Five years to find a publisher.
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A Plot for Pridemore is now available in paperback, Kindle or Nook.
I’m a word person. I work as a copywriter during daylight hours, and I write creative prose and essays in my spare time. I have also been told – usually by a supervisor who is trying to find something positive to say in my performance review – that I have excellent verbal communication skills.
In short, I am good with words.
Why is it, then, that I struggle to communicate the most basic things to my own four-year-old kid? Last night, my son was in the bathtub, and he wanted to get out. I have been trying to teach him that he needs to pull up the plug before exiting the tub, allowing the water to drain. For some reason last night, the right words weren’t coming to me.
“Pull the thing! Pull the thing!” I commanded as my son dangled a wet leg over the tub.
“What thing?” he asked.
“The, um, the metal thing that holds the water in,” I stammered. “The plug! The plug!”
He smiled at me and started singing a song he had made up about his favorite colors. Then he wrapped his arms around my legs and got my jeans wet. He loves doing that.
A few minutes later, as I was coaxing him to put on his pajamas, he asked me what the term, “inside-out” means.
“Well,” I said slowly, trying to conjure up the right words, “It means that the inside of your shirt is on the outside, so your shirt looks funny when you wear it.”
He gave me a puzzled look. He was standing naked in front of the TV, clean pajamas and underpants scattered around him on the floor.
“It’s the opposite of the way you should wear your shirt,” I tried again.
“But what does inside-out mean?” he asked.
“You know what it means?” I blurted. “It means you need to put on your pajamas by the time I count to three, because you know what happens when I get to three?”
He looked down. “I go to Time-Out.”
“That’s right,” I said, feeling a little bit more in control.
“But what does inside-out mean? You still haven’t told me.”
I know why I sometimes have trouble communicating with my son. First, when I am around him during the work week, in the early morning or after six o’clock at night, I am often tired and my brain is not functioning at its sharpest. Secondly, shifting gears from interacting with adults all day to breaking a concept down so a small child can understand it takes a lot of thought and patience. Finally, I have never been comfortable issuing directives, which, unfortunately, is a big part of managing life with a four-year-old. Sometimes when I tell him what to do, I talking haltingly and sound unsure of myself. The right words do not always flow naturally off my tongue.
It bothers me that much of the time I spend with my child occurs when I’m tired or, if it’s near the end of the week, exhausted. I also worry that my son sees his father as this tongue-tied guy who stammers to express even the simplest, most rudimentary thoughts. As the week winds down to Thursday and Friday night, I feel like a middle-aged Forrest Gump, a kindhearted but mentally feeble man, struggling just to get his kid out of the bathtub and off to bed. Sometimes, when I’ve turned off the bedroom lights and my child looks up at me, eyes wide open, and asks one of those Troubling Questions, (“Why do people die?” “Why do I have to go to school?” “Why can’t we have a cat?”), I actually wish I was Forrest. He always seemed to know how to tackle the big issues with a little metaphor that sounded simple, but had a more depth to it once you thought about it. “Life is like a box of chocolates,” sounds more profound than “Life isn’t fair,” although they both pretty much mean the same thing.
Hopefully, when my kid reaches the age of 10 or 12 or 25, he and I will able to sit down and have a conversation that doesn’t revolve around finishing his dinner, brushing his teeth, or watching very carefully while I tie his shoes. We’ll sit down and have a real, heartfelt, man-to-man talk (in between whatever programs he has queued up on Netflix, of course). Then, my son will realize how thoughtful, wise and articulate his dad really is.
That’s the hope, anyway.
If you are among the millions of Americans who subscribe to NetFlix, you probably know that Frank Underwood is the scheming, manipulative, smooth-as-molasses congressman played by Kevin Spacey in the popular political series, House of Cards. If you are not familiar with Frank Underwood, but plan on binge-watching House of Cards before the third season comes out in February, you might stop reading this post now. I may or may not have included a few spoilers. As Francis Underwood might say, consider yourself duly warned.
Even though a few of Frank Underwood’s actions and deceptions while consolidating political power seem far-fetched, most of us accept the idea that the halls of the U.S. Capitol are teeming with charming, well-dressed sociopaths. That’s why House of Cards works – it feeds off of and heightens our cynical perception of D.C. politics. “Yep,” you might say after watching Frank Underwood’s latest late-night maneuver, “I could totally see that happening.”
Watching Frank operate in the Beltway is entertaining, but what if he’s a little closer to home? Specifically, what if there is a Frank Underwood milling around right now in your workplace?
The good news is that few sociopaths are clever and socially skilled enough to take over an organization the way Frank takes over Washington. If you do, in fact, have a true Frank Underwood in your office, chances are good that he already has you well on your way to being fired or, worse, indicted for a white-collar crime you did not knowingly commit.
What’s more likely is that the sociopath in your cube farm is of average intellect and has left a few hints as to his or her true intentions. Here, then, are a few warning signs that you might have a co-worker who is up to no good:
Frank Underwood’s greatest strength is his charm. He can butter people up – or fire them up – to go forth and do his bidding. Everyone on House of Cards, from the owner of Frank’s favorite barbecue joint to the President of the United States, falls prey to Frank’s country-boy-from-South Carolina routine at some point or another.
Most folks do not possess the strength of character that propels Frank Underwood. Narcissistic people can be extremely charming and charismatic, but their spells do not work on everyone. When dealing with coworkers, trust your instincts. What kind of vibe do they give you? When someone tries to seduce you with flattery and magnetism, they are likely to overdo it, or their approach may seem out-of-character. Ask yourself: Why is Rick in Marketing being so nice to me all of a sudden? Why is he bringing donuts into the office every Monday after years of not even participating in the Christmas potluck? What does he want?
This approach to your working relationships may seem cynical, but it can also prevent you from becoming an easy target.
Law enforcement types say one of the tell-tale signs of a serial embezzler is that he or she rarely takes time off. Embezzlers fear that their schemes may be exposed while they are on a vacation, so they never take one.
Taking pride in a job well done is an attribute. However, be leery of colleagues who go on and on about how hard they are working, make a big show of staying late, and regularly go into the office on weekends when no one else is around. Be especially suspicious if these efforts do not result in increased productivity, or if that employee has a “process” to their work that nobody else seems to understand. What the heck are they doing with all that extra time in the office if they aren’t getting better results?
Frank Underwood makes a big deal about how hard he works, staying in the office late into the night to broker deals or hold strategy sessions. He does this even while working on bills he secretly wants to fail. It’s all great political theater, and it makes Frank look good to his colleagues. Don’t let these kinds of tactics fool you in your workplace.
Everyone enjoys a little office gossip, but do you work with somebody who has something derogatory to say about everyone? Kind of makes you wonder what that person is saying behind your back, doesn’t it?
Frank Underwood keeps files on all of his congressional colleagues that detail their salacious deeds. He uses this information as ammo when he wants to blackmail someone into voting his way. Tread lightly around the co-worker who, like Frank, has the dirt on everyone and is more than happy to dish it. You don’t want to give that person too much material for the file he is keeping on you.
In Washington, lying is a part of doing business. If you aren’t lying and deceiving, you aren’t getting much done.
In the workplace, however, lying is destructive. Catching someone in a pattern of seemingly harmless lies may seem minor, but it could be a sign of a larger deception. For example, your co-worker Patty in Accounts Receivable has a habit of fudging a little bit on her vacation time. This many not be a capital offense, but if you can’t trust someone to fill out their vacation requests accurately, can you really trust them to dutifully manage a core business function?
At some point, you have probably caught a colleague telling a whopper of a lie. Maybe you even confronted this person about it, and got to hear a sob story about how she’s having trouble at home, or that your boss is putting too much pressure on her. Listen to the grievances, nod politely, and make a mental note: I cannot trust this person.
In a pivotal scene in House of Cards, President Walker rightly suspects that Frank Underwood is undermining his administration, and the president decides to cut off all contact with him. Desperate to regain the Commander-in-Chief’s favor, Underwood fires off a type-written letter about how he had an unhappy childhood and other challenges, but that he would never, ever betray the president. The earnest-sounding plea works, Underwood regains President Walker’s trust, and promptly destroys him.
The point is, every Machiavellian co-worker has a sad story to tell. He or she will employ it as a last-ditch way to stay out of trouble.
Everyone makes mistakes, and everyone deserves to be treated with compassion. Even Frank Underwood once gave his troubled henchman, Doug Stamper, a “third chance.” However, if the sad stories start piling up, and the excuses become more elaborate, it is time to take a critical eye to your co-worker’s behavior.
When things are going great, your Frank Underwood wanna-be will find a way to claim credit. When things go poorly, he or she will be first to dodge the blame. Of course, Frank would use a little false Southern humility to take some of the edge off accepting all the glory, but not all of us are so deft and self-aware.
Keep a close eye on the colleague who feels the need to dominate every staff meeting with his or her profound commentary, then is strangely quiet when your manager wants answers about a missed deadline or a product idea that tanked. If that colleague has any Frank Underwood tendencies, he or she is already mulling over how to put all the blame onto you or someone else.
That would be great, wouldn’t it? Some of the best parts of House of Cards happen when Kevin Spacey’s character turns toward us and shares with us his true, evil intentions.
Unfortunately, real-life villains seldom do this.
On Facebook, you would never consider connecting with that export manager in Beijing you’ve never met before. But on LinkedIn, why the hell not? She might get you a job one day.
On Facebook, people are delighted when you post photos of your cat basking in a patch of sunlight on the living room carpet. On LinkedIn, not so much.
On Facebook, when you want someone’s friendship, you send him a request. On LinkedIn, when you want a connection, you have to explain how you know that person, whether he is a friend or a colleague, what company you worked at together, how much capital gains he reported in his 2013 1099-DIV, etc., etc. Otherwise, LinkedIn gets kind of bitchy.
On LinkedIn, you can tell how many people have viewed your profile and, in most cases, who they are. On Facebook, you have no idea who has been clicking through…
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Thru-hiking. Truck-driving. Miles.
I have people to kill, lives to ruin, plagues to bring, and worlds to destroy. I am not the Angel of Death. I'm a fiction writer.
I am a mother of five active, sometimes aggravating children that drive me crazy, provide me with lots of entertainment and remind me constantly about the value of love and family. I am married to my best friend. He makes me laugh every day (usually at myself). I love to eat, run, write, read and then eat again, run again…you get it. I am a children's author, having published four books with MeeGenuis (The Halloween Costume, When Santa Was Small, The Baseball Game, and The Great Adventure Brothers). I have had several pieces of writing published on Adoptive Families, Adoption Today, Brain Child, Scary Mommy, and Ten To Twenty Parenting. I am also a child psychologist, however I honestly think that I may have learned more from my parents and my children than I ever did in any book I read in graduate school. This blog is a place where I can gather my thoughts and my stories and share them with others. My writing is usually about kids and trying to see the world through their eyes, a few about parenting, adoption (one of my children is adopted) and some other random thoughts thrown in… I hope you enjoy them! So grab a cup of coffee, or a glass of wine, depending on what time of day it is (or what kind of day it is) and take a few minutes to sit back, relax and read. Please add your comments or opinions, I know you must have something to say, and I would love to hear it. Thanks for stopping by. Anne Cavanaugh-Sawan
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