LIVING IN CIVILITY – Marilyn Armstrong

Civility, manners, and communications has become a hot topic. We have a racist, narcissistic president who insults people in front of the entire world and a lot of people apparently believe it’s okay. Of course, some of these people also believe the same idiot blowhard is the next messiah, so maybe I can discount their opinion. I don’t have a strong religious predilection, but I’m absolutely sure Orangehead is no one’s messiah.

We talk about manners vanishing and I’m beginning to believe it. Not only can our head of government not conduct a civil conversation, but delivery men lie, our neighbor is mad at the world and won’t deliver packages accidentally delivered to him rather than us.  Some years ago, Bonnie had wandered up the driveway. A passing  motorist picked her up and would not return her until the police showed up with sirens wailing and then she decided I didn’t really need to pay for her to return my dog.

Cover of "The Graduate"How many people are actually know what good manners are? So many people are clueless about what’s appropriate  They don’t know when it’s okay to be casual — and when it’s not.

This is pretty much a no-brainer for my generation. It’s not that we’re so smart, but we were raised differently. We grew up when there were clear rules about social behavior. The standards were pretty rigid for professional communications and I’m pretty sure they still are. Nobody had to tell us how to talk to superior officers or bosses. We learned this stuff watching other people. We learned it at home, in our friends’ homes. We even learned it on television.

We called our teachers “Mr. or Mrs. Whats-your-name.” That’s also how we addressed our friends’ moms and how our friends addressed our parents. That’s how we addressed everyone older than us.

It’s one of the funny parts of watching “The Graduate” with Dustin Hoffman. He may be sleeping with Mrs. Robinson, but he never calls her by her first name. That would be impolite.

The next generation had its own set of rules. They didn’t believe they needed to respect their elders simply because they were elders. Or bosses or teachers. They heard a different message: everyone is equal. They didn’t get that equal before the law is not the same as equal in the office. Or in the military.

The thing is, we are very far from being equal. It’s not only about race or ethnicity, color or sex, although these issues are a huge factor. Dig a little deeper and it’s just as much about money and power. Which is what it has been about since history began. That’s how society really works. Being a minority is fine as long as you have more money than the other guy. Green is really the only color that matters.

In my generation, we all knew this before we left high school. You don’t treat your boss like your buddy. It has nothing to do with whether or not your boss deserves your respect. It’s nice if he or she does, but In the course of a building a career the odds favor you working for any number of people who are unworthy of anyone’s respect.

As long as they sign your paycheck, you treat them with respect, tact, and care. Not only does your salary depend on it, so does your reputation and future career moves. Your boss may be the biggest asshole you’ve ever met, but keep it to yourself.

Filling in the forms

If you’re smart, you don’t say it behind his or her back either because another rule of the real world is what you say will get back to roost. You will need all the goodwill and recommendations you can get as you fight your way through the working world. Don’t squander it. Don’t blow up your world by gossiping, backbiting, and behaving like a brat.

To people my age, all this stuff was obvious, that all men may have been created equal, but after being born, some are much more equal than others. No one had to tell us not to start a memo to the boss with “Yo, Bossman!”

Looking for work?

We knew that. We knew who had the power and who didn’t. We knew when to fight and when to duck and cover. We knew we needed to earn our way and had to behave professionally. Kids who are long past childhood don’t seem to get it. Unsurprisingly, neither do their kids. I don’t understand what they don’t understand.

Do you? Maybe they’ve been watching too much news and have a bad case of Trumpitis.

CURSE OF THE LEISURE CLASS.

Once upon a time in a life long ago, I worked hard. I don’t know if you could call it overworked. I never felt I had more work than I could do — if only they would let me get to it instead of using half my day in useless meetings. I always did the best job I could and worked as many hours as I needed to meet my deadlines while maintaining quality.

Blogging is the closest thing I do to “real” work these days, but I don’t get paid and I don’t have a boss, unless you count me. I’m not such a bad boss, except I don’t believe in sick days. Even with a doctor’s note.

I think most of us who have worked in offices of one kind or another are mentally abused by micro-managing bosses who have never had to perform the work they are supervising.

I don’t know if that makes us overworked. I think it is closer to mistreatment. The work is the easy part. Dealing with unrealistic demands, bad manners, and a myriad of absurd rules and regulations turns what ought to be a profession, into a nightmare.

72-Traffic-Road-071416_10

I’ve had a lot of bad bosses. Micro-managers and backstabbers. The plain cursedly mean ones whose main joy in life is making others miserable. The little emperors and empresses who think they have the right to rule your every breath.

I’ve had great bosses too. Managers who appreciated good work and believed it was their responsibility to help get the job done. To remove the obstacles and make work rewarding. When you’ve got a good boss, you can actually look forward to work. You don’t start dreading Monday morning on Friday evening. Thinking about work doesn’t give you a stomach ache and a migraine. It’s rare, but it can happen. Work doesn’t have to be a thankless grind. It just is and far too often.

To all the great bosses I’ve had, thank you. To the rest? If there’s a Hell, I hope you have a lifetime during which you have to work for you.

BAD BEHAVIOR TRUMPS RACE, CREED AND GENDER – GARRY ARMSTRONG

What our Coronavirus and riot-plagued world does not need is even more pointless intolerance. There’s no excuse for not using a modicum of civility when dealing with others, especially in the workplace. It doesn’t matter how bad a day you’ve had. Do you know how bad the day of the person you are working with has had? Did you ask? Did you even think about him or her as a person?

We have all been living through the tensest, most frustrating, angst-riddled period since the Civil War. With the way things are going, we could be rerunning the Civil War soon.

In my 40+ years on the TV news trail, I’ve been verbally assaulted by every kind of minority. I understood it was part of my job. Many people seemed to figure it was okay to shoot the messenger.  Early on in my career, I was warned to have thick skin if I wanted to succeed.

That thick skin was tested many times. I was taunted by Black people who called me Uncle Tom or house boy. Labeled by religious fanatics who called me a Christian stooge. Feminists who tagged me as chauvinist. I sucked it up and plowed on to report the facts.

The gasoline bays.

Facts usually silenced my assailants who then wrote hate letters in red crayon.

My good stories were balanced by controversial reports that fanned the flames of ill-tempered people. I probably made it worse by writing the haters “thank you” notes. It further angered the wankers. Civilians who have never worked as journalists are surprised by how often people behave badly toward people who are merely trying their best to do their jobs.

Uhaul for the haulers

So it was that my stepson came home with a story that sounded painfully familiar. Owen manages a local garage which does repairs, inspections and has a mini-mart. He’s known for his work skills. pleasant manner, and humor. He manages to be cordial in the worst of scenarios.


Yesterday, Owen was in the middle completing one job when he was besieged by a man who jumped out of his Mercedes demanding instant access to a Uhaul truck.

Owen tried repeatedly to pacify the agitated fellow, explaining he would not be able to get his Uhaul for a few more minutes until he finished the inspection on which he was working. The customer not only refused to accept any waiting but left his car so it blocked all the gas pumps. When asked to please move his vehicle, he launched into a profane tirade topped by the ever-popular race card.

Owen is white. The angry one was a man of color.

Given several volatile national stories, this local incident had the makings of getting serious. The indignant Mercedes driver was sure the “race card” would pay off.  It almost always works. Owen has heard numerous stories about racism from his step-father (me) who specialized in covering race riots and protest marches dating back to MLK and the Freedom Rights movement. Thanks to his parents and stepdad, Owen is more than typically sensitive to anything that smells of racism.  We joke about it at home — but that’s a different story.

Today’s potentially race-toxic incident was defused by Owen who stood his ground and convinced the angry gent to leave the shop and take his business elsewhere. Eventually, the ante was upped in include a full volume and very firm suggestion that he leave and never return. No Uhaul for him.

Owen in the shop

The race card didn’t end in a riot or even police intervention. Owen is of the opinion that the fancier car he or she is driving, the more arrogant and mean-spirited is the driver. Especially those who drive Mercedes’s and BMWs.

Owen is my step and godson. I’m proud of him. He’s made of stern stuff. This country could use more of him. Way to go, O!

A NEW STRATEGY FOR LIFE – Marilyn Armstrong

The strategy and rhythm of life are different between your working years and retirement.


Garry reminded me that he’s busy. By this he means he’s reading two books — one audio, the other print. He’s trying to keep up with his email and stuff on Serendipity and occasionally write a few things, too. Which made me think about busyness.

So I said to him, but also to myself: “How did we have enough time to work full-time and then some?”

Garry worked insanely long hours, often 14 to 16 hours. Just as he was finally about to get some sleep, the station would call him back in. This is why he so treasures sleep. For most of his life, he barely got any. On top of this, he worked strange hours, so his body was always on its own odd schedule.

He remembers better than I do about work, even though he has been retired longer than me. “It was the schedule we lived on. We got up, we went to work, we came home. Then we did it again.”

“I don’t think I could do it … for any amount of money,” I pointed out. “I went out on disability … and that was three major surgeries ago. I don’t think I’m healthier now than I was then.”

“That,” said my husband, “Is the other thing. It doesn’t matter how much money they offered me. I don’t think I could do it.”

That’s the definition of retirement — when not only do you no longer work, but you can’t do it, not for any amount of money. You’re finished. It’s hard to remember exactly what working full-time was like.

These days, I watch — and photograph — birds.

I know I did it. I got up, commuted, sometimes ridiculously long distances which is how I got hooked on audiobooks. Worked. Came home. Cooked. Cleaned. I even occasionally saw friends or family. Then, I got up and did it again. We both did. Together, we worked for about 100 years.

These days, I write a piece or two, read other blogs and maybe fix some pictures and listen to a book. Then, I make dinner and collapse into the sofa, I feel I’ve worked a full day.

It’s 12:15 am and I’m writing this. It’s the second post I’ve written today. I also processed about a dozen pictures. I made shrimp for dinner and Garry cleaned up. I don’t know about you, but for me, that’s a full day.

I am thoroughly and completely retired.

WE SHOULD ALL BE PLUMBERS – Marilyn Armstrong

Fandango’s Provocative Question #59


What does it mean to you in the 21st century
to be well-educated?


When I was growing up, you had to get good grades in school. You needed them so you’d be better positioned to get good grades and maybe a scholarship in high school so you could go to college. Because if you didn’t go to college, you would never get into heaven. I don’t know about the rest of you, but I knew that college was my destiny. As sure as the rising of the sun in the east, I would go to college.

I went to college. I even graduated and got a degree and everything. My B.A. in Speech and Drama had absolutely nothing to do with any work I did in my life, though some of it came in useful at odd times along the way. I have all but 1 credit to a degree in Music and 1 degree in Philosophy. I didn’t intend to graduate. I was trying to stay in school and get a philosophy degree and go into full-time academics. I wanted to stay forever in school and spend my life thinking.

Instead, I erred and completed a major. They made me graduate. It was stupid because I’d have been a good thinker, but I was also a good writer and that wasn’t a bad second choice.

Nonetheless, all things considered, I’d have made a lot more money if I’d been a plumber. People can easily do without thinkers, but when you need a plumber, you really need a plumber and usually, immediately.

Installation! The bathtub is already gone.

To put this another way, we should be seriously rethinking education. Unless you actually need a college degree, there are a lot of good-paying positions that urgently need people. Electricians, IT guys, developers, people who run those cool machines in hospitals.

We need masons and stonecutters, painters, roofers, and carpenters. We need teachers and teaching assistants. We need nurses and nurse’s aides. Veterinarians and vet techs. Hairdressers and barbers. We need auto mechanics. And we are going to need an awful lot of people to make the world green again after the current desecration.

We need to consider training a lot more people to do a lot more things. And we should do it soon because a lot of the jobs people do now will be done by AI robots in the future and if we don’t start training people now, there will be a lot of unemployed and desperately poor people. Which, by the way, is why I supported Yang. Pity no one took him seriously.

He was right and five years from now, everyone will know it.

Meanwhile, it would help if more people would read books. The more we read, the better educated we get. Not reading is making us stupid.

BETWEEN GENERATIONS – Marilyn Armstrong

Civility, manners, and communications has, for obvious reasons, become a hot topic. We have a president who insults people in front of the entire world and a lot of people apparently believe it’s okay. Of course, some of these people also believe the same idiot blowhard is the next messiah, so I figure I can discount their opinion.

We talk about manners vanishing and sometimes that feels true. How many people are clueless about what’s appropriate? Do they know when it’s fine to be casual — and when it’s not?

This is pretty much a no-brainer for my generation. It’s not that we’re so smart, but we were raised differently. We grew up when there were clear rules about social behavior. There were fairly rigid standards for professional communications. Nobody had to tell us how to talk to superior officers and bosses. We learned this stuff watching others. We learned it at home, in our friends’ homes. We even learned it on television.

Cover of "The Graduate"

We called our teachers “Mr. or Mrs. Whatsyourname.” That’s also how we addressed our friends’ moms and how our friends addressed our parents. That’s how we addressed everyone older than us.

It’s one of the funny parts of watching “The Graduate” with Dustin Hoffman. He may be sleeping with Mrs. Robinson, but he never calls her by her first name. That would be impolite.

The next generation had its own set of rules. They didn’t believe they needed to respect their elders simply because they were elders. Or bosses or teachers. They heard a different message: everyone is equal.

Happy New Year and let’s hear it for more of the same!

The thing is, we are unbelievably far from all being equal. It’s not only about race or ethnicity, color or sex, although these issues factor in. Dig a little deeper and it’s about money and power. Which is what it has been about since history began. That’s how society really works.

In my generation, we all knew this before we left high school. You don’t treat your boss like your buddy. It has nothing to do with whether or not your boss deserves your respect. It’s nice if he or she does, but In the course of a building a career the odds favor your working for any number of people who are unworthy of your respect.

As long as they sign your paycheck, you treat them with respect, tact, and care. Not only does your salary depend on it, so does your reputation and any future career moves you plan. Your boss may be the biggest asshole you’ve ever met, but you don’t say so.

Filling in the forms

If you’re smart, you don’t say it behind his or her back either because another rule of the real world is what you say will get back to whoever you said it about. Those chickens always come back to roost, every damned time.

You will need all the goodwill and recommendations you can get as you fight your way through the working world. Don’t squander it. Don’t blow your world up by gossiping, backbiting, and behaving like a brat.

To people my age, all this stuff was obvious, that all men may have been created equal, but after being born, some are much more equal than others. No one had to tell us not to start a memo to the boss with “Yo, Bossman!”

Looking for work?

We knew that. We knew who had the power and who didn’t. We knew when to fight and when to duck and cover. We knew we needed to earn our way and had to behave professionally.

But kids who aren’t kids anymore don’t seem to get it. Unsurprisingly, neither do their kids. I don’t understand what they don’t understand.

Do you? Maybe they’ve been watching too much news and have a bad case of Trumpitis.

SORRY, WRONG NUMBER – By GARRY ARMSTRONG

People of a certain age will recall the title from a popular radio drama that became a film noir classic with Barbara Stanwyck as the damsel/wife in distress and Burt Lancaster as the spouse with mayhem on his mind.  You can also dial “M For Murder” with the same theme: the telephone as a nefarious device and weapon.

A friend just wrote a piece, extolling the virtues of the telephone as a personal link in the impersonal age of social media. Good point. You need to be able to talk, hold an intelligent and coherent conversation on the phone.  Social media doesn’t require those basic skills.  Courtesy is also another trait required on a phone conversation even when you’re dealing with unpleasant matters.

My wife, Marilyn, rises to heroic stature dealing with insufferable customer service, health care reps, local business people who lose the check and fail to show up. Credit card hackers who’d love a little personal information and the idiots who’ve dialed the wrong number but keep redialing anyway.

I hate the telephone!  It stems from all the years of unwanted calls from the TV station that employed me for 31 years. Three o’clock in the morning calls demanding I grab my gear and immediately report to the scene of a grisly crime, awful weather, deadly fires, criminals running amok, traffic accidents with myriad, mangled bodies and the latest gangland or drive-by shooting with multiple victims.  All breathlessly awaiting my presence to round up the usual suspects for eye-witness accounts and/or to go banging on doors asking parents “how they feel” about the recent death of a loved one.

Hey, how do you feel, Pilgrim?  All of this hurled at me in fleeting minutes once I picked up the phone and heard a familiar voice with the phony excuse of waking me up out of my warm bed.  I usually cursed myself if I answered the phone.

Marilyn normally took the calls because of my hearing problems.  I couldn’t blame her. Nor could I hurl expletives at the person calling.  You can’t shoot the messenger in the TV news biz.  Being called into work goes with the territory.

Instead, I blamed the inanimate object.  The telephone. Outraged, I yelled obscenities at it.  Meanwhile, the telephone sat there quietly,  probably mocking me. After all, the phone was just doing its job. Nothing personal.

Statehouse on Beacon Hill

During my bachelor years when I had to take these calls, I frequently hurled the phone across the room during my tirades against the telephone company, its employees, executives, and Alexander Graham Bell who I imagined as Don Ameche from the old biofilm.

Why did they seemingly always call me?  Why was someone always picking on me?  Frequently, I’d envision conspiracies to target me. Racism? Envy because I was on the tube every day, outshining other folks? Political target?  I had an ‘attitude’ with some local pols. It was me against the giant telephone conglomerate.  I was riffing Dwight Eisenhower’s warning.

Truth time.  Early on in my Boston TV news career, I let it be known I was ‘always available’ for major, breaking news stories.   I envisioned the scoop on that major story that would shoot me to stardom and a mega-contract.  I put myself on the spot that assignment editors love. An eager-beaver young reporter with stars in his eyes and experience not yet absorbed.

Veteran reporters scoffed at my enthusiasm even as I sauntered around the newsroom full of myself at landing big stories that had me prominently featured on every newscast of the day from sunrise to midnight.

In my glee over the big stories I always forgot how it began.  Always the damn phone call.  During my saner moments, I knew I was my own worst enemy. That logic didn’t sit well with me.

During long lunches as everyone congratulated me with my face and story on all the monitors, I realized I was in a catch 22 scenario.  Hero of the hour absorbing lots of congratulations while my brain kept reminding me that it was that early phone call that made all of this possible. I continued blaming the phone for interrupting my sleep. I would go on shooting the messenger for years.

One time I lived up to my vow to avert the phone call-to-arms.  I answered the call. Heard the voice and slowly said, “Sorry, wrong number.”  I grinned to myself, returning for a good night’s sleep.

I was still smiling as I awoke and turned on the radio in the morning.  The all-news station was frantically blaring out details about a massive fire, building collapse and the loss of many lives.  It was such a big story that the networks were in on coverage.

My smile turned to a scowl. The potential ‘story of a lifetime’ had been lost to my erstwhile, “Sorry, Wrong Number.”

Oops.

NOT WORTH THE PAPER IT’S WRITTEN ON – Marilyn Armstrong

It was Samuel Goldwyn who supposedly said that “a verbal contract isn’t worth the paper it’s written on.” He had a point. Almost everything is done online these days from legal papers to mortgages.

Job offers, book deals, major purchases (like cars) are all done online, without people meeting face-to-face. I’m still not willing to make major commitments without a personal meeting, but I’m old-school. Maybe you should be, too.

Computers, or not, get it in writing. Without the handwritten signature of a live human with a name, address, and phone numbers, you ain’t got nothing.

When I was working my first jobs out of college, I would take anything with some connection — no matter how vague — to professional writing or editing.
It was the 1960s. Those days, before home computers and the Internet, getting a job was pretty simple, at least at entry levels.

You saw a listing in the paper for something you figured you could do. You phoned them (if they gave a number to call) or wrote a letter. On paper. Put it in an envelope with a stamp and dropped in a mailbox. You included a résumé or brought one with you for the interview.

You went to the meeting in person. A day or two later, that person (or his/her secretary) called back to say “Yes, you’re hired,” or “No, thank you.” An entry-level job didn’t require 30 hours of interviews or meeting everyone from the company president to the IT crew and the overnight backup guy.

And there really was a job, unlike now where they interview people for jobs that don’t exist just to find out if there’s a workforce to fill it — should it ever come up. You were qualified to do the job or not. The person who interviewed you actually had the authority to hire you. Which was why he or she was conducting interviews.

Unlike today where you can be certain the first person you talk to is someone from HR trying to ascertain whether or not you are a serial killer or corporate espionage agent.

Contracts? Those were for really important jobs. Getting in the door was relatively easy. Getting an office with a window might never happen. If you were a woman, knowing how to type was your entry card.

So the company made me an offer. I took it. I was optimistic back then. Any job might lead to the coveted and elusive “something better.” I was already working, so I gave my current employer two-weeks notice. On the appointed day, I showed up for work.

The guy who had offered me the job was gone. Quit? Fired? No one seemed to know or care. Worse, no one had heard of me, or my so-called job. I had nothing in writing. Without proof, I had a hard time even getting unemployment. I had learned the most important professional lesson of my life:


GET IT IN WRITING.


Whatever it is, if it’s not on a piece of paper, dated, and signed, it’s a verbal contract. Sometimes, that’s fine, but it’s not something you can show to a judge or for that matter, the unemployment department yo-yos. Which, in the immortal words of Samuel Goldwyn, means it is not worth the paper it’s written on.

THE NIGHTMARE JOBS OF YOUTH – Marilyn Armstrong

I complain about getting old, but occasionally, I remember being young wasn’t exactly perfect, either. Mostly, it was work. Men were one problem (especially the men AT work), but work itself and some of the monsters who ran the companies for which I worked … well … they were a special breed. I hear it’s worse now. 

I find that hard to believe. How much worse can it be? Between the sleazy offers of sex behind the office door and the micromanagement, not to mention the realization that the harder you worked, the more work you’d be given to do — and realizing that as a woman, you’d probably never get a raise or even a high five — how bad can it get?


As a retiree, I had more than 40 years of work full-time work. Of the 40 years of work, 30 of them involved working for bad-tempered, sleazy, mean-spirited bosses.

Were they born that way or did they grow into their positions?

There was the job for which I was paid exceptionally well. I was being paid to do absolutely nothing. I was assigned to sit all day in front of a computer and look busy. I was not allowed to fall asleep or read a book. I could not play a game or write a personal letter.

I had to sit there and stare at the screen. Worse, I had to “work” overtime. A standard 8-hour day was not enough. I had to continue the farce for 9 or 10 hours. Because the contract agency that put me in the job had to prove we were “necessary” by forcing us to do overtime … or an extra hour or two of doing nothing.

I am told there are people who crave such jobs. For me, it was torture. I couldn’t wait to move on.

There was the job where I was paid top dollar, had a gorgeous office. And nobody cared what I did. They only hired me because one big contract needed a manual. My job was to write it.

No one read it. Not only didn’t they read it, they also didn’t edit it or check to make sure it was accurate. I could have filled it with nursery rhymes or doodles. All they wanted to know was “Is it big and heavy?” and “Does it look impressive?” People wonder why manuals aren’t as good as they should be!

Working under a micro-manager is a special experience, especially for a writer. I had a few of them.

These are the bosses who stand behind you. You can hear them breathe, feel their hot air breath on your neck. Yuk. They watch with eagle-eyes to make sure you are doing Your Job and Nothing But Your Job. For me, that means I can’t do my job.

I’m a writer. I can’t write with someone watching over my shoulder. The micro-managers also stands by the door in the morning hoping to bag any worker who has the temerity to show up a millisecond late. I was once called on the carpet — really tore me a new one — for being three minutes late.

The good part? When I made a serious mistake and forgot to insert a full-page color advertisement in the middle of the magazine — just omitted it entirely which no doubt cost the company serious money — it wasn’t any worse than the dressing down than I’d gotten for being three minutes late. It’s like when you yell at your kids or dogs all the time and you realize, they aren’t listening.

If you yell at your employees for everything, after a while, they become numb and nothing you do or say has any effect. To quote Teddy Roosevelt, “Speak softly and carry a big stick.” That works better, though it didn’t get him re-elected.

I had a truly stupid job at college. Briefly. The work was easy. I was the receptionist. Some annoying women came in and asked me my name. I told her. She said, “I don’t like that name. Do you mind if I call you Jane?”

I looked at her, “Yes, I mind. My name is Marilyn. Mrs. Armstrong to you.” I got fired. I didn’t mind. It was a horrible job anyhow.

This is not the time or place to discuss the wonderful jobs, the terrific bosses, or the great work I’ve had the honor to do. The awful jobs — mostly — didn’t last long. The good ones (mostly) made up for the bad ones.

Retirement is the payback for professional suffering. I love retirement. It’s the bestest job of all.

WOMENS’ ROLES IN JAPAN – CHANGE AND STAGNATION – BY ELLIN CURLEY

Many things have changed in Japan since WWII but many things have also stayed the same. This dichotomy is creating unwanted trends and having far reaching consequences for the entire country.

Certain cultural expectations have remained static over time. Employees are still expected to devote most of their waking hours to their company. Working past 10 PM is the norm and men are often expected to take clients out for drinks after work. Rigorous targets must be met in order to get raises and promotions. This culture of overwork even has a name – “death from overwork.” It’s been argued that this demanding work environment leads to inefficiency and low productivity yet it still has a tight hold on Japanese work culture.

Another social phenomenon that has not changed is that women are still expected to care for the home, children and elderly relatives. They are also still given onerous tasks that they must fulfill to adequately perform their roles in the home. Cooking, for example, is a major job for Japanese women. They must prepare numerous, small dishes for their families every day AND the school lunches that they must prepare for their children have to be works of art!

Dishwashers are not as common as in the U.S and neither are dryers capable of doing large loads. So most women have to hang wet clothes on clotheslines outside, which dramatically increases the amount of time needed to do a family’s laundry.

But this is just the beginning. American women would be horrified at the volume of paperwork women have to do, every day, for their children’s schools and day-cares.

That’s right. Pre-schools demand meticulous and voluminous daily journals documenting their children’s temperatures, what they eat, their moods, conversations, sleeping hours and playtime activities. The elementary schools and after school tutoring classes, ubiquitous for older children, also require that a parent corrects and approves every page of their child’s homework. Women are thus swamped with household and bureaucratic tasks at home, which affects their ability to work outside the home.

Japanese elementary school class

Here comes the change part – now close to 70% of women 15-64 have jobs. Nevertheless, the heavy burden of domestic tasks holds women back from advancing in their careers. They can’t put in the crushing hours men do when they are on the promotion track. As a result, almost half of all working women only work part-time and often the other half are on temporary contracts. This creates a huge pay gap between men and women and also a shortage of women in management-level jobs.

Only 1% of the female workforce is in management. Yet women who work more than 49 hours a week typically also put in close to 25 hours of housework a week. Men typically average less than 5 hours a week, even when their wives work too. Thus Japanese men do less housework and childcare than men in any other of the world’s wealthiest nations.

This rigidity of gender roles at home has ramifications in the economy and society. Japan’s economic status in the world has stagnated and China has overtaken Japan as the world’s second-largest economy. The Prime Minister of Japan has pledged to return the economy to steady growth, which means countering the severe labor shortage due to a declining as well as a rapidly-aging population. To increase the workforce and energize the economy, the Prime Minister’s goal is to elevate and increase women’s participation in the workforce. This initiative is called “womenomics.”

The problem is that for women to increase their impact on the workplace, everyone has to reduce the bruising hours expected at work so the women can begin to catch up to the men. In addition, the rigid and excessive demands on a woman’s time at home have to be reduced – and/or these tasks must be shared more equally by the husbands. But that would require a major change in social norms and entrenched gender roles, which is not likely to happen quickly.

However, social change is happening in Japan, just not in the way the government wants or society needs. The biggest trend in Japanese society today is the tremendous surge of women choosing not to marry at all! More and more women are rejecting the life of domestic drudgery that comes with marriage and parenthood and the concomitant drag on their career advancement.

The Japanese are exhausted most of the time

This is a problem because Japan is also suffering from a decline in population that politicians are frantically trying to reverse. The birth rate is the lowest it’s been since 1899 when record-keeping began. The economy can’t continue to grow if the workforce continues to shrink.

The statistics on women staying single are dramatic. In the mid-1990s, only 1 in 20 women in Japan had never been married by the age of 50. By 2015, 1 in 7 remained unmarried. In women ages 35-39, 10% were unmarried 20 years ago and now 25% are staying single. The number of couples getting married is at its lowest level since WWII.

There is some good news for the business world. A growing number of new businesses have sprung up to cater to this large market of single women. Single Karaoke Bars have women-only zones, restaurants market to solo diners, travel companies book tours for single women and photo studios offer photoshoots where women put on wedding dresses and pose for solo bridal pictures. There are even solo wedding ceremonies for women committing to their independence and their single, career-oriented lives.

Women no longer need husbands to ensure their economic security because if they stay single and avoid the cultural demands on wives and mothers, they can put in the hours to get ahead at work. They can also have the freedom to pursue hobbies, travel and cultivate large circles of friends. Many see this lifestyle as more rewarding than being stuck in the quicksand of the socially mandated gender role of wife and mother.

Until these domestic roles are redefined, Japan will see more and more women opting out of the domestic rat race. And the population will continue to decline along with the economy. I’m not sure how the government can mandate the kind of social change they need, but they may have to try. It should be interesting to watch how this social experiment works out.

THE MANUAL YOU DON’T HAVE – Marilyn Armstrong

Last night, someone I know and who should know better, complained that Olympus, from whom he bought his camera, should fire the tech writer. Because there was no manual.

There was a booklet that listed the options but didn’t explain what they were or what to do with them. Well, duh.

I wrote this. Then I rewrote it to make it better.

I felt obliged to point out the reason there is no manual is they never hired a tech writer in the first place. If they had a living, breathing technical writer, there would be a manual.

You wouldn’t spend a couple of thousand dollars on a camera and get a generated leaflet. You’d get a real book with an index and a table of contents. Screenshots. Explanations not only of where to find a function but what the function does. So when you get there, you know what option to select and what it will do to your photographs.

Once upon a time, that was my world. I thought it was important, at least to the people who bought products about which I wrote.

The mysteries of the menus in my camera are hilarious. It might as well be written in Urdu.

Years went by during which the work I did was most of my life. I got up, got dressed, scraped the ice off the car, went to work (stopping for coffee along the way) and went through my day. Between having done the same kind of work for a long time and perpetually racing against a deadline, life was busy.

I knew, no matter what the ad said when I took a job, my work wasn’t permanent. I would work until the book was finished, then I’d move on. That was the way it really was.

The industry in which I worked ultimately decided the work I did was no longer necessary. Who needs a manual to tell them how to use equipment that costs a gazillion dollars and controls the operation of a steel mill? Or a missile tracking system? Or a satellite grabber for use out in space? They can always call the help desk — especially in space where you can easily find a signal for your phone.

I was the one who organized the chaotic information into a book with a table of contents, index, chapters, and diagrams so you would not always have to call someone. Considering the state of tech support these days, you can see where this failure to supply reasonable documentation has landed us. That’s why the phones are always busy and why the quality of support is so bad. How often do you find that you know more than the “help tech” individual knows? Basically, if you can’t fix it by rebooting, uh oh.

The help desk people don’t have the manual, either. And they badly need one.

Regardless, I was obsolete.

You need developers and a boss because someone has to say why you are all gathered here this morning. Also, the boss makes sure there’s coffee.

But a writer? They only hired me when they were at the end of a production cycle, realized the contract required they deliver documentation with the product. Sometimes, I got as little as three weeks to learn a product and produce a book that looked professional. At that point, no one cared what was in the book or whether the information would be of any use to anyone. It just had to be big, thick, nicely designed, and weigh enough to use as a doorstop.

My days were numbered. Eventually, I was gone.

To substitute for professional writers, they produce “automatic documentation.” Which is raw data generated by a program using “comments” left by developers, many of whom speak English as a second or third language and in any case, do not understand how non-engineers work or the kind of information they need to navigate a complex product.

It turns out, people were still willing to spend oodles of money for an undocumented product. So I guess they were right. No one cares until they get an expensive product that includes nothing. The good news? You can find entire books — the kind I used to write — on Amazon. Buy them and find out how the product works. It’s just like the books people like me wrote. Cool, huh? Except they don’t come with the product. You have to buy one and they are not always available.

My best bet is finding people online who own and use similar products and pick their brains.

For all of you who believe that crappy documentation is because tech writers are lazy? No, we aren’t lazy.

What we are is fired.

FORTHRIGHT – MALE VS. FEMALE – Marilyn Armstrong

FOWC with Fandango — Forthright

When a man is forthright, he is energetic and ambitious. He gets a lot of slaps on the back and with a tidbit of luck, he winds up running the place. Or a piece of it, anyhow. Because if you are a man, forthright and a bit of a go-getter, you are the right kind of guy. You say what you mean and others automatically follow you.

Old Doubleday and Company

On the other hand, if you are a woman and you are forthright, you are probably a slut or at the very least, a ball-buster. If you say what you want, you not a “real” woman. If you are ambitious, you are ruthless. If you are a go-getter, you are probably sleeping with the boss (of either sex, these days).

Regardless, you get paid at least 25% less than men who did the same work and quite possibly, even less.

Recently I’ve read about how “we (women) used to handle ‘this stuff’ back in the good old days.” Like, say, the 1960s.

Those days weren’t quite as good and they definitely weren’t great, at least not for working women. We were just beginning to find our feet out of the secretarial pool. How many of us had to learn to avoid the hands and the tentacles (some men had really long arms) of the men who surrounded us? You didn’t have to look “hot” or wear sexy clothing, either. Just being female was enough. “Hitting on women” has nothing to do with sex or attraction and everything to do with power and dominance.

A lot of the worst of these guys had wives at home better looking than the women they were bugging at work.

Despite rumors to the contrary, it wasn’t necessarily “easy” to get around these guys. Easy if they were an equal or lower level colleague, but if it was your boss? When it was the guy who owned the joint?

You were screwed.

You could quit your job quickly before the boss had time to make up an evil reference about you. That is what I did because not only was he really making it very clear how long our evenings after everyone else left would be. On top of that, he was a handsome guy. That was not going to make the situation easier.

I could give in a bit, enough to shut him up while I bought time to send out resumes. Or I could give in and live with the shame. Because even if no one else knew, I knew. I have a conscience. It is often inconvenient.

All these situations were unique. We were not the same people. Our responses varied. Where we lived made a difference, too.

Every office is different and has its own social milieu. Every “boss” has his own playbook. Moreover, it depended on your position and who was badgering you.

Not your equal? Easy peasy.

Your equal? More complicated.

The 1970s Doubleday I remember

Your boss or worse, THE boss? Big problem.

Working at Doubleday was fantastic except for the pay inequalities. No one bothered anyone except by asking them to help them produce extra work. Which no one minded because otherwise, they treated us very well.

You never made the same money as men whose work wasn’t as good as yours. I remember when I worked there, having secured a pretty good job I managed to get a job for a friend (male) who had no experience at all but had talent. They hired him for several thousand dollars more per year than I was getting, yet I knew the work and had experience. He knew nothing and had to learn it from scratch.

I didn’t see the point in making a fuss. It was pointless. Men always earned more than me, even when they were inexperienced or not very good.

So much for forthright.

SHINING AGAIN – Marilyn Armstrong

I just read a really interesting post on Sue Vincent’s Daily Echo called: SHINEIn her final paragraphs she said:


Don’t we all wish to be loved and accepted for who we are in our entirety? Yet we hide the good, even from ourselves, behind a socially acceptable modesty while brandishing our flaws and frailties as if they alone define who we are. They do not. We define who we are. As much by how we choose to see ourselves as by anything else. If we see ourselves whole, perhaps others may too. They cannot until we do, as we project outward only a fragment of who we are. The saying ‘love thy neighbour as thyself’ comes to mind. Maybe if we love our whole selves we can love others wholly too.

We are told that the very physical fabric of everything we know, including our own bodies, is made of the matter from which the stars were formed. Our physical forms exist because somewhere, aeons ago, a star died. If that is so, why should we not simply shine?


I realize the answer is really simple. We don’t shine because we need to work. We have to have a resume. We need to be “people-people.” No one wants to hire someone who shines. They want to hire people who fit in, people who won’t jolt the company “culture.”

I never figured out what company culture was, actually. Most of the places who exalted their company culture have long since gone bankrupt. Usually what company culture really meant is “we don’t want to work any harder than we absolutely have to.” These are places where mentioning deadlines were enough to get you out the door.

Photo: Garry Armstrong

They hired many more people than they needed to do the work because the people they hired couldn’t really do the work. More to the point, they didn’t do the work. They intentionally worked so slowly I found it hard to believe anyone could write that slowly. They thought THREE PAGES A DAY of technical material was plenty. I used to write between 20 and 50 and on a really good day, I could write half the book. Sure I’d have to go back and edit, add graphics, double check information, and test the document against the product.

But I got the work done. I got the basic draft put together quickly which left me time for serious rewrites and corrections once I’d Beta-tested the product.

Photo: Garry Armstrong

I worked at Intel for a year. It was a good job. Good pay. Also, not far from home and I didn’t have to drive into Boston. I had to work a 10  hour day every day, but I only had about 45 minutes of work to do. I was so bored I thought it would kill me. Ten hours of sitting in front of a computer — with NOTHING to do.

Shine? I could barely keep my eyes open.

And then, I got sick, stopped working, and got old. I don’t have a resume anymore. I’m not working for anyone who pays me, so I don’t have to lie to anyone, fake anything, pretend anything I don’t feel. With all the physical problems I have, I can’t begin to tell you how deeply I enjoy being me all the time. I’m not sure how the rest of the world feels about it, but I’m happy.


Shining is best done by the rich and the retired. Shining is not an option for most of us who have to show up to work and smile.

NowI CAN shine.