----------------------------------------------- */ ----------------------------------------------- */ ----------------------------------------------- */ ----------------------------------------------- */ ----------------------------------------------- */ ----------------------------------------------- */ The Fabulous Adventures of Astera: Writer/Actress for Hire: May 2008

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.

Friday, May 30, 2008

I'm Free!

**This post is dedicated to my one loyal reader, who takes the time to email me when he feels that the content is getting a little stale.**

Yesterday was my final day at my hated job. Here's how much I hated my job: When I had my appendix removed, I was glad, because even though I was in pain, I got to miss a week of work.

Oh, sweet, sweet freedom! I worked at a mortgage bank. An "Alt-A" lender--also known as lender who was happy to give out low-doc or no-doc "liar loans," and was now busy foreclosing on its customers. That really should be enough to explain why I hated my job, but allow me to elaborate.

No more "data checks." No more "disclosures." No more reading the exact same letter text four times each and every day. No more checking the marketing calender on the "SharePoint" to verify a telephone number. No more calling that number over and over to make sure it works. I got news for you--if it worked yesterday, it should still work today. No more reading the same exact outgoing customer email and hosted page (exactly the same text as the email, but hosted on our server, for those people who can't figure out how to display the images in their email!) and landing page at least four times--once in Yahoo, once in Hotmail, once in Gmail and once in AOL. But hey--those people who read their email in Outlook, we don't care how the email looks to them. And those people who have Macs? Yeah, the emails we send them look like crap, but it's their own fault. Why can't they just get PCs, like the ones we use at the bank? (I know this to be true...I have a Mac, and when I when I look at the emails the company sends out on my computer, they are all crazy and misaligned, with weird characters in them.) No more being on the "seed list," which required me to allow the company to send each and every marketing piece to my home address. I'd get three or four "loan offers" every day. And for some offers, we'd include a prepaid FedEx envelope. Now, we have at least 14 people on this seed list. Wouldn't someone finally think, "Hey, we can save a chunk of change if we stop sending prepaid FedEx envelopes to our own employees, especially since they are getting fake loan offers!"

No more computerized time card that keeps track of time by the minute and rounds up at the 30-second mark. I could clock in at 8:31:33 a.m., but according to my time card, I wasn't actually there until 8:32. And you had to be logged on to your computer and on the correct intranet site in order to clock in. And the computers were so slow that it could sometimes take 10 to 15 minutes to log on. (My record was actually 23 minutes--and every morning, it took at least a minute for the intranet site to load.) And those are minutes that you are not getting paid for, my friend. No more "big boss" who couldn't spell simple words like "shiny" (we had a "shinny star employee award" for two months running) and who didn't know the difference between "sense" and "since." "That just does not make since to me!" he would peck out on his CrackBerry. Yeah...he was my boss's boss. But then again, why would you possibly need to know how to spell when you're the first vice president of marketing? It's not like the marketing team sends out direct-mail letters to customers or anything. It's not like those letters need to be properly spelled. Oh, but wait, I forgot...this guy was too important to have to know how to spell. After all, he was so busy that he couldn't be bothered to send actual emails. No, he would just send subject lines, like "Where are we on this?" And then when you had the gall to ask for clarification on what "this" was that he was referring to, he wouldn't bother to respond for a good 24 hours, minimum. He was important! He couldn't be bothered with petty employee questions! Why weren't we smart enough to read his mind?!

All right, enough of that. I am free now. And today, I celebrated my freedom by getting a new, "sassy" haircut, definitely not approved for corporate work. It's messy! It has sticky-uppy pieces! It's short! My husband thinks it's sexy!

After my haircut, I returned home to work on my novel. That was the whole point of quitting, after all. I am taking a month off of "real work" to finish the first draft of my novel. I love my new job, but sadly, the pay isn't so great. So, I have to start looking for paid work that would start in July. I do have a couple of freelance invoices coming due, though (stupid net-30 pay policy), and I have a tutoring client right now, so I'm bringing in a little money for the month of June. Anyway, I have faith that it will turn out all right. And, I have faith that I will get my novel published. And first-time novelist advances are like, what, a good $10,000 or $12,000? We'll be rich! (Ha, ha.)

Thursday, May 08, 2008

I Went to Greece, and all I Got was this Lousy Kidney Infection*

*Okay, so the country of Greece probably didn't give me the kidney infection, but still, the timing is awfully suspicious.

Hello readers! I am sure you have been waiting with bated breath for my return. And here I am.

I was in Greece celebrating Greek Easter in the small village where the Pater Familias spent his summers. Apparently, he rode a mule from his hometown village up into the mountain village. We, on the other hand, took a car from Thessaloniki, Greece's "second city."

The village was very quaint. Apparently it is now a summer getaway. It has winding streets full of houses in various states of disrepair (many of them are all rebuilt and modern, though), a church, and a "downtown," which consists of two cafes and maybe a market. Unfortunately, it was not summer while we were there. Although it was the end of April, we had wintry weather to contend with. One day as we drove to a restaurant a little further up the mountain, we saw a thin blanket of fresh snow. Yes, it was that cold! I had sweaters and long underwear and gloves, but I really wish I'd had a hat and a warm coat.

Easter is the biggest holiday celebration in Greek Orthodoxy. First, we went to church on Friday night to see the representation of Christ's bier. Tradition has it that if you crawl under the bier, you'll have good luck. I did not stoop so low. Instead, I contented myself with some fragrant lilacs that I plucked from the bier--also supposed to be good luck.

Although Easter is supposed to be a time of fasting, there were lots and lots of Greeks who weren't following that restriction. We didn't follow it, either. At one lunch, we had salad, giant beans, bread, keftedes (seasoned meat patties), tzatziki (cucumber yogurt dip) sausages, pork chops, and goat. (Yes, goat. It tastes like lamb, but a little greasier and gamier. I am not a fan.) That was a lot of food. Of course, there were nine of us, including two hungry young boys, but still! No wonder a Greek lunch lasts two hours and everyone has to take a nap afterwards! Oh, we also had wine, of course.

Speaking of wine, I think I tasted the worst wine in the world while I was in the village. I have trouble working out all the family connections, but my dad's cousin's wife's father (I think) made some wine from table grapes and then stored it in this big open barrel, I guess so that it could further ferment and turn to vinegar. Not so tasty.

Easter itself was lovely. We went to the midnight service at the church, and we all had candles. Religion seems much more relaxed in Greece. People came and left as the pleased, and everyone stood around and talked to each other, even while the priest was talking. Many of the candles were very elaborate, especially the children's candles. Some of them were decorated with butterflies or bicycles. My own candle, purchased for me by my thia Matoula, was very lovely, decorated with wax flowers. When the priest brought out his candle, all the children rushed over to try and be the first to light their candles from his. Then we all went out into the night with our lit candles, and everyone kissed each other and said Christos Anesti! (Christ is Risen!) and Chronia Pola! (Many Years!). There were even fireworks.

Back at the hotel, we had a bowl of soup (guts soup for the traditionalists and lemon-chicken soup for the squeamish), and we cracked our hard-boiled red eggs against one another's. The winner is the person who has the final uncracked egg. I lost immediately. Then we went to bed. The big celebration was on Easter Sunday.

When we came up for breakfast, we saw two animals being roasted on spits outside. We thought it was lamb, but it was more goat. Lunch was a festive affair. Some Greek music was playing on the radio, and everyone got up and danced. It doesn't take much to get a Greek to dance. And then they cry, too, because the lyrics are sad or nostalgic. Late that evening, we all sat around the fire in the lodge, drinking and waiting for the real party to begin. More and more people trickled in until the place was packed. The band arrived at about 10 p.m., but first they had to eat and drink and set up their instruments. At 11 p.m., the music started, and the dancing soon followed. I didn't realize that the clarinet was such an important component of Greek music. Finally, after much urging, I joined my relatives on the dance floor, but I didn't know the steps. The dances look simple, but that's just because everyone already knows how to do them. I tried my best, but I kept mixing up my feet. Still, everyone was very encouraging and polite.

Finally, at 1:30, I went to bed, tired and reeking of cigarette smoke. The Greeks have no non-smoking areas, except maybe in parts of the airports. However, the party continued into the wee hours. I heard it went on until after 3:00 a.m.!

For the rest of our trip, we spent a lot of time with relatives, but I did get to see the Meteora. It's these crazy rock formations in central Greece, with monasteries perched at the top. Many had beautiful frescoes, but the main monastery, the Grand Meteora, seemed more like a tourist attraction than a monastery. It didn't feel very reverent. I liked the smaller monasteries much better.

I got to explore Thessaloniki a bit, and I went to the Byzantine Museum and the Archeological Museum, both of which were quite interesting. All the treasures of Phillip of Macedonia and Alexander the Great have now been moved to Vergina, where they found Phillip's tomb. I wish I'd gotten to see that.

All in all, it was a very Greek experience, with lots of family and lots of food. Greece, however, is not quite a first-world country. There are still pit/squat toilets in existence! Dirty.

And then, we came home, and I took the first good shower I'd had in two weeks. (In Greece, there are little tiny shower stalls and flimsy shower curtains, and the detachable shower nozzle shoots all over the bathroom and gets everything wet, even the toilet paper.) I thought I was fine, all recovered from my appendectomy, just a little jet-lagged. But a day later, I was running a 102-degree fever and I was in quite a bit of pain. My doctor diagnosed me with a kidney infection, and on top of that, I think I got an intestinal bug or had a bad reaction to the antibiotics. I am almost recovered, and at least my illness allowed me to miss more work. But that's a whole other story. Opa!