Monday, October 26, 2009

Grouchy Blogger

And not very faithful one, either. Maybe the two are related. Uploading pictures makes me grouchy, which is probably why I haven't done it in 4 months. See other blog if you want the family photos.

I'm working! I think it's a keeper job, too, so I am happy about that. I've even gotten my first paycheck, which is even marginally the most I've ever made. Never mind that the marginally less paycheck was in 2001-2002 when I was teaching in public school with one less master's degree. But I didn't like it. I think I like this.

But, I'm working! And I have so little time for anything. No exercise. It's taking me more than a week to finish a novel that I actually enjoy because I'm falling asleep before I finish a chapter. Don't get me started on how the DVR is sucking up the rest of my time. I'm not complaining. Really, I'm not. It's a good busy.

I will try to do this more often. But if I can't, I can't.

Saturday, May 16, 2009


I keep dreaming about my office. Not the building, but the actual small room where I worked. The scratched wooden desk whose drawers I never fully cleaned out from the last resident. My filing cabinets, the rusty metal bookcase behind me where I kept neat stacks of in-progress projects and frequently used forms. The not-outstanding rolling chair, slightly wobbly and creaky. Even the computer and phone, same as everyone else's, which nonetheless felt like an extension of me, the worker.

When I'm awake, though, I think about the people I had to leave without warning. Like I said last time, I don't want to inflate my own self-importance. The people I worked with are used to being left behind, low priority, forgotten, so my absence likely won't be significant for very long. Yet, that in itself bothers me. Not my insignificance, but that these are marginalized people, with more emphasis on the "marginal" than the "people" part. I know there's this whole middle class employee socialization about never at any cost jeopardizing one's references, but what's my greater responsibility? To the people I was trying to help, whom I was paid to help, or to the employer who might or might not even be around to give me a reference. My conscience (or my also socialized evangelical Christian-guilt) tells me I'm not off the hook, human-to-human, just because I was asked to pack my things and stop working there. I don't know what that means, though. I don't know what I should do.

I wrote a note to one woman I was working with. I put it in my home mailbox this morning. She'd asked me to help her with a very simple, human need the day before I was laid off. In fact she asked me as I was walking out the door the day before, so I'd planned to start working on it the next morning. It was a line on a post-it on my desk. It was one of the things I mentioned to my supervisor as I was taking down my pictures and trying to remember if I'd brought the calculator from home (I decided I did). So I just this morning wrote her a note, telling her that I was sorry I couldn't have said good bye. I told her I was still thinking about her and wishing her well. I told her the resource I was considering calling on her behalf and gave her the number to try to call herself. I put my return address on the envelope.

I wasn't working as a counselor, just a case manager, but in my counseling program we hear a lot about boundaries. I had doubts in my mind about whether I should maintain contact, however slight and unobtrusive, since I can no longer help her with the backing of any agency. Is it appropriate to imply some kind of friendship, however passing and limited? But also, how human is it to just pretend that no one mattered to me beyond the paycheck? She's just one person out of over 100 people I worked with in the brief 6 months I was there. I'm only speaking of the over 100 homeless people who can't do anything for me, who can't give me references or remember that I was professional and competent when I coordinated services with them or made referrals to them in the spring of 2009. I have a few of those other names, too, which I'm keeping for my future employment searches.

Most of the homeless people have moved on already, of course, and funding woes may cause the rest of them to move on soon. Many of them I only met for a few hours or a few days. Many of them were addicts. A few of them were unpleasant sociopaths, but then again, I've met a few of those who weren't homeless, too, haven't you? They all had stories, though. And they were all human, like me, like my co-workers, like my supervisors, like you.

This layoff is still less than 4 days old. I may be going through one or more of the stages of guilt. I may be having trouble moving on and accepting my situation. Beyond all that, though, part of me wants to get out of the line of sheep moving from one insecure employment situation/temporarily-grassy-field to the next. I don't know what all of this means. Part of me wants to take the $100 digital voice recorder I had to buy for my graduate program and interview these people for public radio. But maybe I've just been listening to too much This American Life. Before their stories make me laugh or get a lump in my throat as I take my exercise walks around my neighborhoods, how were those contributors perceived? Slightly deranged, potentially obsessed yahoos with digital recorders, pursuing their highly personal stories with no hope of financial gain.

I've wanted to be a writer my entire life, but the main reason I'm not (leaving aside any judgment on my actual ability) is because I've always been afraid to take risks. I didn't want to get rejected (even though every published writer I respect says they've gotten countless rejection letters). I didn't want to put myself out there, in every possible meaning of that cliche. I'm not good at being vulnerable. I'm not good at being scrutinized. As much as I want to be loved, accepted, and approved of like every other human, I always fight the tendency to hide and disappear. I'm sure I'm not alone in that, either.

I'm right in the middle here. I'm less than two months from having a master's degree, my second master's degree, in a field where layoffs due to agency funding is unfortunately all too common (even before the global economic collapse). Even when employed, I can expect to work long hours for less than teacher's pay, unless I go into private practice, which is also no sure thing and pretty much guarantees that I will not be working with the most needy, since I will have to seek paying clients. My husband probably doesn't want to hear this, since we just spent thousands of dollars on this degree. I don't even know what I'm saying. Let's just call it adjustment disorder, for the moment.

I have to make pancakes now, for the two most important little humans in my life. My employment makes no difference to them. They're too young to notice any financial sacrifice we have to make, which won't, at any rate, include going hungry or losing the house. I still have all that: my children, my marriage, my house, my friends and family. Not much has changed, really, but I'm trying to allow myself to do whatever it is I'm doing. To mourn. To ponder. To give myself room to grow. To be. It is what it is. What will I be?

Thursday, May 14, 2009

The Economy Hits Home

One day you're at your desk, making phone calls and checking emails. Someone gives you an updated phone extension list, because someone moved to a new office, and you put it up on the side of your filing cabinet with the blue crab magnet one of your clients made. You complete a few tasks and throw away the post-it notes reminding you to do them. You sit across the desk from a new client, desperate and nervous, who clutches her small bag of meager belongings on her lap while rapidly tapping her leg. You think about what resources might be helpful for her and set up a follow-up appointment for tomorrow, because it's almost four o'clock and you have to get to class.

And then the next day they tell you they had to make some layoffs and, unfortunately, you're one of them. From there it's a little bit like on TV, and it feels that way, too. Not quite real. You take down the pictures of your children, turn over your keys to your apologetic supervisor, glance over the desk at the sticky notes that you'll never get to. Your supervisor promises he'll be calling you because he's sure he'll have questions. You have mixed feelings about this--you want to help, but if they need you, they shouldn't let you go. You shakily write your hours down in the payroll logbook for the last time. The few people you see in the hallway seem shaken as well. One co-worker says, "I'll be next. I have to be next."

You have a 30 minute drive home, during which you have to keep reminding yourself that those clients, those people you were actually helping, are not your problem anymore. They can't be. You think about the ones you just started helping, the ones who've told you about everyone in their lives abandoning them. You realize you sound a little grandiose, thinking you're the only one who could help them. Or that your clients will remember you in a year. But you were proud of your work; as cynical as you usually are, that mattered.

You also miss the people you'd almost become friends with. The people you spent 30-40 hours a week with, joking around, rolling your eyes, rushing around and getting things done. You realize it's too late to get their phone numbers. You wonder how you could have thought you were friends without getting phone numbers. Of course, you thought you'd have time.

You never think it's going to happen to you, even when it happened to others across the hall last month and the month before that. You never think you're going to be walked down the hallway carrying your belongings, the slim personal trappings of your former office, your former persona. What next? What now?

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Baby Showers

I'll just start out by saying I'm not a big fan. That may make me a humbug or a wet blanket or whatever quaint/vaguely British and/or 19th century phrase you prefer, but I would even have chosen to skip my own. Not that I had that choice, of course, since my mom and her friends organized the whole thing.

It's not just the indignity of guessing the girth of the pregnant mom using toilet paper. Or having to ooh and aah over baby clothes (yawn). Although those things are part of it. Until the last baby shower I went to, I probably would have listed silly games and mustering enthusiasm as two of the chief objections. That and my dislike of crowds, mingling, and socializing in general. (Don't I sound like fun to be around?) My new reason might be even more nitpicky and curmudgeonly, you tell me, but at least it's a new one.

The most recent baby shower was a ladies-in-the-church event. I went with my mother. The showered mom, with newborn in tow, is actually someone I'd like to get to know better. We went to the same college, although I graduated eight-ahem, cough-ten years earlier. She has an older daughter just a little bit older than P. I've heard that she wasn't actually crazy about getting a baby shower since she's shy, too (there are no secrets among the ladies-in-the-church), but since her husband is the new music minister and the church ladies were insistent, she didn't have much of a choice. All that to make it clear, I don't blame the new mom. (These silly traditions aren't anyone's fault, really; we just get pulled along into them by a group-compulsion to conform to some unknown body's expectation. Yawn. Boring myself.)

No, the most irksome thing about this shower was the woman who played hostess. I don't know her. I've never met her. She may be a friend of the mom. She may just be the type who likes to take charge and boss, er, run things. I know from a few of her offhand comments during the baby trivia game (woo-hoo!) that she's a teacher and she doesn't have kids (Question: "What is the highest number of children recorded to be born to one couple?" Irrelevant-no-one-cares comment:"Do my twenty-one 4th graders count?" Snarky silent answer: I don't know, did you teach them to count?)

OMG, I sound so harsh. Did she remind me of some peppy cheerleader from high school? Yes, she did! But I try not to let that kind of thing cloud my snap judgment. (Who am I kidding?) Really, what I'm trying to get to is the giggle over the word "ut.erus". And the giggle over the word "br.east-fe.eding". Note: I am doing the weird thing where I put dots in words because I don't want to get random hits and because my post about sore actually got one.

The ut.erus question went like this:

Peppy hostess: [giggle, possible snort] Well, I guess we're all ladies here, so here goes. How big does a woman's ut.erus get during pregnancy? [giggle, small chorus of giggles from two or three other skinny young women] Is it 50 times its previous size? 100 times its previous size? 200 times? Or 500 times? [giggle, unsolicited comment about discomfort of giant ut.erus, giggle chorus from skinny bitches]
(If you're curious, I think the answer was 500 times. I could look it up, but I don't really care that much.)

Oh, and I think there was a question about the size of the pla.centa which she was also clearly uncomfortable with, almost like she was telling a dirty joke. In front of the church ladies.

I feel I should say something here. The poor girl hasn't had a baby yet. She's likely never tried to get pregnant. If she's not married, since this is a conservative evangelical church, there's a possibility she's not even having the se.x now. So, there is always a discomfort with the unknown. And we are trained to have weird hangups about the female anat.omy. Polite (possibly Southern) church women don't say words like "ut.erus" and "pla.centa" or even "br.east". So, although it was definitely annoying, I can't entirely dismiss her as a shallow, self-absorbed twit with a warped concept of which words are inappropriate. She'll learn. She'll get pregnant or struggle to get pregnant, and she'll learn. Ignorance can be overcome, often by experience. (And I certainly have to add that, from the IF blogs I read, trying to conceive, struggling to conceive, brings perhaps even a higher level of intimacy with the an.atomical stuff, than birth does. So this is not a "if you haven't had a baby, you just don't get it" rant. I think I come across the word ut.erus a whole lot more from the TTC crowd than the mommy bloggers.)

Also because I've experienced this embarrassment before. I took a human se.xuality class in my counseling program with mostly women. We were all ages, from mid-twenties to early sixties. Probably a third of the women didn't have children. (All three of the men were fathers and age 40 and up. Let's forget about them now. They are irrelevant to this discussion.) No one was a vi.rgin, though. I found it very interesting that many women were much more comfortable talking intimately about s.ex or s.ex toys than they were about va.ginal birth. Or even saying the word va.gina. Pictures of the male an.atomy brought a shrug from them. Pictures of the female an.atomy made them uncomfortable to the point of asking the professor to advance the powerpoint. "I can't look at that," one woman said. Which, if you know my professor, was just fascinating to him, since the whole point was to make us aware of our discomfort and deal with it.

Maybe it's because I came to this myself from the other direction. Pregnancy and childbirth brought me to a level of ease and comfort with my body, my se.xuality. I never talked to girlfriends about my s.ex life before I had kids. Now it may mostly be rolling my eyes saying, What s.ex life? but I would have been embarrassed to say even that before. Pregnancy and childbirth made me aware of myself as a se.xual person and comfortable and familiar with my an.atomy. We did a lot of comforting in that class. Sharing guilt and sadness when husbands didn't understand the period of disinterest in s.ex after childbirth, revealing unresolved pain from abortions gotten under pressure from partners, mourning the loss of possibilities from waiting too long to have children or from having children too soon. It was a healing class.

What's this have to do with the cheerleader from the shower? I don't know. This has been running around my head for a while and she brought it back to my mind. I should follow my own advice and be kind to women, even inane, bubbly-headed ones. We have it rough enough as it is.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Quick Post

Halushki doesn't allow comments anymore, so I have to link her instead. This could have been written by me, although I haven't worked in a bookstore for nine years. It's good to remind myself when I get all nostalgic about the good old days (and irritated at the current job's insanity) that selling books also involved a lot of patience and resisting the urge to roll my eyes for minimum wage. (That said, if there was a good one within ten minutes of my house, I might think about it. But there isn't and there won't be, so not much thought, really.)

More later.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Unforeseen Side Effects

of work, I guess. Specifically of wearing uncomfortable shoes to work. My feet hurt. I had taken for granted the general state of non-foot pain that previous my mostly barefoot, once-to-twice a week nice shoes for 1-2 hours tops, otherwise be-sneakered lifestyle yielded me. Other than getting (daily) foot massages and/or pedicures that I have no time to schedule, any suggestions? Any particular brands of shoes that don't cause foot pain long into the weekend? I buy cheap shoes, generally, being a frugal person. But I'm willing to fork over more money for less pain. No pain, preferably. I remember my feet hurting AT work when I used to stand most of the day in my retail years. But that was 10 years ago (yikes) and my shoes then, more often than not, did not have heels. I am oh-so-much-more fashionable these days. Inexpensively fashionable. Now they hurt after I've taken the shoes off. A day or two after. Like they hurt right now and in 9 hours I have to put shoes back on. Ow.

I have pictures from the last week! From softball! And playground! And Fun Fest! And P. with a softball helmet and not much else. Soon I will post them on the other blog.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Softball Moms (& Dads)

As I sit here in my pajamas at 10:30 on Saturday morning, after enjoying a breakfast of scrambled eggs and Valentine's Day candy with my 2.75 year old, my husband is with the 5.5 year old for the opening ceremonies/picture day of her new softball season.

5-year-olds playing softball? Whaaa? No, seriously, they do. In fact, I was told by a pink-velour-sweatsuit-wearing mom at the last practice (5:30-7 pm on Monday), some girls--like her daughter--start at age 4. I was just trying to make small talk, be less introverted, etc., and had asked her if this was her daughter's first year, too. I was trying not to judge her by the sweatsuit (hey, I've done my share of public-wearing-of-exercise-clothes-without-actual-exercise, too) and hoping maybe for a little snarky-isn't-this-all-a-little-much banter. With someone I'd never met before, sure, why not? Turns out she was more the type to stand at the fence and yell at her daughter to be "Softball ready!" Turns out I'm more the type to slump on the bench and be bored/impatient because I haven't eaten since my inadequate packed lunch at 12 something and I'm still wearing my painful work-shoes.

I'll have to back up a little. My husband signed her up for this. With two seasons of YMCA soccer and one of basketball (he was the coach) under her small belt, he thought this program seemed to have more structure and maybe, just maybe, softball would be her thing. She's enjoyed all the other sports and seasons, but let's just say, she wasn't demonstrating any particular affinity for them.

I didn't play any sports as a kid, despite my dad's rabid sportsfan nature. He now says he wishes he had encouraged us (twin and I) more, but admits he didn't really think, as girls, that we would want or need it. Part of it was not having a lot of money, although when my brother was four or five (seven years later), he played t-ball. And soccer. And basketball. Probably not all in the same year, but still. It's not a major point for me, although I think it would have helped me socially and, you know, coordination-wise. I remember some culture shock when I went to my private college and realized all middle class children were supposed to have had ten years of piano and at least one sport. Oops.

As previously mentioned, we've done soccer and basketball already. The 5 year old has also done two seasons of dance and a couple of years of gymnastics--all at the Y. (And the 2-year-old is finishing up her third 12-week-session of gymnastics.) So, we've entered the acceptable middle-class child realm of organized activities and overscheduling already, but with this latest program it feels like we've entered a new level. (I'm thinking levels of hell here--Dante style--forgive me) .

I took her to her first practice, on a Saturday. Thinking we were good parents, we went out earlier in the week and had her pick out a helmet, bat, ball, and glove. Dad even bought a tee, so he could practice with her. Oh, and new sneakers. Arriving at the field, though, also with my 2ish year old in tow, I surveyed the row of mostly pink carry-bags, pink bats, pink helmets (many with names imprinted on them, not with marker, but all Pottery Barnish child font labeled), I thought, Hmm, not-so-good parent. At Dad's presumably more informed advice, we'd only brought her bat and glove. You can tell me, fellow children of the 70's and 80's, when you played softball/baseball, did you bring your own helmet to the practice (or the game for that matter)? Or did everyone just use the same few brought by the coaches? I'm remembering my brother's games. My husband recalls his even more solidly middle class suburban team sharing team helmets.

Being proactive, I decided to ask, as unsnarkily as possible, if my daughter needed to bring her helmet to practice (although obviously, everyone else had). The coach, a mom of a player, said, "I would" (and she had) and brought up lice. Lice. Yep. The bane of middle class existence, apparently. I have more lice stories, but I'm going to hold off in the interest of actually finishing this story before noon. Later in the practice, when the time came for the girls to wear their helmets for batting practice, she asked me permission for my daughter to use her daughter's helmet ("Is it okay if . . . ?") and again mentioned lice, in the context that her daughter didn't have it. (I just scratched my head.) I have to admit, as ridiculous as all this was, I felt kind of crappy at this point, as if I was one of those parents who may or may not send their child to school wearing underpants or socks.

Don't forget water bottles! Also, I hadn't brought any water, recalling (correctly) that the field came equipped with water fountains in the centrally located restroom area. The other girls had water bottles. Not the environment-destroying disposable Zephyrhills kind, the (pink) labeled reusable kind. Which I generally approve of, by the way, being a responsible liberal modern person, but it was another piece of evidence against me that I hadn't come prepared. That I'd thought city water through public water fountain would be sufficient for my daughter's rehydration needs. No, they need to bring water bottles. This was specifically mentioned, I can only assume, for my benefit.

It's possible E is the only first-timer on the team. The other girls seem slightly taller and their parents seemed to know what was expected of them. Maybe they at least have older daughters or sons who have gone through the drill before. I don't really think anyone was judging us. If they were, I'm trying really hard not to care. We wrote E's name on her (pink) bat and glove and (not pink) helmet with permanent marker, bought her a (red) water bottle, a (green) carry case and caribeener (sp?) hook so she could hang it on the fence next to all the pink ones.

One thing I'm sure of, if my daughter chooses (as she did at practice this week) to carefully pick tiny rocks out of the red clay and place them one-by-one in her glove when she's supposed to be playing catcher and retrieving the coach-lobbed balls which whiz past the unskilled batters, I'm going to let the coaches correct her. I am not going to stand at the fence and yell at her. I'm taking a stand, even while I'm sitting on the bench squirming at the thought that she's the worst on her team. As you might be able to tell from the preceding paragraphs, I've spent a lot of my life comparing myself to other people, usually with the aim/result of seeing where I've fallen short. I don't want to do that to her. I don't want to keep doing that to myself.

On an unrelated note, a few weeks ago, I sent an email to Dr. Stacey at Every Woman Has an Eating Disorder which included part of my post about the experience at student health. She made it into a post on her site. Very cool. And it got a lot of comments which seem to indicate, unfortunately, that this happens a lot. Not as cool.