Friday, April 27, 2012

Roaring Twenties: Get The Rubes...

 ...or "How I Paid My Way Through A Haphazard Existence"
Rubes (n.) - money or dollars
Here are some of the things I did for money in my twenties (in very loose chronological order):
dog sitter
Ritz camera sales associate/photo processor
SPCA animal caretaker
short-order cook and pizza delivery girl at Italian restaurant
radio station marketing manager

insurance claim investigator/researcher in Florida
Teacher's Assistant
taught 2 semesters of college public speaking

costume designer in Maine for a summer, made costumes for camp theater program
camp counselor at arts camp in Maryland for 2 weeks for 2 summers
marketing associate
corporate event planner
trivia host/writer
freelance writer/photographer
freelance marketing associate
retail at a vintage clothing store

I really have no idea how many jobs I've had in the past ten years. The above is merely an outline; a mere suggestion

There are two things I am really, really good at: making money, and spending it.

There have been jobs I absolutely loved (camp counseling, trivia hosting, freelance writing); jobs I hated so much I contemplated permanent bodily damage to get out of them (corporate event planning, animal caretaker, retail); and jobs that weren't titilating but afforded me some luxuries I might not otherwise have had (bartending, serving, teaching).

I was really and truly horrible at some things. Retail, for one. I hope to God I never have to work retail again. It was the most boring job I have ever had, and I am simply not a good enough sales person to foist merchandise off onto people. I HATE pushy sales associates, and therefore I stuck by the ideology that I should be as hands-off as possible. Note: owners of retail establishments do not hire people to be "hands-off." This did not go over well.

I was also pretty terrible at teaching, at least my first semester. I went the route of "23-year-old-teaching-college-and-trying-to-seem-qualified-when-she's-not." I refused to accept late assignments for ANY reason (Grandmother in the hospital? What, do they not allow text books at the bedside?), I graded on what I thought was the least arbitrary scale possible (which meant numbers, which, when you're grading qualitative assignments like written essays, does not go over well), and I refused to take any questions until the end of the class. Which meant most of the time, students had forgotten their questions by then. Which meant I was safe from having to answer questions I didn't know the answers to.
I got better my second semester. I relaxed the rules a bit, and learned what battles to fight.  I discovered the joys of conversational teaching, that is, to treat learning like a conversation with everyone participating. I stopped taking things personally. I even want to say I would have actually grown to LIKE teaching,  but I wasn't interested in pursuing a PhD, and so my academic career ended with a mere Masters. (In that field - you might as well not have a degree at all.) 
And then there were the jobs at which I was merely "ok." Nannying, for one. I was responsible, marginally mature, and did a very good job of making sure that none of my charges ever caught on fire, maimed themselves or anyone else, or watched pornography under my charge. I was not a very good nanny in the sense that I am innately lacking in the gene that makes one comfortable enough around children to actually be "fun." I'm far too self-conscious and creeped out by the fact that children are so...INTUITIVE. THEY KNOW WHAT YOU'RE THINKING. THEY KNOW YOU HAVE NO IDEA WHAT YOU ARE DOING. I also lacked the creativity to come up with anything remotely constructive for children to do, beyond building forts or making elaborate grilled cheese sandwiches. Those were basically the only tricks in my arsenal. 

One thing I was good at - playing beauty shop. As cliche and gendered as it may be, I was always a hit with little girls because I let them slather me with make up, dress me up in "princess" costumes, and do my hair however they pleased. What? I know what makes girls happy - I was one.

Pretty much every weekend of my teenage life was spent heading off to suggest good fort-building material or try not to flinch while someone pulled my hair into thirty tiny little pigtails.

There were the jobs I loved - freelance writing, short-order cooking, costume designing. I loved working with my hands, I loved the stress of a busy kitchen on a busy night with orders coming in, my hands flying to create subs and sandwiches as fast as I could. The rhythm was nearly Zen, and I considered each creation a craft. Perfectly-sautéed onions atop perfectly browned bread, with the lettuce sprinkled evenly and tomatoes spaced neatly. Costume designing for the children was fun too - children in big theater productions are far more gung-ho to wear loud, crazy, colorful costumes. The don't worry about looking fat, or being self-conscious. They are enthusiastic critics, however, but most of the time it is much easier to tell a little bitty actor "no" than it is to say "no" to an adult actor. No, your costume may not be made to catch on fire for effect. No, you may not be a blue frog, although I appreciate and applaud your creativity.

And I loved it. Picking each word, being forced to let go of flawless paragraphs for the sake of space, anguishing over whether to use "a" or "the." I went to amazing restaurants when I was a freelancer, I attended events and clubs I never would have otherwise. And the food...oh, the's a little sampling of the delicious things I was forced to eat during my tenure as a freelance food writer. (And photographer.)

Yes, these are pancakes with bacon cooked in, smothered in bananas and peanut butter. The Elvis-special.

Bacon-wrapped scallops. Mmmm.

Chicken 'n Waffles - a Baltimore specialty.

Fish baked in a banana leaf.

Ohhh, the food.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics did a study and discovered that Baby Boomers, on average, have held about 10.5 jobs in their lifetimes. This seems implausible today when people seem to start working as young as 12 (I was a Mother's Helper!) and will be working probably until their late 80's (Social Security, hmmmmm?). I count 19 jobs here, and that's just in my twenties and doesn't include my current job. There were many more jobs I had in high school (summer researcher for Board of Education, library page, Renaissance wench, to name a few). And there will probably be many more. In my current life, I juggle my career with trivia, bartending gigs, and a fervent desire to add "book writing" to that list. (We'll see how that goes.)

But I learned something from every job, and I'm pretty sure I'm the better for it. I find, in my current career path, that all the useless bits of knowledge I've picked up along the way come into play. Especially in a nonprofit, where one is forced to wear many hats. Building a community kitchen and need to know ordering, layout, procedure, and safety protocol of a commercial kitchen? I gotcha. I worked in them for years. Photo editing? The basics are down. Quick, we need a gimmick for this presentation - ok, I'll make props.

Oh, the jobs; the jobs.

Coming up next on The Roaring Twenties: Dating. You know you've been waiting for this one.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

The Roaring Twenties - The Beginning

In the last month and a half before my 30th birthday, I am paying homage to my twenties with a series of posts called "The Roaring Twenties." Enjoy the ride!

I came across a notebook I took with me when I traveled abroad for a second time in the spring of 2002. I was coming out of a very tough sophomore year of college, and a month-long trip to Italy and Germany had been an eye-opening breath of air that allowed me some space from my troubles back at school. On the return flight, I apparently made a list and, at the very top of the page, scribbled I'd like to share this with the world....but maybe not yet.

Well, that time is now.

I wrote this list just a week or two after my twentieth birthday. And, reading it now, ten years later, I realize that perhaps all the lessons I learned in my twenties were acknowledged in the very beginning. Just possibly not paid any attention to....

[29-year-old me's commentary]

June, 2002
(A perpetual work-in-progress...with progress being the operative word....)
  • Friendship is so important
  • People love me. [What? It's true.]
  • I have the ability to make people, including myself, laugh
  • I am beautiful [Wayyyy ahead of you, Xtina....]
  • I am a drama queen, and I love that
  • No matter how hard it is, I will get through it
  • I have the power to disentangle myself and step outside the situation for a little while to observe it...
  • ...but I always must go back eventually; running away solves nothing
  •  I can be whole and complete by myself
  • Follow urges whenever possible [My definitions of 'possible' and even what constitutes an 'urge' have certainly changed, but my outlook on urges in life has not.]
  • Friendships take effort, but the pay off is unbelievable
  • You can trust anyone as long as you trust yourself enough to have the strength to deal with their faults
  • Differences in opinion can be beautiful
  • Sometimes you need a day or two to just be sad....
  • ....but eventually, you have to get out of bed and face the world
  • Hiding can be a form of procrastination
  • Everything happens for a reason
  • My superstitions make sense only to me, and I like it that way
  • Sometimes there really is no one to blame
  • I can be a glutton for punishment
  • There are things I do not like about myself, but I've found they're mostly things no one else notices anyway [I disagree with the latter at this point in my life - people damn well do notice them. But the ones who will stick around will love you anyway.]
  • "I no longer fear the storms because I am learning to sail my own ship," -Louisa May Alcott [still a favorite quote]
  • I have an incredible family [still very true]
  • I am in infinitely interesting person [everyone is...if you take the time to listen]
  • I prefer white wine but sometimes red is necessary [in my ripe old age, this adage is flipped]
  • I speak another language excellently [At the time, I damn well did.'s pretty rusty. I am forever embarrassed when people tell native German-speaking friends and relatives that I speak German because beyond telling someone my name, the time of day, and asking for the restroom, I am pretty much lost.]
  • My gifts are many and I don't have to narrow them down [It's a blessing and a curse, my jack-of-all-trades tendencies]
  • My inner-strength is much stronger than I give it credit for
  • My body has the most beautiful curves and angles
  • There is no one thing that defines me
  • I still get scared by a lot of things, but I am learning to live with thunderstorms [they still freak me out sometimes]
  • My friends' individual strengths and weaknesses all help me grow
  • I love cities and places with water [good thing I live in Baltimore....]
  • Everyone has a story
  • Don't knock it unless you've tried it
Hence, the wisdom of my barely-20-year-old self. I haven't yet devised a list of all the things I learned in my twenties, but I imagine it doesn't veer too far from this core outline. Which leads me to believe that the thirties are about this: taking the core "you", your most basic values and structure, and becoming the best core-in-motion you can be. Actually learning from your mistakes, and taking your altruisms to heart while being open-minded enough to know you still have a lot to learn.

I can only hope my 39-year-old self will be as impressed with my 29-year-old inherent wisdom.

Next installation of the Roaring Twenties: The Jobs, or How I Paid My Way Through A Haphazard Existence.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Long Story Short

Long story short, life has gotten busy again. What else is new?

I don't normally discuss my career life here (because blogging about work = major no no) except from time to time to talk about some of the issues that plague Baltimore City, such as poverty, educational disparities, etc. Working for a nonprofit that serves some of the city's most marginalized populations opens you up to things you wish you could ignore; things that sometimes creep into other parts of your life. And should, for that matter. Nonprofit work is not one that stays in the office - it becomes part of your outlook on the world. 

But, given that I used to use this space as a vehicle to further a career in writing, I should say that two years ago I stumbled into an amazing opportunity to work for a nonprofit after months of job searching once the DAILY BALTIMORE PAPER (that I won't mention here) put the kabosh on its freelance budget. And since then, it's just been a whirlwind of learning, working, and getting my hands into all kinds of amazing stuff. Like graphic and web design, marketing, grant writing, editing, brainstorming, collaborating, advocating, policy writing, and a slew of other hats that I've gotten to wear. And finally, as reward for my two years of building a foundation in my career, I'm happy to say that I've been promoted in my organization and taken on a whole new set of duties that are all totally awesome and challenging. Phew!

Life is changing. In the last two months of my twenties, I want to attempt to slow down, even for just a minute, to reflect on all of these changes. To celebrate accomplishments, to go see Snap's baby bump at her shower in two weeks, to read a passage at Lee and Hot Curry's wedding in three weeks, to enjoy my vacation in the Dominican Republic (that'll be a tough one), to enjoy the company of the best guy I have ever met, and to celebrate promotions and raises and new dreams and unions of my friends. 

Because, honestly, it has not been an easy ride. The twenties were...well, roaring. There wasn't a dull moment to be found. My twentieth birthday, in fact, was in Rome, Italy, and the bartender asked me to marry him. Nice gentleman from...Albania, I believe it was. And that was just the roller coaster beginning to pick up speed.

As my job is about to totally take over my life in a very wonderful and unprecedented way, I'd like to spend the next few posts of this blog reliving some highlights from my twenties. It's only fair to usher out the decade that got me a bachelors, masters, no fewer than 20 jobs, more boyfriends than I'd care to admit, 10 homes, four cities, 10 countries, and enough vodka to sustain Russia through a particularly harsh winter.

Stay tuned for: The Roaring Twenties.

PS: I know I was supposed to write a post about running/puking, but my mom reads my blog on her lunch break, and I decided that in my thirties I will be more considerate of others. I'm starting early!