Wednesday, January 31, 2007

How's my job going these days? (a summary in numbered lists)

Incredibly, I'm still maintaining the job I landed last summer as a server at a downtown Chicago Chinese restaurant. Much more credibly, I'm once again feeling the pull to move on (anyone surprised?).

What I've Done with My Desire to Change Jobs AGAIN

1. Feel dissatisfied with my current job and focus on all the sucky things about it (easy apply to any situation).
2. Feel like a a loser because obviously I can't -- just cannot -- stay at one job for very long.
3. Start to contact job placement agencies for some new employment possibilities and then realize I have no idea what kind of job I want.
4. Feel lost and send an email to all my friends asking for any advice.
5. Receive various comments, including the suggestion to work with a life coach.
6. Decide to go with the life coach idea since they'll be able to help me through the process of assessing my skills, interests and strengths and finally figure out what I want to do for a living that I will really enjoy and that will really make me happy and where I can settle in and @#$%-ing STAY for a few -- oh my god -- years, without initiating yet another job search a few months after landing that job.
7. Call about ten life coaches (recommended by people I trust) and interview them on the phone for a good fit.
8. Take a few weeks to choose one.
9. Start a three-month period of regularly meeting with this life coach and having him help me figure out the job/career issue and generally improve my life so I'm happier (or at least less sucky).
10. Be reminded of what a loser I am by the more than half dozen W-2 forms that are now arriving because I spent so much of 2006 being unemployed, underemployed, temporarily employed and just plain badly employed. And just plain bad.


So far with my life coach I have accomplished the following, working through Chapter 10 of the 2006 version of What Color Is My Parachute:

1. Looked back over my life and figured out what transferable skills I have (such as communicating well in conversation and gathering information by observing people).
2. Decided which of those transferable skills I actually enjoy using (emphasis on my enjoyment, not on what's most respectable or marketable).
3. Made a top ten list of my strongest, most enjoyable transferable skills.
4. Brainstormed a list of subjects and interests I have some knowledge of, however informal (from bookkeeping to voice instruction to how-to-find-a-man to the history of Christmas).
5. Am now in the process of figuring my top ten list of subjects and interests.

In the meantime, I've improved my restaurant job performance by:

1. Getting some salesmanship training and improving my ability to sell more $10 cocktails, $40 bottles of wine and $4 cappucinos. This has improved my tips, surprise.
2. Taking advice from my boyfriend to stop being so stiff and forced with my tables and always reading from the official "script." He suggested being myself more and not being so afraid of everyone. I've done this and now I enjoy waiting tables much more. And no wonder: who would enjoy a job where they constantly hide their personality and never make jokes and have to pretend they're a robot? And who would enjoy being waited on by a server who behaved this way? What a loser I am to have been a humorless robot for so long. I'm sure none of my customers could stand me, so no wonder the tips were so unimpressive. Being more myself has improved my service, too. I feel like such a failure to have taken so long to have made this adjustment and to have to be told by someone I don't even work with...

That's how my job is going these days.

Friday, January 26, 2007

Campaigning Season Already?

In fall 2003, twelve months before the last presidential election, the presidential campaign field was wide open. I remember because I hosted a fundraiser for Congressman Dennis Kucinich and felt very committed to his campaign. Why not? Anything could have happened at that point. Through the spring of 2004 Kucinich, Carol Mosely Braun, Wesley Clark, Dean Howard and others worked earnestly towards the Democratic nomination, knowing they had a shot, however small. Anything seemed possible.

The next election is 23 months away, yet the race for the Democratic nomination seems predetermined even before the candidates have declared their candidacy. I'm very impressed to learn that Kucinich is running again. His platform remains committed to universal healthcare, pulling our troops out of Iraq (he was one of few congressmen who voted against the war) and getting the U.S. weaned off oil. I've seen him speak in person and I remain convinced that Dennis Kucinich is the man I most want in the White House.

But does he have a chance of even being taken seriously as long as Hillary Clinton and Barak Obama are taking up the spotlight? I think Clinton and Obama are more than worthy presidential candidates and if my Democratic primary choices come down to Clinton, Obama or Kucinich (that's just my personal conflict), that will be a wonderful dilemma. But aren't we jumping the gun by considering Clinton and Obama, and only Clinton and Obama, for the presidency at this point?

Maybe it's not really that Clinton and Obama are such incredible candidates that we can't wait to start campaigning. Maybe we're just so fed up with George W. Bush that we can't wait to consider someone else -- anyone else -- as our president. And attention is focused on the Democratic primary because the Democrats are seen as the ruling party at this point.

I heard someone say of Obama's standing that right now there's nowhere to go but down. Is it possible that a "candidate" who peaks this early can't last over the long haul? Has a presidential candidate ever shone this brightly 23 months before the election? And Clinton's appeal might not only be eclipsed by Obama, but by anyone who isn't a chick. Also, if in the past 20 years the White House has had a Bush, a Clinton and a Bush, do we really want to go back to another Clinton? Isn't it time to mix it up a bit more than that?

I think the curse of Dubya is tainting even our process of choosing the next Democratic nominee. We're too eager to annoint the next successor, so eager that we're ready to send up their campaign like fireworks. Or am I just being a doomsayer?

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Starry-Eyed about Divorce

On December 27th I posted about my continuing un-engaged state even though I'm 40 and have been involved for a year with a guy who is 44. While I don't feel ready for marriage or even engagement right now, I'm aware of society's heavy expectation that this guy and I should be tying the knot sometime soon -- c'mon let's go, it can't be soon enough, we're 40 and 44 and neither has been married before, for God's sake, time's a-wastin'.

I got some great input (see the comments for that post), including some from Thomas Westgard who has offered the first statement on divorce that helps me understand how much it truly sucks. I haven't been able to understand that up until now and have mainly just envied people who are divorced. Why the hell would I envy divorce? Because of how single people in the dating world (which is my entire universe) react to never-married's as opposed to divorcees: we never-married's who are past a certain age (around 30 yrs. for women, maybe 36 for men) are not to be touched. Society also sees marriage as a rite of passage and I am suspect for never having participated, even if it had ended in divorce. Being never-married is seen as so much worse than being either married or divorced that I've reached the point of envying both states. The state of being married and the state of being divorced are considered normal, and I long to be normal. I thank Thomas for making the pain of divorce clearer to me so I can release my feeling of being left out of a club that everyone else seems to be in.

I have often wondered about the children of divorced couples. Raising children in a post-divorce family does seem like the main drawback to getting married and then divorced. I also don't know what it's like to be the child of divorced parents, although I used to envy them, too. When I was growing up it seemed like having divorced parents would at least gain you some peace and quiet at home. My parents' marriage did not allow much peace and quiet.

Thus did I grow up believing that divorce is a better idea than marriage. I have to admit, sometimes I still look at it this way. When I consider marrying my boyfriend, I know the consequences of that action could very well be divorce. Nora Ephron, in her book I Feel Bad About My Neck, gives the advice that you should never marry a man you think would make a bad ex-husband. I think considering what divorce would be like is a very practical thing to do when considering getting married. I believe my boyfriend would actually make a great ex-husband and that feels important. Since I don't want to have children and neither does my boyfriend, we can at least avoid that particular pain of divorce.

Does it seem grisly to be thinking so much about divorcing my boyfriend when we haven't even gotten to the engagement ring? It seems practical to me, although I admit that I do tend to be the eternal pessimist. Marriage and divorce are so commonplace in the United States that either is considered more acceptable than never having been married at all. I carry the stigma of the spinster and have longed to upgrade to married or at least divorced status, but Thomas Westgard's portrait of divorce has now taken the stars out of my eyes about it.

Monday, January 08, 2007

Bad haircut continues

Okay, here's a photo of me (taken with my new digital camera that my boyfriend got me for Christmas or I wouldn't have one) showing my bad haircut, although now it's not NEARLY as bad as it was two months ago. See how it flips out at the bottom? I hate that. I have always hated haircuts that turn out at the bottom. I have always AVOIDED them and I can't believe I have one now. The cut is tight around the head (my bangs are painfully short and I hate them), but flares at the bottom, like it wants to look like Florence Henderson or "Mrs. Brady."

I know people will comment that it doesn't look so bad to them, but that doesn't matter. What matters is how it looks to ME. And I'm never having my hair cut again.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007


My 2005 new year's resolution was to start drinking alcohol. I succeeded before I failed, which is to say I did drink alcohol regularly for most of that year and I developed a bit of a palate for it, but then I lost interest again and finally resigned myself to being a non-drinker. I just don't like drinking alcohol and I'd rather not.

Now I know a bit more about substances and what draws us to them (I'm using an article by Rebecca Skloot as my primary reference text. It's not online but is in the January 2007 issue of Oprah Magazine. Newsweek also recently covered this topic). Addictions form when the brain associates an activity or substance with pleasure. When something causes pleasure, dopamine (a chemical in the brain) is released. Some of that dopamine affects memory and the brain begins to link that stimulus with the increased dopamine. Dopamine also affects the parts of the brain that control decision-making and motivation. When it gets near the substance that caused pleasure, the brain will start to release dopamine in anticipation and will drive the person to get a hold of that substance again. My problem with alcohol was that I didn't enjoy the taste or feel of it plus I didn't do anything that caused me pleasure while drinking it. Thus I failed to expose my brain to dopamine at the same time I was drinking alcohol and the link between alcohol and pleasure was never formed.

But normal people do find an inherent pleasure in drinking alcohol and for them the surge of dopamine they experience when they take a drink is the most natural thing in the world. I'd have to work on it. My dopamine levels surge when I eat cake with gooey frosting. Or chocolate. Or cookies. Or just plain old table sugar. You get the idea.

What's fascinating to me is that research shows that just as a link can be formed between, say, chocolate and pleasure, so can it be formed between something like broccoli and pleasure. Forging healthy addictions just takes some (or a lot of) effort. If there's a habit you want develop, like exercising regularly or eating more fresh vegetables, you just have to develop a link between that activity or substance and the release of dopamine.

How do you do that? It looks like rewards might help. If you treat yourself to a massage after exercising five days in a row, you can start to build a connection between exercise and feeling good. Or you might need a more immediate connection between the activity and the reward, such as exercising with someone whose company you enjoy or putting your treadmill in front of the tv and watching your favorite show ONLY when exercising.

If you want to eat better, you might develop a weekly potluck of people whose company you love and have them only bring delicious, healthy dishes. Eventually your brain will connect eating well with fun and pleasure.

I realize now that my daily 75-minute exercise routine that looks so disciplined and healthy, really developed out of my battles with depression. Twice in my life depression has taken me over. During those times I felt like absolute crap all the time (angry, crying, numb, panicked, etc.) and walked around like a pretzel of tension and fear except when exercising. For that one hour a day of physical activity I actually felt almost normal. At least my body was able to relax and let some of the tension out, even if my freaked out mind never stoppped worrying. I believe my brain linked physical exercise with dopamine release. The more I exercised, the more I chemically needed it. The difference that exercise made in my depression solidified my devotion to it and now I exercise almost every day for over an hour. It's not discipline or focus or being health-conscious or determination to live longer/be fit. It's a simple chemical addiction and I'm hooked.

So the current research on addiction shows that there are addictions that are bad for you and addictions that are good for you and the chemical mechanism is the same. I find that exciting. I'm excited about the prospect of making addiction work for people in a positive way. If the brain-dopamine mechanism can create addictions to ice cream and french fries then it can create addictions to fresh fruit and jogging. You just have to put some effort into cultivating the link.
p.s. My 2007 resolution is to start drinking coffee and now I know what I have to do to make it stick.