Monday, December 25, 2006

Happy Holiday

How do you get in the "holiday spirit" when you don't buy into the myth behind it? That's something I have struggled with for quite a while. Yes, it's been secularized but as a secular holiday, it doesn't have much of a clear reason for being. Wishing one another peace on Earth? That's nice, but why is it any more sincere at this time year? Giving gifts is nice too but there are plenty of other times when it might be more appropriate.

Well, I read a piece yesterday that made me feel a little happier with the situation. It talked about how Christmas has evolved into the perfect American holiday. As a patchwork of borrowed rituals and mythologies, Christmas is a great analogy for a country founded and populated by immigrants. It's the quintessential melting pot holiday, from the 12 days of Saturnalia (ancient Rome) to the decorating of trees (Druid) to the winter solstice (every pre-Christian civilization) to the lighting of candles (Judaism). Then throw in Hannukah and Kwanzaa and you've got the perfect all-purpose festival. I had known most of this before, but the way it was presented suddenly made more sense to me. I think if it were acknowledged by the promoters of the holiday that it was a joyous amalgam of celebrations, I'd like it even more.

But anyway, I'm feeling pretty festive now. Still not expecting Santa down my chimney but I've got a nice bottle of pinot noir just waiting to be uncorked with dinner tomorrow and that's reason enough to celebrate.

Friday, December 22, 2006

The Ideal vs. The Reality

It's been a particularly difficult and weird week at work, and I intended to sit down and write about it. And I will. But as I imagined recounting this story, I also realized that this is not what I had planned this blog to be. This was not supposed to be a place to delve into all the little things that make up one's daily life. I mean, you can do that with your friend at lunch, or over the phone, or even online, in one of those essential but totally ordinary conversations that we have every day, countless numbers of times.

No, this was a place for bigger things. A place for hashing out the big questions. The universal topics. The thoughts that needed to see themselves written out. Not my stomach flu or my vacation. So what happenend? Reality is what happened. The universe reminding me yet again that things rarely turn out the way we want or even expect.

So let me get back to the work thing. Back in July, as I was (as we freelancers like to say) between assignments, a friend recruited me to work for her in a full-time position. The job was in a small non-profit cultural instituion, in the development (fundraising) department. I was ambivalent but I took the job. Lousy pay but great benefits. It did not take me long to realize that the place was badly run. But okay, I came in, I wrote my grant proposals, I got paid. There were a couple of good people in my department. The job had its stressful periods and required more sustained mental engagement than I really wanted to give it, but I did. Because that's what you do. You do your job to the best of your abilities.

Over the six months that I've been there, the political situation and the atmosphere in general has become more and more unpleasant until it is now downright toxic. There are a lot of very real reasons and causes for the ills that beset this poor place, but that's doesn't excuse the powers that be from taking action to stop the ship from sinking.

Honestly, I've never worked anywhere where there is so much outright hostility and acrimony between individuals and departments. It's a conspiracy theorist's playground. None of this nastiness is directed at me personally, but a huge amount is directed at my friend, who runs my department. This week in particular, it seems the gloves have come off. No one is even making an effort to hide their animosity and malice. My buddies and I look at one another and shake our heads. I can't understand how anyone expects that a) we don't notice or b) we don't mind or c) we have any desire to take sides. So the last few days I have spent picking my way through a minefield, all the while trying to get out a proposal and a final report, and complete my goals and projections for the coming year.

I had a worse job. I had a hateful job that I kept for four years because I had to. I used to say I worked in hell. That place was depressing and demoralizing, but everyone felt that way. We were all in it together. This is different. I don't feel personally oppressed, as I did at the other place. But I feel as if any minute I'm going to get caught in the crossfire. The whole thing has been so surreal. I half expect to come back after Christmas and find that the whole building has collapsed under the weight of nastiness that's filling it. Just crushed to dust.

When you say you work at a museum, there's a certain cachet attached to it. Y'know, it sounds kind of classy. But the reality of it is, it's a half-assed operation run by a bunch of amateurs who are constantly sniping at each other, sapping whatever positive energy there is there.

So there you have it: the ideal vs. the reality. Kind of like my plan for this blog. Hey, what do you know! There's my bigger thought!

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Pre-holiday bug

I have been laid low all weekend by a nasty virus. Friday night was spent clutching my toilet bowl. Saturday I shuffled painfully from bedroom to kitchen to living room sofa and back to bedroom again. By mid-Saturday at least I could eat again. That is to say, it was staying put. But absolutely nothing was appetizing, except raspberry sorbet. Cool, sweet and thirst quenching, the perfect apres-sick food. Also works for a hangover, by the way. Flavor is optional. Today is marginally better but I'm still exhausted. This is the longest 24-hour bug I've ever had. Don't know if I'll go to work tomorrow. The christmas party is tomorrow evening though. I don't really care that much, so it won't be a tragedy if I miss it. Guess I'll see how I feel in the morning. Wonder how many sick days I have left.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Why is it?

Why is it that I always put myself out for my friends but they never seem to want to reciprocate? Is it that everyone else is just so self-involved? Or am I just bad at picking friends? This leads me to the larger question: why are some people the ones who others do things for, and why are the rest of us the ones who do the things? My theory is, it's pheromones. But who knows. Maybe it's gravity.

I had dinner with a friend tonight. An old friend, in fact she's now the friend, of those who I still see, who I've been friends with the longest. We're pretty close. We've been through some stuff together. But I've come to realize that her comfort and convenience always comes first for her. So tonight, well...forget the details, but suffice it to say I'm pretty annoyed at her disregard of my situation. And this leads me to another larger thought. Maybe I should start a "why me" blog. And maybe it should be communal. A place where we could all come and complain and carry on about the things that really piss us off, but that we feel stupid or petty complaining about in other venues. I think it might be good. I think it could get very creative and very entertaining.

Yes, I'm going to have to think about this.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

God, I love online banking!

I do, I love it! I resisted for a while but I'm so glad I finally gave in. Just paid my Amex bill. Rather, I scheduled it for payment in two weeks. Now, as soon as the bills come, I schedule the payment and forget about it. I haven't been late with anything in months!

I gave up trying to balance my checking account a long time ago. When all I did was write checks it was easy. But now that I pay for stuff with my debit card all the time, and take cash out from the ATM, who can keep track of it all? I used to worry about it, but now if I want to know what my balance is, I just go online. I'm telling you, this is a wonderful thing.

And no, Bank of America did not pay me to say that.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

This is where you find out how geeky I really am

I was reading this article in the paper today on the way home from work. It was about how this guy who was a master cryptographer during the Cold War is now working on analyzing the mountains of data gleaned from DNA sequencing. It went on to say how biology at the pure science level has become an information science. Now the people working on cutting-edge biology are physicists and mathematicians and the like. It was at this point that I got really excited. Why, you wonder? I'm neither a biologist nor an astrophysicist. In fact I'm not a scientist at all.

I discovered a while ago that one thing that really tickles my brain is when I notice how systems and processes in one realm have analogs in other realms. Examples: after watching countries in Eastern Europe form and break apart and reform after the fall of the Iron Curtain, it occurred to me that it was like plate tectonics. The rules that govern how the planet works also govern how the people on it work. And the same with space.

So I'm reading this and the writer in me is jumping up and down, yelling, "There's a story in here somewhere, I just know it!" Kind of like the little kid who saw the huge pile of horseshit and got all excited because she was sure there had to be a pony in there somewhere. There may in fact be no story at all in there, but it made the rest of my commute home very happy.

More on this subject as it oozes out.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

I am SO there!

Have I mentioned how much I am enthralled with Mars? I have, right? So imagine my delight and excitement to read that it looks like there may be actual water on Mars! Actual liquid water that actually flows...well, from time to time, anyway. But water means life is possible. I'm not talking about indigenous Martian life, although that may be there as well. I'm talking about human life that's going to be there. I think it was highly likely anyway, but this just about seals the deal. I can be packed in, like, an hour! Sadly, realistically, I'm sure I won't get to go. By the time that mission gets off the ground, I'll be too old and of no possible use. But at least I hope I'm around to see it happen.

I'm convinced there is life out there somewhere. But who knows, maybe Earthlings will be the first to venture out, the first to colonize other planets. Again, that's probably not so. But maybe. Years ago, I read a great book by Ursula LeGuin, The Left Hand of Darkness. It was one of her Hugo or Nebula prize winners. In it, a representative of the planetary alliance (forget exactly what it was called) made a first visit to a new planet. This new planet had a highly advanced civilization but they had never ventured into space. They had never even built aircraft. Why not? Because there was no bird life on the planet. They had never seen creatures fly, so it never occurred to them to try it. So you never know.