Saturday, September 20, 2014

Conscious nonlaboring

"You need to blog the shit out of this," my friend Tortilla told me, twice in as many days. The same exact words, urgent, intense. And, well, that I can do! I am now MADE of time.

So: Thursday I got laid off, after just shy of 14 years at NerdCo. (It's not my intention to burn any bridges, plus I'm still amused by my own pseudonyms.) It was swift, not entirely unexpected, and remains a little bit surreal. They called a clump of us into a meeting, one of the larger conference rooms with banked seats; whipped through a series of HR bullet points in a slide deck (with a black background and color scheme, very Goth); and distributed our individual packets of severance and compensation info. I think it took eight minutes flat before I was back in the hallway outside my office, looking for boxes.

I've been through worse. I was laid off once before, from a retail job, and before I left the store weeping I had to submit to a search. So this was altogether more dignified. Then, too, my last period of unemployment--a month, where I actually collected unemployment!--had been just after I'd left grad school, with my oh-so-employable MFA. My student loans had come due; I had made one payment. And so I was dead broke, insurance-free, and had few skills beyond running a cash register and picking up customers' abandoned sodas and Kleenexes off the floor. I had at least abstained from any facial piercings to conform to the Draconian mall-bookstore dress code.

I job-hunted then like that was my job, in a clammy terror the entire time. And a former fellow clerk knew someone who was looking for a writer, someone to craft software training manuals. They took me on as an intern. The first day, I did not even know how to turn on my PC, had only ever mastered my third-hand Apple IIC at home. "Have you set up your email yet?" the woman in charge of onboarding me asked, and I said "No!" brightly, and then watched her like a hawk to find out where the power button was. Nearly 20 years ago, and I owe virtually my entire technical career to that moment, and to a series of lucky accidents and friend-of-a-friends.

With most of those two decades nestled in the bosom of NerdCo, I am pretty well buffered while I contemplate my next steps. I've socked away enough, established sufficient history, that I can remain calm and approach a fresh job search without the same panic I felt at 25. This feeling itself is new, something I need to get used to...but truth be told, I feel worse for my colleagues: for the others who were laid off, who have shorter career trajectories--and in most cases, little shorties to take care of, at home. And I feel for the colleagues who remain, shouldering the work left over when hundreds of us were Raptured outta there. Monday is gonna be rough.

But not for me, not in the same way. That's the trippiest part, the notion that, for a while at least, my time is my own. For two days I packed up my motley assortment of crap (vast 1960s table lamp/ Mariners bobbleheads/editing textbooks/gigantic coffee mug), gave and received hugs, gratefully accepted the immense margarita my team took me out for. My immediate manager was actually out of the US for a conference; he didn't even know what had happened until I sent out a farewell email. He called me Thursday afternoon, shocked and apologetic, and was surprised to catch me still at my desk.

"Well..." I said, looking around at the inflatable garden gnome/throw rug/favorite yo-yo/vast postcard collection I had yet to cram into boxes. "I'm still packing." My boss continued to express regret, empathy, etc. Then he said:

"Okay, well...don't do any more work on [Labyrinthine Project] or [Onerous Task], okay? You can just hand those off to me or Tortilla," he noted, utterly earnest. For a brief moment I thought about hitting the Mute button and laughing hysterically, because OH, OKAY, I WON'T. And he is either the noblest man in the world, or sweetly severely deluded, but if he thought I'd accomplished a single thing besides the packing, hugging, crying, and margarita-drinking since 11:08 AM, he was...misled. Maybe it was jet lag? At any rate, he was gracious and supportive, so I chose to find this remark hilarious, and still do. Not a bad way to go out.

That night, I had a pint of ice cream for dinner and watched three DVRed episodes of Billy on the Street--something about all that screaming was soothing, in a way I can't explain. Yesterday, I went in with Krispy, another RIF-ee, to make our final purchases of every possible thing you could put a NerdCo brand on in the company store, and then turn in our laptops and worn, raggedy corporate IDs. We went out for happy hour beer and nachos.

And then I, a legendary insomniac, came home, took a two-hour nap on the couch, and then rallied enough to move to the bed. I'm not exaggerating at all, to say that I am a terrible, terrible restless sleeper. For weeks, for years, I've lain in bed unable to shut my mind down--that little hamster running on the wheel, planning ahead to the next meeting, the next draft, the next deadline, oh god I have to set up that conference call, who has the blahblah spreadsheet, don't forget to update the database, on and on and on. And come morning, I'd be that person who hits the snooze button three, five, twelve times...or resets the alarm for twenty or thirty minutes, who tosses around sluggish and desperate, and for whom no amount of hot shower or coffee really kicked me into high gear, nine days out of ten.

Last night, I slept like a corpse. Smooth, sweet, dreamless dark, straight through til morning. I only awoke when Frankie decided, at his Swiss-accurate 7:30 on the dot, that just because we were now indigent was no excuse for his being able to see the bottom of his bowl, and could I please make with the kibble immediately, thank yew. I felt like a completely new woman. And oh, I am sure that new stress, different stressors, will surface soon enough. Eventually, I will lie awake grinding my teeth about entirely different professional challenges! But for the moment, in the moment...I am going to be just fine.

Sunday, September 07, 2014

I just wanna get some kicks

My Facebook feed lit up this week, with pictures of everybody's kiddos returning to school. Little dumplings in the primary grades. A high-school classmate's daughter, following in our footsteps as a newly-minted Garfield freshman--an effective sobering agent in case we awoke feeling remotely spry or youthful. My cousin's oldest son, launched into our 1980s football rival, Snohomish High. (I say "rival" only in the sense that we were somehow cruelly classified in the same division and had to play each other, because GHS football stunk up the joint.)

I must say, you parentals are so prepared for the Pinterest nation we live in now! Posing the kids in, say, the same spot, year to year! Giving them a little sign to hold, stating their hopes and dreams! That is actually going to really help in 30 years--they'll be able to tell what the heck is going on, and gauge their progress towards becoming a ballerina-veterinarian, or whatever.

I mean this sincerely. Not having progeny of my own, I went digging through yon family archives to see if I could find my own first-day pictures. We were much more haphazard with the photo milestones, it seems. Maybe this was due in part to the nature of real film itself? My mom's persistent inability to center a viewfinder on the scene in question meant that she'd fire off one or two weirdly composed shots AT BEST; processing was a whole 'nother order of expensive. One set of these back-to-school, September-morn prints states on the border that it was developed the following January. We were parsimonious, with our Kodak moments--it was better if you could get school-Halloween-turkey-Christmas-birthday-neighbor's litter of kittens on one roll.

At any rate, I couldn't find them all. I found enough, however, to compose a mortifying photo essay and time capsule. Dig it:


Kindergarten. I remember resenting the immense nametag and, presumably, care and feeding instructions? pinned to my left shoulder. I got my mother to pin it to the jacket, which I promptly shrugged out of and hung on the designated little peg in my similarly-labeled cubby, because what was I, a moron? I KNEW MY OWN NAME, sheesh. Room 10, Mrs. Bacon, yadda yadda, I AM HERE FOR THE EDUCATION LET'S GO.

Third grade, which would put Sis in kindergarten. Nice socks with sandals, there, Northwest Stereotype Girls. This dress came with a little red blazer, I guess so that I could easily take my look from "Highland Park Elementary" to "night" with a simple adjustment. Also, check out the rabbit ears, with which my grandpa was coordinating NASA satellites.

Fourth grade. I think this is the first year Mom was likewise working in the public schools, and as you can see we are all SUPER EXCITED by this academic development.

Look at that folder, though. No mere Pee-Chee for me: I selected that majestic mountain vista myself, y'all. This is only the very first evidence of my persistent belief that the right accessories (spiral-bound notebook/leather journal/antique desk/sleek laptop/sushi-shaped pencil erasers) will generate the greatest American novel and/or confer the PhD themselves. The globe is very intellectual-looking also.

I know there's a sixth-grade picture, lost somewhere, because I used it as a painful "thinspiration!" photo stuck on the fridge for far too long. I'd selected every element of my ensemble myself, too: white jeans, a navy-and-white-striped Oxford shirt with a Nehru collar, and brown suede platform-wedge loafers that I...might consider wearing today. Feathered hair. I weighed 113 pounds, but was angling to get back down to double-digits, because "100" was way, way too much. I was 11 years old. Oy. Ladies, girls, kids, everyone: don't do this to yourselves! If I did have a daughter, or a son, I hope that'd be the one thing I wouldn't pass on, the decades and decades of obsessing about exactly this. You're beautiful and perfect and your body is a miracle machine, full stop. Regret nothing! Except maybe the outfits!

Okay, PSA over. Eighth grade. 80s fashion was a slippery slope, and I'm afraid both Sis and I were rolling rapidly downhill at this point.

Won't someone please think of THE CHILDREN, and then STOP THEM? Is her Colonel Sanders tie worse than my twee little grosgrain-ribbon choker? My teddy-bear ski sweater? I think her hair is entirely my fault--I'd braided it, wet, the night before, to make it wavy. Later, Sis was brave enough to undergo a perm; timid, I continued to farf around instead with ribbons, barrettes, and the occasional novelty shoelace as hair accessories. I...don't know. It's a tie, in which nobody wins. Though if you look closely, you might note that my pinstriped jeans give me a slight edge. Kudos also to Mom, who's gotten a new 35mm camera so she can better capture random shadows across our squinting faces, plus a crystalline focus on the landscaping behind us.

Monday, August 25, 2014

So, so, so, so.

I'd taken a long weekend in Portland, but I couldn't kick free of my depression. All the usual remedies, the coffees and panini and okay-twist-my-arm shoe shopping, weren't doing it, and Saturday night I slumped in my room, despondent and already past vacation midpoint. In 36 hours I had to turn around and go back, pick up the threads of my stagnant life, work and commute and cleaning the bathroom, and I felt like I'd accomplished nothing.

But Michelle had this idea, to drive us out to Cannon Beach and just have some sand-and-sea times, use the long car ride to talk ourselves hoarse, flesh out exciting Big Life Plans to look forward to.

I was skeptical. The ocean seemed like an epic journey, growing up--so distant, an entire vacation plan in itself, the Oregon coast even farther afield than the gritty little sibling towns of Moclips and Pacific Beach we'd visit in Washington. It occurred to me, en route, that it had surely been nearly 30 years since I'd seen Haystack Rock, and probably 15 or more since I'd even been to the coast in my own state. With my Grammy, when she was still alive.

But it was a mere 90 minutes from Portland. And once there, I was astounded at how I'd ignored or forgotten or not taken advantage of it, this fucking extraordinary place, this natural marvel I am so, so lucky to be a few hours' drive from. The roaring surf, the limitless horizon. The salt-sticky wind in your hair. That amazing smell.

We sat in the sun on stripey towels and ate brie and bread and drank blood-orange San Pellegrino. We waded in the light-glittered water, which was cold for an instant and then perfect. We drove on a little further, down to Manzanita, and poked through shops and bought a shit-ton of saltwater taffy and olde-tyme penny candy, and gave ourselves diabetes on the way home. We grilled simple hamburgers on the deck and ate outside and took Pumpkin the hound for a walk in the sweet, balmy dusk, and it turned out to be the best day I've had in a long, long time. The day I so desperately needed. I am so, so grateful. Thank you for that again, Michelle, my friend.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Far too young and clever

I've been thinking about the late, great Casey Kasem all week, and I needed just a bit more room for my  #throwbackThursday this time.

"American Top 40" aired Sunday nights, when I was in the prime listening demographic. Six to ten p.m., or 7-11:00 maybe? My mom was still rigid about school night bedtimes, but at some point in my middle-school years I was allowed to--or figured out that I could--listen to my crappy clock radio on the lowest possible volume, while lying in bed.

I'd get misty while Casey called out the long-distance dedications. I could not wait, to have, and possibly then break up with, an Actual Boyfriend to whom I would devote the syrupy regret of a pop song. Casey Kasem willing, I'd do so in a forum broadcast to everyone in the United States. Learn from my romantic tragedy, fellow tweens! Heed my hard-earned relationship wisdom!

I rooted for my favorite songs to move up in the countdown, as if I had money riding on it. I guess in a way I did, hoping that my latest obsession would crack the top 20 and thus appear on the wall behind the cash registers at DJ's Sound City, four rows of 45s in their paper sleeves. The other bins of singles were a crapshoot, but I knew that one slat-wall would be fully stocked. The cashier could just turn 180 degrees and hand down the record. If it wasn't top-20, though, you had to wait. If you had particularly esoteric tastes, you might wait a long time. This was the 80s, luckily, already a wondrous and bizarre mishmash of pop trends, where stations on the AM band played Kenny Rogers cheek-by-jowl with Alice Cooper and the Beatles and the Knack.

But I think about it a lot, the patience that's no longer required. Was delayed gratification ever that much sweeter? (Usually, I think this after I've gone on a nostalgic iTunes binge, snapping up every crazy one-hit wonder I can think of, most of which are preeeeeety terrible.)

Anyway. Casey Kasem and "American Top 40." A primitive map, for the adolescent culture I was on the periphery of. Teenagers! Here were things that teenagers did: listened to music, bought records, affected the surge and sway of the pop charts. Casey was my guide. And, ever the straight-A student, I took notes, writing down the most thrilling countdown moments on my calendar.

I knew I'd saved one somewhere--for the calendar illustrations (vintage children's-book illustrations, if you're wondering. Nothing racy, ew! I was in 7th grade! And a nerd!). I didn't realize what an excellent anthropological document I was preserving, though. Here's April, 1983. I was thirteen.


I've always enjoyed the Oscars, though I was nonplussed by "Gandhi" winning Best Picture. "Tootsie" was my pick, and I'd evidently seen it twice, which I hope did not adversely affect my performance on that Western Hemisphere test in Social Studies. But I digress. Check out Sunday the 24th. Dexy's Midnight Runners, with their fiddles and their overalls, had hit number one--in the USA!--with "Come On, Eileen." The mildly suggestive lyrics were luckily obscured by the lead singer's incomprehensible mumbling, and so I think we even convinced my mother to buy the whole album, on cassette, from Columbia House Records and Tapes. I hope we got that one for the proverbial penny.

But I suspect I slipped out of bed to write this, to find a pen and scribble down this milestone, lest I forget. I had a babysitting job on the horizon, and I have a pretty good idea now where that cash was gonna go. It was spring, it couldn't BE any more 80s, and it was totally awesome. Thanks, Casey. Rest in peace.

Saturday, February 08, 2014

What silence equals

I don’t get it. Certainly, running the US broadcast on a multi-hour tape delay gave NBC’s editors ample opportunity to decide which parts of the Sochi Opening Ceremonies to cut—seemingly, too much of the wackadoo good stuff, like Get Lucky. And yes, speeches, welcome, thank you, swifter higher blahblah boring…but to patch together Thomas Bach’s remarks while neatly trimming his emphasis on dignity, tolerance, respect…? That can’t be sheer clumsiness. It’s got to be deliberate. Sure, Putin is a creepy dude, but is the fourth-place American television network so intimidated that they can’t bring themselves even to let someone else politely criticize his brutal, discriminatory policies?

Or are we a lot closer to them than we think?

I was a competitive figure skater as a teen. Oh, I wasn’t any good—I started too late for that. But I spent my adolescence in several mildewy local rinks, twirling and daydreaming and landing on my ass more often than not. Most of the kids I skated with were girls. Most of the coaches I knew were women. But I worked with three male coaches over the years, in summer clinics and training camps…and all three of them were gay.

Plenty has been written elsewhere, about the USFSA, the various Olympic committees, and whether they’re constantly searching for The Great Straight Hope, in men’s figure skating. I don’t have the tools or the inclination to analyze this, now, to explore why and whether gay men might be disproportionately drawn to the sport. I mean, sequins and Stravinsky don’t have some inherent magical gay-making power. And I have no idea whether the men I knew were out at the time: to their other friends, their families, out in their public lives away from the rink. Looking back, I don’t remember it being a topic of discussion, either…more of an open secret. They were gay. We all just knew, and didn’t care.

Tony taught me my first rudimentary spins, the coiled etchings of my blade on the ice like a plate of spaghetti. (Tony also lost his shit and screamed at me when, during rehearsals for the annual ice show/recital, I botched his vision, tripped, and collapsed in mortified, giggling paralysis.) Ryan was a brilliant choreographer, a prankster, a wiseass. Ryan swapped books with my mom, danced with me at somebody’s wedding. Alexi spoke English as a second language. “More slow, please,” he’d beg me, when my breakneck teen-girl blithering proved impenetrable. They were my teachers, friends, fixtures in my world. They were just people.
This was the mid-to-late 1980s. A history lesson in another disproportionate percentage: two of these stories end badly. Tony died of AIDS-related complications while I was away at college; first he vanished, then he died. I heard at roughly the same time that Ryan was sick. That’s how I was told, in that circle: a half-whisper, low tones, already too late. Someone was Sick. Ryan is…Sick. “Oh, Ryan, be careful,” my mother had blurted, once, the lone time AIDS had somehow come up in conversation. I remember that he promised that he would. Whether he was or wasn’t, I couldn’t know. Maybe it already didn’t matter. Ryan hung on, fought like hell in fact, for 17 years…but died a decade ago at 42. Younger than I am now.

I associate the “SILENCE = DEATH” message with the ACT UP movement in the same late 80s-early 90s period. I’d remembered it as both a demand for more research into HIV and AIDS, better medicine, a cure…and an exhortation not to remain silent—to protect each other by practicing safe sex, keeping everyone informed, being aware of one’s HIV status. But it turns out that, all along, it also meant being open about one’s true self, gay, straight, bi, trans…so that by calling attention to prejudice, oppression, danger, we can fight against it and root it out. From the Silence = Death Project’s manifesto: “’silence about the oppression and annihilation of gay people, then and now, must be broken as a matter of our survival.’ The slogan thus protested both taboos around discussion of safer sex and the unwillingness of some to resist societal injustice and governmental indifference.”

This is why I’m watching the Sochi Olympics, why I couldn’t bring myself to support a boycott. Russia’s discriminatory policies and human rights violations are an offense, and they deserve—NEED—to be called out on the world stage. I’m proud and protective of the brave athletes from around the world who are willing to defy these wrongs, in whatever large or small way they can: Ashley Wagner rainbowing it up. Alexey Sobolev making Bob Costas invoke the name “Pussy Riot” on national television. Brian Boitano, realizing that saying nothing is just another form of silence.
And this is why NBC’s decision to excise those portions of the IOC President’s speech so grates upon me. Matt and Meredith spent a lot of last night’s narrative talkin’ ‘bout Putin: how these were his Games, his message, his stage…almost as if he were single-handedly pulling every cable on the floating schoolgirl, twirling inflatable onion domes, and light-up hockey players swinging from the stadium roof. Putin, Putin, Putin! But if we don’t talk about why we’re talking about Putin—or why he is intimidating, sinister, sitting up there in his box like a reptilian cyborg—then we’re silencing ourselves. We’re silencing the good people fighting for change: those who are gay, those who aren’t, all of us just people like the coaches I knew. And silence = acceptance. Silence = the continuing wait for a cure. Silence = discrimination, imprisonment, getting beaten to death on the street or trapped inside a burning nightclub. So don’t give in, don’t give up. Be loud. Shout and cheer, for your team, your athletes…and for their humanity. For everyone you and they know and love.

Monday, February 03, 2014

How to end a dry spell

Such a goofy, giddy atmosphere in Seattle yesterday, like a particularly localized bizarro Christmas. Seahawks banners were taped up in every window of the ballet studio, and to the Campfire Girls’ card table outside the market (though by the time I made it out with my nacho fixins, they’d packed up their mints and raced home with their moms to make the kickoff). Someone had draped 12th-man flags on the pedestrian bridge over Holman Road and strung the handrails with blue and white twinkle lights plugged into an outlet on the city’s dime. People in Hawks jerseys thronged Chuck’s Hop Shop and the Sunday-morning biscuit truck outside. Driving through the anticipatory mayhem I had a weird momentary thought: that I wished I was a child, just a bit, to be experiencing this unique civic holiday from that perspective.

I was nine years old when the SuperSonics won their lone NBA championship. Seattle was still effectively a small town, known for boom-and-bust cycles of lumber and airplanes and little else. 1979 was closer, then, to Elvis at the World’s Fair and Here Come the Brides than I am to nine, now. Bill Gates and, yes, that Paul Allen had just moved their fledgling company up from Albuquerque. There was one Starbucks. Just the one! Think about that for a second.

So the Sonics were still somewhat accessible, to normal people. They made appearances at my elementary school assemblies, gentle giants signing autographs. Some crafty local made sock dolls in team likenesses; my fourth-grade teacher, Mrs. Eskenazi, had one of her favorite player, Dennis “DJ” Johnson, complete with frizzled-yarn Afro and his trademark freckles—somebody’s grandma had painstakingly embroidered a dusting of French-knot specks across his knitted cheeks. Based on a (shockingly accurate) self-portrait of the period, I had a Sonics t-shirt:


And so we were invested, at least somewhat.
We were with our dad, Sis and I, the night of Game 5. I don’t think we actually watched it, on the green-tinged 19-inch tube TV in the living room (though I’d love now to have the brass-and-veneer midcentury-mod Media Cart it sat on). But someone had hired a skywriter: I remember running around the yard in the long light of early-summer evening, and the little plane spelling out SONIC BOOM in puffy cloud trails in the air. And I remember afterwards, the shouts and horn-honking and people whanging pots together, house to house. Dad piled us into the pickup—just the three of us sliding around on the bench seat in the cab, never a thought of belting in because safety hadn’t been invented yet either—and drove us to Mercer Island, where Kathy still lived with her parents. He’d marry her, that fall. I cross Lake Washington every day now, but it seemed an epic journey, a vast distance, at the time. There were carloads of other celebrants on the highway, snapshots zooming past: a shirtless man hanging out of a VW Beetle whooping for joy, his own Sonics tee whipping and snapping in his hands like a flag.
“Wait,” Dad told me, “wait…” until we reached the I-90 tunnel…and then he let me lean over and pound on the horn. Honking in the tunnel! A delirium of echoing, illegal racket! Other cars took it up and we shot out the far end in a cacophony of blaring joyful noise that I’d instigated, thrilling and dangerous, champeens of the world.