Tuesday, December 3, 2013


The search for a ‘real’ job has been going badly. And by “badly,” I mean absolutely horribly, which in this case can be more precisely defined as nine full months of full-scale networking, seeking out, and applying to positions in marketing, writing, internal communications, public relations, and assorted and sundry combinations of marketing writing, marketing communications, and public relations.

I may need therapy before too much longer. The mood swings are about to kill me.

There is an initial surge of optimism when reading a job description containing a perfect match of qualifications and experience, which provides energy to power through the requisite tweaking of the resume and original customized, carefully crafted cover letter. The exhilaration builds at the proofreading/polishing stage and reaches full pitch with the push of the “send” button that releases a simultaneous deep exhalation of relief and propulsion of history, professional qualifications, and best paper version of oneself through the cybersphere to a usually unidentifiable recipient.

And then .... the crushing burden of nothing. Or at best, an auto-respond message from a computer acknowledging receipt of the email, followed by nothing for days, weeks or even months. Once, I received a rejection letter within an hour of submitting my resume which resulted in a period of stunned shock at the near instantaneous rejection, but several months usually pass before receipt of a politely worded email notification that “after careful consideration of the many qualified applicants,” someone else who is not me was chosen for the job.

It was two months into the process when it first became difficult to maintain a level of optimism. This was after sending approximately 30 resumes in response to job postings for which I was an excellent match according to the stated requirements and qualifications and receiving no response. Now that the resume count tallies 80 specific jobs applied to (most with no response), most days it feels flat out impossible to muster even the tiniest spark of optimism. The light at the end of the tunnel is about as bright as the flame from a single, tiny birthday candle which has nearly burned out.

Worse, it has become flat out embarrassing to continually contact specially selected references about the perfect job for which I am applying which requires reference information as part of the application packet, forwarding a copy of the resume packet submitted, and receiving a query a couple weeks later from said references who wonder if they will ever be contacted by the hiring director of the fabulous art museum, marketing company, public relations firm, or university department. Hmmm.... I was wondering if I would ever be contacted myself. No news feels like very bad news here.

I thought my self esteem was low in high school. This job search allows me to daily plumb new depths in mood and confidence.

As ski season and Christmas approached with the annual period of holiday/seasonal hiring, I decided to explore options in part-time employment because for one thing, there has been no income since mid-February 2013. For another, I feel better when I am around people, and I know from experience that I can tolerate even the most horrible job if I know at the outset there is a predetermined endpoint.

Armed with desperation and self-awareness, I applied to two retail establishments and a ski resort. I was really hoping to be hired at the ski lodge where I had worked as a waitress for six ski seasons a lifetime ago, but the call that actually (miraculously) came from HR was inquiring about my availability for a position that involved doing laundry for the departments with uniforms. The hours were not ideal, but the free season ski pass awarded to employees, coupled with the finite duration of the job made it palatable. The phone call was wrapped up with word that the ‘next step’ would be an in-person conversation in a week, but instead, the next week I received a polite email informing me “we hired someone else who is not you.” I was already engaged in training at one of the retailers by this point, which thankfully cushioned the blow a bit. At least I wasn’t completely undesirable, even though I couldn’t score a job washing ski parkas. I never heard from the second retailer, although its holiday job ad appeared regularly in my email inbox for several weeks after I had applied.

As for the job I accepted -- it’s going great. It’s retail, so the schedule and hours are irregular, ranging from eight hours a week during training and bouncing between 16 and 28 hours a week post-training, with no discernible pattern, rhyme or reason to the days or the shift hours. But I get a store discount, my checking account is receiving deposits for the first time in months, and I possess exactly the right amount of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder to find the work meditative. Therapeutic. Challenging. Pleasant, even.

When facing a display of (once) folded jeans that looks like it suffered a violent ransacking or perhaps an explosion, it is gratifying to produce visible progress in the refolding and re-organizing of the colossal denim mess. It is satisfying to direct a customer to the brands of jeans that hit at the natural waistline, discuss tunic tops for leggings, and illuminate the way to the scarves or slippers. I get to be in control of an area, repeatedly picking up shirts with wide boat necks that cause them to spontaneously slip from hangers or items abandoned by shoppers in the fitting rooms, other departments, or on the floor.

One shift, while organizing the clothing on the fitting room rack which is strategically placed to allow customers to deposit the items they do not want to buy after trying them on, I overheard a conversation that made me want to slap someone, or at least deliver a lecture. It went thusly:
    Girl: “Mom, what should I do with the stuff I don’t want?”
    Mom: “Oh, just leave it there. Someone will take care of it.”

I wanted to say, “Oh, is that how it works at your home, Mom?”  But I didn’t. 

When I entered the fitting room vacated by the teenage girl, I was faced with a dozen empty hangers on the hooks and the fitting room seat and a knee-high pile of clothes turned completely inside out and left in a heap on the floor.

This is probably not how I will want to earn my living for the rest of my (many) working years. I would much rather be parked on my butt issuing  high-level strategic challenges to myself like “meet the designated word count/beat the deadline clock” while writing press releases or website content about exhibits or history or finance or economic development or free checking accounts.

But my self-imposed sentence reorganizing the wake of my fellow humans will be served once the New Year rolls around anyway. And like I said, I can tolerate anything for a discrete period of time, even if it is picking up behind people who behave as if the sole function of an entire class of low-wage workers is to clean up their trail of destruction.

Friday, November 1, 2013

KDrama Desires

If you know me offline, you are probably aware of my open love for Korean Dramas. It is possible you were forced to watch them in my home or endured hours of my babbling about them. You might have heard me say something perfectly rational like “I’m sorry, I can’t meet up for [some activity involving personal interaction] because [beloved KDrama du jour] is on.”

This morning over coffee, after witnessing me watching 14 episodes of  “Boys Over Flowers” on Netflix this week and once or twice remarking that I would do something or other in some number of minutes “when this episode ends,” Mom  looked at me and asked, “What is it with you and the Korean Dramas?”

I’ll tell you, like I told her.

My primary attraction to Korean Dramas is that the stories have a finite number of episodes and a beginning, a middle, and an end. And they really end. After 16 or 25 or some other number of episodes, it’s wrapped up with a bow on it. Over. Completed. None of this 50-year ongoing nonsense like General Hospital. My attention span is not equipped for American soaps. I want a story, not a lifelong commitment to fictional characters.

And speaking of the story ... KDrama stories tend to favor family values and issues of the heart. The drama may be based on a graphic novel. There might be generational differences as the younger character feels conflict over entering the family business (or not), or when a devastatingly attractive character from the upper class falls for a rather plain “commoner” to the utter horror of the wealthy parents and thorough delight of the less well off parents. There might be a stunningly beautiful dragon lady matriarch, especially on the upper class side of the equation. There is probably an adorable, intelligent younger brother in the mix to add comic relief to the stress of keeping the family from the brink of ruin.

Unlike American soaps, KDramas, for the most part, lack the near-nudity and bed hopping that seem commonplace in the midday soft porn of American soaps. I’m pretty sure much of my early sex education was delivered in the form of afternoon soap operas. It is still a cheap thrill on that rare, odd, glorious morning when I awaken with still neatly coifed hair and unsmudged makeup “just like a soap star,” except, unlike a daytime drama, there is never a witness to this miracle and I am likely wearing mismatched pajamas and not a shimmering designer evening gown or satin nightgown.

The downside for me with Korean Dramas is the invading sense of want experienced while watching them. The settings have me longing to revisit places I saw in Korea (like Namsan Tower, the markets, and Seoul Hyatt), and see those I missed (like Jeju Island and Busan). Note: This is not unique to Korea -- the same thing happens if I see a movie set in Paris or Reykjavik or Los Cabos or anyplace else I ever visited and enjoyed.

When a Korean drama series ends, it feels a bit like breaking up with a boyfriend. There is sadness, melancholy, closure, the freedom to move on to something else, and the wonder of what to do with all the new free time. Unique to the Korean dramas, there is relief at being spared an ongoing saga and string of characters killed off to later return as a previously unknown twin. (Yes, All My Children of my college years, I’m looking at you.)

KDramas often feature food and the result is I miss the food in Seoul even more. Sure, there was stuff I was afraid to eat like anything involving intestines and the silkworm larvae sold by street vendors. Thankfully, there is a good Korean restaurant in my current town and one I loved in my former residence in Tennessee that serve hot stoneware bibimbap (rice and vegetables with egg), but nothing quite compares to going to “Hooker Hill” in Itaewon at night to eat in the food tents that regularly and miraculously pop up after dark. Not to mention the pancake vendors in the pedestrian arts and antiques area of Insa-dong where we would shiver in the winter chill awaiting a fifty cent pancake filled with brown sugar and cinnamon, then step away from the counter to rejoin the end of the line and eat our way back to the front for another. Ahhhhh.

The cheesy hot pepper ramen at Yongsan Fast Food, down the hill from our apartment, radically and permanently changed my view of ramen. I miss the fish cake and the dried anchovies that seemed to be served everywhere. It’s now been 12 years living off my food memories. While I have worked out my own version of cheesy hot pepper ramen, I would fly back to Seoul in a heartbeat for the street vendor pancakes and fish cake I can’t find here.
F4 in Boys Over Flowers. Yaban Çiceği /2009 / Güney Kore

It’s depressing that smartly dressed, fashionable KDrama characters don’t exist in my real, American, every day existence. As a kid, I imagined adult life as a stretch of dinner parties populated by well-dressed people, and maybe when I was a kid, that’s what adult life was like. For one brief shining moment in the mid-to-late1980s, when Miami Vice inspired throngs of American men to give a crap about how they dressed, my life was like that. At the time, I had a (now-ex) husband who loved to dress well and sought opportunities to wear a suit and tie. (If only that trait could have offset all the problems we had. Sigh.) The law of nature seems to dictate that all good things must end too soon and it’s been a depressing landscape of men in crappy tee shirts, ball caps, and baggy-ass jeans ever since.  Except in my imagination. And my Korean dramas.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Dying Daily

After six months formally and officially dedicated to searching for a job since my return to Massachusetts, which were preceded by six months of a slightly more casual long-distance job search while still in Tennessee, I’m beginning to feel like some sort of an expert. An expert in what, I am not entirely sure, but 12 months invested in an activity must qualify me for some level of something, right? Even if the “something” is banging one’s head against a wall.

Here are a few of the things I’ve learned throughout this soul crushing experience:

1. Searching for a job is the hardest job of which I know. Parked at the computer for three to six hours daily, I plow through job postings and company profiles until my eyes feel like they are going to bleed. Simultaneously, my shoulders are screaming in hunched over agony from sitting in a dining room chair perfectly suited to the height of the dining table, but not at all suited for long term use at the computer desk. It doesn’t help that almost nightly (and each morning), my head routinely bangs the upper bunk when I have the audacity to sit up straight in the futon/bunk bed in Mom's spare room. Between hunching in the “bed” and slouching at the computer, I fear I am now permanently stooped, like the stereotypical crone. Fortunately, the Halloween season is approaching and my elderly witch posture will seem appropriate, for a month anyway. Maybe I can get a job in Salem at one of the several witch museums!

2. Job search agents miss the mark. Often, and by a lot. I have “job search agents” established on job boards, company sites and social networks. The search terms are primarily “marketing” and “writing.” Can someone please tell my why the emails cheerfully touting the subject line “20+ new jobs in marketing” contain plentiful openings for dock and warehouse workers? Please? Although .... were I to become a dock worker, a gym membership would no longer be necessary, and I might even shed the 10 pounds I have acquired since “the broken leg incident” of October 2011. Maybe it’s time to redirect and set up additional job search agents for “laborer” and “witch historical interpreter.”

3. Some hiring managers are dreamers. Or they just lost a superstar employee they should have tried harder to retain. A shocking percentage of the marketing job postings I have seen require someone who not only knows how to write, develop and execute marketing strategy and tactics, and maintain client relationships (my last job), but also has extensive experience dealing with vendors and all aspects of production, expertise in every graphic design program available, years of HTML coding, and experience with a multitude of databases and content management systems. No kidding, this represents the combined skill set of three departments and four individuals at my last job. Maybe I need to go back to school and learn all this stuff, although that still wouldn’t provide me with the years of “increasing responsibility” demanded.

4. Passwords suck. Each company career system and automated job board requires a login and password, which wouldn’t be so bad except the criteria are always slightly different than the 32 logins and passwords already established elsewhere. The login might be an email address, but sometimes it is not. Some systems require passwords include a mix of capitals and lowercase. Some demand use of numbers and/or symbols, while others forbid such usage. Six character minimum, eight character minimum. It’s insane! My journal contains enough logins and coded password reminders to look like I am inventing a new language. Maybe I should.

5. Some companies request seemingly illegal information. Exactly why is my social security number needed in this first step of the process? And if it is illegal for an employer to ask an applicant’s age, why does their automated job application system require a birth date? Is that not the same thing? And the questionable questions come after one has already invested a solid 1.5 hours (or more) inputting information and uploading resume, cover letter and sample writing files. I suppose the company figures after they’ve already robbed you of that much time, you will just key in the info requested in an effort to stop the pain. And they are mandatory elements, so don’t think you can just skip over those fields and move onto the next screen. I tried. Screw you, companies of questionable questioning. Purely on principle and the advice of dozens of articles about preventing identity theft, I’m out.

6. The state’s “Career Center” is full of well-meaning people, but that doesn’t mean it’s helpful. My visit to the local career center was draining. I met with a “career adviser” in a sea of cubicles within earshot of countless other similar cubicles. I know we were within earshot, because I could hear the conversations emanating from ajoining cubicles. My visit was filled with special moments. Like when the adviser practically screamed, “What? A Bentley MBA can’t find a job??” Thanks, dude. I don’t feel enough like shit and die a little bit more inside every day as it is. Then, based on my income for the past six months (exactly zero dollars), Mr. Helpful practically demanded I visit the office that handles the SNAP program (food stamps). Recognizing he was doing his assigned task of pointing people to available resources, I managed to harness every ounce of strength I possess and not burst into tears right there in his cluttered little cubicle. I held back the flow until I got to the privacy of my car, where I then faced the additional challenge of restraining myself from punching the dashboard. Logic, finances, and my illegal absence of state-mandated health insurance won out (another tragic tale), saving both the dashboard and my fist.

Each day in the job search process is a new learning experience. I recently read somewhere that the average job search can take 12 months, but the average job seeker gives up looking after five months, so in between spells of pondering what these people do after the five month mark (give up eating?) I congratulate myself for persevering. I have a new hobby with the potential to bring in a bit of income once I find a venue at which to sell. In an attempt to prevent my spirit dying a bit more each day, I am focusing a different type of dyeing and an experiment with thrift store clothing to “upcycle” it with a fresh new look. For now at least, it keeps me busy. And if I can’t sell the stuff, I guess it will be a hand dyed Christmas for my family.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Vantage Point

On a breezy, sunny, summer afternoon, my oldest niece (age 14) rang me up asking if I wanted to go to a park with her, her two sisters, and my sister (aka their Mom). Amazingly, even though I was deep in the brain-fried vegetative state induced by moving digital candies around a screen in Candy Crush, I managed to wrest myself away from the computer and prepare for a trek to the great outdoors. I trotted upstairs to lace on some sneakers and realize that my one pair of jeans that fit were still in the washer. Sweat pants it is!

They picked me up and using the democratic process of majority rule and the civilized process of compromise we decided on Coggshall Park, a 212-acre city park not far from the family homestead. It had trails for the elders, a playground for the two youngest, and ducks, swans, and turtles for everyone.

As kids, my brother, sister and I trudged to Coggshall with our friends after school to ice skate on the frozen pond in the winters and rode our bikes there to enjoy the cool, shady roads and the playground in the summer. It’s where my brother and I were routinely flung from the treacherous, old mushroom shaped merry-go-round, and where we once (perhaps on a dare, the details are a bit fuzzy) marched into the mucky lake, soaking our jean shorts and prompting us to hide in one of the now extinct tree houses until we dried. It is the place where, as an adult, my brother demonstrated for a friend how he used to “ski down Moses Rock in his Sunday shoes.” Unfortunately, that particular day he was wearing construction boots which have radically different traction than dress shoes, and, as he put it, “Theisman-ed” his leg, snapping it just above the top of the work boot.

In short, the place is full of memories for us. Now we take my nieces so they can have their own memories, which lately include counting the turtles.

On this day, we decided to walk one of the trails, and the girls chose “yellow.” We began following yellow dots into the woods, passing the gigantic rock and scene of my brother’s leg incident, from which he was carried out of the woods by two EMTs (but not the original two female EMTs who first responded, because they couldn't actually pick him up). Sadly, that trail quickly became narrow and overgrown just beyond the boulder, so we turned back and decided to take “the trail that goes to the top of the hill where you can see over to KMart” on the other side of Mirror Lake. Even though I looked it up, I still have no idea if the trails have names at Coggshall, but since finding it previously, this is how the trail is referred to by my family.

This trail with blue markings is more rugged than my orchid colored Converse All Stars are prepared for, and I wished I was wearing my hiking boots, especially when facing a section of trail that was basically a steep wall of rock. But we come from hardy (some say stubborn) Finnish stock, so onward, ho!

The trail sparkled with mica which fascinated me as a kid. Actually, anything even remotely shiny fascinates my middle niece and me, so perhaps there are some crow genes mixed in there, too. This would explain a lot, most notably our unexplainable affinity for rhinestones, sequins and crystals.

My oldest niece and I reached the top of the hill a few seconds before my sister and the two younger girls and instead of the magnificent and sweeping view, the first thing I saw was a couple standing at the absolute best vantage point, pressed against each other, engaged in a full-blown standing lip lock. It reminded me of a high school dance make out session, except they were adults and this was the middle of a public park in the middle of an afternoon, not a darkened gymnasium.

 I shuffled around and called out to the others in my group, figuring the make out couple would stop and maybe even tear their bodies apart in an effort to remove awkwardness and share the view with us. I figured wrong. The female facing our direction just kept peering at us over the shoulder of her companion, and beyond that, there was no acknowledgement that they were no longer alone and that this is a public space. I remember being younger and in lust, but damn, I at least tried to be mindful of other people. Maybe it’s just my upbringing in the Puritan-founded Congregational Church where we sang regularly from the Pilgrim Hymnal and I shouldn’t apply “what I would do” to others.

When the other two nieces and my sister arrived, the first thing one niece yelled was “Hey, I can see Burger King!” which sounded better than “Hey, are the kissing people gonna fall off the rock?” or, “Is Auntie going to go shove those two people off the hill?” Because believe me, shoving them off the rock was kinda what I felt like doing. Luckily, I have a decently functioning internal editor when my nieces are concerned, and I was able to suppress my “Trail Rage.”

Having hauled my ten-ton Nikon up the trail, I tried to get photos of the long-awaited vista, but I was reluctant to march over to where the Make Outs were hogging the view. Consequently, my photos are from a crappy perspective. A few even include the amorous duo, but without actually zooming in on them.

Hopefully, the next time I hike up there the scenery will be absent a love scene worthy of a soap opera. After all, I’d like to get closer for a better view of Burger King.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Mystery Woman

Another day in the job search, another trip into Boston to meet with a recruiter, and another journey involving an automobile (which came dangerously close to running out of fuel on the return trip), multiple subway trains and a motley cast of characters, and my own two feet, clad in fashionable footwear that proved thoroughly unsuitable for hoofing it on brick sidewalks. Oops.

The Alewife Station parking garage was quite full on my arrival and I ended up parking on the rooftop level, but the weather was nice, so it was no big deal. Inside the station it was quiet and I took advantage of the absence of a queue to feed the pay station for my parking ($7) before visiting a different machine to feed more bills to add $10 value to my MBTA fare card (“Charlie Card”). 

In contrast to Alewife, the Downtown Crossing Station where I needed to change from the Red Line to the Orange Line to head to State Street was bursting with people, many quietly interacting with their personal life-support systems (aka cell phones). Music weaved into the buzz of trains and people and ventilation systems as I descended the stairs -- slightly Celtic, sounded like a fiddle, but not quite.

When I reached the platform to await the train which the info board said would be arriving in seven minutes, I found the source of the music. An elderly Asian man was seated on a bench with an Erhu, an Asian two-stringed instrument played with a bow. The music was light and pretty. It reminded me of the time I spent in Korea. An instrument case lay open at his feet and dollar bills and assorted coins had been tossed into it. After enjoying the music for about a minute (per the train arrival countdown on the message board), I dug a dollar out of the dwindling funds in my wallet and dropped it into the case. The Musician looked up at me, said “Thank You,” and kept playing.

As I returned to the spot near the the wall that I had momentarily vacated, a  guy in tan chinos and a pastel oxford shirt standing to the left of “my place” looked at me and raised his eyebrows, which I took to be a sort of greeting. Maybe it was an acknowledgement of my contribution to the entertainment. I smiled back.

A few minutes later, a guy wearing long shorts, a tee shirt, a sideways ball cap and sneakers, and drinking a beverage from a tall can entered the scene. He paused in front of the musician and set a handful of change into the case. The musician looked up at him, said “Thank You,” and kept playing.

Suddenly, a cluster of people arrived, probably transferring from another rail line within the station. Touristy-looking families in shorts, some dragging wheeled cases, jostled alongside men in business suits and women in dresses.  Amongst them was a round elderly woman, wearing a crocheted cap that covered most of her hair and was festooned with a large rhinestone pin. Tufts of gray hair poked out of her cap near her ears. She was dressed in rusty earth tones and carrying a plastic grocery bag. I heard her before I saw her. Over the noise of the station and the music, she arrived ranting loudly to nobody in particular or maybe everyone in general. “They don’t know nothing about giving directions! Nope. Nothing about directions. They don’t know a thing.” I thought for a second that she may have been talking via Bluetooth, but there was no evidence to support that theory.

The guy standing to my left caught my eye again and raised his eyebrows and widened his eyes, as if to signal, “Uh oh, here come the crazies.” I raised my eyebrows and widened my eyes in return. “Yup.”

The lady in the cap wobbled over to the bench with the Musician. She paused in front of a woman sitting on the bench and, still muttering about directions, bent over to peer at the screen of the iPhone the woman was using. IPhone Woman didn’t acknowledge the character standing before her and gawking at her phone, she just kept tapping letters on the screen. Then Talking Woman squeezed herself into the not really wide enough vacant space between iPhone Woman and the Musician, saying quite loudly and almost angrily, “And they don’t know a thing about Tokyo Rose,” shaking her head in dramatic disbelief.  The Musician slid away from her a little bit towards the edge of the bench and kept playing.

The guy to my left did his eyebrow thing again. It seemed we were both wondering what might come next, but it didn’t seem anyone else around was watching the show.

Talking Woman, who now captured my full attention with her sudden silence, started rooting around in her plastic bag and removed a large, smooth, beautiful plum. She held it close to her face and contemplated it for a few moments. Or something. I expected her to bite into it, but instead, she tucked the plum into the crook formed by her crinkly chin and neck and held it there with her hand. Her eyes closed for a second, and when she opened them, they began to tear up and her lip quivered a bit. It looked like there was a whole lot of something major going on inside her head and maybe her heart and she was on the precipice of a good cry.

I wondered what she was thinking and feeling. She looked sad. Maybe even distraught. I suddenly wanted to hug her. I wanted to ask if she was okay. I wanted to take her picture. Everything I suddenly wanted to do to this stranger felt invasive, including my inability to stop gawking. She was too far away to speak to and approaching her might have caused a commotion.

The information board counted down the minutes to the arrival of the next train. The Musician played. The Mystery Woman held her perfect plum under her chin. I watched and wondered.

When the message board and paging system announced the arrival of the inbound train, people rose from benches and stepped away from the walls in preparation for boarding. My Mystery Woman lowered her plum from under her chin, looked at it in her hand, and stood up. She turned towards the Musician still playing his music, leaned over, and gently placed the plum in his instrument case. She did it quietly, almost lovingly. The musician said “Thank you,” and kept playing. She had tears in her eyes as she entered the crowd to board the train with the rest of us.

I lost sight of the woman in the boarding process and didn’t see her in my train car,  but I’ve been thinking about her ever since. Who is my Mystery Woman? What’s up with Tokyo Rose? Is she really sad or am I misreading her? What is the deal with the plum?

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Meeting Up

During one of my final days of living in Tennessee I was talking to a coworker (yes, whining) about how lonely I had been for much of my time in Clarksville, and especially the final year. There were hundreds of acquaintances I would see as I ambled alone through the monthly Art Walk, but when it came down to it, there were very few people whose phone numbers resided in my cell phone and upon whom I could call to meet out for lunch. And of the few, most were married with kids, so it felt like I had nobody available to entertain me. I even attended two concerts alone due to a lack of companions and I didn’t die of humiliation, which is good to know.

My coworker said a lot of single people he knew used the online Meetup site to find groups and activities. Well, crap -- if I’d known about that earlier, my last year in hell might have been more tolerable!

As part of my return to New England, I began pre-scouting for jobs and a social life. I looked into Meetup, checked off a bunch of preferences and quickly found a book club. Once you join a group, the system suggests other groups in your geography based on the interests chosen, so it wasn’t too long before I found a second book club.

During one week in April I had two book club meetings, which involved plowing through two novels. The first group’s meeting had great promise -- it was on a Wednesday night in an Irish Pub Restaurant and the author was going to attend. I had my first Scotch Egg, a dark beer, and the good fortune of sitting next to the author so I could actually hear the discussion over the din of the nearby diners, but the later arrivals at the far ends of the table were not as lucky. This book club was mostly couples and mostly in their 60s or older so I felt like a conspicuous misfit singleton (a common scenario for me). On the bright side, I was one of the younger people assembled at the table.

The following night was the other book club, which meets at a coffee house that has the good sense to also serve wine and craft beers along with the menu of light meals, pastries and gelato. This group is all women,  younger than the other group, and infinitely more fun. I still don’t feel like I fit in, but at least I'm reading current books and it’s a shorter drive for me to be a misfit.

Around early June, a new local Meetup group formed -- people aged 40-60 seeking to get out of the house and meet up at various places and events. It sounded promising to me -- while not a singles group, it might be a way to meet new people including some single guys.

The group scheduled its first meet up at a bar/restaurant on a Friday evening with the instructions to meet “at the chalkboard.” I managed to convince a gal pal to come with me to scope it out. We arrived early and parked ourselves at the corner of the bar to scope out the group and decide if we would actually join them, because we were nervous about meeting a large group of new people. Heck, I sometimes get nervous with people I already know. As we sat at the corner of the bar, eyeballing everyone who entered the restaurant, we finally noticed a guy sitting under the massive chalkboard. Then a woman arrived. And another woman. And more women. The assembled group of about a dozen was finally seated at a cluster of tall tables in a corner of the bar. It looked like one guy with a harem.

We decided we didn’t really want to be part of the estrogen festival and headed to a Chinese restaurant for a pu-pu platter, chalking up a loss on the meet up thing. At least we were out of our respective dwellings for a little while, escaping an oppressive heat wave and enjoying some air conditioning.

As the summer progressed, the Meetup group posted several more events at free festivals and local fairs (which I did not attend). One planned meet up that caught my eye was for a tour of the local craft brewery. This was right up my alley -- beer! -- plus the potential to meet a man who appreciates good beer instead of the crappy yellow fizzy water bottled by too many large breweries.

I tried to wrangle a gal pal into coming to the brewery with me, but one was in Michigan, and another was in Vermont. So, on the appointed day, I managed to not wimp out, screwed up my courage and headed to the meet up. Alone. The RSVP list, which had peaked at about five people a week earlier, had dwindled to three by the day of the event -- me, another woman, and a guy.

At the brewery, I headed to the “Tour Waiting Area” where I was the only female. Instead of being thrilled at the prospect, I was too self-conscious to speak. I visited the sample window for a tiny beer glass and a taste of Strawberry White beer from the woman who would soon be our tour guide. Luckily, two more women arrived (with their significant man people) and finally, a tall guy entered and asked me if I was with the meet up. Hmmm.... I wonder if it was my obvious aloneness in the room that gave me away. At least I had now someone to chat with. And he didn’t look nearly as much like an axe murderer as his little photo on Meetup. I noticed he did not get a free beer sample. Nobody who looked like the third Meetup RSVP arrived.

The tour began and we passed around jars of various types of barley, looked at photos from 1994 when the brewery operated out of a barn, and then moved over to the door to see more historic photos. Before heading to the bottling area, the guide instructed us to take a pair of safety goggles. As she was discussing the various sizes (child/small, medium, large),  she pointed to me and said, all chipper and nonchalant, “You can probably use the child size.” Thanks for the shout out lady. I appreciate you calling attention to my tiny pinhead.

We moved into the production area, where there was another tasting sample. I tried the Nut Brown, even though I already knew I liked it. And that’s when my Meetup buddy casually mentioned that he doesn’t drink. So much for my fantasy of comparing notes over the various beers and how this brewer’s product compares to that of other breweries. Seriously? Leave it to me to meet the one guy on a brewery tour who doesn’t even drink beer.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Honesty Policy

It’s sometimes hard to feel sorry for the financial woes of a major retail operation, and a recent experience at one of the big box department stores has me scratching my head over the difficulties of being honest.

This particular retailer filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in 2002, somehow scraped up the funds to purchase Sears in 2005, and then, late in 2011 announced the closure of more than 100 stores after a poor response from shoppers during the Christmas shopping season. Yes, we are talking about K-Mart of “the Blue Light Special” which, for the years of my youth, was the king of the Twin City Mall on the Fitchburg-Leominster line. Back in the day, they usually didn’t have what I needed, but more recently, they actually carry crap I think I want.

KMart carries “Official” MLB, NHL, and NFL team branded merchandise, and the selection is both different and less costly than that of neighboring store Bob’s. Yes, I am sure the quality is probably of a lower caliber, but I happen to like the specific items carried. It was KMart where I found the wicked cool Bruins logo wall mirror I got for my niece’s birthday in May, when Bob’s had primarily commuter cups, ear buds and the usual array of overpriced lounge pants and tee shirts. It was a most fortunate find as she loved it, and unfortunately, my unemployment-era wallet is more in synch with KMart. (It’s currently more closely aligned with the local Salvation Army Superstore, but that’s another story.)

On a recent Friday, Mom and I visited KMart as we were heading to Cape Cod to visit my brother on his birthday so I could check out the New England Patriots merchandise and also get cash back with my debit card (avoiding a separate trip to my mega-bank’s ATM across town). After gushing over the various team branded infant and toddler clothing, I chose a suitable adult Patriots shirt for my brother and we proceeded to the register.

When I arrived at the cashier, there were no other customers around, but a line quickly formed behind me as if a tour group had just received word their bus would be leaving in five minutes. During my transaction I selected the option for $50 cash back. The cashier lifted her cash drawer and removed three bills, which I jammed into my currently empty wallet with the receipt. I didn’t take the time to count the money, partly because the cashier was already ringing up the next customer and I was feeling a bit rushed and in the way with the next person in line crawling up my back. 

It was a leisurely ride to the Cape, with a stop at the Christmas Tree Shoppe and a pleasant tour of the hydrangeas of every color (including deep maroonish-purple) blooming in the yards along 6A in Sandwich. Now I want a yard with dark purple hydrangeas. Maybe I should move to Sandwich.

After sitting around for a while talking with my brother and his wife, we all headed out for dinner. My dinner was an amazing bowl of lobster stew and a massive fried haddock sandwich with sweet potato fries (in case you were wondering). When it was time to contribute the funds for my share of the check, I dug into my wallet where I expected to find two twenty dollar bills and a ten, and found instead a fifty, a twenty and a ten. And I immediately began to worry.

Having worked in both banking and retail, there are still lingering miserable memories of cash drawer balancing and people getting into trouble for drawer shortages. I had no knowledge of KMart's policy, but I began imagining the cashier getting a lecture, or worse, fired for the missing $30. Another part of me felt like I’d won a prize -- $30 was more than I’d won on any lottery ticket in decades. Knowing that I would certainly contact the store if my money had been short by $30 the right thing to do was to notify the store about my erroneous windfall.

It seemed like it would be easier to explain in person with the receipt in view, so on Monday I returned to KMart. The customer service manager listened to my tale, looked at my receipt and didn’t quite seem to know what to do. I wondered if there was a policy for such events. In her defense, it probably isn’t every day a customer rolls in smiling, waving a receipt and declaring she received too much change. In fact, it probably isn’t ever the case. Until that day, anyway.

The service desk manager called someone else in the building and explained the scenario while I stood awkwardly at the counter waiting, then informed me it would take about 30 minutes to check into the cash reports from Friday and I could do my shopping and return to the counter later. I didn't really have any shopping to do, but a huge yellow banner screaming “Clearance” hanging on a wall above an array of swimsuits caught my eye. In front of the swimsuits (buy one, get 1/2 off another) a cluster of racks was jammed with clothing items reduced by a mere 10%. I felt like I’d been tricked. Someone at KMart needs to look up the definition and perception of clearance pricing.

Back at the service desk I was told that the cashier’s drawer was short by $30 back on Friday, it had been written off as a correction of some sort, “the cash lady” needed to look into what to do, and someone would get back to me in a day or so. Even at minimum wage, the two people working on the problem for the better part of an hour had already cost most of the $30 I was trying to return. And I can imagine the employee conversations. “You’ll never believe the freak that came into the store today, trying to give us back $30! Who the heck does that?”

It’s now been a week and I haven’t heard a whisper about correcting the situation, so I guess the extra $30 is mine. Because I made the extra effort of hauling my ass to the store to fix the store’s mistake, my conscience is clear. And I’m thinking maybe I should shop there more often -- as long as they are handing out free money. Maybe they’ll even get the hang of clearance pricing.

Monday, July 1, 2013

Time Elasticity

Several lifetimes ago, (as measured by career shifts and ex-husbands), I spent six years working for a manufacturer of timekeeping, fire detection and nurse call systems. That stretch of time included a divorce, moving twice, finishing an MBA and ultimately leaving the company. Sometimes it felt like forever, but in retrospect it now seems more like a lightning flash.

The first week of time clock company employment included “orientation” -- a professionally produced company video which my boss told me was narrated by the same narrator for the PBS show Nova. I learned about company projects such as an underground school system and the monitoring grid over a massive sports stadium with water cannons that would rise from the stands and extinguish a fire detected by the system.

The time systems product line included school clocks and the dreaded time clock punched by hourly workers everywhere. Remember in school when it seemed that time stopped dead and the sweep hand just twitched on the clock for what seemed like forever? I do. I’d be glaring at that thing, willing it to move and tick off the minutes until I could move onto more interesting things like ballet class, public library meetings with my co-worker/sort-of boyfriend from the catholic high school across town, or Espresso’s for a slice of fifty-cent pizza before the one-mile walk home from high school. Let me point out, that yes, I am wicked old, and back in the 1970s, we really DID walk to and from school, and slabs of pizza could be procured for a mere fifty cents. There was no soccer-mom-SUV-caravan picking up schoolchildren -- we either took the bus or oh-em-gee -- walked. These were the dark ages when super-sized fast food was a special occasion treat and not a dietary mainstay, homemade family dinners at the table were the norm, and genetically modified food was the stuff of science fiction. All that walking and now-miniature-by-comparison nutritious food portions meant few schoolchildren were overweight, but I digress and that is a rant for another day.

Back to the twitching clock. In company orientation, I learned that yes, the clocks of my school days HAD indeed stopped momentarily, not to punish the suffering student body, but to self-correct to the exact time transmitted via some magical beam in the western United States that allows timekeeping systems to synchronize. It was a relief to realize the clock really did pause and it wasn’t a trick of my imagination.

During my years toiling in the treasury group at the time clock company, I moved money between banks to cover accounts payable, multiple payrolls, investments and loans. The routine at my desk was dictated by the clock and included multiple daily deadlines -- daily cash reports due to the executive suite by 9:00, account balance pulls and initial daily cash needs from payables and payroll at 10:00, loan or investment calls by 12:00 and 2:00, and final daily updates by 3:00. There were points in the day when I could not leave my desk for fear of missing a deadline, no matter how urgent the need to use the loo. There were times in the month, quarter, and year where the volume of reports and analyses made breathing feel like a luxury. To balance it all, there were also spells of mind-numbing emptiness of time.

During the time at the producer of master timekeeping systems, my concept of a Master Timekeeper living somewhere up in the clouds developed. Just to screw with the humans, he (yes, in my head it was a male, nonhuman entity with a sense of humor) would cause time to speed up or slow down, for his own amusement. This is why two weekend days never feel as long as a single Monday at work, and why an entire vacation week feels about as long as any one workday.  It’s why waiting alone in a bar for someone who is tardy feels as long as an eight hour factory shift and why a night of laughter with friends passes by in what feels like a second. It’s the Master Timekeeper messing around.

During a recent weeklong vacation at a rented beach house in southern Maine with no wi fi, no computer, and no schedule, the elasticity of time was felt. The first full day at the beach house, my oldest niece and I went to the beach. We walked to the beach from the house, and once at the beach, we walked in the shallow water for a while then laid in the sun on a blanket. After our very luxurious spell in the golden sun where time felt like it was suspended in honey, we were ready to head back to the house. A check of the clock shocked us with the information we had been at the beach for a mere twenty minutes. It was weird. I’m pretty sure it was my Master Timekeeper at play, but it worked in our favor, so there were no complaints, just wonderment. 

There were other time surprises during the week. Being awakened by the rising sun at 5:40 and being up and out of bed at 6 or 7 am (thanks to an overly eager dog) was pleasing to me and a nightmare for  my teenaged niece roommate. Morning and evening walks with the dogs that felt like ten minutes but were more like forty-five proved that the ocean as a destination is infinitely more fun than aimlessly walking around your own boring hometown neighborhood for the millionth time. A couple hours spent waiting for high tide to recede and reveal a bit of actual beach passes quickly when the kids are playing pool and there are books and lunch to be enjoyed. Conversely, sitting around after lunch for ninety minutes awaiting the completion of someone who shall remain unnamed’s laundry so six of us could go someplace felt like damn near forever. When we finally headed out and it began to drizzle just as we were leaving for Fort McClary followed by “the world’s smallest suspension bridge,” the angry voice in my head was screaming that “I’ll never get that hour and a half of wasted vacation laundry time back!”

The return to “normal life” at home where time is dominated by my job of looking for a job has been a bit of a letdown. During vacation, the pace was slow, leisurely and luxurious, but upon reflection during the first few days back home, the week feels like it sped by. The normal frustration of not knowing how much longer it will take to find a job is at least as aggravating as the months already spent searching. The fear of spending money to do things for which there is presently ample time (like a gym membership, travel or education) will someday be replaced by anger at not having done them when I am finally employed and looking back at six or nine or 12 months of unemployment with no accomplishments. And someday, it will all seem less significant. It’s just a matter of time.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Bitchy Resting Face

There is a YouTube video written by Taylor Orci and directed by Behn Fannin making the rounds of social media. Called “Bitchy Resting Face,” it chronicles “a disorder that affects millions of women every day.”

It’s funny. Well, to me anyway, because for as long as I can remember, I have been subjected to casual queries and full-blown interrogations as to why I am mad, glum, depressed, etc., etc. My history of wearing a lot of black probably didn’t help the situation, but hey, it’s not my fault that black happens to be appropriate for practically every occasion, episodes of bitchiness or depression included.

For as many people I know who walk around smiling like a toothpaste ad, there is an equal number of my acquaintances who are afflicted with Bitchy Resting Face. I relate to my non smiling friends, maybe in part because I completely understand when they look mad but aren’t, and the ensuing aggravation when people keep commenting on it.

Although I was kind of a moody teenager (who isn’t, really?), I’m pretty sure I was not as perpetually pissed off and bitchy as my face apparently portrayed me to be. Not when I was a kid, and not now. Even when perfectly content, I get the questions about being mad. I’m just not one of those people who can walk around all day every day with a smile plastered across my face. I’ve tried. It looks more like a constipated grimace than a genuine smile, and I’m pretty sure it’s scarier than my Bitchy Resting Face and my “get the hell out of my way I’m pissed off” face.

Even the photos of me as a young kid look serious. Shy. Thoughtful, even. The fact is, I was self-conscious as all hell. As my classmates blossomed into womanhood all around me, I lived with daily worry that my own bosom would never develop because I slept on my stomach and refused to wear undershirts in first grade. I spent fifth and sixth grade tormented by female classmates with chests that bore more resemblance to Playboy centerfolds and Maxim cover models than 11-year olds, and who delivered daily torture (today it’s called “bullying”) over my dream worthiness to pirates (sunken chest) and carpenters (flat as a board and skinny as a nail). These girls shoved orange peels down my shirt while chanting they were “adding to the cause.” Trust me, there was a LOT going on behind my early non-smiling Bitchy Resting Face, and cultivating a lovely smile was not as high on the agenda as surviving sixth grade.

Ample photographic evidence exists that even when I tried to smile for a photo, it usually looked fake. While attempting to smile (especially during my teens and 20s when I was engrossed in fashion magazines and fantasies of being a model or a wealthy tycoon’s wife), I was also worried about crinkly eyes, smile lines, my super prominent cheekbones appearing even more prominent, showing the chip in my front tooth (earned at age 8) and later the repair to the chip in my front tooth (finally at 17). YOU try smiling with all that going on. The inner life was affecting the outward appearance. But I wasn’t always mad, I was usually just thinking. Focused. Trying to not trip over cracks in the sidewalk. Riding the mood swing between wanting to totally be invisible and desperately wishing to be noticed.

During a short stint as a beauty pageant contestant (two pageants, one crown) I had to resort an insider trick -- Vaseline on my teeth. Try it. It’s freeking disgusting. The feeling is so nasty you’ll do anything to avoid closing your mouth over your teeth. Ta da! A smile, but not exactly practical for daily use.
Regular "Wasn't expecting a photo" Resting Bitchy Face.

Thankfully, some of the baggage of my inner life has been shed, and I’m slightly less self conscious (or no longer give a crap). Thanks to the proliferation of camera phones and digital photography, there is a small reservoir of recent photographic evidence of me smiling. These may be directly liked to an indulgence in beer, wine, or good old fashioned hard liquor (friends have said I am one smiling, happy drunk) but I’ll take whatever breaks I can catch. And now there is the comfort of the official recognition of “Bitchy Resting Face” and my sisters in faces.

Friday, May 31, 2013

Book Clubbing

There are enough balls in the juggling act currently masquerading as my life that I may soon be qualified for a position with the circus. The major variables in the air are: 1) a job to facilitate 2) my own place in which to live, 3) travel, and 4) a social life. For now, I live with my Mom and stepdad, and although I have a valid passport and plenty of time to travel, I am far too sensible (frugal?) to spend what money I have on travel, a situation I will deeply regret once I find a job and no longer have the time for it. Plus, I don’t have any travel companions, and there are certain things, like jetting off to a foreign country, that I refuse to do alone. Dang, I don’t even enjoy going to a local museum alone.

In between stalking the job listings and crafting customized cover letters worthy of a literary award (depressing), and flirting with the real estate listings to monitor current prices (more depressing), a meager amount of continually diminishing energy is directed to reconstructing a social life in a geographic area from which I was absent for 12 years. I considered ordering these stressful searches sequentially, but the logical first step is a job, a search that is going so poorly I’ll likely be eligible for Social Security before I find the next step in my career. If only I could be paid handsomely to just show up places and act aloof and snooty. You know, like Paris Hilton. Then I could be knocking out the money, travel and social scene all at once.

The whole life rebuilding thing isn’t exactly easy. It’s reminiscent of the square peg / round hole feeling I had all through school. And college. And most of my adult life. At least there’s consistency. And familiarity. I feel like a fish out of water, gasping for air on a dock, unable to commandeer my own life.

At Mom’s, we each seem to feel the need to entertain the other. We go clubbing (BJ’s Wholesale Club) and visit antique shops. We cook dinner together. There are Scrabble matches almost daily. She still has regular activities away from home that I have conscientiously remained out of, because she needs her own space as much as I need mine. I don’t get much writing done when she is home, because I feel like I’m ignoring her, which feels rude. Plus, she likes to watch the morning chat shows, an endless stream of crime dramas and the game show classics “Let’s Make a Deal” and “The Price is Right” which are intrusive to my focus, especially when she starts talking to me about what is happening on TV. It’s super fun when I’m trying to write cover letters and send resumes.

My trajectory into the social scene has been pathetic, to put it delicately.  There have been a handful of social outings in three months -- a lounge concert and a bar, a coffee date, patio cocktails, three book club meetings, and a ballet recital. There have also been seven dance classes and two workshops.  Sprinkle in a couple hair appointments and the sum total is the rough equivalent of one week’s activity in my previous, mostly-fully-formed-adult life.

My life is so small right now I don’t know how I have managed to not slip through the cracks in the front porch. Perhaps the extra 15 pounds of lard presently adorning my physique has spared me such a tragic fate.

It’s one thing to be a pathetic adult loner living independently and sulking after work in one’s fortress of loneliness, surrounded by cherished belongings and without witnesses, but it’s kind of horrifying to be a middle-aged, unemployed loner (by which I mean LOSER) living at your Mom’s and having her see you on the computer or on the sofa watching TV all night every night.

My most “interesting” outings so far, if they can be called that, might be the book club meetings. It is glaringly obvious that I don’t read books like other people in book clubs read books. While other members reference sentences, phrases, and incidents in the book with startling clarity and detail, I sit there frantically flipping through the story in my head trying to grasp something, anything, upon which to comment. I guess I need to postpone my reading until the last minute, instead of devouring the book three weeks in advance to increase my chances of recollection. 

When other readers are commenting on the “darkness” of the story or something that happened to the central character, I’m wondering just how that “darkness” was conveyed and how it managed to completely escape my attention. Instead of revealing my state of obliviousness, I bite my tongue to hold back the “Huh? What page is that on?” that is eager to burst forth from my lips.

Heck, even when I read Sylvia Plath’s “The Bell Jar,” the classic depiction of depression and breakdown, it seemed like the chronicle of a series of normal days to me. Perhaps my own inner life is so dark and twisty that someone else’s mental breakdown reads to me like just another day from my own journal.

So while my book club members wax eloquently on the importance of the gold scarf that was not discarded in one book, the abusiveness of the father in another, or the symbolism of the tail gate party in a third, I sip my beverage of choice with a smile upon my face that I hope is concealing the utter emptiness residing in the cavity behind it. Maybe I need to check for Cliffsnotes or published reviews before my next book club meeting, so I can participate with confidence (and a clue).

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Red Line

After submitting painstakingly prepared cover letters and resumes in response to 30 job postings within a couple months, there was finally an interview. In person. At an official office. It wasn't for a specific position, but with a placement agency for the potential of future contract jobs of varying duration. Work I'm not convinced I even want, but an income stream needed if I ever want to be a grownup again, with my own residence, bills and lifestyle.

Since selling my house and leaving a full-time marketing job in Tennessee to move back to the family home I lived in from age 10 to 23, I've wondered how long it would take to become bored with not working. At 2.5 months into it, boredom has not yet come to ring the doorbell, just the postal carrier and FedEx guy (eBay!) and a bedraggled young woman trying to “win points for a trip” by “meeting people” which turned out to be code for “selling magazines.”

Episodes of unemployment in Tennessee were periods of self-discovery (and de-evolution) as the woman who once vowed to never be seen outside the house without mascara, combed hair, and wearing an actual "outfit" began sprinting the driveway in pajamas to fetch the mail. I learned it was possible to plan, shop for, and prepare a decent dinner in 1.5 hours and power clean major areas of the house in about 15 minutes, leaving lots of time free for sulking and playing online word games with strangers in faraway places like the UK and India.

Having achieved something fantasized about for years -- time to write, do photography, make art, (and a husband to pay the bills) -- I had no idea how to proceed. Most days were occupied with thinking about all the things I *could* do, until it was too late to actually do any of them. Too many options led to total paralysis. The big discoveries were that I function better when expected to report to a workplace on a regular schedule, and that the busier I am, the more that gets done.

My small circle of Tennessee friends and acquaintances was comprised of people who had nice, grownup day jobs like journalist and museum worker, or retirees with spouses and a routine of joint daily activities. It eventually required Herculean effort to haul my own arse out of bed for the long, lonely days, and I’m pretty sure I nearly lost my mind during those poorly executed June Cleaver phases.

This time unemployment would be different. I'm older and wiser. Well, older anyway. And I didn’t plan on being unemployed for very long. I was scoping out apartments and job postings and applying for jobs in New England two months before I even left Tennessee -- a productive way to avoid the actual packing of the house. Daily emails with multiple job openings in marketing, writing, museum work and public relations, coupled with government propaganda proclaiming an improving economy were promising signs. By my initial calculations, it would take a couple weeks, maybe a month, to find a job, move into a great place of my own and dive headfirst back into whatever was left of the social scene I left a dozen years ago. This uncharacteristically optimistic (ridiculously naive?) view felt exciting. Refreshing, even. Nobody could accuse me of being “glass half empty.” Not this time.

Now that the dark cloud of reality has descended, it's more accurate to say that I'm an unemployed schmuck sitting around a different house in a different state. At least I have Mom for company and to inspire a level of self-regulation. To exhibit I'm a grownup, I don't lounge in PJs all day, like I would most assuredly do without a witness. There was a time when the idea of hanging out with my Mom all day, every day would have been more than either of us could bear (or survive). I'm referring, of course, to that period of my moody adolescence, when I knew absolutely everything and no matter what my Mom suggested, did, or didn't do, she was wrong in my eyes. I was a miserable bitch. There is no point denying it, as there are far too many witnesses. It’s different now. I’m a bit less cranky, and I see my Mom with mature, more respectful vision, greatly improved by a dozen years spent 1,200 miles away.

While in Tennessee and seeing friends with their families, I really came to miss, appreciate, and understand my Mom -- the woman who worked full-time and put herself through college while managing a difficult marriage and raising three kids. She transformed herself from low-wage retail clerk to well-paid accountant with a major computer company. Mary, the financial adviser we both utilized in the late 1990s, referred to her as "One of the funniest women I know." My Mom? Really? That was a major clue that Mom had a facet or two or ten with which I was unacquainted, and that I had probably sold her short for the past, oh, lifetime.

Mom is retired from the now defunct computer company, and I presently share her retiree life as I search for a new job (some days more diligently than others). We visit antique and consignment shops on a rotation loosely linked to grocery runs and dollar store visits and spread out to avoid entire days bereft of activity. There have been two trips to Maine -- first in April to look for a beach rental house for a vacation with my sister and nieces (yes, I’ll be taking a vacation from unemployment), and again on a gorgeous 80 degree day in Mid-May to deliver the rest of the payment, calculate the best walking path to the beach and note directions and landmarks. We lunched in the little beach town just beginning to awaken from winter. On the way home, we visited an outlet mall and an antique mall. I could really get used to this.

The day after the second beach visit, I was encamped at a Dunkin Donuts in Boston’s financial district, an hour early for the appointment with the placement agency. Like Mom, I'd rather be wicked early than risk being even a little late. Plus, I’d dreamed the night before that I kept changing outfits and engaging in delaying tactics until it was 30 minutes late for my appointment and I hadn't yet left the house. The disturbance of the dream launched me out of bed without hesitation, a solid two-and-a-half hours before my usual leisurely arising.

Pre-trip planning involved exploration of three options: the Fitchburg to Boston commuter rail ($25 round trip with inconvenient return times); the subway (one hour drive to Cambridge, then a 20 minute subway ride and five minute walk); or driving all the way into Boston (potential traffic nightmare and search for parking). Plan B won -- drive to Alewife Station, park for $7, ride the MBTA red line to South Station, then walk a few blocks. The return trip could include jumping off the red line at the Kendall/MIT stop to visit a nearby vintage/used clothing store.

The brief visit at the glamorous offices on the 20th floor with a view of the harbor hardly seemed worth the 1.5 hours of multi-modal travel. The purpose of the appointment seemed to be establishing my validity as a legally-employable worker by photocopying my driver's license and Social Security card. The agency representative said most of their writing and marketing placements are in Boston with practically none in Worcester or anywhere near my current (temporary) residence. It’s doubtful temp work will pay enough to relocate closer to Boston, so commuting may be a necessity, seeing as I didn't win the massive Powerball lottery drawing, and am too young to draw on my still insufficient retirement plan and too broke to swing it otherwise.

The visit to the vintage store included wandering lost around the MIT campus upon exiting the subway station and scrutinizing the throngs of skinny-jean clad men for lookalikes for Howard Walowitz on Big Bang Theory.  Some things are really more fun with a companion. After retrieving the car from the Alewife Station and exiting the garage, an unintentional and circuitous driving tour of MIT, Harvard University and Lesley College reminded me how much I prefer to be a passenger.

Now it’s back to plowing through dozens of daily job ads. Most are seeking someone with the skill set of three people from three different departments at my old job (graphic design plus account management plus production management? Really?). The highlight of each day is “Scrabble o’clock” when Mom and I start our daily round of games while multi-tasking the preparation of dinner and watching crime dramas and Judge Judy. Seriously, I can get used to this.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Self Contained

The house is under contract. The closing date is tentatively set. Ample notice and a departure date have been given at work and one of my bosses and I are disproportionately stressed about one or two projects. But basically, bit by bit, the details are being worked out. My mom and Butch are coming to help load up my stuff, and their travel dates are set. Their decision to drive instead of fly down helped resolve my debate of shipping container versus truck. Good thing.

On a vacation day scheduled to handle house repairs needed as a result of the inspection, I had time to sit and focus on the container/truck issue. I had already checked UHaul and PODS and spazzed out over the costs ($900 to $2500, depending). On this day, I found another company and got an estimate online.

After some trouble on the container company’s website when I tried to change their seemingly random assigned moving date, which was, unfortunately, a week later than I need the stuff gone from the house, I cast aside my long-standing neurotic issues with phones (another story for another day) and called them. Drew, my customer service rep, said there wasn’t much availability for February, which explains why the web page kept defaulting to March 5. We got things lined up. If I need to store the cube on the other end, it’s in Worcester, a town I have lived in twice and would be happy to live in again. The other container storage companies also had storage  -- but in towns I never heard of or in a neighboring state. I like to think my stuff is nearby, so I think the Worcester storage site sealed the deal for me with this company.

As promised by Drew, follow-up emails arrived within a few minutes. One email had checklists and the “Do Not Ship” list was quite helpful. Enlightening. Sure, I knew it wasn’t acceptable to ship/store my paint, gasoline, ammunition or fireworks arsenals, but I hadn’t really considered nail polish and nail polish remover. Anybody want 38 bottles of nail polish? Yes, 38. I counted. Well, maybe I can keep 10 or 12 in the stuff packed into the car. But seriously, at least half will have to find new homes.

The overall plan is to sell as much stuff as I can and have a super light move.  To have a clean start. To finally be free of secondhand clunky furniture and the need to find a living space based on the volume of my stuff. Heck, with the exception of four white leather dining chairs I bought new for the house in Tennessee, most of my stuff has been castoffs from family and friends, a couple yard sale finds, or the pressboard stuff that comes in a box and is assembled at home. My major new furniture purchases were in the last century for the house in Massachusetts (1986), and I walked away from most of that stuff in the divorce, telling myself it was a small price to pay to get out of there alive.

Worse than the secondhand stuff (or “Shabby Chic” as the trend was called 15 or 20 years ago when it was cool -- and still never a deliberate decor scheme on my part), some of my boxed stuff has enjoyed five or six moves and never seen the light of day. Time to go.

I still, however, have a couple issues with the “Do Not Ship” list, specifically, their category called Miscellaneous:
 - Antiques
 - Automobiles
 - Contraband
 - One of a kind artwork
 - Pets
 - Photos-photo albums

After I liberate myself from the replaceable furniture and stuff I am tired of looking at and schlepping around,  I’ll have a few antiques (mostly family furniture), a bunch of one of a kind artwork (most done by my Tennessee art friends), and my own gazillion photos /photo albums. Dang. Maybe I just need to get a tow hitch and drag my stuff behind me.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Sky Writing

Another Christmas trip home to New England is done. As always, it went by too quickly. As usual, I ran out of time and didn't get to see everyone. In keeping with tradition, approximately 6 days into the trip and a couple days before the flight back to Tennessee, I was visited by the annual stuffed up sinuses, scratchy throat and general feeling of unwellness to enhance the regularly scheduled depression at having to leave the family. It wouldn't be a major holiday family visit if it didn't end in me feeling like I'd been run over by a bus.

It seems the best thing I ever did to fully appreciate my family was to move 1,200 miles away from them. Maybe when I am 1,200 miles away from Clarksville I can finally appreciate that place, but it will probably be a delayed gratification thing, as it may take a few years for the excitement of leaving to wear off first.

It stinks to fly with congested sinuses, and moreso since Southwest stopped flying direct between New England and Nashville. Once upon a time, there were multiple daily nonstops on the schedule, but ever since the addition of Baltimore-Washington Airport to their schedule, there are no more nonstops to Nashville from either Manchester, New Hampshire or Providence, Rhode Island. The once two hour trip is now a four to seven hour event involving foot tours of multiple airports. The first leg of the flight introduces a mild ear discomfort which is topped with a bonus round of excrutiating ear pain and the challenge of suppressing the urge to scream and wail like an infant by jamming gum into my mouth and chewing it like my life depends on it while applying pressure to the outer opening my ear canal. Then, I spend the next couple days feeling like my ears are stuffed with cotton or I've just left a very loud concert. It might be my favorite part of traveling by air, narrowly edging out the joy of playing fortune teller as required to pack for as-yet-unknown weather conditions and activities.

Being New Year's Eve and dancing on the brink of sickness, there was a huge compulsion to go to bed early and attempt to heal, but that's what I did one year ago and resented it any time I thought about it for the rest of the year. Twenty years ago there would be no consideration given to missing a New Year's Eve celebration -- come hell, high water, the forced muteness of laryngitis or a raging case of tonsillitis, I would be dressed to the nines and out in the fray. I have a quieter life now. In my delusional moments I call it maturity, but it's probably more accurate to call it laziness.

Sleep was poor much of the week in New England, thanks to the seemingly never-ending sinus issues that prevented breathing. And the unfamiliar bed with no dogs. And the weird dreams. Some of the best sleep of the week happened each morning between 8:00 and 9:00 when I had intended to already be up, and on the flight from Baltimore-Washington International to Nashville International when I dozed off three or four times in six or seven minute increments, and awoke when I whacked my head on the cabin wall each time my head began to drop. I think it was starting to freak out the kid in the center seat, who had her mother sleeping in the aisle seat to her right and me smashing my head on the window like a psychiatric patient in the seat to her left.

The rest of the week's prime sleep came when I hit the couch after arriving home. In spite of the Doctor Who marathon on BBC America, the fatigue and feeling of crappiness, coupled with the coziness of the exhausted fur babies curled up beside me overpowered my supreme crush on David Tennant and I was sleeping, this time in 15 minute slots -- just long enough to miss key moments of each episode all afternoon long.

In a triumphant move, I managed to fight the urge to retreat to bed early and sick and stayed up all the way until midnight and the Central Time Zone airing of the Times Square ball drop. My friend Sharon came over and we watched the Doctor Who marathon, so I got to see all the parts I slept through during the afternoon airings as we chatted and drank Chocolate Rouge wine (her) and Bourbon Barrel Stout beer (me) from wine goblets and ate snacks and lamented wearing jeans instead of our comfy fleecy sweats. But it was New Year's Eve and we didn't want to feel like those lazy zombies who parade through WalMart in pajamas at all hours of the day and night.

On New Year's Day morning when I got up at the rosy hour of 8:15 (after a night of reasonably satisfying sleep) I saw the TV listing for the last episode of Downton Abbey Season 2 and immediately jumped to the potentially false assumption that the entire second season had aired overnight on PBS (and probably all day Monday). There was no way to verify this, as the TV listing only displays current and future time slots and shows. If only I had looked at ALL the listings yesterday instead of immediately shacking up with Doctor Who all day. And night. I mean, it's not like The Doctor even knows that he and I are dating.