Monday, November 24, 2008

(Book) tag, I'm it!

Okay, Miss Kitty over at Educated and Poor has tagged me for the Seven Weird Book Facts meme.  This is a good thing--I've been worn out lately, as I've been roped into being on the office party committee at DA, and I cannot brain this evening.  So, this meme gives me just what I need to make a post without hurting my noggin.  First, some rules:
--Share seven random or weird Book Facts about yourself.
--Then tag seven other people.
--Notify the seven others that they have been tagged.

I don't think I have seven other people I can tag, but I do know a few.  So here goes:
  1. I cannot read just one book at a time.  I have to read at least two or three at once, plus a couple of magazines.  I read each book or magazine depending on where I'm sitting in the house.  Like right now, I'm reading Brain Rules if I sit on the infamous red chaise, the latest issue of "Bust" magazine if I'm at the dining room table, one of several catalogs if I'm on the futon in the TV rooms with Guy, and the latest Yoga Journal in bed.  I have some other books and 'zines I'll be taking along when we drive to St. Louis on Wednesday for Thanksgiving.
  2. I've finished every book I've ever read, no matter how awful, insipid, or wretched I found it, with three exceptions: Moby Dick, Robinson Crusoe, and The Bell Curve.  Melville's 19th-century prose knocked me unconscious with its florid verbosity (granted, I was in 6th grade), Defoe's glacial pace made me wonder when the hell they were even gonna get out of the dock and on the water, and Herrnstein and Murray's tome was heavy on the scientific data, as it should have been.  The Bell Curve caused such a stir when it was published, and because I lived in a particularly racist part of the country, I thought I should know what it said.  Alas, I wasn't ready to read it when I bought it and only made it a few chapters in.
  3. I very, very rarely read fiction.  It's been my experience that truth is stranger than fiction, and it tends to make a better story.
  4. The rare exception to #3 was when I took a modern western lit class at Georgia Tech, which the professor (Terry Harpold, gawd love him) subtitled "Grotesqueries".  We read some fantastic novels and stories--many of them banned in their countries of origin--with some wonderful storylines and characters: Geek Love by Katherine Dunn, The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov, and of course, Kafka's Metamorphosis.  "One morning, as Gregor Samsa wa swaking up from anxious dreams, he discovered that in bed he had been changed into a monstrous verminous bug...."
  5. The worst book I ever read--worse than Dostoyevsky or Flaubert, nay far worse--was Loving What Is by Byron Katie.  It is the biggest bunch of psuedospiritual tripe and the most psychologically irresponsible waste of paper and paste I have ever laid my eyes on.  I can't even describe the book for raising my voice and using sailor-like profanity; it makes me so furious that someone cut that lunatic a check for that crap she called "self help."  [spitting on ground]  I try really hard to be respectful for all authors and for free expression of ideas, but it is the only book that I have ever truly thrown across a room.
  6. Favoritest book ever?  Watership Down by Richard Adams.  A book about pretty smart wild bunnies in England?  Sign me up.  And even though I know the ending, it still makes me weep with quiet, humane joy.
  7. I'm a voracious and compulsive reader.  Where some people feel like they need to text or talk on their cell phones all the time, I have to read all the time.  I'll study the backs of cereal boxes, I'll pore over pamphlets on melanomas, I even read the entire "TV Week" insert in the Sunday paper, just to see what all movies are playing this week and on what channels.  They tried to make me go to bookhab, but I said no, no, no.
Okay, that's all I got.  I tap everyone Kitty called out as well as Eric over at The Reason of Voice and Miz Scarlett at her new blog.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Not all reality checks are a hand to the forehead

I mentioned that last week we finally did the presentation to get some work at a hospital on the south edge of town.  The hospital in question is having architecture firms audition for what they call architectural services, meaning that we'd be the firm they call whenever they want to do a facelift on a patient floor, replace a piece of radiology equipment and redo the room(s) involved, hey we wanna turn these three rooms into one and make it the new audiology get the picture.  This is the kind of work that DA does at MHRC and used to do at a lot of facilities until about ten or twleve years ago, when it became cheaper to build anew.  With the credit crunch and financing and the economy being what it is these days, I think we're going to see a lot more remodel and small addition projects.

So anyway, the presentation started with Bosley introducing the team, which consisted of Winston, a youngish interior designer named Cora, and me.  I was up first after the introductions; I explained our design philosophy and our approach to working with hospitals and facility management to make projects work.  Then, Winston took the floor and discussed how we manage projects in general, and finally Cora stood up and explained how we use interior design to benefit the environment, the patients, and the staff.  Then we opened the floor up to questions (the hospital group asked us some standard questions and some followup stuff from the presentation, and we all joined in answering those questions) and then Bosley wrapped up the presentation.  

The presentation was more involved than I'm describing, and it was more interesting for sure.  I'm being a little evasive here, as it turns out that we were the first to present, which means that Guy's firm, Acme Architects, still hasn't presented yet and I'd rather not put Guy in the position of knowing just exactly how much our presentation rokked.

As we drove back to Denver, we did a debriefing/postmortem on the presentation, and I will fill y'all in on that at the risk of sounding vain.  I kicked it, my people.  I wrote out what I was going to say to the word, practiced it til it was 90% memorized, did it in front of Bosley and Veronica, incoporated their copious comments into it, rememorized it to about 90%-95%, and then ROKKED it for da peeplez.  I had their attention, I had them nodding, I had them responding to my own questions for them.  My breath felt like it was in my throat--I think my heart was in my spleen or something; I quit feeling it after about 30 seconds into the presentation.  Winston has a quiet, somewhat tentative speaking style, peppered with some "ums" and "uhs", and a bit more reading right from the PowerPoint slides, which had a few of them flipping through their handouts and one of them even started texting for about a minute.  Cora's nerves got her a bit; she read almost straight from her notecards, and her speech was more speech than conversation, almost designed for CEOs and senior admin folks or people with some design school knowledge.  However, the crowd seemed to be with her, as is often the case with younger people presenting--everyone's been nervous presenting to a crowd before, so everyone's rooting for the younger nervous person at the front of the room.

After the presentation, Winston and Ceila told me more than once how blown away they had been by how well I did, that it was almost intimidating to have to follow me.  (Bosley was pleasant, saying that everyone did a good job.)  But I knew, since I was the first "guest" to speak, that I had to set the tone of the presentation--I had to be strong and yet conversational.  Someone you can relate to but who also seems competent.  In other words, just the kind of person you want to work with.  I had been a bit stunned that Cora, despite having taken a public speaking class in college, didn't seem that prepared for her part of the presentation--perhaps just a victim of her nerves?  Winston, I thought, should know better.  Though he used to have his own firm with another guy and has by his own account done many of these presentations before, he just seemed (to me) to 'um' and 'uh' too much for someone who should know what they're doing.  If you have a quiet and unassuming verbal delivery style and lower energy level, it seems to me that you've got to be sharp in your demeanor and precise with your vocabulary to keep the crowd with you, especially if you're discussing stereotypically boring stuff like budgets and schedules.  However, I may be being too harsh.  This was only my second presentation with DA, and the first one in which I participated actively, so I'm no expert. Though I didn't overhear Bosley tell Veronica anything critical about me when we returned to the office, it's entirely possible that the reality of my performance was less stellar than my perception.

Hopefully, it went well, and also hopefully no one can match our awesomeness in the following days.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Yet another MasterCard ad you'll never see

Patterned silk, 4.5 yards: $126.

Brown silk shantung, 2.5 yards: $52.50.

Rhinestone slides with 2/5" heels: $40.

Kate Spade leather clutch on 40% off sale at Nordstrom's: $104.
Fee to seamstress who also happened to give me the gift of life: $50.

Having a mom who can sew you the most amazing and original evening gown ever made on the planet, fit it exactly to your measurements, finish it in two weeks, and ship it from Georgia to Denver in time to wear it to your husband's office party and stun everyone who sees it:

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Remiss, but for a good cause

I haven't posted lately because I've been busy, and by busy I mean doing actual stuff, as opposed to just procrastinating or not feeling like posting.  I spent most of last week working on the presentation with Bosley, which we did on Friday, and when I wasn't working on the presentation, I was cleaning the house.  Guy's office party was Saturday, and then this morning we had a couple of his coworkers over for a post-office party brunch.  So we had to scrub the place and prep for brunch in precious little time, what with me being busy and Guy being out of town at a site visit/user group meeting for three days.  More to come about these event, and more, in the coming days.  Meanwhile, I'm going to go lay down and read with Maddy, who has been in hiding due to all the commotion.    

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

You like me, you really really like me...or at least listen

For the past few days, I've been working on the presentation we're doing Friday for a potential long-term job with arguably DA's crankiest partner, Bosley.  Ethel used to call Bosley "Mr. Personality," and it's not a totally wrong nickname, even if it is unrepeatable.  If you pass Bosley in the office--hell, if you sit next to him, as Ethel used to do--he doesn't say 'hi' or 'how are ya' or 'good morning' or any of the polite acknowledgements that human beings make at each other in those situations.  He has a reputation for being on the cranky side and for being downright untenable at times.

So far, so good for me.

I met with him on Friday to begin figuring out how we wanted to do the presentation.  Our team would also include Winston, who historically has annoyed me but I'm willing to work with if it means I'm actually busy, and an interior designer.  Winston was out of the office on Friday and Monday, and Prudence hadn't picked the interior designer yet, so it was just Bosley and me figuring out how the presentation should go.  Turns out that Bosley really liked the majority of my ideas--editing bullet points and verbage, using abstract images to describe concepts, etc.  He liked my turns of phrases and, when the rest of the team reconvened today, he was very supportive of my ideas and even encouraged the interior designer to work with me to trim down how many words and bullet points she was using, because (as he put it), "Pixie is really good with language and being descriptive without being long-winded."


So far, Bosley's been civil and accommodating.  I spoke with Veronica, our head of marketing, early this week, and it turns out she's the one who dropped my name to Bosley.  He wanted to try a new approach to presentations, and she felt like I'd be a great addition to his presentation and project team.  Our approach will include bringing the team that will actually do the work (rare) and letting those people speak (even rarer).  This is the second time I've been invited to be at the interview presentation, and it's the first time I've been allowed to speak.  It feels good to be useful and to feel valued.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

I'm surprised it didn't happen sooner

I came home Friday with the good news that Design Associates was one of five firms shortlisted to interview for a job on the edge of town.  Even more exciting is that I had been specifically asked by one of the partners to help with and be part of the presentation to get the job.  As someone who has long been interested in how we get jobs and has been dying to be part of one of these gigs, this was quite the thrill.  

"You mean the __________ project?" Guy asked.
"Yeah," I replied.
"We're going after that one too," he said as he refilled his glass from a pitcher in the fridge.  "We did some work down there last year, and we're hoping to do more."
"We did some work there recently," I said, dropping ice cubes into my own glass, "and we're hoping to do more."
"Do you have a fork?" asked Guy.  "I think the enchiladas are ready."
I opened the silverware drawer.  "I do now.  What movie did we get from Netflix?"
"Sweeney Todd," Guy replied.  "Did you want to watch it tonight or tomorrow?"

And that's how it goes in our house.  I sometimes talk to spouses of architects and crack jokes a little with them, and the spouse almost inevitably says, "Oh, he/she doesn't really talk about work at home."  And this, my people, is Complete and Utter Bullshit.  No one in Da Biz doesn't talk about architecture or construction at home.  I'm convinced that in order to be a decent architect or contractor, you have to enjoy what you do enough that you will bore people you don't even know with stories of bubbling sheet vinyl flooring, allowable height and deflection tables for steel studs, and trying to locate the dressing rooms in the right place to the department's entrance.  It's in our blood.  So, when a non-Biz spouse says that their architect or contractor spouse "doesn't talk about work at home," then one of three things is happening:
  1. The non-Biz spouse doesn't want to talk about what their partner does for a living or potentially divulge some specific information;
  2. The Biz spouse is a crappy partner and doesn't engage their non-Biz spouse in any discussion about "what I did today" (or vice-versa, the non-Biz spouse never asks or doesn't care); or
  3. The Biz spouse is pretty crappy at what they do and isn't enthusiastic enough to talk about it anywhere else (corollary: the Biz spouse's job is so unbelievably frustrating and soul-killing that talking about it has to happen within the safe confines of a therapy session, but even then I think they'd occasionally have to wake up screaming and sweating, which would prompt some kind of discussion with the non-Biz spouse).
I suppose I can let #1 slide, but still, I think there's better ways to be avoid the discussion without outright lying.  Everyone talks about their day with their spouse, roommate, dog, cellmate, whatever.

Which brings me back to my original point.  I've been really unbusy for about a month now, and working on this presentation has given me something to do.  Naturally, suddenly becoming useful in such an exciting and challenging way made me go home and blurt it out first thing to my naturally-interested spouse.  And then alas, my spouse's company, Acme Architects, is going after the work as well.  This means that, while we both know we're going after the work, I can't tell him all the cool ideas I'm coming up with and how well the partner involved is receiving these ideas because then I'm telling the competition what DA's strategy is for winning this work.

But this also brings me to another uncharted desert isle: I have a 20% chance of getting this job (since our office is one of the five going after it), but I have a 40% chance of benefitting from it.  If DA gets it, I have work to do and it puts cash back in our coffers and I keep my job (if not help keep others' jobs).  If Acme gets it, then that keeps cash in my husband's company.  Either way, one of us keeps our job and we're not homeless.  This is good, because I find that I don't do my best work when I'm Hail Marying it.  You gotta be hungry, not starving.

Henry Kissinger once said, "There will never be a winner in the battle of the sexes--too much fraternizing with the enemy."  I suppose the same could be said for architecture.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Happy birthday, Miss Kitty!

Yayz!  Happy birthday to my one and only sister, Miss Kitty.  Mwah!  She means more to me than just about anything, and if I had two dead mice, I'd give her one.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Breathing room

So with the elections over with, the hope/prayer/wish/general thinking in the architecture and construction industry is that things should start moving again for us, but probably not until January or February of 2009.  In some jurisdictions, bond initiatives that hospitals and civic projects needed to pass in order to remodel or build anew were on this November’s ballot.  With today’s results, those institutions will now either need time to figure out how the voted-for cash will more specifically be used (or await its accrual), or what to do in place of the cash for which they hoped if the initiative was voted down.  What this means for my industry: some work may be coming back, but it'll take at least a few months for anything to even happen.

My healthcare team had a meeting with Alex a couple of days ago.  Alex said that we hoped not to have to lay off anyone else, but we might have to.  Alternately, if things don't pick up soon enough, we may be asked to cut our hours--to work 32 or 35 hours a week instead of the usual 40.  This is the downside of having a master's degree and being a licensed professional but not being on salary.  That's a good thing when you're working 10 and 20 hours of overtime a week, and sucky when times like this come along.  Oddly enough, we're still getting the day after Thanksgiving and the day after Christmas as paid holidays off.  I guess they're trying to keep the few left behind sorta happy.

Regardless of who won the election, it tells Wall Street and lots of different industries some idea of what to expect.  I talked to my financial advisor today, and he said that also regardless of who had won that we're going to see a lot more government oversight in the coming months of various financial industries, especially the mortgage broker industry.  At any rate, I'm worn out with the passing of Election Day. I watched the results at a bar with a couple of friends and didn't get to bed until midnight.  I'm quietly hopeful, relieved, and cautiously exuberant about the months to come.  We all have a lot of work to do, regardless of our party or line of work, and I know we can do it.

Monday, November 3, 2008

By the time you need it, it's too late

I've read the above comment, or the gist of it anyway, in more than one place.  I think I might have read it in books by Stephen Covey and Lois Frankel.  It's a great concept to keep in mind--regardless of what field you're in--and regardless of what the task is.

A few things have reminded me of this lately. I thought back this weekend over the layoffs at DA, and I realized they'd been going on for pretty much the whole year.  In January, we fired a cranky office manager (and hired Ethel's husband to be our 32-hour-a-week office manager), and we laid off a spec writer (who had no specs to write because we had no projects) and a not-very-efficient admin person.  A few months later, we got rid of a few other under-performing people, and a little after than we got rid of a few more underperformers.  Here and there in the months in between, we've let this or that person go, and some folks have left of their own accord, and we just didn't replace them.  Finally about a month ago, we had a big layoff that included 11 people in all (I had thought it was 10 originally).  What I realized is that all the layoffs up until September involved people who had, for the most part, performance and attitude issues.  Even with the round in September, many of the people in that group were quite productive but had some issues: Some managers and even a consultant or two had complained about Ethel; and Sarge, for even as talented, brilliant, and helpful as he was, had some definite attitude issues with some of the harder-to-get-along-with folks in the office.  It was the last round in which many of the folks who went were considered really, really good people with no complaints about them. 

Which brings me ever so slowly to my point.  The time to save your job is not when things get bad; it's all the time.  It's when things are good, things are fair, things are easy, things are tough.  If you're consistently a hard worker, a good worker, and an easy-to-work-with worker, you make it harder to lay you off or fire you.  I'm not lucky; I'm smart.  And maybe I'm gloating, and maybe it's easy for me to gloat while I'm still employed.  Fine.  The point is, I've consistently shown my employers that I'm a good value.  I'm a steal at twice the price (though yes, I know I'm underpaid and that DA underpays because it includes really cheap medical care and a good bonus structure), and I do excellent work consistently.  I've only had one owner call about my performance (that I know of), and he was concerned that I cared too much and worked too hard because I looked stressed out in a meeting.  

The point is (how many points do I have here?  this isn't the clearest post I've ever done, but I wanted to get it down), excellence is a habit, not a quick-painted-on-veneer skill.  I can have dessert on a regular basis because my workout habit and my eating-well-most-of-the-time habit keeps me fit.  I can splurge now and then on a massage or a nice skin serum because my financial habits leave me in a good place money-wise.  And I can be cautious without being super-anxious at work though I don't have a lot to do because I've done so much good work for so long.  By the time you need to save your job, it's too late.  By the time you need to save your cholesterol level, it's too late.  By the time you need to save your relationship, it's too late.  By the time you need to save you money, it's too late.

There are exceptions to every rule, including this one.  But having been mulling this over and over for a bit, I think that for the most part it stands true.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

After the layoffs, the layoffs

In the past week, Design Associates laid off another 22 people.  A couple of major projects, and the developers who were funding those projects, went on hold.  Our office has gone from around 150 people to around 95 in the past year, 33 of those gone in the past 30 days.  Kellye was a victim of this most recent round, as well as few other licensed architects and some interns and even landscape architects and interior designers.

It's bad, y'all.  I dont know how it is where you are, but it's bad here.

Kellye and I went to lunch right after he put a few things in his car.  "Y'know," he mused, "maybe it's denial, but I'm really not hurt or upset right now.  I've been really bored and underemployed for the past three or so weeks, and I've been thinking I need to do something.  So now, I guess I have to do something."  He smiled faintly.  "I've gotten calls from a couple of contractors I used to work with, looking for an architect to do some minor residential work.  Maybe I'm their guy, now that I have some time free.  Or I'll start my novel.  Or work on my blog.  My wife just got an excellent job as an RN at ______Hospital, and we're used to being at one income for the past 18-plus months, so we can do it again for a little while, y'know?  I feel bad for her, but not for me."

We clinked our cups of hot tea in agreement.  I know Kellye will be fine, though I'll miss hanging out with him at work while I'm extremely underemployed, but I know it's all good.  I feel worse for the interns that weren't making that much to begin with and now they're making nothing.  Some of them may have to move home again, and some of them may end up getting small retail jobs, like working at Target or something.  I wish them all the best and offered any help I could to the ones I knew well.  I went home and tried not to cry.

The next day, the office was a ghost town.  Derek had been gone to a punchlist all day and missed the action.  The color nearly drained from his face when we filled him in.  Norman, Ingrid, and I went to lunch at a local (inexpensive) sandwich place and spent at least half of it just sitting together and being quiet.  We just had to get out of the office and get away from the sounds of quiet desperation bouncing like bats squeaking against the cavernous, well-designed walls and soffits in our big, open, half-empty office.  After lunch, I went to Alex, my big-big boss.  

"Alex, seriously, should I be worried?  Should I just...go now?"

Alex shook his head.  "No, no...we're laying off from the bottom up; there are other people who will go before you.  We're trying, really trying, and I know you're not busy.  The best thing you can do right now is get good at Revit, because when the work comes back, there may not be anyone to help you do the drawing."

Fair enough.  That's how I did Wheatlands.  I didn't have anyone to help me do the drawing for most of it, so I did it.  No sweat.  But it still left me creeped out.  I later heard from Norman, who heard it from a local major contractor, that the Denver office of a nationwide architecture firm at which Guy worked in between DA and Acme, where he is now, is closing this year.  There's just not a whole hell of a lot of work.

We had already told Ethel that we'd go to her house last night for dinenr with her and her hubby, but I really didn't want to.  I've been feeling like I've been coming down with a cold or the flu or something on and off, and I really didn't feel like hanging around her since she's been pretty bitter and cranky after getting laid off from DA in September.  After spending the night with her and her husband, who were both in bad moods regarding the economy and jobs, and who also nearly had a fight in front of us about her spending habits, Guy was in a really depressed mood on the way home.  He was at the point where he was talking about "what if we both lose our jobs and can't sell the condo" and "should we sell the condo now" and so on.  I didn't have time or energy for this--I had to help Dame Judith with a class on Saturday morning and needed to be in a good mood for that.  I was already not going to get a lot of sleep, so can we please not pile more onto this bad mood?

So, I learned a few things this week.  One, my employers really really do value me; two, if they lay me off, I don't want to be there anyway; three, I don't need to hang out with Ethel a whole lot; four, Guy needs a nap.  No matter what happens, Guy and I are going to be fine.  We've taken good care of ourselves, financially and otherwise, and we have plenty of time (at our ages) to survive whatever life throws our way.

I'm going to go read and snuggle with Maddy.