Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Working Longer; Retiring....Ever?

Featured on MORE.com "Working" Channel:

I don't think there's a middle age person right now that isn't having a nervous breakdown over what they're going to do instead of retiring in their sixties. With new surveys showing that most Americans expect to work four more years past the age they planned to retire, the question that comes to my mind is: work at what?

Ironically, just as this cheery news was breaking, I heard from a fellow colleague in the non-profit cultural world who I'm pretty sure had been comfortably retired. The reason? She was looking for work.

Suddenly her phone call turned into a wake up call, and I was envisioning my life ten years down the road: mid-sixties, suddenly a displaced worker, decades of experience, professional qualifications up the yin yang, and I'm trolling friends for a job.

Being the anxiety-prone type, I started making lists months ago pre-apocalyptic phone call. The lists basically boiled down to four ways I could make a living while filling the gap before retirement: work I'm trained to do, work I would like to do (otherwise known as the "dream on" list), work I would be willing to do, and the "last resort" list.

Continued on MORE.com

Sunday, November 15, 2009

The Naughty "G" Word

Apparently, there’s a lot of apology flinging these days over the use of a certain “G” word when referring to a multi-sex group or one that’s women-only.

I’m talking about the word guys.

Twice in the same week this came to my attention through work colleagues. One was a woman who had just wrapped up a meeting filled with us estrogen-only types and let the “G” word slip. She quickly made a U-turn saying, “I probably shouldn’t be calling you guys.”

Then there was my friend, Patrick, who was asking a business-related question in an email in which he used the all-purpose you guys. I knew he was simply using verbal shorthand, but he came back a paragraph later and posed the question, “How do women feel—especially those of a ‘certain age’—about being called guys?” I wanted to tell him he would be a lot more PC, and buying a lot fewer Appletinis for women friends he was offending, if he didn’t use the words “certain age.” As for using the “G” word, I assured him that I wouldn’t be spamming his inbox with naked photos of Rush Limbaugh because I’d been misidentified.

I’m sure there are women who will go out of their way to correct anyone using the word guys in their presence, but I’m not one of them. That’s probably because all my parental relatives hail from Pennsylvania where the phrase “yous guys” was the popular label for any group of people. (And on my Italian side of the family, there were a lot of them.) Personally, I thought this was a riot. We never heard “yous guys” in the state of New York. It still is a PA thing, as far as I can tell.

Even though I grew up in a male-dominated household, the word guys, to me, wasn’t male-specific. It was just a faster, more efficient way of calling everybody at one time without having to remember names. Our mothers did it all the time, screaming out the back door: “You guys stop throwing that ball against the side of the house!” Can you imagine Kate Gosselin trying to hustle that brood in front of the cameras if she had to call them all by name? Their fifteen seconds of fame would last until those kids were in their forties.

There was also the more intimidating query that made us all immediately stop dead in our tracks when mom’s voice would appear out of nowhere to ask: “What are guys up to?” Um, not spin the bottle in the basement. Or toking on a doobie. Whatever it was we guys were up to, it ended the minute we heard the voice of accusation. Even if we weren’t doing anything, the insinuating use of the “G” word made us conspirators. If we responded back with some smartass remark—which my brothers in their infinite immaturity had a habit of doing--we weren’t just guys, we were wise guys. In fact now that I think of it, being part of a pack of siblings meant I was lumped in with the guys on a daily basis.

The only place you rarely heard the word guys was the classroom. We were boys and girls, and later, ladies and gentlemen. Or Mr. and Miss if we were facing the principal (which I had some experience with, by the way.) If our teachers had to refer to us as a group, at all, they used the impersonal term “class.” And thanks to Cheech and Chong, no teacher since 1972 has been able to use the word without getting a rendition of Sister Mary Elephant from the crackpot in the last row.

I’m not a linguistics expert, but to me the word “guys” has reached the point of being innocuously genderless, and rolls off the tongue far easier than other possibilities like “all you people,” “the whole lot of you,” or “upright walking homo sapiens.”

There are quick little “safe” terms I find come in handy in a variety of situations. Take “everyone,” for instance. Everyone works well in those sticky business situations where you’re not quite sure what side of the sexual orientation line people fall on and don’t want to risk offending (or outing) the trans-gender CEO. For people who are on a first name basis and kicking back over beer and pizza, I like the more earthy term folks, although this can easily make you sound like you grew up on Little House on the Prairie with the wrong age group. I regret the fact that I live north of Mason-Dixon line because I think the term y’all is close to the perfect group label, whether you’re talking to corn farmers or top brass. And it just sounds so gosh darn friendly. Seriously, wouldn’t international diplomacy go a lot smoother if the Secretary of State started the conversation with, “How y’all doin, today?”

If men like my friend Patrick are worried about offending women, there are more hazardous words than guys that are going to get them skewered on the ends of our spike heels. “Girls” is definitely one of them. Men should never use the word “girls” when addressing a group of grown women unless, of course, your goal is to eat your testicles with a splash of hot sauce. “Ladies” is a borderline term that, in my opinion, has to be used with caution. Certain people like bartenders, hairdressers, and men who still hold the doors open for us—can get away with this and we think it’s charming. Men who use the word “ladies” to address, say, a women’s roller derby team, had better be wearing skates, because you’ll need to make a fast exit. And it goes without saying that only Phoebe ever got away with calling her fellow Friends, Rachel and Monica “her bitches.”

My advice would be, stick with guys. If teeth are bared and slanted eyes nail you to a wall, just say, “Ooops! My bad.” And offer to buy the next round.