An Honest Confession

Call it narcissism, pride or just the plain, old fear of humiliation… but I have been withholding information. Real-life information that I could be writing about instead of waiting for either divine inspiration or for Lee, the neighbors or Stanley the cat to do something blog-worthy.

I have shared all sorts of embarrassing, self-deprecating information here but for reasons that I am not entirely sure of, I have been avoiding the subject that is probably weighing the heaviest on my mind as of late. My job search. I HATE looking for a job. I know, who in their right mind enjoys it anyway, right? But seriously… I really do hate it. And I feel like I have had a lot of experience in this arena, given that I have moved exactly four times in seven years.

I am frustrated that my phone is not getting blown up by every ad agency, retailer, newspaper, magazine, publisher or corporation to which I have sent my resume. But every day as I ritualistically rush to open my email, checking for word that I am indeed the most desirable graphic designer in the Greater Columbus area… Lee reminds me that I’ve been looking for less than two months (to be exact) and that I WILL find something when the time is right. He also smiles, tells me to stop worrying and chill… And then we watch the latest episode(s) of Wicked Tuna on Nat Geo or Real Time with Bill Maher. Thankfully, Lee is the calm and cool to my cracked-up and crazy.

Even though it has taken me exactly 258 words thus far to get to the REAL point of this post, I felt it was imperative to share with you my heartfelt frustration over the job search and just get that part out of the way. See, this entry is not actually about my feelings over the failure to secure kickass employment at the moment. But rather about WHY it is I’ve been so reluctant to share those feelings at all.

I guess it is one thing to share a story about the simultaneous appearance of acne AND crow’s feet or how I managed to ruin something as culinarily simple as mac and cheese. But it is entirely DIFFERENT to write about something of actual concern to me. There really isn’t all that much fun in appearing weak or vulnerable and admitting that something actually (and not in a fun way) kind of scares you.

I think the biggest reason that I’ve been afraid to put my admissions of fear “out there” for the world to read is that, as a woman (sorry ladies for what I’m about to say… but it is often true) I have been party to juicy conversations, discussions, gossip-fests, etc. regarding the misfortunes of others. For reasons somewhat unbeknownst to me, other people’s misfortune can oftentimes be a source of happiness to some.

Now, I’m sure there are deep-seated sociological and psychological implications in said behavior such as finding one’s own worth to be greater only when basking in the blueish cast of another’s less-than-stellar circumstance. I’m sure it’s quite similar to what your mother taught you about people who try to keep other people down in order to build themselves up. Whatever the reason, the fact remains that it is there. And that has been enough. Enough for me to be hesitant in sharing the truth about a real concern regarding my future.

Yet my hope in writing this is to once and for all peel back the covers on my own insecurity, step in front of anyone—friend or foe—who may or may not have my best interests at heart… and keep right on writing anyway. I’ve been withholding now for far too long.

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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…

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.

Stir Crazy

Only three weeks in and I have found myself at somewhat of an interesting crossroads. The sleeping in has been quite dreamy, the zero-pressure atmosphere delightful and the yoga is devine. But not unlike Tom Hanks’ character in the movie Cast Away… I have simply had enough of myself. And I don’t even have a volleyball named Wilson to talk to.

That’s right, I said it. I have grown weary of my own company AND the sound of my own voice as it bounces off the ceiling while the cat just sits there blinking at me. This is unchartered territory for me and it is a rather strange land in which to navigate. It’s no wonder that people get so weird when they live alone for years and years. It’s really not all that surprising that some wind up writing lengthy manifestos and exhibiting questionable behavior. If left alone for too long a human being can get… well… a little whacko.

No worries, dear readers. I haven’t begun writing a manifesto or threatening letters to the government or Elizabeth Hasselbeck on The View (even though I AM tempted because she is just THAT annnoying). I am not assembling explosives in my basement or digging a bunker or anything like that. I am just becoming acutely aware of my own, personal need to interact with people a bit further beyond cyberspace.

Not only do I feel the need to reach out, yesterday I actually got out to do a little shopping, run a few errands, etc. Oh what an exciting expedition it was! It wasn’t until I opened my mouth to speak to another human being that I realized how much I needed to get out. The teller at the bank looked at me like I’d spontaneously sprouted a second head right before her very eyes when I finally choked out the proper words to communicate to her that I needed to open an account.

I wondered what her deal was giving me the look she was giving me and then I suddenly realized it was because I was nervous. ME! Nervous! I will talk to anyone! I DO talk to anyone and everyone… and yet it had been just long enough since I’d spoken to someone other than Lee or Stanley the cat that I felt a bit nervous at the sound of my very own voice directed toward another living, breathing person.

I practically leapt across the counter and told the cashier at Big Lots the entire story of Lee’s proposal when she complimented me on my engagement ring. I got about three sentences in before I heard the little voice inside my head telling me to shut the hell up, take my purchases and go because hello?? SHE DOESN’T CARE.

In the pasta aisle at the grocery store I wanted to tell the sweet, old lady who smiled at me that I had just found the missing remote to my DVD player amidst the stacks and stacks of boxes in the garage and also that I couldn’t believe the garbage man hadn’t come yet to gather our trash! I mean, how long is that can going to have to sit on the curb anyway!?!?

Do not fear. I didn’t act on the impulse in the pasta aisle or any other aisle for that matter. I quietly selected my items and wandered the store, browsing and just enjoying my freedom in general. For I know that ALL TOO SOON I will be punching a time clock and wishing, longing… PINING for these days of pure, unstructured time.

Soooo… there’s that… and the fact that I am also taking the appropriate measures to ensure continued and sustained sanity by messaging many of my friends and contacts in the city to set up brunch/lunch/dinner/coffee ASAP. And to those of you “friends and contacts in the city” whom I have contacted to DO brunch/lunch/dinner/coffee ASAP who may be reading thisPlease do NOT be afraid. I promise to drink only decaf and mum’s the word about the garbage man. Even though he IS always totally late in picking up the trash.

Putting a Pin In It

Recently I have become aware of a new phrase that has crept into our popular culture and me—being the words-person that I am—am intrigued by it. The phrase I am referring to is: “Let’s put a pin in it!” Basically defined it means: Let’s plan on doing <insert the name of said activity/task/chore/meeting here> at SOME point in time… just not THIS particular point in time.

I have not personally used the phrase but have observed it being used on at least three different TV shows this season. I’m not sure where it started or how long it has been around… yet I cannot help but wonder with all of the interest circling a little thing called Pinterest these days… Is there a connection?

I was introduced to Pinterest by a blog called Becoming Cliche. She was beginning to examine the social networking and idea-sharing site and discussing Pinterest’s false exclusivity and how she wanted so badly to be a member, that is, until they accepted her as a member. You see, everyone eventually gets to be a member, whether you are invited to join by another member or you shamelessly solicit membership directly FROM the site itself.

Anyway, I managed to stay away from this addicting site, that is, until a friend invited me to join since I would be doing some redecorating in the near future. It was then that I realized how many of my friends were already on it and how active they all were in generating these virtual bulletin boards bursting with fun, fresh ideas from fashion, decorating and design to books, movies and basic car repair.

The trouble is, I’ve been too busy with my move to actually get into creating my OWN board and it is making me feel like a super, cyber slacker. Everyday I see my inbox grow with messages that another friend and another friend and another friend are now following me on Pinterest. Maybe no one actually cares. Maybe no one actually LOOKS at my blank corkboard made of pixels. But the perfectionist and “joiner” in me causes me to imagine the deep disappointment of my friends when they visit me and find… Nothing. Nada. Zip. Zero. And zilch.

So for now… with regard to my activity on Pinterest, or lack thereof… I guess I’d just like to say to my fellow friends and Pinsters out there… Let’s just put a pin in it. At least until I actually take the time to figure out how the hell to use it.

September 11: 2,000 Miles Apart

I wrote the following story around September 11th of this past year—the 10th anniversary—but have not had the luxury of time to finish it until now. Although I know I could wait until September 11, 2012 to share it with you all… I feel like it doesn’t really matter. We all remember where we were that day. It is a topic that enters many, many conversations that I have with people to this day… on any given day of the year. It is an event none of us will soon forget and there are as many accounts of this infamous day as there are people on the planet.

This one is mine.

And hers. Thank you Jan for allowing me to share just a part of your story…

I was so proud of her for moving out of Ohio and embarking on an adventure all her own. With no job she decided to roll the dice, take a chance and move to New York City.

Brave girl, I thought. I admire her. I envy her. This experience will change her life forever… even if she winds up right back where she started… in the Buckeye State. She will have had the time of her life.

In the summer of 2001, she and a friend took an apartment in the heart of Manhattan’s financial district. Two blocks from the World Trade Center. Two blocks from what would soon become the site of the worst attack ever to occur on American soil. But of course, during the long, sunny days of summer in the city, the events of that fateful day couldn’t have been further from her mind.

Though job hunting, she still found plenty of time to go shopping and enjoy some big-city glam. I still remember the new clothes and trendy haircut she showed me once while we were both back on our home turf, visiting our families at the same time. She was a New Yorker now. And, as Carrie Bradshaw would say: She looked fabulous.

On a random, mid-September, Tuesday morning the sound and vibration from the first explosion woke her from a dead sleep. Eventually she made her way to the rooftop of her building to see what was happening. Not long after, another collision convinced her this was, indeed, not a dream. Fire and smoke and chaos reigned.

2,000 miles away in southern New Mexico it was a little after 6 a.m, Mountain Standard Time. I had gotten up like every other day, set my feet on the floor and flipped on the news. A plane had hit one of the World Trade Center towers and, like many others, I thought it an accident and hoped no one had been seriously injured. That was, until I watched—on live television—a second plane smash into the other tower. I was immediately sick. I knew this was no accident.

On the drive to work the news informed me that a plane had crashed into the Pentagon and another into a field in Pennsylvania. Reports were also coming in that people had been spotted jumping from the twin towers. And it felt as though the sky was falling. In many ways… I suppose it really was.

My thoughts immediately turned to her.

I had no cell phone in 2001, so I began driving faster to the office to use the phone. Miraculously, when I rang her apartment, she answered—practically hysterical. Because of the news coverage here and the power outages there I quickly realized I was more aware of what was happening from a technical standpoint. She, much more aware than I of what was happening from a sensory one.

With 24-hour news coverage, instantaneous broadcasting, cell phones and the internet, technology had shrunken our world in such a way that even from 2,000 miles away I knew what was happening at the very same moment she was witnessing it. A voice yelled down my hallway: “The second tower just collapsed.” As I simultaneously heard her cry out the same words through the phone lines.

As she saw it begin to fall, her voice was gripped with terror and disbelief. She would soon report that her windows and view was becoming blackened from the overwhelming billows of ash rolling through the streets, swallowing everything in their path.

I told her that they were reporting for people to grab what they could from their homes, including towels or clothing to place over their mouths and noses and get out—NOW. We said our good-byes and hung up.

Later that night—from a hotel room in Albuquerque where I had traveled to on business—I spoke to her parents and found that she had safely arrived at a friend’s beach house on the Jersey shore. They had walked all the way there, relying on the kindness of strangers along the way to give them masks and bottles of fresh water.

And I thanked God she was OK. And as I later learned of all the people who never got to speak to their loved ones, let alone KNOW whether or not they were OK or gone forever… I thanked God that I was fortunate enough to speak to her in that life-changing moment from 2,000 miles away.

Jan and I at an Ohio State tailgating party. November, 2011

 

Everyone Has One

You know what they say about opinions, don’t you? Everyone has one. Everyone. And even if they don’t come right out and TELL you what it is… it’s typically written all over their face.

As I mopped up the remnants of the salt and snow still lingering on my hardwood floors from moving day, I reflected upon the array of varied encounters I’d just had at the local grocery store. Giving Kelly Clarkson and Kid Rock a run for their money as I boldly belted out and occasionally butchered their lyrics over the sound of the stereo… I shook my head, smiled and laughed to myself.

You’ve gotta love life in a small town. Or not. I don’t really care. It’s just that there are times when this unique existence is not for the faint of heart. Like, for example, when you’ve recently (and apparently shockingly to some) quit your “perfectly good job” to run off with some guy to the big city in pursuit of a brand NEW life. Just. Like. That.

It was a perfectly normal Tuesday afternoon in the booming metropolis of Minerva, Ohio (population 3,500… give or take) when I entered the grocery store in jeans and Uggs to buy some milk, cereal and cleaning supplies for the remainder of my time here. You know… to tie up loose ends, get my teeth cleaned, have lunch with a few friends and such before Stanley and I hit the interstate in search of concrete pastures.

I wasn’t even inside the automatic doors when I received my first interrogation. The second came in the produce department, another in the chip aisle and still another in frozen foods. Everyone… Everyone seemed bent on me answering three questions: Did you take the day off from work? Do you have a job yet in the city? Have you set a date?

Did you notice in my account of these interractions that no one… NOT ONE PERSON asked me if I was happy or excited about my engagement and new adventure? Everyone just sort of looked at me with scowls of confusion, concern or disbelief. Perhaps even shock and awe as they each, one by one—in the entryway, produce department, chip aisle and frozen foods—tilted their heads to the side as if to say: “Huh. I hear the words that are coming out of your mouth but I have no clue as to what you’re actually saying.”

Now what they really said to me was some version of: “Well then, my very best to you dear. Tell your parents I said hi.” And I happily pushed my cart forward… straight into the grasp of the next, fun, little Q&A’s. The future batch of opinions that will surely be waiting for me…

… At the check-out counter… in the parking lot… at the gas pump… the teller window… the waiting room…

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.

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A New Year: Gifts Within a Gift

Nearly everyone is familiar with the idea of a gift within a gift within a gift. A large, beautifully-wrapped box that when opened, contains another smaller wrapped box that when opened, contains yet another even-smaller wrapped box and so on.

This came to mind today as I considered the notion of a new year and all of the unopened surprises it contains. As we put to bed the events of 2011, we cannot help but reflect upon them. Mulling over its unique highs and lows, celebrations and horrors we ponder both things that happened to us individually as well as collectively.

Each of our “gifts” looks different and of course contains entire sets of varying surprises. Some of the boxes will contain wonders and joys beyond belief while still others may hold heartbreaking secrets and life-altering circumstances.

In the grand scheme of things, it really is best not to know… until the moment has come to open each one in its own time. Naturally, in the dawn of early January we will ask ourselves the question: What does 2012 have in store for me, my family, my friends, my country and my world?

And I realized that if time is one of the most precious gifts (and I truly believe that it is) then the days of another year—a gift unto itself—is not unlike the concept of that beautifully-wrapped parcel. There are gifts within a gift within a gift. Each day intended to be unwrapped and fully experienced one by one… in the order in which they are presented to us.

Coming Down From Christmas

Not surprisingly I had a migraine yesterday evening. My mom, who also suffers from them, calls certain types of migraines “rubber band headaches.” Not because it is descriptive of the pain one endures during the attack, but because—like a rubber band stretched to its limit—you eventually snap.

Often I experience one AFTER a stressful event has passed and my relaxation or “coming down” process has begun. So it was no shock to me when I began to feel an excruciating but all too familiar vice-grip sensation creeping across my forehead only hours after reaching Lee’s house and putting my feet up.

Now I suppose it could have been brought on by chocolate or tryptophan withdrawal or something like that… but I suspect it was due purely to the “ahhhhhhhhhh moment” that finally settled over me once the gifts had all been given, the wrappings had all been tossed, the leftovers had all been put away, the wedding plans or (in some opinions) lack thereof had been discussed to death and the good-byes had all been said.

Much-needed sweat pants were donned and are, I suppose, partially responsible for the incident. I believe some pillows and blankets also may have been involved. Though as of this writing… said suspects have yet to voluntarily come forth and reveal themselves.

What is it about Christmas that incites such frenzy, stress and hurriedness that my rubber band snapped following a mere flannel and fleece-induced exhale? I have some ideas… but I think I’ll save the contemplating, dissecting and sharing of them for Christmas 2012. Mulling them over right now… well… it just hurts my head.