Monday, March 30, 2015

Quarterly Book Updates: Part 1

 At the beginning of the year, I made myself a reading goal. I told myself -- informally -- that I'd read 50 books in 2015.

I'm not off to a great start, I admit. We are now about a quarter of the way done with the year and I have read a total of 5 books.

Not so good. That means, in order to complete my goal, that I'll have to read 45 books from April to December. That's like 5 books a month. Rather than, you know, 5 books in three months.

I'll start by making some excuses for myself:

Excuse #1 -- The first book I read took practically a full month to read because it was really hard to get through. 

Excuse #2 -- I've been picking up extra hours at my second job because we lost a couple of employees and so the staff is a little thin right now.

Excuse #3 (the most honest excuse) -- I am fucking lazy.

So there we go.

Now, I'm going to go through the books that I've read and give a short review of them. If you like books then maybe you'll find something new for yourself to read. If you don't like books, then I'm sorry but you might want to skip the rest of this post. It's going to be about books.

1. Inherent Vice by Thomas Pynchon

Cherie Rating: Banging my head on a hard surface
Standard Rating: ***/***** 

I wrote a longer post about this book. You can read it here. Basically, I was excited to read this book because it seemed like a funny thriller set in the '70s amid a haze of marijuana. And, honestly, that's basically what it was.

However, there were so, so many characters. A character would pop up for like one scene in the beginning of the book and then pop up towards the end of the book and suddenly they are important to the whole plot. It didn't help that most of the characters had really stupid names that were hard to remember. 

The plot itself was interesting, but pretty convoluted. I thought maybe it was just me and that I was an idiot for finding it difficult to keep up, but I read some reviews on the book and a lot of readers were saying the same thing.

There's no question that Pynchon is a good writer, but this book ended up becoming more of a chore than something to enjoy. I still want to see the movie.

2. Yes Please by Amy Poehler

Cherie Rating: Starry eyed; in awe of this woman and her talent
Standard Rating: ****/***** 

Amy Poehler is one of my heroes. She is so, so talented and such a great, strong female role model. I don't know if she thinks of herself that way, but I'm just so blown away by all she has accomplished and how she is so completely herself and how unashamed she is for that.

She doesn't apologize for being a working mother. She talks about her achievements and her mistakes about equally and she doesn't pretend she's a perfect person -- but that doesn't make her any less proud of her own accomplishments.

Also, being a huge SNL fan, I got a little giddy when she would talk about her time there. Seth Meyers, who co-anchored Weekend Update with Poehler and with whom she is good friends, also wrote a chapter and it's just wonderful.

She also talks about her "Parks and Recreation" cast mates and that made me very emotional. I'm a ridiculous person (or maybe just an obsessed comedy fan, idk).

Mostly, I took away from this that Amy Poehler is an incredibly strong woman who you shouldn't fuck with. I'd love to be friends with her.

3. Little Bird of Heaven by Joyce Carol Oates

Cherie Rating: NO.
Standard Rating: **/***** 

I bought this book on sale at Barnes and Noble probably 5 years ago but I never read it. I figured my book challenge would be the perfect time to read some of those books that I bought on a whim and never ended up reading.

That was a bad idea.

In my English class senior year of high school, we read a short story by Joyce Carol Oates called "Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?" It was one of my favorite things we read that year and it made a huge impression on me. Not long after I read that story, I picked up Little Bird of Heaven and another book, Them, by Joyce Carol Oates.

Little Bird of Heaven made me want to throw it out the window of a moving car and then let other cars run over it. The story line itself was decent. It's about the murder of a woman. There are two suspects in the murder -- her husband and her lover. The story is told from the perspective of her lover's daughter, Krista Diehl, and her own son, Aaron Kruller.

Krista Diehl is an ignorant teenager. Aaron is kind of an asshole. Aaron is a little more sympathetic than Krista, but neither are very likable. Krista especially is frustrating. She constantly criticizes her mom and believes her dad (always referred to as "Daddy" which drove me up the wall -- you're 15, stop) could never in a million years have committed the murder. Even though "Daddy" is by all means a selfish bottom feeder.

The ending of the book was so anti-climactic. I just really couldn't even care about it by the time I got to the end, but it was one of those things where I kept hoping the book would get better and by the time I realized it wouldn't, I was already 2/3 of the way done.

I'm probably going to give Oates a shot to redeem herself in my eyes because that short story was so good, but ugh. What a waste of time.

4. The Kid Table by Andrea Seigel

Cherie Rating: Constant page turning
Standard Rating: ****/***** 

Andrea Seigel wrote one of my favorite books, Like the Red Panda. I read it when I was a freshman in high school and it was probably the first "edgy, young adult" book I ever read. By "edgy," I mean that it talked about actual issues like suicide and also the narrator used the F word.

I'm not sure if it's weird that I'm a 25-year-old who still loves young adult fiction, but I decided to read this after reading the massacre that was Little Bird of Heaven and I'm happy to say that this book brought me a lot of relief and happiness.

This book, similar to Inherent Vice, also has a lot of characters. The protagonist is Ingrid Bell, a high school senior who still has to sit with her teenage/young adult cousins at "the kid table" at family gatherings. This is a coming of age novel if I've ever seen one and it's told from the perspective of a flawed but intelligent narrator.

Although there's probably a lot going on in Ingrid's life, The Kid Table focuses completely on her interactions with her family and her cousins. The family is imperfect and quirky. The book will make you laugh, but it will also tear at your heartstrings. There's a lot of subplots between the cousins and aunts/uncles, but I think that Seigel ties it up perfectly at the end. 

I was very pleased with this and, if you like reading about teenagers and their transitions to adulthood, I wholeheartedly recommend it.

5. Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell

Cherie Rating: Actual speechlessness
Standard Rating: *****/***** 

This is another "young adult" novel, I guess. 

I read Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell at the end of last year and found it absolutely charming and simultaneously heartbreaking. Rowell is an author who very much understands teenagers and how they think. 

Fangirl is honestly a book that I very much relate to. It's about a girl, Cath Avery, who is just heading to college. Her twin sister Wren wants to distance herself from Cath a little bit and start her own life. That leaves Cath by herself in a dorm room with a roommate who comes and goes at all hours. On top of that, her roommate's boyfriend (or friend, Cath isn't really sure) keeps hanging out in their dorm even when her roommate is gone.

Cath has trouble connecting with people in person. She would rather spend all her free time in front of her computer writing fan fiction. Cath is a well-known author of fan fiction for a book series about Simon Snow, which is basically like Harry Potter with the whole magic kids at a magic school thing. She is well-known in this fandom and her fiction is read by thousands of Simon Snow fans from across the globe.

This book is basically about Cath coming to terms with college, her family, and learning to branch out and make friends through actual human contact.

Although Cath and I are in some ways very different, I related to this character more than I've related to any character in a very long time. Our family lives are totally different and I haven't written fan fiction since high school, but that's definitely where I started with writing. My FanFiction.Net profile still exists and sometimes I go back to it to reminisce/laugh at my teenage self.

Beyond a love of writing, Cath and I have very similar personalities when it comes to interacting with people. There was this point where Cath was thinking about how glad she was that her dorm was pretty much empty, how she preferred to be alone, etc. At one point, Cath is too afraid to go to the dining hall by herself and she ends up just eating a bunch of protein bars, one of which she takes to the bathroom to eat so her roommate doesn't see.

I feel like part of Cath's issue is self-esteem, but the majority of it seems like good old fashioned social anxiety. I've diagnosed myself with social anxiety disorder. I'm like 99% sure I have it. The thought of meeting new people and having to interact with them socially makes me incredibly, incredibly nervous. And I think that Rowell did a great job at explaining the emotions behind that kind of fear.

Of course, Cath does open up throughout the book. It wouldn't be a young adult novel if there wasn't a lot of growing on the part of the protagonist. I really just think the world of this author for presenting such real characters. Between this book and Eleanor and Park, I am just completely in awe.

So that is my first quarter of the year book update. Has anyone read any of these? Any recommendations for me? I have 45 books to read over the next 9 months so I'll take any suggestions I can get!

Monday, March 23, 2015

You Might Be An Annoying Customer If...

Do you guys remember when Jeff Foxworthy was a popular Southern comedian in the '90s? Do you remember the "You might be a redneck if..." jokes?

Well, I'm here with a new twist on that old joke. Only I'm not going to pretend I'm kidding with these.

As someone who has spent the better part of the last 10 years working in various types of customer service positions (by "various" I mean two -- the pizza business and the insurance business), I have encountered a plethora of annoying types of customers. 

Today, I'm going to share some of those annoyances. This might help someone by making them realize that they're actually an annoying customer and that they should probably cut that crap out. Here we go.

You might be an annoying customer if... you think you know more about my job than I do. 

I don't know how many times I will be talking with a policyholder at work who tells me, "I work in customer service. I know how this works." Or "I've worked for an insurance company. Don't try to tell me..."

This is one of my number one pet peeves.

Yes, maybe you've worked a similar type of job. But you probably haven't worked for the same company and you're probably wrong about whatever it is you think you know. Unfortunately, every company operates differently and unless you're working my position at my company at this very moment (because rules and statutes change, so I don't care if you worked there five years ago) then this really isn't a valid argument.

Sorry. You're just wasting both my time and yours because I'm not suddenly going to change my mind about what I'm telling you just because you used to work for an insurance company.

You might be an annoying customer if... you complain just to get free stuff.

Complaining actually very often does get you free stuff. This doesn't work as well with insurance as it does in the food service industry, so I'll primarily be focusing there for this one.

Recently, my roommate/coworker/friend (she wears many hats) has had to deal with this one customer who just won't stop complaining about our product. The conversation played out a little like this:
Customer: I just picked up my food and the green peppers on the pizza weren't cooked. 
Roommate: I'm sorry about that. We can remake your order if you would like.
Customer: Well, I'm already home now.
Roommate: I can give you a credit for the next time you order.
Customer: The cheese wasn't even melted. It was basically raw.
Roommate: I'm sorry. I'm going to put in a $20 credit for the next time you order so you'll get a free pizza.
Customer: It was just really bad.
After a certain point, what are you expecting? Rambling on about how bad it is doesn't change the fact that our resolution is going to be one of two choices. You either get your food remade now or you get your next order free. It's a pretty easy concept, but I'm pretty sure some of these people think we're going to hand them a key to the store or something because of a mild inconvenience.

Also, this customer in particular seems to be very into free stuff. When she'd originally placed her order, she'd complained to me about how chewy her wings were the last time she'd ordered. And when she came to pick up her order, she parked her car right in the middle of two parking spots (her car was smack in the middle of the lines) in a spot directly in front of the door. I'm glad she's so important that she had to use two parking spots. The next week, she redeemed her credit and proceeded to complain yet again about a free pizza to which we ended up giving her another credit so she could get a free pizza for her free pizza that she didn't like. There's a point where we're going to stop giving her credits, but I think she just should stop ordering entirely.

This particular complaint leads right into my next point...

You might be an annoying customer if... you keep coming back even though you hate the company/product.

I've experienced this type of customer at both of my jobs. There's always going to be people who bad mouth the company or the product every single time they interact with you. And I just don't understand why these people would rather complain than just find another place to do business.

For example, "Every time I order from you, I hate it because  ______ (insert: food is cold, product is expensive, received incorrect product, etc)."

I don't give companies very many chances to fuck up before I just move on and take my business elsewhere. If I go to a particular restaurant and have bad service two times in a row, I'm probably not coming back. At least not for the foreseeable future. I'm not going to make a huge scene to the manager about what a travesty my experience was, but I'm just probably not going to come back.

Some people refuse to stop doing business with the company despite always finding the experience to be negative. As much as you don't want to lose business when you work in customer service, there comes a point when you want to tell these people to just go somewhere else. Of course, you can't do that but oh... do you want to.

You might be an annoying customer if... you keep changing your mind.

This one I understand to a degree. Sometimes there are so many different things that you want and it makes it hard to choose.

But I swear, if you call up three times in ten minutes to change your order again, I might actually roll my eyes so hard that I strain a muscle. Please make your decision for what you want before you order. If you need to hear about the specials then I will tell them to you, but please make your mind up before you decide on something. This is once again wasteful of my time and also of yours.

These are just a few complaints that I have about certain types of customers. In general, you encounter more good customers than bad customers in most different types of customer service jobs (I'd assume). Unfortunately, it's the bad ones that are most memorable.

Do you have any points to add?

Monday, March 16, 2015

Elementary: Best Friends

This post is the fourth in a series about my elementary school experiences. Please click here for the full series.

Best friends in elementary school aren't always really "the best."

In kindergarten, I met my first ever "best friend." Her name was Jordan. She had red hair and she rode my bus. Having not grown up with siblings or with any kids around really, I didn't know what to expect as far as socialization. I thought it was totally normal that my best friend was mean to me and would sometimes punch me in the arm if she was angry.

Luckily, I didn't have to endure a "friendship" with Jordan for very long because we moved near the end of my kindergarten year.

I met my second best friend in first grade. Her name was Sarah and she wasn't that much nicer than Jordan. To be fair, I'm not sure if I was any nicer than she was. We were six at the time, so I was probably a little shit too.

Sarah and I went to Girl Scouts together and Sarah's mom was the troop leader. Looking back, my mom and I were a little bit mean about Sarah and her mom because both of them were built like linebackers and my mom said that poor Sarah never had a chance with a mom who looked like that. We never said anything to their faces of course, but it really didn't need to be said at all. Yeah, I definitely wasn't a perfect angel.

Anyway. The first "issue" I recall having with Sarah is when we had to draw outlines of each other in Girl Scouts. We each had this huge sheet of paper. We were instructed to pair up and trace each other's bodies to the paper. I don't remember exactly what the point of this exercise was, but I know I wasn't very good at it.

Sarah did a fine job outlining me, but I did a terrible job with her. Basically, my hand was very unsteady and a trace that should have looked like this:

Ended up looking more like this:

And do you know what Sarah did? She cried. She bawled and threw a fit because of how bad my drawing was. If anyone should have been upset, it should have been me. No six-year-old wants to find out that they have absolutely no future in art or as the person who does the chalk outlines in crime scene investigations. That was two careers to cross off the list before I even learned my multiplication tables.

Anyway, I remember Sarah uttering something like, "IS THAT WHAT I REALLY LOOK LIKE?" To which I responded with the six-year-old equivalent of, "Are you kidding? I'm just a shitty artist."

Sarah ended up being so mad that she didn't speak to me for the rest of the day. And her mom actually never treated me as nicely after that. I think they were for some reason convinced that I was out to sabotage Sarah when I really just sucked at holding a pen to paper.

The final nail in the coffin of our friendship came sometime later while we were in the cafeteria for lunch at school. I can't for the life of me remember why, but my entire class was being punished with a "silent lunch" because we'd all been demons in the classroom that day. "Silent lunch" is as it sounds. We weren't allowed to talk and be social at lunch because we were being punished.

So I sat there, attempting to mind the teacher even though it was difficult for my chatty little self. I remember that the lunch choices that day were hamburger or hot dog. Sarah opted for the hamburger where I chose the hot dog.

As I was eating, Sarah whispered to me, "Don't you know what hot dogs are made of?"

Of course, such a question made me extremely curious.

"We're not supposed to be talking," I said, looking around to make sure no authority figures were looming about.

"They're made out of WORMS!" Sarah told me.

The rest of the conversation went something like:

"No they're not!"

"Yes they are! My mom even said!"

"You're lying. You just want me to talk. We're going to get in trouble."

"Hot dogs are made out of WORMS!"

And what happened? You guessed it. The teacher noticed our little dialogue and informed us that we were getting our names written on the board when we went back to class. I already had a history with getting my name written on the board, so I was perturbed by this.

The hot dog/worm incident of 1996 was the last I ever spoke to Sarah. She ignored me all the way up through sixth grade when I ended up moving again. 

Also, it look me longer than I care to admit to stop worrying about the ingredients of hot dogs.

Monday, March 9, 2015

Books by Celebrities

This is a post I've been meaning to write for quite awhile and for some reason am just now getting around to it. It's about books written by celebrities, in case you couldn't tell by the fairly vague title.

I love reading and I love celebrities. Separately, these are two of my favorite things. Therefore, for me, books written by celebrities tend to be on par with the holy grail. There are plenty of autobiographies and even novels written by celebrities that are awesome and totally worth reading because they are well written. It only helps that these books were written by a celebrity.

Here are some books written by celebrities that I recommend:

Yes Please by Amy Poehler

I read Amy Poehler's book about a month ago and I loved it. Normally, it can take me a couple of weeks to read a book (sometimes longer if the book drags -- like the current book I'm reading). It took me just a few days to read Yes Please

The wonderful thing about Amy Poehler is that she doesn't apologize for who she is. This book is a little scattered in its tone -- which isn't a bad thing in this case. Amy Poehler goes from talking about how awesome it is to work with the people she gets to work with to writing a very heart wrenching account of a time that she inadvertently made fun of a disabled girl on SNL and the aftermath of that situation. Not to spoil it, but Poehler doesn't come out smelling like a rose in that story.

She is proud of her accomplishments but she knows she isn't perfect and this book is such a perfect blend of stories from her career and her dispensing lessons she learned along the way. It is bold and fresh and full of girl power.

Also, it's really cool to learn about how she met Tina Fey and Seth Meyers so many years ago and then they all worked together on SNL. SNL in general makes me very emotional, so this was really cool to read about.

For more reasons why you should read this book, please read Brittany's review over at Pines and Palmettos. I wanted to read this book before reading Brittany's take on it, but her post pushed me over the edge.

Someday, Someday, Maybe by Lauren Graham

Lauren Graham is best known for her glorious portrayal of Lorelai Gilmore in "Gilmore Girls." Most recently, she played Sarah Braverman on the wonderful "Parenthood."

Did you know that she's just as witty and smart as her television characters?

Someday, Someday, Maybe is a novel about a young aspiring actress trying to make it big in New York City in the 1990s. I'm not sure how much of this is based on real life experiences that Lauren Graham experienced, but who better to write a book about an aspiring actress than someone who has lived it?

It's a funny but smart read and this is another book that I read very quickly. You fall in love with the main character, Franny, even though she doesn't always make the best decisions. You root for her during her triumphs and feel for her during her moments of despair.

Here's hoping that Ms. Graham keeps writing because I'd love to see another book -- or maybe a screenplay! -- penned by her. Since "Parenthood" is over now, I'm interested to see what projects she takes on next.

Still Foolin' Em by Billy Crystal

I like Billy Crystal, so I decided to read this book.

It's amazing to me how he can make growing older seem less scary and, at some points, actually pretty funny.

This book is basically an autobiography. You learn about his early life growing up -- his father's death, his education, his love of baseball, etc. -- and how he broke into acting. There are also funny little essays about aging which prove that Crystal hasn't lost his sense of humor over the years.

It's interesting to read about a career that is so diverse. Crystal talks about his time on the television show "Soap" and the controversies of his character (a gay character) during the late 1970s.

I also enjoyed reading about the filming of "When Harry Met Sally..." and "City Slickers," which are two movies I adore.

This is a book that will make you laugh, but it might also make you cry as Crystal details his feelings during times of loss. It's also emotional when he talks of new beginnings, like when he became a grandfather. Tread carefully.

Bossypants by Tina Fey

Tina Fey is such a badass. She is truly one of my heroes and this book is both awesome and hilarious. It is awesomely hilarious.

Fey's book is a bit more self-deprecating than Poehler's, but I think that is fitting of each of their characters. Tina talks about her particular look, being a virgin until age 24, and her uncomfortable first gynecologist appointment.

In Bossypants, Tina Fey conquers the awkwardness of being a young woman, her beginnings in improv, marriage (there's a pretty hysterical story about her honeymoon), motherhood, career, and her friendship with SNL producer Lorne Michaels.

It's a quick read, but it's definitely worthwhile.

This book just reaffirmed Fey's brilliance for me. I might have to read this one again soon.

American on Purpose by Craig Ferguson

My favorite thing about Craig Ferguson is his honesty. In this autobiography, Ferguson very honestly chronicles his life -- from his early alcoholism and his partying days to speaking at the White House Correspondents' Dinner. It's a wild ride, but Ferguson expertly navigates a brutal road in a humorous way.

Ferguson talks about his parents and his early life growing up in the rough city of Glasgow in Scotland. He talks about how he became involved with drugs and alcohol -- and how that ruined many of his relationships and jobs. He tells the story of how he was going to commit suicide, but he got drunk and forgot to jump off the bridge.

Success finds him much later. Initially wanting to be a punk rocker, Ferguson discovers his talent for comedy. In a whirlwind of events, he ends up in America working on "The Drew Carey Show." Years later, he's that "late night douche" on The Late, Late Show with Craig Ferguson (RIP best late night show ever).

The thing I most took away from this book is the idea that failure is not the end. Ferguson's concept of America is that everyone gets an infinite number of chances. This is a funny book, but it's much more than that. It's a story that is sometimes bleak and sometimes uplifting, but it's mostly the story of a Scottish man who realizes his own American dream. 

Also, Ferguson is a damn good writer. That is evidenced in...

Between the Bridge and the River by Craig Ferguson

This was Craig Ferguson's first book. It is a novel and it's both brilliant and hysterical. It's been five years since I've read this book, so all of the plot details are a bit fuzzy. But I just remember there being a lot of characters that seemingly have no connection -- except that they do. 

It's a crazy story and I'm just going to copy and paste the book description from Amazon because it describes it better than I ever could:

"Bawdy, joyous, messy, hysterically funny, and guaranteed to offend regardless of religion, race, national origin, sexual orientation, or profession. Between the Bridge and the River is the debut novel by Craig Ferguson, host of CBS's The Late Late Show. Two childhood friends from Scotland and two illegitimate half-brothers from the American South suffer and enjoy all manner of bizarre experiences which, as it turns out, are somehow interconnected and, surprisingly enough, meaningful. An eclectic cast of characters includes Carl Jung, Fatty Arbuckle, Virgil, Marat, Socrates, and Tony Randall. Love, greed, hope, revenge, organized religion, and Hollywood are alternately tickled and throttled. Impossible to summarize and impossible to stop reading, this is a romantic comic odyssey that actually delivers and rewards."
So yes. Check that one out if you like crazy stories.

Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns) by Mindy Kaling

Mindy is another one of my heroes. She is so smart and such a great comedy writer. I just love her to pieces.

Similar to Yes Please and Bossypants, this is essentially the story of how Mindy Kaling became the Mindy Kaling that we know today. This book is not told necessarily in chronological order, but is laid out in a number of humorous essays. 

Mindy talks about being a child of immigrants, her struggle with weight, her college years, her friends, and her career. For example, did you know that she and her best friend wrote and starred in a play called "Matt & Ben" where they played Matt Damon and Ben Affleck? Did you know that she was also an intern for Conan O'Brien?

She was also one of the original writers on "The Office." She was the only woman. And she was 24. What the fuck am I doing with my life?

It's hard to pick a favorite, but out of the trio of female comedian authors that I've written about in this post, I think I maybe, possibly liked this book the best. But don't quote me on that because I might change my mind tomorrow.


There are, however, a couple of books written by celebrities that I don't recommend. This list is considerably shorter, thank God. Without further ado, the duds:

Shopgirl by Steve Martin

They made a movie out of this novella in 2005. It looked like an interesting premise, so I checked out the book at the library. Thankfully, I didn't buy it.

Now, you can only take my opinion of this book so seriously because I was probably 15 when I read it. However, I thought it was icky.

I'm not saying that Steve Martin is a bad writer. He isn't. However, this book made me very uncomfortable. 

It's about a girl who works at a fancy department store selling gloves. If I recall correctly, she's a young woman in her twenties. And she meets a creepy old man with whom she begins having physical relations.

I don't know. It was icky. And Steve Martin played the older guy in the movie (which, ironically, I never ended up seeing). And I'm like -- Steve Martin, are you a pervy old man who is writing about his desires to sleep with young ladies?

That may be very far from the truth, but it put me off my lunch. Again, I was 15.

Scar Tissue by Anthony Kiedis

I went through a Red Hot Chili Peppers phase around the time the album Stadium Arcadium came out. During this phase, I realized I was very attracted to lead singer Anthony Kiedis. I discovered he'd written an autobiography and, knowing that he'd struggled with and overcame drug addiction, I thought it might be good.

It wasn't good.

The book is not well written and it's very repetitive. It's basically like: "I did drugs. I got off drugs. I did more drugs. I had sex with this woman. I got off drugs. I had sex with another woman. I got back on drugs."

This was his life, yes, but it didn't make for a very interesting read. Even more than that, the book was written in a way that made you think that Kiedis thinks very highly of himself. I don't like that in a celebrity and I don't like it in a book. I don't think I made it to the end of this one. 

So those are my thoughts of the books I've read by celebrities. Please comment and let me know your thoughts on my picks and any recommendations you might have!

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

The End of Parks and Recreation (AKA: 5,000 Candles in the Wind)

The following post contains a few spoilers and a lot of nostalgia about the finale of the show "Parks and Recreation." Please proceed with caution. Also, if you've never watched the show, I recommend that you treat yoself and start immediately.

It seems like forever ago and yesterday at the same time (but it was actually sometime in 2010) that I first discovered "Parks and Recreation" on Netflix. And at first, I didn't care for it. In season 1, while they were still trying to find their footing, I almost gave up. But I didn't. I think part of me erroneously assumed that Leslie Knope was a female version of Michael Scott, as I had often heard the show compared to "The Office."

The two shows are filmed in a similar style and both follow the employees of a work place, but their list of similarities pretty much ends there. The sooner you realize that, the sooner you can really start enjoying "Parks and Recreation."

Luckily, I continued to watch and I slowly fell in love. By season 3, when Adam Scott and Rob Lowe joined the cast, I was a goner.

"Parks and Recreation" is easily my favorite television show since "Gilmore Girls," which is, in my most humble opinion, the absolute highest quality of show.

There are so many elements to "Parks and Recreation" that make it fantastic -- from the self-referential humor to the way the characters grew throughout its seven season run. There's no way I could do the show justice and accurately convey how wonderful I think it is in this post, but I am going to try.

Leslie Knope is, to me, one of the strongest characters in television history. She started out as an under-appreciated public servant who just wanted to turn a pit into a park -- and she ended up serving as governor for the state of Indiana. "Parks and Recreation" is about many things, but Leslie Knope is always at the center of it. This show is about personal growth as much as it is about professional growth.

The most beautiful thing about this show is just how far Leslie has come in all aspects of her life. She started at the bottom, and she ended at the top. Outside of her political achievements, Leslie's personal life also came full circle. She started out as kind of a hoarder with a crush on Mark Brendanawicz (loser) and ended up married (with triplets) to Ben Wyatt (aka "Ice Town"), who very much complements her in every way. Ben is very much the syrup to Leslie's waffle and their love story is literally one of my favorite things in the world.

Leslie's relationship with each individual character is another beautiful thing -- from her almost creepy admiration for Ann Perkins to the mutual respect she and Ron Swanson share (the episode where she gave him a quiet birthday with a steak and some whiskey instead of a surprise party is one of my favorites). "Parks and Recreation" has always thrived on an equal mix of humor and heart, and I think that's what sets this show apart from so many others.

I was a bit skeptical when this final season was announced. Season 6's finale was perfect and would have been a great note on which to end the show, but I'm actually glad that we got this short, final season to actually say all of our goodbyes.

Every character received closure that was fitting for that character, and that's something that a lot of shows do not provide. On the other hand, many shows have endings that are a stretch or that sacrifice a character's well, character just to get to the ending that the writers have in mind. "Parks and Recreation" avoided all of that. Each character remains true to the character that they are. No one is exactly the same as they were in season 1, but everyone has had the chance to flower and bloom into a more badass version of their original self. And I think that's just great.

Anyway, I could probably go on forever with how much I love this show. But I'm not going to. Instead, I'm going to list out just a few more of my favorite things:
  • Li'l Sebastian (we miss you in the saddest fashion)
  • All of Ben's weird, nerdy idiosyncrasies
      • The Cones of Dunshire
      • that Letters to Cleo t-shirt
      • the claymation venture
      • calzones!
  • Bert Macklin, FBI
  • All of Leslie's praise for Ann
      • ex: "Oh Ann, you beautiful tropical fish."
      • ex 2: "Ann, you poetic and noble land-mermaid."
  • Jean-Ralphio and his sister Mona Lisa -- who is, btw, the woooorrrsssst!
  • Chris Traeger who is -- LITERALLY -- the most excited person of all time!
  • Ron Swanson's words of wisdom
      • "Any dog under 50 pounds is a cat, and cats are pointless."
  • All the weirdo people of Pawnee -- from Joan Callamezzo to Crazy Ira and the Douche to Councilman Dexhart to Perd Hapley

It has been a very long time since a show has been able to make me laugh out loud and cry from vigorous emotions all in the span of an episode, but "Parks and Recreation" has given me that on multiple occasions. I'm very excited to see where everyone goes from here in their careers, and I'm very much looking forward to the inevitable day when NBC releases an overpriced box set of this series so I can just give them all my money even though I can rewatch it on Netflix.

Dammit, Jerry! It's really all his fault.


Friday, February 20, 2015

The Future Freaks Me Out

I do not like the unknown. I do not like it one bit. While one can argue that the future is never certain, I always try to take steps to prepare for it. I'm a planner. I'm not a risk taker and I definitely don't like surprises (unless they're good ones -- like, "surprise! Fall Out Boy has a new album coming out").

This is why I'm a little surprised at how well I'm handling my most recent predicament. 

Yesterday, my place of employment confirmed that they will be shutting down our office effective March of next year.

Yay for potential future unemployment!

Basically me (x)

Part of the reason I'm not completely paper-bagging it is because we all have kind of seen this coming for months now. I work in a customer service call center for an insurance company that you've heard of. We have several call centers throughout various states and the Virginia center is the smallest. The first sign of trouble came last year when our center was put on a hiring freeze for all of 2014 and 2015.

This didn't strike us as good news seeing as all the other call centers were hiring. We were losing employees, but we weren't replacing them. That's when the gossip first started.

The gossip powder keg exploded when some of our supervisors started jumping ship. Some supervisors uprooted and moved to one of the other call centers with very little notice. Then we had two supervisors leave the company entirely. Several other people applied for and received promotions which required them to move. The future was looking bleak, but still the managers neither confirmed nor denied the rumors.

Yesterday, we received that confirmation. I was not at work when the news hit. I received a call from one of my coworker friends who broke the bad news. When I heard, I honestly felt more relief than anything because they're giving us a full year to prepare for the shutdown. By Virginia law, employers are really only required to give 60 days notice. The fact that they're giving us a full year before the doors close really speaks to the quality of the company I work for.

Example of Kindergarten-like gifts
I've never loved my job -- except for my first few months, which was training. The job itself can alternate between not entirely unpleasant and godawful. I am the person you call when you need to talk to your insurance company. If you missed your bill or your rates have gone up or you got a letter saying something on your policy is changing -- I'm the person you get to bitch out. 

Not all the calls are bad. There are plenty of people who just call to make a payment or to ask a simple question. I speak with employees from banks and car rental companies as well as internal employees who need clarification on things. However, the job is very far from my dream career and it can sometimes be very disheartening. 

With all the said, I couldn't have picked a better company to work for. After years of working at a company who places no value on the "little people," it was refreshing to work for a company who makes you feel like you matter as an employee. It was refreshing to work for a company who admitted that the job was a hard one and who did the best they could to alleviate the mundane by giving us silly little gifts or free casual days or by having cubicle decorating contests. All of this made me feel a bit like a Kindergartner, but I'll admit that those things were always welcome and always made spirits rise a little bit.

Although I'm afraid of what will come with the next chapter in my life, I'm thankful for the time that I did get to spend at this job. I'm thankful for the friends that I made and the opportunities that it has opened. This imperfect job taught me a lot about insurance and just how bad the consequences could be if you let your insurance cancel. If it hasn't happened to you, be thankful. It isn't good. This imperfect job helped me branch out and learn to get involved. This imperfect job has helped me to greatly lessen my outstanding debt and has enhanced my savings. It was the best thing I could have possibly asked for at a time when I was making very little money and still paying all of my own expenses.

I didn't expect this post to turn into a love letter for a job that I complain about more than I praise, but that's the direction in which this went after I started typing. I honestly expected this post to take on a more nihilistic tone rather than a reflective one. It's funny how you start something with one mindset and it completely changes by the end of your thought. I guess I have the rest of the year to think through all of this and exactly how I feel about it.

But, for now, it's back to the drawing board.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Win $60 and More!

Hello everyone! Today, I'm participating in a fantastic giveaway hosted by Kathy from Him & Me (But Mostly Me). The big winner will take home $60 cash, a blog design by Amanda Wood Designs, and a wine glass by Tabitha. So what are you waiting for? There are plenty of easy ways to enter. Get to it!



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