Wednesday, March 30, 2011

The White House

(The White House is not in the White Village!)
I almost forgot that it was Women’s History Month!  While my mom is hugely influential in my life, I have also been influenced by a lot of women, usually older or at least more experienced in the ways of the world.  Some are still in my life while others just passed through it for a little while.  I’ve learned a lot from these women who have been generous with their advice, wisdom, and good humor.  Since the Hallmark store was all out of Women’s History Month cards, I’m dedicating this post to all those influential women, especially one who lived in the White House. 
One day when I was a sophomore in high school, I bee-bopped into the cafeteria for my free period and my friend introduced me to a new girl, B., who was in her homeroom (they were both Ws) and who shared our same free period.  I made some sort of greeting and she said, “We’re in Geometry together.”  My powers of observation weren’t very strong back then!  We sat down, I dug out a Hershey bar that I’m pretty sure I didn’t share, and the rest, as they say is, history.  A friendship began at that table that day.  The other girl?  She's somewhere on Facebook. 
I don’t know how or why I ended up at her house on a random Friday or Saturday night.  I think I had just gotten my license and my friend, the Villager, and I were driving around the Village and we decided to see if B. was around.  This was back when teenagers didn’t have cell phones because they were just things your parents had for emergencies.  Or they just had a car phone that you couldn’t figure out how to use.  So, anyway, Villager and I knocked and B.’s mom opened her door and her home to us.  B. wasn’t home, she was at a basketball game or something but her mom invited us to stay.  So we did and we ended up talking to her for what seemed like hours.  Throughout our high-school years, this was a common occurrence…I’d go pick up B. or we’d come back from a movie or something, we’d hang out, and we’d spend time talking to her mom (and her dad too!) about all sorts of things. 
She has a first name of course, but to me she was, and always will be, just Mrs. White.  She is the matriarch of a loud, feisty Irish family.  There was B., my first White friend; B.’s older sister C., whom I unfairly labeled a bully just ‘cause she looked tough; their younger sister R., whom I spotted in the cafeteria one day and just knew she was B.’s sister because they DO look alike; and their older brother G (or J…I don’t know how to spell his name!), whom I’ve only met twice in all these years but who is responsible for me seeing honest-to-goodness, on campus College Life, including beer pong, a Frat party, and the classic question to one of his buddies, “You didn’t fornicate on her [my] sleeping bag, did you?!”  (NOTE – I was NOT in the sleeping bag at the time!  And I had to look up the word fornicate when I got home); and there was Mr. White, who was a UPS man…which this daughter of a mailman managed to get past!  They were just really good people who would give you their shirts off their back and more if they had it. 
Mrs. White is the epitome of kindness.  Her kindnesses towards me included little things and big ones too.  I used to be terrified of driving on highways.  One night I had to drive to a movie theater that would’ve required taking a road that I perceived to be a highway (now I laugh when I remember that I used to be afraid of Route 309!)  I was really nervous and scared.  Mrs. White told me which back-roads to take so I didn’t have to get near the “highway.”  It was a small gesture but one that I appreciated…she didn’t make me feel bad because I was scared and she, like my own mom, didn’t force me to do something that I wasn’t quite ready to do (okay, so I wouldn’t be ready for another 10 years but hey, getting on the highway takes time!)  I guess it’s a mom thing.  When she wasn’t giving me directions, she was giving me Kennedy stuff.  She knew I loved the Kennedys and she gave me things that she had from her younger days that was Kennedy-related.  (White kids, I promise you, I didn’t steal your inheritance!)
Mrs. White is also a woman of tremendous strength, grace, and faith.  I was and I am still amazed at her strength and grace during her ongoing battles with cancer and other health issues.  She was/is a devout Catholic whose faith, I believe, has sustained her through some pretty tough times.  I always saw her as a rock…strong, steady, and supportive of anyone who happened into her life, even on a random Friday night.
I have fleeting contact with B. these days and I haven’t seen Mrs. White in years.  But I think of her often and I still send her and Mr. White a Christmas card every year.  Hopefully, I’ll get a chance to see Mrs. White again but if I don’t, I just want to thank her for all she did, all she was, and all she is.  (And thanks for all that Kennedy loot too!) 

Sunday, March 27, 2011

(Un) Titled Archivist

Remember that post I owed you with an explanation of what I do for a living?  Here it is.  I figure I’d better explain it before I leave my current position for the new job.
I’m an archivist.  Huh?  What’s an archivist?  Not many people really know what I do…including my parents.  On our flight to Florida recently, I overheard my mom trying to explain it to her seat neighbor and I realized that she has absolutely no clue what I do.  I understand.  It’s not like little boys and girls everywhere are saying, “I wanna be an archivist when I grow up!”  (Unlike a former classmate/colleague who knew she wanted to be an archivist when she was in the third grade.  When I was in the third grade, I was still in the “I wanna be a ballerina, pet doctor, insurance lady” stage - but then I’ve always been a late bloomer.)
Before I tell you exactly what an archivist is and what an archivist actually does, there are four crucial points that I want you to take away from this post: 
1.      It’s pronounced ahr-kuh-vist.  Repeat after me – AHR-KUH-VIST.  Not archiiiiiiivist, with a long "i."  Not arCHIvist, like the herb.  AHR-KUH-VIST.  I don’t know why we’re not archiiiiiiivists with a long "i" or why we don’t work in ahrkuhves.  I don’t know why the English language is so screwy.  That’s just how it is.       
2.      Archivists are not librarians.  Some archivists work in libraries.  Some librarians work in archives.  Some archivists go to lunch with librarians.  But we’re different.  And I’m only going to say this once - I do NOT work for the Library of Congress.
3.      Yes, I’ve seen National Treasure.  No, my job is nothing like the movie.  And the size of the female lead’s office?  Gimme a break.    
4.      The patron saint of archivists (and okay, librarians) is St. Lawrence.  His feast day is August 10th.  My colleagues and I celebrate this day by feasting on cold-cut sandwiches at our favorite local deli as is the accepted custom to honor his memory.
So, what exactly is an archivist?  My brother thinks all I do is move stuff from big boxes into smaller boxes.  But there’s a little more to it than that.    
According to the definition on the website of our professional organization, an organization I probably should be a member of if I weren’t so cheap, an archivist is an individual responsible for appraising, acquiring, arranging, describing, preserving, and providing access to records of enduring value, according to the principles of provenance, original order (eye roll), and collective control to protect the materials’ authenticity and context.  Wow.  That’s a mouthful.
According to the National Archives' website (that's where I work!), an archivist is specially trained (expensive Master's degree) in preserving original paper documents, photographs, maps, films, and computer records - in the National Archives' case, these are the records of the U.S. government - and archivists help people obtain or access those records.

It's a bird!  It's a plane!  It's an AHR-KUH-VIST!

According to the tee-shirt that I bought specifically to explain what I do, an archivist is a person responsible for preserving, organizing, or servicing archival material.  And we get dirty.  (Well, that’s not on the tee-shirt.  That’s just a fact.)     
So now, “archivist” has been defined.  But what do I actually do? 
In my day-to-day job, I “process” records.  (I could get into the whole “processing archivist” versus “reference archivist” debate but do you honestly care?  I didn’t think so.)  “Processing” basically means that I “rehouse” and “describe” records to make them accessible to the public.  Rehousing is the “moving stuff from big boxes into smaller boxes” part (culminating in a perfect label on the outside of the smaller box – my specialty!)  Describing the records involves looking at the content of the material, gathering that information, and creating an “archival description.”  In the spirit of St. Lawrence, I look it as creating a great big sandwich menu.  We’ve got all these great sandwiches available and to get people to eat them, we’ve gotta let them know what kind of meat and cheese and condiments are on them…just hold the relish.  A lot of the records are like turkey on white – routine, dull, boring but still a little tasty.  Occasionally though, you get records that are like Whiskey River barbecue chicken sandwiches – so delicious that you have to share them with everyone and that’s what makes the job exciting!         
So, that’s basically what I’ve been doing for the past few years.  Sometimes it's boring, sometimes it's not.  Overall, it's been a pretty great gig.   
My mom asked me this morning whether I’ll still be an archivist in my new position.  Technically, no.  I’ll be an “archives specialist.”   But really, I’ll always be an archivist.  Just an untitled archivist.    
*I don’t dare speak for my colleagues or the entire legion of archivists.  If you talk to ten different archivists, you’ll probably get ten different descriptions of what they do.  This is just my version! 

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Happy Hendersons Go On Vacation

I just got back from a four day mini-vacation in Florida with my parents and brother.  Our family doesn’t exactly travel well together….two or three of us on a trip is okay but all four of us together is just asking for trouble.  There’s usually a little yelling, a few disagreements, a couple of accusations of favoritism, and at least one instance of someone storming off in anger.  We’ve been on a few memorable family vacations that would put even the Griswolds to shame.  Here are some highlights of our classic family vacations: 
Williamsburg, Virginia – I don’t remember too much about this trip except that it was really, really hot, my brother and I got those three-cornered colonial hats (I wonder where mine ended up?), and there was a huge fight about going to A Good Place to Eat because, well, I guess we didn’t think it was really a good place to eat. 
Washington, DC/Baltimore – If you’ve never visited the nation’s Capital, you should.  Just don’t do it in the middle of summer when it’s hot and humid and miserable because chances are, you’re going to be hot and sweaty and miserable.  Things were going well until we got to the Washington Monument.  Then my parents got into a fight and my dad left us on one of those sight-seeing buses to walk back to our hotel (he’s a mailman, he likes to walk.)  To add insult to injury, when we got back to the hotel, we were hot and sweaty and miserable and my dad was happy as a clam, swimming in the pool.  And I thought my mom was mad when he left us!  
Walt Disney World – Whenever I think that it’d be cool to go on vacation with one’s entire extended family, I remember our trip to Disney World.  Overall, it wasn’t that bad.  I mean, my dad only got mad and left us once but I can’t blame him…It’s a Small World is kind of an annoying ride.  We ate at this really good restaurant called Johnny Appleseed’s which must’ve been a good place to eat because we went there a lot.  But I learned a very important lesson on this trip:   when you’re nine, you should not buy the same pair of shorts as your cool teenage cousin.  Apparently, imitation is not the sincerest form of flattery for teenagers.  I still have those shorts though.
Caribbean Cruise – We knew this vacation was going to be rough when we arrived at the cruise terminal and our entire itinerary was changed.  Yet another important lesson:  never book a Caribbean cruise during hurricane season unless you’re prepared to spend nine days at sea and a Sunday in Bermuda.  Interesting factoid – nothing’s open in Bermuda on a Sunday.  As our ship docked and my mom shrieked hysterically about not wanting to be in Bermuda (I don’t know what she has against Bermuda…it’s a lovely place and the people wear nice shorts), my brother and I looked at each other and realized that our dad was on to something when he left us on all those other vacations.  So, we took off.  Dad quickly caught up and we ended up at the only place that was open on a Sunday – a bar.  Watching football in a bar in Bermuda on a Sunday…that’s called “making a memory” people. 
Just like all of our other vacations, our trip to Florida had its ups and downs and we weren’t always happy.  But in a few years, we’ll look back on this trip and laugh…just like we do when we remember that time Dad left us.  And that other time too.  
Happy Hendersons during
one of the happier moments
of our family vacation! 

Monday, March 21, 2011

The Boys of Spring Training

Dear Phillies* Players –
You suck.  I don’t mean the “you’re up by two runs and you blow it in the ninth” kinda suck.  I mean the “we get paid millions of dollars to play America’s past-time and we can’t take the time to sign a few autographs for our loyal fans” kinda suck.
Look, I’m not a baseball fan.  Most of my memories associated with baseball are negative - a fair number of those have to do with TV dinners, not your fault.  To me, watching a baseball game is probably the most boring thing on the planet.  While I love the epic stories of the game…tales of Jackie Robinson, Lou Gehrig, Tug McGraw, and Mr. October himself, watching inning after inning of guys swinging and missing or swinging and hitting is a major yawn-o.  But my mom loves the game. 
My mom has been a passionate Phillies fan since 1964.  You probably don’t even know what happened in 1964.  But I do…because my mom told me.  It’s got something to do with the team losing the last ten games and destroying Philly’s shot at the World Series (??? – honestly, I kinda tune this stuff out).  That sucked.  But she kept on following her Phillies, even when the losing seasons outnumbered the winning ones.  She’s what’s known as a fan - someone who pays good money to come see you play a game. 
My family and I surprised her for her 65th birthday – four days in Clearwater, Florida for Phillies Spring Training.  Now, going to a baseball game isn’t just about sitting and watching the game for nine innings.  Nope.  There’s also that little activity called “let’s see if we can get an autograph."  You don’t know my mother but you should know that if anyone can get an autograph, it’s her.  In the sixties, she managed to get balls signed by entire Phillies rosters.  In the eighties, she knew every door, every tunnel, every pot-hole that players exited from at Veterans Stadium.  In the nineties, I even got in on the action, albeit a bit more timidly.  I think she loves the thrill of the hunt.  Or she’s a stalker.   Whatever.  She’s really good at it. 
So, there we were at Spring Training.  Surely, there would be players signing.  I mean, it was Spring Training.  Everything’s a lot more casual right?  Wrong.  Apparently, nobody, except for your manager Charlie and some other dude, could sign anything for anybody.  That sucks. 
The Boys of Spring during
batting practice
On Saturday, when you were the visitors at the Orioles' new ballpark in Sarasota, I watched with interest as a group of fans waited along the third baseline for you to finish batting practice.  My mom, brother, and father were among those fans.  Me, I was sitting in the shade - that Florida sun is hot and I burn easily! -watching it all play out.  You hit a few balls, you ran a few wind-sprints, you did a little stretching.  And then when it was time to go back into the clubhouse, you disappeared…ignoring the fans.  Hey, I get it.  You’ve gotta get your game face on.  You gotta focus.  You’ve got a a game to win.  There’s a time and place for everything. 
From the other side of the fence
But during the eighth inning, I happened to be sitting at a picnic table in the back of the ballpark - that Florida sun just kept getting hotter and, oh yeah, the game was boring - when the guy I was sharing the table with pointed out three starters getting into a golf cart on their way out of the ballpark.  A little kid ran up to them and asked for an autograph.  Nothing.  Nada.  That sucks.  After the game, a bunch of fans stood behind a fence waiting to get a glimpse of you guys getting onto the team bus.  Each of you came out and boarded the bus without even a glance, a wave, an acknowledgment of the fans – old ladies and little kids alike - that just spent two and a half hours watching you play.  That sucks. 
Hey, maybe you were tired.  It was hot out there.  Hell, I was tired and I spent most of the day in the shade.  Maybe you had to rush to get on the bus before it left you behind in sunny Sarasota.  I don’t know. 
But here’s what I do know -    
You get to play a game for a living.  You’re living the dream of a thousand million boys who ever suited up to play a little league game or who turned their front yards into baseball diamonds because they spent countless summer nights playing wiffle ball.  You’re somebody who some kid looks up to – and whose parents probably spent a boatload of money buying an authentic jersey with your name on it.  You’re somebody who gets asked for autographs because maybe it’s as close to the dream that many of those kids’ll get.  You’re somebody who gets waited for after games because you’re somebody.
Don’t you remember when you were that kid on little league team who dreamed big and wanted the chance to have one moment with your hero?  Did you ever go to a game thinking it would be awesome to meet one of the players you were cheering for?  Weren’t you ever the kid waiting at the fence?
Next time you’re heading out to the team bus or your fancy fast car, check out the fence where your fans are waiting.  Chances are there’s gonna be a little kid there.  When you look at him (or her), try to remember the kid you were and how you felt when you were on the other side.  Take a minute and sign his ball or his ticket or whatever he’s got.  And maybe even thank him for being a fan and for rooting for you even when you suck.
The Daughter of a Die-Hard Phillies Fan
P.S.  If you happen to see my mom at that fence, sign something for her too.  She deserves it.
* - I don’t know if this issue is specific to the Phillies but it does pain me to say that the Yankees and the Orioles signed autographs for fans.   

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Building Bridges

Four years or so ago, when I was a student archives technician, SuperJ called me into his office and told me I was going to the other end of the building for a month to go work with a bunch of people called the "ARC staff."  I was the newest ARC review POC for my unit (translated – I reviewed and, okay, I admit it, edited archival descriptions that my colleagues wrote to add to the National ArchivesArchival Research Catalog.)  It was a job that I got totally by happenstance.  My unit’s POC left the agency to go to another agency…for a 13.  His replacement, my friend Courtney, ended up leaving shortly after him.  I’m pretty sure she’s the one who told the bosses that I should take her place…it’s nice to know you have friends watching out for you.  That’s how I found myself in SuperJ’s office being told that I had to go to the other end of the building.  So, off I went.

The Boss calls me Miss-Builid-a-Bridge.  SuperJ calls me the Tappan Zee.  I prefer the Peace Bridge (because I am just that full of myself).  It all started seriously enough but it’s turned into a bit of a joke, a joke I still take seriously.  One particularly frustrating day when I, a processing archivist (I realize I’ve never really explained what I do…I owe you a post.), got really, really frustrated with something in the Reference Unit, I burst into The Boss’s office - okay, I knocked first but she TOLD me to come in! - and I said, we need to have meetings with those people (those people = reference archivists)!!!  I’m not a huge fan of meetings, unless there’s pizza, so it was surprising that I actually made the suggestion to have one!  But I was frustrated because there was a serious lack of communication and if there’s one thing I can’t stand (besides waiting) – it’s not communicating!  And then I said the phrase that has gone down in infamy:  “We need to build a bridge!”  And okay, there was a silly little arm gesture because I can’t really make grand proclamations like that without flailing my arms or dancing a little jig.  The Boss rolled her eyes as she is prone to do when I make grand proclamations and I left and I thought that was the end of things.  Because really do grand proclamations ever go anywhere unless it’s something like the Emancipation Proclamation?
But then we were in a unit-wide meeting/weird birthday celebration for a computer system and The Boss, in a semi-joking way, referred to me as The Bridge.  And so it began.  I like being The Bridge.  I take being The Bridge seriously (but not so seriously that I don’t dance a little jig when I’m trying to bridge.)  I like talking to people and helping them and figuring out how we can help each other because you know what, we’re all in this together and if you’ve got my back, I’ve got yours.  I like knowing that people feel like they can ask me questions…the greatest compliment I’ve ever received was that I’m always willing to help others.  Well, yeah, we should all be willing to help.  How are we ever going to get to the other side if we don’t help each other?  Bridges help people get to the other side or to wherever they need to go. 

Bridges.  They’re awesome. 
Yesterday, I told you about the different sides of our building.  I’ve always gone to the right.  I love going to the right.  That’s where my passion lies, that’s where I’ve grown up as an archivist.  But that job offer?  The job offer that I turned down because the 13 wasn't my brass ring?  It got offered again.  And I started thinking, the 13 isn't the brass ring...I got so wrapped up in that number, but you know what, it's got nothing to do with anything at all.  We believe Records Matter on the right side of the building but so do the people who sit on the left side.  As my coworkers friends have been saying to me since this whole thing began, maybe this is what I'm meant to do...maybe I can try to help bridge the right and the left.  That's the brass ring.  It’s gonna be new and different and it's not gonna be easy and it’ll probably be scary but you know what?  I think I’m ready. 
So, off I go.

One of my most favorite bridges!

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Making the Right Choice

The building that I work in is a quarter mile long with two very distinct sides.  After passing through all 22 security checkpoints and the fancy glass doors that separate the staff from everyone else, people either turn to the left or to the right to go towards their cubicles/offices/break rooms. 
The left side of the building is where all the policy and management people work; it’s where our IT staff and HR people sit; it’s where the lawyers do lawyer things; it’s where people who engage in things like “appraisal” and “records management” sit; it’s where a whole team of people working on social media projects work (they've grown on me…without them, the idea for this blog might not have been born); it’s where the AOTUS has an office complete with fancy glass doors and flags that fly when he’s in residence; it’s where that lucky 13 will sit.
The right side of the building is where reference archivists help scholars, genealogists, veterans, and anyone else who wants to do research using the 1-3% of federal records that are permanently retained because of their historical or evidentiary value; it’s where records are transported with lightening fast speed (well, at least when I was doing it!) through the halls on their way to the research complex so the people who need them can use them; it’s where special media archivists preserve photographs by some guy named Matthew Brady and safeguard one of the most important pieces of evidence in any investigation ever, a motion picture sequence filmed on November 22, 1963.
It’s where processing archivists rehouse and describe thousands of cubic feet of records to make them accessible to you, the people; it’s where a lot of those records that are on come from; it’s where every once in a while, a friend calls you over and says, check out this Lincoln signature!  Or, come look at this Nixon! (just kidding, we never look at the Nixons); it's where the Tet Offensive and the Battle of Hamburger Hill are still being waged in hundreds and hundreds of boxes; it's where Lizzie Borden exists before she picked up that ax (and if you thought Lizzie wouldn't be mentioned, you're silly); it’s where someone explains in a letter from 1881 about a bunch of pesky disturbances in Tombstone, Arizona; it’s where a whiny Walt Whitman has been discovered and where Phoebe Couzins is still waiting to be discovered*; it’s where we do not have the frozen head of JFK (believe me, I looked) but where we do have some desiccated fingers; it’s where every once in a while we complain and whine because there’s not enough time, not enough resources, not enough staff to do right by the records…but we do our best because we believe Records Matter; it’s where I sit. 
You know that lucky 13?  The brass ring 13?  That 13 isn’t my brass ring.
I love going to the right.

* - My astute colleagues know that Lizzie, Walt, Phoebe, and the Earps are, in fact, on the left side of the building, but I didn't design the place.

Monday, March 14, 2011

The Job I Didn’t Get and the One I Didn’t Take

I tutored a student from Korea once and she told me that in Korea, unlike in America, “13” is a lucky number.  “13” has always held special significance for me…my first apartment was #13, my bank account ends in 13, there are 13 Denises at my work, and there are 13 in a baker’s dozen and who doesn’t love an extra cookie now and then?  A couple of weeks ago, I interviewed for a new position at the federal agency where I work.  It’s a position that involves increased responsibilities, challenging and exciting projects, and, oh yeah, it’s a 13.  That’s a grade level in the government’s GS system.  In my agency, a 13 is like the brass ring, it puts you on the road to “management,” not to mention a cubicle with a window, or at least a cubicle where you can get cell phone reception.  I threw my hat into the ring so that I could get practice interviewing.  Friday morning, my phone rang. 
I started working at my federal agency while I was a student in grad school.  It was where I wanted to work and I didn’t care that my job was as low on the professional hierarchy as you could get…I was in.  I didn't even have a cubicle when I started and when I finally got one, it was the tiniest one you could imagine.  And I had to share it! 

I eventually applied for a permanent position, not much higher than the temporary position I had as a student but it was a step closer to my chosen career.  Everyone was sure that I would get it.  But I didn’t.  And I was devastated.  Think of the worse break-up you’ve ever had and multiply it by 100.  I went home and sobbed and then called my mom and sobbed some more.  That experience taught me a valuable lesson:  never get yourself excited about a job, especially if your fate lies in the hands of someone in St. Louis.  (I don’t have anything against St. Louis, that’s just where our HR department is located.)  It turns out - not getting that job was the best thing that ever happened to me.  I ended up getting another position that ultimately led to the job…the career…that I have now. 
A couple of years ago, I applied for another job in a different part of our agency (the Presidential Libraries part…for the newest library in Texas.)  I interviewed with a scary formidable lady who was half-deaf and who kept asking me to speak up.  I kept silently telling her that she should turn her hearing aid up (note – hearing aid humor is totally acceptable if one, in fact, wears a hearing aid oneself.)  A few weeks later, I received a job offer.  I pretty much knew during the interview that the job wasn’t right for me.  But there was a part of me that thought, if I move to Texas, my life will change, everything will be awesome, and my cubicle will be huge (everything's bigger in Texas, right?) 

When I talked to my then-supervisor, SuperJ, about taking the job, he said to me, “You think you’re going to get off that plane and there’s going to be a cowboy waiting for you with a sign that says here I am, welcome to your new life.”  It’s a testament to how well SuperJ knows me that he knew a) I would expect a cowboy to be waiting for me and b) I would expect that cowboy to be holding a sign.    

And he knew what my gut was telling me the whole time.  Moving to Texas was less about taking a job and more about changing my life.  But just because you change your location doesn’t mean you change your life.  I didn’t take that job.  And that was one of the greatest decisions I’ve ever made.  I’ve grown up and grown more as a person, I’ve gotten better at what I do, I’m braver when faced with challenges, and I’m not expecting any sign-holding cowboys to change my life for me anymore. 
Friday morning, my phone rang.  I was offered that lucky 13 position.  My friends/coworkers/therapists may not have believed me, but I was truly shocked.  I never expected to get a job offer.  Now, I had a big decision to make.  Keep doing the work that I'm passionate about or strike out and do something new.  It is the year of adventurous Denise after all.  I promised myself I'd always tell you (my loyal readership) the truth, so I’ll admit it, I totally freaked out (the Valley Girl homage is totally for you, SuperJ).  There might was some hand flailing and panicking.  I received advice, solicited and otherwise, from trusted colleagues, including Respected Pal Who Knew Me When I Was in a Tiny Cubicle.  He went through all of my options with me and then gave me the best advice of all, take the weekend to mull things over and think about what I really wanted.  So, that’s what I did.  I went home and tuned out all the other voices and opinions and I listened to the one voice that I need to listen to more often.  My own. 

And while I did not wallow (as instructed by TopChef), I did develop one helluva case of stress pee.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

The Best Plans Aren't Really Planned

At work lately, the bosses are emphasizing “planning.”  Teams are planning, projects are planning, people are planning.  There’s a new fancy form to fill out to make a plan, several spreadsheets to keep track of all those plans, and backup plans just in case the original plans get changed/scrapped/eaten by a mouse.  I work with some of the most phenomenal planners on the planet.  Deputy Pepper can draft a plan and color-code a spreadsheet like nobody’s business.  Richmond’s project plan includes benchmarks, goals, and milkshake rewards (ahem…).  We've got some pretty great planners.  And then there’s me.  My plans generally consist of a legal pad, brightly colored Post-Its, and a 3 Musketeers bar.    
I definitely understand the importance of “planning,” especially in cases of weddings, surprise parties, humanitarian aid missions, or sending a guy into space.  I even get the importance of “planning” at work, where they’re (dutifully) concerned about Continuity of Operations Plans and knowing what to do on a project if, God forbid, one of us comes down with the plague or eats bad quiche and kicks the bucket.  But 9 times out of 10, the plans change and then you gotta do more “planning” and that keeps you from doing what you really want to be doing, like working or going out to lunch.  Okay, you know me too well, I never let “planning” keep me from lunch.
I don’t actually “plan.”  I give myself assignments, I set goals, I dream, and I have visions (not hallucinogenic visions, of course!)  And, um, okay, there might be an Oprah-inspired Vision Board somewhere in my house.  I generally know where I want to end up but I don’t always know the steps that I’m going to take to get there.  Sometimes, I end up taking a few wrong turns but, like my GPS-friend Mandy, I’m really good at recalculating (and I’m usually a lot more pleasant about it than she is!)  Maybe it takes me longer without a plan, but I eventually get to where I’m going or where I want to be. 

Me and bridges.  Go figure.
Some of the best moments of my life happened precisely because I didn’t have a plan…or because the original plan didn’t go as planned.  Last fall I went to London…and sure, that took some planning. I even planned to go to Paris but, thank God, that didn’t go as planned!  Before the trip, Deputy Pepper (a veteran of London sightseeing) and I sat in my cubicle poring over his London guidebook and I planned out all the places that I wanted to see.  And I managed to see most of them.  The last day that I was there, I made an unplanned second trip to the Tower of London (gift shop).  I had to make a return trip because I had broken the collectible mugs (definitely unplanned!) that I had purchased the first time I was there.  After that was accomplished, I crossed Tower Bridge and then I walked along the Thames where I hadn’t planned on accosting a random guy to take my picture, but I did and it’s now one of my favorite pictures of me in front of a bridge that there is. 
While walking through London on that crisp October Sunday, I started hearing church bells ringing and I decided to find where all that racket was coming from.  Easy enough, right?  Not when you’re hearing impaired and unable to distinguish what directions sounds come from!  (On any given day, I can’t tell if Deputy Pepper is talking to me from behind, in front, or above!)  I never found out exactly where those bells were ringing but I found a sign that pointed towards St. Paul’s Cathedral, one of those places that I planned to see but forgot to get to in all the planned-ness of my trip.  I eventually ended up there and it was beautiful and I’m glad that I broke those mugs because if I hadn’t I wouldn’t have had that amazing unplanned Sunday morning in London.      
When I was sixteen, my mom, my aunt, and I visited the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum (the Kennedys are one of the great passions of my life).   And after spending a day ohhhing and ahhhing at everything Kennedy, we stopped at the gift shop (can you tell, they’re another one of the great passions of my life) and we chatted with the Gift Store Ladies and I told them that I wanted to work there one day.  It became one of those dreams that you have but aren’t really sure how, or if, it’s ever going to become real.  I didn’t have a plan but as one step led to another in this dance that is my life, I somehow did what I had to do to make that dream come true.  10 years after visiting the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, I became an intern in their Archives Unit.  It wasn’t the gift store…but it was close enough.

Me at 16. Girl with a dream.
(I don't know what's scarier,
that vest or the fact that I still
have that bag from the gift shop!)

It's far away but it's me at 26.
Today, I’m going to do what I almost always do.  No plans.  Just see where I end up.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Let's Wait Some More

It’s 5:11 PM and I’m still waiting for the cable guy.  And still no TV. 


It’s 2 PM and I’m waiting for the cable guy.  I hate waiting.  Especially when there’s no TV to watch.
I really hate waiting.  I hate waiting in line at the gas station.  I’ll leave and come back later just so I don’t have to sit in my car waiting.  I hate waiting in lines at the grocery store (which I actually feel a little guilty about because I used to work at a grocery store and I know what it’s like to wait on a line of people waiting).  When I’m in these lines, I try to take a deep (calming) breath and wait.  Or sometimes, I don’t wait and I order out that night for dinner.  I hate waiting for answers.  If I need to know something, I go right to the source for information.  Cuts out all that annoying waiting.  At work, I’m waiting to be transformed (that’s a fancy word for “reorganized.”)  I hate waiting to be transformed because who knows what I’ll be transformed into!  (I’m hoping a snow leopard, Trix is hoping a turtle, and Deputy Pepper, well, a pepper.)   
When I finally stopped waiting to go to
grad school, this building was waiting for me!
I hate waiting but I’m also really, really good at waiting.  I was thinking about this the other night while I attended an event on the campus of my graduate school alma mater (think big state school with a turtle for a mascot).  It took me a year and a half to get my (very expensive) Master’s degree and it’s already been over four years since I graduated.  Four years…that’s the same amount of time that I waited to apply to go to grad school in the first place.  I would’ve waited even longer (the fancy term for that is “deferring admission”) but two very important women said to me…if you wait any longer, you’ll never go.  They were right and I’ll always be grateful to them for their sage advice. 
After graduating from my (very expensive) undergraduate program, I worked at that grocery store where I waited on waiting people.  When I wasn't waiting on them, I was the Very Important Assistant Pricing Clerk, in charge of putting up the new tags for each ad cycle.  You can’t quite grasp the scope of this job until all 198 brands of cereals are on sale at the same time!  That’s a lotta tags!  Every week, I worked the third shift (where I came to appreciate heavy metal in a new and profound way) and I would take down the expired tags and replace them with new tags with new expiration dates.  As I replaced all those tags, I’d say to myself, when these tags expire, I’m gonna quit and go places – get a new job, go to grad school, open a nightclub (it was usually 3 AM…I was delirious and confused by the Black Sabbath playing over the loud speaker).  And then I’d say to myself, I’m going to wait until the next ad cycle to do this or that.  What a way to live your life…according to when the Nabisco BOGO sale ends. 
So, I waited and waited some more.  And when I was finally ready, I stopped waiting.  I got a new job and then I got another new job and then I went to graduate school.  And now it’s been four years since I graduated and it feels like it was a lifetime that I was waiting to go places.  Because I stopped waiting and I went and I did it.
But where am I today?
Waiting.  For the cable guy.*

* - It is 4:25 and I'm still waiting! 

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

A Likely Story

I really like it when I’m liked.  When I’m not liked, it’s like, totally not cool.  And I worry about it.  A lot.  Like, what don’t they like about me?  I like them…how come they don’t like me?  It’s, like, kinda pathetic, right?
I have always equated being liked with fitting in.  If people liked me, I fit in.  And that’s all I ever really wanted to do.  So, I did (and let’s be honest, still do) whatever it takes to fit in and be liked.  I’m congenial and agreeable and I don’t (usually) rock the boat.  And if you want to go to that restaurant that I don’t really like, I’ll go because you like it.  Just as long as you like me afterwards.   
The fact of the matter is…there are people who don’t like me.  And guess what?  There are people whom I don’t like.  And there are people who I like whom I don’t always like.  And there are people who like me but who don’t always like me.  And that’s okay.  Being liked has nothing to do with fitting in.  It’s just about being liked for who you are.  The people whom I like best are the people who like me just 'cause they like me and I especially like the people who still like me even when I’m not exactly the most likeable person on the planet.  I like that.  And that’s, like, totally cool.   

Saturday, March 5, 2011

The White Village

A few years ago, my parents and I were taking a sightseeing tour of Portsmouth, Virginia.  The bus driver pulled in front of a historic house and asked my dad, “Sir, how many stories do you think that house has?”  My dad replied, “Oh, I’d imagine a lot.”  The driver chuckled as he clarified, “No, I mean, how many floors?” 
I spent a lot of time as a kid lamenting that “I wasn’t born yet.”  My brother and I are the youngest grandchildren on both sides of our family.  There are two reasons for this – 1) my parents dated for years…and years.  If my mom hadn’t given my dad an ultimatum, they’d probably still be dating.  2) My mom was a bit of a surprise and is considerably younger than her siblings.  On my mom’s side of the family, Brother and I are generationally grandchildren but the age of the great-grandchildren…which proved confusing at one memorable family photo op.  Our cousins are (much) older so we didn’t grow up with them.  And me being me, I’ve always been a little ticked off that “I wasn’t born yet,” because I always felt like I missed out on all the fun and that I missed a crucial chapter of our family’s story.  
My mother and her mother, "Nanny"

My grandmother, or “Nanny” as we called her, moved to the White Village from Philadelphia a few years after my grandfather died.  She and my mom, who was 11 at the time, moved into a white house on Montgomery Avenue.  When I was little, I would listen to my (much) older cousins tell stories about “going to Nanny’s.”  I used to imagine a gang of cousins gathering for summer barbeques, Christmas dinners, and Easter egg hunts, all under the watchful eye of my mom who wasn’t much older than many of her nieces and nephews.  I had visions of Nanny doling out milk and cookies to her brood of grandkids when they came to visit her in that white house on Montgomery Avenue. 
Two years ago, my brother bought a house in the White Village, a few streets away from Montgomery Avenue.  Shortly after he moved in, we were talking about the similarities between the homes in the neighborhood and one of our cousins asked us if we remembered the cuckoo clock in Nanny’s house.  We had to remind him that we weren’t born yet.  At my mom’s surprise party, I took another of my cousins on a tour of the second floor where she pointed out, “the bathroom was over here at Nanny’s house.”  Silently (because I didn’t want to be rude), I retorted, “well, I wouldn’t know that because I wasn’t born yet.”  I don’t remember Nanny’s cuckoo clock or where the bathroom was in her house because I was born long after the house on Montgomery Avenue became someone else’s.  
A Gang of (some of the) Cousins...and my mom

It turns out, my imagined version of what “going to Nanny’s,” was like was a little off…she wasn’t exactly the warm and fuzzy kind of grandma.  She was more likely to hit you with a wooden spoon than to serve you milk and cookies.  I don’t even know if there were Christmas dinners or Easter egg hunts at that white house on Montgomery Avenue.  What I do know is that the Pennsylvania cousins thought the New Jersey cousins were the favorites and the New Jersey cousins thought the Delaware cousins were the favorites and no one quite knew what to make of the California cousins.  And my mom, well, she didn’t exactly love it when all those kids came to visit. 
Sometimes the stories aren’t as good as we imagine them.    
And sometimes the stories are just floors.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Hello Thirty-Two, So Nice to Meet You

Today at exactly 12:38 PM, I turn 32.  I actually spent quite a few months last year thinking I was already 32 (it’s not that I forgot how old I was, I am just really bad at math.)  That was pretty embarrassing and proved that once again, my mother was right about something.  But today’s the real deal.  I’m 32 years old.  

The sum total of me may be 32 but there are still parts of me that are decidedly not 32.  Not to go all Sybil on you but I’ve got a lot of different people in me - the seven year old girl who kinda sorta wishes she could have a Barbie play-date with TopChef’s daughters; the obnoxious 11 year old boy who finds potty humor hilarious (seriously, I cannot drive past the Port Deposit sign on I-95 without cracking up); the shy 15 year old nervously awaiting her first date; and the 76 year old who needs a daily nap and thinks early-bird specials are a diner’s dream.  Because of them, I don’t take life too seriously but I'm serious when I need to be; I climb up shelves and stand on carts at work but never in open-toed, backless shoes; and I’m always up for fun adventures as long as laws (or lunch hours) don’t get broken.  Each part makes up 32 year old me and I’m glad they're in me. 

Last year, when I turned 31, StyleMaven told that my thirties were going to be great.  I didn't really believe her.  But that was when I was 31 and I’ve grown (up) a lot over the past year (well, not the 11 year old part - he’s still a handful).  So, what does 32 have in store for me?  I have no idea...but I’m excited to get to know this new part of me. 

My 2nd birthday...30 years later, I still enjoy a good piece of cake.