February 28, 2011

Boys, Boys, Boys!

You're probably familiar with Motley Crue's anthem, "Girls, Girls, Girls"--or maybe even the movie starring Elvis with the same title.

A tune you may be less familiar with, Gaga's "Boys, Boys, Boys," is exactly how I would describe the store meeting today at Home Depot, my newest workplace.

Yes, I have been writing so many "woe is me" posts lately, I can hardly stand it. and among the many things I have been wishing for myself this week: a graduate assistantship, courage, clarity, clear skin, carbohydrates, etc..., I had forgotten about boys--not boyfriends, I've already got a good one. I'm talking about the dudes you know or you work with. Maybe the word is "friends" (something I'm low on at the moment). I like having male friends because they balance me out. The Home Depot is chock full of rugged boys with flannel shirts, jeans and sailors' mouthes. Not since the glory days at UNK have I heard the F-bomb used to describe how good something is. Somehow, it felt like home. Nebraska guys workin' hard, wakin' up extra early Sundays for the comp'ny meetin'.

All but one of my coworkers at Licorice were female, and I nearly went into shock as I scanned the mostly male crowd at this morning's meeting. Several very cute boys! This South Beach diet is very restrictive on sweets, but they didn't say anything about eye candy!

February 26, 2011

Why I should never be allowed to Google.

I always suggest, "write what you know," and today, like many days, I know total confusion.

I've been stressing about getting the right kind of funding at Northern Arizona recently because of the out-of-state tuition. On top of that stress, I've never even been to this campus, nor do I know any faculty of current students. I've never even been to Arizona (though a roadtrip will soon fix that). The underlying problem is one I've had many times: I picked the place on a hunch, fell in love with a romanticized idea of how it would be, and and now wondering if I am making a good choice.

Speaking of romanticized ideas, I also know a lot about those today. From time to time, I've considered graduate school abroad (you may be saying, didn't you already apply? twice?). My interest in international students always seeks out the type of environment that is automatically presented during schooling abroad. I have many day dreams of studying in a foreign country and feeling like I am on an adventure with an academic purpose.

Enter Payap University in Chiang Mai, Thailand. I had a brief visit to the place in 2007, and the campus seemed very accommodating and the town small enough to suit me. By chance, today I saw that Payap offers an MA TESOL program--very similar to the program offered in Arizona. Payap's tuition, however, is less than one third the cost of in-state tuition, and the cost of living is about one fifth that of Flagstaff. Granted, it's a developing country, and it's a long way from home, but I've actually been there--it was surreal to see the online pictures of the dorm rooms where I stayed a few years ago. A serious advantage of the program in Thailand is the hands-on teaching potential in the community. I could be volunteering or working in my field while going to school. Did I mention I would be living abroad? Again? And going to graduate school? It's all the things I want to do. I think? Or maybe not. I don't know. Who knows?

Maybe the snowglobe world outside has me feeling cabin fever a little too strongly. I'm not saying that I am going to ditch any current plans, but I wanted to write about the things I am working through. Since I'm in the strict phase of South Beach, I can't even eat away my problems correctly. No one gorges on asparagus. This calls for Ben and Jerry's. Or at least a bag of licorice.

February 25, 2011

I want to be--your sledgehammer

Although my eyestrain is making this very unpleasant, I want to write about my first day as a Home Depot employee.

The eyestrain, dear reader, is from the web-based training I did today during which I learned some basics about Home Depot policy and Garden Care. I am a firm believer in sufficient training and Home Depot is not going to disappoint me. From what the other employees tell me, I've got several more days of eyeball-puckering computer screen staring before I even get my cute little orange apron.

The best part of the day was the popular music tracks playing throughout the giant store. As I rounded the corner to the long, wide hallway to the time clock, the brassy riff of Peter Gabriel's "Sledgehammer" set the perfect soundtrack for my strutting through a home improvement store next to a bunch of ladders.

The training hasn't covered sledgehammers yet, but I have a feeling I will learn about all kinds of demolition equipment in the coming days. In the meantime, I am already prepared to assist customers with many important decisions. Do you want a perennial or an annual plant? How about a light duty electric chainsaw? Need a commercial-grade weed whacker? Maybe some gloves to complete your purchase? I learned a lot today.

A few Visine drops, and I'm sure I'll be dreaming of begonias and ferns and the scent of freshly cut lumber, the hum of fork lifts, and the sweet sound of money in the bank. And Peter Gabriel, too.

February 23, 2011

Calm...er--Sort of.

The lavender essential oil must be working. Or maybe my return to a stricter version of the South Beach Diet has my head cleared of the coffee-, chocolate- and licorice-fueled panic about my life's direction.

Beyond my superficial lifestyle adjustments, I'm feeling a huge sense of relief today because I've been hired on as a temporary sales associate at Home Depot. Yes, I will be one of the people in cute orange aprons circulating through the Garden Center, selling garden stuff.

Maybe we will sell the licorice plant. I know lots about that.

It seems like a funny career path: Cambodia, Licorice, Home Depot. Becoming more American with each move. Next, I'll work at a fireworks stand.

I worked hard to get a job this time around. I've never had to do that before, and I think it did me a world of good. I really hated that I didn't get hired right away, but I was motivated to keep applying and interviewing. You don't always get what you want the first time, or the second, or maybe you don't get it at all. Then Home Depot calls you on a Saturday morning and all your dreams come true.

The reason I got this job was to help fund my actual dream of graduate education in Arizona. I'm still waiting to hear about graduate assistantship possibilities, because if I have to pay out-of-state tuition, I will have to put off that part of the dream for a while. Don't worry, I've got a back-up plan. And, yes, it involves a visa.

February 17, 2011

Wish this post could hatch out of an egg, too.

A few days ago, a coworker of mine told me a funny story. She's an avid runner, but she doesn't take it that seriously. As she crossed paths with a man decked out in spandex running gear, he huffed "Be strong!" mid-stride. I guess the spandex-wearing macho man and the all-too-serious jogger attitude are the punchline of the story, but it got me thinking.

My co-worker got a chuckle out of the experience, but I think that man had a point. Sometimes we all need someone to tell us to keep going.

Enter Gaga. Lady Gaga, that is. The body suit-wearing weirdness incarnate. She sings, she dances, she shocks the heck out of everyone, and when she's offstage, she is a polite and articulate woman (though still in a wacky outfit) with a message.

I'm a big fan of Gaga, but unlike my made-up relationships with John Mayer and Usher, I think of Lady Gaga as the alter-ego I always wanted. I enjoy listening to her music, and I think she's a talented artist. Her performances are almost too much for me, but I respect her creativity as an artist. But the thing I like most about Lady Gaga is that she is a loud voice for the same causes I believe in--social justice and HIV prevention. I saw Gaga on Good Morning America today wearing a latex condom-inspired pantsuit. During the interview, her message was that HIV is still a problem, but it can be stopped if people protect themselves. She spoke about the stigma and shame attached to condoms and getting tested, and how these negative feelings reduce a person's ability to protect themselves. Um, that was my undergraduate research project... Right on, Gaga.

 While watching the interview I admired Gaga's presentation of herself--a little crazy, but thoughtful and honest. I've been feeling lost lately and my self-esteem has suffered. The post-college life and identity is so much harder than I thought. I've been questioning the things that make me Jena, too: the love of other languages and cultures, the quirky awkwardness, the introspective and creative person.

Gaga's latest single, Born this Way debuted this week and is already atop the charts. It's an anthem for anyone who has ever been doubted or doubted him or herself. She even incorporates some foreign language lyrics (as she often does), so you know I'm happy. In a way, I think Gaga is my figurative guy in a spandex running suit, encouraging me to be strong, be myself and "don't be a drag, just be a queen". One day I'll tell my grandkids about the lady in the condom suit who inspired me to do great things.

Thanks Gaga!

February 15, 2011

Wait. Wait. Wait.

Today, February 15, is the day that my application for a graduate assistantship will land on someone's desk.

Someone will look through my application, my essay and my recommendation letters. Someone will decide if I am a good candidate for the job. Some will decide--and I know they know it--whether I will go to school in Flagstaff.

Funding is a big deal for grad students. A BIG deal. At this point, we've chosen a field that we are spiritually invested in and we have given up most of our soul to writing papers, doing research and filling out applications. Most of us are also broke. I wouldn't feel good about calling us greedy, but we do want our achievement and our potential to be recognized in the form of a big fat check.

If I don't get a graduate assistantship out of the English department, there is a slim chance that I could find a GA-ship in another department, or find another on-campus job to offset the out-of-state tuition; but let's get real. Out-of-state tuition is nearly triple what an Arizonan would pay. We're talking the price of a new BMW. Come on.

I put my soul into school, and I'm not ready (or financially able) to fork over that kind of money for a degree of any sort. I know I can find a way around paying through the nose.

I hear Payap University in Thailand has a kickin' and affordable MA TESOL. Actually, I could do most of the things I want to do without a Masters degree, so I'm feeling pretty liberated--except the part where I'm totally depending on someone else's decision.

But, my best scenario includes an English Department GA-ship at Northern Arizona, a cheap apartment that allows a little kitty to be my roommate, and free (good) coffee.

I hope the grad school gods smile upon me and my application. For now, I'll just have to wait.


February 14, 2011

Moonlight, sunshine and perpetual blabbering on the same sorry topics

Last night's post was honest, but I don't want to end my thought there.

Today, though patchy blankets of snow still cover Lincoln's yards and sidewalks, spring-like temperatures and full sunshine have me feeling more optimistic today. It must be a primal human instinct to rejoice at the coming of warmer weather. Especially in the depths of January, I often wonder if I will survive the winter. Physically, of course, but also emotionally. Of course John Mayer wrote an entire song about this desperation and the relationships it often creates titled, "St. Patrick's Day." But neither of my boyfriends are the subject of this post.

I escaped the hardest part of winter last year. I went from blizzard to heat stroke in 40 hours. I missed the rebirth of the Prairie and I lost a good friend. It was a tough transition. It's like tossing a frozen turkey into the deep-fryer--you'll ruin your kitchen and Thanksgiving for everyone. Spring is our time to thaw out before summer.

When I poke around on Facebook, I always come across old friends who are living the dream I thought I had a few years ago--i.e. living abroad, going on crazy adventures abroad, staring on episodes of Locked Up Abroad... etc. I realize that comparing myself to other people is counterproductive, but I do it. I often feel like I wussed out of something when I left Cambodia, an unfair assessment that may haunt me forever (feel like you've read this post before? I do.). One of my childhood friends is in the Peace Corps teaching English on some isolated mountain in Rwanda. It sounds like she loves it and that she is really good at what she's doing there. That's a tough and unfair comparison. I'm working on appreciating the choices I make, and accepting myself as a whole person. I see that life isn't a perfect series. Everything that I want to happen may not happen in the order I thought, or it may not happen at all. But in all that mess, I suppose there is a beauty: taking my brother to school, rediscovering my hometown, gaining control of my love life.

I read this quote in a magazine.

Although the wind blows terribly here,
the moonlight also leaks
between the roofplanks
of this ruined house.

A Japanese woman wrote this in the 11th century. Times were probably tough, but she found the beauty of her situation. She never knew the Nebraskan Prairie winds, but I imagine she also never had a furnace.

My favorite part of this poem is that it makes me want to stop whining for a few minutes and enjoy the sunshine.

February 13, 2011

Unworthy of Witty Title

I've been wanting to blog lately, but I didn't have a starting point. I still don't, but I'm gonna write it anyway.

I'm still waiting to hear about graduate assistantships at Northern Arizona university, and still waiting to hear anything from the University of New Mexico. The GA-ship will probably make or break my decision to attend grad school this fall, so I hope the stars align carefully.

I'm still volunteering with the Lincoln Literacy Council. My student is teaching me a lot about English and about composition. We are working on a short fiction story that she began writing last year. We meet on Friday mornings to discuss definitions and connotations of words and phrases in her writing. I look forward to our meetings because it's fun to explore language from another point of view. Last week, we wore out "to accommodate" in a very satisfying comparison of many definitions, examples and non-examples.

I'm still working at Licorice International part-time. It is a wonderful part-time job, but part-time is no longer enough for me. My search for full-time employment continues into its second month. I have grown accustomed to the online application now preferred by most employers, my dress pants have been worn to several interviews lately, and yet, my cell phone remains still and quiet. No job offers. The passive rejection weighs on my fragile heart. A college degree, I thought, was the ticket to happiness. Or at least to minimal job-related confusion.

In the midst of my applying and waiting phase, I'm working on a new relationship. Love and geography have always created problems for me, but my jet-lagged heart hasn't given up yet.

This may be the least fun post I've ever done. Probably has to do with the current time: Saturday night, 11:45; and location: under the covers. When I think of something to write about (or get out of bed and do something worth reporting), you'll be the first to read it. I promise.

February 2, 2011

Snow Day 2: Revenge of the Great Boredom

View from our dining room
Even though the gloom and doom of the snowstorm has passed, the roads are still too slick for school to be in session. By snow day number two, the freedom associated with no school always gives way to absolute boredom. My brother and I were stuck home in front of TV and computer screens yesterday, and today promises more of the same. Our driveway is a perfect sheet of ice, angled so steeply that getting out of the garage is no problem (foot on the brake or not!), but getting back in--well, it's not happening with my Mitsubishi.

My Mom and I tried in vain yesterday to clear the snow from the driveway, but the ice rink beneath the snow had us flat on our backsides, flopping like fresh salmon. We gave up and left her car mid-way up the driveway, parked precariously on the zero-traction surface.

The dangerous wind chills will prevent me from undertaking any  adventures outside the house today. Instead, I hope to finish my third crochet afghan of the season and make plans for my Grand Canyon visit in March. Goodbye, boredom--Americana, here I come.

February 1, 2011

Straw, stick or brick--just build it someplace warm

From the comfort of my fireside seat, I can objectively judge the evils of winter.

After work, my fellow parking lot parkers were already discovering the blanket of ice encapsulating our cars. They were scraping and cussing, windshield-wiping and trying to maintain circulation in their fingers. At first it felt like a party. I started my car, put on the defrost and got my scraper ready for action.

Less than a minute later, I had made only a two-inch dent in the ice blanket. Though I admired their tenacity, I questioned the sanity of the pioneers who first settled this area. And why, after all these generations, had the seemingly intelligent and reasonable members of my family not found a warmer place to live? The Prairie, for all it's wide open splendor, is a terrible place to spend winters.

Outside, temperatures plunge toward zero--that's Fahrenheit--degrees. Daylight has been obscured by gray-blue clouds and ice pellets pummel those gullible enough to venture outdoors. The branches and twigs on the bare trees, in their shining ice coats, sway heavily in the wind gusts. I wonder how long before winter gets too much for the tree, before the branches give up.

And how long until humans give up? Is it any wonder that people retire to Florida and Arizona? With age comes wisdom, and who in their right mind would put up with winter in the Midwest? Never mind the huff and the puff, Between the threat of snow up to your chinny-chin-chin, or the wind that will blow your house in--or at least leave you snowed-in--The Big Bad Winter is coming to depress all the little piggies.

Ready your shovels, your snowblowers and your Xanax. I don't believe in Groundhog's day, but I assume winter will last at least six more weeks. It's Nebraska.