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Every dog shall have his day

April 12, 2014

Every dog in Brooklyn was in the park this morning. R and J are off doing Passover things this weekend, so instead of walking crookedly up the straight sidewalk to the green market with J, Mr. Spy and I opted to walk straight up the crooked path. We plunged into the park and found it had been taken over by dogs of every conceivable shape, size and color. There was a great deal of butt sniffing, growling, nipping, barking and general puppy mayhem and it was a joy to watch. You know what’s better than watching a corgi run? Watching four corgis run among a sea of dogs whose legs are longer than the corgis’ whole bodies.

One of the hard things about the city is that there is so little opportunity, for children and dogs especially, to do things without worrying about other people. To run and not have to accommodate others. Everyone needs to learn to respect others. But everyone also needs to know what it feels like when you don’t have to worry about them, when you can just go full out under your own power and see how far it will take you.

People are starting to come back to the market after a quiet winter, but there are still no vegetables. I was hoping for rhubarb and asparagus. There are still only parsnips and carrots and cabbage. But we restocked on milk and bread and eggs and apples, grabbed a bunch of tulips, and headed home, outside the park this time, the path where all the dogs are on leashes and all the small children are strapped in strollers.

“I had a dream last night,” said a woman in a chattering group as we passed and pulled in front of them on the sidewalk. She was fighting for attention. “I had a dream last night about a dessert.” At this the group quieted down. “It was a brownie with sliced bananas and bacon. A brownie with SLICED BANANAS and BACON.” She had to say it twice to make sure they understood. A surprised voice behind us said, “that actually sounds GOOD.” “I know, right?” A third chimed in, “Let’s go make your dreams come true.”

Whan Zephyrus eek with his sweete breath

April 1, 2014

The weather is approaching something that one might call spring, if one was feeling generous. And given the gruesome toll this winter has taken on us all, it is perhaps not surprising to find that even in New York, we have been taken over by something like giddiness.

On my way home from work, walking across 35th street to the subway, I passed a woman in a white tulle dress holding hands with a man in a dark blue suit, ducking under the scaffolding, just the two of them, fielding congratulations on their wedding from total strangers all the way up the block. As I pass, I watch them beaming at each other and hear them chorus “thank yous” all the way up the street.

On the subway, people were smiling at a small and exuberant child. At rush hour. ON THE SUBWAY. No one ever smiles on the subway.

I stopped at the corner store we call Food Panther (it is actually called Food Train. It’s kind of a long story) for the third day in a row to buy juice for the sick people who live in my apartment. (Today at work I confessed to my boss that I was considering sleeping under my desk to avoid the plague). It is usually fairly quiet at that time of day but today I counted six people wandering through the bouquets of flowers outside the shop, looking for the perfect thing.

In front of the fancy restaurant that’s supposed to be the best in the neighborhood (although by whose standards I am not certain), I spy a middle-aged man holding a paper-wrapped bouquet. He is trying not to pace, checking his phone nervously and every now and then, stopping to smell whatever is inside his paper cone. It is a first date or a proposal. I’m not sure which. I hope she doesn’t stand him up.

From my apartment window, I watch the pink clouds curling toward the spires of Manhattan deepen and darken until there is nothing left but the lights to remind us of the city, a glittering crown over the brownstone landscape. And even then, after dark, I still hear the squeak of a swing in the playground at the end of the block, an invitation that will go unanswered tonight.

How to apply for a job

March 28, 2014

This post is a public service announcement for all job seekers everywhere. Or maybe it’s just a rant from me. I admit I’m a bit murky about where the line falls.

I’m currently hiring for a couple of positions at the Toy Factory. The job market being what it is, I’m being overwhelmed with applications and they are making me a bit crochety in a when-I-was-a-kid-I-walked-5-miles-to-school-barefoot-through-the-snow kind of way. Maybe it’s because I tend to put so much time into my own applications, but even the good candidates have done a lousy job presenting themselves. And I don’t think online job application platforms have done the process any favors.

Listen up, job seekers. I will say this from my own perspective about my own particular hires, but I will bet it is true for many if not most open positions. Hiring people is not my job. It’s something I do out of desperation because I need help. I hire when I have the least possible amount of time to spend on searching and I squeeze it in around the edges of what else I need to do. I get hundreds of applications for every position. I look at every single one (Unless they come in late. Then you’re out of luck.). My time being what it is, I have to make quick yes or no decisions to weed down the list. It’s surprisingly easy to do because so many people do a bad job at applying. If you want to have a chance of ending up in the yes pile, here is my advice to you.

1. Write the damn cover letter. Unless I specifically say no cover letter (and I will never, ever do that), you should send one. You should *want* to send one. It’s your chance to show me how to get from point A – your resume – to point B – the job description. Otherwise I have to figure it out myself and you may not like the solution I come up with.

2. When you write the cover letter, please make sure it is addressed to the correct person/company and discusses the job you are applying for. You may think this seems obvious, but 20% of applicants to one of my recent hires failed to do this. I know you’re applying to a lot of other jobs. Just give me the illusion that you care about this one.

3. If you are applying to work in a toy factory, please do not discuss your desire to be a fashion model. Or an investment banker. I have nothing against those aims. But even if the rest of your application is perfect, having unrelated goals suggests to me that you won’t stick around very long. See aforementioned time shortage. I don’t want to be doing this again soon.

4. Do your research. You parents may have told you that it can’t hurt to ask for the salary you’d like to have, but if that salary is, say $20,000 more than what the hiring manager makes per year (actual figure from recent application), you will not be getting an interview (you may get some howls of laughter), no matter how great you are. Find out what the salary range for this position for the field and for this company in particular. If you don’t like that range, find another line of work. The internet is your friend. Use it. I recommend starting with glassdoor.com.

5. Don’t do too much research. If you track me down at my home email address or contact me on linked in to say, “Hey, I saw you were looking at my profile. Does that mean you want to talk?” or if you email me every several hours to ask how things are going (all things that have actually happened), you will not get an interview. There’s a fine line between informed and stalker. Know where it is.

6. Unless you are in high school, I do not need to know your high school GPA. I will not hold it against you if you just graduated from college – you may not know any better. But there’s a limited grace period for keeping your teen years on your resume.

7. Don’t apply for this job if you’re in high school. Study hard and go to college. Read a lot of books. Do things you love and try things outside your comfort zone. Try me again in a few years. But by all means ask me for an informational interview if you think this is what you want to do. I will almost always say yes and wish you good luck.

8. Some people will tell you your resume has to be one page and one page only. Don’t believe them. It depends on the industry, on the job, and on your experience. If you have a lot of relevant recent experience, if you can show a pattern of growth in your field over time, I’d like to see it even if it is 2 pages or more. But I come from academia, where we like to see a lot of information. Do your homework. Find out the norm in the field you’re applying to and observe it.

9. If you have an objective on your resume (and it’s totally optional), make sure it sounds plausible – no one likes a brownnoser— but also relates to the job at hand. If I’m hiring for a research position in an academic institution and your objective is a marketing position for an investment banking firm, I will not read the rest of your resume. If you were an investment banker and your objective is to be a toy maker and your cover letter explains how your work in investment banking can benefit the toy making business, I will pay attention.

10. Follow instructions. If the application asks you to answer screening questions, do it. If it asks for a cover letter, write one. If it asks for a head shot or your dress size and you are not an actor or model, find another job to apply for. This one is creepy.

10a. Yes, if they ask you to state a preferred salary/range, you should do it. Some career advisors will tell you otherwise, but I know too many people who throw out applications without a salary range to think it’s wise to avoid that question. See above on doing your research. This is generally not used as a binding statement of salary. If you get an offer, you should feel free to negotiate something else. But it should be a range that makes sense for the position and your field and this should demonstate that you have done your homework and have realistic expectations. And it should be a range you’d be willing to take. If it’s not, then you’re in the wrong line of work.

11. If you try to follow instructions but can’t – say the website won’t take your cover letter – be a problem solver. Figure out a way to make it happen. Email HR and ask for assistance. Figure out another way to get it where it needs to go or to let the hiring manager know that there’s a glitch in the system. Because chances are they won’t know and will just think you screwed up.

12. If you’re not interested in a job, don’t apply. All it does is waste both of our time.

13. If you are not quite qualified but have skills you think might work, make a case for it. That’s what the cover letter is for. Sometimes a hiring manager thinks she wants one thing but can decide, in the process of the hire, that she wants something else. A good cover letter can sometimes make a difference. I’m looking for good reasons to hire you. Give them to me.

14. If you get turned down for a job, be polite and say thank you. It’s okay to ask if the person can give you more info about why you didn’t get the job, but be nice about it and if they don’t respond, don’t badger them. They may be busy – hiring takes a lot of time. Or they may not have a good answer for you. Or they may be rude or afraid of confrontation. If that last one’s the answer, you don’t really need to hear what they say anyway. Be glad you got a response at all – it’s increasingly a rarity (see aforementioned hundreds of applicants).

Okay, I feel better now. Go get a job!

Anyone else have advice to add?

When last we left our heroine

March 22, 2014

It is, at least temporarily, starting to look like spring in New York City. The crocuses and snowdrops and hellebores are up in the tiny yards of the brownstones across the street and it looks like the daffodils won’t be far behind. From my window I can watch kids dragging bats and gloves to the park, my own kid among them.

It is Saturday morning and the guitarist across the street has finished piling his instruments and garment bags into the back of his car and is pulling out into traffic, headed to Jersey or Connecticut to play a wedding, no doubt. Tantrum Alley is once again open for business and the wailing and gnashing of teeth begins at the playground exit I can see from my window. Bicyclists are zipping up and down the bike lane, while my own bicycle remains chained to the iron fence in front of my building where it has been all winter, its chain growing ever rustier. This is the time of year where I wonder where the chain lube is and go buy a new can before finding my old one immediately upon return from the bike store. It is an annual event.

I have a month off from travel, but it’s a month where taxes are due and where I’m covering several people’s jobs at the office. I’m hiring for one of them and though the job was only posted at the end of the day yesterday, the resumes are already starting to pile up in my mailbox. And there is a family illness that keeps us by the phone and has me marveling at the way you can pick up a phone in one city and a few minutes later, hundreds of miles away, a vase of flowers sprouts in a hospital room. It is reassuring.

There are flowers, too, at the Green Market at last. When I go with Cranky and J and whichever stuffed friend J brings along (this week it was Bunny — Best Bunny, not Cousin Bunny. It is hard to tell them apart.), she drags me to the flowers and we pick the ones we like the best and smell everything. Today I came home with a bunch of tulips in bright colors. “They are the most beautiful,” says J, and who am I to disagree?

And there are birthdays. AJ becomes a teenager this week. How did this happen? When I started this blog (or, rather, its previous incarnation), it was the summer after AJ turned 2. He, too, is sprouting, and seems to grow inches in the night as if he is being stretched. My father’s birthday too, on the same day, which once again we will celebrate with a phone call from far away. AJ is celebrating his birthday by having three baby teeth pulled the day before. It seems unfair, but also maybe appropriate as he takes one more step towards adulthood.

The life I love is makin’ music with my friends

March 1, 2014

I’m currently sitting in a hotel room in Atlanta with a half a bottle of wine and a stack of proofreading.

Here are some things I’ve learned.

1. I still like jumping on the bed.
2. I get sentimental when I drink alone.
3. Getting to walk outside without a coat on the first day of March may get me through the snowstorm I’m flying home to.
4. Working is often what I want to do when I’ve got time to myself. I’m okay with that.
5. Work also appears to be what my two direct reports want to do on the weekends. We were all on email this afternoon.
6. I love my coworkers. Sadly, one of them is leaving at the end of next week. She’s not going far, but still, I’m going to miss her.
7. I am an introvert who loves talking to people. Is that possible? I have thoroughly enjoyed each and every conversation I’ve had here, from the reunions with grad school colleagues I haven’t seen in months or years to dinner with my high school friend and her family to the highly analytical discussion with a very smart person in my field to the conversation with an eccentric elderly woman who presided over her table in the exhibit hall like a tarot reader. But at the same time, I’m desperate to get back to my room every night where it’s quiet and I don’t have to talk to anyone.
8. I’m ready to go home.
9. I can’t believe I have to do this again next week.
10. 4 states, 3 weeks, 2 time zones, one tired Harriet.

Take ink and weep

February 16, 2014

We had a short-lived break in the cold and snow a week or two ago and while it wasn’t enough to be much of a respite for the humans, the birds seem to have taken it as a sign that spring may be on the way at some time to be named later. On the few mornings when it’s not snowing, it is lighter when I leave and more twittery. One tiny sparrow has laid claim to the fragment of visible windowsill next to the air conditioner. Wedged between the pigeon spikes and the AC, he sits and sings several times a day. I love that he’s there, maybe especially because the perch looks so inhospitable. I’ve taken to peering at him through the blinds and he’s taken to cocking his head and looking back at me, not pausing his song once. He is inches from my face and I can see every tiny feather on his back.

I am about to embark on some crazy travel — not super far, not like my brother who emailed me from Ougagadougou this morning, which has me wandering around chanting it. Could you ask for a better name of anything? Or spelling? — four states in three weeks and I’m getting tired just thinking about it. Consequently I’m already contemplating a nap at 11 am when really I should be contemplating packing or the books I’m supposed to be reviewing or the proofreading I have to do.

There’s not much I can say about work at the moment, but it is, for a number of reasons, pretty much all I can think about, which makes it challenging to write here. I have been distracting myself with the Olympics. I am an Olympics junkie in general, but most especially the Winter Olympics. Of the many things I’m enjoying this year, the women athletes are maybe the thing I like the most. There’s been plenty of sexism in the coverage, but the athletes are strong, talented, beautiful, inspiring and good sports. I love watching them support each other, watching them get up smiling even when they lose. I love that it looks like they are both trying really hard and also having a good time. They make being athletic look cool. If the Olympics had been more like this when I was a kid, I wondered if I would have made more of an effort to be athletic.

Still, the nap is sounding like an excellent idea. There’s something to be said for watching other people be athletic.

Time is thin as a rope and heavy as thunder

February 9, 2014

In case you haven’t noticed it is WINTER. This explains the copious amounts of ice and snow on the streets. While those of you on the left coast have been parched, we here in the east have been dumped on. No, of course New York has not had a third of the snow Chicago has, but we complain about it more because everything is harder for New Yorkers than for everyone else. Yes, that was meant to be snarky but it’s also a little bit true. The infrastructure of the city is just barely operational, so throw something like weather into the mix and everything shuts down. Currently the streets are full of garbage because they don’t have enough people/trucks/shits to give to both clean the streets and collect the trash. So every walk is currently an adventure.

Also, New Yorkers do not have a burning need to dig out their cars. We hardly ever drive them, other than to move them twice a week for street cleaning. And tickets for street cleaning are cheaper than parking in a garage, so we don’t have a lot of motivation to dig them out. The problem is that now the snow has melted somewhat and the cars are iced in. Last night I saw a woman in stiletto heels an a fur coat trying to dig out her car with an ice scraper, looking irritated that this was even her problem.

Today it is sunny and half the neighborhood is attacking their cars with gusto. From my fourth floor perch, it sounds like a large party attempting to attack mount Everest with ice picks. Every now and then an engine moans to life, like a prehistoric beast, while some victorious digger attempts to slide into the driver’s seat without disturbing the precarious balance of the adjacent mountain of garbage.

This is what we do for fun in Brooklyn in February.

When we’re not having fun, we’re working long hours. I am essentially working two full time jobs at the moment. It is definitely less fun than digging out my car, which is saying something. But on the plus side, the end is in site. And one of my toys recently received a nice award, so that was good. But for the next month or so, I expect to be just trying to keep my head above water. So maybe it’s not a bad thing for everything to be frozen.

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