Thursday, December 16, 2010

On my way to becoming an "unperson"!

An unperson is a person who has been "vaporized"; who has been not only killed by the state, but effectively erased from existence. Such a person would be written out of existing books, photographs, and articles so that no trace of their existence could be found in the historical record. The idea is that such a person would, according to the principles of doublethink, be forgotten completely (for it would be impossible to provide evidence of their existence), even by close friends and family members. Mentioning his or her name, or even speaking of their past existence, is thoughtcrime; the concept that the person may have existed at one time and has disappeared cannot be expressed in Newspeak. Compare to the Stalinist practice of erasing people from photographs after their execution (see photos).

- courtesy of Wikipedia

Friday, December 10, 2010


Albert J. Bernstein PhD, author "Am I the Only Sane One Working Here? 101 Solutions for Surviving Office Insanity"

Does your job drive you crazy? Do you sometimes wonder if you are the only sane person in working there? Is your workplace dysfunctional, or is it you? Here's how to find out.

Based on more than 30 years of experience as psychologist and business consultant, I've put together a checklist of 15 diagnostic signs of a psychologically dysfunctional business. Is it the job, or is it you?

Sign No. 1: Conspicuously posted vision or value statements are filled with vague but important-sounding words like "excellence" and "quality."
These words are seldom defined and the concepts they allude to are never measured.

Sign No. 2: Bringing up a problem is considered as evidence of a personality defect rather than as an observation of reality.
In a dysfunctional company, what it looks like is not only more important than what it is, it is what it is. If you don't believe that, you are the problem. A surprising amount of information is classified. Dysfunctional companies have more state secrets than the CIA. Anything that might embarrass the boss turns out to be a national security issue.

Sign No. 3: If by chance there are problems, the usual solution is a motivational seminar.
Attitude is everything, especially in places where facts are embarrassing or inconvenient. In a dysfunctional family, there's an elephant -- usually a drunken abusive parent -- in the parlor, but no one ever mentions him. To appear sane, you have to pretend that the elephant is invisible, and that drives you crazy. Businesses are full of invisible elephants, too. Usually they are things that might cause difficulties for people with enough clout to prevent their discussion. The emperor may be naked, but if you have a good attitude, you won't mention it.

Sign No. 4: Double messages are delivered with a straight face.
Quality and quantity are both job one. You can do it both cheaper and better, just don't ask how. If you're motivated enough, you should know already.

Sign No. 5: History is regularly edited to make executive decisions more correct, and correct decisions more executive than they actually were.
Those huge salaries require some justification.

Sign No. 6: People are discouraged from putting things in writing.
What is written, especially financial records, is purposely confusing. You can never tell when you might need a little deniability.

Sign No. 7: Directions are ambiguous and often vaguely threatening.
Before you respond to a vague threat, remember this: Virtually every corporate scandal begins with someone saying, "Do it; I don't care how." That person is seldom the one who gets indicted.

Sign No. 8: Internal competition is encouraged and rewarded.
The word "teamwork" may be batted around like a softball at a company picnic, but in a dysfunctional company, the star players are the only ones who get recognition and big bucks.

Sign No. 9: Decisions are made at the highest level possible.
Regardless of what it is, you have to check with your boss before doing it. She also has to check with her boss.

Sign No. 10: Delegating means telling somebody to do something, not giving them the power to do it.
According to Webster's Dictionary, you delegate authority, not tasks. In dysfunctional companies, you may have responsibility, but the authority lives in the office upstairs.

Sign No. 11: Management approaches from the latest best-seller are regularly misunderstood to mean what we're doing already is right on the mark.
"Seven Habits of Highly Effective People," "Good to Great" and "Who Moved My Cheese?" all seem to boil down to, "quit griping and do more with less."

Sign No. 12: Resources are tightly controlled.
Your department may need upgraded software, but there's been a spending freeze since 2006. Cost control is entry-level management, but in a dysfunctional company, anything more sophisticated is considered too touchy-feely. Whatever you propose, the first question you will be asked is if it can be done cheaper.

Sign No. 13: You are expected to feel lucky to have a job and know you could lose it if you don't toe the line.
Dysfunctional companies maintain control using the threat of punishment. Most will maintain that they also use positive rewards ... like your paycheck. A few people are actually fired, but most of those who go are driven to quit.

Sign No. 14: Rules are enforced based on who you are rather than what you do.
In a dysfunctional company, there are clearly insiders and outsiders and everyone knows who belongs in each group. Accountability has different meanings depending on which group you're in.

Sign No. 15: The company fails the Dilbert Test.
Dysfunctional organizations have no sense of humor. People who post unflattering cartoons risk joining the ranks of the disappeared. When an organization loses the ability to laugh at itself, it is headed for big trouble. If you'd get in trouble for printing this article and posting it on the bulletin board at work, maybe it's time to look for another job before this one drives you crazy.

Albert J. Bernstein, Ph.D., is the author of the best-sellers "Dinosaur Brains" and "Emotional Vampires." His newest book is "Am I the Only Sane One Working Here? 101 Solutions for Surviving Office Insanity." For more information on how to stay sane at work, visit Dr. Al's Web site,

Friday, November 26, 2010


“It’s not enough to fail. You have to come to feel your failure, to live it through, to turn it over in your hand, like a stone with strange markings. You have to wake up in the middle of the night and hear it whistling around the roof, or chomping in the field below, like some loyal horse.”

- James Fenton

As I sit here at four o’clock in the morning, the day after Thanksgiving, I listen to the wind howl outside and wonder about the disposition of my life. Earlier in the day (on Thanksgiving), I got a message from my sister suggesting that I call, as she and my nieces would all be at my brother-in-law’s house. While I wanted so much to make this call, the effort was so overwhelming that I could not break myself away from the shallowness of my current existence to reach out. I am, as it were, living in my failure.

You see, eight months ago, I had my world stomped on by bullies who told me I could not continue to do the very thing I loved to do. They shoved a vile contract in front of me and forced me to sign the conditions of my demise and I did so in exchange for the money this piece of paper promised. All of you who know me know that I am a fighter but this was a fight that I could not win. I basically rolled over and let those bastards kick me in the side and I was not to say anything about it. I was devastated.

Still, I picked my head up and pushed forward as best I could. It has been hard for me, and it has been hard for Pam but we are persevering, doing the best we can. We’ve been humbled by this experience and we’re struggling but we are pushing forward. There are ups and downs, good days and bad days, but we are managing. We both feel strongly that this is only temporary and are really hoping that temporary will come to an end soon.

For me, this whole experience has made me feel very small…a feeling that I am unaccustomed to. Logic suggests that this would be a great time to catch up with old friends, see more of family, do those things that I have not been able to do because I were too busy before. But when you are small, it is hard to look out when so much of your energy is spent looking in. I am attending to my failure.

Technically, I should be depressed and I have tried hard to do so but to no avail. I think one of the things that has kept me from taking a downward trip is my anger for the injustice I have suffered. Indeed, one of my favorite inward activities is thinking through the various scenarios that see me exacting my but I also realize that when I do this, I am neglecting my failure. And, while it is hard to get out of bed some days, I understand that this experience will help to make me a strong and better person.

So, on this day of thanksgiving (or the day after, in my case), the things that I am grateful for are those things that are helping me to weather the storm: my corgis (oh, they can be so warm and snuggly), my wife Pam (not so warm and snuggly but someone who understands and tolerates me…my partner in life), and our friend Doug (who is not so warm, snuggly, or understanding but who has graciously opened up his home as a refuge for all five of us). Over the last eight months, I am also thankful for the opportunities to create more of my own work, to be able to have the time to read, to have an long and intimate affair with my old friend the television (enhanced by a fantastic selection of DVD’s from the local library), to sleep whenever I want and for however long I desire and to have the ability to live life one day at a time.

I can remember hard times like when I was struggling as a young art student in New York and hadn’t enough money to eat and ride the subway. I remember the time after grad school when Pam and I had to choose between paying the phone bill or paying the rent on our studio. I’ve been through failure before and have come out stronger on the other side. I know that things will turn out okay and that I will be stronger for having lived through this period of my life. I have reached middle age and the trials that I currently face are rapids that I must navigate through. When I do emerge from this turbulent time, stop feeling small, shed my failure, I will be able to make that call and I will reconnect. But for now…patience.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Utopian Sweatpants


I am so encouraged to see that so many of my friends voted today. As I sit around in my sweatpants, having a glass of wine and watching the late reports of today's election results, I am reminded of a few things that I would like to share. 

First, we all got to participate in the democratic process and this is one of the things that makes our country great. We should all feel special, no matter what the results were, and celebrate that we had a voice in the selection of our government. 

Second, our democratic republic is based on the idea of balance and I think this is what we witnessed tonight. Maybe, over the past decade or so, the swing in balance has been more drastic than most of us are comfortable with but this swing is a part of the history of the process.

Third, we have elected a government but that does not mean our job is finished. We must be proactive (aside from voting) with being engaged in the process of government. This means having our voices being heard and supporting OUR government in their quest to fix the many struggles that face Americans every day.

Fourth, this is a great country, no matter how you feel about those in leadership. I am growing tired of the "them" versus "us" mentality that has emerged in our culture. Those that have perpetrated terror against us are getting exactly what they wanted when we point fingers at each other, call each other names or try to place blame for the way things are. The election has taken place and this is OUR government, for better or for worse. If you want your congressman or senator or governor or president to know what you think he/she should advocate for, write a letter, sign petitions, join causes. Do whatever you can to speak out and get your message heard...this is our right as Americans but it is a responsibility we all seem to forget about as we live our day-to-day lives.

Lastly, I think that there is far too much polarization in this country. I see divergent opinions being treated as poison and people of different political and social beliefs being set against each other as competitors. Maybe it's because times are lean and things are hard that we find it easy to set these boundaries between one another. I, too, am guilty of engaging in such activities but I am tired...too tired to continue on this path. I want to look forward with hope and optimism and am coming to realize that I can't do it without opening up my mind to finding ways to cooperate rather than alienate.

So, as I sit around here, all comfortable in my "utopian sweatpants," I would like to challenge you all to doing something in the next week that goes towards making OUR country better. If you're a democrat, talk to a republican to find out what their view is of where we should be going and listen with empathy, without passing judgement. If you are a republican, do the same. Write to a newly elected official to congratulate them and express your needs as eloquently as possible. Take your hostility, if you still have some, and turn it into something positive that will actually help OUR country rather than hurt it. It should be all of our duties to come together as Americans rather than finding ways to divide it. 

Rant over!


are an informal variety of trousers intended for comfort or athletic or loungingpurposes. Many jails and juvenile institutions use orange or white sweatpants for their main uniform because of low production cost and uniformity. In Australia, Singapore and New Zealand they are known as track (or tracksuit) pants or, less formally, trakky daks.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Good Boss, Bad Boss

Just read a great book entitled Good Boss, Bad Boss: How to be the Best and Learn from the Worst. It was written by Robert I. Sutton, Ph.D. who also wrote The No Asshole Rule. Based on recent experiences, this was a great book to read and I encourage anyone who is interested in any sort of professional leadership to pick up this read. While have a plethora of good examples of bad bosses, this book has helped me to refocus on my own skills as a boss. I have linked this entry to Dr. Sutton's webpage and have included a couple of excerpts from the book.

"A host of renowned bosses talk about the importance of thanking people, about the power of this small gesture, and how failure to express appreciation to people who are working their tails off is a sign of disrespect. The late Robert Townsend, former CEO of Avis Rent-A-Car and author of Up the Organization, defined 'thanks' as a 'really neglected form of compensation.' Max DePree, former CEO of furniture giant Herman Miller, described saying 'thank you' as among a leader's primary jobs." - page 96

I can recall countless times in previous jobs where a "thank you" could have gone a long way. I even had one previous boss explain to me that they shouldn't have to say "thank you" and that I should just assume I and my team were doing a good job. I still don't know for sure if this particular boss was a bad communicator or just didn't give a shit about me as a subordinate. While it is personally difficult to work in a thankless situation, I also know that I could have done a better job of showing my appreciation for my employees. So, if any of you are reading this, I hope a late "thank you" is better than nothing and I promise to do better in the future.

"After spending several years immersed in the 'asshole problem' and contemplating cures for bossholes here, I realized there is a central theme implied in much of what I say and write, but rarely spell out: Embarrassment and pride are perhaps the most powerful antidotes to asshole poisoning. Consider this pair of diagnostic questions. If you are a boss, ask yourself: When you look back at how you've treated followers, peers, and superiors, in their eyes, will you have earned the right to be proud of yourself? Or will they believe that you ought to be ashamed of yourself and embarrassed by how you have trampled on others' dignity day after day?" - pages 236-7

Take the test!


Thanks Dr. Sutton!

Friday, October 8, 2010

My Interview at Fallingwater

On Thursday, October 7th I had the extreme pleasure of interviewing for the position of Curator of Education at Fallingwater. For those who don''t know Fallingwater is Frank Lloyd Wright's masterpiece, an architectural innovation that combines the beauty of a natural waterfall with the incredible design of this American master. This was, for me, a position of prestige and I was very excited about the opportunity to interview for this position.

When I got confirmation of the interview, I was instructed to arrive 15 minutes early as I had to check in at the front gate, park and walk the long gravel path past the house and up the hill to the offices, which were located in the guest house. As I drove through the beautiful Laurel Highlands to get to Fallingwater, my head was filled with thoughts about the interview and how much I would enjoy the rest of my day exploring this area of western Pennsylvania and taking pictures. I had brought my camera, my tripod and my trusted corgi companion Kippie with me this day. It was going to be great!

Somewhere in my immersion of what the day was about to offer, I lost some time and and realized that I was actually a little behind schedule. My heart rate started to climb as I came to the conclusion that I would simply have to make time and I will admit that the drive became a little hairy as I exceeded the speed limit while going up and down some very steep grades and twisting through broad curves and sharp bends. I arrived at Fallingwater just about the time my interview was set to start. I checked in quickly, got directions and speed walked to the administrative offices. The interviewers were very kind as I explained my tardiness and worked to catch my breath. They joked that getting to the interview was one of the challenges they rather enjoyed watching position candidates overcome. I laughed out loud while I panicked within.

So, here I was, sitting in an office at the historic Fallingwater and about to sell myself and all I have to offer to this prestigious landmark and their educational programs. I was a good candidate for this position. I was ready for this interview. I could feel the importance of this place. I was entranced by the beauty of the location. I was also a little nervous! I don't know if it was the adrenaline from the rush to get there or the sense of being overwhelmed by the place, but I was nervous.

One of the side effects of my nervousness is that I become a little chatty. I sometimes use this to my advantage as chatty can also be made to look like confidence. Things were going well, I thought, and then I was asked a fateful question.

Interviewer: "What is it that you, as Curator of Education, would be able to bring to Fallingwater?"

Easy question....I thought to myself. "My love of corgis..." Wait! Did I actually just say that out loud? Oh God, I did...I could tell by the look of surprise of the interviewers' faces. This was a real turning point in the interview, I surmised, and in my busy little mind I plotted a strategy to deal with this slip of the tongue. I had a corgi in the van, in fact, and could provide proof if I felt my back was in a corner.

"Yes. I love corgis and I'm proud of it." I continued...confidence being the pervasive strategy. 

Interviewer: "Yes, we saw the corgis on your web page in various costumes and arrangements."

Oh God, I thought again. Wait...this could actually work. I rolled with it and continued through the interview. I did pretty well I think and now will just have to wait to see if they offer my the position. 

As I continued on with the rest of my day, my faithful companion Kippie by my side, I re-hashed the interview over in my head. There were so many other directions I could have taken the conversation. Corgis, heh....I was either an incredible idiot or and incredible genius. For now, I vote genius...corgi genius.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Kippie's Bad Day....must be Monday!

I was awakened this morning, as usual, by Quinn running restlessly up and down the bed. This is a ritual that is repeated frequently as Pam typically gets up before me these days. As I roused from my slumber, I heard a noise that sounded something like a puke...a soft, swooshy kind of sound. I couldn't convince myself that one of my precious corgis threw up, especially since there was no throaty build-up, but I decided to get up and investigate anyway. And investigate I did. After recognizing only a small splash on the comforter, I continued my examination by placing my right sock right in a small puddle of puke on the floor. (Yes, I was sleeping with my socks on last night!) This was not a good omen for the day to come.

After breakfast, Pam and I were hanging out, watching the morning news and trying to take care of some of the minor tasks we had in line for the day. We were having a quiet morning and Kippie seemed content to stay settled rather than participate in the raucous wrestling that has come to mark the dogs' morning routine. It was a nice calm morning and then BAM! A scuffle broke out between Kippie and Quinn. Pam and I both jumped on Kippie to try and correct the situation but all we did was scare him to the point that he peed on himself. "He's gonna need a bath," Pam exclaimed as she relegated Kippie to the back yard to think about things. I'm not sure but, looking back on these events, I can't help but wonder if the poor little fellow just wasn't feeling well.

As Pam and I continued through our day, we were preparing to head to town to run some errands. As I gathered some things together (job applications don't ya know), Pam let the dogs out to do their business. Recently, we've been working with a dog whistle and giving them a treat for coming back when we call. Oonie and Kippie are mildly excited by this game but Quinn immediately starts to wait for you to blow the whistle once he's out. On this afternoon, he was hiding in the bushes waiting for the game to begin so he could instantly claim his treat. After Quinn was inside, I could hear Pam calling and whistling for the other two corgis. As Kippie finally approached the house, I could hear Pam yelling "Oh my God!" When I inquired as to the problem, Pam could only say in reply, "No, this is really bad...really, really bad." When I looked out on the back porch I could see that Kippie had found–and scented himself with–the worst, nastiest, grossest, green coyote poop you could ever imagine. He stood there with a proud and confuse look as the shit ran down his back. Pam began to think out loud about moving him in to the bathtub when I encouraged her to go for the nearby garden hose. Poor, poor Kippie. Having a spray down bath with cold, cold water. (Remember, I wore socks to bed last night.) Kippie's emotions ran the gamut from frustration to sadness and he was a pitiful sight to see sitting there shivering. The smell was awful but we got him good and soaped up, then we rinsed him off thoroughly. He felt much better when he had the chance to shake himself off and get rubbed down with a towel. He's kind of funny when he's wet because he has a way of shaking his butt out so that it puffs up first. When we finally got Kippie inside, we quickly gathered ourselves up and headed off on our errands. About half way to town, we realized we forgot the things we needed to drop off. Oh...the distractions only a corgi could bring!

When we got back to the house Kippie seemed to be in a much better mood. All three of the dogs were really glad to see us and gave us the usually enthusiastic greeting. I struggled to move past them and carry my bags into the kitchen when..."KIPPIE!" Someone had yakked in the kitchen and you-know-who got the blame. Anyway, some days it's just not your day and TODAY was just NOT KIPPIE"S DAY. Better luck tomorrow my plushy little friend.