Tuesday, September 28, 2004

Are You Serious...This is The Rest of My Life?

Yes, you’re right, I’ve done a terrible job of updating this thing lately. Sorry about that, but I had no idea the real world was so darn hard. I don’t know how people spend their whole lives working. For the life of me I can’t figure it out. I like my job, really, I do. It’s interesting, challenging, and important (I think), and the people I work with are very nice. Still, when the alarm goes off, it takes everything I have to get out of bed. I’m out of the house around 8, and I don’t get back until about 6:30. By then there is only about an hour of daylight left (and soon none, damn you clock changing), and so much to be done. Our condo is still only sparsely furnished, with most things in boxes or piles on the floor, so we grab a few bites of food and then scurry around to the stores until they close at 9. Then when we get home we try to get a few other things done – bills paid, flights booked, etc. By the time that’s done, we’re so tired we’re not worth a dime. And we still have a wedding to plan!

When are we supposed to meet people and hang out with them? When are we supposed to explore the million things that DC has to offer? When are we supposed to eat dinners that take longer than 10 minutes to prepare? When am I supposed to study for the GRE and apply to grad school? When are we supposed to go for bike rides or runs or get any form of exercise? When, people, when? Please tell me, because I haven’t figured it out. I’m hoping once we get the condo fixed up, we’ll have more time. Hopefully then I can apply to grad school and go back to the much easier life of being a student…except I’m not sure where the money will come from then. Job and grad school? There’s no way.

Wednesday, September 15, 2004

In Case It's Not Who You Were Expecting on the Other End Of The Phone Line...

…and is in fact, instead, a person calling in a bomb threat, don’t worry. I’m telling you now what to do. First, a few tips.
1. Be polite and show interest. (Sir/Ma’am might be appropriate here.)Let the caller speak and listen carefully.
2. Never hang up on the caller. (Your friends and family don’t like it. Why do you think a person with a bomb would like it?) Do not disconnect the line after the call.
3. Establish a relationship by using “I” and “You” in the same sentence. (This, for example, doesn’t work: “I am listening. You are a freak.” First, that’s two separate sentences. Second, name-calling never gets you far.)
4. Write down the EXACT WORDING of the threat. (What? You were too freaked out to remember? Weenie!)

And now that you’re having a polite conversation with Mr/s Bomb Threat, here are some questions to ask. Be sure to have a place to write the answers.
1. When is the bomb going to explode?
2. Where is the bomb?
3. What does it look like?
4. What kind of bomb is it?
5. What will cause it to explode?
6. Did you place the bomb?
7. Why did you place the bomb?
8. What is your name?
9. What is your address?
10. Now, if you get all these answers, ask yourself, why am I not working as a negotiator for a bomb squad? Obviously, I am a genius at this.

But you’re not done yet. There are other things you should take note of while talking. You need to pay attention to the caller’s voice/language and background noises. It might help to have a list available where you can circle the appropriate words. Examples of things to listen for: Laughter, Crying, Stupid Speech, Lisps, Raspy Voices, Congestion, Deep Breathing, Cracking Voices, Squeaky Voices, Taped Voices, Patronizing Speech, Wind, Animal Noises, PA Systems, Traffic, Machinery, Factory Noises, etc.

Got it? Are you ready? I am. If you’re wondering where I got all of this from, it’s from the Staff Emergency Procedures Flip Chart next to my telephone. I have a handy-dandy “Telephone Bomb-Threat Checklist” right at my fingertips. It even provides lines to answer each of the questions and lists with room for circling of any words that describe the caller’s voice and the background noises. Jealous, aren’t you?

Hi-Ho, Hi-Ho, It's Off To Work I Go

I’m now officially an intern in the Division of the Senior Historian at the United States Holocaust Museum. I started work on Monday, and so far so good. I haven’t really done a lot yet to be honest, but I think I will like my work. Since most of you don’t really know what I’m doing, I’ll give you a brief description of my department. The Division of the Senior Historian (DSH from here on out) consists of three full-time staff members, an Austrian intern here on Gedenkdienst (an alternative to mandatory military service), two volunteers each who come in once a week, and myself. The DSH is contained within the Center for Advanced Holocaust Studies, and we, along with the library, are located on the fifth floor of the museum building. Our division has three main responsibilities:

1. Answer any questions posed to us by the general public concerning the Holocaust and related events. In a way, we’re like one of those numbers you call and can ask the person who answers any questions and they get back to you with the answer, except our questions are restricted to the subject area of the Holocaust. In short, the people in this department know a whole heck of a lot about the Holocaust. The range of questions goes from very detail-oriented, exacting questions posed by scholars to mid-range questions posed by the media and other people with a fairly strong interest in the material to absolutely ridiculous questions from who knows who, like the one I saw in the log yesterday which asked, “Did Hitler have cats? If so what were there names?”. The only questions we don’t answer are those about what happened to specific Holocaust victims (these are referred to the Survivor Registry people), those that are looking for basic info on reference materials for a paper they are doing (those are referred to the Library), and those which come from deniers (those go unacknowledged as required by museum policy).

2. Ensure that all materials, which originate from the museum or are displayed in the museum, are historically accurate. This means we work with Education, Exhibits, Publications, etc. to fact-check and help create new materials. We also review any book that appears in the museum shop and any video that is shown in the museum.

3. Produce original research on the Holocaust. Each of the three full-time members of the DSH are specialists in specific fields, and they publish research, give speeches, attend conferences, and act as academics. When I’m not doing items 1 & 2, I have been given the task of researching and producing a position paper on the number of Roma and Sinti (Gypsies) killed in the Holocaust. Currently estimates range anywhere between 90,000 and 1.5 million, and the USHMM would like to have a more accurate number than that to give as an estimate. So I’ll be spending a lot of time in the Library looking through records (many of which have just become available in the past years as formerly closed countries have opened and begun to allow access to their records) and reading the latest literature. I think it sounds interesting, and it should help me decide if I really do want to pursue a graduate degree in history.

So that’s it. Yes, not so brief, but that really is just the overview. I’ve spent most of my time so far just getting to know the place and the people. Everyone I’ve met has been fabulously nice, and I think it will be a good place to work. I’ll let you know more after I’ve been here a while.

Friday, September 10, 2004

Uprooting and Replanting

I hate moving. It's an extremely frustrating process. First you have to go through everything you own and decide what comes with you and what stays. That alone is hard because who knows if you'll ever need or want some of those things you've had for years, if not for your whole life. There's so much stuff you live with everyday that you never give any thought to, but when it comes time to decide if it stays or goes you have to figure out just what kind of impact that something has on your life. Once you make all those critical decisions, you then have to box it all up in a way that the majority of it will make it to the new place relatively unscathed. And finally, you have to unload it and find a new space for each and every thing that you brought with you. The perfect shelf or container or closet where it used to reside is no longer available and you have to re-think everything. It's hard.

It's especially hard when you are moving somewhere sans some very important things. Like a couch or a chair or a coffeetable or end tables or bedside tables or shelves or a kitchen table. You get the idea. Of the "important things to have in an apartment", Jeff and I have a bed and a dresser. Yeah, that's about it. There are a few random chairs and parts of a desk and two bookshelves, but none are really appropriate or in the proper condition for fulltime use. We're starting from scratch. Which in some ways is exciting. It's all up to us. We can make this place anything we want it to be (well, if we had a lot of money we could). But at the same time it's frustrating, because we don't even know where to start. We don't have anything to build on. We're painting the walls, buying a couch, finding a coffee table, all with nothing but a blurry vision we have in our minds. And who knows if our two visions are even remotely the same. It sounds like maybe they are, but things are so blurry we could very well be looking at two completely different pictures.

But really, this will be fun. Our place is nice. Jeff did an excellent job of picking it out. For the price we are paying (God, DC is expensive!!), we have a good size apartment that is well arranged. It's also clean, quiet, and conveniently located to both the metro (a 4 minute walk) and any kind of store we could ever need. Plus it's in a residential-type area. We live in a condo in a neighborhood full of condos. But it doesn't feel overly planned or sterile. There are many individual buildings each with a few condos per building. The buildings extend into a neighborhood of sorts, where instead of having a single family house as your neighbor you have a multiple-condo building. In between there are lots of trees, and the area is very green. There's even a creek right down the street. In many ways, the area reminds me of the neighborhood my Grandma lived in. Big oak trees shade the entire neighborhood, and squirrels and chipmunks scurry all around the grounds picking up and burying acorns. The grass is full of clovers and other shade loving ground covering and the dirt is old and crumbly. It smells like my Grandma's neighborhood smelled, which is a comforting thing. I like it.

So yes, our place is currently empty except for boxes and piles of homeless objects, but it has potential and eventually it will become a place that I think I can call home. And if you know me, that's saying a lot. Home is a sacred word in my book.