What do you want to do with your life?

How do you answer that question?

The answer can change from year to year, maybe even more frequently than that for some of us. I don’t think about it as much anymore, and when I realized that, I wondered Why?

Do you remember the days of being asked what you wanted to be when you grew up? I was trying to recall how I used to respond to that question. As children, it was something we were asked often in school throughout the years. We might be asked to draw pictures of our future selves, doing our dream job, sometimes accompanied by a little paragraph of description. When I was very small I wanted to write and illustrate my own books. I think my next phase was all about basketball–I wanted to play in college and then the WNBA. It makes me smile thinking back on that–the days of being convinced I could play a professional sport someday! The next phase may have been even less grounded in reality, if you can imagine: I wanted to be some kind of “rock star,” which led to me taking guitar lessons in grade 8 and begrudgingly continuing with them throughout high school and junior college. Let’s just say I didn’t exactly take to it. The thought of ever having to play in front of anyone made me want to crawl into a hole and die of embarrassment.

Drawing and painting had been a hobby of mine since I was very young. Unlike other things that caught my interest through the years, art was one that I actually pursued consistently and seemed to improve upon over time. It never felt as forced as some of my other hobbies. I never gave it much of a thought as a career. More on that later.

In high school I learned to enjoy writing. Before, it had only been something that I wished I could do. Then I suddenly had the opportunity to take an elective in Creative Writing, and it terrified me. I was so nervous for that first class–I only signed up because my friend Kelsy did. Between that class and another called Film Appreciation, both taught by the same instructor, I learned that I kind of enjoyed writing analytical essays. Who knew?

I can at least say it made college much easier– having lots of papers to write seemed like no huge task.

When it came time to apply to college, I decided to declare a major in English Literature. I only lasted one semester at that out-of-state university. I moved back home, enrolled in community college, and didn’t really have anything specific in mind for the future. I took classes in American literature, creative writing, film, theater, and painting. Clearly I was in it to make the big bucks…

One of my art instructors there told me that the department had a scholarship to offer me if I decided to declare a major in art. So I did. It paid my full tuition there and gave me a path to follow. The department’s Art Club even organized and raised money for a trip to London. I went. I was sick the entire time, but of course it was still wonderful.

After a year and a half in community college, I transferred to a small-ish school in the nearby city. Now I was in deep in the arts. This was My Thing now. Soon after, I switched my emphasis from Painting to Printmaking. I still took electives in other areas I enjoyed–creative writing, gender studies, poetry translation, basically whatever seemed fun. I took part in a study abroad program, living in Vienna for a couple of months during the spring and summer. The tail end of the trip took us to Venice for a week, where the 53rd Venice Biennale was happening. That was ten years ago. I thought of that summer as the most significant experience of my life for what it did in terms of propelling me forward in my work and my intellectual life. A few months of having so many new and intense experiences gave me the motivation I needed to complete my degree. I feel like it provided me with the solid foundation that I had been in search of. School changed in a drastic way–I became obsessed with my work in a way that I hadn’t been before. I still had two more years left to complete, but the enthusiasm that remained after that trip was not to be stifled.

And here I am, ten years later. Art is not my career. I doubt that it ever will be. The future I envisioned for myself at age 20 is not one that I can really relate to at 30.

For instance, when I was in art school, the idea of exhibiting my work was still a very attractive idea to me. I enjoyed nearly every chance I got to be a part of different shows or exhibitions. Especially toward the end, we were organizing a lot of these things. People would turn up; all my friends would be there (because they were in these shows too). The pressure seemed minimal. I took pleasure in prepping for the exhibitions and getting everything ready. The receptions could also be fun. Eventually the work came down, and we’d do it all over again with another show at another place with new work to display.

Graduating from art school involved writing my thesis and taking part in organizing the final BFA exhibition. I’m still proud of what I did for it, but the actual reception was one of the most unpleasant I can remember. The work I exhibited was made up of 151 ceramic vessels. A few were broken during the course of the night. It was kind of nightmarish for me at the time. Literally, I had nightmares for months afterward about the show because of how stressful it was. I did win an award, and my step-mom cried out of happiness, which made me feel good because I knew she was proud of me. Most of my family was there, and that was the best part. I didn’t produce any more work after that, not for at least a year.

In the last ten years, I’ve gradually lost my enthusiasm for pursuing a career in art. I don’t think I fully grasped what the “business” side of art entailed. The networking, the rigorous self-promotion, the constant filling-out of applications for residencies, shows, and whatnot–none of that ever stops. It’s not like other jobs where you apply once, maybe get an interview and then a job offer, and then you’re finally able to focus on doing your work (with the guarantee that you will be compensated). When that reality settled in, the future I thought I had wanted began to look very bleak.

In school they don’t really tell you that charisma and connections are just as essential to the working artist as the actual art practice itself.

No matter what job it seems that I have, the ability to be totally professional and polished at all times is beyond me. Sometimes I think having a structured workplace is the only thing that keeps me in check. I don’t think I have what it takes to be in the business of “Me.” Over the years I’ve been involved in little side-projects at times to keep myself entertained, but these things tend to wear out their welcome once they become more of an obligation than simply a “fun project”. If I still wanted to pursue a career in art, I would have to be 100% invested in my art practice, in my own self-promotion, in the constant and endless search for opportunities, and somehow I’d still have to find a way to make money because it’s not as if I’d automatically be compensated for these efforts.

Maybe at age 18 or 20 we’re not really in the best position to make decisions regarding who we want to be or what we want to do for the rest of our lives. I wish apprenticeships were more of a popular thing nowadays. Vocational school sort of addresses that need in some ways, but not to the extent I’m imagining. Four-year college is just too expensive to justify enrolling in when you’re still at an age when you’re discovering new things about yourself, your interests, and your abilities on a daily basis.

I wonder how different my life would be today if at age 16 I had begun an apprenticeship with someone who was willing to teach me a specialized skill set of some sort. What it is doesn’t matter–just imagine some skill you wish you had today, and substitute that in this example. Carpentry, cooking, cobbling, computers, cameras, canines (and the training thereof)–I’m trying to be funny and it’s not working. Just imagine anything. Anything you can imagine becoming pretty skilled at doing, and doing it for about ten years, until you’re in your late twenties or thereabouts. And then you enroll in college.

To be continued…in Part 2

Kind of a tough few days, pt. 2

I’m glad I waited a day to begin writing this. I have new information that confirms some things that before would’ve been called speculation.

Unfortunately this also means that my worst suspicions were confirmed.

This story involves my coworker, Donald. I had the pleasure of working with him at my previous museum job. His sister was working there before he did, and helped get him a job with us. We were all gallery attendants at the time. His sister and I became friends–in my mind, she should be running the whole place right now. She’s a good person and a hard worker; her kindness knows no bounds, but she’s also tough enough to stand up for what is right. I admire that about her.

We all loved her there and were excited to meet and work with her brother.

Donald is awesome. He’s extremely conscientious. He takes his job seriously–giving anything less than 100% seems like a foreign concept to him. He used to be in the military. I’m not sure that I’ve ever heard him talk about it though. He would rather talk about his other interests, if he’s inclined to talk. He also has a sense of humor that catches you off-guard because he’s not the type who constantly cracks jokes. Donald also has an amazing speaking voice, and the fact that he doesn’t have a radio show or something to showcase it is a real bummer (to me).

When people first meet Donald, they tend to speculate about possible “neuroatypical” diagnoses he might have. Donald is just Donald though. I’ve never been given any concrete information about that part of him, if it’s even part of him. It doesn’t matter in the long run. Pretty much everyone at work who meets Donald ends up loving him because he’s the ideal coworker. He doesn’t talk as much as everyone else, but if you can respect that about him and get to know him, you’ll only discover things to appreciate.

A while back, after I had left that old job where I first met him and his sister, I got a message from Donald’s sister asking if I could put a word in for him at my current job. He was hoping to find full-time employment, which his job at the time (still at that museum) didn’t offer. Gallery was the only department with any open spots. He had already put in an application, but hadn’t heard back yet despite having worked as a gallery attendant for a few years already. This was just because our workplace tends to perform very poorly when it comes to the timeliness of our hiring practices. My boyfriend is one of the Gallery supervisors, so I asked him to look for Donald’s application. They immediately set up an interview with him and he got the job.

I was really thrilled. Donald did very well in that department, but I knew his goal was to eventually find an opportunity to transfer to the Security department. Full-time spots in Security can be hard to come by. The first one that opened up was on the Midnight shift. It’s a terrible shift, but I thought he would excel regardless of the hours.

My only concern was that certain people in our department might not treat him with the basic respect and dignity that should be afforded to every person. I have had issues in the past with the Midnight crew. They aren’t exactly nice people. But I know Donald and I knew the last thing he would ever do was bother anyone, so I hoped for the best.

Instead it was like throwing him to the wolves.

I truly don’t know what’s wrong with people sometimes. I don’t understand what makes them so mean, so hateful, and so vindictive. Donald was an easy target for them. It didn’t matter that he has a military background–something they usually respect. He doesn’t flaunt it like most guys in our department do (if they’ve served). He’s just not the type of person who would think that he’s owed something “extra” because of it. I typically don’t get along with folks who act that way anyway.

For months and months now, he’s been the target of some of the most unnecessary vitriol I’ve ever heard in my life. I took whatever opportunity I could to defend him, but I didn’t want it to seem like that’s what I was trying to do. I didn’t want Donald to feel embarrassed. Donald usually arrives for his shift very early–he relies on public transportation or rides from family to get to work since he doesn’t have a car. He’s not the only one who is in that situation and it’s normally not a big deal.

When he first began showing up early, I started hearing the most insane complaints directed his way, and from some of the idiots on my own shift. It’s the first time and hopefully the last time I will ever hear people complain about someone showing up early for THEIR JOB.

I’m only sharing this to give you a sense of what Donald would eventually be criticized for, and that was anything and everything.

The Midnight crew decided they didn’t like him before they’d ever even met him or talked to him. They thought he was weird, which was reason enough for them to continue tormenting him. My shift only overlaps theirs by a half an hour, and I still had plenty of opportunities to hear them say things to him that made me queasy.

I can’t imagine how Donald felt. Donald is always so calm and cool. He rarely lets on that something is bothering him. There were times when I just figured he had a thicker skin than I did if he was still able to tolerate that kind of treatment.

It starts from the moment the rest of the Midnight crew arrives, meaning late or on the verge of it. Already Donald has demonstrated that he’s far more reliable than the rest of the crew (though he would never think that or say it). They come in and immediately settle down in the break room. Donald has already been there for at least 30 minutes if not longer, waiting for his shift to start so he can clock in.

When you don’t have a vehicle of your own, you do what is necessary to get to work on time if you’re at all concerned with being a responsible adult. Donald arrives early because our public transportation system in this city is complete crap. If he didn’t make a conscious effort to take the earlier bus or train, he would be putting himself into a situation where he could probably get to work on time most nights if everything’s running on time, but that isn’t a risk Donald feels comfortable taking–especially if it means there’s a remote possibility he’d be a few minutes late.

So there’s Donald sitting in the break room. Joe, his coworker, finally arrives with no time left to spare. Joe usually brings with him some giant fast food feast–getting to work on time isn’t as important as swinging by Hardee’s on the way, and though Joe has his own vehicle, he couldn’t possibly just start leaving five minutes earlier in order to be able to get Hardee’s and arrive to work on time.

Donald would never, ever think to “call him out” on this, or even lightly tease him. These are just things I wish I could do whenever Joe starts running his mouth, which happens the second he sees Donald.

“You’re in my spot.” Joe speaking to Donald. Some variation of this comment happens every night. It doesn’t seem to matter where Donald sits–it’s inevitably in either “Joe’s spot” or “Rick’s spot”, and they’re both only too happy to point it out. Keep in mind these are two grown adults, Joe being in his mid-thirties and Rick already being past retirement age. Grown adults acting like children in a school cafeteria.

If I’m ever present in the break room at this time, usually when I’m cleaning out my coffee cup or other food containers, I’ll interject by saying that if they wanted the spot so badly, they would have shown up earlier. I try to laugh at them and treat it as a joke (which it’s not–they are being completely serious). Anything to take the pressure off of Donald. One thing I love about Donald is that he never dignifies them with a response. He keeps quiet. People often give that advice: Ignore them and they’ll go away. Unfortunately, with these guys, it’s more of a damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don’t situation. They crave a response. They also resent anyone who chooses not to speak to them. Joe and Rick are both loudmouths. They’re both the type of guy who thinks talking louder and more often is what validates someone’s opinion. Today we just call them Trump-types.

And basically Donald spends the rest of his night being verbally abused, criticized, and belittled. I’ve worked enough fill-in Midnight supervisor shifts to have seen it firsthand. They love to openly critique his job performance even though he’s better at his job than they’ll ever be. Donald would have a lot of material to work with if he ever wanted to call them out on their extreme laziness. Donald takes the high road though, always and in all matters.

Eventually it becomes too much to bear. Yesterday I found out that Donald had contacted his former supervisor from Gallery asking if there was still a spot open for him in his old department. This would mean taking a significant pay cut. Even in this e-mail he wrote, Donald make no reference to any reason behind wanting to make the transfer. The e-mail was one sentence long, something to the effect of “Is there still a spot available for me back in Gallery?”

Donald isn’t the type to elaborate further. My boyfriend, who like I said is also a Gallery supervisor, was the one who brought this whole matter to my attention. I immediately suspected that Donald had finally had enough of dealing with these jerks on the Midnight shift. My boyfriend agreed, but we also kept in mind it could be a simple matter of wanting better hours. Given the pay cut involved, however, my spidey sense was tingling and telling me that something worse had happened.

It was my day off yesterday, but I decided to text my own supervisor informing him of the situation in hopes that we could prevent the transfer from happening and instead offer him a spot on our Evening shift. If Donald’s transfer request was simply about getting better hours, Evening shift probably wouldn’t be much better and he would decline the offer. He would still have to struggle with finding a way home at midnight every night, and it was still a possibility that he desired the transfer in order to return to a normal daytime work schedule.

My supervisor’s immediate response was to be concerned about who would fill Donald’s Midnight position, because whatever the result was–whether he chose the Gallery position or this potential but as yet un-offered Evening shift position–we would still have to find a new person to take over his old shift.

I lost my mind reading that. I had told him that my suspicions were that Donald had finally reached his breaking point when it came to working with Joe and Rick. My supervisor wasn’t ready to accept that possibility. Thankfully, he did reach out to Donald. My suspicions were confirmed.

Donald had in fact reached out to our boss weeks earlier about the possibility of moving to a different shift. Our boss told no one about this request. He simply denied the request, stating that we didn’t have any other spots open for him. Donald would have to stay on Midnights.

I’m sure Donald then spent some time weighing his options. Stay on Midnights, or try to transfer back to Gallery even though it meant taking a pay cut.

His experience on Midnights was so awful, and the support from our boss so nonexistent, that he finally reached out to his old supervisor in Gallery. He was immediately told they’d be happy to have him back. God bless that department.

But things are working out. Donald will not have to take a pay cut, because he will not be returning to Gallery after all. My boss and my supervisor finally decided to start taking this seriously. They offered Donald a spot on Evenings, and I’m happy to say he accepted!

For all I care, Midnights can eat it. They should be forced to cover Donald’s open spot themselves until they are able to find a replacement. That would mean no days off for any of them until that happens. I’m usually very much pro-“workers’ rights”, but in this case I want to see them all suffer the consequences of their actions.

Of course that’s not going to happen, because no one in this department has any backbone when it comes to standing up to those guys.

But I’m still pleased with the results so far. And now I get to work with Donald again. I win. I am winning hard right now, and those sorry, pathetic individuals that Donald used to work with will never understand this kind of joy as long as they keep up with their same old miserable ways.

I previewed this post, thinking that it was finished, but when I got to the end I thought it fell kind of flat.

So, to Joe and Rick and everyone else out there like them:

SUCK. MY. NUTS.

Kind of a tough few days

Many problems at work. I feel like my department is a lost cause sometimes. We have little recourse when it comes to addressing our concerns. My shift might be the ideal shift to be on at this time, if only because we haven’t fully entered “hostile work environment” territory (if you can ignore Gun Guy from previous post). I have noticed that people have found it easier to succeed on my shift. Despite its many issues, we have a good crew that for the most part supports each other.

I recently began working some earlier shifts on days when I’m not the fill-in Evening supervisor–granted, it’s only two hours earlier than my norm, but it means I clock out at 10 p.m. instead of midnight. I was hoping to create a better work/life balance for myself, and now I can actually spend real time with my boyfriend. We’re looking to buy a house soon if everything works out, and we’re planning on getting engaged soon as well.

We don’t live together currently–I live with my brother, but he’s graduating from medical school soon and awaiting news of his placement. He wants to move as close as possible to wherever the place turns out to be. We’re all hoping he can stay in the same city we’re in now. He has a pet cat that is paralyzed and his hope is to be able to find a place within walking distance from his future workplace. That way, he can walk home during his break to take care of his cat. I do hope everything works out for him–he has put everything he has into caring for his cat, who is very happy and much more mobile than you’d imagine. The cat is somewhat famous on the internet and was even featured on TV this year during the Cat Bowl. I didn’t get to see it air because work always gets in the way of things.

But now I’ve started this slightly earlier shift. I was very nervous for my first day. I’m not particularly well-liked among some of the Day crew in my department, and now I’d be overlapping that shift by a couple of hours. The first one went just fine though. Leaving at 10 p.m. was amazing.

Wednesday was a tough day though. I learned that one of the Day shift supervisors was intentionally trying to “get to me” in an effort to force me off of that shift entirely. I’ve long been aware that the shift is very insular, and they’ve successfully managed to ban at least five other current or former employees from their shift since I’ve worked there. Interlopers are made to feel very unwelcome. They are currently trying to get our newest employee fired or moved to another shift. She’s a very nice woman who I don’t know much about personally since she only works part-time and during hours that I’m not there. The moment I met her, I worried that she was too nice to survive on that shift for long. They’re already working on a list of complaints against her. This is their usual tactic and so far it has worked every time. Wednesday was the day I found out that I might be the next target.

I was not prepared to also discover that my Evening shift supervisor is hoping that these tactics will work on me and that I’ll come back to my normal shift from 3:30 to midnight. Apparently he was hurt when I put in the request for a slightly earlier shift.

I’m finding it difficult right now working for two different supervisors who are both rooting for me to fail–albeit for different reasons. I guess it’s “nice” that I’m wanted back on my old shift, but I don’t actually think it’s nice to sabotage someone else’s opportunities. The reason behind it becomes irrelevant if the result is something that hurts me.

One of my favorite coworkers just got an amazing job opportunity and will most likely be leaving. He’s considering staying on part-time, but that remains to be seen. His new job sounds amazing. He gets to travel to D.C. for a month of training. The job pays a lot more and once training is completed, it will be mostly work-from-home. In this past year he has lost two immediate family members, so getting the news about this job made me very happy for him. He’s a great guy who deserves some good news for a change. And I’ll miss having him around.

Imagine being the type of person who is unable to feel happy for this guy because his absence might cause you a slight inconvenience. Or because you feel threatened by someone else’s success. Those seem to be the Top-2 reasons why people at this job sabotage each other on a frequent basis.

I’m not sure how much longer I can stick it out here. I want to stick it out and I want to show them that I’m not bothered by any of it. If you’re reading this, you’ll know that in truth I’m very much bothered by it. But they don’t have to know this and I hope to make sure it stays that way.

I no longer talk to my Evening supervisor in confidence like I used to. I don’t enjoy the idea of having to defend my request for a better shift. It should be apparent why anyone would want a better shift– it’s because it’s better. Loyalty in the workplace is a joke if it’s only meant to benefit those in positions of power. True loyalty looks like this: You get an unexpected phone call from a person because your coworker has used you as a reference during their job search. You like this coworker, and even though it means you may no longer get to work with them, you give a glowing recommendation to their potential future employer. Even if you don’t like your coworker, you keep your personal feelings out of it and give the best recommendation you’re able to based on their job performance as well as any good qualities you can hopefully emphasize about them.

Loyalty also looks like this: Your supervisor levels an accusation against you that you know isn’t true, or is perhaps embellished. You know the full story, but the full story implicates someone else you work with who might then take the brunt of your supervisor’s anger if the supervisor knew the full story. You know that you don’t have anything to gain by throwing your other coworker under the bus just to clear your own name. The issue is over a matter of hurt feelings, and nothing that would lead to anyone getting reprimanded anyway. You choose to let your supervisor think you’re “guilty”, because the alternative involves your coworker being treated as the guilty party instead. And if the supervisor knew the full story, the hurt feelings would be multiplied tenfold.

I’m trying to show some loyalty here to my coworker because he told me something in confidence. This is what happened:

I came in for one of my earlier shifts. I saw on the daily schedule that I was assigned a certain post at 3:00 p.m. that is generally unpleasant for me because it means I’ll be in the dispatch office. And at 3:00 p.m. is when certain people, my supervisor included, like to sit in that same office, turn on the TV (which I hate and is very distracting when you’re trying to listen to all the radio calls coming through) and watch the show Maury (which I find distasteful and absolutely despise, more on that later).

My supervisor has given me that 3:00 p.m. post every single day that I’ve come in. It’s normally a post reserved for the shift supervisor, it being the last dispatch post during Day shift and a time that requires the Day shift supervisor to pass on information to the Evening shift supervisor.

This supervisor knows that I never watch TV when I’m in the dispatch office. He knows that I find it distracting. He also knows how much I hate the show Maury (someone else told him as a heads-up, which this supervisor took offense to). My supervisor puts me there, hoping that I’ll be so bothered that I’ll request to move back to my old shift.

When I came in on Wednesday, a different coworker was in the dispatch office at the time. I made a comment about how I wished I didn’t have to be in there at 3:00 again. My coworker offered to cover that post for me. This is a normal occurrence–people swap posts all the time, especially in dispatch. Usually on my normal shift, those requests are made because someone wants to watch the news at 5:30 or a hockey game that night or something.

At first I said no to swapping, saying that it wasn’t that big of a deal. My coworker offered again and told me that the offer was on the table because it would get him out of having to make keys later with Jason. Jason is this supervisor.

I was only too happy to make that swap after he said that. It made me laugh. Jason is very difficult to be around, so it was like we were doing each other a favor. I wouldn’t have to be stuck in there during Maury time, and my coworker wouldn’t have to be stuck making keys with Jason.

Jason saw the change made to the schedule. He complained about me to our boss, saying that I was crossing my name off the schedule and wasn’t showing up for my posts. This happened only that once, and it was prearranged. His account made it sound like this was something I had been doing consistently and without getting my post covered.

If Jason knew the actual story, he’d feel very hurt. Unlike his feelings toward me, he actually likes and respects this other coworker of ours. Coworker may not return those exact feelings, but he always works well with everyone and has never shown any disrespect toward Jason.

Jason is pursuing this “action” against me, and I really hope it stops. I don’t want to tell him the full story. I hope it resolves itself, and I hope I get to keep this new shift that I’m on.

I’m pretty sure there will be a Part 2 to this post, because I haven’t addressed the “hostile work environment” comment from earlier. In case you thought I was including my situation underneath that umbrella–I’m not. I found out yesterday, my day off, that one of my coworkers on Midnight shift has put in a request to leave our Security department in order to return to the Gallery department (where he first started out). I suspect it’s because of how poorly he’s been treated by his coworkers on the Midnight shift. So I might return to this subject in a future post in order to provide some context. I don’t want to lump that in with my problems in this post because the treatment he has received is far worse than anything I’ve ever experienced at any job I’ve had.

So I’ll just end this post by talking about why I hate Maury. I don’t care what Maury Povich has said in defence of his own show (I’m thinking back to an interview with him on The Breakfast Club). Maury is a show that encourages its viewers to laugh at black people. Most of the guests on Maury are black. Half of its home-viewing audience is black, per demographic reports. While I was trying to look up hard stats on Maury guest demographics, I came across this article on The Root. Read if you want, it addresses some of my concerns.

My coworkers who delight in the Maury show, who mock and belittle its guests, are white. They enjoy imitating loudly any perceived laughable thing that is said on the show. When Maury is on at work, the dispatch office turns into a circus. Few seem to question whether this is appropriate behavior to be engaging in at work.

White people also love Cops. I presume that this show is still on the air because there’s no limit to how much we’re willing to laugh at poor people going through difficult situations. Some may claim to watch Cops because they like watching criminals being taken off the street. Call me when they decide to tackle criminals who are in actual positions of power. I might consider joining in on the laughter if I ever got to see Donald Trump being led away in handcuffs.

Maury viewers of all races and backgrounds are given an opportunity to feel superior to the people on screen. You’re not supposed to come out of it with a greater sense of understanding or empathy for its guests. If Maury makes you feel good, it’s because that good feeling is one of superiority. Cops does the same thing through the way they focus on people considered “lower class”. At least you didn’t just get busted smoking meth in your trailer, right? You might verbally abuse your own girlfriend, but at least Cops will present to you as entertainment some other domestic abuser who seems a little worse than yourself because he lives in undesirable conditions. Poverty in this country is equated with a lack of dignity. We’re encouraged to make only the worst assumptions about people experiencing financial hardship.

I feel like conversations involving issues of morality often fail to address basic human dignity. Instead we use morality as an excuse to legislate people’s intimate lives. Here’s something I don’t care about: who you’re having sex with and how often, whether you’re married or not, how many sexual partners you have, what this or that church says about sexual morality– it’s all bogus and irrelevant. It’s a titillating distraction from the ways in which society is actually morally bankrupt. Consider how we treat the poorest members of society before you ask me to care about someone’s sexual orientation, or how many “baby daddies” someone has.

I find a lot of behaviors at work to be highly immoral, but addressing that at work is not acceptable. I can’t ask someone to turn off Maury because the show is morally offensive and mean-spirited. I can say it’s annoying, maybe. I can say I don’t like having the TV on. I might be able to say that it’s inappropriate for the workplace, but I’d love to be able to say that it’s degrading.

We all think we’re smarter than the media we consume. We tell ourselves we’re not influenced by advertisements and commercials. We defend the garbage we watch on TV as “entertainment”.

Garbage in, garbage out.

The culture of tolerating gun violence

Something has been happening at work recently that is, shall we say, very upsetting to many people.

A person I work with (same department, same shift) threatened another coworker. They had gotten into a fight. The person who is the subject of this post then threatened to retrieve his gun from his car.

This incident happened three weeks ago. We have an HR department, but their only response was to slightly alter Gun Guy’s schedule so that his shift didn’t overlap with the other person’s. In the time since then, Gun Guy was caught stealing a piece of equipment belonging to another person in our department. Although the theft was caught on a workplace security camera, he categorically denied any involvement, and once again, nothing was done.

some comic relief before things get REAL real

Perhaps this is finally the time to talk about my job. I’m a security officer at an art museum, as are all the people involved in this story so far.

I’ve always been bothered by the pro-gun rhetoric within my department. As security officers, we do not carry firearms, unlike many security officers working at other places. Our museum has a policy against firearms and I’m glad that our department is no exception to that rule. Long before I started working here, the security officers did carry firearms. If it is ever decided that we’ll begin carrying again, I will quit.

Back to the story: Gun Guy was a no-call no-show for one of his shifts recently. Finally, we thought, this could be the event that leads to him being let go. I came into work the next day so full of relief that this guy would be gone for good. Security had even disabled his employee badge so he wouldn’t be able to get back into the museum.

He showed up for work that day. He was promptly escorted downstairs to the HR office. My boss and my immediate supervisor were with him. I don’t know what happened in the course of this meeting, but my boss went to it with the intention of firing him.

They came back upstairs not long afterward. Gun Guy left the building. Everyone assumed this was it for him. He was done. I don’t normally root for team Fire That Employee, but I was very much in that camp this time.

Except he wasn’t let go. HR blocked the move. Gun Guy only left because he decided to take a PTO day to “cool off.” He would be back as scheduled the next day.

I don’t know what more has to happen before we start taking gun violence seriously. This includes threats. We’re always told to look for the warning signs. What are they, then, if this doesn’t qualify?

I want to be able to enjoy or at least be content with being at work. It can be difficult even with just the normal everyday conflicts that arise in any workplace. I thought I was reaching a point where I almost felt at peace with my job. Things were looking up, and it’s because I tried working on the way I saw things and interpreted them. I was trying to make an “inner change” because the outward change I was hoping for wasn’t happening.

My stance on guns, “gun rights,” and gun culture at large is one that I doubt will change at any time in the future. I base my views on collected evidence and my personal sense of right vs. wrong. In terms of collected evidence, I will point to some resources with information that I consider to be highly disturbing.

Police Family Violence Fact Sheet

Statistic on Guns in the Home & Safe Storage

Gun Violence in America

A few years ago, I was attacked on the street by a man who then stole my phone. I had just left a friend’s art show at around 9 p.m. and I was walking to my car which was parked up the block. It was so close that it never occurred to me to be concerned for my safety. I’m lucky that the man did not have a gun, given that I learned afterward he was most likely on drugs. The perpetrator was later apprehended in a drug house after a string of similar reported incidents. The day the cops came to my house to have me identify him in a photo lineup was the same day I interviewed for the job I currently have. That’s the last time I was told anything relating to my “case,” as it were.

The attack involved him putting his hand over my face and beating my head against the brick wall of a building. It lasted only a few seconds–he did this three times until he was able to grab my phone out of my hand. I had been on the phone with my mom at the time it happened.

I’m very lucky to have escaped with only the most minor of injuries, totally invisible to everyone but myself. Honestly, my nose hurt worse than my head did. Since it was the back of my head that made contact with the bricks, and I was rocking a pretty fly ponytail at the time, I figure it helped soften the impact.

Not everyone responds to these situations in the same way. I was angry at first, but the anger subsided pretty quickly and was replaced by fear. I was terrified of walking alone at night. This had a considerable impact on my participation in the kind of normal activities people in their mid-twenties typically participate in. I remember a couple of weeks after the incident, I was invited to a friend’s birthday party, which was fine at first, but the planned events for the night involved driving around the city to multiple different locations for food and drinks and dessert. At one point in the night I was going to have to drive to yet another place, this one being pretty popular for ice cream and drinks. It was a weekend night on a strip that is usually pretty crowded at night. I was unable to find any place to park that wasn’t multiple blocks from the location. After driving around and around, hoping that a spot would become available, I gave up and drove home. I texted my friend that I was sorry, but I couldn’t find a nearby parking spot and I wasn’t comfortable walking alone. She was less than pleased. For a number of reasons, we are no longer friends, but the coldness of her response during a time that I could have used some amount of understanding hurt me pretty badly, especially given that I had made the effort to attend all the other events she had planned that evening despite my reservations.

By this point, only weeks after the incident, I felt almost no anger toward the person who attacked me. I couldn’t work up the energy to hate someone who I didn’t even know and who didn’t know me either. It was a random attack and I just happened to be a convenient target. After all was said and done, the only thing I really hated about it was how it made me scared to do normal things.

At the time, I was working at a different art museum on the campus of a Top-20 university. I was a pretty low-level employee at the museum, which meant that I didn’t have access to the closer parking lots reserved for students with parking passes or higher-level employees with their parking passes. The closest parking available was on the street, blocks away from the museum. Walking to my car at night after work was something I just had to deal with. My heart would start racing every time and I dreamt of getting a different job even though I loved that job.

Do you want to know what was more hurtful than the attack and more hurtful than my friend’s lack of understanding? Because the most hurtful thing, without a doubt, was something that first occurred months after the attack. A friend of my parents’, someone I’ve known my entire life and who is one of their closest friends, told me in an accusing, victim-blaming way: “I bet you wish you’d had a gun, huh?”

No, I don’t wish. I didn’t wish then and I certainly don’t wish now. If you’re the type of person who thinks a mugging is sufficient cause to shoot someone, you can stop reading right here, because I promise it won’t get any better for you. 

Not only do I not wish I’d been able to shoot the guy–far from it–I do not wish any harm on him whatsoever. I don’t even know if I think he should be in jail. He needs, or needed, a lot more help than any prison could provide. Whether he deserves to be in prison is another question I’m unqualified to answer. It does not make me happy thinking that he might be in prison right now. Why would that make me happy? Besides, these days I hardly ever think of what happened, and I’m only thinking about it now because what I’m actually pissed about is this fawning, taint-licking attitude toward guns and gun culture that I feel immersed in and unable to escape from due to the nature of my job and the people it puts me in close contact with. 

The comment my parents’ friend made was only the first of many similar comments I was supposed to just sit there and take. None of these people were speaking from their own experience as victims of violent attacks. It’s easy for them to project their insecurities onto me, because they all live safely away from the city and in very well-to-do communities.

Here’s my wish: that the person who mugged me is living his best life. I harbor no ill feelings toward him. Part of me is glad that I never learned his name because it would cause me a lot of pain if I ever searched for him online and found out he was still in trouble in some way. I hope that none of the incidents he involved himself in were any worse than my own. If you get to the point in your life where you’re attacking people and stealing stuff for drug money, I automatically assume you’re doing it out of desperation. Drugs make people do crazy things. I hope he’s clean now and I hope he has a support system. The alternative is too depressing to think about.

Here’s my other wish: that we stop acting like guns are a solution to any problem, real or perceived. I was watching a movie a few months ago, and I guess because it was of Indian origin and production, they go about their ratings/warnings system in a different way than in the U.S. Throughout the film, the main character is shown smoking cigarettes. Any time this occurred, a warning appeared on the bottom of the screen that read “Tobacco/Smoking Kills.” This was the first time I’d experienced in-movie warnings, and while it did “take me out of the movie” so to speak, it got me thinking: I would cut off my pinkie finger right here and right now (to satisfy their bloodlust) if the American film industry was forced to do this, but with guns. I would love to see the glorification of gun violence in film come to an end. No director would want their movie to have warnings contained within their film, so it would force their hand in respect to the message they’re attempting to send about gun violence. Any movie that has a script that condescends to its audience in such a way to make them believe that the use of a gun was a good thing rather than a bad thing would be slapped with an in-movie warning.

Here’s my other other wish: that my coworker gets fired sooner rather than later, and hopefully not “too late.”

Suck on that, NRA.

P.S. The film I watched was Crossing Bridges, directed by Sange Dorjee Thongdok and starring Phuntsu Khrime. Available for free on Amazon Prime.

The Song of Bernadette

Beginning this past summer, my boyfriend and I have spent many nights together watching movies, most of which are new to us while some are old favorites. We go a bit wild whenever the Criterion Collection movies are discounted by 50% at Barnes & Noble. Half-Price Books has also been a great source–up until recently I’ve only ever browsed for books there, but I’ve found some incredible movies there in these past few months. My favorite find so far has been The Nun’s Story starring Audrey Hepburn. I cannot recommend it highly enough. After I first saw it, I believe I said: “This movie makes all of my other favorite movies look like trash.” I’m exaggerating a tad when I say that, but watch the movie if you haven’t and try to tell me it isn’t of a higher order than most movies.

Another movie I found at HPB was The Song of Bernadette starring Jennifer Jones. It has been sitting in our “to watch” pile for too long. Two nights ago we finally put it on. With our opposite schedules, it can be difficult to carve out the time for a movie over two hours long so we tend to save those for our shared days off.

The story of Bernadette Soubirous first entered my consciousness when I was about 8 years old and attending Catholic school. We would attend mass three days each week in the morning before classes began. Each mass would be “run” by students of a different class ranging from grades 1 through 8. We had two classes per grade, so every class of every grade would alternate throughout the year doing the readings during mass, bringing the offertory gifts, and singing in the choir. I was assigned to give a reading on the life of Bernadette Soubirous for what I assume was during the feast of the Immaculate Conception.

Being the especially tightly-wound kid that I was, I practiced the reading for days on end until I had it memorized. I didn’t want to have to look down at the paper while I was reading it during mass. I thank my Mom for helping me practice. I have a memory of lying in bed at night, reciting the words from memory while my Mom stood by checking it against a copy of the reading.

Watching The Song of Bernadette caused many of these old memories to come back to me for the first time in a very long time. Most of the movie fell in line with what I remember about her story–the initial visitation, Bernadette’s successive pilgrimages to the grotto, the discovery of a fresh spring when Bernadette dug into the ground using her hands, the request to build a chapel on the holy ground, the revelation that the vision was of the “Immaculate Conception” (a term Bernadette was said to be unfamiliar with)–it was all to be found in the movie along with a vivid portrayal of Bernadette’s family and their struggles with poverty and Bernadette’s own fragile health.

From what I understand, the movie (and the book it’s based on) have embellished certain events for dramatic effect. The “antagonists” in the movie, represented by the prosecutor Dutour (played by Vincent Price) and his cronies, display not simply mere skepticism toward Bernadette’s story, but rather they condemn her outright and aim threats at her that include imprisonment of her and her family.

Hints at a never-to-be romantic relationship between Bernadette and a neighbor boy are included despite having no basis in reality (though they were indeed friends).

The figure in the movie who I found to be of great interest was that of Sister Marie-Therese Vauzou, who in the film is highly suspicious of Bernadette’s visions and whose condemnation of her rivals even that of the prosecutor’s. The film gives Sister Vauzou an incredibly powerful scene toward its end in which she laments her own treatment of Bernadette, recognizing that her skepticism arose from feelings of jealousy (among others). Vauzou, played by Gladys Cooper, is an unforgettable presence throughout the movie. The scene that finds her in church, begging for God’s forgiveness, is particularly moving. Many liberties were taken in this portrayal of her, because in reality she never got beyond her initial skepticism and even opposed Bernadette’s canonization (investigations for which were postponed until after the death of Sister Vauzou).

Despite some of these incongruities, the film is much more than a simple religious propaganda piece. I think it raises a lot of questions about our willingness to believe in certain things and what it is that holds us back from claiming certain beliefs for our own. Do you ever find yourself stuck in this line of thinking? “I don’t believe it, so I won’t believe it.” That sounds simplistic, but it makes me wonder what I’m cutting myself off from in life.

I had an experience once–one that gave me an overwhelming feeling of peace and security–and I knew in my heart that this feeling was coming from God, but because I was a committed non-believer at the time, I was unwilling to accept God as the source of this feeling. Maybe someday I’ll elaborate on the particulars of the experience (and don’t worry! no visions were involved), but today is not that day.

I’ll end this post with three recommendations:
The Song of Bernadette, directed by Henry King and starring Jennifer Jones
The Nun’s Story, directed by Fred Zinnemann and starring Audrey Hepburn
Mariette in Ecstasy, a short novel by Ron Hansen

Cynicism and judgment, pt. 2

This is a follow-up to my previous post. In this one, I hope to reflect on some of my past missteps. Read or skim the previous post for context if you choose.

A sense of superiority can manifest itself in many ways:

I’m too good for that job. I’m too good for that position. I’m too good for that program. I’m too good for that school.

I’m too good for that wage. I’m too proud to accept your help. I think too highly of myself to accept or entertain your advice.

I’m above your criticism of me. I can’t and won’t accept constructive criticism from a person who I consider to be beneath me.

I’m smarter than my parents. I’m smarter than my teachers. They can’t teach me anything. I don’t respect them, and I can’t learn from someone I don’t respect.

I want to address and refute these feelings, or variations of them, as they began to develop within the environment of school. If you’re currently a young person enrolled in school, please read this so you can avoid making some of the mistakes I made.

I love my teachers. I remember every single one I’ve ever had, for better or for worse. I am still being taught by them to this day. Even the “bad” ones–but believe me, they weren’t that bad.

The further I advanced in school, the more baggage I carried with me; the more judgments I inflicted on my teachers and professors. As soon as I began to struggle in a class, I always blamed the instructor, rather than myself. I look back and I am embarrassed and ashamed of myself.

I leveled unwarranted criticism at classmates, especially in group critiques. I didn’t care how it made them feel. My own work was certainly not good enough to warrant such confidence. I was too full of myself. It was easier to criticize others than it was to work on and improve upon my own weaknesses.

My instructors fared no better. Of course, I always had teachers I loved so much and who could do no wrong in my eyes. Then there were others. I can’t even easily categorize them–the ones I didn’t like and therefore did not give my respect to. They were all very different, but my response in each situation was usually to act out by doing everything I wasn’t supposed to do while in their class. I would read or draw openly in front of them, basically daring them to make me stop. I put very little effort into my coursework for those classes. This behavior typifies my high school experience. If I liked my teacher, I excelled in their subject. If I disliked them, I didn’t try at all.

Did I think I was punishing them? Probably. It’s not easy trying to teach a smart-ass kid who has written you off completely. They may have felt hurt, insulted, disrespected–you name it. They were grown adults though, and most did an excellent job tempering their responses to difficult situations.

College began in a similar way, but it got better, or at least my attitude improved slightly. This time, I used my dislike for certain professors as fuel for doing well in their classes. I think some of the best marks I received were in classes taught by people I personally detested. All I had learned at this point was how not to torpedo my grades out of spite. I did very well in the classes taught by professors I liked, so there was really no difference in my performance anymore, and I graduated with a fairly high GPA.

If I hadn’t at least made a partial turnaround between high school and college, I wouldn’t have fared very well in the workforce. Just like anyone else, I struggle to work with people who have difficult personalities. I have coworkers who I care for deeply even though they might drive me crazy from time to time. I have other coworkers who I do my best to avoid. I don’t like to initiate conflicts at work–it makes it even more difficult to keep going back day after day. And I need to have a job.

Jobs can be disappointing. I think of school as an opportunity to learn how to function in a workplace. If you don’t learn healthy coping skills, you might end up job-hopping more than you want to. I don’t know of any job that is free of bad bosses or [insert negative adjective of your choice] coworkers. If you hear of one, hit me up!

But I don’t want to stay on the “jobs” subject…that can be saved for yet another post.

I want to talk about school, and how if that’s where you are in life, please remember how lucky you are. Please remember that you’ve made a choice that you didn’t have to make, and you’re paying to be there–with your time and possibly your money. This is not where I’m going to tell you that you are therefore entitled to your criticisms of that school and its teachers; rather, if you’re currently in school and behaving as I did, remember that you’re wasting your time and money until you decide to commit yourself totally in pursuit of your education. You also might be making your professors’ lives hell. Is it worth it? They’ll get over your crappy attitude–there’s always going to be a new kid with an even crappier attitude to deal with. They aren’t going to get hung up on you.

But you will be hung up on them. And your crappy attitude, if left unfixed, will infect everything you do. You might graduate, you might not. You’ll take that crappy attitude into the workplace, like I did, and it’s only going to get worse from there. You’ll be saying to yourself, “I’m too good for this place, I need to get out of here. This isn’t my passion. I deserve something better.”

And maybe you’ll find something better, or at least something different from your last crappy job. But the cycle will keep repeating. Even if you find your dream job, I guarantee there’s going to be aspects of it that will make you look back on all those low-paying part-time jobs you juggled for years and desperately wanted to get out of–and you’ll be longing for those days of less stress and fewer responsibilities and a job you didn’t have to take home with you.

Make a decision now to live in this moment and appreciate it for what it has the potential to teach you. This is a reminder to myself.

About cynicism and hasty judgment, pt. 1

I read a very brief, but nice article the other day–I think in WaPo online, but I’ll have to track it down again before I’m finished writing.

Here it is: The magic that happens when adults see other people’s kids as three-dimensional humans by Braden Bell

I hope you get a chance to read it. It’s lovely and encouraging to read his words–not simply for the advice they offer, but that this person has shared a difficult, daily struggle that is completely worth the effort for the revolutionary effects it can have in the lives of others.

We all have specific and ongoing experiences as children that shape who we are. Sometimes they seem so insignificant that we don’t, even as adults, consciously see them as parts of ourselves that we still carry around with us.

I was raised to always do my best, especially in academics. As the first-born child and only daughter among four children, I appreciate now more than ever the “high standard” my parents set for me to meet. My Mom would often stress the importance of my studies and how fortunate I was that I had a clear road ahead of me to go to college. When a parent is able to instill in their child a sense of feeling fortunate without laying on a guilt-trip in the process, that is the type of parent to be reckoned with. That is the definition of my Mom. She was not able to go to college herself. Only the boys in her (very large) family had that option–if they chose. Her enthusiasm for the very idea that I could (and would) go to college was infectious. I never, ever questioned that I would attend college and graduate. Even while in college and meeting with some obstacles along the way, I never once considered not graduating. I owed it to her and I owed it to myself. My Mom supported and encouraged me in all the ways a child should hope to be supported and encouraged. She certainly put in an obscene amount of time helping me study throughout the years. She was determined and so was I.

Before I get ahead of myself, I want to share some fond memories from childhood involving my Dad. I remember him reading to me in the evenings and before bedtime. I had certain books I liked best, so we would read and re-read all of my favorites. He had an endless amount of patience for indulging my every whim. I don’t know how many times he had to sit through Fantasia and though he liked to nod off part-way through, he was still there, in the living room, participating by being present. I hear so much today about young(er) parents, dads in particular, who shut themselves off from their family in order to play video games all night or binge-watch shows on Netflix. There are a lot of ways in which parents screw up, but speaking in terms of “screw-ups” that aren’t heinous crimes, video game addiction that results in isolating oneself from one’s spouse and children is surely one of the most pathetic, in my mind. What I want to communicate is that my Dad was the opposite of that, as a parent. He was always present and involved.

My Dad also stressed the importance of academics and excelling in sports. Here is where the linked article above comes into play. My Dad had the habit of drawing comparisons between his children and other people’s. I can’t speak for anything my brothers might have experienced, so I’ll focus solely on my own. I remember from an early age, my Dad saying things to me regularly like: “I bet you’re the smartest kid in your class.” Part of this was very affirming, part of it was very sad. I felt like I was in constant competition with my peers in school. Sometimes I would tell him that Blaise or David was much better and quicker than I was at the timed multiplication tests that stressed me out so much. I was fast too, and I would never miss an answer, but I wasn’t quite as fast as those two. And it was all about how quickly you could complete the tests, which as I said were timed.

My brothers and I had a neighbor kid we liked to hang out with. He was a little on the eccentric side. Only much later after talking with my Mom did I realize that the reason my Dad made denigrating remarks about him (not in front of the boy, but to me and my brothers) was because he acted in a way that seemed “gay.” My Dad didn’t know my classmates well enough to comment on them other than to remind me that I was smarter than them. When it came to our neighbor kids and the kids who played on YMCA sports teams with us, my Dad would often make critical remarks about certain ones–maybe they were the kids who were a bit weird, maybe shy or effeminate, maybe they acted out too much–whatever it was, I always knew his opinions of them.

As an only daughter, it is very powerful to have a Dad who thinks you’re smart, capable, and hard-working, and who reminds you of those things on a frequent basis. But unfortunately these reassurances had to come at the expense of people who were my peers and many who I considered my friends.

It didn’t take long for me to realize that this was wrong. That, at least, happened before the onset of adulthood. What I wasn’t cured of was my sense of superiority over other people.

To this day, I laugh at work e-mails sent by my supervisors that are riddled with basic errors. There is a horrible part of me that still thinks that anyone in that position doesn’t deserve to have a job if they can’t write a simple e-mail. Just the other day, I took a screenshot of an e-mail I received from one of my superiors and sent it to my boyfriend with the message: “Jason is having a stroke.”

So yeah, I love to make fun of people who can’t write e-mails. And generally speaking, I’ve cut down on my criticisms by a significant degree. I usually justify the teasing I still engage in by only targeting people “above” me in the hierarchy at work, and never telling anyone but my boyfriend. Honestly, I don’t even feel bad about it.

I have plenty of other types of criticism I do regret engaging in. I want to talk about that in my next post. This one is getting a little long.

I just want to bang on the drum all day

Embarrassing factoid about this blog: what got me started writing was a recent job interview in which my performance was something less than stellar. I blundered my way through nearly every answer. It didn’t do much good for my self-esteem. I was beating myself up about it for days afterward.

I opened the “Memo” app on my phone and began typing. All of my horrible thoughts and frustrations spewed forth in what became memo after memo (thanks to the word limit on each). I don’t know what I intended to do with all the garbage I wrote that day, but after sitting with it for a while I decided to start a blog. I’d had time to cool off, but writing about it all brought a lot of other thoughts to the surface that I needed some kind of outlet for. I still haven’t told anyone in my life about what I’m doing here. So far I’m enjoying the idea of writing for no one. I received a few e-mails notifying me that a handful of people have liked one of my posts, but for now this blog still retains that anonymous quality that makes me feel like I can say whatever I want without worrying about alienating people I know personally.

For instance, I think about God a lot, but I don’t feel comfortable inflicting my views on my friends or family.

Perhaps someday when I’ve built up some confidence, I’ll share this with people I know. The secrecy has allowed me to be more open than I probably would’ve been otherwise. I feel like it was good for me to begin that way. In real life, I have one major social media account that I use to connect with my friends and my family, and I don’t like for it to center around my problems. In that world, no one knows that I failed to get a job that I thought I wanted, or that my car hasn’t been running for a week now, or that I’m having problems at work. I don’t like focusing on stuff that might make people feel bad because I’m demanding that they feel bad for me.

Because I still feel lucky. I have a full-time job with benefits. I love my boyfriend and he loves me. I don’t make a lot of money, but I get by. The nature of my job allows me time to pursue many of my interests. To briefly digress, those things include but are not limited to: books, movies, art, crafting, music, Russia, Russia, Russia. Russian literature and Soviet-era films give me life right now. I’ve started trying to teach myself Russian. One reason I began looking for a new job was because my hours here are terrible and the only Russian language classes I’ve found in the area happen at night when I’m working. There was a class I was hoping I could get into that started in January; unfortunately my work schedule would not allow for that. I began using my desire to learn Russian in a structured environment as motivation for applying to new jobs. And I got an interview.

And I blew it! But it’s okay. A strange thing happened afterward: I received a very polite e-mail informing me that I did not get the job. That’s not the strange part–it was very much expected. A few days later, they e-mailed me asking if I would be willing to come in and help them complete a big job. I went in, and it was fine, and I’m supposed to go in again tomorrow. Now I’m on their payroll as a part-time employee. The thing is, I have no desire for a part-time job. I did the “juggling multiple part-time jobs” thing for a while, but gave it up soon after getting a full-time job. It simply was not worth it to me anymore. I was intrigued by this new opportunity though–it seemed to me like a risk-free paid trial at a job I thought I wanted, but didn’t get. Kind of like a look at what could’ve been. And it was only just fine. I do realize that my current struggle to find transportation to both of these jobs is having a slight impact on my potential enjoyment of the new one, but it seemed worth the trouble to find out what I had missed out on. I liked the work well enough. It’s not exactly personally enriching, but the day went by very quickly and it’s the kind of job where you work with your hands using a variety of materials not unlike those found in an art studio. My background and my degree is in studio art, so this was appealing.

But aside from the better hours and the tasks that are suited to my skill set, I didn’t exactly make a love connection with the new job. I also didn’t get a single break, so…YEAH.

I am going to try to enjoy the freedom I have at my current full-time job while I still have it. Maybe I’ll get into specifics in the future, like what it is that I actually do, but for now I am trying to retain this veneer of anonymity. For this post, it doesn’t matter what it is that I do. For future posts, it might be necessary to talk about it in depth in order for any of this to make sense. All I will say right now is that my job is just about the furthest thing from a passion project as I could possibly get.

On a scale of things I like to things I don’t like, my job ($) looks like this:

Things I like……Things I don’t care about….$…Things I actively hate

The dollar sign represents that I’m only in it to get paid.

Hitler isn’t in hell, but I am.

The title of this blog post is not supposed to be provocative. It’s something that came up in counseling while talking about self-forgiveness. Thinking about those words from time to time since then has been helpful to me because they’ve been keeping in check my tendency toward self-flagellation. I have a bad part of my brain that thinks I deserve all the worst things in the world and that in the afterlife I only deserve the harshest judgment from God. I don’t even know how to accurately or objectively assess my own moral standing, if that makes sense. I don’t know whether I’m a good person or a bad person. I guess I think I’m a pretty bad person. I’m a bad person because I think bad thoughts. Even when I was questioning the existence of God, I was sure that my thoughts were going to send me to Hell. And I didn’t even believe in it, really.

The thing is though, that when I articulate these thoughts about myself to my counselor, I begin to see what’s wrong with them.

I often categorize myself as “not a superstitious person”. People who don’t believe in God may scoff at that, because belief in anything that isn’t tangible is sometimes relegated to the realm of superstition. I do believe my faith suffers when I approach it from a superstitious angle. Let me try to illustrate what that looks like, in my experience:

I think a particularly abhorrent thought, therefore I will go to Hell.

I consume media that has no redeeming qualities and is morally bankrupt, therefore I will go to Hell.

My actions are not a reflection of my thoughts, therefore I am a hypocrite and I am going to Hell.

Basically I have created a way in which even my good actions will send me to Hell because I’m not being true to my bad thoughts. I think of any good actions as a way to make amends for my bad thoughts, but even that isn’t enough to escape Hell because God knows what my thoughts actually are.

I’m trying to accept that this is B.S., but it’s like I have to rewire my brain for that to happen.

I’ve gone on long enough about this, so let’s get back to Hitler.

My counselor asked me if Hitler was in Hell. I think he knew what I would say before I even responded, probably before the question was even a thought in his head. You don’t counsel someone for months without getting a sense that you’re talking to the kind of person who thinks there’s a good chance Hitler might not be in Hell. I am one of those people and maybe I’m very obvious about that, despite never having talked about it before because frankly the topic is done to death.

Why wouldn’t Hitler be in Hell? So many reasons, each of which is as improbable as the next, but it’s what I believe, so let’s get typing:

  • None of us can truly know what goes on inside another person, even the people closest to us.
  • None of us can know if, or to what extent, another person has sought forgiveness for their sins.
  • We pray for the release of all souls in purgatory in order that they may go to Heaven. If Hitler was able to escape eternal suffering in the afterlife, there’s a chance he could be in Heaven right now. I don’t know, I’m just typing insane things. Bear with me.
  • No matter how evil and destructive a person is on earth, it is not up to me to make a judgment that is reserved for God alone to make (this ties in to why capital punishment is also wrong, again, for so many reasons, but having the hubris to act like God is surely a great sin).

I can make every excuse in the book for why Hitler might not be in Hell. But I can’t make the same excuses for myself. Why? Well, I’ve had a pretty nice life. I was brought up well. I have great parents. They did a good job instilling a sense of right vs. wrong in their children, and I credit my Mom with adding empathy into the whole equation. Without empathy, the entire effort would’ve been pointless.

At this point, anything I do that is evil or destructive is entirely my own fault. That is why I think even the littlest things could send me to Hell.

At the end of that counseling session, as I was walking out the door, I said, “Hitler isn’t in Hell, but I am.” And it made me laugh. So now I like to say it in my head, all the time, and especially when I need to add some perspective to my bouts of self-judgment.

My counselor told me that he questions the existence of Hell because of what that says about the God who would create Hell. I do agree with that. I can’t say that I believe in Hell either, because to me it only surfaces as a concept when I’m approaching my faith in the most superstitious manner possible. My thoughts about Hell are indicative of the worst parts of my faith that I would like to challenge and hopefully dispose of. A person should not believe in Hell. A person of faith should believe in God. I only believe in Hell when I want to punish myself.

Self-forgiveness is the theme of this post.

Lessons from counseling

I’ve been seeing a counselor since July. I find it very helpful though I still have times when I’m not as talkative as I’d like to be. Of course, when I get home after a session like that, I can think of a dozen things I wish I had said. I’m probably not the most verbose patient even on a normal day, so when I’m having the type of day where I struggle with talking, I worry that I come across as brain dead. It’s possible that waking up earlier would help, to give myself time to do more than “get ready.” My appointments are at noon so I usually wake up at 11:00 a.m. and leave at 11:45. I reach peak talkativeness at around midnight when my shift at work ends. If my counseling sessions happened at 12:15 at night, I’d probably overstay my welcome every time.

I’ve been to counseling in the past at various times. The first time was during my parents’ separation so I must have been about 13 years old. It’s possible I’m not remembering that correctly, but I remember why we were there. I remember one session that included my brothers and I think another that included the whole family. I don’t recall if we went multiple times or not.

I do remember not knowing what to say. I needed and still need a lot of prompting. It’s hard for me to effortlessly carry on a conversation. I had doubts about returning to counseling this time around for that exact reason, but I think it’s going just fine.

About a month ago, my counselor was asking me questions about my family and what our relationship is like. I can’t recall how the subject came up. I didn’t re-enter counseling due to any kind of family issue, so it’s not a subject I tend to talk about very much unless it’s just casual stuff. Sometimes I talk about my brothers and my parents and what they’re up to, but again, just casual stuff.

I think my counselor was trying to get a handle on what my relationship was like with my parents. We somehow got on the subject of my Dad. I told him that I have a good relationship with my Dad, though it was not always that way, particularly after my parents separated. I told him about some of the guilt I still have about the way I treated my Dad back then, for example, when I would refuse to visit him at his new place. I had also screamed and yelled at him in anger more than once and acted in a way that was almost certainly hurtful to him. I’m sure it was hurtful because I intended for it to be hurtful because I wanted to punish him. My counselor asked me if I had ever told my Dad how I felt today about these things that happened back then. I started laughing at the thought of how terribly awkward and uncomfortable that would be. I said maybe I would, eventually. I have this image in my head of a situation that happens years from now in which my Dad is on his deathbed and I give him a handwritten letter explaining how I feel.

It’s good to write this out, because I can see immediately how ridiculous that is. It’s ridiculous to first of all carry around this assumption that my Dad will live for (x) amount of time and that we will all definitely have a clear idea of when the end is near and we’ll be able to prepare for it. That is a fantasy. It’s ridiculous to think that I have information that he might want to hear and I’m withholding it out of embarrassment, or fear, or something I can’t put a name to. There are a lot of ridiculous things about the whole scenario, but those two aspects of it strike me as being the most shameful.

It also might be ridiculous to assume that any of it would have any great meaning for him. I don’t actually know that it would. It might just be an assumption borne out of watching too many movies.

One good thing about Now vs. Then is that Nowadays I tell my Dad I love him a lot more often. Before we hang up the phone I make sure to tell him “I love you.” We hug more often than we used to. My brothers have told me that they don’t do this, and that’s fine. I think at some point I just decided that I was going to try treating my Dad the same way I treat my Mom when it comes to affection. With my Mom, it has always been easy to say “I love you” and to give hugs. So at least I had something to start with.