Sunday, July 30, 2017

The Art of War Blackjack

It's been a little while since I've written about my job at the casino. And since I just came back from one of the funnest shifts I've ever had, I figured today would be the perfect today to write an update.

Hilariously, most of my co-workers have only ever seen me wearing black pants and a white button-up shirt.

I still really like my job.  In fact, I'd go so far as to say that the more I do it, the more I enjoy it.  Today I had this sort of "a-ha!" moment where I realized that I was putting far less thought and effort into what I was doing than ever and was just letting my movements happen naturally, which was allowing me to engage more with the people at my tables.  And I was receiving a lot of positive feedback from both my players and my supervisors, which felt really good.

I spent my car ride home thinking about my approach to my job and why I think I like it so much.  And with the benefit of thirty minutes of lettng my mind wander, I came back to one of my favorite older posts in this blog about  RPG Analogy.

If you haven't read that old post and don't have time - don't sweat it, you'll figure it out.

I've always been able to harness magic, this is more about learning new schools of it  ;)

When we last saw Shelly Moonbeam (my character-self), she was coming to grips that she wasn't going to be able to complete her quest to support herself as a Blog Writer.  Through luck and determination she was accepted into the local Table Games Dealer's guild, and for the last few weeks her quest has been to go to the casino for ~30ish hours per week and guide other adventurers (my players) through the Card Tables of Chance (my tables) where they will attempt to find treasure (win money).  If she can do this well, she can support herself of the treasure that they share with her for her assistance.

As time went on she gained a bunch of levels in dealing cards.  You gain skills by screwing up, and at the beginning there was no shortage of mistakes to learn from.  For literally the first few weeks of the job, at least one person would remind me to breathe and/or say that they could tell I was nervous - getting to the point where people were no longer saying those things to me is an example of one of her early quests to gain a Dealer Level.

As she gained experience (points), she started to be aware and respectful of the magical powers of the cards she wields.  Everyone comes in with dreams of how awesome it'd be to win every hand and fears of how much it would suck to lose every hand.  Once she started to tap into that nervous uncertainty, she realized the true nature of her job:. to make it as fun as possible for players when they win, and as painless as possible when they lose.

The cards in a blackjack shoe are as easy to control as the waves in the ocean.

In all seriousness, one of my favorite things about dealing cards is that I constantly get to try new ways to interact with people.  While I would never do anything like telling that whole backstory above to one of my players, there are certain little tricks that I've found myself doing that definitely seem to allude to it:  I like to think of these things as the abilities that my character has as the result of gaining levels:
  • I'll constantly refer to the "Blackjack Fairies/Gods/Spirits as the imaginary entity that controls what cards appear.   Blackjack (entities) are the ones who are responsible for dealing players nothing but 12-16s. They're the reason people are always dealt blackjacks after they lower their bet to the table minimum.  When players are generous tippers, they're the invisible force that send down an aura of good luck.  ;)  It's always done tongue-in-cheek but players usually seem to have fun with it.
  • Whenever possible, I try and rally the table to view each other as a team of people who are working together against me, the villain.  Having positive interactions with strangers is a universally fun experience, so to me it's one of the most surefire ways to help ensure that people are having a good time.  There really is no funner experience as a dealer (at least in my opinion) than busting a hand at a full table and having a bunch of strangers all shout "OOOOOH!" in unison and high-five each other!
  • When people are going through rough stretches and are frustrated, I do my best to channel 22-year-old me after I had gambled away a paycheck in the span of an hour.  It sucked, and fifteen years later I'm still able to channel that memory and put myself in their shoes.  This helps a lot when players are angry and taking things out on me - gambling can be a really frustrating experience when you're losing at it, and so I do my best to maintain empathy while not taking any negativity personally.
  • Now that I can shuffle efficiently without looking down or having to think about it, I like trying to use the time in between shoes to get to know the players.  This job is an extrovert's dream come true - I have no issues talking about myself and love asking people questions about who they are / what they do / why they're here.

I imagine that one day I'll go on an Avatar-like quest to find the Blackjack Fairies and learn their ways?

"I needed a word to describe what human beings do when they act like humans, not small machines.  What we do when we are out there putting our stamp on something, something that might not work.  And most of all, I needed a word to describe the generosity and human connection that this kind of work makes, so I called it 'art'.  Because we can agree that a playwright is making art, and that Jackson Pollock was making art, but it's also art when you go to a restaurant and they serve you a dish made with care, just for you." - Seth Godin  (full quote)

Obviously, not every hour on the job is an epic adventure.  Sometimes I'm put at a table with people who don't speak English.  Sometimes people are losing and the best thing I can do is shut up and deal the cards. Sometimes, given the hours that I work, there simply aren't any players at the table and my job is to stand still for forty minutes guarding the chips.  But I feel like as long as I continue to find ways to make the environment more fun - for me, for my coworkers, for the players - I'll be satisfied doing this for a living.  And at this point, I feel pretty confident that I'll be able to keep this up for a pretty long time.

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Kitty Pride

Hello everyone, it's nice to meet you!  We're Shelly and Cody's new kittens  :3  We're brothers and we're roughly 6 weeks old.

My name is Trey.  I'm the more adventurous and energetic kitten.  I don't really like being held, but will come in for a cuddle once I sense that it's nap time.

I'm a little bit too small to model hats at the moment, but am pretty good at exploring them!

My name is Maynard.  I'm the more affectionate and relaxed kitten.  I enjoy being held and purr quite a lot.

I hope that I can purr-sue my daddy's line of work!
At some point in the near-future our mommy is going to write a bit more about us and what we mean to her, but we figured we should probably hog the spotlight for this one while we're at maximum cuteness  :3  Here are some videos of us playing to close out this post!

We pretty much just eat, sleep, and play around together all day.

When we first got home there was a lot of Trey picking on Maynard, but lately we've been evenly matched.

Saturday, July 22, 2017


Long time no write!

Roughly three weeks ago, my iPhone charging port finally bit the dust (literally) and stopped charging the battery.  I had had it for a pretty long time and hadn't kept it in a case for most of it, so I knew it'd eventually happen and had made peace with upgrading my phone once that one finally died.

I didn't really feel a sense of urgency to replace it.  There was no data plan on it, I mainly just used it to play video games and surf the web at home or during my breaks at work.  We have a separate one for talk/text, but it's extremely old and pretty much only good for those specific functions.  Eventually I found a really good deal on an upgraded version on Ebay for a solid price, and ordered the replacement.

It finally arrived yesterday, which means that I spent roughly three weeks without a smart phone.  And in that time, I started looking at social media a lot less.  I'd check Facebook during my breaks at work on the kiosk computers in the break room, but that was more or less it.  I stopped checking my email altogether.  I didn't realize it, but cellphone notifications have a huge impact on whether or not I even bother - without those, I don't really prioritize the certain parts of the internet as highly as I used to.

One of the last pictures taken before my cellphone died.
Not having a smartphone has been an interesting experience.  The more time I spent forgetting to check my social media, the more I started to feel guilty for not constantly updating people with the things that were going on in my life.  I spent a lot of time brainstorming things that I wanted to write about, but when push came to shove it felt more like work than a hobby.  It was kind of jarring to me to realize this, but without the constant feedback of likes and responses from my cellphone, the compulsion to share my life over the internet started to fade.

The lack of a functioning camera was also messing me up.  Humorously, I think I've had one of the most picturesque weeks I've ever had, so of course I wasn't able to take photos.  I'll be writing about that more later :)

Sometimes you gotta force yourself to do stuff that will make you happy, even if there's internal resistance.
I've been giving a lot of thought to what I should be doing to motivate myself to write more, and so I think I'm going to toy around with the format a little bit.  When it comes to blogging, I feel like doing this is similar to working out - I always feel better when I actually commit to doing it regularly, but if allowed to procrastinate I sometimes find it hard to start back up again.

From here on out, the plan is:
  • more posts - right now the goal is 4 meaningful posts per week with the long-term goal to be 1 per day.
  • shorter posts - this is mainly to prevent burnout as I work towards the above
I think that having a cellphone again will help me a lot.  I mean - I like sharing my life with the internet! It's fun to put my point of view out into the world, and I don't think there's anything wrong with the idea that feedback from the people who read (even if it's just "likes" on Facebook) is something that motivates me.

So off we go.  If all goes according to plan  (and I don't want to waste energy worrying about how embarrassed I'll be if it doesn't), expect there to be a lot more to read in the coming days!

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Terrific Pacific

June is looking pretty great so far!  Cody and I have been fully moved in to our new home in Lincoln City for a week now, and as it stands I couldn't be happier.

I've never really been the most outdoorsy person, but I plan to fully take advantage of our location and the fact that I get out of work at 10 in the morning to get some sun and exercise this summer.
As I had suspected, Lincoln City is a location that plays up to a lot of my unique quirks.  Living here basically feels like I'm on a vacation, except without the part where we're planning to leave.  It's a tourist town, so there are lots of things to do for fun without leaving the area.  We're across the street from the Agnes Creek Open Space hiking trail and roughly a 30 minute walk to Nelscott Beach.  I used to joke that McMinnville was like the Connecticut of Oregon - sure, I like it more than Forks, but at the end of the day it was pretty much just the suburbs.  Lincoln City has a whole ton of character, and it manages to be interesting without being prohibitively expensive.

Fun facts:
1.  When I moved from Boston to Forks, I moved from ~5 miles from the Atlantic Ocean to ~2 miles from the Pacific Ocean.
2.  Lincoln City is even closer than Forks, being 1 mile from the Pacific Ocean.
3.  At roughly ~50 miles, McMinnville is the furthest away I've ever lived from an ocean.
4.  Despite all of this I've never really been much of a beach person or cared about being land-locked - it's more or less just happenstance.
For the first time ever, there is a sense of permanence to my living situation.  I'm not saying we plan to live here forever, but if you told me that my life will remain more or less like this for the next few years, I think I'd be totally fine with it.  The plan now is to make this place as good as possible, and then to start saving up money so we have options when the time eventually does come that we want to try something else.

Me, looking for my phone in my cavernous purse.  (I forgot Cody was holding it)
Predictably, I've felt a lot less stressed ever since I started working.  Even since I started dealer's school, things all just sort of started falling into place.  Right now I feel like all I can do is to stop, appreciate it, and in the words of an old work friend of mine, "keep on doin' what I'm doin'".

Christmas lights and tapestries (I'm aware the tree one is on its side) are Shelly/Cody Classics.  Behind the curtain is our bathroom, bedroom, and Cody's workshop.  We got that white coffee table at a yard sale - Cody is slowly drawing/painting what will hopefully become a full mural on it.

I'm also very happy with the apartment itself.  Cody and I have never lived in a place with (a) just the two of us and (b) space to put things, so having our own apartment is a really nice change from that. There are a ton of nice thrift stores in the area, so we managed to fill the apartment with perfectly fine furniture without paying too much.  We gave Cody the larger bedroom to use as a workshop for his store, which has gone a long way towards keeping the rest of our rooms clean  :)

As usual, I hate posing for pictures so I just asked Cody to snap candid pictures of me throughout the day.

One nice thing about my downtime in 2016 was that I got a lot better at cooking. Cody and I have been using our kitchen multiple times a day, every day - given that I spent pretty much my entire time in Boston eating out every night, I feel like that's been a pretty significant change.

Let there be light!
Our plan is to wall off our patio with a shelf / plants to make it feel more like "our" space, like a first-floor deck.   We also plan to use this wall of the apartment to hang up art projects.  We're not really the type to rush our projects, though.

I don't wanna work;  I just wanna bang on the drum all day.  That's not even true -  I don't mind work.

Work is very good.  I've hit that sweet spot with dealing cards where I'm no longer uncomfortable at all and feel reasonably confident that I know what I'm doing, but am also not bored by it and find it fun to banter and play games with people.  I think I've had a pretty unique experience, having worked for such a long time in office environments and then following it up with a year of mostly unemployment. One of my co-workers asked me if I'm "always so jovial", which I thought was great - I think I just really like being around people, and now that I have a few months down I feel like I found my comfort zone.

Is this... growing up?  My goodness.
One final note:

I've noticed that my blog posts have been a little bit more sporadic in 2017, coming in at roughly one per month.  Unlike last year, this isn't because I'm upset about anything - it's more just that as my life has become stable, I worry that all of my blog posts are the same sort of gushing about things and that it might get repetitive (or obnoxious) so I've found myself spacing them out more.  That might be temporary or it might be permanent, depending on what things life decides to throw my way.

With roughly a year and a half under my belt I'm really glad that I've been able to stick with blogging - not only has it been nice to be able to go back and see how things have changed over the span of a year, it's been a really nice way to keep in touch and let my old friends know how things have been going.  I'm definitely more of a homebody and less outwardly social than I used to be.

Thanks to everyone who has shown an interest in how things have been going out here!  I genuinely appreciate it.

Sunday, May 7, 2017

May FlowerSpeak

Cody and I are moving to Lincoln City, OR!

Things are looking good.

I can't wait.  McMinnville is fine and overall I'm thankful for the year I spent here, but if anything the experience gave me a lot of insight into what I want in life, and living in a community is no longer it.  I re-read the post I wrote when I moved here and it feels like someone completely different than me wrote it.  Back then, I wanted to live in a place with efficient systems and scheduled meetings for communication and felt like the homestead was the right way to accomplish that.

In that year my opinion changed.  I think we found out that what Cody and I actually want most is to live in an environment where (within reason) we can do whatever we want, whenever we want.  It's hard to have that when living with a lot of roommates, since compromise is a necessary part of co-existence with that many people.  The best practical example of this that I can think of came when the house agreed to do chores on Sunday afternoons - that seemed great, until football season started.  I found myself faced with a choice between what I agreed to do (clean) and what I wanted to do (stay in bed and watch football).

It was a good metaphor for how I started to feel about communal housing.  I have nothing against it, but I don't think it's for me.  Not anymore.

Pretty much all of the people that I've gotten to know through my current house in McMinnville are cool and I'm optimistic that we'll stay in touch as friends.  But at this point - I'm in my late thirties and I'm in a relationship with someone with whom I wish to spend the rest of my life.  Once I started working and we had the financial means to do so, Cody and I started talking "long term plans" and decided to look for our own place.

I suck at posing for pictures so I asked Cody to just take random candids of me.
I drove to Lincoln City yesterday to check the area out and drop off our security deposit, and it seems like a perfect combination of what Cody and I wanted.  The apartment is affordable, pet-friendly, and reasonably spacious - there are two bedrooms so we'll each get a room to decorate / use as we please.  It's close to Highway 101 (the "main" road in Lincoln City), but it's far enough up the road from it that our apartment complex seems private and peaceful. 

Lincoln City looks great!  Cody wanted a place that had reasonably easy access to nature, and it feels like we struck gold there.  For starters, it's right on the coast of the Pacific Ocean.  And there are woods and campgrounds and state parks (check this out) galore - I think it's a really beautiful place.  It's a beach city with a lot of character - it's like if you took the best things about Forks and Cape Cod and combined them. I think I'm going to like being there a lot.

There's a casino right in town, and it's the primary competitor of the place I work.  I've never actually been there, and while I'm sure I'll play poker there every once in awhile I fully intend to keep my job at my current place.  I feel a certain sense of loyalty since they trained me on their dime, and I get along well with my co-workers and am pretty much satisfied with all aspects of where I work, so I'm not trying to rock the boat. The only reason to even consider it would be the commute, and I like my commute.

Note: these pictures aren't actually of Lincoln City, just a hike we went on.  It's all pretty similar though.

Sure, I work the graveyard shift, so when I wake up it's dark out and the rest of the world is sleeping.  But then, I go work in a place where there are still usually other people and there are no windows, so it doesn't really feel out of the ordinary for me.  It wasn't until yesterday that I started thinking about it and realized that I actually get more non-work daylight hours in which to live my life than I would on any other shift.

I understand that the graveyard shift isn't for everyone.  Many of my co-workers have children or significant others or a social circle that keeps more normal hours.  But at this point in my life, it very much seems like it's going to work for me.  I've been given advice on how to change work shifts should I ever want to, but I'm honestly happy with what I've got.

When I look into the future, here's what I see my average day looking like
  • wake up at 12:45 a.m. and get ready for work
  • 30-40 minute drive to work at night (aka "time to wake myself up")
  • deal cards (which I enjoy)
  • 30-40 minute drive home during the day on a scenic route (aka "time to myself to listen to music")
  • get home at 11 a.m. with roughly 7 hours of daylight (with Cody home/awake) before I'm trying to go to sleep
  • chill at home, or hike, or hit up the beach, or go do something in the city
  • sleep at 6 p.m.
While I'm sure that things will come along (as they always do) to throw a curveball into my plans, right now I'm extremely aware and appreciative of the direction my life seems to be taking.  Meanwhile, I can't remember any other point in my life where I've felt this optimistic and excited to see what the future brings.

Don't stick to the rivers and the lakes that you're used to.
I want to close this post by thanking everyone who has been supportive of me over the last year and a half. There was this little cloud of stress that hovered above me for pretty much all of 2016, and I think I would have been a lot worse off if I didn't have so many wonderful people in my life who have shown that they care.  Writing in this blog, and having people go out of their way to read it, is something that I see as a huge compliment and I hope it's clear how much I appreciate it. :)

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Good Luck

After nearly a year spent in Oregon feeling lost and directionless, I landed a job dealing cards.  It's been two weeks now since I started, and I couldn't be happier with the choice I made to go to dealer's school.

I think there are people who have known me for a decade+ who have never seen me in black pants and a white button-up shirt before.  Cody thinks I look cute in my uniform :3

I'm practicing "better safe than sorry" with regards to my job and this blog, so I'm not going to name it by name.  That said, it's an awesome place to work.  Everyone that I've met so far, from the students in my class to the teacher to the other dealers to the pit bosses and supervisors and managers, has been encouraging and supportive and mindful of the fact that it can be a pretty intimidating job at the very beginning.   I've been in a perpetual good mood ever since starting, and so I wanted to write a little bit about where things stand.

I don't mind the work.  Like, not at all.  I'm basically getting paid to play games and do quick math in my head. That's not to say it's easy - there are a lot of things I need to be doing and keeping track of at all times, but it never really feels like work.  The more I do it, the more I feel myself getting accustomed to all the little ins and outs of how to deal, and I like feeling myself improve as the days go on.

My "customer service" approach is simple and honest:  I actually want the people who sit at my table to win. Sure, tips are a factor, but it's more that I'm usually talking to the people who are betting with me and sharing that moment with them, and that in turn usually makes me legitimately root for them.  One of my funnest moments as a dealer so far has been on a table where I was getting absolutely slaughtered and couldn't win a hand, which meant that everyone at my table was winning.  During moments like that, what I do doesn't feel like work at all.

Of course, my wanting people to win doesn't change the cards in the slightest.  You get what you get.  I've had a few of opposite types of moment where I deal myself a bunch of 20s and 21s in a row, and it can get pretty uncomfortable.  In those cases, I remember that I've had my fair share of moments in my twenties where I was the person on the other side of the table, losing money when I really couldn't afford to.  Having that experience helps, I think - I try to be respectful of the fact that it's a pretty rough feeling to lose on the tables.  I don't take it personally when people get upset, and to their credit, most guests go in expecting to lose and are cool with it.

The weirdest thing about the job has been getting used to the schedule.  Right now I'm on the graveyard shift, working from 2am - 10am Saturday through Wednesday.  This means going to bed when it's light out (around 5pm) and waking up around 1am most nights.  While I reserve the right to change my mind on this, right now I don't mind my hours too much.  I haven't had the type of social life where I care about nights or weekends for more than a year now, and in my limited experience working graveyard has a more relaxed vibe than other busier shifts.

The work night is broken up really well.   For every hour spent dealing, we get a twenty minute break to recharge our mental batteries.  This is important, because when I'm on the tables I pretty much have to give the game 100% of my undivided mental attention.  I like this system a lot - I've always been the type of employee to cycle between working extra hard and slacking off, so it's good for me to be in a field where that's more or less the expectation.  During our breaks there's a dining room with good/free food, so I usually kick it in there.

Cody drew this for me a few months back when I was feeling lost and directionless.  It's funny how the job that I ended up getting actually involved running games.

Becoming a casino dealer completely changes the game for me.   The main things that have been holding me back since we moved here were boredom and lack of money.  Now that I feel like I have those two things covered, I feel really optimistic about what the future will bring for Cody and I.

We're in agreement that we want to move into our own place - as it stands right now, that's the next major life change on the horizon for us.  Being 37 and in a committed relationship, all I really want out of life at the moment is to find stability and a place that we'll want to call home for awhile.  I want something close to the casino that isn't too far from other people, and Cody wants something in the woods.  It's western OR, so those requirements don't seem all that unrealistic.

Although there's still plenty of time for this sort of thing, I'm already excited at the prospect of learning how to run craps and roulette games.  They're seen as more advanced game (and pay better) because there are more things to keep track of and more complicated math to process, but those are the things that I find fun about the job. It doesn't need to happen anytime soon because I'm still really new, but it's nice to know there's room for advancement while still allowing me to basically do all the stuff I like.

So yeah - all in all, things are looking up.  I haven't felt this un-stressed and excited for the future since leaving Boston more than a year ago.  Thanks to everyone who has been cheering me on through everything!

Monday, March 27, 2017

March Madness

I apologize for the length of time in-between posts.  I didn't really want to write any more about the class until I knew for sure what the outcome was.  I wrote out a post that essentially came out to 10,000 words for "I'm sweating bullets" but felt like posting it would be jinxing my chances.  On a positive note, at least now when people are superstitious in front of me at the card tables, I'll be able to empathize a little bit.

I got the job!

Cody drew this for me way before I ever actually thought I'd get hired.  The brown hair is a nice touch.

Sometime within the week, I'm going to start dealing table games professionally!  To say I'm excited would be a massive understatement.  I actually can't remember the last time I've felt this happy with things and optimistic about the future.

I left Boston more than a year ago with the intent of finding something new to do with myself.  It took me a little while and there were definitely failures along the way, but I genuinely feel like this job will potentially mark the start of a new career for me.  I always used to say that the reason it was hard to leave Boston was that I was fully aware of how good I had it, getting paid well for a job I enjoyed doing.  After a year of not working full-time, I kind of feel like I've found another one.

I really like dealing cards.  Like, I literally find it fun to do.  I feel like it combines three relative strengths of mine:

  • Following Game Rules and Logic - I played Magic: the Gathering, often competitively, from 1994-2009, and have played fantasy baseball/football with friends (also competitively) every year since then.  I've been playing poker on and off ever since I turned 21, and at least weekly for a lot of the time I've lived here in OR.  I never really thought of any of that stuff as resume'-relevant, but I feel like it's helped.  I'm going to find it fun to try and master the process of the games so I can do it as quickly and correctly as possible.
  • Quick Mental Math - I've always enjoyed trying to do math quickly and correctly in my head.  I found it to be engaging growing up - it was the only subject where I would consistently do my homework.  I love finding opportunities to do math - another reason I like gaming so much - but for the most part they're few and far between these days.
  • Interacting With People - I always saw that as the reason I preferred working in desktop support over other I.T. work.  I really like environments where I get to talk to a lot of people on a regular basis.  I've never really had a job where keeping customers entertained factored in, but I welcome it and honestly look forward to it.  I'm sure it will be challenging at times, but for the most part I think the positive interactions will outweigh the negative ones.

Me, immediately after my dealer's audition but before I knew the results. Or, as I like to call it, "the longest five minutes of my life".  I started taking selfies just to distract myself from the tension - this was the best one I got.

When I first started dealer's school, I genuinely thought of it as my plan B.  I was still strongly considering the desktop support job, but to my surprise I felt really strongly that dealer's school was more what I wanted to be doing, and so I followed my gut and put as much effort as I could into doing well in class.  I recently realized that blackjack class is quite possibly the thing that I've taken the most seriously, perhaps ever.

The closest thing that I can come up with to describe what I went through in the last two months would be to compare it to transitioning ten years ago.  At first, it was hard because I didn't know anything - but every time I learned something new (or screwed something up), I started to build up confidence and have faith in my ability to get through it.  And eventually, a vision of a future where I'm happy started to emerge, and I started to think that it was actually possible that I could get there.  With that, however, came the undeniable fact - I was emotionally committed to wanting the job, and there was no way to sugarcoat the fact that it was going to hurt me a lot if I didn't get it.

"Transitioning" is actually a reasonable term for my recent shift in perspective.  I kind of feel like I've aged a lot in the last year, and it's almost a little jarring to realize the little ways in which I've changed since leaving Boston.  Even when I go back and read the beginning of this journal where I'm all  "I'm never working for someone else again!", present-me wants to go back in time to past-me and slap her in the back of the head.  As it stands, I've spent the last month wanting nothing more than to find out I'd have another full-time job so I can start saving money for the future.

I mean, I'll still always be me...

Thankfully, I won't need to chop my dreads off.  As it turns out, the company was willing to modernize their policy, because "they want me to be able to succeed there".  As far as I'm concerned, it's now on me to deliver and be as good at dealing as I can - hopefully, it will turn out to be a rare win/win situation at the casino!

Soon after posting this, I'm going to dye my hair back to its original color and remove all the beads from it. One of my roommates asked me if it stings to normal-ize up my hair, and the honest answer is that it doesn't. I kind of like the idea of my appearance changing slightly to mark what's sure to be a new period of my life.

On that note - this blog might be undergoing some changes in the near-future.  Now that I'm going to be working in a position where I will interact with customers regularly, there's now some merit to wanting to have a degree of privacy in my life.  I'm not saying I'm going to stop writing, but I might choose to archive the old posts and start moving forward from scratch on something new.  I haven't really figured any of that out yet but it's going to be on my mind.

Finally, thanks to everyone who has been encouraging me through this process!  I was going slightly crazy waiting to find out the final verdict on the job and you all helped me a ton, even if I wasn't always the best at showing it.

Friday, February 24, 2017

Putting My Cards On The Table

There have been a few interesting developments since my last blog post.

It's been a little while since I've written in here, so to recap:  I turned down a job offer doing desktop support for a knife company in favor of going to a blackjack dealing class at a local casino with the intention of getting a job there doing that.  I had a few reasons for my decision, but ultimately it came down to the fact that I didn't want to make a bunch of compromises over who I am in order to take a job that would just be a watered down version of what I left behind.

A few days after I wrote that post, I discovered two things that made me question the decision.  Like, a lot. The first one happened a few days after I turned the I.T. job down - the teacher of the blackjack class (who is really good at what he does) asked me to stick around after class to have a word with me.  We had done 1:1 reviews with the teacher that day and so I didn't think anything of it, assuming that he noticed a mechanical flaw in my shuffling that he wanted to help correct or something like that.

Selfie taken in between writing this blog post and shuffling shuffling shuffling

So, as one might imagine, I was crushed when he told me that he had been in contact with H.R. and that all signs pointed to the fact that my hair was against the "no extreme hairstyles" policy of the casino.  He had a suspicion that that might be the case but wanted to be sure, so he reached out to the powers that be to make sure and the verdict was that I would probably have to remove my dreadlocks if I wanted to get hired there.

I'm sure that the look on my face (and the tears that I tried and failed to hold back) said it all.  I had just written a blog post about staying true to my principles and turning down a job with a dress code, and it turned out that the casino has an even stricter one.  He was obviously sympathetic to my plight, but at the end of the day rules are rules and he wanted to make sure I understood them if I was going to go any further in the class.

That wasn't all.  As it turns out, I was mistaken about the casino's policy on pot.  If marijuana is detected on their drug test, that's a fail.  All of a sudden, I felt like a complete idiot for turning down a job offer in favor of taking a class that doesn't even guarantee work at the end of it.

I made an appointment with the H.R. representative who had originally sent me the invitation to blackjack class.  I went in knowing full well that they're not going to change any policies for someone who doesn't even work at the casino, but at the end of the day my solution to any problem has always been to communicate as much as I can, and so I wanted to plead my case on the hair thing.

When I left the HR meeting, this is what I saw.  I'd like to hope it's an omen of good things to come?

She listened to me, and I left the meeting feeling like my side of the story would at least be considered.  Part of my case (which is absolutely true) is that I'm a transwoman, and that chopping my hair off would almost certainly leave me looking like a man.  A lot of the policies were made a lot time ago, and I don't really think they were made with someone like me in mind.  Also working in my favor was the fact that she didn't notice my hairstyle when I originally came in to take the test - I had been wearing it tied back that day, and to her I looked like any other person.

I told her the truth:  I really think I have the potential and skillset to be extremely good at the job.  My strategy is basically to be one of the best students there to make it as tough as I can for them to reject me for an outdated policy.  I let her know that I'd be 100% willing to do anything to get me within policy short of chopping it off - tying it back, removing the beads, dying it all back to one color - and that I'd be willing to work with anyone that I need to work with if there's any questions that they might have about me.  I left the conversation with far more hope than I had the night before, and decided to keep moving forward with the class and to see what happens.

That was two weeks ago.  I hadn't written in here since then because, for a long time, it honestly hurt.  All I could think about is that maybe I've been wrong the whole time and that there really is no escaping the fact that I'm never going to find a place in the world where I'm judged solely on my merits.  It's really hard to go so long preaching about owning your decisions and being yourself while simultaneously being broke and unemployed.  It felt like I was being rejected by the world.

Thankfully, continuing to go to the class feels like it's been the correct choice.  With time and introspection, I've come to realize a few things that have helped me cope with the decision to stay.

The first thing I did was to take a long hard look at the things that I didn't think I was willing to give up, and I came to realize that I might have been looking at things all wrong.  When I look at my situation like "going against my principles for a job", it made me feel like a hypocrite.  But once I thought of it as "giving up a good job that I enjoy because my appearance is oh so important to me", I kind of stopped myself and reassessed my priorities.  Isn't that, like, really shallow?

This whole experience has had me thinking a lot about what makes me who I am.

And while I have strong feelings about drug tests - mainly that they're a legal excuse to discriminate against people - I actually think that this job might be worth it.  I like smoking marijuana, but it's not "stay unemployed instead of taking a job I think I'd like" good.  I mean, I first started smoking it back in 2003, so it's not like there's any magic or mystery behind what it does anymore.

So as of last week, I've quit smoking it.  At least, for the foreseeable future.  And while it's a little bit frustrating to not partake, given that I live in a state where it's legal in a home with roommates who grow it, it hasn't been the end of the world.  Much like I do with any other tough choice in my life, I'm looking at it as a quest - a test of willpower and a reassessment of my priorities.

The fact is, it's been more than a year since I left Boston and my life has completely changed since then.  I'm still young at heart and I think I'll always come off as a little bit eccentric, but more than ever I've been taking a long hard look at myself in the mirror and seeing someone who's almost 40 years old.  My priorities and point of view are never going to be the same as they were when I was living in Boston, and I think I'm finally starting to make peace with that.

At the time of this writing, I've completed four weeks of dealer school.  So far, it's been a lot more challenging than I originally thought it was going to be.  I've been playing table games on and off since I was legally old enough to do so, but I never really appreciated just how many things dealers have to keep track of.  Literally everything a blackjack dealer does or says has a reason behind it.

Goals for the near-future: get this cloak made + learn how to do that with cards

It's basically like being a combination of a bartender and a banker.

On one hand, ultimately the casino exists to provide entertainment to its guests, and so being able to deal with people (especially drunks) is a large part of the work.  My teacher has gone out of his way to prepare us for the fact that card dealers end up having a lot of abuse directed their way - as he says it, "when your job is to take people's money for a living, ultimately a lot of them are going to blame you for it".  That's fine. I have enough life experience to have developed a reasonably thick skin, and all I can do is try and focus on the people who have a good time and to take more pleasure (and tips) out of them than I do negativity from the haters.

That said, casinos are also financial institutions.  There is a lot of money on any given card table, and ultimately the number one responsibility of a card dealer is to protect it.  It's been drilled into our heads that, while we're working, we really aren't allowed to ever turn around or take our eyes off the center of the table.  After almost any transaction that involves handling money or chips, it's absolutely required that we turn our hands up to the sky to show the cameras watching that we're not palming money or doing anything shady.  It's not that they don't trust us - it's that they don't trust anybody.

At the end of it, to be successful as a dealer requires a few different skills.  You need to be able to do all the mechanical tasks (perfect riffle shuffling without exposing any cards, stacking and counting chips, dealing cards quickly) while doing lots of math in your head quickly and correctly, while interacting with people and making sure they have fun, all while keeping an eye on the table at all times to make sure nothing shady happens.  The tests that we need to be able to pass in order to qualify for the job are no joke - unlike regular school, I've been practicing and studying pretty much every night because I don't think there's any way in hell it's possible to pass them without putting a lot of effort into it.

To me, it's been a lot like practicing an instrument.  Four weeks ago I was pretty much terrible at everything (other than math) and the only way to get better has been to immerse myself in practicing.  But, much like with music, I can tangibly see myself improving as I keep at it, and feeling my skills improve has kept me motivated to keep at it.  That's the main reason that I'm willing to make compromises to try and do this for a living in a way that I wasn't willing to do it for an I.T. job - ultimately, the main reason I'm trying so hard is because I genuinely find it to be fun.

Part of the reason that I've been holding off on this blog post is that I'm not done with school yet, and there's still no guarantee that there's a job at the end of it.  I'm genuinely scared of putting all this work into it only to fail a test / not be offered a job.  If that happens I'll be right back at square one - in the same broke and unemployed situation that I was in when I started going to class.  There have been certain days of class where things just don't flow right, and I've spent those days at home in tears at the thought of putting so much into all of this and ultimately failing at it.

On a positive note, my teacher told me he recently heard about the military loosening their restrictions on dreadlocks, and that he was happy because he felt like it might set precedent for how the casino might look at me.  Even if things don't work out, it felt good to hear him say that because it shows me that he cares.

Whatever, though.  That fear is always going to be there, and rather than let myself be ruled by it I'd rather just put everything I got into pushing past it.  My teacher has prepared the class for the fact that the next two weeks of class are the hardest ones yet, which is scary but also kind of exciting.  I'm very much the type of person who likes to throw myself into things that I find interesting, and so I have confidence in my skills.

And so, with all that said, it's time to end this blog post and go back to practicing.  Wish me luck!

Saturday, February 4, 2017

Deal or No Deal

When I first moved out to Oregon, I did so with the intention of finding something different to do with my life. For the better part of a year, I believed that what I wanted to was to write for a living while supporting Cody with Misfit Cords.  But with time comes perspective, and eventually it became clear that I was missing a few fundamental things that I need to be happy:
  • feeling like I'm contributing financially to me/Cody's future
  • a place outside of the house to go and interact with people
  • an outlet by which to learn new skills
I've been taking the hunt for I.T. work pretty seriously over the last month or so.  I feel like I make a pretty strong case to be hired - I have a decade's worth of work experience with positive references from every job I've worked over that time period, I interview well, and for the most part I enjoy the type of work (Desktop Support) that I've built my career on.

I got a reply from a company that manufactures hi-grade knives, requesting a phone interview with me for an open Helpdesk position.  I left the phone interview with a really positive impression - their user base was roughly the same size as Gentle Giant, and from the way they described it it sounded like a comparable job to the one I left behind in Boston.  They replied back a week later asking me to schedule an in-person interview, and I was happy to oblige.

Me in my natural habitat, testing out the webcam on my laptop.

As mentioned earlier, I've been playing poker on Wednesday nights at a local bar here in McMinnville. There are about 20-30 people who play there regularly, and as the weeks have passed I've feel more and more like "one of the crew".  It's a good group.  They told me about a free poker tournament that happens at a nearby casino every Monday, and so I started checking that out as well.  Why not?

I have plenty of experience around casinos - I've always lived close to Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun in Connecticut and went there a handful of times per year.  I played at a blackjack table for the first time at Foxwoods on my 21st birthday, years before I ever tried alcohol.  Thankfully, I caught on quick to the idea that I shouldn't gamble money that I don't have, but still managed to enjoy trips to play cards a few times a year.

One night a few weeks ago, one of the players at the bar mentioned that the casino near my house in OR is offering a school for blackjack dealers.  As it turns out, he's one of the people who helps run the poker room there.  I asked him for more information about it - apparently they only run one such class per year, and he felt pretty confident that I'd do well there.  I applied for the class on the website, passed their admission test, and started my first day of class last week.

I actually like it a lot!  I think I have a lot of "soft skills" that suit me rather well.  I'm extremely good at doing quick arithmetic in my head, I have no problem bantering with strangers, and when it comes to handling chips and cards I have a lot of life experience just between playing Magic and poker.  There is a ton of information to take in and skills that need to be practiced, but I've never been the type to shy away from throwing myself into learning new things.  The teacher is really good at what he does and I've had nothing but pleasant interactions with my classmates.

The idea of working at the nearby casino holds a lot of appeal to me.  The commute is a 25-minute straight shot down a highway with no traffic and beautiful scenery.  The pay is minimum wage plus tips, but after factoring in tips I think it pays just as much (if not more) than I was making back in Boston.  Since I know a lot of the regulars who play in the poker room (including two of the people who help run it), I feel like I'll have the ability to move over there if they're ever looking for someone.  And I actually think I would enjoy the job!

Of course there's a catch - succeeding in the class doesn't necessarily guarantee a job.  The teacher said that, on average, they hire roughly half of the class who can succeed at a dealing audition after six weeks of training.  I went into class knowing this - my strategy is just to put as much effort as I can into being one of the best students and becoming someone they can't say "no" to.

With that said, I was more excited at the prospect of the I.T. job.  Sure, I was enjoying dealer's school, but it was still in its first week and my preference was to take the guaranteed paycheck over the calculated risk.  A desktop support job would be well within my comfort zone, so in my mind it was the choice that would eliminate the most stress from my life.

Spoiler alert.

On Wednesday, I went to a class at the casino and then immediately to my second interview at the knife company so that we could all meet in person.  They asked me a few more questions (including a fun technical one that I managed to solve) and it felt to me like there was good rapport in the room.  I left feeling reasonably confident that they were going to call me with an offer.  I was right.

There was just one issue, though.  They're a manufacturer so they follow federal OSHA standards, so I was going to need to take a drug screen.  My party days are long since over so I knew it would be clean of everything except for pot (legal here) and Adderall (for which I have a prescription).  And a quick Google search of the situation told me that since pot is federally illegal, it would mean that I would fail the drug screen.

To quote an one of my first blog posts regarding how I feel about that:

"A few years ago, I was in the process of interviewing for a new contract position with a technical recruiter.  It was a simple six-month job for a pharmaceutical company where my job would basically be to remove old computers and replace them with up-to-date ones.  At that point, I had roughly eight years of IT experience under my belt - this was a job that I could more or less do in my sleep.

As soon as the recruiter saw my resume and talked to me for a few minutes, it was clear that he thought I would be a good fit for the job.  He faxed my paperwork over to the client and I began the process of filling out tax forms and signing paperwork.  I was told that I would hear back from him later that day, but I could probably assume that they would want me and I should prepare to start working as early as the next day.

Later that afternoon, I got a call from the recruiter.  As expected, the client was excited to have me on the job and wanted to know when I could start.  Sweet.  I confirmed to the recruiter that I could start whenever they needed me.  We went over some details, such as what day and time I should start and who I should report to.  I was then asked if I had time to stop by a lab that afternoon to take the requisite drug test.

I specifically remember being put off that he waited so long to bring up a drug test.  What drug test? He never mentioned one to me until the very end of the hiring process.  Looking back on it in hindsight, I think he had a feeling that I was going to object to taking a drug test and so he was trying to wait until the end of the process so I would be less likely to say no.

I told them I wasn't going to do it.  The recruiter told me that I had to if I wanted the job, for two reasons.  The first was that the insurance plan offered by the temp agency required it if they were going to cover me.  The second was that since the client requesting my services was a pharmaceutical company, they needed to make sure that I don't do drugs as a security measure.  He said it was standard operating procedure.

My answer was still no.  He asked me why not, and I told him that I didn't feel like he had a right to that information.    He tried applying a "Cool Guidance Counselor" tone of voice and told me that his office knew that most people smoke marijuana.  It was cool.  It would be all right if pot showed up on the drug test as long as it was the only thing that turned up.  To me, that was completely beside the point. 

It didn't matter to me if I would have passed the test or not.  I didn't want to work for a company whose default stance was to not trust its employees.  If the client thought little enough of me as a technician that the results of a drug test made a significant impact on their opinion, I probably wouldn't have been happy working for them anyways.

I didn't spend decades of my life in the closet, followed by years of my life transitioning, to be judged on anything other than my merits.

I could hear the anger in the recruiter's voice as our conversation continued.  He had spent all day doing the new hire dance with me and was probably looking forward to making commission on a position successfully filled.  We ended the phone call with nothing to show for it except a wasted afternoon and a lesson about being upfront with important information.  One week later, I was hired at a far better company for more money.  I've been there for over four years, and as far as I'm concerned, that was positive karma for standing up for my principles."

My opinion hasn't changed.  If anything, it was even more offensive to me that pot is legal in this state (it wasn't back in MA) and that I would be disqualified because of it (I wouldn't have back in MA).

It wasn't so much that I was afraid of the ramifications of failing the drug test.  The problem was that I was no longer sure if I wanted to work there.  I definitely got the impression from visiting them in person that the company was more formal than I was expecting and it was setting off alarm bells.

Dress code for my current place of employment.  Also my Facebook profile picture.

The second red flag came in the phone call where I was offered the position.  The recruiter went out of her way to mention that their dress code was business casual and she wanted to make sure that I was o.k. with that.  She sent me a copy of their dress code, and long story short - I wasn't.  I don't actually own any clothes that would be in accordance with it.

Once again, I'll refer to a snip from an earlier blog post:

"When I wore normal clothes, I kept things pretty safe.  I shopped at Kohl's and Macy's and Marshall's and stores like that, and basically did my best to fit in with other women at my job.  Meh.

When I wore concert clothes, I went all-out.  Colorful ponchos, silk scarves, tye-dye shirts, patchwork pants, and velour clothes in every color.  I hated shopping for work clothes and loved shopping for festival clothes - this grew inconvenient given that I only went to a handful of shows a year while working five days a week.  It was frustrating and expensive to find new cool outfits that I wanted to wear, given that I had so few opportunities to wear them.

I thought about it and made a decision - I got rid of all my clothes, except for all of my most favorite stuff.  I stopped worrying about fitting in altogether, focusing only on "what types of clothing do I like wearing the most?".  I stopped worrying about whether or not I looked "professional", put my hair in dreadlocks, and focused on dressing the way I would if I could wear whatever I wanted.

It feels like a natural progression.  The more my life grew towards that of my idealized self, the more my clothing choices reflected the type of person I want my fashion to convey."

For reference, these old quotes that I'm using aren't just things I wrote for the heck of it.  They're things that I've put a lot of thought into and feel strongly about.  But after months of not working full-time, my perspective had changed a lot, which made it a lot harder to take a principled stand on potential employment. The job offer was there if I wanted it, but I couldn't help but think about all of the reasons I didn't want to take it.  The ever-growing list overshadowed any sense of excitement that I previously had at the thought of accepting the job.

On top of the list was the fact that if I took the offer,  I'd have to drop out of the blackjack class.  The more I thought about it, the more I realized that I really didn't want to do that - not for a job where I'd have to make so many compromises.  It would basically be a carbon copy of my five years at GG, except strictly worse (for me), in multiple ways.

I spent Thursday night in tears over this.  It's hard to be excited for something for so long, only to be offered it, only to realize that you're no longer sure if you want it.  Thankfully, I've been keeping a blog for more than a year now, so I had the perfect thing to read to get some perspective on how I feel.  

I can't stress this enough:  everyone that I met at the knife company seemed really nice and I feel like I would have gotten along with them.  But company cultures are a real thing and I knew I wasn't going to fit in there in a way that I wasn't going to be comfortable with.  The casino job requires slight compromises on my part - there's a uniform instead of a dress code, and there's a drug screen but they don't fail for legal pot.  In those cases, what they require seems fair given the huge amount of people/money card dealers interact with. And that job offers higher pay, more interesting work (to me), lets me use and develop new skills, and is in an environment where I feel incredibly comfortable in.  I'd be a fool not to take that.

Me, walking away from the I.T. position after reading about the dress code.

One last quote from past-me:

So what advice would I give myself here?

"Dear Shelly,

Motivation and success go hand in hand.  When you're motivated to do good work, you're more likely to experience the success of a job well done.  That, in turn, will motivate you to go on to the next step.  What you're feeling is the opposite - you've gone too long without a tangible improvement in what you're doing, and that's subconsciously sending the message to you that if you get too invested, you'll fail.  Your sense of motivation has been replaced with a fear of failure, and you can't let that be the dominant thing driving your decision-making progress.

I want you to make two lists.  The first will be a list of all the things that you want to happen - this will be the list that you use to motivate yourself.  The second will be a list of all the reasons that you feel like you're not succeeding right now.  That will be the list of problems that you're going to need to figure out so that you're more likely to experience success.

Write those lists, and then cut out all the bullshit.  No more excuses, no more distractions.  No more talking about the things that you want to accomplish that you'll probably get around to doing tomorrow or next week.  You have to take responsibility for making the things you want to happen happen, because no one else is going to do that for you.

Force yourself to make moves even if you don't feel like doing it, and trust that once those first few things pay off, it will only get easier to improve.

You got this!


When I left blackjack school on Thursday afternoon, I said my goodbyes to everyone, assuming I was going to accept the job.  I woke up Friday morning and called the H.R. rep from the knife company to tell her that I didn't feel comfortable ignoring my gut on this one.  The vibe I got from the conversation was that she saw it too - I was more than capable of doing the work, but there was a chance I wouldn't be able to fit in or be happy in that environment.  Neither one of us would want that.

It wasn't an easy call to make, and will likely go down as one of those "Butterfly Effect" style decisions that I'll possibly end up regretting.  That's fine.  I've made the decision and I feel like it was right, so I'm willing to own it and move forward doing the things that I think will make me happy.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

1/19 Never Forget

Let me tell you all a little bit about my best friend Kayla.

We met when she was 20 and I was 31.  Despite the age difference, we were both at points in our lives where we were focused on trying to discover who we were.  As far as we were concerned, we both started out at level one and helped shape each other into the characters that we are today.

When we first met, we clicked like that.  We became roommates six months after meeting each other and stayed together through multiple living situations over the next three years.  She's basically a co-star of mine in almost every anecdote about my life that occurred between 2011-2014 - and we did a lot of things in those years!  We've been through some extremely high highs and low lows together; at no point do I ever worry about running out of material to write about.

It's been heavily rumored for some time now that the two of us share a brain.

We both credit a lot of our personal growth to our friendship, having shared pretty much everything with each other.  She toughened me up, while I metaphorically softened her around the edges.  I consider myself a fairly confident person - pretty much all of that came from Kayla's influence.  She taught me how to stand up for myself, and that there's no need to worry about every single person liking me, and that I need to be willing to hold myself accountable for the problems in my life.

Plus, we make each other laugh.  Like, a ton.  Of all my friends, Kayla by far holds the record for times I have been laughing so hard with someone else that I couldn't breathe.  That definitely counts for something.

Kayla could take the worst-looking room imaginable and make it look awesome.

It's been about a year since we left Boston and moved out west.  We left Boston on our own separate journeys roughly a month apart from each other.  She ended up in Seattle and met a new boyfriend who I really like.  Each of the places Cody and I lived (Forks and McMinnville) are about a four or five hour drive away, making it a lot tougher to see each other than it used to be.  

The contrast between "seeing Kayla every day" and "seeing her a few times per year" is one of the tougher parts about being out west.The reality is that we'll probably never be as present in each other's lives as we were in the years that we lived together.  We shared the World's Tiniest Bedroom at Six Eleanor for almost nine months and probably aren't going to top that.  

But even without the physical proximity to teach other, I feel like we have a mutual understanding that we're going to be there for each other for the rest of our lives.  We can't see each other as often as we used to, but it just means we'll appreciate the nights we do get a little bit more.

It would be really really hard to top this night, but we're going to have lots of years as friends to keep trying.

So Happy Birthday to Kayla!  I have nothing but the utmost faith that you're going to crush it in 2017  <4

Sunday, January 1, 2017

The Year I Had

Hi folks!

I haven't written much over the last few weeks.  This has been due to the combination of a couple of factors, including:
  • technical issues with a laptop that only works when plugged in (recently resolved)
  • travelling back to CT and MA for the last two weeks to see family and friends over Christmas
  • general lack of inspiration; not really feeling strongly about anything I wanted to write about
With that said, it's New Year's Eve and my only plans for tonight are to watch some concerts over the internet.  I briefly entertained the notion of travelling to see one of the shows live (either Phish in New York City or The Disco Biscuits in Atlanta), but at the end of the day those trips tend to cost a lot of money and I'm at a point in my life where I'm not willing to spend such a large chunk of my budget on having a really fun weekend.  The fact that I can stream the shows for free weighs a lot into the decision - between travel, hotel, tickets, food, and general expenses, I'm saving a huge chunk of change by staying home and I still get to watch them live in real-time.  Choosing to stay home is me making the Adult Decision.

And that makes sense, since I turned 37 years old last week.  That's officially "late thirties".  Yikes.

I don't always feel like I'm 37 years old.

I still feel confident that I skew young compared to most people my age.  Case in point - I'm still at the point where I have to talk myself into not spending a ton of money on travelling to concerts.  Enough people seem genuinely shocked by my age when they find out that I can tell they're not all faking it.  For whatever reason, most of the people I interact with on a regular basis are still in their 20s and it never feels weird to me.

But with that said, I feel like 2016 has to be the single year of my life where I feel like I've aged the most. It's the single year of my life that has been the most different from any other year - I left my job, moved out of New England for the first time, spent two surreal months in Forks, moved again to McMinnville, and have more or less been building a new life from scratch with Cody in a new large house with lots of roommates with no full-time job that gets me out of the house.  Having significantly less money and more time has given me a lot of time to reflect on what it is that makes me happy, and I feel like New Year's Eve has to be the right time to reflect on all that.

This post is going to be a summary of lessons learned in 2016.  I'm not big on New Year's Resolutions - to me, it makes a lot more sense to reflect on the past and to let that guide the future than it does to make easily-broken promises to improve a specific area.  I'm going to do this in the style of an interview with myself.

Q.  Hello, Shelly.  Welcome to the 2016 Year in Review!

A.  Thanks so much!  I'm really glad to be here  :)  I hit a large patch of writer's block and didn't know what I wanted to say, so this is a huge help.

Q.  The first question is obvious - was leaving your job and your life in Boston to move across the country the correct decision?  Any regrets so far?

A.  I'd be lying if I said I didn't ask myself this on a regular basis.  There were certain aspects about life in Boston that I hated (traffic, overpopulation, frigid cold snowy winters, lack of new experiences, high cost of living) and I haven't gotten to the point in McMinnville where I take these things for granted.

But with that said, I had a pretty made life in Boston.  On paper, I wanted to find a new life out west where I can be in charge of my own time.  There were other things I wanted to do full-time - namely writing and helping Cody run his store - and made the conscious decision to throw myself into finding a life where I could support myself 100% on my interests/talents instead of selling out and getting a job.

While I'm glad that I took the chance, I feel like taking that approach was a huge mistake.  I was taking a whole bunch of things for granted, and it took me a couple of months before I realized the extent to which this was true.

Q.  What types of things were you overlooking?

A.  First off, I really missed having a reason to leave the house on a regular basis.  As a general rule, I tend to get along well with my co-workers, and socializing with people at work is something that helps fuel the extroverted side of me.  Without this in my life, I start to get restless as all of the days of the week start to blend into each other.

Secondly, I don't like not contributing to our finances.  It's really hard to not be bringing in money while Cody's been working his ass off.  It makes me feel like I'm being incredibly selfish putting all my time into what is essentially a hobby.  That, combined with the sense of a lack of purpose, has been my major stressor for 2016.  When I find myself feeling down, that has been the thing that usually dominates my thoughts.

The third thing, crazily enough, is that I miss being able to help other people with their technology.  I've always said that I made the conscious decision to stay in desktop support positions because I genuinely liked the work, but on some level I never really knew if that was just my brain rationalizing the career I had fallen into.  As it turns out, I do like I.T. - it comes reasonably easily to me and provides a tangible service for people that I get to experience on a daily basis.

And the last thing is that I don't really like the level of accountability that comes from trying to run a business (like Misfit Cords, which I see as Cody's thing) or monetize blogging (which I don't enjoy in the slightest). I've always said that I prefer the role of the sidekick to that of the leader, which was another thing that turned out to be more true than I thought.  The whole idea was to minimize time spent doing things I don't want to be doing, and it turns out that working in I.T. might have been the proper way for me to be doing that.

Q.  Sounds like you know what to do in 2017 then!

A.  Yeah.  It took me awhile to realize all of this stuff, so I remain confident that I can find myself a job that's a good fit.  I haven't given up on the idea of working for myself, but in the short term trying to do so hasn't really made me happy.

Cody and I are both huge fans of the Draw Your Future TED Talk by Patti Dobrowolski.

Q.  So do you wish you never left?

A.  Sometimes, I feel that way.  But for the most part, I'm glad that Cody and I made the decision to leave. Life is all about the risks we take, and while there is still obviously room for improvement, I still feel that I like life in McMinnville more than life in Boston.

Q.  How has your living situation in Oregon been?

A.  On one hand, there's a lot to like about it.  Cody and I pay an extremely reasonable amount of money for a fairly large room in a nice house with a huge backyard.  Generally speaking, I try to put effort into having positive relationships with the people I live with and I feel like I have some solid friendships with people that I've met out in Oregon.

Cody and I moved out there because we wanted to participate in an intentional community.  And while there are aspects of that lifestyle that I think are very good (such as group dinners and people hanging out in the common areas), the main thing that I've grown to realize as the months have gone by is that I like having a very low amount of formal structure in my living situation.

I feel like I've found a good way to handle this.  In my mind, I imagine the room that Cody and I share as our apartment, and the rest of the house is like my neighborhood.  I do my best to stay friends with everyone, and I still participate in group meals and try to my share of the chores.  In my mind, the main difference is that I want to do these things because I want to, not because I have to.

I'd be lying if I said I haven't been imagining having a place with no one other than Cody - that way we could do whatever we want at home while giving me an excuse to leave the house to socialize with others.  37 feels like a mighty old age to have a whole bunch of roommates, especially when Cody and I are essentially a married couple at this point.  We spent two months in our own place when we lived in Forks - even though I didn't like living in that town, I did really like our little house.

Q.  What was living in Forks like?

A.  For the period of weeks where I thought we would be living there long-term, Forks felt like a prison to me.  It was hard to shake the feeling like nothing that I did out there mattered - living in a town of 3,000 people where the closest town is 70 miles away was, in my experience, the perfect nightmare for an extrovert.

There's nothing quite like the forests out there!  I once went out into the woods in our backyard to gather up moss to use for art, and I ended up getting lost in the woods.  It was a really scary moment - my cellphone battery died and I knew it was roughly 4:00 p.m., and there was a legitimate fear in my mind that if the sun went down before I found my house, I'd end up having to camp out with next to nothing in a damp patch of woods in the middle of nowhere.  Thankfully, after an hour or so of wandering I managed to find my street and hike back to my house.

It took me a little while to come to grips with the fact that I didn't like living there.  I was so desperate for a place to call home at that point that I really tried to force it.  But I started to slowly grow morose as the days moved forward and nothing changed.

Once we found out we were moving to McMinnville, Forks felt more like a vacation.  Knowing that we were leaving shortly, I did my best to take in all of its natural beauty.  Cody and I had cookouts and made fires pretty much every night that it didn't rain.  When I look back on my time spent out there, those campfires are the thing that I miss most about living so far away from the rest of the world.

As it turns out, prisons and tourism are two of the biggest employers out there.  Maybe it's not just me!  That said, it's a place that I really hope to visit again, albeit for a limited amount of time.

I'd be lying if I said that 2016 was an easy year where everything went right.

Q.  Can you believe all those celebrities died in 2016?

A.  Honestly, I don't really think about celebrities all that much.

Q.  Can you believe that Trump got elected?

A.  I think that when historians go back and study the election, they'll find that the echo chamber effect will have been the most significant cultural change in a post-social-media society.  People, without even realizing it, started grouping up.  More often than not, they don't even group up on common ideals so much as common enemies.  And as it turned out, Team "I Hate Clinton" beat out Team "I Hate Trump".

Q.  Does this scare you?

A.  I think one of the great realizations of growing older has been an accepting and understanding of my place in the world.  I think there is a lot of unfairness and negativity that exists out there, and I think that the internet has tricked people into obsessing over it.  Political conversations rarely if ever change people's minds, since by and large people have already formed their opinions, and yet I see people engage in them time and time again without questioning their role in "othering" their opponents.

My solution to this has been similar to my solution to living in a large house.  I do my best to be a positive influence for the people in my life, enjoy the company of others, and contribute where I can to making the world a better place.  Instead of worrying about what other people think, I try to be more aware of how I feel about the decisions that I make, and just try and live the type of life I can proudly own.

Politics don't really scare me.  To me, our politics is the symptom of a greater problem:  we have more ability than ever to communicate with each other, but haven't yet figured out how to properly and effectively do so. But that doesn't really scare me anymore either, because at this point I've grown to accept that I'm not responsible for fixing society and I do what I can to improve communication where I can.

I'm fully aware of the fact that there are legitimate reasons for people to be worried that won't necessarily affect me, and I'm not saying that I'm not aware of them.  If people read my opinions and come to my conclusion that I'm speaking from a bubble of privilege and that I'm being irresponsible and selfish for not caring more - those are examples of the types of strawman arguments that I trying to cut out of my life, and I stand by that decision.

Q.  So you've been blogging for a year.  How's that been?

A.  I'm really glad that I've been doing this.  I'm still constantly tweaking little things here and there with the blog.  For the most part, I have a lot of fun writing in here.  Like I said, I feel like we live in a world where effective communication is becoming less and less common, and so this is my little way to try and circumvent that.

I've had a lot of ups and downs this year, and I'd like to hope that my blog reflects that.  It's interesting and humbling to write about the ways where things didn't work out the way I wanted, but when all is said and done I like what I have so far and don't want to stop yet.

Q.  What's in store for Misfit Cords?

A.  We're definitely going to learn from mistakes made in 2016!  But I've come to realize that I don't like writing about ideas ahead of time, because sometimes I get caught up in the planning and then fizzle on the execution.  Besides, I see that as Cody's story to tell :)

With that said, Cody and I have been together for a little more than three years now, and I still feel very confident that he's the person I'm going to spend the rest of my life with.  In a year that has been fraught with me second-guessing some of the decisions I've made, my happiness with my relationship has remained one of the few things I have been sure about.

True origin of Shelly Moonbeam

Q.  What else has been new for you?

A.  One of my favorite parts of McMinnville has been my discovery of a Texas Hold'em scene.  I went to a local bar on a Wednesday night and found a regular crowd of people who play every week.  For perhaps the first time ever in my life, I'm a member of a social scene where I'm one of the youngest instead of one of the oldest.  I've been reasonably successful there since starting to regularly play a few months ago, which makes it a lot more fun :)

Relative to other years, live music has had a lot less influence in my life.  That's kind of a bummer that I hope to fix in 2017.  While I'm definitely not trying to dial it back to the Eleanor years of my life, I miss dancing a lot and see that as a potential area for improvement over the next year.  Thankfully, my besties Rich and Kayla took me out on a trip out to Gorge to see Phish, a night which stood out as a highlight of 2016.

I won fantasy football this year on a team that I was co-managing with Rich!   I joined his league with all of his friends so that we'd have a reason to keep in contact while living on different coasts.  Somewhat hilariously, he got into a rules argument with the commissioner (one of his best friends) and quit the league on the day before the draft, and he was promptly replaced, leaving me in a league with a bunch of people I didn't really know.  After a few weeks, I offered him an opportunity to team up with me - it ended up being one of the funnest seasons of fantasy football ever.  I like gaming as a healthy outlet for competition, but all in all I still like collaboration better.  Plus, I find Rich's obnoxious trash-talking to be a lot funnier when he's on my team.  Go figure.

I still play online Mafia on the SA forums, and I've grown to appreciate the role of "internet friends" in my life.  There's something to be said for having a community of people online where all arguments are had in the context of a game!  While knowing people through the internet is no substitute for having friends in real-life, I've found that the conversations I've had outside of the games are a more-than-adequate substitute for scrolling through a bunch of fake news on Facebook.

Netflix recommendations:  Bojack Horseman and Black Mirror

If I were to name two bucket list items for the following year, it would be (a) find a softball team when the weather gets nicer and (b) finally apply to go on the T.V. show "Survivor".  I'm putting this here mainly for me to help hold myself accountable.

Finally, driving across the country was something I had always wanted to do, and I found that I enjoyed life on the road.  There were certain things (namely our cat Tom and the fact that we left in February) that made it so that we had to make sure we were making good time, but it anything it's something that I hope I get to do more of in my life.

Q.  Any last words before ending this post?

A.  All in all, I'd call 2016 a good year for me even if parts of it have been really difficult.  Compared to certain other negative points in my life, I'd call it a cakewalk.  I have a lot of optimism for 2017 - I know what changes I want to make, and so now it's time to make things happen.  I hope that everyone reading this feels similarly!  :)