Archive for category Life

15/365: Kickin’ It

In South Texas, leaves fall in December.  In January, they are piled up high, smelling earthy and soft.  As a child, I loved playing in the leaves, kicking them high in the air as I walked to and from school.   I loved the leaves’ fragility, their texture, the sound they made scraping across the concrete.  I loved knowing that I could kick the leaves only for a short time easy year.  Kicking leaves felt special.  As a child, it never occurred to me if anyone noticed me kicking leaves.  I simply didn’t care.

Like most people, as an adult, I have thought too much about what others think, how they’ll judge, that they’ll judge, and I have limited what I do because of that fear.  With students, I strive to demonstrate to them a person who does not shy away from controversy, difficulty, or a challenge, someone who will stand up and do what’s right … no matter the cost.  I’m not always successful at this.  I do wrong things often.  I don’t stand up when I know I should.  Sometimes I find myself going along just because it’s easy, because I fear, because I fear the consequences of standing up and challenging.  I hate that I fear.  But these are choices I make.  I can make other choices, too.

Today, I still love kicking in the leaves– without shoes, even– and without a care of what others might think.

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The nail that sticks up….

Years ago when I lived in Japan, the old proverb, “The nail that sticks up will be hammered down” made some sense.  In a society where 128 million people live in a space the size of Montana, one has to be aware of and abide by societal mores and behaviors because without them– and without people following them– it would be very difficult to get through any given day.  The uniformity kept people safe and sane.  It also took away their individuality and their light.

I no longer live in Japan where the crush of millions of people made it necessary for me to be behave like everyone else.   I am a strong, autonomous woman who needs to be who she is meant to be, not as others wish her to be.

About a year ago, I took this photograph, “There’s always one.”  And that one is me.

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The Third Stage of Life

Stage one: I survived a violent and difficult childhood yet still grew up to be creative and tenacious in what I wanted from life.  I attended 18 schools in 8 years.  My family lived in a several states and dozens of cities in those states. I graduated from  high school without being pregnant.  At 25, I married a man I did not know well and we lived in Japan.  The marriage didn’t last, and I returned to the United States.

Stage two: I returned from Japan with a baby, a box of baby toys, a suitcase of our clothes, and a perspective about life and culture that I could not have gained had I not lived in that marriage.  Back in the US, I had to figure out how I would rear the child and form a meaningful life for us.  And it was hard.  I worked a series of meaningless jobs that paid a little more per week than the cost of child care.  We struggled.

Returning to school seemed an idiotic choice (as others told me), but I felt it was the right thing.  I’d always wanted to go to college, but I didn’t know what it looked like.  I didn’t know HOW to go to college.  Nevertheless, I signed up for courses at the local community college.  I reasoned that if I earned an AA degree, I’d get a “great” job and I could provide for my family.   I continued to the BA degree then the MA degree, all the while rearing my daughter, providing her a home, being involved in the community and youth activities.  I held full-time jobs while attending school, but with increasing amounts of education, I could get positions that allowed us to live a more comfortable life.

During this phase, my daughter grew to be a creative, generous, talented, and forceful young woman.  She grew up in one neighborhood.  She attended school with many of the same children throughout their 12 years of required education.  She graduated from college and now is in graduate school.  She is not a statistic.

Earning the Ph.D. was a struggle in and of itself for me.  It took nine years, but it’s finished.  Finally.  With the Ph.D., I can move onto stage three of my life.

Stage three: It begins now.  With all that has lead me to this point in my life, I am anticipating significant growth and change to occur in this stage.  I’m ready for it.  It begins now.

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Lessons Learned (from a lifetime of work)

As I ready myself for the next stage of my life and a new career, I reflect on the work I have done in the past.  Jobs.  I have had a lot of them.   Some have been perfectly fine what they were — ways to earn money.  Others taught me a lot about myself or about what I wanted from life.  Others taught me that I did not want that kind of existence.  But I learned from them all.A representative sample of the jobs I have held:

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My first “real” job: For a few years, I worked at Mott’s Five-and-Dime store.  I don’t know if they are still around.  At the time, Mott’s sold plastic flowers, plastic and tin kitchen items, polyester fabric, Butterick/Simplicity patterns, sewing notions, hardware, school supplies, candy.  It had such a unique smell, the smell of cheap and dust.   The “sales girls” all earned $1.00 an hour for our time, and we worked about 15 hours a week.  The manager could get away with giving us only $1 an hour because we were all underage, 13, 14, 15.  At the time, I didn’t realize how wrong that was … to hire underaged girls.  But then, how else could the assistant manager show his employees porn?  Anyone older might have said something.
  • The Perks? I was able to earn enough money to pay for Drill Team camp (uniforms, etc.), fabric for prom dresses (yes, polyester prom dresses), and furnish my first kitchen with plastic and tin items.
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My shortest job: For one day–or one shift–I worked in a greenhouse pulling growth shoots off tomato plants.  I was in high school.  It wasn’t a bad job, but it wasn’t too terribly interesting or challenging.  However, I never remembered which was a “shoot” that would stifle tomato growth or which was the “branch” that would eventually grow a tomato, and for that one shift I pruned the wrong part of the plant.  Maybe it was more challenging that I gave it credit for.

  • The Perks? Uh, um.  I like tomatoes.
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My longest part-time job:  I worked at Taco Bell throughout high school.  It was a good job for a teenager, but I grew to hate it.  I always smelled like ground beef and hot sauce.  I did, though, learn customer service skills, how to count back change (why teens can’t do that today is shocking, but I digress), how to cook (OK, stop laughing).  It was at Taco Bell, of all places, that I began to realize that a pretty girl can have advantages over those less pretty.   I did learn that Taco Bell’s hot sauce could strip the tarnish off a penny if that penny is left in the hot sauce for more than one minute.

  • The Perks? Food.  Enough money (enough hours) that I could buy a car.  And not to eat Taco Bell’s hot sauce… I learned that, too.
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My first professional job: I once worked for General Electric.  I worked at a couple of locations, but the last place– a sales office for electric motor parts– was probably the most “professional.”  Other jobs had been secretarial, answering phones and typing letters.  In the last job, I was an inside sales rep selling the motor parts.  I found that if I sent creative fliers to my 50 or so customers when GE had sales on specific items, that the customers would buy those items, and they would buy them in bulk lots, spending thousands and thousands of dollars at a time.  I won all sorts of inside sales awards– and small GE appliances.

  • The Perks? The appliances, sure, but more than that: I learned that I was good at marketing and advertising.  I learned much about both in that position.

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My first concurrent job:   While working for GE, I also worked on Christmas season at a photography studio in a mall.  I was the “receptionist”/”salesforce” for the studio.  The studio– OK, it was one guy with a camera and some umbrella lights– placed boxes around the mall with “submit your info and you could win free photographs!” signs on them.  People filled out the cards hoping they would win.  Guess what?  They did.  All of them did.  My job was to call them all and tell them they’d won.  What they won was one photograph (maybe 8×10), but once they were in the studio, we’d sell them all sorts of packages.  It was slimy and sleazy.

  • The Perks? I got to play around with a twin-lens camera and lights.
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My first overseas job:  I taught English conversation classes in my home, and one of my first students was a Japanese pop star.   I had no idea who he was– that he was famous– as I’d only been in the country about a month.  I also wouldn’t have ever recognized a Japanese pop star.  Ever.  He was just a guy who actually spoke English quite clearly.  We talked about American music.

  • The Perks? Free tickets to his very large concert in Tokyo, and the envy of many of my husband’s friends (who had known about the pop star for many years).
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My most necessary job:  When I decided to return to school, I was making $7 an hour as an administrative assistant, and I had a three-year old daughter.  At $7 an hour, I could barely cover the cost of childcare so I could work.  I quite the job and started cleaning houses.  I made better money, and I could take my daughter with me if I could not find a babysitter.  I could also work classes around my cleaning schedule.  It was hard work.  But I learned a very important lesson:  I was not too good to be cleaning homes.  I did not let pride get in the way of what we needed.  It was honest work.

  • The Perks? I kept my own schedule and did (or did not do) what I needed to do.  I also got to see how people with a lot of expendable cash live their lives.  Partly, that was a bit depressing, but mostly it was sad . . . possessions dominated their lives.
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My most meaningful job:  Working for and then ultimately directing the nonprofit organization, Write to Succeed, Inc., was the job that had the most personal significance to who I was and who I wanted to become.  In these jobs, I was able to use my skills and talents and education in ways that had not been possible in many other positions.  I was able to work with community organizations, schools, children, shelters, women . . . write grants, give presentations, write training guides, encourage volunteer involvement from many people.  And this was a volunteer position.

  • The Perks? Too many to mention; however, learning what I can do if left to my own imagination was amazing.
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My next job:  Assistant Professor of English.  It amazing to me the progression through these few (and so many other) jobs.   It’s been a journey.  I have learned much.  I can’t wait to see how I’ll be able to use my diverse skills in this new position, in this new place.  For one day–or one shift–I worked in a greenhouse pulling growth shoots off tomato plants.  I was in high school.  It wasn’t a bad job, but it wasn’t too terribly interesting or challenging.  However, I never remembered which was a “shoot” that would stifle tomato growth or which was the “branch” that would eventually grow a tomato, and for that one shift I pruned the wrong part of the plant.  Maybe it was more challenging that I gave it credit for.

 

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