Monday, December 31, 2007
New Year

This is going to be the first time I've said this on the blog, and I realize that some of you may not quite believe what you're about to read. But I'm going to say it anyway:

That was a damn good year.

I'm ending 2007 with a life that's dramatically different than it was when I began the year. An awful lot has happened since then, but all of it has been in a direction of real progress. Plans were formulated, acted on, realized, and have now begun to sprout new plans. Not everything is perfect, but everything has changed for the better, and I have real hope for the coming year as well.

I still won't make any resolutions. They're just not my thing. But I am sort of using the date as a marker for the end of this transitional phase I've been in. I'm going to spend tomorrow tidying up some disorderly aspects of my life that crept up on me during the exhaustion of the holidays, remnants of old patterns that I'm still trying to break. They've been a small comfort to me during a period when seemingly everything has been unfamiliar and uncertain, but now that I'm feeling more settled into my Portland life, I want to be more active in pursuing the life I imagined for myself when I came here. Although, in most respects, I've already begun living it.

And I'm ready for whatever 2008 brings. I see good things on the horizon.
8:18 PM ::
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Sunday, December 30, 2007
Waiting For The Past To Die

Some of you who've been reading this blog since the early days will recall a time when it was primarily political. I'm astonished, looking back at the early archives, at how politics-oriented it was. I dropped it not long after the '04 elections, burnt out and dejected along with the rest of America, and this blog was transmogrified into the ongoing exercise in navel-gazing self-absorption you see before you today.

But I feel compelled, in honor of my first mission, to make a new political post (though not without some self-absorption included.)And I think I should drive my stake into the ground now, while I can still make a defensible claim of integrity, as opposed to the retroactive "I said so all along" that would be implicit if I waited a few more days.

I'm for Obama.

My support comes with some reservations. He's more pious than I'd like, not progressive enough on health care and gay rights, and vague on many issues where I wish he'd make his position plain. According to everything I've read, he's not my closest match politically -- that would be Kucinich, followed by Edwards. And I like Edwards, though I've grown to have some troubling doubts about Kucinich as a person, much less a politician. But Obama is the candidate for whom, when he does well, I feel pleased, and when he takes a misstep, I feel disappointed. He's the first politician of my lifetime at whom I can look and see that he's very much like me, and thus has a similar perspective on society and America's place in the world. He's a post-Vietnam, post-Baby Boom post-post-modern American who doesn't identify primarily by his race, his gender, his sexual preference, his economic class, his profession or even by his politics. He inhaled, he snorted, and he got through it okay. He knows poverty, he knows wealth, he's lived abroad and knows something about America's place in the world that only those who've lived as a foreigner can ever really grasp.

He's the complete and utter refutation of everything we've been living with for the past seven years, and something completely different than what we've had in the living memory of my entire generation. And yes, he's still a politician. No, I don't see him as a savior, and I don't expect him to fix everything. I'm not asking him to save us from the economic and environmental trauma that probably awaits us. I'm not asking him to hold war-crimes tribunals for Bush and Cheney (the Europeans are so much better at that sort of thing anyway.) I'm not anticipating that he'll fix all of our problems in his first hundred days and usher in a new age of enlightened digital-era peace and prosperity.

I only expect him to understand that he's one man who first and foremost represents what we intend to be as a nation, even if we can't live up to it right away.

Because I'm fucking sick of it -- sick of Bush, sick of Clinton, sick of Reagan, sick of the entire Vietnam/Watergate era bullshit that's been dragging us down since the day Kennedy's brains were splattered all over Jackie's tasteful pink suit. I'm sick of the America I was raised in. I'm sick of living in a superpower. I'm sick of being the object of disgust around the world. I'm sick of dealing with this same pointless right-vs-left shit-fight every two or four years. So much of what we fight over is so irrelevant, and there are so many bigger problems that require our attention and cooperation.

And I look at Barack Obama, and he is what I want America to be: mixed-race, cross-cultural, non-judgmental, educated, international, smiling gently to the rest of the world. He's the end of the 20th century mentality, and the beginning of something new. And that's all I really want.

So with Iowa a few days away, I'm hoping to see happen what seems so obvious to me -- Obama's moment comes, and with him the 21st century finally arrives in America. And it will, of course, bring its own problems and failures. But at least, at long last, it'll be progress.

PS: C'mon, tell me you don't like this guy.
8:35 PM ::
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Urban Scenery

Today was Official Crank Day for me. There was some weird vibe, some acrid aether that seemed to bring out the peculiarity latent in every interaction, and draw the rambling crackpots out of the woodwork.

First there was the distant friend with whom, even once we finally connected, I don't think I really managed to connect. There was a guy on the bus rambling about how he was going to have a crystal surgically implanted in his head or his arm, complete with a pseudo-scientific explanation using a lot of buzzwords misapplied from quantum theory. At work, while I was working on de-flopping and flushing the shelves in the history section, a man decided I was the perfect captive audience for his theories about the American communist party, the imminent demise of the universities, and the efforts of his "research group" to create an alternative to the academy in virtual space. A kid pandhandled me twice at dinner, doing his best Oliver Twist impression, arms outstretched to me, asking plaintively, "please, ma'am, could you spare a dollar?" An old woman with a walker explained to me at considerable length why she will never shop at Fnorders again due to some years-old beef with the company, while paying for a romance novel special order she'd come in to pick up. A batshit nutso bag lady held court outside our doors just before close, threatening random passerby and doing an aggressive little jig at the police when they came to move her along. And the hand-giggler was back on the bus, carrying on an animated conversation with an invisible person hiding behind her handbag.

But hey, who am I to talk?
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Saturday, December 29, 2007
RIP

I woke up around 6 AM this morning, thinking about our sick old cat back home, Aldous. I got back to sleep a while later, and when I awoke again, I found this in my inbox:

Amykins,

I wanted to let you know that Aldous was laid to rest this morning and is now taking his eternal cat nap snuggled right next to Lucy on Daffodil Hill.

He went to sleep purring, a happy laid back cat to the very end.

A sweeter cat never lived. He kept me company on many a lonely night.

I am fine, but this is a bit of a passage for me. He was the cat that appeared the day after Bob died, and he traveled with me all the way from Campbell Street to Church Road. A 15 year journey that took me from rock bottom to happy and content. What a cat.

He declined very quickly this last week and it was apparent that all the cream, tuna and fresh water in the world wasn't going to improve his condition. This morning he wouldn't eat and he was having trouble walking. He stumbled a lot and could barely jump up on the couch. It is never an easy decision. Maybe should have done it before now, and maybe could have pushed it a few more days or weeks, so I guess it was the right time.

He was a damn good cat, our old Mr. Stinky McCrusty. Bye, Mister Aldous.
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Wednesday, December 26, 2007
Don't Get Me Wrong

Well. I feel much better now. Two days off have done me immense good, bringing my energy level back up towards something like normal and wiping away a lot of the built-up retail resentment I've been feeling lately. Not that it won't come back, but I have some hope that the worst of it is behind me.

I went to bed on Monday night aching badly and with a persistent irritation in my sinuses that I hoped was just some minor allergy. I woke up at 2 AM feeling like I'd snorted a line of sand. Fortunately, I think it was more a case of a mildly over-stressed immune system, and my cold hasn't proven to be much more than a nuisance -- getting twelve hours of sleep two nights in a row didn't do any harm, either. Christmas day was mostly quiet for me -- some better food that I'd put away for the occasion, some decent rest for once, and a series of long soaks in a tub of hot water were all I really wanted from the holiday. And it snowed! Snow on Christmas! It didn't stick, of course -- I can't say I really consider that a drawback, though. And in the evening I went to do my volunteer shift at the Hollywood, and had a really nice time hanging out with John, the theater manager, and Dave the dreadlocked vegan projectionist. It was the first decent conversation I've had in weeks, and it left me happy. I really like that place.

Today I ventured up to Vancouver, WA to have a look around and get some non-emasculated cold medicine. I can't say I was terribly impressed, though it did kind of remind me of home. Then I went downtown to run some errands (bank, Trimet ticket office), and indulged in a matinee. Sweeney Todd is pretty damn good -- grim, bloody, well-done, and you can almost even get past the fact that it's a musical. Bleaker than Burton's older stuff. Good value for money, in any case. And now I'm home and feeling content, not even minding the fact that I have to go sell books again tomorrow.

I'm slightly anxious about how much longer this job will last, and what will come after. I still haven't been invited to stay on, though a number of my co-workers have said with certainty, as if it were obvious, that I will be. They've encouraged me not to judge the job by my experiences so far, telling me that most of the time it's a pretty easy, chill job, with a lot of hanging around and not nearly so much stress and physical strain. It would serve for a while, I think, as a flexible backbone upon which to build up other pursuits, giving me some kind of part-time financial foundation while I work on getting other things lined up. And I know that a few people are planning on leaving shortly now, so there will be spots open. But I'm not counting on it until management actually makes an offer.

I know I've been complaining a lot lately, but I don't want anyone to get the impression that I'm not happy. I am, in fact, genuinely happy right now -- often exhausted, frequently frustrated, almost always impatient to get to the next stage, but definitely happy. An old friend who recently popped up again asked me last week, what would I change about where I am and what I'm doing? And the honest-to-god answer is that I wouldn't change anything. Maybe, if I were really pressed to make a declaration, I'd wish that I was six or nine months further down the road, but that'll come anyway. I love Portland, I love her, and I consider all this dues paid for getting to be here. I don't enjoy going to work an hour before dawn and staying three or four past sunset, spending precious hours of my life complying with the wishes of overpaid suits looking for the latest Joel Osteen book. But if it's what I have to do to stay, I'll do it. And the grumbling shouldn't be taken to mean otherwise.

PS: Shit, Portland gets some bad-ass colds.
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Tuesday, December 25, 2007
Merry Christmas!




Is that the clippity-clop of Santa's missile-guided flying horses I hear on the rooftop?

I'm celebrating by not selling any fucking books to anybody.
12:24 AM ::
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Sunday, December 23, 2007
Just A Quick One

The very worst of the rush seems to be over. The crowds are thinner now that everyone who works downtown has headed back to the suburbs for the holiday, though we've heard tales of the Beaverton and Gresham stores being anally raped over the weekend. At least it's somebody else's turn now.

The entire staff is at the breaking point. The overall tone is of barely-constrained mutiny. To put this in some perspective, apparently our store does half -- HALF -- of its business for the entire year between Thanksgiving and Christmas. We've sold seven-fucking-hundred of those hideous Josh Groban Christmas cds. We've sold almost 500 DVD box sets of the Planet Earth series. We've sold more DVDs of the last Harry Potter movie than any Fnorders store in the entire country. Our sales total for the two hour lunch rush on Thursday (the busiest day of 2007) was greater than the average sales total for two typical days any other time of year.

In other words, I'm doing the work of five or six cashiers. Too bad I'm only getting the pay of one.

It's almost over now anyway. One more day of this bullshit and Christmas will have passed. Time doesn't currently have any meaning for me -- I'm ringing up customers in two five-hour blocks during the day, and dreaming about ringing up customers all night long. I usually try to make eye contact and smile at strangers on the street, but no more -- I've begun to have to check myself in public, constantly fearing that strangers are going to come up to me and ask me to show them where something is. I alternately cower and simper when people approach me. I am no longer myself.

Apparently the job's not that bad the rest of the year.

Like everyone else, I've developed a special loathing for a few particular types of customer. I detest the oblivious ones -- the vapid, blonde Lake Oswego moms who are barely cognizant of a world beyond swinging range of their Prada handbags, and their mouth-breathing, slackjawed adolescent spawn of various genders. But most of all I hate the throwers -- the ones who chuck their purchases and black AmEx cards across the counter at me with a dismissive little swat. Those are the ones I have to fucking grit my teeth to stop from snarling at. Fucking throw your money at me, you cirrhotic, palsied old douchenozzle.

Hey, Merry Christmas!

Interesting things I've seen this week:

- a retarded girl and a fake Irishman having a spontaneous Christmas carol sing-along on the bus

- an asian dwarf pulling a suitcase down the street and cursing to himself

- some dude standing next to a pay phone, holding the receiver about eighteen inches away from his ear, proclaiming over and over again, "I am 100% NOT! racist! I am 100% NOT! racist!"

PS: Sorry if I'm unresponsive in the comments. I'm not ignoring you, it's just really hard to make mental space for it right now.
9:39 PM ::
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Wednesday, December 19, 2007
Agenda

Today was my last day off before Christmas; the next five days are all 12+ hour slogs through the land of retail book sales. It doesn't sound so bad -- hey, five days on, and then finally two days in a row off afterwards, just like a real, live gainfully-employed person -- except that I know by the end of day 3 I'll be ready to drop and/or kill everyone I see, and I'll still have two days to go.

Except in the most superficial sense, Christmas has been canceled this year. I'll be spending it at the Hollywood manning the concession stand, because at least there I get free popcorn. Normally I adore Christmas -- even atheistic, broke me gets into this pseudo-religious consumerist holiday -- but not this year. I just can't face it. I can't even explain what I mean by that. I just want it to roll on by.

Anyway, I have now been in Portland for going on three months. I've learned my way around some, I've made a few initial contacts, and I'm surviving on a day-to-day basis. I got here, and I've made it stick. So it's time to think about what comes next, because I can't live the newcomer's life forever.

So, in the hope that by making it public I'll be forced to live up to it, my agenda for the next six months:

- to move into a place for real, with furniture and my own books and kitchen stuff and everything.
- to finish the film I've been working on forever now
- to start on a new one
- to go to the coast, and maybe take my telescope along and look at stars after the sun goes down over the Pacific
- to go out drinking and wandering around downtown with some interesting people
- to get a better fucking job, one that pays me something closer to what I'm worth and leaves me some energy/motivation/essence vitale for other things
- to sell my car
- to register to vote, and get an Oregon driver's license
- to move a few people past the acquaintance stage and into casual friendship
- to bake bread again
- to go see a movie. Just one. I don't even care what it is.
- to go to a show, ideally by one of these awesome local bands I keep hearing about
- to get a pair of more water-repellent shoes.
- to get a bike, and to start using it.

And I want all that by, say, June. Think I can do it?
9:29 PM ::
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Monday, December 17, 2007
Obligatory Blog Post

I only worry that when this stint is over, there will be nothing left of me.

All I do is sleep, go to work, come home, eat dinner, and go to sleep. I'm constantly exhausted, and am now accompanied everywhere by a dull ache that starts at the spot where my head joins my neck, and ends somewhere in the arches of my feet. I talk to 160-200 people per day, but I now rarely say anything substantive to anyone. By the time I get home, I've run out of words for the day, and all I want is to not talk, to not have to listen.

I should quit whining, I know. It's not that bad. I've certainly had worse jobs. But this is the shitty job I have now, and I don't have much else to talk about. So here you go.

The book business, it turns out, is sort of a meat market. Sometime over the weekend one of the girls I started with dumped her long-time boyfriend and moved in with one of the other guys at Fnorders. I get hit on/flirted with on a daily basis, sometimes even by guys I'd consider responding to if it weren't for the twenty people standing in line behind them, glaring at me if I slow down. A few days ago I had a nice (if brief) chat with a surprisingly cute guy who was buying American Scientist and some astronomy magazine -- I asked him if he'd read Seed. He said he hadn't. I recommended it. Light chit-chat ensued. He went and got a copy, and grinned and said he'd come back to tell me what he thought of it. He won't, really, but it was a relatively fun way to kill five minutes.

It's just when they're stacked up thirty deep, the line snaking all the way back to the horror section, that it starts to become stressful. I'm starting to mess up more often. Or maybe it only seems that way -- out of possibly 200 customers in a day, I might significantly screw up two transactions, which is still only a 1% error rate. But it's getting harder to concentrate on the job, and the customers are getting crabbier the closer we get to Christmas.

Even the old-timers are complaining. This sucks. But I don't have much else to talk about.
10:33 PM ::
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Wednesday, December 12, 2007
The First Pale Green Shoot

Today was one of my precious days off, though I can't claim to have done much with it. I spent an hour soaking in a hot bath, reading and trying to relieve the aching in my back and shoulders (and knees and ankles and arches). I thought about going for a walk, but I've learned that too much walking during my down time leads to more discomfort during my shifts at work (does standing and bending for nine hours a day count as exercise?), so I went for a drive instead.

Oh, and also, I went and met the executive directors of a non-profit film organization which I've briefly mentioned on the blog before.

A mutual friend sent me there, though I already had a hunch it was a place where I should try to get involved (and indeed, I've already done a couple of volunteer shifts there, unrelated to any of this.) As always, I can't really explain it -- I saw it from the street shortly after I arrived in town and thought to myself, "I like that place, I think I should find out what's going on in there." My brief contact with the organization so far has already been really positive -- they're doing work very similar to that of the groups I've worked with in the past, though on a higher level, with more support and significantly more success. The work they're passionate about is the same work I'm passionate about. There were obvious resonances. Even before meeting with them, I was excited: my people, I've found them!

Anyway, the meeting today went really well. It was totally informal, with no set agenda whatsoever, just introducing ourselves and talking about what they were doing, what I've done, and so on. And I'm not going to say too much at this point, because that would be getting ahead of myself.

Suffice to say, I think there's a very good chance that I have a future there -- a meaningful future, doing the work I love. And I think they think so, too. There was a strong correlation between what they need and what I have to offer, one of those rare moment when years of seemingly aimless experience come together to make me a very close fit for an unexpected opportunity. I don't think anything will happen immediately -- and maybe nothing will happen at all. But I just have this feeling that it will.

Portland is such a strange city. I struggle to put this into words, but it feels as if time doesn't behave in quite the same way here. Not that it moves faster or slower, but that it touches and crosses and meets up with itself at angles that you can't quite perceive except as echoes and reflections. This is still an entirely new place to me, but even in its unfamiliarity I catch hints of my past that are somehow present without being visible. I'm not suggesting, of course, that this exists anywhere outside my own head. But suddenly people whom I thought I'd lost forever are back in my life, and new people are arriving, some of whom seem so obviously to be somehow significant to my future. I know I keep making comparisons to places I've been before, but it's true: it does feel like London, it does feel like Vermont, and sometimes it even feels like Memphis.

I've only been here for ten weeks. But my whole life is here, present, in this city.

Maybe it would make more sense to compare this feeling to standing on a particularly high peak. I can see everything behind me -- the path that brought me here, the connections between the places I've been, and all the stops along the way -- but I can also see everything that's still ahead of me. I've got a huge amount of ground still to cover, but for the first time the vista of my life seems to be a cohesive whole rather than a series of unrelated episodes. It all fits together and makes a kind of sense. And from here, the way forward looks pretty clear, and all I have to do is keep going. I don't know exactly what's down there, but it's obvious that it's where I've been heading all along.

Or maybe I'm making too much of it. It's a startling view, at any rate.
8:43 PM ::
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Tuesday, December 11, 2007
Question

1) Based on my experiences at Fnorders so far, autistic kids love manga comics.

2) Autistic kids also love to arrange things in perfect, tidy lines.

So why the fuck can't autistic kids line up manga comics? It's like a fucking autie tornado ripped through the section. No wonder they won't make eye contact when they pay.
11:47 PM ::
Amy :: permalink
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Friday, December 07, 2007
Non-Progress Report #2

I am now a book-checking robot.

Work has become a single, non-stop rush into and from which I periodically insert and extract myself. During that time, I am merely a conduit between patron and computer system, a being that can make eye contact and smile and use fuzzy logic and abstract reasoning, that can respond appropriately to questions both simple and complex. I am the ultimate user-friendly interface. And that's about all I am.

Hi, how are you? Good. Did you find everything you were looking for? Do you have a Fnorders Reward Card? It's our free discount program, I'd be happy to tell you about it. Do you need a gift receipt today? Your total is $42. If you could please sign this copy for me... and here's your receipt, and you also have a coupon for 25.7% percent off an item starting May 12 of next year. Would you like your receipt in the bag? There you go, have a good afternoon. I can take the next customer!

I cycle through that routine easily 150 times in a shift.

And I'm not even especially good at it. I'm fine at dealing with customers, and I'm fast -- I've even been complimented by customers on my speed. But when it comes to hitting the corporate numbers that my managers care most about underneath the rhetoric about satisfaction and the shopping experience, I'm no better than mediocre. My stats for new sign-ups are slightly below-average, my percentage of Fnorders Rewards transactions in the bland middle of the pack. I ask every single customer, but when they seem rushed or terse I don't pester them for it. Because I hate it when that happens to me, and frankly, I could give a shit how much money they spend, could care less if they ever come back. And that's why I'll never really find a place in retail.

There are worse ways in which to be mediocre, I suppose.

And I'm still only a temp, while some of the girls who came in with me have been taken on permanently. In my defense, that was more a question of circumstance than anything else -- they were taken on after being trained in some other aspects of Fnorders operations, a training cycle into which I was also invited but ultimately left out of because I'd previously requested a day off in the middle of the week in which training subsequently took place. There's every likelihood that I'll still be taken on, seeing as I haven't actively fucked up yet, and I am actually better at making customers happy than some of the others. But it hasn't happened yet.

But as December rolls on, I'm becoming a little anxious again about finding the next thing to hop to -- Fnorders will last at least into January, but I don't think I can afford, either financially or spiritually, to stay for very long.

So the feelers are beginning to reach out, however tentatively. I'm meeting with the executive directors of a local film non-profit on Wednesday, and they seem keen to talk about how I might work with them. I don't expect to see a paycheck out of it, of course. But sometimes if you can make yourself useful to people who know other people, they might be inclined to look out for your interests when they can, and the paychecks can eventually come, even if indirectly. And I have a few other people on my list for starters, courtesy of one of the most awesome filmmakers I've ever met. With Christmas coming up I don't expect immediate results, but perhaps afterwards some new opportunity will arise. I just hope it arises by January 11.

And I desperately want to edit -- I come home every night and think about it. But so far I still don't have any semblance of a facility at which to do it -- my little windows box is no match for the 100+ GB of video I've got on my hard drive. So much for a rough cut by Christmas. I was also rejected recently, in a very nice way, for a part-time film writing gig for a local freebie alt newspaper. They were super cool about it, though, and had actually read my stuff and liked it; it just wasn't, as the classic rejection-letter phrase goes, quite what they were looking for. And I knew it wouldn't be, but it was encouraging to hear, at least, that it didn't completely suck. I do still tend to believe that really I'm not a very good writer. Anyway, they said they'd hold onto my contact information if anything else came up -- and yeah, that was probably complete boilerplate, but I'm not too proud to admit that it worked and made me feel not-so-bad about being turned down flat.

There's a place for me here somewhere. It'll just take a little time to find it.
11:43 PM ::
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