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January 2010

P.A.L. – “Know thyself”

Saturday, January 2nd, 2010

In the category of knowing myself comes the fact that I am not auditioning for a part on Survivor today.

It’s strange living in a writer’s brain, where scenarios get played out, even if very unlikely or even impossible, for the sake of exploring what “might” happen. The strange part is how I sometimes, for brief moments, forget that I am not a fictional character who might, for example, enjoy building shelters on a remote island or be able to scavenge for food or handle the strange politics of faux tribes and alliances or feel confident striding around in a bikini and talking about my fellow island competitors on-camera behind their backs. (”I just don’t know if I can trust Alicia….”)

I remember when Survivor first came on television, before reality TV exploded into the messy phenomenon it is today. I only watched snippets of the show, because I heard that people were getting hooked on it. I was appalled at some of the behavior, including the whole “voting someone off the island” thing and the fact that the man who won that first season did so through disunifying and unvirtuous behavior that was glorified as “playing the game.” I haven’t followed the show ever since (and didn’t even follow it that time), and I’m distressed by the idea of it. (On a side note, to see how Survivor would play out when taken to the extreme, read The Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins. Very well-written and very disturbing.)

So why would I find out about Survivor auditions happening in Seattle and think, “Ooh! Maybe I could do that!” I know it’s just that writer-brain fantasy thing, but it still took me about half an hour to thoroughly unstick myself from the idea. “I’m a nervous traveler,” I had to remind myself. “I’d have to be gone 7 weeks – what would Doug and the kids do without me?” “Do they even pay you anything if you don’t win?” “There’s no way they would cast me, since I’m not busty and I’m not a model and I’m old by TV standards.”

But I still introduced the idea to Doug, saying, “Maybe I could win! I could be one of those background contestants that nobody notices and everybody keeps on the island because I’m not a threat. And then I come out to win it all!”

Then I remembered, with the assistance of my dear husband, how opinionated and judgemental I can be, especially under stress. If I were on Survivor, I would be just as petty as anyone else and end up being so ashamed of my behavior that I couldn’t show my face in public. But I would have to for promotional spots. And post-show tours. Especially if I won.

No, no, no! Being a Survivor contestant is not what I am meant to do! But what am I meant to do? Apparently I am too morally decrepit to work in kitchens anymore. At least according to the results of my Hartman Value Profile.

The Hartman Value Profile is an intriguing little tool, supposedly based on lots of research, that assesses a person’s inner being through two lists. Each list contains 18 items or phrases which the test taker is supposed to prioritize by number, “1” having the highest or most positive value on the list, and “18” having the lowest value. I love taking tests, especially ones that are supposed to assess my character, so I happily filled out the form, confident that I had valued things in the best way possible, and sent it off by e-mail to the Highline Medical Center’s HR department, knowing that they would want to hire me as a dietary clerk. This is the e-mail I received back:

“Thank you for returning your completed profile. Upon scoring it indicates your score does not meet the standards we are given to forward your resume. However, we do give the opportunity to re-take the profile with more clear instructions.”

I was genuinely surprised. The instructions for filling out the form were resent, this time with extra spaces between each sentence, the equivalent of speaking loudly and clearly to a person who needs a “little extra help” understanding things.

I immediatley went back to the forms that I had sent, thinking maybe the answers I had filled out had been erased from the PDF. But no, all of my answers were there, intact and making sense. Only when I looked at them again more thoroughly did I find a few of my decisions that may have scored poorly.

For example, I scored “a madman” with a higher value than “an assembly line”. The way I see it, a madman is a human being who may have many positive attributes despite having screwed-up brain chemistry, while an assembly line is a soul-sucking job I had once. But I changed the order of their values and then redid the whole form, trying to imagine what the “right” answers would be. Finally satisfied, but not as confident as before, I sent the profile off one more time. That same day I received another e-mail:

“Thank you for returning your re-take of the Hartman Value Profile. Your score still does not meet the “standards” in order to have your resume forwarded for open positions at this time. You may re-apply after 30 days for positions with requirements that match your qualifications.”


I find this situation fascinating! And I want to know the secret code! What does this HR person know about me that I don’t know?

New Year’s Resolution

Saturday, January 2nd, 2010

Forty one years ago today, I was born. I happen to have been born on the day when many people make goals for themselves and resolve to fulfill them during the coming year. Since I started my whole life on this particular day of goal setting, perhaps it’s natural that I take this January 1st reassessment thing fairly seriously. Except for resolving several years ago to finish my young adult novel, I haven’t set many concrete goals throughout the years. More often I spend those days around my birthday wondering what I’m doing with my life. It’s not always as angst-ridden as it may sound, but it can be uncomfortable, and the older I get, the more urgent the self-questioning has become.

Perhaps anticipating this upcoming life accomplishment question, I spent much of my pilgrimage prayer time asking what I need to be doing with my life, what God created me to do, and what job or career path I need to be taking. Writing is definitely something I want to keep doing, but so far it’s not bringing in any money, and I would like to earn some of that someday.

Baha’u’llah said, “Having attained the stage of fulfilment and reached his maturity, man standeth in need of wealth, and such wealth as he acquireth through crafts or professions is commendable and praiseworthy in the estimation of men of wisdom….” I have felt guilty at times that I have spent so much time and money getting an education towards a profession I don’t practice or earn money from. But the real kicker, the thing to pay attention to that guides one toward a craft or profession, is the first part of that quote: “…man should know his own self and recognize that which leadeth unto loftiness or lowliness, glory or abasement, wealth or poverty.”

I know myself fairly well, having had forty one years to get to know me, including five-ish years of therapy, but I still don’t know what I “should” be doing with my life, professionally speaking. While I was on pilgrimage, I prayed about this career issue, which is very important in the Baha’i Faith, not only from the standpoint of monetary wealth, but also of spiritual wealth, as evidenced by the quote: “It is enjoined upon every one of you to engage in some form of occupation, such as crafts, trades and the like. We have graciously exalted your engagement in such work to the rank of worship unto God, the True One.”

I prayed about this career issue often in the shrines, and the topic came up a few times when I talked with fellow pilgrims. Once, while chatting and drinking tea during a visit to Bahji, a fellow pilgrim from Seattle told me about a program that offers an accelerated nursing degree to people with other degrees. It sounded like it could have been an answer to prayer, but I wasn’t sure. And now that I’m home and have had a chance to research the program, I see that it would take a lot of money, which I don’t have, and which I can’t risk spending on a career I’m not sure I want to pursue. I’ve already gone that route as an unemployed holder of a master’s degree in nutrition.

As I tried to focus my prayers and to summarize my feelings and desires into words, the phrase that kept coming to my mind was, “How can I be of service?” So even though specific fantasies would enter my mind (from as mundane as me teaching ESL to as inflated as me being interviewed by David Letterman about my book-turned-movie), I usually end up praying in the direction of “How can I be of service?” After all, if you love someone, you want to be of service to them. And in questions of motivation or direction, love is a pretty good place to start.

So even though I don’t know exactly where I’m headed as far as a career or job goes, I keep writing, and I keep looking at jobs listed online, and I keep trusting that God will answer my prayers as long as I keep doing the footwork.

PAL – Pre-New-Year Entry

Friday, January 1st, 2010

I was tempted to feel guilty for not blogging yesterday, but decided that one day of rest, having such a distinctive place in many religions, isn’t so bad. Two days of rest, however, just doesn’t seem right. So here it is 11:21 p.m., and another day – and another year – is about to end. But I want to write one more entry before it does.

Speaking of days of rest, and trying to pull this blog entry back to the subject of my pilgrimage, Doug and I could tell which religion Haifa shopowners ascribed to by noticing which day of the week they were closed.

Our hotel was located in the German Colony, a traditionally Christian area. In 1868, the German Templars camped out at the bottom of Mount Carmel waiting for the return of Jesus Christ. The buildings they built out of the resident limstone lined and still line the street which eventually became Ben Gurion Avenue. The Wikipedia entry for “German Colony” shows a wonderfully sparse “before” sepia-tone picture of those buildings, and the “after” picture shows the modern view of Ben Gurion Avenue from one of the lower terraces of the Shrine of the Bab. Some of the people in German Colony still seem to be Christian, and so of course those shops were closed on Sunday.

There are many shops with Jewish ownership, of course, and these were closed on Saturday. There was only one shop that I noticed being closed on Friday. I hadn’t really thought of it until we ate there on a Saturday, when some other places were closed. It was a sandwhich shop, offering what turned out to be huge sandwiches on long, skinny loaves of freshly baked bread. There were two small tables outside and two tiny tables and a counter inside. Doug and I sat in the table to the right of the door and waited for the owner to serve a few other customers who came in right after us. Trying not to feel slighted by the order discrepancy, I looked up at the TV almost directly above me and let myself be entertained by videos in another language that didn’t sound like Hebrew. Modern-looking men and women sang about what must have been love, the difficulties of relationships, the differences between men and women. It’s all the same in any language, isn’t it?

After Hafez, the owner, an old man with gray hair and mustache, named the lumps of meat in the deli case (turkey, beef, duck, others), and Doug and I placed our orders, I asked him what kind of music was playing.

“This music is Palestinian,” he said. “It is from a Palestinian station.” I saw “Egypt” flash at the bottom of the screen.

Later Hafez, smoke swirling from the cigarette in his hand, came to ask us where we were from. We talked with him briefly, but soon his attention was pulled outside, and he excused himself at the next break in conversation. I turned to look behind me and see who Hafez was greeting, and it was three lovely young girls, maybe 12 or 13 years old, each with long curly black hair. He gave each a high five before they came in to sit at the other inside table.

I surmised that maybe Hafez was the grandfather of one of more of the girls, who seemed very at home there, even squeezing past me and Doug to get behind the counter to the frig where the coca-cola was kept.

I loved that these girls had a place where they could go and feel appreciated and even loved as they had their lunch. I saw this pattern repeated over and over, actually. There were many little shops all over the city of Haifa, small and fairly basic, but very well-frequented. There were rarely any lines, and never long ones, and the people working in those shops were individuals who clearly knew their customers well. The cashiers were often obviously related to the others working there. In one case three brothers owned a little grocery store. One shop was run by a wife whose husband chatted outside with a friend. A restaurant was owned by a man and his wife, who was there with their tiny baby. The workers didn’t have that empty look that comes from just putting in time to get a paycheck. These were chosen livelihoods, and customer service directly related to their income. It felt nice. Personal. Real.

Well, hear I have it, a somewhat rambling entry, and not even finished before the New Year announced itself with the neighbors fireworks, popping and snapping and booming. I took a little break in the middle of blogging to go to my mother-in-law’s next door, where Doug and the kids are watching some local coverage of the midnight clickover to 2010. I am now very tired and ready for bed.

Happy New Year everyone!