Don’t date Nazis!

Jul. 23rd, 2017 05:06 pm
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Posted by JenniferP

The wonderful Miss Conduct at the Boston Globe answered a letter about a pair of sisters, one of whom is dating a dude who has a Nazi flag in his room. She nailed it:

“…the thing about Nazis is, they are a great place to draw the line…”

Let me add a script:

“Sister, your fucking boyfriend has a fucking Nazi flag in his fucking bedroom. What the fuck are you doing? YOU ARE DATING A LITERAL NAZI. LOOK AT YOUR LIFE!!!! WHAT THE FUCK!!!! GET RIGHT WITH THE LORD AND YOURSELF AND ALL THAT IS GOOD AND TRUE AND DUMP THIS NAZI ASSHOLE!!!”


P.S. Stop dating people with Confederate paraphernalia, too. SAME DIFFERENCE, Y’ALL.

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Posted by John Scalzi

As part of my continuing effort to justify the Adobe Creative Cloud subscription I have, I’ve been playing with my Audition audio software and learning how to use it. Today I learned how to make a multitrack file! Go me. I also played with the various filters in the software to distort and shape sounds.

All of which is to say I recorded a song today and it is very very noisy indeed. It’s “Here Comes the Rain Again,” which is my favorite song from the Eurythmics. Here it is (and no, it’s not actually nine minutes long, I don’t know why the media player says that. It’s, like, five):

Yes, that’s me singing. No, Annie Lennox doesn’t have a thing to worry about.

In case you’re curious, every noise on that track either comes out of me, or out of an acoustic tenor guitar. Audio filters are fun! Let’s just say I let my Thurston out to play, and if you get that reference, congratulations, you’re old too.

No, I’m not giving up my day job. Relax. But I do enjoy playing with sounds. This is fun for me.

In any event: Enjoy the noise.

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Posted by Ask a Manager

This comment section is open for any non-work-related discussion you’d like to have with other readers, by popular demand. (This one is truly no work and no school.)

Book recommendation of the week: The Boy Who Loved Too Much: A True Story of Pathological Friendliness, by Jennifer Latson. I read this after reading this fascinating write-up in NYMag about Williams syndrome, also known as “cocktail party syndrome,” which makes people incredibly outgoing, extroverted, and trusting (as well as causing intellectual disabilities, physical problems, and musical and story-telling talents).

weekend free-for-all – July 22-23, 2017 was originally published by Alison Green on Ask a Manager.

Blacklight Sunset

Jul. 22nd, 2017 12:44 pm
[syndicated profile] scalziwhatever_feed

Posted by John Scalzi

Because sometimes it’s fun to play with Photoshop’s sliders and see what you come up with. This is what happens (in part) when you push the “dehaze” slider all the way to the right. The real sunset didn’t look like this (it looked like this), but I think it might be cool to live on a planet where the sunset did look like that, every once in a while.

Enjoy the weekend, folks.

New Books and ARCs, 7/21/17

Jul. 21st, 2017 08:53 pm
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Posted by John Scalzi

As we ease on into another summer weekend, here are the new books and ARCs that have come to the Scalzi Compound this week. What do you like here? Share your feelings in the comments!

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Posted by John Scalzi

Here’s Sugar curling up with a good book, in this case the ARC of Don’t Live For Your Obituary, my upcoming collection of essays about writing and the writing life, which comes out in December from Subterranean Press. And you can win it! Here’s how:

Tell me in the comments which Beatles song I am thinking of right now.

That’s it!

The person who correctly guesses which Beatles song I am thinking of wins. In the case where more than one person correctly guesses, I will number the correct guesses in order of appearance and then use a random number generator to select the winner among them.

“Beatles song” in this case means a song recorded by the Beatles, and includes both original songs by the band, and the cover songs they recorded. Solo work does not count. Here’s a list of songs recorded by the Beatles, if you need it. The song I’m thinking of is on it.

Guess only one song. Posts with more than one guess will have only the first song considered. Posts not related to guessing a song will be deleted. Also, only one post per person — additional posts will be deleted.

This contest is open to everyone everywhere in the world, and runs until the comments here automatically shut off (which will be around 3:50pm Eastern time, Sunday, July 23rd). When you post a comment, leave a legit email address in the “email” field so I can contact you. I’ll also announce the winner here on Monday, July 24. I’ll mail the ARC to you, signed (and personalized, if so requested).

Kitten not included.

Also remember you can pre-order the hardcover edition of Obit from Subterranean Press. This is a signed, limited edition — there are only 1,000 being made — and they’ve already had a healthy number of pre-orders. So don’t wait if you want one.

Now: Guess which Beatles song I am thinking of! And good luck!

Agent to the Stars, 20 Years On

Jul. 21st, 2017 06:10 pm
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Posted by John Scalzi

So, on July 21, 1997, which was a Monday, I posted the following on the alt.society.generation-x newsgroup:

Thought y’all might like to know. I’m happy, pleased, tired.

96,098 words, cranked out in a little under three months, working
mostly on weekends, grinding out 5,000 words at a sitting.

Learned two things:

a) I *can* carry a story over such a long stretch;

b) like most things on the planet, thinking about doing it is a lot
worse than simply sitting down and doing it. The writing wasn’t hard
to do, you just need to plant ass in seat and go from there.

I did find it helped not to make my first novel a gut-wrenching
personal story, if you know what I mean. Instead I just tried to write
the sort of science fiction story I would like to read. It was fun.

Now I go in to tinker and fine tune. Will soon have it ready for beta
testing. Be afraid. Be very afraid.

That novel? Agent to the Stars. Which means that today is the 20th anniversary of me being a novelist. Being a published novelist would have to wait — I date that to January 1, 2005, the official publication date of Old Man’s War — but in terms of having written a full, complete (and as it eventually turned out, publishable) novel: Today’s the day.

I’ve recounted the story of Agent before but it’s fun to tell, because I think it’s a nice antidote to the “I just had to share the story I’d been dreaming of my whole life” angle first novels often take. The gist of the story was that my 10-year high school reunion was on the horizon, and having been “the writer dude” in my class, I knew I would be asked if I had ever gotten around to writing a novel, and I wanted to be able to say “yes.” Also, I was then in my late 20s and it was time to find out whether I could actually write one or not.

Having decided I was going to write one, I decided to make it easy for myself, mostly by not trying to do all things at once. The goal was simply: Write a novel-length story. The story itself was going to be pretty simple and not personally consequential; it wasn’t going to be a thinly-disguised roman a clef, or something with a serious and/or personal theme. It would involve Hollywood in some way, because I had spent years as a film critic and knew that world well enough to write about it. And as for genre, I was most familiar with mystery/crime fiction and science fiction/fantasy, so I flipped a coin to decide which to do. It come up heads, so science fiction it was, and the story I had for that was: Aliens come and decide to get Hollywood representation.

(I don’t remember the story I was thinking for the mystery version. I’m sure death was involved. And for those about to say “well, you didn’t have to stick with science fiction for your second book,” that’s technically correct, but once I’d written one science fiction novel, I knew I could write science fiction. It was easier to stick with what I knew. And anyway I write murder mysteries now — Lock In and the upcoming Head On. They also happen to be science fiction.)

I remember the writing of Agent being pretty easy, in no small part, I’m sure, because of everything noted above — it wasn’t meant to be weighty or serious or even good, merely novel-length. When I finished it, I do remember thinking something along the lines of “Huh. That wasn’t so bad. Maybe I should have done this earlier.” In the fullness of time, I’ve realized that I probably couldn’t have done it any earlier, I wasn’t focused enough and it helped me to have some sort of external motivation, in this case, my high school reunion.

Once finished, I asked two friends and co-workers at America Online to read the book: Regan Avery and Stephen Bennett, both of whom I knew loved science fiction, and both of whom I knew I could trust to tell me if what I’d written was crap. They both gave it a thumbs up. Then I showed it to Krissy, my wife, who was apprehensive about reading it, since if she hated it she would have to tell me, and would still have to be married to me afterward. When she finished it, the first thing she said to me about it was “Thank Christ it’s good.” Domestic felicity lived for another day.

And then, having written it… I did nothing with it for two years. Because, again, it wasn’t written for any other reason than to see if I could write a novel. It was practice. People other than Regan and Stephen and Krissy finally saw it in 1999 when I decided that the then brand-new site could use some content, so I put it up here as a “shareware” novel, meaning that if people liked it they could send me a dollar for it through the mail. And people did! Which was nice.

It was finally physically published in 2005, when Bill Schafer of Subterranean Press published a limited hardcover edition. I was jazzed about that, since I wanted a version of the book I could put on my shelf. The cover was done by Penny Arcade’s Mike Krahulik, who among other things knew of the book because I was one of Penny Arcade’s very first advertisers way back in the day, advertising the Web version of the book (those guys have done okay since then). Then came the Tor paperback edition, and the various foreign editions, and the audiobook, and here we are today.

When I wrote the novel, of course, I had no idea that writing it was the first step toward where I am now. I was working at America Online — and enjoying it! It was a cool place to be in the 90s! — and to the extent I thought I would be writing novels at all, I thought that they would be sideline to my overall writing career, rather than (as it turned out) the main thrust of it. This should be your first indication that science fiction writers in fact cannot predict the future with any accuracy.

I’m very fond of Agent, and think it reads pretty well. I’m also aware that it’s first effort, and also because it was written to be in present time in the 90s, just about out of time in terms of feeling at all contemporary (there are fewer and fewer Holocaust survivors remaining, to pick just one obvious example in the book). At this point I suggest people consider it as part of an alternate history which branched off from our timeline in 1998 or thereabouts. Occasionally it gets talked about for being picked for TV/film. If that ever happens, expect some extensive plot revisions. Otherwise, it is what it is.

One thing I do like about Agent is that I still have people tell me that it’s their favorite of mine. I like that because I think it’s nice to know that even this very early effort, done simply for the purpose of finding out if I could write a novel, does what I think a novel should: Entertains people and makes them glad they spent their time with it.

I’m also happy it’s the novel that told me I could do this thing, this novel-writing thing, and that I listened to it. The last couple of decades have turned out pretty well for me. I’m excited to see where things go from here.

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Posted by Ask a Manager

Remember the letter-writer last month who was on unpaid leave during a legal dispute with her company, had discovered that they hadn’t revoked her high-level IT access, and was wondering how to suggest they do so? (#5 at the link) Here’s the update.

I’m the letter-writer who asked about how to tell a company I was embroiled in a legal dispute with that I still had high-level IT admin permissions that had never been removed. A few folks in the comments asked for an update, and I am happy to have one.

A quick clarification first–nearly everyone told me all this communication should be coming from my lawyer and not me, and seemed shocked I was still talking to my company directly. I think this is a cultural difference between the U.S. and here–the process here is designed to minimise the need for litigation and NOT involve lawyers directly until very late. There’s about 4-6 rounds to the full process (as opposed to the U.S., where it seems like there’s nothing between “hope they come to their senses” and “take them to court”), and lawyers don’t really get involved directly until about round 5 (actually appearing in court). Earlier than that you’re allowed to have “legal advice” but are supposed to self-represent and have to petition the court to have a lawyer officially represent you in the earlier stages. While my company knew I was seeking legal advice, the communication stayed through me (advised by her) and my lawyer repeatedly advised me to minimize references to her, getting legal advice, “my lawyer says,” “I’ve been advised by a lawyer that,” etc. because she says that usually escalates things too quickly and makes it less likely to get a satisfactory outcome at the earlier stages. This sounds unlike what I’ve read on here about the U.S., where it seems this is often used as a soft threat to get people to back down before going to court.

A couple of things happened shortly after my question was answered. First, the HR person who had been so hostile ramped up their behaviour again and tried to have me flat out fired on a trumped up charge. I immediately escalated to the next step in the legal proceedings (essentially from the “flag that it’s happening but try to work it out yourselves” stage to the “telling the court we don’t think we can work it out and requesting official mediation” stage, which is mandatory before a hearing) and then I demanded to work with a different HR person.

This solidified for me that I needed to handle this access issue ASAP to reduce my personal risk. But based on the commentariat here, I knew I needed to approach it really carefully. I was pretty taken aback by the number of people who were of the opinion that I had done something wrong or that my company was going to think I had done something wrong by even knowing I still had access to the system (from passive alerts, as I clarified in the comments) or by thinking about the fact that I did. Junior Dev really hit the nail on the head with their comment: “It’s part of my job to make computer systems more secure; that means I have to understand the ways they could be insecure. But to people who don’t deal with those issues on a daily basis, all this can sound like scary hacker talk, or at least be hard to understand why someone could have good intentions yet still see opportunities to do harm.” I was thinking like an IT person trying to make security better talking to people who don’t understand IT security and I needed to moderate my message to accommodate for that.

I decided the best way to handle this was in the context of playing the “being the bigger person” card, even though part of me still just wants to tell them where to stuff it. I wrote the new HR person and told them with their permission I was planning to send my boss a short document to ease the difficulty of my unexpected absence on the company, which they said would be very appreciated. Then I spent about 30 minutes brain-dumping a document outlining things I had admin access to that needed to be transferred to other people, including things I knew had been missed because they hadn’t transferred my permissions yet (e.g., some of those passive notifications I mentioned, like error messages about integration between these systems).

This gave me the chance to both flag I needed to be removed from these systems and a chance to say politely “your info sec is crap; you should probably fix that for the future” (but worded much more professionally with a line taken nearly verbatim from from of the commenters about probably needing to update policies for the future to accommodate people being on unexpected absences for security and functional reasons), but all under the guise of helping them out. It was my assumption (cleared with my lawyer!) that this document would likely cut off any trouble before it started, but also protect me in case the worst I feared did happen.

I’ve always tried to deal with my company in good faith even when they weren’t returning the effort, and in this case it paid off. Between the new HR person and the goodwill over this document, they changed the tone of our interactions entirely and we went into the conciliation process with them being actually, well, conciliatory. We were able to negotiate a mostly-amicable settlement deal and I agreed to transition out in exchange for a reasonable severance. This let us avoid going to court entirely.

I wish none of this had happened and I was still working there, but it’s the best outcome for a crap situation, and now I am going to take a bit of a break then figure out how to move forward. A giant thanks to everyone here for helping me sort out my head about this during a very, very stressful time. It was extremely, extremely useful to have all of your perspectives.

update: telling my company to revoke my IT access during our legal dispute was originally published by Alison Green on Ask a Manager.

open thread – July 21-22, 2017

Jul. 21st, 2017 03:00 pm
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Posted by Ask a Manager

It’s the Friday open thread! The comment section on this post is open for discussion with other readers on anything work-related that you want to talk about. If you want an answer from me, emailing me is still your best bet*, but this is a chance to talk to other readers.

* If you submitted a question to me recently, please don’t repost it here, as it may be in the to-be-answered queue :)

open thread – July 21-22, 2017 was originally published by Alison Green on Ask a Manager.

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Posted by Ask a Manager

It’s five answers to five questions. Here we go…

1. Calling in sick with cramps

I tend to get pretty crippling menstrual cramps on the first day of my period — not enough that I’ve seen a doctor about it, but enough that it cramps my style for an entire day. Sometimes, I feel well enough to get things done, but not well enough to be off the couch and in public.

What should I say to my manager (a man some years older than me) if I need to call in sick? I am tempted to just say “I’m sick” and leave it at that, but I’m worried that it’ll look fishy when I come into work the next day totally fine, since most illnesses don’t put you out of commission for just one day.

I don’t want to make him uncomfortable or give TMI, but I *really* don’t want to come off as lying. We have a pretty good rapport and have talked about marginally personal stuff before, and I know he’s a staunch feminist so can’t imagine him being too squeamish about female body stuff. I’d also like the opportunity to ask if I could work from home instead of using a sick day, if that seems reasonable. It would be ideal to do it every month (assuming that first day didn’t fall on a weekend), although maybe half the time it’s tolerable enough that I *can* go in, just really don’t want to.

I’m wondering if it seems ok to say something like: “I’m dealing with cramps today, but I still have work I’d like to get done — can I work from home for the day, or should I take a sick day instead?”

It’s not going to look weird to take a single sick day and then show up the next day; that’s actually really, really common. The bigger issue is that if it’s happening every month with no context, that’s going to eventually be noticeable.

Given that, my advice would be to say something like this to him: “I get horrific cramps one day a month and would like to work remotely that day if I’m able to work but not able to easily come in. I wanted to just ask you about it overall rather than asking monthly.”

(And then if there’s a day where the cramps won’t even let you work remotely, just handle that like a normal sick day … with no worries about it looking odd that it’s not followed by a second day.)

2. Application system is flagging me as using “inappropriate words”

I’m currently on my first real post-grad job hunt and your website has been super helpful in terms of cover letters and resumes! However, I’ve come across somewhat of a conundrum while job searching. What should I do when a job application that requires me to submit my resume in text form flags some words as inappropriate? And I’m not talking about any four letter words or sexual innuendos. One HR website I’ve applied through, in two different industries, has flagged the words “refugee” and “religious” in my resume, even though those words are integral in my resume; the word “refugee” is literally part of my current job title! Is this scaring potential employers off if/when they see my application has “inappropriate” words? And if so, how the heck do I get around it?

There’s a small icon that’s clickable right underneath the text box, and when you click on it, another window pops up with the “Word Filter Report.” It lists how many words, how many unique words, how many inappropriate words, and then lists the inappropriate words with how many times they’re used. This hasn’t barred me from submitting and doesn’t outright say “You have a resume with inappropriate words” upon submitting the application, but it still makes me wonder if hiring managers can see that something’s up with my resume.

This is just a weird part of some online application systems. You can ignore it. The vast majority of hiring managers aren’t paying any attention to it and in many/most cases won’t even see it (and even among the small number who might, it’s pretty widely known that this kind of filter will flag things that aren’t actually problematic in the context they’re being used in). It’s not like the hiring manager is getting a report that says “this candidate used questionable language.”

3. Can I tell another team to stop doing my team’s work?

I work for a company that has a headquarters in one state and several remote offices in another state. My team is based in one of the remote offices. Over the years, many of my team’s job functions have slowly been assumed by other teams at corporate. It’s not that my team is shirking their responsibilities; they are already performing these tasks. I think the problem is that the corporate teams may not know that these are already being handled by our team. I’m worried about losing our jobs because people don’t realize what we do.

If I find out that someone in corporate is working on something I normally work on, is there a tactful way to tell that person that that is something I handle and they should back off and send those tasks to me?

Two things: First in the moment, it’s fine to say to the person, “I saw you are working on teapot orders. I normally handle everything having to do with teapot orders — can I ask you to forward that stuff over to me to handle when you see it, so that I’m in the loop on all of it? There can be some fussy bits that wouldn’t be intuitive if you didn’t have the whole order file.”

But second, talk to your boss about the pattern. If it’s happening more than very rarely, it’s something she should be aware of and addressing more in a more big-picture way. Or, if you’re a manager yourself (I’m not entirely sure from your letter), then you have standing to talk with managers over at headquarters to explain the problem and try to come up with a broader solution.

4. Having women-only bathrooms without men-only bathrooms

At my workplace, we had four single-person bathrooms (separate entrances and not shared once inside). These were gender neutral so anyone could use them.

I think in response to people being perceived to leave the bathroom in a mess (several emails went around on the topic) and complaints from female employees (I’m guessing here), management have placed a sign on one of these bathrooms indicating that it is for women only. Occasionally male people are caught(!) using the women’s bathroom, and a “reminder” email goes around.

I’m not sure how I feel about this. I’ve stayed out of toiletgate, but I guess my thoughts are 1) not that big a deal so don’t worry, 2) single person gendered bathrooms are dumb, 3) if they’re going to gender bathrooms, it should apply both ways, and 4) I resent the implication that all men leave bathrooms in a dirty state (even if that may be true :) ). Interested in your thoughts!

Yeah, having a women-only bathroom while all the others are gender-neutral does imply that women are getting special treatment because men are gross. I’d say it’s moderately annoying, but not so egregious that it demands that good people fight back … but that if you want to advocate for a different system, it would be entirely reasonable to do so.

5. I saw a part-time job opening that would be perfect if it were full-time

I am in the private sector of a relatively small field where jobs are hard to come by. Recently, a job at a nearby academic institution has become available that I am well qualified for. I have wanted to break into the academic sector for a long time. It is a data management job, not a professorship. The problem is the job is part-time. I need full-time work. Is there advice you can give me on the etiquette and protocol for applying for a part-time job I would want if it was full-time or would it be poor form to submit my application materials?

If they’re advertising it as part-time, it’s very unlikely that they want to make it full-time. There may only be part-time work, or there may only be a part-time salary in their budget. So the only real way you can do this is by contacting them and saying something like, “I realize that this is part-time position, and I’m really only looking for full-time work. But I wanted to reach out and let you know that I’d love to talk with you if you ever decide to hire for a full-time role in this area.” Attach your resume, etc.

You’d do this not really expecting anything to come from it — since after all, they’re hiring for something different than you’re a match for — but if on the off chance it turns out that they’ve already been on the verge of realizing that maybe they need someone full-time after all, then great.

The point here, though, is that your framing — both to them and to yourself — needs to be “I realize this is unlikely, but just in case.”

calling in sick with cramps, application system is flagging me as using “inappropriate words,” and more was originally published by Alison Green on Ask a Manager.

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Posted by JenniferP

Hello Captain Awkward,

I have an ongoing issue that I hope you can help me with, perhaps in the form of a script. I have been married for 24 years. Our marriage is far from perfect but we have worked out some of the major kinks. So here is the issue.

My husband is an introvert, I am an extreme extrovert. We are both ok with that. He doesn’t mind if I socialize and I do not care if he takes a pass on 99% of the invitations sent our way. He is fine with family events and hanging with a few close friends. All good. The problem is the rest of the world. We get invited to a lot of events that the majority of the guests are couples. Neighborhood parties, extended family stuff, work events etc. Again, my husband hates, I really enjoy. People are ok if I attend one or two events solo, but begin to get awkward and insulted beyond that. There are just so many “Husband is sick” “Husband is working on a project” excuses I can make before it becomes obvious that he is just not going to be showing up.

I have no idea what the right approach is to this is. Do I just say to everyone ” Hey husband hates parties and hanging out and makes it a misery for me til we finally just leave early”. I have started to just not attend things myself which makes me sad and resentful.

Any thoughts on how to make this less awkward?


Somebody at the party will probably always ask you that question because curiosity is human and they think enquiring after a person’s spouse is a routine & polite thing to do. You can’t change their behavior, but you can try to approach your replies with more “IDGAF” and see if they get better at taking cues from you.

The biggest recommendation I have is: DON’T LIE ANYMORE. You may think you need to tell white lies to spare the host’s feelings, but that’s part of why you feel resentful about the whole thing. You don’t actually owe the hosts any explanations, and being forced to lie is uncomfortable, so, let it go and tell the truth. He’s not sick, he’s not at work, he’s just not here.

Scripts, which nearly all come with “+ [a subject change]!” after them:

  • Oh, he’s at home.”
  • “He’s doing something else today.” 
  • “He’s not a party person, but I am!” 
  • “Oh, I like to come by myself, and he likes the quiet time at home. Everyone wins this way!” 
  • “We have a mixed Introvert-Extrovert marriage, so, you’re stuck with me for the rest of time.” 
  • “Oh, I can almost never never drag him out of the house for parties! He really loves his solo time, and I love being here with all of you.”

You say people are getting insulted, like, they might feel like your husband doesn’t really like them. That’s awkward, but at the end of the day, so what? It’s not your job to be his neighborhood friendliness ambassador. He’s not hurting anybody.

Your marriage is just fine, and their opinion of it doesn’t matter, so the worst thing I can come up with is that if they are obsessed with even numbers and couples, some people might stop inviting you to things. That would sting, but it’s not something you can actually control. Or, they might awkwardly ask, wait, doesn’t he like us? And you can say “I don’t know, he’s certainly never mentioned anything about that to me. After 24 years I do know that even when it’s his very best friends or family, big gatherings aren’t his cup of tea. It’s not personal, and it’s never gonna change! Good news, though, you’re never getting rid of me, ’cause I love it here.”

I’m gonna end with a compromise suggestion specifically for neighborhood gatherings, specifically for things that are walking distance and don’t require dressing up. Once a month or so, could your husband wander over and say a 10-minute hello to the hosts as a favor to you? Would it, like, crush his fragile spirit to drop in and say “Hey, bud, looks like a great gathering! My wife’s been looking forward to it all week! You know I’m not a party person but I wanted to stop by and say hello for a minute.” Then, he can leave whenever he wants to and you can stay all you want.

He certainly doesn’t have to do this (invitations are not commands, the neighbors are not owed 2 guests just because they invited 2 guests), but one thing I see is you doing a bunch of emotional labor around this and him doing zero. I used to think I hated “small talk” and only wanted to connect over deep truths but it turns out SMALL TALK IS AWESOME IT GREASES THE WHEELS OF THE SOCIAL CONTRACT AND ANYONE CAN DO IT FOR A FEW MINUTES, YOU WON’T DIE OF A BRIEF EXCHANGE ABOUT LAWN CARE OR THE WEATHER INSTEAD OF YOUR INNERMOST THOUGHTS.(See also: IT’S OKAY TO BE A LITTLE BIT BORED/BORING AS LONG AS YOU ARE KIND).

Your social life and relationships with the neighbors are important to you, so if him going for a few minutes would make you feel less awkward and smooth your way, I think that’s an okay thing to ask him to try out this summer.


Closing comments as of 7/23.


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Posted by Ask a Manager

About a month ago, a reader posted this in an open thread:

Does anyone have any experience hiring someone when you couldn’t get in touch with any real references? We recently interviewed some one who seemed okay but I had reservations. We didn’t have many good options, so we asked for her references. The only one we got in touch with was someone who worked with for 3 months 15 years ago and who is now her friend. We tried calling more recent employers and no one returned our (multiple) calls. Anyway, my boss was desperate and hired her.

I get that there might be some innocent explanation, but it’s a major red flag to me. Any stories (whether with good endings or bad) from similar situations?

At the time, I responded there with this: “It’s a major red flag. Can we use this as a test — will you report back to us in a few months about how she turned out as an employee?”

She did, and here’s what happened:

In an open thread a few weeks ago, I asked for experiences other commenters had with hiring someone when you couldn’t get in touch with any of their references, and you asked to report back with my story. Well…

Backstory: We were searching for someone for a position that required relatively difficult-to-find skills. The search went pretty poorly. At the interview stage, we had one candidate who I would categorize as “not great, but could work.” My manager and I agreed to move forward with her.

But then … we tried contacting her references. She has 10+ years of work history and we could not get in touch with anybody. When we went back to her asking for help, she provided references who, no joke, worked with her for 3 months 15+ years ago. We had been clear that even providing coworkers from her more recent jobs would have worked.

At this point, I was blinded by red flags and rescinded my support of her candidacy. Nevertheless, my boss offered her the job.

So … it’s been 3 weeks, and we’re letting her go tomorrow. It’s nothing egregious, but she lacks certain skills/personality traits (like resourcefulness, flexibility, etc.) that are necessary for the job. She’s also someone who I could definitely see being an “okay” employee in other jobs, but not someone who I would want to give a reference for.

I don’t know whether to consider this a “lesson learned” in terms of the references, because I’ve always known (partially from being a religious reader of this site) how important they are. But I’m a new supervisor, and I have learned that I need to put my foot down on hiring decisions when I will ultimately be cleaning the mess. I’m not sure how successful putting my foot down will be (since my manager is “involved” to say the least) but I will at least speak my mind.

Me again.

Yeah, it’s a lesson learned.

It’s not that there’s no conceivable situation where someone could have legitimate reasons for difficulty in coming up with references. Stuff happens — managers die, go off the grid, whatever. Or for people who are in their first job, it can sometimes be hard to figure who to use (since they usually won’t want to use a current boss who doesn’t know they’re looking). But that’s not what happened here. In this case, she didn’t give an explanation that made sense, and she didn’t take you up on it when you offered to let her use coworkers rather than bosses. There’s a reason for that.

And someone who’s a good employee with good judgment isn’t going to suggest references they worked with 15 years ago for three months.

So, the lessons to draw out for the future:

1. When someone can’t give you suitable references, have a conversation with them about why. You’ll get more insight by talking with them about it.

2. When you have reservations about a candidate, take those seriously. “Not great, but could work” is not enough to hire someone in most situations.

3. When you have reservations about a candidate but are considering hiring the person anyway, then you really, really need to speak with references to learn more. If you have reservations and the person can’t produce any references, that’s pretty much always got to end up with not hiring them.

4. When your boss wants to hire someone who you don’t think is the right choice, speak up. Ultimately your boss may overrule you, but it’s good to be on record clearly saying “I think this person would be the wrong hire, and here’s why.” (And I don’t think you managed this person but if I’m wrong and you did, then you have standing to push even harder.)

But also … experiences like this tend to be how people learn these lessons. I think everyone who’s been managing and hiring for a while has at least one story like this — so I wouldn’t beat yourself up over it too much.

we hired someone without talking to any references … and it went badly was originally published by Alison Green on Ask a Manager.

“Actually, it’s a tabard.”

Jul. 20th, 2017 06:01 pm
[syndicated profile] captainawkward_feed

Posted by JenniferP



I am howling at this story of Jenny Slate’s terrible blind date.


Like, lmk when you get to the phrase “[metal clanking noises]” if you’re not ded of laughing by then.

It’s very funny and well told, because she is funny and a good storyteller (and because it doesn’t end with her being called ‘Milady’ in a murder basement for the rest of her short life), but it’s also a deeply cautionary tale about how women are socialized to be nice at all costs and how some dudes have not heard “LOL, Nope!!!!” coming from the woman-shaped hole in the nearest wall as their date flees the scene nearly enough in this life.



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Posted by Ask a Manager

A reader writes:

This is not a question about something I am dealing with, but there was something in the news in my community that is really generating a lot of discussion. I was wondering what you thought about it.

A bunch of lifeguards (largely teens) were fired from our community pool. The director of the rec center won’t say much, only that it was about social media use. See here and here.

The comments are a mixed bag. Many people think this is extreme, but some also thought if they were sharing pictures of pool patrons, that would be a dealbreaker. Personally, I thought that if there is sexual harassment or racism/other bigotry, I can see where there would be a zero-tolerance policy. But it also made me think: where should the line be between reprimands and dismissal?

I expect the real cause will be leaked, but for the time being it’s generated a lot of conversation among those of us who manage high school or college students, who may not always have a good feel for what’s appropriate. We’re trying to figure out how we would have responded in various situations.

I know we just heard from a niece, but this question was too perfect to pass up bringing in a different niece: 17-year-old M., who’s in her second year of lifeguarding and thus is my lifeguard expert (and who has been making occasional appearances here since she was 12). Here’s our email exchange about this letter.

Me: So you’re a lifeguard. We obviously don’t have all the details here, but what’s your take on this?

M.: We don’t know exactly what was in the chats, but it sounds like it was “raunchy jokes” and in that case, I don’t think the guards should have been fired. But if a guard was making inappropriate jokes about another lifeguard, then the perpetrator should be let go.

However, because so many guards were fired, it seems like the management overreacted because probably not all of those guards said hurtful things.

From the comments and articles, it sounds like this pool has a very bad culture over​all, but the managers do have the right to fire​ people​ at any time because lifeguards are (to my knowledge) always hired at-will.  As long as the pool remains safely guarded with the correct number of lifeguards who get sufficient breaks, I would say the managers are still doing their jobs, except for keeping morale high.

Me: People are going to have group chats and stuff like that with their coworkers, especially when you get a group of people who are all around the same age. But it’s also true that sometimes it spirals out of control. Where do you think the right boundaries are for this kind of thing with coworkers?

M.: It probably differs at every pool, and each situation is different, which is why this is a difficult issue. In this particular pool, one of the guards was so hurt or disturbed by the group chat that they actually showed it to the superiors, believing it would be bad enough to warrant their attention. In my work group chats, there is very little that would get anybody fired, and I don’t think anybody would show it to our boss.

If I were a lifeguard manager, or whoever fired these people, I would draw the line at bullying or harassment. If one or more specific people were targeted in the chats, I would take action, and if it were bad enough, would let people go. But it is a delicate subject because the texts are not part of the job, so I would tread very lightly, as the whole thing is an invasion of privacy.

Me: So from the manager point of view, the concern is sometimes that the people involved in the group chat think that everyone is okay with, for example, raunchy jokes … but that really there’s one or more people who feel really uncomfortable with it, and who feel like they’re being subjected to a sexualized workplace, which can get into sexual harassment issues. Because a lot of times, people won’t speak up if they feel uncomfortable about something … which leads to everyone else assuming they’re fine with it, but they’re actually not. That’s why workplaces will often shut down any kind of chat like that, because it can lead to legal issues for them even if it’s all happening during non-work hours.

That said, with young employees, like lifeguards tend to be, I think it generally makes sense to just explain this to them rather than firing them for it (unless it was really egregious, and I’d put “sharing photos of pool patrons” in the really egregious category). People aren’t born knowing this stuff, and the way they learn it is usually that some manager takes the time to explain it to them. What do you think about that — does it ring true to you?

M.: That is true, and I didn’t really think about it.

I know that my coworkers have lots of different group chats, so you just have to know your audience. But in person, it seems that everyone is chill with one another and can say whatever they want, too. A chat just seems more permanent. Probably, if nobody was bullied or harassed personally, then the managers should just explain everything in an inservice, so people can adjust the chats accordingly.

But, also, it depends on the culture of the workplace. At a pool I used to work at, we didn’t have any group chats (that I know of), or at least any with the majority or all of the staff. Almost all communication was through email, with the boss CC’d. It was not a super fun environment, but strictly professional. At my job now, many more friendships are made, and it is a very fun place to work, and there are more chats, and those who don’t want to be in the chats just leave them.

Me: Yeah, culture is always a huge factor. You are weirdly smart about this stuff. Do you feel like you understand workplace stuff better than most of your friends? Where do you think it comes from? I’d love to take the credit, but I don’t think I’m actually responsible for it.

M.: ​Thank you! I just think because I have had a few different jobs with some bad managers, some so/so, and some good, I am able to see what works and what doesn’t. I think that people my age who work understand this, because people always think about what they wish a manager would do.

Me: AND because of fervent reading of Ask a Manager, right?

M.: Yes of course.

with teen employees, where’s the line between reprimands and firing? (and a niece weighs in) was originally published by Alison Green on Ask a Manager.

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Posted by JenniferP

Dear Captain Awkward,

I would like some advice on how to deal with this. Let’s start in the beginning. It was the beginning of the school year (8th), when a boy asked for my number. (We will call him Earl) I gave it to Earl only to wait for practically half the school year until I get a text from him. Of course, I could have talked to him in the single class we share. But I was extremely awkward and did not know how I could initiate a conversation with him. Our text conversation was very awkward. After several other conversations, Earl suddenly asked for a selfie of myself. Right after that, he sent a (unwanted) photo of himself, which made me feel like I had to send him a photo in return.

Several weeks later, I saw Earl in the hallway and was about to greet him when I saw him walk towards another girl and hug her. I assumed that she was either a family member (many students’ relatives attend our school) or a close friend. I later found out they were actually dating, that Earl was actually a player, and showed off the pictures he acquired from multiple other girls to other boys. He also asked for a few of my friends’ numbers, even when I was in the same room! I was devastated and felt like it was my fault it happened. Earl even sat with my friends and I during lunch and asked for their names (Just thought I would add that). That was a month ago. We have not talked in that time. Two days ago, he began texting me again. Once again, Earl requested a photo of myself. This time I declined. Immediately after I said no, he just (and I quote) said “K, gn”. I would like to cut ties with him completely. I’m not sure if this is a bad enough problem for you to share some advice, but I would be grateful if you could help.

Troubled Teen

Dear Troubled,

I am so sorry this is happening to you. It is gross and scary and NOT YOUR FAULT. I’m glad you wrote to me, though, because you are not alone and we need to figure out how to stop this kind of stuff and how to make that process safe for kids like you.

To be clear, I don’t think you were talking about clothed selfies of the human face in your letter, is it okay if I proceed with that assumption? If I’m wrong, well, I’d love to be wrong. It would be the best wrong I’ve been all year.

You have met a predatory and manipulative jerk. You didn’t do anything wrong. “Earl” did everything he did on purpose. He does the exact same thing to lots of girls and his way of operating makes y’all feel like it was your fault and that you’re the only ones it’s happening to. The photos he sends you are deliberate – They make you feel obligated, even if you say “Ew, no” it still gives him a thrill and a feeling of power to cross your boundaries like that and get away with it. The photos y’all send him are his “insurance” that you’ll be too ashamed to tell anyone or that, if you do, you’ll be in trouble yourself for also sending a picture.

It’s time to talk about informed consent, which means, roughly, that before you take any course of action you should know clearly what you’re getting into so you can make the best possible decision for yourself based on all available information. Informed consent, not coincidentally, is what Earl denied you by sending you a photo of Earl Jr. without asking first if you wanted to see it.

There are probably going to be commenters who tell you to drop what you’re doing and “Call the police right now!” Involving the police might be the right thing to do and it might extremely not be the right thing to do, depending on where you live and what the laws are like there. It also depends on what was in the photo that you sent vs. the one that he sent. There are some places where, even if you and Earl were girlfriend and boyfriend passionately and consensually sharing these images, you could both be convicted of possessing and distributing child pornography and end up with very scary sex offender convictions. I wish I were kidding about that, but here’s a link to an article by a lawyer about these laws where I live, Illinois, USA.

What Earl is doing seems to me like a clear pattern of predatory behavior designed to trick girls into sending him compromising photos and it needs stopped, for sure, but it’s risky for you when the laws can be so badly designed. Adults are completely terrified of teen sexuality and without knowing where you live and what the laws are like and what the general “Oh well, boys will be boys, what can you do?” attitudes are like, I can’t make a clean “Oh yes, def. call the police on this pooplord!” recommendation as much as I’d like to. More like, if you want to call the police do it with the help of a lawyer who can expertly guide you and protect you in the process.

There are probably going to be commenters who insist that you tell your parents what happened immediately. Some parents will be understanding and supportive and take action to protect you but also listen to and respect what you want to do. Some will absolutely flip their lids and take action (like bringing in law enforcement without fully considering what that means for you) (or freaking out that you sent a photo, too, and punishing you) that might not be what’s actually best for you. I 100% hope that you can tell your parents, but I grew up in the kind of house where my mom would be so ashamed of and angry at me for complying that it would probably not be worth it to tell her because the “What were you thinking?” “How could you be so stupid?” cloud of judgment would be worse punishment for me than anything that might happen to Earl or the prospect of 1 blurry photo of my teenaged nubbins out in the world. You are the expert on your own parents, so, trust your instincts here.

If you do decide to tell your parents, maybe do it in a note? Sample text or script you could adapt:

“Mom, Dad (or Mom & Mom/Dad & Dad), I need to tell you something really uncomfortable that happened and I am scared that you’ll be ashamed of me or mad at me.

A boy at school that I liked asked for my number and we’ve been texting. He sent me a naked picture of himself and asked me to send one in return. I’m embarrassed to say this but I did. After I sent it I realized that he doesn’t really like me and that he does this to lots of girls. I want him to stop doing this to all of us and I don’t know what to do.

I have been scared to tell anyone about this because I sent a photo, too. Since it happened I learned that there are laws about this that could get me in just as much trouble as the boy. Before we do anything can we talk to a lawyer who knows about this stuff to make sure I won’t get in trouble for coming forward?”

One common piece of advice is that you tell a trusted adult – a family member, a teacher, or maybe a school counselor what happened. Someone who can stop Earl and get him out of this pattern. I think this is 99.9% a very, very good idea with some reservations. Teachers and school counselors and anyone at your school are probably “mandated reporters.” That means that if they know or suspect abuse of some kind is happening, they must call law enforcement. This is to protect kids, and it doesn’t mean that you don’t ever tell them scary stuff, but it means that if you say “If I tell you something, do you promise to keep it between us?” sometimes they legally can’t make you that promise. They could lose their jobs, or be charged as an accessory or sued for covering up the problem.

This is why a lot of people use hypothetical situations to have these conversations, like the classic “I’m asking for a friend” scenario. For you it might mean saying “If I thought a boy at school was sending nude pictures to girls and trying to get them to send them back so he can show his friends, what should I do?” The obvious question on the teacher’s mind is “Which boy” (or, tbh, “It’s Earl, right?“) or “Did this happen to you?” but if you give everybody a fig leaf of plausible deniability at first you might get an idea of the teacher’s approach before you tell more details. “Can you tell me what the process of reporting that looks like? Have you ever had to deal with something like this before? What happened? What would happen to the boy? Would the girls get in trouble, too?” Figure out how informed, how aggressive, how sexist* this person is before you pour your heart out.

I’m sorry that so much of what I wrote is hypothetical and not a clear recommended course of action. It’s hard to be a kid and to not have much control over your situation, and it’s hard to live in a culture that is so inconsistent in how we treat victims of this kind of behavior. It’s hard to have such a clear right answer – “Stop this dude before he rapes someone!” – and to have so little trust in the processes or systems that exist to protect you. But I think there are a couple of things you 100% can control and that will make you feel safer:

Talk to a trained counselor outside of your school & the mandated reporting umbrella. For example, here is a link to the crisis resources available at Scarleteen, including a message board for staff & peer support, a texting service, and anonymous online chats. You’ll find people will believe you, who won’t judge you, who won’t think you’re weird, who are aware of how depressingly common what you went through is. You can get a real-time sounding board while you figure out what to do. Telling more comforting strangers (like you told us) can make it easier for you tell other people. (P.S. Scarleteen is a national treasure and they run that place on love and a shoestring. If you’re a grownup reading this and looking to fund some good, here’s a donation link).

Take screen shots of everything he sent you and that you sent him, including the pictures and email them to yourself or save them somewhere so you have documentation of what happened.

Block his number, forever and always. Preemptively block him on all conceivable social media platforms. Congratulations, Earl is now dead to you. Blank his pathetic ass in the halls of academia.

Beware of his gross friends who looked at the photos without saying “Whoa, not cool, man.” Those boys do not get your phone number in this lifetime.

If he gets in some trouble, good. You didn’t “get him in trouble” or “ruin his life.” If he’s harassing the girls in his class this way, he needs to deal with some consequences, and now, while he’s still a kid, is the right time for some serious intervention. If he threatens you, harms you, retaliates against you, makes you feel targeted and unsafe, damn the torpedoes and tell an adult.

Learn the rules about sexual harassment in your school. Does your school have a policy about this? What does it say? Is it good enough? Down the road, maybe through student government or the school newspaper, you could help shape a better policy that would protect kids like you from pervs like Earl? (Part of me is like AUGGGGHHHH YOU ARE 14 YOU SHOULDN’T HAVE TO RESEARCH THIS, and part of me is like FUTURE AMAZON WARRIOR IN TRAINING!!!!!)

giphy (23).gif

Image: Robin Wright as Antiope, riding a horse like the mf general she is.


Tell other girls. “Hey, have you ever had anything weird happened with Earl, where he sends you pictures and tries to get you to send him one, too?” You’ll be able to tell from how they react, and you can say “Yeah, that happened to me, too. It’s not your fault!” Spreading the word about him is powerful. Reminding yourself and each other that you’re not alone and that it’s not your fault is powerful. Maybe the other girls could all go with you to tell a teacher or a school counselor as a group.

Warn other girls. When you see Earl single someone out, you can warn her – “I know Earl seems cool, but chances are he WILL send you a dick pic and try to get you to send him a photo so he can show it to all his friends.

Be a safe landing place for other girls. Say you warn a girl, but she’s under the Earl-spell so she blows you off at first, but then it happens to her and she’s clearly embarrassed. Be kind to her. You know how she feels. Don’t blame or judge or “I told you so!” her. Don’t ever look at the photos if they get forwarded around, or make fun of her for it. Just say, “Yeah, you were kind of a jerk to me before, but I probably would have done the same thing before I knew what he was really like. It’s not your fault,” and add her to your powerful girl-army.

I wish I could build you a world without Notes From A Boner, where I never had to use the words “The next time you get some random screen peen…” but, there will be a next time and it will always kind of ruin your day a little because WHY ARE DUDES?

However, one tiny benefit of this upsetting situation it’s that your NOPE! meter will work much better from now on and it probably won’t ruin your week. The next intrusive wang you see will get a “Weird, why would you send me that?” and the cold release of the block button. Or, (true story) when you’re older and trying to sell a bike on Craigslist and some dude sends you a pathetic and revolting photo from,” you’ll forward the email to with a note saying “I got this from one of your employees today, you might want to check to see if he’s been hacked? Surely no one from your excellent company would send something like this to a stranger. I hope you can get to the bottom of this embarrassing incident, good luck!” Instead of wondering if it’s your fault somehow, Future You will let these losers reap the whirlwind of your contempt and indifference.

Sending so much love your way, Troubled Teen. We believe you. It’s not your fault.

*”Aw, boys will be boys, amirite?” = ABORT & possibly tell someone in authority “I tried to talk to [Teacher] about a sexual harassment situation and he said ‘boys will be boys’ and would not take it seriously at all.






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Posted by Ask a Manager

A reader writes:

My daughter, a university student, recently was hired for a summer job that matches her field of study. My question, now that she has a job for the summer, is not urgent, but I am sure will come up again next year, and when she graduates.

She is an introvert, and quite shy on top of that. She knows that she would find jobs that require a lot of contact with the public torturous, and therefore did not apply to any openings for fast food or retail outlets, although that is the type of job that is most plentiful for her age group. (Her current position involves very limited contact with the public—perfect for her!) She has worked at residential camps for the last two summers, and reached the conclusion that she never again wants to work with children, so she also did not apply for anything that would involve supervising kids. Although these decisions limited the number of jobs available, she found and applied for a couple of dozen positions that looked like they would be a better fit for her, and had some interviews.

I supported her in her decision not to apply for jobs she didn’t want, but other relatives were not so kind. She/we had to endure many lectures about how she should be applying for every opening she saw, even if she would hate the job, as “any job is better than none.” If money was an issue, I might agree, but she is in the fortunate position of already having money set aside to complete her degree. Getting work this summer was more a case of developing a work history for her resume. (She was prepared to volunteer for the summer if she couldn’t find a job.)

My question concerns all the flack we got about her choosiness in what to apply for. Was I right to encourage her to only apply for jobs she actually wanted? Or should I have been joining the rest of the family in insisting the important thing was to have a job—any job? The thing is, not only would she hate jobs that required a lot of public contact, from my past experience with her when forced to deal with strangers, she probably wouldn’t be very good at them either. You have often stated that interviewing goes both ways—the job seeker is determining if they want the position as much as the employer is determining whether they want this person for the position. If you aren’t desperate for a position, is there any point in applying for ones you know you don’t want? (The problem being, if she applied and then got an offer—because as far as I can tell, fast food outlets hire any warm body that expresses an interest–the logic that any job is better than none would result her working in a job she hated, and likely was not good at, and therefore resulting in not being able to use her supervisors as future references, which in my opinion partly defeats the goal of building a work history.) Any thoughts?

She got a job, and one in her field, so it sounds like this strategy worked just fine. And in the process, you hopefully reinforced for her the idea that she should think about what she’s good at and what she likes when she’s thinking about what jobs to apply for. That’s a message that will serve her well.

If she had been struggling to find a job using this strategy, then at some point you would have needed to talk with her about what one does when that happens — things like at what point to decide that you’re being too choosy for your circumstances, and how to balance meeting your financial obligations with not wanting to be miserable. Her search didn’t play out that way so you didn’t have to have that conversation, although it could still be an interesting one to have now.

But the goal, of course, is to work to get yourself into a position where you can be choosy. Choosy is good, when circumstances allow for it. If your daughter was able to be choosy and land a job she wanted, good for her!

The easiest way to shut down lectures from relatives who have Very Important Input to provide about your daughter’s job search is to drastically limit the amount of information you give them about it. If you keep things vague, they won’t have a lot to opine on.

However, with closer relatives who are generally reasonable, you could also point out in the future that your daughter’s strategy has served her well so far, and that she’s smart enough to adjust it if it becomes clear that she needs to.

my family thinks my daughter is too picky about the jobs she applies for was originally published by Alison Green on Ask a Manager.

The Big Idea: Nat Segaloff

Jul. 20th, 2017 01:34 pm
[syndicated profile] scalziwhatever_feed

Posted by John Scalzi

When biographer and historian Nat Segaloff sat down to interview science fiction Grand Master Harlan Ellison for his new book A Lit Fuse, he knew that he was in for a challenge. What surprised him about the process was how much it wasn’t just about Ellison, but also about him.


How do you write something new about someone everybody thinks they already know? A writer who is famous for putting so much of his life into his stories that his fans feel that even his most bizarre work is autobiographical? That was the unspoken challenge in late 2013 when I agreed to write Harlan Ellison’s biography, an adventure that is just now seeing daylight with the publican of A Lit Fuse: The Provocative Life of Harlan Ellison.

I wrote the book because Harlan wouldn’t. He came close in 2008 when he announced he would write Working Without a Net for “a major publisher,” but he never did. Maybe he figured he’d said enough in his 1700 short stories, essays, and articles he’s published over the last 60 years. It wasn’t as if he was afraid of the truth; he always said he never lies about himself because that way nobody can hold anything against him. That was my challenge.

When we shook hands and I became his biographer, I also became the only person he ever gave permission to quote from his work and take a tour of his life. What I really wanted to do, though, was to explore his mind. What I didn’t expect was that, as I examined his creative process, I would also bare my own.

When you sit down with someone for a conversation, it’s fun; when you sit down with someone for an interview, it’s serious. Harlan has been interviewed countless times and he has always been in control. This time, I was. I had to get him to say stuff that was new, and I had to go beyond where others had stopped.

A Harlan Ellison interview is a performance. He will be quotable, precise, vague, and outrageous. He takes no prisoners. He will run and fetch a comic book, figurine, photograph, or book to illustrate a point, all of which breaks the mood. My job was to get him to sit still and not be “Harlan Ellison” but simply Harlan.

Harlan is one of the few speculative fiction writers (along with Ray Bradbury, Isaac Asimov, and a handful of others) who became public figures. Part of this stemmed from the quality of his work but much of it was created by his being, as I kept finding in the clippings, ““fractious,” “famously litigious,” and “argumentative.” Indeed, most of the stories I found during my research could be divided into two categories: “What a wild man Harlan is” and “I alone escaped to tell thee.”

Balderdash. What I discovered was a man who takes his craft seriously and fiercely defends others who labor in the field of words. An attack on them was an attack on him, and an attack on him was not to be deflected but returned in kind. “I don’t mind if you think I’m stupid,” he told one antagonist, “it’s just that I resent it when you talk to me as if I’m stupid.”

Even though I had final cut, I ran whole sections past him to get his reaction. He never flinched. In fact, he challenged me to go deeper. It was almost as if – and don’t take this the wrong way – I was Clarice Starling and he was Hannibal Lecter — the more I asked of Harlan, the more I had to give of myself. Both of us put our blood in the book even though I am the author.


A Lit Fuse: Amazon|NESFA Press


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Posted by Ask a Manager

It’s five answers to five questions. Here we go…

1. How to disinvite an intern from our trivia team

I work for a large company in a small town. Like “literally everyone in town works for this company” large. It’s the summer and now there are tons of interns about. Last summer I had an awesome trivia team and it’s started up again this summer. Last year, we kind of cobbled together a team and we turned out to be pretty good! There were four of us, but we brought friends every now and then, no big deal. I was hanging out with another set of friends and there was a guy, Cosmo, who said he was into trivia, so I invited him.

Big mistake.

Cosmo doesn’t actually know much trivia. He makes fun of us when we make bad puns or spout some extra trivia knowledge (calling us dorks/geeks/nerds, we all have a STEM background so this is just strange to me…). He doesn’t speak English well enough to understand the host on the mic, so we end up repeating the question to him several times and then he always says “oh, I don’t know [that category]”. He will contribute nothing and then if we win, he’ll still take a cut of the prize. All of these things on their own have happened with guests we bring, we’re usually pretty laid back about it but all of these things together have been a headache!

Another intern, Wanda, organizes the group and has agreed with me several times that she doesn’t appreciate Cosmo being there, bringing us down (mood wise but also the score), and then taking our prize money. Wanda has stopped responding to his messages, but there’s one trivia night in town, he knows where we’ll be even if we don’t confirm it. This is a small town, everyone knows each other, everyone works with each other, how are we supposed to tell Cosmo to take a hike?

Can you be straightforward with him about the problems? For example: “When we’ve invited you in the past, you’ve made fun of us, called us names, and taken a cut of the winnings after not contributing any trivia answers. So for now we’re going to keep the team to just the four of us.”

2. I was told to take a week off unpaid due to someone else’s health

I’d love to hear what you and your readers think of an HR incident that happened to me a few years back. For over a decade now, I’ve worked in payroll in HR departments across the Canadian federal government. This occurred in 2010, when I was a senior compensation advisor.

Against all odds, I came down with a case of acute viral parotitis, also known as the mumps. I had virtually no pain at all (besides the embarrassment of looking like a greedy hamster) and felt completely normal, but I was considered contagious for about a week following the first signs of symptoms.

I stayed home for the week as recommended by my doctor and with my manager’s approval. But then I was out of sick leave to use and could not afford to take unpaid time off. I was, after all, feeling perfectly fine and, as per my doctor, not likely to be contagious anymore.

However, I had a slightly junior colleague of mine who happened to be expecting and going through a particularly difficult pregnancy (she was later on put on bed rest at five months along, unrelated to this incident). She asked our manager that I not be allowed back to work yet since parotitis is extremely dangerous to pregnancy, let alone challenging ones. I of course agreed, as I would never willingly put anyone’s health or pregnancy in jeopardy.

The issue is that my manager asked that I take another full week off, unpaid. As someone who lived paycheck to paycheck, I could not afford this at all. In hindsight, I should’ve taken this to Labour Relations in hopes of finding a compromise of some sort, but I didn’t (my manager at the time was a rather intimidating woman). I ended up losing a week’s wages, which impacted my personal life in a number of horrible ways for months following the incident.

How do you figure a situation like this should be handled, particularly in an office that, for very legitimate security reasons, does not allow working from home?

Ooof, this is tough.

It’s easy to say that if you were cleared by your doctor to return to work, then you should have been allowed to return to work, and that if your coworker had concerns about being around you, at that point the burden should be on her to be the one to stay home. But in reality, it’s a lot easier to say to the person who’s been sick “let’s have you stay out one more week to be sure since we have a pregnant person here” than to say to the pregnant person “if you’re worried, too bad, handle that on your own.”

But your employer could have solved the whole thing by covering your pay that second week, and they should have. As it was, they helped out your coworker at real financial cost to you.

3. Spending weeks off the grid in the middle of a job search

I’m job searching, and have submitted several applications that I’m hoping to hear back about. I’m also planning a three-week backpacking trip in the wilderness in a few months and will be 100% off the grid.

For work, I will of course use an auto-away message, but I hesitate to do that on my personal email. The people in my life who need to know already know, so I don’t want to look overly braggy, and I also don’t want to advertise that my apartment will be unoccupied for such a long period of time.

But will this hurt me if an employer tries to contact me for an interview? If I don’t reply for 2.5 weeks but then respond with a sincere apology and sincere interest in the position, is it possible that they would have moved too far along in the process to consider interviewing me at that point? And if a company is moving that quickly, would an auto-reply saying that I’ll be away for three weeks help slow them down, or would they continue to move on without me anyway (rendering the auto-away useless in its intention)?

If you’d be willing to set up the auto-reply, that’s the best solution. Some employers won’t be willing or able to wait, but some might be, especially if you’re a very strong candidate. But if you don’t want to do that for security reasons, then yeah, responding to any emails with an explanation once you’re back is your best bet. A lot of employers will be too far along in their process at that point for it to matter, but others might not be.

Basically, going off the grid for three weeks in the middle of a job search means there’s some risk that you could lose out on some of the positions you’ve applied for, and there’s no way to guard against that 100%, so it’s just a possibility you have to be okay with.

However, if you can, I’d stop applying for things a couple of weeks before you leave so that you’re not sending applications out there and then immediately going dark when people might be trying to respond to your latest round.

4. How to screen for candidates who can put up with internal bureaucracy

I was recently promoted at work, and now have to hire a replacement for my previous role. Based on my experience and the experience of my colleagues, I’ve seen that people who are willing to put up with internal bureaucracy (lots of internal meetings, BS memos, etc.) and are comfortable with a top-down approach perform better than people who expect more autonomy. What is the best way to screen for this quality in interviews?

First, be transparent about this aspect of your culture, so that people who know they aren’t a fit for it can self-select out. Give a few examples of what you mean, so that they can clear picture the sort of thing you’re describing. If you use shorthand, there’s a risk that people will picture something different, so clear examples help.

As for interview questions, ask people to tell you about a time or two when internal bureaucracy was slowing down a project or process they were involved in, and how they handled it. Also ask them to tell you about a time when their boss wanted them to do something differently than how they would have chosen to approach it, and how they handled that. With these questions, be prepared to ask follow-ups to really dig in to how they operated in those circumstances (for example, “What was the hardest part of that?” or “that sounds tough — how did you respond to X?”). The idea here is to explore how they’ve done in situations in their past that are similar to what they’d encounter in your organization, and to listen to how they talk about it too. (Do they sound matter-of-fact, frustrated, jaded, etc.?)

5. My former job keeps paying me

I resigned from my job, but they keep depositing a check in my direct deposit. I can’t get in contact with anyone! Can I get in trouble?

They can make you return the money once they realize it’s been happening. Keep trying to reach them. (And if you’ve only been emailing, start calling instead.)

And for now, put the money aside and don’t touch it, since it’s very likely that at some point they will reclaim it (which legally they can do).

how to disinvite an intern from our trivia team, I was told to take a week off unpaid due to someone else’s health, and more was originally published by Alison Green on Ask a Manager.


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July 2011

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