WW Late

I apologize for the lack of a Widower Wednesday column yesterday. I'm in the middle of some major projects at work and the 11 hour day yesterday didn't allow for me to write something up. I hope to have something up soon. Thanks you guys, I have plenty of topics to write about and lots I want to say. Stay tuned and thanks for your patience.

Taunting Death -- Twice!

The photo below are mayonnaise packets from the break room. They are bursting at the seams, just waiting to explode. If I survive the initial explosion, do I taunt death yet again by putting the contents on my sandwich?

Government Bureaucrats and For-Profit Schools

Driving home from work this week, I caught a story on NPR about government regulators and culinary schools. Apparently regulators are upset that students are graduating with loads of debt and entry-level jobs that can’t pay off their loans.

[Roger] Hollis says he has taken out thousands of dollars in student loans to pay for an associate degree in cooking. Despite his work experience and his expensive degree, he'll still be starting at the bottom, as a line cook. "Twelve, 15 [dollars] maybe an hour, yeah."

Many former students say that with that income, it's virtually impossible to keep up with their student loan payments. Newbies may spend years as a line cook; the average salary, according to the online industry magazine Star Chefs, is less than $29,000 a year.

Attorney Michael Louis Kelly represents California students suing the parent company of Cordon Blue, Career Education Corp. His clients say the school promised something it cannot deliver.

"The model doesn't work," Kelly says. "You can't go to school, accumulate $30- or $40- or $50,000 in debt, and then go into an industry where you're going to have to start out at $8 or $12 an hour anyway."

Why are government regulators worried only about students who attend for-profit schools? There are plenty of public and private schools who churn out graduates with loads of debt and little or no job prospects. Last year The New York Times ran a story about Cortney Munna, a former New York University student who racked up $97,000 in student loan debt majoring in religious and women’s studies. After college she found herself making $22 an hour working for a photographer. Back in January the same paper ran a similar story about law school graduates with hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt who are unable to find work (or at least work as an attorney) and, as a result, can’t come close to paying back their loans. Shouldn’t government regulators be just as concerned about the cost and job prospects of private and state sponsored non-profit schools as they are about for profit schools?

The education industrial complex generally oversells the value of a degree. It’s something that public institutions do as much as for-profit universities. Kids go through the school system school hearing how a college degree will lead to great jobs and financial security. While this is statistically true in broad terms, rarely do you see these educators showing the market value of a science or engineering degree compared to, say, a liberal arts degree. I’m not saying that college degrees are worthless. It’s just that some have more market value than others.

Students looking to finance their education through student loans should be shown the cost of paying off the loan and realistic job prospects and pay upon graduation and be given some time to think about whether or not the cost is worth it. However, it’s hypocritical for Washington bureaucrats to zero in on just for-profit institutions when you have students graduating from state-sponsored institutions with loads of debt and job prospects that are no better than those who graduate from a for-profit culinary school.

Besides, a degree from any post-secondary education facility—public, private, trade, or for-profit—only goes so far toward financial or career success. In reality one’s work ethic, creativity, and ability to build relationships and adapt to a changing world are much better indicators whether or not you’re going to be successful—financially or otherwise. Instead of focusing on the value of a degree, students and post-secondary schools should teach the aforementioned concepts along with their degree-related material.  The schools and their graduates would be much better off as a result.

Heart-shaped Bush

Heart-shaped bush

Near the end of my daily run is a heart-shaped bush.

It wasn’t always heart shaped. A few weeks ago a landscaping crew came around to trim the bushes in the public areas of town and left a heart-shaped bush behind.

I’m impressed with whoever did it. It’s not everyone who can take a step back from the daily grind and do something out of the ordinary—something that has a positive effect on complete strangers.

But someone did.

And because of someone’s vision I smile every time I see that bush and tip my hat to the person who, instead of seeing a bush, saw a heart.

Burning the Candle at Both Ends

First FigMy candle burns at both ends; It will not last the night; But ah, my foes, and oh, my friends— It gives a lovely light. -- Edna St. Vincent Millay

It’s last Wednesday night. Marathon Girl and I have just put the kids to bed. We’re in our bedroom. I open up my laptop and check my email. Galleys for The Third have arrived. I start scanning the file, anxious to do one final edit on my book before it goes to press.

“Are you going to watch LOST?” Marathon Girl asks.

I gave her my best deer-in-the-headlights look.

“Lost?” I reply.

Marathon Girl gives me a look—the one she always give me when she’s trying to tell if I’m being facetious.

“Yeah, you know, LOST,” she says. “That show you’ve been obsessing over for the last six years.”

“Oh, that show,” I say. “Yeah, I want to watch it. What time is it on?”

“It was on last night.”

I pause. “Why didn’t we watch it?”

“Because you went to the local caucus meeting then stayed up until midnight getting your website ready to post chapters from The Third.”

“I did?”

Marathon Girl nods. “Positive.”

“Are you sure LOST was on last night?” I ask.

“One hundred percent.”

“Why didn’t you say anything when I got home?”

“I did. You just said something about watching it later.”

“That doesn’t sound like me.”

“I know.”

“What day of the week is it?”


“You sure?”

“Check the calendar.”

“Hmmmmm. We waited until Thursday watch it last week, right?” I ask hoping for a sign we watched it earlier.

“That’s right. Because you were busy with your new job.”

“And the week before that?”

“You were busy wrapping things up with your old job.”

“And the week before that one.”

“I don’t remember. But something came up.”

“My life sounds kind of busy.”

“It is.”

“I should slow down. Stop and smell the roses. That sort of thing.”

“You should.”

“Any suggestions?”

“You could put the computer away and spend some time with me.”

I close the laptop. “Okay where do we start?”

“Want to watch LOST? It’s Richard Alpert’s back story.”

“It is?”

“You don’t know what the episode’s about? You really have been busy.”

“OK. Rest of the night it’s just me and you. No writing, editing, or anything else. Just us.”

“I like that idea.”

“Then tomorrow it’s back to burning the preverbal candle at both ends.”

Marathon Girl has stopped smiling.

“OK. I’ll just burn one end at a time.”

Marathon Girl smiles. We go and watch LOST—which was great.

Back from the Dead

One of the side effects of using Twitter and Facebook is that I don’t blog as much as I used to. It’s not that I don’t have anything to say on my blog. Rather, with my free time at a premium right now, I simply don’t have much time to blog and find it much more convenient write a short message on one of the social networking sites. But, since I have a few minutes, here’s an update of the last month or so of my life.

On the good side, I’ve been going over some publishing contracts that will dedicate most of my free time o to forthcoming writing projects for the next year or more. Just thinking about all the writing I’ll have to do to meet certain deadlines kind of freaks me out. I know I can do the work and meet the deadlines, but the actual thought of doing that much writing is a little intimidating.

On the down side, there’s been some instability at work. Though I still have a job, there’s a chance could be coming to an end this month. As a result I’ve been taking on some more freelance copywriting work and checking out other opportunities. If you know of anyone that’s looking for some freelance or fulltime marketing writing work, feel free to let me know.

Back to the good side: I’ve accepted an invitation to present at the largest writing conference in Utah in April. If you’re a writer and want to attend a worthwhile writing conference, I highly recommend this one. I attended last year and got a lot out of it. I’m excited to give a little back to attendees this year by presenting, attending some of the other great presentations and workshops and seeing fellow author friends again.

Finally, I’ll be making a big announcement in the next week or so. (It’s really cool!) If you want to be one of the first to learn about it, subscribe to my email list if you aren’t on it already.

Stay tuned.

I Need a Vacation

I’m exhausted. I can barely keep my eyes open and its only 2:54 p.m. Writing my second book late into the night and waking up early is finally catching up with me. I ran four miles today during lunch and didn’t have the energy to run at my normal pace.

It’s not that the extra effort hasn’t been worth it. In the last 30 days I’ve completed 11 chapters – nearly half of the book. And if I keep it up, I’ll meet my personal goal of having the book done around the end of April.

Still, my non-stop life it taking its toll.

I think I need some time off from work and writing.

The best way to do this is with a fun-filled vacation with the family.

Marathon Girl, you reading this? Let’s plan something.

Houston: My Kind of City

Houston, Texas

This article makes me want to move to Houston. The article, I think, accurately portrays the city as one of opportunity and growth. And even though I was only in Houston for a few days, it impressed me much more than other "trendy" cities I've visited.

The article makes a similar point:

Ultimately, it’s a question of defining what makes a city great. Many city planners today focus largely on aesthetics, the arts, and the perception of being “cool.” Academics and many economic-development experts link urban success to cities’ appeal to the “creative class” of college-educated young people. In this calculus, the traditional practice of gauging a city’s success by studying patterns of population or employment growth, or noting the opportunities available for working-class or middle-class families to flourish, rarely registers as important. One prominent academic, Rutgers University’s Paul Gottlieb, has even offered an elegant formula for what he calls “growth without growth”—focusing on increasing per-capita incomes without expanding either population or employment. Indeed, Gottlieb suggests that successful post-industrial cities might well do best if they actually “minimize” the influx of new people and jobs.

Such an approach may work, at least superficially, in an attractive older city such as Chicago, New York, or Boston, but it’s an unlikely model for most cities in a country where the population is expected to reach 420 million by 2050. Growth-without-growth cities might be great to visit, and they might prove exciting homes for the restless young or the rich, but it is doubtful that they can create the jobs or the housing for more than a small portion of our future urban population. For these and other reasons, the Houston model of the opportunity city—welcoming new jobs and new families—may prove far more relevant to the American future.

Marathon Girl and I spent several days in the Houston area four years ago and loved it. In the next five years -- before our kids are too old -- we'd both like to move out of Utah and establish roots elsewhere. Ever since our trip to Houston, that city has always been in the forefront of our minds as a good area to move to. (Followed by Denver, Phoenix, and Seattle.)

No one knows what the future holds but I wouldn't mind becoming a Texan if the oppurtunity presented itself.


Work, Home, Life

Go_Go Yubari was recently approached by a large company that was interested in employing her. They whisked her off to a big city and wined and dined her in order to persuade her to come join their team. Despite their persuasive sales pitch, she decided to stay where she was at because, in part, the proposed employment reminded her of an old job and the long hours and stress that accompanied it.

After parting ways with a well-paying but highly stressful job back in November, I applaud her choice. There’s so much more to a job than money, fancy titles, and the strings those usually accompany those two things. It’s not that I don’t find compensation or what I do for a living isn’t important. I do have a family support and life’s more enjoyable knowing you can make a mortgage payment and put food on the table. And writing makes me happy. I would perform much better at a job that required lots of writing as opposed to doing something else.

In addition to the above, a good job has always had three other important elements: 1) One that allows me to come home in a relatively stress free 80 percent of the time, 2) one that allows me to spend time with Marathon Girl and the kids and 3) doesn’t deplete my (creative) energy so I can write books after the kids are in bed.

When I set off on a job hunt back in November, I hoped that I could find a job that met all the criteria. Five weeks into my search, I ended up with three solid job offers. All paid very well and involved writing. So the determining factor was how well the job would allow me to accomplish the things I wanted to do after I came for from work. Like Go_Go Yubari, one of the offers reminded me too much of my old job in all the wrong ways. I turned it down. Two jobs left. My gut kept telling me which one to take. And since my gut feelings have never turned out to be wrong, I took the one I felt good about the first time I interviewed with the company.

I’ve been at my new job about four months. The family is clothed, fed, and has a roof over their head. There’s no worries about finances. I’m doing more writing with this new company than I ever did with my previous employer and seeing more results from my efforts. I usually have a good two to three hours to spend with the kids after work. And despite all the writing I accomplish during business hours, I’ve managed to make tons of progress on my second book after I kiss the kids goodnight. In the last two weeks, I’ve complete four chapters – about the same amount I was able to accomplish in a previous year with at my old job. Last night I went on a writing tear and wrote two thirds of another chapter in just under two hours.

Yeah, I made the right choice.