Building from nothing involves time-consuming baby steps

It is 1:15 a.m. and I worked a full shift in QC at the Stitch Fix Bizzy Hizzy where I folded clothes with my quads and knees burning in addition to my lower back/lumbar region.

Sometimes the pain wears me down, grinds at me, gnaws; and other times—like today—it fatigues me but it does not impact my day, a certain resignation comes over me.

So here I am, sipping a beverage, rubbing CBD arthritis cream on my lower body and fretting that I can’t find my coaster.

Barbell Apparel, the company that sold me my #BestStrong Nick Best Strongman “Age is Just a Number” t-shirt just called me an inspiration on Facebook!

In the random Parisian Phoenix Publishing news department:

  • I gave my therapist a copy of my novel, coincidentally author copy #8 which is one of my favorite numbers, and I wrote in it something like, “Thank you for being one of the people who gave me the confidence and courage to publish this.” He was touched by the gesture in a way I did not anticipate.
  • I have been spending several hours a day mapping, drafting, and uploading content to ParisianPhoenix.com. It’s slow going because there are so many branches of this business in my head that I have to translate to the web.
  • Parisian Phoenix now has an official email: ParisianPhoenix@gmail.com.
  • Parisian Phoenix is on Instagram, Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter. Twitter is the only one where I had to tweak the name, @ParisBirdBooks.
  • I also reached out to some representatives of GLVWG (Greater Lehigh Valley Writers Group) about renewing my membership and promoting Parisian Phoenix.
  • I launched the Parisian Phoenix blog.
  • I set the deadline for the identity politics anthology, October 31.
  • I am considering compiling a short book of my own erotic fiction and poetry.

Cupcakes at Midnight: A discussion of future plans for Parisian Phoenix Publishing

Yesterday was the launch day for my novel. At midnight, the teenager and I were celebrating with cocktails and cupcakes.

I have so much hope for Parisian Phoenix Publishing.

It’s too early for me to know how many copies have sold, I don’t expect large numbers as I haven’t really implemented my marketing plan. Our small boutique publisher is a partnership— myself and graphic designer Gayle Hendricks— so the work that needs to be done, we do as we can or we ask for help.

We have lots of ideas, so this first novel may be mine, but part of that stems from my philosophy that before I publish anyone else’s book, I want to learn and grow from lessons made bringing my manuscript into the limelight.

Our Fiction

This novel— Manipulations, the first volume of the Fashion and Fiends series—means a lot to me. I believe it breeds chick lit to horror fiction (think what might have happened if Stephen King wrote The Devil Wears Prada) and uses contemporary literature (and the mythic supernatural) to examine social issues.

Manipulations, at its core, is a book about building healthy relationships. And the proverbial lesson of “things are not always what they appear.” And I hope my readers will understand that magic, in this context, allows us to explore domestic violence.

To order Manipulations:

The next volume, Courting Apparitions, (due out in late November) uses a ghost story to examine grief and depression.

And the next, Recovery, (slated for first quarter 2022) tackles disability, motherhood and women’s rights. But don’t worry, magic is still afoot.

Meanwhile, the fourth, Road Trip, is a coming of age novel. With werewolves. I’d like to release that one on June 23, 2022. The day my baby turns 18. But first I have to finish writing it.

The fifth volume, Absolution, looks at the intersection of sacrifice and love.

And the sixth volume, at least half written at this point, is Finding Hooyo— a hybrid romance novel, medical drama and war story. Hopefully that should tie up the original story line but certainly not the Fashion and Fiends universe.

Our nonfiction

Currently our team of authors and interesting people have several projects in the works.

Sometime in 2022, I hope to revisit a book I wrote as part of my research at Lafayette College. I looked at the anti-Muslim laws in France and traced their roots to 19th century colonial stereotypes and considered the thesis that these laws perpetuate stereotypes that started in Algeria.

My love, as a critical theorist, of post-colonial Francophone Africa stems from my view that French imperialism during the colonial era serves as an amazing parallel to contemporary American imperialism and attitudes towards Muslims.

And now, with identity politics very en vogue, I feel like these lessons in stereotypes and prejudice are very relevant.

Speaking of critical theorists and identity politics, I have assembled a group of authors to discuss various identity issues in a special anthology, currently called: Not an Able-Bodied White Man with Money: Expressions of Alternative Perspectives Influenced by Experiences in Lehigh Valley, Pennsylvania.

Committed so far is Darrell Parry, poet and writer, and my estranged husband; Eva Parry, otherwise known as “the teenager”; William Prystauk of Crash Palace Productions and the Kink Noir series; Maryann Riker, multimedia artist; Nancy Scott, blind author of essays and poems; Rachel Thompson, science fiction and alternative history writer; Joan Zachary, photographer and writer… and hopefully more.

Racing with them toward the finish line is a cat anthology to use as a fundraising book for Feline Urban Rescue and Rehab which will feature cat stories, photos, memoirs of FURR volunteers and academic research on animal welfare, poverty and empowering low-income and diverse neighborhoods to know what resources are available for themselves and their animals.

And with the new “Texas law,” Parisian Phoenix hopes to work with people on the team who have experience in women’s issues and chronicle stories as a fundraiser and historical record for groups in this sector.

Our poetry

Sometime in late fall, Parisian Phoenix hopes to release a full-length poetry manuscript, the poems for which have been assembled and the layout is in process.

I can guarantee this book will be as funny as it is thought provoking.

Our erotica and romance

It’s not quite clear when our erotica and romance will hit the market, but we have authors working to provide stories with real characters facing real life.

In the romance department, we have a manuscript, Trapped, that combines middle-aged love that sparks because of the skunk infestation with the joy of reinventing oneself.

There are hints of a Fashion and Fiends erotic prequel that extends the arousing feel of the horror fiction universe with more sex and no monsters.

And our goal is to offer kink/BDSM erotica, quality stories with empathetic characters who participate in safe, informed and consensual play. We have authors working on those tales, too.


Find Angel Ackerman on WordPress, LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube.

Follow Parisian Phoenix Publishing on LinkedIn, Instagram and Facebook.

A note on my site pages and approaching updates

This web site started as a portfolio of my professional writing. I added some photos, some creative work and used it as a platform to blog my travels in France, Tunisia, Djibouti, Somalia, Yemen and Russia.

I added some pages for the cats we foster.

And soon I will be connecting a web page or two for the publishing house my friend Gayle and I are launching (egads! as my fellow author friend William Prystauk says) my first novel publishes in a week!

So coming soon… Parisian Phoenix Publishing and the Fashion and Fiends series. We have some other titles in the works— erotica, romance, poetry, thought-provoking identity politics/philosophy and hopefully even a book on cats.

Subsequently Gayle designed this logo before I started fostering cats and painted my bedroom this exact pink.

Stories about cats, cat rescue and health insurance

The pandemic has prompted a lot of discussion about job loss, job growth, and changes in the economy. Other discussions have talked about the impact of various lockdowns and work from home situations on animal welfare, adoption and rescue groups.

** disclaimer: I am not an expert on any of these issues and the following blog post is a collection of my anecdotal experience during my life and in the last year.

In mid-July last year (2020), I lost my job at a small local nonprofit with an operating budget of more than two million dollars annually. My job loss stemmed from my supervisor’s dissatisfaction with my performance after she asked me to move from a job I was extremely good at to a job I had absolutely no experience in. (Forgive these excess prepositions because this experience was so stressful I don’t want to waste time perfecting my grammar because even writing about it gives me great anxiety.)

Around the same time, we had asked Feline Urban Rescue and Rehab for help neutering the two about 9 month old brothers, Misty and Fog, that we had trapped at our neighbor’s house.

Now, during my newspaper layoffs and even when I left other jobs, my health insurance lasted until the end of the month as the premium at been paid. Forgive my snarkiness, but at this particular human services non profit agency, the powers that be (as there is no human resource department or trained human resource professional) cancel your medical benefits on your last day to save money for the agency, because if they dispose of you before the 15th (or so I was told) the insurance agent refunds the monthly premium.

As soon as I learned I was losing my job, I asked my husband (at that point we had been separated for a year) if he could put me on his medical insurance as of August 1. After all, my July premiums had been paid.

So you can imagine my surprise when I was suddenly without medical insurance for two weeks.

Now, from what I understand, COBRA benefits can be purchased retroactively. And our local hospital has a good charity care program.

But still.

So that’s the background. We’re in a global pandemic, I’m unemployed and have $5,000 to my name, no medical benefits, and two male kittens coming of age.

Enter FURR.

When they helped us get low-cost neutering for our “greybies,” we thanked them and I said the fateful words, “I wish I had the money to give a nice donation but I just lost my job. But if you ever need a foster, I’m willing to help.”

Foster cat godmother gave us our first batch of kittens July 31.

Yes, we have been fostering with FURR for a year and a week. Foster cat godmother can’t believe that and says it feels like we’ve been around for an eternity.

Now, if you are one of my friends or a regular reader, you may recall that on August 1, our sassy little black kitten, Hades, bit me as I tried to medicate her infected eyes.

I went to urgent care that day as the finger was growing redder and redder. This was the very first day I had medical benefits and honestly I was scared that they might give me trouble as my insurance had lapsed. Was that fear rational? No. But was in understandable in American society? Hell, yes.

About six a.m. August 2, I went to the ER because the finger had swelled (despite antibiotics) and I could no longer bend it.

On my second day of renewed medical insurance.

I was in the hospital for four days. First time ever, other than during childbirth.

My neighbor— an economics professor at a local community college— and I had the discussion this winter: Who should be responsible for healthcare?

I abhor the idea that this is the domain of the employer. Your access to affordable medical care should not be tied to your job. I believe— even without “socialized medicine” (which I 100% believe in but think certain improvements are attainable without it)— with proper regulation from the government and this system abolished, individuals could find their own health care.

Insurance companies would have to shift their market to individuals instead of employers, and they would have to adapt and market more affordable products but would make their money by attracting as many individuals as they could.

Anyway, the teenager and I were talking about insurance and I was thinking about all of this.

First Book from Parisian Phoenix Launching Soon

Anyway else feel the universe going haywire?

The full moon is a few minutes away but its pull has been evident for a couple days. My recent health struggles, my employer giving us random time off, and today the dog ate my latest set of AirPods that I bought less than a month ago and emptied my favorite Coach leather wallet I bought in 2010 for my first excursion with my beloved M.

It took about 30 minutes to locate my money, shopping club cards, credit cards and various ID. Not to mention she destroyed my AmEx.

The teenager got a toll violation in the mail for her Cape May road trip. The toll officer yelled at her for stopping to pay the toll because the equipment read my old transponder from the Altima. I had meant to return the damn thing but never got around to it.

She also broke her phone charger.

I also had the misfortune of having to cut off someone who left room for me to merge and then changed his mind. The situation had me worried he was going road rage-y.

But let’s celebrate all the good news.

It was an amazing day. I went to Grocery Outlet and bought my favorite Cabot cottage cheese. I got a free soda at Wawa.

I had dinner with my favorite nurse from Stitch Fix who left the company to “do” hospice. It was so nice to see her.

I came home and registered my first two ISBN numbers to Manipulations (print and ebook). This is the first novel in the Fashion and Fiends series.

I edited some bios, created at Ingram Sparks account, updated my ISBN info at Bowker, downloaded a bunch of user guides and wanted to vomit.

I approved the cover concept. The proofreader signed off.

I assigned prices.

And I pledged that I will donate $1 to Feline Urban Rescue and Rehab for every print version of the book sold. One of the minor (but very key characters) in the novel is Zut the tabby, modeled after Zoot, my tabby of 16 years. Zoot was my familiar as it would be called in witchcraft terms.

The official publication date is September 11, which is my husband’s birthday. Even though we’ve been separated two years, he had always been my most loyal supporter when it comes to my fiction.

I have received encouragement from published authors Jonathan Maberry and Kathryn Craft, but no one encouraged me like Darrell did.

So thank you. There are so many good aspects to the 20-plus year relationship I had with you and that is only one.

And the goal is to get the next one out on my partner Gayle’s birthday.

My Five Minutes of LinkedIn Fame

I was scrolling LinkedIn a few days ago and one of the alumni career development personnel at Lafayette College (Margie Cherry) shared a post about older workers leaving jobs in the pandemic.

Last night, at the Bizzy Hizzy warehouse, my phone started buzzing with notifications that people liked my comment.

So I thought Lafayette College alumni were seeing it. I thought “wow! That’s 250 people.”

This morning I get a message from Margie— “your comment was featured on LinkedIn News.”

What?

Sure enough…

I suppose I’ve just typecast myself as an “older worker.”

But it’s so nice to read the comments and replies. Lots of people are reconsidering the value of work-life balance and lower stress jobs.

Bizzy Update: Friday night dance party on a Thursday

It’s been a rough week.

Now, by saying that I don’t mean a bad week, or even an unhappy week. But reality is life is rarely easy nor does it often stay the same.

And I took a fall down the stairs on Sunday resulting in a lot of bruises and perhaps more shaken pride.

On Tuesday, the entire Stitch Fix Bizzy Hizzy warehouse received news that not only had Stitch Fix’s stock soared twenty percent the previous day but that the company was restructuring the pay scale and putting it into effect with the next pay check.

This meant the entire company got a raise— the starting wage for the Bizzy is now $16.50 and warehouse associates will receive 50 cent-an-hour increases every six months until the three year mark.

On Wednesday I did most of my shift in QC, moving to pick at 9:30. I had completed 93 fixes despite a roster meeting that night which put my metrics at 108%.

On Thursday morning, my daughter and I went for our first shot of the Pfizer vaccine. (I later found out Rite Aid had the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. And the hospital literally 500 steps away had been giving it the previous week.) We went to another campus of the hospital network near our house and noticed they had a very smooth operation able to accommodate more than a dozen people at a time.

And I literally had my choice of any time I wanted for my first vaccine. But somehow, when I went to schedule my follow up and they only offered the second dose on two days in July, during two evenings— July 7 and July 14. And the July 7 window was 4 to 8 p.m. Those times conflict with my shift. So I politely asked if there would any other times available. I was told no.

Thousands of choices for the first dose. Only a couple for the second.

Had I been able to find Johnson & Johnson I would be officially mask free by the end of June. Ironic that it won’t be until August now even though I am probably naturally immune. For now. Maybe for life.

The good news is we had our Friday night Bizzy Hizzy dance party on Thursday as one of our supervisors was going to be out Friday and didn’t want to miss it.

But between the heat, the humidity, achy muscles from the shot, lingering effects from my fall down the stairs and maybe even some joint pain from changes in barometric pressure… I only got 113 fixes folded and shipped out. That’s 90%. People noticed too. That made me sad.

Speaking of sad, our favorite nurse is leaving the Bizzy Hizzy for a position in hospice. The nursing staff is only temporary due to Covid and she thought it might be time to transition back to a permanent position.

Teenager #1 and I had fun gathering some gag gifts for her: Band-aids, ibuprofen, muscle pain relief cream, etc., with a Lebanon bologna/horseradish cheddar hoagie from Park Avenue Market. She loved it.

Stitch Fix circulated a giant card that we all signed and had cupcakes for her at our 10 p.m. break.

This was followed by the regular Friday night dance party. And I hit 124 fixes. That’s 95%.

I’m ready for the weekend.

Lessons learned about myself

It is 12:40 a.m. My daughter bought me ice cream— low fat diet really freezer burned ice cream but ice cream. I still need to shower. Opie, our three-legged cancer survivor cat, has a 10:45 a.m. vet appointment for the suspicious growth on his neck.

In my life, I never have time to get bored. Why in the last 24-hours, I’ve worked two work centers at the Bizzy Hizzy. I’ve also signed up for the employee store. I almost rescued a 17-year-old Maine Coon cat named Tiny (isn’t that the best name for a Maine Coon).

I had a chiropractor appointment, and she is just as excited about the recent improvements in my body as I am. I wrote a poem. Had my portrait taken. Did some foundation research for the cat foster/rescue/TNR group with whom I volunteer.

I was asked to trim the nails of a former neighbor’s cat. And I swung by the Grocery Outlet.

Even amid all this craziness— I contemplated some lessons I have learned about myself.

1. To get a good photo of me, find props. I am an eccentric person so when it comes time to take a photo, toss me an umbrella, cat, bird, etc., to see my personality.

Photo by Joan Z

2. I don’t have the patience for rescue work. I love to help people and animals, but when someone reaches out for help and either doesn’t accept it or makes it impossible to work with them, I lose all empathy.

3. I’ll never be the fastest, but I am dependable and flexible. I work in a metrics-driven warehouse. I will never be super fast and therefore efficient but so far, my supervisors seem to value my flexibility and good attitude. Which is ironic when my last boss called me “hostile.”

Which brings me to my last lesson from today.

4. Others fear you will display the same bad behavior they do. If someone has an insecurity or weakness in a certain area, they may treat you as if you have the same flaw. I once had a boss who literally removed all the paper and pens from my desk because she didn’t trust my ability to listen and take notes at the same time— despite my fifteen year career as a print journalist. And then I noticed that she only took notes when no one was speaking.

The same sort of thing may come into play if someone thinks your idea won’t work— they may believe that they would not be able to do it, so therefore you won’t succeed. That’s when you have to detail the steps and build confidence.

How’s the Path? An exploration of the chaos that happens when warehouse logistics fail

For those of my readers who know me, you may know me from my 15-year-career as a journalist, or from my volunteering or professional experience in nonprofits, or my time as a board member of Greater Lehigh Valley Writers Group.

But my life has led many other unorthodox places— I worked my way through college at McDonalds, served as the box office manager for Moravian College Theatre Company, and did my work-study in admissions where I filled out a lot of postcards, stuffed a lot of informational folders, and rewrote department brochures. My other work-study job was in the English department photocopying things and the duplication department loved my prowess with photocopiers.

My professional career started at Lafayette College in public relations and from there I moved into weekly journalism.

Life as a print journalism made me a more efficient writer, a more captivating storyteller and a better listener. It piqued my curiosity for subjects I have no interest in, and it honed my ability to discern what information is important and understanding how different systems work.

My career as a journalist opened me to the possibilities— I’m less prone to refuse any opportunity. And my current experience at Stitch Fix is one of those opportunities.

Warehousing is a huge industry here in the Lehigh Valley. It is very easy to get just about anywhere from here from a transportation logistics standpoint. I have had an interest in Stitch Fix since they launched as the first subscription box for retail fashion.

My work as a warehouse associate there as part of “midnight society” (second shift) allows me to work on my personal projects during the day, and, when the work assignments line up to have me “picking,” exercise at night. Pickers walk about 25,000 or more steps in a shift.

Last night, management announced mandatory overtime. Every associate had 24 hours to sign up for 14 hours of overtime before Easter. This made a lot of people grumpy and/or angry as we didn’t have much time to figure out our options. I’ll be working 4 hours each Saturday and coming in 2 hours early two days a week.

So this was the backdrop as one of our overseers mentioned that some of the totes set up for our carts had been messed up. Now I don’t know if a person did it, or a computer did it, as this is the week we switched from Gozer to Star.

I don’t want to say much as I don’t know how much of Stitch Fix’s operations are proprietary. But normally each cart of eight fixes being “picked” stays in a certain size area of the warehouse. A medium batch might include medium, size 6 and size 8 and have you roaming the aisles throughout the M section.

Last night, the pickers would start in W/2 XL and have fixes on their cart that included all the sizes which meant more or less picking one fix at a time and zigzagging throughout the warehouse— which from XS to XXXL is about 900 of my steps.

By meal break, most of the bad batches had been picked, and the shift supervisor was asking if the paths had improved. I was very grateful when they had. The ones that weren’t right wasted a lot of time and were very disorienting.

In other news, our three-legged cancer survivor cat Opie has a vet appointment with a new doctor on April 1. I was unhappy with the vet practice who diagnosed his cancer, and the one vet there I liked has left the practice. The vet that actually amputated his leg is an hour away.

He has a lump growing on the back of his neck and I don’t like the look of it. So April 1, I am taking him to Canyon River Run to be checked. Canyon River is one of the vets who works with the cat rescue we foster with, Feline Urban Rescue and Rehab.

Life in Valley 2

Forgive me if this post contains typos or other errors as it is literally 1 a.m. and a wage of fatigue just washed over me. I think I might be too tired to write this.

Last night, the work center board at the Stitch Fix Bizzy Hizzy proclaimed that I would work QC.

QC is the quality control work center. Once the fixes are picked, the QC team inspects and folds the pieces and prepares them for the shipper.

It is the most stationary, sedentary work center I have worked in so far at the Bizzy. But I like it—except it kills my spine. It causes me a lot of pain to stand still for 8 hours. And yes, the give us mats and offer a variety of table heights to make it more comfortable.

After our two hours in training, I packed 36 fixes at a rate of 8+ minutes per fix.

Tonight when I arrived at work, scheduled for QC again, my favorite nurse asked how I did in QC last night. I told her it was hard on my S1 joint (she already knows I have cerebral palsy) but I liked it. But then I like to learn new things and face new challenges.

Now I don’t remember her exact word choice, but she commented on my good attitude and the fact that I am “always happy.”

I fought years. “Thank you for seeing that, as I’m having a hard time right now.”

And she offered me prayers.

Then she commented on how I try to do everything, and I shrugged and reminded her that this was my whole life— that I’ve always had a disability so things never come easy.

And then she pointed out that in her line of work she’s seen people give up facing less.

With that pep talk, I headed to QC valley 2. Now tonight I was on the right side of the valley and liked it. I QC’ed a total of 59 fixes at a rate of between 5.9 and 7.2 minutes per fix. Only two of my boxes were returned and both were do to issues with the paper. A supervisor told me nice folding! And I even tried to highlight whatever was pretty in each fix/folded item.

On first break I took 400 mg of ibuprofen to help prevent back trouble. And it helped! Or maybe I just really am getting stronger post-Covid.

At the end of my shift, I was hungry for chocolate so I grabbed a chocolate chip Pop Tart. As I was walking out, my favorite nurse offered me a cookie.

I didn’t want to touch her cookies, so she piled some into a tissue while using a tissue as a glove.

Best thumbprint cookie ever

And I never tasted anything quite like that thumbprint cookie. I haven’t had thumbprint cookie in years.

I went out to my car and found one final surprise; my mileage was 33399. I like numerical patterns and that number sequence was super cool.

33399

So the day that had a rocky start had a strong finish.