Not really that cool

Woke up for frosted mini-wheats with my man, called about a job at a horse stables, sent in a volunteer application to the aquarium, emailed with them about marine rescue, and now I am planning a bachelorette part-tay for my dearest childhood friend. Over the weekend we went to a couple parties, one of which I got kind of depressed about. Mostly a head cold made everything kind of slow and beautiful, but some old friends were there and the disconnect was obvious. I guess, sure, everyone says you can outgrow friends; they change, you change, whatever; it's a cliche. But this seemed different. I get really turned off by a sort of hipster/New York aesthetic, and it is definitely exacerbated by groups of aspiring stand-up comedians; especially, apparently, the ones I used to be close to. There was arrogance in spades, various attempts to look and sound cool, and worse, perhaps, annoying conversational games that were foils designed to make the New Yorker seem smarter than the other person. The thing is, these are traits I used to be intrigued by, traits I used to think indicated creativity.

I think that since finding a serious partner I have come all the way around on the other side. Not only are those traits un-intriguing, but more importantly, they are the antithesis of what being in real relationship is all about. Working to be honest, be fair, be realistic, be better than you thought you could be, that kind of thing. I mean, of course you're not always going to be un-mysterious or always straightforward, but those traits, when they surface, can be really nice, I mean, really valuable and helpful and necessary to everyone involved. There's no reason to fight the urge to be straightforward, is there? And then the thing is, being honest and all that makes good friendships, too, and makes a lot of good things. It's hard when you can't have a real conversation.

Going to this party (where, by the way, I actually had a nice time for the most part and was very glad to be invited) kind of sorted some of those things out for me. Then I came back and wrote a whole essay on it in this blog, which was promptly lost the moment I hit the "post & publish" button. Them's the breaks, I guess.

Should I take a class in magazine publishing at the Cambridge Center for Adult Ed? It meets throughout the summer. During the day. Am I REALLY not going to have a job by then?

Hm. The answer might be yes.

Off for a walk on the Esplanade!


Po Bronson Sucks

So, how's this for lost? This morning I downloaded an application to do volunteer reforestation work in Mexico. I posted my resume with the Army's Civilian Career website, aiming hard for the coast guard. I called Second Chance Equine Rescue in Belmont, MA and left a message volunteering my services. I left a posting on care-taker.com, offering to work on a farm. I said I was good with horses and dogs. You see this? This desperate, almost pleading attempt not to look for office work? It's tearing me up. Because, the fact is, you can only really relish unemployment for so long. Not to wallow in too deep a pool of self-pity or anything, but I am getting bored. I talked to a big biker guy in the laundromat yesterday who said this whole economy thing should turn around in a about a year and a half. A year and a half? Sounds terminal to me.


Blogs: Good for Something

Hey, remember my Job Fair posting from April 8 ("When I Grow Up")? Now you can also find it here, retitled and in the webzine Identity Theory. Manifest destiny! I feel drunk with power.


The Gift

The summer that I turned 14, I enrolled in an intermediate-level writing class at Writers & Books, which was then (and still is) the literary epicenter of Rochester, NY. I would ride my bike there from our house on pink summer mornings. It was not my first writing class at W & B, and I was also an occasional participant in their weekly open poetry readings, so I was comfortable and happy in the two-story house that served as a classroom, retreat, and performance space. Our teacher was punk rock, around age 26 or 27, and married to a drummer in a rock band. They were moving to the South as soon as she finished teaching the class, so each week we heard a little bit more about their packing and planning. I saw her, always, as someone very interesting. Her hair was dyed black, cut short and hacked and she was, in my opinion, very beautiful.

The class was comprised of mixed ages and levels; I remember writing a short story and reading Kafka's The Metamorphosis for the first time, which I loved. I wasn't at all a brilliant writer or anything, but I was very curious about everything. At the end of the summer, our teacher took me aside during our last class and handed me a book, saying, "You won't like this now, but read it sometime." It was Candide by Voltaire. It moved with me from place to place for the next twelve years, and this morning, at 7:30, I walked down to the Starbucks in Watertown Square and read the whole thing. I'd read bits before, but never from cover to cover.

What a perfect book to read right now, given both the war and my current state of unemployment. I laughed and laughed. Voltaire is a very funny person. I have to say, reading a book that was written during the year 1758 left me startled to realize how very little has changed. It also made me remember how much I used to enjoy philosophy. In fact, as sometimes happens at the pick-up joints that my favorite writing haunts happen to be, just as I finished the last sentence, I was approached by a man who'd been eyeing me from across the room. "Is Voltaire hard reading?" he asked. "No," I said, "it's wonderful," and smiled politely. But not engagingly. Being more utterly unavailable than I have ever been in my entire life, I've gotten good at perfecting my firm-but-polite "thanks but no thanks" responses without being a jerk (or, god, at least that's what I hope). Still undaunted, he said, "Are you a literature student or a philosophy student?" I told him I was neither, which is when he said, "You're reading that for pleasure?" and literally backed away without another word. I didn't want to be engaging, but I didn't expect my reading motives to be what drove him away. It was kind of strange. It is really a very good, short, funny book. I recommend it to everyone.

Anyway, while walking home I considered the character of the ever-hopeful Pangloss, the optimistic philosopher who believed that all was for the best, including war and poverty and torture. He was the live-in philosopher in the home where Candide grew up, and was, of course, kind of ridiculous. Still, Pangloss made me wonder what would it be like to be a contemporary philosopher, and perhaps to philosophize to children in the house of a Baron, like he did. I thought about my philosophies, like what child beauty pageants are culturally indicative of and the view of middle-age from 26 and what's behind the cause of all the immigrant workers working on the yards of those big Cambridge houses during the middle of the day. What higher education means. Jeb Bush. Other things. Is that philosophy? Is it only philosophy if it comes back to evil? Doesn't everything?

Forgive me, I just read Candide.
I had an awesome weekend, for the most part. On Saturday afternoon my friend Matt and I went to the horse track and watched six races. I'd never been to the track before. I'd also never bet on anything before. I lost $5. But Matt won $11.20, so the betting overall was a success, plus I got to see horses up close and in all their sweaty, speeding glory. My breath was taken away more than once. Plus, there's something cool about being unemployed and at the track. Of course, there's also something kind of depressing about it, but still I'm going back soon.

On Sunday Blue and I hooked up our brand-new hitch rack to the brand-new hitch on my car, and drove our bikes up the coast to the Plum Island wildlife refuge. We parked in town and then biked out there, past vast salt marshes and kids on Easter-egg hunts under a big blue sky. People leaving church in reverence and spring clothes. It seems like Easter is getting to be a bigger holiday, doesn't it? Or maybe that's New England. Anyway, we celebrated with chocolate bunnies on the beach in the middle of the day and a kite flying right into the sun. We came home with sunburned faces. It was a perfect afternoon.


Small Trips

After taking in the view from the top of Prospect Hill in Waltham last weekend, we decided to bushwhack our way down. Because we'd been up early that morning for the first bike ride of the season and I was already tired, I was none too pleased with the steep climb, which reminded me how my thighs do burst with fire on these April hikes. But the sun was beautiful through the bare trees, which surrounded the drain of office buildings that ring Rt. 128. On the way up, we noticed a pair of strange stone lean-tos which sheltered only some charred wood, two blank pieces of paper, and an open jar of rotting gherkins. We moved on.

At the top of the hill, one can achieve a stunning view of Waltham and downtown Boston. We sat down on a wooden picnic table at the base of a massive industrial tower. Competing sets of couples lingered around our spot, eager to take in the view and be more romantic than us. Fortunately, no one can be more romantic than us, as I was reminded when D. tried to set off an avalanche with a chunk of bricks and I attempted to repeatedly smash a piece of old pottery found art against a rock in the hopes it would shatter. It never did.

Anyway, finally fleeing the bevy of other Sunday-afternoon couples, we were stumbling through the woods when my partner in crime picked up a tattered piece of paper. Looking at it closely, we soon realized that it was the final page of a tax form from 1997. Naturally, being a good citizen, I would never post the names or social security numbers on the Web, but I can tell you that this couple made $1,804,379 that year. This is not your average couple. I have the form right here, as a matter of fact, and the SS# of the preparer as well. Now, as you may have inferred, there are several odd things about this find. 1. Why was this piece of paper left in the Waltham woods? 2. Why did we find it so close to tax day? 3. Is there any way we can use this information to become professional swindlers, assuming our good-consience problem can be set aside? 4. Does this have anything to do with the jar of rotting gherkins? Naturally we immediately googled the people upon returning home, and promptly determined their religion, occupations, and current marital status. But not being of sound criminal mind, neither I nor Peaches can go much further from there. We aren't very good at breaking out of what we like to do. I like to write and he likes to study DNA. I suppose he could test it for DNA and I could write a short story about it. Still, not particularly lucrative.

But that wasn't all we found, that fateful day in the corporate woods of Waltham. No, sir. A little further, under some old leaves, there was a 1997 worksheet for a family trust. Also odd, although ultimately uninformative. Next we found a golf ball in the mud that read, "Stolen from Heavy Hitters." We also found a piece of paper that was part of a passport application, but it wasn't interesting or confidential like the rest of our loot, so we left it there. I took some pictures of moss and D. took some pictures of skunk cabbage, and we went on our way. Total collection for the afternoon: 2 sensitive financial documents, 1 stolen golf ball, 1 small sprouting acorn (which we potted at home and named Ernest). Not a bad take for a Sunday walk.


A walk today, and miles of weaving through the neighborhood to find my favorite spot, the old Watertown Ironworks, only to be steered off course by a man on the property who is nice enough, but is a builder and will be putting up "a dealership" he says in a couple of months. He catches me off guard and as he approaches, I am nervously fumbling the camera, pose and aim and the battery dies as I push the button. Frantic reloads and it never turns on again. "I'm an amateur" I tell him and he says it's OK if I take pictures, he just happens to be on site that day, but the batteries are dead and I couldn't find the back-ups and damn the digital camera, damn it. He stands too close and warns me off the rest of the property. Still, I got lots of shots earlier of the Philip K. Fantasia sign and the purple house and the unseen garage and the strange Watertown statues. And I sat in the window of Starbucks and wrote and wrote and I think I'm done, not done, perhaps, but finished for the first time. Finished and scared of what to do next.

A good quote from Bonnie's blog today:

"The reasonable man adapts himself to the world: The unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore, all progress depends on the unreasonable man."

- George Bernard Shaw


When I Grow Up

Since losing my job, I have discovered that TBS shows 4 back-to-back reruns of Dawson's Creek every morning from 8-12. I love Dawson's Creek. Today, unfortunately, there was a conflicting event: a "Women For Hire" job fair today in downtown Boston. Being a woman for hire myself, I went.

8am: First episode of Dawson's Creek begins. Jen and Joey are fighting over Dawson. Jack and Dawson are fighting over Joey. Pacey gets in a fight with his dad.
8:30am: I turn off the television. My boyfriend is right. I should go to the stupid job fair.
9am: Showered, blow-dried, ironed, and ready. The cat throws herself between me and the front door. Somewhere, the second episode of Dawson's Creek starts.
9:40am: Leave Kinko's in Harvard Square with 30 beautifully printed copies of my resume, blissfully unaware that I will still have 29 copies by the end of the day.
10am: Exit downtown subway station. Battle high winds in search of Suisse Hotel. Episode #3 begins. On someone's TV, Joey and Jen are making up.
10:10am: I walk into the hotel only 10 minutes after the start, looking for a lonely conference room filled with hopeful employers. Instead, am immediately confronted with hundreds of women lined up in their interview best. Settle into line, reading Raymond Chandler's "The Man Who Liked Dogs." Behind me, women my age are chatting earnestly about their intensive job search. Feel bored by their conversation.
10:55 am: After the passing of many moons, am finally allowed inside small conference room. Promptly approached by women at the Wal-Mart booth. Why would Wal-Mart come to a professional women's job fair? For that matter, why would Starbucks? Or Crate & Barrel? Women are wearing neon yellow happy-face buttons and blue Wal-Mart vests. I scurry away.
10:58am: Get involved in long conversation with man at Dept. of Homeland Security table. He gives me a Border Patrol application.
11:00am: Someone out there is watching the final Creek episode of the morning. Joey probably misses Dawson, but can't bring herself to tell him so.
11:05am: Get involved in long conversation with woman my age at the U.S. Department of State table. What is wrong with me? Why am I only interested in being a special agent? Girl tells me about her week in Beijing. Promises me travel. Tells me I have a good chance of getting hired. I want to tell her that I'm not sure I even believe in law enforcement, that mostly I am so tired of meaningless office work. I want to ask her: what is the opposite of meaningless office work? Should I join the Secret Service like she did? Can I still have a home and a family? I want to grab her and say, tangible results! Give me tangible results! I tell her I have a master's degree in education. She smiles.
11:08am: Swipe brochures off of the DEA table. I could drug-bust. This is how I am at every job fair. Meanwhile, the other applicants flood the Morgan-Stanley table.
11:10am: Back out on the street. Veer into Macy's. I see the woman who sold me both the black coat and black blazer I am wearing at this very moment. She is a wild-eyed Russian with decades of service for Macy's. She has talked me into spending hundreds of dollars over the last four years and wants to know if she can help me buy the cute denim jacket I am eyeing.
12:00pm: On someone's TV set, A Wedding Story begins on TLC.
12:05pm: 70 dollars worth of blouses later, I stop for some sushi before heading home. Vow to either become a cop or stop going to job fairs, or both.

Total take:
1 mini Luna Bar
2 Dept. of Homeland Security pens
1 Suisse Hotel pencil
1 Drug Enforcement Administration pen/highlighter
1 U.S. Customs Service pen
1 lint remover from General Dynamics
1 tin of mints from General Dynamics
1 U.S. Dept. of State laminated bookmark
1 U.S. Border Patrol CHIP CLIP (so cool!)
1 U.S. Dept. of State Computer Security Calendar ("Once information is shared on the Web, it belongs to everyone" -January 2003 "Be aware of social engineering. Verify the person to whom you are speaking prior to releasing information over the phone" -February 2003)
1 canvas tote bag from Diplomatic Security Systems that has a silouhette of a cool-looking girl aiming a gun, emblazoned with the words "Become a Special Agent."

Not bad. After the fair, I compared notes with a woman with a heavy Puerto Rican accent. She asked me what I thought, and I honestly told her I was bored. She concurred.
Still, we agreed, we did get lots of free stuff. As I left, I could see women of all ages and races streaming into the hotel. I wanted to tell them, "Turn back! there's nothing there but pens!" but stayed quiet.
We watched an amazing movie on Friday night: The Fast Runner, which just came out on DVD. It is an epic (3 hour) Inuit tale that takes place on the barren ice floes north of Canada. The movie reminded me of Jarmusch's Dead Man because of the profound sense of clinging to being human--not just alive, but kind and just and emotional---that can happen in a barren landscape when death, or evil, or both, is hot on your heels. And what a sound track. Watch it if you can.


And You Thought You Were Self-Absorbed

Being jobless has made me think hard about the direction of my career and interests. One central problem is that I have very little interest in actually working full-time right now. That last job was kind of awful. In general, blogging about it seemed unprofessional, but the fact is, I was miserable. And now I'm free! But free to do what? Look for another office/computer job? I don't wanna. And then that thought is always closely followed by the image of me in six months, at the end of my state-supported unemployment and unable to find a job. Desperate. Crazed. You get the picture.

In order to stop lashing myself with my own paranoia, I have developed several 5-year visions. In fact, I come up with a new one every twenty minutes or so. Here are some, not listed in any order of preference. Not clear on how having kids ever fits into these, but maybe kids don't really ever fit neatly into anything.

1. I am a guide of some sort in the wilderness. Like a park ranger, but commanding more respect and money. I travel and give frequent lectures on the environment. I teach classes about the woods.
2. I apply to law school next fall, and graduate with a J.D. at age 30. I work as an environmental lawyer for 5-7 years, during which time I build my reputation as a powerful advocate for the natural environment. I then become a policy maker. I am an NPR commentator. I have a syndicated column.
3. I apply to PhD programs next fall. I graduate with a PhD in American Studies, Sociology, Rhetoric or Political Theory sometime in my early 30s. I teach college students about TV, postmodern theory, the true nature of politics. I publish one theoretical treatise after another, and my ideas get loftier and loftier throughout the course of my life.
4. I am not very productive for several months, during which time Peaches and I take road trips to the Southwest and bike trips up the coast of Maine. I procure a job eventually as a university researcher. But it is only part-time. During the rest of the time, I publish a children's book and get started on a collection of essays, which are published in hardcover. My book tour is a success and the documentary made of it wins an Oscar. Peaches and I attend the ceremony, and I speak to thunderous applause when it wins for Best Picture.
5. I travel to the Middle East and work for the humanitarian effort. Though the war ends swiftly, the job is deeply rewarding and clarifies for me just what it is I'm seeking.
6. I could go on.

Vote here for your favorite life option.

In the meantime, I guess I'll just keep going to the gym and having mild existential crises. Day after day. Too bad there's not a TV show called "Careered By America."


I have made my first audio blog! My voice is on the web! I have done something productive! I am not a no-good layabout being supported by the state!
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