----------------------------------------------- */ ----------------------------------------------- */ ----------------------------------------------- */ ----------------------------------------------- */ ----------------------------------------------- */ ----------------------------------------------- */ The Fabulous Adventures of Astera: Writer/Actress for Hire: December 2004

The Fabulous Adventures of Astera: Writer/Actress for Hire

Meet Astera (aka: me), a star in her own mind. Our plucky little heroine has embarked on not one but two difficult, low-paying career paths: writing and acting. Witness the menial jobs! The unreasonable demands! The quirky friends and family! And the glimmer of success just ahead! Through it all, Astera maintains her core beliefs: 1) She is destined to be fabulous 2) Everything is more fun with a cocktail.

Wednesday, December 29, 2004

New Year's Eve!

Wow! For once, I actually have plans for New Year's Eve! I was browsing through some listings on TicketWeb and I saw an event that looked cool. When I told my husband about it, he got all excited. We're going to see the Reverend Horton Heat and the Kitty Kitty Bang Bang burlesque girls at Bimbo's on New Year's Eve.

I am excited because this will be one of our first big dress-up outings in the city since we got married. Plus, it gives me another chance to wear my fabulous red cocktail dress, and as an added bonus, it forces my husband out of his t-shirt-and-jeans uniform. (The event is black-tie optional, so he'll be wearing his suit. He looks quite delectable in it. I just wish he would dress up more often.)

Anyway, the stage is set for a fabulous adventure. Cheers, everyone!

Tuesday, December 28, 2004

"Happy" Holidays

Last night, we sat down to watch the first two episodes of Arrested Development from the season one DVD box set I gave my husband for Christmas. I had never seen the show before, and I must say, I think it should be required viewing around the holidays. I know it made me feel a lot better about my crazy family. Compared to the characters on the show, my close relations don't seem half-bad.

I really do like Christmas, but this year tested my good cheer. As you all know, I am no longer employed, which actually worked out quite well because I had plenty to do to prepare for Christmas. All that gift-buying and house-decorating and cookie-baking takes up a lot of time. And it's all stuff that I enjoy doing. But I began to get the sense that my gainfully-employed husband was taking advantage of the situtation, especially once I realized that I had purchased all the gifts that we would be giving out. Not just the ones for my family...all of them. I had to shop for gifts that I thought his parents would like, with very little input from him. Luckily, they liked what I had purchased, but of course, he got most of the glory.

To be fair, my husband did do a few things in preparation for the holiday. Here is a complete list:
  1. Accompanied me to purchase Christmas tree and tied said tree to roof of car.
  2. Carried tree to house and inserted it into tree stand.
  3. Scanned wedding picture onto computer for Christmas card.
  4. Picked up finished Christmas card from Coscto.
  5. Purchased Christmas gift for wife.
  6. Vacuumed house.

Six things. I do appreciate his help on those six items, but let's just say that the list of things I did to prepare for Christmas was significantly longer and included the aforementioned gift-buying, along with decorating the tree, addressing all the Christmas cards, wrapping all the gifts I purchased, tidying the house and cleaning the bathroom in anticipation of his parents' arrival, and many other chores.

As Christmas Day approached, the tension in our house thickened. My husband spent hours mixing a CD for a friendly competition that he and his friends do every year, and I began to wonder, if he had so much time for computer work, why he couldn't spend more time helping me out. He claimed that work on the CD was a creative outlet and was something he loved to do, and it was unfair of me to ask him not to spend time on it. That I could understand. But when he combined that reasoning with complaints about the fact that he was being forced to spend Christmas with my very ill grandparents instead of getting to watch the Lakers vs. Heat game...well, I became resentful. And it's hard to have good holiday spirit when one is feeling resentful. Then my mother-in-law arrived.

I like my mother-in-law, I really do. But her arrival just ratcheted up the tension another notch. Things came to a head Christmas morning when, after opening our gifts to each other (which were very lovely and thoughtful, by the way), my husband said that we needed to go pick up his mom from the hotel so she wouldn't be alone. Fine. No problem. Perfectly understandable. But why did he then freak out when I wanted to stop by my parents' house to say hello to everyone and eat some delicious homemade cinnamon rolls? It was all too much.

I thought perhaps that things would get better once the actual Christmas celebration was over. Alas, they did not. My mom invited everyone over for breakfast the next morning, which was very nice of her. But then, when we got there, she was a total stress-ball and yelled at everyone to get out of the kitchen and just go sit down. Once we were all seated, we should have had a pleasant and delicious meal. But talk quickly turned to our future plans. My parents wanted to know what my husband and I planned to do about our living situation--we rent a very nice condo, but my husband doesn't like the town. He wants to move farther south, which is fine with me, although I am quite sick of moving every year. Eventually, we want to buy a house, so we can't spend too much on rent, either. Then my mother-in-law wanted to know if we were considering other opportunities outside the area, which we are not. I have no plans to leave California, which I told her, only to have her retort that I didn't know what the future would bring and just because I wanted to stay in California didn't mean that I could if another job opportunity came along. Well. I know where I want to live, and to me, that is more important than reaching the next rung on the career ladder. Besides, San Francisco, L.A. and New York are the major hubs for the creative work that we do, and we've already decided that we're not going to New York and we're sick of L.A. Why? Why must people assume that I don't know what I want or what I'm talking about?

Things finally settled down that evening when we all went to see a movie. Then, the next day, my mother-in-law left and my husband began to return to his normal jovial self. I, too, relaxed and stopped being an emotional shrew. One of my good friends came over and spent the rainy afternoon with us and we shared a bottle of wine and watched Arrested Development. And now everything is much, much better.

Family is great...in small doses.

Thursday, December 23, 2004

Christmas Cookies

One thing I love to do around Christmas is bake cookies. I haven't baked too much this year, but today I made a batch of chocolate chip cookies. Not to brag or anything (well, okay, to brag a little bit), lots of people tell me that my chocolate chip cookies are the best they've ever tasted. So, I thought I would share my baking secrets.

One of the most important (and underrated) aspects of good cookie-making is having the right cookie sheets. I used to have the best cookie sheets, and they were just a no-name brand, but they consistently turned out good cookies. They were all ugly and stained and scratched up, though, so I gave them to my 18-year-old college student brother (I'm so generous), thinking that I'd get new, better ones as a wedding gift. That did not happen. Today, I used a thin, shiny silver cookie sheet, and I had to throw the whole tray away. I did have an Anolon tray that worked pretty well, but it's not a true cookie sheet. Still, on the Anolon tray, the cookies browned evenly and released easily. Think about it...even if you're just making break-n-bake, a good cookie sheet will make your process much easier.

I know the premade dough cookies are quick and painless, but there is still no comparison to made-from-scratch. You will be able to taste the difference. And today, even with my failed batch, it only took me about 45 minutes to make fresh, hot cookies--and that includes clean-up time.

So besides having a good cookie sheet, here's what you have to do: Stick to the Toll House cookie recipe. It is the best. But here are some things you should know: first, you have to use REAL BUTTER. Don't try to make these into some low-calorie, low-fat abomination. They are cookies. They are supposed to be decadent. If you just want something dietetic, go buy yourself a box of Snackwell's and save yourself the bother. Okay, so you use two sticks of real butter, and you have to soften it first. It needs to be soft, not melted. I accomplish this by taking the butter out of the refrigerator a few hours before I'm going to bake, but you can acheive the same effect in the microwave, as long as you work slowly. Oh, and you should use unsalted butter whenever you're baking. The Toll House recipe has salt in it, and if you use salted butter, the cookies could be too salty. An added bonus to using butter: it's less likely that the cookies will stick to the pan.

You also need to use real vanilla extract. The artificial stuff is cheaper, sure, but it really doesn't taste as good. Why try to fake it? Oh, and make sure not to mix up your baking powder and baking soda. You need baking soda for this recipe. When you measure out the brown sugar, pack it firmly. If your brown sugar is hard as a rock, you'll have to go out and buy some new. And next time, keep it sealed in a plastic bag so it will stay soft.

Once you've got the dough all prepared, measure it out onto your quality cookie sheets with a little ice-cream scooper. That way, you'll get cookies that are the same size, so they'll cook more evenly. And the dough comes out of the scooper easily, so you don't have to keep pushing it off the spoon with your finger. You do that, and next thing you know, you've eaten most of the dough. (Not that there's anything wrong with that...I secretly like the dough better than the finished cookies!)

Bake the cookies as directed, but check them even before the nine-minute mark. They could be browning too quickly, especially if you're using a dark pan on the top rack of the oven. And in just 30 seconds, these cookies can go from golden brown to burnt. What a waste! Once you've pulled them out of the oven, let them cool for a few minutes, then remove them to wire racks with a spatula. But if you don't have wire racks, just put them on a plate. But try not to pile them on top of each other or they'll all stick together. You should have a little metal spatula to lift the cookies off the sheet. A big one will work, too, but if the cookies are close together on the pan, a big spatula will be harder to manuever.

So that's it. Those are my tips for making truly excellent chocolate chip cookies. To recap:

Necessary equipment:
Quality cookie sheets
Small ice-cream scoop
Small metal spatula

Necessary ingredients:
Everything that the recipe calls for, obviously, but make sure to use real, unsalted butter

Bake these for your boyfriend or husband and he will think you are a domestic goddess. Or just a goddess. Whatever you prefer.

Wednesday, December 22, 2004

Hand Cramp!

Well, the holidays have me swamped. Between buying gifts, decorating the house and baking cookies, I have been very busy. I feel so domestic! The freelance work and a job interview today have added to the general hubbub. Too bad it wasn't an interview for a good job.

I would write more, but my arm is totally cramped up from writing thank-you notes and Christmas cards. Yes, thank-you notes. Our wedding was in October and I still haven't finished them. Miss Manners would smite me if she knew. Part of the problem is that my husband refuses to help, claiming that his handwriting would render the notes illegible. Well, after I've written so many, my handwriting is nearly illegible, too! But apparently he thinks that thank-you notes are "women's work." I also had to buy all the Christmas gifts for his family and mine. But I guess I can't complain too much, since he is now the sole breadwinner for our family. How quickly I have reverted to a pre-feminist expectation of wifeliness. On the plus side, he frequently cooks and does the dishes, so I don't feel too opressed.

More holiday cheer tomorrow, chickadees!

Monday, December 20, 2004


You know what I hate? I hate it when people deliberately park over the line so that they take up two (or more) parking spaces. The worst offenders seem to be ginormous SUVs (F--- you, H2!), but anyone in an ostentatious new car is at risk for this kind of obnoxious behavior. Porsche owners, BMW drivers, Mercedes aficionados--you know who you are. I have never understood this type of behavior. Well, of course you don't want your shiny new car to get all dinged up. But aren't you just advertising the fact that you have a fabulous new car by parking it in such a noticeable manner? And therefore, aren't you just asking for someone to make mischief? When you take up extra parking spots in a crowded parking lot, you're going to piss someone off.

But here is the craziest thing: The other day, I saw a car parked right in the middle of two parking spots. The car was centered directly over the dividing line! And, okay, I do have a miniscule degree of sympathy for people who own really expensive cars. It would cost a lot to get those dings fixed, so I understand why they want to be careful. But this car that was parked in such an egregious manner was a Ford. To be more specific, it was a Ford Focus. And not even a brand-new one, either. It had definitely seen better days. I think it had been in a serious accident already. Honestly, people. If you drive a crappy car, you have no right to try to "protect" it by taking up more than one space. That's just sad.

While we're on the subject, here's another thing I hate: those BMW 318 TIs. They're just so silly! It's like, "Hey, look at me! I wish I could afford a real BMW, but I can't. This is the best I can do, but I'm so obsessed with labels and status that I hope you'll think I'm moneyed and sophisticated anyway. Please, please, please pay attention to me!" Why bother? If you really, really want to drive a BMW, why don't you just save up for a more impressive version. Those things look like toy cars, and not in a cool way like the Mini, either.

Okay, that's my rant for the day. (So far...you never know what might set me off this evening!)

Saturday, December 18, 2004

A Cautionary Tale

Thanks to everyone who has written in support of my blog and expressed shock over my firing. Well, it's really not that shocking, unfortunately. It's happened to several other people. Don't believe me? Just click here and here. So yes, Another American for Facts-Based Government, it could happen to you. But I firmly believe that bigger and better things are in store for me. For instance, I have some freelance work lined up for next week, and in two days, I'll make nearly as much as I made during a week at my old job. So there.

Okay, say you have a blog and you do not wish to be fired from your job. Here are some tips:
  1. Do not let anyone at work know you have a blog. Do not even talk about it at work. Do not tell someone about it over the phone...your co-workers are evesdropping! (I think that may have been my downfall.)
  2. Absolutely do not write in your blog while at work. Do not even write a draft. They can, and will, track your Internet usage.
  3. Do not visit your blog during work hours. See above.
  4. Do not write about work in your blog. I know, I know, it provides such ripe comedic material. But trust me, they will find out. And they will recognize themselves. And even though you have a right to free speech, they have a right to fire you at any time, for almost any reason. (Well, in California, at least.) So if they don't like what you're saying, be prepared to pack your things and go.
  5. Do not let on that you even know what a blog is. If one of your co-workers brings up blogging, feign total ignorance. "Blog? What's that? Some kinda new-fangled slang word? Heck, I don't even know how to download my digital photos to my computer! Emailing still befuddles the heck out of me! I sure as shooting don't know anything about this blog of which you speak." (Countryfied accent optional.)
  6. Use a fake name. Change all identifying details to protect the guilty.
  7. Do not post your picture in your profile. Do not post any pictures of yourself or any of your known associates on your blog, anywhere. Practice total deniability.

Oh, would that I had followed these suggestions! Actually, no. Strike that. If I had followed my tips, then I'd probably still be stuck at a job I hated and I wouldn't have time to do any fun things, like Christmas shopping. So, it's all for the best. If you hate your job, definitely ignore my suggestions. But if you want to keep your job, ignore them at your own peril. But seriously, this is it about my ex-job. That time is dead to me. Dead, I tell you!

Wine Tasting in the Valley

The in-laws are in town this weekend. That's so strange--it's the first time we've seen them since the wedding, so it's the first time I've called them that! They're actually really great. I know I'm lucky, because I've read a lot of horror stories in the chat rooms at The Knot. So, anyway, it was a beautiful sunny day and the in-laws were fleeing the miserable cold that is a Minnesota winter, so we decided to go wine tasting. We've taken them out to the Napa Valley before, but they definitely enjoy their cocktails, so they were up for another outing.

I tell you what, I think that wine-tasting around Christmastime is going to become our new holiday tradition! Normally, the valley is packed with tourists in the spring and summer months. Today, we had the wineries to ourselves. People were appreciative of our business, and everyone was in a festive mood. Then we drove up and explored all the cute shops in Calistoga, and on the way back, we drove down Highway 29 and saw all the pretty twinkly lights on all the wineries.

So, in honor of today, here are a few of my favorite wineries for wine-tasting. They are all on the Silverado Trail, the lesser-known side of the valley. Many of the big name wineries are on Highway 29--Beringer, Cakebread, Coppola. We call that side the Disneyland of wine-tasting. Seriously, trying to get up to the bar at Coppola is like being a pig pushing for position at the trough. Good wine, bad experience. And if you go to these wineries, you'll seem more in the know. Perfect for impressing all your pretentious friends with wine snob tendencies! Bonus points if you can pass for a local-- they'll ask you to fill out a comment card, and if you put down a Napa address, you just might get your tasting fee waived. (Hint: The ZIP code is 94558.) In the busy months, you need a reservation at many wineries, so be sure to plan ahead!

Astera's Favorites:
1. Duckhorn
This place isn't on a lot of the tourist maps, but they make excellent (though pricey) wine. And their tastings are nice, because you get a little bottle of water labeled "Duckhorn" and they give you little crackers to eat. Their red wine blend, called Paraduxx, is nearly $50 a bottle, but it's worth every penny. My mom doesn't even like wine very much, but she won't refuse a glass of this. They're up in St. Helena, hidden just off the Silverado Trail on Lodi Lane. Drive slowly or you'll miss it.

2. Steltzner
Good wine, friendly staff. If you show an interest in their wines and their methods, they might open up some of the "special" bottles for you. The pinotage, a varietal from South Africa, I believe, is really delicious. The claret makes an excellent table wine, and the merlot port is like dessert in a glass. Alas, no food at this place.

3. Rutherford Hill
I like this winery for several reasons, but mainly for their tolerant attitude toward drunkeness. Let me explain: I attended their Halloween party in the caves this year with my brother and my husband, and I perhaps overindulged in their delicious Cab and the new port release. I was dressed as a "sexy nurse," and I apparently lived up to my costume that night. My husband claimed that I practically gave him a lap dance, but I maintain that I was just in an exuberant mood. However, I did fall down in the parking lot, but I think that's just because I was wearing really high heels. Anyway, everyone at the party was great, and they all seemed to think I was just adorable, so that earns them points in my book.

But in all seriousness, they have excellent wine, especially their Sangiovese. And if Bob is pouring, make sure he pours for you. He is funny and knowlegeable and will sometimes break out the secret stash. Definitely sample the zinfandel port, and make sure they give you some chocolate-covered blueberries to go along with it. In fact, buy some and take them home. They are sinfully delicious!

4. Reynolds Family Winery
I like their cabernet quite a bit, and their location is lovely. Also, one of the guys who worked there was wearing one of those Lance Armstrong "Live Strong" bracelets--you know, the stretchy yellow ones that are so popular--and we got to talking about who we knew who had cancer and when I told him that I wanted one of those bracelets since I was a cancer survivor, he gave me his, right off his wrist. I thought that was super-cool.

5. Quintessa
Everything about this place is overpriced, but if you can afford it, it's a fun thing to do once. Their tasting costs $25, compared with $5 at most of the other places ($10 at Duckhorn, but they're worth it). That's pretty steep, although you do get a tour of their vineyards and the caves included with your tasting. And it's interesting to hear them talk about their biodynamic principals of farming, even though some of it might sound like witchcraft. The tasting is really nice, though, because they give you different cheeses and crackers and even some quince jelly, which was lovely. A bottle of their wine is nearly $100, though...for that price, I'd much rather have two bottles of Paraduxx! But go on a nice day and enjoy the beautiful views from their vineyard. Definitely make a reservation. I think tastings are only offered twice a day, and you have to sign up in advance. Oh, and if you can arrange to get engaged while you're on the tour, they'll refund your fee and give you a free bottle of wine. We saw it happen.

So there you have it. Five lovely wineries on the Silverado Trail. Now you can pretend like you're a wine big shot and impress all the out-of-towners. Works for me! (Well, that, and the fact that my family is planting a vineyard. That adds to the cachet somehow. Look for us just past Soda Canyon Road, next to the little Soda Canyon Store. We'll have fine cabernet in about five years!)

Oh, and in case you're wondering why I'm home blogging on a Saturday night instead of out having a fabulous adventure, it is because I sampled too much wine and overindulged in a very fine dinner at Bistro Don Giovanni. Now I have a bubbly stomach and I must lie by the fire, reading magazines and having my husband cater to me and stroke my hair. Oh, the agony!

Friday, December 17, 2004

O Christmas Tree

A couple of nights ago, my husband and I put a crackly log on the fire, drank Snugglers (hot chocolate and peppermint schnapps...yum), listened to Christmas carols, and decorated our Christmas tree. (Side note: "husband" seems like an awfully grown-up word. So does "wife." I don't feel that old yet!)

Anyway, as we decorated, I thought about how exciting it used to be to go pick out a Christmas tree. When my brothers and I were little, my family would all pile into the Chevrolet Caprice Classic station wagon (it's as big as a whale!) and head on out to the Christmas tree farm. It always seemed like such a long drive, but I think we only went to Petaluma. Chris and I would sit in the "way, way back" and make faces at the cars behind us. Once there, we'd clamber out of Big Blue, and Chris would run off with my dad to pick out the saw. I'd usually head for the free candy canes. Nick would toddle around looking at the "aminals"--they had sheep and some chickens, I think. My mom would have some hot cider and look at all the Christmas crafts for sale.

Once we had the serrated blade on a stick, we'd tromp off through what I thought was wilderness, but what I now realize were neat, carefully planted rows of Douglas firs and blue spruces. I never understood why the saw had to be so big. Maybe it just seemed tall to my 11-year-old eyes, but I remember it coming up to my dad's chin. Of course, he's not a very tall man. We'd roam around looking for that perfect tree. This one was too tall; that one was too sparse. Finally, as we kids were starting to get cranky, we'd find it--the perfect specimen. It would be full and lovely and fragrant, and we would chop it down! My dad would do most of the sawing, but Chris and I would get to place our hands ceremoniously on the stick. Nick was too little. My mom would be much occupied by taking pictures at this point. In fact, I think the three of us kids standing triumphantly by the tree we were about to cut down was a shot that made it into at least one Christmas card. Once the tree had been felled, we would load it up onto a cart and drag it back to the entrance, where it would be wrapped in netting. Chris always pushed for flocking, but my parents only gave in once. It was too messy and too expensive, they said. I think Chris just liked saying "flock." After much grunting and muttering, my dad would get the tree tied to the roof of the car, and we'd be on our way home, hands sticky with tree sap and candy-cane residue.

How things have changed. As an adult, my experience picking out trees has been very different. The first year I lived in L.A. after finishing grad school, Sarah and I decided to get a tree for our apartment. We set off in my car and drove by a number of skeezy-looking lots before we came to one that was run by Boy Scouts. There were no acres of wilderness to roam here--trees were simply propped up willy-nilly. We found a good-looking tree in about 10 minutes flat. Then we realized that we had no aptitude for tying a tree to the roof of my car. Luckily, the Boy Scouts were there to help. They put the tree in a van, and then a den mother drove two of them to our house to drag the tree up our stairs and set it up in our apartment. I remember that these diffident, pubescent boys seemed inordinately frightened by me and Sarah. Perhaps they thought we would try to tempt them with Christmas cookies and then lure them into our lair and have our way with them. Please. I did have a tendency to date younger men, but not that young.

My next few tree-hunting experiences in L.A. were much the same--find a nearby lot, pick a tree quickly, have some strapping young man tie it to the roof of my car and drive very carefully back home. The trees were usually more than half dead by the time I got them, and by the time it was time to undecorate the tree and put it to rest, there were more needles on the floor than on the branches.

I thought that maybe now that I was married, we'd go and cut our own tree again and restart that beloved tradition. What I had forgotten is that Greg really isn't a big fan of Christmas. I think it's because he comes from a broken home. He agreed to get a tree with me only grudgingly, and when I told him that Target usually had good prices, he said, "Let's go there." So, we piled into my Toyota Camry (it's as big as a baby narwhal!) and drove two exits down the freeway to Target. Our condo is small, so Greg said we could only get a five- or six-foot tree. Target's selection was quite limited and picked over. There were only about 10 trees in that height range. Greg picked up a few, turning them this way and that, before saying, "This one looks good." And it did look good. The thrill of the hunt was gone, but it was a perfectly nice tree. Just 20 minutes later, we were on the freeway headed back home.

Although picking out a Christmas tree doesn't have the mystique it once did, I still love to decorate for Christmas. And maybe once we have kids, Greg will relent and drive us all up to the Christmas tree farm to let us cut down our very own fresh, Christmassy-scented tree. But that's a ways off. And besides, once the tree is glittering with ornaments and twinkling with lights, it's beautiful no matter where it came from.

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

Random Observations

  • I just spell-checked my last post, and "blog" came up as a misspelling! Isn't it weird that the spell-check dictionary on Blogger.com doesn't even recognize "blog" as a word? The dictionary thought I should replace it with "bloc." Ah, the perils of spell-check.
  • You know how when Little League teams or girls cheerleading teams are caravaning down to competitions they write messages on their cars, like "Go Team!" or "Panthers Rock!" or "We'll probably develop eating disorders in college!"? (Okay, well, maybe not that last one.) Anyway, today I saw a car on the freeway that said, "I love Scotch. Scotchy scotch scotch!" Who writes that on their car? I mean, honestly, people. I know Anchorman was a popular movie, but I didn't realize that it had become a cultural touchstone. And if you have gone to the effort of writing something like that on your car, aren't you just asking to be pulled over and tested for a DUI?
  • I have decided that I am firmly in favor of making people retake the driving portion of their DMV test when they're about 65 or so. Some of these oldsters are a hazard to themselves and others. Today I waited patiently behind a car trying to exit a parking spot. I am the first to admit that I am not a very good parker, but it took this person seven tries to back out of the spot! I mean, he had to do a five-point turn just to avoid hitting another car's bumper. And he wasn't driving one of those ridiculous behemoth SUVs, either. He was in a rich old person's BMW. So, I waited for him to pull out of the space and then I drove very slowly behind him out of the parking lot. But when we turned on to the main road and I realized he wasn't going to push it past 10 miles an hour, that was it. I roared past him on the right. I showed some restraint, though...I did not honk at him and flash my lights, as my husband would have done. That's just rude. Besides, it might have given the poor geezer a heart attack. But really, the speed limit was 35. If you're going less than a third of the posted limit, then you really shouldn't be driving.

And that's what I have to say about that.

A Response

An anonymous poster asked me if I thought my ex-colleagues still read my blog. I can't imagine why they would. Well, that's not entirely true. I can imagine a few reasons why they would.

  1. They get some sort of masochistic thrill out of seeing themselves skewered in print in a not-particularly-widely-read blog.
  2. They hope that I will be contrite about my firing. Well, I am sorry for hurting people's feelings. I was a bit hyperbolic and mean. I'm also sorry for Design Guy, because I have a feeling that he has had to shoulder the brunt of my work due to my abrupt departure. But I'm not sorry to be gone, although I could have used the money I would have earned over the next few weeks.
  3. They hope to read about some horrible downfall of mine so that they can experience the sweet joy of Schadenfreude.
  4. They are secretly desperately unhappy at work and identified with some of what I wrote about.

But I am moving on now. I just got my last paycheck, so that phase of my life is over. Although, if any of my ex-colleagues are reading this, would you mind sending me my copy of Eats, Shoots and Leaves? I think I left it on my desk when I fled the building. That'd be great. Thanks.

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

Making a Change

Here's a comment from Jeff on my last post:

"I am at home recovering from major back surgery. I'm off of work for 6-12 weeks. Prior to the surgery, I used to work an obscene amount of hours.What I've realized after being in the hospital for 3 weeks, going through surgery that I had a possibility of not making it through, and that now my spine is fused all the way from T2-L4? ...work doesn't matter a whole lot. I do need to spend more time concentrating on the important things in life. Family, friends, doing good rather than pouring every waking hour into a job that though occasionally rewarding, never really gives back as much as it takes. So, your post resonated with me. I hope you're able to find a way to make this kind of discovery, preferably without as much back pain and narcotics prescribed to dull that pain."

This comment reminded me of what I thought I had learned from my big health scare. Back in September 2002, I found out that there was a possibility I had cancer. I was at work when I got the news. It was about 3:45 in the afternoon, and I was really shaken. I told my boss that I wanted to go home and call my parents, and he said, "Well, can you just finish what you're working on right now?" I was practically in tears at this point, so I told him no, I needed to leave right then. And as I left, I realized that I never wanted to work in a place that would put work ahead of someone's potential cancer diagnosis.

This all happened while I was living in L.A., but the doctor who gave me the news was one that I'd seen in Northern California. He told me that I needed to have a second biopsy done, and he said I shouldn't wait until the next time I was in the Bay Area. But by the time I got home, it was too late to reach my doctor in L.A. So my boyfriend and I drove up north on Sunday and we planned to storm the doctor's office with my mom on Monday to insist that he perform another biopsy. That doctor was happy to help, and he recommended that I stick around and wait for the results. On Thursday, September 12, 2002, it was official--I had non-Hodgkins lymphoma. I was 26.

I stayed in Northern California for my treatment, and during those six months, I thought I had life figured out. Work wasn't important. Stress was to be avoided at all costs. All the trivial little mundane details of life were just that...trivial. I wanted to be surrounded by family and friends. I wanted to laugh and enjoy every day. I wanted to make a commitment to taking care of my health. I wanted to spend time doing the things that made me happy: reading, writing, traveling, dining out, seeing movies and plays, enjoying good wines. I wanted to make a difference, so I started volunteering for the American Cancer Society.

And then my treatment ended and I got better. I had been living at home, so I hadn't needed money, but then I moved back to L.A., and my disability payments wouldn't even cover my utility bills. I had to find a job. And all the trivial mundane details of life suddenly seemed to become important again. I was dealing with a lousy commute, co-worker drama, money worries...all of life's little irritants were picking at me. I was so grateful to be recovering, but it got lost under all the everyday crap.

For me, in some ways, it's harder to deal with all the little things now than it used to be. I am not Zen and peaceful, as I imagined I'd become. I'm basically the same person. I still worry about all the silly stuff that everyone else worries about. I know that it's silly, but I don't know how to stop. And I know that work isn't the be-all and end-all of life, and in fact it should be given much less priority than it is. But I also know that I have bills to pay and that I want to buy a house someday, so I have to have an income. I guess the trick is to be able to shut work out of my "real" life, or else find a way to make money doing something that I really care about.

So, Jeff, I'm glad that you've come to the realization that work doesn't matter a whole lot. Health, family and friends are always more important. I don't want work to be the defining feature of my life. I don't want to let it make me as angry and bitter as my last job made me. I want to be remembered for being fun and funny, caring and loving. Thanks for reminding me of all that. I got in touch with my American Cancer Society contact today to volunteer again. That felt good. I went to the gym. That felt really good. And I'm realizing that yes, I need to work and have an income, but it needs to be at least partly on my terms. And that felt best of all.

Monday, December 13, 2004

Oh, By the Way...

I know that this has happened before...I just checked out this site that Alexandrialeigh pointed me to (cool name!)--the same thing happened to that woman, although I think her posts were probably more innocuous than mine. I also remember an essay on MediaBistro that was a scathing critique of Conde Nast, I think, and the anonymous author was found and promptly fired. She gained some noteriety, though, and was besieged by job offers. You'd think I would have known better. Alas, I did not.

But this leads me to a question that I've been pondering for awhile...why do we give work so much power over our lives? Of course, we need the money. But increasingly, it seems like work dictates even what we do in our free time. And our bosses expect us to be in the office for more and more hours per week, with no extra compensation. I recently saw a job posting (well, okay, they called it a "fellowship") that was looking for a managing editor for a magazine to work 50 or more hours a week. In exchange, the magazine was offering a small place to live and $100 per week. That's $2 an hour, people!

And I'm getting the feeling that we're expected to be in the office just to be placeholders. At most of my jobs, my actual job duties took up maybe 25 hours a week. The rest of the time, I chatted with co-workers, fooled around on the Internet, or worked on side projects. I was frequently very bored. And it's not like I was slacking off. I would get everything done, ask for additional assignments, and still have nothing to do.

I just think our whole system is screwed up. We work a minimum of 40 hours a week for companies that don't even give us a paid lunch break, so if we want to leave the stifling office environment for an hour, then we're actually expected to be there nine hours a day. We get 10 days of vacation time, and lots of times we're still expected to check in with the office. We take on increasing responsibilities for no extra pay. Companies expect us to do whatever we're told, cheerfully and without complaint. There's no job security. Companies do little, if anything to foster employee loyalty. Yes, we get a paycheck, but it doesn't seem like a very fair exchange.

I guess the only solution is to be your own boss. So, I am trying to formulate a plan...


And here I was thinking that no one was reading my blog. How wrong I was. Apparently, my co-workers have been quite interested in what I have to say. Thus, I am fired. Terminated.

It smarts a little, but if I were them, I would have fired me, too. I did not exactly paint a flattering portrait of the company. Perhaps I let my ire get the better of me, but I wrote my feelings and opinions. I guess a little more fictionalization will be in order next time. And there is a lesson to be learned from this: Big Brother is always watching.

I knew I had to find a new job starting January 6. So, that time frame has just been moved up a little. Good thing I have some income from my freelance work. Well, ad astra per asperum. To the stars through difficulty. Onward and upward!

Sunday, December 12, 2004

Someone's Asleep on the Job

I was driving home from the City on Friday, stuck in traffic and none too happy about it, when I saw this license plate:


How did that slip by the DMV? Can this be the same DMV who turned down my mom's request for a license plate reading "NANCY A" because they deemed it in questionable taste? It was only after my mom wrote an explanatory letter (A is the first letter of her last name) that they relented. And yet they let some stoner have a DOOD WTF license plate? Clearly, they're not up on current slang or IM abbreviations. Ha!

Well, the license plate made me laugh. So thank you, DMV, for falling down on the job. Because as we all know, when you're stuck in traffic on a Friday afternoon, that's rarely something to smile about.

Friday, December 10, 2004

The Glamorous Life of an Extra

I had a lovely day today. Being on the set is fun, if slightly repetitive. Here's what I did today for the Transamerica shoot: I walked across the street. That's it. Just walked across the street. Over and over again. It still beats my regular office job, big time!

I headed into the City at 10 after nine and I'd found a parking spot by 10 to 10. That in itself is amazing. I didn't hit any traffic, I got a close parking spot, and I didn't even have to parallel park! (I'm still not very good at parallel parking. I think the problem is that my car is too big for me. I have a Toyota Camry, which is big for someone who's only 5'1". I'd probably do much better with a Mini Cooper or a little BMW. Well, maybe someday.) Anyway, it was too early to show up on set, so I strolled the neighborhood for awhile. I wandered in to a cute little greengrocer's shop. It reminded me of some of the stores on the Greek islands.

After walking around for abit, I thought that maybe I'd better move my car out of the two-hour spot. And it's a good thing I did, because just as I was about to leave, the little metering cart came by and chalked my tires. Luckily, there was a parking garage right across the street from the meeting point, and it was only $9 if you were in before 10:30--that's cheap for SF.

So, I was in my little suit and I'd brought another business dress, along with some pants and a sweater if they wanted a more casual look. I also had a selection of coats, and quite a few magazines and books to keep me occupied if we were sitting around waiting for a long time. The makeup assistant who greeted me, Nicole, was super-nice. Unfortunately, there was no room for me in the trailer, so I had to stand outside for a little while, and it was a bit chilly. But I got to watch a group of Asian women doing tai chi in Washington Square Park while I waited. It was very restful. Perhaps I should take up tai chi. Perhaps it would calm my inner bitch.

Eventually, Chris, the wadrobe lady, took a look at me and said my suit was just fine. The pearls were a nice touch, I thought. Nicole finally got me a space in the trailer, so I sat and read my magazine while waiting for something to happen. Already I could tell that this wasn't going to be a quick shoot. The first AD said that the crew was still setting up the shot and then lunch would be at 11:30 and we wouldn't start shooting until after that. Laura, the makeup artist, did my face before lunch. She also made my hair look very corporate. Then we waited some more. The extras did not get to have lunch, but we did get some snacks, like roasted almonds and Oreos. I struck up a conversation with Chad, one of the other extras. There were only three of us, and I was the only girl. Chad was close to my age...the other extra was an older gentleman.

Finally, they took us up to the shoot site. We were up on a hill near Coit Tower, and the Transamerica building was silhouetted in the background. It turned out to be a beautiful, sunny day, and not too cold, either. Still, I was glad of my short black trench. Good thing they liked the look! So we were given briefcases to carry. I had a little black portfolio, Chad had a shoulder bag, and the other extra had a traditional suitcase. Then we practiced walking across the street, with Chad and I on one side and the other guy on the other. Back and forth we went, while the principal said his one line: "I wanna golf...every day." And he was supposed to say "wanna," not "want to." No wonder no one enunciates properly any more.

So basically, we just stood around in the sunshine, chatting. I gave Chad some Christmas gift ideas for his live-in girlfriend, and he tried to help me with ideas for my husband. We talked about this and that. He recommended that I have a more focused blog and try to make it a moneymaker. The problem is, I don't really have an area of expertise, except in grammar, and I don't know that too many people are interested in that, given the state of the English language today. But look at the popularity of that book, Eats, Shoots & Leaves. Maybe there's something to it. The older extra seemed to get quite worked up about the topic. So maybe eventually I'll start something new: Astera on Grammar, or some such.

By 2:30, we were done. We were driven back down to the trailer, where we were each given a check for $200. Essentially, I was paid $50 an hour to loiter outdoors! Plus, they reimbursed me for parking. I had to foresight to bring some jeans and a sweater to change into, and then Chad and I had lunch in North Beach. He said that the four of us--him and his girlfriend, me and Greg--should all hang out sometime. It would be nice for Greg and I to have a more active social life. It's just so difficult to make new friends once you're out of college. The workplace is supposed to be a good place to meet new people, unless you work with a bunch of older, boring men, as I do, or with a bunch of older, divorced ladies, as my husband does.

By the time we were done with lunch, it was much too late for me to go into the office. Too bad. So, I braved the traffic northward, and treated myself to a shopping spree at Macy's, where I promptly spent more than I earned today. And I only bought things for myself, when I was supposed to be buying Christmas presents for other people! How selfish. The good thing is that I had a big credit at Macy's, thanks to all the wedding gifts we returned. But now I still have to buy Christmas presents, and I don't know what to get anyone on my list. I need presents for my parents, Greg's parents, my two brothers (25 and 18), and, of course, Greg. Suggestions would be welcome, dear readers!

Thursday, December 09, 2004

And Now for Something Fabulous...

Good news, chicklets! I, Astera, have not one, but TWO acting gigs lined up! Okay, okay, so it's just extra work. But still...

First, I'm going to be an extra in a nonunion commercial for Transamerica insurance. My acting coach called me today because he was with a friend of his who is a casting director, and she needed last-minute extras. I was at work, but since I have my headshots posted in my blog, she was able to see them and book me for a part. It shoots tomorrow in the City. I get paid $200, and as an added bonus, I don't have to go to my hated job! Granted, I am missing the company Christmas party, but it's really just breakfast. And we already get free bagels every Friday, so come on, how special is it gonna be? Unless they're serving mimosas or bellinis (my favorite!), I don't think I'll be missing out on much. Also, I now have this casting director's contact info, so I can write her a little thank-you note and maybe she'll keep me in mind for anything else that comes up.

I am also going to be an extra in Memoirs of a Geisha, which is exciting because I loved the book. I went for my fitting last night, and I have a fabulous little vintage outfit to wear. It fits perfectly--they don't even have to alter it. Well, the bra doesn't fit too perfectly. I need quite a bit of tissue to fill it out and get that proper 1950's pointed missle shape. Ah, well. I have gloves and the cutest hat, plus a structured black handbag that has a clock in it! I'll be wearing a long golden brown dress with black buttons all down the front, and really high black heels. Not the most comfortable attire, but I'll look smashing! And if I'm lucky, maybe I'll be able to catch a glimpse of my elbow in the finished film. I was worried that my hair would be too short, but the stylist loved it. I just have to use a temporary rinse to blend in the highlights. As he told me, only "fast" women colored their hair back then. And goodness knows I wouldn't want to be thought of as "fast!" That shoot isn't until January 10, though.

I'm excited, even though I've done extra work before and I know how boring it usually is. You just sit around and wait for something to happen. So, I am bringing plenty of books and magazines with me. And who knows? Maybe this will lead to something else. I'm going to be working on my voiceover CD with David, my acting coach, later in the month, and I hope to send it out with my headshots to agents in January. Maybe good things are starting to happen.

Total Ineptitude

Oh, my God. I don't understand how my boss keeps his job. He's an incompetent fool!

On Tuesday, I spent pretty much ALL DAY revising these Quark files for him. He told me what folder they were in, so I pulled them all out and printed them for him. (He cannot print anything for himself because a) he's the boss and b) they're all Mac files and he only had a PC. Another brilliant example of the inefficiency of this company.) And although printing files may sound simple, it is not, because we recently upgraded our software and it messed up all the pictures and a lot of the fonts in the files, so I have to go back and make sure the fonts aren't corrupted and then replace each picture and any bad fonts. It's very time-consuming and totally boring. Oh and also, it has absolutely nothing to do with writing. I wonder why they told me this was a writing job?

Okay. So he has the files. He looked them over and told me what changes to make. I dutifully made said changes. He looked at the files again. I made them into PDFs. My boss looked at them again and gave them to the account manager, who looked at them and made suggestions. I made those changes. My boss and account manager looked at them again and signed off on them. They sent the files to the client.

Well today, guess what? My boss comes to me and says he doesn't know how it happened, but we used the wrong files. He said he takes full responsibility for not catching it earlier. Wow, how magnanimous! Damn straight, he better take full responsibility! He looked at the files at least four times without figuring it out. What an idiot. And the account manager is to blame, too. This is his account. He should know it better than anyone. But does it affect them? Of course not. I'm the one who has to re-do all the work, while my boss skips blithely off to interview the next victim for this hellish position. Thank God my last day is coming up.

But I do have some fabulous news to share...more later.

Wednesday, December 08, 2004

The "Perfect" Wedding

Because I just got married in October, I feel I am uniquely qualified to comment on what constitutes the "perfect" wedding. You need two essential ingredients: 1) a fiance(e) whom you love unconditionally and who loves you back unconditionally and 2) supportive family and friends to witness your union. End of story. Everything else is just gravy.

Of course, having a fabulous reception is a whole other story. For that, you need the above ingredients, plus three more: delicious food, a high-end open bar, and great music to dance to. I do not know why more brides don't understand this about receptions. It's not complicated, and it doesn't take a huge budget. You may have to invite fewer people to make it fit your price range, but that's okay. Think about it--do you really want your third-grade Sunday school teacher to be there? The only people that you absolutely cannot cut from your guest list are those related by blood and their spouses. That's just rude.

It just seems like brides today are making everything much more complicated than they need to. That's why "bridezilla" has entered our lexicon. And I admit that I was guilty of a few bridezilla moments myself, especially about the invitations. I wanted them to "set the tone" for our elegant evening affair. Well, I finally found some that did the trick, and guess what? None of my guests cared. Seriously. Of the 200 some-odd people that we invited, maybe two told me that they liked the invitations, let alone noticed them. So that got me thinking: Why do brides stress themselves out worrying if their chivari chair covers will exactly match the linen napkins? Why do they pay extra to have their monogram projected in light onto the dance floor? (What's the point? Do they really think that people need to be reminded of their initials?) Why do they think that anyone is going to notice if their bridesmaids are not wearing dyed-to-match shoes? Those things just stain your feet in a nasty way anyway. Brides really don't need "tears of joy" packets to distribute to their guests. If you aren't an insane bride, you might not know what these are. They are individual tissues that have been wrapped in a little pocketfold and labeled "For your tears of joy"! As if your wedding ceremony is going to move everyone to tears! The people who cry at weddings know who they are and should plan accordingly. As in, bring your own damn handkercheif. And what's with all the do-it-yourself wedding favors? Trust me, no one wants a miniature hand-beaded picture frame. It will just collect dust. The only good wedding favors are those you can eat or drink. Chocolate or mini wine bottles are what wedding guests will appreciate. Really, people. I blame Martha for much of this madness. Perhaps it's better that she's in jail. Maybe now some of the brides can put the glue gun down.

I had two do-it-yourself projects at my wedding, and it turned out to be one too many. First of all, my fiance and I designed our own wedding programs, which was actually totally worth it, because we had a formal Greek Orthodox ceremony, and without the programs, a lot of guests wouldn't have known what was going on. And instead of a seating chart, I insisted on using pomegranates as a way of telling guests where to sit. Yes, that's right, pomegranates. This is an idea that I had early on in the planning process and I insisted on seeing it through, no matter how big of a pain it became. There were two reasons behind it: first of all, people who know me well know that I love pomegranates, so it would be like a little inside joke. Also, there were pomegranates in the centerpieces. And secondly, since we got married in October, I thought it would be a nice autumnal touch. But how would I get the pomegranates? My mom balked at paying $2 apiece, especially since I needed 30 of them. But I found a man at the local farmer's market who loaded me up with pomegranates and would only take $20. He even threw in some persimmons. He didn't speak much English, so I don't think he really understood what I was doing. All he knew was that he just made the sale of his life on pomegranates. Okay, so once I had the pomegranates, I had to figure out how to display people's names on them. I ended up getting those plastic sticks that they stick the card in when you get an arrangement from the florist's. Then I made cards with everyone's names and table numbers. All the As were on one card, all the Bs, and so on. I also got alphabet stickers to put on each pomegranate. The problem was, the plastic sticks did not insert into the pomegranates too easily. Also, the pomegranates, being round, did not sit up straight. We had to cut the bottoms off and then the pomegranates leaked sticky red juice everywhere and it stained. And no one thought the pomegranates were quite as clever as I did. But I wanted them, and by God, I got them. As this example illustrates, though, DIY projects can just end up becoming a huge waste of time.

I hate to brag and say that I had an absolutely fabulous wedding, but the truth is, I did. The church setting was beautiful and formal, the reception site was elegant, the food was delicious and plentiful, the drinks were flowing, the music was grooving, and people were having a good time. Guests called my parents up the next week to tell them how great it was and what a wonderful time they'd had. I recently had a girl that I didn't even know who wasn't even a guest tell me that she'd heard my wedding was wonderful. Here's what people noticed and appreciated about my wedding:
1. The gift bags that I left at the hotels for the out-of-towners. They had snacks, a map of the area, a map of wineries in nearby Napa Valley, some soap with a bride and groom silhouette, and some poppy seeds. People mostly appreciated the snacks.
2. The programs at the wedding.
3. The fact that they didn't have to spend hours waiting for us to arrive at the reception. We got our pictures finished lickety-split. We wanted to enjoy the party! And don't even think of making your guests wait two or three hours in between the end of the ceremony and the start of the reception. What are they supposed to do? It give a whole new meaning to the phrase "all dressed up and nowhere to go." They'll probably just go and start drinking somewhere, meaning that they could be too drunk to enjoy the reception--if they're sober enough to make it at all!
4. The open bar at the reception that lasted all night. Hey, if you throw a party, your guests shouldn't be expected to pay for anything! And I've been to receptions where the open bar only lasts for an hour or so. Trust me, the lines get long and the scene gets ugly when the cutoff time approaches.
5. The absolutely delicious food. Really, you should splurge on the food. If you want your wedding to be special and memorable, then don't serve dried-out chicken breasts. The reception is about celebrating with your guests. Which do you think they'd appreciate more: your $2,000 wedding gown or a decent meal? And make sure they don't have to wait all night to eat. We waiters circulate with appetizers as soon as the first guests got there.
6. The fact that we did not hire a cheesy DJ who exhorted guests to do the chicken dance or write their names with their butts (yes, I've seen it happen). We had a mix of old-time standards and new dance favorites, and the dance floor was PACKED!

Here are some other details that people appreciated. They weren't necessary, but they were nice touches:
1. The toiletry baskets in the bathrooms.
2. The lovely flowers.
3. The delicious Belgian chocolate favors.

But the thing that I think our guests appreciated most was that my new husband and I were having a great time at our own party. I wasn't all freaked out about having everything "perfect." Hey, I found out at the reception that our flight to Hawaii the next day for our honeymoon had been cancelled, but I didn't freak out or burst into tears. I let someone else deal with it, and next thing I knew, we were booked on the afternoon flight, no problem. I know I had a great time at my wedding, because when I look at the pictures, even the candids, there aren't any of me looking stressed out or tense. I'm smiling in almost every shot. And I always have a glass of champagne in my hand.

Maybe that's the secret. Drink plenty of champagne. After all, it's a celebration!

Tuesday, December 07, 2004

Somebody Needs to Talk Me Down From the Ledge

I now understand why people feel the need to come home from work and indulge in a cocktail. I really thought that my homicidal urges might get the best of me today.

Here's the thing...my job is horrible. Well, objectively, I guess it's not. No one mocks me or ridicules me or berates me or degrades me. I'm not breaking my back doing manual labor or working in a factory with a substandard safety record. I even make okay money. I just hate what I'm doing.

Some background: I left my job in Los Angeles as a copy editor at a women's fitness magazine because my fiance and I wanted to move to Northern California, and he'd gotten a job offer. The wedding was six months away, so I figured I could use the time to plan and look for a job. Well. After interviewing for numerous jobs that a) I didn't really want and b) weren't offered to me regardless, I finally found something that sounded marginally interesting. I would be working for a company that helped non-profits raise funds through direct mail, and I would be learning about copywriting. I really needed a job, the pay was decent, and I wouldn't have to start until after the honeymoon. So, I accepted the offer.

Things were ill-fated from the start, since my lung collapsed on my honeymoon and I had to make a choice--start my new job in excruciating pain, or start my new job doped up on Vicodin. Vicodin won. Maybe that's why I was blind to some of the shortcomings of the job in the first few days. But I quickly came to realize that I would be doing very little actual writing. Instead, most of my time consisted of making slight changes to pre-existing Quark files and then either printing out those files or converting them into PDFs. Very repetitive. Very boring. To make matters worse, my bosses seemed to think I was some sort of designer. They seemed to think that I could resize logos and change backgrounds and adjust kerning and leading and make text fit and work with layers. Um, no. I am a writer! I work with words, not images!

After much discussion with the higher-ups, we all determined that this was not the job for me, but I agreed to stay until January 6 to help them through the busy season. I still have about five weeks to go, and I'm afraid I might lose it.

Take today, for instance. Yesterday, I spent four hours updating images in layouts and then turning those layouts into PDFs, under instructions from my boss. Today, someone else saw those PDFs and had a long list of changes that needed to be made, thus negating all the time that I spent yesterday. Why could I not have simply gotten good direction in the first place? Why, the company just couldn't possibly run that efficiently! So, I redid it all and circulated a new round of PDFs. But then, someone had the bright idea of adding explanatory notes to the PDFs. Fine. I did that. But then--oh, no!--my boss couldn't figure out how to read the notes! Maybe it had something to do with the fact that he's running a version of the software that was out of date, oh, about two years ago.

And despite my repeated explanations that I am not a designer, I keep being asked to do design work. Here's what happened today:
Boss: "We need to do a sample confirmation package for this client, but they've never done one before. So we need you to go into Quark, find another client that's done that kind of package, and adapt it for this client. Can you do that?"
Me: "No."
Boss: "Well, why not?"
Me: "I am not a designer. I don't know what logos to use, I don't know what colors to use, I don't know what style to use. This is not something that I know how to do in Quark."
Boss: "Just give it a shot, would you?"
So, three hours later, I managed to create something that I thought was passable. My boss looked at it and said, "Hmmm...I guess we'd better get Design Guy [the actual designer! That's his title!] to help you with this." Oh, really, ya think? Or here's a brilliant idea--wait for it--why don't we just have Design Guy do these things in the first place?

Design Guy is actually a nice guy. He goes out of his way to help me out with my stupid Quark assignments, and best of all, he gets why I don't want to be doing them. He understands that I'm a writer. But things are a little dicey wiht the rest of the "creative department." My other boss insists on reading all his instructions aloud to me, as if I am illiterate and can't read myself. And the other girl who's close to my age is just not friendly at all. I have tried to strike up conversations with her and I always smile and say hi when we meet in the hallway, but she has a tendency to avert her eyes and look over my head without acknowledging me, so now I think she's a bitch.

I reserve my strongest disdain for my primary boss, though. He seems completely incompetent. He's computer illiterate. He's not a good writer. He forgets everything. He's not at all creative. And worst of all, he stinks like cigarette smoke. Getting near him makes me want to gag. I actually developed a headache from having to interact with his stench today. This may be a terrible thing to say, but why doesn't he get cancer? It hardly seems fair that I, who have lived a clean and blameless life with no deliberate exposure to known carcinogens, should be struck by the Big C, while he, a walking ashtray, should be spared. Yeah, I know...life's not fair. I learned that the hard way. I think I may start taking a flask with me to work. If he can reek of cigarette smoke, why can't I reek of alcohol?

All right, I think I have unburdened myself. And if this is the amount of vitriol I'm feeling after two fingers of Scotch, half a Valium and a large glass of red wine, just imagine what I was like at the office! Violence was just simmering beneath the surface, barely contained. Who knows what might happen tomorrow? I think I'd better refill my Ativan prescription, posthaste.

Monday, December 06, 2004

On Newly-Married Life

The other night, Greg and I went to dinner with our friend Sarah. She lives in L.A., so we don't see her all that often. Over salad, she asked us, "So, how's married life? Has it been a big adjustment?" Short answer: yes.

Greg and I didn't live together before we were married, so just getting used to being around each other all the time is an adjustment. Especially for me. I've never been good at sharing and I really, really like having my own space. I've never liked having roommates, and in college, I even got a special dispensation to have my own room in the sorority house. I had my own place for most of the time that Greg and I were dating, and I loved it. In fact, for a long time, I thought I might never get married, just because I didn't think I'd ever meet someone that I could tolerate, let alone love, on a daily basis. For the most part, I love having Greg around. But Virginia Woolf had it right--a room of one's own is a definite necessity. Unfortunately, our little condo barely allows for a corner of one's own. Because of our work schedules, I rarely get to have the house to myself. I leave before he does each morning, and I get home after him at night. He goes to the gym after work, but often, he'll still get home before I do. One weekend, Greg went out of town for a boys' weekend with my brother, and while I missed him, I also relished the simple pleasure of being totally, completely alone for a few days.

The two of us also have very different personalities. He's more hyper and is capable of doing a million things at once--he's convinced that he's got ADD (and sometimes, so am I). I am much more quiet and introspective. If I'm reading, then I'm reading. I'm not reading and listening to music and watching TV all at the same time. Greg likes to be surrounded by hubbub. I like to have silence. Sometimes, he'll go out to run an errand on the weekend and I'll switch off all the chatter and just enjoy the quiet.

And of course, we each have our little foibles and quirks. For instance, he leaves his beer caps on the counter for the beer fairy (me) to pick up and dispose of. And he knows that we recycle, and yet he'll place his bottles next to--not in--the recycling bag. Is it that much more effort to get the bottle in the bag? Also, he doesn't seem to realize that the toothpaste cap is precisely that--a cap. It doesn't work if it's not on the tube of toothpaste. He's obsessive about making the bed each morning, and yet his clothes pile up on the floor. And he has a mortal fear of dust, but the bathroom can become a slimy, moldy swamp before it will occur to him to wipe some of the crud out of the sink. But he does cook dinner, and when I cook, he's always on hand for KP duty.

Being married is about more than just living together, though. We've had to adopt a group mindset...it's no longer my money or his money, it's our money. And we now plan vacation times and holidays together. But it's really the little things that remind me that, wow! This is it! I'm married! When I started my new job, my mom was no longer my emergency contact. My husband was. And recently, a single friend complained about the trials of the dating world before looking at us and saying, "You're lucky you guys don't have to deal with that anymore." Now, when my husband compliments me, he no longer says, "You're the best girlfriend in the world." He says I'm the best wife.

Wife. Husband. Those are still words that we're getting used to. And although married life takes some adjustment, the most exciting thing about the future is knowing that Greg will be there.

Friday, December 03, 2004

Hair Issues

Yesterday, I cut my hair off. I can almost hear the collective gasp: "What? Shorter than it is in your fabulous headshot?" Indeed, it is true. I have embraced short, short hair. And it's all because of one thing: cancer.

I used to have "regular" hair. Boring, but dependable. I did the bi-level curling iron bangs in middle school, the perm thing in the early 1990s. But from college until the time I was 26, my hair rarely changed. It was basic brown, enhanced by a few highlights. It hovered around chin-length, and every day I put mousse in it, blew it dry, and set it on Velcro rollers while I did my makeup. Only my intimates were allowed to see me in this state--my parents and close friends. If I had been dating the same guy for a while, I would sometimes be comfortable enough to let him see me looking like a woman out of a 1950s beauty parlor, but usually I kept the bathroom door firmly shut. I knew my hair wasn't great, but it was okay. There just wasn't much I could do with it. It was fine and thin and began to look strangely stringy and straw-like if I tried to grow it any longer. And I'd never cut it shorter. It just wasn't something I considered. Yes, my hairstyling routine added about 20 minutes to my estimated time of departure every morning, but that's just the way it was. Even my stylist knew better than to try and talk me in to going shorter. What a boring client I was!

All that changed quite rapidly in September of 2002. Facing the prospect of several rounds of chemotherapy, I knew my hair was not long for this world. So I decided to cut it. Nothing too radical--I didn't buzz it all off or Bic my scalp. But I did get a nice, tasteful pixie cut. People who hadn't seen me in a while thought I'd finally broken out of my hairstyling rut. They must have been confused when they saw me a few weeks later sporting much longer locks--my wig had been specially designed to match my "classic" hairstyle.

The short cut was definitely more manageable, but I didn't feel like myself, no matter how many times my boyfriend told me that he loved it. What was he gonna say..."I hate it, grow it back"? If there's one thing I've learned, it's that no one--no one--will tell you the truth about your appearance when you're a cancer patient. Everyone always tells you that you look great, even when your skin is pasty and your face is puffy from all the prednisone. It's like a rule--they have a mandate to lie. I had close, personal friends who insisted that my wig looked totally natural. I have very few pictures of myself from that period of time, but that is an absolute falsehood. My wig looked like a wig, and not a particularly flattering one at that. But I am grateful for their lies. I would have been devastated if I thought I had looked terrible.

Anyway. Back to the short hair. It just didn't seem like me. But losing your hair is a messy business, so it was easier to deal with shedding short hair. It's odd, but I actually felt a lot more normal when I was wearing my wig than I did with the short hair. I don't know why it didn't occur to me that I was going to have no hair, and then really, really short hair, for a very long time. Maybe I just thought I'd keep wearing my wig until my hair grew back.

That's not what happened, of course. At first, the wig was fine. But I quickly grew tired of fake hair. I wanted my own hair back, if only to cover up my ghostly white, bumpy scalp. (I had always had a horror of going bald because I knew that my skull was oddly formed. I could feel the whorls and bumps beneath my hair. And sure enough, when I lost my hair, my bare head looked just as bad as I had feared.) So, when some peach fuzz started coming in around New Year's, I was very excited. A few weeks later, I bought some clippers and let my boyfriend tidy up the stray wisps. And at the end of January, I went for my first real haircut in four months. I wore my wig into my regular salon, fully expecting to wear it back out. But once my stylist had given shape to the fuzz, another woman in the salon went on and on about how great my hair was. Admittedly, she was a punk rock type and probably thought I was trying to make some avant-garde statement. As I stared in the mirror, though, suddenly it didn't seem quite so bad. It was short. Very, very short. G.I. Jane short. Sinead O'Connor short. But it was my hair, not some awful synthetic that got stored on a wig stand every night. So I tucked the wig into my purse and drove home to see how it felt.

It felt cold. I'd been used to wearing either my wig or a little hat at all times, because I didn't want to disturb anyone with the sight of my skull. I finally realized that it was true, that you really do lose about half your body heat through your head. My boyfriend was delighted, though. He hated the wig. And so, with a few positive endorsements, I decided to try out my shorn head in public. I went to a college basketball game with a bunch of friends that afternoon, and apart from squealing, "You have hair!", no one really batted an eye. Well, except for Chip, who wanted to stroke my buzz cut and called my Sinead. But that's just Chip.

Here's what happened while my hair was approximately a quarter of an inch long: I finally got comfortable with my face. I had no choice. There was so much of it! And I gained a lot of confidence, partly because I didn't have any hair to hide behind, and partly just because of everything I had gone through. I also got a lot of compliments. Perfect strangers came up to me to tell me how much they loved my hairstyle. Eventually, my boyfriend even got me to just smile and say thanks, instead of regaling them with the tale of how my hair was only so short because I had recently lost it all to cancer. I still never thought the short hair would be permanent, though. I planned to return to my same old style. But gradually, I realized I liked having short hair. It was simple and it was different. So when it grew back into a stylish pixie, I threw away the Velcro rollers for good.

I still have a little bit of anxiety when I get my hair cut. Is it too short? Is it too boyish? Maybe this time I should grow it out a little more, I think. And then four weeks later, it's driving me crazy because it's too long, so off I go to the salon, happy to have it cut again.

Wednesday, December 01, 2004

My Many Jobs: A List

In no particular order, dating back to 1998

Editorial assistant, Los Angeles Business Journal (mostly involved rewriting press releases--still, my first paid journalism job!)
Research associate, Northwestern University (work-study)
Freelance writer, various clients (ah, the illustrious Novato Advance, my hometown newspaper)
Restaurant hostess, Westwood Brewing Company (I didn't even get tipped out)
ESL tutor for Russian mail-order bride (maybe they were really in love, but he had dentures and a toupee, and she was young and beautiful)
Homework buddy for apathetic sixth-grader and ADD third-grader (Yahtzee! was a very useful way to get the third-grader to practice adding and multiplying in his head)
Receptionist, Sports Club L.A. (really demanding rich people and celebrities)
Substitute teacher, public schools (I look young and I was only a few years older than the seniors--hijinks ensued)
Substitute teacher, private schools (chances for celebrity kid spotting!)
Event planning assistant, Grand Finale! Events (no respect for proper grammar--just check the Web site)
Associate editor, Field Force Automation (what does that even mean?)
Copy editor, Muscle & Fitness Hers (this was probably one of my best jobs, and I should have appreciated it more at the time)
Head writer of cover letters and resumes, Legal Authority (a terrible company that fired me for having the audacity to get cancer and ask for disability leave)
Telemarketer, Great Expectations (preying on lovelorn singles)
Ad sales rep, random interior design magazine (I was supposedly "in training" the whole time I was there, so the supervisor wouldn't give me any commissions)
Creative associate (unfortunately, there's nothing creative about it)
Content specialist, iPal.com (this was a cool concept, but I think the company is now defunct)
Spokesmodel, Lilly Rachel perfume (this sounds much more glamorous than it was. I was essentially a "spritzer"-I stood in Nordstrom and tried to get women to let me spritz them with perfume. It was a horrible scent, and I couldn't wait to shower it off at the end of each shift)
Extra, various TV shows and commercials (my biggest claim to fame thus far has been my part in a 1-800-DENTIST commercial. I had no lines, but I walked across the screen, and all my friends recognized me.)
Photographer's model, guy with an expensive new digital (this was kind of fun, and I had the good sense to keep all my clothes on, despite his requests, so no embarrassing topless photos of me will surface once I'm famous!)

Naturally, most of these jobs are not on my official resume!

My Many Jobs, Part Two

Okay. So, after six months of diligently paying down my debt, I got a shot at moving back to L.A. again—for cheap! My dad and his sister owned a small apartment building on the Westside, and one of the tenants had died, so her apartment was vacant. My aunt offered to let me have it for the same rent that the woman had been paying. That tenant had been there for years, so the rent was cheap, especially for a two-bedroom. I was so excited! I know that seems a little morbid, but consider: I had never met the woman. She had lived a long life. She died of natural causes. Why should I not take her apartment?

The problem was, I moved back to L.A. without a steady job, thus necessitating even more stopgap measures. And even with cheap rent, I had to take on a roommate to lessen my financial burden. Anyway, since I had worked as a substitute teacher in my hometown (at my old high school! Bizarre.), I started subbing again in the Southland. I worked in private schools—very upper-crust. I once had a three-day assignment at The Brentwood School, and Ah-nuld Schwarzenegger’s daughter was in my class. Alas, that was before he became the governator.

In January, I found a part-time job working as an assistant for a woman who ran her own special-events company. She didn’t interview me in her office, though. We met at a Starbucks across the street. That should have been my first clue. We agreed that I would start work for her next Monday. I arrived right on time, but the office suite was locked. Finally, someone in an adjoining suite came to see why I was hanging around in the (relative) cold. He knew my boss, but he hadn’t seen her that day. So, after waiting for more than half an hour, I went home. When I checked my email, my boss said that she wouldn’t be coming in for “personal reasons.” Oookaay. She had my phone numbers—home and cell. Would it have been so difficult to call?

Things went rapidly downhill from there. Although I was hired with the understanding that I would help write all press releases and media pitch letters, I quickly learned that the bulk of my duties would consist of printing shipping labels from the UPS Web site on our low-tech printer that could attain a top speed of one page every five minutes. I also got to walk to the Postal Annex on the corner to buy stamps. (Why do I always get stuck with the shipping responsibilities?) Worst of all, my boss did not care about correct spelling or grammar! The final straw came when she sent a letter off to print without having me proofread it. It started off: “By now, you should of received your confirmation packet…” Should of? Should of? This was almost like a personal affront! Compared to that, the line, “If you have any questions or/and comments…” seemed like a harmless quirk. She was unperturbed by the error, though. When I pointed it out to her, she said that it wasn’t a big deal and she’d already made copies, so she wasn’t going to change it. That was it for that job. Oh, well…the best thing about working there had been the fresh and delicious salad bar in a restaurant right next store. I’m amazed I lasted until April!

But perhaps the most frustrating job I have held is the one from which I type this epistle right now. I was hired by a company that produces direct mail--"junk mail." Yes, it’s for a good cause, but do you really want those address labels from the American Heart Association? (I must confess that I do quite like to get the address stickers because I never buy any on my own. But I feel guilty about using them without sending a donation, so they usually just languish in a drawer.)

Anyway. I was told that I was being hired to help write and edit the direct mail letters. It wasn’t exactly journalism, but I thought it would be a good chance to develop some copywriting skills. And it paid slightly better than journalism, too. But actually, the bulk of my responsibilities involve opening Quark files and converting them into PDFs. It’s three clicks of a mouse. Not exactly mentally stimulating. It’s really more of an art production position. I am expected to line images up and move art around and adjust tracking and kerning, none of which I really know how to do. Nor did I ever claim to be able to do such things! I have very little design ability. I can’t even draw a straight line. Heck, I can’t even cut in a straight line with scissors! How can I tell (or care) if the top of the capital M in the text aligns with the top of the mountain in the logo?

One thing I don’t mind doing is making copy changes. But one of my bosses apparently thinks I am illiterate, because he makes a printout of the page I am to make changes to and then painstakingly annotates it. Then, instead of just giving it to me to make changes, he reads to me. He reads each and every change aloud, as if I cannot fully grasp the significance of these changes by just reading them myself. Here’s the other thing I wish would stop happening: I wish my other boss would stop trying to pass off copy changes as writing opportunities. One day he came to me with a piece that he claimed needed “subtle revisions.” I read it and carefully made a few changes, including rewriting a sentence, but the layout didn’t allow for much new copy. When I took it back to him, he said, “Oh, we didn’t need you to write anything new.” Hey, if you just want me to change three words, tell me to change three words. Don’t act like this is some creative feat that I am privileged to attempt.

My current job is the main reason I started this blog. After regurgitating the same copy over and over for multiple clients, I needed a more creative outlet. So here we are. And things will get more fabulous soon, I am sure. For one thing, this stifling job ends January 6. For another, I get to go to my voiceover class tonight. Love it!