The Death of a Child, and My City


I met up with the two advocates I was going to be shadowing and the three of us made up Crisis Unit Adam 1. There was also a second group of three who made up Crisis Unit Adam 2, and the six of us went to a restaurant to await calls… or not.

I was a little afraid that we wouldn’t get a call, but then I felt guilty, as if I wanted someone to be a victim. Of course I didn’t want that; I just wanted an opportunity to see what I’d signed up to do. The other advocates assuaged my guilt by saying that there are always victims, whether the Victim Services teams are called or not, so wanting a call isn’t about wanting someone to be victimized; it’s about wanting victims to have support.

About five minutes into dinner, the call came. We were to relieve Baker unit on a DOA call (Deceased on Arrival) with a child victim.

There was a weight that came with going to a child’s death that was palpable, but mingled with a sense of, “This is what we do.”

We ate quickly, and the other advocates tried to prepare me. They let me know that I should feel free to step out if it was too difficult. They said that my well-being was a priority… and we hit the road.

When we arrived, we talked to the Baker Unit, who gave us the background on how the child passed away and some of the family dynamics, of which there were a ton – divorce and estrangement, medical issues, grandparents on both sides, and previous recent family deaths. I’m not sure how much I’m allowed to share, so I’m going to keep the details to myself, but I will tell you that, although the child’s death was unexpected, the cause did not seem to be homicide. Law enforcement procedurally treats all children’s deaths like homicides, but this particular death was most probably due to illness.

So… we couldn’t talk to the child’s dad, who was being interviewed by law enforcement. We couldn’t talk to mom, because of some crazy, crazy circumstances. We couldn’t talk to mom’s parents, because they left about the same time we arrived. Therefore, we went in and talked with the extended family on dad’s side.

There were probably 15-20 people there who said they were cousins. We introduced ourselves: “Hi. My name is Betsey. This is Claire and Katie. We’re with Victim Services, and we’re here to be of help to you. Our entire purpose in being here is to help you with whatever you need.”

Crickets.

You would think there would be tears. You would think the room would be filled with pandemonium. A child died. I had never met the child, and I felt pretty stirred up.

The family, however, was almost completely unemotional. It was odd. In discussing the call after-the-fact, one of the advocates pointed out that she thought the family probably distrusts law enforcement and also distrusted us. Although we aren’t with law enforcement, we look pretty official. I was just wearing normal clothes, but the other two had polos with badges sewn into them. They had ID card things, plus law enforcement took us into the room with the family and helped with the introduction, so it makes a lot of sense that people who don’t trust cops would want nothing to do with us. They politely, but coldly told us that they didn’t need anything, so we said we’d step into another room and just be there if they needed us.

And we waited.

And waited and waited.

Standing in a tiny, stuffy room for something like two hours. We interacted a bit with a hospital social worker whose primary task was to get hand prints of the child to later present to the family. I saw the person from the medical examiner’s office, who was there with a camera and stood around the corner from us, just outside the room with the body in it. There were two police officers sitting guard over the body. One of the family members came out and asked us if the family would be able to see the body one last time, but we didn’t know the answer. Evidently, the medical examiner can and sometimes does refused to let families see a body.

And that was the extent of what we did for two (maybe even three) hours.

Then, the detectives let us know they were done interviewing dad, and we could talk to him. We went out and talked to him, and he was also utterly unemotional. He was worried about his cell phone, because the detectives had kept it. Another family member stepped in and politely asked us if we could just give them our card and go, which we did.

It wasn’t what I expected. I’m not sure what I expected, and I can empathize with the unemotive response. It’s a lot to process, but the lack of chaos and (for lack of a better word) drama was something the other advocates kept coming back to. They thought it was pretty unusual.

And all I can really think about is how much I want to go on more calls. I don’t think we made much of any difference to this particular family, but I can definitely see how it might make a difference to someone else.

All night, we listened to the police radio. There were people doing crazy things… a lady who was hysterical because she couldn’t remember where she’d parked her car, a guy with a machete, a drug deal going down at the Redbox, another DOA that Crisis 2 attended, and a major incident with a guy with a gun at an apartment complex. I think all of those things stuck with me more than the call in which I participated, because that’s what my city is like. When I’m not receiving training in Victimology and Victim Services, those things are all going on, unbeknownst to me. They are occurring at locations I frequent. They are always occurring.

Right at the moment, I feel like I’m doing the right thing with my life. I feel like this could be my niche. Who knows how long it will last, or if I’ll even make it through training, but for now, I feel like I’ve found my element.

 

Who Knew I’m Such a Terrible Interviewee???


While working for Aflac, I’m continuing to look for something a bit more permanent and better suited to my talents and desires.

I’ve had a ton of interviews, but very few job offers and no job offers that seem like good places for me to settle in. And it’s totally not them; it’s me.

I hate interviewing, because I’ve spent my entire life trying not to be arrogant. With softball, school, writing, etc… I was always trying to pretend that I didn’t believe I was awesome. Now, all of those attempts at fake humility are coming back around to bite me.

I am an incredibly organized, literate person. And yet, I can’t seem to communicate that in interviews because I feel the need to tell people that, well, yes, I’m organized, but…

Why can’t I just tell them that I’m organized? I put the damn silverware into the dishwasher in such a way that my roommate and her parents commented on it. I separate the forks, spoons, knives, and specialty items into their own sections.

It’s actually funny because I think what I’m struggling to overcome is something I studied in a linguistics class in college: hedges. These are words and phrases that don’t carry any meaning, but get inserted into sentences to soften them. Women use more hedges than men use, because they want to maintain a softer persona and the workplace is one of the most unfortunate places for hedges to come out because they make an otherwise competent person seem less competent.

I can’t seem to get myself to stop using hedges in interviews. Rather than saying I’m well-organized and providing examples of my organization, I say that, “Yes, organization is sort of one of my strengths.” Saying it that way makes it sound like it actually isn’t one of my strengths. I know that, and yet, I’m still sort of using hedges in the middle of trying to convince employers that I know what I’m doing.

Career Change and the Education


I haven’t posted in awhile because I’ve been busy learning about insurance.

Upon passing my Life and Health Insurance Licensing Exam, I will start working for Aflac. I take the exam some time next week. I can take it 3 more times if I fail, and I’m not that worried about failing.

Some things about this:

1. I’m so sad that I believe I’ll be making significantly more money than I made in the classroom. As my teacher friends go back to work, I feel a bitter-sweetness because I know I made the right decision. As they tell me about their weeks, I feel a reinforcement that getting out needed to be done, which is terrible. They mention their first meetings and how they discussed marketing their school and came up with department mottoes… and I think I might vomit. Since when is it a teacher’s job to write a department motto? Since when is education something to sell? Since when did education lose its status as a privilege and a social mandate? Since when…????? While my decision is reinforced because I can’t stand the ways education is warping, I miss it. I haven’t even been away from it yet, but I miss it. I miss the kids. I miss the colleagues. I miss the shared commitment to and direct impact on the future. I miss it.

2. The class I’m taking to prepare for my test is a 10-day online thing, and it sucks.

I’m a decent student, but the class is built so that I read for something like 4 hours a day (on a screen), and I watch videos for something like 10 minutes. The reading is dry and cold. The vocabulary is pulled completely out of context. Sure, insurance was always going to be technical and legal, but a good teacher can find ways to present that information so that it’s relevant and accessible. Also, I would have rather purchased a hard-copy book than this insufferable book built of pixels and links. It doesn’t even offer me the capability of taking notes in the margins, so I keep taking notes by hand on paper, which is easier done if I have a hard-copy book. Also, I’m realizing that one of the primary ways I accessed info from school as a kid was by building a map of the book in my brain. Even if I couldn’t immediately recall info, I always knew which part of the chapter the info was in, as well as which part of the page to look at to find the info. The class also doesn’t allow me to build my own flash cards; I have to use the ones they created, so I’m writing out my own hard-copy flash cards. So, without the technological benefits of getting to type out my notes or cards, I still feel the nausea of staring at a screen all day. Luckily, I can print the chapters for a fee, so I’m doing that, but sheesh…

The videos begin with someone speaking in a soothing and cheesy voice about how so-and-so and his spouse died in a car accident after he purchased a a $100,000 life insurance policy on himself and listed the spouse as the sole beneficiary… if spouse dies, where does the money go????? Aside from the fact that the video isn’t explaining anything that wasn’t already explained in the reading, and isn’t explaining it in a more comprehensible or even a different way than the text explained it, I find the voices to be sort of surreal in that they are clearly uncaring about the hypothetical people who are dying or being dismembered. Yes, those people are fake, but they represent real people, and I want the voices to show some empathy. All I can think is, this would be sooooo much better if I had a teacher with whom to interact. A teacher would have a human tone and visible empathy… I hope. In all fairness, there’s some sort of webinar thing I can sign into to watch a real teacher, but I’d really like to be in the same room with a human being who knows me and will talk to me. I’d like to be able to raise my hand and ask questions.

The world is changing, and I don’t like it.

3. My pay will be entirely commissions, which is terrifying, but also awesome. This means that I’ll have flexibility in my schedule, and my pay will likely have a direct correlation (or close to it) to the number of hours I invest.

And now, dear friends, although there is much more I could write, I must return to the studying… I’ve got about 2 more hours of reading to do today to stay on schedule, and I’d like to re-read some of the more complex and detailed ish that’s been tripping me up on quizzes.

*And, sidenote: Aflac has been amazing thus far. I’m not complaining about Aflac. I’m complaining about… the future and our culture’s obsession with online everything, and I’m complaining about education. And if you wake up tomorrow, and find that somehow all of the technology in the world is broken and you have to chase down a Javelina for your dinner, you can scream out to the heavens in anger, knowing that I am responsible. And even if I die of dehydration because I live in the desert, it will have been worth it to restore humanity to humans.

The Tribal Necessity


Soon after being elected to the leadership team of my teacher association, I was sent to Anaheim to learn things about being a leader. Coincidentally, although I’m not sure I believe in true coincidence, Sir Ken Robinson was a keynote speaker at the leadership summit. And, beyond being a man who understands education far better than most of my colleagues or I do, he is a man who understands the human drive to use our lives meaningfully and satisfyingly.

Upon returning home from the summit, I went out and purchased one of Sir Ken Robinson’s books, The Element, which, as the title suggests, is about human beings finding and living in their element. I honestly didn’t buy the book with any plan for it to impact my life. I bought it merely because that’s what I do: I buy books – more books than probably anyone you know. I certainly buy more books than I read, which is one of those quirks transferred to me through genetics or upbringing… or both.

I bought the book, shelved it, and went about my business. At the time, I had no plans of quitting my job for at least a year. My reign as secretary of the teacher association was to last three years, and, though I was skeptical about my ability to endure teaching for that long, I was certain I’d serve at least one year, and I intended to try to make it all three. In three years, I would have invested enough time into teaching to get an increased portion of Arizona State Retirement, so it made sense to serve my whole term.

And yet, the best laid plans of mice and men often go awry… I quit my job.

It’s a strange thing to explain to people why I quit, because it wasn’t a decision that I thought and prayed about, the way I think about pray about most life decisions. It was an intuition… sort of. It was a whisper from the Almighty. I’m a firm believer that God often nudges us and we often miss it. Therefore, there is a certain ineffable inkling I get sometimes that I attribute to God. Yes, that’s impressively touchy-feely and not at all practical. However, no amount of reasoning with me will convince me that God hasn’t provided me with moments of intentional, specific revelation, and in those moments, it seems appropriate to always, without question, reason, or delay, do exactly what I believe God has told me to do. I might be wrong… I might be justifying my own desires by attributing them to God, and yet, I hope that anytime you believe God has told you to do something… you will do it.

I wrote my letter of resignation without any sense of what I’d do to make money and pay my mortgage. The people around me expressed enthusiastic envy for my situation, which was humorous to me, because anyone who wants that situation need only walk into his boss’s office and say, “I’m done,” and yet, that’s not what people do.

I finished reading whatever book I was reading at the time, and decided to pull out my Sir Ken Robinson, and have a go at The Element. Beyond the book just being an excellent reminder that people are all unique and fascinating, it was exactly the book I needed to be reading.

As I reflect on my life and what the book has to say in regards to me, I don’t think I became a teacher because I was passionate about it. I think I did it because it was a practical way to be around books and language every day.

Chapter five is the one that brought me to this conclusion. It’s a chapter about finding your tribe. I know it sounds a little alternative and hippyish, but it hit me pretty hard. There are tons of bloggers out there (Seth Godin is one, I think) who deal with the idea of tribe, and it usually goes something like this: a tribe is a group of people who speak the same language, share values and beliefs, defend and nurture one another, and live life together. This idea of tribe is inclusive of families, religions, gangs, etc… One way Robinson describes the tribal sense is, “common commitment to the thing they [tribe members] feel they were born to do.”
I think everyone has felt this sense of tribe at one time or another. I can think of exactly two tribes to which I’ve thoroughly belonged in my life: the softball tribe and the church tribe. Of course, there are sub-tribes (as if that’s even a thing) within each of those tribes, and the feeling of connectedness hasn’t been 100% consistent for me, but when I’m speaking with someone who isn’t a part of the softball tribe, I always find myself trying to explain things that can’t be explained, and it’s that sense of separateness and aloneness that I think frequently leads people to depression. I think we were meant to connect with other human beings in this tribal sense – that a need to understand each other beyond explanation is built into our DNA.

I think I’ve been missing that. After quitting softball, I didn’t feel connected to anyone for quite awhile and I was depressed, and after my church dissolved, it was the same thing, only more intense… that longing for tribe. I wouldn’t have identified that as a root of my depression before, but it became clear to me as I was job searching and reading Robinson’s book.

Now, get ready for another impractical and somewhat impulsive idea. I think I should go back to school and study creative writing. I’ve resisted this idea in the past because I’d probably have to take out student loans in addition to working full-time while going back to school. Additionally, a masters degree in creative writing isn’t the kind of thing that gets a girl jobs. It’s one of those degrees that in many ways seems useless.

And yet, I think my sanity and sense of contentment require it. There is currently only one person who gets my love of story. One. And she’s moved away.

I reserve the right to completely change my mind tomorrow, but, for today, I plan to set myself on a path of MFA in creative writing.

Spring Break Update 2015


Work has been enjoyable of late, so I was oddly concerned about Spring Break breaking my rhythm. I honestly didn’t feel like sitting at home for a week, and, since I’ve recently begun querying agents, I didn’t have much to write. Don’t get me wrong – I’m planning the next manuscript, and I’m enthusiastic about it, but it isn’t yet time to start writing the thing, because I haven’t gotten the characters and conflict worked out in my head just yet. I haven’t even hit that moment when I’m ready to build outlines. I’m just thinking. Therefore, there is no significant chunk of writing to be done this week.

So, my concern for the week was how to fill the time. This is the first break from work that has probably EVER concerned me in this way.

Still, there are always things to be done… people to see, messes to clean up, errands to be run. I began by spending an evening with Steve and Lori, which is how nearly every break from work begins for me. However, this time, there was a distinct purpose: reset the check engine light on my car. I borrowed their code reader, and we worked it out. The next morning, I woke up bright and early, and drove my ancient car down to the emissions place. I went through the whole shebang, passed, and decided to take the long way home. Ten minutes after passing, the check engine light came back on, and I celebrated. I felt a distinct sense of, “I’m going to start my own band and we’re going to lead a revolution!”

Next, I spent a good, long while at the sbucks, finishing up the registering of my car.

Next, I went to the Tucson Festival of Books, which was delightful. I love the festival for so many reasons, but a new one that I observed this time is how beautiful it is to hear authors speak, because of the subtleties that cling to those who care about language. Example: I can hear the difference between “affect” and “effect” when an author pronounces the words… it’s lovely.

In addition to the beauty of authors’ speech, I also heard some incredibly writerly ideas that fueled my drive to be published. The authors spoke of how “great” only has real meaning in its aspiration, and how Joseph Heller evidently examined his success with Catch-22 and tormented himself a little bit about his inability to write another book as good as that one… until he concluded that the reason he’d never written anything as good as Catch-22 was because nobody else had either. That made me smile.

One more thing that struck me at the festival this year was the number of authors who’ve written books in multiple genres. When I read about writing online, there’s such a push to build a “brand,” which often means writing the same type of book again and again, so that readers who love one type of book will come to rely on you.

But I don’t want to keep writing the same type of book.

I want my next project to be for adults. I want it to be satire. I want it to be hopeful. I want it to be a clear and immediate separation from the first book.

So it’s reassuring that other authors have found success in crossing genre barriers.

I left the festival, went home, and walked.

I’m at an interesting place with the running, because I’m about to start legit marathon training (it doesn’t count until you’re more than half way there), and I’m super-excited. However, I’m supposed to be tapering this week, because I’m running a race this weekend… but I don’t feel like tapering. I feel like running. That’s never happened to me before, so we’ll see if it’s an asset in the race this weekend.

Finally, I paid my taxes, then went to church.

At church, things were falling into place in a frustrating manner, mostly because God seems to have laid out a path for me that I’m hesitant to walk. I sort of wish (in a half-hearted way, of course) that He’d leave me alone. I know that’s not really what I want, and that His plans for me are better than my plans for myself, and yet, I still would rather do what I’d like to do.

I’ve been slightly obsessive lately about the secretary position. It’s a highly secular thing for me to be doing, and sometimes I feel as if God is separate from it and I’ll have to keep myself from drifting, but it seems He’s weaving things together and placing me where He would have me. Also, there was one of those odd moments when someone I hardly know cursed around me, then apologized and proceeded to say something like, “I hope you’re not one of those good, Christian girls.” I was all, “Actually, I am.” Then he felt the need to explain his aversion to Christianity, and we were able to talk like normal human beings. It ended up being nice, but you never know where those things are going to take you in the long run.

Other than that, I’ve got a race to run, a tattoo to get, books to read, people to see, and relaxation to have. I’m looking especially forward to getting dinner with Donna Brenda, who I haven’t spent time with in ages. I reconnected with her on Facebook, because, yes, I now have a profile. It includes false info about my age and a few other things, but it exists. And I intend to figure out how to get it to stop posting every single time I update a book on Goodreads… I don’t intend to be “that person” on your newsfeed… I just don’t know how not to be just yet. Give me a month before you block me. 🙂

Willfully Putting Myself Forward for Judgment


I think you should all know that I’m currently working on getting my manuscript represented.

I’ve officially been rejected once, and I suspect I’ve been rejected a second time… it just isn’t confirmed yet.

The process of traditional publishing requires that I start by getting an agent. Basically, I have to hook an agent in a 3-paragraph letter, so that he/she will read my first chapter. I have to hook him or her even more in the first chapter so that he/she will read a partial (maybe like half) of my manuscript. I have to hook him or her so well in the partial that he or she requests the whole manuscript, and I have to get him or her to love the whole so much that he or she wants to work with me.

It’s obviously a really difficult task.

Thus far, my emotions are fairly stable, but I did just have the first true moment of doubt when I thought, “What if no one wants it?” Then, I proceeded to self-publish the book in my mind, with little success, and then I spent the rest of my imaginary future, writing books and self-publishing them, even though no one was reading them.

It was all very sad until I realized that I’m probably at least 50 query letters away from deciding to self-publish. I breathed a sigh of relief, and decided to check my inbox one more time… just in case my dreams are already coming true and I just don’t know it yet.

My First Leadership Summit


Being the Secretary Elect of my local teacher association has some benefits. A little over a week ago, they sent me to Anaheim.

Some awesome things: I got to spend some time with the other officers, and I find them to be delightful human beings.

There’s a dude named Brian, who shares some of my introverted tendencies. Additionally, he isn’t afraid to apologize, he observes some of the underrepresented chivalries… like opening doors for a lady. Between him and Wacker, I felt completely safe and taken-care-of for the whole weekend. Thanks to Wacker, I did not have to drive even once, and he was really great about making sure we all got bathroom stops when we needed them. Those of you who’ve traveled with me know how important the not driving and the having a bathroom are in my life.

On the lady side of things, I felt like I had a lot in common with Jessica. She teaches English Language Learners, so we have some people and a lot of situations in common. Additionally, she’s a runner, and I intend to persuade her to run races with me, including, but not limited to, Ragnar. 🙂 Kat and I had a nice, long walk the first morning we were in Anaheim, so I felt like I got to know her a little bit better than the other three. We talked about her kiddo and fella, and I’m enthusiastic about getting to work with her.

Other than the people, there were some excellent speakers at the summit, including TED Talker Extraordinaire Sir Ken Robinson. I didn’t particularly enjoy the dude who wrote that book about taking the stairs, but mostly, I hated him for trying to sell to me in such an overt and selfish fashion. I’ll probably buy Ken Robinson’s book and boycott the other guy’s. 🙂

One last thing: I got to hang out with Mr. Morrill, who I’ve written about on the blog here before. Basically, he’s the best teacher I ever had, and he deserves much of the credit for my current career and writerly aspirations. He’s the president of the Arizona Education Association, and yet, he made specific effort a couple of times to talk to me, which gave me some warm fuzzies, and made me aspire to impact kiddos the way he impacted me. In many ways, I felt like others really wanted his attention, and I often refuse to compete for anyone’s time, so I mostly left him alone. Also, it might be impossible for him to live up to my high school memories, so I’m fine keeping my distance a bit, but it always gives me a smile to see him.

Last, but not least, I managed a nice 9-mile run while there, which is more of an accomplishment because I had to get up at 4:30 in the morning to make it work. People who run with me much at all know that I’d rather run when it’s 110 degrees out than get up early to run. I’d rather risk being mugged at midnight, than get out of bed before 8:00 a.m. But, I did get to run around California Adventure and Downtown Disney, which was pretty cool. It’s probably top 10 runs of my life… somewhere behind like 4 Ragnar runs, but in front of my first half marathon. 🙂