After ten years in the same location at work I’m being relocated. It’s a good thing for my office. A central location, easy access to parking, closer to all the meetings I need to walk to, a reception space for my assistant. But.

I am leaving my corner office which is a wood lined parlor in an old mansion, for a space that was created by using modular frosted-glass walls. I will say goodbye to my floor to ceiling windows, marble fireplace and pocket doors and say hello to minimalism, electric light and blaring music from the nearby campus bar. 9e57f272461611e2b65722000a1fb376_5

It will take some getting used to.

I will take down 10 years worth of kid drawings and school photos. Ten years worth of political cartoons and quotes.

I will sort through 10 years of papers, conference proceedings and files that were important enough to save, but not important enough to ever read again.

I will try not to get distracted by reading while boxing up my books and files.

I will finally get rid of all those binders that I’ve saved thinking they will come in handy sometime.  Sometime has come & gone and to save them now I have to pay the moving guys to carry them.

Moving is in the top 10 Stressful Situations (along with death of a loved one, divorce, job loss, major illness etc.) because of the way it disrupts routine. Moving your office isn’t quite the same but surely it breaks the top 100. Or at least it does for me.

Random photos of my life in my current office.

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Remember this?

 

 

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Window behind my desk shaded by a giant oak tree

 

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The kid. First day of 1st grade.

When I stepped away from actively doing any theater I also stopped attending the kinds of plays I had liked to perform in and direct. I had a hard time listening to people talk about “the craft” and I even stopped reading very much about new work, especially experimental or political theater.

I had good reasons for stepping away from 20 years of work.

Now I haven’t directed for 10 years, and I haven’t performed for more than 12. I officially no longer have the chops to do either. I realized I missed acting three or four years ago when I was casually noticing auditions, and actively reviewing the seasons of all the local theaters to see if there was anything so compelling that I might…

I have a list floating around in my head of roles I’ve always wanted to perform in that I think I am old enough (even if no longer skilled enough) to handle:

  • Dan in Aunt Dan & Lemon
  • Elinor in The Lion in Winter
  • Aurelia in Madwoman of Chaillot
  • Masha in Three Sisters

And plays that make me want to direct again:

  • Bent – I think its past time this play makes a comeback
  • Waiting for Godot
  • Everyman
  • Chimerica or Tinderbox
  • Rapture, Blister, Burn
  • What the Butler Saw
  • Adapting “This is 40” for the stage…

One thing that occurred to me as I was mulling what is making me consider trying to inch my way into theater again is the realization that I never played an ingenue. Not even when I was technically the correct age. There are two reasons for this: First, I have a strong presence and didn’t learn for many years how to temper it, and second, the ingenue never seemed as interesting to me as other characters.

I still am not sure why I am thinking about theater, or performing, or what I would even do to make motions in that direction. Nor have I completely resolved the question “was I ever any good anyway”?, that lurks around the edges.

Questions without answers, blog posts without a point – they go hand in hand don’t they?

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There is a years long construction project near where I work. It has been fascinating to watch the process, passing by in the morning thinking ‘I wonder what that crane is for?’ and returning in the evening to see a new skeleton. Every once in a while one of the construction workers strikes up a conversation with me. This morning an older guy taking a smoke break started talking about how he needed to quit smoking. He quit for 15 months and then started up again.

I told him I smoked for 17 years and had been quit for 20 years now. He said “And you don’t miss it do you?”.  I coulda lied but I didn’t.

I told him that it still smelled good, and I still wanted to smoke sometimes, but when I did it tasted and felt awful. The craving is there but the enjoyment is gone.

I’m sure if I powered through and kept smoking the nicotine would start to compensate and I would once again think it tasted & felt good. But I would have to work at it.

The will power to quit has to do with mastering associations, for me at least. It took years for me to stop wanting to light a cigarette when I started the car or had a drink in a bar. The first time I directed a show after I quit was harrowing. My habit was to smoke all through rehearsals – going to a pack a day during tech week – so that was a tough change to make.

Since smoke was in my cells since my conception, I’ll always consider myself a “former smoker” rather than a non-smoker. My last smoking trigger seems to be emergency rooms or hospital visits. Very high stress associations that produce an almost overwhelming urge to go outside for a cigarette. A soothing escape that puts you one step closer to the hospital yourself. Addiction logic.

I told the construction guy that if he could start again, he could quit again. He said maybe. For his birthday. He flicked the butt, told me to have a good day, and wandered back to the site.

The construction is almost finished now, they are working furiously rolling out grass and touching up painting. I will miss my random conversations with construction workers when they leave. I don’t miss my Newports.

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I don’t think the words Wide Awake really capture the feeling of not sleeping at night. Wide awake is a daytime kinda thing, implying perky energy and a clear gaze. Fast Awake on the other hand is the sticky glue of being in the iron grip of your monkey-mind that doesn’t know enough to shut up for five or six hours.

It’s amazing to me the things that can plague my thoughts while I am not sleeping:

  • SCOTUS and the disastrous decisions they have made or are about to make – didn’t they see American Hustle? An all Koch Brand government is a good thing?
  • The on boarding list I’m creating for my new assistant, who doesn’t start for another two weeks. Also wondering why the process isn’t standardized since people are hired everyday.
  • Wondering which of my friends is awake right now making lists, drinking tea, reading, worrying…
  • Planning the Passover menu & trying to remember the name of the green bean & asparagus salad I made last year that everyone liked.
  • Ordering and re-ordering the chapter names of the book I tell myself I am writing.
  • Feeling bad that my friends are moving because I will miss them terribly, and then feeling guilty and selfish, trying to imagine how I can help them with the transition.
  • Calculating the number of years it will take to pay off my student loans and how many of those years will overlap with paying my daughter’s college loans.
  • Trying to imagine how to increase my dwindling list of coaching clients and stagnating business while maintaining a full-time job.
  • Whether or not I should get out of bed and go read something or throw in a load of laundry…

The question every morning is where do I put my energy in a sea of competing priorities and deadlines. The question at night is where do I put my attention. Obviously it’s not on sleep.

I love the fact that owls, no matter how cute or fluffy, epitomize resting bitch face. I can relate. But that’s another post.

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I woke up humming the chorus from a song my Dad used to sing when he was happy – “Honeycomb won’t you be my baby, Honeycomb be my gal” – an old Jimmie Rogers tune. What I remember of my dad’s musical taste consists of Tennessee “Ernie” Ford, Boots Randolph, and a lot of Henry Mancini.

I inherited some of my parents albums when they got rid of the giant record player console that dominated their living room for years. Before everything was ironic, I saved from the scrap heap  a Reader’s Digest Montovani boxed set, John Phillips Sousa’s Collected Marches, and the classic 1970’s albums Hi God and Hi God II.

Currently, music in our house is dominated by vinyl. A full circle from the first generation iPod that sits like a white brick in the bag of “someday soon I will recycle all these broken electronics”.

Albums never left our living room even when the record player no longer worked. Since being replaced by a fancy new record player more than a year ago, the albums progressively took over the bookcases and the floor until my husband made some judicious choices about what could be rotated out and stored in his office.

Then my daughter started buying albums.

Her eclectic taste in music is encouraged, expanded and indulged by her father who likes nothing better than spending an afternoon record shopping. Her taste for funk and 90’s club music she gets from me. The regrettable attachment to Bob Dylan is solely her fathers doing.

All joking aside, they share a passion for music in many forms and genres.  And they share equally strong opinions about the merits of various albums – “London Calling is better, obvi” – which makes for a very different definition of  “Dad music.” Which speaks to the truth of a tumblr I follow Dad’s Are The Original Hipsters.

Plus, I never have to change the album.

5917Check out the screaming girls in this Jimmie Rodgers clip.

Searching desperately through 99,000 emails for one that I know I saved, I discovered something a friend sent after we left a particularly long strategic planning session, several strategic plans ago.

I really need to delete some emails if for nothing else than to avoid being reminded that I sometimes find myself in a hamster wheel. The author was not included so let call them “Internet” rather than “Anon”.

From the Book of Corporate Life, Chapter 11, Verses 1-15: 

1. In the beginning was the Plan.

2. And then came the Assumptions.

3. And the Assumptions were without form.

4. And the Plan was without Substance.

5. And darkness was upon the face of the Workers.

6. And Workers spoke among themselves saying, “It is a crock of shit and it stinks.”

7. And Workers went unto their Supervisors and said, “It is a crock of dung and we cannot live with the smell.”

8. And Supervisors went unto their Managers saying, “It is a container of organic waste, and it is very strong, such that none may abide by it.”

9. And Managers went unto their Directors, saying, “It is a vessel of fertilizer, and none may abide its strength.”

10. And Directors spoke among themselves, saying to one another; “It contains that which aids plant growth, and it is very strong.”

11. And Directors went to Vice-Presidents, saying unto them, “It promotes growth, and it is very powerful.”

12. And Vice Presidents went to the President, saying unto him “It has very powerful effects.”

13. And the President looked upon the Plan and saw that it was good.

14. And the Plan became Policy.

15. And that is how shit happens.

I grew up reading – and still own –  the “Little Wide Awake: An Anthology of Victorian Children’s Books and Periodicals in the Collection of Anne and Fernand G. Reiner Selected by Leonard De Vries.” The Corporate Verse above would fit perfectly with the severe moral lessons in the book.

This page doesn’t really capture the effect of woodcut images of children being whipped by school masters or starving to death in the streets, but you get the idea.

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My husband and I have a mixed marriage when it comes to our attitudes about our books.

I tend to only want to buy new books when I have already read it and want to own it, its a favorite author, or my daughter asks for it.

My husband will buy a new book at the drop of a hat. He takes risks on authors he’s heard of in passing, or based on reviews, or even browsing. I have a hard time buying a completely unknown book unless its used.  I don’t begrudge a penny spent on any book, new or used, I’m just pointing our the difference in our acquisition habits.

Now I’ve discovered we have differing views and habits about the library as well.

When I was a kid summer was all about riding my bike to the library and checking out the maximum number of books at once and reading until my vision went blurry. A particular childhood bliss impossible to recapture.

I racked up a lot of fines in those days with little money to pay them. I remember getting my sister to check out books for me when my card was blocked and then ultimately, I am ashamed to admit, posing as my twin and getting a second library card. My card used my childhood nickname, “Amy”, so I got a new one posing as my sister “Amanda”. I probably still owe on some of those books.

Even though our house is overflowing with books, both purchased and from the library, my husband and I rarely read the same ones. We recommend authors to each other which are regularly, if politely, ignored.

For example he will read biographies, which don’t hold my interest beyond the photos. I can only remember finishing two so far, “The Life of Johnson” (assigned) and Diane Rehm’s “Finding my Voice” (don’t remember why).

So while he can’t quite get into Octavia Butler or Plato, I have yet to enjoy Melville.

Currently, on his recommendation, I’m reading (and enjoying) the Nick Hornby book Ten Years in the Tub: A Decade of Soaking in Great Books. There is quote that nicely sums up the underpinnings of our booky household for all three of us –

“All the books we own, both read and unread, are the fullest expression of self we have at our disposal … With each passing year, and with each whimsical purchase, our libraries become more and more able to articulate who we are, whether we read the books or not.”

We are our books and our books are us. 17707873

What brought the mixed marriage of our “book personalities” into sharp focus for me was an argument we had recently about library books. The Hornby book I mentioned is from the library. He checked it out, finished reading it, and now I am reading it.

And then it came due before I was finished. I told him to renew it, but he wanted to return it in case someone else is waiting for it.

Now that I can renew with the click of my phone app, as opposed to the old in-person system of my misspent youth, I regularly renew books up to the five renewal limit if I am still using them. And then I pay the fee if they are late.

I think of it as rental. Five cents a day is worth every penny for me to finish a book I haven’t yet decided to buy.

Mr. Man’s attitude is that the due date is a social compact with the library, so you should return your materials. He thinks I’m wrong to see the fees as rental. I say I’m helping the library buy more books with my fines. I see no harm in my practice. Which makes him indignant.

I confess this may be a case for a higher moral authority. Does Judge John Hodgman make house calls? Can he be objective about this kind of mixed marriage? Maybe the Head Librarian of the Library of Congress can weigh in?

Meanwhile, I think I’ll pay my library fines before they freeze my card…

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Every once in a while when I am coaching a client I get to witness a moment when they realize possibility. An almost audible “click” as thoughts crystallize and the top comes off the box.

Most people who come to me for coaching are looking for some way out of their box. That box, which keeps them from change or risk or hope, is usually constructed out of fear.

Usually there is a density to fear that prevents people from seeing possibility, potential or any way forward. It clouds the path, minimizes the value of the goal and maximizes the potential danger. Fear can seep in and color all rational thinking. What I’ve discovered, personally and professionally, is that many of us need help to see past the fear. Friends, spouses, partners can help but sometimes you really need a coach.

My coaching – poking with questions and nudging with insights and reframing the words to clarify meaning – sometimes works as a lever under the lid of a client’s box. I’m always upfront with clients that I can’t and don’t actually apply any pressure to their lever, but I’m happy to stand next to them and hand them the tool.

When it works it’s a beautiful thing.

I selfishly enjoy these moments like I accomplished something when the client has actually done all the work. It’s why I coach. Its addictive. When someone finally gets the lid off that jar they keep themselves in (it was a jar not a box btw) they discover, like Pandora, that what’s inside that box is hope.

All in all a good day.

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I love word mash ups. One of the best in recent memory is the explanabrag. I don’t know if the word was coined on the TV show Community, but that is where I heard it first. Along with complisult. I love the way blended words can so precisely skewer a behavior or state of being. Sometimes.

Not all mashups are as memorable or worthy as explanabrag. Some have become so common its easy to forget they were created (motel, chortle, bodacious, cyborg, fauxhawk, carjack) others you can only wish they will disappear from usage. I vote for brony & twerk but that’s just me.

I was in a meeting the other day and as it was wrapping one of the women said she had a request to make. She went on to a lengthy explanation of the very important and highly dangerous work that her very accomplished and smart son-in-law is doing internationally. And then she asked that we all keep him in our prayers.

Having just finished teaching a workshop on networking and self-promotion, I filed away this technique for future reference.

I have no real beef with this woman being proud and wanting to brag about her son-in-law, but the fact that she did it under the pretext of asking for “prayers and thoughts” made me want a new word to describe it. Explana-prayer? Requetsa-brag? Braga-quest? Suggestions welcome.

I find this woman endlessly entertaining in a tiring sort of way. She is elderly, southern and in the habit of saying things like “Bless her heart, she just doesn’t have a clue about what she’s doing.” I think that fits tidily into the category of a “blessisult” but something else may have already been coined that I haven’t heard yet.

My favorite song about words.

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Not many successful directors emerged from my film school class. Certainly I didn’t go on to direct, but maybe I would have if I had come from a broken home. That seems to be one of the secrets to success shared in the cultural artifact that I wish to discuss today: The Wes Anderson Collection, a new coffee table book by the film critic Matt Zoller Seitz.

I am an unabashed fan of Wes Anderson, and this book makes me swell with an even greater affection for him and his work. Literally, my chest gets bigger as I flip through the pages of this book, composed with as much care and attention as any shot from any Wes Anderson film, and my eyes gets wet from the remembered emotions I feel when I watch Anderson’s movies. There is not a great deal of biographical detail in this wonderful book, one fact sheds much light onto Anderson’s directorial perspective: the fact that he continues to grapple with his parents’ divorce, when he was a young boy. Knowing this helps explain the dense emotion and strict control in Anderson’s films, and knowing this personal aspect makes me admire him, and his work, all the more.

Wes Anderson is not everyone’s cup of tea, and I think he deserves every criticism aimed at him.

His cinematic style is mannered, and only gets more so with every film. There aren’t enough people of color in his movies, and he’s still struggling how to successfully represent female characters. None of that matters to me. I love him for his faults, not despite them, because as much as he is devoted to the look and style of his films, as much as he pays attention to composition and color, he is also emotionally true and committed to his characters. He loves his characters, and does not distance himself from them (unlike, say, the Coen Brothers, film makers I enjoy and admire, but rarely love).

Anderson’s films invariably make me cry, and they contain some incredibly fragile and heartbreaking moments of emotional honesty. The scene in The Royal Tenenbaums, when Chas tearfully tells his father, “Dad, I’m having a hard year.” The shot of the Whitman brothers in the back of a limo, riding to their fathers funeral, in The Darjeeling Limited. Mr. Fox’s frustration that his is not being true to his nature, as though he were a vulpine George Bailey, in The Fantastic Mr. Fox. These moments come to me during the day as I go about my business. They speak to me deeply. And the fact that they are nestled in beautifully composed, fully realized cinematic creations just ices it for me.

I could go on about these scenes, and perhaps will in a future post, but for now I want to recommend this amazing book that captures these moments, evokes them, and provides insight into the obsessions and influences of the artist who created them. The book also takes the form of multiple interviews between Anderson and Seitz, and I love interviews. There is nothing like being witness to a great conversation, and I could happily read interviews for days and days.

So: there it is. I look forward to future Riffs on the things I love. For now, I’ll leave you with this.

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There are too many beautiful things in the world, not to discuss them at every opportunity.

Up until now, I have not lived the above sentiment. Despite the fact that I consume as much cultural content as possible, and do it, frankly, in a compulsive manner, I don’t meditate nearly enough on the things that move me, and why. That’s about to change, thanks to the encouragement of my wife, with whom readers of this blog are familiar as Rant. She’s an amazing writer, and has done great things with her blog as a forum for processing both the personal and the political.

Now, she is giving me my own forum, to think about, discuss and share the various things that inspire and move me.  I don’t know how widely I will roam–certainly I will talk about music, movies and books, but also about people, acts of conscience, provocative political ideas, and the occasional irritant. My model, in some respects, is Jesse Thorne’s podcast “Bullseye,” wherein he shines a light on things he loves, particularly in the closing statement that he calls “The Outshot,” during which he recommends a cultural artifact that he loves. Oh, and I do intend to talk about Jesse Thorne and his amazing work in the not too distant future.

Would it help if, before I begin, I describe myself? I’m a frustrated artist, and a fairly successful activist. A doting father of a teen age girl, and a devoted husband to a forty-something wife. I can play a few instruments pretty badly, and can sing well enough–better than Bob Dylan and Lou Reed, at least. I went to art (really, film) school in New York, have otherwise lived my entire life in the Midwest, and have never been outside of North America.

This last fact is important, I think, because I also suffer from an inferiority complex that drives my consumption of culture. I am an autodidact. There is always room for improvement.

Okay, enough. I hope to contribute often enough to AmandatoryRant that you get to know me better, and hopefully enjoy some of the things that make me feel the world is bountiful and amazing. I am indebted to Rant for allowing me to share her virtual space (and her life).

Lastly, for the sake of fully distinguishing myself, please think of me as Riff.

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The way things smell is very important to me. I have a super sensitive nose. I can only buy certain mascara and lipsticks because I can smell them on my own face. I can smell mold on food before anyone can see it. I am what is known as a Super Sniffer.

During a recent car trip, the smell of rest stop industrial pink soap makes me miserable enough to consider carrying my own soap around like germaphobe. It’s not the germs (although rest stop bathrooms can be disgusting) that bug me, it’s the smell on my hands. It invades the car. One of my ways of coping is to slather on nice hand cream as a counter smell.

My current favorite is Tuscan Blood Orange by Pacifica. Every time I use it I think “I am now the best smelling person in this house (car, rest stop etc.)” My family indulged my visiting two different crunchy hippie stores this past weekend so I could find some. My nose will not tolerate drugstore brand or (shudder) Bath & Body Works.

I also still use incense even though I am way past being bohemian. 20+ years of burning a stick of jasmine once a week makes our house smell like our house. Although a friend did come in once when it was burning and assumed we were smoking pot and trying to hide it from the kids. That was an interesting snapshot into his past.

I recently found an appreciation for my Super Sniffer when heard about some new research into detecting disease with breath tests. Turns out the chemicals in your breath, and other body odors, may be able to provide early clues for some cancers. I was not surprised by this because, being formerly poor and without health insurance, I had once visited Chinese doctors who diagnose by examining things like your breath, skin, nails and hair.

I am interested to see how traditional medicine can be formalized through research.

Even more intriguing is thinking about how the phrase “Does it pass the sniff test?” may have roots in our physiology. This idiom pops up in politics all the time to stand in for the vague, undefinable, something-is-just-not-right moments both real and fabricated. Who knows what will evolve if science eventually figures out how to sniff out disease.

Maybe we can crowdsource funding for a breathalizer that analyzes Lie and Obfuscation Content instead of Blood Alcohol Content. I’d donate $25 to that. Wouldn’t you?

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Sometimes the future arrives when you aren’t even looking.

The other night we attended the fall concert at my daughters high school and I got to see the future up close. The school has a tremendous music program so the evening included chamber music groups, concert orchestra, concert band, symphonic winds and two jazz ensembles. And they were all outstanding.

In the concert band trombone section a girl who identifies as a boy was allowed to wear the jacket, trousers and bow tie boys uniform rather than the floor length black dress that the girls wear. No one blinked when she made the request. No one remarked when she performed.

Later during the jazz ensembles I remarked how the pretty (and talented) drummer would be a good match for one of the boys and my daughter said “No, she’s a lesbian.” And no one blinked.

I remembered the boy in my daughters middle school that came out as bi-sexual in seventh grade and the girl who came out as a lesbian, and thought this is why I live here. This is my community.

In this one place, for these children, it is okay to be gay, lesbian or bi-sexual. There may be other problems in their lives but hiding part of who they are at school is not one of them. That’s some kinda progress.

And I am thankful.

Wishing everyone a Happy Thanksgiving and continued progress.

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Every now and again I come under attack from my family because of my bad memory. It’s usually started by my innocently remarking that I don’t know some random bit of information like my age or how many years I’ve been married. I honestly don’t see why this is such a big deal. I guestimate, round-up or, when pressed, stop and do the math.

My husband and daughter insist that this is abnormal. That everyone knows their age off the tip of their tongue. I’m not convinced.

I remember lots of things. My daughter’s age for one. The remarkably discounted price of the Land’s End down coat I bought two years ago ($179 coat marked down to $15.99!). Dialogue from books, statistics from gender bias studies, characters from old TV shows, the words to American Pie and Horse with No Name. All of these have permanent space in my memory banks.

But not my age.

If I point out that I am born on an even year so its easy to calculate this leads to more shrieking and arguing. Apparently I am the only one who thinks that five is an even number. I was born in 1965. Five is a number you can easily count by if you have to figure out your age at the drop of a hat, so I consider it an “even” number. Simple.

I doubt I’m the only one who forgets how old they are. It’s not like it matters much between the ages of 21 and 65. That’s probably why I can never figure out anyone’s age by looking at them. Everyone who is clearly not a child seems like + or – 10 years of my age. A close friend revealed last year that she is 70 years old. I had no clue.

Memory is a game. Some things stick and somethings don’t. I’m not bothered by my age, and if I had some really compelling reason, I would commit it to memory.

But I can’t really think why I would bother as long as I can still count by fives.

I am proposing a new category for extreme sports : Competitive Overwork.

The Beginner Level of Competitive Overwork is Never Having Time. At this level points are awarded for:

  • Using the toilet once in a twelve-hour period
  • Skipping meals
  • Crumbs in your keyboard
  • Accumulating a stack of coffee sleeves to be recycled

At the Intermediate Level , Chronic Emergency, points are awarded for:

  • Insomnia (proof must be provided through middle-of-the-night, time stamped emails)
  • Recitations of the excess amounts of work accompany every overdue document and email
  • Scheduling meetings six weeks out
  • Reducing words like “Thanks” and “Please” to Thx and Pls to save time

Advanced, also known as “I Am the Center of the Universe”, is of course more stringent and usually, but not always, requires an executive title. Points are awarded at this level mainly for making someone else do your work as evidenced by:

  • Telling others to resend documents, information or other details because you are too busy to look for them
  • Telling others to forward, print or mail things that would take the same amount of time as telling someone else to do it
  • Scheduling meetings six weeks out and then canceling an hour before
  • Missing/ignoring major holidays, birthdays, the personal accomplishments etc. of your staff, subordinates and/or family members

This is only an outline of course. The game needs goals, rules, penalties, challenges and a way to win. Unfortunately, I don’t have time to figure this all out at the moment. Happy to delegate if anyone cares to step up.

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