WHY With The Asian Sound Effect? Every Single Freakin’ Time!

I was watching an SNL clip (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-SmUVySf85s – hysterical, BTW). In the clip, the director sometimes motivated Leslie Jones by saying things starting with “Laawdy!” like your stereotypical black church preacher back in Louisiana. The entire skit is funny, but those parts are particularly entertaining  simply due to Leslie Jones’s reactions as an actress in an Olive Garden commercial shoot.

Which then brought me to thinking, why, oh why, do producers always pipe in that Asian music when they are shooting something in ANY of the Asian countries? Or even just depicting something “Asian”, like a panda or a bowl of ramen? You know, that one particular song, which is Chinese, and not Japanese or Korean and Thai or from any one of the other Asian countries that make up basically 35% of the northern hemisphere of our earth.

You know the song I’m talking about.

Wait. Turning Japanese by The Vapors? No, that’s not the one I’m referring to, sillies, because that would be TOTALLY offensive. Using Turning Japanese during Asian movie and documentary scenes would be COMPLETELY unacceptable!! Because there are actual lyrics!! Haha!

No, I’m talking about the one where you hear a chime going: ding-ding-ding-ding-ding-ding-ding-ding! Which leads you to immediately imagine some woman coming out and bowing, that sound effect you hear every single damn time there is anything remotely Asian on the screen, only to be emphasized by this every once in a while:

A gong! Because that’s what Asians do all day. Just randomly soundtrack their lives with gong sounds.

WHY? WHY?!!? I don’t understand this, I really don’t. I mean I understood it about twenty years ago, and I said to myself, hey, each culture has its own stereotype here, that’s just the way it is!! But it has persisted, PERSISTED, to this day. Whenever I watch an episode on the Travel Channel where the host goes to an Asian country, I roll my eyes and say, “Wait for it.” And that sound effect invariably comes on. It’s like people not being able to resist adding the “HA-YAH!” to fake-karate moves they made as kids.

And it’s not just the Asians. How many times have you heard an Irish tune anytime something about Ireland comes on tv that makes this pop into your brain?

We are wee Irish! We love our potatoes, we do!

All the time. Am I right? Or am I right?

We are not soundbites, people! C’mon! Can’t you directors or producers or sound editors come up with anything else? Really?

I Am Not That Good With Children

Sorry. I have no knowledge to impart. You’re on your own.

I’m not saying that I suck with dealing with kids. It’s just…I don’t know exactly how to, so I tend to deal with them as if they’re tiny adults.

“How was your day at school?” I’ll ask.

“Oh, okay.”

“Well, my day at work was really hard. I had to get all these projects done against an impossible deadline and deal with a whole bunch of…uh, nincompoops, you know.”

Then they’ll blink up at me, signalling, yes, we deal with nincompoops all the time while at the same time work? Projects? Deadline? We understand not.

I’ll say stuff like, “Well, the answer to that question really involves some higher level physics that you’re not going to get to until sometime in high school or college and to be honest, I don’t even fully understand it myself.” Or when I was reading a storybook once, “Yeah, that rhyme really should have ended with whom not who, and that’s a pet peeve of mine, but I guess the editor didn’t really care about that since this is a book for children, hey, let’s forget that that’s when we retain stuff the most!”

I suppose my approach to interacting with children stems from my childhood. My mother was never one for the soft and cuddly, the baby talk. She always spoke to my sister and I as if we were full-fledged adults; most of my bedtime “stories” at one time were excerpts from The Communist Manifesto because she was studying it and didn’t see anything wrong with killing two birds with one stone: reviewing the text while lulling her daughter to sleep.

I remember I asked her once during those readings, “What is socialism? Is it like Christianity?”

“It is not a religion. It is a political belief. About people benefiting fully from what they give to the government,” my mother answered.

“Are you a socialist?”

She pondered this seriously, forehead furrowed, the book laying open on her lap, a dim light against her face. “I believe all people have rights.”

“And that’s what socialism means?” I remember asking her.

“It is about how society benefits. The root word of socialism in English is society, that is why society and socialism sound so similar.” I didn’t understand this, not at all, but I was always nodding off to sleep around this time, during my questions about what the differences were between religion and politics, so I never fully grasped what she was talking about. But believe you me, when it came to school and when I was in a class in which we discussed Karl Marx, I was almost always able to answer any questions about The Communist Manifesto.

Of course, most of my retention of the book has dribbled out of my brain since then, but I did realize at a very young age that there was a difference between religious and political ideology, although it took me some time to also understand that there was often a connection between the two.

Do I believe that a treatise such as The Communist Manifesto is what you should read out loud to your children when they are tucked snugly into bed? Hell, no! However, I do appreciate that my mother didn’t dumb anything down to me. There are pros and cons of this approach.

The pros are that you become literate at a very early age. And engaged in topics such as philosophy, politics, enterprise, religion, and social constructs and relationships. You tend to understand abstract concepts at a more advanced pace than your classmates.

The cons are that you can never go back, you can never recede back into a wide-eyed innocent, where you are oblivious to what people do in the names of the above beliefs, which sometimes results in war, strife, and death. You can’t simply resort to playing with your My Little Pony toys and envision the world as a place filled only with rainbows, glitter, and birthday cake.

I’m not sure what type of parent I will turn out to be, if I ever become one, but I’ve been trying to be less adult with my god daughter, and I think I’ve been doing an okay job so far. Mainly because she manages to outwit me with her little-girl guile (“But Auntie Kiki, I love you! Read me the story one more time!”) which I have built no immunity against, given the fact that I’ve never really interacted with kids before and was not much one of myself when I actually was one.

If I ever end up pregnant, I think I will go down on my knees and pray that I will be able to figure out a way to communicate with my child so I that don’t scare him or her to death about the complexities of the lives ahead of them. And I will also ask the baby beforehand to forgive the fumbling and stumbling they will ultimately have to endure in my interactions with them.

About Obama/TrumpCare? All I Care About Is That I HAVE Healthcare.

Hey! You don’t have coverage for that. So pay $1,000,000 to me for this visit.

One of the startups I worked in was in the healthcare industry. This also enabled me to be involved in setting up HR departments in the next company. Therefore, I actually know something about healthcare. But, at this point, it’s at a very minimal level; I always refer to my friends who are still in the field with any questions I have.

I would just like to say that I don’t know all the intricacies of ObamaCare or the new TrumpCare bill. I have neither the time nor the energy to read through the passages of the two, compare them, and come to a decision about which one I prefer. Neither do I have any impact in terms of voting power to steer this country’s approach to universal healthcare in one direction or another.

All I know is that before ObamaCare, as someone who was self-employed, my ex and I paid, get this, $600 a month for basic healthcare from Aetna. This was without ANY kids. $600. That’s a lot. When I was going through my divorce and my ex got his own coverage, my premium decreased to about $500. Apparently, since I was a woman in my childbearing years, the cost to cover me was still high, even though I couldn’t get any pregnancy-related visits covered until I “notified” Aetna ten months in advance that I wanted to extend my plan to cover pre-natal and related OBGYN services.

Ten months. I laughingly understood why Aetna earmarked the pre-notification period at ten months, but it still worried me. Greatly. Because that meant that I could go through an entire pregnancy with absolutely no care for my baby if I didn’t have independent financial resources to span the gap in expenses.

When ObamaCare kicked in, my premium dropped to $300. An extra $200 a month in the pocket may not seem a lot to many people, but it was to me, because back then, I didn’t have health issues and I was casting around for what I would do next in my career, so I had little income coming in. That reduction was a godsend. And I didn’t check about the pre-natal clauses; I was divorced and the last thing I wanted to think about was getting pregnant.

The premium, however, steadily increased through the next one and two years until I was finally facing a monthly premium of about $400. And it was basic coverage, it really was. My boyfriend, John, finally suggested that I go on his plan as a domestic partner since we had been living together long enough by that time that it made me eligible to do so. I was a little resistant at first since I’m pretty independent by nature, but I also needed better medical coverage and it would be cheaper, so I agreed. It was the smart choice.

I didn’t have employees when my ex and I ran our own business, we just had subcontractors, but if we did, I would like to think that we would have offered them some and kicked in a little help if we could have afforded it. See, small business owners have to contemplate the well-being of their employees as they struggle with evaluating different premium offerings because they have to pool their risk with others in similar situations.

Their employees basically get lumped in with a group of other small business employees, but ultimately the risk, in terms of actuarial tables and medical research, of directing employee medical costs to the insurance industry is still higher in comparison to the workforce of a national conglomerate. Therefore, small business owners usually shoulder higher premium costs than their bigwig counterparts in the corporate world.

And, most importantly, they (if they are good owners and bosses), have to then, even given tax credits and incentives, face how much they can help in terms of employer contributions, if any. It’s tough and expensive. But, I believe, necessary if we truly care about those who work for and around us.

On a personal level, these are my main wishlist items when it comes to healthcare:

  1. Decent coverage.
  2. Acceptable premiums, NOT $600 a month for a husband and wife.
  3. No limitations on pre-existing conditions, because, c’mon, we all have pre-existing conditions, especially in the new climate where people don’t stay with one company and therefore with one insurer for 25 years.
  4. Wide coverage on prescriptions. Because, believe me, when you don’t have insurance, even medication to treat something simple like strep throat can cost you $50; if you need ongoing meds, forget it, that expense can be astronomical.

I don’t know much about ObamaCare and TrumpCare. But what I do know is that it’s a travesty that in this great nation, there are people, normal people who actually work every day and don’t just sit around on their asses, aren’t given access to healthcare. From my own personal experience, healthcare in the country is so insanely expensive that to live one day to the next fearing for a potentially huge medical bill if you or a loved one should need some care…well, it’s scary.

I personally just want coverage. I’m lucky that I am with someone who can put me on his. Because if I didn’t, I would be paying, solely on my own with zero employer (me) contribution, about $400 a month just to cover my ass when going in for routine physician’s visits. And that shouldn’t be how it is in America, when other countries in the world (yes, I acknowledge, with heavy taxation), receive universal and comprehensive health coverage, without question, at a much lower price when we tout ourselves as the leader of the world in medical research and care.

It’s difficult to reconcile the two and I have zero insight on how to do so. In this respect, all I have to offer is that as someone who has been part of the disenfranchised, I am perfectly willing to pay more taxes to help others who now don’t have any healthcare coverage to gain access to some. Whether or not they choose to do so is not up to me. How extensive the plans may be, per business, is not up to me. And whether or not this country moves forward with ObamaCare or TrumpCare is not up to me. But I think everyone in the States should be able to have access to medical insurance.

Be Careful of Those White Slavers and Child Prostitution Rings!!

From the movie, Taken: according to my mother, I would have been kidnapped and put on display like this if I wasn’t careful while making my way home after playing with my friends.

I was an ex-patriate and grew up in a foreign country. When I was a child, one of the warnings my mother always liked to say to me before I headed out to play with my friends or romp around on my own was, “Be careful of those white slavers and child prostitution rings!!”.

First, I didn’t even know what a white slaver was. Second, I had no idea what a child prostitution ring would even look like (would it be a group of people? One person? WTF?). The only other advice my mother gave was, “They like to kidnap young girls and take to them to European and Asian countries and make them work as prostitutes! They will smuggle you there in a boat and you would have to service men! Would you like that?!!?” Then, of course, I envisioned being surrounded by men with a net which they would throw over me, then stuff me in a burlap sack and throw me onto a rowboat after tying up my wrists and ankles with ropes.

Ahhhh!!! White slaver! Child prostitution ring! RUN!!

Keep in mind that I was only about ten when my mother started in on this. I had a vague idea of sex at that time, explained to me by mother as the typical birds-and-the-bees talk: “When a man and woman really love each other and are together physically, sometimes the man gets really excited and then they have babies!” Um, okay. That told me nothing. But, thanks anyway. I didn’t even know what she was talking about, about “servicing men”. But it did scare the crap out of me.

The cautions parents toss to their kids in the States nowadays (“Stay with your friends!” or “Make sure to check in before you come home!” or “Come home in time for dinner, young lady, I mean it!”) pale in comparison to what I was told. Imagine if your daughter came home from elementary school one day and informed you that her friend told her that her parents had warned her about white slavers and child prostitution rings.

I think that would result in a frantic phone call to the said parents as well as possibly to the school board itself, and then there would be a very formal conference between the parents about what was “appropriate” and not in parental-child communications and then there would be another meeting with the kids  to tactfully explain what those terms mean and that, no, in the suburbs of America, one does not usually find white slavers or pimps for international child prostitution enterprises lurking in the bushes.

But I suppose I was in a different country and those were other times (although, unfortunately, it still exists now) and my mother was unusually paranoid due to gang activity in the global area where we were living. Given movies like Taken (and Taken 2 and Taken 3) and what I’ve learned since then, about the reality of child prostitution, it’s not an entirely unrealistic fear. But to impose that on a ten-year old? Really? And I don’t know why my mother used the term “white slavers” aside from the fact that she was probably thinking about those child trafficking rings in European countries (again, another reference to Taken), but it still confused me. First, because “slave” to me was different from “prostitute”, although they can be, in a historic view to give my mother the due she deserves, be the same thing.

However, when I was ten, to me, “slave” connoted something very distinct given my watered down understanding of slavery in America. Whenever I heard the word, pictures flashed through my mind of blacks working in cotton fields in the South, of serving their “masters” in sprawling mansions, of undergoing segregation and similar humiliations, and of upholding their triumphs and withstanding their hardships through protests and demonstrations to gain their civil rights.

“Prostitute” conjured another set of images altogether. Even though I didn’t really understand anything about sex, I imagined seedy, dark rooms with scantily clad women who sleepily gestured men towards a bed in a dark corner. That was about all I had; I wasn’t a very sophisticated ten-year old when my mother’s worries about all this about me started, all I had been told was that sometimes women gave sex for money and since I neither knew much about sex nor money, it had no impact on me.

But to this day, those words still come back to me from time to time, especially when I hear about the fears people have about their kids and child predators.

The best example of this is when I relayed this story to someone and they asked me, “What is a white slaver?”

“I still have no idea.” I replied. “Basically, the image I always had in my mind was someone like a pirate.”

“With an eye patch?”

“Yeah, my mother always mentioned about me being smuggled in a boat, so I guess that’s the image that stuck.”

“A pirate who kidnaps girls for prostitution? What era was this? It’s like Pirates of the Caribbean!”

“I know. What can I say? I grew up pretty fucked up.”

The sad fact of the matter is that pedophiles are usually nowadays found, hidden, masked in schools and churches and everyday neighborhoods. But I definitely think that it is easier to explain that to a child than what I had to undergo, which was to be warned on a regular basis to keep an eye out for those evil white slavers (pirates) and child prostitution rings.

I Am A Huge Clumsy Oaf

Yup. That’s me.

I danced for umpteen years. I gave it up because 1) I didn’t have the talent to take it to the next, professional level and 2) I was tired of the body image issues that came with it, which is ironic since I then picked up track and cross country, sports which also encouraged girls to stay skinny and svelte while the coach relayed statistics on how one could run faster with a pound less of fat, XYZ. So I guess I went from one body obsessed field to another.

I was a pretty good (okay) dancer. And runner. The disciplines required grace, focus, and body control. But the odd thing is that once you removed me from those arenas, I collapsed into a huge clumsy oaf.

I still am. In the every day life, I am the person who accidentally drops things into the nooks and crannies of the sofa. Or sweeps wine glasses off tabletops and says, with a chagrined smile, “Oops!” as I watch them shatter against the floor. If I’m carrying groceries, Murphy’s Law will dictate that I will be the one carrying the bag that rips, spilling stuff everywhere while I stand there confused and then try to help, only to make things worse as I kick onions and potatoes throughout my living room.

Remote controls slip from my grasp, twinkly Christmas lights get inexplicably tangled around my fingers, credit cards fall from my hands as I’m trying to swipe them, and if there is a pavement stone that is not entirely level on the sidewalk, my toes will stub against it and if someone is not there to catch me, I will end up sprawled on the ground. Ungracefully. Awkwardly spread out, arms and legs askew as I try to recover myself with some amount of dignity. Which I never can. Who can?  I will then smile and raise a hand to the people around me, signaling, I’m okay! Really! as they gape and try not to laugh. Thanks.

I trip over the shoes I leave lying out on the floor of my house and do a little Kiki-dance while attempting to regain my balance, I bump into every single door frame and pointy corner or edge of a door, table, island, or chair, resulting in bruises along my hips and arms. I wake up some mornings and look in the mirror and gripe, “No, not another bruise!”. Since I fall against things all the time, I no longer remember when I do; I only discover that I have when I spot a black and blue mark on my body. And oh, of course, I bruise like a peach. Someone could poke my arm with a finger and the next day there would be a bruise there. I can even tell when I will bruise, I say it out loud, “Oh, there’s going to be a bruise there tomorrow!”

I actually had to tell my friends when I was married that if anything ever happened to me, that my ex wasn’t physically abusing me. “All those marks on my body is because I’m totally clumsy,” I told them, “He is NOT abusive, I’m just a complete freak when it comes to navigating around my own house.” I had to safeguard my ex against potential allegations of abuse, that is how clumsy I was. And am.

I have to literally and I mean that I do this LITERALLY, say to myself, “Do not drop this glass. Do NOT drop this glass.” as I take it to the coffee table. Or “Stay away from that, do not touch ANYTHING,” when I’m in a store with fragile offerings, such as historic teapots or dainty glass and ceramic figurines, because I am the camouflaged bull in a china shop, I am that kind of person who would stumble over one thing so knock something else over, thus starting an entire chain of events that would entirely wreck all the delicate, beautiful displays in a store.

Hey! This is my life!!

It is not fun, to be a clumsy oaf. Especially when I’m not huge physically. You would look at me and think, “Oh, small and cute!” and not know that lurking inside is a lumbering hulk who could destroy your home with a single sweep of one tiny finger against the priceless heirloom you inherited from your grandparents.

I have dropped so many glass goblets, pitchers, containers, etc. that I have perfected a method to clean up all those itsy-bitsy shards that you may step on. This is what you do. First, vacuum. Obviously. Next, take a wet paper towel and wipe and then throw it away so none of the glass bits shower down onto the floor. Then, take a flashlight, and shine it across the floor to pick up any flares reflecting from the remaining pieces on the ground. Then, finally, vacuum and wipe again. Then, pray.

See? I have had to craft a cleanup routine to protect me against myself! How crazy is that? But on the behalf of all the clumsy oafs out there, people like me, I have only this defense: we can’t help ourselves. That’s just how we’re built. My mother told me when I was younger, “You’ll grow out of it.” But some of us never do. Sorry!

The Flag Desecration Amendment

Where do we settle on this?

As it should appear in my posts, I’m not a political left or right wing enthusiast. I settle right down in the middle, mainly because I am an extreme on either side of the aisle when it comes to a certain topic, not because I’m a moderate. I’m liberal when it comes to certain things, and a conservative when it comes to others. I don’t dawdle in the in-between netherworld.

Flag burning has always been a bone of contention between the parties. I believe, without any doubt, in the first amendment, in the freedom of speech, because without it, where we would be, as Americans?

However, the burning of the American flag…I support those who do it and say that they are exercising their right to the first amendment, but it always hurts my heart whenever I see the American flag unfurling in a midst of flames. And why? Because it’s a symbol, an emblem of what we, as Americans, have always fought for. I don’t believe that we should imprison anyone who burns our nation’s flag, because that is their right, but it still pains me.

It’s similar to burning a sacrosanct cross from a church or books from a library…do we need to resort to such demonstrations of destruction?

To me, the American flag is a symbol of freedom, of peace, however naive that is. That is what it should stand for. It should encompass the best of all of us, even though we know otherwise, since we know that America as it stands incorporates corruption in all circles, but still, we as a people, need to stand and believe in something pure, something strong, something. So although my younger self would have never believed it, I am against any burning of the American flag.

I Once Attended A Ray Bradbury Speech

The Martian Chronicles

Ray Bradbury is one of my favorite authors. He was one of the pioneers of science fiction, and not of the hardcore kind. His writings always incorporated contemplations about the future, balanced with a lyrical writing style that reminded me that I was reading literature, not just some article about NASA and its endeavors.

He is the man who brought us Fahrenheit 451, The Martian Chronicles, and Dandelion Wine, all of which still reside in my library in hardcover. Because of him, I learned about the Shakespearean quotation, “Something wicked this way comes”, which is something I still use from time to time whenever I feel that there is trouble brewing on the horizon. As well as “Here there be tygers” when the trouble actually arrives, a phrase that was picked up by Stephen King in his collection of short stories, Skeleton Crew.

I read somewhere once that when writing Fahrenheit 451, Ray Bradbury was paying to rent out a space in a library, which contained the typewriter with which he typed the novel. Because of the time constraints, every time he needed a name of a person or place, he cast around and used the items around him, which resulted in Professor Faber and other literary references in the novel. I discovered this years after a school assignment I was given to dissect and explain the symbolism of these references, and it amuses me to this day since Ray Bradbury himself stated that they were a function of practicality and not due to a deliberate attempt on his part to incorporate literary imagery into the main topic of the book.

I was fortunate enough to attend a presentation he gave at Johns Hopkins University before he passed. Ray Bradbury was there, on stage, lit up by bright lights when I was sitting with anticipation in my seat, waiting for him to begin. The speech he gave was heartfelt and inspiring, and he spoke of many things, but the one takeaway I remember was how he spoke about the passion one should have for what they are doing. He said that he thanked god every day that he was fortunate enough to make a living from his passion, which was writing, and that every morning, when he looked into the mirror as he shaved, that he still could not believe that he was getting paid to do what he loves and on top of that, that he has a wonderful, nurturing family.

He told the audience that life was short and that we should be truly inspired by whatever our desire is, and to go out there and pursue it because nothing else would ever satisfy. That to engage and live your dream was the ultimate happiness and the glow we receive from it would flow from us down through our work, our family, and our friends. He then went further to say that the rock he depended upon was not just his writing, but also his wife, and that we should all be aware of the fact that there was a difference between working to live and living our lives.

We gave him a standing ovation. Afterwards, as I was leaving, I saw an elderly couple kissing in a standing embrace and could tell from their faces that they, at least, had been moved by Ray Bradbury’s speech about seizing the moment.

When he died, a small part of me did, too, as it happens with everyone when a giant they idolize strides from the living to the other side. I felt as if a voice for all the dreamers, all the idealists, all the young selves inside of us, passed as well. Still, whenever I think back on that speech, my soul feels uplifted somewhat, as if Ray Bradbury himself was reminding me that there are still a lot of dreamers out in the world.

Smallest Snow (Poop) Shovel Ever

I live in Baltimore City, in a townhouse with no garage. Per my previous posts, that means that I park on the street. Therefore, every time there is snow, I and my neighbors have to shovel out our cars.

Yesterday, after Snowstorm Stella had roared through our Maryland land corridors, I had to actually chip my car out because of the amount of freezing rain we received and because the cars in front and behind of mine were still stubbornly there, refusing to leave. I have a large shovel, but it’s unwieldy to use in such situations when taking into account my size (5′ 2″) and the ice, which meant that I had to resort to using the other one I own, which is itsy-bitsy.

Try chipping your car out with this.

Every time I chipped off a block of ice from the wall surrounding my car, it would slide right under it, which meant that I had to get down on my knees and scrabble around to fish it out and toss it onto the sidewalk or street. I also had to use my shovel to lever the 4″ coating of ice from the top of my car which was not much fun, believe me, especially with the wind gusting against my face and exposed back. I would have loved to be able to retire to my house every once in a while to sip hot chocolate before heading out again, but I had to get to my consulting gig and I was already running late. It was taking forever.

As I was cursing and slamming my foot against the shovel to get that edge into the ice, I was reminded of another time when I used a small shovel to clear snow. It was while I was in boarding school, which had requirements for its students to pitch in during snow days to “build character”. My friends and I were assigned to the steps of one of the buildings and as we picked up our shovels, we realized we were one short. That was when I spotted a small metal shovel resting in a bucket against the wall outside our dorm.

“I’ll take that one,” I said. “It’s small and I’m small!” I hoisted it up like I was one of Snow White’s Seven Dwarfs with a pickaxe and off we went. We shoveled the steps and let me just say right now that metal shovels are no joke. The one I had was heavy and cumbersome and I castigated myself for volunteering to use it, but it was too late. After we were done, we trudged back down to the dorm, panting and steaming visible clouds of warm air in the cold, but self-congratulatory in our efforts. As we put our shovels away, our dorm mother came out and waved us in.

“Wait, did you use THAT shovel?” She asked me as I placed it back into the bucket.

“Yes. I did. What’s wrong?” I asked.

“Nothing,” she said with a straight face. Then she started laughing.

“What?”

“No, it’s just that…it’s the poop shovel.”

“The…poop shovel?” I had no idea what she was talking about.

Her shoulders shook. “It’s the shovel that we use to scoop up our dogs’ poop.” My friends started laughing.

“You used the poop shovel!” They howled, “It wasn’t a snow shovel, it was a POOP shovel!!”

“Well…” I said, “It worked!”

“If it works for poop, it works for snow!!” They laughed. “Oh my god!”

“Didn’t you notice the writing on the handle?” My dorm mother said. “It has the dogs’ names on it!”

“No, no I didn’t!” I said.

“Ha ha!” One of my friends said, “And you put it over your shoulder, what if poop dropped down on your head?!!?”

I never really lived it down. Every time we had “snow duty”, my friends would say, “Why don’t you get the poop shovel?” And then they would laugh again. At my expense. Thanks, friends!!!

Building Startups and New Ventures Is Frustrating

I am one of those unfortunates who possesses both left- and right-brained skills. My major in college was creative writing, but when I graduated and my family needed financial help, I realized that any careers related to literature were not going to pay me enough to help out. Shocking, I know. Before I committed myself to assisting my family, I interviewed at publishing firms in New York City, envisioning a future in which I would be hunkered down in a dismal basement apartment, scribbling the next Great American Novel. Such are the idealistic and sentimental aspirations of youthful, dreamily inspired writers, where we dramatically drop ourselves into a scene from The Great Gatsby or Fahrenheit 451.

Instead, I entered the corporate world, the environment of Dilbert-cubes, the atmosphere of get-the-job-done, and I discovered that I was pretty good at it. I possessed an indefinable analytical talent that enabled me to dissect financials, to craft budgets and projections, and to assemble, piece by piece, hard bid pricing for submission to RFPs from the public and private sectors for contracts. It was exciting, the whirlwind of numbers and conversations with vendors and partners, to obtain a number that I would then fit neatly into the pricing model against a looming deadline that had my compatriots running around and shouting as the clock counted down. I found it satisfying, rewarding, to be able to sit back and look at that spreadsheet with all that data and think, yes, this is the number. And to be able to say, “This is it guys, let’s go with it!”, was the best.

My entire professional career has been in building startups and new venture firms. I was and am able to wear many hats. I have strode my way through marketing, business development, accounting, finance, human resources, development, construction, quality assurance, and many others throughout my journey through the corporate world. I loved every minute of it even when I groused and complained about how my talents were being wasted or underutilized. I would like to point out, however, that I was never assigned to any sales efforts because you would only have to meet me once to know that I would totally suck at schmoozing prospects or presenting in front of large audiences. That is not my strong suit. I am not a people person.

I am best behind a desk or attacking a project with a tight deliverable, I excel at performing under duress even though I suffer from heart attacks afterwards, I am good at keeping my head level when people around me are freaking out. This, coupled with my ability to be both creative and analytical (qualitative versus quantitative), has saved me from a nine-to-five, cubicle existence.

However, it can be strenuous, and that type of environment almost always took a toll on my personal life. I hardly met up with my friends or kept in touch with my immediate family; how could I, when the principal of the company would call me at 2:00 in the morning to discuss some new ideas that just happened to suddenly pop into his head? What time could I find for myself when everything was a fire drill? The rest of the world always fell away when I was working, every fiber and nerve of my body was dedicated to building up the company and addressing emergencies.

My career has been exciting, no doubt, but I peg some of the issues I had with my marriage to it. Hindsight is 20/20, or so they say, and I guess it’s true, because when I look back now, I realize that my jobs took away from my relationships, with my ex and friends and family.

What I learned from my endeavors is that if you are not an equity partner, all your dedication, time, and devotion comes down to naught. A simple paycheck, hefty to be sure if you are with the right group of founders, but still…just a paycheck. The blood you shed, the time you lose that you could otherwise be spending with your loved ones, they are all reduced to a single number on a paystub. It took me a long while, but I came to the epiphany that we, as people, exist only a very short time against the great expanse of eternity that is the universe, and is this what I want to do?

Do I want to slave and storm in frustration and stress into the early morning hours to build something for someone else at the expense of my limited years on what we call earth? I discovered, probably too late in the game, that I did not. It would be different if I was actually part of something, had an equity stake in a company, which is why my ex and I founded our company, but even then…it was a small enterprise and I had neither the time or energy to grow it the way I wanted to on the behalf of both of us. What I was already going though drained me enough.

However, I love the setting and energy surrounding a team when I’m part of creating a small startup. Absolutely love it and would do it again, no question. As long as it was the right one, one in which I had some skin in the game, one in which the hours I sacrifice would actually mean something. I love the excitement in the air when the startup I am at lands a client or secures a contract or closes a deal, however informal. But at this point in  my life, I would need to be a principal to go through all the negatives that come with it again.

Building a new company from the ground up is not easy. It appears to be glamorous, in a Hollywood style, but it’s tough. It’s hard to craft a team where each member contributes something vital and significant, yet possesses enough flexibility and smarts to pitch in and help out when it comes to an exigent project in another department. It’s hard to fit together personalities with ambitions and egos so everybody gets along for the betterment of the company. It’s frustrating to put together a workforce and set down guidelines when you’re not even sure yourself where the company is heading. Being there on the ground floor of a startup or new venture is fun, but not necessarily enjoyable or stress free.

So disregard all the hype and glamour that surrounds the world of startups and new ventures. It is a tough, grueling journey, one which takes a lot out of anyone who is there from the beginning. Which is the whole point, I guess – high sacrifice for hopefully high rewards – but it takes a certain, unique personality and character to deal with it day to day.

You will hear about the awesome culture and the friendly, tight relationships you will form and those exist, they do, but what you don’t realize are the sacrifices you will have to make too, the things you give up, like personal relationships, years out of your lifespan, the ability to snap out of your ecosphere, and a litany of other challenges to personal fulfillment. When you are busy working in such a situation, you will tend to forget that we are human beings, able to experience the world through sensory abilities other than the pure, logical and objective lens that we don when tackling business.

So if you are contemplating founding a company or being employed by a startup or new venture, keep in mind that you will give up a lot of yourself, your significant other, and your family in your endeavors. You should ask yourself, is this worth it?

One of My Most Memorable SAT Students

Right after I graduated from college, I started tutoring students to boost their verbal SAT scores through Kaplan Test Prep. My family needed financial help and my FT job didn’t garner me a high enough salary to assist to the extent that was required, so I looked around for a PT gig. I learned about Kaplan, took the test, underwent an interview, and wham! There I was, a bona fide SAT tutor.

Most of the students I was assigned to didn’t need SAT tutoring. They were smart, studious, and highly educated. Since their parents could afford Kaplan to begin with, obviously almost all of them lived in top school districts or attended private schools. Their parents only hired me to help their kids gain an extra 300 points or plus to further increase the possibility of them being admitted to an Ivy or similar college.

I remember one student in particular. I don’t recall his name, but he was precocious and acted in an insouciant manner that reminded me of many of my schoolmates at boarding school; he exuded that casual, yet assured air that he was smart and privileged, but a nice guy. And he was. Polite. Funny. He had that mischievous gleam in his eyes, but he never treated me like “the help”.

However, he showed up to the first few sessions without having completed his assignments and whenever I chastised him, he would give me a saucy grin, as if to say, hey, come on, really? So what? I would then make him do the work before we began the lesson, which he did, in record time, and usually he would get everything right.

“I like you a lot more than my math tutor,” he said after a few of these instances. “He told my parents I wasn’t doing my homework. He told on me, like reported me or something.” He looked at me, waiting for my response.

“Well, he was doing what he thought was right,” I said.

“You don’t tell on me.” I could see that he was waiting to weigh what I would say. “You’re cool.”

I knew, instinctively, that my answer would affect how the rest of the tutoring would unfold, whether or not I would be able make an impact on him. In my mind, I threw up my hands. This was a kid who was good at manipulation, at utilizing his charms to get out of scrapes and doing chores, at thumbing his nose at authority and getting away with it. I was new to tutoring, but I instantly perceived that the gentle-teacher approach wasn’t going to work. And I have a temper of my own. So I forged ahead with what I’m best at, which is being honest and frank with people about what I think. It usually backfires, but I was pretty frustrated.

“Whatever. It doesn’t matter whether you think I’m cool or not. That’s not the point. You can do the work, you’re obviously smart, you complete the assignment right in front of me every time in fifteen minutes, so why can’t you just do it before our lessons?”

“Because it’s boring and I know how to do it anyway.” He said.

“Yeah, I know that.”

“So?”

“So…look. Your parents pay me to do a job, which is to help you with your SATs. And you not having your homework done before I get here takes time away from me being able to help you. See? So if you know and I know that you know the material, why can’t you just do it?”

“If I don’t, will you tell on me?” His eyes were level, serious.

“No. Okay? No. I won’t. Because you know how to do it. The only person it negatively affects is you, so if you want to take away from our lesson time, that’s your choice, okay?”

“Even though my parents are paying you to make sure I do my homework?”

“Yes. Because you’re not a kid. And you’re the one who’s going to have to take the test, not them, not me, and you’re the one who’s going to have to suffer the consequences.”

A silence settled over us as he contemplated what I said. Great, I thought, I am so fired. He’s going to tell his parents that I suck as a tutor after taking their money and I will have a black mark on my record and then I will be kicked out of the program and where will my family be then?

“Okay.” He said. “I’ll do it. Okay?”

After that, we settled into an odd relationship, one in which I felt more like a TA at a college struggling to nudge a wayward pupil through a class, one who liked to challenge me at every roadblock.

He constantly pointed things out, like how some of the questions were unfairly skewed against students who weren’t exposed to what he was (“What if they don’t have a tv, how would they know who Barbara Walters is?”), about the test-taking system itself (“Why do I have to take the SATs, what do these scores mean anyway?”), how it would impact his future (“Like, after this, it’s not like anyone will care about it.”), and class division ramifications in general (“It’s not fair, someone who really needs the tutoring isn’t getting it like I am.”).

Unfortunately, I agreed with all his points, but as a formal Kaplan representative, I held back my thoughts for a while. After a few weeks of this back-and-forth, I finally caved.

“Yes. Is that what you want to hear?” I told him. “I agree with you. The SATs don’t measure intelligence, they don’t gauge future performance, and they are standardized tests which I agree, a number is a number and what does ‘standardized’ mean anyway? But this is the way the world works. In the future, maybe it’ll change. But you don’t live in the future. You live in the present, where colleges require an SAT score and if you get into a good college, then you’ll probably go on to have some wonderful career. But that’s what society requires right now. College. Which means the SATs. There’s no getting around that. It is what it is. So there. And your parents can afford it so take advantage of it.”

He finally buckled down after my speech, limiting his smart aleck remarks and did the work. We built a friendly rapport, mainly because he started racing through each lesson, leaving enough time at the end to talk about his school and friends and ask me about my life (“Why do you do this? Do you like it?” and “What was your major? Do you like working?” and “Was Johns Hopkins hard? Was it fun?”).

I had a sense that he appreciated that I treated him as more of an adult than a kid. I also believe he thought, rightly or wrongly, that he didn’t have anyone who was older than he was to talk to. He was an only child and his father often worked late, coming home as we were concluding our lessons. His mother seemed removed, hardly appearing downstairs where we were, in a new and impeccable magazine cover ready McMansion; his housekeeper was the one who let me into the house each time and offered to bring us snacks or dinner.

I was never told what his final SAT scores were, but I’m pretty sure they were high. He was naturally smart. I don’t know if he remembers me at all, but if he does, I’m sure his memories of me consist mainly of my head-on approach to tutoring and his ruminations about his current and future life based on my responses to his needling questions. Which, I suppose, made me not such a great SAT tutor, but hopefully a good teacher of some sort. I hope he is doing well, and is happy.