Toad in the Hole

November 29, 2005

Some Life-Changing Events

(While we're being all polite: Thanks to Joe for preafrooding.)

The good: Carl Buell, who is just what the Miocene needed, has finally followed the urging of his friends and fans and got his blog running. Go now, and we can finish this recitation when you get back. Ta!

OK, back to annoyances. I don't know whether this is good or bad, but I have an appointment with an orthodontist on Thursday. Yes I need braces. Yes I'm finally doing something about it. Now, I know Life Ain't Fair and I could have been born with cancer or I could have had CF and died before puberty and all that stuff I told myself back when I was meeting people in those situations every day at work. Somehow that sort of reverse Schadenfreude just doesn't work for me, though. It's goddamn weird to have braces and zits and hot flashes all at the same time. And don't get me started on the effects of hormonal low tide on one's brain; it's true what they say about estrogen and nominal aphasia. Whatever the hell they say, I forget.

The orthodontist, it turns out, is one I've been driving past on San Pablo Avenue for years. I know this because there's a very strange ad-sculpture above the door, of a huge lipsticked smiling mouth with these little people on rappelling lines and scaffolding with hammers and stuff, working on the teeth. It's conceptually nifty but for some reason quite unsettling to look at. It makes me go nnnnngnnn every time I see it. I'm unsettled enough already, thanks.


I guess I'm not working for Terrain any more. I got this weird sort of drive-by firing embedded in a note about would Joe do a book review and by the way my paid position was being eliminated and did I have any ideas or sources about the topic that's planned for the next issue. When I had lunch with the editor and she made nice about the manner of its happening and wanted me and Joe to keep writing the columns we'd been contributing for free for the last decade (the note had said: "If you want to argue for writer's pay, I'll listen." Wow, gracious.) and talked about what was going on at the Ecology Center including the demand that she knock another 20 grand off an already skimpy budget while increasing the number of issues annually and quintupling the free distribution, I found I had no desire to go back under any circumstances. Joe had blown his stack at the original email and swore he wouldn't touch the thing again noway nohow. The best I could say was, "If the Center decided to fully fund Terrain, let me know and I'll re-think."

Mostly I was just feeling used up and worn out. I even like this editor -- hell, I was the one who campaigned to hire her, though her job interview did most of the work for me -- but between the (to be kind) klutzy manner of the notice and the general lack of institutional support for the publication -- and as Chris can attest, that's nothing new -- I mostly feel that the rewards aren't equal to the loss of stomach lining and tooth enamel and the general chronic debilitating demoralizing aggravation. I seem to have been asked to fight for a job that won't even pay me anymore, for an institution that has shat on me more times than I can wipe it off. Being taken for granted is one thing; contempt is another.

I've said the same things, made the same rousing speeches, the same passionate listings, to at least three sets of people now; I'm beginning to see that there really is an institutional culture that supercedes any and all of the individuals involved in a place. I've even had come-back lunches with two different editors of the same magazine... It seems I get do-overs in the parts of my life I'd really rather not do over, thanks.

Maybe it's too much of my life spent being a Good Catholic Girl (see previous posts) and maybe it's too much time spent grinding myself up in nonprofit institutions (or maybe that's two names for the same syndrome) but it's actually taken me all this time to start asking that question: "Why would I want to do that?" I'm not claiming to be generous -- just stupid. And I'm wagging my finger at all who read this: Beware of Nonprofits. They tend to see people -- their own staff and volunteers -- as renewable resources, and they're right; there's an endless line of highminded suckers marching forth from the wombs of the world. Put in some time for whatever cause you're passionate about and then get the fuck out before you're 30. Honest. You can always contribute in what kind and amount you can spare after that.

It's funny, that thing I mentioned in the post about my last Confession. (BTW, the Catholics are calling that the "Sacrament of Reconciliation" lately. Old wine, new bottles -- no, new labels. SOS.) That thing about knowing certain things in one's gut.

I knew in my gut that I was being marginalized at the magazine, and even tried to take some action about it, however pitiful -- I offered more work, asked to be let in on the story process earlier, etc. And I kept telling myself I was being paranoid.Two things at work here: One, the reasonable thing about fact-checking, not going with one's impulses and prejudices, that becomes reflexive in any honorable media worker. (This is something we have in common with science... I guess, in a way, like good field birding, it is science.) The second is a bit more invidious: When you've lived long enough in enough closets, knowing that one's feelings were unacceptable -- and this affects, aside from the obvious, anyone who has learned not to cry over certain "normal" slings 'n' arrows, certain routine official insults... yeah, any woman -- you stop recognizing them yourself. Really, you have to look at yourself from the outside to see from the diagnostics that you're upset, angry (especially angry!), sad, in love, whatever. So your gut feelings get relegated to the back of the line, and you sometimes even fail to notice them, or mistake them for indigestion.

Well, my gut was right about that one, sure. I've got a few other gut feelings -- hell, this is a 56-year-old gut, it ought to be educated by now -- and I'm now figuring our how to make provision for the future if they're true. (No, this is not about Joe.) It's an interesting dance, and more similar to fieldwork than to fact-checking.

Posted at November 29, 2005 08:55 PM