Tag Archives: writing

Old job, new job

Photo: a man seated with laptop in an empty meeting room
Writer at work. Buenos Aires, Argentina, 2012

Last Monday morning, DMI Human Resources told that “due to changing business conditions and requirements” the company was terminating my job. Within 90 minutes, I was driving out the basement parking garage with my box of personal belongings in the trunk. I was not the only one.

Please note that I am not disparaging DMI for making business decisions that had a lot  more at stake than my little job.  As an upstart company that is not risk-adverse, DMI took a gamble hiring me a year ago. I had no experience writing Federal IT proposals. I underwent a “crash course with training wheels.” At the end of my tenure, I know that I bring value and polish to any proposal. I also “grok” how to leverage my other talents, knowledge and experience for maximum impact. I am grateful for the opportunity and privileges that come with a company that wants to create a productive work environment. I was told that my termination was “business, not performance-related” (the corporate equivalent of The Godfather adage). In a business heavy in human capital, cutting overhead is really about terminating people.

Today, I join LCG, a technology provider for health IT, scientific research and grants management in the public sector, in Rockville. I believe that LCG (re-branding for Laurel Consulting Group) did not make a high-odds bet with my hiring. For over a month, they had been looking for a proposal writer who could actively engage stakeholders and boil down the inputs into a polished product. Once I interviewed last Wednesday, they acted promptly to acquire a resource that fits their corporate needs.

I start work on November 17.

Some explaining to do….

What sparked my interest to get into fractured fairy tales as a writing assignment?

Graphic: fairy godmother with wandI was raised on the Rocky and Bullwinkle Show and I loved the “Fractured Fairy” Tale segment. There are 91 cartoons in this series, all written by A.J. Jacobs (not the currnt journalist and best-selling author by that name), according to Brownielocks. You can also find the originals on YouTube. I loved the playfulness with language and liberties taken with the standard plots of the fairy tales. Just a quick Google search reveals many writing prompts using the concept as a starting point, most for elementary school level, but not entirely.

In my teen years, I watched a Jewish comedian (the face is in my head but not his name) who retold Bible stories in a “fractured” style and I even took a few stabs at writing comic scripts along those lines. It got me in trouble with several people in my dad’s congregation who did not like the irreverence.

In college, I ran into a free-spirited hippie who used verbal renditions of fairy tales to entertain young women (they loved him). I saw in him the seduction of heroes, adventures, ogres and happy endings. As soon as our ways parted, I adopted the trick of telling stories in fairy/folk tale format to influence young women. I even used the fairy tale style in some of my poetry.

Years later, I returned to fairy tales after reading Bruno Bettelheim’s The Uses of Enchantment: The Meaning and Importance of Fairy Tales. The Freudian psychoanalysis probably served to put a more intellectual veneer on my fascination for children’s stories that tell big truths and hidden plots. By then, I had my own kids. I bought a multiple-volume collection of fairy tales from a fabulous British mail-order bookstore and read from them to my kids. The books still have their place in a bookcase in my home.

This entry is turning into a thread with beads knotted at different dates on the timeline, half stream-of-consciousness, half the meanderings of Googling references and characters. What I really wanted to say is that I enjoyed the process of taking a storyline and interweaving dialogue and plot twists, tweaking the stiff original version to make it more resonant to a 21st century mind. Update: for that matter, each fairy tale can have so many versions (bowdlerized, simplified, country- and region-specific) that there is no real virtue in remaining faithful to the single plot. It is the story-telling that appeals to both the writer and the audience.


A fractured fairy tale: Rumpelstiltskin

I have not been writing much here recently because other affairs are keeping me busy.  As a lark, I want to include a writing assignment that I dreamed up for my work colleagues:

Fractured Fairy Tales: retell a fairy tale in the first person from the perspective of one of the characters (Cinderella, a bear in Goldilocks and the Three Bears, the wolf in the Three Pigs). To add another level of difficulty, the writer has to include references to all five senses in the narrative (sight, smell, hearing, touch, and taste). The fairy tale plot only serves as a starting point, and the writer can alter it to adjust to the character or make it funny or shorter, or give it a modern twist . The story may have a different ending than the original version.

Obviously, this task is a change of pace and style from writing technical proposals, but that was the point.  I pulled “Rumpelstiltskin” out of a bag, and the writing process took on a life of its own. I will save the explanation of why I chose this writing assignment for another entry because this one is going to go a bit longer than post blog entries.

So here goes. Continue reading A fractured fairy tale: Rumpelstiltskin

Slipping into the American life style

It’s the last day of February. I’ve made four entries into this blog and probably gone to four yoga classes too. I’ve gained five pounds, setting off personal health alarms, which contributes to not getting to the yoga studio or the gym. The weather has been chilly, if not frigid for most of this month, with a few balmy breaks, so I have not been lured outside. My wife is away visiting her family in Peru, and I am home taking care of the dogs.

And of course, there’s the job. Things have been going great  at DMI. I feel privileged to be clearing a new career path at this stage of my life. My work as a technical proposal writer strikes the tricky balance between exploiting my skill set and experience and making me stretch to complete the assignment with the quality needed. If I run into difficult, I don’t get down on myself because I know I have a team backing me up. I’ve also noticed that I am more resilient — when I run into a problem, I usually  bounce back with a solution the next day, after sleeping on it.

Writing responses to Federal requests for proposals (RFPs) and similar documents is not going to win me a Pulitzer Prize, but it is disciplined writing. Lessons can be applied in other formats. The assignments require sprints of one or two weeks to finish. I am being given more independence, not having to check in with my boss. I’ve even been asked to teach a young copy editor how to write, mentoring him for the day when he can take on proposals himself. It’s harder to find solutions architects (the professional who pulls together the parts of a proposal) that can write than it is to find writers who can handle IT subject matter, according to one of my supervisors.

Now the bad news

Becoming so absorbed into my work has meant that it is hard to get myself to a yoga class or to the fitness club. I put in longer hours to meet deadlines. I even work on weekends. I find it hard to go to the fitness room on the first floor of my work place. At the end of the day, I am emotionally and physically squeezed dry. If I go home after work, I can’t get myself out again.  The convenient location of my job, only a 15-minute drive from home, means I don’t have a long commute, but I don’t get the benefit of walks to and from the Metro. The more out of shape I become, the harder it gets to get back in shape, the slower the recovery.

The personal habits and patterns that served me well over the past 10 years or so are broken, and the end result is good, but I’ve got to find a way of readjusting my life so that it’s physically and emotionally sustainable. Otherwise, I will fall into the mold of the American office worker — drives to work, sits in front of a keyboard, eats more than his body needs, develops a paunch and fails to get enough exercises. After three months on my new job, I realize that I could end up that way.

Rekindling the creative fires of writing

Yesterday I went to a day-long writing seminar sponsored by the Washington Post and the Poynter Institute called Write Your Heart Out, Washington. The Post speakers were David Finkel, Bob Woodward, DaNeen Brown  and Ezra Klein while  Stephen Buckley (Dean of Faculty) and Roy Peter Clark (Senior Teacher) of the Poynter Institute served as  moderators. It was held at the Post headquarters where I had not visited in 15 years.

In a sense, I was revisiting the passion of my former livelihood, when I was a freelance journalist in Peru pitching story ideas and sweating deadlines. It reminded me that I really loved the intellectual challenge of explaining a country as challenging as Peru and finding news sources who could give a story an extra-dimension or a good quote. People and their lives were adrenaline for my beat. Anyone interested can check out some of my old stories on my other site, Peruvian Graffiti.

Continue reading Rekindling the creative fires of writing

Another week goes by

I wanted to write about the past month of self-discovery, but whenever I sat down to write, I found that I was turning the narrative into a novel with multiple, parallel plots and got frustrated because it was taking so long to beat the opus into shape and to an end. So I’ve made a promise to keep the entries short, concise, something that I can finish in 15 minutes.

And if I get inspired, built up momentum and write for an hour, then so be it.

The Magazine of Yoga gets a new look

Photo: a yogini does a handstand in front of a painting of Hindu goddess
At a Desiree Rumbaugh workshop, Thrive Yoga, 2011

Wow! One of my favorite yoga sites has just undergone a remodeling: The Magazine of Yoga has taken on a cleaner look, a more straight-forward organization and a splendid use of photos. I could never really understand what kind of site it was trying to be (but loved its content) because it shirked the standard chronological order that predominates on most sites and didn’t seem to fit any other mold. MoY also has undergone a reshuffle of its sections: Conversations get top play, for good reason, and a penchant for writerly kind of articles.

I must confess that over the past two months, I have not had time to dig into the MoY articles and interviews, which tend to be longer than most web articles, even running into two parts. I don’t have time at work to steal time for reading a long-ish article, and at home my time is occupied with other tasks. My parents’ deaths have really emptied my life of open, reflective space. I am lucky to squeeze in time for meditation.

My problem is that I’m running into more yoga sites that deserve more than a brief visit: Yoga Modern is enticing; Elephant Journal is just vibrating with life; I just discover YogAnonymous a few days ago; and Carol Horton/Books, actually a Facebook site, just knocks me back with its pace and depth (her longer pieces appear on Think Body Electric blog). I can barely find time to check my RSS feed, much less read everything on these sites. I don’t even think to go over to YogaJournal.

How and why one writer took up yoga

Los Angeles Times Yoga opened doors she had long ago closed – Writer and teacher Colette LaBouff Atkinson describes how she came to her yoga practice when her body seemed to be breaking down:

But in yoga, as anyone and everyone who’s ever benefited from it will say, all kinds of things became possible. I was there only to breathe; nothing to revise or make again. The yoga instructor — more than one, really — would walk by me and say, “Soft face.” Sometimes the teacher would put her fingers into my furrowed brow as she passed.

Too long

I can’t believe it. It’s been almost 20 days since I last made an entry in this blog. I’ve just been too busy at work and at home to put together some thoughts on my practice or what I chanced across on the web related to yoga or what’s going on inside my head. It’s not because things aren’t happen to me and inside me. I still find time to read (on the Metro) and expand my knowledge. I keep being surprised and engaged by what takes place in my life, but I can’t seem to find a space for reflection.

Part of this shift in attitude is that my 9-to-5 job keeps me busy. Now a former web client has come back after a two-year hiatus and has given me consulting work that I can do on my “free time.” The extra cash is extremely welcome, indeed needed, and I enjoy accepting the challenge of learning new web development tools and meeting targets. But all the effort does not leave me with a lot of energy. But it has also meant an energy investment in getting up to speed again for doing this kind of work.

But I make a point of not giving up my practice — still getting to the studio four times a week, and doing meditation and pranayama the other days. At this stage of my life, I know that I cannot let down my guard. I need my practice to rebuild my strength, stamina and focus. I need to bleed off the internal pressure that I tend to build up over time, a self-imposed stress that can undermine my balance and push me back into depression. Ever since I left the States in 1974, I’ve put myself in situations in which I worked long hours — as an English as a second language teacher, as a journalist, as a researcher, and as a consultant. When assignments falls into your lap, you have to accept the opportunity because they may not come back again. In the old days, I would push my self to the physical and mental limits — and eventually paid the consequences. Now I have to gauge my endurance and recovery capacity and use my new life skills to manage myself better.

Another milestone that I’ve passed during the last six months is that I now have to define myself as a full-time writer. Ever since I had my mid-life meltdown, I’ve had to think of myself as a professional who has secondary skills as a writer. I was a helpdesk specialist or a web developer or an IT manager who used writing to get the job done. Now my primary job is writing and editing at CICAD. That shift in emphasis may seem small, but it’s significant for me because it’s how I define myself.