2019: My Year in Review

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I feel like I’ve lived several lifetimes since last year.  I’m working nearly full-time from home as a proofreader/editor and am now in university, pursuing my B.A. in English with a concentration in Creative Writing; I’m also back at the Writing Lab as a tutor—a great gig.

Several months ago, however, things weren’t so rosy.

When I got discharged from my full-time position at my alma mater, my first thought was “How am I going to pay the bills?”  But that thought was almost instantly replaced with an overwhelming feeling of relief. 

Three days before graduating with my A.A. and A.S., I was offered a full-time position as an administrative assistant (i.e., secretary/receptionist) for my alma mater’s foundation.  One of my interviewers had said they were “so inspired by my passion for the college” that they actually upgraded the position for me (full benefits and everything).  I like to say that the red carpet was rolled out for me, only for the rug to be pulled out from under me. Being given the boot after all that should’ve been a blow to my pride, but I’ve learned (the hard way) over the last few years that pride is way overrated.    

The story I’m about to tell, I wasn’t sure I was going to tell at all (at least in writing).  A very good friend of mine thought it should be told, so rather than change the names to protect the not-so innocent, I simply won’t mention them (they’re really not that important).

Here it is:

Every year, the foundation puts on a holiday gala for the big donors.  The year before last, it was at another campus, showcasing the healthcare program.  I was the Editor-in-Chief of the college newspaper and wanted to cover it, and my successor was taking photographs.  I thought my boss would be pleased (though that wasn’t the reason why I wanted to do it) that it would be getting some attention.  Plus, I was curious.  

Fancy affairs like this one was are generally not my thing, but there was something so cool, so insanely awesome, that I just had to tell about it:  a robotic mannequin that gave birth.  I captured the whole process on my phone and posted on to our newspaper’s Facebook page.  I think robots in general are cool, but this was just . . . WOW!

When the print edition of my story came out after I returned from winter break, a shitstorm hit.  The dean from the campus where the gala had been held came into the foundation office and talked to my boss, who went into a panic, asking where all the newspapers had been distributed, asking me to take down the video, etc.

So what happened?

The new Editor-in-Chief (the photographer that night) had replaced one of the photos at the last minute (she didn’t have a name for the caption, which is sort of a cardinal sin in the newspaper business) with a photo of the robotic mannequin giving birth (I’m not even sure if the fake genitalia was in view).  My boss informed me that because I worked for the foundation, certain things would be expected of me.  She didn’t even give me the chance to tell her that I had handed the reins over to the new EIC at the end of last year and had had nothing to do with the photograph (I guess donors don’t look at our Facebook page).  

As my grandma used to say, I was all worked up into a tizzy (even though I knew she couldn’t fire me for something over this), I walked outside and called the Editor-in-Chief, whose calm made me realize that I had done nothing wrong.    

My boss was so afraid of losing donors, referencing some anti-Trump art by a teacher (which had caused the school to lose donors), that she couldn’t see the bigger picture:  Donors don’t control the news.

What was even more insane was that donors were there that night and saw the whole thing.  I thought, if someone sees childbirth and thinks it pornographic, then they are the ones with the problem.  

My boss treated me with condescension (but never in front of people) after that, and it got to the point where I didn’t feel like I could do anything right, even take a simple telephone message; she even hung up on me when I was couldn’t find the information she was looking for fast enough.  What’s more, she acted like it was a great thing that I was losing my job because I didn’t belong there anyway, while trying to convince me that newspaper writing wasn’t that different from fundraising.  It had already gotten to the point where I was sick to my stomach whenever she came in.    

Those weeks I was unemployed I was filled with angst.  I hate looking for a job with a passion—the boring ass job applications, the endless cover letters that have to be specifically tailored to the position you are applying for (just look at my freaking resume), the interviewing (ahem, auditioning) phase, etc.  I interview well, but I hate feeling like I have to be a put-on.  The whole process is a real drag and takes a toll on your morale.  When my husband finally blew up and said he was tired of me being stressed out all the time, I broke down, finally admitting I hated her.  I think I must have said I hated her fifty times, for it felt so good to get it off my chest.  And then the most amazing thing happened:  All the anger and angst was gone.  I had been so angry with myself for allowing her to make me feel like I was a complete incompetent; never will I allow someone to have that power over me again.  

And that’s the story I never thought I’d have the courage to tell, out of fear that I would burn my bridges for a second chance at full-time employment in another department.  I also feared being judged harshly for publishing this, but this is the most honest piece I’ve ever written.  This was definitely not something that should’ve been written right after it happened (it would’ve been more of a rant), but with a little dust comes perspective.  Out of fear of losing my job (why it sucks being the breadwinner sometimes), I didn’t stand up for myself like I should have.  I regret that greatly.  I just didn’t feel I was in a position to be the least bit confrontational, for you see, the person who has the greater socio-economic status tends to be the one who gets the benefit of the doubt.  I also did not wish to diminish my good reputation or good name at the college that really had given me so much.  

If only I had known I was going to lose the job anyway, how different I might have handled things.  I hate feeling like someone got one over on me, but I love Frank Sinatra’s quote:  The best revenge is massive success.

And now that I make significantly more than I did there, I feel that I have achieved that “revenge” to some degree.  I also know that I was in the wrong place; being there at the wrong time helped me see that.  I’m glad that article came out when it did—that I got to see the mask come off.  I’m glad that I’m home when my daughter gets off the bus, that I’m able to pursue my writing degree, which I couldn’t have if I was still working there, as the university doesn’t offer all the online classes that the college does.  Because I would have put my family first, I would’ve put my degree on hold to keep the money coming in until I found something better.  

I would’ve hated to give up the benefits (two weeks paid time off for winter break, one week paid time off for spring break, and at least a week of other paid days off, as well as paid sick leave and personal leave), however, I sort of got all that anyway.  I figured out that I save 45 minutes of driving time a day, which equals to approximately 21 hours a month that I can be home with my family or working on my writing.  

Though I am happy scholastically and occupationally, my life hasn’t magically become perfect (I still have rent and car payments), but it’s better and I am so much better off than I was at this time last year.  Because I am not stressed out over work or school (no more math or science), I am happier at home.  I know I will never be able to avoid stress completely, but I am learning how to avoid unnecessary stress and better handle the stress I do have.  

My focus this year will be on finishing all my unfinished writing projects (I have a few novels), cleaning up my blog (I’ve almost ditched all the stock photography and am working on my own graphics), working on pieces for publication (besides what I publish on my blog and on Medium Daily Digest), organizing my entire flash drive, and learning how to create my own book covers to self-publish a few shorter pieces that I don’t envision being published by a traditional publisher.  

I also have goals for my daughter (reading!) but these are mine.  A Facebook friend was asking what our word was for 2019, and I said “actualization.”  When she asked how did I expect it to impact my life, I said, “It already has,” for it was this year that I realized I needed to do what I was made for.

As for my big takeaway from 2019?  Tell your story.  You own it.  

Happy New Year!

Book Review: James and the Giant Peach

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Because September had a “Banned Books Week,” as part of my “research,” I had my husband check a bunch of formerly challenged/banned children’s books out of the library.

I’d tried reading A Wrinkle in Time years ago, which I couldn’t get into (I preferred Peppermints in the Parlor, though I’m not sure that’s a relevant comparison) and The Giver (an interesting plot with not-so-interesting characters); for some reason, I had my husband return all the books except for James and the Giant Peach. It sat on my nightstand for weeks, and when I was too lazy (i.e. tired) to get up and get the other book I was reading, I opened it and was instantly captivated.         

I’m the first to admit that I generally prefer children’s poetry (i.e. fun and creative) over adult poetry (which often comes across as emo and pretentious), so I was pretty sure this book would stand the test of time.

It did and was even better than I remembered.      

I liked the illustrations—it helped cartoonize the creepy-crawly characters, which made them seem less gross.     

Though James Henry Trotter was likeable, he wasn’t super well-developed. It was what happened to him that made him a sympathetic character, rather than how he handled what happened to him.

That said, the creepy-crawlies all had their own little personalities that set them apart, though I did find that the male creepy-crawlies had stronger and more memorable personalities than the female ones; however, two of the three female creepy-crawlies did contribute much more to “the mission” than the male creepy-crawlies, so even though they didn’t have the gab, they had the gumption.  

Even though the verses were cute, I would’ve preferred them to be in dialogue form. For some reason, when I see poetry in a novel, it’s like an interruption to the story.

The only thing that was weird (and not in a good way) was the ladybug marrying the Head of the New York Fire Department. Humans and animals should never marry, and that goes for creepy-crawlies and humans, as well. Ladybug should’ve married one of the other creepy-crawlies, but then, what were her choices—an obnoxious-as-hell centipede, a blind earthworm who never shut up about his disability (even though earthworms are supposed to be blind), and a grasshopper that would’ve made her a widow any day.

Despite the bizarre coupling of the man and the ladybug, James and the Giant Peach was an incredible adventure (and perhaps a premonition of Monsanto’s crimes against food).

Book Review: Ella Minnow Pea

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This is one of the cutest, cleverest books I have ever read.  Despite it being liberally seasoned with fifty dollar words (I love learning new words as much as any bibliophile, but this novel was a bit rich), it did fit the culture of the characters.  I was skeptical that cleverness would override character development, but quite the contrary:  Every character was a delight, though sometimes I would have to look at the next page and see who wrote the letter.

The entire text is written in “epistle” form, which concerned me at first, but it was perfect for this book.  I thought the idea of child scribes an interesting one, because, according to the Mormon religion, the age of eight is the age of accountability.  The Island of Nollop sounded like such a unique place, I’d love to visit there myself, if it only existed.

Though “Ella Minnow Pea” seems a trifle little delight on the surface, there are deeper issues at play:  preserving the right to say what we want while still retaining our right to property, which is sacrosanct, the dangers of idol worship, ignoring scientific proof, the power of communication, the threat of incrementalism, and the atrocities that can happen when a tiny nation is somewhat cut off from the rest of the world, both culturally and technologically.  Though the book is set during the time it was published, it is not of this world, but rather an alternate reality—same time, same place, but in some other dimension—a parallel universe, perhaps.  I could not put this book down, because the journey to the punchline was so engaging.  The ending was brilliantly foreshadowed (though, to be fair, the author did not come up with the emancipating pangram on his own).

Towards the end, the book got a bit harder to read, but that didn’t last overlong.  “Ella Minnow Pea” showed that humans are resilient creatures, and that even if government can censor speech, they cannot censor thoughts; that mankind will always find a way to express themselves, even, like the Alison Krauss song goes, when they say nothing at all.