Jobs I’ve had: installment 1

This is a new segment I am calling “Jobs I’ve had,” in which I talk briefly (or not) about a job I had. I’ve been thinking back, trying to recall things like this, mostly so I don’t lose the memories. But especially of late, because I’ve had to start taking a serious look at how much longer I can keep working before I just can’t do it anymore. Before I become un-employable.

And it may or may not be all that interesting. But it’s my damn blog and I’ll talk about whatever I please.

Today I was playing Bejeweled Blitz and was reminded of a temp job I had in a law office, downtown in Austin, Texas. They put me at the reception desk to answer the phone and I was only very occasionally called away to do a bit of light filing. I wasn’t allowed into email, nor was I to be given any actual work to do. I even remember one of the partners beginning to give me some kind of spreadsheet to work on but it was yanked back before I got started. The assignment originally was to be about 3 days but as I recall it stretched out to almost two weeks.

It was a fairly small firm that rented space in a big, fancy building with a parking garage and my car was probably the crappiest one in there. There were occasional visitors to the office, but mostly the phone needed coverage. So I sat there for 8 hours a day, reading books or playing bejeweled and some other games I’d found on Yahoo at the time. This was before smart phones were a thing. Like when people still felt like Blackberries were the hippest thing available. Pretty easy money, though it could also be a bit mind-numbing if I finished my book before the day was out.

What was actually interesting about it was the reason I was filling in for a law firm’s receptionist for 2 weeks. And honestly it surprised me they even told me. It was because she was in hiding from her boyfriend. Apparently he was threatening her, physically, and so she had to bug out for a while. I mean I guess it made sense to tell me so I wouldn’t accidentally tell him where she was, should he call (as if I knew). Still. Strange circumstances. Which amounted to two weeks of easy pay for me.

Posted in Random memories Tagged ,

Creative Types: Update your Wills and Estates

Today my wife and I went into our lawyer’s office and updated our everything, including wills, living wills, donor registries and so on. Why did we do this? Because at this point in our life we have a fair number of assets, and given my recent deal, it’s likely we’ll have more in the future. Moreover, […]

After reading this post, I turned to my husband and said “I think we need to have wills drawn up.” After a pause, he replied “Thank you for not waking me up at 3am to say this.” 

Great advice, even for non-published folks. After all, I would be chagrined (chagrined I say!) if my worst writing got set into the hands of the wrong party. ALSO passwords! Designate who gets access to all your online accounts!

Posted in Uncategorized

Observations on Lacking Twitter

There are many times per day that I find myself wanting to post a witticism to Twitter. But more often, what I notice is that I have something brief to just mention, a note that doesn’t call for an entire blog post. Like an observation about whatever I’m working on at the moment. E.g. Yesterday, I was cleaning up and formatting the Executive Board minutes for review this week. I noticed that the Board secretary wrote “fixing to” in his minutes. A specified EMS agency “is fixing to hire more paramedics.” My tweet about it would have been some crack about this lack of professional wording. And I might’ve received some feedback about it, some from north easterners like myself and some from my southern friends. It would’ve been a bit like calling out to a cubicle neighbor in the office.

This morning, I found that the bag of garbage I had set outside (which did not make it all the way to the trash can) had been torn open by an animal. Thus signaling Spring has arrived, I suppose. I probably would have mentioned this mess as well, and received some commiseration comments. It’s not worthy of a big discussion. Just small talk.

It occurs to me that for someone like me, social media becomes a stand in for having office mates when one doesn’t have any. I work at home, alone, 5 days a week. Since my car broke beyond the value of repairing it, and I’ve put off replacing it until it stops snowing every damn weekend, I haven’t been able to leave the house while my husband is at work. With a vehicle, I would drive to the store before starting my work days, or on some days I would go to a cafe to work for a few hours, just to get some contact with other humans. I was already feeling isolated before my hiatus, but the hiatus itself seems to have shined a spotlight on my isolation. It’s made me more motivated than ever to get a running vehicle again, so that I have that autonomy back, and the option for social engagement on my own terms. What it tells me about my relationship with social media is that, yes I need that throughout the day to keep me grounded. But also that I was leaning on it so heavily to compensate for my utter lack of human interaction other than my husband, and I need real interactions, live, in-person in order to maintain my mental health.

I don’t miss the barrage of news links with which certain users filled their timelines though. And when I return to Twitter and Tumblr, there will be a culling.

Posted in Ruminations Tagged , , ,

Progress Report: my hiatus from social media

It was February 18 when I declared that I would be laying off Twitter (and other various forms of social media) for the 6-week period people have come to know as Lent. So here I am, having reached the midway point in this period of self-denial. How is the hiatus going?

For starters, I am closer to being caught up at work, which was one of my largest motivating factors in all this. Getting lost in watching my feed, following various links from that feed, adding more names to follow to keep that feed moving like I somehow needed a drug to keep my brain happy… these things all kept my attention firmly away from what I was being paid to do for 8 hours a day. It was becoming an addiction, an escape from the dullness of my tasks. And also an excuse not to get up to something creative when I wasn’t “at work.” Too busy, checking in on the party, see who said something witty. Or better yet, wait until everyone at the party hears this witty thing I have to say. Make sure it’s something punchy, that hits its mark in under 140 characters!

I haven’t been perfect, and I kind of expected that. I have looked at the feed a few times, mainly when I was on the bus on my way to the cancer center, or in the waiting room of same. Here and there I looked at a specific Tumblr, though not my own dashboard. I knew I’d slip, and I was okay with that. I think knowing that from the start may have prevented me from being worse at it, frankly. As though if I’d set out to be perfect at it, and then slipped, it would be like screwing up a New Year’s resolution diet: forget it! I’ve messed it all up now. Might as well eat the entire bag of cookies!

But I’ve been pretty good nonetheless. In addition to getting back on track with my day job, I’ve also put in considerably more time knitting a sweater I’ve had a pattern for since Christmas 2013. I’ve also had to rip back several inches, but that’s beside the point. Also got back to doing the finishing on a felted bag I’d started more than a year ago. And I helped my husband work on organizing the garage, wrestling it back from “dumping ground for shit we don’t know where to go with” into “future site of the Coconut Lounge” which is what we’re calling the space that will be my sewing room and his art studio. At one of the windows, I have my “seeding” area which is a planting table I made from an old bathroom vanity and a small table top, a seedling heat mat and a grow light. Have to get those seeds started now, even though it’s still below freezing overnight, so we can get the garden planted.

Above all else, I have been less edgy, less depressed, more inspired and willing to try things. I’ve refined my techniques for baking sourdough bread, and now it’s something we enjoy regularly. I’ve even sat down and read a damn book. So far, I’d say this experiment has been quite successful. It’s also shown me that I am really not missing anything important. I didn’t learn Leonard Nemoy died until my husband got home. But you know I doubt Mr. Nemoy cared about that. I also learned of Terry Pratchett’s passing without the help of Twitter (thank you XKCD). There’s news of atrocities around the world (readily available on NPR) and someone’s always outraged at something. But I just don’t have the energy, literally, to do any more than I am already doing. Why would I need social media to remind me of this?

Three more weeks until Easter. I wonder how anxious I’ll really be to get back to it once this hiatus ends.

Posted in Ruminations, Spirituality Tagged , , ,

Giving Up Social Media for Lent

It seems odd to talk about giving up anything for Lent. Least of all because I am not Catholic. But also because the thing I’ve chosen is social media. And I’m blogging about it, of all things. But I think my reasoning is sound. Hear me out.

Lent is a religious observance, meant to “prepare” the believer through penance, repentance of sins, atonement, and self-denial. Most people focus on that last bit. Some also add a bit of spiritual discipline like reading daily devotionals. There’s a lot of “40” happening in the Bible, but the say it lasts 40 days to reflect the time Jesus spent in the desert where he endured temptation by “the devil” and he fasted for the whole 40 days. Kind of like how the Buddha went into the desert and fasted too…hm. Anyway, in Buddhism, fasting and abstinence are a means of exercising control over one’s body, but in practice it’s usually only a day or two at a time. It’s a step in self-discipline. The practice exists across many religions, really. Tying the timing of my self-denial to Lent specifically is a simpler way of having accountability. I know the start and end dates, plus my in-laws are Catholic, so they are bound to be talking about Lenten things, keeping it in my present awareness. It seems a good way to experiment with this practice, which I’ve never honestly undertaken before.

So the season of Lent is largely about sacrifice and self-restraint. We’ve all heard someone joke that they’d given up smoking when they’re a non-smoker, or cheeseburgers when they’re already a vegan. I recall a coworker once decided her sacrifice would be marshmallow Peeps, and another decided on chocolate in general. It could have been a way to stave off extra Easter candy-related weight gain, but in the end, I suppose it was still about restraining oneself from temptations.

Why social media? It started with my observance that I was obsessively refreshing Twitter when I should be working. And that I was falling behind in working when my time is already shortened by frequent trips to various doctors through the month. And when Twitter slowed down, I’d jump to Tumblr, where bored teenagers and 20-somethings are queuing images to post throughout the day, even when they themselves aren’t online. The illusion of having a constant online presence. Content to be gobbled up by us procrastinators who have better things to be doing. And when that wasn’t enough, I found myself ADDING more Tumblr blogs to my follow list, as well as Twitter accounts to follow. Normally I’m one to trim the fat and only follow the essential (to me) sorts of blogs, etc. It was clear it was problematic. So on Ash Wednesday, I announced to my husband that I was giving up Twitter for Lent. As the person who has watched me spend far too much energy and time on scrolling through conversations that are NOT talking to me, he approved immediately of this decision. (I did ask him whether he planned to give up something for Lent, but at that moment, he admitted to not having thought much about it.)

It might be somewhat easier, or more traditional, to give up chocolate or coffee or some other consumable vice. Truth is, I am not one who needs to abstain from fatty foods and the like. In fact I’m currently about 10 pounds under baseline weight, thanks to chemo. So no low-fat diets for me, thanks. Not that I’ve been one to eat fatty foods anyway. My giving up, say sodas, would be like giving up The Bachelor when you don’t even own a TV. Giving up Twitter and Tumblr* represents truly putting aside something that has become a problematic vice for me. During the next six weeks, I intend to examine why it got to be that way and perhaps see what I end up doing with the time I have freed up.

* I have deleted the Twitter, Tumblr, Pinterest and G+ app shortcuts from my tablet, and cleared my browsing history so the links don’t appear in my Firefox URL dropdown, but really the first two were the only ones I used with regularity. I just also don’t want to fill the gap created by losing those two with still other social media platforms.

Posted in Ruminations, Spirituality Tagged , ,

2014 Wrap Up Post

So I haven’t been the most diligent of bloggers. This year has been one of the most challenging to date, in terms of keeping up with…everything. Even now, on my messy desk, I have a stack of paperwork for my job, on top of a stack of paperwork for home, and sandwiched inside is a folder of medical paperwork that needs my attention as of last week. Some holiday gifts are still not wrapped and mailed, while others still have not been acquired. Even in writing this, I am not giving attention to other things that are nagging me to be done.  But this wrap up of 2014, it too deserves my attention as much as anything else. I tend to not discuss my deeply personal life in this blog as much as my Dreamwidth account, which is viewable only by a select few friends, but it’s worth a synopsis here, I think.

In February 2013, my husband and I returned to our home town to live, so that I could be part of a phase II clinical trial of a potential cancer treatment. My particular cancer is rare, and apart from surgery and radiation therapy, does not have a reliable systemic treatment (i.e. Chemotherapy). Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in NYC has in recent years been doing a great deal of research on this rare cancer, which is a rare thing in itself. There isn’t a lot of funding and focus on rare cancers; everyone is interested in saving boobies breast cancer I guess. At any rate, MSKCC has been doing trials. In 2013, I was going to be a part of that. But it fell through, thanks to some strict guidelines in the trial protocols and a couple of teeny active tumors that chose that moment to pop up on my spine. Instead of the trial drug, they decided to try a traditional chemotherapy, normally given to people with lung cancer, because the troublesome metastases are in my lungs (which can’t be treated with radiotherapy. Radiotherapy requires being perfectly still, and lungs generally need to move or you’ve stopped breathing). The chemo did nothing, however, except greatly thinned my hair and made me nauseous.

So we changed tactics. A new clinical trial was in the works, but before I could get in it, we needed to halt the progress of the growing tumors on my spine. In January 2014, I had intense radiation to my lower thoracic spine. Then, in April 2014, after much debating about how to go about it (because of prior treatments to a nearby site from years ago), I had more intense radiation to my cervical spine. Those treatments seemed to work with great success, though it left me with “defects” as they called it. Mainly I have what seems to be permanent tingling and decreased proper sensations in my right hand/arm. I say “seems” because some days it also seems to improve. They tell me this implies it’s directly related to inflammation caused by the radiation, but no one seems to know when that inflammation will recede. I am on a steroid regimen to combat it, as my adrenals aren’t creating the right hormone on their own to do it at this time. Attempts to take me off this regimen have resulted in extreme back pain, loss of motor functions in my hands, and at its worst, inability to walk without support.

Much of 2014 has held my focus tightly upon managing this pain and other defects. But it has also been the year I finally started a clinical trial, and one that appears to be working. I began taking Regorafenib in early May 2014, at the highest dosage recommended, and though at times I didn’t think I could continue due to the side effects, I persevered and gradually, those side effects grew more tolerable or just faded away. Sort of like my hair. *grins* *tucks remaining thin strands back under hat*

As of this writing, I have just started my 9th cycle of the treatment. My scans have consistently showed the lung mets as either stable or shrinking, albeit slowly. The doctors are also excited that many of the lesions that remain on my spine are also showing the same behavior, including ones that were not treated with radiation. For some time during the past year, I was ready to give up. Or if not ready, at least pondered what that scenario would be like. I had some dark days and nights.

Through all of this, I’ve continued to work full time in my administrative job. I have worked remotely (i.e. from home) either partially or completely since we found out my cancer had come back and that it was going to be a long painful process to get it under control. When I’d proposed to my employer that I should continue to work for them even from another state, I was taking a big chance that they’d refuse. But it’s been almost 2 years now and so far I haven’t heard any complaints (even if I do suspect the occasional resentment from co-workers). I am always reminded how blessed I am. To have to leave my job now would be financial ruin unless someone local was willing to hire me, knowing that I absolutely will be taking sick days often for doctor appointments or even because I simply can’t find the energy to leave the house that day. Chemotherapy, for many, is exhausting. Your body is working very hard, even if it doesn’t look like it.

The other big event of the year was our move into a house. My husband and I stayed with his parents at first when we got to Pennsylvania, but quickly realized we needed to find our own home. His parents are wonderful people, but their house is not big enough to accommodate 4 adults for longer than a weekend. Between varying work schedules, surprise home improvement projects (e.g. Suddenly broken shower in the master bath meant we were all trying to use one bathroom), and even major differences in dietary needs led to too many conflicts to maintain a healthy relationship between everyone. When a tiny efficiency apartment opened in the building my in-laws own, we moved into that for the time being until something else came along. Meanwhile, my husband secured full time work and got himself established there before we started home hunting in earnest. So when a great little house turned up in a casual search one weekend, we were ready and looked like great candidates. Great enough that the owners were excited to have us, since this was their first time being landlords. The home is very small, but affordable and gorgeous, and on a large enough lot to be far from the neighbors. We were even encouraged to dig a garden if we wanted to do so. A perfect match.

And so here it is, another New Year. There are dozens of dark-eyed juncos, several cardinals and even a huge woodpecker pecking at the seed that I’d sprinkled about in the snow and on the feeder outside my living room window, while I sip tea and listen to the whir of the auger in our pellet stove that keeps the whole house toasty warm. I’m thankful for that stove, because it has been a very cold week, after the very mild December we just had. And I’m thankful for the birds, for this house, for modern medicine, for generous in-laws, for gracious employers, for cold winters and beautiful places to live.

Posted in health, hometown, Ruminations

My cabin in the Woods

photo by: Brian Stansberry / Creative Commons

photo by: Brian Stansberry / Creative Commons

I had this dream, some time ago, when I was still reading a particular author’s blog* wherein I saw said author on the front porch of a large cabin, which had a really tall set of stairs leading up to it. Like a sort of huge stage or platform (I suppose this is pretty on the nose, as they say). And I was standing on my own front porch, which was at ground level, a bit hidden back in the trees. A crowd of people had gathered and were waiting for the author to speak, but some hikers walking through the area paused and looked at me, rather than them.

And I realized then that I was perfectly happy with that.

I’m not a published author, and I don’t have a brand to promote. I have thinky thoughts about certain things, and I like to put words together in (hopefully) interesting ways. I enjoy the freedom of saying them without holding back what I really want to say. I know I don’t get into controversial stuff too much, but when you have a “brand” or are attached to certain entities (e.g. SFWA, a publisher, a school, a governing agency) you either censor yourself (consciously or otherwise) or else get those entities caught up in your bullshit. I like being a free agent, with my own agenda and not beholden to another. I sometimes wonder if that holds some of us “aspiring” authors back from trying to gain mainstream publication. Not necessarily being enamored of the whole self-publishing movement, but rather, not wanting to hand over that little bit of rebel in us. The one that says what we mean, regardless of whether it’s going to gain unpopular attention. The one that doesn’t want to sign up for owing the next book to the publisher on a schedule because maybe we prefer to do it part time; or have other commitments which are important to us; or because we write slow and we watch trad published authors frantically trying to meet deadlines and think “no thanks!” Maybe at heart, we’re still that punk kid wearing black and drawing anarchy symbols on our textbooks, sleeping late if we are able, and giving the finger to whomever we perceive as part of the Establishment.

I can hear some folks now: “You’re making excuses.” “You’re not a real writer.” Here’s where I get to say what I want: fuck off if that’s what you think. There is no such thing as a “fake writer” and of course they are excuses. They are perfectly valid excuses. The whole “you’re making excuses” thing is what we do when we want to feel superior to someone else for whatever reason, despite the fact that we ourselves probably have some other horrid habits that just aren’t relevant to this discussion. We’re not superior, any of us.

The author who appeared in my dream was another in a long line of authors who, at some point in their career, made proclamations from their pulpit about what makes someone a writer, and the whole “you’re just making excuses” if you for any reason do not write every day while saying you want to write. Some days? I’m trapped in an MRI machine for a couple hours, but apparently I should find a way to write while in the waiting room. Sometimes, my hands don’t work, but I guess I’m supposed to invest in speech-recognition software or else it’s just another excuse. Bullshit.

I give props to commercial authorship, to producing books for a market that demands them. But I think there is still room for people who take their time crafting something beautiful and artful. If it isn’t on the NYT Bestseller list, who the fuck cares? Make good art. It can still be secondary that there is some humongous audience for it. There is room for this. So what if only a few lone hikers passing through the woods are the ones who find your little cabin. If what you have to say is beautiful, meaningful, insightful, I believe that is worthwhile too.

*-The name of this author isn’t relevant. And I don’t read them anymore, now that I’ve stepped back and come to understand their formula of posting something political whenever their stats are down, just to build page views, while crowing about being an ally to the marginalized. Or being contrite about their privilege as a means to show how concerned about the marginalized they are, which only gets attention because they are privileged. And the marginalized continue to feed this person’s admitted ego.

Posted in Ruminations, writing


Breathe in, the pre-recorded voice instructs. Hold your breath.

There is a whirring sound as an x-ray source spins around you, inside the detector ring of a CT scanner. The table you are stretched out on moves on its track. Your arms are above your head, hands resting on a pillow where the technician had gently arranged them before retreating from the room. The barium shake you forced yourself to drink earlier makes your belly complain, reminding you that you haven’t eaten since dinner last night.

Breathe, says the machine. And you do.

The technician comes back in, saying, “Don’t move, ma’am. I’m just going to start the contrast now. Keep very still.” He presses a few buttons and there is a beep as the IV in your arm empties some iodine-based substance into your bloodstream. It is simultaneously cold and feels like fire in your vein, but you don’t complain. You know it will be over shortly. Still, he sees you grimace and apologizes. “Sorry, we’re almost done.”

He leaves once more and the whirring sound spins up again. Breathe in, the machine says. Hold your breath.

The table moves and you tell yourself not to worry. You are used to these tests now. The voice in the machine has been the same every place you’ve had them. Like an old friend, reminding you…


Posted in writing

Some Considerations for the Coming Year

It is okay to not engage in figuring out what other people are thinking. It is perfectly acceptable, even, to not try and control what they are thinking. Trying to control other people is insanity, really. You do not want others to control you. Why would it be okay to control them?

There is a lot of stuff in the world that seems unjust, wrong, hateful. We like to categorize such things as malicious, as though there really is a super villain out there twisting a long mustache and rubbing his hands together with glee, saying “Mwahahaha!” Very melodramatic. But really think about that for a moment and consider whether it is rational to believe this. Or is it more rational to think that sometimes one person’s goals work counter to our own? And that to them, you might be the villain? You don’t think you are one. Neither do they.

Try stepping outside yourself, look at yourself objectively. You are not your identifiers. You are not your hair color, your shoe size, your parents’ upbringing, your possessions, your food choices, your illness. These are things you have. They are not what you are. It’s all illusion.

For the coming year, it is my hope to practice compassion and share it with others, and seek a better understanding of it. It is my hope that others do so as well.

Posted in Ruminations, Spirituality

A Quick Thought

Nothing quite compares to an evening with the extended family, having buffet-style foods (of which I eat very little) and playing silly games, ringing bells and listening to Christmas music. I am not a Christian, but my parents are and I respect that. It brought back a lot of memories, some almost 25 years old.

It’s too easy to become insular, to become calcified into my own space and to not venture out or reach into the spaces of others, despite being invited to do so repeatedly. Perhaps they’d come to understand who I am now (as opposed to who I was 20 years ago) if more time was spent together.

Posted in hometown, Ruminations