Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Job title: Me

The dating has commenced, and along with it, a few revelations.

Last week I met a man I found intriguing online and subsequently felt a lot of chemistry with in person. It was probably one of the longest first dates I've had, and there seemed to be mutual interest, but... it hasn't progressed to date two. With my new mindset at work, I am chalking it up to "he's just not that into you," and letting it go after having made one attempt to schedule a get together. The rub could be anything (and of course he doesn't know me well enough for me to take it personally) but of course I can't help but wonder what happened.

There were a bunch of differences, but nothing insurmountable, and my mind did wander to think that he could have even thought I'd find some things to be troublesome when they didn't matter to me. (And yes, I know I am putting more thought/weight on this than he likely did. Just indulge me.) One was the difference in our backgrounds. He's pretty much had working-class jobs all his life while I've done the corporate thing. Maybe he thought that would cause problems in the long run -- different expectations, different lifestyles, who knows.

I'll admit that stuff like that used to mean something to me, but not so much now. He's smart, funny, interesting -- his job title means nothing to me. Rather, I was impressed that he does something that matters to people and contributes to society being able to function in an orderly way. In fact, his work sounds pretty cool.

Anyway, this got me thinking: for the past year, I haven't had a title. Except for Being Me. In a part of the world where so many people put so much importance on others' professions, I have none. Well, yeah, as I mentioned a few posts ago, I tell people I'm a writer or a communications strategist when I have to own up to a job. And of course I have the volunteer stuff. But bottom line, I've spent the last year being me. Really being me.

It feels pretty good, actually. The closer I get to the Authentic Me, the happier I am when all's accounted for. Crap stuff comes, and I can be at peace with the way I handle it, because I know myself and what works for me. I'm reminded of the closing words of Fitzgerald's This Side of Paradise: "I know myself, but that is all."

I may not be completely there, but I'm always getting closer, and that's just fine.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Another first

Today was one of my volunteer days at Edison's labs, and I was, for the most part, scheduled for Building 5, the main lab building with his library, offices and recording studio. Visitation was pretty steady, so there were more than a couple of people to chat with over the course of the day.

I was scheduled to back up one of the other volunteers for the phonograph demonstration in the recording studio, and when I got up there early, three visitors were already waiting. While waiting for the other volunteer to show up, we talked a bit about the evolution of recording media and the difficulty of explaining the science of record discs to kids who've only been exposed to CDs and MP3s.

The other volunteer didn't show up, though one of the friendlier rangers stopped by and suggested that maybe I should just do the demonstration. Uhhhhhh.... I haven't done it before, and honestly I was a bit on the spot and didn't have my thoughts together. Then again, the visitors were really nice, we had the conversation going, so what the heck. I stumbled through it, didn't cover nearly what I would have wanted to with some prep, and the visitors were really appreciative. Turned out they were musicians and really dug the whole process and the fact they were standing in the world's first recording studio. Yup, and it's really a throwback when a contemporary musician is recorded using contemporary electric instruments, as they've done over the years at the park.

Following the demo, I walked them out to the exhibit showing the evolution of recording technology, and after a little chat, they started walking down to the next exhibit. Then they came back to ask whether they might be able to record there. Turned out they were members of Jay and the Americans, a 60's era band I'd heard of. Ah -- yeah, I know you. The ranger and I got some info for them; I've got no idea if the right person from the park will ever call them, but it's pretty cool to think I might have had a part in it.

So, at one park I was promised George Clooney. At the other I got an old 60's band.

And yeah, I got my first phono demo under my belt. It can only improve from here.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Inspections gone wild

To take the utility bridge to Ellis Island, you've gotta go through security. That means bringing your car to a complete halt, raising the hood and trunk lid for vehicle cavity inspection by US Park Police, and showing identification to the guard at the booth, to be matched against a list of expected visitors. If you're driving a delivery truck, they'll bring out the K-9 officer and his partner so the dog can make an olfactory inspection of the cargo area.

It's all part of the effort to safeguard Ellis and, more importantly, the Statue of Liberty. The two islands are close enough that something bad on Ellis could definitely hurt the Statue. There's even one of those tough metal plate drawbridges at the base of the bridge -- a barrier that can be raised to further prevent a possible assault by a loaded truck or car.

The Park Police pretty much recognize me and my car by this point, so the inspection is usually pretty quick, though last week one actually chided me for still having this summer's beach towels in the trunk. (Not a chargeable offense, it turns out.) Once in a while they ask for my ID, or there's a SWAT team cop there who's a bit more thorough. But more often than not, I pass through rapidly, sometimes even when they've detained someone else for further investigation.

Getting off the island is nearly always effortless. Sometimes the barrier is in the raised position, but the guard will drop it when he sees me coming.

Today's exit was a little different. From a distance, I saw that a white school bus was stopped at the guard shack at the entry point, and the barrier was up. Even as I neared, the barrier stayed up. Hmm. This should be interesting.

I stopped behind another vehicle which had gotten to the barrier just before me, and waited for the barrier to drop. Then I saw that people were leaving the white bus. All in the dress uniforms of U.S. Marines, and one or two with impressive clusters of service medals on their chests. They stood quietly while a cop and his search dog jumped onto the bus.

Now that's impressive. You don't trust the Marines to come to the Statue of Liberty with a clean vehicle? It had U.S. government license plates, to boot.

I've no idea why the Marines coming to Ellis by the back entrance, but they also appeared to have rifles with them, so maybe there was some sort of ceremony happening there. I am a little disappointed though -- I never thought a simple barrier would prevent Marines from going anywhere. The distance from shore to the island is only about a quarter mile. Surely they could have swum it if they weren't so worried about the dress uniforms.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Telling stories, yet again

So the relationship with the boyfriend is over. Too much attentiveness turned a bit suffocating... to the point where I felt I couldn't be myself anymore. And, of course, we all know that when you don't feel like yourself, you have to stop and wonder why.

I did, and I ended it. Really, when it came down to it, it was a matter of future. We'd been together a year, and by that time, I figured, you either know if you want to spend all eternity with this person, or not. Either the relationship is growing or it's got cracks that can fast become fault lines.

Ours was the second, not the first. The parting was a bit dramatic (on his end) for a week or two, and then he calmed down and accepted the reality of the whole situation. So at least, hopefully, I didn't create any additional bad karma for myself. I'm still amazed at how naturally the breakup came to me and how quickly I've moved past it. Maybe I saw it coming all along. Maybe that tsimmis back in the spring was the start of it, but I've done my crying and my mourning for what it was. And, if anything, I've given gratitude for what the relationship gave me, and what it taught me, which was a lot.

Now, for whatever crazy reason, I decided to re-up with eHarmony. Yeah, yeah. Maybe it's premature, but they were having a special, anyway. What the heck. I figured that my relative lack of success on getting attention in the past would only persist, anyway.

Apparently I was wrong. Within a week of joining, I've had plenty of communication. Now there are three different matches (and by different, I mean different) who seem interested enough to want to meet. I've got two phone numbers to call, and it seems that the third will be coming soon enough. Maybe it's the 'new' (or 'original') me who's been able to emerge from the overworked, cynical frustrated woman I was before I quit my job. That's encouraging.

The attention is kinda nice, even if it turns to not much overall. At least I seem engaging enough on paper (which I always thought I was, at least before the job dragged me down), and I guess my photos are appealing enough (which has been a perennial sore point for me). After so many shut downs in the past, I'd pretty much come to the conclusion that I wasn't all that attractive to many men. But the last couple of men I've been involved with (most especially the last one) were more than enthusiastic about my looks and overall attractiveness. I personally think I'm somewhere in the middle, but I'll admit the scale in my mind has bumped up a few notches with some encouragement over the years.

I approach the 'open communication' or phone-call stage of eH with a little trepidation, though. This is the point where you e-mail freely within their system, having gotten past their more structured Q&A format. Anything is up for discussion if you want, including what you do for a living. I've listed my occupation as "communications strategist," which I suppose I still am. When it comes to the job, well... I'm still figuring it out and feeling an impending sense of dread.

Yeah, too much time thinking (or not thinking) and not enough time doing, especially lately. Not a lot to show for it, but for a blog, some photography, half-done research on the documentary thing, and somewhere around 400 hours of volunteer time with the National Park Service. Oh, and maybe some restored sanity? But none of that pays the bills. Which makes me nervous. And potentially could get a prospective partner/mate/whathaveyou a bit suspicious about my intent, or at least skeptical about the fire in my belly.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

All clear...

Good news today.

I went in for my six-month recheck on the mammography. Technically, it was my 'annual,' but it was the first time since my biopsy that I was going to get checked.

I made the appointment last week and then didn't think about it until today. Then this morning I started getting kind of emotional about it. What would I do... how would I feel... if something showed up on the film? By the time I got to the imaging place, I was antsy about just getting the damn thing done.

Long story short, everything's okay. I don't have to go back for another year. What a relief.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

No matter where you go, you end up somewhere*

In the time I've been volunteering at Ellis Island, I've heard about various notables coming to visit from politicians to Bruce Springsteen... yet I've always heard after the fact, so I couldn't plan to be there to possibly see them.

This time was supposed to be different.

About a month ago, we were informed that the Bob Hope Library would be rededicated on October 12. It's the main research area in the museum and is also home to the park's oral history library. And, of course, it's named for one of the most American of 20th century entertainers, who just happened to emigrate from England, through Ellis Island, as a youngster in the early 1900s. Hope's family would be on hand for the private ceremony, joined by a host of luminaries, including, we were told by reliable sources, George Clooney.

Now, I don't regularly go ga-ga over celebrities. In the early part of my career, I met several through my work and never saw the reason to idolize any of them, but I'll admit that there are a couple that get my interest up. George Clooney is one of them. Forget that he's impossibly good looking; he's got a great sense of humor, and he's true to the same friends he had as a struggling actor more than 20 years ago. And he gives a shit about worthwhile things. I'd still want the chance to meet him if he looked like Yogi Berra. (Admittedly, I wouldn't want to date Yogi the way I'd like to have a few dates with George, but cut me a break... I'm only human.) And yeah, I wanted a photo with him for my Facebook page. I've already got Mr. Met and Thomas Edison, so I need a third. I'm weird like that.

You can imagine that I woke up yesterday morning with some anticipation. Fortunately I didn't have to think about what to wear, as the Park Service shirt was de rigeur for volunteering. As I was getting ready, I was trying to figure out what time the ceremony would be, and, thus, what time the celebs would be getting to the Island and how they'd arrive without causing a ruckus among the populace. Then I saw that George was on the Today show, talking about Sudan. At 7:45 in the morning, during the show's usual hard news hour. Clearly that meant he had to be somewhere that required him to be on the road by 8 a.m. Knowing the traffic I faced to get to the Island, I got out the door early.

The big question was whether the celebs would be coming by boat or by land... which meant that Mr. Clooney would either face annoying traffic down to the Battery or a slightly easier route through the Lincoln Tunnel from Rockefeller Center. Things looked good as I drove through Liberty State Park and saw a sign pointing VIPs to the temporary bridge to Ellis. A black town car with New York plates was leaving the security check to cross the bridge just as I drove up to have my car checked by the Park Police.

I got through security and across the bridge just in time to see three people who were Not George get out of the town car, so I figured we were safe. My fellow volunteer for the day was also eager to see Mr. Clooney (I think his exact words were, "He's the only man I'd go gay for.") and reported he hadn't had any sightings yet, either. A ranger confirmed the plan for the day: the notables were coming by the island by car and taking the same back hallways we do to get to the public area, but they'd be sequestered on the third floor near the library until the 11 a.m. ceremony. Everyone was expected to be on the island by 9:30.

Then reality came crashing down. One of our ranger buddies came by to tell us that George wasn't coming. No joke. He was headed down to Washington to meet with the president on Sudan. NO! Say it ain't so! Well, I guess a potential civil war is a bit more important than meeting me, but at least tell me it came close...

After lunch, we were subjected to a stream of self-important-looking people walking past the information desk, back to the staff-only area on the way back to their town cars. One had a profile that seemed to indicate he was Bob Hope's son, but mostly these folks weren't faces you recognized.

Until... who walked by but... you guessed it...


Yes, the fabled Yankee walked right past our desk, waving and smiling to us as we called out his name. Somehow I squelched the urge to plead for him to manage the Mets. And then he was gone, with no other notables to follow.

So... the day wasn't as exciting as I'd hoped it would be, but at least we got one nice-guy legend out of it. One wonders whether he'd called Clooney in advance and warned him, "Nobody goes to Ellis Island anymore. It's too crowded."

*I was tempted to use the quote "Wherever you go, there you are" and attribute it to Yogi. However, a quick Google search brought up questions about the statement's origin, and the "you end up somewhere" is more reliably attributed to Berra.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Six degrees of history

Once in a while, I get a ‘six degrees’ experience when I volunteer. It’s happened a lot over the past several weeks. Someone comes up to the information desk at Ellis Island, or chats me up in Edison’s library, and tells me their dad or grandmother was there when the place was in operation… or maybe even they, themselves were there.

Everyone knows Ellis Island as the portal for the great immigration that took place in the first few decades of the 20th century, but fewer people know it was used as a detention facility before and just after the Second World War. Not only did the government hold resident enemy aliens there, but the army also held some prisoners of war at Ellis. That’s why I wasn’t totally surprised when a pleasant young German man approached me to ask if he could see the building where his grandfather might have been held. Unlike many other German POWs, he’d never returned to the US following the war, but he told his grandson he’d been treated well during his stay on the island. That was good to hear.

About a week later, a woman in her 60s came up to ask about the dormitory building. When she and her family emigrated from Scandinavia in 1949 by airplane, her father was diagnosed with tuberculosis and brought to the Ellis Island Hospital for treatment. Thus, she, her mom and sister were held in the island’s massive Baggage and Dormitory building until dad was cured. Having been only three years old at the time, the visitor couldn’t remember much of any of it, but she still wanted to check everything out. After my tour, I saw her wandering all around the main building, seemingly trying to place herself through a toddler’s eyes.

Then there was an older woman who told me her father had been one of the Public Health Service physicians stationed at Ellis Island. Their role, besides caring for the sick, was to examine every immigrant for signs of disease that could cause contagion, or disability that would prevent them from supporting themselves through gainful employment. The woman herself was born after her dad had been stationed on the island, and she took a look at the few staff pictures we have, in hopes of finding her father in one. She came along on my tour, and I noticed the hint of a smile on her lips when I told the group about the PHS doctors’ care and concern for their immigrant patients.

While none of the Ellis Island visitors had much information of their own to share, I was tickled to talk with a gentleman at Edison National Historical Park who wanted to speak at length about his father’s experiences working with the great inventor. He had quite detailed recollections of his dad’s stories, both in working on research, and in managing aspects of Edison’s radio business. (Incidentally, TAE never went whole-hog into radio, and the business was short-lived, never having much success.)

Talking with these folks always reminds me how much I don’t know, and how many facets history ultimately has. As children, we tend to take what we learn as fact, when it’s often just one person’s perspective on what happened a long time ago. Talking with someone who might actually have lived it gives me the chance to learn more, and hopefully get confirmation on some of my standard tour dialogue. Yeah, I live a little in fear of having gotten it totally wrong, but after a while you just have to let that go.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Slowly, ever slowly.... I'm finding that the spreadsheet deadlines mean that I'm going to do the needed work on the very last day of the timeframe I've allocated for the specific task.

Oh, and really, asking people to talk with me about their careers? The worst thing is that they say no to my request, right? I'm coming up against the same fears and shyness I faced when I was looking for an advertising copywriting job yea back in my youth. That didn't work out too well... and I can't afford failure this time.

On the other hand, volunteering at Ellis Island has gotten kind of fun with the rush of foreign tourists. The other day I used my rusty college French to help a couple whose English was worse than my French... somehow figured out what they were trying to convey (not one of the usual questions) and hopefully gave them some useful information. It was great to hear the words coming out of my mouth... and actually being understood!

Thursday, August 5, 2010

The process moves forward

Okay ... I've got stuff to do and things to accomplish.

Over the next three weeks, I've got to make contacts, re-establish others, start doing informational interviews, and see what the fates bring me (in addition to my own efforts, not instead of).

I've spent a good part of today working on spreadsheets, lists, questions, ideas, and a SCHEDULE of what I need to get done, and when. I'm attempting (successfully, I think), to break the process of networking/informational interviewing into manageable nuggets, along with starting and due dates for each of them. If I get some of 'em done before deadline, great -- onto the next step -- but I've got to keep myself firmly on task. When I talk with my coach in three weeks, I want to have made some progress.

So what are the areas I'm looking at? Documentary filmmaking, freelance writing, and something called corporate storytelling. Fortunately there are aspects of each of them that I have some familiarity with, so I'm not totally blind here, but at the same time, it'll be a challenge for me to do all of the legwork I need to do to fully understand what the fields entail, experience I need to gain, how I can transfer my current skills, and how the heck I get a job and make a living at any of them. Putting together lists and deadlines is great... but it means nothing unless I follow through and do the hard work.

As always, the big hurdle is having the discipline to keep up the momentum. But as I keep telling myself, it's gotta get done... or I just go back to what made me miserable in the past.

Adelante, siempre adelante!

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Third meeting with the coach happens this afternoon.

So far a lot of the same themes keep coming up -- writing, history, preservation, nature, being a know-it-all -- which disappointed me when I was doing the homework. A fresh set of eyes seems to be doing some good, though. The coach looked at all of it, plus some of the stuff I've enjoyed doing in past jobs, and made a few connections I've never considered. For example, documentary filmmaking.

That's a new one, but it makes a lot of sense. I mean, consider that last winter I was all gung-ho about getting a producer interested in documenting the history and deterioration of Fort Hancock. (And no, I didn't make the next step, because I never heard back from the ranger who'd be the primary information source.) I've always enjoyed working with production crews on video shoots and managing post-production. I like putting a story together, and I certainly have a different way of looking at things. And... I think I already have some contacts to get more perspective from.

So do I become the next Ken Burns wannabe? Not sure, but I have to figure something out pretty soon...

Thursday, July 8, 2010

So I met with the coach yesterday....

... and now I'm at the library doing a bunch of homework.

What have I done in the past that I'm good at?
What have I done that 'lights me up' and makes me feel good?
What do I really want in life?
What are my unique gifts, talents and accomplishments?
What does my ideal career look like?
And what kind of money do I need to make?

While the discussion was good, and I'm committed to the process, I wonder if I'm going in circles. I've done some self-exploration work in the past, and it's hard not to go back to the same places I've been and give the same pat answers. I'm sitting here looking at the worksheets thinking, "What did I say about this when I went to Kripalu? Didn't I cover that in therapy? What was the answer then?"

There's a lot of value in looking at where I've been, and I certainly don't want to throw away perfectly good work, but I do wonder if it blinds me to things I haven't considered. In other words, am I taking the path of least resistance here? Am I going in with pre-conceived ideas of what I want to do?

So much angst so quickly. I have two weeks to complete these worksheets before I meet with the coach again. I guess I'll just keep at it and keep it top of mind, take some notes, pay attention to my dreams, maybe talk with a few people for their observations. Not that I'm looking for someone else to do the work for me, but some conversation with friends might shake something loose in my mind. At the very least, they can tell me how wonderful I am, ha, ha, ha.

The hardest part might just be in preventing the self-limiting thinking. I even found myself doing it when I talked with the coach. She asked, for example, about my volunteer work, and I mentioned that I'd considered becoming a ranger, but once I saw some of the garbage they have to do (administrative stuff, etc.), I realized it was more fun just volunteering. Now, every job is going to have some unappealing aspects. You keep pushing the un-fun stuff to the foreground, you're never going to find anything to appreciate about anything. Let some blue sky into the process, and maybe you'll get somewhere.

I've got to get to the action part, and this is the path. Figure out what you want to do, build the plan... and get moving on it. And if you're scared as hell, well, that's okay, too. But the bottom line is that thinking about it isn't enough. You have to take the plunge.

Gosh, I hope this is true

"Change is the law. Everything changes, as could be obvious to whoever looks around carefully. Because everything changes, everything is possible. No change, no gain, as no one has yet said-- at least, as far as I can tell.

The French say that 'The more things change, the more they remain the same.' I often think that, although there are really no accidents, truly positive transformational change is almost like an accident or windfall profit; and that practicing nonresistence combined with intentionally and consciously working to help make it happen--plus the the readiness and willingness which keeps you supple and resilient-- makes you more accident prone. This freedom-directedness and growth orientation, which is directly opposed to stagnation and getting caught too long in ruts, is the secret of creative living, inner freedom and autonomy. It's more than just going with the flow, joe; conscious living means remembering the flow goes allways through you, and your healthy needs and wishes, creativity, imagination, aspiration and dreams are also part of it."

-Lama Surya Das, from New Dharma Talks

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Taking the step

In just a few minutes, I'm chatting with a coach.

Yup, I took the plunge and scheduled an introductory session with a coach I met last fall at that NYU entrepreneurship seminar I attended. She's been involved in creative fields (writer, actor) and business, so she might just have the perspective that will be helpful for me.

I'm apprehensive, even just to have this meet-and-greet chat. This could result in being held to a plan, a schedule and results. Somehow I'm not disciplined enough to do it myself, to forge accountability for myself. I know it doesn't make me a bad person, and it's not uncommon, but it's uncomfortable.

But nothing good has ever come from being complacent, right? And what's complacency look like? Going back to what I did before?

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Somebody else's job always seems more interesting

Deep in the paralysis of angst, I just did some googling for a career coach and came upon a site called Vocation Vacations. Run by a career coach, this business is a great racket: sell opportunities for people to do short internships with people who already have their dream careers. So, for example, if you want to be a stand-up comedian, you pay a thousand bucks or so to spend time with a comic and get a taste of what he/she does on the job. You get to see the inner workings of the career, just like an internship, and presumably the mentor also gets a cut of the fee.

Interesting, right? Then I looked through the list and saw some jobs I know about, either from having done them, or having known people who had them. Lemme tell you -- they ain't what they appear to be:
  • "Chocolate maker/pastry chef." I knew someone who had this job. Lots of time on your feet, sick of the smell of chocolate, and do you really want to make 5000 little chocolate boxes containing the ideal profiterole? Sheer hell for a perfectionist. Especially in the summer.
  • "Event planner." I've planned events. Everyone sees the party at the end, but what they don't see is the stress the planner goes through to make sure none of the guests is troubled by the slightest glitch.
  • "Author." As Anne Lamott noted in Bird by Bird, being published doesn't make you the richest, or even happiest person in the world. And if your work isn't marketable, it doesn't make you famous, either. You do it because you're compelled. And don't mind the prospect of holding a couple of other jobs so you don't end up poor.
  • “Entertainment publicist.” Again, the world sees parties, palling around with celebrities. But who wants to be awakened at 4 a.m. when said celebrity client is arrested for DWI or worse? Pick your clients well, yes, but probably most of the people who dream of this job aren’t thinking “Yo Yo Ma” when they’re considering their dream client.
And yup, Park Ranger was on the list of dream jobs. Luckily I haven't had to pay a fee to find out the inside skinny on that one over the past few months. Hey, the Park Service is happy to take you in and give you a shirt, hat and nametag, to boot.

I'm glad I chose to put in time at two very different parks, especially now that the summer season is upon us.. I’m getting two different experiences, partially because of the nature of the parks, and because the relationship is different.

Ellis Island is really heating up, so to speak. We’re reaching the end of the school trip rush (hundreds of kids wearing identical t-shirts with statements like “Podunk HS ’10: NYC here we come!”) but seem to be flowing into the foreign traveler season. Everybody visits the Statue of Liberty on a New York trip, and Ellis Island is the next stop on the ferry. Lots of people wanting to take our tours, lots of people asking where the bathroom is. Even lots of people wanting to know where the subway is (uh, not anywhere on the island). Very busy rangers, very busy volunteers, some tempers flaring.

Edison is seeing somewhat of an upswing in visitation, too. Though we're probably past the school group season, there are still adult groups that want to check the place out, so I've been at the house, helping to shepherd tours through. In fact, last Friday I did my very first entire house tour, constantly getting stumped by some of the retired school teachers in the group. However, the previous time I was there, I wasn't exactly in the best of moods to interact with the public (see previous post).

All of this experience is leading me to think I might be just a little too moody, or something, to have this much contact with so much of the public on a regular basis. Either I have to find a way to put on a good game face (cue acting skills!) or choose not to be a guide. Maybe it's just that I've gotten a bit bored with the situation. God knows I crave variety, but then it's also my responsibility to find a way through that. Change up the tour, get chatty with people to customize things to their interests, up my game.

In different ways, both locations offer that opportunity if I choose to take it. The rangers and leadership at the Edison site, in particular, are very appreciative of volunteers and are encouraging us to work on programs we can present. Seems the sky is the limit there.

Ellis Island is a different story. Because we volunteer through a separate organization, we don't have as much ranger oversight, though the staff there is helpful and friendly for the most part. We're pretty much on our own to develop and modify our Ferry Building tours as we see fit. The volunteer base is committed, smart and tight-knit, which is acknowledged by NPS staff. It's a good thing, too, as the separate organization ran into financial problems and doesn't have dedicated staff to oversee the volunteer program. Thus, we're pretty much on our own.

Monday, June 7, 2010

The Balance of Independence

In my journey through the abyss, one of the things I've not written about is my relationship with the man I started dating in late October. That's been by design: given that he's an equal part of it, I didn't think it fair to be sharing my thoughts and feelings publicly, even to the few who read the blog on a sporadic basis. I guess it's all part of the "if you have something to say about someone, tell them, not the rest of the world" mantra.

Well, this one kind of skirts my usual approach, as the current state of the relationship has raised a lot of very basic questions about me and the way I interact with the people who get close to me.

First off, as background: he's a wonderful man to be in relationship with. Thoughtful, affectionate, heart on his sleeve, very bright, likes to explore and is open to doing so many different and interesting things. We have complementary senses of humor and think very similarly -- sometimes it's spooky how alike we can be, in the right ways. And he's very caring, open about his feelings and his regard for me. He's not put off or intimidated by my intelligence and, in fact, takes pride in it. He's made it very clear that he sees long-term potential and wants a committed relationship. I've been thinking that way, too, as scary as that can feel for me. And I've been happy for it.

The first six months were, for the large part, bliss. We spend the weekends together and there's been a lot of the sloppy, goopy being-in-love kind of behavior that makes the start of a good relationship so much fun. You know how it goes - even when just watching TV or walking around the city, there's lots of casual, loving contact, and you tend to do a lot of stuff in tandem.

That said, we've had our moments of disagreement, misunderstandings, what have you. While I've overlooked much of the inconsequential stuff (I'm just as apt to make silly mistakes as he is), there have been one or two things that felt like narcissistic tendencies at the time, and I'm very sensitive to that, given my history of involvement with narcissists. And we haven't seemed to be able to make the transition from doing absolutely everything together to being able to be in the same room doing different things. Being so accustomed to going solo, I like having a little time to do the Sunday Times crossword puzzle without being otherwise distracted.

It's a high-class problem, especially for someone who doesn't enter relationships quickly or lightly, right? Somehow, though, it's become an issue. A big issue. I had to admit to feeling a bit smothered by all of the attention; he told me that if I needed some time to do stuff solo, I needed to find him something to do during that time. That seemed a little weird. He's an adult and should be able to figure something out. His answer was to leave for a few hours, which felt a bit extreme. All I'm really asking for is a half hour to do something without being prodded for my undivided attention.

He's as much of an internet junkie as I am, and he admitted he went on a web board to post his frustration on the topic and get some input. The big idea from that was for us to take a week off from seeing each other. Since Edison Day was going to take up the bulk of my time on June 5, we considered taking the break that weekend, rather than spending the Memorial Day weekend apart.

Then in a serious conversation last Sunday, he admitted that he'd gone from feeling very committed to the relationship to taking more of a wait-and-see approach. That hit me like a brick. For the first time, it seemed that there was a fair chance it all would end, just as I'd seen other relationships fall apart at the six or seven month point. Is it just a natural breaking point between two people who ultimately aren't meant to be together, or is it a pattern with me? Somehow I was able to recover and distract myself from those thoughts, and we had a good afternoon and Memorial Day, but the aftertaste of that discussion lingered.

I wasn't entirely sure a break was necessary, but I ultimately agreed to it because he seemed to feel strongly about it. What I didn't realize was that he considered it to be a week off, from the point we agreed on it (last Tuesday) until sometime this week (undetermined). I only found this out when I sensed radio silence -- no e-mails, no calls -- and called on Thursday to find out what's up. Even then, I agreed to stick with the plan due to his feelings about it. I figured it was better to take advantage of my being tied up on Saturday (and likely exhausted that night, too) than to blow a whole weekend.

By Friday, though, I felt awful about it, and while I figured it was too late to pull the plug on it, I gave it a try. I called him that night to let him know I didn't like the idea very much. He seemed happy to hear that and admitted to feeling the same way. However, he'd already finagled himself an invitation for an activity on Sunday, and he didn't think it was right to back out. I had to respect that. Thus, I spent yesterday on my own.

I was still tired from Edison Day, and the impending rainstorms kept me indoors and brooding. Usually I over think relationship stuff, but this time I was doing a lot of feeling. Feeling alone, solitary, unhappy. I took a walk, as I have often done solo, and it only put things into starker relief. While I've taken so many lonely walks because I wasn't in relationship, this time I was doing it because I'd chosen to be alone when I didn't have to be. Some might even say I was pushing him away.

Truth is, I'm not incredibly good at this relationship stuff. So many times I've been told I'm a catch, and it's amazing that I'm not married. Yeah, while I'm pretty modest, I agree that I have a lot to offer. And I do want a good man in my life. So am I creating some sort of barrier? If so, why? I've gotten way too good at going solo, but that doesn't mean I have to stay that way.

I do wonder if, to some degree, some of my behavior might be seen as selfishness, maybe not making enough room in my life for him. On the most basic level, I am honestly not accustomed to having a man around and literally sharing my space. He has a tendency of bringing stuff over for the weekend, or buying movies, etc. for activities, and then leaves it here. I'm glad he feels at home here, and I've made space for him, but my apartment isn't all that big. It's cluttered enough without another person leaving stuff around. And he's, uh, sloppy in the bathroom, which I don't think he realizes. These are all fairly small things to resolve, admittedly, but they're poking at a deeper level. Might be some childhood thing of feeling encroached on or invaded, but definitely something I need to be conscious of. And see for what it is -- totally benign and unintentional coming from him.

On the pushing away or creating barriers -- that's been a tougher nut to crack, and one I attempted to get a handle on during years of therapy. No sure answers there, but knowing it's there is a start in changing it, I guess.

And when I think about it, I don't have a lot of experience in compromise. I've often been quick to get out of friendships/relationships when I perceive someone has done me wrong. The old "fool me once..." thing, thanks Mom. Intent here is everything, and sometimes I wonder if my gut is being outvoted by my stubbornness. There was one big thing he did to cause the whole narcissism thought to run through my head ... and while it took place at a crucial time for me, the truth is that he followed through exactly as he'd committed to. He kept his word. I didn't much like his grumpy attitude at the time, but when I discussed my fears (mostly of abandonment) with him later, he strongly confirmed that he never would have left me high and dry. In my heart, and from experience, I know he's different from those who've let me down. I can't treat him as if it's just a matter of time before he will, too.

I'd like to see where this takes us, but I'm also wondering how long he'll hold out ... and if I can stop the cycle of pushing away.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Did Edison play table tennis?

Today was Edison Day, the special event at Thomas Edison National Historic Park that includes free admission to the park, kids activities, live sound recordings on vintage media, lectures, tours and a bunch of other fun stuff. I've gone to many of them in the past, so I was kind of psyched to help out for this year's event, even though it meant I missed the lion's share of activities.

Midway through the day, I was stationed in Building 5, the largest building on the property, and the site of much of Edison's thinking and doing. Since the building appeared to be pretty well staffed, I planted myself on the second floor, in the precision machine shop, where no other volunteer or ranger happened to be.

People milled in and out, but there were occasional periods where I was the only person on the floor. I took the opportunity to commune a bit with the spirit of invention, walking among the machinery behind the fence that separates it from visitors.

It was at one of those points that I heard a brief rolling noise (like a small ball going through a tube) in the ceiling in the opposite corner. Then, out of nowhere, a ping pong ball dropped from the ceiling, bounced a couple of times on the workbench below, and rolled out of sight.

Hmm. That's odd. Perhaps it came from the third floor? At about that spot, rangers were supervising young kids in science experiments. Maybe something dropped?

I went upstairs to find out. Sure enough, there was a large-enough hole in the floor next to a heating pipe; a small ball could reasonably pass through it. No, the ranger told me. They didn't have any ping pong balls up there. Uh, but there had to be. This one looked new -- not something that might have gotten dislodged after being up there for a while. And wouldn't they have found it during the renovation?

The ranger and I looked at each other, wide-eyed. Then we laughed. The ghost of Edison, playing table tennis. And here we just thought he liked parcheesi.

Now, I do have an explanation for this one, but I'm not telling.

Friday, June 4, 2010

And here I thought I'd be all psyched for some time during the week while the weather is sunny and warm. Instead, I find myself hit with anxiety, lacking answers or any real direction.

Maybe the hospital bills have something to do with it. I'm doing okay financially, and of course the insurance is handling the bulk of the costs of the biopsy, but yeah, the reality of those 'unexpected' costs is getting to me at the core level. And yeah, I'm getting my money's worth out of the insurance -- without it, the whole process apparently would have cost me over $10,000 -- but it does lead me to wonder how much I'd end up paying per month once the COBRA runs out, now that I have this nice little incident on my permanent record.

So what is it that I'm supposed to do? The more I mull through the whole touring/ranger/know-it-all career concept, the more I realize it's not financially workable for me. When I stand back and view it objectively, I totally understand why. Who puts that much value on learning about arcane things from someone who can spin a good story? I mean, it would work if Richard Branson wanted someone on staff to research his personal whims and tell him all about them, but how likely is that? I've learned a heck of a lot hanging around my pal in Princeton, and while she's really making a name for herself locally, she ain't gettin' rich off it. She is, though, seeming to have a lot of fun.

Everything's telling me that what I'm doing now is a fantastic post-retirement avocation, and there's nothing wrong with that, but how am I gonna make money? More immediately, how am I going to get myself back on a productive path?

What have I learned about myself?
  • I do like telling stories.
  • When I'm on, I'm really on... and I love getting positive feedback in the form of laughter, smiles and engaged conversation about the topic I'm covering.
  • I like having latitude and being my own boss.
  • I'm not really big on being told what to do by people who boss me around. I'd rather be a partner than an employee. (I'd use the word 'collaborator' but ever since a European pointed out the negative connotations of the word, I've been cautious about labeling myself that way.)
  • I'm not all that motivated. When things fall into my lap, I'll go for them, but do I go looking for them? Not really.
This puts me squarely where I was: being unhappy with the prospect of a corporate environment, but in a position where I half anticipate having my next opportunity presented to me. Somehow the prospect of being stuck in an unhappy situation a year from now, regretting that I didn't make a real leap forward, isn't enough of a motivator to get off my ass and do something truly scary.

One would wonder why I'm not seeking some sort of accountability to get me moving. On occasion I've considered talking with a coach to get me working on some concrete goals. (I guess one could say I have accomplished some things by doing what I have with the tour stuff, but I think I've been resting on that for far too long, like an eight-year-old who keeps pointing to the fact she can tie her shoes.) BUT that would then require me to face a lot of tough things, and do stuff I don't really like doing, right? Maybe I'd actually not do so well on a few things, to boot. And isn't the point of this to just drift along without conflict? And to get all philosophical without having to actually do anything?

Uh, yeah, and how's that working for you?

I do this a lot in my life: drift, then get frustrated and build up enough moxie to move forward. The big problem here is that I'm not challenging myself. I'm just hanging out on an extended vacation, and feeling vaguely guilty about it.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

The recheck

Went for my biopsy follow up on Monday and thankfully got to see the doctor though it's generally a surgery day for her. We took a look at the incision site, which appears to be healing okay, though each end seems a little 'hard' and raised from the middle. In a few days I can start using the scar-reducing cream on it, which hopefully will work well, though I understand it takes some time to do its magic.

Anyway, got the pathology report and the ok from the doc to go back to annual mammograms. All in all, it was pretty much what we expected: little calcifications that weren't very likely to turn into anything concerning.

Now I just want the damn scar to go away. As it is, the top of my breast looks as if I was cleanly stabbed with a penknife. Hmm... maybe I can conjure up a good story to go along with it.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Like the wallpaper? Let me tell you about the servants' wing.

Another day at Edison National Historic Park, another day at Glenmont.

If I didn't know better, I'd think I was being pigeonholed, even just a little. When I arrived at the Park to volunteer yesterday, the head of interpretation told me they'd like me to hang out at the house for the day. Fine, cool. No problem.

When I was up there a couple of weeks ago, I dipped my toe in the water and gave the patter for part of the tour. A large group was booked, and the rangers decided we'd all take one portion of the house, stay there and explain as the group filed through, then shuttle them to the next ranger. It worked out pretty well: I took the servants' wing, which is really the easiest part of the whole thing (not a lot of tchotchkes to explain). Basically, you just stand there and talk a bit about the kitchen, laundry room and servants' dayroom. The weirdest thing is the interlocking dreadnought linoleum tile, which always catches the attention of at least one person in the group.

This time around, the more senior-level ranger I'd be with asked how much of the tour I'd be comfortable doing on my own. Given that it's hard to come in cold, not having been there in two weeks, I asked to get grounded by backing up the first one, and then I'd take parts of the next few. And that's the way it went. On the first tour, I explained the servants' wing, and listened carefully to the ranger as she did the rest. On the next two, I took the welcome, ground rules and entry parlor to the house, plus the servants wing, and answered random questions as they came along.

I anticipated that the first few minutes would be a little awkward, as the Ellis Island patter always is, but once I covered the ground rules, everything was fine. Once you get into the house, there are so many visual cues that it's not hard to keep the dialog running pretty well.

While I'd give myself a solid B for output, the rangers were very complimentary, told me I sounded really professional and didn't make too many errors. Even the conservator, who knows the house better than I know my own, said she was impressed. So... it looks as if I may be ready for prime time.

The great part, too, was that one of the rangers took me aside to point out a few more things and give me some guidance on how to address some of the more unusual situations that might come up during the tours. This is leading me to believe they're getting confident enough in me to put me into the rotation. They do need people up there -- most of the volunteers prefer to be at the labs -- so it's a good opportunity to get experience and get known. The park is significantly smaller than Ellis Island, and getting known by the right people could be a heck of a lot easier.

And maybe I'll get to do some crawling around the upper floors...

Thursday, May 20, 2010


I hate wearing a bra 24/7.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

And the results are in...

Heard from the surgeon's physician assistant this afternoon: test results came back. The calcifications are benign. All's good with the world. I was so relieved that I didn't really ask any questions. I'll bring them all on Monday when I visit for the check on the incision.

I slept in this morning, rather than do my usual Tuesday at Ellis Island. I figured that given the rain, the drive would be awful, and I also didn't want to risk keeling over while I was giving the hospital spiel on the tour. In honesty, I feel pretty decent, so I'm sure I'd have been okay, but why take the chance?

The incision seems to be okay - maybe just a bit sore. The dressing will probably come off when I take a shower tomorrow, so I may actually get to see it.

Oh, and last night? The tube top thingy gave no support at all as I was moving about in my sleep. Put on a sports bra this morning and instantly felt securely supported. I guess I'll be wearing that for the next few days, oh joy.

Monday, May 17, 2010

The girls are back...

So the deed is done -- got the biopsy out of the way.

At the start, we thought it might be a bit easier than first supposed. The radiologist who was placing the guide wire (same doc as last time) had an inkling that the spot in question might be closer to the skin than thought earlier. Apparently that hadn't been so clear in the mammo since the compressions can make it harder to gauge depth in some areas. In any case, her supposition meant taking a whole bunch of extra mammos until they could make the determination. Turns out the spot is just beneath the skin, but I certainly didn't mind the additional work done to check it out. The smaller the 'dig,' the better. I didn't look down much, but when I did, I saw they'd marked the spot with a metal pellet the size of a BB. Kinda looked like one of those odd piercings the kids are getting these days, but smaller. They took it off when they inserted the wire, and replaced it with a piece of tape to secure the end of the wire.

The extra work made me a little late getting to the surgical area for my 9 a.m. appointment with destiny, which I was whisked to via wheelchair. (I really wanted to put the "whee!" into wheelchair, but alas, could not.) I'd been warned not to move my right side too much, because the inside end of the wire locator could easily migrate from its original spot. That made it so much fun to change into the next hospital gown and sign all of the consent forms with my right hand.

All of the nurses, techs and the anesthesiologist were super nice. For the most part, I was relaxed and not stressing over anything, even before the 'who gives a shit?' juice got shot into my drip. And the sedative took over before I even realized it was coming -- all of a sudden I was waking up and they were wheeling me to recovery. Then I was sitting up, drinking ginger ale and eating graham crackers, just like after giving blood. Oh, and they'd dressed me up in this stylin' pink floral smocked tube top with velcro in the front. For support, they say. Ah, the irony: I never wore those ridiculous things in high school, precisely because they provide no support at all. I've gotta wear something to keep the boob in place for a night or two while I'm sleeping, so I guess this will be more comfortable than a bra.

So far so good, as far as recovery. The actual incision is obscured behind a pad that's about 1.5 inches square, so I haven't seen it yet. I'm not feeling any real pain.

I go to see the surgeon's assistant on Monday for a check on the incision. Should hear something about the test results before then.

Off to save second base

Today's the big biopsy. I'm leaving for the hospital in about 45 minutes and right now I want to use the bathroom but am not doing it because they need a urine sample and I can't have anything to drink till this annoyance is over. No food or drink after midnight, in case they have to use general anesthesia.

Odd as it sounds, I took a picture of my breast this morning. Figure I'd like a shot in the event the procedure leaves a scar.

And yeah, I'm apprehensive. I just don't like the feeling of being put out. Or cut into. After all those years of joking about the Ramones song, I don't wanna be sedated. I know it's no big deal, but I just don't. And I'm not big on looking at other people's incisions, let alone my own. It's funny - when my dad's had surgery, he's been almost eager to show me the area and explain it. I never want to look. This one I don't even want to think about, however small, and it will be staring me in the face.

I'm sending a few words up to the Big Guy, and thoughts up to my grandmother. I'm getting the early warning and information she didn't have, and hoping my news is better than what she ultimately heard and experienced.

So if you get the chance, send up a few words for quick, painless and the right test results. Thanks.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Off to Princeton

Today's the big Princeton garden club lady tour. I'll be doing the talking from the tour's origin in New Brunswick, down Route 1 to Washington Road on the outskirts of Princeton.

Wanna know why Princeton history goes as far north as New Brunswick... and even Elizabeth? The garden club ladies are gonna find out from me!

Hopefully I can keep from sounding like I'm babbling -- we're trying to fit 20 pounds of talk in a five pound sack. Chances are they won't care, anyway. They're in it more for the gardens they'll see once they get into town, and fortunately I don't have to talk about any of them. I just have to herd the troops back onto the bus after each stop. That's where the real test comes in. Can I be firm yet polite? Will I make it through the day without doing bodily harm to anyone? Will anyone be able to come up with the bail money if I get arrested for assault?

In any case, it'll keep me occupied and distracted from thinking about Monday's biopsy.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

More boob news

I've kept radio silence on the breast issue for a few months as I've waited for my six month recheck. Now... some news.

My April mammo showed the spots in question are still present, and while the radiologist said they're probably benign, I made another visit to the surgeon to get her opinion. She's strongly recommending the surgical biopsy. With this one, they do a mammo or ultrasound to locate the spot, place a wire as a guide for the surgeon, and then she goes in to excise sample. The advantage of this approach over the core sampling is that if she runs into any blood vessels, she can cauterize them to prevent excess bleeding.

Needless to say, I wasn't thrilled about this, but she told me that she won't declare me 'clear' of any problems until she's seen no change on seven years' worth of mammos at six month intervals. Thank you, no. Thus, her people are working to schedule the procedure for May 17. I should know the results a few days later.

For the most part, I'm dealing okay, but every once in a while, I get a little freaked and emotional about it. I don't like hearing the word 'surgical' and any part of my body used in the same sentence, even if it's just for a test.

Then, on the other hand, I think of my grandmother who died from breast cancer that went undiagnosed far too long. If her doctor hadn't been such an arrogant bonehead and actually listened to her concerns, it's likely I would have had the chance to actually meet her.

Best to find out now and deal with it, than to live with uncertainty.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

And then there's....

... Princeton. (I'll bet you thought I was going to say "Maude!")

The big, full-day Princeton tour for the garden club ladies is coming up in the next couple of weeks. And I'm not nearly as prepared as I would like to be.

What does this look like? Garden club people from around the country will be descending on New Brunswick, and Mimi and crew have been hired to help run bus tours of P'ton and local gardens on the last day of the conference. Total attendance will be around 600 people -- 12 buses in all. What a megillah. And what a nice opportunity to get more experience and perspective.

Sat down a few weeks ago with Mimi and my bus partner for the tour. The partner is a woman who's an officer of the local garden club and a major planner for the gathering the tour will be part of. She's a lovely person and also has the benefit of having been a docent at a few museums, so she knows her way around a tour and has realistic expectations. At the same time, she's going to be extremely busy during the weeks before the conference, with little time to prep for the tour, so she asked if I'd be willing to take the lead that day. No problem. Just let me know what route we're taking. Otherwise, these people are going to be hearing a ton about the Rutgers/Princeton rivalry, and not much else.

She sent me several pages of her thoughts about the front end of the tour, and Mimi provided some additional speaking points, but I'm still not entirely clear on the mid section. We're filling eight hours here -- probably about 90 minutes for lunch, and then some stops at private gardens -- but other than that, I don't have an agenda or anything. Logic tells me that we're really only filling the start and end parts with patter, and then the gardens will be the bulk of the day (and not my responsibility to narrate), but I've gotten no confirmation on that.

This is where the insecure kid part of me comes in. For a fair chunk of my life, my flash assumption when I don't understand something is that it's probably because I missed something. More often than not, it turns out that the other person didn't provide enough explanation or wasn't clear enough (and often others are as confused as I am), but still, the self-doubt makes me hesitate to ask too many questions. I guess I also don't like looking stupid. In this case, I don't want to have that supposed stupidness or lack of preparation reflect on Mimi, either.

I drove down on Wednesday to check out the areas I know will be on the tour, plus a bit of the campus I hadn't visited in a while. All's pretty much good there, though it seems a bit ambitious to cover as much of it as my partner seems to want to. Nonetheless, it's all workable. I just need to know what ELSE we need to cover. I've got to study! I figure if I don't have at least some answers by Monday, I've got to get really aggressive about finding out.

Somewhat relieved yesterday to get an e-mail from my tour partner, asking if I can join her, Mimi and another garden club person Wednesday to discuss. Phew! Just in time to get my questions answered, information gathered and part secured. Then all I have to do is memorize.

This is gonna be interesting.

Friday, April 30, 2010

Getting comfortable

After having called in sick for my previously-scheduled volunteer day at the Edison Labs, I went back in this week for another full day. I have to admit I wasn't all that excited for some reason. Maybe it's because I'm still under the weather. Maybe it was the uncertainty of what I would be doing that day, and the discomfort of knowing I'm not as prepared as I'd like to be to respond to questions. Again, I'm my own toughest critic.

Once again, I was shuttled up to Glenmont to shadow the rangers on tour and at the potting shed/visitor center. From the first few minutes I spent with them down at the main office at the lab, I knew it would be a good day. Nice guys, great senses of humor and positive attitudes -- very easy to get along with.

This looked to be a busy day: four pre-arranged group tours in the morning, followed by four public tours in the afternoon. To make matters even more interesting, the morning tours were scheduled back-to-back, every half-hour, and one of them would possibly have the park superintendent along. My role? Help keep the group together, answer questions if I could, smile, and keep inquisitive hands away from the contents of the house. I'd spend the morning in the house with one ranger, and then head back to the potting shed and perhaps do one tour with the other ranger to hear his spiel.

After going on a total of five tours, I actually think I could handle taking the lead on my own. When I was there doing backup a few weeks ago, I was pretty overwhelmed by the depth of information the ranger guide was sharing about some of the furnishings in the house, wondering if I could ever remember them all. This most recent experience made me realize two things: first off, some of the rangers don't even know all of it (hence the handy notebooks in each room), and second, it's near impossible to cover the whole house in 30 minutes if you go into that level of detail. So... I might be more ready to lead one of these tours than I originally thought.

In many ways, the Edison experience is turning out to be more instructive than the Ellis Island activities. While I have more autonomy at Ellis, there's greater variety of activity at Edison, and seemingly more focus on the volunteers as a resource. (Granted the Ellis Island thing is a bit of a hybrid, given that I'm volunteering through Save Ellis Island.) In fact, one of the rangers took me aside before his tour to share his approach to working with visitors at Glenmont, and the methods he uses to make a connection for them. I'd also heard much of the theory during the training at Ellis Island a few months ago, but he gave me his personal view on why it's important and a successful approach for him. Pretty cool.

Still not sure what I'm going to do as far as touring, but volunteering is giving me incredibly valuable experience and perspective. I've got the mechanics of being the backup down pat, and I got the sense the rangers were glad for the help. The funny thing, too, is that I think I'm getting more comfortable with the public speaking part. As I've said before, I was a pretty lousy presenter in a business setting, but that was likely due to general disinterest in the topic. Now I don't have much of an issue with it. And after talking with a few people at both sites, I've come to realize that my usual fear -- getting the first five minutes of the tour under my belt without feeling like a blathering idiot -- is a pretty common one. In a lot of ways, it's like acting. You know what you need to say, you have to be engaging, but you need a little time to settle into your role.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

And let's see...

... that NYU class I signed up for? The one on freelance magazine writing?

Cancelled again, due to low enrollment.

Is someone trying to tell me something, or does NYU just enjoy volleying back the same $310 I sent them? Or does everyone see freelancing as a futile venture?


Friday, April 9, 2010

Entering the Edi-zone

It's official: I'm now a volunteer in the Edi-zone. Goofy, yeah, but my little nickname for the Edison National Historical Park.

After going to a couple more volunteer events and talking to a couple of the on-staff coordinators, I got an unexpected call from one of the rangers. They were going to be shorthanded one day and needed someone to come in and help ferry visitors around. Given my experience at Ellis Island, they were hoping I'd be able to step in quickly. Uh, sure. I can come in for the morning. No problem. It's easy enough to 'sweep' behind the tour and make sure nobody lags behind or touches anything they shouldn't. And I know enough to answer questions, right?

Yeah... well...

I was assigned to help out the rangers at Edison's house, Glenmont, which is about a half mile from the Labs in an idyllic gated community called Llewellyn Park. They were expecting two seniors groups to come in the morning, ranging from 20-30 people per tour. Okay. That's about the max size for the Ellis Island tours I do, so I figured I knew what to expect in terms of group behavior and so forth. But, of course, the Ellis Island tours are in a fairly expansive area, whereas Glenmont is your classic late 1800's mansion: smaller rooms and lots of stuff to handle and trip over. While there are velvet ropes and a convenient green runner to show visitors where it's safe to walk and what's off limits, we all know that the ability to pay attention to rules is skill that fewer people have than one might think.

One of the rangers stayed behind at the greenhouse/potting shed that serves as the visitor center for Glenmont while the other ranger and I went to the house to turn on the lights and music. Stuff I love: walking back staircases and the servants' areas not open to the public. This house would have been a fantastic place for kids to play hide and seek!

The first group showed up more or less on time, and I stayed just inside as the ranger gave his opening patter on the porch. He claimed that he'd be able to do the tour in a half hour, but it was already becoming apparent that it would be a challenge. This group was already participating vocally, and it looked as if there were some slow walkers.

Every ranger's going to do a slightly different tour, and this one was doing an "E! True Hollywood Story" on the house's pre-Edison origins. Unfortunately, I was too preoccupied watching people to have much of the rest of his commentary sink in. First there was the photo buff who was jockeying to get the best perspective and hanging behind the group. Then there were the people who wanted to know the provenance of the artwork on the walls. Uh, well, probably nobody any of us ever heard of, but I can look it up in the notebook that outlines the contents of each room and is helpfully tucked in the corner. But then we're getting way off topic here. It's a Victorian house, jammed with ornamentation and knick-knacks of all sorts. It could take a year to tell you about absolutely everything.

Not surprisingly, two of the visitors weren't keen on (or able to) climb the stairs to the second floor, so it was my task to keep them company in the first floor conservatory. Mina Miller Edison had a lovely sunroom where she kept plants and watched birds, and there are several seats there for people who choose not to take the tour upstairs. Not surprisingly, the Park Service wants to be sure they don't wander off and touch things, or worse, which is why I was there. That's fine, but I felt pretty dumb not being able to answer some of their questions. Hey, it's not as if I hadn't been there a million times before... right? I felt like the overconfident kid who didn't study much and got nailed by every question on the exam.

Also not surprisingly, the tour took longer than 30 minutes, which meant that the second tour got backed up (and thus the rest of the day would, too). We did a quick turnover and brought in another 25 people, this time a group from outside Scranton. They were a chatty bunch, asking questions right from the start -- the type who do my tour for me before we leave the starting gate. Then several of them didn't want to climb the stairs, so I never did get to hear the rest of the ranger tour. And again, there were questions I had to refer back to the ranger, since I didn't know enough yet.

I felt like a jerk leaving at noon, when the rangers were starting to get the public tours in, but I consoled myself with the knowledge I'd set the boundary and they were happy to get any help that day. As I walked to my car, I heard one of the seniors telling another, "It's so nice when you ask a question and can get an answer." In my paranoid, sarcastic world, I took that as a hit, but then who knows. And I can't know everything right off the bat. It all takes time.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Eat, Pray, Love. Overeat, Procrastinate, Sleep.

Okay, so this is what I've been avoiding, but I'll write it because I just got a sign: I'm at Panera, and a woman just sat in front of me with a copy of Eat Pray Love. If you're not familiar with it (and even if you are, I guess), it's the memoir of a writer who ditches her current life in favor of discovering what she wants to do next. She writes about her triumphs, her tribulations, her doubts and her happiness. Not surprisingly for an Oprah's book list entry, the book is profoundly personal and very inspirational.

Then there's my story.

I don't say that to be flip or dramatic. It's just occurred to me that I haven't been true to my commitment to this blog. When I started, my intention was to chronicle my full range of emotions and experiences as I explore the big abyss of possibility. I'm really good with the positive stuff: the connections I'm making, the affirmations and such. I'm not so good with the more challenging stuff. There are probably dozens of reasons for that, but the big one for me is that I always feel the need to solve a problem when I bring it up. My take (right or wrong) is that when you complain or raise an issue, you either fix it or don't bring it up again. The irony is that you're at your most human when you're open about your vulnerabilities. I'm not talking about spilling your fears to everyone who says hello to you, and I'm not talking about constantly sharing sob stories. I'm talking about being honest about who you are with the people who care about you.

January and February are always tough months for me. I suffer from seasonal depression. While I've learned some coping mechanisms over the years and do get treatment for it, it can still be a bitch. I'm kinder to myself than I once was, and I'm not beating myself up for cocooning and being unproductive, but the truth is that I don't have a lot going on, and the anxiety is building. While I couldn't remember having a dream for over four months, I've started having them virtually every night for the past two weeks. And the first one was a recurring dream I thought I'd left behind years ago: finding a hungry baby for whom I somehow felt responsible. In the past, that baby was usually pretty quiet, but this time, he/she was crying in the back of a parked car.

Not hard to read into that one, right? There's something inside me that's definitely still hungry and needs to be satisfied. That brings a little more sense to the free-floating anxiety, but it doesn't point in a specific direction.

That's me: always looking for a direction from outside myself. I can talk a good game about wanting to create something new for myself, to run it for myself, to be the boss. I can get people enthusiastic about what I want to do. However, I don't have the charisma to drive them to action on my behalf, or to keep myself motivated and committed. I don't seem to have the drive to get past the fear of failure. Or maybe it's that I lack the commitment gene when it comes to hard work on my own behalf. Maybe I need affirmation. I certainly could use some accountability, but I hesitate to ask for it, probably because of that inability to be seen as something less than a success. It's funny, because my biggest heroes (i.e. Edison, Eleanor Roosevelt, etc.) got past the fear and actually embraced failure as a positive and necessary step toward achievement.

Part of it may be that I just haven't found my purpose yet. The historic stuff and tour business is great and a lot of fun, but I'm not convinced it's where I need to be. I think I held onto that as THE answer for so long that I've forgotten to keep looking elsewhere, too.

The odd thing is that while I love writing, I haven't done much of it of late, probably a product of the winter blahs. I forced myself to sign up for a freelance course at NYU, the same one that got cancelled last fall. And a friend sent me a link to a travel site that could potentially pay cash for brief writeups of quirky destinations. Writing a compelling piece in under 250 words is a challenge for me, but something I can do. I just have to do it.

When I'm fair with myself, I do see that I've made some progress:
  • I'm more myself again. I'm back to being the authentic me. People respond to me favorably, and some are even drawn to me.
  • My work at Ellis Island has given me great experience. It's helped me suss out that I am better/more comfortable with larger group tours and would have to work a lot harder to forge my persona as a host to a small group or one-on-one.
  • I'm building a professional relationship that might bear fruit over the long haul. I'm still talking with Mimi the Princeton lady about her business and will even be helping her out with a huge tour she's running in May. She's a good egg and a savvy marketer, and I have no doubt that if we both want it, we'll end up working together in some form or another.
  • And, very importantly, I'm building a strong relationship with the boyfriend. We've had our challenges, and neither of us is anywhere near perfect, but we're both committed to seeing where it goes, and to doing the things that are needed to get there. I'm profoundly grateful for the things that make it possible: the lessons I've learned by trial and error over the years, the patience and the ability to see beyond myself and think of us rather than just me.
That's all good, and I know I haven't been a total slacker over the past six months. All the same, I know I need to be more disciplined and to be tougher on myself while still being kind. That means not beating myself up for not making progress, but still holding myself accountable for doing the things I need to do to make progress.

I'm not alone in this, and it would do me good to get involved with others who are in the same situation, but that also would require me to fess up. I wonder if there's a 12 step program for procrastinators and accountability-phobes?


Friday, January 29, 2010

Health follow-up

Just talked with the physician's assistant at the breast surgeon's office. As expected, the hospital reported that the area was too vascular to do the needle biopsy and that a small surgery would be warranted to get a sample. I suggested that given the fact that the mammograms they did last week seemed to indicate that things hadn't changed since October, maybe the surgeon could take a look at those and either confirm there's been no change or recommend the surgical biopsy. Not surprisingly (given the fact that she didn't have the specifics and the mammos in front of her), the PA wasn't about to shrug off the need to yank the things out, but she also wasn't frantically rushing it along, either.

After some discussion, we agreed that I'll get a follow up mammogram in April (six months check from the original), and then I'll go in to see the surgeon with all of the films and the report to make a determination on any next steps.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Pain in the ...

Perhaps a little stress is getting to me, re: not having an income. Yesterday as I was setting up the info desk at Ellis Island, I threw out my back. It's not the first time I've had this issue; the lower back tends to lock up on occasion when I'm stressed and haven't done any yoga in a while. This time it's got me standing less than totally upright, but at least the pain eases after being on my feet for a few minutes. I'm wishing I got that stand-up desk when I had the chance.

As for a resolution to the stress, well, the Mega Millions jackpot is up to $144 million. I'm off to buy some tix...

Getting back to a previous post, the info session at the Edison NHP was pretty cool. First off, I was welcomed to the site by the ranger I spoke to at my last visit, and he remembered me by name. Nice! Then one of the archivists talked about their vast collection and some of the efforts already done to catalog it. They're working alongside Rutgers, the Smithsonian and the NJ Historical Commission, and while there's a lot done, there's more to go. He also shared process on how people can access the archive, which I'd asked about when I visited last fall. Essentially, you don't need to be a researcher or scholar, but you do need to have a fairly well-thought out goal, as they don't allow browsing. For the most part, they ask for your area of interest so the Park Service can keep records on trends, rather than to keep tabs on anyone. It's almost unreal, isn't it? In a world where it seems one has to rationalize every request of an institution, these guys don't really care why you want the information, as long as you respect the collection.

Following the archivist's discussion, the ranger said a few words about opportunities for volunteers, given that the site has lost some of its seasonal rangers. He put a lot of emphasis on the fun aspect, encouraging us to develop short programs on our areas of interest. That rang a bunch of bells for me, given some of the stuff I've wanted to research anyway. I personally think it would be interesting to lend focus to some of Edison's projects that didn't work out the way he wanted. They'd be a great way to showcase his creativity while emphasizing that one often learns more about being successful through trial and error than by having everything go to plan every time. After all, if you're not failing once in a while, you're clearly not trying to do enough.

Wait. There's a lesson there, Sherlock. Hmm...

Next steps toward volunteering include meetings with the ranger and the volunteer coordinator, as well as some on-site visitation and the orientation meeting on the 16th. And then we're off to the races!

Friday, January 22, 2010


Success! I heard back from the volunteer coordinator at the Thomas Edison National Historical Park in West Orange. After apologizing for losing my original application, she invited me to their orientation on February 16, as well as a volunteer event tomorrow morning. As part of their continuing education, the park archivist is giving an overview of the documents and records they have on site.

The archives piece sounds pretty cool; Rutgers has had a project going for several years to catalogue all of the paperwork found on site, and it's quite extensive. When they reopened the site in October they had a small exhibit of some of the documents, which only sparked my interest in what might be there and the opportunities it opens up to learn more about some of Edison's lesser-known projects.

We'll see what the volunteer assignments shape out to be. Now that the site is largely self-guided, it's possible the only live tour narrative is done in one or two of the out-buildings (i.e. chem lab) and at Glenmont, Edison's house. I'm not all that jazzed about doing house tours, to be honest, but then it's likely better than just sitting in the visitor center.

In any case, I'll need to balance this with Ellis Island and the other stuff I need to do to get my act in gear.

As I was saying...

No question, one of the things I love about volunteering is the ability to go places people don't ordinarily get to go. I'm finding out that sometimes it's by necessity.

This week's stint at Ellis Island was pretty quiet -- not many visitors -- but we did have two people show up for the morning tour. I was with another volunteer, so we both did the tour, which was helpful because one of the visitors was in a wheelchair. While my cohort was giving the banter, I was running ahead to make sure the gates and construction doors to the ferry building would open sufficiently for the visitor to roll through.

We were in good shape until my buddy decided to return to the main building by a different route -- one that isn't obviously handicap-accessible. Fortunately we ran into a park cop who pointed us through another door to an outside corridor leading to a ramp to the area we were trying to get to. I ran ahead to check it out and then came back to bring everyone else through. Meanwhile my colleague apologized up and down to the visitor, who I sensed was pretty okay with the opportunity to check out a part of the building not ordinarily on the tour. In fact, he stopped by our desk a little later to talk more about Ellis Island and what he'd discovered, so I think we did okay.

My colleague and I got a real charge out of finding a new place to check out, and I also realized how much fun it is to do this kind of work when you're with someone who enjoys it the way you do. Otherwise, it has the prospect of getting boring and tedious really quickly.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Boob job

Lucky me, to have woken up with a headache yesterday.

I knew just what it was, too -- I tend to get dehydrated at Ellis Island, and I guess I didn't drink enough water when I was there on Tuesday. It was a really fun day (more on that later) but not worth a headache on a day when I couldn't take any aspirin and had to get my boob poked.

So, anyway, the big biopsy.

I guess if it had to happen (especially with a headache that made me feel all tired), it wasn't such a horrible experience. The breast center at Overlook is very nice and comfortable but doesn't go overboard on the "oh, poor baby" aspect of the situation. Fortunately I'd been pre-admitted, so all they needed was my signature a few times, and my insurance card. Then I went to put on a gown and hang out to wait in a comfortable area on my own.

The nurse, radiologist and doctor each came in separately to talk me through the process and answer my questions, which was nice. (Nice that they were all consistent, and all open to conversation.) The doctor noted that given how small the calcifications are, it was possible it would be hard to find them, so they'd likely have to do a bunch of mammograms to get to the spot. In fact, that would be the longest part of the whole process; once they located the spot, it was just a matter of injecting some lidocaine, letting it work for a few seconds, and then going in for the core biopsy. And the radiologist told me that once they found them, the mammo paddles wouldn't be compressed too firmly, just enough to hold the tissue in place. I've had some really uncomfortable mammos, so that was good to hear. If they're keeping you smooshed for five minutes, you really don't want to be in a vise. Believe me.

Of course, me being me, it did take a while for them to find the spot in question. And then they discovered that the number of blood vessels around it was making it difficult to route a path to the spot that wouldn't result in a fair amount of bleeding. And the whole time they were making this determination, my boob is in a vise. Oh, joy. The doctor explained that it's always possible to do a surgical biopsy; they can control the bleeding in that case. It's just that breast tissue acts as a sponge, so I'd end up with a hell of a hematoma if they hit a vein during a needle biopsy.

While I wasn't all that concerned about ending up with a big bruise, it did concern me that there could be complications, so I wasn't about to get insistent on doing the procedure regardless. I did ask whether it appeared that anything had changed since my mammo in October, and the doctor said everything looked the same, more or less. No new calcifications, and it didn't appear that the others had grown.

Bottom line, the doctor's going to talk with my surgeon about the situation, and we can make a determination from there. Right now, I'd rather do a wait-and-see, get another set of films taken in a few months to see if there's any change. I mean, the calcifications were so tiny that the original radiologist almost didn't see them. That doesn't make them any less questionable, it just makes me believe there's time before they could become anything truly dangerous. I really don't want to have any surgery unless it's truly necessary, even a biopsy.

More to come...

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Well, I'm giving it another shot

Saturday I took the boyfriend on the quasi Edison tour -- starting at the giant lightbulb and local museum in Menlo Park and then moving on to the Edison National Historic Park in West Orange. Me being me, I ended up getting into a conversation with one of the volunteers at Menlo Park, who's an even bigger Edison geek than I am and volunteers at the National Park. When he suggested going to West Orange, I mentioned my love of the site and my frustration that the management there hadn't responded to my volunteer application. Surprised, he gave me names of a couple of rangers to ask for during my visit. Cool!

Turned out I didn't even have to ask. I'd already been planning to buy an Edison park pass ($30 for a full year of visits, as much as you want), and the ranger at the visitor center tried to talk me into a pass that would get me into any park in the system, plus some other federal properties. Ordinarily, I'd do that, but I really didn't want to spend $80, and, as I told him, "I'm an Edison geek."

"Oh!" he said. "We get lots of those here! If you're really into it, you can even volunteer here," noting that he is responsible for the volunteer program and needs people desperately. Yes, he was one of the rangers the Menlo Park volunteer had told me to find.

Ah... he walked right into my web. After a short chat, he gave me a card to fill out, and said he'd give me a call to talk more.

So here's hoping! I'm sure there's a way I can do both that and Ellis Island.