I forgot my birthday

Well, technically I haven’t forgotten it yet this year, but most years I do indeed forget my birthday.

If a robot sings Happy Birthday on Mars and there's no one around to hear it, does it make a sound?

If a robot sings Happy Birthday on Mars and there’s no one around to hear it, does it make a sound?

So.

For people that don’t forget their birthdays and want to celebrate, there is apparently a group of killjoys roaming the earth that would ban self-hosted or self-organized birthday merrymaking:

“But modern Western culture is predominated by a belief that the individual is owed recognition, accolades, respect, honor and gifts for reaching certain life milestones and if friends and family won’t do it, then they feel justified in taking matters into their own hands to make sure they are sufficiently and deservedly honored.  Humility is a dying character trait.”

Or … people like excuses to party and a birthday provides the perfect excuse.  Using one’s own birthday as an excuse to party is not inherently honoring oneself, because that’s not how birthday parties work anymore.  Birthdays are fantastic excuses to drop everything and party – just by virtue of the fact that there are 365 possible days a year for people to have birthdays and only around 10 or so of those days are official holidays, there’s a good chance that any given person’s birthday falls between established holidays.  It’s a nice deviation in the routine and a break from reality.  Similar to how a beloved patron saint’s feast day works in certain cultures.

Yes, etiquette supposedly forbids hosting a party where people bring you gifts.  But somehow hostess gifts are okay, as are wedding gifts.  It is true that certain types of people cannot move past the idea that “birthday party” = “bring me presents,” and I agree that such an attitude and expectation is very childish.  And yet they still accuse those of us who do not expect gifts of being childish, as if they simply cannot believe that people would throw a party and not expect gifts.  Cultural norms change, and sometimes for the better.

In my circle, when it’s your birthday it’s your turn to host everyone.  That’s how the reciprocation of hospitality works for us.  As a result, I have been to many self-hosted birthday parties but never to one where the birthday person receives any sort of gift.  The only exception is a hostess gift (which authorities agree is allowable) if they are hosting a party at their house with all the planning, decorating, cooking, and alcohol that it entails.  Etiquette calls for reciprocation of hospitality; if you take your turn on your birthday because everyone takes their turn on their birthday, what does it matter?

Answer: It doesn’t.

But because that would limit our ability to be judgmental and haughty, we can’t possibly look at it that way.

TL/DR: Cultural norms change.  It’s a thing; look it up.


Some other choice quotes:

Poor commenter Athena (not me!) asks:

“I’m holding a wine tasting party for my birthday, and I’m paying for everything. Am I consigned to eHell?”

My response:

It depends on who is on call the day of your Judgment.  If it’s someone from a generation or two ago, you are certainly doomed.  To be safe, you should avoid planning any sort of social event or even leaving the house (except for work and limited grocery shopping) for a full 30 days before and after each birthday or half-birthday, lest any intentional or unintentional frivolity be seen as shamelessly honoring yourself.  It does not matter that you are paying for everything or that you do not expect gifts.  Anything you plan in the vicinity of your birthday shall be deemed to be a “self-hosted birthday party” and you shall be found a “selfish gimme-pig.”

On the other hand, someone from our generation (say, ages 20 – 40 or so), will likely have much more sense.  They would tell you not to give it a second thought and go have a blast.  It’s your birthday, after all, and you clearly do not have the expectation of being “honored” or being showered with gifts – what could possibly be wrong with having a good time and sharing the occasion with whomever you want?

UPDATE:

I was totally joking about the “no events 30 days before and after” bit, but commenter Daphne contributed:  “just don’t call it a birthday party, and better yet don’t have it on or near your birthday.” (emphasis mine)  So what I said in jest apparently people are actually saying in seriousness.

Commenter kingsrings says:

“And now awaiting all the comments on here disagreeing with admin, crying foul over her opinion, and naming all the reasons why it’s okay to throw your own birthday party. I predict that the biggest counter-argument will be that it is acceptable practice in other countries to do that, so it’s okay.”

Um – yes.  That’s how it works.  Interesting that even though etiquette is a collection of culture-specific customs, we have people arrogant enough to insist, “Customs be damned – everyone must do everything in a way that makes sense to ME and MY culture.”  We’re not talking about universals of natural law (ex. slavery, human sacrifice), we are talking about culture-specific, morally neutral customs.

In fact, commenter Goldie says that in her country, “As an adult, you were EXPECTED to throw a birthday party for yourself and invite people, especially if it was a big milestone like 30, 40, 50 and so on. People would be hurt and confused if a friend of theirs skipped out of throwing a birthday party – you kind of owed them a celebration.”  RJ adds: “Living on Crete for a time I discovered that Greek people celebrate their Saint’s name day not their birthday: Dimitri would celebrate on St James, Costas or Cristina on St Christopher’s day. But no invitations were issued! Friends were expected to know all the saints’ days and to know that on Christopher’s day Costas would of course be ready to host guests.  Costas would therefore prepare a feast and hope his friends turned up to the party!”

From the admin:

“The first question you should be asking yourself is, ‘Why do I need a birthday party after the age of 18?’ You and others appear to have this unrealistic and selfish expectation that the world owes you a party and if your cretin friends won’t do it, you’ll take matters into your own hands to make certain you get the requisite party marking some age milestone. The second question that apparently no ever asks themselves is, ‘If I consider my birthday that important, why have I not considered the feelings of others in regards to their birthdays and taken the effort to host a party for them?’ ”

To answer the second question first, everyone knows their own birthday.  It’s administratively easier to plan something for a date you already know.

To answer the first question, of course no one “needs” a birthday party; no one is arguing such. Also, no one “needs” to socialize with friends or “needs” to host a dinner party or “needs” to meet coworkers for drinks. There are a host of things that no one “needs” to do and yet we do them anyway because they provide enjoyment to all involved.

What bothers me is that the specific prohibition from hosting a party (that presumably everyone would find enjoyable) on one’s own birthday lends far more weight to the idea that a birthday is “special” somehow than any party could.

From the admin again:

“There are 364 days and 51 other weeks in which to gather friends together to offer them hospitality yet quite a few commenters appear to have deceived themselves into believing they must have an excuse to entertain friends, in particular using the occasion of their own birthday.”

Yes.  That’s how it works when times are lean and money is short. like it has been for a lot of people these last few years.  You do need an”excuse” to do anything financially beyond the bare necessities.  Goldie adds, “I guess maybe because we grew up with a shortage of everything, people weren’t throwing parties for their friends just because, for no reason. It would’ve been weird.”

As much as I ordinarily hate the phrase, it applies here: “Admin, check your privilege!


Final thoughts –

It’s also pretty amusing to flip through the comments and watch people talk past each other on this issue.  In reading these conversations one would never guess that the point of communication is to convey ideas toward a goal of mutual understanding.  Apparently the goal of communication is a trial by combat in which one bludgeons the other person with the same words and phrases over and over until they walk away out of frustration.

I’m just glad I don’t have to put up with anyone like this in real life.

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How to talk to clients: intermediate

(Content warning: moderate sufficient profanity)

For those of you that have mastered the skills in the elementary course, now it’s time to step it up: this time I am going to give you some tips on how to communicate diplomatically.  I am joined today by More Charitable Athena (MCA) who more accurately represents my true professional persona.


Scenario 1:

When the client gives you a supporting schedule that has no relation whatsoever to the area you are trying to audit:

Don’t say: Your stuff is fucked up.  Fix this shit before you give it back to me.

Although this is probably the most accurate thing you can say, it is ultimately unhelpful.  Mainly because if it were obvious to your client how fucked up their shit is, they would have fixed it before they gave it to you.  So you have to point out specifics about where and exactly how much their shit is fucked up.

Also, the aggressive phrasing can be a bit off-putting.  They might get defensive, cry, or worse, complain to your boss about what a big meanie you are.  Bosses are notoriously unsympathetic to client misstreatment of their employees, so if that happens you’re really screwed.

Instead try: I am having some difficulty with this supporting schedule you provided (point out at least two or three specific things that don’t work).  Could you please prepare a reconciliation between the supporting schedule and the account I’m looking at?

MCA says: Many people who work in private accounting (i.e. our clients) spend all day working in the trees.  They see the bark on one tree, the sap on another, that damn squirrel that ALWAYS grabs those acorns that need to stay JUST SO to put the picture together.  (Their training conveniently neglected to mention that goddamned squirrel, by the way.  They had to figure that shit out all on their own.)  They don’t see the forest because they have more than enough to do with just the goddamned trees.  So when we auditors come in looking at the forest, we need to communicate with them in terms of the trees they understand.

Bonus: When the client gives you the exact same shit they gave you before that’s fucked up in the exact same way and says, “Here you are – I fixed it.”

Don’t say: What in the actual fuck?  This is the same shit as before, fucked up in the exact same way.  Try again, numbskull.

Same pitfalls as above.  Do you want to be right or do you want to be effective?

Instead: Bring your computer over to them and ask, “Can you walk me through exactly how this reconciles these two areas?”

MCA says: I have found that a lot of people don’t know what it’s like to not know what they know.  Sure, THEY know that you have to add these three numbers and subtract 1/3 of the fourth number and multiply by the average internally-assigned acuity code of the patient population because they DO it every month.  But you don’t.  If you ask them to reperform what they did, one of two things will usually happen: 1) you will understand it, too; or 2) they will see that the supporting schedule they gave you is actually wrong and will fix it for real.


Scenario 2:

When the client disagrees with you and you turn out to be right (duh):

Don’t say: In yo FACE, sucka!!  Haven’t you learned yet not to argue with me?  I’ve forgotten more shit than you’ll ever know!

So you know all there is to know about accounting and auditing.  Fan-fucking-tastic.  Is that really where your sense of self-worth comes from?  Has it occurred to you that most people have priorities other than your particular area of expertise?  Look, the unfortunate reality is that while you see how important it is for people who do accounting for a living to, oh I dunno, actually know something about accounting, the rest of the world doesn’t feel that way.  And it shows.  Don’t suffer under any illusion that you’re going to change this.

Instead say: I’ll go ahead and post the adjustment on my end.  Would you like a copy?

MCA says: Most people care about doing their job right, but unfortunately may have been taught some incorrect or expired information.  If you want clients to be more helpful, get good at explaining things.  Talk to them in terms of the trees they understand (see Scenario 1 above) and walk them through how things work.  Draw pictures.  It helps.


Scenario 3:

When the client says to you on Thursday, “Let’s try and get these financial statements issued before I go on vacation next week.”

Don’t say: Well if you would quit having me change little LITTLE things that ripple through 7 workpapers, 2 adjusting entries, and 3 places in the report, maybe this would have already been done.  Don’t expect me to fix your shit and then question the manner in which I fix it.

Instead say: ….

(I got nothin’ here.  Ya just gotta do it at this point.  Sorry.)

MCA says: Can’t think of a positive spin on this one.  Your client’s just an asshole.


Note: This may or may not be inspired by my job right now.  I will admit nothing.

Don’t be an ass at the gym

Monday seems to be the busiest day at my gym, so in light of that I offer the following public service announcement:

DON’T BE AN ASS AT THE GYM

How’s that?  Oh, you think I need to be more specific?  Alrighty then –

1) If you grab dumbbells off the weight rack, don’t do your reps right there where you’re standing.  You’re blocking me from grabbing the specific dumbbells that I need to do my reps, which I assure you are not less important than yours.  Why yes, I will stand diagonally behind you and do the hip jut while I give you the stink-eye in the mirror.  And then I will purposefully invade your personal space as I swoop in the nanosecond you move to grab / put away the dumbbells I need.  Just like I do every goddamned time you do this.  How have you not figured this out yet?

2) If you use a machine, use it and then get off.  Don’t sit there for 12 minutes (yes, I clocked your ass) playing on your phone while you rest for four minutes between your 20-second sets at the lowest possible weight.  There are other people here, and some of us want to use that machine which, as you will observe, is the only one of it’s kind in the gym.

Exception: If you are old, disregard #2.  You are a badass and I am more than happy to work around you.

3) Don’t spray the cleaner out in the middle, forcing us all to breathe it in.  I don’t want that shit in my lungs.  Spray a towel discreetly in the corner and then come over and wipe the machine off.

Overall, my gym is pretty awesome.  We have people of all sizes, shapes, ages, and levels of fitness there, and people are usually pretty good about being considerate and working around each other.  If we can just tamp down on these inconsiderate habits, the place will be even more pleasant.

Blog Party!! Join in the fun!

Come join the blog party! I’ve followed at least three or four new blogs so far, and I’m just getting started!

The Chicago Files

Blog Party BannerHi everyone! Today is the day for my first blog party! Please join in on this post!  Here are the details:

 1. Choose one of your favorite posts from your blog.  Whatever you’d like to share with the rest of us, whether it be about travel, novels, food, personal adventures, blogging, photography, etc…………. You may share up to three of your posts during the party, but please post only one at a time.  It’s best to wait awhile before sharing your second and third posts, as it will give others enough time to join in the fun!

2. Paste the link to your post in the comment section of this post; if you’d like to write something about yourself or describe your blog, we’d love it!

3. Have fun! There’s a virtual food and drink table with lots of Chicago deep-dish pizza and Canadian desserts (butter tarts and Nanaimo Bars!)…

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How to talk to gay people (a primer)

Opening

Firstly, say hello.  Similar to straight people, most gay people begin their conversations with a greeting.  Common variants are “hello,” “hi,” “yo,” or very rarely, “greetings and salutations.”

Before you proceed, check for eye contact.  Eye contact is a common signal among gay people that a conversation has begun.  If you have not succeeded in making eye contact, DO NOT PROCEED.  As a conversation for gay people is an encounter involving two or more people (i.e. more than just you), you have no conversation if you have failed to gain their attention.  Don’t take it personally and simply try again another time, just like you would treat a missed connection with a straight person.

Next steps

Next, you may ask any of several small-talk type questions, such as “How do you know (insert mutual friend here)?” Or “How long are you visiting the area?” or even “What lovely weekend weather we had!  Were you able to get outside?”  Most gay people are reasonably well-versed in social customs, in a proportion likely similar to straight people.  That’s why they are called “social customs,” because people who are members of society are generally aware of them.  Even gay members of society.

Caution: Similar to straight relationships, gay relationships may be complex or a sensitive subject, so it may be a bit forward to ask directly about their partner or their family. Instead, share a comment or a story about your own significant other and if they want to share, they will respond in kind. You may then follow up with more specific questions about their family.

Caution: As with many straight people, politics and religion are generally not good topics for small talk.  Even if you think you’re safe with a comment like, “How ‘bout that Supreme Court marriage decision?  I bet you’re super excited!” be aware that, like straight people, gay people have nuanced and complicated views.  Respect their depth and diversity of thought just as you would a straight person’s thoughts.

After that, anything goes! Be sure to explore in more depth any shared interests or other things you have in common. You may already know how to do this from the conversations you have had with straight people.

Conclusion

Finally, say goodbye before you go. Similar to straight people, gay people like their conversations to have a definite end.

TL/DR: You talk to a gay person the same way you talk to a straight person.

Bonus guide: How to talk to transgender people – Go back to the beginning of this post.  Replace every usage of “gay” with “transgender.”

TL/DR: You talk to a transgender person the same way you talk to a straight person.

Note: This silliness inspired by a piece advising us all on how to convert “the gays” to Christianity.  The piece was titled “How to talk to the gays,” and this post was the first place my brain went.

Help wanted

If you look between the buildings, you can see the lake.

If you look between the buildings, you can see the lake.

This ^^ right here is the view from where I’m sitting this week.  It’s sunny, it’s over 90 degrees outside, and I am desperately trying to come up with a business reason why I need to go jump in the lake.  Bonus points if you can help me come up with a business reason why I need to go skinny dipping in the lake.

Any ideas?

I fail at being a girl

Trigger warning: Feet.  Because feet are gross.

Ewwwwww

Ewwwwww

This week I am commuting downtown for work.  I’ve done it enough times that I’m generally comfortable with what I’m doing, where I’m going, and other lifestyle choices, but as I look at the people around me I still feel so jarringly out of place at the ease with which everyone alongside me comes and goes.

I’m a lot better than I used to be – I used to gaze up in awe at all the HUGE buildings, the likes of which I had only seen in pictures before.  Now I walk briskly, cynical gaze downward with the best of ‘em.

While I am cynically gazing downward, I see other people’s feet.  They are kinda right there in my field of vision so I can’t avoid it.  And I notice that the vast majority of women are dressed for their destination rather than the walk.  Women are wearing these shoes –

Gorgeous!

Gorgeous!

or these shoes –

Adorable!

or even these shoes –

Stylish!

Stylish!

But not many people are wearing these shoes –

Practical!

Practical!

And if they are wearing sneakers, they are wearing an outfit with pants so it doesn’t look too obnoxious.  I have yet to see another person like me wearing a summery black sleeveless shirt paired with a breezy black-and white floral skirt, rounded out with sneakers.  Or today’s choice of a royal blue sundress paired expertly with – you guessed it! – sneakers.

I know it looks horrible but I’m at a point where I am done sacrificing functionality for style; and I have learned from experience that any footwear less supportive than sneakers results in painful feet and swollen joints.  Especially the flat-soled sandals.  When I see women not so much walking but galumping around, carelessly slapping their feet on the ground, my knees hurt just seeing them.

But my real concern is when I get where I’m going, I have to walk through the reception area and down the halls of my law firm client still wearing my obnoxious garb.  By the time I have a chance to put my backpack down, dig out my real shoes and switch over, I have been there at least five or ten minutes and I have likely been introduced to one or more people by this point.  Yay for first impressions!  So important in a client service job.

99.9% of the time I am totally fine owning my more tomboyish self, but situations like this make me thing to myself, “If only I were more skilled at being a girl.”

Why abortion is even a thing

This post is not a direct answer to Broadblogs’s comment on my previous post, but it is inspired by her comment.  She blogs about feminism and gender relations here.

I have noticed that there tend to be a few distinct issues that tend to get blended together when people discuss abortion, and I wanted to take the time to break them out a bit.  Let me begin with a caveat that I’m speaking very generally here, so I’m not going to be able to cover all cases, all situations, or all people.

Generally speaking, abortion happens because of unplanned pregnancy.  How does that happen?

What causes unplanned pregnancy

  • Primarily people having sex. Consensual or otherwise.
  • Lack of contraception access. Usually this is where the blame for abortion gets pinned, but strictly speaking a lack of contraception (plus people having sex) only leads to unplanned pregnancies.  I don’t so much mean logistical access, since contraception really is widely available; rather, I’m referring to cultural access.  Since I made up the term (so far as I know) I’ll explain: a lack of cultural access would be, for example, a young woman who didn’t get anything resembling real sex ed, who might have heard of birth control but might not really know what the various risks and failure rates are for various methods.  All the logistical access in the world won’t fix the cultural access issues, unfortunately.
  • Contraception failure (plus people having sex).

So you have an unplanned pregnancy.  Congratulations!  Now what?  Are you going to keep it?  Let someone adopt it?  Abort it?

What causes abortion

  • Pro-lifers shaming women for being single moms.
  • Pro-choicers shaming women for being stupid enough to get pregnant.
  • Coercion from partners / parents / others.
  • Individual choice for reasons ranging from the serious to the trivial. Yes, some women do choose abortion for trivial reasons; there will always be people who make serious choices for trivial reasons, especially if there’s no particular obstacle to that specific choice.
  • A culture that is generally not very welcoming to new life, even in the best of circumstances. How many families struggle to make it work even when they get pregnant on purpose with a very wanted child?  The struggle is magnified the further you get from this ideal.

All that being said, abortion still wouldn’t be a thing without a very widespread but very incorrect assumption, which brings me to –

What enables abortion

  • The belief that the right to life does not begin for humans until …. ? Depending on which pro-choice person you are talking to, the right to life does not begin until the 12th week of pregnancy, the 20th week, the 36th week, the day of birth (as long as some part of the baby is inside the mother), a few weeks postpartum, or at a particular point I didn’t mention.

Science makes it abundantly clear that a new individual begins to be present at conception; at that point there is a genetically unique individual that has never existed before in the history of the world and will never exist again.  No other bright line exists for when the right to life begins, and no other point in development makes a logical bright line.

If this fact were universally recognized, and assuming we all agree that it’s wrong to forcibly end someone’s life, elective abortion would become unacceptable and virtually disappear.  The average person would no more choose abortion than they would choose to kill their toddler.  Of course there would still be medically necessary abortions, because even when you recognize that you have two patients in front of you, sometimes you simply can’t save at least one of them, but those abortions would no longer be of the hack-n-slash variety.

How do we reduce abortion?

The thought process that enables abortions is frankly the easiest thing to address, but even that is very difficult in practice for a wide variety of reasons, probably primarily the fact that all of the causes of abortion are still present.  This impacts the general willingness to listen, as important as it is to continue to spread the word on this front.

Although I have seen some progress in pro-lifers fixing their attitudes toward single parents, unfortunately women are still generally in the position of having to give pro-lifers AND pro-choicers the finger when they say, “No, abortion is unacceptable and I won’t do it.  Period.”

An unrepeatable miracle 

No moralizing, no preaching, no “sky is falling” … none of that is effective anyway. Just … think about this for a bit. That’s all I ask.

karenwriteshere

This is quite a departure from my usual “doodles”. I drew this today as my heart ached from the latest news about the desecration of the purest, most innocent of all human life. It is but the icing on top of many other abominable practices to which our culture has become desensitized. I’ve said much about this on other channels, and I don’t intend to elaborate in this space.

For now let’s pause to simply behold the miracle, the self-evident beauty that is every human being.

The human being is single, unique, and unrepeatable, someone thought of and chosen from eternity, someone called and identified by name.

–Pope John Paul II

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One thing that will DOOM your marriage

Right here is a marriage that is definitely doomed to fail:

What is wrong with you people?

What is wrong with you people?

My husband and I saw this last weekend and the conversation went like this:

Me: *Gaping in horror* How would that even work?

Him: I don’t know – maybe they work through it somehow?

Me: Yes, but … why would you even get married if you’re so far apart on such a fundamental life philosophy?  I mean, a difference in politics?  Fine – you can learn from each other.  A difference in religion?  Sure, I get that – no problem.  But this?!  No way.  Anyone that would put up that sign is either not in a happy marriage or is soon to get divorced.

Him: Maybe they just learn not to speak to each other for five months out of the year?

Me: *Shaking head* I still don’t understand how they would get to the point of considering marriage.  I mean, if you were a Packer fan …  I don’t think I could have married you.  I mean, the Catholic – agnostic thing is fine, no problem.  But this?  I … I really don’t think I could have done it.

Him: I know what you mean.