Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Gratitude and Bitterness

Jon Swift asked his readers about their best blog posts from 2008, and bfp posed the question, "What was important to you this year?" They each got me thinking about what I went through - and put myself through - this year with all the hand-wringing and soul searching and general anxiety.

I spent way too much time forgetting how unbelievably fortunate I am in so many ways. Not only that I have all the material things I need (and many more I don't), but I'm healthy, and I'm safe. Those things alone make me richer than most people in the world.

On top of that, I have such amazing people in my life. The Husband, his family, my family, my friends - all of you are kind and decent and smart and funny and a joy to be around. I can't even complain about my in-laws. It almost makes me feel guilty to be able to say that.

I am disgusted with how much time I spent unhappy and whining over a job. I know my brain was kind of broken at the time, but looking back with a clearer head it's hard to understand why the idea of getting another job if I didn't like the one had was so impossible.

The only option I felt like I had was to suffer until I went crazy and then quit altogether and hide away from any responsibility at all. Goodness knows the isolation, pointlessness, and feelings of inadequacy engendered by unemployment did wonders for my mental health. On the other hand, it did give me the opportunity to forget how sucky it felt to have a job and remember how sucky it felt not to.

The best thing to come out of that whole weirdness is a better sense of proportion when it comes to the importance of any one particular job. For now I really like the job I have, and I hope I like it for a long time, but if I don't, I can (drumroll, please) look for another one! Feeling trapped is a miserable situation, and I can choose not to feel that way. I have to keep reminding myself of that.

So anyway... Here comes the bitter part. I was reading some old posts (not that there were that many this year) and noticed a line from this entry:
My boss supports me and works with me to be sure that my position is fulfilling to me and allows me to use my strengths for the good of the agency.
I don't really remember writing this, but I can remember feeling it. And I can remember why, too. That boss of mine was border-line emotionally abusive. She would sneer and criticize and roll her eyes at me nearly every day until I was ready to cry, and then just before I ran sobbing from the building, she would be all sympathetic and encouraging.

At that point I would be so caught off-guard and grateful for the bone she threw me, I would walk out of her office feeling like she was the bestest person ever and filled with determination to work super hard so I could deserve her wonderfulness. She'd start being mean and critical again such a little bit at a time, I wouldn't even realize it until I was right back at wanting to jump out a window.

These crappy mind games nearly pushed this anxiety patient right over the edge, but I was so wrapped up in guilt and self-blame for all my internal issues, I wasn't even registering the external problems that were exacerbating the crazy. I have a friend who still works there, and she described working with the same boss like being in an abusive relationship, so I know it's not just my oversensitivity or bitterness coloring my recollection.

My old boss is pretty awful, and I'm not sure why she chose to work in a profession that involves caring about people. It's not that I don't have respect for her. She's wicked smart and has the instincts of an alpha wolf. It's just that those talents could be better put to use in law or politics or maybe organized crime.

But, the point is that she is not my problem any more. I'm feeling really optimistic about 2009, and, as I said over at bfp's place, that's not the manic side-effects of Lexapro withdrawal talking this time.

Monday, December 29, 2008

The Duckling Drinks Bonarda

Finca Dubois
Mendoza, Argentina
2005 Bonarda
$15.50 at 4 Seasons

Full disclosure: I have been suffering with gross sinus issues for a couple of weeks, so my ability to fully experience wine may be impaired.

I've never had a Bonarda before, but evidently it's becoming Argentina's most planted variety. This wine is a deep almost violet color. I first noticed a sweet licorice aroma as well as flavor, like black jelly beans. Also notes of blackberries, cherries, cloves. It had a little bit of a boozy finish, which is my least favorite thing about a lot of the richer red wines. See the above disclaimer, but I don't love it $15 worth.

My father-in-law continues to hook me up with copious amounts of wine, so I will forgive him for casting aspersions on my nature-loving, crunchy-granola cred over Christmas. (Dude, you live in a gated community. Don't be judgin'.) He assumed I wouldn't want to go on a vacation to Colorado since I evidently don't love the outdoors as much as everyone else, but, thanks to him, I now have a miniature wine refrigerator sitting on top of my regular wine refrigerator just to deal with the overflow. Pop-in-law remains firmly in my good graces.

The case of wine he hauled out for me also came with a tasting chart to guide one in identifying all the fascinating flavors and aromas wine can offer, such as sweaty saddle and wet dog, so expect the Duckling Drinks series to flourish in the upcoming year, both in terms of volume and weirdness.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

TBR Challenge: The Golden Compass, So Far

(Some degree of spoiler to follow...)

I'm about half way through The Golden Compass, which turns out to be about the brutal psychological mutilation of children. I was choking on tears trying to fall asleep last night while thinking about this little boy in the book pathetically clutching a dried fish to his chest as it was all he had in the world to comfort himself.

This may be imaginary torture done to imaginary children, which wouldn't even be possible in real life, but emotionally bereft little orphans don't make for the most enjoyable reading in my opinion.

At this point I'm only reading to get to the part where the people perpetrating these atrocities are made to suffer until they weep with regret for what they've done before they die a painful death. At least that's how I'm hoping it will end.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

TBR Challenge 2008 = Fail

A recent comment on this post from Traivor reminded me about my sadly neglected To Be Read list for 2008. I guess it was actually only a 50% failure, since between the original list and my alternates I did read six of the twelve necessary to complete the challenge.

Actually, there may still be time in the year to knock out one more book, and bring myself above the halfway point. The Golden Compass is probably my best bet.

It's not that I didn't read a ton of books this year. I just got ridiculously fixated on Terry Pratchett's Discworld series. I read every one of those books this year (with the exception of the "young adult" novels) and most of them twice. You'll notice there are over 30 books on that list, so I was definitely reading my head off most of the time. I merely failed to branch out.

I tried putting only one Discworld book on my TBR list in an attempt to ensure diverse reading material throughout the year, but I do not have the discipline to enforce rules against myself. However, I'm at least going to post another list for 2009 and give myself a goal. None of the books I'm considering are part of a really awesome 30 book series, so maybe there won't be so much temptation to get sidetracked.

Art and Stuff in San Francisco

Last Friday was the annual Festivus celebration complete with miniature Festivus pole party favors. Although I was feeling sickly and left before the feats of strength, I did stay long enough to have a grievance aired against me. Sealegs has an issue with the fact that I take a billion photos and promise to email them to people and post them on the internet when I actually just walk around with a billion pictures in my camera that no one ever sees.

Wishing to address this grievance I emailed Sealegs the Halloween and Christmas tree chopping pictures I owed her and am now finally posting the photos from San Fransisco. Well, considering I took over 415 pictures during a four day trip I may just be getting a start posting the best 100 or so. What I lack in talent, I make up for in sheer quantity.

At the end of August The Husband had a business trip to San Jose, and since I was unemployed and had nowhere else to be, I tagged along, and we made a long weekend of it. The first couple of days The Husband had to work, so I drove into San Fransisco to wander around on my own.

The first place I checked out was the San Fransisco Museum of Craft + Design. It was very cool, but quite tiny, so I was glad I didn't go out of my way to visit it. I probably saw the whole thing in great detail in about 20 minutes.

Then I headed over to Chinatown, which was just a few blocks away. It wasn't the picture-taking treasure trove I thought it would be. I don't know if it was the self-guided tour I was taking (which mostly seemed to point out places to buy stuff) or what, but I was just not digging the vibe of Chinatown at all. The staggering concentration of tacky souvenir shops alone was rather off putting. After wandering around for an hour or two, I was hot and sunburned, and I just wanted a plain iced tea without gooey bubbles or sugary, creamy crap in it and a place to sit down. Unfortunately, I was denied.

I was, however, determined to get my Asian culture on, so I inched my way through San Francisco traffic to the Asian Art Museum. I arrived about three hours before closing, and I still wished I had more time to spend there. Generally everything is better with The Husband around, but I was glad I came here by myself so I could take as much time as I wanted to peer intently at each object. I seriously could have spent an hour in each of the 30 rooms.

Made of a real human skull:

At this point, Blogger is giving me all sorts of attitude about uploading pictures, so I'll pick up later with our excursion to the Monterrey Bay Aquarium, the Santa Cruz boardwalk, and other delightful Bay-area attractions.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

A Job and an Education

This new job that's got me all energized is proving to be really difficult to write about. I'm working in a preschool for homeless children as a Something-or-other Coordinator, but really I do a little bit of everything: play with the kids in the classroom, clean up messes, handle sobbing parents in the middle of all kinds of crises, build and administer the database, and help to ensure the children get the therapy and counseling and medical care they need.

One thing that's easy to say so far is that I didn't know crap about the face of the homeless problem in this city or this country. Oh, I thought I did in some sort of statistics-quoting, liberal, middle-class, I work in non-profit so I have do-gooder cred kind of way, but it's so much uglier and more complicated than I realized.

I knew that domestic violence is the leading cause of homelessness among women and children, and I found it sad and regrettable. But, actually seeing the walls behind which so many women live in secrecy and fear because the men they loved and trusted brutalized and terrorized them, I feel so impotently furious I have to avoid thinking about it.

Hearing the stories of young mothers who were abused and rejected by their own families, left to grow up the best they could in one foster home after another until they aged out of the system with no one to count on, but who are struggling to do better by their own children, I actually feel hopeful.

Knowing how many families end up on the street after a lay off or an illness or one of a dozen other reasons outside of anyone's control, I feel so unreasonably lucky to have the family and the education and all the support and resources I do.

And unfortunately, dealing with parents who seem so lazy and resistant to help for themselves and their children, I feel disgusted. I want to have empathy and respect for everyone we serve, but I don't know how to be understanding of someone who can't be bothered to say a couple of words to me to authorize free services for her child. Hell, she didn't even have to sign a piece of paper, just say, "OK."

I want to write about what I encounter and be fair and honest and maybe even kind of educational, but I also don't want to violate anyone's privacy (or get myself in trouble), so I'll have to fudge some details and invent others to make a true point but respect everyone involved. That's going to be a lot harder than posting pictures of my vacation and telling stories about my cat, and I don't know if I'll be any good at it.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Going Down To Liverpool

We last left half of our protagonists in a Dublin tour bus taking blurry photographs. The other half were lost in the mean Irish streets.

We all reunited in the airport to catch our Ryan Air flight to Liverpool. Ryan Air sells super cheapo no-frills flights which limit passengers to 1.5 ounces of carry on luggage provided it will fit inside a Tic Tac container. In order to comply, we bought a duffel bag and rented a locker in the Dublin airport to jettison as much extra weight as possible. That morning the excellently helpful bed and breakfast owner even loaned us her bathroom scale so we could confirm that we were within the weight limits. Of course this completely ensured that no one at the airport bothered to glance at our luggage, let alone weigh it. Bah. Whatever.

In Liverpool, we caught a cab to our rented flat. Our driver was a bit strange, and the conversation veered into threats of bodily harm, which kind of made sense as a joke at the time but still.

Somewhere around this time I quit writing notes in my journal, so the chronology breaks down a bit in my mind. Feel free to correct me. I'm sure much of the confusion stems from the alcohol-induced brain damage incurred during a night on the town with the way-cooler-than-me Gail.

We started at the Jacaranda where the Beatles got their start. It was amateur night, or something like that, and I was really enjoying the music and the atmosphere. But, it got hot and crowded, so we moved on, and the night quickly devolved into drunken absurdity. There was kung-fu fighting involved. It kind of looked like this at points.

The whole next day was lost to an epic hangover. The Husband, Gail, Sealegs, and Ponylagoon (or your preferred webonym), however, went on a field trip and had losts of fun without Traivor and me. Traivor at least got out of bed and left the flat at some point. I was prone until sundown.

Some time after my not dying, we visited Chinatown and took an amphibious city tour on the Yellow Duckmarine. We saw a bunch of stuff like this and then went home. And that, Ladies and Gentlemen, is the end of this story that started a mere seven and a half months ago.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Ireland: Day Oh So Long Ago

So I get this serious urge to revive the old blog, and then I find myself completely blocked. What's up with that? Anyway, I thought I'd pull a post out of the way back basket and wrap up the Ireland epic. Maybe I can finish it up during the same calendar year we actually took the trip.

Day Whatever-It-Is-Now began with a visit to Newgrange, one of the prehistoric passage tombs in County Meath.

Photos inside the tomb were forbidden, but I nabbed some off the Super Web.

On the winter solstice, the sun streams into a small opening just above the door and floods the heart of the tomb with light for the only time all year.

Next we drove into Dublin and, due to a total failure of modern communication technology, lost half our traveling party. We didn't have much time before we were due to catch a plane for Liverpool, so we decided to maximize our sightseeing minutes and seconds by taking a bus tour of the city and worry about catching up with everyone else at the airport. Unfortunately, the only visual representation of this portion of our journey is a bunch of blurry photos of dimly remembered churches and civic structures half obscured by trees and light posts. So, never mind about that.

Next! On to Liverpool.

Saturday, December 06, 2008

Does This Popcorn Make Me Look Evil?

When I started writing this I was just going to tell some silly stories about some kids I used to babysit, however it has completely gone off the rails. Anyway...

I had an ongoing engagement at a huge Baptist church providing childcare during date night and other special events. I also had a weekly group of 6-8 year olds to take care of while their moms attended some sort of bible study. The first week the kids and I just played games and ate snack and wholesome stuff like that. However, the second week I was requested to come early for "teacher training" where I was introduced to the fundamentalist propaganda with which I was expected to indoctrinate the children.

For a while I suffered a crisis of conscience teaching the children that the Bible was true and infallible, which, frankly, is a logically impossible position to maintain under strict and honest scrutiny however much you love Jesus Christ. Shortly afterward, however, I found myself participating in a completely earnest conversation about the Tooth Fairy, and I figured that if I didn't mind fibbing about some crazy tooth-obsessed lady with plenty of spare change, I didn't have a lot of standing to balk at telling a few Bible stories.

Of course, the Tooth Fairy never inspired anyone to stand around shouting about how much God hates gay people, so I'm left to admit that I justified keeping that job because it was steady money, I liked riding the train downtown, and the kids were a ton of fun. The Sunday after my last day there, the church was picketed because of a widely publicized anti-gay sermon. That really made me horrified with myself that I had been even a tiny, mostly mercenary part of that place.

Looking back, I feel like a big asshole about the whole debacle, so I made a donation to the Resource Center as sort of a gay penance. On a related note Gaybingo in January has an Emerald City theme, and I feel like that's one place where I can wear my Dorothy costume and enjoy my hairy legs with pride. So, who wants to go?

In the further spirit of true confession, The Husband and I also bought some popcorn from the Boy Scouts, and then we felt really bad because we forgot they were run by homophobic bigots. I'm terribly sorry. We just like popcorn, I swear.

Also, maybe next time I'll get to the silly story before I go on the inevitable ranty tangent. With a little effort, maybe I can offend the other half of my friends.