Tag Archives: neuroses for the draw

On the Hook

A not-uncommon circumstance highlighting one of the less-graceful aspects of my freelance game:


I had an interview scheduled for 2, and that always derails me. Telephone anxiety in general, plus the professional obligation to ask good questions, to mine from this real person all of the info I’ll need to write what needs to be written.


Too specific a prompt and you may only get a “yes” or “no.” Too general and you won’t get any info at all—or worse, still, you’ll be met with confused silence before your subject responds, “Wait…what was the question?”


It doesn’t really break down that cleanly, but there’s an art to an interview, and it doesn’t come naturally to me. It’s like a duet where your part is responsible for conjuring the other part on the spot. And you don’t know what instrument they’re playing until they answer the phone.


(Don’t think about that simile too much, please.)


I have trouble concentrating sometimes. In this case, the interviewee is 3,000 miles away, his industry conceptually just as distant from mine. If he wants to talk, that’s brilliant, but if he needs me to drag it out of him, well…that’s harder. I can stockpile six good questions, maybe, and if each of them only elicits a five-word answer, then I’m sunk.


For a 750-word assignment a few weeks ago, encompassing a spectrum of circumstances, I managed only a 20-minute interview. She was pressed for time, and I hung up the phone feeling I hadn’t properly honed my approach. It was an ultimate success, though the writing process was filled with self-doubt, assuming I’d failed to get adequate info.


On the other hand, I interviewed a sports broadcaster the other day for a quick little 300-word profile, and I kept having to make myself move on, lest we bog further in the career of Vin Scully or the charged atmosphere of a stadium or the nuances of narrating a bowling tournament. After quite a few years of fighting for questions to fly even a little bit, it’s a happy glide on thermals when they come easily.


That doesn’t happen often, though. Over the years, I’ve gotten much better at winging it, sometimes, as needed, and that helps with confidence. But every new interview is a potential soul-scarring lurch of an awkward, unproductive conversation. When it goes really bad, every instinct tries to steer you out of it ASAP, but being in it is the whole point. And once you bail, it’s that much harder to get it back.


Anyway. I called, left a voicemail, and was greeted with a text reply. “Can’t talk now. I’ll call you back later.” Could be 10 minutes, I figured. I kept my voice recorder rolling.


It’s been four hours. I can’t concentrate on the topic of the call, but I’m afraid to let myself get too focused on anything else. I’m still sitting here toying with potential questions trying to maintain at least some low-grade focus on the topic in case the phone rings and I have to do my little intro dance and then ask the right questions that get him to say stuff.


(My little intro dance often involves run-on sentences.)


There’s a certain relief when you realize it won’t happen today, but I well know that just means it’s going to have to happen some other time in the future. If I could do it without the chat, I would. But being in it is the whole point.


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The Week of Living Productively

Clear tape organization method for my hockey bag. Looks silly, but will save much digging and frustrating on Saturday.

Clear tape organization method for my hockey bag. Looks silly, but will save much digging and frustration on Saturday. (President Bartlet approves.)

There is a vast gulf between identifying what I need to do and actually doing it. It’s a frustrating, painful, almost debilitating hangup—it  bothers me to think about the things I need to do, whether it’s the dirty dishes in the sink or the interview that’s past deadline or the haircut I so, so desperately need to schedule. And yet? This bother does not spur me to action. I build my life around tolerating the consequences of not doing.

Like if you were actually spurring a horse forward, and the horse is just standing there all, “Ow ow ow ow ow ow stop it why are you doing that?”

That being said, in the last week or so I’ve managed to traverse that gulf, move my horsey self forward, and employ whatever other metaphors necessary to accomplish some long-fallowing tasks, leading to much satisfaction and rejoicing:

  • Went to the doctor last Thursday for a checkup—something I certainly could’ve put off until…who knows, my eyes popped out or something. It’d been so long since I’d been that I showed up only to discover that the office had moved—one building over, thank goodness—and that my old records hadn’t been transferred over to their new system. It was a productivity miracle just to set an appointment and get my ass to the doctor in the first place, but the blood work they ordered required a whole separate appointment with the lab. Which I set yesterday and accomplished this morning.
  • I can’t take a lot of credit for getting my transmission fixed, since it was an immediate necessity further assisted by Ma getting me the loan through her credit union. But I still consider it productive that today I applied the non-transmission part of that loan to pay off my car in its entirety. (And thus are my car payments terminated…and replaced with transmission payments. Whatever, it’s cheaper.)
  • Over the last few weeks, my phone has refused, more and more, to recognize the charger—to the point that it required delicate cord-yoga positions to get the little red “charging” light to come on. (And even then, it had to be closely monitored.) Rather than let it deteriorate to the point of my walking around with no phone for weeks and weeks until I got used to not having a phone and lost all motivation to fix it, I took it to the Sprint store (not a short drive, let me say), and, miracle of miracles, they ordered a replacement at no charge–so to speak. I’m now enjoying personalizing my new, fully charged phone.
  • I got surprise-assigned a short but involved department for the January issue, which required coordinating between me, our art director, a photographer, and a local organization that needed to give us all a tour and then set up a photo shoot. Made that happen on Tuesday. (And then my boss said nice things about my writing in an all-staff meeting.)
  • In anticipation of this weekend’s hockey tournament, I packed the two required bags a couple days early (thus saving myself from last-minute laziness, oversight, panic and general disorganization): the overnight bag, with comfy street clothes for three days/two nights of rinktime and partytime (with contingencies for slightly fancier party time—which almost never happens); and the hockey bag, for which I emptied, sorted through and organized both pouches with jerseys and hockey socks, under-gear clothes, shower stuff, clear tape, stick tape, bandanas and whatnot. And taped my stick. And put everything in the car.And I wrote a blog. It’s good to get things done.

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Finding the Goalposts

“They keep moving the goalposts on you, don’t they? Get A’s, good college, Latin honors. Get into the London School of Economics. Get a good teaching job. Ivy League school, tenure. Now you gotta publish, now you gotta go to Stockholm.” –Stanley, to the President, The West Wing: “Night Five”

McD and I were talking today about…well, adulthood, basically. How we seem to be high-functioning adults—we’ve checked things off the list for adulthood: job, transportation, shelter, food preparation, social interaction, literacy, bill-paying, savings account, doctors appointments, etc. etc. etc.—and then boom, something comes up, and it turns out we don’t know how to use the post office.

Just makes you feel like you’re always trying to catch up instead of actually achieving anything.

I’m pretty intensely competitive (despite my best efforts), and grownup life is cruelly ambivalent about rules. I always played sports where, the moment I signed up, the rules were already well established. School, too. There are things you need to do to “win,” some of which might come easy and some you might need to work on, but you play the game, and then you win the game, and then another game comes along and you win that, too.  (I was pretty good at school and sports, heh.)

This is just the stuff of your standard existential crises, I know, and a continuation of my previous post. (How many careers/entrepreneurial projects/identities will make me a real grownup?) But as McD and I were running errands, feeding ourselves, caffeinating ourselves and pondering the ins and outs of preprinted labels on Priority Mail envelopes (not to mention being excellent employees pushing a two-hour lunch break), I expressed my frustration at those things that make me question my adequacy as an adult.

“I dunno,” said McD. “I think you and I…I think we’re doing OK.”

Here’s hoping. I guess I could use a good victory. I guess everybody could. Maybe I need to keep score better.

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A Prayer for the Unprincipled


What am I aiming for here?

What’s a good balance between ambition and contentment? Self-service and social outreach?

Is balance best? Or full-throated zeal?

Is it better to be a doctor or a hippie? Do I need more academic achievements? Professional accolades? Should I have seen more sunrises? Should I have spent more time communing with nature? In classrooms? Pressing superiors for money? Fighting for more opportunities? Glad-handing? Networking? Meditating? Helping people? Helping myself?

Should I focus on getting better at writing? Hockey? Soccer? Should I be healthier? Should I read more books? Should I try to be the best at the things with which I’m already so familiar? Or should I table my established talents and focus on doing new things with all the inefficiency of the inexperienced? Is it good to do what you’re good at? Or cowardly?

Is it a source of pride to be at the same company for a long time, or does that signal a lack of exploration? Is this commitment or stagnation? Do I need to achieve more or enjoy more? Should I enjoy achieving? Should I try to achieve enjoyment?

Do I need to find ways to be content with stillness? Or is it admirable drive that pushes me in quiet moments?

Are discomfort, fear and misery things to be pushed through? Or steered around? Is it healthy self-awareness to allow myself a breather? Give myself a break? Let myself off the hook? Or am I only allowing my flaws to flourish?

How much self-flagellation before I’m permitted to move on from today’s mistakes? Yesterday’s?

If we achieve nothing, how many points do we get for trying? Do the points matter?

Should I ignore the critics, the naysayers, the haters? Or should I at least consider their points for validity and guidance?

If I long for people, have I failed at independence? If I’m self-sufficient, am I denying company? If I’m supposed to be self-guided, do I ignore other people’s praise? Their desires? Their love?

Do I idolize the adventurer? The entrepreneur? The good neighbor? The fearless change-agent? The patient mother? The comedian? The drug-addled genius? Do I idolize the person who idolizes no one?

Should I dance with abandon or practice admirable self-restraint? Should I live for this moment or construct a future?

Do we revere the widely admired? Or the rebellious? Should reverence even be a factor? Does it matter who’s reverent and who’s being rebelled against?

Is adhering to your principles better than realizing you’re wrong?

What should I do right now? Tomorrow? Next week?

Should I embrace my nature or triumph over it?


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