The helpful, needed work of a sexologist

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The sexologist has a difficult job: the very focus of her work is hard for people to talk about. Honest discussions of sex and sexuality – her areas of expertise – are at best circumscribed and at worst forbidden.Talking about sex is usually either shameful, funny, or awkward; rarely can sex (and especially sexual problems) be talked about honestly. Yet sex is of such tremendous spiritual, emotional, and physical importance to many people’s lives that not being able to talk about it often leaves people to navigate their problems alone. This is where the sexologist steps in – she helps people and couples of all sexual proclivities regain control of sex in their lives. Whether confronting difficulties or spicing up an already spicy love life, she can help people better understand the needs of themselves and their partners. Her work reflects her own spiritual and educational journey, and she discusses it below. 

Every time I say I’m a sex therapist, people think I’m in a couple’s bed with them, cheering them on. Which isn’t necessarily untrue, though I’m not actually in the room with them. I do most of my work online, video calls and phone sessions. It’s a sixty-minute session, you get homework, and there are email check-ins between sessions. After a session, I’m thinking a lot about what was talked about and will write a client to give more insight and give suggest more work they can do. I am here to help and encourage everyone to liberate their sexuality.

Sex is such a difficult subject for people to talk about – there’s so much shame and guilt, and we’re taught that we’re just supposed to know how to do it, how to ‘perform,’ how to orgasm. Sometimes its lack of experience and lack of confidence, and other times it does have to do with their past. Maybe there’s trauma. Performance anxiety is one of the biggest sexual concerns. We’re so influenced by movies and porn. People are silently struggling with their sexual experiences. We have to debunk every myth that we carry, and de-condition and critique our inner dialogue about sexuality. In listening to my clients, we listen to what happens in the act of sex from beginning to end. I listen for what is happening in the mind, emotions, body, energy and spirit of my clients, this guides me to find where the client is blocked.

Every couple is different, every person is different. It’s all relative. There are different issues in the trans community, different issues in the lesbian, gay, queer community. I can help ignite a passionate spark in a relationship that will result in deeper intimacy and pleasurable sex. For individuals and couples, sex coaching can help people wake up to the power of sexual energy and bring them into a deep intimate relationship with life. Sometimes the techniques I recommend work for everybody, but mostly I cater to an individual’s needs. I give simple solutions. I give them tools and techniques. Maybe one of the issues is that someone is not the greatest lover, but I can teach techniques to people to boost their confidence. I get to tell people what to do, and I’m really good at that. [Laughs] I give a home assignment every session, whether it’s for self-pleasure, for a couple, or for more than two people. When they go home, they have something to work on.

It saddens me to think that all around there are so many people, and so many partnerships in marriage, that end up sexless. It is very common for couples, especially after having children, to feel like they are in a relay race all day, often forgetting that they were once a romantic, sexual, and passionate couple. This is one of the most common sexual concerns people have, and why they seek out my services – there is no more sex in their partnership, or it’s rare, or one partner has a higher desire than the others. There is no typical explanation for the disparity.

For the person who has less interest, I work with them to find out why. Have they always had lesser interest? Do they want more than what they are experiencing? Some people have low desire but want to have sex more, so we’ll refer them to have their hormones checked. Hormones in food and plastics affect people and can affect sexuality. We’re finding more and more that there are lower testosterone levels in men, whereas four years ago it was reversed. We look at physical issues, medical issues. Medication is a big factor in sexuality. SSRIs are a major libido killer. You can’t just take someone off their medication, so we’ll work with them to regain their libido or help them have a satisfying sexual experience even when desire is at its lowest. Some people have naturally low desire, and that’s OK too.

I think sexuality can be terrifying. It’s a very lonely, isolating experience to grapple with whatever concern you have, especially when we are raised with parents who never talk about it, with no sex education, or abstinence only education. It is something that is not acceptable to talk about in our culture, especially in religious communities. You are not supposed to talk about sexuality or sex or orgasm, at all.

So many people are embarrassed or ashamed to talk about how they are feeling sexually. Often, we have shame around what we desire. Many people are ashamed to have particular fantasies or desire something outside of what is considered ’normal.’ I encourage my clients to embrace their sexuality, whatever what form it takes, as long as it is healthy, harmless to everyone involved, and between consensual adults. My job is to give them permission to do it. And usually, most people really need that permission. “You’re normal, your desire is OK, and if everyone is doing it in a healthy, consensual way, there’s nothing wrong with it,” even though everything else in society tells you there’s something wrong with it, or even diagnoses you with a disorder.

I always knew I wanted to be a therapist, and I was always very interested in relationships. I’ve always been fascinated with relationships because I didn’t know how to be in one. I didn’t know how to do it. I knew how to have sex but I didn’t necessarily know how to cultivate intimacy, longevity, and trust.

I did a three years master’s program at Berkeley, and that was for Marriage and Family Therapy. I saw individuals and couples when I began working. I did a depression group for years. I felt like I was just getting my big toe wet, like I was on to something but it wasn’t quite what I wanted to do. Then I started a PhD program in Los Angeles, also for Marriage and Family Therapy. In marriage and family therapy, there would be no extensive training in sexuality. We would help couples communicate and mediate in divorce, but we weren’t heavily trained in actual sexual concerns and issues. I went through two programs and there was never any talk about sex. Most psychotherapists and psychologists do not have extensive sexuality training, but when I started working as a therapist, sex was a big concern.

But it was through this program that I met my current mentor and trainer, Dr. Patty Britton, a world-renowned sexologist and sex educator. I started to train with her, and I did my certification through her in Clinical Sexology.

Dr. Britton was one of the first sex-positive doctors. She didn’t pathologize sexual problems; there were no “dysfunctions.” In the 90s there was the whole movement concerning men’s sexual dysfunction, founded and funded by the pharmaceutical company so they could promote Viagra and Cialis. And now they have a new movement for women’s sexual dysfunction, and a related drug. As a Sexologist, I am very weary of these drugs for a few reasons. For one, the Viagra-type drugs for men are simply to help sustain an erection, they do not generate erections. A man who has trouble getting an erection in the first place would not benefit from these types of drugs, but these drugs are marketed in such a way that leads men to believe otherwise.

I think with men, it’s often about performance and being able to please, and penis size. Usually with men, there’s so much performance anxiety that it causes them not to get an erection. Usually, that’s in the mind. Sexologists get to where their concern is – is it in the body? Is there low testosterone? Is there something we can do with hormone therapy? Is it in the mind, emotions, stemming from childhood? A lot of times men who come in with delayed ejaculation, it has to do with not trusting their partner. It has to do with something about the relationship outside of the bedroom. They are not comfortable entering into someone else.

I found that through the conversations I was having with women, they didn’t feel like it was their right to enjoy and receive and give as much pleasure as they wanted to. If you get married, that’s it. The women I talked to felt like, “well, you get married, then sex kind of ends, especially when you have children,” or you’d only have sex every couple of months after you have kids. But the power that women hold with their own sexuality is extremely powerful. Once a woman comes into her sexuality and has the power to give herself an orgasm and be responsible for her own orgasms, it is so liberating. We don’t want to empower women to have that ability, to be liberated.

But I think I’ve gained a lot more compassion for men as well. I don’t think I realized the emotional depth to which they thought about and worried about and had anxiety about giving pleasure and that being enough for someone. Now I feel that our society doesn’t allow men to access that emotional component. But I don’t think men are going to be able to talk about this until their penis stops working. If your penis is working, and you’re getting off, there’s no problem. They’re not going to see themselves the way they potentially could if something goes wrong. If you’re not a spiritual seeker and you aren’t trying to experience your full self, then you’re not going to look [for something that’s missing] if nothing’s going wrong. That’s the way our culture is set up.

When you can open up to sexual desires, whether you’re with a partner or by yourself, you get to know yourself in a really deep way. If you’re secure in a partnership or in a group relationship, if you can share that with others, there is a very, very deep intimacy that can arise from that kind of connection. You are giving yourself in sex. You are allowing yourself to be entered, or enter yourself into another person. There is nothing more intimate.

For me, sex was my gateway into understanding humans and human behavior and how we relate. I learned and got so much information through my sexual experiences. As a young adult, I remember learning about pleasure and sex and being completely fascinated that I could potentially contain a super power. I was able to see the connection between spirituality and sex and I was determined to incorporate sex into my spiritual path. I was able to heal myself and I uncovered a wealth of energy and knowledge around sexuality.

I have an understanding and non-judgmental view in religious communities with regards to sex and relationships. Having been raised in a Jewish community, I wanted to understand how religion, spirituality and sex fit together. I understand the complications that may arise with sex and relationships within a religion. Although there are challenges and hurdles with sex and intimacy, I can help people find pleasure and sexual fulfillment within a religious structure.

Speaking again on the spiritual side of things – I’m also a yoga teacher – it plays to the energetic systems of the body. Once you have orgasms on a regular basis or simply just cultivate sexual energy in the body, you have a tremendous amount of vitality. If you are not exercising your sexual organs, they atrophy. Once you start to re-engage in sex and orgasm – no matter what kind of sex you’re having – you regain a tremendous amount of energy, and life force. Use it or lose it!

I think when someone gains control over their sexuality, there is nothing more empowering. I focus clients to feel comfortable talking about their sexuality. Sex coaching is not sex therapy. The past will come up, but we don’t do any deep therapy work around the past. We acknowledge it and see where problems come from, but I try to stay in the present and move to the future. While sex therapy delves deep into the past, sex coaching is solution focused and result driven. Sex coaching is not just about processing feelings, it is also about finding concrete answers to keep a person moving forward and reaching their sexual and intimacy goals.  As a sex coach, I am dedicated to helping people make changes in their lives as quickly as they would like to change.

I haven’t seen a pedophile. To be quite honest, I would refer out if I saw someone with those tendencies. It’s not my area of specialty and I just don’t have the capacity for it. Bestiality, I understand, I have less judgment. I know where my boundaries are. Thoughts are different than actions. If they are acting on something illegal, I’m obligated to report them. But if they are thoughts, illegal thoughts that harm people or animals in some way, I help them not act on them. Thoughts are OK, actions are not. Violent fantasies are actually pretty common. Rape fantasies are very common, more common than you’d think. I absolutely deal with those. If someone wants to play out their fantasy in real life, I can help them do that in a safe way. I can teach them how to get the experience with someone who knows boundaries and safety. There’s a way to set up any fantasy. It may not be exactly what they are looking for, but I can help them.

From what I have gathered, there aren’t many Sexologists in Ohio. But now I feel like there are more and more people seeking this kind of help. They realize they have a choice, and that they don’t want to live the unfulfilling [sexual] life that they’re living. Perhaps there wasn’t ever passion [in someone’s relationship], and they think it’s too late to discover it. But once the conversation starts, then maybe we start to feel more empowered to look at our own lives and make those changes.

I have a lot of anxiety going to parties where I don’t know people, because I don’t really know how to start a conversation. But once someone brings up my profession, it’s the most fun thing because everyone wants to talk about sex but can’t just bring it up. I can answer questions and talk about what I do and it’s totally comfortable.

I sort of don’t care what people think of me. For personal and scientific reasons, I could think about and talk about and look at sex all day, every day for the rest of my life and I’d be the happiest person on earth. This is my path – it feels so right, I know that I’m meant to do this work. I know that I’ve helped people and helped couples and partnerships. I’m pretty straightforward and say it like it is. Some people are going to really like that, and some people are going to think I’m the devil coming to town.

I understand how important it is to have a healthy sex life, whether you’re alone or with other people. I want people to know there is no normal, or that everything’s normal. Everybody has sexual concerns. Everybody. So let’s just start the conversation. Everybody’s got their issues. It’s beautiful to watch people come into their sexuality. Healthy sexuality makes for a healthy human being!

This post originally appeared in an abbreviated form at the Yellow Springs News.

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I produce 9,000 pounds of bean sprouts each week

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In 1982 I was just getting out of the Peace Corps. My dad had bought a farm wanted to do something with property. So we decided to go into business together. He bought the farm originally to grow grapes but that didn’t pan out. At the time, we thought that to really promote your wines you had to have a festival, and that would mean you had to bring thousands of people here for a wine tasting. It was a major thing that we didn’t want to do. So we built a greenhouse and started growing herbs, tomatoes, watercress, European cucumbers. There was an emerging market for hydroponic lettuce so we started growing lettuce hydroponically. Every year we added a greenhouse and pretty soon we had 20,000 square feet of produce.

We sold produce wholesale. There’s a big produce market around, especially in Cincinnati because of the river. There’s an established warehouse district there. We knocked on doors and did cold calls. We were supplying the Meijer chain for a while. And then one of our alfalfa sprout growers lost their supplier and wanted a replacement and asked if we knew how to grow alfalfa sprouts. We didn’t but of course we said yes anyway. (Laughs)

We tried to build our own equipment and grow sprouts in the greenhouse, but it just didn’t work out. Months later we bought the right equipment and did it the way it really needs to be done. The alfalfa sprouts are grown in a large rotating drum. You add water and light, and they green up after a few hours. You load in about 80 pounds per drum, and you get about a 10- 15:1 ratio after about five days. They were used primarily for salad bars, sandwich shops.

The green sprouts (alfalfa) business declined. A lot of the chain grocery stores dropped green sprouts – the green alfalfa sprout has an inherent problem with salmonella and E.coli. The structure of the seed has more crevices for bacteria to hide. We got out of alfalfa ten years ago but alfalfa sprouts led to us see the market for bean sprouts. The bean sprout market is pretty good – a lot of Asian markets and grocery stores.

Bean sprouts are a highly perishable product so there aren’t a lot of growers around. They can’t bring a decent bean sprout in from another state without paying huge shipping costs, so it favors the local grower. You want to get them sold within two days of harvest, and they need to be consumed within 10 to 14 days. I think the distributors we use ship in some sprouts from Chicago and I know there’s a grower in Columbus, but he only has a few sales in Dayton.

The process we use is unique to bean sprouts. The equipment we have is specifically for growing them. We’ll load up 110 pounds of seeds in a 3’ x 4’ x 4’ bin. The bean seeds themselves come from China. I don’t know why – maybe they grow the best beans? The bins are in a dark room and we spray them with water every two hours. We do a test and send it to a lab in Cincinnati twice a week to test for E.coli and salmonella to make sure the product is safe. We have a recycling system that cleans 80 percent of the water we use. The beans sprout on the bottom and push successive layers to the top. Kind of like they’re in dirt. On the sixth day of the process, we process them, package them, and put them in a cooler. We ship them on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays. We sell about 9000 pounds per week. It’s an amazingly big market. (Laughs) And that’s just the Dayton and Cincinnati area.

 

(Let me interject and say that a bin full of fully sprouted sprouts is totally surreal – the bins are four feet tall and are completely, completely packed with sprouts. You can reach your hand in and it’s this weird tangle of dense but loose sprouts with seemingly no end. They are so dense that you could probably walk on them. The bins are in a dark, damp room, and standing on a bucket and peering over the top into a bin and seeing an ocean of yellow-green fibers makes for a really odd sight. Not to mention that if you opened the vertical door on one of the bins, a few hundred pounds of sprouts would avalanche out and cover you in their watery, earthy essence. Maybe I’m just used to seeing them in small cartons in grocery stores, so the sheer amount of sprouts in one place is hard to process, not to mention that this is just one of seven bins.)

It’s been a nice business. It’s profitable, the market’s consistent, and it grows. But it takes a lot of commitment. Someone has to be here every day to check on them. We have alarms for malfunctioning pumps In fact, the most catastrophic event we experienced was when the computer that controls the watering cycle broke down last winter. I had to come in every two hours for a whole week and push the watering server bar over the bins by hand. I had help doing it during the day but I had to stay overnight every night and get up every two hours to do it. That’s the thing about small businesses – you make enough to survive, but a lot of times you don’t make enough to pay a manager to take responsibility for things. (Laughs) The responsibility comes back to me.

I graduated from college with a degree in Zoology. I had never even tasted sprouts before we started. In the Peace Corps I was raising fish – it was a kind of farming, but I really had no experience with growing. I learned my business sense along the way. Raising sprouts isn’t something I ever saw myself doing, but isn’t that how most people end up in life – not really doing what they thought they were going to do?

 

 

 

 

 

Chatting with an electrician in New England

A few years ago, I got a job as a laborer on a four-man carpentry crew. It was my first time working in the construction field and so the way in which projects come together was new to me. Most construction crews do not handle all aspects of a project, and usually contract out the various trade-specific aspects (plumbing, electrical work, etc.) to people they know and trust.

I met the interviewee on a job where both she and my crew were contracted for specific kinds of work. My boss had also worked with her on a number of his own projects. Thus our paths crossed somewhat frequently, and she and I would talk over lunch. I was stunned to learn that she was relatively new to the profession – I had always assumed that anybody skilled in trade had been doing it in some form or another since they were a kid – and she explained that her foray into electrical work was the successful result of a mid-life career change.

This knowledge explained the beatific look of pleasure as she went about her work. Honing in on what you really want, even if it takes you a while to find it, inspires a deeply personal relationship with your profession; she had found her calling and was thrilled to be doing it. Her projects were assessed and undertaken with a meticulous attention to detail that bespoke curiosity and respect, punctuated as her corner of the jobsite was by the occasional outburst of swears in response to the difficulties of her line of work. But as she explains, those frustrations, as dangerous as they are, are part of the reason why the job is so appealing – only you are responsible for figuring out the problem, and in a profession fraught with a million of these challenges, it’s incredible to be able to trust yourself.

How did you get into this profession in the first place? What led you to seek out a career change?

I had no idea that I would ever end up as an electrician. It never crossed my mind. I taught high school English for three years and then I went to grad school in New York City. My degree was going to be in medieval lit. I was pretty much on the road to be an academic, a college professor of English. But over the years I realized I was not fully satisfied with what I was doing.

But I was plodding away at my PHD – at ten years in (laughs) I passed my orals and was facing my dissertation. At the rate I was going, it was going to take me the rest of my life. In the mean time I was teaching freshman college English, but I stopped that and worked as a secretary at a law firm. It was just a job to earn money and I finally realized that I needed to drop out of grad school and figure out what I really wanted to do. I knew that even if I finished my dissertation I was facing a lifetime of this kind of academic work, which I would just procrastinate doing and then cram and then procrastinate again. My problem with literature – even though I loved it – was that it was so intangible, so amorphous, so open to interpretation and you didn’t ever really see (or it took a long time for you to see) concrete results to your work. I liked teaching, I really liked teaching the high school age group, but the problem I had with teaching was that I felt like I wasn’t creating anything. I was helping others create. I wanted to do something where I could see the result of what I did in a tangible form at the end of the day.

I thought I wanted to do some more tech stuff. I tried web design and some computer programming, but I didn’t like the idea of sitting in front of a screen all the time. I didn’t want to be sitting down. I was looking through the help wanted ads, and I realized I wanted to do something more physical. I was thinking about carpentry so I was looking through all these help wanted ads for a period of time, and there was this one ad for electrical apprentices. It planted a seed, and about a year later I decided to try it. And I really liked it. And it’s actually the most enjoyable work I’ve done my whole life.

I hope to continue working at this as long as I am physically able — at least 10 or 15 more years.  However, it would be great if I can arrange my work schedule so that my work hours are not so long and intense, and so that I can take some more time off every year.

Do you think the job is suited to your demeanor or the way your mind works specifically and that’s why you enjoy it so much? You said you were interested things like that in the past – did you do anything like it growing up?

A little bit, for my dad. My dad was an academic and an intellectual but he also liked farming and building, and he did a lot of stuff on his own. So I liked helping him with that kind of thing. But suited to my demeanor? I really like this physical part. I like being able to haul stuff around and crawling through spaces and climbing up high in attics and stuff like that. It’s also a mental challenge. If it was only physical, I don’t think it would satisfy me. I like that I have to figure things out and do calculations. It’s like a puzzle.

Was there an a-ha moment when you realized you made the right choice, when it all clicked?

It was an after-the-fact thing. I had no idea if I would really like it, and I never do things that way. Usually I’m the kind of person that pre-plans everything. I guess because I was willing to try it that…

Was there an element of desperation?

No, not desperation. It was sort of like I was wondering…I’d spent so many years doing things I really didn’t like and it was coming to a point where I needed to find something or else I’d be really unfulfilled. And then when I started becoming an electrician, it was clear that I really liked it.

I started this at 42, and I’m 54 now. So it’s been almost twelve years. And that’s very late in life to start a trade like this. But I wasn’t scared. I felt like it was something I needed to do and I was going to do it. I didn’t have many choices. I wasn’t going to do anything else because it was clear I didn’t like anything else that I had tried. So I was willing to try. The only thing I really didn’t want to do was go back to school. But I did have to go back to school [trade school] but I could keep working during the day and get paid for it. That’s why I like the idea of apprenticeships. I think it’s a great structure because you get to do the work even though you have to do some school at night. You don’t have to wait until you’re finished and have a degree to do the work.

In fact, I was very frustrated with the instruction I received as part of my electrical training.  I often found that the instructors were not well qualified to teach the subject, and weren’t able to answer some of my questions or explain things fully, in detail and in depth.  I had to seek out other sources for learning what I needed to know — extra books, other licensed electricians.  I like to understand something as completely as I can — and maybe men who grow up tinkering with this stuff have some sort of intuitive understanding of it and don’t need it explained — but most of the time it seemed as if very few students or instructors cared about really understanding.  I had one instructor who read to us from the textbook — that was how he ran the class!

What do you think you best at? Where could you improve?

I’m constantly learning. That’s one of the things I like about what I do. I always have to get a better understanding of how certain things work. Or there are certain kinds of electrical components that I don’t know and I have to learn about them. I really like working in old houses, which many people don’t. I love old houses and I have a pretty good understanding of the building structure and what the walls are made of and what to look for when I have to I dig into a wall.

Everything, I could improve. I was pretty slow in the beginning. I wanted to make sure I did everything really, really well. And I still do, but that [fastidiousness] slowed me down. And I have been able to speed up a little more, but I probably could be faster. I do things more carefully than most, but then I know when it’s done right. And I never rush. Because you start rushing and then you’re stapling into your wire… To me, it’s just worth it to do it slower than to not know if you tore something or nicked a wire or something like that.

Has entering this profession changed how you see or carry yourself?

Definitely, definitely. Confidence is a big thing. Confidence is something I did not have much of when I started. It’s something I’m still struggling with. I was very confident before I started this. I felt confident as an intellectual and with literature and that I could teach, but when I started this, it was completely new for me. I didn’t know if I was doing things right. There was so much to learn and understand and so I was always unsure if I was doing something right or not. But that has changed. It used to be that I would never try to do something unless I knew exactly how to do it right off. There are so many things I needed to do at home that I would have never even tried – carpentry projects, painting – and doing this work has given me the confidence to try to do something even if I don’t how to do it.  I now realize that even if I don’t know how something should be done, I can probably figure it out. “Figuring out on my own” is something I had no concept of until after I started doing electrical work.

What’s a typically good and typically nightmarish day in the profession?

A good day is when I am able to figure out why something isn’t working. And when I do it pretty efficiently, without having to open every box. A bad day is when I’m working and I have to add something to an existing circuit and the device boxes are just crammed full. It’s really hard to work on top of someone else’s work when it’s really poorly done. Basically, I have to undo everything and redo it and try to cram things into a box where they won’t fit. And that’s painstaking. It’s just painstaking. A lot of hobbyist electricians will do really dangerous things that I have to work around.

I call these non-licensed tinkerers “Joe Homeowner.”  One of the most dangerous things that I have found that these average Joe Homeowner-types do is to put oversized breakers on circuits with small gauge wire — this mainly occurs where a circuit keeps tripping, so the uninformed person thinks that they can solve the problem simply by putting in a bigger breaker (a 30 amp breaker instead of a 15 amp breaker). The real problem is that there is too big a load on that one circuit.  Putting a bigger breaker on small gauge wire is a real fire hazard because if the circuit is overloaded, it will heat up the wire, but the larger breaker won’t trip to protect the wire because it is set to handle bigger amperage.

I once responded to a service call for a light fixture that kept tripping the breaker.  What I found when I got there was that someone had put a penny in the bottom of the light socket which kept shorting between the base of the socket (“hot”) and the screw shell (“neutral”) part of the socket.  I can’t imagine why someone would even think of doing that — except perhaps if the bulb wasn’t screwing all the way down into the socket and they thought they needed to put something in there to bridge the gap.  Thank goodness the breaker was doing its job by tripping!

Several times I’ve come upon old wires whose insulation had dried up and flaked off — so there was several feet of bare wire visible!  Those situations were pretty scary. Another thing I have seen a lot of is what I call “flying splices.”  Those are splices made between wires without using a box to enclose the splice.  One might see wires hanging across a ceiling with a splice made in mid-air.  Sometimes these might be hidden in walls so one doesn’t even know they exist and cannot gain access to them.  A splice is potentially one of the weak points in an electrical circuit, and if there is not a good connection made between the wires, there can be arcing and sparking.  Enclosing splices in boxes is a safety measure that can contain some arcing if it occurs.  And if the splices are buried inside walls, there is no way of knowing that a potential problem exists.  I once saw a metal box completely blackened from a poorly made splice — luckily that box saved that house from burning down. It’s amazing how more places haven’t burned down with some of the issues I’ve come across.

I’ve gotten shocked a few times, nothing terrible, thank goodness. The couple of times I got pretty bad shocks occurred when someone had left uncapped live wires exposed.  One time occurred when I put my hand up into a ceiling to try to grab something but didn’t check carefully what else was up there, and I hit an exposed wire with my hand.  My arm hurt for a while, but that was it.  I was lucky that was all it was.

I’ve been in really spider-webby basements and attics, but I don’t mind spiders. But I haven’t encountered anything really weird. I have come across some hazardous substances. I hate when people use mouse poison because I have to crawl in it and it gets into my clothes. And it’s such a cruel method for killing rodents. I’m sure I’ve inhaled a lot of really bad stuff. Especially PVC glue. And I’ve been in some asbestos, so we’ll see.

One of the pleasantest perks of my work occurs when homeowners have pets and farm animals around.  I always enjoy seeing and talking with animals on the job.  I’ve had curious cows hover around me while I was working on the outside of a house.  They were really funny.  They tried to pull out tools from my tool belt with their mouths.  There were also some llamas in a barn that wouldn’t let me pet them, but as soon as I stopped paying attention to them and focused on my work, they would sneak up behind me and nibble on my clothes.  I’ve met lots of great cats and dogs who were great fun to be around.

Is it bad form to talk about on the job injuries? (Is it considered bad luck? If not, are there things specific to the job that are said to carry some mystical weight?)

No, it’s not. Most electricians swap horror stories. Mostly about things that have blown up. (Laughs) People talk about what electrical installations used to be like. “He’s an old-timer, he knows it from experience.” I respect the old timers, and many times people talk about them testing wires with their fingers and having such deep, thick calluses that they couldn’t feel the shocks.

Electricity is mystical to begin with. Electricians have a healthy respect for its unpredictability. But nobody talks about mystical stuff, at least not that I can recall. The only time I can think of is when I myself made a joke about it – use this Sharpie marker to identify wires and stuff like that, and it smudges if you don’t let it dry. So I blow on it to dry it. Somebody asked me why I blow on it, and I said I was warding off a spell. (Laughs)

What percentage of customers has an interest in what you are doing? Or have so much interest that it’s annoying, like they check your work or examine your credentials?

Nobody’s really examined my credentials. Maybe fifteen percent are curious or interested and I like those customers because I love to talk about what I do, show what I know. So I don’t mind if people are watching over my shoulder, if they’re interested. Maybe five percent hover around me, and that’s a pain but it’s not very frequent.

Do people who hover around generally know what they are talking about?

No. (Laughs) But I should say that sometimes a customer has a good question or good idea, and sometimes it comes from someone who is hovering over me and doubting. Sometimes they say good things. I’m probably more tolerant than most [when it comes to be open to people watching or offering suggestions].

Does being a woman in a traditionally male dominated field factor into customers’ perceptions and expectations? Does it factor into yours? Do you find that people are happy to give a woman business? Are you sick of thinking about what it means to be a woman in this field and would prefer just to be left alone to do your work?

People are interested in my story, but I’m getting kind of tired of telling it. There’s not that much to tell.

Me being a woman does factor into peoples’ expectations. I’ve generally had a very positive experience. Other electricians, other tradespeople on jobs have mostly been very accepting. And I’m very grateful for that. When I go into a new job, I’m always nervous. I think I have to prove myself, not make a mistake. But it’s getting easier. I think people are aware that it’s a little unexpected – they don’t always say something but they’re probably wondering. A couple of customers have tested me out, trying to see if I know what I’m talking about.

I just take it in stride and see if there was anything I couldn’t have done better or known better, and I try to use that for next time. I just try to gain more knowledge and experience as I go. And most of the time now I can walk into a place with confidence, know I that I don’t have all the answers but know enough to do a pretty good job. It hasn’t changed the way I approach things; it just won’t discourage me. It just makes me want to get better.

Every once in a while someone, especially a female client, will say, “Hey I think it’s great you are a woman!” That makes me feel good. I’m not sick of that yet. But what I really want to do is just be able to do the work. And for the most part I do. This other stuff doesn’t get in the way at all; it’s a miniscule part of what I do. It might be because of the part of the country we’re in. If I had to deal with hostility and harassment, I don’t know what I’d do.

One of the things I’m really interested in is why there aren’t more women in the trade. There actually have been several pushes by educational institutions, schools, and government programs that encourage women to go into the trades. There have been quite a few training programs over the past four or five decades, especially since the 70s. So there have been more women coming to these programs, but they just don’t stay. They just don’t build up enough numbers to stay. I’m trying to figure out why that is, because I really miss having more women around. I’d love to see more women working in the trades.

I guess I just feel more comfortable around women.  And I get tired of hearing talk only about sports and hunting.  There are also other limitations to some men — they’re not flexible enough, or open enough to certain things, or comfortable with certain things.  I just can’t be fully myself around them.  Don’t get me wrong — I like most men, and enjoy joking around with them.  I should probably clarify that it’s not just any women I’d like to have around.  I’d like to be around strong women who are serious about their work and like to work hard.  That would be the best scenario.

I came up with my own theory that [the lack of women in the trade] is partly because there isn’t much of support system, and it’s really hard to stick it out in a predominantly male environment unless you really, really love the work. I came from a place where I did enough work I didn’t like that I was going to keep at [electrical work]. It’s hard to come into that environment on your own, so it’s good to have a critical mass, but how do you build that up? Women have a lot of different obligations that make it hard to work in the trades – if you have kids, if you are taking care of somebody, married. I think that with men, there are those situations too. Men have life obstacles that get in the way and they have to drop out, but there are enough men that keep coming into the trade that you don’t notice the turnover as much. The problem is that women come into the trade but don’t stay. There’s a really good program in Vermont called Vermont Works for Women. They train adults but also focus on high school girls, to get them involved in the trades from an early age. I think that’s the way to do it.

Do you feel like people censor themselves in front of you? Or do they not care? Or do they become more aggressive?

It’s mostly in what a lot of my male coworkers talk about. If they talked about other things besides sports and hunting, it would be better. I don’t think they become more outlandishly masculine. A lot of times they apologize for using foul language, which doesn’t bother me at all. They probably do censor themselves a little, but it’s mostly only a few topics of discussion that interest people anyway. If someone brings up something different, you’d be an odd person out. You have to have a pretty strong personality to talk about stuff that isn’t commonly accepted [conversation topics]. Being a woman gives me a little bit of an advantage: as a woman, I’m the odd one to begin with, so it gives me license to say certain things or bring up certain subjects. I think it would be a lot harder for a gay man. I’ve been very open about being a lesbian. Interestingly, all the men I’ve worked with, even the most conservative, are totally fine with it, but they would not be fine with it if I were a gay man. And that’s very hard to think about. It’s been interesting for me in the sense that most of the tradespeople I work with are very conservative politically. I still don’t understand why they think the way they do. And it’s weird because I like them. They think completely differently from me but I like them. They’re nice people; they’re good people. They know what they’re doing and they look out for each other and for me. That’s the hardest part – how can they be nice people and think that way?

****

A little bit about certifications, as quoted from the State of New Hampshire Electrician’s Board website:

“The Electrician’s Board licenses or registers those who are performing electrical installations…for heat, light and power purposes regardless of the voltage. Therefore, it is not the voltage of the circuit that determines the requirements of licensure, it is the type of circuit. For example, no license is currently required for fire alarm installations as these are signaling circuits. Signaling circuits by definition are not considered circuits for heat, light or power purposes.

The categories for licensing are Master, Journeyman and High/Medium Voltage electricians. The Electricians’ Board registers apprentice electricians and high/medium voltage trainees.”

As the interviewee works on the border of two small states, she often works in both. But like the licenses and certifications of many other professions, an electrician’s credentials do not apply nationally.

“The Electrical Safety Section currently has active reciprocal agreements for the master and journeyman license with the States of Maine, and Vermont and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. These are long standing agreements that recognize the master and journeyman licenses of these areas as being substantially equal to those of New Hampshire.

New Hampshire Electricians wishing to reciprocate their license with any of these states or the Commonwealth should contact the reciprocating agency directly for the necessary application and fees. A certified letter can be obtained from the Electrical Safety Section which will be necessary at the time of application as verification of licensure and the applicant is in good standing with the State of New Hampshire.

Applicants applying to the Commonwealth of Massachusetts for a reciprocal master license will be required to reciprocate their journeyman license as well as the masters. If have you let your journeyman license lapse due licensure as a master electrician, it can be reinstated for reciprocity purposes by filing the proper application and paying the normal fee for licensure.

In the Fall of 2005 the State of New Hampshire became a member of the Multi-State Reciprocal Licensing Group, now known as National Electrical Reciprocal Alliance (NERA) and therefore has reciprocal licensing agreements, for the journeyman license only, with the States of: Alaska, Arkansas, Colorado, Idaho, Maine, North Dakota, Utah and Wyoming.

New Hampshire electricians wishing to apply for a reciprocal license with a participating state under the NERA agreement must contact that state for the specific requirements, applications and fees.  Applicants applying for a reciprocal license with a participating state must:

  1. Hold a current journeyman license from the State of New Hampshire for at least one year.
  2. Be active and in good standing with the State of New Hampshire.
  3. Have passed the New Hampshire journeyman examination with a minimum grade of 70%.
  4. Have successfully completed a minimum of 8000 hours of practical experience in an apprenticeship program or equivalent.

Applicants holding “grandfather” licenses or who have not passed the New Hampshire journeyman examination are not eligible for reciprocity under the NERA agreement.

Once the application is submitted the reciprocating state with all applicable forms and fees, the reciprocating state will contact the State of New Hampshire electronically for verification of Items 1 – 4 above. Once the verification process has taken place, the reciprocating state should issue the journeyman license…”

Events coordinator with the American Arthritis Group

(Note: this is the first installment of what will hopefully be a fairly regular feature. Modelled after those in the oft-mentioned books by Studs Terkel, I want to provide an unbiased and wholly human accounts of various professions, as told by the people that work them. The following is that of an event coordinator for the American Arthritis Group, as told to me while she was setting up for an event that started the next day. She is in her mid-twenties and has been working at her current job for less than a year.)

         When I was looking for a job when I got out of college, I knew I really wanted to work for a nonprofit because I wanted to make sure I was doing my best to do something good.
         My position is primarily event coordination, and we fundraise a lot through events. This event [where the interview took place] brings in a couple hundred thousand dollars gross. We do a lot of events like this, where, you know, you spend money to make money and we also work with donors for charitable gifts and things like that.
         I went to school and got a degree in public relations, and it was always in the back of my mind that I’d kind of like to do events at some point, and so I’ve been working the past several years towards a true event coordinator type of position. Some of the events I’ve done in the past have been minor events with other tasks, but as it is at this job, my position is primarily event coordination and I’m really happy that I found it when I did.
         I’ve worked for a few nonprofits and this one is my favorite so far. It’s got a lot to do with my coworkers. I think that when you’re working with someone who doesn’t feel passionate about what they’re working on, the job is a lot more difficult. A lot of people, as with any job, only have the job because they need a paycheck. People who are apathetic or who come to work unhappy or who choose to be unhappy every day are just really tough people to be around. I think that’s true no matter where you are, but in the nonprofit sector it’s a little bit easier to identify when someone is just coming to work because it’s something they have to do.
         But even on days where I was working with coworkers who had this outlook, I could look at the mission and at least say that I was serving a higher purpose. It’s a workday no matter what, but working for a nonprofit does make it a little more palatable and it makes it easier to focus when you’re having a stressful day.
         I think that the mission we are serving is underserved. Arthritis is the number one disability in theUnited States. It causes the most insurance issues with workers comp and it affects nearly everyone by the time you die. And kids get arthritis too. Arthritis isn’t taken seriously because most people think it’s an old person’s disease, like “that won’t happen to me until I’m old.” But the fact of the matter is that it happens to people at all stages of life. There are different kinds of arthritis, and depending on the kind that you have, it can be really debilitating. People that can’t get out of bed, who are really, truly disabled…it’s just as painful and tragic as cancer or heart disease. People just don’t think arthritis is a big deal, that it’s not something they have to worry about. And that’s just not true.
         I think that it’s really important to spread American Arthritis Group’s message, and I get excited to share the message because I think other illnesses get tons of press but arthritis doesn’t. And I like being part of something where the message I’m spreading is a message that needs to be spread. I feel like there is a need and that makes it better.
         There is plenty of paperwork and plenty of desk time, but the thing that makes it worth it is that it all culminates in big events, which are exciting and a lot of fun. The best part for me is the excitement and when you get done with an event and you’re like, “Oh my gosh – that went great!” or, “That didn’t go so well; what do we need to do next time?” Or when it’s finished and you feel that sense of accomplishment and you look around and think “I did this!” and you look around and it’s a success and people feel good about it. Paperwork kind of sucks, and the worst part about the job I’m in now is changes in leadership. When leadership changes over, in any place, it’s kind of a challenge to figure out what comes next. But pretty much I really like going to work.
         There isn’t another nonprofit I’d specifically like to work for. Working for nonprofit after nonprofit, you kind of take on that mission and it becomes your main focus. And a lot of times they’re like ‘non-compete’ type things, so they don’t want you to donate your money to a fund that isn’t the one you’re working for. For example, we have an event, a 5k walk. I have a friend who works at a hospital in town, and she wasn’t allowed to walk in our walk because [the hospital where she works] sponsored some other nonprofit’s walk. It was kind of weird to me, because it’s like, why does it matter if we’re all trying to do something good?
         Due to the economic downturn it’s been harder over the last couple of years to get bigger donations, but in my experience, it hasn’t been harder to find positions at nonprofits. It’s a matter of looking the right places. And being confident and having a good resume; I haven’t had any trouble finding positions when I wanted them. I have friends who have had trouble, however I don’t think they have the same search methods that I have and maybe they’re not thinking outside the box. Personally I haven’t had any issues with [employment], but I’m sure every sector is affected in some way.
          I think with this job in particular I’ll stay for a while. I would never turn away from a really good opportunity, but at the same time, I really enjoy what I’m doing right now and I’m not looking for any changes. I think I’ll likely be in this position for something more like a career. I’ve only been here for a little more than a few months and I feel like there is a lot of opportunity for me at this point to move up, to see what’s going on within the organization. So yeah, this is my career for now.