From Floods to Fairies and Future Possibilities

Thursday dawned with good intentions. I was going to explore the area a little more in search of a coffee shop/book store that looked ideal for my needs. I was going to do a little job searching and take advantage of that coffee shop internet. At home, I was going to work on strengthening my resumes and perhaps unpacking some more or painting Sarah’s room.

Then came the deluge.

It had been raining much of the night, but it seemed to come down harder in the early morning hours. Just before Sarah set off for school, I suggested to Nathan that we might want to check the basement for water since our landlords had warned us of the possibility of minor flooding.

After soggy Sarah climbed onto the bus, Nathan went down to check.  “Oh, I see a little water,” he called up. “I’m going to vacuum it up!”

A few minutes pass. “CALL THE LANDLORDS! I CAN’T STOP IT!”

I call the landlords, and as I do, I glance out the back door toward the deck, to see water pouring downhill toward us in three glorious (though small) cascades.

Our personal waterfalls

Then I headed downstairs to find water spread across the entire lower level, reaching up to my ankles. Nathan was desperately moving boxes onto plastic tubs to protect them. The garage that contained most of the boxes still waiting for unpacking, although not completely covered had several large puddles. You could see where the water was pouring in through various cracks and it was incredible.

We managed to get all the boxes up. Most of them contain the books that I can’t unpack without more shelves. Thank goodness we brought extra plastic tubs.

Then we began using a wet vac to suck the water out. The vacuum held 9 gallons at a time, and before our landlords got there with a sump pump I’m sure we had sucked out well over 100 gallons, with little to show for it. Sump pump in, we kept sucking, and the landlords went and bought a second sump pump. Eventually Nathan had to get to work, but we kept plugging. The rain stop and the sun made an effort to come out. Finally, about 4 hours later, we left the dehumidifier to battle whatever moisture remained on the floor and called it good.

After that adventure I lost any enthusiasm, ability, or even focus to allow me to concentrate on achieving the goals I had set out. I wasn’t going to look for the coffee shop with road had puddles up to the bottom of my car. The boxes looked overwhelming, and my resumes are intimidating. So what did I do?

I painted.

Before we left Colorado I had a sudden urge to oil paint. I’ve never oil painted in my life, and never had any training with oils. I painted two pictures, well one and a half. The first I call “The Dream Home”, and while I don’t love how the tree came out in it, I think it was a pretty good first shot.

I’ll have to add a picture of it later as I forgot to take one and load it onto my computer.

The half painting was something I was calling “Fairy Home” and I had only gotten so far before I got intimidated and stopped. When we unpacked art, we found this painting, and Sarah said, “I like that Mommy. When it is done can I hang it in my room?”

So I decided to finish it. Please be kind:

Finally I closed Thursday down to crawl into bed exhausted and unsure after what seems like another in a series of chaotic events in my life.

But Friday began a new day, with a dry basement, internet access at a good coffee shop, and plans to go to a huge antique sale for the afternoon. Of course, first we had to deal with the bureaucracy of registering our car and getting our driver’s licenses. I won’t dwell on that, however, as I am sure we have all had our horror stories–and this one was comparatively benign although annoying at the time.

As I waded through 130+ e-mails and realized I could not catch up on all the blogging friends and other business, I found a miracle. A potential job teaching kids acting classes on Saturday mornings at a professional theater in Boston area. I jumped on it, quickly wrote a cover letter and sent off my resume. Who knows what will happen, but it was a positive step. Then I embarrassed myself by e-mailing something to a fellow blogger that was purely the fiction of my own mind, but I won’t go into that either.

Today I registered Sarah for dance class and was talking to the owner of the studio. As I did, I decided to take a leap, and told her about myself to see if she might be interested in using me in some capacity. Another miracle, she said “Yes!” It is all tentative and talk right now, but at least I put myself out there.

So, through floods and fairies I finally feel like I may be moving forward.

Care to join me in a ROAR of VICTORY?!

Advertising Self

Me for Sale

Our world runs on advertising. Homes for sale or rent, products to sell,  places to visit, services . . . we all find them through advertisements.

But advertising, as I was reminded quite painfully yesterday, can be false. (Where do people think of these scams?)

I’ve been thinking a lot about advertising lately, as I try to figure out how best to move forward into the next adventure of my life. I have to advertise myself. I have to advocate for myself as well. I have to promote and sell myself, and I simply don’t know how. I can do it for other people really well, but when it comes to self-promotion or self-advertising I feel out of my depth.

The above image is just a bit of silliness that I put together when I thought about this weeks “Weekend Theme” from Viewfromtheside’s Blog. Advertising plays such a crucial and somewhat manipulative role in our society that it is something worth thinking about.

The problem, for me at least, is that I cannot advertise falsely–especially when it comes to promoting myself. But there are so many people out there who have mastered the art of marketing themselves gloriously. I’m not saying they are all guilty of false advertising, but somehow I haven’t found the way that markets ME to the best of my ability.

Maybe I need to hire myself an advertising agency. But that requires something that I don’t have–$$$. Ah, the vicious circles of life.

How do you promote yourself?

Pursuing Passion and Creating a Life in a World Gone Mad

I have never really followed a traditional career path.

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve had tons of jobs, and have been successful at each one. Give me a challenge and I live up to it and surpass that challenge. Most of my employers would hire me back in a second.

But I’m not really a  9-5 kind of gal. I can work 40 hour weeks, and I often work more than that, but I function best in jobs that offer variety and flexibility. When I do have full-time office jobs with regular hours, I tend to fill my other time with other kinds of work to fulfill this need for diversity. At the same time, I try to go above and beyond expectations at the job itself so that I get interesting tasks assigned to me and get diversity in my regular work.

In academia, I’ve never had a tenure track position. It has nothing to do with the quality of my work, as I’ve been nominated for teaching awards, given classes and opportunities based on my work, and very rarely receive negative evaluations. Yet, when it comes to interviewing for tenure track positions, even if I make the cut of the top three, I don’t usually get the job. Why? I think it’s because people can sense that somehow I function better in a more fluid type of position, where I follow projects with passion because I choose too, not because I have to. Of course, this usually means that I work as hard or harder than many of the faculty who are tenure track–for less pay, fewer benefits, and less recognition. I do it because I care about my work and the people I work with–and at least I usually don’t have to attend quite so many meetings. That is a definite plus. I mean, meetings with a purpose I’m all for, but meeting to have meetings–not so much.

Why am I talking about this? As you know, we are planning a move to Massachusetts, which has its challenges. Finding housing seems to be the biggest one, so we are looking at the possibility of buying again. We have good credit. We have a down payment. Nathan has a job. But, as of yet, I don’t and that could limit the possibilities of what we are able to buy.

So, I spent the morning updating my LinkedIn profile, creating an on-line portfolio, sending letters to a few people, working on expanding my network, and trying to establish a more professional presence as I search for work to help us with this move. [I’ve been working so long on this computer that I just had to scrounge for a replacement battery for my mouse ;)] Of course, working on this project forces me to think about what I really want out of employment. Do I want the traditional regular hour job that comes with a secure paycheck and benefits? Or, do I want the gypsy lifestyle of a freelance worker that comes with no security, a smaller paycheck, and no benefits– but does allow for options, a flexible schedule, and projects that I choose?

The truth is I want both. But, I may not have a choice in the matter. Trying to take a little break from the work, I wandered over to Facebook only to stumble upon this thrilling news “‘Unemployed need not apply’” from PBS. Now I’ve never been unemployed (except for a few months after I graduated from my MFA program, and for a semester after having Sarah) or collected unemployment–because I’ve never been fired or downsized. I’ve always walked away from jobs because of moves or starting school or something legitimate. I’ve always left a job without burning bridges. But, ever since I graduated from my doctoral program, I haven’t had a traditional contract either.  I have worked full time for the most part, sometimes teaching more credit hours than tenure track faculty while directing shows and teaching outside classes. I have been given year-long contracts that can be renewed yearly. But I have not followed a traditional path of employment, so it looks like I’m a scattered gypsy that might be an insecure risk–even though anyone who has ever employed me would probably sing my praises.

Yet, today we live in world where people lose jobs while the rich get richer and get tax cuts. Then those same jobless people cannot get jobs because they have been unemployed, or because they have passed an invisible age line that seems to get younger and younger. In a ridiculous reflection of American society, which values youth and beauty over wisdom and learning, the system gets tougher as you get older.  Life-wise, 40 may be the new 20, but job-wise 40 is closer to retirement and redundancy–somehow out of touch with the fast-paced changes of the world.

I am not out of touch. I learn and I grow and I challenge myself on a daily basis. But on paper, I am someone who has gaps or a non-traditional resume.

So what is one to do to help secure a life and a home for a family while also living a fulfilling life in a world that doesn’t seem to want hard workers to work? Only time will tell in my situation, but the adventure is going to be an interesting one.

Satisfaction with Mediocrity

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Image by Sagolla via Flickr

I just turned in my grades for the past semester.

As usual, my emotions are a mixed bag: relief that I finished (early this semester); frustration at myself for what I didn’t accomplish; elation because of the few students that I actually reached and saw shine; anger at the students who were willing to scrape by in mediocrity.

This last feeling is the most frustrating for me. I have seen it in numerous situations lately; not just in the classroom but in people’s general attitude toward life . There seems to be a willingness to accept the mediocre. Why work for an A when a C will do? And, if you don’t get the A, then of course it is the fault of the instructor, never oneself. If you are getting less than a C, particularly an F, you can always beg for withdrawal as long as you can come up with a heart-wrenching explanation for why you never bothered to attend class or turn anything in. I am giving lots of “F”s this year.

I gave an assignment for students to create a portfolio of their work. “Lay it out nicely,” I said. “This will be useful for you in the future. Create something that you would turn in if you were applying for a job. Create a cover, label your images . . . etc.” I get a collection of images labeled with a blue pen. The cover is notebook paper, blue handwriting scribbled across.

I give the students the opportunity to create a final that is interesting to them, where they can latch onto whatever intrigued them throughout the semester and pursue that topic. I set guidelines, but I allowed. I get, an odd mixture of well thought out work merged with half-accomplished efforts.

This is not just a refection of the school I am at, but a general attitude of students today.  They want knowledge handed to them in the simplest way possible, and then they want some kind of guarantee that all of this work will lead to a lucrative job. I cannot give those guarantees, because I would never hire them. If I owned my own company, I would only want to hire people who are willing to put something more than mediocrity into everything they do. I want to work with people who can find inspiration in anything, so that they do it all with joy. I want to work with people who are not satisfied with a C.

I wonder if this is a reflection of American culture. Have we become so complacent that we are somehow “the best” that we no longer strive to become better. I hate to think that the best we can do is middle of the road.

What do you think?

On Tax Refunds, Coffee Shops, and Random Thoughts

I admit it, I’ve always wanted to be Carrie Bradshaw. Okay, maybe not exactly Carrie Bradshaw in terms of crazy sex life, super high heels, and high fashion in New York City (although I’m sure that, for a short time at least, that would be fun), but the Carrie Bradshaw who sits in a coffee shop in the middle of New York City writing about whatever she feels like at the moment. And getting paid for it!

So today, after finding out that we actually are getting a decent tax refund, I decided that I will pay myself, by sitting in a coffee shop and writing about whatever I feel like at the moment. I also decided I’ve written too many depressing blogs lately, and that I need to envision  what I really want for my life. So here it is, I want to be able to sit in a coffee shop, writing, and get paid for it.  There, I said it.  But, the question is, what do I want to write?

I already have one novel written (for middle-grade readers) although I still have to find a publisher. I have several others started, although they seem to have stalled out as I face this complex search for a new job, a new career, and a new life. And in this blog you can see several attempts at poetry (although definitely not my best).  I used to want to be a journalist, but is that even an option now, with newspapers and magazines suffering along with the rest of the economy?  I’m writing this blog, but where will that lead?  I doubt very much that I will be the next writer of Julie & Julia merely based on blog posts (although I won’t deny that the fantasy of that is there). Who wouldn’t like to be discovered unexpectedly, just based on the random thoughts she places in a blog?  I’ve imagined being discovered in so many moments of my life . . . but that’s a rare occurence of course, and I recognize that hard work is the more likely road to success.

But, then again, the unanswerable question for me is how do I define success?  Do I have to be published and become a recognizable name? Or can I ever be satisfied simply doing good work and being acknowledged by my peers?  I can’t answer that question at the moment, because I haven’t allowed for the possibility that I am successful in my life already. Is that because I strive for perfection, which I can never achieve? Or am I allowing an outside definition of success to dictate who I am and what I become?

I think that, here and now, I want to create my own definition of success.  One that applies to me, and makes me feel proud of who I am regardless of where I am and what others say. So, from now on my definition of success includes sitting in a coffee shop, writing!  Hey, look at that, I’m successful!

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