Saturday, October 30, 2010

Why I called the cops

It seemed harmless. My eleven-year-old autistic daughter had been making friends at school, and was getting invited to parties. I was thrilled, as was she, to find that she wasn't being invited because they felt they "had" to. They wanted to.

A pair of eighth grade girls were best friends and had invited my daughter to join their circle. One of them gave her a printed invitation with the date and time of their Halloween party, promising food, drinks, fun, music, dancing... Even a haunted house. The kids were supposed to come in costume, bring unneeded clothing for a charity project (a nice touch!) and to RSVP. My husband called and left a message.

As we drove to the party, my daughter chattered away about her friends, how she met them, etc. I gaped as I drove into the long circular driveway before a house that sprawled in all directions, easily 8000 square feet. I told her I would pick her up at ten (even though the party went until eleven thirty).

The door was ajar and we entered, following the music to a family room off he kitchen. I was greeted by a pleasant young man who introduced himself as one of the chaperones. I asked if I could meet my daughter's friends. He said they would be there between eight and eight thirty. I introduced myself to some of the other kids, and found that none of them went to my daughter's school. In a roundabout way, I learned that this was a faith-based youth group, and that the party was to collect donation for a service project benefitting a prominent charity in Tucson.

Everyone seemed very nice, and, being a youth group leader myself, I was happy to see the kids were off the streets and volunteering for the community. I saw my daughter talking with some other kids, and, seeing that she was holding her own, said goodbye, and went out to the car to call my husband to make sure he thought I was doing the right thing by leaving her there. He asked how old the chaperones were (mid-late twenties) and did anything seem 'off'. I said other than no parents being there, and my daughter's friends hadn't arrived, I said no. He suggested I give the chaperones our number, give Logan my phone, and inform them of her food allergies (she is pretty good about monitoring herself) and mild disability. I returned, explained what I felt I needed to, and exchanged numbers with the lead chaperone.

As I left, I questioned my judgement. I looked back and realized the guests were primarily adolescent girls, and the chaperones were primarily mid-twenties men. I got in the car and started to drive away and run a quick nearby errand, but I looked at the invitation again. I looked at the number the chaperone gave me, and with a quick few taps of my iPhone, realized it was a north Los Angeles area code. On a hunch, I called the RSVP number. One of the girl's parents answered.

Relieved I had reached someone who could give me answers, I started asking about the youth organization and how was the girl affiliated with them, and why she wasn't there. The mother said I was the second person who had called her, and people were showing up at her house looking for the party. I told her everything I had seen and done, but that I was turning around to go get my daughter, and on the way was calling the police because things weren't adding up. She confirmed that her daughter was currently at a different party than the one we were talking about, and would try to find her to find out what was going on. She concurred that the 'friend of a friend' connections seemed vague and that the invitation was misleading, so she didn't think it was out of line to make the call. She and I agreed to keep each other informed.

My next step was to call the cops. I was transferred to a local station, told them what I knew, and asked if there were any unusual happenings that this would fall into a similar category. They said not that they were aware of, but to trust my instincts. I went back to the party, waded through the dozen or so girls who were chatting and found the chaperone. I showed the invitation to him and let him know I called the RSVP and the girl's parents knew nothing about it. He looked at it and told me he had never seen the invitation before. I asked him to show me where my daughter was, which he did, and I informed them both we were leaving. He understood, and we collected her things and left.

As we walked out the door, I got a call from an officer who was approaching the house. We agreed to meet so I could give him the details, the actual invitation, and he could talk to my daughter. She was concerned, but provided information. As we left, I counted three police cars.

By this time, the mom of one of the girls had confirmed the identity of the youth group leader, as she checked out websites and Facebook that he was who he said he was. The officer called me as well to let me know my daughter's two friends had arrived and that the other girl's mom knew the youth group leader. I still don't know whose house it was.

Did I do the right thing? A raid on a faith-based youth group is certainly going to get around school on Monday.

Friday, October 29, 2010

First week at the paper.

I like it here.

My coworkers are fun, bright, and full of creativity. They are also overworked, underpaid, and in need of some serious hope for the industry.

I feel honored to be part of such an important legacy. My father worked for the Associated Press and finally retired as editor of the Green Valley News. My grandfather worked for years as the editor of a town newspaper in West Texas. Printer's ink runs in my blood. I get giddy when I enter the newsroom or see the monstrous army green printing press, three stories tall. It's amazing how much it all comes together. We call it the daily miracle.

I am getting a lot of apologies about the level of urgency and the 'death by sales meeting' approach to hunt every issue down and beat it like a dead horse. Given our lack of resources we have, along with our sense of mission, I quipped to my boss that it felt like I was working for the peace corps. She took offense until I said "Oh, come ON, you know we have to boil our own water here!". She laughed.

My response to the frenetic activity and hassled colleagues? I grin confidently and say, "I've seen worse." The coolest part? I can really make a difference here! I feel as though my knowledge, experience, and passion for the job have somehow led me here.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Day 1: I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings

Having traded my freedom for nine-to-fivedom, I wondered if I would feel trapped like the hapless staff of 'The Office'. On the contrary, I told my new boss, there is a great deal of freedom in an environment that demands your full focus. I loved what I did at AOL, and this environment feels a lot like it. It's refreshing not having the distractions of home.

My direct reports seem fun, one quipped "I'm off like a prom dress," as he left for the day (heard that before) while another described his client as having an attention span of a ferret in a meth lab (hadn't heard that one).

I have a couple of things to do. I have to write a couple of job descriptions and hire, as well as meet with the other managers to learn how they prioritize their ad sales and see how I can get everyone on the same page with priorities.

Meeting after meeting today, most of the names are a blur, but I know them by face and area of responsibility. Everyone was hospitable and seemed really (too?) glad I started.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

New Job Starts Tomorrow

After a day of my life was consumed by a cab ride, flight from JFK to PHX, and a shuttle to Tucson, I was fried. I managed to get home only to turn around and go pick up the kids from school. The unmistakable joy on their faces when they saw who was picking them up was priceless. I heard breathless accounts of a field trip to a pumpkin patch and rule infractions that resulted in a child being sent to the principal's office.

The weather changed while I was gone, and Tucson is now enjoying the glorious cool, sunny, breezy weather that is our reward for enduring triple digits for the past five months. We snacked and chatted, and I caught a few Z's before taking the kids to our midweek program at Church while my oldest stayed home to complete an essay.

I start my new job tomorrow. I feel so strange not having an immediate work-related task occupying my consciousness. When I went in last week, I found my future co-workers to be incredibly creative, out-of-the-box thinkers. I thought about showing them the Alec Baldwin Glengarry Glen Ross clip about "coffee is for closers" monologue, but opted instead for a Tracey Ullman "Special Skills" clip in which three interviewees for a marketing firm are presented with a box of assorted everyday items and are challenged to express themselves creatively in one minute.

Which would you show?

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Hallucination or Vision? Smart Content Conference

The conference is in the final stretch.  Despite a few technology glitches, (network overload and dead batteries), all is going extremely well.  I've been facilitating introductions and am impressed with the level of collaboration I'm seeing between media companies, technology innovators, and solution providers.  I got to meet Rachel Lovinger of Razorfish, and found her to be both pragmatic and approachable.  Her comment "information needs to be free.. Like a bird, not beer." was well received.  She meant that the data needs to be allowed to physically be where the users need it.  She said ironically, what makes that happen is more structure.  She presented some possible scenarios in which our data will need to be presented (maybe a hologram deck 13 years in the future?  I need to think about this in the context of my next gig.)

I also found that, confidentially, several of our speakers plan to launch companies and products very soon in the future.  I was listening for clues to find out who was going to be do what and to see who wanted to meet with whom that seemed out of context.  I will be watching those Linked In profiles like a hawk.

As Seth and I have organized this conference, we've been struck by the irony of he fact that we ourselves are experiencing many of the specific problems we're inviting speakers to solve:

- Semantics.  We knew the types of people we wanted to attract as both speakers and attendees  but what titles do they have?  It would be GREAT if people would self-identify as "content analytics specialists" or "content strategists" but, these titles don't really exist yet.

- Information granularity.  I invited the attendees to fill out a matchmaking survey, but we didn't require people to fill out pre-defined answer sets.  Free text was important, because we wanted to find out what our attendees were calling both themselves and were requesting in terms of help in their own words.

- Information silos.  From the mailing lists we used to the surveys, the data didn't line up. So there was a lot of imperfect human cross-indexing (by me - and the surveys are still coming in!)  Seth suggests that one day, the data would line up and find its 'pairing', very much like the movie Avatar in which the blue-painted forest denizens could simply plug in their 'braid' to the horse's mane, and be able to 'just go'.  What a cool visual.  

My former boss and mentor, Myer Berlow, once asked me the difference between a hallucination and a vision.  He said it was "How many people see it". 

I'm grateful so many industries are here. More importantly, we have a great variety of job titles represented.  We're starting to get on the same page, and it's gratifying to know we are beginning to see the same vision.  

Monday, October 18, 2010

The Information Scientists

After a dreadful flight, I arrived in New York's JFK in the cold, grey dawn. I took a taxi to the Plaza (actually, the Crowne Plaza) and threw myself upon the mercy of the check-in receptionist, who managed to snag me a room extra early. Thank God for small favors and low occupancy rates.

Seth and I agreed to meet at four at the conference center, so I managed to regain the sleep I'd lost and catch up on some introductions I needed to make between conference attendees. A little boy about my son's age had been ill on the flight, and I had that 'uh oh' feeling in my stomach, which meant it was possibly contagious. Still, I managed to eat lunch and pull myself together before meeting my colleague.

I greeted Seth, who seemed his usual chipper self, and I was glad to see he was so calm. He had the tough part - worrying about no-show speakers or missing presentation files. My job was to make sure the logistics of check-in and who needed to be where, and also to make sure our sponsors had everything they needed to ensure the event met their visibility and business opportunity needs. I met videographer 'don't call me Charline' Charlie, and I liked her instantly for her warm demeanor and quirky personality.

After we surveyed the center and determined everything was in order, we met the conference attendees for drinks. I met Dr. David Geddes, who I'd interviewed for the Smart Blog, and greeted my friends and colleagues, Marshall Sponder, who's now writing a book, as well as Michelle Manafy from Information Today, and Guillaume Mazieres from Temis, a company I once pitched business to while I was at SentiMetrix. Guillaume always made time for me and was always charming. Michelle and I got to know each other in Scottsdale at her eContent conference, and she quipped to Seth that because that they had 'competing' conferences, they were now 'Frienemies'.

I love this crowd. When you bring together brilliant people who are passionate about what they do, you get excitement, new ideas, and ways to make the workplace better. I see a gap between what has to happen on the consumer side and the side of the inventors. I've worked for a company in which technology was designed, and then I marketed it. Technology in search of a problem is always challenging. Market Development (like this conference) and Business Development have to occur hand-in-hand.

Our real challenge, collectively, is going to be to consider the viewpoints of the different constituencies represented here at the conference. From IT to Business Development to content creators to curators, we need to listen to each other and try to speak the same language.

More to come...

Sunday, October 17, 2010

New York Bound for Smart Content Conference

I am co-hosting a conference Tuesday with my friend, Seth Grimes. I feel guilty about it on two levels.

First, leaving Peter with a broken dishwasher and four sulking kids and a messy house while I get to go hobnob with the digerati in the most exciting city in the world is totally unfair.

Let's be honest: a hotel with a bed all to myself is the real draw here. I have had kids in my bed more nights this month than not. I need to make TIME for myself? I can't even go to the bathroom with the door fully closed.

Second, while the planning and execution of this conference has been happening since July, the real value I am adding has only happened in the last week, so I don't feel at all like an equal partner. My colleague is an accomplished author and consultant. His 'star power' has been the real draw here, and he has attracted speakers from all over the world to talk about content analytics tools (semantic search, or how to find what you're looking for even if you don't explicitly ask for it.) I provided the marketing, signed two major sponsors and am setting up a matchmaking component which will be a catalyst for making deals happen.

The last conference I went to that Seth organized was amazing. The IQ of the attendees was in the stratosphere, and I know just about everyone in the room could have seriously creamed me on the SATs. I have always been drawn to brilliant and interesting people. I have to refrain from gushing. Sometimes I feel a little like the clueless media and politicians in "Cloudy with a chance of Meatballs" who just assume computers can do everything and initially have no idea how much work really goes into the programs and inventions. I know enough to be dangerous. Therefore, I gush. I personally cannot program my way out of a paper bag. But, boy can I market and sell that paper bag!

It takes all kinds, I guess, to pull off a conference like this. We have media companies, press, advertising and public relations firms, solutions providers, inventors, and academics. It's a good mix. Now I get to be the hostess, welcome the attendees in, take their coat, get them the proverbial drink and introduce them to someone fascinating. The coolest part about it is that the audience is as large a draw as the speakers.

Now as I speed off into the night to catch my redeye from Phoenix, I am trying not to think about my youngest daughter's tears and her begging me to be sick so I could stay home..."just this once?"

Friday, October 15, 2010

The Hot Tub and Wet Bar

Yesterday I drove to my new office to get paperwork done and a tour of the facilities.  My new boss quipped "Maris will be organizing your new space, so you can tell her where you want the hot tub and wet bar."

I replied, "Oh, that's RIGHT!  I forgot, this is Marketing -- Two drink minimum.

To which Susan, my boss replied, "No,  it's Advertising.   It's four"

On the drive home, though, I started to panic about my life.  This is what I have going on, in no particular order:

- I moved to a new house recently, and am still unpacking.  

- I am helping run a conference in NY this coming Tuesday, as part of a consulting gig I am doing with a friend.  It's  I'm really excited about it.  But I have to pack, drive to Phoenix, and take a redeye Sunday night.  I love to freak out the flight attendants & fellow passengers by telling them I can't sleep on planes because I sleep in the nude.

- Aforementioned friend's mother is gravely ill and there is a chance he may not make it to the conference, so we need to plan for contingencies (aka I would run the whole thing)

- My mother-in-law is visiting next week.  My house is messy.   I love her dearly, but when she sees a mess she wants to clean it and I don't think that's fair to her (or me when I have a boiling pot of pasta and can't find the colander).

- I just pulled my youngest two kids out of public school due to bullying issues and put them in private school.  They have pre- and post- school hour activities. To afford this, I let my nanny go.  And she was a very good nanny, if anyone's looking I'll give you her name.  

- My dishwasher is broken (!!!)  

- Mount Washmore is piled so high next to the washing machines I get dizzy looking at it. 

- I WAS trying to sell my cabin in Pinetop but we've decided to refinance instead and leverage the recent interest we've had in people renting it. 

- I now have this weird nesting instinct to store up meals, find a zillion crock pot recipes, buy things in bulk, and make sure my family isn't wanting for things like toilet paper and stainless steel water bottles.

- I need to get my professional wardrobe in order, figure out who's taking whom where on school days and to after school activities like music and sports.

Thank God a colleague I admire has turned me on to this great book, "Getting Things Done" by David Allen. Basically, you pretend you have amnesia and have to write everything on your mind down, categorize it, and re-assess it every week (so instead of a yearly setting resolutions, you get to do it 51 more times a year).


There is a lot on this list.  And I haven't even started my new job yet.

Maybe I should really think about that hot tub and wet bar.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Ten things everyone needs in their handbag

I remember a scene from the movie "One Fine Day " in which George Clooney and Michelle Pfeiffer play roles as single parents desperately trying to come up with last-minute costumes for their respective kids.

Michelle, who plays an architect, grabs her hand bag and retrieves the following items: duct tape, a scarf, some makeup, and clip on earrings. She deftly whips up superhero suits for her young son and George Clooney's daughter.

George Clooney wonders aloud, "Where can I get a bag like that?"

I admit it, as a mom of four, my handbag has some pretty bizarre things inside of it. I am the family Sherpa because it is I who carry the bag. It's a holdover from the days when I carried a baby bag. Crushed juice boxes, hair bows, dog treats, a coffee cup, a movie I need to return, and a key to something I can't remember have all seemed to find a home there this week. All are useless to me (unless I need to whip up a last minute Halloween costume.)

There is one item in my bag, however, which I never leave home without. I have a "ready for anything" kit in my purse, and this is the one item I am always replacing. They come in handy no matter what the occasion: Unscented baby wipes. I keep an extra pack in my glove compartment I go through them so quickly. It is my weapon of choice for virtually any situation.

At least once a day, one of my children either spills something, gets their face dirty, needs to sneeze, or needs something to clean a skinned knee or bloody nose (the dry air causes makes this more common here in Tucson). Baby wipes to the rescue!

I take my kids to Starbucks for cider. The table is sticky. Voila! A baby wipe & you don't have to wait for a new table.

My shoes are scuffed, and need a quick shine. Behold, the humble baby wipe.

The inside of my car is dusty and I'm picking up my mother-in-law at the airport. A baby wipe for the dashboard! Meanwhile, I've used one at home to quickly polish and shine sinks, bathroom fixtures, and followed up with a dry washcloth. It looks as though I spent all day cleaning. (Just don't try this on windows and mirrors, the oil leaves smear marks). I also took a shortcut with polishing furniture. I use a damp one to pick up the dirt and a dry one to buff.

Here in Tucson it's still in the mid nineties during the day. If I'm overheated, waiting in the car for my kids to get out of school, a baby wipe on the pulse points makes me feel a lot cooler. And if I'm perspiring or need to remove errant makeup smudges, I can use it on my face.

And finally, at the end of the day, I use it to remove my makeup.

Just tonight, I was assisting with our Northminster mid-high church group doing a "toe painting" exercise (like finger painting... with their toes.) Guess what I happened to have that came in soooo handy? :)

You know, I always admire a woman who can whip out a safety pin, power bar, bandage, or cough lozenge out of her purse for a friend in need. I do love handbags, but I do realize it's what's inside that counts.

So: If you could keep 10 things in your handbag (guys, glove compartment?) what would they be? I need a "ready for anything at home/school/work" kit. Help me out?


Tuesday, October 12, 2010

And so it begins.

It's official!  I got notice today from Martha at the Human Resources department that I will start a week from Thursday.  Woot woot!!

Back to 9-5.  I've been working without an office and having to set the alarm clock for almost a decade.  I started a couple of businesses (jewelry related) -- really not worth mentioning as they were not runaway successes, but they kept me in bling, so a girl can't complain.  Besides,  it was good practice and  rebuilt 'muscle memory' for how to market, sell, and provide great service.

 I then worked for a start-up that began to feel more like a dysfunctional relationship than a job (18 months without financing but I'm paying a nanny???).  Still, it was a lot of fun, I learned a lot, and, more importantly, I realized how important being part of a team is to me. I missed the camaraderie of "The Office" and was getting my fix of it on Thursday nights on NBC.  It was a poor substitute for the energy of the real thing

There is a time in every working woman's life when she contemplates staying home.  Usually it's when she has a baby.  Then she fights the war inside her head about where she ::really:: should be.  At home, she thinks she should be finishing something at the office and feels guilty.  At the office, she thinks she should be with her baby and feels guilty.  So, most people figure out what makes the most financial sense and grit their teeth and just do it.   In our case, my husband stayed home while I worked.  I used to work for a major corporation.  At various events, my envious male colleagues would razz him and say...

"How'd you land this gig?  You're so lucky, you get to stay home, maybe play some golf..."

But, (God love him) my husband would jump in and say,  "Oh no no no.  I don't have time.  Between the shopping, cooking and making sure her (pointing at me) laundry's done before she goes off on another business trip, it's all I can do to keep up with the kids!  You want to watch them for me while I golf?"

The clueless husbands would frown and say "Wow, that's harder than what I do all day..." while their stay-at-home wives would smack them on the back of their heads, roll their eyes and say, "You idiot.  That is EXACTLY what I do all day!"

Yes, he worked hard.  Yes, I appreciated it.  He did perfect laundry, the kids were clean, diapered, entertained and cheerful every night, and dinner was at six on the dot (and if I was late he and the kids would start without me).  Did I have a case of "the grass is greener?"  You betcha.

So, later in life, we switched.  And I learned something very important about myself.

I am not Martha Stewart.   The harder I tried, the harder I fell.  I became...more like... the antiMartha.

Shortcuts are fine... no, they are MORE than fine with me.  The trick is, how do you know what shortcuts are terrific and which make your life feel,

I hope you'll ride along side me as I document the process of 'having it all', or 'losing it all' (aka my sanity).  Your advice and comments are most welcome.   Do share, that's what it's all about!