Saturday, December 26, 2009

One Year of Blogging

I began this blog exactly one year ago, and since then I have used it pretty much as I intended: sharing creative resources, anecdotes, embarrassing stories, and documenting events throughout the year.

It has been a good creative outlet for me and I'd like to find more ways this year to fuel my creative side. In the meantime, I'll continue to showcase my findings and fine embellishments on the blog. Hope you've enjoyed one year of "Letters From a Libra."

Based on data collected from Google Analytics, here are the top four posts viewed this year:

1. Why Do Women Go Crazy?
2. Poem By Mary Oliver
3. Hey, Jealousy (And More On Why Women Go Crazy)
4. Poetry Contest Winners Announced

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Virtual Torture

I discovered Camzone when my family first moved to San Diego and I was still at college in Massachusetts. It plays live camera streams from places in San Diego. I used to look at it during snowstorms when I was holed up in my dorm room writing essays with freezing fingers. It provided me with a little virtual escape until my heart practically burst with jealousy thinking about my family sitting down by the pool in February, then it became more a form of virtual torture.

This time I chose to come back to the land of snow and ice, so I can't complain (just watch me try). I don't know if I'm looking at Camzone now more for escape, torture, nostalgia, or just to stalk the surfers you can
occasionally catch a glimpse of in the water.

This is what it looks like in the frozen tundra outside my door in Massachusetts:

And courtesy of Camzone, this is what it looks like down at the sun-washed La Jolla Shores:

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Creative Souls

Maybe it's being around artists all day at work, but lately I've been having an overwhelming urge to create things. I consider myself a creative person, but I'm no artist. I have always enjoyed the less tangible "art" of writing but I find myself wanting to diversify...and not just wanting to, but feeling like a have to. I never thought I'd see such a quick decline of the printed word as I have in the past couple years. It's hard for me (and even harder as a relatively recent grad) to come across any jobs in the publishing industry that are not tech- or medical-related, and at that point, I feel like I might as well sell my creative soul to some big data entry corporation.

It's not that I want to become a painter or a sculptor, but I do want to be happy
. I see a variety of people come into my office and what I've learned from them is that, really, anything you can think up is possible. I've seen a woman who is starting her own journal line inspired by her family relationships and her mother's artwork. I've seen two woman come in to discuss the outline of a cookbook featuring local recipes and artwork. I've seen watercolors painted by a famous chocolatier who started making candy in his basement and artwork in his spare time. While these people won't make the salary of a big CEO, they will feel better about what they do every day and be in charge of their own life and that's what I admire.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

What Do You Mean Not Everyone Gets a Trophy?

While browsing the "new book" section in the library a while ago, I came across a book titled, "Not Everyone Gets a Trophy," by Bruce Tulgan and I immediately knew what it was about: Me. Less specifically, it is about managing Generation Y. I have read articles about my generation (born between the mid 70's and 1990's), and how we were brought up to think that we are all "special." The title of the book made me laugh out loud because (and this is probably a typical Gen Y thing to say), it seemed like it was titled just for me!

See, when I was a kid, I tried all kinds of sports before my parents realized I didn't have a competitive bone in my body. I used to hide behind the tall girls during little kid track races so I wouldn't have to race against the fast kids; instead of hitting the tennis balls my instructor lobed at me, I ran away from them; and when I tried gymnastics, I stood on the springboard before the vault and cried. Then I cried even more when I found out I didn't qualify to get a trophy with one of those little gold eagles on it. I didn't think it was fair that just because I made (in my mind) a very smart decision not to launch myself over something 10x the size of myself at the time, I wasn't getting a trophy!

The next day, my dad came home with a present. I opened it and there was the little gold eagle and a female figure poised in a running stance on top of a platform reading, "Champion Daughter." At the time it could have read, "Champion Cry Baby" and I would have been just as thrilled to have gotten it. It was a very nice thing for my parents to do, even if it did perpetuate my Gen Y attitude that I was special even when I wasn't. But what the author of "Not Everyone Gets a Trophy," might not know is that while it's true not everyone get's a trophy in this world, everyone deserves a trophy for even the seemingly little things they do/are (like being a "champion daughter"). Spoken like a true Generation Y-er.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

First Snow

Three days ago, it was 65 degrees. Last night it was this:
Maya stood frozen in the doorway unsure whether or not those cold, white particles falling from the sky would hurt her if she stepped out into them. She reluctantly followed Tommie outside and pawed at her face to wipe the flakes away from her eyes. And like annoying parents do, we made her stay out there for a while so we could take pictures. Amidst the flurry, I couldn't see that my camera was on zoom the whole time.
By morning, the storm was gone and the sun was out. The trees were coated in a layer of snow and ice. It was quiet. It was pretty. It felt weird to step outside and hear the crunch of snow under my feet again.
I feel a little bit better now that the first snow is out of the way. I think I've done everything I can to prepare for it...now I just have to accept it. And so does our little Californian dog...

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Billy Collins: Poetry Videos

I stumbled across a Website featuring animated videos that go along with poems read by former poet laureate Billy Collins. These short QuickTime videos are basically what music videos are to songs...something visual to watch while listening to the words. I think this is a great way to entice people who don't care to read poetry to at least listen and watch it. Not to mention, Billy is a very accessible, humorous, and fun-to-read poet.

Billy Collins
action poetry


Friday, November 20, 2009

The Lesson of the Purple Sweater

The heat was out in the office yesterday and my boss, thinking she was doing me a favor, brought in one of her old fleece jackets for me to wear. I don't know what it is about ladies but they always think younger women won't mind wearing their clothes when it's cold. Consider this a public service announcement: 9 out of 10 times we would rather freeze.

I had a teacher is 6th grade who kept an oversized purple sweater in the closet for kids who got cold. We soon learned to NEVER complain of a chill or else suffer the embarrassment of her wrapping that unattractive, big, knit, moth-ball sweater around us. (Maybe if she hadn't covered up all the windows with cardboard so that we wouldn't "get distracted" the sunlight would have warmed us up?) This is what I thought of yesterday as my boss held up the jacket, which I instantly knew was too small for me, and said, "I brought this for you...and it's even clean!" She then proceeded to pick bits of dog hair and dirt off the sleeves and say, "Oh, well...maybe not...but it doesn't smell." Great.


A few minutes later she scolded me for not wearing the jacket. Fine, I thought, I'll compromise, so I stuffed my arms into the sleeves but didn't put it over my head for fear my man-shoulders would tear through the top. When my boss noticed this tactic she scoffed, "I don't have cooties, you know!" "I just don't think it will fit me in the shoulders," I tried to explain, but she took this to mean I was calling her fat. "Oh, come on! I had that in college, Amber! It will fit you." "It's just that I have really broad, manly shoulders and I was worried I would stretch it out," but everything I said made her angry. I was supposed to love her dirty college fleece and wear it like we were old college buds, but instead I was indirectly calling her "small shouldered," and so to spare her ego she hollered, "Well, I have a rack! You don't have that!" The client who was privy to this entire discussion looked from her chest to mine.
Great.

You see, it never ends well...other 6th graders will call the kid a Purple-People Eater for the rest of the day; everyone in the office will guess at cup sizes...and in the end, we'd have rather died of hypothermia anyway. So if you're ever thinking of sharing your purple sweater or dirty fleece, remember this, you are doing that girl a favor by letting her freeze.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Squirrely

As many already know, I am terrified to confront winter this year because I haven't had to deal with so much as a sprinkle in several years. And what do Libra's do when they get scared? They prepare. And any good Libra doesn't just prepare, she over prepares.

It's evident that winter's approaching: The sky remains gray all day, I can see a much farther distance now that the trees are bare, and the squirrels are darting around like mad in preparation. I suddenly understand the frantic urgency expressed by the squirrels. As much as I'd like to go on pretending that winter will just skip over New England this year, I know it will be here fast and it won't be leaving any time soon. To be honest, the squirrels make me more nervous. They make everything look so urgent and stressful. I watch them rustling haphazardly through fallen leaves, scurrying across our fence, their cheeks full of acorns, and darting across the street making a mad dash for the last of fall's bounty.


On my way to work last week I watched the last of the leaves falling from the trees like big papery snowflakes, and it won't be long until they are snowflakes. Before that happens I am going to take a lesson from those neurotic (much like myself) little squirrels and gather, prepare, and stock up...and I better hurry!

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Hey, Jealousy (And More on Why Women Go Crazy)

I recently received an e-mail from a distraught male trying to make sense of his girlfriend's jealous and emotional behavior particularly in the case of his friendship with another girl at work (where, coincidentally, the girlfriend also works). At his wits end, he Googled, "Why are women so crazy?" And he came across my post "Why Do Women Go Crazy?" I feel bad for men; I really do. They are apparently so confounded by us they Google our behavior as if there is (and maybe there should be) some kind of catch-all physiological, scientific, medically-sound explanation for why we are all completely off our rockers.
Let's be honest, both men and women get jealous. The difference is that women don't just get jealous—they get angry, upset, sad, self-loathing, competitive, manipulative, evil, caddy—you get the idea. The reason why men are easier to deal with in general is that they typically stick to one emotion. They get jealous and maybe a little angry and competitive. Women are just more emotionally complex. This completely confuses most men who can't handle the emotional roller coaster we strap them into with that crazed look in our eyes and say, "Hold on, you're in for it now!"

There was one particular situation that caused me to mope around one summer plagued with jealousy, and the worst part was that I really didn't have a right to do so since I was a far worse human being than my boyfriend. Regardless, I got angry; I got sad; I searched for a way to get even (preferably ahead), and this emotional meltdown exhausted my boyfriend...literally. One night I decided to vent to him about why I was so hurt and upset...I carefully laid out my feelings in between tears and at the end he was very quiet. That's when I realized he had fallen asleep.

See, men's brains just shut off at a certain level of intensity. That's what spares them from going as crazy as we do. It's a defense
mechanism...like going into shock...that, really, saves them from suffering the way we do. We could learn a thing or two from this: When things become too mentally draining we should just stop: Stop worrying, stop sobbing, stop beating ourselves up over it...we can't control everything and everyone in the world. And secondly, if we are still upset, we should probably vent to another female who can handle our chatter without slipping into a sleep induced coma.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Art From Above

The other day at work an artist came in to drop off some of his paintings and he proceeded to tell us that God gives him visions of what to paint. Usually when people say things like this I smile politely and turn quickly away to give a good eye roll towards the wall. To make matters worse, this guy wasn't even a good artist—The least God could do is pick a better artist to paint for him, I thought. But the fact that this man wasn't good actually helped clear something up for me (no, I wasn't converted), but for the first time I was able to make sense of what he was saying.

When this man feels inspired or when he gets a clear idea of what to paint he believes this comes from God. I can actually relate to that because as a writer I have had similar moments, I've just never given a thumbs up towards heaven when they've happened because I don't believe that's where they came from. I have had moments writing poems when I have no idea what I'm saying or where the poem is headed until it suddenly, and seemingly at once, becomes very clear and the rest flows easily from my head and from my heart. See, I just said it comes from my head and my heart—others would say it comes from God. It's just a matter of what you do or don't believe in.

So, I stopped mid eye roll this time because I realized that while I would personally be freaked out if I thought someone (God included) was infiltrating my mind with "visions," all creative minds have moments of inspiration from somewhere...whether we choose to believe it comes from within us, around us, or even above us.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Fall At The Orchard

Fall has always meant a lot to me...it means leaves on the maple tree in front of the fire station turning a brilliant shade of red and orange; it means my birthday; it means darkness coming earlier; it means crisp days and clear nights; and it means the orchard. Russell Orchards in Ipswich, Mass. has been under different management over the years but I'm happy it hasn't lost any of it's essential fall staples. It's probably the one place every kid who grew up on the Northshore remembers when they think of fall.The place itself signifies the season and all it has to offer: a yellow tree-lined driveway, apple-picking, piles of hay for the pigs and goats, rows of pumpkins in all shapes and sizes, fresh apple cider and the most delicious scent in the entire world from fresh baked cider donuts. I'm pretty sure if no one was there to stop me, I would have eaten this whole tray of them.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Bittersweet October

"Bittersweet October. The mellow, messy, leaf-kicking, perfect pause between the opposing miseries of summer and winter." ~Carol Bishop Hipps

Sunday, October 18, 2009

California Poet: Robinson Jeffers

In a poetry reading I went to the other night, Louise Gluck and Robert Pinksy read some of their favorite poems, including one from Robinson Jeffers whose work is influenced by the natural beauty of the central California coast. I had read some of Jeffers poetry before but kind of forgot about him...I appreciate his work more now that I'm familiar with the Calif. coastline and have seen first-hand how quickly and carelessly we push forward building more developments and promoting more materialism, particularly on the West Coast. So, in the spirit of poetry (and nature), here is one by Jeffers:

Carmel Point

Robinson Jeffers


The extraordinary patience of things!

This beautiful place defaced with a crop of surburban houses-

How beautiful when we first beheld it,

Unbroken field of poppy and lupin walled with clean cliffs;

No intrusion but two or three horses pasturing,

Or a few milch cows rubbing their flanks on the outcrop rockheads-

Now the spoiler has come: does it care?
Not faintly. It has all time. It knows the people are a tide
That swells and in time will ebb, and all

Their works dissolve. Meanwhile the image of the pristine beauty

Lives in the very grain of the granite,

Safe as the endless ocean that climbs our cliff.-As for us:

We must uncenter our minds from ourselves;

We must unhumanize our views a little, and become confident

As the rock and ocean that we were made from.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

$10 Therapy

I've been working my two new jobs for a month now and I'm starting to think my main job responsibility at both places is to be the very cheap resident therapist.

Today my boss and I spent all afternoon going over a new line of marketing products she's been anxious about starting. When we finished, she told her husband I was great to have around because I was so patient and all she needed was someone to sit there while she talked out loud. And on Monday one of the managers at the restaurant where I work apologized to me for sitting on the bench next to the hostess stand and pouring out his heart about the latest emotional turmoil between he and his friend/ex/girlfriend.

There must be something about me (probably a side effect of the weirdo magnet) that causes people to over share around me. I've always been a pretty good listener; I'm patient, and I can keep a secret. I've had friends tell me deep secrets then look at me and say, "I don't know why I just told you that...I promised myself I wasn't going to tell a soul." I think people are drawn to Libras for their sense of inner balance and ability to equally weigh all the sides. In addition, our indecisive nature is helpful to them because 9 out of 10 times they are not looking for an answer, but just need someone to act as their sounding board.

When the restaurant manager apologized again for talking so much about his life, I joked, "It's okay...that will be $200." And he said, "Wow, that's cheap...you've been here four hours!" He's right...but it's sad when that sounds like a hefty sum to a girl who makes nothing. I'm beginning to think I'm in the wrong profession here.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Inhabitants Of Nature

Before I had to head into work at the restaurant last weekend, Tommie and I managed to get out and check out a trail in the Warren-Weld (Greenbelt) Reservation in Essex with one of our friends and Maya. The trail we stuck to was a good distance and there were others to check out so I definitely think we'll go back there soon.

The week before we made another stop at the Long Hill Reservation in Beverly. The change of seasons almost makes it seem like we're in a different park every time we go...new plants have sprung up, more or less leaves cover the trees, and the giant tadpoles that hovered in the little rock ponds are now big frogs poking their heads from between lily pads to soak up the remaining sunlight.

Searching for little creatures like cool bugs, frogs and snakes
is one of my favorite things to do when we're exploring/walking. Sometimes I think if science class hadn't suddenly turned into a cleverly disguised math class (thanks a lot chemistry and physics), I might have spent more time studying biology because long before textbooks I was a strange kid who loved to play with bugs...I blame it on the fact we didn't have cable television in my house. For whatever reason, I've always been fascinated with all the little critters inhabiting the natural world. I remember getting in trouble in elementary school for leading a tour of kids to the outfield during recess to see a puddle filled with tadpoles that had just hatched. Those "yard ladies" really knew how to burst a kid's bubble. Luckily, that didn't thwart my efforts to check out the tadpoles progress when I was able to sneak away. And there is still a child-like part of me that gets excited when I spot these guys.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Why Do Women Go Crazy?

When I was 16 I believed women were emotionally superior and more level-headed than men, and that's because at 16 we were. Not only do boys take longer to mature, but they almost all undergo some kind of dark stage during adolescence where they question their very existence. Because of their fragile male egos and because society says it's not okay for boys to show vulnerability, they almost all lose their minds trying to hold in all of their emotions.

Later in our lives though, something happens: Men pull themselves from the pit of teenage despair and women begin their slow decline to insanity. Don't get me wrong; I still think women are emotionally superior than men, but I am sorry to say I think that very strength could be the cause of our ruin. As we get older and have more responsibility, women try to take it all on. We try to carefully balance our home life, love life, work life, etc. Men know it's impossible, so they don't worry themselves trying. They focus on what's most important. They don't let their emotions dictate their actions. (*I realize this isn't true in all cases, but it's a main observation I've made based on the men/women in my life.)
Women lose their patience, then they lose their tact, and then they lose their minds. Most of us grew up with impatient mother's—scolding us often, yelling at telemarketers, and complaining at restaurants. My college roomies and I were horrified to discover that all of our mother's walked around our houses naked—barely remembering to cover up when friends came over (so much for tact). Then one day my mom wrote me a postcard from our cat (that's right, "written" and "signed" by the cat). C.r.a.z.y.

I am in my mid-twenties and I feel it happening already: I'm a bitch when I don't need to be, I'm overly cynical, I'm bossy, and I dream of the day I'll be able to embarrass my future daughter in front of her boyfriends. I look at all the older women in my life and those I encounter for a short time and I cringe. What happens to us? It can't merely be biological...menopause can only account for a portion of it. Based on observation and carefully documented experiences, crazy women disease starts early and continues on through old age. I can't promise I won't hang up promptly on telemarketers, roll my eyes when I'm waiting in a long line as if I should be allowed a free pass to the front, or even that I won't write my kids a long letter from the dog, but I do promise to try my very best to put on clothes when we have visitors.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Teaching An Old Libra New Tricks

It's been a long time since I've had to learn anything new. I haven't been in school or had to learn a new job in 3-4 years; I had reached that "comfortable" zone where things were routine and made sense. But this week I started 2 new jobs, and while being employed again makes other people think you are less of a moron, it doesn't necessarily make you feel that way. It's not that these jobs are hard (I'm an assistant and a hostess) but it scares me how inept I have become after not having to learn anything new for a few years. Sometimes I feel like I'm back in high school math class...I'm jotting down a note and when I look up again the teacher has filled the entire board with formulas I haven't a clue about and when he asks me a question I can't even remember how to subtract 2 from 4.

It doesn't help that I'm a perfectionist. I want to know how to do everything perfectly. I wish I could get it right on the first try. I wish I knew the all dimensions of artwork by heart (I'm at an art printmaking company); I wish the placement of table numbers made sense to me—who puts table 9 next to table 17? Honestly.

I know that my mind is just trying to switch gears and I need to give it time to sink in...but sometimes I don't think the people around me understand that. There have been several occasions I have felt like rolling a piece of paper into a cone and sitting in the corner with my dunce cap on. This is partly due to the attitude of my "teachers" (sometimes I see the same look of frustration my math teacher gave me when I was supposed to understand parabolas just because he did), and partly it's my own resistance to change. Getting comfortable in a past job hinders my ability to learn a new one because it suddenly all seems so foreign. I know things will get easier; these jobs will help to diversify my skills, but I'm beginning to wonder if I even had any to begin with.
Excuse me while I go put my cap on.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Kicked Off The Quarter

Poor Gloucester. It seems the only news Gloucester is able to hold onto lately is bad news. The city was due for some "good publicity" when the Fisherman's Memorial (Man at the Wheel Statue) was voted by the public to appear on the new Massachusetts quarter, but already that news has gone sour.

The Gloucester Daily Times reports: "Ignoring the wishes of 109,817 Massachusetts online voters, the federal government has rejected Gloucester's Man at the Wheel for engraving on the back of a series of U.S. quarters.


"Chosen in a landslide over hundreds of other sites in Massachusetts in Internet voting this spring, the Gloucester Fishermen's Memorial and its iconic image of the man at sea was deemed ineligible for the quarter program because it is not federally maintained, according to a Mint spokeswoman."

Democracy at it's finest...The feds won't even let us vote on what picture to put on a coin. The people had spoken. The Man at the Wheel was ready for his close up. Gloucester was ready for some positive attention. I admit in high school I used to make fun of the fisherman because, well, while other schools had cool mascots like tigers, falcons and bulldogs...ours was a fisherman who, on his off-time, made fish sticks (Gorton's anyone?). But I have to admit, I thought he was a good fit for the quarter. The stoic figure is a popular tourist attraction and holds a lot of meaning as he stands in remembrance of all those lost at sea.

I used to be able to affirm, "Yeah, I'm from the place they based/filmed
The Perfect Storm," but lately it's been more like, "Yeah, I'm from the place where all those teenagers got knocked up," or locally, "Yeah, I'm from the place with bacteria-infested water." I guess Gloucester will just have to keep waiting for some good news.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Winter Will Come Again

While I lived in southern California I talked about winter like it was a battle wound I had picked up. I told coworkers about power outages, about shoveling cars from snowdrifts before work and school, and about it being so cold your nostril hairs froze, and they couldn't even believe it. They saw snowstorms on TV but couldn't fathom the way the wind went whipping by those poor people stuck on the highway somewhere in the northeast because when they looked outside the sun was always shining brightly on the palm trees.

And after one- two- three snow-less winters, I too began to forget what it was like. I was at the pool while my friends in Boston were scraping ice off their windshields. I felt like a cheater. I felt like a wonderful, warm little cheater. Winter became this silly, far-off memory. "Oh yeah, I lived in winter once...it was crazy—" as if it were some wild and crazy concert I attended.

Even as I planned my move back to New England I knew that winter would come but I brushed off the idea of it. We were moving back in May...that annoying winter season was a whole world away.

Then September came.


Being back in the land of four seasons, my body has picked up on the subtle shift from summer to fall, then it will be from fall to...(and I swear the little hairs on the back of my neck rose up when I thought about it) WINTER. It suddenly hit me; it's actually going to happen. The sun in San Diego must have burned straight through to my brain cells because I really think I thought that maybe winter had stopped happening all together in 2006...when it stopped for me.

Like a repressed memory, thoughts of winter are creeping back to me and I'm going into disaster planning mode. I had to get Maya a winter coat; I'm restocking my candle supply; I have to dig out my old gloves and go buy boots. There is so much to do before the deep freeze sets in. I feel like calling out a warning, Paul Revere-style, through the streets: "Winter is coming! Winter is coming!" But people here would just look at me and say, "Yeah, idiot, we know." I suppose it's a little early to start worry about it all, but coming back into winter suddenly seems a lot more difficult now that I've accepted the fact it's actually going to happen.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Poetry Contest Winners Announced

The Quarter Deck Poetry Contest winner, finalists, and honorable mentions were announced yesterday, and as one of the finalist, my poem appears on the Gloucester Poet Laureate Website:

www.gloucesterpoetlaureate.org

I wrote the first draft of this poem in college while reading
Charle's Olson's The Maximus Poems. Olson drew from the rich history of Gloucester (my hometown and where he eventually settled). He explored the connection between people and place and the changes (not such a good thing) brought about by technology and industrialism. I got to thinking about how much things had already changed since the time Olson wrote about them to the time I was writing about them. Time always moves forward but our words are more fluid and explore the connection between the past, present and where we're headed.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Mass. Poetry Festival

The Massachusetts Poetry Festival will take place in the Boston area this fall. Events begin on October 15th and continue through the 18th. If you click on the image above, you'll be directed to the Website where you can view the schedule of events and reserve tickets to the popular events (especially those on Saturday, Oct. 17th). Tickets are free, but you can guarantee a seat by donating a few bucks to reserve your place online. I grabbed a couple tickets for Louise Gluck's reading in Lowell on Oct. 17th, which happens to be on my birthday. People who know me know I wouldn't mind starting my birthday evening off with some good poetry.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Healthcare: The Non-Debatable Debate

I generally don't write about political topics because I know it gets everyone's panties into a twist and because I'm not the most informed when it comes to political matters, but there are some issues I just don't understand how they are even up for debate in the first place. Take an issue like healthcare.


I could go crazy following all the headlines, reading all the literature, watching all the news stations, and listening to all the press conferences and debates on healthcare, but I don't. And it's partly because I think politics messes everything up, and because I know how I feel about a topic like this independently of politics. I can't stand when people start spewing off things they heard on TV without ever adding in an ounce of their own thoughts. Do they even have any of their own thoughts?


I don't have any agendas; I don't have anything to gain or lose by this debate at this time, and I don't care what one side says over the other. Forget all that political gobily-gook and think about humanity. Think about the difference between right and wrong. Think about people who aren't as lucky as you might be. And, really, it is a matter of luck...it was sheer luck of the draw as to what country we were born in, what family we were born into, what economic status we were given, etc. YOU might have great healthcare. You might have a swell job. You might have had a better track for success because of your gender, race, or status. Your family might be rolling in the money, but other people are not. You know that, right? You don't care? Look, I am a selfish person, I'm not even a very nice person, but I know that every inherently good person and family deserves help when they need it and deserves affordable healthcare.


I don't feel this way because Obama told me to with that dreamy smile of his, I feel this way because I have felt this way my entire life. Because even children know that it's awful to see another human being suffer. Because everyone over age 12 knows that medical bills are out of control; that every time you go to the doctor's (even if it's just for a yearly physical) you inevitably end up on the phone with your insurance company because they charged you extra. That means the "big wigs" are capitalizing on peoples illnesses...and that is just sick. And doctors, it's true I'm already not fond of you because you come at me wielding sharp objects, but more of you should help people out of kindness rather than out of payments.


I know every action has consequences, every change is hard to implement, and every side should be acknowledged in the best possible way, but for once, can we throw out all the special interests and think about our fellow human beings on a human level? And with that, I'll descend from my cyber soapbox 'till next time.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

amberISconfused

I have never been good at coming to quick decisions. Choosing an ice cream flavor presents a big enough challenge, let alone choosing career moves, what city I want to live in, and how I will ever achieve balance between what I want, what I need, and what I'm stuck with. My e-mail address pretty much sums up my general feelings about life lately and all its major (and not so major) decisions.

The other day I was on the phone with my health insurance provider and the man on the line asked for my e-mail address.

"Amberisconfused..." I paused so that he could type it in the system, but the pause lasted longer than usual. "All one word..." I coaxed him along.

"What?" The man on the other end of the phone said.

"My e-mail...amberisconfused...all one word," I repeated.


"Oh!" He exclaimed, "I thought you were making a statement!"

I had to laugh. It was partly true.


In 8th grade my friends and I were using the public library's computer because none of our parents had the Internet yet. My friend told me I should get on e-mail but I didn't feel like it (an early rebellion against technology); she insisted, and said she'd set up an account for me, but when it came time to pick an e-mail address, I panicked.


"Oh my god, this is going to be with me for the rest of my life!" I said like the melodramatic, indecisive Libra I am.

"It's NOT a big deal," my friend assured me. "You can always make another one."

"NO, I can't. People are going to know this one...I can't just change it. I need to think of something really good, something memorable, meaningful, insightful..."


She rolled her eyes and waited, fingers poised on the keyboard. But it was too much pressure. My friends started offering suggestions but I found a reason to reject them all. We had a 20-minute time limit on the public computer; the librarian started to give us "the eyes."


My friend at the computer eventually let out a frustrated groan: "Ughhhhh! Amberisconfused!" at the same time typing her statement into the system, clicking enter, and memorializing my perpetual state of confusion and indecision. I couldn't get upset with her...after all, it was true.

While the decisions I had to make as an 8th grader were more trivial than the decisions I encounter as an adult, I still have the same reaction to them. After all these years, I still use the e-mail address and I'm still confused.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Who Needs Clean Water Anyway?

Gloucester has been having a bit of a water problem lately. Since August 21 we have been under a mandatory "boil-water order," which means any water used for drinking, cooking, brushing teeth, and washing dishes needs to be boiled first. The Gloucester Daily Times reports: "The city continues to pump supplemental levels of chlorine into the water system in an effort to drive down the bacteria counts. City officials continue to emphasize that there have still been no traces of E.coli or other fecal bacteria in the water samples. The state's boil-water order is based on the presence of total coliform bacteria." Because there is no E.coli present (yet), the city is not passing out water, which means that businesses and residents have to spend their own money on decent drinking water. It's only water—it's not like we need it to survive or anything.

It's times like these I wonder how we've let it come to this: Why we think everything we've done to make our civilization more "advanced" automatically makes it "better?" Why we'd take a water treatment plant over a natural spring or well? It comes down to convenience. It's more convenient to turn on a faucet than go down to the stream or the well and hoist up buckets of water (if we'd even want to, given the fact that we pollute the streams). And indeed some places wouldn't be able to have wells at all (like San Diego)...and I'll take a page from Tommie's favorite enviro books and say, well, then maybe we shouldn't inhabit places where you couldn't have a natural source of water.

As a citizen of the modern world, I am torn. Of course I enjoy the luxuries of warm showers and faucets (and I'm pretty sure my scrawny pancake arm muscles couldn't pull a bucket out of a well even if I tried)...but where do these advances get us in times like these? I'd be better off going to my aunt's family cabin in upstate New York and drinking from the natural spring in the ground that's covered with decomposing leaves (it is, by the way, some of the best water I've had). Instead I'm in a city, like many others, that avoids bacteria water by pumping extra chemicals into it. So let me get this straight: I can either drink water teeming with bacteria OR chlorine chemical water? Pour me some of that! Maybe, just maybe, those shouldn't be our options.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Recognized For a Poem About Home

The poet laureate of Gloucester, Mass. recently held a poetry contest to recognize the Gloucester Fisherman's Memorial (a statue remembering the fisherman lost at sea) which will be featured on the new Massachusetts quarter.

On a whim, I sent in one of my poems about Gloucester and found out yesterday that though I did not win the contest, I was one of three finalists and that my poem will be mentioned in the newspaper and published online as well as in a print version later this winter/spring. I'm honored for the recognition. I'm glad it was well-received and it makes me happy to have shared my work locally. I know this is where my words belong.

I'll post a link to the winning poems when they are published in a couple weeks!

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Curse of the Hobo

If there was a term for the opposite of a gold-digger (dirt-digger?), that might be what you would call the women in my family. I have a big family, we all grew up in different generations, different places and different socioeconomic classes, but one commonality rings true...we are drawn to men who have nothing.

My mom rolls her eyes when my sister and I say we don’t like guys who have money and nice cars because they aren't interesting...being poor builds character. Plus, we all have a "poor” sense of humor: we make fun of each other a lot, we burp in public, we talk about poop...we just can’t relate to people with money and class.


Most women go their whole lives without dating a hobo, but if you ask the women in my family, they’re missing out. Even my mom, who just wants the best for her daughters, knows it’s true—after all, she married our dad who was a young, carefree (and homeless) fisherman when they started dating.

That might explain why my sister and I have a natural affinity for cute and charming vagabonds. Put me in a room with 100 men and I guarantee I’ll find the one who doesn’t have a car, a high-paying job, or even an apartment. I swear I can smell them (no need to make a joke about them not showering).


It’s true I’ve spent the majority of my life with a guy who has it together because in reality I can’t stress out about where my boyfriend is sleeping at night; I worry enough as it is, but there is always a special place in my heart for the lost boys who lead a simple existence, who (despite the fact they have nothing) don’t complain half as much as I do, and who don’t have anything holding them back.


My family jokes that hundreds of years ago, someone put a hex on the female lineage—“The Curse of the Hobo.” At some point, we all seem to have fallen for one.
My grandmother, who recently heard about our theory of the curse, smiled and said, “Oh yes, I never met a hobo I didn’t like.” When I have a daughter, I imagine having to explain this sad fact to her when she inevitably returns home one evening with a boy possessing that irresistible wayward charm.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Express Yourself

Almost everyone has a creative talent/outlet.

Tommie has discovered a recent passion for photography, and I'm not just saying this because I'm fond of the kid (he knows I'm not generous with my compliments), but he really has an eye for it. The other night I was looking at his photography—all serious and beautiful—then I looked over at him on the couch sharing a cheese stick with the dog...then looked back to his photos: sophisticated and polished...then back to him making ugly faces in my general direction, and I thought, "Were these pictures really taken by that weirdo over there?"

I got to thinking about how many of us have a creative form of expression that suite us best. Tommie's photos are better than his words; better than how he speaks and writes; better than how he draws or how he dances (sorry, Tommie, your electric slide is more creepy than talented if you ask me). For me, I think I write much better than I speak. Writing allows me to take my time with words and better express myself. It's also cathartic, but for other people words don't do it at all...they prefer expression through painting or art. I remember a very shy girl in grade school who hardly uttered a word, but man, could she draw. You would never guess the striking sketches came from the same girl. Other people "speak" best through other means such as cooking or through music (or in my sister's case, karaoke—why couldn't her outlet be a little more quiet?).

Maybe we all have a certain way we shine. Sometimes that outlet is underestimated, shoved aside, or may be undiscovered, but it's always telling. It's the way we feel most comfortable, most expressive and most like ourselves.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Posers

It's difficult to catch a candid photo of me. While others appear to go about their business oblivious to the cameras around them, I hear the click of a lens opening or see the bright light of a flash about to light up, and I can't help tilting my head, lifting my shoulders, batting my eyelashes and smiling all in time for the shutter to open and close. With a little more warning, I'll hop into an arabesque. I'm normally a pretty reserved person but the camera brings out my shallow, showy side...and after spending some more time with my family, I know where I get it from.

My sister and I are the type who could be in the middle of an argument together, have someone walk by with a camera, and we'd instantly shut up, turn to them, smile the sweetest smile, then jump right back into the fray.

At the family wedding this past weekend there was a lot of posing going on and it mainly involved the women in my family: You have my mom, queen of the hair flip and half-smile. She is joined by my dad's cousin who gives eyes to the camera man. Then you have my grandmother who never passes up an opportunity to express her flashier side; and my cousin who, as we were in the middle of a conversation, tilted her head and smiled in time for me to realize there was someone behind me about to take a photo to whom I spun around with my camera-ready smile already plastered on my face.So much for candid shots in this family.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Clean Canadian Air

We all notice differences in the atmosphere when we travel: The people are different; the architecture is different; the air itself is different.

The city of San Diego is only about 20 minutes away from the border of Tijuana, Mexico. At night you could see the city lights of Mexico shining from atop the hill where my parents live in South Park. It's amazing what a difference 20 minutes can make...the sky just steps into the Mexican side was filled with smog as if there was an invisible border that extended all the way up into the atmosphere.

This past weekend, we attended a family wedding in
Lubec, Maine (where some of my family lives) and we crossed the Canadian border which was only about 10 minutes away. Walking down to the shoreline in New Brunswick it struck me how clean the air was. There was a hint of pine wafting from the trees; the smell was so subtle and fresh it felt like breathing in peppermint.
While the temperature was hot, the air was as crisp as a cool fall day in New England. The smooth stones and the pier pillars were outlined with a kind of natural sharpness that seemed to me like I was looking through a lens that just got put more into focus. It was so clear I swear I could see everything better. Maybe I don't need glasses, I just need to move to Canada.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Sober

I have never been drunk. Not only that, but I've never been buzzed or had more than a sip of an alcoholic beverage. Does that make me a loser? A serious fart? A difficult person to understand? I guess it makes me a little bit of all those things.

Choosing the sober route in life isn't easy—let me rephrase that...it's easy not to drink, it's just not easy to convince other people that it's easy not to. I don't go around touting the fact that I don't drink but when people find out, they look at me like I just told them I don't need to BREATHE, and they follow up with a game of 20 questions: "Wait...you don't drink? Ever? You're telling me you've never been drunk? Ever? Why? What is wrong with you!?"

It would be easy if I just had a good excuse, but I don't. I just don't want to. My Mom blames D.A.R.E. (gosh darn those programs when they actually work on a kid), but I think I'm just an old soul and I have no desire to whatsoever. That explanation is not acceptable to most people. "Okay, so you must be religious? You're Mormon? You're in AA? Your parents will kill you?" No, no, no, and no. The other person goes silent. I hear crickets chirping. Then, suddenly their eyes light up and I become the ultimate challenge: "Oh, man, I am going to get you SO wasted!" My friends laugh: "Good luck," they say, "we've been trying for years."


It took me years to convince my friends that I wasn't going to drink and that I was still going to be "cool." At first I was not. I was upset that my friends needed to drink to have a good time, and they were upset their friend had become Queen Killjoy. But as time went on I learned tolerance; I learned how to have fun with people while they drank; I learned patience; I even learned how to lose inhibition while being sober (this last one is like performing a magic trick...the only negative is I have no excuses for the things I've done). Honestly, it took me years to strike a good Libraic balance between being an overachieving goody-two-shoes and an accepting and fun person to still be around. While the serious side of me still outweighs the carefree side that I'm sure a tall glass of wine would help bring out, I like not drinking; it makes me different.


There are people who get angry with me at bars, people who don't trust me at parties, and others who just don't accept me...but I understand. Since "everybody" drinks, I had to learn tolerance a lot earlier and faster than others had to learn how to tolerate the lone sober girl. But I have to say, for every person who hates me for sipping a Sprite on the rocks, there is another who finds it intriguing, admirable or cool that I can be independent. While staying sober does inhibit me from enjoying five straight hours of karaoke (sorry, Eva), it does not stop me from finding the situations I get in to be interesting, enlightening and entertaining. On my great sober quest I've had a blast with friends, I've had adventures with my crazy sister, met a lot of characters and smooched a lot of strangers (all stories for another time).


My mission was/is not to convert people to soberism (I know I'll die with 20 more stress-related ulcers than people who do drink), but I do try to show that a loser who doesn't drink can still be social and funny, can still go off her rocker, can still be cute and outgoing, and that it's not such a bad deal...after all, you never have to share your beer and you can always get a ride home.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

McCourt's Memoirs

Frank McCourt, a very talented memoir writer, passed away on July 19th. He was best known for his novel "Angela's Ashes"—a memoir about growing up in poverty in Ireland and the troubles of his family. Maybe because I tend to like things that don't get as much hype and because I like writing, I actually liked his other, lesser known book most: "Teacher Man"—about McCourt's teaching career in New York where he taught English and writing for 30 years. McCourt's stories about his sassy students and what he learned during his time there is written with the kind of self-deprecating humor I appreciate. So, if you enjoyed "Angela's Ashes," I suggest you check out McCourt's other works...and if you haven't checked out anything by him, I of course, would encourage that too.

Monday, July 13, 2009

The Grass Is Greener


This is the Long Hill property in Beverly, Mass. which is owned by the Trustees of Reservations and open to the public for free. The trustees own a lot of great parks, properties and land in the area, which is lucky for us since that allows the public to enjoy these beautiful locations (www.thetrustees.org).
This estate, built and originally owned by the publisher of Atlantic Monthly magazine, is the perfect daytime retreat. It has walking paths in the woods, gardens, a mansion with an impressive yard, and it was quiet. Without meaning to, we ended up spending the entire afternoon here: picnicking, walking and eventually sitting on the bistro chairs and lawn in front of the mansion while Maya chewed on sticks. I mentioned multiple times that I could live at this place. Maya, overhearing this, seemed to think we had in fact decided to move there because by the end of the day she began to growl at an old lady walking down "our" new front lawn.


Alas, at the end of the day we had to go back to our peasantry lives, but the estate was a great find and the perfect place to make believe...if only for a day.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Where Are Her Legs?

On a recent walk through Ravenswood Park, Maya saw a spaniel puppy approaching and crouched down on the ground to wait in play stance. When the puppy got closer, Maya stood up to wag her tail and greet it. The owner, seeing Maya come towards her, looked surprised and exclaimed, "Oh, she has little legs!" She had thought Maya was a big dog. Looking at the photo above, it's easy to see why people assume this. Maya has the head and muscles of a big dog, but as someone jokingly asked us once, "Where are her legs?"

Maya is not a proportionate dog and she seems to defy the laws of nature (much like the way a bumblebee can fly) when she sprints in the park on her stumpy legs as fast and as hard as a horse.

Later that day, a woman saw me walking Maya and said, "Oh cute; that's my daughter's favorite kind of dog!" I didn't know what to say...maybe this woman knew something I didn't about my dog. "What part of her is your daughter's favorite?" I asked. The woman had thought she was a chocolate lab puppy. Nope. Maya's full grown, and based on people's guesses so far, she might be part lab, pit/staffordshire, dachshund, corgi, jack russel, ridgeback, badger, sea otter, baby bear, seal and pot-belly pig.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Erased

About a month ago, I received word that the magazine I previously worked for in San Diego had folded. Only one month before, I had been tracking down articles, updating databases and putting together detailed instructions for my replacement (as I was leaving my job to relocate). While the magazine was directly related to the mortgage industry, and so had been struggling for quite some time, I didn't expect such a sudden end.

It's strange to have worked for something that disappears all together. Thankfully, I had saved PDFs of my past articles before I left, but even so, they now stand alone as the magazine they appeared in is no longer being published. Today I noticed the Website is no longer available. All traces of my last job have been erased aside from some hard copy relics I have stored in moving boxes.

I spent 2.5 years expelling A LOT of energy into the magazine. I joined the editorial team at the tail end of their successful period (the end of the real estate boom and the start of the "mortgage meltdown"—great timing, right?). Every day something shifted...more online content, a more modern layout, less ads, more employee layoffs...and I had to shift with it. I kept plugging away, always trying my hardest to make it work.

I learned so much about the publishing industry while I was there and I'm very thankful for that experience. I got to excel at tasks I never thought I would (Website management, tradeshow coordination, writing articles about mortgages when I barely new what a mortgage was!). I also learned about corporations.

The magazine was founded 20 years ago by two people (my boss being one of them). As time went on, the magazine enjoyed the success of a booming real estate market, and from the stories I heard, those were fun times. Then the magazine was bought. People view being bought by a bigger company as a good thing most of the time: it means your business is successful, worthwhile and profitable...but it also means you are going to lose your autonomy. The more high-ranking people who become involved, the more you have to try to please them over yourself and your staff. As the success of the magazine grew, that company sold it to an even bigger corporation. While my boss called the shots on the content of the magazine, its fate was no longer in his hands. Something he created and labored over for 20+ years was ultimately ended in a matter of minutes by a group of strangers.


I think this knowledge has something to do with my hesitancy and indifference during my current job search. While I am grateful for the experience I gained at the magazine, I can't help but wonder why bother when if, in the end, something you worked at for two years or twenty can be instantly sacrificed for the bottom line? We should all better invest our time and energy into trades and careers that give back to us in the end; places that care about each of us reaching our individual goals as much as we are supposed to care about the company reaching its goals.