Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Closing, Closing

"Lord," I've been praying, "Please open the right doors and shut the wrong ones in my life." And Wham! Closure seems to be the order of the day. My sister doesn't need me to watch the pipsqueaks when she starts nursing school in the fall--they are already signed up for daycare. My parents and I would drive each other crazy if I moved back in with them. I didn't get the dissertation grant, so leaving for Ukraine in September is out. And I just got an email from the TSA saying that though I ranked high for the editor/writer job I applied for, I didn't rank high enough to be referred for an interview. I can't help but feel pessimistic about the Foreign Service--they'll probably send me this very same Dear John that the other federal agencies have, once I finally get around to submitting the "gosh-I'm-so-great-and-perfect-for-this-job-you-should-absolutely-hire-me" personal narrative.

On the other hand, it ain't over til its over: today at work (I'm subbing for a lady out of town due to a death in the family), up until thirty minutes before closing, we'd had two tiny sales, totalling less than $50. As I was unable to get more than 4 hours of sleep last night (my octogenarian coworker claims this has to do with the full of the moon, since "your brain is sitting in a puddle and the moon affects the tides"), and I started the day with research at the Library of Congress, I've been kind of strung out, and the frustration-boredom didn't help. Foul mood, though I think I did a pretty decent job of hiding this from the (non)customers--I did let some of it show on the phone with a telemarketer. And then, this one woman comes in and spends $950, followed immediately by a businessman who buys a set of Waterford crystal for $200. Boom! We're not only over $100, we're over $1000. What a nice way to end the day.

So, my chin's up, even if my eyelids are drooping--there's gotta be an upturn ahead.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Not So Taxing

Leah has discovered that due to my impoverished state I qualify for the earned income tax credit, for one. So the feds actually owe ME money rather than the other way around. I owe the Commonwealth of VA eight bucks.

The NPV's 29th birthday was yesterday and after work a group of us got together at Merry's house for pizza, cake and puns. Lad, a blond seminarian, and Merry are the worst (greatest?) punsters ever, which meant we were convulsed for hours with riffs off the University of Michigan's Naked Mile (and like topics that you'd expect from a bunch of conservative church-goers) and the subject of bank heists. Jessica, Merry's wife, and the NPV got off some zingers, while I just enjoyed the speed of the banter, which shot back and forth without time to finish one groan and eye roll before beginning another.

I'm having trouble coming up with an example of a seminal event demonstrating how my stellar communications skills "furthered an aim or achieved a goal" which I can describe in a Foreign Service Personal Narrative essay. Nor can I think of a situation where the use of my "skills of critical thinking, resourcefulness and/or judgment" achieved a notable goal. I called 911 to report a house on fire once, but that's hardly brainy. I've lectured to middle-schoolers about American History. I've managed to get directions in Russia from complete strangers. But a dramatic event, say, talking a gunman into surrendering, setting up multilateral talks between ancient enemies, or brilliantly deducing an important bit of code I haven't done. Perhaps my friends can remember something noteworthy I've done--after all, I have to submit the name and contact information of a corroborator along with my narrative!

Tax Time (Again)

Leah is steadily filling out my tax forms while I sit on the floor of her office next to a welter of paper and update this blog. I've done all the calculations for my various bits of 2009 income, from book sales to jewelry sales to a solitary episode of contract work, and thus far this year's filing process has gone much more smoothly than those in the past. It helped that I created an entire Word Document five pages telling myself what sort of totting-up I needed to do ahead of time so I would be prepared for her questions. Somehow, just having a CPA involved in the process makes me feel better. What didn't make me feel particularly good was adding up my charitable contributions and realizing how far I fell short of the previous year's level.

After the encouraging news of the FSOT exam passage, I received a discouraging letter: I didn't get the dissertation research grant. It was the standard boilerplate Dear John "there were lots of great projects and we had to make tough decisions" rejection. It would be nice if they added a note saying why, exactly, my project had fallen short of the mark. Perhaps because biographical studies are not popular with historians at the moment. Perhaps Stites' support letter wasn't all that (I can't ask him--he's conveniently deceased). Perhaps their funding pool was drastically reduced by budget cuts. I'll probably never know.

So, like the book-translation, I'm left working on this major project on my own time and money. This isn't terrible (after all, I actually finished the translation, and though I still haven't seen it into print, there's hope)--I'd still end up (eventually) with a doctorate. But it is another one of those "you're just not good enough" moments, and I can't help but feel a little woebegone. When's someone actually going to WANT me and my intellectual efforts?! Sheesh.

Meanwhile, I worked at the Bethesda gallery three days running (missing out on visiting the NLM because of subbing for a sick coworker), and my vintage Royalty and Majesty magazines, two lampshades, and a mediocre still-life I painted eight years ago are hopefully being sold as part of the estate sale I helped set up this last week (a perk--I'm trying to clean out my room and make a few cents at the same time).

Crumbs. I owe federal taxes again. Somehow, in the midst of economic recession, I made money selling books and jewelry (just a little, and yet...). The hurt isn't as bad as last year, though. Hopefully, when Leah does the state form, I'll be getting back some from them, so it'll cover the difference.

If I had the contacts to start my own estate sales business, or partner up with the woman I work for, I'd do it.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Foreign Service Officer Test

I passed. On to the Personal Narrative, and thence unto the day-long in-person interview (I hope).

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Knee, Weather

The weather has been glorious for days, after a full weekend of rain that put the Potomac over its banks and into the Georgetown boathouse, leaving a rime of mud, driftwood and plastic bottles up around and across the Mt. Vernon trail.

Susan and I ran all the way to Steven's apartment on the trail, a full six miles, this afternoon. My knee now hurts so sharply I have an icepack on it as the three of us watch a post-prandial Harry Potter movie and I type, but we were so proud of ourselves after the run that satisfaction, if not the endorphin high, was enough to damp the pain for hours.

Steven fixed a mouth-watering (thankfully not mouth-burning) Thai green curry chicken dish this evening for supper. As I had pigged out on Armenian delicacies at lunch (Anita and I were doing a show at the local community's church), I truly needed all six miles to burn the cumulative calories. [Oh, and yesterday I had dinner at Matchbox (pizza) to celebrate a friend's birthday, followed by a Haagen Daaz ice cream cone...]

I met with my new dissertation advisor on Thursday, and she approved of my plans. I've read five non-academic books in the past six days--I'm bingeing on fiction, mainly. I've worked more at the Bethesda shop and an estate sale, and more is scheduled. I will be getting back to solemn scholarliness this coming week--Thursday is my Library of Congress day.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Endorphin Junkie

This evening, I ran four miles in 36:52, which I think is a bit better than my previous time. My arms are starting to look a bit trimmer. I have yet to be able to do a pullup without assistance.

The velvet couch sold. I weep (only metaphorically).

Did some more dissertation research this afternoon, and made a pair of earrings--Anita and I have our first show of the year on Saturday. Her home was burgled day before yesterday, but thank God the thieves took neither her laptop nor her jewelry-making supplies.

Still no word from the State Department re: the FSOT.

Saturday, March 13, 2010


I've been content this week, happy for myself but periodically tearing up about Professor Stites. He's the first person I've genuinely cared about who I've lost who wasn't a Christian, and the reality of that--and the eternal paucity of his manifold great lifetime accomplishments--is hard to bear.

I've also been working an estate sale, combing through the possessions of a dead woman, preparing them to be offered to the public. Her heirs--a niece and nephew (she had no children)--did a pretty decent job of cleaning out the specifically personal items, but still there were some loose photographs [one of her late husband in the Eastern Bloc, in front of a ХОТЕЛ (hotel)], a copy of a forgotten fierce neighborhood lawsuit, awards for decades of distinguished service at the Justice Department. Each item cherished in its time, not one of which matters now.

Sales at the gallery in Bethesda have been quite decent the days I've worked. I wish I got more than 10% off for an employee discount--there is a cut-velvet sofa I've wanted for the last two months, but it's just too much, and I just know that someone is going to snatch it up next week when it drops to $520 (the lowest price). I keep telling myself there'll be other sofas, but I can just see this in a living room with a Persian run and pale green or white leather chairs, and a crystal chandelier and a wall mirror or two. So shallow of me to be thinking about interior design when death and eternity are also in my thoughts.

Monday, March 08, 2010

Dissertation Director Dead

My Georgetown Russian History mentor and dissertation director died in Finland yesterday at noon. Professor Richard Stites (his real name--I dispense with the blogonyms at the person's death) is to be buried next to the Slavonic Library in Helsinki, where he spent almost every summer doing research. On the one hand, I had anticipated his premature (for me) demise in the midst of my project. On the other hand, I am shellshocked that it has actually happened.

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Test Taken

I took the Foreign Service Exam (or the Foreign Service Officer's Test, FSOT for short) this afternoon. I think I did a bit better on the real thing than I scored on the practice test--that is, I guestimate my score (which I won't ever know exactly--they just tell you that you passed or failed, and the actual score is kept from you, but used to judge you in a cumulative sense should you pass and go on to the day-long interview phase) about 80% correct on the politics/history/economics/management section (I bombed the practice test with 70% right) and 97% on the grammar and punctuation section. As to the personal experience questions and the essay, I've no idea. Sorry, no details re: specific questions--that's not allowed. Kind of like the unproctored honor-system test-taking at my alma mater, where all we were allowed to say regarding the experience is "I'm glad it's over."

I ran 4 miles in 39 minutes and 15 seconds yesterday evening, then pumped iron for half an hour. I slept really well last night, but my left knee is aching. I'm not sure whether this is a shoe problem, a gait problem, or an "I'm over 30" problem. I'm going to give it a day's rest and try running tomorrow.