Slow Learner

I rolled my eyes in bitter disgust at my reflection in the rearview mirror. I was, as many women do, taking in one final overview before heading out.

And let me tell you that yesterday’s “overview” was not so bright. In fact, if ever there were a day to Photoshop one’s own face… this was it.

With one blemish on it’s way out but still lingering over the threshold of my cheek and a brand-spanking-new shiny one announcing it’s rude and unwelcome arrival, I was not in the greatest of moods.

Add to those two little dermatological gems the half-inch evidence mark of what is now being referred to as the “curling iron incident” from two days prior and yes… I was disgusted.

Really? I am 37 years old. I am starting to get laugh lines and on occasion, a few grey hairs at my temples. I SHOULD NOT still be getting pimples and I most certainly SHOULD know how to handle a searing-hot hair implement by now. In fact, shouldn’t there be a law that zits and wrinkles NOT be permitted to occupy the same space? I know I’ve brought up that issue before! UGH.

Strolling down the center aisle of the local drug store I spotted a former classmate I’ve not seen in at least 18 years. I immediately became entranced by a bin of $4 DVDs — sifting through them with great care and reviewing the plot summaries with unbelievable laser-like focus.

Once he passed by I moved down the aisle in search of what I’d come for. “THAT was close!” I said to myself and pressed on. “Hopefully I can slip out of here unnoticed and spend the remainder of the day locked up safely in the house, praying for the pimple cream and neosporin to work their medicinal magic.”

On my way to check out, a woman about my age caught my attention. The first thing I noticed about her was her height. (Standing at a whopping 5’2″ I am intrigued by any female over 5’7″) The second thing I noticed was the manner in which she was holding her head up high as though searching the store for her spouse or child.

It wasn’t until I got much closer that I noticed the skin grafts. They covered her entire face. I was quick to look away as I did not want to stare, but as I turned away I felt heat spreading up through my neck and cheeks as I flushed at my own ridiculous vanity.

“Reality check girl.” My inner voice then said to me. How dare you be so self-absorbed and obsessed with a few stupid temporary blemishes that no one would even care enough to notice when it could—in reality—be so much more than that!

I’ve shared posts similar to this one in the past… but obviously I am a slow learner. I’ll likely never know her story or her name, but hopefully the image of her standing tall, head held high and fearlessly facing the world around her is one not soon to be forgotten.

“Youthful beauty fades with time, but, with cultivation, inner beauty grows richer.”

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A Safe Space

There is a place in which I’ve spent a considerable amount of time throughout the course of my 37 years. And it is the only place I have never felt afraid.

When I was a small child it was the playroom for my sister and me. Painted bright yellow and full of toys, I spent hours in there pretending to be a doctor, a veterinarian, a mommy, a school teacher and eventually an artist.

As a teenager, when my parents converted it into their bedroom (farther away from our rooms upstairs… probably so they couldn’t hear all of the screaming) it was the place I went to beg, borrow or steal my mom’s favorite sweater, red purse or pair of heels.

As Empty-Nesters, my folks moved back upstairs while my sister and I built lives of our own… She just down the street and me on the other side of the country. Whenever I visited—heavy luggage in tow—it was a sanctuary as the “guest bedroom” and always a chance to take a deep breath and a step back from the ledge I was currently standing on during some silent but turbulent times.

At 31, after receiving a devastating blow followed by a mediocre severance package in the boardroom one day, my sanctuary 2,000 miles away suddenly became my new home. Falling from a spacious, ammenity-packed condo with mountain views to a single room overlooking our backyard, my father swiftly installed a new ceiling fan, lighting fixtures and cable connection to make me feel more at home in my humbling new digs.

Ever a victim of wanderlust and clueless to the nose dive our economy would soon experience… A voluntary but hasty adventure west and back again at 33 ushered in what would soon become a ten-month stint in what had officially become my “home” when I was homeless.

And now—whenever I want to visit from my new “home” two hours away—the room is always waiting for me. Like right now… as I type these words in front of the open window. It is quiet here. There is peace here. There is love and laughter here. There are sweet memories here. There is comfort here. And there is always… ALWAYS a good night’s sleep.

Your Face Here

Remember when Kanye West so obnoxiously interrupted/ruined Taylor Swift’s acceptance speech at the 2009 Video Music Awards?

Overnight Kanye began popping up in all sorts of important moments throughout history… MLK Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech… President Obama’s most recent State of the Union address… Steve Bartman’s infamous oops! incident during a MLB playoff game between the Chicago Cubs and the Florida Marlins in 2003 (I’m not still bitter or anything)… Neil Armstrong stepping foot on the moon… You get the picture.

Anyway… all of this is to say that the “Kanye West Internet Meme” phenomenon came to mind this morning after a casual viewing of updates on Facebook.

I was cruising down through the various postings of photos, updates, news stories, etc. when I discovered on at least four separate occasions some individuals who, like Kanye, can’t seem to resist inserting themselves into every, single, solitary bit of drama that may be occuring in another person’s life.

They are the same people every time and I can count on them (with stunning regularity) to get “involved” whenever something noteworthy within their community occurs. Be it death, trajedy, illness, a terrible accident or a social injustice… they will be there—like Kanye—to grab their bit of someone else’s spotlight.

Now, you may be asking… “If you find their behavior to be so vexing, Joanna, why don’t you just unfriend them?” And you would be absolutely, understandably and undeniably reasonable in asking such a question.

But I hedge in cutting them loose because I’m not too certain who has the bigger problem here. Is it the individuals who feel the need to ride other people’s coattails of misfortune? Or is it me… the one who finds them so annoying, so perplexing, so psychologically flawed and fascinating that I felt the need to compile this post?

I don’t know the answer… yet. And I don’t know whether or not my friend list will become shorter by half a dozen or so by tomorrow. But while I am mulling that over, I’ll leave you with this as I simply could not resist…

Sink or Swim

No one prepares you for the sneak attacks, close calls, near-misses and gut punches that Life often delivers. Instead, you get thrown into the deep end without a life preserver and learn pretty quickly how to swim. I’ve been doing a decent amount of swimming lately. In fact, swimming is probably not even the proper word… It’s a bit more like thrashing, splashing and recklessly tossing limbs hither and yon trying to stay afloat. So I do hope you’ll forgive me, Dear Readers, when I say that my fingers have been a bit too busy to type. As soon as I am able to let go of my emergency floatation device I promise I’ll get back to my regularly scheduled posts.

Pass Me Some Peeps, Please! (but only if they’re stale)

That’s right I said stale. And I mean stale as in old, crusty and past their prime. That’s the way I prefer my Peeps and according to a small amount of personal, non-scientific research… so do many of you! For example, did you know that stale Peeps have their very own fan page on Facebook? Neither did I. But a quick Google search told me so and now we know.

I first discovered that my love for the less-than-fresh-but-still-almost-too-cute-to-eat confection was not all that rare when I began mentioning them last spring on Facebook in some annoyingly-regular status updates. I was surprised how many previously closeted stale Peep lovers came out on my profile page! 

It is a magical moment — finding out there are others and learning that you are, indeed, not alone in your slightly deviant desire. Friends practically came out of the woodwork proclaiming their affinity for the sugary, squishy, marshmallow Easter treat. All admitting that they tasted MUCH better after having been opened and allowed to sit for awhile… permitting them to reach the peak of Peep perfection.

One friend copped to cutting the plastic wrapper across the top when they were fresh from the farm, then placing the compromised package of Peeps on top of the refrigerator for three whole weeks before enjoying them. Another explained that she stocked up on the Peeps after Easter, buying them on clearance and filling up an entire cupboard so as to partake of them—in various stages of staleness—all year long.

To those of you who like your Peeps fresh or perhaps (gasp) hate the cuddly, candied cuties altogether… you may be mildly perplexed as to why it is so many of us prefer our Peeps past their production prime. Well, I can’t speak for everyone when I say this but for me it is all about the texture. I like the crunchy, sugar shell that forms around the chewy marshmallow center. It’s as simple as that.

Like a fine wine that must age for years before being uncorked and encouraged to “breathe” a bit before reaching perfection — that same patience is what proper Peep prep looks like to us crusty-confection connoisseurs.

The Secret of Life

Yesterday afternoon the sight of sunshine bouncing off of tender, green leaves and bright pink blossoms pulled me through the sliding doors and out onto the warm and welcoming patio. The sun was high in a vast blue sky and lively birds offered a loud and cheerful accompaniment to the tiny white butterflies flickering about. It didn’t take long for me to decide that this was indeed a far better place to spend some time than seated in front of a computer or television screen.

I grabbed my book, a cold drink and my sunglasses and set up camp between two lawn chairs. Jackson Browne’s Greatest Hits played on the outdoor speakers as I debated whether or not to read another chapter or just close my eyes, getting lost in the music, the scent of the freshly-cut grass and the feel the hot sun on my face, arms and bare feet. Truth be told, I did a little of both on and off for over two hours.

It’s been a bumpy couple of weeks for us as we have been confronted with such a huge loss. But three things are becoming increasingly certain as the days go by… Number 1: There are so many worries that are simply not worth the effort. Number 2: There is so much more to enjoy about this life. And Number 3: Number two far outweighs number one.

The older we get, the more tragedy and loss we are exposed to. It’s only natural. We become more aware of the frailty of life. And if time is to teach us anything, any, ONE thing… it is that NO thing is certain. There are no guarantees, no such things as perfectly fufilled promises. Only best efforts, best hopes and best wishes as we vulnerable, fallible, fragile humans keep moving toward. Everything else is out of our hands.

Anything can fail. Anything can end. Anything can crumble and fall away. All we have is TODAY. All we have is NOW. Time changes like shifting sands.

James Taylor performs a beautiful song called “The Secret of Life” and the essence of it’s message can be summed up in this lyric: “Well, the secret of life is enjoying the passage of time.” His song says it much better than my words ever can so if the mood should strike — I encourage you to take a few minutes and give it a listen…

Getting Dirty. Coming Clean.

With spring officially in the air, it simply cannot be avoided and as middle-class home owners there is no one around to do it but you. If it doesn’t get done, the neighbors will inevitably complain and start to hate you. The arduous, unavoidable task to which I am referring is springtime yard work. Pulling weeds, raking flower beds, planting, mowing and mulching. And no, I didn’t actually DO all of those things. I just helped out. A little. But somehow I find merely thinking and writing about it to be exhausting.

It is back-breaking, blister-inducing manual labor and if you don’t count housework like washing, scrubbing, sweeping, straightening and polishing — then I don’t do manual labor. It’s not that I think I’m above it. I’m just naturally lazy. Lazy and particularly fond of staying clean, pressed and relatively well-dressed. Yet even as I type this, a red, watery blister is pushing it’s way up through my irritated, over-worked thumb. Undisputable, irrefutable evidence of actual, physical work.

My dad has run his own landscaping business since I was young. Naturally, when my sister and I were big enough to operate push or riding mowers and other types of lawn equipment, Dad tried to put us able-bodied youths to work for him. My sister took to it right away and did this sort of work willingly… mowing, trimming, planting, weeding and the like. But to me, all of it seemed like a lot of hard work. Hard. Dirty. Work. I watched them come home day after hot, steamy, summer day drenched in sweat and coated with bits of grass, mulch, mud and the occasional outbreak of poison ivy. And I decided—rather quickly—Ummm… No. I don’t think so. Not for me.

I could usually be found at one of two places during the months of June, July and August. They were the Dairy Queen and the community pool. Therefore, upon turning 15, it made total and complete sense that I should—by any and all means necessary—work to secure summertime employment at these two fine establishments. So… while attending lifeguard training at the Y, I was getting paid to perfect the signature DQ curl atop cones, sundaes and banana splits. And I couldn’t have been happier.

Apparently, my ambition to perpetuate pleasure and never really break a sweat actually paid off! I was earning real money while working on my tan, sneeking bites from occasional Oreo Blizzard “mistakes” and talking to my friends. Everything worked out wonderfully as long as no one drowned and everyone received the correct amount of change with their Peanut Buster Parfait. Near as I could tell it was a win-win situation.

Sadly, I couldn’t stay a teenager forever. I managed to dodge the “dirty bullet” for awhile with my creative and fun-in-the-sun-vacational vocations but eventually the real world beckoned and I had to answer the call. I may have chosen a career that keeps me clean and seated behind a desk all day but that no longer negates the fact that NOW the yard is THERE. Waiting. And growing. Silently. Planning my Sunday afternoons for me for the rest of my foreseeable, capable existence. And my sister—with the green thumb she apparently inherited—certainly is not going to come and mow it, rake it, spray it, seed it or weed it for me.