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.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Sunday Miscellaney

For someone who intended to ignore her birthday this year, I sure have celebrated it a lot. Not only was the actual day a lovely mix of movies, music, food and friends, but I had invitations to visit with friends for birthday meals on Friday and Sunday. I've eaten so much this weekend, I am about to burst. There was ice cream with homemade fudge sauce, Tunisian flatbread sandwiches (so good I could live on them!) and an insanely huge Mexican feast featuring fresh sopes (my favorite!), beans, rice, enchiladas and strawberry cake. While I feel right now like I never want to eat again, I probably will. I am fickle that way.

All the visiting with friends this weekend been a nice break from stressing out over unemployment, finding a new job, getting my taxes done, and worrying about any number of things ranging from jury duty to renewing my driver's license (oh, man, I cannot believe I am going to be saddled with that picture for the next eight years. There's an ID card that is just begging to get "lost"!) to helping my mom find her paperwork, so she can renew her  ID card.

This whole unemployment thing still has me feeling unsettled. While I have plenty of interests to keep myself busy, I find myself feeling guilty if I spend too much free time not actively looking for work. Thinking back to my childhood, both of my parents worked very hard. There were plenty of times when I remember my dad working two jobs. My mom used to tell stories about my grandfather and how he always told them "I don't care what job you choose, but you will work". The whole "you have to have a job to be productive thing" is pretty ingrained in me. I think it's a big part of what stopped me from pursuing something in the arts when I was younger.

At the same time, there is part of me that sees how unbalanced my life had become. Before the corporate bankruptcy, I hardly ever made time to write or play music. The last thing I remember writing and finishing was a poem six months ago, and even taking the time to do that was an anomaly. I think some of it is that my work used such a different part of my brain that it's sometimes difficult to shift gears at the end of the day. I have no idea what will happen, but I have to believe wherever I end up professionally, there has to be time to do both.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

This wasn't what I meant..


When I asked for my birthday off, perhaps I should have been specific. I didn't need all the extra eternity afterwards. Also, did I mention the day I got laid off was my deceased father's birthday? (Thanks Mr. Burns. My dad's birthday and mine will now be forever linked to your business feud and the first time I lost a job. Way to go! You can now go home, rub your hands together with a well earned"EX-celllll-ent.")

Given the events of last week, I wasn't really in much of a celebratory mood. The only thing that would have made me feel even more old and loserish would have been if I had been fired instead of laid off. Sadly, my inner hermit comes out at the times when it would be most healthy to be around people, so I was completely ready to just skip the birthday revelry altogether this year. My big plans for the day included trying not to worry about job search stuff, wearing an ass groove in the couch while watching movies (hopefully in my pajamas), and possibly eating Chinese food.

In the end, the day turned out much different when my mom convinced me to at least go to a matinee with her. Since I was already going out, I invited my friends Jen and Leslie, who are also flexible of schedule to go see Oz the Great and Powerful. It was the perfect getaway movie, not least of which because the denizens of Oz are a well dressed bunch (great costumes!) and the irrefutable fact that James Franco's crinkly-eyed smile is ADORABLE. I'm already looking forward to the sequels you know Disney will make, if this does well.

Later in the day, there was dinner at Tapalaya, which involved live jazz and amazing oyster po' boys with sweet potato fries and a mixed drink whose name I keep forgetting, but that was basically a lemondrop, if lemondrops were made with delicious strawberry lemonade. Next time, I am definitely trying the julep, for I love mint and would marry it if the church sanctioned human-herb weddings (but please don't tell chili, since I promised to marry it last week). I knew when I saw their logo was a craw de lys that Tapalaya and I would be friends, because how can anyone not appreciate a crawdad/fleur de lys hybrid? More than that, though, the oysters were PERFECT (crispy on the outside and well cooked inside without being rubbery) and I am not just saying that because I have personal knowledge that the chef is awesome either!

And, finally, because I know how to party, I capped off the evening with a haircut. It involved cutting about 4-5" off my hair and dying it bright auburn, but it was somehow liberating to have control over one drastic change at this point in my life. Once I stop scaring myself when I pass by a mirror (who IS that woman with the ridiculously cute chin length, garnet bob? Oh, it's ME!), I think it will be great. If I have to start over, I'd might as well do it right.

Here's to a good new year!

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Yesterday was a good day. I had a great informational interview with the COO of a fundraising company. Unfortunately, they have no administrative or operational openings right now, but he promised to keep me on his short list if anything does open up. He also offered to help me in any way he could, so it was a good contact and good practice for future interviews.

I learned how much I will get via unemployment. It's considerably less than I was making, but it is comforting to know that I can get by on it until I find something suitable. I've decided that the scariest part of being unemployed truly is the unknown. If it weren't for that, I could just relax and enjoy this respite. Even if I didn't have plenty to do looking for a new job, I have enough interests and curiosity that I could fill my days reading, writing, taking pictures, puttering around in the kitchen, playing violin, researching things, messing about learning to make horrifically bad paintings, exploring any number of heretofore undiscovered hobbies. It's the not knowing if it will take me seven days or seven months to find a new situation that freaks me out. While I am truly happy for those co-workers (mostly in sales) who have transitioned quickly into new jobs, every time I hear about another one I get a little pang of "What's wrong with me? Am I too slow finding something new? What if I don't ever find anything?" The fact that this is totally unrealistic thinking or that I haven't even been unemployed long enough for my unemployment benefits to kick in doesn't stop me from going down that road when I'm in the right mood. I'm just not used to not having something to do.

The truth is that it's generally not so bad during the day. I am around people then and even when I'm not, I'm busy looking for job leads, tweaking my resume, trying to think about potential directions. There is some part of me that sees this as a kick in the pants to find something that is more of a calling than a job. That is the exciting part. The part of me that was told when I took Strengthsfinder testing that I am "great to have around at the beginning of a project" loves this infinite possibility stuff. That part is excited to know future me and find out what she is doing.

It's the worry wart part of my personality that makes this such a pendulous experience. Today, for example, I was doing great. I spent the morning looking for leads, then spent some time talking to a friend online about my plans for tomorrow, which is my birthday, and it suddenly hit me how very much this is NOT how I wanted to start my plenty-ninth year. Next thing I knew, I was crying and feeling totally overwhelmed by the fact that I don't have this amazing savings to fall back on and pretty ticked off at myself for not having better planned for the eventuality that I could lose my job.

The dumb thing is that I really am not that bad off. I have a home. I'm in no danger of losing the core things that make my life good. And I guess that's the lesson of this experience. BREATHE. Keep things in perspective. Things WILL be okay.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Of 8 year olds and days off

Today for the first time since Monty Burns decided to liquidate my place of employment, I managed to take a day off. It all started when my friend Mexican Jenny called to extend her birthday wishes in the form of song. It was all so loud and delightfully off key that I just couldn't stop her to say that my birthday isn't until Wednesday, so I waited until the end to tease her about it.

We talked for a while about her new grandson, my employment situation and her eight year old son's worry that I had lost my job. Somehow by the end of our conversation, I had inherited a very concerned 8 year old for the day. You know a child is eager to see you when, after just returning from early mass, he decides to come visit even though it means going to church a second time, since were just about on the way out the door when they called. It was not his first visit there, but I wonder sometimes whether my very progressive church with its lesbian reverend and rainbow of straight, gay and transgender membership confuses this little Catholic boy. If he is aware on these visits that he is not in Kansas anymore, he doesn't show it. While I am straight, one of the things I really love about the church we go to is that it is so open and affirming to anyone who shows up, so it makes me happy to see that my adopted nephew is growing up to be someone who sees past labels and just sees people.

I think he had fun. Once he learned about St. Patrick's day and green, he adopted pinch first, look later approach to the day. He wasn't accepting any shades of pseudo green either. I had already been pinched before he conceded that the little bits of lime color in the print on my dress were indeed green and that only after a friend of mine convinced him I was an Irish princess and could curse him. Having him around for the day really helped put things in perspective. In the most heartbreakingly sweet moment ever, he informed me that instead of presents for my birthday, he will be giving me money. Of course, he also suggested later in the day that when he gives me said money, I could use it to buy him a Transformer. Still, in that initial moment of sweetness, I am confident that he and his solemn brown eyes really meant it.

Having him around helped me forget my worries for a few hours. We pinched, we played Mario Brothers on the Wii, we dined on Happy Meals, we perused paint chips to determine the best shade for my bedroom wall (he will be helping me paint during spring break next week!), and made plans for the many picnics we will have this summer. And, most of all, he reminded me that my job is not me, my job is not my life.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Vacation, all I ever wanted

Today has felt really strange. Four days ago, I was worried about how to get everything done, so I wouldn't have to look at work during my week off. Now I suddenly have all the time I want and maybe even more.
My resume still needs some work, but I've done all the things (I think) you're supposed to do in this unfamiliar situation. I've filed an unemployment claim, I've gone through my monthly expenses to see which can be reduced or cut, I've come up with two options for paying of my credit card debt (neither of which, I am proud to say, involve selling my body or learning how to cook meth!), and I'm shopping around for health insurance. I, the consummate sucky networker, even have an information gathering call with the co-founder of a company here in Portland on Monday.

Already, I've learned some things:
  • Losing a job is a little like the lite version of losing a loved one: As corny as it might sound, there are stages of grief. Day one was pretty much the Day of Shock and Denial. I think it took until around lunch time for me to become convinced that I wasn't just having a bad dream. By day three, I was a freshly naturalized citizen of The Land of Pissed-off People (aka LOPP). I haven't experienced much in the way of guilt or bargaining, but that is because I know that I did absolutely nothing wrong and that sending out resumes is going to be more effective than any bargaining. I do, however, become overwhelmed and a bit weepy from time to time, but that seems to be lessening as each day passes and I do have enough perspective, even now, to recognize that it was a job not an arm or a loved one or a pet (which I guess is a little redundant, since pets fall under loved ones too!)
  • I have great friends and family: OK, I already knew this one, but, boy is adversity a good reminder! Suddenly, I find myself with a collection of advice, encouraging words, invitations for outings, (heartbreaking) offers from eight year olds to share their allowance, and "keep your chin up, you're awesome!" emails. My friends are also willing to tell me when I am wrong, like on Tuesday, when I briefly thought that watching all four seasons of Breaking Bad on Netflix could count as a career retraining program. Someone quickly stepped into remind me that perhaps need a little more guidance. After all, I get squirrely and start looking over my shoulder when I have an overdue library book and am probably not cut out for a life of crime. It's like having my own personal cheer leading squad without the annoying chirpiness, haireography, and stupid outfits.
  • Rrecommendations are a great self-esteem booster: Back in the old day (aka three days ago) when I was still employed, I used to keep a "Martina is awesome" file in my email. Any time someone said something about my work that made me glow with pride, it got dumped in there. If I was ever feeling beleaguered and needed a pick me up, I'd read a couple. Recommendations are a little like that. It's easy to get depressed and fretful about what happens next, but knowing people think highly of you and your professionalism somehow helps calm the panic and replace it with Marleyesque feelings of "Every little thing is gonna be alright!" 
  • Having no health insurance is scary: When I had health insurance, I rarely used it. Now that I don't have any, every headache becomes a possible brain tumor. Thankfully, I think I have narrowed down the major contenders, so that will now longer be a huge concern after tomorrow.
  • You'd be surprised how many expenses you have that can be cut (p.s. Cellphone companies are bastards): The first few days of my transition, I was almost obsessively "as God is my witness, I'll never eat out again!" And, I probably won't eat out as much, but I am trying to remember it's okay to be kind to myself. Being unemployed doesn't mean I have to give up everything, but it is a good opportunity to pare down. So far, I have talked to my phone/Internet provider and reduced out monthly bill, switched my Netflix subscription to streaming only, started planning a vegetable garden and come to the conclusion that my Verizon phone service costs way too much. Credo will buy out my plan and charge me about $25 less a month, while making donations to progressive causes. Ting will only charge me for what I use, but sadly won't buy out my plan, because I farted around too long and missed out on their buyout promotion by a day or two. That means paying $260 to break my contract, if I go with them, but even that would be a savings in the long run. The stupid things is that I probably should have done this a long time ago, because who needs to be wasting money when you can get the same thing for less?
  • When you're use to working, relaxing is HARD: Every day, I wake up and tell myself "Today, I will relax!" I have been through a shock. I deserve it, right? Then, every time I sit down to read a book or watch a movie, I soon find myself obsessively checking linked in, email, resume sites, the status of my unemployment claim, pretty much e anything that could lead to a job or strategies to tide me over until I find one.
  • In the midst of all the angst, there is some hope: The one exciting thing right now is the potential for a fresh, new path. I have a graduate degree in German literature. Before moving into operations and administration, then sales compensation, I taught, I worked as a translator, I did layout and proofing for a newspaper. Despite my sometimes tendency to sell myself short, I have marketable skills. it's just a matter of which direction I want to take them (and finding someone to pay me for it, but that is the kind of angst-ridden talk that has no place in a hopeful, anti-angst bullet, so shut it, angsty-me!)
  • And so, my project for the weekend is to learn how to relax, think about where this new path will lead me, and to remember in those anxious moments to just breathe and keep perspective, because everything really is going to be alright.

    Thursday, March 14, 2013

    The first day of the rest of my life

    Yesterday, for the first time in my life, I applied for unemployment. As I begin to get my affairs in order, the shock and paralysis of yesterday has started to wear off. I am a bundle of nervous energy that I direct at making to do lists, updating my linked in profile (which still needs some more work), and cancelling any unnecessary expenses (3 disks a month plus streaming, Netflix? I don't think so!). There are moments when I feel calm and even optimistic. Then there are the other moments where I swear I can feel my blood pounding and I almost feel light headed.

    Thankfully, a friend who went through a similar situation a few years back has told me she intends to kidnap me at precisely 11 am to treat me to lunch and other "you are good enough, you are smart enough, and the world is your oyster, because people like you" type revelry.

    We end up going to a cute little restaurant in Southeast where she lets me jabber on and on and on and on and assures me it's not the end of the world and that I'll do okay on unemployment for as long as I need to. She is full of sage advice like "Right now you are so full of nervous energy, you could probably shoot electricity out your finger tips." This is great news, because I can think of a couple of equity partners I'd want to electrocute right now, if I weren't such a staunch pacifist. She goes on to advise that I will never feel this energized to get this much done and that she recommends parlaying my new found energy into completing some projects. (Paint the house! Make a quilt! Learn to macrame and build a macrame room!) We've been friends for twenty-five years and are so much alike. It is a relief to talk to someone who really gets it and gets it from my anxious, creative spirit who would be completely happy puttering with words, ideas and music all day, but has to find a real job perspective.

    Luckily, for me, I balance my internal loopiness with the ability to be analytical, disciplined and focused on doing things that are not in my natural comfort zone. When I started working on sales compensation, I had taught myself to be a whiz at excel, but had absolutely no finance experience. I generally learn quickly and find fun in the challenge of learning something new and becoming good at it. It's helped me become a Jill of all administrative and operational trades, but a big piece of my heart will always belong to writing, making music and finding ways for my introverted self to express itself through creative endeavor.

    This is one of the the things Jen convinces me will be good about this respite. I can focus on where I want my life to go next and reclaim some of those pieces of myself. Over the years, I'd allowed them to drift further and further out of my sphere. They may never be part of my professional life, but I need them to be part of what makes my soul grow.

    My new found freedom is still too new to be a willing one. I am still grieving. In an odd way, the stages here are starting to feel a little bit like a death - shock, disbelief, denial, anger, etc. I won't lie. There were times when I hated my job and when it gave me headaches. While most of the people I dealt with were awesome on multiple levels, there are always going to be a couple who make you feel like if they were on fire and you put them out, they'd complain about the water temperature. Mostly, though, I have loved it for the past few years. After eleven years, you get to know people. People get to know you. People come to trust you and know, even when there is a problem, that you will do everything in your power to help them. It's a nice feeling, knowing you have a good reputation and a daunting one to think about having to start over to build one from scratch.

    But, I will. Tomorrow is a new day and maybe tomorrow I'll start to believe that when one door closes another opens.

    Wednesday, March 13, 2013

    Adventures in Unemployment

    When I woke up Tuesday morning, it seemed like just another day. Like I do every morning, I groggily turned off my alarm at 7:10, fired up my laptop, padded off to the bathroom to brush my teeth and then to the kitchen to get a morning beverage before checking my mail and setting my work priorities for the day. On my way back from the refrigerator, I notice the message light on my living room phone was blinking. "So that was the phone ringing that briefly woke me up around 6:00 am," I think. I stop briefly to check what kind of message could be so important that the caller couldn't wait until a decent hour to call. What my groggy ears hear goes something like this:

    Hello, Martina, this is H. from You're Now Fucked, Inc. I assume you were on the call this morning. I'm calling to officially notify you that we did file for Chapter 7 Bankruptcy. You were employed through March 11. You will be receiving a warning letter in the mail. Please contact me with any questions [despite the fact that I have left you absolutely no contact information whatsoever].

    Excuse me? WTF? What call? I know I was employed yesterday. What does that mean? That I'm not employed today? Hell yes, I want the "repeat message" option, automated answering machine voice guy.

    Again, I listen and he says same thing.

    And again, the third time I listen.

    Still stunned, I go to my laptop. I take a deep breath, trying to keep the panic out of my voice and try to call my boss. In the end, the effort is for naught, since he doesn't pick up anyway. While I am waiting through what feels like an eternity of rings, two coworkers IM me. I hang up. It's true. The company I have worked at for eleven years has filed for bankruptcy. Shit...

    A moment later, an email pops up. A second conference call is taking place for remote employees like myself. Our CEO sounds numb as she tells us we will be paid through yesterday. There will be no more work, no more benefits, no more job, no more anything effective immediately. She repeats over and over that we should call the trustee if we have questions.

    In some ways, I have it good compared to the employees at our headquarters. I get to go through my disbelief, shock and grief in the privacy of my own home. They, on the other hand, showed up for work like they would any other Tuesday morning, only to be told to pack up their things and go home.

    I am stunned. I feel sick to my stomach, like someone just punched me in the gut. Maybe I'm still asleep and having a bad dream. Did I really just hear that a company that has been in business for 50 years has overnight ceased to exist.

    And do you know why? It wasn't really because we were struggling (though we had been). It ended because we got caught in the crossfire of a dispute between the owners of the our parent company. Two billionaires locked in a greed feuled feud and now a couple hundred people are out of work with no notice, no insurance, no nothing. Two hundred people many of whom, like me, worked weekends and when we were sick to meet deadlines and ensure our respective pieces of the organization ran smoothly. Two hundred people who would have been better off jumping ship when the going got tough, but stayed, because they believed in the company's mission. Two hundred people who came to work yesterday only to be told to pack their things, say their goodbyes and go home with no warning, no benefits, no severance, no thank you for sticking it out when many people would have left.

    I am filled with such a sense of sadness for myself and my coworkers. Even though somewhere inside I do know that I will get through this setback, I am terrified. Since I started working as a teenager, I have never been let go from a job. Never. I know NOTHING about unemployment. I haven't had to look for a job for eleven years. I have always left on my own time and my own terms.

    And, yet, here I am. I counted on my pay check each month, even if it was nothing more than bubble gum money for our Forbes list owners. I will have enough to eat. I am (thankfully) in a good enough position that I will not lose my home, but what about all of my work friends who aren't as lucky as I am? What about the millions of people in this country who have lost everything in this economy of greed we have cultivated in this country?

    When our owners acquired my company, the had they unmitigated gall to brag about the "Midwestern values" they were bringing to our organization. They sounded like a couple of billionaire evangelists come to teach us what it means to have real values. I wonder where those values were as they were decimating the livelihood of hundreds of loyal employees. Did they think only of sticking it to each other or was there a moment when they thought about what it would mean for the lives of their employees and their families? Do they think about what it is like for a parent to have to tell their child there won't be money for braces or tuition? Do they think about what it is like for those of us struggling to figure out how we're going to pay our mortgages? Our creditors? Our car payments? I am sure they are both so out of touch that they have no idea what it's like worry about such things, but many of us do.

    The one silver lining in any of this is that, at least while I'm looking for a new job, I will again have energy to do some of the creative stuff that had slowly drifted out of my life as I've focused on the analytical parts of my profession. I apparently have some time for blogging, writing and creating again. So, for now, I am off to sing "I will survive" while I wait on hold with the bank to find out how to release my 401k and pay off some bills. I may have lost my job, but I still have my soul. I'm not as certain my former parent company can say that about itself or its "Midwestern values".

    Saturday, March 02, 2013

    Silver Linings

    For weeks, I have been wanting to go to the movies, I have a decent sized list of things I want to see (Les Miserables, Life of Pi, etc.), but every time I try something else comes up (sun, shopping, indecision, apathy, etc.). Then, today, I spent most of the day moping around, feeling alternately sad or annoyed by nothing. I really hate those moods. There is such a short window to pull oneself out of them before they start to become drowning. So, I decided the finally drag my mom (who, being the only other person present, bore the brunt of my crazy) to see a movie with me.

    Of course, none of the things I really wanted to see were playing at a good time, so we went to see Silver Linings Playbook instead. I'd heard it was really good (you don't get Oscar nominations for nothing, right?), but somehow wasn't as drawn to it as some of the other things that are out. I went to the movie knowing it was about a man dealing with mental illness, but really not knowing what to expect.

    As it turned out, it was a really sweet movie with a vibe that left me feeling like I'd just watched an old classic. Good writing, snappy dialogue, good blend of drama and lighter moments without turning it into "ha ha, madness is so HILARIOUS!). And, most of all, for two hours it made me forget all the things that have been driving me to melancholia that day. By the end, I wasn't even upset that I'd all but had to mortgage the house for popcorn ( but, seriously, Century,$9 for a small popcorn and a diet soda??? It's a wonder more people don't sneak in food like the lady next to me who spent the movie slurping canned soda and crackling her giant bag of M&Ms).

    Friday, March 01, 2013

    Shoema Lives

    The little black dog in the foreground is Gizmo. Like his brother Teddy below, he is just over a year old. The fun thing about having two dogs just barely past puppyhood in the house is that they get up to all sorts of hilarious mischief. Sometimes it seems like they see me less as a human owner than as "that weird looking hairless puppy we play with".

    They romp, they roughhouse, they cuddle, they shower their friends (dog, cat, human alike) with sweet kisses. They approach life with a sweet exuberance. And sometimes they steal things. Yesterday, I made the mistake of leaving Gizmo and my favorite shoes locked in a room together with no supervision. Apparently they were his favorite shoes too. While I liked them because they were comfortable (like walking on pillows) without looking matronly or like I should be washing down a granola bar with a glass of hemp milk, he liked them because they were delicious and smelled like feet.
    Instead of getting mad (well, not for long, anyway), I decided to celebrate by my advance on old age by using my DSW birthday coupon to treat myself to some new maryjanes and a pair of Keen sandals now. Since the maryjanes are the exact kind and color as the eaten ones (I loved them that much!), I decided to do something new and pick some sandals outside of my usual color palette. Sometimes we get stuck in a rut. I know they are just shoes, but sometimes one small choice can open our mind to other new choices too. There is so much more to life than brands or material possessions, but sometimes getting new stuff just feels good. Sometimes new, whether it's shoes, puppies, experiences or attitudes, just feels good.
    And in other old new shoe news, here is a video of Paolo Nutini's New Shoes:


    Saturday, January 05, 2013

    The Great Chili Experiment

    My favorite chili recipe EVER is one a friend shared with me after finding it on Allrecipes.com a few years ago. It has porter and coffee and cocoa in it, which gives it such a deep, smokey, rich flavor. It's pretty much become my go-to chili recipe any time I have a craving. It is really good, but has a lot of ingredients (two kinds of meat, the aforementioned beer, coffee and cocoa), so it's not the cheapest ever to make. I thought it might be nice to try a simpler one, so I pulled out my barely opened copy of Casserole, Slow Cooker & Soups cookbook.

    The book has 370 pages worth of recipes that I suspect may be kind of hit and miss, because it's all recipes submitted by home cooks. It all tends to be pretty simple, which is probably good, since I often get carried away with exotic spices and forget that simple has its place. So, I was excited (based on the picture in the book and the fact that I already had a pork loin in the freezer) to try what they were calling Zippy Pork Chili. I am probably spoiled by My Favorite Chili Recipe, but it became pretty clear to me after I started cooking that this new recipe was not so much zippy as boring. So, I decided to scrap their recipe and make up my own.

    Here is what I came up with:

    1.5 lb pork loin cut into 1" cubes (because there was one in the freezer)
    a bunch of onion powder (because we had no onions, but if we had, i'd probably use one yellow one)
    2 cloves garlic (I'm guessing here...what I really used was a generous tablespoon of chopped garlic from a jar we keep in the refigerator)
    2 cans (15.5 oz) organic kidney beans
    1 14.5 oz cans organic fire roasted tomatoes
    1 can Rotel tomatoes with chile peppers (next time, I will probably use 2 cans of fire roasted and add all or part of a jalapeno pepper, but we just happened to have the Rotel in the pantry, which sounds much fancier than the shelf in the garage where we actually keep our canned goods)
    1 14.5 oz can sweet corn (fresh or frozen would be really good -  this really ended up in the mix because the pork loin, which was coated with pepper + the spicy rotel stuff and I wanted to water it down a little. The heat was too much for the whimps in my house!)
    1 cup water
    1 tsp beef bouillon
    1/4 c brown sugar
    2T chili powder
    1/2 T cumin
    1t cocoa
    1t oregano
    1t coriander
    1t kosher salt

    In a large pot heat enough olive oil to brown the pork.Add garlic, onion and brown until meat is no longer pink. Add the rest of the ingredients, stir, bring to a boil, simmer for a couple hours until the pork is tender.

    Serve with sour cream (Trader Joe's makes a great fat free one with skim milk!), tortilla chips (we tried TJ's sweet potato tortilla chips...so good!), salsa, cheese or whatever you like to garnish your chili with.

    I won't say that it's better than my favorite, but it came out pretty well for being done on the fly.

    Friday, January 04, 2013

    Bye, bye juice! Hello chewiness!

    Today, my fast draws to a close. If you want to now more about it, you can take a field trip to my diet/happiness blog.  For now, I'll just say that there are no adequate words to describe how excited I am to go back to eating real food tomorrow. I've had a couple small lapses along the way, but am proud of myself for sticking with it. Realistically, anything is an improvement over the orgy of candy, chocolate and carbohydrates I've been engaging in for the past couple weeks. The lapses were small enough that I still consider this my first success of the new year. For once, I can't wait to weigh myself!

    In preparation for my new life as a chewer, I made a trip to Trader Joe's tonight to help fill the fridge with healthy food choices and purchase ingredients for my celebratory chili. More about that tomorrow after I make it, but quite a few months ago, I bought a Casseroles, Slow Cooker & Soups cookbook that I have yet to actually use, so I decided it's time to break it out and spend some rainy day time in the kitchen to celebrate my return to being a person who eats instead of drinks her meals.

    Thursday, January 03, 2013

    And then there was juice

    It has only been a day, but how I miss my good old friend mastication. Oh the things we ate!

    I woke up with a caffeine headache today. There was a point around 11 am when I almost caved and had a sandwich, but I have lost a few pounds, so I am willing to soldier on with water and ibuprofin followed by a few sips of diet coke (don't judge me!) to see me through. I figure going from multiple glasses a day to a few small sips is an acheivement in itself, so either way I win. That said,  I cannot wait for my Saturday morning victory sandwich. I know exactly what I'm going to have too - tofurkey, lettuce, tomato and avocado on rye or olive bread. As victory snacks go, that isn't even that bad!

    Oh how I am going to chew and chew and chew and chew.

    Wednesday, January 02, 2013

    Let there be juice!

    At the close of my first day of detoxification, I am feeling like much less of a dirty bird. It's funny how little it takes to to feel better. A person can feel so much lighter just by consuming fresh fruits and vegetables and drinking a ton of water. So far (except for all the water making me feel like I have to pee every 5 minutes), it's really not been difficult.

    One thing I would definitely recommend in doing something like this is to portion out the servings the night before. I put all the ingredients for each smoothie into a ziploc bag before I went to bed last night. That way all I had to do was grab the bag out of the fridge and dump it in the blender. I suspect if I hadn't made it so easy on myself, I probably would have been tempted at some point in the day to go off plan and eat pizza or a donut or something. I think the dogs secretly wish I would. Every time I open the refrigerator door, they get all wiggly and excited only to look dejected a moment later when they see it's just another one of those "stupid bags" (as I am sure they are calling them in their heads as they narrow their eyes at me in disgust).

    The fruit and vegetable smoothies really don't taste bad. I could even see myself incorporating more of that sort of thing into my regular non-cleanse life. I am notoriously bad about eating breakfast, but think I could probably sip down a smoothie on a regular bases. Of the three, the breakfast one is definitely my favorite. I think I would have liked the blueberry one with a little less cayenne pepper, but I also suspect I must have made an error in measuring as it was REALLY hot. Contrary to one of the comments on the site where I found the cleanse, the green lunch smoothie was not at all bad. From the way the woman worded it, you'd think it was made of mud, sewer water and toe jam. In reality, it tasted fresh and certainly not like something I couldn't bear to drink three times. So, in addition to feeling good about myself for doing something for my health, I am victorious in the green smoothie wars. Whereas the commentor couldn't "choke hers down" (melodramatic much, lady?), I drank all mine and am going to drink another tomorrow.

    Wish me luck!

    Tuesday, January 01, 2013


    Tomorrow begins phase one of the health portion of my 2013 goals: DETOXIFICATION!
    Typing that word feels ominous. In my mind, "detox" evokes pictures of Christmas Eve in the drunk tank followed by a mandatory visit to a substance abuse treatment center. I don't know why. I have never taken drugs, I drink about once a year. It's not like I'm Lindsay Lohan. If I'm going to abuse something, it's much more likely to be food than any kind of mind altering substance.
    But, in reality, some of the stuff we put in our bodies is toxic, just deliciously so. The crazy thing is that sometimes it's really more habitual than it is delicious. Take diet coke, for example. When you drink it all the time, you don't notice the chemically taste, but try drinking water for a while and then going back to it. It tastes odd and unhealthy.
    So, here's to detoxifying. It's only a three day program and I can do anything for three days! I figure it will make a nice jumpstart for the diet I am starting in hopes of losing 20 lbs by spring. I will probably write more about it here than I will here, but I'm sure it will come up. For now, all I know is that it feels good to have an actual plan to start tomorrow. My fruits and veggies for tomorrow are all cut up and read to dump in the blender. Wish me luck!