Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Self Medicating

Recently assigned to write on the topic of “self medicating”, I immediately thought of my most obvious go tos: food and booze. As I was pondering this theme in February, otherwise known as mile 22 of the marathon that is the Chicago winter, I was probably actively shovelling potatoes in my face with one hand while guzzling bourbon with the other. But as I generally only use carbs and liquor to cope with my cold weather blues and winter is allegedly over, I decided to discuss some self medicating I do every day of the year. I wake up doing it, I do it throughout the day, I go to sleep doing it. I’m talking about my electronic pacifier, my iPhone 7. My phone is the first thing I look at when I wake up, which I’d say falls under the category of “normal”. I mean, it is an alarm clock, so that’s legit. But even when I don’t have the alarm feature in play, I rarely get out of bed before reviewing my texts, my emails, my virtual communities. I then proceed to consult with the phone ALL DAY LONG...when I’m in line at the grocery store, when I’m at work, when I’m on the train, when I get in bed at night. I sleep with the phone either next to me on a nightstand or sometimes in the bed with me. When I can’t sleep I look to the interwebs to keep me company. When I’ve been in relationships where there are sleepovers, I’ve had to tell myself repeatedly “DO NOT LOOK AT YOUR PHONE” when I wake up in the middle of the night, as I fear not only the light waking the other person up, but the concept that perhaps looking at one’s phone during the sleeping hours is wading dangerously close to deal breakingly weird behavior.


I have no shame in discussing my phone habits as it appears most of us have some degree of addiction as well. I don’t feel like a freak admitting these details, but I recognize I use the phone as an escape all too often. The device offers me a sort of dual citizenship; a loose commitment to the people I’m interacting with electronically combined with being blissfully unaware of what’s happening right in front of me. My brain seems to be most comfortable having one foot in these two worlds, because this straddle prevents from being fully conscious of the boring, irritating and truly awful parts of being alive these days. I’m convinced there’s always a possibility of a dopamine hit if I look at the phone enough times...an amusing text, an email with good news, a compelling post, or being the first to know something particularly juicy. In tandem with bill paying, news alerts, shopping, sexting, selfies, counting steps, mapping directions, and reminders about my obligations, I’m not sure when the phone became the pocket headquarters for my every waking move. What happened to the days when I’d just use it for basic shit like “Hey, I’m almost there” and “Great, I’m on my way”?


I decide to commit to a 100% phone free experience for a limited amount of time. I’d already booked a 35 hour train ride on the Coast Starlight from Seattle to Los Angeles and I vow I will not use the phone at all during the ride.


To get an idea of how much I was agreeing to part with, I download Moment, an app that tracks your phone use. I get a blaring “BOOP BOOP BOOP’ in the mid afternoon indicating I’ve been on it for 3 hours that day. More BOOP at 4 hours, and again at 5 hours of use. I stop 3 minutes short of 6 hours, mostly as I can’t handle any more alarm shaming. My usage is above average, with most people falling in the 3 to 5 hours a day range. Moment tells me I’ve checked my phone 50 times that day, which strikes me as a lot, but teens and millennials on average check their phones between 75 and 200 times a day. I suddenly regret I didn’t choose to write this piece about alcohol.


While I wait to board the train in Seattle, I madly look at every website known to man, I pay every bill, I text everyone goodbye, I consume data as if I’m going off to war and I may never communicate with the outside world ever again. I find my sleeper car cabin and dramatically slide the iPhone power screen to OFF. Let the head games begin.




My roommette onboard is 3 and a half feet wide by 6 and a half feet high with two seats that face each other that recline into a bed as well as a bed that folds down from the ceiling. It’s snug but totally serviceable. I settle in as the train pulls away from Seattle and I take in the scenery. There’s a certain gloomy charm to this part of the Pacific Northwest...the landscape mostly comprised of farmland, abandoned trucks, dead trees, cemeteries, bridges, and shabby seaside motels. Although I appreciate the grey quiet of the rural sprawl, I’m still hungry for mental static. I stare until my eyes are tired, maybe 25 minutes, but my brain remains restless. It wants more action. It wants CNN and Instagram and maps and that perfect song on YouTube and texting about what’s up. I fold down the top bunk and crawl in, convinced I maybe just need darkness and a nap. I lay there stressed out that I shouldn’t just cop out and sleep through this experience. I shift to stressing out that I’m not strapped into the safety net they advise while sleeping on this upper bunk, but then I think what a dramatic turn this story would take if I inadvertently rolled off and crashed from a six foot drop. I then get up and frantically rearrange my personal effects to make the tiny space more optimally efficient. I pause to take in the fact that my brain is being a hyperactive asshole, like a 4 year old throwing a temper tantrum that it’s been denied a cookie. Sorry, brain. No electronic cookies for you. You can read, you can write, you can sleep, you can wander the train, you can look out the window. It’s only 2 days. That’s the deal.


Reading, sleeping, and wandering are usually some of my favorite activities, but my head still is anxious and cranky for more stimulation. When you give the 4 year old that runs your mind permission to look in the cookie jar 50 times a day, it doesn’t go quietly when it gets cut off. I have a hundred patient pep talks with myself over the next handful of hours, and as we pass through Eugene, Oregon, I’m finally able to look out the window and have my mind go blank for considerable chunks of time. This void feels like a zen flavored miracle.


I head to the dining car at my designated mealtime, dreading Amtrak’s communal seating policy. My inner 4 year old and I do not want to meet new people right now. I’m seated with a tired looking but pleasant suburban mom named Cathy and her 14 year old son Dylan. Cathy tells me they’re headed to Los Angeles to visit her father who she hasn’t talked to in over 20 years. Cathy hasn’t told her father they’re coming, she thinks it will be fun to surprise him in hopes he’ll want to meet his grandson for the first time and accompany them to Disneyland. This strikes me as a terrible plan, but I tell her it sounds great, because I’m not going. Cathy then tells me she has confiscated all of Dylan’s devices for the trip, because she wants him to enjoy and remember the experience. “I’m a mean mom.” she tells me. “Right, Dylan?” Dylan is all dark bangs and surly pouts as he replies, “It totally sucks, man.” He finds a jelly jar filled with colored pencils and begins to sketch an elaborate outer space depiction complete with dancing robots on our paper table cloth. Dylan instantly becomes my technology detox spirit guide.


After dinner I am sure I will miss my phone the most as it’s too dark to see outside. I’m surprised when I crawl in bed and immediately fall asleep, perhaps because my brain isn’t all hopped up from blue light exposure and it’s exhausted from being a whiny petulant bitch all day.


I wake up with the sunrise around 6 am as we pull into Sacramento. This is typically when I’d use the phone to read the news, check in with friends, and tinker with my work schedule. Without that ritual, I fall back asleep until we reach San Francisco. After some coffee, I commit to taking a few notes for this story and I end up writing for hours. I write ideas for this story, for other stories, for writing prompts...copious pages of notes, mostly hot garbage, but who cares?  I cannot write fast enough to keep up with my thought process. It’s as if that blank space I usually fill with mindless phone jabber was repopulated with freshly minted possibility. It’s an eye opening victory for my creative side, which has been pretty dormant these days.





I celebrate with a stroll to the bar car for a beer. I end up conversing a Charles Manson look alike who tries to tell me all women are “high maintenance and predictable” and I probably take up two parking spaces when I drive my Lexus to Whole Foods. I reply, “Dude, I don’t even own a car. I certainly have some time to kill, but not with this bullshit.” Who needs the trolls of Twitter when you can slay misogynist dragons in real life?


As the day winds down, the train makes its way through California’s central coast region, through Salinas, Pasos Robles, San Luis Obispo.  As we make our way south towards Santa Barbara and the view for hundreds of miles is unspoiled beach and the steel grey blue of the Pacific, I cannot stop staring at it all. Combined with the Santa Ynez mountains and the oak, lilac and manzanita trees, I am glued to the window by its postcard worthy perfection. I’m so glad I’m not missing a minute of this crafting a witty Facebook post, or trying to take a photo that wouldn’t do it justice, or scouring the web for latest about Stormy Daniels. I just absorb without question and note my brain is officially in time out, content to be at rest.





About 20 minutes from the end of the line, I turn my phone back on. I have a handful of emails, texts, and notifications, all of which are not urgent and can be returned another time. I send a text to an old friend who lives near Los Angeles’ Union Station, a friend who is waiting to pick me up.  “Hey, I’m almost there”, I tell him. “Great”, he texts back. “I’m on my way.”


Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Danielle

While exchanging Thanksgiving stories, a friend encouraged me to write and share this. Thanks, Tashie.


Last week in this space I proclaimed that the holidays are a choice, not a requirement, and I'd like my ballot to reflect I've officially opted out. This year I’ll be working Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s, a triad I lovingly refer to as “The Loser Triple Crown”. Yes, I know I’m a soulless money grubbing jerk. I checked the spot where my heart once was and it’s now just sinew, brown liquor and a well worn copy of Hole’s “Live Through This”. I'm fine with it. I’m certainly passionate about other things in this life, so I don’t lose sleep over my lack of seasonal spirit.


Last week on Thanksgiving, I overnighted in Milwaukee. We stay at a lovely Hilton downtown, attached to the hotel is the ChopHouse, an upscale yet comfortable steak house. The food, cocktails, and service are all sublime. It's a wonderful place to spend a holiday, even as a heathen non-believer.


This Thanksgiving I was far more conscious of being alone than in years before. I generally protect and savor my solo time...it’s when I recharge and do my best thinking. But this year on Thanksgiving I was acutely aware that over the holidays last year I was with my roommate who feels the way I do about the holidays. I was missing the esprit de corps of being with someone who gets me. I appreciated being in the company of someone who didn’t require me to play along with something I don’t subscribe to just to fit in. When I get lonely sometimes, I’m not lonely for the company of just anyone. I feel more isolated when I spend time with people I don't click with. Last Thursday I could have made plans with my co-workers or crashed any number of flight attendant dinners and made small talk about what hotels have bed bugs or how our new eco-friendly plastic uniforms melt if the iron is too hot. PASS. Party of one for the win.


The bar at the ChopHouse was full of festively dressed holiday patrons enjoying drinks while waiting for their tables in the dining room. The host offered me the last hightop table available, one adjacent to the bar. An older foursome was huddled nearby finishing their wine. As I settled in, one of the women picked her purse up off my table and said “I’ll give you this chair back when the rest of your people show up.”


I told her not to worry about it as it was just me.


All four of them in unison belted out, “JUST YOU ON THANKSGIVING? OH NO!”


Sigh.


I told them it would be fine. Really. They remained unconvinced. The patriarch paid the check and put his meaty Midwestern palm on my table, saying “I truly hope you can enjoy your dinner,” with an expression like he was giving a pep talk to a burn victim.


Well, this could only get better.

My waitress swooped in shortly after to see if I wanted a drink. Danielle was fresh faced, with her dark hair pulled back in a ponytail and she was tremendously pregnant. Like Dear God, Should You Still Be Running Your Ass Off Waiting Tables far along. I ordered a Hendrix martini, which she prepared with care. She dropped it off saying “I love Hendrix gin. I want you to enjoy that for me.” I told her I was on it. I am picky about my martinis and it was flawless.


I ordered the short rib with beet gnocchi for dinner with a glass of Tempranillo and I went back and forth between people watching, reading articles I hadn’t had time to read and writing absurdly angsty poetry in the Notes app on my phone. I was amazed how Danielle was constantly in motion. She and the bartender were getting their asses kicked with only the two of them to take care of a full 7 seat bar and six constantly needy tables. Danielle never lost her smile. She looked like there was no place she’d rather be, which didn’t seem humanly possible.


As she cleared my dinner plate, she asked if I wanted to to see the dessert menu. I’m not usually a sweets person, so I was surprised to hear myself say “Yes, definitely.” I chose a carrot cake cheesecake, Danielle said it was her favorite. As she put it down, she said “I am so blissed out on your behalf right now.”


I was officially in indulgence overload after polishing off the cheesecake and I asked Danielle for the check as I finished my wine. When she dropped it off, she said “Thank you for being such a pleasure to wait on.” I was surprised by her sentiment because although all of our encounters had been delightful, they had been brief as she had been so busy. I thanked her for working on Thanksgiving. She smiled, rubbed her belly and said “I won’t be working Christmas for obvious reasons.”


I said “I’m glad you’ll be pursuing a better opportunity.”


I took care of the bill and decided to walk it over to her where she was diligently closing out checks at the point of sale machine. Danielle extended her hand to shake mine just as I opened my arms to hug her. I may be a socially awkward introvert with more than a hint of bitch face, but I am still a diehard hugger to the core. Danielle’s face beamed and she said “Ooh, yes, a hug!” As she pulled me as close to her as her frame would allow, she whispered in my ear “The light inside you is so bright. I just hope that you can see it too.”


I thanked her and said good night, choking back tears as I walked to the elevator.


I'm still not jumping on the holiday hoopla train, but I won’t ever forget Thanksgiving 2017 because of Danielle and how she made me feel. May I never lose sight of how powerful a small act of kindness can be.





Wednesday, November 22, 2017

THIS JUST IN: The Holidays Are Optional

Well, it’s the most wonderful time of the year again. This year's season of giving was heralded in with an annual email my company sends out to inform the staff that our employee assistance program is available for those who may be “quietly suffering through difficult life events and circumstances with stress, trauma, depression, or perhaps even addiction” this time of year.


Sounds pretty wonderful, amirite?


I’ve been in the travel game long enough to observe a predictable pattern of behavior that rounds out the rest of the year. Right before/during Thanksgiving, there is excitement and positive energy and goodwill towards mankind and festive sweaters and eager anticipation of breaking with the mundane routine of life to CELEBRATE GOOD TIMES. Somewhere in mid-December there is usually some fatigue from trying to do it all...I mean it’s hard to go to all the parties and bake all the cookies and drink all the eggnogs and deck all the halls and spread all the goddamn cheer and such without a break. There’s a quiet period between Christmas and New Year’s where people just seem to regrouping and gearing up for the final push. Then when it’s all over, THE GENERAL PUBLIC IS JUST AWFUL. That mulled wine/pecan pie/reindeer sweater socializing/work hiatus hangover crash hits real hard and then there’s the realization that we still have the seemingly endless winter to consider and a bunch of credit card debt and muffin top to deal with from all the Fa La Fucking La biz that’s now in the rear view mirror. I always take early January off as I don’t like to get kicked in the teeth by John Q Public after he realizes that going back to your everyday life after a steady diet of fruitcake and Dewars for a solid month is an emotional swan dive into a block of cement situation.



How much of the above traditional scenario do I subscribe to? ZERO. Holidays are all days like any other to me, no special significance.


HOWEVER.


If it means something to you, I support that without question. I understand that your traditions have meaning TO YOU, and I respect that.


What I would like in return is for you to return the favor.


I have worked most of the holidays since I moved to Chicago in 2009. I’d love to tell you it’s because I’m such a giver, and I want someone who believes in all the holiday joy to have the day off. Truth be told, I’d suck the devil’s dick for double time, because it’s free money to fund other days to spend exactly how I see fit. It’s nice to have a job where you have a choice; I was off many holidays in the past when staying home was more appealing than making that paper. Since I’ve been back on the holiday work train, I’ve had many, many co-workers ask if I have family in the city where I end up spending Thanksgiving/Christmas/New Year’s and when I reply I don’t, I hear “OH. HOW SAD”.


If ending up in San Diego spending Christmas running along the water in shorts and enjoying oysters and a gin martini by myself followed by getting 10 hours of sleep is sad, it looks like we’re going to have to agree to disagree on that particular definition.


I suppose in a more global sense I’m disappointed that people seem to require that everyone else either mirror their choices or defend their position. If eating a dead bird and watching football and being surrounded by your relatives makes you happy, I AM SO HAPPY FOR YOU. But quit trying to shove your traditions up my ass like they are the only acceptable alternative. Perhaps there would be less stress, trauma, depression, and addiction for the employee assistance program to attend to if everyone just eased off all the expectations a little. Lots of people aren’t where they’d like to be in this life and the holidays are just a giant flashing billboard that announces “YOU ARE A GIANT LOSER AND 25 VIEWINGS OF “LOVE ACTUALLY” AIN’T GONNA CHANGE THAT SHIT”. Try to be mindful of them when you crank up your cinnamon scented mirth machine.




Again, I’m not trying to go all Scrooge McDuck on your holiday table. But perhaps in these stressful days of Trump and Kim Jung Un dueling their dicks like teenage boys with lightsabers and every dude that ever had a taste of power being accused of feeling up anyone who was within their creepy arm’s reach, could it hurt to try to be a tad bit more open minded to other people’s thoughts and feelings? My life is filled with people who love me fully and without question who I am grateful for EVERY DAY, not just some random Thursday once a year that’s sponsored by Butterball and Bud Light. But I lead a non-traditional life in a lot of senses and perhaps I’m saltier than usual about the holidays as I am tired of the message from the general public that if I wish and hope and try hard enough, some day I will be magically awarded the prize of having a normal life. I don’t want a normal life and I’m tired of trying to explain that to everyone politely as they stare at me in disbelief. Their concern for my actual circumstances is indiscernible; they just don’t want to consider that perhaps opting out of the machine is an option for everyone, and freewill is still a fucking thing. I’m concerned about our systemic failure of imagination here….is it so hard to recognize and acknowledge that not everyone wants what you want?


I’ll wrap up this rant by saying I hope the holidays bring you whatever your heart desires. If you’ve worked hard and Santa deems you worthy of a new iPhone, hooray. Use it to call me and we’ll hang out. I intend to give whatever money I would spend on presents as a holiday consumer to a local bookstore and tell the people in my life that want for nothing that I did so on their behalf. Not because I’m such an altruist, but I generally try to do what makes me feel good. Isn’t that what we’re supposed to do this time of year, or did I read the memo upside down? If you need me, I’ll be washing down fruitcake with Dewars because I’m not opposed to hedonistic pursuits on any given day, in fact quite the opposite...it’s the hot buttered holiday bullshit I can live without.





PEACE ON EARTH, PEOPLE. LOVE THY WEIRDO NEIGHBOR OR DIE TRYING.




Wednesday, May 10, 2017

15 Sentences RE: Forever

I was challenged to write three 5 sentence stories....what's more fun to be brief about than your whole life?

I am a party girl in act one. I come by it honestly as I am born into a world full of hard drinking, fast talking, self absorbed socialites. Growing up in their shadow teaches me that interesting people with big ideas always need people like me to support them while they do their work.  “Just use your cocktail party wit to find a decent guy to escape this mess”, I tell myself. Then go along with whatever he says, because you won't be young and pretty forever.


In act two, I am a housewife. I mean, we're not legally married, but we cook and clean and buy furniture and pay bills together and have sex every Sunday on clean sheets after we both take a shower. It is safe and comfortable and seemingly forever, until one day safe and comfortable becomes a mundane state of emergency and our brains fill with smoke as we scramble for the exits. Forever is wonderful in theory, but in practice it can be elusive as fuck. As is coming up with a new plan when you've been following someone else's lead for most of your adult life.


The party girl returns in act three, as getting wasted seems like the default way to kill time until that new plan emerges. But this time, the hangover involves depression, loneliness, and self loathing that really was there all along during act one, but Chekov's gun loaded with despair was infinitely more romantic through my younger vision. The only thing that keeps me from pulling the trigger is my desire to chronicle the experience to the point of regularly scrawling words on my hands so I will not forget them. The act of honoring and transcribing my thought bubbles teaches me I can get high on my own ideas anytime I choose, opening myself up to a vibrant world I could never access with liquor. Saved by the fact that creativity can fill in the most gray and desperate of landscapes with color, my third act shows the most promise as I vow to stay forever stoned on my imagination.


Tuesday, April 11, 2017

A Love Letter to the Audience

“Every work of art is one half of a secret handshake, a challenge that seeks the password, a heliograph flashed from a tower window, an act of hopeless optimism in the service of bottomless longing. Every great record or novel or comic book convenes the first meeting of a fan club whose membership stands forever at one but which maintains chapters in every city—in every cranium—in the world. Art, like fandom, asserts the possibility of fellowship in a world built entirely from the materials of solitude. The novelist, the cartoonist, the songwriter, knows that the gesture is doomed from the beginning but makes it anyway, flashes his or her bit of mirror, not on the chance that the signal will be seen or understood but as if such a chance existed.”


This is the opening passage to Michael Chabon’s essay “The Loser’s Club”, one of the first pieces of literature that enabled me to recognize that my relationship with art revolves around my search for connection.


I grew up relying on art in all forms: books, movies, but primarily music to soothe me. To be my parent, my friend, my advisor, my confidante, my security blanket. Some look to art for amusement, for escape, for entertainment. I have always looked at it as my gasoline, my life force, a necessary crutch for when I cannot walk on my own.


My first musical connection came from listening to the Beatles, particularly their later, darker stuff. I played my “White Album” on white vinyl until the cover disintegrated from being pawed by my greasy 11 year old hands. That was followed by Stevie Wonder’s “Songs In the Key of Life, Fleetwood Mac’s “Rumors”, Led Zeppelin's “Physical Graffiti”. These were my first lessons on love, on loss, on loneliness, with flashes of belonging.






As I grew older I surrounded myself with artists, aligning myself with those who I considered to be superior to me as they were creators. Seeing myself only through the lens of being the guitar player’s girlfriend, the writer’s significant other, or the “fan” caused me to devalue the connection between the art and the audience. I resigned myself to forever being on lesser side of the equation, to being merely the receiver of the gift.


When I began writing and performing, I saw the fluidity between the creator and the spectators. Writing is such a solitary activity, often causing me to feel immensely isolated. I was compelled to create my own accounts of love, loss, and loneliness, but it was in the reveal of those materials that I experienced a similar reaction as when I would hear a song that resonated with me, when I was exposed to a piece of art that made me feel understood. In the case of telling a story to an audience or publishing something like this blog, I feel a drive to do so to reach out to those who also feel alone. There is little difference to me experiencing it from the other side of the transaction. Even when I receive feedback that is negative or confusing from others, I respect and appreciate that they took the time to try to understand my point of view. All I ask is to be considered, to be heard; that the art opens the door to a possible connection.


My curiosity surrounding the relationship between art and its audience was recently reignited by watching HBO’s “Eagles of Death Metal: Nos Amis (Our Friends)", a documentary about the 2015 terrorist attack on Paris’ Bataclan theater. Jesse Hughes, the lead singer of Eagles of Death Metal, who is a compelling mix of Palm Desert rock scenester and tent revival preacher said in reference to their audience, “I don’t look at it like they are our fans. I look at it like we’re all rock and rollers here, I’m just the monkey that shakes his dick for you while you dance.” It struck me that he saw the space between the performer and the audience as highly permeable, rooted in a belief that the monkey would be nothing without those who dance. I truly get that.




I am fortunate enough to be surrounded by people who say and show me they love me unconditionally all the time so my stories revolve less about loneliness these days. In my writings about connection now there is an implied belonging, a sense of feeling I live inside the circle more than ever before. I finally fully appreciate that nothing I create will be understood by everyone. I'm satisfied that the more authentic I am, less people will connect with me and that is as it should be. I am only attracting people who belong with me, those who deserve to walk beside me now.


For those of you who say you are not creative, know that I see what you bring to the table. Perhaps you don't recognize it, but I urge you to pay closer attention. Feel that there is art in every exchange if you put your energy into it.  In the way you dress, in the way you walk, in the words you choose, in the company you keep. I would contend that no activity is soulless if you attempt to do it with your own sense of style, knowing it is your chance to flash your mirror for those who are meant to see it.






Monday, March 20, 2017

Business of Love



Inspired by attending the "Louder Than A Bomb" finals the other night featuring the best of Chicago's teen slam poets, I submit this to you as an experiment in storytelling style and form. Their fearlessness reminded me that sharing your innermost self with the world without apology can be powerful. 




You ask why we cannot be together. You will never understand it is because you are a bank and I am a candy store.

The candy comes in all colors and shapes and sizes. Treats that are tart and sour and sweet. Some that crunch, some that are gooey, some that are velvety smooth.

But I am not always a candy store. 

Some days I am a library, where the written word is my gospel. I’m only of interest to a select few: the very young, the very old, the frugal, the luddites, the outliers. But there is a discernible buzz that cuts through the library’s silence, the humming of reverence from those who choose to read. 

Some days I am a gas station, with people coming in and out to get what they need to move on. Some days I am a neighborhood bar, clamoring with the sounds of the jukebox and people telling stories with their hands. Smelling of sweat and whiskey, echoing with people enjoying each other’s company with the occasional interruption of making sure a lonely soul who’s had too many gets home safely.

You are a bank and you have always been a bank. I am comfortable at the bank because the bank is necessary and predictable. The bank opens at precisely 9 am and closes at 5 pm. I know what to expect from the bank; my paper numbers will be effortlessly transformed into currency. I trust the bank will take the dizzying array of digits involved in identifying my various accounts and credit and debit them correctly to keep my resources flowing. I feel a rush as the pert young teller counts back the bills to me with a sunny voice. She ensures the stack of paper presidents are all faced the same direction. I respect that the bank represents structure and responsibility; I can earn interest and I can borrow and I can save. I look to the bank to be my backbone, to keep me grounded and safe and secure.

You’ve been around so many other banks all of your life that it did not occur to you there were other options besides being a bank. You seem content with me not being a bank at first, in fact you seemed to find me to be a refreshing change. But you grew weary of seeing how many places I could be, and you became confused by the fact that I was something different every time you came to visit. This made you uneasy, it made question your decision to become a bank.

I suggest that although you are most certainly a bank, you can still change and grow. You could be open on Saturdays, perhaps. You could add on a drive through ATM. You could paint the walls or put in carpeting or play something other than classical music.  No, no, no, you tell me. You've always been a bank precisely this way, and it's always been fine. 

I understand your trepidation. I know because I failed at being so many places: a daycare center, a secretarial service, a modeling agency, a health club, a place of worship, a therapy practice, a marriage chapel. I tried to build each one, only to see them crumble and turn to dust. Our constructions are often met with opposition, or worse yet, with indifference. I saw you come alive with the sparks of possibility, only to see them extinguished by your fear.

Still I continue to diversify. Some days I am a nursing home, tending to the infirm. Some days I am an airport, with people hustling back and forth with determination and chaotic energy. Other days I am a yoga studio, warm and quiet, full of ohms and namastes.

I tried to be a bank for many years as I felt that’s what the world wanted me to be. Everyone told me to be a bank as it was safe and reliable. After decades of trying, I became a hospital. Full of disease and unrest, practicing triage to attend to the most serious problems first, with the smell of failure and antiseptic always heavy in the air.

You loved that I was not a bank until you didn’t. I wasn't required to be a bank with you, but you wanted someone from that same predictable, steady category, like a grocery store or a car dealership. You were threatened by all my variety, all of my choices. I loved being a candy store above all else, and it seems you feasted on my confections until you became ill. 

That’s when I became the corner store half a block from your work that you visit every morning, the one where the lady behind the counter smiles and has your coffee ready for you when you get to the register. She knows you like it with one cream and two sugars, just so. 

Until one Monday when you come to find that she is not there. She is sleeping late, relieved she does not have to concern herself with anyone's coffee but her own. She is not there because the store is not there. You do not understand how or why on this particular Monday you find the store shuttered; gone without warning or explanation. That is how abruptly I became a memory.

I now spend my days searching for those who can be an architecture firm full of creative plans for building the future, a music store ringing with joyful noise, a comedy club where magicians transform their pain into laughter. I must believe that people who can embrace all that I am on any given day will continue to find me and that they are willing to make an investment in the business of love.






Monday, June 27, 2016

Look Straight Ahead

Captain Per Holmberg was making his way to work the morning of December 27, 1991. He was a passenger on Scandanavian Airways flight 751 from Stockholm to Copenhagen; in Copenhagen he was scheduled to be in command of an SAS flight to Madrid later that day. He read his newspaper in his second row seat while the ground crew deiced the wings as the plane had been sitting overnight in wintery weather. Captain Stefan Rassmussen and First Officer Ulf Cedermark opted to fly with the cockpit door open as they felt it offered the cabin a chance to connect with them, a remarkable display of trust and confidence.


The ground crew failed to identify and remove clear ice that had accumulated on the underside of the wings after being parked overnight. Twenty five seconds after take off, the airplane shook violently and loud banging similar to cannon fire was heard throughout both engines of the MD 81. The pilots immediately questioned whether they were dealing with structural damage or an act of terrorism. Both engines had sucked in ice upon take off, causing surging and severe malfunction. Within ninety seconds both engines failed, with the right engine catching fire. The cabin filled with smoke and began to fall at a rate of twenty feet per second. Most everyone onboard knew that the quiet of having no power combined with the rapid descent meant they were surely plummeting to their deaths.


I am currently living with the effects of structural damage. After years of suffering from pain in my hips and feet that have stopped me from running and sciatica that often brings my ability to get around to a screeching halt, I was diagnosed with rotator cuff tendonitis last year. First in my left shoulder, which I was able to treat with a few months of physical therapy, then my right shoulder, which thus far has been resistant to treatment. The right shoulder pain started much like the left shoulder; an aggravation that limited my ability to work as a flight attendant as there are constant physical demands, repetitive motions that are particularly destructive while bearing weight with my arms extended above my head. As of last week, I no longer have the range of motion in my shoulder required to do the job at all right now. I worked for four hours after an extended absence and intensive daily physical therapy and I was in such pain I had to admit that I am crashing, unclear about how to proceed, overwhelmed by exhaustion and denial, crushed that my wellness plan is circling the drain.


Captain Rasmussen told himself the worst wasn’t happening; that he was simply living a nightmare. Per Holmberg looked into the cockpit from his seat in the cabin and saw no action, no hands on throttles, no discussion of what measures should follow. He approached the open door to offer help just as the engine fire alarm sounded, prompting the first officer to break the silence with “Shall I pull it?” They all knew that once the fire extinguisher was activated, the engine could never be restarted. Cedarmark pulled the lever without getting an answer as Rassmussen was stunned and silent, consumed by a fog of helplessness.


Holberg asked if he could be of assistance. Rassmussen instructed him to attempt to start the auxilliary power unit as they had no radio contact with the ground. Rassmussen contemplated circling back to the airport, but Holmberg told him he must only focus on what was in front of him.  “LOOK STRAIGHT AHEAD”, he told them more than 20 times, emphasising that turning back would only squander precious energy.  Holmberg found an emergency checklist, but he quickly abandoned it as he determined the situation was beyond a series of rote instructions. “LOOK STRAIGHT AHEAD”, he repeated to them, as their only hope was to harness the remainder of their glide and not stall the aircraft. Captain Rassmussen determined he would land in a forested area in rural Gottrora, Sweden. He looked to the trees below to cushion the impact.


I am having difficulty looking straight ahead while living inside a body that seems to desperately want to divorce me. I am filled with dread as my job may continue to cause harm to me physically, regardless of whether any future treatments are effective or not.  I am paralyzed with fear at the notion of forging another road at almost 50 years old. I look at my retirement funds with the target date of 2035. That's 19 years from now, daunting as I currently cannot perform even 19 minutes of what’s required of me to keep my life revolving in the big picture. I am crashing; my muscles atrophying, my skin and flesh growing softer, providing no cushion for the fiery pain that comes from basic tasks; putting on a shirt, rolling over onto my right side in the night, shaking hands with many doctors. I often lose myself in thoughts of denial of what is happening as I do not want this to be my reality.


Captain Rassmussen was consumed with fear as the trees began to rip the airplane’s fuselage apart. He knew he would most likely die, and he would be responsible for everyone else who died with him. The plane was torn into three segments. The passengers were able to walk out into the frozen forest through the gaping holes in the plane. They smelled fuel and knew that an explosion was possible. They knew they were at risk for hypothermia as they distanced themselves from the wreckage. They were aware they were still in danger. The flight attendants hugged the passengers who wandered the tundra in a daze. One reported she hugged them as she needed comfort for herself as well.


I take comfort in pain pills and steroids and binge watching Amazon Prime and hot baths with chamomile epsom salts and gin gimlets and eating pasta in bed out of a comically large bowl. I challenge myself to stay focused on what has yet to happen. I treasure hunt for joyful prizes hidden in seemingly awful scenarios. I am grateful for the x-ray technician who was gentle and kind as I stifled back sobs while she pulled my arm across the metal plate into a photographable position. I cannot remember another time that I cried in my adult life sheerly due to being in physical pain. I am blessed with friends who carry my groceries and call to check up on me; those who keep knocking even when my despair instinctively causes me to close the door. They put aside their own troubles and they listen patiently as I describe feeling helpless and overwhelmed and they talk to me with genuine care. I truly want to have nuanced opinions about the precarious state of world politics and gun control and everything else that ignites passionate discussion on social media, but I can’t even change my own sheets right now. I’m presently wandering in a daze when I do have the energy, and when I don’t, I am idling on the sidelines, watching my life trickle by. I try not to think back to times I could run 8 miles or work 8 hours a day or sleep 8 hours a night; looking back only squanders my precious energy. I see pieces of myself in a story of 25 year old airplane accident discussed at an annual training meeting. I write about what scares me in a defiant attempt to defuse its power. I celebrate days I manage to take a shower and shave one armpit and put on clothes that are acceptable for leaving the house. My 100% may be a sliver of what it once was, but I remind myself that I am doing all I am capable of for this moment and my 100% will change and eventually grow.


When the headcount was taken of all the souls onboard Scandanavian flight 751, all 123 passengers and 6 crew members were still alive. Called the “Miracle at Gottrora”, it was determined to be unthinkable that not a single person perished. In order to not feel defined by my circumstances, I must believe that every crash is survivable and help is there for me when I leave the door open.

Here's to looking straight ahead.