When I Wanted to Be an Astronaut (part 5)

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(This is part 5 in what’s turned into a multi-part series where I look back and reflect on my various career aspirations.)

So I’ve graduated. I’ve got a nice little gig, editing a book for this guy with a vegan hair care company, that is about to go belly-up due to…we’ll call them creative differences. I find another little part-time gig in Pismo Beach that barely keeps my bank account solvent while I take some community college courses (for fun this time — black & white photography, digital art, that sort of thing).

In May 2010, I start looking for Real Jobs. Big-Girl Jobs that take up 40+ hours a week and have benefits and stuff. I get a lead in the Bay Area. I email my boss from my marketing internship from a couple years ago, in Palo Alto. She says, hey, L is about to go on maternity leave and we could use you for the summer at least!

So I move back to the Bay Area, while Boyfriend looks for jobs with architecture firms in San Diego. He finds one and moves down there. My co-worker comes back to work. I keep working there. It’s…interesting. Some days I come home just feeling miserable and lost and hopeless, other days I’m all jazzed and hopeful about possible opportunities to move up with the company or in marketing in general.

In May 2011, I — now with permanent employment — am allowed to relocate to San Diego, where they have a satellite office. I am essentially managing (or trying to manage) social media for the entire company, with no budget and very little backing from the higher-ups. But their social presence grows surprisingly well and I think, “this social media marketing is pretty cool.”

There is some upheaval in the company and in my department specifically. I get a new boss, who tags me to take lead on this massive project. I’m excited about it at first, but it quickly devolves into a total disaster and I start coming home in tears more often than not. In the midst of that, I’m asked to move back to the Bay Area (oh, by now I’m engaged, Boyfriend is Fiancé, and he and I are starting to think about buying a house in the next year or two). I decline. I get laid off in May 2013.

In July, I get a job at a marketing agency. I am PSYCHED. This will be AWESOME. I’ll get paid to WRITE and be CREATIVE and play on social media and work on cool accounts! It’s a small company and I’ll get to really make an impact!

A few months in, I slowly start to realize…Marketing is terrible. Social Media is bullshit. Most companies are doing it wrong and have no interest in doing it right. This job NEVER STOPS. I am constantly checking Instagram and Twitter at dinner, on weekends, on holidays with my family.

I have no idea what to do. I completely despise the only thing I have any experience in whatsoever. I feel like I have no other job skills, or any idea of what I actually want to do with my life. I’m stressed because we’re saving for a down payment for a house and once we have a mortgage, well, I won’t be able to afford to make less than what I’m making. There was one day at the office where I had to run to the bathroom three times before lunch to cry.

I know I want more freedom and control in my career. I know I love the writing parts; the marketing strategy and campaign parts, not so much. I’m terrified of quitting and giving up my regular, reliable, paycheck. But finally, Husband convinces me to go for it.

And now?

to be continued – last time, I promise!

Drink Up: The Maverick

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I’m no mixologist. But I do know my way around a liquor cabinet, and I’ve been known to throw caution to the wind and be a little inventive when the situation calls for it.

And friends, in the fall of 2008, the situation called for it.

On one fine day, my extremely liberal (and awesome) lit professor let class out early, because he and his wife were hosting friends for the Vice Presidential debate that night and he had to go home to get ready/was too stressed to teach. (I remember his exact words being “I’m so afraid that Biden will go off on a tangent and she’ll accidentally say something intelligent.”)

So I got to go home and settled in to watch the debate with my roommate. Not to start any political debates, but I’m staunchly liberal and was pulling hard for Obama/Biden, looking forward to finally getting the Bush family out of the White House, and completely dumbfounded by Sarah Palin. (I was also gaining a newfound love of Tina Fey for her absolutely perfect impersonations. I mean, she was already awesome, this just made her that much more so.)

Just to give you a sense of the mindset I was in.

About, oh, five minutes into the debate, my roommate suggested drinking every time Palin said the word “maverick.” Yes! Brilliant! Except we don’t have any beer. “Hang on,” I said, “let me look around…well, we have rum.”

“Any mixers?”

“Ummm…sweet & sour? Flavored seltzer water?”

And lo, “The Maverick” was born.

Let it be known I only measure out ingredients for one drink and that’s a very specific margarita recipe passed on to us by a friend’s mom. So mix this to your liking, garnish it however you like, whatever.

Take:

Captain Morgan’s Spiced Rum (because pirates were mavericks, were they not?)

Triple Sec (to sweeten and balance the rum’s spiciness)

Sweet & Sour mix (I’m totally talking out of my ass here. IT WAS IN THE FRIDGE AND WE WEREN’T SURE WHERE IT CAME FROM AND WE NEEDED A MIXER. Use lemonade, or straight-up lemon juice and sugar. Use orange juice. Hell, use Bloody Mary mix or V8 for all I care)

Lime-flavored seltzer water (I like the Trader Joe’s brand, but use whatever you have or make it in your Sodastream if you’re all fancy like that.)

Fill a glass with ice. Any glass. I used highball glasses because I had a really cool set that I got from Ross when I was in college. By the time I left SLO, they had all been broken. It seemed oddly fitting. But you can use a wine glass, pint glass, Nalgene, mason jar, sippy cup, whatever.

Always add your liquor first, because you don’t want to add the mixers first and then realize you’ve run out of room for the booze. So start with your rum, then just a splash of triple sec, then a touch of sweet & sour (I don’t like to overdo this because I don’t like the too-sweet fake taste), and top it off with the lime seltzer. Stir. Taste. Add more of whatever you want until you find it delicious.

Yeah, it’s basically a margarita with rum instead of tequila. BUT I INVENTED IT. ALL BY MYSELF. I didn’t consult any fancy bartending apps. I took whatever I could find in the fridge and concocted something using nothing by my brain and hands. So there.

Recommended for beach days, camping (pre-mix it in large, sealable container), sitting on the patio/porch/balcony in the summer, and when watching political debates.

When I Wanted to Be an Astronaut (part 4)

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(This is part 4 in what’s turned into a multi-part series where I look back and reflect on my various career aspirations.)

So I’m in Copenhagen, recovering from my mental breakdown and trying to figure out what’s next. Ultimately, I decided to continue with my English degree, but look into either adding some sort of science-y minor or adding a double major in Neuroscience.

Problem: Cal Poly doesn’t offer a major in Neuroscience.

Okay, fine, I figured, I’ll graduate and then go somewhere else to get a second Bachelor’s degree. All my general ed credits should transfer and I’ll just need to catch up in science and math, but that degree should only take a couple years, right? Oh look! UCSD and Santa Cruz both offer undergrad Neuroscience programs! Sweet!

I started telling friends my new career goals. Most were puzzled but supportive. Some weren’t quite sure what neuroscience was or what I’d do with it. “But why finish your English degree? Why not just switch?”

Because I still love English. Because I didn’t go this far into the program to just abandon it. Because I’m not going to give up that part of my identity. (In truth, I was kinda relishing this new “rebel” identity where I defied the boundaries between creative and logical thinking and careers.)

I went back to Cal Poly in the fall of 2007 and promptly signed up for basic chemistry and calculus 101.

Guys, I was terrified of calc. I’d admitted to myself by now that chemistry had always been pretty cool, even in high school, because blowing stuff up. But physics? Which is essentially what calculus is? No. Hated it. Couldn’t get it. Nothing but awful memories from that class in high school.

Luckily, I had a pretty cool instructor for calculus and did pretty well. It wasn’t easy. I was basically learning a whole new way of thinking that just didn’t come naturally to me. But really? Math isn’t as hard as I always made it out to be. If I was really honest with myself, I was actually pretty good at math.

If I was really, really honest with myself, a part of me…well, didn’t enjoy, but was contented with the process of solving homework problems in high school. In those classes, it was mainly doing the same thing over and over again, just with different numbers. It was really no different than, say, taking a bucket of balls to the driving range and hitting them, one after the other after the other, to perfect your stroke. Math homework was about repeating a process — solving for x — until you were comfortable with it and could recognize when that particular process could be used.

But I just told myself math sucked and I hated it and I was never going to use any of this anyway so it was all stupid and worthless. Well, I still don’t really love calculus or math in general, but I no longer hate or scorn it.

And chemistry was awesome. Even organic chemistry! Oh, that class kicked my ass but it absolutely fascinated me. And I think I loved it because it was all abstract visualization — just like thinking and talking about Big Important Concepts in my English classes. My mind couldn’t fathom these little molecules, too small to comprehend, doing all this stuff to combine and break apart and react and turn into new molecules.

I was excited. I was researching neuroscience programs and looking up transfer requirements and also figuring out what classes I still needed to graduate with my English degree.

Then I started getting unfortunate replies to my emails to various admissions departments.

We’re sorry, but if you already have an undergraduate degree, you will not be able to enroll in an undergraduate program. Please consider looking into our master’s programs…

Derrr-what? Your master’s programs require extensive upper-division coursework in science and math and lab experience! What now?

It was a frustrating few months. I talked to a friend of a friend who advised me not to even bother switching majors or careers right now (oh yeah, now we’re in late summer/early fall 2008, when the economy was going all ker-blooey). I only had two quarters left before graduating from Cal Poly. I had switched to taking the lower-division science and math courses at the local community college because they were cheaper. I was working on my senior project (sort of like an undergrad thesis, a “capstone” project representing your undergrad work — mine was a 20-some page work of fiction). And I was getting tired of being broke.

I also knew that Boyfriend (now-Husband) still had a year to go before graduation. He spent the first year we dated in Washington, D.C. and I wasn’t crazy about going long-distance again. So I reluctantly took a step back from neuroscience, graduated, kept going to classes at the community college (so I could keep my health insurance) and picked up a part-time job (also, my parents generously agreed to keep supporting me while I figured things out).

to be continued…

When I Wanted to Be an Astronaut (part 3)

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(This is part 3 in what’s turned into a multi-part series where I look back and reflect on my various career aspirations.)

When we left off, I was heading off to my English degree at Cal Poly, ready to become this literary mastermind and accomplished writer.

And for the first two years, I followed that path. I LOVED my literature classes and writing workshops. I even enjoyed being the “minority” at a polytechnic school, where engineering, business, and agriculture ruled. I came up with witty responses to “Oh, English? So you’re gonna be a teacher?” Haha, most definitely not.

Also, I minored in Psychology, because I loved my Psych classes in high school, and — as a writer — I wanted to understand the human condition so I could write better characters. For that minor, I had to take a basic statistics course.

(I actually took two stats courses when I was a freshman — the first was basically “Statistics for Liberal Arts Majors,” where yes, we learned about calculating statistics and chi-squares and stuff, but a lot of it was more theory and how to critically read new reports or articles that cited different statistics.)

Statistics, as it turns out, is pretty cool. Seriously — for the first time in years, I saw that numbers could actually mean something; they weren’t just random things in textbooks that don’t represent anything concrete. And I did really well in the class. I surprised the professor, who wasn’t all that sure why an English major was taking her class in the first place. At some point, I even looked up the requirements to minor in Stats — but once I saw that a couple of classes required Calculus, I closed that browser window and put it out of my mind.

Then I spent a year studying in Copenhagen, which I could go on and on and on about, but for the purposes of this story, I need to tell you about a psychology course I took Spring semester. It was a tough course, more for upper-level Psych majors (who were intimately familiar with APA style, which is HORRIBLE) than people who just dabble in it. Meaning — I was a little out of my element, but I still enjoyed the material.

There was one lecture specifically on brain chemistry — the actual chemical reactions between neurons and how neural pathways are formed and all that. Very complex, in-depth stuff (and this was just an introductory overview). And I clearly remember one point in the class where all of sudden, everything just clicked. I got it. And it was fascinating.

I went to my little apartment that night and had a full-on breakdown. Brain chemistry? Neuroscience? I couldn’t seriously be considering this, could I? But suddenly I was convinced — and terrified — that I’d made a huge mistake with my English major. I suddenly had this deep desire to understand more of how the brain works, to figure out what was happening when things went wrong (i.e., mental illnesses) and how we could fix them. I was scared that I was the completely wrong career path — only not wrong, because I did and do love reading and writing, but did I really need the major for that? Could I do both? Could I just abandon every thought I ever had about who I was (creative, writer, philosophical, dreamer, not logical, not left-brained)?

I journaled a bunch of half-coherent thoughts and emailed something rambling and panicky my dad and crawled into bed, not sure what had just happened.

My dad responded by the time I woke up telling me to calm down, don’t make any rash decisions, but if this was something I wanted to explore then I should, don’t feel like I “have” to do anything, whether that’s go through with my English degree or switch majors or something else entirely. I was not “stuck” on any one path yet, there’s always time to change directions, why don’t I just try to relax and maybe take some time to figure out my options?

My dad is pretty amazing, btw.

to be continued…

When I Wanted to Be an Astronaut (part 2)

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(This is part 2 in what’s turned into a multi-part series where I look back and reflect on my various career aspirations.)

When we left off, I was inexplicably writing off my space ambitions in favor of writing. Math/science = bad, writing/creativity = good.

This sudden change in paradigm and my sense of self is something to be explored at another time (trust me, I’ve been thinking about it A LOT lately). But at any rate, I truly LOVED writing, especially creative writing. Maybe my love of reading fueled this? Maybe I somehow thought that reading, which I took to like peanut butter to jelly, was incompatible with scientific pursuits? I relished writing assignments all through elementary school. In 2nd or 3rd grade, I wrote an unbelievably awful story about going to my grandparents’ house for Easter break. It was 15 pages, and I remember being really proud of that length. I also remember writing it on our first family computer that ran MS-DOS.

In 5th grade, we were assigned to write a short story for a contest. My teacher made a point to pull me aside and tell me he “thought [I] had a chance with this one” (to win, that is). I didn’t, but I loved writing some stupid story about a girl who lived in a the future and had a machine that picked her clothes each morning (I think; that’s all I remember about it and I’m honestly not sure I still have a copy anywhere).

(Which might not be a bad thing, sidenote, ever heard of juvenalia? It’s a collection of a writer’s early writings that usually get collected and published posthumously for English teachers and academics to study. Like reading Mark Twain’s unpublished letters, drafts of short stories, or writings from his youth. /English major nerd out. Anyway, I’d probably burn/hard delete all my journals and “unpublished works” before I die so that can’t happen to me.)

Then in 6th grade, we had this year-long project where we had to keep producing creative work, following this specific process of brainstorming, drafting, revising, getting feedback, etc. I think I wrote half a dozen short stories and personal essays that year. I also remember starting this story that was like Star Trek meets Jurassic Park — a group of people from the future, who travel between galaxies and planets like in Star Trek or Star Wars, get sucked through this black hole-like thing and end up back on Earth in the time of the dinosaurs.

In high school, I never gave much thought to what I’d eventually go to college for — English. Duh. To be a writer. What else was there? I figured I wouldn’t really make a living as a novelist right away, so I’d go into some other field — magazine editor, maybe sportswriter, something like that. Because creative! Writing!

Unfortunately, I kinda fell off from writing fiction for most of high school. I had a lot of white, suburban, upper-middle-class teen angst, so I journaled voraciously (and wrote a couple truly horrific poems), but fiction writing happened here and there, in short bursts. I took a Creative Writing class when I was a senior, which was wonderful, and reminded me how much I love writing fiction, but the habits I practiced there still didn’t really stick long-term.

And then, yes, I went to college (at Cal Poly SLO) and majored in English. And that’s where things got really interesting…

to be continued…

Why I Run

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You know the “reasons to be fit” or “why I run” things you see all over Pinterest and Tumblr?

To feel strong…to be better than I was before…to get in shape…to look good in a bikini…to look good in my wedding dress…it’s cheaper than therapy

Etc etc etc…

I used to think that, in general, none and all of them applied to me. Sure, I run to stay in shape, for the “endorphin high,” to improve my race times, all that jazz. But none of those are the single driving force behind why I lace up my Brooks most days.

The thing is, running is just something I’ve (almost literally) always done. My elementary school had a track team, which my parents signed me up for when I was six. Our “practices” were running laps around the asphalt at school. While we were driving to my first ever meet, my dad told me he thought I should try the 800 — two laps around the track.

Little 6-year-old Allison didn’t know any better, so she said okay. And we got to the track and I “jogged a warm-up lap” with some of the “big kids” and thought “This is so far! I don’t know if I can run this!”

But I did, and I did it again, and again, and again, for pretty much every single track meet up through the 8th grade. I was far from the best or fastest runner (there was another girl my age who was one of my only consistent “competitors” and she usually smoked me by at least 30 seconds), and I don’t really remember if I even liked it that much or not (actually, some of my fondest memories of those track meets are getting donuts at the snack stand after my race), but I just kept going out there and doing it.

Then in high school, I joined the cross country team and it was the single best decision I ever made (and again, it was really at my parents’ suggestion — I initially joined the team figuring it would get me in shape for soccer). The coach and team were AMAZING and for the first time, I truly fell in love with running. I made varsity, but again, was nowhere near the best or fastest and didn’t join any team in college. But I kept running. Sporadically some years, more regularly in others. Towards the end of college, I ran my first half marathon. Eventually, I ran a full marathon (after years of swearing I’d never do something so crazy). Now I’m entertaining thoughts of maybe, one day, trying for an ultra. Maybe.

Why?

For awhile, I tried to insist that I truly enjoyed the act of running, that it wasn’t something I hated but forced myself to do for some supposed reward (a smaller size, a healthier heart, mental clarity, whatever). And I do. But there are definitely runs or times during runs (like the last 12 miles or so of a marathon) when I’m really not enjoying any part of it.

Then I realized what it was when I ran the La Jolla Half Marathon a couple months ago.

I like who I am when I run.

I don’t run with music, ever. I listen to podcasts on the treadmill but that’s because treadmills are terribly boring, and I usually use them for speedwork so I need to distract myself from the intensity and pain. And I rarely run in groups — most of my runs are solo or with my dog. So it’s just me out there with myself for company. And, somewhat surprisingly, I actually really enjoy that company.

I lecture myself, I think back to how stupid I was when I did XYZ last week or month or year, I worry about where I’ll be in five years, if I’m on the right track in my career, what I’m gonna do about whatever issue I’m having. I replay embarrassing or unpleasant memories and cringe.

But I also support myself. Tell myself to focus on the positive. Tell myself not to worry so damn much. I make jokes. I observe things around me. I think about what I’m going to eat later. I plan my week. I make up stories. Sometimes I just zone out. In my own mind, when I’m running, I’m the funniest, wittiest sumbitch I’ve ever met. And it’s an honest-to-God pleasure to spend 30-60+ minutes, 5 or 6 days a week, in my own company.

This means that, when I’m not running, no, I don’t always like myself that much. I’m super critical and hard on myself, I compare myself to Facebook friends and other people on the Internet, I make mistakes and screw up and don’t react appropriately to certain life events and I’m not always a good friend and I forget birthdays and don’t eat healthy or make doctor’s appointments when I should. I’m not exactly an easy person to get along with (seriously, ask my dad. Or my husband) and sometimes I get really, really down on myself.

But not when I run.

When I Wanted to Be an Astronaut (part 1)

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I was 5, and astronaut was the first “thing” I wanted to be when I grew up.

(According to something in my pre-school time capsule, when I was 3-4, I wanted to be “a nurse and a mommy.” I think I just didn’t know any other occupations at that time.)

An astronaut visited my kindergarten class, and he brought a “space suit” and helmet and each of us got to pose for a photo wearing the suit and holding the helmet by our side, like the real astronauts do/did in their official NASA photos. And I guess I just thought that was so cool and they got to go into outer space and I wanted to do that!

So began my intense interest in the Solar System, stars, galaxies, and space travel. I had this toy planetarium thing, a small projector with different slides that showed the night sky from different hemispheres and different seasons so you could see them on the ceiling or wall. I had the glow-in-the-dark stars all over my bedroom. For one birthday, my friends and I went to the science museum for a planetarium show. Apollo 13 is still one of my favorite movies. I went to freakin’ Space Camp when I was 11 (and it was AWESOME).

(I have no idea where those pictures are, or they’d be all over this post.)

So I really have no idea why, in the second grade, when we were prompted to “imagine where we’d be in 20 years” (which is, um, now?) and write about it, I wrote about being married, checking on my infant daughter (hah!) in her crib, and then going to work on my next novel. At the time, I imagined myself writing the kids’ novels I had just started reading (The Boxcar Children and Babysitter’s Little Sister or whatever it was called — the spinoff from the Babysitter’s Club books about Kristy’s step-sister Karen. Also the Sweet Valley spin-off about the twins when they were in 2nd or 3rd grade or so) because that was all I really knew about literature.

It’s interesting now, when I’m reading so much about how girls are getting conditioned away from liking math and science at young ages. Did that happen to me? I don’t really think so; my parents always wanted me to do whatever would make me happy and definitely encouraged my astronaut dreams (see toy planetarium, birthday, and putting up with those stupid glow-in-the-dark stars all over my walls). My interest in outer space didn’t really decrease, just my desire to go there. I went to a school that actually had an awesome science program and I can’t for the life of me remember ever being told “girls can’t do science” or anything along those lines. If anything, at that age, I would’ve said “oh yeah? WATCH ME” because I relished being a tomboy and didn’t *want* to be perceived as “girly” in any way.

But at any rate, after just two or three years, I had apparently given up on my dreams of going to the moon or the space station. It wasn’t until 4th grade that I decided to nurse an active hatred of math, and figured science was mostly math and I was the creative right-brained type, dammit, I was an artsy creative writer, screw all that logic and reason.

Yeah, I wanted to be an astronaut when I was little, but then I realized how much math and science they had to know, I would joke.

to be continued…