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December 13-19, 2006

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Ask Sydney

This advice column is penned by a Sonoma County resident and our new weekly sage. Go ahead! Ask her anything.

Gentle Reader: As the holidays descend like a viper's mouth to suck the blood from our wallets, please remember that there is a place you can go for answers. What sorts of questions does the month of December bring up for you? Take a minute to write in and enlighten us all with your quandaries. Write to [email protected] or [email protected]

Dear Sydney, I have two jobs, so how come I'm always so fucking broke?--Broken in Two

Dear Broke: I'm going to let you in on a little secret, one that they don't tell you about in high school. If you want to make a barely acceptable living in these parts, then you need to work at least 36 hours a week and make at least $20 an hour. And this is assuming you're single. If you have a family, then you'll need twice this amount. Here's my suggestion to you: Go to the library and check out a bunch of books on how to make a living. Most of these books are enjoyable to read, with pictures and yearly salaries, and personality suggestions, like, "If you enjoy working alone, consider being a night clerk in a hotel!"

Take notes, talk to people about what they do, look online at the most desirable careers and then either go back to school, start your own business or otherwise pursue some means of making money that does not include crappy low-wage employment. If you don't do this, you may be perfectly content, but you will not be financially secure.

Use the low-wage work as a temporary vehicle for helping you pursue more important things. There's nothing wrong with living hand-to-mouth; move into your car if you really want to be free. But if you feel the call of the material world, the need for nice things, good food and a secure apartment, then you will never make it in the North Bay on low-wage work. Even the so-called living wage is a joke. The rents around here are too high, food costs too much and even a movie is more expensive than an hour of labor at a minimum-wage job. Above all, always keep it simple. The less you put out, financially, the better. In other words, don't waste your money. There're a thousand things to buy, but we need very few of them.

Dear Sydney, how do I get rid of the winter humdrums? I try to fight it, but it always seems like no matter how hard I try, I always get hit.--In the Dumps

Dear Dumps: Damn the wintertime blues! Damn them to hell! Winter is the time of year when many of us are prone to becoming emotionally drained. This is due to a number of very obvious reasons: it's dark all of the time, colds and flus are on the loose, it's freezing or gray and raining, and vitamin K is in short supply. To combat the environmental blues, be proactive. Don't just sit by and let the humdrums strike. Make an effort to spend more time with friends. Plan a revolving potluck meal, at least once a week. Eat warming foods. Take lots of baths, with candles. Drink plenty of coffee or hot chocolate. Start a new book. Pursue a project you have been dreaming about doing, but haven't made the time for.

The winter is a time to slow down and stay inside. For once you aren't obligated to be out doing something athletic and fun! What a relief! Light a fire and relax. Let winter envelop you like a quilt, not like a rain cloud. In these parts, it's too easy to be caught off-guard by the onslaught of January, by the rain and cold. December was so beautiful and sunny! you think. Maybe it will never get miserable! Believe me, it will. So be ready for it this year. If you can afford a weekend away, make it a weekend in February, the dankest of months. If you can't, then make this winter the season where you learn a new instrument, start going to the ice rink, or at the very least, buy some full-spectrum bulbs for your favorite lamps. It couldn't hurt.

Dear Sydney, in Sebastopol, there are people who stand on the corner of Main Street and Bodega Avenue every Friday afternoon with signs. On three of the corners are the peace people, and on one of the corners are the war people. They have been there every Friday for years now, and though I appreciate that they take the time to stand out there and hold up signs for peace, sometimes it feels sort of uncomfortable, like when the war guy is saluting everyone until you think his arm might fall off, and the peace people are waving their signs, and some people are honking at the war people, and some people are waving peace fingers at the peace people, and I just feel sort of stressed out when I get stuck at a red light. Sometimes I wonder, does it really make a difference, having any of them stand there at all? Then I feel bad for thinking it.--Distraught on Red

Dear Red: I understand your discomfiture. It can feel a little strange, as we putt through town, burning fossil fuels and spewing carbon dioxide in the faces of the protesters, even a little twisted maybe. But here's the thing: it does make a difference. It makes a difference because we have to stop, right there at the red light, and think about what's going on. And whether or not we're saluting the war people or peace-signing the peace people, it's vital that we not forget what's going on. We may not always like it, but there is something worthwhile in that minute and a half or less that drivers have as they pass through that four-way intersection, heading off in all directions.

Does it make a difference in a larger sense? Will the war end or keep on going because a handful of people stand at a busy intersection one day a week for a few hours? Of course not. But there is a general apathy that descends with powerlessness, and if all it takes is waving a sign around to make a community of people feel as if there is something they can do, then it's worth the moment. The only aspect of the Main Street dance that makes me uncomfortable is when the peace people have a henchman on the war corner. We have to respect the voices of others, even if we don't like what they have to say. Can't we just be gracious and give them their damn corner?

No question too big, too small or too off-the-wall. Ask Sydney.