Wednesday, June 30, 2010

No Wind For These Sails

I realized that it has been a few days since I've written an entry and that a lot of those I have written lately have been pretty sparse. A big part of that is that I am presently waiting to find out about a lot of different things and all I can do is be patient to receive answers from others on things that are, at this point, beyond my control. I am expecting my financial aid award notice some time within the next week from Minneapolis Community and Technical College. I am waiting for my boss and her fellow manager for our larger organization to meet and determine if there is any potential for the proposal I have made to be reassigned job duties and go to a part time schedule. I have tried applying everywhere I can find so far [with openings] that offers flexible part-time hours AND benefits. I think there may be some scholarship applications I can work on, but other than that I feel like I've really lost all my momentum. I still want to return to school, get my AS in biology, go to vet school and work as a large animal veterinarian. That hasn't changed at all. I'm just really feeling very aware of all the extenuating circumstances that are outside of my control right now and I'm having a hard time letting go and accepting that. I suspect I'll be praying regularly for the next few days (or weeks) for detachment from the things that are troubling me right now. If I can't do that, if I can't detach from concern over the future and live in the present, I'm going to spend the immediate future more often anxious than not.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Scholarship Hunt!

Well after a particularly non-productive and relaxing day yesterday, I am back at work for the week and I spent the majority of my morning break reviewing scholarship and grant possibilities at the Sallie Mae website. The site has proven a great resource so far and I plan on saving the main page to the folder of links on my web browser titled "Academia" when I return home tonight. It looks like it should make ample information conveniently available for review on loan resources as well as having a very thorough search tool for scholarships and grants that seems to have a rather comprehensive selection of non-loan financial aid resources.

On the negative side, there are indications that I found on the site that as somebody who already has an undergraduate degree [B.A. in Cultural Studies & Comparative Literature], regardless of how unrelated it is to my intended field of study, I am very probably ineligible for grants from the state of Minnesota.

On the positive side was a scholarship for persons pursuing education for careers with agriculture and food production sponsored by relatively healthy prepackaged food company Annie's. The majority of their food is vegetarian in nature, but not necessarily vegan, so as somebody interested in working with food supply animals (dairy sheep, goats and cattle anybody?), I think I stand a chance of being awarded this scholarship at some point in the future even if it isn't available to me until I'm into Veterinary School. As somebody who is interested in sustainable agriculture and is motivated to work with food supply animals in order to help provide them with the healthiest and happiest lives they can while providing of themselves for the sustenance of humanity, whatever form that takes (If it is not obvious I am not a vegetarian or a vegan, and I have reflected on the ethics relating to that choice, especially as somebody pursuing a future in animal medicine, but I believe that's a topic better explored in a dedicated fashion in a future entry, rather than as a tangent here.), the idea of having a link to an organization like this is very appealing and exciting to me.

I plan to see what I can do to begin actually applying for some of these when I get home tonight. I should reign myself in a little bit I suppose though; I haven't even gotten my financial aid award notice from the institution I am planning to attend yet, and for all I know I've been awarded a scholarship or something already. I'd hate to make redundant efforts with time and energy I could be investing on other things. I just need to take a long, deep breath with respect to that and be patient. I'm a bit anxious about the whole money component of going back to school right now, and I may well be until I get that award notice and figure out what to do with respect to work. In truth there isn't much I can do right now besides wait where all that is concerned. Until next time: *deep-breath*

Saturday, June 26, 2010

A Story Idea

I'm feeling pretty worn out from the last couple of days and anxious in anticipation of potential action regarding my proposal to transition into a new part-time role with my present employer next week (not to mention the fact that I may get my financial aid award notice late next week).

In light of that I think I'm going to write about one of my major story ideas instead. This is an idea that I think would be best realized as a stand-alone work of prose fiction, accessible to any reader as young as a mature ten years old or older. It's set in a fantasy world with a semi-baroque flavor to it, and the central characters are a direction-less middle-aged minor nobleman, a stranger from unknown lands across the sea who is desperate to find a way home and the varied entertainers of a traveling circus, including a clown, a strongman, a fortune teller and an animal trainer. The nobleman finds purpose in trying to help the stranger find his way home and they set out in pursuit of the Circus' resident magician who has taken a leave of absence to travel and study arcane secrets in lands to the east, and whom it is believed can help the stranger to find his way home. Thematically, my intent is that the story should focus on feelings of alienation and estrangement, and on overcoming those feelings through acceptance and the establishment of welcoming community. I don't want to show too much of my hand obviously; if I ever decide I'd like to actually write this and attempt to see it published I'd hate to find that somebody else has read this blog and beat me to it! I'll leave things there today.

More discussion of my steps down the invisible road in my next entry.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Hope From the USDA!

The other day, around the time I was concluding those applications referred to in my previous entry Kristin (my wife) sent me a link for the Veterinary Medicine Loan Repayment Program. Basically, this is a Federally funded program that assists with repayment of loans taken out to finance completion of a veterinary medicine program in exchange for qualifying veterinarians agreeing to work in areas with a strong need for veterinary professionals for a set amount of time. This looks like a very good option to me because most of the areas (as of right now, at least) that have a need call for veterinarians who will work with food supply animals which is my strongest interest for specialization right now. Those that do not are primarily concerned with public health and epidemiology and a few with wildlife medicine (these two areas of specialization are also of interest to me and practicing in either field would be satisfactory to me I think). This is exactly the sort of thing I want to get involved with after I become a DVM. It's only too bad that this isn't a program that would provide support until after I've actually become a Veterinarian. This does remind me to remain diligent in keeping my eyes and ears open for programs (why don't I just say grants and scholarships?) set up specifically to assist people who wish to work in food supply animal veterinary medicine or epidemiology. If you're reading this and you find anything, let me know.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Hedging My Bets I

In due homage to the idiom that basically lends itself to the title of this entry, I am working on preparing possible options for the possibility that my [maybe] genius plan for remaining with my current employer part time while I return to school full time will not come to fruition. Basically I'm trying to generate other opportunities for myself to work part time and get family medical benefits if sticking with my present employer doesn't pan out. To that end I submitted notice of interest to the good people at UPS (which would be an ideal gig in terms of the hours) early last week. I'm sure they get enough applications that I don't necessarily expect to hear back anytime soon, and based on my recent conversation with a friend who is a spouse to somebody in the same position I am seeking I may have to be there a while before I receive any benefits. Both Costco and Whole Foods allegedly offer benefits at part time, so I went ahead and spent every free moment I had earlier today completing applications for both places. Too bad my local Trader Joe's doesn't seem to have openings or I'd be applying there too. The way the application process is set up for Whole Foods I was actually able to apply for 3 separate listings in pretty short order. The Costco application was longer (it included a very long questionnaire intended to gauge the applicant's work ethic) and generalized, but it will be submitted for review for pretty much any position I am deemed qualified for.

I still have more places to apply. I will be applying for my going-back-to-college dream gig (which will probably not offer me benefits *cry*) of being a Galactic Pizza delivery super-hero. I'm pretty sure I could get the job and the hours would work, but if we don't have insurance . . . *sigh* I'm going to be keeping my eyes on Trader Joe's and I may be exploring the USPS and FedEx as providing similar prospects to UPS. I'm trying to check after local government work and employment with educational institutions semi-regularly too. For that latter that could include work study, but I don't know that, that would really afford me any benefits (beyond the convenience of hanging around campus). Okay I think this entry has become a bit rambling at this point so it is going up like an elevator.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Belated Fathers' Day Related Entry

I owe my Dad.

Attempting to do what I'm attempting to do can feel very intimidating sometimes. Returning to school to change careers now that I'm almost thirty. Looking at the prospect of not really beginning my career as a Veterinarian until I am in my mid to late thirties or past forty. It's very intimidating. It fills me with anxiety that I won't be able to make it. That I'm too old. That it is too late for me,. That I should just try to resign myself to a lifetime of banal, non-challenging nor personally rewarding work in customer service. I think those things, but sometimes when I'm on that line of reasoning I remember my Dad. He did it. He returned to school to change his career when he was older than I am now, after I was born, to try and change his career. When I was born my Father was two weeks away from being thirty, my Mother a few months behind him. He had been an elementary and middle school teacher alternately for a few years before I was born, and continued in those roles for a few years after. Some time after I turned Two he set in motion efforts to return to school and pursue his PhD in Education. He never actually completed it (though he came close, he is ABD; All But Dissertation) but he went for it and he did enter into a career in Educational Administration. And that is how I think of him, as a school administrator, primarily as a principal. However, my father was not actually an elementary school principal until I was nine years old and he was nearly forty.

The point of all this is that when I'm feeling like I've blown it, missed my chance and I'm too old to pursue my dreams it sometimes helps to think of my Dad's career. He was not on a straight track. He didn't even start to pursue what would become his definitive career in earnest until he was in his early thirties. I'm not my Father. He and I are very different people in a lot of ways, but on this I look to him as a source for inspiration, an example to renew my resolve when I am feeling overwhelmed or experiencing doubt about the viability of pursuing a career so distant from the type of work I've been doing for various employers since I was fifteen. Thanks, Pop.

Saturday, June 19, 2010


Having completed the most recent work of prose fiction I've been reading earlier this week (The Shadow Rising, Book 4 of the Wheel of Time series by author Robert Jordan) I have resolved not to continue with that series or indulge myself in any other prose fiction until I have either begun the coming science filled fall semester of classes at MCTC or completed reading two works of science focused non-fiction. First of these two texts is my Wife's textbook for her Introduction to Chemistry coursLinke at MCTC. While I was able to get my self placed to take Principles of Chemistry this fall, skipping the Intro course and proceeding directly to the college level course on the subject I believe it would be wise to refresh my memory on theLink basics of the subject a little bit (and perhaps begin drilling myself on the Periodic Table as well) before I jump back into it in an academic context.

The second text I mean to read (perhaps I ought to say re-read) is The Physics of Superheroes by Professor James Kakalios of the University of Minnesota [Twin Cities]. This is aLink phenomenally fun book and I would suggest it be read by . . . anybody semi-literate in English (or any other language it may have been translated to). This book is really great. I read it shortly after it was first published; purchased directly from the author himself at Minnesota's then premiere annual comic book convention, FallCon. Man-oh-man, if only I'd been paying closer attention to the Freshman Seminars when I entered the U of MN back in Fall of 1999. Perhaps I'd have taken the course that was the basis for this publication and found myself focused back on the sciences, where I belong, that much earlier in my life! But I digress . . . In any case, I cannot stress enough how informative, accessible and laugh-out-loud funny this book is. If you've ever had even the remotest interest in superheroes, physics, or even broad trivia I strongly advocate that you read this book.

N.B. Rampant use of links in this post done without the website owner's knowledge. Hopefully that won't cause any legal problems or something.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Duck Fishing

This is a true story about me helping a duck.

When I was 17, maybe a month out of high school, I spent the day with a friend I hadn't seen much of since graduation. Among other hanging out and catching up, she and I went for a walk around Lake George in St. Cloud, MN. About three-quarters of the way through our circumnavigation of the lake I noticed some young-ish boys [I would guess they were probably somewhere between 8 and 12 years old] in kind of a panic and then a female duck rampaging among them. It didn't take long to discover that the boys had been doing some catch and release fishing when one of them had hooked poor Mama Duck in the leg. I ended up deciding to take the initiative to physically imobilize the duck, push the fish hook through her leg and sever the fishing line so that she could get away relatively unharmed. I think I may have gotten some scratches on my arm but I really don't remember. It can't have been anything serious.

In hindsight it's easy for me to wonder to my self why I wasn't paying closer attention to what I was doing back then. Why didn't I think, "Wow! I feel really good about assisting this helpless animal out. I enjoy seeing and interacting with animals. Why don't I make a profession out of that?" But that's hindsight. When I was 17 and waiing to turn 18 and start college I was preoccupied with my social life. I was focused on my lack of a girlfriend, and self-destructively certain that I was going to ride my ROTC scholarship into an Army comission and have a very clearly linear millitary career, never mind the possibility of me dying. I really had no idea beyond that what I wanted to do. I was short-sighted, lonely, unconsciously depressed and self-destructive. But in hindsight the lesson of that experience is clear to me. Now I feel more motivated and ambitious than I ever have in my life with respect to my career. I want to be a vet, and I hope that, that is where the path of my life leads me.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

I'm Either a Genius or Setting My Self Up For More Horrible Disappointment!

So as I have continued to struggle, desperately, with trying to figure out a way to reconcile going back to school with finding employment that offers me comprehensive health benefits (or pays enough that I can buy them), I have had a real, "Eureka!" moment. I intend to present and explore the possibility of me returning to the job I held previous to my present one on a part time basis. This would involve working with multiple managers and supervisors, but would have me doing work that really can be done at nearly any time of day and would therefore allow for a more flexible working schedule than my current job does. Utilizing my company's Flexible Work Arrangement program, if I can get the necessary parties to agree this would be perfect. It's a job I am fully qualified for and I would be providing an understaffed team with, quite possibly, exactly the amount of help needed. If I can convince them to give me a work lap top, I might even be able to work from home if necessary. If you read this and you're a praying sort, pray for me. I'm going to see if I cannot go back to doing data base management work.

As is stated on the underside of an Honest Tea bottle cap that I keep in one of my shirt pockets, "Courage is not the absence of fear. Courage is the judgement that something else is more important than what we fear." I had let myself forget this. I hope I never forget it again.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Job Hunt 2010: The Search Continues

UPS not necessarily being the holy grail of going-back-to-school-employment I had believed it to be I am now desperately seeking other possible employers that offer [family] medical benefits at part time. So far my research has indicated that I definitely should apply with Whole Foods, Target, Barnes & Noble, Starbucks (I really don't want to work there), and Walgreen's (downside there being benefits are available at 30+ hours). All of those companies have locations relatively close to me that may be able to offer employment. There is a busable Trader Joe's as well, and they look quite good on the benefits too, but don't seem to have any opening for the moment. Fed-Ex apparently may offer similar opportunities in terms of benefits to UPS as may the United States Postal Service, so I can look into those as possible employment options as well. Government work provides rather good benefits for all types of employment but it may be difficult to find a part time position with the necessary flexibility of hours. I seem to remember Aldi providing benefits at 30 hours a week, but I don't know if they do so at less. A part time, benefit offering work-study job would be a really sweet deal. I can investigate if any of those might be available as the semester approaches. Cost Plus World Market and Lowe's apparently offer pretty good benefits at part time, but I'm not aware of any locations that would be very easy for me to get to. I wonder if Americorps might be an option? Honestly, I'll scrub toilets if I have to. I just need appropriate hours, a little bit of money (assuming sufficient financial aid) and health care for medication and emergencies. I better start applying for jobs.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

An Ace Can Mean One OR Eleven?!?!?

The endeavor to figure out how to go back to school while remaining financially solvent and insured continues for me. I ran into a friend from my spiritual community at the grocery store last night who's husband is employed by UPS and asked her some questions about that. Now I had looked into UPS and gotten very excited a couple of weeks ago, and I had been meaning to contact this person for a while to ask about the work involved. I viewed employment with UPS, as a package handler during the 5-9, "twilight shift," as an employment ace in the hole. It wasn't necessarily my ideal job, but the schedule would be very accommodating to class hours, and all indications were that it would provide full medical benefits and possibly even a tuition benefit. After talking to my friend last night apparently this may not be true. She indicated that it had been in the past, but that now these benefits were available to hourly employees only after a full year of employment with UPS. This was very disappointing and dispiriting for me to learn. I still went ahead and applied last night. Maybe my friend was mistaken and at least the medical benefits would be available sooner. I can hope and pray and keep looking elsewhere. That is one positive of this. Finding out about UPS possibly not being such a sweet deal for immediately meeting my needs as an employer, did motivate me to seek out a list of known employers that offer medical benefits to part time employees. I haven't had a chance to look at the list of employers at length yet, but I saved the link and I can examine it more closely tonight and determine where other prospects for me might be. I think that will likely need to be my next step..

Monday, June 14, 2010

Inevitable Entry About Depression 1: Attempting Detachment

I have suffered from clinical depression for a long time. I was diagnosed with it when I was 19, feeling totally alone and having vague suicidal thoughts, but I think I had probably suffered depression since I was at least 11 (I spent most of my sixth grade year with no real friends to speak of) if not earlier.

I don't really know how to help people who don't suffer chronic depression or any other mental health ailment to understand exactly what it is like to live with clinical depression. That may be for the best because the truth is it sucks. It really sucks. Even if a person has never been truly depressed before maybe they have felt very sad or scared or angry to the point that it is paralyzing. If not try to imagine feeling an emotion that is so strong and so painful to feel that it could paralyze you, or make it difficult for you to think clearly. Now imagine, if you can, that you have no ability to determine when this emotional cycle starts or stops, and that it may begin without you even being aware of it until some experience triggers the overwhelming emotional response.

Depression has definitely made it difficult for me to advance in my life. It has paralyzed me at times or left me afraid to try things that could end up having wonderfully positive results for my well being. It has almost gotten me into legal trouble. It has resulted in me engaging in self-destructive behavior. It has even made it difficult for me to seek help in dealing with depression when that is what I have needed.

When I'm depressed, I find it is easy to fall victim to what I call depressed-guy-logic. Depressed-guy-logic is that mode of thinking that dominates during periods of depression that jumps to conclusions, fails to acknowledge and accept unknowns, and generates cyclical thinking that exacerbates or prolongs depression. The solution for depressed-guy-logic, I have found, is detachment, the art of virtually stepping back from a situation to analyze what I do or do not really know and how accurate and well founded my conclusions which are a source of further stress are. Usually they are not based on very much at all. The next step is acceptance of any clarity gleaned through engaging in detachment. Neither of these things, detachment or acceptance, is always easy to do when I'm depressed. Sometimes they are not even possible. To engage in detachment it may be necessary to recognize that I am depressed first and that my depression is effecting my judgment. Sometimes I am so caught up in my depression that I can't see I am depressed and that is an obstacle to this. It helps me to regularly engage in mindful detachment regardless of my present emotional state. This makes engaging in detachment more reflexive, and if practiced it can be much easier to deploy this safety net. The next stage, acceptance, is also difficult. Even if detachment can successfully be exercised true acceptance of the conclusions I come to may be difficult to reach. Sometimes even acceptance of those conclusions isn't even much better because the conclusion may be a recognition that matters are inconclusive and unknown and in some states of depression I've experienced recognizing a situation as open ended is as difficult to deal with and accept as belief in conclusions reached through depressed-guy-logic are.

So currently I've been feeling depressed for a little while here, and upon reflection I think that fear that I won't be able to get enough financial assistance to return to school, or a job that can supplement that, or necessary medical benefits for myself and my wife, and then I won't be able to go back to school and I'll be stuck working in customer service for the rest of my life having tried to pursue my dreams and found myself either not good enough to achievethemorblockedby circumstancesoutsidemycontrolfromdoingso! *gasp* Okay, now I'm going to try to detach, shed the depressed-guy-logic and then accept the conclusion I arrive at and move on with my life in an effort to keep advancing along that invisible road. So what do I really know? I know that I will get my financial aid award notice from Minneapolis Community and Technical College in July (the financial aid office has told me the first week of July) and until then I won't be in a position to assess how able I am to return to school. I know that I will probably need to find a new [part time] job, but I haven't done anything myself to make that happen yet. I've looked at some possible employment options, but I haven't inquired anywhere and I definitely haven't applied for anything. I know there will be some part time jobs available to me that will grant medical benefits, but there may be other means by which to get comprehensive health care as a student that I haven't really explored yet. If the medical and financial necessities required for both Kristin and I to return to school cannot be arranged This year, it doesn't mean I can't start working and planning now to find a way to make it happen next year. It does not mean I have to be trapped working customer service forever, nor does it mean that I am not good enough to do something else. It means I may have to be more patient, or that I may have to let go of the idea of going back full time and find an alternative way to work through the prerequisites necessary for me to pursue entry into Vet school. I think I would be very disappointed to have to deal with this last scenario, maybe even discouraged, but it doesn't mean what I am seeking is impossible, just that it will be more difficult to attain. The real problem consistent to all of this is the uncertainty of what is going to happen in the next couple of months. For the time being though, I guess there is nothing to stop me pursuing a part time job in earnest. Just filling out applications and such, with the understanding that I won't be available to start anything until mid-late August. Okay, feeling a little bit better now. Maybe I'll fill out an application with UPS to be a warehouse sorter today or tomorrow.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Baby Bird

Last night I was leaving the YWCA. Out of the corner of my eye I noticed something along the cracks of the sidewalk that caught my attention. I felt compelled to stop for some reason, focus in and take a good look. Three baby birds. Young enough that there were no feathers; they must have been knocked out of their nest by some outside force. One was barely identifiable anymore. It appeared it had been smaller than the others to begin with and may have been gone longer. The largest of the three had clearly impacted its head on the pavement when it fell or been victim to a less attentive pedestrian. I was crouching there, paying my respects when I detect movement from the one that lay in between the two that were clearly dead.

My thoughts raced. What could I do to save this helpless thing? I very quickly realized I could very likely do nothing. It was getting cold and the cool damp air indicated that rain would be coming soon. the elements would finish it off, and out of the nest, if it's mother was alive I seemed to remember reading or hearing somewhere that young birds that had left the nest would not be recognized by the mother as her own and would be ignored or thrown back out. I know this is definitely the case if another animal [like a human] has handled the bird. Not that I could find the nest when I scanned for it anyhow. It wouldn't be anywhere I could access.

Really what could I do? It was a tiny frail bird. It isn't as though I could take it home and try and nurse it back to health. Even if I felt confident I knew how to do so it would be a major investment of time, that was unavailable to me and I was fairly certain I lacked the proper equipment to keep the bird warm, safe and fed. To say nothing of the impossibility of protecting it from my cats were they to notice and take an interest in it. I also considered the factor that it could be a carrier of bacteria of some kind and that interacting with it [without protective wear] too closely could put myself or somebody else at risk. Then of course the fact that it was a wild non-domesticated animal.

I still felt compelled to do something though. I improvised a set of tongs and a litter out of some of the landscaping wood chips outside of the Y. I used them to lift it up and positioned the bird in a flower pot with no plant life yet in it, used my makeshift wood tools to build up some dirt around it to provide additional heat and protection from wind and then spread more landscaping wood around for further insulation and protection against rain. I probably did nothing beyond divert my life for five or ten minutes. But there is a chance. There's a chance it had enough cover and insulation in that flower pot to protect it from the elements and from predators. There's a chance that there was sufficient plant and animal matter (small insects) hiding in and around that makeshift shelter that the bird could keep it's strength up and keep going a little while longer. There's a chance that it could survive at least long enough to grow feathers, to open its eyes and too fly. It is very likely impossible, but there is a chance. I did all I could think to.

I walked away from there on my way to a couple of errands I needed to do on the way home, and by the time I had washed my hands I forgot all about it for the evening. I remembered today when I was trying to think of what to write about today though. I care about animals. I care about the weak and the vulnerable.

I am certain that I want to be a veterinarian.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Degree Audit Report

I've just reviewed my Degree Audit Report from MCTC. It is basically a comprehensive report of all my college credit earning course work that has been reported to MCTC broken down and categorized as it applies to my intended degree, Associate of Science in Biology. The very good news is that it looks like I am quite heavily covered and have a decent amount of completed credits that should eliminate the need to do much, if any general education coursework. Let's hear it for required classes! The one gap is that my 5 credits and 4.0 from the Pre-Calculus course I took through Normandale Community College this past Spring semester does not appear on my DAR. I will need to contact MCTC (and possibly Normandale) to see that this is acknowledged on my academic record. I do not know that it will have any relevant effect on my DAR, but it may be helpful as a prerequisite for classes I will be taking after my first semester this Fall (hopefully) at MCTC.

In other education news I received a notice from my loan consolidation company about reconsolidation. I don't think there is necessarily a need for me to do so right now, nor am I certain I even qualify, but the email brought a couple of things to my attention. One of these is the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program which assists with loan balance elimination in exchange for working in a public service sector. This isn't necessarily of immediate utility to me, but may be helpful to utilize when I get out of vet school in several years since I know there are public health employment opportunities available for veterinarians, particularly those with large animal and epidemiology focuses. The other thing this email reminded me of is that I should be able to re-enter loan defferment once I am back in school full time. I need to figure out how to go about making that happen and not having to make further student loan payments for a while as a result. Things to do, things to do . . .

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

What Happened to All Those Comics?

I used to buy comics pretty heavily. I cut back some shortly before I met my wife, and I cut back a great deal more when a recent series of very expensive automotive repairs (exactly expensive enough to be difficult to face, but not expensive enough to make buying a new vehicle a better investment) pretty much eliminated my savings account. I'm now committed to buying the final issues of five or six limited series and 4 or 5 monthly books that I wish to support because I enjoy the content, they're less well known publications and I admire the work of those involved. Even if further financial stress relating to my pursuit of further education and a career in veterinary medicine forced me to leave off the other titles I don't think I will ever stop buying Usagi Yojimbo. I have not missed an issue of Stan Sakai's great series since I was thirteen years old, meaning I have now been consistently reading the series for more than half of my life. I can write in greater detail about my love of that particular series another time. For the moment I wish to focus on my experience with comics in a broader sense.

Throughout my life there have been extended periods where comic books, particularly of the superhero genre, were a major focus for me. The zenith of this passion for the art form probably occurred when I was in college the first time around, after I left ROTC and was somewhat lacking in a sense of direction, when I decided that I ought to be a comic book writer. Now in hindsight I perceive this as a bit of a distraction and something that was possibly to my detriment, but at the time I think it was too often all I had to hold onto for a real sense of identity and direction. My efforts to pursue this were, admittedly, half-assed. I have written some comic scripts, and plotted out some stories, some using creative properties owned by other [usually corporate] entities. I never really applied myself to it though. I never made every effort possible to see through pursuit of a career in writing nor was I really willing to make sacrifices for it, socially, financially, or in any other regard. I did plenty of comics focused academic work in college as a Cultural Studies major, but I didn't want to go into academia so that was ultimately not something that was of any long term benefit to me.

I wouldn't mind seeing some of my concepts published some day, but I no longer feel a need to build my career or focus my self-image around comics. I think it may have started earlier, that the seeds had already been sewn, but I do attribute a lot of my movement away from that to my decision to pursue a career as a veterinarian and the reestablishment of my focus on that. It has probably made it easier to let go of reading comics in the volume I had, and saved me a lot of increasingly-less-disposable income. I still do like comics though, and I hope that my love of superheroes and and sequential art in any and all genres persists in contributing to the overall make-up of my character. I don't want an association with comics to be my single defining characteristic, but I am proud for it to be a part of who I am.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Why I Can Now Link Entries on Facebook

Really, how could I have neglected to write about this subject for four days? I had been keeping this blog pretty quiet during that first week or so, not really making people aware that I now have a blog through Facebook or another channel like that, for the express reason that I was concerned that the subject matter and focus of this blog, my efforts to pursue a major career change would be seen and met with a negative reaction by my present employer. I should clarify, if I haven't in past entries, that I have no grievance with my current job or employer. The work is generally not stressful beyond my ability to cope with it, and my current supervisors and bosses have been absolutely great. If I did not have a specific career goal I would be wholly content to continue to work in the call center I work in indefinitely. That's how I felt before I determined what I really wanted to be doing, and figuring that out has made all the difference. It is much harder to come in to work every day and perform my best, when I know that there is something specific I would prefer to be doing professionally.

Okay, before I get lost on too much of a tangent on the subject of my relative satisfaction with my employer in relation and conflict with my aspiration for a career in veterinary medicine I should really focus and get back to what happened that changes how I'm approaching this blog. Last week it was brought to my attention that I have quite a bit of vacation time for this year that I have accumulated, and reminded that with the new vacation policy if I don't use it I will lose it January, 2011. To help facilitate use of vacation time part of the policy change in my company has been to make all potential earned vacation available at the start of the new year. This operates on the presumption that the employee will be around for the entire year to earn all that vacation.

In my present circumstances, considering the possibility, the probability, that schedule incompatibility will necessitate I leave my current job in order to pursue the education necessary to my longer term goals, getting this reminder that I had vacation time to use raised an alarm for me. I would LIKE to take some time off from work, to be fully compensated for everything I have earned, but I did not yet know just how much vacation time had been earned. I was afraid that if I estimated incorrectly I may find myself in a situation where I could lose a portion of my final pay, maybe all of it, to paying back those vacation hours. With this in mind I went to my supervisor and boss to find out how much vacation time I was accruing I was earning in a day? a week? a month? of work. To try and reign in my chronic verbosity I will just say that this resulted in me needing to explain to my Supervisor and my Boss why I was concerned about this, and I ended up having the conversation I had long been dreading wherein I explained I may be abandoning my gainful employment here to desperately pursue the profession of my dreams. This all went surprisingly well. I really have to give my supervisor and my boss credit. They are both incredibly cool and supportive people. I am very lucky to have them as the people to whom I report at this particular moment in my professional life. They were appreciative of my honesty, and of the time given for them to adjust if necessary and to explore options with me for transitioning to an alternate work schedule (part time or funky hours). That wouldn't be so bad. I would probably, hopefully, be able to retain my health benefits at some level, but realistically I know I cannot depend on it. So the search continues, but at least I can explore my options without feeling the need to be clandestine about my intentions to anyone beyond the people closest to me. It is a bit liberating.

Maybe tomorrow, if I have nothing new to report, I will write a slightly nerdier entry. It has been a while. I guess it will depend on what the next 24 hours bring me.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Exhausting Inspiration

I went to a family reunion (extended family through my maternal grandmother) over the weekend. That level and intensity of socialization can be kind of exhausting for my very introverted psyche, and I'm still feeling pretty fried. I did see a lot of people I haven't seen in a very long time, virtually all of whom had never met my wife before and the only thing I would take back about the weekend is the gas used and mileage accumulated on the roughly eight hour round trip drive (because I'm sick of spending money on my car).

I found a lot of inspiration and reaffirmation for my desire to pursue large animal medicine through this trip. The simple, passive act of driving past cattle, horses, sheep and even donkeys at pasture always brought some excitement to me. Just seeing the animals. It helped reinforce for me that, yes, I do want to work with these creatures.

I had a lot of good conversations with people about veterinary medicine. As I've mentioned in the past my grandfather was a large animal veterinarian, and a lot of those present from his and my parents generation remembered him pretty well and had even more to share with me on the subject than I had expected. The most notable conversation relating to the topic of my pursuit of further education and career change, for me, actually had nothing directly to do with Veterinary school, or practice, or my grandfather. The conversation that is really sticking with me was a conversation with an aunt, Mary, my Mother's sister-in-law, which kind of sowed some counter-anxiety seeds in me with respect to the very real possibility that Kristin and I will have to spend our time in professional school (Vet School for me and Med School for her) in different locations. This is a subject I've been resisting thinking about so hearing what Mary had to say was pretty important for me I think. We were discussing the fact that there are really only three places in the US where Kristin and I could live and go to school together. Mary talked about her sister and brother-in-law who were not able to live together for ten years due to educational and career conflicts. TEN years. Granted they didn't have kids (neither do Kristin and I except for our wonderful cats), but the point I took away from Mary's story was that it worked out. At the end of it all they still loved each other, and when they were finally able to live in the same place together the did, and have ever since. Would it be difficult? Definitely, but hearing my aunt talk about her sister and bro-in-law left me feeling far less intimidated about the possibility of such a scenario. I wouldn't want to have to do it for a full decade, but if I had to be away from Kristin for most of four+ years so that we could see our respective career goals through I would do it. At least communications technology continues to become more advanced so that makes such prospects easier (or maybe harder. I don't know really. Different discussion for a different time). Okay, I think I've engaged in sufficient reflection on my weekend in Iowa as it relates to the blog. Back to exploring financial options and housing changes for the hopeful return to school.

Friday, June 4, 2010

This Would Be Pretty Swell

Not much new for me today in the whole apartment and job exploration/research area. One thing that occurred to me which I should try to hold in mind is being a building caretaker. This could potentially provide both residence and employment benefits which would be pretty swell if I may say so. I don't know how realistic an option this is, but it could be a pretty cool situation to be in. Assuming I was able to do this in a building on a convenient busline or otherwise in a neighborhood adjacent to Minneapolis Community & Technical College, that is. This is pure speculation of course, but it could be a good scenario.

I have a family reunion staring me down this weekend so this may be my last chance to draft an entry for a while. I am hopeful that my time at the reunion will allow me some opportunities to connect with older relatives who may have insight for me on my chosen career (I know my Great-Uncle Merle will be good to talk to. He was a cattle farmer and worked closely with my Grandfather the Veterinarian.), or on how to work through a challenging scenario like the one I am currently engaged in. These are people I'm not necessarily super close with but whom I do feel familial love for, and they're all bright enough that I think they may be able to provide some perspective that I may not have come to on my own. I retain, for the moment, an optimistic mood on these matters.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Hunting Some More

Well today feels less daunting on the apartment hunting/job exploration front. It occured to me to look into UPS; they seem to offer part time employees some type of benefits. At a bare minimum they offer students assistance that can be applied to any expense, and from what I can decipher they seem to provide medical (though of what quality I don't know) as well. I'll have to keep them in mind for potential employment with benefits during my return to school. The pay doesn't look great, but with sufficient loans/grants/scholarships and tuition and other benefits from them it may not matter. The hours look like they would accomodate a daytime class schedule as well. It would be physical labor, lots of lifting/carrying/sliding, but that doesn't bug me too much. I'm in the best shape of my life right now and I enjoy physical work.

As far as apartment hunting goes I really need to sit down and have a conversation about Kristin as to whether it makes sense to try and improve our present living situation and stick it out at our current residence, or if we should try to move somewhere quieter and/or cheaper with better environmental control. With her in school right now I don't know how much time she will have to go to see units with me, and I will NOT make a decision like that without consultation with my wife.

Overall, it seems patience and a recognition of the time table I'm really on here has overtaken anxious panic. It's a good thing. I am optimistic and I will be praying like crazy that I can pull this all off. If you pray, please pray for me and my family.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Hunting for Money and Health Care

Well, I have begun my search for alternate employment that would be part-time and offer benefits. What I'm seeing so far doesn't have me feeling super optimistic. There just isn't a lot out there that offers the necessary flexibility, hours AND benefits. I find myself wondering if maybe I wouldn't be best off talking to my present employer sooner rather than later about the possibility of altering my employment status here. It's a pretty dis heartening situation for the moment and for my prospects of going back to school. I've also been feeling under the weather since mid-day yesterday which can't be helping things either.

In any event this is only my first day of seriously hunting job possibilities online and I don't actually need something lined up until August (I could even hold off a little longer with sufficient student financial aid and COBRA or temporary Blue Cross insurance, but damn COBRA is expensive). So I've got time but, at the same time, my time is limited and as somebody who has trouble leaving things open ended this is more than a bit nerve-wracking to me. Already. I suppose I'll probably be a little more laid back about it all after a few weeks, but for the moment it's tough to feel anything but anxious about my prospects. I just have to remind myself to keep trying, as long as it takes and that these things don't happen instantly.

How many more times can I fit the word time in here in the time it takes me to write this entry? Maybe I'll time myself. Or not.


One other thing I've been doing is investigating apartments, alternatives to the home Kristin and I currently live in. It's crazy convenient to MCTC and a great co-op which is wonderful but we're also close to bars, have no off street parking, and no in unit A/C and not so great air-flow between rooms, meaning environmental control is sort of at a premium for us. If my neighbors want to smoke I don't really care. If they want to smoke within sufficient proximity to my window that I can smell it I do care. One thing I have noticed in apartment hunting is that apartments that appear to be pretty close to ours in terms of size are being rented for less now than they were when we signed on for our current place and a lot of them have more amenities. At least they claim to. Seeing is believing with apartments. It may make more sense to stay in our current place and just invest in some things to make the unit a bit more liveable. I don't know. I guess Kristin and I have a bit to talk about where this subject is concerned.

Up next for me, more job hunting. Maybe some desperate grasping for grants and scholarships and possibly talking to my boss about alternative work options.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Addendum (because I neglected to draft an entry on Monday)

Somewhat related to my big entry I just published, today, June 1, 2010, is Kristin's first day as a full time student at MCTC! Very exciting I think.

The Journey Thus Far

So by this time a year ago I had decided not only that I wanted to leave customer service work, but that I had something I actually DID want to do instead. Being sick and dissatisfied with one's job is one thing. It is another altogether to know what you actually want to be doing, and I wanted to be working in the sciences. Now I said in my last couple of posts that I was firmly settled on working in Veterinary medicine and I am, but at the time, I was trying to keep an open mind about other fields, namely research science in chemistry or physics. In hindsight I don't think I was ever as excited about the professional pursuit of these fields as I am to vet medicine, but I have some friends who work in these fields who I like very much, and I know that my present employer (a Major Minnesota Manufacturing company) would potentially offer tuition reimbursement for my pursuit of a degree in either of those fields, while vet medicine doesn't provide them any return on their investment. In any event keeping those options open for myself definitely influenced my initial plans.

The absolute very first thing I did when I began to take myself seriously was to research Veterinary Medicine professional programs. Initially I just investigated the program at the University of Minnesota, my original undergrad Alma Mater, because I have a positive opinion of the institution and I live here. Later on, as other things in my life changed and it became evident that relocation may be necessary for Kristin and her career plans at some point in the future I started researching other institutions as well. Besides, shouldn't I apply to as many schools as possible [when the time comes] to ensure admission? In any case what I found (and the requirements are pretty consistent across programs) is that I needed to take math courses at least up through pre-calculus, a year of college level biology, chemistry and physics with a lab, microbiology, genetics, organic chemistry, zoology, and biochemistry. For some schools I may need to take a public speaking course too, though I'm not super concerned with that. Any other requirements were met while I pursued my initial undergrad degree. Volunteer time working directly with animals is generally a requirement as well.

My initial exploration of taking courses through the University of Minnesota's College of continuing education, one or two at a time while working full time was disappointing as I discovered that as a part time student with a completed undergrad degree I would be eligible for relatively little financial aid, and that as somebody just trying to fulfill prerequisites and not seeking a degree I would be eligible for even less. It's not unattainable; there are loans for going about things that way, but they are available on a limited time table and it was a time table that wouldn't allow me to fulfill ALL of the prerequisites I needed. For this reason I decided I would have to pursue one or two courses per term through a period of five or six years in order to achieve what I needed to, paying out of pocket for the first few years worth of course work. The plan was to start with pre-calculus (assuming I could test in to it, having not had a math class in almost ten years), followed by my year of physics, year of chemistry and year of biology in that order or overlapping. The rationale behind the order was to take pre-calc as a foundation for everything else and then the science classes in that order to get a sense of whether I might enjoy a career in physics or chemistry research and diverge off from veterinary medicine to one of those paths. By the time I had done all of this I had very successfully managed to miss enrollment deadlines for any possibility of taking a class Fall semester of 2009.

I worked a bit on pursuing volunteer possibilities (they're tougher to come by for doing large animal work, than small animal, where it is really easy to get some opportunities from a small animal practice or with a shelter for strays) for a few months, probably not as heavily as I could have by half, and didn't have much luck. I thought I had a really good lead with Dodge Nature Center in the south east metro of the Twin Cities, but I basically got jerked around/ignored for three months before I gave up maintaining contact with them. They do still email me seeking volunteers to serve juice and sell raffle tickets at fundraising events. Not remotely what I'm interested in doing there. I had a lot of outside stressors during that period, but not actually being on my way gave me more time to consider my options further. Finally, in December 2009 I registered to take Pre-Calculus as a web-based course through Normandale Community College during the Spring 2010 semester. Paying out of pocket for College classes suck. Even loans would have been preferable. My father was nice enough to pay my existing student loan payments while the semester was in session at least so that helped a great deal.

Pre-Calculus helped me narrow things down more and become confident that I really do want to practice veterinary medicine and not be a research science in chemistry or physics or an engineer. The course work and increasingly talking to my friends in physics doctoral programs. I still find the subject matter interesting; I just don't wish to pursue it as a vocation. In any event pre-calculus was good for me, and it felt really good to be a student again, and even better to know I was on track to be a vet. The only tough thing was knowing that it would take me so long.

Everything started to feel more impossible, in terms off time frame and money, when, in February and March, the need for major and costly automotive repairs cleaned out my savings account. I haven't come close to rebuilding it yet. Not by half. I knew I couldn't rely on that rainy day fund to keep me going anymore. I had been working on my boss to try and get tuition reimbursement, and presented my case for it (for pre-calculus, chemistry and physics at least, which I could justify), but ultimately they really want me pursuing a degree program in order to issue it, and even if I were in one of the approved program types (it would have to be chemistry or physics for me which I don't really want to do) our department hasn't received budget approval to use money for that so it could get to be a bit of a drawn out fight. I also may end up with employment here for a certain term of time after achieving said educational goals and that would be something that could get me stuck and delayed if I held to it, or get me in trouble if I didn't. Anyway, tuition reimbursement was seeming less and less realistic.

And then my wife inspired me. Kristin decided that after being torn between art and healing as her career track, being a healer was the better way for her to go, and that being a doctor, going to medical school would be the best way to see that out effectively. She did her research and realized that the Associates of Science program offered by Minneapolis Community and Technical College (MCTC), an institution that is is, at most, a mile walk from our current home, was the most efficient way to take care of the prerequisites she would need to apply to med schools. It didn't take very long for what that meant to sink in for me. It would be the fastest way for me to fulfill my vet school prerequisites. Being a degree program it makes me that much more eligible for student loans, especially if I can manage to be a full time student. If I can manage to be a full time student I could earn my associates and be applying to vet schools in 2-2 1/2 years.

This is not without obstacles. I did apply and was accepted to MCTC. I even managed to register for all the classes I wanted to for my first theoretical semester there this fall: Introductory Biology with Lab, College Physics I with Lab, and Principles of Chemistry I with lab. Very science heavy, I know, but I'm no kid anymore and I want to get this done and get on to the life and career I want. Those intro level courses have got to go (well I could put off Physics, but I'd prefer to take it as soon after having taken pre-calc as possible). I had to fight for Principles of Chemistry a bit. I wasn't initially allowed to enroll and had to apply for a prerequisite waiver for admission. Basically, I needed to either have taken a year of chemistry in high school or introductory chem at the college level. I hadn't done the latter, not directly, but I did take a year of chemistry my junior year of high school (it was only 11 or 12 years ago), and I actually received college credit for it thanks to a program between the high school I attended and St. Cloud State University. The tricky part was getting that high school transcript. It was like pulling teeth. It was literally impossible to receive it in any kind of timely fashion. I finally got it about a week and a half after registration opened up for me and within 24 hours MCTC had registered me for Principles of Chem. Thank you, MCTC. It's nice when a bureaucracy is user friendly.

Now I've only got two hurdles left and they're big ones. First arranging enough financial assistance in the form of loans, grants, scholarships (and there aren't a lot of the latter two available for the student that isn't fresh out of high school), and probably a part time job, which is unlikely to be a variation of my present job. The second, which sort of ties in to the whole job thing is making sure that Kristin and I have medical coverage. We really need medical coverage. I believe I mentioned in an earlier entry that I suffer chronic, genetically inherited clinical depression [and anxiety]. I'm currently on medication for this, and it is medication that works, but if I lose medical and perscription drug coverage (sometimes these are bundled sometimes they're seperate) I'm going to be screwed. I know myself well enough to know that I won't be able to endure part time work and full time school unmedicated. In fact I have a lot of personal relationships that probably couldn't survive me being unmedicated (at the least they would be severely strained). So I need to find an employer that is accomodating in this regard or another source of comprehensive medical insurance. If I can't do that, I don't think I can go back to school which would be terribly depressing for me at this point, even with me being aware so far in advance that it is a possibility.

I think that brings everything up to speed. Entries I write focused on the relaitve topic from here on out should be on more present tense events. I won't get my financial aid award notice from MCTC until early July, so I've got a good month here to start pursuing my alternate employment options. I pray I am where I wish to be on my path right now and that I will be able to make my return to school a reality.