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Thursday, June 25, 2015

Same Great Blog, New Location

This is just a note to any followers and visitors of this page that I have moved! I hope that you will follow me at my new location: on WordPress. I have set this page to automatically forward to my new location, but I encourage you to save the new page and visit me there. I would love to hear your thoughts. Thank you for reading!

Wednesday, May 06, 2015

Curses and Cures: A Story of Trains, Lost Things and ... Mayo

For the longest time, my husband and I had a running joke about me losing my car in mall parking lots.

Of course, rather than admitting to a poor-to-middling sense of direction, I decided that I was cursed. Then one evening, I was wandering through the parking garage of the Galleria in Houston with a coworker looking for my car, and to save face, I shared with her my story about the Parking Curse. She laughed and rolled her eyes, but played along.

Weeks passed before my coworker confronted me in the hallway one afternoon.

“Hey, you gave me your curse!” she says.

“What curse?” I like to forget about embarrassing things like losing my vehicle.

“Your parking curse. I lost my car at the Galleria today, and it’s your fault.”

I admit, I couldn’t hide my grin. The Curse had finally been broken. I had passed it along to someone else, and I was free. After that, I went weeks—months even—without losing my car.

I would like to say that I have never lost my car again. In fact, I will say that, but I advise you not to believe me. Still, there was something to this “curse” thing in my head.

Not long after I shook free of the Parking Curse, I acquired a new scourge, this one sandwich related. I named it the Overdressing Curse after I had a good four- or five-time streak going. Basically, anytime I ordered a sandwich anywhere, it would have an excess of mayo and/or mustard.

But Jessica, you might be saying, that is just American food. Maybe you just like less dressing than the average person. And you may be right. However, the reason I feel justified in making this claim, is that in most cases, I had a control group—another person at the table also eating a sandwich, sometimes the same type of sandwich—and they did not have a cup of mayo oozing out of their lunch’s back end. Over and over again this happened, until I was positive it was my new curse.

During this dark time, I had many electric yellow shirt stains and went through copious amounts of napkins. I even did something I had never done before…asked for “light” condiments (please). When things became desperate, I tried to pass the curse on to my husband, but he never took the bait. Eventually, the curse waned, although from time to time it reemerges to remind me not to get to cocky—and to bring an extra shirt just in case.

My theory about curses was always lighthearted until last year. I was going through a frustrating time as a writer, filled with rejection and defeat and derailed goals. Things were getting serious.

Around the same time, a new curse emerged. I call it the Train Curse. The first day I was stopped by the train on my way to an appointment, I sighed, turned up the radio and tapped my fingers impatiently on the steering wheel but let it go. When I was stopped again on my way home, I bemoaned my bad luck but shook it off. But then it started happening day after day—even if I left ten minutes earlier, ten minutes later, or took an alternate route—there it was: the train.

After a couple of months, I was beside myself cursing and railing against the Fates. To me, the train now represented all of my frustrated goals, all of my dashed hopes. My life wouldn’t get better until I could break the Train Curse. Silly as it was, I believed it.

Was it going to be a good day? Would I finally have a breakthrough? Only the train knew. And every day I met the train, a little hope left me. Today must not be the day.

The first day I managed to miss the train or beat the train, you would have thought I had made the New York Times Bestsellers List. I called my husband to tell him the good news. And then a day became a week, and I was sure it was a sign. Life was looking up.

But lately, I have been meeting the train again, sometimes three times in one day. And funny enough, it has been a rough few months, and I could feel the Curse bubbling up from deep in my psyche. The fear, the anger. This time it is different though.

When I meet the train, I laugh. I mean, deep belly laugh. If I am honest, it kind of tickles me. My curses are meant to be playful and silly, not drenched in existential angst.

“Ah, the train. We meet again.” And I snap a photo and text it to my husband.

Now, when I see the train, I see it as life telling me to take a breath, slow down, and be in the now. For the next three minutes or so (definitely “or so”!) I can’t move forward, I can’t go go go. That decision is out of my hands. But I can be with what is and choose to be okay with it.

And if I’m patient, the train will pass, and life will move again. It always does.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

A Defense of the Liberal Arts

So April is National Poetry Month, and I thought it would be a great time to discuss something that has been on my mind a lot lately: the disappearing liberal arts education.

Last year, Forbes reported that only 1.6 percent of hiring managers actively sought out candidates with liberal arts degrees, preferring instead engineering, math, computer science and business (actually, practically any other major). Plus, 64 percent said they would consider someone with no college experience at all. Yay for the unschooler, but what the what?!

This kind of statistic is disheartening to someone like me, who is proud of her BA in English. And it’s sad not just because I believe I am a valuable contributor to society and I am proud of the quality college education I received, but also because I see the reverberating effects in the corporate world. Decision-makers in business are increasingly not putting a priority on the creativity, communication skills and well roundedness that a liberal arts education provides.

In fact, American entrepreneur and investor Marc Andreessen was recently quoted as saying, “I’m sure it’s fun, but the average college graduate with a degree in something like English is going to end up working in a shoe store.”

And while the media lauds the idea that one in four self-made American billionaires is a college dropout, what many people may not know is that among the top 100 billionaires, more hold arts degrees than math, science, finance or economics. Yet STEM continues to get priority over liberal arts programs at several universities...and when it comes to a paycheck.

I have nothing against STEM. We need STEM, and we need STEM opportunities for women. And true, engineering degrees still remain a top choice for as a major because of their high-earning potential, meanwhile, liberal arts degrees continue to sag in value. But we don’t need a country full of only engineers and MBAs. Visionaries exist across the disciplines, and the value of a degree shouldn’t just be its earning potential anyway.

We need to defend the value of a liberal arts education in our universities and our businesses. Yes, we want college students to get a degree with value, worth the investment, and a degree that can get them a job. But if we reduce our universities to technology and trade schools and gut them of classic education, we are missing the point of what higher education is all about.

A vibrant workforce is a diverse workforce with a rich background not just in finance or technology, but in the backbone of life and culture—philosophy, history and literature.

As Robin Williams’ character, Professor Keating, states so eloquently in Dead Poet Society: "We don't read and write poetry because it's cute. We read and write poetry because we are members of the human race. And the human race is filled with passion. And medicine, law, business, engineering, these are noble pursuits and necessary to sustain life. But poetry, beauty, romance, love, these are what we stay alive for."

So in honor of the month, unleash your inner poet, and also embrace the inner poet in the workplace.