Friday, November 26, 2010

The November Trip, Part 1A: Riding the Elevator

As I mentioned in the last post, I struggled with feeling “equal” and "grown up" at the Society for Neuroscience conference.  Part of it was my inexperience compared to both the publishing staff as well as the scientists, but another big part of it was my age--specifically the fact that the majority of the attendees I saw face-to-face were retirement-aged men.  The following is an appropriate illustration of my struggle.

[I am in my hotel, standing in the back corner of the elevator riding up to my room.  There are seven other people in the elevator with me, all of them having just entered on the lobby level.  Buttons 5, 12, 18, 20, and 23 are lit, and the elevator is rising to let people off.]

Awful lot of people in here.

Yeah, well gotta expect that, with forty thousand people, or however many attended this thing.

[Elevator dings.  Two people get off.]

[Looking at me]
You’re all tucked away in that corner back here.

Yeah, I’m getting off last.  Trying to stay out of the way.

[Elevator dings.  Another person gets off.]

[Looking at the elevator button console.]
You 23?

Mmmm hmmm.

[Elevator dings.  Doors start to open.  MAN 2 moves to get off, then looks over his shoulder at me.]

That’s funny.  I would have taken you for eighteen.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

The November Trip, Part 1: San Diego

For the past two years, I have arranged meetings and events at the Society for Neuroscience’s annual conference for Boss #1. I reserve rooms, choose menus, invite editorial boards, and create reports to be discussed at these meetings, all without ever seeing how the meetings actually operate. This year, after considerable petitioning on my own behalf, I was finally granted permission to attend the conference and experience the fruits of my labor. Thus, I packed a bag, boarded a plane, and set off for San Diego.

Unfortunately, because this was a work trip, I did not get to explore as much of San Diego as I would have liked. I did manage to eat at a few impressive establishments, run along the marina, and take walks around the downtown area, but the majority of my time was spent in the convention center or in a nearby hotel. However, travelling is all about new experiences, and I certainly had some of those.

Boss #1 is an oenophile (i.e. a wine lover and connoisseur) and therefore had me arrange for both red and white wine to be served at every one of his board meetings, with the exception of breakfasts. Consequently, within a forty-eight hour timeframe, I ate four different meals at which wine was served, plus two additional receptions.

Ordinarily I would decline this much alcohol, free or not. I don’t much care for the taste of alcohol, and I definitely don’t care for drinking around strangers. However, sitting around with strangers who are at least two if not three times as old as me and who only know me as “Boss #1’s Assistant,” I felt almost required to drink. I wanted to seem like more of a peer and less of a minion, and partaking of the “adult-like” portion of the meal—the alcohol—seemed one subtle way to do that.

Thus, I embarked on the tricky task of drinking enough to fit in while remaining completely sober. For an inexperienced drinker like me, this was a definite challenge. However, with eight occasions on which to practice (the four board meetings and two receptions I mentioned earlier, plus two dinners out with colleagues), I mastered my tolerance quickly.

Another trial-by-fire learning experience was determining which silverware to use. I am reasonably confident in my basic etiquette skills: put your napkin on your lap; wait until everyone is served to begin eating; don’t sip/slurp/spit your food, etc. However, I am unaccustomed to sitting down at meals where there are two or three forks, a couple of spoons, and a various assortment of cups. While I doubt that anyone was scrutinizing my eating habits, I know that my boss considers himself to be very cultured and refined, so I didn’t want to make him look bad by proxy.

One trick I remembered was to eat “outside in,” but at our very first meeting, the marketing director (whom I knew and therefore stuck to throughout the conference) claimed that the salad fork was the one above the plate. I followed his lead, but at the next meeting paid close attention to which utensils Boss #1 was using for which courses. As you may already know, it turns out I was right: the salad fork is the one farthest to the left. The dessert fork is the one above the plate.

After learning to “drink responsibly” and “eat properly,” I spent the remainder of the conference selling books, hunting for topics for books, and talking to scientists about writing books. Then, I had the pleasure of leaving work behind and reading a book on my two-hour train trip to Los Angeles. . . .

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Things I Take for Granted

We all take things for granted. Usually, the universe has elbow us sharply in the ribs before we look around and realize, "Gee, this part of my life is actually really great! Why didn't I appreciate it before?" Sometimes, we are lucky, though, and the reminder is a little gentler. We walk outside and smell crisp fall leaves or taste an exquisite piece of dark chocolate, and suddenly everything becomes more vivid, and we realize we have been dreamwalking through our lives.

For instance, I take living in-and-near NYC completely for granted. In fact, I ignore it on a daily basis. On a recent bicycle ride along the Hudson, I had one of those "Zen" moments in which I suddenly thought, "Gosh I am lucky to be living here. People travel from all over the world to see this place, and I don't even really look at it."

Things I take for granted include (but are not limited to):

  • A breathtaking panoramic view of the NYC skyline from the sidewalk immediately behind my office. Also visible approximately 4 blocks from my apartment.
  • Living within 0.5 miles of a state park. In such a cosmopolitan location, and for an active person like myself, this is truly a blessing.
  • Walking only 10-15 minutes to reach a major grocery store. Sure, it would be nice to drive when I am stuck carrying a gallon of milk, a carton of orange juice, a sack of flour, and twelve different canned goods, but I would trade mandatory driving for mandatory walking any day of the week. Even in the rain.
  • Commuting for only 25 minutes by public transit or 45 minutes walking to and from work. Some people spend three times that just sitting in traffic. I am spoiled.
  • The availability of virtually any kind of food, on any day of the week, at any time of day. And I love foreign food.
  • Easy, available, fast transportation to nearby cities. You can choose from at least five different bus companies to travel to Washington DC, Philadelphia, or Boston; you can take a passenger train to virtually any state in New England; and you can fly to pretty much anywhere in the world from La Guardia, John F. Kennedy, or Newark airport!
  • The opportunity to meet world-class athletes face-to-face. I have met swimmers who are training for and/or have completed the English Channel swim, internationally competitive cyclists, and Ironman finishers. Nowhere else in the world would I find such a concentrated group of amazing athletes living, training, and interacting with every-day people like me.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Snapshot Book Review: Writing Down the Bones

Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within (Shambhala Pocket Classics)Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within by Natalie Goldberg

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

It's hard to believe that writing a bunch of useless crap is better than writing nothing at all. In fact, I find it nearly impossible. I want everything I do to have purpose, to have a use. I am efficient. I am economical. I am a perfectionist. If all of my writing consists of stream-of-consciousness ranting, what am I really accomplishing? Maybe I am just confirming the fact that I am incapable of writing anything worthwhile.

All of these thoughts and qualities are what have prevented me from writing anything other than the occasional letter or blog post for the past three years. What's more, the longer I go without writing anything creative, the more I doubt that I can do it. Maybe my past works were flukes. Maybe I've lost my skill to be a captivating writer. Maybe blog writing has eliminated my "writing endurance," and I cannot pursue anything that does not give instant gratification and/or feedback.

Writing Down the Bones directly addresses these types of fears, which keep Type A personalities like me from writing. The book is an instructional manual for "letting go" in order to recapture and harness one's creative self, which sounds too "Zen" to be useful, but which is actually essential to being a productive writer.
I intend to buy this book as a "writer reference manual" so that I can read passages for reassurance and inspiration whenever my "inner critic" tells me my writing sucks and I shouldn't waste my time. Other self-sabotaging writers should consider doing the same.

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Snapshot Book Review: Too Late to Say Goodbye

Too Late to Say Goodbye: A True Story of Murder and BetrayalToo Late to Say Goodbye: A True Story of Murder and Betrayal by Ann Rule

My rating: 1 of 5 stars

Way too journalistic.  I kept waiting for the storytelling to start, but eventually I just became too impatient and traded it back in to the library.

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