Wednesday, April 27, 2011

The Un-Receptionist

I’ve had a lot of bad jobs in my life.

Haven’t we all, right?

I'm sure, like actors, a lot of writers work an assortment of odd jobs that are either, a) really boring; b) insanely boring; or c) so boring that if boredom could be measured like toxicity, working in such dreary conditions would be regulated by OSHA or declared illegal just like handling asbestos or spraying DDT.

The one job I held most often over the years was that of receptionist. Maybe the job title wasn’t strictly “receptionist,” but answering the phone or greeting office visitors was a key aspect of the job. 

Oh, don’t you worry. I did a fine job as a receptionist. I had what I called my Lilting Office Phone Voice for answering calls and my Pleasant Professional Demeanor for greeting people at the front desk. But really, you know, I didn’t want to be there. In truth, I was a most unreceptive receptionist. You’d never have known this by looking at me, though. I covered very well. I was the freaking Meryl Streep of pretending to be a good receptionist.

In fact, this is what I learned from being a receptionist: how important it is to fake it in the workplace. Nay, how essential it is to professionalism. Professionalism might very well be a synonym for faking it. 

Well, really, that was just one of the things I learned watching people come and go all day. Another thing I learned is that there are exactly two kinds of people in this world: people you were happy to see arriving, and people you were happy to see leaving.

I’ve been thinking about my days as a receptionist because well… I’m not really sure. I guess I’ve been feeling discouraged of late, and whenever I feel that way, I remind myself of the importance of soldiering on despite appearances. Come what may, you just keep marching up and down the square and never let on that you've got a blister the size of a kiwi on your heel. 

This lesson was most effectively taught to me by a woman I worked with who'd had been a receptionist/secretary pretty much her entire adult life. She was one of those meanies who seem to populate school principal offices and doctors’ offices, the type who makes you feel bad about asking for anything, who sighs and rolls her eyes and mutters about every single person who walks through the door. And when she was having a bad day, she told everyone about it. I swear that woman invented the concept of TMI. She was pretty much a low-lying cumulonimbus cloud of gloom and negativity – all of which she blamed on the fact that she'd worked as a lowly receptionist her whole life. 

I'm sure she had some very good reasons to be so angry, and I felt sorry for her. Kind of. Mostly I learned that I never wanted to become like her, because spending day after day at her side made me vow, “Whatever happens to me, whatever I may become, whatever disappointments I may face, I swear on the soul of this Swingline Stapler, that I will never, ever become such a huge, bitter cow.”

I’ve had to suck up a whole lot of heartache over the years to keep this promise, but all in all, I’ve done pretty well with the not-becoming-a-bitter-cow thing. So I guess I can’t say I wish I’d never been a receptionist. Even if it was pretty horrible and even though, to this very day, I still don’t like answering or talking on the phone, I suppose it’s not the worst thing to figure out that come what may, there’s simply no excuse for giving up and taking out your disappointments on the rest of humanity.

Do tell me: what was the worst job you ever had, and what did you take away from it?

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Tweeting Your Way to Literary Success

If you’re someone who frequently follows bad advice, by golly, you’re in for a treat today.

Kristen’s Tips for Writers Using Twitter

1) Mention food often. What you’ve eaten, what you plan to eat. It’s a plain fact that simply putting the word “chocolate” or “Cheetos” into a tweet will increase the likelihood that other writers will read it. This is because writers are a lonely and easily distracted group. They like to think about what their next meal might be and how long until they’re getting fed. Just like old people. And prisoners.

2) Never use hashtags. I don’t know why, but it makes me feel embarrassed to use hashtags -- more embarrassed than the first time I used the word “homeslice” in public, and everyone just stared at me with this glassy, pitying look. When I’ve tried to use hashtags, I end up feeling like I’m trying too hard to look like I’m in the know. I’m not in the know. I’m just another writer schlub on Twitter, that’s all. And for me that means no hashtags.

3) Gaining a massive Twitter following is a numbers game involving fractions, but since you’re a writer and probably don’t understand fractions anyway, just ignore all of that. A lot is made of this Twitter ratio business. Simply put: do you follow more people than follow you? Because the assumption is that if you’re following 10,000 people, but you only have around 100 followers, you must be kind of a loser. On the other hand, I see people on Twitter all the time who have 5000+ followers and only follow, like, four people. I’m sorry but that’s a tad bit obnoxious. Look, I have 300-something followers, and I follow almost 600 people. You know why? Because I follow whomever I find interesting. That’s all there is to it, and there are no unpleasant fractions to deal with.

4) Forty percent of your tweets should be so insular, no one knows what on earth you’re talking about. But what’s important is that you do, and if you’re making yourself giggle, right there, my friends, is the key to happiness.

5) Try to find the perfect balance between not being a tool of the establishment and blatantly sucking up. I must confess that I don’t re-tweet things nearly as much as I should. But so many re-tweets are such clear examples of keester-smoochery that I started to think of re-tweeting in general as a province of brown-nosers. This is not entirely fair. Twitter is, at the end of the day, about promotion, and one should be tweeting about one’s self, sure, but also helping one’s writer-friends as well. I’m trying to do better. I’ll re-tweet stuff like contests, other people’s blog posts, book deal news, and so on. But here’s the rule of thumb: re-tweet for your friends because you like them and want them to succeed. Too frequent re-tweeting of agents’ bon mots or drollery from editors makes you look like a huge doinkety-doink.

6) Keep your tweets about your kids/pets/significant other to a tasteful minimum, but don’t be so guarded about your personal life that people begin to suspect you might be just a brain in a jar of formaldehyde, hooked up to the Internet. Because that’s just creepy.

7) Keep your goody-two-shoes tweets to yourself. We are duly impressed with all the many charities and good causes in which you’re involved. Here’s a pat on your kindly, magnanimous head for the good work you’re doing editing the anthology to benefit endangered species needing cleft palate surgery. Now be gone with you and stop asking me to re-tweet stuff or make donations.

8) Master the art of emoticons, but do not become some avant-garde emoticon visionary. All those slashes and colons and dots and what-nots in your tweets? What IS all that? Are you trying to be the Jackson Pollock of emoticons? As they say in preschool: use your words, please.

9) Twitter is supposed to be for public conversations. Use the DM (direct message) feature if you’re not going to let us all in on the joke. Constant, back and forth chit-chat about an undefined topic, involving tweets like, “That thing you sent me? It’s awesome, sweetie!!!” is like whispering in church. It’s both rude and annoying to others.
      Look, Sierra Godfrey and I have been secretly DM-ing each other for months, lamenting the many discomforts of our pregnancies. Sending each other messages like, I’m freaking exhausted and uncomfortable and cranky and I’m craving corn dogs and Yeah, me, too. Except the corn dog thing because they give me heartburn. See? You wouldn't want all that clogging up your Twitter feed. We were thoughtful to have spared you the grim, corn-dog related details.

10) After a year of being on Twitter, post a list of guidelines about using it. Because last I checked, there are no federal guidelines on who’s allowed to called themselves an “expert” on social media. So, as of now, I am the high priestess of Twittery advice. I even have a fez.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Joy Boy!

Please welcome....

Augustus James Martin

Born April 2, 2011
7 pounds, 1 oz

Awwww. Isn't he cute? And this pose makes him look like a very thoughtful young man. 

Everyone's doing well! Not sure if we're going to call him Augie or Gus just yet. I'll be back in a couple weeks with my usual literary prattle.

Give the little dude some love in the comment section! 

OK, Sierra, your turn now. :)