of friends or family members, abuse by love partners, money, failure, frustration. Poor little things. Well, freshmen tend to confuse the English teacher with Mommy, often because inexperienced composition instructors tend to give assignments that invite students to write about personal matters and hence, in the students’ not-quite-adult minds, to invite the instructor into their lives. Some of their issues are heart-rending.

Add to that the general illiteracy of the standard American high-school graduate, and you have one helluva job in teaching composition. Any day I’d rather clean house for a living!

Editing a research newsletter for the graduate college, which I did for a couple of years, was infinitely easier and pretty fun, except for our photographer, who was an evangelical Christian fundamentalist. He used to try to proselytize everyone we went out to photograph, often to embarrassing effect. While a friend and I were poking fun at his aggressive ridiculousness, we got word that the man’s only son, a winning young teacher with a doctorate in physical education who was roundly loved by everyone who knew him, was waiting at the stoplight at 44th Street and Osborn when a cement truck came along, rolled over on top of his car, and smushed him like a bug. Needless to say, our photog went even further off the deep end (he became convinced that God had arranged the extinction of his son to spare the son great suffering that had been scheduled for later in life), creating a situation that was not only sad but quite difficult to deal with.

Teaching upper-division students was a huge improvement over freshman comp, even though the course I taught most often was known off the record as “freshman composition for juniors and seniors.” When I returned to GDU after a 15-year hiatus, it was to a satellite campus populated mostly by returning adults, a very choice sort of student indeed. This would have been idyllic were it not for the course load and the chronic overenrollment of the writing sections: four and four, capped at 30. I taught four sections of writing courses—120 writing students at a time!—every semester, and usually picked up two more sections during the summer. To give you a picture, if 120 students each turn in a three-page paper, you are faced with THREE HUNDRED AND SIXTY PAGES of gawdawful drivel to plow through. Not only do you have to read it, you have to try to comment intelligently on it; quite a trick, given the quality of the material produced by people who think Wisconsin is a Rocky Mountain State and World War I happened during the 19th century. Consider that you should assign at least six such papers, and you get the idea.

Soon I learned never to accept overrides, no matter how pathetically supplicants begged to be let into my overstuffed courses (National Council of Teachers of English guidelines specify no more than 20 students in a writing class). But occasionally the admins or the dean would quietly admit people behind my back. One semester I showed up and found FORTY-TWO students enrolled in a technical writing course! And in addition to that section, I had three others filled to their cap of 30 students. That’s 132 writing students. Again, by the time you prorated my salary over the 14-hour-a-day seven-day weeks, it came to right about minimum wage.

Now that I’m on the main campus editing copy for scholarly journals and supervising a small pack of graduate students, life is much better. Except for the swirl of layoff rumors. However, though things are relatively quiet now, this job has not been without its stressful moments.

Certainly, coping with GDU’s answer to Bartleby the Scrivener was one of the major causes leading up to the stress attack that put me in the emergency room and kept me lashed upfor a good twelve hoursto every cardiovascular monitor known to humanity. The Bartleby situation went on for four. long. years. By the time she quit, shortly after the 2007 Christmas break, I was becoming obsessive about the woman. Recognizing that she was quite literally driving me nuts, I had made up my mind that if I couldn’t force her out at the time of the spring 2008 annual review, I was going to quit myself.

Well, stress is a function of life. That’s so. But GDU is so far down the Rabbit Hole, so incorrigibly through the Looking Glass, that we come out thinking life is a function of stress.

Because the Red Queen said so. Off with their heads! Off with all our heads.

If I’m canned, I will not weep long. It will be a relief to get back to the real world, where the mountains to climb are made of granite and tackling them is good for your health.

Illustrations by John Tenniel
The Cheshire Cat over the Croquet Match: Alice in Wonderland
The Mad Hatter and the Dormouse: Alice in Wonderland
Alice Meets the Red Queen:Through the Looking Glass

Beating the layoff stress

For the first six or eight days after I learned about the rumored layoffs, I felt so stressed that my chest hurt. One day at the office I had to lie down on the floor for a few minutes when an anxiety attack started to come on. Determined not to end up in the ER again, I managed to get the feeling that I was about to pass out under control with some breathing and relaxation exercises. But that didn’t stop the scary ache in the chest.

Today, though, I’m feeling a lot better: no pounding heart, no chest pain, no sense of oxygen starvation, no distractibility, and no sleeplessness. For sure, yesterday’s call from one of the employers I applied to helped. Even if I don’t get the job, at least now I have some hope that my age won’t disqualify me from every job I ask for. That was a big worry.

Also, with amazing speed I’m getting more and more comfortable with the idea of not working for GDU—even if it means taking a lower-paying job. Matter of fact, that prospect not only looks less scary, it’s starting to look downright welcome. Although I personally have had relatively little to complain about (other than the months-long PeopleSoft fiasco, the [probably illegal] reneging on an approved job offer I made to a prospective employee, and the overall toxic atmosphere on the campus where I taught), I certainly have seen the administration treat many of my coworkers abominably.

The prospect of being somewhere else begins to look more attractive. So does the idea of a new job with new things to learn and do.

I’m glad I started the job search before any university-wide announcement came down and before I knew whether this next round of lay-offs will apply to me. Just doing something to help yourself, rather than hunkering paralyzed in the headlight while the train bears down on you, goes a long way to make you feel better. It gives you a little sense of accomplishment, and it jump-starts the process you’re going to have to put into gear soon, anyway.

The first cover letter and résumé took a good five or six hours to put together! I thought I was gunna die. If every job application took that much time, how was I going to manage the work for the day job? To say nothing of all the freelance work The Copyeditor’s Desk has taken on?

However, the next application only took 30 or 40 minutes, and neither of the other two took any longer. Because the jobs I’m seeking (with exception of driving the zoo train…) are in the same general family of work and they’re all at nonprofits or colleges, tweaking the cover letter and resuméis pretty easy. It’s just a matter of writing new first and last paragraphs for the cover letter, adjusting the “what I can bring to your job” paragraphs—deleting some of them, moving others closer to the top—and shifting the resumé’s “list of accomplishments” to highlight the items most relevant to a given job. After I realized this, I began to feel a lot more confident that applying for a series of jobs isn’t going to kill me.

And really: if I get an offer from next week’s interview and then learn I’m not included in the next set of layoffs, I may take the job anyway—even if it pays less than I’m earning. The recurring workplace flaps, which seem to come more and more often, are ridiculous. I don’t need to put up with this kind of grief. And besides, the prospect of starting something new is beginning to sound pretty good. Darned good!

The Continuing Saga…

1. Unemployment for Christmas?
2. Does any of this have meaning for individuals?
3. Rumors start to fly
4. On the trail of the elusive job
5. Beating the layoff stress
6. How low can I go?
7. Interview No. 1