The Deep End
So it’s time to address the virtual elephant in the room. I’ve been feeling a little bit guilty lately… And a little bit like a slacker. Recently, I’ve barely managed to eek out two posts a week here on this blog, where at one time, I was posting daily. Admittedly, my comments go unacknowledged and unanswered for far too long. And I’m not EVEN going to address how badly I suck at visiting my friends’ blogs.
Except that I’ve been anything but a slacker… in my Real Life. In my flesh-and-blood-non-pixel-people-cyber-world things have been fairly active. So active, in fact, that it has kept me from this thing that I love so much. So to those of you who’ve been faithful readers all along AND those of you who may have just begun following, please accept my apologies.
Within the span of ONE week I began a new job in the Marketing Department of a large architectural firm, started studying Web Design at the Columbus College of Art and Design and fell prey to “The Crud” that’s been going around. I nursed one of my beloved cluster headaches for nearly two weeks while trying to assimilate to 35-minute-long city commutes, brown bag lunches, new passwords, unfamiliar coffee machines, copiers, printers and conference calls that span at least five different time zones.
I was, for lack of a better term, thrown into the deep end of Grownupland without a flotation device. I went from sleeping until 10, lounging around the house watching bad movies on Lifetime and sending out resumes, making calls and receiving countless “you suck” rejection emails while in yoga pants and sweatshirts… to actual WORK. Yes, that is a real, live, alarm-clock-smacking-rush-rush-shower-makeup-pantyhose-heels J-O-B.
But just last night—while brushing the three inches of fresh snow (that had fallen since lunch) from my car after an 11-hour work day—it occurred to me that even though I am thoroughly exhausted and my head feels as though it could explode from all of the “new” information I am taking in on a daily basis… I feel alive.
There is something quite invigorating about being challenged and pushed to beyond what we think we can bear at times. Hopefully soon, when the waters calm I’ll get back on track with more regular writing. But until then, if the choice is between sitting on the couch listening to Hoda and Kathy Lee whine about wine while looking for a job OR getting tossed head-long into the Deep End… I think I’d rather swim.
Someone Else’s Life
“Isn’t it strange you always wake up as yourself? Not even one day somebody else.”
That is the opening line in one of my favorite episodes of HBO’s show Enlightened. The show stars Laura Dern as Amy — an enthusiastic but broken woman turned whistleblower trapped in a less-than-satisfying-sometimes-tragic-and-chaotic life in corporate America. I’ve actually written about it before and for anyone interested, you can find that post here.
The show is about to enter into it’s second season this weekend, therefore the previews and reruns have been rampant. Not that I mind. I loved it the first time and have been anxiously awaiting this moment for over a year. While waiting I’ve been refreshing my memory by watching the reruns and last night was reminded of the line I quoted at the beginning.
I was struck the first time I heard her character utter those words: Isn’t it strange you always wake up as yourself? Because I remember, vividly, as a child often pondering the very same thing. It must have been some sort of phase having to do with self-realization, self-awareness or some other sort of psycho-babble. But I’ve never shared those thoughts aloud until now. Apparently, I thought it would be fun to tell about 200+ readers instead of say, a close friend, parent or sibling.
I distinctly remember a time, early in elementary school when I would sit around my room, looking in the mirror or down at my hands, legs or feet and reflect on the notion that I was always, only ever going to look at the world through THESE eyes. As me. And NEVER anyone else. And honestly, I was a little bit disappointed. Mostly I was in awe of the fact that of all the people I’d witnessed coming and going at school, on the television, at church, at the bank or the grocery store… I would never be anyone else.
I couldn’t help but feel a teensy bit cheated by that reality. I mean, it wasn’t like life had dealt me a bad hand or anything. I had a good life. I was and am healthy. I had and continue to have wonderful parents, a sister who seemed to tolerate me THEN and is NOW a friend, a nice home, friends, pets, toys and lots and lots of love and laughter.
But I believe there was something in me that wanted desperately to know what life might be like through a different set of eyes. Call me adventurous or perhaps insane… I think back then, I just didn’t want to get bored. An entire lifetime, to me, seemed a very long time to spend inside the same body. Notice I said back then. Because as adults I think it is quite common to wonder what life looks like on the other side of the proverbial fence. We wonder what if…
What if I had studied something else in school? What if I made twice what I’m making now? What if I had two children or six? (depending on what you may or may not already have) What if I stuck that out? (insert whatever your “that” is here) What if I lived in Fiji and sold t-shirts on the beach or was a SCUBA instructor with a killer tan and chiseled body? (OK, maybe that’s just mine.) But I think you get the idea…
This is it. This IS life. And this is all we get. ONE of them, experienced through ONE pair of eyes for as many days as we’ve been uniquely given. And I guess I can pout all I want to when I look in the mirror… wishing I were taller with a willowy frame, or that I’d been an attorney or a SCUBA instructor. But I think the point is to live THIS out the best that I can. Making the most of the highs, gaining perspective from the lows.
I just love the way Amy says—with childlike honesty—something we’ve probably all considered at one time or another during this thing that we only get to do ONCE. This thing called Life… Isn’t it strange you always wake up as yourself? Not even one day somebody else.
Biologically speaking I’ve not been dealt the winningest hand when it comes to reproduction. I’ve known for many years that children are most likely not in the cards for me. And even though it has, at times, been a bitter pill to swallow… I’m coming to terms with it as time goes by.
I’ve begun to think of myself as a non-parent, both now and for always. So it caught me by surprise to be recently asked by my physician whether or not I plan to have children anytime soon. Looking ahead to a wedding and a marriage, I suppose it was a perfectly reasonable question to answer.
But before I answered his question, I asked one of my own. “Look. I am staring straight down the barrel of 38.” I said very matter-of-factly as though he wasn’t already aware of my “advanced age” as he sat there staring at my crow’s feet with my chart and entire medical history in his lap. “At what age does it become irresponsible for me to have a child, Doc? How old is too old?”
He looked at me, slightly taken aback by my inquiry. After a brief, awkward pause he launched into a mini-sermon about how many “less than ideal” mothers are out there raising children. Some of which are very young, very immature or who lack the proper resources to care for a child. And if I am even questioning my age as a potential concern — then I am exactly the type of “responsible” person who should be having children if I wished to do so.
But you see that’s just it. I’m not sure whether or not I “wish to do so.” Biology aside, I’ve considered myself a non-parent for so long that I’ve become rather attached to the lifestyle. You know the one. It includes (but is not limited to) sleeping in, watching what I want on TV, eating meals that are not square, taking trips whenever and wherever I want to and having exorbitant amounts of “ME” time during which to ponder potential world domination.
I have watched as my friends disappear—one after the next—into the matrix of motherhood. I stand at the edge watching them dissolve into the mystical world of two a.m. feedings, car seats, play dates, Sippy cups, Cheerio containers, sleep deprivation and constant sitter hunting. And it scares the crap out of me.
My mother (along with just about everyone else) tells me that it is different when it’s your own and I’m sure that it is. But perhaps it is not only more “responsible” of me, but truly best for all concerned parties if I were to stay right where I am—on the outside of the Mommy Matrix—wrapped up in my down comforter with the remote, some travel guides and a really, really good bottle of wine.
Rats, Lies and Capybaras
I like to think that I can spot a phony when I see one or smell a sham a mile away. However, drawn in by his lopsided, glossy, poster board and magic marker sign containing lofty promises of pure zoological freakdom, I somehow failed to do so.
Handing over my money to the toothless, mulleted man, I walked halfway into the dimly-lit tent and spotted the object of my search. It was then and there—partially down the pathway, blocking traffic—I stopped dead in my tracks, turned swiftly on my heels and called him out.
“Excuse me!” I shouted backwards toward the way I’d come. “This is NOT a RAT. It is a CAPYBARA! I just saw one of these on the National Geographic channel! Your sign is a big, fat lie.” I declared with an air of superiority that I A. knew what a capybara actually WAS and B. at the notion of exposing him for the liar that he obviously was.
“No ma’am,” he said with a hillbilly drawl. “I ain’t lyin’. I told ya’ll it’d be like watchin’ the National Geographic channel LIIIIIIVE!” he hollered back with extra enthusiastic emphasis placed on the long “I” in ‘live’ for full effect.
I’d been duped. I’d fallen prey to the circus sideshow sales pitch and been fooled. I had drunk the Kool-Aid and was now exactly $3 poorer than I was before ever stepping foot in the place. But before I go on and on about my deep disappointment upon feeling cheated, let me take you back to the beginning…
It was a hot, summer night in southern Ohio and four of us gals on a weekend-warrior-retreat had decided to leave our wilderness cabin and check out the nearest municipality. Logan, Ohio (population 7,152) is the county seat of Hocking County — an area rich with natural and geological wonders that draws tourists from all over the country who come to explore beautiful Hocking Hills State Park.
And on this particular summer night, as we happened to be passing through, Logan just happened to be having their Annual Washboard Music Festival complete with sweet-and-fatty fair food, face-painting booths, colorful characters peddling their wares, an obnoxious train ride for the young ‘uns and a sampling of carnival games.
Immediately at the front entrance of the street fair, I was confronted by a large sign announcing the presence of the “World’s Largest Rat.” Oh yes, just on the other side of the canvas walls of the shiftiest-looking tent I’d ever seen was a whopping 100-lb. rat… and I HAD to see it.
I’d left my purse at the cabin so I tugged on the arm of one of my girlfriends with all of the gusto of a six-year-old harboring a wicked hankering for some cotton candy. I begged her to not only pay my way, but to go inside WITH me so as not to be alone in my curious-on-the-verge-of-hysterical, idiotic stupor.
She obliged and we wandered in. And you know the rest. But the reason for my great disappointment was that I had SOOOO hoped to see an enormous, 100-lb. RAT, fully outfitted with soft grey fur, a long thick pink tail, shiny black eyes the size of golf balls, a wiggly nose, teeth like a lioness and whiskers the length of a yard stick.
I was NOT expecting to see something that although IN the rodent FAMILY… did not look like anything remotely close to a giant sewer rat capable of terrorizing the subways of Manhattan.
Truthfully, I wasn’t sure who to be more angry with… Myself for being so stupid as to think that this awesome freak of nature would actually be in Logan, OH (population 7,152)… Or Mullet Man who sold me on the idea with his flashy, homemade signs and toothless grin?
Now some of you might be saying: “Joanna, it WAS a giant rodent… to-MA-to, to-MAW-to. Why can’t you just let it go?” But I simply CANNOT let it go, at least not until I’ve told my story and shared with you my much-deserved feelings of deception, anger and disillusionment at the crooked capitalist empire that is the carnival sideshow industry.
And if, per chance, the “World’s Largest Rat” should pay a visit to a small, hick-town community near you… You’ve been warned. Hang on to your money and consider this your cautionary “tail.”
Drawing a deep breath, pen poised perfectly on paper in order to execute some highly-anticipated and voracious note taking, I posed the question to the voice on the other end of the line: “… OK, but what type of law does this situation fall under?”
Voice on the other end of the line: “I don’t know.”
Me: “Well, would it be probate?”
Voice on the other end of the line: “I’m not sure. Maybe. That sounds about right.”
“Maybe. Sounds about right.” I say to myself, repeating her and considering another way to extract the necessary information from this person — my closest link to anything remotely resembling assistance in the matter.
Hmmmm… I don’t really want to venture into these unchartered judiciary waters with the paper-thin supply of confidence that comes pre-packaged in a phrase like “Maybe. Sounds about right” but what other choice do I have?
Me: “Since you aren’t sure what type of legal matter this actually IS… Where do you suggest I start?”
Voice on the other end of the line: “Visit your county courthouse first thing Monday morning and ask them where to begin.”
Me (inside my own head): “I thought I was beginning with YOU. Someone I believed to be well-equipped in this arena. But whatever.”
Me (actually speaking): “OK. I’ll do that. Thank you.”
Bright and early on Monday we arrived in the courthouse lobby. “The nice officer standing guard at the door will know where to direct us.” I said to Lee, my fellow voyager. And he most certainly did direct us to the sixth floor of an adjacent building.
After bounding down the stairs—pleased to have at least a scrap of direction on our legal quest—and crossing the busy intersection, we managed to weave our way through an obstacle course of revolving doors and metal detectors to the elevator that would surely deliver us to the sixth and proper floor.
Upon arrival on the sixth floor and a simple inquiry directly regarding the matter at hand, we were swiftly directed to the fourth floor. The fourth floor houses the County Law Library and—or so we were told—any and all of the necessary forms for the remainder of our journey.
Feeling a teensy bit wary of the whole Nobody-Knows-What-the-Hell-They’re-Doing thing, we got back into the elevator and rode it to the fourth floor. Surely the Law Library would hold the preciously-guarded secrets of the mysteries surrounding our increasingly-tricky trek.
After signing the Law Library Guest Book on the fourth floor, a friendly librarian asked how she could be of assistance. For what would be the third time in explaining exactly what it was we were in search of, the librarian declared that the place we most certainly needed to be was… on the fifth floor.
It was precisely at that moment that I burst into a fit of laughter as though suffering from some form of tourettes. And I’m certain that the poor, innocent librarian-turned-target-of-my-mental-breakdown suspected as much.
I explained my odd and inappropriate behavior to her by recounting ALL of the places we had traveled to on our adventure of odyssean proportions. But sixth floor, fourth floor, fifth floor, across the street, across town, across state lines, across the border… it no longer mattered.
Dizzy and reeling from countless elevator rides and red tape… I was fairly certain that if we ever located and retrieved the proper paperwork appropriate for our legal situation… neither one of us would know how to pick up a pen, much less spell our own names.
We did eventually procure the information we’d been searching for with such great gusto. And when we did—after flipping through a jillion jargon-packed pages—we swiftly stuffed it into a folder and have not spoken of it since.
NYC: Hurry Up and Wait… and Like It!
I’m not too sure why people say that New Yorkers are among the most impatient and rude people in the world. I know that mine is just an outsider’s view, but to this outsider, being a New Yorker seems as though it would be a constant exercise in patience.
Immediately upon our arrival to NYC at the Staten Island Ferry—which would carry us swiftly across the New York harbor, depositing us at the southern tip of Manhattan—we waited.
First we waited to board, then we waited to de-board, next we waited in line to purchase unlimited subway passes and then we waited on the platform for the train that would take us to our hotel. We waited to board the subway, to get off the subway, to walk up the stairs to street level… and of course we waited for our turn to cross lest we be run down by a cab, bus or bicycle messenger on a mission.
Welcome to New York City. Home to over 18 million people in the metropolitan area — it is an overwhelming, endless rush of humanity. And believe me everyone is rushing somewhere, everywhere, all the time. Hence, the “hurry up” part. Hurry up to get a place in line. Because this tidal wave of beings can only move as fast as transit and commerce will allow. Transit and commerce (I might add) that are also operated by and reliant upon other human beings. Thus, the “wait” part.
I quickly learned why Lee, my fearless-and-informed tour guide, told me to quote: “… travel light and wear comfortable shoes.” By the time our visit to the Big Apple concluded we had waited in line(s) not only for constant transport around the city, but for coffee, bagels, hot dogs, beer, pizza, pastrami and pickles. We waited in line for events, for elevators, for escalators, for public attractions, for bathrooms, for boats, for shopping, for a cashier, for a good view, for a good picture and even for a bench to sit on and rest from all the waiting.
Perhaps the “impatient” brand that has been seared upon New Yorkers only comes into play when they are, say… forced to deal with thousands of versions of some clueless tourist (like myself) on a daily basis who may or may not know the exact and proper ordering procedure for a pastrami on rye. For they are not afraid to show you their displeasure with your non-new-yorker ignorance.
I can’t blame them. That’s just the way it is. Therefore, you’d better like it. Take your $20 deli sandwich, your $7 slice, your $5 dog or your $12 cocktail and drag your bumbling-photograph-taking-aimlessly-wandering-map-studying @$$ and get out of the way. Quickly. After all… someone else is waiting.
The Last Day
When you’re actively employed—waking up early to the nagging of the alarm clock and slogging to work day after day—one cannot help but imagine that the day will inevitably come that is their “Last Day of Work.” Whether it be to retire, begin a new job or explore a life/career change… we imagine it will be miraculous and glorious with the choirs of angels singing and the clouds parting and all that jazz.
Well, dear friends and readers… today is that day for me and so far there are no choirs of angels or parting of clouds. Now, bear in mind that I have never and I mean NEVER left a position without another similar or better position waiting in the wings. Or at the very least several promising interviews on the books and resumes scattering the earth like propaganda leaflets being dropped by plane.
I have always worked. Since I was 15 years old I have held down at least one and as many as four different jobs at a time. So I never, in my wildest dreams, thought I’d be leaving a job with a generous, comprehensive benefits package behind in pursuit of “whatever happens.” But this time… THIS time is unique.
This time I have a supportive and encouraging man in my life who sees my full potential and recognizes that “it will be OK” if I don’t find that dream replacement job tomorrow. Words cannot express the peace and joy with which his calm confidence fills me.
In the interim, my plan is to try my hand at domesticity. (Please pick up reading wherever you left off after the laughter has stopped.) Martha Stewart I am not, but that doesn’t mean I cannot learn the artful ways of the domestic goddess. Right? You’re still laughing aren’t you? Until the dream job comes calling I plan to take full advantage of the opportunity to get back in shape and keep a home. I’m serious.
Ten of the 50 pounds I recently lost have moved back in and taken up residency on my ass and both of us abhor the wallpaper in the living and dining rooms. It’s officially time to tackle my fear of the oven and its cousin, the stove. My wardrobe needs a good looking over and some serious organization.
The jury is still out on whether or not I’ll miss the office gossip, dressing up for work each day and talking to other professionals… but I suspect there will likely be a bit of a honeymoon period for me, my sweats, my yoga mat and the cat. I promise to take as many of you who care (or dare) to join me along on this new expedition—and with the whole domestic goddess goal in the mix—I can also promise that it shan’t be boring.
The House That Re-Built Me
Standing squarely, both feet planted firmly on the ground and staring straight down the road toward a brand new life one cannot help but feel a range of emotions. There is excitement and anticipation for the adventure that is about to begin and yet it is accompanied by tinges of nostalgia and sadness for that which is being left behind.
This is what I’ve been experiencing on a nightly basis upon my return home from work. I have moved many times in my life. Twelve to be exact… and yes that makes this particular move of mine “Lucky Number 13.” But for anyone who has moved you know that some homes hold special places in your heart. This home has been just that for me.
I consider myself fortunate to have called so many unique, beautiful and interesting places “home” over the years — like a dude ranch high in the breathtaking Colorado Rockies and an ancient adobe-turned-studio-apartment in New Mexico (where I slept in a loft above my walk-in closet… accessible only by an equally-old, wooden ladder.)
Also in New Mexico, there was the four-bedroom, brick ranch that I helped to gut and remodel with my own two hands, blood, sweat and tears… And the gorgeous upstairs condo overlooking a bare, unblemished desert. From my windows there I could watch the mountains as they transformed from purple to a fiery salmon and eventually a deep blue in one 24-hour period.
And as fascinating and different and “exotic” as those destinations were from the place in Northeastern Ohio where I was born, raised and currently reside… my simple two-bedroom home has been a sanctuary. I walked in the door three years ago… 50 pounds overweight and pretty beaten down by life. Suffice it to say that it was through both circumstance and choice that I arrived in this state of being and unpacked my things within these walls a completely different person than the one who is typing these words.
The 100 year old charm is built right in, constantly making itself known in the creak of each floorboard — this home, all that surrounds it and the time that I have spent here has literally served in the re-building of me. It sits across the street from my parents, two blocks from my sister and seven nieces and nephews and is literally surrounded on ALL other sides by people who knew me as a child.
In the town that I came from and during the time in which I grew up there, the notion that it takes a village to raise a child was not only accepted it was EXPECTED. So when I returned to that very same neighborhood, 33 and broken, it seemed that my family, everyone around me, as well as the house and the neighborhood itself… all had a hand in putting me back together again.
With just the tiniest bit of sadness and a giant heap of gratitude I have begun re-packing my things into boxes and am thrilled at the thought of a new life ahead. The lump in my throat that forms each time I remove a picture from the wall tells me that the house’s work is done now. At least it is for me.
With hammers, nails, lumber, drywall and shingles it provided a quiet shelter during the storms, a safe place to pause and heal, reflect, refresh, reset and renew. It has finished its work in me. And when I leave my keys behind, I’ll know the time has come to move on.
Cats and Cardboard Cities
Ahhh the joys of moving. Taking your house apart bit by dusty bit and placing all of your things into boxes only to load them onto a truck, drive somewhere else, unload them from said truck, unpack them and try to figure out where the hell you’re going to put everything in the new space.
Yes, it is just one of those things that we humans must do now and again and it is never fun. The results can be wonderful and rewarding—make no mistake—but the act itself is a little… shall we say… off-putting?
But I am an adult and I can handle this transition. Excited and anticipatory about the future, I am able to focus on all of the new adventures coming my way. The cat… on the other hand (Or should I say paw?) is not going to be quite as thrilled.
Currently, my dining room looks like a cardboard cityscape. Boxes of all shapes and sizes are stacked up lining the periphery waiting anxiously for me to fill them with my crap. I thought it would be a good idea to have the boxes close at hand so that Stanley, my cat, could get used to them for a bit before I begin the demolition of his world.
Now, cat owners know this already but for those of you non-cat people, I will fill you in on a little cat secret: They love boxes. Like a kid at Christmas—more interested in the box than its contents—a cat will hop into an open box and make it his own within a matter of seconds. It is a rather adorable sight to behold… if you like cats… and I obviously do… but I digress.
Stanley is of course, no exception. He started out at the bottom of the “city” just lying around inside one of the small ones that happens to be turned on its side. He then bravely ventured to another larger one flipped upright and hung out in there for quite awhile.
Then last night I found him, all Lewis-and-Clark-like, boldly scaling the stack to mid-level. By tonight I expect to come home to discover that he’s reached the top and rigged up some sort of flag all MacGyver-like out of a fork and dishrag to stake his claim.
All this time I can’t help but think to myself: “Sure you love the boxes NOW Stanley… but just wait until I begin packing your entire universe into them and suddenly everything you know is gone — including your favorite blanket.” And I am riddled with guilt… praying that he takes to his new digs happily and quickly.
He’s going to hate me. At least for a little while… Probably until I start unpacking in the new place and the resurrection of his cardboard city begins again.