Friday, October 30, 2009

Confessions of a Burnout

I've been remiss in posting, I must apologize. But at least I can write about my reasons, vague and slim though they may be.

This past week or so, I've been slowly losing steam. It feels like I just need a little extra motivation to get things done. I still write my Examiner articles every day, but it's the other things that are starting to feel tedious and like more work than they actually are. This blog, for instance. I have three other drafts for posts as I type, that will most likely never see the light of day. I get an idea, I begin to write, but before I can perfect it, I move onto to something else and it falls by the wayside, never to be touched again. And I second-guess myself constantly, wondering if anyone really cares that I moved a cat from my dad's house to my mom's, or that I made a new friend. With two followers, I'm buckling under expectation! Ridiculous. More than likely it's the growing fear that I've run out of interesting things to write about because I spend most of my days writing. Does that make sense?

There's also my television info logging. I dutifully watch 'Project Runway' and input all the interesting data on Saturday morning, when the episode is posted online and I can time out all the scenes. I enjoy this quite a bit, and have gotten into the habit when watching television of picking out what would and would not be an info item, or trying to discern a particular product brand. Unfortunately, I have been lax in my coverage of the defunct show 'Roswell.' Perhaps as a reaction to working on Saturday, it takes some initiative on my part to actually pop in the DVD and watch another episode, cataloguing scene times and info objects. It isn't that I don't like it, it's just that I'm in such a strangely unmotivated funk.

It didn't help that yesterday, despite constantly creating new content, my Examiner page views dipped dramatically. Three page views for the entire day. Very special. Still plodding along, but I'm going to need a little more than three reads to feel as though my typing is worth something.

Perhaps, like caffeine, small amounts of recognition and even smaller amounts of pay can only sustain you for so long. Eventually, you're going to have to sleep, or take something stronger. I'm still on the lookout for a position that is both financially and personally satisfying, though at this point anything would be welcome. I don't want to stop writing, and I do enjoy the work I'm doing, but thinking down the road, this is not a situation I can handle long term. Maybe it's the capitalist influence, but I need to know that my skills as I writer are worth money and benefits. In my head I know they are, but in the world all I see are ads for experience or something not down my alley.

I don't want to sound self-pitying, or give the impression that I'm not a go-getting, self-starting catch of an employee. It's just that a daily grind that doesn't seem to be getting anywhere is immensely frustrating, if not paralyzing. I'm the kind of person who likes to see the results of their work, and to know where their effort is getting them. Studying leads to good grades, which leads to good college, which leads to more studying, which leads to good job. When something in that linear frame of thinking gets skewed, it's hard to keep believing that hard work equals compensation. How many months can you get by on putting yourself out there before you just want to crawl back in, wave the white flag and become an accountant?

I know this will pass. I know because I still get excited when there's a new topic to discuss and a new comment on my articles. I just need a deep breath, maybe a day off, and to not get another bill in the mail.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Shining, gleaming, steaming, flaxen, waxen: Hair

I'm a planner. I don't go out without knowing where I'm going, how to get there, and what I want. This came in handy when taking day trips into Manhattan when I was in school. It also makes me a little neurotic. Before college, when preparing for summer vacations visiting my grandparents, packing usually lasted at least a week, and even before then I was making lists of what I wanted to bring and which books I would read. Sometimes I think I take half of my pleasure in just the anticipation of something happening.

I take the same careful approach when it comes to haircuts. When I have an appointment coming up, I starts to take over all my spare brain power to try and decide what I want. I Google haircuts for pictures, and always bring in at least one for my stylist to go from. I have delusions of grandeur; or at least delusions of straight hair. I'm told people with straight hair wish for curl, but I don't believe them. I think everyone of the female persuasion has a very personal relationship with their hair. It's an expression of self, something you can control (in theory) when nothing else will submit to your will. You love it, you hate it, you perm it, you gel it. But you've got to live with it.

When I was a child, I was very blond. The kind of blond that creates a halo effect when the sun shines behind you. Golden curly locks fit for a fairy tale. As I grew up, though, my hair seemed to lose its luster and became more mousy brown than golden. I believe I was a dirty blond, which is such a flattering description. At first I fought the onset of brunettry, dying my hair back to the natural order. Then I saw 'Moulin Rouge' and decided that I wanted to be a redhead. That of course, translated to turning myself into walking carrot fuzz. But I didn't realize that at the time.

But even before I tried to salvage my blond or venture into red, I had already made a major hair decision my sophomore year of high school. After years of long, and frankly unmanageable hair, I made what might have been the most impulsive decision of my life and cut my hair. It was an idea that was born of a single afternoon. I decided, and we went to SuperCuts. This wasn't a minor trim by any stretch. They took off a full ten inches so I could donate to Locks of Love. And thus began my life of relatively short hair. And I never looked back.

It took a few cuts before I perfected my short hair self. The first cut was really more of a slash and go job, no layers. That left my hair just this side of poof-tastic. But soon I was embracing a hair style that cut my morning brush time to under ten minutes. And then I began embracing my darker side, opting for a warm brown hair color, still with that touch of auburn. Eventually, I found a hair dye that somehow matched my natural color, because it never grew out. Since then I've only ventured into semi-permanent colors so I don't have to worry about messing up or roots.

Coming to terms with my hair was a process. It was yet another test of surviving high school. I'm much happier with my hair these days, though I still sometimes curse the poof and it's indecision as to whether it is curly, wavy, or straight. I still get antsy about it though, and I always want to change it, just a little. It's one of the only times I look forward to change. Normally I'm the type of person who is always defending their rut. But with my hair, I'm always scoping out the new cuts and imagining how they would look. I suppose I see my hair as almost another accessory, like my oh-so important shoes. With the right haircut, it seems that the perfect life could be just around the corner.

I have a hair appointment later today. Rest assured, I am armed with plenty of photos and glorious expectation.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Let's Get Political...litical...

(Just as a sidenote, the title of this post should be read with Olivia Newton-John's song "Physical" in mind. It's actually been in my head for a while now, with lyrics based on this.)

The biggest political ruckus right now in the U.S. is over health care. More specifically, it's about the push and pull of Obama trying to reform it and the Republicans accusing him of socialism and trying to kill old people. And it's been sparking a lot of rants inside my head that I need to get out.

As a college graduate, I was dropped from my father's health insurance plan. In order to stay covered, we're paying exorbitant rates for a COBRA plan which I can buy into for about a year and a half. If it wasn't for that contingency, I would no doubt constantly be anxious about what might happen if I was in a car accident, if I need stronger lenses, or if I just get the sniffles. Really, should anyone have to worry about that?

Then, I saw an ad the other day meant to undermine the public option. It featured a breast cancer survivor spouting statistics that a greater number of British patients die of breast cancer. There you go, something else to be afraid of, if we have a public option, you will die! By taking a statistic and reducing it's cause to one specific difference between the two countries, they've created a ridiculous argument that I'm afraid too many people will accept as fact. But here's the thing: at least in the UK, if you get breast cancer, you and your family won't lose everything to get treatment. And putting that completely aside, Obama isn't even proposing a system like the UK has. I guess they just had the best (read: worst) statistics. Classy.

Here's what I think: there's a lot of blame going around for people who don't have health insurance. I hear and read a lot of people saying that people who aren't insured are just lazy and need to get a job. Hmm, well, okay, but we do have over 10% unemployment, with people getting laid off for no reason related to their performance. Are they lazy? Then there are the small businesses which can't afford to buy insurance for their employees. Aren't small businesses part of the much-touted American dream? Are the people running the Mom and Pop grocery store lazy because they aren't pushing paper in a cubicle (not that there's anything wrong with that!)? If I'm working at least three part-time jobs, none of which provide health insurance, am I lazy? There are so many writers out there working freelance, doing what they love and making some money, but not "earning" benefits because of the business model of their field.

It seems to me that blaming the uninsured is just people's way of separating themselves from the fear of lay offs and the like. Because maybe if it's their fault it won't happen to you. But it can, and if it does, wouldn't you like the opportunity to break your leg without re-mortaging your home? With more and more students graduating every year, how can so many parents think that their children will become "the problem" if they aren't able to find a job immediately? Denying a problem by blaming others is no way to live.

And another thing (I'm on a roll now) for those who think the government shouldn't guarantee health insurance, that it isn't a right. What about the police, or the firefighters? Those are a right. You can hire your own security system or team, but if you're mugged, the police will come whether or not you've paid a monthly fee. Why can we expect the government to protect our property and our livelihood, but not our health? And if you don't ever call the police, or if you don't have a fire, you don't whine that your tax dollars are going towards all those lazy bums who did suffer those things. Because it's a right to a certain amount of security that we all accept.

I just think that everyone is entitled to reasonably priced healthcare. At minimum. We can argue about free healthcare and who should provide it until the cows come home. But someone who is out of work, or is working without benefits, should be able to get their prescriptions and see their doctor without losing a huge chunk of cash.

I know that this is essentially a rant. But where else can I rave?

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

How Many Homes Can One Heart Have?

They say home is where the heart is. But that assumes that there is only one place for your heart, only one place that's really home. In my experience, you leave a little piece of your heart everywhere you go, and that makes it harder and harder to accept one home.

I was born in Germany. I suppose that means it could be my home, but other than fond memories of vacations after the fact, nothing ties me there. I would still love to go back, though.

When I was three we moved to Austin. It is my default home, and I love it, but there have been ups and downs. Being Texan is taken very seriously, and moving here doesn't cut it. It seemed that to many, I didn't belong. Many times growing up I doubted where I fit in, feeling like the only person who was questioning anything about themselves.

That was part of the reason I decided to go to college in New York. The other part was the fantastic school. I found so many people I connected with, and I was able to really experience learning the way I wanted, pouring over books and writing papers and having sincere discussions at circular tables and on sun-kissed lawns. It was all very much like a college brochure, I assure you. Leaving was not easy. I don't know how to live in New York, but I'm not sure I was ready to live outside of SLC.

But in between years in Bronxville, I spent a semester in Prague studying abroad. My father is Czech, which made me want to explore a little of my heritage, especially considering my wandering childhood, which was plagued with questions of what citizenship meant. More friends were made, but the revelation was simply living in the city. Walking down cobblestone streets and taking trams, splurging on Marks & Spencer's dark chocolate digestive biscuits and pushing my way through grocery shopping at Tesco. It was the most independently I have ever lived. But beyond that, I love the city. I joined a knitting group and made my own friends, was able to search out great bookstores, yarn stores, and, most importantly, bakeries.

Other places I've visited and would love to see again (to the point of elaborate day dreams) are Kefalonia, a Greek Island; Paris; Hallstatt, a small town in Austria; and Cesky Krumlov, a historic Czech town. There are others, but these are the ones I'd be sad to never see again. One other major spot is the U.K. With family there, I've spent a total of many months there, and it's a familiar and comfortable home. I considered spending my semester abroad there, and I think I would enjoy an opportunity to explore London and its outskirts in the same manner as I explored Prague.

Now I'm back in Austin, and I'm glad to be back. I'm looking forward to Buda's Annual Weiner Dog Races in the spring, and the Trail of Lights at Christmas. But I'm starting to suspect that there's nowhere I can be without missing somewhere else. In New York I missed being home, just like I craved Mexican food in Prague. But being here, I miss walking through Prague, feeling vastly superior to camera-wielding tourists. I miss my New York friends.

Is there any solution? How can there be, other than suddenly coming into masses of money that allow me a work-free rotational system, with three months in each place, or perhaps six or more, with each rotation taking two or three years. I think my major stressor is the thought that, barring this lottery fate, I might not see some of these places again. I've reached adulthood, and the time for summer vacations has ended. What if I don't have the luxury of travel, which emotional investment has made me feel is a necessity? The world gets smaller, and I can chat with friends thousands of miles away or look at photos online of my favorite spots. But the distances are still the same, the cost is higher, and nothing can take the place of actually being there.

Staring at postcards. Wish I was there. Every there.

Friday, October 2, 2009

The Power of a Page View

Since I've begun blogging and writing online, I've realized the power we all hold as consumers of entertainment. I check my page views almost daily, and I love the idea that there are people who look forward to reading content I've created. It's a completely different feeling than writing a class paper, or even writing for a school publication, because it is more my own (while reaching a wider audience), and I can keep track of the results.

This has translated into my attitude towards others' content as well. When I read my favorite blogs, I feel a sense of pride almost in knowing that I'm part of numbers I know matter. I leave comments more often because everyone deserves feedback. It's important that the community of writers engage and encourage each other because we understand the importance of every page view.

This also applies to other media. When I watch a television show, I feel the responsibility of being a viewer. This past spring, a show which I love, Dollhouse, was near cancellation. The chances of seeing a second season were reportedly slim. I sent e-mails, I called the network, and I made sure to watch the episodes on sites like Hulu that send their viewing numbers to the networks. Eventually the news came out, and it was good. The second season started last Friday. The ratings are still low, but I'm intent on making sure my view is always there (even though my lack of a Nielson box means they have no idea when I watch live on television). If anyone's interested in making this easier, catch up with the first season and start watching. I can't guarantee there will be a third season, but I do know that what we've seen so far is worth every minute.

When I find something I like, I feel loyal. The same goes for artists and writers and show creators. I'm a very involved consumer. Being a part of an audience, I feel like I'm giving something to the creators, but I also feel that the product is partly my own. What is a book or a blog without readers?

It's important that when we consume culture, we take pride in it. Because it isn't just a frivolous exploit, it isn't a waste of time. It's human nature, and it's something we need. When you read a blog, it leaves you with something (hopefully). But it also gives something to the author. Each page view is an affirmation. It's a beautiful relationship between producers and consumers, and I'm happy to know both roles.