Dear 14 Year Old Me…

(Thanks Daily Prompt for the, er, prompt)

This is not a trick. Nor, as you’ve sometimes hoped, are you stuck in a Holodeck program aboard the starship Enterprise. A door is not about to appear out of thin air. Wesley Crusher is not about to walk through that door and rescue you. I know that’s disappointing, but I have much better news for you: you will get out of Wilmington.

It’s not going to happen in two years, like you’ll hope when you apply to go to college early at Simon’s Rock, but it will happen. You will graduate, and you will have many more adventures than you can even imagine right now.

I don’t want to give too much away, but you will not end up where you expect and your route will be circuitous. In fact, I think you’ll be rather surprised by it all. If I were to tell you that you will be living in Portland, Oregon, engaged to an amazing man, and still trying to figure out exactly what you want to do with your life 16 years from now, I know you won’t believe me. It gets even more strange when I tell you that you lived in Canada for five years, Portland, Maine, for two-and-a-half, and never wanted to go back to live in Boston or move to New York City or San Francisco like you always thought you might. Oh, sure, you’ll think about it, but there was something about the soggy Northwest that kept calling to you.

You’d be shocked that you’ve given up on the idea that a suit and tie is the only appropriate business attire, and that you feel much more comfortable in jeans, Keens, and a t-shirt. (Don’t worry, you still dress up to go to the theatre or the symphony, when you can afford it–things aren’t all that barbaric.) You’d also be surprised by the regular acupuncture and regimens of Chinese herbs you take trying to stop your liver from beating up on your heart, and getting your qi to flow more powerfully and efficiently through your body. Oh, and you’re also not so much of a city boy anymore. You look forward to camping trips and to getting off the grid. You think you probably don’t do it nearly enough.

I could go on and on and on about all of the things you’d be completely shocked by, but there’s also so much that is entirely recognizable. You’re still wearing glasses (and you still have the All About Me book that proves that you’ve wanted to wear glasses since you were five). You’re still a bit of a smart ass and a know-it-all. You still have a somewhat fastidious attention to detail and a craving to having things in a certain order and to do things a certain away. But you’ve also learned to appreciate a little bit of chaos and randomness in your life. If your fiancé has taught you anything, it’s that it’s important to let go sometimes and just enjoy the ride.

And, speaking of your fiancé, he looks like nothing you would expect and he’s not anything like you thought he would be. Well, that’s not entirely true: he’s caring and kind and sexy, but he also drives you crazy sometimes because he’s almost entirely your polar opposite. If not for you, he’d be eating Ramen and never have clean clothes. And that’s not just your future self being haughty–he’s said it himself. You take care of him and he takes care of you.

I guess all of this is to say that while it’s important to plan for the future, don’t be too surprised when those plans don’t exactly work out. Keep planning, stick to those goals, but don’t become so rigid as to not be able to bend with the wind.

I think the most important thing that we have in common–and that I sometimes wish I had held on to more of–is a bright-eyed sense of wonder about the world and about new experiences. Four years from now, someone will describe you as a kitten, playful and explorative, who gets confused when your claws get snagged on something and things don’t go as you had expected. This will not feel like a compliment at the time, and I’m still not sure if it was meant to be one or not. But please don’t give up that feline sense of curiosity. Don’t stop exploring. Don’t stop pushing yourself. And don’t retreat into that shell. Yep, you’re a Cancer through and through, but don’t use this as an excuse not to feel your feelings when you feel them. (You ought to recognize where that line comes from by now.)

Which leads me to family. Yes, you still go home and look around and wonder, “Who are these people? Where did I even come from?” You will still look at them all, sitting there, and, they will look familiar, and you’ll still sometimes wonder who they hell they are.

But (and it’s a big but), you will also look at them and recognize yourself in them. You’ll realize that the reason that they all look familiar is because you will start to see bits and pieces of yourself in their faces, and in their laughs, and in their movements. Sorry to break it to you, but you are not, as you sometimes thought and hoped, adopted. You were not switched at birth. You’ll realize five years from now, after you shave off your goatee for the first time, that you have your mother’s nose. As you get a little older, you’ll start to recognize your father’s eyes in your own. And you’ll notice that, once you get us going, all of us do that same weird wheezy sort of laugh. You know the one I mean. You will start to treasure these similarities and, believe it or not, you’ll actually start to mostly like your family. They really do mean well and they really do want the best for you–even Mom. It’s hard to see that now, I know. You’ll just have to take my word on it.

You’ve only just started high school and it’s impossible for me to make you see just how young and innocent you still are. You’ll feel like you’re ready to take on the world and that you don’t need to deal with the bullshit of living in a suburban purgatory. Except that you do. Because that’s what living in a purgatory is all about: this purgatory is going to make you into me, at least in part. It’s going to set you on a path that you least expect right now. And it’s going to suck a lot. You’ll quickly come to realize that anyone who says that high school was the best years of their lives peaked too early in life. There’s so much more to do and to look forward to once you get out. And you will get out, it does get better, and you’re not alone on this journey. You just haven’t met your fellow travelers yet.

Hang in there, young explorer, and know that it all adds up to something.

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Rainy Day in Astoria

We drove out to the coast today, just needing to get out of town for a day. I spent most of the drive out reading Bleak House in the back seat. It’s the second time I’ve read it and though I’m only about 50 pages in, I’m already somewhat annoyed with one of the main characters–and I can’t remember if she gets more interesting!

It’s a cool, rainy day. This isn’t much of a surprise, since it’s February in the Pacific Northwest. The Man has lots of reading to get done for his class this weekend, so we’ve actually spent most of the day at a coffee shop here. Funny, we’d probably have done pretty much the same thing if we’d stayed in Portland. Yet the change of scenery makes it seem more interesting and less stressful in a way. It’s almost like we’re on vacation and there’s no itch to get home and do chores, or go grocery shopping, or make plans for later with friends.

Coffee Shop

As soon as we got out of the car, we could smell the ocean. It’s a smell I miss from my time living in the Other Portland. And Astoria definitely has a similar feel to that other small coastal city several thousand miles away on a different ocean. We’ve talked about moving to a small town for a few years after he graduates so that he can get a portion of his loans forgiven by working in a underserved community. Part of me thinks I could live in a place like Astoria for a few years, but I’m not sure if that’s realistic. Astoria is even smaller than Portland, Maine. It’s one thing to spend a day or two here feeling like I’m on vacation. It would be quite another to be here year round. Maybe if I were ever to become a full-time writer or had a job that I could telecommute for, but I think that I would find living in a small town like this quite challenging. I very much value the chance to be anonymous in a city, the ability to go somewhere and not run into everyone you know in the space of 10 minutes.

So, maybe living in Astoria–or any other small town–isn’t really in the cards. Maybe we’ll need to find an underserved community that’s close to a big city. Or maybe we’ll need to spend a few years not living together. Or maybe I’ll need to be flexible and look at it as an adventure.

The rain is relentless and comes in waves. Barely a drizzle one moment and pouring down hard the next. We probably won’t walk over to the house from The Goonie’s or the school from Kindergarten Cop on this visit. We’ve been there and done that before besides. I’m fortified with caffeine and starting to itch a bit to get back on the road soon. The Man recently found out that he needs glasses, especially when he drives at night, so I get to drive home. I’d rather drive while there’s still some day light left. But this coffee shop is warm and cozy and provides coloring books and colored pencils and mellow music.

But we’re not really on vacation. And we’re not really living here. Just visiting. And we need to go home and do the dishes at some point.

Architecture is important

I just read an article in the New York Times suggesting how to resurrect the grandness of the old Penn Station (A Proposal for Penn Station and Madison Square Garden). If you’ve ever had the misfortune to be in the current Penn Station, you know that any change could only be an improvement.

The first time I took a train into New York, I was probably 12 or 13. It was the week after Christmas, and the last Christmas that I can remember that my dad’s entire side of the family was all together–all the aunts and uncles and cousins. The aunts and uncles and cousins decided to take a day trip into New York, so we drove down to Connecticut, where some other relatives lived (a great-aunt and uncle, I think), and we took the Metro-North train into the city. I was disappointed that the approach to the terminal was made through tunnels and that there were no grand vistas of the New York skyline to be seen. My disappointment was paid back many times over, however, when we disembarked at Grand Central Terminal. The platform was nothing special, but walking up to the main concourse of the station was incredible. It was probably the first time that I’d ever been in such a large interior open space. And there were stars painted on the ceiling! Thinking back, it occurs to me that many of those stars were probably no longer visible at night in New York even when the station was constructed in the early 20th century. Now, I wonder how many people stop to enjoy the view that they never get anywhere else in the city.

My memories of the rest of that day in the city are a haze of department store holiday windows, snow, enormous buildings, laughing with family, and the want to spend more than just a day in New York. But coming and going via Grand Central is firmly fixed in my mind. It lived up to the mystique I had already associated with it and with the rest of the city from books and movies and television. What an amazing gift to be able to come and go daily through such a wonderful space as that!

Eight or ten years later, I took the train again into New York. I was in college now and was going to spend some time with a friend in Brooklyn before we took the train back together to Montréal. I knew that my Amtrak train would leave me at Penn Station and not Grand Central, but can you imagine my crushing disbelief at being confronted with the reality of Penn Station? I distinctly remember coming up from the platform into the claustrophobic crush of those bland, low ceilings and thinking, “Huh. There must be another level up before the main concourse.” Sadly, no. That was the main concourse. I was so very confused. Why would anyone ever want to be in this building? It was so bland and enclosed and so decidedly NOT Grand Central Terminal. I couldn’t understand how such a city as New York could ever have such a rail station as Penn. It seemed a cruel joke. As one architectural historian lamented, “One entered the city like a god; one scuttles in now like a rat.”

And so it’s nice to read that there are still people who realize the horror of the current Penn Station when compared to what came before, and who hope that we might end that reign of horror in the near future.

If anyone ever tells you that architecture doesn’t matter, please bring them to the concourse of Penn Station, which today looks like this:

Penn Station, Main Concourse

And show them a picture of what this replaced:

Old Penn Station

And ask them which one they’d rather be standing in today.

Food Politics and Gender Politics

I just read a post on Marion Nestle’s blog, Food Politics, about Walmart’s new front-of-package “buy me” logo. Though the FDA hasn’t moved forward on putting together a system of front-of-package labeling to mark healthy and unhealthy food products, Walmart is going for it. The article suggests that the criteria for deciding which products receive a “Great for You” label are actually fairly stringent, which is a good thing.

But that’s not what caught my attention in this post. What caught my attention was the pull quote from the Walmart press release announcing this new labeling on their store-brand products:

Walmart moms are telling us they want to make healthier choices for their families, but need help deciphering all the claims and information already displayed on products…Our ‘Great For You’ icon provides customers with an easy way to quickly identify healthier food choices…this simple tool encourages families to have a healthier diet.

“Walmart moms.” Not, “our customers” or “Walmart families”, but specifically Walmart moms. It may be true that moms are the doing the majority of food shopping at Walmart, but phrasing like this precludes the possibility that anyone else in the family might have opinions or input into food choices. Do “Walmart dads” not care what their families eat? If this were a press release about a new power tool rating system, would we be hearing about what “Walmart moms” think? Probably not.

I get it. I understand traditional gender roles and how embedded they are in our culture. I just wish that they weren’t. I wish that dads were also seen as caring about their families’ health. And I wish that moms were seen as caring about power tool safety. And I wish that gender didn’t play into this at all. I wish that I were reading about “Walmart parents” caring about the health of their families.

On icons as body art

There’s a really great blog called I Live Here: PDX that has people email in their answers to a set of questions and then photographs them and publishes their answers. It’s a fun blog that really shows the diversity of Portland and always reminds me of the idiosyncrasies of this place I call home.

I was catching up on it just now and I was struck by one of the answers given. The question was “Name your favorite tattoo”, to which the answer was “Mao’s face, which will one day adorn my person.”

Portlanders love their tattoos. When I was working as a barista, my coworkers used to tease me about being the only barista in town that didn’t have any tattoos. I’ve thought about it, but I just can’t commit to adding something permanently to my body. Maybe some day–I’m certainly not opposed to tattoos, I’m just uncommitted for myself.

When I read this answer, I thought, Whoa. Really?! This man completely changed the face of his country in part through the imprisonment, brainwashing, torturing, and murdering of millions of his people and you want his face on your body? It seems rather insensitive. In a world where people think nothing of naming their cats “Chairman Meow” (I’ve known one myself) and where people get tattoos in languages they don’t understand on a regular basis (I once owned a shirt that said, in Japanese, “Dirty American devil”–but at least I knew what it said), I guess it’s just another way for people to show their ignorance.

Yes, Mao was a revolutionary. Yes, he believed that what he was doing was in the best interest of his country. Yes, he set in motion reforms and changes that brought millions a better standard of living. But he also did a lot of really bad things.

I’m not saying don’t get a tattoo of Mao if that’s what you really want to do, but please consider the weight of doing so before you do it. Don’t get the tattoo because you think he’s a pop culture revolutionary icon. Get the tattoo because you believe in what he accomplished and can honestly argue that his methods were just and reasonable. There are enough people out there doing things to damage our collective culture and intelligence (e.g. Kim Kardashian and her strong defense of opposite-sex-only marriage); please don’t contribute by getting a tattoo of a dictator who tortured and murdered millions just because you think it’ll look cool.

Sick, Tired, Laid Off

Ooops. So I guess I’m not doing very well with this whole post-a-week thing. Um. I’ve been busy? And sick? And getting laid off?

Yeah. Those are good excuses. Except, I haven’t actually been all that busy. But, I have been sick, and I did get laid off–though not in that order.

I went back to work the last Wednesday of September and was offered the new position that had been created to replace mine. It was a full-time position, as opposed to an 80% full time position. It would have been somewhat of a raise, though not a large raise. And it would have included lots more responsibility added to a job that already felt fairly busy.

My boss made a point of making sure that I understood that I was technically not qualified for this new position based on my experience, but that since I was already in the old position that she still wanted to offer it to me. And that she knew that I could do the new job, but she also wanted to make very clear that it would require me to do a lot of work in areas that she had already identified me to be deficient in.

I said I’d think about it and get back to her, even though I already knew that my answer was no, even though I wanted to say to her, “Are you crazy? Do you honestly think that I would take this position after everything that’s happened in the past two months? Do you honestly think that I feel that I can trust you as a supervisor and feel that I can count on your support in this new position? Because, I’m not that stupid.”

It felt like such a set up! Here, take this new position, but you’re not technically qualified for it, and you’re going to need to do a lot of work in areas that I feel that you’re deficient in order for you to succeed in this new position. Oh, and I’ve already given you a disciplinary notice regarding those areas, so you’re basically already on probation, so if you don’t improve in those areas, I can fire you for not improving.

What was probably even more insulting, was that when I told my boss that I didn’t want the new position, she acted surprised. No, not even surprised–shocked. She was without words–a rarity.

The agency’s fiscal year ended on the last day of September, so I ended up having only two more days of work after I declined the offer of the new position. I offered to stay longer, to tie up loose ends and to write a manual for my job. That offer of helpfulness was declined and all I can say is good luck and godspeed to whomever takes the job. It won’t be impossible for them, but I was the first person to use a software package that the agency had purchased for the position. Unfortunately, the software’s online help and live tech support isn’t all that great and it has a fairly steep learning curve in order to understand all of its nuances and quirks. I was still learning after having been using it for a year and a half.

But, that’s not my problem anymore.

I’ve been enjoying unemployment as much as possible. Trying to get a lot of reading, writing, and knitting done. I’ve been succeeding at knitting at least–I’m about half way done with a cowl for a friend’s birthday gift. I’ve also been succeeding at watching a lot of Deep Space Nine streaming on Netflix (you’ll notice that this isn’t one of my stated goals).

I’ve been pretty actively looking for work, too. While I’d been on leave from work before getting laid off, I’d had one interview but wasn’t offered the position. I have a phone interview tomorrow for a position that I’m cautiously curious about–it seems like a lot of work for not a lot of money. I also have a couple of other leads on some potentially good positions. And, I’ve been thinking about grad school. I haven’t fully decided yet if I’m ready to go back to school, but I’m going to a grad school info fair tomorrow and an info session for the specific program that I’m interested in next week.

I’m looking into going back for a Masters in Public Health maybe, with a focus in Community with a concentration in Health Promotion. Basically, I think my ideal job would be to be a home ec teacher, but there seem to be woefully few of those types of jobs out there these days. I figure an MPH with a concentration in Health Promotion might be a good step. I’d still have to figure out exactly what I’d want to focus on–probably community nutrition, food security/food access, that kind of thing. I’m hoping that the info session next week will help to clarify what my options are.

So, that’s all from this end. Now that I’m over the nasty week plus long cold that I had, I think I’ll be able to get into a better groove about writing more often. Feel free to leave comments to prod me on that.