Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Career Moves IV

Today's blog is a continuation on the subject of social media and career promotion.

We're up to Twitter. So for me, Twitter just feels, um, limited. I love, adore, delight in words, words, and more words. I don't find it a challenging game to force myself into a minimum of letters--it doesn't make me feel successfully competitive when I am successful at staying within the lines. Instead, it feels like a crime.

Makes me kind of sad, really. People forcing their most important moments into 140 characters and spaces. You can call it art. You can say it is beautifully spare and minimal. Contemporary. All chrome, glass, and neutrals. But I call it "limiting."

I had the same problem with the word limit at the much more generous Facebook. And that was the main thing Google+ had going over Facebook. Yeah, you could write a note on Facebook. But notes were weird. They were like getting up on a stage.

On Google+ you could keep on going way after you could on Facebook, realize it, and tie it up, Folks. But you could have those few extra dots, squiggles, and lines of meaning.

Did you think that was enough to sway me to Google+? Nope. I just can't like it there. Is it some loyalty I feel I owe to Mark Zuckerberg who never misses an opportunity to hurt his own people? Can't be, right? I mean this is the gal who organized a one-day boycott of Facebook if the social media space refused to take down the violent Intifada pages. I have proven my commitment to activism.

(Note: There was a deadline and Facebook met the deadline, so I canceled the event. Which was really, really dumb. I should have changed the date to "anytime" or something. What I did was make the whole thing disappear. Facebook didn't archive the page which means that we the public do not have access to all the viral activity there. I can't show it to the world or even to potential employers. I can't say: I did this. *dumbkopf* *smacking myself upside the haid*

Worse yet, within hours, the pages were back. *sigh*)

But back to MZ. I don't feel loyal to him. I just don't feel a need to switch. I'm comfortable on Facebook. Any place else seems foreign in comparison. No matter how bright and colorful and unlimited. Dumb, right? Well, there it is. Could there also be a bit of the anti-Google in me? I do sometimes worry at Google's supremacy in the world. It feels almost like a mitzvah to knock it down a notch or two.

That leads me to here. My blog. I talked about blog narcissism back in 2009 So, you know my tentative feelings about sharing feelings. But something I read the other day in an excellent blog by Carol Tice on 113 Things You Can Do to Grow Your Freelance Writing Income — Now may be changing the way I think about blogging.

Number 111 on Tice's list of tips is: "Remember your blog is a writing sample. Have a clean design, show you understand social media, and write every post like it’s a $1-a-word magazine assignment."

Now that was a tip I could implement with ease. I can write in my blog. In a sense, unemployment is freeing: I finally have the time to exercise my writing muscle.

Of course, poverty means taking the time to do things the old-fashioned way, like grating cheese to save the shekels it costs to buy the already-grated stuff. On the other hand, there is nothing like hand-grated cheese and the satisfaction of having been the one to produce the same. There is joy and immediate gratification in "just being a housewife."

The kids come home to a gourmet lunch and say, "I love you, Eema," whereas when I'm working, it doesn't make sense to cook complicated items. Why should I when I can cook something fast and easy they all enjoy? And I am amply suited to do just that. Thank God. Though I confess my sewing borders on sadomasochism--a topic to save for another blog, maybe, if I dare.

Meantime, I am here a lot, at Judean Rose, experimenting on what works to generate a comment and a following and what does not. I get the luxury of indulging my creative writing bent just for me. And it's good for my career, too.

A person needs calm and space in which to write. That makes writing a luxury for me. Calm and space are items that sometimes seem well out of reach to me.

Sometimes I dream about it: having time and space to write. As much as I want. Well, short of a sugar daddy (ha!) or a grant from some discerning org, time and space to write remains the provenance of the wealthy. And anyway, who'd want to read the thoughts of a poor person?

But please spare me the comments about poor being relative and how rich I really am and so forth. You know what I mean. Don't force me to pretend for your sake. Your silence on this issue feels supportive in this case.

Please DO leave comments about the use of social media and weighing friendships versus business moves.

Career Moves III

Yesterday's blog was a continuation on the subject of social media and the use of friends as vehicles for career promotion. Today's blog is a continuation of this topic.

I spoke about Facebook, Quora, Pinterest, and putting the word out to friends about my job search. But employers are also asking me about other social media.

3) Are you on LinkedIn? Twitter? Google+?

I have put some work into LinkedIn but just can't get excited about going there. I also end up in sticky water when people I REALLY DON'T LIKE send connection requests. You can say it's only about business, but that's just the point: if I don't like the person, why on earth would I want to help them professionally? Okay, so yes, I have a nasty spot in me.

On the other hand, I sent out LinkedIn contact requests to everyone I could find through my own contacts, who was even remotely connected to any profession that interested me. I clicked the space next to "friend" which was the only way to send a request to someone you don't know for free, but explained what I was doing in the copied and pasted message I sent with the requests. I was honest about my motives.That actually got a hugely positive response. All the writers and so forth, to whom I'd sent requests thought it a mutually beneficial idea to become LinkedIn contacts and gladly accepted.

But then I had a painful experience regarding the woman with whom I'd apprenticed under for one month. I learned so much from her. She promised me the earth, hinting more than once that I would soon be offered "a more global position." She said that salary reviews would be undertaken after the High Holidays and that's when it would happen.

Then two days before Rosh HaShana, she called to tell me a different office had nixed the idea and had already hired someone else in New York. I felt my heart dip and fall into a place of pain, way down deep. I hovered on the brink of depression.I had just written my mother about the upcoming promotion. My family had rejoiced at that news. It was a triumph. 

A month later I sent the woman who spoke of a more global position a LinkedIn request for a recommendation and she never responded. We'd been in constant contact for a month as she taught me the ropes and made me dream. Shee-oot. Reminds me of a mantra I used to have and have tried to since disown: "Life sucks and then you die." I can't tell you how many times I got chastised for that one until fed up, I changed it to: ""No matter how short your wife is, lean down and take her advice."
(Bava Metzia 59a)

Everyone loves this one. Especially men with short wives.

So that would be all I have to say about LinkedIn. See tomorrow for more about social media and career promotion.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Career Moves Part II

Yesterday's blog was about the pros and cons of using Facebook to promote a career. Today's blog continues the subject of social media and friends as vehicles for career promotion.

                                       Putting the Word Out There

I put the word out to friends that I need help with my job search. Some friends have done their best to help me by forwarding me job opps. I have been very touched by their kindness and this has really been, in general, quite helpful.

But in one case, someone actually spoke to a friend about me to try to help get me back on my feet. My friend's friend had politics at odds with my own. My friend was upfront about that fact. And the bottom line is Dov and I agreed it would be wrong for me to take any work that came through that venue.

It looks ungrateful, or maybe stupid. But in fact, it was only a moral decision about being true to our (mine and my husband's) own beliefs, politically and otherwise.

In another case, a friend gave me a hot lead, including an email address, but the contact never responded. I went back to my friend who said, "Write in the subject line: 'SO-AND-SO SENT ME,'" (substituting her name of course and not so-and-so) which still elicited no response from the contact. *shrug*

Well, onward and upward: in the first installment of this series, I wrote about the number one question from employers, "How many friends on Facebook?"

But employers are also asking about other social media sites.

2) "What about Quora and Pinterest?"

I had no ideas what these spaces were, but I figured it out and wangled invites for both sites. I need to say this: I HATE that by-invitation-only stuff. I think they do it to make people feel elite. Which is really obnoxious and insults our intelligence.

But once on Pinterest, I enjoyed myself. I made a nudnik of myself by posting luscious food pix one after the other on Facebook. People said, "What? Are you trying to KILL me??" LOL.

Quora was less successful. But only because I found myself "into it" right away and then had a negative interaction with someone within hours that is still having ramifications until now. I answered a question and got pressed for more proof. My proof was not this person's proof and I had none other to offer. But the other person insisted that meant I was wrong. Argh.

What do you think of the invitation only social media sites?

To be continued.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Career Moves

 Ihave been thinking about a lot of ideas this week in a kind of ephemeral haze. I am stalled in my career. My attempts to find employment are still met with resistance.

What is, is written in the cosmos for reasons unknown to me. As a result, I came to decide that my best career move at the moment is to focus on this one space: my blog.

Here's the premise:

This is a space where potential employers can test my mettle as a writer: Am I good enough?

And this is a space where I can build a following.

Still, it is clear that to be anyone today, you have to be here, there, and everywhere. A blog isn't enough. eMail isn't enough. One blog and eMail is equivalent to having no presence on the World Wide Web. You'll have barely left a footprint. How do I know this? Potential employers have been asking me about my social media qualifications:

1) How many friends on Facebook?

This question forced me to assess my Facebook habits. I have tried to keep Facebook honest. I didn't want to make friends for business' sake. I have LinkedIn for that.

But today's employer expects you to exploit all social media for his/her benefit. That means that numbers count.

It also forces you to decide on your perspective--what do you deem a prudent career move and what borders on performing immoral acts? Do I agree to exploiting the numbers in this equation? Do I rack up friends to drive the numbers up without giving a damn about them? Do I friend famous or successful people, hoping that our friendship somehow leverages me to a different stratum of the social sphere?

If you were to do your own assessment of your Facebook friends, you may find that you have many friends you know are not interested in you in the least. Some of them never wrote a word on your wall or pitched in on a thread. Some never said a word but saw you in the supermarket and told you that they read everything you write and share--it's just that s/he's a lurker. Now that's a horse of a different color: an honest statement like that must be savored and appreciated.

But if they see you and still say nothing. Or they live far away but you see they wish everyone else in your old crowd Happy Birthday except for you.

Maybe you had a warm, even BEAUTIFUL reunion, seasoned with the wisdom that comes with age. But one party sensed the other's antipathy over the decision to divorce a spouse, or asked for financial help after having no connection for 3 decades. Or perhaps you posted too many youtube clips. Or perhaps it's really your constant politicizing but the other must find a noncontroversial excuse to unfriend you that doesn't seem anti-Semitic so the person says that you post too many youtube clips.

And what of lurkers who comment on every single posting and make everything all about them? Personally, I would love to do an honest clean-up of my facebook list. Keeping friends who do not like you feels like RAPE and it's not much better when it's you who doesn't like THEM.

But the numbers. I'd go down to so few real friends. Okay, not by that many, I'm exaggerating. But I'm thinking one-third would stay by my side, given a choice. Can I afford to be honest at the expense of doing what needs to be done to help me pay my bills?

Here is what I have considered then: Perhaps I will tell people that I will unfriend anyone who doesn't wish me happy birthday on the date Facebook tells them is my birthday (As an aside: I celebrate my birthday according to the changeable lunar calendar, for religious reasons. My lunar birthday is ט"ו סיון or the 15th of Sivan.)

At that point, if you wish to continue to be my friend, so this line of thought goes, you will have to send me a new friend request. If you have unsubscribed from my feed, then you likely will not receive notice that this blog entry has been posted. I post my blog entries from here, Twitter, linkedIn, Facebook, and Google+.

When I write something new, it is out here in the blogosphere. So, shall I adopt this policy? If you don't wish me happy birthday, you're gone and the numbers be damned? I feel I need to have some scruples, you see.

So maybe I shouldn't do that. What do you think? Should I keep the numbers and let two-thirds of my friends just be numbers? Is my career more important than calling nonfriends, "friends?"

To be continued.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Gleaming Flaxen Waxen

 Alot of my readers asked about the wicks I described in Apple of Sodom. What happened? Did they work?

The short answer is they were fabulous! Never did we have such a clean-burning Menorah and the wicks seemed to stay lit forever. We lit at around 5 PM and at 1 AM, those wicks were still going strong.

We told Yitzchak to go ahead and make some more wicks for the second night. Which he did. Same results. Worked a treat!

But today he balked. *sigh* He said the stuff made his nose itch. I think it was more about it no longer being a novelty. I let him go ahead and make the wicks from regular cotton wool, as we have done every other year.

However, it bothered me. I liked that the wicks from the Tapuach Sdom had so much meaning and because they burned so well, too. It added something. Since I had ample material left in that seedpod Yitzchak brought home, I really didn't want it to go to waste.

So I asked Asher to give it a go. Not a good idea. He began to kvetch almost immediately.

I was super busy with baking and other tasks today but it occurred to me that maybe I should take a look and see if there was some way to make the process of rolling the wicks more pleasant. I sat down next to Asher, pulled some of the fluff from the seedpod and began to roll it between my palms. It hit me right away: it was just like spinning flax!

I have done a lot of odd things through the years to bring in money here and there for our large family. One of the things I did was spin linen thread to be used for weaving priestly garments for a museum exhibit. These garments were identical to those worn by the High Priest during the performance of his priestly duties at the Temple.

As a novice spinner, I started with wool.This was easy stuff to work with, due to the natural lanolin contained in the wool. It just slipped through your hands. But flax was a whole different ballgame.

Flax was dry. The only way to keep the spinning wheel going instead of catching and stuttering was to wet the fibers from a bowl of water kept nearby. I'd dip my fingers into the bowl whenever the works started to run dry.

After awhile, I developed a nice rhythm. My thread was very fine and I was proud to give some to my mother, who is a weaver. I was very proud, too, that my thread was used to make this important exhibit that is still on view today.

That was over 2 decades ago. But when I sat down to see what was up with making the wicks from the Tapuach Sdom, it hit me that the stuff was dry like flax, which is also of plant origin. I brought a little bowl of water, dipped my fingers in and got to work. Viva la difference!

I showed Asher and he saw I was right. The job went very fast after that, and we used up the rest of the fibers in the seedpod. We got a generous yield of wicks out of that one seedpod.

We may not ever have another Tapuach Sdom for Chanuka menorah wicks, but I'm glad we had this special material for at least this one year. It really added a lot of meaning to our holiday.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Shaken not Stirred

The kids have school off for Chanuka which turned out to be useful for me. I am under doctor's orders not to pick anything up above a certain weight and I wanted to buy a sack of potatoes. Chanuka means potato latkes (pancakes).

I brought Asher along to the store to pick up the sack of potatoes, put it in my shopping cart, lift it onto the cashier's conveyer belt, put it back in the cart, and then transfer it to the little cart I use to shlep the groceries home. Kids are useful that way...Besides, I knew he was dying to spend some alone time with me. He is of an age where we need to find excuses to spend time together.

It was nice having him along. He asked me to buy him stuff at the store, but that's par for the course. I had allowed for that in my budget.

The only catch was that the store was out of microwave popcorn. I'd wanted to stock up because the kids are home for the week and they enjoy making popcorn and watching movies. Asher and I looked up and down all the aisles twice and didn't find any. I said, "Well, maybe I'll just have to make popcorn from scratch."

Asher turned a quizzical face to me and said, "How do you MAKE popcorn?"

"OMG," thought I. "What had I wrought? Did I actually have a child who didn't know how popcorn was made??"

That settled the matter right there and then: I was going to buy and make popcorn. This was quite clearly a necessary aspect of my son's education.

You see, in the days before microwaves, I was actually the popcorn queen. I used to make a kilo of the stuff every single Friday. This was the family treat for Shabbes. It was filling, crunchy, satisfying, and most of all: inexpensive.

We had a lot of kids and deemed Shabbes treats an important part of their Jewish education. We wanted our kids to love Shabbes. Popcorn served us very well as a way to make our kids feel the joy of the day without us having to spend a fortune.

Making popcorn had been a part of my week for so many years that I was shocked to discover that Asher didn't have any recollection of homemade popcorn in his memory bank. But you see, it's like I raised more than one generation of children. My eldest turns 31 tonight. Asher is 11. My daughter's memories of childhood are by nature, going to be vastly different than those of Asher.

Still, I was appalled that he really didn't know how real popcorn was made. It was like growing up in the city and thinking that milk came from the supermarket rather than from cows. It was akin to forgetting how to play with Lego because of spending too much time on the computer. It seemed my duty as a parent to show Asher that popcorn can be made with love by a mom.

So even though it was the last thing I needed to add to my to-do list for today, I bought a bag of popcorn. We brought it home and I showed Asher how to check the kernels for signs of infestation as per Jewish law. Then I got out my big heavy pot and showed him how I do the popcorn thing. It involves a lot of heavy-duty shaking. The heavy pot and the shaking: those are the two big secrets to popcorn making.

I made so much popcorn that it filled a large plastic dish basin. The kids were amazed at how much better it tasted than the microwave stuff they're used to eating. And I cooked it up in no time flat.

On Chanuka, the custom is to eat foods fried in oil, to commemorate the miracle of a small amount of oil lasting 8 days; the length of time it took to get more pure olive oil to light the Temple Menorah. It seemed fitting that in addition to potato pancakes and jelly doughnuts, the Epsteins also had low-tech popcorn, cooked in a pot with canola oil. Much more fitting than a cellophane wrapped bag you zap with microwaves.

Chappy Chanuka!

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Apple of Sodom

Yitzchak went on a school trip with his classmates to Wadi Kelt not long ago and came home with what looked like an apple. But looks are deceptive. Yitzchak popped it open and the fruit was empty saved for an exotic-looking seedpod about the size and approximate shape of a rabbit's foot. Covered with little brown seeds, the pod looked a bit like a puny pine cone. The thing just begged to be touched.

So I touched it. And promptly snatched my hand back. The thing felt ALIVE. Ew. Creepy.

Yitzchak told us that the "fruit" is called "Tapuach Sodom" which translates to Apple of Sodom. The moniker comes from its deceptive looks. The fruit appears to be an apple, but is empty except for the seedpod and a toxic fluid: nothing good can come from the fruit. All this hints at the deceptive nature of those who lived in the evil city of Sodom as depicted in the bible.

Yitzchak, told us that after the pod dried, the fibers attached to the seeds could be used as wicks for lighting the Chanukia, the Chanuka Menorah (candelabra). We thought the idea kind of dubious, but we were willing to see how things played out.

I couldn't help but ask Yitzchak about a seeming contradiction here: the plant is called Apple of Sodom because it is deceptive and nothing good can come of it, yet the fluffy fibers contained within the seedpod can be used for a holy purpose, for the lighting of the menora!

Yitzchak had a good answer at the ready: the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah were burnt to the ground. The use of the plant mimics the sad end of those biblical cities.

I Googled the subject and discovered that Josephus mentions the plant in his writings and that it was found near Sodom. Its Latin name is Calotropis Procera. Marilyn Manson wrote a seriously creepy song called Apple of Sodom with the fade out line being: "I've got something you can never eat."

Yitzchak left the seedpod on a shelf in my kitchen next to our collection of cereal boxes. Every time someone took down a box of cereal, the darned seedpod fell and someone would have to PICK IT UP. It felt like touching a dead hand. Seriously creepy.

After a few days, it at last occurred to me that there was no law preventing me from moving the seedpod to a different home. I put it on the tray that holds my Shabbes candlesticks, atop my piano in the living room. By this time, it was clear that the seedpod had undergone a metamorphosis. The seeds were starting to loosen and the fibers were light and silky.

Tonight is the first night of Chanuka and so I told Yitzchak to have at the seedpod and see if he could make some wicks. He just finished up. They look just as good as the wicks I make from cotton every year. I can't wait to see how they burn.

Happy Chanuka!

Monday, December 19, 2011

Phone Phobia

Phone phobia. Am I the only one who suffers from this malady?

What is it about me and phones? Well, for one thing, there's that old canard about using a phone with wet hands during a storm and getting struck by lightning. But no. I know that's just an old wives' tale.

It's something else. Something that makes my heart begin to pound when I have to make a phone call. Something that makes me sound awkward and on occasion, say really dumb stuff I'd had no intention of saying. Other times, I just sound low-key to the point of appearing rude and uninterested, though I AM interested, or would be, if I could just get over my stupid fear that I'm going to say something stupid and I'm going to do it any second now.

Not long ago, a cell phone company representative came to the house to sell us on a new plan; one that trumped the plan we have with our current provider. The representative was able to access the number of minutes we spent on our phones during the past month. Dov: 397 minutes, Me: 14 minutes.

Me, I like to TYPE. I am a different creature online than I am in person. But as bad as I am in person, a little shy, a bit awkward and fidgety, on the phone I'm barely human.

One of my kids developed a little routine. He says, "This is Eema (Hebrew for mom) on the phone," and then he paces back and forth manically going, "Uh huh. Uh huh. Uh huh..." and all my family members laugh because, while I had no idea I paced when I make phone calls, apparently I do and this mimicry is (apparently) an uncanny imitation of my phone call behavior. I began to notice that what the Hell, I DO pace manically (maniacally!) back and forth when I'm on the phone. Freaky.

Still, onward and upward as they say. I aim for self-improvement and I know this phone phobia thing is a bad, bad thing. I need to get over that: get over myself.

So today I picked up the phone and called my friend Leora and asked if I could come by to hang out and shmooze for a bit. As we're arranging time and so forth, in the back of my head, there is this voice saying, "She's probably incredibly busy and the last thing she wanted was drop-in company."

Now I have no idea why my brain does that: fills in blanks that probably aren't even there. But I'm glad it was Leora I called. I called her for a reason. You see, I know Leora really, genuinely likes me. And that helps me not be so afraid to put myself out there with her.

So I walked over to Leora and we chatted for awhile and it was FINE.

Yet I know the next time I pick up the phone will be no different. I'll still think I'm imposing myself on someone's busy day. I'd like to pat myself on the back and think it's just because I'm so ultra-considerate of others, but that would be a lie. I don't know why I am afraid of the phone and making calls.

Someday, maybe I'll figure it all out. 

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Natalie’s Advice

Four and a half years ago, praised be to God (and my friend Natalie), I quit smoking. I had smoked through thick and through thin, through pregnancy and nursing, for 33 years.

And I was a chain smoker.

I know those are sickening facts. But here’s another fact: I was an addict.

I tried so many ways to quit. I tried hypnosis (twice), Smokenders, and cold turkey. I tried wrapping a piece of paper and a pencil around my cigarette pack with a rubber band and writing down the time and reason for each cigarette. I tried deep breathing. I ate carrot sticks when the cravings hit.

My husband and MIL sent me articles outlining the grave (no pun intended) results of smoking and second hand smoke. It made me feel awful, but it didn’t help me quit. I felt horribly guilty about what I was doing to my fetuses, babies, children, and husband but I failed at every attempt to quit.

My mother sent me an article about the deep facial lines caused by smoking and I listened to her talk about how smoking made a woman look “hard.” I looked in the mirror and saw my sweet young face and peaches and cream complexion had become deeply creased and hard.


Yet even this blow to my woman’s vanity didn’t help me quit. I didn’t know how to clarify this for my friends and loved ones, but quitting had never been about finding the motivation. I had ample motivation—motivation in spades. It was only about addiction. 

Everyone knows that nicotine is addictive, but not everyone knows that the cigarette companies hedge their bets and get customers sucked in really deep by adding chemicals that boost the effects of nicotine, such as ammonia. A list of no less than 599 chemicals were approved by the American Department of Health and Human Services in April 1994. 

On Shabbes, it is forbidden to smoke and as a religious Jew, every Shabbes I suffered. I watched the hands of clock and agonized with real physical and emotional discomfort every single week, praying for an end to Shabbes so I could light up. In all those years as a smoker, I never enjoyed Shabbes as the gift it is meant to be, but suffered nonstop for 25 hours once a week.

Go ahead: ask me the question you want to ask. Everyone asks me the same thing, “How did you finally quit??”

Here is what I did.

I googled Nicotine Anonymous and found an online group, since there was, at least at that time, no Nicanon group in my area. I was very lucky to find a sponsor who was thrilled to work with someone in Israel.

Natalie is Jewish and like me, has an interest in Jewish genealogy. We had much in common. It seemed like a match made in heaven.

Natalie gave me an amazing tip that solved my whole problem with quitting. She told me that the cravings only last five minutes, maximum. Natalie told me to feel free to time the cravings.

And so I did. Exactly five minutes. She was right.

The point? You can white-knuckle anything for five minutes. And if you can white-knuckle the hankering for a cigarette for five minutes, you’ve got the addiction licked.

I gave my pack of cigarettes to Dov to throw away, because I wasn’t quite strong enough to throw them away on my own. And I white-knuckled the cravings as they came.

As Natalie had promised, the cravings got farther and farther apart until days went by when I didn’t crave a cigarette even once.

I didn’t stay in Nicanon for the long run, but I am very grateful for what the group and Natalie did for me.

If someone you love is addicted to cigarettes, don’t show them scary articles or nag them. Just offer them Natalie’s advice and your love and support. I wish I’d met her sooner. But I’m lucky to have met her at all.

Thank you, Natalie!