Thursday, April 28, 2011

Verdancy and Verve

On my last day at my worst job ever, my boss said something to me that I cannot forget. I was alone in the first floor kitchen of the elder women's bridge club, brewing pots of coffee for the early morning card players, oil painters, and other ladies of leisure who frequented this members-only establishment. Richard* wandered in and was surprised to see me doing someone else's task. "Isn't Sherry supposed to be setting up the coffee cart?" She, my psychobitch tormentor, had decided to get one last dig at me by showing up for her shift two hours late. But I'd stopped caring weeks ago, and was just as happy to work without her. "Oh, she's running a little late today."

Richard considered this for a moment, then launched into a description of that morning's hellish commute. This included an unnecessary racial description of the guy who cut him off on the freeway. I responded with the requisite number of "hmm"s as I silently counted the hours to my final release.

He was quiet for a moment as I arranged linens and cups. "Well, Tara, I'm really sorry that this wasn't the sort of work that felt right for you. I think you've done a great job." Though he'd been my boss for just five weeks (he replaced the woman who hired me), we'd hit it off pretty well. Being a barrel-chested, crew cut-sporting Marine, he was such an oddball for the position that I couldn't help enjoying his presence in this labyrinth of chintz and china. More importantly, he liked to tell corny puns and I liked to laugh. All other workplace problems aside, I don't know how long I could have played "dodge the racist commentary", but our brief stint together was amicable. I was grateful for his praise.

But it was what he said next that struck me. "You've got a lot of energy and you'd do well at just about anything. I'd be happy to give you a recommendation any time. You just let me know."

"A lot of energy." It stuck out because I'd never thought of myself that way before. But he was right. I must have had a lot of energy to work long days on my feet and keep my sense of humor, especially in a place where I felt like most of my colleagues hated me.

Overall, work has been a far better experience since those days at the bridge club. My priorities are different. I'd rather have an hourly wage job than be miserable making a salary. I look for good bosses and minimal drama. I have to be excited about whatever it is that I'm "selling", whether it's great food or a fun experience. But mostly, I have to be doing something that feeds off of and replenishes my precious energy. Draining is not allowed! After all, I don't want to end up like this again ~

My cousin J recently posted this on Facebook. Despite its hideousness, I love it as a historic document. The clenched hands and that grey and miserable expression say so much about my twenty-year-old self. I don't know if I looked that way all the time (I hope not!) but I don't think anyone would have described me as energetic back then.

Many issues burdened me at that time, and work was the least of those. But when you don't feel good about yourself, it's easy to get into exhausting and unpleasant situations in the company of exhausting and unpleasant people. I have more self-respect these days, which means that I'm more self-preserving. The unexpected bonus is that - surprise! - I do have a great deal of energy.

Fast forward to my first trimester of pregnancy... I admit that I'm a complete and utter baby when it comes to nausea. I know no one likes feeling queasy, but I'm pretty bad at just dealing with it. I also love to eat, so disliking food was a heartbreaker, too. But the fatigue was the most frustrating part of it. Doing my grocery store demo job (which requires standing in one spot for hours, and handling food) was just awful, so I quit.

The bummer was that I liked my job and I was good at it. My boss said he might have shifts for me later, when I was feeling better. But in the midst of that funk it was really hard to imagine myself wanting to go back to that sort of work. Everyone told me that the second trimester is usually much better, but I'd never experienced these things before. Would I be one of those women who feels like shit all the way through the pregnancy?

Fast forward to a few weeks ago... Our tax return bump was petering out. We needed more money. But I was feeling restless, too. Since age 16, I've never been out of work for more than a couple months at a time. Even the idea of being a stay-at-home mom (pure fantasy) wasn't appealing to me anymore. With a baby due in October, I wondered if someone would hire me. I scoured the local job postings, looking for anything that might fit my abilities. But I knew that excitement factor was key. I need to be interested in the business that's hiring and I'm just not interested in dentists' offices or real estate companies. As far as my enthusiasm and skills were concerned, the grocery store was definitely the best game in town. Might they take me back? It was worth a shot.

I sent my old boss a gracious email, explaining that my second trimester had nearly arrived, I was feeling much better and I would be happy to work any shift that might be available. To my enormous satisfaction, he quickly responded that he'd never found a suitable replacement for me and that I was welcome to return.

The only thing more surprising than the enthusiastic homecoming I received from my old coworkers (so many people I hardly were thrilled to see me) was how much I loved standing in one spot, cooking cod fillets and chatting with customers for hours at a time. Now that I've regained my energy, I realize that it needs a structured outlet. I know I have an unusual attitude about the job market; for being pretty clever, I'm not terribly ambitious. But the fact is, I like working and once I'm there, I work hard. Staying at home with a kid is one thing, and I have no idea how much I'll want that until the kid is here. But staying at home with no kid is frankly depressing. I simply don't have enough projects or hobbies to consume this verve.

On my first day off after returning to work, we met our friends J and L in Sewanee, a gorgeous little college town about 45 minutes west of here. The four of us hiked a rocky trail full of waterfalls, skipping stones, lacy foliage and occasional views of a stunning, pastoral valley. I was pleased not only with my renewed vigor, but that all these months of working out had clearly improved my balance. My footing was sure, even as I climbed a giant rock toward the end of the trail. I asked J to take a picture and I laughed maniacally for comic effect. But it turned out looking exactly how I feel these days ~

The third trimester will make July and August quite challenging, but I feel awfully lucky to experience the second one in the Spring.

*As always, all names are changed (in the case of weirdos) or abbreviated (in the case of friends).

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

"I'm just a soul whose intentions are good"

I've lately learned something about myself. My biggest hangup is being misunderstood. I want to get over this gripe. I can't always control how I'm perceived by others, especially in a world where face-to-face and even voice-to-voice interactions are being superseded by electronic communication; without facial expression or vocal inflection, dialog is potentially rife with misinterpretation. I'm learning to work around this obstacle, but I also just need to accept it.

Still, I'm stubborn and I like writing, so I've decided to address what I consider to be some common misconceptions about moi. It's a fun exercise, and I may as well put it on the blog as no other venue is better suited to this sort of self-indulgence. I turn 34 tomorrow, so this is my birthday gift to me - one last chance to explain myself before I surrender to the power of an occasional yet inevitable false impression.

Vegetarian? No, but I love vegetables and fruit. All told, I prefer these to meat. If, for some reason, I had to choose between a diet that included lots of avocados but no pork or lots of pork and no avocados, I would definitely go with my guac-making friend. I adore sausage, but I love avocados even more. Fortunately, I don't have to make these dumb decisions so I get to eat what I want. Also, I enjoy meat substitutes like tofu and black bean burgers, but I am apt to cook the former with lard and order the latter with bacon when I go out to eat. Speaking of which, I tend to order vegetarian menu items when I eat out, unless the restaurant makes a point of telling me how groovy/sustainable/safe their meat sources are (though I often make exceptions for bacon, because I am weak). I have been on an almost entirely vegetarian diet during my first trimester but now that I'm in the second, I find meat more appealing. I even enjoyed beef the other day... until I had to go to the bathroom. Yeah, I tend to avoid beef for that very reason.

Democrat? Nah. I sometimes vote for Democrats because Republicans do have a way of taking a terrible situation and making it way worse, but truly these two parties are not so different. So I often throw a bone to the Green Party or the Socialist candidate in my vain attempt to foster the emergence of a viable third party. I certainly don't see myself ever campaigning for a Democrat, or any political candidate for that matter. All who seek office are to be distrusted.

But as that great cynic H.L. Mencken noted in his essay, The Politician, "After damning politicians up hill and down dale for many years, as rogues and vagabonds, frauds and scoundrels, I sometimes suspect that, like everyone else, I often expect too much of them." I made this mistake with Obama. I was genuinely excited to vote for the first black president and I still recall that moment with my ballot quite fondly. I didn't expect much from him, but I took his promise to close the Guantanamo Bay detention facility at face value. I now realize that was naive. In fact, he signed an executive order last month that reestablishes the indefinite detention of Gitmo prisoners, many of whom are being held without charges. This check against my unreasonable expectation is a valuable lesson. If I vote for him again, it will only be from fear of a worse Republican beating him. I no longer harbor any foolish "hope for change".

Certainly, I hold many values that are associated with Democrats. I think taxes are generally good and that rich people and corporations ought to pay more of them. I believe in government assisting poor people, kids and the elderly. I'm probably more disgusted by our foreign policy than your average Democrat but I don't worry so much about gun control. I think I should be allowed to get an abortion at any point during a pregnancy, for any reason. And if I ever find myself being forced to watch a sonogram when I want to terminate, I will bring popcorn and 3D glasses.

Mystic? I don't believe in god. If you know me even a little that should be no surprise. But theism isn't the only sort of mysticism out there. Though I've shed most of my Catholic inclinations, I find it's harder to rid myself of other superstitions. Mainly I'm talking about astrology. I learned a great deal about this when I was in my late teens. As far as western astrology goes*, I know the order of the signs, the start and end dates of each one, the associated element, and what each one signifies. I know a bit about eastern astrology, too. This belief in planetary alignment affecting personality doesn't jibe with my sense of reason, yet I fall back on it all the time. When I hear of a new couple getting together, one of my immediate thoughts is, "When are their birthdays?"

Honestly, astrology is a lot of fun, but it's also dangerous because it leads one to recognize patterns that aren't real, like "I always have problems with Pisces men." So when you find out that some dude you work with is a Pisces, that inevitably colors the way you see that person and how you interact with them, which is limiting. Any mystic belief system that cripples your sense of agency is worth questioning, and probably worth abandoning.

I'm facing a significant challenge to my latent astrological superstitions. My baby's due date is the same day as an ex-friend's birthday. This former friend had a toxic personality. I haven't seen her in fourteen years. I hope she's changed, though I doubt it. But that doesn't matter. The point is that I associate that date with her nutty behavior from a long time ago, and that just doesn't make any sense. So coincidence has provided me an excellent opportunity to get over this silly correlation once and for all, and I think that's good for me.

I admit, I still like tarot cards. I don't see it as a tool for prognostication. Rather, I think that symbols are a fun and useful way to tell stories about our lives, so we can make sense of ourselves; that's what dreams are, right? I don't do readings for other people (someone asked me to do one recently and it just felt useless), but I sometimes do readings for myself. It can be a good way to kickstart some healthy reflection.

Gleek? I admit that Glee is mostly a pretty bad show, though I still consider myself a fan. Salon's Matt Zoller Seitz wrote an interesting article that included this Yes!-worthy subheading - "The hit show's second season has been a chaotic, illogical, embarrassing mess. It's time for an intervention."

Yet while Zoller Seitz and I have a similar proportion of disdain and praise for Glee, our feelings about the specifics are quite different. Like many critics, he lauded the Grilled Cheesus episode ("an earnest, Afterschool Special-style contemplation of faith that improbably turned out to be one of the series' boldest, silliest, maybe finest hours"), which I absolutely hated - props for making Kurt an atheist, but it was downright infuriating that he had to learn a lesson about open-mindedness after being justifiably incensed at the sight of his pals holding a surprise prayer vigil beside his comatose father's bed. Needless to say, the story was emotionally overwrought. I don't mind Glee getting occasionally deep (Kurt coming out to his father was one of my favorite Season 1 moments), but I don't like when the drama is manufactured only for the sake of tackling a Serious Issue (unlike Kurt's outing, which was consistent with his character's development).

On the other hand, Zoller Seitz resents Season 2's removal of Kurt to the all-male Dalton Academy (a.k.a. Gay Hogwarts - I don't need to read Harry Potter to know that fan nickname is hilarious), saying that this "has been an unnecessary and mostly unenlightening detour." Wha-what? Gay Hogwarts' Warblers have provided some of this season's best performances, including "Silly Love Songs" and a version of "Teenage Dream" that is arguably the best of the series (not to mention that it got me to like Katy Perry).

My point isn't to nitpick a critic's appraisal of Glee. Rather, I think this disagreement highlights Glee's greatest flaw - its willful inconsistency. The show tries to be all things to all fans and in doing so, it succeeds about 10% of the time for everyone. But that 10% is golden! I simply can't resist a show about the redemptive power of performing arts. And truly, every episode has at least one joke that makes me laugh out loud. I wish that the musical numbers were as reliable as the humor, but when they score as they did with "Teenage Dream" I find myself immersed in repeat Youtube viewings. That's why I keep watching.

* I'm talking about the original twelve signs, not this facacta thirteen sign system that's got everyone freaking out