Monday, August 30, 2010

Stopped by Police

Glossary of canvassing terms:
Rap: The conversation you have at a door.
Contact: The person you speak to at a door.
Turf: The neighborhood or area in which you work.
Burb: The van or suburban vehicle that delivers you to turf.

Canvassing isn't the most glamorous work in the world -- and I only make about what a waitress makes (about $75 to $100 per day). But it feels good to me.

It feels good to me even when I ring doorbells of homes with people who aren't very nice -- who snap at me and say, "you're interrupting my dinner!" I typically respond, "I'm sorry to have caught you at a bad time; I'd be happy to come back a little later." A few go for it but many close the door in my face, sometimes with a slam.

Most people are friendly. And every night I meet a few people who are amazing. Last night I met about five outstanding people. I was moving really slowly in the heat. In fact my day started with an hour's rest in the party supplies isle of a Dollar Store. I needed to get into the air conditioning. I just sat there amidst the crepe paper and decorative plates drinking Smart Water and reading my Facebook newsfeed from my phone. Clean Water Action isn't a fan of bottled water because companies such as Nestle and Ice Mountain are selling our water for profit. Last I checked they can pay roughly $100 for a permit to drill (seems to me the actual price is about $80) and then go in and suck the water from our Michigan aquifers and sell it for profit. In some places it is affecting Michigan residents wells. So anyway, we're not fans of bottled water. Drink the tap water if you can. There's usually nothing wrong with it. Often it's healthier than the bottled water. Just get a filter if you're worried. I usually drink it straight. But I'd forgotten my reusable container so I'd bought the Smart Water. At least it has electrolites. And I had people refill the bottle for me from their taps.

So anyway, after my little rest at the Dollar Store (it was the only place with air conditioning near my turf)I started ringing doorbells. The first person I met was very friendly and would have liked to support Clean Water Action but she said she couldn't because her husband works in drilling for the oil companies (we are in the middle of an effort to get a permanent ban on offshore drilling in the Great Lakes). The second house donated $60. Nobody was home at the fourth house. And at the fifth house I met one of the coolest people I've met in awhile. She is an accountant and had just done some shopping so she just couldn't give anything without balancing her checkbook. But she genuinely plans to send something in the mail. Her daughter is a student at the University of Michigan, studying English. We got on the subject of The Ann Arbor News folding. She said she was sad about the seeming lack of job opportunities these days for someone with an English degree. I told he I understand how she feels, given that I had been a reporter at the Ann Arbor News and given that most of the people who I worked with over the years -- at the Ann Arbor News and other papers -- now are in public relations. We agreed there's just something wrong with that. There's something wrong when the jobs in journalism go away. It seems so bad for democracy. I told her the work with Clean Water Action feels somehow more related to me to the work of a journalist than a public relations job does. She agreed. She thanked me for doing the work. She was extremely sincere. Her name was Debbie. I gave her a big hug. We had a patriotic moment together in her driveway. It gave me a boost in the heat and carried me through the evening.

As I was walking back to the burb a few hours later, I noticed an American Flag hanging from someone's garage. It was glowing in the light. I felt really happy to be an American. I felt happy that I have the right to go door-to-door educating people about issues that effect our Great Lakes. I felt as though I had done an excellent day's work. I took a blurry picture of that flag with my phone. I had taken a picture of my pedicure when I started the day. Red lipstick and red nail polish always makes me happy. When I'm feeling tired, I like to focus on happy. So due to the heat, I'd taken a picture of my happy feet.

Just as we were leaving turf in the burb, some police officers stopped our van. I took a picture of the sirens from my seat in the back. There were two police cars parked in back of our burb.

An officer came to the window and asked Derek, our driver, what we were doing. The officer told Derek there had been complaints. He said we are not allowed to go door-to-door in the neighborhood without permits. Derek told the officer we have permits. He showed him his permit. The officer thanked him and told him he would just go back to the car and check it out. He came back in a few minutes. He said everything checked out and we were free to go.

We always carry permits with us when we are canvassing. I have had people try to tell me that I can't do what I am doing. I have had people try to scare me out of their neighborhoods. This probably happens about once every two weeks. But I personally have never been stopped by a police officer. Kristen, who is visiting us from New York State has been stopped by police officers before. Once it was extremely ugly. The police officer actually threatened her and searched her bag and emptied out her cigarette boxes looking for drugs or something. Kristin had showed him her permit. He didn't care. He made her sit in the back of the police car. In fact he rounded up several canvassers with her environmental organization and told them he would arrest them if they didn't do as they were told and he drove them down to police headquarters. Her environmental group received a written apology for the officer's behavior but it did shake the canvassers up quite a bit, understandably.

In the absence of journalism as we knew it five years ago I feel democracy is in need of people who are willing to go door-to-door and educate people about what's going on in the world.

It just feels right.

That's my story and I'm stickin' to it.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Fruit In Season

It's Sunday Evening and I'm running the dishwasher and finishing my last load of laundry. What a beautiful weekend it's been in Michigan. I'm prepared for some really hot days of canvassing at the first part of the week. The cute guy I went out with yesterday warned me about them. He said I'll need to drink lots of water; it's going to get hotter again on Monday and Tuesday.

Awe, isn't that sweet? I really like dating. It's been so long since I've been on an actual date -- five years, nearly. I've met a few people from online sites and I've had a few male friends in my life who I've hung around with quite a bit. But I haven't held hands with anyone or cuddled up with a guy while watching a movie in nearly five years. Wow. That's a really, really, really long time.

Although I'm writing about my career transition, the stories about my love life renewal seem to attract more comments than most of the canvassing stories. So, I guess I might as well share a few details about my date on Saturday. It's really fun to go on a great date -- especially when it feels so brand new again after having been a veritable dating reclusive for so long. I highly recommend it to anybody who is in the middle of a career transition. I had been thinking I needed to get it all back together with my finances and career before I could date again. But then I realized that's just ridiculous thinking. Meeting a nice person can really bring enjoyment to the days. I think it could help me get back on track, actually.

He said he doesn't care if I write about him in my blog. So, I figure I might as well share just a few details...

It started with a melon -- a cantaloupe, more or less. His hometown grows these melons. They are juicier than the average cantaloupe and I guess maybe a hybrid of sorts -- like maybe part cantaloupe and part honey dew? Something like that. But they just look like cantaloupe. They aren't green or anything. Quite fragrant and very tasty. Apparently they are considered quite a delicacy in certain parts of Asia.

He wanted me to eat some of it right away but he doesn't like to eat the melons himself. He had driven out of his way to get it from a special farm stand out in the country. So I cut it open in the kitchen and ate two small slices before we went on our date.

We went to the Farmer's Market in Ann Arbor. It was two-o-clock by the time we got there and the market closes at three. So I was a little bit worried there wouldn't be any Flaming Fury peaches left. Vendors were packing up everything. I love the Flaming Furies so much and they are best this time of year. I look forward to the Flaming Furies in August the same way I look forward to the Honey Crisp apples in late September. I just love fruit in season. And I suppose that's one reason why I loved the gift of a very particular melon. Yummy, locally grown and in season.

Fortunately we were able to find some peaches. We also found Mrs. Mildred Parker who is, in her middle 90s, the longest-standing vendor at the Ann Arbor Farmer's Market. Mrs. Parker is the grandmother of my best friend from college. She now just sells a few herbs and some catnip balls (little hand-sewn cat toys stuffed with home-grown herbs).

We sat on a bench in Kerrytown and ate the peaches and talked for about a half an hour, I suppose. He's a very laid-back guy, the youngest in a family of five. Like me, he's cool with just letting a day unwind. Those are the best days, I think, Saturday hours that just meander nowhere in particular.

He let me get salad bar from the People's Food Coop. I love the sunflower sprouts there. They just make me feel so happy. There's something so special about eating sprouts that would have become sunflowers. The wait for sandwiches at Zingerman's would have been ridiculous. But he was able to get a really nice sandwich at Sottini's Sub Shop on Fourth Avenue across the street from where I used to study yoga with Laurie Blankenly at her old studio above the Asian Pastry and Tea Shop.

We took our food to Nichols Arboretum and had a picnic by the river. On the way down the hill he told me about how he once got lost in the arb during his college years -- partying a little bit too much at night. We watched the canoeists and kayakers, the ducks, and the old man who makes rock sculptures. Really, it was a perfect afternoon. By the time we returned to the car it was eight-thirty. We ended up hanging out in the evening, too, taking a drive, watching a movie. It was really a date.

So now I'm getting ready for the week ahead. I expect it will be a very good week. And I'm smiling a bit while I write because I feel happy to have had such a fun Saturday.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Yo, that's my jam!

Riding to and from the canvassing turf in the burb is always quite a dance -- especially when Derek is driving (we're always sliding around as if in an amusement-park ride). Music becomes important. A canvasser calls "radio check" if he doesn't like the tune on the radio. If somebody wants the radio turned up because she likes a song, she yells, "yo, that's my jam." If ever there's an argument, "That's my jam" always overrides a "radio check."

We're a democratic menagerie of community organizers -- even down to the radio.

These were some of our favorite tunes this week.


Thursday, August 26, 2010

Walleye Mailbox

Glossary of canvassing terms:
Rap: The conversation you have at a door.
Contact: The person you speak to at a door.
Turf: The neighborhood or area in which you work.
Burb: The van or suburban vehicle that delivers you to turf.

Well once again I didn't raise standard. I honestly think it's the economy. It seems to me so many more people are out of work today compared to when I did this work in 2007. I'm not the only one who didn't make standard. And I came pretty close.

So you look on the bright side and don't dwell on the numbers...

We had a sweet 20-minute lunch drop at Nino Salvaggio's in St. Clare Shores. This is a store my mother and her mother used to love to shop at. I haven't been there in years. They had pistachio gelato today. Yummy. I didn't get any. I would have had to buy a whole container of it and it would have melted. Plus, I'm not really supposed to be eating pistachio gelato. But you know -- that kind of says it all. Where else in Michigan can you get that stuff?

Having a sweet lunch drop is a bright spot in a canvasser's day. We don't always get a full 20 minutes for lunch. That depends largly upon the traffic, the distance to turf, and what we have to do at the Ann Arbor office before hitting the road. Sometimes we only have eight minutes or so for a lunch drop -- just barely enough time to use a bathroom. And sometimes we head to turf that doesn't have someplace cool to get a bite to eat.

For instance, when I first came back to Clean Water Action for my third tour with the organization three weeks ago, I heard horrifying recounts of the anti-environmental lunch drop that had very recently occurred. The canvassers had been dropped at (GASP!)a McDonalds (environmentalists typically don't like McDonalds) and, as if that hadn't been bad enough, it was (Heaven ForBID!!!) right next to a mountainous landfill and a BP Gas Station. According to the canvassers who were recalling for me the horrors of this particular lunch drop, one would have been able to photograph all in the same picture -- the landfill, the BP Gas Station AND the McDonalds. Of course, nobody ate there. They ran across the highway to try to get something from a Subway and apparently were nearly mowed down in traffic during the process. All this to avoid the $1 McChicken. Personally, I am a fan of the $1 McChicken. But I understand I am working with politically correct people and I love them. Really, I love these people.

So we enjoyed our lunch drop at Nino Salvaggios quite a bit. Derick and Thomas charmed a cashier into arranging to have a quiche heated up in the kitchen. They found the quiche to be quite tasty. Will really enjoyed his kielbasa and onion sandwich on rye. Will is a huge fan of onions and has been bumming mints all week to mask the effects of his repetitive onion eating. But today he invested in some mints of his own. Nino Salvaggios is great like that -- a place with produce, quiche, sandwiches and MINTS.

We hit turf with happy stomachs and I set to knocking on doors on Revere Street. At the fourth house I found someone home. Like many of the residents of this neighborhood, the homeowner was interested in our mission to protect the Great Lakes but unable to donate much to Clean Water Action given that he had recently lost his job. I told him I certainly understood the tough times given that I had also lost my job and was now making only about 20 percent of what I had formerly made as a newspaper reporter. I told him every small donation helps quite a bit, so he shouldn't shy away from doing whatever he can. He gave me $5.

And as I was stepping off his porch I noticed his plastic walleye mailbox! So funny I hadn't originally noticed it. I suppose I must have still been thinking about lunch and how happy it had made everybody to have twenty minutes and so many options.

"Oh my," I said as I tapped the fish head. "This is quite a mailbox!"

"That's a walleye!"

"Yes, I know. I'm from Tawas. We used to eat these guys all the time. Very tasty!"

"You don't get them anymore."

I had heard something about the walleye fishing being greatly reduced from the years of my childhood. We had so many yellow perch back then, too. But these wonderful fish are not as easy to catch as they were back then. The ecology of our lakes is
different now.

"Sad," I said, petting the walleye mailbox.

"Yes," he said. "Everything's changing."

"Thanks for the donation."

"Keep up the good work."

Blessed Mothers and Lawn Gnomes

Glossary of canvassing terms:
Rap: The conversation you have at a door.
Contact: The person you speak to at a door.
Turf: The neighborhood or area in which you work.
Burb: The van or suburban vehicle that delivers you to turf.

Late summer/early fall canvassing to protect out Great Lakes is the best work in the world. Seriously if you're unemployed or underemployed and anywhere near Ann Arbor, you should check it out -- consider doing it three days a week for the next three months. You might love it like I do.

You meet some nasty people when you're out canvassing. Honestly, we have some horror stories about some of the people we meet on turf. But we always get the last laugh, so it's all good. You know, mean people, they just wallow in their own evilness. And then we get to swap stories and laugh about them on our ride home in the burb.

I LOVE late/summer/fall canvassing. What's better than this time of year in Michigan? What's more important than protecting our Great Lakes Water Basin that contains a fifth of the whole world's fresh water? Plus it's good exercise. And while we meet a few nasty people, most people are quite friendly -- and some people absolutely rock. Seriously, knocking on doors in Michigan neighborhoods and rural areas gives a person the opportunity to have face-to-face conversations with some of the most awesome people in the world.

I love Michiganians. I love the ones who write us $60 and $200 checks and don't bat an eye doing so because they know how important the work is. But my heart really melts for the ones who are unemployed and give their last three bucks. That's sacrificial money. It matters. There's something very spiritual about it. I'm grateful Clean Water Action runs a tight ship. Nobody ever gets a fancy calendar that wastes a bunch of trees from us. We put every dollar to effective use. I sincerely believe that and it's why I love walking and knocking and asking for support for our wonderful Great Lakes, rivers, streams, ponds and drinking water.

Last night I took a sizable check from a man who proudly told me he is principal of the greenest elementary school in Michigan. They received a special award for the innovative recycling program the teachers and kids implemented. How cool is that, just to randomly knock on the door of the principal of the greenest elementary school in Michigan? That's the type of cool stuff that happens every day with the canvas.

Last night I also happened to canvas a well-shaded street that very well might have the most concentrated placement of Blessed Mother statues in the United States. Seriously, they were everywhere, uniquely placed, sometimes hidden and occasionally accompanied by lawn gnomes and/or angels. Most people know I inherited a special devotion to the Blessed Mother from my mother and grandmothers. So, I happened to find that pretty cool.

We had a fantabulous time canvassing last night. I took some suggestions from some of the young people who I work with and switched up my rap a bit. It worked for me. Instead of focusing on our campaign to get a permanent ban on off-shore drilling in the Great Lakes, I focused on our fight to stop out-of-state garbage. Only about three people in Michigan don't understand the importance of the out-of-state trash issue. A few more are confused about the off-shore drilling issue. In addition, I switched up my language for fundraising. Instead of saying, "The fundraising is simple... bla bla bla..." I started saying, "We keep fundraising super simple so that everyone can get involved." These changes and the long street lined with Blessed Mothers made all the difference in my night. I exceeded my goal for the evening and now I'm not only back on track for the week but a bit ahead for the week after having two bad nights in a row.

Oh, and that cute guy I met on Sunday (you know the six-foot-four former basketball player guy), he wasn't scared off by the fact that I mentioned him in my blog. He said it made him blush. Yay! Date's still on for Saturday though I've no idea what we are doing. It's going to be some sort of mix of business and pleasure, I gather. But I can tell you he's super sweet. He called last night as I was walking to the parking garage after work. He said I don't have to worry about anything I write about him in my blog. "It's your blog," he said. "You can write whatever you want."

Yes. I like it!

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

A Problem With Happiness

Glossary of canvassing terms:
Rap: The conversation you have at a door.
Contact: The person you speak to at a door.
Turf: The neighborhood or area in which you work.
Burb: The van or suburban vehicle that delivers you to turf.

Some people say it's the turf. They say "you did what you could. Sometimes it just works out that way. Some nights you just don't hit standard. It all evens out in the end."

But I don't think that was the case last night. I only raised $130 in Harrison Township which is very close to Lake St. Claire. Another guy in our group had someone write him a $365 check last night. People on turf knew who the candidates were for the November election. They were educated about water quality and water-related issues. Many of them were familiar with Clean Water Action and interested in signing the statement of support to put a permanent ban on off-shore drilling in the Great Lakes. But I couldn't seem to squeeze even five bucks out of most of them.

Seriously, something's wrong with me. I knocked on an above-average number of doors. I talked to an above-average number of people. And I finished with a below-average amount of money. This was the second night in a row that this has happened.

What gives?

It could be that my house has been in a state of discombobulation due to carpet cleaning. I did misplace my keys yesterday. I don't think that's it, though. To be honest with you, I think it's this guy who I met on Sunday at the Sidetrack -- the one I'm supposed to go out with on Saturday (if my blog post from yesterday didn't scare him away!).

I've just always been this way and I guess it's true even though I took a few years off from dating. Friends who know me from high school can attest to this little problem that I have. I'm boy crazy! I can't help it. I haven't really had it happen like this in quite awhile. But this guy is so cute and we are exactly the same age and sort of like two peas in a pod in a certain sense -- both small-town people who had opportunities to travel, both divorced, both having recently discerned a knack for sales. And he was a basketball player in high school. Very attractive. I had a big crush on a Varsity Basketball Player when I was a freshman (Brian Norton, remember him?)but I've never really dated a basketball guy.

I don't know for sure but if I had to put my finger on it, I think I would have to say that I feel just a little too happy. I think it's throwing my rap off. Maybe I'm not putting enough pressure on people because I feel too happy. Something like that.

So today I am going to make a concerted effort not to be too happy. After all, who knows if we'll even get to Saturday. The world could end before then -- or he could fall in love with someone else between now and then. I've had that happen before; haven't you? Men can be so crazy.

And in addition to not being too happy today, I'm going to make it a point to read a chapter in a good sales book I have. And I'm going to listen to a sales CD on my way to work.

Hopefully that will keep me grounded.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

41 bucks and a beefsteak tomato

Glossary of canvassing terms:
Rap: The conversation you have at a door.
Contact: The person you speak to at a door.
Turf: The neighborhood or area in which you work.
Burb: The van or suburban vehicle that delivers you to turf.

I've been humming the Black-Eyed Peas "Today's Gonna Be a Good Day" again this morning even though I didn't have such a stellar day canvassing yesterday.

Sometimes you do everything right and it still doesn't work out. It happens once in a while. Yesterday was one of those days for me. The weather was absolutely perfect. I had on a pretty cute outfit. I'd gone for a little swim before work. I got to work early. I practiced my rap. I was ready to go.

But it just didn't happen for me out on turf. I didn't raise standard. I didn't meet the basic goal of raising $150 per day for Clean Water Action. This has very rarely ever happened for me when I've canvassed in the past. It has happened a few times when I've been emotionally off my game or dressed inappropriately for challenging weather. But everything was as perfect is could be when I hit turf yesterday and it didn't happen.

The only negative thing that happened all day was when I got into a discussion about my turkey lunch meat with another canvasser. She was calling it "flesh." She's mostly a vegetarian and only eats meat about once a week. I said, "hey, I'm eating here. That's disgusting, calling my food flesh." She said, "You think it's disgusting to you, how do you think we feel smelling it?" I guess she sort of had a point. This is the canvassing culture -- lots of vegetarians. A meat eater such as myself need to be a bit sensitive.

But anyway, the turkey comment certainly didn't wreck my game. Not at all. I guess that even though the numbers work out over time, sometimes they just don't work out every single day. Typically I knock on about 60 or 70 doors and talk to about 38 to 42 people and I have no trouble exceeding standard. Last night I knocked on more than 100 doors, talked to more than 50 people and I only collected $41 and a beefsteak tomato. The tomato is glorious. I think I'll slice it up and share it with the woman who doesn't like turkey lunch meat this afternoon.

I think it was genuinely a situation of lack of money in this particular neighborhood. About 70 percent of the people told me they were out of work or collecting Social Security. Some of them who were in that situation still gave me a few bucks. The guy who gave me the tomato wanted to give me a huge bag of tomatoes. I had no way to carry them all but they were absolutely beautiful tomatoes. I look forward to eating the one I accepted.

So, even though I didn't raise standard, I did spread lots of good will about our Great Lakes and I got the word out about protecting them.

And for those of you who are following the love life of the Poor Journalist, I can tell you I had a really sweet date with a very interesting man Sunday night. He called yesterday. We're going out on Saturday and we have a ton of things in common. He's my age, six-foot-four, and he loves to travel -- went all around the world when he was with the Navy.

My favorite thing about this guy -- he's an amazing storyteller. Seriously, I love a great story. The man sat at the bar at the Sidetrack in Ypsilanti Sunday night and completely engaged me in stories of his travels to Amsterdam and Spain. When he was twenty-two he ran with the bulls in Pamplona. He told me personal details of the experience that rivaled what I've read in the stories by Hemingway and Mich Albom. And I've heard all sorts of people talk about Amsterdam. But nobody ever told me about the bicycles. This guy told me about the hundreds of black bicycles that are left all over town. You borrow them to get from point a to point b. Leave the bike at point b. Then borrow another bike to get from point b to c. Perfect! Why don't they do this in every city? Being a local government nerd and hearing people argue about various methods of public transportation for endless hours, I just wonder why this doesn't happen everywhere?

(Phone call. It's him, an interruption in story.)

Anyway, I like this guy. Seriously, he's going somewhere. He's got something special.

He just asked me on the phone, "What kind of date do you want to have on Saturday anyway?" I wasn't exactly sure what to say to that. I nervous talked for a few minutes. He said, "This isn't a multi-level marketing plan or anything. But you're an intelligent person. You seem to want to go somewhere. Why don't we spend just forty-seven minutes on Saturday talking about business. Then after that, we can do something else."

I started nervous talking and the battery on my phone died.

As I was rummaging around my room (it's loaded with furniture from everywhere else in the condo because the carpet is still drying)I decided, what the heck? I mean, I have 126 fans of the Poor Journalist Gets To Business series who want to see me get down to business. This guy thinks there's actually still a chance I could make 57 K by January 2010. Plus he's really cute. Plus he's a good kisser.


So what's there to think about?

I called him back.

"So, my phone battery died. I was nervous talking, don't know how much you heard."

He laughed.

"So, you want to teach me some things about business on Saturday, hey?"

"Well, I just think you're very intelligent and you've been very complimentary to me about what I'm doing."

"OK then. You've got me on Saturday. Whatever you want to do with me, is fine with me. I'm just along for the ride. You can teach me whatever you want."

He liked it.

"Is tomorrow Saturday?" he joked. "Oh wait, no. Tomorrow's Sunday isn't it?"

Seriously, this guy might have spent most of his life as a teacher, but this guy's the real deal.

This guy's a salesman!

Yikes; I like it.

Our Lady of Guadalupe, Blessed Theresa of Calcutta, St. Teresa of Avila, St. Therese de Lesieux, pray for me...

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Cheese Spread With Pimentos

Today is the 13th Anniversary of my mother's death. It's hard to believe it's been 13 years. I question my math. Was it really 13 years ago? It was 1998 when she died on August 22. It was a Saturday, the Feast of The Queenship of Mary.

Again, I ask myself, what does this have to do with my series Poor Journalist Gets To Business? Well, I don't know exactly. I feel like I don't know much about anything anymore to be honest with you. It's a journey. And part of the journey of being a former journalist is that my heart is so insistent upon writing.

It's almost as though I can't figure out a thing, can't even think a single thought, until it's on the page. It has always been this way. The journals I've kept since I was in my early twenties are so random. Many of them I've just thrown away. They don't often seem to have a rhyme or reason.

But nowadays I have my readers -- 126 fans of the Poor Journalist Gets To Business series and, I think 80 followers of The Refrigerator Door. It's nice. And people actually read these musings. I know because when I see people they bring up things that I've written about. People enjoy reading about my journey. That's sweet to me. And it helps me along, too.

When I started the Poor Journalist Gets To Business series, I fully expected it to be all about selling stuff in Michigan during the recession. I didn't know what I was going to sell but I knew I wanted to try to beat the recession as a journalistic endeavor. I tried really hard to become a good health insurance saleswoman and then realized my heart just wasn't into it. It wasn't where I was meant to be. Too much had gone wrong, too many instances of bad timing. And the fact is, I wasn't enjoying it very much, not at all. I was getting fat. I was feeling stressed. My room had fallen into a state of disorganization. I just wasn't where I was supposed to be.

Then we got fleas. My roommate and I got a flea infestation. In seventeen years of pet ownership I've never had a flea infestation. Fleas are a pain. But my roommate thinks God gave them to us as a sign to clean house, to put our priorities in line. I think this is true, actually. I really do.

God gave us fleas. They are mostly all gone now but I'm still cleaning in places that have not been looked at in two years. I'm putting my house in order.

My mother was a remarkable housekeeper. She washed our laundry and, this time of year, hung it out on the clothesline in our backyard to dry. It smelled glorious. The sheets of my childhood beds smelled so fresh and felt so crisp. It was remarkable the way my mother went about these little details of every day with such love and devotion. She was the first one up in our home every morning. She put the coffee to perk on the stove. It smelled so inviting. She walked out to the street to get the papers. She came inside and made breakfast. She called upstairs to us to get up and get ready for school.

Since I went away for college, my life has never been anything like my mother's life. I worked lots of jobs to get through college. It took me longer than most students. And since graduating in 1992 I've worked so hard to earn a living. I was married for eight years and always worked long hours made more money than my husband, never had time to keep a home the way my mother kept my childhood home. To be honest, though. Most people don't -- not even stay-at-home moms. The world is a busier place today, I suppose.

I'm nostalgic about the comfort of my childhood home today because I'm cleaning house on the anniversary of my mother's death. I'm reminded of the great value in simple things like well-folded laundry and swept floors. A childhood friend of mine has been advertising on Facebook that she's selling soups and pies at a Northern Michigan Farmer's Market. Her mother, like my mother, was an incredible cook. I envy her work. I envy women who spend their days ironing shirts and cooking dinners and reading to children.

What's any of this have to do with Poor Journalist Gets to Business? I suppose I'm just feeling reflective today. I wonder what sort of business I'll end up getting down to.

Because I decided to be open to dating, I wonder if maybe I will fall in love before Christmas so that I'll have someone to buy presents for this year? Honestly, the Poor Journalist has had a bit of a priority shift. At first I thought I needed to get completely back on my feet financially before falling in love. But now I think that was twisted thinking. As long as I am working and being responsible, it's fine to be open to falling in love. It's sort of frightening, though. It's a whole different world today than it was five years ago when I was dating.

I think love is better than money. So, I would feel happier if I fell in love than if I landed a great job or had a wonderful windfall. But of course I am open to love, a windfall and a great job. But in my heart I really want to write and paint from home, so I think something like Clean Water Action is just perfect for me. And I can share the canvassing stories with the Poor Journalist fans.

I think canvassing is quite interesting work, actually. I hope people will enjoy reading about it. And I hope people will not be too annoyed with my romantic fails and adventures. It all just seems to belong here together.

Who knows what's in the cards for me?

Today I'm just willing to keep my side of the street clean and to show up for life and do the best I can each day. Sometimes I sound so cheesy. But since I sincerely am cheesy, I think it isn't exactly a bad way for me to sound. I'm a bit more endearing than average cheese, I think -- maybe a little like cheese spread with pimentos or something. I'll keep writing about this journey between now and January 1. It has simply become a journey of openheartedness. I am certainly still open to becoming a fabulous saleswoman and earning lots of money. But so many things happened with my health insurance job to show me that it just wasn't where I belonged.

I don't know where I belong. But I am open to grace and opportunity.

Saturday, August 21, 2010


OK Poor Journalist readers, I hope you're not bothered by all the dating news. It really is news and it really is related to the poor journalist getting down to business on a few accounts.

In the first place, I've hardly had any dates at all in five years. I guess my confidence was shaken quite a bit when I lost my job and went through some economic troubles. I somehow didn't feel datable. But that isn't true. I know that now.

In the second place, I'm using online forums to meet guys and this is quite an indication that I'm starting to get more modern. Yes, you remember me -- the one who doesn't really know how to work a DVD and still collects VHS movies from the thrift stores.

In the third place I've decided meeting new people may actually lead to a new career.

I do tend to get a bit melodramatic about dating. I can't stand it when I like someone and he doesn't like me. It's always so hard to understand, isn't it? I mean WHY WOULDN'T he like me? I'm so friendly and fun and I clean up pretty well. I suppose it couldn't have anything to do with the neurotic e-mails I sent him. Or the texts I sent after he blocked me as a contact on the Catholic dating site.

I just felt a little bit misunderstood is all. I wasn't trying to get him to like me. I guess I was just trying to get him to understand why he was wrong for not liking me. :-). I certainly don't want a man who doesn't fully understand the magnitude of my loveliness, though.

So, I just wanted to report that it was a little bit sad for me to be let down in such a way by the philosopher guy but you don't have to worry. I've always been resilient.

And tomorrow night I have a date with a very sweet-sounding real estate developer. He had wanted me to come to a summer festival tonight in his home town but I can't make it. I have some projects I'm right in the middle of tonight. But I'm really looking forward to meeting him tomorrow night.

I actually like the whole dating thing pretty well. It's good to meet nice new people. This one is my age and seems like a down-to-earth person.

If he doesn't work out, there are lots more where he came from.

For those of you who are single and looking for a mate, let me tell you I have had some real success making contact with people at two free sites -- plentyoffish and the Fox News Detroit dating spot. Just go to the Fox News Detroit website and click on the tab that says "my dating spot" or something like that. I've got tons of mail from both of these sites. I can't keep up with the mail, actually. And it seems as though there are lots of nice people out there.

After El Greco

Even though it's good that I did what my heart wanted to do with regard to going to the museum, I still feel a little sad. That guy is gone for good and there was something special about him. I suppose he wasn't the right guy for me. And I suppose this has little to do with my career transition. But I have to admit I was hoping a little bit that he would be the one for me -- and that he would have been in the museum and happy to see me.

And maybe it does have something to do with my career transition.

Maybe it most effectively illustrates a particular point about me: I'm quite a socially awkward and sincere person. There used to be a place in society for people like me. That place was the local newspaper. That's where people like me belonged. We had community. It was swell.

Now we have Facebook and blogs. And our words and news updates are mixed in with the masses. What we have to say is often overshadowed by the words of those who are cooler and more trendy and opinionated. Most of us who worked at local newspapers were not especially cool or trendy or opinionated. We had a guy at the Ann Arbor News who actually cooked raw fish in the microwave. Ask Susan Oppat about him. I forget his name but it's true. We're generally people who don't fit in so well in corporate America. We just don't. We're nerds. We keep writing through tears and laughter and everything else. We just tell stories. That's all.

I suppose I just like old fashioned things like democracy and front porches and neighborhood events. And that's why I like canvassing even though it can be stressful. It's an opportunity to tell stories about the Great Lakes on front porches, to do something positive and to get some fresh air and exercise.

When I started with Clean Water Action in the fall of 2005 after I'd lost my job at the newspaper (It was the first job I had apart from waitressing for a week and weeding gardens for my friend who is a landscaper) I bumped into a state legislator at an event whom I had known quite well from my tenure as a journalist. His jaw literally dropped to see me with the Clean Water folks. He said to me, "What are you doing canvassing?" I told him I had lost my job at the newspaper. He said he was sorry. He said, "Something will turn up for you soon."

To be honest with you, it hurt my feelings a bit. I feel as though people in our culture really look down on canvassers. They put us in the same category as door-to-door evangelists and salespeople (incidentally, I've developed quite a respect for door-to-door evangelists and salespeople from my work canvassing).

Canvassing is good for democracy, I'm certain of that -- especially in this post paper newspaper age in which so many people spend far too few hours communicating about issues face-to-face. It's very healthy for democracy to get people off their couches to talk about political and environmental issues -- regardless of their opinions. Engagement is healthy and good.

Where is this going, exactly?

Well, I just reread yesterday's post about finding El Greco and I thought it might have seemed a little polyannaish. I think it is good to follow my heart and I felt happy yesterday when I found the courage to follow my heart. But it is also quite often sad to follow my heart.

My heart leads me to some lonely places -- empty rooms in museums, front porches on houses with people who refuse to come to the door.

My heart has a melody of its own.

A few people who are reading about my career transition have given me leads on journalism jobs -- online media opportunities. Maybe I'm a little crazy, but I feel somehow that I need to keep following a different path at this time. Maybe one day I'll be ready to work for online media but that day hasn't yet arrived.

Online media seems too far removed at this time from the values we were taught in journalism school. Canvassing seems to me a more healthy way to participate in democracy. Maybe I'm overly idealistic. Maybe there are things happening in the online media that are very good and I am being too stubborn.

But my heart just isn't there yet. My heart is old school, I guess.

Maybe I will canvas up a husband or something. You never know.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Finding El Greco

My heart grew ten sizes today. Things are clicking for me since I've given up the idea of being an insurance saleswoman and accepted the fact that I simply enjoy the satisfaction of trying to make the world a little bit better place each day.

That's important to me, trying to make the world a better place. I felt writing for the old-school paper newspapers was an effective way to do it. Those old paper newspapers built community in an effective way.

I'm not so sure about the online media. Maybe it will eventually. But at this time I just don't feel like it's quite what I signed up for in journalism school. So many hyperlinks, so little time. People might start on the same page, but electronic stories are a whole different culture. I feel as though we get lost in online media. I do anyway. So far there seem to be no rules with the new media. I don't have the energy to keep up with it. Canvassing is simple. Simple is very good for me. That's why I've decided to keep canvassing through at least January 1 unless some amazingly obvious opportunity falls into my lap. I'm excited about the opportunity to be a better canvasser, to blog about canvassing and to share my gift for canvassing with others who join the Clean Water Action staff.

I sort of have this guy from the "date" last Saturday to thank for my acceptance of my simple life as a canvasser. He's an extremely simple person in certain ways -- and seemingly quite effective in his sphere. That's all we really need to do in our lives, right? Be effective in our little spheres. We don't have to conquer. We don't have to become champions. We don't have to make oodles of money and win millions of fans. We can just be simple.

I said the guy was a jerk(actually, I think the words I used were "sort of an ass")but that's only because he sort of got to me -- and I wasn't really open to being gotten to. I realized later that he's quite possiblly a genuine person and probably it was throwing me off guard. It was freaking me out, I think. I've come in contact with authentic and good men a few times in the past five years -- men who are attractive, interesting and good. And they've really frightened me. I've had some really bad heart breaks.

It's not like I've had many dates. I really haven't. But I realized today the extent to which I've been blocked from letting anybody in. I realized it when I decided I wanted to text this guy and ask if he might consider a do over. It seemed crazy but it was on my heart. I just kept thinking it would be a good idea. I thought it would be a good idea because I kept thinking about the Toledo Art Museum and this El Greco painting there. We had sort of toyed with the idea of going there tonight the last time we talked on the phone, a week ago. I had said, "maybe in a few weeks," pushing it out into the future. And then I told him about some other dates I was planning to go on. I just didn't feel ready for anybody authentic who read things that interested me, I suppose. Readers really get to me -- always have. I was all freaked out!

So I went ahead and texted him. I wrote "If you give me a do over, I'll meet you at the El Greco. I don't know why. I think we agree upon the scarce possibility (impossibility?) of romance." It was the best I could do. But I did it.

And then I took another step. I started driving in toward the El Greco, asking God to intervene at any moment and make it difficult for me to find. I didn't know how to get there, hadn't read a map ahead of time, hadn't been to Toledo in years -- probably five years or even longer, probably six years!

I knew in my heart that I just had to go to the El Greco somehow. I didn't expect him to be there and I didn't know what I would think or feel if he was there. I didn't know if I liked him or hated him or what. I didn't know anything, other than the fact that my heart wanted to go to the El Greco. So, I called my friend Heather who lives in South Carolina. We had been roommates in college. We had protested Apartheid in South Africa together if that gives you any idea of how long ago it's been since I was a free-spirited college student. We had a Karl Marx poster in our living room, chain smoked Newport Lights and fancied ourselves to be the best quirky party hostesses on campus.

I was in Milan Michigan. My car had just driven there. Sometimes I think things out with drives in the county and my car radio. Heather's grandma has lived on a farm in Milan her whole life. She is the longest-standing vendor at the Ann Arbor Farmer's Market. She's been going to the market since the 30s. I digress.

Heather and I only talk about three times a year. I phoned her and said, "You're the only person I know of in the whole world who will tell me the correct answer to this question that I have." I asked her if I should go to the El Greco. My biggest fear was that I would bump into him and he wouldn't want to see me. Maybe he was planning to go to the museum and hadn't received my text. Lots of people don't pay attention to texts. Sometimes I don't. I think we were pretty much enemies by Wednesday after a series of nasty e-mails (most of the nastiness generated from me, I suppose).

"I can't believe this," Heather said. "I'm getting the shivers! I think it's your mom. I thought of what she told you this morning when I was going to the bathroom."


"That thing your mom used to tell you."

"What thing?"

"You don't love someone because of who they are but despite who they are."


"I think that has something to do with this whole museum thing. You have to go. It's just part of your journey. It's not about him! Just go. Look at the paintings."

Heather isn't even a Catholic but somehow she has a pretty good understanding of the intercession of the saints and everything. Who am I to argue with Heather and my mother in heaven who had apparently spoken to Heather in her bathroom?

Oh I don't know. It sounds crazy, I know. But this is what happens with best friends. You can be crazy together. I mean, you know, we protested Apartheid and stuff like that. I have to listen to her.

So, I went to Toledo. I went to the art museum. I found the El Greco and I sat and looked at it. Then I looked at a few other paintings. Then I went back to the El Greco and I sat and looked at it some more.

The painting depicts The Agony In the Garden, the first decade of the Sorrowful Mysteries of the rosary. I hadn't prayed a rosary yet for the day. I had a rosary in my bag. A friend of mine bought the rosary in Israel and had it blessed by the Pope in Rome. I pulled it out and started praying the first decade while looking at the painting. It was quite powerful and I could tell I was experiencing grace. I started in with the second decade of the sorrowful mysteries, The Scourging At The Pillar, and I was just seven beads in when an older man who works at the museum came and spoke to me.

"You like this painting?"

I nodded and explained I was praying a rosary.

"When you get done there, I want to show you a few other paintings. We have a lot of religious paintings here. These two are the best."

I told him I was just finishing up the decade and after the three remaining beads I went and followed him. He took me to a painting of the Blessed Mother in heaven with the infant Jesus. Jesus was holding a very long sword that pierced a dragon or demon of some sort. The man told me his wife tells him the dragon or demon is him! There were angels all around. The man told me he loved the painting but didn't know what it meant. I gave him my spin on it. He took me to another painting, a much larger one in a different room. This one also was a painting of the Blessed Mother and the infant Jesus. It had lots of symbolism in it and the symbolism was explained on a card next to the painting. It had tadpoles, for instance. They are symbolic of life.

I left the museum after that, reminded of the fact that I always receive special graces during this week of the year. It is the week during which my mother was in a coma in 1998. She slipped into the coma on August 15, the Feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary. She died on August 22, the Feast of the Queenship of Mary.

What does this have to do with me getting down to business?

I am not certain, exactly. I just know I'm getting back on path. I am facing fears. I'm accepting reality. I'm getting back in some sort of a groove.

And I'm very happy to have gone to Toledo to see the El Greco. It hadn't been about having a do over with him. It had been about having a do over with myself. It had been about being open to the possibility of beauty.

In large ways and in small ways, I've been blocked with that.

It all works together -- career decisions, leisure decisions, love decisions, spiritual decisions. It's all part of the same thing.

That is life, I suppose, and how I live it.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Real Housewives of Bloomfield Hills

(Glossery of Canvassing Terms. Burb: The vehicle driven to deliver canvassers to a location. Turf: The neighorhood in which the canvassers work. Rap: The conversation a canvasser initatites at the door. Contact: The person who opens the door and listens to the rap.)

Being a normal person, I suppose, has just never really been in the cards for me. Today has been one of those days when I've been acutely aware of the fact that the normal genes missed me. I look pretty normal most of the time. I can fool people on first impression. But the fact is, I am a girl who will canvas door-to-door in a Bloomfield Hills golfing community during a tornado and have a remarkable time with it all. It's the sort of day that reminds me I'm very much alive.

Yes, it's true -- I'm crazy. I don't think there's any cure for people like me. I enjoy getting people up off their couches to talk about protecting our Great Lakes. If a tornado happens to pass through in the middle of it all, well that's interesting.

I wasn't expecting a tornado. There'd only been a 30-percent chance of rain. I was hot and exhausted after my first few hours of canvasing. Neighbors had not been supportive. Only two people had contributed. I'm supposed to raise at least $150 per night and typically I exceed that. But this was tricky turf - houses built on a golf-course Bloomfield Hills, quite a few people who work for the oil or coal industry, many who favor off-shore drilling. We are working to permanently ban off-shore drilling in the Great Lakes. I just wasn't getting very far with my rap. One lady gave me $5, more-or-less to get me off her porch. Another fellow wrote a check for $25 even though he wasn't sure he agreed with our issues statement -- because he thought I looked like "the real deal." I assured him, of course, that I am the real deal and that he was making a great investment. But that was it. I was striking out.

So I sat under a tree before starting to ring doorbells on the second half of my turf. Clouds were rolling in but it looked as if the rain might hold off. I just wanted to rest a minute, drink some cold water from the bottle in my purse, and freshen up my makeup. Sometimes I feel like I have more success if I take a little time to apply makeup. While I was applying green eye-liner and enjoying the shade, sirens began to sound. I could see rain and lightening in the near distance. I recalled learning that it's dangerous to sit under trees during a lightening storm but I rationalized that this was actually a very small tree and even if it toppled over on top of me, I wasn't likely to be injured very badly. I was alone there for two more hours. I needed to make the best of it until the burb came back to pick me up and return me to Ann Arbor. The tree didn't worry me too much and I figured it was better to have a bit of shelter. But the power lines behind the tree did worry me. Death by electrocution is not on my list of top ten ways I prefer to die.

So I was quite relieved when, as the sirens were wailing at full alarm and I was starting to feel droplets on my skin, two blond women rolled down the window of their SUV.

"Is someone coming to get you?" the driver asked. These were the Real Housewives of Bloomfield Hills, no kidding. Suddenly I was feeling like the homeless man the Kardashian girls found in the alley behind Dash and brought home to clean up. You know, a project. But I was good with that. When the storm sirens are blaring at such decibels, one doesn't let pride stand in the way of becoming someone's charity project.

"Nobody's coming to get me."

"You're just going to sit here?"

"Well, I was just considering my options."

"You can't sit under that tree!"

"Yes, I suppose..."

"We'll take you to the clubhouse. You can sit there. Get in."

As I climbed in the backseat of the SUV the driver explained to me they don't usually drink and drive but they had been golfing, so they had to finish their beers. Then the clouds burst, torrential rain.

"We'll take you to the clubhouse. But I don't know if they'll let you sit in there. You know people get irritated with solicitors. People don't like that."

"I'm not soliciting. I'm not selling anything."

"Oh, so you're not going to try to sell me magazines?"

"No. I am working to protect the Great Lakes. I'm a former journalist. I care about our water."

"Oh, well that's good that you're not going to sell me a magazine."

She pulled in her friend's driveway. They were all supposed to be going to the clubhouse for dinner. But the wind started blowing furiously and we had to go inside the house. As we looked out the living room window we could see debris flying through the air. It was like the cyclone in the Wizard of Oz. Mind you, I am not sure if this event was officially declared a tornado. None of us saw a funnel cloud. But as far as many of us who experienced it were concerned, it was a tornado. When it was over, heavy patio chairs were relocated four houses away from where they had been to begin with. Trees were snapped in half. Patio coverings were busted apart. It was quite a mess. It lasted only about fifteen minutes and then I was back on my way, ringing doorbells and asking for support to protect the Great Lakes.

One lady gave me $3, more-or-less to get me off her porch. Neighbors were too distracted with the property damage to listen. But I didn't stop ringing doorbells. I wanted to raise standard. I did have a $20 post-dated check I'd collected on Monday, so, including that, I'd raised $53. I had nearly $100 to go to make standard and only about an hour in which to do it. The pressure was on.

At 8:50 p.m. I finally rang the doorbell of a supporter. This is just the way it is with canvassing. You can't get discouraged. You can't stop ringing doorbells. There are people in every neighborhood who want to help. You just can't give up before your reach them.

I was invited in to sit on the couch with the lady of the house. She was a very dear grandmother and also the youngest child in her family of origin, a family containing 13 children. I just loved this lady from the start. For one thing she had wonderful taste in art. That's always an indication that people will donate. People who spend money on and appreciate good art generally also will give money to protect the Great Lakes. I don't know why this is but it seems to make good sense to me.

I asked her for $120. She told me she wanted to donate but had to go upstairs to see if her husband wanted to give a check or cash. I thanked her and told her I would be happy to wait. When she sat back down with the checkbook she asked, "how much did you say you want?" I told her $120. "Well," she said, "I'm just going to make that out for $150."

The odds don't really seem to be in my favor for having the opportunity to be a wealthy old woman some day. But should I ever become a wealthy old woman, please remind me that this is the way to donate money -- to donate even more than you are asked for the causes you support. It made me happy. It made our whole crew happy. It generated love. And on top of that, she gave me a big hug and told me I am "very brave." Seriously, I just love this lady.

This is democracy in action. This is why I love canvassing. Although I didn't get very many people to donate money I did an excellent job of generating good will in that neighborhood and was rewarded at the end with a check that enabled me to exceed the daily goal. I was kind and informative to the thirty-something people with whom I had conversations.

Being abnormal isn't so bad. And anyway, what's normal?

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Life without unbrella drinks

Yesterday was the first day in my life of totally not being a health-insurance saleswoman. It felt great. It was a difficult admission to declare that I'm just not cut out for that work. I didn't want to let my dad down. He had such sweet dreams of me receiving huge residual income and stock benefits checks years from now when he is dead and gone and no longer able to write me checks from the money he receives with his General Motors pension. My sweet old dad had big dreams of me riding around on a golf cart with umbrella drinks, not having to work very hard. But the truth is, I'm not a huge fan of golf or umbrella drinks. Oh, I like the little pink and yellow umbrellas well enough. It's just that they don't usually come with sparkling water or Diet Coke, and that's pretty much all I ever order from the bar.

So here I am on day two of my future without umbrella drinks -- and it feels just fine. I'm still in my bathrobe because I don't work until 1:30 p.m. My pink pedicure is a bit sloppy. I did it myself for my flopped Internet date with a 30-something Catholic philosopher on Saturday. He doesn't like me. In fact he's sort of an ass. But I did get out of the house for a few hours to soak my flea-bitten ankles in Cooley Fountain by the Michigan League and listen to someones philosophy of love. And last night I got to sit at the Fleetwood Diner and share my breakfast with a homeless guy while I listened to a girl talk about the beautiful wedding dress she was designing for her friend's barn wedding -- strapless, with an empire waist, some fancy fabric with which I am not familiar. If I'm running late for work at Clean Water Action and don't have time to walk the five blocks or so from free parking, I park at a garage that doesn't charge anything if you leave after 11:30 p.m. Since my shift ends at 10 or 10:30, I like to go to the Fleetwood Diner. I love sitting out there at night. It always makes me feel like I'm in Europe. Everyone's lives intersect at the Fleetwood on warm summer nights. It reminds me of a train station. If they ever bulldoze the Fleetwood, no kidding, I'll have a huge fit.

This is my life.


I love my life.

Being an insurance agent just doesn't fit in my life. It's just not how I roll.

Working with the hipsters at Clean Water Action, that's how I roll. Walking around talking to people about protecting my most favorite natural resource in the history of all natural resources in the universe -- the Great Lakes Water Basin that I've enjoyed since my life on this planet began -- that's how I roll.

Sure, I don't make that much money -- not compared to what I made as a journalist at the end of my career. But I didn't get into journalism for the money. I would have been an idiot if I'd pursued journalism for the money. My first journalism job in the 1990s paid $16 K and I drove more than an hour-and-a-half twice a day through Chicago traffic to get to it. I got into journalism because it mattered to me. I wanted to participate in democracy. I wanted to make a difference. I never expected my career in journalism to end so abruptly and it broke my heart. But you can't change change. And media has changed. I don't like the direction it's going. I don't want to play that game right now.

Canvassing for Clean Water Action is good. Plus it's good exercise. I'm a wee bit worried about the winter. The first year I tried Clean Water Action I had a horrible December after an outstanding fall -- and actually ended up getting evicted from my Ann Arbor apartment for lack of rent payment, moving in with my dad in Saginaw and working as a waitress at the Texan Family Restaurant for two months until I landed a job writing grants and stuff for a camp for kids. In December 2005 when I had been used to earning more than $50 K and having four-weeks-paid vacation with my job at the Ann Arbor News, I felt like the Little Match Girl when suburban Detroiters closed their doors on me in the middle of December because they were too busy wrapping Christmas presents to talk to the little-old-clean-water lady who was standing on their doorstep in the dark cold night asking for a donation. I felt very sad and cold those nights -- and afraid of the dark. But I'm a different woman today. I'm not so afraid of the dark. Experiences have refined me. And I'd much prefer walking through the snow and begging people to donate money to protect our lakes than I prefer working as a secretary and listening to my boss give me a bunch of unsolicited and unwelcome advice about my dating life.

We do what we must to find peace in this life. I feel tremendous stress when I do work that is not aligned with my core values. It's a personality thing. I need very much to do what feels right with my system of values.

So no more insurance sales. I'm gonna walk and walk and walk for the Great Lakes Water Basin until another opportunity appears. I've decided I won't go looking for another opportunity. Sending out resumes has never worked for me. Most of the jobs I've ever enjoyed have been jobs that have found me. People have called me to tell me about something they have available. What I am doing is peaceful and of great value. If it leads to something else that's also of great value, that's great.

If not, this is a pretty great life.

Monday, August 16, 2010

No More Wine

"I have no more wine."

My understanding is that we pray this prayer to Mary who is the Mediatrix of all Grace when we are at the end of the rope.

I prayed this prayer this morning.

It was yet another day when I woke up not feeling well at all, not having any health insurance because I can't afford it and I don't qualify for it anyway now that I have Multiple Sclerosis -- a pre-existing condition.

I do have a bunch of supplemental health insurance policies I bought for myself through Aflac. It was suggested to me that it was a good idea to get some money up front and to get my business going. The only problem is, my business with Aflac really didn't get going. And some of the policies I signed up for I really shouldn't have due to the Multiple Sclerosis. I hadn't read the underwriting questions well enough. I realized this months after I had purchased them.

So I feel a wreck and a mess.

Mary, I have no more wine.

I think I have a knack for fundraising and development much more than straight sales. I find it pretty easy to ask people for money for a good cause.

So I guess I will see if I can get a job in fundraising or development for a charity, university or non-profit organization.

I feel sad and tired and worried.

Meanwhile, I can canvas for Clean Water Action and I will. I hope and pray I find an indoor job that will allow me to pay my rent and car payments and insurance and gas and basic living expenses by the end of October.

My niece is so sweet. I just love her. She had an idea on Friday and she was very sincere. She said "Aunt Patty, I know what you should do. Forget Aflac, forget selling these party lights or Avon or anything. You should sell True Romance. You'd be great at it. Those parties are fun and everybody loves that stuff."

My niece is correct in that women really do love those parties. She is also correct that I would probably make quite a lot of money at it. The only problem is, I can't really sell sex toys to unmarried women as a devout Catholic. No judgement ladies, it just would be a conflict of interest.

I went on a date of sorts (met a Catholic guy from a Catholic site and walked for some hours) Saturday night. He is a philosopher. I thought he would appreciate the dilemma. He suggested I could sell some food product called Simple Eating or something like that. I didn't mention to him that I have an eating disorder but I did tell him I struggle with my weight. I didn't tell him it wasn't for me. But I know it isn't. Selling food products that offer lifestyle solutions generally isn't something I should be selling. It's a conflict of interest with the 12-step food programs that I work.

But I am open to considering some other product like that -- something that is genuinely profitable that isn't health insurance that I don't qualify, that isn't food that I can't eat and isn't a sex toy that I can't use.

So -- if you happen to know of a development or fundraising job or if you happen to know of a product that sells well that isn't food, isn't health insurance and isn't one of those other things, let me know.

Meanwhile I am considering car and property insurance sales. I did have an offer to do that out of a local office and I am checking into it. My understanding is that it would be part-time, though. And I am not sure that that is whee God is leading me.

All I know is this:

Mary, I have no more wine. Please ask your son to intervene as soon as possible. This is difficult for me.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Construction-paper fish

The walking's going well. So is the fundraising.

I've exceeded the goals that have been given to me each night quite considerably.

Last night I even earned a fish. That means I get to put my name on a construction-paper fish and hang it in the Clean Water Action office. It's fun to collect fish. Actually, I might have earned one on Tuesday night, too. I'm not up-to-date on the construction-paper-fish guidelines at the moment.

A few things have changed at Clean Water Action since the last time I canvassed for the organization in 2007 but not really too much has changed. It takes a bit to get back into the swing.

But last night I was back in flip flops (cushy flip flops, not those thin ones from Old Navy that I used to canvas in a few years ago) and I walked my whole shift in the heat. I raised $358 last night. That's a very good start for my first week canvassing in a few years.

I enjoyed it too -- even though I needed Ibuprofen and water to sustain myself during the neighborhood treks.

Tuesday night I enjoyed listening to the music of an ice-cream truck winding its way through an neighborhood in Brownstown. An Indian man was driving. The tune was a variation of that old Shaker melody "Tis a Gift to be Simple."

Last night I enjoyed chatting in a Rochester neighborhood with several people from foreign countries who were willing to donate money to protect the Great Lakes Water Basin even though they hadn't lived in the United States very long and they were not registered voters.

It really warms my heart -- the affection people express for our Great Lakes Water Basin when I stand on their front porches -- or inside their foyers, enjoying a few minutes of air conditioning.

Everyone is not affectionate, of course. There are certain people who don't like anyone on their front porch. And typically each night you meet a few people that assume you have a political position that they find offensive so they try to give you a hard time and throw you off your mark. They hassle you about permits and explain that they don't think you are allowed in the neighborhood.

To those people I say "call the city in the morning. They'll explain it to you. And have a good evening."

We always get permits, of course. But really, it's a constitutional right to canvas. And most people really enjoy talking to people from Clean Water Action -- even if they don't care to donate money.

Most people are receptive to democracy. It's heartwarming.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Walking for the Great Lakes

Walking isn't something I take for granted anymore -- and I did it for four hours last night to earn a living.

It was an emotional journey. I was supposed to walk for five hours but thankfully I exceeded my financial goals within three and a half hours, so I could sit and chill for an hour before it was time to drive back to the office.

I was out canvassing for Clean Water Action, going door-to-door fundraising in a bipartisan effort to safeguard the Great Lakes Water Basin from off-shore drilling. Contrary to what I said yesterday, The Great Lakes Water Basin has more than 20 percent of the world's fresh water, not more than 30 like I had said accidentally. More specifically, we have about 22 percent of the world's fresh water -- about a fifth. People can't survive without fresh water. Protecting the basin is a no-brainer. It's something Republicans and Democrats generally agree upon quite unanimously when you stand on their doorsteps and converse about our wonderful lakes and rivers -- even though they have some trouble hashing out Great Lakes issues on the floor of the State Legislature.

But back to walking -- it isn't something I take for granted anymore, and that's not just because I wasn't wearing tennis shoes. The shoes I was wearing are called soft spots. They are meant to be comfortable although they have a little heel. To me they are much more comfortable than flip flops. I haven't canvassed for Clean Water Action in four years. Four years ago I wore Old Navy flip flops every day and had no trouble with the five-hour walking shift. My feet got a little tired in the beginning but this was a different kind of exhaustion. My steps are smaller today than they were four years ago. It's hard for me to keep up with normal walkers for any length of time. By the end of the night I had to lean on something to climb even a few steps, a handrail or a windowsill. Getting into the van at the end of the night, I had to swing my legs with my hands to move over. They wouldn't move by themselves. They were too tired.

I knew I had lost some mobility but I didn't realize until last night how much mobility I had lost to Multiple Sclerosis. The good news is, although I fell into bed late last night exhausted, thinking I might have to call them today and tell them I just can't do this work anymore, I woke up at 6 a.m. really excited that I DID do it and really excited that today will probably be a little easier than yesterday. Some of the mobility is lost from the condition of Multiple Sclerosis -- but I am certain the fact that I have not exercised regularly in a year has also contributed to that decline. Some of it, I think I can get back if I keep walking.

I am one of those people who really believe that God works all things for good in our lives if we just cooperate and surrender each day. That isn't to say that horrible things don't happen to wonderful people. They do, of course. It is to say that when horrible things happen, God gives people the grace to persevere and to keep peace in their hearts. God can give us a measure of happiness in the most stressful of situations. I have experienced this quite often in my life. A person doesn't have to believe in God to receive this grace, although having a belief in God sure helps. A person only needs to get out of the way and quit complaining about how unfair life is. A person basically just needs to roll with the program.

There tend to be hidden blessings in situations that seem unmanageable. For instance, while I was limping around this neighborhood in the rain last night, wondering how I was going to continue this for another few hours, I came across some people who were much more disabled than I am. It was largely a retirement community. When I was very fit and took walking for granted, I wouldn't have wanted to bother someone who was stooped over when they came to the door. I wouldn't have wanted to pressure someone who was using a walker. But today I know those people do want to be bothered just as much as anybody if they are interested in the issue -- and more people are interested than not. I guess I had always had a little bit of a prejudice about how willing people with disabilities might be to participate. It was very subconscious. But today I am certain it must have been there because I noticed last night that it had disappeared. I took my second largest check last night from a woman who is quite disabled. She was extremely interested and very friendly.

I'm going to rest for another hour before I start my day but I just had to report that God is really working in this situation. I'm very happy for that. If the computer unit I had ordered had come in time and if I had written business last week, I would not have canvassed for Clean Water Action last night. Because I canvassed for Clean Water Action last night, I learned some things that will be very helpful to me in my sales career and in life -- at the top of the list is the great value and importance of regular exercise. I had put exercise off because I have been so busy trying to climb out of a financial hole. I have been exhausted. seemingly too exhausted and busy for exercise. But this morning I am not exhausted. My spirit woke early feeling very happy to have, in a way, climbed a little mountain. No kidding, the flight of steps leading to the Clean Water Action office at the end of the night looked to me like a mountain. You better believe I used the handrail!

I plan to only canvas for Clean Water Action through about the third week in October. By then I will be settled in with what I need for insurance sales. This is just a wonderful opportunity for me and I am so happy to be working these days with Clean Water Action and this young bunch of activists. I am very happy that I am ABLE to do the work. So many people believe in the ideas of this organization but couldn't do this work for one reason or another.

No matter how financially successful I become, I think canvassing for Clean Water Action for a portion of every year is something I would like to do for as long as I am able.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Dad expects me to do it

My father thinks I can. So, I'm going to keep trying.

He's my main investor, my dad, having given me a few thousand dollars in the form of a series of small loans during the past few months that I've tried to start my new insurance sales business. As a new businesswoman, I feel I owe it to my investors to follow through -- to do the best I can. And even though I'm forty-four years old, I still like making my dad proud.

This past month in my first year as a saleswoman has been especially difficult. I've had a few friends die. I had to put my beloved cat to sleep and I've never been though that with a pet before. People who I care about have been suffering quite a bit with emotional issues and physical ailments. My family has been increasingly concerned about my 80-year-old father.

On top of it all I've had technology issues. Many people who work for the company with which I am affiliated borrow computers from other agents during their first several months in business. Some do this for half a year or even longer. I've done it a bit but it hasn't felt right to me for a few reasons. I don't like borrowing expensive equipment. Computers are prone to breaking and acquiring viruses. What if someones computer breaks or gets a virus while I am borrowing it? I just haven't felt good about borrowing for this reason and a few others.

My dad has supported me in making technology investments that would eliminate my need to borrow equipment. But getting up and running independently with my own technology hasn't been as easy as I had expected. One agent was going to sell me a used system for $400 and I was looking forward to that. But the delivery date got pushed up and then the agent backed out of the deal. I ordered a system from an agent in California for $400 but it didn't include an item that would have been included in the first sale. And the unit I ordered got lost in the mail for two weeks. it arrived Thursday but required a special adapter cord to connect something to it. I took it to a used computer specialist for help. But he got it all messed up. Now I'll have to send it in for repair. It will cost $67 and take about five days for it to come back to me in the mail. In addition to the $67 repair, I'm going to have to spend another $175 on a more up-to-date item that interfaces with the unit.

It seemed like a major disaster on Friday. I was catastrophising. I couldn't imagine asking my dad for anymore money. To top it off, I was randomly offered another sales job from a man who I have done business with for several years and I wondered if I had received a series of signs to leave the company with which I am currently affiliated. The offer that was made to me is a very sweet deal but would require a bit of training. Several people have suggested I just go for it and put my current sales job on the back burner until I start making money with this new opportunity.

I hate quitting -- just hate it. I said some prayers on my way up north and planned to just keep mum about the catastrophe when I saw my father. I didn't want to worry him. I know he worries about me. My health is not what it was five years ago due to my Multiple Sclerosis and as dad creaks along in the twilight of his life I know he worries about what will become of me due to the fact that I am single, not quite settled into a career and dealing with a chronic illness. I have no savings. I'm starting to fall behind on bills. And the technology issues have waylayed my time in the field selling. It's not a happy situation and Friday I became a little bit frantic about what to do.

Although I was going up to see him this weekend -- and to see other family members, I hadn't planned on saying a word about the latest glitch in my selling career. But he brought it up in the car ride from his house to my sisters. He asked if I had finally received the $400 unit in the mail. I told him I had. And then I told him I had to send it back and that I had to buy something else for $175 to get it going and that I also had to pay $67 to have the unit repaired because the used computer guy had broken it.

My father owned his own businesses most of the years I was growing up. He's an independent cuss. When the builders he had hired to construct the home he designed for our family did a sloppy job, he fired them and finished the work himself. It took years. About a year of my childhood was spent with an Indian blanket for a bedroom door.

I grossly underestimated my father's ability to understand my situation. He was on board immediately with exactly enough funding and a listening ear. He said he is in total agreement with me about my need to have my own equipment and not to borrow from others. He also said he agrees with me one hundred percent with how I am building my business at this time. He likes the decisions I have made -- including the fact that I don't really like working with other agents very much for a number of reasons, including the fact that it is important to me to be perceived and respected as an equal in business and not as a trainee who needs to be supervised by someone who has technology that is adequate to get the job done. My decisions have not all been conventional. Many people in the company with which I am affiliated do things a little differently -- some do things quite differently.

But my dad likes the way I am doing things. Pretty much, my dear old dad wants me to get out there and kick some ass.

So I'm planning to. His support means a great deal to me.

It will be about a week before I have my technology issues resolved and I'm ready to write business with my own computer.

Meanwhile I'll be busy with some other endeavors. One thing I've decided to do is to canvass three days a week for the next few months with Clean Water Action. Being a sailor and having grown up on Lake Huron, I'm a HUGE advocate of protecting the Great Lakes Water Basin which holds more than 30 percent of the world's fresh water. I've canvassed for CWA in the past and I enjoy it this time of year and make pretty good money at it.

I'm going to give up Toastmasters for now (Sorry Kristin!!!) and get my groove on three evenings a week fundraising door-to-door for the bipartisan environmental lobby that wears out lots of shoes every year in an impressive effort to protect our wonderful Great Lakes Water Basin. It's actually very good sales experience and a great confidence builder.

As for the other sales opportunity that came my way -- I do plan on exploring it in the future -- once I get over these technology start-up bumps with my current organization. This new opportunity is something I can do for just a few hours a month or something I could spend more time on if I desire. I'll start with adding Clean Water Action to my portfolio of experiences (since it's tried and true and I can start Monday afternoon) and I'll consider taking on that other opportunity in the fall when the days grow shorter and the nights grow colder and canvassing isn't as appealing to me as it is this time of year.

Friday, August 6, 2010

My Advice: Stay Married!

By Patty Maher,

It is 4 a.m. I have been tossing and turning in bed for two hours.What to do…what to do…what to do.

It seems as though the used computer salesman who was supposedly helping me with a special piece of equipment I bought for $400 to run my business might have broken my $400 investment. $400 is a lot of money to me. There will be no way of proving this guy broke it. All I know is that it worked before I went to him and now it doesn't and I have to wait until morning to talk to my company's tech support and see if they can help.

I waited two weeks for that $400 thingy to arrive in the mail – and for one week I thought it was lost. I bought it used from an insurance agent who has decided to get out of the business. He never used it and I saved $100. But he didn’t write my address correctly when he shipped it. AND he failed to insure it or even get a tracking number of any kind. While worrying that my computer investment was lost in the mail, I had to put my cat to sleep. She was my companion for seventeen years. I had never put an animal to sleep before. Stress from the technology issues and the cat death have been tremendous. I’ve cried lots.

I could go on and on about technological stresses that have happened in the past month or so. They are similar to the car stresses that happened when I was trying to save money by not having a car payment and driving $500 to $1000 cars. Since I am not mechanical; since I can hardly fold a chair, I never knew if I was making a $100 investment in the old jalopies wisely or not. When you drive old cars like that, you’re always being asked to spend $100 on this or that. It’s constantly frustrating. But I don’t want to talk about computers or cars. I want to talk about the institution of marriage.

Mawe-wige – as pronounced by the preacher in The Princess Bride. Seriously, friends – if you are considering divorce, DON’T DO IT – not unless your husband or wife is an absolute scoundrel or a creep. Really, consider just staying together and practicing loving each other. Just keep practicing; eventually you’ll probably get it right. Seriously – who needs big-gushy-romantic love when you’ve got someone to lean on when the car doesn’t start, when the checkbook doesn’t balance and when the computer freaks out?

My former husband and I divorced quite peacefully in January 2000. We had no children or assets so it was pretty straight forward. We bought a do-it-yourself divorce kit off the internet for $75 and went down to the courthouse and filed together. We just were not happy. To be honest with you, it was mostly me who wasn’t happy. He wasn’t romantic enough for my liking. There were philosophical and religious differences that seemed like they would cause real problems if we had children.

I wanted children. He wanted a sailboat. He found his second wife months after the divorce and he is with her today. They have two children. I never found my Prince Charming. I have come to understand that Prince Charming only lives in the story book. And really, if there was a Prince Charming in real life, he’d certainly get on my very last nerve. So my former husband got a family, which I always wanted, and I learned to sail, which he always wanted.

It takes two people to ruin a relationship. And when it’s over, you still have to look at yourself and your own issues in the mirror every morning.

Why am I writing this? Seriously, I miss having a husband around. Sure I’ve dated men since the divorce. They’ve all had their issues, too. Everyone does. I suppose I could pull out some statistics about health and marriage but I won’t. I’m pretty sure we’re all aware that married people are happier in old age and live longer. I mean that’s pretty well documented, isn’t it? But it isn’t just missing a husband and frustration with technology that caused me to sit at my computer at 4 a.m. today and write about Mawe-widge.

Various friends of mine lately have been talking to me about divorce. Some have developed crushes on other people and their spouses seem pale in comparison. Generally these crushes have happened over the internet. It’s a real temptation these days.

My thinking on the subject of marriage and divorce is this:
If you are considering leaving a marriage because you are miserable with your spouse – because he or she is abusive, because he or she cheats on you, because you have no intimacy at all in your marriage – it is very possibly a good idea to leave the marriage. Talk to a few counselors and religious leaders (if you are religious) before making the decision.

If you are considering leaving a marriage because you seem to have fallen in love with someone else who is more romantic and emotionally satisfying – seriously reconsider, especially if the romantic person is someone whom you met over the internet.

Seriously – there are no Prince Charmings. And if there were, who would want one?

And back to the computer and car issues. You say your spouse is an idiot when it comes to cars and computers, so you might as well divorce him anyway? Seriously, it doesn’t matter. Having been single for a decade now I can tell you that it’s so much nicer to have an idiot to commiserate with when things break down. And just remember – you can always blame the problem on him!