Passport Shame

At some point in June in the year 2000 I had a nasty cold. At that same point in June, I desperately needed to renew my passport in time for a trip that was already planned. Sickness aside, I had to get some passport photos taken.

I wore an unflattering, long-sleeve black shirt. My hair was disheveled and pointing in various, inappropriate directions (mostly up). And my face was swollen. I always have some type of bags under my eyes – it’s just my face. But these swelling circumstances were extreme. I imagine the photo-taker at Kinko’s (this pre-dates their conversion to Kinko’s FedEx) must have been thinking something along the lines of, “I hope this young woman is taking these photos for personal reasons and not planning to send them to a government agency to use as a form of long-term identification when traveling internationally.” Too bad no one said anything like that to me at the time.

I sat on a stool and smiled, hoping a pleasant expression would hide my physical torment. The smile backfired, just making my eyes disappear. We only took one shot. I didn’t ask for any re-takes or consider alternate angles of facial expressions. I looked at the polaroid results and said, “ok, thank you.”

The sickness must have been talking. Because how I could have approved the photo is beyond rational thought. But I sure did walk out of that store with an incredibly unflattering and unattractive photo of myself in a bag, two copies of that photo to be exact. And I sure did go to the 24-hour post office to ship off a passport application with those two unflattering and unattractive photos attached. And I sure did receive a passport in the mail not too much later with that unflattering and unattractive photo permanently laminated into an official U.S.-issued passport.

With my nose no longer running, and with my eyes no longer virtually swollen shut, I was able to see the grave results of my error in judgment. It’s not so much that I was hideous in the photo. I’m not the type to be critical of every not-so-great photo that’s taken of me. It was more about the expiration date: June 2010. 2010??!!??  A bad photo that lasts a decade is far worse than your everyday bad photo on Facebook.

My previous passport was for youth and expired after five years, which was bad enough. But with an adult passport, I was committed to that photo for ten whole years. All of my twenties. I traveled every year, each time reminded of uglier days. What a cruel system. Even if just for a brief moment, every time I made sure I had my passport on the way to the airport, the photo crossed my mind. “And now countless more people are going to ask to see this thing. Argh.” Brief moments of anxiety every time I handed it over to someone. Occasionally I received comments – things like, “you look different” or “this is you?” But more often I interpreted their quiet expressions as looks of pity.

I’ve been waiting for 2010 for ten years. In January I thought, “this is the year when I get a new passport!” But with this anticipation comes pressure. Officially it expired in June. And I’ve been putting off the application, over-thinking the new photo. How do I make this the best photo I’ve taken in my life (which is a fair standard for a photo I’ll carry with me and show to people all over the world for the next ten years) while not trying too hard and appearing natural? Although I’m tempted to pay for a hair and make-up stylist before heading into Kinko’s FedEx, I know I also wouldn’t be proud to carry around a glamour shot passport that looks nothing like me.

I’m planning to get over my ten years worth of passport photo anxiety on Friday. I’ll march in there with a semi-rehearsed, casually natural smile, an outfit that accidentally looks really good from the shoulders up, coincidentally recently threaded eyebrows, and by chance recently washed and twisted hair. Not only am I working on making my thirties the best years of my life (so far). Here’s hoping they’ll also be the best years for my passport.


Ten Years Later

This weekend is my 10-year college reunion. Former classmates will be gathering to chit chat about what they’ve been up to for the past five or ten years, depending on whether or not they attended the 5-year. Folks will be happy to see old friends and many acquaintances who have been all but forgotten due to the whole ‘out of sight’ phenomenon. Classrooms, cafeterias, and art exhibits will all spark reflections on who we were ten years ago. There will be tons of “oh my goodness!! How have you been?! What have you been up to?!” flying around in high-pitched tones. Good memories relived – and new, somewhat generic memories created in turn.

I’m not going.

Not that I’m opposed to reunions. I went to the 5-year and had a good time. I also planned to go to this one. I even had the budget worked out, deciding to dish out the big bucks for the all-class dinner and a nostalgic stay in a dirty dorm room, sharing an even dirtier coed bathroom. The stage had been set for a delightful walk down memory lane. But once one of my closest friends from school told us she could no longer make it, the plan unraveled.

The question of whether or not it would be worth the effort and money to attend was asked, and the answer was not a definitive yes or no. My friends and I went back and forth for a couple of weeks. But as time went on, the idea of paying tons of money to see a few people I’d be excited to catch up with, and having superficial conversations with a bunch of people I barely remember (I take full responsibility for my bad memory), became less and less appealing. Not that I wouldn’t have enjoyed it. But it wasn’t worth the effort or the money, especially in light of my aggressive savings plan that officially launched this month. And also in light of Facebook, which makes reuniting every few years almost unnecessary, kinda.

I can’t pretend I’m not a bit disappointed that I won’t have an opportunity to see old friends this weekend. But I also can’t pretend it’s not somewhat of a relief. Although I know it’s silly, seeing people in five year intervals puts on the pressure to have something remarkable to report. Shoot, I feel the pressure on a Monday morning to report to my coworkers on all of my weekend adventures. And when my weekend consists of not much more than a walk from my bed to my couch, I dread sharing my boring response to the cheerful inquiries about what I’ve accomplished over the past two days. So five years of what seems like nothing but walks from my bed to my couch is really just pitiful.

At the five year reunion, I had finished law school, gone through an extended period of painful job searching, recently moved to Oakland, and was working in a miserable, low-paying job. I was completely broke and beginning to pay off tons of student loan debt. I was also on the brink of ending a long-distance, and long dying relationship. But I was feeling good – happy to be alive and feeling fortunate that I was able to be there. I also wasn’t insecure about my circumstances because they were shared by many classmates, or at least many could empathize. Five years out of college it makes sense to just be landing on your feet. But I joked with friends, “if I’m not married and doing something remarkable by the time our next reunion arrives, I’m not coming.” It was one of those serious jokes.

Funny how time flies when you’re figuring sh*t out. A few epiphanies and decisions pass – and it’s five years later.

I don’t want to be too hard on myself. In fact, I’m quite proud of what I’ve been able to accomplish since the last reunion.  So I need to get over that – I’ve got a decent story to tell.  But to be embarrassingly honest, it’s more about the insecurity I feel when hearing the stories of others. “We’ve been out of school the same amount of time. And you’ve managed to start a business, learn another language, find a cure for a previously incurable disease, purchase a home, find a mate, and have two babies? Wow, I’m really happy for you.” And I am! I’m really happy for that person. But how much of it can I take before I begin to feel like the incredible shrinking woman, small enough to fit into a first grader’s pocket by the time the reunion weekend is over? It wouldn’t be thaaaat bad…right?  (right.)  But the thought of it is pretty miserable.

So the thoughtful weighing of options (and life in general) has led to a missed 10th reunion. I’m committing to going to the 15th no matter what. I may be living in Amsterdam with my husband and two babies, writing up my findings to cure cancer. Or I may be living in my sister’s basement in Jersey trying to figure out a cure for an unsightly bunion. Either way, I’ll be there to share the stories and celebrate the growth and successes of my friends and former classmates. Let’s just hope I’ve still got my looks.

The Stars (in the sky)

I believe in astrology. I know plenty of people don’t. So feel free to bypass this post if you are one of them. But if you can be convinced to believe, perhaps this will be interesting.

First I should say I’m an Aquarius. That means I’m socially conscious and passionate, if not somewhat stubborn. I support causes and groups of people. But that doesn’t necessarily mean I like all individuals.  I’ve got a big heart, and I also have a lot of smarts.  So don’t try to fool me with your Republicanisms.  I’m also told I fall into the quirky category, preferring to do my own thing.  As Prince said ” when they tell me to walk a straight line, I put on crooked shoes.”   And they say I can be aloof at times, which, for some reason, doesn’t bother me.  I fit the Aquarius profile pretty well.

I don’t read every horoscope.  I think some astrologers are the real deal and others are simply aiming to fill the page of a magazine.  The only general public (versus personal and in-person) astrologer I follow is Susan Miller.  She writes a monthly horoscope. And almost every month I take something away from what she’s forecasted – from when not to spend money to the best days to rearrange furniture in my apartment. I trust Susan.

But something special has happened in May 2010. With the exception of the romance section, the entire Aquarius forecast is aimed directly at me.  Instead of casually reading it, this month I carefully studied it.

I’d just like to breakdown some parts of the forecast to prove its legitimacy to you:

  • You ended last month on a high note. The full moon of April 28 was to light your house of professional honors, achievement, and fame, so it could have been a very exciting and gratifying time when you see results for all the hard work you’ve done.

I finally received a decision from the University of Amsterdam on April 26th. I guess that preceded the full moon by a couple of days. But I don’t think the good news really registered or took effect until the 28th. So I’m assuming this is the exciting and gratifying time to which she’s referring. I definitely ended last month on a high note.

  • Your home or other property has been on your mind lately as well, but you seem to be unsure if you should go ahead with a plan or not. You seem to be weighing your options.

Can we go back to the housing question for a second? I’m still weighing a few options. But unfortunately, student housing has been ruled out. Unless I’m able to find a loophole or they’re willing to make an exception, the student rooms don’t allow pets. And my cat is coming with me.  So yeah, my future home has been on my mind quite a bit for the past month.

  • Mercury is the planet of communication and thinking [and it is in retrograde]…You are an analytical, objective thinker by nature, which explains why you often find these Mercury retrograde periods so frustrating. These phases force you to slow down, and your intuition confirms this to be the right [thing] to do, but it doesn’t mean you like having to wait! Ha, ha, the genius of Aquarius is your proclivity for doing precisely the opposite of what anyone tells you to do, but this time I need you to listen to me!

This little tidbit means a whole helluva lot. She’s telling me to take a step back and relax before finalizing anything or shouting what I have planned from the rooftops.  I can’t tell you how many times since April 26th I’ve been tempted to tell my job to shove it because I’m leaving.  But with seven months left to maintain some sort of income, I need to avoid burning bridges before I cross them. So even when folks try to trap me into telling them more than they need to know (i.e. “we’re gonna need 6 to 12 months notice from you before you’re allowed to leave…ha ha.”), I need to keep my mouth shut.  I’m continually reminding myself of Susan’s advice, and then to actually take the advice.  Believe me when I tell you, this is much harder than it should be.

  • You will have two weeks in which to begin your project…This does not mean you need to finish your plan, sale, or any other action in two weeks – of course not! It may take six months or more to see a conclusion to your endeavor, but what matters in astrology is when you begin, i.e., when you give birth to your endeavor. The changes you make in that two-week period have the power to change the course of your life for a year or longer, even forever.

I would argue that I’ve been planning for far longer than a two-week period. But since being admitted to the University, planning has certainly become an entirely new project now that it’s based in reality. But other than that, isn’t this crazy?  Or am I just a little crazy?

A Student’s Decisions – Where to Live

I received my first message yesterday addressing me as a student. The admissions office sent some very basic information about tuition and housing. The tuition fees didn’t provide any new information. I already knew all of it. Oh, except that fees for the Spring semester are more expensive than the Fall semester. And since I start in the Spring semester…no fair.

The housing stuff was interesting. First of all, do I even want to entertain the idea of student housing? I’m a grown-up. And I’ve been living like a grown-up for ten years. Living by myself (with the exception of a couple of brief stints while I was in transition to Oakland) in some nice apartments has spoiled me tremendously. I don’t know if I can downgrade to the lifestyle of a student living in student housing…no offense to the students out there. A while ago I took a look at some of the rooms/buildings the University offers students. They weren’t awful. And I think some of them were intended for adult students. While most have something shared, like a bathroom or a kitchen, some boasted of completely private facilities. Spoiling me with my own bathroom AND my own kitchen? But even these relatively fancy accommodations looked like dorm rooms. Twin, metal beds, stark white walls, tiny refrigerators, and small, lonely windows. No thank you. Seriously, no thank you.

I’m the type to value my home space more than most. It’s important for me to be able to come home to a space that’s comfortable, well-decorated, good-smelling, and effectively represents me. A place that’s a cross between a hospital room and a jail cell has never been my preferred aesthetic. But living in a place that is stylish and roomy could cost me far too much money. I’m not sure it would be worth it for such a short period of time while I’m back in school. But then again, I wouldn’t want to feel badly about where I live the entire time I’m in Amsterdam – that would put a damper on everything.

And if I live in the student housing, I won’t have any space for guests. I’ll barely have space for myself. I think people will still come to visit (you’ll still visit, right?). But as a host, if folks still have to pay for a hotel, I’m not offering much more than a free tour . In my dream world, my guests will have their own room, and I’ll welcome them to stay for as long as they wish (since they won’t be getting in my way) without question. In student housing world, I’ll be asking them to leave their bags in the hall and lift their left leg every time I need to open the front door. That’s not sustainable, and certainly not sexy. And I’m not sure if I’ve mentioned before, but I’m single…I can’t possibly be single and so unsexy.

So what should I do? Live in student housing and embrace the student lifestyle in its entirety? Find a sexy apartment through some other means and spend money I don’t have? Another idea is to stay in student housing for a semester, until I can find my own way with private housing for the following year. Or how about find a decently priced, moderately sexy apartment on craigslist and never even bother with their student housing silliness? Or maybe look for a nice apartment with a roommate? Could I possibly live with a roommate? Probably not. But I’m keeping all possibilities on the table at this point, and making no final decisions.

12 Weeks and Counting

At the beginning of January I received an email confirming the receipt of my complete application. I was given an approximate timeline of 8 weeks to receive a decision, although the possibility of it taking longer was noted. In mid-January my credit card was charged for the application fee. Everything was on track.

At the beginning of March, I marked the passing of the estimated 8 weeks. Each day I anticipated receiving some type of news, mentally preparing myself for a positive or negative outcome. By week 10, my daily anticipation began to turn to agitation. But although it was taking longer than 8 weeks, they did warn me that this may be the case. And two additional weeks was certainly within reason.

At the end of week 10, I sent an email requesting an updated timeline – maybe they had forgotten about me. The response: “unfortunately, the admissions committee hasn’t made a final decision yet. We hope to inform all applicants in April/May.” Hold on a second. In spite of submitting my application early and requesting an expedited review, my application is now in the same pool as the other applicants? And they “hope” to inform all applicants? I’m going to need a bit more certainty than that.

And now, at the beginning of April, we are approaching week 12 of the tortuous timeline. And I’m nowhere near where I should be if job searching becomes necessary. And, in my subjective opinion, well outside of a reasonable 8 week window. If it’s going to be 3 to 4 months, they should say that. Numbers and time frames shouldn’t be thrown around all willy nilly like that.

The Dutch and I are already fighting. This is no way to start a new relationship. That’s for sure.

On a brighter note, it’s a beautiful day today and I don’t have to work. I plan to enjoy some sunshine and put all things related to worry out of my mind for the weekend. The counting of days will resume on Monday.

If I Do

In all fairness, I’d like to give equal time to optimism as I tend to give to worry. So allow me to think through what will happen if I do receive some good news from Amsterdam. Not the really serious, stressful things, like saving money, packing, or finding a place to live. Rather, the more immediate things that are more exciting than they are difficult.

  1. Spread the word. Those of you who know about my plans are beginning to ask more and more if I’ve heard anything yet. “When do you expect to hear from Amsterdam?” I get that question 2 or 3 times a week now. When I actually do hear from them, it will be a priority to let everyone know. And since this will be good news, I expect this communication roll-out plan to be far more expeditious than if it were bad news. Folks on facebook will probably know within the hour.
  2. Give my job a few months notice. As I think I’ve made it pretty clear, I’m pretty much over my job. At this point, I’m only waiting for the right reason to quit. If I’m able to tell them within the next couple of weeks, I’ll be giving them 4 or 5 months notice. That’s plenty of time for them to come up with a replacement for me to train (in an ideal world). So I could make a guiltless exit, hopefully even leaving on good terms – though that possibility remains to be seen as I begin what will likely be a rough week.
  3. Treat myself to something special. I always treat myself to something special when I think I deserve it (and sometimes even when I don’t). I’m not sure what it will be yet – but it will demonstrate a unique combination of special, gratifying, and affordable. Any suggestions here are welcome.
  4. Begin a countdown, making the most of my remaining days in NYC. I don’t think I have wasted the last 2.5 years in NYC. Rather, I think I’ve made the best of it when possible. But there’s still a lot I haven’t seen or done. If I am provided with a clear date for the end of my stay here, I will be much more motivated to get out and see more of it. I’ll approach it like a tourist with a “to do” list, crossing off tours, buildings, and museums on a weekly basis. I won’t have any more time for moping or wallowing. Good news will lead to nothing but action.

And just for the record, this list was much harder to write.

If I Don’t

If I don’t get accepted to the University of Amsterdam, there are a few things that will need to take place. First, let me back up for a minute.

So unfortunately, my Plan C is no longer. The other schools didn’t have programs that were a fit. While school is the perfect excuse to move to another country without having to get a job, I don’t want it to be only an excuse, leaving me with a useless degree – already have one of those from law school. So now I have all of my eggs (and ovaries and kidneys and gall bladder) in one friggin’ basket. Oopsie.

Okay, now if I don’t get in, certain things will need to happen:

  1. Choose a city that can serve as a back-up. There are other places I can go to be happy. I’ll need to investigate a bit further. But recently, returning to the Bay Area has become an option. I go back and forth on whether or not this is the best idea, fearing such a move will be going backwards, personally and professionally. But I enjoyed many things about living out there. I would just need to make a conscious effort to live a different life out there the second time around. But it’s not the only option. I just haven’t quite figured out what the others are.
  2. Find a job or fellowship that can pay the bills. The ultimate goal is to start my nonprofit organization. If I am not working toward a degree that will play a significant role in the development of the program, then I need to at least be working toward it on my own time – while paying the bills.
  3. Avoid the people who will give me the look of pity. If you’re reading this, and you know you will run into me during the 1-month period following the rejection, please start practicing in the mirror how you will look at me. The only thing that makes sadness or disappointment feel worse is when people demonstrate pity. You know the look – a cocked head, pouting mouth, raised eyebrows…don’t do that.
  4. Quit my job. It needs to happen, whether I’m moving to Amsterdam or not. I’ve already reached my boiling point, and in some ways, it’s gotten worse. Another year, or even several months beyond this (fiscal) year won’t be survived. Overly dramatic? Probably so.
  5. Move. Whether I get into school and move to Amsterdam or not, this black girl is definitely going somewhere.

So the bad news will not necessarily be sad news – at least not for long. I’m trying my best to see the opportunity in whatever outcome that may be. But in the meantime, until we know what that outcome will be, please send me some positive energy. I need all the help I can get.