Thursday, October 29, 2009

Bid Lists and the Road to Madness

We received our bid list, that document that will have a very significant impact on the next few years of our lives.  Sidenote - I've noticed myself writing in the first person plural more often, perhaps a byproduct of the quickly developing comradere within the class.  So the bid list.  We get a list of postings, along with the jobs and languages that go with them.  And we get to specify our preferences.  Herein lies the road to madness, which can be reached in a number of ways.

First is the tunnel vision.  You see that one dream assignment and you can't think of any others.  In fact you become obsessed with that post, that city, that country, and you can't imagine living anywhere else.  Given the way the universe is ordered, you are almost certain not to get that post.  And there is the laser focus, by which one researching which posts to bid high obsessively uncovers every factoid imaginable, dwelling and sweating endlessly every detail.  Personally, I hope to avoid the madness.  There are certainly a few places that can cause my tunnel vision, and there's plenty of info to sift and obsess over.  But hey, what's the point?  Let serendipity reign.  I'm so incredibly psyched just to be here at all, as long as I get one of my top 50% choices I'll be psyched.  And even if not, hey, even the worst on the list I can live with.  And what I think is the worst is someone else's best.  Everyone in class have interests so diverse, it's pretty likely I'll get one of top dozen choices.  So no need to panic, no need to obsess. It's only several years of my life.  Yeah, I'll be fine.  Let's just see how I feel in a few weeks . . .

Monday, October 26, 2009

First Day

Today was the first day with the Service.  Not much really to report, your basic Human Rescource type paperwork and briefings.  Fellow entrants are without exception intelligent, collegial folk; it's very easy to get along with this crowd.  For the first time since starting the move, I'm finally starting to feel comfortable.

Oh, yes, the move.  No matter how much planning, and even though they send people to pack up your stuff for you, moving is always a major pain in the ass.  Most of that stuff I won't be seeing for some time, but that's fine.  The furnished place the Department has set me up with (and is paying for) is surprisingly comfortable for one of those corporate temp housing joints.  The furnishings are not bad, and they have all the things one needs for living - towels, utensils, pots and pans, that sort of thing.  They even throw in cable and maid service, although the housekeeper is as yet unable to venture into my apartment because of my terrifying dog.

And this is my terrifying dog, as we were driving cross country.  The Department figured it would be 2600 miles, but I meandered a bit.  Final odometer reading made it 3500 miles.  From LA, I took the I-15 up to whatever secondary road that was that took me to Zion National Park. 

I went through Zion, and then down a two-lane blacktop to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon.

I woke up early and watched the sun rise over the Canyon, and the headed east and then north on a two lane road through Monument Valley and up to Arches National Park.

Then I met up with the I-70, and took it through Colorado.  A storm started when I hit Denver, and it followed me all the way to DC.  It was snow up on the high plains, but luckily it was rain the rest of the way.  I zipped through Kansas and Missouri, and dipped south on the I-55 to Memphis.  Checked out Graceland, and had some banging ribs at a joint called Rendezvous, which was hiding down an alley in downtown Memphis.

Then, fueled by Waffle House biscuits and gravy, I headed east on I-40 and then detoured through the Smokey Mountains, and on to the Blue Ridge Parkway.

The parkway was taking a while, so I got on to the I-81, which I took up to Loray, Virginia, where I checked out some caverns.

I then finished by taking Skyline Drive through Shenandoah National Park to the I-66 and to home in Falls Church, VA.

And here I am, and boy am I tired.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Things are starting to "move"

A brief surge of activity today.  Received my travel orders authorizing the move, also received a few welcome docs from the A-100 staff and a welcome letter from the class two A-100's behind us.  Someone from the moving company also showed up to survey the massive unorganized heap they'll have to start packing next week.  So things are moving along swimmingly.  Plan is for the movers to pack next week, at which point I'll move into a hotel at government expense.  Yes, that's right, they pay for lodging, meals, and incidentals between the packout and departure.  It's called a pre-departure subsistence allowance, one of many perks offered by the Service.  I can use it for up to ten days, but I'll be starting the drive just a couple of days later.  Booked a cabin on the north rim of the Grand Canyon for the first night, so I'll finally get to see that geological wonder.  Points along the way I'm planning on visiting include Arches National Park, Graceland and Sun Records in Memphis, and the Blue Ridge Parkway.  Getting the opportunity to check out all that stuff in the middle I never get to see, might as well take advantage of it.  Pictures will be posted.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

To blog or not to blog

I've been following an interesting exchange on the Livelines message board, a yahoo group sponsored by the AAFSW.  In the absence of a clear policy, it seems there are many viewpoints as to whether it is acceptable for a FSO to blog, and if it is how that blog should - for lack of a better word - censor itself.  Some suggested that one should not blog at all lest it would put one's career in jeopardy.  Some thought that given how many foreign service blogs are out there we should all blog to our hearts content.  In most lines of work this would not be so much an issue, but FSOs are required to publicly support U.S. policy and must take care not to discuss potentially sensitive or even classified matters.  Personally, given the rigor of the selection process and the trust given to FSOs, it would be just plain silly to bar blogging entirely - I'm sure most FSOs can figure out what is and is not appropriate.  But that said, matters of public concern involving U.S. policy shall be considered by this blogger to be verboten.  Those looking for digressions on substantive issues of foreign affairs need not look here, this blog will only contain reflections on the "foreign service life" such as : "gee, it's really neat living in Dushanbe."  I will not be blogging on any particular demarches issued or my views on bilateral relations with Tajikistan.  So there, ass covered.

Gave up reading on "The Family" by Jeff Shartlet, interesting subject but the execution is lousy.  Now reading "The Accidental Guerilla" by David Kilkulen, and it is showing promise.  Current plans are for a going away party on the 15th, and to start the drive on the 18th.  However, still no pack-out date from the movers.  Seems because of the new fiscal year, there's still no approved budget for the move.  A slight snag in the red tape, hopefully it'll clear up soon enough that I can take some time enjoying the cross-country drive.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

You mean this is actually happening?

I think this whole thing is finally starting to sink in.  I've been wanting to do this for so long, and it took so long to actually do it, the foreign service was less a reality than a slight buzz in the background.  I can pinpoint the moment that it started to hit me.  I was one of the foolish early adopters of the iPhone, and am thus stuck with a buggy and slow relic compared to the pretty shiny things with video and 3G and corkscrew and flare signal and whatnot built into them.  Checked out my local Apple store, and - I should've known - to make it financially reasonable I would have to enter a new two year contract.  Aah, but you see, I'll be overseas within that two year time frame.  And that's when the reality hit me, I could be anywhere but here one year from now.  And by here I mean the United States, and by there I mean ANYWHERE IN THE WORLD.  Which from my perspective is pretty cool, if not a little unnerving during my weaker moments. 

And FYI - you can escape your iPhone contract if you are called up by the military, but not if you're called up by the Foreign Service.   And even if you're called up for military service, the iPhone contract will restart upon your homecoming.  However, the scoop from the consumerist is that you can claim any change in fees, such as price per text, can be the basis of a materially adverse change claim that can release you from your contract.  

Two other bits making this real: tomorrow is my last day as a Deputy District Attorney, and as a practicing lawyer.  Second, I got that packet of forms I've been waiting for.  A little disappointing, there were no great revelations in the FedEx envelope.  Just your average hum-drum HR crap.  Benefit elections, health insurance options, blah blah, snooze. 

Going to Boston tomorrow night for a wedding.  Congrats Honah and Checkers!  Looking forward to it.  Then it's back on Monday and the beginning of the surely stress free (right?) moving process.  Ciao for now.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Signed, sealed, delivered

It had been a while since I received my offer via e-mail.  Being a lawyer and expecting signatures and paper, I was starting to get a little nervous.  You don't actually sign anything until you get your salary determination.  This was taking a while because of the hiring surge.  They're stacking up the A-100 courses; the 148th and the 149th are only 6 weeks apart.  So the two HR specialists - yes only two for the whole corps of entering junior officers - are busting their asses to get everything going, and much of the paperwork is getting out a little slower than usual.  But I finally got my salary determination, and attached was a memo I signed and sent back committing to the Foreign Service.  Phew.  Now with a paper trail, I can put my mind to rest.

A good thing too, since pretty much everyone at the courthouse (less the defense bar) knows that I'm off to Virginia.  I thought folks might get upset, because I haven't been at the office very long.  And worse, it was a competitive hiring process, so I took someone's spot and then promptly left it.  But no one's pissed; some have even expressed pride and admiration for what I'm doing.  Of course they all think I'm actually going into the CIA, but still.  I guess it really hasn't hit me that this whole diplomacy thing is kind of a big deal.  I mean, hey, I get this neat job where I get to live overseas.  But it's more than that.  You know how they say when you go overseas you're representing the U.S.?  Well hell, I REALLY WILL BE representing the U.S. overseas.  Maybe after seeing how positively people are reacting at my current job, I'm starting to realize the gravity of the situation.  Because they might say that they're proud of what I'm doing.   But what they're really saying is, "Don't fuck up." 

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Pulling the trigger

Told the boss yesterday that I'll be resigning my position, although it's not official until my formal resignation letter makes its way up the flag pole.  I'm currently a prosecutor for the County of Los Angeles, and we rotate between the courts in the county on a semi-regular basis.  I was scheduled to rotate next on October 12, making my last day the 9th at my current court.  I was hoping that a month's notice would be enough such that they wouldn't have assigned me to a follow on position.  Usually they don't have your next spot until a couple of weeks before the transfer.  This way I wouldn't be leaving any staffing gaps.  But just a few hours after dropping the resignation bomb, my transfer order came down from downtown.  Turns out the transfer was going to be a week earlier than expected, so now my last day of work will be 10/2. 

My boss took it very well even though my tenure at the office was pretty short.  Profuse congratulations and all that.  Still need to keep things on the QT; if the defense bar gets wind of this they'll hound me for crazy good offers.  "But you're leaving anyway, can't you cut me a break, waah, waah, waah, etc, etc."  So three weeks left, and of course I have a back log of trials that are all going to go forward in that time.  Work's going to be crazy, a little good-bye present from the criminal defendants of the county.  Uggh.

As for word from State, still on a holding pattern.  I've submitted my resume and current pay records so they can make a salary determination.  Given my current salary and education, I should be a FS-5, step 14, but we'll see.  I probably should've gotten it by now, but the HR person running the political folks is swamped getting the September class moved in.  Likely will get it Monday.  Also jonesing for my appointment packet.  Somehow it doesn't feel real until I see some paper.

The 149th A-100 has a web board set up, and we've all been introducing ourselves via the intertubes.  I must say I'm mightily impressed by the variety of backgrounds and inviable credentials of my fellow class members.  Can't wait to meet them all in October. 

Till then it's back-to-back trials, nervously awaiting my salary determination, filling out mountains of paperwork, and finding a place for me and my dog to sleep in the D.C. area.