Tag Archives: work

Summer Solace

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“If a June night could talk, it would probably boast it invented romance.” –Bern Williams

I am not a summer girl.  I loved school and hated to see it end.  Yes, a little rest and freedom from homework was welcome, and the night owl in me embraced the late nights and sleeping through the morning, but in general, I do not love summer.  I hate the heat.  I miss school.  I get lonely and bored.  I get antsy.  I am not a swimmer, not a sunbather, not a traveler.  The months creep past with slow, oppressive heat and the stale smell of sweat and lethargy invades the house.

But my disdain for the sunny months does not dim the nostalgic ache I feel for childhood summers.  I hated them in the moment, but look back with longing for those small town heat waves.

Summers were hot.  I remember lying still on the living room carpet, fighting my brothers for position in front of the big metal fan that stood on our hearth.  At night, after darkness crept through the valley, we opened windows and amped up fans to blow what little cool air existed through the house.   I remember the little brown fan, oscillating on my dresser, and the welcome touch of its breeze as it swayed side to side in the darkness.  Mornings started with a welcome chill, clean bright sun stretching across the neighborhood.  The moments were brief before the sun began its cruel work.  We bathed in sunscreen before swimming, hid in the house during midday.  Summer nights came slow, late, and never as strong as we hoped.  The heat never left, but there is something magical about a starry night, barefoot on the warm cement and cool grass.

I remember splashing in our wading pool out on the cement.  My brothers and I would fill it with cold water from the hose, sliding through the cool stream that penetrated the heated water from the day before.  We wore swim masks and snorkels and would lay on our stomachs and “swim” circles around the pool, dragging our half-submerged bodies in circles to create a small current, and then let it push us as we sat still.  I played dress up in old bridesmaid dresses with my friend, pretending we were brides and princesses, and we picked questionable berries from the shrubs to use for “real” food to play house.  I watched Stick Stickley in my bedroom as I moved furniture and cleaned out drawers until I could no longer stand the afternoon sun baking my windows.  We painted pictures and wrote poems and tried new recipes for the fair.  It was frightening and thrilling to walk the halls and find our entries, some with ribbons, and find other names we recognized.  I can smell the 4H livestock and feel the straw beneath my feet as cotton candy melted on my tongue.

As I grew older, summers changed.  It meant summer school to get ahead and to get my driver’s permit.  It was my first regular job, working at the city’s summer camp.  That was when I got my first honest to goodness tan, spending afternoons watching kids swim in the public pool.  We were mobile and employed, so we spent the summer free.  We had barbecues and parties, spent late nights at the lake and in back yards.  We walked the empty streets and played running charades at the elementary school.

Then, just like Harry Potter’s owl, letters came each August containing our school supply lists.  I loved shopping for notebooks and pens, but secretly feared that first day back.  It was so scary to see everyone for the first time, see new faces, see how everyone had changed.  There was so much at stake when we returned, frantic phone calls comparing class lists and finding someone, anyone that was in our classes.  There were new uniforms to iron and new outfits to assemble.  There was so much anticipation in the end, such a far cry from the endless, lazy days before.

I remember shorts and swimsuits, popsicles and fireworks.  When I think of summer my skin grows feverish and the heat hugs its way around my body.  I can see my mom’s beautifully browned legs as I sat between them while she covered me in cool, creamy sun screen.  I can smell the metallic water, dribbling from the hose, as we made a “safe” path of wet cement, between our chalk artwork, to walk barefoot on.  The crickets and bicycle tires echo through the dark streets in the cool of late night, as the neighborhood comes to life.  I hate the sweat and the loneliness and stagnation.  I hate summer.  And as I remember those moments, the summers of childhood, tears fill my tired eyes and I know without a doubt that I would give anything to return to those blistering days.

“Memory is a complicated thing, a relative to truth, but not its twin.”  –Barbara Kingsolver, Animal Dreams

Plans

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“Have I ever given you reason not to trust me?” –Jack Sparrow, Pirates of the Caribbean

Today was a mess.  I was put in my place, reminded that hope is really not for me.  As my three o’clock meeting approached, my computer (yes, this one, that works so great right now) and internet decided to conspire against me.  I spent more than an hour trying to get it up and running and online.  Yesterday I downloaded every update, ran every scan possible, and was ready for my web conference.  I had an hour to just get onto the website and, go figure, couldn’t.  I did everything in my power and ended up in tears watching a job opportunity slip away.

I quickly called into the number listed with the web address and hoped I could get by with just listening in.  I was late and missed the first minute or two of the meeting.  I took notes the best I could, scribbling every term or direction that they gave, for a program that I could not see in front of me.  I tried to calm myself and focus and planned how to best send an apology email and ask to still be considered for this training session.  In less than half of the time we were told, the meeting ended.  I apparently understood more than most of the other candidates did, who asked questions, without ever seeing the website.  I got all of the information that I needed to log on (miraculously) after the meeting ended and was able to easily navigate the training site.

I called my mom, still shaking from the frustration and emotion racing through me.  (I may have used some very, very harsh expletives when yelling at my laptop.)  I calmed down as I told her all about the frustratingly unsurprising bad luck I had.  I tried to shake the tension with a quick shopping run before rush hour set in in the valley.  As I walked down the hall to my car, one thought flooded my whirling mind.  “‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the LORD, ‘Plans to prosper you and not to harm you.  Plans to give you hope and a future.'” 

I have felt discouraged and hopeless about much in my life since graduating from college.  I have felt stuck, cornered in a place that I never intended to be.  I have tried, but grown so tired trying to find a way out, a way back.  At some point, I resigned myself to the fact that it doesn’t get much better than this.  So it goes.  And then, though I fought it, I allowed myself a little hope, a bit of dreaming.  And then it all failed me.  I barely made it through and it remains to be seen whether any of this will work out.  Yet in my frustration, through all my self-pity and self-loathing, I heard it:  “Plans to give you hope and a future.”

My plans are not His plans, and His are rarely mine.  Since graduating and losing (and perhaps leaving) much of my faith support system, it is far harder to hear His plan.  Perhaps I have not been seeking it, and that’s why it’s not clear.  I am still unhappy, still stressed about this new venture, but today I heard Him.  I know that, while I still doubt and fear, deep inside me is rooted this promise.  Somewhere, beyond what I was aware of or thinking about, His words echoed.  Somewhere, woven deeper within me than my skepticism and self-destruction, is the knowledge that He does have a plan to give me a future, one full of hope, worth hoping for. 

 

Cautious Optimism

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“Hope itself is a species of happiness, and, perhaps, the chief happiness which this world affords; but, like all other pleasures immoderately enjoyed, the excesses of hope must be expiated by pain.”  –Samuel Johnson

Tomorrow I begin work towards a new job.  I have finished the application process and now am working on training/orientation which will (hopefully) lead to a new job.  It won’t pay enough or be predictable enough to rescue me from the grasp of retail, but it’s a start.

Last year I got really excited about a job posting that I found that was made for me.  It fit my interests and talents perfectly, but it never developed into anything, not even a rejection letter.  I let my imagination get the best of me.  I began to see a life away from retail, away from coworkers that I cannot stand the sight of and customers who make me want to throw myself from a bridge.  I imagined a fulfilling job, one that I wouldn’t hang my head in shame when I admitted to.  I let myself hope.

Tonight I am nervous.  I am worried that I will botch this online teleconference.  I worry that I will put time into this, and never get a job.  I worry that this will have been another tease, a crueler one because it came closer to reality.  I am anxious and will be happy when four o’clock comes tomorrow and it’s all over.

But I can’t help but feel a little hopeful.  I am trying so, so hard not to, but I am hopeful that this will be a step in the right direction.  It will be the death sentence to my retail life and lead to another job, a bigger step, a world that I feel more at home in.  I hope that it will bring me joy.  I hope that I love working with students online, working with writing, working on something that is not calculating coupons.  I hope that it will mean that retail no longer defines (or confines) me.  It will broaden the picture of who I am, for others and myself.  I hope that finding fulfillment somewhere will make dissatisfaction at work more bearable.  I hope that the money will make me independent, make me comfortable.  I hope that this is a sign of good things to come.

As I look at all this, I realize that it is not too much to ask and hope for.  But I am not a lucky girl, and things tend to go any way but mine.  I feel my throat knot as I try to leave those hopes on this screen, let them out of my heart and forget that they were ever there.  I need to let go of them so they don’t haunt me when they are dashed.  I am trying to get a good night of sleep, trying to clear my mind and kitchen table for tomorrow, but I can’t help but feel a tiny flutter deep inside.  I can’t help but, with an abundance of caution, feel like tomorrow will be different and better and a new start.  I am trying to ignore and release it, but for the first time in a long, long time, I am actually hopeful.

“Every so often we long to steal/ To the land of what-might-have-been/ But that doesn’t soften the ache we feel/ When reality sets back in… Don’t wish, don’t start/ Wishing only wounds the heart”Wicked

One Good Day

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“Nothing is really work unless you would rather be doing something else.”  —J.M. Barrie

I hate my job.  I have been unhappy since the second day.  I have wanted to do more, to be more from the very beginning.  I am sore, degraded, frustrated, bored and annoyed by the end of each day.  I wake up and dread getting out of bed because I hate what’s coming.  Days off are ruined because I know what comes next.  This is a huge reason why I am in need of a life change, why I write, why I named this what I did.  My job makes me hate the general public and want to move to Antarctica and avoid people.  And I had a good day at work on Friday–perhaps my first one ever. 

Very small things added up to one of the best days I’ve had at this job, by far the happiest.  I have had days where I have been productive, days that weren’t miserable, but I can’t actually think of another day where I left happy, not because the day was done, but because the day was happy.  Nothing was particularly noteworthy, but the little things made the day,  little things that caught my attention in a big way. 

I got a free cup!  This job takes everything out of me.  My energy, my patience, my drive, my hope.  It gives so little back: no satisfaction, no challenges, no growth, not nearly enough pay.  And I got a free cup!  Apparently my manager had a stash of cups that he was supposed to give out to all of the employees for a year or so.  He kept them in his office, I would like to think out of laziness or indifference, not malice.  I would like to think that he just didn’t think that we would enjoy a tiny little perk, not that he intentionally kept a little trinket from all of us.  It is a nice cup, one that I have considered buying.  It saves me ten dollars!  I expect very, very little from my employer, and this was the most generous they have ever been.  Who doesn’t love getting something for free?

I got a compliment!  It is incredibly, unbelievably rare that anyone compliments anything.  Customers complain.  Managers complain.  Coworkers are petty.  I try to do good work and every once in a while someone will speak up to a manager, but my efforts go largely unnoticed, or at least unrecognized.  But it wasn’t my hard work that was complimented.  It was me!  I feel like a failure more often than not these days.  I feel pretty darn worthless at the end of a long day on my feet and I, like many, don’t see much that I like when I look in the mirror.  But my customer complimented me!  Not my accuracy or politeness or attentiveness.  She told me I had “the most soothing voice.”  She liked how I sound.  She liked something that is me, that is unchangeable, undeniably me.  It’s not something that I worked at or practiced or could try to improve.  It’s just who I am.  Who I am was enough, was enjoyable, was worth complimenting.

I witnessed true love!  We see newly weds and engaged couples all the time.  I see people moving in together, parents shopping for children, children shopping for parents.  I see love and affection all around me and it is rarely refreshing.  Mostly it is depressing or annoying or frighteningly insincere.  With just a few minutes left in my day, a customer came up with his phone to his ear.  This annoys me and is an incredibly rude message that I am invisible, unimportant and not worth acknowledging.  As he listened to his phone, he asked me, “Do you want to hear something funny?”  Sure, why not.  He grinned and told me that his fiancée had accidentally called him and didn’t notice.  He told me he could hear her driving and singing in the car.  He said that she never lets him hear her sing, so he was just “soakin’ it in.”  He had been on the phone for more than a half hour just listening to her sing.  It was a smile, a gesture, an indulgence of pure, sincere love and adoration.  He left with the phone still to his head, a small smile fixed on his face.  He was happy.  He encouraged me, reminded me that romance is real and love is simple.   

I had a good day.  It was unexpected, unprecedented, and unimpressive.  There is nothing about that day that, to an outsider, would appear spectacular.  It was.  It was refreshing, like the chill of walking into an ice cream shop on a hot day in the middle of summer.  I want a job and a life where this is everyday, the norm, not the exception.  This is not nearly enough to make the job worthwhile or pleasant.  It is enough, however, to remind me that the little things are important, are everything, and that they beg to savored.  Good days really can happen, if I am open to them. 

“Hope begins in the dark, the stubborn hope that if you just show up and try to do the right thing, the dawn will come.”  –Anne Lamott

Settling for…?

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“I’ve always believed the greater danger is not aiming too high, but too low, settling for a bogey rather than shooting for an eagle.” –Peter Scott

I have thought a lot about the idea of settling lately.  Like nearly everything in life, there are two sides to the argument, multiple perspectives to the idea.  Settling can be bad and good, life and death, enough or disappointment.

I watched an episode of the Bonnie Hunt Show where the staff was discussing the book Marry Him!: The Case for Settling for Mr. Good Enough by Mary Gottlieb.  I have not read it myself, but the jist seems to be that we have so many little hang ups, such high expectations and dreams about the man we will love, that we miss amazing people.  We imagine that our husband will be tall and Catholic so we do not give the short Baptist a chance.  With all of these trivial criteria, we let wonderful people slip by us.  To settle is to be realistic, to accept the flaws and see what really matters.  It’s learning to throw out preconceptions and plans and be open to finding love where we might not have imagined.  Perfection is overrated.  We are told to settle for nothing but the best.  Why eat Hershey when Godiva is available?  We spend our lives trying to be the best, be first, be perfect, and miss so much along the way.  Life is messy and we need to be willing to settle for something different, something we never expected.  We need to see that “good enough” really is enough, is fulfilling and satisfying. 

Then the flip side is that “good enough” is not “good,” let alone “great.”  It is not what we truly want, it’s what we can get.  Settling is selling our dreams, our plans, ourselves short.  We fear that something better will come, that we deserve more, that we’re tapping out before the fight is over.  It’s the tension that drives the mediocre Deal or No Deal game show.  Do you push on?  Are you being offered enough?  Is there something better waiting to be discovered?

I’m flailing somewhere in the middle of these two points.  I am settling left and right in my life.  I have begun to try harder to get a new job, but for three years, a job I hate has been enough.  Times are hard and a paycheck was worth settling for.  I feel unchallenged and degraded, but I’ve begun to feel like there is not much else for me.  I used to dream big, hope high.  I’ve come to question why I think I’m better than this, what makes me so sure that I deserve more.  I have thought momentarily about pursuing a credential to teach.  I love children and language, but I can’t bring myself to become a teacher.  Since I was young, I’ve been told I would be a great teacher.  I studied English, so every person I meet asks if I plan to teach.  I feel an anxiety attack come on when I think about teaching not because I don’t think I’d like it, but because it feels like settling.  I feel cornered, pigeon-holed before I could choose.  I don’t want to settle, but I have been for years. 

I think about relationships.  Do you hold out for the one who is perfect, the one who might be out there?  Or do you settle for someone good and kind, someone who is willing to settle for you?  Even in my friendships I settle.  I hang out with friends from work because my other friends have moved away.  I do what they want just to not be alone.  And it all feels worth it, to not be alone.  But they are not people I would choose for friends, if I could afford to choose.  They don’t challenge me, support me, bring me joy, but I settle for them because they are here, willing.  Sometimes it’s enough, and for that I am grateful.  Sometimes it’s not enough, and for that I feel all the more lonely.

So what do you do?  What do I do?  Do you take “good enough” and enjoy what you have?  There is something to be said for enough, for adequate, for average.  Friends are better than no one.  A crappy job is better than unemployment.  Or do you refuse to settle?  Do you decide that you earn, need, deserve, want more?  Do you refuse to settle for something less, demanding the best?  Do you fight and work for what you want, risk not achieving it, for the chance that you will?  I don’t know.  I have no answers here.  I just feel like across the board, I have settled for a lot in the past three years.  Some days it feels okay, like I expected too much and enough really is enough.  Other days, I am overwhelmed with fear that I have settled too often and missed my chances to try.  It’s two sides of the same coin.  Maybe it depends on the situation, the thing you are settling for, and how much you are willing to sacrifice.  Maybe it doesn’t really feel like a sacrifice, so you can stand to put away the dreams.  Or maybe it’s too big, too important to accept less than you want.  How do you tell?  And how do you cope when “good enough,” isn’t?   

“There’s something to be said about a glass half full. About knowing when to say when. I think it’s a floating line. A barometer of need and desire. It’s entirely up to the individual. And depends on what’s being poured. Sometimes all we want is a taste…” –Grey’s Anatomy  

“I am only one, but still I am one”

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“I don’t say he’s a great man.  Willie Loman never made a lot of money.  His name was never in the paper.  He’s not the finest character that ever lived.  But he’s a human being… so attention must be paid.  He’s not allowed to fall in his grave like an old dog.  Attention, attention must be finally paid to such a person.”  –Arthur Miller, Death of a Salesman

I love the new CBS television show “Undercover Boss.”  I have only watched a handful of the episodes that have aired, but there is something so moving about the show.  Leaders of vast businesses disguise themselves, which is somewhat unnecessary, and perform everyday duties at different levels in their company.  The show presumes that, while learning how to improve productivity and profits, they see what life is like for those they employ.  Almost every show follows this format: boss “slums” it by not shaving and changing their name.  They presume that they know how to do the work and laugh at bit when they are not as adept as they thought.  Then they get sore.  They see just how demanding the work their employees perform is and they see how little praise and recognition they get.  They hear the stories of those who work hard to eek out a life, then they reveal themselves as changed people.  Each boss does something huge and personal for the people they met and grew to love and something small to change the company based on their experience.

Despite my love for the show, I recommend it to everyone with one caveat: I don’t think it’s fair that they only help the handful of people they met.  It’s nice and touching, but for the rest of the nameless cogs in the company, it does nothing.  That is, until I watched the show tonight. 

Here I digress: this week I sent in my first census.  I have been counted under my parents’ household twice before, but this was the first time I sent one of my own in.  The commercials on television tout the importance of being counted and the implications that the census has on our lives, but it really was a remarkable experience.  I was somewhat disappointed by how simple and superficial the questions were: name, age, sex, race.  There was nothing to it.  Still, for some reason, I felt something exciting, something big when I filled it out and mailed it in.  I count.  I am on record.  I am important enough to take note of.  And I wasn’t a number.  Since high school I have been a number.  Well, I guess, since the day I was born, Social Security has seen me as a number.  I was a four-digit high school number, seven-digit college number and now a seven-digit work number.  All of this and yet, to the US Government, I am me.  There is something so personal about the clinical, standardized form. 

That digression leads to me being a little more forgiving of “Undercover Boss.”  Yes, there are probably hundreds, if not thousands, of employees who get nothing out of the show.  Tonight, the boss gave one man $10,000 to help pay for his wedding.  The part of me that is wired to want things to be fair dies a little bit.  Then there is the part of me that just mailed in her census.  That man, his story, his life touched his boss.  He became a part of his CEO’s story.  And he, in turn, became a part of his employee’s story.  It is intensely personal.  I fell into the same trap that I’m caught in everyday: a business isn’t a massive group, it’s individuals.  Yes, there are many, many others who will never benefit from this new perspective the CEO gained.  Then there are some, people with names and stories and families, that are effected for that precise reason: they are people with lives and hearts. 

This is the essence of why the show works.  People matter.  The work they do matters.  When the CEO of 7-11 went and made coffee, he saw how huge the job is.  He understood that sitting in the corporate boardroom does not keep the company running any more than the hourly associates who change coffee filters.  Working for a large retail company, I may be more moved by the show than others because I am on the nameless end of the deal.  I have managers that are in my store weekly who do not know my name.  I do not know who my CEO is any more than they know me.  To walk into our store, they wouldn’t need a disguise.  They may as well operate a million miles away from us.  There is such a huge disconnect, such an ugly separation from them and us

I’m sure that Karl Marx would have plenty to say about my alienation and discontent.  One a more personal level, beyond production and goods, so much of what we crave is to be known, to be noticed.  We want to be more than a number, to be a person.  A person is more than a name, it’s a whole being– all our joys and fears, our needs and gifts.  We want to count.  Jesus assured His followers of the importance they held, that their lives mattered to God.  They would be risking their lives, but there would be providence.  He reminded them that, “Indeed, the very hairs of your head are all numbered” (Luke 12:7).  We want to know that someone notices us, the big and the small things.  Sure, I want my boss to know my name.  I also want my friends to know that my eyes are hazel, not brown.  We want to matter enough for someone to pay attention.  The idea that something as insignificant and ever-changing as the number of our hairs is noticed is humbling and comforting in a world where I rarely feel noticed.  One of the most quoted, most beautiful Psalms has the writer proclaiming “For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb” (Psalms 139:13).  Our Creator knows us that intimately, that closely.  He has known us forever.  While this is incredibly moving and beautiful, we still want others to see us too.  I still want people to see me.  It’s nice to think that in a country that stretches out over more than 3 million square miles, I mean something.  In fact, I mean just as much as any star in Hollywood or politician on Capitol Hill.  I am important enough to count.   

“You’re waiting tables and parking cars/ You’ve been selling cell phones at the shopping mall/ And you began to believe that all you are is material/ It’s nonsensical…” –Switchfoot, “4:12”

JOY to My World

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“Even stop lights/ Blink a bright red and green…”  –Silver Bells

In the realm of retail, Christmas means working harder, faster, longer hours.  There is nothing particularly joyful about this time of year.  We are overworked, underappreciated and often the target of Scrooges, Grinches, and people simply tired of lines.  It’s not the happiest season of the mall.

The other night I was leaving my job at midnight.  As I walked to my car I reveled in the stillness and quite of the empty parking lot.  I drove down the length of the mall, a little irritated at the late hour, ready to be home and in bed.  It was a striking sight, however, to see the empty street.  No cars lined up for spots or shoppers dashing across streets.  Bags didn’t cram carts and noise didn’t bombard my ears.  It was literally a breath of fresh, cool air.  Despite the oddly pretty solitude of an empty mall, I still resented working so late.  As I came around a bend in the road, all that frustration and cynicism and ugliness melted away. 

Through the buildings, I could see the Hilton hotel.  Illuminated in its windows was “JOY.”  Simple, succinct and glowing before me was a reminder of what Christmas really is.  This is a time of pure, true joy.  It’s surrounded by family and traditions that I cherish.  It’s a time when friendships rekindle and people want to be close in ways they don’t at other times.  It’s delicious food and presents and parties.  But, more than anything, it’s hope.  The birth of Christ meant hope for mankind, for a broken people.  It is hope of relationships being mended with our Creator and each other and a hope of life.  There is nothing more joyful than hope. 

I have found myself feeling especially happy lately.  It has been a lasting, deep happiness that I don’t really remember enjoying throughout my life.  I’m sure it doesn’t hurt that this is a time of year that I love for the aforementioned reasons and more.  It’s also the result of different friends and interactions and reflection.  But it’s a feeling that, more than anything I think I’ve felt before, feels like lasting joy.  It was such a small reminder of the big things in life.  Not the customers who complain and cut in line, or the inadequacy of my Christmas budget.  I have a family I love, friends that I love, a job and home, food and health.  There is no reason not to be joyful.  I know that sounds so trite and insincere, but seeing it blazing across a building, I realized that Christmas is above all a time of joy.

“Tis the season to be jolly and joyous/ With a burst of pleasure, we feel it all right/ It’s the season when the saints can employ us/ To spread the news about peace and to keep love alive…”  –The Muppets’ Christmas Carol