Fighting for My Beliefs

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It’s still on my bookshelf: the paperback copy of Moby Dick (Signet Classic, 75¢) that I read while serving in the Army in Vietnam, indelibly stained with the red dirt from western edge of III Corps, along the Cambodian border, where I spent six months in the late 1960s. It is about the same latitude as Saigon, now Ho Chi Minh City, and a tourist destination for many Americans.

I was a young man with liberal beliefs who went to a Quaker college. How did I end up in the Army, fighting in a war I despised? (read more…)

Oops, I Did it Again. Or How Life Circles.

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Yesterday, I realized that I used to be smarter. You see, I found a letter I’d written to myself last October. It was tucked in a stack of papers on my desk, a pile of things that I want to keep handy, but don’t have a good place for. The letter felt like it had been written by a different person.

In October, less than three months into a new job, I’d had a realization. I had been feeling upset about my role, frustrated with my day-to-day tasks, and sometimes frustrated by structural issues in the organization. But I realized that much of these feelings were coming from things that I’d known about the job (especially the boring day-to-day tasks) before I had accepted it, but I had forgotten that and the reasons that I’d taken the job in the first place. (read more…)

Reinventing Your Job

Royal Hawaiian Feather Art

There is a narrative from the 1940s, 50s, and 60s, now largely mythical, about what a career looks like: graduate from college, find a job, then put in twenty five or 30 years before retiring at 55 with a gold watch and a pension. In other words, it used to be very typical to stay at one company for a long time, maybe even your whole career. But in the intervening decades, our cultural expectations of career have changed. Having many jobs has become normal — actually, valued. And there is a general belief that once a job ceases to fully satisfy you, it’s time to get a new one. While there are times when this response is justified, sometimes I think we’re too quick to assume a new job will be the answer. Sometimes a workplace reinvention can be as or more effective. (read more…)

On Money: What’$ It Worth?

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When I was growing up, my family had a tradition of challenging the kids generation to not smoke until they turned 21. If the kid won, she would receive $1,000, and if she lost, she’d receive nothing. When my older cousin turned 21 and collected, she described all of the things she bought to me: a new bed, a weekend trip, a ring, maybe something else too. I would have been eleven at the time, and I marveled at how much fit into a thousand dollars.

I remember describing the family bet to a high school classmate. She was a big pothead and I had assumed that she would tell me that it wasn’t worth it. Better to have fun now. She surprised me by saying, “$1,000?! I would totally not smoke in order to collect a thousand dollars. That’s a good deal.” Apparently this didn’t have much impact on me. At nineteen, I abandoned my cash payout for a joint in Amsterdam after diligently not smoking through all of high school. (read more…)

The Rent Is Too Damn High

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The dream doesn’t always start the same way, but the fundamental story is constant: I unexpectedly discover that the tiny San Francisco apartment I share with my husband and our cat contains previously undiscovered rooms. It could be that I find them through a hidden door, a closet I’d never bothered to open, or a separate entrance I’d never used. Whatever the path, all of a sudden my living space doubles or triples in size, and I don’t have to move or pay more in rent. I’m so relieved, I think. This is great.

I’ve had this dream probably a dozen times. The fact that it is recurring and so literal makes me laugh, but warily. I really do want more space, but I can’t bring myself to make the sacrifices it would take to get it — either putting more of my income toward rent than I feel comfortable with, or leaving San Francisco. At least not yet. This is the huge, looming question facing many of my friends and people in my peer group who live in expensive cities: what are we going to do when we finally decide that the rent is too damn high? (read more…)