The Summer of Zoey and Trixie

Zoey relaxes at home

It hasn’t been quite three months since we said goodbye to Sophie and frankly, we weren’t sure if we wanted to bring another cat into our household. So many well-meaning friends suggested that we “replace” her with another pet but of course she is irreplaceable. Any loved one–human or otherwise–cannot be replaced.

But then another person suggested that a new pet might “enhance” our life, not replace Sophie. And poor Trixie, she seemed so lonely and needy in a way we’d never seen her before.

So, finally, we visited the SPCA and fell in love with a little gray three-month-old kitten. One paid adoption fee later, she was ours. We were able to bring her home the next day after she got the requisite spaying.

After just 10 days it’s as though this little three-pound baby was always a part of this family. We named her Zoey but she already has so many nicknames, the poor thing is probably going to have some serious identity issues. Among our myriad terms of endearment for her: Bear Cub, Zo-Bird, Baby Bear, ZoZo, Smokey the Bear, Smoke Monster and the Veep.
The term “Veep” is bequeathed to her by Trixie who, in turn, has been promoted from her role as second-in-command to Sophie. With Sophie’s passing, Trixie is now the Boss.

Trixie, the Boss

The rest of the summer will be spent trying to convince our home’s two rulers that they should work (and play) together for the better of all mankind. Or at least this family’s personal happiness. It’s actually going surprisingly well – some hissing, yes, but also a little bit of playing and lots of obsessive stalking on Zoey’s part. She’s absolutely in love with Trixie and follows her everywhere. On Friday I caught her sitting outside of the  litter box staring at poor Trixie who just wanted to do her business in peace.

In any case, it’s true that Zoey has hardly replaced Sophie — I miss that little orange cat more than ever — but she’s also oddly exhibited some of Sophie’s habits and there’s a part of me that’s convinced that, in passing, Sophie gave her a checklist of things to do so that she could enhance our life.

I’m not teaching this summer so, in addition to trying to facilitate kitty peace, I’m also hoping to revamp this blog (details, new site info TBA), write, learn to sew, cook more, read more and generally enjoy life in a way that’s so far escaped me for much of the year. The first half of this year was really, really tough in ways that I didn’t expect and those difficulties came at every possible juncture–work, family, home, friendships. Now, I hope to have a productive but fun summer. I want to finish a book. I want to write more poetry. I want to eat fresh fruit and enjoy the summer sun and ride my bike and go for walks and listen to amazing, new music and swim in rivers and go camping and wander through fairs and bask in the evening breeze.

2010 is nearly half-over but it’s not too late to make it turn out alright.

Shyness is Vulgar

I’m a big fan of Penelope Trunk’s Brazen Careerist blog because it’s an interesting and brutally honest mix of career, love and life advice.

Trunk is a newspaper columnist who gives weekly career advice and also the founder of three start-up companies including Brazen Careerist, a social networking-styled “career management tool for next-generation professionals.”

She also has Asperger’s Syndrome.

Asperger’s Syndrome, if you’re not familiar with it, is  an autism spectrum disorder. People diagnosed with Asperger’s typically exhibit difficulties with social interaction. These difficulties usually manifest in behaviors that cause the person to appear at best, aloof, disinterested or merely awkward and, more commonly, inappropriate and rude.

Trunk, who frequently writes about her autism,  is aware of how others often view her but that doesn’t mean she can easily change her behaviors. After all this is the woman who set off an Internet firestorm after she infamously tweeted her miscarriage

The tweet in question: “”I’m in a board meeting. Having a miscarriage. Thank goodness, because there’s a fucked-up 3-week hoop-jump to have an abortion in Wisconsin.”

Reaction, not surprisingly, was intense.

Here’s just a snippet of Trunk’s response to the vitriol.

To all of you who said I should not be happy about having a miscarriage: You are the ones short on empathy. Any woman who is pregnant but wishes she weren’t would of course be grateful when she has a miscarriage. Yes, there are many women who want the baby and have a miscarriage. I was one of them. I cried for days. I get it.

But if you have ever had an abortion, which I have, you would know that a miscarriage is preferable to an abortion. Even the Pope would agree with that.

And what is up with the fact that just one, single person commented about how Wisconsin has a three-week waiting period for abortions? It is absolutely outrageous how difficult it was going to be for me to get an abortion, and it’s outrageous that no one is outraged.

Go read the rest of that post, please.  It’s honest in a way that’s both cringe-inducing and admirable. I only wish I had the guts to be so forthright.

In November, she wrote a post about how to “leverage the advantages to being an introvert at work.”

As someone with Asperger’s, Trunk wrote, it’s often difficult to have “normal” workplace relationships–she has to try much harder than most to fit in – even at the company she founded:

The workplace is set up to reward extroverts. The bias against introverts in American society is well documented, including research that shows that a spot on the cheerleading team foreshadows career success much more reliably than a spot on the honor roll. Also, workplace catch phrases that annoy everyone are especially annoying if you’re not an extrovert: Toot your own horn! Your career is only as strong as your network! Let’s do lunch!

I’m not autistic but I am extremely introverted and I know this has, at times, affected everything from the kind of projects I work on and what kind of support I seek to my overall job satisfaction.

The first time I worked at the News & Review I had the luck to fall in with two smart, extremely talented women – one is something of an extrovert, the other more reserved, like me. We formed a tight-knit group within which I felt confident and happy. I believe this affected how I related to others and, as a result, I was a little more extroverted.

My next job was at an online music magazine in New York. The building was in a Wall Street high-rise, everyone wore designer clothes (seriously), partied late into the night and hobnobbed with famous people. They were nice to me and polite but I had trouble connecting with even one person on anything but the most superficial of levels. This came as a blow to me after the SNR and I know it affected not just my happiness but the job itself.

Subsequently, I’ve learned that one of my challenges is to push at my own social boundaries, to reach out to others, to initiate conversations. Of course, that’s easier said than done. And it’s even more difficult these days because I work two part-time jobs. I’m an adjunct professor — which means I’m part-time, have no office and am only on campus for a few hours each week. I also work part-time at the SNR and I’m typically in the office for about 10-15 hours a week; the rest of my work happens at home or in the field. Sometimes if I’m working on a cover story I’m there even less which means I have to try that much harder to build and maintain those relationships.

Trunk’s advice, however, is  to try — but not by completely negating what makes you you.

“Introversion is an important thing to have in a workplace – the trick is having introverts that understand why they’re so valuable,” she writes.

Among the advice she gives introverts is to “take control of your work” and “have confidence in your knowledge” and, perhaps, just as important, “give 10 minutes than go”

“Make a  connection, really contribute to the conversation, and then ten minutes is enough. …. (E)xtroverts often have anxiety that they cannot get access to the introverts in their life – because they are always leaving to be alone. Introverts can alleviate this problem by being fully attentive for a short time and then leaving.”

With that in mind, sometimes I think I got lucky with my choice of profession. Being a journalist and now a teacher forces me to regularly interact with people. It’s nearly beside the point that I dread the seconds before an interview or the moments before I step into a classroom. Once I’m there, especially if I feel confident with what I know, what I want to ask, what I want to say, then I find it easier to talk and forget why I was so anxious to begin with. Journalism in particular has been such an asset to my life in this way – I say, only half-joking, that I wouldn’t have any friends were it not for my job. It forces me out of my shell, it gives me the confidence to talk to others, hell, it’s how I met my best friend and my husband.

Which isn’t to say that my shyness still doesn’t present a struggle but the advantage of growing older, I guess, is that I recognize this and can at least endeavor to make small changes or,  better yet, sometimes give myself the freedom to just not give a shit if someone thinks I’m weird for sitting at my desk with headphones on, working in my own little world.

Happy New Year – Whoa is Me?

The other day I received a message in my Facebook in-box. It was from somebody named “Jennie Her” and it read: “Are you a lesbian? You’re so wo is me. It’s a turn-off. People don’t like that.”

I pondered over that message for a few minutes. I don’t know this Jennie Her and when I tried to look at her Facebook page, I couldn’t see anything except her photo because she’d set up her profile to “only share certain information with friends” although apparently Facebook deemed it OK for her to share insults with anybody.

Cory thought it was just a spam message and although I marked it as such (and so it disappeared forever from my in-box)  I couldn’t stop thinking about that whole “wo is me” part and how it related to the idea that I may or may not be a lesbian and how this was making me less desirable to the world at large …

Wo is me…what did “Wo” mean? Did she mean “woe”? That would be the most obvious, of course and she wouldn’t be the first to tell me that, sometimes, I can be a bit too “woe is me,” a bit too mired in the misery, too down, too fixated on what isn’t going right. I can see how people might not like that trait but how it relates to being a lesbian is beyond me. Is woefulness a same-sex preference characteristic?

But then I thought, maybe she meant “whoa is me” – that perhaps I’m just too laid-back. Maybe I’ve been Spicoli-ing my way through life and people are finally tired of my stoner ways, they want me to stop, it’s such a turn-off.

Again, though, how does this possibly make me someone who is so out-of-touch with her own sexual preferences that she’s been living a marital lie for 10-plus years?  Dude, I’m so confused.

I do know this, however: wo, woe or whoa I don’t really care what people like or don’t like about me or what does or doesn’t turn them on.  And by “people” I mean those I don’t know or with whom I’m not already friends. My friends and family know me and, last time I checked they liked me. Oh sure, they occasionally tell me to (take your pick) snap out of it, get over yourself, lighten up, et al…but they do it with care because that’s what friends and family do.

So, sitting here at the dawn of 2010, sipping coffee and listening to the Jay Farrar & Ben Gibbard record, I’m struck with the idea of how my life has seemingly shaped up to be what it’s supposed to be.

I have goals and resolutions for this coming year….some are the usual (lose that 5 pounds, read & write everyday, cook more, buy less, be more adventurous), some are deeply personal, others are just seedlings of inspiration, ambition and desire.

Wo, woe or whoa, I’m eager to see where and who I am at the end of this year’s journey – but I’m also ready to enjoy every little step it takes to get there.

My guess is that 365 days from now I’ll be just as wo, woe or whoa as ever and I probably still won’t be a lesbian although I do understand from first-hand observations that these things can suddenly change in mid-life and if that does happen I’ll be very sorry for Cory’s sake but, you know, shit happens….

So fuck you Jennie Her – whether you’re real or a spambot — and to everyone else, a very Happy New Year …..

Revolution Snuggie

Snuggies let me raise the roof
Raise the roof in your snuggie

Yikes, I didn’t realize it’d been so long since the last update; the last two weeks didn’t get away from me–they clobbered me. Papers to grade, holidays to hold, cover stories to write. It feels like I’m only just now coming up for air and still the semester isn’t even over yet. Anyone want to grade final papers for me? I’ll pay you in cookies (kidding LRCC, kidding…).

I’ve basically been in survival mode the last few weeks, grading and writing non-stop, not seeing much of friends, my only downtime coming late at night when I finally head to the couch and Cory pours me a glass of wine and I try to bring my breathing down to something normal, something that will let me approach sleep.

As it’s finally and blissfully cold, this ritual also includes the nightly donning of fleecy pants, hoodies and slippers (sexy, right?). Lately I’ve been joking about how I want a Snuggie— you know, the fleecy “blanket with sleeves.” It started when Cory and I were trying to figure out our Halloween costumes and nearly settled on the laziest costume of all time: Snuggies. Seriously, how rad would that have been? Well, I thought it would be anyway–cozy, drink-friendly, cheap and effortless.

That didn’t happen but, still I joked and then, spurred on by a suggestion from Becca, I decided to write my column about Snuggies.

I didn’t tell Cory this so imagine my surprise when he came home from work on Monday–just hours after I filed my column–with a gift: My very own forest green Snuggie!

I opened it that night all set to get as snuggie as possible….but ….

Well, here’s how the Snuggie web site tries to sell you on this fleecy invention:

The Snuggie is perfect for:

* Traveling in the Car
* Night Time Pub Crawls
* Chilly Office Buildings
* Sporting Events
* Cold Movie Theaters

Here’s what they don’t tell you about the Snuggie:

* It’s constructed for an NBA player – seriously it’s long enough for me to wear while standing on Beno Udrih’s shoulders
* It’s got extra long, baggy arms, it kind of looks like you’re wearing a Hogwarts robe — one constructed for Hagrid
* It looks like it was constructed in one of Kathie Lee Gifford’s sweatshops — yeah, it’s that bad.

And yet I wear it. I wear it on the couch, I wear it while typing, I wear it while I’m napping. So far, however, I think I have too much of a personal sense of shame to ever–ever–wear this damn thing in public. If I ever do, stick a fork in me, I’m done ….

Day 245 of My New Life

Eight months ago today I was laid off from my job at the Sacramento Bee. It was a horrible day but then again it wasn’t.

The company had announced its plans for layoffs about six weeks prior to the actual date of bloodletting; we knew the job eliminations were coming, we just didn’t know exactly how many people would be “permanently separated” from the company or, exactly when it would happen. Without going into all the boring specifics it finally came down to union negotiations and a hotly debated vote.

By Friday, March 6 we all pretty much knew that the following Monday would be The Day. Our bosses asked us to let us know where we’d be that morning — just in case, you know, they needed to reach us.

After weeks of worry, it was a relief to finally have that day come — even when I woke up suddenly at 4 a.m. on the morning of March 9 and said to myself, “you’re going to get laid off.”

Somehow, right then and there, I just knew that my job of nearly nine years was done.

The tap on my shoulder came at about 9:20 a.m. (and yes it was a tap; the cliched tap …but to be truthful I saw my boss out of the corner of my eye about 10 seconds prior to the tap and so I knew then and not by the power of her executive touch).

I was led downstairs into a conference room where I found a manager, a small sheath of papers and a box of Kleenex.

It all happened very quickly; the manager seemed truly upset. I think he may have even said something akin to “It’s not you, it’s us …” Regardless, I just felt numb.

Upside: I didn’t have to cover a story I’d been dreading.

Downside: It was my mother’s 60th birthday and I had to call her with that news instead of just a celebratory birthday greeting.

Fast-forward eight months and my life feels very very different. Very different and mostly better.

Eight months is a long time — almost enough time to gestate a baby and in a way, I feel as though I’ve conceived of a new life. One that follows my own standards for creativity and happiness.

I’ll admit that finances have sometimes — OK, quite often–been a worry but thanks to many factors (cutting back on extraneous spending, freelance work and the Bee’s severance package), we’ve made it work. It’s also been emotionally hard; I knew I didn’t want to spend the rest of my days at the Bee but it’s still tough when someone breaks up with you, whatever the reason and no matter how good it ultimately is for you.

But now here I am working two part-time jobs, teaching English at Sacramento City College and writing for the Sacramento News & Review and, quite honestly, I can’t imagine going back to my life before.

I love teaching for the most part. I don’t love grading papers but I love talking to students in the classroom — some of my kids (and I think of them all as “kids,” even the ones who are older than me by decades) are absolutely wonderful in their desire to learn and grow; they have great senses of humor, they even get my weird jokes. Sometimes after a particularly good class session I actually feel giddy and enormously optimistic about the world. Granted, I do have some, um, “problem kids” but dealing with their issues (mostly of the attitude variety) has also taught me a lot about communication and the importance of trusting in my own authority.

I also, of course, love writing. Being back at the News & Review is exciting and rewarding. I’m sure there were some who questioned my return after nearly a decade but when they approached me about freelancing and, then later, brought up the job opportunity I knew in my gut that it was the right thing to do. Here is a newspaper that values creativity and good reporting and voice and enterprise; it just feels completely right to be there again.

One of the best aspects of this new life (245 days, more or less) is the flexibility it gives me. I think I may be busier than ever but I get to work from home a lot and set much of my own schedule. In the last eight months that’s afforded me the chance to write more — I’ve started a screenplay and a book. I’ve written several personal essays and jotted down a handful of new poems. In other areas of my life I’ve also found time to cook more and even joined a gym. All of that feels pretty damn good.

Thanks to everyone who helped me out during the last eight months — everything from job and writing contacts to just a much-needed word of cheer or support.

I am truly grateful for everything.