Monday, October 30, 2006

Photos from South Dakota

I didn't take a lot of photos on our trip to the Black Hills. The weather was overcast most of the time, and I find that taking pictures interfers with looking at the landscape. But I took a few and have included four here.

Bison and fireplug in the Black Hills

Needles Highway in the Black Hills

Spearfish Canyon Highway in the Black Hills

Badlands National Monument on a grey day

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Opera in St. Paul in the late fall

I have season tickets to the Minnesota Opera with two friends. We go to the Sunday matinee. Today the opera was Tales of Hoffman. I walked to the Ordway Theater a little after noon. The day was sunny and the weather mild enough so I didn't need a jacket, though I had one on. None the less, it is late fall. The trees in the parks in downtown St. Paul are mostly leafless, except for the oaks; the park fountains have been turned off; and holiday lights have been strung.

I arrived at the theater early and sat in the lobby writing and listening to the pre-performance lecture, which included some fine singing. Then I went to our seats and met my friends. We switched to box seats this year, since stairs are getting difficult for one of us. (Not me.) It's more expensive, but a real improvement. We get to sit in real chairs, and there is leg room and a ledge to put things on. If the opera is boring, we can lean back against the railing behind our seats, which is at just the right height to act as a head support, and peacefully doze.

Tales of Hoffman is a truly science fictional opera, with robots and magic. The music is nifty. I had some problems with the staging, as I always do. I think I am a frustrated opera director or set designer. I know how these operas ought to look. I suppose it's a good thing I'm a writer and can control everything about my stories.

I decided after the first act that I'd ignore the problems I had with the staging and concentrate on the plot and music and singing.

When we came out at six, it was getting dark. Green and white holiday lights shone in the trees in front of the theater. We walked to our favorite Japanese restaurant. As we came in the head waiter said, "I was just telling someone that it was time for the three ladies who go to the opera to come in."

We had a nice meal, and I got a ride home; and here I am, feeling happy.

The Day Job

About ten years ago I looked at the nifty report the Social Security Administration sends out, the one that tells you what your S.S. payments are likely to be, and realized that I could not afford to retire.

I have never made much money from writing. My best year ever was $8,000; and most years I make between $2,000 and $4,000. I don't have a spouse with a good job. My parents did not leave me a large inheritance. I have to support myself.

Through most of my working career, I worked part time jobs or took full time jobs for a year or two, until I had money in the bank, then quit. This made it possible for me to write. I have written while working full time, but it's not easy.

My jobs have been mostly clerical, though I did light warehousing for several years. Light warehouse work is terrific. Someone pays you to exercise eight hours a day. None of the work is heavy enough to do damage, but you are in motion all the time: walking, lifting, climbing. It is the perfect fitness program; but the pay was not good, so I went back to office work.

Why did I work low paying, menial jobs in offices and warehouses? Partly because I did not plan ahead and acquire a skill that paid well. This may be a result of becoming an adult in the fiery sixties. As Patrick says, young people then figured they'd be shot by the cops for looking weird or going on peace demonstrations. (Remember Kent State?) Or there would be a revolution, and society would be reorganized on a new basis. Why make career plans, if you were either going to die young or a new world was going to rise from the ashes of the old?

And maybe I was influenced by the biographies you used to see the back flyleaf of books. The author has been a short order cook, merchant seaman, taxi driver, lumberjack... It sounded so romantic and writerly...

Being a woman, I had to settle for clerical work and light warehousing. But this was still more romantic (to me at least) than a profession.

And I wanted to be a writer, not a lawyer or doctor or college professor.

The combination of working low-paying jobs and taking a lot of time off meant that I did not have much in the way of savings, and my Social Security payments were going to be low. If I did not get serious about making money and saving it, I was going to have a poor old age. So, ten years ago I decided to get serious.

In spite of never thinking much about acquiring a skill, I have one. When I started in office work 30 + years ago, I had two choices. Either I could type or I could work with numbers. I have never much liked typing; and back in those days, when you had to deal with carbon paper and erasers, I really did not like it. Because I wrote novels, I had to do a lot of typing on my own time. So I went for the numbers; and gradually, over the years, I learned enough to be a bookkeeper and then an accountant.

Having decided to get serious, I began to work 30 to 40 hours a week doing accounting. I've had three jobs so far, all with nonprofit organizations. The pay has been less than I would have made working in the for profit sector. But nonprofits find my odd resume interesting, which means they are willing to hire me; and I fit in reasonably well, which means I keep my job.

The problem is, I don't have a lot of free time or free energy; and I am not writing much. I still trying to figure out what to do about this. Can I find time to write, even though I am working full time? How?

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Back after a month

It's been more than a month since I have posted here or at the Wyrdsmiths group blog. I knew when I started both projects that I needed to post regularly. A blog without regular activity is a blog that people are not going to revisit. I can rely on the other Wyrdsmiths on the group blog. But here I am on my own.

What happened? Patrick and I drove to the Black Hills the third week of September. We were only gone five or six days, but a lot of driving was involved. The trip from the Twin Cities to western South Dakota is between ten and twelve hours one way, and while we were in the Black Hills we did a lot of driving. We are not hikers. Instead, we do scenic drives -- through the Badlands and Custer State Park, along the Needles highway and through Spearfish Canyon. It was very nice, but a bit hectic, and we are not as young as we used to be. Maybe we should take more restful vacations, but we seem to like long drives. We certainly love the Black Hills and the Badlands National Monument.

Patrick got laid off the first week of September, and we needed to get away from that fact. He had been at his job twelve years by his count and is well into his 50s, which makes finding a new job somewhat problematic -- especially a job in his line of work, which is specialized. He is (as far as I can tell) THE expert in Minnesota on single adults who are homeless.

His former employers laid him off so they could sink more money into their new program for homeless single adults, which came out of the program he had built from nothing starting ten + years ago. A year and a half ago, they took his program away from him and turned it into something entirely new, which had no place for him. Since he had worked for them so long and was the state expert on adult homelessness, they kept him on the payroll, while they took apart most of what he'd done for ten years and more.

Then they created a new job for him doing outreach and advocacy around issues of homelessness. This was fine, because he is really interested in doing policy work. It's great to help individual homeless people, but we also need to end the problem of homelessness. People shouldn't be living under bridges anywhere and especially not in Minnesota, where you can still freeze to death outside in the winter.

But then Pat's former employers decided they couldn't afford to fund the new position and laid him off.

There is more to the story, but why dwell on bad times that are over?

So we went west and looked at bison, pronghorns, Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep, prairie dogs, wild turkeys and wild burros. Both of us took pictures. I will post a few of the better ones here soon.

Anyway, we got back, and I got a cold. Amazing how hard a virus can hit. I was sick for more than a week. I finally feel pretty good today.

I had turned my desk top off when we left for South Dakota, something I rarely do. When we got back and I turned it on, it didn't seem quite right. While I was fighting the cold, Patrick was struggling with the computer, which behaved more and more strangely. He finally ended by erasing and restoring from the install disks, doing this three times before he finally gave up. We took it in the Apple Store Saturday, and the guy at the Genius Bar said, "It sounds like a hard drive problem." So Moby Mac (the great white desk top) is currently getting a new hard drive, more memory and an upgrade to Tiger. I gave the poor thing a pat before we left it. "Everything will be fine, Moby."

Is this enough to explain a month of silence? I could add that my day job has been stressful lately.