I grew up wanting to be a writer. My early influences were fairy tales and Stephen King, which might explain some things. Throughout grade school until shortly after college, I wrote poetry and short stories, the likes of which would make me cringe today if I had kept any of it. Actually, I might have kept some of it, somewhere, but I do distinctly remember destroying a good bit of drama-heavy high school prose. I was emo before emo was emo.
For years, I’ve been saying I want to write a book about what I do – a live-in/on university housing professional. I’ve even had a title picked out: Living The Residence Life (similar to my largely unused Twitter handle, @livngthereslife), and I’ve joked about taking a year-long sabbatical to sit on a beach and write this. Well, the beach is my bedroom thanks to COVID-19 and being considered “essential” (for now) is hardly a sabbatical, but maybe this is the time to get started. Except I don’t know HOW to get started. I suppose deciding what I want the purpose of the book to be would be a good place to start, even if once written (ha) it turns out to be something different. Do I want it to educate others about what we do? Do I want to write it for the housing pros so we can bond together about how ludicrous/rewarding/heartbreaking/stressful the job can be? Can it be both? Should it be neither? I don’t know. What I do know is that the book isn’t going to write itself, higher education seems to be imploding, and regret is a real bitch so I need to get to it. Maybe this 3:05 a.m. blog post (the first in nearly a year) is to help hold me accountable so that tomorrow (today) I will be motivated to start something of an outline and figure out where I already have material written that can be pulled together for some guideposts.
As I write that I look around my dark bedroom/current office at several half-finished craft projects, all the CDs I’ve been meaning to upload and organize, a sloppy list of an attempted monthly budget for when I move in to the “real” world some day, notes from an online FEMA course I just completed for fun, and a bill that I can’t remember if I paid. Basically, I seem to have decided that now is the time for EVERYTHING. Wish me luck.
Posted in college, Humor, Life, Residence Life, Student Affairs
Tagged health, housing, humor, inspiration, journal, Life, what the fuck, work, writing
Someone at work mentioned yesterday that SPAM was making a comeback. We’re not talking about junk e-mails, we’re talking about Hormel’s canned cooked pork, launched in 1937, and grossing people out ever since. I didn’t think it had ever really gone away because I’ve had a can of it in my cupboard since @1991. The same can actually, until my husband ate it one day and I freaked out and bought a replacement that he now knows he is forbidden to touch.
SPAM #2, hiding but ever-present in my top cupboard.
Memories are hazy but my mom gave me the original can when (I think) I went off to college. Either that or my first apartment 4 years later but I’m pretty sure it was freshman year. The gist of this weird gift was that it was emergency food, and I’d never go hungry if I had it. I should keep it “just in case”.
Never being that desperate I didn’t open the can, but it became a weird lucky charm over the years that always moved with me from place to place. As I told the story to my co-worker, I started to wonder if I really still had the can, it had been so long since I’d noticed it. But yup, there it was last night, in the back of the top shelf behind the green tea bags and panko break crumbs. And now you know.
Today’s Cranky Old Lady Rant – Some of you know that I work in Student Affairs (Housing), and some of you know where I do that. This rant is not specific to any institution, but more of a general job culture issue.
Can I just ask in general:
- Why we make programming and Resident Assistant job duties so complicated, both for ourselves and for our RAs? (Points? Charts? Curriculum?)
- When we decided we could solve all student problems with the perfect activity model? (We can’t, and we shouldn’t be trying to. RAs need to give students general support in knowing resources, building positive community, crisis response, and conflict management.)
- How we came to believe that spending weeks or months every other year to re-imagine our programming would endear us to all who undervalue what we do? (Nothing we create will impress the majority of faculty members and administrators, and often our ideas aren’t even given a second thought – until the idea actually is proposed by – you guessed it – a faculty member.)
I for one would welcome our Wellness Wheel* overlords back any day. Most of what we all do for programming is just a complication of that anyway. We should admit it and focus on our other 1,000 tasks that take up too much time. Like all the things that get put on our plates because no one else knows how to/wants to/has no time or staff to do them. We’ve made all of our processes so cumbersome and time-consuming as a way to justify our existence. That’s nonsense, folks. We have plenty to do.
*If you don’t know what I’m talking about, just Google “wellness wheel”. Pages and pages of rainbow-colored pie charts with 6-9 sections that make excellent life skill programming topics. As a hall director, my RAs had a pie chart with 5 sections (I guess we were glorious underachievers) and each month (each semester) they did a program using one of those topics. My tracking method? I taped each RA’s wellness wheel on the wall in my office and checked off sections as they completed programs. I don’t apologize for how simple that is.
Last week was the 20 year anniversary of my current employment. Twenty years in one place – as Prince would say “that’s a mighty long time, but I’m here to tell ya, there’s something else…” Yeah. In this case, the something else is all this freakin’ annual leave I’m accumulating. I know what a bougie problem that is but at a certain point it gets ridiculous when you are accruing more than you can take off. But that’s a whole other rant. I say this to tell you what my summer plan had been, as my summer winds down. I’ve been taking Fridays off (because most of the offices here close early and no one will miss me) and going thrifting because I’ve found my ultimate fun thrifting place. It’s called Second Editions and it’s a Goodwill discount store. Warning: this kind of shopping is not for the faint of heart!
I tend to take my used goods to other, smaller thrift stores in the area because Goodwill, in general, gets more donations than they know what to do with. But one awesome result of all that is the SE locations or as I like to call it, the “by the pound store”. Here, you get a lot of items that didn’t get purchased at the typical GW locations, and I think some of the items are also donations that came directly to that drop off location (because some things I find I can’t believe didn’t sell before). Clothing, shoes, purses, toys, and fabric accessories are all $1.49 a pound. All other items are 50% of the sticker price. The store I visit in Charlotte is located at their Goodwill Opportunity Campus, so there are other things going on and the parking lot is always full. There are a cafe and a boutique as well but what I’m there for are the crazy deals and weird culture of shopping in the “by the pound” area. It’s kind of ruined regular thrifting for me.
Here’s what you should know about this type of store:
- First of all, if the thought of secondhand goods creeps you out, do not go thrifting. It’s not like going antiquing.
- This is never a quick trip. Plan to spend at least an hour – I usually spend about 3 and then I’m driven away by fatigue and hunger.
- Clothing makes up the bulk of the big room, and it’s all on rows of long, skinny, 8-ft tables that are wheeled in and out of the back rooms periodically with fresh stuff to dig through. And I do mean dig. There is no method to that madness.
- Instead of a shopping cart, you grab a blue container on wheels with a large number on the side. Pick a number that means something to you because they all get mixed up in there. Many people will place a blanket or large shirt across the top to not only identify it easier but so that people can’t look at what they’ve got.
- Many people wear gloves. Sometimes I remember and sometimes I don’t. And sometimes I grab something that is wet or sticky and curse my lack of gloves. That doesn’t happen often, but you know, sometimes donations come in and they have been in a leaky garage or things should have been washed but weren’t…
- The place is always busy when I’ve been there and people usually play nice, but sometimes people get heated when new things come out. Or if someone starts to sort through someone else’s bin. I admit to getting a little sharp with a girl who started pawing through mine like I wasn’t standing right there.
- When new tables or a bin full of shoes come out, people start to line up at the area but the employees won’t let you take anything until they have put everything in their place and stepped away. Especially for shoes, we all get a speech about not running, shoving, or grabbing more than 2 pairs of shoes at a time. Then they step away and it’s like Black Friday at Wal-Mart. I don’t bother with fresh stuff until the craziness dies down, with the exception of the table with scarves and little purses. I can’t tell you how many little Coach wallets or card holders I’ve grabbed. And at $1.39 a pound, my obsession with silk scarves has really exploded.
- Like any Goodwill, if a big item has a big paper tag on it, rip off the bottom and keep it with you so no one else can purchase it.
- Pay attention if employees start calling out container numbers. If no one claims containers that seem to be abandoned, they’ll empty it and put the container back out in the lobby.
- Tiny bladder? Don’t worry – they have nice bathrooms in the lobby (Charlotte location).
- When you check out, put the items on the counter that are not sold by weight (books, electronics, things with a price tag basically). All the stuff sold by weight will go on the right, on a scale that looks like where you place your luggage at the airport.
- If it’s weird (and not really heavy) buy it! You might regret not buying that weird Bob Mackie silk jacket or the opossum fur vest.
- I usually spend under $20 and come home with all sorts of awesome stuff. But I also am pretty good at telling if something will fit. There are no dressing rooms. Bring a tape measure, know your size in certain brands like Old Navy and Ann Taylor, measure your waist and chest before you leave home or whatever trick you have. When in doubt, get it. It won’t be a costly mistake if you’re wrong and you might have a friend who fits what you don’t.
- If you have allergies, take a non-drowsy allergy pill before going. Sounds weird but today it seemed like EVERYTHING I was interested in was covered in dog or cat hair. Ugh.
- There is a mix of people there. Some have big families that they are shopping for. Some are trying to find things to resell for a profit. Some are treasure hunters. If you have kids with you, it will be tempting to let them run around and yell (which there is a lot of) but that is definitely not cool with the employees.
- If you are local and coming from south of the city, the easiest way I’ve found to get there is to take the airport exit on I-77 (exit 6b). On Billy Graham Parkway, pass the exit to go to the airport and at the next intersection (with a Bojangles on the left), take a left and immediate right, then an immediate left into the parking lot. Voila!
So this happened on my 45th birthday.
A cruise (Norwegian) took us to Havana for 28 whole hours. Not much at all, but at least there was an overnight in Cuba instead of just a few hours of one afternoon. There’s so much I didn’t see, haven’t figured out, and want to learn more about. And that’s just in Havana – not the rest of the country.
Because I walked everywhere I could (except a short bit on a group tour bus after our walking tour), I only saw Old Havana and a little farther into the Centro area of the city. Next time I want to see things further; take a colectivo taxi to the Vedado area, see the university and the cemetery, take the ferry to Reina or Casablanca across the bay…so much more to see and do. And I also need to learn some Spanish, because being able to say hello and thank you is NOT enough. I mean, I knew this before the trip but I could only pack so many Duolingo lessons into my life (and now I know how to say “he eats apples” but that didn’t come in handy). The successful conversations I had with Cubans were few and involved much miming, sadly. But I tried and I want to do better next time.
That’s a far as I got but it was fascinating!
This post is not a review of anything in particular or a place to air my opinions on politics and history (I have to educate myself much more – I don’t claim to understand all the sides of the Cuba Conundrum), but more of a list of things I learned/confirmed that I thought other first time travelers to Havana might find useful. I DO think it is worth a trip to learn the culture and history and interact with the Cuban people, even with all the hoops U.S. citizens have to go through to be a legal visitor. I won’t go into all that either, because I’m no authority – I just did what I was told was required of me. You can also fly there from the U.S. but there are definitely benefits to cruising (although the drawback is a short time there).
- The Money Situation: Yes, you really can’t get Cuban currency anywhere ahead of time. Yes, there really is a 10% penalty when you exchange U.S. Dollars. Whether it makes financial sense to exchange U.S. dollars for Canadian or Euros before the trip really depends on how much you’ll get charged for that exchange and what the exchange rate currently is, as well as how much money we’re talking about. For example, I exchanged 40 U.S. to 36 CUC (the currency visitors are supposed to use) in the cruise ship terminal after going through customs, knowing if I wanted more I could exchange more later. Losing those couple of dollars in the exchange was way worth it compared to the hassle of changing money at my bank (which charged a $15 fee) for the amount of money I was using. I did ask to exchange some CUC to CUP (the currency Cubas are supposed to use) but I was told I would have to go to an exchange elsewhere for that. Didn’t say I couldn’t have it, but I couldn’t get it there. I didn’t really need it anyway, although prices were sometimes confusing to me if something didn’t specifically state CUC or CUP. Plus, if I were given coins as change, I had no idea if they were CUC or CUP. I tried to not be a dumb American, but sometimes I am.
Our guide mentioned that really, some people would be willing to take foreign currency but that was not our experience. Especially my dad, who had brought Canadian dollars with him and didn’t have time to exchange before our tour. I actually swapped a $5 for 5CUC with a woman because she said she had no way to exchange it. At least, that’s what our poor mimed/Spanglish conversation made it out to be. She pointed to her uniform saying “when they see this, no.” So I don’t know if Cubans are not allowed to have American currency or if it’s just not worth all the penalties to exchange.
CUC has monuments, while CUP has heroes/leaders.
- The Bathroom Situation: If you’re THAT kind of person, this is not going to make you happy. You know what I mean – the ones who cringe at the thought of using a port-o-potty and would never squat in the woods. The bathrooms are as clean as they can be and usually have running water in the toilet but not necessarily the sink. Bring hand sanitizer. Bring toilet paper or Kleenex and you will NOT put it in the toilet but in the trash can. I know that freaks people out but don’t clog up Cuba’s plumbing, they have enough problems. Bring peso coins because I didn’t see one bathroom during this trip that didn’t have a little old lady manning the door and they deserve your pesos. One bathroom I used, the lady had to go in after every person and stick her hand in the tank to lift up the flapper to make it flush. Every. Time. I saw a guy offer a pen instead of a peso and I was like, really dude? I handed her a pack of tampons for the guy because I heard they were hard (or impossible) to come by. Not useful for her but maybe a family member or to sell. She and her friend looked confused and another round of What Are We Saying ensued as she mimed placing one under her arm and I pointed out the correct area and we all laughed. I left a box in every bathroom I visited. I’m the Tampon Queen of Havana now I think. Often, the ladies have a small portion of toilet paper to give out so you may get lucky if you forget the Kleenex. I also don’t think I saw one toilet with a toilet seat so practice your hover technique. If you go shopping in the market a few blocks from the cruise ship terminal, those are the best I saw and even had small bars of soap next to the sink. But always remember to bring the pesos, please.
- Check Out the Grafitti: There is some amazing street art out there. This is relatively new to have graffiti touching on social issues and for the most part, it is being tolerated by authorities. Google “Cuban graffiti” for very interesting articles on some artists and their work. Street art is one of the things I’m always taking pictures of when I travel and Havana has some of the best.
Like that show “Life After People”…but with people. These buildings were really something in their day.
- Water: Don’t do it. This was the biggest topic of conflicting information I read about before the trip. So we asked our guide if the water was safe to drink. NO, he said, not until you boil it and add a little chlorine bleach. Especially in the summer. Buy a bottled/canned drink; don’t ruin your trip with giardia or some other beastie.
Nope, just not that brave on this trip.
- Politics: I said I wouldn’t talk about politics, but I guess I meant I wouldn’t give you my opinion on political issues. Cuba got a new president last Thursday! He wasn’t elected by the people exactly – the people get to vote in provincial elections. The new president was not a surprise; they’ve known this was happening for some time. Two different people, I asked about how they felt getting a new president. Both grimaced and said things would be no different. I found out Cubans dislike Trump and overall love Obama, except for his ending of the “wet foot dry foot” policy. In my self-centered American mind, I didn’t even realize that was the name of the policy that allowed Cubans resident status if they made it to American soil, and that it had ended. One of the many reasons I want to learn more about Cuba and the history it has, with and without the United States.
Gotta have at least one classic car photo, right? Here’s the reality of cool old classic cars (and I know all about that).
- Safety: I thought I was done 2 bullet points ago but I keep thinking of things to add. I was reading an update on a new favorite blog, Here is Havana and it touched on a misconception we have about violence. Americans are getting extremely used to random acts of violence and I think that does not help how we see the rest of the world. I would never tell you not to be wary wherever you travel and to use common sense, but gun violence? Not in Havana. Crimes of opportunity like getting a pocket picked? Sure. But some civilian asshole walking into a school or store and gunning down people? Nope.
I wrote someone a letter this morning and told them to be brave, but know that it is also okay to be afraid. Later I had several people ask me what I’m doing for spring break. I told them I was going to drive, somewhat randomly, around the southeast and see what there is to see. They each eyed me with a mixture of suspicion and envy and told me to be safe. No one told me to be brave but what they don’t know is I’m scared as hell.
I’ve grown increasingly afraid over the years to go anywhere and do anything, weighing the possible awful things that could happen with the relative safety of just hanging out at home. I had thought maybe it had (partly) to do with the decline of my vehicle and that the one bright side of getting a new one would be that wonderful feeling of freedom I used to have. It’s still gone and I’m not sure why, but I keep pushing myself to do the things that I theoretically want to do, trying to ignore that feeling of Impending Doom.
Eventually, luck will run out AND I DON’T KNOW WHY THAT THOUGHT COMES SO EASILY.
I’ve always been a prepared (and maybe a bit paranoid) traveler but this is something completely different, this Impending Doom feeling even if I’m going out to run errands. Like time is running through that Days of Our Lives hourglass. Is this what happens in your 40’s or is the anxiety that I’ve been able to control on my own for years starting to crawl all over me in a way I don’t know how to manage? I go on acting as if everything is fine and planning to do all I want to do but in
the back of my mind I’m dreading every decision that I make because it could be The Wrong Decision that makes everything fall apart.
I used to feel this way but now I’m not sure wonderful is not knowing for sure…
Just so you know, my Grand Southeastern Tour begins Monday morning. Until then I’ll be wondering why the hell I think this is such a great idea when I seem to be dreading it so much. I’m sure it will be fine and all this worry is for nothing. Until the next time I want to leave the house.
Posted in Health, Life, Travel
Tagged advice, anxiety, fear, health, Home, inspiration, Life, mental health, random, travel, what the fuck, women
The Mighty Geo
(Disclaimer: This is about my car. If you aren’t into cars you may want to skip this post. It’s also a work in progress.)
I knew it would be painful when the time came to let you go – partly because I figured we would go out together in a fiery crash as the wheels came off or catastrophic engine failure occurred on the highway. You know we were headed in that direction. I was going to drive you until the end of time (mine or yours) and I tried, just as you did. I think you tried harder, and you were a better car than I ever deserved.
You brought me from North to South, where mechanics would marvel at your road salt-corroded undercarriage. There was that brief custody battle where I learned what “title holding state” meant, and experienced both the horror of vehicle property tax and joy of no state inspection. The southern heat tried to break you but only succeeded in breaking a few door handles over time. The important parts were indestructible.
Together for 21 years; that’s a long time for any relationship. You were my most important possession. My safe place. My escape route when I felt I needed one. My freedom when I felt trapped. I’m sorry we never made it across the country like I wanted to, but we saw oceans and highways and mountains and swamps and Mardi Gras and Disney World and Canada. We were in a parade. We were in a funeral procession. I covered you with blooming Rustoleum vines and you managed to keep your dignity while making everyone smile who saw you. You have always been my joy. You will be the car I drive in heaven.
Make no mistake – you have not been replaced. Everyone knows you and will miss you. People will see me get out of a nondescript black car now and ask where you are, and no matter when, it will still be too soon.