Namo amitabha Buddhaya, y'all.
This here's a religious establishment. Act respectable.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Wet Wet Wet

Meters swum today: None. 1700 yesterday.
Playing in the background: Uh, nothing, at the moment. Just the fan.

The winter rains have pounced on Dallas. It's been raining on and off for a week and raining steadily for the last two days (though it seems to have stopped for the time being). What a great week for my parents to visit, they'll be here today at two. Oh well. In this pause between the deep freeze and the blast furnace that the naive among us call "spring", we gotta be grateful for what we get, even if, all together now, "it doesn't make a dent in our current drought," as the weather guy says over and over and over and over and over. Why does he say that? He always does. Maybe there's this pathological terror that if he doesn't say it, everybody in town will walk out into the middle of the rainstorm and, I dunno, turn the sprinklers on full blast or something.

It's been fabulous for my garden, though. Yes, I've made an attempt at a garden. We have peas, tomatoes, peppers, garlic, onions, cilantro - an entire salad, really, all going great guns. Except the celery. Haven't heard anything from the celery. I'll post a picture as soon as I figure out how to work Joan's cell phone camera.

Oh, and I have good news on the unemployment front. Despite certain shortsighted gubernatorial posturing, I am indeed eligible for the COBRA reduction in premium thanks to Pres. Obama. This means my COBRA payments are about $150 a month, which beats hell out of four hundred and something. Hey, Tracy, this means you too are eligible. Remind me to show you my documentation so you can show up at the office, present it to you-know-who and demand equity.

The other good news is that the logjam in my brain has finally given way and some chapters of Soulmender are getting written. I dunno if I've been filling you guys in on this, but with the first two it was like I couldn't stop writing and this time it's like I can't get started. Sally (Hi, Sally!) suggested it had something to do with this being the Last One, the long story about to get wrapped up and all that, and me not wanting to go there just yet. Which may be. For some reason, though, I got this idea that Roland, my bad guy, liked classical music, which led to this bizarre mental image of Roland listening to Handel's Hallelujah Chorus in an underground bunker during a remodel.

Don't ask me where that came from, but if I had to guess, I'd say it probably has something to do with this video, sent to me by Uncle Bob, and my recent experiences with power tools. Well, whatever, it broke the logjam and things are rolling again. I have lots of free time at the moment, might as well get some writing done. Yes, there you have it folks. The next time Stephen King asks you over to dinner and you ask him where he gets his ideas and he says something sarcastic like "Utica," know that he's fooling you. The truth is that he gets his ideas from viral videos and power tool accidents. Or at least I do.

Okay, I'll go look for work now. King of Kings! And Lord Of Lords! Hallelujah, Amen!

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

The Days Are Just Packed

Playing in the background: The cheerful music of "Bookworm," the PopCap word building game
Meters swum today: None. 1600 yesterday.

Somebody please explain to me why I'm twice as busy since I got laid off than I ever was when I was workin'. I've got a to-do list that runs to two pages and only about a third of it has anything to do with finding work. I've got two frickin' dentist appointments this week (two! Who has two dentist's appointments in one week?!), my parents will be in town on Thursday, I've got more errands to run than I have gas in my tank and oh yeah, just incidentally, I'm trying to find a job. This morning I left the house at 6:15, got back about 11:30, worked straight through until Joan got home and just now wrapped up what I wanted to do with the day. In 45 minutes I get to go to bed, and eight hours from then I can get up and do it all a second time.

Course there was that interruption to watch President Obama speak. When I was a kid, watching the President address the nation on TV was Just What This Family Does, so I've pretty much done it my whole life. The first President I can remember watching was Ford, which tells you how old I am. The first President I remember liking was Carter. (I'fact my mother tells this story that I walked into a dinner party when I was about eight and announced I liked Democrats better than Republicans because they didn't wear suits and they were real people. I have no memory of this but it does sound like something I'd do.) I sort of got out of the habit over the last eight years or so for some strange reason, but I gotta tell you, I really really like watching President Obama speak. The guy may be a hopeless idealist, but he doesn't mince words, he doesn't say stuff just to sound good and he actually seems to think about his answers. What a revelation. In a second I'm going to feel guilty for voting for Hilary in the primary. Okay, second over.

Anyway, there's lots going on. I have a book to promote (get your copy now! See top right!), a garden to work on (going great guns, though there were some scary moments with the tomatoes earlier this week) and of course I have to find a job at some point. Today there were numerous emails from co-workers who have apparently just now figured out I'm not off on vacation or something. Imagine their surprise. So in hopes of keeping this short, here's my position-wanted ad, for your consideration:

Litigation paralegal seeks position in commercial or construction-defect firm. Complex multiparty litigation preferred. Large document reviews and productions my specialty; if you have boxes of documents, I'll dig through 'em. Advanced level Summation user, excellent legal research and writing abilities and mad skillz all the way round. Buddhist temperament, fun to have in the office, always smiling, loves kittens, bakes her own sourdough bread. Oh, and NALA certified, too, in case you were wondering. Please, no screamers, alcoholics or wannabe criminal attorneys. If you live in Dallas, call me. Oops, you can't because you don't have my phone number. Okay, reply to this post and I'll call you. Free copy of my book for the first ten replies, and if you end up hiring me I'll throw in some tomatoes from the garden. It seems only fair. I'm gonna watch the rest of "How The Earth Was Made" and go to bed now.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Ten Things To Do If You're Unemployed

Meters swum today: 1300
Playing in the background: The "Spa" Channel on DirecTV

As I may have mentioned, I'm a regular whiz at this being laid off thing. This is like the fourth time, and the second time in three years. So here's my generic advice to people being laid off (I think in Europe they call this being "made redundant") anywhere and everywhere. Pay attention, kids. You may need to know this.

The Practical:

1. Apply for unemployment insurance benefits right away. Don't wait; the day you're laid off is the best time. Even if you think you may not be eligible, apply for it anyway; you may be surprised and any amount of income helps. In most states, you get unemployment benefits unless you've been terminated for gross misconduct, and while I can't define "gross misconduct" (not being an attorney and all that), you probably haven't done it. Some states even let you get unemployment if you quit for certain reasons, such as having your health benefits cut or your hours reduced. Many states also offer retraining, such as sending you back to school to train for a new skill. Ask your friendly unemployment agent about this.

2. Don't cash out your 401k, especially now. The market's near a historic low and you won't get much for your trouble. Besides jeopardizing your future, they take a whopping 20% off for taxes. Your best bet is to either leave it where it is, or roll it over into an IRA or new retirement account when you get the new dream job that you'll be finding soon.

3. Keep your health insurance if you had it. One car accident, throat infection or food poisoning incident could wipe out your savings or worse. Ask about that COBRA and feed it every month. What with the new stimulus plan paying part of the cost, there's no reason not to hang on to those benefits.

4. If you're paying on a student loan, ask for a forbearance or temporary suspension of payments. Even if your loan payments aren't that large, having one bill off your mind can help a lot. Remember that interest accrues even when you're not making payments, though, so start making them again as soon as you can.

5. If you need help, get it now. If you had issues with drugs or alcohol that were causing you to not work at your best, go to AA or NA or some other A right away. If you need inpatient treatment, get in there. Even if you think you're just run of the mill depressed because you lost your job, ask your doc to send you to a therapist if you can't seem to shake it. You're going to be home a lot more and that's a great place for, say, a little alcohol problem to grow up into a great big alcohol problem. Don't go there. It's the last thing you need right now.

The Not So Practical Things That You Should Still Do Anyway:

1. Get up. Yeah, you can sleep till noon, it's not like you have to be anywhere, but get up anyway. Sleeping till noon leads to lounging around in your jammies watching "The Dog Whisperer" marathon on NatGeo instead of looking for work. Besides, your spouse, kids, cats and other critters with whom you live will find it reassuring if you stick to your regular routine.

2. Work out. Don't have anything to do when you get up? Go for a run or hit the gym. The least-crowded time to be at the gym is between 8 and 10 in the morning, or so the nice folks at Bally's tell me. Exercise reduces stress and makes you feel better in a general sense. Even a short walk is better than nothing.

3. Hang out with people. This is the time to go to networking events, take continuing-ed classes you've been thinking about, have lunch with friends and do volunteer work. Tell everybody you meet that you've been laid off and what kind of work you do. Keep a few copies of your resume handy. Most people get jobs through people they know, not by answering ads (though you should do that, too.) But more important than that, not having a job can make you feel disconnected and isolated. Don't let it. You're still part of the world - go out there and be in it.

4. Clean your house. I mean this in the literal sense - you have more time, why not vaccuum off those heat registers and knock out those cobwebs in the far corners? Take on more than your share of the domestic chores for a while. You'll feel better and having a tidy house will reassure the kids, critters and spouses.

I also mean it in the metaphorical sense of course. If there's some bad work habit you have (like, say, being 10 minutes late a lot or taking long coffee breaks) that might have helped to put you on the layoff list, now is the time to nip it in the bud.

5. Don't indulge in wild fantasies about having revenge, messing things up for your former company, or causing trouble for their clients. Even if you'd never actually do this in a million years, you're still letting ideas into your brain that have no place there. To a large degree we are what we think. Don't think about hurting others. Think about how you're going to get a new position that's much better than the old one and, if you must, how your former co-workers will be jealous and admire you because you're so magnanimous about the whole thing. In short, think smug, not Smaug. (Sorry. Obligatory Tolkien reference there.)

Okay, I gotta get back to sending out resumes. Cheers!

Saturday, March 14, 2009

...So buy lots of copies, okay?

Meters swum today: 1700
Playing in the background: Bird chirps and the occasional train horn

I've been laid off. Yesterday. So after some 20 months amongst the ranks of the working stiffs, I am once again unemployed. This does seem to happen to me--this is the fourth time, and I'm not 40 yet--but this time around I seem to be in plenty of good company. Like half the country. Hello, y'all.

The nice thing about being laid off multiple times, if there is one, is that you get better at it each time. It still sucks, in a lot of ways, but not having to go to work every day really isn't the worst thing in the world. Plus, by the time you're logging onto the Texas Workforce Commission's web site for the third or fourth time to file a new claim, you're a regular whiz at it. Job interviews? Pshaw. Done a million of 'em. Sending out resumes? Thanks, I know the keywords, I'm on it.

The other nice thing, if you're really honest about it, is that it's often a relief. I had a long to-do list on my Microsoft Outlook that is now Somebody Else's Problem. Including the Big Trial which was postponed to April. Nobody's working on the prep stuff now, which makes me wonder what's going to happen in three weeks when they suddenly realize, "Oh, yeah, we have a Big Trial." Hm, glad I'm not gonna be around for that.

The third thing is you find out who your friends are. T and T came over here last night, even though they'd both had long and exhausting days, to watch some comedy with us and hang out for a bit. Joan didn't strangle me. Two of my boys (all my lawyers are my boys, even if some of them are older than me and girls) have already called to say what the hell happened, nobody told us and of course we'll write you a letter of reference. Even the manager, who is not the most demonstrative person in the world, said something like, "I'm going to miss you because you were always so calm and happy."

Calm and happy. This woman does not know me very well. I am a bundle of anxieties stitched temporarily into a human skin. Or at least I used to be. Now I'm not so sure. I went to the Zen Center today and spoke with one of the teachers. I told him this story and he said something like, "She sees something in you that you don't see yet." So maybe I'm wrong. I haven't, for example, gone on a rampage or anything. I'm not sure what most folks do when they've been laid off but I gather it's usually not break out in a big grin, which is apparently what I did. (Come to think of it I did that last time, too, but I was being laid off by the Feds after doing a year and a half of Hurricane Katrina disaster assistance and working 12 hour shifts for most of it. You'd be glad to be laid off, too. Hell, you'd volunteer.)

So, anyway, I'm gonna go send out a bunch of resumes and stuff now, but if you haven't yet nagged any of your friends to buy the book yet, this would be a good time. I think the paperback is due out soon but tell them to buy the download, we live in economic uncertainty and it's a damned expensive paperback. At least compared to the download.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

The Book Is Out! The Book Is Out!

Meters swum today: None.
Playing in the background: An episode of "How The Earth Was Made"

Last evening very late, after much trouble and tribulation with which the likes of I won't bore you (is that grammatical?), No Accounting For Reality finally debuted on It's e-book only for right now, but if we generate enough interest we can go for a paperback edition later on. So, tell all your friends and generate interest, okay? Thanks. Here's the back cover description:

E-publishing is the New Face of Publishing in America. "Time" Magazine even said so. Yep, at the ripe old age of - well, not a spring chicken anymore, anyway, I'm on the cutting edge of a trend. Whoo hoo!

No comment required...

Saturday, March 7, 2009

The Butterfly Effect (again)

Meters swum today: 1700
Playing in the background: Silence (hello, darkness my old friend)

I think I mentioned a while back that another swimmer commented on how I do butterfly "even when we're not required to" and how that inspired him to throw some butterfly into his workout. At the time I thought this was damned odd--I mean, the guy is a former Olympic contender whereas I'm this short little fat chick and you wouldn't think he needed people like me to inspire him. Which, I thought, just goes to show you never know who might be watchin'.

I've got bad news. People are watchin' all the time.

I went to an OA convention last weekend, which was just amazing. And I met this woman, whose name I of course can't tell you, who then showed up at the regular meeting I go to on Thursdays. She said to me how inspired she was by the way I laugh. I sound so happy, she said. I must be a happy person, she said. And I thought, "Is she kidding?" I mean, yeah, I laugh more often than I scream, but that's mainly by choice. I think of myself as being reasonably content most of the time but I would have never put myself into the category of "happy person." And I wouldn't really think anything of this whole thing about how I laugh if I hadn't been to a movie with Joan a few weeks back ("Coraline") where a man turned around and said, to Joan, "Your laughter made the movie for me." (Joan does have a nice laugh.)

"Intervention" on A&E is one of my favorite programs. (No, I'm not changing the subject, just going off on one of my tangents.) In case you're not familiar with the concept, the documentary crew follows around some drug addict or alcoholic as he/she makes his/her way through his/her train wreck of a life. Supposedly the addict does not know he/she is about to be pushed into an intervention with his/her family members and friends, but hey, the show's been on the air for a couple of years now and any addict who doesn't at least suspect something might be up has not been paying attention. Course, addicts are not known for paying attention.

I think the reason I like this show so much (is like the right word? It's compelling, but I'm not sure I like it) is that it lets us see an example of the damage one alcoholic or drug addict does, not only to his own life but to the lives of everybody who loves him. On one episode we had a woman who was so far gone into alcoholism that she'd fall down drunk in front of her minor children. Her husband had kicked her out of the house, and the documentary crew asked him the logical question, "Why do you even let her see the kids? It can't be good for them." The husband said he didn't want to give the alcoholic wife even one more reason to drink by keeping the kids away from her. Is that a logical position? Hell no. Does it make any parenting sense whatever to let little kids see their mother passed out on the front lawn, possibly in an alcoholic coma, maybe even dead? Hell no. Yet simply by having this woman in his life, the husband's judgment was altered enough to make this seem reasonable. It took one of the therapists on the documentary crew to explain to him that somebody needed to step up and be the adult in this situation. There are other examples - relatives that won't kick a heroin addict out of the house because "then would where he go?" or who give their addicted kid money "so she won't have to steal or prostitute herself to get her fix." It's like the addict family member is the Einsteinian heavenly body that warps the space-time around him or her and distorts everything that passes by.

"Intervention." Laughter. The butterfly effect. It got me to thinking; If one drug addict can wreak this much havoc on this many people, how many people are affected for the better because one of their friends or family members is a happy person? If one guy cutting you off in traffic can ruin your whole morning, can a total stranger stopping to help you open a door when you have your arms full of groceries (presuming, for the sake of the argument, that he's not a serial killer) make your whole day? Suppose there's a lady with a screaming kid on the bus. Instead of grumbling to yourself under your breath or snapping at her to shut the kid the hell up, you instead turn to her and say, "I know kids can be frustrating sometimes. I just want you to know I think you're doing a great job." Then what happens? Maybe nothing, but maybe she doesn't have feel guilty because everybody on the bus is mad at her besides being worried about her kid, whose brother died a few days ago and he hasn't stopped screaming since.

Buddha wasn't really known for pithy sayings, but he did say something to the effect of, "If you only remember one thing I said, remember to conduct yourself in such a way as to reduce the suffering of others when you can, and at the very least don't increase the suffering of others." Which is to say, do the butterfly. Laugh a lot. And don't snap at people on buses when you can say something nice instead. I'm just sayin'.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Wrangling Cats and Power Tools

Meters swum today: None, on accounts of hauling the cat to the vet. See below.
Playing on the iPod: Kitaro, from "Silk Road"

I realize that as a lesbian, I'm supposed to be good at things like mowing the lawn, fixing the car and slapping pieces of wood around. Unfortunately, my lesbian chromosome (you can see it under a microscope, it's the one that looks like Anna Nicole Smith) seems to be missing that gene. Whenever I try to build something, chaos is certain to follow. For a good example, read about how I tried to break into my own closet, failed, and called my time-traveling neocraftsperson friends over to help. This weekend I built a garden box. Abandon all hope, ye who enter here.

See, the last time I did anything of significance involving power tools was a couple of years ago, when I made a hole in the door of our shed so the Clan External would have a place to hang out in bad weather. The idea was to put in a cat door, but we never got that far. I bought a power saw, one of the circular type, and spent a good half hour staring at this door trying to figure out how in hell one would cut a square in it. Finally, in a move sure to strike terror into the hearts of virtually everybody who has ever worked for Home Depot, I determined that I could make four pocket cuts with the circular saw and that would make a square.

Four pocket cuts. As in, dipping this spinning wheel blade into the wood and pulling it back out without damage to life or limb. I'm holding the blade cover back with my thumb, pressing the trigger with a finger of my other hand and basically hunching over, almost upside down, to apply these pocket cuts. Amazingly, no one was harmed. Including the shed door. Now it was a shed door with four pocket cuts roughly arranged in a square near the bottom. I ended up kicking it with my foot until the four corners gave way. Presto, instant cat door. Minus the door of course. When Joan got home she kindly explained that one was supposed to remove the door from the hinges, lay it on a pair of sawhorses and then do the cuts. Imagine my surprise. When I showed her how I'd done the cuts she about lost consciousness. Apparently this does not comport with numerous safety regulations.

So, I bought a drill on Sunday to drill holes into which to insert deck screws to make the garden box. I lay the piece of wood down, with the holes marked in the appropriate places, and discovered much to my surprise that drilling a piece of wood actually takes physical work. And hand strength. Who knew? Plus, wood shavings from a drill bit catch on fire, or at least heat up and smolder a little. So it was drill a hole, stamp out the sparks; drill a hole, stamp out the sparks. And then when I started to insert the deck screws, I discovered to my dismay & chagrin that I'd made the damn holes too small. So I had to re-drill them all.

Well, anyway, it ended happily. The garden box is done, filled with dirt and some heads of spinach are growing. I didn't burn the house down, damage the drill, run it through my toes or shock myself. Nobody called the police and the 911 crew got the night off. I can't wait to see what it looks like in the daytime. Oh, did I forget to mention I did most of it in the dark? The sun sets at 6:30 around here and I get home about 6:45.

Back to cat wrangling. This morning I hauled one of the cats to the vet for her annual exam/teeth cleaning. Actually it was the wrong cat. We were trying to get Sparrow into the carrier and she kicked so hard Joan let go of her. Joan turned around, grabbed Chloe and said, "They both need to go, don't they?" I acknowledged they did and so we stuffed Chloe into the carrier. So Sparrow is probably prancing around the house in grand triumph while Chloe is sitting at the vets wondering what the hell just happened. They'll both be impossible to live with for a week.