Thursday, October 2, 2008

"We demand that big business give the people a square deal... return we must insist that when anyone engaged in big business honestly endeavors to do right he shall himself be given a square deal." - Theodore Roosevelt

"We wish to control big business so as to secure among other things good wages for the wage-workers and reasonable prices for the consumers. Wherever in any business the prosperity of the businessman is obtained by lowering the wages of his workmen and charging an excessive price to the consumers we wish to interfere and stop such practices. We will not submit to that kind of prosperity any more than we will submit to prosperity obtained by swindling investors or getting unfair advantages over business rivals." - Theodore Roosevelt

I love Teddy Roosevelt. He was a Republican, and I very much admire him. He was a conservationist. He broke up large corporate monopolies. He was also a bonafide racist. Of course, Teddy Roosevelt would be the first person to honor that I believe that. He believed that it was treason to speak anything but the truth about the president, good, bad or indifferent. So when did this all change?

You see, I have been hearing some very disturbing things lately, and I can no longer keep quiet. It started in the irrational ravings of one Ms. Ann Coulter. Rumblings from disgruntled right-wingers trying desperately to salvage their party views on deregulation and make them sound sane in the face of overwhelming evidence that a market run amok will eventually collapse in on itself. Ms. Coulter attempted to carve her own twisted world view into a valid point - the housing crisis, credit crunch and subsequent market collapse you see, have nothing to do with the industry and everything to do with affirmative action.

Now, if you are a thinking person, you are as confused as I was when I started reading the article. I have to confess here that I do read the occasional Ann Coulter lunacy and intermittently turn away from rational television to listen to the mouth-foaming, kool-aid drinking dogma of Bill O'Reilly or Sean Hannity. I like to know what the other side is thinking. Sometimes, I even find things I agree with (which I am sure would surprise the right as well as the left.) I also have to confess that I sometimes find myself disagreeing with the far left and have to turn off Rachel Maddow or Keith Olbermann and seek out the quiet serenity of a good book. Political pundits from either side will wear on most of us after a while. But I digress...

Ann Coulter's point was that the good people at the well meaning mortgage companies and investment banks had been duped by left-wing extremists into giving good solid mortgages to "less qualified minorities" and that they had been encouraged to use non-traditional means of approving these mortgages "such as having a good jump shot". The hateful assertion that only minorities are poor or unqualified for mortgages, or that political correctness has already "ruined education, sports, science and entertainment" aside, where does this woman get her facts? I had initially dismissed this article as the frenzied gibbering of an angry right-wing neo-con with a racist belief system. She obviously is mentally unbalanced and belongs under observation at a mental institution, preferably heavily sedated. Then I heard these assertions repeated by another pundit. And another. And another...

What is going on?

First of all - FACT (These, contrary to what Ann Coulter thinks are things that can be backed up and proven...) People of all races, colors and income levels are loosing their homes in this foreclosure crisis. It does not discriminate.

FACT - The "affirmative action" legislation that Ms. Coulter is referring to is the Community Reinvestment Act of 1977 "intended to encourage depository institutions to help meet the credit needs of the communities in which they operate, including low- and moderate-income neighborhoods, consistent with safe and sound operations."- That was 30 years ago. Most of the first mortgages offered under the guise of this act ARE PAID OFF. 30 years is a long time. 30 years ago, someone bought a house at a standard fixed rate, paid their mortgages and lived in their homes with no problems (otherwise this melt down would have occurred decades ago... Seriously. Decades.)

FACT - People of all races colors and income levels were sold ARMS. I know a few. A few middle class white people with good jobs and great credit. They were sold the ARM with the line that it would be in their best interest, because one couple in particular had planned to move after a few years, before the ARM hit. These friends had asked about a fixed rate mortgage and had been sold (by a mortgage broker on a commission) an ARM with the rationale that it will save you money. Of course, they had planned to move for a job, that didn't materialize because the big company this young man worked for decided that their programming jobs would be better served overseas. So his work went away. He found a job that paid him a third of what he had originally made. They were still making their payments. They were doing fine.

Then their Adjustable Rate Mortgage rate adjusted. Their previously affordable house payment doubled. I don't know about you, but if my mortgage payment doubled, I would loose my home too.

I know another couple (again, they are white middle class two income household - registered and proud Republicans) sold an ARM so that they could "flip" the house they were buying. They bought one house, worked on it and sold it at a profit after a year. They bought a second house and did the same. The third time, they bought the house, the property values started to drop and the market slowed. They couldn't sell and lowered the price. Then the young man got really sick (cancer is a bitch). He couldn't work. He was on chemo therapy. They started eating into their savings and all of the profits from previous "flips". His medical bills piled up. His wife lost her job (again due to outsourcing) and they lost their insurance. She took the first thing she could find. They were going to be stuck in the house for a bit longer than they had planned, but, they reasoned, they could always re-finance. That is what their mortgage broker had told them.

Only they couldn't re-finance because by this time, their credit was shot. Mounting medical bills and lowered incomes were taking a toll. Then their ARM hit and their mortgage went through the roof. They lost their house. Then my friend lost her husband. She moved back to Indiana to live with her mother. I don't hear much from her these days.

These are two of the stories from people that I PERSONALLY KNOW. I am just one person. How many more of these tales are there? The race of my friends had nothing (absolutely nothing, Ann Coulter, you coward) to do with them loosing their homes. Circumstances changed and they could no longer afford the mortgages they had been sold. Both couples would have been able to afford the initial mortgage payments for a long time. Both couples would have been able to afford a regular rate 30 year fixed mortgage. The ARM killed them. The funny thing is that both middle class white couples would have been able to afford the ARM rate before loosing their income to illness and outsourcing. Life is funny that way.

If the problem had really been dead-beat minorities as so many on the right-wing espouse, then why were these people able to make their initial payments? Then when the ARMs adjusted, they still struggled to make their growing mortgage payments. These are not deadbeats. I will say this once, and I mean it: BROWN SKIN DOES NOT EQUAL DEADBEAT. BROWN SKIN DOES NOT EQUAL BAD CREDIT. Anyone and I mean anyone who ascertains that it does is a racist. That is all. If you, Ann Coulter, and your mealy-mouthed band of followers continue to preach that brown people are bad people, then get a hood and join the Klan, but stop trying to pass yourself off as a decent human being.

I wish I could get paid as much as that woman does to state my opinion and pass it off as fact. But I can't be that mean. I can't be that hateful. I would like to sleep at night and be able to look myself in the mirror in the morning. I have MORALS. (Yes, those of us on the left have morals. We love our spouses. We love our children. We believe in God and Jesus. We go to church. We pray. We do all of the same things in the same communities as the far right, but our voices get drowned out by the constant temper tantrum throwing right wing. For all of the talk about the liberal media, I would like to know where to find it. I can count ONE radio station and ONE television station that cater to the left wing view point. The others are centrist or so far to the right that there is nothing even slightly moderate about them. Thank you Fox News.)

FACT - Let's do some math. The average price of a single family home in Denver, CO was $279,000.00 before this melt down began. However, the average wage for a family of four in Denver, CO was $37,000.00 You are only supposed to spend 3 times your annual income on a house. Three times $37K is $111,000.00 You cannot purchase a house in Denver for $111,000.00 any more. Not even in a ghetto (trust me I looked high and low... this is why I am still renting.) Soooo... the average family cannot afford the average home. That is unsettling to say the least. Home prices have skyrocketed (along with the prices of everything else from gas to milk) and wages have remained stagnant.

How can these families afford these homes? Enter the ARM. Slick mortgage brokers on heavy commissions come in and tell the hopeful families (of ALL races and colors and income levels) that they too can afford their dream home. All they have to do is sign the Adjustable Rate Morgtage. It starts at a ridiculously low APR and will adjust after a set period of time. Sure, the broker tells them, that will raise the payments, but not until after a set period of time. They can re-finance before that ever becomes an issue, right?

He offers them a deal. A $279,000.00 home at a ridiculously low interest rate - say 3.5%... let's see... that makes their house payments roughly $1250 a month. That's reasonable! Right? After all, under a standard mortgage payment, we would be looking closer to $1600 a month. After 5 years we can re-finance before that arm hits. Of course, they don't really understand that re-financing is a lot easier said than done, and any change in their credit status can affect their ability to refinance.

And $1250 may look reasonable on paper... after all, at $37K a year, they get roughly $3000 each month - that leaves plenty left over for food and gas and bills and car payments and pediatrician visits and a family vacation... right?

Wrong. Most people (for whatever reason) don't really think about TAXES. This family is actually taking home about $2400 a month - which means that they are spending HALF on their housing. That same family would never qualify for $1200 in rent. They could manage $800 or $900 tops. This family will barely be scraping by once their mortgage is covered. Most people turn to credit cards for everything else. Now their debt to income ratio is way too high to re-finance.

It's a struggle, but they cover that mortgage payment. Until that ARM hits. Suddenly they are facing a 10% mortgage with a payment of $2450... that is almost double. Some people face almost triple the costs. If this family was taking home $2400 before and scraping by with a $1200 mortgage, now they are falling behind. Now they are in the hole. Now they can't even afford simple things like electricity or enough food. Now they are in the position where they are going to loose that house.

This is the scenario that is playing out all across the country. It has nothing to do with race and everything to do with greedy bankers. The first mortgage payment was netting the bank roughly $800 a month in interest alone. Of course once the ARM hit, the bank earned four times that amount. No wonder everyone wanted to get in on the mortgage act.

These products were sold indiscriminately to home buyers, with the knowledge that no one will read the lengthy mortgage documents when they are closing on their homes. If you are reading this blog and you did, pat yourself on the back for your intelligence and your diligence. You are part of about 2% if the population. Should people better understand their own mortgages before signing the paperwork - absolutely. I am one liberal who also believes that there is personal responsibility in this mess, and if you loose a house that you probably shouldn't have bought in the first place, well, maybe next time you will think things through.

However, I still believe it is wrong to trick people into products that they cannot afford. Housing prices skyrocketed because all of the sudden thanks to the ARM, people began to believe that they could afford a huge luxury home rather than a modest starter house. In our instant download society no one wants to wait for anything. People leapt without looking and without realizing that the only parachute around was attached to the back of the CEO of their bank and it was made of solid gold.

The rest of us paupers were expected to feed their gluttony, and god help us, we did. And we continue to. We turn to each other and point the fingers at those like us who made mistakes - either through our own hubris or because they were flat out conned. Instead we should turn and look at the people who control the banks and Wall Street and the major corporations. To the people who own so many houses they loose track. Those are the real culprits. Those are the people who deserve the finger pointing and the burden of this responsibility. Of course, they will never get it. They will send out their trained dogs to tell us that brown people caused this mess and that we should hate each other. Pay no attention, they say, to the man behind the curtain. It is a cheap ploy beneath the dignity of any thinking American. It is a ploy designed to incite blind hatred of brown and black people. And right now, I can think of one very prominent black person that the right wing is (rightfully) terrified of. This was a ploy that worked very well for Hitler when he chose to blame the German economic crisis on the Jewish people. Of course, far be it from me to actually compare Ann Coulter to Adolph Hitler. She just uses the same tired tactics.

Despite our political differences, I believe that we are more alike than we are different. I believe that Ann Coulter and those like her represent a diminishing fanatical fringe who have had their day, fouled in our collective nest, and now we have to clean it up in spite of their incessant squawking. And we will, because we are Americans: left, right, and center.

And we deserve better than that kind of messy backward ideaology.

Friday, September 19, 2008

The best way to appreciate your job… to imagine yourself without one. – Oscar Wilde.

This morning on the way to work, my husband was lamenting about his job. He said that he didn’t particularly like the uncertainty of not knowing precisely what his bosses really wanted. He doesn’t appreciate being made to feel that his job is in jeopardy every time one of his bosses chooses to “talk to” him, and feels unsteady and unstable. My response to him was “Welcome to the working world.”

After all, just yesterday I was pulled aside by my bosses for a minor transgression. They told me that while I am a valuable member of the team... yadda yadda yadda. I have to admit, when I got the email requesting the meeting – at the end of the work day – I had convinced myself that my desk would be boxed up when it was done and security would be waiting to escort me out of the building. Of course this didn’t happen. Instead, I spent a very unproductive half hour discussing insignificant bullshit with my two bosses. But before the meeting, I had almost worked myself into a blind panic. What if I lost my job?

Huh? I HATE this job. You don’t understand the vehemence with which I pronounce my revulsion. I have been close to walking off several dozen times in the past few months. Sometimes I have to swallow an enormous amount of pride to go back in the next day. I fight this feeling every morning. It gives me heartburn. If I could, I would scribble a short resignation (something along the lines of “I quit effective now.”) and walk out. It would feel good. No, scratch that… it would feel incredible.

For a little while… After the initial euphoria of “I don’t have to work” wore off, the blind panic of “I don’t have a job” would set in. I know me. I would hyperventilate and more than likely vomit. I would start to shake and I would go cold all over. No job means no money means no cable, no power, no car, no gas, no rent, no food. Sure my husband is working, but he doesn’t earn nearly enough to support us. We would end up living in the car, or worse, in a box on the street! I wouldn’t be able to see past that horrifying image. I would feel responsible for our dire circumstances. I would be crippled by the guilt. I would require medication and hospitalization, neither of which we could afford. Oh, God… we wouldn’t have health insurance! My migraines will return! My husband’s diabetes will run amok! There will be great pain and suffering!

Breathe, Dawn. Just breathe for a moment. All is well. You are still gainfully employed. You still have health insurance, and money for food and gas and bills and the car. All is well. All is well. All is well.

The above scenario plays itself out in my head and keeps me in line (most of the time…) I would bet that I am not alone. (Holla at me if you have ever panicked at the thought of being let go and being out of work). I go through most days blissfully unaware that the headsman’s axe could fall at any moment and cut me from the dubious comfort of my work-womb and send me screaming into the world blindly unprepared. I would recover (as would any of us) but it would take some time and it would take a toll. Every now and then I feel the full force of that uncertainty that sits in the back of my mind. Most of the time I can ignore it, but every now and then I feel it.

And, the shit rolls down hill. My boss hears something from her boss who heard something from her boss who heard something from her boss who heard something from the CEO. I am at the very bottom rung of that ladder. The CEO has a bad day and I end up envisioning pink slips and unemployment lines. That is no way to live.

I am convinced that we prepare for this from infancy. Think of the words to that most famous lullaby:

Rock-a-bye baby
On the tree top
When the wind blows
The cradle will rock.
When the bough breaks
The cradle will fall
And down will come baby
Cradle and all.

What kind of terrifying image is that for a sweet innocent baby? What else could we be saying other than the world is an uncertain place and so is your place in it? Aren’t we all sitting out on a limb someplace, where even a gentle wind can send us tumbling back down to earth? Financially speaking, I know that most of us are living paycheck to paycheck. We don’t save much if anything, and we wind up working for pennies on the dollar compared to what we are worth.

Welcome to the working world.

As I told my husband that we all go through his uncertainty at some point, it dawned on me…


Why am I doing this? Why is he? The steady paycheck? They can take that away at a moment’s notice. We are at-will employees. I have to tell you, I don’t like being at someone else’s will. If my life here is uncertain, wouldn’t I be just as well off being my own boss? Don’t I have the ability to do that? Don’t we all have the innate ability to follow our own creativity and desires down a more logical path? Wouldn’t we be better off if we did, or at least tried?

Wouldn’t we?

Thursday, September 18, 2008

My cat!!

I swear this is a study of our furry feline Alpha....

I swear it is.

Ha ha ha ha ha HA!

Sorry - been a little busy... I will resume regular postings next week. In the meantime, enjoy. I laugh every time I watch this. (Especially when Amy Poehler breaks off a piece of the podium...)

Thursday, August 28, 2008

From every mountainside, let freedom ring.

And when this happens, when we allow freedom to ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God's children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual:

Free at last! Free at last!

Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!

Dr. King would be proud today.

We should all be proud today.

Today, in Denver, history is being made. 45 years to the day after Dr. King delivered the immortal “I have a dream” speech, for the first time in our nation’s history, a black man will be accepting his party’s nomination to run for the office of President of the United States.

Almost 400 years since the first slave ships landed in the Americas, 145 years after the Emancipation Proclamation and only a generation removed from segregation, we are finally starting progress toward a future forged in hope.

It is no secret that I am a big fan of Barack Obama. It is no secret that I am liberal in my leanings. It is no secret that I am a life long Democrat, and proud of that fact. However, I think that all of us need to take a few moments, regardless of our personal political leanings, to recognize the significance of this day. Take a few moments to appreciate the history that was made yesterday as the Democratic Party voted to nominate the nations first black Presidential nominee. Take a few moments to recognize the absolute significance of Barack Obama accepting the nomination 45 years to the day after Dr. King delivered his famous speech. Take a few moments, my fellow Americans, and feel proud.

Today I am truly proud.

I am proud that this history is being made by my political party (hey – at least I am honest about it!). I am proud that this history is being made in my home town of Denver. I am proud of the speeches that were made this week. I am proud of my country and my countrymen. I am proud that I have gotten to witness this day with my husband who was moved to tears by the events of the week.

I can get cynical sometimes, when I see thoughtlessness and when I see ignorance. I tend to throw up my arms in frustration, and can at times feel indignation and anger toward people who want to judge me or my husband by our skin color rather than by who we are and what we have accomplished. It can make a nice girl turn militant and can leave me looking for La Raza so that I can be with La Gente until it’s time for La Revolucion.

But today, I have hope. Today I have pride. Today, I think we are closer to realizing Dr. King’s dream than we have ever been in our history. Maybe one day we truly will be a nation that is able to judge people by the content of our character rather than something as superficial as skin color.

It is my dream too. I have the same dream because the great Dr. King dreamed it for all of us. He spoke about it with such passion that we all know those words. They resonate to the very core of who we are as a nation, stripping us bare to the harsh reality of who we were, and showing us the dream of who we might one day become.

So today, as we reflect on the dream in light of the events of the day, remember how far we’ve come.

And how far we still have to go.

The full text of Dr. King’s speech is available here.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

War is Peace. Freedom is Slavery. Ignorance is Strength.

Big Brother is watching you.

Do you ever feel like you have to look over your shoulder constantly because you are being watched? I’m not talking about a conspiracy theory Orwellian kind of being watched (although that would certainly make an interesting topic for discussion… maybe later). What I am referring to is the kind of watched where some nosey character actually physically watches you. This person watches your every move: what you do, where you go, who you talk to, what you talk about, what web sites you visit, what kind of work you do, how often you pee. Almost like a stalker, only this person watches you in plain sight.

Shit! Hold on….

I had to go because she was watching me again, and I am sick and tired of it.

I have an at-work stalker.

Well, not a “stalker”, really. “Stalker” gives this particular moron too much credit. She is more of an at-work “teacher’s pet” only the “teacher” doesn’t really like her, so doesn’t pay attention to what she does or says. So no matter how much she tattles, no matter what kind of tantrum she throws, it falls on deaf ears. I continue to do what I do, because my manager trusts my own work ethic more than she trusts the word of a loud-mouthed busybody.
Only the whole thing makes me rather uncomfortable.

I feel like I have no privacy. Really, how much privacy should we expect at work? Certainly the company can confront me at any moment about how I spend my time. They can pull internet records, phone logs, emails, documents, etc at any moment. And what would they find out, you may ask? That I do more than my fair share of work, that I am efficient, that I help out where I am needed, and that when I have down time I read the news on CNN and check my hotmail. I sometimes update my blog during lunch when I feel like sitting at my desk. I come in on time, stay late when it is needed and am not adverse to coming in on a Saturday or Holiday when necessary. I only take the allotted lunch time and take one 15 minute break every morning. I hardly ever take an afternoon break. I rarely make mistakes in my work, and if I do make an occasional error, I learn from it and never make the same mistake again. That is what the company would learn from me.

If the company watched me as closely as my new best friend seems to, it would also learn the following things: I drink 2 cups of coffee and a bottle of water every day. Or a soda and a water, or tea… I drink something caffeinated and water every day. Sometimes I stare into space when I feel fried. I take vitamins every morning. I listen to my headphones while I work and tap my feet to the music. I am a sucker for Peanut M&Ms and arrange them into color groups on my desk before eating them. I talk to my husband once a day and clean my desk once a week. I bite my bottom lip when I am trying to figure out a problem. I talk to my brother over the cubicle wall. I put lotion on my hands every time I come back from the bathroom which is approximately twice. I play with my earrings and twist my hair. I chew my nails. I keep my supplies in the middle drawer of my desk rather than the top drawer. I put my pens back in the cup every night.

What does she gain by watching me?

Every week in our meeting, she sits in her chair, smug as can be and starts out her list of grievances the same way.

“Some people seem to have too much free time…”

In case you were wondering, I am “some people”. She has decided that because I have time to get water and pee, I have time to take on more of her work. She feels that it is dreadfully unfair that I should get to take a lunch and a morning break. After all, she is the only one entitled to such frivolity. Also, she feels that “some people” are making mistakes (that aren’t being made), “some people” take too much time off (forgive me for getting married in April), “some people”, “some people”, “some people.”

Blah Blah Blah.

My first thought is that people who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones. After all, I don’t really care if she comes in late (she does), if she takes a lot of time off (she does) takes long lunches (she does) or if she often needs help getting her own meager work done (she does.) I notice, but I don’t say squat, because it isn’t my place, my business or my concern. I go to work, do my work, collect my pay and go home. I don’t need to “one-up” anyone. Maybe this makes me a bit too arrogant, but I know in my heart that I am better than this place and better than my co-worker. As my brother counseled, you do kind of have to feel a bit sorry for her. A very little bit. After all, if taking me down is really all she has to look forward to, her life must be quite small.

Of course, my second thought is, “Butt the hell out, lady”. The thing that threw me over the edge was being accused of not spending enough time at my desk. Then, the other day, she started making derogatory comments about me. Nice. Really freaking nice.

To answer the unasked question – I already discussed the matter with my manager. She assured me that the problem wasn’t mine, but the young lady in question. She told me not to worry, that she will handle it. I have yet to see evidence that it is being handled.

I mentally gave her until the end of the week. Tomorrow is Friday. (Thank GOD!). We’ll see.

Perhaps all of this is just a sign that I am long overdue to seek greener pastures.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

I do not fear computers...

I fear the lack of them.
-Isaac Asimov

I have been unfaithful, and now I am in love with another. It is strange how quickly the bond formed, and just like all new love, I was ill prepared for the shock of it. I didn't plan this. No one ever plans this. Now, I am sitting here at my desk dreaming of going home to that smooth caress. I feel like a school girl, giddy and unsure. My new love is better, faster and sleeker. Some might say handsome. To me the beauty is inconstant and fleeting. I much prefer what is inside to the shell outside. But that's just me. It was the same way with every one I have ever had before. And when this love is worn and old, when it no longer responds in the same way, I know I will be drawn to the new again, forsaking the old loyalties in favor of what seems shiny and new. This love is fickle, but then I can be as well. Right now, the very newness has me doe-eyed with admiration. I am in love.

I just bought a new laptop. It is so much faster and newer than anything I have had in a long time. My old laptop was a trusty companion, but as all old laptops tend to do, he left me high and dry when one day he refused to power on, taking a large chunk of work with him. The bastard. So, I, Dawn the Technologically Challenged, found myself embarking on a journey to find a new computer.

I had no idea what I needed, so I started doing all sorts of research on line to determine what I really did need. I read reviews, but they seemed to scare me more than help. I even asked the salesmen at one local computer store. Imagine my surprise when they tried to steer me away from the affordable model I was looking at and into something more than twice my price range. They told me that the less expensive computers don't actually compute, and if you wanted to do any kind of gaming or programming, they would not work. Apparently the cheaper models are good as very expensive paperweights. They couldn't understand why anyone would want one of those.

I am not a gamer, and the thought of me programming anything should send shivers down your spine, or at the very least make the hairs on the back of your neck stand on end. Breathe a sigh of relief kiddos, that I have never attempted to program a thing. I imagine myself as a mad scientist screaming "Live! Live!!" at the top of my lungs as my program powers on, a tesla coil inexplicably in the background. My creature would probably cause more havoc than Frakenstein's monster. I also can't really get into the RPGs that many can't live without. I don't know why, but my own imaginings tend more toward the literary and the cinematic. I can't really get into World of Warcraft or anything like it. It looks like a lark, but it's not really for me. I would be the character stuck in the corner because I couldn't figure out that Alt Ctrl Shift F7 Backspace is the secret command code to spin around. All in all it doesn't make for a good time.

So I left the computer store with my money and decided to go to a Big Electronics Giant. The only things I normally buy from these super stores are DVDs. But the other day, I waltzed right on into the superstore and walked out with a reasonably priced laptop that was on sale.

My new toy is red and shiny. It has a big bright screen with better definition than our TV. It has a dual core processer, 3GB RAM, Superdrive that writes DVDs as well as CDs, 160 GB hard drive, Wireless, memory card reader, 3 usb ports, and came pre-installed with MS Office a ton of "Dawn Friendly" games (Solitare, Minesweeper, Chuzzle, Bejeweled, MahJong), and has a built in webcam.

I spent the first evening navigating the unfamiliar waters of Windows Vista (someone please enlighten me about why Vista is such a big freaking deal? I can't seem to figure out why it is so "superior" or even "inferior" depending on who you talk to... It just seems like windows to my untrained eye...) I installed my photoshop, Mozilla, and iTunes. Then I started playing Chuzzle and MahJong. I fell asleep on the couch.

Sunday I played with my new photoshop (fun as hell), then played more Chuzzle and MahJong.

Last night, I surfed the web, tried playing minesweeper until I blew myself to bits, then played more MahJong. I fell asleep trying to defeat Dragon.

It seems to me that I could have spent a lot less for a box of MahJong tiles and gotten just as much satisfaction. I have no idea what draws me into games like that, but inevitably I am drawn in and before I know it, midnight has arrived, and I am leaning on the couch, a line of drool starting to form on my chin, my finger resting on the click pad, my computer beeping at me for trying to make an illegal move. Maybe I should move on to ChessMaster... It might take a bit more intellect and might keep me from sleeping in the upright position with my chin on my chest. At least I haven't started in on solitare. Computer solitare is one of my weaknesses. I can't help it. I get bored, and start up the computer, and there it is, calling to me. I can start out with the best intentions, and end up spending hours being completely non-productive, except that I have great solitare statistics.

At least I did before my old computer died. Maybe now is the chance to start anew. I can beat this terrible addiction. I can sit down and write and get things done. I can put together my web site and perfect my photoshop technique. I can adjust my playlists on iTunes once and for all. I can do it if I just try. I know I can. And I will.

Just as soon as I beat Dragon on MahJong.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow

Creeps in this petty pace from day to day
To the last syllable of recorded time,
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more: it is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing.
William Shakespeare, "Macbeth", Act 5 scene 5

Every now and then, I find myself complaining about my job. Nothing new, nothing serious, just a general feeling of "why the hell am I here?"

Were I to explain what I do in any amount of detail, it would put you to sleep in very short order. As a matter of fact, not a day goes by that I don't find myself nodding off at my desk or drifting off into a daydream. Simply put, I am a low level accountant for a mortgage servicing company.


Yeah. It's about that interesting. I spend my days elbow deep in HELOCs and Bank In-Clearing Files and Checks and Reconciliations and Reports and Logs and...


Every time I think about it, I get a little sick. What am I doing here? Why do I put up with the idiotic people all around me? This job does little to stimulate my intellect or my creativity. Not to toot my own horn, but I believe I have both in spades. I work around idiots and I do idiot's work. I need a change desperately. I need to break out and be free.

The thought of finding another cookie-cutter job has crossed my mind, but in the end, what is the real point of that? You see, my current displeasure with my job is deep-seeded and stems from my general dislike of offices and corporate culture. Every job I have ever had in an office elicits the same response. I go in, do what needs to be done, and leave. I don't fit in and I don't really want to fit in. Not here. The places where I fit in tend to be populated by societal misfits. Artists, musicians, actors, geeks, intellectuals... These are my kindred spirits. I do not fit with the ass-kissing, self-promoting, unintelligent air-heads that surround me. I listen to them, and I just feel sorry for them. For these people, the low level accounting job is all they have. They have to be king here because everywhere else, they are peasants. They have no ambition greater than to get to the bar for happy hour. I don't fit here. I don't belong here.

Me= Square Peg. This Place = Round Hole

So, what do I do? I want to find a way to really be an artist. Not just as a hobby either. I just don't know how to make that transition. I know that there are people who use their art to make their livings. I know that they are not all famous. I know that the world needs photographers, writers, jewelers, painters, sculpters and poets. I know that there are happy people every day who do what really pleases them. I know it. I just need to find them and ask their secrets.

Sometimes I realize that what I do is done out of necessity. We need a roof and electricity and food. We need transportation and medicine. I am not comfortable trying to live hand to mouth. I tried that once. I nearly drove everyone around me mad with my constant worrying and complaining. But at some point, I need to be able to step up and do something that will not only provide food and shelter, but will nuture my soul. It feels so poorly malnourished right now. I feel a shadow of my former self. I was a musician once. I wasn't bad. I didn't get any really high-paying gigs. I was turned down more than once for groups I felt equal to. I taught small children how to play the violin to the detriment of my hearing. I took a customer-service job to make ends meet. I was always broke and never more than a paycheck from eviction. I drove a broken down car, and when it didn't work, I took the bus. I wasn't rich, but I wasn't unhappy either. I felt good about what I was doing. I felt good about the pursuit. I felt proud of the performances I gave and proud of the way I was scraping by.

Then I took better and better jobs and had less and less time to pursue music. In the end I had to decide whether or not I was really cut out to be a professional musician. But sometimes I wonder if I did it to placate those around me. Did I fall on my back-up plan because it was expected? What on earth am I doing here?

The funniest part is - music was itself a back-up plan. When I had initially told my parents that I wanted to be an artist, they responded less than favorably. Artists, you see, starve to death. They never make money and die broke and desperately unhappy. This is not a good idea. I knew I didn't want to study business, so I fell back to music. I was, after all, a good musician.

I keep coming back to that thought. I have spent the past ten years working with my back-up plan, and every year I feel a bit worse about it. What good is the back-up plan really doing me? Am I going to go through life regretting that I never really followed my dreams? Is it even possible to photograph (not weddings, not portraits, but things that I find interesting...) or paint or sculpt and make money? Am I deluding myself into another ten years of meaningless jobs that will end up going nowhere? Shouldn't I just find a nice stable career where I can earn what I am worth, move up in the company and have some clout? Do I need clout?

I don't feel like I do. And maybe that's part of the problem. I base too much of my life on a feeling. Right now I am feeling inconsequential and I would be right. If I quit today, Chim-Chim the monkey could move on in and do my job. It takes no talent and no intelligence and no charm. I want to do something that does. I want to think and react and create. I want to break out, kick down the doors to convention and shout "Here I am! Take me or leave me!" I want to love what I do and love who I am. I want to have pride in what I do every day of my life. I don't want to mumble incoherently when someone asks "What do you do?" I want to proudly point to my studio and say "I'm an artist. I create beauty."

Does that make me crazy?

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

I have always depended on the kindness of strangers.

Not really. I have always depended on myself and my wits. I have always trusted that for the most part people are kind, but in no way have a grown a dependence on that belief. It is just one of the many ways Blanche DuBois and I are different.

However, I am happy to report that my trust in the kindness of strangers is stronger than ever.

If you read my previous post you will be aware that Michael has had some problems with the state as far as getting help with his work situation. Some of you have heard me rant endlessly about the ineptitude of state employees or the uncaring bureaucracy we found ourselves entangled in. You may have seen me whip out my soap box and proselytize that change needs to occur in the system, screaming that the system is broken and finding no answer other than “well, fix it then.” It got to the point that even I have grown tired of wanting to fight all the time. It was stripping me of my faith and the constant derision was giving me a nice little ulcer for my trouble.

You may also know that I had come to the decision that we were going to have to find another way to get Michael the (very expensive) equipment he needs – the JORDY. JORDY, for those not in the know, stands for Joint Optical Reflective Display. It was inspired by Geordi LaForge (the blind chief engineer on Star Trek: The Next Generation) and is based on NASA technology. I started (where else) on my trusty friend eBay. There are, strangely, JORDY’s listed for sale. What I discovered is that yes, you can find a Jordy, but everyone and his uncle is also looking for a Jordy. I was quickly out-bid. I started then looking for a used system through nationwide classified ads. Some of the used systems are affordable, but they were no longer available by the time I got to them, or they were available, but no longer working, or they were available, worked, but they were almost as expensive as a new unit.

I didn’t know where else to turn. The state was still giving Michael the run-around which did not change his need. The week before he started work, they told him they would order his JORDY. That Friday, they emailed and said, in essence, “no deal.” I was furious, but decided to put my angry energy to good work. I started really looking and contacting people. I contacted a couple of low-vision specialty stores and then I sent an email to the manufacturer (Enhanced Vision Systems of Huntington Beach, CA). In the letter, I let them know about Michael, how wonderful he is, how long he has been bounced around the state system, how he had been promised one thing and then delivered another (if anything at all), and then I let them know that I wanted to purchase a used, demo or refurbished Jordy. I explained that our budget was tight, but we were willing to work it out. I asked, simply, if they could point me in a good direction for a used Jordy that we could purchase.

Immediately I received a response from a wonderful lady named Janice at Enhanced Vision who said that she was working on my request and would get back to me as soon as she could. Then Michael received a call from Justin and one from Michelle both from Enhanced Vision. They asked him some questions about his specific visual needs and about his contact with the state.

Today, they called and told him that they would be sending him a Jordy as their gift to him, completely free of charge.

When Michael called to tell me, I nearly fell off my chair. I told him I had to go, and then I went to my car, shut the door and wept tears of real gratitude.

I don’t know if you have ever been in a position where you feel really helpless. I was there. I wanted so badly to be able to whip out my checkbook and pay for the damned thing. I wanted to be able to provide my husband with everything he needed to live his life, to do his job and to fulfill his dreams. I fell short. Money, while not everything, certainly would have helped in this situation. If I had the money available, I wouldn’t have bothered with the state. I would have gone on line, ordered what he needed and waited for the delivery to arrive. If we had the money. We didn’t and we fell through the cracks of a system that is quite definitely broken. I was really struggling, not knowing where to turn. I started to pray.

I don’t pray very often. When I need solace, I fall back on my Catholic upbringing and say a few Hail Mary’s. They tend to calm me down. This time, however, I really sat down and prayed. I asked God to give me strength and guidance. I invoked the spirit of my beloved Grandmother and Aunt hoping that all the faith I had as a child in heaven and angels was real. For a moment, it felt tangible. For a moment, I felt as though I wasn’t speaking to a great nothingness, but instead I felt like I was imploring my Grandmother and my Aunt to help Michael and to help me have the strength to fight through this. I was asking for a light to illuminate the path I was supposed to follow.
Instead, I got an angel.

I am not a religious nut. My view of God and the universe are very different from any semblance of organized religion. I don’t tend to spout my own religious dogma, and as a result very few people have tried to bible beat me. (A word of advice – never try to bible beat anyone who went to Catholic School for their formative education. We are knowledgeable and many of us are jaded. Trust me, it is a fight you won’t win.) I don’t go to church, and I don’t wear a cross around my neck. I am completely mystified by the religious nuts and fanatics in this country, especially Christian fundamentalists. I find their beliefs very un-Christian, and am absolutely dying to take one of them on face to face. I believe that everyone has to come to their own faith in their own way, and believe that everyone’s faith is valid and personal. My own included. (My mother can stop lighting candles for my soul at any time, but she refuses. One day, maybe she will learn…)

Having said all of that, I am floored and awed by the events that unfolded this week. We received real kindness from strangers. I touched base with God and I got an answer. It isn’t often that a cynic can espouse the power of faith. But here I am.

What’s the moral of the story, boys and girls? To me, it is that we are all lost at some point, and at some point we will all have the answer to someone else’s prayer in our hands. It is up to us to choose how we react to people, to choose what path we take and to choose whether or not to help. If I am presented with an opportunity to help, I hope I can remember this lesson and sweep in to help someone else who has felt hopeless or helpless. Where I have the power to help, I hope I can be someone’s angel of mercy. Pay it forward, right?

Have faith.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Something is rotten in the state of Colorado…

The Department of Vocational Rehab to be specific…

Let me tell you a story:

Once upon a time, there was a young blind man, who moved a thousand miles from his home to Denver, CO. Who knows what strange fate brought him here? It is something that I will not question and something for which I will remain forever grateful. You see, this young man is my husband. He is legally blind, but he has never let that stop him from doing what he wanted to do and doing what needed to be done.

Now, our hero, Michael, decided that he needed to find a job, but he was having a hard time finding work. Perhaps it was the soft economy, perhaps the simple fact of his blindness kept him from finding full time employment. Whatever the reason, and the reason is not at issue, he needed assistance. Enter the Colorado Department of Vocational Rehabilitation. For those gentle readers not familiar with this particular state agency, allow me to explain: The entire reason for the existence of these state employees is to help people like Michael find work. They are supposed to make sure that those who have a physical (or mental) handicap, who want to work, are able to. They help people figure out transportation issues, figure out living arrangements, and most of all, figure out how to earn a living. (Vocational, is after all, in their title.) Each person needing the help of this agency is assigned a counselor, who takes on the responsibility of helping that person become a productive member of society.

So Michael contacts the state and explains that he is blind and needs their assistance to locate work. The department assigns him to counselor #1 – who doesn’t seem as interested in helping her new charge as one would hope. Michael tells this person several things about himself. First, he explains that he has been a writer for several years, and would, ideally, like to find a job writing (freelance or otherwise) for a local publication. He is also interested in a career in radio. Both are noble professions, though hard to break into, as Michael understands. The counselor suggests other employment. Michael has no objection. He mentions that he might like to start his own business. He also mentions that he might like to go back to school. The counselor balks at the school idea. (After all, who needs an education these days? This move confused and confounded me. I was a touch angry, but eventually let it go in the interest of domestic harmony…) The counselor suggests customer service and explains that the state will get him any equipment he needs to do the job. She has Michael fill out a form stating that he would like to find work doing customer service (not what he had intended, but work is work…) he fills out his form, and waits for the next step.

And waits…

And waits…

He calls back and is told that he needs to fill out a form. So the counselor faxes the same form back and he dutifully fills it out again, sends it back and waits.

And waits…

And waits…

Eventually, Michael requests a new counselor. He explains that the counselor originally assigned to him has been less than helpful, and he really does need assistance finding work. The state happily assigns counselor #2 – who I shall call Dumb-Dumb – to protect the ignorant. Now, Dumb-Dumb starts out on the right foot. She explains that there is a program designed to help people start a business. You can run a concession at a government facility – not exactly what Michael had in mind, but he would still be in charge. She explains the program and gets him some information. The program was not a good fit. So Michael explains that he would still prefer work. She tells him that they no longer help people find work, but they do outsource this task to other employment agencies… She gives him a list of numbers and helpfully tells him to call them himself.

Now I am confused… The Department of VOCATIONAL Rehab is no longer in the business of helping people find a VOCATION? What the hell? I should mention here that I knew all about Voc Rehab before meeting Michael. You see, my father worked as a Voc Rehab counselor for years when I was a child. I remember him helping clients find work – not just a job, but a career where they could progress and be happy. I remember him helping them get equipment and transportation. I remember him visiting them in their homes when something made it prohibitive for them to come to his office – something like – I don’t know – a blind man who can’t drive…. Michael’s counselor is not interested in coming to him. She is not interested in helping him find work. She has done nothing to earn her state paycheck as far as I can see. But I digress. This will all become clear in a moment.

Michael calls the “employment agencies” which it turns out aren’t agencies at all, but people who work part time from their homes. The lady he settled on (because he can only use one according to the state…) looks at his resume and asks him if he thought about writing or media. Well, now it seems like we are getting someplace. Michael feels energized and immediately begins sending out his resume again. (As instructed….) He gets some bites. He has some interviews. He gets nowhere.

One thing that has bothered me from the beginning of this whole saga is the lack of understanding of employers in their dealings with the blind. Many of the interviews expressed concern that he would be able to physically meet the demands of the job (seeing things). Michael explained that the State will help him get equipment he needs to do whatever job he is hired for. The state should be there advocating for him. They are not. Michael, at one interview for BY JEEVES, was flat out told that he couldn’t interview because he is blind and couldn’t fill out the application. They knew going in that he was blind. His counselor knew he was going in for the interview. When he left, disgusted, he called his counselor, who told him that he should go back when someone could go with him to fill out the application. (By the way – I am boycotting By Jeeves, and ask everyone else to join me… They behaved in a manner that is immoral and illegal. Michael has chosen to not pursue the matter with a lawyer, but that doesn’t mean that I will be giving them any kind of business ever again.) As his state advocate, his counselor should have been down there that day advocating for him, explaining the Equal Employment laws as they pertain to the handicapped, and helping him file a formal complaint, if that is what he wanted. Instead Dumb-Dumb took a very hands-off approach, choosing instead to tell her client, “Sorry, can’t help you.”

This scene played itself over and over and over until Michael started to sink into a depression that I was afraid he would not come out of.

The counselor one day tells Michael that there is another program designed to help the blind start a business of their choosing. Now why didn’t anyone mention this before? He was confused, but excited, and started to do the research that was required for him to get into this program. Michael wants to DJ and have a company that will encompass anyone’s media needs, from music to video to photography. A great way to make some money – and not a lot of start up costs involved for a person with an enormous music collection, great taste, and a knowledge of how to work various types of equipment. He begins his research and starts to fill out the forms required. The state will pay $5,000 of the start up costs. Unless, he already has $5,000, in which case, the state will pay an additional $10K. Michael doesn’t have $5K, and neither do I, but we reason that he can start with $5K and build from there.

Except the state will only pay for certain business ventures. His counselor is not sure if a DJ business will do. She also tells him that if he has a blemish on his credit, they will not help and that the state will retain control for 3 years and then they will decide if he should remain in business. Now it looks less attractive. First of all, Michael has a blemish on his credit. If it was a case of an unblemished credit record, we could have gone to a bank for the start up costs. Secondly, why is a DJ business any different from, oh say a haberdashery or a butcher shop or a shoe store? People get married and have parties and need the services of a DJ. He can get references and he can advertise with some of that money. Except he can’t as his counselor explains – because the $5K is to pay for equipment which the state will purchase through a vendor and they will decide what he needs and why he needs it – advertising costs are not part of the package.

I tried to start a business without proper advertising built in. Ask me where I am now…. Go on ask. I have had to return to the working world, a valuable lesson in business learned. You have to advertise.

The business is not looking like a good idea after all, at which point, Michael once again tells his counselor that he would just like to find work – and no not in customer service. That wasn’t his idea in the first place. He needs work, because he needs to make money because he needs to pay rent and power and bills. (It could just be me, but maybe having been out of work for so long, contributed to his credit issues….) Michael is again told about the “agencies” that help.

Then one day, I am driving to work down Broadway in Denver. I pass Goodwill as I always do, and outside is a sign “Goodwill Job Fair, Saturday 1-4PM”. A light goes off in my head. OF COURSE! Who else but Goodwill to hire the handicapped? I call Michael, excited and explain about the sign. We go down Saturday; he is offered a job on the spot. He will be working in a back room sorting books. It’s not glamorous, but it is work. And it is not customer service, which is something that he really didn’t want to do. It will leave him free to start his business on his own, and will provide him with the ability to save for it. He will still be able to write because he will not be mentally exhausted at the end of the day. They provide benefits and vacation time. Michael is excited. They set his start date. He goes home and emails his counselor.

And waits…

And waits…

And calls her and leaves a message…

And waits…

And waits…

Finally she calls back. He tells her about the job and tells her what equipment he needs to do the job (after all, the agency will provide equipment….) The counselor says that only the “tech guys” can recommend the equipment and they are recommending hand held magnifiers rather than the type worn on his head. Michael explains that since he will be sorting books and shelving books, he will need his hands free and will need the type worn on his head despite what the “tech guys” tell her. She says she will get back to him.

He waits…

And waits…

We fill out his paperwork at Goodwill and they move the start date back to the 14th. This is good, because as of 7/5 we were still waiting for the counselor. He calls and emails again. Finally, she tells him (Tuesday 7/8) that the once her supervisor signs off on the equipment request, the Jordy will be ordered. (Jordy is extraordinary (think Geordi LaForge and you get the basic idea. It is life changing – and expensive. If I could afford one, I would have bought one when we first met… of course, as I have come to find out, even the hand held equipment is expensive. I thought I might try to buy him one of those, but they are still prohibitively expensive….) Michael is ecstatic, and so am I. We celebrate. His new job is about to start. After being in the state system for more than 3 years, he will finally be able to work and achieve some bit of independence. Finally, everything is coming up Michael…

Then he gets an email from Dumb-Dumb:

“Upon my supervisor's review, I was informed yesterday that only low vision specialists can recommend head-borne equipment, such as a Jordy.
At our center, we only have VRT's who are not allowed by our policy to recommend/prescribe such equipment (their limitations are CCTV's, portable CCTV's, etc). In order to authorize purchase for a Jordy, I need the recommendation to come from the low vision specialist. I have left a voicemail with a few of our low vision vendors to see who would be able to get you in the soonest. Unfortunately, this may be another few weeks.”

This comes in on Friday 7/11. He was supposed to start 7/14. Now, because of the complete incompetence of the state agency designed to help him, he is in danger of loosing the opportunity to work. The opportunity he worked so hard for.

I am angry. No, strike that. I am well beyond angry. I was furious to the point of tears on Friday. Now I am determined to help Michael get his Jordy, and I am determined to help anyone else I can. Friday, I placed a few couple of bids on broken Jordy’s on eBay, but lost both. Then I sent an email to the company that makes this product, in the hopes that they would be able to point me in a direction where I can get a used Jordy or a refurbished first generation model. They responded immediately and said that they will try to help in any way they can. Enhanced Vision. Good people there. I don’t know if they can help, but at least they are responding.

I called my father and explained the scenario to him. He suggested calling the client advocate, and then the director or Voc Rehab and then the media. Believe you me, if Michael gets no response from the state today, we will be on the news tomorrow. I am through messing around with these incompetent assholes. I am tired of state employees passing their job off on other people, not responding to emails or phone calls from clients, and then acting as though it is no big deal if they cannot help, when help was promised, when help was needed, and when help was required of their position. No wonder people hate the government. I always had faith. I remember my father and how hard he worked for his clients. I remember his friends doing the same. I have never met such a group of incompetent fools as work at the Colorado Department of Vocational Rehab. Feel free to tell them I said so.

So, I don’t know where this story will end. I am hoping that some angel will intervene and help Michael get the equipment he needs to do a job that he really wants so that he can have the one thing that all of us deserve – a bit of dignity. We all take for granted that we can see. I know I did. I took for granted my sight, my ability to walk down the street and see the sights and potential hazards. I took for granted my ability to walk into an office, fill out an application and get a job. I took for granted my ability to get in a car and drive someplace, or barring that, to find a bus stop in a strange part of town. I took for granted the fact that I don’t need to wear a specialized camera on my head to read the title of a book. I can just do it. Michael can’t. I never really thought about what it would be like if I couldn’t see. It never crossed my mind.

I have learned so much from Michael. He has patience when I couldn’t possibly. He has tolerance when I am loosing my mind an want to ring someone’s neck. He has a gentleness about him that I love and very much admire. He is a nice man. He is an honest man. He is a funny man. He is the most wonderful man you would ever want to meet. He asks for nothing, and gives everything. He seriously would give someone what was left of his vision if it would help them. I know he would. All he needs is a little help. It breaks my heart that I cannot afford one simple piece of equipment that would help him work and change his life. It kills me that we have to ask the state for help. It brings me to my knees, in front of God, asking for clarity and strength and patience. It is deeply ironic that my passion is photography and everything in my life is visual, where my husband can’t see the hand in front of his face (unless he holds it very very close…)

There are thousands of people like Michael, whose lives would be profoundly changed with the help of a small, albeit expensive, piece of equipment. I have been blessed so far in my life. I don’t want to see this happen to anyone else. When a parent cries themselves to sleep every night because they cannot afford to help their child see, I want to help. When a husband or wife sees their spouse struggling with little or no help from the state, I want to be there. When a teacher knows that a student would excel if only they had a bit of technology, I want to be there. I don’t want anyone else to be as angry or as frustrated as I have been over the ineptitude of the state.

I swear to each of you reading this now, as long as I have breath, I will find a way to make this happen. I want to be able to help change the life of a child or two or ten or a thousand. I want people to have the independence that they deserve and the ability to lead full and fully independent lives.

We all deserve at least that much.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Cellophane, Mrs. Cellophane…

Shoulda been my name
Mrs. Cellophane…
‘Cause people walk right by me
Look right through me
And never know I’m there…

Sometimes I feel invisible.

Sometimes, I feel like even my very best friends forget I exist and unless I scream at the top of my lungs, waving my arms madly to draw their attention, they would go through the rest of their lives never remembering that they once new a girl named Dawn.

It is hard for me to admit to this. I like to be thought of as the strong willed, funny type. I tend to be boisterous in a group setting, sometimes so much so that I make an ass out of myself. I tend to laugh loudly and interject my opinion. Sometimes I laugh too loudly or give an opinion that wasn’t asked for. I wear bright colors and unique clothing and jewelry. I tell jokes. I act the fool. When you are in a room with me, it isn’t hard to notice me.

I don’t want to be unseen. One of my biggest fears is to fade quietly away and be forgotten.

I was a shy child. Grown ups would talk and I would sit quietly and listen. They rarely noticed me. In new situations and settings, I clung to one of my parents or my brother. Strangers didn’t see me. I didn’t easily make friends, because I wasn’t the first person on the playground anyone would ever notice. It was hard for me to meet new people. I felt out of place in my own skin, and didn’t want to draw any attention to myself. My first day of High School, I remember not talking to anyone. This weird girl came up to me and said “Hi! I’m Robin. Do you want to be my friend?” That is pretty much a direct quote. At the end of the first day of High School, we were sitting in the gym, and she was sitting next to me. She stood up, stuck her hand out to shake mine, and pretty much sealed the deal. We became fast friends.

With Robin’s help, I learned new ways to break out of my shell. I learned that it’s OK to ask a question when you don’t know the answer. I learned that meeting new people can be scary, but it can be fun too. I learned that if you are comfortable with who you are no one can really make you feel bad.

I try, I really do. For a while, I was an open book and I met tons of people. I had friends from all parts of the world and all walks of life. I was able to strike up a conversation at the drop of a hat with anyone about anything. (And I mean anyone… I once had a 45 minute conversation with a bum on the bus while on my way from school back home. We discussed the Vietnam War and the political discord of the sixties. It was a very interesting discussion we had from three rows away.) However, no matter how open I was, I never stopped feeling insignificant. Like I was inadequate somehow…

And then the shyness returned.

I didn’t mean for it to happen. If there was a magic pill that would kill shyness forever, I would take it. If there was a secret spell or ritual that would keep me from these feelings of self-doubt, I would start a cult. If anyone would follow me, that is. I start to feel shy, then I start to feel doubt, then I start to notice a thousand slights – some intentional, some not – and I begin to once again feel myself loosing substance and opacity until air and light flow through me… Until I can feel people actually looking past me as though I was a slightly stained window. My voice gets quiet, as though it lack the physical power to project beyond a whisper. My eyes stop meeting the eyes of people on the street and in the hall. My smile becomes smaller, my posture suffers. It’s as though I am starting to shrink.

Today, I feel quite invisible.

I wish I could explain what brought this on. A dozen little things all at once coalesce and start to erase me. I can handle one, maybe two hurts without starting to collapse in on myself, but when things keep piling on top of things, it gets so I can’t see over the pile, until it topples on me and I am buried beneath it. I start to feel like I could cry at any minute and worse than that, no one would notice if I did. I start to notice – really notice – every hurt I have. I start to notice that I never get invited to lunch, that I never get invited to a movie, and that I’ve stopped receiving personal emails all together and that no one ever calls to talk to me, or asks me out for coffee or asks how my day is going. I start to notice that I live a life that is very isolated. I start to notice that even my husband seems too busy to notice that I have begun to shrink and fade away. I start to realize that I am writing a blog that probably never gets read by eyes other than my own. All of these things become more apparent and I start to feel less so.

I’ve tried to explain this feeling to all those who care about me at some point or another in the hazy past, and every last one of them has given me the same disgusted “Oh come on,” or “Get over it”. They tell me to lighten up or stop imagining things. They tell me that I am acting childishly or selfishly and that I need to grow up. They remind me that I wasn’t overlooked on purpose and that I am making too much of it. No one ever seems to think it important that the fact remains that I was indeed overlooked.

I suppose, if I am invisible, so then, is my pain.

I guess that all I can really do is try to hold on to the strong-willed boisterous woman inside until I become less transparent and I can re-solidify my presence.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

If music be the food of love…

Play on.

I can’t live without my iPod.

I know that seems like an extreme statement, but at this point in my life, I don’t think I can. I use my iPod every single day. I listen to it on the way to work, at my desk and on the way home. Sometimes at home, I turn it on and listen while I do my homework or write or draw or just sitting around with a beer and a cigarette. If something ever happened to this little four inch device, I would be lost. Absolutely lost.

First of all it saves my life at work. You see, I have a very annoying co-worker who doesn’t seem to take a breath while letting loose her tongue. It doesn’t help that to me her voice is akin to nails scraping across a black-board. All day, every day those of us around her are forced to suffer a barrage of complaints ranging from her unfaithful boyfriend to how unfair the banking system is to the state of her mental health. All day. I wish I was exaggerating.

Luckily, though, I have my trusty iPod. When the grating sound of her voice hitting the upper registers of human hearing gets to be too much for me, I slip on my ear buds and escape into a world of my own making. Normally, I put on some loud metal or nasty hip hop, just to drown her out. Sometimes, I need to calm down, so I opt for something with a more calming quality. Ah, Debussy. I can listen to La Mer and imagine that I am sitting on a moonlit beach someplace, watching the waves come in. Believe me this is preferable to the reality of sitting at my desk.

The beautiful part is, I don’t need to flip through a box of cassettes (how old am I?) or a book of CDs looking for the perfect song. All I have to do is locate the right play list, and voila! Heaven.

In the car, I have found that my iPod saves me from the radio. I used to be the biggest fan of morning drive radio and the afternoon shows on our local stations. In the morning, I would listen to either Hip Hop or Indie Rock, and in the afternoon, I usually felt like Pop. I knew the DJs and their styles, and I actually found myself looking forward to the five o’clock question on my ride home. Then I noticed something start to change. It seemed like my Indie rock station was more closely mirroring the pop station which was starting to meld into the hip-hop station. Before I knew it, no matter what station I turned to, I was guaranteed to hear at least two songs twice in my commute, and at least one Beyonce number. I have nothing against Beyonce, I even have a few of her hits on my iPod, but I seriously don’t need to hear her every day at precisely 7:14am and the same song again at 5:07. It got to the point that I could time which song would play at which time and on which station. Then I noticed that they let the DJs talk less and less. What used to be twenty minutes worth of Joking around followed by a couple of songs followed by a commercial break has some how turned into five minutes of hilarity followed by seven songs from play list number 2 followed by ten to fifteen minutes of commercials and back to more songs from that same play list. The songs never change. Every morning they are the exact same – unless someone is promoting a new album, in which case you might get one new song. And the commercial breaks? Forget about it. I can’t stand radio commercials. They are loud, obnoxious, and never seem to advertise a product that one could actually use in traffic (like a cup of coffee). Instead, they give you WAAAAY too much information regarding how to get your gutters cleaned and then follow up with a phone number that some really loud individual repeats five hundred times.


Not only do I have no desire to call, but by the end of the commercial, I actually want to go looking for Steve and everyone affiliated with Steve’s Super Gutter Busters and beat them about the head until I have exacted revenge for me and every other annoyed commuter.

And they are all the same. Every single radio commercial. They repeat the number ad nauseam (pun intended) because they know you aren’t going to write it down, because they know you are driving. I can’t remember the last time I was driving down the road and thought to myself: Gee, if only I knew where to go and get my blinds cleaned – wait a sec! A commercial for Bonnie’s Blindingly Clean Blind Service! Too bad I am driving and cannot get the number. Oh! Excellent! Apparently someone very excited for Bonnie is going to shout the number seventeen times so that I take it with me to my grave. What great luck!

I hate these fucking commercials.

Only slightly less annoying are the “fake interview” commercials. You know the ones where your favorite DJ or talk show host is trying very hard to sound like they are actually interviewing some minor celebrity who is really excited about a new “resort” and wants to give you a free vacation… as long as you listen to the time share presentation that should only last 70 of your 72 hours in Hawaii or Vegas or Tahiti or Pigs Knuckle. Hurry and call now! Then you change the station, and enter the twilight zone because another DJ is conducting the exact same interview! Heavens and ministers of grace defend us! What is going on???

So, I got tired of that barrage of useless information and the no-variety of music that is left to the average radio consumer. Now, I just plug in my iPod and I have thousands of songs at my finger tips. I can move my songs into play lists based on genre, length, artist, or mood. I can listen to angry music, happy music, sad music, intense music and light-hearted music in the course of an afternoon without doing a darned thing. I can listen alphabetically by song title, artist or album. If I am in the mood, I can listen to all of The White Album from start to finish without interruption. If I feel like following up the Fab Four with Kanye West and then move into some Dean Martin, I am free to do so. If I want my Bach to play right before I hear Ludacris, no one can stop me. The world is my musical oyster, and I couldn’t be happier.

I have music, Photos, Games and Movies on my iPod. I have every episode of Robot Chicken, most of my favorite South Parks, Star Trek, Battle Star Gallactica, Looney Tunes, and various Movies. Sometimes, when I want to escape completely, I sit in my car at lunch and watch cartoons. How cool is that?

My iPod is well loved and well worn. It looks like a group of angry cats got together and had a wild orgy on my screen. There are tiny scratches and it always seems to be smudged. Sometimes, the little click-wheel gets stuck. The original ear-buds died a horrible death and I have gone through seven pairs since. Compared to the new models it is big and bulky. Now, the battery is slowly dying. I know that soon, I will have to say good bye to my old friend and though it will be hard, I will have to replace her.

Now they have iPods that have touch screens – although given the wear on mine, I am hesitant to purchase something that requires constant touching and smudging. There are also iPods that have enough memory to hold half a million songs. Think about that for a minute. 500,000 songs at an average of 4 minutes a song is two million minutes of music – that’s about 33,333 hours, a little less than 1,389 days, and almost four years if you did nothing but listen to music 24-7. Four years worth of music in your back pocket. By the time you got back around to the number one hit you downloaded when you bought the iPod, it will be obsolete. And that band? They might have been a one hit wonder. And you have their only hit on your trusty iPod. Along with 499,999 other songs that you never get to hear because you always come back around to listen to your favorites. You have heard “Paint It Black” nine thousand times, but you never got a chance to really listen to that new Panic! At the Disco CD that you painstaking ripped months ago.

And of course, it took hours to fill the iPod, because I don’t know about you, but my computer is no where near as fast as my iPod is. It takes me 10 – 15 minutes per CD on my ancient computer. Average of 14 tracks per disc, that’s 35,714 CDs worth of music on the new behemoths. Forget that I don’t have quite that much music (and we have a ton of music, Michael and I). If I had to rip 35,000 CDs, at ten minutes each, it would take about 5800 hours or almost a year if I did nothing but rip music into my computer. Let’s assume that I only need to do half of that and that I already have the other half on my hard drive in the form of previously ripped music, MP3s etc… that would be 6 months. Let’s say I bought a new computer that can rip the disc in half of that time – or even in a minute. One minute a disc is still 35,000 minutes, 583 hours, 24 days of non-stop ripping. And how much of that music is really great music? How much would I really want to carry around with me day and night? Of course, you could purchase each song from iTunes or a similar site at a buck a song – half a million dollars worth of music? No way. I don’t earn enough to spend that kind of money. Even if I won the lottery, I wouldn’t spend that much.

And then there is the issue of finding the song. I have about 4,000 songs right now on my iPod. It is ridiculously hard to search for one specific track. Either I scroll too fast, or it takes too long. I always miss it and have to scroll back, only to miss it the other way. I can’t even begin to imagine trying to locate one tiny song in a sea of half a million of them. Talk about a needle in a haystack. I can imagine myself breaking into tears because all I wanted to hear was something by The Roots before I got home, and couldn’t find it. Building a play list would be hard too. To do that, you need to highlight each track and drag it to your play list. I have a dozen incomplete play lists that I keep meaning to fix, but never get around to because inevitably I have something more productive to do with my time. And there is a danger of building too many play lists. If you build too many, you can’t find the one you want. Too few and you don’t have enough variety. Then there are the duplicates… Sometimes you end up with the same song on four different discs. You have the original recording, the definitive collection, the best of and the live album. Do you really need to go through and delete the duplicates, or should you leave them there taking up precious space. How many duplicates could you really have? 1%? 2%? When you are talking about a few songs, that’s not much. One percent of half a million is five thousand songs. Do you mean I could have five thousand duplicates? That’s more songs than I currently have on my iPod now. Is it then possible that on shuffle, you could conceivably hear the same ten songs duplicated several times? How annoying would that be?

Of course, then there’s the cost. A new iPod can be really pricey for most people. Five hundred smackeroos. That’s a lot of smackeroos. Then I would definitely need a faster computer. Another thousand – then a new hard drive to store all of this music – another couple hundred. By the time I am done, I could spend two grand just to have all of my music at my fingertips.


Is it possible that there really can be too much of a good thing?

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Collin and Esther wedding

Recently I had the honor of photographing one of my best friends' weddings. Esther was a beautiful bride, and Colling is a lucky man. I am lucky enough to count them both as friends, and they were luck enough to have found each other. Ah... l'amour... Love, she is sweet, yes? Congratulations to the Becks. May both of you find all the happiness in the world.