The Breakfast Club

6 cups coffee (2)The seat cushion of my office chair was not yet cold before I started reaching out to former co-workers who had also been let go that day. Social media is truly a godsend in times like these. On Facebook I was quickly connected to five other women from the company who had found themselves in the same boat. Some I knew well, others only slightly. But an amazing byproduct in times of crisis is that of people coming together.

A day after the smoke cleared, I got up, showered, dressed and put on make-up to meet the others for breakfast. Believe me it was best for everyone close to me that I had somewhere to be just then. Twenty-four hours of feeling sorry for myself, was definitely long enough. It was only a casual meal at a nearby restaurant, but once I went, I felt like a new person. We had some laughs, exchanged contacts and swapped war stories.

There is something about shared suffering that creates an incredible strength and sense of community. We are reminded that we’re not out there alone, floating aimlessly through an overwhelming sea of job postings and resume updates. We are not alone in the daily ponderings of hard questions about what the future holds. And I think it’s safe to say, that we’re certainly not alone in our enjoyment of a quick commute to the couch every morning.

One of the women appropriately named our group “The Breakfast Club,” and this morning, we got together again. I mean, we DO have time after all. We swapped more stories, had some more laughs and reported on our progress. Some of us are searching for new jobs and others are taking time to tend to family needs or personal business ventures, but no matter our unique circumstances in the aftermath of something unexpected and scary, two things are certain — I have five, amazingly-cool, new friends, and there is strength in numbers.

Thou Shalt Edit Thyself

red_pen

Thanks to our culture’s rampant use of social media to immediately convey our every thought, word, deed and bodily function, I am learning a new skill! I am learning the art of “editing” myself and what I post online. Be they posts, pictures or opinions in the forms of status updates or comments… I am developing some restraint.

Cruising through Instagram, Twitter or Facebook feeds, scrolling over photos of drooling babies, kids kicking soccer balls, hands formed in the shape of a heart hovering above bare baby bumps, a meme about the Obamacare website fail, mud or paint-covered friends posing at the finish line of the latest gimmicky 5K, endless selfies or acquaintances jetting off to exotic locales… I am thankful that my thoughts don’t come pouring instantly forth from my fingertips. If they did, I would be in serious trouble.

If they DID… Well, let’s just say that things could get ugly, fast. I’ll offer up a few “for examples” to help illustrate my point. A sort of “Top Ten List” if you will. Bear in mind, these are ONLY hypotheticals. I am in NO WAY admitting to actually thinking these things or letting them slip over casual dinner conversation with my husband… They’re just a few what-if scenarios.

  1. That is one ugly baby.
  2. Please post MORE drunken pictures of yourself.
  3. That is NOT a good look for you.
  4. Wow! Look how amazing you look now!! You were a total ________________ in high school. (I’ll let you fill in THAT blank yourselves, it’s more fun).
  5. Seriously? Another one? Have some more kids. Now that I think about it, the Duggars DO need some competition, after all.
  6. I see that you are headed to the Caribbean AGAIN… With another “new friend.” I guess that means the boob job’s all paid for then?
  7. How can YOU GUYS afford THAT house?
  8. But really, how do you HONESTLY feel about the 2nd Amendment, Obamacare or Miley Cyrus? I really, REALLY wanna know because I can’t tell from the rest of your posts.
  9. At exactly what point in your life did you forget how to spell or use the English language at all for that matter?
  10. I didn’t know that you were constipated. But now that I know… Well, that just changes everything!

Make no mistake, I don’t believe that I am exempt from annoying people by the things that I post. In fact, a friend once told me outright that they had “hidden” me from their news feed on Facebook because I posted too many pictures of my cat. And I totally respect them for their honesty. I really do.

We just don’t happen to be friends anymore.

Flying Lessons

When you come to the end of all of the light that you know and step out into the darkness of the Great Unknown… Faith is knowing that one of two things shall happen. Either you will be given something firm to stand on, or you will be taught to fly.

personal-flight-attempt-1

I can’t remember the first time I heard this quote, but I have loved it ever since. It comforts me to be reminded that things always have a way of working out. It may take a while to comprehend what is happening or why, but eventually understanding comes. Hindsight is 20/20, they always say. In the meantime, during those darker times, those murky times, those uncertain times it is important to know that things won’t always stay that way.

Easier said than done. I know.

I personally prefer the first scenario given, that I will be given something firm to stand on. If something I can feel beneath my feet is good, then something solid and immoveable—something firm—is even better. It is the flying part that I have trouble with because it does not come naturally to me. In fact, unless you’re a superhero, it doesn’t come naturally to any of us. But sometimes, flying lessons are the only option we’ll be given. No less. No more. And that can be scary because it not only requires endless patience, but trust as well.

For months now I’ve found myself sulking around in one of those murky places… waiting to see if I’d be graciously given something firm to stand on or shoved headfirst off a cliff and forced to fly. In more specific terms, I was waiting to see if the company I’d been working for (on a contract basis for the last five months) was going to welcome me into the official fold or choose to go in a different direction with another candidate.

I equated getting the job with a great big slab of granite. A vast, strong, solid piece of property to stand on which I could call my very own. I would carve my name in it and decorate it with potted plants and adorable picture frames. Conversely, I equated NOT getting the job with flying… blind… in a hurricane… without a parachute or floatation device. Betcha can’t guess which one I’m doing right now?

Yup. I’m flying. But miraculously, it isn’t the death-defying, teeth-chattering, knee-knocking, goose-bump-inducing terror trip I was expecting. It is so bizarre. Sitting in the conference room, on an ordinary Wednesday, I knew from the look on my boss’s face that I was not about to hear the news I’d been hoping for. And I’ll be honest, I was crushed. Hot, fat tears splashed down the front my favorite periwinkle sweater the entire drive home that afternoon. That evening I cried so hard I gave myself a migraine. In fact, I cried so hard my teeth and gums and eye sockets hurt.

But when the sun came up on Thursday, I was over it. By Friday I was even MORE over it and when I agreed to stay on another week and showed up for work at the very place where my services were no longer desirable, I was completely over it.  No leftover attitude. No residual bitterness. Just peace, calm and contentment. I’m not exactly sure what happened… other than the distinct possibility that although I am flying, it is not without a net. 

You see, while I’ve been wading around in fear and uncertainty, worrying and fretting  about the unknown the last five months — my soon-to-be-husband, family and friends have been weaving a pretty tight mesh beneath me. Making it clear to me that even though there is no giant slab of granite beneath my feet for TOMORROW, being angry or bitter takes too much energy away from the things that I have TODAY.

Our Barbies, Ourselves

Barbie125thCareerRetroWe’ve come a long way, baby. Or should I say Barbie has come a long way from the ill-proportioned, frighteningly well-endowed, bleach-blond beach bimbo she once was to her latest occupation: Engineer. You go girl!! You show the world that you can be ANYTHING you want to be! Plastic can be molded in a million different ways and clothes can be sewn to suit any proportions these days—real or imaginary. I, for one, find it refreshing to see that Barbie is made of stern enough stuff to conquer yet another male-dominated field.

I’ve long had a theory about Barbies and the girls who play with them. That being that who we are (or aspire to be)… was probably foreshadowed in our Barbie play. The notion grew out of a simple conversation I was having one day with two of my female co-workers. Somehow the topic of Barbie came up and all of us confirmed that we’d had at least one of them growing up. Naturally, the conversation turned to what we liked to do with our Barbies when we played with them…

JOANNA
I proudly admitted to the fact that all my Barbie wanted to do was HAVE FUN! She partied, she LOVED working on her tan and swimming in her pool (which was actually just our kitchen sink magically converted into a sparkling oasis in which Barbie could dive and swim… naked). MY Barbie would not be confined to the pre-determined dwellings crafted for her by Matel.

The Barbie mansion could not hold her. The Barbie RV was too cramped and not NEARLY luxurious enough… and so I constantly commandeered entire rooms in our house and created elaborate living spaces for her to inhabit. Thankfully my mother put up with this. I do seem to remember my poor dad trying to get to his office in our basement and having to ever-so-gingerly tip-toe around all the precariously placed pink and orange inflatable furniture.

My Barbie also did not do any work. Don’t ask me how she had any money… but she managed. She had A LOT of boyfriends. Perhaps they sponsored her. If she DID work, it was in a fashion boutique where she spent most of the time trying on the clothes instead of helping customers. In fact, looking back on it now, my Barbie was a little bitchy, somewhat lazy, completely self-absorbed and truth be told, probably a bit of a tramp.

AMANDA
One of my co-workers—let’s call her Amanda (names have been changed to protect the innocent)—had a much different interaction with her Barbie. Amanda’s Barbie was what I would call a little Worker Bee. Amanda dressed her in gray business suits and sent her to work in an office. All Amanda’s Barbie did was work. Amanda even cut up Barbie-sized squares of paper that she would feed into a miniature typewriter!! And all I could think of while she was telling me this was: She thought THIS was fun!?!?! How in the #@$% could this be fun??? But it was what Amanda liked to do with her Barbie.

When I inquired about possible boyfriends for her Barbie (I’d be remiss if I failed to mention Ken) she said that she didn’t have any Ken dolls. But she WOULD occasionally borrow her brother’s G.I. Joe doll and Joe, as if on a covert mission, would quote: “infiltrate the Barbie mansion.” Nice. It’s good to know that even Worker Bees like Amanda like to have fun. Even if it IS on the down-low, after a long, hard day at the office.

LISA
The other co-worker, let’s call her Lisa, technically HAD a Barbie to play with. But she didn’t really LIKE her Barbie all that much. Rather she tortured her Barbie from time to time. She would cut off all her hair, strip off all of her clothes, grab her by her teensy plastic foot and swing her around and around the room until she went flying into the wall.

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The most fascinating part of this colorful dialogue was the concept of our “Barbie play” amazingly hinting at the kind of women we’d each grown up to be. Thus my theory was born: What little girls do with their Barbies can offer a fairly accurate glimpse into the personalities of the women-in-waiting.

Now, I am NOT admitting to being a grown-up “bitchy, lazy, self-absorbed tramp”… though some may beg to differ. But I definitely DO like to have FUN above anything else. To me, work is a necessary evil and a means to much more important aspirations like partying, vacationing, shopping and working on my tan.

Some people, like Amanda, LIVE to work. And Amanda, to this day, remains one of the most devoted, hard-working employees I know. She put herself through school while working full time, earning not one but two degrees and has climbed the ladder in her organization. Most importantly, she is completely happy and fulfilled as that person.

Though I’ve lost track of Lisa over the years, when I knew her she was a dedicated athlete constantly railing against typical female stereotypes. She believed that women can do ANYTHING that men can do and to indicate otherwise got under her skin like nothing else. She valued fairness and equality in all walks of life and her work and leisure remained consistent with those beliefs. I doubt that she’s changed.

So perhaps it is a stretch, my theory. But I believe I’m on to something. If only I could find a generous benefactor to grant me the financial resources for the necessary research. I could quit my job and travel the globe interviewing women everywhere to obtain their stories. Naturally, this endeavor would require me to do quite a bit of socializing and patronizing lavish resorts along the way. I’d then publish my findings, resulting in a best-selling book, thus allowing me to fully retire before the age of 40… making way for nothing but F-U-N.

Belonging

three swansThree white swans inhabit the waters of the quarry stretching beneath and beyond my new office window. The other morning, the aqua expanse awash in the warm, bright sunlight of a new day, I watched the trio glide across the water just as they did the very first time I saw them.

They swim in a unique formation and always the same. Two of them remain close together while one trails slightly behind. They are graceful and lovely and a welcome distraction from the busy computer screens blinking and beeping at me with email and meeting alerts for the majority of the day.

Normally, I would think very little of the fact that there are only three. But a co-worker pointed out to me that a year ago there were four. Two pairs, consistently swimming together and doing whatever it is swans do. Over the course of time, however, the group had lost a member.

For an animal lover like me, it’s sad enough as it is without the regard for one important detail… Apparently swans mate for life. And this was a tiny bit of avian intel that I did not know. It wasn’t just that the “group” had lost a member, but one of these creatures—the one who trails roughly a swan’s length behind—had lost its partner for life.

For some reason that I can’t quite put my finger on, I’ve found myself obsessed with them. I look for them every day, hoping they will grace me with their silent presence. I’m not sure if it’s the fact that one of them has lost its partner, often causing me to wonder if perhaps he or she is sorrowful or lonely? Or whether or not it’s the fascinating fact that the other pair allows the lone swan to remain a part of the group? But something about this unconventional bird bunch intrigues and inspires me.

Such has been my preoccupation with them that I have tried to figure out the source of my quite-possibly-borderline-unusual curiosity. And I think (after some excessive reflection) I’ve nailed it down. I think it’s because the behavior is so human. Their bond reminds me so much of us with our innate desire to connect with others and to forge relationships that will stand the test of time.

The mating for life thing is cool… Don’t get me wrong. I know there are a lot of critters in nature who do this. But I think what has captivated me most is how consistently they stick together. The three of them… The odd number of them.

I don’t know about you, but I take great comfort in knowing that the need to belong stretches far beyond me… far beyond my peers, family, friends and fellow human beings… and farther still beyond the edges of the quarry outside my window… and infinitely beyond any of the natural world that I can touch, feel and see.

Merry Christmas! I Love You Thi$$$$ Much!

price tagsWell, it’s descended upon us again hasn’t it? The traditional, commercial Christmas is practically here. That magical time of year when we all gather together after rushing madly hither and yon in search of that perfect gift that lets our loved ones know just how very much we love them. Literally.

For example: “Here, Aunt Nancy… here’s a lovely plaid scarf. I know it’s wool and a little scratchy but it matches your eyes. Don’t you think? They did have cashmere, but you see… My love for you is not a cashmere kind of love. My love for you is a woolish kind of love. In fact, I love you around $11 worth.”

See what I mean? Without realizing it, we often divide those we care about into categories, defining our love for them by assigning dollar amounts. Now I know you might argue with me that it is all about budgeting and how can you possibly spend more on Cousin Stuart after dropping less than 20 on Aunt Nancy’s hideous scarf… but we ought to admit that on SOME level it is true.

The math goes a little something like this (Feel free to add a zero depending on which “percenter” you are)… There are those who fall into the $5 category. They are the ones most often occupying the fringes of our lives… Those we HAVE to see on a daily basis but would not necessarily interact with were we not forced to. And those we place into the $10 to $20 range… People with whom we choose to spend time but are not related. And then there’s family. Family eats up most of the budget either out of necessity, obligation or affection.

And this is where the real fun begins. You consider what THEY got YOU last year and thus what type of gift should be given this year. This sometimes breeds a healthy bout of one-up-man-ship or at the very least a breaking even. I’ve often wondered whether or not we should all just keep the $50 or $100 since we’re essentially handing it back and forth year after year. But what would be the fun in that?

Then I remember that it isn’t really about the money. The money is the necessary evil by which feel we must express our gratitude or love this time of year. It’s really all about recognition. Recognition of the people we COULD not or WOULD not live without whether they gave us a faulty, small kitchen appliance (with or without a warranty), a gift card to a place we hate, a too big pair of pajamas or a hideous pair of slippers last year.

Merry Christmas everyone! May you give and receive lots of love to and from your 5, 10, 20 and 50-dollar people this holiday season… no matter what form of currency it comes in.

That Picture of Us

To say that a picture is worth a thousand words is true I suppose. But only if you’re counting all the ones that are left unsaid. The things it failed to capture and yet, were present all the same.

That picture of us that sits atop my second shelf only captured a moment. It is a mere sliver in time when you were smiling and I was smiling because the photographer told us to.

It does not tell of weathered hearts and dusty dreams… of successes or of failures… Nor promises kept and promises broken. It gives no hint toward the future or revelation of the past.

That time I made you laugh so hard you nearly choked to death is nowhere to be seen. The scar on my left wrist I got while running after you is just outside the frame.

Weekends on the water, midnight rides and long, late nights of talking are written behind our eyes but no one would ever know it — were they to pick it up and hold it. Should they ever really, really study it…

That time when you were smiling and I was smiling because the photographer told us to.

Do you remember? That image on my second shelf? It is the one collecting dust. That picture of us.