Hellish Construction

I’m just going to come out with a question that has been nagging at me for years. Why do companies and corporate offices insist on team-building exercises? What is the point of this torture? I mean, it’s almost as bad as mandatory group training. Maybe worse. Oh, I understand the intention is to create a stronger bond between employees to increase the quality of work and form relationships that will inspire us to stay on, blah blah blah. But that doesn’t mean those meetings and activities don’t feel like pure hell, especially for us introverts.

Even starting a meeting with detailed introductions is obnoxious and time-consuming. Why do I need to give my biography to these people? I don’t have things going on in my life that they need to care about. There is nothing that should be of interest to them and the work we need to do. Conversely, I don’t need to know about the details of their lives. Oh Cheryl, your daughter just had her 10th child? Congratulations, but what does that have to do with the project overview you were supposed to turn in yesterday? Also, is this an impolite time to mention the wonders of birth control?

I certainly don’t need to muddy the waters by getting to know folks or sharing my life story. I mean, honestly, unless everyone gets real cool about a bunch of stuff really quickly, it’s best I just keep things to myself.

introvert hell

Some of the team-building exercises floating around offices these days could potentially be an HR nightmare. Google corporate team-building exercises and the first option that pops up is Two truths and a Lie. This oddly popular game requires a person to make three statements (two true, one a lie, hence the name, folks), and the rest of the group is supposed to guess the lie. I can see where this would be a hoot with friends while having a drink over pizza. But there are so many things wrong with this game in a corporate setting. You know that saying, you can learn more by what a person doesn’t say than what they do say? I would say that concept applies here. The lie that someone makes up about themselves could say a lot about them. What about the response of the group? I can see trouble there as well. What if a player makes up a wildly outrageous lie, figuring they were safe from any post-game fallout later around the water cooler because surely the team would recognize such an outlandish fabrication… but because their coworkers have such a strange and unflattering opinion of them, they assume it’s one of the two truths? Talk about an awkward situation.

Here are my two truths and a lie:

  1. I hate team-building exercises.
  2. Team building exercises increase my productivity and help me form solid and lasting relationships with my beloved co-workers.
  3. I hate contrived social experiences in the workplace (or anywhere else, for that matter).

Some companies go with a more physical team-building exercise like camping or paintball (pretty sure I saw that in a horror movie once and it did not go well) or ax throwing. Ax throwing. Ax. Throwing. Oh sure, great idea!  Toss a few disgruntled employees with an ax to grind (I know, I know, I’m hilarious, I’m here all week) together in a small chute while flinging sharp objects as hard as they can… what can go wrong? It just might take that feud between IT and the creative team to a whole new level.

I may be a raging introvert with social anxiety, but believe it or not, I’m great with people (don’t roll your eyes at me), but team building exercises and forced introductions complete with a mini-bio (and fun fact, don’t forget the fun fact!) are more than just a chore for me; they are agony. I despise the pop quizzes from hell they throw at us last minute in staff meetings and being forced to depend on the coworker who couldn’t even meet their simple data analysis deadline last week for getting out of that escape room in 10 minutes? Yeah, no thanks.

Now, if you need me, I’ll be in my office, away from everyone else, and doing something productive… which is where I wanted to be in the first place.

A Dilemma Only Jell-O Can Solve

I know I’ve been quiet for the last week or so, but life has once again gotten in the way of my more enjoyable activities, as it often does… too often, if you ask me.  But hey, I’m back!  And I have a very important topic to discuss.  Lucky you!

Yes, I thought it was high time I addressed something increasingly pervasive throughout our culture. Many have turned a blind eye, allowing the behavior to go unchecked and spread like wildfire over cubicles across America. Perhaps you yourself have participated in this questionable behavior.

Office supply theft, an apparently growing threat to offices in the contiguous 48 states (Hey! Don’t question my stats!). What draws people to this life of crime? What inspires once upstanding citizens to don sticky fingers (probably using glue they stole from the paper room) and swipe those pencils and pads of “while you were out” paper? What is so enticing about having one’s own stapler at home that leads a person to shed dignity and morals?

If you’re still with me, nodding your head emphatically with the warm rush of vindication washing up your cheeks, you’re probably an office manager, owner, or someone in the higher echelon of office politics. You probably have keys to the oft-revered Office Supply Cabinet.

I get it. As a culture, we have decided that stealing is wrong, even if it is just a sharpie for your son’s science fair presentation. Employees will take anything from generic #2 pencils to fancy pink highlighters, staples (for that stapler they already made off with), to paper products like notebooks and steno pads. Employers have struggled to find ways to eradicate this pestilence, this plague of thievery from their buildings.

Many offices have taken to literally locking the supplies away. Close those cabinets. Bar the doors with adamantium. Sleep well at night knowing that the only way the pencils are leaving the safety of those office corridors is stuffed secretly in someone’s bag, one breakable graphite stick at a time. Whatever you do, keep those tape dispensers and sharpies safe!

Some offices have tried giving out pencils one at a time, like little reward nuggets one would give a pet rat. What happens if you’re taking notes in the middle of a very important meeting (assuming you haven’t upgraded to taking notes on your computer, I know a few of you are still out there) and your pencil breaks? Do you then raise your hand to stop the meeting and ask permission to retrieve another pencil from the cabinet?

I once heard of an office where people were required to trade in their old, used items before getting a new one. Workers would have to run that pencil down to the bitter nub, then find the keeper of the office supplies and graciously ask them to accept the offering. What was that moment of silence like just before they received their new item? Was it heavy with the possibility of a refusal? What then?

Some offices like to implement tier distribution, an arbitrary and political division of funds that relates directly to the quality of supplies. (C-suites get the best chairs, mailroom can have the metal stools). Who determines that budget? More important, how do I get on that committee?

These measures can lead to ridiculous situations like trading and bartering between employees (I’ll give you one half-used roll of tape for that box of mini paper clips). Feeling the forced scarcity of resources, other employees tend to hoard things like colored pens (why does everyone want the red pens!) and star-shaped post-it notes. Labels emblazon everything from calculators to staplers to tape dispensers to “the one good pen” as everyone marks their territory lest the item walk, never to be seen again.

Where does that leave us then? Sneaking around each other’s cubicles, trying to catch a glimpse of what someone is hiding behind their daughter’s framed cheerleading picture? Passing private notes back and forth looking for information on who’s got the line on the white-out?

Is office supply theft truly such a scar on the face of our office culture that supplies need to be held hostage and doled out like runny soup to prisoners (all hail Les Mis)? Or are the measures to protect the supplies really just a power game? Are all offices forced to contend with some variation of a misguided, ridiculously informed, over-committed Dwight Schrute? Should office workers, in retaliation of metered supplies, break those cabinet locks and liberate every stapler and tape dispenser, finding them a new home in a mold of Jell-O? I’m not sure it would be as humorous off-screen, but perhaps it’s worth a try. Oh, who am I kidding? It would be hilarious. Now wait a minute, I know I saw a coupon for Jell-O at the local Piggly Wiggly. Gotta go, I feel a nefarious project coming on!

Principles Notwithstanding

Me: Oh my god, pumpkin spice Cheerios!

Daughter: Ewww, no, that’s just going too far.

Me: Yeah, but I bet they’re good.

Daughter:  Well of course they are, that goes without saying. It’s just the principle of the thing.

Me: You want some don’t you?

Daughter: Obviously.

Moral of the story: integrity is apparently not a strong suit for lovers of all things pumpkin spice.

pumpkin-spice-cheerios

 

 

Yo-Ho-Ho and a Bottle of… She Did What?!?

Sometimes a story comes along that is so captivating in its uniqueness and ability to make a person cringe, it can leave one temporarily speechless. These are not the stories one expects, or necessarily hopes, to hear twice. I found just such a story.

Back in December of 2017, I wrote about a woman, Amethyst Realm, who had sworn off mortal men for the supposedly more qualified sexual talents of spirits and ghosts. This woman claimed to have a variety of ethereal lovers and, last I heard, was pondering an inter-dimensional pregnancy. I don’t know how successful she may have been with that and hadn’t planned on revisiting that scenario ever again. But alas, there apparently aren’t enough good men in the world to go around. Another woman has taken to the realm of the deceased for love.

Amanda Teague, an Irish Jack Sparrow impersonator and mother of five, met her soul mate in a 300-year-old pirate. Jack, a Haitian pirate who, according to Amanda resembles Bob Marley, appeared one night next to Amanda’s bed. Rather than pull the covers over her head and squeeze her eyes shut tight until he went away (like most of us would when faced with a ghostly apparition next to our bed), she instead started dating the spirit which led to a sexual relationship, and eventually Amanda extracted a promise of commitment from him. I mean, let’s not cheapen the moment, right? Apparently, he agreed, and on a boat in international waters off the coast of Ireland, Amanda married her pirate.

Yep! You read that right. In a full-on traditional white wedding dress, Amanda and Jack were united under the ceremonial leadership of a shaman priest. A painting of Captain Jack Sparrow (as depicted by Johnny Depp in the Pirates of the Caribbean movies) stood in for the groom. We must assume the real Jack was present, though he could not show himself.

Perhaps this is a good time to step back and talk about mental health. Is it fair to assume that it is a factor at play here in these stories? Am I being short-sighted, narrow-minded, or judgmental in thinking that these women must indeed have some unresolved mental health issues? No shame on them if they do. We all have our demons to fight. Most of us just don’t choose to have sex with them.

Marriages are hard enough, trying to find the balance between two people, compromise and communication, differing expectations on both sides. Those are hard to navigate in any marriage. But consider marriage to someone who can’t help pay bills, do housework and chores around the house, or make an occasional meal… because you know, they’re a ghost. Unless, of course, it’s a poltergeist situation, but even those entities opt for the destruction of rather than improvements on interior design. There are no romantic date nights or dressing up in a fun couple’s costume for a friend’s Halloween party. Oh sure, you may have the scariest date, but it’s not one people are likely to invite.

Amanda and Jack learned the hard way that marriages can be complicated undertakings even in the best scenarios (like never having to get angry about the pile of dirty clothes next to the hamper or him drinking the last of the coffee or leaving the toilet seat up). Less than a year after taking their vows (did he really though?), Amanda is ready to end the marriage and cut ties with her ghostly spouse. She claims that he is draining her energy, using her for his own selfish reasons. The result is that Amanda now suffers from an array of health concerns.

Amanda went so far as to say that she misses the healthy woman she once was before her marriage to dear old Jack. Which, I would suggest, begs the question of just how healthy was she in the first place?

If divorce does not ease the strain of being attached to an energy-sucking spirit, Amanda considers going forward with an exorcism. I, for one, hope that she has a compassionate, astute doctor at hand. One who can test and diagnose the physical manifestations of these health concerns and make sure she receives appropriate care. That quite possibly may be the only way to rid herself of this spiritual hitchhiker.

Brownies Your Pet Octopus Will Love!

Recipe Alert! I’ve struggled with the idea of sharing this recipe, feeling territorial with my famous brownie recipe. It’s hard to let go of family secrets. But this recipe is just so delicious, and you’re all such faithful readers. I’ve decided to lighten up and share this recipe with the world. I can’t wait for you all to try it out!

But first, a story…

As a child, whenever I needed a pick-me-up, mom would strap on her apron, pray to the gods of pastry, and weave a trail of magic through the air.

Even now, when the rich smell of brownies permeates the air (that perfect alchemy of chocolate, sugar, and butter that seduces the taste buds), I am blanketed with feelings of warmth and comfort. Tendrils of nostalgia pluck at my skin, and I am reminded, not only of my late pet octopus but the delicious brownies that were as much a part of my childhood as homework tears and rusted bikes. (You’re going to love this recipe when I share it with you!)

If my mother noticed I was feeling low, she would say, “Come on, dear, let’s bake those blues away.” Instantly any sadness I felt would melt away.

Mom and I would make our way to the kitchen, passing the chocolate river, funny dancing gnomes, and the experimentation lab where novelties like gravy-flavored bubble gum were created. This was back when my mother worked R & D for Willy Wonka … before the factory exploded. A tragedy of epic proportions, and quite the mess for blocks and blocks. I don’t think they ever got the dark baking chocolate completely cleaned up. People will be walking along making a thwack thwack noise as their sneakers stick to the sidewalk and you’ll see them cautiously looking at the bottoms of their shoes to see what they could have stepped in. And us old folks, the only ones who remember, will smile to ourselves with the bittersweet memories. (Bittersweet! Get it?)

Authorities never came out with an official statement, but some blamed it on the Evangelicals. Apparently, they had tried to recruit the Grandfather (on account of his miraculous “golden ticket” recovery after years of illness and an inability to walk or participate in household chores). Unfortunately for the family (and chocolate lovers worldwide), they determined him to be a fraud. The kid was so enraged (whether at the Evangelicals or his Grandfather, I don’t know) he blew up the factory. Thankfully nobody was hurt, and I heard he went to work for a used car dealership up in Ottawa.

After the factory incident, my mother and I met up with a band of traveling entertainers. We quickly learned that I did not know how to play the accordion with a monkey on my head, and Mom just couldn’t get the brownies baked quite right over an open fire. We decided we simply couldn’t live like that anymore. The brownies were just too good to live without. (Seriously, I cannot wait to show you this recipe!)

Eventually, we found an apartment in Muncie catty-corner from a nightclub. Mom got a job working nights doing the hula-hooping/spatula juggling act she had perfected with the traveling entertainers. During the week, I went to the high school just across the highway during the day and babysat the neighbor’s worm farm in the evening. What with all our activities, mom and I didn’t see each other much during the week. But when the weekend came and the Saturday morning opossum races at the Dollar Store parking lot were over, we skipped into the kitchen ready for brownies! (The recipe is so good! You’re going to love it!)

After washing the smell of over-exerted marsupial from our hands, we’d tie on our aprons and gather the ingredients. We kept the windows open so the lovely sounds of the high school band practice could waft through while we baked.

These are my favorite childhood memories; squeezing past each other in the 3×4 foot kitchen, the broken sounds of squeaky tubas and asthmatic trumpets piercing the air, and the comforting anticipation of fresh-baked brownies. Mom measured the ingredients (Wait until you read what they are! You will be amazed!), I poured them into the bowl, then the electric mixer would get to work. Mom always let me lick the beaters when she was done. Sometimes, when she was feeling particularly generous, she would even turn them off first. Ahhh… memories. We’d then pour the batter into the baking dish, pop it in the oven, and wait, counting slowly to sixty twenty-five times. (A secret part of the recipe that you’ll LOVE!)

Oh, the giddiness of the wait. The deepening scent of brownie sweetness. The way the machete sliced cleanly into the crispy top layer of warm deliciousness. We never could wait for the brownies to cool, always ate them fresh out of the oven. The doctor said my burned taste buds will never grow back, but you know what, it was all worth it! I wouldn’t trade those afternoons with my mom for anything, not even a tongue free of scar tissue.

And Mom? She stills does her hula-hooping act, only now it’s with her in-house mime troupe at Our Lady of the Aardvark Retreat Center (now that’s a story for another day!). She can’t bake the brownies like she used to (having lost three fingers from her right hand in a cocktail umbrella fight down in Cancun), so I’ve picked up the torch.

It’s time this legendary recipe was shared with the world! So now, without further ado, I give you the most delicious brownie recipe EVER! Enjoy!

brownie mix1