Friday, May 22, 2015

The Mulan Effect

Hello everyone! I hope your weeks have been better than the thought of a party hosted by intelligent pelicans.

It is no mystery that I have worked a plethora of interesting jobs. From stable hand to Japanese language tutor, my jobs have not been in the sphere of 9 to 5 normality.

Quite a few of my jobs thus far have not only been a bit on the odd side, but have also been ones that have, in the past, been traditionally held by men. I've been a bouncer, head of security for a homeless shelter, lighting technician for a concert house and self defense instructor.

Now, before I get a ton of comments saying, "But women's equality has come so far! You can't seriously think your gender matters in modern jobs!" let me tell you how much bull pucky that is.

What It Feels Like Working In A Male Dominated Field
I have found that as a woman my credibility and my experience are constantly called into question.

I once literally had a customer when I was a lighting technician for a concert house say, "Move over sweetheart, I'll focus that light."

To which I promptly replied, "What is your profession?"

"I'm a salesman."

"Uh-huh. And how much experience with lighting has that afforded you?"


"Then no thanks, cupcake. As I'm the trained lighting technician I think I have the lights. If I need to sell something I will let you know."

The way that I have come to cope with this kind of behavior I like to call The Mulan Effect.

For those of you who never watched Mulan as a child, and therefore I assume had empty and sad childhoods, it is a film in which the protagonist, Mulan, takes her father's place in the army by pretending to be a man.

While I have never claimed to be a man during any of my jobs (and certainly never had a lucky cricket or talking Dragon to help out) I found that taking on certain masculine characteristics helped keep some of the sexism at bay.

It was during my lighting tech days that I started going by Al. Somehow when clients heard that their lighting tech was going to be Al instead of Allison there seemed to be fewer instances of, "Oh, do you have anyone else available that day?"

Of course it was always interesting when they found out "Al" was a 5' 2" blonde twirling a giant wrench, but since no one ever had anything negative to say about my lighting sets, being Al got me through the door to work with customers.

As a bouncer and security personnel, I always got a better and more professional response when I was wearing heavy steel toed boots, a more loose fitting t-shirt and black straight-cut pants than if I wore anything even slightly alluding to my femininity.

Even lowering my voice an octave or so dramatically shifted the level to which others perceived my level of competence, even if I was talking to the same person when I lowered my voice.

This Mulan Effect as I like to call it does have it's limitations of course. There have been times when despite my efforts to suppress my femininity while in the job, I have had people walk off because of my gender.

The fact of it is, that I find it incredibly sad that in 2015 I still have people shaking my hand while saying, "Wait, you can't be the head of security here. I mean, wouldn't he be better at it?" (And yes, I have had that happen multiple times.)

I find it even more depressing that to be taken seriously I have to suppress things as core as my sex and gender to be taken seriously at jobs simply because it has traditionally been worked by males.

So has anyone experienced the Mulan Effect? What about men, do you find that taking on more "traditionally feminine" roles you have to hide your masculinity at times?

I really would love to hear from everybody.

As always I can be found on Facebook and Twitter and my books can be found here.

Friday, May 8, 2015

Putting All Your Chips On The Table

Well hello all! I hope everyone has had a more marvelous week than the thought of a thousand cacti arranged to form the Millennium Falcon.

This past week I had the awesome chance to go toodle around Arizona for a few days (which is why I have been a tad lax on updates, apologies).

Arizona is an wondrous place, full of sunshine, cacti and really odd street names (Bloody Basin Road and Bee King Road among them).
As a resident Spokanite, I haven't really seen sunlight since Tinkerbell was saying, "In color!" before the start of every Disney film. 

Is that an exaggeration? Maybe, but having just survived another bone-chilling winter, I was ready for some sun.

I was also exceedingly ready for a break from work. Don't get me wrong, I love my clients, but you can only say, "Stop licking the walls!" and, "Take those panties off of your head!" so many times before it begins to wear on your little grey cells.

I was finally getting away from it all... or so I thought.

Just because I'm on vacation does not mean that I wish to stop working out, so I was overjoyed to find that the hotel in Arizona my mother, grandmother and I were staying in had a workout area.

I was far less overjoyed when I opened the door to their mini-gym and was met by a wave of body odor and booze. No one was in there at that exact moment, but there was a super-classy box of chardonnay sitting on top of the weight bench with a myriad of potato chips surrounding it like some kind of shrine to gluttony.
Of Course I Took a Picture With A Dinosaur Head

I snagged the box of wine to take up to the front desk, but paused when, from an outside door that had been propped open, a schnockered looking man entered. 

When he saw me holding the box of wine he gave me a shocked look worthy of a daytime soap opera and quickly exited again.

I took the box of wine to the front desk who said they would take care of it. 

The next morning, in an insane rash of optimism, I decided to try the workout room again. I knew I should have just gone running when I opened the door and was slapped in the face by body odor, booze and the additional fragrance of urine.

I peered around the corner and found myself looking at the same individual I had previously spotted. Wolfing down chips with one hand and downing fowl smelling rum and cheap wine as his chasers, the man lounged on the weight equipment staring at the TV screen.

"Hey bud!" I said.

He slowly turned as I continued, "Are you supposed to be in here?"

His mouth full of chips and dank smelling rum he blearily looked at me, looked down at his chips, and then offered them to me.

I just shook my head and headed for the front desk to inform them that they had failed to get rid of their unregistered guest.

What lessons did I learn from my little Arizona adventure?

1. When you are caught breaking into a hotel's weight room to settle in to drink and pee, there is no amount of chips you can use to barter yourself out of that situation.

2. There is no taking a vacation from a bizarre life. 

Quick announcement: Due to the fact that I wish to focus more on my writing projects, this blog will be moving from a weekly format to a bi-weekly format. Of course if you want a more frequently updated way to follow my misadventures, come find me on Facebook and Twitter (@AllisonHawn)!

Thursday, April 23, 2015

There Is Such A Thing As Bad Publicity

Hello all! I hope you are all having a fantastic week tantamount to the thought of The Rocky Horror Picture Show reenacted by barn owls!

I received my bachelor's degree from a little university known as Northwest Nazarene University. 

It's in Nampa.

No, that's Napa, which is in California and there were no vineyards surrounding NNU's campus. Nampa, Idaho.

No, not Ohio. You know what, never mind I'm sure you have Google if you're really that curious.

The point is that NNU has been making some headlines! That's right, I can finally say what university I graduated from and no longer have people say, "What?"

Instead I can now hear people say, "Oh! You went to that school that fired that one tenured professor in a really public and awful way, causing a giant scandal and making the faculty nearly start a revolution, including pitchforks and torches?"

Yup, NNU, home of our new mascot 'The Administrative Scandal Machines.'

So for those of you who missed this story on the news here is a brief recap:

A tenured theology professor, Dr. Tom Oord, was informed via e-mail with no warning that he was being laid off (basically the campus president, one Dr. Alexander, sent a break-up text). Dr. Oord, who has not only been a senior member of faculty for a while now, but has some of the most respected publications, is one of the student body's most beloved instructors and just an all around swell guy, had no warning. He was simply given the boot.

The president claimed 'budget issues.' The staff and students claimed he was targeted for his beliefs, which are a bit more progressive than the current acting university president whom I'm not entirely sure has realized that the Spanish Inquisitions, which I'm sure were fun for him and his buddies, are over now.

As it turns out the 'budget issues' were in fact caused by the university president. Against all advice (even his Magic 8 Ball told him "no") he entered into several deals with outside companies that he then later had to use over a million dollars to buy the university out of.

Then, in the pretty much only salvageable moment of this entire debacle, the faculty joined together and called for a vote of 'no confidence' for the President Alexander.

Now both sides are in uneasy delegations, the layoffs of Dr. Oord and other staff have been put on hold, and the president himself is wanting to lead an investigation into "what went wrong."

As one of the alumni of this university who has managed to pay off the nearly crippling debt they left me with after obtaining my degree, I have every right to weigh in on this (plus it's my blog, so there you go).

First, Dr. Alexander is a bombastic twit. I know, I know, Christian charity calls for me to turn the other cheek and not say things bluntly.

But I'm the head of security for a homeless shelter, so my filter has holes big enough to drive a truck through and I have a low tolerance for the smoke and mirrors some are using to cover the giant pile of panda-poo they're trying to hide.

If you are the cause of the issue, you should not be the one to lead the investigation into your own mistakes (thank goodness the board of directors did not side with him on that). That's a little like having the murderer investigate the murder they committed, "The victim clearly stabbed himself... Yes I'm aware that the knife is the center of his back, but come on, he looks flexible, right!?"

Nope, Still Not Buying It
Second, when you send letters out to the alumni begging them to still believe in your ability to lead and make honest decisions, you shouldn't sound like the kid who got caught with their hand in the cookie jar that is still trying to salvage their innocence.

The entire letter basically boiled down to, "We're not saying we did anything wrong, but if we did something wrong, then we might be sorry. But we didn't do anything wrong! Sure, maybe some teeny-weenie mistakes were made, just maybe though..."

Third, when there is a one-million-plus dollar deficit that is all thanks to you making a decision that literally everyone else told you was a terrible idea, maybe you should consider that the wrong person was removed from their post.

Finally, there was a claim that 'floundering enrollment' was part of the reason for Dr. Oord's release from his position. Well, now you have the media's attention and so far that I've seen, none of it has been overly positive. How do you feel about your chances for increased enrollment now, bub?

As NNU pushes through this tough time, I would like to say that I back the faculty there one-hundred percent. You are all awesome and your vote of 'no-confidence' in a man that I had no confidence in ever since the day he told me being sexually harassed was, "Nothing I should be worried about," made me do a happy, if slightly vindictive, little dance.

I can only hope and pray that the school makes the right decision moving forward and decides to support it's faculty, before it's faculty decide to move on.

For my normally less critical and scathing wit, feel free to come find me on Facebook and Twitter (@AllisonHawn) and check out my books here.

Also, there will be one week without a new post from Normally Surreal as I am off on an adventure! Normally Surreal will return with a new post May 8, same Bat-Time, same Bat-Channel!

Friday, April 17, 2015

Driving Me Nuts... In Seattle

Hello everyone! I hope you all had weeks that were more wonderful than the thought of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory reenacted by dragons!

This past week I had the opportunity to go to Seattle. Technically the trip was so I could go to a mandatory training for my job, but that doesn't mean I didn't get to go look at some pretty ocean scenery and hit Pike Place Market.
The Peace and Calm is Deceptive

It has been a very long time since I was last in Seattle (shameful considering I live in Spokane, I know).

Somehow I forgot one major factor: Seattle traffic is a bit like trying to navigate a Salvador Dali painting.

So for those of you who may in the future travel to Seattle by the magical mechanical wonder known as the 'motor vehicle,' I have composed a short manual to help you survive your trip.

The Roads Have More Curves Than Marilyn Monroe

When I first arrived in Seattle I was struck by how few trucks and SUV's I saw, which are basically mainstays everywhere else in the Northwest. Then I had to traverse to my hotel in my Dodge pick-up and quickly realized why.

Whoever planned Seattle's streets apparently was not a fan of using a ruler. In fact I'm pretty sure that Seattle's roads were based off of a plate of spaghetti that someone had thrown against the wall in frustration. I found myself praying that I wouldn't roll my truck just trying to make it off the freeway (which made a u-turn, followed by a turn in the opposite direction, followed by a steep curvy road that ended with a slew of confusing signs).

Seattle Apparently Gives Out Driver's Licenses In Cracker Jack Boxes, No Tests Required!

At least that is my assumption based off the ass-hattery that I witnessed. To be fair there seems to be two distinct kinds of Seattle drivers:

Type 1: The "invincible" driver. This kind of driver believes that no matter which way they jerk the steering wheel at a moment's notice they will somehow emerge unscathed.

Turn signals? Bah! Staying in one lane? Why would one do that!? After all, they are still alive, which proves their point right?"

Type 2: The "I've set my cruise control to a snappy 35 miles per hour" driver.

It does not matter what the speed limit is, you could be in a 70 mile per hour speed zone and this person will be going 35. It could be a 25 mile per hour zone, they will still be going 35. Furthermore, they will change lanes at random intervals, but instead of deciding to change lanes and doing so they just lazily inch over to the next lane, blocking two lanes of traffic for as long as they possibly can.

Put these two types of driver on the road together en masse and you have utter chaos.

Parking? We Don't Need No Stinkin' Parking!

I'm relatively sure that Oompa Loompas driving Smart Cars were the ones who decided how big parking spaces in Seattle should be. In some half-baked effort to squeeze as much real estate out of what space Seattle has for resting vehicles, they decided to aim for the smallest possible parking spots. Forget parking a truck in Seattle, there are spots that make parking a Mini Coop like trying to dock the Titanic at a dock designed for a paddle boat.

The Seattle Residents' Response To Tiny Parking Spots? "We Will Be The Worst At Parking Ever!"

Not only is parking sparse and tiny, but people in Seattle seem to be competing for the "Worst At Parking" Award.

I literally watched one person in a Jetta take a whopping six parking spots at once at a Safeway. At that point you have to be making a conscious effort to be that terrible.

Driving Is A Bit Like Gambling

It is obvious that Seattle's road crews have done their best to keep up with a growing population, expanding the transportation infrastructure to allow for more motorists. However, in expanding and changing a lot of the roadways they forgot one important step: Get rid of the old road lines that used to define which lane was which.

There were points where driving through Seattle I literally had to guess at which lines meant I was in the correct lane and which lines would lead me into a road barrier somewhere down the way. I wasn't the only one who was obviously confused either. On multiple occasions I watched as other drivers, sure that they were following the correct lines, suddenly swerved across traffic in attempt to follow a curve in the road that no longer existed.

Seattle Has Your Strange Road Signs Beat

 Never in my life before have I seen a sign that read, "Caution: Hidden Driveways," much less see it on nearly every other block in some areas.

It made me wonder what the hidden driveways were plotting. Should I be worried about a hidden driveway ambush?

In any case, aside from trying to navigate without losing my mortal life, I quite enjoyed my time in Seattle. Is there another place you know of with fun driving habits? Let me know in the comments below!

As always my adventures can be closely followed on Facebook and Twitter (@AllisonHawn) and you find my books here.

Friday, April 10, 2015

Public Service Announcement

Hello all! I hope everyone's weeks were more fantastic than the thought of hockey playing kangaroos!

Well, we're finally seeing the first signs of spring! The sun is shining, the temperature is above freezing and you don't have to wake up half an hour early to scrape ice from your windshield.

This means it is also the time of year that I must give my annual Public Service Announcement. So in the interest of public health and collective sanity: GO OUTSIDE!

Seriously, put down the laptop, phone, video game controller or whatever electronic tether you're currently tied to and go gather some natural vitamin D.

Go for a walk, grab a book and read in a park or just go outside and take in some deep, warm breaths.

Don't be one of these:

No! Go on, get out there. All of this will be here when you get back!

And when you do get back, don't forget to come follow my adventures on Facebook and Twitter (@AllisonHawn) and check out my books here.

Friday, April 3, 2015

No Room to Judge

Hello all! I hope your weeks have all gone better than the thought of a reenactment of Guardians of the Galaxy performed by cats.

I recently had a moment that reminded me that, while everyone's perceptions of reality are different, mine are probably a little more warped than your average Jill.

It's not that I don't believe that other people have strange occurrences in their lives, I know they do! It's more a matter of frequency.

Having worked in the past as a street outreach worker, a bouncer, a concert house lighting technician and my current job as the head of security for a homeless shelter means that I've been exposed to a myriad of strange experiences. (Need proof? Check out my two books.)

It has gotten to the point where chaos and bizarre circumstances almost feel natural to me. I'm sure that someone else would look at a man dressed in a green, full-body, spandex suit running around screaming, "I'm a leprechaun! I'm a leprechaun!" and find that a rather rare, if not scary, experience. For me, I just call that Tuesday.

I did not realize how much my perceptions of what 'normal' and 'sane' had been skewed until recently, at the end of a work day, when I happened to look up at the television screen that had been flipped on for the clients to watch. On the screen, I found myself looking at a grown woman tap dancing while dressed as a ladybug.

For a brief moment I watched the woman and actually thought to myself, "Wow, TV-land is one weird place."

Then I paused for a second and realized that not five minutes before I had just ended an hour-long battle with a woman who refused to wear pants because they were 'of the devil.' The only way I could get the only-t-shirt-clad woman to put something on her lower half, was to convince her that because this was a Catholic owned shelter, the pants' very presence in this building meant that they were safe from any form of possession.

Before that I had been forced to stop a heated argument between two grown men over whose tattoo was more faded, and earlier that morning I had to tell someone that iguanas were not technically service animals.

I looked back up at the woman on the screen, dancing her heart out in her little red and black costume and realized, I probably was no longer a great judge of what constituted as 'weird.'

You do you ladybug lady, you do you.

Anyone else have any perception revelations of late?

In other news, "Life is a Pirate Ship Run by a Velociraptor" has garnered itself another five star review! Reader Brenda writes, "A great escape into the unknown and the funny. This is a quirky, off-beat tale that filled me with delight. The author has unusual voice that had me laughing out loud. A bit on the bizarre side that I took pleasure in."

See the full review here

Don't forget to follow me on Facebook and Twitter, and check out my books on Amazon

Friday, March 27, 2015

No Food For You

Hello all! I hope your weeks have been more fantastic than the thought of 'Swan Lake' performed by baby pigs.

While this is mostly a humor blog, I do sometimes feel the need to address ridiculousness that I see out in the world. Today is one of those days.

For months I have seen posts on Twitter, Facebook and even in the news about how those who receive Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program funding (more commonly referred to as food stamps) should have to pass a drug test to qualify.

At first blush to many I'm sure that that sounds like a fantastic idea. Sadly, that first blush would only last about .05 seconds before the negative effects of that kind of legislation would bring would begin to show themselves. So today your friendly neighborhood social worker is going to explain to you why drug testing for food stamps is not a grand idea!

Just to give you all a little background, I have worked with impoverished populations for my entire adult career, have helped the government perform studies on homelessness (I even wrote some of the parameters for state and federal programs) and am considered enough of an expert in my field that I have been asked to teach students (yes, your children) about poverty in the United States by both public and Christian schools. I've taught classrooms full of first graders and given lectures to university students.

I say all that so that I can say this; drug testing for benefits will cost the government an insane amount of money and won't actually punish the people who some (wrongly) feel need punishment. Here is why:

1. It's already been proven not to be effective at saving money. In fact Florida tried it. No really check it out. Out of the 4,068 people tested, only 2.6% tested positive for drugs (most of the positive results were for marijuana, not hard illicit drugs). The state spent over $118,000 dollars on the drug testing alone only to waste a majority of that money on people who, surprise, were not using their SNAP funding to buy drugs.

2. The government systems to run SNAP are already overloaded. In Washington state alone there is such a backlog on six-month checkups for food stamp recipients that now an automated system has been put in place with a lottery system to audit whether the check-ups have even been performed. This means that about one in twenty participants will be audited a year. Why? Because Washington State lacks the money to hire enough people to review each and every single case. 

DSHS is the largest government organization in Washington. So tell me, how much manpower are they going to have to hire to cover their current deficit plus this new drug testing program? In Spokane we don't have enough money to fix our pot holes in the road, you want money to check for every pot head? Good luck with that.

3. Drug addiction is a complicated matter. You don't cure someone from drug addiction by saying "No food for you!" You only make already desperate people more desperate. Want a higher crime rate? Deprive drug addicts of basic necessities and see what happens. You want fewer people to use drugs, how about we stop closing down treatment facilities that supposedly 'cost too much.'

4. A mass majority of food stamps and welfare recipients are not drug addicted fiends. You want to know the biggest demographics of SNAP users? It just so happens that the highest percentages are Caucasian, working families with children or with an elderly relative in the home. 

So implementing a system for a tiny minority that is using some form of drug that is going to cost extreme amounts of money is short sighted and ridiculous. Not to mention the amazing inconvenience we would, as a nation, be putting people through just to get one of their basic necessities met. It already can take six hours to do a six-month recertification, and we want to add a pee test to that?

5. Taking away food stamps, even from people who test positive for drugs, has the potential to take away food from a child. That's right, sometimes people who use drugs have kids, and those kids' only source of food is welfare. Yes, it sucks. Yes it's not right, but there it is. The majority of those who benefit from programs like SNAP and TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families) are children. 

So before we blindly hurrah behind the "I don't want my money going to addicts" rhetoric, let's think about the consequences and who we would actually be hurting. Answer: Mostly working families with kids and ourselves for wasting our own tax dollars.

As always I can be found on Facebook and Twitter and check out my books on Amazon