Monday, October 29, 2012

Radio Blessing

Last week, I had the opportunity to visit my sister in Edinboro.  Because she doesn't drive and our schedules rarely mesh (she works odd hours for the food industry and, until recently, I was working daylight hours), we see each other maybe once a year.  I decided to capitalize on having a completely open schedule and see if there would be a good time to visit her. 

Lo and behold; there was!

Last Wednesday, after my husband insisted I have my car's oil changed, I drove for two lovely and autumnal foliage-filled hours up to my sister's place.  As I had some time completely to myself, I prayed a bit and asked God for direction.  I asked him to help me to do the things I know he has called me to do - mostly, to write.  I have two ideas for novels that I really believe have come from him, and I love to write, but I find it very difficult to set aside blocks of time to write and edit.  It's like, I will get these kicks where I sit and whole scenes or ideas just flow through me and I am so proud of myself, and feel so accomplished...but then I will allow days to pass before I even think of writing again.  I hate that about myself.  I'm pretty sure, though, I am not the only person who feels like that in one way or another.  Some folks might feel that way about other crafts or hobbies, or exercise (yeah, I'm in that boat, too), or maybe about cooking or baking (you know what I mean...the day-long epic cookie/muffin/bread marathon...then nothing home-made for months). 

And, in a way that I haven't experienced for some time, God answered me: immediately, lovingly, and boldly. 

The road to Edinboro is littered with mediocre country music, talk radio, and a handful of crummy pop stations.  I spent a good 25 minutes just flipping between stations, trying to find something decent that wasn't marred by static.  I caught the word "discipline" on a Christian broadcast and thought maybe I should keep listening.  The speaker was Chip Ingram.  I hadn't really heard of him before, but his message was powerful and completely relevant for my current situation.

His short sermon, which was geared toward a small-group setting, was about discipline, goal-setting, and that much-despised concept in today's society: delayed gratification.  The main thrust of the message was a very simple but eye-opening one - for me, at least.  It was this: self-control and discipline are not about denying ourselves so much as they are about foregoing temporal pleasures for a much more wonderful future goal. 

This really hit home for me because I really struggle with instant gratification.  If I come into money, I want to spend it immediately.  It's not always on frivolous, selfish treats, mind you, but I'm more likely to buy a few cute pairs of cheap, trendy shoes than I am to save up for a really classy, well-made pair.  And, as for dieting, well, can I get an "amen"?  It's so hard for me to envision a future where I really am my ideal weight, and where food is more about satisfation and nutrition than about "OMGthisissogoodIneedtoeatthewholeboxrightnow". 

Chip's message was about forgetting the idea that we are depriving ourselves - whether it is with food, pleasure, free time, whatever.   Instead, we are making a "down payment" on a goal that, for us, is much more important and, ultimately, satisfying, than whatever it is we're currently denying.  I think that might really help with healthier eating.  For example,  cookies really taste delicious, but my goal is to be healthy and avoid the health problems that plague my family.  Since the cookie doesn't contribute to that goal, it gets skipped over - or, at least, consumed in moderation.  This could apply to the job market, too.  For people who want to move ahead in their fields or move into new ones, reviewing each potential new task this way could really help.  If it's optional, of course.  I'm hardly saying to say "no" to staying late one night because it's not in your ultimate plan. 

For me, my ultimate goal in this lifetime is to be a full-time writer.  (Okay, it's really to be a mom, but it seems like those plans are on hold right now.)  I want to publish the family-friendly plays I have written.  I want to finish the stories and novels I have constantly banging around in my head.

For me, the hindrances are...well, yeah.  Facebook.  Instagram.  Wikipedia.  The internet: the tool that I could be using as a force for good, um, is using me as a force for apathy and obsession and otherwise diffusing the well-meant dedication I always have when I start out. 

I like thinking about self-discipline this way.  It's not about punishing ourselves for having desires.  It's denying the immediate "wants" so that the ultimate result is much, much more satisfying.   It's about putting the flesh on hold so that it can truly and wholly enjoy what is on the way.

To that end, I'm going to write reminders to myself and post them all over my house.  Even on my mirrors.  So that when I get ready in the morning (or whenever I get around to getting ready), I can look myself in the eye and say, "Don't settle for less than the best.  Even if it takes a while to get here!"

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Job-Hunting is Like Giving a Cat a Pedicure...

...awkward, draining, and potentially lethal.  And very, very humbling.

Don't you just hate it when a teacher or employer makes you "assess yourself"?  All those painful, awkward questions...making you think about your talents, your challenges, your successes and failures...


Well, this time it's not a well-meaning authoritarian who's forcing me to evaluate my skill set.  It's just little old me, sitting at the computer with my warm can of Pepsi Next and a cat chattering at the window (our local cardinal couple is taunting Loki).  And I am poring through literally hundreds of jobs in the Pittsburgh area.  Most of them are well above my skill set and experience range (you know, like the Director of Marketing and Technological Advancement and Other Things You'll Never Comprehend Department at Carnegie Mellon).  A lot of them don't work with my availability.  I'm not being picky; I have religious obligations on both Saturdays and Sundays and therefore cannot regularly work weekends.  It's not like I'm sleeping in until 3:oo PM and then going out to party all night!

So I am at a bit of a standstill.  I joined LinkedIn about a month before I lost my job at Fenner.  It's funny...about three months ago is when I started seriously looking for other work.  It wasn't that I was unhappy at Fenner.  I certainly couldn't complain about my hours (perfect), or co-workers (generally awesome), or the commute (8 minutes with traffic)!  It was that I wanted something more fulfilling.  A different career path.  So I started poking around.

And here I am, still poking. 

On LinkedIn, I've seen some of the people who graduated with me from Clarion.  Granted, I don't know most of them personally (the English and Theatre departments were relatively intimate, mind you), but I'm looking at their current job titles and wondering how they possibly ended up so awesome and important and special.  Not that Clarion grads aren't all of those things, of course.  They are!  I went to school with some pretty amazing people!  But I had to ask myself if maybe...just maybe...some of those fancy titles weren't a little bit puffed up - even by the companies themselves?  I mean...a cashier could call herself a "Financial Exchange Overseer"...couldn't she?  A janitor could say he's a  "Systems and Facility Maintenance Coordinator".  Even a blogger could list "Social Observation Analyst and Reporter" as a job, right?

So, hard as it is, I'm trying not to get caught up in the allure of important-sounding monikers and fluffy, highfaluting job descriptions.  I'm trying to look for jobs that are close in proximity to my home (I'm not that interested in a 45-minute commute...again), for reputable companies, within my skill set, and offer decent pay.  Simple.

Apparently there isn't much out there for a conservative, well-spoken, educated, book-loving, high-energy, customer-friendly 30-something with fantastic taste in footwear from Carnegie.

Well, nothing that pays more than $9.50 an hour, anyway. 

I gotta keep on truckin'...

Friday, October 19, 2012

Being Wrong Can Be DELICIOUS!

Recently, my sister-in-law and her hubby sent Ross a gift card to Trader Joe's for his birthday (he reluctantly admitted that he is entering his "mid-thirties" now...and he doesn't like it).  I had only been to Trader Joe's once before, and it was when the store near South Hills Village had just opened.  It was crowded - very crowded - and I could barely move around, much less find any great products or deals.  Unfortunately, it left a little bit of a bad taste in my mouth.  I hadn't had the chance to see what people were raving about, so I just sort of shrugged it off and kept shopping elsewhere.

However, we ran out of chicken breasts this week.  And that gift card meant that more chicken breasts were already lovingly paid for by Jay and Lindsey!  So off I went.

Let me tell that I was actually able to move around the store and not be accidentally crammed into a corner by over-eager, elbow-tossing hipsters...I really like the place!

Other than a few posts I wrote a few years back about my favorite bargain places to shop, I don't typically try to promote any particular brand or product.  I'm certainly not being endorsed by anyone!  But this post is as much about self-discovery as it is about organic-food-discovery.

I had this image in my head - and I have absolutely no clue where it came from - that Trader Joe's was for slightly snobbish, holistic, earth-mothery people who still managed to drive the biggest gas-guzzling SUVs on their block.  That the food was overpriced and just as uppity as the customers.  Wow - was I ever wrong!

Sometimes, it's awesome to be wrong.  Because, when you find out you're wrong, you get a whole new insight on life.  And, in my case, you get to save a huge amount of money on your grocery bill while trying new things (kale, anyone?)...and that makes an acceptable side dish for humble pie!

I went twice this week and actually found myself doing double takes when I checked the prices.  Trader Joe's version of Nutri-Grain bars was only $1.99?  And it's made with organic ingredients?  Nutri-Grain bars are $2.50 when they are on sale at Giant Eagle.  It didn't take long for me to realize that all of my perceptions were completely mistaken.  Strange how crazy ideas can get into our head and then flat-out refuse to leave, huh?

I was also delighted with the variety of slightly quirky products that Trader Joe's carries.  I brought home their "Inner Peas" - a crunchy and light snack actually made from green garden peas - and it's pretty tasty (my hubby calls them "pea fries")!  Also, my new favorite carb is their whole wheat Tuscan pane bread.  I bought another loaf today even though I still have half a bag left.  I don't want to run out! 

"So," I joked with my lovely, organic-friendly sis-in-law, "It appears that you have converted us!"

"Muah, ha, ha!  That was my evil plan all along!" was her reply.

Best evil plan ever

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

A Dream Is A Wish...

I admit, I have been trying not to get sucked into total couch potato-dom during this season of unemployment.  I'm trying to write, to get out of the house, to clean (ha, ha!), to lose some weight (only 1200 calories a day?  Are you KIDDING?) to spend some time with family...
...but, you know, things happen.  I ended up watching the entire first season of Once Upon a Time in about three days.  I even had Ross watching with me near the end, after I carefully laid out the plot for him.  (I guess I did an okay job; he followed pretty well.)
I have always loved to see fairy tales reworked - I like the idea of exploring the "after happily ever after" as much as I love the  simple joy of the happy endings themselves.  So many of the stories that we hold dear - Cinderella, Snow White, Beauty and the Beast - are only a few of many, many versions that have been handed down through centuries of retellings, both written and oral.  As a storyteller myself, secretly love the idea that, perhaps, one night, while a particular proto-feminist bard was regaling his listeners with the tale of Little Red Riding Hood, he decides that it wasn't the Huntsman who killed the wolf, but a brave Red herself!  Perhaps a mother telling the story of Cinderella to her children and remembering her own abusive childhood, added the characters of the two wicked stepsisters as a final act of judgment on her own family.  Therefore, I have really enjoyed the modern twist on fairy tales that the ABC series is producing.
I was brushing my teeth the other day and I got to thinking about the plot - a young boy is the only believer in an ancient curse that affects his entire town - and it really hit home.  Because he's right.
It's all true.
Why have these sorts of stories captured our imaginations for hundreds of years?  Why do our hearts break when love seems forever lost?  Why do we rage when the villain - the witch, the demon, the troll - deceives the hero?  Why do our spirits soar when the prince victoriously kills the dragon?

Because the story being told is our story.

We are the helpless, trapped children of the King - all of us.  We have been tricked by the wicked, bloodthirsty enemy who has disguised himself as something utterly harmless.  Our rights and privileges and inheritance have been stolen from us through deceit.  Love and hope are lost to us - but for the King's Son, who has come to save us.  His presence forces the enemy to reveal his true form - and the battle begins.  Blood is spilt, and a price is paid.  Our freedom is won through sacrifice.  We are reinstated as princes and princesses, and our Father the King forgives us for trusting the one who would destroy us. 

All art is inspired, whether by God, man, or the devil.  I truly think that God inspired the threads of these stories as they were woven into and through countless cultures and languages with but one theme: good will win.  The enemy will be found out and destroyed, and the prince will reign triumphant over his beloved kingdom.

Happily ever after.  Forever.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Things I've Learned Whilst Being Unemployed

1. I drink coffee more now than I did when I was working.

2. If you don't shower within 3 hours of waking up, you don't shower at all.

3. Eating can become a hobby if you aren't careful.  I am not careful.

4. I have more time than ever to maintain the house, and less desire than ever to do so.

5. My cats spend 85% of the day sleeping.  They are shockingly dedicated to their art.

6. I cannot hide birthday gifts from my husband (actually, I knew that before I lost my job).

7. Creating a routine without the obligation of a third-party (work, etc.) is nearly impossible.

8. Tumblr can be a scary place.

9. It is impossible to convince a cat that a laptop is not a heating pad.

10.  This isn't as relaxing as I was hoping it would be.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

The Measure of a Man Is Not His Cheekbones

Recently, I mused on facebook why the "Geek" section of Pinterest hadn't already been changed to the Gallery of Tom Hiddleston, David Tennant and Benedict Cumberbatch.  Honestly.  Cheekbones, moody stares, dramatic coats and fantastic hair galore.  So little posted about Stargate, or X-Files, or Flash Gordon or  Star Trek: The Next Generation (other than those awesome Picard memes).

I don't know what happened, exactly, but somewhere along the line, society has confused fangirls and geek-girls.  Which is sort of embarrassing for me.  And this is a problem.

Allow me to explain. 

It's like the difference between a football fan and, say a Troy Polamalu fan.  You can like Troy without being a fan of the Steelers.  You can like Troy without being a fan of football at all, really.  You can just admire him, think he's attractive, or nice, or a great player, or whatever other reason that makes you like him.

But a football fan likes football, no matter who's which teams are playing, who is traded, or who's out for the season.  Football, to them, is football.  It's bigger than the sum of its players.

So it is with geek girls.  We like science fiction and/or fantasy because they're cool.  Personally, I liked the Avengers movie because the special effects were great, the exploration of the characters' relationships was satisfying, it was funny and exciting, the acting was super, the actors obviously cared about - even loved - their roles, and the fandom that has risen up around it is epic.  I love seeing the interviews and how the cast interacted off-screen.  I enjoy the BBC's Sherlock series because I am fascinated at the way they are reworking classic literature in a way that is not only palatable but riveting to a modern audience.  I am transfixed by the technology used.  I am loving the development of the characters.  The acting is beyond brilliant.  I am incredibly excited to see all of these actors take on new roles (The Hobbit, anyone?!)

Yes.  The actors playing the heroes - and villains - are obscenely good-looking human beings.  (I admit, though, I prefer short-ish blue-eyed bald guys - one in particular.  Call me old-fashioned.)  Giving them superpowers (or near superpowers) makes them even more attractive.  But this is the thing, people.  Being admirers of Loki, or Hawkeye, or Sherlock, or the actors playing them...this is the entirety of fangirl-ness.  It doesn't proceed past that!  A fangirl might further research an actor or role because she finds him (or her) sexy or interesting, and then post 3,422 pictures of said actor or character on Pinterest, but that's it

Being a fangirl without progressing to a geek-girlhood as well is like nibbling on nothing but a turkey leg while ignoring the whole decadent Thanksgiving spread before you.  A geek girl devours her prey whole.  Even the vegetables.  A turkey leg - even an, um, sexy one - doesn't ultimately give you everything you need.

A geek-girl can also be a fangirl.  But a fangirl isn't necessarily a geek-girl.  There's nothing wrong with a fangirl.  We need fangirls.  They are great.  They are fun.  They dream.  They are passionate. 

But I'll be darned the next time I hear a fangirl talk about how much she loves comics when the only Marvel characters she can name came directly from a recently released major motion picture.

And if she doesn't know Loki was once a woman.


Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Entering New Territory...

For much of my life, I'm afraid I chose to take a pessimistic viewpoint.  On pretty much everything.  People probably woulnd't like me; I probably wouldn't get the roles I auditioned for, I probably wouldn't ever get married; people would probably misunderstand me; I'd probably never be happy.

I wish I could say that, when I found Christ, that attitude changed overnight and I woke up a wide-eyed, fantastically-coiffed Disney princess with a melody in my heart, but things didn't work out that way.  Instead, my journey away from pessimism has crossed a long bridge of realism and there have been detours into rationalism and egoism, fanaticism and legalism, materialism and idealism. 

I still sometimes struggle with anxiety stemming from assuming the worst about people and situations.  It's not debilitating, not anything that needs medication or counseling (at least I think not), but it sometimes interferes with my relationships and my sense of peace.

Today was one of those days where NONE of that applied.  It should have, but it didn't.

Around 3:00 today, I was called into my manager's office and respectfully told that since the company had recently lost so many major clients, lay-offs were necessary.

And I was one of them.

I cocked my head to one side and heard words coming out of my mouth, but I don't remember thinking them or even really saying them.  I said something along the lines of understanding that the situation must be stressful and difficult for her, and asking for a reference, and asking if the change was effective immediately.

Yes, yes, and yes, came the replies.

And I shook her hand, thanked her, and left the office.

I returned to my desk, pulled down the pictures of my husband and myself, put my empty coffee mug into my bag, and - in the back of my mind, somewhere - I thought that it was infinitely convenient that I'd left my cloth grocery bag in my desk the night before, so I had somewhere to put my pictures and coffee mugs.

It seemed to me that the layoffs were being done quietly, so I didn't say anything as I left.  I assume that my co-workers thought I was headed to another doctor's appointment, and I left it at that.

I feel that this was a fairly sudden decision.  I had just been moved from my cardiology account to work on two I hadn't worked on before.  I had moved to a desk in another part of the office, and I was really excited for the challenge.  I was ready for a fresh start, to apply some of the things I had learned previously, and to really put my all into working these new accounts.  I had determined that I wouldn't get behind on my work, that I would stay positive, and that I would be as organized and neat as I possibly could. 

Even though I'd only been on the accounts for a week, I was feeling pretty good. 

Today was definitely unexpected.  I left the office in a little bit of a daze, but when I got to the parking lot, I was in my right mind, at least enough to destroy a large bug that landed on my door, while simultaneously waving good-bye to two of my co-workers and talking to my husband on the phone (shock does not, apparently, affect my ability to multi-task). 

Ross took things extremely well.  He even joked that I told him the wrong way.  I was supposed to ask him to join me for lunch - like he did when he lost his job at the Treasury Department.  Of course, I came home and immediately applied for unemployment and starting the job hunt.  Dollar Bank, I am hoping, would take me back, and there are a lot of options out there for me.  Still, I am dead-set on having regular daylight hours so I can continue to work with the youth at church.  At this point, that is now my number one priority. 

It has to be.  If I overanalyze, I might lose my mind again.

So, in the meantime, I'll write, I'll photograph, I'll keep dreaming.  I will do something.  I am grateful that I am quickly coming to terms with our most recent loss, or this whole situation would be an ugly bomb of mascara-smeared depression waiting to explode.  See?  God knew.  People can say what they want.  I don't care.  I don't believe that God brings evil situations into our lives, but I do believe that he gives us the opportunity to learn from them and use them to prepare for our futures.  The way that this last miscarriage unfolded brought me sorrow but a lot of peace.  If this one had been like the last, losing my job would have been absolute chaos.  Knowing myself, I believe it would have sent me packing back for the road towards pessimism.  Maybe worse.

But that's not how things happened.  And there's a reason.

Just last night, Pastor Stephanie shared with our leadership small group a lesson: that stretching for your goals is impossible without first having goals.  Sometimes they are God-given, others they are given by parents, employers, or teachers. 

And so here is mine, without fanfare, without fuss, for all the internet to see: as I am looking for another job that allows me to keep working with the youth, I am going to finish my book.  The one that's been rolling around in my head for a year and a half now, the one that's been on my mind almost as much as my grief.  The one that makes me laugh when I think about it.  The one that I picture in my head like a movie.

The one that was meant to be written.