Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Sarah Louise and the City

In my new life as a city dweller and city worker (as opposed to my old life as a city dweller and suburban worker) I have noticed a few surprising fringe benefits.

(Not all of the fringe benefits are surprising, since I worked downtown in an earlier life.)

But here's one I didn't expect: I have started running into people I work with on the street, in city neighborhoods besides downtown. Last night, on the way to dinner, I ran into a library clerk that works at our branch, and this morning, on the way to the Busway, I ran into a woman who works at the offices in the East Liberty branch. She was presumably walking to work. It was just fun to see these folks on the street, and just say hi. That glimmer of recognition--you are someone of my tribe--was delightful.

And last night, after dinner, at the bus stop? I met an opera singer from Central Europe. We started talking about European cities we had in common and didn't stop talking until our buses came. These are connections that do not occur when you are sitting in your car in traffic. 

Other fringe benefits include more built-in exercise, as running for the bus is now a part of my daily life. Some days I take the neighborhood bus to the Busway, some days I park closer to the Busway and walk. I never take the neighborhood bus all the way downtown, as it takes 45 minutes as opposed to a variable 33 minutes to take the neighborhood bus and the Busway. It's not just the time factor: the buses are old and uncomfortable. I prefer to walk for five minutes, sit for 10 minutes, walk for three, and sit for 10 more minutes. I think once spring comes, I might try walking to the Busway from my house, approximately 2 miles, but I need to purchase better walking shoes first. I am potentially looking at the bike angle. (Although I don't bike or currently own a bike.)

I am purchasing less gas for my car, but since a Zone One bus pass costs $97, I'm not really ahead on commuting costs. Once my bus pass is taken out of my paycheck pre-tax, I will recoup some additional monies, but I'm not sure how much. Every paycheck is a surprise--the first paycheck just had the normal deductions, Social Security, Medicare, City tax, State tax, Federal tax. The second paycheck, I started getting my Flexible Spending monies deducted. The third paycheck, I'll start paying for my health care. I think the fourth paycheck, I'll be starting to pay for my pre-tax bus pass.

Unexpectedly, I miss driving my car. I miss catching up on NPR news, listening to my music, and just driving. This weekend I drove home to see my nephew Max (not his real name) and to celebrate my mother's birthday. Being out on the open road was a thrill. Yes, I was thrilled to be on the Pennsylvania Turnpike, who knew? And last night, driving home from a surprise trip to Wilkinsburg, I got to listen to Jian Ghomeshi, who is one of my favorite radio personalities. Last night he proved he can get out of a hot spot quickly with an interview with singer and British celebrity Boy George. Who would have thought that Boy George is now 52?


Reading right now: The Help by Katherine Stockett (umpteenth time); Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins; Calling me Home by Julie Kibler; and The Kitchen Counter Cooking School by Kathleen Flinn. All but the last title are fiction.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

The toil of thy hands...

Remember him -- before the silver cord is severed,
or the golden bowl is broken;
before the pitcher is shattered at the spring. (Ecclesiastes 12:6)

I have been putting my Raggedy Ann piggy bank back together. She lost some ceramic orange hair about a month ago when I was trying to get to one of my jewelery boxes. Poor Ann, I broke her before, when I was a girl, and put her back together again, like Humpty Dumpty. I don't have all of the pieces, so the hole in the back of her head is larger than before, and she has a triangle of air in the middle of her cheek. But she still smiles. I haven't used her as a piggy bank for years, but she is someone that has been in my life for a very long time.

The sugar bowl I bought it in Prague when I was 20 has a broken lid. It was to be the sugar bowl for when I got my first apartment. And it was. And it is. Until recently, I didn't have the proper glue in my house, so the broken pieces are all together in one place, waiting for me to glue them back together. The bowl part still holds sugar, and I am fortunate that the only bugs I have to worry about in this apartment are stink bugs and the occasional fruit fly, and neither species cares about dry sugar.

The golden bowl will break. The pitcher will be shattered at the spring. And the silver cord will be severed. (I wonder if the silver cord is our life, I haven't done any research on this verse, but you will find it underlined in just about every Bible I've ever owned.) I find it comforting that the writer of Ecclesiastes knew these things. I wonder if he ever owned a sugar bowl with a broken lid.


This morning, I couldn't sleep. I woke up at 4:57 and used the commode, tried to get back to sleep to no avail. I thought, oh, this might be a good time to read the Bible! and pray! (It is Lent, after all, when we are meant to put more energy into prayer...and it's been forever since I've opened a Bible outside of church.) But when you are rusty and out of practice, restlessness takes over again. I'm not used to being quiet anymore. I opened my Bible to Ecclesiastes and read some bits, but I still was too restless. So I came here. I think writing can be a kind of a prayer, so here I am...and I can hardly believe it's been since October that I've posted here, but there you go.

I'm looking at verses in different translations, thanks to The Message is a paraphrase by Eugene Peterson. He has a way with words, he does. Ecclesiastes 5:18 contains this phrase: "what was the point of working for a salary of smoke?" (He's describing a rich man who loses all his money in a bad business deal and has nothing to leave his son. Naked he came[from the womb of his mother], naked he went./So what was the point of working for a salary of smoke?

I love that phrase: a salary of smoke. 

Part of why I went to bed restless and woke up with numbers in my mind is because last night I finally opened TurboTax and started my taxes. They were a little more complicated this year because I received the fellowship I think I told you about, to study rare children's books. Because I was not a student at the time, that money is perceived as self-employment earnings, and so I had to work on deductions and mileage and such. I was not reimbursed by work for a conference I attended in October. So I had to work on what the deductions were for mileage and travel and meals. My refund is half of what it was last year, and part of that is the fellowship and part of that is that I cashed in quite a few of my Savings Bonds. 

So it is helpful to read Ecclesiastes in the face of all this. The bowl will be broken. The cord will be severed. The pitcher will be shattered. And yet, the point of life is to enjoy the toil of your hands and then die. 

(I never said it was a cheery text.) 

The tax refund will pay for most of my tire bill and for my professional memberships. I was hoping that my refund would pay for all of my tire bill plus my professional memberships, but with a smaller refund, I have to divvy up the monies, and I can't put off paying for my professional memberships any longer. (I should have paid for them back in October.)

I have a new job, by the way. It is hard work, but mostly satisfying. I'm working as a librarian in a downtown location. The city shouts with beauty and dust, unlike the suburbs which try to make everything decent and tidy. I am faced with the disparities of life--people with more than enough, people with enough, and people with less than enough. These are the people I work beside and these are the people I help each day. I see how important the library is to people who cheerfully ask to borrow the dictionary from the reference desk. Or for young people who have big dreams and nowhere to express them but to borrow foreign films at the library. For the mother with a restless child who wants a copy of The Cat in the Hat. Eventually, I'll be working with children on a daily basis, but since there hasn't been a children's librarian at the downtown location for over a decade, I have to build relationships first. For now, my collection, the books, music, DVDs, these are the welcome mat I extend to the children and parents that walk into the library. It is a collection that someone else created, and that will be mostly replenished by someone else, but I am now its main mama. 

I digress. There is so much that can't be put into words. But the point I am trying to express, that I am dancing around, is that my work means I generally sleep at night. It means that I have the energy to work on my taxes on a weeknight, instead sitting in front of the television with my dinner. It means that even though I have no idea at the end of the day if I'm making more or breaking even with this new job, I am happier. And you cannot put a price tag on happiness. That is the point of the book of Ecclesiastes. Dust we were, dust we will be. But if we can find work we enjoy and we can sleep at night, that is good. 


*pause, and think of that.