Kissing Ray's Ear

So Much

It’s been too long since I’ve posted here.

Way. Too. Long.

I’ve started school again, and am hip-deep into learning C-programming, as well as taking two survey courses about computers and computer science. On top of this, I’ve been attempting to churn out a better draft of my memoir with the help of my writing group. The ladies I’ve been working with are patient and amazing, but I fear I’m letting them down. I’ve also been in discussions with Ray about the future for him and I. Possibilities with work for him and work for me seem to be rattling around out there, and while we are both anxious to take a Big Leap Forward with our careers, life, and all of that – we are both feeling terribly overwhelmed by it all.

Too many plates spinning.

I’m on a quick layover at work, so I’ll have to cut this short for now, but I will be back later. I need to write stuff down and share it here.

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It’s now almost 10pm and I’m finally coming back to this entry.  See what I mean?  I’ve spent the last few hours doing homework and such, and totally forgot to come back and say my peace on here.

UGH.

Over the last few weeks, Ray and I have been getting pretty serious about our conversations regarding the future.  He’s got a number of options on the table.  I’ve got a few myself, but they’re mostly just threads that I could possibly pluck, depending on where he wants to go.  He, of course, would also follow my lead if I were to take one, but as I admitted to him last night, the last time I took the lead on anything like this, I lost the relationship I was in due to resentment and bitterness.  I don’t want to have any of that with him.  I also, however, don’t want to throw out any opportunities for myself in an act of just pleasing him.  Resentment goes two ways, I’ve learned.

For now, I’ve got Teach for America looming on my horizon.  They have placement schools in the Yakima River area, where Ray could possibly also find work in the wine industry out there.  There’s also the potential of going full-time at TriMet (with an extended possibility of becoming a Light Rail Operator).  The first option would be a huge shift in the way things are with Ray and I.  The second option would be more subtle, perhaps, but it would mean I’d need to give up on my dreams of getting back into the classroom, probably give up on school as well, and dive head-first into a job that I’m, to be honest, meh about.

I mean, I could make it work, and the money would be lovely.  I could be stupid-debt (credit card) free in a matter of months.  I could stash money aside for a downpayment on a home.  I could be the sole breadwinner for us while Ray figures out his own career and life.  But I could also do those things on a starting teacher salary in Washington State – especially if we were to live in an area that is very, very, VERY affordable.

So, yeah, right now, things feel like their spinning a lot, and I’m chasing back and forth to keep the plates up on the poles where they belong.  Ray can sense it, and is reacting accordingly – bouncing between “there, there, there, Thom” and “OMG GO AWAY.”  I get it.  I’m neurotic.  I’m also really, really hungry for change, and really want to put down some damned roots somewhere.  I’m almost forty years old.  It’s beyond time.

Over Eggs and Bacon

It is a *perfect* day here.  After a stormy evening last night, the air is fresh, the grass is damp, and after the morning mist burned off, the sun is shining in a brilliant sky of blue overhead.  I started my day with some affections with Ray, and after he took off for work, I set to prepping my bedroom for my mom’s visit.  She’ll be taking my bed, and I’m going to set up shop in the basement guest room.  After a bit of cleaning, dusting, and vacuuming, my room feels like a pristine respite from the world.  I decided, while I started another load of laundry, to take myself out for a plate of eggs and bacon and fruit at the Country Cat Cafe, a local hot spot in my neighborhood.

As I was finishing my breakfast and sipping the remainder of my coffee, two women sat down at the bar with me.  After a few pleasantries, we got into a discussion.  One of the women is a social studies teacher for a local middle school.  The conversation led into teaching and such, and I revealed to them that I had aspired to be a high school English teacher not too long ago.  I still have all of the credentials, and could still step foot in a classroom today and teach a lesson.  As we talked, though, it dawned on me, in a way, that perhaps I am happier doing the work I’m doing now than I would be in a classroom.

As a teacher, when I was in England, it was two years (my first two years of teaching) that was spent fully immersed in my job.  I spent upwards of eighty hours a week in work mode.  Grading, planning, prepping, parent meetings, IEPs, teacher workshops, student well-being – all of these things consumed my life.  Then, it was a source of joy, for the most part, but I was young to the profession, and younger as a person.  I was thrilled to have a career, even though I didn’t have much of a life.

Today, while I still am capable of teaching, I am not.  I’m driving a bus for the local public transit company.  I work around thirty hours a week, and after a few months of scrimping by, I’m now making enough money to support myself and my life.  Because of the nature of my job, when I park that bus at the end of my day, I get to simply leave it all there and walk away.  I don’t take any of it home.  The most work I do outside of my actual job that still pertains to my job is make sure my schedule is posted on a shared calendar between Ray and I so that he and I can scheme and plan what we’re going to do outside of our work hours.  In this job, I have a life.  I have a balance in my life that I didn’t have in my early teaching years.  Sure, if I’d stuck with it, not only would I be years into my career, but I’d also have the rhythms and patterns down.  I’d have a reference library full of lesson plans and modifications to meet the needs of my students.  I would have a stockpile of things to fall back on, and would probably, just at this point, start having a life outside of work.

It hit me, over eggs and bacon and fruit and coffee, that maybe I’m contented with what I do to sustain my life.  Sure, it’s not glamorous, but it is a job.  It pays enough to keep me happy (and my creditors happy).  I don’t have the things that other near-forty-year-olds have (house, car, plenty saved for retirement), but I do have a smile on my face.  I had no idea that I’d be driving a bus at this point in my life, but then I didn’t know that being contented might take the shape that it has in my life.

From the Driver’s Seat

I see many things. I hear even more. I am getting a deeper understanding for the people of this place, which is exactly what I anticipated. What I wasn’t expecting was how much these moments would make me think.

I know I really do not matter to most of my riders. I know that I’m a means to an end; a cog in the pattern and machinery of their day. What they don’t know is that I pay attention. I’m seeing patterns. I can tell when they’ve had a good day or bad, coffee or no, had a harried morning or not. Most say a polite “thank-you” upon their departure. Some have even warmed up to me and begun speaking to me beyond the silent nod. Some never will do that, too.

I may take these impressions and write more about them. I may try to paint a picture of Portland that goes beyond donuts, coffee, beer, and beards. There is certainly enough fodder just aboard the short-line buses I drive.

The Job Hunt – First Interview

I am currently writing from a Starbucks in Bellingham, Washington. I’m here because tomorrow morning, at 8a, I have a job interview. The position is a customer service post with a small regional airline that has a terminal here in town. The job would require customer interaction, as well as dealing with freight and logistics for air cargo. It’s a step into a world I never thought I’d even consider, but, well, here I am.

I’ve spent all my time up here, since arriving just before noon, wandering around town. I had to navigate the local Fedex Office location in order to print off my resume and a form I need to fill out tonight and bring with me to the interview tomorrow. In that wander around, though, I’ve definitely felt a warmth here. There’s a community here I could easily become part of. It’s a small town on the north Washington coast, just at the end of the Puget Sound. It’s not far from Seattle or Vancouver (by train or bus), and there are *tons* of college kids here.

The town has all that I could ever want, and oddly, it reminds me of Portland, Maine, but with a west coast flair. There’s a bit of grit about the place that I like. There’s the sea, not far away, where there is also a lovely park that I was told to visit by a friend of a friend, whom I’ve befriended too, I guess, and it was just perfect. I watched a sailboat turn and tack into the light breeze coming in from the west, the waves breaking on barnacled rocks, and the cry of an occasional gull came up from the waterline.

I could see myself making the jump up here. I could see myself becoming a local, settling in for a year or so, and seeing where I stand come the end of next summer. If I get the job, I would need to work as much as possible to stay ahead of the bills and such. It would be a tight life, but I could manage it.

Still, in the back of my throat, there’s this lump. This would be the first time I’ve ever truly gone out on my own. I wouldn’t have a roommate, and I do not want one. It would all be on my shoulders. I would need to take full responsibility for the upkeep of my home, for feeding and clothing myself, for all of the things that I’ve had others in my life to help with. I’d have time on my own. I’d have my own space. It would be truly Thom Time.

That lump, though, is a big one. I know I can do this. I know it in my bones. I also know it’s way past time that I do something like this. It would be me, my little job, and my writing. Constantly writing.

Of course, this all hinges on tomorrow morning. I need to route my ride. I need to get to the place I’m staying tonight. I need to relax and find something to eat. All this headspace time is hard stuff sometimes.

This Isn’t the First Time

This isn’t the first time I’ve been unemployed.  This isn’t the first time that my mortal soul has been beaten down by the pressure of feeling devalued and dehumanized.  This isn’t the first time I’ve had to dig deep inside me to find the strength, optimism, and hope that seem to buoy me as I navigate the world of job apps, monster.com, rejections, waiting, and the never hearing back.  Follow-up is an HR skill that I wish was better put to use in our world.  Even if it’s just to say no, we’re not interested in your resume.  I’d rather get the rejection than have to spend hours going from a hopeful sendoff of yet another application to the internal death-spiral of doubt and self-loathing that happens every single time.

Yesterday was no exception to a down day.  It was one in a string of hopeful beginnings, anxious afternoons, and disaffected evenings.  At one point, Caleb pulled me aside and told me to take a break.  He insisted that I’d done enough head-bashing for one day, and that I needed to pull away.  He was right, of course, but when I did break away from the eternal scrolling down of posts that I’m not qualified for, or are just not a good match to my skills, I went for a walk and had a good cry.  Well, a muffled, wet-cheeked, don’t-look-at-me kind of cry, but it still felt like a little pressure release.  I needed it.

I also reached out to a friend who is in a similar situation.  He insisted I tell him what was really on my mind, even though I am *loathe* to do that to someone I care about.  Still, I did – I sent him a nice long e-mail detailing just where I’m at in my head, and he very kindly, very sweetly, wrote a reply that made me feel a bit better.

Just like a good friend will do.

This morning, I talked some more with Caleb about an email response I got from a job I had applied for (!!!) and what it might mean if I take the post.  It would mean moving to a place I think I’d really, really like.  It would be a terrible rate of pay, but given how simply I can live – no frills living is what I do best – I could make it work.  Part-time with some perks that make it worth it, in a town near the sea.  Time to write, a bike ride away from work, and the salty Pacific Northwest air.  Access to planes, trains, and busses, and a vibrant college all within the city limits.  It could be good for me.  I could make it work.

It has given me a little spark of a better focus today.

This isn’t the first time I’ve had to claw back from nothing, from chaos, and try to eek my way forward.  I will do this, and I will find my way, on my own.  I know what I’m doing, really.  I just need to trust in myself, find the patience and courage I need to get by for now, and not be so pig-headed when all I need to do is talk to someone.

Plan B

I have been applying for work all over the region, but was not getting any traction, and I thought, perhaps, it was the document, the piece of paper that reduces me and my experiences to a few salient points, that was standing in my way.  I hadn’t really thought about updating it for a while, but as I’m trying to make a go of remaining here in Portland, with the hopes of getting back into the classroom on some level, I figured it was time to see if that was what was stopping me up.  Though I pretty much loathe the entire idea of putting one’s entire working life on one sheet of paper, and that how you say what you’ve done has a huge impact on how someone perceives the kind of person you are, it is a step in the process, and at this point, I will do anything to feel like I’m moving forward.

I contacted a friend of Caleb’s who is a principal here in Portland to have him examine my resume.  I wanted him to give me a reaction to it that was from the perspective of someone who could be looking for a teacher in his school.  I’m glad I did, because he explained to me that the central office basically farms off all of the resumes they get to the various principals in the district, and gives principals the authority to do all of the hiring for their schools.  In short, I’d have to get face-time with a principal if I am going to get anywhere with my teaching career here.  That meant, really, that my resume would have to be a quick, sharp, focused snapshot of who I am, what I’ve done, and what I can contribute to a classroom here.

He also told me that because of this system, principals can receive hundreds of resumes in their e-mail inboxes, and that they don’t have a lot of time to sift through things that aren’t really clear or make much sense.

I listened with intent, and we discussed some of the ways that I should make changes, and though I felt a bit beaten down, I’m glad I took the time to totally re-do this career document.  Now, instead of shoving my experiences outside of education since returning from England to the bottom of the document, I have made that work seem more relevant to the pursuit of returning to the classroom.  I have organized my credentials in a way that makes the most sense to scan over, and I’ve reduced the document to one page.  It’s lean, mean, crisp and clean, and I’m feeling very secure in the way I’m presenting myself now.

We also discussed some of the various roads into the teaching profession up here that are open to me.  One of these, which was my Plan B upon my departure from Denver, is to register as a substitute teacher for the districts of Portland and the surrounding communities.  It’s not glamorous, and it’s not a guaranteed paycheck every week, but it is face-time with faculty and staff (including administrators) in the various schools around town.  Because of the way hiring works here, substitute teaching will give me a way to meet quite a few people who make decisions and make the case for myself as a teacher by the impression I leave with the classrooms I work with.  It’s not the easy path to teaching, but it is a path, and at this point, I just need direction.

Now, I have one.  This is my plan going forward.  I’m thankful to this principal for giving me the insights he has.  I’m thankful that things with Caleb and I are where they are at so that I can afford to do this and not have to worry about a roof over my head.  I do have a little breathing space.  I do have a chance, and I am going to make the most of it.