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Sunday, August 29, 2004

Yay! 

I have finally achieved a point in my work where I feel safe in declaring tomorrow a day off. Unless something explodes, I plan to spend tomorrow nowhere near my computer except for the purposes of checking email and possibly blogging (after all, I have two or three longish pieces I've been saving up but haven't gotten around to writing lately).

This will be my first day off in frigging months. I kid you not. Some days I've gotten less work done than on others, but I have spent every day of at least the last nine months in front of this goddamn laptop, working and replying to emails and designing shit and placating clients and...it's driving me crazy. About a month ago I decided that I would designate one day a week to spend not working, but that didn't work out, what with deadline pressure and the need to complete projects in order to get paid and pay the bills (a need that grew more pressing as my bank account dwindled and various clients dithered about payment).

But tomorrow I will do no work, do you hear me? Not any at all. I will muck around in my garden, preparing a second terrace on the hill that needs lots of help to bloom next year. I will go to various locations to see what sorts of bulbs are available for fall planting, and ascertain the costs of a really big bed of tulips and crocuses for the spring will be (I suspect Amazon.com is going to win that fight, with their 200 bulbs for $40 offer). I will have a second cup of coffee and sit in the sun (weather permitting) reading a Stephen King novel and generally basking. I will attempt to write some of the blog posts and stories that have been floating around in my head lately.

My bank account balance is still pathetic (although I've just been informed that two fairly large checks are in the mail, so there's a possibility that I might not be scrabbling to make rent next month). My workload is still probably too large. But dammit, I will have a day off, and I will make the most of it if it kills me!
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Saturday, August 21, 2004

Busy as hell 

Might get back to normal by the end of the month, and have enough money to pay my bills in the bargain.

In the meantime, here are some monkeys.



(Thanks to Radley at The Agitator for the link)

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Tuesday, August 17, 2004

It's that time 

What time, you ask? Well, it's pouring-out-of-confessional-memories time. And I guess that makes it Sex Abuse Week on Cyclopatra, because I'm feeling that sort of confessional vibe lately.

One of my friends - my very best friend, in fact - had a reputation in high school. Actually, even calling it a 'reputation' is avoiding the truth, because I knew it was true. He used to take his dates out to a remote location and pressure them into having sex with him, or at least giving him a hand-job. He never physically forced anyone that I knew of, but he used to just drive up there, and ask over and over, refusing to take them home (from a place where walking was both impractical and more dangerous than his pleadings), until they gave in and gave him what they wanted.

He even tried it with me, only I laughed at him when he suggested we drive out there, and threatened to get out of the car and call a cab if he even turned in that direction. At that point in my life (I was fifteen) I think I considered myself 'stronger' than the girls he'd pressured into sleeping with him - and never mind that I knew his tricks and they were unsuspecting.

Oddly enough, he came out as gay by the time we graduated, but his M.O. didn't change - just the gender he played it on. After I left for college, he molested someone close to me, someone I couldn't ignore or excuse as weak, and I was forced to face up to what he was: a predator. After I found out, I never spoke to him again, but I didn't do anything more - those of his victims that I spoke to didn't want to come forward and accuse him, so I let it go at that.

I wish I hadn't.

He had gotten a job as a social worker with troubled teens, mostly by lying about his education and resume. A few months ago he was arrested for assaulting one of the kids he was supposed to be taking care of. The kid was fifteen, and he would have been twenty-four when it started. I'm following the case closely, although I don't live in that state anymore (gotta love the Internet).

As much as part of me still cares about him, I've got to hope that he sees jail time for this ('innocent until proven guilty', I know, but knowing his history I would be shocked if it weren't true, and from what I can see of the court records online he's not even disputing the facts of the case) - a lot of the kids under his care were put there because of sexual abuse, and all of them were about as fucked-up as it's possible to be.

To confess my sins even more fully - I knew he was messing around with some of those kids, and I still didn't do or say anything, because all the ones I knew about were over the age of consent, and I told myself it was no different than if they had met on the street, suppressing the voice that reminded me what he had been like in high school, and that many of these kids were already dealing with molestation and abuse issues.

No one ever deserves to be raped or abused, but if there's any group who deserves it even less than most people, it was these kids. And who knows how many were too afraid, or didn't find the support at home, to come forward? How many kids were traumatized even further by this amoral fucker, because I and my high school compatriots didn't consider what he was doing to be rape, or not rape enough to come forward and say something?

That's something I'll have to live with for the rest of my life, all because I didn't really think, at sixteen, that 'pressure' was the same thing as 'rape'. And that's why I have a big piece of my mind for any asshole who thinks that 'the bitch was asking for it', or any such silly-assed thing like that.

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Sunday, August 15, 2004

The world's a subway 

I've been sitting here - it's pretty late, and I've been drinking beer steadily since about 9PM - browsing the web, sort of working, and generally killing time until I'm sleepy or drunk enough to go to bed. I've been listening to music, and I semi-coincedentally hit on a series of Canadian bands - soulDecision (the Canadian Backstreet Boys), and then a whole string of Our Lady Peace songs. Sitting here, updating my Amazon.com recommendations, listening to Raine Maida sing in his slightly nasal, utterly distinctive whine-yell, I was stunned with a wave of longing for Vancouver.

I lived four years there, going to university (Americans still make fun of me for using that Canadian term instead of college, but in Canada, 'college' meant a two-year school, and I was well-trained by my fellow students to call it 'university') and was miserable a lot of the time. I didn't make a lot of friends - although the friends I did make were wonderful, and I feel terrible for having mostly lost touch with them. I spent my first year living in the world's smallest apartment - 167 square feet, washing my hands in the kitchen sink after I used the tiny bathroom, never bothering to convert my bed back into a couch, because I never had visitors - knowing noone but my two aunts and two uncles, convinced that Canada had been a terrible mistake.

That first year I forged a friendship with an elderly man in my apartment building who I regarded as a grandfather or uncle figure; I learned a lot from him about life and the world in our frank, wide-ranging conversations over coffee in the restaurant on the ground floor. It was my first real cross-generational friendship - in fact it's still more or less unique in my life - which made it that much more painful and - unsettling isn't a strong enough word - when he tried to molest me.

I suppose that's not entirely the proper word, since I was seventeen and decidedly sexually active, but the sense of violation and betrayal I felt allows no other term. I'm still afraid of old men. The loneliness that descended on me after I cut off contact with him was made even more profound by the confidence I had placed in him before his groping advances in the elevator.

After that, I went a little crazy, dating everything in sight. I didn't sleep around much, but I was rarely at home on a Friday night, either. And it didn't help a bit. A dozen blind dates with boring stories and lame jokes, a dozen nights coming home as the sun came up, did nothing to fill up the emptiness in my life. Eventually I started dating one of my blind dates regularly, just to have something to do and keep from being too confused about names and shared memories, but it wasn't a solution.

After my first year, I managed to get a room in the dorms, which improved life a little. I was surrounded by people my own age, focused on the same goals of study and degree, with the same urge to get out and party on the weekends (and sometimes during the week). I made a couple of friends and friendly acquaintances, and started to think I was finding my place.

But all those years are behind me now. My eviction from the dorms to the on-campus apartments (because I was in my third year in school, not because of my behavior), my semester off to work at a dot-com, my frenetic last semester living off-campus at Alma and 10th in a house full of boys, working overtime and taking almost twice a normal courseload - those are all stories for another day. Suffice it to say that while I was occasionally very happy in Vancouver, I've never felt it to be home or felt entirely comfortable there.

So why this sudden longing? It wasn't political, even though I do consider Canada to be my holdout against undesirable developments in the States; my dual citizenship gives me a safety valve that removes any personal sense of fear from current events. I want to say that it was a sense of longing for life in a beautiful city; but that's ridiculous, because I do live in a beautiful city, or at least, just outside one. Beaverton is a bit of a hole, it's true, with it's car dealerships and strip malls, but any day I want I can drive into Portland and wander around, and experience the organic, growing, lifelike feel of a Northwest city. It can't be argued that Vancouver is more beautiful, more fitted to its surroundings, more a product of a varied landscape than Portland is. And while I haven't found a coffee shop with Costa Rican brew and cinnamon buns as good as the ones I used to buy at the shop at Broadway and Alma, neither did I grow strawberries as sweet as the ones in my front yard right now, when I lived in Vancouver.

Maybe it's borne out of a desire to run away again; certainly events in my personal and professional life might spur that unconscious motive to the front. Maybe viewing Canada as a political escape has led to it becoming synonymous with escape in all aspects of my life. A safe, if chilly, place to hide for a few years until the furor dies down and it's safe to come back.

Or maybe it's just the education system. After all, at this rate I'll never be able to afford a decent grad-or-law school in the States, whatever my father wants to say about Georgetown or Berkeley.

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Saturday, August 14, 2004

50,000 for Kerry in Portland 


Yeah, it was something.

In case you're wondering, I was about 50 feet in front of that tree.

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Tuesday, August 10, 2004

This is Just to Say (variation upon a theme) 

I have slept with
the girl
that you worked with

And who
you were probably
saving
For when we broke up

Forgive me
She was so beautiful
And so sweet

(apologies to William Carlos Williams)

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Monday, August 09, 2004

Blushing, furiously 

Mick Arran, over at LitBlogs, has just posted a review of this blog, and I'm blushing. He said far too many far too kind things. To quote my mother quoting one of the nuns at her Catholic school, "I am so humble, and so proud". Thanks very much, Mick!

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Sunday, August 08, 2004

Rage 

I lost it with one of my clients today. I'd spent all bloody day working on his site, clearing up a backlog of months of minor issues and no small number of new feature requests, trying to get the latest version finished so that I can finally get paid sometime soon (hopefully before my rent is due). Of course this is one of those clients who has a million minor nitpicks that never seem to add up to a big enough change to require a formal quote-and-approval; he's the one that no matter how specific I get in my quotes, I can never seem to pin down enough details so that his changes are outside the specs of the project. My usual hourly rate is $50-75, and I consider it a good project if I manage to get paid before it drops below $20; with this client, I'm lucky if I clear $5. But the projects come in nice big chunks, and always when the rent is due and I have no other good prospects; and a few (dozen) weekends working always seem like a small price to pay for the money - and as I'm the eternal optimist, I always think that this time I'll clear the project out in a week or two and make out like a bandit. Plus he's sent me several referrals. Do I sound like a beaten wife yet?

Oh, and of course he's one of the ones who says 'I don't know if you're working on anything else right now...' right. You've paid me a grand total of $500 in the last year. I've been living like a king off the largesse of your generosity, great Master! and who, despite the fact that I haven't seen such a magical thing as a check out of him in the past six months, expects me to jump instantly to his command like a...thing that jumps instantly to his command, anyway.

I worked from 1pm until now (2am) on his site, fixing bugs, prettying up screens per his (ever-so-vaguely worded) requests, adding a myriad of minor new features and changes to existing features. I closed out something like twenty cases in his trouble-ticket system, spent hours testing, tweaking and re-testing changes, and finally sent the whole shebang to the beta development site (well, actually I sent it in pieces, after each ticket's testing was done).

Of those twenty cases, he apparently found fault with 3. Apparently, those faults were simultaneously so egregious that he had to be insulting and rude as he chewed me out for moving buggy code to the beta site (because apparently I missed the class where they told us that 'beta' wasn't really a form of testing, it was just a holding area for flawless code that was too perfect to be allowed out into the wild yet), yet so indefinable that he couldn't possibly describe the problems he was having.

He disapproved of my database design, despite not knowing what it is or how to design a database, and despite my assurances that I could report on the data therein in any format he pleased, if he would only deign to whisper that format to my eager ears. He rejected one almost-invisbly-changed screen as too ugly, despite the fact that he designed it himself and demanded the change that I made. And he accused me of not testing my code (for the 15 millionth time; you would think this man had never enountered Windows before, considering his expectation that he should never encounter so much as a hiccup in his software usage, even of beta software) without ever describing a single bug he had enountered - apparently I was too breezy in my description of moving new code to the beta site. Now, I'll grant that 'let's hope nothing explodes' was a fanciful construction, and that my intended joshing tone was probably not adequately conveyed by the too, too stark screen-text that it was printed in, but is it too much to ask that he wait until he actually finds a bug before he excoriates me for failing to test the code that I write?

(Oh, and he accused me of leaving the server wide-open to hacking (despite the fact that I have a supremely unprivileged account), until it turned out that the problem he was encountering was due to some software that one of his employees installed on the box. We do that dance about once a week, and I'm getting darned tired of it, let me tell you.)

So I lost it. I sent him a couple of fairly strongly-worded emails, reminding him that I am not his employee (if I were, I'd be going to the Wage & Hour Division about now about minimum wage violations), of the exact terms of our contract, and of the fact that I cannot read minds or magically find and fix bugs or design issues by thinking the word 'bug' really hard. I was careful not to swear and I tried not to seem accusatory, but I still dread the next phone call I have to take from him.

And I still resent his high-handed, arrogant 'management' tactics like hell. If only I wasn't trying to scrape together next month's bills until a couple of big projects' payments come in, I'd tell him and the horse he rode in on where to register their complaints.

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Wednesday, August 04, 2004

It's all about me, isn't it? 

Yeah, I know, I haven't been making with the politics or the news much lately, just blathering about my pets and my job and my family and my boyfriend's job and me, me, me. I'm working on a longish piece about corporate taxes, but I'm going to need an entire afternoon to guiltily ignore work to pull it all together, so maybe in a week or so.

My parents sort of approvingly disapproved at me today (if you don't understand how parents can do that, maybe your mother isn't as crazy as mine) about the political-type volunteering I've been doing. But I haven't really been doing that much. Although I did spend today doing research for a campaign in another state. And I promised my congressman all my Sunday afternoons until the election. And I'm supposed to go - of all the bizarre things - be in a campaign commercial for him next week. And I spent entirely too much time on that project for the College Dems (let's just say that if I'd had to count my hours as a contribution, I'd be closing in on the limit). But that's not that much, is it?

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Tuesday, August 03, 2004

Some good news 

I've been posting all sorts of doom and gloom (grandmother with two broken arms, dad has shingles - OK, I didn't post that, but it's true - too much work, not enough money, broke broke broke) for a while now. So I thought I'd post some good news. T, my boyfriend, has a pretty good job.

OK, the pay is teh sukc (we're hoping that when his next evaluation hits in a couple months he'll get up to $10/hr), but they pay for 100% of his healthcare and 2/3 of mine (gotta love companies with domestic partner benefits). They also have a 401(k) plan with matching (even if the matching is pretty damn lackluster), an employee stock purchase plan, and he's been promoted once, gotten two raises, and is scheduled for more promotion-related training (starts next week), in less than a year of working for them. And all his training is techie-type computer training that is gaining him the sort of job skills that mean he won't have to go back to the sort of health-destroying, blue collar, lousy-hours, mostly-manual-labor job he had before.

But the best benefit of all, the one that has made me tell him that he will keep this job unless offered a significantly better one, is the education benefit. He's got a tuition reimbursement plan at work that makes me green with envy. 100% of tuition costs, up to $5750 a year, is reimbursed in any degree-track, certificate-track or job-related course. That's more than full-time at Portland State would cost, in case you're wondering. All he has to do is pass the course and give them the documentation. And work 30 or more hours a week, of course - but since I spent my final year of university working 50 hours a week and taking almost twice a normal courseload, I don't feel a lot of sympathy on that front.

But the really good news came the other day, when he checked with HR as to how quickly they paid out reimbursements once he demonstrated that he had passed a course. Basically, the answer was 'the next paycheck'. Which is utterly fantastic, because it means that he can roll over his reimbursement from each term into the next term's tuition. He only took two courses over the summer term (we only got residency in Oregon this month, and PSU requires that he take less than 8 credits per term in the first year to get resident tuition), but basically, after the fall term he won't have to pay for anything except his books, because his tuition reimbursement will arrive just in time to roll it over into next term's courses.

That's going to help a hell of a lot in our current hand-to-mouth lifestyle - it works out to around $220 a month, which is nothing to shake a stick at in our situation. And the $100 or so a term he qualified for in Pell grants (the financial aid office isn't quite sure of the exact amount yet) will help with his books.

So things are definitely looking brighter. Tuition isn't going to take quite as much of a bite out of our budget as it used to, and in a few months it'll almost stop biting us entirely. T will be able to finish his engineering degree without either of us having to declare bankruptcy. I'm still broke as a bastard, but there's a light at the end of the tunnel there, too - a couple of my larger projects just finished, and a couple more are about to finish, so I can anticipate a month or two of relative prosperity soon. And there's even the faint glimmer of a prospect of a steady income on the horizon, though I hardly dare even post of it for fear of jinxing things.
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Marriage is love.