Category Archives: Stuff about stuff

The Notelet War (or, How to write a snarky office note that actually does something)

A different kind of note than I normally discuss here.

For a while at the office, we’ve had a note on the microwave that says

If you use this machine, clean it.

Or some variant thereof. This morning I walked in and it said

Wh-a-a-a-a-t? Someone’s lunch exploded! Please clean the wave [sic]

I opened up the microwave and sure enough there was some crusty, cheesy and tomato-y residue. Not my lunch , but … I needed to use the microwave and considered just using it with what was in there, because I want my tea as fast as possible, but there was the possibility that something would fall off the roof of the microwave into my tea, and then I’d have to clean the microwave anyway and then make another cup of tea, so I did the adult thing and cleaned the microwave out of a robust sense of pure goodly self-interest.

But I was a little ticked about the note. And it wasn’t just that they abbreviated microwave with just “wave” and didn’t even put an apostrophe. I don’t know if it’s written by the same person who puts notes on the fridge in all caps rife with misspellings, grammar errors, omitted words, and lack of punctuation, but what really miffed me is that this note didn’t accomplish anything important. So I wrote a note that

It probably took you just as long to write the note as it would have to clean the microwave.

Those of you who are mature, rational adults are probably shaking your heads right now and realizing that this would not end well. Fortunately, all parties declared a cessation of hostilities and nothing really came of it.

Some people don’t like notes. I do. They’re just wonderful for passive-aggressive behavior, which is my favorite kind of behavior.

Back when I worked as an editor, we had a party one day, and a coworker, B, had baked something tasty (probably babkas, and since her name starts with a B, I’ll just name her Babka). She put her dishes in the sink at work afterward, and someone threw them out. These weren’t ambiguous dishes of any sort. They weren’t some aluminum trays or anything like that. They were nice CorningWare glass dishes, clearly meant to be reused and not tossed out.

This came on the heels of someone tossing out some blue cheese of mine, presumably because it looked moldy. (It doesn’t go bad! Itgoes good!) So I wrote a little note:

Please don’t throw out other people’s stuff.

And I put it on the wall behind the sink.

Whereupon later that evening, after I had gone home, some irony-deficient soul threw out my note.

So I made another and hung it up.

That one got thrown out by lunch time.

This time I made two.

Please don’t throw out other people’s stuff. This includes signs asking you to not throw out other peoples’ stuff.

Both trashed.

Come on, at least recycle.

My next task was to ensure that the sign couldn’t be thrown out. Being just a piece of paper, this is quite difficult, because, in the same way a person can shrug off a single papercut, a human can easily overpower a single piece of paper. But many papercuts may make even the strongest warrior cry out in agony! So I did what any sensible person would do, and that’s make dozens of copies, stay at work very late, and then paper the entire wall of the kitchen with signs.

Naturally, the next day, someone came around and explained that she had been removing signs because she found them “unprofessional,” though no mention was made of how unprofessional it was to throw away someone’s dishes, and was looking for the person who made the signs. My co-workers, bless their hearts, did not rat me out.

My boss called me into her office and asked me, even though she couldn’t prove it was me, not to put up any more signs.

This was right about the time that things really started to go downhill, businesswise, at that office, right before we knew for sure that the editorial contract my section worked on — which was the biggest one there — was going to someone else, and we were all going to die get fired be restructured.

Now, whenever I write a little sarcastic note at work, I wonder if this was the sort of thing that factored into my being laid off when it came time to pick and choose who got to stay.

hmmmm … naaaaaah.

Hey, I promised to tell you about an office note actually doing something, not something good!

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I Hate Cutting the Grass

What grass makes me feel like.

It’s not just my hay fever. I just think the whole idea behind lawns, and mowing them, is stupid.

Let’s think about this. We have entire departments of the city whose job it is to issue citations when someone’s grass gets too tall. That’s anything over something like 12″ I think. Why? Because at some point we decided that we weren’t going to allow this one particular plant to get too tall. I have bushes in my front yard that are 3 or 4 feet tall, but that’s okay, because they aren’t grass. I can grow flowers that are basically local weeds, and they might get two feet tall, but that’s okay, because they aren’t grass. So we have to mow it. I use a push mower, which does a terrible job. Most people burn up some fossil fuels.

Mowin’ it old school. Evidence I’m either a masochist or an ascetic.

That right there is everything that’s wrong with the world. Don’t like how this plant looks? Burn some fossil fuels!

But there are some plants that aren’t even okay to have in the front yard! There are communities (I don’t know about in Baltimore, but I bet some of the covenant communities here are like this) where you can’t grow, say, tomatoes in the front yard. Tomatoes! They have flowers. They get some pretty red fruit. But not okay. Why? I guess because they’re food. Can’t have anyone growing

Not an acceptable flower. People might think you aren’t just interested in wasting your huge tracts of land.

food in the front yard! Other plants that do that that are purely decorative are perfectly okay. We can’t have livestock in the city like goats or sheep that would eat the grass, either.

And people say this boils down to property values. You have to prove that your land is completely non-productive or you might devalue your neighbor’s land! One particular plant has a height limit or you might devalue your neighbor’s land! If you really want to prove that you’re super awesome, you

“Can you believe someone was wasting all this land growing crops? I’m so glad I can just ride my mower around on it as a leisure activity! What’s that? Oh, I totally need this much land or else I might be able to see my neighbor.”

can be one of those people who buys up forty acres of farm land and fills it with lawn as faaar as the eye can see. You could put some freaking horses on that land! But no! They smell bad and the gasoline required to run your riding mower isn’t going to burn itself and contribute to the destruction of the planet!

How did we reach this mindset as a species? What is wrong with us?

Do all the things (not just one thing well)!

I do a lot of stuff. That’s a bug, not a feature.

Grassrootsy ran an article yesterday, discussing whether quality of product or publicity is important. This is a quick excerpt from Joy’s post:

Just to clarify: content is quality. The music has got to be great. Totally agree with you. But just b/c its great doesn’t mean it gets exposure. And just because its great doesnt mean people will listen to it. That’s where solid promotion comes in. Otherwise all the talented independent artists out there, would be famous by now.

I agree with this, just like I agree with Joy on most things she writes. Getting exposure for things is clearly important. But the reason this came up for me is that recently a friend wrote to me asking for press contacts for Baltimore. Three years ago, I might have had something useful to say. I even landed Midway Fair’s second album a few reviews, so obviously I must know something about promoting music to “the press” (even if none of those reviews were by anyone in Baltimore).

But I had to type up an e-mail that explained that, now, I know nahthing. I shared what information I had, but it was a couple years old.

At some point, I realized that there’s really only so much time in the world, and promoting my music is probably my least favorite activity ever. It makes me feel really distasteful, and not just because I’m (apparently) antisocial and don’t want to talk to people. I don’t even like to sell the albums that I’ve spent thousands of dollars recording. When I’m allowed to, I sell the albums for whatever people are willing to pay. That’s pretty inconvenient for making the money back to make more recordings, though.

Instead I just decided to spend the time spent doing halfhearted promoting on things I apparently do enjoy: writing, playing music, and building little electronic boxes (that I barely use at all).

Building little electronic boxes obviously does nothing for promoting my music, except, well, in a way it has, because almost every video on my YouTube channel has more views alone than the entire Midway Fair channel had (back when it had videos, before YouTube inexplicably deleted them all). It’s taught me a lot about the science of sound, about really listening to how sound actually works. When I started doing some home recording recently, I was able to transfer that knowledge to better arrangements. When working in the studio in January on our forthcoming Most Distant Star EP, I had a better sense of what to grab to get the sound I wanted … and when not to grab anything. And when to do nothing at all.

Most of the writing I do these days isn’t the sort of writing I really want to do … I’m not writing fiction, and I certainly don’t write as many songs as I ought to, but instead I spend a lot of time writing about how to build little electronic boxes and helping other people do the same. Is it a waste of time? I don’t know in the long run. But I don’t think it is. It has actually forced me to think harder about whether someone else can understand what I’m writing. Sometimes the target audience is one person. Sometimes it’s several people. But I can say for sure that I didn’t think quite as deeply about how well I was communicating when I was just writing fiction. I think my songwriting has also become more facile simply by staying in practice writing anything instead of only sitting at the keyboard when I had the intention of creating something “great.” (Which does not work and never has for anyone ever, not even for the one person somewhere reading this who thinks it worked for them. I just want to be clear on that.) Maybe I don’t end up making great songs, but at least I make songs when I want to.

I guess my point is that just because something doesn’t accomplish a specific end goal doesn’t mean that it’s not worth pursuing, and even getting good at. I’m doing a lot of things that don’t advance whatever minuscule ambitions I have for my music, and yet somehow those are still useful in making better music.

And you know what? I bet there are also people out there for whom promoting music is a way for them to get better at being a musician.

At some point, I realized that I really only have time for a certain number of things in life, and actively promoting my band takes time and energy, so when it came up on the chopping block, I had to see if it accomplished any of my goals in life. You know, those nonexistent goals. I don’t tour, I’m not trying to get on a label, I don’t play pop music, and I can’t even name a venue in Baltimore I’d like to work toward playing. In fact, the only definable goal I could come up with for my music was that I wanted to be really good. And if I thought about it, that’s the only thing I’ve ever cared about … I just want to be good. When I record an album, I want to be able to listen to it and say, “This is actually good.” When I write something, I just wanted it to be good. Once it comes time to do anything with them, I lose interest quickly. Which is stupid, I know, but I just can’t see the point. What would I do if I worked hard at publishing my writing? Give up playing music and continue writing fiction all the time, so that I build a body of work and eventually enjoy the modest success of having someone, somewhere, download and read my book? I like playing music too much. What if I focused on just music and worked hard at making a living at it? I could spend a lot of time getting good enough at promoting music to live out of my car when I’m 50 (i.e., modest success) and sell out a small venue 200 times a year, but the trouble is I also like doing all this other stuff. I also want to be good at having a house and sleeping in it.

All this is sort of another way of agreeing that quality is of supreme importance, but that you can’t ignore publicity if you want anyone to know your music. If that’s what you want.

But as someone who doesn’t rely on selling CDs to pay for his next meal, I wonder, what would the world would be like if more artists just ditched their ambitions to be famous, important, or even known outside of a handful of friends and instead just tried to be really good at what they do?

Of course, wanting to be good at too many things in general means I’m not really that good at any of them, just good enough to realize how much better a lot of people are at it. But maybe someday I will be, if I don’t get bored and move onto something else.