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a little bit more about me

My name is Beth and I accidentally have found myself living in Arizona but I'm originally from Tennessee. My education is in history and anthropology, which means that I know a little about a lot of things and can hold my own at a cocktail party in mixed company. I work in museums, doing all sorts of things ranging from researching and writing exhibits to cataloguing absolute wickety wak. I love comedy, baking, photography, my daughter, dogs, and above all else, napping.*

* 2013 edit: Oh yeah, and my new son too.

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    Entries in work-life balance (6)

    Sunday
    Apr222018

    Balancing my current work with my future work goals

    A few days ago, I told my child's teacher after I completely spaced the parent-teacher conference we had scheduled, "I used to have my shit together, and then I became a parent. But I guess 6 years in to this parenting run, I suppose I can no longer claim my new normal is temporary." She didn't know me in my pre-parenting days, when I really was on time to things, and even occasionally organized. A time when I could string thoughts coherently, er, string coherent thoughts togetherly. 

    While I don't think I can get back to being on time or organized, I intend to regain my identity as a blogger. No, not some bullshit microblogger or #sponsored content provider or mouthpiece for a giant brand. After all, how is blogging for someone else any different from what I do now: writing web content for my employer?  My blogging goal was always to gain just enough independence that I could at the very least downsize from my full-time gig, carving out a bit more space for my creative work, whether that brought me income or not. (The answer is most definitively not, if you were wondering). When that didn't happen - and life happened simultaneously - it became necessary for me to reallocate how I used my time.

    I've had an autoimmune disease for 11 years. Or maybe I've had it for a lot longer, but I got diagnosed when I was 30. For awhile - like, say, in my adult years prior to having children, I could manage my depleting energy levels by taking a nap on the weekend or even catching a nap before dinner on weeknights. But over time, I guess as I get older, between working 40* hours a week and parenting, there's very little time for me to ever feel "caught up" on my energy. And being tired all. of. the. goddamned. time. means that I have so little ability to clear the brain fog, nevermind the energy once the brain fog may have cleared to do anything. 

    * Now let's talk about that 40 hours a week thing. I used to work 40 hours a week. Then I kept getting much more interesting work, and I was actually legitimately one of those gross people who claim to like their jobs (because I did). So losing sight of my personal goals didn't blip much on my radar at that time a couple of years ago because I was engaged and fulfilled at work with intellectual and writery challenges. But during the past two years, my good work means that I've been promoted a time or two...and tasked with larger projects...that take up more mental energy...with less actual *time* during the workweek to tackle those projects. So full-time work became more, like, well, let's just say more than 40 hours a week (and in academia, so without the pay to reflect that).

    So working more left even less time to devote to my stuff. Yes, some of the bleed-over of work hours into *my* time is my own fault. But I'll also point the majority of the blame right back on the higher ed industry, an industry that relies on churn-and-burn, hardly-paid adjuncts like My Better Half. It seems like a dicey endeavor to disengage when you are the sole source of income in your household for a family of 4. And/or have a complicated auto-immune disease that insurers know better as a pre-existing condition in this era in which it is unclear whether insurers will cover your care. To sum it up: I found myself with almost no energy, nor much mental clarity, but tethered to a job that had begun to eat up any of my free time.

    I'm working on that last one, though. For the past few weeks, I've put strict boundaries on my work hours and will truly only commit to 8 hours a day, walking out the door at 8 hours and 1 minute. Which has begun to give me a little breathing room for places like my new work blog and here. (And, to be honest, the capacity to start looking for other, higher-paying work, as putting job applications together takes energy, mental clarity, and time. With more money could come more freedom...)

    Thursday
    Sep042014

    duct taping it all together

    Here it is just after Labor Day and I have no idea where summer went. Oh, wait, I live in PHX so for all intents & purposes, it's still here, sticking its ugly thumb in my eye until at least Halloween. But the "fall" semester descended upon us a couple of weeks ago, and it is the. last. fall. semester. ever.

    Or it was supposed to be.

    My Better Half™ was supposed to graduate in December. Now that's up in the air. His committee needs time to read the thousand pages he's written or some sh*t like that. Can't they just nod and go to their happy place like I do and sign something that says "yeah, whatever, sounds good, nice work!"? The point is that the patience that I had allocated to get me through one last semester of nonstop thinking anxiety about what the job market will hold for him and him stressing 24/7 about final edits and graphics and keeping up with all the department and graduation paperwork, and Oh yeah that whole what the F*CK to do after graduation needs to be spread out even more. Our idea that we would be able to reclaim more work-life balance and spend more time together as a family doing fun stuff has been pushed out to an even more distant horizon. 

    I've been doing my best to deal with that. Deep down I'm pissed. But deep, DEEP down, I'm still pissed but also part of me is the tiniest bit relieved that he won't graduate until May because 1) it will look less bad to not have a job a year from now when you've only been unemployed since May (on paper anyway) and 2) the job market BLOWS so who cares? What's the rush? The past couple of years, the academic job market has been great solidly not sucky in his field. If you're a bioarchaeologist. (He's not). This year it seems to be decent marginally not sucky if you're a cultural anthropologist. (He's not). But it doesn't stop my brain from leaping ahead and connecting the dots unnecessarily. When the job alerts that we're subscribed to come in, I find myself going "would I even entertain living THERE? what about our house, what about our kids, what about my job?" before I even get to "Desired Qualifications: Active research agenda in race and ethnicity, sociolinguistics, and award winning publications in the economic exchange systems of Sons of Anarchy." I mean, come ON! Now if it were just Game of Thrones Beheadings he'd stand a chance... But at least the piecing together consulting + adjuncting work here is the devil we know, the job market is a complete unknown. 

    What's made all that harder even still to deal with has been just a lot of adjustments in my personal life. This time around, I'm really feeling the isolating effects of having a baby. Part of it is I have very little energy left over after a long workday & two kiddos 3 and under, so I can't summon the energy to think about what there is to go do, nevermind go do it. I'm just tired. All. The. Time. Also, just the timing of where our kids are at socially. Baby is at the peak of separation anxiety and requires being held at all of the times. So it's just not all that fun to go out with them - I have to hold him. And when we do go out, Dawdler Toddler Preschooler stands frozen in place, clinging to my legs because she's around "strangers" (i.e., anyone she doesn't live with), so I can maybe get in 90 seconds of adult conversation at a time. And we almost never, EVER get to go out without them - it's just too much money for a sitter when you're only one full-time income and have 2 kids in daycare and no family nearby to dump the kids off with. I think we've been out once without the kids since Baby was born. Which will be a year ago in 3 weeks. (Or should I also count the time we used a sitter for us to have a date night the night I was IN THE HOSPITAL GIVING BIRTH? So twice then?)

    Part of it is just the rhythm of life with a baby (not just particular to our current financial & geographical circumstances). You find yourself housebound when the baby's asleep. In other words during the very same block of time you could be getting something done, you're stranded inside your home seeing as Child Protective Services doesn't look too kindly on leaving the little ones at home alone while you run errands. Thank God for the interwebz...but there's only so much shopping and reading and movie watching you can get done online. Amazon's not all that convenient when it's milk you need FOR YOUR COFFEE or library books to return. And when you can venture forth, you're got a little person (or in my case, two) attached at the hip, so heading to that new movie you're dying to see or out with friends for a beer is not in the cards. And even if you can get out every once in awhile, social things can just be such a pain in the ass when you have to lug around a diaper bag stuffed with diapers, changes of clothes, hats, sunscreen...I'm cranky just typing a list never mind hauling it all around. As a result, all my "free" time becomes the spare moments I have for errands + gym + fun. In other words: no time left for fun 99% of the time.

    And do I even need to mention life in Arizona during the summer? It might be fall where you are, but here it's still 109 out there. Or so I hear, since I am too scared to peek out through the blackout curtains. People hole up indoors and/or take a bunch of time off to get the hell away from the Death Star. It should go without saying that I've been avoiding Face-stagram all summer because I'm seething with jealousy at all my friends' trips to California, Hawaii, the beach, hikes in Flagstaff, and everywhere else that isn't 109. So between the isolation of being at home with Baby and being indoors while it seems like the ENTIRE rest of the world is out having a blast has taken its toll. I guess while much of the rest of you get seasonal affective disorder from gray wintry days, I get it here from all the sun. I like a nice sunny day here & there. But it's hard to appreciate when you're living on the surface of the sun. It is relentless - brandishing a hole in my retinas and a deep resentment in my skin expressed by eleventeen million new freckles every month. I need weather. I need seasons. I could more easily accommodate living here if I ever got to escape and experience weather that would make me more appreciative of what I'd be coming back to. But since we're still living the grad school life, there are no funds to get us out of here from time to time. Since I'm long winded today, I'll also save you the details of our car troubles, too. As in: much of the summer spent WITHOUT AIR CONDITIONING in our one and only functioning vehicle. Bottom line: it's hard to get out of the house, which feels really isolating.

    You know what else feels isolating? Not being in sync with your friends. Our closest friends have all moved in the last 2 years. Every. Last. One. And now I'm struggling with knowing where to find our kind of peeps. We find ourselves gravitating more and more towards hanging out with the parents of our Dawdler Toddler Preschooler's friends because if nothing else, they get the whole kids thing. The whole there is a naptime and a bedtime, and it's tough to get out during those times and no, we can't wait til 11-ish on a Sunday at a hip restaurant for an hour to have breakfast because we'd all be dying from our kids' whining us to death from low blood sugar. I've been trying to make new friends at work. And, uh. Yeah, see? That's about the only place I go besides the gym. But, it's slow and hard, and y'know, just takes time even when you do make a work friend. Which I haven't really yet. 

    So I've been holding it all together. Trying to just make my way from work to the gym to daycare. Repeat. It's been going o-kaaayyyyy, I guess, but not great. I think that all of these things will get better soon. But I just don't know when "soon" is. 

    Friday
    Apr252014

    Bringing children & work together every day

    Yesterday, at least at my workplace, was Bring Your Child to Work Day. It was also, at least in my job, Bring Work to Your Children Day. Aka Thursday. Aka my telecommuting day.

    I think when you say 'telecommute' a lot of people picture some kind of tech startup employee who works from cooler-than-thou hipster coffee joints all day. In my case you should envision me surrounded by the detritus of toddler & baby toys trying to respond to emails with one hand while nursing and shushing Baby with the other, sipping room temperature coffee all day (so as not to burn Baby when he inevitably flings his hand into the mug sending its contents all over my applesauce and GoGurt-encrusted jeans). I've telecommuted one day a week ever since the nearly 3 year old Dawdler was born - and it was fine when it was just her. Now my telecommuting day just feels so overwhelming. It's impossible to compartmentalize anything. I'm trying to work while also pick up the ever-growing clutter around the house, I'm trying to put away laundry amidst work and a crying Baby, and I'm trying to convince the toddler Dawdler to shuffle off to daycare so I can focus on only two things at once, with the ability to give neither my full attention.

    It's nearly impossible to give my full attention to anything at all anymore, least of all myself. I get it, it's a mom thing to never have any time to myself, but for crying out loud, I've got to find some time for myself. At my cubicle, I'm occupied with work. At home, I'm occupied with the kids. And during the rushed commute in between? I'm trying to slough off the day's work and get into parenting mode with no space for my own occupations in between.

    I have turned to working out before to solve this problem and decompress. Before I had kids, I went to the gym every night right after work before I got home. Now that just seems unfair to My Better Half. Right now, he has the responsibility of getting the kids up, dressed, fed, and off to daycare (and in the case of Baby, full-time parenting some days of the week), on top of adjuncting and trying to write and make dinner and. And, and, and. So it feels awfully selfish of me to tack on an extra couple of hours to his days to stop off at the gym for myself. When I explained this to someone, they said "oh! So that's just mommy guilt! You gotta shut that sh*t down."

    Please don't 'just' that. That 'just' you threw in there implies that it's all in my mind, that it's 'just' a small problem, that it's insignificant. Baby is now 7 months old and I've never managed to get in a single workout or find any regular routine of time for myself since he was born. That doesn't feel insignificant. Sure, it's true that this is just a phase, as my mom says. But it doesn't feel temporary living in the midst of this phase.

    So until I can sort this out and/or afford a gym membership, you'll excuse me while I carve out time for myself at the bottom of this bag of Pepperidge Farm Molasses Crisp cookies. It's 'just' one bag. A week.

    Friday
    Mar162012

    So Much for Montessori

    As Baby approaches 1 year, I had started to put out a few feelers for Montessori or other nursery schools. It seems ridiculously early, I know, and I never ever wanted to be a parent putting my Baby (and myself) through the agony of long waitlists, auditions, and just otherwise stupid antics. (At least not until kindergarten anyway).

    But the reality of living in a big city (or, for all I know, anywhere these days, thanks to the general sh*ttiness of education in American public schools combined with the parenting instinct to give your child the greatest advantages in life that you can) is that you gotta start early. The highly rated preschool for 2-5 year olds on campus? Yeah, they have babies on their waiting list who HAVEN'T EVEN BEEN BORN YET. So when my dreams of having Baby right here on campus with me, learning and developing at some beautiful, highly respected, preschool of excellence were squelched? I decided I needed to get on the ball if she was going to end up in any halfway-decent school someday. So, dear interwebz, that is how you may find yourself, like I did, on the path to becoming the very person you despise, but let me continue.

    I know what I envision when I think of shipping Baby off to preschool is a nurturing environment very much like the one I grew up in (I went to a free-choice nontraditional elementary school, way back before it was cool). A learning environment you just don't see in public schools. And second, I know everyone thinks their school systems suck, but Arizona's really, really suck. Getting her into a good school in Arizona is probably equivalent to getting her into the most mediocre of schools pretty much anywhere else.

    But, dear reader, I know this will come as a shock, but my research shows that Montessori caters only to elitist, pretentious, upper middle class folks. In other words, whitey. Without exception, the Montessori schools here are:

    1. At least as expensive as infant daycare. For half days. 
    2. Unable to define "half." Without exception, all define a "half day" as fewer than three and a half hours.
    3. Unable to accommodate demand, and so implement all manner of pretentious interviews, evaluations, and auditions.

    So the expectation is either that I am ridiculously wealthy and can afford

    • a nanny for the rest of each day once the 'half' day session is over, or
    • daycare for the rest of each day
      • Well, that, and a chauffeur, because it's not like I can dash out of work at 11 a.m. to go pick up my kid who I couldn't drop off before 8:30 so that I can then shlep her from nursery school to daycare, or
    • to not work.

    Even though the educational credentials and teachers may impress me, none of what I've seen sits well with me. I can't afford it and I can't beat myself up because I can't afford it either.

    People act like the whole working mom thing is hard due to the emotionally and culturally-fraught decision of whether one's identity as a woman who has offspring is tied up in what one does not accomplish at home because she works or what she does not accomplish at work because she is home. No, at least not for me. What is difficult is that the choices for high-quality childcare are so prohibitive and few and far between that only the parents who are both: financially *able* to not work AND also choose not to work have access to the quality of early childhood ed I would want. 

    Anyone out there wealthy enough AND willing to sponsor me? I'll gladly stay at home AND ship my kid off to an excellent program. Anyone?

     

     

    Friday
    Jan202012

    All This Thinking is Counter-Productive

    Yesterday's work day was simultaneously one of the best and worst work days ever. Our network was completely down (and remains largely down today), giving me a very limited subset of tasks I could work on. Simple tasks that I blew through in just a few minutes. So I basically goofed off on the web all day.

    I feel guilty about that in the sense that I know I'm not getting paid to just goof off. But I also feel guilty about it in some other, more profound way. That I don't give a sh*t that that's how I spent my day.

    After months of un- and under-employment in 2010 and 2011, I finally landed this job. And I was, and continue to be, grateful for that. Even more grateful for the fact that I was more than 6 months pregnant when I started here. And that my workplace is so accommodating and understanding of the new rhythm of my life. Like needing some time to adjust to the schedule of getting to work with pants on. I have a lot to be thankful for: I have an amazing boss. I make a decent living. I have benefits. But I don't love my job. I don't love the line of work I'm in. It just doesn't excite me or inspire me. If it's too much to ask to do work that you're really designed to do, that you are enthusiastic about, that provides the work environment and work style you desire, and at which you are driven to excel, then honestly? I'd rather just be home with my baby.

    Having nothing to do but idle time to pass away in my cubicle yesterday was not a good thing because it sent me down a path of re-examining my career and life path yet again. I sat there in my cubicle thinking. And while thinking may be dangerous, it's all I could do. Well, I mean, besides watch youtube videos of dogs.  Or babies. Or dogs and babies.

    The result of all that thinking was a deafening cry inside my head: I want to be productive. I want to work hard. But I want to work for myself. If nothing else, if I worked for myself, woke up one morning, and the network was completely down? I wouldn't sit there and stare at a blank screen all day like an automaton. I'd go out and live life. Read, nap, go for a hike, take a scenic drive. The possibilities are endless. Bonus: a little break would have reinvigorated me for when it was time to work again.

    Coincidentally, I happened to read a blog post last night by someone who talked about losing his job suddenly and needing new work ASAP, who wrote "All I need is to be working with smart passionate people, flexible hours and the ability to work from anywhere. A cubicle is my death. I’ll take it if it’s all I can find, but I’d prefer to work from home and fly anywhere for meetings/face to face time." Well said, my friend. I work in a cubicle, though that, in and of itself is not the problem. The last museum I worked for, I worked in a cubicle and worked with some of the most talented, funny, amazing coworkers friends ever. If we could have run away to found our own creative firm offering our services as a web designer, writer, graphics/visual artist, and editor, I totally would have. Except that we would have needed insta-clients, and lots of them, because all of us have piles of bills to pay.

    Some of it has to do with the stupidity of playing working by the rules. Whether it's that I have to show up & sit here in a cube for 8 hours even though none of us can get to a single work file, or that I can't install Flash because I don't have Admin user privileges even though I produce Flash videos for my job, or that I can't listen to music on my computer even though I work at a music museum, whatever the workplace is, it has inane, inexplicably dumb rules. I want to live life by my own terms and work by my own rules. Work when I'm ready to work, rather than staring at a blank screen trying to get motivated because I haven't yet had my coffee and had to be at work at 8:30 even though I've been up with a baby since 3:30. Or that I didn't get to bed with the baby til 3:30. Cuz everyone knows, if you work from 11-7, your quality of work is just total sh*t compared to the quality of work you produce on no sleep between 8:30-4:30! Write about topics that I'm interested in, rather than digesting & regurgitating the most boring information to a general audience. And produce deliverables that match my expectations of high quality rather than pass off "meh, it's ok, but at least it's on time" stuff because of someone else's constraints.

    That could be the biggest thing. There's nothing more frustrating at work than having to compromise, or even abandon your vision. That's been one of my frustrations with everywhere that I have worked since grad school: not being in control over the quality of the work products I deliver. In grad school, I was in total control over the quality of my research sources, the level of my analysis, and the craftsmanship of my writing. But working for someone else is a whole different story. It's awful to have a product "represent" you that you don't feel is the type or quality of work you do best. Because I have worked only for nonprofits, I'm always on a shoestring budget, but I don't always know the external constraints. Like when your boss tells you you've got a $25,000 budget for an exhibit, and you spend $4,000 only to be hauled into her office and told that you've "gone over budget." How? Because she was working on the assumption that $22,000 of that "budget" was for your own salary. (And you were working on the assumption that budget = money one can spend. Because that's what the word means). Or how you get "voluntold" at work to produce a professional instructional video in 3 months but you get told by the videographers that they can't work you into their schedule in that time frame, so the best they can do is hand off some B-roll footage and let you work your own magic. When you're in control of your own product, you know what's within your abilities and limits and don't overextend that by taking on projects and agreeing to ideas that compromise your vision. And you're clear on the rules of engagement. 

    Here's the thing: I feel like I finally deserve to find work that works for me. Until this job, I spent my work life trying to make a career out of museum work, and it's just not there to be made. Museum work is tireless, thankless, and undervalued. It demands a lot of your time, your efforts, your patience, and your resources, but does not deliver equivalent opportunities for personal and professional growth, upward mobility, and, most importantly, work-life balance. Sure, you can rise through the ranks. Either incrementally and over a long period of time, working your way up in a large institution where you must summon the patience to spend years doing menial work that inexplicably demands a Master's degree waiting for a vacancy for which you have been groomed over time to materialize. Or you may rise through the ranks at a tiny institution well before you are equipped with the skils, abilities, leadership, and network to tackle the frequently insurmountable problems of a small and increasingly irrelevant institution. I gave both a shot, and neither path worked out for me.

    Then, when I was laid off by the last museum, I spent my time scrambling, trying to find any job that fit my existing skill set, hoping things would work out for the best. And the side effects aren't shabby: a steady job that uses the skills that I learned used in museums - research, writing, editing, teaching, and a little design  - a decent paycheck with benefits, and the best boss I've had since 2006.

    But I want more. I don't want to try to squeeze myself into a new career that doesn't fit me exactly right. All that thinking time yesterday reaffirmed that I've got to figure out how to make my next work move be to work for myself.