Sabbaticalette: Week One

Salt River Arizona_feistyharriet_February 2017

It has been only one week of my sabbaticalette yet three people have commented that I seem like a completely different person. I feel more myself than I have in months, and despite a very strange crop of zits all over my face (the hell, face!?) I feel like I look about 5 years younger than I did 3 months ago. I sometimes break out SKIPPING or GIGGLING for no apparent reason. It’s weird, yo.

So, what have I done with my newfound freedom and head space? Well, you know me (or you don’t, and the rest of this post will be very telling of my personality); I made a huge list and started checking things off one by one.

I painted the last room in our house, banishing the cardboard-box-brown paint that is ubiquitous in all Arizona homes forever. It is a lovely, soothing gray now and waiting for the last touches. (Check that off my New Year’s Resolution list!)

I pulled the millions of weeds in our yard, the rain lately has turned the gravel into a jungle. I also replanted a bunch of veggies and started two pallets of flower seeds for the front yard. I spent an entire afternoon pulling a WHEELBARROW FULL of concrete bits and rock out of the window box in our front yard. It needs some topsoil and then I can plant the lovely fuchsia bougainvillea bushes and bright yellow daisies in there. I potted a bunch of ranunculus for the front porch and back patio and am loving those little splotches of color.

I scrubbed all the corners of the house that have been neglected, I opened the windows and let the breeze blow through the rooms and air everything out.

I pulled up some nasty industrial-grade carpet that the previous owners GLUED to the side patio cement…I think a few months of the blazing southwestern summer sun on the remaining glue-gunk, with some strategic spraying and scraping will get rid of that stuff quite nicely. I’m just so glad to have it gone, I don’t like thinking about what was probably living/lurking in that nasty nasty carpet.

I’ve been to the gym, or on a walk, or a bike ride, almost every day. It has been GLORIOUS to move every day! My FitBit hardly knows what to do with me.

I did a mountain of laundry (see: deep clean everything) and watched some of my Netflix list for the first time in…weeks? (I’m watching The Tudors which is about the history of Henry VIII, because even my Netflix stuff must be nerdy. Hashtag: Harriet Life)

I’ve finished reading two books, started two more, and listened to three others while doing all my chores.

I went grocery shopping at Costco (for the FIRST TIME EVER! (I know.) (I SAID I KNOW!)) did some large-batch cooking, and filled up the freezer with some meals I can reheat later. I also bulked up our nearly non-existent pantry storage with a few cases of canned foods.

I unpacked the last of the moving boxes and have made a towering pile of things to send to Goodwill.

I’ve spent several hours on the phone with family and friends I love and feel I’ve neglected the last few months. I’m so grateful for technology, and simultaneously annoyed that I’m so far from the people I love.

I volunteered at a church event for young girls ages 8-11, we had a blast laughing and giggling and, uh, being super spiritual and stuff. Ahem.

Things I haven’t done, but intend to: hiking; painting on canvas/panels; a little photography spree to catch some early morning or pre-sunset light on the big rocky formation down the street from my house; take the pile in the garage to Goodwill; tidy up my side of the garage, especially the piles of project pieces that need to be corralled or recycled or finished up already; lunch and a movie matinee with a friend.

A few friends, upon hearing a little of what I’ve been up to, have commented that I don’t quite know how to “relax.” And…well, partly that is true. But the other part is something my friend Saskia wrote about, inspired by this article: There is a different between “self-care” and “resourcing.” Self-care is the spa day, or the massage, or the relaxing night at home. Resourcing is taking care of all the “life” stuff that you’ve somehow been neglecting. For me, before I can get into the self-care piece (hiking, painting, photography, etc), I need to take care of that resourcing bit that has eluded me for months. The resourcing part is almost done, I’ve got a few little projects I’d like to wrap up, and then I’ll have a few days truly to spend on myself, and then it will be time to go back to work. And for me, that sounds like the perfect sabbaticalette. (You know, because “two weeks in Europe” wasn’t quite in the budget/cards.)

How do you replenish yourself? Does the “self-care” and “resourcing” thing look different for you? If you had two weeks off, but limited funds for big adventures, what would you do?

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I quit my job and found my sanity

Six months ago I started a new job here in Arizona, I had interviewed aggressively and asked all the questions that should have revealed what was important to me in a workplace. I made a few concessions, but overall felt confident that a) this would be a really great move for me and b) I would be able to expand on the work I’ve done for the last 6 years and bring some real change to low-income and otherwise under-served students in Arizona when it comes to getting prepared academically and financially for college. College access is my jam, yo. And I felt that working for a state agency at the Director level would truly give me some leverage to implement best practices I’ve learned in a high functioning state.

Uh….no.

Nope, nope, nope.

Not at all true. Turns out, my boss was Miranda Priestly, but without the Prada. Basically, the devil with a great haircut. She told me everything I wanted to hear in the interviews, but didn’t actually mean a word of it. Autonomy? Flexibility? Data driven change? Improvements of systems and processes? Nope. None of that. Six months in and she was still demanding to proof read my emails prior to my sending them. Ya’ll, I am not making this up. I’ve been a career person for 15 years, and this was without question the most toxic and soul-sucking environment I have ever encountered. Month after month I was slowly losing my will to do anything; I was becoming a government automaton without any of the passion and drive that has propelled me forward in my work in higher education. (No one goes into education, or state government employment, with the intent of getting rich or famous. It’s all passion.) Week after week I’d have anxiety attacks on Sunday night at the thought of going back to the office on Monday. I had dozens of conversations with my co-workers, all of whom function in some kind of career Stockholm syndrome, knowing things are completely outrageous, but choosing to put their head in the sand instead of fight the boss or find a new job.

A few months in I decided to try to start anew, pump up my attitude and find some previous scenario from my organization that I could use as backup for some real future change. If I could find some basis for what I wanted, I thought I might be able to convince my boss that taking a chance on a new idea would actually bring about some of the results she wanted. In my digging around for files to come up with some sort of record of what has been done I unearthed a lot of stuff that looked preeeeetty sketchy; state agencies are not supposed to run that way. Supervisors are not supposed to “function” that way. Programs will never grow if you don’t invest in them and measure their success. The more I looked, the weirder it got. (I probably shouldn’t say more than that, but hoooo boy, ya’ll, that organization is a mess. A MESS!)

I started job hunting, again. Two strategic emails, a half-dozen interviews with one organization, and I have again landed a dream job; they gave me everything I wanted and then some. I will be back to the access work I love; helping high school counselors and principals establish college-going cultures within their schools, providing them with the tools and support they need to help their students succeed in ACT testing/prep, college applications, and FAFSA/Financial Aid completion. I can work from home when I want to and will have a bit of travel (something I really enjoy). I have a loose job description and a couple of markers I need to hit, but I can figure out the how without anyone micromanaging me.

I resigned from the State a couple weeks ago and wrapped up my responsibilities there last Friday. It is telling that the security guard made a bigger deal of me leaving that my boss did; he held the door open for me, wished me luck, and gave me a fist bump. My boss didn’t even say goodbye.

I don’t start my new gig for two weeks, I felt some time to detox and unwind was necessary to my well-being and overall health. I have grand plans to relax the hell out of this sabbaticalette, it’s the longest I’ve been without work responsibilities for probably a decade. No summer break, no Christmas break, no lengthy vacations. I am thrilled to death to just be for a while, I’ve turned off all my morning alarms and brushed off the list of projects that has been stagnating for the last year. I’m sure I’ll plan the hell out of this break, because that’s how I roll, but even that will probably do me a world of good.

I’m two days in I already feel like a completely different person. I’m happy in ways that I haven’t been for months. I should have quit ages ago, but, then again, I wouldn’t have had the connection for this new position without my time at the Agency. So. Silver linings. Or something.

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Harriet: Age 34

Boone Hall Butterfly Pavilion, South Carolina

Happy Birthday to me, Happy Birthday to me, Happy BIRTHday toooooo meeeeeEEeeeeeee!!! (deep breath!) HaaAaappyyyy BiiiirrrrtthhhDaaaaayyy TooooOoooOooOOoooo MeeEeeeeEeeEee!

Today I am thirty-four, and that means I’ve officially entered my “mid thirties”…which I think is supposed to somehow kick-start a biological clock, or at least give me some age-related anxiety? It’s not. It’s just another birthday and I have to spend the next 4 months trying to remember how old I am all over again. (After writing the rest of this post and going through for a quick edit, it occurred to me that I have been pretty “meh” about my birthday for years. I don’t WANT to be “meh” about my birthday. A day-before-Valentine’s-Day birthday somehow seems to be anti-climactic, and there’s been a lot of Stuff that precludes me celebrating the way I want to. And I don’t like that. So. Next year for the BIG Three-Five, I shall throw a fabulous bash. I like celebrating, I love hosting people, and I’ve got a really really great birthday cake recipe.)(Moving on with thirty-four. Ahem.)

How will you spend your birthday?
In a really annoying twist of circumstances, I shall be going to work while Mr. Blue Eyes has the day off. I know. It’s stupid.

Compared to this time last year, are you: a) happier or sadder? b) thinner or fatter? c) richer or poorer?
Sadder; thinner; richer.

What did you do last year that you’ve never done before?
Went camping by myself. I felt kick-ass and super nervous, all at once.

What was your favorite discovery last year?
Overdrive! I’m only, like, 8 years late to the party, but I luuuurve Overdrive and use it to listen to audiobooks!

What do you hope to learn this coming year?
Better time management for my life as a whole, instead of just the few pockets that I have under control right now.

What would you like to have this year that you didn’t have last year?
Peace. This last year was full of turmoil on almost every front . And not just the regular dumpster fire that is meme’d on the Interwebs, but deeply personal and in my most vulnerable places as well.

What was your biggest achievement of this year?
Had you asked me this six months ago I would have gushed about negotiating a new job here in Arizona. However, uh, that has been one of the worst overall “improvements” of my career and my life. I shall write more about this soon; there is light at the end of the tunnel.

What was your biggest failure?
Letting the sadness win. And sometimes also letting the anger and darkness win. It was a rough year, ya’ll.

Where did you travel this year?
The first half of my 33rd year I was all over the place, which was exhausting and glorious, all at once. (A small sampling: New Mexico (twice), California, Colorado, Washington DC, Montana, Chicago, several trips back to Salt Lake, and visits to Joshua Tree and Sequoia National Parks.) For the last half I have more or less stayed home, and that is glorious and heart-wrenching in its own way.

Do you have a destination in mind for next year?
Yes! We have booked tickets and part of our accommodations for a proper vacation to celebrate our five-year wedding anniversary (which was in November, and/or January, depending on who you ask).

What did you get really excited about?
Vegetables in my backyard, if we have had more than two conversations I have probably mentioned my little plants at least 7 times. Also the women who serve as Supreme Court Justices.

What do you wish you’d done more of?
Finding joy in the people and activities that I know are a salve for my aching heart.

What do you wish you’d done less of?
Worrying. This is two years in a row with this answer, btw.

What was the best book you read?
Oh goodness, I love/hate this question. In the last year I’ve read almost 150 books with MANY 5-star reviews in there. In no particular order (but all non-fiction, because that’s my fave): The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, by Michelle Alexander; Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee, by Dee Brown; The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, by Rebecca Skloot; The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics, by Daniel James Brown; Notorious RBG: The Life and Times of Ruth Bader Ginsberg, by Irin Carmon and Shana Knizhnik; The Evolution of Everything: How New Ideas Emerge, by Matt Ridley.

What did you want and get?
A backyard with grass and a new patio and boxes for my little vegetables!

What did you want and not get?
Superficial Item #1: To fit back into my skinny jeans, I’m still working on it.
Superficial Item #2: A wall of bookcases to fill up.
More Honest and Infinitely Harder to Admit Item: happiness or even contentment with my life, my relationships, myself.

What one thing would have made your year immeasurably more satisfying?
Several months of temperatures in the low thirties and high twenties; I am not cut out for the nine months of temps over 90 degrees. It makes my brain melt.

What kept you sane?
Long conversations with dear friends, audiobooks to keep me company, wandering around art museums and exhibits, puttering with my plants.

What political issue stirred you the most?
I really don’t know if I can answer this question because I haven’t got 3,728 hours to write in all the details. Which issue? All of them. I have ranted and raved and cheered and spent emotional energy on more political causes in the last 12 months than in the rest of my life combined.

Did you fall in love?
No.

Who did you miss?
Same answer as last year: My people in Salt Lake, my nieces and nephews, siblings, and my glorious rocky mountains.

Did you learn a valuable life lesson this year?
The grass is not always greener elsewhere. That being said, I also firmly believe that all of our choices will not  and can not result in confetti and fireworks and unicorns and solely positive outcomes; sometimes even the most carefully thought out plans–the ones with flowcharts and back-up contingencies–will fail. At that point I have to wallow for a bit, because I am human, not a freaking robot, then pick myself up and get back to work.

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Previous birthday posts here: Age 33Age 32.

Friends! Phoenicians! Fellow Book Nerds!

AZ Booksale 2014 1_FeistyHarriet

Friends! Phoenicians! Bookworms! Lend me your ears! Or, your eyeballs! Your scroll fingers? Or…well, this is getting kind of macabre, I don’t want a pile of body parts, just pay attention mmmkay?

This Saturday, February 11, is the annual and legendary VNSA Used Book Sale in downtown Phoenix. The basics: half a million books–HALF A MILLION!–organized by genre then alphabetical by author (mostly), lined up on HUNDREDS tables and stacked in open boxes underneath, hardbacks are usually $2-3, paperbacks $1-2, and fancy coffee table or art books are $5-10, depending on the title/size/etc. All books are half price on Sunday. They’ve got classics, a huge kid’s section, history, biography, cook books and hobby books, sciencey books, rows and rows of fiction. Books are collected via donations throughout the greater Phoenix metro area all year long, and volunteers organize and run the book sale. All proceeds go towards literacy in Arizona. Friends, this is the best thing that has ever happened to me.

AZ Booksale 2014 4_FeistyHarriet

So. I’m the nerd who sleeps in the parking lot on Friday night to ensure an excellent place in line, and because it’s the kind of nerdy thing that makes me happy. If you show up at 8:00 am when the doors open, you’ll probably wait 60-90 minutes in line…maybe? I honestly don’t know, the latest I’ve ever arrived was 4:30, we waited 30 minutes after the doors opened, but it wasn’t worth trying to wake up at 3:45, I’d rather stay tucked into my parking lot sleeping bag (with ear plugs and eye mask) until 7:00, thank you very much.

Anyway, I feel liked I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention it, this is my Black Friday, the day I buy the most things, but they are all on a SUPER deal, and proceeds help ESL programs and 1st grade reading groups and Title 1 students get up to grade level. Yep, this is my Thing.

In their Rare Books inventory for this year they have a limited, numbered edition of My Mortal Enemy signed by the author, Willa Cather!! WILLA CATHER! A few years ago they had a first edition Huck Finn for auction. Ya’ll, if only.

I don’t shop the rare books room, I rub elbows with the other bookish plebeians amongst the stacks (and stacks and STACKS!). You are welcome to join me, this year, next year, whenever. I think this is my 9th year attending the Book Sale, it’s not going to be something I give up. Read about my other tips for Book Sale attendance here.

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I always yell at the commercials

Let’s talk about advertising for a minute, shall we?

It seems that this time of year (cough, Super Bowl, cough) we all have MANY opinions on commercials, and it also seems that this time of year many companies bring out all their cliched trope of misogyny, and insist on using women and their bodies to sell stuff. Granted, there are usually also a handful of bright spots with some wit or a fresh angle that rise to the top, but truth of the matter is that the Super Bowl brings out the best and worst of the advertising world, and it also happens to be an event that vast numbers of people watch, even those (ahem) who don’t really care about Spots Ball (Go Team!), and even those who don’t particularly care for commercials.

So. Ads. Companies pay gajillions of dollars to tout their product during this sportsing event. And millions of people watch the game and the commercials and you can follow a running commentary on both on various channels of the Interwebs.

Here’s what: this is how advertising works. It creates a desire where one didn’t necessarily exist before, and then it somehow compels you to go out of your way to consume and satiate that desire. I worked in advertising for YEARS and I honestly have a really hard time with commercials, Super Sports or no. Mr. Blue Eyes won’t watch live TV with me because I tend to yell at the commercials and pick them apart, ranting about what the producer wants me to do or buy. I complain about the ridiculous cliches that help generate emotions and desire in a super condensed ad slot. I am ruthless in my critique, and I usually get all huffy and puffy, and Mr. Blue Eyes has to turn off the TV and bring me cold compresses for my forehead until my heart rate gets back to normal.

Irresponsible advertising–and I use that term loosely to encompass ads that exploit people in order to sell product–makes me super irritated. I don’t react well to be purposely manipulated by a phone company or a car company or a fast food company to convince me that they are the Super Best and I should go there to spend all my monies. The whole idea rankles me; the exploitation, the “clever” spin, the manipulation, the incessant repetition, the photoshopping for maximum effect, the all-too-common stereotypes, the misogyny, the unrealistic expectations…I mean, come on! (Also? Remind you of anything else that’s been going on of late?)

Throughout the sportsing Twitter and Facebook are alight with friends and strangers giving their two cents on whatever the refs are doing, and whatever the advertisers are saying/selling. You’ll see a TON of angst about certain companies, their commercials, their ad messaging, etc. You will see a number of complaints from parents about how they can’t believe how inappropriate the ads were for a family event, too dark, too scary, too sexy, too much. And I understand where they are coming from, for sure. But I am surprised at their surprise. I mean, truly, I am. This is how advertising works and it works REMARKABLY well in the United States. Think about that. Think about why. Consider how many things are “sponsored” and by whom and why. Am I promote a wholesale boycott? No. I am asking you to consider how and why XYZ company can spend millions of dollars on 30 seconds of advertising. What are they trying to get you, the consumer, to do, or to buy? Why? Then see if your values actually align what that thing, and if they do–great! And if they don’t, think carefully before whipping out your credit card.

That’s it. That’s my advertising rant. Just think about it.

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P.S. I’m not mentioning any Super Sports Game commercials or companies because a) this post was written last week and b) I didn’t actually watch the game or the commercials.