Some thoughts on co-workers as family

Years ago, when I had just graduated college and had been hired into my first real, adult, full-time job — as an editorial assistant for a travel publication called Signature, gone for lo these many years — my father took me aside and gave me this advice (not in these precise words, but this is the gist):

“When you start a job, somebody there — your boss, the personnel director — will tell you that the company is one big family, and that you’re now a part of that family. They may be very nice people, and say that with all the good will in the world, but it’s important that you don’t believe them. Because unless you’re married to the owner’s son, you’re not family.  And no matter how hard you work, how much time and effort and good will you give them, if they need to — for reasons that have nothing to do with you — they will get rid of you.”

Sounds a bit dire, doesn’t it? Not really. My father was an extremely astute man, and that advice has been a balm to my ego whenever I hit a bump in my career — I knew I had done my best, and while I deeply regretted the loss of the job, I didn’t waste time blaming myself. But he was not completely correct, either.

Because while he was right that corporate executives are wrong when they describe the company as family, he was not right when it came to the way the employees of some companies deal with each other. While there are organizations in which there seems to be a general sense of every person for themselves and screw everyone else (see: Uber), there are others where you have a group of people who sincerely like each other and the work they do.

What happens then? Then you have people who are more likely to enjoy starting work each morning and pushing to do the best they can. You have people who are truly dedicated to their work, not just because they are getting a salary, and not just because they want to get a raise and/or a new title, but also because by doing their job well, they make things easier for their friends who are working with them. They are more likely to collaborate well, come up with good ideas and carry out useful projects, and adjust to the changing demands that invariably come down from upper management.

They are more likely to stay in place, because they like and value the people they work with. And they are more likely to mourn when one or several of their members leave.

As with families, as the years go by, people will go their separate ways, make new friends, attach themselves to other families, and even lose track of those they were once close to. But the memories will always be there, and there will always be those times when two people meet and one says, “Hey, do you remember so-and-so? Did you know she moved to Washington and is now working for XYZ Corp?” “Omigawd!” says the other. “We haven’t talked for ages! Do you have her email address? I’ve got to get back in touch!”

And that’s what family does.

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Tomorrow: The Margot Adler Memorial Reading

img_20140315_115911890Margot Adler was one of those people whose lives are a marvel. She was known and loved by many people who were part of many different communities: those who worked at and listened to the radio stations where she worked, WBAI and WNYC; the members of the Wiccan community; those who read her books on paganism, Drawing Down the Moon and Heretic’s Heart; and those who read her later book Vampires Are Us: Understanding Our Love Affair with the Immortal Dark Side, and who heard her speak about it. And probably many more.

Originally, I knew Margot’s husband, John Gliedman, as well or better than I knew Margot. He was an extremely smart (actually, quite brilliant), technically knowledgeable, and just plain nice human being who occasionally freelanced as a technical writer. John and Margot lived in a beautiful apartment on Central Park West, and some of my best memories are of meeting them there to talk, watch movies (or the election returns), or just hang out.

John died in 2010. Margot died in 2014. Both died too early. I miss them both.

Tomorrow (Tuesday, November 1st), the first Margot Adler Memorial Reading will be held at the NY Review of SF Readings — appropriately, on All Soul’s Day. It is being curated by Terence Taylor, and features Terence and Sabrina Vourvoulias — two exceptional writers of fantastic fiction. It will take place at 7 pm at the Brooklyn Commons Cafe at 388 Atlantic Avenue.

I hope to see you there.

Okay, 2014, no more — we’ve lost enough good people

The year 2014 has been, so far, a real bastard. There have been too many people lost to death, most too early — some so far before their time that it makes me ashamed.

There was my cousin Jennifer Greene, a wonderful singer and the mother of a vibrant little boy named Ari, who found out she had cancer before her baby was even weaned.

There was the incandescent Margot Adler, one of the most talented and generous spirits it has ever been my privilege to know. With Margot, I’m still in a vague sort of denial and sometimes find myself thinking, “We should call Margot and ask if she wants to meet and see that weird new movie” a second or two before I remember we can’t. (And I still miss her husband John Gliedman, who died several years ago, a friend and colleague of mine.)

And there have been the writers whom I didn’t know well, or didn’t know personally, but whom I admired for what they wrote and who they were — authors such as Lucius Shepard, Jay Lake and now Eugie Foster, who died this morning at the age of 42.

There is nothing that can be said. Losses like these are both sad and incredibly infuriating. All I can do is extend my sympathies to their friends and families, and try to live a life worthy of their memories.

Carolyn Fireside: A remembrance

Difficult friends can be — difficult.

I just found out that my friend Carolyn Fireside has died. Carolyn was a very talented writer and editor; when I met her (fairly late in her life), she had mostly retired from editing and was making her living as a freelance ghostwriter. When I worked in Manhattan, we’d meet sometimes for lunch and talk about books and writing and the difficulties of New York City living.

She lived in a tiny apartment in a prestigious NYC neighborhood with a spoiled cat and more books than you could count. The few times I visited, she’d select a book out of the bookcase and force it on me, “You must read this!” she’d insist, ignoring my protests about lack of time and the other books I still had to get through.

She lived like an old-fashioned character out of the New Yorker, even — especially — when she no longer should have. She smoked until forced to stop; would go to the same restaurant every day for drinks and dinner even when she could no longer afford it; enjoyed the taste of salt and insisted on having a small dish of it next to her at meals, even though her doctors and friends tried to convince her that she was killing herself with it.

She loved to complain, but refused to fix whatever she was complaining about. She was generous in her praise, and said lovely things about my stories that I will never forget, and never forgive myself for not responding to more often.

In the end, most of her friends were forced to give up on her, because she was too frustrating to deal with. She finally had to sell her little apartment and move to a nursing home up in the Bronx, away from her books and her beloved Manhattan life. Jim visited her there several times, to set her up with the computer that was her only connection to her old life. I came with him once — the place was clean, and the staff seemed caring, and she had her own room, but it was basically only a hospital room with a bed, bathroom, a TV, and her computer. She would have been better off in what is called independent living, but circumstances landed her there instead.

It’s at these times that you try to tell yourself that it wasn’t your fault that you didn’t call more often, didn’t email more often, didn’t try to help more. Life gets in the way: work, other friends, aging parents, other worries — and the knowledge that, even if you did try to help, Carolyn would probably fight you every inch of the way.

So Carolyn, I don’t know that I could have done any differently than I did. And I am sorry. But I will remember you and miss you terribly. I hope that is enough.