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Actually, that liberal arts degree WAS a good idea

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Over and over again lately, I see high school students advised only to take on the financial and time investment of a four-year undergraduate education, particularly one in a liberal arts field, if they are very sure about their career goals and how the philosophy/English/art/whatever degree they want to pursue will directly feed into them.

I get where this advice is coming from. College is extraordinarily expensive, setting kids up with 20 years or more of monthly financial burden that they can ill afford without a good job. However, as someone who is still paying student loans for a private school undergraduate history degree, it's just not the advice I'd go back and give my 17 year-old self when she was deciding what she was going to do after high school. With 15 years in the rearview, I'd tell my younger self to do it exactly the way she did.

Last April, Frank Bruni (BA in English from UNC Chapel Hill, by the way) suggested in the New York Times that the government and universities provide incentives to "steer students into the fields of study that will serve them and society best." That is, direct them away from the uselessness of liberal arts (his article also makes use of the tired trope of the philosophy major barista) by giving better financial aid to those who make "better" major choices. I think he's wrong, and that's what I would tell my 17 year-old self.


When I decided to attend a private liberal arts school, and to make humanities my course of study (it was originally English, then political science, then American Studies, then history), I didn't have a very specific goal in mind. Or, rather, I had lots of them. I intended, at various times, to be a journalist, a lawyer, a book publisher, a professor...you get the idea. I just wanted to be well-educated; I didn't necessarily know, or even care, in what career direction that education would take me.

I'm sure this attitude would horrify Bruni and his cohort, but it has served me really well. My meandering career hasn't included any of the fields I thought I'd get into, but it has included various forms of professional writing, project management, non-profit research, work in higher education administration, and a (much more ill-advised than the original BA) masters degree. Aside from my current (short, in the relative scheme of things) unemployment, I've never been unable to support myself or make my student loan payments. While none of my jobs have specifically required that I have the history degree I hold, I'd argue that my undergraduate education helped to prepare me for all of them. Over and over, I have benefited from the critical thinking, analysis, comprehension, writing, and editing skills I honed during my time as a liberal arts undergraduate.

The author with her baby at her alma mater.
 

I don't think I'm as much of an outlier as the popular conception of the underemployed humanities graduate would have me believe. Looking back at the fellow liberal arts graduates of 2001 that I know personally, I find a taxonomist, a professor, a couple of lawyers, a commercial buyer, a casting director, two marketing executives, a teacher, a nurse, a corporate insurance agent, and a development director. Have some of us had a rough path to get to our current professional state? Sure. Are we still paying student loans? Probably. But that doesn't differentiate us from our STEM major counterparts.

Bruni claims that going to college is not a "guarantor of a certain quality of life." That's certainly true, but it's true for everybody, not just those of us who go the way of humanities. I don't know anybody, regardless of what they studied, who hasn't had some bumps along the road to establishing themselves professionally.

It isn't enough for me, though, to tell my pre-college self that she won't be harmed by the liberal arts degree she wants to work towards. I'd tell her she'll be helped. In fact, I'd tell her it will be the single most powerful and mind-expanding opportunity she'll ever have, and she should grab it with both hands. That goal of being a well-educated person, regardless of what it does or does not do for my professional or economic success? Fifteen years later I still think that's a valid ambition, and I am still extraordinarily thankful for the broad-based humanities education I got as an undergraduate.

The line between reading the classics and learning to write a persuasive paper and professional and personal success may not be clear to many of the current crop of liberal arts education naysayers, but it's crystal clear to me. I would simply not be who I am without the education I got. If I could go back, I'd thank my idealistic 17 year-old self for not listening to the likes of Bruni. She was right.


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This post is part of BlogHer's Success Tips For My Younger Self editorial series, made possible by Kaplan.

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Aren't you unemployed, and having a hard time finding a job?

Liberal arts college worked for me. I do think colleges should have some responsibility in explaining the extreme cost of it to kids. Like, if I paid the sticker price of college in loans for four years, I might now feel differently. But I did pay off a 5 figure loan, happily.

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Thoughts of the inadvertent SAHM

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The other day, Rita Arens wrote a fantastic post over at her blog, Surrender, Dorothy, about her husband's unemployment. Go read it, then come back here, OK?

Wasn't that good? It made me think that maybe I should try to get a few of my feelings about my current unemployed status out there in bloggy format, too.

I got laid off. While on maternity leave. I'm not going to go into details, because going into professional details here would be dumb, but suffice it to say that yes, in this instance it was legal. What happened had absolutely nothing to do with me personally--it was a corporate rules issue that came from far above any of the team I worked with--but that didn't make it not sting, or make it not feel like I had been betrayed while I was vulnerable. I had fully intended to return to my position when Buzzy was eight weeks old, and, instead, I found out when he was three weeks old that I didn't have a job to which I could return.

Now he's almost sixteen weeks, and I still don't. I'm looking--sending the three queries or applications a week mandated by unemployment insurance and then some--but, so far, nothing has panned out. I haven't even had a real interview, though I have had a few phone interviews. Most of what I've applied for is stuff I haven't been all that excited about, but a few things sounded like great matches for my skill set, at which I would be really good, and none of them have called me back.

I am, oddly, not that upset about it. I'm sure long-time readers will recall that the last time I was unemployed, it made me a little bit nuts. Circumstances were better then, too, as far as not having just birthed a dependent. But this time, I feel very calm about it most of the time. I feel sure I'll find something else in good time, and in the meantime, I'm really enjoying the time this allows me to spend with Buzzy, which I would not have otherwise had. Yes, it's a strain financially, but when I add the amount of unemployment insurance I'm getting to the amount we're not paying in daycare, it's not that big a strain. It wouldn't add up long-term, of course (for one thing, UI is only for six months), but for now, it's working OK.

I am, however, bothered by not being more bothered. I don't think I realized, until I wasn't working, just how much of my self-definition is tied up in being employed. Not in what I do specifically, but in myself as a wage earner, as someone who gets up and goes to work every day. Even though I am in many ways busier and more engaged now, as the primary caregiver for an infant, than I have been in many (if not all) of my paid jobs, I still feel lazy. I feel like a leech on my partner, and on society. I feel guilty for not working. And even though I know I didn't do it "on purpose," I feel like I somehow chose not to work and that I am letting myself and perhaps all of womankind down by being, however unwillingly, a stay-at-home-mom.

I didn't expect to be in this position, obviously, but even if I had imagined it, this is not how I would have expected it to feel. I enjoy being home with my baby much more than I would have thought possible (though I suspect this would not hold true long term). I'm not bored. Though I look forward to going back to work, and especially to being an earner once again, I am not nearly so anxious as I expected I would be to slip into a non-mommy primary identity for 40 hours a week. While staying home for these first few months has not made me wish I could stay home long-term, it hasn't made me yearn to go back to work as soon as possible, either. I have been, and at this point remain, surprisingly content both with being home with Buzzy and with the idea that soon (hopefully!) I'll be leaving him in professional care and returning to work.

It has been helpful, in some way, not to have the responsibilities of a job complicating things as I've made the shift to this new identity as someone's mother. On the other hand, though, I worry that this ease comes at the price of sublimating my previous identities, including the wage earning identity that turns out to have been so important, to my new role. Obviously, all of the issues surrounding parenthood, and especially motherhood, and work are extremely complex and very controversial. I can't quite yet tease out how my perspective has been altered by this experience, but I sense that it has.

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Financial success and the 20-something woman

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Image via Stockvault.

Last week, there was a little article in Forbes entitled "6 Things That Keep 20-Something Women From Financial Success," by Amanda Abella. I can't remember where I found it--probably someone mentioned it on Twitter--but I read it with great interest, as I've been thinking a lot lately about "financial success" and how the decisions I made, both consciously and less consciously, in my 20s are playing out now.

I thought the article had some pretty large problems, though there were grains of truth in most of the specific pieces of advice. As I started to unpack it in my mind (and in conversation with friends), I thought it might make good blog fodder. As a woman in my (still early!) 30s, in a committed relationship, with a baby on the way, who is in a pretty good (relative to the majority of women my age) financial position, where do I think the article is spot-on? Where does it fail? How closely does it match up with the decisions I made?

Debt

The article's first admonishment is that women screw themselves financially by getting into debt. This one is a no-brainer--getting into a lot of debt early in your adult life will plague you for years. However, the cursory treatment given to the topic doesn't cover it in any meaningful way. The author writes, "we need to start prioritizing our money and cutting our spending habits." Sure. That would help with the consumer debt problem. But to my mind, the bigger issue for a woman in her 20s is college loans. Can you get a college education without taking on significant debt to do so? Some people can, but for an ever-increasing number of us, it's just not in the cards. So is that debt worth it? How do we make that debt work for us? Should we be forgoing college because of the specter of that debt?

I consider myself lucky to have gotten out of undergrad with about $30K in student loans, at a low interest rate, and not to have increased that debt in grad school. Both were conscious choices, though I can't really call them informed. I decided, at 17 and with very little idea of how repayment would really work, that taking on a certain amount of debt was a worthwhile risk to get the elite private education I wanted. It was a lot less than it could have been, given that tuition was already about $27K/year at that point. I got a lot of financial aid. And, even though I've been making payments on those loans for ten years now, I don't regret it in the least. I think, for me, it was the right decision--even if "all" it got me was an unmarketable liberal arts degree (a claim I don't believe, by the way, but that's another topic for another day). However, I think I also made the right choice by refusing to take on further debt to go to graduate school. I had that option--I could have gone to a "better" grad program, and taken on about $20K more in loans to do it. I chose instead to go to the perfectly good grad program I attended for free. Particularly given how little I actually got out of grad school, personally and professionally, I'm very glad I made that call.

The bottom line, for me, is that some debt is worth taking on. No, it's never really "worth" running up a credit card for frivolous, temporary purchases--I've been down that road, too, and can't recommend it. It causes me physical pain to consider how much healthier my savings account balance would be had I never gotten into that trap. But not all debt is created equally, and I think it's short-sighted not to account for debt that may well be necessary, in the service of both education and further income prospects, as something that needs to be carefully considered, but may well give more benefit than harm.

Not Saving for Retirement
The article's second piece of advice is another typical one--save for retirement, starting early. Again, I have no particular quarrel with this advice, but I think the cursory treatment leaves too much unsaid. The financial reality of living on a starter salary, in many places/situations, and particularly in the current economy, doesn't always make saving for retirement as soon as you get your first "real" job a possibility. In some cases, it surely is, and I absolutely agree that those folks should pony up retirement savings as soon as they can. The rest of us have to play catch up.

Having not started any sort of retirement savings until my very late 20s, I am among those playing catch up. It wasn't that the need to save for retirement wasn't apparent to me before then, it just wasn't going to happen when I was in grad school and working part time, or when I was making less than $30K/year and making student loan payments (see that previous debt thing!). While, retrospectively, I could have saved a very small amount, and probably it would be the advice of most financial planners that I did so, it wouldn't have been much, and I have always felt better with that paltry amount in accessible savings vehicles. I'm not saying that's the right way to do it--it's possible I'll be cursing my 25 year old self when I'm 70--but that's been my thought process.

I am, however, saving for retirement now. I'm still not saving as much as I probably should be, but I plan to increase my percentage every year for the next few years, and I'll get up to a better level pretty quickly.

Not Starting a Side Hustle
This was where the article kinda lost me. "Women tend to be creative, whether we're freelancing for clients or running our own Etsy shop," Abella writes. "We also own about 67% of all at-home small businesses. Pretty nice chunk, eh? Women clearly already have it in them to be their own bosses, so why not join the ranks and set yourself up with an extra source of income? Not only can it make you extra cash while working a traditional job, it can also be your safety net in case that traditional job doesn't pan out."

I think this advice is just...bad. First, comments like "women tend to be creative," send me around the bend. What does that even mean? Secondly, how many of those "67% of at-home small businesses" are turning a profit? Abella doesn't say, and the source she uses for that claim? Pretty sketchy. My anecdotal evidence is that most women who attempt to go the Etsy or similar route in starting a small side business end up spending more than they make, even before accounting for the value of their time. Craft-based businesses are very, very difficult to make financially successful, and doubly so if you are doing them as a sideline, rather than as your main job.

Another problem with this advice is that it doesn't take into account that every hour, every minute, of a person's time has opportunity cost. Is it better to spend time in your 20s building a "side hustle," or increasing your skills/working hours in your main job? What about time spent building that all-important network you're supposed to turn to when the employment chips are down?

I'm not again side work--I've had at least one and often two part-time side gigs for the past several years, and mine have been profitable. However, they've also been based on the experience and skills I have built at my regular, full-time jobs. And now, in my 30s with a baby on the way? I'm giving them up. Frankly, 40 hours a week is enough.

I think better advice for a woman in her 20s is to build a variable skill set. You don't want to have to depend on sporadic freelance work or your Etsy store when you get laid-off--you want to find another full-time gig, and the more things you're qualified to do, the easier that's going to be. This is one of those areas where I think I've been really lucky (and I do think it's luck, more than any advanced planning on my part). When I need to find work, I can look in multiple sectors (non-profit, education, technology, etc.) for multiple job types/titles (technical writer, editor, grant writer, grant administrator, researcher, etc.). This makes it easier for me to find opportunities and gives me more geographic flexibility, as I'm not tied to a given market. Building this type of variable skill set/experience set is the advice I'd give a young woman--not start a side business based on your inherent female "creativity."

Not having "the money talk" when a relationship gets serious.
I was glad to see this piece of advice included in the article. Your 20s is often a time when people get into serious relationships, and those relationships often come with a co-mingling of finances. People can be amazingly naive about this, and I am stunned by how many women I know who have been bitten in the ass by it. If you are going to share money with someone, to any degree, you have to work out the logistics of it--in advance--and you MUST protect yourself. It's really that simple. Nobody is going to do it for you, and it's not heartless or mercenary or any of those other words that get leveled at people (particularly women) who are together enough to do it. It's just good sense.

My advice would be not to mingle money any more than is necessary to achieve joint goals (buying a house, for example). I think it's better (safer, mostly) for folks in general to have control of their own personal finances. However, I realize that I hold the minority opinion on that, and that most married or long-term partnered people do share finances. There are more and less safe ways to do that. Your emergency fund (see the next point), should, to my mind, always be accessible by you only. Nobody wants to think about it, but when the shit hits the fan, it is MUCH harder to deal with a crisis without any accessible cash.

On a less dire note, it's important to be able to talk plainly about money with someone with whom you share your life just because so much of what we do and what we think about is money-oriented. Your attitudes about money will shape what jobs you take, how you spend your time, where you live, what you eat, and so on. Many things we don't think of as financial decisions are, ultimately, financial decisions, and you don't want to have to fight about every one of them, or be blindsided by your differences with your partner.

I feel like Mark and I have a good balance on this front. We've always been able to discuss money pretty openly, which I'm told is generally even more difficult for folks who come from such different class/financial backgrounds as we do. We've elected to keep our finances largely separate, though we have combined them more and more as time has gone on. In part, this has been due to the necessity of joint purchases, like our house in Austin and our vehicles, and in part it's been because we're not married and have to use joint financial accounts to prove our partnership in order to quality for domestic partnership benefits. However, we still keep our primary checking accounts separate, have separate credit cards, and have separate savings accounts as well as a joint one. The bookkeeping is a bit more complicated this way, but I believe it's worth it.

Forgoing the Emergency Fund
The article's fifth piece of advice is to set up an emergency fund for the unexpected-but-inevitable car repair, move, health emergency, etc. This is gold-star advice, in my opinion, and though it may be obvious, it can't be repeated enough. You have to have a cushion to fall back on. If you don't, you end up in debt (see #1) or even more screwed if that option isn't available to you. (The credit card trouble I got into in my 20s began with a huge emergency vet bill that I didn't have savings to pay and spiraled from there, so I'm way familiar with this one.) I believe a stocked emergency fund is the single most important savings you have--more than saving for retirement, more than a savings dedicated to a trip or buying a house or whatever.

The article doesn't suggest an amount to sock away in your emergency fund. For me personally, the amount has been variable depending on what I'm making, how well I'm saving, and how recently my emergency account has taken a hit, but I think the typical "3-6 months of living expenses" advice is probably pretty sound and that's what I shoot for these days.

Paying Yourself Last
The author's final critique of women in their 20s was that they so often refuse to "pay themselves first," i.e. to put money in savings before they do anything else. "For some reason," Arbella writes, "it seems to be really difficult for people to save their money. Granted, it's not completely their faults; after all, when bills pile up it can be difficult to make sure you put some money away in a savings account." This lip service irritates me, as it is nothing more than a condescending head-pat to those who simply are not making enough income to cover basic expenses (this is a problem with the article in general, actually). While the advice is good--save first, ideally automatically, even if it's a small amount--the execution is simply not always a possibility for those who are to-the-penny budgeting, which is what it's like for a lot of people right now.

Paying myself first is something I have never been good at. I'm better now, and have been doing automatic savings for the last couple of years, but, like retirement savings, it took me quite a while to get there. This is a financial mistake, I know, and it's one I regret (again, I know how much bigger my savings balances could/should be). However, I think more useful advice would be on how to make savings work. For example, I've read the suggestion that you automatically save whatever raise you get if/when you get a raise or change jobs, and I think that's brilliant. Similarly, the tactic of continuing to pay a bill once it disappears, but making that payment to savings? Love that. (For example, after your car is paid off, keep making your car payment to your savings account.) These specific ways to save help with the transition between not having anything to save and having money to save, and I think that can really helpful, particularly when you're first starting out.

There are things I'd have liked to see included in the article that were simply not mentioned. Given the state of employment (I heard on the radio this morning that 50% of college graduates are unable to find jobs within three months or something like that?), advice on how to deal with unemployment would be helpful. I still remember the first few months after I graduated from college as one of the financially scariest times I've been through, and it wasn't something I felt all that prepared to deal with at the time.

The article also skirts around one of the most controversial, but important, topics in female financial security--children. Having kids is a financial risk for women, full-stop. Writing for the National Bureau of Economic Research, Elizabeth Ty Wilde, Lily Batchelder, and David Ellwood found that having a child "costs the average high skilled woman $230,000 in lost lifetime wages relative to similar women who never gave birth." Though the actual paper is a bit too complicated to analyze here, the group's basic finding was that having children costs all women, financially, and that the higher the financial prospects of the woman in question, the higher the costs. In comparison, "men's earning profiles are relatively unaffected by having children although men who never have children earn less on average than those who do." Clearly, most women are going to have children regardless of this financial risk. However, a discussion of ways in which this risk can be moderated, both on a personal level for an individual woman and on a societal level, would be very welcome in articles like Abella's.

This analysis is, perhaps, overkill for such a short article. I should probably be glad that this discussion is happening at all, however cursorily. But I think it does a disservice both to young women who need and want this advice and to the more experienced women who can share their experiences to be so matter-of-fact about these difficult subjects. There is almost always a chasm between what you should do, what you can do, and what you are doing. We need to recognize that chasm and figure out how to bridge it, not just ignore it or pithily write it off. Further, a full discussion of women's financial issues can't be had without talking about the complicated effects of partnerships and children on women's financial health, and to do so strikes me as disingenuous. Finally, I'd love to see pieces like this one address not just the college-educated, middle-class woman to whom Abella is clearly speaking, but to a wider range of women as well.

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I'm down with UMC?

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Over the course of the past few months, I've been called something I never expected to be called. A name that just hadn't occurred to me to worry about having attached to my freewheeling bohemian self. A phrase that I just could not imagine would apply to me.

I've been called upper middle class.

And now that the shock has worn off, I'm considering the appropriateness of this term. My instinct, of course, is to snort derisively. I can't be UMC--no fancy car, no fancy house, no fancy clothes. I know what the UMC look like--I live among them!--but that's not me! My baby will NOT be riding in a Bugaboo, thank you very much!

However.

A bit back, I saw this (dated, but still somewhat relevant) New York Times class calculator online. So I filled in my statistics...and it gave me an average of the 71st percentile. The top 5th. Not just upper middle class, but actually ABOVE it. Huh.

So I poked around a bit more. I hit all the markers of Wikipedia's definition of UMC. I couldn't argue with most of what Urban Dictionary had to say.

Time for a reality check.

The interesting thing, I realized as I came to grips with this term actually applying to me, is not being upper middle class. It's that it is so bizarre to me to identify as such. I went to school for a million years and got a professional degree. I am partnered with someone who holds a Ph.D. I've worked for nearly the last decade towards a very comfortable income. How did I not think of these things as the upper middle class markers they are?

There are, I think, two major reasons. The first is an error of perception. I thought of upper middle class not as a measure of career/income/education, but as a measure of consumption. McMansions, low-end designer (but designer! and purchased new!) clothes every year, cars with bells and whistles, etc. What I failed to take into account is that those are consumption choices, and (particularly in the credit-fueled here and now) they don't necessarily reflect purchasing power as much as purchasing willingness. I also conveniently forgot to take into account the UMC purchasing decisions I do make--organic groceries, frequent travel, etc. The shift towards those things has happened so slowly that they've become normal, not something I think about as a marker of anything. That's pretty embarrassing. I've been paying attention to class long enough to know that assuming that my life is "normal" and anything "above" or "below" it is deviant is a big part of the problem.

The other reason I never thought of myself as UMC is a bit more complicated. I grew up working class, and though I've been aware for some time of having moved out of that class and into another one, it hadn't occurred to me that I'd shift not just by one "level" but perhaps by more than one. Like, apparently, a large number of Americans, it feels weird to me to define myself as anything other than middle class, particularly when even calling myself "comfortably middle class" seems like a departure from my roots. It's not like it happened while I wasn't paying attention--increased income and professional responsibility have been goals of mine for many years now--but I didn't necessarily realize, or didn't allow myself to notice, that the combination of achieving my education, career, and income goals was going to land me in the UMC.

These issues are all the more interesting and salient to me as I consider impending motherhood. Unless our situation changes drastically, my child will grow up in a much different class than the one I did. I have mixed feelings about that. On one hand, I am happy that (again, God willing, as long as things stay on the trajectory they are on right now) I'll be able to provide her with things like lessons and trips and maybe help pay for college. As aghast as I am about how much we're going to be paying for day care next year, I am thrilled that we'll be able to do it, and that our economic situation won't force us to be creative about our childcare. I fully realize that it has to be easier to raise a kid with money than without. As fantastic as my upbringing was, I don't have a whole lot of poverty romanticism--being poor is tough.

On the other hand, though, I worry about my kid being a snob. I worry about her turning up her nose at where I came from, or not realizing just how lucky she is, how lucky we are, to have been afforded the opportunities we have been and to have had things go our way. I worry about all the things I see happening to myself, and don't like, being things she starts out with.

It probably seems as if I am overstating my case, and I likely am--it's not like we're rolling in dough. But I think it's important to have a realistic assessment of where you stand in terms of your country and your community, if only to better empathize. As uncomfortable as it is for me, I think it is important that, if I am actually upper middle class, I realize and own that privilege, while simultaneously realizing that it may not be permanent. So that's what I am, quite imperfectly, trying to do.

Talk to me about class--is it something you think about? It's a ridiculously difficult subject to discuss, as we all bring so much baggage to the table, but I think it's worth trying.

4 Comments

I always love your blog topics.

This made me smile - I've always admired you for being such a successful woman. Class is something I'm constantly aware. I grew up UMC (I was SO down), had an Ivy League education, and immediately went into the arts, plummeting slowly into the bottom 5% income of the nation. Now I live in a certified ghetto and I sing in an alumni a capella group that meets in serious mansions in Bel Air. It's impossible not to be aware of class. The less I have, the more I'm aware of it.

Bottom line is, I'd give anything to make what you make right now!!

"I fully realize that it has to be easier to raise a kid with money than without."

Isn't that the truth.

Interestingly, we are a lot higher in the %s than I thought we would be. That calculator has me thinking now.

I'm a lot higher in the percentages than I thought we would be too (although I should know better, working with folks who are on the bottom, I know that we have a lot.) And yet, somehow we're sort of scraping by, and really truly living a modest but perfectly decent and nice life style.

Goes to show, I guess, how many people are far far below scraping by with a decent lifestyle. :/

Very true article. You never feel where you stand unless you start looking around and thats when you see where you really are.

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Addendum: why no commitment ceremony?

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There is one thing I forgot to address yesterday when I spouted off about marriage: why we're not interested in having any kind of commitment ceremony. Over the years, we've been asked a number of times if we wouldn't like to have some sort of ceremony/celebration--basically, a wedding without the marriage license. Once upon a time, we considered it, but it has never really appealed to either of us, and at this point I think it's safe to say we're not going to do it.

Basically, I see three reasons for this type of ceremony:
1. It's an excuse for a party/celebration.
2. It serves some sort of spiritual purpose for you.
3. It signals to the people in your lives that you are serious and asks your community for its support for your relationship.

None of these reasons resonate with us. While I love a celebration, I'm not much at all for ceremonies, and Mark is even less so. It's not just weddings we don't like (though neither of us like weddings)--we both skipped our graduate graduation ceremonies, too. Rites of passage, as expressed ceremonially, are important markers for societies--from a sociological/anthropological perspective, I get that--however, I feel certain that the rest of y'all will go on feeding those social needs even if we opt out. Given the number of wedding invitations I still get, I'm fairly sure I am not a pioneer, starting an anti-marriage ceremony trend. Put simply, a commitment ceremony would be a good answer if we didn't want to be married, but wanted to have a wedding. But we want to have a wedding even less than we want to be married.

The one thing I will say for weddings is that, like funerals, they bring together families and friends who otherwise don't often see each other. For that reason, even though weddings themselves make me itch, I make a point to attend them. Once again, though, I don't see our not having a wedding as making a whole lot of difference here. Maybe I am shirking off my social obligation to create an excuse for a family reunion, but I'll make up for it by hosting Thanksgiving or something.

Commitment ceremonies and alternative weddings also serve an important spiritual purpose for some people, and I respect that. If you subscribe to a faith which values lifelong partnership and considers the makeup of your household a religious or spiritual matter, then I can completely see the importance of having that ceremony. However, as a person without faith of any kind, who is partnered with a fairly committed atheist, this reason just doesn't apply to us.

The third reason is the only one we've ever given any real consideration. If we were to have something that extended family members and friends could look to as our "wedding," it would give them a basis by which to understand our relationship, and an opportunity to support it, via their presence (or, you know, their gift cards). I can definitely see why someone would go that route, particularly if s/he were from a family for whom this type of thing is very important. Luckily, Mark and I both have parents who are very supportive of our decisions to live our lives by our own standards, even if they don't quite understand our reasons, and who take our relationship just as seriously as they would if we were married.

Even if our parents weren't supportive, however, I'm not sure Mark and I ever could have made ourselves put on a show just so other people would feel more comfortable with our relationship. The truth is that while support and community from those who love us is great, and we're very happy to have it, nobody lives in our house but us. At the end of the day, the most important thing is for us to be true to ourselves, and I'd have felt like a huge fraud if we'd decided to have a commitment ceremony we didn't want just to please family/friends. Part of this is simply my contrary nature--I can't fathom doing something as big as a commitment ceremony just because it would make other people happy.

Because I know there are some inquiring minds, I will disclose that Mark and I do have a domestic partnership agreement, via his employer. We have no state or federal status, but have filed domestic partnership paperwork with his job in order for me to be included on his health insurance. I'd have preferred not to do it, but practicality won out over my preference. I recognize that having this option is a privilege, and that there are some circumstances in which my feelings about marriage would make absolutely no difference and we'd get married because it was what we needed to do to stay safe, or healthy, or together. This post, and the previous one, have not been intended to denigrate the ways in which other people choose to live their lives, but rather just a little explanation of why, at least as of right now, Mark and I have made the choices we have.

But, you know, feel free to send me sheet sets and small kitchen appliances.

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Still not married, thanks for asking!

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My mother was recently accosted by a distant friend or family member, demanding to know what was wrong with Mark and I; what was standing in our way; why, after so long together (ten years in September), we hadn't "taken the next step"? Why, this person was anxious to know, aren't we married?

Mom, God bless her, gave the party line--that I'll think about getting married when everybody can, and not a moment sooner. I think that's a good answer, and generally has the benefit of steering the conversation away from my personal choices and towards a greater political analysis. But, in truth, at this point in my life, my political reasons for not getting married barely scratch the surface. Even if there was a universal law protecting the right of same sex couples to marry, I still wouldn't do it.

The truth is much simpler, much more basic: I don't want to be married. Mark doesn't want to be married. We're nearly ten years into our relationship, completely committed to each other, a family--but neither of us feels any need to formalize that by way of marriage. Actually, that's not exactly right, either--it's more than not feeling a need, it's that we are put off by the idea. We have put in place the legal documentation necessary to take care of each other in case of a tragedy (well, most of it, anyway), but beyond that, we prefer our relationship as it is--organic, without any name, without any state-or-church mandate. Marriage doesn't symbolize anything good for us--it has a history with which we're not comfortable, and a present with which we see leagues of problems. Marriage isn't a next step we're dragging our feet on--it's a step we've consciously chosen to move around. We're not pre-married; we've created an alternative to marriage, one that works better for us.

This is a legitimate choice. In fact, it's ridiculous that I feel the need to justify it, or that my mother feels the need to justify it for me. Are the married majority asked to defend their choice to take part in that institution? Not often. It is, in the great majority of cases, a choice that is supported, celebrated, and even treated as an accomplishment. Well my healthy, happy, decade-long relationship is just as deserving of support and celebration as any marriage. We don't need it--we're doing just fine on our own--but we deserve it. I am proud of my relationship, of my family. I don't appreciate it being denigrated for not following the prescribed path.

In recent years, I've more or less ceased evangelizing about why I think marriage is a bad idea. When I look back at the last post I made about why I'm not married (in 2006!), I find it a little bit cringe worthy. I no longer correct people who assume Mark and I are married, at least not unless I am likely to have a long-term relationship with them. Mostly, I don't care if the world assumes we're married--that's the model we typically work with in this society, and married is indeed how we appear. Though I still think there are social and political consequences to marriage far beyond what most people consider, I am also more honest with myself than I used to be. If I wanted to be married, if marriage appealed to me on any emotional or visceral level, I would probably talk myself into it--politics be damned. It simply doesn't. The decision to opt-out of marriage is a personal choice, and it's one I am happy enough with that I feel less and less need to defend it.

As Mark and I move into our second decade of couple hood, and into the firmer, more adult footing of our mid-30s, I rarely think about us not being married. It's simply not important anymore. I see no way in which our lives would change if we were legally wed, except that the occasional nosy friend or relative would have to get worked up about something else, and we'd have nicer towels. Though, never having been married, I can't guarantee that a wedding wouldn't be a magical threshold, the other side of which would look completely different than my current reality, I just don't buy that it would. And frankly, if I thought marriage would change anything between Mark and I, that would be one more reason not to do it--we don't need changing.

So, I'm thinking of putting together a registry, as if Mark and I were going to get married. That way, the next person who asks can be directed there and told that, if it would make them feel better, they can get a present for us and pretend we tied the knot. It will be very convenient--the wedding date can be whenever they'd like, and there will be no obligation to actually show up! What do you think?

8 Comments

I kind of love this idea. And good for you for being clear on what you (both) do and do not want.

Here's a question for you though, purely hypothetical: would you get married to Mark if he felt strongly that he wanted to?

Love this post! And the towels comment made me smile.

Can I tell you how glad I was for you to comment on my baby blog about my marriage post? I was flaming out about two specific people I knew, just typing annoyed, and you came and reminded me that this world is not black and white. I LOVE the idea of a registry, that is hysterical and that's what they get for assuming that a couple has to be married! (Maybe I should get you a gift haha!)

You hit the nail on the head - if you don't feel that you as a couple needs to change in any way... why succumb to peer/familiar/societal pressure? A dear couple we're friends with plan to never marry and never have kids. They are perfectly happy in their perfect relationship, yet are constantly being harassed about ticking biological clocks and pinning one another down. Marriage doesn't equal loyal mates or babies or happiness. No one knows you as a couple better than you two.

Thanks for making me and others think, and see the different sides to this issue.

Really enjoyed this (and your corporate posts)... I am a full supporter of defining your own reality - with your partner.
If it works for you... rock on with your bad self!

My husband and I decided not to have children shortly after we married and man i can't tell you the questions and the pressure we have gotten - thank goodness not really from our family.

Even though in 40's think some of them still hold out hope. I think our newly acquired dog will stave off those ones though!

It is about partnering in all honesty and truth and being confident in that to bring you through!

Visit us as sheality to hear more!!

I think the only thing your post is missing is the fact that you guys are in a position where you have the option of not getting married. If one of you faced long term unemployment, or couldn't work, the practical concerns are very different, you guys might make a different choice.
You are entirely right, marriage wouldn't change anything, at lease it didn't for Ted and I. What it did do was provide health insurance for Ted when we moved 2000 miles in the middle of a recession. What it will do is allow him to stay home with the kid while I go back to work and still have health insurance.
This is why I wish our society had a civil partnership option that would allow for all the legal benefits without the baggage. That is what we would have if it existed, though we mostly say we are heterosexually civilly united, since I refused to go near a religious ceremony, and in my mind, marriage is by definition religious.

My partner and I have been together 6 years and had a commitment ceremony 2 years ago (I love a good party, and ours was the BEST party). For whatever it's worth, I've always felt supported (or maybe just less of a freak) knowing that you're blazing the same trail I am.

I highly recommend Beyond Straight and Gay Marriage by Nancy Polikoff. It helped me have a better language to tell people exactly why, as you eloquently said, "marriage doesn't symbolize anything good for us--it has a history with which we're not comfortable, and a present with which we see leagues of problems." Her blog is here: http://beyondstraightandgaymarriage.blogspot.com/

Have you heard of the Alternatives to Marriage project?: http://www.unmarried.org/

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When I wrote my last two "Adventures in growing up" posts in January and February, I intended it to be a monthly series. Then I got distracted by shiny things. But hey, I'm back!

Over the past few years, I have worked in a few different types of professional environments: a medium-large non-profit, a small non-profit, two different universities, a state agency, and now, a large corporation. There have, of course, been similarities between these situations--in some ways, a job is a job. However, what is more interesting to me is the difference in office culture I have experienced at each job, and how I have adapted to that culture.

Perhaps the most telling differences have been in expected dress, compensation, and working hours. Most to least formal dressed work environments: medium-large non-profit; large corporation; small non-profit; state agency; universities. The universities at which I worked had very few pretenses about dress--jeans were just fine, every day. The state agency was a bit pickier, but I was there as a contractor, the rules for me were also a bit more strict than those who were on staff. The case at the large corporation is similar. The most interesting situations have been the non-profits: the larger one was the type of institution that has very wealthy donors, some of whom I interacted with regularly--clothes were important there. The smaller one was less dress-oriented, but still required a higher level of attention to clothes than have most of my other jobs.

I'm surprised to be finding this the case, but I actually prefer the slightly more formal work environments when it comes to dress. Partially that's just because it gives me an excuse to care about how I look, but partially it's that old saw about feeling and acting more professional when you are dressed more professionally. I find that to be oddly true. I am certainly not yearning to wear a suit every day (or, really, ever), but I do enjoy having a certain standard of work dress.

The compensation has been wildly different in the positions I have held, but a factor of several times over. Part of that, of course, is that I have gained experience and skills (and a master's degree) as time has gone on, so I'm worth more in the job market. I've also held different types of jobs. However, some of the compensation differences have been based on type of organization. Non-profits pay less, full stop. And universities and state organizations, while paying more than non-profits, pay less than corporations. Some of these payment differences are mediated by benefits, but even considering that aspect, best to least well paid has been: large corporation, university #1, state agency, university #2, small non-profit, large non-profit.

I've touched on this before, but I'll say it straight out now: there has been, in my professional experience, a direct correlation between how much I am paid and how much respect my work has been given. Of course, that isn't always true, but it has been in my case. Organizations that have been willing to pay me well have also been willing to accept my expertise and grant me the autonomy I need to do my job well. Organizations with lower pay scales have been much more likely to monitor and second-guess me and stand in my way. As much as the actual money itself, having a work environment in which I am respected and trusted is important to me, and I will continue, after my current position ends, to look for higher paying jobs with that in mind.

The jobs to which I have been referring and have been both hourly and salaried. In general, my preference is to work on salary. However, working hourly has, thus far, been more lucrative. Though I haven't experienced the expectation of unpaid overtime myself in any of my positions, I have seen it, especially in the non-profit and academic worlds, and I think it's absolutely wrong. There is a reason people fought so hard to secure the 40-hour work week, and we ought to be respecting it, not just for hourly employees, but for everyone. Expecting your employees, no matter how well-compensated, to regularly work more than full-time is bad policy, and it's one I'd like to see a crack-down on.

Overall, I have been very surprised at what I am beginning to see as my strong preference for working in corporate, rather than non-profit or public sector, positions. I would have guessed it would be the opposite. What I have found, though, is that while the corporate world may pay less lip service to being "family friendly" or "employee oriented," having clear standards of acceptable conduct, hours, and dress, as well as a more generous pay scale, makes for an environment that ends up friendlier.

As I get older and have more job experience under my belt, I continue to surprise myself. I do things now that the fresh-from-college me, or even the fresh-from-grad-school me, wouldn't have considered possible. The constant, Dilbert-esque coffee drinking. The acceptance of daily makeup and heel-wearing. The frequency with which I attend meetings. Immediately post college, I imagined myself a boho professional--a professor, a curator, possibly a journalist. After grad school, I set my sights on work-from-home freelance, making my own schedule and never having to take off my pajamas. I never thought of myself as an "office person," a "cube dweller," or, God help me, a "professional." But I am. I work 9-5, surrounded by gray fabric walls, and it isn't killing me. I probably don't want to do it forever--those original boho professions are starting to sound really good again--but I'm doing it, and well. I like the money, I like the respect, and I don't hate the environment.

My experience, obviously, isn't universal. Some people are extremely happy in non-profit or public sector environments. Personally, I don't rule out work in either type of organization again in the future. I am just happy I now know that the private sector is another option, and one I don't have to fear. In fact, it's likely where I will begin my next job search.

7 Comments

"What I have found, though, is that while the corporate world may pay less lip service to being "family friendly" or "employee oriented," having clear standards of acceptable conduct, hours, and dress, as well as a more generous pay scale, makes for an environment that ends up friendlier."

This has been my experience as well. I prefer to work for large companies, and a friend of mine prefers small, family-run businesses. Not only is my pay significantly more, but my benefits and level of autonomy are much higher - despite the fact that she has multiple certificates and a degree.

I LOVE corporations. My experience is the same as yours, and only confirmed at my last job with a family-owned company that was downright abusive. My corporations have always been professional and fair.

I love dressing up for work! I consider it a costume. I work on my theater company at night and on the weekends, but from 12 - 6 on the weekdays, I'm a front desk receptionist at a small but well-known investment firm. I get paid extremely well and my benefits are stellar...and, yes, they make it quite clear: I'm to sit at the front desk and be lovely. That's what they hired me for. Not too shabby for putting on a pair of nylons and touching up my lipstick after lunch!

I love being a corporate sellout! I hate non-profits & universities! Well no, but the latter two it seems like no one could EVER get fired and there were tons of lifers who'd never had a job anywhere else. This meant they quit doing work 10 years ago and got used to the totally dysfunctional workplace because they didn't realize other places were different.

Obviously I work in an odd situation, but the 2 corporations I have worked at had the most lax dress codes. At libraries they require you to wear shoes as a book could break your toe & you'd sue them. Not so in my corporate worlds.

As a fundraiser, I have worked almost solely in nonprofit since graduating from college. What I have found is that this is often the most "corporate" place to be in a nonprofit--since we're revenue generating, it's often (one of) the most lucrative departments in a nonprofit and also often one of the last to feel any staff cutbacks. The nonprofit I currently work at has some of the best compensation (considering the entire package of salary and benefits) and some of the best technology I've encountered in the field. I don't love being in a cubicle for the first time since 2004, but it's a small price to pay for an overall great working environment.

I think you should do a whole post on corporate dress/dress codes. I'd be interested to hear whether or not they're evolved from since the times of stewardesses in miniskirts/girdles.

Sounds like you are starting to get clear on your personal values, "I like the money, I like the respect". I've found that the better you understand your personal values and are able to align them with the organizations that you are involved with, the more passionate you will be about your work. Lack of alignement creates a very stressful situation, not just at work but in all aspects of our lives.

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A few words about Alzheimer's

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Recently, I've noticed more and more of my friends and acquaintances being forced to confront the age and even the mortality of their parents. Though my parents are on the young side, given my age, they, too, are getting older. And so, I worry. I worry obviously about all the big scaries--cancer, strokes, heart attacks--but there is one worry that crowds all others out in my mind:

Alzheimer's.

My great-grandmother had Alzheimer's. I was in high school and college at the time, and didn't see her all that often, but I remember the disease's progression very clearly. I remember how it killed her. And I remember how it stole her entire self first. It was one of the most brutal, horrifying things I can imagine.

All of this is why I decided to take part in a PSA campaign from the Alzheimer's Association, Generation Alzheimer's. Basically, the Alzheimer's Association is working to make my parents' generation, who are in their 50s and 60s now, aware of their increased risk for Alzheimer's as they get older. Since the disease cannot be cured, but can be managed (to some degree) in its early stages, early diagnosis and intervention is key. As horrible as it is to contemplate, Alzheimer's is also a disease that needs to be planned for if possible--people with it can live for years or even decades in need of full-time care.

The Alzheimer's Association has prepared a report, "Generation Alzheimer's: The Defining Disease of the Baby Boomers," to shed light on this subject. It can be downloaded for free here.

Another thing to do, if you are so moved, is put your money where your worry is. Go here to donate to the Alzheimer's Association. As per the organization's website, 70% of donation funds are used for research awareness, and advocacy. Charity Navigator gives them 3/4 stars.

3 Comments

I am in the odd position of still having three living grandparents, whose health dominates the discussion, and then being part of (though secretly) the younger generation with health issues that supersede our parents. I wonder how that is going to work, long term.

Thank you for your great post. Hopefully some people click through your link and make a donation.

"My great-grandmother had Alzheimer's. I was in high school and college at the time, and didn't see her all that often, but I remember the disease's progression very clearly. I remember how it killed her. And I remember how it stole her entire self first. It was one of the most brutal, horrifying things I can imagine."

I went through something similar. It was so hard to see the person who helped raise me through much of my childhood retreat into an empty shell and not recognize anyone she loved. My great-grandmother, Ida Mae (Mama Perk).

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The gift my mother gave me

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I have a really, really wonderful mom. I don't know how much of it was natural for her and how much of it was her willingness to learn how to parent the kid she had, but she did a great job. Often, when I am asked about some good trait I have, I can draw a straight line from it right back to her. I think of these traits, in general, as the gifts she gave me.

One of those gifts, perhaps not the most important one, but the one that I am lately feeling the most thankful for, is an appreciation for lyric. My mom is a music lover, but more than anything, she's a lyric lover. She can't play an instrument, she can't sing (but don't tell her that, because it doesn't stop her), and she can't dance. She's into music for the words. And I am exactly the same way. I don't get much out of a song with no lyrics, and I can't necessarily tell one bass line from another, but I always know the words.

Some of my earliest memories are of my mom singing along with albums (and yeah, at that point, they were literally albums--I'm old). She had a varied collection, but the ones I remember the most clearly are these:

album-songs-of-kristofferson.jpg

outlaws_wanted.jpg

(Lest you think mom's taste was country specific, the other album I remember clearly, which I can't find online anywhere, was a live Holly Near record.)

To this day, I know every song on either of those records, and on the Kristofferson one, I can still remember the places were the album skipped. I remember very clearly my mom asking tiny me (maybe I was five or so?) if I didn't think the following was the most beautiful thing ever:

I have seen the morning burning golden on the mountains in the skies.
Achin' with the feelin' of the freedom of an eagle when she flies.
Turnin' on the world the way she smiled upon my soul as I lay dying.
Healin' as the colours in the sunshine and the shadows of her eyes.

Yeah. I do. I still do.

I absolutely believe that this early, constant exposure to poetry, in the form of songs, is why I'm a writer. I know it's more likely to be about the books she read me or exposed me to (this is same mom who let me read Sophie's Choice when I was about 12). But that doesn't resonate with me the way the lyrics do. I knew, from such an early age, that you could take a few pretty words, twist them so they meant exactly what you were feeling, put them to a beat, and make people feel it with you. There is incredible power in that.

I've written before about how I found my own music taste, reaching into heavy metal, pop, and even electronic music in high school and college (I have a brief, embarrassing memory of trying to get my mom to recognize the genius of Faith No More at some point). And I still don't quite have the same taste as Mom does (I just don't get Jimmy Buffett, for example)--but I've always come back to those early albums. I never, for a minute, stopped loving Kris Kristofferson. When Mark was excited about A3's version of "Speed of the Sound of Loneliness," I argued with him for days about its inferiority to John Prine's original (though I really do love A3). I've been known to quote song lyrics at length (though I don't share Mom's habit of breaking into singing them whenever anything brings them to mind). And every time I discover a new artist who strikes that cord (most recently Jamey Johnson, before that Dale Watson--it doesn't happen very often), my mom is the first person I tell about it.

I've written here before about classic country music as part of my legacy, my heritage. This is more than that. It's not necessarily even about country, it's about paying attention to the words. My mom taught me to do that. And every time I write a line that doesn't suck, a little piece of my heart thanks her for it.

3 Comments

Well said, Grace.

I had to laugh about "Mom's habit of breaking into singing them whenever anything brings them to mind..." because my mother does the SAME thing.

I love lyrics too. I also love the music part and had an early in life love affair with classical music which still endures though I listen to it a lot less often now. But lyrics are so important to me and they really are a special form of poetry and have had a profound influence on my life as a writer too.

I don't like They Might Be Giants but Max and Philip love them and so I listen to them and there are some lyrics they write that I loathe, they just irritate the ever loving crap out of me and so even if the musical part was pure genius, I can't get past the lyrics which I think are stupid but which my guys and a huge proportion of my friends really love.

I love "The Speed of the Sound of Loneliness" but have never heard the original. I am only familiar with Nancy Griffith's version which I think is beautiful.

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My life in fashion: a retrospective

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Someone asked me the other day if I had always been stylish. After I stopped laughing, I starting thinking about the answer. I'm still not sure I'm stylish, at least not most days--I phone it in a lot of the time. However, I am definitely more stylish than I have been in the past. It's a learned behavior, at least for me. So I thought I'd share some of my less stylish moments.


Being only a few months old is no excuse for high waisted sweat pants and a corny message t-shirt.


A dirndl? really? I'm not even German.


Even in 1981, there was no reason for a wardrobe so heavily featuring rust.


Oh yes, gentle reader, THAT is a mullet.


And, later, a few really excellent perms.


Just thought you'd want to see that perm again. Plus, this was my favorite sweatshirt.


And then there were the New Kids On The Block years...


And my really excellent taste in formal wear...

Junior Prom, 1996 10-19-15
Which did not get any better as time went on.


All I can say about this haircut is that I was old enough to have known better.

Bald and skinny
What does it say about me that I kinda miss the underwear as outerwear days?

Me, Spring 2000
Nose piercing was ill-advised in my case.


I loved those plaid shorts.

Me showing off the tomatoes, summer 02
In closing, I never need to be blonde again.

Well...that was embarrassing!

5 Comments

You are adorable in each and every photo (but that mullett)!

This is so very strange. We are almost identical in our style journey. Babydom, not so much. But from the rust outfit through the mullet and then the perm and then the NKOTB and then the "party dress" and then the floppy hat and then short hair..... I think we parted style ways as young adults, but I tell ya, looking at your growing up pictures was total deja vu. :)

I love the pigtailed you! I wore that exact same outfit with the hat in the late 90s. Which says very horrible things about you because I have never had any fashion sense. :) And, keeping my last statement in mind, I think you did okay with the blonde hair.

Oh wow. I could mimic a LOT of those pictures. *shame*

I really, really love this.

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Adventures in growing up: salary negotiation

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In the past, my salary negotiations before accepting a new job have been something like this:

New Job: We'd like to hire you for $X.

Me: OK! Great!

Which is to say, I've never really negotiated. In part, that's because the only job I've ever been offered for that I realized had a too-low starting salary was my first one out of college, and I was in no place to refuse any work at that point. In part, though, it's been because the idea of negotiation makes me uncomfortable.

I'm not alone in being uncomfortable negotiating. In fact, I'm in the majority. There has been a lot of work done and there are a lot of theories about women and negotiation. There are books, websites, seminars, and speakers about it. With women still at something less than 80 cents to the male dollar, it's a big deal.

So, when I started this last job search, I promised myself that I would negotiate. It wasn't just my personal responsibility, I told myself, it was my responsibility as a feminist! I looked up the going rate for professionals in my field in my area, and was surprised to find that my previous salary (which I'd considered very generous) was at the low end of the spectrum. I look around and noted what jobs in the field with published salaries were listed for. I came up with a target number for what I wanted to make.

The first job I was offered made an initial offer of about 8% less than the number I'd arrived at. I told the human resources person with whom I was communicating that I'd like to make my target number, but that I'd consider additional benefits (i.e. more paid vacation days) in lieu of salary if the salary number was non-negotiable. The job had good benefits already, so I felt OK in coming down a bit if I had to, but I started with a strong counter-offer. After a couple of rounds of negotiations, we agreed on a salary right between the one they'd initially offered and the one for which I'd asked, with no additional vacation time. Though it wasn't all I'd wanted, I felt good about having forced myself to go through the process.

That position didn't end up working out--there was a contract issue between the company for which I was going to work and the company for whom they were staffing, and it fell through. Back to the drawing board.

The next offer I received was for a salary 17% below my target. Again, the job had good benefits, so I was willing to consider a slightly lower salary, but this one seemed far too low. Before I responded to the offer, I re-checked the going rates for my profession in my area. The offer was in the bottom quartile for those with my experience, or even a bit less experience. I countered, saying I would like to make 17% more--my target number. Again, I told the human resources person that I would consider additional benefits in lieu of compensation. The human resources person was surprised, telling me that I'd been offered the highest salary budgeted for the position. For a moment, I second-guessed myself, thinking I'd made a mistake by asking. I stood my ground, though, and requested that my counter offer be presented to the hiring manager.

This time, the response I got was negative--the hiring manager refused to increase the salary offer at all, or add additional benefits. In retrospect, as low as the offer was for the field in which I work, I should have turned it down. I was a few months into my job hunt at that point, though, and not feeling very self-confident, so I accepted.

That was the job that didn't work out, at which I was employed for two days. The salary offer I received, I now realize, was an excellent clue to how I should have expected to be treated at that company.

On my third round, I found myself in an enviable situation. I had two competing offers. Initially, one offer was 117% of my target salary, the other was 141% of my target salary. The lower offer included full benefits, though, while the higher one did not. As I considered my decision, I was honest with both companies, telling them about the competing offer.

After I told each of the companies about the other, (without making any requests, save a request for a few days in which to make my decision) each presented me with another offer. The first offer was increased to 133% of my target amount. The second was increased to 150% of my target amount. I knew, then, that I was in an exceptional place to negotiate. The first company made it clear that the offer they'd made was as high as they were able or willing to go, but offered me an excellent benefits package to go along with it. In speaking to the second company, I explained that although I was tempted by their higher offer, I hated the idea of not having paid vacation. They returned with a second counter offer, this time of 156% of my target salary and ten paid days of vacation per year. I accepted the second offer.

I don't know if I did this right--I feel like I may just have gotten very lucky. I do know, though, that my forcing myself to attempt negotiation, even if it wasn't all that successful, during the first two interactions helped me to feel much more confident during the second two. I knew, when I began my search, what the lowest salary I should take would be, what the salary I'd consider fair would be, and what the salary I'd consider generous would be. I also knew, in general, how much a benefits package would be worth. It helped to arm myself with that information.

The most helpful thing, though, and the part I completely failed with in the middle of my search, was believing I was worth it. I don't know if it's because I grew up poor, or because I am a woman, or for some other reason or combination of reasons, but it is hard for me to believe the work I do is worth the salary it commands. I know, intellectually, that the combination of skills and education I bring to a position *is* worth this salary--I can look up the numbers to tell me that. But making the leap from that knowledge to actually believe that *I* am worth a given dollar amount is very difficult. And it was especially difficult after a few months unemployment.

Another important lesson for me was not to feel guilty about getting all you can get. When companies hire new staff, they do the best they can to get the best person possible for the position. There is no shame in an individual doing the same thing--getting the best situation possible--and compensation is a big part of that. It's an outdated and dangerous artifice to pretend we aren't working to get paid.

Obviously, not every job offer is one you can safely negotiate, or at least not one you can walk away from if the negotiation doesn't go your way. It's easy for me to say now that I should have refused the job with the low-ball offer, but I really didn't feel like I could at the time. I am, of course, glad now that it didn't work out, as the job I've ended up in is both more in keeping with my preferred work style and environment and significantly more lucrative (187%!). But that part really was luck. I don't think I'll be afraid to negotiate in the future, though. And for that learning experience alone, this process has all been worth it.

8 Comments

Thanks for sharing your experience with this. I've never been in a position to negotiate a salary. With the government jobs I've had it's always presented as a done deal. In my current job they put me at the very bottom of the payscale when I started, even though I had 7 years of experience as a contractor because I was new to permanent state service and that's the way it had to be. That was a 30% pay cut. Then of course we got furloughed and still are furloughed. Sigh. At least I have a job.

Great post, Grace. It's good to see someone's actual process laid out. I'm sure it'll give some readers great tips for the next time they are in a position to negotiate!

Congrats on the successful negotiation, and the new job! I was wondering, where did you go to find out the info on what people in your field are making in your specific area? I would also like to look that up (I'm thinking about looking for a new job as well), and don't have the slightest clue where to start looking for that kind of information.

wowee! good for you! i've always been the same as your "former self," whereas my husband is an excellent negotiator. it sounds like you played your cards right--honestly and strategically. nicely done! enjoy the extra $$. :)
-brittney
http://adayinlifetoo.blogspot.com (my daily outfit blog)

I frickin' LOVE this story. For the last year and a half I worked at too-low rate for a job I took because it was the first one I could find during the recession. The rate would have been tolerable, but the work environment was so toxic and back-stabbing that it rendered the pay useless. I finally left the company in January and now command the rate I'm supposed to be making for my experience. Yay for women who don't put up with less!

Interesting, and congratulations!

I do agree with you - when you counteroffer and they seriously consider it and do something in response, it shows how badly they want you, and how important you will be to the team.

This was an excellent and educational read. I'm somewhat newly out of college and though I'm pretty happy with my current situation, I'll definitely be using some of your techniques when I move onto bigger and better things.

Melanie@Unravelled Threads
Follow @UnraveldThreads on twitter!

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Adventures in growing up: unemployment insurance

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I'm realizing, now that I am once again gainfully employed and looking back on my several months of unemployment or very little employment, that there are quite a few things I didn't blog about having to do with the whole unemployment experience. In truth, the reason for that is that I've been a very uncomfortable combination of embarrassed and worried, and nothing I tried to write, or even thought about writing, came out sounding anything but whiny. I think the experiences were important, though, and worth writing about, both for my own information and for an audience. So, I'm going to attempt to give them their due with a little retrospect.

Probably the very weirdest thing, for me, about this whole experience was navigating the unemployment system. I went about it all wrong, which resulted in my getting only a few weeks of benefits, which didn't start being paid out until I had already secured another job. Next time I'll know better. In the meantime, for the sake of public service, here are some things I learned:

1. Yes, unemployment IS for you.

I never thought unemployment was for me. Growing up, I had a parent who was quite often unemployed seasonally, for weather or job availability reasons. He drew unemployment during his laid off periods. I was totally aware of its existence, and of the safety net (limited as it may be) that it provides. Why, then, didn't I think to apply for it the moment I found myself without full-time work? I have no idea.

2. Apply at the beginning.

Or maybe I do have an idea. Maybe it wasn't that I didn't think of applying, but that I thought I shouldn't apply because I might not be eligible, or because other people needed it more. Certainly by the time I was a month or so into my job search, I knew I could apply, but made the decision not to because I was afraid of being or seeming greedy. That's stupid. The unemployment insurance system is one my employers have been paying into since I began working at 14. It is available for everyone who meets the criteria (has the necessary working hours, wasn't fired for cause, etc.). I really wish now that I hadn't been so stupid and waited so long to apply. For the sake of full disclosure: my full-time employment ended August 31, I didn't apply for UEI until December 5. I did work some hours during some of those weeks, so I can't tell you exactly how much money I was entitled to and didn't get, but had it been 13 weeks worth of full-time benefits, it would have totaled over $5,300. Could I use $5,300 right now? You bet. Would that take care of the credit card debt I've racked up while being unemployed? It certainly would, and then some. Instead, I ended up drawing six weeks' worth of benefits, only two of which were not reduced due to part-time hours I worked, for a total of just under $1,700.

3. Be patient.

Another reason to apply at the beginning is that it takes a while to get approved, and, at least in the state of Texas, your first week's benefits are withheld until you've received three full weeks' benefits, or until you go off the insurance. I have no idea why. In my case, my claim was complicated quite a lot by the two days I worked for a new company in November, and it was sent out for review, the employer was contacted, etc. Since I wasn't fired for cause and didn't really quit, I was never rejected, but the decision making process was lengthy. My original application was on December 5 and I didn't start receiving benefits until the first week in January.

4. Read the rules.

This isn't something I'd do differently if I could go back, but if one was depending on unemployment to live on (i.e. wasn't relying on a combination of partner's income and savings, with a bit of credit card), it would be important to know that you are allowed to draw unemployment while working part-time, but that above a given threshold, your part-time earnings will reduce the amount of your weekly unemployment check. I suspect the rules vary by state, but in my case, if I worked more than four hours a week, my $415 weekly benefit started to go down.

5. Expect to pay taxes.

Unemployment insurance is taxable income. You can choose to either have the taxes taken out when you receive your benefit or pay them at the end of the year. In my case, it's not going to make a huge difference, since the total amount isn't much. However, if you were on UEI for very long, it would change your tax status, so that's something important to plan for.

The real lesson for me in this unemployment insurance adventure, though, has been a smaller part of the whole larger lesson of being unemployed: things are really really rough out there. When I think about what a hard time I've had, being unemployed for what amounted to four months, with a ton of support and resources, I can't even imagine how bad it must be for those who have been without jobs for much longer. And for those who have to make unemployment into something to live on. The $415/week benefit I received was the state of Texas maximum. That's just not much money. As is the case with pretty much all the safety net programs we have in this country, UEI isn't enough, it doesn't go far enough, and it doesn't last long enough.

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Closed doors and open windows

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So the long and short of it is this: I am unemployed again. The new job about which I was so excited turned out to be a spectacular mismatch, and though I have no intention of going into specifics here, I will say that I suffered two very long and very miserable days, topped off by one of the most humiliating and enraging lectures of my life. It was not good. But the upside is that it only took two days to realize it wasn't going to work, so though I am back to the drawing board, I am back to it with relatively little time lost.

The whole experience has me thinking very hard about what it is I really want to do with my life. The career path I have been on for the past several years is one I more or less fell into, realized I could make a very healthy living at, and stuck with for that reason. It hasn't been intentional or even particularly well thought-out. When I began looking for jobs here, I automatically started considering positions that were the "next step" on that path. But maybe the path itself is wrong. Maybe, rather than searching in a panic for the next opportunity for which I can apply, which is likely to look quite a bit like the one from which I just came, I should be thinking about who I really am and where my real professional strengths lie. Just because I know I can do something, whether it to creation of technical documentation or writing and managing grants and proposals or whatever, does that mean I should be doing it? Should I be trying, now, while nobody is really dependent on my income but me and I have a few months of flexibility before things get really dire, to find something that's not just a good enough job, but a job I'll really love? A job where my natural strengths and personality can be seen as assets, rather than as something that needs to be worked against?

3 Comments

Oh no! I'm so sorry.

Hi Grace, I am so sorry to hear about the job situation. I had something similar happen when I was in grad school and nearly broke, it was very painful at the time.

I thought of an idea for your blog - combines your writing, love of fashion, makeup, etc. (Though I have no idea how it would make money, lol) Take an ordinary person who needs a "new look" and give them a makeover. Not a Hollywood-style makeover, but an affordable-yet-fashionable one. New foundation garment, haircut, affordable cosmetics, and an outfit or two from your local upscale thrift store. (You live near the very best thrift store I have ever been to!) Find an underemployed photographer and you could have a really great blog feature. (Makeover recipient can cover the costs.)

If you do this, I will totally sign up for next time I am in your area :-)

very best wishes, C

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Gearing up for the new gig

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I haven't talked about it much here, but I have been, at least mostly, unemployed for the last three months. The technical writing contract on which I was working ended August 31, and the subsequent contract I'd expected to come through did not. While I still had some freelance grant projects, my main work (and main income stream) was gone. So, I started a local job hunt.

The job hunt went remarkably well at first. I was interviewed and then informally offered a job at a small technical consulting firm in mid-September. Then, a few days later, that job disappeared. I was told that they had decided not to hire anybody after all. Discouraged, but not yet worried, I went back to the drawing board. More interviews. During the first week of October, I was one of two finalists for a non-profit grant writing position that seemed perfect. The other candidate was chosen. Then, only a few days later, I was offered a technical writing position on a big federal government contract with a very large international technical consulting firm. We negotiated and agreed on salary. I filled out tons of paperwork, got finger printed, and began the federal security clearance process. It all looked to be going great. Two weeks after receiving my offer letter, I received an email from the HR department, un-hiring me. The client, I was told, had decided I was not a good for for the position.

At that point, I was intensely discouraged, and starting to get a little bit scared. What if I couldn't find anything? My savings was running down, and I was getting really bored. I sent out more resumes. I considered prayer. Then I had a couple of phone interviews followed by the single most nerve wracking in person interview of my life (it's a long story, and one I don't think I should share here, given the outcome). And I (finally!) landed a job. I'm 99% sure it's going to stick.

For the sake of privacy and professionalism, I'm not going to say much here about the job itself. It's a professional writing job, doing a different type of writing than I've been doing for the past few years, for a small but growing company. It's an easy commute from my house, but I will be working in a professional office. I am extremely excited about it. I start the Monday after Thanksgiving. I'm currently freaking out about what I'm going to wear, since I've let my professional wardrobe slide quite a lot in the past year of working from home and the previous couple of years of casual work environments. We're going to need to buy a second car now, since Mark and I will both be commuting (and in opposite directions). Hopefully we're going to do that this weekend.

This is the longest period of time I've ever been unemployed. I know I got off easy--I had savings, some income stream, and a lot of decent prospects. Still, it was really horrible, and I ended up questioning myself on everything--my value as a professional, even as a human being. I don't think I've been properly sympathetic in the past to those who can't find work, and it's a mistake I won't make again.

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Every time we've dealt with a lay off, its been a real trial of our relationship, choices, and perseverance. I'm glad you finally have a job, and I hope you thoroughly enjoy it. Also, pictures of business attire are needed as its acquired!

I was unemployed for about two months last year after I moved with my now-husband to Michigan for his job. It was one of the most discouraging things I've ever experienced. I did eventually find two part time jobs and then a full time job, but I'm still looking for a job that is a good fit, and the process of applying for everything for which I'm qualified for 16 months running has just been awful. I agree - I didn't really understand what unemployment or underemployment does to a person. I'm glad you're making your way out of it!

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Living Out Loud 21: The me I used to be

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This month, Genie's Living Out Loud question has a back to school theme. Specifically, she asks:

Tell us about your high school self. In the Breakfast Club version of your school were you the brain, the athlete, the basket case, the princess or the criminal? Are there people you would love to find from high school? Others you'd love to forget? How do you compare to what you were then? Would your English teacher recognize you? Would he or she be proud of you?

I was a lot of things in high school. A lot of them conflicted. That's still true, but not nearly so much as it was then. I wasn't sure who I was yet, then, and I was trying things on.

Photograph evidence might help, right?

softball.jpg

This picture was taken the summer before my freshman year in high school, so I'm 14. I wasn't a very good softball player. I believe I played second base, maybe? I know I was a much better hitter than fielder. And I only played for a couple of years. My real sport, to the extent I had one, was volleyball, which I played the whole way through. This picture, however, remains my favorite one ever of Jock Grace. I think it's the braids.

In the tiny town in which I grew up, you weren't a shit if you didn't play sports. Seriously. And being my height predicated years of "you're gonna be a great basketball player!" Which I am so, so not, and never was going to be. Volleyball (and a couple of years of softball and throwing javelin and shot) was my compromise position. I didn't love it. I didn't even like it much. But it was part of who I was supposed to be, so I gave it a shot.

This me is one I recognize a little bit better, though I know she's a poseur, too. Dead t-shirt? Really? I have never, ever, listened to the Grateful Dead. The picture was taken at right around the same time as the jock picture, but it's of a different girl. Unlike the jock, though, Grace the Hippy was a girl I wanted to be. I never really was, but I wanted to be.

grunge.jpg

And here, a year or so later, we see Grunge Grace. I loved Grunge Grace. Grunge Grace tried really, really hard to like Alice In Chains. She dyed her hair with henna because her mom wouldn't let her use real dye. She watched Singles about sixteen times. She stayed home from school in tears when Kurt Cobain died. And that thrift store flannel she's wearing? She embroidered "Blind Melon" on the back. Hell yeah.

theater.jpg

Theater Grace might be my favorite Grace. In this picture, she's playing Elizabeth Procter in the The Crucible. Theater Grace loved plays. Theater Grace had a great time in plays, and wished so hard that she lived somewhere where she could be in more than one a year, and where rehearsals didn't have to be at 6:30 in the morning as not to conflict with sports practices. Adult Grace wishes she had a little bit of Theater Grace's nerve back.

normal.jpg

It's probably not obvious at a glance what this picture shows, but when I look at it, I see a figure that is called, in my mind, The Grace Next Door (TGND). TGND tried really, really hard to be normal, to like normal things, to be excited about Homecoming and high school boys and whatever the hell else she was supposed to be excited about. She succeeded, sometimes, in convincing everyone around her and even herself. I knew her pretty well, and even I can't tell you, based on this picture, if that smile is real or faked. What I can say is that The Grace Next Door died a quick and painless death my first year in college, and I never missed her.

graduation.jpg

Braininess isn't the easiest attribute to photograph, so I decided this picture from my high school graduation will have to suffice to illustrate Grace the Brain. This wasn't so much the end of her braininess as the beginning, in real terms, but it was the last time I remember having a reputation for being smart. Three months after this picture, I was a Reed, a mediocre intelligence in a genius pond. And I was absolutely the better for it, but it was quite the shock.

pre college.jpg

This picture was actually taken a few months after my HS graduation--right before I left for college. I'm including it, though, because it's Grace in Transition. I'm beginning to have a clue, here, that I am going to go somewhere and start completely over, with no from-childhood reputation, no passel of family to proceed and follow me, no preconceptions. When I look at this picture, I see a blank slate. And, for the first time in any of these pictures, I see a little bit--just the slightest hint--of who I became.

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I had the shirt that the Grace Next Door is wearing. Interestingly enough, it was Sex Kitten Rachel's favorite shirt. (Sex Kitten Rachel and Grace the Hippy would have pretended to have a blast together.)

I love how you're able to show all the personalities you tried on during high school through the pictures. We all did that, didn't we? Isn't that part of what high school was about? Fun post.

What fantastic pictures - I love how they really tell the story. We really do "try on" so many versions of ourselves in h.s. don't we?

I find this intriguing. I have a daughter who is a senior in high school, so in addition to my own high school experience where I was indeed "trying things on" I'm watching all those kids experiment with who they might be. It will be thrilling to see the future unfold.

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On this day, 31 years ago...

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I was born. At 2:59 in the afternoon (Pacific Time), in Cottage Grove, Oregon. I looked like this:
newborn.jpg

From what I know of it, my birth was fast and painful. I was two weeks late and healthy, if a bit on the hairy and pointy-headed side.

As I grew, I got cuter.

3 months:
3 months.jpg

6 months:
6 months.jpg

11 months:
11 months.jpg

And then, at about a year old, I became a monster. I was still cute, though.

14 months:
14 months.jpg

2 years:
2 years.jpg

3 years:
3 years.jpg

After that, I started getting less cute, and becoming more of a pain in the ass. Which lasted until...well, now, really.

And today, I am 31. A pretty long way from that cute little blonde girl. But I still see her, underneath my gray hair and my need for glasses and my mid-aged makeup-reliance. She's still here.

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ha that's funny--the three yr old pic is the first one I was like, "ah, now THAT looks like grace!" The other ones really look like your mom though!

Awwwwww baby grace! Happy bday sweetie. So glad you're you.

Now you referred to yourself as mid-aged, but when I see pix of you now, I think, "Oh, to be that young and hip again!"

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The ring

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AAAAAtE_9JIAAAAAASLOZQ.jpgI can deal with it all except that goddamn ring.

He still wears his. Always has, I guess. It's on his pinky finger, a silver band with markings that don't mean much, unless you recognize it for what it is. They're used for wedding bands, for God's sake--I didn't realize that until I Googled the image. Song of Solomon. Calling me his, and him mine. That has to have been weird even at the time.

He wears it, he says, as a self-referential joke. The ultimate narcissism, and a sign of his sense of humor. He is his own beloved. And even though I get it, I don't think it's all that funny.

I still have mine. I could pretend I don't know where it is, but if I stretch my mind out, I can see the envelope it's in, the box of mementos. I remember where it is. What I don't remember is wearing it. I have no memory of which finger it fit, or of the day I decided to take it off. I scan through old pictures and finally spot it, on the middle finger of a clenched fist. Even with the visual prompt, it seems wrong. When I close my eyes to imagine it, I see it only on his finger, his hands always in motion, flipping a pen around in a way I tried for years to copy and have never been able to emulate.

More than anything, that's what I hate. Trying to remember this piece of my own past and being able to see it only through the lens of him. I don't have any idea how I felt when he gave me that ring, if I was excited, if I thought it was romantic. I don't have any idea how it felt to wear it, or to take it off. All I know is the irony he's turned his into. My history is erased.

Our entire interaction is like that, really. I listen while he talks, and I watch that ring flash, and I feel the pieces of who I am slip away like they're in low gravity. Nothing that comes out of my mouth sounds right, and it's like I'm watching myself, watching this scene between these awkward people. Why are these people having dinner, a drink? What do they hope to gain from spending this time? Are they telling themselves they are friends?

Every year, I forget a little more about the time we were "together"--whatever together meant then. I don't want him back; he's not the one who got away. Seeing him doesn't bring any of that up. It feels, instead, like I am an amnesiac being introduced to someone who was important in her life once, provided with objects that should prompt memories, and coming up blank. As if all I really know about that time--what should have been such an important time--is what he's telling me. And I should believe it. He still has that ring on. That proves something, right?

If life had easy cinematic symbolism, it would mean something that he still wears that ring and that mine is in a box. But it doesn't, and I believe him when he says that he wears it because he likes the way it looks, and the joke it makes. After all these years, it shouldn't bother me that the joke is at my expense. It underscores, though, the strangeness of an evening spent with him. While he's in front of me, I'm amused, smiling and laughing until my cheeks ache. Afterward, I'm cold. I can't remember anything he said, or even tell you how he looked, how he's aging. All I can see is that goddamn ring, and the only memory I can call up is a brutal one, ending in my rejection. I was sitting on a washing machine, in what I only now realize is a bookend to the washing machine I sat on the night we got together. I feel again as if this is being staged, and I'm walking ignorantly through my part, bumping into stuff. I search for a word for this feeling and can come up only with inadequate.

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That is beautifully written and I want to be encouraging that you find yourself.
It probably says something that you have moved on much more than he has. We do things for many reasons.

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I've been neglecting Genie's Living Out Loud projects, and I really don't want to--I love her prompts. So, this month, I'm doing it early. Genie's question:

Tell me something nice about one or more of your exes. Maybe they wooed you with their love of music (and later turned you off with their inattention to hygiene or paying bills on time). Maybe they were good at organizing events (even if that meant they would flip out if something went outside that plan). This is your opportunity to focus on the good without getting into all the reasons he or she is an ex versus a current. They couldn't have been all bad, and if they were you might need to create a search committee to approve any future relationships you enter.

This isn't all that difficult for me. I don't have that many exes (at least not "official" ones, and I'm only going to go into those here), and I don't really hate any of them. It's a good exercise, though, I think, to remember, and to remember fondly.

My first real "boyfriend" was in the 8th grade. He lived in another town and long distance phone calls were still expensive, then, so we wrote each other letters. Nearly every day. For several months. I loved those letters. It was so important, at that age, to have something tangible, a way to show that this exciting thing that was happening to me was real. While it's hard to look back on a relationship like that one, which was completely immature, and see anything of real value, or anything much at all, save nostalgia and amazement at ever having been so young, I have to admit that those letters were a fantastic, fabulous thing. He took so much time, so much effort, for me, which is odd, when you consider we're talking about a 13-year-old boy. In retrospect, I'm impressed.

My next boyfriend was in the fall of my freshman year of high school. He was a senior, had a truck, a nice smile, and a plan for college. I felt so special to have been chosen. That one ended up really bad, but while it was happening, it had its moments. I remember him telling me once that the song "The Sunmaid" by Soul Asylum (very popular that year) reminded him of me. (Tell me how you get that shine/you must polish all the time.) He was, I think, the first person who really made me feel pretty. He had that gift. I haven't seen him or heard anything about him in years, but I imagine him still being that same kind of guy, who makes you feel special, feel pretty, when he's talking to you. It's a quality that I don't think most of us realize how much we appreciate until we find ourselves with nobody like that in our lives.

My next boyfriend was in the winter/spring of my sophomore year of high school. More than any other "ex," he's someone I feel like I'd be friends with to this day if we lived anywhere near each other. He's a bright, funny, gentle, wonderful soul, and was even then. Dating him was the first experience I had with dating someone I actually had things in common with. Plus, he was my first (and last) prom date. I was all melodrama and hand-wringing at the time, but looking back, I appreciate the honesty with which he ended our relationship, and he insistence on treating me like a person, rather than forcing me into the narrow mold of a high school girlfriend, which made little sense for either one of us.

Boyfriend #4 followed immediately after #3. Like, a week or so after. It's a complicated and boring story, and one that makes even less sense now than it did then. It was a brief, strange, contentious, physical relationship. I have a very distinct memory of being upset about something--very upset--and having him hold me against him and let me pound on his chest. It's something I've thought about often over the years. Though the relationship was really a back-to-front disaster, that moment, of him realizing what I needed and coming through with it, was, and still is, worth something to me.

I didn't have any more relationships in high school. My junior and senior years were spent single. At the time, it was problematic, and I was often upset about it. Looking back, I'm grateful. Not having a romantic connection to my hometown only made it easier to leave, and I can't think of anybody that I could have successfully dated anyway. I wasn't in a hurry to get into a relationship in college, either. And neither was the guy who, fairly early on in my first year at Reed, became my boyfriend for the rest of my time there. In fact, we had a long talk, when we were first circling each other, beginning to show our interest, about how neither of us wanted anything too serious. We probably would have been better off if we'd stuck with that plan, honestly. But life intervened, and we ended up together for nearly four years.

This question gets a bit more difficult at this point, just because it starts to leave the realm of childhood and get into a real, grown up relationship. It's certainly more complicated. But you don't date someone for four years if they don't have redeeming characteristics. First, I guess I should mention that this boyfriend was (and is) extremely attractive. He's the only person I've dated that I can honestly say is better looking than me (which has its own set of issues for a vain girl, let me assure you). But really, that's not what it was about. He's an extremely fun, entertaining person. I had a lot of good times with him, and he exposed me to things I never would have seen otherwise, from a rave (good God, never again) to Cabaret on Broadway (a formative experience). He was also willing to try, for me, to be something that he really has no natural inclination to be (monogamous, a partner, a grown up...). For a long time, his failures to be those things pissed me off, but time heals all wounds, or some such, because now, all I really feel is grateful to him for trying.

My last relationship was for just a few ill-conceived weeks the summer after I graduated from college (right before Mark and I got together). The whole situation was so stupid, and so completely unlike me, that remembering feels like hearing about someone else's life. But I know I was there. And I learned a few important lessons, most of which I am better off not going into here. Once thing I will say it that he taught me that I can be in control, that I don't have to wait for things to come to me, but can reach out for them myself and make my own decisions. Which was a good thing to learn at 21.

Looking back, I'm amazed by how it all seems to make sense. Though none of these were the right relationship, and most of them were actually the VERY WRONG relationship, they were all kind of the right lesson I needed to learn at that time. I guess retrospect has a way of making things look that way. Then again, there isn't anything I'd take back if I had to do it over again.

Thanks, guys.

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West

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This is the last cowboy song.
The end of a hundred year waltz.
The voices sound sad as they're singin' along.
Another piece of America's lost.

-"The Last Cowboy Song", The Highwaymen

Someone asked me recently what I mean when I say I'm a Western girl. Like a lot of people, I think she was picturing what I was missing as a liberal oasis full of organic food and good pot and possibly naked hot springs. And yeah, that stuff all exists in my West, but it's so much more than that. Much of it is counter-intuitive to that vision.

One of the reasons Texas has been able to feel like home to me is that, however it differs from home in the Umpqua Valley, there is some of that same Westerness. Austin is a city, but around the edges there is that little bit of cowboy. And I think I'm going to miss that on the East Coast.

Boots and jeans make a lot more sense to me than black tie. I grew up on classic country music and I love it relentlessly. I've bottle-fed a calf; I know the difference between bear shit and bobcat; I've seen a bald eagle in its natural habitat. There is this whole world that was almost lost by the time I was born and is even more lost now. I am privileged enough to have caught that last little bit of it, and to have it in my blood. And my God do I miss it.

I never thought I would. When I lived in that world, I couldn't wait to get out. In part, I didn't know the rest of the world was different. I expected everybody to know who Gus McCray was. And, in part, I thought I was too good for it--too smart, too cultured, too experimental and wild and outlandish. Even as a pretty young kid, I consciously steered myself away from anything to "country." I wanted to do more.

Now I've done more. I've lived in cities for a dozen years. I've been to New York and to Europe. I've worn formal clothes, gotten a graduate degree, and read a whole lot of really important books. I taught myself not to say "pop" or "crick" or "rig." I learned to like effeminate men and to use multiple forks to eat the same damn meal.

And some of it, I was right about. It's a big, diverse, strange world, and I love that. I love knowing people who didn't all come from the same place. I really do like Indian and Thai food more than venison and boiled potatoes. But mostly, I was completely wrong. I haven't seen everything, but nothing I have seen is nearly so impressive and summer on the river where I grew up. I've read a lot of books, and I keep coming back to Larry McMurtrey and E. Annie Prolix and Pam Houston. I've been to probably hundred concerts, and nothing has ever beat the time Willie Nelson played for three and a half hours at the county fair.

It should have been obvious all along, I guess, but I just figured it out. I'm not just homesick because I'm far away geographically and getting farther. I'm homesick because the way I grew up is fast becoming extinct. Even if I were a different person, one that could live full-time in a small town or on a rural ranch, it's unlikely my kids could grow up the way I did. I couldn't be the parent my parents were not just because of my different personality, but because the world has irreparably changed around us all. The West in which I grew up is, mostly, dead. What is left is so hard to find and so hard to maintain that I hold out very little hope it's going to stick around.

Country music illustrates exactly what I am talking about. The great country was mostly already recorded before I was born, but even when I was a kid there was some real country music being produced. ("The Devil Went Down to Georgia" was the number one song the year I was born.) People were still, at least occasionally, making music about drinking and fighting and trains and Mama. Today's country music is just like today's pop music--it's about marketing and money. (Personally, I blame Garth Brooks.) It can't go back. The greats are mostly dead, and the ones who aren't are retired to Hawaii or making reggae albums.

The whole thing is enough to make me cry into my beer. But I won't. Instead, I have to focus on how incredibly lucky I am to have caught even the end of the West. I didn't grow up in Remington painting, but I at least I recognize what is going on in one. It is important to me--more so every year, and with every mile further away I get--to preserve that little bit of the West that I inherited. How one does that, in the world in which I live, I'm not exactly sure. I think it's safe to say, though, that's it isn't about fashion or music choices, or even where you live. It's about respect for the land and for the past. It's about loyalty to your loved ones. It's about valuing hard work and not being afraid to get your hands dirty. And I can hold on to those values. After all, I am a Western girl.

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So, I don't know exactly where in NoVA you're moving to, but don't give up yet! While a lot of it is suburbs, it gets rural pretty quickly, in my estimation.

I moved from the California Bay Area to central VA about 7 years ago, and was shocked at how rural parts of the state are. Granted, I'm not in a part of the state that has been swallowed by suburban developments (yet), but there are TONS of farms, and ranches (not the western kind, but they do okay) and a very active pioneering spirit accessible by day trip to you.

It's not the same, but nowhere is ever the same as home. It took me a long to time to stop hating it here because it wasn't CA. I've gotten used to it - and I've even grown to appreciate a LOT of what it has to offer.

first--virginia was the west way before your West was the West--read some Zane Grey! Some of it takes place in Utah but most of it is EAST of Ohio. That idea is really interesting to me--what I think of as the West was not really what early Americans thought of as The West (culturally). I don't think it's all lost--watching a British documentary about America recently I realized how lucky we are to have mile after mile of wilderness. And there's never been as big a DIY movement as there is today--Foxfire is HUGE now, etc. Although I guess that's more Appalachian than West, but a lot of skill overlap.

Second, When I saw Kinky Friedman play in NYC (and even in reading his books) he makes a huge point about how NYC used to be the center of country and folk music in America. His stories of living in the West Village with Bob Dylan and people who I would NOT ASSOCIATE with the west village really again point to a time when everything wasn't "country folk against NYC." I think that turning point came in the 70s with the invention of more pop country. It's something I've been researching a bit. My major touchpoint songs for that are the work of Hank Jr. (very anti-NYC) and Roy Acuff's "I wouldn't live in NYC (If They Gave Me the Whole Dang Town)." (1970) I think it's an artificial opposition that's part of this whole red v. blue business.


Finally, I think there are people making an old tymey version of country music today. God Bless Dwight Yoakam, eh? In NYC there was wayyyyy more of a country scene than there is here, which I find totally weird based on my preconceptions of place. Though a lot of VA is suburbs it IS the South, so I am guessing there'll be some awesome local country.

Also, if you're every feeling like real country is dying visit Nashville. Sure it's the heart of pop country but in most bars there's peeps singing the old tymey style stuff they wrote.

I bet you never thought a discussion of country music would spur me to write 23 paragraphs, huh?

Do you have any opinion on Hank III?

Such a different world to England, but so interesting to read!

It will be interesting to see your perspective after living on the east coast for a bit. If your ultimate goal is to get back home one day, I think experiencing as much of the US as possible should be a great thing.

I think you lack a real understanding of what the "east" is like.

I have seen both cows (every morning) and bald eagles (often) on the road on which I live. And, in Virginny, I'm pretty sure you can find both kinds of music: country and western.

And, respect for land? I certainly don't think the West has any lock on that "virtue"

I know exactly what you mean. I miss Arizona so much sometimes that I have to stop thinking about it. I don't think I ever understood being homesick until it was clear that I wouldn't be leaving Georgia anytime soon.

On the plus side, I've found so many things to love about the southeast (and things to hate), that I've decided as long as I'm in the Southern part of the US, it'll be ok.

Every place I've ever lived is totally changed since I left. That's the way it goes. Happily there are changes for the good as well as for the bad.

It sounds like you're missing what is more of a state of mind and a way of thought more than anything else. I think I get it. I miss some of the 'can do' of the midwest. The self-sufficiency of people.

I couldn't wait to get out of there, and now I want to go back and raise my son in that same place.

I totally get what you're saying about country music. I grew up watching reruns of "Classic Country" and listening to Patsy Cline, George Jones and Hank Williams. Our country stations still played them back then, and I had mom & dad's albums to refer to as well.

I miss that old way of life in so many ways. I mourn its loss in some ways, while appreciating my Indian, Thai, Mexican foods, my avocados and arugula, goat cheese, and all that "weird" stuff we didn't have growing up. I hope I can find a balance between the two.

Ah, we could have had so many great talks about music, had I only known!

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Love Thursday: Moving towards those I love

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I wrote a bit ago about how torn I am about moving farther away from my family. As we get closer to our moving date, that isn't changing any, and I don't think it will. It just plain sucks to be moving farther from home when you want to be moving towards it.

But there is good in this, as well. I have a wonderful, close group of friends from college who mostly live on the East Coast. To make myself feel a bitter better, I did some mapping. Instead of being three days' drive or a 3 hour flight from my wonderful friends Howell and Melinda in the Boston area, I'll be a day's drive or an hour and a half in the air. From Mychy in New York, we'll be only a couple hundred miles or a quick commuter flight (or a nice train ride). And from Ron, who took the great picture in this post, we'll be less than an hour's drive. I haven't lived anywhere near these folks since they graduated from college in 2000. And I still miss them all the time. I may not be so lucky as to have the family I was born into around me, but I will, finally, be closer to my chosen one. I love these people the same now as I did nearly ten years ago, when we all lived within a few doors of one another. It will be good to live in their world again.

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Hey there, here from SS. I just wanted to let you know that I love what you wrote there.

It's great that you have friends and family that you love. Best of luck on your move and happy Love Thursday!

Hmmm. "bitter better?" Mr. Freud, your slip is showing.

I laughed at bitter better as well...

It'll be great to have these people in your life on a more frequent basis. So there is a certain amount of Hurray for moving!

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Home is where the...uterus is?

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So first, yes, I am at BlogHer 09. And I promise I will tell you all about that, just not tonight. Tonight I am exhausted, and overwhelmed, and thinking about something else altogether.

I had this conversation, with a group of women I had never met before (aside from Skye), about the desire to go home. One woman, whose name has already totally escaped me, said that as soon as she had a child, her desire to go home intensified dramatically.

Of course it did. I've thought of that before, of wanting not just to go home, and not just to have a baby, but to go home and have a baby. But, for whatever reason, that thought hadn't carried out to its logical conclusion:

If Mark and I decide to have a child, we will quite likely begin trying to conceive said child within the next five years. I'm about to turn 30--more than five years out, it starts to get a bit more difficult to do, or at least that's what I'm told. And if we try to conceive within the next five years and are successful, we're going to be having a baby in Virginia. An entire continent away from home.

To say that I am horrified by that thought would be a radical understatement. Austin was far enough from home. But the East Coast? How is that even a possibility? How could I possibly even consider having a child over 3,000 miles away from my mom? 3,000 miles away from trees? 3,000 miles away from proper mountains and proper rain and proper coffee?

This is another one of those things that just didn't used to happen to people. We never used to be so mobile. And sure, there are telephones and Skype and air travel, but the bottom line is that when you are geographically far away from someone (or somewhere), they aren't part of your life in any real way. Especially given hyper-stressful day-to-day situations, like, oh, say, a baby's first years.

For the first time in months, I am seriously rethinking whether or not I want to have a child in the near future. I've been getting more and more gung-ho about the idea of starting to think seriously about it, and maybe even starting to do something about it in a year or so. Now I'm not so sure. I know we won't be going home for five years or so, and even then, there is no guarantee. The reality may well be that I never live in Oregon again. I can't much bear that thought, but there it is. And I find it just as upsetting as the idea that I may never have a child. Both of them are things I've started to want so much that I almost assume that they are in the future, just around the bend, even. But it's quite likely that they aren't. And what happens then?

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I couldn't read and not comment... but I'm not sure that I know what to say here. :(

Very thought provoking post. I'm due with our first in 1.5 weeks. My due date is the day after my 35th birthday, so I understand your thought process there. My mom is 200 miles away (in Dallas) and that seems like just the right amount. My ILs are 100 miles away. I'd like to think I could try out this parenting thing far away from family, but acknowledge that it would be hard. I think the key is to find a strong community wherever you may be. I've been amazed by the support from near strangers in the Austin area via groups like AustinMamas. Don't discount the virtual communities either. I've seen tons of cyber support and true friendships rally around babies too.

This is a really interesting post (I found you from MDC a while ago). I have children and though I live where I "grew-up," for the most part (Maryland), my entire immediate family is on the west coast (CA, Seattle, BC). You're right-- raising children far away from your family is difficult and I certainly wish we lived closer. I plan for the days where we can live closer.
But even though we manage without that familial support, and even though I've noticed that I and my siblings have gone through large life changes without the others being their in an intimate way, I am still glad that I have my children.

Glad is a huge understatement. I think in the scheme of things, where you raise your children is not as important as how you raise them, and having them period can in no way be compared to (or weighed against) the place where you raise them (at least for the first few years, when they don't care anyway)

I don't know if it's any consolation, but my parents had kids on the other side of the planet (New York) from where they grew up and where their families were/are (Israel). And believe me, if my parents could do it, then you certainly can.

And hey, if you and Mark decide to have kids in the next couple of years, you know that Cammie and I will be MORE than happy to babysit! (especially Cammie) :-p

Well, as an American living in France, and having had all three of my children in France, I understand your dilemma. But on the other hand, and excuse my French, living far away from where you grew up is a weak-ass argument for not having children.

As much as I long for my children to live near my family, and as much as I want them to love and honor being Americans (and Seattle-ites), I would not have chosen not to have them just because I'm here, which after all is not really a place I want to live the rest of my life.

Please don't take this as an attack- just my opinion. I love your blogs, and visit this one daily (in the hopes of finding a new post!).

Best,
Kelly

Returning your ICLW comment...

I've spent half of my adult life living in the place where I grew up, and have since vowed never to go back.

There are many things I loved about growing up there, and I would like my children to experience some of those things, but not more than I want them (and me) to stay away from the not-so-good things there.

Instead, they will be born in a place where people have annoying accents and lame slang, and where many of their neighbors have never been outside the time zone.

We will move somewhere else, hopefully before they're old enough to pick up the lame slang.

Region is less important (and less influential) than the various larger cultures in which we will embed them or the subculture of our family.

ICLW:

"And sure, there are telephones and Skype and air travel, but the bottom line is that when you are geographically far away from someone (or somewhere), they aren't part of your life in any real way. Especially... oh, say, a baby's first years."

I have "been there" and still am, living in the UK for 14 years, while my parents are on the East Coast U.S.,& the rest of the family is scattered across North America. When I moved here, my husband agreed to an eventual move "home" (10 yrs). It hasn't happened . Meanwhile my parents are about 75% resigned to it not happening.

It never would have occurred to me not to go ahead and have children. While I know what you mean, I wanted to tell you that you are selling yourself, and those people you love, short.

About being a part of your children's lives in any real way: It does take hard work, but with my children approaching 6 and 10 years old, I can say that the hard work has paid off. They used to get bedtime stories read over the phone - you need a good calling plan -and now speak to my parents on the telephone 3 or 4 times a week (I had to scale it back from every day). We do a 3-week visit once a year, & they come here for a week once or twice a year. My parents know the names of their teachers, English cousins, friends, stuffed animals & favourite books. Caveat: they cannot tell one Pokemon, Ben 10 alien or Gormitti from another.

Basically, I make my children accessible to my parents, even sometimes calling them in the last 10 minutes of dinner-prep, so Grandma & Papa keep them occupied & out of trouble while I get food on the table...I think of it as virtual babysitting. My daughter now calls her grandmother for heart to heart talks about how Mommy is horrible (moi?), or her brother is driving her crazy, or guess what Mommy and I did!

It's not always easy and I have longed for the mother/mother-in-law nearby who would help, love & support us. However, in the final analysis, I have discovered resources within myself I did not know I had.

You seem like a strong, forthright woman who knows what you want from life. Keep your eye on that image and move forward as if you will absolutely have it one day. My instinct is that you will find a way. I truly wish you get there, sooner rather than later.

P.S. I recently got my husband to agree, in principle, to a move. I have no doubt that we will end up in the U.S. one day, but not sure where. Probably not within "just thought we would drop in" range, but closer than the 3,000 miles it is now.

That's interesting. It had never occured to me that the two would be the same - I grew up in a small town and I have no interest whatsoever to return to it, especially to raise a child. The only time I have seriously pondered having children, I would have been having them in Scotland, with my family back in Canada. If I got pregnant now, I would be okay with raising my baby in Korea (though not educating a child here.)

I just want to comment from the other side of the coin. My parents are both from Holland. My sister and I were born in South Africa, lived in France for a few years and then the US since 1981. The rest of my extended family was all over the world, with grandparents in Holland. We saw my grandparents every year or other year and my cousins, aunts, uncles, every other year to much less, depending.

I just got back from a family reunion where I hung out with all 48 family members on my mom's side. It was amazing how close I felt to everyone although since I've been an adult I've seen folks seldom. I felt very strong connections to everyone based on the vacations spend with family as a kid. And I feel super close to my grandma and I know she feels close to me as well.

Yes - my parents made huge efforts to fly my sister and I to Holland to see family every other summer during my childhood. And it paid off - for sure! So you can definitely live far apart and have great connections. I think it's only easier now with the internet. I'm 32 so only phones and letters and in person.

Happy ICLW!

Just a random sort of goes with what you just said note; I love in Oregon! I've lived here all but 3 or so years of my life. I can honestly say that I love this state. I may not care for the itty bitty town I live in, but the state on the whole is fantastic!

There is no way I could have a baby without family close by. We're done with family building and if something were to happen and we got pregnant, I would go insane! For many reasons. My dad and my sister live in Bend and my mom passed away. There is no way I could do it without their support, especially my mom's. My in-laws do live closer then my dad and sister, but it isn't the same. So, I can totally get what you're saying. I think if one is close to their family, it would be hard to start one without that support.
*HUGS*

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Thoughts on self-indulgence

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The way I grew up, there were a long list of things considered self-indulgences. Not just things we didn't personally have money to buy, but things we wouldn't spend on even if we did. Things people shouldn't spend money on because it was weak, shallow, indulgent. Mostly, these things were not so much discussed as understood. And the list was long. Off the top of my head, it would include: paying people to things you could do yourself (including cleaners, having your car washed, lawn maintenance, painting, etc.); gym memberships; salon services (anything beyond a basic haircut at Supercuts, really); just about anything bought on credit; having multiple TVs or phones in the same household; paying full price for just about anything; name brands; and eating dessert or having an appetizer or drinks when dining out (and, to a point, dining out itself). Anything premium would also be included, from non-generic dog food to orange juice that came in a bottle rather than a concentrate can.

I remember, vividly, the small ways in which the inappropriateness of asking for or even wanting these things and others like them was instilled in me. People who spend money on things they can do themselves are lazy. Gym memberships are for people who are too stupid to find their own exercise. Salon services are for pampered princesses. People who have multiple TVs or phones at their house must just not like living together and being together. While it was clear we couldn't actually afford any of these things anyway, the more pressing issue, at least the way I interpreted it as a kid, was that wanting these things made you less of a person.

So now, clearly, things have changed. My parents, who do better financially now than they used to, have changes some. They buy orange juice in a bottle now and go out to dinner more than twice a year. Then even have a cordless phone. But the basic sense of not wasting money, no matter how much of it you have, is still healthy in them.

I, however, have become the kind of self-indulgent person I was steered away from as a child. This week, I bought an iPhone. I didn't need it--I had a perfectly good phone--but I wanted it, and I could afford it, so I bought it. And it's the latest in a long line of what would be considered unnecessary indulgences, including salon services (not just haircuts and colors, but manicures, pedicures, waxing, and massages); eating out often and well; buying premium items when I see a quality difference (like dog food); and yes, occasionally paying full price (though that one still bugs me). But these things don't come without guilt.

I have my fair amount of your typical middle class liberal guilt, i.e. "I shouldn't be buying this, I should be feeding the hungry/clothing the unclothed/sponsoring a child/insert your cause here." Beyond that, though, every time I buy something that is both expensive and unnecessary, I feel a little bit farther from my roots. It's not just that I've changed socioeconomic classes, and am now clearly in a different one than the one in which I grew up, but that I feel like I'm deliberately turning my back on the moral code under which I was raised.

I don't know how helpful any of this guilt is. It doesn't cause a change in my spending. I have been in the habit, for longer than I'd like to admit now, of buying pretty much whatever I want. I know it would be considered self-indulgent by the people who raised me, and honestly, I consider it self-indulgent myself, but I do it anyway. More and more, the pull from the way I was raised loses out to the pull of the hyper-consumer class in which I currently reside. In this class, these self-indulgences are normal. There are certainly people who don't visit salons or have gym memberships or buy expensive gadgets, but they are fewer and farther between all the time. And it's not so much that I feel the need to keep up with them (though that's likely part of it), but I can look to them as an example and think that this kind of spending must be OK.

This is one of the facets of growing up that nobody warns you about. Learning how to balance your identify as a consumer and as a worker is difficult in the best circumstances, but it is magnified when the consumption morals of your current class clash so dramatically with those of the class in which you were raised. The ways in which I spend embarrass me, and I do hide them from my family. I know that, even if they didn't say anything, my parents would judge the amount I spend on grooming, the number of times per month Mark and I eat out, and even the cost of the food our dogs eat. When they visited my house, I know that, consciously or not, they noted positively that we still only have one TV, and negatively that the TV is large and new. They notice those kinds of things for the same reason I do--it's how they were raised. How do they interpret them, though? Are they simply signs of my "affluence," of my being in a new class? Or are they signs of my weakness, laziness, and self-indulgent, thoughtless spending?

I know there are folks reading who have faced some of these issues as well. How do you deal with having not just different spending priorities, but different spending morals as either your family or the people around you? Is it uncomfortable? Perhaps most importantly, how do you arrive upon your own moral structure for these things, rather than just feeling like you are bucking those given to you without replacing them with anything else?

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I grew up poor. However, frugality was never a thing to strive for. Certainly, I was taught that there was no shame in used cars, used clothing, store brands, etc.

My mom always said that she couldn't take the money with her and she'd rather spend it on things she'd enjoy. When we had "extra" money, it was spent self-indulgently.

So, while I was poor and/or lower middle class, I have NO qualms about self-indulgence. In fact, I find great happiness in indulging myself.

My parents are generally pro-spending money....My dad thinks that long distance phone calls are CRAZY EXPENSIVE but he would only buy a quality suit. He would never ever ever put anything on credit, and when I buy his groceries he is pissed when I buy shit that isn't on sale. I would pay pretty much any amount to talk to my friends long distance, but I buy my clothes resale. We have different priorities. That's okay. He is definitely of the school of paying for quality things that will last a long time, which I am attempting to adopt. And we ate out all the time growing up, but meals weren't ever over like, 8 dollars. I eat out constantly. I wouldn't think twice about it. He is definitely more of a model of "I have some money but I don't need to spend all of it."

My mom is poor. I made more than she did at my first job. She doesn't have good spending habits and like you she definitely instilled the generic food/clothes on sale thing in me. And the no appetizers/drinks thing.

However, both of my parents label me a "cheapskate." So they are not the issue.

It's my sister & my friends.

Part of it is that they have no understanding o what I do and so i think they find my pay somewhat unjustified? Which is fine. But it's when people say what I should or should by because I "have the money for it." I have the money for some crack too, but it's not sensible to buy it!

I guess I am getting criticism the OPPOSITE of yours--that I don't spend enough!

Also I remember when we were introduced to the concept of white guilt in PolySci.

This is quite a personal issue you've touched on. I don't have time to fully respond right now but I definitely feel some of the guilt that you describe.

I think this would be an issue for me if my life was more similar to the one I had growing up. Since it's so wildly different, I seldom really notice the difference in spending morals. Since my biggest expenses are generally flying home to visit, that fits in with my parents' values quite well, though they'd be appalled by how much my ticket alone is going to cost me for my coming vacation.

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In contemplation of the cul de sac

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As I mentioned, we're looking for a place to live in Virginia, with the intent of moving there at the end of the summer (likely in late August). Before we actually started looking, Mark and I both had a romantic notion of living outside the cities and suburbs, in horse country, maybe on a few acres. I imagined having space for lots of rescue dogs. I imagined quiet and solitude. I imagined a stream, and maybe a barn. I neglected to consider the impact of all that solitude on my work-at-home self. Or ony having one car. Or the million or so things that totally blow about living out in the country, like lousy Internet service and long commutes. But when I actually went and visited the area, these things all sprang back to mind.

And so, it seems quite likely that we're headed for the suburbs. I grew up in the country and have lived in a city since then. I've never lived in a suburb. In fact, I've spent a good part of the last decade or so making merciless fun of suburbs. Places where you can't walk or bus anywhere. Places with houses all built the same, with lots of rules, with no real trees and cardboard neighbors. Edward Scissorhands land. Why would anyone want to live there?

Turns out there are reasons. Long drives every day to work suck. Space is nice to have. My dogs need a yard, and I'd like a bathtub. It's a difficult thing for my trying-to-be-hip self to say, but there are benefits to living somewhere with sidewalks and "safe streets." I'm still not thrilled about the idea of moving into one of a hundred houses that look just the same, or having someone come down on me if I put something they don't like in my lawn, or having to get in the car to get coffee/go to the library/whatever. But I do understand the reasons a bit better now, having compared what is available in the 'burbs to the city and country options.

This is yet another one of those weird growing up things. Just like I never expected to work at a desk from 9-5, or wear makeup every day, or pay someone to paint my house, I never expected to live in a much too-big house in a suburb. Just like I pictured exciting, important jobs and cutting edge clothes and a do-it-myself life, I pictured either rural simplicity or the excitement of a city. I was never going to be halfway anywhere, I was never going to let people tell me what to do. And suburbs are the epitome of halfway.

It never ceases to amaze me just how much things change. It seems like almost every day right now it's something else. What's next? Once we are installed in our multi-bedroom sububan home, a couple of proper DINKS, then what? A baby? A SUV? A subscription to Rachael Ray's magazine? Where will it end?

13 Comments

I have the perfect mix of suburb/country. Maybe there's a better suburban option than tract housing? I've lived in some lovely, character-rich, walkable suburbs.

HAVE A BABY!!!!

then i can play with it.

So if you are going to the place I think you are going, it's not too long of a drive to be in the real country--or in the city proper, more or less (except that's hard with dogs). I don't know that part of VA real well, and I don't know where you'll be working, but I'm happy to pass along any DC metro area knowledge that's helpful.

I don't know much about Chantilly, but I do know its not too far from (and not all that different from) the Centreville/Manassas area, which I am familiar with. The houses around Centreville/Manassas do (in my opinion) have a nice mix of suburban and country living- enough space so you can breath without being so isolated that you're cut off from the rest of the world. Yes, you definitely need a car to do ANYTHING around there, but it's not like you will be living on a street where all the houses are practically on top of each other and all look the same (like where I grew up (shudder)).

Does this discussion remind anybody else of the book "A Wrinkle in Time"?

Many suburbs do not have sidewalks and aren't safer than cities. The assumption that cities are unsafe annoys me. (not aimed at you, in general)

Didn't you already have an SUV?

Since you discuss the environmental impact of your clothing choices, how do you feel about the environmental impact of suburban living?

Cul-de-sacs always remind me of a story on NPR a few years ago that high-lighted their safety statistics. I guess more little kids are harmed/killed by cars backing up than by cars moving forward. Cars have to back up a lot in cul-de-sacs. Ergo cul-de-sacs are dangerous for little kids. I'd guess that driving a high SUV in a cul-de-sac would make things even more dangerous. Some cities even ban new cul-de-sacs for this reason.

That was a bit of an aside. Oops. But best of luck finding a good place to live. Moving is hard.

It is so crazy when that moment happens and you've suddenly transformed into "adult".

Funny, life's what happens while you're busy making other plans, no?
I still look at my kids, mortgage and car some days and wonder: where did they came from, how did I get here? Not a bad feeling at all, and it really makes me laugh too. Sometimes the inside needs catching up with the outside of yourself or something. :-)

Christine

I would check my www.walkscore.com before buying any house. We're in the suburbs with a walk score of 75, and I love it. It can be done!

Grace, I if you're moving to the D.C. area . . .

Paul's sister and her husband are thinking about selling their house to move here. It's near the Beltway (my BIL works in D.C. and the commute's not bad).

They used to live in Manassas, but when they bought a house they moved up to the Maryland side. They live in a really neat neighborhood near College Park. Nice neighbors, older house with character, fenced yard, no suburban tract styling, great Farmer's Market nearby.

Here's the town website. Their house looks like the little one in the slideshow. Theirs is surprisingly large inside because of a big kitchen/family room addition in the back: http://www.berwyn-heights.com/

Let me know if you want to know more . . .

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I'm scattered along the way

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Home is where the heart is
Ain't that what they always say
My heart lies in broken pieces
Scattered along the way

-Steve Earle

When I left Oregon, I was too stupid to know I was going to miss it. Not just miss it, but hurt for it. I was so excited about my plans and being somewhere else and getting out and seeing things that I neglected to realize that there was nothing I could see that was ever going to compare with growing up in the Umpqua Valley or coming of age in Mt. Hood's backyard. I knew I loved my family, but I had no idea what the real difference was between being a three hour drive away and being a five hour flight away.

It didn't take too long away for me to figure it out. I've spent the majority of my twenties--the time I've been away from home--trying to see a way back.

And now I'm almost thirty, and I'm moving in the wrong direction. Only this time, there is no happy ignorance. I know both that I am moving farther away from home and that I'm leaving the surrogate so carefully constructed in Austin. I spent today driving a rental car all over Northern Virginia, checking out houses and neighborhoods and noting the locations of grocery stores and the traffic patterns. Researching. Making plans. Plans to uproot myself again.

The truth is that it breaks my heart to realize I am going to miss Austin. I miss Oregon so much I didn't think I could miss anywhere else, but just like the number of people for whom I am homesick keeps on increasing, apparently the places for which I am homesick will as well.

I guess this is just how it is. Your whole life is, in some way, about leaving. And I am supposed to be getting better at it as I get older. Instead, the older I get, the more people and places I miss, and the more I resent the whole situation. The more I don't want to meet new people, or integrate into a new place, because they'll eventually leave my life as well. Whatever excitement I can muster for the new stuff, it doesn't hold a candle to the nostalgia towards the old.

And, more than anything else, I still just want to go home. It doesn't help in the least that it continually becomes a more complicated question just where that is.

2 Comments

I definitely know how you feel. I've now had homes in 4 different places... and the last place that I lived I hated so much that I never imagined how fondly I would think of it and the little things that I would miss when I moved away from there. How could I possibly have hated being 20 minutes away from the roar of Niagara Falls, and I barely had time to cherish the pretty apartment that Lem was conceived, gestated, and born in.

I came across your page through a search for bath melts, and ended up playing voyeur for a while...I just wanted to say how much this post spoke to me. I grew up in Texas, spent 20 years trying to get out, and the last 5 trying to go back. I have moved 9 times in the last 10 years, and whether its across the street or across the country they all hurt in some way, they all leave their marks on me. I carry each person and place with me through my day...they pop up in my work and when I sleep. My only lesson from my gypsy life seems to be to enjoy where I am while I'm there...I don't know how long I'll be there, or when I'll get to go back again. Good luck with your next uprooting.

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A long way from government cheez

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Back in college and just after, in my hippier and less materalistic days, I used to like this song by T.R. Kelley called "Downwardly Mobile" (aka Government Cheez)." I can't remember all the lyrics now, but one refrain was, "you gotta pay somebody money to do things you ain't got time to do because you are too busy earning money." It repeated several times over to reinforce the circular logic. The song was all about living a low budget life that focused on valuing time over money. Another lyric said that "time is the one thing you can't buy back." At the time, I found that to be wise advise--do something you love, take off as much time as possible, live low on the food chain, reduce, reuse, etc. I never romanticized poverty the way some of my peers did--I grew up in it, so I had a better idea of the realities than most people--but I never intended to be wealthy, either, and I certainly didn't intend to be a big consumer.

The me of ten years ago would definitely scoff at the today's me--her makeup, her fancy bath products, her mortgage and car loan, and especially her very straight desk job. This was not what my younger self had in mind for us, for sure. So what happened?

A lot of things, I'm sure, but the biggest single one? I started making money. Unexpectedly, mid-grad school, I got a job that paid twice as much as the highest paying job I'd ever had before. So we bought a house. And a new car. And my lifestyle, without me much noticing, changed to accomodate my income. I'd been on my way to a class change since college, based on my educatio, but when I actually started having the income to match, it was complete. I took my place, unwittingly, maybe, but fully, in the American middle class.

The extent to which this has happened has been driven home this week, as Mark and I have been deciding who to hire to work on our house. We aren't just hiring someone to do the work we aren't qualified to do, like some electrical repair and intalling carpet, but to do the work we are, like cleaning up the landscape and painting. We're not hiring expertise; we're hiring labor. We're paying someone else to do something we could do ourselves, and it is a better economic argument for us to do so, as our labor (mine, in particular) is worth far more per hour than the labor of our painters and landscapers.

Just typing that makes my heart hurt. Ladies and gentlemen, I have become The Man.

It is information I'm not quite sure what to do with. On one hand, I am glad I'm not painting and landscaping in 100+ heat. And I recognize that I have put quite a bit of time and money into developing the skill set that allows my labor to be worth enough that hiring someone to do those things for me is feasible. But I also recognize that my time and money aren't the only reasons I'm here and not painting or weeding--it also has to do with luck. The luck of being born white and an American citizen. The luck of being born into a supportive family. The luck of being born without physical or cognitive obstacles to overcome. None of those things have anything to do with my effort. None of those are things I "deserve," they are just things I got. Given that, how can it possibly be right for me to make more sitting at a desk than the men who are sweating at my house are making from me?

1 Comments

I'm so glad I stumbled on your blog. Your posts resonate with me.

I feel what you're saying in a very deep way.
One day, when the husband and I realized it made more sense to have a mortgage than rental, my heart lurched a bit in my chest. We're still trying to balance those youthful (hippie) ideals with the situation we've suddenly found ourselves in.

Not only am I the man now, but I'm doing something I never wanted to do. I work for the man (at Starbucks of all places). But, my work makes me happy, and that's at the heart of the hippie movement anyway, right?

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Farewell, Olde Reed

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reed college seal.jpgAt the beginning of my senior year in high school, I put together a list of colleges to which I wanted to apply. I'd always assumed I'd go to college far away, but once I actually had to start applying, I surprised myself by wanting to stick close to home. My list, if I remember correctly, was comprised of University of Oregon Honor's College; Stanford; Reed; Lewis & Clark; and The Evergreen State College. In the fall, before the early decision deadlines, my mom and I went to Portland to visit Lewis & Clark and Reed.

And on that day I fell in love. I spent about 10 minutes on Reed campus before I knew that was where I wanted to go. I applied early decision and was accepted in January. I withdrew my other applications. My decision was made.

That was in 1996-1997. If I am remembering correctly, the total estimated tab for a year at Reed (including tuition and fees and room and board) was about $30,000. In what I can only consider an irony, $30,000 was almost exactly the same amount as my family's total annual income, as per the endless financial aid forms I filled out.

But it was OK. Because, back then, Reed had a policy by which, if they accepted you, they offered some sort of financial aid to cover your estimated need (given, of course, that estimated need is calculated in a very different way by an admissions counselor than by an actual family with other bills to pay). With a family at home living under the poverty line, my estimated need was complete, and my acceptance came with an offer of complete financial aid. They covered everything--tuition, fees, room, board, and even some living expenses. There was a letter along with my acceptance letter outlining the funding I was being offered. Part of it (I think about $4,000 that first year) was a federally guaranteed Stafford Loan, and part was a Pell Grant, but most of it was just a big fat grant from the college itself. A new version of that same letter cam every semester I was at Reed, and while the loan amounts did increase (I left with a total of about $30,000 in loans), I never had to make a hard decision, or scrounge for tuition.

Things have changed. As per an article in the yesterday's New York Times, more than 100 students otherwise deemed good candidates were dropped from Reed's accepted freshman class for next year, due to financial need. The total cost of going to Reed is now estimated at about $50,000 a year, and students are not only not being offered all the help they would need to pay that amount, some of them are simply not being accepted if they can't pay it.

Reed has for now cast aside its hopes of accepting students based purely on merit, without regard to wealth, and still meeting their financial need. Only the nation's richest colleges do that. What's more, when Reed turned to its waiting list this year, it tapped only students who could pay their way.

To say I am disappointed would, I think, be an understatement. I understand that the recession is taking its toll, and that the money has to come from somewhere. I'm skeptical that Reed couldn't find a better way to come up with some of it (the article mentions that plans to build a new performing arts center on campus are moving forward), but I do get that cuts have to be made. The thing that infuriates me is not that Reed can't offer aid-as-needed to all accepted students, like they could when I went there. It's that the response to this, rather than accepting those students anyway, offering them the aid that is available, and letting them decide how to proceed, is not accepting them at all.

That is simple discrimination. Leaving 100 plus students off the acceptance list (and everyone off the waiting list) because of their income is, to my mind, exactly the same as leaving them off due to their race, gender, or religion. While it is not Reed's responsibility to offer aid to everyone (and aid can be reasonably based on merit as well as need), how can it not be the college's responsibility to offer admission with a blind eye to money? How can it possibly be justified to have "ability to pay for it, based on our analysis" be an admissions criteria?

It is true that if I hadn't been offered the aid package I was at Reed, I wouldn't have gone there. It simply wouldn't have been possible without taking out huge unsubsidized loans, and I wouldn't have been willing to do that. But shouldn't it have been my choice? Accepting me and not offering me aid would have been harsh, but reasonable. Not accepting me based on my perceived ability to pay, though? That's just wrong.

I loved, and still love, Reed. I got the best education I can imagine there. It was absolutely worth the loans I'm going to be re-paying until I'm 40, worth the four years of too many books and too little sleep, worth the class-based chip it wore into my shoulder, worth the guilt that comes with being over-educated in an under-educated family. I've spent quite a bit of breathe in the last few years defending Reed from the critics who find it both too pompous and too permissive. I believe in the way Reed has historically conducted itself, at least by and large. But this isn't the first time since I graduated that I have been massively disappointed in my alma mater. Just a couple of years post-graduation, I wrote an incensed letter to the Board of Directors about Reed's shoddy treatment of their non-faculty employees. (The letter, by the way, was met with an extremely snarky and disrespectful reply from one board member, against whom I hold a grudge to this day.) Looking at the students chosen to profile in the most recent Reed magazine, I'm left wondering what, exactly, they are trying to become (Why is everyone so normal looking? Where are the freaks?). And now this. Not just a choice to put buildings and keeping the endowment up ahead of students, but an actual policy of exclusion of low-income attendees. People like me. People like some of the best friends (and most dedicated students) I knew while I was there. If they are looking for a fast way to destroy the good in what Reed has historically been, this just might do it.

3 Comments

so here's my issue: i liked that reed only accepted people they could support, but now that really good idea has gone bad. I oscillate between thinking that they should accept people even if they can't pay (under the idea that those people could just take a ridiculous amount of loans out if they wanted), and sticking with the idea of only accepting people you can support.

I find this very interesting. I live right up the hill from Reed, and my 6 year old has it in her head she will be going there some day. This won't even be a consideration for our family with Reed's new policies. I am disappointed with Reed too.

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Still normal after all these years

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Often, when talking about their time at Reed College, you'll hear people say that coming to campus was the first time they'd ever not felt out of place. Suddenly, while they were still weird, it was OK, because so was everybody else.

To some extent, I felt that way, too. There were definitely things that it was OK for me to be at Reed that it had never been OK for me be before--and some of them were fairly major. Being able to show those sides of myself was absolutely freeing. After awhile, though, I felt out of place at Reed, too. Not because I was too strange, but because I was too "normal."

Everything that had always stuck out about me seemed so moderate at Reed. My outlandish clothes were suddenly humdrum (and hey, I wore clothes!). My burgeoning depression was nothing compared to the actual psychosis around me. My sex and drug mores were absolutely conservative. And I was still smart to the rest of the world, but at Reed, I was barely average.

More than anything, though, being at Reed faced me with my own complete lack of creativity. My matriculation happened to coincide with my giving up all hopes of writing fiction, and honestly, there just wasn't a lot of art in me. I had loved theater in high school, but I knew I was out of my league in college and didn't even try. I felt surrounded by this intense creativity. It seemed like almost everybody I knew had it pouring out of them. Two of my best friends were biologists who were never without their sketchbooks. My boyfriend had big plans to turn a recently built campus building into a giant Eye of Ra. I sometimes I went to sleep the sounds of a midnight guitar session featuring another scientist and an economist.

One of the ways that I comforted myself when I was feeling the brunt of my averageness was to tell myself that it was temporary. After all, this was the early-20s super creative time. I was just growing up faster, I told myself--these people would eventually get to be just as boring as I was. They couldn't go their entire lives being able to lecture on the Medicis but not knowing where to buy a stamp. It just wasn't possible.

Fast forward nearly a decade and tonight Mark and I were having dinner with a friend from Reed who always has all the gossip about people we all know. Lots of it isn't surprising--I've gotten used to these people who I used to think of as colossal fuck-ups going straight and being successful; the first acid tripper to turn into a doctor is surprising, but after that it's less so. What gets me, as we work our way through the list, is the people who are still, at 30 or just beyond it, outside the norm. One person is a puppeteer. One is a contact juggler. One is, I kid you not, an actual rock star.

I am still an average person among the greats. I'm not as smart as the friends who now have Ph.D. or M.D. after their names, as successful as the ones with six figure incomes, or as artistic as those who are still committing themselves to creative pursuits. I haven't expatriated or had babies. I haven't written anything worth reading in years. I go to bed early and take vitamins and take care of my dogs and go to my regular job and live my regular life. Most days, that's enough. I know I should just consider myself lucky to have known these odd, brilliant, fucked-up people. But ten years later I'm still sad not to really be one of them.

7 Comments

I think you are a little more exciting than the normal, Grace. Comparing apples to oranges will not result in a fair comparison.
Being able to find the coolest stuff in a thrift store and make it useful again in a stylish/funky/cool way or having the patience and creative mind to concocted fabulous bath products blows me away.
I don't even know you professionally but you seem to be very successful with your freelance work.
Me, personally, I admire your compassion for animals and strong opinions on women's rights. I find that your both intelligent and articulate and yes, even creative.

Grace, you gotta put this in perspective... the way you talk about your "normal" life you make yourself sound drab and plain... why is it then that you manage to ooze coolness and creativity all the way across the interwebs over here to me? You're the kind of person I'M jealous of, because, you know, I'm too boring and normal.

Since Rachel and Crystal commented, I have to also! lol

Seriously though, your blog is totes worth reading. And I don't think you're boring. But I also understand exactly what you mean about not being as "cool" as these mythical creative peoples. I sooth myself by thinking that these creative peoples are also often crazy and unstable, and I don't need to add that to my plate.

don't sell yourself short. creativity comes in many forms--music, drawing, contact juggling and the like are only parts of something much bigger. i'd argue that your thrifting and craftiness represent just as deep a well of creativity as anything.

and because i'm dying to know--who's the rock star?

This post depresses me. Did you really just express an envy for contact jugglers?

eh, the rock stars look like people i hate anyways.

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Happy Birthday Barbie

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warhol barbie portraitSo today is Barbie's 50th birthday.

Probably unsurprisingly, I'm a Barbie hater. I don't like her and I don't think she's done anything good for female body image and self worth in her 50 year run. I think she's unrealistic, damaging, and frankly kind of creepy.

But when I was a kid, I didn't. I had Barbies, I played with Barbies, I liked Barbies. I wasn't an enthusiast or a collector or anything, but I was definitely pro-Barbie. And you know, I don't feel harmed by it. When I disovered in middle school that I could cinch a belt up really tightly to make my skinny self look hourglass shaped, it was Scarlett O'Hara I was emulating, not Barbie. When I stuffed my bra at my 10th birthday party, I wasn't dressing up as Barbie, I was dressing up as Dolly Parton. I don't ever remember wishing I had a body like Barbie's, anymore than I wished I had a body like Raggedy Ann. Barbie was just...a doll.

Obviously this isn't the experience everybody had with Barbie. There's a woman who spent a half million on plastic surgery to make herself look like Barbie, and I'm sure she's not alone. So what's the difference? Why is Barbie so harmful to some women and girls and not to others? And why do I feel OK being so judgemental about the harm Barbie causes when I don't think she caused any to me?

What's most interesting to me now, on Barbie's birthday, is not her unrealistically thin and tiny-footed and big-breasted body, but the fact that she's never aged. No matter what profession Barbie takes up (doctor, pilot, etc.), she's always unlined and unblemished, firm and young. This makes sense, obviously, given her status an icon to perfect womanhood. Perfect women don't age. And at this point, her lack of gray hair or wrinkles is just about asd unrealistic as her measurements. On designboom, there is a picture of what an aged Barbie might look like, which I think is interesting. It's particularly telling that it's a headshot. Guess nobody wanted to see what gravity would do to those boobs over time.

3 Comments

I don't love Barbie, and oddly I didn't as a kid. People gave me Barbies but I never played with them.

However no toy ages. GI Joe's still young. So it Mickey Mouse. I don't think it's sexism that keeps Barbie young, because male "dolls" suffer the same fate.

I have the same experience like you do with Barbie. Played with it for hours and hours, but I never identified with her. She was just a doll we used to create adventures for. She was also the only doll available you could play with like that. I totally don't look like her, and I don't think we saw her as "real" as kids, more of a fantasy character which is harder to identify with I think. Or perhaps my mother's influence on my body image and self esteem was bigger than any toy.

Christine

my sister and i had a bunch of barbies as kids, and we definitely played with them--created whole worlds for them--but we also pulled their heads and legs off and covered them in fake blood for haunted houses. i was most fond of chewing on their feet.

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Look back at 2008

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OK, the first idea I want to copy from Rachel is in this post. Month by month, she looks back over her 2008 posts and summarizes what she's done and learned and how that plays into her goals for 2009. Seems like a pretty useful task.

January
I returned from my fantastic trip to Norway. Mark and I watched the kittens grow and were amused and amazed. I started taking pictures of my outfits every day and realizing just how poorly I dress. My mom's dog, Bella, died, which was really sad.

February
I continued to blog about my clothes, then, thank God, stopped. A beagle won Westminster. Mark's mom came to visit. I revisited my feminist canon. The kittens were all adopted out. I started the Oscar movie project (check my progress here!).

March
I made lists, as per March's NaBloPoMo challenge. I went on a massive Goodwill trip with The Princess. Crushworthy had its first sale. I got the flu and re-read the Little House books. I wrote a bunch about Buffy. Hopefully I was less boring in my actual life than on the blog.

April
I wrote a whole bunch more about Buffy, and enjoyed a brief moment of fame on Whedonverse when someone linked me there. Our clothes dryer died (while Mark's parents were visiting), which sounds like a minor thing but became a major thing when we failed to fix or replace it for over 6 months.

May
I didn't blog much at all. I think maybe I was a little bit depressed?

June
Mark and I visited our crew in Boston. I came back sick as hell with a sinus/ear/bronchial infection. Mark and I got really into the 2008 Euros. I sounded off on why I don't favor marriage. I had a weight-related freak out. We started fostering Belle.

July
We had a nice little 4th of July party. I once again addressed my weight, and started to actually work towards losing some. I did a ton of thrifting and blogged about that a lot. I wished I was at BlogHer but was not.

August
Mark and I went on a fancy date night. I did a bunch more thrifting, and continued to work on getting my weight down and paying down my debt. I turned 29. I got a misspelled tattoo.

September
Grandma Lou had a heart attack and had to have surgery, and I was terrified. Mark turned 31. We started fostering Huey.

October
My awesome cousins came to visit. I kept thrifting a ton and wrote about why I do it. I got to my lowest weight. I kept paying on the debt.

November
NaBloPoMo! For the first time, I used daily themes for my blog, and wrote a lot about thrifting, debt reduction, etc. I did several tutorials, which were fun to do and hopefully helpful for somebody out there. Crushworthy started really selling!

December
I continued to focus a lot on money. I did a whole lot of pre-holiday work for Crushworthy and a lot of gift thrifting. I got a little bit obsessed with Christmas carols.

Overall? The word that comes to mind for me to define this year is discipline. I learned some. Not a lot, obviously, but some. I made progress. I grew. Overall, I feel overwhelmingly positive about it.

1 Comments

Beautifully done! I just learned so much more about you!

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Nostalgia

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Mark made me pot roast tonight. It gave me serious nostalgia. When I was in high school, I was the Sunday 2-10pm waitress at a local cafe. Pot roast was the Sunday night special. Every Sunday, the back kitchen (the room behind the kitchen where the flour bags and extra wine were kept) smelled fantastic from the beef roast, potatoes, and carrots melting in the slow cooker. I remember the scale we'd use to measure out portions--was it 6 oz or 8?--and the way the meat and vegetables looked stacked up on the beige and blue plates. I think folks usually had soup or salad first, but I can't remember. Was it $5.95? $6.95?

Gioia, the fantastic cook with whom I most often worked, loved this special, and always told me to "push the roast." That way there was no work for her and she could do her week's prep and not have to stay late. We'd be listening to the CD player--my choice, usually--and she'd be chopping veggies as I dished up roast for my tables. When she heard the Counting Crows, she asked me why I didn't just listen to Van Morrison if that's the sound I wanted.

The other great thing about pot roast nights was that we never sold it all, and that meant free staff dinner. Whether or not this free staff dinner was actually permitted escapes me now, but I know I took it, and nobody ever seemed to mind. I love pot roast--always have. I have a thing for meat you can cut with your fork. My mom made it fairly often as well, but for some reason the memory that came to mind tonight was the roast at Tomaselli's. I think maybe it was that Mark used red wine, and my mom never did.

As I get older, I am more thankful for sensory memory. Smelling or tasting something brings back something much more vivid than the picture I can call to mind when asked about an experience or a time in my life, and it sneaks up on me in what is usually a pleasant way. While you couldn't convince me to spent Sunday nights taking orders and cleaning tables and smiling now, it's nice to think back on it. It's been more than ten years now, and I don't taste the bitter anymore, or smell the charred. In memory, it's all warm and delicious.

1 Comments

I think you're talking about the difference between American and Italian pot roast. I always thought it was weird when I had pot roast in restaurants and it was so totally flavorless. Then I made this:
http://www.cyber-kitchen.com/ubbs/archive/MEATS/Beef_Agglassatu_Sicilian_Pot_Roast.html

num.

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Card

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birthday card.jpg

Received just now, from Jenny.

Indeed.

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Maybe you're not OLD enough for it to be cute. I think that's what the card MEANS, but I took it the same way you did. Like, it's no longer cute to have birthdays. :)

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Tattoos like mile markers

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Today is my last day of being 28. Rather than bore you and myself with yet another post about how I have accomplished nothing, I thought I'd take you back on a little trip through my tattoos. Ani has a line that says "tattoos like mile markers/mark the distance she has come/winning some/losing some" and it's my favorite thing written about tats ever. That is exactly how I see my tattoos. They are not all things I would choose now, but they represent who I was at the time I got them, and I think it's healthy to look at myself that way--not just as who I am right now, but as the sum of everyone I've been. I plan to keep getting tattoos at regular (or irregular) intervals, keep putting up those mile markers, if for no other reason than to create a living map through my life.

tat #1Freedom: The Tramp Stamp
I got my first tattoo when I was 19, in October of 1998. I thought about it for a long, long time first, and my friend Howell, who drew the design, when through months of iterations of it before I chose this one. I chose the artist pretty randomly, though, by the name of the tattoo shop (Medusa Tattoo & Gallery in downtown Portland). It was important to me to have a woman do the work, and to have it done somewhere clean, but other than that, I had no real idea about qualifications. Two of my friends, an old one from high school and a new one from college, went with me to watch me get it done (interestingly, as far as I know, neither of them have ever been tattooed).

I originally wanted the tattoo to be much smaller than it is, and the artist who did it (whose name totally escapes me now) warned me that I would end up regretting if it was too small and looked like a stamp or a sticker. I allowed her to enlarge the design (and I now know she was right and it is still too small). At the time, I had never heard the term "tramp stamp" and had no idea that was what I was getting. Ha. The process itself was very painful (particularly the bottom of the tattoo, which is directly on the end of my spine and sent shocking pain down into my feet) and I didn't enjoy it at all.

At the time, I insisted that this tattoo was merely decorative and symbolized absolutely nothing. Looking back, I can see that the design itself may not symbolize anything, but my getting it, and getting it in the location I did (where it is easily hideable now, but wasn't so much in those days of baby tees and baggy pants) wasn't accidental. A year into college, I was still savoring my freedom and my ability to do whatever I wanted with my own body and my own life. Though tats were popular then, they weren't nearly so common as they are now, and getting it felt a little bit rebellious, but getting it small and in a "girly" spot kept me feeling safe, too.

I have a vague plan to get this tattoo expanded into a full lower back piece, because I really don't like having a tramp stamp now that every other sorority girl on the block has one. Then again, though, having it in the place and size it is already in is true to the 19 year old me who got it.

tat #2.jpgLove: The Hedwig Tattoo
After my first tat, it took me several years to decide on another one. Finally, in the early summer of 2003, when I was 22, I decided to get one of Emily Hubley's illustrations from the film Hedwig & the Angry Inch tattooed on my inner left ankle. The thought behind the tat was two-part: first, I loved the play and the movie and considered it (and still do consider it) to be the only anthem befitting my generation of fuck ups. Secondly, the image itself, and the myth it illustrates in the movie (told in the song "Origin of Love") speaks to the idea of having "another half," a partner who will complete you if only you find him or her. I have never 100% bought into that idea, but in 2003 I was still in the dramatic stages of new love, and it seemed the best way to symbolize that. And so my Origin of Love tat has one green eye like me, and one brown eye like Mark.

The tattooing experience itself was sub-par my second time around. I went back to Medusa, but this time had the work done by a different artist there, a woman named Fish. As you can see, she did a lousy job. The lines in this simple tat are uneven and it looks very unprofessional. She was also just not very nice. However, getting this tattoo was also my first experience with the erotic aspect of tattoo pain, which wasn't something I have ever forgotten. Mark came with me when I got it, as did our friend and housemate Erica (whose had I had just held as she got her first tattoo at the same shop some months earlier).

It sucks that this tattoo isn't done better, but I am still sort of resistant to getting it fixed or covered. Once again, it takes me back to a time in my life I remember so clearly, a set of thoughts and feelings I can access only through memory, and I don't want to disrupt that. I'm more in love with Mark now than I was in 2003, for sure, but it's a different, more mature kind of thing, and the more grown up me finds the concept of an "other half" not only amusing, but sort of insulting. I like that the tat reminds me that I used to be more romantic, if less assured, and so it stays, in all of it immature glory (I was once asked if I got it done in prison--no joke).

tat #3.jpgPeace: The Dove
My third tattoo is the only one I would get exactly the same way again. I'm not sure whether this speaks more to the quality of the work or to how much more slowly I am changing than I used to. I got it in December of 2005, when I was 26. It was something I thought about for quite a while first. I wanted to get something permanent on my body to attest to my commitment to peace in a time when war seemed to be coming in from all sides, and the image of Picasso's Dove with Flowers stuck in my mind as the simplest and most beautiful way to symbolize that commitment. In 2005, I had given up on my plans to be a public servant or non profit martyr professionally, and I wanted to prove to myself that I was still committed to the world around me, even if I was no longer willing to spend my life in (under)paid professional work towards that commitment. I also wanted my country to get the hell out of Iraq.

Much as I loved the image, I also found it "pretty" and was a bit resistant to it on that front, as I've always kind of disliked pretty tattoos on women. To counteract the "femininity," I decided I wanted to put the tat somewhere less traditionally feminine than my previous ankle and lower back choices, and somewhere more visible. That's why I chose my upper arm (I had originally considered my shoulder blade and rejected it on this basis). I decided to do it on the right arm to balance with my left side ankle tat. Once I'd decided on placement, I shopped for an artist. I wanted to be a bit more careful than I had been before, since this tattoo was going to be so noticeable on my arm. On someone's recommendation, I went in to Atomic Tattoo & Piercing on Burnet in Austin to talk to someone there about doing it, and I chanced upon Jason Masarik. The shop itself made me very uncomfortable, with it's walls of pin-up clip-art style tattoo designs and (then) all-male staff, and it definitely made me realize that Medusa is an "upscale" tattoo parlor, but Jason himself made me instantly comfortable. He recognized the image, and we talked about Picasso as he was getting stuff ready. I may not dig his style of artwork (based as it is on monsters and large-breasted women), but I recognized him as an artist, and that put me at ease.

I got this tattoo alone, and without telling anyone I was going to do it before I did it. It felt empowering. The pain was both bearable and pointedly erotic. And the result is, I think, phenomenal. I rarely go out in public without sleeves and don't get a compliment on this tattoo. Because the color has remained vibrant and the lines look very much like pen or brush strokes, people often don't believe it isn't drawn on but is permanent. Even my mother likes it. It's that good.

tat #4.jpgHome: Alis Volat Prop(r)iis
I have wanted to get a tattoo symbolizing Oregon, my homesickness, and my identity as an Oregonian for several years. I've been through lots of ideas--raindrops, fir trees, etc.--and nothing has felt right. Recently, I decided that the best idea I'd had to symbolize my home state was its motto, "Alis Volat Propriis," or "She Flies On Her Own Wings." On a bit of a whim, on Monday I went in to Atomic to see if I could get someone to do it for me. I wasn't set on Jason, since the tattoo idea was so basic, but he was there and available, so he set right up and did it in just a few minutes.

And lo and behold, it is spelled wrong. The original stencil, which I checked, was spelled correctly. How that correctly spelled stencil dropped at "r" when it was applied to my foot I will never know. And I didn't notice it while I was being tattooed, as it is upside down from my vantage point. When I got home and took a picture of it, though, it became clear.

Honestly, I think it's funny. I am going to get it fixed, because having a misspelled tattoo will definitely annoy me after awhile, but I think it probably serves my pretentious non-Latin speaking ass right for getting a tattoo in Latin. In the meantime, I think it looks great--I love the lettering and the placement on my foot--and nobody is going to notice the misspelling unless I tell them (which, because I think it's funny, I probably will).

I have ideas for several more tattoo mile markers in my head. Large pieces are in vague stages of planning. I want "Chance" tattooed in white somewhere (possibly my inner wrist). I will definitely be getting a Texas-symbolizing tattoo, and it may even be the stereotypical Lone Star. We'll see. In the meantime, I can use the ones I have to trace the path I've come, and I don't regret a thing.

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Why in white?

I love the dove - it's too rare to see people go for tattoes completely free of black, but they're so much more striking.

The Hedwig is one of the few images I would consider having tattooed on my body, but likely only if I split the two halves between fiancee and I - and she's not much of a Hedwig fan.

I have to agree with your tattoo philosophy 100%. I think it's important to commemorate the idiot or genius you were at various stages of your life.

Not that I have any tattoos, or anything. Ha!

I want a tattoo, for a very similar reason. Life leaves so many marks on your body, I like the idea of getting to choose one (or more) of them. I`ve been stopped by an inability to pick something significant.

You've seen Cody's white tattoos, right?

Fantastic tattoos, I love hearing the stories behind each one. I especially like the dove, that's a real work of art.

Happy birthday!

I love your tat philosophy and I remember the discussions before you got the dove done but i never saw a pic of it. It great. I also have a tatoo on my foot and inner wrist is my next choice if i ever decide what i want to put there.

sorry to bother you,but did u fixed that tattoo on your foot?i have the same problem,i didn't notice misspelling and don't know what to do now. :(

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Nevermind

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nevermind album coverI read somewhere today that this baby just turned 18.

Folks, there's no two ways about it: I'm old.

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No. Just... NO.

How is that possible?

I am 100.

I saw an interview with him online somewhere. I wish I could remember where!

The little guy also has the same surname as my former tutor, which caused endless amusement in a class who'd grown up with Nirvana.

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Em gets me thinking

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I just read this post by Em, and it got me thinking in a new direction for the day.

I can relate to a lot of what Emilin writes. Though I don't share her job-fulfillment or her mommyhood, I do get what she's saying about how your politics and how you wear them can change as you age. I'm no less "liberal" than I was at 22. My core personal and political values have remained very steady, and if anything, moving in a more privledged social/economic class has made me more aware of how completely fucked up our class system is. Ben Franklin would likely not be impressed by my brain, because I don't see much chance of my getting conservative before I hit 30.

That being said, I certainly wear it differently now.

Em describes her 22 year-old self as going to protests in steel-toed boots. I wasn't a whole lot different. My hair wasn't naturally colored and was never so long. I wouldn't have been caught dead in the clothes I wear now. I hadn't yet accepted that straight was going to be the identity I got, regardless of how well I did or did not believe it fit me. The thing that Emilin wrote that really resonated with me, though, is "I'm no longer trying to impress people with my anger." That's it exactly. I'm still pissed. Extraordinarily pissed, sometimes. But I no longer define myself by it, or feel the need to share it in quite the same overt manner. And I no longer consider being angry an accomplishment. It may well be my birthright, but it isn't my destiny.

I never would have expected to be where I am now. The office job, the mortgage, the gaggle of pets, the (gasp) SUV. The friends all around me getting married and having babies. It wasn't at all what I envisioned for myself. I expected to be writing professionally, to be in a major city, to finally have achieved hip. And while I'd still love to be writing professionally, those other things are not only not my reality, they are no longer even appealing. I've been to enough major cities now that I know I am not keen on living in one, and hip ceased to be a goal sometime around when I gave up trying to keep the dog hair off me.

I'm not as fulfilled as Em seems to be in her post, mostly due to my job situation (which isn't bad but isn't as great as hers), but also because Em has already made decisions (marriage, baby, where in the country to live permanently) that I haven't made yet. Marriage is pretty well out, but kids are still a maybe, and my feet definitely aren't growing any roots yet. While I am not in a hurry to make those decisions (time still doesn't seem to be moving overly fast to me), I don't think I'll ever have the sense of contentment in Emilin's post until I do. And that's fine. I've been in transition, more or less, for 28 years now, I can transition for a few more.

On one hand, I am amused at how normal I've become with my job and my clothes and my house and my life. And yeah, I'm a little bit disappointed, too. I definitely see people living differently and feel jealous. But I also know something now I didn't use to--that you can have these trappings, live in this class, and still have a spirit and a soul and creativity inside you. I may look like an automaton, but I'm still the same person I have always been in my head. If anything, I am confident enough in that person now that I don't feel like the need to shove her down everybody's throat every five minutes. And I think that might be progress?

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Whenever I meet old friends, I always get the feeling that I'm one of those "living differently" folks to the majority of people. And it's true enough, but as I told my newest coworker the other day, I've gotten to the point where living in Asia is mostly just boring. In that, I still have to pay my bills and run my errands and all that. There are some moments that really shine, but I suspect not any more than would in any other life I could have been living right now.

this is a really excellent, thought-provoking piece of writing.

i wish i could respond in kind, but i find myself a bit tapped at the moment.

i wanted to express my admiration, however.

i fall somewhere in between where you are and where the writer you are referring to is, but i can certainly relate.

thanks!

It's amazing the things you find on the net by following one thread to another and the various searches. This was a magical find for me!!!

It's about the body thing... It really moves me, for many reasons. There's the usual stuff, blah blah blah... Mark loves you and thinks you're beautiful, so what else matters, and it's what's inside that's important.

Like you, I'm tall. 6'3", 330# now that I'm 48. Part of the weight is from my psychotropic drugs (very bi-polar), which keep me mostly sane. All my weight is around my gut and neck. So I guess I carry it well, so to speak.

But the point is, I hear your words when you speak. I don't see them, I don't understand them, I *feel* them.

Then I see photos of you and hear your self descriptions... I wish you could only see in you for 15 minutes what I see in you tonight as I share your blog.

My wife has issues with her self image. To me she's still 5'll and 140, just like the day we met. Sort of like when your grandma thinks of you as the same small child she held all those years ago. I keep trying to tell her to relax, and she does, then she starts all over again.

I know that nothing I tell you here tonight will be much inspiration for you or change how you feel about yourself in the long run, but I felt I had to put in some input. You're incredibly beautiful regardless of what you think! And I'm never wrong... Or at least not about this.

Sorry for posting this outright, but I didn't find an email link. And I also wanted to let everybody else see what I see.

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I hate emo

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In the way of living somewhere where everything comes late, I have been noticing a ton of emo kids in Austin lately. They were around Portland before I was ever out of Reed, but I've only noticed them down here in the last year or so. The ones in Portland are probably on to something else by now.

If you don't know what emo is, you can start here, but basically it's a fashion/lifestyle "subculture" characterized by a certain style of dress and a heavy dose of misery, as well as allegiance to some specific music. Those kids with the tight jeans, stringy black hair in their faces, and constant expression of contemplation constipation? They're emo.

And there is no way for me to properly emphasize how much I hate emo.

Now this is almost inevitably due to my being too old and uncool to properly understand. I get that. But I hate it all the same. It is definitely not that I have a problem with wallowing in your own angst (I mean, c'mon, that's pretty much my favorite past time), or a particular issue with your hair being in your eyes. I'm not even bothered as much as I once was by folks who don't shower often. Emo music is all bad, as far as I can tell, but I've heard worse.

What bothers me is the way emo looks an awful lot like a really, really poor imitation of two subcultures that I do have a bit of experience being in and around: goth and grunge. These kids think they're miserable? I remember when you could be miserable AND sexy.

I was never really goth (though I've made the occasional attempt). I'm a bit young for it. Goth culture came to the U.S. in the late 80s and early 90s (from England and Germany, mostly), when I was still adolescent. However, it was still very much alive and kicking by the time I was in high school and college in the mid-late 90s. One of the annual events at Reed was a "Fetish Ball," where the goth kids got up in their finest leather and lace and did things like bit and flogged one another. I attended. I wonder, now, how much of the sexual subculture that was being celebrated so publicly was really taking place privately, but that wasn't really the point. The point was to celebrate pain, to indulge in thinking it was sexy, and for everybody to look hot. It is undeniably silly now (and was then, too, actually), and there was definitely an aspect of commercialism and commodification to it even then, but there was also something real behind it. For the most part, those indulging were freaks, even within the already freaky Reed social hierarchy. It was a way to embrace being an outcast.

I did grunge a lot better than I did goth. Partially it must have been regional, since I grew up in Oregon in the shadow the of the Seattle scene, and partially it was just better timing, with grunge hitting big right as my early teen hormonal flood kicked in. I don't have a picture to show you, but I wore my jeans-black tee shirt-flannel-Docs combo faithfully, even if my hygiene was always a little bit too good. And it wasn't just about fashion. Wikipedia describes grunge music as being "typically angst-filled, often addressing themes such as social alienation, apathy, confinement, and a desire for freedom." That's pretty much Grace, circa 1992-1997. Grunge was, to those who embraced it in my generation (and the one before mine, really), what punk was in the years before that--a reply to a mean, confusing, alienating world that was both defiant and resigned. And again, it was for outcasts--those who saw what was happening in the society around them and in their own lives and, for whatever reason, couldn't pretend it was going to be OK.

Given that I grew up with and identified with both goth and grunge, two subcultures that were built on angst (remember, I could have been a rave kid instead if I'd wanted to be happy), it seems like I'd be all over emo, right? No. Emo may look something like a goth-grunge slushy, but it strikes me as a very pale imitation of the real things. Unlike goth, there's no sexiness to emo. The emo kids want to cut themselves, but the pleasure-from-the-pain element doesn't seem to come into it. And the emo-ers may not wash, but there's none of the rebellion of grunge, none of the insistence that this outside part doesn't matter anyway.

It is almost inevitable that I am missing some important core element of emo here, just by virtue of being too old and too far outside of it to understand what it means to the people who are inside it. The commodification and fake misery I see when I look at emo kids is probably very similar to what old-school punks say when they looked at grunge kids, and it definitely resembles the Hot Topic-ization of goth. And much as it annoys me, if emo culture is providing to kids now some of what goth and especially grunge culture provided to me as a fucked-up outsider kid, them more power to it. But I still can't help but resent how fake it looks, and how it doesn't seem to recognize its roots, and how we did it better in my day.

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yes! good god yes. this is brilliant and perfectly describes what i couldn't put my finger on. i see remnants of grunge at political events and rallies but i've yet to see any emo kid, in the supposed hotbed of liberal political activism, at any meeting i've attended.

Yeah, this is a great entry.

Emo seems to me like all of the bullshit without any of the good stuff.

~Jess (who is too young to be grunge, but is a total wannabe ;) )

Fuckin hippie ass emo kids.

Part of me wants to adopt these little emo-lings and turn them into *proper* goths. But frankly i couldn't stand the whining...

Isn't grunge a "really, really poor imitation" of punk?

This was really interesting, to hear what the world at large thinks of emo subculture.

While I'm by no means "emo" myself, all of my friends are of the diehard, My Chemical Romance-loving, skinny jean-wearing persuasion, so maybe I can try to address some of the issues you brought up.

I wasn't around for the punk, grunge, or goth eras, but it sounds like they have only two things in common with "emo" subculture-- music with similar roots, and a reputation with outsiders as being "alternative", "freaky", or otherwise out of the mainstream.

The difference, though, is that there really is no "emo subculture" beyond the prescribed music. There are hopeless, numb-by-choice apathetics, and there are cutters who like to wallow in pain. Strikingly, most emos hate other emos. Not much of a subculture at all.

The only thing that I like about "emo" is exactly what you address in the last paragraph of your post-- emo does provide a group for social misfits. It's been a place where writers and neglected children of alcholics and kids who are afraid to come out to their parents have been able to make friends. (All of these people exist in our group of 6-8).

As for the lack of sexiness, I'd attribute that to the general affiliation with LGBTAPQ subculture-- in the same group of 6-8, I am the only kid confirmed straight. Emo culture is a safe haven for teenagers who are still undecided, where being gay or bisexual is more than normal and okay, it's almost encouraged. I'm just guessing, but maybe emo is supposed to look "unsexy" or at the very least, androgynous, for this very reason.

Great post, and great observations.

I think they're cute, in the same way any large "anti-conformist" teenage trend is. It's more attractive than the other teenage subcultures, at least.

It's rockabilly kids that drive me up the fucking wall.

Did you see that in Mexico, there are anti-emo protests happening? And pro-emo protests in response?

ok well idk if ur too old to understnad and watnot but im sure you can get it. my mom gets it. and shes not young.
emo is completley diffrent than goth and grunge/punk and thats what people miss. they think that first you go punk then emo then goth like its all in stages or something.
emo is just a tpe of music that just happened to have a style along with it. im emo and i may not be sexy but there are tons of emos that are including my boyfried and my best friend. maybe the reason emos go home and cry is becuase people like you ragging on them. me and my best friend laugh all the time have a ton of inside jokes but were emo. so what now?

To start, it states in the bible to judge nobody. It is his job and his job only. Now if you don't believe in God, then I have plenty of other things to say.
It is somebody else's life stop wasting yours hating somebody. Your stereotypical ranting is actually pretty funny though I have to say. Until it gets serious. Until you have people in Mexico protesting against...emos? Congrats guys you are protesting against a label that you gave them. That is a really sad life if all you can say is you started the emo protest.
This article is YOU whining about other people. Obviously you are very close minded and I pity you for that. If I had to live with my mind that closed to others I would whine too. Your only hurting yourself.
It is humanity's habit to hate things that are different from yourself. It takes strength to throw that state of mind away I know. It is also humanity's habit to judge people and pretty much everything. To divide everything. To name it. Divisions cause hate, hate causes the world to sink deeper into its peril.
So to conclude, get over yourself, open your mind, and stop hating people.
Oh and labels are for canned food, not people.

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Little House

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As I mentioned, I am re-reading Laura Ingalls Wilder's Little House series. The idea to do so came to me a while ago. One of the places I hang out online is a very popular "natural parenting" board. I stumbled upon a conversation about these books there one day, and was surprised to read that many of the folks there wouldn't read these to their kids or let their kids read them, due to their "racism" and "violence." These were my absolute favorite as a small child (my mom read them to me, then I read them myself when I was old enough, and I always play-acted my favorite scenes), so I was really surprised. However, what you see as an adult and what you remember from childhood are different things.

Then along came a full, new set at the Goodwill, for just two bucks. I couldn't resist. Then came sickness, and that always makes me want to read kids books.

And now I am most of the way through The Banks of Plum Creek (though I admit I skipped Farmer Boy--who wants to read a book about a boy?). Though I am not yet finished, I would definitely let my kid read these books.

Are they racist? Yep. The phrase "the only good Indian is a dead Indian" is repeated more than once in Little House on the Prairie. However, given the context (settlers in Kansas in the 1870s), historical accuracy seems to fall on the side of racism. And in general the Indians in the book are portrayed as some good, some bad, just like people in general. They are definitely seen as a different "species," as was the common thought at the time, but the actual hatred is kept to a minimum. As for African American characters, the only one that has surfaced so far is the Black doctor who saved the Ingalls' from all dying when they had malaria.

And violent? I'm not really sure what that means in this context. Perhaps that the kids get spanked ("whipped")? Well, again, look at the norms for the time. Or that they hunt and kill animals, and do things like play kickball with an inflated pig's bladder? Frankly, if that bothers you so much, your position of privilege is such that I'm going to have a hard time taking your problems with these books very seriously. Subsistence farmers/hunters in the 19th century, folks--they're not likely to be vegetarians. And they have to take their toys where they get them, too.

I'm really enjoying reading them, and given the amount of perspective they are giving me on things like overconsumption as an adult, I'd think they must have done me good as a poor rural kid.

There are definitely things that are sticking out, though, that I hadn't noticed previously. For one thing, what is up with Pa? He always seemed like such a pleasant character when I was little (and I was getting that from the books, too--I wasn't watching Michael Landon on TV), but he kind of creeps me out now. Why can't he stay in one place for more than a year? What kind of a father takes his wife and three little girls out of their safe and comfortable house in the Big Woods (first book) and drags them across the country in a covered wagon just because Wisconsin is "getting too crowded"? Seems strange. I wonder if there is a historical account of all of this, and how it differs from Laura's idealized memories?

So, my feeling of outrage at having such a pillar of my childhood maligned remains.

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I've read the series to John and am working on it with Maia. I love rereading them as an adult and seeing the stories behind the stories -- what Ma must have been going through, what the hell Pa's deal was, etc.

The reason you're missing the violence is because you've skipped Farmer Boy. The story opens with the children walking to school, worried about when the "big boys" (16-year-olds) are going to come and thrash the teacher to break up the school; the last teacher they thrashed died.

And I read that one to the kids, too.

Farmer Boy is actually very interesting to read because Almanzo came from a rich farmer's family. He had a very different upbringing than Laura.

Everyone remembers the popcorn and milk part. And then everyone tries it!

re: racism - there's also an actual minstrel show, complete with blackface, in one of the later books.

As to why Pa was always moving around, I think it's pretty clear from the text - they had a run of serious bad luck with farming. Farming in Wisconsin was tough- all the trees, and when the woods get crowded it means less hunting and trapping, which they seem to depend on. They get booted out of Kansas, and on Plum Creek they build their house on borrowed money, then lose the wheat crop to the grasshoppers. They stay on the first farm where disaster doesn't occur within the first few years.

I recently reread these also, and then picked up a couple of adult biographies of Laura, which give a lot more context.

My students love them - they get excerpted in a lot of textbooks and the kids almost always end up checking the full book out of the library.

I haven't reread one in awhile. Perhaps that might be a good project, though I don't think our library has all of them.

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Something Old

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(This post is part of a carnival hosted by the OTHER mother.)

stub and hazelThis is probably my favorite photograph ever. It was taken in a photo booth in a train station one night around midnight, in 1945. In a world where the second great war in a generation had just ended and prosperity was beginning, the woman in the picture was 35 and just married. She's my grandmother, and in a few weeks she will be 98.

In my memory, she has always been old, but looking at her now, I can still clearly see the woman in this picture. Both her beauty and her will, her iron spine. I can see, in both the old woman I know and this young woman, how she came to make it almost all the way through college before the measles took her eye sight, how she grew up working the land, how she cooked in logging camps. How she raised three children to be fantastic people. How, a decade or so after this picture was taken, she moved her young family across several states, away from where they lived near a nuclear testing facility, because she didn't think it right to bring up children somewhere nothing would grow.

The man in the picture, her husband, died before I was born, but lives on in legend as a bare-knuckle boxer during the Depression and a teller of world-famous bullshit stories. I think I would have liked to know him.

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That photo really is wonderous. Both of them look like stars. I love the story that goes with it too.

I love, love, love this picture and the story with it is amazing.

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My first Lent

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I was thinking, as I was getting ready this morning, about Lent. I'm not Catholic, never have been, doubt they'd have me. I've tried, at various times, to get into being either Lutheran or Episcopalian, but I've never been able to get past Jesus, so it's never lasted long. And yet, for years I have, in my own way, observed Lent. Mostly, I like that there is a time of year to focus on loosening your grip on the things and habits that slip into your life that are not necessarily what you want for yourself. Partially, I'm sure, I'm just masochistic enough to like the idea of self-denial, but there is something else, as well, more connected to strengthening yourself by giving something up, that appeals to me.

I was, I think, about 13 when I first observed Lent. I had recently started going to church, mainly because there was a "teen" group on Sunday nights and one of the members was a boy in whom I was interested (lovely curly hair and chocolate brown eyes). It wasn't, however, a church that observed Lent. In fact, the kind of rural fundamentalist church about which I am talking probably considers observation of the Catholic calendar sacrilegious. However, I had read something about Lent and decided that, in my new quest for spirituality, it would be a good idea for me to observe it. Since fasting was out (I was really skinny at the time and my mom would have had a conniption fit if I'd tried to stop eating), I decided I'd give something up. But it had to be something precious--I was serious about this (at 13, I was serious about everything).

I grew up poor and did not have a lot of nice things. However, that year my dad had given me a leather bomber jacket for Christmas. It was, I remember clearly, from Costco and cost $99. I'd seen it there and drooled over it without even considering it could be mine for months before it showed up under the tree. I loved that coat. It's soft buttery leather. It's silky polyester inner lining with imprints of old maps on it. The smell. How great it looked. I wore it non-stop from Christmas Day onwards.

So, of course, for Lent it had to go. Relegated to my closet, where I looked at it longingly but never wore it.

Except on Sundays, to church. For some reason, my understanding of Lent was that you give something up except for Sundays. So every Sunday I lovingly took it out and wore it to church, then returned it for the week, until Easter Sunday, when, in an act of symbolism that felt huge to me at the time, I left it home and wore something else to the church pageant.

Of course this all seems very silly now--both the church going (that church was really a pretty terrible place) and the value that coat held for me. But it's kind of impressive, too--my 13 year-old self had self-control for which my adult self strives every day.

I'm not giving anything up for Lent this year. Mostly this is because I've already given up the things I needed to remove from my life, more or less. I have been working since New Years on controlling my shopping and spending and paying down credit cards, and although there is a long way to go, I am doing well with it. Plus, I'm just too old at this point to find self-denial romantic anymore. Yeah, I could give up coffee for Lent, suffer the headaches, and probably feel better about being caffeine-free by the end of the season. But it wouldn't have the same magic giving up that jacket had at 13. That's the problem with me and religion these days--I still don't believe it, and it's not romantic anymore to go through the motions and pretend that I do.

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Instead of giving something up for lent, you can instead add something positive to your life. Some people might choose something for their financial or physical lives, but AfricanKelli is spearheading her third annual "Calculated Acts of Kindness" project. This sounds like a great way to add something positive to my life during lent.

Giving up stuff every day except Sunday is a traditional thing for kids. Also birthdays get an exception. Catholics like to make rules, so there are lots of exceptions. I think parents/teachers make these exceptions in order to make it more realistic for kids.

I also was really good/strict about Lent, though my whole family thought it was stupid and made a lot of exceptions. I guess I don't have a lot of high minded ideals as I did as a kid and have sort of accepted my faults, which is, I assume why I am now bad at this.

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The red plaid wool shirt

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red plaid wool shirtIt is not at all uncommon for our senses, particularly smell, to bring us back to places or times in our memory. Anytime I smell just-rained-on cement, for example, I feel like I'm in Portland. There is a certain industrial rubber flooring+old rainwater smell that puts me in my freshman dorm at Reed. The sting of camphor in my nose gets me feeling like a sick kid again. These things are, I think, pretty typical.

It is harder to be pulled into memory by visual objects. They're less specific, and more universal, I think. Once in a while you see someone whose smile or head tilt reminds you of someone you used to know, but actually objects are less memory invoking.

Except for a few. And of the few, for me, is a certain kind of red and black wool shirt or jacket. Where I grew up, wearing that type of shirt was almost a sign of manhood--certainly a sign of a certain kind and class of manhood. I remember no time when my step dad didn't have one of those shirts. When I waitressed in high school, the morning regulars who came in for coffee and cinnamon rolls before going to cut trees or run machinery or herd cows often sat in a circle of those shirts. During hunting season, those shirts abounded, being both bright enough to serve as safety gear and warm enough to stand between expectant hunters and cold morning air.

Last time I was home, I pulled a very old example of that type of shirt out of the closet in what was formerly my bedroom. The cuffs were very frayed and the elbows were patched with old flannel. Looking at it, I was momentarily puzzled--it was far too small to be my step dad's, and I didn't recognize it as one of his anyway. Looking closer, it occurred to me to whom it had belonged--my mother's father, who died in 1984. If I crawl back as far as I can into the recesses of my early childhood memory, I can just see him wearing it. Of all of the possible mementos to keep of him, my mom chose that shirt.

Twice in the last few days, I have seen this style of shirt where it doesn't belong. This morning I saw one in a window display at Buffalo Exchange, a store I don't go into anymore, because they are too good to even consider reselling my non-hip clothes. A couple of days ago, I saw a guy on the street wearing one, along with chunky glasses, a fedora, and pegged pants. No. No no no. My memories are not your fashion accessories, dammit!

Whenever anything I remember from my childhood gets twisted into hipness, I get annoyed. The modern cult of Johnny Cash drives me nuts. I loathe haut cuisine updates on country food--chicken fried steak is not meant to be made with expensive cuts of meat, and it should come with fried potatoes, not a gratin. Now this, the iconic red and black plaid wool shirt, taken from its roots in a certain class and geography and made just one more piece of ironically hip clothing.

Which, when it comes down to it, is what is happening to the entire culture in which I was raised, at least in the culture in which I now live. There is no real respect for the conventions, the ideals, or even the food and clothing of country people. Instead, there is this grim twisting of everything that was simple into something ironic. There was nothing ironic about the red and black wool plaid shirts the men I grew up around wore--they were there to keep out the cold, not to make a statement. Now I live here, I don't understand the statement, and I'm left increasingly cold.

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There's no respect for placement of anyone's memories--I mean all the food/clothing/smell/people of my childhood memories have been co-opted by mob movies. It would be awesome to discuss my favorite childhood dessert with non-Italians without a quotation from the Godfather coming up. Punk rock versions of Sinatra too!

That's sort of the point of America though, I thought. You bring your culture, we get to make a white American version of it. The fact that rural whiteys finally get it done to them doesn't break my heart. What about those ceramic versions of Chinese take out containers available at Crate and Barrel? Taco Bell? Rich businessmen eating sushi as a meal instead of a snack, thus wiping out whole species of fish because it's so popular? Hipsters in German army surplus? That's the point of the mishmosh. You get to make someone else's stuff your own, even if it makes no sense.

I'll bet my expensive, sweatshop made Che Guevara shirt that it happens to everyone.

We're totally going to rape everyone's childhood and the rape baby is going to be sold at Urban Outfitter's.

I'm wearing a Realtree baseball cap right now and a button down shirt with hunters and deer all over it. Pure coincience, but maybe a good object lesson.

Hi, I've been lurking here for a while (found by way of Heroine Content) and really enjoying your blog. It's posts like these-- smart, witty, thought-provoking-- that make your blog so much fun to read.

I'm not sure I should be commenting, but as somebody who listens to Patsy Cline and Panic! at the Disco (and definitely finds it ironic), perhaps it's not meant as an insult, but as a way of justifying something comforting and likeable (in this case, plaid flannel) in a "hip" culture that only appreciates the ironic.

Sorry, I'm not only the random lurker, I'm also ranting-- just a thought.

Your article reminds me of how down jackets, which were originally intended for climbers and backpackers, have changed over the years. These jackets were initially simple sewn thru, non-waterproof (because you wore a shell over it for rain/snow) items with hand pockets and perhaps one internal pocket. Their uncomplicated design reflected their target audience's desire for functional outerwear without any bells and whistles.

Today, down jackets have become fashion pieces for both urban youth and suburban office workers, neither of who spends much time in the backwoods. Their numerous pockets are designed strictly for in-town use to hold cell phones, I-pods, and other accoutrements required by the modern day urbanite. They tend to be big baffled heavy waterproof beasts more suited for Himalayan base camp than a trip to Starbucks. In fact, few backpackers/climbers would ever consider lugging along such monstrosities. Mountain Hardware and The North Face seems to be the brands favored by today’s audience, both of which abandoned their roots as hardcore equipment providers. Apparel, they’ve discovered is far more lucrative and trendy.

Yes, the down jacket, once the iconic symbol of the high mountain trekker, has mutated into something more suited for the urban hipster, another casualty of out modern culture.

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#58 Think back.

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Today's Maggie Mason idea:

"Tell us what you were doing during the major historical events of your lifetime. Here's a brief timeline of U.S. history to jog your memory. What were your thoughts when you first heard the news?"

  • President Kennedy assassinated.

  • The Beatles appear on The Ed Sullivan Show.>

  • Martin Luther King, Jr. assassinated.

  • Robert Kennedy assassinated.

  • Man walks on the moon.

  • President Nixon resigns.

I'm skipping those, for the obvious reason--I wasn't alive when they happened.

  • President Reagan shot: This was in 1981, so while I was alive, I wasn't old enough to remember it.

  • Challenger explodes: This is my first clear political memory. It happened in 1986, when I was in first grade. I remember watching some coverage of it on a TV in our classroom (and this was back in the day when having a TV in your classroom was a big deal, especially if it wasn't tuned to "Reading Rainbow." I don't clearly remember my exact thoughts, but do remember that there was general sadness in particular because a teacher, Sharon McAuliffe, died in the explosion.

  • Berlin Wall falls: This I remember much more clearly--it was another TV-in-class occasion. It happened in 1989, so I was 10 and I think in 4th grade. My most clear memory, however, is of the song "Winds of Change" by the hair band Scorpions, which was released the next year. Everyone would get very kiddie-serious when that song came on and pretend to be thinking about the wall.

  • Persian Gulf war: This was 5th grade, and I mainly remember everybody in my town hanging flags all over their stuff. And lots of what I now see as racist jokes, but didn't quite identify as such at the time. I don't remember being scared by the war, or even particularly interested in it.

  • Rodney King riots: This is where I start getting political, at least a little bit. I'm in 6th grade, I'm arguing with my classroom teacher about abortion (how completely inappropriate is that?) and I'm starting to have the guts to call people on their racist tripe, of which there is a lot. I think this is about the time I started getting into political arguments at home, too. As far as the riots themselves go, though, it was really removed for me. I was a kid, I knew NO people of color, and it all seemed...vague. Like something I'd see in a movie.

  • Waco, Texas standoff: This happened in 1993, when I was in 8th grade, but I don't remember it at all. It just flew under my radar, I guess.

  • Oklahoma City bombing: The was '95, my sophomore year in high school. My clearest memory is of that photograph of the fire fighter holding the baby that was all over the newspapers. It seemed like that picture was everywhere for months. Honestly, though, I was living pretty far inside my own head at this point and wasn't much on paying attention to what was going on around me.

  • Presidential election recount: Wow, big jump. This happened in 2000-2001, during my last year of college. I remember this VERY clearly. First, we had an election results party that included a drinking game wherein you took a shot of tequila every time a state went to Bush and a shot of Jack Daniels every time one went to Gore. Simon and I went to bed thinking that Gore had won and woke up and found out he hadn't. And then it dragged on and on and on. I supported Gore in the recount, and really thought and still think that Bush's victory was ill-gotten, but what was more important to me then and now was that it was even close, and that the Democrats couldn't find someone more sympathetic than Gore to put up. I also remember discussing this a lot in class, particularly with my favorite professor, who is Iranian and has some pretty strong feelings about sham elections.

  • 9/11 attacks: This happened my first year out of college. It's the weirdest thing. I never ever turned my TV on when getting ready for work at that time--I always listened to music. Yet, for some reason, I turned my TV on that morning, just in time to see the second tower fall. I called Mark and woke him up to make him turn on his TV to watch it. Then I went to work, and everyone in the office spent all day trying to get in touch with friends in New York. My boss finally sent everyone home in the early afternoon. At the time, I was in no way concerned about the greater implications of the attacks--I just wanted to know my friend Mychy, who was working at the Fed not far from the towers, was OK.

  • Iraq war: Too recent to look back with nostalgia of any sort--all I've got is rage. Lots of protests, including an amazing one in Portland that really made me feel like I was actually part of something. A feeling that no matter what we did, it was going to happen anyway, and it was going to be bad. Had no idea how bad, thought.

  • Columbia explodes: Honestly, this didn't register too much for me. As an adult, I am very very suspicious of the space program. I simply don't think it's a good use of time or money. Which isn't to say I don't feel badly for the astronauts who were killed on the Columbia, but this didn't inspire a huge mourning or anything.

  • Hurricane Katrina: This was really, really awful. Really personal, and close to home. Austin was full of refugees, survivors, and they needed a lot of help. More than any other "historical event," Katrina made the world feel small and dangerous. I'm still not over it.

  • Dick Cheney accidentally shoots his friend in the face: This was just funny. Still is, actually.

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Quick note - the school teacher in the Challenger disaster was Christa, not Sharon McAuliffe. She grew up in my town and the library building was rededicated in her honor. Such a shame!

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how sassy changed my life book cover

Perhaps unsurprisingly, I was a Sassy girl. Though I was a wee bit young for the demographic, being only nine or ten when the magazine started publishing and sixteen or so when it stopped, I loved my every issue of Sassy. It spoke to me. It taught me. It understood my freaky teen aged self.

And, according to Kara Jesella and Marisa Meltzer, authors of How Sassy Changed My Life: A Love Letter to the Greatest Teen Magazine of All Time, I was very much not alone. They posit that there are a whole nation of us Sassy girls, including luminaries like Bitch founders Andi Zeisler and Lisa Jervis and Bust creator Debbie Stoller, all of whom credit Sassy as a major influence in their work. And the book, as much as being about Sassy, is about us.

As fair warning, this book is not an intellectual criticism of Sassy or the articles that ran in it. While there is certainly history here (Jesella and Meltzer talked to nearly everyone ever involved with the magazine), there is also a fair amount of nostalgia. And near hero-worship of Sassy's staff, particularly the indomitable Christina Kelly, who served first as Sassy's entertainment editor and then eventually as the managing editor. But the book never claims to be impartial--it says right in the title that it's a love letter--so I think that's OK.

Reading the book got me back into thinking about Sassy, and about how different it was to be a girl outside the mainstream in the late 80s and early 90s compared to now. Before Sassy, and the time period that spurred it (grunge and riot grrrl music, the advent of Generation X, etc.) there had for many years been very little commoditization of being "alternative", especially for girls. Sassy was, the book claims (and I agree), integral to making it hip to be weird by the mid-90s. And although that has certainly turned back on itself by now (emo?), I still think it was culturally positive. It certainly made it easier to be me going through high school.

When I did my undergrad thesis research on Ms. magazine in the 1970s, I was astounded at how much difference a magazine can make, especially to people in the middle of the country and outside cities, and especially before we all had the Internet to easily connect us to like-minded souls all over the place. Reading this book's account of Sassy readers, and remembering my own relationship with the magazine, I got the same feeling. Its major purpose wasn't entertaining me, or educating me, or introducing me to the cool new stuff, it was helping me realize that I wasn't alone.

Now that the Internet serves that purpose for many teens, I wonder if the heyday of magazines is really over? The book implies that it is, pointing out that the 90s zine revolution has been nearly completely replaced by blogs. Stupid as it may be, I'd never made this connection, but I think it's astute. And, again as the book points out, blogs are far more accessible to your average small town girl than zines, which had to be ordered through the postal service if you didn't have a hip local bookstore or coffee shop (which I certainly didn't). Which is good. But I still feel a pretty big pang of sadness to think of girls now not having the monthly mail thrill I got when my Sassy came.

So, if you are a teen magazine scholar of some sort, this book is probably going to bug you. However, if you're a nostalgic Sassy girl like me, you'll enjoy it. It's a quick easy read and gives a bit of behind-the-scenes dirt that is still exciting after all these years. And it will really make you wish you'd kept all those magazines, because you'll want to read them again and they are really expensive on Ebay.

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What we find, and what finds us

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When I was a kid, I used to tell people I was going to travel the world and get pregnant in different countries and end up with a multi-lingual, multi-ethnic brood of kids. As I got older and understood adoption, I decided I'd do it that way. I had in mind a family that looked a bit like Brad and Angelina's, actually. I loved the idea that I would have a family that had all come from different places, at different ages, and had different life experiences. In my biological family, people tend to resemble each other quite a bit physically, talk in similar ways, and live in similar conditions. I wanted something more exotic (remember, this is when I was a kid, please, and no flames for what I now recognize as a pretty obnoxious thought patterns). A mixed bag.

As an adult, I have no plans to adopt an international brood. Or, really, to adopt even one child (at anytime soon, anyway). But it occurred to me today that my motley passel of canines and felines in some ways fits the dream I had all that time back, without the nasty using-kids-as-accessories undertone. The folks who came to visit Eugene the other day asked us where our dogs had come from, and this started us down a path of explaining it to them, and in doing so, I realized that the stories are pretty funny. We haven't gotten a pet from a breeder, but we've gone just about every other route.

Our first dog, Chance, came to us from Blue Dog Rescue, a local multi-breed rescue organization. Chance had been a puppy at the city pound who was adopted for a year and then given back to the pound, where the rescue picked him up.

After Chance died, we adopted Leo from another multi-breed rescue organization, this one several hours away. Leo was found living alone on a farm in the middle of nowhere, pretty clearly abandoned. More than any of our other pets, Leo was "shopped" for, only really, it was just that the pictures of him drew me in and I couldn't not go get him.

After we'd had Leo a few months, we adopted Atticus. Atty was a kitten born at the county shelter the next county over, but I found him at Petsmart, where they were displaying local shelter animals in the hopes of clearing the shelters out to make more room for animals after Hurricane Katrina.

A few months later, we added Atakan. Ata was our first true pound puppy, rescued off doggie death row at the county kill-shelter with fleas, mange, a horrible ear infection, and nearly starved to death. He'd been picked up as a stray. He was our biggest risk, with clear health issues, no temperament testing, and no sure way to even tell his breed. We had no idea what we were getting into.

About a year later, we added another cat, Esme. Essy came to us from our good friends when they moved to Norway to a small apartment where she wouldn't have an easy way to stay away from their dogs, who are friendly but not much for respecting kitty peace and privacy. She was born a barn cat in Oklahoma and came to our friend by way of her parents.

Now, finally, we have our new kitty (still no name), who is your basic off-the-street stray, found by our next door neighbors and brought to us because we now have a reputation as people who will help animals in need.

Twenty years ago, or even ten, this wasn't what I pictured. Pets, beyond perhaps a fish, were never my intention, and certainly I didn't think of myself spending my future living in what is quickly turning into a menagerie of lost or discarded animals. Each new addition has been sure to be the last for a while, and yet the more of them there are, the easier it becomes to open our arms one more time, make a little more space on the couch and in the budget. And the more sure I am that the offensive crap about multi-colored babies I spouted as a child was, in fact, coming from somewhere inside me, something I knew I was meant to do. I just didn't know then that the babies would be of the furry and four legged variety, or that I could get them all within a few square miles and still have them be so different and have come so far.

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Did I say that?

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There was an article in the NY Times the other day about the college selection process. Alumni of about my age (class of 2001) from three schools--Penn, U Michigan, and Reed--were polled and interviewed for the article. I wasn't personally interviewed, but I did fill out the poll on which the author bases some of his assertions.

The poll found that 28% of Reed alumni "said that learning “how to think, to work, to learn” in college was what they valued most now." I'm pretty sure I'm part of that 28%, because more than anything else (except perhaps for some complicated lessons about social/economic class on which I've already expounded here), Reed taught me how to learn. When you're a kid, learning comes naturally to you--everything is new, and learning and adapting to your environment are directly linked to your survival, in one way or another. As an adult, though, you already know enough that it becomes possible to get by without making any attempt to learn much more. And, honestly, I think a lot of people live their lives just that way--thinking they already know enough and can somehow stop learning now. To my mind, that mentality goes hand in hand with classes in which the most common question is "will we be tested on this?" And, for the most part, that attitude was not only not encouraged, but simply not tolerated at Reed. Now that I am (basically) out of formal education and responsible for initiating my own learning, and am profoundly grateful to have internalized Reed's way of thinking.

And so I will grit my teeth just a little bit less when I make this month's student loan payment.

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I also said that! I found it interesting who they chose to interview....

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Thanks for your kids

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Last night, I started reading The Merry Recluse, a posthumously published book of essays by an writer I really admire, Caroline Knapp. Knapp was not married and never had children (she died very young, in her mid-40s I think, of cancer). A couple of the essays in the book are about her decision not to have children and the importance of other people's children in her life. Knapp is clear that just because she has no particular desire to have children of her own does not mean that she doesn't like kids, or that she doesn't want to spend time with them. Quite the opposite, actually. She dotes on a niece and nephew in one essay and another niece in another essay, and even credits the relationship she wants to have with her niece as being a primary reason for her decision to stop drinking. The children in her life are clearly very important to her.

And they are to me, too.

Even if I decide once and for all that I do not want my own kids (which seems like about a 50-50 bet at this point), I can't imagine not being very happy to have kids in my life. With me, it's less my actual nieces, who are both too old to want to hang out with me and very far away, and more the children of my friends. Here in Austin, pretty much all of my friends have kids now, and I'm really happy about that. I like hanging out with them and with their kids. They have enriched my life by bringing their kids into it, and allowing me time to spend with them. I appreciate that.

Two of my best friends and their daughter moved away a bit less than a year ago. I miss all three of them terribly, but honestly, I think I miss the little girl the most. This isn't because I love her any more than I love her parents, but rather because I know from experience that her parents, as adults, will likely be very similar the next time I see them to what they were the last time I saw them. She, however, won't. She's quickly moved from a toddler to a little girl, and she'll be a pretty big girl by the next time I see her. She's been potty trained, started school, and I can only imagine what else. And I haven't seen any of it. That causes some pretty big missing. It is also much harder to maintain a long-distance relationship with a child--she's not old enough to email, you know?

My point, such as it is, is just to express my gratitude to my friends and their children for allowing people like Caroline Knapp and me to enjoy and experience children in our lives without having them ourselves. I really appreciate it.

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I hear you. It's my nieces I miss the most, living overseas.

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Time warp

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So classes started here last week, which means the campus is once again overrun with undergraduates, including a big fat herd of new freshmen (somewhere around 10,000 of them, I think). Even though this campus is many times larger than the one I where I attended undergrad, and even though there are more incoming freshmen than there were in my entire school, seeing them still takes me back...

Ten years and a couple of weeks ago, I moved into the MacNaughton residence hall at Reed College. I think I learned more and changed more in those first few weeks at Reed than ever before or since. The transition to college has to be stressful for everyone, but it was brutal for me. Not all bad, but all dramatic. I didn't sleep for more than an hour or two at a time for months. I ate sporadically and badly. I made some expectedly stupid decisions about how much to drink and with whom to sleep. I learned new vocabulary words such as "dental dam" and "gravity bong."

Mostly, though, I realized things about myself that I'd hadn't ever had reason to know, growing up where I did. I learned that I was shy. I learned that I was poor. I learned that for many people my age, "work" didn't mean a waitressing shift, but a night with the books. And I looked all around me, at these kids who'd gone to private school and been to Europe and were the second or third or fourth generations in their familes to attend college, and I felt completely and totally inadequate.

I freaked completely out. I knew I wouldn't make it, I wasn't smart enough, I wasn't savvy enough, I didn't have the background I needed. I knew they'd see right through me and know I was a complete fraud as a college student.

And I see that same panic in these kids' faces, even if it isn't really there in most of them. There is an occasional kid, brow furrowed, studying a campus map, with the wrong backpack and dressed too nicely, who I want nothing more than to stop on the sidewalk and reassure. Because I remember those first few weeks at Reed so clearly, and being somewhere as big as this university has to be so much worse. It would have been so nice, back then, to have someone tell me it was going to end up OK. I also remember getting up, going to class, forcing myself to talk to a few people, and it all slowly getting easier. I had the extreme good fortune to fall in with a crowd who weren't judgmental about my background (people who are still among my best friends today), and although I've never forgotten that I come from different stock than many (even all) of those friends, it really just doesn't matter anymore. At least not most of the time.

I've read a number of books and essays about transitioning from working class roots to middle class adulthood (most notably Alfred Lubrano's Limbo), but I've never read anything that characterized at all realistically the abject fear I felt when first faced with the class difference between myself and my new college peers, or made any suggestion of how to deal with it. Has that book been written? Should I write it?

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Wow I didn't really realize it was 10 years ago until I read this. Man I can't believe I've known ANYONE for 10 years.

Also, I remember little to nothing about the first weeks of college. Nothing. I remember glimpses of driving there. I remember my dad dropping me off. I remember meeting Skiz and our first dorm dinner but that is IT. I don't remember being freaked out at all.

I thought about this because now when I move to new places, I DO kind of freak out. But I didn't then. I don't know why. I assume I was just so happy to not be locked in my house.

I think part of it was an opposite feeling from yours, like "wow finally people I have SOMETHING in common with." The whole "wow these people grew up totally different from me" thing didn't hit until later.

Re: the working class to middle class thing, there's a huge element of it in the movie "Wall Street" which is partially my favorite part of the movie. But it too is not college related. If anything, for me, I want a handbook on dealing with all the people you grew up with POST-college, since now there's this whole "oh you went to college so you are rich and can get any job you want in the world." anger that I don't know how to deal with!

I hear that. I think Lubrano actually addresses it to some degree in "Limbo," but I'm not sure. The idea that my undergraduate degree didn't actually qualify me to DO much of anything is one that never sunk in to the folks at home. They still think that there is some connection between it and my "fancy" (ha) job.

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More pre-birthday musings

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As I continue to feel vaguely uneasy about my upcoming birthday, I thought it might be therapeutic for me to make a list of things I am surprised/impressed about when it comes to my adult self. I may not be everything I want to be, but I'm a few things I never expected. To whit:

1. I can now tell the difference between a bad cup of coffee and a good one, and, to a lesser extent, between a bad glass of wine and a good one.

2. I am no longer paralyzed with nervousness when I have to drive somewhere I've never been before.

3. I've learned to keep plants (mostly) alive.

4. I no longer have doubts about my employability. I may not always be able to find a job I like, but I can always find a job.

5. I don't apologize for my music taste anymore.

6. I am completely at ease describing myself as a feminist.

7. I've been involved in the rescue of nearly two dozen dogs.

8. I can now appreciate where I'm from while still being honest about how much I hated it when I actually lived there.

9. When I look back at high school, I'm not angry anymore.

10. I have a passport. It may not have any stamps on it yet, but I do have a passport.

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Ha! You're a feminist! Ha!

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You're aging well*

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Right on schedule, pre-birthday panic has hit.
Grace at high school graduationIn eight days, I will be 28. Seeing it written out, it seems like a perfectly reasonable age to be. 28. Going to my ten year high school reunion next month (just like Romy and Michelle...). 28. In my late 20s. 28. Homeowner, dedicated partner, holder of a reasonable job. 28. All grown up.

But I don't feel all grown up. I've been in some kind of weird second adolescence all summer, all the way down to the unusually bad skin. And y'all, my first adolescence was really nothing to write home about--I didn't need another one, particularly not one in which I have way more responsibilities and weigh 50 lbs more. Good God.

I'm told more and more often these days that really your 20s are not all they're cracked up to be and it is better to be in your 30's, and I more or less believe this and have been saying for a couple of years now that I am looking forward to 30. But if that's true, why is 28 filling me with such dread? Partially it's the usual "I haven't done as much as I should have by this advanced age" bullshit, which I know enough at this advanced age to know is bullshit, but partially it's something else. I feel like I'm crossing some sort of threshold that I only barely know is there, making some kind of decision I'm not totally cognizant of. And I'm not sure I want to cross, or sure it's the right decision. This responsible, adult life that my 28 year old self has created--is it really what I wanted? It's certainly not what I'd have expected of myself fifteen years ago, or even ten. Nobody ever thinks she's going to end up this much like everybody else, I guess, and it was likely just childish hubris for me to expect it, but I did expect it. Not so much that I was going to be more than this, but just that I was going to be different than this.

And as it turns out, I'm going to be 28 next week, and I'm doing pretty much what's expected of a middle-class white girl in her late 20s in the U.S. Why do I find that so very disappointing?

*apologies to Dar Williams, of course

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For me I think it was that the window of doing crazy stuff is closing. Like, if I quit my job, and then travelled for the next two years, it would negatively impact my career and stuff. Yet there was a time when that would have been acceptable behavior. Four years ago, if I didn't have my shit together, came to work hungover, or couldn't pay my bills, it was pretty expected. Now, it would make me look like a loser. That's kind of lame. Not because I want to do this, just because it isn't an option as much.

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Online friends

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Laurie wrote a fantastic post over at BlogHer this morning on the topic of online friends. Laurie was specifically talking mostly about blogging friends, as is the relevant post-BlogHer subject, but I think most of what she's got to say is germane to other types of online friends as well.

And it inspires a proclamation:

Hello, my name is Grace, and I have online friends, some of whom I have met in person and some of whom I have not. I am truly blessed to have these friends, just as I am to have the friends I met in more "traditional" ways. Having online friends is not a sign of my "dorkiness" or social antagonism, it's a sign of my willingness (as well as their willingness) to reach across physical distance and bond with people. My online community is, in its way, just as important a part of my community as the people who surround me physically. I communicate with many of them on a near-daily basis, and they provide one of my most persistent and important support networks. I appreciate them more than I could ever say.

I've thought a lot about this, and I don't think it's cowardly to have "online friends." I don't think it's fake, or really, in any essential way, different than having "real life" friends. I'm at a place in my life now where a large number of the friends I have who were originally "real life" friends have become mostly online friends by virtue of our having moved to different parts of the continent, and there is really very little difference between those relationships and the ones that have flourished mostly online from the start.

It's just not in me to think that communication, whether it's in written or verbal form, is bad. Often, when I'm posting here or writing a mammoth email, I think of the days of extensive letter writing, a la Dangerous Liaisons, and I have to wonder how much has really changed. People have been communicating writing for centuries, and whether that writing gets encrypted as 1s and 0s and send over wireless lines or takes the pen and paper approach, it's the same thing. We're able to do it in what amounts to more-or-less real time now, but the driving force behind it, the need to connect and communicate, is the same, and I embrace that.

So I wanted to say thanks to my Internet friends, particularly the ones who do me the great honor of reading my rambles here at WINOW. I really do appreciate you, and I hope I can come somewhere close to doing for you what you've done for me.

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On not being married.

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Over on Name that Mama, Em posted this article from the New York Times (if you want the text and don't have a login, she posted at least some of it). My friend T., from Ceci n'est pas un blog emailed me the same article. Neither of my friends gave a comment, so I have no idea what their views on the article and the subject are, but I have some views, and I haven't talked about them in a while, so I'll share them.

Mark and I are among those 20 and 30-something different-sex couples who are intentionally unmarried (mostly) because we don't want to take part in a discriminatory institution. We have both thought about it and talked about it fairly extensively, and what it comes down to is that neither one of us is comfortable becoming married, or identifying ourselves as married, while married has the meaning it currently does in the U.S. We both know that our "marriage boycott" does nothing to help gay and lesbian couples who want to get married. It's not a substitute for actual political action. We don't feel like we're on some kind of strike, denying ourselves something we want for political reasons. Rather, because of what marriage is, a discriminatory institution that only affords benefits to those with the "right" sexuality, we don't want it.

I think that's an essential difference, and it is one the article didn't pick up to the extent I had hoped it would. For us, at least, the decision not to marry is not about self-sacrifice. It's about making the conscious decision, in order to live with ourselves, more than to "help" or "support" anyone, to reject an institution that feels wrong to us. While I do, like one of the couples in the article mentioned, go out of my way to point out to people who assume otherwise that Mark and I are not married and tell them why, I'm not convinced doing it makes any difference. There is no reason that I can think of that anyone with any power to change current marriage law (that is, anyone) cares one way or the other whether or not I get married, so not getting married is a pretty ineffectual protest.

My thinking on this has changed quite a bit over the past few years. It used to be that I thought I wasn't going to get married as a form of protest--just what I'm disparaging here. However, it has been pointed out to me numerous times by lesbian friends and acquaintances, that I'm not really doing them any favors by not getting married, particularly if not getting married is the only thing I'm doing, or if I think just not getting married myself is enough. And it's kind of...patronizing, I guess...to think that it does make a difference.

So that is what the article made me think. I understand why these couples, from Brad and Angie on to the folks who sound a bit more like Mark and I, are making the decisions they are. And I fully support the choice not to get married--for whatever reason you make it--but I think there's a real need to be careful in stating or even thinking that you are making that choice in support of or on behalf of other people. At the end of the day, Mark and I aren't getting married because we aren't comfortable with it, and assuming that should make any difference to anyone but us is pretty self-centered.

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I heard about a group of people who ARE getting married for the same reason--if you're not married, you have nothing to lose by marriage being open to gays, but if you are married you have more at stake int he institution. i think a lot of bigots would point to things like the declining marriage rate as all the MORE reason for why marriage must be protected. it's interesting to me how both sides (getting married for a political reason, not getting married for a political reason) can be sustained.

i guess i feel like, it sucks that people are starving and i wish i could do more for them, but i don't think me starving would be a useful political statement.

however i don't understand why people would want to involve the government in their love affair, either, so, perhaps i am not the target audience.

you know, i've been arguing with a friend about this for a few weeks now (not warlock, a different friend) and i keep meaning to email you and ask you for your actual experience of being unmarried but maybe it would give you blog fodder to write about whether or not you get pay more for health insurance, taxes, etc? are you worried about making medical decisions for each other? are you going to do power of attorney type stuff? if you want. whatevs.

my reasons for rejecting marriage don't have as much to do with gay marriage as much as it's just that i don't support straight marriage. marriage serves to help ONLY the 1950s ideal nuclear family while simultaneously HINDERING those that don't conform to that. i also think that the benefits of marriage are benefits that shouldn't be tied to a sexual rel'ship. a person shouldn't be required to be married to have health care or a retirement safety net.

This article made me really envious. You know I support you and Mark, Grace, and I wish I was still there with you in fact as well as in spirit. :\

Rachel, before I did the deed, I was paying 449.03 per month out of pocket for health care for my SO. The budget just couldn't sustain it, and that was a major factor in my decision. At my old company, he was covered, but the company's contribution to his health care counted toward my total income. (It's called imputed income - I think I've seen some folks refer to it as the gay tax. And for good reason, since straight folks can just marry themselves out of this penalty for $75 or less and a trip or two to city hall.)

Have you ever checked out the website for the Alternatives to Marriage Project? It's a great resource.

have you read "the meaning of wife?" i have been meaning to get to it.

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More on female bullying

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In the comments to that last post regarding It's a Girls World, my friend Scand asked an interesting question. As I have been a bully myself, what would I have said I was angry about, if asked, during my bullying days?

I wish I had an answer. But I don't. Part of the problem is that my experiences with bullying, both as a victim and a perpetrator, are very hazy. I know I came home from school crying and never wanted to go back and had no friends at times, and I know I participated in a "slam book" and was a terror to other girls at other times, but I don't have any really specific memories--certainly no memories that are clear enough that I can tap into how I felt at the time.

I'm surprised by how clear man women's memories of their childhood bullies seem to be, and I wonder what it means that mine aren't. I honestly don't feel like I was scarred for life by being bullied as a child. It was horrible at the time, I'm sure, but I don't think I suffer from it as an adult. Many women clearly do. What made my experiences different? Was it just that I didn't undergo the kind of terrorizing that some women did? Or is it that I was sometimes on the other side as well?

As I mentioned in my previous post, I believe that one of the root causes of female-to-female bullying and aggression is unresolved anger. Women aren't allowed to be angry, and we have ever so much to be angry about. I think this is part of the reason girls who don't fit a stereotypically feminine mold are often singled out for aggression--they make a good target for other girls who wish, consciously or not, that they didn't have to fit that mold either. Even as an adult, with what I hope is more awareness of my motives and behavior than I had as a child, I can sometimes feel myself becoming angry and resentful at women who are somehow able to live outside of boundaries I feel corralled by. Could the same thing that makes me resentful as an adult have made me a bully as a child? Is that part of the equation?

As I mentioned before, there seem to be two current leading theories of why girls bully each other. The first is Simmons' theory, that girls are not taught how to argue or fight in a healthy way and so they begin to act in mean, petty, passive-aggressive ways. The second, discussed in Leora Tanenbaum's Catfight, is that female aggression is based largely on competition. Women and girls are nasty to each other out of jealousy and competition for scarce resources (time, jobs, men, whatever). Tanenbaum's reasoning resounds with me as much as Simmons' does, but again, I think there is more to it. I think it may be less about "scarce resources" and more about resentment of other girls and women who seem to be getting off easier when it comes to being female.

I truly believe that just being born female in this world is enough to keep you mad for a lifetime. The unending, heartbreaking unfairness of it is enough weight all by itself to piss me off, before any details even come into play. As women, we are reminded a thousand times a day that we are considered inferior, and that everything is going to be harder for us simply by virtue of our sex. So perhaps seeing other women seem to deal with it easier, not be bothered by it, or fit naturally into roles that we have to contort ourselves into feeds into this anger, and we (wrongly) target those women for being better contortionists, rather than blaming the guys who created the boxes.

It's not a perfect theory by any means, but instinctively it feels reasonable to me. As a 27 year-old woman who has given a lot of time and thought to being a woman, I can admit that I'm angry all the time. Every day. And it is a lot to carry around. I hope that I don't take it out on other women, but if I am honest with myself, I know at times I have. And how much harder is it if you can't admit that you're mad? Or if you don't even know you're mad, or you do, but you have no idea why? It's not really surprising that the helplessness and confusion leads to misguided rage.

But how to get beyond the rage--or, better yet, use it for something constructive? That's the real question. And I still don't have an answer. For myself, all I can do is try to take people one at a time, for who they are. Try to err on the side of kind. But I know it's not enough. It's never enough.

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It's a Girl's World

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girlsworld.jpgI've long been interested in the subject of female aggression, or, put simply, why women and girls are so damn mean to each other. This interest is largely personal, as I've been on the end of a quite a bit of female-to-female bullying, both as a child and as an adult, and I've been on the bully side more often than I'd care to admit as well. It's partially theoretical or academic, though, as the more involved I've become in feminist academic and social circles, the more sure I am that the biggest barricade in the way of real feminist change is, in fact, women's attitudes towards each other.

Which is a fairly controversial statement, really. A lot of feminists do not see it that way, and many are even insulted by the idea, as they think it implies that it's women’s own fault they are oppressed. Which isn't at all what I mean. I believe that the ways in which women abuse each other are highly patriarchally conditioned.

A lot of scholars on the subject of female bullying agree. There are several good books about this, the most famous and easily accessible of which is probably Rachel Simmons' Odd Girl Out: The Hidden Culture of Aggression in Girls (others worth checking out are Phyllis Chesler's groundbreaking Woman's Inhumanity to Woman and Leora Tanenbaum's Catfight: Rivalries Among Women--from Diets to Dating, from the Boardroom to the Delivery Room, which focuses on the competitive aspects of conflicts between girls and women). In her search for an explanation for the way she was treated and the way she treated others as a girl, Simmons interviews girls of various ages, races, classes, and backgrounds, as well as does significant secondary source research. She comes to the conclusion that the best explanation for the passive-aggressive nastiness young girls show each other (behavior including spreading rumors, exclusion, trying to turn others against someone, etc.) is that girls aren't taught any other way to express disagreement. In short, girls don't know how to fight in a healthy way, so they fight in a supremely unhealthy one.

Simmons and her theory make a guest appearance on the most recent piece I saw on this subject, the CBC/National Film Board of Canada Production It's a Girl's World. This short film alternates between interviews with and footage of a clique of 10 year-old girls in Montreal and their families and interviews with the family, friends, and tormentors of 14 year-old Dawn-Marie Wesley, a British Columbia girl who committed suicide after being bullied. Filmmaker Lynn Glazier simultaneously explores the most serious possible consequences of bullying, telling the story of the Wesley case, and the sources of bullying behavior and how it plays out, observing the Montreal girls.

The most interesting part of the film for me was Glazier's footage of the Montreal girls' parents (mostly their mothers, as (tellingly?) only one father seemed to be involved). Their reactions went from taking the situation very seriously to completely avoiding reality and brushing everything off with "they'll outgrow it." Especially interesting were the very different reactions of the parents of the two biggest bullies in the group. One set of parents was very pro-active, talking at length with their daughter about her behavior, keeping her home from activities if she did not socialize nicely, etc. The other mother denied that her daughter would have anything to do with bullying behavior until very late in the game.

The parents of all of the girls in the group got together on several occasions to discuss the issue, at one point bringing Simmons in as an "expert." In what I found to be the film's most telling scene, the girls' parents sit around a table, watching footage of the group of girls having a discussion about bullying with Simmons. In the discussion, the girls display typical behavior--one whispers to another behind her hand, several gang up on another and tell her she should be talking, one belittles another for not speaking up. Then the mothers display very similar behavior, one brushing off another's concerns, a second drilling a clearly upset woman about her parenting tactics, and several sitting quietly, looking as if they wished they were anywhere else.

To me, it was that scene, more than anything else in the film, which really drove the point home. Not only is bullying a dangerous, extremely harmful force in childhood, but we don't necessarily outgrow it. This is bad for us, individually and collectively, and bad for our kids. How can we expect a group of 10 year-olds to learn to disagree constructively and treat each other with respect when their mothers can't do it either? And who polices the mommies? Where does it end?

The same thought entered my mind watching an interview with one Dawn-Marie Wesley's bullies and her grandmother. Both the teenage girl and her grandmother did little but make excuses, saying that Dawn-Marie engaged in the same behavior, it was normal, doing everything but calling her suicide an overreaction to a completely average situation. With an attitude like that coming from the adult in her life (her grandmother), how could the teenage bully ever expect to be any different?

I don't completely agree with Simmons' bullying theories. Or, I agree with them, but think they are only part of a very complicated picture. I can certainly see her argument for girls' passive-aggressive behavior being largely due to not being socially able to be out-and-out aggressive, but even if girls were to be more "masculine" in their behavior towards each other, to bully with fists and punches more than glares and whispered rumors, we'd still have a problem, you know? And I believe a lot of that problem comes from the massive unresolved anger many woman and girls carry around with them. We're right to be angry--we live in a world that systematically devalues us at ever turn. The problem is that we turn that anger on each other, because we're too afraid to band together and turn it on those who really deserve it. The boys. We spend so much energy attacking each other, standing in our own and each other's way, and it's time and energy we could spend attacking them. But keeping us at each other's throats is all part of the plan, isn't it? It's much easier to dominate a population hell-bent on dominating each other.

The answers the film suggested were ultimately unsatisfying, at least to me. While I was glad to see the Montreal girls' parents taking bullying seriously and talking to their children about it, I don't much think it's going to help, even in their specific cases, much less overall. Forcing a girl to apologize for her past behavior, or encouraging her to make other friends if the ones she has are mean to her, don't really address the issue. I never heard any mother tell her daughter she was right to be mad, or offer to help her figure out who she was really mad at. And I'm not surprised. I've spent a good deal of time thinking about this stuff-more than most, probably-and I still can't figure out who to be mad at most of the time. I only pray that if I ever have a daughter, she and I can both learn.

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Way back when you were on the bully side, if someone had asked, who would you have said you were angry at?

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End of the summer

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The summer ends, and we wonder where we are,
And there you go my friends with your boxes in your car.
And you both looked so young and last night was hard you said,
You packed up every room
and then you cried and went to bed,
But today you closed the door and said
"We have to get a move on,
It's just that time of year when we push ourselves ahead,
we push ourselves ahead."

-Dar Williams, "End of the Summer"

I was just reading a really good essay by Pam Houston (who I obviously haven't promoted enough already), where she mentioned that March 21 is her favorite day of the year, because from then on she knows the days are going to get longer, the weather is going to get warmer, and summer is going to come. The fall solstice, on the other hand, depresses her, because even though fall is lovely, the days are getting shorter and winter is coming. And even the longest day of the year in June is bittersweet, because she knows that it's all downhill from there.

Pam Houston lives in Colorado, where the seasons play a much bigger part than they do here. Here, we get sun most of the year, and summer is the time of year most people complain about. Not me, though. After 23 years in gray Oregon, there isn't enough sun in the world for me. I continue to worship at the alter of summer no matter what happens to the heat index.

Part of the summer love, I think, is not so much about whether as it is about someone who has nearly always lived her life by a school-year schedule. For nearly all my life, I've been in school, and I've often worked at schools or at other places that followed school calendars as well, so I'm pretty well in tune to the academic year. The new year starts for me in September, rather than January. But I have a complaint: that new year starts earlier all the time.

When I was a kid, school never started before my birthday at the end of August, and it almost never started before Labor Day. When I started college, I got used to classes starting the week of my birthday, cutting as much as a full week out of August. But this? Summer ending in the middle of the month? It's ridiculous. How can it be August 9 and I already feel like summer is gone? School supplies in the stores, the local primary and secondary schools starting classes next week, people prodding me about my plans for Thanksgiving and Christmas, which should be so far away.

I want--I feel that I am owed--three months of summer. And cutting it off in mid-August doesn't give me three months. The rotations of the Earth and the sun tell us that summer runs from June 21 to September 21--why do we fight it? First, we moved it from June 1 to September 1, more or less, and now we're chiseling away at it. Completely unfair.

Another reason I know it is the end of summer is because things are changing. As referenced in Dar's lyrics at the beginning of this post, it is the end of summer and my friends are leaving. True, they are not yet gone, but my consciousness is clouded with the preparations for their leaving. And it seems only natural that they are moving to a place where it is nearly always winter. I know it's a metaphor, and that I shouldn't make it more than it is, but I can't help but feel the permanence in that transition, and fear the distance between where I am and their new home in the snow.

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Enjoy your summer while you can. One day soon your wicked ball of flame will freeze and we'll be done with this sweaty stupidity.

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Passport photo

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The woman in my passport photo is not smiling. She's wearing a sleeveless white shirt and dangly silver earrings. She has a blemish on the right side of her lower lip. She has a look about her that could pass for ardor at a glance, but is likely just sweat. She's so young. Calculating the dates makes her 26. She seems younger to me.

I know, because I remember, that she wasn't planning a trip to anywhere specific on the August morning when she stood in line at the post office, filled out the forms, and had that picture taken. She was old enough to navigate the bureaucracy and pay the fees, old enough to think about obtaining a passport, but young enough to take pleasure in doing so, even without a trip planned. She was in that in-between state of embryonic adulthood. She had the outside trappings of being an adult--a steady job, a mortgage--but she wasn't all the way there on the inside yet. Adolescence lasts longer than we think.

I could say I barely know her now, with her silly earrings and her expectations all over her face. But the truth is I do know her. She's been here all the time. She emerges with every trip to somewhere new, while making reservations or in the security line at the airport or when the plane touches down on new land. And even if I don't remember the feeling she got standing in that hot university post office, posing for that terrible picture, she does.

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Routine

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When Mark and I first moved into our old neighborhood (where we were renting for the first year and a half we lived in Austin), one of the things we noticed was a man we named The Runner. The Jogger would likely have been more appropriate, but we called him The Runner. He ran in a circle around a two block radius, always wearing the same clothes, always with the same little radio and headset, always with the same pained expression. It seemed like he ran for about 10 hours a day, but I think it was more a matter of his schedule matching up with ours and we just happened to always seem him while he was running. He looked like he was hating every minute of it, he never went fast, and he never varied from his two-block course.

Mark and I made fun of him mercilessly, as we've been known to do with people who cross our paths on a daily basis but we don't actually know. He was not even our first Runner. We also had a Runner in Portland--a very thin woman who we saw running nearly every morning on our bus ride to work. In fact, it was probably nostalgia for our originally Runner, and for Portland, that caused us to notice our new Runner in the first place.

Several months after we'd moved in, and hundreds of jokes about him later, The Runner came up in conversation with our across the street neighbor, B., who had lived in the neighborhood with his wife for several years. Either Mark or I said something sarcastic about his boring course, or his predictability, or something. B. countered that he had enormous admiration for our Runner. What we hadn't been there long enough to see, he said, was that when The Runner had started out on his course, months and months before, his body had been about twice the size it now was. Everything else was the same--same shorts, shirt, shoes, radio and headset, pained expression. Same two block course. But then, he'd not been able to jog around the two blocks even once. Then, very slowly, day after painstaking day, he began to make progress. And he tried every day, and did as much as he could every day, and what we were seeing now, the seemingly hours-long jogs around and around the two blocks, were the product of that.

For some reason, I was very moved as B. told us this story. I imagined a much fatter version of our Runner, when his shorts and shoes and radio were brand new, being hit by some impetus and beginning his slow, grueling sludge around the block. I imagined him telling himself that each day he'd go a little bit farther, and then forcing himself to actually do it. I imagined the comfort he must draw from his routine, from lacing up his same shoes, strapping on his same radio, and running his same two block course. While holding all of these things constant, it must have been so easy for him to see the changes in his strength, his endurance, and his body and he slowly ran out of one season and into the next.

It's a pretty basic premise of experimentation that in order to be sure of the change in one factor, other factors must be held constant. I think this is one reason why we as human beings tend to be so attached to our routines, whether it's exercise routines like The Runner, or other kinds of routines or patterns of behavior. Within these routines, it is easier for us to see the things that are changing, whether they are changing outside of our control or because of it. It's not just that there is safety and comfort in routine, though there is, but also that within its confines we can clearly see the ways in which we are changing.

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I think it's ridiculous that "routine" and "habit" and "predictable" are somehow pejorative terms. Discipline might partly be about "will power", but a whole lot of it is simply about finding a groove and staying in it. Not that I know anything about routine or discipline, just that I've always thought they should get more respect. Which makes this comment more or less, what, just a comment agreeing with you? That's pretty boring. simon max hill Portland, OR

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Resolution Check-In

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Inspired by Frog, I am celebrating the (more or less) halfway point of 2006 by checking on progress with my New Year's Resolutions.:

1. Get back on a 4-5 day a week gym schedule.
Haven't done it. Haven't even tried. Have to get on this one.

2. Get back on a 2 shots a week allergy shot schedule.
I actually bagged the whole allergy shot plan, and I'm fine with that, so this one can be crossed out.

3. Get my finances under control, including upping my savings percentage and IRA contributions.
This one is in progress. I have a plan, and I'm following it, but I'm not out of debt and saving the way I should be quite yet.

4. Get some writing published.
Thanks to Karen, this one is done.

5. Read for pleasure during the school semester.

I think I did this during the spring semester, but I can't completely remember. At any rate, I'm doing it now.

6. Learn enough calculus to finish my graduation requirements.
Done!

7. Start writing letters on paper again, rather than just emails.
Haven't done as much of this as I'd intended, but I did order some new stationary, so hopefully that will inspire me to get on it. I'd like to write and mail 1-2 letters/week.

8. Divest myself of unnecessary posessions, and don't replace them.
I think I've made progress here, but not as much as I'd like. Have to keep working on it.

9. Commit myself to finding a more challenging job.
Did it and feel very good about it.

10. Volunteer.
I have submitted several volunteer applications, but haven't been able to get anything yet. Need to start working on that again, I guess, but it's very frustrating.


11. Think about writing less; write more.
Another one I've made some progress towards, but need to continue working on.

12. Remember birthdays.
For the first half of the year, I've done very well with this one.

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may i ask what is working for you other than shots? I would LOVE to know. ~J

Nothing. I'm taking a double dose of Zyrtec and suffering. But the shots were a huge PITA and weren't helping much either, so it doesn't seem to make much difference.

ah. thanks! ~J

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Home from home

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picture of the valley where I grew up

It's a long way from Clare to here
It's a long way from Clare to here
It's a long, long way
It get's further by the day
It's a long, long way from Clare to here

I've returned home (Austin) from home (Oregon) with the same heavy heart that travels with me every time. The same doubts about the choices I've made, thoughts that I could have done it differently, and maybe should have. Questions about how much of what I love about my life here could be transplanted back home. Questions about the set of values I've adapted to have, and whether the person who lives in my skin really is a country girl, really is a professional, really is an academic, really is a daughter, really is a mother.

And the overwelming sadness, and guilt, about every minute I miss. About being the one who left. It's different, with my far-flung friends--they left me at the same time I left them. My family, though, is right where I left them. In the same place, but not the same. Getting older, without me.

*"From Clare to Here," written by Ralph McTell, performed by Nanci Griffith

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Into who you thought you'd be

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'Cause when you live in a world
Well it gets into who you thought you'd be
And now I laugh at how the world changed me
I think life chose me after all

-Dar Williams

I've been thinking a bit about how much different life is than how I'd imagined it would be 10 years ago, or even 5 years ago. Ten years ago, I was 16. It was the summer between my junior and senior years of high school, and I was spending it waiting tables, swimming, and thrift shopping. I was spinning my wheels, anxiously awaiting the passage of another year and then getting the hell out. Out of Elkton, of high school, of the holding pattern. I didn't yet know where I was going to college, but I knew I was going. I didn't think much beyond that. I don't know that I ever really even considered what life would look like with 30 on the horizon, as an honest-to-God grown up. In general terms, though, I knew that I wanted excitement, romance, travel, a fast-paced, urban life full of brilliant, sexy people. Whatever was anti-traditional, anti-small town, anti-everything I grew up with, that's what I had in store for me.

Even five years ago, just post-college and setting out on my own for real, with a troubled, embryonic relationship weighing me down, no real job, and dangerous instincts, I still had a similar vision of eventual fame, money, drama, unsuitable men and illegal drugs. I still had an idea about being someone stuck in my head, and a very specific and not particularly suitable idea of what "someone" is.

If I'd been given a magic mirror at 16, or at 21, that showed me what my life would look like now, I'd have been disappointed. I'd have been making a plan on how not to end up where I am.

And I'd have been wrong. Because what I have now, where I am now--it's not where I intended to be, but it's where I should be. I haven't ever really been the type to dream about being safe and secure, but that doesn't mean it's not a good thing to be. And the types of bigshots I always imagined myself being...I don't know if I could have done it/still could do it or not, but I do know that as I get older, I see the appeal of smaller changes. I might have been convinced 5 or 10 years ago that the only way to make my mark was to become a star journalist, or a trial lawyer, but I now know that there are lots of ways to make that mark, and that the less fantasty-fueled ones matter more.

I'm going home for a visit tomorrow, which always gives me the impetus to do some sort of inventory of my life, and doing that inventory, I'm pretty happy with what I'm finding. I'm now where I expected to be, or, probably where my friend and family expected me to be. But where I am is good.

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Great post. I've been thinking about similar issues lately (I think because I turn 29 soon, which we all know is practically 30...) That Dar song is my favorite, it gives me chills.

What's your beef with arrested development? Golly!

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The Matriarch

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My grandmother, my mom's mom, had a heart attack Wednesday night.

First, she's fine. It was minor and she's feeling fine and her stress test went well. I don't yet know if they'll be doing angioplasty or anything, but mom is keeping me updated.

Secondly, I have rarely been so frightened.

I come from a very, very tight family, particularly the women. My mom is one of four sisters, all close together in age, and they all live in the same tiny town. As does their mom, my Grandma Lou. Their dad, Papa Gene, died over twenty years go, so the structure has been heavily matriarchal for quite some time now. Though all four sisters are married and have children, and some of the children are married or in pseudo-marital relationships, the backbone of the family is the matriarchal lineage, coming from Grandma Lou, through mom and her sisters, and down to me and my cousins (most of whom, again, are female). And my grandmother is every bit a matriarch, in the very best senses of the term. She's a truly amazing women, and one of my very favorite people on earth. I cannot stand the idea of losing her.

And I can't stand the idea of her getting frail. My family isn't just matriarchal in the sense of having a female line of lineage. The women run the show. From my grandmother down to my youngest cousin, Sadie, who is not yet five, we're in charge. We're large, tough, smart, hard-working. We are proud to be women, and there isn't anything we can't do. My grandmother worked for many, many years at a "tree farm," planting trees, sorting, harvesting, all of that very physical work. She didn't retire until she was into her 60s. And now, in "retirement," she puts in a harder days work than I ever have. She does a ton of volunteer yard care, mowing, weeding, planting, etc. for her church, the community center, her less hearty neighbors, etc. Shes takes care of people, and nothing much slows her down. The older she gets, the more my mom is like her mother, and the older I get, the more I strive to resemble them both.

Edited to add: I just got an email from my grandma. She's back at home, at her keyboard, feeling fine. Looks like, for now, everything is as it should be.

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oh, grace, that's so scary! i'm glad to hear she's doing well now, though. please send her my get/stay well wishes...

God, that's so scary! I'm glad she's feeling better. Hey, Mary Lou, if you're reading this--stay well!! Hope you're back to your old self again soon.

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Last Chance Canine Retirement Home

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A while back, I wrote a post about my new personal hero Pali Boucher, the founder and driving force behind Rocket Dog Rescue. Boucher's story inspired the hell out of me when Mark and I saw the show on Animal Planet about her work, and I've been thinking a lot about her and her rescue ever since. And Mark and I have bandied about the idea of our own rescue some day, but not here, since there are already so many rescue orgs and foster networks and we don't really have the time or the money or the space to dedicate to it.

Lately, though, both my thoughts on the matter and our discussions have become a bit more centered. What I really want to focus on, I've realized, is providing a happy, comfortable, safe "retirement" for older dogs, particularly older large breed dogs, who are often abandoned or euthanized in their old age because they are so expensive to care for. Having Leo has made me realize that there are few things in life as fantastic as a calm, gentle, wise old dog. He has been such a gift, and I am only partially joking when I say he's my canine soulmate. Just having him around, lying on his bed while I read or do housework or watch TV or whatever, petting him and taking him for slow, short walks, makes my life a much better place. And it makes his a better place as well. While the shelter/pound system is rough on all dogs, it's particulary rough, I think, on gentle old souls like Leo, who need some extra care and companionship. Particularly with the circumstances he was in, with living outside, not having quality food, etc. So as much as Leo has added to our lives, I am also really happy with what we've been able to give him--a safe, happy, comfortable place to live out the rest of his life, however long that may be. What we weren't able to do for Chance.

And thus, the idea of the Last Chance Canine Retirement Home is born.

What I want to be able to do, I think, is get to a career place where I can work freelance from home, doing business writing and grant applications and stuff. I also want Mark and I to be able to afford to live somewhere that has sufficient space and is not suburban--a rural area very close to a city, I guess, where we can buy some land with a big house. And then we'll take in as many dogs as we have time/space/capacity for, focusing on dogs in their later years that other people have given up on. Dogs on their last chance. We'll make sure they get good food, soft beds, lots of companionship, and good vet care. We'll drive a car they can easily ride in (yay for the Element!). We'll take them on short, slow walks if they are arthritic and let them get up on the furniture if they aren't. For many of them, it will be the only time in their lives people have been nice to them, and they'll be happy. And so will we.

It's a great dream, I think, and an even better goal.

And it's a goal we may be moving towards faster than I'd thought. We've become aware of an elderly Anatolian who is in a not-great shelter situation a few hours from here, and I've been in contact with the national Anatolian Rescue Network. It looks as if we may soon be fostering her through them. I hope we do. And I hope this is the beginning.

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Sounds great, hope it works out. :)

Oh, Grace, you are a wonderful human being and I love you.

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Histronics

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As a child, I threw world class tantrums. Tantrums the likes of which nobody had ever seen, and have never been seen since. Tantrums that people did not believe could exist when they were described, until they saw them first-hand. And I'm not just saying that on hearsay--I actually remember doing it. Which implies I must have done it to a later age than most kids, I guess. But I vividly remember not only the kicking and screaming and crying and wailing, but, most importanly, I remember why I did it.

There was just too much to deal with. There were too many choices. I couldn't have everything I wanted. I was too short to reach things, too small to carry things, and had verbal skills too limited to make what I really needed to clear. I didn't understand everything. I didn't know everything. It was frustrating, and sometimes the only solution seemed to be to kick and scream and punch out and wail until I was too tired to care about any of it anymore.

Not much has changed, y'all.

I may have the social skills to avoid tantrums now (at least in public), but I still feel the same conflation of frustrating circumstances that led to tantrums in my younger self. Life is incredibly overwhelming, I can't reach everything I try to get my arms or my head around, I can't do everything I think I should be able to do, and I still don't have the smarts or the language skills to ask the questions I need to ask and make the decisions I need to make.

And I still react for the same reasons I did then--fear and frustration. And in much the same way, by lashing out in rash, impulsive spurts, thinking that if I just kick and scream long enough, or just make enough changes to myself, or just buy enough stuff, or just eat enough, then the fear and confusion and frustration will go away. Or I'll make myself tired enought that I stop caring. But exhausted and bruised is no way to make major life decisions.

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Every word of that post could have been written by me, Grace. It's not something I particularly like about myself, but something I've come to accept as a tendency I have. Everyone has a different way of handling stress and dealing with difficult decisions. I spend a great deal of my life trying to calm myself down, but at the same time, it's my propensity for histrionics that's part of my energy. People with big energy use it in all sorts of ways. I suppose the trick is to channel it into productiveness, although how on earth one does this is not something I have figured out yet!

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Upwardly mobile

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A long time ago, when I first started listening to the indie-folk-womyn's music I love so much, I listened to one particular album until I about wore it out. The album was Eugene band Babes with Axes' W.O.W. Live Babes. I highly recommend it to interested parties, it's a great CD. One of my favorite songs on it was one by T.R. Kelley called "Downwardly Mobile (aka Government Cheese)". In the song, Kelley warns of the lures of a materially-based life and preaches the value of a life based on doing what you love, rather than on money. At 16, I listened to this song and thought that there had to be another way, a way where you didn't have to choose between doing something you loved and having enough money. I grew up poor enough to think her romanticization of "living in a shack with a bike out back/eating Top Ramen and goverment cheese" was a bit ridiculous, but I also understood the appeal of dropping out of material society and making your own way.

What I didn't get a 16, though; what I didn't get until just recently, was the warning about getting trapped up in your money-driven life. There is one refrain that repeats "you gotta pay somebody money to do things you ain't got time to do because you are too busy earning money" over and over again. The point she was making, I now realize, is not that people miss out on making all their food from scratch when they're too busy earning money, but that earning money traps you in a cycle where you pay for things you didn't used to pay for, and then you can't stop earning money, because you can't stop paying for those things. Once you're caught up like that, dependent on all of the things your money can buy, you lose the option of dropping out, or quitting your job, or even of staying employed, but taking something with a lower pay rate and a higher satisfaction quotient.

And, sadly, that's where I seem to be. Over the course of the last year, I have managed to trap myself in a lifestyle that's expensive enough that quitting my current mindnumbing in job in favor of taking something with more intellectual vigor and more possibility, but smaller paychecks, doesn't seem like an option.

And it's not a situation where I can just stop drinking lattes and getting my hair cut at Aveda and then have enough extra to take a lower paying job. That would all help, of course, but the constraints aren't all that elastic. I have a mortgage now. I will soon have a car payment. I have significant medical expenses, both for myself and for my dog. I have finances that are inextricably linked to those of someone else, and I can't just not do my share because I don't feel like working here anymore.

I still, deep down, believe T.R. Kelley is wrong and there is a way to do both, to make enough money to meet the obligations you set for yourself and still do something that you find fufilling. I'm not talking about having a job that is your passion--like many people my age, I'm more and more convinced that jobs and passions come seperately more often than they come together. What I'm talking about is something that doesn't feel like it's making you dumber every day. Something with some room to grow and move. Something that doesn't build walls so close around you that you can't breathe. There has to be a way to find a job like that and still keep your house and keep yourself and your dog healthy. I'm ready to give up the lattes and expensive haircuts. They aren't worth the price I'm paying. But where's the middle ground?

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This kind of search has turned into the Holy Grail. I'd like a job that I didn't think about when I came home so my passions were not interupted by work. And a job that didn't make me tired so, again it didn't interfere with my passions. And a job that gave me every second day off so I would have time to pursue all of my passions.

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Art may imitate life, but life imitates TV

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(Title courtesy of Ani.)

I just watched the other day's episode of Rollergirls. And suddenly I understand why I feel so terrible.

The espisode centered around Clownsnack. Clownsnack was a founder of the Lonestar Roller Derby, but she quit last season because her mom was sick. This season, she wanted to come back. Rather than welcoming her back, some of the current roller derby members (in positions of power) put her through the audition and hazing process of a new member, then they told her she didn't make a team. Ultimately, some of the TXRD's other members protest about Clownsnack's treatment and she's granted another audition and gets back on to her team.

The reasoning given for not wanting Clownsnack back by the women who are keeping her out varies, but it basically centers around her expecting special treatment because she's been in the league before, her being "flaky" for having quit (even though her reasons for quitting seemed very good to me), and the league being something different now than the it was when she was involved. Basically, they seemed to argue that they'd outgrown her and that they wanted their league to be something different than the one she was familiar with, so she wasn't welcome.

Ding ding ding.

It is incredibly painful to watch something you put your time and heart into be taken away from you, and that's how this had to feel. To have people for whom you have worked and to whom you have given decide they are beyond you, or they want different things than you do, so you should just go away quietly, please. On the show, Clownsnack and her supporters refuse to let her be shut out, and she ends up back on the team, but I can't help but think it must be a pretty hollow victory. After being humiliated and insulted like that, I don't see how she could go back at all. On the other hand, though, why let something she loves be taken from her just because a vocal minority are big assholes?

That is the question.

The bigger question, though, is why is it so impossible for a group of women to get together and do anything without these types of battles? Why does someone always have to be "out" in order for everyone else to feel secure being "in"? And why is the cruelty with which we perpetuate these crimes against each other necessary?

Honestly, it makes me want to give up. It makes me want to give up on the entire idea of a community of women. It makes me want to give up on believing that we deserve better than the treatment we give each other. It makes me want to give up and hide in my house and never try to be a part of anything again.

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I haven't seen the episode, but look forward to it. It's been my experience that when someone starts a group event, they expect that the group will form to their ideals of how it should be rather than let the group evolve into whatever it evolves into. It because the view of many rather than the view of one and that's when breakdowns occur. So perhaps, in this rollerderby, she anticipated that this group would fulfill a particular vision and didn't take into account that each person's personality would influence the evolution of the league. And I think that applies to all communities - male or female populations. There seems to be some demand for conformity wherever you go, so we all look for the place where we can conform easiest rather than be true to ourselves and enjoy the differences.

No human group exists without heirarchy and power dynamics, and one of the safest ways of feeling better about your position, if you aren't at the top, is to find someone you can push out of the group and keep them there in the most inferior of all positions. Try it sometime. It's totally fucking fun.

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Death with Dignity

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Today, the Supreme Court ruled to uphold the assisted suicide law that has been in place in my home state for the last several years. With a 6-3 ruling, the outcome would have been the same even if Alito were already on the bench. This gives me some small glimmer of hope, though Anthony Kennedy is not the type of justice I want to be reliant on. And the glimmer may be misleading anyway, with the conflation of state jurisdiction issues and the substantive issues of the Death with Dignity amendment itself.

This has made me think about the whole subject of assisted suicide. I remember when this was on the ballot in Oregon, and what a fight it was. It's one of those situations where even though I do have a strong opinion, I can understand where the other side is coming from as well. In fact, this is an issue that I had trouble making up my mind about at one point. While I absolutely believe in a person's right to die with dignity, in the manner than he or she chooses, I also questioned the necessity of a doctor's involvement. Then I read an article by Peter Reagan, an Oregon doctor who also happens to be the father of a doctor I worked with during my stint in medical education. The article, "Helen," appears in the April 1999 issue of Lancet, and was, to my knowledge, the first widely published account of a doctor assisting a patient in ending her life. It's not online, as far as I know, but it's worth looking up if you have access to Lancet. It was and remains one of the most moving articles on any topic I've ever read, and I know I am a more informed person for having read it.

By the time I read the Lancet article, though, my opinions were already starting to form. See, it's not an intellectual issue to me anymore. I have an uncle, my father's youngest brother, who is fighting Parkinson's. He's been fighting it for nearly 10 years, since before his 40th birthday. Having been diagnosed so young, and given the progression of the disease so far, his prognosis is not good. With a disease like Parkinson's, though, as with so many others, death is, after some time, the best thing that happens to you. Death is a blessing. Before you are set free, though, your body and then your mind are stolen from you. If that can be kept from happening, to my uncle or to anyone else, I have to support it.

A lot of people think this is a barbaric topic. They think it's something better left without discussion, for doctors and family members to, at great personal risk, "take care of" themselves, without the law entering into it. That's not fair to anyone, and it's especially not fair to the patients themselves, who may not even have anyone to ask for help. As has long been pointed out, we honor our pets with dignified deaths, legally and humanely and in the quickest and most painless ways we know. It is completely unreasonable to think that our friends and family members do not deserve that same dignity. And as uncomfortable as it is to discuss, discuss it we must in order to make that a reality.

So let's hear it for the Supreme Court for not fucking things up for once. And especially let's hear it for the doctors and family members at home, people like Peter Reagan, who have been keeping this issue alive and doing what is best by their patients for years. God bless them.

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2005: A Year in Review

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Trite as it is to use this time of year to recollect and reconstruct the past 12 months, that's exactly what has been going on in my head these past days. What kind of a year was 2005? What did I learn? What do I need to continue in 2006? What do I need to change?

There are a few things from this past year that are really a source of pride and joy for me. The first and probably the biggest is the strengthening of my relationship with Mark and the strengthening of the family we're building. Losing Chance was the worst kind of trial, obviously, but I am proud of how we've dealt with it, how we've been able to be there for each other, and how is has toughened the fiber of our relationship. The addition of first Leo and then Atticus to our family has also strengthened it, I think. We'll never be able to replace Chance, but it's not about replacement--it is about opening your heart and enjoying the time you have. I really feel like I've internalized that this year, and I am happy about that.

Another big source of accomplishment for the year is having bought the house. Scare tactics about market crashes aside, I feel we did the right thing and we picked the right property. I love our house, and I love being a homeowner, even if it is a constant source of stress. It sustains me on a mental level, feeling like we're being responsible and building equity and all that, and on an emotional level, being able to come home to something that is mine. I also think it was very wise for Mark and I to get ourselves out of the toxic living situation we were in before, and it has decreased our stress levels greatly to have done so.

A third source of pride is my return to school. It would have been really easy to bag the whole program, and it was really tempting to do so, but ultimately I know that finishing is the right thing, and I'm proud I made the decision to do so. I'm also proud that I did so well with balancing work and school this past semester. It was a little more stressful for me than I would have liked, but it turned out well. The classes I took challenged me, which is good, and I actually learned quite a bit, which is an unexpected benefit at this point.

Finally, I'm proud of having taken charge of my health this year in some pretty important ways. The biggest thing is finally having accepted that my allergies are more than an annoyance, they are a major problem, and addressing that problem with both better allergy pills and starting allergy shots. It's a huge hassle, but I have to believe it will be worth it. I've also made positive changes in my diet and exercise, though those changes have largely fallen by the wayside this past month and will need to be reinstated in 2006. And I've come to a better understanding of my mental health as well, I think, though I definitely have more work to do in that area in 2006 as well, including the possible addition of therapy to my drug regieme.

All in all, I am proud of and happy with the things I have accomplished in 2005. I think I've grown up a lot this year, and made some importance advances and changes. This is not to say that there is no more work to do--there is much more, enough that it is a whole seperate post--but I think I am justified in feeling proud of what I've been able to accomplish, and hopeful about the things that have only begun.

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The heart outside my body

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Making the decision to have a child - it's momentous. It is to decide forever to have your heart go walking outside your body.
-Elizabeth Stone

I've heard a lot of people say that having a child is like having your heart walk around outside your body. It's never really been something I've understood. I mean, it's a nice sentiment (although also a very frightening one), but never something I've been able to relate to on a personal level. For a long time, I tried--I thought that's what love was, finding part of yourself outside of you, in someone else. That's why I got so hung up on the Origin of Love song and story from Hedwig, I think. In my newer understanding of love, this splitting up of the self isn't necessary. I can love someone as much as I love Mark and still not see my heart walking around outside my body when I look at him. And so, I thought it must only apply to having a child, and I put the thought away.

Last night, as I was trying to sleep, it occured to me that I do understand. When Chance was dying, when I leaned over him, still mostly unconcious from the last in his string of surgeries, and told him that I loved him forever, no matter what happened, I felt as though I was speaking to my own heart, stuck outside my body, and bleeding. And when we lost him, for some time it was like losing the only thing inside me that breathed, the only thing that lived. I know that's going to sound completely melodramatic to those of you who have never felt that way about a dog, or that some may even take the corrolation between dogs and kids that I am making as a personal affront, but frankly, that's just too bad. This is how it is for me, and whether or not you can understand that is really not my problem. I have loved many people in my life, and I have never felt that any of them embodied my missing heart. But my dog did.

And my dog does. When I look at Leo now, I do see my heart walking around outside my body. It's not the missing-piece-of-me feeling I expected to have--it's something completely different. It's knowing that another beautiful, perfect creature is dependent on you (and whether you know it or not, you are dependant on him). The gentleness, and fragileness, and complete loyalty could only come from one's own heart. Another person isn't capable of that, at least not beyond early childhood. But a dog is.

Maybe a parent-child relationship is like that as well. I don't know, and it's likely I never will. But that doesn't bother me anymore. In my way, I understand. I understand loving someone like they are a part of you, maybe the best part of you. I understand the risk that comes with that, the grief. It's not a decision I made knowingly the first time--I walked into it unaware, as I imagine happens often to parents. But now I do know, and I know that the love is worth the grief, and that whatever time I have with these embodiments of my heart is priceless.

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I believe I understand what you are saying - and feeling. Although in my life there have been cats making me feel like that, And when my soulmate died, the best cat in the whole world, I thought I would never heal. And maybe I never will. But it felt so good when my newest cat, now 3 years old, started tugging at my heartstrings.

Leo is giving you the sweetest, most loving look in that picture.

The picture of you and Chance is great - I totally understand what you're talking about. The loss of my dog Trixie(who my grandmother got for me when I was 18 in 1985 and who stuck with me until 1998) was something that sent me into a spiral. I never wanted another pet, ever. My son was devastated, my husband, the family was grieving. It took me years before I was able to consider another pet. Now we have Jak, who is wonderful, and when he had to have back surgery and I thought for a while he might die, well, it was the worst feeling ever. As a mother of a child and a dog, I don't think you're being overly dramatical. It's just like having two kids - you love each one differently.

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The Man in Black

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Well, we're doin' mighty fine, I do suppose,
In our streak of lightnin' cars and fancy clothes,
But just so we're reminded of the ones who are held back,
Up front there ought 'a be a Man In Black.

Today is the opening day of Walk the Line, a movie (and, apparently, the rest of the country) am very much looking forward to seeing. I doubt I'll make it to the theater tonight (I had a very hard night last night and I'm exhausted), but I'm hoping to go tomorrow or Sunday. On this auspicious occasion, I thought I'd share with you some of my feelings about Johnny Cash.

I love Johnny Cash. I admire Johnny Cash. I mourned when Johnny Cash died. Johnny Cash has long been among the only music my boyfriend and I can agree on (and that's been true for several boyfriends in a row now). Johnny Cash is the epitome of cool. Johnny Cash's "Hurt" video made me less afraid to age. But it actually goes well beyond that, well beyond Cash's second incarnation as a post-country alt-hipster. It goes back home.

It goes back to my mom, and my stepdad, and the music I grew up with. The core of this music, as I remember it, consisted of what I now know is the very best of classic country music: my mom's personal favorite, and mine as well, Kris Kristofferson, Waylon Jennings, Merle Haggard, Willie Nelson, and, of course, Johnny Cash (with a healthy bit of Steve Goodman, John Prine, and Guy Clark thrown in, because when it really comes down to it, mom is more folk than she is country). We played these men on 8-tracks in the big, dusty, black late-70s Chevrolet my mom drove before she moved into the minivan class. I knew the words to songs like "Help Me Make It Through the Night" and "Folsom Prison Blues" well before I could have possibly grasped their subject matter, and I vividly remember bouncing into town on worn out shocks, singing "Mama Tried" along with the scratchy car radio. Neither I nor my mother has the best voice, but what we lack in tune we make up for in volume. And in love.

I remember flipping through my mom's albums, and the ones I wanted to play again and again as a kid. The Outlaws. Waylon & Willie. Live at Folsom Prison. Best of Kristofferson. I loved Cash's booming voice and Willie's smooth one, and it took me many more years to realize that Kris Kristofferson really doesn't have much of a voice at all. I really believed Waylon was a cowboy, and I was more impressed than scandalized when somebody told me The Hag had spent time in the penitentiary. Looking back on it now, I doubt my parents intended me to see these men as heroes, but I certainly did.

And then I grew up a little bit, and figured out how massively uncool country music was, and switched allegiances. And as I developed my own tastes, I found new heroes. The first bunch were more or less throw-aways (there isn't much good you can say for Axl Rose), but I still stand by my love for Kurt Cobain and Ani DiFranco, and still listen to both of their albums. In secret, though, in the car by myself, I never stopped tuning the radio to stations playing country music. Country had mostly turned to pop by then, so mostly it was the same crap as on the other stations, just with a cowboy hat, but occasionally one of those old songs would come on, and I'd sing along just like I had with my mom. But never in front of anybody.

In college I first heard Johnny Cash in the pool hall, and it slowly dawned on me that he'd been dubbed cool. But this was none of the cowboy I'd learned to love as a child, this was the sneering, coked up Cash I'd somehow not seen. No wonder he was cool--he looked like country Iggy Pop. Still, the songs were the same, and it was good to be able to listen to them in public again.

Finally, about the time Cash started putting out records with Rick Rubin, I'd come to my own enough that it no longer mattered what the verdict on Johnny Cash's coolness was--I was getting back into the music I'd loved all along, once again hearing the steel guitar and singing along to songs I'd now known the lyrics to for nearly 20 years. So of course I bought the records, and I was blown away by what I'd been missing. Now an old man, there was a beauty and grace and vulnerability in Cash's voice that he'd never had before. The songs he chose came from all over the map, and everything sounded so beautiful, so brilliant, and so brittle, so fragile.

Which, by that point, he was. While I'd been preoccupied with being a teenager and then a young adult, Johnny Cash had gotten old. Waylon Jennings had died. Kris Kristofferson had turned from the blue-eyed sex symbol of some of my earliest illicit thoughts to a gray-haired B actor. The first time I saw the "Hurt" video, I bawled my eyes out, a little bit for my own early-20s newfound fear of aging, but mostly for the old man in the video, a man who sounded a little bit like the outlaw I remembered, but mostly just looked like an old man.

One day I looked up and he's pushin' eighty
He's got brown tobacco stains all down his chin
Well to me he was a hero of this country
So why's he all dressed up like them old men?

Really, though, I realized upon further viewings, and upon listening to the song over and over again, there was nothing to cry about. This man had lived an amazing life, had been a part of an amazing love, and had carried on, almost til his dying day, with making his music. And making it well. Unlike so many musicians who wash up, who forget, after years of fame, why they do what they do, Johnny Cash continued until his last recording to make real music, the kind real people listen to, and to make it as well as anybody ever has or likely ever will.

Having done a good bit of studying American history, there aren't that many American legends left for me to believe in. I know JFK was a womanizer and a liar, and that no matter how sympathetic his portrayal by Kevin Costner, Wyatt Earp mostly just liked to kill people. I have a hard time sympathizing with Custer's last stand or thinking Lewis & Clark were heroes. Marilyn Monroe and James Dean weren't very smart; Jim Morrison and Janis Joplin were alcoholics, and the more of those I know, the less like legends they look. Johnny Cash, however, stands out in my mind as an American icon. This isn't because I'm not aware of the dark periods in Cash's life--I am--but because he never, to my knowledge, pretended to be anything but a man. A flawed, American man. And there aren't enough of those left.

It may just be chance that Johnny Cash--and the whole passle of American poet-cowboy-outlaw-singers he represents--speaks to me like he does. It may have something to do with growing up in the West, where such things are glorified, or with my own somewhat rebellious spirit. But it's good for us all, I think, to have something or someone speak to us once in a while. It's good to be able to believe in something or someone, no matter how silly. And it's good to have these things or people as links to the parts of our own lives that we are removed from. I still listen to old country songs, and I hear my mother's voice on them more often than not. When I look at pictures of Johnny Cash, I see our shared Native American ancestry in the set, square jaw that looks slightly like my grandmother's. And I don't just miss him, I miss her. I miss six year-old me, singing along to songs I couldn't have understood. And, maybe just for a minute, I'm her again. A piece of American history.

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Johnny Cash. Amen. live at folsom prison is one of those albums that i listen to over and over. howl

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The ghosts of costumes past

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In honor of yesterday's holiday, Wendy over at Pound shared recollections of some of her past Halloween costumes. I had so much fun reading them, I decided to write my own. Years are approximated to the best of my recollection:

1985, Care Bear: I was the red Care Bear with the hearts on its belly (Tenderheart Bear, Google tells me). My mom made the costume out of footsie pajamas. I believe there was a headpiece involved as well. My brother, who was about six months old, was another Care Bear, as was my cousin Jessie, who was around 4. I think Jessie was Grumpy Bear. She was pretty cranky at that age. I saw some Care Bear costumes for kids when I was at Target the other day, and my mom's were vastly superior.

1986, Minnie Mouse: Another mom-made costume, this one included a polka dot skirt with matching suspenders, which I wore to school for the next year. I was so not a cool kid.

1988, The Secret Garden: This was probably my mom's most impressive costume for me (though the ones she's made for herself over the years have been even better). She used some kind of big box and drew the cover of the book (the old skool cover, as shown) on it, coloring it all in with pastels. Then I dressed in a green leotard and tights underneath, with my hair up in a top ponytail and sprayed green (I was the bookmark, see). It was a great costume. Massively uncomfortable, though, so I spent most of the night running around in just the bookmark part, and people thought I was supposed to be a blade of grass.

1990, pirate: At this point, it became uncool for my mom to make my costumes, and so I began making them myself. All I remember about this pirate costume was that included an eyepatch, a sword, and spandex. What made think pirates=spandex, I cannot tell you. The most memorable thing about this Halloween was my acquaintance, Jenny, who dressed as a Playboy bunny. Who the hell lets their 11 year-old dress as a Playboy fucking bunny?

1994, Nicole Simpson: Of all of my Halloween costumes, this is the most horrifying one. A few months after her murder, I actually dressed up as Nicole Simpson. I have no excuse for this, other than that I was 15 and I sucked.

1997, devil: My first year in college I dressed as a devil. Not a particularly enlightened costume, except that it was based on a my freshman prom dress, which was a wide-skirted knee-length red number with a halter top, and was the perfect basis for a devil costume. I also had just bleached my hair platinum for the first time, so the effect was kind of frightening.

1998, showgirl: Again, not a particularly enlightnened costume. However, I was mostly just an accessory anyway, as Simon (the ex-boyfriend who bears a striking resemblance to Johnny Depp) dressed as the Las Vegas-era Hunter S. Thompson that Johnny Depp portayed in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. My costume was mediocre, but his was truly great. Also, my showgirlness was accented by the fact that I was at that time sporting inches long magenta hair.

1999, Medusa: This was my best college Halloween costume. I got these really cool shiny colored stretchy rubber snakes from The Discover Store and made a wig out of them. I don't remember what else I wore, but man that wig was cool.

2001, Vince Neil: I believe this was the last time I dressed up for Halloween. Perhaps the experience was so traumatizing that I'll never dress up again? My roommates, Natalie and Jenny, and I, as well as Mark, were heavily under the influence of the Motley Crue biography, The Dirt, and decided to dress up as Motley Crue for our Halloween party. Being, at that time, blonde, I was Vince Neil. My costume included a leather vest with no shirt underneath it. Vince Neil does not have breasts. I do. it was an ill-advised costume choice.

I need to start dressing up for Halloween again, though, because I really love costumes. I think I get it from my mom. Her costumes are something to be reckoned with. My mom and her three sisters, as well as her mother, generally dress up together for Halloween. One year, my mom and her sisters with the four queens from a pack of playing cards (my super-artistic mom made sandwich boards with card front and backs on them, then they dressed in all black or all red and wore Burger King crowns) and my grandmother was the joker. Another year, they did the Wizard of Oz. Mom's sister Joan was Dorothy, because she had red shoes; Pam was the scarecrow, Lisa was the lion, and mom was the tin man (she spray painted all of her clothes silver and had a funnel on her head, as I recall). Grandma was the wizard. Another year, Pam was Cinderella and the other sisters were evil stepsisters, with grandma as the fairy godmother.

And mom gets it from her mom. Besides being involved in all of the costume schemes above, my grandmother ALWAYS dresses up. She has a clown costume and a Mrs. Claus costume she pulls out for some occaisons, but when I was a kid, she used to dress up as Uncle Remus, complete with black face. Horrible, I know, but if you knew my grandmother, you'd see that she meant it in the best possible way. And, blessedly, she had stopped before I was old enough to figure out what the problem with it was.

So I come from a long line of costumed women. I have to remember that next year.

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I think my mom and your mom would have gotten together and opened a shop if they knew each other. I also went as Minnie Mouse one year, the Sea, and the Statue of Liberty.

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Portland

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There is a reason it has taken me so long to post anything about my trip. I'm homesick. I know, I'm always homesick, but just having spent the better part of a week there, this is different. I am horribly, horribly homesick. I'm so homesick it is keeping me awake at night. I want to go home. I don't care if it's gray, I don't care if it's expensive, I don't care if it rains all the time, I want to go home.

My city was just as I'd left it, with the only changes being relatively minor and mostly for the better (with the exception of what they've done to The Pearl, but that was never a neighborhood I had any attachment to anyway, so it doesn't much matter). Mark and I hit almost all our old haunts, even Reed, and everything seemed so...comfortable. So much where I am supposed to be.

It's not so much the tangible stuff--the older houses, the restuarants all having vegetarian food--as it is the intangible. The feeling that permeates everything that I am in my place.

Our first night in town, we had dinner and hung out with our former housemate, the incredible E. We first had dinner at our old neighbhorhood Lebanese restuarant, then went to see her apartment (and visit Potter, who is nothing like I remembered him being). Her apartment is this great, light space in an old building, very close to downtown. It has high ceilings and hardwood floors and a clawfoot bathtub. Retrospectively, I am not sure if it's the most amazing apartment ever, or if I've just gotten used to the way housing is here. Either way, the evening was full of things that just aren't available in Austin--beautiful urban apartments in old buildings, good, cheap Lebanese food, and my own sense of history.

The next night, having drinks and dinner with my museum-buddy S. and her husband at a trendy downtown wine and seafood bar, I had the same feeling. Downtown in Portland doesn't mean frat boys and sorority girls in no clothes, yelling. The buildings weren't all build the same decade. I know the streets, and at this point I even miss the gutter punks. When we went to see the new Modern and Contemporary Art wing at the Portland Art Museum, I was even more jealous of the lucky people who live in Portland, who live in a real city, without having a greater population. I miss that.

I know there are things I love about Austin. The weather here charms me most of the year (though even I am ready for a little bit of fall now). I love my house. The friends I've made here, while few in quantity, are outstanding in quality. But none of that changes the fact that I've been here for over two years now, and I'm still not home. Last week, I was home the minute I stepped off the plane.

So what to do with all of this? I have no idea. We're definitely stuck in Austin for at least three years more, while Mark finishes his Ph.D. After that, we could semi-feasibly go to Portland for his post-doc, but that would only be for a few years, then we'd be off somewhere else. The chances of actually getting to settle down there are very slim, and even if it did happen, it wouldn't be for another seven or eight years.

I don't know if I can wait that long.

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AO, if I were in the right mood, your post could make me cry. I am most certainly there with you on the homesickness thing. It's really hard being away from your home-home. (((AO)))

You're breakin my heart! I wanna got back to Portland! I'm stuck in academic purgatory too, and not a day goes by that I don't think about PDX. Someday. Someday we'll make it back. Maybe.

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Home

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It has not escaped my attention that the extreme majority of what I have posted here lately has been silliness, song lyrics, and pictures of my pets. It's not that I'm brain dead--really!--I'm just...dulled, recently.

That being said, I have an interesting exercise. In my Family Policy class a couple of weeks ago, we were asked to list all of the families (or, if you prefer, households) we've ever lived in. Basically, just make a list of all of our living situations. The point that was being illustrated was about lack of family structure stability, but I sort of found making the list useful in and of itself--I hadn't realized how many situations I've been able to call home.

So here's my list:

ELKTON:
1979, for a few weeks (months?) post-birth: Lived with my mother and my grandparents, at my grandparents' house
Fall 1979-Summer 1983: Lived alone in a house with my mother.
Summer 1983-Spring 1985: Lived in a house with my mother and stepfather.
Spring 1985-Summer 1997: Lived in a house with my mother, stepfather, and brother.

PORTLAND:
Fall 1997-Winter 1998:Lived in a college dorm room with a roommate, C.
Winter 1998-Spring 1998: Lived in a college dorm room alone.
Summer 1998: Lived with mother, stepfather, and brother again.
Fall 1998-Spring 1999: Lived in a college apartment with two roommates, J. and M.
Summer 1999: Lived in a duplex with three roommates, B., S., and K.
Fall 1999-Spring 2000: Lived in an apartment with my then-boyfriend, S.
Summer 2000: Lived in a college apartment with my then-boyfriend, S., and another roommate, J.
Fall 2000-Spring 2001: Lived in a single dorm room by myself.
Summer 2001: Lived in a duplex with two roommates, J. and N.
Fall 2001-Winter 2002: Lived in a duplex with two roommates, J. and N., and Mark.
Winter 2002-Summer 2002: Lived alone in an apartment.
Summer 2002-Summer 2003: Lived in an apartment with Mark, a roommate, E., and a cat, Potter.

AUSTIN:
Summer 2003-Spring 2005: Lived in a house with Mark and Chance.
Spring 2005-Summer 2005: Lived in a different house with Mark and Chance.
Summer 2005: Lived in a house with Mark and Leo.
Summer 2005-present: Lived in a house with Mark, Leo, and Atticus.

So what does this all tell me? I'm not sure, other than I haven't spent much time living alone. I've moved around a good bit. In 26 years, I've lived in three "cities" and 15 different locations, by my count. Two boyfriends and eight roommates. Two dogs and two cats, not counting my childhood pets (which I don't count because they lived outside and weren't really pets). Some of these living situations were good, some had big problems. A few had really big problems, mostly on the neighbor frontier (see Won't You Be My Neighbor?). I'm sure they all taught me something, though I'd be hard-pressed to tell you what.

Actually, maybe I'm not so hard pressed. I think what they've taught me, and what looking back on them is teaching me all over again (because, you know, I can't just learn something once and be done with it), is that there are many, many ways to be home. I still miss Portland, and refer to my upcoming visit there as "going home," but in truth, Austin is home now. Specifically, Mark is home. The house we're buying together is home. My dogs--first Chance, and now Leo--are home. Atticus is rapidly becoming home. And all three stanky dorm rooms I lived in where home, as were both even stankier Reed College Apartments (TM). The studio apartment I rented by myself, so proud and my mom so scared of the "bad neighborhood", was home. And the falling-down house in the little town where I spent my incredibly painful formative years will never be anything but home.

Maybe as we get older we collect concepts of home. Maybe this helps us be more at home where we are, or at home with who we are. I hope so.

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"Maybe as we get older we collect concepts of home. Maybe this helps us be more at home where we are, or at home with who we are. I hope so." I like this idea, and I think you're on to something there!

My concept of "home" is intensely rooted in geography. It is the "island off the coast of America" where I was born, where I have spent the past 23 years on one block, in two apartments. It is where I learned to walk, where my heart has been broken, where I have become who I am.

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Aptitude

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Once again and as usual, I am driving myself crazy trying to figure out what I want to be when I grow up, or at least what I want to be next. So I'm taking online job/career aptitude tests. Which are proving to be 99.9% worthless, as far as I can tell, but maybe you'll see something in them I don't.

My "LiveCareer Profile" has this to say about my aptitudes:

Your highest score was on Writing, which means that you enjoy creative or technical writing. You are also likely to be interested in a broad range subjects, so finding occupations that allow you to exercise these interests would lead to higher work satisfaction for you. You also scored highly on Assertive, indicating that you prefer working situations in which it is appropriate to assert authority over others and to direct and monitor their work. Your high score on the Administration scale means that you enjoy the financial or day-to-day operations of a business or institution, supervising the activities of others, planning work schedules, and maintaining records.

To help illustrate, they give me a handy chart!

Basically, I like to write and I like to be in charge? Gee, I didn't need to answer 100 (or even 10) questions to figured that out...

The Career Focus Inventory tells me that I have "strong" interest in Communication and Social Science careers and "moderate" interest in Business Administration and Management. Again, not exactly rocket science.

Another site, I forget which one, suggested I might love being a technical writer. That's when I gave up.

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Hm. I just took one of those quizzes, and it said I should be in Entertainment. NOOooooooo!!!! Next in line was Math, Science and Technology. Which is ironic, because I suck at all those things.

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History

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You know what improves my mood? Reading about Ronald Reagan. It's the only time I believe that yes, things maybe have been somewhere approaching this bad before.

If I'm any kind of academic (which is, of course, questionable), I'm a historian. One of the things I like about being a historian is that knowing a bit about the past gives you perspective. People lived through the Depression, we can live through this; people lived through McCarthy, we can live through this. Or even yeah, not everybody did live thought that, but the country got better, the country recovered. I've always been kind of comforted by social history during times of great stress, because it reminds me that no matter how sucky things get, people keep living their lives. Nothing is too much to bear.

Well, if anybody digs up my diaries and uses them as part of a historical study of this time, let me tell is to you straight: we may moving through our days, living our lives (or those of us who are lucky enough to have that option may be doing so), but it really is that bad. These are dark, dark days.

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The ways and means to New Orleans

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I have been uncharacteristically quiet these past days. Not just here--everywhere. The truth is that I don't know what to say. I've been reading a lot--news and editorials and blogs, and pretty much all of my rage and sadness has already been expressed by someone else. There isn't any point in my reiterating it all here, nor do I have the emotional energy to do so. It's not that I don't care--far from it--it's just that I can't form words, and others can, so I leave that to them.

Or at least leave it mostly to them.

When I was 15 or 16, I made a list of the cities in the United States that I felt I *must* visit that I hadn't seen yet. It wasn't all that long. From memory, it went like this:

1. New Orleans
2. New York
3. Philadelphia
4. Boston

Things have changed over the past decade. I've been to New York twice, and to Philadelphia once, and to Boston twice, though the second time was just recently and I was only there for a few hours. Nashville has been added to my list. The one I wanted to see the most, though, the whole time, was New Orleans. When I made the list, my fascination with it was all Anne Rice and Concrete Blonde. Later, I knew people who lived there, and started my own (still growing) obsession with the south. Since I've lived in Austin, which is only a long day's drive, I've meant to go, but never gotten around to it.

And it may well be too late. There is a lot of talk about rebuilding, but I wonder how much rebuilding will really be done. And I wonder if what is rebuilt will in any way resemble what was.

Me not being able to see my dream city, which is entirely my own fault, as I had my chance and let it pass me by, is at the very bottom of the list of horrible things stemming from Katrina and her aftermath. At the very bottom of the list, and yet it brings tears to my eyes. At the very bottom of the list, and it's the only one I can even find words for.

I got the ways and means
To New Orleans
I'm going
Down by the river
Where it's warm and green
I'm gonna have drink, and walk around
I got a lot to think about oh yeah

-Concrete Blonde, "Bloodletting"

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Does anybody put adsense on their blog? I tried it and made a couple bucks in one night. I put it on my Blog yesterday. It was the very first Blog I had ever made so I decided to make a Google Adsense blog and maybe help some folks make a couple bucks a day. It sure could add up. Take a Peek!

Goddammit.

grace, i know exactly how you feel. new orleans has been on my list for ages. in fact, my vacation there has been my distraction therapy for two or three years now. i think just knowing that this vacation will *never* happen solidifies how horrible this hurricane was. an entire city has just been turned into atlantis.

I always said I'd get down to New Orleans, but I never seemed to have time and money (at the same time at least) to get there. I wanted to see the historic old buildings, and those probably won't survive this. I feel guilty that I want to cry over some old buildings when so many people are homeless or dead, but I still wish I had visited last year like I wanted to. I will go when they rebuild, and not just after everything is done. The city needs tourism dollars to convince them to save as much as possible. If no one wants to travel there for years until the building is complete, they won't be able to. Chain hotels and restaurants can handle some lean years, but the cool places like hole-in-the-wall restaurants and family run hostels or B&B's won't be able to afford all their repairs if they don't get customers. I'm hoping the infrastructure is done in 6 months, so that in a year hopefully those small places will start coming back to life. (and if you think they can get the power, water, and other services back to full capacity in less than 6 months, I hope you are right)

Reading the news, it seems that most of the French Quarter was spared. Preservation Hall was not affected. Though there is/was a lot more to see than the French Quarter, being able to see it still would be a wonderful experience. I was wondering if tourists in the next year would help the economy rebound too. The whole thing is just heart-breaking.

actually, i had every intention of still going down there once it's safe and i have money. they'll need the tourism money. and hey, i'm sure it'd be pretty cheap, too.

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Sporadic

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I haven't been much for the blog updating recently. I'm not sure why--it's not that I don't have anything to say, it's more that I don't have words to say things in. I feel strangely mute recently.

My birthday has come and gone. Through no fault of anyone's but my own, it was less than I had hoped. I had a very nice dinner party the night before, and my friends were great and the food was good, but my heart just wasn't as in it as I'd have liked. Part of the problem was that Mark and I spent a large part of the weekend arguing (arguments for which I am probably mostly responsible). Part of was just...me.

I did get really fabulous birthday presents, though. The greatest thing was that they were all from local/small businesses, which I think is great. I got some beautiful earrings and a book from Siobhan's family, a spa gift certificate from Mark, and a donation to Blue Dog Rescue from The Princess. Then I got a package from my mom, containing soaps and pottery from my home town. So that was all very nice.

The next big thing is that classes start tomorrow. From here on, I work four days/week (Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday) and go to school one day (Wednesday, in case you couldn't do the math there). I don't actually have class Wednesday afternoons--just Wednesday morning from 9-noon and Wednesday evening from 6-9. So that should be an OK schedule--I'm looking forward to having an afternoon off every week. Of course that will just give Mark one more way to foist all errands and chores off on me (this was the subject of most of our weekend arguments, and I guess I'm still sore).

I have never been ambivalent about starting a new school year. Always, from first grade up through my first year at LBJ, I've been excited. I'm really not very excited this time around. Mostly, I just want to get it over with. Partially I guess I'm not excited about anything right now (it may, perhaps, be safe to say that the Wellbutrin isn't working so well this time around--damn), but partially it's that I know I am going to school for something I am not the least bit interested in. That being said, I got the syllabus for my Family Policy course this morning, and it looks to be both extremely intense (several hundred pages of reading a week in a lot of sources, plus a 2-3 page memo every week, plus a hardcore sounding final policy research project and proposal) and fairly interesting. So perhaps all hope is not lost. We'll see.

It has taken me a long time to get here (four years since I graduated, and it seems like longer), but this fall I really, really miss Reed. Acutely. I wish I were there. I mean, I know I don't really wish that--I've been through it once, and it wouldn't be fun a second time around--but I'm very nostalgic for it, both in terms of looking forward to real academic classes that I can guarantee are going to kick my ass and make me think, and in terms of the comraderie and friendship of the folks I was surrounded by. It's ridiculous, really--I know intellectually that I hated living communally (the mess!), that Reed's pretention annoyed me to no end, etc. But I miss it right now.

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aaaggh! i missed your birthday. and i even knew when it was...i just forgot. happy (late) birthday! i send lots of love, and maybe something else when the fuckers in the financial aid dept get their act together...

happy belated birthday! sorry you were arguing with mark - i love my SO very much but sometimes i find living with him a big pain in the butt (still - after three years!). i definately tend to overlook the stuff he does around the house and feel like i do more. i'm not looking forward to him going back to school for this very reason (he'll have less time). and good luck with your class - i often find that the classes that sound the most boring end up being the most interesting (natural resource beauracracy ended up being great). (Josie from Ph)

Happy birthday!

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Another take on Dora

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I have been thinking a bit more about it, and although everything I said in my previous post was indeed true, I think there is more to it. Though it's clear I'm not made of tough enough stuff to withstand the world Dora lived in, I'm not sure she wouldn't wilt in my world as well.

I'm usually the first person to start rolling my eyes whenever anyway waxes nostalgic about the "good old days," but there is something to having a simpler way of life. Sure, Dora worked her ass off, and lived in a weirdly gender stratified world, and had little for outside amusement, but she was also never alone. She probably never felt that she was letting down everyone she'd ever met by not having both a beautiful family and a glamorous career (or at least one or the other). Dora knew what was expected of her. While there is no way for me to know that she didn't suffer from crises of self-awareness and searches for a faith that never comes, there is no indication in the first year of her journal that she has.

While it is true that we are, in many ways, a nation of spoiled whiners compared to previous generations, and while it is true that, again compared to previous generations, we have it almost laughably easy (or at least the middle class and up do), it is also true that we live bizarrely complicated, fragmented existances. We are both blessed with choices and damned by them. And that is a little bit of what has me in such a state recently. I'm questioning everything: my "career," my relationship, my own self-image. While I still remain sure she was twice the woman I can ever hope to be, I'm also a bit jealous of Dora for not having those questions, or at least not having the time or inclination to dwell on them.

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The things that determine your path are the things that make your heart sing. Start with things you like to do and everything else follows. Your life becomes its best when you are doing your best with life. And this is only possible if you like what you do. Don't compare yourself to anyone else and don't try to do what you think society wants. Happiness is a creation of your own -- it starts and ends with you. Have faith in yourself and go from there.

hey Grace! Think of this way too.... a woman of Dora's generation may also have entertained questions like the ones you're now asking (what should I do with my life? what kind of work should I do?), but either didn't or couldn't ask them. Which was probably rational given the social constraints on women at the time: a woman of that generation may have wanted to create a different life for herself, but if doing so was simply infeasible given the options available to her, then the most rational thing to do was probably to try to be as happy as she could about her circumstances rather than ask questions and try to change things.

For us of this generation, on the other hand, it is rational to ask questions as you are because our questions are more likely to lead to changes. The fact that you're asking questions and looking for ways to make your life more satisfying doesn't make you weak; it makes you a woman who has more options open to her than women of generations past. And I think Dora would be proud to see you question and struggle and pursue your dreams in ways that were probably never possible for her.

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Arms of Eden

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Ah. There's so much, and I feel so marginally capable of communicating it.

I am listening to this over and over again. I don't know why.

this is my home, this is my only home
this is the only sacred ground that i have ever known
and should i stray in th dark night alone
rock me goddess in the gentle arms of eden
*

Dora

I'm reading a diary written in 1929. It's the journal of Hazel's (my stepfather's mom) mother, Dora. She kept journals from 1929 all the way into the early 70's, and my mom is transcribing them and sending them out one year at a time. Mostly, she talks about the (endless) farm work, the local people, who visits, etc. Occaisonally she come out with something amazing, like her March 31 observation: "Turned the new rooster out today and he seems master of the situation." At the time of her first entry, Hazel, her eldest, is 19. Her other four children are each two years apart all the way down to the baby, Hugh, who is 11. She's a woman with her hands full. And she's so competent and seems so...satisfied. It blows my mind.

And then I think about her journal as compared to my ramblings here, and I am so embarrassed. How, in just a few generations, did we get from tough, self-sufficient, satisfied Dora to whiny, narcisstic, spoiled, overmedicated me? And what kind of good, hard-working, Scottish-Dutch peasant stock am I showing, constantly depressed and crabby and unhealthy? Always in bed, always taking a pill, always making problems from nothing? I'm an embarrassment. Seriously.

I am a college-educated, well-employed white female in 21st century America. People don't get much luckier than me. It is definitely time to re-evaluate.

*"Gentle Arms Of Eden", 2000 Dave Carter / Dave Carter Music (BMI)

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Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince CoverI am a Harry Potter-phile. Certainly not to the extent of some people (today has been my first troll around the fansites, for instance), but I'm a fan. I pre-ordered the book, I read it in two nights, etc. I've only read each book in the series once (though I have seen the first and third movies twice each, but that's more circumstance than anything else), but I have a pretty good idea of the general mythology. I think these books are Lord of the Rings for our generation, and they thrill me.

Which is why, now that I've gulped down book six, the second-to-last book, by most accounts, I am suffering from some post-Potter depression. I want more! I don't want to wait two years for it! I don't want just one more book! Wah!

Thinking about this last night, and about how lame it is that my joy at having just read book six and how good it was is overshadowed by what basically comes down to greed. Wanting more. I didn't take time to savor what I had, but rushed through it to get to the end, and now I'm sad to be done. It's one of those things I was supposed to learn better about when I was 5, you know?

And that got me thinking about Chance, and about how grief is, at least in part, about wanting more. It's about focusing on not having more time, rather than focusing on the time you had.

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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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Good for you; I wish you so much luck. I'm an editor/writer for a technical rag (don't tell them I called it that), and if this list reflects what you like, then you're on the right track. Because I work for a (semi-)big company, I have a few people looking over my shoulder to make sure I'm on deadline, but otherwise, I can shut my door or not even come in to the office at all. Working from home (or the park, or the coffee shop) is the best thing in the world. I can take breaks, naps, trips around town, whatever I have to. Heck, during my last pregnancy, I was bedridden most of the time, but I managed to keep working because I could use a laptop on my pillowtop.

If you get stuck for ideas, give me a buzz and I'll see what I can dig up.

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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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Show me your scars

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I am suspicious of people who don't have any visible scars. Even though I have never been involved in contact sports or intravenous drugs, I have my fair share of scars, and I think other people should, too. One of my very favorite things about having sex with someone new (back when having sex with someone new was a possibility, that is), was to find the scars on his/her body and ask for the stories that go with them. I maintain that you can learn a lot about people from their scars, and from the way in which they talk about them. I try to wear mine proudly.

So, since the liklihood of my sleeping with any of you anytime soon is pretty slim, here are a few stories about my scars.

The scars on my face aren't very noticeable until I point them out. The most noticeable ones are the faint, slightly jagged vertical scar between my eyes and the two little lines of scar underneath my bottom lip. I don't remember obtaining the scars under my lip, but apparently I did a face plant off a swing as a toddler and put my teeth through my lip. The one between my eyes, though, I remember with great embarrassment. I was probably 15 or 16 when I got it. My mom and my stepdad were target shooting in front of our house, and I decided I wanted to try. I had done it before, but only with a .22 caliber rifle with no scope. This time they were using bigger rifles with scopes. Nobody warned me about the "kick." The scope split me open between the eyes. My mom insisted on taking me to the emergency room (due to not taking me for two previous injuries that I should have gone for, but I'll get to that). So we drove 45 minutes and then sat in the waiting room for an hour, only to be told it didn't require stitches. So there you go.

The other facial scar I have is about 3/4 inch long and horizontal, underneath my chin. This is an even more humiliating story than the last one. In my high school, the stage where we had plays and stuff was in the gym. So one day my first year in high school, during gym class, I was up on the stage doing something, and I stepped down onto a little red bench on the gym floor. Unfortunately, I stepped on one end of the bench, rather than the middle. The bench flipped up and I landed on the gym floor, caught by my chin and one arm. I sprained my wrist and split my chin open. That afternoon were the Homecoming football and volleyball games, and that evening was the Homecoming Dance--my first big high school dance. No way I was going to miss all that for a trip to the emergency room. So we put a butterfly bandage on it and I kept right on trucking. Now it grows long black hairs out of it that I have to pluck with tweezers.

After my face, the next scar-filled body area is my hands. The really amazing one is the piece of pencil lead that is permanently embedded in the bottom of my right palm, right where my hand meets my wrist. It was my sophomore year in high school, and we were taking some sort of standardized test. I reached back without looking to get a pencil from the person behind me, who very stupidly handed it to me tip first. The tip broke off in the bottom of my hand and I never dug it out. The skin grew in around it and now I have a little lead bump there for all time. I also have a thick jagged scar and bit of crimped skin on the side of my little finger on that hand, which is a pretty good scar, but I honestly can't remember what it is from.

There is a scar of a couple of inches on the side of my left elbow, which is a result of putting up shelves in the closet of the last house where Mark and I lived in Portland--with Erica. I caught my elbow on the end of a screw, I think. It left a much worse scar than I would have expected. Both elbows have the prerequisite "I was never very good at riding a bike" scars, as do my knees.

The only real scar I have on my torso is inside and above my belly button, from my first navel piercing. It was a terribly done piercing (which I had done at a surf shop, when I was underage, using a fake note of permission from my mother), too shallow and not straight, and it was infected for pretty much the entire two or three years I had it. It is covered up by navel piercing number two, though, so it's not at all noticeable. Navel piercing number two, incidentally, is a wonderful piercing that has given me no trouble at all in the three+ years it has been there.

My legs are odes to scaring. Besides my knees, which I think were permanently torn up from ages 2-12 and look like it, the most noticeable scars are my rather intense stretch marks. I have both the vertical and the horizontal kind, particularly in my inner thighs. The source of those is obvious. I have had horiztonal ones since my early teens (I grew very quickly), but the vertical ones are from the last few years. Ahh, filling out.

The biggest scar I have is on my inner left calf, just below the knee. It's apparent that a chunk was taken out of my leg, which it was. I was taking the garbage out one summer night at Tomaselli's, the restuarant where I worked in high school, and there was a broken Torani bottle in the trash bag. A big piece of glass came out of the side of the bag and stuck into my leg (I was wearing shorts or a skirt). When I pulled it out, there was a little blood gyser and it took forever to heal up. It was one that definitely could have used some stitches, but for some reason I didn't go get any. It's only about an inch long, but it's probably 1/2 inch wide and shiny white. I also have various leg scars from shaving mishaps, particularly around my knees and on the backs of my ankles.

The last scar that comes to mind is a light scar across the top of my left foot. The scar itself isn't impressive--in fact, it's barely visible. However, the incident it came from was impressive, at least in gore-factor. I hit the top of my foot with a garden hoe, right across one of the big blood vessels, and blood shot up at least two feet. Nobody believes that when I tell them, but it happened, I swear. I also have a mangled big toe on my right foot, due to that incident with the handtruck of bricks last summer, which I have related here before. That might still correct itself, though.

None of my scars are particularly impressive. Mark (appendectomy), my mom (multiple back surgeries), my aunt Lisa (knee surgery), my aunt Kathy (hand through a window), and my ex, Simon (various skateboarding accidents, including one in which a bamboo shoot went through his cheek) all have much more impressive ones. But they are mine, and the stories behind them are pieces of my past (most of which, upon reading them over, make me look like a pretty clumsy moron, but hey, if the shoe fits...). Don't you feel like you know me better now?

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I keep hearing weird slappy noises in the northwest corner of my room. I'm afraid that if I try to figure it out, I might get a scar! I like this entry.

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In a birthday email from my grandmother

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Some people try to turn back their odometers. Not me, I want people to know "why" I look this way. I've traveled a long way and some of the roads weren't paved.

A good thought as one embarks on one's 26th year, I think. And probably every year after that. :)

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One true thing

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I was just taking a shower, thinking about those things that people say that everybody knows aren't true. The best example I can come up with is people who insist that high school is "the best time of your life."

I went to high school. Not that long ago. I am just beginning post-high school year #8. And high school was, by far, the worst time of my life. Well, middle school ages may have been worse, actually. Not sure. But everything post-high school has been significantly better than high school--that much I am absolutely positive about.

What in the world makes people tell high school kids that they are in the best time of their lives? And how does that not lead to major suicide outbreaks? I don't think I ever believed high school was the best time of my life. If I had, I don't think I would have made it out alive. Talk about nothing to live for.

It makes me wonder where it comes from. Are there are truly people for whom high school is the best time of their life? Does that mean they had a significantly better time than I did in high school, or does it just mean the rest of their lives sucked so badly that high school was bright spot in comparison?

Just for the record, in case anyone I went to high school with and don't like is reading this, high school was not the best time of my life. It sucked. I hated it. Chances are very good that I hated you. It is NOT something I want to re-live. Ever. I don't want to go to a fucking reunion, I don't want to reminisce about old sports events or dances or minor acts of illegality or that time that one person got SOOOO drunk. We may have gone to school together for twelve consecutive years, and I still don't have an emotional attachment to you. If I dated you in high school, I am not still in love with you. I don't remember what it was like to sleep with you, besides vaguely embarrassing and painful. I don't have a box of love notes from you stashed somewhere. If I had an unrequited crush on you in high school, I don't still think you are cute, or funny, or sexy. In fact, I don't think about you at all, except perhaps to idly wonder if you are in jail.

I got a lot of "you're a snob...you think you're better than us..." in high school. At the time, I denied that was the case. Well, I'll cop to it now. I AM better than you. To everyone who called me names or talked about me behind my back (or to my face) or piled me with emotional angsty bullshit that I had to work through later; to everyone who made me embarrassed to be smart, to have ideas and opinions, embarrassed to have passion for the few things in high school that kept me sane: I am better than you. I was then, I am now. And as I get older, my life just keeps getting better--I just keep getting better. And you are still re-living high school.

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Papa Gene

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My grandfather would have been 75 today.

He's been gone 20 years.

As I was 4 when he died, I don't have a whole lot of substantial memories of him. The ones I do have are suspect--do I actually remember this stuff, or do I just think I remember it because I saw a picture or someone told me a story? I have to believe that some of them are mine, though, especially as they get dimmer over the years.

He bought me bags of jelly beans at Arlene's Cafe. They came in a ziploc bag and cost $1. Our deal was that he would eat the black ones, I would eat the rest. Still seems like a good deal to me. When I was in high school, I used to put black jelly beans on his grave.

I remember him being thin, so thin, and coughing. Sitting in an easy chair, coughing. He had lung cancer. Since he died when I was 4, he probably had cancer for most of my life.

It is completely possible to miss someone you never really knew. I still miss him to this day. I've lost six other grandparents and great-grandparents since he died, but I still feel his loss the most. And today, he would have been 75.

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My So-Called Life

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Last night I had the good fortune to run across an episode of My So-Called Life It was on Noggin, I think? Apparently they play it every Friday night. Anyway, I was thrilled to dig into the couch and reconnect with Angela and Rayanne and Rickie and (of course) Jordan Catalano.

As I was watching the espisode, though, something seemed strange and out of place to me. Almost...dated. At first I thought it was just that I am now a lot older than those characters were supposed to be (Claire Danes, who played Angela on the show, is the same age as I am in real life, so when I was 14 watching the show, she was 14 making it). Then I thought it must just be the age of the show--after all, it is ten years old.

The plot lines of high school dramas don't change all that much, though. Sure, MSCL was made before everyone had IM, so there is a fair amount of talking on the phone, but other than that the drama is pretty much the standard fare--sex, friendships, family, the future. So why did the characters on MSCL seem so archaic?

Then I figured it out. It was because they were covered up.

No, not their emotions. Those were pretty wide open. Their bodies. The difference was their clothes. Angela Chase almost never wore less than three layers, one of them generally being overalls and another nearly always made of flannel. And it wasn't just sexless Angela--the non-virginal characters weren't flaunting their stuff either. Rayanne, the supposed wild one, dressed in tights, boots, a big coat...even Sharon, the one who was actually supposed to be HAVING sex on the show, who had breasts, which much was made of in the first few epsiodes (if I remember correctly), never showed much skin. In fact, she sort of dressed like a kindergarden teacher.

If you compare this to current teen dramas--not just the shitty ones, but even endearing and offbeat ones like Joan of Arcadia, you will get an assault of midriffs, ass cracks, high heels and cleavage. Not to be a huge prude, but Angela looked a whole hell of a lot more comfortable in her overalls than Joan does in her lowriders.

It make me sad to think that there was a time only ten years ago where teenage girls on television weren't expected to be sexpots. Sure, part of it was the impervious nature of grunge culture at that time (thank you, thank you, THANK YOU Kurt Cobain), but I don't think that tells the whole story. After all, baggy "grungy" clothes stayed "in style" and available a lot longer for teenage guys than they did for girls. In fact, if I'm not mistaken, guys are still encouraged to wear baggy jeans and button-downs, even if they are supposed to be a little bit cleaner than Jordan Catalano's ever were. A teenage girl dressed like Angela Chase, though? There would be two names for her--dyke or bag lady.

For the first time, I realize that there was some luck in when I came of age. Sure, I'm part of the first generation who started having sex knowing about AIDS; sure, I graduated from high school into a dismal economy and graduated from college into a much worse one; I'll even admit that Converse All-Stars are not any more attractive than they were the first time around. But at least I had until my 20s before I had to start worrying about low-rise thongs and push-up bras. And at least, for that one sweet year, before Claire Daines got all sexxxeee and started dating Billy Crudup, I had Angela.

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(Title from Ani, idea from Nyarlathotep's Miscellany.)

Things I shouldn't have worn:
1. First day of 1st grade, 1986: Red and black knee-length plaid dress, orange knee socks, pink tennis shoes with strawberries on them, puffy maroon jacket.
2. Second day of 1st grade, 1986: light brown velour sweatsuit, made by my mum, with a red apple with my name embroidered on it over the left breast.
3. First day of 5th grade, 1990: Acid washed jeans with fake leather running down the outer legs and in the insides of the pockets, knee-length purple Hypercolor tshirt.
4. My sister's high school graduation, 1991(?): short purple jacket with black buttons and black trim, purple and black striped tiered skirt, flesh colored nylons, black plastic ankle boots with silver buckles.
5. First day of 7th grade, 1992: black and white striped shirt, tucked in and poofed out from jeans, blue silk tie with roses on it, purple wool beret. Actually, any time I wore that beret.
6. First date, 1993 (Jurassic Park, how romantic): high-waisted blue jeans, white t-shirt, blue batiked suspenders.
7. Away volleyball game, 10th grade: blue striped spandex-y minidress, ginormous silver cross.
8. High school graduation picture, 1997: Union Bay overalls, green striped Union Bay t-shirt, green Converse One-Stars.

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That smell

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Once upon a time, a million years ago, I lived here.

As you can see, it's a wee bit institutional. It is also in a very rainy climate. Due to the combo of institutional-building-with-a-rubber-floor and constant wet feet, the stairwells had a very specific wet-rubber smell that I've never associated with any other place.

I just went downstairs in the office building where I work to get a snack from the vending machine. It's pouring outside. We have rubber stairs like MacNaughton did. I smelled that smell.

And I'm right back there, worried about my first Humanities paper, drinking to the point of getting sick, making late-night trips to Denny's or calls for pizza and sleeping only during daylight hours.

Yeah, I miss it.

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More on the saga of Agnes

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Mom sent another email. Apparently Agnes told her nurses on Friday that she didn't want to eat, she just wants to die, but has since lost lucidity enough that she doesn't remember saying that or feeling that way and she isn't arguing with being fed now. It sounds pretty bad. Mom doesn't seem to think she's got too long.

I sent a card and picture last week. I'm not sure what else to do now.

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Won't you be my neighbor?

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I don't really have time to be blogging today, but I need a break and I'm feeling verbose, so lucky, lucky you...

I wanted to write about my neighbors. There are two possible things going on with me+neighbors. The first is that I just have incredibly bad luck when it comes to neighbors. The second is that the problem is not them, it's me. Hopefully after reading these total unbiased accounts of my neighbors, you'll be able to decide for yourself which is the problem.

Note that I am leaving out dorm neighbors here, because that is a whole other problem.

Case study #1: "Arg Fuck"
My junior year in college, I lived in an apartment with my then-boyfriend, Simon. It was my first long-term experience living off-campus and on my own. Retrospectively, the tiny apartment was kind of a hellhole, but at the time I was quite excited.

Or I was excited until I experienced Arg Fuck. Arg Fuck was my next door neighbor, an emaciated man with long stringy hair. Arg Fuck was, in my best guess, a man with a small methamphetamine problem. Or perhaps a large methamphetamine problem. This became apart to Simon and I when we were awoken the first time by his midnight tantrums. These were the most extreme tantrums I have ever had the displeasure of listening to, at least thrown by an adult. They included what sounded like throwing furniture down the stairs and repeated yelling of "Arg! Fuck!" (hence the name). They included screamed phone conversations with one of many women. Then, one night, they included what sounded like physical assault of a woman. That was the first time we called the police. There were at least half a dozen other times in the space of about six months, and many of those came with added bonus of having him come pound on our door after the cops left and scream that he was going to kill us. Keep in mind that this man had a balcony adjoining ours. It was freaking scary. There was also an incident in which he smeared blood all over the walls of our hallway.

We complained to the police. We complained to the management. Nothing happened. It was awful. So after that I moved back to campus. Dorm neighbors may be loud and obnoxious, but at least they aren't usually frightening.

Case Study #2: Don and Pauline
After I graduated, I moved into this great house with two friends, Natalie and Jenny. The "house" was actually a tri-plex, with a small upper unit, a large lower unit, and a small basement unit. We rented the middle part, the landlord, Don, lived in the basement, and another woman, Pauline lived upstairs.

At first, it seemed like a good situation. Pauline was quiet, Don seemed like a pleasant old man (he was in his mid-80s, I'd say), and the house was great.

Then a few things came to our attention:
1. Our thermostat controlled Don's heat as well as our own--and he insisted it be way the fuck up all the time.
2. Don came into our apartment when we weren't there. All the time. He didn't even try to pretend he didn't. And there was a door that connected his place to ours, which locked only from his side. He often left us rambling notes, giving instruction, with many exclamation points and always signed off, "God bless."
4. Sometimes Don would come in when we were there. He called it an inspection. He was a WWII veteran. These occasions were very odd. He wanted to make sure we weren't repainting or anything, he said. What seemed more likely was that he was checking for alcohol and other contraband. He was not just a little bit Catholic and he had very specific ideas about what was and was not appropriate for three young women living alone to have around.
3. Don liked to make rules. No doing laundry at night (we learned of this rule when he came pounding on our door at 9pm when we were doing laundry, screaming at us about how inconsiderate we were), no washing your hair in the shower because it clogs the drain (yeah, right), etc. These rules were subject to change at any time and without any notice, and we may or may not be notified by screaming note or screaming voice.
4. Don was deaf. Don's living room was directly under ours, and although he otherwise lived pretty much in squalor, he had a giant big screen TV with cable. It was turned up so loud whenever it was on that we could not only tell whether or not he was watching a war movie or the Christian Broadcasting Network (his only two choices, apparently), but we could tell which war movie or what the sin of the day was.
5. After we'd lived there for a few months, Don tried to raise our rent by several hundred dollars a month, saying that he'd been mistaken about how much he charged us in the first place. This was only one of several times he tried this. We were always able to talk him out of it, but it was still weird.
6. I could go on and on about Don, but you probably get the idea.

Above us was Pauline. Have you seen What's Eating Gilbert Grape?. The mom in that movie was Pauline, both physically and temperamentally. She had some sort of condition that caused her to be very very obese. What exactly that condition was wasn't ever clear. At first, she was very nice, she invited us up and wanted to meet us, etc. (she was housebound). Then it became apparent that what she really wanted was three free caretakers. She'd call all the time, asking us to run to the store for her, and later to come up and rub her feet. Her heat was always on and her apartment was always at least 85 degrees. And it smelled bad enough to make you gag, literally. I felt sorry for Pauline, she was sick and lonely, but she was also very demanding. Then, one day, I came home from work and kept hearing this weird sound, like a cat crying. I went up to Pauline's apartment and found her on her kitchen floor, having fallen and not been able to get up. I had to call EMS and they send the fire department as well, to haul her back up. It was humiliating for her and for me. She went downhill after that and moved out and into a nursing facility a month or so before we moved out (which we did as soon as we could get out of our lease), and she died a few days before we left.

Case Study #3: The 1331 crowd
The next place I lived was a double-studio apartment in a very rundown building. The price was right, it was the first place I'd ever had of my own, and I was jazzed. And in general, my neighbors were OK. Except. Except that there was an old man in the building, an alcoholic who used to be the building manager and sometimes thought he still was, who would come knock on your door and solicit money. Except that my next door neighbor had a delinquent grandchild who beat on her door and threatened her in the middle of the night every now and again. Except that the person who lived above me bowled in his apartment every now and again. In general, though, it was a step up.

Case Study #4: Jack and Jill
The next place I lived was the upstairs bit of a really great duplex in a wonderful neighborhood. Well, wonderful except for the methadone clinic two blocks away. Anyway, I lived there with Mark and our friend Erica. Below us lived to student from my alma mater. They had annoying matching names, so I'll call them Jack and Jill. Jack and Jill were nice enough at first--they were in their first place, they were students, whatever. Then we realized a few things about Jack and Jill that were a bit annoying. Jack thought he was a musician and played a guitar and sang, often late at night. Jack was NOT a musician. Jack and Jill liked to have loud-ass friends over. Fine, they were college students, whatever. Normal annoyance. Jack and Jill also liked to have very loud, very melodramatic sex. They sounded like porn. We heard everything.

All of that was minor, though, in comparison to the laundry problem. The laundry problem was as follows: the shared washing machine and dryer in the basement was hooked to their water/electricity. They asked us the first week or so we moved in if we�d mind paying them back for the water/electricity we were using, and we settled on a figure of $25/month. We thought that was kind of odd, but didn�t think a whole lot of it, didn�t want to rock the boat, etc. We found out months later than their rent was $50/month less that ours. This was, at least in part, because they had to pay for our laundry use. When we confronted them with this information, they told us we had to keep paying or we couldn�t use the laundry. It turned into a gigantic battle involving the (extremely worthless) landlord. We eventually won, but they hated us from then on and there were a few nasty encounters.

Case Study #5: The jazz musician
This brings us to our current case. Mark and I love our house. We knew when we moved in that we�d be sharing laundry facilities with a man living in a one-room apartment attached to the back of our house. However, he was a nice-seeming old man in a wheelchair, we didn�t share any non-closet walls, and all we were going to be sharing was the washer and dryer, so we didn�t think it would be a big deal.

We were wrong. So wrong.

First, the annoyance was just his music. See, we were told he was a musician. We assumed, stupidly, that meant he was a real musician. He�s not. He plays what sounds like a little kids Casio keyboard. He likes to play it at 8am. Also, he does laundry nearly every day---at least three times a week, anyway.
However, those seemed minor things and we tried to make friends with him. Before we got a dog, we asked him if he would mind a dog around/in the yard, and he said no problem. This was important, because his back door/small deck faces out into the backyard. Which we didn�t realize was shared space. But it is. But I digress.

Once we got the dog, Chance was understandably scared and confused when he went into the yard and suddenly someone popped up out of nowhere in a terrifying machine (wheelchair). We told the Jazz Musician we�d be happy to work with him in making friends with the dog, etc., so he wouldn�t get barked at and stuff, and he said great.

But all he ever did was yell at the dog. To make matters worse, he spread food out not only on his deck (which is low�at the dogs nose level), but in the yard as well. And then yelled at Chance when he ate the food, as I would assume nature for someone of the canine persuasion to do. The Jazz Musician calls the food �bird feed,� but it consists not only of bread and crackers and stuff, but also of whole fruit, sausages, frozen peas, you name it. He also throws cigarette butts out, which the dog, being a dog, tries to eat. We asked him numerous times to stop this, explaining that it is very difficult for us to keep the dog away from him/his porch when there is free food there. He hemmed and hawed and then said he�d stop if we got him a bird feeder to use instead. We got one. He hasn�t stopped.

Recently, the Jazz Musician asked Mark if he could have a word with him. He will only talk to Mark, not to me. OK, whatever. What he told Mark was that he�d like me to stop
�invading his privacy� by �looking in his house� when I was in the yard with the dog.

Yeah. Right. Like I want anything to do with his scrawny ass. If I look at his house, it�s because I�m trying to make sure he isn�t out on the porch, poised to yell at my dog for no reason. However, he sits in his house with his blinds (sliding glass door) open 24-7, often in his underwear. Even though it looks out on what is supposed to be our yard. So I can see why he�d feel like his privacy was in question.

Things got worse when he got a prosthetic leg (he�s a diabetic who had to have one leg amputated last year, hence the chair). Now that he�s more mobile, he wants to use the yard more. And that means we have to keep the dog out of it, because he is certain the dog is going to attack him (which at this point I�m not sure I�d blame him for) or one of his family members (his grandkids come over sometimes, etc.) He says that he�s going to �teach the dog a lesson.� This is terrifying, because if all 87 pounds of him tries to teach my 110 pound dog any kind of lesson, it�s pretty obvious who will come out on the bad end of it. And if Chance hurts him, then Chance gets put down. So we have to keep Chance away from him.

For awhile we only took Chance in the yard on a lease (what exactly is the point of having a yard then?). Recently things came to a bit of a head and our landlord (who is fabulous and 100% on our side, or at least it seems that way) put a fence down the middle of the yard, separating about 1/3 for him and 2/3 for us. So hopefully that will take care of it.

Some more things about this particular neighbor? He is on 19 different types of medication for his various illnesses, yet he grows a giant pot plant outside on his deck and our yard reeks of ganja all the time, even at like 9am. He also occasionally throws loud fits, yelling and cursing at nobody, although it seems, from what I hear (since I care so deeply about him and his life), that he thinks someone is there. He�s also irritatingly incapable of discerning what is and is not recyclable and how it should be separated, so I always have to take his stuff out of our joint recycling bins and put it where it should be.

Keep in mind that these are just snapshots of my neighbor experiences. All of this really happened, but a ton of stuff I didn�t have the energy to write down happened as well. What do you think�is it them, or is it me?

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Agnes

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I have a great aunt...well, let's back up. Technically, she'd be my step-great-aunt. She's my stepfather's aunt. But my mom and my stepdad have been married since I was 4, so it's not a distinction I've ever really made. Anyway, I have a great aunt named Agnes. I wish I knew more about her life, actually, but the pieces I do know amuse and inspire me--she went to college at Stanford and became a nurse, even though she was born in 1912 or something on a farm in rural Oregon. It sounds like she sort of always did just about whatever she wanted. She apparently married a real asshole and that sucked for a long while, but he was dead before I was born, so I don't have any first hand knowledge of that part.

The part I do have firsthand knowledge of is her in old age. And she was a pistol! I remember once, after hearing I'd been sick with an ovarian infection, she wrote me a letter counseling me about safe sex and including the memorable phrase, "I, thank God, have never had VD!" Keep in mind that she was nearly 90 when she wrote this and you can begin to see how funny she was. And she valued education really highly, and having no children of her own, spread her wealth around to help a bunch of us in college. She sent me money every month for quite a while when things were tight, and I couldn't have made it through undergrad as well as I did without her.

She's been in an assisted living place for two or three years now, because she's gotten weak and because she doesn't see well and sometimes gets confused, etc. And this morning, my mom sent me this email:


Agnes had to be moved to a nursing home 2 or 3 days ago. She fell a couple of times- didn't break anything though. She fell in the night and was slightly dehydrated when they found her in the morning, but she's alright that way. She just is too weak and dizzy to stand up on her own. I think she had some small strokes too because the right side of her face droops, she only talks out of the left side of her mouth and it takes for ever to get a sentence out - but it's not garbled. Also when I saw her yesterday she didn't seem to be moving her right hand. I didn't ask if she could though because I didn't want her to obsess about it. Anyway, I'm taking Thurs & Fri off and packing all her stuff up (nothing heavy though) so George and who ever he can find to help can move it to storage this weekend. We need to get her out by the end fo the month which is Sun. or it will cost another $2000. When I visited her yesterday the only thing she seemed to want to talk about was you. She wanted details on what you are doing - in college and what your future plans are. Then, it took her a while to get it out but she said to tell Grace we love her. If you could send her a card - maybe a just thinking of you kind and let her know what you're doing. If you have any photos of you and Mark and the dog maybe you could send her one.

My guilt, she is enormous. I didn't see her when I was home for Christmas. I told myself it was because I didn't have time, or because I had a cold I didn't want to spread to her, but really it was because she's old and she's sick and I don't deal well with that. The place she was in depressed me, and I don't deal well with that. I don't want to remember her the way she is now, so I didn't go visit. And now it looks like I won't get the chance. Subsequent emails from Mom confirmed that she doesn't have much time--and why would she? She's over 90 years old.

It's completely my fault that I didn't see her when I had the chance, and I accept responsibility for that. My question is this: if she is asking/thinking about me, what can I do for her now? Obviously I can send a card/letter and some pictures, but is there anything else?

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Going to Graceland

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Today is the big day. In a few hours I get on a plane and head home for ten days. I feel mixed about it--excited, yet uneasy. I have no idea why I'm so uneasy. I'm not afraid to fly in the least. Going home is just stressful, I guess. Prepare yourself, o gentle reader, for daily updates on how I'm biting my tongue (or not) and the kind of uncomfortable self-reflection only your family can inspire.

It will be good. I'll get some rest, I'll hang out with my mom, I'll help my mom out. I'll get some reading done. Hopefully I'll study calculus, but realistically I won't. It will be a nice ten days.

Repeat five times and take a deep breath...

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Mmmmm...it's Sunday night and my

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Mmmmm...it's Sunday night and my life is just good. I love my Mark, I love my dog, I love what I'm doing (school and work). I love that I made lentil soup today and it's cheap, it's good and it's nutritious. I love that even though I am tired, I am tired from actually doing school work and chores and playing with the dog. I love that the TV hasn't been on all day and isn't on now.

It's hard to just be content. I don't trust it for very long, and it worries me when things get too quiet and seem too good. But I am content with this. This is what I want. Mark and were sitting on the couch and Chance came up and sat between us (on both of our legs) and we petted him and he just stayed there for several minutes. This is my family, I thought. And it is. I love my family of origin, but this is the family I am creating--the family we are creating. There isn't anything better than that.

OK, I should go get some more reading done before I melt completely into a puddle of gooey romantic nonsense.

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Love your body day

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Love your body day:

I love my body because my skin and hair feel nice to my touch
I love my body because it allows me to adequately enjoy baths
I love my body because it allows me to see, to hear, to smell, to touch
I love my body because of the way it feels to stretch out in bed in the morning
I love my body because it is a vessel through which I can play with my dog
I love my body because it gives me sexual feeling
I love my body because it has round parts and narrow parts and identifies me as female
I love my body because I am a fast typist
I love my body because of the ultra-comfortable feeling I get after a great meal or a couple of beers
I love my body because it can dance and sing, not well, but joyfully.

Why do you love your body?

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Em

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Deep breath.

I talked to Em on the phone a bit ago. It sounds like her mom is very sick. Dying, probably. And there is nothing I can say about that that will make it any better. I wish I could, but I can't. Still, I thought I'd call and at least let her know I am thinking about her and I am here if she wants or needs to talk. Now that I'm off the phone, of course, I can think of a few things I wish I had said. Something about how it feels to watch someone you love die of cancer, and I know that, because I have seen it a couple of times now. Something about how even though I've seen it, I can't imagine it happening to my mother. Something about how my mom is the single most important person who will ever be in my life and I can't even fucking comprehend anything like this happening to her.

But perhaps it is better that I did not say any of those things. Instead, I asked questions about the prognosis, about the trajectory of events. I think I did that because sometimes talking about things makes it easier--going over the details is something you can sort of control, you can speak about it calm, measured terms. It's easier than how you feel, it's easier than what you are afraid of.

I don't know, though. Maybe I shouldn't have called at all. I really have no idea. I know there is no way I can help.

Crying, now, for Em and her mom. And for Papa Gene, who I still miss, though I wasn't old enough to understand I was saying goodbye to him when I was. And for Grandpa Davie, to whom I was old enough to say goodbye, and that doesn't make me miss him any less.

I am so glad that Em has her God. I don't know how helpful He(he? she?) is in all this, but I think this kind of situation is one of the best arguments for keeping the faith.

I wish I had some faith I could keep with her. I wish I could pray so I could pray for her. But I can't, so I guess I'll just keep writing.

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24

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Happy birthday to me, happy birthday to me, happy birthday dear me, happy birthday to meeeeeee!

So today is my 24th birthday. I don't really feel like it's my birthday, but the calendar assures me that it is. It's stange how much less exciting birthdays get as you get older. I still try to maintain my childlike level of birthday excitement, because being excited about things is fun, but it feels kind of fake. Especially this year. 24 is my last birthday before the serious ages begin, as far as I can tell. Next year, I'm a quarter century; after that I enter my late 20s. Then 30s, then 40s, etc. I'm not particularly afraid to age (that's just a boldfaced lie, actually I am afraid to age, but I know I shouldn't be), but turning 12 seemed a lot more magical than turning 24.

Be that as it may, I'm going to try to enjoy my "special day." If nothing else, at least there will be presents, and we're going out to a nice dinner with Susan and Tony.

Having a 9am class on my birthday is probably not helping me feel celebratory. Perhaps my post-class nap will change my mood. :)

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