What I want to do with my life

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Recently (like the last year or so), I've been trying to puzzle out what I want to do with my life, or at least with the next bit of it. I've tried on a few different careers now, and nothing has fit worth a damn. Museum curation? Hardly. Public health? Not. The last thing I decided on--public policy graduate school and a non-profit career--has crashed and burned before I even finished my Masters degree (which I will still finish, I swear). After I realized that public policy wasn't for me, I realized that I had been thinking about job/career prospects all wrong--I was thinking too "big picture," rather than focusing on what I want my life to be like and what aspects a job will need to fit into the rest of my plans.

After I started thinking about it that way, the list I came up with for attributes I'd like in a job was roughly as follows:

  1. Flexibility. I want to be able to work hard sometimes and less hard other times, more hours sometims and fewer other times, move in and out of working at all, be able to take extended vacation without the world ending, etc.
  2. Minimum of interaction with people. Let's just face it--I'm not a people person. I get more done and am happier doing it if I am alone and have to deal with a minimum of office-type interaction.
  3. Independance. I don't want someone looking over my shoulder. The fewer bosses, the better.
  4. The ability to work from anywhere, particularly the ability to work from home. I would kill small furry creatures to work from home. Seriously.
  5. Payment based on output rather than hours. I work fast. In every job I've had, I've worked fast and then screwed around, because I am paid by the hour. It drives me nuts and it always has.
  6. Writing. I thought I had already tried and rejected being any kind of a writer, but I think maybe my options were too narrow--all I really know that I don't want to do is be a journalist, or write fiction. In the last few jobs I have had, the research and writing elements have been the part that keeps me going. Maybe that should tell me something.
So what does this all add up to? In my mind, it adds up to being a self-employed, freelance technical/business/grant writer. Or something to that effect. I want to sit at my house and write and/or edit other people's boring writing (grant applications, business plans, technical manuals, etc.), on my own time frame, and get paid for it. The really amazing thing is that from what I have seen in my research so far, this job actually exists and people do in fact get paid to do it!

So my thought is that what I need to do first is keep the full-time job I have, but try to start up a side business doing this kind of work. I have no real idea how to do that, but I've ordered this book, which hopefully will give me some ideas. And I am on the look out for freelance writing jobs to get me started (I have been turned down for one already!). Next on the list is to edit my resume up to make a writer's resume out of it (not hard, since I have done so much writing in my past few positions), and get together a portfolio of samples of different types of writing I've done.

I feel better about my career prospects than I have for ever! Yay!

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Give me a B-L-O-G!

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In the spirit of building my blog roll back up and giving me something new to read, if you are reading this, please drop into the comments and suggest a new blog I should check out. I will be eternally grateful.

Thanks.

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Anthem '84, revisited

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"Anthem '84"
If you're looking for a fighter who'll defend you
And love you for your Freedom. I'm your man.
And I ain't gonna leave you for the crazy things you're doing
But don't ask me to lend a helping hand.

You were such a pretty dream as I remember
You were young and strong and God was on your side.
But vision slowly faded like the wonder from your eyes
And you traded your compassion for your pride.

But I still believe in all that we believed in.
And I pray to God that you will in the end.
And you'll see the golden chances that you're wasting.
And be the loving beauty that you can.

But I still believe in all that we believed in.
And I pray to God that you will in the end.
And you'll see the golden chances that you're wasting.
And be the loving beauty that you can.

-Kris Kristofferson

God. It's been 20 years since he wrote that, and we're in the same place now. Kris, why aren't they listening?

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Sunday

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When I was a kid, I hated Sundays. Sunday meant boredom, it meant being cooped up in the house with inevitably cranky parents, it meant re-reading the same books, walking around restlessly, wishing I lived somewhere where there was something--anything!--to do.

One of the many things I prefer about adulthood is that now I love Sunday. I'd even venture to say it's my favorite day of the week. Sunday is about naps, baking, curling up with Mark and watching TV. Sometimes it is about going out to breakfast or going to church. Mostly, it is the day of the week with the most likelihood of my not having to do anything I don't want to do. Sunday passes more slowly than the rest of the days of the week, and I tend to enjoy every lazy minute of it.

I also love going to bed early on Sunday nights. Feels like it gives me a head start on the week. So off I go.

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simple living guide coverSo I'm reading Janet Luhrs' The Simple Living Guide. Well, not so much reading it as being consumed by it, actually. I have hardly put it down all day. With every passing chapter I am more and more sure that my life needs major changes, and that parts of what Ms. Luhrs writes about should be speaking to me very directly.

So, I'm probably about to embark on a whole bunch of navel-gazing entries. Don't say I didn't warn you.

The first thing she's got me thinking about is money, and shopping, and why I do it and what it means. This is hardly a new subject for me, but it's one I've sort of put aside for a while recently. It's cropped back up now not only because of the book, but also because Mark and I have started really looking at houses, and this is shopping like I have never known it before. First of all, with the exception of my education, I've never bought anything on credit before (I mean, I've used my credit cards, but I've never used them much and I've never used them to finance anything major). The whole idea of it feels really weird to me. Shopping for something that not only costs more than I have, but costs more than I will have for the next x amount of years, even if I remain gainfully employed--it's just a new way of looking at things.

The more interesting thing, though, is my impatience. Stupid as it is, I want to shop for a house like I do for everything else--on impulse. We looked at ten houses today, and if it had been totally up to me, I'd probably be writing up an offer on one of them tonight (Mark, thankfully, does not have this affliction). I can hardly stand the idea that this is going to take months. Now that we have decided to buy a house, I want to do it! And I'm like that about everything. What does that say about me?

One thing it says is that I have no patience and no attention span (surprise!). I've always just thought of those things as "the way I am," but in reality they can be changed if I have the discipline and the drive to change them. What would the benefit of being a more patient, mindful person be? Would I be healthier, sleep better, feel more at peace? I've never had any patience, can I learn patience now? Do I even want to?

Another thing it says is that I am massively insecure. I want to jump on a house right now because I am afraid it won't there tomorrow, and I'm like that about everything, too. I make decisions hastily for fear that my options will disappear if I don't. Why is that? It seems like most people are either "something better might come along" people or "I'll never have this chance again" people, and I am definitely in the latter category. But what makes us like that? While on one hand I have no desire to spend my entire life waiting for something better to come along, I also should know by now the danger in settling for something just because it's what is available now. Why is it so hard not to? Where does that insecurity come from? Does it come from growing up poor? From having an absent parent? Better stop, lest I start getting Freudian here.

I'm going to start a running list of things I'd like to do, for one reason or another. It's probably not going to make much sense, but I am going to keep it here so that it will be easy to add to and will stick in my mind.

1. Buy only used clothes. There would be some exceptions to this, like underwear and shoes, but I would LOVE to stop contributing to the demand for mass-marketed clothing, and the best way to do this, besides learning to sew, would be to only buy my clothes used. I know I could do this, too, if I had the discipline. It would make a huge difference financially, obviously, but it's something that I should do for political reasons as well.

2. Save 40%-50% of my income. Sounds like a lot, but I also know that a year ago I lived on less than 50% of what I am making now, so it's possible. Why can't I seem to do it?

3. Learn to meditate. I've always wanted to be able to meditate and my attempts so far have been dismal failures. A still mind is something I can't even imagine myself having. But I should at least try.

4. Get serious about volunteering. I have been volunteering here and there and everywhere for years, but I've not made a serious long-term commitment to anything. There are several things I feel strongly enough about that I'd like to commit time every week to them, and yet I don't. Where does the fear of being over-involved come from? Is this were I, too, am guilty of always thinking something better might come along?

5. Find my spirituality. This is a quest I have been on for awhile, off and on, but I need to get back to it. There is a hole in my life where my spirituality should be--I recognize that. I also recognize that I have to look for it, because sitting here and waiting for it to find me isn't working. Trying out different places/kinds of worship and seeing if anything felt right was my plan of how to go about looking for it, and I still think it's a good plan, but so far I haven't put the time into it that I should have (I've gone to one Lutheran church once and one Unitarian Universalist church twice--that's not going to cut it). I need to make time for this, not only to go, but to think about it, to reflect on it, to try and find prayer.

All this list is at this point is ideas, obviously. I'm notorious for making lists, coming up with plans, and then not following through. It's just easier to remain the way you are. And I am, in many ways, happy with the way I am. Sometimes I'm even happy, and that could be enough. But I know there is more out there, and it's up to me to find it.

*Title courtesy of Utah Phillips.

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Self-respect

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I got my first real job a couple of months after I turned 14. I had jobs before then--babysitting, cleaning houses, picking grapes, that kind of thing--but you can't get a work permit until you are 14 in Oregon (is it like that everywhere?), so I never had anything steady.

The job was at the restuarant owned by my aunt and her husband. I started out washing dishes and doing kichen prep stuff, then moved to waiting tables. I hated every minute of it. It's not that the work was hard, although it was--it's that I was much more shy at 14 than I am now, and going up to a table and asking them what they wanted to eat about killed me. Right after I started working there, they added a "sports bar" on to the back, and that made the whole proposition worse--not only did it add to the work load, exponentially added to the come ons by drunk men.

Anyway, I'd been working there almost a year when I was on one busy Friday night. I was hustling around, taking out salads, taking orders, clearing my tables. The owner (my aunt's husband) was in the back kitchen, mopping the floor. I'm not sure why he was mopping the floor, it's the only work I ever remember seeing him do there. Given his personality, he was probably "showing" one of his underlings how to do it correctly or something.

I had a tray full of salads in one hand and had to run back to the kitchen to get Thousand Island, because we were out of it at our salad station. I opened one of the big stainless fridge doors and grabbed a gallon plastic jug of salad dressing and turned on my sneaker heel on the wet floor. The tray went one way, I went the other, and the entire gallon of salad dressing went all over the place. I can remember everything about that moment--what I was wearing, what song was on the juke box, how hot it was in the back kitchen. And mostly, I can remember looking up and seeing that the owner was still standing there, having just finished his mopping. His face was all red and there was a vein sticking out on his head, all cartoonlike. In retrospect, he's a funny picture. Then, he was terrifying.

I don't remember everything he said to me, though. The only parts that stick in my mind are "worthless cunt" and "stupid bitch." I distinctly remembering wondering if he was going to hit me. I also remember that quitting never even crossed my mind--I was just terrified I was going to get fired for dropping that damn salad dressing. I thought my parents would be furious if I got fired.

The next morning I told my mom about all of this. She was sympathetic, and pissed at what he'd said, but didn't suggest quitting. I went to work. About an hour after my shift started, she came in, looking shaky, and said, "We're leaving. You just quit." I tried to argue, but something about the way she looked made me think better of it.

When I got home, I was treated to a lecture that felt like it was hours long and was delivered at high volume by my irate (and most likely drunk) stepfather. All I remember of that is his asking me over and over why I didn't have any fucking self respect. Any self-respecting person would have quit the minute someone talked to her like that, he told me. He was disgusted with me, he'd expected more from me.

In the end, I suppose it turned out OK. I got a job a couple of months later at a much more friendly cafe, where I worked all the way through high school. Nobody grabbed my ass there, and I don't ever remember being yelled at. My stepdad threatened to kill my aunt's husband, who called the cops on him, but nothing happened. My aunt and my mom didn't speak for like a year. Then my aunt (who was being abused, I am fairly sure) finally left the asshole and spent nearly all of her first year alone asleep. Even though there are only three restuarants in the town where I grew up, I haven't been back in that one in over ten years. The food was shitty anyway.

I've wondered quite a bit, over the years since this happened, if it showed a lack of self respect that I didn't quit on my own. I've also wondered if, given the time to think it over, I would have quit on my own eventually. I'd like to think I would have, but I was 14, you know? I've also come to realize that of all of the things that were yelled at me during this experience, it wasn' being called a worthless cunt or a stupid bitch that dug the deepest--it was being told that I have no self-respect.

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Watching my town die

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I have been trying to write about this, writing about it in my head, for quite some time. More since I've been home from my trip to Oregon, but before that, too. Sometimes it's just too difficult to write about, I guess. I feel like it might be OK this time.

I am from a very small town. Everybody knows everybody, and people's lives intersect with yours in repeating and sometimes odd ways. Because of this proximity, I often begin stories about people from my town with, "My friend..." This is not because these people are actually all my friends--in fact, there are quite a number of them I can't stand. They are more like family than anything, with their constant and often irritating presence. I didn't choose them, but we were linked together for enough years that I can never quite write them off, either.

Anyway, this is one of the stories that would begin, "I have a friend at home..." and go from there. Except that this girl was never my friend. Perhaps if she had been, some of how I am feeling about this would make more sense.

She had red hair and freckles and was always a bit pudgy. She was in the same grade in school as J., the second cousin down from me in our family cousin stair-steps. That would make her about three years younger than me, I think. Maybe just two. Her name was Amber. I don't remember having much of an impression of her as a kid--she was just someone who was always around. If I saw her on the street, I'd recognize her and say hi, but we didn't ever have any real relationship.

About a year ago, I was talking to my mom on the phone. Often, mom's phone calls can be summarized in list form: "Who Died," "Who Got Sick," "Who Had a Baby," and "Who is Pregnant" are the usual categories, with a fair sprinkle of "Who Got Married" and "Who Got Divorced." This was a "Who Got Sick" list. Generally, the people on these lists are people I can recall only hazily, sitting in the cafe where I worked in high school at the "locals" table, drinking coffee and not leaving a tip; or accosting me at basketball games to tell me how tall I've gotten or how much I look like my mom. They are usually older, and the news of their sickness is generally not all that surprising. I've known a lot of older people my whole life, and it's normal to me that they get sick, and that often they die. It's not pleasant, but it's part of the process, and I accept that.

This call was different. This time the person on the "Who Got Sick" list was Amber. She was 21, and she had cancer. They weren't sure what the extent of it was yet, but given her age it probably wouldn't be a big deal. I told mom to keep me updated, and, for the past year, she has.

While I was home for Christmas, Amber died. After a year of radiation and chemotherapy, losing weight and losing her hair and fighting the cancer that had taken over her body like locusts, she died. My mother and my brother, who knew her better than I did (they went to the same college and shared rides home a few times), intended to go visit her at her parents' house during the holiday season, after it had gotten through the small-town rumor mill that she had come home from the hospital for good and was not expected to make it much past the new year. Mom got a cold, though, and they didn't want to make things any worse, so they stayed away. Then, just a couple of days after Christmas, she died.

I have this enormous grief and I don't know where to put it, or even precisely why it is here. I mean, it is, of course, horribly sad that cancer would steal life from someone so young, but it is not like we were close. In reality, I barely knew this girl. So why has her death barely left my thoughts for the past three weeks?

I've thought a lot about it, and I've realized it's not just Amber's death that is making me feel this way, though it probably was the catalyst. I get this feeling every time I go home--like the whole town is a living thing and I am watching it slowly die. This trip it was Amber, but I also learned that someone else I know, the husband of a woman and children I knew well a few years back, has also been diagnosed with cancer and is not responding well to treatment. And the Parkinson's that is ravaging my dad's youngest brother's body is noticeably worse than it was when I last saw him. I used to think the feeling of death came from the mean age of the town being so high, but these cases are all people under 50. And Amber was only 22.

The town itself seems to be dying right along with the people in it, too, and I think part of the feeling comes from that. Every year, the entering class at the elementary school where my mother works seems to have fewer children. Every time I drive into the city limits I breathe a sigh of relief that the town is still there at all. I fear that sometime I will drive to the particular wide spot on the road where I think my town should be and not even find a shadow in the grass of where it was. For that day, I am already grieving.

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Resolute

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Things I want to accomplish this year, and progress so far towards those goals:

Buy a house
Mark and I put in our application for financing preapproval last night. As soon as we know how much we are preapproved for, we're going to get in touch with a realtor and start looking. In the meantime, we're both working on lists of house must-haves and prioritized nice-to-haves.

Stop biting my nails
So far no progress, as I just decided last night that this is a priority. I am promising myself a ritzy manicure when they get to a suitable length, though. I've done this before, under more stressful circumstances, I'd like to think I could manage it again.

Lose the extra weight
Fact of the matter is that I am heavier than I feel comfortable with, and I want the extra weight gone. I have decided to try a combination of my previous two approaches to weight loss: watching what I eat using Fitday and getting back to the gym. I've started with Fitday today, but I'm not going to try to get back to the gym until I get my allergies taken care of enough to breathe regularly.

Get my allergies taken care of
I am going to go get allergy blood work done as soon as I get the referral from my doctor, and I'll talk to her from there about what course of action is best--if it is shots, then I'll do shots. There is no reason to live like this.

There are more, of course, but that's really probably plenty to start with...

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Welcome, 2005

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I had no intention of having such a long blog hiatus. Things just got away from me there for awhile. I am back now, though. Really.

The end of 2004 and beginning of 2005 have been good to me. Christmas with my family was the most pleasant and least stressful on record (it's amazing how much easier it gets to ignore them as I get older). New Year's was wonderfully low-key (dinner with S&T and the glorious babe, then curled up on the couch with Mark, watching various home deocrating shows). All in all, I have to think hard to find anything at all to complain about.

I have my usual host of New Year's resolutions percolating in my head (eat healthier, get back to the gym, save all spare money for the house). I don't feel all that encouraged, though. The bottom line is that I have very little in the way of self-discipline or self-control, especially over longish time periods if I don't see instant results, and all three of those resolutions require both. Ug.

There are other resolutions, too, though. Like going to the damn doctor and getting things I should have taken care of a long time ago done (allergy tests, antidepressants that don't kill my sex drive). I feel a bit more optimistic about those--shorter time frame.

The weight thing has become an issue. I mean, it's been becoming an issue for awhile, obviously, but I am up to 200 lbs now, and I'm not comfortable in this skin. There is a distinct roll of belly fat that did not used to be there, and the backs of my thighs make me cringe. I still feel beautiful, but I feel like I'm failing myself, because I know this body comes from no excercise and terrible eating habits. And yet I do nothing to change it, and feel almost paralyzed at the thought of trying. Twice now I have done well at starting to get my eating and exercise together--each time lasting about three months before I fall completely off the wagon, undo any good I've done, and get even worse. I just feel like trying again will set me up to fail again. Shit that's depressing.

Dammit. I didn't mean for this entry to go in that direction. Really, I'm doing fabulously well. Back to work tomorrow, but I'm really not even dreading that. I feel good about 2005.

I hope you do, too.

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