In which my bitchiness becomes an asset to the company

The grown-ups in my department have been sequestered to do data cleansing for one of our third party distribution deals so the peons have been left (mostly) to our own devices for the last week.

In the absence of a more responsible member of the staff (i.e. one whose job isn’t classed as “unskilled) one of the things I get tasked with is minor IT testing and break-fix reporting. To that end, the big boss requested yesterday that I open a ticket on behalf of the entire department, as the main module we use seemed to be experiencing technical difficulties. The ticket was something like “No one can use $MODULE, please fix ASAP.” A few follow-ups were made showing the exact error message we were receiving, some members of IT worked on it and by the time I got in this morning, the module was working just fine. I then received an email from one of the offshore IT guys (remember like three months ago when our Company claimed they were getting rid of all offshore IT?) telling me that I could no longer request access to $MODULE via ticket, and instead, I must go through some arcane process involving drop-down menus, radio buttons and burnt offerings. I responded to him that I have had access to all roles in $MODULE since 2006, and then explained that the original ticket was to fix the broken module for everyone, thank you for your time and hit send. He just now emailed stating:

We checked and found that currently you don’t have $MODULE access. The process to obtain access has been changed and we no more do the manual provisioning.

Kindly apply for the access as per the instructions provided below and revert back in case you find any difficulty.

Huh? Is this a threat? Are they going to remove my access just so that I have to jump through the hoops all new hires have to? (it takes them a minimum of 2 weeks to get it right – somehow IT can’t figure out what “mirror $JOHNNY LONGTERM EMPLOYEE access” means). Here was my terse response to that veiled threat.

The ticket opened below was to fix a problem for all $MODULE users. The issue was fixed and $MODULE users are no longer receiving error messages. I am using $MODULE right now and have been using it all morning. My access has not been removed. Please update your records.

My former manager surfaced from the terrarium they’ve been locked in to let me know he had put my snotty response up on the big screen in the conference room. “Did you see how she’s responding to IT?,” he whined in mock outrage. The Big Boss, who noted at my last non-binding review that one thing that may keep me from getting promoted is the perception that I am “mean”, looked it over and said, “Good. Let her say whatever she wants to these people.”

Learning to Fail

Dammit , this shit’s not funny. Again. I’m starting to think that like the unprepossessing yet productive oyster, I  can’t produce a pearl unless I’m irritated. As this blog pretty much takes the place of costly therapy for me, I’m hoping if I purge some of the boring stuff I can once again rant at top form. Pressing on…

At about this time last year I started feeling a little stagnant. Maybe it was the impending middle-age making me cranky, who knows. But I decided that I needed to reacquaint myself with failure. Not that I’m such a massive success story, but because in all my years I learned to avoid the feelings of failure by not taking too many chances. I should find someone to blame, some precipitating experience. Oh, here’s one: I learned to read way early. In fact, I can’t remember a time I didn’t know how to read (english and music, come to think of it) which actually may say more about my lousy memory than any particular giftedness. Regardless, my parents always made sure I had plenty of books, I had a great University pre-school co-op education so that by the time I got to kindergarten, I sat smugly in my chair as everyone learned the alphabet, certain that I did not have to practice writing the letters and sounding them out due to my many books, chalkboard and crayons. This school stuff was going to be AWESOME. I was AWESOME at learning. I didn’t even have to try! I knew all of school!! So the next day I sat smugly again, patting myself on the back for my intelligence, when a math worksheet broke my reverie. It was then that I realized I could not make a “5″. I was stymied. I tried copying the figure with the arrows, but try as I might, I could not figure out how that top line attached to the rest of the “5″. I think it took me a couple of weeks before an epiphany led me to put it on the Right side of the numeral, not on the left, like a strange hieroglyph of a wheelchair. But what that experience taught me was not, alas, some things wiLl take more effort than others, but instead, MATH IS IMPOSSIBLE! I DON’T UNDERSTAND NUMBERS! I WILL NEVER GET THIS!!!

The guiding philosophy of my education has pretty much been “Either You Excel, Or You Suck. Stick With What You’re Good At”. I need not explain why this was a fairly poisonous attitude, but even after all these years, it sits in my lizard brain, poking me every time I fail at something. That sense of shame is deeply itchy and unpleasant. I grew up and decided I didn’t like that feeling, so class loads became random patchworks of non-mathematical pursuits, and I quickly surrendered whenever faced with a challenge. Why bother? I was going to suck anyway. Why not marshall my efforts to something I’m not going to suck at? It did not make me even better at those things. There was a flaw in that logic. As a grown-up, I can say I’m pretty good at accounting type mathematics, and I’m super-awesome at fractions and conversions that come up in recipes, so there is evidence that if I tried a little harder, maybe I could have made some progress (except dance. guys, I tried, I really did. I have some sort of dyslexia of the body which allows me only to physically express myself in Polka. This is less useful for professional musical theatre purposes than you would think.) but it never sank in.

So last year I thought maybe I felt like I was spinning my wheels because I never tried. Maybe I need to get past my fear of failure by trying something I most certainly will fail at. My mind immediately went to music. I thought of auditioning for a choir – one that would probably not need me. I could only think of two possibilities, and this is not ego speaking. I am so awesome in a choir you don’t even know. Not only can I sight read pretty damn well, I blend like an Osterizer. You can put me anywhere in a group and I can find the center of the tone and match it. (and now all my St. Thomas friends are going to cackle gleefully at my hubris and I’ll sound like an adenoidal chicken at our retreat next month because I’ve read those greek plays. I know how this shit works). But still. Two choirs. One I think would give me a 50/50 chance. Those odds were a little close to success, and I wasn’t sure I was ready to commit. The other would be like, 1200-to-1. Sounds great, right? Well, that one has a recorded audition process, wherein you would send in your CD (srsly, no MP3s? must you reinforce the stereotype of classical musicians being a bunch of clueless olds?) and I guess if they liked you they’d tell you where they rehearsed, but if they didn’t you just never heard from them. This would hardly help me face my fears.

I was contemplating this exact same conundrum this year, when a position became available at work. One that was still within my department, reporting to my favorite supervisor, working with similar things that I’ve been doing for the last 7 years. Reading the job description, it seemed tailor made for me. There were drawbacks though. I conversation with the supervisor confirmed that it was more of a lateral move than a step up for me. And (and this was a biggie) it would mean leaving the union, and it’s wonderful perks, such as fully-paid insurance and pension, OT pay for when they needed me to work OT, and the knowledge that if I was going to be shit-canned, I’d see it coming a mile away. But still. The ability to move in the organization. A job title that might actually be transferable to some other industry should I decide I couldn’t take it anymore in the land of sunshine and superficiality. I held my breath and applied. I actually had to re-do my resume (WE HATES IT, PRECIOUSSSS!) find an interview appropriate outfit (in LA. for a fat lady. hahahahahahaha!!!!) and interview. So I put forth an effort on an unknown outcome and crossed my fingers. For what, I wasn’t sure. Like I said, there were some drawbacks to that job. Still, I trusted everything would work out. As the week wore on, I became more ambivalent, if that’s possible.

A few days ago, a kind co-worker let slip that she heard they had hired someone else. Aside from the irritation that nobody bothered to tell me, I have to admit I was relieved. But still, my “failure” kind of itched. But I soon began to realize that like that break-up I had that one time, I was more butt-hurt about being rejected than heartbroken over the loss. I was never in love with that dude/job in the first place. So yesterday I was officially informed that they had chosen someone else for the position; another internal candidate, this one with a slightly different (but applicable) set of skills. Thanks to the heads-up of my co-worker, I wasn’t shocked and I had had time to process my emotions so I didn’t burst out into THE FEELS in his office. And then the manager said: “If you’d like to schedule a meeting next week, I can give you feedback on your interview. I think there may be some opportunities coming up and we’d like you to be ready to move up when the right one is available.” Huh.

So, to sum up: I took a chance. It didn’t work out. The world did not stop spinning. I am not being followed by one of those inflatable wavy-arm guys with sign saying “YOU SUCK!”. The next challenge will be finding a time next week where I can accept constructive criticism while not getting defensive or weird about it (I am so bad at this). Happy are they who hear their detractions and can put them to mending, right?

And one more thing in my ongoing Become An Adult project; I decided I need to learn a new skill if I want to stave off early senility. Not a new language or instrument – I have already developed those neural pathways, and would be best served by working on the german, polish and cello skills I’ve already started. Something entirely new. And also, cheap. To that end, I purchased a drop spindle and some wool with some of my generous birthday bounty and am teaching myself to hand spin. Something about being a literal Spinster is funny and appealing to me. Everything I’ve read says there is no way to learn this but through making mistakes. And I’m supergood at that! I’ve already noticed some improvement in the first three skeins. I have no desire to knit – I’ll have to send my decent output to knitting friends. It’s going to be a challenging year for me – failing, being criticized, making handicrafts. I hope I survive!

Moving On

I’ve been meaning to write this post since June of 2012, in order to mark my decade anniversary of becoming a Californian. Unfortunately, when I start feeling overwhelmed I lose the ability to organize my thoughts, not to mention about 40% of my vocabulary. Right now I’m winding up a major case of The Feels, so I figured I might give it a shot.

This is the longest I’ve ever lived anywhere. I had no expectation of that when we moved. In fact, it was possibly the stupidest thing I’ve ever done in my life – I got in the car and traveled halfway across the country with no savings and no job. I had never even visited Los Angeles before I moved here. Every bad thing you know about LA is true; the Industry of this Industry Town trades on fantasy and shallowness, artifice and benign deception. As an otherwise unexceptional fat lady, I may as well be invisible here. My finely honed sense of sarcasm is not always appreciated. Actually, it’s not always recognized. I discovered I had a penchant for writing here, yet I think De and I are the only people around who don’t have a screenplay. As long as I stay here, I’ll never date – but don’t feel sorry for me, because as long as I stay here I don’t want to date. And yet… I like it here. I feel more comfortable here than I have anywhere else. I can have fuchsia hair at 40. I can be single and no one thinks it’s odd (or if they do, they’re polite enough to bite their tongue). I will never be the biggest freak in the room. I work a cubicle drone job and yet there’s no way I could possibly violate the dress code (ah, Industry), no matter how many rhinestones my glasses have, or how pink my hair is. Maybe it’s the sun. Maybe I had been living under a cloud of SADD for so long I didn’t realize  how little everything I thought was important mattered. Or maybe I just have to live somewhere I can bitch about to be truly happy. Somewhere I know I’ll never fit in, so I’ll never try to be anyone other than myself.

Up until rather recently I would have accounted Ardala a great contributor to my unaccountable contentment, but I’ve had a little time to settle and I seem to be doing OK (and I will get to that puppy bio as soon as I can make a mental outline without my vision going all blurry), if somewhat subdued. I am incredibly fortunate to have a full refrigerator, overflowing bookcases and good friends. I am thrilled I don’t have the ability to go back in time and give my younger self some valuable advice, because I never would have come here. It was the best dumb decision I ever made.

At a loss

I have just begun a luxurious 4.5 day weekend and I have no idea what to do with myself. It has been nearly two weeks since we said goodbye to Ardala. Not a day has gone by that I don’t feel guilty for her last year, even though I know there’s probably nothing I could have done. The spondylosis which had made her left rear leg useless had already begun on the right rear leg weeks before the “incident” which may have been a disc, but was probably an FCE. Lacking the resources for an MRI or the desire to put her through more surgery, we’ll never know about that. But the spondylosis was definite, confirmed and progressive. I’m so sorry she suffered near the end.

But that is not why I’m typing here really. I’m bored. So much of our lives had been fitted around Ardala for the last year; timing when we would be home to take her out, timing her PT appointments to best coincide with both cash flow and free time. On the plus side, I had an instant “out” when attending gatherings. No one expects you to stay til the end of a party when you have a crippled dog at home. Now I have nothing to give shape to my days – no reason to get up early, stay up late, to get away from my desk. The trade off – the ability to make toast, run the dishwasher, vacuum with impunity – I’d  gladly give up for a healthy dog back. But then, she wasn’t actually “healthy” for a year.

If I had a little money I’d just drive somewhere, do something for three days. But – well, see above. I have no one to take care of and no cash to amuse myself. Maybe I’ll take up canning. Practice the cello some. Go through my Polish lessons. If anyone has any ideas, let me know!

Application for Job #277349, Vatican City

Dear Sir or Madam:

(Oh, who am I kidding)

Dear Sir:

In reviewing the job board this morning at Vatican.God I found a position for which I am uniquely suited. I think if you review my qualifications, you will agree that I am the best Candidate for the Papacy you will find.

  • The Church I was baptized in has the word “catholic” in its title.
  • I speak enough Latin to do a Mass. Except the Credo. I mean, I could do it with a prompt copy, or an acolyte available off stage to feed me lines when I panic and forget. Also, I can read all manner of dirty classical graffiti.
  • I’m familiar with Canon Law. I don’t like to brag, but I served on the Vestry at my church for an entire three-year term and I never once killed anyone, even those who really, really deserved it.
  • I have inhaled a lot of incense – so much so that I believe the transitive property of frankincense renders me at least a Bishop, and possibly a Cardinal. Seriously, my church uses a lot of incense so I am like super-holy.
  • Look, the wafer is all well and good, but I can cook a way more sacred (and tasty) host. Hire me, and I’ll share the recipe with all the Cardinals. (hint: start with the recipe for One Bowl Brownies on the Baker’s Chocolate box, but add awesomness). I can guarantee this will lead to greater Mass attendance, and congregants so devout they will partake in the Body of Christ every day.
  • I hate to bring up the recent Ugliness your establishment has been dealing with lately, so I will just say that you will have NO PROBLEMS from me on that front. I don’t even like kids, so I will avoid them as much as possible, except for the baptisms, of course.
  • Church Doctrine recognizes the holiness of the Blessed Virgin Mary – so Holy in fact that we can’t refer to her as just “Mary”, but that we be reminded of the state of her hymen at every turn. I will ensure that we accord Christ the same respect by referring to him as the Blessed Virgin Christ, since he was, of course, unmarried. Repeat it with me – Virgin Christ. Don’t you feel more reverent already?
  • Married clergy? You won’t get any crazy liberal controversial views on my front; I’m a confirmed spinster and will likely remain so, God willing and the creek don’t rise, and also  that I don’t lose my health insurance for any reason and need to marry someone just to get my annual pap smear without skimming off the collection plate.
  • I look fabulous in those princess-seamed ankle-length gowns you guys have. They really define my waist and emphasize my curves without looking trampy. Also they make me want to twirl and I look highly inspirational twirling.
  • Speaking of frocks and accessories, I have some ideas for the mitre – have you ever thought of adding a bubble machine or some subtle pyrotechnics for extra-special Holy Days? These are just a few of the ideas I have – hire me and I’ll make the nave a blessed catwalk every Sunday.
  • I have a really lousy memory, so the Confessional will remain completely sealed as I’m certain to forget what was just confessed as soon as I’ve given absolution.
  • Having reviewed my qualifications, I am confident you will want to contact me for an interview. I am available via Skype, or you can fly my out to Rome business class or greater. I do not require a PopeMobile transfer from the airport as that would be gaudy. References available as soon as I can find a clergy person who is devout enough to write one.

    Yours in the Virgin Christ -

Nerdycellist

19

In August of 1991 I turned 19.  I had graduated high school two months before and would be starting at community college in a few weeks. Like many (most?) others, the four years spent in High School were not the best years of my life. They were not the worst – that would be the two years in jr. high – but they certainly didn’t do me any favors. My first mistake was underachieving. I’m awesome at that – a world class lazy smart-ass. I have a brain like a lint trap and I test well, so everyone’s academic expectations were high. Needless to say, I disappointed them. The place I did excel was in music. Starting with the orchestra, I worked diligently and managed to hold onto first chair. I loved playing the cello. I still do. Soon I discovered I could sing and made what is, in retrospect, one of the worst decisions I could have made. I joined the choir. As someone who didn’t start out in freshman girl’s choir, I had to audition for the choir director, also head of the music department. It was the most thorough audition I’ve ever had, involving not only the standard scales and tonal memory bits, but also a song (no biggie) and some random “find the notes in these chords. face away from the piano. now pick up the middle note in this triad. how about the second highest note in this tonal cluster? Can you sing the notes in this diminished 7 jazz chord as an arpeggio?” (yes. yes I could. Can’t everyone?). I am not exaggerating when I say that my successful audition for the Milwaukee Symphony Chorus was a healthy verse of “Mary Had A Little Lamb” next to the half hour that choir director put me through. After all that, I learned that he was considering not allowing me in concert choir – I didn’t have any stage presence.

This was a particular time of my life where I gave an awful lot of deference to authority. That choir director was treated like a god, and I learned to consider him one as well. By the time I got into choir I learned that about 80% of the kids couldn’t read music. And we never sang anything classical or in a foreign language. He would not permit us to go to state competitions. It was a whole lot of show tune medleys and concerts standing on risers in choir robes and high heels (the girls anyway). But he was in charge and I wanted to please him. It never happened. By my senior year the orchestra teacher had broken her wrist, so the orchestra was being run by one of the band teachers, who used me as his TA. As a “thank you” he arranged some music and gave me a lovely solo for our winter concert. I struggled, auditioning for the fall play and spring musicals my junior and senior years. The choir director was in charge of these as well, so you can imagine the outcome. I considered dropping out of choir, but he had promised that any misbehavior in any class or extracurricular of his would result in a failure grade in anything I did in the music department. At that point, he controlled about 40% of my GPA. Cognitive dissonance being what it was, my authoritarianism told me that I was terrible. I should not have wasted my time singing.

Taking one last chance, I applied as a vocal performance major at Harper, and a crazy thing happened – first off, we sang Mozart. And Palestrina. And Faure. And hundreds of other real composers. I adored it. I loved the sound we could make together, I loved being in the middle of a chord, I loved all of it. I learned that singing the Cantique De Jean Racine could bring tears to my eyes in the middle of rehearsal. Much to my surprise, I got into the chamber choir, and we sang music suited for a smaller group. Learning that singing the notes on the page wasn’t sufficient – that in order to make transcendent music, you had to rely on your ear to listen to the people around you. I missed more than one entrance being carried away by someone else’s vocal line (usually the basses – once a cellist, always a cellist). This choir director announced that we would be going to Europe, and I attended the first informational meeting. It all sounded wonderful, but I was regretful as I left to go to my shitty job. When the next meeting came and went without me, the choir director sent me to his office. He wanted to know why I hadn’t turned in the first bit of paperwork. I told him the truth – there was no way my $4.75 an hour was going to pay for the flight. He smiled and told me not to worry – just between us, they could take care of it. Please come to the next meeting. I left, stunned. My mediocre no stage-presence, no role in the high school musical voice was getting me an all-expenses trip to Europe. So, I guess I was wrong?

“I blossomed” is a cliche, and a mildly gross one at that, but I did. I met some wonderful people that year at Harper. Unfortunately, I continued my pattern of underachievement, quickly giving up a subject if I deemed it too difficult (I’m sorry, but math is fucking hard and I will never understand anything more than basic arithmetic and whatever is useful for cooking and balancing a checkbook) but the music!

And the trip to Europe, in 1992, when I was still 19 was eye-opening. I had never been to a foreign country before, but suddenly we were deposited in Germany. 2.5 years of indifferent hoch schule deutsch – wherein I consistently frustrated my stereotypical German teacher by my refusal both to do homework or to get less-than-perfect scores on the tests (and someday I will tell you how that german teacher and the choir director made things more sucky for students like me, and it’s all my fault) – meant that by day 2 I didn’t even realize when people were speaking German rather than English. It also meant that the first warning of each our our pre-tour meetings “Do not go off on your own!” was quickly ignored by me. I had a watch and spoke the language – I didn’t need to be with the group. I’ll never forget wandering through the Mozart Disneyland that had sprung up in Salzburg (which he hated, hated, hated!), visiting the concentration camp, my “conscientious objector” status on the side-trip to Berchtesgarden (a few of us refused to visit Hitler’s bunker and stayed behind in the village below). I especially won’t forget the shock of going from the opulence of Vienna to the so-recently post-Soviet Czech Republic, our hotel rooms in a menacing concrete tower with razor-wire and broken glass decorating the awning, and an elevator so terrifying that some of us chose to walk the 20 flights of stairs for our meals. One of our leaders took us aside and admonished us as spoiled westerners – up until a year or so ago, Czechs would be on a waiting list for several years for the chance to live in buildings like this. Duly chastised, we settled in at the table, replete with linen tablecloths, napkins, good china and crystal and had some of the best food I’d ever tasted. That I had to play the squeamish girl card (look, I had been a vegetarian for 6 years before this – I wasn’t really “playing”), while one of the tenors distracted me with small-talk and a bass (the singer, not the fish) removed the head from my trout is perhaps the only thing that mars this tale of burgeoning independence.

The age of 19 was the first time I realized that sometimes Old White Dudes in Authority are wrong. And sometimes I am right. Not always, of course. 19 was also the age when I was certain I was fat at, oh, say 80 lbs less than I am now. That I thought that a tuxedo jacket and a bustier were worth precious luggage space on a trip to Europe. When I gave up too early on music theory. But that year? I’d say it was a pretty good one.

Just don’t ask me about the next couple…Image

An Open Letter to Julian Fellowes, Creator of Downton Abbey

Dear Baron Fellowes:

Thank you so much for your thought-provoking series on the tragic fall of the English Aristocracy. It is not often that a peer of the realm who was a speech-writer for Margaret Thatcher proves to have such sympathy for the long-suffering underclass and women of all classes. Portraying Lord Grantham as an incompetent who does nothing but try and destroy his family from within – from complaining about the use of a tiny portion of his estate as a desperately needed hospital, to sabotaging a middle-daughter’s marriage to a gentleman considered more than suitable for the eldest, to alienating a son-in-law over lack of dress-up clothes all the way to frittering away multiple fortunes and refusing to listen to anyone’s opinions regarding the birth of a grandchild -not even the opinions of those who had actually given birth, or even the father of said grandchild – and therefore bearing (despite the opinion of his mother) no little responsibility for her death – this demonstration of the fecklessness and cupidity of the Upper Classes and their gormless patriarchs would be bold coming from a pleb such as myself, but for you, Lord Kitchener-Fellowes, it is nothing short of revolutionary!

Applying similar standards to the “Downstairs” staff, who seem to think that prostitution is catching – prostitution brought on in no small way to the summary firing of a woman who was taken advantage of by an Upper-Class Git who suffered no consequences whatsoever (aside from a Plot Expedient Death) should go well in quieting the grumblings of your fellows in the House of Lords.

I’m just glad to be clever enough to enjoy your subtext in the same manner that I admire the fine haberdashery on the show. Power to the People! Eat the Rich! You Will Be First Against The Wall When The Revolution Comes! Etc, Etc.

Your Obedient Servant
Dame Ophelia Quickly, Dowager Countess of Corgis.