Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Auntie Reluctantly Admits She Doesn't Know Everything

Dear Auntie Shrew,
I like your site and the way you answer questions.

It made me wonder who does Auntie Shrew consult when she needs advice? I don't mean friends and family (you can't refer us strangers to them!). I mean like specific books, or other web sites, or whatever.

Never Too Much Advice


Dear Never,
Well, aren't you a nosey parker? Still, it's an interesting enough question so Auntie will indulge you.

Although Auntie likes to think most problems can be solved with a healthy dose of common sense, she is aware that some are either too specific or too complex for that approach. Those need either additional research or the advice of a specialist in a particular field. And heavens forbid Auntie should ask any of her own relatives for advice. The very thought makes her scramble about for her chocolate-covered almonds!

Auntie relies on general reference books for questions regarding factual (non-medical) information. The specific book depends, of course, on the specific question. For general medical questions on common ailments, Auntie might share the benefit of her own experience, consult with a physician or possibly a reputable medical Web site. Readers with specific medical questions are referred to an appropriate medical professional, since the last thing Auntie needs is a multi-million dollar lawsuit. The same goes for severe mental health issues. Auntie is in no way a substitute for professional care.

Now is as good a time as any to point out that Auntie's advice is mostly informed opinion acquired through many years of experience. While it might give Auntie's ego a nice boost to think she knows everything, she is too much of a realist to believe that to be so. Like Popeye said, "I yam what I yam. Well, "Auntie knows what she knows." Beyond that, she has enough sense to direct her readers to trained professionals.

Yours shrewdly,
Auntie Shrew

Thursday, June 30, 2005

Reader Debates Money and Caviar vs Art and Dirt

Auntie,
For the past year I have worked well outside my artistically driven "area". I was tired of the politics and the poverty-line pay. Now that I'm in the Business World I've found I'm horribly unhappy despite making an extremely livable wage. The current world has nearly unlimited growth (and moolah) potential and my masquerading seems to be working--a little too well. Do I cut myself off now and go back to being happy teaching and artist-izing while eating dirt, or continue to live like a normal person and be miserable surrounded by money-oriented people with no concept of "real" things?

Faust or Famine


Dear Faust,
It is not very well known, but Auntie’s quite the artist herself. There are few artistic media in which she does not excel. Unfortunately, time is her enemy, that and the enormous responsibility of helping lost souls such as yourself find their answers. The world will have to go on waiting for Auntie’s artistic contributions. Sigh. I think I’ll have a chocolate.

Okay now, let’s see what Auntie can do for you. You are happiest when teaching and pursuing your art. You are miserable when faking it in the business world. You are torn between eating dirt and caviar. You assume that all “money-oriented people” have no concept of “real” things.

First, Auntie feels compelled to give you a little lecture. Do you have any idea how many artistically driven people have had to sacrifice their art to make a living? Do you honestly think you are the first person in the history of the world to face this dilemma? Well, of course you don’t. So why do you assume that people you meet in the business world have no artistic leanings of their own? Have you ever considered that they, too, may have given up their dream at some point?

Still, Auntie understands what you are going through. It is an unfortunate truth that this country does not pay its artists. (Can you play basketball?) Auntie senses from your letter that you have been seduced by making money, and you are perhaps a tiny bit angry with yourself for allowing that to happen.

Well, lighten up. It happens every day. It’s perfectly normal in a society that puts demonstrable displays of wealth over almost everything else. Your problem is, what are you going to do about it?

You can opt for the sheltered life of academe, where you will never get rich but you can make enough money to live comfortably, and, if you’re good enough, eventually be rewarded for your art. Auntie’s experiences in academe, however, make her question your assertion that it’s the money-oriented people who have no concept of “real” things, but that’s a discussion for another day.

Until you determine for yourself how much money you can do without, however, Auntie recommends a compromise. Try to obtain a well paying position that is not full time. In other words, hire yourself out as a consultant in your field and set a certain number of hours each week that you will devote to business pursuits. Be stern with yourself and don’t be lured into working more. The rest of the week, you will concentrate on your art. After a while, see which bothers you most – lack of time for making more money, or lack of time for creating more art.

Also, while you’re in the business world, see if you can’t find some of those people who, like yourself, have given up on or drastically curtailed time spent on their dream. Having a “support group” of like-minded friends will help.

Keep in mind that there are those rare few who manage to do both – work to make money during the day, and pursue their dream at night. Of course, they survive on about four hours of sleep a night, but they manage to do it.

Don’t despair. Auntie believes the answer will come to you in time. It may not be the answer you think you want right now, but it will be the right one for you when it appears.

Good luck, and if you ever become a famous artist, Auntie would not refuse a signed whatever-it-is that you do.

Yours shrewdly,

Auntie Shrew

Out-of-Work Mom Lost in the Forest

Dear Auntie,
I'm almost 50...single mom of three, divorced for 7 (was married for 18) , didn't work when I was married, but seriously don't know what I want to do when I grow up!!! I've tried advertising sales, multi-media marketing and non-profit/fundraising, and after working hard at each one, moving up the salary chain...I just got fired from my last job after 3 years by a witchy woman boss. I have no other income; I do have a college degree in PR but am just so disillusioned and depressed (now taking anti-depressants...don't tell Tom Cruise!!) I can't see the forest for the trees...would you please help me with a plan?

Thanks,
Wandering Soul


Dear Wandering,
Well that’s a downer. Auntie’s been scarfing chocolates ever since she opened your letter. But now that she’s fortified, perhaps she can help.

For starters, you are not almost 50, you are 40-something. That “almost 50” stuff is akin to looking at the half-empty glass. I don’t care if you’re going to be 50 tomorrow, right now you are 40-something. This is symbolic of the way you must change your thinking about other, more important, things. You must get that glass filled at least half-way.

You say you are taking anti-depressants. (Auntie doesn’t give a rat’s ass about Tom Cruise, unless he’s coming over to climb into her bed.) Are they helping? Have you noticed a change in your energy level? Your outlook? If not, and if it’s been more than several weeks, you might check back with your doctor. Certain anti-depressants work better for some people than others.

Now, you are 40-something, have 3 (presumably great) kids, a college degree, plenty of solid work experience, anti-depressants that work, and a half-full glass. What should you do?

Well, aside from all the normal stuff like filing for unemployment, asking everyone you know if they have any leads, scouring the Want Ads, talking to head-hunters, asking everyone you know again (things change), Auntie suggests you take one of those psychological tests that help determine your strongest career paths. If you’ve already done that, or didn’t like the results, Auntie encourages you to look outside your self-constructed box. Everyone has one. They’re made of all the things you’ve done, the decisions you’ve made, the people you know, etc. You’re going to have to go outside that box for your answers.

Think about the things you most like to do. Think about things you’ve never done but always thought you’d enjoy. Make a list of both. Combine the two lists and study your new master list. Think about each entry. Spend time with it. Do any ideas (no matter how wild) come to mind about ways to make money with that entry? If so, jot them down. Move on to the next item and so forth.

After you’ve gone through your list, take just the entries with ideas next to them and transfer them to a new list, along with their corresponding ideas. Now, study this list. Do one or two entries stand out as more feasible than the others? If so, you’re getting close to embarking on a new career, one of your own choosing, and most importantly, one in which you’ll be the boss. No more “witchy women bosses” for you!

Auntie’s philosophy is that if you’re already out of work, you’ve got nothing to lose by trying your own business. The Small Business Administration is very helpful, especially to minority business owners (as a woman you fall into that category). They might assist with funding. Maybe one of your friends would like to go into business with you. There’s no guarantee you’ll succeed, but there’s also no guarantee that you’ll fail. Who knows? You might be the next Mary Kay or Martha Stewart.

Finally, if you’re just not ready to take the plunge into a business of your own, stay outside that box Auntie mentioned and look around at completely different careers. Like clothes? With your PR and sales experience, you’d be a natural for retail management.

Like houses? How about a career in real estate? (Auntie’s heard it takes 3-6 months to make your first check, so don’t postpone your decision any longer than necessary.) You can concentrate on residential or commercial, whichever area most appeals to you.

Those are just some ideas to get you going. The important thing for you right now is to do something. Activity will not only help your depression, it will also move you that much closer to a rewarding, new career. (A few chocolates now and then wouldn’t hurt either. Just don’t overdo.)

Good luck, and keep in touch. Auntie would like to hear from you again.

Yours shrewdly,
Auntie Shrew

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Clean Up or Shut Up

Dear Auntie Shrew,
Here's the problem in a nutshell: Not enough time, too much paper. Now that I'm in my mid-50s, I keep telling myself, my life should have calmed down. I should be into a "groove." I should have FEWER things occupying my time, not MORE. Trouble is, I keep coming up with new projects, or new spins on old ones.

For example, I recently started blogging -- even though my evenings are already too often spoken for, and even though I can't work very much on it during the day because my employer monitors employees' Internet usage. (Not complaining about them, I mean they have every right to do so.)

In the meantime, I haven't really let go of OLD projects and ways I like to spend my time. I still like to read. I still like watching movies. I still have a couple of steady writing-for-pay projects, which I both enjoy and can't afford to give up. I still have guilty pleasures like certain mindless TV series (American Idol, anyone?)

And in the meantime, I'm inundated with paper. As long as I'm sitting before the computer monitor, I'm oblivious to my surroundings. But when I approach my chair, or when I get up, I do so with a feeling of dread. Stacked around my desk surface I've got canceled checks, PostIt notes, unopened mail, greeting cards, dozens of printouts of one thing or another, Zip disks (okay, not paper, but they might as well be), CDs...

None of which I can attend to, of course, because all the projects and other claims on my time prevent it. I've read a good number of those "how to organize your life" resources but frankly they seem to me to have been written for an audience which is already pretty damn well organized. I'm overwhelmed. Hope you can help!

Signed,Nostrils Barely Above the Water


Dear Nostrils,
Well, that’s a pretty big nutshell. Auntie’s still trying to crack the thing. No wonder you’re drowning in paper. Look how much you generated in just one letter asking for help! Have you never heard of the word edit? (Speaking of which, Auntie took it upon herself to edit your question. Can’t have our readers falling asleep, can we?)

Now for that nutshell. Can you spell slob? Okay. First, you must ask yourself if you’ve actually looked at any of those notes, cards, papers, etc. in the last month. If not, you’re not going to any time soon, so get a cardboard box or one of those plastic storage bins and throw every single bit of paper into it. Include the zip disks and CDs, too.

Then, and this is very important, disinfect your desk surface. (Lysol works fine.) God only knows what’s been living and/or hatching under that mess. Set the box aside to be gone through later. Try not to let too much time go by or you’ll end up with several of these things stacked all over the place.

Next, take a piece of chalk and draw a square on the desk surface, no larger than 2' x 2'. That’s the only place you are allowed to place print-outs and post-its. Do not let them cross the chalk lines. When they do, it’s time to box them up.

Buy a CD rack for the desk. Buy a letter-sized basket for un-opened mail and a small basket to hold the zip disks. You might want to save the greeting cards in another basket. When these containers are full, you either toss the contents or find a place to store them out of sight.

Auntie has found that knowing where things are, like your un-opened mail, makes it easier to deal with it. Once you’ve contained the environmental clutter, she assures you that your mental environment will be a lot less cluttered, also. Good luck, and Auntie fervently hopes that you do not misplace her excellent advice before it’s been put to use.

Yours shrewdly,
Auntie Shrew

Long Distance Marriage Prompts Too Many Questions

Dear Auntie,
My husband and I are both very happy in our careers, even though they require us to live on opposite coasts. The distance hasn't been a problem for us, but I need a way tell people who are sure that living apart "must be soooo hard" that, in fact, it isn't-- without sounding like I don't love my husband. For example, when I reply simply, "No, we're fine with the distance," I can tell they don't believe me or think our marriage must be falling apart. What would you say?
Thanks!
WVDR

Dear WVDR,
Auntie would say it's none of their f*cking business, but she can tell from your letter that you are seeking a polite response. (Sigh. Those are always the hardest.)

Okay, why don't you turn the tables on them? When one of these rude persons asks a personal question, or, as you point out, assumes the worst regarding your living arrangements, you do not owe them an answer. They are in the wrong for discussing your personal life without being invited to do so, and you are under no obligation to encourage them. Simply raise your eyebrows, tilt your head, peer at them over your glasses (if you don't wear glasses, too bad; it's a very effective technique) and ask, quite innocently, "Why would you think that?" If they persist, maintain the innocent, puzzled look and eventually they'll give up.

Another technique you might try is to respond, "On the contrary, we find the reunions delightful." Then lean closer in a conspiratorial manner and whisper, "I'd tell you more, but too much of it is X-rated." That should shut the busybodies up!

Yours shrewdly,
Auntie Shrew

What Auntie Can Do for You

Your 's a mess. Your spouse is spending more and more time at the "office," your kids are piercing everything but their eyeballs, your brother wears pantyhose and platform heels to all family get-togethers, your boss is a micro-managing Neanderthal, your best friend is a klepto who just stole your grandmother's sterling spoon set, and your next-door neighbor's cat pees in your petunias. What's a person to do?

Well, any person in their right mind would do only one thing -- they'd ask Auntie, of course. Thousands have already benefited from Auntie's . (And my handlers wonder why my tequila bottles keep emptying. That's a helluva lot of advice for an old lady to dish out.) Why shouldn't you?

So here's what you have to do. Just send Auntie an email to askauntieshrew@Yahoo.com with your question. If Auntie's not having her legs waxed, she'll probably answer you -- right here. Then, not only will you have the benefit of Auntie's profound advice (for free, mind you), you'll also get to hear what all the wannabe advice-givers have to say in their comments.

And not to worry, Auntie will never publish your email address or share it with anyone. She will not identify you in any way. (If you're still paranoid (Auntie could probably help you with that, too), grab yourself one of those quick and free email accounts over at Yahoo. Then you can be whoever you want.)

Remember, Auntie's specialty is "shrewd" advice, and she's so good at it she's thinking about patenting it. So why wait. Take that first step to solving your today. Ask Auntie!