Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Halfway points

Quite a few things have happened since I posted, which is why I haven't posted lately. There is everything going on in the news--the record-breaking oil/gas prices and the downturn in the stock market last Friday caused chest pains and acid stomach in a lot of people I know. Barack is now the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee. Lots of people have lost their houses in fire and water. And Governor Paterson gave New York's same-sex couples half a loaf, because clearly he generously believes that other states and countries need New Yorkers' money. You know all that.

Then there is my news. I am now officially a certified interior decorator!!!! (Please do *not* jokingly say "certifiable"; too many self-styled comedians in my office are pulling that one.) I get the actual piece of paper later this week, and my classmates are having a graduation blowout this weekend. Can I say something? This is one of those situations where I had to grit my teeth and say, "Well, I didn't really come to make friends." Because I didn't. Oh, there are pleasantries between me and most others, but I was really the odd woman out. I am 34, and most of my classmates were either really young or in their fifties or sixties. The latter group was mostly women trying to find the next chapter of their lives. Most people there were either straight women or gay men. I was the only woman-loving woman, and sometimes I got really ignorant comments about it. There is still a perception, I have learned, that women-loving women--oh, hell with it, "lesbians"--don't know or care about how things look.

Then I missed the Pocono race on Sunday to put the last finishing touches on a job and present it to the client, who was happy. Apparently I didn't miss much, and not just because my man Tony Stewart finished a lap down because of his own stupid mistake in the pits. I subcontracted four other people and had three of them come over with me to accept checks and thanks. We had a quick midday drink together to celebrate. The fourth, a painter, couldn't come with. Like many New Yorkers, he's "really" something else--a pastor. He was busy preaching in his small church. I had to run by his church, once his service let out, to make sure he got his full payment and thank him for his work. He grinned when he saw me, and gave a meaningful look to my pentacle necklace. "I didn't expect to see you at church," he said archly. I joked back that I could put his check in the collection plate and make my first offering in fifteen years. He really did look so different in his vestments, and it was interesting to see him in his other life.

Can I tell y'all a secret? After my first job with subcontractors--a whole four jobs ago--I decided that I was going to hire tradeswomen when I could. I feel a little embarrassed about this stance. I'm supposed to be one of those third-wave feminists who simply believes in hiring the right person for the job. However, after listening to the first tradeswoman I hired describe some of her more painful experiences as a woman in a male-dominated industry, I decided that I needed to use the little bit of economic power I had, when I had it, to help others in her situation. I justify it by reminding myself that many people refuse to use their services, still, because of their gender. But I can't always hire women, and sometimes one doesn't work out or isn't available. This is how I hired the pastor who paints. It was actually sort of interesting to me, because I grew up with large churches that were run like businesses. (One thing that attracted me to Paganism was the small size of the groups.) The concept of a Christian pastor who needed an outside job was pretty new to me, though he liked to remind us that Paul sewed tents part time and Jesus himself was a carpenter most of his life. The concept of a modern Witch was interesting to him. We talked a bit as we painted.

He told me flat out that he wanted to "plant a seed," but said that if he only worked with interior decorators, or contractors for that matter, whose lifestyles he agreed with, he'd never work again. That seemed fair enough to me. It was funny to hear the other subs try to refrain from cursing and talk about what they did last night around him. In general, he was a hard worker, and a very calming presence. The pastor who paints will be in my affections forever because he calmed me down when I needed it.

Plaster dust was in my hair. Paint was on my cheek and forearms. The apartment, which didn't seem to look all that bad in retrospect, now looked like absolute hell. The client was crying. I was crying. The other painter was hung over and refused to show up. A piece of furniture and some fixtures we wanted weren't available for delivery just yet. Ah, it was the worst point of any project. The point where you feel like you messed up more than you helped and things will never get done. The halfway point. The pastor who paints practically forced me to sit down and take a breath.

"It's better than you think," he told me. "It's better than you think."
"It looks like shit!" I didn't refrain from cussing around him.
"It does," he admitted, "but it's a work in progress. Can you see the beauty in that?"
"I don't see beauty at all."
"If you're going to do this for a living, you should learn to see the beauty of progress. I learned to do that as a father, when my kids became teenagers. Believe me, it's not as easy to enjoy a teenager as it is to enjoy a cute little baby. Everything's changing on them. They don't feel as good about themselves, either. They feel like everything's wrong with them. But it's all necessary. They need to go through that stage so they can become productive adults, you hope. Think of this mess as adolescence for this place."
"That's a way to look at it."
"This halfway point is a good time. Whatever we do now, it's going to be easier. We're going to make this place look better, no matter what. We're all done making this place look worse."
That made me smile. "Yeah!" After a few more minutes, I could see possibilities again.

The pastor who paints was so right, I've realized. Teenagers tend to be feared and distrusted because they're in-between, even though those of us who are adults had to endure that same process. Knut, the polar bear at the Berlin Zoo, can't read his own press, and that's good because it's insulting now that he's hit a gawky, muddy adolescence and is no longer a bouncy little snowball. The halfway point is when a lot of people give up, throw in the towel, get discouraged, sit down and cry. I've done that a number of times when I've attempted something new. I even thought of doing it halfway through my interior design classes, when things got harder than I expected and I realized I still wasn't making friends.

The year we were engaged, L'Ailee decided to let her hair grow for our wedding. She thought that while a shaven head can look good with a surprising amount of outfits, a bridal gown wasn't one of them. She made this decision in February. By late October, she was telling me to hide the razors and scissors. While her hair grows remarkably fast, which is one reason why she's sort of cavalier about it, it was getting in her face and difficult to style. After our New Years' Eve cocktail party/wedding, she made me help her cut it off and vowed never to put herself through that again. Even when she's too old to shave her head, she's decided, she's never going to let it get to the point where it's long enough to get in her face but too long to stay pulled back. I told her what the pastor who paints said. She gave me both the Russian and American versions of the finger, then said, "I don't listen to pastors."

I usually don't, either. But some are worth listening to, just like Cats. Some housepainters and tilers are worth listening to as well. Maybe I won't be real strict about that "tradeswomen first" rule I've imposed on myself next time. I may not be an adolescent anymore, but I'm still a work in progress, and that's okay.

Links, links:

L'Ailee teases me because I try to use natural and organic foods, but sometimes can't resist frankly unnatural products like Cool Whip. Well, now there is the "organic Cool Whip" she teased me about using...sort of.

Please boycott Bolthouse Juice if you support SSM.

Same-sex unions may contain lessons for mixed-sex marriages. I know one thing I love about being in a same-sex marriage is that there is no "man's job" or "woman's job." It's all both our jobs.

What Hillary did right, or, somebody had to go first.

What's wrong with bottled water?

It's okay for actresses to be bi, but not actors.

Why Wiccans and other Pagans don't recruit.

Finally, Mark Morford says good things can come from a bad economy.


Queers United said...

congrats on becoming an interior designer, and for breaking another lesbian stereotype :)

alan said...

My Dad's Dad and two of his brothers were ministers. Uncle Walter firmly believed that it was a calling, and you were supposed to do it no matter what, and that didn't mean sponging off the church. He worked 'til he was in his late 80's, along with keeping a full time church and all of the duties involved...in his 90's he finally quit working but kept his church.

Tony's luck has to change!

The Russian version???


BostonPobble said...

I love this whole post. Every word, every link.


CrackerLilo said...

Loving these comments so far!

Russian "finger", same meaning: Make a fist. Now place your thumb between your index and middle fingers so the tip of it sticks out. L'Ailee won't actually say cuss words, but she is extremely fond of both versions of this gesture.

Snooker said...

Hey, nice blog. I'm glad I ran across it.

AND, the Knut reference just sealed the deal for you being on my regular reading list.

cats said...

gee thanks. and actually his words helped me out today too.

cats said...

WHOOPS! i was so flattered that you mentioned me that i forgot to say: CONGRATULATIONS!!!

Miss Vicki said...


Hiring women tradesmen thats the best kind. I wish when my roof needed repairing and my plumbing I could have found women only.

If I can ever contract a female to do the job, well consider me bias for she is getting it as long they are qualified.

Would love to have myself a female auto mechanic the cherry on the top.

Once again, Congratulations!

Deb said...

CONGRATULATIONS on getting your certification in ID!

Jen R said...

Congratulations on your certification!

That's a great story about the pastor who paints. Now I need to get back to some Powerpoint slides for work that I'm done making look worse. ;)