PMF

Did I ever tell you how I got to DC?

I really, REALLY wanted to be in DC after law school. I knew in my heart, the way I always seem to know things in my heart, that DC was the place for me. It was young, vibrant, intellectual, driven, and home to the newly elected President upon whom so many hopes and dreams of my generation rested. Part of it was that the West Wing literally got me through law school, on heavy rotation in the background of three years of back-breaking study. Part of it was a the calling to civil service, a product of an inborn patriotism and a desire to make a real difference in the country. And part of it was that I needed to live in a city, a truly big city with traffic and noise and difficulty, to prove that I could.

So despite having a clerkship lined up, I sat for the Presidental Management Fellowship exam, without fully understanding what it was. My career services counselor told me it would get me to DC, so I took the test. And suddenly, a first for my school, I was a Presidential Management Fellow, or PMF as an acronym, which the government would prefer you use at all times. PMFs, I would learn, are part of an “elite” cadre of graduate students who are recruited, via standardized testing, to join the ranks of the federal government straight out of school. For two years, in exchange for your aptitude, your energy, your new ideas, you are promised an opportunity to rapidly climb the later at your chosen agency, go on exciting details and extended rotations to other agencies, and basically write your own ticket in the federal government upon finishing the program. PMFs, I was told by those in the know, really stood for Prestigious Mother-Fucker. It seemed that after months of praying to somehow get to DC, I had won the life lottery, and my prize was a job-unicorn.

As I’d done twice before, I packed up all my things (well, to be fair, my friend Amber packed up all my things) and moved across country, ready to start my new life, my new job, my new everything. I was a PMF, dammit, and shit was going to start happening. I had ideas, and youth, and vitality, and the government, that monolith, wanted it all.

I won’t bore you with the details of how it all started to unravel. How I didn’t realize for a month that the reason I didn’t understand anything was that no one understood the jargon, they just repeated it. How I was told that my promised, exciting rotations would be internal to the agency. How the only use I got out of my law degree was trying to help my coworkers defend our right to an external rotation based on the PMF guidelines. How once we had convinced them that the law had an actual meaning, I had to claw tooth and nail to get a rotation that almost ended up derailing my entire tenure with the government because the agency HR rep responsible for affirming my PMF completion didn’t understand the difference between the branches of government. I won’t tell you about the casual sexism, the busy work, or the way I was constantly told to pay my dues and follow the status quo, despite being hired to do exactly the opposite. I could tell you many things, but they would sound better over drinks.

In hindsight, I should have known better. The PMF Orientation that year was held at the sight of the Battle of Gettysburg, in a hotel that had no internet for the 300 government employees that needed to check their Blackberries constantly throughout the 4-day training just to justify leaving the office. We were sent to Gettysburg, in December, to reinact Pickett’s Charge, as an exercise in transformational leadership. To do this, they made us run a mile, up hill, in sleet. When it was suggested that maybe, as professionals, we not run outside in sideways freezing rain, we were informed that we were being called to rise above the weather, just as Pickett’s men had done. Nevermind that Pickett’s charge happened in the scorching hot sun of July. Nevermind that they were fighting for slavery. Nevermind that Pickett’s charge was one of the most spectacular military failures of all time.

I suppose it did the trick; if I ever find myself in the position of a Confederate General, I’ll have the leadership skills required to lose a war.

During the farewell dinner, the guest speaker, who, being smarter than us, had simply taped an address, said that she hoped we could all feel the President deep inside us. The only redeeming thing about this hotel were the $2 Yuenglings, so we all found this deeply, deeply funny, in the midst of our drunken, wet, despair. Because what this introductory experience had told us was that we were sold a bill of goods. These people didn’t know what they were doing, and they certainly didn’t know how to motivate or support us. They didn’t want our ideas, they didn’t want our energy, they didn’t want our aptitude. Perhaps the lesson was that we, like Pickett, needed to rise above the external challenges put before us. But we, like Pickett, were doomed to failure.

Today was my PMF graduation, and at it the keynote speaker spoke of patience. That we could change the government, but we couldn’t do it over night. We couldn’t do it in 2 years. Maybe we couldn’t even do it in 20, like he’d been able to do. He spoke with great skill of how the government needs our energy, our youth, our enthusiasm. All the things we had heard years before. He didn’t speak of how that same bureaucracy worked from day one of our fellowships to beat that out of us. It is a cruel thing to siphon people away from other things, from non-profits and NGOs and even the private sector, where maybe their talents and tenacity would be appreciated and used, with the promise that this would be just as good or better. Patience is a virtue, but I have been patient. I have paid my dues. I have fought for myself and for my fellows. All I want to do is to do good work, and it is the thing that has been the least wanted from me.

So what’s the point of this story, other than me just kvetching that my dream job wasn’t so dreamy? It’s this: I was sitting in a room today with 100 of this country’s best and brightest, and every one of us was pissed off about how things had gone down. That sort of discontentment does not bode well. And I know this isn’t just the government. I’ve heard my friends from all sectors complain of the same things. There’s too much disillusionment and disappointment out there in this generation, and even more in the one after it. There has to be a better way. I would like to find a better way, and I would like to find it together. What do you say? Will you join me beyond the jargon, beyond the business cases, beyond the motivational speakers and trust falls? What could work be, if work were better?

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A Quick Word on the Demise of DOMA

YAY!

There’s really nothing else to say. ūüôā

Thirty One

If your 20s are about finding yourself, your 30s seem to be about making peace with what you found.¬† As of today (my birthday)¬†I’ve spent one year in this illustrious decade, and here are 31¬†things (in¬†no particular order)¬†that I’ve decided to accept about myself:

1. I don’t like to exercise unless it’s disguised as necessity or play. So, walking 3 miles across town or swimming in the ocean, these I’ll do everyday. Treadmill? Die. We need to figure out a way to make it ok for grown adults to play on a jungle gym. I would own that shit.

2. I’m passionate about food. Cooking it, buying it, eating it, making it, sharing it. I spent much of my youth apologizing for and hiding this passion, but as Rumi wrote, “Let yourself be silently drawn by the strange pull of what you really love. It will not lead you astray.”

3. I like TV. I would like to be one of those people who doesn’t watch TV and instead downloads esoteric podcasts about the plight of rural Andean farmers. But I’m not. I like sitcoms. I like cheesy nighttime soap operas. I like hour long spy dramas. I don’t actually have cable, so I feel like I’m fine.

4. I’m afraid of¬†your baby. I don’t understand it.¬†I’m always surprised when your baby seems excited to see me, and when my uterus responds in kind. I don’t know what to do about that. I know that when I have children I will be the most insufferably, self-deluded, my-baby-is-like-the-sun-in-that-you-shouldn’t-gaze-on-him/her-too-long Frankenstein’s Momster, but truthfully I find babies boring and not a little bit frightening (not just yours, all of them). ¬†I won’t tell you that, because I wasn’t raised by wolves, but please accept my smiles and nods and presents at appropriate junctures because it’s the best I can do, I promise.

5. I came to DC because of the show The West Wing. I have unbridled child-like excitement when I’m invited to the White House for the opening of an envelop, let alone an actual meeting, and working on the Senate floor never once lost it’s awe-inspiring charm. In this town it’s easy to become jaded, or at least play at being jaded, because everyone has been everywhere and knows everyone, but the truth is, no, they haven’t, and it certainly doesn’t make a damn bit of difference when you are actually at the White House. So I’m going to be excited. It’s exciting.

6. I am both sensitive and easily riled. It is easy to make fun of me because I will rise to the bait every. single. time. I feel it happening. I can’t help it.

7. I don’t bake. Cooking is fluid, flexible, open to interpretation. Baking is chemistry, and just like in high school, I¬†find it to be¬†a boring chore that never produces the results I’m after. (Caveat: Michael Pollan’s book Cooked is maybe *maybe* turning me onto bread making. We’ll see.).

8. Relatedly, I’m not crazy about sweets. I mean, every so often I’ll go for something, but I will take an entire bag of potato chips over a cupcake any day of the week. I once ordered a hamachi appetizer in lieu of dessert at Le Cirque. That’s how much indifference I have for dessert, I would rather eat raw fish.

9. I hate leftovers. I get a weird joy out of throwing old food away. I think it comes from my childhood, where both of my parents were leftover lovers. Unless you can repurpose it, that shit is getting thrown out. This is why I make meals for myself one serving at a time, and why while I am a foodie and I love to cook, my refrigerator is invariably empty save for some lemons and a bottle of sriracha. I am a slave to my cravings, and I never know what I want to eat before I want to eat it.

10. I refuse to buy into the tyranny of breakfast. I will starve myself all day because I¬†want to eat a giant meal at 8pm and no other time. People who eat at 5pm confuse the hell out of me-what do they do with the rest of the night? I recognize this¬†is literally the worst possible way to eat food. Somewhere Jillian Michaels is doubled over in pain and doesn’t know why.

11. I’m late. Yes, I know it’s rude. Yes, I know it could be interpreted as me not caring about you or your time. That isn’t it, I promise. It’s me. I always try to fit one more thing in, usually for the person I’m meeting. But still, I know how it looks. And I appreciate the hell out of the friends who just put in a buffer for me. Thank you.

12. I do not have pretty feet. I have barefoot farmhand feet. They are super gross. I try to make them presentable with cute shoes and pedicures, but at the end of the day I’m not winning any awards. But they get me from point a to point b with agility and efficiency, so they do the basic job of feet, and that is sufficient.

13. I actually like what I look like in my underwear. I’m a bigger girl, for those of you who don’t know me. A size 16 on a 5 foot frame does not a super model make. But despite what Maxim might suggest, I feel comfortable in my skin.

14. I will not camp.

15. Relatedly, I do not like the rain. I’m fine with not going to things because it is raining. In the mid-Atlantic you might as well call Spring Monsoon season, and waking up day after day to dreary dampness is a bummer. I’ll be inside watching reruns.

16. While I like getting glammed up, I’m at my zenith of happiness when wearing flip flops, or maybe even barefoot, and in a housedress or bathing suit cover up. If there’s a bathing suit involved, more’s the better.

17. And on that point, jeans are not comfortable. I’m confused by people who wear jeans from morning until night. Don’t you want to change into play clothes? Pre-jamas? I shake my head.

18. For me, money will take up whatever space is available. There’s always something to buy. This is perhaps the thing I most would like to change.

19. My birthday is really important to me. Really, REALLY important. I understand that might not be appropriate on a 30-something, but I don’t care. To psycho-analyze myself, I think it comes from being an only child and having a summer birthday and never knowing if people would show up, but now I find myself surrounded by caring friends, and it’s still a big deal.

20. I secretly want crazy long decal-covered acrylic nails. I know that my look is pretty classic, but there is a part of me that really wants fuchsia hair and diamond-encrusted plastic fingers.

21. I like Jimmy Buffet. It reminds me of being on the beach with my parents on vacation growing up. His music has always been a part of my happiest memories. I just wish he’d do fewer duets with Toby Keith.

22. Similarly, I like Dan Brown. It’s cheesy, I grant you, but as much as I like high-brow non-fiction by the aforementioned Michael Pollan, David Sedaris, Sarah Vowel, and Rachel Maddow, I really, really enjoy a convoluted mystery-thriller/historical fiction (emphasis on fiction). There’s nothing better for a beach read.

23. I love being a lawyer, but know that I don’t want to practice law.

24. I cannot keep salt and vinegar potato chips in my house. I will eat all the chips. All of them.

25. I take the elevator to get to the Metro. The escalators are a time-wasting ass-ache. Of course I let people who actually need to use the elevator go first (see above in re: not being raised by wolves).

26. I hate texting. It is the death of real communication, especially in dating. Also, you kids get off my lawn.

27. I’m snarky. I have a good heart, but I’m 5 feet of sarcasm and bitter wit. I want to be more vulnerable and tender, but like a hedgehog, but first instinct is to be spiky. But eventually I’ll let you pet my belly.

28.¬†¬†I often have to tell people that I am complimenting them, because I tend to think odd things are attractive and appealing. I like the things that make us all unique, the things that are weird and quirky. These are often the things that people least like about themselves, but they shouldn’t.

29. I can no longer rage until 5am. I tried just this last weekend. I fell asleep while waiting for the after-party to start. Staying up all night should happen organically, sneaking up on you.

30. ¬†I take on ambitious projects without knowing how to finish them. I leap before I look, mostly because I often have to force myself to stop the constant over-thinking but doing something big, like move across the country or go to law school…

31. I am privileged and blessed to live in a country where I have both time and money, be a member of a family that encourages me, and be friends with people who will indulge my navel-gazing enough to read a 31 point list of things I’ve learned about myself.

Hard Body

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what it means to be a woman. What sort of woman do I wish to be, how do I wish to show up and be present in this world as a woman. But as I went further into the thought process, I realized that what I have really been asking myself is this: how do I make myself a more attractive girl.

I’m 30 years old. By any biological definition, I am a woman. I have been,¬†technically, since reaching menarche at the now-alarmingly young age of 10. So, arguably, I’ve been a woman for 20 years, but I’ve spent all of that time trying to figure out how to be something else entirely, which is a girl. A girl, being, by definition, a proto-woman. A not-yet-woman. And not in a “Girl Power” Spice Girls sort of a way, in a how-can-I-seem-eternally-young-and-perky-and-pretty way. I’ve been willfully attempting to return to an amoeba level of female expression.

Gross, right? I didn’t realize I was doing this. I thought I’d been embracing all that I am, the mature, serious, sharp, funny woman that I am. But when I got honest with myself, I realized that I’ve been rejecting her, fighting her, trying to minimize her, both in physical and figurative presence. To put it in Mad Men terms, I’ve been a Joan trying to be a Megan and showing up as a Peggy (NB: Peggy’s been wicked awesome this season, so I might be fine with that…we’ll see what happens with her and Ted).

So what is this girl-privilege that I’ve been slave to? Where did I get the idea that being a woman was less attractive, exciting, enticing than being a girl? Probably because I’ve spent most of my life fighting my body, the place my womanhood lives,¬†trying to return to some sort of nostalgic place of youth and beauty, that may have reached it’s zenith one afternoon when I was 14.¬† It sounds ridiculous when I write it down, to think that I’ve spent the last 16 years fetishizing my own body at 14.¬† But I would imagine that most women reading this know exactly what I mean.

Our bodies don’t exist for us simultaneously with our minds. They are out there somewhere, often plotting and planning against us. It’s not Our Bodies, Ourselves, it’s Our Bodies vs. Us. There’s a quote by Naomi Wolf from The Beauty Myth, an old quote (2002), but one that has resurfaced recently on the interwebs,¬† that goes thusly: ¬†“A culture fixated on female thinness is not an obsession about female beauty, but an obsession about female obedience. Dieting is the most potent political sedative in women‚Äôs history; a quietly mad population is a tractable one.‚ÄĚ Dieting is just one of the things we do, but it’s as good a stand in as any for the multitude of behaviors we use¬† to self-flaggelate. To punish ourselves for being ourselves. Think of all the time you’ve spent hating your body. Or, even if you haven’t, add up all the time you’ve spent comparing it to other bodies. With that amount of time we could have collectively solved cancer, cold fusion, and how to make Sherlock stay on for longer than 3 episodes a season. That lost time could have made us powerful. But instead we used it to make ourselves smaller, more diminshed. As they used to refer to it, reduced.

I’ve recently realized that for me¬†this¬†has translated into¬†a nearly life-long quest to make my body more like my mind. Because here’s the truth folks: I’m possessed of a soft, luxurious, spacious body, and a sharp, tight-cornered steal-trap mind. ¬†When you see me on the street I don’t know what you would think, but you probably don’t think¬†“this comfortable-looking woman¬†will use the word “fuck” within 3 minutes of meeting me.”¬†I have a bosom. I realize I’m only 30 and not your Italian grandma, but thar she be.¬† I am built more like the Venus of Willendorf than Venus Williams or the Venus de Milo. I’m not happy about that. I want to be, but I’m not, and for this reason I’m as guilty as any for privileging the mind-believing like gospel that willpower and habit¬†could save me¬†from the temptations of the flesh, whether those be food, drink, sex, lounging around in pajamas like Olivia Pope, whatever. I’ve certainly privileged my mind¬† by¬†beating up on my body for not being disciplined, for succumbing to things as base and banal as cravings.¬† I’ve tried to silence my body even as she sighed and moaned and tummy-rumbled in protest.

But my body, she won’t be silenced. She won’t be stopped. She is an animal and she perserveres. My mind may become confused and fall into fatal traps of comparison, but my body, she keeps on going, pulled into the joy of a good meal and¬†a warm embrace, the sunshine on her limbs and the sea air in her lungs. My body, she is happy. She is not small. She is not reduced. She is expansive, and open. She could teach my mind a thing or two.

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