Saturday, April 25, 2009
Sinking Roots

By now, I've done six sessions at PCM, and I'm feeling much more at home. P. joined the staff officially this week, and I was quietly pleased to find that during his first night in the studio class he was as confused-looking as I must've been; he even graciously complimented me on how assured I seemed on the studio floor. And it's true, I'm gradually figuring things out, becoming a bit bolder. Tomorrow (well, today technically) is my first session as a co-teacher, equally responsible for managing the class. The other teacher, being an old hand, will of course still be guiding me through it, but as far as covering the material goes, it's as much my job as his.

The station does basically two types of class: project-based, multi-session courses for the studio and field; and then single-session component classes designed to cover particular topics in greater depth. Tomorrow's session is just a component class in using video on the internet -- I spent a couple of hours tonight reviewing my codecs and the peculiarities of a few major video-hosting sites, but having looked over the syllabus for the class I think I can probably get through it without embarrassing myself too badly. It's not rocket science, after all.

And from here on out, I will only be co-teaching (with the exception of the field production course already in progress, on which I'm essentially a TA.) We sat down a few days ago and hashed out which of the upcoming classes P. and I each want to teach, and I surprised myself a little by volunteering for courses that I find more intimidating -- the studio production course, and component classes on switching and directing, audio, and using the character generation system. I guess I'm thinking that the best way to get more confident in those subjects is to damn the torpedoes and full speed ahead.

Other than that, life is quieting down a little. I've got my bookcases up and full -- today I took some leftovers to Powell's and turned about a dozen French and anthropology books into enough money to buy a bottle of decent cachaca for our upcoming house party. But the books are unpacked, the boxes are gone, and it's been nice getting re-acquainted with, by weight, the bulk of my few possessions. I still have a couple of boxes of assorted crap to finish putting away, but I'm getting to the lighting and art-hanging stage in my room, which is nice.

In a couple of weeks, one of my closest friends in town, Rick, is leaving. Rick is considerably younger than me, though he scoffs at the idea of attaching any significance to that fact. The reality, though, is that Portland is the second place he's ever lived, and the only place outside of Detroit, his home town. Which is to say, it's time for Rick to go see something of the world. Somehow he got it into his head to undertake an epic journey by bike down the Pacific coast, over to Arizona, and then on to Tennessee. He is spectacularly under-prepared. Lots of people are very worried about him, me included. But as I see it, this is the kind of thing a young guy (and pretty frequently a middle-aged 40-ish guy, probably even a elderly 75-year-old guy) just has to do sometimes, and so I'm happy to see him off. Rick's a great guy, but he needs something to age him a little, something to test him, make a man of him as they say. Crossing the southwestern desert on a bicycle in May or June could probably do the job.

I'll miss him for sure. I don't really expect to ever see him again. But part of the understanding here is, if I am to settle in one city, then I'll have to accept that I'm no longer the person who continually leaves; I'll be the one who's left behind. It's a little sad, but I'm willing.
2:02 AM ::
Amy :: permalink
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Saturday, April 18, 2009
My Awesome Aunt Vicky

My Aunt Vicky is my favorite aunt. I mean, I've got a few cool aunts, and I don't mean to diminish their importance. But Vicky is particularly special. She gives me a sense of continuity with my mother's side of the family, demonstrates that I make sense as a part of the extended clan. My mom is awesome, but there are traits that I share more in common with Vicky -- the bookishness, the unapologetic liberalism, a certain kind of mellow, it'll-all-work-out-in-the-end philosophy. She was arguably the one among her siblings most willing to step outside of the life that was expected of her, and go off on her own path, a proud tradition among a certain kind of woman in our family.

And I suppose a beloved aunt is a bit like having another mom, except one who doesn't always get on your case about the same old mom stuff.

Anyway, today is my Aunt Vicky's birthday, and it's a bit of a landmark occasion. I don't think she would object to stating her age -- in fact, I bet she's rather proud of the accomplishment -- but I'll still leave her to give the precise number if she cares to.

So a very, very happy birthday to my Aunt Vicky, whom I admire and respect and love very much.
3:04 AM ::
Amy :: permalink
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Thursday, April 16, 2009
Cool

This new job is going to be so much fun.

I've worked on two classes now. The first one was a studio class, already in progress. I was in for their seventh session, so they're already prepping for their final production, which starts tomorrow. The studio stuff is my weak point -- I know the basic processes and I understand how the production room and its contents work, but a) it's been a long time, and b) I never got to spend much time with this stuff in the first place. So I spent a lot of the session mentally reviewing the function and operation of the switcher and audio board and various decks and routers and monitors and assorted buttons and sliders and bells and whistles. I have always found studio direction stressful, and found it to be so again last night, but I came away feeling more confident -- I understand what does what, so if it's just a matter of figuring out which button specifically for what function, then I'll be fine.

Tonight I went in to begin the first session with a field production class that'll be focusing on location work. This is stuff I've taught over and over again, so apart from picking up the structures that the existing instructors use, it was very familiar territory, and a lot more plain old fun. We had a nice mix of twenty-something hipsters with a bit of experience, middle-aged hippies who want to make docs about social issues, and african american elders who just want to try it out. It's the first time I've been able to work with new learners in such a well-equipped environment and with such thorough organization. The students have to pay to attend (though the fees are on a sliding scale so the lower-income folks aren't excluded), so they have something invested. And we have the equipment and facilities to justify their investment. Given what I've worked with in the past, this is an unimaginably luxurious set of circumstances under which to teach.

After we'd adjourned for the night tonight, the instructor I was working with said off-handedly, "oh, by the way, did you know it was unanimous? About you, I mean." He told me that after they'd reviewed forty-something applicants for the two positions, the media ed. department scheduled a meeting to pick their two new hires. The other new hire, referred to for now as P., had already done some teaching work at PCM and was a shoo-in, but they all anticipated a long session sitting, hashing out who the second new hire would be. But when they met, the first member said, "I want P. and Amy," and the second member said, "well, I also want P. and Amy," and then the department director said, "then this is going to be a short meeting, because we're all in complete agreement."

And when he told me that, I felt all warm and fuzzy inside. They really wanted me!

I'm still finding my feet. I'm trying to jump in more every session, take more of load. P. will be joining as co-instructor next week, and as he's taught this class before, I'll then be basically serving as a TA. But this initial period is for me to get up to speed so I can co-teach on a fully equal basis down the line. My learning curve is steep -- so many details to remember, names and processes and where things are -- and I fret a little about the first night they send me to set up the studio control room, because I'm going to miss some stuff. But in the meantime, I'm studying the studio handbook so I miss as little as possible, and taking copious notes, both mental and ink-and-paper.

I told the management at Fnorders today that I've got a second job. The manager I told is a decent and reasonable guy, so he was cool about it, congratulated me on landing something that's in line with what I actually want to be doing. It's the GM I worry about, because he can frankly be a passive-aggressive, petty little man. I anticipate that my hours at Fnorders will drop to almost nothing purely out of spite -- I would not be the first person to whom he's done that. I'm giving him no grounds to fire me, but he can make it clear that he'd prefer I leave if he has a mind to. But I have no intention of being pushed out. Even if he drops me to one four-hour shift a week (we call it a "princess shift"), I still come out ahead, financially and qualitatively. So there's not much he can do to make me miserable at this point. And that in itself is a big boost -- I am no longer dependent on one floundering, flailing corporate employer to pay my bills. That said, I still need a second job if I am to survive. Once this situation is stabilized -- once I'm no longer new at the job, and in a new apartment with a new flatmate in a new part of town -- then I might be looking to get a different secondary job. But for now, I don't need any more fresh upheaval. Not that it hasn't all been for the good, but there's a limit to how much I care to deal with at once.

When I talked to my mom yesterday, she pointed out that my whole life has changed in the last three months, and thinking about it afterward, I realized how right she was. Three months ago, I was just home from my illicit trip back to Texas to see family, and had an idea that maybe I would move to a new place when my year was up, but nothing in the way of real plans. Now I'm in a much nicer apartment, in a far more satisfactory part of town, working at the kind of job I'd hoped I might find when I moved here. My car's gone, I get around on my bike and by bus and train, and I'm in a position to do lots more cool things and meet lots more cool people, in a more significant way than I've been able to previously.

Things are really starting to work out, you know?
1:59 AM ::
Amy :: permalink
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Saturday, April 11, 2009
Pandora, That Ignorant Slut

When I was a little girl, I had an illustrated book of Greek mythology that I loved. One of my favorite pictures in that book was of Pandora opening her box, and all the kid-cartoon evils flitting out, labelled with words like "sickness," "poverty" and "war." And as the story goes, she slammed the lid back down on the box just in time to trap the last one inside, "hope." Even at nine years old, the ambiguity was delicious. Is hope the lost antidote to evil, or is it just another hazard of living? Maybe it says something that to this day that image is still in my mind, although the nasties in the box have acquired subtler, more grown-up names over the years. Names like "ambivalence," and "self-doubt." But hope is still in there, and sometimes I still wonder what side it's on.

A month on, we're almost completely moved into the new place -- I've still got 17 boxes of books stacked up against my bedroom wall, but I'm trying to devise a way to get them out of those boxes at last. It probably says something about how I've been living the last X years, though, that the idea of actually unpacking all those books makes me vaguely anxious. I've been living such a transitory life, a life in which most of my belongings were always packed away in boxes, that settling in (and accepting the risk/hope of staying put for an extended period) makes me nervous.

I woke up last night wondering what I'd do with the boxes my books are in -- keep them or throw them out? Most of them are structurally compromised at this point, and even if I were to move again, I'd have to get new ones. But I seem to associate stuff in boxes with a different kind of security: the freedom to leave for something better. I've lived the whole first part of my adult life on the lookout for something better, and even though I'm now genuinely content with where I am and the choice I've made to stay, it's a hard habit to break. There's a part of me that hungers for permanence and says, "wait until you have a place all your own, wait until you're sure you can stay." But that hunger for permanence seems to translate into anxiety about being tied down. Funny, right?

I'm not actually struggling with the question itself. The books are coming out, the boxes are going away, sooner or later. And some of this is a reaction to my roommate's mother, who's currently here to help unpack, and is a lovely person but sort of overbearing -- especially, it seems, where my stuff and my stake in our shared space is concerned. But I'm still curious about this tiny anxiety I feel. It's an odd thing.

Yesterday was my new-hire orientation at PCM -- I got keys and access codes and the employee handbook, and filled in a fair amount of paperwork. It was all pretty casual, just a quick tour around the facilities and "any questions?" If I'm not mistaken, the other person taken on as a part-time educator is a guy I met and worked with very briefly over the summer, when I subbed in for a sick co-instructor one day on a different Project Youth Doc class than the one I actually instructed. From what I saw of him that day, this guy has immense chops. On the one hand, it pleases me to think that PCM considers me on a similar tier as him; on the other, I feel a little intimidated because I believe he's better than me. I know that I know this stuff; and I know that the bits I don't know, I'll pick up quickly. And I know I can teach it, because I've done plenty of that before. But always there's the doubt in the back of my mind, the voice that tells me I'm not good enough yet, that even though I never so much as hinted at over-stating my skills, my fraud will be discovered, especially next to someone so obviously masterful.

The self-doubt, it's awful. Why couldn't I be one of those arrogant assholes who will assume that he naturally knows how to do everything, even when he's at best one step away from incompetence? Do I ever just get to relax in the knowledge that I'm finally good enough? Does that point even exist for me, or is the doubt so ingrained that no amount of validation, internal or external, will ever convince me?

But still. The next few weeks are apparently going to be all training, so I'm aiming to just go in every day, throw my full effort behind whatever they ask of me, and trust that whatever they saw in me that convinced them to take me on is really in there. I realize that it's irrational to worry that I'm going to fail even before I've been given a task, so it's best to set it aside and focus on moving forward.

Waiting at the bus stop yesterday, on my way up to the studio and quietly fretting to myself, a sort of tweedy man came to the stop, sat next to me, and asked if I knew when the next bus was due. Fourteen minutes, I told him (as I'd just checked). We then somehow (mostly by his volition) fell into a conversation that ranged from colored staples and why don't they exist yet, to the necessity/seeming futility of independence in film and/or publishing, to antiques dealers who covertly deal in nazi paraphernalia. Portland has a way of bringing on these conversations in a way no other place I've lived has done. It's enough of a city that you come into contact with a lot of people, but it's small enough (on various geographical and philosophical levels) that those people talk to each other. I've had a few memorable discussions with random people, usually on public transportation. One night I was waiting for the train home when a middle-aged black guy toting an enormous upright bass sat next to me on the one bench and we ended up talking for nearly 45 minutes about Obama and the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. Another time, I talked with a little El Salvadoran guy about the photographs he takes and sells as souvenirs at suburban latino clubs. There have been a handful of conversations with various guys about their adult children, their time in the military, assorted chitchat. None of them ever want anything, and it never has that tone of ulterior motive -- I mean, sometimes it does, but I can usually sniff that out immediately and dodge the conversation before it begins. But generally it's just people being friendly, and there's something to be gained by being friendly back.

It's funny that's it's virtually exclusively men initiating these conversations. Though it's understandable, I expect -- striking up conversations with strangers is often too fraught with social tension for women. The most I've ever heard from non-psychotic, non-intoxicated women is "I like your shoes, where did you get them?" But it's sort of a shame, isn't it?

Anyway, this guy turned out to be a publisher, and he gave me his card. What I'll end up doing with it, I don't know, but he seemed like an interesting person, and it would be good to know a few more people in the city who don't work at bookstores. Maybe sometimes interesting opportunities just walk up to you at bus stops and start chatting.

Lastly, so far it seems that having the new revelation of a better job elsewhere is only making my time at Fnorders seem worse. Being treated decently at the new job brings up a lot of suppressed resentment at being treated badly at the job I've had for the last year and a half. One day earlier this week, I was standing at my post suddenly seething, thinking "I could just leave. I could just quit right now, go to the back, grab my stuff, clock out, and leave. Fuck these people, fuck this shitty job. I'm worth more than this." It's not the first time I've had that impulse, and it certainly wasn't the first time I've stuffed it back down. But as the company flounders and flails, the anger is getting worse. And it's not just me -- everybody I work with is also worth more than their jobs, all of us are daily degraded by our employers, our customers, and all the people who look down on us for doing what we're stuck doing for the time being. But having a new window onto how things should be makes the contrast that much more obvious, and the discontent that much more keenly felt. Hope does sometimes have a way of making some things seem worse than they did when you were thoroughly demoralized.

But whatever -- it's what I have to do for now. I need more work, not less; and the truth is, from Fnorders' perspective I am infinitely replaceable. There are hordes outside eager to find any job, no matter how shitty, and would happily take my place and my paycheck. I'm fortunate to have what I do. So I'm not leaving yet. But there are days when it takes every scrap of will I have to stay.

Sometimes you just do what you have to do, I guess.

PS: I'm happy, really. Life is good. I'm just impatient to get to better and more interesting things.
1:29 PM ::
Amy :: permalink
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Sunday, April 05, 2009
In Which Things Gradually Begin To Get Better

I've been in Portland about eighteen months now. The first six months were great, but hard -- the struggle just to find and keep a handhold in a new city took everything I had. The last twelve have been hard in a different way, less challenging but saddled with growing discontent. It seemed all I could do was maintain my position, trudging through the months under adequate (barely) but dissatisfying conditions.

The last month has finally seen some real improvement, though. As of yesterday, I'm 100% free of my old house and completely moved in to the new apartment on Belmont. I'm not settled yet -- there's so much still to be put away -- but I realized last night that over the course of a week I'd gone from thinking of the house in N. Portland as "home" and the apartment in SE as strange, to thinking of the apartment as home and the old house as a depressing chapter of my recent history. Walking in for the last time, I was struck at how gross and squalid it was, exactly as it had been for the previous year, and what a relief it was to not have to live in the midst of that anymore. Our new apartment is still chaotic, but Liliana and I are already proving to be very harmonious flatmates, there's an underlying sense of order behind the boxes and un-arranged furniture, and the place feels comfortable and welcoming to me.

The neighborhood, too, is a big step up. Rather than come home after work and retreat immediately to my room, here I hang out in the living room or wander out to see what's going on on the street. Just having those two options available is a revelation and has done great things for my mood. So that's a major improvement.

More significant though, at least in the long run, is the news I got this afternoon. You'll remember that almost exactly a year ago I put in for a job at a local media organization, did well in two interviews, and then lost out on the job to someone else. I was crushed at the time, because I'd felt very much that the organization would have been a good fit for me, that I could have made a real contribution there, it would've been an opportunity to do work that I genuinely care about and really enjoy, and it would've gotten me out of my retail purgatory. And since then, with the economy collapsing, there have been so few opportunities -- I've applied for any number of positions, and gotten exactly nowhere. It has sucked beyond reckoning.

But a couple of weeks ago that same organization posted a new position for a media instructor, and after some initial doubts, I sent them my resume again. They remembered me, and I went for another interview. And not only did they remember that I'd been there before, they remembered specific things about me. And I knew in the interview that I'd done well and given them all the right answers, but after last year's disappointment (and all the other little disappointments that followed) I was disinclined to invest too much in the outcome.

But this afternoon I got the call -- they want me. I am hired. It's a small job to begin with, only part time, working with the main instructors at the facility. But over the next year or two, they told me, they plan to expand this position into a real, full-time education position, and from there there's further room to advance if I want. Until then, I'll be spending part of my week there assisting with the existing courses, and between those courses I'll be in training myself, filling in the gaps in my own skill set. And they'll be paying me more than I would ever get at Fnorders. I'll get to spend my time doing work I enjoy while simultaneously getting better at what I do. That's a pretty fantastic combination.

My time at the bookstore isn't completely over, of course -- this new opportunity will hopefully lead to a final departure eventually, but for now I'll still be there a few days a week. But it should cut down on the time I have to be there, at least, and I'll take any opportunity I can find to get off that sinking ship. Now that the company is circling the drain, it seems every new week brings down some new torment from corporate. Part of me wants to stay on just for the satisfaction of being on hand when the company finally dies.

Elsewhere, I'm writing more steadily, which has a lot to do with why I'm posting less frequently here -- it turns out it's pretty hard to write for a blog and for other purposes at the same time, and I'd rather spend my energy on that than on this. It just feels like I'm finally starting to rebuild some momentum, that I'm turning the proverbial corner, that my life will gradually become more about the awesome and less about the suck. There's still a long way to go, but I feel like I'm now definitely traveling in the right direction.
2:39 AM ::
Amy :: permalink
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