"There's a bit of magic in everything, and some loss to even things out." -Lou Reed

Monday, August 24, 2009

West with the Night

It always amazes me how a song can take you back to a particular time and place so immediately, even within the first verse. I hear a particular song and I am transported back to the break up with my first love, the year I started college, or a really joyous moment or event.

For me, one audio book has the same connection and feelings tied to it. It was as if it was one long song, and seeing the cover, the title, or anything about it takes me back to 1998 and my move from Atlanta, Georgia to San Francisco.

At the time, I was working in an administrative job, wondering what had become of all the promise I had when I was very young. The words teachers wrote in the pages of my yearbooks never left me. Words such as “I can’t wait to see all that you will become one day!”, and “You will go far in life.” I believed those words then-- I felt I had accomplished so much--and would continue to do the same. And then, I went to college.

I had always been an excellent student in high school, fretting over every test, every paper, and every assignment. The one place I felt confidence was in a classroom. But from the first day of college, I felt lost, adrift, and without purpose. I didn’t realize then that this feeling had more to do with breaking away from a troubled family for the first time than it did with academics. Every day for over four years, I felt I was drowning, paddling wildly, never able to get air. I finally gave up and left without getting my degree, and feeling more like a failure than I ever thought possible.

I got an entry level job right after leaving, and then some sales and administrative jobs. I was consumed with thoughts that I had let everyone down, especially myself.

And then, by chance really, I got an interview with a company in San Francisco. I didn’t dare think I would be hired, but I flew out to interview, got the job, and was told they wanted me there in two weeks. My head was spinning. I had told no one about the interview, had never mentioned a desire to move to California, and now it was happening.

My friends were cautiously supportive, but my parents were livid. They told me of all the horrible things that would happen if I left, what a terrible decision I was making. In the end, they forbade me to go. I felt shaken. It was scary, what if I was wrong?

My friend Judith, who has always been like family to me, believed from the first moment that this was something I should do. She had lived in San Francisco years before, and she told me of all the beauty and opportunity there, and all the things she saw for me. She never wavered in her belief that this was the right decision. She helped me realize that this was what I wanted to do-- I wanted more than anything to go.

I stayed at her house the night before I left. And the next morning, as I pulled out of her driveway, I saw her waving good-bye to me in my rear view mirror. I felt as if she was pushing my boat away from the dock, sending me out smoothly into this new adventure.

She had given me a gift before I left, a collection of some of her favorite books on tape. I don’t remember any of the other titles, but West with the Night by Beryl Markham has always stayed with me. This was a time when I still had a cassette tape player in my car, and there were 6 tapes, with nine hours of play time. The narrator’s voice was so ideal for the words--easing me into the first leg of my journey. The story itself-- of an independent woman taking on adventure and succeeding-- it was all so perfect. And in a way, it was the voice of my friend-- rooting for me, encouraging me, reminding me that I was on the right path.

To this day, if I see the green cover of that book, I am transported back to my little Honda, seeing the landscape change through my windshield. Each day that I got farther away from Atlanta, I was more enamored with the scenery—the flat, dry land of Texas, the jagged-edged mountains of New Mexico, the fluorescent-colored sunsets of Arizona. I knew that I had made the right decision. Whatever was before me, even if it was a mistake, I knew I was doing the right thing in that moment.

It ended up being the best decision I have ever made. The job I took there was, and still is, one of my most magical career experiences. I worked with amazingly talented, witty, and giving people, many of whom I still count as friends today. I began building a real career in that position, and felt liked and respected as I never had before. I believed I had purpose, and finally a connection with the words my teachers had written so long ago.

I know I would not have been able to see the opportunity for what it was had my friend not painted a picture for me. I am certain I could not have taken that risk without her support. I will always be thankful for that, and for the comforting words of West with the Night that carried me to my new home and my new life.


Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Twenty Boxes

Not much about moving is pleasant, and this recent move was more stressful for me than any other I can remember. But, in the aftermath, I have finally tackled unpacking some items that have been bundled away for years.

I have twenty boxes that have gone through my countless moves--across the country and back-- and to the various cities I have inhabited on the east coast. These boxes contain things that I don’t need in my everyday life, and much of the contents are remnants of my childhood, or just forgotten pieces of my life at the point they were taped shut.

These are the boxes that have ended up in the spare bedroom, or a storage unit, regrettably with the same tape they were sealed with left unbroken. During this move, I purposely decided to go through those particular boxes in the beginning of the unpacking process.

This decision has slowed down my overall progress, but I have found possessions that I had forgotten existed. Some have brought tears, smiles or both, and a few items met the wastepaper basket. But discovering things like old love letters, photos with faded colors and yellow edges, old birthday cards from my grandmothers-both gone now, and art pieces I made in Kindergarten, have left me on the floor sorting through memories and forgetting the time.

Last night, I came upon an album with all of our old family photos-- my parents staring into the lens of the camera with young faces from a house unknown to me. Me, a toddler, smiling over a birthday cake with two candles. My sister, tall and skinny, nine years my senior, on the floor playing Monopoly with me in my footed pajamas. I am drawn into these pictures because so much of my family is a mystery to me. I don’t understand my parent’s marriage; I don’t understand the dynamic between me and my father. I don’t understand their need to keep secrets about their childhoods or mine. I get caught up in these photos, scouring the sepia images hoping to find answers.

A few years ago, I decided to work on our family tree, joined ancestry.com, pulled what little information I could get out of my mother, and started to work. Through my own research and the wonder of the internet, I discovered family members whose names I had never heard before, and more details about the names that were familiar. But I hit a point when certain things weren’t adding up. I couldn’t connect this person or that to my family, or find the name I needed. There were missing pieces in the puzzle of our family that I just could not uncover. If I had reached the point in my research where I was five generations back, and records were sparse, it would be one thing. But I was barely beyond my grandparents when the lines seemed broken.

I called my mother. I explained the trouble I was having and found out through that conversation that my dad’s father did not share our last name. He was his biological father, but my father had changed his last name to his mother’s maiden name when he was very young. The reasons for this weren’t offered, even after probing, except to let me know that the reasons weren’t good ones. I was a bit stunned as I hung up the phone. Over the years, I had looked at the one picture we had of the grandfather I had never met, seeing my father in his face so clearly looking back at me. I had asked a million questions it seemed, remembered asking, but not getting answers. And now I was finding out that in truth, my family’s last name should have been something else. I wondered if I was overreacting, if anyone else would just see this as a pulled thread in the quilt of a family. But to me it seemed as if I had lost a little of my identity, and had a whole part of my family I didn’t know and never would.

With this information, and the correct last name, I was able to fill my family tree with many branches. But so many of the names seemed so lost to me, as if they were all people who lived in another country, too far away to visit, and seldom talked about due to distance.

I know there is pain in my father’s past. I know this pain has manifested itself in ways I would like to forget. I know that his pain—in general terms—has been used as an excuse for countless things. And while I can understand that there are some things I don’t need to know, the whole of my parent’s past has been a well guarded secret. I have been told bits and pieces of happy memories, explanations of photos here and there, but the subject quickly changes when deeper questions are asked.

I know that compared to what my parents keep packed away emotionally, my twenty boxes are a small stash. I still foolishly hope that somewhere within the cardboard and tape I will find some answers. I think that was the reason I left them untouched for so long. I knew that any hope died if I unpacked and inspected every item, every letter, every photo, and didn’t find the missing piece to make all the disjointed memories fit.

I have six boxes left.

A part of who I am will always be unknown to me. But the ache to know and the absence of answers have made me who I am. I sometimes imagine that somewhere, in their attic perhaps, my parents have twenty boxes. They have always been hidden from me, and one day I discover them. And with each item I unearth, one of my questions is answered. And then, when the last box is empty, I know everything. All of the pain and secrecy make sense.

For now, as I cut the tape of box number fifteen, I still have hope.


Monday, August 17, 2009

Meet Ruby

I could write an entire post about how much I hate reality shows. But it would probably contain a lot of foul language, and I would then have to mention the offensive shows by name—thereby highlighting them in some way. It seems a new one is on television all the time with each premise more ridiculous than the last.

But, the Style Network of all places has managed to produce one that I think is worth watching. The name of the show is Ruby, and follows the journey of Ruby Gettinger, a Savannah, GA woman who, when the show began, weighed nearly 500 pounds. It had become a do or die situation, literally, and she begins to change her life to save it.

The most appealing thing about this show is Ruby herself. She is funny, charming, and so incredibly authentic that she draws you in. But the best aspect of the show is the lessons it teaches--not about weight loss-- but about judging and being judged, and realizing that identity is definitely more than skin deep. We all know this already, right? Well, I consider myself a pretty enlightened and compassionate person, but I have learned a thing or two from watching Ruby.

I have grown to like this woman, she is definitely someone I could see myself being friends with. (and yes I know this sounds crazy, as this is indeed a reality show) But, caring for her has made the struggles she faces so much more real and impactful. In an early episode, Ruby was taunted and mocked by a table full of people at a restaurant that appeared to be my age. MY AGE. I was floored. Teenagers doing this I can understand, not condone, but adults—over the age of 30?? It made me realize what every day was like for her and for other adults struggling with this battle. I quickly realized how much harder this would make it for anyone dealing with this large of a weight loss goal to get the courage to start going out into the world to exercise, when the world can be such a cruel place. An incident like that would make me want to go home and draw the shades and give up. In so many ways that episode accomplished something that a lot of other shows, articles, and books cannot. It really brought home to me that no matter how far we have come, we still, all of us, sometimes forget the beautiful person that can exist behind any face, any body, any image.

Though there are sad moments in some of the episodes, there are many more inspirational ones to see. All of this is a credit to Ruby, who is just enjoyable to watch, and easy to cheer for. With many of the other reality shows out there highlighting the ridiculous, it is nice to see one at least attempting to educate and inspire. There are few shows out there that I set my DVR to tape anymore, but Ruby is on the short list.

Check out the website for the show here.


Monday, August 10, 2009


Last year after a painful, crippling breakup, when it seemed everything was falling apart with me and depression was creeping into my everyday life-- it was so easy to crawl into bed or under a blanket on the couch and lose a day or two-- then cancel plans to lose another day on purpose. At the time I already had cats as pets, three actually-- all rescues-- and they were comfort and entertainment, but they weren’t exactly heartbroken that I had chosen to hunker down and become a homebody.

On a day when one of my friends wouldn’t accept excuses, I agreed to meet her after the Christmas holiday for a late gift exchange. She had just gotten a puppy for her son, and on the way to meet her, I decided to stop by the local Petco to grab something for her new addition to the family.

As I drove into the parking lot, I saw several dogs from a local shelter in front of the store in various cages and dog pens, and I honestly contemplated not going in. Tears came way too easily at that time, and I always find it so heartbreaking to see these animals begging for a new home. It is also way too tempting as an animal lover to stop and get hooked on those little faces peering at you.

But as I turned into my parking space, I caught sight of a puppy, a large one. He was all white with one brown ear. I had the strangest, strongest feeling, I can’t explain it, but I thought, that is my dog. I shook my head and figured it was the depression talking, and decided that I was moving to a whole new level of crazy if I felt that I connected with a dog I didn’t need and couldn’t afford across 30 feet of asphalt.

I got out of my car and made my way closer and stood over this little wire playpen he was in and he caught my gaze. I sat down on the sidewalk and stuck my fingers through the bars and he came over and looked at me. Everyone was commenting on how beautiful and sweet he was. A nice couple came up and started giving him attention and I looked at the husband, who was next to me, and said, Please take this dog home, you will be doing me a favor. He responded, chuckling, that they were just looking. And then he said, I think this is your dog, anyway.

I made the biggest snap decision I have ever made. I told the volunteer I was going to adopt him and signed the paper, paid the fee, and went into the store to buy everything I needed. When I got all the puppy necessities I could think of loaded in my cart, I went up to the cash register to pay, and the cashiers were both teary and talkative. I said I was adopting a new puppy outside, and asked about a book of coupons I was supposed to get for new adoptions. Both cashiers hurriedly asked me which puppy? And when I told them, one of them came around and hugged me. Today was his last day, she explained, he was going to be put down if he wasn’t adopted by 3pm when the shelter loaded up the unwanted dogs and took them back. It was 1:30pm.

So, he left with me, and we got in the car to drive to meet my friend, and I looked over and thought, what have I done?

What I had done was brought a little being into my house that was having nothing of me laying around. He needed to go outside, he needed to be walked, he needed my constant, undivided attention. He needed to be comforted, fed, cared for, and watched constantly. He also brought some stress and frustration that any 12 week old puppy will, but it kept me busy, made me keep the house clean, made me move valuables out of paw’s reach. He got me out into the cold air, made me meet neighbors I hadn’t met in two years of living in my neighborhood. He got me talking to people at dog parks, and visiting my friends to show him off. He and the cats found common ground, and even became playmates and napmates. I named him Bear.

Any animal lover can relate, and even if you aren’t a dog person, there has to be some recognition of the connection and healing. I wasn’t ready to let any new person into my life to love, and I had even had trouble letting my close friends in on all the pain and sadness I was feeling. But, this little animal gave me no choice but to let him in. And it opened up my heart just enough to allow me to remember what it was like to love and be loved.

Even though I know I am biased, Bear is a beautiful dog. People will literally stop their cars when we are out walking to ask me what kind of dog he is. I love telling people that he is a mutt, a shelter dog, a shining example of why you don’t need to visit a breeder or buy a designer dog to get a gorgeous, wonderful companion.

There is a certain gratitude with rescue animals, I see it all the time. It is as if they know you saved them, and in small moments, there is such recognition from them of-- you rescued me—you saved me.

I rescued Bear in every sense of the word. I did save him.

And in return, he saved and rescued me.


Monday, August 3, 2009

The 3/50 Project

I work in advertising sales, and every day as I drive around in my territory, I see more and more businesses that have closed their doors due to the economy right now. Not only are some of these businesses my clients, but they are unique boutiques and stores that I love as a customer.

Everyone is feeling the pinch right now--all types of businesses-- including larger chains. But the small brick and mortar businesses are feeling it more than others. What I see when I go into these stores is not just products or price tags, but someone's dream or passion. Meeting these store owners is inspiring, and right now heartbreaking, as they try everything to simply keep their doors open.

I found out about The 3/50 Project about a month ago, and passed on the information as quickly as I could to everyone I know. Not only is this a great idea, it seems to be working. The basic premise is this: Look around your community and pick three brick and mortar businesses that you love and frequent, that you would miss if they weren't around. Make a point of going to those businesses and spending $50 in each one. It is a simple plan to help these businesses survive, but it also means helping to secure the patchwork of diverse businesses in our communities.

Even if you can't spend $50, spend $5.00. Every little bit helps. And if you can't spend $5.00, just pass the word along. When this recession turns around, and it will, we don't want to be left with only national chains standing.

I am guilty of spending a lot of my shopping dollars online, mainly for convenience. But knowing about The 3/50 Project has helped me remind myself when I start an online search, that I need to head out the door to the little stores I love instead to find what I need. Getting to know these store owners has made that an easy choice. I want these businesses to survive, and it has nothing to do with my advertising sales quotas.
What I also love about this idea is that it brings around the concept that each of us--even one person--can make a difference. And lately, it's hard to remember that as big issues loom around us from every direction. It's easy to sit back and feel overwhelmed or to complain about the economy. It all feels too huge to even know where to start. The 3/50 Project narrows down the journey of a thousand miles by showing us that first step to take. We can impact what's happening around us in so many ways, and this is just one great example.

Check out the 3/50 Project website here.


Sunday, August 2, 2009

In Good Health?

I know I am wishing for the impossible--something along the lines of wanting politics not to be political. I understand there is never going to be a candidate in office that everyone agrees with, supports, and rallies for in unison.

And yes, I am a democrat, a liberal, and an Obama supporter. I voted for this man for president, and I do have faith in him. But, when he makes a decision I don't agree with, or a mistake, I won't fall silent. I hope for the best, but I don't expect perfection.

The issue of health care is one close to my heart for a variety of reasons. I have gone without insurance at times after layoffs, unable to afford a $600+ per month COBRA payment. Friends of mine have children and family members with serious illnesses and live in fear of a missed payment to their insurance companies, knowing they would never be able to get insurance again. And almost every time I visit my local pharmacy to pick up my prescriptions, I watch senior citizens flinch when they hear the total owed for medicine they can't live without, or carefully count pennies (literally) to pay for a few day's worth of medicine at a time. On top of all that, the media and BOTH sides of the government have so exaggerated or underestimated the number of people living in the US without insurance, that it is impossible to know the truth. But, I am betting the true number is startling, if not staggering. And many of those uninsured are children.

Those of us that get insurance through our employers may feel a little uneasy at the thoughts of government run health care. I know that I do. However, I know the system is broken. I know that the big pharma companies (who now advertise their drugs directly to consumers!) and huge insurance companies have been calling the shots for awhile now. My doctor cannot always make decisions about the care I need without consulting what my insurance will cover.

Do I think the proposed health care reform will solve everyone's problems? No. Do I think it will cause some problems? Probably. But, we do have to do something.

So, back to my wish. I wish that I would stop hearing sound bites that try and scare people to death about Obama's proposed reform. I wish that instead of attacking the president on personal issues, such as his birthplace, that those opposed to his plan would try and bring other ideas to the table. I wish that maybe just for this one issue, everyone could leave their party affiliations at the door, and try to create something that works. I know, I know, silly me. I want our government to work together.

Knowing that our government can't even work together on the initial reform plans doesn't give me any more confidence about them running our health care, but I can't say I have a lot of faith in our health care system as it is now. My hope is that the reform will be a long-term process that changes along the way to become something better than it is now.

I am still reading, still learning, still trying to find out what is truth and what is fiction about the proposed health care plan. But this issue hasn't been addressed in ages, and I am glad that even with all the fear, gossip, and opposition, that it is at least on the table.

I have never been shy to say what I thought of Bush and the last eight years. And I have attacked his inability to speak publicly with correct grammar more than once. But I didn't use that single argument to support my frustrations with him. I tried to read, do my homework, find out what was true beyond the headline snippets and less than neutral news reporting on both sides. I have also always welcomed debate with my views, and any educated, thoughtful insight I might need to contemplate.

Which is what we all should do--including those currently holding office.



  © Blogger template ProBlogger Template by Ourblogtemplates.com 2008

Back to TOP