Thursday, May 21, 2015

Jobs, from tweendom to fifty two

            If I could have advised my 18-year-old self, I’d have set myself on a path with more reading, writing, traveling, and languages. I’d have studied abroad, or at least studied more. I’d have applied for the Peace Corps. I’d have been a journalist for the BBC, a photographer for National Geographic, a sailor, a musician, a midwife, a chef. In a magical twist, I’d have personally raised my children, and started a business. I’d have spent more time with my three brothers and interviewed my grandparents. 
But what 18-year-old listens to a 52-year-old? Not me. (By the way, I’d have also sought more reliable mentors.) Apparently, I learn by following the very next step I see, however small, however regretful. The strategic plan of two inches ahead.
My education was born blue-collar, from a family who can fix, shift, drive, grow, fly, build, heat, cool, plumb, drain, install, replant, operate, renovate, generate, alleviate, overhaul, jerry rig, electrify and pretty much make something from anything. For example my three brothers all constructed their own houses from the ground up (two of them with their own labor) while also working full time and raising kids, working early mornings into late nights. You get used to working those hours.
If you ever needed to pick someone to be with stranded alone on an island, pick anyone in my family of origin but me. I’m the oddball out in the handy department with a 25 percent success rate in turning on the TV. But dayam, I can type. I bet I could keep up with any of those lower rung secretaries on Mad Men[i].
I’ve actually had a couple of similar jobs, one office located on Park Avenue South in Manhattan, which runs parallel to Madison Avenue, the setting for Mad Men. I had another clerical position, phones and filing to be exact, in a far-flung neighborhood in upper Queens (not the setting for Mad Men). Both were temp jobs. I was fortunate in that both wanted to hire me for good, but I could only pick one. See what I mean? I have the soul of a secretary. (The white collar version of blue collar.) I commuted for six solid years in the NYC subways, thoroughly exhausted in the end, but also knowing that millions of people do it their whole life.
My DNA is working class through and through, thus I measure myself by my labor – how much and how hard. Whenever I change jobs I get philosophical, and with an employment transition at hand, I felt compelled to list all the jobs I’ve ever had. A complete catalogue of all the paid positions, in order, from tweendom to fiftysomething, in as much as I can remember, follows:
babysitter
short order waitress
babysitter
gymnastics teacher
babysitter
short order cook
agricultural rock picker
dinner waitress
short order cook
babysitter
janitor[ii]
janitor[iii]
resident assistant
choreographer
camp baker
publicity assistant
camp counselor
fast food cashier
legislative intern
fast food cashier
fast food grill worker
cocktail waitress
camp cook
bistro waitress[iv]
cafeteria dishwasher
dinner waitress[v]
church youth director
substitute teacher
senior citizen bingo caller
ice cream server
gymnastics coach
reading tutor
summer program director
environmental education director[vi]
warehouse receptionist
administrative assistant[vii]
secretary
communication associate
speakers bureau and study tour coordinator
global education manager
summer arts camp coordinator
adjunct English instructor
freelance writer
communications manager/office manager
grant specialist[viii]
director for communications and marketing[ix]

Please note that this does not reflect how many times I’ve revised my resume, applied for a job, checked job boards, scheduled a networking meeting, and interviewed. I used to keep count, but I lost track. Sometimes I wonder how things would have worked out had I been brainier in my approach to work, as per first paragraph. But how does one do that? All I know is to look for the next step (often taking years to discern) and move forward, even if by minutia standards.
I used to think work was all about hours and sweat. And I’m embarrassed to admit that when I transitioned into the white-collar realm and saw how other people got there, I resented my peers who took a smarter approach, those who had a plan. The irony of my envy, of course, is that my lovely daughter now fits the profile of the person I used to begrudge: the pastor’s daughter, no God issues, no class issues, no man issues, no confidence issues, access to private school, entrée to perceived big thinking, blah, blah. (Hopefully I didn’t inadvertently push my daughter into my former dream.) While I love both her and her opportunities, I’m not proud to admit that I’ve been jealous of my contemporaries who did the same. It was a grass is greener kind of thing. 
As my favorite author Mary Karr said: “ . . . don't make the mistake of comparing your twisted up insides to other people's blow dried outsides. The most privileged person . . . suffers the torments of the damned just going about the business of being human.” (Mary Karr commencement speech, 2015, Syracuse University.)
I like to imagine that I muscled my way through, the hard way, but of course the reality is I got by with a lot of help from my friends and family. But for the 1970-something green Buick my parents bought me for a high school graduation gift (my mother even rigged up a giant red bow to put on top of the car), I’d have been hard pressed to actually transport myself to college and to all my adventures in South Dakota. I depended on that car for four years, up until student teaching when another car made an illegal left turn and totaled it.
Some people get reflective when they’ve changed boyfriends or husbands or cars or cities. I get contemplative when I change jobs. It’s my working class DNA. Or maybe it’s my white-collar insides trying to fit into my blue-collar outsides. (Wait, is my blue-collar on the inside or outside? Confused.) I want my job transitions to mean something. Hourly wage philosopher. Time clock theologian. I’m the one who can get the job done on time under budget, and then deconstruct it for the following decade.
It’s probably also ironic to note that in my failed student teaching semester, part of my job was to teach the novel “The Jungle” by Upton Sinclair to a high school social studies class in suburban South Dakota (yeah, that exists), about the meat packing plants of the early 1900s and how their horrors led to the labor unions in the U.S. (Resulting in, say, bathroom breaks, weekends, paid days off, child labor restrictions, fingerless ground beef, etc.) I should re-read that book, in my 30-year-older skin. While, I’m not sure of the impact that book had on my students, I know it left a deep impression on me, the student teacher, the one who would never go on to a full-fledged teaching career because of her negative review from the supervising teacher (note to self: choose mentors carefully). Who cares about a bad eval? I still list teacher on my LinkedIn profile, in the spirit of calling yourself what you want to be.
Maybe my doomed teaching career was karma for all the people to whom I’ve been despicable, before and since. If so, well deserved. (P.S. I don’t believe in karma, which is the opposite of grace, except for myself. Working on it.)
Speaking of, my husband has suffered much for my angst of the so-called career. The first thing I did when I got the new job at hand, was call Bob to thank him because it hasn’t been easy for this man. I am forever thinking and plotting and planning and wondering about what my next two inches of movement will look like, since I can’t feasibly retire which is what I’d truly like to do. Volunteer. Travel. Write. Hike. Help people. I’m pretty sure my so-called vocation is to be on perpetual vacation. (I say so-called vocation because I’m not sure I believe in it, either. For another blog post.)
Bob is awesome.
So, I guess this is my very long-winded way of saying that I have a new job, and that I’m so very grateful to all the people who held me up along the way. There are so many. And even at my age, I plan to work my eyeballs out to meet and exceed the job goals. I will tie my personal worth to the values of my employer. Because I’m blue collar at heart. And a bleeding heart to the core.






[i] For a while, I couldn’t watch Mad Men because each female character on the show pushed one of my insecurity buttons. A mini onset of PTSD came with each drama episode. But I’m over that. Now I can watch Peggy, Joan, Betty, and the others as an objective observer, even an admirer, rather than a direct participant or possibly, as a victim. Yay me.

[ii] This job entailed cleaning the floor bathrooms during the weekend in a boys’ dorm facility at the University of South Dakota, where I was a student. I wasn’t very imaginative with my employment choices at the time. A friend told me about the position and I thought, why not? I was advised to clean very early, like 4 a.m., to avoid running into college boys needing to pee or shower. This time frame mostly worked, but I found that this was also the hour where college boys needed the bathroom to puke after partying the night before. My mother recently reminded me about this position.

[iii] To be clear this was actually a second janitorial job, cleaning an off-campus county extension building. I think I got this position through the same person who referred me to the bathroom cleaning career path. As I look back, this must be the point where my networking skills really took off.

[iv] Yes, they called themselves a bistro, 1985, Vermillion, SD. They decorated with old movie pictures from the 40s as a nod to a more glamorous time. This job was where I learned the old adage: if they can’t pay you, quit immediately. Just because they say they’ll pay you next week, and could you please work a big drunken party for their friends, and truly, you will get paid after the party, seriously, don’t do it. Leave immediately. Keep hounding them for your paycheck. Get another job. At this point, I was in grad school, and my one and only other co-worker was a high school boy, the cook. We spent a lot of time together, and honestly, he was probably my best friend, seeing that all my college friends had left town, properly graduated and all. Together we tried to understand the news reports about HIV/AIDs, which had just started to be a big deal in the mid 80s. I remember that he invited me to his spring prom. At once, I was insulted and flattered. He had red hair and a football player physique. He was actually pretty cute and was definitely thoughtful for his age, probably a reader. I can still see the crushed look on his face due to the speed for which I said no to his prom invite. It was out of the question. I had to save what little pride I had left. At age 22 and a grad student, I couldn’t possibly attend a high school prom (which I didn’t do even when I myself had been in high school). But I’m pretty sure he was being sincere in his asking, as we were sincerely friends, an odd-ball couple spending a lot of time together in that stupid, tragic bistro with no customers. I’m pretty sure he didn’t get his last few paychecks either. When the place shut down, the day after the drunken party, we were never in contact again.

[v] I’ve blogged about this position. It’s here.

[vi]This position was at Outlaw Ranch in Custer, South Dakota, nestled in the ponderosa pine in the southern Black Hills. It’s the job for which I was least prepared, and most miss.  This was my job when I met Bob (who was there for a conference). He thought I was cool. But then he learned the truth about me.

[vii] I worked for Dr. Worm and I’m not making that up. It was the perfect case of name matching personality. The office was on the Avenue of Americas, a fairly nice building on a pretty depressed street in southern Manhattan but not quite in the financial district, like it was trying too hard to be fancy. Dr. Worm was an upper echelon dentist who provided executive health care consultation to the political higher ups for the entire state of New York, according to her. I lasted one and a half days in that office, walking out for lunch on day two and taking the first train back to Brooklyn in the non-rush hour of midday. With my die-hard working class ethic, I’d certainly never done that before. And I’ve not walked out on a job since. (Whoa nelly, I’ve wanted to.) Dr. Worm was so mad at me. She and her paid head-hunter kept leaving me angry voice mail messages saying I’d never work in New York City again. They thought since I was a naive Midwestern girl I’d easily accept an abusive boss style, which was partially true but in Dr. Worm’s case, not true at all. They didn’t know that I’d rather waitress or clean toilets.

They also didn’t know that on the very day I walked out of that office, I came home to a message from Ann Fries, the human resource director for Lutheran World Relief, where I would go on to work for 17 years in five cities (eight years in the office and eight telecommuting). Apparently, Ann Fries was the one person in NYC who had not received my blackball notification. (Ann and I are still friends to this day, and I love her much. My initial connection with Ann came with thanks to my lovely and ever so networked, sister-in-law, Lorraine.) To Dr. Worm and her paid head-hunter I say: Na, na, na, na, na.  If I could make it in New York, anyone can make it anywhere.

[viii] Departing with much gratitude for my fantastic colleagues.

[ix] Thrilled and humbled.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

On the topic of upgrading expectations

If I may share one of my daughter's kindergarden acceptance interview questions and answers (administered by a really mean, burned out public school psychologist):

Really mean school psychologist: What is a moth? 

Four-year-old Amanda: It's another kind of church. 

Really mean school psychologist: No! That's wrong! 

I know this because I was listening from the hallway, sitting on the floor with my ear to the door, agonizing if I'd done the right thing to subject my daughter to this interview. We had just moved from the East Coast to Minnesota, and Amanda was hearing the "o" pronunciation differently. Plus, while she had exposure to the word mosque, I'm not sure she had yet to encounter a moth. 

The reason she was being tested was because we realized late in the game that the kindergarden cutoff date was different in Minnesota than in Maryland. For months she had prepared to start kindergarden and after we moved, we realized she was ineligible due to her age (October birthdate). I couldn't imagine her waiting another whole year, plus she was already a foot taller than all the other incoming kindergardeners. Thus, we entered the alternative route which apparently was highly unpopular among school administrators. (People used it for free babysitting, they said, when I asked why the push back.)
Anyway, this was pretty much how the whole alternative route interview went: dumb question, bold answer that was slightly off but strangely on, severe admonishment. 

Amanda's kinder confidence drove the psychologist crazy, who kept saying things like: "No!" and "You're wrong!" and "Did you just make that up?!" and "Quit guessing!" and "How can you possibly know that?!" and pretty much all things inappropriate to inspire a four year old child. It was anguishing to hear, as a mother of the interviewee. I considerred stopping the test, but I knew it was her only chance to get into kindergarden and I knew she was ready. In the end, the mean school psychologist gave Amanda a pass and said she could start kindergarden, but said she was wary of her success based on her performance in the interview, which she described as "barely passing." (As an fyi, Amanda had a fantastic kindergarden year in a public Spanish immersion school, all subjects taught 100 percent in the Spanish language until second grade, was the method. Aidan would also start there. We remain friends with other parents from this school.) 

Following the interview during our drive home, I felt like I needed a shower.

This testing made me consider the grave power we have over our children, because it was I who put a pre-schooler into this horrible interview process. At four years old, my child would do whatever I asked her to do. All children would. Handle with extreme care.

I often wonder if I should have reported the incident or taken some action but it was one of those things where you just want to move forward. We were the subordinates, and I wanted my kid in kindergarden. 

That was our little taste of power and bias in standarized testing. I wish I could tell that mean school psychologist that Amanda went on to fill out her own FAFSA at age 16, etc. Actually, my true wish is this: that the school psychologist got a vacation, or higher pay, or better supervision, or more support, or removed from power, or transformation, or fired, or whatever it was she needed to quit downgrading children.

Note: Believe it or not, this story is my recent Facebook status. Lol. I think about it a lot, so thought I'd pull it over to my blog. Thanks for visiting.

Yours truly.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Thyroid Cancer Survivor Advocacy


Hey y'all, I hope to write more on this soon, because I have a lot more to say but for now:

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2015/02/06/thyroid-cancer-misconceptions_n_6617862.html

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

How to Buy Girl Scout Cookies

'Tis the season to buy Girl Scout Cookies, thus, we have many opportunities to build up young girls. Here's my short list on how to do it:

1. If you are asked to buy Girl Scout Cookies, say yes.

2. If you are not interested in the cookies, be honest with your sales rep (aka Girl Scout), but still be interested in her sales pitch. If you see a sales table at a grocery store or other public place but have not cash (seriously me, all the time), still, you can engage the sales reps (aka Girl Scouts) with questions about her product.

3. Ask your sales rep (aka Girl Scout) which cookie is most popular this year, and why. Listen, without interrupting.

4. Ask your sales rep (aka Girl Scout) how the pricing works for her product. Listen, without interrupting.

5. Ask your sales rep (aka Girl Scout) if she has a recommendation for which type of cookie you should purchase, and why. Listen, without interrupting.

6. Ask your sales rep (aka Girl Scout) about her inventory. Does she have it on hand, or say in the trunk of her mother's car? Or will she be placing an order? Listen, without interrupting.

7. Ask your sales rep (aka Girl Scout) what activities she has participated in while in Girl Scouts. Listen, without interrupting.

8. Do not patronize your sales rep (aka Girl Scout) by saying how cute she is, etc., (even though she will likely be completely adorable) or by speaking to her parents instead of her. Speak directly to her, customer to sales rep, about her product. (Her parents may answer your questions for her, as we parents often do for our children, but give it a whirl anyway, and keep relating to your sales rep.)

9. Think of another sales-related question to ask. Listen, without interrupting.

10. Buy as many boxes of cookies from as many sales reps (aka Girl Scouts) as you possibly can.

11. Conclude your business exchange in a way that conveys dignity and respect. Like you actually would if you were, say, buying a car or a house. Treat it like a business deal. Which it is. Because someday your sales rep (aka Girl Scout) will be selling a car, house, or a really good idea that will improve the world for us all, and you are helping her to prepare. You are telling her to speak up, be heard, let her light shine, share her awesomeness.

12. Nom, nom, nom. Eat without interrupting.

As for me an my household, we'll take five of everything. Come and sell to us!

Yours truly.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Girl. Wild. Gone. Great books to good movies, 2014.



Gone Girl: If you can read the book before seeing the
movie, it's totally worth it for the added twists and turns.
If you can't, read it anyway for much deeper snarkiness
from Amazing Amy, or rather, Avenging Amy.

Girl. Gone. Wild. 
Wild. Gone. Girl.
Gone. Girl. Wild.
Mathematically, I think there are nine possible orderings of these three words. Up until last year, 2014, the only arrangement I’d heard was the first one, which is usually phrased in the plural and usually does not refer to a girl gone on her own destiny. But this past year I couldn’t help but to think up different configurations of these three words, which start to sound silly if you say them over and over, in all different ways.
Labor Day: Part romance and part thriller,
but the show stealer is the boy's
coming of age story. If you like a
good old fashioned cooking kitchen,
you'll love this set.
Fresh thinking came courtesy of two books by two incredible writers -- Wild and Gone Girl -- which were turned into two blockbuster movies with thanks to the production company of Reese Witherspoon, aka Elle Woods turned June Carter turned Strong Girl. If you do an internet search on Pacific Standard, you will likely pull up an article about Reese Witherspoon’s so-called fledgling career, in spite of her Academy Award win, box office draw, and mighty filmography. In her 30s she realized that Hollywood had no meaty roles for her, nor for any woman. (Female roles are usually subordinate and typically go to the teen-esque female actors, for the few short years they are teen-esque, whereas men get roles long into their creaky years.) So, long story short, Reese Witherspoon started her own production company and is making her own movies. So far, Bob and I are loving them for their adventure, innovation, acting, and storytelling prowess. In her interviews, RW says she’s always been a reader and that’s where she’s drawing her material – from books.
Wild: read the book before, during, or
after you see the movie. Audio book
is also good listening on long road trips.
Cheryl Strayed taught at my MFA
program but did I go to her seminar? No.
I'd never heard of her and I was tired.
#hindsight
Girls gone wild books, you might say.
Two of her movies in 2014 came from books that had a big impact on me: Wild by Cheryl Strayed, and Gone Girl, by Gillian Flynn. If you have not yet read these two books, get thee behind my blog and read these books! Whatever is your daily surge, these books will pull you out and send you somewhere else, in a good way.
     Both movies were created by award-winning directors (Jean-Marc Vallée and David Fincher) yet neither were nominated for an Oscar award, outside of the two lead actors, Reese Witherspoon and Rosamund Pike, pitting two great performances against each other when both need to be celebrated for brilliance.
Across 19 non-acting categories, there are 35 women who have been nominated compared to 149 men. As my family will attest, these Oscar snubs burn me. It’s as if women’s decisions and women’s stories are not valued in Hollywood. Not a big deal if mainstream movies were not so powerful in how women are perceived. Not a big deal if I wasn’t a woman. If my daughter or mother were not women. If half the population were not women.
Our mothers, daughters, sisters, and wives are more than girls gone wild.
To answer my frustration for these obvious omissions of recognition, I’ve decided to celebrate artistic achievement in the motion picture industry here on my blog, by listing the movies I loved in 2014, and some of the amazing talent behind them. I center on the two aforementioned flicks, plus another book-driven movie, Labor Day, which was also driven by a celebrated director but completely panned by critics, I think unfairly.
Here goes.
Some of Terri’s favorite movies of 2014, which should have received copious awards in many categories from many awarding entities, including the most maddening of them all, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (aka the Oscars):
Best production company: Pacific Standard (Wild and Gone Girl)
Best movie adaptation of a memoir: Wild
Best movie adaptation of a thriller: Gone Girl
Best movie adaptation of a romance novel: Labor Day
Best actor in a movie adaptation of a memoir: Reese Witherspoon (Wild)
Best actor in a thriller: Rosamund Pike (Gone Girl)
Best actor in a romance: Kate Winslet (Labor Day)
Best adapted screenplay: Gillian Flynn (Gone Girl)
Best wilderness cinematography: Wild
Best mood-evoking color-toned cinematography: Labor Day
Best satire on the 24/7 news industry: Gone Girl
Best authors for original movie-making material and page-turning, closet-hiding, shushing-others til you’ve read the very last page material:
Nonfiction, Memoir: Cheryl Strayed (Wild)
Fiction, Thriller: Gillian Flynn (Gone Girl)
Fiction, Romance/Thriller: Joyce Maynard (Labor Day)
Best characters who ultimately created their own destiny:
Cheryl Strayed (Wild) – no job, no man, but her own destiny
Amy Elliott-Dunne (Gone Girl) – pretty creepy, but her own destiny
Adele (Labor Day) – hot guy, but her hot guy, forged family, her own destiny
Honorable mentions for fantastic supporting acting roles:
Laura Dern (Wild)
Josh Brolin (Labor Day)
Ben Affleck (Gone Girl)
Neil Patrick Harris (Gone Girl)
For me, it was a good year for books turned to movies, and discovering new authors. Oscars be damned. Heads up on what to watch-for on TV: Mary Karr’s series of memoirs (Liars Club, Cherry, and Lit) are being turned into a television serial starring the fabulous Mary Louise Parker (ala Weeds’ Nancy Botwin). It’s a good time for memoir-lovers. (Although, admittedly, Gone Girl and Labor Day are not memoirs, and I still loved them. My cup runneth over.)
Your thoughts?