Tuesday, September 29, 2009

A Woman in her Thirties Enjoys the Process

One day, while on a break at the bank I worked at in college, I stopped at a local Goodwill to do some book shopping. At this time in my life I was in the middle of an entire course focused on the works of John Milton and was about twelve credits shy of my English degree. To say that I was tired of reading would be an understatement. I was tired of books, of school, and of anything having to do with a quad. My stop at Goodwill was more of a way to kill time than anything else.

(On that note, Goodwill is hands-down the greatest place on the planet to shop for books. More on this later.)

The book I picked up was called The Book of Ruth, by Jane Hamilton. It changed my life. I remember sitting in my room, dripping wet tears from my chin to the pages, and forcing myself to read slower so I could enjoy the book longer. Since then, I have never walked into a bookstore without thinking of Ruth. Every book I have bought since then has been with the hope that it would move me in such a profound way. (Many have, thankfully).

Tonight I went to a speaking event featuring Jane Hamilton. When I first heard she was coming to town I had a moment that I think many tweens had this summer when they heard Miley Cyrus was coming though. I had been looking forward to it for weeks and was nervous all day today.

I worried that Jane Hamilton was going to be strange and inaccessible, like so many writers tend to be. She wasn't. She read a brilliant essay about re-reading Heart of Darkness in adulthood and admitted that she has met many writers who themselves can't answer the discussion questions at the back of their novels inserted by the publishers. At one point she took off her jacket and slipped a Golden Girls era dress on over her slacks to show us just how far she's come since being a writing teacher on a cruise line.

I was in book nerd heaven.

When she opened the floor up for questions I asked her what any woman in her thirties who dreams someday of writing for life might ask. I asked her, voice wavering, what the writing process is like for her, and how she goes about starting her work.

She talked awhile about voice and character, and then she added, 'But the thing is that I try to enjoy the writing part. The publishing is great, but that's not what I love about writing. What I love is the process. I take the time to enjoy the process.'

A woman in her thirties enjoys the process, I thought to myself. I like it. Now get to enjoying.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

A Woman in her Thirties Lights the Way

Today, on my way home from the post office, I noticed people setting out luminaries in our neighborhood. Luminaries remind me of Christmas. They also remind me of death. I was hoping for Christmas.

When I went for a walk tonight I was told by a neighbor that the luminaries are for an eight year old boy a couple of blocks down the road who just lost a battle to brain cancer.

What does a woman in her thirties say to that, I wondered? But it was the lights in every direction that did all the talking.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

A Woman in her Thirties Laughs Last

It is easy for a woman in her thirties to be overwhelmed by the complexities of modern life. Immigration. Gentrification. Transfiguration. These, like so many things, are subjects that become more complicated the more you know.

It is the same for me when I think about health care. Here's how the story went down: A few weeks ago I received word that I was provided health care by my new employer. If I were a single woman in her thirties, this would be great news. As it is, I am covered under L's insurance. I tried to explain that I simply didn't need the health insurance, but apparently I am contractually obligated to take the health insurance provided to me.

'You'll just be double-covered!' the HR employee told me, which I found out later is an outrageous misnomer.

'But I don't want to be double-covered,' I said, thinking of the 20/20 special I'd just seen recently about the health care crisis in America. 'Can't I donate it to someone who needs it?'

The HR employee laughed. 'It doesn't work that way!' she said, smiling. I frowned.

The end result of my 'double coverage' is a small amount of money leftover from what is provided by my employer every month that I get to invest in any way I choose. And when I say 'any way I choose', I mean into a retirement account through any one of four preferred vendors through my school district.

After some tedious research and a few conversations with people in my school, I came to know that the difference between these 'preferred vendors' was nil in terms of profit. They offer the same rates, the same options, and the same cautiously optimistic view of our economic future. The difference is simply a matter of customer service.

Customer service-- now there's a term I have some background in. I met with several people last week, all of whom wanted my business. They were all nice enough, especially the first one, who told me in a way not unlike my idol, Suze Orman, what the difference is between a bond and a bond fund. I felt the most comfortable with that guy, but I struggled with making my decision.

My final appointment this week was with a man who was much younger than the others. He had an expensive watch on and nice teeth. He told me all about the funds I knew he offered, and said he had a complicated way of breaking up my monthly contributions into high, medium, and low risk investments to 'help me reach my retirement goals' (whatever those are).

'Oh,' he said while packing his things. 'We offer one other investment option. It's extremely conservative. It's guaranteed at 3%.'

Hmm. My savings account currently gives me less than 1%. In the last year, I've heard heart-wrenching stories about families losing their entire life savings in the stock market. I asked what I thought was a logical question.

'Wouldn't it make sense to just invest everything into that one account and be guaranteed to make 3%?'

He laughed. This was the second time someone had laughed in my face in two weeks, and I was beginning to resent it.

'Sure,' he said sarcastically. 'But I wouldn't recommend it if you actually wanted to enjoy your retirement someday.'

That was it. I wasn't going to put up with Mr. Straight Teeth and his condescending tone. Did I balk at his use of the word 'Irregardless'? Did I judge him based on his use of the term 'nitty gritty'? (Check out the etymology here and you will never use that phrase again). No. If laughing at me is his idea of customer service, then I don't want to trust him with my money. Needless to say, my next phone call was to my Suze Orman-like investor.

A woman in her thirties is too old
To give her business to a huge asshole

That's a couplet. In iambic pentameter. HA.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

A Woman in her Thirties Holds On To That Feeling

It's the first week of school.
I have 140 new names of students to memorize.
Not to mention the faculty.
And then there's Shakespeare.
Missing family and friends.
Wishing I had prioritized different things this last summer.
Overwhelmed and sleep deprived.

I'm sure no one else out there can relate.

And then this appears, not two blocks from our new house:

Coincidence? I think not.
A woman in her thirties pays careful attention to the signs.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

A Woman in her Thirties is a Connoisseur

I was a woman in my mid-twenties the last time I went to a state fair. In fact, the last time I went to a state fair I was teased by L (who lived on the East Coast at the time) about how the California State Fair was not legitimate.

'What do you have at the California State Fair? Salad eating contests?'

This stung, as comments that result from untrue stereotypes often do. But I will tell you that I ate a deep fried Twinkie, saw the state's (world's?) largest and smallest horses, and rode a mechanical bull, all at the Golden State Fair. Put that in your wheatgrass and shoot it.

What I love about the State Fair is that everyone is an expert. People have specific and unwavering opinions about everything from the animal exhibits to the parking. They can speak at length about the Sham-Wow, the varying types of salsa makers for sale, and the Go-Girl. But when it comes to food, we are all connoisseurs.

I tend to fast before the state fair-- not in a Ghandi kind of way, but more in a Dr. Oz kind of way. I eat as much spinach and take as many vitamins as I can in the days before going, because everyone knows rule number one at the fair is that one must consume (without guilt) as much junk as possible. Watching a baby lamb being born just hours before the Butter-Carve-o-Rama is fun and all, but if you're not going to enjoy the food you may as well stay home.

As a teacher going back to school next week, I have decided to dust off my grade book and give some assessments of the food I ate (or watched other people eat) yesterday. Warning: Not for the weak of stomach.

1. Nachos
I normally will not eat food at the fair that I could find at my local gas station, but nachos are the exception. They are in a food group of their very own in terms of deliciousness. For $3.50, this is what I got:Where are the jalepenos, you ask? Where is the extra cheese? The nachos were an epic disappointment. Grade: D-

2. Hot Dog
This was L's choice, and here is a picture:
I'm no expert on hot dogs, but I thought relish the color of green apple Jelly Bellies would take off significant points. However, L confessed this morning that he thought it was pretty good. I guess it takes all kinds. Grade: B

2. Cheese Curds
In my research, this was the only food unanimously agreed upon as a must-have for the State Fair. Now I know why. Fried cheese is proof that God exists, and she is good.

Grade: A. No, A+.

3. Deep Fried Pickles
I wouldn't have tried these if not for the friends we met up with. What you are seeing is two dill pickle slices with cream cheese in the middle, deep fried. Oh, the dipping sauce? That's ranch dressing.
The actual consumption of these wasn't as bad as you might think, but the moments after were worse than you think. It kind of felt like that scene in Alien. You know which one I'm talking about. Grade: B+

4. Roasted Corn
I have to admit that the sweet corn in this area of the country is pretty stinkin' good. In fact, we met a guy on the bus ride over who's friend owns the roasted corn stand where this was purchased. He works the state fair for a week and a half, and then takes the rest of the year off. I guess that's what happens when you can sell corn on the cob to suckers like me for $3 each.

Totally delicious, but at this point I was starting to see stars. Grade: A. I think.

5. Deep Fried Candy Bar
This was not my idea. Everyone who goes to the state fair has a food that they must try-- an indulgence they must give in to. This was my friend K's:
If you're going to deep fry a candy bar, a Milky Way would not be my first choice. I took two bites of this, and if you're wondering what it tastes like I can only liken it to a piece of Halloween candy that has been wrapped in bread and sitting in your jean's pocket all day. Not bad... but not cheese-curd great. Grade: C+

6. Cookies and All-You-Can-Drink Milk
Again, cookies are not State Fair food in my opinion. I made an exception for these, considering the line ALL DAY to get them looked like a mob scene. I was not disappointed. They were hot when I got them, resulting in the following assessment. Grade: A-
From the cookies, we made our way to the all-you-can-drink milk stand. This woman in her thirties loves milk, and I can drink a whole lot of it. This milk was cold and fresh. Let's just say I got my dollar's worth. Grade: A

After this, the food coma began to set in. I think we said goodbye to our friends, but I can't remember. There is no place to go after eating this much food other than to bed.

So that was my experience. A woman in her thirties is not much for comparisons, but if I must choose an overall winner I'm going to have to admit that the midwest knows what's what when it comes to a good time at the State Fair. There, I said it. It was the milk that did me in.

Now, if you'll excuse me. I'm late for my 10:00 colonics.