Friday, March 30, 2007

X= Career, Part II

I'm feeling the urge to continue with my last post. One of my best friends gave me the most appropriate book for my 30th birthday. It's called Flux. Like a lot of people, 30 was a big birthday for me. It felt like it was time for me to be an adult, to get my shit together, to start planning for things, to stop putting things off, to figure out what I really wanted, to make things happen. There was some freedom in starting a new decade—I could decide what I wanted my life to look like and it was somehow okay to start thinking about things like kids. I have had to work really hard on trying to figure out what I want—to sort out the expectations of my parents, society, the government (and my resulting anger with those expectations) from what was actually important to me. I'm still working on this and it's not easy. However, this book helped me. It layed things out in a way I hadn't really thought about them by profiling women in their 20s, 30s, and 40s, outlining the common dilemmas of those ages, and looking at what helped and hurt them in their lives.

One thing that really stuck with me was the historical influence on women's careers. Forgive my rather obvious generalizations, as they're necessary for me to try to get to my point quickly (feel free to read the book for more specifics). Basically, when not in the home, women have often been pushed into or chosen ("chosen" being questionable in many eras) fields that are either "helpful" in one way or another or that they find interesting (or both). The "interesting" fields for most women tend to be those that pay less (don't get me started on who determined the pay scales for different jobs). So, in essence, we tend to go for things that make us feel good, that we are passionate about, that allow for creativity. Men, for better or worse, tend to go for the money. They are trained, as we are, to do that. I know there are lots of exceptions and that we can argue this in so many ways, but it really feels true to ME. By pursuing fulfillment we choose not to get paid a good wage. What then happens when we have kids and decide that someone should stay home (if that's an option) is the woman's salary is lower than the man's, so he keeps his job and progresses further in his career.

I know this is a touchy topic and I'm not interested in getting in any way involved in the Mommy War debate, particularly since I'm not a mommy, but sometimes I wonder what I would tell a daughter about choosing a major and a career. I know there are plenty of people that would say, "Do what you love, the money will follow." I'm not sure if I believe this. First of all, for some people (me included), it's difficult to know what you love and want to do. Second of all, what you love may not pay a lot. So do I tell a daughter to consider going after a field that will bring her financial security or to just go with what she's interested in, so that she can try to discover who she is and who she wants to be? I know I'll probably say the latter, because that's just who I am. I want people to pursue their dreams, to not deny themselves, to go after what they think will make them happy. But does it always work out? I know that money doesn't buy happiness, but isn't there something to be said for the choices it provides, how it can help you achieve certain goals, how it can help the future of your children? Or maybe it's just trapping and makes people miserable. If you're hungry for things, if you have to work for them, aren't the rewards greater? This is what I want to believe, considering my vantage point.

One of my biggest fears in choosing to have kids is that in taking care of someone else and trying to allow them the chance to have a great life and become whatever they want, I'm giving up on myself. I worry that I'll put so much energy into someone else that I won't have any for myself and that eventually, when the kids are in college, I will find myself empty and lost and regretful. Thus the desire to figure out as much now as possible, so that I can hold onto that which is most important to me and protect it. Money plays a big part in this. It seems like financial stability creates some breathing room, allowing for everyone to hold onto some of the things they need in life.

My boyfriend thinks we're doing fine, which I guess we are as a couple. But part of me wishes I could be fine on my own, without his salary. I think about the possibility that something tragic could happen to him and then what? Shouldn't we both be capable of sustaining our life without the other, just in case? This is one of the many issues I confront as I head towards marriage: can I be comfortable depending on him (and him depending on me)? Can I let go of my fears and try to live as a family? I don't know the answer to that.

X = Career

Sometimes I wonder which dominates my thoughts more: my general unhappiness with my body or my general unhappiness with my salary and, by default, my career. I know I’m not the only one who dreads seeing my Alumnae Quarterly in the mailbox. In the back is a listing by class of what people have been up to. At this point the people in my class are either earning their PhDs or having a baby, and I’m jealous of both. Lately I’ve been of the opinion that a bachelor’s degree isn’t worth anything anymore. I think a BA is what a high school diploma was 50 years ago. To get anywhere in a career you need a higher degree, but there’s no subject that I’m interested in enough to actually pursue. As a result, I’m one of the few people I know who doesn’t have one, which would probably explain why I make the least amount of money. This frustrates me. A lot. I’ve always had a problem with comparing myself to my friends. In some ways it’s served me by motivating me to work harder, to be smart, to finish at the top of the pack; in other ways it’s really contributed to a constant feeling of inadequacy. If I told you where I worked, you’d probably be impressed. But my job isn’t as challenging as I need it to be and there’s very little room for upward movement. My job fits my interests in a lot of ways and it’s not very stressful. I also have a lot of vacation, which I appreciate. But I have no passion for what I do. I basically do the minimum needed to appear to be doing a good job. I have no interest in being an expert in my field. I have no momentum.

I bring this up cautiously because I don't want to feel sorry for myself or neglect the number of people in this country or the world who make so little and are barely holding their heads above water. But I think it's inevitable that we want to try to progress our lives as far as we can, it's human. I'm fortunate to have had the opportunities I've been given, I just really want to make the most of them and not let them go to waste. This is something I think about all the time, but it’s at the top of my mind after a conversation with a friend last night.

She’s in her third year of her PhD program. We just found out that a friend of ours is buying a house. Any milestone like that for a friend of mine usually makes me feel jealous of their accomplishment, even though I’m happy for them. As I was talking to my PhD friend I found out she felt the same way. She’s the only one out of our group of friends who isn’t in a serious, long-term relationship. That’s one of the things she measures herself by against her friends. I was trying to make her feel better by telling her I felt the same way about her because of her PhD. And then she said, “But even when I’m done I have to do a post-doc, and that only pays [insert my salary here] a year.” So I told her what I make to make her feel better. And it just made me feel worse and now I can’t stop thinking about it. You'd be surprised by how often this happens, "God, back when I was only making [insert my salary here]..." I realize there's the danger that my friends are going to sound money-obsessed, which none of them are. They are incredible people who inspire me, who are kind and compassionate, who do so much for people. I'm the one with the problem. I feel stalled, like I haven't progressed at the right pace, like my growth is stunted.

I want to be in a career that provides some financial stability, allows me to have the choice of being the one who works while my husband stayed home with the kids, makes me feel good when I tell people what I do for a living, provides me with ambition and passion. For so long I’ve felt that I have a lot of potential, that if I really worked hard I could do something really impressive. With each day that I come to work, feel bored, and go home with a paycheck that feels completely inadequate, I feel like a failure. Did my generation grow up believing too much in ourselves? Should I just feel lucky to be in a country where I have the luxury of worrying about this kind of thing?

If only I had an idea of what I wanted to be when I grow up. Well, I know what I want to be when I grow up: an Oscar-winning screenwriter. But that’s not going to happen. Why am I such a defeatist? Why don’t I just try? Because being a screenwriter in Los Angeles is the worst cliché ever. Because I don’t think I can actually do it. Because it’s not something most people can make a living at. Because it doesn’t feel like a real career for someone like me. But I also don’t want to give up. I’m too young for giving up. I have the dream and the desire, so where’s the motivation and momentum? Why is it so hard to try to be myself?

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Mrs. His Name

So yeah, I’m getting married this summer. I still feel a twinge in the pit of my stomach when it’s just layed out like that. I’ve been with my boyfriend for 12 years. 12 years. That’s practically half my life at this point (I’ll be 31 this spring). Whenever I hear of someone that’s getting married to a person they’ve known since they were teenager, I question it, as if they don’t know what they’re doing or they haven’t lived enough to make a choice like that so early. Yet it makes perfect sense for me to be with the person I started dating my first year of college. Today I’m not interested in getting into the why-did-it-take-us-so-long, I’d really rather think about the whole name change thing.

I went to an all women’s college. It was one of my best choices. I loved it. Things about it still give me shivers. It informed so much of who I am today, particularly the feminist in me. It took me a long time to figure out what kind of feminist I wanted to be: one that feels okay wearing lipstick and heels, one that doesn’t judge stay-at-home moms, one that has a sense of humor, one that is aware and can speak up when necessary. It took me a long time and I felt guilty about a lot of things until I realized the most powerful thing you can do is be yourself.

So what happens when you get married and you have to decide whether or not to change your name? I have so many conflicting conversations happening in my head. My name is my father’s name, names are patriarchal to begin with. But it’s who I’ve been my whole life. This is my identity. But by getting married I’m forming a family, a new family, shouldn’t we have the same name? But why should it be the man’s name? Why shouldn’t it? Wouldn’t it be easier for our family and any future children to all have the same name? Would it really matter if we didn’t? It’s going to piss me off every time someone writes on an envelope: Mrs. His Name. I really, really hate that. I get annoyed when telemarketers call and ask for Mrs. His Last Name. But I also used to work at a school and it really helped clarify things when kids had the same last name as their parents. His last name is fine, it’s nothing bad, just like mine isn’t. They are really normal-sounding British names. But I hate writing the capitalized letter of his last name. I like how my signature looks. I’m really lazy and probably won’t change it anyway. Should I really allow my laziness to make my decision for me (not that it hasn’t happened that way before)? I don’t like the alternatives anymore than the main option (him taking my name, a combo of our names, sharing a middle name, hyphenating, etc.). I might just end up using my current last name as a middle name, sort of a Hillary Rodham Clinton solution. But it’s not like that lasted.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Tip of the Iceberg

I think my challenge with this blog will be finding a way to keep it current and in-the-now. It’s so much easier for me to be able to recount my past than to confront the everydayness of my life. I’ve always been a really bad storyteller because I just don’t find my life interesting enough to recount. So many people out there can describe the simplest experience from their day and make it funny and meaningful. Me? I got nothin’. I see my life as a series of big events and choices that are spread out over the course of my life. If I haven’t chosen a college, or a major, or started to play a new sport, or won an award, or started a new job, or moved to a new city--I feel like I have nothing new to say. My life is routine, how interesting can routine be? I wake up (which is always painful—I hate getting out of bed), go through my morning routine, drive to my carpool partner’s house, we drive to work, get coffee, I sit down at my computer and check my e-mail and read my bloglines, and then try to force myself to work. I struggle with that all day. Then my carpool partner and I leave, go to her house to work out, I drive home, make dinner, talk to The Man (I seriously need a good nickname), we watch TV, I fall asleep on the couch, I go through my nighttime routine in the bathroom, we retreat to bed to read, and I fall asleep. That’s it. That’s how almost every workday plays out. Sometimes it’s broken up by us going to a friend’s house for dinner and TV, by out of town guests, by the rare concert event (we recently went to see a taping of This American Life—FANTASTIC), but really, that’s how it goes. The thing is, I like routine, but I’m bored wtih myself. I’ve struggled since college with my lack of hobbies. I love watching TV and being at home. Sometimes when we’re out I’ll look into other people’s apartments and see them home and feel jealous. But then I’ll get mad at myself because so often I feel like I’m wasting my life. I’m young! I should be out there! Doing things! Taking piano, making art projects, finding my bliss! But I don’t. And as The Man and I get closer to getting married this summer (WOW is THAT a long story) and thereby we get closer to having kids (holy crap), the ticking gets louder…if I don’t find a new and more satisfying career now, I never will! If I don't engage in hobbies and classes I never will! If I don’t spend more time going out and seeing concerts I never will! Because once the kiddies arrive, we will never have the time and energy to do anything ever again. It’s terrible. Kids almost feel like the default hobby. They take so much time and energy there isn’t time for anything else. I know these are all pretty typical thoughts for my age and stage, and I hear that life isn’t necessarily over when you have kids (as long as you can find and afford a baby sitter), but the thought of not figuring my shit out before I’m consumed by parenthood dominates a lot of my thoughts. And I’m not sure what to do about it.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Ode to Sunny Weather, or a Response to Lawyerish Part II

The Man (I have no good nickname for him yet) and I started thinking about a move to Los Angeles when things just didn't seem to be improving for us in Seattle. We weren't that happy with our jobs (I had spent three years looking for a different one without any luck), the weather was making me depressed, I was tired of being cold, and things just weren’t progressing. Seattle was in an economic slump after the burst of the dot com bubble and Boeing was shedding employees by the hundreds, creating a pretty sad job market and mood for the city. I just didn’t know how to make things better, so we started talking about moving to a warmer climate.

Both of us wanted more creativity in our lives and the film industry seemed like an option. We took a visit to LA, liked it, and then thought about the move for two years (I don’t make any major decisions without much, much research and contemplation). And then it was just time. Kind of like when you’re in your senior year of college and no matter how much you loved school and being around all your friends, come spring you suddenly start to just feel over it all. You become ready to move on. It was that time for Seattle. And I couldn’t have been happier with the choice that Labor Day weekend in 2002 as we were packing and the heavens opened, spilling rain upon the city, beginning the next nine months of wet.

There was nothing worse for me than those first fall rains, the knowledge that the happiness of summer and sun was over for longer than I felt I could stand. The especially cruel part about it is that there is no place better to be in the summer than the Pacific Northwest. That area of the country is stunningly beautiful. The weather can be hot, but there’s little humidity, few bugs, and the nights are very long. People in the PNW are actually giddy during the summer, drunk on sunshine. And then it’s over and the rain comes back and you have to steel yourself for another nine months. Growing up, we never felt in the clear until after the 4th of July. That’s just not right.

And so we left for LA and though I know I have lots of good and bad to say about the city, I’ll just focus on the weather, since that was the original reason for this post. I love the sunshine. I never get tired of it. It makes me happy every day. I’m always grateful to see a blue sky. I never feel guilty for going to a movie in the middle of a sunny Saturday afternoon like I would have in Seattle because it’s sunny almost every Saturday afternoon. I look at weather reports for different parts of the country during the winter and I feel like I live on a different planet. I love walking outside and not tensing up, getting in my car every morning without having to scrape windows or shovel snow, not feeling the rage I used to feel when I felt cold and wet, feeling motivated to exercise, eating lunch outside almost year round, seeing flowers all year long, not to mention trees that keep their leaves--I could go on and on. But let me dispel a myth instead: Los Angeles has seasons.

Okay, so it doesn’t usually snow in the city (though it did once this winter, very briefly), but there ARE seasons. It gets so cold in the winter that I often have to wear a winter coat and we use our gas heat for months. Just because it’s sunny doesn’t mean it’s warm all the time. This means winter clothes and down comforters! My wardrobe can appropriately change with the seasons! It also can get rainy in the winter, though for shorter periods of time and without a constant cloud cover. Only 2 1/2 hours away are mountains you can go skiing in. LA is one of the only places I know where you could surf in the morning and ski in the afternoon. The foliage is another clue to the seasons. I love the spring when the Jacaranda trees show off their bright purple blossoms. So yes, Los Angeles has seasons, they just happen to be milder, and that is fine by me. I never get tired of sunshine and I appreciate the energy it gives me to get through my life. That it’s guilt-free is just a bonus.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Ode to Sunny Weather, or a Response to Lawyerish Part 1

I grew up in Oregon, land of rain and gloom. The weather didn't bother me that much when I was younger. I think it was because I didn't know there was an alternative (this line of thinking, by the way, is how I rationalize why people live in the Mid-West: they don't know there are other options). When I decided to go to the East Coast for college (more on how I decided to do that in a future post) I knew that I was in for weather like I'd never had to experience before, and I was right. It got cold and snowy that first winter. There was an actual blizzard! What a shock it was to run out of the dorm with wet hair one morning on my way to class and have it freeze before I got there into little dread-like icicles. THAT was a new experience, one that I avoided having twice. But I loved the snow and the seasons, especially the fall. Fall in New England is magical. One of my favorite memories was stretching on the rugby field after practice (yes I played rugby and I LOVED it), looking out at the forest of colored leaves in their reds, oranges, and yellows, and hearing a rogue bagpiper walking around the nearby lake. It was beautiful. Fall in New England also conjures up memories of apple cider, fresh donuts, and an actual hayride. The weather brought an emotion to the place that felt so fresh and real and alive, while also somehow connecting you to all the history the place possesses. I loved it.

But after graduating I felt the urge to move back to the Pacific Northwest--the place that felt like me, the place where everything was familiar and normal. I missed real mountains, being close to the ocean, the people, the attitude, the history, the food--all the things that made me feel like an insider, rather than an outsider. The fact that I can feel like an outsider in my own country is one of the things I like about the US. I love that it can feel and be so different in so many places. Anyway, I moved to Seattle.

One of the things that I had not missed and slowly grew to loathe was the weather. There's a line in Sleepless in Seattle when someone is protesting the thought of Tom Hanks's character moving to Seattle. They say, "It rains nine months out of the year in Seattle!" It's something a lot of people think was exaggerated, I actually got asked a lot whether the rain was a sort of urban legend, as if it really couldn't be as bad as everyone made it out to be. Well, it's that bad and sometimes worse. There are a lot of people who love it and live no differently because of the rain. I was always baffled by the runners and bikers--they were out there no matter what, as if they didn't even notice it raining. I was never that way. The rain made me want to curl up in a ball on my couch under a blanket. I never wanted to leave my house. Driving terrified me, I was always afraid of hydroplaning into the big rigs on the freeways. I had rain rage. And it made me depressed. I lost all motivation for anything in my life because going out required me to toss off the blanket and go outside into the wet. I needed that blanket, it kept me warm. Oh how I was cold. That was maybe the worst part. There is something about a wet cold that chills you to the bone. It's really hard to get warm. Things were in a sad state for me. So my boyfriend and I discussed options and decided to move to Los Angeles (again, that's a whole other post of its own). Los Angeles is the land of sunshine and it makes me so happy. So, so happy. More on why it makes me happy to come...


Something I've put a little too much thought into is how I would react if I ever ran into one of the bloggers I read regularly. I live in Los Angeles, a city brimming with celebrities, and I barely notice them (literally and figuratively). The general rule here is that you don't stare, point, oggle, or in any way acknowledge that you see them. And only the tourists would ever consider approaching and saying something. I've actually never been tempted to say anything to a celebrity, though I've never run into someone that I'm a huge fan of. There are only two that would give me pause: Kate Winslet and Sarah Vowell. I love them, their careers, their ideas, their choices, their everything. Those are the only two people I can actually think of that I wouldn't mind being instead of me. In other words, I'm a big fan. So when it comes to the bloggers, it feels a little similar. The women whose blogs I read have moved, amused, and inspired me. I'm so impressed by their creativity and writing that I'm jealous.

One day last year I was in Target and for a brief second I could have sworn I saw Dooce, aka Heather Armstrong. A surge of adrenaline flew through my body and I instantly blushed. And then I realized it totally wasn't her and proceeded to wack myself on the side of the head until I passed out so I wouldn't be conscious of what a total idiot I am. Okay, I didn't do that--I don't think they allow that at Target--but still. I felt stupid.

Just like with film and TV celebrities, it's a strange thing to know a lot about someone and have them not know a single thing about you. I've actually run through scenarios in my head of how I could approach my top two. Do I say something like, "Ms. Winslet, sorry to bother you, but I just wanted you to know how much your work has inspired me..."? And then I realize there is just no cool way to talk to a celebrity. But I decided that if somehow in that one moment I manage to say something so witty and intelligent that they want to keep talking to me, then maybe I should quickly state a mini-bio for myself so that we're on more equal ground. You know, so they know things about me like I know things about them. God I'm a dork.

So this morning when I went to read Lawyerish, I had a bit of a start. She titled her post the same as I titled one of my first ones on Thursday: Stormy Weather. I know that it's a song and an easy title to come up with when wanting to talk about weather, but it was a little eerie. Part of me wondered if somehow she found out that I linked to her from my post and that I'm a fan. She's one of the writers that can sometimes freak me out. She writes things that are so specific to how I feel about various topics that it's uncanny. But I thank for her that because it's nice to know there are other people out there who see the world like I do at times. God I'm a dork.

Her post about Stormy Weather made me want to respond. So I'm going to do that in my next post: Ode to Sunny Weather, or a Response to Lawyerish.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

X = Anonymity and Honesty

Okay, so as my mind is racing through all the things I have to say, trying to decide on which to pick first, I've entered into the familiar blog conflict of how honest to be. Right now, not a single soul in the world knows I've started a blog. It's so freeing. I can say anything! No one will ever know! But what if the inevitable happens, what if someone does find my blog? What if they tell other people? I think I'd feel so exposed. It's not that I intend to write bad things about people I know, it's just that there are so many things I don't tell people about and I don't exactly want to start now. I'm drawn in by the idea of being apart of the blogging community, by the chance that maybe I'll write something that will catch the attention of the people I admire so much in the blogging world, and by the idea that people might be actually interested in something that I have to say. All of these things require that I publish the blog in a public way. But then, the idea of saying something that might upset someone I know or reveal me in ways that I don't want people to see, that requires me to be slightly less honest and open, which defeats the purpose. Bit of a dilemma. I know everyone has their boundries. Fake names, not mentioning close friends and family, no photos, no real-life details, etc. All I have to do is make this private and the problem is solved. But there is something so alluring about being an exhibitionist of the written word. Part of me wants to be seen naked and vulnerable. It is a little exciting. It's a risk. I'm just not sure where my line is.

Stormy weather

It's a gloomy day here in LA. The clouds are really low. I work at the top of a hill and sometimes when it's like this I can't even see the next building over from me. It feels like Cloud City. My boss is from England and just loves weather like this because she doesn't feel the burden of needing to match her mood to the beautiful sunshine. She says it's a relief. I'd never considered the weather in that way, for me it's always been the opposite--trying to not fall into the gloom, rather than embracing it for what it is (and isn't). I think there's something to be said for embracing rather than resisting.

X=How to start a blog

I've spent the last 6 months or so filling time at work by reading blogs. It started when a friend sent me a post from Mimi Smartypants. I spent the rest of the month reading her blog from start to finish. I was surprised by how much I liked reading her entries. I'd always wondered why other people would be interested in reading a stranger's journal. Her writing was witty and smart and she dealt with questions I find myself dealing with. Suddenly I saw the value of reading about other people's struggles: they make me feel a little less insane and alone. I like to see how other people have solved their problems and the new ones they encountered as they strode down new paths--paths I'm sure I'll find myself on someday. It was like having someone walk into the scary, dark cave ahead of me, leaving little lights and notes of encouragement and advice as they went along. The world suddenly felt a lot smaller and I took comfort in that. Mimi's links led me to other links and to bloggers like Dooce, Jonniker, Lawyerish, Nothing but Bonfires, Fussy, Finslippy, and so many other talented women writers. I discovered through them a new way of being creative and open and honest. Frankly, it was inspiring. It seemed pretty pointless for me to start yet another blog, these women had done it all so well, it felt like I would either be a bad imitator or sad wannabe. But maybe writing will help me sort through the thoughts that circle my mind on a daily basis. Maybe I'll write something that will make someone else feel a little more normal. Or maybe this will be another blog that just gathers dust in the ether. We'll see.

All I know is that there is something within me screaming to be a writer. I never admit it to anyone because I don't think I would ever be any good at it, but it's what I wish for myself. But the wishing and doing are two such terribly different things. I hate to be alone. I lose energy and momentum and start getting depressed. Being a writer seems like the most lonely of professions. I don't think I have any natural talent. I feel like I don't have anything new to say. I hate the empty screen because it makes me feel like a failure. But I yearn for a creative outlet. I desire to be worthy. I want to inspire and comfort and amuse people. I want to send shivers down people's spines, make them laugh out loud as they sit at work, strike so close to someone's truth that they have the urge to write to me. This is what other writers have given me--what an extraordinary thing to touch someone you've never met, to have them relate to your thoughts and experiences, no matter the distance.

This all sounds so terribly self-centered and overly self-indulgent and more serious than I intended. But I don't want to censor myself. And so, with this, I've solved for X. This is how I start a blog.