Tuesday, May 28, 2013

La Divina

Whenever I go to the theater or live music, I wonder “Why don’t I do this more often?” Live performance of any sort creates such energy. I always go home inspired to create things of my own. It is one of those things that I need to make an effort to do more often. And it is certainly is one of those better life things that this blog is about.

Maybe if I went more often, I’d finally work up the nerve to go audition for Portland Revels, something I’ve wanted to do for a long time, but am too cowardly to do. It’s silly. I just want to audition for the chorus, but there is a small part of me that is terrified they will hear me and say “With that voice??? What is SHE doing here?” Then there is the whole fat lady insecurity thing, but that’s a whole other post.

Someone who will never have to worry about people’s hearts at the sound of her lovely voice is Amy Jo Halliday, who starred in  Triangle Productions recent run of Ari-Maria. Like all of the actors in the show, she has a magnificent voice.

I was excited to go, because the musical director is an acquaintance. It is always fun to see work you have a connection to, no matter how distant. And when the connection is genuinely nice, it’s especially fun to see him succeed. However even without the personal connection, the music was wonderful. I am relieved. It is so much nicer to be able to honestly proclaim “It was great!” than it is to see someone and have to come up with some diplomatic positive that won’t hurt someone’s artistic sensitivity.
Music aside, the play itself was interesting.

The story focuses on the love affair between Maria Callas and Aristotle Onassis. And let me tell you, old Ari was big old crap weasel if he was even half the social climbing cad he is portrayed to be in the play. Perhaps he offered her an escape from Washington after a devastating time in her life, but I kept thinking Jackie must have been completely insane to marry him – especially when he’d already had an affair with her sister. Maybe I’m just old fashioned, but one day when I marry a Greek shipping magnate after stealing him from a diva who is inexplicably in love with him even after he abandons her when she loses their love child, I don’t want to be able to talk to my sister about his junk and have her know exactly what I’m talking about. But that’s just me.

Meanwhile, here is some footage of the real Maria Callas singing  Una Voce Poco Fa. Heaven. Can you believe she was ever overweight enough to lose 80 pounds? She did! She was much heavier at the beginning of her career.

Sunday, April 28, 2013


On this Sunday (and it is both a literally and metaphorically sunny one!), I have happy news to report. My temporary return to work is now a permanent one! My saga of unemployment has ended with the son of the company's founders buying it out of bankruptcy. I can't even begin to do justice to how wonderful it is to work for a company owned by what appear to be lovely, ethical people. I couldn't be happier about this turn of events. Even with the stress and pain of it all, I am starting to feel like it was the best thing that could have happened to me.

There is nothing like a cataclysmic life event (or even just a small earthquake!) to make you stop and take stock of who you are and where your life is going. While I am so grateful for the happy work ending, what I am really grateful for is that having the time off reinvigorated my commitment to the goals I’ve set for myself this year and made me stop and reclaim some of the passions and even some aspects of my personal health that have taken a back seat to work over the past years.

All this taking stock has helped me reach some important epiphanies:

Lesson One: Health is not just about what has become my constant battle to lose weight. Yes, it’s about living and eating healthfully, but it’s also about feeling good, finding happiness, having a good quality of life and enjoying it. I think that to really be healthy, one has to have a balance of mind, body and spirit. It’s not just about diet or a number on the scale.

Lesson Two: Sometimes the worst thing that could happen is the best thing. In my month off, I started writing again, joined a monthly music jam, started exploring new spiritual paths, and have come a long way toward figuring out a solid game plan for reaching some personal goals.

Lesson Three: Feeling in control is really important. One of the first things I did after my break up with employment was to cut off all my hair and dye it bright red. While this might sound a little shallow, for me it was a symbolic act of reclaiming control. My life might suck, I might have no job and no prospects, but I can change things.

Lesson Four: If something isn’t working, change it. The truth is that while I have grown to love my job over the past few years, I've known for a long time that it was negatively affecting my personal sphere (read that as the polite way of saying “it was becoming soul sucking”), This is not because of what the job was, but what I had allowed it to become. I had allowed it to overshadow everything and wasn't making too much effort to change it or to set strong boundaries. Reclaiming myself over the past month has made me realize that I don’t want to lose the whacky, creative parts of myself that enjoy noodling around with music and words and life ever again. No job is worth that.

Lesson Five: It is okay to fail as long as you keep trying. After returning to work, I learned that the founder’s son had been quietly trying since January to buy the company from what I now like to think of as the evil empire. He made multiple bids that failed to be accepted. In the end, he had to change his strategy to buying the assets out of bankruptcy. Even there, things did not go smoothly. There were delays and overturned trustee recommendations, but in the end he prevailed. The lesson of flexibility here applies as much to any goal as it does to corporate finance.

While I was off, I decided despite January declarations about eating whole, real foods) to go back on a pre-packaged weight loss program I started a year or so ago and abandoned. I still had almost a month’s worth of pre-packed foods in my cupboard and in my new budget economy, it seemed really wasteful to not use them. While the program absolutely works, if you stick to it, I’m going to be really honest and tell you that I really struggled with it. I struggled with staying on the plan. I struggled with not wanting to disappoint my sweet friend, who is a health coach for the company. I struggled to the point that started feeling like a big, fat loser.

Then, the other day, I realized that I was creating my own hell. There are plenty of diet plans that work. The mechanics of weight loss are the same whether you eat food from medical packets or the grocery store. In the end it is my life. I am captain of my own ship and need to find a sensible program that works best for me. If there's one thing losing my job in a battle between two megamaniacal billionaires has taught me, it's that you can't live for someone else's goals. In my heart, I really believe that what I need to learn is to eat properly using real foods, so I signed up for Weight Watchers (mostly for the support aspect, but I find I’m actually really digging the points system) and am again just focusing on eating whole, healthy foods.

So, in the end, I am actually grateful to have lost my job. As important as it is to have right employment, it is just as important to focus on the things that make life healthy and happy. What we feed our souls is just as important as what we feed our pocketbooks or our faces. If that epiphany isn't work a month of unemployment, I don't know what is!

A tangled web

Forest Web, originally uploaded by Martina.
It has been a long time since I've talked about spirituality here. Remember when saw red? Or when I was blue like jazz? Today I am just confused, so hang on to you hat, because I am full of questions and springboards leading to jumps in all sorts of directions.

I've been doing a lot of reading lately. Most recently, Karen Armstrong's The Great Transformation: The Beginning of Our Religious Traditions. The book documents the rise of Confucianism, Daoism, Hinduism, Buddhism, monotheism in Israel and philosophical rationalism in Greece in what she calls the axial age, a term coined by German philosopher Karl Jaspers. The Axial Ag spans the period from 800 b.c. to 200 b.c. and Armstrong argues that the dominant themes (in particular the rise of compassion) of the major world religions are a product of this age in religious philosophy.

It was for me a fascinating read that underscored some of my questions about our religion and relationship to God/the Gods. What struck me at this point in my journey is that, like language, societal beliefs about religion and what is "right" have evolved over time. Of course, this isn't a novel idea, but it's not one I've often stopped to really consider. The thing is that the dominance of a belief is not necessarily a measure of its validity or correctness. For centuries before the development of the "Big Three", people were worshipping other gods. In the book of Deuteronomy, God commands "You shall have no other Gods before me." Even as a child, anyone who attends a Christian church learns that this is a prohibition against idolatry. In my mind, I always associated this with images, statues, symbols. You know, graven images. I never really stopped to think about the idea that people of the time (and times long before!) and region literally were worshipping other Gods.

The sheer diversity of beliefs about God always makes me think one thing: Why? Why is any one belief or conception of God more valid than another? Why is it acceptable to worship the Christian God over, say, the Goddess. Why does most of my culture believe there is one God, who is invariably given masculine attributes? What happened to the feminine face of God? Why is there (according to the Christian overtones that permeate American life) only one God? Is God single and male? Is She single and female? Both? Does that mean one God with a masculine and feminine aspect? Or is God beyond notions of gender? Or is there a God and Goddess? A whole pantheon of Gods and Goddesses?

With all my questions and doubts, polytheism is not something that feels entirely comfortable or natural to me at this point, especially not hard polytheism. Broadening out into Neo-Paganism, even if one accepts the idea of polytheism, there are questions there too: Am I a hard polytheist? A soft polytheist? What makes the Irish pantheon more worthy of worship than, say the Hellenic one? Or would Asatru put on its horned Viking hat, and charge forth to kick their asses and steal their lunch money? How does one choose? Are they really separate Gods or just aspects of the same God(s).

I'm telling you, being open is confusing. One of the things that I am trying really hard to do as I embark on this journey of discovery is to abandon my preconceptions about deity and explore ideas that may be new, radical or even uncomfortable to me. The only thing I will not give up is my intractable faith in the idea that while there are many paths to the mountain top, the one I take must be paved with kindness, love and compassion toward our earth and all life. That leaves a lot of room for exploration! Maybe, like Hesse's Peter Camenzind, I'll take off on this journey only to end up in the village where I started out. Maybe I will discover completely new lands by consenting to lose sight of the shore. Either way, I am sure I will collect a lot of interesting stories and ideas along the way.

Sunday, April 14, 2013


I have been reading Rob Breszny's horoscopes for longer than I can remember. I love his imaginative style of writing and that his more recent work has been informed by Pronoia, the notion that the universe is conspiring for you. A couple weeks ago, I opened his weekly newsletter to find the following at the end of my horoscope:

Reclaim your power to define your own fate from anyone who has stolen it from you.

What a timely reminder. One of the hard things about finding your future suddenly not as secure as you once thought it was is remembering that you do have some control. When I lost my job, my response to feeling powerless was to chop off all my hair off and dye it red. It sounds superficial, but it was oddly empowering in the middle of feeling like the rug had been pulled out from under me to be able to make a drastic change that I had planned.

I won't say that everything is just peachy. I've gotten to go back to work for a month, but still worry. My job is only until the company goes up for auction on the 22nd. After that, literally anything could happen. It all depends who wins the bid for the assets, if they want to resurrect the company, who they hire back if it is resurrected, or whether they just end up liquidating.

What has really helped is that in my head, I am thinking of this as a temp job. At least, this way, I am as mentally prepared as I can be for whatever happens now. Even though I am doing approximately the same work I did before the big layoff, I am also finding that it doesn't consume me as much as it did before. If I'm honest, after years I'd fallen into a rut of putting my work before myself. In the end, it became a reason not to do the things I wanted to do for me, because I was too tired, too busy, too immersed in having to work overtime.

As unpleasant as being laid off has been, it's been a reminder that there is life out there beyond work. In the couple weeks since I've been off, I've been writing more, reading more (and more challenging material!), studying different religions and mythologies, cooking more, focusing on my diet, my health, all the things I'd let fall by the wayside. While I don't like the uncertainty of being laid off, rediscovering the fiery red haired me who likes to write songs, study random subjects, read, write and noodle around on the violin has in its own way been a gift and a reminder that whatever I end up doing professionally, I need to do a better job at finding balance, reclaiming myself and redefining my own fate.

Update 4.28: My return to work is now permanent!!! More on that later!

Monday, April 01, 2013

Paw Prints and the indelible ink of hope

Last night I went into my bedroom to find that someone had dismantled a blue pen on my bed. There were inky paw prints everywhere - on the bedding, the arm of the futon, a trail of them going over my desk. It didn't take long for me to catch the culprit. Lucky for the little blue pawed bastard, I love him more than any stupid old sheets, the futon was only there temporarily until I can get a new bed, and I have bigger problems than him staining the top of a cheap desk.

In some ways, it seemed the perfect goodbye to what turned out to be (save for a some brilliantly shining friends and family moments) a completely craptactular month. One last inky pain in the ass to say goodbye to the March. It was not a good month. My string of bad luck ranged from losing my job a week before my birthday and scheduled vacation to wrenching my back so badly I've barely been able to walk since Friday. Getting out of bed in the morning is now a whole process that involves many cycles of "scoot-scoot-grimace-rest", followed by "stand-giant grimace-moan of pain-tears". There has been a lot of worrying, a lot of stress eating of homemade baked goods (remind me to share my chocolate chip cookie and peanutbutter bar recipes), and, I am not ashamed to admit, some crying. If there was ever a time to put me on Prozac, March was it!

Then there was jury duty. Before the whole bankruptcy thing started, I had been summoned to go do my civic duty at the beginning of April. I had just talked to my boss about it, the day before I was let go. At the time, I was worried about the deadline driven nature of my job, but he told me to go ahead and go anyway. In retrospect, I understand his lack of concern, but I sent the little card back, saying I would be there.

Then, I found out last Wednesday that, if I want it, I can have my job back for a month (maybe more). I called the jury coordinator to see if I could defer my service. She was very sympathetic when I told her about the financial hardship of losing my job and how I'd just gotten it back. After two weeks with no pay, I really did not want to be starting my new temp job with two days off, so she agreed to make an exception. In exchange for sending a letter with 10 future dates within six month that I will be available to serve, I am excused for now.

Now, for a normal person, this would be awesome news. Being an anxious freak, I immediately started fretting over which dates and worrying that if I were still looking for a permanent job when the service came up again, it might get in the way. I got myself so worried about it that I almost decided to just go and complete the service now. But I pulled myself together and sent the letter anyway. While it meant (at least for now) losing the one perk of jury duty (my self-conferred title of Captain Justice), it was the right thing to do.

And, boy, did it turn out to be a good decision, because the next day, I wrenched my back and have been gimping around with pain and muscle spasms ever since. I wish I could say that I hurt myself in some cool way (repelling down a mountain, saving an orphans and their basket of kittens from a fire, etc.), but the truth is that I bent down to pick up a dogfood dish and twisted it. As sexy accidents that don't make me feel old go, this one leaves a lot to be desired.

While it also means that I did not work today as planned, there is also no way that I could handle taking the bus downtown, walking to the courthouse or sitting around in a hard chair all day waiting to be called or not to be called. At least this way, I can take heavy pain killers that make me sleepy and not worry about sentencing someone to life in prison, because I was crabby and in pain. And, I hear it rumored that my health benefits will be reinstated today or tomorrow, so I can even get actual medical attention instead of treating myself with leftover vicodin and homemade herbal concoctions.

So, while March went out with pain and ink, I am seeing little glimmers of better luck for April. Jobs are good, even if possibly only temporary. Health insurance is really good. I have an appointment with a chiropractor, the sun is shining, and I've stopped drawing the tower and other assorted ill dignified cards as my tarot card of the day.

Hey, it's a start right?

So now for me, for you, for anyone whose March was not so great, may April be everything the last month wasn't.

Friday, March 29, 2013

Important News in the Land of the Unemployed

It became clear to me today as I was reading about J.Lo's demands that what my job search is missing is a rider! In addition to my fears of ending up in the poorhouse (Edgefield, clear out a room, I'm movin' in!), one of the things that bums me out about losing my job is that there is a good chance my telecommuting days will be over. To make this more fun, I've decided that I have demands that will need to be met before I perform any permanent duties for The Man:
  • If the talent (that's me!) must work in a cubicle, a mini-bar will be required. If a full office is provided, a regular bar is acceptable.
  • The talent will not take part in Casual Friday, but will instead observe Formal Friday. On this day, she will wear a gown and tiara and fully expects to be addressed as Her Serene Highness (Note: Tiara is optional for other work days)
  • The talent will not be subjected to wearing a uniform, but is open to and encouraging of interesting headgear (fascinators, headdresses, hats, butterfly henins etc. Also see above note regarding tiara).
  • If in the performance of duties the talent is required to terminate another employee, the news will be delivered in the form of song (Bye, Bye Mein Lieber Herr, from Cabaret)
Of course, this is just a start and I need to get all the legalese worked out, but I feel really good about my rider so far. I think number four in particular will really help me make the move I've been contemplating into Human Resources. I'm glad I spent my evening coming up with the beginnings of my rider instead of wasting valuable time perfecting my resume or applying for more jobs to report to unemployment to prove that I have been actively seeking employment and therefore entitled to some government cheese.

Speaking of government cheese, it looks like I will have to wait a little longer for mine. It is (for now, anyway) only temporary, but I am back working for my former company until our assets are sold. That's right, I have unlocked the disco file cabinet (sadly, I don't have a picture handy, but it is sparkly blue and sparkles just a little brighter whenever I sing "Fernando" while waiting on hold!) and am back in business. If the right party wins the bid, there is a chance it would mean that I could stay working in my little home office wonderland indefinitely. While the part of me that shuns change and enjoys wearing my dia de los muertos sugar skull pajama bottoms to work finds great relief in this idea, I am not counting on it. Instead, I am resisting the urge to get too comfortable with the familiarity and am trying to treat this project like any other temp job. If this work out, that will be great (even ideal!), but in case it doesn't, I have to stay open to other opportunities. Sadly, my former boss (who was in my head and a few of my issue logs known as J.Gro...it all comes full circle!) has already moved on, so I am no longer working with him, but my new J.Gro seems pretty nice as well.

Until next time, here is some Wham Rap! It would have adopted it as my unemployment anthem, if only I were livin' in a gangsta's paradise like 1980's George Michael and Andrew Ridgeley. Some of us just aren't street like they were!

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Unemploy This (Now with swearing!)

Waiting for my waiting week for unemployment benefits to be over is driving me crazy. This whole process really tests my need to know NOW. I think I can probably deal with just about anything, once I know what it is, but I just hate the uncertainty of not knowing what happens next, how long it will take, when I should start worrying. The attitude of some of the staff at the Oregon Unemployment Office doesn't exactly help either.

While the employment counselor I talked to yesterday during the in person part of the intake interview was absolutely lovely, the person I talked to on the phone as I was seeking help checking my claim status online this morning had a voice as grey as her personality, which was better suited to guarding a bridge somewhere than being a frontline "helper" for a process that would be confusing even if one weren't dealing with the emotional baggage of a mass layoff. Normally, I prefer to take care of this sort of thing online, but since online was giving me error messages, I was forced to call and speak to what in the eyes of the unemployment office passes for a human. She had absolutely no phone manners or grace whatsoever and clearly thought I was a complete f*cktard. I don't expect a parade in my honor, but as a professional who has been gainfully employed for the last 20 years (and pays taxes to help fund civil service positions like hers!), I do expect to be treated with just a modicum of respect and not like some kind of lazy half-wit just because I do not (after a week) know Oregon State Unemployment Code inside and out. This is the first time in my adult life that I have ever been without a job or sought unemployment benefits of any kind. I am not exactly a drain on the system. It is bad enough being in a position to have to ask for help. They could at least leave a person just a little bit of dignity.