Sunday, March 25, 2007

I'm in love with Jon Stewart

Every time I watch the Daily Show, every time I watch Jon interact with the people around him, I fall a little more in love with him. (btw, I do NOT mean this literally) Aside from his amazing wit and enviable ability to think on his feet, it's clear (at least to me) that he genuinely cares about the people with whom he works.

Let me ask you a question. Did you ever have a manager who did everything possible to prevent talented people from succeeding in the greater organization? You probably know what I mean - the boss who guards his or her staff like a bulldog, not in a positive protective way, but with the goal of ensuring that good people never get a chance to get promoted or moved into a more challenging position. I've worked at companies where that misplaced sense of ownership was so rampant (and ultimately so damned destructive - because good people eventually leave companies where they feel trapped or unappreciated) that we were forced to include the number of promotions out of a department as a positive factor in the executive and senior management bonus plans. Imagine this: the only way we could pry good people away from these pathetic, insecure bosses was to PAY them extra money if they encouraged their employees' growth and success. "What the hell?!" you might ask. And all I can do is nod my head in agreement, and assure you that I saw this happen more times than I can count during my tenure at several large, successful organizations. I'd leave work after a session with one of those managers, and wonder if I'd somehow died and was now living the Myth of Sisyphus in some weird version of Hell, constantly rolling the same damned boulder up the hill, only to have it roll back down the second I'd gotten it up there. Why was it so obvious to me, with my B.A. degree in American History and no business school experience at all, that ENCOURAGING THE GROWTH AND SUCCESS OF PEOPLE IN AN ORGANIZATION KEEPS IT HEALTHY? Beats the hell out of me...

So look at Jon Stewart as a manager (which, I assume, he is). Stephen Colbert, once a reporter on the Daily Show, now has his own highly successful show (and Jon Stewart is an executive producer for the Colbert Report). Steve Carell, once a reporter on the Daily Show, has an amazing career in movies as well as starring in one of the funniest comedies on broadcast TV these days - The Office. Rob Corddry and his brother Nate are also Daily Show graduates, both having moved on to rolls in other TV shows. I'm sure there are more examples, but you get the point.

I'm not presuming to imply that Jon is directly responsible for the success these other guys have achieved. But I feel pretty certain that he has encouraged them, that he continues to encourage everyone who contributes to the success of the Daily Show, to hone their skills and increase their competence. And I'd bet that he has never tried to hold anyone back from pursuing new opportunities, even if it means a loss of talent in his organization. My guess is that Jon understands that a healthy organization needs not only to nurture and reward talent, but also to let people move on when it's time for them to do so.

So beyond his awesome sense of humor and timing, his not-to-be missed imitations of our president and vice-president, his courage in facing many guests whose hostility and anger is palpable to most viewers, and his very occasional fits of giggles when it's clear he's just loving someone else's performance, I love Jon Stewart because I think he's exactly the kind of manager I dreamed about working with when I was still able to work.

Yep. I'm in love with Jon Stewart (even though I'm old enough to be his mom).

Saturday, March 24, 2007

My son, Zack

I know most parents say this a lot, but today, right at this moment, I feel the impact of these words more than I ever have in the past: Zack is an incredible human being, and I love and respect him more than I can find words to say.

There's no reason to go into the situation that prompted me to make this post. But watching him wrestle with a difficult, painful problem, and seeing the amazingly mature result of his deliberations, fills me with love and deep respect for him.

The majority of parents would tell you that they love their child(ren). But I've often wondered how many, if asked this question, would also say that they like their adult children. I'm definitely in the 'love-and-like' camp, and being able to add the word 'respect' in the mix is a real gift.

He's quite a guy.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Cooking Cabbage

Last night, I made something called "Savory Cabbage Strudel". I found the recipe because we had two heads of cabbage in the refrigerator, both delivered in the bushel of organic vegetables that's delivered to our house every week, and I was determined to use them, rather than give them away (or worse, dump them directly into our compost bin). The recipe involved saute-ing a bunch of veggies and fresh herbs, rolling the mixture up in phyllo dough and baking the resulting 'strudels' for about a half hour. In retrospect, I'd pump up the onion, add garlic and a few more herbs to the mix, but overall, the strudels turned out to be quite tasty. Whew! No more guilt about wasted cabbage!

So here's the thing. I'm not really just writing about my Culinary Success With Cabbage, but more about how important it is to push myself to try new things these days. I mean, I have dozens and dozens of tried-and-true recipes, some that I've been making for three decades by now, and it's often so much easier to pull one of them out of the file rather than attempt something new.

This whole tey-something-new-in-cooking thing happened when we first got involved in Community Supported Agriculture (CSA), and subscribed with Full Belly Farm, a truly wonderful CSA that serves the Bay Area. I had no trouble with the contents of the summer and fall veggie boxes; after all, I'd been making stuff with tomatoes and zucchini and stuff like that for a long time. But as we moved into winter vegetables, and I found myself gazing at four or five leeks (yep, I'd never cooked leeks before) or celery root or Jerusalem artichokes, I suddenly realized that I'd either have to learn some new tricks or give away half of what had turned up in the box every week. As it is, I do have to gift someone with the kale and chard that comes every winter, because David, whose mother had a huge vegetable garden when he was a kid, has eaten enough of those greens for several lifetimes, and refuses to eat them anymore. But I really wanted to figure out how to use some of the ingredients I'd never used before, so I pulled out three or four of my vegetarian cookbooks and, among other things, discovered a killer recipe for potato-leek soup that has become a new 'old favorite' around here.

But every recipe I found for cabbage either bored the hell out of me, or sounded ghastly, or was too boring for words - until I found the Savory Cabbage Strudel somewhere online. We both agreed that this was a keeper, and I think we'll be adding cabbage to the list of veggies we eat at least semi-regularly.

Which doesn't sound like much of a step into Doing New Things, I know, but the experience was a reminder that I really do need to seize every opportunity that presents itself for new and interesting stuff to try. Hell, even if the new thing doesn't end up being all that interesting, at least I'll be open to possibilities. Once that happens, the likelihood of stuff being fun and interesting increases, I think. And heaven knows, I need as much fun and interesting-stuff in my life as possible these days.

So. A new mantra of sorts has arrived in my life. Whenever I find myself reluctant to try something new, I will repeat the phrase 'cooking cabbage' in my head - a reminder to be open to the possibility that something very tasty might be waiting out there to be experienced!

Friday, March 02, 2007

Feeling sorry for myself today

Most of the time, I can talk myself out of starting my own little pity-party. I remind myself of how lucky I am for dozens of reasons. I live in one of the most beautiful places in the country. Our home is comfortable, filled with color and quirky things everywhere you look (like the wood flying pig we bought years ago in Carmel Valley, or the little wood birdcage where we've put a ceramic fish instead of a bird). For the moment (who knows what will happen next month or next year?) we can afford to pay for health care coverage, and we have access to an HMO that was rated the best in the country by Consumer Reports last year - no small thing when one takes medications that would cost close to $3k a month without insurance. We're warm in the winter and cool in the summer. We see and hear songbirds every day. Signs of spring come early, in February, when the daffodils burst open and the camellia bushes are covered in magenta blossoms.

I could go on with the list, but you get the point, I'm sure.

In the scheme of things, compared to 99% of the people living on the planet today, I have no reason to feel sorry for myself. But I do.

I miss my work so much. I even miss getting up at 5 a.m. and starting my arduous commute to Silicon Valley 40 minutes later, just to avoid the traffic back-up on the approach to the Bay Bridge. (I don't miss having to stay in the office until 6:30 p.m. for the same reason, or working in a company that demanded "24/7" of its managers, though.) I guess the thing I miss the most, smarmy though it might sound, is the connection with a diverse and interesting group of people and the clear knowledge that my work actually helped a lot of them survive the rigors of life in the DotCom universe a little bit better than if I'd not been around. I miss knowing that I was someone people could trust. At one point, my boss called me "The soul of the company" (okay, he said it as kind of a guilt-trip, when I was thinking about quitting, but still - I like knowing that someone valued my integrity).

Hmmm. So as I read what I've written here, it looks like my Ego is what's hurting, doesn't it? I'm such a competitive being, and I've lost the ability to compete in the one place where the ol' Ego had the opportunity to shine, to get all kinds of positive feedback, all kinds of strokes. So when I tell myself I'm feeling sorry for myself because I have Multiple Sclerosis, that's really bullshit, isn't it? My poor little Ego is feeling neglected - that's what's really going on here.

So maybe the way out of this rat-hole is finding a way to soothe that part of me and find contentment elsewhere?

Oy. An AFOG (Another F***ing Opportunity for Growth) appears. Maybe I can take up the challenge and do some real work around this not-so-new- but-still-uncomfortable life of mine? If I do, at least I'll stop whining, even if I only whine inside my head? Who knows? But stay tuned, 'cause I'll probably end up bitching about the process here!