What a difference a week makes!

3 Dec

I know I had talked about doing a consignment store piece on Twitter, but tonight, I’m in such a major daze that I didn’t want to just slap something together on an entry like that. Today marks the one-week anniversary of my being thrown onto the cheese line and restarting this blog, and oh what a difference a week can make!

One week ago yesterday morning, I was another supposedly secure bureaucrat getting for another day in her walled-in cubicle. Ever heard the awesome Alice in Chains song “Man in the Box”? Yeah, I gave that song a whole new meaning. Before I could have my usual lunch at a nearby Indian buffet, I was carrying all of my belongings to the parking garage and headed home to a seriously uncertain future. I spent the entire day either crying, fighting the migraine from hell, or in bed because I just didn’t want to face anything this world had to offer.

Even then, I knew I had to take action. Fast-forward to today, and I have a stringer gig, the upcoming VISTA gig, today’s job interview, another job interview I have to schedule tomorrow, another stringer story to do tomorrow…. Whoa! I’m still sitting here quite often, having to stop myself and recount all I have to do or that’s coming around the bend. Whoever wants to peg the unemployed as lazy and unproductive is seriously wrong. Well, I just know it hasn’t been a time for me to lie on the couch and eat Cheetos.

I guess the lesson to be learned here, folks, is to never, ever let a time of personal crisis be a time for you to simply lose your head. It’s also not a time to just lie down and die. If you think about it, those who are against you WANT you to lose your head. They WANT you to lie down and die. Do you let them win? Hell no.

Current music: Alice in Chains, “Man in the Box”; Alice in Chains, “Sunshine”; Drain STH, “Stench”

You’d be well advised not to plan my funeral before the body dies

30 Nov

I know I’ve expressed my love of Alice in Chains until I’m blue in the face. But after this harrowing week, I believe the band and one of its songs is especially relevant for me. It’s called “Grind”, off the self-titled album commonly called “Tripod” because of the three-legged dog on the cover. It’s a song about being stomped on and fighting back like a hellcat, basically. That’s what has happened to me in just this past week. I practically had people dancing on my grave Monday all to make TWO comebacks, one of them major. I’m still dumbfounded, but majorly thankful, for it all.

The first few lines always stuck with me, even when I was first listening to it as a teenager. They are:

In the darkest hole

You’d be well-advised

Not to plan my funeral

Before the body dies

That has been me so many times in my life. I’d rather not go into too much detail about them because I do have to watch what I say online when it comes to future employers. I do want a full-time job with a regular salary and benefits someday, you know? I will tell you the story of the first few months of graduate school…

When I entered grad school, I came in as a provisional admit. I BOMBED the GRE and my undergraduate grades, while OK, weren’t spectacular. However, the Political Science department decided to give me a chance. I was to make all As and Bs during my first semester before I could be fully admitted. If I made just one C during that time, I was OUT. I had given up the journalism career I had loved so much to do what I did. There was no way in hell I was going to shrink down when faced with tough odds and not fight for what I wanted. I wanted that master’s degree in my hand so badly I could taste it.

There were moments of really serious doubt. Graduate school in Political Science means hardcore scholarly research and academic writing. Journalistic research is (when done the proper, old-school way) deep, but Political Science at the graduate level is six feet under. Furthermore, my writing style had to radically change. My graduate advisor looked me in the eye before I began the program and said, “A sentence is NOT a paragraph!” I got my first few quizzes back in one class, and I thought I was done for. It was either fight or flight.

I chose to fight.

I was very fortunate to have totally awesome professors who made sure to tell students to come and see them if they were struggling with anything. I took full advantage of that. I joked that I should have kept a toothbrush in one of their offices. Another professor I would have the following semester helped me out considerably with another class’ project even when I was not yet her student. My graduate advisor pulled me through both my academic and my personal troubles that struck. They all went over outlines with me, combed over drafts and marked the living hell out of them, wrote full-page commentaries about what was good and what needed to be improved… Their help is not to be confused with hand-outs. They made it clear I was to bust a move if I wanted to survive their classes! But they were more than willing to give me a hand-UP.

I not only survived that provisional semester. I made a 4.0 GPA. Guess what I did thereafter? I kept and graduated with that 4.0 GPA. The provisionally admitted ex-journalist with a terrible GRE graduated with a 4.0.

I’ll never forget what our department chairwoman told me when I came to her literally with tears of joy after I found out the news I graduated with that GPA and after coming in provisional. She said, “You know? Sometimes it’s good to be underestimated.” I agree. The harder the fight, the sweeter the victory πŸ™‚

There are lessons to be learned from my experiences. (I hope.) If you want something badly enough, don’t sit at home just thinking about how much you want it. Get it, for crying out loud! No matter who you are, you will always find people ready to dance on your grave just like I have encountered. Rise from the ashes — and above them. You often have to be creative and fight even harder than you would normally have to just to survive. But survive, you will. And thrive, you will. You’ll be all the better person because of it.

Here’s the killer video for “Grind”. If you haven’t watched it or heard the song, you need to. I hope you can find it as empowering as I have.

Current music: Alice in Chains, “Grind” (Of course!)

 

 

Fortune has smiled on me again

29 Nov

I can’t believe I’m saying this for the SECOND time this week, but I truly believe it’s the example of God opening a new door once another one closes. It’s just that the man upstairs has given me yet another amazing opportunity.

In February, I’ll be taking off to Atlanta for training with the AmeriCorps VISTA program. After that, I’ll relocate to a rural area in West Virginia to work in community development, helping people with housing and job training to get back on their feet when they really need the help. I am thrilled to have this opportunity because, I’m sure you can figure out with the fact that I write this blog, I’m all about people pulling themselves up by the bootstraps and helping them find ways to do it.

I won’t be making much money with this venture — at all. But you know what, the experience I’ll gain with this will be both personally rewarding and rewarding for my career, too. I can’t wait to get started! Of course, I’ll still be keeping my dollar stores, consignment stores, and free stuff flowing for your enjoyment. I love having my blog back too much to let it go.

I’d like to thank a special friend of mine, again, for being my angel on Earth. She and I will be working together at this site, and she personally advocated for me. Her boss then did the same. I hope that all of you have a friend like her. She’s truly, truly amazing.

Wal-Mart Adventures: Always the place where no one can drive, always

29 Nov

Yesterday, I got my severance pay check, and the bank finally credited my account with it at midnight. Thank God because I was literally in the red until then. I finally had the chance to go grocery shopping after literally days of conserving food and getting ready to fight Vampire Cat for his Friskies and Whiskas. So, I headed to the local Wally World fairly early so I could beat the holiday shoppers. I quickly realized I should have gone at 4 a.m. when I was fighting off insomnia.

Here’s something I’ve always seen at Wal-Marts, and it was clearly evident today: No one can drive — outside OR inside the store.

I don’t know what it is about Wal-Mart that makes a housewife in a Subaru station wagon want to drive like someone on Grand Theft Auto. The bad driving, though, extends to the store’s inside, where the housewives, retirees, broke college kids, and people both rich and poor (mostly fairly poor or middle-class) can’t even drive a buggy.

I first came in from the highway and pulled into traffic that moved at a lurch that was slower than most zombies. Obviously, “work hours” were still not a good time to come to Wal-Mart. I then proceeded to park in the boondocks and walk inside. In the process, someone in a Lexus SUV let me cross after first getting ready to mow me down like a West Virginia deer. Taking roadkill home to eat is legal in this state (no joke), so I guess the driver was a cannibal.

The real challenge was inside the store.

Inside, I was nearly slammed into by just about everyone at every turn. It was like a bad demolition derby! Around every corner, everyone was so obsessed with getting that Great Value cereal or whatever that they were just plowing through the aisles. Maybe the whole thing was just contagious. Maybe everyone started getting this, “Oh, so you’re going to run me down! Hell, I’ll run everyone down!” attitude.

I admit that I almost got that way myself when I made it to the register. At the register, I was right behind a woman who held up the line for a good five minutes (that felt like five hours), talking to the cashier about her Christmas tree. Here I was with a buggy full of frozen and refrigerated food, and I still had to fight through ridiculous traffic to get home after this. She finally got out of the way, and I thought I was home free.

Alas, the bad drivers were still out in full force.

I ended up having to snake through the parking lot because a driver on one side of the parking lot nearly backed into me, and another one from the other side backed into me. A woman who passed me said, “Be careful. They’ll run you over out here.” I said, “Yeah, and they’ll do that inside the store, too.”

Current music: Don Henley, “Dirty Laundry”

An award nomination already? For me? Wow!

28 Nov

I must be on a roll because I’ve received word from Sadder But Wiser Girl that I’ve been nominated for an award called the Liebster Award, one given to bloggers by bloggers! After losing my job Monday and walking the unemployment line Tuesday, I’m seriously psyched about this and the stringer gig. I surely hope the upward spiral continues. OK, so here’s a little bit about the Liebster Award, and here’s some of what I have to do to get it. I’ll cut and paste from Sadder But Wiser here…

The Liebster Blog Award is given to bloggers by bloggers. It is a way of acknowledging each other and is for blogs with 200 or less followers. This is also a great way to spread the word about smaller blogs and get them more readers and followers! When you receive the award, you post 11 random facts about yourself and answer 11 questions from the person who nominated you. You pass the award onto 11 other blogs (make sure you tell them you nominated them!) and ask them 11 questions. You are not allowed to nominate the blog who nominated you!

So here are the 11 random facts about myself…

1. I’m nuts about sweaters. Pullovers, cardigans… I love ’em! I especially love cardigans. A good sweater can be dressed up and dressed down. You can seriously economize when it comes to your wardrobe because of that. It’s a serious wardrobe staple that makes me sad when summer comes and I have to put them away. I picked up three new (or new-to-me, in one case) sweaters this weekend alone, thanks to a consignment store sale and a Black Friday sale that made it all possible. The one from the consignment store had the original tags on it. Score!

2. I’m an aspiring novelist. It’s no wonder I have carpal tunnel syndrome. I write my guts out. If I’m not blogging or reading (or looking for a job), I’m usually writing on my manuscript. I’ve been trying to write a novel for the past 13 years, but I finally have an idea that may get off the ground. I already have more written on this novel than any past attempt — by four times, actually. What’s it about, you ask? You’ll have to stay tuned for when it gets bigger than “The Hunger Games” and “Twilight” combined πŸ˜›

3. My favorite holiday is Halloween. I am obsessed with Halloween. Every year, I try to outdo the costume from before last, and being the Flat Broke Diva that I am, I always try to economize by coming up with a costume for which I can use parts of my already existing wardrobe. In 2008, I was Sarah Palin. I just pitched together one of my business suits, made my hair poofy, and wore the glasses that I normally wore anyway. All I bought for that costume was a Palin button from the McCain campaign and an Alaska flag pin. The whole getup cost me about $10, if that. Reactions? The costume was a HIT.

4. I live in the middle of a bad Tracey Chapman song. I live in a slum apartment that has walls and floors thinner than paper. I spend my days listening to neighbors fight, have sex, attempt to rap, and deal with their screeching children. I have my own washer and dryer to use here, but I have to go outside and to the basement to use it. I don’t want my throat cut, so I have to wait until daylight comes to do laundry. It really sucks now that it gets dark at 5 p.m.

5. My cat is a vampire. I just took in a new kitty about a month ago, and he’s an extremely loving cat. However, his idea of being loving means either climbing up on my shoulder and kneading my neck with his claws or climbing onto my computer chair and climbing down to the back of my neck — as I suspect he’s trying to do at this moment. I already have one big gash on the back of my neck that kept me from buying this $8 shirt because the shirt was basically a boatneck. I also have bunches of smaller puncture wounds and the like on me. I look like I live with Bill or Eric. I would prefer Eric πŸ™‚

6. Tina Fey is my icon. I AM Liz Lemon. My life is a “30 Rock” episode. I used to have Tina Fey’s picture on my Gravatar because she’s one of my biggest idols. I love her wit, her snarkiness, her intelligence — it’s just amazing. Also, she created a character who really speaks to me with Liz Lemon on “30 Rock”. Liz is me — constantly balancing a career (if I’m employed) while trying to have some semblance of a personal life — and handling all the craziness that ensue with both. Even though Liz, up until last season, hadn’t been exactly the luckiest woman on Earth in the love department, she’s had the chance to date characters played by Jason Sudeikis AND Jon Hamm. Who wouldn’t want to put up with Tracy Jordan, Jenna Maroney, Jack Donaghy, et. al., just for the chance at that? By the way, “Bossypants” is one of the greatest books EVER.

7. I hold out before jumping on “the bus”. Whenever a new trend in books comes along, I always try to act like one of the cool kids and not read them — at first. I especially do this when it comes to things popular amongst teenagers. I try to stay true to my thirty-something self and be an old fogey. But friends and pure curiosity always get the best of me. That’s how I wound up reading the Twilight Saga in about two weeks (Two weeks? That long? Yeah folks, I had a job then.). I was in line with the 13-year-olds when “New Moon” premiered. I’ve had to rely on matinees for the rest of the series’ movies. In just a few weeks time, I’ve also finished two of the three “Hunger Games” books. “Mockingjay” awaits on my coffee table. I’ve halfway finished the Sookie Stackhouse novels, and I have a signed copy of “Dead Until Dark”. The Stephanie Plum series had been out since 1994, but I didn’t begin reading the series that is my absolute favorite until 2009. That leads to my next item…

8. I AM Stephanie Plum. I have a dual identity, you see. I’m both Liz and Stephanie. Why Stephanie? She winds up in the most bizarre situations. She’s a clutz. She screws up everything she attempts to do. She pairs up with the craziest of people as sidekicks. When she has a love life, it gets complicated and quickly. She’s gone through cars like Spinal Tap goes through drummers. The only thing that Ms. Plum and I don’t have in common is that she is being fought for by two HOT guys — a cop named Joe Morelli and a fellow bounty hunter named Ranger. If it were me, the two would be fighting over which one has to take me.

9. I’m more loyal than a German Shepherd. One of my best friends and I have been that way for more than 30 years. Our mothers sat together in our old church while they were pregnant with us. We go back THAT far. My other closest friends and I have been together for more than 10 years, for the most part. Even my newer friends, though, know I’ll practically fight the Hunger Games for their sakes.

10. I’m obsessed with “The Sims”. One of my closest friends and a blogger for Reality Nation and I got hooked on the first version of The Sims when I was an undergraduate more than 10 years ago. Yeah, I’m old. I loved, and still love to this day, creating dysfunctional families from hell and making their lives miserable. We created a dysfunctional family that included a lesbian couple, a redneck in a leisure suit named Vic, a gay guy named Denny, Kari, the tramp in an evening gown, a little mean girl named Rudy, and a little boy named Seth who was neat enough to clean up after everyone. They all lived in a house beside a graveyard. Given we were novice Sims players, we didn’t know that items depreciated. So when their toilet clogged and no one could fix it, we sold their toilet — and couldn’t afford a new one. Peeing all over the place ensued. The kids were shipped off to military school. Vic and Kari had a smackdown, and Kari left the family for good. The ghosts from the graveyard made people’s lives hell. Vic rejected Denny and wound up dying in what I believed was a kitchen fire. I’m pretty sure the lesbians starved because we ran out of money. That’s what made Denny, the last gay man standing survive until he starved too. I missed out on The Sims 2 because I couldn’t find a version cheaper than what the Mac store had. But now that The Sims 3 is on a Win/Mac platform, I can bargain shop for it and all the expansion packs! Yay! The Gravatar I use now is my “simself”.

11. My hands are ALWAYS cold. It can be 90 degrees outside, and you can put your hands on me and feel instant relief. Everyone who shakes my hand feels an instant chill. I guess I’m meant to be a superheroine who has freezing people as her secret weapon. Oops. I spilled the secret!

Now to answer Sadder But Wiser Girl’s questions…..

-What is the neatest place you have ever visited and why?

It definitely has to be Louisiana. When I was a reporter, I traveled the entire Louisiana coastline as an embed with the National Guard during the Katrina/Rita aftermaths. The people there are so wonderful and so fascinating. They greeted us with homemade gumbo at night and homemade peaches and cream oatmeal the next morning. I’m hooked on both to this day. “Gumbo”, for some of them, is a verb. I encountered people in the bayous who still only speak French, part of a generations-long struggle to hang onto their French culture. People there had, had their homes practically eaten by the Gulf, but they were determined to salvage what they had and carry on. I’ll never forget them for as long as I live.

-Favorite kind of pet?

Oh, I’m definitely a cat person! Yes, my little one is a vampire, but he’s my vampire. He not only goes in a litter box like most good kitties do, but he also makes sure to rake up any that spill from the box to the side. The only cat litter granule cleanup I have to do is sweeping up around the side of the box. Oh yeah, I have to scoop poo too. But at least I don’t have to take him outside in the middle of the night.

-If you could only eat one food for a whole year, what would it be?

Oh, that’s an easy one! Fettuccine alfredo all the way!

-Who is (or was) your celebrity crush?

Jerry Cantrell, will you please marry me and take me away from this unemployment misery? I’d love to just be a kept woman and play guitar with you all day! There’s also my “girl crush”, Tina Fey.

-What genre of movie do you enjoy the most?

Comedy all the way. I love to laugh and escape reality as much as possible.

-If there was one thing that you could do that you can’t right now, what would it be and why?

I would want to pay off my student loans and credit cards! Why? I’m buried alive in debt and the thought of dying in it absolutely eats me up. I would like to leave something behind for whomever is left behind when I die. I know. So uplifting and funny, right? Why can’t I? Because I didn’t have the funds to do that even when I DID have an income!

-Do you have a hobby that you enjoy?

Besides writing, I LOVE to play my guitars. I earned my most recent guitar by losing 60 of the 110 pounds I recently lost. There’s just this awesome feeling that can’t really be explained or experienced in other ways when I finally nail a song, a solo, or just some measure I’ve been having fits with. It also makes me closer to becoming the female Jerry Cantrell that I want to be πŸ™‚

-If you could invite influential, famous, or just people you admire over for dinner, who would you invite?

Oh, and there are no limits on this list? Hahahaha! I’m going to go nuts on this one: All of the guys in Alice in Chains, Tina Fey, the awesome professors I had in graduate school, Krist Novoselic and Dave Grohl, Jack McBrayer, Elizabeth Warren, Kirsten Gillibrand, Hillary Rodham Clinton…. Man, this is one awesome dinner that brings together some strange bedfellows. I wonder what some of the conversations between Jerry Cantrell and Hillary Clinton would be like?

-What is your favorite ice cream flavor?

Cookies and cream!

-If you were given $10,000 and were told you had to give away half of it to help someone, who would you give it to?

A very close friend of mine who has really pulled me through this unemployment/job/personal life struggle more than deserves it for the wedding she’s planning and/or to have one killer honeymoon afterward. I hope she’s reading this!

-What led you to start blogging?

Wow. I’d be here all night if I told you guys the full story. At the time I FIRST started FBB more than two years ago, I wanted more creative freedom and the chance to write and publish without a filter. It’s just that I also wanted to do something to reach out to others, too. I had always been a bargain freak who had lived through some of the leanest times. I was living through lean times, then, with constantly being furloughed at my job. So what can cure misery? Making fun of misery! Instead of crying about being broke, I wanted to laugh about it and have others laugh with me. I also wanted to share advice and experiences I had in surviving and thriving in poverty. It can be done.

So I’m supposed to pass this along to 11 blogs and can’t mention the blogger who nominated me. Here’s the problem: I don’t know enough active bloggers yet to do this! I’m just getting back on my feet! I’m so sorry!!!

Current music: Fleetwood Mac, “Go Your Own Way”

A little light in the darkness

28 Nov

OK, so I have good news for once! A local newspaper is allowing me to do some stringer work for them. The pay isn’t much — at all — but it’s at least a way to start clawing my way back onto my feet. Not to mention this old muckracker gets to go back to racking muck for the first time in more than two years!

Let’s hope this is just the first of what could be a comeback for yours truly.

Current music: Veruca Salt, “All Hail Me”

I walked the (unemployment) line

28 Nov

Standing behind a piece of duck tape on a dirty floor, I anxiously awaited my turn. At any moment, yours truly, then known as “next”, was going to be called forward. No, I wasn’t auditioning for “The Voice”. I was doing the first in what seems to be a hundred thousand steps in the unemployment benefits process. The things I do just to get a few bucks on which to barely survive…

I don’t wish the unemployment line process on anyone. OK, so maybe there’s a few certain people who, in the evil corners of my mind, I would like to live as I did for at least a day. Nevertheless, it’s an experience where people of almost all backgrounds, education levels, current/former social standings, and circumstances are forced together for hours because they all have one struggle in common. They also experience the biggest loads of BS ever imaginable together, too. To say it’s eye-opening is a serious understatement.

My day started at home, trying to find a way to apply for benefits online as I had done in other states before. No, in West Virginia, you have to file in-person. At least the 10 (literally) pages of paperwork you initially have to fill out are available online to save you some time at the unemployment office. You have to arrive at certain times for what are called “group interviews”. I’ll explain that process here in a bit. So, I sat down in the waiting room with a dirty floor, but at least halfway comfortable chairs and listened to quite a few really sad stories. Multiple people were in from one company that had massive layoffs. A few coal miners who were some of the scores of coal miners in this state recently laid off were in there. Some people were anxiously awaiting this process to be over so they could pick up their children, something I fortunately don’t have to worry about at this time. Some had to bring their children with them.

A lot of people get this image in their heads of lowlives and bums when imagining the lines of people who are applying for any type of government assistance. Yeah, there were some people who looked a little rough around the edges. But you know what? They were all very nice people. One man, a recently canned truck driver with a long beard, had been fired because he was in an accident. That accident happened because he swerved to miss a vehicle with children inside. Not all people who get fired deserve it. Also, one woman in our group had her materials in a leather portfolio, and was professionally dressed. Another man was wearing a dress shirt and tie. Not all people applying for assistance are in the blue-collar world, either.

Later on, just less than 20 of us were called into the back of the building and herded like cattle into a room the size of an efficiency apartment — in Tokyo. We had to sit through a video through which most people cursed under their breath or played on cell phones through while the unemployment office lady was out of the room. It was crowded. We were all having to sit on top of one another, practically. It was miserable. A lot of people continued to curse, sometimes out loud, or play on their phones even after the unemployment office lady came back into the room. One woman left because she just couldn’t take anymore.

After the unemployment office lady signed off on our 10 pages of paperwork — plus gave us more to look at and/or sign — we were sent BACK to the dirty waiting room. There, I watched a man play with his young daughter and saw even more people standing in line behind the duck tape. I sat and played on my phone, installing the Word Press app so I can try to keep you updated while I’m on the go, and messaged friends who were gracious enough to keep me company throughout that mess. One in particular stands out in my mind. I love you, lady. I don’t know what I ever did to deserve a friend like you.

Then, the blessed moment arrived in which I was called to the back again to talk with someone individually about my case. She said, “Are you going to file a grievance here?” I told her, and I’ll tell you, that I don’t know if I want to put myself and my family through more drama because of my now-former job. My family and I have been through hell through most of 2012. I don’t want this to be the breaking point for anyone. Still, it would be nice to have some justice served. Served cold and moldy.

If I get approved, I get back pay for whatever time I spent waiting. Meanwhile, I have to look for work at least once a week and report that I did so every two weeks in order to keep my benefits. If I get benefits, I can’t earn more than $60 a week without whatever goes above $60 being deducted from my benefits. So, if I get this freelancing gig or maybe something in retail because of the holiday season, I could be penalized. That’s a nice way to encourage someone who’s trying to pull themselves up by the bootstraps, isn’t it? It gives you a nice incentive to try and find something else, doesn’t it?

OK. I’ll try to make sure most of my new blogs aren’t such downers and try to get back to the junk-pile-hunting you all adore. I just believe that it’s important that we all learn a lesson from my experience, and I personally don’t want this to be in vain. Let’s hope and pray this ends VERY soon.

Current music: Veruca Salt, “Earthcrosser”