Sunday Smorgasbord

I have been accused of being a slacker–three weeks off between jobs and I haven’t posted anything since October 29th. The trouble is I need to be inspired, annoyed, or bored to really come up with anything interesting to write. I have been really inspired by my new job, but I don’t really feel like waxing rhapsodic about that here. At any rate, to satisfy the appetite of those hungry for more, I will lay a few things out on the table for you all to nibble on.

My New Job
Number Two on my 40 by 40 list. I really love my new job. I know that most new jobs have a honeymoon period where things seem rosy, but I have been down that path before and feel confident that I have found a fabulous fit for my skills and interests. I am working as a leisure travel consultant and I couldn’t be happier. It is a great mix of being social, talking about travel, and organization. It is like the job was created for me. Not only that, but my new bosses actually appreciate my point of view and listen to me. What a weird feeling that is.

My Old Job
Number One on my 40 by 40 list. I am really glad to be done with my government career. With the exception of some great co-workers and friends at the office, my old work life–the one I spent $50,000 training for at Cornell–really sucked. I am still fascinated by urban planning but trying to do that kind of work for the federal government was worse than awful. And with the feds huge presence here in DC, it is impossible not to be impacted by their bad urban planning decisions even if you work at the local level or the private sector.

DC in the Fall
Everything looks better to me in the Fall. Crisp weather makes me remember the things I love about DC. Just walking down the leaf-strewn, old brick sidewalks under a clear blue sky is enough to “give me a groove” as the other Mr. MyPorch might say. Travel + Leisure just noted in their city survey, that DC ranked number 1 in Architecture (must be the old stuff, because the new stuff is as boring and as pedestrian as you can imagine), number 1 in Museums and Galleries (I can’t argue with that, the pickings are wonderful and free), and number 1 in having a “Worldly” population (I guess that is true, there are people from all over the world, but it still seems a little too provincial). During the hot, disgustingly steamy summer, none of these things matters. The only thing that matters is air conditioning. DC is the furthest south I will ever live.

Book Roundup
I have been reading a fair amount lately as you can see from the list at left. Ann Patchett’s new title Run did not disappoint. It might be my favorite of hers. The Ward Just was a little boring to me. I usually really like his stuff but this one I found tedious in places. Although it was written in the early 1980s, its descriptions of Vietnam-era Washington certainly have some resonance today. I’ve just started Emile Zola’s Lourdes which is on my Reading by the Decade challenge list. So far I quite like it. I am struggling to get through Philip Roth’s American Pastoral which is also on that list. The only other Roth I have read is The Plot Against America and I loved it. With AP, I don’t really care about any of the characters. I have a hard time identifying with anyone who, in old age, still idolizes someone from high school. Then again I never idolized anyone from high school.

My Book Roundup
While I was between jobs I did make some decent progress on my own novel. I think it may actually be worth reading at some point.

The Millenial Generation is Scary
Tonight on 60 Minutes they did a piece on the Millenial Generation. I guess it is roughly those kids leaving college today. What a bunch of overly-coddled, entitlement-assuming, wimpy bastards they are. Can you imagine having your parents involved in your job searches and your job performance reviews like they were taking part in middle school parent/teacher conferences? Why aren’t these 20-somethings embarrassed by this? One of these Millenial wimps who is making money describing the shortcomings of his generation said that it was because they watched their families struggle making ends meet, giving their all to their companies, and still getting laid off. Boo f’in Hoo. Like they are the first generation to have to watch their parents struggle to make ends meet. No, the real difference, if there is any, is that they had to watch their parents struggle to pay for a lifestyle that they could not afford. They watched their parent’s struggle to cope with crushing debt caused by their inability to say no to their precious children.

The point of the 60 Minutes piece was that in the future labor market, as Boomers retire, these Millenial adult infants will be all that employers have to choose from. One them even said that if he is doing well at work, he would appreciate a letter to that effect sent to their parents. Can you believe that?! Could the Fortune 500 companies of the world please unite today (like climate change, we don’t have a moment to lose) to not allow that kind of molly-coddling to go any further. You want a six figure salary? Then you better cut the damn cord and stand on your own two feet.

I guess I found something to be outraged about after all. I probably won’t sleep well now…

By the Decade: Reading 12 decades in 12 months

Blogger 3M has issued a challenge to the book-reading blogosphere to read books from as many consecutive decades as possible by the end of the year. She is going to do 15 books/15 decades between January 1, 2007 and December 31, 2007. You can check out her By the Decade Reading Challenge and sign up by June 30, 2007 if you want to participate officially.

Even if you don’t, you might want to think about going beyond the bestseller list and choosing some things from other decades.

I have decided to do 12 books from 12 consecutive decades, working back from our present 2000s (otherwise named by my partner as the “ought naughts” as in “these Bush years ought naught to have happened”) to the 1890s.

So, here is my list (bold titles have been finished):

1890s: Lourdes by Emile Zola
1900s: The Golden Bowl by Henry James
1910s: The Rainbow by D.H. Lawrence – 5/23/07
1920s: Point Counter Point by Aldous Huxley – 7/16/07
1930s: The Big Money by John Dos Passos (3rd in his USA trilogy) – 5/30/07
1940s: Dirty Snow by Georges Simenon – 5/20/07
1950s: Mountolive by Lawrence Durrell (3rd in his Alexandria Quartet) – 2/27/07
1960s: The Mandelbaum Gate by Muriel Spark – 7/1/07
1970s: A Word Child by Iris Murdoch – 6/4/07
1980s: In the City of Fear by Ward Just – 11/10/07
1990s: American Pastoral by Philip Roth
2000s: I Am Charlotte Simmons by Tom Wolfe – 4/20/07

Somerset Maugham and my Addiction to Spreadsheets

Back in 1994, after getting through about 30 pages of W. Somerset Maugham’s novel Cakes and Ale, I realized that I had read it before. As a result, I began keeping a log of all of the books that I finished. I had a blank journal where I kept track of the title, author, and the date I finished each book. I loved watching the pages fill up and comparing what I was reading at the moment to what I finished a year earlier. Looking back at the titles on the list conjured up memories about where I was and what my life was like when I read a particular book. I finished Wally Lamb’s She’s Come Undone on a gorgeous sunny September afternoon in 1997 while lying on the grass in the Place des Vosges in Paris. Ann Patchett’s Bel Canto was finished on a frigid January day in Minneapolis while I was on winter break from graduate school. I finished Love in the Time of Cholera while I was lying in a hammock overlooking the Pacific on the island of Kaua’i. These are welcome associations I doubt I would make if it weren’t for the list.

As much as I love this handwritten log, over a decade of entries made it hard to gather information from the list quickly. I had a devil of a time trying to figure out which of Anita Brookner’s many novels I had already read. So I decided to enter all of the data into a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet. And so the mania began. Once the information was entered into a spreadsheet I could instantly sort the list to figure out which of my favorite author’s still have books out there that I haven’t read yet. Sadly, I have already read all of Maugham, Forster, and the late Carol Shields and almost finished Iris Murdoch’s prolific output. Happily, I have a whole lot of Trollope to go and Ward Just, Anita Brookner, Ann Patchett are still alive and writing.

I still keep the handwritten log–there is nothing I like more than adding a title–but now I also add each book to the spreadsheet. In fact, I actually get pleasure from the act of adding data to the spreadsheet. It is busy work that I find deeply satisfying.

Since I started the book spreadsheet I have also created one for every concert and opera that I have been to, one that lists every work of music contained in my 350+ classical CD collection, one that organizes music festivals I want to go to, and even one that indexes all of my favorite recipes by category and tells me which cookbook contains the recipe. Perhaps my magnum opus, is the spreadsheet I created when I was trying to decide which city to move to once I finished my planing degree at Cornell. That spreadsheet has 13 cities and about 22 categories of ratings. Everything from weather, to average airfares to Europe, to the quality of each city’s symphony. Each category was weighted by priority and totalled to give me a city ranking. It was a joy to behold, helped me make my relocation decision, and has proven accurate five years later.

This weekend I plan to create a spreadsheet of all the places I have travelled to.

It’ll be a hoot. You should give it a try.