Saturday, August 31, 2013

Routine and Control

It occurs to me that one of the trickiest parts of leading what has turned out to be a freelance life is the lack of routine. If you have a regular job, you basically know where you are going each day, and for what hours. It is a routine, and you can plan the other pieces of your life around it.

I have never been that much of a rigid "stick-to-routine" kind of person. I didn't make my children nap or eat on a schedule-they ate when they were hungry and napped when they were sleepy. My family's time is not too regulated. As long as we can make things work, I tend to fly by the seat of my pants, and I am fine with that. Or at least I have been so far. Why, then, does the freelance "lack of routine" get under my skin?

Perhaps my ability to keep things loose in many ways for all these years has depended on my having control over the situation. It was my CHOICE not to push those meals and naps. It was my CHOICE to have dinner at 6 or 8 or to go to bed when I wanted.

When you're a freelancer, much as everyone will tell you how nice it is to have control over when you work, the reality is that very few of the work or don't work choices are actually yours. You depend upon someone else to call you to work, and if you choose not to work, it's likely those "someone else's" will quickly stop calling you. So, unless you're working steadily, and even if you are, but in a variety of places, there is no routine. Do you need to get up with the sun? Hard to say. Will you be able to pick up children from afterschool tomorrow? Don't know. Will you have the money to pay the bills this month? It depends.

As can happen with any routine, perhaps a lack of routine (and lack of control over lack of routine) just takes time to get used to. And maybe it actually takes a pretty long time. After all, we spend a great deal of our lives living with some kind of routine, and most habits are a lot harder to break than to develop.

Ask me in a year if I've gotten used to the non-routine. Perhaps by then, it will be normal enough to feel as though I've taken control and made it my routine. Because if I have some control, maybe it will be a non-routine that will work out just fine.

Friday, August 30, 2013

Theater and Good

Having just finished Neil Simon's book The Play Goes On, I feel as though I have been to the theater and backstage at the theater and on two coasts and across the Atlantic. Perhaps I ought to be exhausted, but I am actually incredibly jazzed. I mean, how great is it to "be at the theater" even when you can't really afford the time or the money to go?

Funny thing is, tonight we actually did go--to the theater, that is (though, since the show originated in London, I guess you could say we sort of went across the Atlantic too).

In the book, Simon talks about someone telling him that if you have an instinct to do something good, you shouldn't dwell on it. You should just do it. While I can't say I didn't dwell on the idea of a family trip to the theater, actually buying the tickets was the kind of doing good he was referencing. Having Broadway-obsessed children doesn't mean you have the resources to indulge their habit all the time . It just means that doing something good, at least in their minds, is exactly what we did tonight, stage door autographs and all.

That "instinct to do something good" is, as far as I can tell, less about a charitable contribution to the world and more about contributing to the happiness and enrichment of the people around you. For Simon, it is about taking his grandson to London. For us, at this moment in time, we stepped out of "too expensive" and "not enough time," and just followed that instinct to do good for someone. I imagine we'll get to dwell on the results of that for a while, as we hear the stories of tonight from our kids. The bills will come later, but I can say with confidence that the good has been done.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Calendar Girl

You know you need a bigger calendar when...

1. You come to realize that, at least for now, you're not going to be working in the same place every day.

2. You receive your theater subscription tickets and have a sinking feeling that all the dates will be in direct conflict with school events or with the hours you are working on any given day (see #1).

3. You receive your children's school calendars and realize that there are no dates yet in conflict with the theater (see #2), but that each child has different half days and an immense number of functions requiring family attendance.

4. You have completely lost track of when any holiday falls, and you hope you postponed your jury duty to the week you intended.

5. You start thinking about family trips, even though you won't really plan anything until the last minute, when it's more expensive, and by that time it won't matter that you've looked at a calendar, since there'll be no time or no money (or both) to go anywhere.

6. You are still extremely good at keeping dates in your head, but you realize that "in your head" doesn't mean "in anyone else's head." Maybe you need multiple larger calendars.

7. The days go way too fast for one of those daily calendars, and are generally far too busy for reading the witty things on those daily calendars.

8. The school year is upon you, and while in the summer, it was okay to be loose, now it will matter where everyone is at any given time (and it will take far more than just a big calendar to keep it all straight).

Quick, turn the calendar page. September, here we come....

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Why Blog? A Year Later

One year ago today, I published my first post of NotWashedUpYet. Since then, there have been 364 daily posts (just one missed during Hurricane Sandy), and over 27,000 page views. To those of you who read daily, or weekly, or just when you can, I thank you. And to those of you who take the time to comment, either directly, or on Facebook or LinkedIn, know that your comments do matter.

When I started the blog, I felt that I had things to share about both the many experiences I'd had so far in my career and about moving on with life, and I was excited about the challenge of writing daily--both on the days when there was an earth shattering event, and on the days when nothing special happened at all. What I have found in committing to post daily is that often, those "nothing special" days actually produce some of the most earth shattering observations. While starting a new gig or having a career victory can be exciting, sometimes we learn a whole lot more about ourselves and about the world in the quiet moments of just making it through a day, of just managing our daily lives and adjusting to the changes in them.

When I began a twelve months ago, I didn't know how long this blog would last. I just knew it needed to start. Now, a year later, while my place in the world of work is different, while my stories of my time at ABC are becoming more memories than recent events, I still feel as though there are things to say. In my world--and maybe in today's world in general--the search for fulfilling work and comfortable work surroundings and work security continues. The struggle of balancing work and family and identity goes on. And my belief that we can find good in difficult situations remains strong.

I'm not sure where I'm going from here, but I can say with certainty--perhaps in part because of this blog--that I am definitely not washed up yet. So, here's to year two--let the blogging continue!

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Summer Homework

We are now close enough to the start of school that we have to face down the summer homework that has hung over us for these few months like a black cloud on a humid day. I am, in fact, writing about summer homework while sitting next to my son, who is writing his summer homework. We have scrambled to acquire books that need to be read (and that have so long a list of holds at the library, they could become NEXT summer's summer homework). The whole thing brings back (not very good) memories from my own childhood--the biggest difference being that when I was a kid, I seem to remember it all happened just days before the start of school. At least we have been talking about it for two months and still have two weeks!

I have always appreciated the homework assignments my kids brought home that either reinforced what they'd done at school that day, or kept me informed about their curriculum, or both. So, where does summer homework fall on that spectrum? Having had no "day at school" or "curriculum" per se in our summer, we are on our own--reading a book while not necessarily knowing why it was chosen, researching a topic while not necessarily knowing if the topic or research methods are right. It occurs to me that summer homework is not so different from starting a new job. New things dropped in the middle of a known and comfortable summer, and a reminder that we always have something new to learn.

So, how do you navigate the new when it comes right in the middle of what feels like a pretty nice comfort zone (like summer)? It's a question that many of us ask when we're exploring job possibilities, and a question that kids are forced to ask every year, when they automatically face a new teacher, new classroom, and new grade. For them, newness and change are just a given, and they adjust quickly. For them, while homework might be an inconvenience in their carefree summer, it is just a step toward their unavoidable new "job." So, it gets done because, well, it has to.
This summer, summer homework is reminding me that it's okay to have some unknowns and even better to face the unknowns and do the legwork (or homework) to prepare for them. Soon enough, those classes and teachers and curriculum will become the new normal. And who knows, work for me may become a new normal as well.

And thanks to a willingness to keep learning--and to summer homework--I think we will all be ready.

Monday, August 26, 2013


I've been told that looking for work is all about your connections.

As I dropped my daughter off to spend a few days with a friend she's known since preschool, I was struck by the depth of the connection, not just between my daughter and her friend, but between her family and my own. I guess that's not surprising, considering that we have seen each other go through transitions and changes for over ten years. In addition to our experiences, some shared and others parallel, we have the memories of our daughters at the age of four. Cuteness is powerful stuff.

While "cute" was not a factor in my time at ABC, the idea of years of shared experience certainly was. I was the planner (or the recipient) of many a baby shower. I celebrated birthdays and commiserated about crazy families and child care situations. As private a person as I was, people knew me so well and for so long, there was a shorthand and a relationship not so different from what we have with my daughter's friend's family. A connection.

I would venture to say that almost anyone who spent years on a soap would say the same. The long hours and long-term work of our jobs bred a familiarity rare in many workplaces, and even more rare today, when "long-term" can mean a year.

When I moved on after ABC, I realized (and was reminded by well-meaning supporters) that I would probably never have that kind of connection at a job again, and I was good with that. After all, you don't recreate preschool or twenty-plus years every day. Yet, from time to time (today being one of those times), I am reminded of how comforting and supportive it is to have that kind of history and connection. While I don't expect to have the exact same thing again, I do believe that connections at work are valuable things to want.  As comfortable as we might be with our own responsibilities, we are always more powerful with the support of the people around us. With connections.

So, while my future coworkers might not know the intricate details of my children's births (I'm not planning to do any more of those), or my travels through the public education system, I do believe that I will want connection with them. The connections we make at work don't just enrich us. They enrich the work we do as well. That's true whether we're somewhere for a month or for twenty years.

And in the end, enriching our work--or the work we get to do--is pretty much what connections are all about.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Was It All Just a Dream?

At the same time tonight, my daughter and I were both thinking about the things she'd done this summer, and how, when she wakes up tomorrow, she will not be doing any of them. Her thought was, "Did it really begin and end already?" Mine was, "Did it really happen, or was it all just a dream?"

I feel as though our brains are built to fill the gap as we move from one thing to the next. (I say this not from a scientific angle, but purely from an observational one). If that were not the case, how would we survive all the heartaches and changes and tragedies that we endure in life? How could we not be stopped in our tracks every day by the successes and failures of our most recent endeavor? So, does our psyche just knit things back together as our skin does when a cut heals?

For my daughter, the anticipation of her summer activities lasted so long, she couldn't help but feel that the activities themselves went quickly. For me, they join so many things in my life that have been all-consuming (for short times or long), but that somehow vanish once they are over. Moving on, REALLY moving on, takes allowing that knitting back together, to a place where you're not quite sure if things were real or a dream. You know, of course, from pictures and notes, that what you remember was real, yet your view of events is covered in that film of dreams. And that's what lets you "wake up" and look forward.

I didn't dream my daughter's summer (or my part in it) any more than I dreamed my many years at ABC. But in both cases, allowing the events to become part of what WAS lets me move on with what IS, not by forgetting, but by putting the experiences into their place as memories.

Before we know it, the whole summer will be behind us, all of it moving into the memory category. I think there's a pretty good chance we'll consider this summer a good dream. A good dream, and a good place from which we can move on.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Gift of Time

More than once today, I thought, "I have time, I should start my blog." And time after time, I did housework or wrote emails or just stared off into space. It was not a lost day by any means--there were many activities between the emailing and the housework and the staring (and my apartment is a bit cleaner from the housework part). Yet, it is once again late when I am writing, and had I scooped up those free moments earlier when I had them, I could be reading or sleeping now.

There will be plenty of time for reading and sleeping. My point here is that in the midst of our often crazy lives, we are sometimes given just the free time we need--out of the blue, a gift of no responsibility--and more often than not, we let it pass by rather than making the most of it.

It could be argued that staring off into space was exactly what I needed to do with my gift of time today, and that allowing myself to do so was far more important than writing my blog post early. On a daily basis, however, we can do better than staring off or getting lost in the mundane chores of our lives. Time, whether measured in the growth of our children or the aging of our relatives or the changes in our own lives, goes quickly, and those gifts of free moments vanish quickly as well.

It's just fine that I'm writing the post now that perhaps I could have written three times over during the course of a somewhat lazy Saturday.  It's okay that for part of that lazy Saturday, I stared off into space.  It's even, gulp, acceptable that I spent part of today's gift on housework.

All okay, as long as each day, I remember what a great gift a little free time can be.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Stuck in the Stew

I've written before about limbo--call it a game, call it a place--it's that situation when you don't know quite where you are or what your next move could or should be. Many of us spend a great deal of time in limbo--between jobs, waiting for school test scores, or anticipating admissions decisions. Limbo makes it hard to move forward, because you'd be traveling a road that's got lots of indefinite turns. And yet, in one way or another, we all live in some kind of limbo, limbo usually created by people or factors outside of ourselves.

But what if the limbo is of our own creation, because we can't or won't bring ourselves to move forward? Limbo is limbo, but when we bring it upon ourselves, I'd call it stewing.

I've done a lot of stewing this week. Spending lots of time not making decisions, or making not important decisions, while letting things that needed to be addressed soak in a stew of indecision. But today, I turned off the stew. While I can't say I checked things off on a "to do list," I decided that limbo created by factors BEYOND my control didn't justify spending time stewing over things WITHIN my control.

There will always be limbo. In an age of non-permanent jobs, and school choice, and options for everything under the sun, there are so many variables, the processing of all of them can't help but leave you stuck. But stuck in the stew--a limbo of our own creation--wastes our time and our energy, leaving us too weary to play that ongoing game of limbo.

So, when it comes to limbo, play on--you don't have much choice. But when it comes to stew, stop stirring. Believe me, it's done. The best thing you can do is take it off the flame and move on.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Long Shots and Sure Things

This morning, I stood on a grand opening line. You see, my son had read the ad promising a free gift to the first 200 people on grand opening day, and he was bound and determined to get his free gift. We did what we needed to do--got up earlier than we might have liked, withstood the rain when the skies opened halfway into our time on line, smiled convincingly when the store photographer came around taking pictures for the store's website. And, with great anticipation, we followed along when the store opened and the line began to move. We did all the right things, and now were going to get our reward--the very exciting free gift. And as we crossed the threshold of the store, a man handed a red ticket to the person in front of us. And then announced that he had no more. We did all the right things, but we would not be getting the free gift.

We had spent part of our time on line talking about how this endeavor was a long shot, about how there was no guarantee, and how we would still be happy we tried, even if we didn't win. Nonetheless, it's hard to remember all of that when you're a kid, and you see the last ticket given to the person in front of you.

Our lives are filled with long shots like this. We didn't know how many other people would camp out way earlier than we did. We didn't know that people might cut the line during the waiting. There was no way to know. There was only giving it a shot or not. If we didn't, we'd never know, never have even a chance at the prize. If we did, we might be winners or we might be losers, but we'd never know without trying.

It's not easy to know when to go for the long shot instead of sticking with the sure thing. The sure thing, whether it's a job or an activity or a restaurant we've been to a thousand times, is easy. It's comfortable. And it's a lock, at least in the short term. The long shot could result in wasted  hours, or a miserable workday, or a meal you'd just as soon forget. Or it could lead you toward great things you might otherwise not have found.

When I was volunteering with a non-profit, there was always a mantra of "you'll never get (volunteers, money, you name it) if you don't ask." The long shots in life are, as far as I can tell, like that "ask." Without taking the long shots, at least once in a while, we don't leave ourselves open to the big rewards, monetary or otherwise. We don't give ourselves the chance to explore and learn and grow, and that can make life a little boring.

Today, our long shot resulted in a few free trinkets, a bit of frustration, and a soaking from a rainstorm that we would have avoided, had we just stayed home. We explored a new place in our city, and we learned a little something about how the world works. No big payoff, but no disasters either, and a story that we can retell and embellish to our hearts' content.

We would have stayed a lot drier with the sure thing, but it seems to me that today, this long shot paid off.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Bubble Baths at Midnight

I often find myself wondering what summer means in our lives these days. As a child, I spent summers watching game shows and family sitcom reruns (I probably saw every Brady Bunch at least three times). I went to the library for story hour and to get books to fill my summer reading list. There were summers with swimming lessons and summers with day camp, and when I was older, summers with summer school (for getting courses out of the way so I could take others). But out of all it, what I remember most fondly are the hours at home with game shows and board games (and game show board games!)

These days, the race to fill the summer with scheduled activities starts in January or February. After all, it's a lot of hours to fill, both in terms of boredom avoidance and in terms of child care coverage. And these days, not many people would come out and say watching TV for hours was the "right" way to spend the summer.

Yet, through a series of uncertain circumstances, this summer has ended up, for at least one of my kids, not so different from my childhood summers. And while I have worked hard to rev up the days with interesting, and sometimes even educational, activities, there has been a great deal of the unscheduled time I had as a kid, the kind of time that made you mourn its absence on the first day of school (and likely, the kind of time that left you with plenty of energy to restart on the first day of school).

So, while there have not really been bubble baths at midnight, there have been the kind of laid back hours and days that might have led to that. Soon enough, there will be homework and early bedtimes for early wake up times, and all those things that remind us why we like summer. For now, I am happy to report that my kids are getting just a little glimpse of what summer used to be. And if I turned out fine, I imagine they will too.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Instruction Manuals

Today, my son and I built an amusement park ride.

Okay, it was a K'nex model of an amusement park ride. Who do you think we are, Phineas and Ferb?

I am pretty excited about our creation. It spins around and around, and really does look like one of the rides at Coney Island, and best of all, we built it together (though my son is quick to say he did most of the work).

I am not an engineer. I am fairly artsy-crafty, but when it comes to the structural stuff, I've been known to ask for help. Our amusement park ride, however, came with a large instruction manual, complete with full-size pictures, so, between us and the manual, we were set. Would that everything we had to do in life came with detailed instructions and full-size pictures!

Alas, life does not come with an instruction manual. There's no document that tells us what's the most important thing on any given day or how far out on a limb we can go for work or family without falling off the tree. We have to figure these things out on our own. There's no set of instructions for raising our kids (okay, maybe there are a lot of those, but are they there with us for all the ridiculously small stuff that no one would bother writing about? No.) And if there is an instruction manual for an indefinitely smooth-sailing professional life, I sure haven't found it yet.

Perhaps one of the reasons building our carousel was so satisfying was that we followed the instructions, and we got just what we were supposed to--a thing exactly like the one in the picture on the box. I'm sure I'd be bored if life were that simple for more than a few days, but, wow, for one day (well, part of one day), life complete with an instruction manual--that felt mighty good.

Monday, August 19, 2013


I've been doing some of the Spring cleaning that never happened in the Spring because I was traveling to Stamford and working many, many hours each day, and, as usual, I am determined to make a substantial difference in our never enough room New York City apartment. My husband is of the belief that order will fix the problem, but I know better. Sometimes capacity is just finite (even when you are willing to build bookcases to the ceiling). In order to help the situation in any sort of substantial way, you have to decrease the inventory.

My kids did this last week. To my great surprise (and glee), they unloaded hundreds of books, toys, and games, most with not a second thought. Now it is my turn.

Here's the difference--the things my children eliminated were largely things they had outgrown, meaning their choices were fairly obvious. Kids grow and outgrow--not just clothes, but activities too. We adults are not necessarily so lucky.

So--how to make my own process of elimination as productive as theirs? When I am at my most ruthless, determined to make our apartment a leaner, more pleasant place to live, I begin with the idea "If we were moving, would I take this with me?" Packing and moving are no fun, so, if we were moving, which of the things around me would actually be worth packing? If I wouldn't be willing to pack and move something, why am I willing to have it take up space where I live now?

I'll admit, I'm far too sentimental a person to adhere to the "would I pack and move it?" guideline all the time. But it is a starting point, and it has helped me to sift through any number of things over the years.

Today, I added another thought to my cleaning motivation arsenal--"If I were working with people I'd never met before, would I wear that?" Let's face it, we all get attached to our clothes and a look we have developed, but if we really think about it, how many of the items that fill our drawers and closets really make sense? How many of them are part of a comfort level that we should really be moving beyond? How many of them have been around longer than any item should ever stay in one place?

So now, armed with two fairly solid motivational tools, I hope to finish the Spring cleaning at least before Fall starts. And, while I'm sure that I'd have a rude awakening if I ever really had to pack and move or if I found myself having to dress for a completely different kind of workplace, I'll at least try to go with the ideas for my Spring--I mean, Summer--cleaning. 

And perhaps along the way, I'll realize that grown ups can outgrow things too.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Dropping Names

When I was transitioning from years of full time work to a more freelance situation, I desperately wanted my résumé to show how many places I had been and how many different things I'd done. Having had the good fortune of on the job training and promotion, as well as great colleagues who'd believed in me over the years, I had a lot to say. When you work in television, you have the opportunity to drop names of shows that people have heard of.  And I figured I might as well drop them all. When I stood back and looked at this newly revised résumé, it was a bit like "This Is Your Life," as I remembered the people I'd encountered at each place, and how each gig came about.

I've been reworking my résumé recently, and, while I still want to make sure I convey the places I've been, somehow, the urge to "drop names" is different now. Now, I'm thinking much more about how each place got me to where I am now-to who I am now. Titles of shows may have the advantage of name-recognition, which I'm sure is valuable, but in this process, I'm finding out much more about the "me" that came out of each of these places. I am not a jumbled mish-mosh of skill sets. Rather, I am a person who has learned new things in a lot of different places, and who has put the best of each experience into the next. I am grateful to have had such a broad set of workplaces, "name recognition" and all, but I am even more grateful to know that anywhere I go, I will be able to enrich the new job with the wisdom learned at the old.

If all goes well, my new résumé will become the snapshot of me that no litany of job titles and locations was able to provide. It will drop the name Tracy Casper Lang. And whoever reads it will come away with a pretty good idea of who I am.

Well, who I am this week, at least.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Nap Item

When I was working at ABC, we had a daily document called the "Order of the Day," which gave an item number to each scene or piece we were shooting that day and listed the cast involved. It created a simple way for every person in every department to know where we were in the day. If we announced "Taping Item 33," the prop department would know to pull Item 33 props, the wardrobe department would know how the actors should be dressed, and the whole building would have a pretty good idea of where we were in our day. In the time I worked there, we went from twenty item days to thirty item days and eventually sixty item days--scenes got shorter (so, many short scenes instead of fewer long ones) and budgets got tighter (so, more material being shot at a quicker pace).

Over all this time, not a week went by without my hearing "when's the nap item?" at least once. Shooting television (even soaps, which are shot relatively quickly) is a long, slow process, and who wouldn't want a nap during that stretch of the afternoon when the post-lunch slump has hit, and you know you still have hours to go?

There never was a nap item (okay, nobody REALLY expected there would be). So, perhaps sometimes now, I am making up for all those years of "no nap item days." Today, after a week of running, and no particular ideas about where to go, I took that nap--and got one of my kids to do it too. Who knows whether it will replace sleep at night, but it gave us the little refresher that we needed to go on with our day.

It's unlikely that any television production--or any business in the US, for that matter--will institute a "nap item." There's just always too much to be done, and too little time as it is. In life, however, we would all do well to write in that "nap item" from time to time. The rest of the items will still get done. They might just get done a little better.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Circumstances Beyond My Control

Today I spent a great deal of time sitting on crowded buses that were going nowhere because of a major accident that I didn't know about until after Bus 1 and figured would be resolved before Bus 2. So, in both cases, there I sat, unable to do much of anything except accept being late, wondering if there was something I could have done, should have done, to change the course of events.

From a very early age, we are conditioned to believe that what we do (or don't do) makes a difference in our circumstances. "Beyond our control" is the exception rather than the rule. But sometimes, as much as we'd like to think otherwise, we really DON'T have control over what's happening. Today, I certainly couldn't anticipate or change a traffic accident and the resulting hours of traffic chaos. Often, we can't anticipate or change the craziness of the workplace or the job market. What we can change is how we react to those "circumstances beyond our control."

I can't say that I reacted well today in the bus situations. Did I have a book with me to read? No. Did I write my entire blog post (and the ones for the next three days) while sitting and going nowhere? Nope. I got stressed out. Very stressed out. Not one of my shining moments.

If I (or any of us) reacted that way on a regular basis to "circumstances beyond our control," we wouldn't get very far in life or in work. It is often when we break through the lack of control that we discover the best in ourselves. We can make changes in how we work, how we present ourselves, how we measure our success. In life, more so than in buses, "beyond our control," is more an opportunity for progress than an invitation to helplessness, and it is an opportunity we should take whenever possible.

Next time, I'll try to react better in a bus mess. And for now, I'll start taking opportunities wherever I can find them.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

What's Gonna Work? Teamwork!

Borrowed from a children's show, I know. I couldn't help myself. Sometimes those preschool lessons are pretty powerful.

When I want to get something done, I tend to go the route of just trying to do it all myself. Whether it's in a control room shooting TV or at home cleaning the apartment, I generally take personal responsibility (sometimes more than I should) for making sure the result is good. The problem is, I only have two hands and two eyes and a limited amount of time. So in order to accomplish much in either arena, it's really better to work with a team.

On a show, the team is made up of people with particular specialties. As someone who interviewed me for a non-TV job pointed out once, just because I coordinated cameras doesn't mean I needed to know how to cable them--that was the job of the camera and utility people, and the team was strong because all the specialties were brought together. In a family, the team is a little trickier, since specialties are less defined. But, as I found out today, it is when we enlist our "team" that we can really accomplish things. It's not all fun and games, believe me. Teamwork requires a degree of patience and tolerance not as necessary when you choose to do something yourself. But both the efficiency and the level of satisfaction are better with teamwork. Team members can support and encourage each other, and having the ideas of a full team can make the process a lot more interesting and the result much more creative.

Sometimes at home, I forget how valuable my team members can be, especially now that they are old enough to have both creative and hands-on contributions. They may be way out of preschool, but the song still applies. Teamwork makes it work. And makes it a whole lot more fun.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Small Victories, Big Accomplishments

There are days when a blog topic comes to me very early in the day. Either the day itself has particular significance, or something happens early on that just seems, well, blogworthy. And then there are days made up of a million little parts, most of which seem pretty mundane (even if they are quite enjoyable). It is on that second group of days that I say to the world (or at least to the family members close enough to hear me), "What should I write about today?"

Today, the answer that I got (from my oldest child) was a list of everything we had done. "But what of any of that is blogworthy?" I asked, to which she replied that while it might have seemed we hadn't done much, her list was evidence of the fact that we had done a lot. That sometimes it takes that comprehensive list to make us realize that we have accomplished far more than we think.

And there I had it.

We are always looking for the big ticket item, the earth shattering thing that makes the day worthwhile, even exciting, but most days in any given week, there is no big ticket item. If we are job searching, the important interview or long-awaited job offer comes only once in a while. If we are working in TV, the "very special episode" or the Emmy award come only rarely. So it is when we add up the small victories in each of our days that we truly realize how much we have accomplished. We sent out 5 job-related emails. We cleared out one corner of a cluttered apartment. We made a dinner that every household member liked. The list goes on. After all, when you're appreciating the small stuff, there's a lot to appreciate, because most of our days are made up of a whole lot of small pieces.

So, with the help of my daughter, I can say that this was most definitely a blogworthy day. And that is no small accomplishment. It's a big victory.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Exceeding Expectations

When I asked my son to help clean today, I expected no more than some half-hearted rearrangement of mess. Let's face it, getting my kids' room to a state of calm took me the better part of last summer, so while I had high hopes for our result, I envisioned myself doing most of the work.

In the end, as my son puts it, he did two-thirds to my one-third. Sure, I got the garbage and give-away bags, but he nimbly came up with things to put in both. He may not have revolutionized his sisters' part of the room, and there may yet be work all around, but he rose to the occasion, really making and executing decisions about how he wanted his space and his things to look. I couldn't have done it better myself.

My point here, aside from the fact that I am proud of my son, is that, although I had some doubts, I stepped back and let my son prove himself, and that he did.

In our work lives, we are often quick to write off people because of their manner or because of our past experiences with them. And while there's nothing wrong with learning from experience, we can miss out on people's talents and abilities and potential by denying them the opportunity to rise to the occasion each time. Had I not allowed my son to show what he could do in his room, I would have ended today tired and grumpy about my having to do all the work to make the space livable. Instead, I ended the day invigorated about young potential, and excited to have a sidekick (or partner in crime, depending on your point of view). It's an approach that could benefit every workplace, when dealing with new and old employees alike. As I found out today, a little belief can help just about anyone exceed expectations.

Monday, August 12, 2013


Today, I spent eight hours walking the streets of a strange (not strange, strange, just unfamiliar) neighborhood with a nine-year old. It was clearly home to many of the people who passed us by--children on scooters, parents with strollers, runners, and bikers, and funeral-goers. And in the midst of it all, we were oddly anonymous. We retraced various paths multiple times, so it is possible that certain people took notice of this pair of strangers, but, as far as we were concerned, we were a twosome on our own set of missions, anonymous and loving it.

As nice as it may be to be anonymous while on an expedition with a nine-year old, we look for anything but anonymity in our professional lives. How many times, even when I had a full-time gig, did I wish I were being sought after by someone else, known all over for my professional talents? Yet, neither then, nor during the time that followed that gig, did I gain that kind of non-anonymity. The truth is, as I learned today, it is incredibly easy to stay a stranger in a strange land, to remain anonymous. The challenge is enjoying anonymity when you want it, but pursuing non-anonymity with a vengeance when you don't. That, and finding where your skill set meshes with that of the world where you'd like to be more than a stranger. People tend to see only what relates to them, so to be seen, to stand out, the key is meeting people on their terms.

Had we been scooter-riding and chatty, we might have been anything but anonymous today, which would have been wrong for our day. But come tomorrow, or the next day, whenever it matters, perhaps I'll be that person who is anything but anonymous. And perhaps not being anonymous will be just right for that day.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

"Tell Me About Your Strengths and Weaknesses"

Anyone who has ever prepared for a job interview has probably anticipated this question. I don't know if I have actually ever heard it directly, but I have certainly come up with a series of examples of situations in which I overcame a weakness. We are well-trained to cover weaknesses or at least to reposition them as strengths. And even the least self-promoting among us learn quickly how talk up our strengths when we need to.

But sometimes, in the midst of making all the strengths seem superhuman and the weaknesses seem like just opportunities for growth, we have a real need to shout out about a little victory or lay bare our weaknesses without having to justify or rectify them. And that is where our good friends come in. When we can't rise above weakness, they are there to prop us up. When our successes are exciting but not necessarily LinkedIn-worthy, our friends are the ones who cheer for us and with us.

The need to discuss our strengths and weaknesses intelligently with potential employers will likely never go away. It is a part of the job search that helps hiring managers know that they are getting someone who learns and adapts, and what company wouldn't want that? But the need for making sure we have people in our lives who will support the strong and the weak in us is an even more vital part of the career exploration process. It is with the help of those friends that we can survive being weak, and come out feeling stronger than ever.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Everything I Know, I Learned From Job Searching

Okay, not everything. I knew that breaking off the ends of asparagus stalks was effective even before I ever looked for a job. But it's kind of amazing how the skills you pull together when looking for a job are applicable (and useful) in so many different situations. Here are just a few examples:

1. Every situation is a potential networking situation. You never know who your cousin-in-law's brother's uncle knows. And even if there's no job-related connection now, there's always room for a future connection or just some good ideas.

2. Being able to introduce yourself and what you do clearly and concisely is as useful at a cocktail party as it is in an interview.

3. Being ready for opportunities is about both honing your skill set and packing correctly for a trip.

4. Helping other people when you can, and saying thank you when they help you is very attractive on the job market. It doesn't hurt in life either.

5. A half-hour cup of coffee with someone is worth far more than its weight in gold and caffeine (whether it's with a colleague or with a friend).

6. Revise, revise, revise, whether it's your résumé or your approach to life.

7. Know your audience. Tailor your letter and resume to each recipient, and tailor your slate of activities to each of your children.

8. Use your time wisely. Reviewing Internet postings some of the time is fine, as long as it doesn't replace talking to people in your field. Blogging about job searching is fine, as it doesn't replace talking to people about job searching.

Okay, so it may not be "kindergarten powerful," but you've got to admit, this job search learning model--it's pretty good. And since I won't be going back to kindergarten anytime soon...

Friday, August 9, 2013

Revisionist History

It is truly amazing to me how quickly we adapt to new situations. Even if we gripe about the specifics, we tend to become so immersed in the new, that it's almost as if the old never happened.

Seven months ago, I was smack in the middle of the NYC school bus strike, creating carpool arrangements to make sure my children got to and from school. Just months later, I was working in Connecticut, taking a train early every morning, completely incapable of filling in bus strike gaps. And it was almost as if the bus strike and all that went with it had never happened.

Last summer, I was writing preschool stories in what now seems like another lifetime. Was I good at it? Hard to say, and also hard to believe that it really happened, since life now is so different.

I am a firm believer in accountability, not blame, but accountability. If something happened, it affects things that are happening now. So, whether it's hard now to remember being out of work or it's hard a year from now to remember going to Connecticut every day, each of these experiences is part of the others. We can say that we've moved forward from our past history, but without acknowledging and remembering that history, we can't really move forward. And maybe that's one of the good things about a blog--it doesn't let you forget--at least not without thinking things through first. So, as sure as my Connecticut train ticket and my ABC ID live in my bag, these and my other experiences in this adventure called work will remain active parts of my history. The non-revisionist version.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Work and Identity

Months ago, I wrote about how my professional identity seemed to change every day. Each time I met new people, I would introduce myself differently. Was I a displaced soap opera AD, or an aspiring children's media producer? Was I a blog writer or a reality show editor?

I'm not sure if it's an American thing or a New York thing or a working woman thing, but clearly, we are incredibly defined by the work we do. So, while I am a mother (and these days, a more participatory mother than I was for many years), I still feel the need for a professional identity, a credit on which I can hang my hat, so to speak.

The current job market, at least in my field, does not lend itself to hat-hanging credits. Unlike the job I had for two decades, many jobs now are more like two months. While I don't discount the financial and experiential benefits of even something that lasts a short time, I do find myself at somewhat of a loss when describing to non-TV people what I do. And I do find myself at a loss when defining myself even for a TV crowd. If you work in the same capacity at a large company for many years, you pretty much know who you are professionally--either because of your position or because of your industry. When you're on short term jobs, it falls to you to make up the definition of you. And if my few days away have taught me anything, it's that, just when I thought I was done defining myself, I am nowhere even CLOSE to defining myself.

The good news is, I'm pretty excited about that.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Not Guilty Pleasures

There's a big difference between days off in the city and real time away. For me, it's the time away that seems to give me permission to enjoy some guilty pleasures. I'm not talking massages and manicures. For me, guilty pleasures fall much more all over the map. So, for this time away, here goes...

1. House Hunters. There's nothing like imagining how little we could spend getting a mansion if we were to leave New York City!

2. Buffet restaurants. Did you ever notice that one of the most stressful parts of being a grown up is having to make decisions (for yourself AND everybody else) all the time? A buffet restaurant means no hard and fast decisions. It's every man, woman, and child for him or herself!

3. Scrabble for hours. Now that all my kids are old enough to play, it's a real family activity. And one where I actually have a chance of winning (and can enjoy watching my kids win sometimes too).

4. Central air conditioning. Everywhere. This is the South, where it's air-conditioned house to air-conditioned car to air-conditioned destination. I could get used to this!

5. Flipping through catalogs and circulars. At home, these things just accumulate. On vacation, I let myself get lost in them, whether it's to plan a shopping expedition or just to dream.

6. Shopping without schlepping. Where I live, what you buy, you carry. Filling a car trunk is definitely more fun.

7. Going to sleep early if I want. (And  getting up late if I want).

8. Separate corners--if we want. There's nothing better for a city family than having a little room to spread out for a few days.

9. Okay, I'm on vacation. 8 is enough.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

What I Did On My Summer Vacation

This title just makes me chuckle. After all, few of us grown ups have summer vacations we report back on come September. And while, yes, I currently am on vacation, it is not the kind of vacation many of my friends take, complete with an auto-reply message talking about limited access to email. My vacation is a time for me to breathe, to plan my own time a little more, and to worry about what the return to work or looking for work will hold. Yes, I read emails. Yes, I look at job postings. When we are working, who among us has the time or brain space to be thinking about next steps? But on vacation, a clearer head can very, VERY easily become cluttered with all those thoughts.

Lots of people have told me just to enjoy vacation, to leave job issues for when vacation is over. They mean well, I know they do. But for me, the processing time that vacation allows me helps me to see things differently, much as a student can see the world a bit differently in the summer than he or she does during a busy school year. The "What I Did On My Summer Vacation" report at the start of the school year is not just a reporting of events. It's about changes that happened while away from school. New perspectives from new adventures.

My summer vacation, both these few days and the others I've enjoyed along the way, will likely produce lots of stories. And the fact that I kept one eye on job stuff won't take away from that. It will simply mean that I have been using my new-found perspective in a variety of ways, so that when I "return" from vacation, I will be ready for September. Whatever my September brings.

Monday, August 5, 2013

On Your Left

Today, we traveled to the neck of the woods where I grew up. We know the trip so well at this point, we have our stopping places and our times and distances, and our inside jokes about all the sites we pass along the way. Today, however, through a series of not so relevant circumstances, we ended up on a completely different route, and consequently, we gave ourselves over to the wisdom of the GPS. If "Miss GPS" said "turn," we turned. If she said "take an alternate route," we did that too. And, thanks to "Miss GPS" and her instructions, we found ourselves in a part of my hometown that my kids had never seen before, and that I have had little contact with since my childhood (and not much even then). Before I knew it, both out of nostalgia and out of a desire to make light of the fact that our journey was suddenly taking forever, I was playing tour guide, explaining, "On your right is the place where we had my prom. It was kind of a disaster," and "On your left is the hospital that benefits from the thrift shop where we take the stuff we excavate from my childhood room every time we visit." Suddenly, what was a roundabout path in a longer than normal trip became a walk down memory lane, and a chance to share a bit of my history with my family. We still ended up where we needed to be, and my kids got a little better sense of how I grew up.

It is unlikely that we will take that route again. In lives as wall to wall as ours, there's not a lot of time for paths that take longer. So, all in all, I'm kind of glad we put ourselves in the hands of "Miss GPS" today. It appears that sometimes, a GPS (kind of like life) takes you not quite where it should, but exactly where you need to go.

Sunday, August 4, 2013


Though soap operas have rarely had reruns, I remember a number of times in my childhood when I watched episodes I had recorded more than once, looking for things I hadn't seen before. And I'm sure I watched certain episodes of I Love Lucy and The Brady Bunch way more than once. Would that life could have reruns--on demand, of course, only if there were things we really wanted to see or do again. Oddly, today was about as close to that as a person could get. We, as a family, revisited many of the same things I did with just my son on our trip out of town a few weeks ago--activities, meals, you name it.

You would think that this could have been very boring, but, like a good rerun, revisiting the places of our previous adventures has been unbelievably satisfying and enjoyable. In life, we always seem to be searching for the next big, new, original thing, but sometimes, the reruns can be just as good as the new stuff, often even better. I mean, who hasn't laughed crazy hard at a rerun of Green Acres or been scared when seeing the witch in the Wizard of Oz for the forty-seventh time? Sometimes, the good things just bear repeating.

So, while I wouldn't advocate making each day the same as the one before, I am living proof, both from my childhood and now, that allowing reruns into your life can be a wonderful way to enjoy some really great times more than once. And what better way to spend some time than to let a great rerun make you laugh?

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Endings and Beginnings

Today was the last performance of my kids' camp shows, so once again, their biggest summer activity is over. It's not that the summer itself is over (thank goodness!), but another milestone, filled with all the angst and excitement of theater (they don't call it drama for nothing!), has passed, leading us into the next part of our summer.

Endings are hard, particularly those that come out of things as intense as theater productions. But while I sometimes question the fact that we are jumping right into our next thing with barely enough time to ponder this ending, I am reminded that, without endings, there can really be no beginnings. From a practical standpoint, there's just not enough time to explore new things when you're still engrossed in the old. And from an emotional standpoint, how can your mind or heart even consider embracing something new if you are still caught up in the old?

When my kids were small, I'd say to their friends at the end of a playdate, "if you don't leave, you can't come back." It's not easy to accept an ending, but it's virtually impossible to try, much less enjoy, something new when you can't let the old come to an close. That has certainly been true in my work, particularly over these last few years, and I imagine it will be like that for all of us as we say "The End" to this summer of shows. It might be an end, but at the same time, as with all endings, it is most definitely a beginning.

Friday, August 2, 2013

What's It Worth To You?

When I was actively looking for work, I often thought that perhaps I should apply for things like cashier in a store I liked. After all, I'd be interacting with people, which I'd like, AND I'd get a store discount. Win, win, right?

Problem was, when I did the math, I'd be paying more for the babysitting I'd need than what I 'd bring home from doing the work (and I'd have nothing left over even to use the discount!). So, in the end, it just wasn't worth it to me.

I find that almost every day presents a choice that makes me consider what something is worth to me, not just monetarily, as with the above example, but in so many other ways. Is something worth my time? Does the time give me experience or connections or a new skill? Then maybe it is worth it to me. Is something worth trying to accomplish, even if it's scary or hard? Does it get me something else, whether a concrete other thing, or simply the satisfaction of the accomplishment? If so, then maybe it is worth getting past the scary and the hard.

What I have discovered is that what something is worth to me can change from day to day. What might seem totally worth it today might be completely not a month from now. The hard part is having the vision and perspective now to anticipate the potential change in "worth it" status, or having the patience to delay the "worth it or not" decision in order to look at all the angles. It's not always possible to have either of these--so many of our decisions just happen too fast. But if it's one job to the next or one set of summer plans to the next, the time is there--it's just our responsibility to use that time to weigh all the pieces that make up "worth."

That is, if we can pin down their weights. And do the deciding. And having the luxury of being allowed to decide? That's worth more than anything.

Can Your Friends Do This? Can Your Friends Do That?

Okay, this is a lyric pulled straight from Aladdin, in which my daughter performed tonight. In the show, the lyric is accompanied by cute little dance moves and a big musical number. For me, it was not just great entertainment. It was a reminder of what we, and the people around us, can accomplish, when the need or the inspiration arises, and we rise to the occasion.

On a day to day basis, we tend to do what is within our comfort zone. We go to jobs we know how to do, we travel routes that are the same from day to day. But some of our best experiences come when we step beyond that comfort zone, either out of necessity (a job change, a need to get somewhere we've never been before) or out of sheer inspiration. For me, it was something as simple as realizing I could drive a long stretch on roads I'd never traveled because, well, I had to. For a group of my friends, it is making a web series from the ground up. Mine is rather mundane, theirs a whole lot more exciting, but either way, it is taking that leap into the relative unknown.

I know what my "leap" did for me--it gave me just that little burst of confidence that I can stretch my limits more. I imagine their leap will do even bigger things, and I am looking forward to seeing the results of their leap, both in them and on the screen.

So, you ask, can your friends do this? When we, and they, choose to reach beyond our comfort zones, the answer is pretty clear. Absolutely.