Big Girl Pants: Conclusion

I recently wrote about having accepted a position as a relocation consultant.  I'm not going to lie; I had reservations from the beginning.  But it's always flattering to be offered a job, and it did not feel appropriate to decline while my husband was between contracts.  I felt obligated, and also curious, but not particularly confident or excited about how the position would fit into my life.

That was back in late January.  Fast forward to April and now I'm sure that this position is not the way I want to move forward.  I fought urges to quit (which occurred almost immediately and then continuously), but kept at it long enough to realize that while parts of it are quite easy, it still wasn't right.  At the same time I learned some important things about what I do and don't want to be spending time on right now.

I liked the feeling of being productive again, and by that I mean that even if I didn't love the work, it felt good to have worked, earned, accomplished things.  I liked meeting some new people, and adding some knowledge and complexity to my life in Houston.  I liked it when I understood what was going on; when I knew I had done something correctly, and I was reminded how every time we start something new, we push that feeling of accomplishment farther away.

I tried to be very clear and objective about what I did not like, or what was a mixed bag.  I am seeking the balance between holding out for what feels right, and realizing that every job has things I won't like,  and at a certain point I just need to decide which of the things I don't like I can still live with in order to do strong work.  The baby on the way makes that priority even more clear.  As tricky as it is to figure out how to have a flexible, mobile and rewarding work life while married to unpredictable oil and gas, pulling that off with a baby will require me to be extra firm and clear about how to use my time.

In the spirit of all that...I liked learning about being "self-employed" (which contractors are in the eyes of the IRS), but I was not wild about doing that for another person's company.  I think if I try that again, it will be for my own vision, my schedule, my rules...ideally my own company.  I liked working from home (i.e. without an office), but I found it difficult to learn the job without any nearby colleagues or any group time.  I was also not impressed by how little paid training was offered.  Much of the anxiety that I experienced could have been reduced by a more professional training environment.  However, as far as training goes, many companies do not invest in quality paid training, so that by itself does not feel like a valid grudge to hold against this particular group.

The two most significant conclusions I reached, which caused me to alter my course in a way that I think is for the better, were driven by the practical consideration of schedule and by gut reaction and reflection.  With regard to schedule, I learned that due to the other moving parts of my life (a husband who will be away as much as fifty percent of the time, starting any week now, and a baby coming sooner than I can believe), I was not comfortable with a truly unpredictable schedule.  I can live with not having a routinely predictable paycheck, but it was unpleasant to be going about my business and then asked with little or no notice if I was free to accept a client, and then after having accepted them, to never know exactly for the next few weeks when I would be needed periodically by them.  I found this experience harrowing even without having to worry about childcare yet.  It was also making me hate my phone and inbox.  In light of that, I am not interested in spending my final baby-free months learning how to get better at the job I knew I wouldn't go back to later.

The other revelation was that I did not feel happy with the idea of adding yet another new dimension to my resume. I have spent a large amount of time learning how to teach English to non-English speakers, and I have also spent a substantial amount of time learning the foundation of clothing development and design.  Instead of starting down an entirely new path, for the time being, I want to stick to my guns on looking for work only related to those fields for now.

I have moved my English teaching materials across this continent several times, and each time I have not been able to bring myself to donate the books.  I have had the thought that before I leave Houston, I want to either have donated them, or made them again useful in my life.  I am equally reluctant to relegate sewing, illustration or design to the mere hobby designation; it's still not clear to me what to do with those skills, but I know I haven't gotten far enough in yet to be certain that I can't use them.

So.  I'm wrapping up my final relocation clients this month, and I've positioned myself on the substitute and tutoring list at a local English language learning center.  I've also been working on some new sketches and a new pattern, for the first time in months in these strange and confusing months.  I'm behind on my sketching and sewing goals for the year, but I know it's not too late to catch up.

Make Clothes, Not Scraps

Since I have been learning to sew, I have accumulated many scraps born from testing fits of patterns, from making mistakes, and from making garments.  I can't bring myself to throw them away.  It feels so weird, and counter-productive, to take pieces of brand-new fabric and throw them in the trash.  As a result, I have a pretty large drawer of scrappy bits.

I recently read a figure that 30% of all textiles get tossed as scraps in garment production.  Given that we currently produce three times the amount of textiles that we did thirty years ago, doesn't that mean that we are currently "scrapping" almost the full amount of textiles produced thirty years ago.  I'm sure that we can do better.

Several months ago, I ordered some organic cotton jersey in a lovely blush color, which I think will be awesome with a little bit of summer tan.  It is natural enough to be earthy, but still could work with black, metal or chocolate colors, and so has just enough modern to it.  Equally excellent, it works well with other colors already present in my wardrobe, which for me is the key to not spending more time than necessary getting dressed for the day.

Inspired by Alabama Chanin's latest excellent book, I decided to see if I could build a basic summer wardrobe using a length of this yummy blush jersey.  I ordered an approximate amount that I thought would be appropriate, and it turns out that the amount I wanted was exactly the size that their producer knits it, which is even better for my experiment.  Hopefully, close to every bit of the jersey will be used to create the pieces.  I will be using the final project for my illustration class as a vehicle for planning the designs and I have four weeks to get that done.

MWF Seeks Tribe

We are suddenly settled.  It's not unexpected, since I did many things to make it happen.  But still, after months of waiting and packing and driving and packing and flying and unpacking and calling and all of the things you do when you have to establish residency, we are here.  Thump.  Everything is in position; I should be feeling really, really good.  The adrenaline is wearing off, and shades of grumpiness and ho-hum snuck in.

I'm out of sorts, but with little jurisdiction.  Houston is fine; it continues to offer an easy, high-quality life.  I've completed most of the annoying moving tasks, down to finding a new doctor and a new dentist.  Even my driver's license came in the mail today.  Except I don't feel good.  I feel a little bit the way you do when you fly somewhere instead of driving; you don't necessarily have jet lag, but you have brain are surprised to find yourself in warm, sunny ___________ when only a few hours before you were shivering in ____________ .

Things are good on paper, but questions buzz and creep: How is it possible that we suddenly live in Texas?  How long will we be here?  Should we buy our place instead of renting it?  Will I make lady friends here?  Where are they, and how will I find them?  Will we decide to have a baby even though we never thought we would? Will I try to start a company, or is sewing just a hobby?  Would I be happier working for someone else and learning on the job?  Will I ever solve the riddle of trying to be fashionable and still tread lightly on the planet?  Is it really better to try to make and buy local?

We have really nice neighbors and are also lucky to see old friends who pass through Houston from time to time.  In spite of that, I've been missing home this week.  I'm getting faster and more efficient at setting up life in a place, but there isn't really an efficient way to find your people, except for the pack-up-and-go-home method.  Except since I found a husband online, maybe I can find friends that way, too?  I recently saw a memoir in the bookstore about a woman who moved for her boyfriend and then set up all kinds of friend dates in order to find some girlfriends.  I didn't purchase the book because it irked me to think of her selling a book about something that I have to do all the time, but I keep thinking of one small paragraph I saw as I glanced it...the one where she describes drifting farther and farther away from her friends at home, incrementally more each year.  My heart broke a little when I read that.

One of the aforementioned old friends was here last weekend.  He works in oil like my husband, but he also has started to mess around with building and importing furniture.  A few years ago he started importing it from Indonesia, and now he has his own factory.  I gave him some grief about his sweatshop and he showed me some pictures.  It was light and airy, a sunny, warehouse-y looking place.  People were working but no one seemed upset about it.  It looked nice.  He told me that I should make some clothing samples and start my own factory.  Of course mostly my immediate response is 'no way', but on the other hand, is it true?

I'm chafing a little at being a student again.  My classes are pretty good, but I wouldn't say that I fit in, either.   I used to feel bewilderment at students who dropped out school because they could see a faster, more efficient way to their goals, but lately I think I understand...sometimes there is the right way to do something, and it must be learned, but at a certain point, maybe there is just trying something again and again until you know a way to do it that works for you.  On the other hand, I have started learning how to draw in one of my classes, which is something I need to know and haven't been successful at doing on my own yet.  I was scared to death before this class started; drawing is for other people, arty people.  Anyway, though, here I am, trying it.  It's unlikely that my illustrations will ever come to the professional attention of anyone, but I like learning how to make my brain think through my hand and my eyes.

Dissecting these out-of-sorts feelings has me thinking about the goals I made one month ago.  Here is it, February 1, and eight percent of 2012 has already passed.  I should be one-twelfth of the way there.  Am I?  More importantly, as I'm writing this, I'm realizing that only two of my goals for the year are related to those pesky, worrisome questions above.  Hmm.  Make more goals?  Ask fewer questions?  Houstonian-lady-crafty-types, are you out there?

In School Forever

I took some heat recently from a family member about taking more classes.  Yes, it's true, I'm taking more classes, at Houston Community College.  I'm taking advanced classes in apparel, to supplement the basic diploma that I received in Minneapolis in 2009.  This semester I'm learning how to grade patterns and how to make fashion illustrations.  I'm also taking a survey course on the history of fashion in the West.  It's not my first choice to be a student again, contrary to what said family member imagines.  I had a small sinking feeling when I sat down in my first class this week, thinking about the young people around me who already knew each other, about having homework again as part of my daily landscape, and about the fact that I still haven't nailed down exactly how I want to conduct life as a grown-up.

However, a few minutes into the first class I began to feel back on track, and I felt even better after the second class.  My goals in signing up for the class were validated minutes into the lecture; I was hoping to learn about the local design community in Houston, to learn skills that will help me if I start a business, and to continue to build my skills.  I was scared to death to try to figure out how to make illustrations, but now I'm excited; my professor put me at ease right away, and I was reminded of how great it feels to push the brain in a new direction once and while.  If I am very lucky, I may even make a friend or two in this situation.

One of my professors made some strong positive statements about the future of fashion in Houston, about Houston as an environment for starting businesses, and about Houston as an incubator for creativity, and it all sounds pretty positive.  At least once a week I am reminded of how we thought moving to Houston would be a death sentence for our health and happiness and instead I've never felt happier in my life than I do right now.

Work: Learning It

In the fall of 2009, I had an uncommon opportunity: I was able to return to school, as an adult, in order to learn a new skill.  While I was not able to attend a hand-picked dream school, or even to attend as many classes as I had hoped, I was able to try something completely new about which I had wondered for years.  In the end, this unassuming one-year diploma from the affordable, accessible, no-frills community college turned out to be my favorite academic experience, more practical than my Big Ten undergrad adventure and just as rigorous as my small, private-school Master's of Teaching degree.

It is possible that the final degree was my favorite not just because of what it was, but also because of when it happened.  Given the same circumstances at past decision points in my life, I made the best decisions for those times.  Without the critical thinking and cultural skills wrought from the first two degrees, the clear-cut work and the starkly different hands-on nature of apparel development might have felt a lot like preparing for life as a low-wage garment worker.  Instead, I now have a mixture of skills that I hope will join together as I move forward.  I have learned that I love using my hands, but my bookish ways remain ever-present.  I am the only apparel person I know who looks for answers in books and lists of steps.  I always want the philosophy, history and science of the task before I cut the fabric, thread the needle, or plan the garment.  It slows me down, but the learning is complete.

I loved the process of getting my apparel diploma.  It was a lucky break to be able to spend the time and energy and money to do it as an adult, knowing what I know now about the pressures of adult life.  I am also enormously grateful that it was a possibility during my husband's crazy transition from Louisiana to Calgary.  And now I have a much more mobile skill, one which will not require new tests, licenses, and permissions each time we cross a border.

In my new field, I have an enormous amount of learning yet to do.  There is no program here in Calgary like the one that I experienced in Minneapolis, which is disappointing.  There is an art school which has some classes that may help me as I move forward, but I feel reluctant to pay for more education at this point, when in my gut I feel what I need is to practice what I already learned.  It seems as though now it is time for me step away from the safety of classes, and engage in some do-it-myself, and possibly on-the-job, continuing education.

I'm Taking a Class! No More School!

Monday, April 18, 2011

This week the universe is sending me mixed signals.

Finally found an interesting fashion class online. wavered, didn’t love the course description, thought it might be expensive, got over it, got annoyed how much time it seems to take to figure out what i should be doing, then...

MCTC professor from last year called. got really into the idea of going back to Minnesota for classes in the fall, thought it was time to live apart from my husband for a little while for the sake of my career hopes, remembered my feminism, then...

Received my replenishment of embroidery floss in the mail from Alabama Chanin, got inspired by a magazine that also came in the mail, and resolved a design problem on a shirt project by myself, concluded that more school would be a waste of time and money for me, and hard on my marriage, and would limit my other non-school types of opportunities, like how I was able to go the workshop at AC last fall, then...

My husband came home, heard all of these things, supported me going home for classes if I thought I should, even agreed to look for jobs in Savannah if I decided to jump into the professional career path plan with a full degree from SCAD, then...

After further research of SCAD’s program in the morning, I decided I shouldn’t have to get another degree to keep learning what I need and want to learn.

Maybe I need an apprenticeship? I’m feeling really worn out from trying to muddle around and cobble together some kind of career path, which has me back to maybe taking a class or two online...

Conclusion: ?????

Patriots for Christ

Editor Note: This entry was written originally in 2006.

Many of you have asked what it is like teaching in the schools down here. I have avoided writing about it because I am amazed, frustrated, mystified, angered, surprised, and then sometimes, pleased, with what occurs here. As a result, I haven’t known how to describe it. I am Alice in Gator-land, stunned when the people sitting in the same rooms with me aren’t also stunned by what is occurring. I hope this topic does not bore, as it is always on my mind while I go about my life here.

Finally, in my fourth year of teaching, I’m learning how to be rebellious. Those of you closest to my daily life know that I squawk a lot. I squawked the entire time that I taught in a high school fantastic school. Now that I teach in a school situated in a community which values formal education hardly at all, I understand why many of my colleagues felt I was overreacting in the past.

First, I will say to them, I will always overreact. It is my way, and there is not a lot I can, or want to, do about that. Second, I will say that we should always squawk at those in power, because that is how they first find out what happens among the peasants, right before the uprising. Finally, I would say to them that it does not matter how excellent a school is, employees should continue to squawk in order to make it the best place on the planet.

The first decision of my work day occurs when I must decide where to park. I have recently learned that a Honda Civic makes a fine off-road vehicle. I park on the grass now, because I can. Because that’s where teachers park here. This is tricky in heels, so if I smell rain, I try to get to work in time to get a regular spot. As I settle into my desk, I am greeted by the voice of the attendance clerk, who reads the morning announcements over the P.A. system. Imagine Mrs. Poole’s voice from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, with a rich south Louisiana accent, and then you will have a close approximation of the sound of the announcements. I cringe in particular at the biweekly reminders of the Patriots for Christ meetings.

As this is occurring, I pour my coffee from my thermos and scan my inbox for any e-bombs lobbed overnight by my insomniac boss. She gets lost in the maze of her own cyberlife and fires off all kinds of error-ridden, grammatically appalling, policy-altering missives that generally cause ripples of horror throughout my department. I try to check my box from home on Sunday evenings to avoid the drastic plummeting of already-low Monday morning morale, but I don’t always get around to it.

After I recover from the collateral damage, I finish preparations for my lesson and then race off to teach it. The students in my ESL course impress me constantly. Since I formerly experienced teaching ESL to students mostly not literate in their first language, I am amazed by my students here because they already know how to read. They can hold pencils, and they are quite competent at opening their lockers. I didn’t realize how much class time I formerly devoted to these endeavors with the East African students I’d taught in Minnesota, until I no longer had to instruct those activities here.

Our class meets in a remedial reading classroom during the second period of the day, and we frequently notice remnants and fallout from the behavior issues in the first period. We recently finished a book called Seedfolks. Shortly after our ESL class completed the book (maybe 70 pages at about a fourth-grade reading level), an observant student of mine glanced over at the materials used by the mainstream class and spotted the same book on the remedial reading shelf.

While it is no secret that my shining professional moments are not those related to teaching the 12 and under crowd, I will say there is something charming (and strangely scary to me) about elementary schools, where I also spend part of my days. I don’t remember much of the ones in Minnesota, but the ones here smell funny. No one is completely sure what I am to be doing at these schools, including my boss. As a result, I direct myself. The consequences of this are sometimes positive innovations, such as emailing documents to staff, instead of hand-delivering them. However, other consequences of no one knowing what I am supposed to be doing can be a less than perfect adherence to a “schedule” which was confusing to begin with.

I enjoy rebellion now because I know that I won’t be fired. The drunk guy just finally got fired because he didn’t come to work for four days running and didn’t call anyone. I figure my small acts of defiance, all performed in a quest for greater program efficiency, will result in no other consequence than people leaving me alone to work in peace.

A couple of weeks ago, I began to utterly disconnect from it all. I felt wildly unhappy and worried to have left so many inspiring colleagues in order to come to a job and feel isolated and without leadership. But then something happened. As I had done in the beginning of my time at Eden Prairie, I began to lean on the positives. A fellow transplant, another Badger, is here teaching at my school. I began stalking her and pouring out my woes. She resisted me briefly, but became exhausted from the effort, so now I have a sounding board for processing the shocking tragedy which a system like this can represent. I looked again at my students, who deserve my full attention, and as much information as I can organize for them to explore.

I still don’t know what to say about schools in the bayou region, and I’m looking right at them. Pointing fingers too simple. While the teachers may not have fancy degrees in their backgrounds, most of them appear to be working pretty hard to educate their students. Race and economics play some of their usual roles, but the lack of value for education in general crosses a lot of demographic categories. Pay is low and facilities are sketchy, but on the other hand I received a mid-year raise and a one-time bonus, both completely without warning, which is something I have never heard of in a public school teaching position.

And today, in the face of a boss who I thought was hopelessly immune to any ideas but her own, agreed to a proposed program change, which will improve my quality of work life considerably. Wonders never cease. Today I liked my job. Now that I have said that, I am sure that the sky will crash on my head tomorrow.