Back to School

After a brief hiatus I’ve returned to the world of academia and ego, education and conviction. My mental torpidity is at an end and I am re-embarking on a journey towards higher learning and substance.

The first day of classes was uneventful, except for a strange situation involving slugs and snails.

I arrived on campus about an hour before my class actually began with the intention of giving myself plenty of time to find parking, walk to class and mentally prepare myself for lecture. Unfortunately, having completed these things, I was left with approximately 40 minutes to sit and do nothing. I had forgotten both my lap top and my phone–leaving them in a tidy pile by the door–so the extra time began to drag on. I wandered around the buildings until I spotted a pleasant-looking courtyard, shaded and still wet from the previous day’s rain. I found a spot on the edge of a planter, the brick warm in the dappled sunshine, and sat, watching other students shuffle by. Engrossed in my people watching, I was unaware of the snails crawling over the brick to make their way across my body, leisurely trailing slime.

It wasn’t until I registered a sticky wetness across the back of one hand that I looked down, and startled, jumped up, dropping my book bag and all my folders to the ground in a scattered heap. Small snails in their tiny spiral shells and even smaller slugs peppered my jacket, my lap and my hands. Holding back a shudder, I carefully removed each  land mollusk from my person to drop into the planter amid the dirt and leaves.

Rejecting my urge to grab my things, head back up the hill to my car to drive home and promptly throw myself into the shower was no small feat. However, I had a class to attend and a promise to myself to keep. I was going to change my patterns and be a “good” student this time around. I couldn’t let something inconsequential, albeit a little disgusting, waylay me. I have goals to accomplish, despite the slugs.


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Cleaning House

So, lately I’ve become a little more interested in the world around me. Perhaps it is because I’m 25 and trying to figure out how to be an adult, or because I’m supporting myself, or because I simply have more time to sit and read the news. Regardless of the reasons, I have been plugged into politics and world issues and nearly working myself up into an ineffectual frenzy of opinions as I try to figure out exactly what I think, feel, and believe.

Right now, I think I’m horrified. I can’t tell if things have gotten worse, or I just wasn’t paying attention at all before, or maybe both. Maybe after I left Mills College, that politically correct, uber-feminist oasis in the heart of Oakland (which is currently the hot spot for the Anti-Wall Street/Occupy movement), I put on a pair of rose colored glasses and forgot about injustice, inequality, and sexism.

My grandmother is coming to town this weekend, which is really exciting. I’ve missed her a lot since I’ve moved down here, so it will be great to have her around, if only for a couple of days. Of course, this means that my disaster of a house needs a deep clean. I don’t think that my grandma really cares too much about a little dust or disorganization, but out of respect to her, I am going to sweep, scour, and scrub down the house.  I’d like her to be able to be comfortable in a tidy, if not truly clean, house.

So, in a frenzy of activity last night, Bryan and I got to work. He took the kitchen, I took the bathroom and we dove in, armed with our sponges and soaps, to tackle the several weeks-worth of grime build up. Bryan insulated himself with his giant headphones, drowning out the sound of dishes by blasting what i presumed to be Minus the Bear, and was up to his elbows in blue dish soap. I, on the other hand, worked in an external silence, but cacophony of my own thoughts.

At one point I was on my hands an knees scrubbing grossness out of the grout in the shower and all at once I had an immense respect for my mother, Mr. Clean Magic Erasers and the power of advertising for effectively continuing to propagate a misguided conception that cleaning is women’s work. Exhausted and sore from contorting my body every which way to get the last little bit of soap scum, I wondered how my mother did it. For years we had no house cleaner but her. She worked full time, made dinner, did paperwork, helped my sister and I with homework, and cleaned the house until it was shiny and spotless with not a speck of dust. How?

I come home from work and all I want to do is eat dinner (that I don’t have to cook), watch tv and then go to bed. I don’t want to scrub showers or toilets, dust, vacuum, and mop. I want to spend my weekends sleeping in and going out, not confined to my house for cleaning. And why do I feel like it has to be ME who does all the cleaning? Because I am a woman? I found myself, with my hands in toilet, feeling responsible for both the mess and the cleaning. I am pretty sure this is some sort of programming. It’s not like it was all my mess.

Take a look at cleaning product commercials for the products that I use: Mr. Clean Magic Erasers, Swiffer Mops, Clorox Cleansing Wipes, and my personal favorite, Scrubbing Bubbles. In each of these product’s commercials, there is a very put together, made up, happy woman, usually wearing slacks and a sweater set, effortlessly wiping something down. Scrubbing Bubbles is my favorite though. I watch those commercials, wistfully imagining a world where cleaning products really did clean for you. When I clean, I am sweaty and covered in dirt. I wear junky, ill fitting clothes, and I am not having fun.

These commercials are targeting women and perpetuating the stereotype that cleaning is “woman’s work.” Victorian England was famous for developing the gender “spheres” where women were limited to their homes and were thought to be too fragile (read: weak) and delicate (read: stupid) to participate in politics, world issues, business and debate. Is it that different today?

Women’s opinions, thoughts and actions seem to mean less than those of men. Let’s look for a minute at the Herman Cain Sex Abuse Scandal that has been prominent in the media lately. Why are these women’s claims immediately brushed off and disregarded as efforts to simply get attention or discredit Cain for his opposition? Because these women aren’t respected. When a grown man tells the media that he was sexually abused by a priest or a coach or a boy scout leader twenty something years before, no one cries out in outrage that the man is now trying to get attention. That it happened so long ago, so it must not have happened at all. That he is just making it up for personal gain. That he wasn’t somehow asking for it, like women do. They investigate and take the claims seriously.

Not so with the multiple allegations against Herman Cain. Those women were hung out to dry. Now, they have faded back into the background, into anonymity  as my favorite Post Opinion writer Richard Cohen pointed out in his last piece.

So why do we still have this double standard? Why do we still divide the world into man’s work and women’s work? How did the media and advertising become so incredibly powerful, and how can we change our perceptions of women from the antiquated Victorian concepts to more modern ones? Sure my mom is and was a great house keeper. But she is more impressively a great career woman. Why don’t we value women’s independence, trust their word, and give them credit for what they do right, rather than deride them, discredit them, and limit them.

Maybe we need to spend some more time “cleaning house” and getting rid of our antiquated ideas about women, start airing cleaning commercials that feature men–not just Mr. Clean–speak out, listen, and unlimit ourselves.

And build a robot to clean for us.

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How the 99% is the Cure for Voter Apathy and the Law of Non-Contradiction

Voter Apathy.  Two words that are almost a contradiction in terms, but, when put together, create a concept that has become a plague in our country.  I know I came down with it. Nothing has been more infectious among the younger generation, except maybe Mononucleosis, and if we don’t get our butts in those booths next November, voter apathy may be the kiss of death for the Occupy Wall Street movement.

Obviously, protesters are very passionate about protesting. They have issues (as we all should) with the economic stratification in this country, the horrendous decline in the job market over the past several years and the unhealthy relationship between “Big Business” and the Government. Their belief in their cause inspires and attracts others to live in tents, march, raise their voices in peace and protest. It is a beautiful thing to come together for a cause and build a community of like minded people. But now the community needs to act.

How can anything change if we don’t create policies to change it? Protesting what we have in place is step one. We, as a people, are dissatisfied with what has happened in our country. So let’s change it.

One of my biggest fears is that one of the many closed-minded politicians that are asserting themselves for the Presidential election next year will actually win. I know things haven’t been what we dreamed they would be for Obama the last few years, but the man was in a terrible position, made worse by voter apathy. We young, idealistic people seem to forget that it isn’t just the big elections that matter, but the congressional ones, the state ones, even the local ones. We need to educate ourselves about the issues and the folks who are running for positions of power. Folks who will have authority and control, as well as decision making powers that are going to directly affect us. If we vote, we control who gets put in those positions and who doesn’t.

I don’t usually get on my Democratic high horse, but I’m crossing my fingers that the people of this country, especially the thousands and thousands of the 99% will recognize that the GOP is also a contradiction. Calling it the Grand Old Party is almost tongue in cheek. How can a party who claims to want a small government, minimize government control, also want to use their definition of morality to control individual rights and actions?

Look at what is happening in Mississippi right now. They are voting on whether or not a fetus is a human being from the moment of conception. What terrifying ways is that going to affect us, especially women? What about the rejection of Evolution? The emphasis placed on God and Religion in our government? (I seem to remember learning something about a separation of Church and State, but maybe I was imagining it?) The denial of global warming being an immediate problem for the human race? The fear of homosexuality that prevents equality? The tax cuts for the wealthy? The economic “stimulus” plans that will quickly stimulate more economic depression and job loss? Perhaps the “Grand Old Party” would like us to re-enter the “Good Old Days” when women were paid less than men, homosexuality was treated like a disease, segregation was king, and minorities had no voice.  Oh wait a minute…





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Yet another opinion on the “Occupy” movement…

The “Occupy Wall Street” movement has gained momentum in the United States. It is clear that the citizens of the United States–and the world–have real and valid concerns, and while “Occupy” encampments provide a venue to voice these concerns, they also cause public health and safety hazards, as well as create huge disruptions in their communities.
Richard Cohen made an excellent point in a recent article for the Washington Post: “Occupy Wall Street has become an event for its own sake, a destination for the aimless.” While the event seems to be growing and expanding, it is simultaneously losing respect and public opinion.  Cohen also states: “[The] right-wing attempt to discredit both the Occupy Wall Street movement and the Democratic Party’s hesitant embrace of it is reprehensible. It’s made possible, however, because no one this side of the moon knows precisely what the Occupy Wall Street movement is trying to do.”

Maybe it is time to take the next step, while public opinion is on Occupy’s side. Clearly, the government needs to change. The Wall Street bailouts were preposterous and the need for economic reform in this country is real. And yes, a huge disruption was what was needed to even get these issues out in the open. Now let’s discuss how to solve the problems. Protesting has served its purpose; the powers-that-be have been made aware of the discontent that is no longer just an undercurrent in this country, but a flood. Now what? What is the next step? A nation made up of dissatisfied citizens is a recipe for disaster, but so is maintaining encampments and tent cities with no real infrastructure, no leadership, and no solutions in mind. It is a constitutional right to assemble and protest, that is undeniable. But what about courtesy? What about sanitation? What about the side effects of large groups of people in spaces too small and not designed to accommodate them? What about the small businesses that are suffering or the fellow members of the 99% who are unable to get to their jobs? What about the increase in crime?

My plea to members of the “Occupy” movement: Use your anger and frustration as inspiration and momentum to develop actionable solutions to our economic problems. Use your expensive college educations and creative, individual voices to propose new laws, and then vote on them. Starting a leaderless movement was poetic, but now the lack of structure and undefinable purpose is undermining the message. Don’t lose the momentum, just change direction a little bit. Continue with peaceful protests, but work on some peaceful solutions. There is only so much that can be done with billboards and outrage in parks across the nation. And be courteous and respectful of your neighbors. Just because they don’t want to live in a tent or be a part of a drum circle, doesn’t mean they don’t agree with what you are saying.

Who will implement the necessary and desired change, if not us?


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Healthy Red Chicken Dinner

Last night I threw together a delicious and very healthy dinner that ended up dominated by red foods. I didn’t take any pictures, unfortunately, but I will include the recipe here:

Red Chicken and Wild Rice Quinoa

Serves 4

For Quinoa:

1 cup quinoa (Can find at Trader Joe’s in the rice/grain section)

2 ½ cups low sodium organic chicken broth

½ cup wild rice

Combine in sauce pan and bring to a boil. Once boiling, cover and let simmer until no liquid remains and quinoa is soft (approximately 30 minutes).

For Chicken:

2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts

1 tbs olive oil

1 red onion sliced thinly

2 cloves garlic diced

1 red chili pepper sliced

1 red bell pepper sliced

½ cup low sodium organic chicken broth

2 tomatoes cubed

1 small jar of artichoke hearts, drained and chopped

1 cup sugar snap peas

Red Spice Rub:

½ tsp salt

½ tsp pepper

½ tsp cayenne pepper

½ tsp chili powder

½ tsp paprika

¼ tsp garlic powder

½ tsp oregano

Season raw chicken breasts with spice rub and let sit.

In a skillet/fry pan, heat olive oil over medium heat. Add onions and garlic and sauté until tender or until the onions start to look clear. Add the chili pepper and bell pepper and cook for a few more minutes.

Cut the chicken into cubes and add to the skillet. Cook until chicken is browned. Add chicken broth, artichoke hearts and diced tomatoes into the skillet. Cook until chicken is cooked all the way through, stirring occasionally. Add the sugar snap peas and cook for approximately five minutes, or until warm but still crisp.

Serve over quinoa.

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An Accounting

I have spent the last six and a half years dabbling in higher education, with very little to show for it, except, perhaps, debt.  Most days I feel like I am tilting at windmills. I’m chasing this elusive degree that escapes my grasp again and again. My own shortsightedness has created an indomitable giant out of a relatively small thing: finishing.

To describe my path in detail would take far too long, so let’s suffice it to say that I’ve been to six different schools, taken a slew of classes–most of which were very interesting– and met many people who I wont see again. I didn’t think very much about the fruit of all this labor. I never spent much time contemplating what I was working towards, because that was too nebulous for me. The future was an amorphous cloud of possibilities, hazy and intangible, making me dizzy if I stared at it too long. I was fumbling around, doing whatever appealed to me at the time, all the while proclaiming that I was on track, except I never claimed to know where the track was going, nor did I mention how it was circuitous.

I ran out of momentum. I hit a dead-end, a wall, a roadblock. I took a hiatus from school and decided to just work. HA. Pretty stupid. I’ve mentioned before that I had been suffering from unemployment, the economical disease that has become the blight of our country. I,  and thousands of others in LA county alone, spent the summer trolling job sites, visiting web-based career fairs, and canvasing local businesses, completely unlucky and very burnt out. I longed for something to do to keep me occupied.

Then, when I had given up all hope of ever paying my towers of bills, I received a phone call about a job for an accounts receivable position I didn’t even remember applying to. A friendly man on the other end of the line told me very little, chatted with me about nothing important, asked if I had any experience with Quickbooks, and then told me to come in for an interview on the following Monday. I had been very honest with him, admitting that my background wasn’t in accounting, that I had only minimal experience with Quickbooks, or any accounting software, and that I would be very pleased to come in on Monday. When I hung up the phone, I realized that I had no idea what company he was from. I had an address and an appointment, and thought, what the hell?

I did some research on what Accounts Payable even was, looked at some screen shots of Quickbooks, and drove to my appointment. I didn’t feel apprehensive, most likely due to the numbness I had developed from all of the previous job rejections, and I went into the nondescript office building (20 minutes early) very relaxed.

For whatever reason I didn’t think that not knowing anything at all about the company I was interviewing for was detrimental. Every website about job interviews will tell you the opposite, but like I said, I was numb. I grabbed a business card from a little stack on the counter in the waiting room, hoping to get an idea of what I was going into. When I read the words “International Forklift Co.” I nearly started laughing. A forklift company? Accounting department in a forklift company. This was going to be far outside my comfort zone.

When I met with Javier, the president of the company, I felt disembodied. I floated after him into his office, sat behind the impressive mahogany desk, and heard myself saying ridiculous things like, “I actually don’t have much accounting experience since I came from a restaurant environment” and “I don’t think Quickbooks will be hard for me to learn, even though I don’t know it very well” and “This is the farthest I’ve gotten in the interview process for a while.” My mouth ran on and on, smiling the whole time, while my brain burrowed into a little, dark, disconnected hole.  Luckily for me, Javier was completely content to discuss the difficulties of finding a job, completely ignored my lack of experience, and seemed very excited to introduce me to his VP, Sal.

Sal explained to me that they had seen many applicants, some of which had immense accounting experience and college degrees. My heart sank. Javier was jovial, upbeat and nice. He was the head of the company, but Sal was in charge. It was Sal who would be my direct supervisor, so it was his opinion that really mattered. My brain woke up and clapped a muzzle on my mouth before I could say anything stupid. I listened to his description of the job, asked intelligent questions, explained that I had experience with invoicing and had even worked as an intern in the billing department of a flooring company. I didn’t say that my experience with invoicing amounted to filing and that I scanned documents in the billing department, but didn’t actually handle any accounts. However, I won points with my philosophies on customer service.

Apparently the forklift industry is extremely competitive. There are several big forklift companies vying for accounts, as well as hundreds of smaller, mom and pop style forklift companies that will charge half the price. The only way to compete is to be friendlier, more accommodating, and provide the best customer service around. I know how to do that. Working as a waitress in a neighborhood bar on the border of Oakland and Berkeley–a neighborhood full of wealthy, demanding, egocentrics–prepared me for pretty much anything forklift customers could throw at me. I described some of my customer service philosophy to Sal. I told him that my favorite thing to do was to make  a customer who came into the restaurant angry, frustrated and expecting the worst time of their life, leave smiling, happy, and promising to come back.

Sal shook my hand at the end of the interview, told me he would discuss the possibility of my employment with Javier, and cautioned me not to get my hopes up, as I had no real accounting experience and no degree. I went home with a confusing combination of feelings roiling in my stomach. I felt that I did well, I felt that I did terrible, I felt that I really should have gotten my degree, and I felt hungry.

Two hours later, Javier called me, “Reyna. Hi. It’s Javier. You got the job. Can you start tomorrow?”

I do not, for even one minute, feel that this was anything but luck and the power of personality. For half a second I thought, see, I don’t need a degree! I got a job! But then I considered the pay check: paltry, the hours: long, the actual job: boring. I sit at a cramped desk and invoice work orders. It is far from glamorous. There is no room for advancement, it isn’t going to get harder or more challenging–infact, the opposite is true–and although it is giving me priceless job experience, it will in no way supplant the necessity for a degree.

If anything, I am more motivated now to finish college. I’d like to have a more glamorous job, not that there is anything wrong with what I’m doing now, but I’m spending most of my time trying to figure out how to spend my time at work. I think something more challenging may be in order, but I know that wont happen unless I can get that piece of paper. So here goes the next chapter in the higher education story: college number seven–I just have to get in.

It is time to finally slay the giant, admit it’s a windmill, and move on with my life.

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Shackled By My Hairy, White, Man-Ankles

For a long time I have suffered from a severe lack of self-esteem where my legs are concerned. I’ve heard it all–cankles, man-ankles, tree-trunk legs–there isn’t a lot anyone can say about my legs that I haven’t heard, except, maybe, the complimentary things.

Even in elementary school I was teased. Sitting under a tree, eating my lunch, my white legs crossed “Indian style” and minding my own business, I noticed three of my male classmates walking purposefully toward me, snickering amongst themselves. I knew nothing good was going to happen, and my peanut butter and jelly sandwich turned to cardboard in my mouth.

Derrick, the ring leader, stepped forward and said,  “Reyna, you have what boys have and girls aren’t supposed to.”

The other boys snickered harder, their faces ugly with mean spirited mirth. I was genuinely confused.

“I don’t have a penis,” I said, almost a question. What were they talking about?

“You have hairy legs!” Derrick guffawed and the other boys nearly collapsed laughing.

My legs were no hairier than any other third grader’s, but the difference was how translucently white they were and how dark my hair was. Unlike my tan, blonde friends, who’s leg hair was soft, downy and nearly invisible, my legs were covered in thick, black hairs. It was inescapable really. My heritage saw to that. Polish/Eastern European on one side, Highland Scottish on the other, I was cursed with thick, black hair. Head hair, arm hair, eyebrow hair and leg hair. All of my uncles on my mom’s side had bear-like bodies covered in human fur, wild and bushy uni-brows, and constant five o’clock shadow. My grandmother fought with her hair for years and actually got electrolysis done when that process was still in its infancy. My dad was also hairy, with his own stocky, hair-covered, solid legs, which look masculine on a man, and, well, masculine on a woman. Of course, I have my dad’s legs, but without his testosterone and tan.

I started shaving my legs that day. My mom cautioned me to shave only to my knee, since the hair was destined to grow back thicker and blacker, and since the hairs above the knee were thinner and lighter, I really didn’t need to shave them. I did anyway.

I gave up shorts, and unless I had a pair of thick tights or leggings, I avoided skirts and dresses. Pants were the only option. By the time I was in high school, I was envious of both my mom and my sister for their slender, feminine legs, delicate ankles, and tan, smooth skin. My legs were transparent;  each blue vein was visible, every hair follicle created the illusion that my legs were really just thick,  elongated, albino, prickly pears.  Skinny jeans and knee high boots were an impossibility. PE was torture. I had to wear shorts just like all the other kids. Sweats were an option when it was cold, but running laps and playing softball in California sunshine while wearing sweat pants was too hot, and being sweaty and stinky on top of having man ankles would be mortifying for sixteen year old Reyna.

Swimming class was the worst. My PE class was first period, 8 am, and the swimming unit split the class in half and took place in the fall and winter months of the school year. Whoever decided this was a mean-spirited child-hater. The sky was usually overcast, cold and heavy with potential rain, and all of us PE victims would stand, shivering in our towels and bathing suits, still damp from the day before, on the pool deck, waiting for the water-torture to begin.

My legs would turn purple. White legs, poor circulation, cold and the magnification properties of water combined together made me look corpse-like. A drowning victim, but without the drowning.

In an attempt to avoid having to swim, I told the instructors that I didn’t know how. I claimed that not only did I sink when placed in a pool of water, but I was terrified of swimming. It wasn’t a lie, so much as an exaggeration of the truth. I was very uncoordinated, and really didn’t like swimming. I had a tendency to flail around, swallow water and then panic. But I did know how to swim. Technically.

The teacher listened to my explanations with his lips pursed, nodding sympathetically as I went on and on, outlining why I should be allowed to sit out of this particular PE unit. When I finished, he looked my fully clothed body up and down, crossed his arms and in a loud voice, declared, “Go Change.”

When I began to say I didn’t bring my suit, he interrupted and said, “Use One Of The Lost And Found Bathing Suits.”

By this point, everyone in the class, whether they were swimming laps, treading water, or lined up at the diving board had stopped to stare at me. My white face was battling between the green of shock and nausea and the red of embarrassment and shame. I nearly sprinted into the locker room to put on my bathing suit.

Once I rejoined the class, the teacher boomed that I would be working with one of the swim team members every day, in my own lane. She was going to teach me how to swim. I would also join the other half of the class with their swimming unit, instead of moving on to badminton with mine. Double the swimming class.

All of this because I wouldn’t show my legs.

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