two oh one eight

Hey fellow inhabitants of 2018!

It’s really a good looking number, isn’t it? It’s kinda round and soft and inviting looking, I think. And so far, it’s proving to be much more comfortable than it’s sharper, more angular predecessor. I’ve had a few days to get back into the swing of things after a long break from work and kids’ school and activities. Going back to work the first day was tough, not because I dislike my job- I love my job and the people I work with. It was unraveling myself from the blankets, yoga pants, the idea of a nap. By yesterday I was fully back in the game. I got a couple of big tasks checked off and it felt great.

At home, the kids have been with their dad and his parents much of this week since I was working and their school break lasts approximately 6 years. *eyeroll* If I think it was tough for ME to go back, I shudder to think what Tuesday (YES, TUESDAY) morning will bring. Send thoughts and prayers. I always miss them when they aren’t home, but I rarely have a chance to relax during the week, so this was a perfect time for some good reflection on how the year’s shaping up so far. I started the Whole30 on Wednesday, so a lot of time has gone into meal planning and chopping veggies and reading the books and cooking. Not only is the food making me feel better, there’s something about the self-care of it all that also feels healing. Pair that with being in bed by 9 every night with a book, bubble baths, getting 8 hours of sleep, using the Aero Pilates machine I got myself for Christmas, and playing whatever music I want… well, you could say I’m feeling pretty effing zen right now. Of course, the chaos will resume soon, and I’m glad for it- but I’m also going to try to keep it in perspective.

hThis morning I’m drinking (black) coffee out of my grandmother’s mug, listening to Trampled by Turtles (ever since around 2012, every one of their songs playing feels like I have a close friend in the room), planning dinner, and just looking around at the things I’ve surrounded myself with and being grateful for every bit of it.  As for the book I’m reading- Pema Chodron’s When Things Fall Apart- I can’t say enough how inspiring it is.  Anyone who’s struggled with anything  (so, all of us) WILL find comfort in those pages. One of Pema’s main teachings, the one that’s hit home for me the most, is around the idea that we humans absolutely benefit from the hardest things we have to go through. There can be no joy without them. They are opportunities, not slights directed at you from the universe. A couple of my favorite lines so far:

“When things fall apart and we’re on the verge of we know not what, the test for each of us is to stay on that brink and not concretize. The very noble truth of the Buddha points out that suffering is inevitable for human beings as long as we believe that things last- that they don’t disintegrate, that they can be counted on to satisfy our hunger for security. From this point of view, the only time we ever really know what’s going on is when the rug’s been pulled out and we can’t find anywhere to land. We use these situations either to wake ourselves up or put ourselves to sleep. Right now- in the very instant of groundlessness- is the seed of taking cafe of those who need our care and discovering our goodness.”

Also:

“Life is a good teacher and a good friend. Things are always in transition, if we could only realize it. Nothing ever sums itself up the way that we like to dream about. The off-center, in-between state is an ideal situation, a situation in which we don’t get caught and we can open our hearts and minds beyond limit. It’s a very tender, non-aggressive, open-ended state of affairs. 

To stay with that shakiness- to stay with a broken heart, with a rumbling stomach, with the feeling of hopelessness and wanting to get revenge- that is the path of true awakening. Sticking with that uncertainty, getting the knack of relaxing in the midst of chaos, learning not to panic- this is the spiritual path. Getting the knack of catching ourselves, of gently and compassionately catching ourselves, is the path of the warrior. We catch ourselves one zillion times again, whether we like it or not, we harden into resentment, bitterness, righteous indignation- harden in any way, even into a sense of relief, a sense of inspiration.”

pc

Oof. I mean, these are things most of us have heard in some form, maybe even exactly in this way, but it sure hits home harder at the times you need it.

When Charlie was 5 or 6 he said to me, “Mom, excitement and nervousness are really the same emotion, it’s just how you decide to feel it.” BAM. Of course, that kid can somehow conjure up that kind of wisdom like he’s telling me what he wants on his pizza. All of this reading I’m doing, and the boy summed it up for me years ago.

If I’m only putting good things in my body, my body feels better. If I’m only putting good things in my mind, my mind is clear and grounded. If I’m grateful for the people and things around me, my life feels full. If I’m open to opportunity, new adventures await me. Maybe I should call 2018 “the year of DUH, HEATHER, YOU ALREADY KNEW ALL THIS.” I think that’s what’s different about this. IT’S THAT I KNOW IT’S NOT THE LAST TIME. How many times have I written about FINALLY being happy, about FINALLY being at peace with myself, only to fall again and become what I felt like was a lost soul, a rebel loner, a person who wasn’t destined for ease and comfort, a real-life Don Draper? So many times. When my last relationship ended, one of my shallow and unnecessary negative thoughts was, ‘damn, now everyone will really think I’m a failure. I seemed so happy and I guess it’s all a sham’.

No sham. I understand that there’s no golden ticket to everlasting and eternal happiness. You don’t reach level 10 and never have to start over at the beginning. (And where would the fun be in that?) We bloom and wither and bloom and wither and we do it over and over and over again until the last time. This whole situation has opened a floodgate of understanding about who I really am, and I got nothing but gratitude for it all.

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Three

I wake but keep my eyes closed tight

head warm on the pillow

in a room full of quiet.

Only before my eyes are open

before the courage builds again

before I shake hands with Truth again and call it even-

but I allow it.

With my eyes closed I hear quiet clatter from the kitchen

He’s making coffee

Music plays softly from the speaker-

the song we danced to that night.

Other Me stumbles to the closet

pulls out a couple of small gifts

wrapped in kids  “3” birthday paper

as a joke.

Barefoot I go to the kitchen

to embrace the one

who’s there

and happy.

I open my eyes

I shake hands with Truth

and we call it even–

I offer acceptance

I get healing

and a happy new year.

 

 

 

Dear 10-Year Old Heather

Hey weirdo,

I know it doesn’t seem like any adult on the planet could possibly understand what it’s like to be you- but there’s one. Me. I know that you’re only in Year 2 of the repercussions of that at-home haircut you begged your mom for in 3rd grade, and I’m sorry to tell you kid, it’s ain’t gonna get any better any time soon. You should really embrace the curls and just go with it, but it will be YEARS before that look becomes a thing, so you’re kinda screwed either way. I know it makes you feel like crap when kids call you “puff” but, please trust me when I tell you that almost none of those kids turn out to be anything to worry about. The meanest ones are usually the ones who are struggling the most, and you’re going to end up being much cooler than those jerks. I know how hard it is to believe that at this point, but trust me.

There’s nothing I can say that will actually reach you and change the course of our destiny, but it’s nice to try. If there were one thing I would want you do get from this, it would be to start listening to yourself now. Start thinking about who you are, what makes you happy. You’re about to spend the next many years going along with the crowd, doing and saying what you think you need to do to fit in (mostly because of that hair), accepting situations you aren’t comfortable with, and being insecure in yourself because you don’t believe you’re good enough. Well, kid, I won’t lie. You’re a late bloomer. You’re not even going to go to prom. I know. Let that sink in.

I will tell you some good things. There are things inside of you, thoughts and feelings that make you different. Right now it just makes you feel awkward, but one day those ideas and that “weirdness” you feel will finally make sense. You’ll be safe to be yourself and you’ll be confident enough not to care so much what other people think. Being brave is always the hardest thing for you. I’m 27 years farther into this thing than you are, and I still struggle with that part. It gets easier. Take chances and know you might fail. Know that when you fail, you learn. And the lessons make it all worth it. You’re never going to get that chorus solo, but it’s fun to try. But you ARE going to win that writing contest. KEEP GOING.

You know Oprah? I know you do, you watch her every day at 4, you lucky duck. (Enjoy that until about 2010 or so.) I was listening to her podcast today (it’s a future thing) and I was reminded that without hard times, good times wouldn’t even matter. If your childhood and my adulthood were perfect, what the heck could we possibly be learning? Nothing. We’d be just like your bullies, not striving to be better, or trying to connect with our true selves. We’d just be floating through life like these numb bobbleheads. That’s just not our style, kid. You know it and I know it. So stop trying to iron your hair. Stop worrying about what the other kids think. Write your stories and share them. Keep organizing secret clubs and making up imaginary scenarios about ghosts on the playground. Keep practicing your corny jokes, because I still use those a lot.

And for the love, ask an adult to explain the stock market to you, and invest in Google.

 

End Up

Of all the things

there are to wonder about in this world

what I pondered most was

‘who do i end up with?’

 

We ask it while we watch movies

‘who will she end up with?’

‘i hope he doesn’t end up with her’

‘i can’t believe she ended up with him’

 

I obsessed over the question without realizing

i was making it my life’s work

a sacred, self-inflicted warrior’s journey

that i never needed to be on

because the warrior i was becoming

was who i was looking for

 

I don’t feel alone this time

i don’t wonder who I’ll end up with

what does it even mean?

is it person you’re with when you do, in fact

…end?

what about everyone else?

what about you?

 

I end up with who i started with – my parents.

i end up with everything they gave me,

every worry they spent on me,

every bite of food they fed me,

every memory of safety and comfort that i know

 

I end up with my children-

in awe of the people they become

looking back at the babies i got to hold,

with the pleasure of their company

on a Sunday afternoon

when i don’t feel guilty for giving them coffee

 

I end up with my friends-

my soul mates who knew the truth the whole time

and waited

with laughs we laughed so hard that even the memory of the laughing

makes us laugh

 

I end up with my mentors-

the brave brilliant minds who snuck me into the party

and let me learn from them

and convinced me that i had things to say too-

that i was good at this shit

 

I end up with me-

proud of how much i learned

that i never let the darkness win

that i take care of myself

that i love the little things

that i never stop seeing beauty

that i like this person

(a lot)

 

That’s how I end up.

Eh, Titles Make Things Seem Like Real Things and I’m Just Here for Kicks.

It seems as though carrying around a selection of beautiful, empty journals in my bag every day is no longer satisfying my inner writer. I have the coolest pens. I have a wooden sign from my ever-encouraging husband that says “write your story”. I have ideas. I have the time (I didn’t HAVE to watch an entire season of American Horror Story in one weekend). I have a computer. I actually LIKE writing. A few months ago I watched a speech that Neil Gaiman gave and it light a fire under me. Not a roaring campfire kinda fire, more like a medium-sized candle from Bath and Body Works that flickers and almost dies every time you open the door. But there was some degree of warmth and illumination when it came to writing something. I’d tell Frank over our coffee about my rambling ideas for a sci-fi story where there’s you know, aliens and alternate versions of all of us, and social media plays a role, or maybe it’s just the afterlife, and ALIENS, and on and on and on. “Write it!” “Yeah, I will”…. And nothing. Now I’m reading Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott, which I wish I’d done years ago and something about the way she advises her students to write just clicked. Write down old memories, or describe people you saw on the bus that day, or around your parent’s dinner table when you were a kid. Anything you write is writing, and writing IS the reward. I’m paraphrasing, obviously, because plagiarism, but you get the idea. I don’t write because I’m afraid it won’t be good, and I’m afraid I won’t finish my 100,000 word novel in one sitting. BUT neither of those things matter. It can be terrible AND short, and IT DOES NOT MATTER. You wrote. You did the thing. It is done. And so, here I am. To write down old memories and new ones with no theme, no purpose, no agenda, no goals, no nuttin’. Just me and these keys.
Story:
A few weeks ago, I was attending an orientation day for my job, and one of the ice-breaker shticks was to stand up, introduce yourself, and tell everyone in the room what your first job was and what you learned from it. Mine was at Arby’s. You know… WE HAVE THE MEATS. They didn’t have that slogan then. I think in the days of roast beef yore it was “It’s Different in Here” or something like that. It definitely WAS different in there. I was 15, awkward as all get out, full of energy and team spirit, and ready to make some freaking spending money and buy a car.
I started at 4.25 per hour.
I wish I could remember the names of everyone I worked with. It’s been about ten years………
FINE. Many years, it’s been many years, but I’ll work with what I can remember.
There was one girl in her early 20s named Sonya. She was blonde, proudly pleasantly plump, her words, and always wore a black Arby’s cap. I’m not sure I ever saw her without it. She wasn’t a manager but she’d been there so long she practically ran circles around the ones who were. She ran the drive-thru mostly, but she was also fully okay with dealing with the actual meat in the back that cooked all day in the huge ovens. I would eventually learn almost every job in the place as well, but I was not messing with those giant, rubbery globs of meat. NOPE. They were disgusting before they were cut on the slicer. Like, gelatinous (gag) on the outside… perfectly oval shaped, heavy, but they also felt like if you dropped one one the floor it would bounce right back up like a basketball. The worst part is that even after being completely grossed out by them, I’d still kill a Beef n’ Cheddar on my off day like it was nobody’s business. It’s that dang horsey sauce, I can’t resist it.
There was Serena, drop-dead gorgeous black woman whose hair and makeup was always as flawless as her mood. Her energy was infectious, she was so funny and confident that my nervous, dorky teenage self sometimes didn’t know what to say that could compare. We became pals, working together every Sunday morning. She taught me the pure bliss that is fresh, hot regular fries (not that silly curly business) with extra salt, drenched in bleu cheese dressing. I didn’t even like bleu cheese dressing before that. Serena was a bright ball of light, and I’m sure she’s still shining out there somewhere.
Jeremiah. We became buddies right away. Making fun of his never-ending hair flipping was the most fun way to pass the time when the customers weren’t coming in. Honestly, it never stopped. He was like a human gif, before gifs were invented. He began dating one of my very best friends, and soon we had a small crowd of friends hanging around every afternoon in between school letting out and us clocking in to sling beef. Jeremiah was always in a great mood, upbeat in a Zach Morris kinda way. He drove a shitty Cabriolet that to all of us was the most fun ever because, convertible. We’d all be sitting around the designated “employee hang out table” in the restaurant, smoking cigarettes (told ya it was a long time ago), and he’d come peeling into the parking lot with the top down, his own smoke hanging from his lips, shades on, hair flipping in the wind. He may sound like one of those douchey young dudes, but I assure you, he was as sincere and kind as they came. I’m not sure how long he dated my friend, but their relationship was an adorable glimpse into puppy love, complete with pet names and a “song”…I think it was Tonic’s “The Way She Loves Me”. We lost touch after Arby’s, but I went on to meet and cherish his sister, Jennifer, as one of my best friends to this day. We’ve run into each other a few times over the years, at kids’ birthday parties and such. The hair is short now, but the charm and genuine friendliness are still intact.
Our boss was named Roger. Roger could have very well been an SNL character comprised of a comedian playing a fast-food restaurant manager who loved and cheered on his staff for the good of both the company and the employees themselves. He was a small man with big glasses and no shortage of goofy anecdotes. I’m not sure how long he’d been in management, but he had all the best “I’m telling you to do this right now and I mean business but I’m super funny and just do it but hey, I’m a nice guy” lines down. One of the most popular was “I’ll dance at your wedding!” As in, “Heather, drop two more bags of curly fries and ten potato cakes and then go ice those cherry turnovers that just came out? I’ll dance at your wedding!” As the current, more cynical version of myself, if I met him now I might think he was on some kind of speed, but I really do think he was just a high energy, dedicated man. He went on to open his own pizza restaurant, and I’m not sure how that went, but I have trouble imagining him not succeeding at whatever he went after.
One of the times I saw Roger move the fastest was the day I was conned by a short-change artist. (Is that an art? Why are we calling that art?) I was, and sometimes still am to some degree, amazingly naive when it comes to assuming the best in people. I had no idea was was happening until it was over, which I’m told is common if the con man knows his stuff. My shiny, happy self was planted at the register on a weekend morning when he walked up to me in a brightly colored Hawaiian shirt and sunglasses. (Why do these criminals not have other outfit options? I cannot make this up). He ordered a meal and I gave him his total. He handed me a wad of cash and the game was on. “Oh, wait, I’m sorry, can you give me this in fives? Okay, actually can you break a fifty for me and then I’ll just give you this and you and blah blah blah I’m an asshole.” After about 26 seconds I’d managed to lose $200 of the Cowboy Hat’s money, and as soon as I looked up for help, bewildered, he took off. I looked around for Roger and managed to stammer in his direction,”That guy…I…I don’t know how much I gave him…” Roger took off like someone had shot a gun and he was racing toward the gold in crime fighting. I don’t know how he didn’t slip in grease, that was always an issue behind that counter. He made it out to the parking lot as the guy pulled onto 19-41, unable to catch him, but with plenty of time to get the guy’s tag number. We called the police… although I don’t remember ever speaking to them or giving a report. Roger never acted like it was my fault at all, he only acted like a hero that day, and a great boss.
The front line, the drive-thru, and the back line were the main stations you could be assigned on any given day. Sonya trained me to work the drive-thru as my main hub. At first I hated it, because, I hate math. There’s no way to know what the customer will give you at the window, so you have to go ahead and cash out each order as they pull through, so you can ring up the next one.
(Sidenote: it just occurred to me, with extreme horror, that I don’t even think anyone was really using debit cards yet then. Were we?? Did we take cards? Jesus Lord, I don’t even remember. Anyways.)
After a few weeks of car after car and bag after bag, I was dubbed “The Drive-Thru Queen”. It was my first taste of success at a job, my first swell of pride that I was doing something right at work and that the people who I’d made a commitment to were pleased with me. That feeling has come and left me many times over the years, but I’ve always chased it, and that’s where it started. Right there in that drive thru, with me giving back $12.59 out of $20 for an order that was $7.41 with the greatest of ease.
(Sidenote: that kind of shit does not stay with you over the years unless you use it. I had to do that math just now on my phone’s calculator, but I wanted to put it in here for the sake of the story. Anyways. Practice your math, kids. Or don’t. We have phones now.)
Once I was crowned Queen, I rarely got away from the window, but oh how I longed to make sandwiches. I would sneak back there and make the orders sometimes when it was slow, and it was so much fun to me. One squirt of red sauce on top of the onion bun, one squirt of melted cheddar cheese goop on the bottom, meat in the middle, carefully placed on the foil, super cool wrapping motion (it’s all in the wrist) and BAM, slide that baby down the heated metal sandwich chute where it would go on to make dreams come true. I guess I do love to cook now, but this was more about the process. Chicken, bacon, Swiss, honey mustard. BAM. Roast beef, mayo, lettuce, tomato. BAM. I think I could honestly still tell you the ounces and the order they went in. Silly, I know, but it was my favorite spot there….which leads me to my least favorite.
The fry station. While the fries are undoubtedly the most delicious part of any fast-food experience, they are the least fun to make. After an hour of working the fry station on a busy day, you look and feel like you might well be one of the deformed, glistening beef lumps sitting in the back under the heat lamps. And they go SO FAST. Oh, look I just pre-made 15 curlies and 10 regulars and OH MY GOD THEY’RE GONE YOU JERKS! I’ve rarely felt pressure like you do when every set of eyeballs that can see you is staring a hole through you while you stare equally as intensely at the digital timer slowly ticking away the 6 minutes until the fries are ready again. Sassy co-workers with hands on hips, Arby’s bags fully packed and ready to hand to customers AS SOON AS THE FRIES COME UP. Annoyed customers standing at the counter, fingers gripping their red tray with its waiting sandwich, soda, sauces, and napkins. JUST WAITING ON FRIES. There’s nowhere to go. Nothing to do but stand there and sweat. And maybe try to sneak and take them out a tad early and hope no one notices. (Everyone notices.)
The fry station was apparently not without hatred toward me as well. She got her sweet revenge, on one such day. We were so busy that I was either schlepping my way to and from the freezer for more bags of frozen potato products, or shaking the submerged baskets in the hot grease so the goods wouldn’t stick together, or frantically filling box after box with perfectly salted, hot fries. At some point during the rush, I realized that the digital timers were off and there were fewer bubbles rising to the tops of the greasy vats. I’m sure I whispered a classic “what the fuck” under my breath before shouting out “Hey I think something’s wrong with the fryer!” Roger called back to me, not missing a beat, looking frantically back and forth from the order screen to the bag he was holding to make sure he was tossing in the correct sandwiches. “Aw man, could you pull it out from the wall and scootch back there and check it? I’ll dance at your wedding!” The floor around the fry station collected the most grease, of course. My hideous, required non-slip work shoes from Walmart, as well as the bottoms of my bell bottom jeans were drenched in grease. I wiggled the fryer out of its home against the wall and slid my way into the open space. Crouching down a little, I could see the rogue plug lying on the floor. I reached in as far as I could, grabbed it, and in one quick motion I triumphantly returned the metal prongs to their home in the wall.
And was immediately electrocuted.
The force kicked me back a bit, into the main walkway area, and Roger and the others rushed to my side. It honestly wasn’t THAT bad (although now that I think about it, was my hair really this curly before that? hmm) but it did hurt a lot, and my hand and arm were sort of charred and achy for a time. They called the paramedics, who checked me out and declared that I would be fine. And I never worked the fry station again.
So what did I learn from my first job? More than I realized. When you’re that young, you don’t think about the lessons you’re picking up. You’re just in them, clocking in and clocking out, learning as you go, and trying to not die a horrific and untimely death. When you’re older and moving through shiny new jobs, you don’t often look back and attribute things about yourself to those young days. I learned to be kind to newbies, and show them the ropes. I learned that there is a place for spunk and character in every position. I learned that I love to prepare food for others. I learned that I CAN do math if I really try, and that I will never do math again regardless, because it sucks and I hate it. I learned that a boss should always incorporate humor into the job, because it makes your employees LIKE you. I learned that bleu cheese is delicious. That roast beef from Arby’s is only good if someone else makes it for you. I learned what it was like to sit around a table full of laughing peers during a lunch break, look around and sigh and say “Welp, time to get to it!” And then to GET TO IT. No matter what you do, if you do it well and you do it with people who make it fun, you will find what parts call to you. Or you’ll find the tools that will carry you to the next thing, and the next thing, and the next.
(And no, I did not say all this during my introduction at the orientation…
 lucky for my fellow attendees…)