career · gratitude · meditation

Stupid gratitude…

9.19.18.jpegThree summers ago, I was smack in the center of an stunningly risky leap: changing careers.

The Fall/Winter before that, having come to the end of my rope in administrative work—and being somewhat far from my regular spiritual practice, my mentor having moved away—I gave notice at my job.  I said, for the umpteenth time, that I was going to do something “creative.”  And again, for the umpteenth time, I had no true vision of what that meant, except that it would feel better.

By the time the following summer rolled around, I’d worked as a minimum-wage retail employee, a temp, and a model for a computer equipment photo shoot.  My “plans” did not unfold well… mostly because I had no plan!

Sometime around January, having driven across town from that retail job (8 hours standing on a concrete floor, pain in my feet, knees, heart), I sat on a friend’s couch bemoaning that I was too old to be flailing like this.

She said I needed to choose something, that frankly it didn’t even matter what.  Just a few weeks later, in morning meditation, the idea came that I should be a teacher (specifically a HS physics teacher, but whatevs).

So, I took that idea and clung onto it with dearest desperation of life, because frankly, continuing to do this “life” thing wasn’t seeming all that appealing anymore.

I reached out to a private school teacher acquaintance; I reached out to my former ed director at the Sunday School I’d taught at; I emailed my friend who was a public school teacher and asked to see her cover letter and resume.

I had begun a mission: Operation Teach School.

By that July, would you believe, I was teaching school.  I had harassed the summer school department at a private school for long enough that they found a place for me teaching creative writing for a few hours a day for 6 weeks.  Thereafter, I had no prospects.

But, before those few hours with students began, I did what I do now: journal and meditate.

The free meditation being offered at the time by Deepak and Oprah was the 21-day “Manifesting Grace Through Gratitude,” and I listened and wrote down what they said.  Every day, for 21 days.

Ripley’s Believe It or Not, at the end of those 21 days, sitting at my computer trawling for jobs, an email came through from the dean of my graduate department:

There’s a job, teaching, in Oakland, with Jews.

Fuhggettaboudit!

You gotta be kidding me.

I applied for that job.  I interviewed for that job.  I got offered a different job with them.  I accepted that job.

And lo, I was a teacher.  6 months after I had committed to Operation Teach School, I was a full-time, gainfully employed faculty member.  Cue divine trumpets.

I bought that damn 21-day meditation on gratitude.

And presently, I’m relistening to and rewriting down what they’re saying.

It’s the worst. 

I hate that I know that gratitude works.  That writing a gratitude list works.  That closing my eyes and conjuring things I’m grateful for, when I open them, the world looks just a teensy bit more magical and technicolor.

I hate that it works because … IT’S SO SIMPLE.

It’s so simple, it’s so easily overlooked, it’s so neglectable and discountable and ignorable… that I do.  I neglect and discount and ignore gratitude.

And then I am reminded.  And then I remember.  And then I try it again.  I close my eyes, I write those lists, I pause to say thank you.

And goddamnit it works.  I feel different.

I don’t know why it pisses me off that gratitude works, except that maybe I think it’s “too cheesy.”  That it “feels lame” to talk about being grateful, that it’s so saccharine, or maybe that others will think I’m naive (that maybe I may think I’m naive).

But I gotta tell you: Whatever the causation/correlation between my “Manifesting Grace Through Gratitude” meditation practice and my receiving an email that would ultimately change the course of my life, there is a piece of me that does truly believe Grace was hanging around, just waiting for me to open my eyes and my heart.

 

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career · gratitude · TEACHING

Why is a raven like a writing desk?

8.9.18 2There is a “gathering” feeling as the school year approaches.  The impending anxiety as the work you’d intended to do over the summer looms large.  The gleeful imagining of your reassembled and redecorated classroom.  The curiosity about the makeup of the new faculty and how it will gel.  The cynicism that the challenging dynamics that existed may persist.

The excitement to see your favorite students again, and the realism that 7th graders must needs grow toward independence and individuation, which may mean your favorites won’t be able to be who they were with you anymore.  And that’s okay; it’s just different.  Besides, you’ll have a new crop of 6th graders with whom to guffaw and conspire.

Arriving at my second year as a middle school English teacher, I experience a true love of my work, fully in its assets and detractions.  I worked as a 3rd grade teacher for two years prior to this, and “love” wasn’t what I experienced.  I felt merit in what I did; I appreciated who the students were, my own creative and professional development, and the leap of faith my boss took on a novice teacher.  But two years of chronic insomnia were enough to underscore I needed out.  And so, being here, looking my next year in the eye, I am so grateful.

I am grateful to walk through a university library gallery and snag a pamphlet on Alice in Wonderland sculptural interpretations, and feel excitement to teach my 7th graders this favorite of my books.  I’m grateful to toss my copy of The Outsiders on my bedside table just now, with the reminder to re-read it before the school year starts.  I’m grateful to fall down a Pinterest-like hole into the Facebook English Teacher groups… and feel awe, inspiration, overwhelm, and humility.

Many here know the path to anticipating my work with relish has been so rocky, its quarry-like walls have cut off the light of hope.  I squandered, despaired, agonized, railed, wallowed, isolated, and stymied.  That I can sit here today with excitement—and yes, plenty of realistic trepidation—is unfathomable.

And yet, I have swum up those fathoms.

 

addiction · career · fulfillment · humor · procrastination

"Admitted we were powerless over Netflix, and our lives had become unmanageable"…

There is a great proportional equation in my life: The more
fearful I am, the more Netflix I watch. 
Perhaps you have a similar equation?
As Summer School draws to a close — both my morning job
teaching it and my evenings learning from it — I begin to feel more anxious.  I begin to poke around job sites, as half-heartedly as I have been for weeks since this summer school job began,
but more fretfully as the job nears completion… tomorrow.
As I look at teacher jobs, I am reminded that, honestly, I
feel out of my depth to put together full-time lesson plans, learning arcs, and
curricula.  Hence my desire to earn a
teaching credential, aka more schooling, aka not til next Fall if that
happens.  There’s plenty of “go get ‘em”
attitude in me that says, “Meh, who needs it, you’ve taught, you’ll be fiiine.”  But there’s a great dose of reality that
reminds me that as someone who’s never taught full-time it’s not fair to me or my students to simply “wing it,” to
throw something together — and to throw myself into the deep end.
And it’s unclear to me which of these voices is more
valid.  So, I poke half-heartedly.
In the meantime, as I have come home these 6 weeks from my morning gig
teaching a creative writing elective to middle schoolers (which, yes, I love more
than any job I’ve had), I have a few hours before my evening physics class at a
nearby city college.  In those hours, I
could: study for the physics final, which is this evening; I could look for
work; I could reach out for help; I could learn my monologue for Sunday’s
audition; or… I could watch Netflix.
Oh!, you great and terrible time-suck!
And cowing under the realization that I am unable to
moderate my time spent … wasted … whiled … and lost in front of the pixelated
numbness, last week I began to try to find ways to moderate.
Oh, it’s not like I haven’t tried to reign
myself in before.  There’s my “Anything
more than two hours is avoidance and isolation” awareness.  There’s the “Never after 10pm” rule.  There’s the “Just one more episode” mantra
that somehow repeats unto the depths of my pockets of time.
And so, I decided, Enough! 
I looked into suspending my account (at least until I’ve found a job),
but you can’t do that.  I even enacted
parental controls to restrict my access to the website, even by a few
steps, but instead I managed to prevent myself from even accessing my
email.  I found a way around
those restrictions (since I still can’t figure out how to undo them), and Lo! found
myself right back in front of the “Continue Watching” button.
Finally, with a deep mood of disgust, regret, and
resignation, last week I cancelled my Netflix account.
And began rereading all the Harry Potter books.
action · career · progress · reality · theater

In the meantime, the in-between time…

I have an interview with a temp agency tomorrow. A resume out to a job working with Jewish kids I’d really love. I had a call with a mediator to ask his experience and will be following up some leads before I follow down that path. A call on Thursday with a grad school back east that I probably won’t take up, but, again, good for me to find out more. 
An appointment with a talent agent next week. A “we’re still making decisions” email from the musical I auditioned for last week. And plans to start rehearsing for another musical audition. 
I have an email from my landlord saying the work on the laundry room-cum-art studio should be done by March 1. A weekend wedding retreat for a dear friend coming up. 
Oh, and did I mention I’m ushering at the Billy Idol show later this month?
For someone who spends so much time languishing on her couch and in her head, I sure do a lot! (except, of course, for my dishes.)
Divine restlessness. Creative unrest. Cosmic dissatisfaction. !
But really, I just wanted to touch base to say, Yes, I don’t know what I want to do when I grow up, but I have to remember that doesn’t mean that I’m not doing anything in the present. I tend to flagellate myself for my lack of action — then I actually write down what I’m doing!
It’s hard to acknowledge these points of progress or action in the midst of existential questioning, but I really must if I want to keep any perspective. 
So that’s what I’m giving myself today. I got up at 5am to do a work-trade shift at my gym to keep those free classes that I’m only using once a week at the moment. But, today, I worked out. 
I paid my COBRA bill, so I can go to Kaiser tomorrow on my day off and check out how my blood is doing and get that vague gnawing off my mind. 
Today, I’m taking public transit into work instead of driving, because I have the luxury of time when I wake up at 5am. 

Sometimes I really gotta step back from my navel-gazing and notice that I still am engaging in the life I fought so hard to keep. 
career · change · despair · faith · fear · hope

Rock Saves.

As you may have noticed by now, I’ve been in a bit of a maudlin mood since attaining a job in retail. Since that time, in the last week alone, my sponsor had to let me go in order to focus on her own healing work, I got a traffic ticket while on my way to visit a pregnant friend, and my four stalwart neighboring trees were torn down. 
Plus, I slammed my pinkie in a drawer. 
It’s been a No good very bad day, and you can call me Alexander. 
It’s been pretty bad, and even before the tree massacre, I was on the phone with a friend saying that it felt like a series of trap doors: just when you think it can’t get worse, it does. I wouldn’t be surprised for “The Big One” to hit, or my car to break down. 
That said, yesterday, in a funk over the trees (read: hysterically crying over the loss of everything solid in my life — yes, perspective is a lost art), I drove my car in to work instead of taking public transportation. On came the NPR, because it’s what I usually listen to in the car. 
But it wasn’t right. Sure, it’s informative and I enjoy it in a way, but it’s not fun. It’s not uplifting. Unless it’s A Prarie Home Companion. 
And so I put on a CD of one of my favorite bands, playing one of their most famous live sets. 
I immediately pressed through to one of my favorite songs, one I can count on as an uplifter, and as the song progressed, I turned the volume louder. And louder. 
As I sat in that toll bridge traffic, I began to sing along. I began to smile. 
I played a series of 4 songs, the last one on repeat as I climbed the circular parking garage. And I felt better. 
I have this kind of amnesia when it comes to music: I forget that Rock Saves. 
I can go for weeks without music, maybe a few songs on the radio here and there, but not volume up to 40, ear-ringing, loud singing, smile-inducing music. 
I felt transformed by the end of my trip from Oakland to San Francisco. If there were another trap door opening beneath me, I felt as though the music was giving me upper body strength to cling to the sides of the trap, and hoist myself out. 
The trap may be open beneath me, and it is always an option to fall in, but somehow I felt like I was climbing out of that one. That, for that morning, that previously sob-fest morning, I was not going to continue on like that. 
I parked my car and walked toward my job with an actual jaunt in my step, and a bit of that subversive, “I’ve been listening to music really loud,” half-grin on my face. A cute 20-something said hi to me as I jaunted down the sidewalk. 
I’ve been walking to work looking solely down at the sidewalk, internally commenting the awful smell of human waste. 
Yesterday was a different morning. 
Sometimes I feel like I could be diagnosed with manic-depression, the way I can swing from despair to hope! But, perhaps it’s normal. And I’ll never really know, honestly. 
When things are going well enough, I never feel the need for anti-depressants, and even when they’re not going well, it’s always temporary, and not debilitating. 
So, maybe, simply, Rock Saves. 
Maybe, simply, I have a fount of resiliency that I only seem to find in desolate moments. 
Yesterday, as I drove to work, I drove through a portal of grace. 
Things are not different. All the externals remain the same. 
But I have that grin on my face. And I’ve been singing in my car. 
career · clarity · exhaustion · fear · health · work

Numbers, Indignation, Holding Patterns: i.e. the Usual.

I have the delightful learned ability to read a health insurance coverage summary with a hawk’s eye. 
Post-cancer, I have become acutely aware of watch-words like “after deductible,” “co-insurance,” and particularly, “lab fees.”
Last week, I met with two of the 3 HR ladies I have worked with at the retail company I now work for. The first, Heidi, I met on the day I waltzed into the HR department with no plan and asked if they were hiring. I then had a wonderful impromptu interview and was subsequently hired. She’s great, personable, real. And someone with whom I can be honest. 
To finish up the health insurance thought, I met with another of the HR ladies last week to sign the “permanent hire” paperwork, and to get the particular HR documents I’ll need, and information on eventual benefits. 
I’d assumed, working for a large conglomerate corporation, that my health benefit coverage would be fantastic. More people = less $ from me, right? Wrong. 
This morning, I logged in to see what my options are, as I have to stay with the Kaiser health insurance, since that’s where all my cancer records and doctors are, plus it’s in walking distance of my house. 
I looked at the plan they offered. I saw many watch-words, including all those above. And then I brought out the plan that I’m currently under via COBRA through my old synagogue employer. 
My lord. What a better plan. 
As someone who needs to get lab tests done fairly regularly, I know that I now pay $10 for them to look and see if my blood is still blood, or if some of it has reverted to cancer. 
With the new plan I saw this morning, I’d have to meet a $4,000 deductible… and then I’ll still pay a 20% copay. Besides the hundred or so they’ll take out of my paycheck each month, just to have the plan. 
Now, this may all be boring to you. But, number-cruncher that I now am, COBRA costs me $400 a month = $4800 a year. 
So they’re kinda similar, now, ain’t they? 
How much is a lab test before deductible? I don’t know. A hundred, maybe? How ‘bout the other things I get checked through-out the year that the new plan says, “After deductible” next to. 
Knowing that the plan I currently have is a phenomenal one (having done the health exchange comparison, too), I asked the HR woman last week if they could do something about my pay if I keep my own health insurance. 
She’d never heard of such a thing. ??! 
It is common that if someone is covered by outside insurance, if the company is not paying for it, the employee can get a boost in salary, since the company would be paying insurance, but now can pay the employee instead. 
Again, she’d never heard of such a thing. And said, no, that would not be the case here. 
Enter the second HR conversation I had last week. It was post-holidays, post-working on New Year’s Day, and I was exhausted, upset, not happy. 
This retail, commission, fighting for customers with the other girls on the sales floor thing is not for me. 
I walked upstairs to see Heidi. I told her as much, in quite cushioned, complimentary, grateful words. 
And she said: I figured that wouldn’t be for you. 
But, we love you, you’re one of 2 of 70 employees kept on past the seasonal period. “Give me a week,” she said. 
Give me a week to think of another role for you here. We want to keep you, and let me think about where we can utilize you. I have some ideas already, but I have to check them out.
She knows me, sort of. She got one of those hand-made collage holiday cards. I’d gone in to talk to her previously about expectations for the sales positions, and how much hustle one has to do in that role in order to make a living. A living which would equal the paycheck I left at my non-profit desk job. 
She said last week that she could see I was someone who thought about the good of the whole, that one’s success is all’s success, and that cut-throat retail floors don’t allow for that. 
I later said to a friend, it’s like she called me a communist! But, funnily and astute observed, she’s right. For the good of all! And other Marxist ideologies!
It’s coming to the end of the week she’d asked me for. She was nearly plaintive in her asking me to give her the time to think of something.  — They really like me. 
In addition, I wrote her an email early this week saying that she needed to have all the information: I do theater. And that means nights and weekends. And if we can keep that in mind as we seek out a new role for me there, that’d be great
We’ll see what she comes up with. If anything. 
If I land back in front of a desk so I can get to theater rehearsals, so be it. As long as I’m earning more than I was at the non-profit. 
I mean, come on people. You’re an international corporation. I’m not 23 anymore. I have skills. 
Again, we’ll see. Before I go charging off to look for alternative companies, I’ve invested a lot in them already, as they’ve invested in me. 
But, should it look like I’ll be a salaried lady again — I’m asking for the health insurance off-set increase. 
Because screw that noise. 
auditioning · career · family · procrastination · progress · theater · trying · work · worry

Meet the New Year, (not quite the) Same as the Old Year.

there’s so much and little to tell you: 

i have to decide whether to ditch work and attend my annual women’s meditation retreat next weekend. how to tell my boss when I asked for that sunday off — originally for the retreat, but now for an audition — that I really do need that time. and I’m taking monday and tuesday off for my friend who’s visiting from canada. 
that the couple who were the subject of the “day before christmas” poem/blog came to visit me on tuesday, and took me out for sushi, and it feels like i have this sort of surrogate parental couple right now. even though they live in vancouver. we exchanged all our information, i got a happy new year email, and i’m going to talk to him about mediation. like, becoming a mediator, and what that would look like. another career goose chase maybe, but worth looking in to. 
that my mom is having trouble sleeping, and doesn’t want to change her work schedule even though she could. that she’s having health issues that she could address, but procrastinates on. 
that two years ago, right very now, I was waking up in lahaina, maui, hawaii. in the bed of a school boy whose parents graciously invited me to stay and kicked their son to the couch, so a bald and chemo-riddled me could have a vacation from a cancer. 
i have to call the student loan people so they don’t raise my payment from $67/month to over a thousand, but being my mother’s daughter, i haven’t yet. 
I am excitedly waiting for the indiegogo campaign to end and for the funds to be sent to me, so I can write this final check to my landlord for my back rent accrued while i was sick. and to watch that number in my budget line fall to zero. 
i am looking forward to my first real paycheck from the retail store, but as i’ve figured the numbers, amazingly, i’ll have earned the exact amount i would have if i were working at the desk job i quit in october. 
though i wouldn’t have that back-rent money, because that only came about as i was sitting in a cafe with a friend in november, looking for work, him too, and i mentioned the wanting to art again and the potential art studio upstairs, and the back rent. and he said, you should do a kickstarter. 
so, i wouldn’t have that, or at least not now, if not for being unemployed and sharing with a friend who was also spending a mid-day cafe work-search. 
i have a script to read and a song to rehearse for two auditions this month. 
the first is because a friend from mockingbird suggested i try out for this one company in town, and i said i wasn’t good enough, and he said i was and i should and made me promise. and so i did. you know, just a few weeks later!
it’s a classical play. i’m nervous, as i’ve never done one before. 
the second is another musical. and, i’m nervous! but. i’m excited for the role i’m auditioning for. it could be a lot of fun. 
they would run consecutive to each other, one closing, and a few weeks later, rehearsals for the other beginning. so it could work. but not with this sales job. i think. assume. project. worry about. 
but then, too, i have to remember the whole “from thanksgiving to thanksgiving” thing/blog: to not worry, to trust, to at least notice I’m worrying and begin to try to trust. 
i have all these collage cards i still want and need to make, holiday cards and thank you cards. but with the constraints of buses and bart and standing and … (*breathe*) from thanksgiving to thanksgiving. 
i flaked out on my NYE plans. i think i may have disappointed my friend by doing that. but it was a day off for me. i got loads of stuff done early, and by the late afternoon i was home and cozy, i didn’t want to leave. even though it’s a 9:00pm ball-drop! i had to work yesterday, and yadda yadda excuse excuse. i just didn’t feel like getting all dolled up. though i’m sure it would have been fun and my FOMO-meter ran high. 
instead i stayed home, and it was lovely. i know it won’t always be so quiet. but it was nice. 
i have a lot and same old happening right now. i don’t know if any of it is interesting to you, but today is more a state of the union address:
all is well, amorphous, covered and uncertain. 
i have friends and opportunities and procrastination habits and work issues. 
i have a warm home to leave and come back to. 

and two auditions to get ready for. 

Happy and Healthy New Year, Friends. You rule.