Friday, July 31, 2009


A few years ago I came back from a big meeting at work energized, excited and enthused. Most days work was a struggle for me to stay interested and on task. But every time I came back from a meeting and from working with other people and tossing around ideas and thinking up a plan, I was enthused and energized. That day I started to wonder if maybe there was a job out there where I could get paid to just sit and talk to people. Where instead of business being my business, people were my business.

I think that day was the day I started seriously contemplating changing my career track. What it brought me to was additional schooling and going into therapy. I've been a bit tentative about that decision for several reasons. I've asked myself over and over again "Is this really what you want do? Is this really what you see yourself doing?" I've already played the nonchalant game of just pick a major and see where it takes you. I know that despite some outward appearance of career-focus, in the back of my mind I didn't plan on working in a career for very long because . . . you know, other things would happen like getting married and having kids and being a stay at home mom.

Cough. Choke. Sputter. Except that's not where life went for me.

So, here I am, in my thirties and still wondering what I'm going to do with the rest of my life. And now, I'm immersed in classes and doing research and wishing most days that somehow I had figured this all out before. And that instead of just dipping my toe into the possibility of changing my life, I could jump in with both feet. Could this dream become a reality for me?

Which is where the mental hospital comes in. (And no, it's not what you are thinking, thank you very much.)

I'm volunteering at a mental hospital right now for a class. They don't let the volunteers do anything really serious--mostly we get to help in the library, put together dances and game night, and sometimes help the patients with physical therapy. That's about the extent of it.

The funny thing is: I love it.

Volunteering is part of my grade for this class and I assumed it was going to be a chunk of my life that I would never get back and all for a good grade. But the first day of volunteering my entire perspective changed.

I was helping in the library and the librarian was explaining where everything was, how to check out media items and how things were categorized. In short order we had completed every task and I was a bit antsy. What else should I be doing? How else was I supposed to help? So, I asked her what she else she wanted us to do and what other tasks needed to be completed. She stopped whatever she was doing, looked me straight in the eye and said,

"What I really want you to do is observe the people and talk to them."

Cough. Choke. Sputter. Really?

My first thought was "Honey, I do that in my sleep. Now tell me what you really want me to do." After looking at this woman and realizing she was not kidding, I got a little bit giddy. You mean, I can volunteer here every week and that is what you want me to do is just talk to people? Umm, okay. I think I can handle that.

And thus I entered nirvana. A entirely blissful state where it occurred to me that if I can continue on this current career track, I might actually get my wish:

Someday I might actually have a job where I get to sit and talk to people. All day. Every day. About things that really matter.

Suddenly, I don't feel tentative about this career change at all.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Hairy Stories

Another jaunt into the photo archives. I seem to not have much to say lately or maybe it's that I'm currently under such a big deadline at work that I don't have time to form coherent thoughts other than "Did I edit that page?" and "How many ways can you say paper or newspaper in three pages of text?" to "What's the code for an en dash again?"

This was yet another photo that made me smile. I'm so grateful that Rus took the time to scan all these photos last winter or my midnight cacklings would be few and far between this summer. Each photo seems to elicit more memories and stories and just pure delight at "the good old days" as the tint on my glasses turns rosier and rosier with each viewing.

We are standing in front of the fireplace in Grandmother and Granddad's front room on 1510 Conant Avenue. You can plainly see it is the eighties by the clothing--Dad's tie and Mom's bow. I'm guessing Mom is about 31 years old in this photo and Dad is about 34 (gasp! Really? Six kids and early thirties? What happened to my life? I still feel that I'm barely out of puberty.) That would make Ric 10, Rus 9, Adam 7, me 6, Matt 4, and Meggie--well, she was the baby. A cute one too with all this blonde, curly hair and chubby cheeks.

In fact, I was curling that blonde hair when she was about two or three years old with a very hot curling iron and I distinctly remember telling her to "hold very still" when I was curling a spot close to her scalp and she didn't listen (those two years olds!) and she turned her head and that curling iron burned a long stripe across one of her sweet baby cheeks. I think I was scarred forever by the experience--I'm just glad she wasn't. I remember the adults saying things like "You have to be more careful" and "She's just a baby!" and "You could have really hurt her." (which didn't give me a complex at all) and I'm thinking "Then why did you let a 7 year old curl a 2 year old's hair?" (See that? Neat little trick where I lay the blame directly at someone else's feet rather than my own--it assuages the guilt.)

Another thing about this photo that sent me down memory lane was my hair--the side curls, the red ribbon and "The Spider" which was parlance in my young life for the hair experience that I endured rather often where my mom would pull my hair up into a high ponytail and then divide it into six or eight sections and then she would dampen and curl each section around her finger into a big fat sausage curl and bobby pin it to my head with an unholy strength that made each bobby pin dig a deep trench into my scalp. I would wear The Spider for a day or two and the next day she would pull it out and my hair would have these springy bouncy curls or she would brush it out in to soft waves. I always liked the next day after The Spider. I felt pretty. It was the only reason I would endure the terror of the bobby pin torture that I succumbed to with each installment of The Spider on my head.

A better shot of The Spider along with a more relaxed shot of the family. Dad was behind the camera on this one.

The Spider was only inducted on high and holy days such as Sunday, picture day at school, Christmas, family pictures, a visit from cousins or grandparents who lived far away, or a trek out to Elba and Grape Creek and a visit with the second cousins at Nana's birthday party at the old rock church. Yes, just every major photo event in my life.

Which explains why nearly every photo I see of myself during this time period, my hair is piled high atop my head and I have a particular twinge around my eyes that reminds me of the bobby pin headaches that always accompanied the induction of The Spider. What sweet relief was experienced when that first bobby pin was taken out the following day. And then the next bobby pin and then the next and then the next. And then the heavy hair was freed from the tight ponytail and floated around my shoulders in a cascade of rippling curls. I tell you, I could have done a Head and Shoulders shampoo commercial each time my hair came out because I would sit and flip it for hours and shake my head and feel gorgeous and powerful and invincible with my tresses of undulating beauty.

That effect lasted until I climbed the feed pile in the grainery, squirmed through yet another fort my brother's built in the haystack or crawled army style under the fence to the Jensen's pasture to see if we could get a rise out of the bull who grazed there. Yes, it was a fleeting moment of grace and beauty in my life and I owe it all to a mother's infinite time, patience, motivation and insistence.

Thanks, Mom. I owe you one--yet again.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

The Preschool Cowboy

After posting my little essay yesterday, I just happened across this photo of my brother Matt standing in front of the exact spot I was describing in my writing.

First of all though, get a load of Matty. What a cutie. He must have been all of four or five years old in this photo. Between the seriously pointy cowboy hat, the full holster of guns and the rockin' sunglasses, you can see he was ready to wow the world. He always was a delicious little kid with his rosy chubby cheeks, his ready smile and his bright yellow hair. He was like his own little sunbeam.

So, not only is this one of my favorite photos of him, it also cracked me up to see the spot I had been writing about in Pull the Plug. At Matt's left elbow is the rock we hid behind and the fence at the back of the garden. The huge pile of tree branches in the photo is lying directly over the what was normally the pumpkin patch. Adam and I hid behind that rock as the perfect vantage point as we scoured the garden for our mother. That garden was huge and stretched all the way to the road at the front of the house. I spent hours and hours each summer weeding that garden and daydreaming about inventing some kind of tool that would magically and effortlessly pull weeds for me. What I didn't know was that magical tool was called "kids" and my parents had enough of them to make sure that garden stayed weed-free.

Funny thing is now that I have a place of my own, one of the things I want the most is a little spot of earth to plant a few seeds and grow a garden of my own. I don't think now that I would mind so much pulling a few weeds each day. Especially not when they bring back such sweet memories.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Pull the Plug

This is a tiny essay that I wrote a few years ago. It is my memory of a late summer evening when I was a little girl and my mother had put my brother and me in the bathtub and then gone out to the garden. We went out searching for her and this is the moment stamped in my memory.

He taught me quiet stealth on a green-grass evening as we followed the brown, itchy clapboards on the back of the house towards the garden and our mother. At ages four and six, “Indians” was our favorite game. “We’re on the attack,” he told me. “Shhhh!” We crept noiselessly to the rock that would be our last cover before exposure to the road at the front of the house. I kept a sharp eye out for Fluffy our black cat who, ill-tempered and gouty, would use our legs as a substitute for her favorite scratching post. My brother pushed our expedition along soundlessly, scouting the terrain ahead. We reached the rock, squatting behind its relative safety as he scoped out the situation. It was several feet of open driveway to the fence line of the garden and, my best guess now is, it was a gap he just wasn’t ready to fill. He turned to me and without announcement pushed me into full view in the center of the driveway saying, “You’re younger; you ask Mom.” Startled I stood paralyzed waiting for a car to pass and reveal my shame. For out of the bathtub we had come to find our mother to get us a towel, and my brother hung back, naked, like the first man of the Bible he was named for—Adam.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Group Laughter

This is from a few weeks ago after Sunday dinner at Matt and Cissy's house. Most of the crew were watching the trailer for the movie Year One and getting a kick out of it. This is what makes them laugh and I can say that half the reason we all are cracking up is watching each other crack up. That and similar little sideline comments like the one that Rus inserted on my last post.
"I believe 'liminal space' is the whole area inside the outer crust of a key lime pie. I know, I'm good with words."

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Time to Grow Up

How do you know when you've reached adulthood? How do you know when you finally grown up? In some ways, I'm sure that adulthood is a fluid event. Sometimes we assume adult responsibilities financially but not emotionally in our relationships with friends or spouses, or maybe we are grown up spiritually but we have a lot of growing up to do when it comes to our career focus.

It seems like marriage is an event that announces to the world that you are ready and willing to grow up and assume adult responsibilities. Even more than that I think that having children forces you to grow up because someone has to care for this child who is dependent on you for everything from food to clothing and shelter to every emotional need.

So, what about when you don't get married? That is something I have wondered about especially during the last few years. In some ways being single allows you to stay in a state of "post-adolescent dithering and self-absorption" and not join the rest of the world. When it is just you, you only have to worry about one person and one person's happiness each and every day. Selfishness is the name of the game. I'm not saying that all singles are like this, but I am saying that it is much, much easier when you are not saddled with a marriage and children to skip blithely through the world not attending to anyone's needs, wishes, hopes or dreams but your very own.

This is why I liked these two articles so much. The first titled "It's Time for Adults to Grow Up Even if They Are Not Married" is from a Mormon Times blogger named Beth Palmer and she actually riffs off an article from the Tomato Nation blog called "25 and Over." Both articles deal with what it means to grow up and what grown-up behavior is actually expected of anyone in the over 25 crowd. Things like writing thank you notes, being on time, and courtesy.

Ms. Palmer though poses some great questions when she asks:
The thing is, absent a marriage to force us out of our naturally self-centered state, how do we get there? Without entering into the institution that throughout history has served as the threshold of adulthood, how do we know when we need to start acting like we've crossed it?

I think why all of this matters to me is I've watched myself and others in my single state descend into this oblivious post-adolescent life of pre-nascent adulthood where we just coast. Okay, I just coast. Constantly coast. Things like forgetting gifts and thank you notes and not getting my own hotel room when I'm traveling and not thinking it is really important if I go to this wedding event or that baby shower because my mom or sister is going and they can share my love for me. Mostly it seems that being single lets you hide on the periphery in good and bad ways. The good ways are you can sleep on a friend's couch when traveling and sign your name with your mom's name on that baby gift and catch a ride with another carload on the ride to the family reunion because you are "only one more." So, you never have to absorb the full costs of your presence in this world. At least not as often as someone with a spouse and 2.3 kids and a mortgage. It is just easier to coast.

Thus the dithering in the liminal space before arriving at full-fledged adulthood.

Sometimes when you don't have a marital partner or little ankle-biters to push you in that direction, you have to start doing the pushing yourself.

Consider this my tender little shove in the right direction.


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