Tuesday, August 5, 2014

The Weird Al Word Crimes Unit Is On Patrol

Sometimes you're in a job interview, or at a party or someplace, and you get the question, "What would be your ideal job, if money didn't matter?"

My usual answer to that question is "perpetual student." But it's a lie. My real dream job is to be Weird Al Yankovic.

Well, not be HIM, exactly. But some day the man has to retire, or die (God forbid). And when that day comes, someone will need to fill the void of hilarious entertainment that he's provided all these years.

One of my hobbies as a kid was to make up funny lyrics to existing songs. The goofier, the better. My brother and I would do this for hours. It was terrific fun. We'd talk about forming a Weird-Al-style parody duo, called the Weird Allens (or some other name that wouldn't get us slapped with a copyright violation).

And so I couldn't NOT memorialize this video on this blog. Because the master has created again. And this time, he did something nobody has ever done in the history of the human race. He made editing cool.

Thanks, Weird Al.

Monday, August 4, 2014

White-Out: It's Not Just for Paper Anymore

So how many bottles of white-out do you think it took to cover up "Dominicks" on this sign?

Poor Dominicks. A successful grocery store for nearly 100 years only to be driven into mediocrity by Safeway and ultimately go kaput amid poor sales and amateur video satire.

But hang on. White-out? Is that even a thing anymore? Now that people edit everything on computers, has correction fluid gone extinct? Is it used only by adolescents trying to catch a buzz in their parents' garage?

Nope, apparently it's still a thing. And now I'll leave you with some fun white-out party trivia.
  • You know Mike Nesmith, from the Monkees? His mom, Bette, invented white-out in 1951. I wonder which of them made more money in their career, considering that Bette sold the product for a cool $47 million.
  • In New Zealand, white-out is called Twink. So if you're in Auckland and a guy comes up to you and says he needs some Twink, don't get the wrong idea. He just needs to cover up something he wrote down wrong. (And get a computer already.)

Putting the White Back in White Castle

Whites Castles? Are they making a statement about their target demographic? Or maybe it's a sad commentary about home prices in Chicago. I know we were hit pretty hard in the housing crash, but day-um.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

The Latest Wage Crime in Educational Publishing

Image credit: crystalmedia.com
Today, while job hunting, I noticed this little gem:
Editor for English/Language Arts Curriculum
wowzers - Chicago, IL
Full-time, Temporary
We are looking for an editor for a English/Language Arts curriculum program. This position would entail reading passages of varying length and checking to make sure they are at the appropriate reading level, flow well, contain no spelling or grammatical errors, and that the accompanying questions test the students' comprehension.

Duties, Responsibilities & Expectations:
  • Edit passages of varying length and subjects.
  • Assist the writers in brainstorming topics and questions.
  • Ensure the questions appropriately test the students and follow our rubric.
  • Check informational passages for accuracy.
Qualifications, Skill, and Abilities:
  • An excellent grasp of grammar, spelling, etc.
  • Education background is preferred
This is a temporary position of 4-6 weeks that may lead to full-time employment. The position will pay around $13/hr, depending on experience. Writers must work in-office at our downtown Chicago location.
That's all very ordinary—until you get to the final paragraph: $13/hour. Really?! Here is why that turns me into the Angry Editor:
  • In Chicago, that's 115% of the poverty level for a family of four. 
  • $13/hour equates to an annual salary of $27,040/year. Of that, maybe you'll take home $1,700 a month after taxes. Considering that Chicago's average rent is about $1,200 a month, that leaves a whopping $500 to pay for an entire month's health insurance, food, clothes, transportation, utilities, and all the other necessities of life. Not gonna cut it.
  • The only people who are going to apply to a job that pays so little are (1) students or recent grads with no experience, (2) people who are totally unqualified but apply anyway because it pays (slightly) more than retail; or (3) people whose unemployment ran out so they're desperate for work. 
  • STUDENTS DESERVE BETTER. People should not be paid poverty wages to create educational materials for young children. It's appalling.
  • EDITORS DESERVE BETTER. Editing is a learned, professional skill; it should not be compensated the same as what you could earn as a cashier at Costco. Additional specialized knowledge required to edit K-12 reading lessons makes an editor worth even more. 
For the record, I did pretty much this same job (with a few additional responsibilities) from 2006 through 2009, for a respectable company, and earned nearly double what "wowzers" is offering in this ad. Shame on them. 

If our kids turn out to be dummies, we'll know who to blame. 

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Thoughts on Being Laid Off... Again

Image credit: allthingsd.com
Last week I got laid off for the third time in five years.

My thoughts, in order of appearance.

Wednesday, Sept. 25
(As boss's boss is talking to me in his office, door closed) Oh, crap. He's going to tell me I'm being laid off, isn't he?

(As he drops the bomb) Aw, hell. I was right.

Not again.

This sucks.

I'm so calm. It's going to hit me later, isn't it?

At least they gave me 2 weeks' notice, instead of escorting me out the door.

And at least they told me in person, instead of via e-mail while I was on maternity leave, like my last two layoffs.

(As I leave the boss's office) I gotta tell my husband.

I text my husband: "Bad news. Call me." 

It's been half an hour. Where is he? I want to tell him first, but I can't keep waiting. 

I go online and vent to some working-mom girlfriends, who sympathize and chat. 

Deep breaths. It will be OK. I've done this before. I can do it again. I'll find another job.

I finally talk to my husband. I shed my first and only tears as I tell him the news, because he cares, and he is kind to me, and that makes me fall apart.

I wrap up my phone call and visit the restroom to make sure my face has minimal evidence of tears. 

Two hours until time to go. I should work on this project. But somehow I can't bring myself to give a damn. 

Ugh. Soon I'll have to deal with the unemployment office again.

That's if I can even file for unemployment. I've been a "temp" here for the past 15 months. Oh, God. If I'm not eligible, we are screwed.

Riding home, I look out the window and see a homeless person camped out in a sleeping bag under a bush.  I need to suck it up. Things could be so much worse.

(Later, after the kids are in bed) Why is this so hard? I have skills. I'm a good, productive employee. I'm just trying to feed my kids and pay my bills and actually save a few bucks once in a while. 

Tomorrow morning I'm going to have that moment. That moment where I wake up, and I'm in that semiconscious state, blissfully ignorant of the real world, and suddenly the memory of what happened comes crashing back like an evil boomerang.

I need to stop thinking about this. I'm getting morose.

F that, today sucked. I'll damn well let myself be morose for a few more minutes before I move on!

Thank God I refinanced the mortgage this spring.

Friday, Sept. 27

At 3 A.M., my brain wakes me up to mentally compose a letter I'll never send to my soon-to-be-ex-boss.

This whole thing has been unexpected and upsetting. But I just realized what burns me the most: Being treated like I'm disposable. F THAT. F this economy, and F the companies that laid me off. I am worth more than that. 

That afternoon, I attend my grandfather's memorial service. I listen to my dad tell the story of how Grandpa was walking home one day during the Depression.

He was a teenager, and he'd just spent $14 of his family's scarce money on groceries. Someone jumped him, wanting to steal the food. Grandpa beat the crap out of the guy and brought the food home to his family.

THAT is where I come from. THAT is what I am made of. I can do this. It's going to be OK.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Are Copy Editors an Endangered Species?

The other day, I ran into a co-worker on the bus ride to work. He is a copy editor. So am I. Well, actually my title is Web Content Strategist, but I copy edit anyway, because proofreaders are born, not made.

He and I had the following exchange:
Me: So, you're a copy editor, I'm a copy editor. Do you think we'll be extinct soon?

Him: I hope not.

Me: I mean, because, have you seen the internet lately?

Him: Yup.
Me: Exactly.
You don't have to be on the internet much to notice rampant crimes against grammar, punctuation, clarity, and sense. It's not surprising. That's what happens when:
  1. everybody self-publishes, and 
  2. smart phone keypads make it difficult to access punctuation marks, and
  3. people have such busy lives that "little things" like grammar are the first to go.
Of course, to a copy editor, grammar is not a "little thing." It is the shining, golden key to clear and excellent communication. Unfortunately, this seems to be a minority viewpoint nowadays.

Jobs That Evolve

Salary.com recently published a neat slideshow called 12 Jobs on the Brink: Will They Evolve or Go Extinct? Check it out: 

Copy Editor was not one of the "12 Jobs on the Brink" in that slideshow. But it could have been. I'd classify it as "Endangered."

Image credit: pbs.org
I've worked in publishing since 1999. In these 14 years, I've seen copy editors laid off. I've seen the copy editing function outsourced, freelanced, and just plain omitted. I've seen the hourly rate paid to proofreaders remain flat and even decline.

It's hard to show a clear return on investment for copy editing—that is, until an egregious error damages your reputation. But if everything you publish is online, you can fix an error in seconds—no more Dewey Defeats Truman.

Here's My Prediction

I predict that copy editors will become a luxury, affordable only to publishers with deep pockets.

And I believe certain industries will always employ copy editors because the stakes are high:
  • Lawyers. In legal documents, a single misplaced comma can change the meaning of a sentence enough to prompt a lawsuit.
  • PR and design firms. Their job is to make you look good, so one error could cost them their business.
Because it will become difficult to find a full-time job as a copy editor, editors will have to start learning backup skills. That's already the case for many editors, who branch out into project management, user experience design, javascript coding, and other areas.

Looks like it's time for me to work on those backup skills. Or maybe it's time to leave it all behind and write that novel instead. So far, people still seem willing to pay for those.

Monday, September 23, 2013

This Is What Chronic Sleep Deprivation Looks Like

Once upon a time, I was young and single and had no kids. I had nothing better to do than look after my own health and well-being. I regularly slept 8 or more hours a night.

Those days are a fond but fading memory. Like many modern people, I burn the candle at both ends trying to get everything done and still have some semblance of a life.

I'm one of a vast legion of folks who, voluntarily or not, are getting far too little sleep. But research shows we might be causing ourselves problems beyond just bags under our eyes.

A Typical Day

4:30 A.M.: My 17-month-old child wakes up for the day and cries for me. (No, I don't know why she is such an early bird. I've tried everything.) I wake abruptly, startled out of my dreams. My heart immediately stars pounding with fight-or-flight adrenaline.

I stumble to her crib, pick her up, whisper gently about how 4:30 is too early to get up, put her back down, cover her with her blanket, and walk out. This never works.

5:00 A.M.: Kid cries again. I get up with her. Sometimes I read her a book. Other times I keep the lights off and cuddle her on my lap while I stare blearily out the window at the pitch-black sky.

5:00-7:45 A.M.: Get both children dressed, fed, and ready for school and daycare. Get myself ready for work. Act perky and patient for the kids' benefit. Drink coffee. Place eye drops in my perpetually red and tired eyes.

I dare you to look at these and not yawn.
(Image credit: scienceinseconds.com)
8:15–4:15: Work. More coffee. Smile and act like I have my sh** together. Try not to let my exhaustion cause any embarrassing incidents, such as nodding off during an afternoon meeting or forgetting some important instruction from my boss.

5:15 P.M.: Home from work. Get children fed, bathed, and put to bed.

8:00 P.M.: Dishes, laundry, cleaning, tidying, bill paying. Make an effort to spend a bit of time with my equally exhausted husband. Sometimes I write a blog post, read a book, call a friend, or watch a TV show off the DVR. Other times I'm too wiped out to do anything except play Candy Crush or read Facebook statuses that I don't remember the next day.

10:30-ish P.M.: Collapse into bed and sleep like the dead... for 6 hours max, because that's when the baby will be up again.

Weekend: Try to make up some sleep by napping when the baby naps. This effort is complicated by the 4-year-old who no longer naps.

What Are We Doing to Ourselves? And Is It Worth It?

Long-term sleep deprivation or "short sleep" is associated with poor memory, heart disease, cancer, auto accidents, obesity, and type II diabetes. Take a gander at the scientific literature:
  • Sleep: A Health Imperative. An overview of the health effects of sleep deprivation, from the American Academy of Sleep Medicine and the Sleep Research Society.
  • The sleep-time cost of parenting. A study of employed adults that concludes: "Parenting minor children is associated with shorter sleep duration." (Thanks, Einstein, I could have told you that. Where's my million-dollar research grant?)
  • Sleep deprivation and neurobehavioral dynamics."Chronic sleep restriction likely induces long-term neuromodulatory changes in brain physiology." In other words, we may be permanently altering our brains. Scary stuff.
I can tell you what effect chronic "short sleep" has on me:
  • My memory is complete crap, to the point that it's embarrassing. I forget events, news, bank transactions, phone calls, people's names, things they told me.
  • I fantasize about sleep like a starving person fantasizes about a huge, delicious meal.
  • With no reserves to draw upon, I lack patience and I'm quick to jump to negative conclusions.
  • My blood pressure, at 120/80, is higher than it's ever been (it used to average 100/60). 
  • My right eyelid twitches. A lot.
  • My alertness is OK, because I run on adrenaline and caffeine constantly.
Yet somehow I do a decent job at work, and as a parent. I have no idea how.

I just think I'm tired. This dude is REALLY tired.
(Image credit: imdb.com)
By the way, if you want a great movie about a guy whose insomnia has reached frightening levels, don't watch "Insomnia" (2002) with Al Pacino. Watch "The Machinist" (2004) with Christian Bale, who gives one of the eeriest, most haunting performances I've ever seen.

What I Fear... and What I Hope

Have you ever had a stressful time in your life where you had to GO, GO, GO for a while, and you slept little? And finally it was over, and you slept a ton, and then you got sick? That happened to me during college finals. I would run on adrenaline for days or weeks, then collapse when the semester ended. Most of the time, I'd immediately come down with a cold or other virus.

It was like my body went into super-overdrive. It poured every ounce of energy into keeping me going while I finished my papers and exams. Afterward, my body was drained—literally. Drained of the ingredients it needs for everyday body functions, like the immune system.

I haven't slept 7-8 hours a night regularly since 2008, when my first child was born. I fear a large-scale version of the cold I used to get after finals. I fear the nature of the beast that lurks, lying in wait for me.

And yet, others have it much worse than I do. Insomniacs. People with sleep disorders. People with chronic pain. Parents of colicky twin babies.

We survive because the human body has an amazing capability to adapt when huge demands are placed upon it. If you'd asked me 10 years ago whether I could sleep just 5-6 hours a night for a year and still function, I'd have said no freaking way. And yet that's pretty much what I did after each of my kids was born. And here I am, still sane (I think), to tell the tale.

It's a testament to our strength. And it amazes me. And it reminds me that I have to respect this wonderful biological machine. Since I can't change my wakeup time (for now at least), I have to turn off the computer and force myself to go to bed at 8:30 some nights. It's worth it.

In the meantime, I raise my cup of coffee to you, my fellow short-sleeping zombies. We'll make it through. And if we don't, then it's like they say—we'll sleep when we're dead.