06 June 2012

Motivations for a Doctorate

People have asked me and I have asked others undertaking the road toward a doctorate: “What motivated you to do this?”

It’s a legitimate question. A doctorate is a gauntlet that you enter naively, regret while pursuing it, and with any luck at all, will think was worth it when you emerge from the other side. I can’t know yet whether that last part will be true, but I do hold out hope that I haven’t wasted my time.

But when asked directly about my motivations, I’ve always been tempted to give glib answers. I wanted to learn more. I wanted a better job. Yadda, yadda, yadda. But my motivations were real. I didn’t really enter this lightly. I was already out in the working world and could have remained there and made a decent living, probably a better living than I will end up with following all this education. Consider that I was making more money at my job that ended in 2000 than I made in my first year of teaching in 2012. I had better job security. I had lifestyle stability. I could have had a job for life. I gave it up.


The reasons are many and I’m going to try to give you a picture of what drove me back to graduate school.

My job was unsatisfying. Don’t get me wrong. I was good at my job. It was interesting and I was well paid. I was a writer and an editor for a variety of science organizations. I interviewed a lot of people about their work, about their specific knowledge, and then I interpreted that to the broader public. They had knowledge and skills. I had knowledge and skills. But, with each passing year it seemed to me that the work they did was real, and that somehow I was simply an observer on this train called life. Those I interviewed were saving species and traveling to spectacular locations, and making a difference in the world, and when they got back from their Indiana Jones lives I interviewed them and went back to my 1970s paneled office and wrote about their adventures. They were having all the fun. No one was ever going to pay me to go to Hawaii and study plants that grow on the slopes of volcanoes, or to South America to search for trees containing anti-cancer properties. I wanted adventure. I wanted to be more than a groupie for scientists.

I got a divorce. I married a lunatic and while we were divorcing he threatened me, harassed me, and generally made my life miserable. I knew if I stayed where I was, I’d never get any peace. I was unhappy and needed a clean break from the past. Starting a new career in a town where he couldn’t find me seemed like a great way to put it all behind me.

Which brings me to the next point.

I wanted to reinvent myself. When I left my job and got my divorce, I was unhappy. No. Not just unhappy. I was depressed. I had gained substantial weight during my marriage and I felt and looked awful. In that state, I simply could not tackle my physical issues, but I could begin to change my state of mind. In one defining moment, I decided to take control of my life. I decided that I was going to live my life for me. Not for my parents. Not for a husband. Not for my friends. Not to meet society’s expectations. For me. I found my passion and I went for it.

I wanted more control in my work life. One of the most attractive things I envisioned in an academic career was the elimination of shame and humiliation in the workplace. People make mistakes. I made mistakes. But there were times in my career when a boss would call me on the carpet. It wasn’t enough to point out my mistake and to ask me to work more carefully or to suggest methods of improvement. No. I was treated like a child. I was shamed and humiliated, sometimes in vast disproportion to the magnitude of the mistake. And I felt badly. I was shamed. I was humiliated. I was also distracted, unfocused, and unproductive. All the time spent feeling shame and humiliation, I was not being getting work done. So what place do shame and humiliation have in the workplace? I was not working with gross indifference to my performance. I was motivated to do a good job without shame and humiliation. People make mistakes. They make mistakes when they are stressed or hurried or overworked or tired. Compounding my dissatisfaction, I was expected to take responsibility for mistakes that weren’t my own. Not even mistakes made by my staff. Mistakes over which I had no input or control. As though I had a cloud of influence that radiated perfection in every direction. I had no respect for the bosses laying the guilt trips. I do not believe that shame and humiliation have any place in the workplace. In fact, I don’t believe they have any place in our lives. I wanted a job where very few people had the right to comment on my behavior. I wanted to be at the top of the heap. I wanted that feeling to be expelled from my life forever. Academia was the one place I thought it possible to reduce or eliminate the shame and humiliation from above.

I found the subject interesting. When I returned to school, I found the more I learned about plants, the more I wanted to learn. I found I had an aptitude for this work. I found that I truly enjoyed it. I found that I liked being around others who enjoyed it. I thought it was a supportive, interesting, mentally stimulating career choice. For the most part, it has been.

As Paul Harvey used to say, “And now, for the rest of the story….”

Hindsight is 20/20 and with that I will now detail why I think academia may have been the wrong choice. Granted, my experiences are limited to my work as a graduate student under the mentoring of an academic, but I have seen a little of the inside as well when I was a Visiting Asst. Professor for a time.

The Scrabble Paradox. I’m not good at Scrabble. I have an extraordinarily large vocabulary, but it seems that people—regardless of their education, level of proficiency in the English language, or age—are able to thump me unceremoniously. I draw all vowels. I draw all consonants. Someone uses the space I had earmarked for an 8-letter word worth 4000 points. I lose and lose often. Luckily, my livelihood and my self worth are not tied to my Scrabble performance. Not so much with academia. My area of specialization is not in favor with funding agencies at the moment and, if I am honest with myself, is unlikely to be popular during the totality of my career. It’s considered marginal work at best. I find it extraordinarily fascinating and it has great potential to benefit the human condition, but pollination and reproductive biology isn’t sexy. And funding is the name of the game in academia. Promotions, tenure, bragging rights, stature…everything depends on your ability to attract research dollars and the bigger the payoff, the bigger the professional rewards. I don’t enjoy a game I can never win. My choices are to pursue research that doesn’t interest me but is fundable or to languish at the bottom of the food chain.

The profession creates assholes. University professors have an obligation to train the next generation of scientists. Training generally entails learn-on-your-own, on-the-job training with students doing the grunt work of their advisor’s research. Students are regularly abused from a legal standpoint. In return for this dedication to their advisor’s research, do they receive quality training and mentoring? Oh, hell no! I once pointed out to a professor that a student needed a particular class to qualify for the career he desired. The professor emphatically stated that the class in question did not support the student’s research project and would not result in publishable papers, so why should the professor support the student’s taking an unrelated class? As though the student’s career needs are solely defined by the parameters of a single research project! When I pointed out that the student was here to get training for his career, the professor seemed unfazed. I can only hope the professor advised the student to take the course.

Undergraduates are like face-eating zombies. More specifically, it’s those pre-med students who nickel and dime you for every point, eat up your time with their incessant need to discuss their grade. Most of these students are doing exceedingly well. Their problem is they are unable to accept anything less than perfection in themselves and they will gladly impose that impossible standard on you. They will gripe and complain about assignments, tests, grading, lectures, labs, and anything else that diverts attention away from them. Don’t’ get me wrong. I am willing to offer advice, help, assistance, and additional time so that a student can get up to speed, improve study habits, or learn something they don’t understand. However, I can’t fix a problem that doesn’t exist. I can advise students who don’t test well, don’t study, don’t want to come to class, wants something for nothing, or simply wishes to blame me for their poor performance. I will work with the folks trying. I can’t abide the folks complaining because their success isn’t successful enough. It’s a constant battle to keep the zombies from eating you alive.

The profession is your life. I hope you are already married and have a tolerant spouse. You’ll work long hours. Mostly alone. You have an impossible workload. You will submit subpar work because of outrageous deadlines. You will feel frazzled. You won’t have friends outside of work. You will panic a lot. No one can help you. They are feeling the same pressure. You better love it. This is your life.

Collegiality is absent. There. I said it. I don’t think academics are particularly friendly. There is no love lost between the old timers and the newbies. You are lucky to find one colleague you can tolerate and work on making that person your best friend for life. Good luck.

Overall, it would be a great profession if I could be excused from bringing in my own research dollars. If I could just go out and do research on the cheap (luckily, my research can be done cheaply). Because grant writing is a bitch and I’ve not been very successful.

29 January 2012

Who am I and where did I come from?

In my last post, Liv brought up an interesting point.

I think stepping outside of the box you grew up in has to be one of the toughest but most rewarding things that a person can do--it takes a bit of courage most of us don't even possess... and a way of thinking that feels unnatural.

I don't know who you were when you first lived in Kentucky, but you've made me curious to know which 'roots' you've hung on to... The person you have chosen to become has to have in some way emerged from the person you were, no? Your lust for adventure and experience... is that from your dad? Your upbringing? Your community? What about your intuition for how to make food taste good? Your sense of humor? My vote for your next post: You suggest that who you are now is a result of rejecting all that you were then... But my gut tells me that if I met you 25 years ago, there would be elements of the same Liz that I see now... What HASN'T changed (other than your wonderful accent)? That's my question.

I do suggest that I rejected everything from my past and have carved out this new and improved D from a fresh block of marble. We all know that ain't exactly so. So I'll attempt some context if only to make Liv happy. But I want you to understand, Liv. You haven't asked an easy, short-blog-post question.

In my family, I am most like my oldest brother. The one in jail. My mother, a trained therapist today, has labeled my brother and I narcissists. The way she hisses it, there is no doubt that I should somehow be ashamed of myself. With all the people I know who are crippled by a lack of self-esteem, I'll take narcissism over self-doubt any day. According to my mother, the difference between my brother and myself today is that I am "just" a narcissist, but my brother has narcissistic personality disorder. I have to disagree. I don't believe my brother has fragile self-esteem. It doesn't matter what label you put on it, it was obvious very early that as as opinionated, vocal children and teenagers, our personalities weren't highly valued.

My brother is actually quite entertaining. He is a master storyteller. He can captivate your attention for hours. I think he would have made a compelling actor. Or comedian. He does great impressions of famous people. I can't tell a story to save my life, but I like to discuss ideas. I like to bounce around alternative explanations. I like to explore concepts, turn them over, see what's buried in the dirt beneath them. But to this day, if either my brother or I try to discuss something among our family we are regularly chastised for "getting on our soapboxes", which was simply a polite way of wishing we'd shut up. It didn't matter (and still doesn't) that I did my homework before I spoke, that I wasn't reciting opinion, but rather basing my discussion on an educated perspective. According to my sister, my sole objective was to be "right". It became obvious to me that I was talking to the wrong people.

So part of who I am and who my brother is arises from the unstoppable overlay of our rather strong personalities--a personality type not inherited from either of our parents.

My father was practical. Reserved. Methodical. Calculating. Thoughtful. He did nothing spontaneously. We didn't go on vacations because we were saving for college educations. We didn't get new shoes until the old ones had holes in them. We didn't get fashionable clothing. His favorite store was K Mart. I don't recall going out to dinner with my family unless we were traveling and mealtime came when we were on the road. I don't recall eating at McDonald's until I was in junior high school. My father's mark on our family was restraint. He thought yellow mustard was an exotic spice. I probably needed restraint more than most. So I credit my father with the lack of interest I take in fashion and the trappings of status. I place no value on designer names. I shop at Goodwill. I buy generic. To me a car is a tool that gets me from point A to point B and a home is place where I hang my hat at night. The one thing my father did value was his home. He valued it even more so than I do.

My mother was a stay-at-home mom. She cooked all our meals, did our laundry, kept the house in reasonable shape. She stayed out of way for the most part. My mother was, and remains, a terrible cook. She makes, no kidding, the same 4 dishes every week. The spices in her cabinet have been there more than 20 years. The vanilla extract has solids on the bottom of the jar. You can't get the lid off the cinnamon. I didn't grow up in a household that valued flavor. So to answer that question, Liv, I learned to cook when I first moved to Chicago and began to sample the world's cuisines. I instantly fell in love. With everything. And I wanted it more than just when my pocketbook would allow an evening out. I cannot credit anyone in my family for my love of culinary adventure.

But other hints of me were present in my childhood. When I was growing up, I saw myself bigger than the dreams my parents laid out for me. I was going to be an Olympic swimmer. A famous author. An actor on television. I was going to be BIG. I don't think that anymore. I do think that teaching gives me an outlet that is useful for my personality. I like talking about ideas. I am something of a performer. I suppose in my classroom, I'm big. I think a lot of people might be uncomfortable admitting that they want to be the center of attention. I'm not really. Why hide the obvious? If I told you I was a humble, reluctant teacher and that I didn't like being the center of attention, no one who knows me would believe me anyway. I believe it is simply good sense to use one's strengths to their best advantage. Teaching allows me to make good use of the strengths of a "narcissist" personality.

The town I grew up in was tired. It was grey. The streets were dirty with soot that fell from the stacks of the coke plant. Never once in the dreams of my childhood did I think of staying in that town and settling down. I wanted to live in the wilderness of Colorado, somewhere so far out they had to air drop in toilet paper. I wanted to live off my wits. I wanted adventure. I wanted to learn to surf. I wanted to ride dune buggies in big sand. I wanted to go to Europe and see the Eiffel Tower. I wanted do things that no one could possibly do in eastern Kentucky. I didn't want to live a small life. I wanted out and the sooner the better.

I'm honestly not sure what my parents thought of my dreams. They listened politely. They didn't discourage me. They didn't encourage me either. They would say generic things like, "You can be anything you want to be" but they never seemed to tell me that I had to plan to do those things. I think they assumed I'd quit dreaming one day and face reality. Maybe they didn't know what to say.

I had great parents. Don't get me wrong. My father made me proud. My mother worked hard to make us good people. But I simply think they didn't know how to deal with someone like me (and maybe my brother, too) who were so different from themselves. I didn't bother to ask to do most things I really, really wanted to do because I knew the answer was no. No, I wouldn't be allowed to get a mini-bike. I wouldn't be allowed to order sea monkeys from the back of the comic book. I wouldn't be encouraged to try out for cheerleader. Just because.

I was actually amazed when I was allowed to join the swim team. And it was my mother who encouraged that. Maybe she knew I needed a way to channel my energy. Maybe she was just too tired to say no. But I became a swimmer and from the fourth grade into high school, swimming was my life. My adventure was planning for how I was going to win Olympic medals. I read books about Donna de Varona. I watched Mark Spitz and dreamed. Oh, how I dreamed.

I credit swimming for teaching me loads that I've brought with me to adulthood. In swimming I learned self-discipline. I learned to entertain myself. I learned the value of hard work. I learned how to win humbly and lose with grace. I learned to push myself. I learned to accept my limits. I credit my parents for schlepping me to meets in towns two hours away on weekends when I'm sure they'd rather be relaxing. For laying out the money on suits and goggles and warmups so I could pursue all this. I credit them for not being too involved. They stayed out of my way. They didn't micromanage. They were just as supportive as I needed them to be and that was honestly very little.

I once asked my mother why they doted so on my sister. I asked her why I never seemed to elicit that sense of concern in them. My mother told me frankly, "You never seemed to need any help." My parents largely left me alone.

To this day, it is difficult for me to look at who I am and say I got this from my dad and that from my mom. As adverse as my parents were to risk taking, I do thank them for guiding me into activities that worked well for me. Were a good fit. Taught me life lessons. I thank them for not belittling my dreams. I think I am a better, more practical, more charitable person because of the role models they were.

The adventurer in my family was my great-grandfather and that I will save for another post.

28 January 2012

On Not Getting the Job (aka On Why I Can't Go Home Again)

For the past 7 months, I've been living with my sister in Kentucky. I got a nice professional position at a local university about two hours from the town where I grew up. I am closer to my family. I should be happy, right?

Wrong. I'm miserable.

Well, maybe that's overstating it. I'm not miserable. I'm uncomfortable. I'm uneasy here. And the reason for this generalized ajada? I feel oppressed. I feel this intense pressure that I haven't felt since I was 17 and bursting at the seams to get the hell out.

I had reservations about accepting this job. Not because of the job itself. It represented a great opportunity for me. It has been a great opportunity for me. I had reservations about moving back to Kentucky. Who are we kidding? For years now, I've had reservations about visiting Kentucky.

Forget for the moment that I moved in with my sister with whom I have an uneasy relationship. Despite our major differences, we have managed fairly well living together.

So what really is the problem? People know me here. People who haven't seen me in 30 years. People who remember me only from how I was in high school. People, most often, who never moved away. People who haven't had the same breadth of life experiences that I have. People who never lived outside the box they were born into. They haven't tried new things. They settled into predictable patterns. They found no need to explore themselves, to examine their beliefs, or to even just try something new for the sheer enjoyment of it. When I look at some of those lives, I think how grossly inappropriate it would have been for me to have settled for that.

If there is a truth in my life it is this: I was not meant for the ordinary.

And because I didn't settle and I braved the world outside Kentucky, I have grown into the adult I am today. And I'm not a damn thing like I was back in high school. I can't even remember who that girl was. The most unfortunate part about it is this. Even if you managed to break free, the vision that your family and friends had of you remains intact. They still have these expectations. They still think they maintain this power to shape me. They think, quite honestly, that by trying to shame me, I'll behave in a manner they find acceptable. It seems harsh to say that, but that is how families work. At least, that is how my family works. My family wasn't there to see me grow and they refuse to acknowledge my growth. They are stuck with this vision of someone who doesn't exist.

I'm not going to argue this point, really, because while some might disagree, what I have just described is a truth in my life. Your's may be different. But my family exerted a lot of pressure to conform to their ideals, and those ideals were involved avoiding risk in any aspect of life. Whether it was socially speaking, financially speaking. Hell, as a family, we didn't even try new recipes. My family taught me strict adherence to community standards. In a word, that environment was oppressive. It was perhaps even more oppressive than high school, where the pressure to conform is intense.

So my family continues to attempt to apply guilt, shame, and overt pressure to force me to be someone I'm not. Do they do it maliciously? Of course not. But they do it. To the rest of the world in my home town, I'm still that high school person. They liked that person. They want that person back. I have lived in distant contact with those friends and my family for 30 years. We talk on the phone. We've seen each other 2-3 times a year. At holidays. On the occasional trip home. But for the most part, my adult life has been lived independent of my early influences and their influence waned long ago.

I think one of the reasons that being young is so hard is that we are awakening to the possibilities that life offers, but living in a situation where other people have more power over what we are, what we do, what ideas we feel comfortable expressing, what things we see, who we are exposed to than we do ourselves. When like to say that the young are discovering themselves, but they are doing so cloaked in the morality of their families. What kid hasn't heard that standard parental phrase, "Not while you're living under my roof"? Who we become is shaped, to a large extent, by the expectations of our families. If we remain in close contact with our families, that vision of who we are becomes ingrained. And that was true for me, right up until the moment that my ex-husband tried to kill me.

All bets were off after that. I decided that every day was a gift, and I was living for me and no one else.

I celebrate the day of my divorce each year. I call it my Independence Day. It was a day that changed my life forever.

I think I am extraordinarily lucky then to have moved away from my family early. I think had I not moved away early, I might have sought my refuge in them. I might have found comfort in becoming that person they expected. Thankfully, I didn't. Instead, I questioned everything that my life had become. I asked myself whether or not it fit my vision of myself. Did it fit the way I wanted to live my life?

Those were questions that were extraordinarily foreign to me at the time, and I became drunk with the possibilities. If I was really free, then the whole world was open to me. Since I was 39 years old, I began to put my own mark on my life.

And I will not look back. I will not allow others to influence who I am and who I want to become.

If Kentucky makes me uneasy, I will not live in Kentucky.

They will not offer me a permanent position here. They may have done me one of the greatest favors of my life.

29 December 2011


I've had a lot of thoughts lately about things I want to discuss here, but finding the time to put those thoughts into words has been a real problem for me over the past six months.

Today, I read two interesting articles on memory (specifically forgetting) and obsessive-compulsive disorder. The first article discussed willful forgetting and the second discussed compulsive behaviors. Related, but not directly and interesting to me because they applied to me equally.

My experience with OCD revolves around compulsions, not obsessions. Once, I was dumped by a boyfriend. I know. But I didn't see it coming. At all. It took my legs right out from under me. And in response to this, he and I began an exchange of emails. It may seem silly, but I couldn't make myself stop re-read those emails. It was borne out of stress and, according to my therapist, the re-reading was somehow calming to me. Perhaps I was looking for clues. Perhaps I was hoping the words on the screen would change to something I wanted. I suppose I was calmed or maybe I was just distracted from the pain, but that sense of calm was erased by the anxiety I developed over not being able to make myself stop. I spent hours at a time reading the emails. Four hours. Five hours. Six hours. I had to make myself get up and go to school. I had to make deals with myself that I would let myself do this for X amount of time, but that I would NOT allow it to cause me to miss school or work. After a while, the anxiety over the email time became a bigger issue to me than the boyfriend.

I only had extreme anxiety one other time in my life and that was during my divorce. My now ex as determined to crush me. It worked. I wanted nothing more in life than to erase that man from my life. To this day, I never want to lay eyes on him again. I have never hated anyone in my life so thoroughly, for so long, or with such venom as I do my ex-husband. If I saw him on the street today, I'd wish inside that something would hurt him.

And for those of you who know me, that isn't me at all. My divorce wasn't a normal kind of stressful. I feared for my life and that kind of fear, when dealing with a paranoid, impulsive ex is a kind of constant fear that doesn't go away. I was afraid to stay in my home. I feared that he'd show up at work and try to hurt me or my coworkers. He was a monster. He was purposefully driving my anxiety over the cliff. It wasn't fair. It wasn't nice. It was extreme. It was, in a word, my own personal holocaust. It ended three months after the divorce when my brother pulled out a shotgun, ordered my ex off his property, and the man finally drove away.

I don't remember what I did at that time. I do remember not wanting to go home and driving for hours until I couldn't keep my eyes open any longer and then I'd fall into bed. Those behaviors were not, of themselves, problematic. Driving a car around or reading emails harms no one, not even me. But, the time that I had to devote to these useless activities was problematic. Life is all about how you choose to spend your time and I didn't envision my precious down time being devoted to reading emails that conveyed no new information and conjured up bad memories or driving in circles on the highway. It was obvious that these were counter-productive stress relievers. For the first time in my life, I almost wished I was my sister.

My sister suffers from OCD regularly. If her compulsions are borne of stress, then she is under constant stress. As far as I can tell, most of it is self-induced. To her credit, she is a tireless worker. She shares our family trait of not enjoying being idle. She cares about her family and does everything for them. But she also worries a great deal about what other people think, about other people's behavior, and she has an extraordinarily strong moral compass. She always believes that her way is right. She is, quite simply, vastly judgemental of herself and others. She cannot seem to let things go. So when, for example, my mother was dating two men at the same time, my sister was beside herself with disgust and could barely contain her anger in any interaction with my mom. My mother said sister was practically spitting on the phone when they spoke. In response to this steady stream of stress, my sister cleans. It's like it's her hobby. She looks forward to it. It calms her.

That's the thing about compulsions. You feel almost powerless to stop. But the difference between me and my sister, relative to our compulsions of course, is that I saw them as disruptive and she sees them as productive. Now from my perspective, a house can only be so clean and only needs to be be so clean. For my sister, it is never clean enough. She will worry and fret and lament about the shape of her house on days when I wished my house looked that nice. And I know where that feeling comes from. There is this electrical impulse in your gut that makes you feel the need. It is different than an addiction. I was addicted to cigarettes and that impulse to smoke came entirely from the brain. But this compulsion literally makes your stomach knot. And it can only be relieved by giving in. But here's the thing. The relief is marginal. It doesn't go away; it is just held at bay. Because the minute you stop, there is that tingly little knot again. You must keep at it. It makes you keep washing clean hands. Or straightening something that no one has moved. Or wiping down clean counters.

In college, my sister was anorexic. She compulsively exercised, too. You cannot tell me all these things are not related. My sister needs therapy, but she'd never admit it. She needs a more productive way to relieve her stress. She needs to exercise. But to my sister, with her absolute moral compass, to admit a need for help would be as foreign as taking a mud bath. As she has told us time and again, she's been like this her whole life, and just wants to be left alone.

So what does this have to do with forgetting? For me, it has everything to do with it. It was only when the pain of the breakup subsided that I was able to walk away from the emails. It was only after deep reflection on my ex's behavior that I have been able to come to terms with that stress he brought. And since then, I've had no recurrence. So mine was a coping mechanism borne out of high-stress traumatic events (let's say). But my sister. Poor thing. Her's is a coping mechanism borne out of daily stress. Out of the slightest difficulty. Out of this self-imposed rigor. This article indicates that we can willfully forget. Through practice.

I have often maintained that we must protect our mental health and work at keeping our emotional lives in shape just as rigorously as we do our physical health. For me, with a family history that includes compulsive hoarding, compulsive cleaning, and compulsive email re-reading and compulsive overeating, I'd do well to watch for warning signs that stress is getting the better of me. I'd do well to exercise regularly, avoid sugar and caffeine, and keep tight control on my diet.

That's my take on mental health. Watch for the warning signs and head them off at the pass. I don't allow myself obsessive thoughts. I think of other things. Sort of the way you try not to remember some tragic wreck you saw on the highway, or beating yourself up for saying the wrong thing.

Several things have helped me cope with stress in my life. The first is the acceptance that I am not perfect. I don't have to try to be perfect. I am not expected to be perfect. And I have no desire to be perfect. So when I fuck up, it's part of life. I don't have to obsess over it. I don't have to beat myself up over it. I need to recognize mistakes for what they are, try to make right what needs to be made right, apologize if necessary, make up work if required, and move on. Guilt, I am convinced, is one of the most useless emotions we carry. To be humane is to forgive.

Secondly, I have learned to keep control over where my mind goes. I don't always succeed. Sometimes it gets two steps ahead of me and I'll lose a day or two to thoughts I'd rather not have. But once I recognize that those thoughts are getting in my way, I work to get them gone. I set schedules for myself. I make myself do the things that have to be done. And in doing my needed activities, I find my mind eventually lets go of the obsessive thoughts.

I do mental housecleaning. I look at the behaviors that have manifested themselves in my family. Compulsive cleaning. Hoarding. Controlling. And I look at the outcomes of these behaviors. Guilt. Shame. Unsanitary conditions. I don't want those outcomes to be part of my life so I must guard against letting those behaviors creep in. When thoughts of the ex's behavior come around, I push them out. I don't allow myself to judge other's behaviors. I don't care if my mom is dating two guys at the same time or sleeping with the entire second string of the Dallas Cowboys. It's just not my business. And while I am concerned about my sister's happiness, if she wants to spend her entire life cleaning counter tops, who am I to tell her she is wrong? I take things to the Goodwill rather than let them pile up. I look at things before I buy them to determine if I really need/want them. I tidy up my mental condition when I tidy up my house, you might say.

I don't know how common this problem is. I do know that I am not powerless unless I just give in to it.

I'm curious though. Do other people have similar struggles? Do other people have to work at their mental health like I do? Are there actually people out there who just go through every day without having to do mental sit ups?

23 July 2011

Things I've Learned About Myself

1. I don't have any problems making decisions. I have problems with procrastination and overeating, but I do not have a problem making a decision and feeling fairly confident that it will work out. I say this because I know some people struggle mightily with decision making...my mother, for example, finds it impossible to make decisions. She can't even decide what to order at a restaurant without input from several waiters, family members and strangers across the room. Or Bek, who is redesigning her kitchen. They just belabor the point until they have sucked all the fun out of the project. We make a million little decisions that affect the quality and shape of our lives. Without a few mistakes thrown in, what fun would it all be? Life is about living with consequences, I guess. Use your best judgement, make a decision and see if it works out. No one else can know your priorities or desires better than you!

2. I like what I like and who I like. I like porter and stout. I like goat cheese and gorgonzola. I like to cook with Penzy spices and high quality ingredients. I like hanging with Scout. I like Bek, and Sue, and Liv, and Melissa, and Nathan. I even like Dennis. Although, I think he and I need a fairly serious bout of drinking and conversation to become really good friends. There are plenty of people I don't like, but they aren't much worth wasting my breath over.

3. I've been wrong about a ton of stuff. People, ideas, things. Doesn't much matter. At some point in my life, I've been wrong about 'em all. Hindsight is 20/20. It makes me humble. It makes me stop and give people a second chance. But rather than make me doubt myself, it makes me cognizant that despite heading off with full confidence in my rightness, I may very well be wrong. I credit my training as a scientist for helping me to see this most clearly. Just because you were wrong, doesn't mean you shouldn't put forth another hypothesis and try again. In fact, that's what makes life interesting.

4. It's okay to be wrong. Because no matter how wrong I am, I'm still not REPUBLICAN wrong. LMAO!

5. I am a fairly good judge of quality people. And I will do what it takes to make them a part of my life.

6. I really love a challenge. Whether it is climbing a mountain, learning to kayak, learning to play the violin, entering a hot dog eating contest....I love pushing my own limits. Seeing what I'm capable of. Oh, I accept my limitations. I'm not going to be one of those people dying on a mountaintop because the weather turned bad and I ran out of water but I was only a 1/4 mile from the summit. I'm the one who knows when my fellow workers are lying about how they are feeling about the heat. I'm the one who isn't embarrassed to fail. The one who will ask the obvious question...."should we be doing this?" But I still love the trying. And for me, the victory is in the moment, not in the retelling on Facebook.

7. I will always have a dog. I think my next dog will be a West Highland terrier. No shit.

8. I actually like children. Don't tell anyone. It could ruin my reputation.

9. I am starting to wonder if someone could really piece together a living by working here and there and doing new things and trying this and that. Because I'm an insanely curious person.

10. I haven't settled on 10. You'll just have to wait.

Or maybe you should tell me something I don't know about myself.

18 July 2011

Your moment of Zen

Click the pic for a wonderful video.


10 July 2011

I swear I'm still alive

It has been a whirlwind summer.  I got a full-time job that I LOVE working for the forest service.  I got a full-time job for next year teaching in Kentucky.  I have tried, but generally failed to get some research done while working full time this summer.  The problem here is that my job if physically taxing and time-consuming.  On my three days off per week, I generally have to rest one, get things done around the house on the other, and have but a single day to devote to research.  Take on top of that an illness that I was able to work through, but demanded nearly constant rest on my off hours, and I my research has suffered.

But, if there is a silver lining in this summer, it is this.  My job has taken me to the natural areas that I have failed to see in nearly eight years of living in southern IL.  And that is something I will never regret.  This job is just what I needed this summer.

Lusk Creek Canyon

The lazy Lusk Creek.

I spent an hour online trying to determine the name of the creek that provides the water for Jackson Falls. It I failed.  It might be Upper Bay Creek or Hayes Creek or something entirely different.  So, here is the unknown creek just above the falls at Jackson Falls.

I actually do work.  That's me eradicating garlic mustard.

Sitting atop Stoneface.

All in all, it's been a fun summer.  Too bad about the research.

25 June 2011

What's my name?

When I was born, my parents named me after a paternal great grandmother, Nancy Brown.  She was the mother of my paternal grandmother.  She was a tall woman.  She had a long face and loose lips when she spoke.  I found her mildly disturbing.  Her husband Frank, on the other hand, always reminded me of Peter Pan.  He never seemed to grow up and always, even when he was ancient, had a playful glint in his eye.  He was funny.  Nancy Brown was just crabby.

Nancy and Frank fought fiercely throughout their marriage.  They barked at one another instead of talking.  It was their way.  I won't pretend I knew her well.  I didn't.  I saw them at holidays and reunions.  But I can't understand, for the life of me, why my parents sought to honor this woman by naming their child after her.  She was loud, opinionated, and boorish.  No matter how bad I turned out, I figure they had it coming.

I never liked the name Nancy.Not one day in all my life.  It was extremely old fashioned even then.  I haven't met many other Nancys in my adult life and I have never met a kid born after 1970 with that name.   I'm sure there are kids somewhere who are thrilled to be named Brittney or Shaquira or Susan.  But no kid named Nancy in the history of Earth ever said, "I love my name".  And thus, I dreamed in childhood of being named something else.

In college, I thought seriously about changing my name to Madison or Madelyn.  I'm glad I didn't as Maddy soon-after became a fairly overused name for girls of the 90s.  One of my dear friends has a girl named Madison, in fact.  But beginning with her mother, who, for the record, told me that she would NEVER call me anything other than Nancy, I realized the folly of trying to change my moniker from something I hated to something I could live with.  What I was called wasn't about me.  Apparently, it was about everyone else BUT me.  So, I gave up dreaming and settled into an ordinary life as Nancy.

I got married.  My marriage turned south.  My marriage got violent.  My marriage ended.  And then the harassment began.  My ex decided it was in his best interests to harass me at every given opportunity.  To stop his efforts, I moved several times in quick succession and began to use my middle name.  It appears to have done the trick.  As long as no one clues him in, that is.  But that, my friends, is how I came to change my name as an adult.  Not by choice, but for my own protection.  And I tried, to the best of my ability, to make that change quickly and completely.  I never used the name Nancy again.  I changed driver's licenses, Social Security cards, credit cards, the whole deal.  In one month, it was as if Nancy didn't exist.  I began a new life with a new name.

Having made this change and having found that NO ONE I have met since doing so has batted an eye about what my name should be, I realize that the intractable obstinacy of my friends from childhood--who live in a world where they think their comfort should be primary to my own--is now just getting on my nerves.

My facebook page has no listing of the name Nancy.  And yet, most people I knew from high school or before insist on calling me Nancy.  In public.  After 12 years of being someone else, I wish they'd just stop.  I realize this isn't Earth-shattering stuff here, but I'd rather we just dropped the Nancy business.  One neighbor of mine will call me "Liz".  But invariably adds, "Oh, I just can't do it.  You're NANCY!!!!"  I haven't seen this girl at anything but a high school reunion in 30 years.  We weren't great friends in high school. Why do YOU get to ignore my choices?

And my family hasn't even begun to try.  Not once.  My sister revels in telling everyone that I'm really Nancy. That, too, is getting on my nerves.  Because I'm about to move in with my sister and I don't want to be Nancy again.  Not for her and not for anyone.

Perhaps this is one of the reasons that I'm not looking forward to going back to Kentucky.

11 June 2011

Tea Party Platform, A Laughable List

This is helpful.
Climate Change Deniers
Debt Default Deniers
Tax Relief for Billionaires

According to a NY Times/CBS poll add the following to the Tea Party platform:
42% believe we should reduce legal immigration from present levels (scared white people, anyone?)
81% support something *other* than gay marriage
53% believe Roe v. Wade was a *bad thing*

Racist anyone?
Tea Party leader Mark Williams says Muslims worship a 'monkey god', blasts Ground Zero mosque 

Herman Cain says that he won't appoint Muslims to his administration and would require special loyalty oaths for Muslims (and not other religious groups) because Muslims " have an objective to convert all infidels or kill them"

Head in the Sand Anyone?
84% of Tea Partiers believe their views reflect the views of most Americans.  Only 25% of "most Americans" believe this.
52% of Tea Partiers believe that too much has been made in recent years of issues facing black people.
93% of Tea Partiers disapprove of health care legislation.
Despite continuing the Bush era tax cuts, 56% of Tea Partiers believe that Obama's policies favor the poor.
Only 7% have a favorable opinion of Obama.  That's 36% lower than the average American.  84% have an unfavorable opinion of Obama.  That's a whopping 51% difference from the average American.
77% of Tea Partiers believe Obama is "very liberal".  As a *moderate* liberal, I find that laughable.  We Progressives can't seem to get ANY of our policy passed or even discussed.

Tea Party respondants were:
59% male
85% white
46% middle aged
56% make more than $50,000/year
78% rate their household's financial condition as fairly or very good.  30% claim the recession has had no impact on their household.  Wow.  They are doing well in this economy and want smaller government and fewer services for those who's lives have been decimated?

Let's revisit one of those items.  84% of Tea Partiers believe that their views generally reflect those of most Americans.  84% think they are mainstream.  84% think the rest of the nation is a bunch of white-loving, homophobic, Islamaphobic, Mormonphobic, poor-hating, jackasses who think, despite paying among the lowest taxes in the free world, that they are overburdened by a repressive government.  Except for Social Security.  And Medicare.  Because those are, you know, *good* things.

These people are just selfish, self-centered a$$holes.

23 May 2011

My greatest fear

My greatest fear if I take this job and move to Kentucky is that I will die of boredom.  Kentucky just holds no allure for me anymore.  And living with my sister?  And her son?  And that God-awful dog of his?

And working my butt off and wondering when I'll find the time to do my research?  But it's just the knowing that I have done just about every touristy thing that area has to offer, and knowing that few adventures await just makes me so very ho-hum about the whole thing.

The job was great.  The people at the job were great.  The town is pretty.  And small.  But ok.  And everything is great.  I just don't know.

09 May 2011

On marriage

I'm too nice.

I spent my entire weekend doing a couple I barely know an incredible favor.  This is the couple.  They are friends of friends of mine.  The only reason I was invited to the wedding is because I have a nice camera.  They wanted me to take photos.  Actually, they asked if I would come take photos at the rehearsal and dinner, and I agreed.  Then the invitation became to also take photos after the paid photographers left the reception.  That is the only reason I was invited to the wedding.

They won't send me a thank you note.  They won't send me a Christmas card.  In their defense, the mother of the bride tried to pay me.  As I am not a professional and I have no idea how the photos will look, I refused.  I made this my wedding present to the couple.

But I usually don't get people wedding presents.  I usually don't attend weddings.  Call me jaded.  Call me intelligent.  Call me whatevah you like.  Just don't ask me to be a bridesmaid.  The answer is no.

In principle, I suppose, marriage sounds good on paper.  Two people agree to tether themselves to one another for life.  A mutual agreement.  Love is involved, one presumes.  How can this be bad?

My life is testament to how this can go horribly, horribly wrong.  But I digress.  This post really isn't about how shitty my marriage was.  Nor is it meant to be about what an incredible bad deal a marriage contract is for a woman.  It is about human relations.  It is about how we have become a society that bows to the idea of a family without ever giving any respect for the realities of a family.  Despite celebrating the launching of a family, we don't actually give families the support they need.  We don't actually step in and say what needs to be said when it needs to be said.  We don't save marriages from imploding.  We watch as they collapse and we blame the folks inside.  And I think it's all because we are so damn afraid of actually giving advice that we don't arm young people with the tools they need to succeed.  We are so afraid of offending people by actually telling them they are wrong, that we allow them to fail.

This was a Catholic service.  I have no real problems with a Catholic service except that the man (always) who officiates, lectures the couple and the congregation about the relationship between a man and a woman and, presumably, has no real experience from which to talk.  Bastard is just babbling for 45 minutes on the relationship between man and God and man and woman.  Honestly, I think jumping a broom has greater relevance and greater symbolism.

In any event, said priest lectured us all about respect.  I have to give him props.  I agree that respect in a relationship is everything.  While at this wedding, I spent a lot of time with a friend of mine and her husband.  My friend is an intelligent, hard-working individual. She has a good heart and if you asked her, she would say that she loves her husband with all her heart.  But in the span of two days, I heard her call her husband a dumbass, stupid, and drunk (when he wasn't) to his face.  She misunderstood what he was saying and yelled at him for stating the "obvious".  She berated him.  She was demanding.

I watched.  And the more I heard, the more horrified I became.

It tested his patience. I felt sorry for him.  I understood his pain.  My friend is wrong.  She thinks she is nagging.  She thinks by needling him, she'll cause him to change his behavior.  Drink less.  Not say things that embarrass her.  Maybe she just wants him to go away.  Honestly, I think she is unhappy with herself and under some stress and can't articulate that and so she simply lashes out at the only other thing she can blame for her current situation.  I'm certain I need to stay out of it.  But nonetheless, my friend is wrong.  I fear for her relationship precisely because I know that she thinks it is HIS behavior that is the problem.  Oh, he's no saint, but it isn't his unsaintly behavior that is the true danger to their relationship. It is her attitude that he isn't worthy of respect and her willingness to flaunt her opinion in his face.

I know, because I was in her shoes once.  And once you've lost respect for them, you can't get it back.  And once they tire of the harassment, they fall out of love with you.  And after that, they are gone.  Oh, she won't miss him when he's gone.  She'll be convinced her decision to leave was the right one.  Or maybe she'll applaud his decision to leave.  And maybe she will be better off.  But.  It didn't have to be.  And respect for one another is the tool that could turn this whole thing around.

I wonder what will happen.

24 April 2011

Why and when it's okay for girls to be rude

I have been reading a book this evening called Talk to the Hand by Lynne Truss.  She, the author of the grammarian handbook, Eats, Shoots and Leaves, has written a quick read on the loss of manners and rise of rudeness in our society.  It found it an interesting read.  It is the curse of every generation to watch the decline of civilized behavior in every generation that follows.  Those courtesies and values that our generation held dear are dismantled, ignored, and sometimes actively pissed on by those ungrateful young people. We blame their parents, and not under our breath either, for their lack of good breeding. But before I get on the old fogey bandwagon, I would like to say that parents don't have an easy job.  They sacrifice everything to keep their children from being run over by cars, falling down stairs, and sticking metal objects in light sockets.  And just when the parent survives this stage of child development, the child enters the first of it's rebellious stages:  the terrible twos.  The child, now up on two feet and quick as a spider, wants nothing to do with the parent and wants to explore everything in sight...especially those things the parent finds objectionable.  This is the moment at which teaching manners begins.  

I think parents tell children to be quiet so often because they are hoping (rather naively) that children will learn the rules of social engagement by watching the parent navigate social interactions.  They are attempting to lead by example.  It is difficult for a parent to steer the boat when Junior is tugging at a skirt, demanding attention, running amock, removing his clothing, screaming at the top of his lungs, and/or lying on the floor.  But if you think about a parent chastising a child for poor behavior in public, it is their way of reinforcing proper etiquette.  It's just like training a dog.  You can't wait until you get home or the teachable moment has passed.

In my twenties, I firmly believed that people with children should just keep those little urchins away from polite society.  Of course, I was polite society.  I used to say there should be a "no children" section in restaurants just like their were "no smoking" sections.  To this day, I find myself bristling when I sit down at a restaurant, order my food, and then they seat a family with a child near me. When a child cries, it's like someone is piercing my brain with a needle. When that family is seated next to me and here comes a waiter with a booster chair, I feel that sudden selfish question settling over me like an old friend:  "Why me?"  But a kid won't learn how to behave in public if they aren't allowed in public.  I guess I'm just going to have to suck it up and take one for the team.

I can't tell you how many parents I gave the stink eye for daring to have a misbehaving child anywhere near me.  Or how mind-bendingly rude I found people who blew their nose in the middle of a restaurant where people were trying to eat.  And don't even get me started on drivers.  I honestly believe that in this day and age, the only circumstances under which drivers follow the rules of the road are when a police car has been spotted.  We are as impatient with traffic as we are with a line at the mall. We live in a society of constant exasperation with one another.  We have no sense of courtesy.  No tolerance.  We are a culture that pulls into oncoming traffic and gets incensed at getting flipped off.  I'm surprised any of us are alive.

So in my opinion, passing along manners and teaching children how to be sufferable in public is the main job of a parent.  It doesn't always take.  I've seen a 20-something pull a car decoration off someone's vehicle because he disagreed with the sentiment it represented.  I listened as a 20-something chastised an older woman, "Watch where you're going" when she bumped into him in a hallway.  We are convinced of our ultimate and unbending rights not to be impacted by anyone else, ever.  We shouldn't have to listen to others' phone conversations.  We shouldn't have to wait in line. We shouldn't have to stand on the bus. We shouldn't have to deal with smoke, offensive smells, loud noises, farts, burps, opposing opinons, natural disasters, shortages, high prices, and crying babies.  We have become a society of self-aggrandizing intolerants.  I admit it.  At various times in my life, I've been one of them.

We are acutely sensitive to slights and yet we fail to offer the same level of respect to others that we demand for ourselves.

However, there comes a time in your life when your own behavior begins to follow the Golden Rule. This is the point at which you become an old fogey. For some people this happens early. For others, it comes unbelievably late.  We hope that children learn this in their teens.  I've seen 50-year-old professionals with no more self-control than a two-year-old.

But I want to get back to my title statement, which perhaps in light of my old fogey rant here might seem incongruent with my perspective.  I do think there are conditions under which rudeness is not only acceptable, it may actually be beneficial.

When I was young, I was excrutiatingly shy.  I would rather have died than do something wrong in public.  I walked through my early life trying to attract as little attention as possible.  Now for a woman in this society, this is no way to be. I hoped to enter a primarily male field and was losing out on job opportunities because I was seen as "too girly".  And then one day, I just sort of got it.  I had to explore my masculine side.  Boys are taught early that rebelliousness is not only acceptable, it is part of being a man.  They spit.  They pick at their privates.  They tell off-color jokes.  They insult one another.  And your mother.  Their penalty for such behavior?  Disapproving looks from grandmothers and under-the-breath snickers from fathers.  The lesson being taught isn't lost on those boys.  Misbehaving is expected now and again...just don't overdo it.  For girls, there's a different standard.  Spitting isn't even on the radar of girls. I don't think any girl anywhere would have any idea why you might need to pick at your privates.  We rightly understand that off-color jokes aren't really funny.  Shock value isn't funny.  And insults are hurtful.  Misbehaving is not tolerated. Behaving is rewarded.

As a result, girls are at a distinct disadvantage in early adulthood.  Parents have armed their girls for a knife fight, but armed their boys with land-to-air missles. For a woman to succeed in this society, she has to be able to compete with men and more than likely will need to toughen up.  She had better learn that strict adherence to the  rules is going to land her exactly beneath a glass ceiling.  Women have to learn to stand up for themselves, to defend themselves, to get a little aggressive now and again, and sometimes grind those little twerps into the asphalt. And this is why I think that a healthy dose of competition and little bit of social disobedience should not only be tolerated, but sometimes actively promoted.  I'm not talking about entering the world of bullying.  I'm talking about experimenting with assertiveness.  Sometimes they are bound to go too far.  Sometimes they are likely to come up short.  But without actually practicing, they can't get better at it.

There is a famous quote I remember from my youth that seems applicable here. "One of the worst thing that can happen is for a man is to win a lot of money on a horse at a young age." Speaking from my own experience, I have seen that even when girls experiement with disobedience, early success is often an unfortuante thing.

Lots of studies have looked at why people gamble or why we think that our lucky socks influence our favorite sports team's performance, and it has a great deal to do with our human tendency to find patterns where none exist. We believe our own behavior can influence random events. Although boys are also prone to this tendency, when it comes to manipulating the world, boys are well aware that there are lots of tools in the toolbox and that you don't use a screwdriver when a needle-nose plier is required.  Women, lacking much experience in the garage, have a tendency to pick up the hammer, give it couple of swings, and ignore all the other tools. If they were trying to drive a nail, great!  It worked.  Problem is, the next time they need to drive a screw, they grab the hammer and hammer away and wonder why they aren't getting anywhere.  Instead of picking up a different tool, they keep hammering.  And hammering.  And hammering.  They spend the rest of their lives hammering away and wondering why the stupid tool doesn't work half the time.

But if a girl fails with the hammer the first time, she might pick up several other tools before finding the one that works.  This is the fortunate girl.  If I could impress upon young girls one thing it would be to explore the toolbox.  Try out all tools of social interaction. Try out passive aggressive behavior.  Try out being a demanding bitch.  Get your groove on by flirting your way to getting your way.  Try being sweet as pumpkin pie.  Try getting up in someone's face.  Only by trying out different behaviors will she begin to feel comfortable and only then can she figure out what is going to work for her and under what circumstances.  She can learn to dial up and dial back the aggression. She can learn by practicing the best approach to getting ahead.  She doesn't get stuck in this "default approach".   I think this is how women got the stereotype of being nags.  Nagging is the hammer of the toolbox. It is one of the easiest, but least effective and most overused tools.

It's taken me nearly 50 years to learn this lesson. I hope that those of you with daughters will help them learn these lessons earlier.

20 March 2011

Spring cleaning: Less Stuff, More Fun!

It seems that I will be staying in C'dale for the summer. I have found suitable employment and am being given time to complete my degree.  However, in the rush that I thought my life would be if I had actually gotten that job--the interview for which I thought I had "aced"--I had already began thinking about moving.

Moving costs money--something I have precious little of.  I am not interested in lugging around the kitchen sink with me on my next move.  When I was divorced a bit over a decade ago, I learned the hard way that there is a certain lightness of being in getting yourself free of your emotional baggage and we humans put a great deal of emotional baggage in our stuff.  But divorce demands splitting up the stuff.  I walked away from my marriage with a bed, a futon, two wicker chairs, and a patio set, a mismatched, incomplete set of kitchenware, my clothing, my dogs, and a distant memory of my sanity.

And I started over.  Cleaner.  Leaner.  And with greater purpose.  I did learn that most furniture can be replaced at your new place.  People will give you furniture.  You can pick up stuff second hand.  It is amazing how often nice stuff is available around you.  More interesting to me is that as I prepare to move, it is the furniture that I brought with me that I intend to keep.  I have or will donate the furniture that was donated to me.  Paying it forward, so to speak.  It is time to remember that lesson and let some of this emotional stuff go.  In the spirit of spring cleaning, I am sorting through all my stuff.  All of it.  And I am turning a critical eye to it as I do so.  The goal is getting rid of the old, tired, outdated, unused, not-really-feeling-it, outlived-its-usefulness objects in my house and  streamlining.  Opening up the space I live in so I'm not tripping over the clutter.

I realized over the past several months that I can borrow or rent a great number of things that I thought I had to buy.  Did you know that Home Depot rents tools?  Kid you not!  This is going to save me a fortune.  So with that in mind, I can open up some new space possibilities.

Here's the rules.
  1. If I use it frequently, it can stay.  No questions asked.  What's frequently?  Daily to once a month.
  2. If I use it infrequently (less than once a month, but more than twice a year), I ask the following questions:
    • Does it improve my quality of life?
    • Is it convenient to store?
    • Would I be inconvenienced if I didn't have it?
  3. If I never use it, it's gone.  No questions asked.  
  4. Do I have more than one?  Can another object I use more often fulfill the same purpose (multipurpose tools)
  5. If it is an emotional object, do I display it?
  6. If it is an object intended to beautify my living space, does it?  Do I still like it?
  7. Would it be cheaper to replace it at my new home than the cost to move it?
  8. Do I have more of this object than I could ever use?  Prioritize them by desirability and let the rest go.
  9. Some items were purchased for a one-time project.  This includes a lot of tools.  How to decide what stays and what goes?
    • If I needed it again, could I borrow or rent it?
    • How likely is it that I will need it again?
Questions I purposefully avoid:
  1. Can I sell it for what I put in it?  This really doesn't matter.  I am paying to store it.  I am paying to lug it around.  I am paying to keep it safe.  Objects cost money to keep.   They are the hidden costs.  The only question that matters is "Is this useful in my life?"  If it's not, nothing else really matters.
  2. Will I use it one day?  An object would have to be pretty damn small and pretty damn expensive for me to keep just because I will use it "one day".  If I use something once a decade, it is really worth it to store it that long?
The garage will be the repository for the not-a-useful-part-of-my-life objects.  The first object heading out there?  A bread machine.  (Unless, of course, Liv wants it so she won't have to knead).  And this spring, when the task is completed, I'm gonna have one hell of a garage sale.  What's left over after that will be given to friends, family, or donated to charity.  

13 March 2011

I love demo

So I've been seeing this guy.  We'll call him Carlos.  And he came to see me in January.  And the date went well, but when he went to leave it was dark.  And he backed out of my driveway and ran over the wheelchair ramp.

He knocked it a good foot and a half toward the street.  He went up over top of it and his wheels crushed the boards and sort of fell into the ramp.  It was starting to come away from the house.  You can see it in this pic.  It used to be relatively straight.

Now I could have gotten mad, but so many people have hit that wheelchair ramp that I really couldn't blame him. And considering how many people have hit that ramp, I didn't have the nerve to ask him to pay for the repair.  To his credit, he did offer to come back and fix it.  I never pressed him on it.  So today, I went to Lowe's to get some wood to fix the eight (yes, eight!) boards that were damaged.   Less than $50, nails included.

Only I get the eight boards off and I see that the damage is far more extensive.  The entire ramp is off it's moorings.  Well, that's not exactly right.  The ramp was still on the moorings, but the moorings were broken and just hanging on for dear life to the joists.  The joists themselves were twisted and broken.

This is supposed to be straight.  And the other side didn't fare much better.

Long story short:  its was no longer structurally sound.  It had to go.  So at about 5 pm this evening, I got busy.

The impressive thing?  The job was done and cleaned up before 6:30.

And this is what it looks like now.

That's the best I could do in the dark.

I got all my aggressions out and got rid of what I have always considered an eye sore.  I have decided to learn how to set posts and I'm going to put a small landing on the front and use the ten boards I bought today to make stairs.  With a long path before you get to the driveway.  Someone would have to really be trying to hit that.  But the whole time I am tackling this project, all I can think of is how when I am done, I'm going to go enjoy some time on the sun porch that I cleaned up yesterday.  Only I forgot that I have to go pollinate plants tonight.  So no sun porch for me.  Maybe another day.

06 March 2011

Women I admire

Life is a roller coaster.  It goes way too slow uphill and way too fast down.  It has lots of interesting twists and turns.  Sometimes you can't see around the next corner.  Sometimes you can and wish you couldn't.  But that is how life goes.  And the people we pass along the way may all become just a blur, but we usually remember the ones that held our hands through the tough times, and screamed with us during the scary parts, and laughed until tears flowed when the excitement finally slowed.  You don't forget the people who touch your life.  This is my homage to them.  And because each person comes with a backstory, I'm not sure that this will be the last post on this topic.

1.  When I was a kid, my two favorite shows on television were the Carol Burnette Show and the Mary Tyler Moore Show .  In the 60s and early 70s, there weren't many shows on TV with what we might today call "positive role models" for girls.  Oh there were smart, saavy, tough female leads in shows (That Girl, I Dream of Jeanie, Laugh In, and so on), but they generally were obviously subsurvient to the men in their character's lives.  That Girl spent 90% of her time on the phone with "Daddy" and her fiance "Donald" spent all his time getting her out of the jams she got herself into.  I didn't want to be like her.  I wanted to be like Carol Burnette.  She was funny, smart, and she could do a Tarzan yodel.  What else could a girl want out of life?  And Mary Tyler Moore was the first "working woman" I remember seeing on TV who wasn't a secretary or a nurse.  She was also:  A) beautiful, B) cosmopolitan, and C) an executive.  She had a bitchin' apartment with a murphy bed.  It shocks me now to watch that show and realize that Lou Grant was her father figure, Murry Slaughter was her mentor, and that she didn't seem to have readily identifiable set of job responsibilities.  But, hey!  Let's not get caught up in details.  Still, there weren't many shows on TV featuring single, professional women and she would do in a pinch.  And that is all I had to teach me about the working world until I jumped into it myself with both feet.

When I got out of college, I took what I always saw as a temporary job at a greeting card company.  After my father died, I sold everything I owned and moved to Chicago to "make it on my own".  My first boss was a woman named Dorothea Vicari.  She was a tall, beautiful woman with dark skin and dark hair and dark eyes and gentlemen looked at her longingly.  Interestingly enough, she had a mole on her face--on her chin if I recall.  She used to unconsciously place her hand over it when she spoke.  That one movement taught me an interesting lesson.  Even beautiful people can have a perverse sense of their own image.  That mole did not detract from her beauty, but she was self-conscious about it nonetheless.  But that isn't why I bring her up in this post.  I admire her because she taught me what it means to be a professional.  She was everything I wanted to be when I grew up.  She was my Mary Tyler Moore. Except she was better than Mary Tyler Moore.  She was funny, intelligent, competent, good at her job, respectful of other people, industrious, creative, and she trusted me to do my job well.  She taught me, through example, how a good boss behaves.  I think one of the reasons I stayed at that entry level job so long was because she was so good to me.  I wish I knew where she was today.  I'd love to thank her again.

2.  My Grams is 94 years old.  She sure doesn't look it.  She damn sure doesn't act like it.  She lives alone.  She was the oldest of four children.  She married at 17 and had one child, my father.  She spent the better part of a decade caring for her elderly parents, all the while her own husband was dying of lung cancer.  She outlived all her siblings.  She outlived her son.  One would think that she would be hardened from all that loss.  But she is perhaps one of the happiest people I know.  She laughs all the time.  She sends me little clips out of the local newspaper about "finding a man after 40" or something she read about education, or some pertinent advice given out by Dear Abby.  My grandmother is a classic.  But the reason I admire my grandmother is because she taught me one of the most important lessons in life.  She taught me that it costs nothing to make someone's day.  A smile.  A laugh.  A pat on the back.  A pleasant demeanor.  Letting the little things go.  Cutting someone some slack.  You don't always have to be right.  You don't always have to win.  Sometimes, it is better to take one for the team.  And the team is humanity.

You'll be talking to her about people long gone or things that happened so long ago, and she'll open up with some incredibly personal experience that most people would hide.  Like when her husband, my grandfather, struggled with alcoholism.  I was in college when my grandfather died, and I never knew him to have a problem with drinking.  But apparently, he did.  And she speaks of it honestly.  Not with blame.  Not with regret.  But just with a calm understanding that marriage in her day was for life and if she were a young woman today, she'd probably not have put up with those shenanigans.  My grandmother is the kind of life teacher that everyone should know.  Not perfect.  Not by a long shot.  But good at the stuff that counts.

3.  I have my own biases.  I have always liked people older than me. And I have always been attracted to big personalities. Probably because I was the youngest in my family.  I was always racing to keep up.  Always trying to look badder, smarter, quicker, and tougher than any other kid my age. Trying to emulate the one person who could hold everyone's attention. So I have spent a lifetime associating, fraternizing and ingratiating myself with people who were older than me.  Until I was almost 40, if you were born after 1959, I sort of ignored you as a matter of course.  And then, I went back to graduate school where the only people who were older than me were emeritus professors.  And really, how much fun are they to impress?  So I began to talk to the younger crowd.  They're not so bad.  And I'm glad I gave them a chance, because really, wouldn't that have been a loss to have ignored an entire generation of people?  What I didn't expect to find were younger people I admired.  I mean, seriously.  How much could they have lived?  What could they possibly know?  But sometimes, amazing people are lurking in unassuming packages. They are so unassuming that at first you don't recognize how amazing they are.  I almost enjoy discovering this kind of person.  Because you never see it coming and then suddenly, you're like POW!  A.  Maze.  Ing. And that's Liv.  She shows up in the lab one day and I see this little, squeaky, mouse of a girl and then BLAMMO!  She's this Abronia-finding, mountain scaling, wild-west adventuring, good luck charm with a dog.  She can out bee anyone on the planet.  She doesn't lose her cool when an inexperienced driver looses traction behind the wheel of her Jeep on a mud-soaked road.  She bounds up mesas like they are made of Tigger tails.  She leaves the rest of us mere mortals in the dust. But she has one of those personalities that doesn't make you covet her abilities or her accomplishments.  You just admire that someone can pull it off so easily.  And you're damn sure glad she's let you tag along for the ride.  And I don't think anyone who has ever spent any time with Liv would say that a little bit of her didn't rub off on them.  She makes you believe that you can climb that mountain.  That those rocks aren't going to crack the drive shaft into smithereens and leave you both with only a 5 gallon jug of water to split as you make your way back into civilization.  I have no doubt that we'd be swearing and swapping stories and laughing the whole way back.  And picking cactus tines out of dog's feet.  I've had the best adventures with Liv.  She is surprisingly timid.  Then she's brazenly bold.  She is sweeter than rock candy and fiercer than a bobcat.  I've only seen her cranky once.  I thought she might be sick.  I think she was just tired.  She puts me in infinitely good humor.  She introduced me to the West, which stole my heart.  When I see Liv, I certainly don't see myself.  I see myself better.

4.  I grew up in a family of people who don't touch.  We don't hug.  We aren't demonstrative.  We are more than a little bit uncomfortable with having our personal space violated.  But I have always looked upon those people who are with a mixture of curiosity and awe.  They are so unselfconscious about themselves. They just grab hands and dispense of slaps on the back without a second thought.  And the next person is one of those people.  One of those people who can get close to others without feeling weird.  Who is so completely comfortable with themselves that they inspire me to rethink who I am. Someone who is selfless in an effortless way.  Someone who seems to feel closer and be closer to her friends than I think I have ever been to anyone in my life.  And she is full of joy.  She's always smiling in a way that makes you think nothing bad has ever happened to her.  But surely it has, just like the rest of us.  It just never got to her.  And this someone is so completely right for the guy she's with, it's just not funny.  This next person is a sleeper.  She has no idea, I'm sure that she has left such an impression on me.  She is, in fact, the wife of my office mate.  Julie Dumper Schmale.  I wish I had half the compassion and ability to give that she gives away every single day.

This list can go on and on.  But I think it's interesting that the names that came to me today were all women.  And all for very different reasons.  I'm glad I've gotten to know all of them.  And I wonder who will come along next.

04 March 2011

On how I came to be flashed by a police officer

 Don't blame me.  Liv asked.

Over the past week or so, a work crew (See: chain gang) has been working in our town.  It's a group of roughly ten inmates, mostly black, dressed in denim jumpsuits and wearing bright orange toboggans.  They have been sweeping gravel out of the gutter, picking up trash, and raking leaves in the park.  They are quiet, polite, and friendly.

They are usually accompanied by two officers, sometimes one.  The officers are dressed in black.  They wear heavy black jackets.  They carry guns.  They never smile.  Never join in the work.  They stand by idly and look mean.  They don't nod when you pass them, even though a nod is the preferred greeting between neighbors and cars on the road.

I'd seen them nearly every day as they were doing a lot of work in the park.  I saw that they would all watch me toss frisbee for Scout.  We had a thing going on.

Until last Thursday.

Scout and I were out in the park like we usually are, and so was the work crew.  And you know, Scout isn't exactly quiet when he plays frisbee.  He barks when he thinks he's made a particularly spectacular catch.  And the frisbee is bright red with a donut hole in the middle.  And it flies through the air for Pete's sake.  And I was wearing a bright white down jacket.  It's not like we exactly blended into the background.  And we had been out there for a full 20 minutes already.  Which is why what happened next is so perplexing.

Conspicuous, huh?
I noticed suddenly that all the inmates had piled into the van.  I saw the officer lock them in and begin to walk over toward some garbage cans that were lined up next to an outbuilding.  He walked out of the view of the inmates in the van and directly into my view.  He was standing in full view of anyone actually in the park.

And he lifted his shoulders, hiked up his jacket, and began to fiddle with his zipper.

Immediately, I called out to him, "Seriously!  You are going to piss right in front of me?"

He didn't look up.  He just kept moving forward with the process.

Scout brought me the frisbee.  I held it up high and waved it at the guy.

A nice big arch of urine is how he returned my greeting.

So I cleared my throat and shouted, "HEY!  OFFICER!  I'M STANDING RIGHT HERE!"

Now I've got his attention.  That stream began to waver and sway.  He didn't know which way to turn.  Eventually, he decided to walk over and pee on the building.  When he finished, he rezipped and without looking at me or apologizing, he returned to the van and drove away.

I hope the inmates laughed at him the whole way home.

For my part, I headed to the city building.  I was pissed.  No pun intended.  I was pissed because if anyone else had done that, they'd have been arrested.  I was pissed because he was an officer in charge of inmates and has a responsibility to set a good example.  I was pissed because it was only by luck that he had pissed in front of an adult and not the kids that usually play in the park.  I was pissed because it was dereliction of duty.

I told the city clerk that if they were going to invite a work crew out they might want to make accommodations for them.  She was appalled.

"Did they urinate in the park?"

"Not the inmates," I told her.  "The police officer in charge of them."

Now, she was flabbergasted.

"He makes THEM wait."

"Apparently, he couldn't."

"They have access to a restroom in this building," she said.

"They aren't taking advantage of it,"  I replied.

"Don't worry.  I'll see that this moves up the line."

And that was how I came to see a police officer's junk.

The end.