Coffee Break

I’m feeling very fortunate. During these busy summer months when finding even ten minutes to sit down and write seems impossible, I’ve been lucky enough to have a fine writer named Shelly become a Facebook friend. Shelly has been wanting to share a story of something that happened while she was traveling–yet she hasn’t wanted to publish it in her usual place. Put differently: this particular bit of writing needs a different audience. That’s where you come in, Gentle Readers. So take a minute to get comfortable, pour yourself a cup of java, and kick back to enjoy Shelly’s story.

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Women in white head coverings and long black robes parted from the middle of the road languidly, too involved in their conversations with their walking companions to divert their attention despite the steady forward movement of our tour bus.

“This Druze village is typical of the way the Druze live here in the Jezreel Valley,” our urbane Israeli guide shared. “The Druze are an offshoot of Islam, having broken away in the 14th century, and they have some beliefs that are unique only to them. For instance, you can only be a Druze if your father was a Druze. Men are still the only authority in the families, and they believe in reincarnation. If there’s not an available baby for a recently departed soul to enter, they believe that a soul can find other resting places, even animals, until a newborn is available.”

My teenaged daughter looked at me, raising her eyebrows and distending her mouth in mock horror. I put a finger over my mouth, to suppress any inappropriate levity from the both of us. This was our fourth morning in Israel, and long days and little sleep thinned my usually sturdy social filters.

The bus eased into a parking spot near a small restaurant overlooking a river. “Mom, I think Grandpa would have enjoyed this place. Look- they have all those old men outside,” she said as she tapped the window and gestured towards their group on the steps. “He would have been right in the middle of them, matching them story for story.”

I nodded, even as I shook my head a little. Had it actually happened? Was he really gone, or did I dream it? My father in law, stubborn, prickly, often at odds with his own daughters, had always had a special place for me. I am not a coffee drinker, but he’d always have the blackest of the black coffee ready when we visited, seasoned with a couple of liberal dashes of Tabasco, the whole concoction his favorite daytime drink. Although I never drank it, he would set the cup down in front of me at the kitchen table as we all pulled up chairs and say loudly, “Drink! It’ll put hair on your face!”

His sudden passing two weeks before we left for Israel was still surreal. The guide’s instructions interrupted my thoughts. “We’ll have an hour for lunch, or shopping, whichever you prefer, but we have a tight schedule, so don’t be late!”

I pulled my purse onto my shoulder as we filed down the bus stairs. I grabbed my daughter’s arm on a whim and said, “I don’t think I’m going to eat lunch. I just can’t take more falafel right now. You go ahead with your friends and I’m going to wander into a couple of these little shops.”

“Ummm, ok,” she shrugged. “Meet you back at the bus?”

“Yes- right on time,” I assured her. “See you in a little bit.”

I wandered into the closest shop and aimlessly moved from rack to rack, touching the silky scarves and even hefting a few of the colorful purses, but none held my interest. My thoughts were still entangled with my father in law’s passing and the guilt I felt about not visiting him for several weeks before he was gone. I resolved to do better by our other relatives when we returned home.

I continued down the street until I neared the group of elderly men my daughter had pointed out from the bus. The smoke from their unfiltered cigarettes and their hearty laughter masked a small, dark storefront, possibly a grocery store. I squeezed past them, interested to see what a Druze market held.

My eyes worked to adjust from the dazzling sunlight to the windowless, shadowy interior. A young Druze woman, in the standard black robe and white head covering briefly glanced at me, looked back at the clerk she was talking with, and then swung her head back to me again. “Ah, there you are. Welcome!” she said in heavily accented English. “Are you thirsty?”

“Uhh, well, I would like to buy a Diet Coke,” I explained, having already spotted them in a cooler near the door.

“No, no. Here, we family. Come, come, sit.” She gestured to a small table at the back of the store. “I’ve got coffee ready, our good, black Arabic coffee. None blacker anywhere!”

I clutched my purse tighter to me and looked back to the front door. “Oh, uh, thank you,” I stammered. “I’m not a coffee drinker. Never have been. I do appreciate it. I really need to get back to my bus, though.”

“No, no, just a little visit, before you leave. Achmed, bring the coffee!” A small boy about seven, thin legged and wearing red shorts, came in shyly with a cup of coffee he set on the table.

“Come, come, we’ve been waiting!”

The hair on the back of neck snapped to attention as she reached into her robe. I stepped slowly backwards, my breath caught somewhere in my chest.

“See, see, we have what you Americans like, eh, Stevia?” She held a small container of Stevia. “Coffee is good for you, good, you learn to like it, eh?”

I exhaled in tiny, quiet bursts and shook my head.

She looked at the table. “Achmed, all of it! Go ahead, bring it out, come on!”  She looked me in the eye and slowly smiled. “Just like you like it!”

I was already out the front door and bounding down the street to the bus before the bottle of Tabasco Achmed fumbled onto the table had quit spinning.

My Year as a Nanny: Tending Mary Jane

“Looks like they had a good time last night,” I thought to myself, pushing the pipe, bag of buds, and lighter behind a lamp in an effort to conceal them from the children’s view.

The last thing I needed in my job as a nanny was the task of explaining to my charges, “When Mommy has a PhD, and Daddy is an executive in a big building downtown, life can get very stressful. Sometimes, at the end of a long day, they just need to tuck you guys in and then kick back with some reefer. Repeat after me: reeeeee-ferrrrr.”

As much as I didn’t care one way or another how the adults who wrote me a cheque for $200 each week–$155 after taxes (Incidentally, that came to $5 large American dollars for each hour of watching their two children–the going rate in 1989 to have a private liberal arts college graduate wipe magna cum laude from one’s children’s behinds)–spent their evenings, I also didn’t feel comfortable picking up their paraphernalia and stuffing it more completely out of sight. If I did that, then I’d have to explain, in code, at the end of the day, “Hi, welcome home from work. Kevin took a short afternoon nap, so he’ll probably go down early, and Lila sang out loud during her entire hour of quiet time; it was adorable. She made up some hilarious lyrics to ‘I’ve Been Working on the Railroad.’ Oh, and by the way: I ook-tay our-yay ipe-pay and aggie-bay of ot-pay and put it in the ashing-way achine-may.”

So I merely tucked the items out of view and then fired up the television so the kids and I could enjoy our allowed half-hour of screen time that day in the form of our favorite pre-8 a.m. program: Maya the Bee.

(A stunned-looking Maya wonders where her pot went. Best guesses have it that her pal Willy the Bee had himself a big smoke in the hive.)

A half hour later, we turned off the tv and headed upstairs to blow bubbles, make towers of blocks, play an interminable game of Chutes & Ladders, read four books, and walk up and down the block.

That got us to 8:11 a.m.

Truly, hours with small kids can move at a glacial pace, making the brain space out and drift aimlessly. The highlight of the whole thing is snack time.

Pretty much, taking care of young ‘uns is like being stoned without having to inhale, really.

At the end of that day, ten hours after I shoved the weed behind the lamp in the basement, I headed home, eager to make some Ramen and collapse in front of the television with my roommates, rule-free, for however long we chose. In contrast to the daytime, those evening hours flew by.

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The next morning, when I let myself into the house where I nannied, the mother caught me for a quick minute in the kitchen. Sheepishly, she alternately rushed and stuttered,

“So…yesterday…we…left…some…thingsyoufound…in…thebasementwhichwasawhoopsie…and…well…ifthat’saproblemjustsayso…we…don’t…want…any…issues…so, um, sorry about that. Are we okay?”

My answer came easily, “We’re totally okay. As far as I’m concerned, your kids are well loved, your lives are awesome, you guys are great, so nothing beyond that is my business. No problem.”

Relief spread across her face, but she remained silent for a beat. And then:

“Oh, good. I’m so glad. Uh, actually, as long as we’re on the subject, uh, we’ve been having trouble lately finding a supply. Our former source dried up.”

Taking a deep breath, the PhD-mother-of-two who wrote me a cheque for $200 every week braved the true question:

“So, I don’t suppose you know anyone who would be able to help us out with that? We were thinking at your age that you might know someone who could keep us supplied?”

In response, I murmured something about asking around and seeing if anyone knew anyone. Then I watched her drive off to her job as a psychologist, and my hands went to work warming up Eggo waffles for the kids, but

my brain spent the next hour marveling that

the person who cares for the kids makes less than

the person who peddles the pot.

 

 

Becoming a Badass

When I first started blogging in 2006, I learned to make the rounds of other people’s blogs. As we do.

First, I read one person’s blog, and then I’d click on the comment of one of the readers of that blog and be taken to his/her blog, and so on and so on and so on. Over time, I figured out which blogs appealed to me and, over even more time, I started to develop relationships with a few of my fellow bloggers. That community then transferred to Facebook, where I’ve gotten to know multiple bloggers in a way that feels even more real and immediate.

In fact, thanks to reading blogs and friending up on Facebook, my family was given a free place to stay in Connecticut a couple years ago when we took a road trip to the East Coast. For several nights, blogging pal and Facebook friend Meredith and her family extended huge hospitality and allowed us to have a few days in New York City without paying NYC accommodation prices. We took the train into the city from her place and then returned each evening–most memorably, one night to a bottle of scotch she’d left on our bed as a gift.

Yea, she’s rad like that.

At any rate, when I met Meredith face-to-face, she was confident, kind, fabulous. It surprised me, then, that she jokingly mentioned not loving her weight, as it was higher than it had been earlier in life. This also surprised me, for in my view, Meredith looked perfectly perfect.

What we in the world see so often differs from what’s going on inside the heads of those around us, though.

In the time that’s passed since Meredith and I met, as I’ve watched her challenge herself to a place of change, I’ve gained even more admiration for her. In fact, I asked her to write something that chronicles what she’s achieved in recent months.

*drumroll, please* Therefore, Readers, I ask you to welcome Meredith and her story of change.

Here is her story:

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My exercise journey.

For starters, I have always been very content with sitting, hanging out, relaxing. And snacking. Chillin’ and snacking. And drinking. Chillin, snacking, and drinking. Yah, really. But, one day I realized I wasn’t content. My body would wheeze as I climbed stairs, shoulders would hurt just hanging curtains, mowing the lawn was too big a task, and a simple walk on a trail was exhausting. My body size increased little by little over the years, and I didn’t even really notice. Until, I noticed. And then I stopped and really took a look. I needed a change. I had already taken control of my digestive issues (celiac and dairy intolerant). I’d given up gluten and dairy – with that, my system was doing better – it was time I started exercising. This was scary because I’d never really intentionally worked out. I mean, I had an elliptical, but that was just for hanging clothes on. And I had sneakers, but they were just to wear when walking the dog on the front lawn.

For my 40th birthday I decided to do a Warrior Dash. The Warrior Dash is a 5k race over mixed terrain with several obstacles including lots of mud, water, and fire. When it’s done you get a free beer and a big turkey leg and enjoy the party. It was exciting sounding. I spent all summer building up to run just two miles. It would take me 24 minutes on a good day to run 2 miles and I needed my inhaler, a lot of water, and my husband who would run with me – encouraging me. It was a hard summer filled with tiny milestones that made me feel I was doing something. Some days my kids would get involved and run with me. While I was slow and plodding I felt I was doing something good. I did the Warrior Dash with family and friends and yes, it was loads of fun! Then winter hit and I did nothing but hang out and hibernate all winter.

By spring I was ready to practice running again to do another Warrior Dash, and maybe a local 5k too. I was demoralized at how hard it was for me to build up back up to one mile again and how winded I was and how slow I felt. It took me 45 minutes to run a 5k. I remember a friend of mine laughing jokingly about it. I was surprised at how personally I took it and had bad it made me feel. I didn’t want to be that wimpy and slow. I remember thinking I needed more work and more encouraging friends. That fall I did the Warrior Dash again with family and friends, and again it was a blast. Winter came and I put away my running shoes. I bought P90X for my husband and some days we worked out together – I gave up by March, my husband kept going.

A month after I turned 42 I decided I needed something more. That November I joined a Crossfit gym for their introductory package. I didn’t make it through all four weeks. It was hard, I couldn’t squat, I couldn’t do a push up; heck, I couldn’t do most of it. Everyone was nice, and very encouraging. I had panic attacks at the thought of going. I made excuses. I quit. I thought to hire a personal trainer. I quit after my introductory classes too. Not because he wasn’t good. He was. They gym wanted way more money than he was worth though, and I was doing a number of the same moves Crossfit had done.

The holidays came and went, winter turned to spring, and my family signed up for Warrior Dash again. I went for a run. One mile almost killed me. With tears in my eyes and an inhaler in my shaking hands, I thought I would have to cede to the muumuu and let life pass me by – this was too hard – I should just give up, accept the fact that I’m middle aged and not supposed to be pushing myself this hard. My sweet husband talked me off the ledge and after a couple puffs of the inhaler, a glass of water, and a talk, I was still not ready for the muumuu. He joined Crossfit in June – a different one fromwhere I went. A better one, he said. He and my son went to the “on ramp” classes and finished.** By July 4th he convinced me to start the on ramp classes too. I couldn’t finish the workout in my first intro class. I was so embarrassed I didn’t want to go back. But I did go back. I finished the intro classes, learned all the moves, and even met some very nice and encouraging people. After one excruciating workout, we had to finish with a 100m run. I was the last person. I don’t remember who it was, but one Crossfitter joined me; she actually ran with me, encouraging me every step. While my mocking nature wants to say something snarky or jokingly dismissive, I can’t: I needed that at that very moment and I will always be super appreciative of her actions. When I finished the 100m, I fought off tears and vomit – I had pushed myself pretty hard, and for the first time I felt great.

The rest of that summer I did Crossfit. My husband was right; it was a better one. My coaches were 100% committed to making sure I was doing everything right and constantly reminded me to breathe. It seems I forget to breathe when hyper-focused and moving at the same time. I thought I was going to die or throw up a number of times. I needed a sandbag on my feet to do sit ups, and rowing 500m was like 500 miles. Running 400m might as well have been 2 miles, push-ups were modified on my knees, box jumps were step ups, and barbell work was just the bar. To an outsider – I looked SUPER wimpy. From my perspective I was giving it all I had. My body loved and despised what I was doing to it.

 

My 43rd birthday came and went along with another Warrior Dash, only this time, I didn’t train for it, and I beat my previous year’s score by 15 minutes. I was bowled over. It’s coming up on one year at Crossfit, and this weekend I’m doing the Tough Mudder. I’m no skinny Minnie, I still eat junk food, (gluten free/dairy free junk food), and have the “occasional” recreational beverage, but the muumuu is definitely not in my immediate future. I can now do tons of sit ups without help, run two miles without the inhaler (I’m still not a fast runner), row 500m without breaking into a drenching sweat, lift barbells with some weight now, and even climb a rope half-way up. I can do yard work, climb stairs, and hang curtains and workout now.

I have no plans on being Miss Crossfit America, or competing in the Games, or even deadlifting 200 lbs. BUT I do plan on hiking, skiing, kayaking, doing yard work and running fun mud runs – and that takes wind in your lungs, and muscles in your arms and legs to carry you through it all. So, while I still get a little anxiety before going to work out still, and I argue with myself that some things are “just too hard,” that doesn’t mean I’ll be giving up any time soon. I like how I feel when I’ve given my body exercise.

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**On Ramp is Crossfit speak for intro classes. All boxes (Crossfit speak for gym) have an intro period where you are introduced to all the movements used in Crossfit mixed with workouts designed to ramp you up to being able to jump into a Crossfit WOD (Crossfit speak for workout of the day) at the end of your intro period. Every box varies in how many classes are required before joining their regular workouts. All boxes have their own personality too – not all are equal. If you are interested in Crossfit, I suggest going into several and meet the owners/coaches to find the best fit for you.

Resonance

I bet your’re a book reader.

That is: like attracts like, and I am a book reader, and you are here.

So we are readers, yes?

I’ll go even further and guess that, because love of reading is innate in us–or because we learned it as a joyful or comforting habit in childhood–we are well attuned to the gifts that books bring. For me, I know that during lonely periods in my life, I still had the companionship of books. I know that a three-hour delay at an airport, instead of making me to groan with dismay, causes me to think, “Yay! More time to read!” I know that the absence of a book, when I have free time, creates anxiety. I feel unprotected, exposed, even vulnerable without a book on hand.

As well, at least half of what I know about people has come from books. In reading stories and meeting characters, I have been given insights into humanity’s motivations, foibles, and vagaries. In reading tales set in foreign lands, I’ve gotten to know the world. In times of stress or confusion, books have clarified. Handing over a well-loved book to a friend or family member feels like we’re about to take a trip together.

In what is only a minor overstatement, I assert this: Books mean everything to me.

I want to hug all of the books, all of the time.

That’s why it can be so difficult to teach non-readers. When students proudly proclaim that they don’t read, I realize there is a chasm between us, a values disconnect so profound, a lack of sympathy so jarring…that I may not be able to bridge our differences. To put a finer point on it, the frustration I feel with non-readers makes it so that I sometimes don’t care to build a bridge to these callow youth who wear their puerile disregard for the written word like it’s a nose piercing worthy of comment and admiration.

This feeling of “Why do I even try?” was reinforced last semester when a male student made a loud announcement in class that he had never read a book and never intended to. After he spoke, my heart stopped for a moment. It had to stop so it could catch its breath and recover the will to beat. As the class looked on, many of them nodding in agreement with him, I responded honestly, “You have to know you’re hurting my heart up here. This makes me so very sad. Could we try this, though? Could I buy you a book? My gift? I’m not talking about some fancy book that is painful to read. I’m talking about a book that I really think you would enjoy–maybe a graphic novel? Or something about playing pool? You’re a competitive pool player, right?”

He stared me in the face, blinked once, and said, “Don’t even bother. Didn’t you hear me? I. don’t. read. books.”

And while I wanted to clip out, “And. you. don’t. talk. to. your. English. teacher. like. that, you ignorant buffoon who doesn’t belong in college,” I managed a more civil reply: “But you could. My point here is that you could, and so I’d like a shot at showing you how great a book can be.”

Blinking again, he responded, “Nope. I don’t read books. Save your money. I’d never read it.”

So, well, there’s that illustrative moment which will have a permanent place in the annals of my inspirational teaching history, most likely in the chapter entitled “Students School the Teacher.”

However, when I teach a literature class–those cherry classes that keep English teachers from spending the last twenty years of their careers with their arms wrapped around themselves, rocking in the corner of the classroom–the whole point of the class is to make students read. It’s then that I realize I am, in truth, power hungry, for I LOVE to make them read, especially if they don’t want to or if they have never explored the pursuit before.

My all-time favorite literature class to teach is the Introduction to Literature: The Novel course. It’s one thing to read essays or short stories in other types of literature classes, but in the Novels course, I get to increase the reading load significantly, and in doing so, I get the chance to unlock the world of reading for The Reluctants in the room.

It’s heady stuff, that power.

During the class, we read seven novels in fourteen weeks, which means they’re reading half a novel each week, roughly 160-200 pages.

Yes, a few drop out. But, surprisingly, most of them hang in there; retention rates are comparatively high. Yes, a few of them acknowledge that the reading load is intimidating. But most of them just shut up and drop their heads into their books, either through excitement about exploring new worlds or through a fear of the quiz and everyone-must-participate discussions. So they read.

Because I realize this is a rare chance to transform non-readers into readers, I stay away from Thomas Pynchon. There is no Heidegger. We don’t delve into Finnegans Wake. The books I choose, and they vary term to term, are fairly mainstream, yet they still qualify as literature. The books take work, but students don’t end up with beads of blood dotting their foreheads.

At the end of the semester, I send out a take-home final exam with four questions on it. The first three deal with analyzing character, plot, setting, and point of view, and then the final question is a “softball”–but one that yields the most interesting responses, answers that I tuck into my heart and take with me into the next classroom, into the next semester, into the next face-off with a disinclined pool player.

Below are two such responses, shared with the students’ permission.

 

The question:

Often times, fiction traces the personal journey and growth of a character. Of the novels read this semester, which character’s journey has the most resonance for you as an individual? Why? (Incidentally, if you aren’t familiar with the word “resonance,” there will never be a better time for you to look it up.)

One student wrote:

Of all the characters that I have met this semester, the one that I felt closest to was Little Bee. When we met her, she had survived a terrible ordeal. She was in survival mode, and spent an awful lot of time figuring out how she would kill herself if “the men came”. While I have never been in a situation like hers, I have been in an extremely abusive relationship. This relationship only lasted two months, but the abuse didn’t end when the relationship did. He stalked me for a year, and used his power over me to continue to hurt me and control my life. Even when he eventually went to prison for 4 years, and I was technically safe, I found myself making escape routs in my head, and planning what I would do if he showed up. She handled it better than me, continuing to live her life the best she could. I wish I were that brave. My post traumatic stress disorder turned into agoraphobia with panic, and I stopped living life for awhile. Years have gone by now, and I’m still not who I was. I learned some good things, and still have some ghosts that haunt me. But reading Little Bee, I saw a part of me in her.  I had experienced the constant terror of thinking you would be found at any moment. We are both survivors of violence and feel the effects on a daily basis. It’s my favorite literary connection, and it’s one of the truest. Little Bee says something that will stay with me always.

I ask you right here please to agree with me that a scar is never ugly. That is what the scar makers want us to think. But you and I, we must make an agreement to defeat them. We must see all scars as beauty. Okay? This will be our secret. Because take it from me, a scar does not form on the dying. A scar means, I survived…Sad words are just another beauty. A sad story means, this story teller is alive. The next thing you know, something fine will happen to her, something marvelous, and then she will turn around and smile (Cleave, 9).

I had never thought of the emotional and physical battle scars I had that way, but she was right. Survival is beautiful, and so are the marks we get when fighting for our lives, no matter what that situation may be. We read Little Bee right as I was finding myself again, which is probably why I connected with her so much.

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Another student wrote:

Snow Child was the novel that resonated the most for me. I was really brought into the emotional life of Mabel. Having been in a very dark place in my life where there seemed to be no hope and no way out I felt strongly connected to her. I am a recovering addict and there were many times in my life that I felt like there was no way out. That I would not be able to stop and desperately wanted to change my life. Fortunately, like Mabel, a miracle happened and I was saved from the pit. I know longer live in fear and regret. I have a full life. I don’t have to wake up at 3:00 in the morning filled with anxiety, knowing that again that morning I would not be able to not drink and use. I was a prisoner in my own life. Mabel’s character expressed that same feeling when talking about the winter to come and the demons that haunted her. She knew what was coming, she did not think she could face another day like that. On the upside, the both of us received divine intervention and not only survived but thrived. Every day upon waking I realize I am not physically sick. I won’t have to take a 40 of Miller Lite in the shower with me in order to stop shaking and start my day. I have a place to sleep and roof over my head, a loving family in my life and true friends. Then I look at my dog. He rocks. Another blessing given in sobriety. A biggy, I am getting my degree. Like Mabel I am finally happy. For that I am truly grateful. That novel stays with me. It was truly magical, and easy to lose myself in;

The sun was setting down the river, casting a cold pink hue along the white-capped mountains that framed both sides of the valley. Upriver, the willow shrubs and gravel bars, the spruce forests and low-lying poplar stands, swelled to the mountains in a steely blue. No fields or fences, homes or roads; not a single living soul as far as she could see in any direction. Only wilderness.

It was beautiful, Mabel knew, but it was beauty that ripped you open and scoured you so that you were left helpless and exposed, if you lived at all. She turned back to the river and walked home. (The Snow Child)

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So I read their final exams,

and I get a little misty at these glimpses of their burgeoning Readerhood,

and I wish them a lifetime of comfort from books.

Then I smile

and welcome them to the fold.

 

 

If the Guy Next to Me Had Been British, He Would Have Whispered, “Put Your Baps Away, Love”

 

Possessing a highly refined gift for Dickin’ Around, I invariably run late.

Naturally, as I attempt to ram my way out of the house, idiocy abounds.

The other week, when I was trying to get to the gym to do a little cardio and then attend yoga class, I was chasing the clock. In my defense, I was late because I’d spent the morning dealing with end-of-semester student freak outs. It was the week during which every student was having problems–“I know I missed a lot of stuff, but I gotta get at least a C”–and, as is the way with students, they pull the slick magic trick wherein their problems become mine.

After a morning of trying to dumbledore* my students, I found myself dashing around the house like a Keystone Cop on cocaine, trying to pull myself together so I could get to the car and head to the gym. As I dug frantically through the jumble of workout clothes, I finally wrapped my fingers around the sole clean sports bra. B-I-N-G-O was its name-o, bitches!

With my pile of workout clothes in hand, I decided to maximize my time by using the toilet while I changed clothes (Toilet Clothes ChangeJocelyn Superpower #410!).

Sitting down, I started to slide into my running shorts. However, as I stuck my foot through an armhole, I realized that the black thing I had grabbed from my bin of workout clothes was a shirt, not shorts, and that I now had a tank top hanging off my calf.

I shan’t pretend it was the first time this had ever happened.

As I extracted my leg from the armhole, toileterrific activities began to demand my attention.

What I hadn’t seen or felt coming was that every possible thing that can exit a human being and pre-menopausal woman’s lower half was going to choose that moment to make an appearance. In the space of one minute, I was both well voided and in need of hygienic support. Cleverly, I keep a stash of hygiene products near the toilet, but somewhat un-cleverly, I gave birth to a girl some fourteen years back who has not yet mastered the concept of the “campsite rule,” aka “restock what you have depleted, and leave things as good as or better than you found them.” That’s okay, though, as it’s not like I had any underwear or pants on hand anyhow. As the lives of my students have taught me: sometimes you just have to embrace the mess.

Then, just as I got a nice fistful of toilet paper going, the phone started ringing. Even though I fully intended to ignore it, the insistent ringing felt like a clock ticking loudly while I worked at mopping up my privates. Later, when I looked at the caller ID, I would discover it was the Breast Cancer Society calling–almost like a heads-up from the universe about the next few hours of my life: for my boobies were going to give me problems.

Running around the house, digging in the bin of workout clothes again, looking for underwear and shorts, my rear end flapping in the breeze, I had a brief moment of paralytic clarity when I remembered that the coat closet I was standing in, half naked, had windows in it. Put another way, the affection the neighborhood feels for me springs from many sources.

Eventually, I retrieved a pair of shorts and, like a Big Girl, managed to dress myself and get out the door. I deserved a juice box, really. Even better, as I walked out to the car, I plunged my hand into my bag and successfully withdrew my jangle of keys (had they not come to hand, I could have dug around in the garden near my parking spot since that’s the general area where my original set of car keys disappeared five months ago). Firing up my trusty Camry, I drove to the place to get my sweat on.

If you know me at all, it will come as no surprise that by the time I got parked and into the gym, I had to use the bathroom again. And if you read the above paragraphs at all, it should come as no surprise that I attempted some multi-tasking while on the toilet. Yes, I realize some of you sharp thinkers are wondering, when a gal is at the YMCA, locked into a stall, wearing workout clothes, what variety of tasks can she possibly get up to? Folding toilet paper squares into ninja stars? Licking toilet paper and sticking it to the wall? Beyond toilet and paper, what is there to do?

Here’s what my multi-tasking self does: I take a quick minute on the toilet to leaf through my gossip magazines and rip out all those little fluttery paper cards and the annoying perfume ads so that when I read about Miranda Lambert’s grilled chicken recipe while I’m sweating on the elliptical machine, my absorption of important information isn’t interrupted by drifting paper or headache-inducing scents. Moreover, because I don’t want my music to fall into the used-sanitary-bin while I’m ripping and tinkling, I always set my iPod onto the floor, which means that I’m also very busy getting the cord of my iPod wound around my ankle, too, so that, upon exiting the stall, I can shuffle out, dragging my tunes on the floor behind me.

It would follow, then, that on the day in question, once I got upstairs to the workout room, I discovered that one of my iPod’s earbuds had separated into two pieces at some point in the route from bathroom stall to cardio machine, thus necessitating a careful retracing of all steps taken.

We’re at the point of thinking that the very process of getting me near a cardio machine sounds like a cardio workout already, right?

Finally, though, I got myself onto the treadmill. I had fifteen minutes to run (in my world, that’s a mere four miles!) before it would be time to head downstairs to the Mind/Body studio for yoga. In a way, I feel like all my rushing around is a way of doing yoga a big favor; if I arrive at class all harried and sweaty, how can the class feel anything other than calming and restorative? The teacher could be terrible and give a do-nothing class made up of fifty minutes of nonsense like “Place your right hand on the floor. Now leave it there. Leave it there longer,” and I would still walk out feeling completely rejuvenated.

Wanting to get the most out of my time on the treadmill, I hit it hard. But then. Four minutes into my first mile (which, um, means I was about done with my first mile), I got a black eye. What the…???

Well, whaddya know? My zip-up-the-front sports bra had taken a notion to unzip and let loose. Taking advantage of her liberty, one of my Freed Girls had reached up and slapped me in the eye. Her expression of anger had been a long time brewing. Ever since she and her sister were born 37 years ago, she’s always felt I play favorites.

In related news, it takes a very special ability to pull off “secret in public” and stand on a treadmill, reach inside one’s shirt, have a whispered therapy session with a breast, and re-zip one’s bra without attracting a crowd (Secret in PublicJocelyn Superpower #411!).

My girls firmly caged, I resumed running and contemplating the merits of Miranda Lambert’s grilled chicken recipe. If she marinated it in vodka and Sprite, I feel like her husband, Blake, might cotton to it better. Note to self: write Miranda Lambert a potentially-marriage-saving letter.

After fifteen minutes of getting my sweat on, I trundled down to yoga class, excited to be attending for the first time in three weeks. I was early. The room was already full. There were no mats left.

Noticing my woebegone face (Manipulative Woebegone Face = Jocelyn Superpower #412!), one nice double-matting man pulled out some of his cushioning and shared his extra mat with me. Even better, the teacher made everyone scooch together so that a few more of us could squeeze in. Pretty much, if we don’t have our heads in each others’ armpits, it ain’t yoga class at the Y.

Ten minutes later, as we worked through some Cat Cow Poses, I heard a quiet zzzzzzzoooot as my peace-sabotaging sports bra unzipped yet again.

“Frick,” says the cow.

Meowing, mooooing, balancing on my back paws, I lifted my front hooves, dug them into my shirt, and used them to corral the rogue tissues that had once again sprung free. Because we were tucked so tightly into the room, the man next to me heard the distinctive sound of a zipper slicing the silence; I believe his resultant pose would be called “Side-Eye.” Returning his side-eye, I transmitted to him a deflecting lie, using postures only: “Mister, that sound you just heard was me zipping up my fly. I just peed on my mat. It’s called Urination Pose.”

I realize you’re wondering how that series of postures looks. Should you find yourself needing to communicate Urination Pose without words, try the following series (And kudos to Dr. Melissa West on the health of her house plants; I’m sure they thrive because they are surrounded by unrelenting positive energy!):

Once Mister Side-Eye processed the impact of my series of poses and bought into my “had to pee” lie, he was both duly impressed and vaguely horrified. Fearing the urine, he inched his mat further toward the armpit of his neighbor on the opposite side.

Ha! So, my breasts sprang free, and, long story short, their appearance bought me another quarter inch of space in an overcrowded room? Well, well, well.

Full disclosure: my breasts have always done well at driving men away (Repulsion by Breast = Jocelyn Superpower #413!).

So you know the part where karma’s a bitch? She gets her full crank on when lies happen in yoga class. Karma likes her yoga air to remain pure, and woe to anyone who brings deceptive chi.

…which is to say: eight minutes after my unspoken lie, as I reached for the sky, I once again heard a zzzzzzzoooot and realized–holy &^%$^$()@@%–that my Girls had busted loose and that my bra was going directly into the trash the minute I got home unless I decided to light it on fire in the locker room first. While twenty-two other people swan dived (spontaneous poll: doesn’t “swan dove” sound weird?) forward and then jumped back into plank, my left breast busted a move for the door while my right breast leapt toward the Celtic Knot tapestry. Then, confused by the flow of the vinyasa, they swung back towards each other and kissed. Taking advantage of my rack’s momentary intimacy, I feigned fatigue, struck a quick Child’s Pose, jammed my hands all around my shirt, and once again zipped up the offending foundation garment.

And six minutes after that…

Oh, hell, you know how this goes: a zzzzzzoooot followed by Boobs Everywhere. I emitted a deep sigh of exasperation that, fortunately, was muffled since we were doing a hunchy pose which meant my mouth was buried in wilding breast tissue. Deftly, I carried out a quick re-zipping which was followed by increasingly confused side-eye from guy next to me. Eventually, intimidated by my bladder’s imagined capabilities–or maybe because he had to get back to work–he packed up early and left.

The nice thing is that, with an hour as ridiculous as the past one had been, at some point I just stopped caring that I was reaching inside my shirt and fondling myself while surrounded by strangers. Instead, I decided to pretend I was an extra on Game of Thrones, and fondling myself publicly was just part of the job.

Thus, as class neared its end, and we all moved into Cow Face pose (always with the cows!), and I heard the tell-tale zzzzzzzoooot yet again, I grinned.

Because really. What can you do?

When the universe is enjoying a giggle at one’s expense, it’s best to give over and accept the lesson being taught (Giggle Acceptance = Jocelyn Superpower #414!).

And what I learned that day between all the dashing hither and zipping yon is that

sometimes, udders just gots to be free.

 

—————-

*to dumbledore = to exert magic more powerful than the fledgling efforts of novices

 

 

 

I Wish I Had Enough Money

Raising my voice above the clamor, I called out, “Okay, you can start your ten minutes of freewriting NOW.”

Even in my rowdy, chaotic, feral-children-come-to-college afternoon class, that command settled them down. Heads bent over notebooks, and fingers tapped away on keyboards.

For the next ten minutes, the usual cacophony calmed down, and they focused on writing journals.

Asking them to keep journals at home would be a fool’s assignment. They can hardly get to the classroom with pants on. They’re so caught up in the drama of bad relationships, daycare that has failed them, parents who are addicts, boyfriends who grab them by the throats, getting “beat down” by their girlfriends, going out and buying “a 750″ and nursing that huge bottle of liquor all day before attending math class in the evening, cars that veer into the ditch, “wiping butts for a living” in their home healthcare jobs, being handed a blunt by their pals who know they just got out of juvie…

they’re so caught up in figuring what a bad decision looks like

that I would never see a journal entry from any of them if it were assigned as homework. So, well, we do the journals in class. I time them. I tell them to go off on tangents, make shopping lists, draw me pictures–but to keep their hands moving for the entire ten minutes, no matter what. I describe the activity as a brain vomit and urge them to spew.

The results are mind-boggling: crazy, confusing, hilarious, amusing, informative, unfiltered.

And occasionally, as in the case of one of the best students in the class, a young woman who was thirty days sober when the semester began, a young woman who wrote her first paper about waking up in detox–not for the first time–and then being kept there for three days, until she was functional again, the results can be moving.

Here is what she wrote when given the prompt “I wish I had enough money to…”:

 

I wish I had enough money to live without having to pay off hospital bills and unhelpful therapy bills.

I wish I had enough money to buy clothes two times a year instead of once.

I wish I had enough money to find a physical activity I’m passionate about.

I wish I had enough money to have a car and maintain it.

I wish I had enough money to see a therapist more often.

I wish I had enough money to take a vacation to California every year or two or three. I would love to go every summer.

I wish I had enough money to get my natural hair color back.

I wish I had enough money to adopt a lot of animals and feed them and take care of them.

I wish I had enough money so my mom and I would not have debt.

I wish I had enough money to change things.

I wish I had enough money to always have bread and milk at my house.

 

I, her teacher, wish all of these things for her, too. I wish and hope that a college education makes all of those things possible

and changes all of her everythings forever.

 

She’s why I can walk into that classroom every day. The toughest of the lot–the dealer, the pimp, the ones with guns in their backpacks–stopped coming. The ones who relied on smooth patter and attempts at charm instead of effort stopped coming. The ones who couldn’t fight the urge for heroin, whose parents called the college, frantic to know their child’s whereabouts, stopped coming.

But this self-described “drunk,” she’s in the classroom every single period. She and the blonde identical twins in the back row almost came to blows one day. To this young woman’s credit, they managed to keep their annoyances verbal and reined in their tendencies toward the physical. This gifted “drunk” finally offered the olive branch of “I’m sorry if I came off as bitchy, but you two just have to shut up sometimes,” and we called that détente.

This gifted “drunk” has been a delight of my semester. Always, she should have bread and milk in her house.

We all should.

My Balls Are Not Schweddy

I’ll bet some of you are familiar with this classic Saturday Night Live skit:

Schweddy Balls

The earnest announcers speak with carefully modulated voices into their microphones, convinced that they are bringing a valuable educational experience to their listeners–and of course, hilarity grows out of their lack of external awareness. This is a downfall of the mercilessly earnest: they miss out on all the fun.

A year ago, thanks to a friend giving my name to the producer of a local public radio show, I was contacted and asked to head to the station and record one of my blog essays. When I got there, the whole place reeked of Schweddy Balls.

Wait, not that.

Rather, the whole place felt like the set for a Saturday Night Live skit, and I half expected Alec Baldwin to come in and set down a platter of his balls. However, the man who entered the studio was tall, engaging, used to work with Garrison Keillor on “Prairie Home Companion,” and was not at all Baldwin-like. There wasn’t a ball in sight.

A little part of me might still be disappointed about that.

After we chatted about lives, histories, and how to angle the microphone so as to keep all my strongest “p’s” from popping, Producer Chris headed into his studio and left me in mine. Speaking to each other through the mics, skulls encased in squishy headphones, looking at each other through the glass windows, we made a recording.

When I left that day, I was giddy. That had been damn fun.

Since then, Chris has asked me to return a few more times. The essays I record are aired during a Sunday afternoon music program during a segment called “Women’s Words,” which is aimed at featuring the writing of various Minnesota women authors.

Although I’ve promoted these recordings on Facebook and Twitter, I don’t think I’ve put links to them here.

There’s no reason for that. It’s just that sometimes I get distracted with trying to find a missing piece of Iznik tile for my Turkish harem jigsaw puzzle, and before you know it, the clock says 2 a.m., and yet another day has passed with me only managing to handle 150 student concerns, attend two meetings, advise one weeping twenty-year-old who just got evicted and has lice, sweat through a fear-inducing Total Condition step class at the gym, stop by the store to buy Greek yogurts and bananas, pet my children’s scalps, empty the trash bins, fold six loads of laundry, ask my husband about the tutoring he’s doing, crack a beer, and then do some puzzlin’.

SONY DSC

 

It would seem I could fold a bit of “post links to public radio recordings” in my off moments.

This is me, folding.

Thus, if you have any inclination to hear the voice of the person typing these words, please take a few minutes to click and listen. As you listen, know that an ongoing issue with my written nonsense versus the demands of a radio program is that I do–you may have noticed!–like to go on. And on. Before going into the studio, I spend hours trying to squeeze the word count down so that the final product will be under five minutes. Usually, I fail at that, and fortunately Producer Chris is kind enough to let me run long. On his end, he tries to mitigate my time violations by editing out every breath I take at the end of every sentence. I daresay my husband wishes he had access to a similar editor. Also as you listen, know that I am terribly happy when I get to read aloud.

The first time I went in, I recorded an essay about attending the Core Challenge class at the YMCA–and how strength is measured in a variety of ways: “Ab-solutely”

On my second visit, I recorded an essay about getting a haircut in Italy: “Bella Pippi”

After that, I recorded a two-parter, for one part wasn’t nearly enough time to record the trauma and fallout of getting a root canal:

“Conscious Sedation: Part I”

and

“Conscious Sedation: Part II”

On a very cold day in January, Women’s Words aired my essay about visiting the Greek ruins (in Turkey) called Efes: “One Hot Day”

The latest essay to air was the story of my pregnancy with my first child and one of my favorite pieces: “Fourteen Years Since the Blue Moon”

In addition to these, I’ve got a few more in the can so that my pal Producer Chris can pull them out whenever he needs a little something to plug into the show. In other words, you’ve been warned: one time I thought a Turkish guy was asking me to marry him, and now that idiocy has been recorded for posterity.

Now I’m contemplating the ways I’d explain the concept of “Schweddy Balls” to a Turkish guy, and all I know is that the ensuing charades would get me a whole lot more than a marriage proposal.

 

No More Blue

Bringin’ it home with Part III.

———————————————-

A few days after the God of the Parking Lot Attendant blessed me and washed my blackened heart clean, I exited the parking ramp again. Delightfully, it was David–not his gristly, plucked-chicken, Vikings-loving, puka-shell sporting compatriot–working the booth.

It’s a real crapshoot, the exiting of a parking ramp.

David slid his protective plexiglass open, and I noticed he was wearing a rugby shirt with a huge shamrock over the heart. Hmmm. This shirt choice didn’t smack of “Mormon-raised-on-the-compound” to me…even if it was St. Patrick’s Day. My sense of Mormons raised on polygamist compounds, once they’ve struck out into the secular world and followed a woman who then rejects them, is that they stay away from shamrock-festooned rugby shirts and tend more toward donning a hat and beard like this on St. Patrick’s day:

Plush Leprechaun Hat w/ Beard

In its way, this look is a shout-out to Brigham Young and the childhood conditioning of the Angel Moroni.

Thus, I was flummoxed. Was it possible that the entire back story I’d created for David had been woven from my own fascination with origin tales involving buried golden plates, television shows starring Chloe Sevigny, and every last member of the Osmond family (right down to fifth son Merrill’s ten grandchildren)?

Was it possible David was just a normal guy who happened to work in a parking lot booth and who suffered from bunion pain?

Was it possible David had never stolen a truck from his father, the Prophet, and used it to bust off the compound one night to avoid the sublimated pain and jealousy that would run through every hour of every day if he grew up to become a Man of the Principle?

Was it possible David had never fallen in love with a young woman named Arnolene Odanna, nor, when she was expelled from the sect in disgrace for not “keeping sweet,” had he followed her to Northern Minnesota?

Was it possible he had never nor not followed a fictional young woman and actually was a real person himself with his own claim to a personal history not of my construction?

As David greeted me that day, my brain was storming with the possibilities. I was so dazed I almost blurted out, “Are you a real boy, David? Are you more than a Mormon Muppet that I’ve imagined to life? Do you breathe even when I’m not looking?”

Fortunately, while my childhood conditioning wasn’t overseen by the Angel Moroni, it had a goodly dash of “say things that aren’t actually what you’re thinking” embedded into it, and therefore, I was able to give David a bright “Happy St. Patrick’s Day! I like your shirt. Are you of Irish extraction?”

If we removed the childhood conditioning that trained me to play nice, I wouldn’t have wished him Happy St. Patrick’s Day (holidays are dumber than the student who called me at home at 6:25 a.m.), I wouldn’t have told him I liked his shirt (the thing was a blight upon my vision like a plastic bag blowing across a field of sunflowers), but I would have asked if he was Irishy (hoping my question would yield a brief explanation of the history of Mormonism in Ireland, thereby opening the door for me to find out all the names of his 32 brothers and sisters, which I would then post here with annotations).

“Oh, thank you,” said David. “My friend got this shirt for me when he was in Ireland…”

With this, an entirely new chapter to David’s back story flitted through my brain–and get this, you guys: after Arnolene Odanna dodged his love, DAVID REALIZED HE WAS GAY! WHICH ALSO HELPS EXPLAIN THE SALON-INDUCED HIGHLIGHTS IN HIS HAIR! AND NOW A FEW OF YOU WANT TO ACCUSE ME OF STEREOTYPING GAY PEOPLE, BUT I’M HERE TO TELL YOU THAT IF I EVER DROVE UP TO HIS WINDOW AND CRANKED HADDAWAY’S CLUB HIT “WHAT IS LOVE/BABY DON’T HURT ME,” DAVID AND HIS HIGHLIGHTS WOULD DANCE. HA! Screw you, Arnolene Odanna. He never needed you anyhow.

“…and so I wear it every year for Saint Patrick’s Day. As far as my heritage goes, I’m not exactly sure. My great-grandpa was adopted from Ireland, we think, but there’s some question if it might not have been Scotland.”

At this point I chimed in with a quick mini-lecture about the Scotch Irish; clever David nodded knowingly as he listened. Say what you will about the social structure on the compound, but those polygamist kids do receive a solid educational foundation.

Oblivious to my judgments about the fine tutelage he received in the one-room schoolhouse, David continued, “So I’m either Irish or Scottish; also, my last name is Livingston, which could be Irish or Scottish, too, I suppose. Anyhow…” [shrugging adorably and making the shamrock on his shirt slink around like a competitor in a Mr. Leather contest at a bar called The Manhole] “…Hey, are you a lifelong Duluthian?”

I hoped my response of “No, I’m from Montana originally” communicated to him that I, a fellow Westerner, had bred into me a sensibility of as long as you stay out of my business, I don’t care what you do and, therefore, he should feel free to tell me anything, anything about his life in Utah, and he could trust that I would listen with an understanding ear.

As is David’s way, he ignored the sound of my thoughts and carried on: “Oh, so if you didn’t grow up in Duluth, you probably never heard of Livingston’s Electrical. My grandpa and then my dad ran a shop for decades here, so I was thinking maybe you’d have heard of it.”

What ho?

A longstanding family business in Duluth? That very nearly implied that David’s family wasn’t Utah based.

Sigh. My earlier suspicions were confirmed. David was a real boy.

Who, then, had loved poor Arnolene Odanna, if David had never even met her, what with his growing up in Duluth? Had no one ever loved her? Had Arnolene Odanna, consumed by lonely desperation after leaving the compound, been driven to a life of prostitution? Should I be looking for her outside the burned and boarded-up ruins of the Kozy Bar a few blocks down the street? And when I found her, would she be wearing Sasquatch-like boot covers? Did she need both a fashion intervention and for me to hook her up with the community-organization that aids victims of sex trafficking? What the hell was I doing talking to David about shamrocks when Arnolene needed me?

Fortunately, one of my superpowers is the ability to continue speaking casually while my mind is agitating with fictional characters and their plot lines.

Thus, I managed to reply, “Nope, I haven’t heard of Livingston Electrical, but how cool that your family had a business that passed through the generations.” Then, noticing a line of cars stacking up behind me, I realized our time together was nearly over, so I needed to move to the pressing question of the day before pulling forward and letting the next lucky sod bask in David’s company for as long as it takes to hand over a dollar bill.

“Hey, how is your bunion today?”

For a nano-second, David’s face registered surprise. As has always been the case with young men and me, he had forgotten about our previous intimacy. “Oh, have I told you about that?” he asked.

Occasionally, I suspect I might be an international spy, a regular master of disguise, given how frequently people whom I see all the time act like they’ve never clapped eyes on me before. Refraining from pointing out, “It’s been a mere three days since your bunion and I met,” I instead mentally conceded that I did look very different that day, as I was wearing a wide headband that covered most of what the Mormons might term my “crowning glory.” Truly, if I was about to go out and save the prostitute ex-love whom David had never met, the least I could do was cut my favorite Recently-Not-A-Mormon a break. Also, I vowed, in the future I would attempt to be more memorable. Perhaps I would be the lady who always cranked Haddaway’s “What is love/Baby don’t hurt me” every time she drove out of the parking ramp, for instance.

“Yea, I know about your bunion. Last time I came through, you were trying to change shoes really quickly because your foot was hurting,” I told him in a quick re-cap. (Sidenote: Game of Thrones wanted to hire me to do their synopses, too, but then decided to pass after my first submission read “Just don’t get too attached to anybody.”)

His face lighting with recognition, he trilled, “Ooh, speaking of changing my shoes, that’s actually something I really need to do right now. After trying every possible shoe, I finally have discovered exactly the right pair; I’ve had them for ages, but when I bought them, I got them a size too big, so I’ve never really worn them. But now that I need a big, loose shoe, they’re perfect!”

Don’t you guys love that David uses semi-colons when he speaks? Testament to character, that. I fear poor Arnolene Odanna speaks in nothing but comma splices peppered with sentence fragments.

I followed up his excitement with a necessary query, “So what brand are these magic shoes? I mean, in case I ever get a bunion?”

“Oh, they’re Clarks. Something like a Wallabee Trekker–sort of a desert boot,” he told me, reaching back behind his desk area and grabbing one off the floor.

Just when David seemed as perfect as his Good Lord could have made him, he went and got even better: this guy wears Clarks, and he even knows the name of the model of shoe he sports. Oh, David, DAVID: it is a very special former-fundamentalist-Mormon-but-not-actually-one-at-all who is acutely attuned to the details of his footwear!

Since David was standing there, waggling his Wallabee at me–an apt euphemism for what Arnolene Odanna was dealing with down by the Kozy Bar–I decided to give him the moment: “Heck, I’m here, and I’m happy to hold all these other cars at bay while you make the shoe change. I’ll just idle here for a minute while you slap that shoe on your foot, okay? Just let me know when you’re ready for me to pull forward.”

With that, David dropped out of sight, his highlights dripping toward his Wallabee. As I waited, I hummed “What is love/Baby don’t hurt me” quietly under my breath, passing the time until his ailing foot was properly shod.

A moment later, his head popped back up and announced. “There. Much better. And I want to say more than thank you. Today wasn’t going very…well, it wasn’t good. I had this stupid thing happen earlier, and it just put me in a bad mood, and I couldn’t shake it.”

I squelched my impulse to yell, “DID SOMEONE MAKE YOU FEEL BAD THROUGH HIS OR HER INTERPERSONAL COWARDICE?” Instead, I said, “I’m sorry you were having a tough one. Was it anything specific that made you gloomy?”

“Hey, that’s exactly the word for how I’ve felt all day. Gloomy. No, it was just a random moment where a guy in a car almost hit me, and I truly almost died, and even though it was a near miss, I just can’t get past it.”

“Nor should you,” I assured him. “Those moments are scary–when we realize how one tiny blip can make all the difference. All that adrenaline hits and then the anxiety sets in, and both brain and body get all out of whack. I totally understand that.”

A beam more powerful than highlights threatened to spread across David’s face. “Yes, that’s exactly how it is. I keep telling myself I didn’t die, and these things happen, and that I should let it go. But I just kept feeling down all day. It’s so dumb that we finally have a beautiful day outside, yet I just feel like the color of the sky. I don’t want to be blue when the sky is blue. Now, thanks to your thoughtfulness, my foot feels better, and I feel better. No more blue.”

What can a person say to that? Especially when she’s already been sitting at this guy’s window for a couple thousand words already? Yes, she could wax on about karma and how he doesn’t know it, but a few days before he pulled her out of exactly that kind of crap mood with his own kind words. She could compose a little ditty about “the good you sow is the good you reap.” She could leap out of her car, ask him to join his latex-gloved hands with hers, and twirl him around as she sings “What is love/Baby don’t hurt me.” She could freak the Brigham right out of him (that there’s a “compound” phrase, incidentally) by implying that she and he apparently have been cast into meaningful roles for each other–that somehow the Universe, or his God, has determined that they shall serve as each other’s pick-me-uppers on the worst of days.

However, the cars behind me were starting to get angry-looking headlights, so it seemed best to keep things simple: “I’m really glad. That makes me happy, too. Now, I hope both you and your foot feel great all day. Have a good one.”

As I started to pull forward, he leaned over the silver ledge that separated us. “Wait, what’s your name?”

“It’s Jocelyn. I should wear a name tag, like you. ‘Cause I already know you’re David. Have a great day, David. No more blue.”

“Oh, thank you, Jocelyn. You have a good one, too!”

As I put the car into gear and began inching out–carefully, so as to not hit any pedestrians–I thought to myself, “Yea, like you’re going to remember my name is Jocelyn the next time I come through.”

No matter. I don’t have to be his Jocelyn.

But he’ll always be My Special Was-Nearly-Raised-By-Polygamist-Mormons David.


(This is one of my all-time favorite scenes from a tv show–it’s from My So-Called Life when Delia and Ricky help each other feel better after all the world has been a big bummer)

——————————————–

Epilogue:

This thing nearly spiraled into Part IV when a student stayed after class the other day to tell me about her sister’s bunion and impending surgery and how Crocs are the only shoe the pain-ridden girl can wear. There was absolutely no reason for this student to come tell me all of this. Clearly, the energies of the world have knighted me Bunion Whisperer. I should start a Tumblr of bunion-friendly shoes.

My Redeemer

A continuation from the previous post. I believe such a thing is called Part II.

—————————————

My stomach hurt all that day. It had absorbed the fallout of a couple people’s interpersonal cowardice, and I felt sad, sad, sad.

It’s not for nothing that Byron and I joke about my alternate name being Counselor Deanna Troi, what with the psionic abilities that sometimes make me crawl around the house on all fours, so burdened by emotional pain am I. (True confession: I’m also crawling around because I’m trying to find a missing jigsaw puzzle piece. How effing frustrating is it to get 999 pieces in place, only to have the last one go missing? That distress alone could lay me low for a week.)

While I could rock that hair, the costume not so much. My physique is a Spanx defeater.

 

Generally, if I’m feeling down, the endorphins from exercise can roll me out of that trench. So I headed to the gym and broke a sweat. It helped. A bit.

But still, my internal organs felt dipped in black.

Scuffing my feet, I walked to the parking garage, hopped into my well-dented ’97 Camry, and drove down to pay the parking attendant.

I have a checkered history with parking attendants, particularly at this lot. It’s as though the position description (“Needed: individual to stand in cement box all day and interact with strangers’ germs. Ability to make change preferred”) doesn’t attract upbeat, accomplished go-getters. First, there was the guy who looked like Santa but who always managed to slur “those Mexicans” while taking my money. Then, for a long time, the box was staffed by an angry 65-year-old woman with a penchant for appliqued sweatshirts. On several occasions, when I’d entered the parking garage and found the “arm” up and no tickets to be had from the machine, I’d had the audacity to just drive in and park. When I would attempt to exit later, this woman, having come on duty, would yell at me, make me back up the ramp (see: my well-dented ’97 Camry), park again, and walk back over to the gym to have them put their stamp on a post-it note that I then could walk back to my re-parked car (on the sixth floor, approximately nine thousand eleventy stairs up), drive down the ramp, and hand the post-it to her while she harped on my lack of foresight and responsibility.

I give her credit for this: at least she had the conversation.

More recently, the garage has been staffed by two men, both every bit as odd as one might reasonably hope for. There’s the 70+ sinewy guy who reminds me of a gristly plucked chicken. Unfailingly, he wears a Vikings football jersey accessorized with a puka shell necklace. A few weeks ago, when the “arm” was up, and the ticket machine wasn’t dispensing anything, I sat there for a minute, pushing the button on the machine, hoping desperately that it would cough out a ticket so that I wouldn’t later be taken to task. As I hit the button, the gristly Viking, already on duty, opened his window and hollered at me, “Just go in, for Christ’s sake.”

At that moment, I opted not to have the conversation that would have had me yawping back at him, “YOU DON’T KNOW MY HISTORY AT THIS GARAGE AND THAT I HAVE A LITTLE BIT OF POST-TRAUMATIC STRESS FROM THE MEAN LADY WHO SAT IN THAT BOOTH BEFORE YOU. I’M SITTING HERE, PRAYING FOR A TICKET TO BE DISPENSED, JUST SO I DON’T GET HOLLERED AT TODAY, BUT, THANKS TO YOU, WE CAN ALREADY CALL THAT ONE A LOSS, CAN’T WE?”

Relative to his compatriots, the other man who currently draws a paycheck from staffing the booth is a regular Jesus. In fact, his vibe screams squeaky fundamentalist. My brain has written a backstory for him in which he was home-schooled, perhaps as part of his life on a Mormon polygamist compound. I like to think he broke away from that life when he moved to Duluth–in pursuit of a young woman named Arnolene Odanna Smith who’d left the sect. When he got here, though, she rebuffed his advances, leaving him no choice but to grow out his hair a few inches, add some random highlights, drop out of college after a semester, and get a job at a parking garage.

Despite my fervently wishing he was an Orlon or an Elvoid, his name tag tells me he’s David.

I like David. He usually wears latex gloves while he works, and while my busy brain wants to pretend he does that because he’s hoping to sweat his hands down into wee paws (all the better to pet you with, my dear), of course he’s simply protecting himself, wisely, from the Stranger Germs that inhabit every dollar bill he touches.

I’ll say this for David: he never comes down sick. The box shall not go unstaffed, not on David’s watch!

On the day in question, when I still dragging my emotions through the slush as I exited the parking ramp, David was working.

I pulled up and saw that he was hopping around a bit on one foot, holding something in his hand. Noting that I’d  pulled up, David hopped forward and slid open the plexiglass.

I had to know.

“So, uh, what’s going on in there? Are you learning a new dance? It looks fun, and I imagine the hours in there can get long. Nothing like breaking up a long stretch of time with The Hustle.”

Because he’s David and not Puka Viking, he had the sense to look sheepish before answering, “Oh, I was just changing my shoes.”

“Ah, I see,” I said, not seeing at all why a shoe change is necessary in a booth with a desk and a chair.

Leaning forward so as to impart a confidence, David revealed, “I have a bunion, and I just can’t find the right shoe to keep my foot out of pain, so I change shoes throughout the day. The thing is, I was supposed to have surgery on the bunion last week, but then something came up, so I didn’t have it done, and now I’m regretting it. I already have hardware in my other foot, and so there’s already an issue there, and now that the bunion’s getting worse, I really can’t find the right shoe for either foot. That’s why I’m changing right now: if I switch things up, I can get through the day.”

Tamping down my tendency to help people shoe shop as a means of bettering their lives, I simply noted, “Wow. That’s tough. Maybe you need to reschedule that surgery, eh? In the meantime, there’s a line of cars behind me, so can I do you a favor? How’s about I loiter here for a minute while you finish your shoe change? I don’t need to pull forward until you’re all set and ready to deal with the next person. That way, you won’t have to explain to the next guy why you’re hopping around with a shoe in your hand. Sound good?”

As I was talking, David bent down and slid his foot into the new shoe. He straightened, righted himself, and stood firmly on both feet. Looking me in the eye, he leaned out of the booth like a hand puppet pushing through the fourth wall of its theater and, with all the purity of heart that a home-schooled polygamy-based Mormon can convey, he gushed brightly, “That won’t be necessary, but thank you so much for that offer. That was just so kind.”

Then, very directly, very cleanly, without any of the smudged undertones of my interactions earlier that day, David burst forth with a fully felt “God bless you.”

And what do you know.

This non-religious woman felt a tingle right down to her toes, a sensation of happy ease, and it blew away all the shadows that had been lurking in my corners. Oh, it wasn’t God pouring into me. I’m too crowded already with rollicking universal energies, none of whom require a specific name.

What I felt was unadulterated and genuine goodness hitting me viscerally,

and as it flowed through,

so rare,

so clear,

so light,

my mood soared.

My day was redeemed.

—————————-

Let’s call the next post Part III. ‘Cause I gots more David to tell.

Yellow-Bellied Chicken Hearts

When I was sixteen, I made a difficult phone call.

Having started ballet and modern dance lessons at age seven, I, as a teenager, was ready to be done. Once high school hit, I got a job at the mall, joined a variety of extracurricular activities, and craved All-Important and Enriching Time with My Friends Which Usually Entailed Us Doing Nothing While Hoping for a More Interesting Future. Thus, I found it difficult to turn over my late afternoon hours to dance classes twice a week.

The secret hope was that my mom would convey to my dance teacher the decision to quit. I’d seen this happen a couple of times during ballet class, when a parent would stop in to announce, “Chris made the cheerleading squad, so she won’t be taking lessons any more.” Bailing through parental effort seemed easy enough.

However, when I told my parents I wanted to stop with ballet and modern, they understood, were sorry to see a good thing go, and told me the next step would be for me to call Miss June and tell her of my decision.

Somehow, having say the words out loud to Miss June made me feel guilty, like I’d been bad, like I was doing something wrong in deciding to move on. She and I had a history that stretched all way back to when I was learning to read chapter books, back to when her face lift was fresh. She’d been something in my life, so un-tethering myself from her orbit–jettisoning myself from it, in fact–created a fair bit of cognitive dissonance in my brain.

Put more simply, I didn’t want to tell her directly that what she was offering no longer met my needs. I didn’t want to make that phone call.

Fortunately, the dial on a rotary phone took forever to spin around. Even the number six–midway on the wheel–dragged. And wouldn’t you know Miss June’s number had a zero in it? My pointer finger scraped that zero from the right, down to the bottom, to the left, all the way to the top of the circle. In slow motion, the dial spun back to its resting place.

In between each number, I stretched out the process by fiddling with the copper magnets that hung notes onto the old-fashioned washboard next to the phone.

Picture of Washboard 1 each - Item No. 9124  

If it meant I didn’t have to have that conversation, I could have played with those magnets all day. I wanted to wish my way past saying the words out loud and get to the end point of not having to go to dance class anymore. Dealing with the in-between, the part where I took responsibility for communicating my choice, made my stomach hurt.

When Miss June answered the phone, I tried to make it quick and painless by staying away from specifics and simply explaining “I’m really busy these days, so it’s not going to work for me to take lessons any more.” While she seemed a little taken aback, Miss June wasn’t stunned. She’d taught enough years to understand the rhythms of girls-becoming-women. What surprised me was her closing comment, one that left the conversation on a note of faint regret.

“What’s a shame is that you do have the potential to become a fine modern dancer. I did think you might pursue that.”

REALLY? In all the years of hearing that I needed to suck in my tummy, all those years of having micro-adjustments made to my posture and stance, all those years during which my sole source of dancing pride was that I was a natural jumper (watch yourselves, ceiling tiles: I’m comin’ fer ya), I had never gotten the message that any part of my bulk should consider pursuing a future in modern dance.

That’s the nature of teachers and students, of course. The teacher gives helpful words of correction; the student hears the words but not the positive intention, and sometimes the larger message is lost. In the moment, I felt a combination of “Well, whaddya know?” coupled with the relief of “Okay, can I hang up the phone now?”

We had the conversation, and it was over. Inasmuch as possible, the relationship between Miss June and me remained “clean”–that is, free of the confusing, hurtful smudges that blur things when direct conversation is avoided.

Didn’t wanna do it. Did it. All good.

That blip of a life moment during my teen years imparted a hugely important lesson. Although it might make me feel queasy, although it might be the last thing I want to do, although I might worry about the outcome, it’s always best to have the conversation. Even if those involved in the conversation have differing points of view and if the whole thing ends up feeling emotional or conflict-laden, it’s still always best to have the conversation.

If you have the conversation, there’s a chance for a fair airing, and even if you don’t agree with each other, you’ve treated each other with the dignity and respect that go missing when the conversation is avoided. Don’t diminish each other: strap yourself into your Big Girl undies and have the damn conversation.

Misunderstand me not: I’m not waving my flag of superiority from on top of The Hummock of Morality. There have been countless times I’ve sidestepped having a direct conversation, simply because I couldn’t be bothered to dig deep for the energy and courage to face something head-on. Here’s an innocuous example: in college, at my work study job, I would sometimes decide I was ready to leave, and then I’d just kip out without ever notifying my supervisor. When I’d show up the next time, he’d ask, “So where did you go the other day?” My response should have been, “I didn’t feel like finding you so as to announce that I wanted to cease my data entry and, instead, sit under a tree and listen to someone play the guitar in the sunshine, so I just left.” However, all that came out of my mouth was, “Um, huh? I guess I had to…like…go. There was a thing.” Then I tried to use body language to communicate that it was somehow his fault that he had to ask this question.

That’s some crazy tough body language. It would have been easier to shape the hell up than to shift blame through pronounced slouching.

As the years have ticked by, and I’ve gotten older–along the way wondering when I’ll ever truly feel like an adult–I’ve gotten better at dealing with things I don’t want to, and if that’s not Adulthood, I don’t know what is. More and more, I am convinced that having the conversation is an essential part of keeping my emotional life clean. When I can’t say what clearly needs to be said, I feel dark and sick inside. When I know people aren’t saying what they really want to say, that, too, sticks in my guts.

Thus, last week when I was hit by two significant non-conversations, my mood plummeted. Because individuals in my sphere opted not to step up and have the conversation, I felt kicked in the gut. If they’d just gotten over their interpersonal cowardice, it would have been fine. The issues weren’t huge, but somehow these individuals’ defaulting on their responsibilities and channeling their choices sideways made me sad (in one case, I was informed through email by a third party of someone’s decision; in another case, I was asked to take charge of a conversation that I had no business being involved in. In both work-related cases, I was left without recourse–situationally stymied from the redress of further conversation).

My innards felt smudged.

I was in a right funk, and there was no thinking my way out of it. I even shouted to my empty office, “WHY CAN THEY NOT HAVE THE CONVERSATION? THEY CAN MAKE WHATEVER CHOICE THEY WANT TO, BUT THEN THEY GOTTA HAVE THE CONVERSATION.” My office, always a good listener, offered me a shot of vodka. Apparently, it keeps a bottle in the filing cabinet.

Woefully, it was too early to start bending my elbow.

Trying a different tactic, I hurled bad names at those involved. Then I hollered a bit more about “INTERPERSONAL COWARDICE.” Swearing didn’t help diminish how heavy and clouded my insides felt. Even running hard and breaking a sweat some hours later didn’t clean it out.

In fact, the only thing that helped restore my equilibrium that day was the counterbalance of a wonderfully pure moment.

I’ll tell you all about it in Part II.

‘Cause lawsy I do like to rattle on.

Unless I’m calling Miss June.

 

 

I leave you now to consider a world in which Jocelyn Became a Modern Dancer.

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I’m the one who’s jumping really high.

Apparently, I also became black in this alternate world.

‘Kbye!