How Long Can One Tread Water Holding a Brick

I got a job. Back in late December, but I have a job and it’s still new and shiny.

In a round-about way, this blog is responsible for it.  My old office manager is a reader of my travels and in response to one of my posts last fall, she emailed me and asked me to send her my resume for an open position at the law firm she works at doing work similar to what I did before my graduate degree.

A few weeks later, I had a job offer from her firm.  Well.  First, I had a voicemail, which I knew would be a job offer. The call came while I was driving the twenty minutes to acupuncture1. In that thirty minute window, I also got an email from an immigration advocacy group about scheduling an HR screening for an Executive Assistant position.
I went into accupuncture knowing I’d have this choice facing me. I left acupuncture convinced I would take the gamble. I’d gamble on the interview that might turn into an in person interview, that might turn into a job and might eventually turn into what I want to be doing.

Then I called the firm back and heard their job offer.  Let’s just say that they knew my game and made an offer that was difficult to refuse.  So I didn’t.

But.  I’m still volunteering, and The Migrationist project is gaining momentum.  I’m not letting it [my passions, my plans] stall.  I’ve started learning Spanish, and I’m making promises to myself about writing regularly again.  I’m telling lots of people about that last one, so I would be embarrassed if I don’t actually do it.  So all of you: hold me accountable, I have some writing to do.  Fiction, short stories, non-fiction, just writing.

None of this is why I haven’t written in this blog.  Between the holidays, adjusting to the new job, and looking for a place to live, I’m well and truly tapped out.  Or have been, anyway.  Looking for a job involves being “on.”  Your first few weeks involves being “on” enough to convince them that they didn’t make a mistake (not to mention learning everything as quickly as possible).  Throw in group house interviews – 14! – and going on dates, I’m well and truly tapped out of my reserves of extroversion.  I’m not entirely sure why I’m going on dates.  I get asked, they seem nice, we make plans, I try to extract myself after the second date (or I actually like them and their time commitment ability leaves much to be desired).  Now, the house thing, that was unavoidable.  14 unavoidable blind dates (frequently with multiple people, group-interview style), and you have to figure out in 15-45 minutes whether or not you want to sign a legally binding document with the other person/people.  You have to determine if you can live with the person, if the location is good, if the room is bearable, and if you can afford it.  And then they need to want you.  14 group interviews, three housing offers.  Lease is signed and I move this Saturday to the first place that I can legitimately settle down into and nest in two years.

The difference in my stress level last week, when the house was settled and when I started to feel reasonably competent at my job, was amazing.  I slept.  I didn’t even really realize I wasn’t sleeping well until I woke up feeling refreshed for the first time possibly since starting graduate school.  Holy crap.  I felt less cranky, less irritable  less “fuck off people, I don’t have the energy for you.”  Which is nice, because I like to think I’m generally a pleasant person who doesn’t go around with fuck-off vibes.

So I’m working in a law office, doing a job very similar to my old one before graduate school.  I got asked a lot in my first few weeks what firm I had come from.  And I’d explain that I didn’t, not really, or that there was a big gap.  They’d ask what that gap was and I’d short-summary India-Nepal-Europe-Grad-School-In-The-UK.  And they – and I say they deliberately, because I had this conversation more times than I can count – would get quiet.  Generally a few decades older than me, they would wistfully wish they had done something along those lines.  But, life, you know.  Husbands.  Jobs.  Children.  Houses.  It is a sad, awkward end to a fledging conversation.

No one believes me when I say this, or they point out that I didn’t have any of those things (other than epic student loans) but for serious folks.  Don’t be that person.  Do what you want to do and do what you need to do to get there.  Just do it.  Stop making excuses.  There will always be very good reasons to not do something wild and crazy.  A family member is ill.  You have a mortgage.  Kids.  Maybe you can’t do two years abroad, but you can do two weeks doing something you always thought would be cool.  Life is too god damned short to be that person wistfully wishing you had done something that you can still do.  Decide to do it (e.g., India).  Figure out what you need to do it (e.g., time to save up money for both living and covering loan payments).  Make it happen (e.g., buy the plane tickets and worry about the rest later).  Seriously.  You will not regret it, and your grandkids will think you’re a bad ass and want to be just like you.  If you want it badly enough, you will make it happen.  Otherwise, you’re making a decision not to follow that path and you should move forward without regrets.  What good are regrets if you don’t have the opportunity to learn from them?

1 Without health insurance, you do what you can. There’s a community place in Silver Spring with affordable rates.

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Favorite Books of 2012

The fact that I read about 132 books in 2012 is a lot less impressive when you factor in that I read a lot of trashy romance and urban fantasy novels with no shame.  These books take me only a few hours (maybe even just round trip commuting plus lunch hour) worth of reading, and they all get factored into that count.

But the good ones stand out and are worth noting.  The first one of 2012 was the memoir of Jeanette Winterson, who is one of my favorite authors.  However, she is also one of those authors whose fiction you have to be in the right mood to commit to, as it sometimes reads like someone fictionalized academic theory.  Surprisingly, her memoir Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? (amazon) is more accessible than her fiction works and a lot more heartbreaking knowing that it is real.  If you have any interest in Winterson, or simply the experience of an adopted lesbian growing up in a conservative working class household, this book is worth a look.

Two other memoirs were particularly notable for me in 2012.  One is Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail (amazon) by Cheryl Strayed – I cried when the book ended, because I felt for sure that my own adventuring days were over and I would never do something like the PCT.  On the other end of the emotional spectrum, I stood on the metro during morning rush hour silently having a complete laughing breakdown at a scene in Caitlin Moran’s How to Be a Woman (amazon), which is more memoir and social commentary than guide, though her comments are truthful and notable.

My favorite fantasy authors, hands down, are Guy Gavriel Kay and Jacqueline Carey.  I caught up on Kay’s previously published works this year with his Sarantine Mosaic duology, Sailing to Sarantium (amazon) and Lord of Emperors (amazon).  Both of these maintain Kay’s high standard for his breed of “alternative history” fantasy, with well developed characters and incredibly complex political intrigue.  Jacqueline Carey’s new book, a foray into a new urban fantasy world, Dark Currents (amazon), lives up to her established world-building skills.  As a result, it blows most urban fantasies out of the water and I look forward to the next installment in the series. (Which will hopefully be in 2013.  Right?  Please?)

In other fantasy(ish) works, I discovered Ann Aguire this year.  She wrote one of the most enjoyable sci-fi series I’ve ever read (horray for sci-fi that cares as much for characters as world building and fancy science!) that begins with Grimmspace (amazon).  Grimmspace has a strong female lead, wrongly accused of terror, trying to prove her name.  The strongest part of the series, though, is that the lead actually grows as a person throughout the series.  It is rare that such personal growth is done as well as Aguire accomplished it over six books.
Maria V. Snyder’s Scent of Magic (amazon) is the second in a series that begins with Touch of Power (amazon) and it completely charmed me when it came out a few days ago.  Snyder writes in that grey space of appropriate for YA but not quite YA rather successfully.  Her first book, Poison Study (amazon), begins a trilogy that is also worth reading (though I was less thrilled with the trilogy written between that one and her more recent “Healer” series that begins with Touch of Power).

Of the straight up literary works that I read this year, Prodigal Summer (amazon) by Barbara Kingsolver and Tell the Wolves I’m Home (amazon) by Carol Rifka Brunt outshine them all.  I can’t believe it took me quite so long to read Prodigal Summer, but as always Kingsolver did not disappoint.  Brunt’s Tell the Wolves I’m Home is on possibly every 2012 Bestseller/Must Read List, and it deserves it.  I think I cried or wanted to cry during the entire book.

On a somewhat unrelated note: every one of these books, with the exception of Prodigal Summer and Dark Currents, was read on my kindle.  Considering the four bookshelves squashed with my books at home and my devoted library habits, this is somewhat surprising.

Related Posts:
Favo(u)rite Books of 2011, Part 1 and Part 2

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Trench warfare: This Is Why Our Country is Stalled

We have become a nation of extremists.

There is no room for moderates – or more importantly, dialogue. One cannot have an intelligent conversation about politics these days.

I believe that when events that we do not want to happen do, that when events that we do not want representing our nation to the world happen, we need to talk about it. We need to have an intelligent conversation about gun regulation and mental health support. We, as a country, need to ask ourselves why, and what can be done. We need to ask ourselves how we can avoid this in the future.

I am not, and have never, advocated against the second amendment. Yes, personally, I want stricter laws monitoring gun purchases and better mental health support.  Yes, personally, I find the more libertarian side of the argument fundamentally infuriating.  Hell, if I’m honest with myself I think the second amendment is an outdated one.  What good, in recent years, has come from having guns?  If our government oversteps things again and a faction determines we need to fight (see the American Revolution, the Civil War), are we really going to do so through guns?  Is that really the modern American’s first recourse?  But I can also look at our history, I can look at our culture and say: They should stay.  I don’t agree with them, but I can understand and respect the argument for them on behalf of others in this country who are also citizens.  My viewpoint is not the only viewpoint, and it is certainly not the only one that matters.

But what I really want? What I really want is for the Democrats and the Republicans to sit the fuck down and talk about it. Actually discuss it. Not dig into the trenches behind either extreme of the spectrum.  I want more liberals to come away from the anti-gun lobby: it’s not going to happen overnight, let alone in our current culture.  I want more conservatives to come away from the defensive, to stop universally dismissing all potential regulation as a pathway to outlawing guns.

Oh, there goes those liberals again, politicizing the sixty second mass shooting in recent years.  This is not about politics!

Oh, those NRA idiots who care more about their guns than children.

And then you shut down.  You go no further.  You think about only your own opinion when bickering on facebook and twitter and over the dinner table.

This is why our country is broken.  Our congress is the most useless congress in recent memory – we can’t compromise on anything – and it’s because they’re representing a useless people who refuse to consider other opinions.  People who never stop and parse out the difference between their personal beliefs and what is good for the country as a whole and try to meet their fellow Americans halfway.  So we can move forward.  As a god damn republic.

We, as citizens, need to think intelligently about important issues – like gun control, but truly this applies across the board.  We need to think outside of the boxes of Democrat vs. Republican and meet people in that purple haze in between.  We need to communicate this to our representatives: that we care more about what is good for our country, what is good for as many individuals as possible, than we do about defending a particular trench when the no-man’s land has a possible way forward.

Move forward, America.  Talk to your neighbors.  Talk to people who disagree with you.  More importantly? Listen.  They are citizens, and their opinions – even when they are not yours – matter as much as yours.  Because we’re all Americans.  And it’s time to move forward, together.

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Angry. Just… angry.

Sometimes I get so angry.

Angry that my generation’s lifetime earning potential is stunted because of the recession.

Angry that I will never earn as much, I will never be able to save as much, as if I had graduated college just five years earlier.  That this will echo into every pay raise I get from now on. Provided I eventually get a job.

Angry that it doesn’t seem to matter if you do everything right, if you’re smart, if you’re personable, if you volunteer, if you send out multiple job applications a day, network, there will always be somebody who’s parent can out-network you, or is just luckier.

Angry that it’s apparently expected of me to accept unpaid work after unpaid work and eventually someone will want to give me health insurance.

Angry that I can’t continue to do said unpaid work because I paid for most of my education (specifically, all of my graduate education) and need to start paying it back, and because I need said health insurance.

Angry that I live in a country where the fact that I need employment for health insurance is holding me back from public service positions and advancing my career.

Angry that if I argue for a higher salary as a woman I’m expecting too much, even if the salary is the same as a male counterpart would be making.  Angry that if I don’t argue, I’m letting my fellow women down by lowering the standard.

Angry that all this just reinforces the status quo:  the people at the top, whose parents are friends with senators, whose parents paid for their college education, who never had to take a paying job over a full time internship, who are male, have a starting point that is so far ahead of me that it feels like I will never catch up.

Angry that my starting point is so far ahead of so many people and yet our country insists on believing that we all have equal god damn opportunity.

Angry that I could devote an application and two interviews to a job prospect and it is somehow acceptable that an organization couldn’t be bothered with the courtesy of telling me I didn’t get the job.

Angry that it doesn’t end.  That you have to get excited about it all, you have to be optimistic in order to get hired, you have to be able to picture yourself working there, you have to be confident that you have the job, you have to psych yourself into the game, only to have it fall through.  Again. And again. And again.

Angry about how utterly jacked this whole fucking system is and there’s absolutely nothing you can do but continue to play the game by house rules that are so stacked against you it almost seems pointless.  Almost.  Just enough hope to attempt the swim up stream.

Angry.  Just.  Angry and sad and sick of this whole demoralizing experience of trying to find work doing what I want to do and what, god dammit, I’d be good at.

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My wallet was stolen on Monday.
I’m kind of sick of talking about it, of dealing with it, of explaining it to people, but I’ve also been analyzing it a bit in my head.  I may have left graduate school1, but the analyzing of things like race and gender so prevalent in academia has not left me.

I hate that the very thing three separate people asked me when I told them as, “Were they black?”
I hate even more that they – the two cuntbucket bitches that stole my wallet – were, in fact, black.

When I filed my police report, I listed “female” first.  Then “African American.”  The officer made me clarify their skin tone.  “Like, my shade?” (The officer was indeterminate, in that mixed race way that could be nepali or possibly latino, with that tan-ish color.)  “No, black.  Not the deep ebony you see sometimes, but they did not look mixed race.”

I hate that this perpetuates and reinforces a stereotype that I detest.

I find it interesting that the things I remember, the adjectives I used, were very feminine ones.  They’re the sort of things a woman would notice, even without thinking she notices those things (because I don’t, generally).  The woman who distracted me by asking questions about the rabbit habit while the other woman took my wallet from behind the counter was wearing heels.  They were glittery.  She had nice skin, clear with a beautiful tone to it.  Skin to be jealous of.  Curls that were professionally done, the big swooping curls.  Both of them had curly hair, the other one was taller by about two inches.  The one I spoke with had fake eyelashes and fake nails.
You can’t be too judgey, after all.  This is a sex store.  But what does it mean that I notice those, relatively useless, very feminine things?

I hate that Walgreens does not enforce some policy of checking ID for about $800 worth of sales on two separate cards issued to the same person and used within moments of each other.  TELL ME THAT IS NOT SUSPICIOUS.  They then proceeded to fill up their gas tank and spend over $200 at CVS while I was on the phone with my credit card company shutting them down.  What. The. Fuck.

One of the cards they used at Walgreens was a debit card.  And while the charges on the credit card were quickly gone the moment I reported it, the debit card is taking over a week to clear my disputed charge.  Which means I have zero in liquid cash funds until this happens, which means my credit card payment I had made prior to this fiasco bounced and I now have to dispute related bouncing fees, etc.
Basically, it’s been a bit of a mess to sort out and deal with this week.

I went through how many developing countries without this happening to me?  I wish I could rationalize it – they have children to feed, or if I was in a developing, poor country and I’m an obvious target who is more wealthy than the thief by any stretch of the imagination.  But.  No.  It was probably on cosmetics and gift cards.
Bitches, I work retail.  I make only slightly above minimum wage.  What you stole – from these corporations, not me, as my credit cards will sort it out and I carry very little cash… what you stole in thirty minutes is equal to more than what I am currently make in a month.  Not only do I work retail, and apparently make less than you do in your chosen profession, but I was friendly and helpful to you while you were fucking stealing from me.

Chosen profession, heh.  The police officer lectured me a bit when he asked for my “occupation” and I said “Uhm. None.”  “You work here, don’t you?” “Yes, but this is a job. My occupation is not ‘retail.’  I have a graduate degree, I’m looking for other work.”  “There are a lot of people who don’t even have this.”
Yes, and I’m grateful, but that doesn’t make this my occupation.  It makes it my employment.  Occupation implies career.  And yes, this would make a very lovely career if I wanted to pursue it.  I don’t.

But.  Whatever.  It is done, hopefully.  Provided no one tries to get fancy with my identity.

In the meantime, my job hunt is three months in with no dice.  My personal life is kind of flaily to the extreme, and I’m having fucked up dreams2 again. I’m behind on my volunteer work, I have too much shit to do, and all I want to do is hide from everyone and everything under my down comforter and flannel sheets.

It’s been A Week.

1 On a positive note – I got my grades last week – MA with Distinction, the highest honors the program gives. I’ll take what positiveness I can get right now.
2 No, really. When I’m stressed I get crazy fucking dreams. The other night I dreamed I was driving a car that ran off of fetuses. You would put a fetus into a canister and run the car until the fetus was black and shriveled and dead. Then you would replace the fetus. Sometimes you would hear the fetus do this weird not-quite-cry as you drove.

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So You Want to Get a Tattoo

I’ve been assisting Cyn over at Cirque du Rouge for almost a year and a half now.  She’s an amazing tattoo artist and local business owner here in DC.
What does it mean, that I assist her?  It means I manage her email.  Primarily, I read all her incoming email and handle her new clients.  I started a wait list for her so she can actually keep track of people who want tattoos from her and I make sure these people eventually get scheduled.  She is so in demand that we are turning people away.  No new clients to the wait list at this time, until we are no longer scheduling people who got on the wait list seven months ago.  Because that is how long her wait list is.  And she’s worth the wait.
I also prod her with a hot iron when she doesn’t respond to emails that she needs to respond to, but mostly I’m a gatekeeper.  I funnel down the emails so she can prioritize other things until I schedule the next batch of consults.  After doing this for about a year, I have a few Dos and Don’ts about getting a tattoo, interacting with a tattoo artist or studio, and perhaps just a general approach to life.  This is largely me venting my spleen and does not in anyway represent the views of Cyn or the artists at Cirque du Rouge.

1. Your tattoo artist is not a Xerox Machine.  He or she is an artist.  They might be a bad or good artist (see #2), but bringing in a picture and saying “I want this exact thing” is setting yourself up for disappointment.  ESPECIALLY if this is an artist who does custom work and you signed up for a consult, etc.  If that is the case, you need to think of this as commissioning a work of art.  You chose this artist because you like their work/style/etc., (see #2) so come to them with ideas and concepts and let them do their job.  IF this is a walk-in appointment that is different, but you still need to understand that it is not going to translate exactly to your skin.

2. Look at their portfolios before making an appointment.  Do you like their style?  Are there several pieces that make you gasp and say ooh that is beautiful? If you want a flower, do they do flowers well?  If you want a person, do they do people well?  If you want a portrait, do you see other portrait pieces in their portfolio?  Artists tend to specialize, especially if they’ve been around for awhile.  There’s things they’re really good at, and things they’re less good at.  And think about their style:  If you commission a tree and the tree they design is more in the woodblock style than the whispy water color style you had in mind and all of the rest of the work in their portfolio is woodblock, it is really your own fault for any dissatisfaction (see #1).

3. Treat your tattoo artist with the same respect you would treat any other professional.  That means coherent, concise email messages and communications.  That means prompt responses to inquiries about scheduling.  That means showing up to appointments or giving notice if you can’t make them.  That means treating them like a person and not a xerox machine.
Oh, and hey, this respect-the-artist-as-a-professional thing includes tipping.  They make only a percentage of what you paid, but not all of it – and this is their livelihood.   If you liked the work, don’t forget about that tip.

4. Listen to the tattoo artist.  If he or she says things like “That piece is too small and will not age well” or “This concept is too detailed and won’t age well,” I promise you they know tattoos and the changing canvas of skin more than you.  Again, see #1 and #3.

5. Be flexible.  There are two kinds of flexibility – one is artistically, one is practically.  Artistically, reference #1 and #4.  Be open to any ideas or comments the artist has and open to their design not being a xeroxed copy of what you wanted.
Practically, be flexible when it comes to scheduling.  Everyone wants a Saturday and there are only 52 of them in a year, so don’t be cranky if the only Saturday I can give you is four months from now.  You could come in next Tuesday if only it was worth taking an hour off early from your 9-5 like you would for a hair/doctor appointment, so I don’t have any sympathy for you when you’re upset about the wait yet insist on a Saturday.  The more flexible you can be, the sooner we can get you in.

6. Do Not Bring Other People With You To Your Appointment.  Most tattoo parlors are small and the space the artist has is just big enough for the person being tattooed and the artist itself.  Maybe bring one person, especially if you’re driving (long tattoo sessions can result in a woozy person afterward).  I want to hit my head against the desk every time someone tries to bring six people with them for a three hour appointment.  First off, if I was one of these six people I’d be bored as hell watching someone get inked for three hours.  Secondly, there’s probably no space, either logistically or under fire code.  They are going to be in the way.  Thirdly, this is a great time to chat with your artist.  They’re generally cool people.  Get to know them!
As a sub category to this one, Do Not Bring Your Kids.  Seriously?  This is a tattoo parlor.  It is pretty solidly in the realm of “adults only.”  Hire a damn baby sitter.

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Unpacking the Suitcase

Reflecting is like unpacking a suitcase.

First, it kind of sits on the floor of your messy room, forgotten because in the rush of returning to your life you had other priorities.

Then, you selectively pull out the bits that demand your attention.  Your favorite dress.  A heart that still gives like the bruised skin of that summer’s peaches.  All your chargers for your various electronics.  Flashes of memories in downward dog with upside down Himalayas.  The books you cared about enough to carry around with you.  Memories of Cambodia, of Nepal, of times you pushed yourself physically until you were quite literally sick out of foolish stubbornness.  Your favorite hat.  The friendly smile of the female custom officer at Heathrow asking you where you got the hat.  Montreal.  The same floppy wool hat kept the midnight sun out of your eyes in Reykjavik.  The memories, interwoven together in a seemingly never ending spiral, tumble out of the suitcase and are haphazardly tucked away where they belong.  They collect dust like the intentions of a yarn stash.  Like the scrapbook you meant to make after your trip to Disney World as a teenager.

The suitcase, now mostly empty, sits in the bottom of the closet for awhile.
Every now and then you’ll remember that’s where you left that particular necklace you want to wear.  In retrieving the necklace, out will come a collection of sand from sleeping in the desert of Rajasthan next to a drunk guide and a camel so close its farting is the only breeze, the only sound, on that desert night.

A year on, you’re still discovering grains of sand.

I sat in a job interview last week.  Pearls.  Heels.  Suit skirt.  Hose.  My adult clothes, my adult posture, my adult smile and small talk, with my resume laid out before us.
And I spoke with a gentleman who must have been in the first decade of Peace Corps volunteers.  He’s one of the interviewers and yet we have something in common:  that suitcase is still surprising us with lessons.  For him, this was a lifetime ago.
For me, Vietnam was five years ago.  India a year ago.  But I can see it.

I can see doing yoga two decades from now and still listening to the yogi’s deep voice intone at the beginning of shavasana.  I can see being a grandmother or great aunt and still pushing Rajasthani sand around into shapes and theories and images of myself, only to have them blown away by the memory of a camel’s fart.

I’m not sure if I will ever stop unpacking this suitcase.

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