Saturday, December 24, 2011

Day 220: Christmas Eve

Some people struggle at the holidays, and at times I have too.

They are times fraught with emotion, when the grip of memory can just as much cause smiles or tears. You may miss the times you had that were special with your family and loved ones. It's good to relive the memories but they can be bittersweet. There are people who are long gone, but those times were intimate and important. And now they're slowly fading into your personal history.

It can be tough. It can make you blue. This is especially true for those who have fallen on tougher times. Maybe they have lost their family somehow. People die or grow apart. Kids grow up and move away.

This isn't meant to be a downer. In fact I've been more in the "holiday spirit" this year than I have in a long time. It was a conscious decision, an effort to make this season happy and memorable. I think for the most part I have succeeded. I've done the little things that mark the season, and I've tried to be kinder and more patient with the little irritations that can be heightened when you're caught in crowded scenes.

I spoke to my dad tonight. He grew up in the Dust Bowl: A 1930s Okie. You can't get more "Depression era" than that. To recap, his mother never graduated high school, and his father ran off when my dad was 12. An undereducated mother of five, alone in a dirt-poor town of less than 2,000 people in post-war America. My dad's family in the best of times knew only struggle.

I asked him tonight what he remembered about Christmas as a child. "Well we were poor," he said. "And everybody knew it, and people would look down their nose at you. You'd be wearing hand-me-down clothes and people acted like you were nothin'."

And that's what my dad's family had at Christmas: nothing. "We were lucky if we had an apple and an orange," he said. "There wasn't any money. I'd work chopping cotton to help out. We had to live at Granny Keeter's for a while."

An apple and an orange. Merry Christmas.

My mom's family had similar struggles, only a little more money. Her family actually got gifts at Christmas, but in her case, it might be a pair of socks. She said one year they got a doll -- to share with the five sisters.

Socks, and a part of a doll. Merry Christmas.

The next time you hear about people getting maced during a fight in a store to get some stupid toy, have some perspective. The struggles my parents had may seem quaint... but with millions of people in this country out of work, this Christmas is going to be pretty threadbare for a lot of folks. Some probably aren't getting new Droids or iPads. Some aren't getting the new Batman game. Some aren't getting the Air Jordans.

Some aren't getting anything. They'd be lucky if they had an apple, an orange, or a pair of socks.

I haven't had a paycheck in well more than half a year now. But I'm lucky... M has a good job and has also found a part-time job, and I've learned (unfortunately through trial and error) how to watch our money closely and keep out of trouble. We're making it.

And although nothing is definitive yet, there has been a promising prospect recently that I'm hopeful about. And an earlier interview, once again, I was close to landing the job. To my knowledge I still could, but I think I probably will be the bridesmaid again. That's OK, because at least I felt like it was a good prospect. If I don't get the job, someone else does, and ultimately that helps everyone.

We need to remember how lucky we are, and how great life is. Though unemployed since mid-May, I'm sitting here in decent clothes, in a warm house, in a loving environment. There is food in the kitchen. And I was able to procure some modestly priced gifts.

A lot of people tonight are crying because they don't have any money. They don't have a job. They are estranged from, or have lost, people they love. They will wake up tomorrow, alone and lonely. No one will give them even an apple or an orange.

Remember these people. Think about those "ghosts of Christmas past" and present who touched you, and count your damn blessings.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Day 216: Dad

My father is 78 today.

Just a few years ago, a lot of us thought he wouldn't make it this far. He's made some good moves in his life: he never carried excess weight, he stayed active (mostly by playing golf) and he never smoked.

However, he did like the koBeer at times and inherited from his oldest son an enjoyment of food.

So he's had some heart troubles and a couple of related surgeries. And the last wave, we thought he was done for. But today, his mind is clear and he sounds good. He's less ambulatory than he's ever been, and that sucks. On the other hand... he's 78! Statistically, he's playing with house money.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Day 213: Colors

My mother loves wild birds. She's fascinated by them and has been for a long time. Her home features bird-themed items (even a clock that hourly sounds off with different bird tweets) and of course feeders throughout her yard.

We've got a feeder here that when stocked becomes a major bird attraction. At times I've broken out the binoculars for a closer look at these visitors. Some of them are remarkable.

The cardinals... the male is bright red, stunning. It's got to be difficult to be in nature and be that conspicuous. The female is greyish-brown with red highlights. There are two pairs who frequent our feeder.
M loves the Blue Jays. Outside of the crows, this is the biggest bird that we see on a regular basis. For our smallish feeder, he has to hover to get at the seed. In NoCal last year a bluebird was spotted. Very different. Smaller, and a deeper hue. The Jay has a very distinctive call; kind of a screech, actually. They seem to be the boss of the birds around here.
Downy Woodpeckers have been spotted. These are also very visually interesting creatures. The body is kind of a very light grey; the wings are black with white spots and there's a bright tuft of red fur atop the head.

These are just a few. This isn't a bird post, it's about the beauty of nature and the colors that exist. Today the sky is so blue, and cloudless.

I guess this is a "stop and smell the roses" (or rather, look at them) kind of post.

When you're a kid, everything is amazing. When did we get so jaded? Today I'm making a point to see the natural colors around me and appreciate them.

Adjacent to our home is a bit of wild brush and trees. There are some bright red winterberries within arm's reach of the house.

Of course I could now digress a bit and talk about the lovely white cigarette butts that the neighbor dumps on the ground. She did add a little color yesterday by throwing dead flowers over the deck rail onto the pile.

Yeah, let's not talk about that.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Day 209: Concern

This morning I received a polite "no thanks" letter from an employer.

I've gotten a few of these, so it's not shocking. Still not fun, but at least considerate. Many places never provide any response at all.

But what alarmed me with this one is that even though I have almost 10 years of experience in what the job asked for, the response indicated that I did not have the requisite experience. It was some hair-splitting... like telling a football coach with 10 years of NFL experience that they wanted someone with NCAA experience. I've done precisely the job they need filled, and further, have seen the (inferior) work of people they already have on staff.

This does not start my day off the way I would like.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Day 208: Perspective

Yeah, last night I didn't have much.

There's definitely a negative effect that long-term joblessness can create. Sometimes it's almost imperceptible, but when it manifests it becomes pretty obvious.

Last night I watched a football team and my favorite team in sports choked. Big deal. It's just a game, right? Except last night I was overinvested in the outcome. Not financially, but emotionally. And when the ending came, I was crushed. Beyond crushed: for a moment I thought I was going to throw up.

That's ridiculous. It's a stupid game.

But I went to bed in a bad mood. Sleep provided no relief. I had a terrible dream that upset me so much I woke up crying.

The dream wasn't about football. But I think the stress of needing to find work, and having gone so long without, has caught up to me. It's poisoning my mind.

There's no way to sugar-coat this: The last month has mostly sucked. Thanksgiving had family drama that caused lingering tension. Becky died. I had an interview, but I sense I'm once again going to place second (or third, or fourth -- anything other than first is just a degree of losing). I also had a cyber visit from some people who only want to bring me down. I really want everyone to be happy, even the people who don't like me. Can't we all just get along, even if the only way to do so is to ignore each other?

And the holiday season is one that (like for many others) can make me more blue than happy. Without much money, I am unable to purchase gifts for others. I know there are other options, but sometimes it'd be nice to buy an expensive present for my family. I've tried this year to "get into the Christmas spirit" by decorating the house and making an effort. I'm glad to do so because it is a good idea to try and not give into discouragement.

But I'm discouraged.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Day 205: Progress

So had an interview locally on Wednesday. It went well, but there's one huge sticking point that might be an issue. Time will tell.

Even better, a really fantastic prospect contacted me about my candidacy. This would be a major move but also a sort of "destination" job that might be "the one." A longshot; the employer will need to take a bit of a leap of faith, which I honestly addressed in our exchange. The fact that they are still interested is a very good sign. I'm not interested in playing the game any more: if we get each other, we're going to have something great. So might as well be completely upfront about my vision, and theirs.

Because of Becky and just the way the holiday season hits me, I've been thinking a lot about loss and our relatively short spans here. I see people who are just getting into their adult years and I now understand why so many people before us shook their heads and shrugged at us when we were that age. Most of these kids just don't get it. They look at time as endless, and at themselves as bulletproof. There's a certain innocence and beauty in it, this feeling that things are still possible. But the reality is that by this time many things are already predetermined for them, and breaking free of that is going to get harder as they go along.

It's like driving down a street that you think might get you to where you want to go. If you don't know, you have no real idea. Going on feel has a certain charm to it, but only if the end destination isn't something important. If the destination is your future life, that's a pretty risky way to get there. You don't know if the road is a dead end, or dangerous, or void of gas stations or food or lodging (i.e., opportunity)... if it's a joyride, that might be something you can overcome. If you want to do something specific, it's going to put that at risk.

Once M and I took a free-form trip. We went to Boston from Montreal, and back. Going to Boston we took a straightforward trip but the trip back was not set. We had no timetable so it was OK to "riff" a bit. It turned out to be a great idea. I can't remember what I did Monday, but I can remember almost minute-by-minute the things that happened on those hot summer days.

Chris Guillebeau preaches about breaking free from the conventional life almost all of us are sentenced to. It's not easy. I haven't been able to, for a variety of reasons, including the fear of taking that big a risk. I haven't defined exactly what I want to be when I grow up. But at least I know that when I figure that out, I'd damned sure better have a plan to get there. It won't happen by accident.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Day 199: Neighbors Update

Well, clearly, parking is a challenge. The dude parks at weird angles, presently less than three feet from the car he has yet to hit.

And this morning, turns out the smoker girl thinks the back yard is an ashtray. 11 ciggy butts. It's like a really white-trash version of the 12 Days of Christmas. Hey! An idea! New lyric subjects...

12 Empty Bud Cans
11 Cigarette Butts
10 Taco Bell Bags
9 Crappy Park Jobs
8 Calls to Landlord
7 Late-night parties
6 Hipster Douchebags
5 Dumb Ringtones
4 Sweater Vests
3 A.M. Songs
2 Dumb Neighbors
And a Plan to Move Awayyyy!

Friday, December 2, 2011

Day 198: The Rules

We've got new neighbors. So far, things haven't gotten off on the right foot.

Here are some helpful hints when moving into a shared space.

* Communicate.
For example, instead of assuming your neighbors keep similar hours, ask. This is much better than playing your guitar at 3 a.m. and hoping for the best.
This is also helpful when determining property situations. We share a wall with the new tenants. What we don't share are trash receptacles. Unless you plan on dragging our trash can to the weekly curbside pickup point (you're more than welcome to!), don't just fill up our trash.
Similarly, contact the city about a recycling bin. Your trash in our container was full of bottles.

* Draw logical conclusions
When you see me raking leaves from a parking spot, you can presume that I'm doing so because in the two+ years I've lived here, I've kind of adopted it.
We've got space for four cars back here; five if you're accomplished at spatial relations. So, parking your two cars doesn't require a Masters (which at least one of you have) but it does require some degree of care and skill. Develop it. NOTE: Hitting my car as you did yesterday shows you have room for improvement!

* Be considerate
I am grateful you did handle most of the arrangements regarding the collision. Kudos! However, as we noted, the walls here are a bit thin. When you decide to stomp up and down the stairs, we hear it. When you decide to lumber about your apartment arranging things, we hear it. Seeing as how this is your first week, we're going to be cool a bit longer. But soon, let's settle down.
Along the same lines, be mindful. The first neighbor we had here was entertaining with his off-key singing (which, to his credit, he did not attempt at 3 a.m.) but less entertaining with his amorous encounters with a variety of chippies. As Archie Bunker would say, "Stifle!" We hear everything you do.

Oh, one more thing? The wine-bottle opener we loaned you three nights ago and which you pledged to return the following day? Yeah, you may have forgotten but I haven't. It's a little thing, but still important.


Got a bitch about your neighbors? Please share...

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Day 197: Sweetness

After the stress of the holidays, prolonged joblessness and now Becky's loss, I could use a break.

Last night, we went to see The Muppets.

With my daughter grown, I don't go see a lot of movies that skew toward kids any more. A big exception: I'll go see anything Pixar has a hand in. "Up" is still one of the best things I've seen in years.

At what point do you perceive that you've "outgrown" certain things? When do you feel like you're too old to do the things you loved when you were a child?

I get it. I don't want cotton candy any more. Or hardly any candy at all. It's funny how adults adjust... the only candy that is regularly acceptable now is chocolate. It's been able to market itself as sophisticated. Godiva makes great sweets, but c'mon, man... that's candy. But now we can have this particular candy as adults because it's been approved.

Other foods have done the same thing... found a way to become accepted as adult when in reality they're kid favorites. Think of macaroni and cheese or grilled cheese sandwiches... here in Gawd's Country we have a restaurant that makes grilled cheese sandwiches and it's positioned itself as somewhat upscale. But, it's a grilled cheese sandwich. Great cheese or not, it's two pieces of bread, butter and cheese. C'mon, man.

Another thing we did as kids that we don't do enough of now is play. It's cleverly disguised now as "fitness" in a lot of cases. Riding a bike is still fun, but you're probably going to get some strange looks if you have a ringer, handlegrip tassels, a wicker basket or a baseball card between the spokes. Or training wheels. So now to do this fun thing you've got to have a pricy bike and gear. Fortunately some play you can still respectably get away with. Softball, basketball, flag football allow your childhood jock to keep going. What hurts these are people who take these games too seriously. And someone always does. The most fun I've had with this was a co-ed league that required at least three women in the lineup. Our women players were so good we often played with four women in the lineup.

But some play is just not accepted. Call a bunch of your friends up and tell them you want to schedule a big game of hide-and-seek. I think the reaction you get would tell you a lot about who you should intensify your friendship with.

Every now and then I am channel-surfing and stop on the Disney Channel. My daughter loved this when she was little. When I see it now it seems a little (hmmm... make that a lot) manufactured. Everything is so exaggerated and over the top: the colors, the acting, the sets. But they're still a little fascinating. I love looking at the background details such as posters on the walls of schools or rooms, or notes scribbled on bulletin boards or held by fridge magnets. They're subtle: "Homecoming Dance Saturday" or a grocery list. Subtle reinforcements of "the American Way" most of the time. I guess being Disney you shouldn't expect to see a reminder about an OWS rally.

Disney released The Muppets. The behemoth company has deservedly caught a lot of grief for various things, but with Pixar and things like The Muppets I can't find fault.

Sometimes things that are sweet are too much so. This is the case with a lot of the Disney TV programming. But in these sour times, I think we could use a little more sweetness. As my friend Ken says, everything in moderation, including moderation. ANd that's why I wanted to go see this movie. The Muppets became a part of the American consciousness through Sesame Street, still one of the seminal programs in TV history. They were so appealing they were bigger than public television's greatest show. They were a part of the first season of Saturday Night Live. And the premise of the movie is a re-staging of their regular TV program.

If I ever meet Jason Segel, I'm going to thank him for being the force behind getting this movie out. It's just right. Naturally there's a lot of show-bizzy song and dance numbers, but they're appropriate for the movie. The humor didn't have quite the bite that the TV show used to have, but that's OK. The important thing is that for two hours, you're willingly giving yourself over to something you know is going to be a little corny, a little old-fashioned, and cynicism is bounced at the entrance. Throw in a Pixar cartoon short featuring the original Toy Story characters and you've got a break from the pain of the real world. Much better than a night at the bar.

And it kind of can clear your mind of the clutter.

Stuff happens. This morning I watched as my new neighbor of two days crashed into my parked car. Punctured the rear bumper that has already been replaced once after a previous smashup. It's obviously annoying and something that I will now have to deal with.

But no one *wants* to get into an accident and deal. So I'm not too bent about it. Against the normal backdrop of life, this is a pretty minor problem. I just want the days to be as full and sunny as they can be. I don't want to let petty crap drag me down. With The Muppets' reminder about the good things, I'm just going with it. Everything will work out. Most of this junk is just that: junk. Even the worst life has some good things. Some people would use the old phrase "count your blessings."