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Posted by John Scalzi

Krissy and I are playing hooky today because we’re going to the Alison Moyet concert in Chicago, which necessitated a bit of a drive. Well, we’re here now, and the view from the hotel is lovely, nary a parking lot in sight. How is your day?

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Posted by Ask a Manager

A reader writes:

I am a frequent long-term contractor at a very small company. There are two owners, two full-time employees, and a handful of freelancers and interns at any one time. The owners are wonderful people whom I enjoy spending time with, but they have a practice that some coworkers and I feel conflicted about: they expect us to eat lunch with them in the office every day. And pay (and shop) for it.

They send a tin around every week to collect our lunch payments, which supposedly are based on how much we are paid (my expected weekly contribution is $40). We take turns shopping for the lunch and assembling it. The owners think this is wonderful “family” time and feel it’s an added benefit for those who work there. On your first day, they say, “This is what we do for lunch” and after that, you’re locked in.

The problem is that sometimes we don’t want to all eat lunch together and feel pressure or worry about appearances if we decline. I’ve only known one freelancer who didn’t participate, and they said things like “Does he not like us?” “Is he anti-social?” So you pretty much have to participate or you’re sort of an outsider.

I’d be happy to do it sometimes, even more than once a week, just not always. What’s troubling is the expectation that everyone participate every day. Is there any kind way to inform the owners that something that they clearly love isn’t working for everyone? They would be hurt if they knew that some employees just want to get away for an hour.

They think this is “family time”? Are you perhaps all related?

If not, this isn’t family time, and it’s bizarre that they’re calling it that.

For the record: Workplaces aren’t families. They can be places where people have close, supportive relationships and genuinely care about each other, but unless they’re using a dramatically different business model than most employers in the U.S., they’re not families. They’re paying people to be there, and those people would not show up otherwise. Workplaces don’t typically inspire (or warrant) the sort of loyalty that families do, and families don’t typically fire people or lay them off.

This is more than semantics. It can have real ramifications for employees, because it generally means that boundaries get violated and people end up feeling like they’re supposed to display inappropriate amounts of commitment and loyalty, even when that’s very much against their self-interest. And it’s usually the employees who bear the burden a lot more than the company. Turn this around, and try to imagine an employee saying “but we’re like a family!” when her boss gives her critical feedback.

Anyway, that rant aside, the best thing here is to be straightforward and matter-of-fact. You can do that on a case-by-case basis, or you can do it big-picture.

If you do it case-by-case, then on days you don’t feel like eating with everyone else, just say, “I’ve got some errands I’m going to run today so I won’t be joining you in the kitchen. See you in about an hour!” Say it cheerfully and like of course it’s no big deal, and hope that they’ll respond with some degree of reasonableness. (I know they were all weird and sad about the freelancer who didn’t eat with them, but it sounds like that was every day, so maybe they’ll pull it together and get through the shock of you doing it less frequently? If not, you’d need to decide to just be okay with the fact that they’re baffled by your absences.)

But I think you’d be better off addressing it big-picture. That’s potentially more awkward, but it’s more likely to get you a clearer resolution. Ideally you’d get a group of coworkers to say this with you so that you’re not out on a limb by yourself, but if you can’t, it’s reasonable to say it on your own too. You’d say something like this: “It’s nice of you to set up these group lunches, but can we do them less often? Sometimes I/we need use my/our lunch time for other things — running errands or even just taking a walk — and it feels like a big deal to not attend. What if we switched to doing them once a week instead so that people can use their lunch break in different ways if they want or need to?”

Of course, that’s not even getting into the (seemingly required?) lunch payments. If you succeed in getting these lunches cut back to weekly or less, you may not need to. But if would be entirely reasonable for you and your coworkers to say, “You know, we don’t want to be locked into spending $40 on lunches every week. Can we switch to a system where we fend for ourselves so that people have more control of their lunch budgets? We could still do group lunches occasionally — maybe weekly or monthly? — but it would be easier on us if we brought our own food rather than shopping for the group and preparing it together.” That’s not really addressing the issue head-on (although certainly the money/shopping/prep part of this is a weirdness in its own right), but it’s an option if your sense is that it’ll go over better.

my office makes us cook and eat lunch together every day was originally published by Alison Green on Ask a Manager.

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Posted by Ask a Manager

A reader writes:

I’m a new manager at a small nonprofit I’ve worked at for about 2 years. My role recently expanded to include managing a small team of two full time staff and an intern, who perform duties that were unfamiliar to me before. Overall, the transition has gone well and I have good individual relationships with each person. However, I am really struggling with our new every-other-week team meetings. I feel like I’m the only person talking, and staff facial expressions and body language make me feel like they hate being there. It’s stressful for me and in some ways I find it quite rude.

I think I’m following good meeting etiquette – I keep the meetings short, always have a printed agenda, ask for feedback about everything, and one of the staff takes notes. But when I ask for feedback, suggestions or other business, they just stare at me. These staff/interns are all fairly reserved and young (oldest is 23) and I worry that because I’m outspoken and their boss, they take everything I suggest as law, when I want discussion and feedback.

It’s worth noting that prior to the org restructure, this team was largely unsupervised and underdeveloped. They never had one-on-one supervisions, team meetings, learning goals or reporting requirements, all of which we now have — so a lot of things may feel new and unfamiliar. Even now, due to the nature of their roles they still work fairly independently on a daily basis. I feel like they don’t understand the general point of having team meetings and are not used to continuous improvement processes, etc.

I’m not sure how to get them comfortable and engaged. Icebreakers feel cheesy in meetings that are often just three people. What can I do?

You can read my answer to this letter at New York Magazine today. Head over there to read it.

how can I get my staff to talk in meetings? was originally published by Alison Green on Ask a Manager.

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Posted by Ask a Manager

A reader writes:

I just graduated college in May, and landed a full-time job in my hometown in the perfect field for me, thanks to your help with resumes and cover letters! However, this job has turned out to be very different from what I expected — namely, there is no semblance of work-life balance, and I was hoping you could help me figure out what to do.

Some background: my job is at an agency where our clients are working almost 24/7. I specifically didn’t want to work in that field because I hated that 24/7 work in previous internships — something I mentioned during my interview. But I was assured that working at our agency was much less demanding.

Boy, do I feel like my interviewer (who is now my boss) told me wrong. In my first four months at this job, I have stayed late at least two nights every week, been forced to stay home both days all weekend to wait on client approval for content, been literally woken up by phone calls on holiday weekends to work, and am now (understandably, I hope) scared to make any advance plans because I’m worried I may have to drop everything and work. One time, I waited an hour to reply to a request outside of working hours because I was at a movie, and was given a pretty stern talking-to by my boss.

I’ve asked coworkers about how they manage work-life balance, or avoid situations like being chained to my laptop all weekend. People mostly laugh when I ask about work-life balance, and the best advice I’ve been given is to take my laptop with me everywhere, and use my phone as a hotspot (a service that my company does not pay for).

I’m really struggling with what to do here. I know the logical answer is to talk to my boss, but I’m worried I’ll get the same sort of laughed off reaction that other coworkers have given me. I like my company and the work we do, but I can’t work non-stop like this. While I don’t mind having high expectations set for me or working a little extra since I’m new and still trying to make an impression, this feels excessive. I have no work-life balance, at all. Family members who I consider mentors have told me to look for a different job, but I feel like I have to stick it out for at least a year, and since I love the results of our non-stop work for so long, I would want to stay longer if I could make this work.

I wrote back and asked, “When you say you’ve had to stay late two nights every week, how late is it usually?”

I usually have to stay about an hour past the time I’m supposed to get off.

Huh. Okay, that changes things for me. Based on the letter, I was expecting it to be hours and hours.

Staying an hour late twice a week isn’t a big deal in a lot of fields. Even in fields that don’t have particularly crazy hours, staying an extra hour two nights a week is pretty normal for many professional jobs (to the point that it wouldn’t even be considered working late).

Things get iffier with some of the other details. Getting a stern talking-to because you took an hour to respond to an email over the weekend is not normal or reasonable, assuming that there wasn’t something unusual going on where you should have known to be on high alert.

Getting woken up by work calls on holiday weekends — it could go either way. If someone is calling you at 7 a.m., that better be a serious emergency. But an 11 a.m. call on a holiday weekend in a field where it’s known that work sometimes happens outside of regular work hours — it might not be an outrage, if it was for something that really couldn’t wait. (On the other hand, you should be left alone on weekends if it’s not time-sensitive.)

Staying home both days one weekend to wait for client approval … it’s a thing that happens in some fields. If it’s rare (and it sounds like it’s only happened once), it can just be part of a professional job, even in fields that aren’t constantly hectic.

So this is a tricky question to answer because, unless there are details that didn’t make it into your letter, this doesn’t actually sound like working non-stop. It sounds like a lot of professional jobs that are busy but not insanely so. With the exception of the lecture when you were at a movie, this is the kind of thing that you could encounter in a lot of other jobs, even if you change fields. So that’s one perspective to have on it.

That said, given the movie lecture and the fact that your coworkers laughed when you asked about work-life balance, I’m betting that there are other details that add up to something closer to non-stop. If that’s the case, then yes, I would start looking around at other jobs. You know that you don’t want this kind of schedule, you knew that before you took this job and thought that they’d assured you that you wouldn’t have it here, and it’s making you miserable. You’re allowed to leave!

You said you feel like you have to stick it out for a year, which I assume is because you’re trying to avoid looking like a job hopper. But you’re not going to look like a job hopper if you have one short stay. Job hopping is about a pattern of behavior, not leaving quickly one time. It does mean that it’ll be important that you stay at your next job for a while, but you don’t need to be miserable in this job out of some notion that you’re obligated to stay a year. (Also, for the record, one year is still really short in most fields. A pattern of one-year stays would be a problem, and aiming for a year is not the right goal if you’re trying to avoid that. Read this for more on that. But that doesn’t sound like it will apply here, since this is your first post-college job.)

You asked about talking to your boss, and you could certainly try that, but if this is how your office works — and especially if this is how your field works, which sounds like the case — I’m doubtful that much will come of that. If these are the hours and this is the culture … well, these are the hours and this is the culture, and there’s some risk of looking out of touch.

So I’d start looking around and see if you can find a better fit. Before you make any moves, talk to people who work in whatever field you’re thinking of moving into so that you have a really realistic understanding of the norms around hours. You probably know about the fields with truly crazy hours (law, politics, advocacy, PR, and a bunch of others), but there are a ton more where a few extra hours a week and the occasional weekend isn’t going to register on anyone’s radar (and thus won’t get mentioned when you ask an interviewer about work/life/balance). So you want to really dig into the norms of any field you move toward — not just with your interviewers, but with people working in that industry. Good luck!

I’m a recent grad and feel like I’m working too much was originally published by Alison Green on Ask a Manager.

The Big Idea: Annalee Newitz

Sep. 19th, 2017 11:26 am
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Posted by John Scalzi

In her debut novel Autonomous, former i09 editor-in-chief and current science and tech writer and editor Annalee Newitz gets under the skin of the healthcare industry and thinks about all the ways it’s less-than-entirely healthy for us… and what that means for our future, and the future she’s written in her novel.


There’s a scene from the Torchwood series Miracle Day that I will never be able to wash out of my brain. After humans stop being able to die for mysterious reasons, our heroes tour a hospital full of people who are hideously immortal: their bodies pancaked and spindled and melted, they lie around in agony wishing for oblivion. For all its exaggerated body horror, that moment feels creepily realistic in our age of medicine that can keep people alive without giving them anything like quality of life.

Torchwood: Miracle Day wasn’t my first taste of healthcare dystopia, but it made a huge impression because it distilled down one of the fundamental ideas I see this subgenre: some lives are worse than death. This is certainly the message in countless pandemic films, where the infected are ravening, mindless zombies. Killing them is a mercy.

This idea takes a slightly different form in books like Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go and Paolo Bacigalupi’s Windup Girl. Both narratives toy with what it means when people are turned into medical experiments, like futuristic versions of the Tuskegee Study. We see some ruling class of people deciding that another class should serve as its organ donors or genetic beta testers. What if somebody were treating us like lab rats, as if our lives didn’t matter?

And then there are the false healthcare utopias, which I find the most disturbing because they remind me of listening to U.S. senators trying to sell the idea that they have a “much better plan” than Obamacare—even though I know people who will die under these “better plans.” Politicians have probably been pushing false healthcare utopias since at least the 19th century, but in science fiction its roots can clearly be traced to Aldus Huxley’s Brave New World. In that novel, everyone is medicating with Soma just to deal with how regimented and limited their lives are.

False healthcare utopias can take many forms, and they overlap with more familiar dystopias too. Some deal with surveillance. In the chilling novel Harmony, Project Itoh imagines a future Japan where the government monitors everyone’s microbiomes by tracking everything that goes into and out of their bodies (yep, there’s toilet surveillance).

Sometimes the false healthcare utopia is just a precursor to a more familiar zombie dystopia like 28 Days Later. Consider, for example, our extreme overuse of antibiotics. Though it appears that we can cure pretty much any infection with antibiotics, we’re very close to living in a world where antibiotics no longer work at all. One of the most terrifying books I’ve read this year is science journalist Maryn McKenna’s book Big Chicken, which is about how the agriculture industry depends on antibiotics to keep animals “healthy” in filthy, overcrowded conditions. This is creating antibiotic-resistant bacteria that are coming for us, pretty much any day now. That’s right–penicillin-doped chickens are the real culprits in I Am Legend.

I’m fascinated by how many false healthcare utopias depend on coercive neuroscience. Often, brain surgery is involved—we see this in John Christopher’s Tripods and Scott Westerfeld’s Uglies series, both about so-called utopian worlds created by neurosurgical interventions that restrict freedom of thought. Maybe these stories focus on brains so much because these are fundamentally stories about lies, and brains are, after all, the organ that we use for lying.

When I started work on my novel Autonomous (out today! yes it is!), I knew I wanted to explore the lies of the pharmaceutical industry and its gleaming ads promising a better life to those who can afford a scrip. One of the protagonists, Jack, has become a pharmaceutical pirate so that she can bring expensive, patented medicine to poor people who need it. But she also sells a few of what she calls “funtime worker drugs” on the side, to fund her Robin Hood activities and keep her submarine in good repair.

Those funtime drugs are why things go sideways for Jack. She sells some pirated Zacuity, a “productivity” drug that I loosely based on Provigil or Adderall. It gets people really enthusiastic about work, but it has some unexpected side-effects that the pharma company Zaxy has suppressed. Now Jack has to stop the drug from killing more people, while also evading two deadly agents sent by Zaxy: a robot named Paladin and a human named Eliasz.

So Autonomous is chase story with some hot robot sex, but it’s also very much a book about how pharma companies sell us an idea of “health” that is actually really unhealthy.

Today pharma companies market drugs the way Disney markets Star Wars movies, and for good reason. Drugs like Adderall and Provigil are supposed to make us feel better and more competent—or at the very least distract us—for a few blissful hours. Just like a movie. I’m not trying to say there’s a problem with taking drugs (or watching movies) to feel good. Nor am I saying that people don’t need anti-depressants and other meds to treat psychological problems. The issue is when these drugs are overprescribed for enhancement, and “feeling really good” becomes a terrible kind of norm. Pharma companies want us to believe that if we aren’t incredibly attentive, productive, and happy every day, there must be something wrong. This paves the way for an ideal of mental health that almost nobody can (or should) live up to.

There’s another, deeper problem that’s caused by selling medicine as if it were a form of entertainment. Nobody would ever argue that going to see the new Star Wars movie is a right. It’s just a luxury for people with disposable income. If we see medicine like that too, it’s easy to fall for the lie that our healthcare system is great even though it only serves the richest people in the U.S.

In the world of Autonomous, the pharma companies are full of guys like Martin Shkreli, jacking up the prices on medicine because they can. They get away with it because so many people in the U.S. believe that anyone can get medicine if they really deserve it. Only a lie of that magnitude could make it seem fair when working class people can’t afford to treat AIDS-related complications. Or cancer. Or a heart infection.

Autonomous is a book about lies. But more importantly, it’s about what happens to the people who see through those lies and try to do something about it. Everyone deserves to have medicine. It is a right, not a privilege. Until we recognize that, I’ll be hanging out with the pirates.


Autonomous: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s

Read an excerpt. Visit the author’s site. Follow her on Twitter.

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Posted by Ask a Manager

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

1. Can I talk to my boss about how she’s treating my coworker?

A colleague of mine — let’s call her Sarah — just got promoted to the level of supervisor, moving above myself and two other colleagues. This was a bit of a surprise to us all. Sarah hasn’t had any management experience, and she’s clearly trying to feel out her role. We all used to be very good friends when we were at the same level, but now that she’s a supervisor, she’s doing her best to be an appropriate and respectable authority. I’m not new to a change like this, so I’m trying to give her the gravitas she seems to crave at the moment.

However, one of the people still at my level — let’s call her Heather — is really struggling. She is relatively new to our office and for most of her time here, she and Sarah have been good friends, and now the power dynamic has changed. Additionally, Sarah is coming down hard on Heather. I’m not privy to their conversations, but it’s very clear that Heather is just not doing anything right by Sarah, and Sarah is hounding Heather about every finite detail of her work. It’s really creating animosity in the office.

Is there any way to speak to Sarah about this? I value Sarah’s work and her effort — she does a good job, and she deserved to get this position. But by puffing her chest and trying to establish herself as an authority, her subordinates (me included) are losing faith in her actions. Is there a way to speak with Sarah, on the level, and let her know that she needs to find a new approach?

Well … it’s actually possible that there are real problems with Heather’s work, and that Sarah’s oversight and feedback to her is appropriate. That’s something you wouldn’t necessarily know.

But it’s also true that it’s common for new managers to struggle with authority and be either too lenient or too hard on people. Of course, talking about that might not go well with someone who’s already getting hung up on “I’m now the boss and demand respect.”

But if you have pretty good rapport with Sarah, you might be able to frame it not as “hey, you’re being too hard on Heather” (because you don’t actually know that) but as “this is being perceived in a way that’s freaking people out.” For instance: “I’m glad you got this promotion; you deserved it. I want to let you know that I’m getting the sense the team is starting to worry about what’s going on with you and Heather because it seems like you’re coming down really hard on her. I know we don’t know everything that’s going on, but the pieces that we can see are making people worry that you’re being too harsh. I’m not suggesting that you need to change that; for all I know, it could be perfectly warranted and that’s not information I would be privy to. But I wanted you to know how it’s being perceived, in case you didn’t intend that or don’t want that.”

When you say this, your tone shouldn’t be “you need to change this.” You want it to convey “I respect you and this is your call; I’m just giving you information that might be helpful to you.”

2. Were these interview exercises unreasonable?

At what point do exercises or activities given during an interview process become training? During an interview process, I was given three exercises total (in addition to three phone interviews and one in-person interview).

The first two exercises were given with the explanation that this would help me determine my ability to complete the job. So far, all good. During the in-person interview, we reviewed my answers to the exercises and I was given input on how I could have completed them better. This would have been fine, except I then had to incorporate that feedback right then and there so they could review and provide additional feedback. To me, that’s training.

A few days after the in-person interview, they emailed saying there was another exercise they’d want me to complete. This exercise seemed like actual work that needed to be done. I felt like I was being used as free labor. Total, I’d say the three exercises took around three hours to complete — I think I work at a normal pace. (Not to mention that the first two exercises were sent with a timeline that would require me to complete over a long weekend.)

So I ask – at what point are interview exercises really just unpaid work/training in disguise? Would you say the amount of exercises were acceptable? Is this normal hiring practice (for NGO’s or in general)? For the record, I have a similar title to the one I was applying for although in a different department, and have two years of full-time work experience.

Employers are increasingly using exercises to evaluate candidates, and — assuming the exercises are well-thought out and considerate of candidates’ time — that’s a good thing. It’s much easier to hire the right person when you actually see candidates in action (as opposed to just asking them about their work). It’s good for candidates too; it means you’re more likely to stand out for the jobs you’re well-matched with and less likely to end up in one where you struggle.

But there are definitely employers who do it badly. It’s hard to say if yours were reasonable without knowing what the job was, exactly what the exercises were, and if they’re being used solely to evaluate you or for something more than that. In general, if they’re just using the exercises to evaluate your candidacy (as opposed to actually using what you produce), that’s not free work. It could still be an unreasonable request, though, depending on how much time they want you to invest. Three one-hour exercises spread out over four conversations is borderline; it’s approaching too much, but it’s not solidly in “this is an outrage” category. Asking you for another one at this point, though, would be pushing it.

The part about asking you to incorporate their feedback doesn’t worry me. That can make a lot of sense to do because often a candidate will produce, say, a writing exercise that isn’t quite what the employer is looking for — but might be able to nail it with three minutes of feedback. There’s real value in seeing how/whether someone incorporates feedback into their work. That’s not training; that’s still part of assessing you. (I’d answer differently if they gave you two hours of coaching, but it doesn’t sound like that.)

3. Should I have to use vacation time for a religious holiday?

I’m Jewish, but no one else in the company I work for is. This Thursday is the Jewish holiday Rosh Hashana, and services are at 9:30 a.m. – 1:00 p.m., then traditional luncheon is always hosted by my parents at their home right after.

I approached HR this morning asking if I’m able to take off this Thursday in observance of my Jewish holiday and they said, “It’s not a holiday for the company as a whole, it’s only your holiday. So therefore, you can use a PTO day of yours to take it off.”

Umm… well Christmas is not my holiday but we’re automatically off without taking PTO for that day? So can she really say that to me? Also, is it right that I’m forced to use a PTO day for it?

It’s not a great practice — smart employers don’t make employees take PTO for major religious holidays — but it’s legal and pretty common. If she was saying you couldn’t take the day off at all, you’d be able to formally ask for religious accommodation (and would have the law backing you up unless your employer could show that giving you the day off would cause undue hardship). But they’re letting you take it, just saying you need to use PTO. It’s annoying and they’d do well to rethink the policy, but they can indeed say this.

That said, if that’s the actual wording that HR used, that sounds particularly rude. If this is something you feel strongly about, one option would be to push back on the policy for next year (or for Yom Kippur in a couple of weeks) and in that context mention that the particular response you got was worded in a bizarrely rude way for a company that presumably wants to encourage inclusivity and diversity on its staff.

4. What do I say to networking contacts who I don’t have much connection with?

I was fortunate enough to unintentionally do some informal networking on Twitter, and got referrals for a couple of people to reach out to on LinkedIn. Unfortunately, I don’t think I’m really qualified to work for/with either of them, based on my having some very non-specific experience that some people seem to assume is more relevant than it is (i.e., you were an English major years ago, you can do copywriting easily!) I hate to let potential connections go to waste, or disregard someone who has been generous enough to try to help me network despite having a very tenuous connection. But I also hate to show up on someone’s doorstep with no real qualifications like I expect a huge favor just because I was referred by someone they know.

The only thing I can think of to do is to InMail them on LinkedIn acknowledging that I don’t think I’m currently qualified to work with them and ask whether they had a minute to share what steps I might take in order to BE qualified. Would that be okay? Is there a better way to make use of the connections without sounding ridiculous or presumptuous?

Is that stuff you genuinely want to know and would be excited to connect about? And is there no other obvious way of getting that information? If the answer to both of those questions is yes, then yeah, you can do that. But if the answer to either question is no and you’d just be asking those things because you feel like you should make use of the connection somehow, don’t do that — that will probably show and it will be annoying to the contacts. In that case, I’d spend more time thinking about what exactly you really want from these people (and can realistically expect). It’s okay if it’s just “Jane Warbleworth suggested I contact you because X. I realize that my background isn’t quite what you’re looking for for the roles you hire for, but I’d love to connect on LinkedIn since I’m hoping to do Y in the future.” (Note that’s not asking them for their time; don’t ask for that unless you can clearly explain why you want it.)

Also, sometimes contacts refer you to people who just aren’t going to make sense for you to network with. It’s okay to decide that happened here, if that’s actually the case. (If that’s true, and if the person who referred you is more than a casual Twitter acquaintance, go back and explain that so they’re not wondering why you never acted on their suggestion. That will also give them the opening to say, “No, actually, I was thinking she’d be a great person to do X for you,” and maybe X is something you hadn’t thought about.)

5. Employer wants list of questions answered in cover letter

When recently applying for a job, I came across something I don’t think I’ve encountered before: requirements for the cover letter. In this case, it was a list of seven questions they wanted answered. I’m sure this isn’t uncommon, but I was stumped about the way to go about answering the questions: do I fold each answer into the body of the letter, or do I answer each question point by point in list form? Which would you prefer to see? I ended up working them into the letter and trying to weave them into my spiel, but I’ve been doubting myself ever since. These questions were rather complex, and after answering them, it left little space on the page to write anything else about myself. What do you think?

I think either way is fine. There’s a slight argument for making them really clear numbered points (although still in the body of your letter) so that they can see clearly and immediately that you definitely answered everything, but really, either way should be fine.

can I talk to my boss about how she’s treating my coworker, interview exercises, and more was originally published by Alison Green on Ask a Manager.

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Posted by John Scalzi

Well, specifically this silly person said I would never earn out [x] amount of money I got as an advance, and also that I would in fact never see [x] amount of money, because of reasons they left unspecified but which I assume were to suggest that my contracts would be cancelled long before I got the payout. As [x] amount of money seems to suggest this silly person is talking about my multi-book multi-year contracts, let me say:

1. lol, no;

2. [x] was not the sum for any of my contracts (either for individual works or in aggregate) so that’s wrong to begin with;

3. It’s pretty clear that this silly person has very little idea how advances work in general, or how they are paid out;

4. It’s also pretty clear this silly person has very little idea how advances work with long-term, multi-project contracts in particular, or how they are paid out;

5. Either this silly person has never signed a book contract, or they appear to have done a very poor job of negotiating their contracts;

6. In any event, it’s very clear this silly person has no idea about the particulars of my business.

Which makes sense as I don’t go into great detail about them in public. But it does mean that people asserting knowledge of my business are likely to be flummoxed by the actual facts. Like, for example, the fact that I’m already earning royalties on work tied into those celebrated-yet-apparently-actually-cursed contracts. Royalties, I’ll note for those of you not in the publishing industry, are paid out after you earn back an advance.

How am I getting royalties on a work tied to contracts that this silly person has assured all and sundry I will never earn out? The short answer is because I’ve earned out, obviously. The slightly longer answer is that my business deals are interesting and complex and designed to roll money to me on a steady basis over a long period of time, but when you are a silly person who apparently knows nothing about how book contracts work (either my specific ones, or by all indications book contracts in general) and you have an animus against me because, say, you’re an asshole, or because of group identification politics that require that I must actually be a raging failure, for reasons, you are prone to assert things that are stupid about my business and show your complete ignorance of it. And then I might be inclined to point and laugh about it.

In any event, this is a fine time to remind people of two things. The first thing is that I have detractors, and it’s very very important to them that I’m seen as a failure. There’s nothing I can ever do or say to dissuade them against this idea, so the least I can do is offer them advice, which is to make their assertions of my failure as non-specific as possible, because specificity is not their friend. I would also note to them that regardless, my failures, real or imagined, will not make them any more successful in their own careers. So perhaps they should focus on the things they can materially effect, i.e., their own writing and career, and worry less about what I’m doing.

Second, if someone other than me, my wife, my agent or my business partners (in the context of their own contracts with me) attempts to assert knowledge of my business, you may reliably assume they are talking out of their ass. This particularly goes for my various detractors, most of whom don’t appear to have any useful understanding of how the publishing industry works outside of their (and this is a non-judgmental statement) self-pub and micro-pub worlds, which are different beasts than the part I work in, and also just generally dislike me and want me to be a miserable failure and are annoyed when I persist in not being either. Wishing won’t make it so, guys.

Bear in mind speculating about my business is perfectly fine, and even if it wasn’t I couldn’t stop it anyway. Speculate away! People have done it for years, both positively and negatively, and most of the time it’s fun to watch people guess about it. Even this silly person’s speculation is kind of fun, in the sense it’s interesting to see all the ways it’s wrong. But to the extent that the unwary may believe this silly person (or other such silly people among my detractors, and as a spoiler they are all fairly silly on this topic) knows what they are talking about with regard to my business: Honey, no. They really don’t. They have their heads well up their asses.

Or, as I said on Twitter:

And actually the dog has been in the same room as my contracts, so in fact she might know more. Keep that in mind the next time a detractor opines on my business.

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Posted by Ask a Manager

I was on public radio’s Marketplace Weekend this weekend, talking about job searching, including:

  • how job searching has changed in recent years
  • computerized resume screening (it’s not what you think!)
  • your parents’ advice to pound the pavement and show gumption
  • if there’s anywhere where walking in to apply in person still works
  • how to answer questions about salary history
  • and more

The segment is 14-1/2 minutes and you can listen here:

my interview on Marketplace about how to job search was originally published by Alison Green on Ask a Manager.

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Posted by JenniferP

Video description: The Bangles cover Big Star’s September Gurls in Pittsburgh in 1986.

It’s time for the monthly thing where we answer the things people typed into search engines as if they are actual questions. This feature is generously funded by Patreon supporters.

1 “How to stop a neighbour and hubby putting me down every time I walk past

Ugh, your husband is being a giant asshole, and it’s time to tell him straight up to knock this behavior off. “Stop doing that. It’s rude, disrespectful, and it hurts my feelings.” If he won’t, you’ve got Husband-problems more than you have Neighbor-problems.

2 “What does it mean when a girl says focusing on school right now after you say your feelings

It means she did not enthusiastically say “Yes, I feel the same way, let’s definitely date each other!” It means she’d rather focus on school than go out with you. Interpret it as “No.”

3 “Anonymous STD notification letter.”

National treasure website Scarleteen recommends InSpot  for sending an anonymous e-card and has a good how-to guide on doing this kind of notification. Australia has a service called Better To Know that lets you notify partners of possible Sexually Transmitted Infections (STI) anonymously via text or email. In both cases, you enter info, the person gets a message that lets them know that they may have been exposed to an STI (+ there’s a way for you to enter which ones) and should get tested. There’s a good roundup of similar services in this article.

If you’re feeling blue and alone in this, the Netflix show formerly known as “Scrotal Recall” (now renamed Lovesick) is a romantic comedy about a man who must notify past sexual partners about possible chlamydia exposure.

If you don’t want to go anonymous, a simple text or phone call that says “Hey [Sex Friend] I recently tested positive for ________. You should get checked out, too” is a very kind and ethical thing to send. The more we all remove stigma and shame around STIs, the better job everyone can do taking care of ourselves and each other.

4 “My boyfriend mom prophesied that we are not meant to be together.”

Translation: Your boyfriend’s mom does not want you to be together.

What do you and your boyfriend want?

5 “When some knocks on door and says the Lord compelled them to stop and talk to you.”

Translation: The someone wanted to stop and talk to you.

What do you want?

6 “How to decline a neighbor asking us over


“How nice of you to think of us, but no thank you.”

7 “What to do when your friend sets you up on a blind date and the guy’s interested in her.”

Acknowledge the awkwardness, have a good laugh together, tell the guy “good luck, dude, tell her how you feel and maybe we can avoid this sitcom nonsense next time” and go home with your dignity. You didn’t do anything weird.

8 “Should you invite girls of interest to your party


Throwing a party is a great reason to invite someone that you might be interested in romantically over. That person can meet your friends, see your place, everyone can see how everyone gets on together, you can get to know each other better without having it be a DATE date, etc. Why not?

Now, girl(s) plural is an advanced move, but again, why not?

9 “What do you do when your daughter owes you money and is not paying you back but takes vacations and spends a lot

Ugh, this is a hard one. Here are some steps for dealing with friends and family members who are not good/prompt/conscientious about paying back loans,

a) Assume that you won’t ever be repaid. Take whatever steps you need to shore up your own financial well-being so that you’re not depending on that money. If you do manage to collect it it will be a happy thing.

b) Ask the person to repay you what they owe. If you bring up fancy vacations or their other spending they will get automatically defensive, so skip that part in your request (even if it is relevant to the issue). Why skip it? You don’t need the story about how she bought the tickets long ago or how they were really a gift from a friend and you don’t want to give her a reason to feel judged and aggrieved (even if judgment is warranted). The vacation money is spent. It’s not coming back. She knows that you know that she knows that she owes you money. Just be simple and direct and ask for what you need:

Script: “Daughter, you still owe me $______. When can we expect repayment?” or “Daughter, you still owe me $_______. Can you repay me by (date)?” Brace yourself for the wave of defensiveness and excuses that is coming. Do not, I repeat, do not get into the details of her spending or her excuses or reasons. Just repeat the question. “Okay, so, when can you get the money to me?

c) Don’t lend this person any more money. You may or may not ever get the money back, but you can definitely control whether you lend them more. You now have a lot of information about how they’ll behave when you lend them money and you both have a hard, awkward lesson. Past behavior is the best predictor of future behavior here, and “I’m sorry, Daughter, I don’t feel comfortable lending you money since you didn’t pay me back” is a situation your daughter created, not you.

I hope you get a good result. Also, general thought, if you are going to lend money to friends or family, it’s a good idea to put something in writing: How much, what it’s for, when & how will it be paid back. Your script can be “Let’s just write it down so we all know what the agreement is and I never have to bug you about paying me back.

10 “Etiquette of peeing when surfing.”

We are people of action and lies do not become us: In the unlikely comedy of errors that lands me on an actual surfboard in an actual body of water, there is no way on earth my enthusiastic and prolific middle-aged bladder is gonna be able to wait until I swim to shore, find a land-based bathroom, and peel off my wetsuit in time to pee decorously in a toilet. This seems like a “it’s a big ocean” and “that’s between you and your wetsuit” issue to me, but maybe an actual surfer has insight?

11 “How to make girlfriend move out to Colorado.”

You do not make. You ask, and then she either moves or she doesn’t.

12 “I have to leave the Midwest or I will die but my husband thinks it’s all in my head.”

Ok, this seems like a REALLY specific situation and we are DEFINITELY missing context here but what if I said “Even if it were in your head, is your need to go so great and so urgent and so necessary that it’s worth going alone, even if that’s a difficult & sad decision?”

13 “Dating female academic awful

It certainly can be, since the prospect of relocation is always hanging over the whole deal.

14 “He said he wants to do his own thing and maybe see other people.”

Translation: “I am planning to see other people and have less energy/focus/time/interest for a relationship with you.”

It’s a prelude to a breakup, possibly one where “he” either wants you to be the bad guy and actually do the breaking up or where he’d like you to stick around in his life but in background/low-priority mode.

15 “My 23 year old son looks so unattractive, but he won’t shave or cut his hair

[Bad Advisor] Well, it’s definitely 100% his job to make sure his face and body look attractive and acceptable to you, his parent, at all times so definitely be sure to bring this up as often as possible! Your concern, constantly expressed, will only bring you closer together as a fellow adult human strives to please you in all things, including and especially the hair that is growing on his personal face and body where he lives and you do not.

Also, to be on the safe side, hide all of your copies of the musical about this very question, lest he get ideas about fur vests, naked dancing or protesting the Vietnam War.

It is not only your business but your duty to set this young man straight. [/Bad Advisor]

16 “What does it mean if you ask for a guy’s phone number and his response is he is antisocial

He did not want to give you his phone number, or, if he does/did, he is warning you that he doesn’t want to actually hang out. Try again, another dude, another day.

17 “Fucking past due invoices.”

Fucking the worst.

18 “Girlfriend of 11 years is leaving me

Wallow. Fuck Around. Do The Thing.

Repeat the Bene Gesserit Litany Against Fear to yourself.

(Or not, as it suits you).

19 “Angry that my husband allows his parents to come whenever they want

This would make me angry, too. His family may have a drop-in culture or agreement and expectations, but you do not, and therefore the family that you and your husband make together does not. There are several conversations/actions that need to happen if they haven’t already (and maybe they have and need to happen again):

a) “Husband, I want your folks to feel and be welcome in our house, but to make that happen I need some advance notice. Please ask them to call first and ask if we’re free, and please check with me before you say yes.” 

b) “In-Laws, I really want you to be and feel welcome in our house, but I need more advance notice than you’re accustomed to providing. Just dropping by, even when I’m happy to see you, really stresses me out. I know this is different from how you do things in your family, but I need you to call first and ask if I’m free or if now is a good time. Thanks!” 

c) “Husband, I know I’m somewhat ‘changing the rules’ on your family, but I really need some consideration here. Back me up.” 

d) When they just drop by anyway and your husband isn’t home try: “Oh, too bad this isn’t a good time, I’m just stepping out” + LEAVE (go to the library or run errands or something, just take a drive around the block on principle). Btw if they have keys and are in the habit of just letting themselves in, put the chain on when you’re home alone. Teach them that you won’t drop everything because they came over.

e) When they just drop by anyway and your husband is home, “Oh, too bad, this isn’t a good time, I was just about to take a nap” + HIDE (in your bedroom with the door shut  – keep books handy – and let him do whatever work of entertaining them). Risk seeming unwelcoming and unfriendly. You ARE unwelcoming…to people who invite themselves over.

This didn’t start overnight and won’t go away overnight but in my opinion it’s a battle worth picking.

20 “How to agree a girl for fucking if she dislikes doing it.”

Find someone else to fuck. Someone who likes doing it. Someone who enthusiastically likes doing it with you.

What the fuck, people.

21 “Got an apology from my ex after 15 years

That had to feel weird.

Whether this was welcome or unwelcome contact, there’s one important thing you should know:

It doesn’t obligate you to do anything or feel anything or re-open any kind of contact with this person. If you want to talk to them, ok? You could say “Thanks for the apology, I forgive you and wish you well” if that is true of how you feel.

But if you’d rather let the past stay in the past, you can 100% delete the weird Facebook message or whatever and go on with your life.

22 “Did the date go good or bad?”

This is a great question. You can’t control whether another person will like you, so after a date ask yourself:

  • Did I enjoy myself?
  • Was I relaxed and comfortable with this person?
  • Could I be myself around this person?
  • Did the conversation flow?
  • Did I feel like the other person was on my team, helping the date go smoothly and laughing gently at any awkward moments? Or did the awkward silences turn into awkward chasms on the edge of the awkward abyss?
  • Did the other person seem at ease and comfortable with me?
  • Was the actual time we spent together fun/enjoyable/comfortable/pleasurable?
  • Was it as good as spending time alone doing something enjoyable or with a good friend or do I wish I’d just spent the evening at home?
  • Was I bored? Checked out? Apprehensive?
  • Was it easy to make plans?
  • Do I feel like the person was listening/paying attention/engaged?
  • (If kissing is a thing you’re interested in) Can I picture myself kissing them?
  • Am I looking forward to hanging out again?
  • Were there any red flags?*

If the date went well for you, where you enjoyed yourself and felt good, ask the person for another date. The rest is up to the other person.

If you can get in the habit of checking in with yourself about your own comfort and enjoyment levels during and after dates, even a “meh” date can be useful because you’ll know more about yourself and what you’re looking for.

*Bonus list of some of my personal First Date red flags from back in the day when I bravely put on clean shirts and lip gloss and met strangers from the Internet for drinks:

  • Was the person I was meeting generally congruent with the person presented on the dating site and during any prior conversations? If you’re “single” on the dating site and suddenly “planning to get divorced btw we still live together and no one at work knows we’re separated so I’d appreciate your discretion” when we meet, if you’re 28 in all your dating site photos and 58 in person…it was not going to work.
  • Did the person monologue the whole time?
  • Did I feel like I was monologuing the whole time at someone who just shyly stared at me and nodded? (The Silent Type is a great type and it may be your type but experience tells me it was not mine).
  • Did I feel like I was an unpaid nonconsensual therapist while someone shared everything about their life?
  • Did the person constantly talk about their ex & exes?
  • Was literally everything they said a complaint about someone or something?
  • Were these complaints at least funny and entertaining?
  • In these complaints was nothing ever their responsibility? Was it just a long list of Ways I Have Been Wronged By Others with a subtext of Surely You Have A Duty To Not Disappoint Me Like Everyone Else Has (Now That You Know My Tale of Woe)?
  • Ugh, mansplaining, especially politics or philosophy, how movies get made, the “authenticity” of whatever food we were eating, the makeup & history of the neighborhood where I lived and they did not (for example when I failed to pick the “most authentic” taco place in Pilsen or Little Village), telling me why everything I liked was actually overrated.
  • Talking during movies. No.
  • Taking me to some sort of performance and then critiquing how much it sucks into my ear in real time. No.
  • Overfamiliarity, over-investment. “I can’t wait to introduce you to my son, he’s going to love you!” Ok but u just met me I am still wearing my coat slow down friend.
  • Overdoing innuendo & sex talk too soon, like, “I just got a new bed, it’s very comfortable, you’ll have to come test it out with me later heh heh.” Ok but u just met me I am still wearing my coat slow down friend.
  • Overdoing it with the touching. If dinner and a movie remind me of how my cat likes to constantly crawl all over me and make annoying biscuits everywhere it’s too much touching!
  • Negging of all sorts, especially “I don’t usually date ________, but you seem really cool.” (Bonus Nope!!!!! if the blank includes fat people, feminists, “women who seem really smart”)
  • Constant contact, expecting constant texts/calls/emails before we’ve even met in person, all up in my social media biz, “liking” every single photo/comment going back through the archives. It feels good to be seen and not so good to be surveilled.
  • Neediness  – We literally just met, so, surely there is someone else in your life who can drive you home from dental surgery or hold your hand while you put your dog to sleep or fly home with you to your father’s funeral or weigh in with you about whether you should accept this job offer? (All true stories of actual things actual men wanted me to do after a few emails and one hour-long bar or coffee date). I will move mountains to take care of people I love, when, you know, I have had a chance to figure out if love them.
  • Casual, “ironic” sexist or racist comments, dropping code sentences like “I hate all the political correctness these days, I feel like I can’t say anything.
  • Bringing your feature screenplay to the date for me to read.

Your Mileage May Vary, as the great saying goes. My list doesn’t look like anyone else’s and I may have had stuff on there that is not necessarily a problem in itself or not a problem for you, or where there are exceptions to be made (I did drive the guy home from dental surgery as a human favor for a fellow human being, I just didn’t date him more) or that are just differences in styles and interest levels. It’s not meant to be universal and it’s about compatibility with you vs. any one thing being Good or Bad.

I’m including the list because I developed it over time by paying attention to what made me feel good, comfortable, safe, relaxed, happy, excited and what made me feel the opposite.I stopped asking people “Is this normal/cool/okay thing when you date?” and started asking “Am I good with this?” and “Am I delighted by this?” Those experiences (and the decision to be picky about second and third dates) helped me avoid some entanglements that would have been fleeting at best and draining at worst, and it helped me know “Just Right” when I saw it.

We focus so much on the auditioning aspect of dating – Am I good enough? Does the other person like me back? – that our own comfort and needs and pleasure can get lost right when we need them most. It was a good date if you enjoyed yourself and felt good and did your best to be kind and considerate. It was a bad date if you didn’t enjoy yourself. Whether a good date will lead to another one is up to more than just you.


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Posted by Ask a Manager

usnewsEver wonder what hiring managers are thinking as the read over your resume, and how they choose who to interview and who to reject?

Having screened thousands of candidates for jobs, I’m giving you an inside look at that process over at U.S. News & World Report today, where I talk about what most hiring managers are thinking about as they read through your resume and cover letter, and how they decide who to interview. You can read it here.

how hiring managers decide who to interview was originally published by Alison Green on Ask a Manager.

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Posted by Ask a Manager

A reader writes:

This past summer, the section I supervise had some interns working here. All of them were offered jobs here once the internships were over. However one of them has created a situation where she lied to the police, but my boss and HR have still decided to offer her a job.

A staff member really liked the intern’s jacket and would often comment saying so. When the jacket went missing, the intern went to security and the footage from the lobby and parking area showed the staff member taking the jacket to her car when most other people were in a meeting. The intern got the police involved and told them her wallet with all of her ID and credit/debit cards were in her pocket. It was found that dozens of Amazon orders were placed with the intern’s credit card in the name of the staff member, to be shipped to a pick up point near our office. Our office is opened without assigned seating so although IT could say which computer was used to place the orders there is no way of knowing who did the ordering.

The police believe it was the staff member and she has been charged for stealing and using the credit card. She admits to taking the jacket but says she doesn’t know anything about the card. She says the intern placed the orders in her name once she realized the jacket was missing as a form of revenge. The staff member is credible, she has no history of trouble working here, has no criminal record and is a good person who volunteers and is active with her church and her family. He husband has told me that her lawyer advised her to take plea to get less time in jail because a trial would not be good for her.

I am concerned about the intern having lied to the police and her now being offered a full-time job. I am not sure how to frame this when I speak to my boss. I want to discuss it with him because some of my other team members have concerns about this intern also.

I don’t know how your office could possibly sort through this better than the police and prosecutors can. You’re presumably not criminal investigators, and it sounds like there’s no obvious way to tell who placed those orders.

But I’d be very wary of assuming that the person who stole the jacket is telling you the truth about the rest of the incident. You say that she has no criminal record and is a good person who volunteers, but you also know that she stole a jacket from an intern. I think you need to consider that there’s more going on with her than you knew about.

The one fact you know for sure here is that she did indeed steal from a coworker (it’s on videotape and she admits that). Given that, you can’t give her the benefit of the doubt about the pieces of this that aren’t on video.

And note that you’re taking her word as fact. In the opening to your letter, you wrote the intern “lied to the police.” But you really don’t know that. Your only evidence for that is the word of someone who stole from a coworker and now has strong motivation to downplay any other pieces of that crime.

If you have other concerns about the intern, which it sounds like you do, you can absolutely share those with your boss. But you don’t have grounds for alleging that she placed those Amazon orders herself, and it would be wrong of you to assert that as fact. You can certainly pass along to your boss that your other coworker is claiming that’s what happened, but you should be careful to note that you’re only passing on information and that you have no way of judging the veracity of any of this. (And if nothing else, your boss should be aware that you and others in the office are looking at the intern with such suspicion. That has the potential to create a really bad situation, so your boss should know.)

All that said … it would be awfully poor judgment to use your own name when ordering on someone else’s stolen credit card! It’s like robbing a house and leaving a signed note behind. If anything here makes me wonder about the intern’s version of events, it’s this. But lots of people commit incredibly stupid crimes so that in itself isn’t evidence of anything … and again, these are all questions for the police, the prosecutor, and your coworker’s lawyer to work out. Your office can’t solve this.

did my intern frame my coworker for credit card theft? was originally published by Alison Green on Ask a Manager.

theferrett: (Meazel)
[personal profile] theferrett

I knew musicals could cheer me up, but I’d never heard of one that gave me new tools to deal with chronic illness and depression. Yet when I saw Groundhog Day last Wednesday, I was so stunned by what a perfect, joyous metaphor it was for battling mental illness that I immediately bought tickets to see it again that Saturday.

I would have told you about this before, but it was too late. The show closed on Sunday. A musical that should have run, well, for as long as Phil Connors was trapped in his endless time loop only got a five-month run.

But I can tell you about it.

I can tell you why this musical made me a stronger, better person.


So let’s discuss the original Groundhog Day movie, which is pretty well-known at this point: Bill Murray is an asshole weatherman named Phil who shows up under protest to do a report from Punxatawney, Philadelphia on Groundhog Day. He’s trapped in town overnight thanks to a blizzard. When Phil wakes up the next morning, it’s Groundhog Day again. And again. And again.

Phil goes through several phases:

  • Incredulous as he can’t believe what’s happening to him;
  • Gleefully naughty as he uses his knowledge of people’s future actions to indulge all his greatest fantasies;
  • Frustrated as he tries to romance Rita, his producer, but he’s too cynical for her and nothing convinces her to hop in bed with him unless everyone else in town;
  • Depressed as he realizes that his life is shallow and there’s no way he can escape;
  • Perplexed as he tries to rescue a dying homeless man but realizes that nothing he can do on this day will save this poor guy;
  • And, finally, beatific as he uses his intense knowledge of everything that will happen in town today to run around doing good for people.

Naturally, that’s a great emotional journey. It’s no wonder that’s a story that’s resonated with people.

Yet Groundhog Day changes just one slight emotional tenor about this – and that change is massive.

Because when Bill Murray’s character gets to the end of his journey, he’s actually content. He’s achieved enlightenment where he enjoys everything he does, toodling around on the piano because he’s formed Punxatawney into his paradise. He laughs at people who ignore him. He’s satisfied.

And when Rita, who senses this change even though she doesn’t understand why, bids everything in her wallet to dance with him at the Groundhog Dance, the Bill Murray Phil is touched but also, on some level, serene.

Andy Karl’s Phil is not happy.

We spend a lot more time in Andy’s Phil’s headspace, and at one point he breaks down because of all the things he’ll never get to do – he’ll never grow a beard, he’ll never see the dawn again, he’ll never have another birthday. Anything he does is wiped away the next morning.

Bill Murray’s Phil gets so much satisfaction out of his constantly improving the town that his daily circuit has become a reward for him.

Andy Karl’s Phil is, on some level, fundamentally isolated. People will never know him – at least not without hours of proving to them that yes, he is trapped in this time loop, he does know everything about them.  No matter what relationships he forms, he’ll have  to start all over again in a matter of hours. There’s no bond he can create that this loop won’t erase.

And so when Rita finally dances with Bill Murray, it’s shown as a big romantic moment. And in the musical –

In the musical, Rita moves towards Phil and everything freezes in a harsh blue light except for Phil.

This is everything Phil has ever wanted in years, maybe decades, of being in this loop – and instead of being presented as triumphant, everything goes quiet and Phil sings a tiny, mournful song:

But I’m here
And I’m fine
And I’m seeing you for the first time

And the reason that brings tears to my eyes every fucking time is because this Phil is not fine – he repeats the lie in the next verse when he says he’s all right. Yet this is the happiest moment he’s had in years, finally understanding what Rita has wanted all along, and this moment too will be swept away in an endless series of morning wakeups and lumpy beds and people forgetting what he is.

Yet that mournful tune is also defiant, and more defiant when the townspeople pick it up and start singing it in a rising chorus:

I’m here
And I’m fine

Phil knows his future is nothing.

Yet that will not stop him from appreciating this small beauty even if he knows it will not stay with him. Trapped in the groundhog loop, appreciating the tiny moments becomes an act of rebellion, a way of affirming life even when you know this moment too will vanish.

Can you understand that this is depression incarnate?

Which is the other thing that marks this musical. Because I said there was joy, and there is. Because when Andy Karl’s Phil enters the “Philanthropy” section of the musical (get it?), he may not be entirely happy but he is content.

Because he knows that he may not necessarily feel joy at all times, but he has mastered the art of maintenance.

Because tending to the town of Punxatawney is a lot of work. He has to run around changing flat tires, rescuing cats, getting Rita the chili she wanted to try, helping people’s marriages. (And as he notes, “My cardio never seems to stick.”)

When Bill Murray’s Phil helps people, it seems to well up from personal satisfaction. Whereas Andy’s Phil is thrilled helping people, yes, but his kindness means more because it costs him. On some level he is, and will forever be, fundamentally numb.

This isn’t where he wanted to be.

Yet he has vowed to do the best with what he can. He helps the townspeople of Punxatawney because even though it is a constant drain, it makes him feel better than drinking himself senseless in his room. He doesn’t get to have everything he wanted – also see: depression and chronic illness – and it sure would be nice if he could take a few days off, but those days off will make him feel worse.

He’s resigned himself to a lifetime of working harder than he should for results that aren’t as joyous as he wanted.

And that’s okay. Not ideal, but…. okay.

Andy’s okay.

And I think the closest I can replicate that in a non-musical context is another unlikely source – Rick and Morty, where Rick is a suicidal hypergenius scientist who’s basically the Doctor if the Doctor’s psychological ramifications were taken seriously. And he goes to therapy, where a therapist so smart that she’s the only person Rick’s never been able to refute says this to him:

“Rick, the only connection between your unquestionable intelligence and the sickness destroying your family is that everyone in your family, you included, use intelligence to justify sickness.

“You seem to alternate between viewing your own mind as an unstoppable force and as an inescapable curse. And I think it’s because the only truly unapproachable concept for you is that it’s your mind within your control.
You chose to come here, you chose to talk to belittle my vocation, just as you chose to become a pickle. You are the master of your universe, and yet you are dripping with rat blood and feces, your enormous mind literally vegetating by your own hand.

“I have no doubt that you would be bored senseless by therapy, the same way I’m bored when I brush my teeth and wipe my ass. Because the thing about repairing, maintaining, and cleaning is it’s not an adventure. There’s no way to do it so wrong you might die.

“It’s just work.

“And the bottom line is, some people are okay going to work, and some people well, some people would rather die.

“Each of us gets to choose.

“That’s our time.”

And yes, Groundhog Day the musical is – was – about that lesson of maintenance, as Andy comes to realize that “feeling good” isn’t a necessary component for self-improvement, and works hard to make the best of a situation where, like my depression, even the best and most perfect day will be reset come the next morning.

And yes. There is a dawn for Andy’s Phil, of course, and he does wake up with Rita, and you get to exit the theater knowing that no matter how bad it gets there will come a joyous dawn and you get to walk out onto Broadway and so does Phil.

But you don’t get to that joy without maintenance.

And you might get trapped again some day. That, too, is depression. That, too, is chronic illness. We don’t know that Phil doesn’t get trapped on February 3rd, or March 10th, or maybe his whole December starts repeating.

But he has the tools now. He knows how to survive until the next dawn.

Maybe you can too.


Anyway. There’s talk that Groundhog Day will go on tour, maybe even with Andy Karl doing the performances. He’s brilliant. Go see him.

The rest of you, man, I hope you find your own Groundhog Day. I saw mine. Twice.

Perhaps it’s fitting that it’s vanished.

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

The Big Idea: Douglas Wynne

Sep. 18th, 2017 02:18 pm
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Posted by John Scalzi

In Cthulhu Blues, author Douglas Wynne wants you to catch the waves. Or perhaps more accurately, to appreciate the fact that the waves already have you — and show something else between them.


Back when I was studying music production and engineering at Berklee College of Music, I had a mystical epiphany that didn’t even involve recreational chemistry. It came to me in the classroom while looking at a handout the instructor had passed around. She was about to present an overview of AM and FM radio technology and wanted us to take a look at the wave spectrum within which those broadcast frequencies are nested. On the left, the diagram showed the subsonic vibrations elephants transmit through the ground to communicate over long distances. Moving to the right, it worked its way up through the octaves of audible sound waves and then on to ultrasonic, radio, microwave, infrared, visible light, ultraviolet, x-rays, and gamma rays.

My education up to that point was far more focused on playing guitar than on physics, but I had read about how even matter is essentially composed of waves—or particles, depending on the method of measurement—vibrating at high enough rates to create the illusion of solidity. Still, seeing it all laid out like that, bottom to top, made a profound impression on me. It reminded me that all human perception is just a glimpse through the slats of a fence, a fragmentary picture of a reality we can only experience with a biological bias and a crude, albeit ever expanding, set of tools to fill in the blanks.

It’s a humbling idea. One that I later remembered I’d first encountered in the horror story “From Beyond” by H.P. Lovecraft. In that tale, a scientist discovers alien life forms writhing in the air all around him by tuning his perception with a resonator device he calls “The Ultraviolet.”

When I set out to reimagine the Cthulhu Mythos for the SPECTRA Files trilogy, this idea of exposure to special frequencies opening up human perception to other dimensions and entities was a major element I wanted to explore. After all, the closest thing to real magic I’ve experienced in my own life is the way that music—invisible wave patterns in the air—has the power to open the human heart to unexpected dimensions of feeling.

Music plays a major role in the SPECTRA books. There’s a cosmic boom box that houses a lab-grown larynx, a grand piano that acts as a portal to infernal realms, and a sea organ borrowed from a real architectural instrument in Zadar, Croatia, that plays haunting chords when the waves roll into its chambers. But the main character, Becca Philips, does her work higher up in the wave spectrum. She’s an urban explorer and photographer who shoots infrared photos of abandoned buildings in flood-ravaged Boston. Becca finds an eerie spirituality in the ghostly light emitted by weeds and vines in that range. But when her photos pick up fractal tentacles seeping into our world from an adjacent dimension, she is caught between cultists employing weird tech to evoke monstrous gods and a covert agency that suspects she might be one of them.

From water to sound to light, there are waves rolling through the entire trilogy. But the wave spectrum isn’t the big idea, perception is: how we see the world and our place in it.

Becca Philips is a character defined by her sensitivity. She experienced loss at an early age and continues to suffer from recurrent depression compounded by Seasonal Affective Disorder. It’s her sensitivity to light and shadow, her unique way of looking at the world, that makes her a great photographer. And it’s her unique perception that entangles her in the unfolding apocalypse and puts her in a position to do something about it. In book one (Red Equinox), she willingly exposes herself to the harmonics that align the human plane with that of the monsters, an act which makes her more vulnerable even as it dispenses with the illusion of a benign reality so she might be empowered to save others from what lurks just beyond that thin veneer. Becca chose this vision as an act of heroism and chose to keep it when offered a drug that would make it go away. But sometimes the cost of courage is that your contact with dark things changes you and makes you one of them.

I knew from the start that as a sensitive, Becca would also be susceptible to the telepathic dreams of Cthulhu slumbering on the ocean floor sooner or later. I knew she would struggle with her sanity and ultimately have to make a judgment about the sanity of mankind at large and whether our supremacy on the planet is ultimately for the best. As a vegetarian and animal rescuer, Becca sees the value of all life. But when you look long enough into the abyss, the abyss looks into you, and in Cthulhu Blues Becca finally has to grapple with the question of whether or not the Great Old Ones might be better for life on Earth than mankind in the long run. The crux of her crisis is that the same empathetic eye that drives her to save animals, children, and civilization, also opens her to the possibility that the cultists might be right to topple the human race from its throne. She has to ask herself what it is in the spectrum of consciousness that sets humanity apart. If we’re not at the top of the food chain anymore, what makes us unique and worth saving?

I’ve always thought it’s our capacity for compassion. Our ability to see others, even the wretched and subhuman, the animal and the alien, with a kind eye. But if we retreat into the tunnel vision of fear at the first scent of crisis, then what do we have left that makes us the good guys? When you’re caught between a militant covert agency and a radical religious cult, are dark gods really worse than white devils?


Cthulhu Blues: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|JournalStone

Read an excerpt. Visit the author’s site. Follow him on Twitter.

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Posted by Ask a Manager

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

1. Coworkers and weight talk

I left a relationship that for all intents and purposes was emotionally abusive about a year ago. Word got out around the office that I had left my ex but only a trusted co-worker knew how had bad it had been and from what I can tell, she mostly kept it to herself.

Unexpectedly, I dropped at least 20 pounds after leaving. The effects of the abuse had shown up as binge eating and weight gain over the years. Now, in a matter of months, I was back down to my college weight. This was great, except that people at work began to comment on my weight. They asked if I was on a special diet, if I was skipping meals, if I had a special exercise regiment and even if I was sick. I never bring up the weight loss because I don’t want to talk about it. My feelings are complicated on a daily basis.

I’ve made up some lackluster excuses, mostly because I’m rarely prepared for the question and also because it’s been a surprise for myself. But every time someone asks, it brings up the past and I have to deal with it again during the work day. I don’t want to say, “I left an abusive relationship” but I’m also unsure of what will happen next with my weight or how much I should lie. I also don’t want to continue having to cover up parts of my life, something every person in an emotionally abusive relationship does regularly.

How should I respond to comments about my weight? Especially because it’s not caused by a special diet or workout regiment that I could talk about.

Aghh, people and intrusive questions about bodies. It’s so weird that this is considered socially acceptable.

I think you can be vague while still be honest. For example: “I’ve been in a healthier place lately and I guess I’m eating healthier too.” Or “I’ve just been feeling great and I’ve been naturally eating healthier.” Or even vaguer: “It’s complicated, but I’m happy to feel healthier.” Or “yeah, I’ve lost some weight, but it’s nothing to worry about.”

The main thing to know is that you don’t owe anyone information. If you want, it’s fine to say, “I made a few dietary changes but weight is so boring. Let’s talk about anything other than diet.”

2. My boss rescinded my day off

A few weeks ago, I put in a request for a day off and had it approved. Unfortunately, some personal issues led me to calling out for a week and a half. This included one no-call no-show (I was so busy I forgot to call in). When I returned, I was spoken to about the no-call, no-show and about notifying my boss too late that I wouldn’t be there. (I called him an hour before I was scheduled to be in.) There were also some performance issues, where I had been so distracted I had made some very minor mistakes.

Today, my boss told me that he would have to rescind my day off request, as my absences created a backlog of tasks and he needed me to work on them. I later heard that he gave my day off to a coworker of mine. When I confronted my boss about it, he said that my coworker came in early and stayed late during the time I was out to help out with my workload, and that she had also requested the day off.

I’m very angry, because now I’ll have to miss my boyfriend’s birthday party. Is there anything I can do?

No-calling, no-showing is a big deal. Some people get fired for doing that, so this isn’t a time where I’d push back or be angry that there are (relatively minor) consequences. This is a time where you want to be humble and accommodating.

It’s not unreasonable that your boss would tell you that because you being out unexpectedly for a week and a half resulted in a backlog, he now needs you to work the day you had planned to take off, or that he’d want to prioritize the coworker who worked extra hours to cover for you during that time.

Think of it this way: You missed seven of eight days work that you had planned to work. Now your boss is telling you that you’ll have to miss one day off that you’d planned not to work. It’s not an unfair trade.

3. What are traditional office working hours?

I’m on the west coast and have worked in two different states. The traditional hours for office jobs in these areas seems to be 8-5 with a one-hour break for lunch, so people are spending nine hours at work (including lunch) and getting paid for eight hours, or 40 hours per week. Obviously there are differences for people who have arranged to work a slightly earlier or later shift, but it still amounts to them spending nine hours at the office and getting paid for eight hours.

However, when I hear people on the east coast talk about their shifts, not just on your site but on other blogs and such, they refer to their office work hours as 9-5, which must mean they are getting paid for their lunch hour. Is that really the case? Are there regional differences in how many hours people actually work, while still getting paid for the same 40 hours per week? I’m genuinely curious about this, because that would add up to quite a large difference over the course of a year.

I don’t have any friends or relatives on the east coast that I can ask about this.

Nah, I don’t think this is an east coast/west coast thing. It just varies by field and by job. Lots of jobs on both coasts are 8-5, 9-6, or some other variation … but there are still 9-5 jobs too.

Also, lots of people don’t take a full hour for lunch (half an hour is really common for people with legally-mandated lunch breaks, and it’s all over the map for exempt people). But it’s not uncommon for a “40-hour week” to really mean “37.5 hours of work plus five half-hour lunches.”

Plus, keep in mind that for salaried exempt people, it’s not really “getting paid for a lunch break” or “not getting paid for lunch” — they’re getting paid for the job, regardless of breaks. Some days it might be eight hours but because they’re exempt other days it might be longer or shorter than that.

But the biggest thing here to realize might be that “a 9-5 job” has become shorthand for “a professional office job with typical Monday through Friday daytime hours.” It doesn’t always refer to the actual hours people are working.

4. Following up on an interview, post-hurricane

I know you are desperately tired of “WHEN I SHOULD FOLLOW UP AFTER MAH INTERVIEW” questions, but I didn’t find my current variation: how long should you wait to follow up after an interview when there’s a hurricane?I had an in-person interview on Wednesday, Aug. 30 and I was told I’d hear back by Friday, Sept. 8 (however, I tacked on 1-2 weeks because #TheProcess). However, I live in Orlando and Irma swept through the local news starting Monday, Sept. 4. Many businesses closed Thursday-Monday (Sept. 7-11), and people are now only able to begin returning to work (Sept. 12-13).

I don’t expect to hear anything re: an update this week (note from Alison: This was written last week) because I know the company is scrambling to assess damages, potentially start repairs, catch up on work, etc I also am wary of checking in too soon post-Irma for fear of coming across as insensitive (I didn’t lose power during the storm, but so many people are still without). How long should I wait to follow up after an interview when the post-interview period involves a natural disaster?

I’d say next week at the earliest.

If they’re ready to turn back to hiring and they’re interested in you, they’re not going to forget about you. But if they’re nowhere near thinking about hiring again, you risk coming across as out-of-touch if you check in too early.

But next week you could send an email that says that you’re hoping they weathered the storm okay and that you assume the storm has changed their initial hiring timeline but that you’d be glad to talk with them at whatever point they’re moving forward.

5. Reaching out after declining an offer

Last year, I received an amazing offer for a new job — great company culture, significant salary increase, in a cool new city with new responsibilities, exposure to a new industry, etc. The same day, I received word that my aunt had passed away unexpectedly at age 54 — just two years older than my mom. I dropped everything to spend the next few weeks at home, helping my mom adjust to a life without her sister. The company was very gracious, and gave me all the time I needed to make my decisions. In the end, I declined their offer, not ready to take on all that change in my career after such a big transition in my personal life.

It’s now about nine months later and I think about that missed opportunity all the time. I’ve been job searching locally, but nothing has impressed me nearly as much as the company from last year. The job posting is still open online (it’s a very large company, so there were multiple spots to fill in the department). Would it be worth reaching out to re-connect? How would I do that in a way that sounds sincere? I did explain the situation to my contacts when I declined, but I worry that I may have been too vague in an attempt to not be overly emotional, and will sound naive when I circle back around now. What do you think?

Contact them! If the job posting is still up, it’s very possible that they’d be delighted to be able to hire you now. You didn’t ghost them; you told them it wasn’t the right time, and it makes sense that now it could be.

Say something like this: “You offered me a job I was really excited about last year, but I ultimately needed to decline because there had just been a death in my family and I didn’t think it was the time to make a career transition. I’m now beginning to think about making a move again and I see that the position is still posted. I’d love to talk with you about it again if you still think I might be the right match for it.”

coworkers and weight talk, my boss rescinded my day off, and more was originally published by Alison Green on Ask a Manager.

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Posted by Ask a Manager

back yard with no kudzuThis 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: Happenstance, by Carol Shields. My friend recommended this after I mentioned how much I’m loving novels about middle-aged married people (a self-centered interest, no doubt), and it’s great. It’s basically two novellas: the first one from the wife’s perspective, and the second one from the husband’s.

weekend free-for-all – September 16-17, 2017 was originally published by Alison Green on Ask a Manager.

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Posted by JenniferP

Hi Captain,

I have a minor problem that as of now is entirely one sided. I am in college and have a group of friends who graduated ahead of me because I had to take a year off from school due to medical reasons. During that time they got close to another person lets call her N in my absence when I got back I tried to be friendly with her but she didn’t reciprocate but didn’t reject outright. I didn’t push and we are at best acquaintances. On of my close friends lets call her X moved to the area because of a job and while I was helping her move in. It slipped out that N doesn’t like me because of my voice and mannerism or something ridiculous like that. I felt vindicated because I got the feeling she didn’t like me. I was mostly annoyed but a little hurt, but I understand you have the right to choose who you want to interact with.

The problem is X is still close friends with N because she also lives near by and sometimes invites me to things for example N is having a barbecue and invited X and then she asked me to come. X said yes and asked me to bring cups and ect. When its the three of us N and X tend to talk I kinda get shut out of the conversation and I see no effort on N’s part to keep me involved these talks can go on for a while and leave me as a third wheel. When we talk and N is there I make efforts to keep her in the conversation. I really don’t want to interact with N  or hear about her at all because of how she wrote me off because of my voice and how she reacts when I am around. But X talks about her, the things they do together and invites me along with them some times i do not want to go and I can tell N doesn’t want me. An example was before i knew for sure she didn’t like me we were planning a bike trip, N “helpfully” asked me if I was physically able to go, she has never shown any concern about it and it came out of no where, I got the feeling I wasn’t wanted so I backed out of the plans. (turns out they wanted to bike and drink and I cant’t drink).

I want to stay friends with X but I don’t want to hear about N or what they do together or really interact with her at all. I am unsure how to bring it up with X without sounding completely petty or jealous because N has technically never told me this in person as I said I was talking with X and mention N didn’t seem to like me that much and she let is slip out. Do you have any scripts I can use or should I just suck it up. 

-Third wheeling it like a champ


Dear Third Wheel,

Here’s a six step process for disengaging from hangouts with N while nurturing your friendship with X to the extent possible. Ready?

1. Next time X invites you to do something with X + N, say, “No thanks!” and don’t go. Repeat forever. This is the most important, if you do nothing else, do this step.

2. Invite X to do something with just you. “I can’t make it to N’s, but I’d love to have lunch with you sometime soon, let me know when you’re free.”

3. Tell X “It’s cool that you are friends with N, but I don’t think N and I are destined to be close, so please don’t feel like you have to work so hard to bring us closer together or invite me to hangouts with her. Go enjoy yourself – I’d rather just fly solo with you when you have time.”

4. When X talks about N, make it boring. Don’t ask questions, change subject as soon as possible, for example by asking questions about things that just relate to X or to you and X.

5. If X tells you things N says about you, tell X “I’m not really interested in knowing stuff like that. It just hurts my feelings.”

6. Put your energy into other friendships. Meet some new people (college is full of opportunities to reset social groups), cultivate one-on-one friendships and smaller-group friendships with people you like. Don’t let N + X be the central hub of your social life or the only ones planning things or doing inviting in your group. Right now the equation feels like [(THE WHOLE GROUP (X + N))-YOU] but it doesn’t have to stay that way.

Here’s a bonus script for anyone in X’s shoes:

Ns of the World: “I really don’t like your good friend, Letter Writer.”

Xs of the World: “Okay? Not everyone is destined to be friends. Good to know, though, I’ll stop scheduling group hangouts.”
Ns of the World: “It’s just, their mannerisms and voice annoy me.”

Xs of the World: “Weird, why on earth would you tell me that? Letter Writer is my friend and I don’t know why you think I’d want to hear you insult them, especially something they have no control* over.”

Ns of the World: “It’s just that their voice…”

Xs of the World: “Let me cut you off right there. Y’all don’t have to be friends, but you should drop this.”

*If N thinks the Letter Writer/friend-of-friend was mean or had mistreated someone, that’s a different script, but “I just don’t like this person” is reason enough – you don’t have to elaborate on the details to someone that likes that person!

Also for X, when you know two of your friends don’t get along, stop trying to be the social director pushing them together. You can like two people who don’t like each other. You can expect that they’ll do some adjusting for your sake, but be kind to them and yourself and make separate plans to see them. (This goes for every “my best friend and my romantic partner don’t get along what should I do” letter btw. You can’t force it!)

I hope things get better and simpler for you soon, Third Wheel. I think they will as soon as you stop putting yourself through these awkward three-person hangouts!


New Books and ARCs, 9/15/17

Sep. 15th, 2017 07:23 pm
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Posted by John Scalzi

If you were wondering if any new books and ARCs have come to the Scalzi Compound recently, the answer is, why, yes, they have. And here they are! Tell me which titles here intrigue you, down in the comments!

A Spiderweb Collection

Sep. 15th, 2017 03:04 pm
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Posted by John Scalzi

This morning was dewy and we have quite a lot of spiders around the Scalzi Compound (it being a rural area and full of bugs, you see), so I went out with my camera and took pictures of some of the webs, and occasionally, the webs’ architects as well. The collection of images is here, if you’d like to see them. Obviously for the spider-sensitive, this collection will feature arachnids, so be aware. I’m making this its own album and will probably add to it over time, so if you like spiders and spiderwebs, check in from time to time.


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