Dear Mortgage Lender,

I understand that in this market, in this city, at my income level, my file may not have been your top priority. I understand that the fact that I make less than 80,000 per year puts me in a situation that’s pretty easy to put at the bottom of your pile and that you probably have bigger fish to fry. I understand that there is plenty that I fundamentally don’t know about the whole mortgage lending process, since this is the first time in my life that I’m doing all of this. I get it. It’s hard to get motivated to answer my daily questions, my requests for status.

What I don’t understand is why, at 3pm the Friday before my Monday close date, you were still working on what appear to be showstopping parts of my loan, and were unable to complete these tasks in time for us to proceed as scheduled.

I don’t understand why you were, at 3pm on this Friday, composing emails to the underwriter regarding whether or not they could actually lend on a half-duplex, when it’s been well-established that my future home will be a half duplex for about a month now.

I don’t understand why you called me and asked again for documents AND FUNDS that I’d sent a month before, then asked me for divorce papers for a divorce I haven’t had.

I don’t understand why those aforementioned requests for status were either ignored or falsely answered with a cheerful, “we’re all set!” when clearly, parts of my file were still incomplete or not delivered to the right people as of 3pm the Friday before I was going to close.

While I’m prepared to admit I don’t fully comprehend every aspect of the lending process, the only answer I can find for my questions is that you have failed to provide even basic levels of clear, honest communication to me. Meanwhile, I cheerfully rented a truck, took a day off work at a job I’ve been in for a grand total of five days now, reassured our landlord (who’s been breathing down our necks to get out so he can get higher-paying tenants to replace us) that we’d be out before the end of next week, and went on with my life imagining that everything was going according to plan. Your email apologizing for the “inconvenience” was as disingenuous as it was reductive. You are not sorry. And inconvenience fails to even start describing one dimension of the situation you have now placed us in.

I have worked in some kind of customer service role for nearly my entire adult life. In my jobs dealing with the public, I’ve taken my own time and resources to ensure that I took care of important tasks that needed to be done. I’ve driven to DMVs in other counties to complete title work. I’ve helped a foreign customer secure a title for a scooter that was from another country: a task that required constant communication and a nightmare of international bureaucracy. I’ve driven gas cans to customers who needed them. I’ve fielded calls well after quitting time and on my lunch break in my job with city government, a task that a vanishingly rare portion of municipal workers will actually perform. I have spent my life providing excellent service to people I don’t know, and frankly, it amazes me that someone whose job is tied to a life-changing transaction can care so little about those who she works with. You are not sorry for the inconvenience. What you should be sorry for is your complete indifference.

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And away we go

This is the last Monday I will spend living in Capitol Hill.

This was where my 20s happened.

I came to this area almost a decade ago, from a small hometown, realizing that the kind of happiness I wanted was not to be found in Longmont. I came to Denver and for many years, this corner of the city, with its youthful population, cheap rents, tawdry bars and brilliant music and art scene, was everything I could have dreamed of. I met amazing people, saw amazing things, had great adventures and learned a few things the hard way.

I fell in love here. I had my heart broken here. I had my expectations met, exceeded and completely disregarded. I’ve done more growing up here in the past nine years than in almost any other period of my life.

But the neighborhood has changed, too.

The old, familiar dives are dwindling in number. Many of my friends have been priced out and have pulled up stakes to start families or other adventures elsewhere: the Highlands, Park Hill, the suburbs, other states… even other countries. In their place is a rising tide of 20-something kids who inexplicably have the means to pay the neighborhood’s ever-rising rents. The apartment I moved out of six years ago was renting for $575 a month in 2008; it’s now going for $825. That’s a 43% increase in a city where incomes have barely budged since 2005. And buying… well, buying is a better deal in Cap Hill but still too expensive for us.

And the sad, but at the same time happy, truth is: I’m not 25 any more. Proximity to hipster bars, bikeable distances to dancing and karaoke and walking to art house cinema are all nice things. But they’re less important than they used to be. I see the girls on their walks of shame when I go to work in the morning: the eyes smeared with eyeliner, the creases in last night’s dresses. I no longer see comrades in these bleary-eyed girls. I see people living through a chapter of my life that is very, very over.

I have outgrown cramped apartments and downstairs neighbors. I’ve graduated (for the most part) from the “second shift”of cheap after-work beers at the neighborhood bar to a nice glass of wine or whiskey. I can no longer work the next day with the hangover that results from drinking like I did when I first moved here. And I don’t really have any desire to drink enough to get to that point. I no longer need a neighborhood full of casual friends; just the handful of really great ones who have stuck with me through the manic highs and lows of my twenties. I’ve learned how to enjoy my time alone again, without feeling like I’ve somehow failed.

We’re moving further East, to a more residential part of the city in an earlier stage of gentrification than Capitol Hill. It remains to be seen how we’ll grow in this new territory. It’s quieter there. The houses are inexpensive. The bars are working-class and unpretentious, maybe even a little scary. There are no designer donuts very nearby, no artisanal toast, no organic groceries, no music venues. These things might reach us eventually. But this will be a place of our very own. The place we’ve earned. We’ll have our own cinema nights. We’ll mix our own drinks. We’ll sit in our tiny yard and look over what we have, what is truly ours, our reward for the lessons learned in those crazy, stupid, formative years in that remarkable neighborhood. And finally, just like in Capitol Hill, when we’ve put enough of ourselves into the place, we will be home again.

Posted in Serious Face | Leave a comment

Yes, me too

(Because this was too big for me to tweet; because it deserves more attention. All necessary trigger warnings apply.)

#YesAllWomen because I had nightmares for a week after my first incident of street harassment. I had just turned 13.

#YesAllWomen because I genuinely feel survivor’s guilt for making it out of college without an experience of sexual assault.

#YesAllWomen because of the time someone followed me home, watched me through my window, and exposed himself to me (I’m still a little nervous about going back to garden level life).

#YesAllWomen because when the seasons change, I’m too scared to go running in the morning when it’s dark.

#YesAllWomen because throughout the homebuying process, when we were looking at older properties, people kept asking me if my husband was “handy.” Never me (For the record, we’re both pretty handy).

#YesAllWomen because when I answered the phone at the scooter shop, customers constantly second-guessed my technical advice.

#YesAllWomen because the wonderful men in my life who have supported me and who call themselves “feminists” do so at their own social risk.

Men, women, trans people, children… everyone has a less-good life because of misogyny and sexism. Misogyny hurts everyone. It degrades half our population and it diminishes the accomplishments and personhood of the people we love. If you love someone who is female, if you are someone who is female, your world is lessened because of the people who believe women are lesser. The idea that women deserve violence is a cultural poison, and good, brave people like those speaking out (and more importantly, those listening to them) are the antidote. Let’s fix this. We can fix this.

Posted in Gender Blender, Postmodern Problems, Ranty, Serious Face, This is What a Feminist Looks Like | Leave a comment

L’oreal lipstick and snow

I’m wearing L’oreal’s “Bitten Berry” today.

I’ve had an obsession with lipstick since the moment I became aware that I was female and aware that women wore lipstick. I’ve loved deep reds, 1940′s glam reds, campy 50s diner-waitress reds as long as I can remember.

L’oreal has a very specific scent. No other lipstick smells like it. There’s a note of industrial production, a waxy chemical smell. Then there’s a hit of vintage femininity, a thick, flowery, musky smell. It’s that last note that, when coupled with a snowy morning like today’s, spurs memories so strong they play like a flickery swimmovie in the back of my head even while I’m going through the motions here at work.

I was a swimmer in high school, and the girl’s swim team was active in the winter time. It was three years of chlorine-tinted, frozen hair, keeping damp skin from freezing to the cold, metal window frames of the school bus, reading AP English texts between races, at pools that dotted the Colorado map from Sterling to Estes Park to Boulder to Aurora. And there was lipstick.

I wore bright reds because there was a pretty big bell curve of similarity in body shape and size on our team and when we all donned our stars n stripes swimsuits, goggles and caps, we all looked a bit like a race of pale, bug-eyed, cloned aliens. And then there was me, with my bright red lips. So my parents could see me. I wore Revlon’s cherries in the snow and L’oreal’s True Red. I just wanted to stand out, in a small way, even when we all looked the same.

Swimming was a good sport for me: a team effort, but not in the way, say, soccer or softball would have been. When you’re in your relay, or your race, in your lane, you are completely alone. And for me, a kid who had struggled her whole life to obtain focus despite an unmedicated, persistent and pernicious case of ADHD, the moments spent with the sole task of breathing, moving forward, and going as fast as possible, were precious. Moments of utter clarity devoted to tasks that required my absolute and dedicated attention.

This morning, as I navigated icy sidewalks to the bus stop, I breathed the cold air tinged with L’oreal’s Bitten Berry, and remembered the white noise of the pool. The crunch of frozen locks of hair. The scent of chlorine. And my brain tuned to the only points that mattered. Momentum. Breath. Survival.

Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

The things we remember, the things we forget

The rituals we have do not change now. There will be flags. There will be uniforms. There will be images, names, certain understandings. We don’t deviate from these, because it’s dangerous to stray from this path any more. There are rhetorical land mines on either side of this narrow, well-trodden road, the path we’ve learned to funnel ourselves into this day, every year, for the past twelve years. The mines are scattered and volatile. If you try to move around those in front of or behind you, you run the risk of tripping one of the mines: Truthers. The war. The other war. George W. Bush telling us to go shopping. Patriotism. Bin Laden. The WMDs. Yellowcake from Niger. Tacky 9/11 souvenirs, typically purchased by people with no real connection to New York or Washington. Every other consequence and related issue to this tragedy that is allowed as conversation matter every other moment of the year. But not this one. This day, we shuffle along and go through the rituals, carefully calculated attempts to bring us together with unifying blandness, while, on every other day, everything else tears us apart.

At the time of the actual tragedy, I was an idealistic 19, starting over, so I thought, at a small college far from home. I was a new person and my life stretched out before me with unending possibilities. I had made the biggest choice of my nascent adulthood: leaving the big university, starting a new life, making actual decisions for myself. I’d barely unpacked my things in my new dorm room when 9/11 happened, as if to remind me that adulthood was not just a Mary Tyler Moore credit sequence: it was uncertainty and fear, and, even more intimidating, changes that I had no way to control.

There was a brief, hot moment where it seemed Americans had become real people. That we had actual, raw emotions and we saw ourselves reflected in the faces of those from other countries whose hands reached out to us. And we saw that they, in return, didn’t see us as any different from them. For that moment… so brief, so exceptional, we weren’t just Americans being attacked for the trespasses of our bumbling leaders. We were wounded fellow animals.

And then, just like that, we went back to being Americans again. We stuck ribbon magnets to our cars and we went shopping like the president told us, and we started putting up the same old defenses. We were attacked because they hate our freedom, we said, as we pretended that Big Gulps and Hummers made us freer than those across other, similarly arbitrary borders. We bought commemorative items, buying up our memories because our own memories are so, so short and so, so, ephemeral. We needed license plate frames and posters  (and really? commemorative corn hole games?) and plates from the Franklin Mint lest we forget. Lest we forget. Lest we stop spending our money to claw back the feelings of importance and identity that were so quickly slipping away as other events reared up on the horizon. We spoke incessantly of our resolve, our will to go on, our resiliency. And we never again spoke of our vulnerability. We were never to speak again of that day we were weak. We forgot that it was our pain, not our power, which made the world look to us with kindness and sympathy that day.

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And we keep forgetting. Those who have used that day as a reason to reconstruct Real American Identity in their own image of middle-class, hetero, Christian whiteness forget that the majority of those who died were New Yorkers and Washingtonians: many of them Jewish, black, brown, Asian, Muslim, atheistic, gay, educated. We forgot what it was like to feel like a real part of the world, not apart from the world. We forgot that learning from the past is different than clinging to it with incessant commemoration. And we’ve forgotten that real healing is still another matter altogether.

Posted in Postmodern Problems, Serious Face | Leave a comment

If everyone did what they loved, who would make the pencils?

The conflation of one’s profession and identity is one of those troubling American idioms, a strange, completely taken-for-granted part of our social vernacular that exists in direct contradiction with the reality of the capitalist machine. We’re told to follow our dreams, to find our niche, to dream big or risk betraying some part of who we really are.

But, if we all had jobs doing we loved, I asked my sister once, who would do the jobs that aren’t as lovable? Who would make the pencils? I’d watched the episode of “How It’s Made” featuring the Ticonderoga pencil factory. The factory workers seemed pretty unhappy. But I realized this was kind of a shitty prejudice on my part. “Of course, they’re doing manual labor in a factory, that’s GOTTA SUCK.” This attitude, I realized, was elitist bullshit. Yeah, these people work in a pencil factory, and that’s probably nobody’s lifelong dream. But they are employed, and they probably get decent benefits, and they have, at the end of the day, a tangible, usable product that they helped to create. That’s pretty cool. When contrasted with the laborious process of moving up through the ranks at some company to parlay one’s passion into a career, or the crushing realities of trying to integrate one’s passion into one’s own business, it doesn’t seem too bad.

We can’t all do the jobs we dream of, or there would be many things that would not get done, or made, or fixed. But this isn’t a crisis. It’s a reality that we exist in. Someone has to make the pencils. And clean the schools, and drive the buses, and test circuitboards, and cook eggs (thanks, honey!) and repair the machines at the adult bookstore (I actually know a guy who does this. He makes a ton of money). Yes, some people in these jobs are really passionate about what they do, and that’s fantastic. But some people are not. Some people just do their jobs and put food on their tables and their passions manifest themselves in other ways. I’m here to say that it’s OK to have a job that you are not passionate about, and still find a way to lead a life that you love. The two ideas are not mutually exclusive.

I want to call into question the whole idea that a singular passion in a person’s life should be the aspiration they carry into their working life. I want to question the idea that a job necessarily dictates your identity, your worth, and your personal happiness. I want to ask the question that nobody asks: Why should your dream be your job? Why can’t your dreams just be your dreams, your passions just your passions, and your job just be what you do to pay the bills? Maybe it’s enough to wake up and not hate what you face at work, because you have passions and aspirations outside of work that make it worthwhile?

And from a different angle: maybe being a passionate person about ONE thing isn’t necessarily the best or only way to be a passionate person or live a passionate life. I’ve struggled with this my whole life. We ask children, “What do you want to BE when you grow up?” Just look at this question: not “what do you want to DO,” or “what kind of job would you like to have,” or “what kind of human being would you like to be?” But “WHAT do you want to BE when you grow up?” And we expect a passionate answer: a dancer, a fireman, a zookeeper, a doctor. We want children to express something that requires lifelong commitment and passion to a craft. But do we, as adults, take a moment to consider the stable of grown-ups in our Facebook friends list and who they have grown up to “be”? Do we look at the people around us at our own jobs and imagine the child-versions of them, answering through gap-toothed grins, “I want to be a network analyst!” Why, as a culture, do we place such an emphasis on the dream job when we know it to be little more than a manifestation of our childish hope that a job could be just like play?

“When I grow up, I’m going to sell flood insurance. But in my spare time, I’m going to find happiness in independent films, craft brewing, and a wealth of fulfilling personal relationships.”

As Americans, what you do for a living becomes who you are as a person. And this is problematic. As a child, my answer to the “when you grow up” question swung wildly from firefighter to psychologist to advertising copywriter (I watched a lot of Bewitched ,and Darren Stephens had what I thought looked like the coolest job ever) to graphic artist to industrial designer, to physicist to meteorologist, and finally, when the STEM impulse was irrevocably beaten out of me by my own lack of confidence and a dearth of solid female role models in the field, I whittled all the things I was good at down to writing. I am, indeed, passionate about it; I look forward to the time I get to spend on it. I have been fortunate enough to work it into a few jobs I’ve had (and I am very lucky to be working on some exciting projects in my current job that will hopefully let me do that much, much more frequently). But as passions go, it’s a tough one to make money with, and as a result, I’ve had to find a niche as an accounting professional. It’s OK. When I’m not getting paid to write, I write when I can, and all the better if I get to do it on my own terms.

I tell people now that I’m an accountant, since that’s most of my job, and it’s amazing how quickly that kills anyone’s desire to engage me further. But I’m still the person I wanted to be when I grew up. I’m an accountant, but I’m also compassionate, caring, strong, creative, funny, kind and hardworking. When people ask me what I do, I’m tempted to go into greater detail. “I work hard, I cook a mean vegetarian goulash, I ride my bike, I go for walks during the sunrise, I go on road trips with my sister, I watch bad movies with my husband and my cat. These are the things I do. This is who I am.”

My point is that passion is not predetermined, or unchangeable, or even all that important when it comes to one’s professional aspirations. And we’re not obliged to stay passionate about one thing or another (except, to a degree, in a marriage, but that’s a whole different blog). I find that people who are singularly passionate are actually not terribly interesting. So why, as a culture, do we continually build up this idea that everyone has the ONE thing they care deeply about, and THAT THING is what they should make into their job? Why is it that I can’t look at anyone’s Pinterest page without seeing some hackneyed quote to the effect of, “DO WHAT YOU LOVE, LOVE WHAT YOU DO,” or “WORK WITH YOUR PASSION, AND NEVER WORK A DAY IN YOUR LIFE?”

These kinds of quotes bother me for a couple reasons.

One: There’s really no good reason that your passions have to be included in your job, and several very good reasons why your passions can perform different, even more important functions in your life. Like, for example, a way to escape from your tedious job. Passions can change in both focus and intensity, and that’s OK. Unless, of course, you’ve built your entire professional life around them.

Two: They assume that you must be passionate about something, specifically something that you can make money with. In reality, capitalizing on something you’re passionate about might actually diminish your feelings for whatever it was that got you into the field in the first place. Some of my least favorite jobs have involved the most writing, because it was writing necessarily crafted to accomplish a dishonest, capitalist end.

Shitty truth: Sometimes, getting paid to do something you love will make you hate what you love.

This truth speaks directly to my final point: the ideal of the dream job ignores the fact that jobs exist in reality. Even someone who loves their job will hate it sometimes. I was fortunate enough to review rock shows for nearly four years. No, it wasn’t my day job, but it was a great job. And yet, there were times (late nights when my back hurt from standing and the beers at the venue were expensive and the drunk people around me were jerks who spilled vodka tonics in my hair) that I looked that gift horse RIGHT in the mouth.

Even the best job has bad days (I often think of the test driver for Mercedes Benz, on a day when he’s sick to death of new-car smell and would maybe just like to spend a day tooling around the Rhineland on his bicycle). Anyone who claims to love their job, every single moment of it, even if it is their dream job, is either stupid or lying. Jobs are a big part of our lives and life is complex… too complex to be happy all the time (another problematic ideal Americans seem to share). Conversely, even the worst jobs have good days. I was a temporary receptionist at a Methadone clinic for patients with HIV. The resolve of those patients, their desire to get through one more day, was inspiring in ways that still effect me, seven years later. A job is a job is a job. And passions are something else altogether. I think it’s time we realized that.

Posted in Postmodern Problems, Ranty, Serious Face, Working for a Living | 5 Comments

As a woman, a feminist, and a nerd, I’m begging of you… please don’t make The Doctor a lady.

Please… for this little guy.

I get it. No, really, I do. The idea of a female Doctor Who is an interesting thought experiment. Who would the companion be? Would a Time Lady brag of her escapades with the likes of Julius Caesar and Elvis? That sounds like fun. It really does.

But I really don’t think it should happen.

Here’s why: when I went to Denver’s Starfest in 2012, there was one little boy who came to the con in a different Dr. Who costume every day. Going all the way back to the Fourth. He couldn’t have been older than 11. And this year, there were even more little boys (and, yes, some girls) rocking their Dr. Who costumes, beaming gap-toothed grins as they pointed sonic screwdrivers at other Whovians, passing Daleks and the odd Cyberman.

My point is that Dr. Who is there for little boys who face a pretty grim selection of male role models on TV. Especially little boys, (like, I would hasten to guess, the one at the con) who are more mindful, sensitive, less physical than other boys. TV is a showcase of the worst expressions of masculinity, from misogynist douchebags (Don Draper, Daniel Tosh) to put-upon idiots (most sitcoms and cartoon dads). Even within the ever-growing “nerd culture” that is so well represented at places like Starfest, a pretty big contingent of male characters are hulking superheroes, up-armored soldiers and terrifying villains. In this swirl of violence, emotional illiteracy and unattainable physical standards, The Doctor is different. Yes, he’s supernatural, yes, he’s not actually human. And, I suppose you could argue that he’s an alien and his understanding of gender may transcend silly human binaries. But he represents a masculinity in which a man can think his way through situations he can’t just fight his way out of. He is complex in a world where men are cast in emotional black-and-white. He treats women with respect and care, and recognizes them as equals rather than damsels in distress. Yet, brilliantly, he does all of this without ever seeming like less of a “man.”

Of course I think there should be more positive female role models out there for young girls, who themselves face a dearth of complex, multifaced characters in both mainstream and comic/scifi/fantasy media. But Dr. Who, with his female companions, shows that women can be adventurers as well. The casting choices the show has made in regards to companions have broken from many standard “female” expectations for TV media. Companions have come from different ethnic backgrounds, different class backgrounds and different age groups than what little girls are typically shown on TV, and each one is equally as important to the doctor’s exploits. And, lest we forget, River Song… an intergalactic badass to give Ripley a run for her money. Would her character have had the same impact, had the roles been reversed, if a female Doctor had so beguiled a male River? Maybe. But I’m not sure.

I keep trying to think of what, exactly, from a feminist perspective, a female Doctor would accomplish. Would she show that women can go on adventures, too? The companions already show that. Would it prove that a female Doctor would bring something to the table that a male doctor couldn’t? Again, I think the companions already demonstrate that women can remedy the shortcomings of a male partner if needed. The show is already well beyond much of mainstream art and media when it comes to recognizing the strengths and contributions of women, and with the added bonus of demonstrating the sadly, still-radical notion that men and women can work together, platonically, to accomplish great things. It’s that dynamic that makes up the very emotional core of the show.

I guess one way to think of it is if they reversed the genders on other beloved characters. What about Wonder Man would be any different than, say, Superman? In her case, we’d just lose a solid female superhero and gain a pretty run-of-the-mill male one. I think the same could be said about the Doctor. I just don’t think there is enough to be gained by changing him to a her that it would be worth losing one of the few positive, emotionally nuanced, intellectual masculinities young boys are exposed to.

If that little boy from Starfest were my little boy, (and let’s face it… if hell froze over and I did have a son, that would absolutely be my little boy) I would hope that he would still love the Doctor just as much if he came back this time as a she. If the little girls who idolize The male Doctor are any indication, it shouldn’t be unacceptable for little boys to idolize a female one. But a part of me would be sad that my son had lost a man like the Doctor to look up to. The world needs more men like him.

Posted in Gender Blender, Nerd Up, Pop Pop Pop Pop Culture, This is What a Feminist Looks Like | 3 Comments