Wednesday, July 22, 2009


Yesterday, upon walking into my house, I wailed to Philip: "My life is spiralling out of control!" He very patiently inquired why I felt this way, and after a few minutes we narrowed it down to two basic problems. First, my financial situation remains precarious: I make enough money to pay my bills, on a good week. On a very good week, I make enough money to also buy groceries instead of putting them on my credit card (which further increases the bills to be paid, sigh.) Second, my house and car are disastrously untidy. I haven't fully unpacked yet, and the accumulated detritus of about four long road trips, plus months of not-really-cleaning-out-much before that, makes the back seat of my car an exciting archaeological site. Dan and I both have a laid-back attitude toward dishwashing, and an apparent preference for washing heaps and heaps at a time rather than tidying up after every meal (or, er, every day.)

Wow, I am not making myself sound good here. Ahem. Anyway, after yesterday's mini-meltdown, I have developed a plan.

The problem, you see, is that both of these situations (messiness and financial precariousness) are accumulating evils. Laundry and dishes pile up with the same persistence as bills and debt, and have a tendency to snowball as they become more and more overwhelming. What I tend to look for is a single, large-scale fix: one huge deposit to make my account balances look prettier! One massive cleanup to make my whole space tidy again! Problem is, these things don't seem to be forthcoming. The job that I hoped would help beautify the bank account fell through, and the gumption for one massive cleanup is something I can rarely muster (and only with much prodding.)

So, we're trying a different approach. Baby steps. Just do enough to stay ahead of the pile and whittle away at it slowly. It's not the pleasantest approach for me, who likes to see big sweeping improvements, but it has the advantage of being practicable.

The new policy is as follows:
- Work at least 45 hours a week. Right now I have actual jobs totalling 24-32 hours a week. I have plans for bringing in extra money, to loosen the belt a little, but all of them depend on a fair bit of preliminary work without compensation. I am going to diligently log my hours at this work, and make sure I am putting in at least a regular week's total of working hours.

- Spend at least 30 minutes a day, five days a week, on cleaning and household chores. This is really not a lot. I just need to keep telling myself that. The good news is we have a teeny apartment and if I actually stick to this plan, even factoring in the recurring housework like laundry and dishes, I should make quite decent progress on the backlog.

- Write my work totals in my dayplanner. Accountability is a good thing.

- Post weekly updates to this blog. Public accountability is even better.

Monday, July 13, 2009

A good day

Let me tell you about my job. About two months ago, when it became clear that hospital work was not forthcoming for me, I began obsessively searching craigslist and applying for any job that I thought could possibly work for me. You do these things when you have bills and no income (everybody else probably knew that; it was rather new to me. I've always been very selective about what jobs I took. I've always had that luxury.)

The job I actually got a response on was a part-time job teaching classes at Gymboree, where toddlers and their parents come to run around and climb all sort of neato, brightly colored and sturdy equipment. Now teaching is great for me, and toddlers are great for me, but the thing is, it's only partly a teaching job. It's at least as much an MC/entertainer job; if you've ever watched kids' shows like The Wiggles or The Doodlebops (the former of whom I like; the latter kinda creep me out), imagine trying to be one of them, only actually in the room with the kids. That's the part that I knew was going to be a stretch. I can be boisterous and energetic, but honestly those moods are rare. Even in my full-time childcare days, I was much more at home with the nurturing and supervision aspects than with the silly playtime (except tickling. Tickling little kids never gets old.) But there are worse things than having to stretch yourself to do a job, and there was a lot about it that I knew I'd enjoy and be great at, and anyway I wasn't in a position to be selective.

Let's fast-forward right through the training process, shall we, which was as much like boot camp as you could imagine it being, given that you're essentially training to be a hands-on Wiggle (Er. Let's just move right past any sketchy implications you could put to that phrase. Kthx.) Basically, what I heard EVERY day through the long, detailed, and unstinting feedback I got to listen to after each training session, was, "More energy! You need more energy!" Well, yes, I know this. I said to myself, and to both of the people who interviewed me, that that would be my struggle. It's not like I can just switch it on, it's a process. I'm working on it.

It turns out my self-esteem is not as robust as I have sometimes thought, and it's especially vulnerable to (justified) criticism from authority. Turns out, when I am in any sort of situation where my performance is being evaluated (school, work, life), I am capable of two and only two self-assessments. 1: I am AWESOME and THE BEST and everybody around is just so, so glad I am here doing what I'm doing. 2: I am HORRIBLE and INCOMPETENT and everybody is trying to figure out how they can remove me from this position as quickly as possible, because it's obvious I will never make the grade, and also I am too reserved and cold and I suck at communication and I still haven't learned to keep my room clean. (It's possible some outside, irrelevant factors creep into the second of my two self-assessments.)

So, for the last month and a half or so that I've been a full-fledged Gymboree teacher, I've battled more or less continually with feelings of inadequacy. The other teachers, the parents, the managers, I mostly figure they're just inwardly biting their tongues and hoping I get my act together soon or they're going to have to do something drastic like, you know, Speak to me about it. (Isn't that the worst?) And most of the time the area in which I feel inadequate is energy.

This is a very long lead-up to telling you about yesterday. Yesterday I was scheduled to lead a party at Gymboree-- not a birthday party, as we commonly do, but a big get-to-know-each-other party for a local community center. We were expecting a lot of people, and it was going to be my job to be the MC/entertainer/Greg Wiggle to all these folks, most of whom had never been to Gymboree before and would form their whole impression based on my performance. My manager was going to be there, running the admin-type stuff of the party, so it's not like nobody would know if I did badly. I was a wee bit nervous.

I spent an hour or so the night before coming up with as many activities as I could think of; activities to cover any possible age range (from 6 months to 4 years, which is a HUGE range) and any possible group size. Lots more activities than we could possibly need, because inevitably when you get out there and see the way your group is functioning, you look at your activity list and realize that at least a third of them will be a total bust. Once I'd come up with that list, I put it away and refused to think about the party any more, because any time I thought about it I felt convinced that I didn't have enough activities, or the right kind, and that even if I was okay on the activity front, there was no way I was going to muster enough energy and enthusiasm to make this thing fly. I went right on ahead not thinking about the party, right up until, well, the party.

To cut a too-long story short: I rocked it. Totally and completely. I was confident, I was loud (another struggle I had during training), I kept things moving. I had a number of parents say to me, "Wow, you've got so much energy!" which means I can apparently fake it. I had sort of a worst-of-both-worlds situation: the first group, with the younger kids, was HUGE, three times as big as any class we'd run, and the second group was tiny. Didn't matter. I had plenty of activities, and they were fun, and they worked, and kids were giggling and laughing and I'm not sure anyone cried. It was awesome. Everybody said so, including my manager.

So, yeah. That was really good. And made me feel so, so much better about my job, or rather about my ability to do my job well. I don't expect that I'll go into class next Wednesday and immediately have all the energy that I think they want from me, because that mass of people was a big part of where I drew it from, but I know I'm capable of it. So yay.

The rest of the day was likewise pretty great. After going home and showering, I went up to Philip's, to find him swearing at a sink. His own sink, to be precise; it was, at that moment, upturned atop his counter, while he was underneath embroiled in hoses and pipes (looking, I might add, much better than your stereotypical plumber from that position.)

Several minutes later, Dan arrived, and we extricated Philip from his sink and headed off toward Mellow Mushroom for beer and pizza, which was exactly what I wanted, and felt that I'd earned, after an afternoon of entertaining masses of children. Philip needed yet another part for his sink (I hear tell it was his fourth trip there that day), so we stopped at Lowe's, where we promptly turned into a pack of 11-year-olds, giggling over naughty interpretations of the names of tools. (In our defense: did they really have to put the nipples right across the aisle from the ballcocks?)

We obtained the right kind of nipple, as well as the right size of tongue groove pliers (stop that! it's what they're called!), and then had our beer and pizza. Lots of both. Somewhere along the way, we found ourselves quoting The Emperor's New Groove, so once we got home Philip put that on while he finished with the sink. Before the end of the movie, he had successfully re-installed the sink with its new faucet (which is what had started the whole trouble) and I had gotten to the heel of my sock.

It was a very good day.

Thursday, July 02, 2009

fun with knitting designs

Today I am going to channel my inner knitblogger (didn't know I had one? She's in there), so if you don't knit and are bored by discussions of crafts you don't engage in, this is probably a good time to look elsewhere.

I am having heaps of fun doing my first serious design work. I've adapted patterns and played with stitch dictionaries, and I've free-form knitted a number of hats, but this is the first project where I've had a clear vision and tried to figure out how to get there.

The vision is simple: Blue Ridge April. I was enchanted by the colors that my brother and I saw as we were driving through Kentucky and Tennessee this spring, and immediately decided that there must be a knitting project using these colors in my future. I pondered for several weeks, came up with a rough idea, and bought my yarn. Now the fun part begins. See here my first trial, capturing the basic idea and seeing how it might work:

The idea is to work in stripes of green and off-black, with splashes of the purple worked in in short rows to create some nice curving lines, and the yellow and pink as tiny accents. I worked off a very loose chart dictating the placement of the purple. Once I'd gotten to about this point, I had learned a number of things: first and most important, what my scheme looked like in the real world, and also some technical points surrounding short rows (I only found out about "wrap and turn" about halfway through, and I learned to knit backwards to avoid the bother of turning my work every two seconds). I decided it was time to rip the whole thing back, come up with a proper pattern, and then knit to that.

Behold: my first-ever written knitting pattern!

About 20 rows in, I am once again re-assessing. Is this what I want it to be? Does it look right? Even if I like the overall effect, am I prepared to live with certain little irregularities, or do I want to rip back and correct them? Is it all just completely wrong and I need to throw out all my ideas and start from scratch? Should I have waited to find a yarn that could give me the several shades of green I'd originally envisioned?

One of the many problems with this kind of dilemma is that, while knitting, one pretty much wants to keep on knitting. It's very easy to ignore suspicions of deep design flaws while you keep working stitch after stitch. I think there's a basic, engrained assumption that the more I knit, the closer I get to my goal: it's pretty hard to shake up this notion and remember that, if what I'm knitting doesn't look like what I want to end up with, working on it longer will not magically fix that.

So I've decided to put the shawl down for a while (did I mention it's going to be a shawl? I use the word loosely: more of a shrug or capelet-type thing, I'm still deciding what kind) and come back to it after a few days with some perspective.

In the meantime, I'm starting on my plan to use up some cotton/linen yarn that has been cluttering my stash for way too long. I bought it to make a tank top for which it was eminently unsuitable, tried it for a few other projects (none of them any better), and at last came to the realization that I don't even like the yarn. This is a problem, since I have more of it than I have of anything else (except some Patons Classic Merino, but I don't imagine I'll have any trouble coming up with a use for that). At last I have decided to make as many washcloths as I can stand. Having a quick, simple project, and the freedom to play with stitch patterns in the middle, should make it tolerable, even disliking the yarn as I do. And I do need more washcloths. Now I just have to decide what designs to put in the middle. Initials? Some kind of picture? Random geometry?