my silver linings playbook for the new year

new-years-ball

Here we are again at the start of a year that will, from the looks of things, be full of changes and challenges. I see some good things on the horizon, like paying off a big loan this year, and I see some things that could be horrific (I already touched on that back in NovemberBut one thing I would like to accomplish this year is being more grateful and in being grateful, I cannot focus on the negative. I must find those silver linings even if I have to look through hundreds of dark clouds to do so.

How this year will be different:

  • I will write at least one blog post each week, and I will end one posting with three things I am thankful for that happened that week, even if it’s that the cats only threw up three times or that I was in line at the DMV for forty minutes less than usual.
  • I will explore my city more and enjoy the great things it has to offer. In other words, I’ll appreciate what is available to me. I live in a part of the country that people fly and drive to from all over to visit, but I sit at my desk and work in my house day in and day out, some weeks barely getting out more than a couple times and within a five-mile radius of home. I choose to go someplace fun each week. Even if I have to take my laptop with me to work there, I will get out and see this city.
  • I will not belabor bad things I have no control over. The dilemma of anxious control freaks such as myself is we worry about everything, much of which we can’t control. Unless ruminating over the horrible consequences of something that may or may not happen is actually going to help put a plan into action, I choose to not waste my time and the finite space within my brain worrying about it.
  • I will not feel as though everyone’s life is so much better than mine and be envious of the good things that happen to them. I have a terrible habit of doing that: I’ll hear something positive that a friend of mine has accomplished, like she got a new job or a new kitchen or a new car, and I’ll compare my crappy sporadic paychecks with hers or my fifteen-year-old vehicle to that shiny new one sitting in her driveway and feel bad about myself. Well, no more of that. I have been trying hard to get more and better work and I could afford a new car and a kitchen if I wanted one, but it’s not all that necessary right now. So no more comparisons. I will feel happy for her, and that’s all.
  • I will realize that others’ lives are not all they appear to be and be thankful for what I have and when things go well. A friend of mine who I never think has to struggle as much as I do told me a story of something frightening that happened to one of her children when he tried to do the right thing a few weeks ago. On the outside, her life looks better than mine, but I went home that night and thanked the heavens that I don’t have a child struggling with such an issue right now. My kids may not have the greatest jobs or be in fulfilling relationships, but at the same time, they’re not in difficult, dangerous situations either.

And that brings me back to my premise of feeling grateful for the things that are good in our lives. We all have something to be thankful for and this week, for me, it was:

  1. Having my healthy, well-rounded, smart kids around me over the holidays and getting to reconnect with friends and family members I don’t get to see all the time.
  2. Getting to enjoy a nice lunch with a view and a walk with my husband on New Year’s Day.
  3. Being alive and well.

Goodnight.

should i pursue a low-paying job to get me out of the house and back into the world? (a freelancer’s dilemma)

libraries.jpg

I am a freelancer. Anyone who’s freelanced, especially in the writing and editing field, knows it’s a lonely career path. Most of the time–in my case 100 percent of the time–is spent in a small room, at a tiny desk, where the only communicating I do is by e-mail and instant messaging. If I didn’t have a dog at my feet or a habit of talking to myself, I’d never utter a word all workday. Now I have a chance to break those bonds and get a job outside the house. But is it a job worth pursuing if it doesn’t pay well, is a fairly long commute, and would disrupt my routine?

I finally heard back from one of about nine library systems that I applied to and was put on an eligible list for over the past year. It’s actually the very last one I applied to. And that was just two weeks ago. Most of the time, names of eligible candidates are added to a list. People need to reapply if they haven’t been called in twelve months, so the wait can go on into perpetuity.

The library in question, the one library in a small city within my county, has offered me (and many others, I’m sure) an opportunity to take a test for a position that is at the bottom of the hiring hierarchy and at the bottom of the pay scale and with zero benefits. I have applied to better-paying library jobs with more responsibilities and with benefits, but I’ve yet to get a call to test for or be interviewed for one of those. This job is at the lowest wrung of the ladder, but combined with my more challenging freelance editing career it may be just what I need. Sure, I’d like more money instead of being paid barely over minimum wage, but the benefits of my taking such a job are manyfold. Still, leave it to me to find the dark cloud outside every silver lining.

Reasons to not take the job/pursue it (even if I take the test and get a perfect score, it doesn’t mean that I’m the one who’ll get chosen):

  1. The job pays very little.
  2. The commute is 25 minutes each way on a good day, possibly double that on a bad one. And it involves driving over a bridge, which is over a large body of water, which is kind of frightening.
  3. It would force me to work regular hours and I’d have to clear vacations and sick days instead of being free to take a trip around my husband and kids’ schedules or when I want to (which I rarely do, but I have the possibility to do so anyway).
  4. I’d be away from home, meaning my family and my dog, and that’s kind of hard on me.
  5. I’d be paying for gas, which I figured today would cost at least $40 a week. That’s like four hours of work just to fill the tank.
  6. I’d miss out on important events at home or even just the regular stuff, like eating dinner together (hours are 10-9 weekdays and the library’s open till 6 on Saturday and 5 on Sunday).

Now for the pluses of taking a low-paying, low-risk, low-expectations job (or at least pursuing it):

  1. I won’t feel guilty if I have to quit.
  2. The job is in the most quaint, adorable city in the county, and the library is very nice.
  3. It probably wouldn’t be very demanding work, which is kind of nice for a change.
  4. It will get me out of the house and give me other humans to talk to (see paragraph one).
  5. It will give me some stable income (maybe $8,000 or $9,000 a year) to rely on in addition to my rollercoaster freelance income.
  6. It’s part-time and wouldn’t require a huge commitment of my time, leaving me free to do my other work and have free time. Plus, unlike a retail establishment, it’s closed on holidays.

I keep kicking myself for not going after another very similar position with the main library system in my county close to a year ago. I was offered an interview but cold feet and a head filled with anxieties made me cancel. I was upset with myself for a long time for not going after it, and I swore that the next time an opportunity came through, I’d jump on it. So, with that kind of history, I plan to take the test. My chances of getting the one open position may be good or they may be not so good. I realize there will be people whose personalities mesh with the interviewers more or who know the interviewers or who just appear to be the best candidate in whatever way, like, say, they live on that side of the big, mean bridge. But it’s worth going after.

I did a dry run today. I got in my car around the time I’d have to leave for the test in two days and I dialed up my Google maps. I followed the path to the library without a hitch, and I found street parking easily. I had never been inside the building before but always wanted to go in. The pillars leading to the door, the beautiful lawn, and the coffee cart out front were beckoning me. So I went in and looked around. Dang, it was just as cozy and quaint inside as I’d imagined! Even better, in fact. There were rows and rows of books; a cute, roomy children’s section; a divine sitting area with big, comfortable leather chairs, the way a library inside a mansion might look–I could almost smell the cigars and brandy; two Christmas trees (no generic “Happy Holidays” will be uttered here, I guessed); and a big, 24 foot by 8 foot display case containing a winter scene, set up with a moving toy train and storybook characters looking on. Gazing out of the floor-to-ceiling windows with views all around, including of the adorable gazebo and park in the town square, I felt like I belonged. It was as if I’d walked into Bedford Falls or, better yet, Stars Hollow.

“I could really enjoy going to work here,” I said to myself. (No, I didn’t say it out loud this time.)

And I knew right then and there that $11 an hour or not, I’d be happy to spend time in this place. Now to get the offer….

 

he who shall not be named won the presidential election; what to do now?

I’ve woken every morning since the day of the election that shook me to the core Sad Woman Looking Lostwondering how I can live through four years of a presidency run on hatred, flimsy policy promises that a fifth grader could have spoken, and a possible cabinet that I heard Sarah Palin might be appointed to. Only in America! To say I’m in a bit of a depression is like saying the pope is a little bit Catholic. So what to do now?

I guess we all carry on and hope for the best. And if that isn’t happening, we speak up and get noticed. I feel sorry for a lot of the voters who chose Trump because they are angry and looking for a savior. I think they will be surprised that the man who they hoped would look out for the little guy (and how they thought a premade, not self-made, billionaire could do that is beyond my comprehension) will be the first to take away their health care, cause the rate at the Fed to rise and behind it costs of loans on things they don’t have the money to buy, and put their tax dollars into the military because we will need to be even more vigilant at our borders and in the air and with nations who will despise us because of what our leader has said.

How did Hillary Clinton lose? How did she not break the ultimate glass ceiling, which should have been broken long ago? Tim Kaine, for one. He brought nothing to the ticket–no progressive voters or people of color, as far as I know. Being a Clinton, for another. This was the year of change, for how many times did Bernie Sanders have to speak the word “revolution” and mention that his campaign, one that swept the nation, was built on contributions averaging twenty-seven dollars apiece? And for the Democratic Party to turn a blind eye to the gift of enthusiastic voters was insane. The Republican Party only did so reluctantly. But once the momentum was going the way of their “outsider” (a man who has changed his party affiliation more times than most people change addresses), I think conservatives had to let the wave crest and roll to the shore. And it did, like a tsunami.

I don’t worry so much for myself. I’ll be OK. I worry about my kids and the disadvantaged, the poor, the families who may be torn apart. Mostly, I worry that health care will be taken away from people who for the first time in their lives can have it and can afford it. I worry about a vehemently antiabortion VP (I honestly don’t think Trump gives a hoot about the topic personally) and what that might mean for the country. I wish there was no such thing as abortion. I’ve had four kids at times that were not ideal, so I think it can be done–and should be done. But taking away health care from women and then forcing them to carry to term, paying for their own maternity care, which is astonishingly expensive, is so, so backward. If you want women to not have abortions, then please, please make it affordable for her and the newborn as well. Don’t take away their health care or force them to not have it. More women will be having babies with problems and, for people who want to look at it in monetary terms, the rates for the rest of us will go sky high to pay for those noncovered moms and children.

My husband and I have had to pay for private health insurance a good part of our marriage and I can attest that about fifteen years back, during the Bush II administration, nearly all big health-care companies took maternity coverage out of their policies or made the premiums so high, it was unaffordable.

After my fourth child was born, for instance, we had to pay for private insurance because my husband nor I had a job with health-care benefits. The premiums were around one thousand dollars a month and we didn’t have the option of maternity coverage. I prayed that I didn’t get pregnant during that time, because maternity care is about ten thousand dollars and that’s if there are no complications. When the Affordable Care Act came along, it forced insurers to put maternity coverage back onto their policies and be affordable. It also prevented insurers from excluding people with preexisting conditions. So people who have an illness, a disease, or a disability cannot be turned away or be forced to pay higher premiums. People in the middle of cancer treatments, for instance, who maybe changed a job with a different health-care provider, could still be covered for the remaining treatments. My friend, for instance, who passed away a couple years ago, had to switch insurers because the one she had been on did not allow for experimental drug treatment. She was able to move to another plan and was then put on a brand-new drug, which extended her life a bit longer. It was a miracle, in my eyes, that she could do that. Never would that have happened if Big Health Care and Big Pharma hadn’t been forced to allow people to switch providers and policies and not be turned away.

So Donald Trump is our president in a year we should have been celebrating our first female leader and our first male “first lady.” Maybe next time. (Elizabeth Warren, are you listening?) For the time being, let us all say a little prayer and hope that Mr. Trump’s presidency isn’t the gloom and doom we think it may be. After all, four years isn’t that long. I hope the time flies.

 

 

taking a walk down memory lane can trip you up

pic-of-letters-in-mailI have been trying to discard some of my old things I have no use for. While looking through a box of old letters (I used to be a prolific letter-writer, and hung on to those written to me in return by family and friends), I was taken way back in time. Funny how we call them “the good ol’ days,” but in actuality they weren’t so good at all.

Although I had a college degree and had started (just barely) working in my career, I married young, especially by today’s standards. When my husband decided his history degree wouldn’t put bread on the table, we moved a year and a half after getting married so he could go to graduate school. By then, however, we already had had our first child. A second was born when we were away in a new city, with no friends or family and no one to help with the kids. We went an entire year, when our firstborn was a baby, without any income. We lived off of student loans and the savings we had accumulated, which of course wasn’t much. We had no help from our parents–nor should we have, really. After all, we were adults, making big-boy and big-girl decisions.

When my husband was away at class all day (he took a train into San Francisco, while I stayed in our apartment on the Peninsula) or working at the school library to make a few bucks during his second and third years, I was raising two babies by myself basically. That included taking the girls and myself to doctor’s visits (since I had no one at all to watch them, they came with me everywhere I went); handling all the feedings; doing all the housework, the grocery shopping, the cooking, the cleaning, the bill paying, the banking, the car repair visits;  and working at a job from home, at which I called subscribers of the two big daily newspapers to ask about their service. A lot of that job was performed while feeding, rocking, and holding my infant or during her naptime (no, I never could take the wise advice given to new moms about resting when the baby naps–and that may be why I cannot, for the love of God, force myself to nap to this day). I was beaten down, exhausted, stressed out, and, above all, lonely. Good ol’ days? Hah!

We were stone-cold broke and I recorded each and every expense so as not to go over our budget. We had only so much in student loans to live on until the next year’s allotment. So every month’s rent, every power bill, every newspaper we purchased, and every McDonald’s cheeseburger we bought on the handful of days we treated ourselves to a meal out over the three years was written down in a notebook. I never was able to afford cute little clothes or toys for the girls or anything I wished I could give them. My older daughter’s favorite item of clothing was a skirt I’d found for two dollars on the clearance rack at Target (it was a splurge, believe me). But it was too chilly where we lived and she was back to her KMart pull-on corduroy pants until she outgrew them, reserving the skirt for our drives back home to Southern California.

We made weekly trips to the public library, and I’d stock up on books for them and for me. This was a big part of our lives. I taught the older one her letters, numbers, and colors and eventually how to read. We had the most basic cable service imaginable because we couldn’t pick up TV reception from San Francisco. We were, however, able to get two fuzzy San Jose stations that were almost impossible to watch when the fog rolled in. The basic cable only allowed us the local stations, including PBS, and a few cable stations, like CNN, MTV, and VH-1. Nickelodeon and other children’s programming networks were additional, so the only show my daughter could watch was Sesame Street, first on an old color TV that had been a wedding gift from my brother and then a 12-inch black-and-white when the color one gave out.

We didn’t socialize at all, being that most of my husband’s classmates were single city dwellers and we were a married couple with kids living on the tightest budget possible. And we resided outside the city in a more affordable suburb. Our entertainment, if you can call it that, was watching the occasional NFL game on TV or direct-to-TV movies and series, and reading all those library books. I felt really cut off from the rest of the world–the world I had barely gotten a foot into before having kids. Since we couldn’t afford long-distance phone calls, our friends and family would call us, and only between certain hours on Sundays, when rates were lower. So getting a letter from a friend of mine or maybe my mom or sister was a big deal to me. A letter was often my only connection to that other world and it made me feel as though people cared.

Finding and reading those letters today didn’t quite give me the morale boost I would get when I opened them for the first time. Instead, I became melancholy and sad for the young woman I was and the woman I never got to become. I don’t know if I felt trapped, because it was a life I willingly walked into. Maybe enmeshed is a better word. I was enmeshed in a world I had wanted but was too naïve to understand all the ramifications of. I was mature enough to realize, though, that it was a temporary life and it would improve.

And yes, my life has changed for the better since then, but some things remain the same. I still work from home and I’ve been a stay-at-home mom my entire thirty-plus years of parenting (now with four kids, the youngest of whom is in high school). Life has gotten so much better, though. To all the struggling young moms out there, I am living proof it turns out OK, but it was rough in the eighties and nineties. At least the moms of today have online forums in which to share feelings and Facebook pages and Instagram accounts to keep them in touch with long-distance friends. I didn’t have that, but I did have all those letters to keep me sane. They represent a tough time in my life, but also, they were my lifeline. I think I’ll hang on to them.

 

 

meet me at luke’s diner in stars hollow on wednesday

gg
Lauren Graham and Alexis Bledel aka Lorelai and Rory Gilmore in an autumn scene from Gilmore Girls

 

It’s like a TV miracle. One of my all-time favorite shows, Gilmore Girls, which died years ago, has been resurrected! Reborn via streaming services (namely Netflix), the mother-dauther/quirky-small-town dramedy brought in a huge following post mortem and will soon return to a TV near you. I’m giddy with excitement. Another reason to live another day! And to get a taste of what rubbing elbows with Lorelai and Rory, and Luke and Jess is like, small coffeeshops all over America are transforming themselves into Luke’s Diner this Wednesday, offering free java to customers. Can life get any better?

I was a Gilmore fan from the beginning, watching every season on the WB and then the CW, when the rest of the family and the majority of U.S. residents tuned in weekly to see who would become the first American Idol. I never saw a minute of season one of AI, never saw how Kelly Clarkson reigned over her competition, because I was too engrossed in the saga of a bunch of kooks in wacky, fictional Stars Hollow, Connecticut. What I loved about Gilmore Girls was not just its witty banter, and there was a lot of that, but its warmth. It was like checking in on your friends, cozying up to them in their living rooms (or the local diner), and catching up on the latest. I’m a huge fan of small towns and wished I could transport myself to this one, especially when life got tough.

On November 25, 2016, thanks to Netflix, we fans will get to do what fans of TV shows of the past have rarely been  able to do: We will get to see what has become of our favorite characters many years after the show went off the air after seven seasons. In four ninety-minute installments spread over the year and coordinating with the seasons (GG always featured the changing seasons in its episodes, which added a bit of warmth and authenticity to it), Gilmore Girls will revisit the lives of our friends from Stars Hollow and environs–Sookie and Michel, Lane and Mrs. Kim, Dean and Jess, and Emily but sadly no Richard (Edward Herrmann passed away on New Year’s Eve 2014).

As a warmup, this Wednesday I’ll head to the pop-up Luke’s in my hometown, pull up a mismatched chair at a ’50s style table, and order a cup of coffee and a donut, just as Rory and Lorelai used to do. Maybe I’ll rub elbows with the girls themselves, see what job Kirk is working at these days, or check out what’s on special at Doose’s Market next door. Whatever I do I will be filled with some great memories of times past and times to come.

gg-cast
The cast of Gilmore Girls (in foreground) “Rory,” (second row) “Dean,” “Luke,” “Lorelai,” and “Jess,” (back row) “Lane,” Michel,” “Paris,” “Richard,” “Emily,” “Sookie,” “Kirk,” and “Miss Patty”

october mornings can make you feel this way

fall-leaves

I heard that the simplest prayer is to say “thank you.” I like that.

Walking today on what is a fairly crisp fall morning (by Southern California standards, anyway), I took in long shadows, leaves falling from a sycamore tree, the smell of breakfast sausage wafting from a home or two, and a golden retriever by my side. I thought, “This is pretty nice. This is all I need.” The simple things in life, for sure.

I looked up to see the bare hills that pass for mountains here and a bright sun breaking through a distant marine layer. I said my thank-you prayer before my mind started drifting to things that are challenges in my life: the lack of a steady paycheck, the worries that parents of teens and young adults tend to have even when their kids are the “good” ones,  my deceased friend whose second anniversary of her death is next Sunday, and her teenaged daughters, one of whom turns sixteen the following day. Before I could hit up the rest of the list, like the fact that Donald Trump could possibly become our nation’s president in another month, I stopped myself, took a deep breath, looked into the distance, and said “thank you” again. I have a way of dwelling on the negative so much that the dwelling has turned into a permanent home, with a fierce dog chained in the yard and a “This Property Is Condemned” sign posted on the door.

But today is not for those thoughts. Actually, no day should be. I must look at the positive: I’ve a roof over my head that will be paid for in another so-many payments, I’ve enough money in savings to tide us over in case of emergency, and I’ve a loving family and a gaggle of friends to boost my spirits. I may not have granite countertops or memories of trips to the Bahamas, but I do have all I need.

I must remember that next time my mind wanders to the negative. A thank-you is all it takes.

with a slow workweek, i’m trying to enjoy the beauty of life

 

beach

Having felt as though I wasted my entire day yesterday, yearning for work and clicking on the Refresh button a gazillion times to will something into my inbox, then wasting five hours –yes, five hours!–taking a test I correctly assumed wouldn’t lead to a job, I drove myself to the water today.

So here I sit, facing the glorious Pacific. I watch a couple, possibly honeymooners, approaching the water. Deeper out are surfers, some young, some old, enjoying the moderate-sized waves.

I’ve rolled up my sleeves (having fought off a farmer’s tan all summer, I don’t want to promote one now), and I’m busy doing what? Taking in my surroundings, I guess I’d say, enjoying the bounty of what God’s given us (for it can’t be just science and happenstance that made the deep-blue sea, the soft sand to walk on, and the sun to warm our bodies and souls).

I’m easing into the comfort of the scenery, but I’m still on edge. I don’t do “outside the box” really well. And being at the water on a beautiful day–the many that we have here on the West Coast–instead of being at my desk is, for me, literally outside the box when considering my house is shaped like a cardboard saltine container. I realize I have a lot to learn about living in the moment. With four kids, whose futures I’ve spent more than half my life shaping, I have become a planner and not an enjoyer of the present. I’m better at trying to figure out what lies ahead, who needs to get where, when the next pediatric appointments and tap lessons are, and how to get from one field to the other without leaving a kid waiting for a ride, than appreciating what is in front of me.

The fact that work is slow to nonexistent at the moment, with the promise of a very busy October and November ahead of me, should be a relief and a motivator to linger in the present, but to me, it’s not. I will try very hard, just the same, to make it so and take in what’s here and now and not what may be–or what should be. Yes, I’d love to have work that comes in steadily. I’m a person who likes having a plan. But it’s currently not possible.

I’m not starving. I’m not unclothed or homeless. We have enough to get us by and savings to fill in the gaps. I’m a pro at budgeting when times get tough too. And we will work as long as possible if the money isn’t replenishing quickly enough. I have to remember all this when the stress of not working and, therefore, not earning hits me.

So right now I will put my pen and paper away, continue along the path beneath my feet, and say a little prayer for the truly unemployed (and the underemployed) who don’t have this view of the ocean (and a soundtrack of crashing waves) before them. I may not have a perfect amount of work for my liking and the money coming in will have to stretch a little further than usual, but what I do have before me right here, right now is pretty perfect just the same.