Cluster-F’ed

I’m not sure what I can say about the toxic train disaster that is the United States Congress that hasn’t already been said. As it stands, the federal government, the city of DC, and the livelihoods of millions of hardworking American men and woman are being threatened because a small but vocal minority of members cannot get it through their tiny thick skulls that they lost. THEY LOST. The Affordable Care Act is law, and not just a law, but a law that was actually challenged by the Supreme Court, and is STILL A LAW (and the exchanges will, in fact, go into effect tomorrow). This is behavior that would not be acceptable in daycare, and before I’m accused of liberal demagoguery, I’d say that for either side. I said that about the election of Bush in 2000. We lost then. I didn’t like it, but I live in a democracy; one of the primary features of a democracy is that sometimes the other guy wins.

I really can’t even begin to articulate my deep and abiding disappointment in this situation-it’s not even anger anymore, it’s just head-shaking fundamental incredulity. How is this a fucking option? We are still in a recovering economy, so let’s effectively lay off millions of workers. For me personally, this is troubling. Despite being well-educated and having a well-paying job, I live alone in DC, which is to say, paycheck-to-paycheck. I’m not the only one, by far. Where I am luckier than most is that I have some savings and a family I can fall back on. But my mother, also a government worker, is in the same boat as me, except, oh wait, she’s essential, so she has to show up and not get paid, whereas I can sleep in and sit in my jammies. The irony here is the shutdown caucus has actually managed to turn very driven, very passionate government employees into the lazy collective suck they’ve always claimed was rampant in this hulking bureaucracy. As it became more and more clear over this afternoon that a shutdown would not be avoided, drink specials, West Wing marathons, and all many of wonky, dorky, free or reduced cost activities started popping up on DCist, WashPo, HuffPo, and Prince of Petworth (or Popville, or whatever the hell they’re calling it now). We shall drink as Rome burns.

Because there is a part of me, the super-liberal part, that hopes we do shut down. Shut the motherfucker down. Stop cowtowing and appeasing and just watch that fire burn. You wanted a shut down, you get a shut down. Let’s see what happens when the non-essentials in your district can’t keep the lights on. Let’s see how quickly you come to the table when you can’t get the trash taken out here at your DC pied-a-terre. Because that’s the other thing that’s happening: District Feds are getting doubly screwed, because our city services are predicated on a Congressional budget. Again, and I know I keep saying this: PEOPLE LIVE HERE TOO. Real Americans. Me. I live here. My friends live here. PANDAS live here, for pete’s sake. Red fucking pandas, and they’re not getting the care they need.

And so I still, despite a very robust and active revenge streak, hope that we’ll reach a solution tonight. Because all across America, people live here. People who need jobs, and social security checks, and milk, and road improvements, and passports. Just normal people, who elected other people to help take care of them, and who are finding that they’re well and truly F-ed.

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On Being a Bitch

I used to think that I was a post-feminist. Having not experienced much in the way of sexism, I felt like maybe that was all behind us. That would be part of the vanguard of a new, non-gendered workplace, where ideas bred merit, not genitals.

Then I started working. Turns out I’m smack dab in the middle of that same double bind that trapped our mothers: how to be confident and competent in the workplace without also being deemed a bitch.  My boss is a woman, but otherwise I am the only woman on my team, which is to say, all of my lateral coworkers are men. Now, these are good guys. They work hard, they help each other out, they are shoulder to shoulder with me in the trenches, day in and day out. I like these guys, and I think for the most part, they like me.

But because of my relationship with my boss, and because we are very similar in style, I become the de facto deputy when she’s out of the office. Part of it is that I abhor a vacuum; if no one is in charge, then I’ll be in charge. But I’m put (or I put myself) in the uncomfortable position of asking people to do things when I have no real authority over them. Nevermind that I know the most about the various projects. Nevermind that I’ve been in the office the longest.  I’m still left emailing every hour like a beggar trying to get the stuff I need.

Which means that when I get a response at 4pm to the thing I needed by 11am, I’m not in the best of moods. At this point I’ve sent 3 emails and left a voicemail, each one making me feel like a nag. In my mind it’s a lack of respect, but I know that’s not true. I say please, I say thank you, I appreciate the help.  But when that’s not enough and I need to get firm, they look at me like I hit a puppy. Then I get curt replies, and I’m left feeling badly, because I wasn’t trying to be mean, I was just trying to do my job.

Not to mention the meetings. I was in a meeting yesterday where the most senior member of our team took a seat at the table, and the rest of us were on the back bench.  But every single question he was asked, I had to answer for him. I was actually approached by another woman in the office and asked, a la Sheryl Sandberg, why I didn’t take a seat at the table.  In this particular instance it was because there were no seats left when I arrived, but when I’ve done it before, I can literally feel this guy next to me deflating in his seat. I’m a castrating bitch, and all I did was show up.

I could just not give a fuck. That’s certainly an option, but since I’m obviously bothered enough by it to write this blog post, that’s probably not going to work for me. I could just decide to not be as competent, and focus on being liked. But as must as I crave approval, I want to be successful as much, if not more.  I refuse to accept that there’s no middle ground.  I want to be good at my job. I want to be warm and compassionate, but also efficient and effective. I want us all to respect one another. What strategies do you all have? How can we help each other?

In the Shadow (with apologies to A.S.)

By now I’d imagine that you know DC had a pretty shitty day. It appears that a man named Aaron Alexis walked into his workplace and killed 12 people before being killed himself, by police. His workplace happened to be the Naval Sea Systems Command Center, smack dab in southeast DC, in a gentrifying neighborhood called Navy Yard, or Barracks Row. It’s near Eastern Market, and I’ve spent more boozy brunches and drunken afternoons flea market shopping there than I can remember. It seems ridiculous that such violence could happen mere feet from such a vibrant, joyful neighborhood.

I work at a Federal facility, being a Federal employee and all. I too have to show and swipe a badge, a badge that indicates my name, office location, my date of service, and my security clearance levels. Every morning I swipe, show my badge to an armed guard, and walk through a turnstile, just like Alexis and his coworkers did. No one looks through my bag, the thousands of dollars and weeks of effort to clear me before I joined the ranks having thought to be enough. Although Alexis was a contractor, they still have a rigorous, sometimes more rigorous screening process, especially for facilities where no electronics are allowed, like NAVSEA. What this means is that Alexis was one of their own. One of our own, if we’re talking whole of government. We vetted him. We trusted him. People may make a lot of out the fact that we don’t have bag searches, but bag searches would belie the notion that we only hire people who are trustworthy.

Perhaps it was for this reason that this morning’s events shook me. Granted, this was not on the scale of the Boston bombing, and thankfully nowhere as tragic or extensive as the Newtown shooting. The city continued to go about its day; the Senate, that part of DC, and Reagan National were shut down, but only briefly. By evening rush hour everything was running on time, and I was able to make it to trivia as planned. I expected people to be talking about it everywhere, but nowhere did I hear word one. Not on the bus, not on the train, not at trivia. Not on facebook. It wasn’t a defiant silence, it was like people hadn’t noticed. This evening there was a metro train delay due to a small garbage fire, and nothing was said other than the grumbling about why the train was waiting at the station. When I explained that all the firemen they saw running around were there to put out the fire that was delaying us (that being the primary job of firemen), all I got was an eye-roll.

Listen, I won’t pretend to know what’s going on in anyone else’s mind or heart. Maybe I’m taking this too personally. Everyone I know who works there or knows people who work there is fine, except for the trauma of returning. Certainly some of the people I encountered today were here on 9/11, when a plane slammed into the Pentagon and the city really did shut down. Maybe this seemed minor in comparison. But I seriously doubt it was minor to the twelve families who won’t be greeting their loved ones again. I bet it seemed pretty fucking major to the workers running for their lives, sailors and civilians alike, who have a reasonable expectation of safety in their supposedly secure workplace.

I don’t really know what I’m trying to say. I’m sad, is all I suppose. I wonder if people seem to care less because it’s Washington, because we exist in the minds of most of the country, and maybe even most of DC itself, as a powerful people playground in Homeland and Scandal and Covert Affairs, and most recently in the book This Town by Mark Leibovich. But I know that This Town is a Real City. Ten small square miles of actual, non-represented United States citizens. Not just home to political football throwers and power-brokers who trade on Real America while spending next to no time there, but full of real Americans. The twelve people who died today may have been good people, or bad people, but they certainly were not the “problem with Washington.” Despite the indifference I encountered today, DC is full of men and women who for the most part work very hard for the rest of the nation, and try their damnedest to be the committed civil servants they came here to be. Yes, there are careerist douchebags, yes there are liars, and thieves, and greedy bastards, but almost every person I’ve come to know here is a person of conscience, of real character, and true devotion to a cause larger than themselves.

All those twelve people wanted to do today was go to work, and work for others. That’s worth noticing.

A Change in the Light

Today has been a doing day. All day long, from one task to the next. Albeit these were fun tasks, mostly: making sweet potato gnocchi for the first time, pickling my first batch of okra. Giving myself chemical burns by not using gloves when I chopped and deseeded a bunch of jalapenos. Do, do, do. Da, da, da. 

So when I arrived home at 6:45, I put a kettle on to make some more mint iced tea, my current obsession, downed a couple of glasses in front of the sink because I was feeling dehydrated, and noticed that the light in the living room was just perfect, that pre-sunset warmth that makes everything feel gentle. I thought I would lay down on the couch and do nothing in the light. 

But first I had to run into my bedroom to change, and check the new fixture my landlord had put in the bathroom, and read a quick article. And by the time I got back out to the living room, a mere 10 minutes later, the light had changed, the sun had gone down, and I’d missed my golden moment. 

There will always be just one more thing… be present. Be present. Be present. 

Next Year in Ikaria

By pure happenstance today, I heard of the Greek island of Ikaria. I’ve been fantasizing about traveling to Greece for years, but the thought has finally wormed it’s way down from my brain into my heart, and 2014 is the year. Apparently on Ikaria, people are living far longer than almost anywhere in the world. There are various reasons why, plant-based diet, lack of stress due to old world style living and few amenities (read: technology and fast food) but the reason can be sort of summed up as community. People in Ikaria live, eat, worship, and experience life en masse.

For Americans this is anathema, and for some good reasons. We’re a fiercely independent people, and each man and woman should be able to live as they please (to a point, which varies, depending on where you fall on a spectrum from liberal to libertarian). Buying into the collective was not how we came to be a world power; multiple points of view duking it out for the best option, the Team of Rivals brand of democracy, this is how we got where we are.

But the funny thing is, where we are is maybe too far. No, I’m going to state it unequivocally: it’s too far.

Each self-serve experience (e.g., frozen dinner, starring at the ipod over it) is one that takes us further from one another. Further from the choices (good and bad, I suppose) that can influence us, further from understanding how small we really are. Someone once explained to me that needing other people wasn’t a weakness, it was a sign of big dreams. Anything that can be accomplished all alone is likely a small accomplishment, in the scheme of things. Big dreams, big purposes, this required a whole team of family, friends, partners. A community.

Today as I walked about, I noticed the number of people with their heads in their phones, their ears plugged with earbuds. I know I sound like your angry grandpa, but what I really thought about was the number of missed opportunities. What if you were standing next to the potential love of your life, parent of your future children, but neither of you ever met because you were reading buzzfeed and he/she was listening to FUN. Instead of having fun. I’m guilty of this too, make no mistake. I try to fight it, but the inexorable pull to know what’s happening elsewhere is strong. Often stronger than what’s happening in the present, especially when the present is waiting for something else: a bus, a train, a drink, a job. Tom Haverford on Parks and Rec (which I watched on my iPad this morning, just to prove I’m not a total Luddite) puts it best when he says “The truth is, I spend a lot of time looking at screens because recently a lot of the stuff in my real life isn’t going that great so I’d rather play DoodleJump than think about that, ok?”

No, Tom, it’s not ok. I don’t want to get to 65 and wonder what the hell just happened to me. I don’t want to be chewed up by the machinery of the 80 hour work week only to succumb to stress and lethargy-based disease. I don’t want to live apart from my family, in the way that many of us push off our elders into increasingly smaller spaces because having them around is a reminder that death comes for us all.  I know I’m romanticising their way of life, but I want to live like the Ikarians. I want to eat food I grow with people I love and live to 100 because I simply forgot to die. I want to have big dreams, and team of oxen in the shape of my friends and family to help me get there. I want to help them get there too.

I’m telling you now that I’m going to Ikaria in 2014. I hope you join me.

 

Sunday Supper: Put a Carbonara on it

Hello friends. I’m a bit…under the weather… Last night was the EPIC wedding of E+E, a friend from college and her girlfriend-now-wife who welcomed me into their life and introduced me to their circle of friends when I first came to DC. Whether they know it or not, their friendship, and the friendships I’ve made through them, are what rooted me into the city when I was more than a little bit lost. It’s rare that when you are friends with one person, you like their significant other just as much, developing your own friendship with them together and separately, but with this particular power couple I hit the friendship jackpot. Congrats, ladies.

Due to the aforementioned…illness….I’m feeling like comfort food. Salty, creamy, starchy-so carbonara. Carbonara is the “put a bird on it” of food preparation.  I have a friend that feels strongly that almost anything can be carbonara’d, and she’s not wrong. Pasta+fatty meat+egg+cheese=delicious, regardless of whether it’s bacon, parmesan, whatever. She is a wonderful cook, and has helped me through more than a few kitchen conundrums. Earlier this week she got some news of the sort that makes you want to punch a wall, and then crawl into the hole you made, and spackle it up behind you. But she didn’t, and she hasn’t, and I’m proud as hell that’s she’s my friend, so this bowl of gooey cheesy goodness is going out to her and hers.

This has been a weird, up and down week for the people in my life. I feel helpless, and angry, and joyful in turns. It’s a spinning feeling, but gratitude is the fixed point I can stare at until things right themselves.

Home Cooking

I missed Sunday Supper this week as I was on a trip back to Rhode Island to visit with some of my best friends from law school, including K, from And Then (because my link function isn’t working, find her at http://andthenblog.com/ ). Rhode Island is the Ocean State, but we spent minimal time there due to torrential downpours basically the whole weekend. While I was bummed to miss out on the waves, the ocean generally being my favorite thing, the weather availed us of plenty of opportunities for cozy conversations about the eternal question: what’s next?

It seems everyone I know is in a season of change. We are all feeling a sort of low grade malaise, akin to a fever, that agitates and irritates us to action, and yet we remain stuck. Part of it is not knowing what we want to do (my problem), part of it is needing to build up the right series of steps to get there (K’s problem). But we’re all struggling with the feeling… is this all there is?

I discussed this with my friend EC last night, and she very adroitly pointed out the luxury of this sort of inquiry. We’re no longer trying to figure out who we are (as we were in our 20s), we’re trying to figure out what we want to do with that information. As she put it, we will always want to edit.

As it is wont to do, my mind drifted to cooking, and how you build on a recipe over the years. When you just start out, you follow the steps left for you, but as you grow more confident, you wonder if a dash of this or a pinch of that might result in a better end product. And then your tastes change, and maybe you don’t want to make that thing at all any more. We have all started out with one set of ingredients (our upbringing, our past, our education, our jobs), but that doesn’t mean it’s all going to turn out perfectly. The trick is in the tempering, by fire, by heat, by pressure, until we’ve arrived at the thing that works, at least for now. We’re home making, and home cooking. Constantly.

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