Saturday, February 25, 2012

hapless trails....

Dear all -- we are on the way to NIH (National Institutes of Health) very early tomorrow. I have been running all week getting ready and things done before we leave, not to mention starting up the Mourner's Path workshop for the next 8 Saturdays...I will blog when we get back. In a perfect world, we will be home Friday night with a schedule for the kidney transplant and all the tests will reveal that everything is status quo...I look forward to catching up with everyone's posts when we return....

Friday, February 17, 2012


Sooner or later everyone, if they work long enough, confronts the 'boss from hell' ( and if they are lucky, only one). Up to that point I had counted myself very lucky that almost a decade into my career, I had liked all my superiors. Sure they had ticks and quirks, but I ultimately got along with them and they were decent, intelligent, and fair. One editor-in-chief even played matchmaker and introduced me to Excy!

The irony of the B from H was I had met her a year earlier when she was a senior editor of another magazine, and she was utterly charming, and I assured the staff when her name was given as our new editor, we would all like working with her. OOPS. Well, she came, and within days she fired the entire staff save for myself and one other editor and the graphic artist. The staff members let go -- five in all -- were long-time, senior-level editors, and frankly I feel they intimidated her. Upon retrospect. L and I were junior editors, and I think she felt we would easily conform to her new regime.

DD ruled by cruelty and fear tactics. She tried to alienate us by forbidding us from talking to one another, be it in the hallways or even in the break room. She would patrol the hallways and if she saw anyone talking in the other's office she would quickly tell us to 'get back to our desk,' like we were errant little kids. This was even more awkward by the fact that working on a magazine is a collaborative effort, with everyone pitching in with ideas and editing help and whatnot. Not only are there staff meetings, but it takes a lot of team-work to research, interview, write, and edit, not to mention illustrate a story, column or feature. So DD's paranoia really hampered creativity and work on each issue.

DD chose to lead by focusing only on the negative. She never mentioned anything she liked, but would lambast what anyone did 'wrong.' The more people around to witness her humiliating diatribes the better. Her 'critiques' were mean-spirited and often personal.

Although she gladly trumpeted her status as 'editor-in-chief,' she firmly believed the 'buck never stopped' with her, and she never, ever, took any blame for anything, no matter now small and inconsequential the error, and whether or not she was, indeed, to blame.

We were taken to task for a story she had signed off on, if later some reader had a problem with it. She would immediately throw the writer under the bus, claiming she had no knowledge of it whatsoever. We were even to blame for her editorials, which were never written by anyone else, of which she seldom showed to us before they were published.

DD was truly a miserable, passive-aggressive person. She would wait, regardless of how long one worked after office hours, until you left, so that the first thing you would find in the morning was a memo on your desk dripping with venom about whatever she considered to be your latest transgression. She believed in busting morale.

She would even try to put restrictions on people getting together for lunch or after hours, sure that we were plotting against her or something. Of the new staff she hired, and the freelance writers who worked for us, she fired half of them in the 18 long, long months I soldiered through (I worked for the magazine 12 years so leaving was a hard decision). Our new graphic artist (the last was fired in a typically horrible way), wanted to attend his grand mom's 90th birthday bash out of town over the weekend. She refused to let him go - we had to stay in town and 'work over the weekend' if needed because the issue was almost going to press. He knew if he refused his ass would be on the line. I overheard him tell her, "that's okay...I'm sure she'll have another." Our technical editor's grand mom died, and when he told her he needed one day off to fly out of town to make the funeral, she asked in a nasty voice,
"She was old, wasn't she??"
"She was my grandmother, so yes. But I still want to attend her funeral!"

At the time I was also responsible for two columns. One was on new products, and the other featured news and designs still in production, and I cannot count the times she would order me to write up a product or design to please some person or manufacturer (she strongly believed in playing favorites), and then would chew me out after someone called with a complaint that it seemed we were currying favoritism. At design shows, she expected me to cover so many different things at the same time I was sure she thought I was a twin. If I showed her the appointment schedule or schedule of events and suggested she prioritize the logistics of meeting these demands, after being chewed out enough times trying to decide on my own, she would reply she 'didn't care' how I'd manage it.

On two separate business trips where we had to travel together and we'd be gone at least three days and often four, she'd show up at the airport without so much as a carry-on bag, and she'd wear the same outfit day after day. Her hair would grow greasy and I don't even want to speculate on her underwear.

In the end -- interestingly -- as soon as I quit, she hired me as a freelancer and the same writing she complained about incessantly she then had no problem with -- she fired every single person, even the people she hired to replace the people she fired initially. Even the editorial advisors and freelancers went to the publisher and advisory boards to complain about working with her. Numerous letters and petitions were circulated, and ignored, about her. I remember seeing one well-known and respected architectural critic's letter on her desk that stated he 'wasn't going to have anything more to do with the magazine until her disastrous reign was over.' Inevitably she was fired, but after several years the damage to the magazine had taken its toll, and a once-prominent architecture magazine had slipped in rank and reputation.

I heard she worked for an architecture column on a FL paper, and then someone else spotted her working at the counter of a department store back in DC. Then she surfaced as a scriptwriter for an HGTV show I did some writing for - as soon as I heard that, my heart sank, and sure enough, the work didn't pan out -- later confirmed by a production assistant who said she was badmouthing me. She's still floating around. As miserable, and making those around her, as miserable, as ever, I'm sure.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

The Write Stuff

"Ms Manners" says that while written thank you notes are the gold standard (noting who doesn't like to receive written cards or letters in the mail), they aren't the only 'right' way to say thank you anymore, and one must consider the source. For example, if you normally correspond in email, she says email is fine. She argues that the important thing is to acknowledge a kindness. That's true. That is always the important thing. That's one reason I usually shoot off an email to let the person know I've received their gift or whatever, and will be following up with a written note of thanks. My mom ingrained into me to write a thank you note within 24 hours. I still maintain, despite what MM says, a handwritten note is the only real appropriate response to acknowledge someone's kindness and thoughtfulness.

In the sour grapes department, for instance, I needlepointed a huge Christmas stocking for my darling grand daughter that took more than 3 months and cost upwards of $300 in materials and finishing costs, not to mention the time it took. Although it was something I wanted to do, I am still appalled my step daughter didn't do much more than smile when she opened it and put it aside. A lot of effort and love went into something unique that Parker will, I hope, treasure in her life as she grows older.

But back to writing--as far as birthday greetings are concerned? I'm sorry - if you're going to 'send' me an electronic greeting card, or post on FB after being reminded by FB, please don't bother. I'd even prefer an email note. I'm not much for phoning it in. I went to the store, picked out a card I thought would be amusing to you, and mailed it with a special stamp. If you can't be bothered, fine. But remember actions speak louder than words, and I'm one of those dinosaurs of etiquette who still conforms to standards that are fading away.

Talk Show, Dick Cavett's latest book culled from his newspaper columns and blogs, is excellent, to the point I have read his other two books. As clever as his shows were, I laughed at his anticdotes and remembrances on every page.
Death Comes to Pemberley by PD James, takes up 6 years after Jane Austen's most famous characters married, fared -- the murder mystery involves the younger sister Lydia and her earstwhile husband who Darcy had to pay off to have her married to prevent scandal so he could marry Elizabeth...

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Nubbins, Resurrected

Yes, I was one of those crazy ladies who fed the 'coons. It began when they found the food I put out for the stray cats. It continued after they charmed me by bringing up the babies and using our flat bedroom addition as a sort of 'day care' when the mama 'coons wanted to eat and relax while keeping an eye on their broods and know they were safe. I enjoyed feeding a few of the brave ones pecans and vanilla wafers from my fingers as they gingerly took the treats from my hand with their soft dexterous paws. It ended a few years later when suddenly it seemed every 'coon on Wye Mt., began showing up nightly at 'Amy's cafe' and digging in my planters.

Throughout I befriended in particular one old 'coon I named 'Nubbins' due to his stubby ears -- which looked more like ears a bear would have. I felt sorry for him at first. The others seemed to ignore or bully him -- maybe because of his appearance -- but he was always hanging around the fringes trying to dart in and grab a bite or two before being run off. He was so timid but always sweet. I started going out of my way to make sure 'Nubbins' got some of the goodies. Eventually when I started tapering off the food supply, the others noticed my fondness for Nubs, and began pushing him forward towards the sliding glass door, to get their food. Nubs seemed almost apologetic about it. Every time he saw me, he rushed the door and put his paws up in greeting, seemingly as happy to see me as I was him.

Nine months ago I gasped when I saw him on the terrace with a huge gaping gash from his shoulder down his haunch. I don't know what happened to him but he looked awful. The blood wasn't gushing out but I could see bone, and he was moving in obvious pain. Still, he was there, and a friend who fed 'coons had told me they had an amazing ability to heal and as long as he was eating he should be alright. Unfortunately, after that one night, he disappeared.

After a few weeks passed I resigned myself to the fact he probably didn't make it. It's a hard life for the wild ones, and Nubbins lived a long time in 'coon world. Still, I missed him. I even found a small plastic 'coon toy and nipped his ears so he'd resemble Nubs and put it on our kitchen counter to remind us of the remarkable friendship we developed with the guy.

Three nights ago I looked out on the terrace and gasped. There he was! He came rushing up to the door as soon as he saw me peering from the glass, acting like he'd never been away. His fur is thick and full and he moved easily. He had two friends with him. We were so excited to see him, he got a treat of pecans and vanilla wafers; all he could eat. Later I sent out a chicken carcass rather than using it for soup. It is still incredible Nubs has been 'raised from the dead.'

Now if only Francis the fox would reappear again...

Sunday, February 5, 2012

The Bird Dog OR Don't Awaken the Sleeping Giant

A few years ago, we were visiting my in-laws out west. My mother-in-law fed the area cardinals, blue jays, and other songbirds by setting out birdseed in pie pans on their deck table. One morning our dog, a blue-heeler named Billie, was napping on the deck a few feet from the table when a mountain jay took offense of her presence and decided to run her off.

The large bird began scolding her loudly and dive-bombing Billie, who finally woke up. Billie continued to lay on the deck, doing her best to ignore the bird’s wild antics, until finally, while still in a semi-recumbant position, she jumped straight in the air about 5 feet and clamped her jaws around the unfortunate jay. The bird never knew what hit him as she knocked him down in one fell swoop. I noticed that after that, the other birds left Billie alone, and she never bothered with them, either.