My Brilliant Second Career

This was written as par of Open Salon’s open call. 

Within a few weeks of starting as a freshman in college, I became my dorm’s go-to person for editing papers. It all started with a paper for my roommate, who then spread the word. Soon enough, random acquaintances would stop by with a printout in their hand (oh, those days before “track changes”!), sheepishly asking if I had a second to look at their history, rhetoric, English literature, [fill in class here] paper.

I never said no. I genuinely loved editing papers and giving suggestions as to how to make their efforts stand out.

You would think that some light bulb would have magically gone off, telling me that writing and editing were what I should have done with my life.

Alas, it was not meant to be.

In my 34 years of life on this earth, I have spent 21 years in school: elementary, middle, and high school, college, three-year degree in Italy (which required an American bachelors but counts less than a master’s), and a master’s degree. College and beyond were spent trying to figure out exactly what I should be doing, and I thought I had hit the jackpot: art and architectural conservation.

How cool would that be? Diagnosing and preserving artistic and architectural treasures, saving cultural heritage for future generations, and patting myself on the back the entire time.

When I finally decided what it was that I wanted to do, I was living in Italy. What better place than Italy to pursue this passion? The Italians have the lion share of historically significant cultural heritage in the world, and most of it is decaying. Surely, getting an Italian degree from an Italian university would give me an “in” to the field. Having an internship in one of two Italian government research agencies would definitely secure a job as a conservator.

In order to pay for my studies and contribute something to the household income while I was a student in Italy, I worked as a translator and editor (!) for a news agency. I loved doing the work and I loved my coworkers, but it came too easily to me. I could bang out a translation of a politician’s incoherent ramblings in about ten minutes.

Surely if it was that easy, I wasn’t meant to do it. Making a living meant having to work really hard and struggle, right? Well then, I was on my way to going into the right business!

I definitely progressed from a wide-eyed, eager-beaver student to a weary and pessimistic graduate in no time. After graduation, I found that since I didn’t have Italian citizenship, many doors were closed to me as far as government jobs were concerned. And lobbying by a small group of people made it so that if conservators in Italy hadn’t graduated from one of three schools (and my university was not one of them), they were considered in the same category as bricklayers, and given the same pay.

So what does an insane person do in these circumstances? Go for MORE schooling, of course. I thought that a master’s degree from an American university would definitely put me on the right track this time. Off we went to New York, where I proceeded to get an MSc from an Ivy League school, have an internship at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and give talks in international conferences.

I felt good. I was on my way. My husband was an angel for letting me pursue my dreams, but it was all paying off now! A job offer at a prestigious architectural firm in San Francisco! Yes! Yes! Yes!

Fast-forward to 2009, when the entire world was reeling from stock market crashes, housing market woes, and general economic malaise. What happens when there’s no private or government money for…anything? The arts get cut. What is included in the arts? Everything I was interested in.

I was laid off in February 2009 because my firm didn’t have any more projects. Once I got laid off, A asked me, “What if you can’t find work in this sector anymore?”

I meekly replied, “I can always write.”

Even I knew how crazy that sounded. I knew writers. It wasn’t like their lives were so easy and they had their pick of plum jobs. Years of toil, little pay, and heartbreak were generally associated with writing and editing.

As it turned out, I couldn’t find a fulltime job in conservation. I applied to anything and everything out there. Government posts, private jobs, fulltime, contract work, anything. People didn’t even have the decency to write and turn me down. It was just total silence from the moment I’d send in an application.

I did, however, find a part-time job as a conservator with a fantastic boss. She trusted my judgment, let me make decisions, and treated me amazingly well (all things definitely lacking at my first job). At the same time, it was still a part-time job. With a newborn daughter, I needed more than that—something with benefits and paid leave, etc.

One day, I randomly looked on Craigslist for “writer” positions in San Francisco. Apparently, I hadn’t let go of the pipe dream that I could, indeed, write if I wanted. A job posting popped up for “Creative Writer.”

I thought, I’m a writer, I’m creative, why not? I applied. And mercifully, the people on the receiving end of the application were out-of-the-box thinkers who were willing to give a chance to someone with very little writing experience.

After a while, my role morphed into a copywriter and editor. Little by little, I gained confidence in my writing skills and ideas. I restarted my blog. I felt good. In my element.

The light bulb finally went off. My brilliant second career should have been my first one.


Green Thumb?

When A and I were looking for a house, we were generally in agreement on the majority of the details we hoped it would possess, but none more than this: we didn’t want a big yard.

I mean, really. It’s so much work. Who wants to be shackled to their home every weekend, mowing the lawn, raking the leaves, and pruning the bushes?

Well, so much for picking a house with a small yard. When we fell in love with our house, the yard–all 7,000 square feet of it–played a rather big part in our decision-making process.

When you have that much space in your backyard, you really have no excuse not to garden. And at this juncture, I would like to share my gardening philosophy: if the end result doesn’t include something edible, it certainly isn’t worth my time.

I am putting this philosophy to good use right now. I’ve become somewhat obsessive about planting a winter veggie garden. Who knew it would be so addictive? As in, waking up in the morning and heading outside to look at the beautiful plants type of addictive. Watering the budding garden early in the morning to the leaves won’t fry in the afternoon sun type of addictive. And then watering again when I get home to quench the thirst of those greedy little salad leaves.

Anyway, thanks to advice, seeds, compost, and tools from my sister (whose front yard was once photographed by a Martha Stewart Living editor who happened to be strolling by), my winter veggie garden is well on its way.

You might say I got a bit excited. There are currently 21 veggies growing in the garden: beets, cilantro, parsley, carrots, tomatoes (yeah, I know it’s not a winter veggie, but they’re growing), potatoes, garlic, green chard, stir fry greens, green chard, radishes, broccoli, rucola, radicchio, romaine lettuce, butterhead lettuce, freckle lettuce, green frilly lettuce, onions, kale, and a couple of more things I can’t remember right now.

My well-organized winter veggie garden.

At this point, I should also mention that I don’t consider myself to be a green thumb by any means. If we must color my thumb, I would say black is a more appropriate color.

Plants come to me to die.

In the past 18 months, I’ve received three beautiful orchids, all of which are now sticks in a pot.

One time we had a dinner party when we lived in Italy, and our guests brought us a beautiful potted plant. We put it in the living/dining room, where we were having our meal. There was much eating, drinking, and on our guests’ part, smoking. So much so that the poor plant became oxygen deprived (I don’t want to know what our lungs looked like after that night). We went to bed and when we woke up the next morning, the poor plant was completely yellow and lifeless.

Poor thing didn’t even last twelve hours.

But I have high hopes for the veggie garden. I’m motivated. I’m ready. I’m not letting any smokers near that garden. Beautiful salads await.

Golden Gates

Once in a while, I repost my blog posts on Open Salon as a way to drum up business here. A while back, I saw their Open Call for submissions titled “I was bullied,” (or something similar). In it, poignant blog posts talk about the pain of being bullied as a child, with some people interviewing their childhood bullies to boot.

It made me think back to when I was in middle school, navigating tweendom and trying to fit in. Thankfully, I don’t have any horrid stories about being bullied, but I do remember being teased. Mercilessly.

The teasing was done by a group of three boys in junior high. I don’t remember their names, but could probably point them out in a yearbook. We weren’t friend, and didn’t really associate with one another except in class. We—along with a few other kids—shared a long table in art class. I was in seventh grade, and they were in eighth, pretty much giving them god-like power over us, their younger peers.

At some point during the trimester-long class, they stopped using my name and started calling me “Golden Gates.”

Huh? I laughed it off, because to be honest, I had no idea—nada, zip, zilch!—as to why they chose to nickname me after one of the world’s most recognized monuments.

Until finally, pretty much at the end of the trimester, it dawned on me: they were teasing me because of my unibrow.

I was ashamed for a variety of reasons. Yes, I sported a unibrow, but I had optimistically convinced myself that it was invisible to anyone but me. You mean you can see it, too? The shock! The horror! I was also rather upset for not getting the joke for so long. I considered myself a pretty smart kid, but apparently, not a very witty one.

And I was upset that I couldn’t laugh it off anymore. Once I finally got it, every time they called me Golden Gates I would feel my face burn with shame and start sweating. Just what every tween girl dreams of doing in school.

I’ve only known of two people who could totally rock a unibrow: Frieda Kahlo (of course!) and a girl in high school who bravely kept hers all four years. She was popular, on student body council, and on various sports teams. And she was incredibly friendly, with a great bubbly personality. From what I can glean on her Facebook page, she now has some of the best looking eyebrows around (the best revenge!).

These days, I look back and chuckle at the nickname, and the sophistication level of the eighth grade boys who came up with it. And in my internal dialogue with those boys, I say, “Yes, shocker, Iranian women are hairy. Get over it.” Apparently, even after 20 years I don’t have a snappy comeback for them.

But I worry about P. Poor kid, the daughter of an Iranian and an Italian will keep her aesthetician’s kids in private school for many years. Maybe even through college.

When I was pregnant and before I found out we’d have a daughter, I confided to a friend that I was hoping for a boy. The biggest reason? I just didn’t want a daughter to have to deal with all the shaving and plucking and tweezing and waxing that goes along with being a Middle Eastern woman. I have vivid memories of my mom and aunt having threading sessions (that’s right, threading was popular in the Middle East way before it became the hot thing to do in malls across the country), grooming mixed with gossip and hot cups of tea.

The kids were always in the periphery, in awe of what the adults were combining in front of the mirror.

But the fact is that the whole grooming thing is all just so exhausting, and so unlike the “we like short shorts!” commercials for hair-removal cream. Who likes to sing and prance around as they use hair-removal cream? Oh that’s right: no one.

I actually have a hair-removal cream horror story. I mean, those gals look like they have so much fun with it! Why not try it?

I had just started shaving my legs (I don’t remember how old I was), and thought the whole shaving thing to be so laborious—I still do. So I tried the hair-removal cream. I didn’t really read the directions very well, and didn’t rinse off as much as I should have.

I was in a hurry, since I was heading out to play tennis with my dad and sister. I hadn’t told anyone of my adventures with Nair, and just ran out of the house so we could start playing as scheduled. Just in case you didn’t know what chemical that melt your hair do to your skin when not washed off: they melt your skin. Yup.

I started having horrible looking welts on the front of my legs. The entire time we were supposed to be playing, I was on the sidelines with some ice (thankfully we always took a lot of water), rubbing my legs. The first and last time hair-removal cream and I ever crossed paths.

Anyway, back to P. A told me not to worry, that we’d start an electrolysis fund alongside her college savings. P’s almost two now, and her college funds are looking healthy, but her electrolysis funds definitely need a boost.

It’s already a given that my sweet P will have a unibrow when she’s in school. She will very likely be teased for it. I hope that she grows up to be a teen who has enough gumption and confidence to rock it like my friend in high school.

The boys in her art class may call her Frieda in art class, but hopefully for completley different reasons.

A Loop

What happens when your granny-nannies, for some reason or other, can’t take care of your offspring? You scramble to find last minute childcare. As every parent knows, this is not a fun experience.

We were thrown for a loop last week when my dad hurt himself, forcing us to rethink our childcare situation. Fast.

I started calling…and calling…and calling. Of course, all the places I really wanted to put P were all full and weren’t enrolling toddlers. And all the places I really really wanted to put P weren’t accepting kids until they reached 2.5 years or were potty trained.

I visited one center, but wasn’t super excited about it. The measly outdoor space was no match for P’s energy level.

And then P and I visited the Bambi preschool. Not that it’s actually called the Bambi preschool, but there is a huge Bambi mural at the entrance.

Of course, P loved it right away. It was like she was visiting Bob’s yard all over again.

The preschool was great—clean, happy looking kids, pretty good student to teacher ratio, artwork everywhere. It had to come with a “but”, right?

It’s a Christian preschool. With Bible time and everything. I ended up enrolling her. The outdoor play area is fantastic.

At the same time, the fact that it’s a Christian preschool bothers me. I know I should be open-minded, and I know I shouldn’t let it get to me, but every time I go in and the kids are singing songs about God I feel really uncomfortable.

If you couldn’t tell already, I’m not very much at ease with religion. Not Christianity in particular, pretty much all religions. It seems to me that some people were born with a spiritual bone and some people weren’t, and I am definitely in the second group of people.

I mean, even the chanting during yoga class bothers me. Apparently, I am that disconnected from my spiritual self. I’ve only been to yoga a couple of times because I freak out when the touchy-feely talk and chanting starts.

I’ve never actually taken the time to analyze my discomfort with religion and spirituality. Is it because I was born in a country, Iran, where religion permeated everything? Maybe. Is it because my parents weren’t really spiritual when we were growing up? Perhaps. Or that I thought their science-heavy educations (both microbiologists, those two) made them less likely to believe things like Creationism? All possible.

At the same time, my mother takes quiet pride in having a flicker of spirituality.

When A and I lived in Italy, my sister had to have emergency surgery. My mother urged me to go to the nearest church and light a candle. Which I did, dutifully.

She tells anyone who will listen that the story of the Virgin Mary is told in Islam, and that she is revered.

And when my grandmother passed away a couple of years ago, my mother went to a Catholic church every day for a few months, lit candles, and prayed. But religion was never ever a part of our lives growing up.

It all leaves me cold, without any real need to pursue it further or even believe.

A, on the other hand, grow up in Italy, which means he was baptized and christened. He had first communion and went to (public) schools that displayed the cross. Apparently, every school in Italy is really a Catholic school, even though the separation of Church and State is definitely in the Italian constitution.

You have to have your parent’s permission to not attend “religious studies,” which is really only about Catholicism. Rarely do Italian parents actually have their kids not do religious studies, mostly to avoid ostracizing their kids. Italians are very much aware that the Vatican is really close by, and the Pope is on the news practically every night.

Once in a while, an immigrant will sue the State and try to have the cross removed from the school building, and the political class is horrified that such a thing should happen.

Even after all that, A is not a practicing Catholic, and is completely on board about not having religion be central to P’s upbringing. His family…that’s a whole different story, and perhaps the topic of another blog post.

So back to the preschool. So far, P totally loves it, and wanted to head there at 6.30 a.m. this morning. And my discomfort? I’ll set it aside for now.

And I’ll even ignore the pamphlet, titled “How to Raise a Delinquent,” which came with the registration packet. Along with allowing kids to curse and watch porn, there was the little bit about not giving them a spiritual education until they were 21, and then letting them decide for themselves.

Precisely what we had planned on doing. Perhaps delinquents just breed delinquents.

Keeping Up

For some people, keeping up with the Joneses means buying a new Lexus, a $5,000 range, or the latest in lawn-mowing technology. We are apparently not those people. Nope. For us, keeping up means buying deer.

Before you start thinking that we live on some sort of nature preserve with a deer pen in the back (making us by far the coolest people on the block), let me clarify. When I say deer, I mean this:

Suburbia, thy name is garden ornaments.

Of course, there has to be a good story that goes along with this, because never in my life did I imagine owning a garden, let alone ornaments to embellish its beauty.

My parents, who look after P during the day, took her out for a walk around the block one morning. One of our neighbors, Bob, has one of those fantastic front lawns that makes people ooh and aah, shaming everyone on the block into doing at least the bare minimum to keep their lawns looking passable.

He’s got a little Japanese garden with matching fencing and Asian-styled door, perfectly trimmed hedges, and one hedge that looks like a face from a certain angle—with eyes, mouth, and nose carved out with care. Bob also has two deer garden ornaments.

P is going through quite the Bambi phase, so when she saw those deer, she flipped out. Ran to them, hugged them, kissed them, straddled them, started talking to them, and did everything short of proposing marriage.

So when it was time to move along, you can only imagine the scene: crying, kicking, throwing oneself on the ground, etc.

Bob, who does cute woodwork as a hobby, was in his garage making his daily dose of cuteness and witnessing all this go down. Since he’s a very nice man, he felt bad that his garden was practically causing a seizure in his new neighbor, and kindly offered P a wooden rabbit puzzle he had been working on.

Which she happily took, and then promptly started crying for Bambi.

My parents were finally able to wrench her away from Bambi 1 and Bambi 2 (as they had been dubbed), and eventually convinced P to come home. The day continued as usual, with a meal followed by naptime.

Before I start the next phase of the story, I should recount a backstory involving my sister and me. We had the potential of being incredibly spoiled (some may argue that we were—everyone is entitled to his opinion). Whenever we even hinted that we were in need or want of anything, our dad would disappear like a shopping ninja and return with whatever it was we had mentioned.

I’m not talking about super expensive stuff or clothes, but if we opened the refrigerator and wondered aloud whether we were out of vanilla ice cream, or pickles, or sunflower seeds, or {insert anything else here} he’d be out the door before the sentence was over, heading to the grocery store in search of ice cream or other craving of the moment.

It got so that the two of us learned not to ask any questions about food items, magazines, books, or anything that could be found within a 50 mile vicinity. No doubt it made our dad happy to go around looking for things for us, but we never really felt so strongly about vanilla ice cream to warrant an extra trip to the store.

Too bad we never tried wondering aloud where we had parked that Ferrari.

So, during P’s naptime, my father got into his car, and started driving around to various gardening and hardware stores until he found what he was looking for. Our very own version of Bambi 1 and Bambi 2, which he promptly purchased and brought back home.

When P woke up from her nap, it was like Christmas, her birthday, and Persian New Year all wrapped into one. Oh the hugging, the kissing, the pure joy of having her own Bambis. She pretty much spent the rest of the day with the two ornaments outside, ripping out grass and plucking off all rose petals to feed them. Bob’s garden mocked us even more from across the fence.

And that is how I came home to two new garden ornaments.

But wait, you say, you have three Bambis, not two! Oh, you are so right. We do.

Why is that, you wonder? Well, the next day there was a dip in the temperature. My parents deemed the day too cold to let P play outside for too many hours. But she really wanted to play with Bambi. She really , really wanted to play with Bambi.

The concrete Bambis were now ensconced in their areas of the yard, all wet and muddy on the bottom. So instead of bringing them in the house for P to play with, my dad set out once again—this time looking for an indoor ornament.

And that is how we welcomed Bambi 3 to our family.

The shopping ninja was back. We’ll have to make sure P grows up without ever wondering about that vanilla ice cream.