… the days go by very fast because I have so much to do, but I also have so many meetings to attend that the time remaining to do all the things is scarce.
… I got to sit in on a senior-level review of the financials, and I couldn’t remember the last time I felt so dumb.
… I’m trying to get rid of all of the abbreviations I accumulated from the pharmaceutical world and replace them with financial ones. I keep writing things down, looking them up, and adding them to my glossary.
… I’m not on a traditional team, so I don’t have any natural lunch buddies.
… I decided use my newness as a reason to schedule lunches with people and get acquainted with the company. So far, that strategy is working out swimmingly, and everyone has been friendly and receptive to my invitations.
… it’s strange being one of the newest people but not the youngest.
… there are over 200 people at my site, and I’m making it a point to stop someone at least once a day and say, “I’m sorry, I don’t think we’ve met. I’m RA!” Before I do it, fear spikes in me anew, but it’s for my own good.
… I still haven’t figured out how to use my fancy headset phone.
… I’m taking training courses that all new hires take, even though I’m not doing finance work, and holy cow, I could not hang on the deal floor.
… I joined the Special Events Committee, the book club, and lunchtime yoga. There are a lot of other company teams (like flag football, basketball, softball), but joining those would have been contrived for me and horrible for everyone involved.
… JG and I hardly ever see each other. We’re in different buildings, sure, but as I explain it to others, we move in completely different traffic patterns.
… I feel like I am so far away from delivering something real and useful, but I released a new version of a website this morning and am consulting on a presentation to a graduate school of diplomacy. I’m slowly wrapping my arms around things.
… my 6-minute commute is awesome, but I miss the decompression time on the way home.
… my mantra is, “You have to start somewhere.”
Tomorrow is my first day at my new job, and I’m excited to get started. It’s definitely time to get back into a groove, but … ah. It has been so nice to be a lady of leisure for the last 8 weeks. As is my custom, I had an unreasonably long list of projects on my to-do list, and per the usual, I didn’t come close to crossing everything off. So, even though I’m on the cusp of something great and challenging, I can’t help but think of everything I didn’t do while I had the chance.
But, really, I did a lot of stuff, even if it wasn’t all on my list.
I spent time with friends. Lots of breakfasts and lunches. A day in New York City. NPW’s backyard wedding. Met four friends’ babies. Toasted marshmallows on a bonfire fueled by my college friend’s actuarial study materials. Visited a friend from high school at her legitimate farm (!).
I had adventures. Took a Segway tour in Bermuda. Climbed up to a 30-foot zipline platform and talked kids into jumping off (after I harnessed them in, of course). Walked all over midtown Manhattan.
I got fresh air. Read books on our (still unfinished, argh) deck. Hit the trails at the new Meadow Garden at Longwood. Walked downtown so many times and, once, all the way to the park. Finally went to the farmers market for the first time. Covered 6 miles during Relay for Life.
I ate a lot of food. A creme brulee doughnut. Fried whole-belly clams. A lobster roll. Cotton candy. A doughnut on the beach. A mini caramel milkshake. Homemade pickles from CSA cucumbers. Cheese from Talula’s. Oh, plus a local food tour.
I spent time with JG. Traditional trip to Hershey Park and Troegs. Breakfast at a new-to-us, awesomely dive-y, local standby diner. Anniversary dinner and live music at Longwood Gardens. A fancy dinner on our cruise ship with a life-changing cheese plate.
Even though I naturally focus on what I didn’t do, I am still so, so thankful that I had 8 whole weeks — 40 business days of leisure — to have so much space. I literally had the house to myself for 2 weeks. I could hear myself think. I read all the books I wanted. I took super deep breaths outdoors. And as much as it would be lovely to go on that way indefinitely, I’m ready to get back to work, and I feel like my head is in the right place to do it.
So, let’s do this thing.
This quarter, I finished 17 books, plus 7 re-reads. I went on a slight marathon of sad books, but most of them were so GOOD that I couldn’t help myself. Cue weeping at night by the beam of my book light. Ah, well. I didn’t finish 3 books because they were all so irritating, and I do not regret giving up. Anyway, the books of the last 3 months are listed below, grouped by how enthusiastically I’d recommend them, and then alphabetical by author with asterisks denoting audio books (7). I should note that last month marked the end of my era of listening to audio books during commutes, and I will have to figure out whether audio books fit in to my new routine.
In response to the question: “Would you recommend this book?” …
- Home Cooking, by Laurie Colwin: Molly Wizenberg cites Laurie Colwin as one of her favorite authors, and I totally see why. I love her, too! Her tone is funny and frank, and I love her straight-forward approach to food. I could not stop laughing or copying down lines. Here are a few of my favorites:
“When people enter the kitchen, they often drag their childhood in with them.”
“Host- and hostessing, as we know, is often a heroic endeavor, requiring daring, ingenuity, a desire to take chances, and a concern for others. these traits are called for in saints and Nobel Prize winners. And always keep this motto in mind: some are born fussy, and some have fussiness thrust upon them.”
“To feel safe and warm on a cold wet night, all you really need is soup.”
- The Light Between Oceans, by ML Stedman: I really loved this book. I was afraid that the complicated plot would cross the line into convoluted, but no, it held together with delicate, balanced tension. Be warned: it’s definitely sad, but it didn’t crush me, like Tell the Wolves I’m Home did. If you liked The Snow Child, I think you will like this one.
- Men We Reaped, by Jesmyn Ward: You must read this book. Big thanks to Hillary and Michelle for recommending it to me last year. It is difficult, and it is raw, but it is so important. This book gutted me. Here are a couple of lines to demonstrate how:
“I wonder why silence is the sound of our subsumed rage, our accumulated grief.”
“My entire community suffered from a lack of trust: we didn’t trust society to provide the basics of a good education, safety, access to good jobs, fairness in the justice system. And even as we distrusted the society around us, the culture that cornered us and told us were perpetually less, we distrusted each other. We did not trust our fathers to raise us, to provide for us. Because we trusted nothing, we endeavored to protect ourselves, boys becoming misogynistic and violent, girls turning duplicitous, all of us hopeless.”
- Delancey, by Molly Wizenberg: Almost 2 years ago, JG and I went on vacation to Seattle, and we made a special pilgrimage to have pizza at Delancey, which was amazing, as I expected. It only took me about 3 hours to devour Molly Wizenberg’s memoir about starting that restaurant and what it meant for her marriage, and I loved it, as I expected. I’ve read that others wished there were recipes from the restaurant, and I admit that it is kind of weird that it’s a book about a pizza place, and all they talk about is pizza, and then you get recipes for stuff like prawns and sautéed dates. But I can overlook that; I already know how to make pizza.
(I realized just now that the authors of my favorite books this quarter are all women. Not intentional, but I like it!)
- Hyperbole and a Half, by Allie Brosh: I think Allie Brosh does a really good job communicating in what might be seen as a rudimentary vehicle. Her drawings are surprisingly nuanced, and I think she conveys common feelings and experiences. For as much as I LOLed, I also thought, “Me, too!”
- Wonder Women, by Kate Harris and Barna Group: I feel like all of my reviews of the Barna Frames are going to be the same: I loved the data! It’s really thought-provoking! So, let’s take that as a given. In this one, I was struck by the disconnect between women’s reported priorities and where they spend their time. It made me think about whether mine line up, too. I’m also mulling over the idea of coherence, that is, that my life and all its different parts should add up to a whole that makes sense.
- Burn, by Monica Hesse: I think this sequel to Stray was a reasonable follow-up, although the pacing was a bit off. The first 2/3 strolled along, and then it was a sprint to the end. Still, the book’s dystopian premise is interesting and original, the story was pretty well done.
- Me Before You, by Jojo Moyes: I liked this book, but I don’t really get the rave reviews of it. This is a “yes” recommendation tempered by a shrug. I really only saw one possible ending to this book (well, I could imagine another one, but it would have made me hurl my library copy at the wall, so I wasn’t rooting for that one), so when that’s what happened, I was like, “Well, then.” That said, I couldn’t stop reading it, and I felt like Lou’s back story was very well-rounded.
- The Rosie Project, by Graeme Simsion: This book was entertaining and a welcome antidote to the 3 sad books I read in a row unintentionally. I’m logging it away for when someone asks me for a “fun” book, and that person’s idea of fun is not, say, the history of chemistry.
- Dreams of Gods and Monsters, by Laini Taylor: Daughter of Smoke and Bone is still my favorite, but this last installment was pretty good. Overall, I think the trilogy is very strong, unlike other series where I loved the first book and then things trailed off afterward. There were some plot things that I didn’t love in this book, but it’s good! Very well-written and consistent with the series, and I couldn’t put it down. Read it! It’s super fun.
- Rose Under Fire, by Elizabeth Wein: Oof, this one is rough. It’s very much in the spirit of Code Name Verity, and I was happy to see our buddy Maddie again, but this book is more about hardship than suspense. I did a lot of fist-clenching while reading about the atrocities at Ravensbrück. Again, I did not love the journal-entry form with its long strings of dialog and POETRY. The conceit of writing it down skids into the realm of unbelievable for me. But! I still really liked it, as much as one can like a book about tragedy. You should definitely read it.
- Catch Me If You Can, by Frank Abagnale, Jr.*: I liked this well enough, but it wasn’t very well-written. The story is incredible, of course, and not just because of the lack of regulation in banking and air travel. Frank Abagnale was ridiculous resourceful and clever. I was disappointed to realize how much the movie adaptation muddled things around for the sake of dramatization, but that’s the way the world.
- Winter’s Tale, by Mark Helprin: I read this book because I thought it was my friend’s favorite book of all time, only to realize that this was not true. By that point, I was 2/3 through it, and there was no turning back. There are some moments of sheer beauty in this book, but you have to mine through tons of hefty description. There were times when I thought, aggravated, “Will somebody please DO something? Or SAY something? Or GO somewhere?!” Even now, I’m not sure what the main conflict was.
- Freefall to Fly, by Rebekah Lyons: I think there are some good points in this book: it’s good practice to name/identify the gifts I see in others, and women (and everyone!) should be in community where gifts can be explored and manifest. But the style is really emotional and stream-of-consciousness, and it’s not for me.
- 12 Years a Slave, by Solomon Northup*: For the most part, I found this book to pretty dry, which I felt guilty about, of course. I think there’s a lot of value in primary accounts, but there’s a big gulf between writing style of the 1800s and now. However, there were some really brutal and poignant moments in this account, and I think it was for my good to read it. I also tried to keep a perspective of parallels to modern slavery to remind myself that the days of slavery are not over.
- Ajax Penumbra, 1969, by Robin Sloan*: This mini book is just that: a mere shadow of the wonder that is Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore. It was amusing, but it was just that. I’m glad I got it for free and only spent 90 minutes listening to it.
- Frog Music, by Emma Donoghue*: I really did not like this. The timeline was all over the place in a very confusing way, and I had guessed the solution to the mystery, so the ending was anticlimactic. I’m guessing that audio was not the optimal mode for this book; it’s full of French language and songs, but the pace was so off that I’m not sure reading it in print would have helped. I was sick of all of the characters, and much of the content was too vulgar for me. I did a lot of grimacing. Skip this one.
- The Girls of Atomic City, by Denise Kiernan: I gave up on this one because at 1/3 of the way through, the girls were still ARRIVING at Atomic City. That was not a good sign for whatever story was left over. I expected espionage, science, or at least history, but what I read was tedious suspense-building. No.
- The Swan Gondola, by Timothy Schaffert: I was so intrigued by this book! Pretty cover! Magic! A world’s fair! YESSS. And then it was so BORING. I am not apt to be compelled by a book where people fall in love simply by looking at each other. I read 25% of it and hardly a darn thing happened, so I gave up on it.
- The Art of Racing in the Rain, by Garth Stein*: I really REALLY disliked this book. I didn’t find anyone sympathetic, and I could not buy the dog as a narrator. Dogs have no episodic memory! At least have the dog narrate in the present tense. Also, I do not care at all about car racing. I was straight-up relieved when my other audio books came in from the library so I could have an excuse to let this one go.
- The Tipping Point, by Malcolm Gladwell*: I read this for the first time 6 years ago, and apparently, I didn’t like it very much. AND YET. I have been recommending it to everyone on the planet and referring to its concepts of key messengers (Connectors, Mavens, and Salesmen) ever since. I liked and got way more out of the book than my initial reaction implied. I was really startled to see a mere 2-star rating on my old review. I have no idea what I was thinking. I’m so glad I re-read this, and now the ideas are buzzing through my brain anew. READ THIS.
- Walking on Water, by Madeleine L’Engle: I read this for the first time … a long time ago, and I liked it then. But I REALLY liked it upon re-read. Sure, sure, Madeleine is a little wacky, but I love her. This book isn’t for everyone, but it’s definitely for people who contemplate art and meaning and creation and faith, so if you are one of those people, you should read it. I wrote down tons of lines during this read, but for the sake of brevity, here’s one that’s still resonating in me:
“We have to be braver than we think we can be, because God is constantly calling us to be more than we are, to see through plastic sham to living, breathing reality, and to break down our defenses of self-protection in order to be free to receive and give love.”
- A Wrinkle in Time, A Wind in the Door, Many Waters, and A Swiftly Tilting Planet, by Madeleine L’Engle: Ohh, I still love these books SO much. This time, I viewed Wrinkle as Meg Murry’s origin story, and a bunch of other things jumped out of at me that hadn’t before. Like in Wind, Mr. Jenkins says that he doesn’t have much intuition, and the Teacher says that he has to understand with his whole heart. I say I don’t have much intuition! I need to understand with my whole heart! When I read Waters, I thought a lot about how the words of God can be clear but confusing. In Planet, I saw anew the tragedy of the transformation of Beezie, the golden child who smelled yellow like buttercups, to Mrs. O’Keefe, bitter and taciturn. Oh, my heart.
- Days of Blood and Starlight, by Laini Taylor*: This was an audio e-read/listen in preparation for the third book! I’m so glad I did this because I wouldn’t have retained anything. There’s no slump in this second installment, and I felt like I noticed new things this time around.
I framed my new year’s resolutions as 4 actions for 2014, and here’s my second quarterly progress report. I feel like not much new happened this quarter; it’s been a few months of keepin’ on keepin’ on.
My subgoals under this action are to follow my instincts to communicate and ask for support when I feel overwhelmed. Initially, I thought I was losing ground on the communication front, but when I think about it, I am doing okay at this. I will give myself a C. I could be a lot more conscientious about taking the time to keep in touch with folks, but you know, I am making the effort to text people when I’m thinking of them and send e-mails just because. However, I still owe lots of people (especially blog friends!) lots of e-mails, and I will (I WILL) get caught up soon!
Last month, when my job ended, the biggest aspect of my overwhelmed feeling lifted. Before that, I did ask for support, but it was mostly in the morale department. I couldn’t really ask anyone to take things off my plate. But the good thoughts helped so much! Whenever I got an e-mail of the “just thinking about you” variety, it buoyed me up. Yeah for reaching out all around!
I want to make physical space, preserve my pauses, and read fewer books.
Clothes have been donated! JG and I are doing a good job with evenings spent together! Annnd I read more books this quarter than almost any other quarter last year. So, 2 out of 3 isn’t bad, I guess. The reality is that I have space in my life for the time being, and I’m using it to read. I don’t feel stretched too thin, and reading so much has been such a delightful luxury that I’m swimming in it now. Like, Scrooge-McDuck-in-money-style. I am trying to watch my mentality so that I’m not just checking the books of a list so that I can say I’ve read them. Re-reading my favorite Madeleine L’Engle books from childhood has been a good antidote to the “get ‘er done” mode of reading, and I am glad for it.
I aim to cultivate my relationships (marriage and friendships) and a healthy lifestyle (diet and exercise).
I feel pretty good about cultivating relationships. Year 9 of marriage has been great and challenging, and Year 10 will include JG and me becoming co-workers, so eek/yay! Stay tuned for my Q3 update to see how that has affected our marriage, ahem. As for friendships, I’m using my 2-month sabbatical to connect with people and do things I wouldn’t normally be able to do: namely, GO OUT TO LUNCH. I am totes a lady who lunches (for now)! So I’ve been meeting people for lunch, for breakfast, for walks around Longwood, for a day trip to New York (!!!). It has been lovely.
I’m still on track to exercise 120 times this year, although I’m pretty sure that 150 is not going to happen. No matter! I racked up 35 workouts this quarter, mostly with long walks downtown and to the park. Walking is my favorite form of exercise; I just wish it didn’t take so darn long.
I want to write more and be brave with new things!
In this section last quarter, I wrote:
I am standing at the precipice of a new work-related thing, and it is requiring me to be very brave, indeed. When the opportunity came to light, I told JG, “This almost makes me regret making that goal about being brave.” … I’m sorry to be all blog-vague. I promise to disclose all once things are final and I get my feet under me (again). For now, I could use your good thoughts and fist pumps as I try to be better and more courageous than I think I can be.
And now you know! You know that my company was acquired, that I worked my tail off to create a new job for myself, that I got laid off and secured the new job, and that I can hardly believe it. So, there has been plenty of being brave around here over the past quarter. Hoo boy.
I haven’t been writing as much as I’d like to. It seems like with all the other things I could be doing (reading, walking downtown, meeting friends, etc), sitting in front of a computer is very low on that list. But I know that I think more clearly when I take the time to write, and I have lots of stories bottled up in me. So, I just need to hunker down and write as though it’s a top priority for me, because it is.
Months ago, JG and I had the following conversation:
RA: I feel like there should be a good version of the saying, “That’s bad news bears.”
RA: It’s like, why do the bears get such a bad rap?
JG: Do you even know what that is from?
RA: I’m guessing that bears got into something they shouldn’t have? Yogi Bear-style?
JG: IT WAS A MOVIE.
RA: Oh! I never saw it. Is it about bears?
JG: It’s about baseball! A team of misfits!
RA: Oh, wow. I never would have guessed that. … So anyway, isn’t there some kind of animatronic bear show that’s happy or something? I remember seeing a picture of something at some point.
JG: I think you’re thinking of Country Bear Jamboree.
RA: YES, I am! That’s happy, right?
JG: I guess so?
RA: Was it a television show or something?
JG: IT WAS A RIDE AT DISNEY WORLD.
RA: Oh! How about that!
JG: I don’t think you can say that if you haven’t seen that thing at Disney World.
RA: I’ve never seen that movie, and I’ve been saying, “That’s bad news bears” for years!
JG: Well, then.
- – – – -
Ever since, whenever something remotely positive has happened, I’m compelled to say, “That’s Country Bear Jamboree!” followed by peals of obnoxiously loud laughter. Because — it’s funny! Come on, it’s funny.
Guys, JG has been putting up with this nonsense for the nine years that we’ve been married (as of today!), not to mention the years of dating before that. Excellent. So it goes: I laugh hysterically at something that is only funny to me, and JG accepts me as I am, usually without agreeing that the thing is funny or, in most cases, understanding what I am saying in the first place. That’s definitely Country Bear Jamboree.
Yesterday was my 8th blogiversary, holy cow.
In some ways, I feel like not much has changed since I started blogging. I mean, JG and I were already married and living in this house then. But when I think about it, that’s all that has stayed the same. I’ve changed jobs so many times, we got Ted, we changed churches. Heck, now I wear giant sunglasses, gold jewelry, colored jeans, riding boots, and collared button-downs now. If that is not seismic personal change, I don’t know what is. I kid, but only halfway. Eight years of doing anything is significant, I think.
I’m disappointed with and simultaneously proud of the past year of blogging. I’m disappointed because I haven’t blogged as much as I hoped, and I wish I hadn’t lost my groove so often. Even more than that, though, I’m proud of some of the writing I’ve done, especially reflecting on blog friends, real-life friends, being brave, quest stories, making choices, and reaching out. Although I would have liked to have blogged more often, it really has been a good year of thinking and writing. I’m so thankful for all of you who have stuck around, even though my posting schedule has been spotty. When I send my rambly thoughts out to the internet ether, getting a response from that ether is a lovely gift.
For past blogiversaries, I used to put out a call for questions for Q&A posts, but I let it go because questions tapered off. I realized that it had been 4 years (?!) since I last did this, and I figured, why not try it again? Even if some of the questions are repeats, it’s probably about time for an update.
So, what do you want to know? Hit me!
Over the course of his teaching career, JG has created two computer science courses and increased the enrollment from 1 to over 100. He has a great rapport with students, and siblings of past students try to get into his classes because they’ve heard good things. But there’s been a growing disconnect between administration and teachers. Despite JG’s opportunities to innovate so far, it was pretty much the end of the line. He saw the next 30 years stretch out before him without change or a chance to grow. Now, for a lot of teachers, coasting is the dream. Just cycle through your lesson plans and get closer to retirement, right? But JG was bored, and he didn’t look forward to 30 years of boredom. There have been good, bad, and worse days of teaching, but this year, it came to a head when JG asked me to help him build a resume.
Over spring break, we took the first stab at it. JG assumed that he’d go into the business world, so I used all my wordsmithing skill to tell the story of a bright, inquisitive, critical thinker who had applied those tendencies toward teaching. But when you’ve had one very specialized job for 9 years, well, it’s tough to make that translate to a corporate resume. JG has the gift of gab, and I knew that we’d have to get him in the door for an interview, in spite of a nontraditional resume. Once he was in front of people, he could make his case much more effectively than his resume could. “This means networking,” I said reluctantly.
JG met with people we knew who worked in banking and finance to figure out what made people successful in those fields and if he could make that transition. People who know him were confident; it was just a matter of writing the resume appropriately. So, JG and I went through iteration after iteration of resumes and cover letters for different job postings. For one, we focused more on communicating abstract concepts, and for another, we emphasized problem-solving. To his credit, JG said, “I never knew what people meant when they said that looking for a job was a full-time job. And you’ve done this four times!” I KNOW. THANK YOU.
The whole operation was very cloak-and-dagger because JG had a small window of time to find a new position. We didn’t want to spread the word that he was on the job market because there would be a whole lot of explanation after the fact if it didn’t work out and he ended up returning to the classroom in August. JG felt really unstable, like his whole world was unresolved, and our relationship was somewhat strained for a few weeks. He would say things like, “Why is this taking so long?” and it was all I could do not to point out that he’d been in the process for only TWO MONTHS, OMG, GET A GRIP. Every bad day at school was exacerbated by another resume revision, another mock interview, and more uncertainty.
JG started the interview process for a financial analyst position. The role was entry-level, but it was understood that no one coming into it would understand the content, so the company was accustomed to a high level of training. One of our contacts pushed JG’s resume to the top of the pile, and JG went through a phone screen, assessments of math skill and accuracy, and a 1:2 in-person interview. In preparation, I practiced interview questions with him to tighten his responses and call back to his strengths, but I wasn’t worried. JG is so good at talking on the spot, and he’d done his homework on the company and their work. After the interview, he texted me: “Nailed it.” And according to our inside sources, feedback was positive. We began to hope cautiously that this position would be the right move, and we prayed again for the road to be paved.
Then JG moved on to a rigorous, 5-session marathon of 1:2 interviews. The HR recruiter called it a final interview, so we were optimistic that this step would be the end of the line. It was the first day of my time off between jobs, so I had plenty of time to worry about him during the 4 hours he was at the company. When JG got home, he felt good. He told a lot of the same stories across the 5 interview sessions, but he felt comfortable with everyone he met and got to ask a lot of questions. All we had to do was wait.
And then he got an offer — a really, really good one! They were open to him finishing out the school year and taking time off between, and he would most likely get placed on the team with a guy who, after one of the interviews, supposedly “called dibs.” Amazing! No road blocks here! So, as if my job transition weren’t enough, JG quit his teaching job last week, and he starts his new job in mid-August, 2 weeks after I start mine.
Oh, one minor detail: JG’s new job is at the same company where my new job will be.
Yeah. So, officially, we will be co-workers, in that we work for the same place, but our functional areas are so far removed that, unless we are physically sitting near each other, we will hardly see each other during the day. We both had to field questions about what it would be like to work at the same company, but we honestly don’t think it will affect us since we are used to working in regulated, fairly confidential fields anyway. And we won’t be the first couple at this company, so at least there’s a precedent. We’ll commute together and go through the new-job experience at the same time. I think it’ll be great.
It’ll also be a ton of change. JG will have to adjust from having a classroom as his domain to a (really small) desk. He will have to shift his workday from super-early high school hours to regular working hours. And we will have to figure out how to have the same time schedule in the morning without me snapping his head off due to my morning grouchiness.
But, you guys, we are really excited! I’m so glad that JG took the steps to make the leap, and it’s crazy/awesome that we get to do this together. It’s going to be a big year for us.