Archive for August, 2012

Packing up

My start date for traveling is 10 days away. I’ve gotten most of the clothing and books boxed up. The last area left is the kitchen. Oh, and the freezer. It’s not full of food the way it was when I was in MN, but there is definitely food in there I need to manage.

Speaking of food management, I found today’s food management much easier, thanks to some helpful folks at work. Because my schedule is changing as I get closer to leaving, I was able to pick up my CSA share at Farmer Dave’s during my work day, and brought all my goodies back so I could share it with my friends. I took only what I was sure I could eat in the next week. I cannot recommend CSAs enough.

Really, I bought the small share this time and it’s still much more food than I can eat. Normally I would be doing much more management, cooking, freezing, figuring out how to make the food last. I would have ben pleased to have more than I could eat – but since I’m heading out, freezing isn’t a great option.

I have way more books than I ought to, but I just kept picking up the books thinking, “Oh, I can’t leave this one!” In my defense, I have to say that I have managed to leave out, give away, donate or sell at least three shelves worth of books (yay me!). I’m trying to sell the shelves themselves.

I also got rid of about 15 cords/computer cables. And two bags of clothes. I’m trying hard to leave behind all these ridiculous files of mine. I dump a few years worth of bills every couple of years – my plan this time is to dump them all. I’ll let you know how it goes.

My original plan was to rent this Uhaul and pull it across the country. However, at Barbarian weekend, my new little brother suggested that I buy a trailer. I was skeptical at first, but he told me I could probably buy one for about what it would cost to rent one, which I could then sell when I got to California. This seriously great idea never occurred to me. Before I got to work the next day he messaged me a few options he’d seen on Craigslist. Having a little brother is awesome.

I spent about a week looking, then finally went to see one in Methuen. The guy was awesome and I bought my first trailer.

Now if I can just manage to get everything I own on it…

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What’s in your brain?

I just finished reading Towelhead, by Alicia Erian. This is a wonderful and disturbing novel. It is a coming of age story about Jasira, a 13 year old Lebanese American girl. I like coming of age stories, and I like this one too, but her sadly dysfunctional family and predatory neighbor gives it a decidedly dark twist.

This isn’t a book review. You can find all you want online and I don’t like to tell too much about a story, anyway. What I want to talk about is how the book affected me. This has happened to me before, and I’m wondering about other people’s experiences. I read the book over the course of two days, staying up till 4:30 am then waking up to finish it in late morning.

Once I finished the book, I got busy with my task of the day – more book packing. I sorted through two shelves of books but I found myself feeling sluggish, so took a quick break to take Bodhi out. Standing outside in the yard, I felt a wave of sadness come over me. I thought it might be related to packing and spending too many hours alone. I came in to the apartment, wandered around the living room and kitchen for a few minutes, but couldn’t get focused.

It took me another half hour to realize that my feelings were directly related to the book. What I was feeling was not sadness about leaving, but deep grief for the character in the book. The first person descriptions were so realistic that I felt a bit like I had been sitting with the main character, as if she were a real person. Except that the book covered a good bit of time in (for me) just two sittings and my empathy bag was overflowing.

I read a study recently that described the ways that the brain is essentially unable to tell “real life” from television, movies and books and I knew just what they were referring to. (a link to a NYT article about this research – I think I read about it in a book but this explains the idea) I spoke to some people about it and we all joked about feeling like characters from TV shows in particular feel like friends of ours. We talked about “missing” characters that left shows and being sad at the end of a series. 

No one else that I spoke to talked about books, though. I remember reading a book about a woman in a moderately bad relationship – no physical abuse but her partner consistently undermined her – and during that time I found myself rather short tempered with my own partner. It wasn’t until the book was over and the character’s issue was resolved that I realized my snippiness was related to the book.

I’d be interested to hear about other readers’ experiences. The one’s I noticed in myself of have mostly been sad/angry feelings. What books have moved you so much so that you carried those feelings around with you? Have you read books who’s joy or humor perked up your mood?

I’m especially interested in books that cheer you up. The other two books I’m reading at the moment are Death at SeaWorld and Poe and Fanny – I might need to read something else first.

Barbarian Weekend

So, after hearing that I have never been camping, a friend from work invited me to Barbarian Weekend. She explained that she would find a tent and bedding for me, and that the food is all taken care of for the Barbarian Feast. There’s a trailer with the food in it, so that’s safe, and there will be plenty of drinks, water all that. There are outhouses, so it wouldn’t be seriously roughing it. She told me about all the people who would be there, lots of families, different groups of families, 20 something adults who were part of the Barbarian Weekend when they were kids, older adults who are starting to let those younger adults take on the jobs that keep Barbarian Weekend going.

I’ll tell you the truth. I said, “Sure, I’d do that” months ago, with very little actual interest in camping. I admit it. What most interested me in this event was the thought of all those families. I miss families. I grew up with just my mother, father, and sister. While my dad and mom both had large extended families, we grew up moving from country to country, state to state, far from other family members.

Even as a kid, I found ways to get myself included in other people’s family events. I hung out in friends’ living rooms, sometimes annoying my friends because I was hanging around with their parents and siblings. As an adult, I continue to join in with other people’s family events. Barbarian Weekend sounded like my kind of thing.

This was something that was months out, and I kind of forgot about it. As it got closer M started talking about it and asking about my plans. I was nervous, but by then I really liked M and wanted to join in that family thing. So I confirmed. Two weeks before the event, she told me I needed a Barbarian costume. I wasn’t really surprised, nor was I very worried, as she told me that they have things there that I could use to make my costume. A few days later, I discovered she was going to make a new costume for herself, making last year’s available to me.

Another friend from work, C, who is also friends with M asked me, one week out, “What’s your talent?”

“My what?”

“Your talent…you have to perform something for the Barbarians.”

“I…what? What do I have to do?”

Conveniently, M walked into C’s office about that time.

“I have to perform something?”

M smiled broadly and told me that it was no big deal, that it could be some jokes, a story, a song – “you can do a dance,” she said.

Yeah, I was not going for the dance thing. This increased my nervousness, but it wasn’t a deal breaker for me, you know? I went.

I won’t bore you with a story about my performance. I will say, though, that there were a number of fabulous performances and leave it at that for now. They were good enough that they deserve a post of their own.

What I will tell you is that I definitely found a wonderful family experience just like I was looking for. The people were warm and welcoming. There wasn’t just one family, there were several families – and not everyone was related. There were little kids and bigger kids and as mentioned before younger and older adults. It was amazing to listen to younger adults talk about their experiences growing up around Barbarians. It was great to see older adults talk about the way the younger adults were stepping up.

The creativity involved in the performances and Barbarian Idol was intense. I’m not talking about how good the performers and performances were – though they were great. What I’m talking about it is the freedom with which those performances were executed.

Robert Fulgham, wrote an essay about if you ask a room full of first graders, “Who here can dance?” all the kids will raise their hands. Likewise singing and drawing. He goes on to say that if you went into high school classes you would get very different results. Some have made the argument that that is because school “teaches” the artist out of people. I don’t think it’s just about school. I think it’s a cultural thing. I think people learn from all around them to “tone it down” and “fit in.” I think kids hear that it isn’t enough to love singing or dancing, but that they need to be “good” singers or dancers.

In this crowd, those messages were not evident. They got up to sing, dance, recite and tell jokes. I’m not saying no one was nervous – I’m just saying they got up. They got up and they smiled and laughed. They got up with original works and they demonstrated new abilities.

I was honored to be part of the tribe.

Panic – or just graduate

A couple of mornings ago I woke up and was convinced that it was August 6th. I really don’t know why I thought so, but I did, and I continued to think so all day. Getting the date mixed up isn’t a big deal in general (although maybe it is to the staff who keep leaving me little notes that say I have two people scheduled for the same time on the same day). I know it happens to people and it’s definitely happened to me before (just ask the staff).

Since I’m planning to hit the road on August 17th, waking up and thinking it’s August 6th was electrifying. I mean it made my heart rate soar about six times that day. I actually broke out in a sweat a couple of times.

My life here in Mass has been a fairly boring one, to tell you the truth, as I suspected it would be. Most of my days consisted of going to work and coming home. There were a few weeks of dissertation scramble, some late nights writing and a few nights dancing. But for the most part, it was just me, going to work and coming home. A few weeks ago my neighbor asked me, “Don’t you ever go anywhere?! Your car is always here!”

And now that I am getting ready to move, suddenly I have things to do. I went out with the neighbors for a couple of hours after that comment. I went camping for the very first time last weekend (well, it was only one night, but it’s important to start slow with something like camping).

More on Barbarian Weekend later…

Also, about two months ago, I bought a ticket to see Margaret Cho. It seemed like a good idea at the time. She’ll be performing in Provincetown, which is awesome. But it will take up my whole Saturday. 

Waking up believing it was the 6th, though, totally freaked me out. NINE days is NOT enough time to get ready to move! And why was I making plans to do…things? Really?

Uh, yeah. Luckily, it was not the 6th. Now that I’m clear on the date, I’m actually feeling pretty good about where I am in the process. I have most of my clothes packed up and got a good start on the books. I marked off the wall to show the size of the trailer I plan to use, then started stacking things in that corner. 

Meanwhile, in the midst of this sudden whirlwind of activity (hey, for me, one event a weekend is a lot!), I almost forgot that I’m graduating at the end of this month. If you’d like to donate for my move or congratulate me monetarily – the button is at the top on the right. 🙂

Moving help – one last move

I am not now, nor have I ever been, rich. As a kid, I think we were just average middle class folks, although my mother’s thrifty habits often allowed us a few pricey items along the way. Not really for us kids, though, usually for the family. As an adult, my finances have waxed and waned – with more waning than waxing. There was a time when I was creatively coming away from the grocery store with some ground beef that wasn’t on my receipt, but that was directly connected with feeding children, so I don’t have too much guilt about it.

And then there were the very lean college years, which didn’t feel too out of place except that I was older than most of my classmates. Next came the 0-dollar years, when I was living in Italy. I really didn’t make much lire, either, but it was so much cheaper to live there that that never felt very hard. Once I got back to the states, thought, the waxing was mostly continuous.

I started working in desktop publishing which was great for my finances, but didn’t much feed my soul. I left that and went into “the field” of psychology – sort of. I took a cut in pay to do that, but considered it very worth it. Blah blah various jobs, grad school, licensure and yes, my finances were back on the rise again. Then I went back to grad school (I swear I had good reasons when I started). At first, things worked out pretty well. I mean, I worked a lot and was dog tired but I had my own practice and made enough to keep going. I wasn’t rich at all.

Oooo….ahhhhh…

There was a marriage in there and some iffy finances related to that but only a couple of bumps in the road, really. Mostly, I had enough money to do what I wanted to a good percentage of the time. Than the divorce blah blah blah and now, internship.

For anyone who doesn’t know, internship is the part of the doctoral path for psychologists where they work you really hard for very little (or even NO) money. Sort of like hazing, or paying your dues or something, and it lasts one year. Of course there are a few reasonably paid internships out there, but the average pay the year I applied was $18,000. And the possibility of landing an internship in the area, for me, were slim. There was a great place that was offering 0 dollars, but with my mortgage, I couldn’t even consider it. As it turned out, I lost my house anyway.

I got a reasonable internship out-of-state and off I went, at the grand rate of $15,000 for the year. No one is silly enough to call this a salary, rather it is considered a stipend. I took out a little extra on my student loan to see myself through the year. Sadly, the first disbursement came too soon, and I had to spend it or lose it in the bankruptcy (if this all seems confusing, this is me explaining it a year later, imagine what it was like at the time!). I didn’t spend it on anything frivolous, mind you, just paid some taxes, for the past year and estimated tax for the coming year. What that meant, though, was that $3000 which I intended to use to help me get through the internship year was now gone.

Fast-forward to March 14th. On that day I landed an excellent postdoctoral fellowship at a prestigious university, with an almost actual salary! Fabulous!

Once the fireworks were over, though, I started thinking about the financial side of this, traveling, finding a place with a big dog, paying first and last month’s rent, security deposits, special fees for pets. Uh, yeah, on my current stipend of $880 a month ($850 going for rent), that was never going to happen. I decided, with a heavy heart, to take out THE LAST STUDENT LOAN EVER.

And it’s a good thing I did, too, because while I was making that decision, I was apparently coming to the end of whatever good grace was keeping me afloat all this time.

Just keeping my head up…

Here’s what happened: I applied for the loan. To my shock, I was denied, based on my bankruptcy. I was sure that I applied for the last loan at the same time as the bankruptcy, but apparently the timing must have been just right because, yeah, they were totally serious about denying me the money.

I had to get a co-signer and eventually bowed my head and asked my mom. Who castigated and shamed me, but co-signed.

Sing along with me now, Celebrate…

Fabulous, right?! Well, yes…and no. As I was navigating my guilt and shame related to asking for help, I kept talking the amount of the loan up and down. Some days I thought I ought to ask for more, some days I was convinced what I was asking was too much. It’s hard to think clearly about loans when you already owe so much, but once I knew I’d have to include my mom in the equation, I tried to minimize.

Apparently I under bid.

My life feels a bit…roller-coaster-y

I had to fly out to SF at the beginning of July to find an apartment. I found a roommate situation which I think will be great – and pretty much wiped out my little stash. That would be ok except I still need to drive out to SF. That means money for a Uhaul (my plan is to rent the smallest thing you can pull about $550) and money for gas. It’s a long way from Boston to SF! 3602 miles, more or less. That’ll probably take 12 tanks of gas – no, wait, maybe more since I’ll be towing something. Let’s say 18. 18 tanks of gas at something like $50 a tank. Yeah. That’s 900 smackers, baby.

And that’s without the fabulous gas station food!

I once asked for donations to help out when Bodhi had his heatstroke. I’m looking for help again, this time to help me to get out to San Francisco. I would appreciate any help anyone can give – I have a little Paypal button there on the right for donations – or if you email me I’ll give you my mailing address. 

Image from the helpful people at Community Helping Hands

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