Wednesday, December 12, 2012

too much to do, not nearly enough time

My crafts fair success, plus the fact that a first-rate photographer has offered to photograph my work, means I'm going to open an Etsy store. I was going to set up my own website, but started poking around online to find out about web hosting and web hosting software, and felt like I was drowning. Etsy is much easier, to start. Eventually, I want to sell OAK (one of a kind) items at Etsy, and have a website with my basic designs which people can custom-order in different stones and lengths.

But I have to make quite a bit of new jewelry, since I sold a lot of my best pieces at the crafts fair and after. Also have to make holiday gifts for Judy and Lucie.

Also - someone planted the idea of reselling beads in my head. My idea here is to do it on Ebay, to specialize in fancy cuts and hard-to-find stones. I've been checking Indian bead websites, and there's some pretty eye-popping stuff that can be broken down into smaller lots and sold at a profit. I think I'll start my selling some of my own overstock - I have a bunch of big rhodochrosite tabs and have never figured out what to do with them. And since I got a very generous bonus from work, I have some seed money for starting to buy from overseas.

And I'm also getting closer to knuckling down and writing the novel that's been floating in my head for a few years. My problem with writing a novel is to come up with a plot which is not too embarassingly close to my own life. I've been floating an idea with a couple of characters based on people I've known (and one kind of like me), but a plot very dissimilar to my actual connections with those people I've known.

One of the people I plan to borrow from is W., and I don't think I've ever discussed him here, and that will take another chunk of time, when I get around to it.

I'm madly excited about getting service on my new phone on Saturday, I've already started to enter some contacts. I'm just happy every time I turn it on, and look forward to being a textin' fool, getting a cool ringtone, taking pictures, and so on. (I'm going to try to do the bead photography on my own.)

I recently read an amazing book, Swimming Home by Deborah Levy, and recommend it wholeheartedly. I wish I still had that Amazon widget or could figure out how to get it back. I'm definitely confused with all aspects of "monetizing" my blog, although I guess I do have some ads on here. I doubt I've made a dime, but that's not what I'm here for.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

when I can sleep, I dream...

Something rather peculiar has been happening for a few weeks now. On Sunday nights, I am generally glued to the TV, since almost all of my favorite shows are on Sunday nights: Boardwalk Empire, Homeland, Dexter, Treme, Shameless, Girls, Mad Men, Hell on Wheels, Breaking Bad...luckily they don't all have the same seasons. Treme and Boardwalk Empire just ended, and Homeland and Dexter are still on. These are all quality shows, and all on cable or premium cable. (The only shows I watch regularly on network TV are CBS Sunday Morning, 60 Minutes, and Fringe - Fringe being the only one that isn't on a Sunday.)

Dexter is a totally unique program, and both the character and the lead actor (Michael C. Hall) are amazing. And although I don't have ay sort of crush on either the actor or the character (and in fact, I think most of what he wears on the show is pretty unflattering), I find that I dream about him frequently on Sunday nights. The man in my dreams doesn't seem to be either Dexter or Michael C. Hall, but it's that guy, that face and that body. I don't remember much about the dreams except for the one last night - he was my lover, and dead sexy. Last night we were involved in some sort of caper, working in a team on some sort of scam. Part of it was in a casino. I actually have quite a few dreams where I'm in some sort of casino or an old-school yet pristine arcade (the sort with pinball and skee-ball, not video games).

I also have a lot of dreams where I'm either in a caper or hiding and escaping from someone or something. In these dreams, I'm sometimes in the story, and sometimes watching it as if it's a movie or show.It's always kind of vague and yet very emotionally charged.

And tonight, I couldn't fall asleep. I see my therapist on Tuesdays, and she's requested that I not take Atavan nor the "herbal relaxant" the night before. I generally take an Atavan before bedtime, which quiets down the racing thoughts that often prevent me from falling asleep; the herbal makes me sleepier.

I guess I'm a little jazzed up because the goods from my online shopping spree are starting to arrive. The TV came some days ago, but we have to get rid of the 100-lb. tube TV before we can set the new one up, which involves getting someone to take it down two flights of stairs. Barry's going to get a couple of local guys to do it this weekend, since it's way beyond our abilities. But the big prize came today: my new phone.

My new phone is a Samsung Galaxy S Lightray 4G, which I bought very slightly used on eBay for about half of the retail price. Although I may not be able to pay for service until the middle of the month, I turned it on, fiddled with it a little, changed the wallpaper. It is so beautiful. I expect it to be a life-changer, one of those extremely useful tools like the internet or my beloved Kindle. I'm far from being a techie, but I learn very fast when something can be useful or make me more productive. (All of the shopping I did with my crafts fair money was online.) I don't use my current "feature phone" much, since it's a bottom of the barrel phone that I got free when I was on public assistance. You have to use the phone-button keys to text, which is a huge pain in the ass. The only use I really get out of it is to call Barry when I'm in transit ("do you need me to pick anything up on the way home?"); the only advantage to it is that it's entirely free, and I use it for long-distance calls (due to an old debt of Barry's, we can't get long-distance service on our landline, and have to use a phone card).

My feeling is that I'll be doing a lot of texting with the new phone; also, it has a very good camera with flash. (It even has a second camera to make video calls.) Plus I expect it will replace my mp3 player. I really wanted to get something that wouldn't be outdated in a hurry, and although I really wanted a Galaxy iii, I ended up with a Galaxy ii, which I'm pretty sure is only one notch down from top-of-the-line. I'm not a fan of Apple, and don't use any of their products (my mp3 player is a Sansa Fuze, which is excellent and has served me well).

The TV also has all of the bells and whistles I could get for under $400; it has wireless internet connectivity, which I believe means that I can put anything on the TV that's on my computer - I know I'll be able to use Netflix streaming, and I hope I can use the DVD player on my computer, since we haven't had a DVD player for a while. I hit a bit of a wall when I was researching the TV; some of the tech was a little over my head.

When I bought this computer, a desktop, I did my homework - though rather than deep internet research, I consulted Tamsir. But I did make sure to get a fairly gigantic hard drive; even with 200+ movies and thousands of music files, it's only about 2/3 full after three years.

Only the Kindle is fairly basic, and only about three years old. I don't have much interest in a laptop or tablet, but I would like to upgrade to a Kindle Fire at some point.

But for now, I think I'm pretty content with my tech. It's kind of mind-bending, the things that have been created in my lifetime. I was born about a year before Alan Shepard became the first American in space, and watched Neil Armstrong set foot on the moon, on a fuzzy black-and-white TV. My aunt worked for IBM for many years, and when I was a child, I visited her at work and got to see the "electronic brain," a computer that filled an entire room; in the 80s, I used CPM computer at work, with a tiny monochrome display, and then and IBM PC. I used the internet when it was only text with no pictures, and then finally had a color monitor and a mouse and a Mozilla browser. I briefly used a big clunky cell phone around 1998. I remember how thrilling it was to have a wireless home phone, after all those years of dragging wires around. I remember going from a manual to an electric typewriter. I remember my first VCR. It's all been so exciting. Such an amazing time to live through and in.

Also - my workplace had its holiday party on Saturday night, which was pretty fantastic. It was in Lucie's unspeakably beautiful home, a classic brownstone in Park Slope, tasteful and comfortable and just right. Barry actually came with me, enjoyed himself, and made a good impression. The pickled salmon I brought for the potluck went over big. We also had a silent auction, and Judy decided we'd bring our traveling crafts fair, and I sold over $100. (I've sold about $500 since the actual crafts fair.) About 50 people came to the party, and it was a big success. (The silent auction, which had a couple of high-ticket items, brought in a pile of money.)

Since the fundraising chairperson resigned, Judy's been the acting chair, and she pretty much indicated the other night that she and I and the wonderful Board member who coordinated the silent auction are pretty much going to be the fundraising team. I've been pointing myself at fundraising, and doing some good and hard work, and so have moved up. It's surprisingly pleasant and fulfilling to work diligently at this job - even more than when I was in book publicity. Some parts of book publicity were wonderful, but there were elements I didn't care for and wanted to avoid; there were days when I didn't want to go to work, especially after Ken left and was replaced with that witch. But nothing is dreadful at this job; nothing scares me or puts me off.

Interestingly, it seems that Barry is having a similar experience at his job. In fact, some of the people at the party were very impressed by what he does. (Even though it doesn't require much in the way of skills and experience to be hired, it's difficult to perform well; I think the job title, Client Care Counselor, sounds very impressive and both boosts Barry and also sounded very good to the people he spoke to on Saturday - our faculty and students are probably 85% from a social work background, and many of the students work in that field.)

Now, to attempt sleep once more.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

glad news

The last post was supposed to be sad news and glad news, but I ran out of time or energy or something.

So here's the glad news: the crafts fair was monstrously successful, both for the school and for me personally. I sold way more jewelry at than I ever had before in a single day, and made a big pile of money. Almost everything I sell is sold to friends, so it's always at a low-end price. But at the fair, I sold at a more real price - more than I would ask from Robin or Jannah, but a price that was still a decent bargain for handmade.

Of course, most of the buyers were faculty and candidates with whom I've been friendly, who have seen some of my work on me for a year and a half. But I actually tend to wear more staid examples of my work, except for earrings. (I often tell people that the reason I began making jewelry is that I could never ever afford to buy all the earrings I want. And that's somewhat true. Plus I always have the luxury of special jewelry for special occasions, often something made for a particular occasion or outfit.) The point is that a lot of people showed up with the firm intention of buying something from me, and I think some of them were surprised by how much they ended up buying. (Luckily, we accepted checks and credit cards.) Judy also decided to continue selling some items out of the office until the end of the term, and I've sold about half again as much since the fair.

It was also a successful day as far as my job; I was co-chair of the event, and Judy was good enough to mention that it raised more than the last two fundraisers combined. My measure of the success is that we're doing it again next year.

I kept 60% and gave 40% to the school, and even so, I made a pretty good sum of money. And now it's nearly all spent. I was of course thinking about what to do with my money before the fair, depending on what I earned. I actually managed to buy pretty much everything I wanted:

A Galaxy Lightray (Galaxy ii) smartphone. A 32" Vizio TV. A pair of jeans and some undies for Barry. Jewelry supplies: 25 feet of wire in three gauges. Headpins in two gauges. Five hook clasps. A string of jade beads, two of lapis, one of baroque pearls. Three different gauges of beading wire (in additional to the metal wire).

I'm waiting on an auction for some black Morrocan cotton pants, and if I win those, I'm also buying a tunic that goes well with black. (If I don't win the pants, I'll probably buy the tunic anyway and wear it with my grey pants, and spend the rest on some good cologne.)

It's a very mixed feeling, being able to buy so much stuff that I've wanted and needed, but also seeing so much money disappear so fast. When the idea of the fair was first floated, all I really thought about was being able to replenish my supplies. As it ramped up, I was hoping to be able to buy the TV and maybe a lesser-model smartphone.

I ended up with the exact TV I wanted, within a reasonable price range (under $400), and ending up with a Galaxy ii rather than a Galaxy iii was not such a big deal. (Especially since I bought it slightly used, at $160 below retail.) I figured, with the TV and phone, that I didn't want to outgrow the tech in a hurry. The TV can stream from the computer wirelessly, and can even do 3D. I did a lot of homework on both.

Now, the phone has a pretty good camera with flash, and if I can get get reasonable photos of my jewelry, I'll set up a website or Etsy store pronto. I suppose the fair has also increased my confidence, and all of the new pieces I made for the fair have given me a pretty good appetite for the work.

I made the decision to try to move to using some silver-filled materials rather than sterling. Silver-filled is coated with sterling, and the coating is 500 times thicker than silver-plate. Silver-filled basically looks and behaves exactly like sterling, and costs what sterling did five years ago. I don't like working without a good stash of materials; I absolutely hate being in the middle of making something and running out of chain or wire, or having to change a design because I don't have what I really want. It's much better to have the luxury of all materials at hand than to have to be miserly because of the price of sterling. For now, I still intend to use all sterling clasps. I'll use sterling where it makes a difference. But it's too expensive to use sterling exclusively.

I've always used gold-filled, when I work with gold. For one thing, gold wire is way too soft to use for most of what I do; even 10K is mushy. Gold clasps are just plain ridiculously expensive, except for the occasional small lobster-claw or box clasp for pearls. I use vermeil clasps when I can (silver heavily plated with 22K gold). But I really prefer silver for the kind of work I do. I don't wear that much gold myself.

It seems I have a lot of cheerleaders and support when it comes to making jewelry. I've never done that well with consignment, but I sell pretty well in person. And I'm finally carving out something of a visual profile, a handful of styles I repeat with variations on details like size and stones, that has my fingerprint. That's taken a long time, given that I'm self-taught and have experimented pretty widely. It's kind of a big thing for me. It's like handwriting. It's like the way all Stephen Dweck pieces look like Stephen Dweck, the way you can always tell an Elsa Peretti or a Chan Luu.

The fact that I make most of what I wear has cut down considerable on my lust to buy other jewelry.

Rings excepted; I can't make the kind of rings I want to wear. Over the years, I've bought two rings that I consider really good and valuable, including The Ring That Waited For Me.

I used to work a couple of blocks from an antique jewelry store with a very friendly owner, who would spend a lot of time with me and let me try on anything without being the least bit huffy if I didn't buy, which was most of the time. And to backtrack a bit - for a lot of my life, I thought that men should be buying me good jewelry, with no prompting, which meant that I had very little good jewelry. (Having boyfriends who weren't too well-off didn't help.) But after I got clean and sober, I realized that I could get myself gifts - and since I was no longer putting a lot of money up my nose, I could afford to do so. I bought a lot of reasonable rings, silver and garnet or silver and amethyst, and lots and lots of baseball cards. (I think I've mentioned that I have the collecting gene.) Then I upgraded a bit and bought a white gold art deco rung with a big amethyst (though a light one), at the aforementioned store. Then I traded up a little, swapped the ring and more cash for a gold, peridot and amethyst ring (better amethyst this time).

But I was in love with a ring in the window that cost about three times as much as the then-current ring. It was also deco, yellow gold with red enamel and three rose-cut diamonds. It always reminded me a little of a cigar band. It was right there in the window. I visited it often. I tried it on. I'm not sure if I remember this correctly, but it stayed in the window for eight years; it may have been five years, but no less than that. It just waited and waited. So I finally turned in the peridot and amethyst ring, and started paying around $20 a week toward the new ring. It took me about a year, including a payment of $100 provided by a then-close friend for my birthday. I've had it for nearly 20 years now.

I also made a more impulsive, less costly buy at the same store not long after, almost equally beautiful and a lot more rare: a small tsavorite garnet in gold. A tsavorite is a green garnet that looks exactly like an unaffordably good emerald. They're rare and only found in one place on earth, and they're usually small. They're also a lot sturdier than emeralds. Emeralds can chip, as easily as opals can, but garnets are good and hard. I don't know the weight of the stone in my ring, but it's about the size of a 1/4 carat diamond. The photo in this article is about the same color as mine; like amethysts, the darker ones are better, and mine is an excellent color. A lot of them look like peridots, so what's the point?

A note: a lot of jewelers sell pale amethysts as "rose amethyst," but that's kind of horseshit to me. An amethyst is just quartz; the color makes it an amethyst, and the color you're looking for is purple. Yellow quartz is citrine; you wouldn't call it "yellow amethyst." (This is different from stones like diamonds; even the color variants are still diamonds, and often rare and desirable. Tourmaline is most often seen in pink or green, but there is blue tourmaline and red tourmaline...I do kind of call bullshit on black tourmaline, which doesn't do much for me. Sapphires, also, are most commonly seen in blue but come in a lot of colors. Most of the topaz you see is blue, and heat-treated to get that color. Really, natural yellow-orange topaz is called imperial topaz, and that's the good stuff. I have a killer pair of topaz earrings that belonged to my mother. Even good citrine doesn't come close, in my opinion.)

Anyway, enough yakking about rocks. I clearly have rocks in my head - and a hobby that's stuck for longer than any of the others.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

sad news

Sad news: Diane Hammer was something of a Mean Girl, but was also my favorite friend when I was 8, 9, 10 years old. We went to the same bungalow colony, and then to the same summer camp, although by the time we were at the same camp, she was blowing me off. Still, I hero-worshipped her when we were friends, and was fascinated by her even after. I loved her family; her father introduced me to the Marx Brothers. I watched the first moon landing at her family's bungalow (we didn't have a TV in ours).

I ran into her mother about 20 years ago, and she gave me Diane's address, but I couldn't figure out how to start writing a letter to her. Diane was very unsentimental. Five or so years ago, I saw her father's obit in the Times (he was a fairly well-known psychoanalyst), and a couple of years ago, I found her brother Cary on Facebook. Cary was not speaking to Diane; apparently they had clashed over their mother, Lila's, care and property, and according to Cary, Diane had threatened him.

Before and after I got in touch with Cary, I frequently Googled Diane just to find out about her. Too many Diane Hammers out there, and none was the right one. I was doing it again yesterday, and took a look at Manny's obit again, and noticed the mention of his "daughter-in-law, Patty" (this was in addition to the name of Cary's wife, so I knew it had to be Diane's partner). So I Googled "Diane Hammer Patty" and got smacked with Diane's obit. I messaged Cary on Facebook (we really haven't kept in touch); don't know if he'll have anything to say.

Having said all that - I'm still sad that I'll never see Diane again, no chance to re-meet, reconcile, talk about days gone by.

Knowing the Hammer family changed the lives of all of my family in a lot of ways, but that's for another day...

Monday, November 5, 2012

...and then there was a hurricane

What lifted the burnout was some serious jewelry-making time. Making that shift from verbal to visual language readjusts me drastically. And if I keep at it, amazing things start to happen.

Usually, I have about half a dozen designs in mind at any given time. When I first sit down to work, I almost always start with one of them. And maybe three or four of those ideas actually get made (some more successfully than others), I start to get better ideas as I make those first couple of pieces, and once in a while, something totally unexpected gets created. Last night, from out of nowhere, I made a big amethyst necklace, with some faceted black labradorite (leftover stones with no glow, but a beautifully faceted black oval nonetheless). Have to remake it though: the crimp didn't hold. I think I have to redo it on strong thread with clamshells or knot cups, and I really want to do it before Saturday. But weeknights are so sucky for for doing jewelry. Not much time, and tired time at that.

One necklace that was planned and amazing was a choker of huge, very clear blue apatite chunks knotted on blue silk, with an elongated toggle. (I found a treasure trove of old forgotten necklaces recently, and took the clasps off almost every one of them, giving me once again a decent selection of good-sized toggles and s-clasps.) I rarely make chokers because I don't wear them. Most of the jewelry I make is something I would and could wear myself, even when I'm not making it for myself. I made three chokers by request for the Village Scandal (more on that later), and there was nothing else to be done with 15" of outrageous stones that had to be knotted and could not share a necklace with any other stone. (Apatite is quite soft and needs to be knotted.) It is the most spectacular necklace, and one I would surely wear.

I still haven't made the necklace I want to wear to the Crafts Fair. Which is Saturday. Plus I have things to schlep to work like a brand-new earring carousel and gift boxes. I decided to buy the carousel when I realized that my space will be limited, and I had a whole passel of old, simple earrings that I wanted to sell at $10, 3 for $25. So they go on the carousel. I have three little one-pair earring stands for a few fancier pair of earrings, and two busts for the two best necklaces.

There was a hurricane last week. Enough parts of New York City got clobbered so that Barry and I were both home for a week. I did a little work from home, and all kind of work things had to be canceled and postponed and pushed back. So it's the same hellish crush that the rest of the fall term was going to be, but with a week less to get everything done. And the crafts fair is coming up on us fast.

We were lucky in that we did not lose power or have flood conditions in our neighborhood. Lower Manhattan lost power for days, Staten Island got clobbered, and so did Coney Island and the Rockaways. I'm still a little too dazed to register it. Most of the people I know had some power loss or no problems at all. But I'm hearing that at least 20,000 people need shelter (some have intact homes but no heat), and it's horrifying. Obama and Romney are in a dead heat the day before the election, and that's horrifying too. I feel like I'm moving by remote control...I'm functioning but deadened. And feeling kind of cut off from people.

The Village Scandal has had three chokers (made at the owner's request) and two pair of earrings on consignment for six months. I have been trying to contact the owner for two months to get my money or my goods. She doesn't answer voice mails to the store (and no one ever answers the store phone), her cell phone has no voice mail, she's never there when I go to the store, and doesn't respond to messages I leave there. Last time I was there, I took a good look, and the chokers are in her showcase, but I don't know where the earrings are. I would like to show those pieces on Saturday. But then there was a hurricane. I'm going to have to try to stop down there this week; maybe I can catch her on a lunch hour.I'm seriously pissed off, which is how consignment deals so often end.

I'm very scattered, I guess, and I'm glad to have my routine back even if it is horrendously busy.

Friday, October 19, 2012

I am so burnt out

I am so burnt out. It's the money squeeze as usual, plus an extraordinarily full plate at work. The number of events and projects I am juggling is staggering, and I'm worried that I'm a little short on organization. Also, two of my interns are just not up to snuff, and the third, who is wonderful, is now barely available due to her paying job.

I got sick as hell a week ago. I felt really worn out in the morning, and decided to nap during my lunch hour in a free treatment room; I asked someone to bang on the door at 1:00. I didn't wake up until 2:30; didn't hear the knocking. I was over an hour let for a meeting where I was supposed to set up food and take minutes. Someone had already covering my meeting responsibilities, and I went home. I was exhausted and had a dreadful cough. And that went on for days. The coughing was so bad that my stomach muscles got sore. I couldn't go into work on Monday - and Mondays, and Friday afternoons when there are meetings, are the two days I can't miss. I didn't get a hard time for it, but I was upset.

The pharmacist gave me something for the cough a couple of days ago, but it makes me very drowsy. And I still have the cough.

I need a break of some sort, a windfall, some fun.

My birthday is next month, and one particular relative usually sends a generous check, about $150. If he does so this year, I'm getting a 4G smartphone. I have been using a free stupid little brick that I got when I was on welfare. I am looking forward to having a good phone.

Also, I am hoping to make some decent money at the crafts fair. I actually might plow some of it back into materials, as I may acquire new customers, and it's good for me to make jewelry. I've been doing some every weekend for the past couple of months, except for this past weekend, when I was too damn sick. But it's hard to say what I'd do if I get a couple hundred dollars, because I need another pair of shoes, at least one top and one pair of pants, a decent desk chair, and crave things like another bottle of Mitsouko, a massage, a flat-screen TV. There's just never enough money, and when I do things for myself, I feel guilty because the household needs so much.

I did, however, get a food order from Fresh Direct this week, and I like having a decent amount of food in the house. We don't have a supermarket in the neighborhood (except one that's so crappy that I wouldn't buy anything fresh, refrigerated, or frozen there). We used to use one a few subway stops away, but they stopped delivering to this area. With Fresh Direct, you order online and they deliver. They're kind of the opposite of the crappy market: they're excellent on fresh and refrigerated items. And if you shop carefully, the prices are OK. In fact, I believe I will now watch the latest episode of Boss and have a grapefruit or some yogurt and blackberries.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

you asked for it: jewelry pix

Lapis, azurite-malachite, kyanite, rhodochrosite, Thai silver clasp.

Sleeping beauty turquoise. Fine American turquoise is named for the mine where it was found. Sleeping beauty has no veining and a very beautiful color.

Three kinds of jasper, bullseye agate, silver beads. I made the clasp myself.

I may have mentioned that until puberty, I was a big science nerd, and it became somewhat reawakened when I began making jewelry. I always wanted to know exactly what materials I was using, and I've become pretty familiar with semi-precious stones.

(Though I must admit, I can never remember the names of all of the jaspers I've used. In the past several years, a lot more types of jasper have turned up, with a lot of different names. I've bought some where neither I nor anyone in the store knew the name. I'm familiar with most of the usual suspects: poppy jasper, brecciated jasper, Indian jasper - also called "fancy jasper" - ocean jasper - found only in Madesgascar - and so on. So a certain level of geology has followed and developed with jewelry-making. In fact, when I used to spend a lot of time at bead stores in the city, there was only one guy in one store who knew stones better than I did. The jasper thing was a huge pain in the ass when I worked at Dweck - Stephen would pick up some odd jasper in the bead room and design with it, then ask me to source it...and neither of us knew the name of it. I'd sometimes have to take a bead to a wholesale bead shop and try to match it.)

I just bought myself some colored aluminum wire, which is pretty thick and soft, and I'm going to see what I can do with it. It's just too fucking expensive to work entirely in sterling silver any more. A nice toggle clasp that used to cost $4-6 is now $10-12 or more. I'm going to have to make more of my own clasps. Any tiny bit of money I have to spend now on supplies goes to silver headpins and wire. I've been cannibalizing older necklaces for the clasps. Luckily, I have a decent stash of earring hooks and a ridiculous stash of beads and pearls and Swarovski crystal. I used to find crystal too loud and obvious compared to natural stone, but started to use it a few years ago...I'm kind of a sucker for the colors. I've even managed here and there to mix a little in with stone.

These pictures are all items I've made for the crafts fair coming up - have I mentioned that I'm co-chairing a fundraising crafts fair at work next month? I have about ten other people making knits, pottery, paintings, gift cards, etc. Each crafter is giving part or all of the sales to PPSC. I actually started making my goods in July, just in case I started having finger problems. I'm digging out some really nice beads from my hoard, so I can charge at the high end of my price range. I'm keeping 60%.

The entire crafts fair came put of an idea of Judy's, to help me make some money. I'd given her earrings for the holidays and a necklace for her birthday, and she asked me one day if I ever sell my jewelry. She proposed that I do a fundraising sale with my jewelry, which the Board expanded into a crafts fair. Because fundraising is starved for committee members, Judy and I ended up co-chairing it. It's the most responsibility I've had in fundraising, although I do the lion's share of writing the twice-annual fundraising letter.

I've been keeping a particular eye on the jewelry worn by the faculty, in particular, and there's a real taste for natural stones and ethnic-looking jewelry; it's exactly the customer base for my stone jewelry, at healthy prices. It looks like my center pieces are two Y-necklaces: one in gold rutilated quartz, and one in cape amethyst. Most of the materials in the pieces pictured are fairly premium stones, except for the jasper/agate (although I don't often make double-strands).

For the past few months, I've pretty much made two pieces of jewelry each weekend. I had a bunch of fairly simple stuff (earrings in particular) that I'll sell relatively cheaply, and I'm making fancier stuff for higher prices. I'm still trying to figure out prices. I want things to fetch a good price, but I don't want to ask so much that it won't sell well. I'm going to sell the simple earrings at $10, $25 for three, which will get the bargain shoppers, but I want some of the fancier necklaces to go to $150 or a little more.

Must leave the neck is hurting today.

Friday, September 28, 2012

love and kisses and music

Do you ever get a mild crush on your boyfriend or husband's bestie? There's always that zone of common territory; there are always things all three people respond to in each other. And yet, there's that fascinating otherness. The bestie is somewhat like your partner but also exotically different. I wouldn't say it's something that always happens to me, but it has and does happen. In one case, I was dating a guy and he and his friend and I hung out a lot - these were AA days in the late 80s, when you often hung out with a friend or a few after a meeting. Anyway, the guy I was dating turned out to be a shithead as far as his relations with women, and kind of unceremoniously dumped me (he later claimed that we hadn't actually had a relationship). Meanwhile, I was still talking to his friend, and realized that I had totally picked the wrong guy.

And it actually had been a binary choice: I met both of them one night at the same meeting, both offered me a ride home, and I accepted the ride from the younger, more handsome guy. Actually, when I think about it, I didn't find myself attracted to Joe (older guy) because of some ways that he was like Larry; in this case, it was pretty much only the differences.

But that guy who's sorta like the guy you I said, it's happened, and still does. It's just that little what-if head-scratch, and fortunately, very out-of-sight, out-of-mind. I actually chat with him quite often when he phones here, but when we see each other, there's a little click.

As I may have mentioned, I'm from a generation that hugs and kisses a lot. We're just like that. And like my earlier musings on changing from signing a letter (well, an email) "best regards" to signing "love," there is that certain point with an opposite-sex friend where you move from kissing on the cheek to kissing on the lips. I'm not talking about making out, here, just about kissing hello and goodbye. It's small but also significant. (I actually tried to go the opposite way, at one point, with V., trying to move from kissing on the lips to kissing on the cheek. He would have none of it. It was all non-verbal, but he still made it pretty clear.)

So the last time I saw Bestie, a couple of months back, I decided it was high time to kiss him on the lips. At "hello," he seemed a little surprised, but by "goodbye," he was there. In between, we had a very interesting conversation where it came out that we had both read the Richard Rhodes book on the development of the atomic bomb. Since we rarely talk anything but music, it was a nice surprise for the both of us. (Barry is not at all a reader, so it was kind of extra-nice.)

All of this, of course, happens in plain sight, except what happens in my head and maybe his. And it's coming up now because I saw him tonight. He and Barry had met up to hang out for a bit, and Barry called me just before five to ask if I wanted to meet up with them. I really hadn't thought about the whole thing much, but Bestie planted a good one on me, and a better one when we said goodbye. It's just a little, warm thing.

I haven't really hung out with men friends too much since I stopped hanging out with V. Don't get kissed much outside of the home...which is not to say that I haven't encountered some men a little too willing to kiss me. (One of the perils of reconnecting with old bfs on Facebook is that sometimes they get a little too wishful. It hasn't yet proven tempting.)

Although...there is Chuck. It's really hard to describe Chuck; he's very nutty and silly and hyper, and also incredibly sweet and thoughtful. When he stops mugging, he's quite handsome. He also has some emotional issues and some bad chemicals - he's way too much of a handful to get involved with, though I gave it a try in the early 80s. But we've always retained a lot of affection for each other, and he's a really affectionate guy.

When Barry started going to some blues jams, about a year and a half ago, he started to meet a lot of my friends from the old days (my blues-bar days in the early-mid 80s and then again in the mid-90s), including Chuckie. He found Chuck wacky but lovable, which is how most people see him, except when they all too often start to find him wacky and annoying. Chuck took to Barry, as did my other old friends; Barry is immensely likeable, but I think got some extra points for being married to me.

This is what I figured out about Chuck some years ago: if you're with him one-on-one, he can be quiet, deep, intense, someone you can talk to for hours. But bringing one other person on the scene turns it into Chuck and an audience, and he automatically gets goofy.

So after Chuckie and a couple of other friends asked Barry numerous times to have me come to the jam, I did. It was really nice to see everyone but especially Chuck. I have such a warm spot for him, and he's so open and sweet with me. Now, he behaves very affectionately toward everyone - I mean he hugs and kisses and holds hands with pretty much everyone, including Barry. But with me...we kinda mean it. And in plain sight.

I found a video of him...but it barely relates to any of this. For one thing, he dresses in a lot of black leather and studs, which bears just about zero relationship to his personality. Also, on stage, he projects a lot of sex appeal. He usually acts so wacky that it's hard to notice just how handsome and sexy he is, but in recent years he's less wacky and more sexy on stage.

I also hesitate to post this clip because he's mainly a sax player, but he's singing here. He has a lot of charisma, but not much of a voice.

Having said that...

I don't know who the guitarists or drummer are, but the bass player is Margey Peters and the keyboard player is the extremely talented David Bennett Cohen.

What always kills me about David Bennett Cohen is that he quit Country Joe & the Fish before Woodstock.

For all of you younger and non-American folk...Woodstock was a hugely famous rock festival in 1969, one of the first enormous outdoor rock shows. (No, I wasn't old enough to be there, but I knew about it. And the movie and album, both called Woodstock, are a mainstay of serious rock fans.) Woodstock is a holy-grail sort of thing, and there is something very godly about having played there. (Which David Bennett Cohen didn't.) Country Joe became famous for an anti-Vietnam-War song he performed there. Which is this:

I may have mentioned recently that I ran into Richie Havens near my office. I interviewed Richie in the 90s and he remembered me. Richie not only played Woodstock, he opened the festival. He was the first performer at Woodstock. That's triple godly.Here's what that looked like:

Richie is an amazingly sweet human being.

I had other stuff on my mind, but music stuff leads to other music stuff. (Bestie is a music guy, too, so the ramble really does sort of connect.)

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

the queen of anxiety

These past few weeks have just been killing me. Students and faculty are back, school is pretty much in session, and I am being crushed by work. This is the time of year when I come in and find 25 or 30 emails waiting for me, some of which I answer right off the bat, others requiring a posting on a to-do list that often has nine or ten items. Then add in the almost constant worry about money. I just have a lot of days when I'm very anxious and a lot of nights where I'm something of a vegetable. I just don't feel like doing much at all.

I did recently watch "Marley," the documentary about Bob Marley, and found it quite wonderful.

I haven't had much to say about old Amitabh lately. The truth is that I'm finding him to be rather pompous, with a lot of rich-guy problems, very insecure and needful of constant praise. And some of the other fans just lather it on way too strong, and I'm talking about straight men, here. The whole thing has gotten a little icky for me, though I still do love his movies.

I've pretty much planned out the necklace I'm going to make from Raghu's popped guitar string. The center bead will be an Indian bead, coral, self-capped with silver which has small coral and turquoise cabs inset. It's actually the first bead I ever bought, before I started making jewelry. I saw it in an Indian store and had to have it. The rest will be chips of green American turquoise I've been hoarding for about 5 or 6 years. And I have some silver-colored ethnic-looking spacers. I've been concerned about the closure because of the nature of the wire, but I'm going to try a loop and button. I have an extremely pretty pearl shank button, about 28 mm, round, and I'll make a loop from the actual wire. My plan is to use a crimp bead and then wrap around it with gold-filled wire for a good hold. Let's see if that works. Then I promise to get a picture taken, somehow.

Saw Tamsir the other day for the first time in eons, maybe since January. He came to the office and fixed something, took a couple of laptops home to work on. Love to hang out with him. Tamsir, if you ever have the time to read this blog again - I love to hang out and talk with you!

Saturday, September 1, 2012

anniversary and some pathological liars.

August 31, 1986 was the day I had my last drink. There was always a big fuss about anniversaries when I went to AA, but today's was very low-key.

Lately I've been thinking about some bad dates and bad boyfriends from my bad drinking days. The one I wanted to talk about was more than a date (we saw each other several times), but definitely less than a boyfriend.

In the early eighties, I was at a Yankees game by myself, and struck up a conversation with an older man who was there with his teenaged son. Martin explained to me that these weren't his usual seats, but that he had lent out his season seats to a friend that day (he pointed to a much better section than the ones we were sitting in). He said that, in fact, he was away on the weekends a lot and wondered if I would like for him to give me the rest of his season seats. I distinctly recall his son rolling his eyes, which at the time I ascribed to his being slightly embarrassed that his dad seemed to e trying to pick up a younger woman right then and there.

I was in my early 20s, and Martin was probably past 50, and I didn't particularly find myself attracted to him. But he appeared to be pretty wealthy, and I didn't see how it could do much harm to see him again - plus I very much wanted those Yankee tickets.

I didn't really understand what a pathological liar was, or really why someone would lie to me at all if I already showed signed of enjoying his company. I saw Martin maybe a couple more times. He gave me his business card, from a company called General Glass, but also explained that he had a lot of other business deals going on. He did drive a Mercedes. He told me about smuggling Torahs and other Jewish religious items into Czechoslovakia. He told me in some detail about a woman he was more or less keeping, a former Miss USA or Miss World  or such. She was from the south, as I recall, and very, very beautiful. He had bought her a co-op. He indicated that they hadn't been getting on too well, and at a subsequent meeting, he acting very upset and said she had killed herself.

What had started to seem like a very exciting and interesting life started to sound fishy. He drank a lot. And although he didn't really make a pass - in fact, he pretty much acted like a gentleman - he started proposing that he keep me in much the same manner as he kept the beauty queen. He would give me an apartment, we would travel together, and he would take care of my every need. And yet, somehow, he always forgot to bring those Yankees tickets. I believe I'd even given him my address so he could mail them to me.

I half-considered it. There was something very exotic about the lifestyle he described, and I felt somewhat honored that he had chosen me; it also touched off a certain level of greed in me. At the time, I worked with a very nice man named Joe, and every time I told him something about Martin, Joe said that the guy just didn't sound right.

The last thing I remember is that Martin had neglected to call, and I tried to reach him at General Glass. Whoever answered the phone told me that Martin hadn't worked there in some time, and kind of laughed about it, as if he couldn't believe that Martin still pretended to work there.

Pathological liar #2: I was fairly newly sober, and met a guy named - I think it was Steve Silverman - at a union meeting at NYU. I was very big in the staff union before I got sober, and stayed with it some time into my recovery, though not long. Steve was age-appropriate and nice-looking. I cant remember what division of NYU he worked at, but I know we started talking on the phone quite a bit. I was working at writing poetry and short stories at the time, and he expressed an interest in reading them. In those pre-internet days, I think I sent them to him inter-office. He later discussed them with me, intelligently and at length. Our phone conversations went on for a few weeks. He told me about some other jobs he'd had - I can't remember what they were, but they sounded interesting. At one point, rather casually, he mentioned that he had applied for a transfer to a position in the division where I worked (though the job was in a different building), and wondered if there was anything I could do to help. I seem to recall that I did speak to someone in the union, and Steve did get the job. He was going to take me out to dinner to celebrate and to thank me, and he stood me up. I never did hear from him again. I did hear, though, that his resume turned out to be largely falsified and that he simply stopped showing up for his new job. I don't know if it was the lying that bothered me so much - it was more that he launched what I would certainly call a courtship rather than simply asking me at the union meeting if I might put in a good word for him.

I never used to assume that someone was lying to me, especially if there didn't seem to be any reason to do so.

The third incident happened when I was well into sobriety, and it's kind of embarrassing in more than one way. When I was sober for a few years, I worked days (still at NYU) and finished my BA at night. I enjoyed school a lot at the time, and was deeply into the romance of scholarship. Between classes and studying, I hadn't had a date - or even gotten laid - for a couple of years. I had also put on a great deal of weight. At the time I got sober, people in AA promoted the use of sugar as a substitute for alcohol, and I ate a lot of sweets to keep myself from wanting to drink. I had put on about thirty pounds.

I should also mention that dating within AA ranged from bad to dreadful. (Joe Ford was an exception, but that's another story). The men blew hot and cold: they'd flirt and show interest, then change their minds, and you'd always have to talk about it. It was excruciating. And I wasn't getting much play from men outside the rooms, so I had this brilliant idea: I saw ads, and read postings online (newsgroup days), about certain bars that had special nights for "Big Beautiful Women" (usually referred to as "BBWs") and their admirers. A guy I met online invited me to one; it was kind of a sexy atmosphere, featuring a lingerie show, but the guy who invited me was way more smitten than I, so I decided to try another club on my own.

I wasn't as "big" as some of the other women who went to these clubs, many of whom dressed in a sexy was, with major hair and makeup; they also tended to be fairly buxom, which I was not and never was. (No matter how much I ever got to weigh, I always somehow remained an A-cup.)

So I went to this smaller club, and was pretty roundly snubbed by the other women. In fact, I won some sort of door prize, and when I went up to accept it, I heard one woman say, rather loudly, "She's too small." So I wasn't quite fat enough to be accepte3d by the other women. However, I did meet a very nice man - I think his name was Chris. He was a good sized fellow - not fat but hearty - and we fell to talking. He was wearing a band jacket, and told me that even though he played in a successful band, he liked a fairly simple life and lived in Staten Island when he wasn't touring. I asked what band he played in, and he rather shyly indicated that it was the band whose jacket he was wearing - Pantera. Now, I was solidly into blues at the time, and knew absolutely zero about those sorts of bands beyond the names, and it didn't strike me as odd that someone who played in a metal band (or whatever sort of band it was) liked a fairly simple home life and had a taste for larger women. When I asked about what seemed to be a wedding band, he said that he and his brother (who was also in the band) had exchanged them as an expression of their brotherly love. I bought that. I started telling him about the blues magazine I had started, and asked if he felt he could offer any sort of financial support (the printing costs were killing me). He said absolutely.

We started to get rather cozy and began doing some kissing and touching in the club. We clearly had the hots for each other, and he asked if he could come to my place, as he was staying at a nearby hotel with the band and it was a little noisy and messy. My apartment at the time was a disastrous mess, so I suggested we go to the hotel instead. He said he had to run out to the hotel and check on the condition of his room, see if his bandmates were running riot...and he left the club and didn't come back.

That one really killed me. It wasn't just the realization that many married men considered these clubs a good spot to pick up willing and possibly desperate women (mostly with big tits). It was that he had lied to me even when I had indicated that I was attracted to him. He had no reason to lie. Which was probably why I fell for it: he was all set for an evening of what would have been some pretty good sex, and he blew it by typing himself up in a knot of unnecessary lies.

It should have been a mere disappointment, but it absolutely crushed me. It played into a lot of self-loathing I had lately experienced, which soon enough led me to a psychiatrist and Prozac. (A couple of AA friends, listening to me describe recent moods, suggested it - both had suffered crushing depressions in sobriety and had ended up on antidepressants).

I still have that naive tendency to assume that someone is telling the truth if they have no reason to do otherwise, but I guess some guys are driven to embellish. My bullshit meter has improved substantially since then.

And once the Prozac took hold, I lost around 30 pounds and started to feel a lot better about myself. I answered a couple of personal ads and went on two dates. Even though both seemed successful to me, I never heard from either again. Still, I liked the idea of dating. When I was a teenager and young adult, no one really dated in any formal hung out, maybe you had sex, maybe you kept hanging out, maybe not. So actual dating was kind of new to me. I figured I'd have better luck placing my own ad. I put my writing skills to work, and came up with an ad that pretty well described who I was and what I was looking for. The headline was "Old hippie at heart seeks same." I mentioned that I was a blues journalist on the side, my age (38) and the age I was looking for (35-45), that I was sober and clean and that I was interested in a serious relationship.

These ads (again, pre-internet dating) would set up a voice mailbox for you, for a limited time, and I felt like my ad had been specific enough to weed out the creeps. I got a very manageable 12 voice mails, spoke to six of them on the phone, and met three face-to-face.

The first one I met was not a bad guy, but he was a sober social worker and basically that was it - all recovery talk. Didn't click. The third one I met seemed to feel that being an "old hippie" meant telling a lot of tripping stories; he also lectured me about Israel. Also not my type.

The second one I met in person was Barry. And we clicked. In fact, I went out with the Israel-lecturing guy the night after I met Barry for coffee, and as much as I had liked Barry, I liked him a whole lot better after the date with the tripping/Israel guy. So as soon as I got back from the Israel date, I called Barry at home, and left a voicemail saying how much I had enjoyed meeting him, and I hoped we'd see each other again soon. He called back in about an hour and said, "I was just going to make the same call." And that, as they say, was pretty much it. I found myself a nice Jewish boy who wanted to get serious, and he was good-looking and funny and warm. He was the guy. And still is.

Of course, I have many other stories of dates and boyfriends and pick-ups (please remember that we're talking about roughly 1975-85, when life and sex were a lot safer and easier), but I still find the liars baffling. And the dating stories are much harder to tell than the work ones.

Friday, August 17, 2012

clarification: Brighton Beach & the Russian community

To my readers in Russia: I wanted to clarify what I wrote about my experience living in the Brighton Beach community, which is heavily Russian. I had a lot of hopes when I moved there. Apart from having found a beautiful apartment and being so close to the Boardwalk, I was hoping to make friends in the community, learn a little something about the culture and customs, and even learn a bit of Russian. My intentions were all the best. I was deeply disappointed by the hostility and unfriendliness I found there. The only person who was at all nice was one woman who sold pastries at a particular store: she was always smiling and pleasant to my husband and me. No one else treated us nicely or even politely. My feeling is that the community is very insular and although very interested in their opportunities in the US, were not particularly interested in mixing with Americans, at least not in their community. I did not mean to imply that Russians as a whole are not likeable or pleasant. It was just that we were unwelcome in a community that was almost entirely Russian.

And if someone would like to leave a comment and let me know why so many people in Russia are reading this blog, I'd be really interested to know.

I went to Rifftrax Live last night, and it was truly enjoyable. Then I got home and Barry was back from his trip; he and three other counselors took seven men from the residence to Baltimore and DC for four days. So I didn't see him for five days (Sunday was a travel day), and we missed each other a lot.

We now have tickets to see Raghu Dixit in New York on September 3. I'm excited, and got a nice tweet back from him when I said I had my tickets and was looking forward to it.

It's Quiet Time at work, the calm before the storm. Next week I'm interviewing for a second fall intern (Caitlin is staying on), and after Labor Day (September 3), everyone comes back. Classes start on the 10th. This is one of the couple of truly dead weeks in the year, when I can kick back just a little.

I have started seriously lusting after a Smartphone, and am going to try to make that happen soon.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

once again, the insomniac ramble

First off, I'm not really an insomniac. I have two problems regarding sleep. One is that I have sleep disturbances, meaning I wake up in the middle of the night, often multiple times. This became an issue at some point before I began being treated for depression. I started taking medication for depression in early 1997, and when the sleep disturbances continued for another year, the psychiatrist gave me a medication to help with that.

I take something called trazodone, which is an antidepressant with the beneficial side effect of helping with sleep. I take it an hour before I go to bed (this is not my main antidepressant, which I take in the morning). It doesn't do much in the way of making me tired, but it permits me to sleep through the night when I do go to sleep.

The second problem is a little more recent. Often when I try to go to sleep, I start obsessing about all kinds of things, and then I can't fall asleep. The medical assist for this is an anti-anxiety medication called lorazepam. (This one also helps with the occasional anxiety attack or mood dip.) Sometimes I neglect to take it, and that's when it's time for the insomniac ramble. I get up, take the lorazepam, and do a little writing.

The most common obsession - and this is the one that got me tonight - was the break in my friendship with V. I've mentioned V. here, but it's very little compared to the amount of space he continues to occupy in my head. And it's because there are certain confidences that need to be kept. It's important that he not be recognized here, and there are some things about him and about the way we were connected that are so singular and peculiar that they cannot be concealed by a fake name. ("V" actually stands for "Valdemort," which is how Jannah and I occasionally refer to him.)

For those of you joining us late - I think I can say this much: V. is a musician I started listening to when I was 14 and met when I was 18. We spent very little time together when we met, but we had a connection that stayed very special, and although we saw each other very little for many years, I always felt connected and had a sense that he was someone very special. I can't really speak for how he felt but I think it's safe to say that he remembered me fondly.

We started to reconnect in the early 90s, and became very good friends. I met and became friends with his wife and kids, visited with them around once a week and spent hours and hours talking with V.

Toward the end, his considerable charm wore off, and I realized how extremely self-involved he was, and mostly interested in what other people could do for him. Textbook narcissism. Our friendship revolved around his interests, which were many and diverse and very enjoyable for me. But I was not permitted to bring anything to the table; he didn't want to participate in anyone else's preferences or ideas. I was more of a loyal subject than a friend.

I'll tell a story about how he treated someone else, who I'll call Jack. V. and I met Jack through the newsgroup, and Jack did a lot of things for V. Jack got him gigs, ran interference for a reunion with V.'s former (and difficult) musical partner, and he and his girlfriend hosted rehearsals and parties and jam sessions for V. He let V. and other musicians stay at his home (about 200 miles from NYC).

When Jack and his girlfriend decided to get married, Barry and I were invited, as were V. and Mrs. V., and some other people we had met online. When I asked V. if he was going, he said, "Why should I go?" I was kind of startled and actually had to say that Jack considered him a friend and it was an honor to be invited. He did end up going, but I realized later that his real question was, "What's in it for me?"

The final break was when he blew off an event centered around me, when I had said flat-out, "It's very important to me for you to be there." Two days later, I told him over the phone, "Any time I have anything to do with you, I end up feeling hurt and disappointed," and said I wanted nothing more to do with him.

It's almost four years now. My therapist says that it's not unusual not to be over it yet, which makes me feel a little better. I'm still angry and still bereaved. I don't know if he's stayed out of touch out of respect or because he forgot me five minutes later, and either way is fine by me. It's not fixable. But I do miss what I perceived as friendship; and even if he didn't see it that way, I have to say that we some really great times together. For many years, I enjoyed being with him and doing things with him more than just about anything else. I was intensely focused on him, and we spent a lot of time together.

I still don't like that I can't keep him out of my head as much as I would like. I don't like that it can still render me sleepless. (And I fucking hate it when Facebook suggests that I "friend" him, which happens every so often because we have friends in common.)

Don't know whether or not it was helpful for me to obsess here rather than in bed, but I'll try bed again and see if perhaps I've discharged enough bad energy to permit me to sleep.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

bad jobs: the one that got away

I went to an employment agency and was sent to interview for a job as assistant to an architect. He had been a friend of the employment agent's late husband, as I recall. I had a first interview with someone other than the boss - maybe the assistant who was leaving or an office manager or HR person. She indicated that the boss was very particular and not easy to work for. The salary was what I used to call "combat pay": a high wage in line with the difficulty of the boss. But I was up for it.

Then I interviewed with the boss, who was not exactly warm and fuzzy, and he was very clear about what he required and the performance he expected. It went well; I was offered the job, told the salary, and a start date was agreed upon.

About a week later, the employment agent called me, practically in tears. It seemed that someone the architect had wanted to hire in the past stopped by to see him, and he hired her instead.

This is why, even with the nicest employers, I ask for a hire letter when the job is offered. If I had had a hire letter from the architect, I surely would have sued him. I was particularly upset about the potential job-hunting time I lost because I thought I was starting a job in a couple of weeks.

And speaking of combat pay...I had a first interview for a combat-pay job, working for a famously difficult publisher. I never got to meet the publisher. The HR woman deemed me "too nice" to work for her.

I should mention that I worked for many years at NYU, back in the days when university pay was way lower than private-industry pay. (This is no longer the case - university pay and bennies are now better than many jobs in the private sector.) So when I left NYU, I was interested in a substantially higher salary than I'd earned there. (Ironically, the salary I was earning when I left NYU in 1998 is $5K less than I'm earning now.) This is why I had the many flirtations with corporate-type jobs, like the family-office thing. I wanted more money. Silly me. I am breathlessly happy these days with less money and a great work environment.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

return of the insomniac ramble

A friend emailed me this joke today:

An Arab Muslim enters a taxi cab in Dallas, Texas, and once he's seated he asks the cab driver to “turn off the radio because he must not hear music as decreed by his religion, and in the time of the prophet, there was no music, especially Western music, which is music of the infidel's and certainly no radio.”                So the cab driver politely switches off the radio, pulls over to the side, stops the cab and opens the back door.               The Arab asks him: “What are you doing, man?”               The Texan answers: “In the time of the prophet there were no taxis. So get out, stand on the curb and wait for a camel.”              

I I maybe overly liberal? I found it offensive. I guess I'm a little sensitive about Muslim jokes, especially since American prejudice against them has been huge and quasi-acceptable since 9/11. It's one of those things that makes me uncomfortable about being American at times. I've probably mentioned this before, but Shah Rukh Khan, the very famous Indian movie star, gets detained by Homeland Security almost every time he comes to the US. It is estimated that half of the people on the planet know who he is. Moreover, he's pretty much totally apolitical. (It's kind of like the way African-Americans talk about the police pulling them over for "driving while black," except for Shah Rukh, it's "flying while Muslim.") This has happened twice in the nine months since I've been following Indian film.

I have a few on-line correspondents who are Muslim, and encounter a lot of Muslims in New York City. I try my best to be respectful, as I do with people of all faiths. (Every year on Thanksgiving, Barry and I take a 4-hour round-trip drive with Dad's sister-in-law and her roommate, who are nuns. We refrain from cursing and from topics that might be offensive. Apart from the fact that I love them, I am conscious of not wanting to offend them.) 

There are fanatics and hostile fundamentalists in every religious group, even my own. Plenty of homegrown American fundamentalists who would like to interfere with the rights of everyone because they believe their religion tells them to. There are bad fringe groups everywhere. But just as the religious right is a small contingent of Christians, so the 9/11 hijackers were part of a Muslim fringe. There are hostile and dangerous people all over. But it's not most of us.

I don't think 9/11 should be considered carte blanche for Americans to discriminate against all Muslims, to paint them all as terrorists. Faith is faith; crazy is crazy.

The friend who sent the joke is on Facebook but not Twitter, so I posted a series of tweets about this tonight. During that sequence of half a dozen tweets, the very funny comedian Jim Norton tweeted something which basically said it was OK for comedians to make fun of Muslims. Some coincidence, huh? (He doesn't follow me, so his tweet was totally unrelated to mine.)

So this got me to thinking about the comedy angle. I love comedy, and enjoy Norton, who can be pretty outrageous. But recently, I was re-watching a Comedy Central "roast," where comedians basically make fun of the guest of honor and of each other. I found myself a little bothered that almost all of them were joking about the others being gay. (Example: "Jon Lovitz is the most famous Jew in a closet since Anne Frank.") There were also the usual fat jokes (Jeff Garlin was targeted), age jokes (Cloris Leachman got those), ugly jokes (Jeff Ross and Gilbert Gottfried), etc. But those people were actually fat, old, and ugly. So those jokes were certainly mean, but didn't strike me as prejudiced. But when a heterosexual person is being called "gay" as an insult, it seems very different to me. It certainly implies that being gay is a bad thing to be, and seemed to be a more popular insult that the ones that had some basis in fact. Making a fat joke about a fat person is mean; pretending someone is gay as an insult is prejudiced. So say I. Or at least, those jokes bothered me.

And boy, it's not that I don't have a sense of humor or dislike extreme comedy. The first time I ever saw Jim Norton, Jannah and I happened across him on TV, and laughed our asses off because he is so filthy and so over-the-top. 

Louis CK, who is my absolute favorite current stand-up, did a little impression of a very flamboyant gay man - described him wearing little tight shorts, a scarf around his neck, and yodeling "Yoo hoo!" Then he said, "I don't laugh because that guy's gay. I laugh because he's funny." And I get that. Some gay guys act like that, and sometimes it's very funny.

Sidebar: I once took a speaking commitment at an AA meeting that was nicknamed "The Follies" because so many drag queens went there. After I qualified (= giving my history before, during, and after drinking), a man in drag raised his hand, and said, "I identify with everything you said! Well, except for the part about getting pregnant. I tried, but I guess I always got it...ass-backwards!" Everyone laughed. Not because he was a drag queen, but because he was funny.

Louis CK does a lot of observational humor and tells stories drawn from his life and kicks around ideas, but none of it's, "An Arab guy sat next to me on the subway, and I was nervous, because he could be carrying a bomb and planning to blow us all up..." etc. I don't think I've ever heard him say anything prejudiced, and he's also quite edgy and outrageous.

What I'm saying is, it's very possible to be extremely funny without using religious or ethnic slurs. "Arab" or "Muslim" should not be a code word for "backward but dangerous" or "stupid and weird" or whatever. 

Living in a fairly cosmopolitan and heavily Jewish city, I've rarely encountered prejudice against me as a Jew. (Having said that, a lot of people here dislike Orthodox Jews because they're clannish and keep to themselves, and many of their customs are outside the American norm.) But once, in my bottlecap-collecting days, I was at the convention in Pennsylvania, having lunch with V. and a man from Vermont whom I liked very much. I was talking about a soda cap I'd bought, from the '40s, that said "Kosher for Passover" in "Jewish writing" (which was my way of explaining Yiddish written in Hebrew characters). The Vermont guy said, "Hey, you wanna see some Jewish writing?" Then he took a napkin and drew a big dollar sign on it. I was horrified. I didn't say anything, and neither did V. (who was raised Catholic, mostly practices Buddhism, and is married to a Jewish woman). But I never felt the same affection for the Vermont guy again (although I always did drink the bottle of Moxie he brought every year). It was really horrifying and shocking, whether he knew I was Jewish or not (although my married name is obviously Jewish, my maiden name was odd and not particularly identifiable; I can't remember if this was before or after I was married). Just as bad either way, as far as I'm concerned.

The only other incident that ever came close was in New York; a classmate had invited me to a party that was way out of my league, a lot of very rich blueblooded folk (since maybe this isn't the right time to say "WASPs") in an honest-to-God Park Avenue penthouse. An older woman asked my first name, then my last, and then asked me what kind of name that was. I didn't realize I was being baited - my peculiar last name was certainly not old-school American. Plus, I was a little loose on champagne, so I said, quite cheerily, "It's Latvian. I'm Latvian on my father's side, and Austrian on my mother's - basically, eastern and middle-European Jewish." Her reply, dripping with sarcasm, was, "Isn't that interesting?" And she walked away. It really didn't hit me until a little later just what had happened there. Later, drunker, I was pretty angry, and responded in a fairly typical drunk-days fashion: it was actually her apartment where my friend was throwing the party, and I ended up stealing a couple of things from the bathroom, some expensive perfume and I don't remember what else, maybe a trinket of some sort. It's not the way I would behave today, but it was a pretty classic alcoholic response.

It's hard to confront people who offend me in that way, especially someone like the Vermont guy, who clearly didn't have a clue that he had made an offensive joke. I certainly wasn't going to convince the Park Avenue woman that Jews were like anyone else. And I don't know what the hell to say to the guy who sent that joke, although it's clearly caused me to do a bunch of venting.

So what do I do about the guy who sent the joke? I know that his intention was to be funny, not to be offensive. I've known him for years as a sweet, easygoing guy; he was at my wedding and I was at his. Do I get all stiff and say, "That joke is offensive to me!", maybe with a little lecture about the Brotherhood of Man? Do I snub him forever without explaining? Do I continue to be his friend, knowing that he is (possibly unknowingly) prejudiced? Do I simply put it aside and move on?

I have a very dear friend who is violently pro-Israel and anti-Muslim. She used to email me all kind of shit about how all Muslims want to convert or kill the entire world, etc. I made it clear that I thought that was true of some fringe elements but not Muslims in general; and also, that I didn't think every Jew and every Israeli was always right and always a better person than a non-Jew or non-Israeli. I believe I once said that I'd prefer a Muslim vice-president to Joe Lieberman (a dangerously conservative senator who ran with Al Gore). She was horrified. But we talked about it. What it came to was that she stopped sending me or spouting anti-Muslim screeds, and I stopped lecturing her on why she shouldn't shop at Walmart. (Don't get me started on Walmart. Those stores not only shit on their employees, they shit on every community they move into, and on many, many American manufacturers. Fuck their low prices.) So we reached a friendly detente and move ahead with our friendship.Maybe it was easier because we had an ongoing dialogue about those topics, and finally agreed to disagree. Is it wrong to be friends with someone who's prejudiced, even if I don't share or promote or approve of her prejudice?

Of course, I am the daughter of a hopeless liberal. My mother was so overly liberal that whenever she mentioned a black person, she always made a point of saying how handsome or beautiful they were, even if they weren't. I am fairly certain that her parents always described black people as ugly. I remember once, very vividly (although I couldn't have been older than eight or nine), watching Ed Sullivan at my grandparents' home, and Melba Moore was performing. My grandfather said, "That's the cutest little colored trick I've ever seen." No one said anything, but I'm sure my mother was hugely offended. I knew that "colored" was not a polite way to refer to a black person (this was in era when "Negro" was still used a lot, but was quickly giving way to "black" - which, by the way, I'm never sure whether to capitalize or not). But I had been taught never to criticize or correct my grandfather. When I was older, and realized what he meant by "trick," I was doubly offended.

I'm not blindly liberal like my mother; I knew full well that the black kid who sometimes came over after school was a really nice kid, but he was definitely not handsome. (The only guy I was ever involved with from my high school was also black, and he was handsome, big-time.) I certainly don't walk around saying that all Muslims are wonderful or make a point of trying to befriend every Arabic person or Muslim I meet.

I will admit freely that I dislike the Russians who live in Brighton Beach. We lived there for seven months, and every single person I encountered was rude or unfriendly. We would actually stand at a store counter and the clerk would help every single Russian person before even acknowledging us. They were terribly clannish and not at all interested in participating in any culture other than their own. It wasn't a threatening place to live, but it sure wasn't comfortable or welcoming. And yet - my new primary doctor is a Russian in Brighton. And I adore him.So there goes that. I know there must be a lot of other newish Russian immigrants like him, but I just never met them on Brighton Beach Avenue.

Maybe I'm sleepy now. I'm certainly ranted enough.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

bad jobs: the family office

This job was at a firm, about 20 people, who did nothing but manage the wealth of a very rich family. The grandfather had made a killing in retail (sold his share of the business and wound up with piles of cash), and the money was in something like 200 trusts and accounts. I worked for the big guy.

I can tell you that any time I worked as an Executive Assistant, or for a C-level individual (CEO, CFO etc), or for a president or vice-president, it never worked out well. I'm not a corporate type; me and corporate don't go.

And this family office was very corporate, even though I suppose a family office wouldn't have to be. But the boss was a corporate dude; he was a business guy, which is probably why he was running the whole shebang. He had actually worked in the Carter administration, in an economic position - a high one. He was probably the WASPiest Jew I ever met.

But mostly, I wasn't involved with the money. The boss served on numerous boards of directors, had a foundation, and owned five homes. He was also invested in a few companies in which he was personally involved. One in particular I never understood; software that categorized your files. I don't think it did anything that Windows Explorer doesn't do, except it was a little more visual.

So I scheduled a lot of meetings and travel, typed correspondence, and called the caretaker to turn on the water in the Maine home - pardon me, one of the Maine homes. (One was on a private island. The others were in New York, Paris, London, and a ski place somewhere like Utah.)

He was not a bad guy; he was demanding, but also rather sweet and at times awkward, at least around me. He also loved technology, but it was kind of a clunky time for technology: the poor computer guy couldn't manage to get the computer and the Palm Pilot hooked up just right, and it never synced properly, which pissed the boss off. He did enjoy his Bloomberg stock feed, thought, and would call me from out of town and ask me to read him the prices on certain stocks. (He had a lot of AOL, which was very hot at that time.)

The problem was his wife. She was always around, and always badmouthing me to him. If I made a mistake or was slow with something, she would remind him about it all the time, something he probably would have forgotten in a day. I had a lot of work to do and it was often very complicated, but as good-natured as he was, she was a dreadful bitch (southern belle variety).

Soon before I was canned, the head of the foundation (a woman) explained it to me: the wife was uncomfortable with any woman who worked around her husband, and none of his assistants ever lasted longer than a year. The boss in no way had a roving eye and wasn't attractive by any means; maybe she thought any woman in the world would take him because of the money. Anyway, I was fired after six months. During my notice period, the wife would no longer let me write checks, which was just plain mean.

One good thing about that time: the boss and his wife went to a lot of plays and talked about them. At the time, Barry and I were probably making more money combined than at any other time, so we also bought tickets and went. In some odd way, this was probably the easiest and most personal thing he and I shared, having a brief chat about a play we'd both seen.

Also, I met a guy in the accounting area who stayed a friend for a few years; we bonded over being Elvis Costello fans. He was a little younger than I was, and I can't lie - he was good-looking. Even though it was never more than a friendship, and in fact Barry and I went out with him once or twice, Barry was a little jealous, which probably contributed to our falling out of touch. (I seem to recall the guy was unattached and looking, but certainly not at me.)

One more good thing: the woman who ran the foundation wore really pretty jackets, all by a designer named Zelda. I actually found a Zelda jacket on, the only thing I ever found there in my size, and bought it for $100; I believe it's the second-most expensive piece of clothing I ever bought for myself. I still have it, and it's still beautiful. (In fact, I should see if I can make it work with any of my current wardrobe.)

A sidebar about corporate clothes: they are also not me. I hate a suit like the plague. And since I was a plus-size, it made things harder and worse. It was hard to find well-made and gently-priced corporate wear in plus sizes. Plus it pretty much didn't flatter me at all. I tend to carry weight around my middle, which means nothing with a shirt tucked in really looks good on me. And the dry-cleaning costs! And the endless pantihose! And the fucking heels! I still have some nice pieces from that era, although I don't really know if I'll ever get much use out of them again. And I will be very glad if I never again have to see those shopping spots again. I used to go to King's Plaza mall, because they were all there: Avenue, Lane Bryant, the plus-size department at Macy's, the plus-size department at Sear's. The latter two were where I scored the best stuff. Macy's carried a designer named Rena Rowan who made beautiful silk clothes (I still have a mint-green jacket) and Elisabeth (the now-defunct Liz Claiborne plus-size line) and Jones New York. Sear's, surprisingly, also had some nice things, in particular another now-defunct Liz Claiborne line called First Issue, which had both regular and plus-sizes.

And one more story about my family-office boss: I have a small bird tattoo on my left forearm, and always wore long sleeves or jackets at work. My last week, I finally wore short sleeves, and he said, "I never knew you had that!" (Just surprised, not judgmental.) I replied, "I never let you see it." He seemed impressed. I don't think he liked firing me, to be honest.

What I (eventually) learned: a corporate climate is not right for me. I tried it several times because the money was always good.