Category Archives: Work

Cryin’ in My Coffee

It was a Monday morning, and I was in tears.

Yes, I am one of those Debbie Downer people who isn’t too fond of Monday. I don’t hate my job. Sometimes I almost like it. But if I’m honest, there’s a list of 100 things I’d rather do than go to it. I read all the “Happy Monday!” positive thinking posts on Facebook and do my best to go down that sunshine road myself. I tell myself to be thankful for having a job that makes Monday, well … Monday. Then I realize that I’m also thankful for my cat. I love him. A lot. That doesn’t mean I bliss out on gratitude every time I scoop his litter box. Why would I? There’s poop in there.

If having a job is the cat I’m thankful for, Monday is the poop in the litter box. Even so, while its arrival makes me utter phrases like “douchecanoe” with astounding frequency, it rarely reduces me to tears.

Lee (my partner, for those who don’t know) had gone out and gotten me a cup of coffee from the nearby Farm Store. When I make my own coffee, I skimp on the creamer in the name of being calorie/health-conscious. When he makes it for me, there’s none of that. It tastes like heaven and there’s steam rising off the top.

That tearful Monday morning, I had a beautiful cup of Lee-coffee warming my hands, and all I was doing was bawling over it. How could even the Grand Mistress of Monday Haters not be soothed by the fact that someone loved her enough to go fetch her coffee to kick off the week?

All I can say is that while the Grand Mistress of Monday Hating was grateful, she was also heartbroken. You see, our coffee pot had given up the ghost that morning. Without warning, it had just up and died. That’s why he had run out to get me coffee before rousing me to face my Monday. No one who has lived with me ever wants to face the decaffeinated version of me while it tries to prepare for a 9 am meeting.

I admit I’m an over-emotional person. Dog food commercials can make me cry. But normally I’m not so self-centered that I’ll lose control over the loss of a replaceable convenience item. Especially not since losing Mom. Nothing puts not sweating the small stuff in perspective like losing that which is not replaceable, and which you’d never want to replace anyway.

The broken coffee pot wasn’t tragic because I’m addicted to java, or even because it was Monday and things tend to set me off just a little easier on that poop-scooping day of the week. It was a tragedy in my little world because Mom had given me that coffee pot to me on our last Christmas together. She had also given me my love — ok, addiction — to coffee. Growing up, I knew that if I tried to have a conversation with her before her second cup, she would glare at me like an angered Mommy Dearest even though in reality she was the gentlest, most giving mother in the world. When I grew up, I inherited that pre-coffee face just like I did her eyes.

Coffee and Mom are intertwined for me. She had picked out that coffee pot for me, her Bitch-From-Hell-Before-Her-Java offspring. Now she was gone, and the coffee pot was broken.

And so I sobbed over my nice warm cup of Farm-Store java, the kind of choking, soaking sobs you sob when grief is raw and fresh, even though Mom had been gone for 8 months. That’s what happens when grief blindsides you with an unexpected blow. You can armor up for the things you know will hurt – the holidays and anniversaries and just-yours family traditions that now have big holes in them. But those random moments in life where normally everything is OK and suddenly you realize that no, everything is different forever and ever? Those get you, and so you sob.

So that’s what I did, and then I got up and got ready for my meeting. And here’s the thing:  Those moments get you, and they hurt like the day you got the bad news and like all the awful things that happened after. But then you cry them out and you breathe and when it is all done, you might even feel just a bit more whole again.

I can’t use the coffee pot Mom gave me anymore. But she’s still with me every time I drink a cup, no matter where it came from. She is in the steam rising off the cup and in the Pre-Java-Bitchface I make before my first few sips. She is, and always will be.

Love You Mom. Like a Dog.

Ordinary Worlding

Dear Mom,

I can’t believe how much time I have let get away from me since my last posting.  Take work, add a healthy dose of holidays and a great run of AFC football craziness, and time flies.

You have been with me every day, of course, so you already know the reasons behind the empty echo chamber that has been my writing lately. And you also know they aren’t all bad, or even mostly bad.

One of the themes in our conversations over the years was how to live a good life. Because you were my mother, you were proud of my ambitions. But they frustrated you, too. I have always been one of those “all or nothing” people. If I was chasing after a goal, it became an obsession. Every waking moment not being spent on that goal felt like a waste of time.

When my goal became to write and publish a book, and to do a butt-ton of other writing besides, that mindset became a little overwhelming. Those are long and arduous endeavors even when they are labors of love. And when you have a full-time-plus job in the kind of field where your work doesn’t always – or even usually – end at the moment the clock says the office is closed, tackling such a big project can completely fill the rest of your remaining hours.

While I was going full-speed ahead on the book, I felt happy. More than happy. I felt drive and purpose and determination. For some, those are the definition of happiness.

But in that way that only a mother can do, you saw something missing in me even when I was on top of the world. You saw that I resented anything and everything that took me away from my writing world. Working. Cleaning. Eating. Sleeping. Taking care of other obligations. Hell, sometimes even doing fun things that weren’t related to writing felt “off.”

I wasn’t capable of being fully in a moment that wasn’t spent wordsmithing. Even if my body and some of my heart was there, my mind was far away.

You saw that, and you called me on it. And we’d talk about how I didn’t mean to be that way, it was just that I felt like my life wouldn’t be complete until I was where I wanted to be. It wasn’t good enough – I wasn’t good enough – unless writing enabled me to quit my job and become a full-time author. I was trying so hard to free myself from my existing obligations so I’d have more time for the things I loved that I forgot how to enjoy the limited free time I DID have.

You liked that I wanted something more. You hated that I couldn’t appreciate all I had until I got it.

“You have to learn to be ordinary in an extraordinary world.” You told me that over and over again.

At first, I didn’t like that advice at all. I didn’t want to be ordinary. I thought it was your way of trying to nicely say that maybe I didn’t have what it took be a writer, and I’d be a happier person if I pulled my head out of my butt and got on with other things.

Then you got sick.

It was over that time – those awful and wonderful and beautiful and ugly moments that we had left – that I started to understand what you really meant. During that time period, I didn’t think about my book or any other type of writing much at all. How could something as inconsequential as finishing my book or writing a blog matter when we were all fighting for your life?

It couldn’t.

And so in those months, freed of all thoughts of what I wanted for my OWN future and focused completely on yours, I truly learned to live in the moment.

The obligations that annoyed me, like going to work or the grocery store or cleaning? Those became precious moments of normal living. My office was no longer a prison that kept me from writing. It was a place where a band of kind coworkers looked out for me and supported me. It was a place where I could solve problems and get little bits of something done – how good that felt when everything else was spinning out of control!

And the times we had together? When you felt good, they were beautiful and I wanted them to go on forever. I didn’t care if I never typed another sentence as long as we could talk and watch some football and eat some wings in your living room, and you were laughing and truly enjoying the game and the food was tasty to you instead of making you feel sick. Even the bad times – the doctor visits and procedures and days you felt like shit, mattered in a way that nothing ever had before.

I spent the first few months after you went away in a zombie state. I worked and ate and slept and cleaned and did things with friends and family, but most of the time I was hazy. I was functioning, and that was enough. If I crawled out of the protective mental bubble that was allowing me to do that much, I was afraid I crumble into a lost little ball of freakitude. I didn’t think about writing, and I didn’t care that I wasn’t thinking about it.

Gradually, with your spiritual guidance, that has changed. I am present in my life again. My laughter is real more often than not, and so are my tears.  I feel true frustration at work when I have a problem to solve, because I care about getting things done again. I feel true satisfaction when I get them done. I feel love and appreciation for family and friends and animals in a deeper sense than ever before, although I always did value them above all else.

I am feeling the urge to write again, in bits and snippets. I took a leap of faith and shared the first part of my book with a group of readers. I began playing with the unfinished bits in short spurts and stretches, when the mood struck. I began thinking of other things I’d like to write and jotting down notes.

But this time, those goals have a different priority in my life. They are not all-consuming. I spent most of my holiday break cleaning and reorganizing my home, because it needed to be done and I wanted to. The old me would have resented the hell out of that – it was supposed to be WRITING TIME, damn it! The person I am today enjoyed the act of doing it as well as the end result.

Everything matters now. Life isn’t something that takes me away from my writing. Writing is just one important component of my life.

It is struggling to find its place again, but I feel like that is so much better than when it was shoving everything else that mattered aside.

I am learning how to be more like you – “ordinary in an extraordinary world.” Your life was cut short, but you embraced every moment you had with grace and acceptance and love and enjoyment – and sometimes frustration and annoyance and pissed-offitude too.

You lived seeing the importance in everything around you, and seeing every moment and task as where you were supposed to be and what you were supposed to be doing. You tried to love them all.

That sounds ordinary, but it made you …. and your life … extraordinary.

That’s what you were trying to tell me. That’s how you were pushing me to be. Not because you didn’t believe I could do anything else, but because you knew that only those who live that way can truly have a life.

Writing is finding its place in my new outlook. That feels good too, but no better than the way every other puzzle piece is fitting.

And I’m OK with that.

Love you Mom. Like a Dog.

 

 

 

Rings, Clothes and Workdays

Dear Mom,

It has been too long since my last letter. Please know that it isn’t because I haven’t been thinking about you. You are always in my heart and there isn’t a day that you don’t cross my mind a hundred times. We have had many quiet conversations in my mind since my last post. But you know me. I can only get the words out through the keyboard when I get downtime and quiet – and there has been precious little of that lately. Working in higher education in August is a telegram from hell for us introverts.

I made it through my first birthday without you, and today is Jamie’s. She gave me the NFL Steelers ring she got you last Christmas, the one you loved so much, and told me you wanted me to have it. Of course I cried – and she knew I would. She even warned me not to in the card, but it had fallen to the bottom of the gift bag so I didn’t see the warning until after I was holding the ring. It is a pinky ring for me. Although your presence here was huge and the hole in the world since you left us is just as big, you were physically so much smaller than me, and that includes our fingers. I think my hands were bigger than yours by the time I started middle school! So I wear it with care and tuck it away safely each night so it doesn’t slip off in my sleep. And when I am typing away at work and it shines up at me, I smile and know you are there.

Hopefully the Steelers themselves will know you are too. They had a bumbling preseason. But we’ve been through that before, haven’t we?

You raised an amazing kid, Momma. Jamie, not me. She holds so much together without you there, and she does it like a trained acrobat juggler. Me? Give me three plates and two are gonna crash to the floor. You raised a weirdo too. Sometimes I look at us and think we are flip sides of the coin that was you.

So other than that, most of August has been work, work and more work. And when I’m not working, I’m recovering from work. I remind myself that this too shall pass – it is just that time of year, and try to breathe and carry on. I have noticed that it is much harder for me to deal with the long hours and the nonstop interaction this year, and it was never easy. Everyone gets so stressed and worked up because there is so much to do and so little time to do it, and we are all sleep-deprived and irritable. I used to be a like a sponge, absorbing all that anxiety and worry and frenzy.

I can’t do that so well anymore. I am in the midst of all the tasks and issues and concerns that have everyone in a frenzy, and I know they are important. But after the year we have been through, part of me swims through them like I’m in a calm lake instead of a river speeding towards a waterfall. My mind says if these are the biggest issues of the day, the worst that can happen is not so much to fear. The consequences are like a scraped knee or a bothersome mosquito bite compared to the jagged scars that watching you hurt and then go left.

I am pretty sure you would like that. My tendency to worry too much about everything at work needing to be right and to be done drove you batshit – if only because you saw how batshittier it drove me. You wanted me to accept that I am a person, not an octupus with 8 arms to tackle 8 different tasks at once, even if that was what others wanted me to do. You’ve finally gotten your wish. I didn’t just decide to stop sweating smaller stuff. I am truly no longer capable of doing so.

Yesterday I finally had a little time to myself, and was going through my closets getting ready for fall – my favorite time of year is just around the corner. There was the shirt you got me with the ferrets on it, and the tye-dye Steelers shirt, and the beautiful black dress shirt you got me that I wore to Grandad’s funeral. There was the sweater you got me that I adore but need to lose five or ten pounds to wear. There was the silvery scarf you picked out for me that I love wearing in the winter. And those were just the tip of the iceberg. Before I knew it, I was sitting on my bedroom floor bawling, surrounded by clothes and desperately needing something to wipe my sloppy face with but of course not wanting to use any of them.

That closet was like a book of memories – each one a Christmas morning or a birthday and then all the times afterwards where we did something together and I wore the gift and you smiled at the way it looked. You always saw me as so much more beautiful than I see myself. That was evident in the things you’d pick out for me. The things I’ve gotten myself that sit beside your gifts in the closet say ” gear for an aging work horse.” Your gifts say “something for a pretty woman to wear.”

I am picking myself up anew each day and trying my best to be the woman you saw in me instead of the one I see in myself. Some days, it works.

Love you Mom. Like a Dog.

PS – GO STEELERS!!

Like A …Goose?

I’m one of those disgustingly lucky people who doesn’t just work well with her boss, but actually likes him.

We’ve always been a study in how opposite personality types can appreciate and benefit from one anothers’ strengths.  He’s an extravert. I’m an introvert. He likes things decided. I like exploring my options. He focuses on the bottom line, while I obsess about how getting there makes everyone feel. He sees what’s really happening while I float off some on “could be” cloud.

I want to be like a dog. He wants to be like a goose.

A few months ago, he told his small group of leaders that we were going to plan an office retreat around the theme of “Be A Goose.”  My first thought was “Be a goose? Are you freaking serious?”

My experience with geese is pretty limited.

When I was a child,  a big mean goose lived in my great-grandmother’s yard. When I was outside, it liked to chase me and peck me on the ass. It got to the point where when we pulled into her driveway, I’d make my grandfather carry me to the house so I could avoid goose-nipped buttcheeks.

As an adult, I’ve worked at the same college campus for years. There is a small man-made pond on campus. For a while, a flock of geese took up residence at the pond. They weren’t ass-biters like my great-grandmother’s goose, but they shit everywhere. Prospective students and their parents had to play hopscotch over big green gobs of gooseshit to get to the admissions office. I once had to speak at a President’s Council meeting, and the agenda item before my demo was the geese. I spent a half hour listening to the highest higher-ups on campus debate humane and efficient ways to remove the geese and their poop.

So the whole “Be A Goose” thing perplexed me. Why would we want our staff to peck each other on the ass and shit everywhere?

But as the boss unraveled his thoughts around the theme, things became clearer.  I learned a lot about geese. For example, the way they fly in “V” formation allows them to reduce wind resistance. They take turns leading the formation, switching off when the current leader gets tired. If one goose becomes sick or injured and can no longer keep going, two other geese leave the formation with it and stay near it as it recuperates or passes on.

Chickens, meanwhile, are known to peck at each other constantly. When one chicken is pecked to the point of weakness, they gang up on it even more.  I have to admit, this new tidbit of info makes me feel a lot better about all those buffalo wings I’ve eaten.

I never would have guessed that one of my favorite dinners is a bully, or that the birds I thought of as butt-munching poop machines were so good at supporting one another.

Considering all that, I could suddenly see how “be a goose” worked as a professional development theme. The boss put together a great day, and the “be a goose” motto has taken off without anyone pooping anywhere inappropriate.

For me, it was a lesson in perspective. What seems ugly and mean might also possess kindness and beauty, if I only bother to look deeper.

I’d still rather be a like a dog, but being a goose has its good points too.