Wednesday, June 29, 2011

I can't show you their names

My writing project for today has been quite difficult, but I am persisting. I have been writing LinkedIn recommendations for my former colleagues. It's challenging because I don't want to use weasel words, but I do want corporate types to understand what I write.

I wasn't going to say any more, but then I realised that the vast majority of you won't know these people, so I've just deleted their names and published what I wrote about them.  Those of you that do know these people can see these recommendations on LinkedIn anyway, but I urge you to see if you can guess who I'm talking about first. I'll also add one that I posted last month.

The lovely Ms Z

Z has a brilliant mind and the personality to match it, making her a pleasure to work with.  She brought a contagious energy and enthusiasm to my team at COY. With the big picture constantly in her mind, she created opportunities to improve not only her own work, but processes and systems across the entire office.

Always eager to learn, Z was the first PD to really engage with the technical staff in the nitty gritty of their roles. She never shied away from a new challenge, such as researching and comparing training providers and courses in the absence of a training manager. I recall asking her to draft a PowerPoint presentation from my meeting notes, which required substantial extra research on her part. It was such a good slideshow that I asked her to present it; she did an amazing job.

Z's talents as a PD are unquestionable, but I believe she would excel in a challenging role that combined client liaison with independent or team research and report writing.

The incredible Mr Y

Y is a talented and committed developer who was a pleasure to work with. Understanding the importance of the context behind the business rules, he asks the right questions to get clear requirements from his customers. He is adaptable and intelligent, and was quick to learn the nuances of working with financial data from multiple vendors.

Have you met Mr X?

X is an enthusiastic worker who can energise his teammates to achieve great results. His thirst for knowledge enables him to apply his strong analytical skills across a broad range of interest areas.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Morning massacre

I surveyed my kitchen from an emotional state somewhere between despair and mild panic, with a definite tinge of confusion. My memory was vague, but the evidence was hard to ignore. Something had gone horribly wrong. There was so much of it. It was everywhere. It was gushing across the bench and dripping off the edge, down the low cupboard doors. It was splattering onto the floor and my slippers. Everywhere it flowed, it left  a nasty residue reminding me of something I didn't understand. I had to clean it up.

Grabbing a dishcloth, I started from the top, mopping up the dark liquid. It was hard to catch. No matter how many times I wiped at it, there was always a drop left behind, staining the surface. I lifted the teapot and cleaned the bench beneath. I moved the microwave, too. I swept a large volume of the fluid into the sink and watched it slowly make its way down the drain. Its casual pace seemed spiteful as I continued my frantic cleaning.

I cleaned the edge, and underneath. I opened the first cupboard to clean the top of the door; I hate the way these fluids will cling to the edge and refuse to drip until they pass that boundary. To my horror, the damage was worse than I had anticipated: it was everywhere. I removed sponges, scourers and the box of dishwasher tablets, and scrubbed out the cupboard. I wiped the inside of the door, which seemed to be substantially worse than the outside had been. It was getting hard to rinse the mess out of my cloth.

A flashback: I recalled a loud cracking noise. Yes, there was broken glass – I remembered that much. But what had I done?

I moved on to the next cupboard. It was one of those corner cupboards with the hinges in the middle of the door. The damage here was quite severe: the spatter extended onto both shelves and had gruesomely decorated pots, pans, travel mugs, microwave containers and even the electric mixer. The panic threatened to rise, but I calmed myself by methodically taking each item out, cleaning it, cleaning the space it had left, and replacing it. Those shelves were clearly not level. The fluid seeped deeper into the recess despite my best efforts to control its flow with my meagre dish cloth. I resorted to that sweeping action, first used on the bench. It helped with the cupboard, but splattered some new stains onto my slippers. I rinsed the blades from the mixer and placed them on the dish rack to dry. I wiped my travel plunger and left it on the bench for later.

The dog was (as expected) very interested in the substance on the floor. Before he could start lapping it up, I shooed him away. It would have been helpful, but I was fairly certain that I didn't want him getting a taste for that particular substance. If it had been the juices from last night's roast dinner, then fair enough — but not this. I soaked the mess up in the dishcloth and squeezed it into the sink, repeating a few times until the floor was spotless.

Around this time it crossed my mind that I should probably figure out what had happened. Had I hurt myself? Was anything broken?

Once again, I cast an eye over the kitchen. I had done a fairly good job of cleaning it up. This time, I noticed my six-cup coffee plunger in the sink. A hairline crack barely showed down one side and the last of my gritty coffee was slowly oozing out. It all came flooding back to me: the smell of rich, earthy, ground coffee; the whistle of the kettle; the delicious gurgling sound as I poured the water; the loud crack as my morning routine was shattered. My old friend had departed, rendering my insulated jug useless as well. I carried the plunger from the sink and dumped it unceremoniously into the rubbish bin. From then on, I would be confined to single cups.

I put the kettle back on to boil and tipped a spoonful of coffee grinds into my travel plunger.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Project code name: Haiku Dog

I've made my commitment to writing. Yes, I'm going to do it every single business day. (Weekends will be optional – if I'm inspired and available, I'll write.) I've chosen business days because writing is my (unpaid) job now and, like all professional artists, I need to practise, practise, practise. I also need to watch and learn from others, so I guess that means I get to read a lot, too. I expect that my hours will vary somewhat. Yes, this is my dream job.

Now, the astute reader has no doubt observed that I did not post on Friday and I have been quite tardy today. Never fear - I haven't quit my new job! I've been working on a not-so-secret project: my university application, which required that I update my CV and write 300 words explaining my career goals and why I think this particular course is the one for me. It's really important to me, so I spent a lot of time trying to get it right. Matt was an inspired editor, asking me wonderful questions: "Am I supposed to know what this means?" "Shouldn't you mention all the technical work in that role as well?"

Anyway, I finished and lodged my application today. Now all I have to do is wait anxiously to hear whether they will accept me.

— — — — —

Haiku have always captured my fancy, because they can be so beautiful and yet they are so simple. For those who do not know what a haiku is, here is an explanatory one I wrote some years ago:

Haiku have three lines
Five syllables then seven
Then another five

In truth, they're not quite that simple, as the Wikipedia:Haiku page explains, but we're close enough.

After I submitted my application, I took the dog for a run, and it wasn't until I got home that I realised I hadn't used my GPS, so…

Yes, I ran today -
Only a couple of k' -
Stopped along the way.
Started my stopwatch;
Didn't start the GPS
On my mobile phone.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Life, in a biscuit

I can't remember back that far, but my mum tells me that I loved nothing better than to smear a good chocolate biscuit all over my face. My opa was only too happy to provide the supplies. By the time I was in grade six, I couldn't stand Tim Tams. I'm not sure if those two events are linked. The other biscuit of choice for Opa was the speculaas. Mum approved of those, whereas the various almond-flavoured goodies were shunned.

My mum also tells me that my older brother once received a toy toolkit for Christmas, and promptly got to work tenderising a homemade gingernut biscuit with the plastic hammer. I think that's appropriate, because Christmas is a time for shortbread biscuits, not gingernuts.

On school holidays, sandwiches got a bit boring. Sometimes we branched out into more exotic foods, like shredded wheat biscuits with butter or peanut paste, cheese biscuits with butter or cream cheese, or Sao biscuits with Vegemite. When my dad was home, we might also get some Jatz crackers topped with cheese and kabana or cheese and ham. If we were really lucky, maybe there'd be a gherkin or half a cocktail onion on top.

During term, I scored some Tiny Teddies - you know, the little plastic packet filled with little tiny boy bears and girl bears. Back then, they only came in honey or chocolate flavours, but now they come in all sorts of flavours. After school, Mum would sit with us outside and we'd have a Kingston biscuit. I couldn't figure out why they tasted so good, given that Kingston was just down the road from us and, frankly, it was a bit of a hole. It had certainly been a stroke of genius to sandwich some chocolate cream between two butternut biscuits. Even better than the Monte Carlo, which had been my former favourite.

In my high school years, the variety of biscuits available in snack packs had greatly improved. In particular, savoury bikkies now came in snack packs, and made a nice change to the crisps that inevitably ended up crushed beneath my text books. On the sweet side, I enjoyed the country style chocolate chip biscuits the best.  Genuine Oreos also started to make an appearance, perhaps thanks to the invention of McDonald's McFlurry. 

When one of my friends started fundraising for her student exchange to Germany, I felt it was my duty to support her in this endeavour. I bought many packets of jam drop biscuits from her — several cartons, in fact. I hid them in my room and ate them day and night. I took them back to school and ate them for morning tea, along with my country style biscuits or mini arrowroot biscuits. Yes, I admit that I got some inspiration from Claudia in The Babysitters' Club - her food-hoarding habits had stayed with me long after I shipped the books off to charity. (Coincidentally, I also felt compelled to help my friends fundraise for their music tours by buying huge quantities of Maltesers. I guess this habit hasn't worn off yet.)

My university years were spent developing a wide variety of bad habits, such as dozing off during lectures, cramming for exams at the last minute and eating Nutella directly from the jar. Kay and I used to get through a whole jar in a single calculus lecture. The refectories didn't offer sterling food selections. Sam would bring bikkies and dip for lunch and I was only too keen to partake. 

Studying an unpopular major has its advantages: while other students waited until their honours year to get some space, the Physics department gave the third year students a room to share. I immediately bought a cookie jar and placed it on the bookshelf. I had storage, and my biscuit consumption was about to explode. I discovered the Lemon Crisp biscuit, which has sweet lemon cream sandwiched between two salted crackers: it's a margarita cocktail in a biscuit, minus the alcohol. (I guess that makes it a mocktail.)

I had also joined the Army Reserve, where I was introduced to the wonderful Biscuits, Jam Sandwich. There are five different varieties of one-man combat ration packs, and only one of them has the Jam Sandwich. Those packs also contained old, crushed Sao bikkies (or, in the earlier days, something that seemed like a Vita-Wheat, but less digestible) that went quite well with the tinned cheese and tubed Vegemite. But, for me, it was all about the Biscuits, Jam Sandwich. So it was quite  a breakthrough when I realised that I could approximate the Jam Sandwich by combining the little tube of jam (available in all five packs) with the Biscuits, Scotch Finger (available in two of five packs).

As my honours year rolled around, I was well into the habit of eating a packet of biscuits for morning tea. It didn't seem so bad compared to my friends' habits (even when combined with half a litre of vanilla custard for lunch). I had one friend who took eight caffeine tablets per day, each washed down with a cup of coffee. Another friend lived off cheese and tomato sauce. So I felt good about my diet, but still figured some discipline was required. I started rationing my biscuits by taking two from the jar and eating them with my morning coffee; after waiting 20 minutes I could have another biscuit if I still felt hungry.

In 2007, I joined the full-time workforce. The company had a fully stocked tea room, including those cute little packets of Arnott's biscuits. Sometimes we got cream biscuits and sometimes they were the classic selection. Occasionally some gourmet bikkies would find their way in, too, like a macadamia shortbread or caramelised biscuit. One lady used to eat her melting moments with a spoon, because they were so crumbly and messy to eat. I tried this, but I'm clumsy so I just made a mess everywhere. There was also a tub of cheese bikkies, inciting the endless quarrel over which type was the best: Cheds, or Country Cheese? (Don't be ridiculous, of course it's the Country Cheese.) 

That same year, I visited America for the first time, to run the Western States 100 Mile Endurance Run, in California.  Chinese food makes a great recovery meal, and I was enjoying my dinner in San Francisco a few days later when I cracked open my fortune cookie to read, "You need to buy a new pair of shoes." Indeed.

The afore-mentioned employer eventually got some rice crackers as well, once the coeliac lady convinced the administration team that she wasn't just being fussy. Mum has since been diagnosed with coeliac disease, so in the weeks before Christmas I head to my local (or online) retailer and buy up on the gluten-free shortbreads. It wouldn't be Christmas without biscuits. When I visit Mum, she offers me her "yummy" chocolate bikkies. I've come to realise that there's no such thing as yummy when it's mass produced with rice flour, so I decline and take the regular biscuit instead. It's usually a Scotch Finger (without the tube of jam).

I've outgrown my dislike of Tim Tams. In fact, I have a half-eaten packet of the dark chocolate ones on the kitchen bench. I'm proud to say that I started them a few days ago and I've shared them — it wasn't just a morning's work. I've also ventured into the Dutch biscuit aisle and quite enjoy an almond round, speculaas or even a slice of breakfast cake, which is not a biscuit, but makes a delicious breakfast.

These days, I spend a lot of my time at home, because I don't have a job. I'm working on becoming a writer, so I practise by sitting in front of the computer, writing things like this. The urge to snack is very strong. Biscuits go well with coffee and they taste a lot better than a glass of water. In fact, I think I might have one now.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Networking 101

I used to think that networking was a load of rot. Don't get me wrong - I knew there was a point to making connections with people with similar interests or relevant skills.   I just didn't understand why someone would go to a networking event just to talk to lots of strangers with nothing of use to share, or why they'd make so many random connections. And I certainly didn't understand how someone could enjoy it. Every time I was placed in a networking situation, I found it incredibly stressful. I'd focus on asking other people about their lives to avoid the panic of talking about myself. As soon as they asked me a direct question about me, I started to feel like a fake and a phoney.

I'm willing to admit my mistakes. I realise now that networking can be awesome.  In my defence, I was probably led astray by a running buddy, who was in the habit of handing her business card to everyone she met. Everyone. At the time, she was an academic in the field of entrepreneurship, and I was working in human motor control at a different university. She came to visit me after delivering a guest lecture, and before long my research group was taking cover as the business cards came flying at us on rapid fire.

But the real reason I hated networking events was because I didn't believe in what I was doing. It wasn't me. It wasn't real. Given the opportunity to network with energetic, exciting people who were passionate about what they did made me feel inadequate.  I would instead seek out others like me — those who hated their jobs, felt disconnected from their peers and organisation, or didn't see the point in what they were doing.

Last night, I went to an event with lots of "creative types" — mostly musicians. (It was the launch party for Clare Reynolds' new album, Colour my Heart.) I networked. I didn't meet many new people, but I listened with genuine interest to their stories and came away feeling like my life had been enriched. Every person I met was a new opportunity. And when they asked me, "So, what do you do?" I didn't shy away. I stated proudly that I'm unemployed and hoping to go back to uni next session to study writing.

So, what changed? A lot, actually. First, I left my job in mid-March. (I will leave it to the reader to interpret that as a resignation, termination or redundancy.) I hated my job. I hated the complete lack of direction that I was given. I even hated getting out of bed in the morning, because that meant I'd have to go to work. While most people may not enjoy being unemployed, I thought it was the best thing that could happen in my life at the time. I enjoyed my time off, hiking in Western Australia with my boyfriend, visiting friends and running races in the US. And, when I came back, I went to a lunchtime seminar at QUT.

I've worked with a lot of smart people. I know intelligence when I see it demonstrated. These speakers (Dr Lyn Bishop, Mike Boyd) were clever. But, more importantly, they were passionate. They knew who they were. They knew what they wanted from life — and they were determined to get it. And, in particular, Mike Boyd challenged me to seek the same. He addressed the whole audience, but somehow he spoke directly to me,  telling me that I know what I want to do and I just need to accept it and embrace it. So I took a note on my page: "Things I could do every day for the rest of my life — run, sing, write." 

Out of necessity, I applied some reasoning. Running is a good way to keep fit. Singing is a good way to keep happy. I do neither of these things well enough to make money. But, maybe, just maybe, I could find a job where I get paid to write. It won't be the handsome salary I got as an investment firm manager, and it won't sound as glamorous as being a quantum physicist, but I know I will enjoy it. First, I will need to hone my skills through practising, getting feedback and learning more about the craft. Then, I will need to hunt for opportunities.

Ahhh — networking. Yes, of course. Now that I know what I want to do, I'm one of those passionate, energised people.  So, last night, when I told others what I hope to achieve, they believed me. They believed that I'll accomplish my end goal, even though I barely have a plan on how to get there.  They believed because I believe. I'm no longer a fake and a phoney. I can network, and I can enjoy it.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

I'm starting over

I have decided to turn this blog into what it was always meant to be - a place to write. So, I deleted all the old stuff (yes, of course I downloaded it first) and I'm starting from scratch. Please give me a little while to get started.