My sister is about five paces in front of me, her blonde pigtails waggling behind her as she runs up to launch herself into the next puddle. I frown at her, partly because I know Gram will be angry with us both (her for jumping in the puddles, me for not stopping her) and partly because pink saddle shoes are even less good for puddle jumping than her My Little Mermaid sneakers. And I really like puddle jumping. Puddle jumping would be just another tick on my list of what made up my Best Day Ever: I found a quarter on the way to school, I had an egg salad sandwich in my lunchbox, we got a new Weekly Reader, and the school librarian said if I wanted to, I could start borrowing books from the big kids section AND still get books from the little kid section to read to my baby brother. For a seven year old, this was very exciting. But the most exciting thing was we had a new girl in our class today. She arrived at the end of the day, brown eyes peeking from behind her mother's skirts while Mrs. B announced we would form new learning pods on Monday. At one point I made eye contact with the girl, but she just blushed and ducked out of the way. We manage to make it up the street to our house without my getting splashed (though lord knows my sister tried). My mother is home early, and I excitedly tell her about my Best Day Ever and my new book privileges (she seems sufficiently impressed, which pleases me). Then I tell her about the new girl joining our class, and she asks a question that gives me pause:
It's late spring, 2010. Summer's heat is still a few weeks away, yet the uninsulated brick and black roof of my top floor apartment already have the place unpleasantly warm. I am lying on the floor of my living room, staring at the pockmarked ceiling and intensely aware of both the coarseness of the shabby carpet underneath me and the clacking of keys coming from the room at the end of the hall. Both are driving me insane, but I'm rooted to my spot, frustrated. I hate my job. I hate that the recession and the resulting lack of jobs means the job I hate is the only thing we have to pay the bills and not go hungry. I hate being broke while we finish grad school. I hate that we can't afford to live in a building with air conditioning, or at the very least even scrounge up enough to get one of those cheap floor models to stick in the bedroom. Something. I especially hate the furious clicking that emanates from the back room every time a rejection letter arrives in the mail, the slumped shoulders, the dejected "what am I doing wrong?" Nothing, I say, you just haven't found the right person yet, but it falls on deaf ears as the fingers are already clacking, editing, refining, changing perspectives and narratives and plot in an attempt to find that magic formula that will make an agent finally say "yes." Today had brought two of those rejection letters; he was obsessing over what to change before he'd even gotten out of the elevator. That alone made me want to cry. But at this moment, what I hate more than anything else, the reason I'm on the floor digging my nails in the cheap carpet and staring at the nubs in the ceiling while the eight-dollar window fan tries to suck some cool night air into the baking room, is the email that's still displayed on the ancient laptop above my head. Weeks before, I had written to a number of small publishers with a simple request: I was looking at making a move to publishing, and had some experience as a reader and editor already, but wanted to expand on those skills. My dream was to dually work with a publication like mental_floss (indeed, what little extra cash we do scrounge is spent on maintaining my subscription and collecting the books they release) and coach writers who had promise but weren't quite to the point of being ready to publish. I had the education, but the problem was showing the publication experience to make an editor even look at me. I was willing to work for free in exchange for the experience to help balance out my resume, and touted that in my pitch: whether it worked or didn't, it wouldn't cost the publishers anything except a recommendation if they liked my work. I just wanted the experience and the chance to help others out of those sweltering back rooms, blindly clacking away without any real idea of why their work didn't make the cut. I wanted to give feedback rather than form letters. I wanted to help them find that right person to see their work.
It is a June heat wave, a few years ago. The asphalt along Euclid baking and reflecting its warmth off the skyscrapers and office buildings of downtown Cleveland. I am in a full skirt suit, stomping down East 17th under a muggy sun. I am hot. I am tired. I am stressed. And I am beside myself with fury as we maneuver around destruction work randomly chunking up or blocking the sidewalk. A mistake has been made. A vital piece of information about a student's needed accommodations were not relayed, and that paired with massive renovations at the venue meant I was the only person who knew how to navigate the student in the back way - through the crowd, out of the theatre, around the corner, down the street, and in through the delivery entrance. It didn't help that we are close to showtime and the radio at my waist constantly chirping to ask where I was keeps slowing us down. However, my job is to think on the fly and make things work, and that's what we're doing. I'm not even mad about that. What has me hot is that this is the second time this same issue has taken place to the same student. "I'm telling you, Miss D," I say as we skirt around another set of scaffolding, "this is not normal for us. At. All. And I'm very sorry this is the second time we haven't been ready for you."
God damn my body hurts. This weekend was the graduation ceremony for my campus' Class of 2016. This was my tenth ceremony, third as event chair, and it was a beautiful day. Seven and a half months of planning, continual controlled communication, and a seasoned crew of volunteers and performers make for a fairly easy run once we actually get to the event. The highlights for me were getting to see Miss D. hooded for her masters (the reason for that turned into an entire essay of its own, so look for that coming out next week), and being part of a conspiracy that saw one of our local students reunited with her son, who is an active duty member of the Army and whom she hadn't seen in two years. She had no idea he was there until she started to walk across the stage for her scroll, only to have this young man march out from the opposite wing in full uniform to meet her center stage while the rest of the house exploded in cheers. Things like that are what help make the job worthwhile.
Summer has always been my least favorite season. I hate being hot. I hate the earth being dry and cracked. I hate the grass turning brittle and brown. I hate the bugs. I especially hate the air being so humid that stepping out of my house smacks me with the instant sensation that I'm drowning - I get worse chest colds in July and August than hypochondriacs get in the middle of flu season. What I hate most, however, is that whiney, restless feeling that comes when I have tons of things to do but the heat makes me not want to do anything. Going into last week's entry, I realized I was coming dangerously close to getting stuck in whine country sans any drinkable wine to put me in a better mood. Most people take these moments of self-enlightenment and put them to immediate use - take a walk, have a nap, binge watch TV shows until they're less grouchy. Which, side note, if you have not become addicted to AMC's Turn yet, stop everything and go Netflix it right now. Seriously. I'll wait. .....
I hit a new achievement in my digital farming last night. My careful return on investment analysis for my digital crops at the beginning of the digital season meant I brought in more than enough profits to hire someone to build me a digital barn and expand my animal stock with four young cows, which in honor of my colleagues at RCM I have named Cowyar, Baron Von Cowsu, Killer McCow, and CowCoCow. Once I have reached the level that allows expansion of my barn, I will add to my herd with Vampy Cowtaker, teh_leet_milker, and BioMooCowcamist (I did not follow similar naming conventions with my chickens, but do get a naughty chuckle every time I see the one I named MotherClucker running around). With the game's winter approaching, I will soon shift focus from crops to my new animals and working on the maple grove I've carved at the edge of my estate, which I have named the Alpine Retreat and rule with my digital cat, Hobbes (who loves me, unlike those snotty villagers in Pelican Town). All around us in our little corner of Stardew Valley is abundance and serenity.
I had just finished a phone call with an incoming student and was jotting down my notes when a shadow cast itself over my little cubby. I glanced over my shoulder to see the overly fake-helpful face of a coworker blocking the narrow entrance to my corner. Yay. "What's up?" I asked, noticing her pudgy fingers fidgeting with my fliers.
I've always been an anxious person. I want to blame circumstance - my parents split up when I was very young, as the eldest child I had a lot of responsibilities put on me from a very young age, etc. - but truth be told, my anxious tendencies started long before that. One of my earliest memories was when I was around four years old, landing at the chalkboard in our playroom with my father as he taught me phonetics (I started reading insanely early) and being very upset that I'd made a mistake because I was certain the other children would mock me for it. A good chunk of my free time as a child was learning was to prepare for disasters, both likely and unlikely. I have been known to replay and obsess over conversations that took place fifteen years ago. When planning for the future, I always envision the worst possible circumstances and use that as by baseline for preparation. All things considered, I find it somewhat amazing I don't have a tiny Doom cloud following me about at all times. Probably one of the most entertaining examples of this took place on my first day of kindergarten. It started with a mysterious note slipped under the classroom door. The hallway was empty; the note, a taunt from a creature signing himself as "The Gingerbread Man." Our class was tasked was to go around the building and catch him. The problem was, each place we went, we were told we'd just missed him and had to solve a clue to figure out where he was headed next. It was extremely frustrating. Having seen many spy and action thrillers, I was convinced the gingerbread man may have tossed us a red herring and doubled back, so I made my new friend Brian help me thoroughly check all the wastebaskets and under the chairs, convinced we could find and capture the little perp before he could do something bad. After all, why else would he be on the run? I could only assume nefarious deeds were in play or on the horizon. It didn't help that I was momentarily sidetracked when we visited the library, something I'd never experienced before, and blamed myself for the GBM getting away that time. The school staff, though helpful in assisting the other children to read the clues, seemed completely oblivious to the impending danger threatened by this gingerbread man, as was evidenced by their failure to try and apprehend it despite their witnessing the creature as it cut through their various rooms and offices. If only I had been more vigilant...
There are a variety of sayings we have in the RCM staff room to denote an acquiescence to calm. Varyar, for example, is a swimmer, so he favors the allegory of the problems being like water going over a duck. Hax reminds us of the Sith Code. Killer has a particular sigh. But my personal favorite is the phrase 'Zinger's in the cup.' The 'Zinger' is in reference to my favorite tea, which I tend to consume while I'm working and serves as an anchor to my well-being. To have Zinger in the cup means remembering that in spite of whatever crazy is going on in the world around you, there are still tiny bits of comfort to get you through; a physical reminder of "don't worry, you got this." Saturday afternoon, I went through about five cups. This weekend we held the first RivalCon, a two-day festival of friendship and gaming that saw community members of Rivalcastia come in from all over the country (and Sweden!) to play in person with friends they've known for years, but in many cases had never met face to face. It's a good time, to be sure.
Monday night planning sessions for On Tap are by far one of my favorite times of the week. What started out as a weekly logistics meeting to plan guests and write questions has slowly evolved into something that is part steering committee, part writers' room, part true confessional. If ever I were to describe something as a "safe space," it would be Studio B on Monday evenings from nine until one of us had to go to bed. At the beginning, Tap meetings had almost a mystical reputation among the RCM staff. Nobody else had ever done them, or at least not on a consistent basis and certainly not for as long as we ended up doing them. Allegedly, the gatherings were secret, with no one outside of the main panel allowed. Very inside jokes referenced in front of the other staff and community members induced giggle fits and had the others convinced we were speaking to one another in code. A quip Killer made about us using planning meetings for secret cabals was interpreted and spread as gospel truth. In essence, for the first few months after our show's premiere, the three of us were the Illuminati of RCM. In a way, the rumors weren't that terribly far from the truth. No, Tap meetings weren't a ruse for the eventual takeover of RCM, but they did help model the kind of planning and teamwork necessary for a show - and, if one extrapolated on the idea, a network - to create and maintain production standards a lot higher than one would expect for a group with little experience and no budget. Structure and consistency was the one thing RivalCast most desperately needed if we wanted to survive, and somebody had to show how it could work. Tap meetings, from the onset, were part of a wider initiative to model the hows of beating the odds and becoming successful.