Wednesday, May 14, 2014

As I scroll through job listings, there's an overarching theme:  What I've accomplished so far isn't good enough to obtain a job that is dynamic and interesting.

If I were to judge based solely on lists of candidate requirements and qualifications, it would seem as if I am only qualified for internships and volunteer opportunities.  Which is weird, because I have indeed already bartered interesting/fulfilling labor for money before in my lifetime.  Having been on the employer side of the table, I understand that this gauntlet of traits would yield the perfect canvass on which a business could paint an individual and organizational wealth of successes.  I also understand, however, that the list is a bit of a pipedream for would-be employers.  Why, then, is it so hard for me to vault over the bullet point that eyes me suspiciously saying, "Really?  You think your combined education and experience can compensate for your refusal to attend grad school?"

Shut up, Qualifications List, I don't want to be in debt 'til I die!

"Master's degree required" is one example of many spiny, sneaky add-ons that somehow always appear AT THE TAIL END of a job posting.  Ability to organize and maintain multi-user databases - check.  Proven clear and effective communication with wide variety of community and corporate sponsors - check!  Efficient election of priorities in dynamic work environment and field locations - OMG that's me, check! check! check!  Master's degree in international underwater basket weaving required - oh yay!  I'm so excited, I....wait.  What?!?

That's okay, just leave the most critically important, labor intensive, financially burdensome, niche qualification until the very end, after I've gotten my hopes up.  After that it's a short minute to decide whether or not I may possess commensurate experience that may still be relevant.  Here's how that goes:

Have I ever once woven a basket while submerged in water?
Oh...well.  That's it then.

The weird thing is, to stick to the theme, I am an underwater basket weaver.  Sometimes I think too highly of myself, but then I look at my resume and am reminded that yes - I have done some weird and varied stuff in my lifetime.  My experience is niche, one of a kind, and, well...Millenial.  All these experiences were supposed to make me all that and a bag of chips to a future employer, and I bought into it.  However, I neglected to invest those experiences into hard skills like data management, project analysis, information systems, etc.

Did I think I was going to be the next Jane Austen?!

Without a technically-leaning skill set (forgive me, but I'm so far removed from anything quantitative and data-driven that I scarce know the right language to use when speaking of it) and without a Master's degree in the "soft" skills that I possess...well.  What are the options?

I don't know.  I am exploring.  I'm on a yellow brick road to the wonderful city of OZ.  I keep meeting all these people who are also sort of disillusioned, directionless, and what a pack of rare birds we make!  We've heard about what lies ahead of us, and we're pretty excited - Oz sounds great!  Everyone gets their own place to live, has access to everything they need like healthy food supply and medical services, schools.  The city is bustling and people live well.  If we make it there, we'll be lucky enough to live comfortably and will no longer have to live face-to-face with the magician behind the curtain that's been stringing us along.  Right?

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Why I love Black Friday (mistakenly?)

One time, I headed out to the King of Prussia Mall at 4:00 in the morning on Black Friday.  Why?  First off, I was nineteen and a total, naive idiot.  Also, Victoria's Secret had advertised a free goodie bag to the first 100 customers.  Like, a real bag, filled with lip glosses and moisturizers and who knows what else?  It was a secret.  Turns out that Victoria's secret was some travel sized hand lotion and a zillionth of an ounce of perfume.  The bag was cheaply made and had Heidi Klum's face on it...not really inconspicuous, which is sort of my style.  However!  To be considered one of the first 100 customers, I did purchase a sweet pair of striped flannel pajamas that I still wear to this day.

While the bag has now fallen apart, the free gifts scraped clean from their plastic prisons, and the pajamas washed and dried so many times that they are several inches too short for me, the memories remain.  Yes, I had great joy going shopping that morning at the butt crack of dawn.  By myself.  Fighting hordes of people who actually had a "gotta get this" list.  Finding parking at K.O.P. and hiking it in the cold a.m. to find out exactly which entrances we could be herded into and at what time.

No - what really sticks out to me from that day is that I would be damned before I ever did it again.

But what can one do?  Time and tide wait for no man, and I can't magic the world from Thursday to Saturday.  So this year, I attack this darkest of days from the opposite side of what feels like battle lines that have been drawn.  This year, I work in retail.  It's not the first time...I've worked at the thrift store before on Black Friday, but at the kid's store.  It wasn't terribly crazy.  I also worked at Nordstrom for Black Friday and that was effing nuts.  A few espressos and thirteen hours of commissioned pay later, I was really feeling the Christmas spirit.

And now, I'm girding my loins for Black Friday at the thrift store flagship.  I hope it's going to be wild.  I dreamt all day today of moving furniture out the door all day.  I fantasized about a totally empty store come Monday (when I would get a break from selling people stuff long enough to  hop online and take advantage of Cyber Monday).  I've psyched myself up for a long day of yelling, getting yelled at, and having a blast as customers dissect my store searching for what we have that was exactly what they wanted. tired.  And I've made myself a little sick throughout the years of this mad dash toward Christmas.  Twenty four, and I find myself jaded about the holiday season.  It's usually easy for me to slip into a cutting, sanctimonious view of the commercial Christmas.  First, because it runs in my family - we love a good Jesus-centric holiday.  Second, because I'm enough of a hipster to revile those overstimulated, holiday lemmings that jump off the cliff of sane behavior into the abyss of material Christmastime.  But this is different.  This year, I scoff not, if only because I am an exhausted little cog in this machine and too tired to muster even a passing snigger for consumers.

Here is a New Year's resolution a little early.  It's not really relevant past Christmas, but...whatever.  Anyway, here it is:  I'm not picking a side anymore.  I'm not going to adopt a consumer attitude or a sales attitude at Christmas.  Both of them make me want to pass out at the end of the day.  I'm going to buy stuff when I need to buy stuff.  I'm going to sell stuff to people who want to buy stuff.  But there's no sense in thirteen hour days.  There's no respite in focusing on numbers and countdowns and percentages.  And there's absolutely no comfort in spending time and money by myself.

You know what I need?  A vacation.  Mmmm....yes, maybe to some tropical paradise.  I'd even settle for a city in some chilly mountains and then a 16 hour bus ride to another city, this time next to a canal.  Oh wait!  I'm doing that!  That's right, ladies and gentleman, I am going on vacation and skipping ONE WHOLE WEEK of the lead up to Christmas.  I'll be in Costa Rica and then traveling with awesome friends to Panama City to run in a relay team for the Panama City Marathon.  I will return on December 6th, hopefully with some cool stories, a calmer attitude toward the holidays, and if I'm lucky...a little sunburn.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

I think this poses a complete double standard

I'm trying to work through my thoughts when it comes to "women's issues" in this election season.  This is what I think, it's totally up for discussion and I may very well change my opinion in the next hour.

We arrive at a cusp.  Is America a nation in which women have control of their own reproductive systems or is it not?  What it comes down to is that the female reproductive anatomy is solely under the jurisdiction of each individual female.  I mean, I'm allowed to say, "No," right?  That's a rhetorical question - of COURSE I'm allowed to say no.  If I say no and a man acts contrary to my express desire NOT to share my anatomy (it's a much less icky way of saying "have sex"), it's rape.   And rape?  Never okay and very illegal.

If I'm supposed to say, "No" with any sort of authority, then it stands to reason that I also have a right to say, "Yes" with the same authority.  Yes to contraceptives, yes to HPV vaccines, yes to abortion, etc.  If what I have belongs only to me - not just in the abstract, ephemeral sense through which I also own an iPod, but truly a part of my physical being - then the power to say yes or no are inextricably wound together.

I understand that to clear this all up, we have to vote on it.  Let's vote on it in a way that will forever remove it from public debate - mostly because I don't want my body to be up for grabs by the American electorate ever again.  Pro Life and Pro Choice are both moral positions that people should adopt extra-politically.  The health and care of my body should be something for which the government provides protection, but always as I exercise my own good personal judgment.

All this to say - half a right is a hollow right.

Monday, October 8, 2012

All of the names have been changed.

“My name is Molly Reichert, R-E-I-C-H-E-R-T,” she told us, and the nurse. You could get drunk from just being near her uneven breathing, that's what the nurse told me once she was out of the room. But I was too young and too naive to recognize that, despite semi-debaucherous teen years. Throughout my Senior year of high school and the following summer, mine was the disobedience of sneaking small amounts of alcohol out of my dad's liquor shelf. Half-filling water bottles with gin and vodka so that my thievery might go unnoticed were I to run into my father as I passed through the kitchen, I would run from where he kept the bottles in the basement to my bedroom closet.  I would nervously store my nabbed goods until there was a bonfire at a friend's house or a road trip to the beach.

I thought I was very rebellious. It turned out boys had a respect for girls who could drink hard liquor, or at least found us more interesting. I fancied myself dangerous, the delinquent you'd never expect, the one who could get away with it for that very reason. It seemed like Molly had never gotten away with anything, no matter how far or hard she ran.

She's originally from Wyoming. Came to New York City for God knows why. I'm still not sure why we were designed to meet, but I know that it changed me and that I've always been curious if it changed her, too, no matter how insignificantly. This is how it was.

The Spring of my Junior year in college, I decided to join a mission team to New York City. There were several teams of people sacrificing their Spring Break to do good works in various locations on the East Coast. It seemed to me to be an okay way to meet people, albeit a slightly awkward one. Step one: go to a large meeting. Step two: get assigned to a small group of people with whom you have avoided eye contact for three years. Step three: share a small van, a small dorm area, one week, and intense group dynamics with these people. My group was five freshmen and two or three upperclassmen, including myself. We took advantage of the planned get-to-know-you pre-trip meetings and bonded accordingly. Even more so on the trip up to the city in a fifteen passenger van that (eep!) our eighteen year-old team leader drove. And the final bonding stage occurred when we got to our host organization and shared the living space and mealtimes with what we considered to be evangelical fundamentalist crackpots from another college. In reality, I'm sure they were very nice people. To us, they were the antithesis of our liberal Christian college mentality and as a group we found endless ways to ridicule their close minded attitudes regarding philosophy, science, and society.

My teammates and I spent our days going to various non-profits in the city and volunteering. Cleaning, cooking, serving food, experiencing, learning, opening up to each other and the people we worked with. In the afternoons we went to the projects and volunteered with kids in an after-school program that was grim - except for the kids themselves. Contrary to my expectations, I liked the kids. They came from a lot of different ethnic backgrounds and at their age, they were unconscious conduits of culture to their peers. And to me as well.  I loved being among the children, I think because it was so wholly different than my suburban elementary education. So many different cultures in one place, in the middle of the city that's at the center of the whole was overwhelming and awesome and so evident in these kids. I missed the last afternoon, though, and I hope they didn't think it was because I suddenly didn't want to be there. I had just suddenly met Molly.

On this last morning, we were at the last soup kitchen and it ended up having the most interesting people behind the serving line. The theory was to have people seated and to serve them on trays, attempting more restaurant-style than poverty-style. I got behind it wholeheartedly, it suited my holistic notions of feeding a person emotionally, not just physically. It was a crazy few hours with a few rotations of guests and I had a lot of fun shouting and being shouted at, moving fast and for goodness' sake, no one gets extra crackers for their soup! When it was all over, we took photos with the staff, everyone wearing hairnets and staticky, white plastic aprons. We wiped down tables, flipped them, knocked in their legs and then stacked chairs, too. At the end of it all, as we were preparing to leave, there was a small knot of people off to one side, guests and staff, around a girl.

How old was she? I ask myself that now. I think I've perhaps reached her age. She couldn't have been more than her late twenties, I think, but could you really tell once drugs had leeched the love of her own self from her skin? She was hunched over, sitting cross legged on the floor and the people standing above her offering her words of encouragement, pats on the back, and nervous glances at one another. A few members of my team and I walked over with some trepidation. It seemed like she was not in a good place. She kept saying, “They took my baby. He took my baby.” She started crying, sobbing, and the words became a wail. “He took my babyyyyy! What am I supposed to do? What am I supposed to do?”

This was beyond a group of college kids. She was in an altered state, to put it delicately. We, too, looked at each other nervously. It was time to get going. To my lasting shame, I did not decide to reach out to Molly in that moment of our departure. It was a freshmen, Liz, who approached her and knelt to hug her. She pulled away, patted her back, and looked at me helplessly. So I did what felt natural, a way to end the scene and show solidarity not with Molly, but with Liz and her brave compassion. I went and hugged Molly, too, murmuring, “It'll be okay.”

It wasn't true. It wasn't going to be okay. I couldn't promise that. I was thus totally startled when Molly responded and wrapped her arms around me. She started crying harder and clung to me like she had been drowning and someone had thrown her a lifeline, me. So I did what was natural, again, and held her tighter. Molly has long, big wavy blondish-brown hair and it smelled terrible, but I buried my face in it and stroked her hair and tried to say comforting things. I tried not to cry, but failed. Her distress in that moment became my own and the melding of spirit was total.

I was confused and scared, I didn't know what to do to make things right for Molly. We were at a church and she wanted to smoke, so we went outside and I sat with her while she smoked. Eventually, Liz and our team leader came outside. A decision had to be made about who was going where this afternoon. Liz said she wanted to stay with Molly and I said I did, too. Our team leader said he would stay with us since the others knew how to navigate to the after school program in the projects by themselves. Molly wanted to use the phone, so we got her some change for a payphone. Molly needed clean clothes, so we got her some from the church's clothing donation bins and Liz and I helped her change in a bathroom. Molly said she wanted to meet with the pastor, so we met with the pastor and we prayed over her. She was shaking. Withdrawal or the Holy Spirit or both or neither. She said she wanted to be clean, to be sober, to get her baby back. The three of us kids and Molly and the Pastor got in a van and he dropped us off at the nearest hospital.

“My name is Molly Reichert, R-E-I-C-H-E-R-T.” The four of us had been hours in the emergency room, waiting for a bed for Molly. The nurse was not one to bet money on starry-eyed college dreamers who were going to fix the world, starting with our friend, here. Molly would stray outside for a smoke until our team leader hid her cigarettes. She would get distraught, paranoid, angry, teary, heart-wrenchingly sad, and sorry. Once she was in a hospital gown and had an IV drip, she quieted down and even slept some. She woke up and demanded food, so we got her a sandwich. She slept some more. Five hours after I met Molly, I was talking with a security guard at the hospital. “She's here now,” he said, “and as long as she's checked in here, she's not getting out past me.” It had ended for us, then. Weary, we got on the subway back to our host organization in the Bronx. The guard had given us an out, and we took it.

I haven't been out, though. “...Molly Reichert, R-E-I-C-H-E-R-T.” In the last four years I've Googled her name a few times, comma, Wyoming. She shows up back in Wyoming local newspapers, in and out of county jails. I don't know how she got back there, but I can't help but feel relieved. The vibrancy and resiliency of the children in the after-school program is juxtaposed with a maelstrom of urban poverty and cycles that don't break. Maybe Wyoming isn't a good place to be for Molly, but I know there was something absolutely dark in the city that was swallowing her whole.

Molly was the first woman in trouble that I met randomly. Since then, I met Aliyah in the airport and Katherine through work. All three have a common “him”, a shadowy man who has caused serious damage. And all three seem paralyzed, unable or unwilling to make a move to help themselves.  As a Peace Corps Volunteer, I've met women in developing nations who are second class citizens and somehow, when people say, “It's cultural,” it almost becomes okay. There's a numbing effect in numbers. When millions of women are treated as little more than vacuums for abuse and wombs to fill with children, when men assert that might is right, when women accept that they do not belong unto themselves, it is a mistaken opinion that this is acceptable - regardless of how commonplace these sentiments may be.

Similarly, and to no less detriment, there are women in the developed world who are drawn into these unhealthy standards of existence. It is subsidized by a modern culture that yet has deep roots in class distinctions between men and women. While it may not reach the overt, epidemic proportions of the developing world, the answer to this problem remains the same: It is imperative that women be educated to take ownership of themselves. It is a necessity that we create a world that allows this education to have a practical expression. That is my fervent desire for Molly, that, “He took my baby,” will one day become, “I have a family that cherishes me and whom I cherish.” That Aliyah's bruises, the ones deeper than her skin, will heal when she says, “That's not love.” That Katherine will experience self-nurturing, a certainty of her own completeness that renders a discerning choice of a worthy life partner.

I have no idea how to do it. But I'll spend a lifetime trying to.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Ok, let's talk about Nervous Nikki and the Chill Pills. I think Nicole will kill me once she sees that I'm calling attention to this thing we've got going on, so...these may be my last words.

Sometimes I think that I'm not a very interesting person. When I think about it objectively, I know that's not true. I've been a lot of places, have a lot to share. But you know...when the highlight of my week is finishing a 500 piece jigsaw puzzle and going to my Zumba class (in the same night! It was awesome!), I start to feel like my hobbies are a little lackluster. But then, I'll get a call or a text from Nicole. “When are you free this week?” I'm weary and droopy-eyed by the time I make it to her house to play, and I usually leave around 9:00 so that I can finish up chores in the apartment before bedtime. But for the hour and a half that Nicole, Kylie, Dylan, and I are in the back room of the addition on Nicole's house, I feel like I'm in a cocoon. I'm sitting uncomfortably close to people who know me uncomfortably well...which is, you know, oddly comforting. And while it's sometimes awkward to accommodate the different styles and energies and moods and thought processes of four distinct personalities, I think it's what makes it ultimately so much fun. It's the same cohesive hodge-podge that's evident in the music when you hear it.

The music is fun to play, creative, lyrical. And however much I like the music, I love hanging out with the people I play it with. Long live the band that makes my week (and months and years) anything but lackluster.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Real optimistic, y'all :)

Earlier tonight I was perusing a copy of Time that my mom gave to me after she was finished reading it. I was originally most interested in the cover article when I opened up the magazine, but ended up skimming it. I skimmed a lot of the magazine, except for the piece about the covert filming of the Romney dinner party (I think that video is the most shocking, unforgiving and explosive indictment of Mitt Romney in this election. It's fascinating). But the page that I stared at the longest, spent the most time mulling over and processing, was an advertisement for the Peace Corps. All Peace Corps ads I've seen are brilliantly concise, never spending much effort trying to convince or to sell. They simply are, and they express something about Peace Corps service that is above words. So it's no surprise that this ad struck such a chord with me, turning on a light over desires and hopes, regrets and memories that I usually relegate to the darkness.

For dreamers who do.”

As I was sitting comfortably in my apartment, I started to feel a little of that hopelessness which seems to be engendered by my contemporary 20-somethings: What am I doing? What am I doing here, with my life, with him/her, at this job, tonight, next week, etc. And maybe the most anxiety-inducing, Why am I doing this? The ad's efficient invitation to dream, to do, it gave me pause because I haven't effectively processed these questions since I came home. Two years ago during the application process, I asked myself over and over, “Why am I doing Peace Corps?” The answer was always because I was capable and I could help people. But after a huge turning point in my adult life (quitting Peace Corps), I didn't reassess and I didn't form new dreams. Returning home and working has at times felt like a blind, zombie-like romp through the beginning of my real adulthood. I never stopped to ask myself, Why?

I've questioned my commitment to the thrift store occasionally, and you know what? That's good. It's always good to strengthen commitments, to entertain doubts and then smash them with the convictions borne of experience. Working at the thrift store is enticing in that it's a non-profit that seeks sustainability in my community, both socially and environmentally. Incidentally, that's my go-to rhetoric when I feel drained by this not very exciting life of working nine to five. Which, as per my previous comments about feeling like a zombie, is perhaps more often than I'd like.

This ad made me aware of two things. The first, I can't join Peace Corps again. No matter how much I've learned about myself since coming home, no matter how much I think I could do it if I had the perspective I have now, I can't re-join. Which gave birth to this second, belligerent idea: My dreams don't have to be at all different than they were. Living in the suburbs of Philly doesn't mean that I have to alter my desires to be as banal as the housing developments that surround me. And here we go with the punchy, idealistic optismism that y'all love about me - Dammit, I will help people! I will be an effective leader and inspire people! I will use my life experiences to walk with people and be a friend and a mentor. I will change and be changed for the better... Collegeville. Tonight I feel like I've had this revelation that just because the thrift store isn't new doesn't mean it can't be my new dream. Wait, did that sentence have some confusing negatives in it? Yes, so let me re-phrase. The dreams that I've had for myself since graduating college are not exclusive to far-off places and new, exciting adventures. That was the original framework in which I imagined them, but that framework has evolved. And while I usually feel pretty good about working at the thrift store, tonight (and tomorrow, but probably only after my coffee) I feel awesome because I know that I'm already in a place that is perfect to realize my dreams. If anything, I feel like such a dummy that I've been waiting for the next new thing to present itself. Since January, I've been telling myself that I only have to put in a few years at the thrift store, stockpiling personal stability (read: cash) before moving on to the totally awesome, wonderful, life-changing opportunity. But it's not the experience that's the dream, it's the dreamer that brings the vision and then does that's so great.

All of that to say that tomorrow is my new opportunity for dreaming and doing. I was a dreamer, and I was invited to “do”. The dreaming doesn't stop because I left Peace Corps. And tomorrow the “do” has a lot more conviction behind it. I'm so excited for my Peace Corps friends who are still working in their sites and I just want to give them great big hugs or something for continuing to dream when they are confronted with harsh realities and unfavorable working conditions. To anyone, not just volunteers, who feels like they've been blockaded or frustrated in their efforts to bring a dream to fruition. I know I'm entering the realm of rambling, now, but I think about this quote from Star Wars (which is possibly not motivating if you interpret it from a fatalistic point of view). Yoda says, “Do or do not, there is no try.” Like the Peace Corps ad, Yoda's not wasting words trying to convince you that you can, if you try hard enough. Do or do not. But you know what? Do.

Friday, September 14, 2012

A Bottle of Wine and Some Politics

We have a presidential election coming up soon. That's a no-brainer. As a former student of Politics, with a B.A. to prove it, I often feel like I'm not contributing much to the political discourse around me. I'm just not that interested in discussing who, if elected, will be the catalyst for Armageddon and why. I spent enough time studying the discipline of politics to know that my disgust for rhetoric is not a good enough reason to remove myself from the conversation completely. If I don't like rhetoric and ignorant opinions, I could always seek to educate others from a neutral perspective - perhaps teach a better definition of terms or take it upon myself to better illuminate the debate in creative ways for others.

Instead, I'm like, “Nah. Eff it.”

Why? Because despite knowing that my vote really DOES count and, ergo, the votes of others, my personal conviction is that it's none of my business to get into other people's business (which, just to get this out of the way, is also the root of my political dispositions). People want to make ignorant statements? I'd rather just keep quiet. People want to get agitated and fret over the political affiliations of their coworkers and neighbors? That's stress I'd rather not have, but to each his/her own. I quote him a lot, but my Dad has been known to say, “It's better to have your mouth shut and people think you a fool, than to open your mouth and confirm their suspicions.” This nugget of a proverb has started to roll around in my mind, finally replacing Call Me, Maybe (thank you, Jesus). And I'm sure that the closer we get to that fateful day in November, I'll think on it more and more frequently.

It's cool to have political opinions. More than cool - it's completely desirable. Voting is not just a symbolic nod to grand ideas such as Democracy and Freedom, it's a concrete expression of rights. A behavior with real consequences, too, so I'm happy when people respect it and take it seriously. So, possession of opinions = awesome. I would also agree that not just to possess, but also to communicate them to others is a right. But just like all rights we exercise, it's always good to double check that it's appropriate. I may own and discharge a firearm, for example. But even within the framwork of legal actions regarding firearms, there is a lot of area for personal discretion. Taking it down a notch, is it appropriate to try and get people to register to vote for X party in the workplace? At lunch time? It's certainly legal. But my sandwich-starved neanderthal brain either can't or doesn't want to handle that much at lunchtime. I would really have liked a half hour of peace and quiet instead of polarized squawking. Noooooot appropriate.

By the way, this is the part of the blog that you're like, “Ohhhh, someone interrupted her lunch and THAT'S why she's so up in arms about this. Yikes, what an idiot to get in between Lily and her sandwich.”

Unless you work on the campaign trail, for a PAC, for a college politics department, for whatever entity that entails a legitimate daily discussion of the election, just don't talk about it between 9 am and 5 pm. If you're passionate about it, set up a booth in front of the grocery store. It works well for the Girl Scouts. Or get it out of your system at a rally, an online forum, a blog (!), or the dinner table. You could also realize that no one cares more about your opinion than yourself (a good lesson for in between elections as well, albeit a hypocritical one for a blogger to give).

In general, ask yourself: Would I open up a bottle of wine and drink it here? In front of these people? This publicly? At this time of day?

If the answer is no, then you shouldn't be talking politics, either. It'll make you look just as dumb and isolated and people will pity your lack of self control.