Friday, March 23, 2007

Sunrise Over the Hudson

Sunrise Over the Hudson
Originally uploaded by MzOuiser.
This time of year, I pretty much hibernate, not doing much of anything outside of work. In a few short weeks, Passover is coming, as well as Easter, and Beltane. Even now I can feel the stirrings of spring, warm and bright and as promising as this sunrise.

I'm preparing to write my annual New Year's Resolutions. I don't have much "fun stuff" this year. My dreams have become very practical lately. Something in me has grounded - maybe landed is a better word. Where I used to reach for things like getting something published or learning an instrument, I'm now reaching for practical things, like a long-term home, a family, a clean financial slate, and more time with my parents. I remember how uprooted I felt when I had to leave my Upper West Side apartment; it appears I've grown some very deep roots since then, but not necessarily in the soil of Nyack.

I met with three florists last week, all worthy candidates for my wedding. I found myself hyper-focused on non-floral elements - fruits like pomegranets, grapes, and hypericum berries, as well as curly willows, ferns, evergreenery, Queen Anne's lace, bear grass, and pussy willows. I gushed about the symbolism of fruit, the promise of fertility, the story of Persephone, and the wildness of grasses. These all seemed like feelings I wouldn't necessarily connect with a wedding, as they speak to me of adventure, of independence, and of creation - not necessarily biological. I realized that I am seeing these concepts within the boundary of marriage. My marriage to G will not corral me - it will support me. G and I are both adventurous people who are always looking beyond the horizon, eagerly anticipating the next mountain to climb, imagining all the things we'll do together on the other side, and how great the experiences will be. I'm expressing our partnership, and hopes for our future through my wedding decor! Something about this feels very eccentric, but also very right.

I used to get depressed looking out our hallway window toward Westchester county, at the view in this picture. Westchester represented something that I felt had rejected me - the corporate world, upscale society, I'm not sure exactly where to point the finger here. But I felt locked out, unwelcome, unappreciated, unwanted. At some point, about a year and a half ago, shortly before I started massage school, I stopped gazing out the windows altogether. Unless there was weather to check, I just didn't look.

It's different now. Before, I always slept through dawn, and the "pretty" views were always of the sun setting, of a day ending. Of just Ending in general. Now, I'm awake before dawn, and happy to be so, heading off to a great job. I snapped this photo somewhere between six and six-thirty, simply breathless at the beauty. I don't see Ending anymore, I see Beginnings. Not just the tangible ones of my two new jobs, or my new career as a Massage Therapist, but also something more intangible. It's a new way of knowing myself, a new way of understanding my relationship to the world, to the populations of people that flow in and out of my life. It's a new way of recognizing my worth in the world, and a new way of channeling my energies and talents. And, of course, it's the pre-dawn of my new life with G. We will eventually have a new home, and a child. I am continuing to study Judaism, and will be keeping a modern Jewish household. We will attend Friday night service at our local shul tonight, and while Jewish worship is in and of itself a new experience for me, I believe this may also be the first time G has attended services with a partner of his own.

So much newness, and yet I feel I have left very little behind me at all. I still feel the presence of the divine as a feminine presence. I still feel at home in New York City. I still wear "office clothes" to work, and I still commute in and out of Westchester along with the thousands of people who are doing jobs that I once wanted. I still enjoy some of those friendships I made at my old job. I still keep this blog, and I still enjoy it. I've kept the best things from my past with me, and have simply layered all this newness on top. I feel stronger, like so many layers of earth. I feel... more whole.

I'm also a lot less angry than I used to be. Oh, I have my moments, but the fuel for my daily living is far less acidic than it once was.

Speaking of new things, I have to come up with a new name for this blog. Suggestions are welcome! Comment! Or email me!

While I'm at that, I've been wanting to dump Blogspot for some time, and get a unique site design, and all that. Dimarc bought me a domain name for my birthday, which I can renew in 2008. All I need now is something to point that name towards. I got some shopping to do. New, new, new!

So, I've found my slogan for 2007: A Whole New World

Blessed be!

Thursday, March 08, 2007

2007 Is Really Kicking Ass So Far

Monday, January 15th: Booked a great venue for my wedding to G, and started official wedding preparations.

Thursday, January 20th: Took the NY State Licensing Exam for Massage Therapy, and had great tapas afterward with some good friends.

Friday, February 23rd: Received confirmation that I passed the Exam.

Sunday, February 25th: My first job as a Massage Therapist.

Friday, March 2nd: My professional registration and license came in the mail.

Thursday, March 8th: I got a Non-Profit Job, at a place I'm excited to be part of, for a good salary. A place I feel I was led to.

I want to remember how this feels for a long time. It's a feeling of accomplishment, of worthiness, of reward, and of humility, as I grasp the larger picture of all those without whom I couldn't have done any of this. It's a feeling that maybe - no, definitely - hard work pays off.

I'm going to sleep very well tonight.

Job Update:

We're in negotiations. Or rather, my agency and the school are in negotiations.

The week after next, I'm planning to spend three days in Boston nailing down our last few wedding vendors, and I completely forgot about that in all the excitement. G reminded me over dinner, while I was gushing about the interview.

I mentioned it yesterday to Jackie, and the both of us are hoping it's not a deal-breaker. This may sound stupid, but it's happened before. A little over a year ago, a company in Tarrytown was going to temp me until they learned I was planning to be in Illinois for the week between Christmas and New Year's. Companies in general can afford to be as grinchy and picky as they want. They act as though their entire organization is going to collapse if we don't get someone REALLY GOOD in here RIGHT NOW. Then you tell them that in two or three weeks I'm going to need a few days off, and poof, you're out. Now it's true that this particular place refers to themselves as a "non-profit," so we're not looking at a typical corporate culture, but they are still doing the OMIGOD WE NEED SOMEONE RIGHT NOW routine.

Of course, after G got home last night, I told him all this, and he says "If need be, we can always postpone the trip." Thanks honey... Then why did you remind me over dinner? I never would have brought it up and jeopardized my chances in the first place!!!

I took out my frustrations on the elliptical machine last night. Remember, I told myself, You don't NEED this job. It's not the end of the world if you don't get it.

I just want this one.

The school wants to temp me for a few months, until they can "come up with" (read:get approval for) the Agency fee to hire me direct. They would like to hire me direct, but oh, the fee, the fee... Apparently Jackie was on the phone with my prospective new bosses for some time yesterday, standing her ground against their efforts to bring down my rate, my salary, and my agency's fee and percentage. How typical.

This is a blog, and I'm being deliberately vague about this place of business, but I'll just say that most non-profits dream of having half the money this place is rolling in. I've already slashed my salary requirements in order to fit in their offered range (which is a whole two-grand wide). Thank god for the massage work, which allows me to do that. It rankled me to know that this place is hoping I'll make that long-assed drive from Rockland County to Connecticut every morning at seven AM for wages only slightly better than my summer jobs in college.

Of course, this is how it goes. This is par for the course. I was actually able to laugh with my agent over all this. In a way, I found it validating. I'm not alone in this.

So they'll hire me, or they won't. Meanwhile, suspense.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Warning: Hidden Drives

After this most recent round of job interviews, I have landed myself, with no help from my temp agency, a nice job as a Massage Therapist at a lovely spa close to my home. I have been examining the idea that I might not have to do office work at all anymore. It's taken me a long time to visualize that clearly, but I've finally gotten there. Two weeks into my spa job, I can see myself doing nothing but this, and being solvent and happy. Screw the exploitative world of paper-pushing, I've got a brand-new bag.

Once I made this realization, another quickly followed. I was now going to have to call my staffing agency and "quit." You don't really "quit" temping, you "go inactive," meaning you're no longer available for work.

I love my staffing agency. I totally heart them. My agent Jackie and her boss Lyn have been my cheerleaders from day one, and have negotiatied the highest rates for me, at the best companies, with the nicest people, and the most fun work. I have made good friends because of those assignments. Jackie herself never fails to call me for any reason, and she always returns my messages, even if it's 8:00 at night and she's at her boyfriend's house watching American Idol. She's gone the extra mile for me to get time sheets in that I've misplaced, and gotten me every interview I could have asked for. She calls me her "star." I've been looking forward to them placing me someplace, not just for my own benefit, but because if anyone has ever deserved the commission I'd bring, it's Jackie.

So when she called me last week with this latest possible job interview, my throat froze. I just couldn't do it. I couldn't tell her that I wasn't going to be working with her anymore. I just lost the courage to say that. Instead, I found myself agreeing to go on one last interview.

"This place is a little different," Jackie said, "but I think you'll like it. It's not a super-conservative corporate place, like MBIA."

"Really." I said. Maybe Alden's finally giving up on me, I wondered. "What's the name of the place?"

I almost dropped my coffee cup when she told me. "It's a Catholic all-girl school in Connecticut. They need someone helping out in their development office. I know it's a little far but it's right up the road from MBIA, just a couple of minutes!"

"Jackie." I sighed. "How do you find these places?"

Because of where I grew up, I had a very low opinion of all-girls schools, the only ones of which I'd ever heard of were Catholic. All the Catholics surrounding me were very closed-minded, evangelical, Keyes-and-Coulter types. The purpose of a Catholic school is to seperate boys from girls and make sure nobody is even thinking about having sex. The three R's come secondary to that, and really, for girls, they're not really all that necessary anyway, because the primary duty of a good Catholic girl is to have lots of Catholic babies. Of course they also promoted abstinence-only programs, and taught that homosexuality is a disease.

It's also true that in 1985, 80% of the girls caught shoplifting at our hometown mall were Sacred Heart Academy girls. Needless to say those plaid-skirted felons were also snobby and rude, but then girls were like that everywhere, so that's probably incidental.

"Well," Jackie went on in her micro-machines fast chatter, "I thought since it's more like a... well, you know, it's not like MBIA..."

"It's outside the corporate sector," I prompted.

"Yeah, exactly!" Jackie exclaimed. "I thought maybe this might be a better fit for you!"

I sighed. She was so excited. She talked about how nice the Director of Development was, and how she had placed someone there a few years ago who loved the place and her job. I crumbled.

"Ok, Jackie," I said. "I'll meet with them."

"GREEEAAAT!" Jackie squealed. "I'm sending them your resume! I'll let you know when they want you to come in!"

A little later that day, Jackie called back. "Please don't kill me, my friend," she quavered. "The interview's at 8:15."

I groaned. I'd have to leave my house at 7AM. "That's ok," I said brightly. "I'll beat the rush hour traffic. And I know exactly where it is."

"I thought so!" Jackie chirped, all brightness and enthusiasm. She read the job description to me, and told me in detail everything she had told them about me. I let her chatter for awhile before I gently applied the brakes.

"Jackie, I have to be honest with you. I don't see myself making this commute on a regular basis. It's really far. And I can't imagine they'll be paying much, to compensate for all that gas and tolls."

Jackie quoted me their offered salary. "Really..." I stammered. "That's... that's pretty good."

"I mean, I might be able to ask for a little more.." Jackie began.

"Well," I cut her off. "Let me just go meet them, see what I think. I have some reservations, but you never know, right?"

So just like that, I'd agreed to go on this job interview. For a place that I couldn't believe I'd ever fit into, that might offend me to the core. That was a stupid distance from home. Fine, fine. Just this ONE LAST TIME. And then I promised myself I'd go see Jackie in person at her office, and let her down nicely. I would go inactive. This would be the last worthless drive across Westchester County I'd make, I swore.

The place I went this morning was completely different from my expectations. It's an "Independent" Catholic school, which means they don't have to report into the diocese. It's nothing like how my Mom was raised. You don't have to be Cathollic to go there.

The building is very big, and very old. I kept thinking of Hogwarts, with the dark wood wainscoating and the winding staircases. The administrative offices are small, but they are comfortable, and have windows. The rooms were cozy and snug, even on this frigid morning.

The Director of Development was rather businesslike, but he was also quite chatty. We talked about where we grew up, where we lived, and commuting through the Rockland-Westchester-Connecticut corridor. He was a friendly, comfortable, "dad" sort of person, and I liked him very much.

All the people I met there love their jobs. They love the school, they love what it stands for, they love what they are a part of, and they love their bosses and working with each other. Two of the women I met with talked about "nurturing and supporting the next generation of women," and my heart leapt in my chest.

Despite the modest appearance of the administrative area, it was clear to me that the place is swimming in money. They have state of the art electronics and computer systems for the kids, including a laptop program and "smart boards" in the classroom. It's so Star Trek. And they're offering a corporate-level salary. I was running out of faults to find.

The last person I met with was the Director of the school. He was talking about religious pluralism, about the School's mission to assist girls in finding their own paths to a socially conscious, ethical life, regardless of religious affiliation. "If we had a muslim student, it would be the same - we would encourage her to develop her relationship with her god, and to live her best life." I had tears in my eyes as I searched for my car in their massive parking lot. I was genuinely inspired. I felt at home there.

As I was driving the windy pathway to the exit, thinking about my own journey through life, and the period of exploration I've been in over the past year, something happened which borders on the mystical. As I was slowly rolling out of the parking lot, through the huge brick-and-iron gates, I noticed a plaque affixed to the brick support. It was a dedication plaque, with the name of someone whom the school chose to honor for her many years of service there, and the inspiration she left behind: a woman named Deidre Marie.

I was all settled into the idea that I would just be a massage therapist and nothing else. Now I have to re-think everything. I can't ignore how it felt being there.

Granted, I may never hear from them again, I will have one less decision to make. But - I'm struggling just to type this - I want them to hire me. I want them to want me. I want an offer. I would be perfect for that job. It's everything I'm best at, and for once, I'm not just talking about my computer skills. I want to know that I met these people who share a common vision with me, and know that they saw a kindred spirit in me. I want to feel recognized. MBIA can think whatever they like about me. Screw HSB, screw Yoplait, screw Revlon, screw Eli Lilly. From what I saw today, this is a group of people whose regard would truly mean something to me. This is a place where I could, I think, really fit in.

So we'll see.

Friday, March 02, 2007

All You Need Is... What?

Finally, somebody gets it.

I have often referred to myself as a "reformed slut." When I was in my twenties, I slept with more men than some of my friends had ever met. I could count them for you, but I grew some shame over the years. Although I will say that I'm pretty sure the number of forgotten faces is less than ten.

It's true, I had a great deal of much fun in my twenties, but it's also true that I was lonely and miserable in my twenties as well. I wasn't a happy slut. There were a few one-night stands and casual relationships that I was able to keep in perspective, especially since I usually was juggling two at a time, occasionally three. Most of those guys were "friends with benefits," or quasi-nameless one-nighters that I used like anaesthetic, figuring for a few hours the heightened sensations in my body would take my mind off the seemingly never-ending hurricane in my mind. It worked pretty much just like that, and in the morning, I never expected them to call, and I was fine with it, because there were others I knew who would call. And they always did.

From today's Times, a review and article about the book "Unhooked: How Young Women Pursue Sex, Delay Love and Lose at Both," by Laura Sessions Stepp:

Ms. Sessions Stepp said she agrees that some women are able to hop out of bed the morning after a hookup, feel great about themselves and think, “That was cool, now I’m going off to chemistry.” And if that is so, she said, that is fine with her.

Every now and than, that was me.

But, according to her research, most young women do not happily untangle themselves from the sheets and hightail it to class, she said. Instead they obsessively check their cellphones to see if Mr. One Night Only called. They feel bad about themselves and lose the opportunity to learn how to build a relationship. That they are high achieving is not the point, she said.

The majority of the the time, that was me.

Ms. Sessions Stepp said, in the quest to get ahead, women have put their hearts on hold. “But at what cost?” she asks. “Do you want to harden your heart to the point where you don’t know how to feel when you’re ready to get into a relationship?”

Yes, as a matter of fact, I did. My self esteem was sufficiently low that I believed I would never find a man to really, truly love me for who I was, who wouldn't abuse me, who would just be a decent boyfriend and eventual husband, like my girlfriends seemed to have. I was convinced at a young age that this just wasn't in my cards.

I felt this way because of the way my peers treated me. Nice, normal boys never gave me the time of day when I was in high school. I was either ignored completely or actively made fun of by various crowds of kids. Every now and then a boy would show interest in me, and it was one of two types.

The first type you can figure out. Often they were a few years older than me, and pretty good looking. They were confident, and I was always surprised and thrilled that they were even noticing me, never mind liking me and wanting to take me out. We'd always go to either a private party, with plenty of dark, private rooms, or to the movies, after which we'd park somewhere. After a few dates - or if I was lucky, a few weeks - he'd get bored with me and stop calling. Then when I'd call him to ask what the silent treatment was about, he'd get rude, tell me to quit bothering him, and hang up. This happened for the first time when I was thirteen and refused to put out. It happened several times when I was in high school, but then it seemed normal. When I was in college, and I actually put out, I had no illusions, but the emptiness of allowing myself to be used wasn't assuaged by the awareness that I was using them too.

The second type of guy who'd date me was trying to convince everyone (including himself) that he wan't gay. Often these guys would be firtatious and suggestive as hell in public, but in private would kiss me a few times and take me home. This was always the dead giveaway - straight boys want sex, and gay boys don't. He'd take me to a few movies and parties, and then after a few weeks I'd get a very sweet, apologetic story about how he'd met the male love of his life at the mall or backstage at the community theatre or some such place. I was never angry about it, but I did wind up being dateless again afteward. These sweet guys never stayed my friends once they came out. They just vanished from my life. In retrospect, that may have been the worst part of all, because the one thing I wanted most was someone to go places with, feel like part of the world. But those guys had a new world now, and I wasn't part of it.

I imagine their vanishing acts kept me from being labelled a "fag hag." I never endured that leering title, until I moved to New York and suddenly it was cool. I suppose that's something to be glad of. Life was rough enough for me in Illinois.

Ms. Sessions Stepp said her goal is to retool, not reject, feminism. “Really, when you look at it, hookup culture is gravy for guys,” she said. “So how much are we winning?”

I knew that, in college, my prime slut years, I was walking a very fine line. True sluts were admired and respected. They were revered by other girls as being in control of their sexuality, for not being afraid to pursue pleasure with the same adventurous abandonment that boys did. There were, however, these mid-level sluts, who were not respected. They didn't have any friends. Guys didn't brag about bagging them, since they knew everyone else had. The famous slut of our department, who I'll call Dawn, gave the impression that she could be selective of her partners, that she didn't really "need" them. Men did brag about sleeping with her - as though they had experienced something fabulous. Nobody bragged about sleeping with Eileen, or Randi, or, let's be honest, me.

I chose to emulate Dawn. I figured that was the best I could do. I held my head up high and responded to catcalls in the hallway with a wink and a shake of my ass. It worked. I didn't get much shit from people after that, and I did make more female friends. I did choose my lovers, and was seldom turned down. I was in control of my sexuality... but not my heart.

This was a role I played, and at the end of the night, when I went home and took off my makeup, I was a lonely, love-starved 21-year old. I knew what a fake I was, what a liar and cheater I was, and I hated myself for it.

The aggressive, sexually free female is a feminist ideal that simply glosses over the complexities of relationships. It was a giant step from the guilt-enforced stereotype of virgin-until-marriage or slut-for-life that infested society until the 1960's. It is, however, hopelessly outdated. It doesn't accurately map the vast territory between prude and slut, between sex and love. In the 1990's, on my college campus nobody knew how to talk about this, and ten years later, apparently it's still a problem. In spite of everything the feminist movement has done for women, we still have a long way to go when it comes to empowering young adult women.

Let's start with accepting the fact that no set of rules applies to absolutely everybody, and that's a GOOD thing. That it's ok to want to fall in love, get married, have kids, and it's equally ok to want to be a CEO and enjoy your sex in your own fashion. Or to want to get married but not have kids. Or to want kids but not a partner. Your choices are YOURS.

And as far as sex, it's ok to say yes when you want to, AND no when you want to - you can go back and forth as much as you feel you need to. This is your body, and you don't OWE it to anyone.

Most importantly of all, don't decide who to sleep with, or when, based on your desire to be identified with a certain socio-political camp. Young women are still simply not able to listen to their hearts. And how could they, with everyone around them screaming in their ears?

Thank God for New York. Thank God for a fresh start. I've told the story a million times, about how that glorious summer in 1995 I got off that plane, dumped all my hangers-on, took a three-day-long shower and started completely clean. It's an old story, but damn, it was great. And now here I am twelve years later, in a happy monogamous three-year relationship, planning my wedding. Eight years worth of therapy and a great deal of bourbon later, of course.

That said, there are plenty of criticisms about this book. Some say that the author is trying to re-instill the notion of sexual shame. She is a bit harsh in condemning young people for dirty dancing. But the point she makes is an important one - that the hookup culture is no healthier than the abstinence one, or the "I'll sleep with him because I think he loves me" victimology of bartering your body for good behavior. The way to avoid being sexually exploited is not to become an exploiter - it's to outsmart them, and refuse to have any part in the game. Believe me, that's a great deal harder, but it works.

Do I wish I'd figured that out by 21 instead of 25? Of course. Am I kicking myself that I didn't? Absolutely not. I - and Eileen, and Randi, and Dawn - did the best we could. I do, however, wish someone could have framed the ideas as clearly as Ms. Sessions-Stepp. I take the things I can use from what I read, and I trust the next generation to be smart enough to do the same. And as every generation of feminists before me has said, maybe, just maybe, my daughters and grandaughters will have it just the teeniest bit easier.

It's worth working for.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Fog on Thursday, Clearing by Monday

In the comments from my last post, Aaron said:
Just remember - you're interviewing them as well - only the best for my Ouiser

Did you sense something, old pal? I did interview them, far more than they interviewed me. I came out of that interview so disgusted that I decided during the car ride home that, if by some slim chance they did offer me the job, I would turn them down. It was one of the worst interviews I've ever endured. That guy in that unimaginative tie would never in a million years appreciate me, my skills, and everything I have to offer. He was a robot. Good riddance.

I don't need 'em anyway because! >drumroll< I am now gainfully employed at a lovely spa about 20 minutes from where I live. It's... rather corporate in a lot of ways, which may be part of the reason why I'm comfortable there. They were very up front about what they pay, how the payroll works, what the policies and procedures are, and what they expect from me. None of this loosey-goosey "come in and give a few massages and see how you like it" crap. None of this waiting to see what someplace else is offering before quoting me a commission percentage. They made me a solid offer. I said yes.

Right now I'm hoping to keep in control of my own schedule. This place has a lot of business and they will overwork me without a second thought. I'm brand new, fresh out of school, and I've never done anything more than three 1-hour swedish massages in a row! I need a little adjustment period before I start doing five a day, with some 90- t0 120- minute ones thrown in, plus learning new modalities on the fly. So far I've managed to hold my ground.

Today I'm "on call," which may become something more regular, or something I'm not willing to do. I'm trying it out.

I've never been in this position before, where I have some say over my hours. With a normal job you are informed of the hours you will work, and that's that. Here, I'm aware of the spa's greatest needs, and I've agreed to fill some of them, but if I took on all their hours of greatest need, I'd be dead, and I'd lose all semblance of "work-life balance." So giving them as much coverage as I think I can, and I just had to say no at a certain point. I can do this or that, but not both. I'm glad I had the chutzpah to be honest and up front, rather than simply saying I'll do whatever is needed, like I normally would.

A big motto of mine is "never make a committment you aren't sure you can keep." I told my new boss this, and I think she appreciated it. I'm not willing to be enslaved by this new job, like I was by my old ones, but I genuinely want to do as much as I can.

One thing I'm doing is bringing in a friend of mine who may be able to work some of the peak hours, and if that works out, I'll cover a different day. That would be a great scenario.

When you boil all this down, things still feel somewhat uncertain. My schedule isn't set in stone yet, neither is my monthly earnings picture. I may take another job at a different spa, on one or two of the days Haven doesn't need me. Then again, I may not, and use the extra free days to plan my wedding, or relax. Maybe see friends. Or go into the city. :)

When this fog clears... I'm sure I'll find something else to stress about. But - this has been the primary stressor in my life for a long, long time, this enslaved-to-a-shitty-job crap. That's why I called this blog "My Friday-to-Sunday Life" - I felt that I only lived outside of my job, that from Monday morning to 5:00 Friday, I was dead. I'm finally getting to the culmination of two years of hard work at trying to change all that. So far, it feels really, really good.

I guess I can't call myself unemployed anymore either.