Recent Posts

January 31, 2010

One happy Sunday, coming right up


Sunday morning, I asked for something extraordinary.

Not a raise, not a negotiated car payment, not a voyeuristic dinner with J.D. Salinger's widow. Even better: a quick and easy pathway to a happy, happy Sunday.

I picked up my cell phone, dialed a new friend's phone number, and asked if she'd like to have an impromptu coffee. She's my next door neighbor, and we instantly hit it off when she moved in a few months ago. And -- to my utter shock and delight -- I found out she has been reading The Daily Asker without knowing I'm writing it! What a small world. At a gathering I hosted a few weeks ago, someone mentioned my blog and she turned to face me. "YOU'RE La Roxy!?? What?! I had no idea!!" We both started laughing and since then I've been excited and slightly paranoid -- in a good way. Is my doctor reading this? My waiter? That literary agent sitting two rows ahead on the airplane? A girl can dream, right? ;)

Anyway, she said yes to my suggestion and we ended up at Lei Lounge, a Hawaiian themed restaurant, for brunch. When drinks are $3 and you're sitting under a tropical umbrella, it would be criminal to order the house coffee. Especially if it's not yet noon. Thus I had a guava champagne cocktail, she had an almond mai tai and we toasted. To everything, darling!

The moment reminded me of advice my grandmother, Tzushy, recently gave me:

"Are you happy? Do what makes you happy."

Tzushy knows exactly what's going on in my deepest heart. Even from the "hello?" uttered into a cell phone at a noisy intersection, she can tell if I'm rested, tired, worried, serene, stressed, hungry. She just knows. These past weeks she has registered my anxiety better then I could: I'm about to finish graduate school, and I've been faced with big decisions that will shape how I'll spend my waking minutes now and, consequently, how next decade could look.

So she gave me this advice: Do what makes you happy.

In matters big and small, do what makes you happy.

I think I'm starting to get it.

I started this writing business venture. I'm getting enough sleep. I'm definitely smiling more.

More often than not, you see, I believe I'm not doing enough: not reaching far enough, not achieving enough, not asking for enough. I'm not unduly hard on myself; I definitely keep things in perspective, kick my feet up and relax. Yet that impulse to analyse, optimize and self-interrogate is a steady undercurrent, surfacing the moment I need it most, pushing me to do more and better than I might have otherwise.

That's all fine and dandy. But what I also need to learn is how to avoid getting burdened by situations that are more complicated than they need to be. How to cut out unpleasant experiences and interactions unless they're necessary. How to simplify, cull, prioritize. And how to make serenity, and not stress, my default mode.

I like this litmus test: Will it make me happy?

If so, go for it. If not, think twice. Maybe it's necessary, maybe it's a small discomfort for a larger benefit for me or someone I care about, down the line. Or maybe it's just bullshit.

Seeing my friend for a sunny Sunday brunch made me very happy indeed.

All it took was a simple question: Wanna grab coffee this morning? And the willingness to reeeelaaaax.

Bellissimo!

[image via mike's journal]

January 29, 2010

Can I be your estate's literary executor?


On Friday I had lunch with a friend who was passing through town, and we started talking about what will happen to us, after. As in the great big after.

Her boyfriend died last spring. The term "boyfriend" is a pale version of what he was, because they'd been together for years and had built a life together.

It was one of those tragedies that are as incomprehensible as they are unfair.

A car. A curving highway. A dark night. A bright young man. History.

What happened in the aftermath has gotten her thinking, almost a year later, about preparation: what would she want done, if something like that happened to her? It's not that she particularly cares about her objects or the associated rituals, she explained, but she wants to make things easier for those left behind.

"Like my journals. Who will ever go through those? What am I supposed to do with those?"

"Can I have them?" I blurted.

She is an artist whose works have more than once given me chills. Because they're so beautiful and so true. I've watched her art develop since we were in high school together, and I would respect and honor her intimate musings.

"Yes. Thank you. Take them. Do what you think is right."

"I would read through them an try to publish them for you," I promised.

"Okay. Yes. Thank you. Just be sure to edit out things I wouldn't want published. You'll know," she said, and I smiled, and then we laughed. Because it's kind of a ridiculous conversation. I hope, and believe, frankly, that there will never be a day where I'll need to curate her papers. But if the sad situation does arise, I will at least be grateful we had this conversation, eating sandwiches under a trellis on a sunny Friday in 2010.

[image via freestockimages]

January 28, 2010

5 things I didn't expect to learn at my business counseling session


The dental interlude was just the first stop of a very busy Thursday.

After lunch, I headed to my local SCORE office, where I had made a free appointment with a counselor. The man I'd been assigned to was a retired bank executive, and his free time he volunteers to help aspiring entrepreneurs get their businesses off the ground. My goal for our hour-long session was to learn about six things (or as many as we had time for):
--how broadly or narrowly to focus the services I'll be offering
--whether or not I needed a business plan
--a few very basic bookkeeping questions
--how to decide how much to charge
--what are mistakes small businesses typically make when they're starting out
--what steps I need to take to make sure I'm doing things by the books, i.e. what basic things might I be overlooking besides a business license?

I wasn't sure what the protocol was: would the counselor have some standard info he'd tell me, or would it be a free flowing conversation?

It turned out the be the latter. I introduced myself, we started talking, he asked me what line of work I'm in, and then things took a turn for the worse.

"That's exactly what my niece does. She's a fantastic girl. She just moved to town and let me tell you, it's been a big change. She loves it here," he said.

"Oh really? How so?" I asked, figuring, for some odd reason, there was a purpose to his bringing her up.

"She just left New York, where she was making $100 grand, and decided to strike out on her own. You know, I'm here, her family is here, and I think she was burned out. She just wanted to be closer to us, and now she's really loving it! She moved about three weeks ago."

Unbelievably, this counselor spent twenty minutes or so talking about his niece: comparing me to her, saying how much I'd like to meet her, what a great career she had, what a nice girl she is. We're about the same age, and in the same line of work, and she is just so darling.

As he talked, I tuned in to the conversation that was happening at the cubicle next to ours. Another aspiring entrepreneur was getting advice about marketing, pricing, competition, paperwork to file. "I started a business at 54, too," his counselor told him. "You'll do fine. Just remember the four points I told you."

As this mustached old man talked, I wondered: Was it really and truly because I was a chick?

Did he believe this was an appropriate use of our time? He was, after all, kind of clueless. For instance, he suggested I learn what a blog is and then try linking it to my business home page because "everything is done on the internet these days. And if you get a blog, you should update it. Try once a week." He also said he thought an MBA is a prerequisite for a PhD.

Was he just an old man with a niece who wanted to connect on a human level? Maybe he just the oddball of the counselors, regaling every visitor with anecdotes about his family. Did he think I was there for a friendly chat? Maybe now that he was a volunteer, was he a bit self-indulgent -- finally allowed to prattle on, after such behavior was verboten at his bank.

Or was he just a jerk? I mean, if we'd met at a country club brunch and we had this conversation, he'd be the sweetest old man. But we were at a business meeting, and I'd been hoping to learn a lot in that session.

Finally, I stopped speculating and asked him to focus on me. I dropped a few names (my graduate school, the places I've worked) and he exclaimed that was impressive. I wasn't there to impress him -- I just wanted to get some answer to questions I'd been itching to ask. I held his attention for about 20 minutes. He told me about the legal stuff, the business bank account, how he charges his own clients and why I should do the same, and more of the nitty gritty.

And then kept coming back to his niece.

That's when I changed my strategy. He wants to talk about her? Ok. She's in my industry? Even better. She's a stellar human being? Fantastic.

"She really does sound charming. Actually, I think it would be great if I got to meet her in person! Do you think she'd be willing too have coffee with one of your advisees?"

"That is a great idea. You would have a lot to talk about. I'll call her right now."

He reached her on her cell, he told her about my background, and she said she'd be happy to have coffee with me.

So I picked up a few unexpected lessons at this counseling session:

1) Business is a human practice. If I just wanted information, I could have gotten it online or on the phone. Instead, I chose to interact with a retired bank executive. That came with a few strings -- he's older, not plugged into technology--but talking to him also opened my mind to this and the following revelations.

2) I have been very shielded from overt and veiled gender biases. My family raised me to think not just that I can do anything like a man, but that men aren't the standard. I set the standard. In academia I have never felt "sexism" per se (though yes, it's built deeply into the institution, and that's clearly troubling, but it's not something I come up against all the time); and in my professional field gender discrimination has been known to be an issue, but so far I've largely sidestepped it. I'm friends with people of all backgrounds, religions, nationalities, sexual orientations, races and political persuasions, but we're united by a similar outlook on gender parity. This was a reminder that we're probably in the minority, especially among older generations. Shudder. But a useful shudder.

3) A refusal can be an opportunity; constantly reassess your gameplan and seek optimization. Maybe the end result is even better than what you set out hoping to achieve. (In this case, I wanted business advice but I left with a contact instead. Could turn out even more valuable, at the end of the day.)

4) Your time matters. I waited too long to ask him to focus on the questions I had. As long as I asked nicely, and remembered he's a volunteer and owes me nothing, I could have shifted the conversation back to my talking points earlier than I did. Asking for respect earns respect.

5) Don't take things personally. Pride is useless. Think, act, and feel strategically. Plan for the ultimate outcome, not the play by play. Sure, I got frustrated about half way through, and though I didn't show it, I was feeling very indignant, but if I'd cut it short, I wouldn't have made a potentially useful addition to my network or learned what he finally got around to teaching me.

If my goal was to leave with more information than I had coming in, and this counseling session was certainly an illumination.

What do you think? Any refinements or contradictions? And I'm dying to hear your dirt: have you ever been treated like a silly little biddy in a similar situation, and how did you react?

[image via styleforall]

Heehee? Hohay, ha huhu ho.


Some people, when pointy metal things are jabbed at their prone and helpless persons, they just sit back pray.

Me, I'm a talker. An asker, actually, since that's the best I can do when all I have at my disposal are H's, vowels, and the tone of my voice.

"How hihi ho?" I asked, as she was telling me about a recent awkward situation she'd untangled.

"It went well," the hygenist answered as her pickax starting hacking at the next tooth.

"Heehee? Hohay, ha huhu ho," I said, and managed a smile.

"Thanks, I know, it really did work out for the best. Move your tongue to your right cheek please."

She kept on talking -- about her day, her family, her years working for this office, dental insurance, where she'd lived before -- and mostly I sat quietly, but once in a while I asked.

She was perfectly versed in my dialect. I never once had to repeat myself and I think that, after 25 years on the job, she could speak it in her sleep.

Once, I felt a jab of pain and jolted my eyebrows up in protest.

"Sorry!" she exclaimed.

"Hih hohay," I answered.

What else could I say?

"Hohe hu heha. Ha hi ho ho how." [That would be, "Forget the exam. Can I go home now?"]

Ho hay! (I mean, No way.)

I spent Thursday morning -- three hours of it, at least -- in a dentist's chair. It was a new patient visit, and I've never had had such a thorough exam in my life. Not even my high school math final, which I felt truly plumbed the depths of my cranial recesses.

Despite the impression I may give here, the hygenist was incredibly gentle: There was only one eyebrow moment on the whole session, and her talking put me at ease. I could have tuned it out, or just sat there quietly, or asked her to stop, but her stories got my mind off the other stuff. The sharp metal objects trying to get intimate with my second incisors.

And I don't know. It's impossible for me to listen to a tale from someone's life and not ask, react, interact.

[image via skinstore.com]

January 27, 2010

Insert scintillating asking here


I remember I asked for something Wednesday, but I forgot what!

Until it comes back to me, I'll insert this post as a placeholder.

Notes to self: Don't let three days pass before blogging, and if you do, write what you asked for on a post-it and stick it somewhere unforgettable. Second, if you're asking for something so banal you're forgetting it two days later, it's best to try again. Third, eat more fish. Does wonders for the memory, I'm told.

Onward!

[image via US News]

January 26, 2010

Will you be one of my people?


I know very little about running a business (apparently not enough to know I should have a functioning voicemail system, hehe, thanks readers). But there's one thing I know so far: surround yourself with good people. People you can trust, whose advice you respect. People who are willing to share some of what they've learned or help you in various tiny but crucial ways, knowing you'll do exactly the same for them, and others, when you're in a position to.

So that's what I've been doing. Asking left and right for meetings with, and advice from, individuals who I believe are successful in the domains I want to know more about.

Today, for example, I had a conversation with one of my new officemates. He's a marketing expert who focuses on helping small businesses establish themselves. What more could a fresh startup hope for in a friendly neighbor?

I mentioned a few choices I'm facing and he gave me his take. It wasn't an official "counseling session" at a desk, but the kind of fluid conversation you have by the watercooler. And I left with some useful ideas and, more importantly, the awareness that everything will be experimental; there is no clear path. I'll need to try 20 things before I decide what works, and that's if I'm lucky. That's very good to know, going in. Thank you.

A few days earlier, I asked a very successful San Diego entrepreneur if she'd sit down with me, so we could chat about what it takes to get a business up and running. It wasn't a total cold call, since I went to school with her kids and I'm often in her establishments (she runs several restaurants my family and I love). But it was a bit of a risk. She's not an old friend or someone I know very well, and maybe it came out of left field for her. But if I don't reach out, stretch, try to learn from the best -- if I don't at least ask and let them turn me down, instead of closing doors on my own -- how will I grow? (I mean, I can always fall on my face and learn from that, but if I have a mentor telling me, "pothole head" it might spare some bruises...)

Finally, I set up a meeting with a SCORE counselor. SCORE is a small business advising organization staffed by retired business people who offer free advice and some paid seminars. I found out about it by chance, while talking to someone else about his new business, and I made an appointment for a free Q and A session on Thursday.

So lots of asking going on, behind the scenes. Over time, of course, I hope to know enough to be able to teach others!

I can sense the focus of this blog changing, and asking becoming relevant in different ways. From asking just to ask, asking to build up courage, and asking to prove to myself and others that I'm worth an awesome answer, as I did at first, to asking because purely I wanted to, in the second half of 2009, now it's becoming an essential business tool, and something that's tied very closely to my survival.

The plot thickens.

And tell me, gentle reader, what's your take on "people" -- have you tried to surround yourself with mentors or counselors, and/or do you like to reach out and help others who are starting out? Is that valuable, or overrated, in your opinion, and you prefer learning from books, formal education or your mistakes?

[image via eistours]

Why quitting voicemail rocks


We interrupt the stream of daily asking to bring you an update.

I asked, several months ago, for people to stop leaving me messages.

Result: For the most part it's worked like a charm. I have been getting about 5 to 10 percent of the messages I used to, and I'm overjoyed by all the time that frees up.

Pros

1) I have wasted under 5 minutes in two months working my way through the endlessly inefficient voicemail system.

2) After an initial awkward adjustment period for friends and family ("You're what? Why!?? So annoying!") I think they've come around. It's effectively cutting out a middle man, so we're all more connected -- and happy. I think!?

3) People who are close to me have have stopped leaving messages entirely. Those who do leave messages are people who don't particularly care about my strange impulses anyway -- like my grandma. In other words, people I'd want to hear on my voicemail no matter what. Yay.

4) Friends are now texting more instead, which I appreciate. Faster and, for me at least, free. I hope text me costs less than calling me, for them.

Minus: Now when I see a missed call I feel more pressure to return it asap. I don't always, of course, but that thought is there. What if it's something important? Before, I could check my messages and do some triage before returning calls.

(But, as a plus to that minus, I've also gotten much more efficient with returning calls. A sample, authentic interaction from my day to day life: "Hi, I got a missed call from this number... Oh really? That's great!... Sorry, I need to keep this short because I'm about to meet someone, but what's up? Oh, sure, I'd love to meet you Ibiza next weekend. Let me check my calendar and get back to you. Baci!")

Another minus: I've been rushing to answer my phone if I think it's someone who wouldn't like my no-voicemail policy (and I cared). When I was looking to rent an office, the potential landlord called me back and I answered immediately even though it wasn't the most convenient time.

The next step: I'm actually wondering if I should stay off voicemail or go back.

What I want is to chuck it to the wind forever. But now that I'm starting this business, what if clients find that annoying?

Any thoughts? What would you do if you called a stranger you wanted to hire and heard, "Hello, you've reached La Roxy. I'm not checking messages, but I return every call I see on my caller ID. If it's urgent, please text me. Thank you!"

I could adjust it to say "for increased productivity I rarely check voicemail." Or, I could play around with google voice.

(In other news, I'm claiming Monday as a day off from asking. I had a great day: got great feedback on some work I turned in and fell asleep at 7 p.m. No time to ask between all that. But I thought I'd offer this update, to keep the ball rolling...)

[image via maths.org]

January 24, 2010

Stop kick kickety kicking my seat?

It was one of those moments where words would never suffice.

The cappuccino reached perfection through negation: not too bitter, not too hot, not too soupy, not too foamy.

The ambient music was soft enough that I could drown it out with Pandora.

The writing was going great.

And then it started.

Bump.

Bump.

Bump bump bump bump bump bump bump bump bump .

I glanced bumpward and saw my neighbor's foot kick kick kick kicking the bench we shared.

The set up at Calabria, the cafe where I'd parked myself for the day to write, consists in a mix tables surrounded by chairs or, along most of the cafe's walls, long benches.

I was sitting on a bench in the corner, where I could mind my own business and write at peace.

Then he showed up, two tables down, and started the percussion session.

I put my music louder.

But the bumps were rattling my bum, not just ears.

I shot a few "looks" his way, but he was blissfully oblivious.

I looked for open tables, but saw only one -- the one between his and mine.

Finally, I did what I was least looking forward to: I asked him to stop.

"Hi! I'm just wondering... well, I know I'm going to sound like a crotchety old woman, but when you kick the seat like that, I can feel it over here."

"Oh! I'm so sorry!"

"No, I'm sorry -- if I weren't trying to concentrate it wouldn't be a problem."

"No, definitely, thanks for telling me. I would hate to be annoying someone and not know it."

"What are you researching?" I asked, since it seemed like the nice thing to say after asking him to kick his habit.

"Surgery. You?"

"Literature."

"Cool."

"Thanks again."

And that was that.

January 23, 2010

8 reasons you simply must haggle at antique fairs

Here's an addendum to the previous post, with practical tips for getting good prices at antique fairs and similar settings.

Opening Scenario: An antique dealer buys a pendant from an estate sale for $40. That can translate into several possible resale outcomes: $120 for dude with the Rolex who's eager to seal the deal, $80 for the average passerby who never asks, $75 for the weak negotiator, $65 for the hard core asker, and $55 for the friend or dealer.

Where do you want to fall on this spectrum?

Luck, time of day, the type of venue and the merchant's attitude all play a part. But there are things you can do to bring the price down. After chatting with a few dealers and thinking about my own experiences, here are the tips I've put together for landing a super deal at an antique market.

1. Always ask. Shocker, I know. But here's why: You're supposed to.

As I passed through the booths, I eavesdropped on all the negotiations that were going on. Music to my ears! Dealers buying from dealers, experienced shoppers driving prices down, friends selling to friends, and newbies paying full price. Bottom line: dealers expect people to negotiate. Sample snippets I heard:

Dealer, to friend: Tell me what you think is reasonable and I'll tell you if it works for me.
Friend to dealer: I don't know, what's your bottom line, or what were you hoping to make?
Dealer: Well, give me a number you can live with and we'll see if it matches mine.
Friend: What kind of number would you be comfortable with?
Dealer: Well, I paid $200. Normally I'd go $450, but for you I can do $250. Even $200 if you really want it.

Buyer: How much for this?
Seller: $40, but how 'bout I just give you the lowest I can go. It's the end of the day and I want to wrap up. I can do $30.
Buyer: What about this?
Seller: Ideally $125... but I could do $80, 'cause I like you.

These kinds of discussions happened at every end of the price spectrum, which is a reminder that negotiating isn't just acceptable -- it's expected. Dealers price things with room to budge. So paying the asking price is, in my opinion, a premium paid only by the uninitiated.

(A few merchants didn't offer discounts, however, and they appeared to be as busy as their neighbors. I wonder what the best strategy is for maximizing revenues: raise prices and make people feel like they're getting a discount, pricing things so they're already rock bottom and hope buyers understand the value they're getting, or charge more than others don't negotiate, and sell fewer but more expensive things. This is probably an Econ 101 essay question. Too bad I don't remember a thing from when I took it in college, expect the supply and demand x graph. Any pricing experts out there care to shed some light on this?)

2. Don't feel guilty about negotiating. No one is on a charity mission. If a seller won't make a profit she's comfortable with, she won't sell. Unless she's awful at her job, in which case she has bigger problems than giving you $40 off a $50 vase.

3. Be fair. This is just a general rule I have when it comes to asking: not just in markets, but anywhere. It's rare I have to remind myself, because people normally stick up for themselves and ask for more than they paid, but you never know.

4. The more you know, the more powerful you are. This is kind of obvious -- I mean, if you know how much a certain pattern of china goes for on the market, you can decide to buy or not, based on the price. But remember the opposite: when you know little about an object, why trust a random merchant? I would never buy a vase claiming to be from the 19th century unless its age wasn't a factor in the pricing. Unless, of course, I could tell it really was. (Appraising antiques is a whole different topic.) On a related note:

5. If you know a little about what you're buying, try asking for the "dealer's price." If you have a general idea how much something is worth, doesn't hurt to propose what you think the merchant paid for it. Worst case she says no, or you meet half way. (This is what a seller told me. Can't personally vet for this.)

6. Always keep Goodwill at the back of your mind as you shop. This is good psychologically (since you look and act like you have options, and are hence an empowered negotiator), but also practically. With regular trips to thrift shops I've bought paintings, beautiful tea sets and Imari plates for the price of a tall latte -- objects identical to those that sell at such fairs for dollars on the penny. So if it's an antique or vintage fix you want, might as well wait until something priced right turns up a the corner thrift shop. Only splurge if it's a special, buyer's remorse opportunity. (I'm talking about splurges here -- that crazy cool couch, or whatever. If it's within my day to day budget and would cost the same new, then it's not such a tough call.)

7. Appear frugal, not cheap. "Sellers can tell the difference between being frugal and being a cheapskate. We hate cheapskates." This is what a merchant at the fair told me, word for word, when I probed her about her negotiation methods. Buying and selling in such settings is a very personal transaction, meaning that sellers will respond better to certain types of buyers. So if you seem like a cheapskate, some might be turned off. If you seem like you're on a budget, they might respect your limits.

8. Same thing goes for enthusiasm. It's common knowledge that you shouldn't be too perky and excited, or the price will float higher. But if you're too cool, too blase, maybe the seller won't be inclined to want to "win you over." Cause you're just a jerk. Sometimes sellers have sentimental attachments to their merchandise. If they think it's landing in good hands, they might be more willing to strike a bargain.

The next antique fair in San Diego is in April. Any local readers care to join me?

And, I'm curious: anyone on the selling side care to comment? Either with more tips, or contradictions/corrections?

Happy haggling,

La Roxy

Cut $5 off this thinghiemabob?

The past week has been, how you say, crazy, and the coming week is looking like a repeat. But Saturday I took a break and decompressed for a few blessed hours, and I had a lovely time.

I spent the day at an antique fair with a new friend. We've hung out a few times and she's always struck me as a fun, up-for-anything kind of spirit. My suspicions were confirmed when we meandered up and down the aisles of this massive warehouse, oohing and aahing at all the antique and vintage wares and comparing notes about our dream houses and possible past lives.

At one booth, I spotted a little bowl/candy dish/thinghimabob and asked how much it was. A mother-daughter duo were sitting calmly, chatting quietly and polishing silver. If the set around them collapsed and a 19th century British row house were erected, and Dicken's voice started narrating from the ether, I would not have blinked. Two women with porcelain skin and long locks, hunched over their goods, polishing away. Amelia Caraway was waiting for Captain Manley, she was. He was out in the Indies. He would come back and take them both to out east, but until then they had to polish, polish away. Would they earn enough that week to pay the ruthless Mr. Branford his rent? And would the elder Mrs. Caraway ever find a way to tell Amelia she was actually the daughter of the Duke of Sussex, a lovechild begotten when he was but 17 and the elder Mrs. Carraway a bonnie lass from the heath?

"$10" replied the older lady.

I was about to see if they could do $7 when the daughter cut in.

"Oh mom, not $10. That's too much. $5."

"Great! I'll take it."

"I've had it for too long. I'm ready to say bye-bye to that piece," the daughter continued.

I handed over the cash and we started talking. They had come down for the antique fair from northern California. Gave me a card. Invited me to stop by for dinner if I'm ever in Bolita.

I believe I will. Thank you, ladies.

[image via mad.lesartsdecoratifs.fr]

January 22, 2010

Free vision exam?


I'm about to finish a part time gig. Before I do, I realize there might be one opportunity I shouldn't miss: a free eye exam sponsored by my employer.

I don't wear glasses or contacts, and the last time I got tested I think I was 22. My eyes are largely okay, meaning I've gotten used to the lack of definition in people's features and have learned to distinguish if objects are moving away or toward me based on their shadows. I'm totally fine.

Kidding, people.

But I do think it's time for a checkup.

So I asked two friends who work with me there if they get free eye exams. Apparently, they are entitled to a free one per year. I don't know if I qualify, since I'm part time and on my way out, but if they can squeeze one in before my last day of work, that will be on less thing to think about.

I guess I could have called a health care benefits department directly and asked, but that would have been too simple.

[image via flickr]

January 21, 2010

The adventure begins



I got the answer I was hoping for to the question I asked yesterday. The one that had me all in a tizzy.

And now, time to explain.

I'm not sure where to start, so I'll get to the point-- in a second. I'm graduating in May, and I realized recently that my options boiled down to three: I could work for a company doing a lucrative desk job in a field I didn't care about and getting depressed, I could teach, or I could take the consulting route: be my own boss, as frightening and exhilarating as that sounds, answer to no one but clients and myself, live the life I've always dreamed of... or die trying.

Perhaps you can guess, by my subtle narrative bias, which option I have decided to go for.

I will give it my best as a full time consultant, for one year. If in a year I break even or make a profit, I'll consider it a success. If not, then I'll pack up all the lessons I learned and apply for a teaching or corporate job. Mr. A is fully behind this idea, and a few friends I talked to had the same general attitude: "What were you waiting for!?" Thanks for your support. You know who you are.

All this preface to arrive at yesterday's ask: I found an office. It's in an ideal location, as part of a suite with two really cool professionals in fields similar to my own. They said they could even bounce some business my way, since our skills are complementary. I wish I could return that favor. Not yet, but one day, perhaps.

The rent was $600, which is frighteningly high when I think that's at least how much more I need to earn in a month in order to make it worth it by being in that location, as opposed to my house. At the same time, the terms were attractive -- no lease, no deposit, utilities and internet included -- the set-up and location were to die for, I do believe that working out of my house is the best path to productivity, and the only way to know if it was worth it was to give it a go.

So I visited it, liked what I saw, but kept worrying about my bottom line.

You know what I did next.

Here is the email I sent, aiming to lower the rent.
Hi Name,

I would love to move in!

It was a pleasure meeting you and Partner, and if the feeling was mutual I think it would be great to share an office.

I am a still crunching the numbers, and that's the only thing holding me back. Are you at all flexible on the rent? Would you be willing to take $500, or perhaps start at $450 for the first three months and raise it once I have a bigger client base? Or whatever the two of you think would be reasonable.

Maybe with the work you kindly offered to pass along, the visibility I'd gain by moving out of the house, and my current projects, $600 wouldn't be a problem. But I since I don't know that for sure, that seems high for making the leap into my own office.

I've looked at a few places so far, and nothing comes close to yours. And I'm confident that my boutique writing firm will be a raging success, once I get it off the ground. So I really hope we can work something out! If you want to meet again or chat on the phone, my number is XXX XXX XXXX.

Thanks,

La Roxy
I hit send, and then I waited.

That's when I wrote yesterday's tortured blog post.

I couldn't concentrate, couldn't do anything really, because it was so real I could taste it. My own office, my own start-up, a post-graduation dream come true. It would be hard. Scratch that. Excruciating. Long hours. Countless curve balls and unknowns. But if I'm young, healthy and have few responsibilities, and if I do have a career I'm passionate about which offers the potential to fly solo, how could I not go for it??? The only thing holding me back would be fear.

The reply came a few hours later:

"$450 is a bit too low unfortunately, but I'd be willing to start at $525 and stairstep it up..." The final increment would be $575, not $600, and that's where the rent would stay. He also said he thinks they can refer enough new business to me that I can cover that rent.

Over a year, that's about 5 percent off. Not an amazing reduction, and under other circumstances maybe I could have pushed it lower. But it's reasonable given there's no lease and they're offering to refer clients to me. Every contact could make a difference.

So I'm expecting to learn a ton, practice the career I love and wake up every day knowing that every minute I spend on the job is for a great cause. My future!!

As for today's asking -- I asked for work! I told people my next step is to start freelancing full time. Already got two possible job leads.

The adventure begins.

[images via ffffound]

January 20, 2010

Asked. Now what!?


I'm all in a tizzy.

Because I just asked for something I really want, and now I have to wait for the answer.

It's the waiting that gets me.

Will they say yes? Will they negotiate back? Will they walk away?

Here are two hints:

It concerns a real estate transaction.
It's a risk, an investment, but if the numbers work out I will be one happy asker.

I'll post all the details once I hear back, but that's all I want to say right now.

Wish me luck!!

Double darn

Short and sweet, because I have something better to report in the next round.

Asked twice. Was rejected twice. Here ya go:

First, I asked Sprint for a rebate or discount after my cell phone's internet has been down for a MONTH. After several attempts, I've just given up. (Actually, I feel liberated by not being able to check email or the news every few seconds. It's been a major lifestyle boost. I'm not kidding!! But I still wanted to fix it, because I'm paying for it. And because it does occasionally come in handy, as long as I am able to keep the internet urges in control.)

The agent told me that since internet is an extra feature, rather that part of my phone's core functionality, they can't offer any discounts.

I had a response ready.

I had several.

But I was exhausted. So I let it rest. For now.

Sprint: 1. Roxy: 0.

Darn!

Later, I went to dinner at Taco Bell. Not a place I usually frequent given that there's a ton of real Mexican food within a mile of my house. But it was close to midnight, after a long day, when the last thing I wanted to do was cook.

Drive through to the rescue.

"Hi, I'd like your cheesy beefy melt burrito, but could you give me tomatoes instead of beans?"

"I can hold the beans, but the tomatoes are still going to cost extra."

"Really? Even if it's a substitution?"

"Sorry."

Darn!

The thing is, the voice did sound sorry. I get the feeling he's the kind of person who would have thrown in tomatoes for free, if it he ran own business. But he's working hard at Taco Bell, close to Midnight on a Tuesday, for close to nothing.

I smiled when I pulled up, but he didn't notice.

January 19, 2010

Tell me about your career transition?

I got an email last night from someone in my industry. We're on different job tracks, at different stages, and he was suggesting we collaborate occasionally. He mentioned he's sat in my shoes and decided to change into his specialty.

I replied saying I'd keep him in mind for future projects -- and turned around the email to ask him for an impromptu career counseling session!! Not sure why I did it, but he seemed experienced and friendly, and he's in a track I've been wanting to know more about. So I fired back this message:
Thanks, I will consider you as a resource!

By the way, if you don't mind my asking, how did you like 'switching sides'? I've heard of a lot of people doing so in these tough times, but I don't personally know many who did. Totally TOTALLY off the record, is it exciting? rewarding? was it an easy transition?

I'm curious because I'm about to finish graduate school, and wondering if I should keep up this specialty or maybe try my hand at yours...

Feel free to disregard if you don't want to discuss your career path over email. I would totally understand.

take care,
La Roxy
I promised confidentiality, so of course I can't tell you what he said. But he did reply -- minutes later -- with a lengthy and very frank expose about his field, how he got started, the work-life balance, even a salary guideline. Sooo awesome!

Thanks!!

January 17, 2010

Kiss me at 2 p.m. January 31?

[via askmen]

Mr. A and I recently discovered Google calendar.

Rather, he discovered it and instantly adopted it, and I have begrudgingly half accepted it.

Of course I appreciate technology -- hey, I am a blogger -- but I'm also very much a retro-romantic, in the sense that I prefer the tactile over the virtual. Call me crazy, but give me a leatherbound agenda and juicy blue ink pen over a crisp Outlook or Google agenda any day.

An online calendar, though, has this advantage: it lets me know when my beau is out of town, making both of our lives a bit easier. Mr. A travels a lot for work, you see, and in the past when we tried to schedule anything in advance (a theater performance, a weekend out of town), it took a 20 minute conversation to sort out available dates, let alone pick one. He'd look through his conference schedules, I'd review my upcoming deadlines, one of us would check the website of whatever event or theater show we wanted to attend, we'd confirm, double check, etc.

Now I can simply click on his calendar and know when he's available.

That's how it worked for the first few months, at least.

Then, he started adding my name to common activities, which results in an automated email getting sent to me. "You've received an invitation: Opera at 7 pm. February 5. Would you like to accept? Click here: Yes/No/Maybe." Hardly a romantic date proposition, but it's nice to note that Google still allows for a touch of coyness, with the maybe button.

Love in the Digital Age, ey?

Well today, I started inputting events and sending him notifications. I mean, invitiations. First I added our upcoming travel -- San Fran in February and NY and Texas in March. Then I added a theater show we have tickets for, and some standing events like a monthly wine tasting.

Then I took it a step further and scheduled -- yes -- a kiss.

He's on a conference trip for the next few weeks, and what can I say. I miss my mister.

He has yet to reply. Keeping me on the edge of my seat, is he?

Was Google a necessary or useful tool, and will we need any help in getting that event off the ground? No and no. But am I smiling, knowing now that technology can, through a bit of whimsy, be subverted to suit my devilish ends?

My lips are sealed.

January 16, 2010

Choosing not to ask

Today I had two opportunities ripe for asking.

I passed them up.

I wasn't sacred or lazy, but I decided it was better not to. Read on, as I am curious to hear your opinion: Was I right? Should I have pushed those prices down, after all? When do you think it's better not to ask?

Here's the first situation:

After an ongoing battle with my bathtub drain, I caved and, once again, called a pro. He is my mom's contractor and an all around stellar person. I've know his family for years.

He charged $100 for a major unclogging job, which involved replacing fixtures, bringing out three snakes and fishing out a hairball that would make any cat tremble in terror.

I totally could have asked for a break. He's a friendly guy and a good business man. But I figured that so many people overcharge. The first plumber quoted me $187 for the simplest kind of procedure, and who knows how much this more complicated one would have cost. The plumber I ended up hiring for the first attempt, back in December, charged $50 and didn't solve anything. Now here was someone who got the job done. He took his time, he was thorough and determined, gave me advice for avoiding future clogs and charged what I believe to be a fair price, based on the two above cited rates.

Why not vote with my wallet, give him a signal I appreciate his fairness, by not asking him to reduce that price?

Now that I'm not asking absolutely daily anymore, I have the latitude to choose. And I'm liking it.

In fact, an hour later I did it again.

I drove to someone's house to pick up a set of drawers we desperately need in the bedroom. I've been looking for a while, but nothing was the right size, price or look. This one had it all. I spotted it on Craigslist the day before: antique, four drawers, a beautiful warm color, for $40.

I showed up, tested the drawers, asked about its history (it was the seller's as a boy, so it's at least 40, he said), and I said I'll take it.

"You said $40?" I checked.

"That's right," the man answered.

"Ok. I won't even try to haggle. I'm saying this because I always ask for discounts. I think you're the first person in years I haven't tried to negotiate with, on Craigslist. But I love it, it's exactly what I was looking for, the price is good, and it's just simpler that way."

"Ok."

Then things got a little tricky.

I started loading it in my car when it became clear it wasn't going to fit.

"Don't worry, I can play around with the seats or maybe stuff it in the trunk."

"Where do you live?" he asked.

I told him the neighborhood.

"You know what? I'll just load it into my truck and take it."

"What? No! That's not part of the deal." I offered to pay him more or still try to make it fit, and he answered he was eager to get rid of it and that was that. His wife was coming home in 20 minutes and they had to take off, so how about we left now so he could be back in time?

Yes, reader. He ended up packing it into his truck and making the half-hour round trip to leave it at my house. If you recall, something similar happened this summer, when I bought a massive bed frame and discovered it didn't fit inside my car. I didn't enter either situation hoping or expecting such help. Yet people stepped up.

Did this happen because I didn't negotiate and seemed generally stoked to buy the furniture he'd once loved but finally outgrew? Was it because I was a woman handling heavy lifting on her own? A combination?

I gave him a bottle of wine to say thanks.

This brings me back to a wistful thought I keep having: how nice it is when we don't have to ask, demand, threaten or implore. If salaries were even, if airlines didn't leave people trapped on runways, if prices and fees were reasonable, if people met their ends of bargains and didn't leave others hanging, if fees weren't levied for absurd reasons, if politicians were forthcoming and people were considerate and steaks were always cooked right and the like. Today I got a small taste of that. A day that ran smoothly without asking.

What a treat.

January 15, 2010

Keep me in mind as a job candidate?

[via iblogtoblog]

One of my contract gigs is about to wrap up. I enjoyed the work, but it's good timing because from now on I'm 100% focused on the dissertation. Editing and formatting is a bitch, I'm told. I also need to finish the intro.

Thus, as of next week, all outside work is on hold.

Someone who works for this company asked what I'm going to do when the job is over. She's a manager in a different section, and while I never worked with her, we've talked a few times and I heard good things about her.

Time to pitch!

I explained that after grad school is over I'm going to go back to what I was doing before: working as a consultant. I added that I liked that company so, of course, if it also be great to end up back there.

"Do you have enough consulting work to keep you busy?"

"I do. I mean enough to make a living, but I always want more. It's true that people aren't really outsourcing as much, given the state of the economy. But I have some relationships with clients to that go back years, so once they know me they're more likely to keep giving me work. Maybe your division could use an extra hand sometimes?"

"Do you have a card?"

"Could I send you my resume? If there's ever anything you need, I would love to help in any way I can. My experience covers more than just what I worked on here. I can also slice and dice and roast, not just parboil."

"Ug, I hate cooking."

"Perfect! Then dump it on me! I love it!"

Earlier, this would have stuck me as gauche, pushy. Because on top of not asking, I believed I wasn't supposed to announce that I'm anything more than competent.

But after you try inviting Valentino for coffee and seeking food off a stranger's plate, requesting a respected and approachable manager to keep you in mind for future openings just isn't scary. In fact, it's the only way to go.

January 14, 2010

How many Bloomin' Onions do you sell in a day?

[just looking at this picture makes me want to drive to the nearest Outback... via prnewswire]

Backtrack to Thursday.

Mr. A and I were craving red meat, so we went to Outback.

As the waitress handed us our menus, she asked if we wanted to order drinks and/or a Bloomin' Onion, which is a crispy, crunchy, tongue tickling ball o' allium cepa.

Even if you don't eat meat, I recommend going to this steakhouse just for the onion. Share with friends, or tackle it alone. (No, I don't own Outback stock.)

We said yes.

We ordered.

We ate.

We talked.

We laughed.

All was calm, all was bright.

And then I remembered that I hadn't asked.

On cue, the waitress approached with our check and before I knew what I was doing, the question escaped.

"How many Bloomin' Onions do you sell in a night?"

"A lot. I couldn't tell you exactly."

"But, ballpark? Does everyone order them?"

"I'd say every other person."

"Ok. Thanks."

I turned to Mr. A. "So what do you think that comes out to?"

I did a rough headcount and guessed there were about 40 people in the restaurant. If dinner lasts from 5 to 10, and each dinner seating lasts about an hour, and usually there are more than 40 people since we were eating late, then he figured that at most 120 people must order them.

"120? I would have guessed something like 500," I replied. "Minimum 300."

"Way too many. Maybe if some tables order two, it's more than 120, but that's what it works out to."

"Let's find out," I said.

We got up and went to the kitchen.

Our waitress happened to be walking out, and her smile faded for a moment. Were we about to complain? Did we forget something?

"We were about to ask someone in the kitchen how many of those onions you sell. We're total nerds," I explained. "He's been sitting there calculating a total number of onions sold in a night based on what you said -- 'every other person' -- and now we want to know if we got it right. Would you mind finding out? If you have a moment?"

(Oh, and I have this blog... but you're not supposed to know that...)

"I guessed it was around 120," Mr. A added.

She relaxed.

"Of course! I'll be right back with an answer for you."

Writing this up Sunday night, I realize it's about time for dinner. Hmm...

Mmmm...

I think I know what I need to do...

See you later!

Wait!? What? You want the answer?

She reported that they sold 80, but it was a slow night. So Mr. A was on the right track, and I clearly lost my objectivity (and math skills) when faced with such greasy goodness.

How To Negotiate Your Cable Bill

Cable bills are set to rise. Some will pay up. Others will opt out. And a few people, like Josh Smith, of Wallet Pop, have asked for a discount.

Check out this blog post, in which Smith posts a priceless transcript of his online sales chat. He got his cable bill down from $177 a month for cable, phone and Internet to $127. That savings of $50 a month adds up to $1,200 for the two-year period -- all for a 10 minute phone chat.

Even if you're not into cable savings, his strategies are good for many negotiation situations.

Here are a few snippets. He starts by clearly and comfortably stating what he wants, demonstrates knowledge of their system, and threatens consequences if they don't meet his request.
Josh_: Hi Sharmin
Josh_: Thanks, I am trying to make my cable bill a bit more affordable today after it increased $65 this month
Josh_: I was just on chat with an analyst named Jeff who offered me Jeff: if you would like to be put in to a price lock guarantee package the price would be 117.80 the first year of service then just a 5.00 increase in the second year of service
Josh_: but suggested I call in to the sales number for a better deal since I had been considering dropping a service or switching to U-Verse.
When Sharmin suggests he talk to Retention, he says he already has -- and the price is still too high. Note his buddy buddy attitude and his gratitude. By the bottom of this excerpt, she's clearly on his side, trying to win his consumer loyalty and make his day.
Josh_: Unfortunately Retention's price is higher than chat and they suggested I try here again before shopping around
Sharmin: I can see what I can do for you
Sharmin: seriously
Josh_: Thanks Sharmin, I really appreciate the help
Josh_: The best retention offered was 127.75 per month
Sharmin: let me have your phone number, I am sorry they keep bouncing you around....i also do retention backup, so I can give you the best rate
Sharmin: thanks, one moment, let me take a look
Josh_: OK take your time
Sharmin: I see the two year rate for the $117.80 rate, but it looks like Jeff missed your dvr service code which is $9.95
Josh_: gotcha
Sharmin: now, I can lock in the rate for 2 solid years with no $5 step up
Sharmin: 127.75 per month would be your rate for 2 solid years
Josh_: Sounds like a plan!
Josh_: Thanks Sharmin
Sharmin: not a problem, I can also backdate it to the date your last bill printed
Josh_: Wow, you rock!
That's what I call win-win.

Read the whole transcript, plus practical info about cable rates, here.

Today's asking update coming soon. But wanted to share this in the meantime.

Toodles!

Introducing the new Daily Asker


I've fiddled and whittled, and I think the format you see here is what it comes down to.

I am very grateful for each of your comments, and I hope you enjoy the new version as much as I am, so far.

That being said, I'm always open to suggestions. If there's something about this layout that doesn't work for you, I am eager to hear it. Whether it's a technical spec like browser or readability issues, or an aesthetic one, like where things go and how they strike you on a gut level, please let me know below.

Likewise, it would be nice to know if you think it's an improvement.

Carolyn wrote in with a lot of good questions and ideas.
May I start with some asking?: What is your goal in changing the design of your blog? Did you feel like it wasn't working with the old look and layout? What about it wasn't working? What was?
What I liked about the old site was that it reflected me -- colorful, irreverent, a little quirky. That's still me, but recently I've been craving simplicity, too. Vanilla, sure, but not plain vanilla. Vanilla mint, or some such slightly spicy undertone.

Practically, there were some features I wanted to introduce (see the Ask-o-logy recap on the left, and the Hot Links on the right), and this redesign gives me an opportunity to integrate them -- and point them out to you, now. So: Ask-o-logy has links to that month of analysis I did after the year of asking was over. And Hot Links will send you to cool stories, blog posts and other items I come across and want to point out ASAP.

I hope the new layout is as easy to use as it is useful. On the left sidebar are features that point inward, so to speak: archives, the ask-o-logy analysis, and categories. On the right are features that point out: links to other sites, social media and commenting tools.

One thing I've been contemplating is the practice of gendering blog layouts. Looking at prefab templates and studying what else is out there, I was amused (okay not really) by all the "female" and "woman" themed templates out there. Just like you can design a blog to have a certain color scheme or look, you can pick templates that have certain labels, like "music," "pets," "e-commerce" and the like. Interestingly, there are no "man" or "male" templates. So if you're a man, you can opt for themes like "cars" or "business," but if you're a woman you get special templates with soft fonts, pinks and purples, and flowers and/or unicorns? Perfect for writing your cute little musings.

(I'd be curious to find out what the editors of Sociological Images have to say about blog design -- hey, maybe I'll ask them what their take is!)

In any case, I did consider going for a more gender neutral style. Something along the lines of Problogger or Feministe. Pert. Professional. Cool. But I can't deny that my aesthetic tendencies lean decidedly toward the "feminine." I love this combo of black and bordeaux. I like serif fonts and sans serif.

I seek raises and raspberries.

I have strong aversions to institutional discrimination and slimy insects.

I love taking risks -- and, occasionally, bubble baths.

And anyone who has a problem with that can kiss my ask.

So, does the new page design convey all that? ;)

xoxo,

La Roxy

Please let me go on vacation, Jet Blue?

[via ffffound]

Just when I thought I had nothing to ask, leave it to an airline to make my day.

JetBlue was having an amazing winter sale that ended at midnight-- with $99 fares between NY and San Diego, each way. Mr. A and I haven't had a vacation together in too long, so we decided to escape for a long weekend.

The sale was expiring at midnight, and at 11:45 I entered their site. (Cutting it kind of close, but I'd be jeopardizing my status as pro procrastinator if I got there any earlier.)

I rapidly selected tickets for the best dates and prices (since not all times were at the sale price). Woke up Mr. A to confirm he could miss work for a few days. Entered all my info. Confirmed it. And clicked submit. Before midnight.

Only to have the purchase screen go blank.

I waited a minute in case it was loading. Then, I tried on another browser and got an error message:

There has been a communications problem. Data lines may be congested right now, or another issue may exist. Please try again later or contact our reservations center.

We apologize for the inconvenience.
The use of pronouns and verb tenses alone would make for a nice master's thesis, but don't get me started.

I called JetBlue and explained what happened: I was trying to book the sale fare when my screen went blank. I was definitely on the site before midnight. Did the transaction go through? Could they still apply the sale fares if it didn't?

"The sale ended more than an hour ago and our computers are down now."

"Can you see if my card went through?"

"Our system is updating. And the sale ended at midnight Mountain Time, not Pacific Time." REALLY!? Fine print: 103,392. Roxy: 0. "Call back in 20 minutes and someone will be able to search for your transaction."

20 minutes later I called back, found out my card hadn't been charged. But, by some miracle, those cheap tickets were still available. Everything else had shot up by $50 or even $200, but those particular dates and times were unchanged.

SCORE!!

Thanks, Jet Blue, if not for a soothing purchase transaction, then at least for keeping airfare prices reasonable.

January 12, 2010

Extension, please?


I fell asleep last night wondering what I'd ask for.

Felt my brain tighten in anticipation. What would it be?

It's a feeling I haven't had in a long time. So glad to be asking daily again.

And then, before noon, relief.

I approached two people who are managing projects I've been working on. And I did something uncharacteristic. I asked for an extension.

As a contract worker, it's critical to get things in on time. It matters to the employer's bottom line. Equally important, my reputation depends on it -- not to mention future gigs. (If you recall, I do some part-time work, while I finish the diss. Woman cannot live on balconies alone.)

But I've known both supervisors long enough that we relate as people, not just as employer and employee. That means they know I'm normally very punctual and they're familiar with the kind of work I deliver.

In the first case, I explained very frankly that I can finish on time, but it would be a much better product if I waited two more days for reasons X, Y and Z. And in the second case, I explained that preparing for the job took longer than normal (due to another person on the team getting replaced last minute), so if I could have a few more days, it would make my life easier.

Both immediately agreed.

Having time to get the work done beyond competently and sleep enough? A blessing.

A hectic week made easier by asking? A gem.

Flexible, enlightened managers? Priceless.

Result: gained a few extra days. They'll be happier with the result, and I had a few minutes to write this post!

New 'do

I feel like I just lopped off 12 inches of hair.

My site has had the same look since July 2008, and it's definitely time for a makeover.

The eventual plan is to migrate to my own domain, dailyasker.com, but that will have to wait until after I finish grad school (which is just around the corner).

In the meantime, this is what I came up with tonight.

What do you think???

Do you miss the raspberries or the green? Do you like the sleeker look? Or is it just blah? Are there any features you'd like to see included on this page (e.g. links to resources or book recommendations, some more interactive components, a Q and A page, more info about yours truly, more dialogue with facebook or twitter?)

Most importantly, does it make you want to read what I've written, leave comments and come back for more?

All reactions welcomed. I beseech you, gentle reader, to share your opinion below.

xo,

La Roxy

January 11, 2010

Are you French?


The first daily ask of the second era.

At 2 p.m. this afternoon I was walking from Chipotle to a friend's car, in a parking lot in the charming seaside locality of La Jolla, when I spotted a svelte, older woman with short hair. Very stylish hair. A small car. And a certain sense of flair.

My first thought: French.

"Do you think she's French?" I whispered to my friend.

"I don't know," she answered.

"Should I ask?" We'd just been talking about my goal of putting the "daily" back into Daily Asker. "Like I was saying over lunch?"

"Sure."

I approached the woman, said "Excuse me," opened my mouth to continue, and froze. What was I going to say? "Are you French?" That would sound a bit bizarre. Walking past her in a parking lot, seeing the back of her head and wanting to know her nationality. I didn't mind seeming weird or forward, but what if I inadvertently insulted her? Or creeped her out?

Maybe I could ask in rapid fire French, "Vous-etes francaise?" That way, if she didn't speak French she'd think I sneezed, and if she did, then what?

Think fast!!

"I think we've worked together before. On some translations? Are you French?" I asked.

"That's interesting. I do speak French, but I don't recognize you. Where do you think we met?" Interesting. An accent. A very subtle accent.

"I thought it was on a French translation, a few years back. You look familiar."

"Really? I'm not French, but I am from Europe. I think maybe it was someone else?"

I glanced at her car then I saw it: a bumper sticker, with a red cross and the name of her likely country of origin: "Suisse."

"Of course -- sorry about the confusion!"

"No problem!"

Results: After six months of sporadic asking, a helpful little refresher. Wondering what's in store for tomorrow!

Epiphany

This weekend, I told two people I met about The Daily Asker. One time at someone else's party, and other time at my own.

My pitch went something like this.

"I have this blog, called The Daily Asker, where I ask for things -- discounts, permission to do something odd or cool, an invitation, stuff like that. For example, [insert anecdote I think will interest that person]. I asked everyday for a year, but now I only do it when the moment is right, like a few times a week."

Hello? Something is seriously wrong with this picture.

How can I be The Daily Asker if I'm not asking daily?

When I wrapped up the year-long experiment, in July, I figured I could play with alternatives -- ask a few times per week, or take weekends off. Most of all, I wanted to take a break and reflect on the year's accomplishments, lessons and challenges.

Well, here I am, six months later, asking once or maybe twice per week. Taking ZERO risks.

Which shows how easy it is to grow complacent, even when you're committed to something.

Since I'm not about to rename this site The Occasional Asker, that simply means I need to get back on that wagon. Yee. Haw.

Asking daily -- EVERY DAY -- was what made this project sparkle. That pushed me to look for opportunities, obliterate my comfort zone, embark on new adventures and really, truly benefit in ways I had never imagined possible. On every front: personal, professional, psychological, material.

So starting today, I'll be asking daily again.

I may take a day off once in a while, which I didn't do last time around, but my goal will be to ask and write daily. I will be crazy busy finishing the dissertation and figuring out a post-graduation career direction, so I can't promise every posting will be exciting. But at least it will once again have the potential to be.

So check back regularly! And spread the word! The more people reading about asking, and the more people doing it, the happier we'll all be.

January 07, 2010

Turning rocks into wheels

Three recent askings have involved my seeking access to places I needed to be. Symbolic? Portentious? Musings, below the fold. But first:

1) Let me drive down this blocked road, soldier?

When Mr. A's parents were in town last week, we visited a local tourist destination: some tidepools next to an old lighthouse. Rather, they visited, because I had a cold so I dropped them off and sought refuge in a nearby cafe. When I returned to pick them up, the long and winding road leading down to the beach was roped off, and a real live soldier was standing in the way.

"Can I get through? I'm trying to pick someone up," I asked through my open window.

"No more room down there! All traffic needs to move forward," he replied. I think he was from the naval base. Uniformed, stalky and blond. A man. Yet just a boy.

"I'm just trying to pick someone up! I won't park. I promise!"

"You're really just picking someone up?"

"Yes! Tourists. They're waiting for me. And no cell reception, so I can't tell them to come up. Please!?"

"Fine. Go. Come right back. Go!!!" he yelled. A friendly yell, as in "scram before any other drivers see you and ask for the same favor."

Aye aye!

2) Free parking if I drop names?

A few months ago, I went to the Getty Villa, a museum in Malibu that specializes in Greek and Roman antiquity, and I ended up getting an epic case of food poisoning. The next day I called to let them know. A very apologetic manager told me that next time I go to the museum, I will get free parking, a $15 value.

"Tell anyone who's at the parking booth to speak with me," she said and gave me her name.

I went to the Getty center again this weekend, a day or two after the tidepool trip, and at the parking booth I began my explanation: "I had food poisoning a few months ago and [Name] told me I should get free parking. She said you should call her to confirm--"

"I'm just going to give you the pass. Because if you know her name, then you should definitely get free parking."

Dang.

So that's how it's done.

Well fabulous, darling.

Ta-ta.

3) Can I get by?

Just now, there was a group of people doing tai chi or some sort of slow paced martial art in a small enclosed patio. Which stood precisely between me and my destination. First thought: go around. Take an extra 4 minutes but don't disrupt the workout. Second thought: they're taking a break. They're not actually doing the moves, just warming up or cooling down. Why not give it a shot. It will be good for their concentration. Hehe.

"Do you mind if I swing behind you?" I asked the instructor.

"Hmm, I dunno," he joked. "You're lucky we haven't picked up our weapons yet. I think we can let you through."

Namaste!

So. Why did I clump these three requests together? Because they happened days apart. And because access and obstacles have been on my mind lately. In the broader sense of those words.

All the professional questions stewing in my mind could be phrased in terms of access. Between me and my objective -- namely, a satisfactory job post-graduation in my chosen industry -- there are certain obstacles: the current economy, the weak market for my industry in the city where I live, the sad fact that my academic preparation is in a whimsical but totally irrelevant field, and several other forces I won't bore you with.

For a long time, I believed that solution was to blast through obstacles, or perhaps circumvent them, by forging the safest and surest path to get to where I want. Learn the right skills, put the right kinds of experiences on my resume, develop a network of mentors, and generally excel. That should make it easier for me to reach my goal. Right?

[sissy-phus]

Today, I'm seeing things differently.

Say you're pushing a rock up a hill and it keeps rolling back down. You persevere, look for the gentlest slope up the hill, invest in quality hiking shoes. Maybe you even devise a contraption that will help ease the burden, or ask for help in pushing the rock up the hill. Soon, six people are standing behind you and you're all pushing pushing pushing, and the rock starts to move a little more steadily, a little more smoothly, and you think you might make it. And then it slips again.

Is the burden too heavy for you? Is the mountain too big? Are you a wimp? Or are you merely mortal?

So you stop.

You determine you are wasting your time. You're not about to become a character in someone else's myth.

And you drill a hole through that rock, push a pole through the hole, attach a platform through the pole, and ride that rock down the hill.

[this rocks!]

You've turned the rock into a wheel.

Who knows what's at the bottom of the hill?

(Another option is step to the left or right, let the rock barrel downward without you. Even if it crushes your toes. Get out of the goddamn way. Then, lay down, tuck your hands under your head, study the cloud formations, catch your breath and smile, hitchhike to Berkeley and open a taco stand.

Who's to say you should be pushing that rock in the first place?

Who's to say your destination is at the top of the hill and not behind a taco stand in Berkeley?

Only you're better at eating tacos than making them, so you'll take Option One, the surprise at the bottom of the hill.)

Instead of obsessing over obstacles and means of access -- where I want to be, how to get there and what's stopping me -- I'm beginning to recalibrate. I'm trying to identify where I'd land if I didn't struggle. Maybe I'd be much happier, even if it's nebulous from this vantage point.

Not to say I'm giving up. Not to say I'm ditching the rock. Not yet, at least. But I am making sure I still want to end up on the same mountain I did 10 years ago. I'm asking myself the questions I didn't think of asking, before. I am -- well, yes, by golly -- I guess I'm finally getting a clue:

The most important questions are the ones you ask yourself.

January 04, 2010

Wanderlust: 20-something blogs I find worthwhile


Here are three things you should know now.

1) You can receive The Daily Asker in your inbox whenever I post an update. Just enter your email address in the box on the right, under Free Delivery, and presto! (In case it wasn't clear what why that box is there.)

2) I'm throwing in a few ads here and there. If you ever find yourself in the mood to help me cover server costs, you know what to do. (I'm not actually asking, since that would be against the service terms. Just letting you know there will be some non-La Roxy written content in clearly marked boxes which, if interacted with, will result in a reduction of maintenance expenses for yours truly.)

3) New links!! I've compiled a list of almost 30 blogs and websites I enjoy visiting. Perhaps you'll find something here you love, too! I'm including a brief overview below, and links are permanent addition to the right column under "Wanderlust."

Brazen Careerist: A lot of practical advice that routinely makes me realize how much I have to learn -- and how I could go about learning it.

Chocolate in Context: You like chocolate? You like context? Then this blog is for you.

The HR Capitalist: Cutthroat times require cutthroat measures. A recent post begins: "Have you ever noticed how bad a lot of Americans are at negotiating?" Read on...

Daily Puppy: 24/7 adorability

Endless Knots: Smart blog on a mix of topics by a smart -- what else? -- blogger!

Everyday Trash: Takes recycling to a whole new level. Check out these paper shoes and phone-booth-come-library

Evil HR Lady: Funny and savvy advice about life, work, and the working life.

Feministe: You probably already knew about this site, and the next one, but just in case.

Feministing: See above.

FFFFOUND
: purdy. real purdy. (source for the image i opened with -- and for more images on this blog in the future, come to think of it.)

Flowing Data: Links to and discusses data that have been represented in various visually compelling manners (charts, graphs, pictograms and more). Read, learn, question, be inspired.

Galima: Rarely updated, but useful when it happens. Negotiation insights from a UC Berkeley prof.

Program on Negotiation: Good advice about a mix of business topics that revolve around my favorite of them all. From Harvard Law School.

Ideas in food: Interesting eats in experimental arrangements. Makes you think, if not necessarily salivate.

Little Baby Bird: Take one little girl with a penchant for princess get-ups and a mom who's a great writer and photographer, put them together and cuteness ensues. Recently: Snow White in my kitchen.

Make Use Of: A very make-useful site. Lots of tips for increasing productivity, having fun and generally making life better. Coolius!

My Marrakesh: Totally stokes my Orientalist fantasies. Crushable fabrics, roaming expats, long soirees and everything else an aspiring wanderluster could desire.

Neatorama: Occasional procrastination destination.

Overlawyered: Lurid, i.e. satisfying.

Settle It Now: Great advice, ideas and provocations from a negotiation expert. This post offers 10 (dispute) resolutions for 2010. Many more worth mentioning.

Sociological Images: Intriguing and spot-on deconstructions of the images that shape our world, and the world that produced those images. A must visit.

synthesis: The writer's intro: "I was born in Tanzania, am Canadian and now live in the US Pacific Northwest. I have traveled and worked in many countries around the world. This has shaped my thinking profoundly." That was enough to stoke my curiosity, and I wasn't disappointed.

Tartelette: Yummy recipes, lovely images, and lavender. What more could a foodie with a raspberry fetish ask for?

The Shot: A coffee blog, like a true shot of espresso, should be short, dense, nutty and never overroasted. This page does it right.

Do you have any favorites? On food, careers, negotiation, visual culture, thoughts and ideas, or your own preferred topic? Share below. And if you have a blog or website, share that too!

3 parking tickets, 3 askings. Let the games begin.

[I feel your pain! via seanfuture.blogspot.com]

If you wanted to appeal a parking ticket, what would be the best way to go about it?

Should you:
a) Look for inaccuracies in the way the ticket was written and argue that those render the citation invalid or untrustworthy?
b) Assert you had a parking permit properly displayed at the time the ticket was issued, which means you shouldn't have gotten cited in the first place? (aka a sorta, half, almost, goosebelly grey lie) (ok, fine, big fat lie)
c) Simply ask: tug at the appeal decider's heartstrings with an absurdly touching story about a preemie, then request clemency?
Ever in the pursuit of truth, your dastardly asker has decided to obtain not one but THREE tickets in December, so she could test each of these methods.

That's right. I was so excited to bring you the latest and greatest in parking ticket appeal techniques that between December 1 and December 4, I acquired three whole tickets. The first was for parking in my own driveway. The second two were for letting the meter expire.

Because the people deserve to know: Which method wins?

1) The "Invalid Ticket" method

I was cited for parking in my own driveway and touching the sidewalk with two wheels. In my appeal letter, I cited California Vehicle Code and tried to undermine the officer's competence.

CVC states that if the VIN (vehicle identification number) is visible on the dashboard, it must be written on the citation. My citation did not include the VIN, even though it is visible. Perhaps the ticket is invalid? Perhaps the officer was sloppy? Here's what I wrote:
I am writing to appeal citation number [###], issued on [##/##/####] at 8:40 a.m. I believe this citation is not valid for two reasons. California Vehicle Code section 40202 states that the vehicle identification number (VIN), if visible through the windshield, must be reported on a citation. Here is that code, for your reference.

The notice of parking violation shall also set forth the vehicle license number and registration expiration date if they are visible, the last four digits of the vehicle identification number, if that number is readable through the windshield, the color of the vehicle, and, if possible, the make of the vehicle. The notice of parking violation, or copy thereof, shall be considered a record kept in the ordinary course of business of the issuing agency and the processing agency and shall be prima facie evidence of the facts contained therein.

My VIN is visible through the windshield, yet it was not included on the citation, rendering that ticket noncompliant with California law.

2) Given that Officer [XXX] did not notice or record the VIN number, I do not know how anything he or she observed or reported on this ticket is trustworthy, hence presumed accurate. That is, if Officer [XXX] did not correctly record the VIN, how do we know he or she was not rushed, did not make other mistakes in issuing this ticket, including the very observation that my car was touching the sidewalk?

I have included two pieces of photographic evidence. First is a photo of the VIN number, and second is a second citation, obtained two days later, in which the VIN is reported. I provided the first so that anyone reviewing my case can see that the VIN is visible through the windshield, and the second image to show that another officer had no trouble reading these last four numbers.

Based on this information, I ask you to dismiss this ticket. Thank you for your time.

Sincerely,

La Roxy

2) The "Lying Scum" method

Next, I got cited for having an expired meter in an area of a college campus where, if you possess a special permit, you can park for free around the clock.

A friend gave me his permit number (since it's not restricted to a single car) and I put that on the citation appeal form. He said if I need to go in to a hearing, he'll let me bring his permit. (Was the permit actually there? If a ticket and a permit walk into a bar and no one notices either of them, are they really there? Are any of us really every "here" or "there?" What is the meaning of life? Mommy?!)

Here is what I wrote:
Multi-use permit displayed on dashboard. Number provided in form above. Further documentation gladly provided.
3) The "Preemie in Danger" method

[via getty.com]

The last ticket I got, the very next day, was also for an expired meter. I had no good explanations or surprise revelations to resort to, and so I tried a different approach. The "Have mercy on me and indirectly participate in my good deed," approach. Here is what I wrote:
I am requesting clemency, mercy, or any leeway you can grant. I always dutifully either pay the meters or use a multi-purpose permit. That day I was on my way to my car, to move it, and on the way I stopped to say hi to someone who is extremely talkative. I realize I could have cut her off and gone to my car, but she was telling me about her new premature baby and I felt bad to say, "Gotta run! Hope she survives! Tell me another time!"

I know it's ridiculous to ask for mercy for something so trivial, but if there is any way you can forgive this, or give me a break of some sort, it would be a huge relief.

I was about to pay it, but I realized that I could at least try asking first.

Thank you,
La Roxy
Three tickets. Three askings. Results TBA.