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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Blocked.

It happens every now and then to those who love to share their inner most thoughts via the written word. Writer’s block. And no I’m not beating around the bush in some flowery, creative way to lead you, the reader, to that conclusion. After all I haven’t the words to do so even if I wanted to. Though in struggling with this problem I decided to do what else… but write about it.

Who knows, maybe it will knock something loose in my brain and ideas will rush like rivers through my fingertips and out onto the keyboard. Maybe not. But at least you’ll know why my posts have been fewer and farther between as of late.

I don’t get paid to blog. Most of us who do this will never see one red cent for what we key and cast into cyberspace. But many of us do it because we love to write. We observe, experience and ruminate and after we’ve said all we can possibly say to anyone within earshot… we type because the words are still spilling out of us and need a place to go.

But what if there is nothing to say? Or what if I am too distracted to sit down and focus long enough to string together some cohesive or entertaining thoughts? A small audience of 150 people are planning on reading whatever it is I have to say and I feel I must deliver! Desperately I file through my mental rolodex, searching the events of my week, my day or the last hour seeking a precious nugget of wisdom, an adventure, a humiliating personal anecdote or a tale of some random idiot who crossed my path.

The woman I saw in the produce section wearing a parka when it’s 70 outside. Is that anything? The dude who showed up before me at an interview for a graphic design job… without a resume or portfolio. Could I possibly spin that into something interesting or entertaining? The adventure that was clipping Stanley’s nails yesterday afternoon. Is there a story/moral lesson/side-splitting account there?

Parka Lady. Unprepared-still jobless-SansPortfolio Dude. Clipping the cat’s nails. I told you I was desperate.

But I must remind myself that it happens every now and then to everyone who loves to write. We worry we will never have another original thought… ever again… for the remainder of our lives. And we think about it… and think about it… and then we think about it some more. Then we do what we do best. We write about it.

Cardboard Time Capsules

Unpacking after a move can often feel like the opening of a time capsule. There are pictures, clothing and miscellaneous items—all from another time in history—packed into boxes you long forgot existed. When you inevitably uncover them you find yourself transported back to that moment… that week… that summer… that period in your life when things were vastly different.

Perhaps they were better times, perhaps they were worse. Perhaps you are overcome with feelings of nostalgia, joy, surprise, grief or even relief that you are now sitting exactly where you are sitting at this particular moment in time. No matter the emotions that may wash over you, one thing will almost always be certain: Life looks different than you thought it would back then.

This week Lee brought in some boxes from the garage where we are still storing and sorting through my things. One of them contained a photo album, several envelopes with loose photos and a few cards and letters. He asked if he could look at the album and of course I said yes as I pulled my chair along side his in order to get a good look myself.

It was an album I put together of the summers I’d spent working on a dude ranch in Colorado during college. I was happy to see that although the photos were nearly 17 years old, I didn’t look radically different than I do today… minus a few laugh lines and crows feet. But the thing that struck me the most was the fact that Life hadn’t really touched me yet. In those images, Life and Circumstance had yet to ruffle my youthful feathers. Or trip me up and skin my knees.

Back then I operated under the naive assumption that the worst that could happen was a bad hair day, a rained-out horseback ride, accidentally calling a guest by the wrong name or a few broken dishes. Boy, did I have a lot to learn. Though I wouldn’t trade my then child-like idealism and ambition for anything. I would learn soon enough that the world wasn’t fair and sometimes bad things happen no matter how hard you work to avoid them.

We all do, eventually.

After we got done looking at the album and he got up and turned his attention to something else, I lingered over that box of photos and letters—this cardboard time capsule—and I looked at more images of times when I was younger, thinner, prettier, tanned and toned. And honestly, the thoughts and feelings they conjured up have been tumbling around in my head for days. Only now are they coming out through my fingers on the keyboard as I share this with you.

Truth be told I envy that girl and yet I remember that EVEN SHE occasionally thought (waaaay back then) that she wasn’t pretty enough or thin enough or smart enough or good enough… yet. She thought that ONE day—when she was older—she would come into her own and everything would be perfect. Everything would be just as it should be.

Well, here she is. Here I am. That “one day” has arrived and you know what? I’ve decided after peering inside of my time capsule, that since I can’t go back and fix her unattainable aspiration for perfection… I can fix mine. I can live in THIS moment, enjoying all that I have right now, promising to always try and stay present. But most of all… no matter how many more time capsules I uncover in this lifetime… to stay grateful for all that has been and currently is.

The Space Between

Our new shower rod was resting on the dining room table along side Christmas presents, gloves and our newest stack of purchases from the local used book store. Wrapping paper, ribbons and holiday bags were strewn about the hallway in what can only be described as the result of a full-blown holiday fury. New lamps and old, skirted the edges of the living room as the “appropriate decorative illumination” deliberations entered into their second day. As far as I was concerned, nothing seemed to be in its “place” and it was driving me crazy.

You see, this wasn’t yet my house… but it soon would be. None of my things were there… but they soon would be. My mind was swimming with questions and concerns: Where will I put my favorite side table? Will my throw pillows match his couch? Man I wish I had my Keurig… and my favorite flannel pjs… my down pillows… my DVDs… and Stanley.

During the transition from an old life to a new one, there is a space that lies between. This is where I found myself then and even though I can see the other side from where I am now—as I inch ever-closer day by day—I’m still standing on the bridge over the gap.

Within the gap there are some everyday things that inevitably get caught in the cracks between the transitions we make in our lives. Things like misplaced shower rods, bagels and laundry laying where they aren’t supposed to be along with mixed-up emotions lacking any proper explanation. Yesterday, I was reminded by a beautiful writer in her recent post about a personal life transition just how out-of-whack life seems in the midst of major change.

No matter what our journeys look like. No matter our transitions… be it a career change, a new baby, a relocation, a tragic loss or the beginning or ending of a vital relationship… there will always be the transition and that awkward space between when we’re bound to feel out of place, discovering our “things” in odd locations where it seems they don’t belong.

The Power of a Smile

Smiling from beneath a Taco Bell visor she handed me my change and exclaimed: “Have a great day, honey!” As she always did every day that I appeared at her drive-thru window. I never knew her name, but I knew that she was one of the friendliest people I have ever encountered working at a fast food restaurant.

Several times a week I used to drive to the Taco Bell near my office to get lunch. On most days she would be the one to take my order and money. She looked to be about mid-forties but there was something in her appearance that hinted at the fact that life had not been kind to her. No matter what, each day, she always smiled a wide grin and made a little small talk. It was a welcome change to deal with a pleasant person at a drive-thru window, plus I liked the way that I could always count on her being there, wearing that welcoming smile…

Until one day she wasn’t there.

It must be her day off, I assumed, and went about my business. After the next visit and the next visit and the next, I began to wonder what had happened to her. Did she get let go? Did she quit? Did she simply change shifts? Did she get a better job somewhere? Anything was possible I guess, after all, I knew absolutely nothing about her. Several months went by and finally I just figured that she was gone. And odd as it seems to feel this way about a stranger… I hoped that wherever she was… she was happy.

Then one day she was back at the window, still smiling! I was so happy to see her again that I blurted out: “Hey! It’s you! You’re back! Where have you been!?!” I never gave a thought to the fact that I might be infringing on her privacy by asking such a question. She didn’t seem to mind one bit, she was as kind as ever.

Then I noticed it. Peeking out from the neckline of her purple polo, I could see the jagged edge of an angry red scar. “I had open heart surgery” she said matter-of-factly as she handed me my change. “There has been something wrong with my heart since I was a baby… but they finally fixed it.” And she grinned wider than ever.

We spoke to one another for a few moments. I inquired about her recovery and she explained that it had been a long and difficult one. She had experienced severe complications, gotten an infection and nearly died. I said how happy I was to see her again and that I’d keep her in my thoughts and prayers. She seemed genuinely touched by my words and appeared a little dumbfounded, but still managed to smile anyway.

I drove away thinking about her and how in ALL this time while I was shuffling back and forth to work and going out for lunch and running errands and stressing out and scurrying this way and that… she was battling for her life. I found myself praying for her — this woman whose name I did not know. And it made me stop and consider how much we rush and rush and race through life, so focused on the tasks that lay before us… the items on our To-Do lists… or the things that are troubling us… that we never stop to consider what the strangers whose paths we cross may be going through.

For all we know, the nasty woman in line at the check out counter may just have had her entire world turned upside down. Maybe they lost someone dear to them or lost a job. Maybe they’re battling illness, depression, defeat or heartbreak. Maybe they are lonely and longing for someone to simply look at them and NOTICE them.

For some reason, we’ve become so self-involved that we just don’t get it anymore. We don’t take the time to actually look and SEE one another. We don’t stop and ask someone how they’re doing. How they are REALLY doing. It seems all we really want is for them to just get out of our way. I know I am guilty of this.

Years ago, I read a bumper sticker that said: “Today: Give someone one of your smiles, it may be the only one they receive all day” and that has stayed with me. The woman at the drive-thru, who was so sick that she nearly died, yet always offered me one of HER smiles, gets it. She gets it. And thanks to her maybe I can finally get it too.

Less is more.

Last night as I unplugged the tree I couldn’t help but notice how much less was beneath it compared to last year. At this realization, I smiled the whole way up the stairs and while I got ready for bed.

Yep. There are fewer presents beneath my tree this year and I couldn’t be happier. Sure its always fun to see a beautifully decorated tree with colorfully wrapped presents adorned with shiny bows and ribbons cascading out from under. But sometimes those mounds of gifts that may bring joy NOW, bring nothing but stress and misery in the months to follow when the bills come due.

I have known such misery. Maybe you have too. I have heard the scraping sound of the shovel digging deeper into the soil of my hard-earned resources. And I have peered into the hole as it grew deeper and deeper and deeper based on my poor decisions or lack of restraint.

Unlike many, I am fortunate that I have not lost my job or experienced a large financial shifting of any kind. But I am proud to say that the practices and wisdom of people like my mother and Lee—being my polar opposites when it comes to financial discipline and discernment—have begun rubbing off on me. The encouragement from my father to make smarter choices has helped as well. I am truly seeing the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel! And it feels both peaceful and exhilarating!

Fewer packages beneath the tree means I did not overextend myself by buying things I can’t afford or borrowing from my future to pay for my “present.” The people I love will still receive gifts from me, just not quite as much. Since when does the amount you spend reflect the amount of love you feel for someone? Since always I suppose. Since we’ve learned to worship the almighty dollar and ALL the “things” it can garner us… if only we had MORE.

I like having things and taking trips and spending money. In fact, I LOVE IT. A little too much. And just like everyone else… I want more. But I have to ask myself: How much more is enough? When does more cease being more if it comes at such great a price?

It has taken me almost 37 years, but I think I finally understand how less may actually be more. In learning to love the having of less… we make room in our lives for the enjoyment of financial freedom, peace of mind and so much more.

Spike my Egg Nog… Please

Tis the season for beautiful twinkle lights and fancily-wrapped presents… A time to celebrate the joy of giving and count one’s blessings whilst surrrounded by those we hold dear. Yet for many people… Tis the Season of Overcommitment. Overcommitment of time. Overcommitment of money. Overcommitment of energy. Overcommitment of worry and resources.

Years ago, for me, this used to be (sing it with me, you know the tune) … The Most Stre-ess-ful Time of the Year… They’ll be much over-charging and customers barging for the Greatest Deal… Yes the most Stre-ess-ful Time of the Year!

I know it doesn’t exactly rhyme, but I think you get the idea.

In two words: It sucked. There were cards to be sent… Shopping to be done… Pageants to rehearse… Concerts and live nativities and office parties and gatherings with friends and gatherings with family to attend… Obscene amounts of food and wine and chocolate followed by more obscene amounts of food and wine and chocolate to be consumed… and before I knew it I didn’t know what was buldging more… The bags under my eyes, my muffin top over my favorite pair of jeans or my Visa envelope come January.

I am now on a personal mission—you might say—to restore the joy and peace that is, by the way, SUPPOSED to be the purpose of the season in the first place by ridding myself of the commitments, obsessions and stresses that typically accompany holiday-related things.

I don’t send cards. My friends and family don’t need to hear me paint a far-prettier-than-reality picture of my life by reading some fluffed-up letter full of superlatives and exclamation points.

I set limits on gifts and I stick to them. And when in doubt about what to give to my seven (COUNT THEM… S-E-V-E-N) nieces and nephews… money is always a safe bet — and an amount of money that I can actually afford as well.

I don’t do pageants. Someone else can stay up until midnight every night for the three weeks leading up to Christmas and sing the solo. I’m done. I much prefer the sleep. I might attend the pageant… if I feel like it.

I choose carefully the events that I commit to. At 36, I am beginning to understand my physical and mental limits when it comes to the amount of myself that I have to “spread around.” If I feel too thinly spread. I just say no.

The food, wine and chocolate… OK… THOSE are OK. They are called “coping mechanisms” and that’s why I’ve learned to keep a larger size of jeans in the closet. That can be our little secret. Let’s just call it Christmas Grace, shall we?

Please don’t misunderstand. I am not a scrooge or anti-holiday. I do find infinite joy in lounging on the couch and staring at the twinkle lights on the tree late at night while watching Cousin Eddie slurp egg nog from a moose cup in his black dickie / white sweater combo on National Lampoons Christmas Vacation

I do find infinite peace in closing my eyes during the Christmas Eve candlelight service while the soloist (who isn’t me) sings my favorite Christmas Hymn, Oh Holy Night

And I absolutely find infinite enjoyment in watching my nieces and nephews glow as they show me their loot on Christmas morning with all the excitement they can possibly muster after only four hours of sleep.

But just in case you DO see me at a party or pageant or family gathering this holiday season, please do me one solid favor… and spike my drink already. Trust me, it’s really best for all of us.