Tag Archives: outside the tower

A Gift for Dad

It’s my dad’s birthday today and I don’t have a present for him. It doesn’t help that I’m currently three time zones away, although even that is better than the fourteen or so when I was in Korea.

It’s not totally my fault though. He’s very hard to buy things for. For one thing, he’s just so darned contented. He doesn’t need anything except his family and peace on earth and he’s already got one of those, and the other one is a little out of my price range.

I remember the first thing I ever bought him. I think it was for his birthday, but it might have been for Father’s Day. I don’t know how old I was, but probably around five. When you’re five, you don’t pick out a present and you definitely don’t buy it. It’s more a situation of your mom saying, “Here, this will be your present to Dad.” But when you’re a kid, from that moment on, it’s YOUR present to give, just as much as if you’d carved it out of the earth yourself.

I gave him a staple remover because Mom said he didn’t have one. It probably cost a dollar, especially considering this was in the 80s sometime. I remember him opening it, and I will always remember what he said, even though it was over 30 years ago. He said, “Do you know, for years I have been taking staples out with my thumbnail?” My little heart swelled with pride at that because I was helping Dad. I had given him something he needed.

staple remover

Pictured: a five-year-old’s idea of a good present

I’m not going to say that was the last good present I ever got him. I made him a glass chessboard once when I was a teenager that I think was pretty spiffy and once I made him a leather sheath for his scout knife. It’s always a bit of a challenge though to find that perfect gift, what the French probably don’t call le cadeau juste.

Don’t think I’m blaming him, however. The fact is, I’ve taken after him quite a bit in this regard. I’m pretty darned contented myself, as exasperated female members of my family might readily attest. But growing up, here’s what the list was, in terms of possible gifts:

  • Ties. At least I think so. I don’t actually remember getting Dad a tie, but I think it was always on the table as an option. At least he wore ties, which is more than I can say about myself, if I can at all avoid it.
  • Mugs. This was a great one because a person can always use mugs, especially if you drink coffee like my dad. Of course, after a while, there’s only so many cups of coffee you can drink simultaneously, and only so many people you can invite over for coffee, so this gift is not a sure thing. (Note: if you find you have too many mugs in your house, pick the ten you use least and put them in the back of a pickup truck and drive around on dirt roads for an hour. Throw away any that are chipped and your family will then have something to give you as a present again.)
  • T-shirts. We tried this, we really did. All through our teenage years we tried to make Dad cool. And he was cool, right up to the point when he invariably gave the T-shirts to one of my sisters, since he said the shirts looked better on them anyway.
  • Books. Not a bad idea, but if he’s anything like me, he could build a house with the books on his To-Read list. One with a breakfast nook that’s all non-fiction.
  • Tools. All guys need tools. This simple adage means that there are always gifts to buy someone. The problem is, beyond the basic tools, tools quickly get very complicated and very specialized. I prefer to get him knives and machetes and things like that, since that’s what I like. I like to give knives as presents to people right up to just before the point where a casual observer takes that person to be a serial killer, and Dad’s nowhere near that point yet.

Every now and then, I get some grand ideas for gifts for people that involve way more time and resources that I have. I would probably start with a drawing and end up five hours later with a plan to make a personalized movie featuring interpretative dance that symbolizes the passing of the seasons in Newfoundland. My planning process is often just a sine wave oscillating between flights of fancy and blunt realism.

interpretive dance - not really

This is unrelated, but it was the first result when I did a Google search for “interpretative dance Newfoundland seasons”

A lot of the problem is money too, because I’d love to buy him a canoe and a trip for two to France or Peru, or both, and maybe a self-shoveling driveway.

But, in lieu of all the things that I either can’t get you or you don’t need, I’ll give you this blog post, Dad, if only because I know no one else got you one and you don’t have one already (this does not include Facebook posts, I will note, since my sister writes devastatingly beautiful and poetic tributes to people on Facebook that always leave me feeling choked up and envious).

I love you Dad and I hope you have a wonderful birthday. Someday, perhaps, we will be in the same time zone and maybe even the same zip code and I can say it in person.

happy-birthday-dad-300x300

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Jabberwocky by UIU

It is summer at the moment, and if you work at a university, you know that summer is a fairly quiet time. So, I decided to have some fun at work. My favorite poem has for years been Jabberwocky, by Lewis Carroll. What I did was divide the poem up into small sections and I went around campus with a video camera and recorded staff, faculty and students saying the parts, then put them all together.

 


8 Tips When Applying for a Job

I hate applying for jobs. You find one that you are decently qualified for, go through half an hour of filling out their application form, tweaking your cover letter and resume, checking all the other documents they want, sending it off and then . . . very often, nothing at all, until much later when you receive a form rejection letter from the HR department.

That, unfortunately is the way of things. All places receive way more applications that they can even give interviews to, but I always wondered what they were looking for. What could I do to get an edge?

Well, now I know a little more since I am on the other side of things. I am now in the position of hiring people and that has taught me a lot about the whole process. Of course, I can only speak for myself, and there is unfortunately no perfect formula for getting a job: if someone else is more qualified, they will probably get the position. However, here are 8 things that I can suggest that will help you put your best foot forward. I won’t include proofreading your cover letter and resume because I really hope you do that anyway.

1. Include everything in the job description

The whole point of your cover letter and resume is to get an interview. Remember that the people going over your application do not know a single thing about you besides what you put on those few pieces of paper. Your resume is just a list of what you have done and can’t really change much. However, the cover letter is a chance to show how that matches the job you’re applying for. Mention every single thing in the job description and why you can do it. If you don’t have direct experience, talk about transferable skills you have learned at other jobs. If the job asks for someone who is proficient at email, mention that you are. Don’t just assume they know you are, just because everyone should be. They probably have a checklist to make sure you have all the qualifications and you want them to be able to check all the boxes for you, not have a question mark next to some.

2. Be very specific on the cover letter, but don’t rewrite your resume

There is a very high probability that the people going over your application are going through a ton of them and that after a while, they all tend to blend together except for the very good and the very bad ones. Maybe it’s Friday afternoon and they’ve already picked out some to interview. Yours is the last one before they can go home. That’s bad news, especially if your cover letter has a lot of generalities, such as “In my last position, I excelled at the work and I am committed to working hard in this one as well.” That doesn’t say anything, unfortunately.

In the cover letter, lay out very succinctly why you are qualified for the job on all points. Lay out an orgy of evidence that not hiring you would be insanity, but be specific. Give examples from your past jobs. Personally, I don’t even mind bullet points because it makes it faster to get to the meat of the information. A warning, though, about bullet points: if you use them, do not just rewrite your resume in the cover letter. If you just list your education and work experience in your cover letter with little else, you might as well not even have one.

3. Make everything  on your resume as applicable as possible

This is hard to do sometimes, but whenever possible, make everything on your resume applicable to the job you’re applying for. That might be hard if you are, say, a certified backhoe operator and you’re applying to be a chef. It doesn’t hurt to have unrelated jobs listed, but it doesn’t help you either, and you need every edge you can get. This is a chance to highlight your transferable skills. In the above example, delete all references to dirt-moving ability, and say something like “worked well under pressure.” It’s not super persuasive maybe, but it’s something.

job application 3

“Works well within a time limit” [Source]

4. Make file names very clear, include your name in all of them

This is for applications where you need to attach a lot of documents. This maybe isn’t a deal breaker, but odd file names can cause confusion and you don’t want any negative feelings attached to you or your application. I recommend every file be a PDF with your full name, a hyphen (-) and what it is: either resume, cover letter, references, etc. PDFs are cleaner than Word documents and can’t be altered by anyone else.

Also, make sure the file name doesn’t say anything like Resumefinal.doc or coverletter-(company name).pdf or anything else. People know you are probably applying to tons of places, but it’s not good to remind them of that. Make a separate folder on your computer for every place you apply for so they don’t get mixed up (the worst thing you could do is send a letter to someone addressed to a different company), and so the resume and cover letter look like they’re your only one.

5. Use only English, don’t abbreviate place names people wouldn’t know

This is a minor one, but a pet peeve of mine. There should not be anything but English on the documents (unless, of course, you’re applying in another language, of course) except for names of places and people. If you do need to use words in other languages, make sure that they are transliterated into the English alphabet. It might make you look sophisticated to have Arabic or Chinese on your resume, but if the person doesn’t speak that language, it can only hurt you.

Also, do not use place name abbreviations outside your country. Everyone in Canada, for example, probably knows that ON means the province of Ontario, but if you are applying for a job outside of Canada, don’t use the abbreviation.

6. Be professional but don’t be scared to have some personality in your cover letter

This is probably the hardest line to walk. On one hand, this is a very formal process and not the best time for “’Sup guys, how about giving me a job over here?” Still, you don’t want to write a cover letter that sounds like it was written by a soulless robot, or even a soulful one.

The best approach, in my mind, is to avoid all slang and contractions to give it a formal feel, but use simple, conversational language and avoid buzzwords and jargon unless absolutely necessary. This will make it more readable and also come across as more natural, hopefully. It’s possible that the person going through your application may have to work with you if you are hired, and if they can get the impression that you would be great to work with, that can go a long way.

7. Don’t include a picture

This is just my opinion. It is pretty rare, but some people do include a picture of themselves. It may also be a cultural thing, where in some countries you might be expected to include a picture. However, it is not normal in the United States and to my mind, it can only hurt you. The best case scenario is that it won’t have any effect, but you want the people reviewing your application to judge you on your qualifications, not make snap judgments about your appearance. I was going to say that including your picture might be okay if you were extremely attractive, but even that could work against you if the person has some prejudice about beautiful people being less intelligent. You never know who will be looking at your application, so it’s a situation best just to avoid.

8. Do your research

It is amazing how many people know very little about the places they apply for. This could be seen as understandable if a person is putting out hundreds of applications, but I would argue it is better to put out half that number of good applications than just shooting them out blindly into the void.

There was a time when doing research on a potential employer was pretty difficult, but there is a lot less excuse nowadays where an Internet search can bring up a lot. I’m not saying that name-dropping the HR director will necessarily win you brownie points, but if you can mention some specifics about the employer that would be applicable to your job, that is very impressive, if only because it’s so rare. For example, you could say, “I noticed from photos on your company website that you use the HR400 series recombobulator. I did tech support on that line for two months so I would be comfortable operating them.”

As long as it’s actually true, that really helps you stand out from the crowd. Definitely don’t lie, especially about specifics. It’s too easy to catch that, and you will definitely not get the job if you are caught lying.

 

Again, these are just some things from my own personal experience and I cannot guarantee that all employers will think the same (I can guarantee they won’t, actually). However, I hope these tips help if you are looking for a job in the near future.

Do you have any other do or don’t tips for job searches that you’ve found to be true? Let me know in the comments.


Bunny & Crackerberry

This is all true.

When I was young, I got a stuffed rabbit from a relative. For Christmas, I think, but I was too young to remember exactly when. I named it Bunny, since children have a very straightforward way of naming things.

It started out pink, but eventually was just pink-ish, since I carried it around everywhere. Through a thousand hugs and a thousand nights being gripped by a young kid as he slept, the pink all left, leaving only the –ish and Bunny has been –ish colored ever since.

Some animals come with a smile permanently pasted on their face. I have this little black bear that my sister gave me called Andre. He looks like he’s scowling if you see him straight on, but if you tip him up a little, you can see that he’s really grinning. Bunny, however, doesn’t have a smile. He may have at one time, but most of his mouth got worn off. Now it is more a look of longsuffering. He looks at you with his big eyes and small, worn out mouth, not smiling exactly, but always being there for you.

Those aren’t his original eyes, by the way. I chewed off his plastic eyes when I was young, so my mom sewed on new ones. I’m not sure how many sets he’s had, actually. I think he might have that expression for a reason.

Bunny also wears a little shirt made out of an old sock. It’s got little holes for his stubby arms but since it’s a sock, it’s always rolling up, revealing his belly. I spend half my childhood rolling it down and straightening it out. But, like that one cowlick in the back which is impervious to hairspray, gel, curses, and tearful invocations, it only takes a minute each time for that shirt to pop back up.

Bunny’s most distinctive feature is his neck. Originally, he had a normal neck, but the neck is the perfect place for a young child to hug a stuffed animal, and eventually his neck got all thin and stretched out, so it wouldn’t support his head any longer. He spends his days with his head permanently flopped over at a 30-degree angle, a longsuffering look on his –ish colored face.

You might think that Bunny has had a pretty rough life, and on some levels, you might be right, but he’s also had a pretty charmed life. After all, he has two lucky rabbit’s feet. I used to bring Bunny everywhere and we used to travel thousands of miles every summer to go visit family. Several times I left Bunny at hotels and relatives’ houses, but he always got shipped back to me, much to my relief.

Somewhere along the way, I got a stuffed dog named Crackerberry, which was good because that gave Bunny a friend. He was much more robust than Bunny and since he missed the terrors of toddlerdom that Bunny endured, Crackerberry has stood up much better over time. I used to sleep with the two of them pushed together, which was pretty much all that saved Bunny from totally disintegrating over the years.

For the last few decades, Bunny and Crackerberry have enjoyed a quiet retirement together at my parents’ house. Who knows if another generation will eventually play with them and love them, although Bunny might have gotten all the love he can handle for one lifetime and should probably sit the next generation out. Sometimes I think they might be lonely and sometimes I even wish I were young again and back in my little attic room with the two of them. But that’s life, and at least they have each other.


A Giant Hiding in a Kindergarten

I went to Toronto a few weeks ago for a TESOL convention. The convention center was right next to the CN Tower, which for those who don’t know, is the tallest free-standing structure in the western hemisphere. It stands out, is what I’m trying to say. Plus, Toronto doesn’t have a lot of super-huge skyscrapers. See if you can spot the CN Tower in this picture:

Hint: it's the one over half a kilometer tall

Hint: it’s the one that’s over half a kilometer tall

If you couldn’t find it, you must be listening to the audio version of this blog (available now!)

I find it a wonderful irony that large objects are unmistakeable from far away but can be easily hidden close up. Here’s a picture I took from near my hotel:

0328151851

Fifty feet in either direction and the tallest building in the western hemisphere is hidden by someone’s house (well, a lot of someones’ houses) but the point is, it isn’t the tower that changes at all, or even the surrounding landscape: it’s the viewing position. For someone like me who thinks in metaphors, this is a very satisfying truth.

I am an English teacher, but I have actually preached in church four times. I was a deacon in my church in Korea and when the pastor is gone, someone has to do it. My style is much more logical progression of ideas and much less fire and brimstone. I must have a sulfur deficiency.

The very first time I preached, it was on this idea of perspective. The question I posed was: “What can come between you and God?” The answer: absolutely anything, because it all depends on our viewing position, not on Him. After all, the sun is the largest object in the solar system but I can block it out with my thumb if I hold it right in front of my eye.

I’d expound more on this, but this is ostensibly a fiction blog and you probably came here for stories, not theology (I could be wrong, of course). That is why I’m starting a new blog for all the rational, brimstone-less essays on religion, faith and philosophy that are rattling around in my head.

Don’t worry, the Green-Walled Tower isn’t going anywhere. This is a year of big things for this little blog and 2015 is draped in ivy, as far as I’m concerned. Still, I do have a lot of good ideas that don’t fit well into this blog format, so that’s why the Tower is getting a baby brother.

I’m still not sure what to call it: the Green-Walled Church? The Green-Walled Monastery? We’ll see. Stayed tuned.

wpid-20130921_114356.jpg

It this place is anything like the Tower, it must be one quirky church.

 


Green-Walled Tower News: March Edition

I’m restructuring things a little here at the Green-Walled Tower. Not much, but a little. I’m cleaning out the attic and moving things around so they fit better. For one thing, I’m going to go back to concentrating on original fiction. I have tried various other projects here to mix things up but they never did as well as my fiction and I didn’t enjoy them quite as much. Also, I will be concentrating mostly on light, humorous stories. I do anyway, of course, and I will still be writing a variety of stories, including dark ones on occasion.

However, for those who don’t want to read scary, dark, or horror stories, I will put up a rating at the beginning to let you know, using my little mascot Belfry.

Belfry Rating - Dark

I won’t put up ratings for others just yet, except one, which is satire. I realize that I can write a pretty convincing satire at times, so if you read something of mine that seems a little too weird to be true (I will always say at the beginning of the post if it’s true, as well), check the end for the rating. It will always be at the end: I don’t want to spoil the show.

Belfry Rating - Satire

As well, I will be coming out with a way to buy some pretty cool Green-Walled Tower merchandise. The official announcement will probably be next week, with a contest to win some neat stuff. Stay tuned.

GWT logo - cropped


Music to Write by

Last week, my class was working on posters for International Education Week and I put on some music while they were working. I tried to find songs on Youtube that everyone might like or at least things that I liked. After a few songs, I put on Lana del Ray’s Summertime Sadness, which I really love. One of the students, a 20-year-old Venezuelan guy gave me a look, as in “Really? You like this?” I defended myself by teaching them the word eclectic as in “Shut up, I have eclectic tastes in music” and then changed songs.

The fact is, I do love a very wide range of songs that produce some sort of emotional response in me. After all, as a writer I’m trying to evoke an emotional response in the reader, so call it research.

I listen to music when I write since it fuels the creativity pumps deep inside my spirit. Here is a sampling of songs that I really love and that help me in my writing. I can’t guarantee you’ll like all of them and actually, I can pretty much guarantee you won’t like all of them, since what would the odds be of that? (I also like Nightcore-style music, so some of these songs are the Nightcore remix version).

Et Huomaa – Irina

L’autre – Mireille Mathieu

Fear of the Dark – Iron Maiden

Dust in the Wind – Kansas

Popcorn – Hot Butter

Blessed be Your Name – Matt Redman

Courtesy Call – Thousand Foot Krutch

Anima Libera – Emi

Back to Black – Amy Winehouse

Brother Louie – Modern Talking

Jai Ho – Slumdog Millionaire OST

Lady – Styx

Classical Gas – Vanessa Mae

Vampire Kiss (Nightcore version)

Helele – Velile & Safri Duo

Kernkraft 400 – Zombie Nation

Radioactive – Imagine Dragons

And for my friend Miles, who also loves this song:

Kyrie – Mr. Mister

Do you listen to music when you write? What kinds of music helps you write the most?


My music canvas

you + me + music

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