Discombobulation

Discombobulate:  to confuse or disconcert; upset; frustrate.

This is why I’m so crappy at making decisions:  I’m too easily discombobulated.

My first officemate at the law firm is an amazing polyglot who speaks fluently at least five languages (and is working on her sixth).  Early in my legal career, I had no idea what to expect when it came to running a closing for an aircraft or large ship financing transaction.  The barely controlled chaos of the parties making last-minute contract changes and chasing things like insurance certificates and approvals from foreign government authorities was an entirely new experience for me and it left me feeling (and, frankly, frequently still does) very discombobulated.  I mentioned that to my officemate as we were working together to close a particularly challenging transaction and she laughed.  She couldn’t believe that “discombobulated” was a real word!  Once I convinced her that indeed it was, it became one of her favorites, although she always had difficulty pronouncing it.

My frequent discombobulation is not only apparent in the work arena.  Money is also a source of great discombobulation for me, no matter whether I have a lot (should I spend it or save it?) or not enough (how can I pay all my bills?).  And of course, now, a prime discombobulator in my life is getting me back into my house.  Moving Day is officially March 21, because that’s when I’ve hired the College Hunks (three hunks for three hours for a “stress-free” move, they have assured me) to move me out of this apartment and back HOME, come hell or high water – or even 12-18 inches of snow, which was actually predicted for today – but of course nothing is as easy as it seems.

It didn’t help that this was the stupid lost-hour weekend, where your body thinks it’s one time but it’s really another for a few weeks, until your circadian rhythms adjust.  As much as I love that extra hour of sleep in the fall, I despise the deleted 60 minutes in the spring.  For some inexplicable reason, I made things even worse for myself by staying awake later than usual, till after the “new” 4 a.m., trying to make a dent in the TV shows I have recorded on my DVR, because I’m going to lose them when I move.  I had to wake up early to have egg sandwiches with my kid at 9 a.m. before she started her drive back to West Virginia after a spring break week during which I barely saw her and only heard from her (as is usually the case) when she needs money.  And I was going to be spending the afternoon at an adoption event at the local pet store, with puppies and kitties looking for forever homes.  Needless to say, I was pretty exhausted, and my brain functions even less sharply when I’m physically spent and sleepless.

Fortunately for the kid (and for me), even though I am still waiting for my mortgage assistance payments from February AND January, New York Rising pleasantly surprised me by making available part of the outstanding amount they owe me from my construction grant.  So after paying down a good chunk of what I owed my contractor, I had a few bucks left over to give to Darian for her trip home.  (As aside:  I’ve made her hand over the credit card on which she is an authorized user because she has ABSOLUTELY no control when it comes to using it.  She just doesn’t get how credit cards work.  She’s smart enough to know that she shouldn’t have her own credit card, which is a good thing, because (a) she earns practically nothing, especially now that she’s cut back on her office cleaning job, and (b) she has no concept of the fact that it all needs to be PAID BACK,  WITH INTEREST.  I am MORTIFIED that I am so deep in credit card debt right now.  I’ve had an excellent credit rating and now, for the first time in over a decade, purely because my credit utilization is nearly 50%, I have sunk to merely “Good”.)

New York Rising gave me the money even though I don’t yet have my certificate of occupancy, which is kind of required in order to actually “occupy” my house.  My contractor assured me that the house had passed inspection last Thursday, but when I asked to get the inspector’s report in advance of the actual certificate of occupancy to give to New York Rising, the City of Long Beach suddenly decided that I required a two-car curb cut from the sidewalk in front of my house.  The original mason had made an error and only gave me a single curb cut when I have a two-car carport, and we were certainly going to get it corrected, but we were going to wait until I was back in the house.  Evidently, the City of Long Beach made this decision for me:  Fixing the curb cuts had to be done as a condition to getting the COO.  My contractor was lucky enough to be able to find a mason who could do it quickly and for a reasonable cost, and the guy was there breaking up the existing cement right away, on Thursday, but due to a messy snowstorm on Friday and frigid temperatures over the weekend, they never got to pour the cement.  Instead of having ingress for two vehicles, I have barely half of one plus a big gaping hole with “DO NOT CROSS” yellow tape surrounding it. Tuesday’s snow storm and post-storm freezing temperatures will delay the concrete pouring for the foreseeable future.

In addition to the expanded curb cut, there are a few other things that need to be done in the house –namely, installing the shower enclosure in the master bath and “polishing” the entry foyer.  The shower enclosure isn’t as urgent because Darian won’t be back in the house till May (she’s getting the master suite, because she actually entertains in her room – I just sleep in mine).  But I need to paint the foyer and coat the stairs with polyurethane, which should really be done before we move in to avoid having to live with the headache-inducing chemical stink and keep the creatures from walking on the steps before they’re cured.  So I made an appointment with my painter for this coming Thursday without knowing if the foyer would be “polished” by then. Never mind that I’ve been bugging my contractor for a couple of weeks to get it done (which seems a rather simple thing, to my untrained eye), even after I told them when my painter would be coming , but they kept pushing me off instead of just FINISHING ME.  I would think they’d want me out of their hair, especially now that I’ve been able to give them some actual money. While they’ve responded on other queries from me (like “Where’s my damn key, please?”), they wouldn’t answer me on the foyer polishing question.  DON’T THEY UNDERSTAND THAT I NEED TO KNOW!?!

The contractor was also going to get his cleaning crew in to sweep and scrub, but I can’t get a response on that question, either.  I may end up having to do the heavy-duty cleaning myself.  I just need the appropriate tools, I guess, even though cleaning is not in my bailiwick.  (I also have to clean the apartment I’m leaving behind, including the microwave, which I understand can be done easily and naturally with a lemon, which I need to buy because I don’t usually have lemons sitting around my house.)

Plus I have to call the realtor lady who is in charge of this building as soon as possible so she can start sending prospective tenants over, because the sooner I can get someone in there (Apri1 1, anyone?), the sooner I can stop paying rent.  I was kind of counting on getting my security deposit back, so I’d rather not have to use it to pay my last month’s rent.  I’m a bit stressed about the realtor lady accompanying the prospective tenants, because then she’ll see I’ve lied about the size of my menagerie.  I mean, obviously they can’t kick me out now, but they could very well keep the “pet security” portion of my security deposit, if not my entire security deposit, as a penalty for lying about the quantity of animals in my apartment.

The storm has completely thrown off the moving schedule.  When I finally got a cryptic text response from my contractor yesterday, he said that everything depends on the weather.  I get that, but now I’m left to make a decision, and you know how good I am at making decisions.  Here is just a small example of  the way my mind works when suffering from discombobulation:  Should I push everything back by a week, which at worst risks me having to pay another month’s rent, or do I just plow ahead and get the stairs done now but let the painting wait until after I move in (which my painter was kind of intimating I should do anyway, given that the movers are probably going to ding up the walls and whatnot).  And if the cleaners can’t get over there before the weekend, or Monday at the latest, I’ll have to do my own cleaning, which is a lot for me, and I’ll need to go out and get the necessary tools, but I guess it’s doable if I want to move in on schedule.

Should I maybe call my sister?  She’s a bit of a know-it-all who’s always telling me what I should have done after I’ve done it.  Or maybe my realtor friend?  Or even Darian?  Ultimately, the choice is down to me and only me.

It’s all so stressful and dizzy-making.  I just want to magically wiggle my nose, like Samantha on “Bewitched”, and have it all be DONE already.  Meanwhile, I’m trying to work as much as I can so I can earn the money to start paying off my debt, which brings us back full circle to the lack-of-funds horror show.  Ergo, discombobulation.

Every decision I make involves this confusion and insecurity.  It’s a wonder I get anything accomplished at all.  (It probably goes without saying that I blame the delay in this blog post on all the aforementioned discombobulation.)  And yet, somehow, I always manage to find my way, despite the dread, despite the discombobulation.  It’s almost as if I didn’t need to get bogged down with the two “D’s” in the first place.  Who would have guessed?  But breaking the cycle is easier said than done.  I’ve been this way pretty much all my adult life.  It remains to be seen if I will ever be able to just MAKE A DECISION, without all the waffling and self-doubt, without the confusion and fear, or at least to do it in a controlled, organized way (e.g., a pros-and-cons list).  Believe me, I’m working on it.

Weighty Management

My sister and I have challenged each other to lose 15 pounds by April 1.  She’s smaller than I am, but we’re both rotund little women, of a type that might turn into prototypical Italian grandmas.  In her case, the weight loss is for a wedding.  In mine, it’s just garden-variety being sick and tired of my physical self in its current state.

A couple of years ago I lost about 30 pounds, but I’ve slowly but surely let the pounds creep their way back (as I have been prone to do all my life).  My blood sugar numbers were under control, but now my endocrinologist has had to increase my medication, with the next dreaded step being daily injections.  I also hate catching a glimpse of myself in the mirror (I try to avoid it most of the time), or being bombarded by my multitude of chins when I take a rare selfie or Face Time with my daughter. Spring is coming, the weather is getting warmer, and the layers of clothes will need to be peeled away before long (especially given the recent unseasonably warm February days). It’s long past time to kick-start some serious weight loss – 15 pounds for me would be just a drop in the bucket, but at least it would be a beginning – and better health, to emerge from my hibernatory sludge and shed those excess layers.

Exercise is a huge part of it.  I’ve written about my attempts to start and sustain a walking regimen on multiple occasions (starting way back in one of my earliest posts, “Breaking Bad (Habits)”, 4/1/15).  That’s key.  In addition to the power walking, I’ve also been thinking about buying one of those twisty balance boards [the Simply Fit Board, $44.99, which seems like an awful lot for a curved slab of heavy-duty plastic – perhaps I can find a cheap knock-off, although I wouldn’t mind paying more for something as long as it was made in the USA] that the Shark Tank lady financed and also advertises on late-night TV infomercials so I can start using it when I get back in my house* (I shudder to think of the disturbance it would create for the lady downstairs if I did it here!!) when I’m  watching the Rangers or catching up on my shows.  Instead of sitting on my expanding ass, I could be twisting my fat away.  I also kind of miss my yoga classes with the weird instructor at Long Beach Adult Ed, with his long stringy hair and bald pate. One thing is for certain: I must get more mobile.  And once I do that, I’ll see an improvement on all fronts.

But the biggest issue for me, by far, is my obsessive eating. I’ve been trying to do some self-analysis to get to the root of the problem so I can hopefully break the cycle.  Why am I an obsessive eater, completely unable to stop when I start?  Well, I usually start eating out of boredom, or as a distraction, or procrastination.  But I believe the obsessive part of it comes about because I like the taste of things.  After eating something delicious, I just want that deliciousness to continue until my head and my stomach (or both) tell me it’s time to quit.

I’ve tried all the tricks, like, don’t have the “bad” stuff (really, the “good” stuff, you know what I mean?) in your house at all, or, if you must have it, put the healthy items up front and easily accessible and hide the naughties.  But every time I go into the kitchen, I’m soon chest-deep in the fridge, completely ignoring the healthy snacks to dig out the hidden stashes.  Or I’ll make up proper-serving-sized snack baggies with trigger foods – and then eat five of them, which defeats the purpose entirely.

Alas, despite my efforts at self-analysis, I don’t know why I do it, and I don’t know how to fix it.  I’m just weak when it comes to delectable foods of all types:  salty, sweet, savory – but mostly sweet. They just taste so good, I just don’t want the yumminess to end!! Perhaps the extra pressure of the competition with my sister, plus more activity in milder weather, can serve as an effective impetus (although it hasn’t so far, I’m afraid!).

* Update on moving back home:  Inspections for the certificate of occupancy from the City of Long Beach and the balance of my grant from New York Rising are scheduled for this week.  This is a huge relief.  My contractor actually told me that, as far as he was concerned, I could move in any day.  True, my boiler blew an electric circuit when they tried to install the thermostat incorrectly, but once that’s fixed, I’ll have heat, electricity and water. So what this means is: I am FINALLY going to hand in my notice to my landlord and leave as of the 15th of March. And then we’ll be home and we can make as much noise as we want!!

Willful Ignorance

Synchronicity, serendipity – whatever you want to call it – is real.  My early notes for this week’s blog post read, “Not sure what I want to blog about this week but I had an idea – maybe the Willfully Ignorant, or Willful Ignorance, or something like that.”  Mere moments after writing that in my journal, I came across multiple articles and quotes that echoed that very thought.

First was a post on Facebook by my friend and fellow resistor (the master resistor, actually) Chris Cangeleri of an opinion piece from the Miami Herald called “In Trumpworld, it’s OK to be ignorant” [Leonard Pitts, Jr., MiamiHerald.com, 2/17/17, http://www.miamiherald.com/opinion/article133497824.html].  A great quote from the piece, which almost exactly captured what I had been thinking to write, was:  “It’s time we talked about the most consequential political divide in this country.  That divide is not between liberals and conservatives. Rather, it is between the ignorant and the informed, between those who have information and can extrapolate from it and those who do not and cannot. There is an education gap between left and right, and it poses a grave threat to our national future.”

I’ve written about this before and I likely will again, because it’s something that troubles me very much about my country.  I’ve never considered myself one of those “Rah-Rah-U.S.A.!” people.  As much as I grew up loving the Olympics, it was the sportsmanship among athletes rather than the competition between countries that appealed to me most about them.  I’m part of a generation – the Baby Boomers – that has witnessed a time of greater prosperity than has ever been known in the world, and the United States has had the most respect it has ever had (or may ever again have).   I’ll save the history lesson for another day, but the bottom line is this:  I can never remember a time in my 50-plus years of life when there was such a sharp gap between the educated and the willfully ignorant in this country.

And there is no greater evidence for this than the results of the 2016 presidential election. During the campaign, whenever I listened to Donald Trump speak (and how could I NOT?  The mainstream media, which he now deems them “the enemy of the people,” gave Trump so much free TV time, we couldn’t escape him), I would hear nearly nonsensical strings of fourth-grade-level vocabulary words in run-on and incomplete sentences that wouldn’t be conveying ANYTHING, really, and he would punctuate his every line with “Believe me!”  or “Am I right?” and a wave of his signature stubby-fingered OK sign.  (What a tell!  Every time Donald Trump says “Believe me!”, he is clearly lying.)  And I would say to myself, “How could anyone in their right mind think he’s making any sense whatsoever?  What is he SAYING?  Does he even listen to HIMSELF?”  Yet so many people – none of my close friends (with whom I am universally politically aligned) but certainly many people I know, who I consider at least semi-intelligent – were hearing something completely different.  What they were hearing was what they WANTED to hear.  It didn’t matter if it didn’t make a lick of sense; they wanted to hear it, so that’s what Trump was saying.

In considering this week’s post, in addition to the Pitts article cited above, I also serendipitously came across a couple of pithy quotations.  One was posted by another one of my fellow resisters on Facebook, from an American abolitionist and vocal supporter of women’s and Native American rights back in the mid-19th century named Wendell Phillips (who was also a contemporary of Frederick Douglass, who still has definitely NOT done any great things lately).

The Wendell Phillips quote:  “Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty; power is ever stealing from the many to the few. The manna of popular liberty must be gathered each day or it is rotten. The living sap of today outgrows the dead rind of yesterday. The hand entrusted with power becomes, either from human depravity or esprit de corps, the necessary enemy of the people. Only by continued oversight can the democrat in office be prevented from hardening into a despot; only by unintermitted agitation can a people be sufficiently awake to principle not to let liberty be smothered in material prosperity.”

Heavy stuff, but the bottom line is this:  In a free country, the people have to be vigilant about their rights because once they hand over their power to the elites in control, it is damn hard to get back.

We’re a nation of sheep, as Trump’s election has proven:  ignorant people being led by the nose by Fox News and con men and people with money who control the people who don’t have money.  The populace is woefully ignorant – and willfully so.  Organized religion contributes to that, and also a lack of respect and support for teachers and public education (as evidenced by the ability of the thoroughly unqualified Betsy DeVos to not only buy her position as Secretary of Education but also to make noise about eliminating public education entirely, to be replaced by some mishmash of home schooling and charter schools and God in the classroom – egads!).  Sometimes I think people are happier to be told what to do rather than to think for themselves.

I’ve written about this before in a broader post about public education [“An Ideal Education,” 7/6/16].  It troubles me that so much focus in schools is on teaching to standardized tests and not teaching youngsters how to think for themselves based on their powers of observation and critical analysis.  That kind of emphasis is sorely lacking in schools until college level education, and by then most of the folks who need to be critically thinking about their roles and responsibilities in this country and the world have essentially dropped out of the system.

The founders set up the U.S. Constitution as a blueprint for governance of the people, by the people, coming as it did out of the fight for independence from a controlling monarchy.  Today’s sheep give lip service to patriotically living up to the standards of our forefathers but they’re not willing to question authority and get involved in their own governance.  It’s an awesome responsibility, and what’s happened is that large numbers of people (perhaps a majority of us, and I include myself in that number) have abdicated their power to such a degree that they allowed a con man to be elected by a bare majority of the bare majority (57.9%) of eligible Americans who actually bothered to vote in a damn presidential election, let alone mid-term or local elections, when you can have the most access to the governing power that most affects you.

The other quote I came upon was from George Orwell, whose classic 1984 is undergoing a rediscovery because of its prescience.  Said Orwell, “To see what is in front of one’s nose needs a constant struggle.”  This is so, evidently, because it is so easy to believe what you want to believe, especially when people in power are pushing it on you, despite the actual FACTS in front of your face.  The denial of the FACTS in front of one’s face has become alarmingly common, and the people in power are doing nothing to change that (and, in fact, are unabashedly promoting such denial).

That George Orwell quote was cited in a transcript of the Daniel Pearl Memorial Lecture at the UCLA given by Bret Stephens [“Don’t Dismiss President Trump’s Attacks on the Media as Mere Stupidity”, Feb. 18, 2017, Time.com, http://time.com/4675860/donald-trump]. Following on Orwell’s quote, Mr. Stephens said, “We each have our obligations to see what’s in front of one’s nose, whether we’re reporters, columnists, or anything else. This is the essence of intellectual integrity. Not to look around, or beyond, or away from the facts, but to look straight at them, to recognize and call them for what they are, nothing more or less. To see things as they are before we re-interpret them into what we’d like them to be. To believe in an epistemology that can distinguish between truth and falsity, facts and opinions, evidence and wishes. To defend habits of mind and institutions of society, above all a free press, which preserve that epistemology.  To hold fast to a set of intellectual standards and moral convictions that won’t waver amid changes of political fashion or tides of unfavorable opinion. To speak the truth irrespective of what it means for our popularity or influence.”

I could go on – I haven’t even touched on the absurdity of the accusations of “fake news” by Trump and his minions against established and reputable newspapers and media conglomerates with extensive fact-checking teams and decades of public trust.  Certainly, the big ones are controlled by a few powerful (wealthy, white, male) people, but I think, if Big Media is guilty of anything, it’s of trying too hard to be fair and balanced, to the point where they’re almost afraid to call bullshit when they hear it.  Not to mention the free publicity they gave (and evidently continue to give, since Trump is still campaigning even after winning) the Trump campaign.

But I’m preaching to the choir.  It seems highly unlikely that I will change anyone’s mind or convince them that they need to work a little more on their critical thinking skills because they’ve been bamboozled bigly by a con man.  I go to sleep every night hoping that, when I wake up, it will all have been a bad dream.  But perhaps one good thing has come of this horrible political nightmare:  The outpouring of protest and public outcry will maybe, just maybe, cause some of the previously willfully ignorant to do a little more digging, get a little more involved, and start seeing clearly what’s been in front of their own eyes all along.

Lethargy

This past weekend, I was extremely wasteful.  I stayed in bed until after 11 a.m. on both Saturday and Sunday, and then got lost down the Facebook wormhole for hours at a time.  Together with the constant stream of posts on Facebook that generate outrage and foment revolution (interspersed with much-needed cuteness and laughter breaks), I also get an overwhelming number of daily emails from a whole slew of politicians, local and otherwise, and organizations like MoveOn.Org and Global Citizen.  I try to quickly read them and delete them, but I’m so far behind at this point, I don’t know if I’ll ever get through them all.

The two things I fear most when it comes to our resistance to all things Trump are (1) fatigue and (2) missing something.  There’s been such a bombardment, so many distractions and misdirections, who can be sure that they’re not sneaking things through – bad, destructive things, even worse and more destructive than the horrible stuff we KNOW about –without the media or the watchdogs knowing?  I think we can pretty much guarantee that that’s what they’re doing, and I don’t think it’s paranoia speaking.  But the fact remains that I spend far too much time occupied with it, to the exclusion of other important things that need doing in my life.

I don’t know why I can never tick off every item on my daily “to do” lists.  Are my expectations too high?  Am I just too slow and lazy and easily distracted?  I get down on myself about it, but is that self-denigration justified?  Should I push myself more or give myself credit for the items I am able to cross off my list?  I spend the bulk of my waking hours engaging in this kind of self-dialogue:  beating myself up for not achieving what I set out to do, alternating with letting myself off the hook with platitudes like “I’m doing the best I can (which has to be good enough)” or “Hey, I’m only an imperfect human, after all.”  It’s a constant battle between feeling like I have to be harder on myself to do what needs to be done versus treating myself with a little more kindness and patience.

Take, for instance, getting out of bed in the morning (or, more accurately, NOT getting out of bed). I don’t even get an early start on those days when I have nothing scheduled, as was the case this past weekend.  It’s such a waste of precious time, languishing under the covers when I’m not even really sleeping anymore.  But clearly, I prefer staying in bed to doing ALMOST ANYTHING ELSE.

Sometimes I wonder, if I ever did win the lottery and was able to quit working for a living and could do as I pleased every day, would I still waste so much time in bed?  I like to think that I would not; that, freed of the work shackles and possessed of a new outlook on life, I would leap out from under the blankets at first light, ready to take on whatever the day might bring.  I’m pretty sure that’s a fantasy.  Part of the reason I stay in bed is because I don’t go to sleep till 2 a.m. most nights.  Eight hours of good sleep brings me to 10 a.m., so I’m already losing the bulk of the morning just by virtue of my circadian rhythms.

Then, once I finally do manage to rouse myself out of bed – usually because I have to pee, or the phone rings, or Mimi is making a racket in the litter box – it’s time to slog through my seemingly endless morning routine:  shower, brush my teeth and put in my partial denture (which I used to be able to get away with not putting in but now it’s a necessity given that I’m missing a front tooth and I look like a hillbilly grandma when I don’t), take my pills, scoop out the litter boxes and pick up the wee-wee pads, take the dogs out, and feed everybody.  Last to be fed is me, and then I sit my fat ass in front of the computer and just STAY THERE ALL DAY, sometimes working but most of the time just trolling the Internet, trying to clear out my email inbox and keep up with all the reprehensible behavior of the Trump administration and the Republican-dominated Congress that does nothing about it (which has the effect most days of making me feel physically ill, and yet I can’t stop).

I really need to make some changes in my life.  I know I’ve been using my pending move/transition back to my house as somewhat of an excuse to remain in my rut but there’s no real reason not to make some adjustments starting right now.  Money, weight management (food intake and exercise), getting organized, writing more consistently, thinking about my job/career/future – all very important things.  I’m 57 freakin’ years old and it’s time to be a grown-up and get my act together.

There’s a blog I follow called Seeds 4 Life that sends inspirational emails every day.  A couple of days ago I got an email that said, “Today we will decide WHY we have unrealized dreams.  What excuses have we made?  Why have we allowed dreams to stay dreams?  Time?  Finances?  Fear?”  My response?  YES.  The post goes on to say that we have to DECIDE:  If what we want is important, we’ll find a way.  If not, we’ll just find excuses.  The idea is to change “one day . . . “ into “Day One”.  [Lily Daub, “One Day or Day One. You Decide – Unknown”, The Seeds 4 Life, http://www.theseeds4life.com/one-day-or-day-one-you-decide-unknown]  That advice resonates with me, but so far I’ve remained stagnant and continue to make those excuses, so clearly changing my life is not that important to me at the moment.  Of course, a perennial excuse is that I lack a clear vision for my dreams for the future.  I mean, I DO know what I want my future to look like but I don’t know how to get there from here, especially since the future I envision involves living on a lot less income and also requires me to be braver about putting my work (and myself) out into the world.

I wish I could end this week’s post on a more positive note.  Perhaps it’s just the winter doldrums getting me down, or being so close to getting back into my house and yet still not there.  Maybe it has something to do with my suddenly all-too-real job insecurity (see “Job Insecurity”, 2/7/17).  Maybe it’s Trump.  Who knows?  I guess I’ll just have to keep focusing on (and being grateful for) the little joys in life (Learning that my friend is cancer free!  Buying new music!  Kitties at home and at the shelter!  New York Rangers on a winning streak!  Chicken souvlaki from Abe’s Pitaria and Tutti Frutti frozen yogurt with all the toppings!  Watching the hilarious mocking of Trump from all quarters and knowing it’s making him furious!)  Once the seasons change and the sun gets warmer and stays out longer, maybe then I’ll be ready to make those changes I keep going on about.

POSTSCRIPT:  According to WordPress, this is my 100th post!  Whee!  I’m kind of proud of myself!

Job Insecurity

I’ve been stressing for days about an annual job evaluation that I am scheduled to have next week with the new head of my department.  He is a partner I’ve known for many years, but his home base is on the opposite coast so we don’t often have an opportunity to work together.  Up till now, for the entire time I have worked at my firm , my trusted boss of long standing – a lovely man about whom I’ve written before (see “The Blizzard of 2016 and Some Thoughts About My Job,” 1/27/16) – has been both my direct supervisor and my evaluator as the head of the department.  This will be my first evaluation that isn’t with him.

[An aside:  The firm, for some reason, believes that associates need their assigned “mentors” (regardless of the extent to which such person has served as an actual mentor) to sit in on these evaluations, ostensibly for the protection and support of the associate.  I have assured the powers-that-be on numerous occasions, especially as I’ve become more senior and more separate, that I don’t need my “mentor” – a female partner with whom I have had a long, tumultuous and somewhat passive-aggressive relationship – to attend the evaluation on my behalf, but to no avail.]

My boss is well aware of the rationales for having cut back on my workload, and in fact is solely responsible for my special work situation.  I know he values what he calls my “institutional memory” (I have been there for nearly 15 years, after all), my responsiveness to the clients and my ability to handle the workload he sends my way largely autonomously.  But he also realizes that my evolution as a structured finance lawyer plateaued at about the equivalent of a mid-level associate.

So I’m dreading this evaluation with a virtual stranger, accompanied by a so-called advocate who has often been a harsh critic in the guise of “making [me] a better lawyer” whether or not I’ve asked for the feedback.  The thing that frightens me most is that I won’t be able to justify my half-time, work-from-home arrangement and, as a result, will bring about the demise of my cushy employment situation.  I fear it is much more likely that my evaluator (who is a very nice and fair man but who is trying to establish himself as the new “leader of the pack” following the long and successful tenure of my boss) will decide that I really no longer have a valid function within the group, I’m merely dead weight and I’m incapable of developing beyond my current status (the latter of which I freely admit).  Why would they possibly want to keep me around?

This raises two alternate streams of thought in my addled brain:

  1. I need to come up with a way to justify my existence at the firm, at least for the next year or so.
  2. I need to start thinking about a “Plan B” employment strategy that will prevent me from becoming homeless. This is further exacerbated by the fact that, thanks to my house elevation/renovation, I am in the deepest depths of debt and I’ve decimated my safety net.

Out of an abundance of anxiousness, I had a brief conversation with my boss last week to kind of toss out some buzz words that might satisfy my evaluator that I actually do bring value to the firm.  We came up with the following:  (a) Certain clients of long standing actually come to me directly with work and questions, often bypassing the billing partner.  (b)  I am responsible for numerous “one-off” and recurring deals that might fall through the cracks when the rest of the group is busy with large-scale transactions.  (c)  I can be relied upon by my superiors to complete work on time and correctly when asked to do so (although I only really get assignments from my “good” boss and my “nemesis” boss), and I am responsive to and dependable for clients.  (d) I don’t require a lot of administrative support, given that I have a certain depth of knowledge about common issues we frequently encounter in our line of work just by virtue of having done it for so many years (and I know enough to consult with the boss when I don’t) and facility with document manipulation, drafting and editing (I am a former word processor, after all).  (e) Finally, there’s the old stand-by economic argument:  At my level, they can bill the client much more for me per hour than the hourly wage they actually pay ME.  I am, therefore, a cash cow.  And even though I have a designated office in the city, I’m pretty easy on the overhead because I’m only there once a week

Who knows if it will work?  Perhaps I can just charm the fellow.  [LOL]

But this may be the wake-up call I need to give some serious thought to wage-earning- life-after-law-firm that will enable me to maintain my (and my daughter’s) lifestyle and simultaneously dig myself out of debt.  Truth be told, I really have no Plan B.  None at all.  And it is especially troubling considering that I’ve become basically a hermit who spends all her time sitting in front of her home computer, trolling the Internet and waiting for work requests to cross her inbox.

I saw something on Facebook today that listed 30 or so simple ways you could earn extra money doing things like being a “mystery shopper,” watching TV through a sort of measuring device to help market researchers figure out what people are (or are not) watching, or participating in focus groups.  You could be a bookkeeper (even if you’re math-challenged, like I am) or a proofreader for, like, $17 an hour without having to leave the confines of your home.  I could maybe try to do some writing-for-cash (it worked for Neil Gaiman, after all), although I don’t really have any marketable expertise.  I also looked into an online transcription company – I could maybe revert back to my old “profession,” although I can no longer type quite as fast as I used to.  A friend of a friend who abandoned the 9-to-5 world to become a freelance writer and jack-of-all-trades picks up paying gigs of all types by tapping into a sort of “service provider exchange”, and he seems to have found a reasonably happy balance in his life that I envy.  Then again, it’s just him and his dog that he has to support; he doesn’t have a college-age kid who thinks he’s a bottomless pit of money.

When looking for apartments last May, I mentioned to my realtor friend that I would be interested in learning how to do residential closings, because my years doing aviation closings might actually be translatable to closing on houses.  She said she could probably hook me up with some local lawyers who might need a hand, so that’s another possibility.

But there are three basic problems with all my “Plan B” ideas:  First, even if I did manage to string together three or four different freelance jobs, I would only be making a fraction of what I make now, and I’d still be responsible for paying for my health insurance and now taxes, too, which I currently get deducted from my monthly paychecks even though I’m paid as an independent contractor.   Second, the thought of submitting my resume and going on interviews petrifies me.  There aren’t too many jobs out there that I can just get without an application and interview process, and I am in no frame of mind to “sell myself” in ANY job market at the moment.  And finally, I have become so spoiled working from home these past few years that – shocker! – I only want to work from home, on my own schedule, wearing what I want and taking fridge-visit, local errand and dog-walking breaks whenever I need to.

I’ve had so many other things to stress about these past few months – my house, my lack of money, my downstairs neighbor, getting my daughter through school, not to mention the nightmare of Trump – that the job insecurity has been pushed to the back burner.  I’ve always known intellectually that my “good” boss was not going to be around forever and that, when he left the firm, I would probably be asked to leave the firm as well, but I was sort of in denial about it.  Now I am beginning to get more and more worried.  Next week’s evaluation will offer some clarity but, no matter the outcome, I think it’s definitely time for a Plan B.

The Frustration of Making Good Art

I have an extensive and ever-expanding list of books that I want to read, and recently I checked one of them out from the Long Beach Public Library:  A View from the Cheap Seats by Neil Gaiman (HarperCollins, 2016).  Mr. Gaiman is a writer of some repute, of children’s books (the film adaptation of his book Coraline was nominated for an Oscar a few years ago, and he also won the prestigious Newbery Medal for his children’s novel The Graveyard Book), essays, fiction and graphic novels.  He is the creator of the comic book series The Sandman, which my cousin George (of the George and Tony Entertainment Show) probably knows very well but with which I am not yet familiar.  A View from the Cheap Seats is a way-too-large collection of his essays that I essentially abandoned after the first few, and then just cherry-picked through the remainder.  Mr. Gaiman is clearly a talented writer who ascended to his current stature by freelancing and fibbing his way through the morass of the publishing world, and he had enough raw talent – as well as a deep love and appreciation for literature of all kinds from a very early age – to make a name for himself in a field where that isn’t easy to do, especially in this day and age when so many people don’t read for pleasure anymore or, if they do, it’s fluff and nonsense like the Fifty Shades books or quick-and-dirty formulaic suspense novels.

I got a strong whiff of self-importance throughout Mr. Gaiman’s essays, and the sheer size of the collection is evidence of that; he and his editors might have been better served by culling some of the more redundant pieces (for instance, there were at least three essays about his wife Amanda Palmer and her musical collaborations).  When I envision my own collection of essays, which will happen one day, even if no one reads it (more on that in a moment), I want it to just offer a taste, to make my reader want MORE, to eagerly anticipate the NEXT collection.  And then, after I’m dead, my fans will have a full set of smaller collections by which my writings have been preserved for posterity.

I must confess, I found it a little disappointing last week that no one liked or responded to my blog post (“Some Post-Inauguration Thoughts”, 1/23,17).  I deemed it a decent enough piece that I even posted it on Facebook, and there was nothing offensive or outrageous in it, especially given that most of my Facebook followers are politically aligned with me.  I even thought that maybe some of my new “Organize, Plan, Act” (OPA) friends might enjoy it.  True, I didn’t post it on the OPA page (not entirely sure HOW to, actually), but a number of the OPA folks follow my regular Facebook page.  Evidently it didn’t interest them enough to read (or, even worse, if they read it, they didn’t “like” it).  Yes, I still do write the blog only for myself, but I’ve recently started getting some followers who aren’t friends or family (not many, but a few).  I was especially surprised that I didn’t get a “like” from a fellow WordPress blogger named Rachel Mankowitz, whose blog, The Cricket Pages, I like very much [https://rachelmankowitz.wordpress.com].  We always reciprocally “like” one another’s pieces, and I thought she would appreciate this particular one, knowing that she is also having difficulty getting her mind around a Trump presidency.  Much like I do, she muses in her blog posts about various topics, including politics and her graduate studies in social work, but the constant running theme of her entries are her adorable dogs, Cricket and Butterfly, and she includes photos of them in each essay with “their” thoughts and comments on what she is writing about.  Her blog is quite charming and insightful.  [A postscript:  She finally DID “like” my post the other day, so perhaps she was just busy, but she was the ONLY one to like it thus far.]  But, to reiterate:  I don’t really care, in the grand scheme of things, if anyone reads my blog posts.  I don’t write them for anyone else.  I write them for ME.  (Although – I won’t lie – it would be nice if other people DID read it occasionally!)

One of Mr. Gaiman’s essays was called “Make Good Art”.  It was actually a transcript of the commencement speech he gave at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia in 2012.  (Thanks to Mr. Gaiman’s humble brag, we know that the speech has been “watched many millions of times” online.)  He starts out by saying that he never graduated from “an establishment of higher education,” being essentially a self-taught genius.  The fact that he had been asked to give this commencement address was yet further evidence of his greatness, unlike those less fortunate souls who had to go school to learn how to write well.

(I don’t know why I’m being so harsh in my assessment of Mr. Gaiman.  It’s probably jealousy.  I admire – but also envy –writers who have had success, who have had the cojones to put their work out into the world and have it be well enough received that they have been able to earn a substantial living doing it.  But hey, good for Neil Gaiman that he’s become so successful that he can produce a 500-plus page anthology of just his nonfiction essays!  As he tells us often throughout the compilation, he HAS worked very hard.)

Much of his speech was alternately inspiring and frustrating.  I’m glad Mr. Gaiman has been fortunate to have enough money to live on so that he didn’t have to get a “real job” and could continue “making things up and writing them down, and reading books [he] wanted to read.”  Says Mr. Gaiman:  “Sometimes the way to do what you hope to do will be clear cut, and sometimes it will be almost impossible to decide whether or not you are doing the correct thing, because you’ll have to balance your goals and hopes with feeding yourself, paying debts, finding work, settling for what you can get.”  How did Mr. Gaiman do it?  He imagined that where he wanted to be – in his case, being an author and supporting himself through his words – was a distant mountain, and as long as he kept walking toward the mountain, he would be all right.  Well, I’ve had the mountain in sight for decades but, until I started writing my blog nearly two years ago, I haven’t really done much about making my way toward the mountain.  Maybe I should start.

But according to Mr. Gaiman, success has its own drawbacks (although I would be happy to test out that theory):  “I watched my peers, and my friends, and the ones who were older than me, and watched how miserable some of them were.  I’d listen to them telling me that they couldn’t envisage a world where they did what they had always wanted to do anymore, because now they had to earn a certain amount every month just to keep where they were.  They couldn’t go and do the things that mattered, and that they had really wanted to do, and that seemed as big a tragedy as any problem of failure.”

Even though Mr. Gaiman was discussing the woes of success here, I read them as the same woes I suffer in FAILURE.  How can I do what I love and own a home and put a kid through college and still have something set aside for retirement?  How can I do all those things and still follow my muse?  Why don’t I have enough talent to make a living doing the thing I love?  If I’m being totally honest with myself, it’s probably because I just don’t work hard enough, or feel confident enough in my work to share it more broadly, like on Medium or some other platform.  I certainly don’t market my work; I’ll occasionally put a blog post on my Facebook timeline, but that’s about as far as I’ve gone outside the safe little WordPress bubble.  I’ve written about this before [“An Aspiring Young Author,” 3/25/15; “How I Write,” 9/9/15], but it remains my deepest frustration, despite my dedication to my little blog that nobody reads.

But Mr. Gaiman’s piece did provide one piece of heartening advice that I can perhaps use as inspiration:  “People keep working, in a freelance world, and more and more of today’s world is freelance, because their work is good, and because they are easy to get along with, and because they deliver the work on time.  And you don’t even need all three.  [emphasis mine]  Two out of three is fine.  People will tolerate how unpleasant you are if your work is good and you deliver it on time.  They’ll forgive the lateness of the work if it’s good, and if they like you.  And you don’t have to be as good as the others if you’re on time and it’s always a pleasure to hear from you.”  Maybe I can parlay this into some kind of freelance success, given that I’m a pleasant person to deal with and I am dependable enough to get my work in on time.  And while it may not be as GOOD as some others’, my work is not generally BAD (or at least I like to believe that it’s not).  So according to Neil Gaiman, an author I admire and envy (notwithstanding some of my more catty digs), there may be hope for me yet!

Some Post-Inauguration Thoughts

Well, it’s done.  We’re stuck.  Trump is the president of the United States for the foreseeable future.*  Something I never believed would happen has come to pass.  I remember telling my good friend Carole, when she expressed the grim certainty this past summer that he would be elected, that I couldn’t even conceive of it.  The nightmare is real.  I’m scared for my homeland, for current and future generations of Americans, including my suddenly politically aware daughter, but I feel existentially depressed and powerless to do anything about it.

I did join a local grassroots group called Organize, Plan, Act (OPA) that was begun by a couple of my high school classmates but which has expanded beyond the borders of Long Island.  (And anyone who is interested, please check out our page on Facebook.)  We had an in-person meeting this week, which made up for in passion what it may have lacked in focus.  There’s just SO MUCH we need and want to do – to protect our rights, to turn Congress and get more progressive representation that can actually resist the Trumpian juggernaut, to do battle on the side of “right” (not THE RIGHT, but what’s right and fair and sane) – but there’s also a danger that we’re just preaching to the choir.  We didn’t discuss this at the first meeting, but I think our focus needs to be on reaching out to people on the other side of the aisle who can be convinced to cross party lines and do what’s “right” (there’s that word again) when faced with decisions that will negatively impact our present and our future.  WE already know what’s what; it’s THEM that need convincing.  Yes, we need to let our Democratic senators and representatives know that we support them in their opposition, but it’s Republicans who we need to sway on issues because no matter how loud the Democrats speak, they will always be outnumbered (at least until mid-term elections in 2018).  Republicans may seem monolithic at times, but they’re not.  Representative Adam Kinzinger (R‑Ill.) was on “Vice News” the other night as an example of a congressional Republican who is not convinced by Trump and has publicly refused to blindly support him.  Senator Lindsay Graham is no fan, and neither is Senator John McCain, and I optimistically wonder if they (and others) would be willing to break party ranks if enough people from their own and other districts complained, especially if they have broader political ambitions.

Truth be told, I still feel powerless, even after the outpouring of support and solidarity represented by the Women’s March the day after the inauguration.  While certainly heartened and hopeful, perhaps most by the wide range of generations in attendance (with so many brilliant signs and banners; my favorite said “Respect Existence or Expect Resistance”), the first thing that popped into my head (and evidently – although I am loathe to admit that I share ANY thought with him – Trump picked up on it, too, in his first tweet on the topic) was, where were these people when Hillary needed them?  But then I thought to myself, these ARE the people who were “with” Hillary. Even if every voter at the Women’s March had voted for Hillary, there were still too many people who didn’t, who even now, months after her loss, continue to denigrate her.  There are actually people in my life who I consider generally decent who question whether she would have been any better.  OF COURSE SHE WOULD HAVE BEEN BETTER.  If Hillary were in office, we would know what to expect.  Now, it’s a constant, decidedly-non-fun guessing game in terms of how crazy Trump will be on any particular issue, or how wrong his “people”.  The very first gig of his press secretary Sean Spicer consisted of a petulant rant accusing the media of trying to make it seem like there were fewer attendees at the inauguration than there actually were.  WHO CARES HOW MANY PEOPLE WERE THERE?  There are so many more important things that need to be addressed.  Yet they continue to perpetuate lies in the face of actual facts to the contrary, like Kellyanne Conway saying Spicer was putting forth an “alternative” set of facts.  THEY’RE NOT FACTS!!  THEY’RE FALSEHOODS.  (Thanks, Chuck Todd, for your incredulous response that literally took the words out of my mouth.)  There’s a dramatic difference between the two that Trump and his people don’t seem to get.

I’m still a combination of numb and scared and angry, still feeling helpless and impotent. But the word that keeps coming into my head is VIGILANCE.  We need to be vigilant.  It’s unfortunate to hear people say they don’t pay attention to politics, and I confess that I was less than interested, even after the buffoon George W. Bush and his cronies stole the election of 2000 (although I would take W. in a heartbeat right about now), but it’s become very clear to me, with our rights and freedoms under threat, that the government impacts so much in our lives that we take for granted.  I’m just waiting for the day when I can stand up against some injustice or speak out when something needs to be said so I can feel like I’m having some positive impact, no matter how small.  One small impact added to a bunch of other small impacts should eventually add up to a large impact.  Unfortunately, so far my protest activities have been limited to the OPA meeting, emailing and phone-calling my senators, Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand, and my newly elected representative, Kathleen Rice (all of whom, I am proud to say, are progressive and outspoken Democrats that I have voted for), and posting “Like” and “Angry” responses on Facebook, but hopefully now that my eyes and ears have been well and truly opened, I will be able to take more substantive action soon.

It’s tough to pull any positives out of the inauguration of Trump.  [An amusing aside:  I posted a great article on Facebook the other day (Charles P. Pierce, “Today Was Just the Beginning. The Reckoning Will Come”, Esquire.com, 1/20/17, http://www.esquire.com/news-politics/politics/a52437/donald-trump-inauguration-day-report/).  Something I particularly loved about the article was that every time Mr. Pierce wrote “President Trump”, he put an asterisk after “President”.]  But at a minimum it should demonstrate to Democrats and progressives and probably Libertarians and all clear-thinking people that they need to mobilize, make lots of noise and take meaningful action because Trump and Congressional Republicans have all the power and want to take any modicum of power that remains away from everybody else.  We can’t sit idly by and let our planet be ravaged and our rights infringed.  The Women’s March was just the beginning (I hope).

Finally, I’d like to end this kind of dark and depressing post with something a little more uplifting, my personal rallying cry, which has been borrowed in this form from an article by Seth Millstein (“What To Tell People Who Say You Have To Accept Donald Trump’s Presidency Now”, Bustle.com, 1/19/17, https://www.bustle.com/p/what-to-tell-people-who-say-you-have-to-accept-donald-trumps-presidency-now-31726) but I had already posted something along these lines in my first public stand-taking on the Facebook page of Rep. Peter King, one of the New York Republicans we are targeting for removal in 2018:  “I reject the implication that just because Trump is president, we aren’t allowed to condemn him anymore. To the contrary: We most definitely are allowed to condemn him, whenever we like and as strongly as we see fit. One of the nice things about living in a democracy is that we’re allowed to freely criticize our government. This is the constitutional right of every American, and I’ll exercise it under any president with whom I disagree. I suspect I’ll be exercising it frequently under the Trump regime.”

_______________

*I read something interesting on Robert Reich’s Facebook page the other day.  (I love Robert Reich, by the way – he is so measured in his outrage and backs up what he says with actual, not alternative, facts.)  He recounted a conversation he’d had with an anonymous former Republican congressperson who explained that the Republicans are really just using Trump to push their pet agenda items through – like repealing the ACA, gutting Dodd-Frank, cutting the taxes of corporations and the wealthy, yada-yada-yada.  (A quote that really struck me:  “They’ll get as much as they want – tax cuts galore, deregulation, military buildup, slash all those poverty programs, and then get to work on Social Security and Medicare – and blame him. And he’s such a fool he’ll want to take credit for everything.”)  Then they’ll suddenly find something Trump says or does so outrageous that they’ll have to impeach him, and then Crazy Scary Pence will become president, which is what they wanted all along.  Evidently, it was the condition they set for backing Trump in the election.  Sounds a little tin-foil hat but also TRUE.