Thursday, March 20, 2008

Angels and ministers of grace defend us

Dawn is writing again.

I sure would appreciate any thoughts or opinions on the following. Just the start of something I began a couple of months ago. I want to develop it further, but want some opinions first. Enjoy:


I always seem to find myself in the same sorts of places. No matter what I try or what I do, I always end up back in a world of gray boxes. It seems a futile effort to fight against the turning tide of my life. I should just settle back and let the currents carry me out to sea on a raft of memos and reports.

I think sometimes, as someone once told me, that I might be afraid of what happens when you leave these short dull walls. Maybe I have become institutionalized to the point that I couldn't function on the outside. Maybe that’s true. There is a certain type of security that comes from the highly structured world within these cozy confines. I will admit to getting small thrills from things like potlucks, or slice of birthday cake from an aging colleague. I always assumed that this was a coping mechanism, designed to make these chains bearable. Maybe, just maybe, it is all a part of larger series of lies I have been telling myself for years.

There could be something to the theory that I am here because on some baser level, I deserve to be. That no matter how smart or funny I think I am, my psyche, fragile thing that it is, has contrived a way to stay locked inside of the pseudo cell of the cube world. Perhaps, I fight because I don’t want to be completely lost to this place and disappear into the miasma of the work-a-day world. I look around me at my desk, a place I once vowed to keep clear of personal knick-knacks so that I could affect an escape with no more than a moments notice. Now, I am forced to take inventory of a dozen little mementos and realize that I am solidifying my presence here, so that it becomes more and more difficult to extract myself.

But then, there are times when I look around me and I think only: “When in Rome, do as the Romans do.”

There is certainly a separate culture at work here. It took a couple of years, but I have become fully fluent in the secret language of the cube dweller. I understand the gestures, the jokes, and the helpless laughter when a superior tries management rule number fifteen: Tell jokes to lighten the mood. There are customs that must be observed, laws that must be obeyed, and courtesies that must be met. There is a neighborly infrastructure that is at play in these mini-homes away from home. There are covenants and blocks and even neighborhoods in your larger offices. There is leadership, sometimes elected democratically, sometimes installed by a tyrannical despot to terrorize and control the peasant class.

If I am a stranger in a strange land, my little mementos take on a new significance. Perhaps my treasures are anchors to the outside world, small reminders of a place of free thinkers and artists. They remind me of those deep hidden parts of myself that I keep shackled and hidden away during the nine to five rushes. In truth, I have a more intimate relationship with the stained ceiling tile above my seat than I do with my neighbor on the other side of the wall. I spend more time staring into space than practicing the art of small talk. In the world of my mind, I am free. I am happy, and I am in control. Sometimes I win the lottery, and sometimes I win a Pulitzer Prize. Every imagined situation is different, but the result is still the same. I escape from here, as secure in my freedom as I ever was in my cubicle and bi-weekly paycheck.

That I long to break out of this mold is not in doubt. The thing that stalls even my best laid plans is how to engineer that escape. How do I transition from a gray world of certainty to a world swirling as much with color as doubt?

Mondays are the worst for me. Every one of them blends into every other, until they become an entire year of Mondays, each as pointless and hopeless as the last 32 years ago on a Monday my mother was in the hospital laboring to give birth to her first child. I’m sure that in the weeks and months leading up to, what for her was a momentous occasion, she was filled with a million thoughts, not the least of which were the hopes and dreams that she had for her little girl.

Somewhere, along the long and winding road, those hopes and dreams faded with age until I’m sure my mother put them aside entirely. Whatever they were, I am sure that they didn’t include a dead-end existence in a pointless corporate situation. There are those here, as at all companies, who have the desire to move up, gobbling promotions like they were candy. Those who have perfected the art of kissing up so well that it has become purely instinctual. In a weird way, I admire them; or at least their spirit. Then there are also those who will move up through no thought or conscious effort of their own, and who fall ass backward into better pay and situations, and yet believe that they are owed what ever little they are able to scrape together. They go out and buy mediocre houses in cookie-cutter communities, promptly purchase an SUV, and start to have babies to increase the world’s population. They pass along to their children the same sense of entitlement that they inherited from their parents.

Then there are those like me. I work because I have to, period. There is no reward for me greater than my paycheck. I do just enough to keep it and keep from getting fired. It is true that once, when I was fresh from college, I too was bright eyed and bushy tailed, and weirdly optimistic. I believed that hard work and intelligence would open doors for me. I believed that I could do anything, and that I would show my worth and be duly rewarded. I’m not sure if it was foolishness or naivete or a strange mixture of both, but after my first year in the workforce, I was jaded and forever altered. I haven’t been able to get my drive back since, and really, I don’t want it back. I think of places like this as nothing more than the waiting room of death. Maybe my mother is right. Maybe I need more optimism.

My mother is too smart for her own good and too good for the world in which we live. She has worked harder than anyone I have ever known at one of the most thankless jobs on the planet: she is a nurse. My mother spends her days elbow deep in puss and shit, and receives as her reward, less than half of the pay of the doctors who spend as much time on the golf course as she spends on the ward. She has always worked the worst shifts in places I can’t even walk into without feeling the cold grip of death slither up my spine. I don’t know how she goes back day after night after day, and always with a smile on her face. She is either an angel of mercy sent to comfort the dying, or she has long since made peace with her station in life, counting the much shorter days until retirement on pension and social security.

As I sit here, staring at a blank spreadsheet, willing it to complete itself, and trying to look busier than I am, I wonder about the earliest expectations she had of me. I watch her now as she looks at me, and I can see the resignation on her face. I can hear in her voice that I am doing less than was expected. I wonder if she can pinpoint a place in my life where it all went wrong, or if she thinks that I have given up prematurely. I am sure that she is tired of hearing my plans and dreams. Every six months or so, I have a new idea for escaping the doldrums of this life and become that which I have always dreamed: a self-sufficient woman who depends only on herself for her living. Every six months, a new plan, and I excitedly tell my mother all about it. A few months later, when my plans have fallen apart and I start to sink into a depression brought on by my withering enthusiasm, I feel myself getting far more bitter than my still tender years should allow.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

There but for the grace of God…

Last night I stopped at 7-Eleven. I stop at 7-Eleven all the time: for lotto tickets, soda, ice, something to satisfy my sweet tooth in the middle of the night, the occasional guilty cigarette when stress seems overwhelming. Last night, however, my trip to the corner store changed my outlook, and may well have changed my life for good.

I pulled in, as I always do, frustrated to death with the traffic, people loitering in the parking lot, the woman blindly opening her door into my car. I took a few minutes to count the bills I had left in my wallet to make sure I would have enough to purchase soda and a couple of lottery tickets, grabbed my purse, and pushed my way inside.

The first thing I noticed is that they didn’t have the kind of pop I like. So I grabbed an alternative, mumbling under my breath how this was just one more thing I was going to have to deal with today. (Can I bring the melodrama, or can I bring it?) Walked past a couple of loud teenagers, and got in line behind a dozen people, all with special issues. I always seem to find myself in line behind every Tom, Dick and Harriet trying to buy a money order with pennies from their change jar. (Have you ever seen someone count out more than $2 in pennies????) It didn’t help that the person at the head of the line had a combination of coins and was apparently mathematically challenged. There was, as always, one girl working the register. She looked like she was having a day worse than mine. I half expected her to grab change-man by his scruffy hair and start shoving nickels down his throat. We were going to be there for a while.

At one point the line actually started moving backwards, as some kids up front decided to let all of their friends cut in front. Aside from the assortment of groans and mumbles, and a quiet “oh no you didn’t” from the woman behind me, no one confronted these kids. At the end of a long day, it hardly seemed worth the effort.

Eventually I got to the register. The exasperated cashier behind the counter had already sullenly rung up my soda, and gave me a total when I remembered my lottery tickets. I thought her head might explode from the look she gave me. I’ve had her job (or one very similar) and I hated every minute of it. I pushed my own grumpiness aside and joked that if I won millions, I would buy her a new tattoo. She gave me a “yeah, right” look, printed out my tickets and gave me my change. I had just enough left over for a cup of coffee in the morning to help make my long commute bearable.

A side note on the lottery; normally I am not a gambler. Ok, I will indulge in a nickel slot or two when I am in Las Vegas, and I have been known to play a hand of poker when the opportunity arises, however, I have never really gone out of my way to seek out gambling as a form of entertainment. I will, however, drop a dollar on a lotto ticket, especially when there is a huge jackpot. I, like most of us, want to believe that some day the gods of good fortune will smile down upon me and allow me to hit all five numbers, plus the power ball. I want to believe that some instant jackpot will take me away from my working world (cube-hell), away from my sub-suburban apartment (ghetto), away from my car payment (Compact PT Cruiser with no frills), away from everything that causes stress in my life. I want to believe that I deserve to run away to an island in the South Pacific and lay on a beach all day. I want to dream of a life where making the bills isn’t an issue, credit isn’t an issue, and rent is but a distant memory. When I buy that quick-pick ticket, I am putting down a dollar that allows me to dream of a better life. I never win, of course, but as my mother always says, it never hurts to try.

So these are the thoughts that are running through my head as I walk out of the door, glancing down at the lucky numbers in my hand, vainly looking for some pattern that will tell me if these are the lucky tickets that will change my life. I was lost in my own musings when I heard the door of the 7-Eleven give its tell-tale chime, and collided with him.

I looked up, annoyed, and came face to face with a grungy fellow, who smelled to high heaven, and looked like he hadn’t bathed in months, if ever. I stepped around him and walked back toward my car. I really just wanted to go home.

As I was getting in, I looked back at the man, just standing in front of the 7-Eleven. As I watched him, I noticed that he didn’t stop a single person to ask for money, didn’t shove, and didn’t bother to go in, didn’t harass or otherwise harangue any of the patrons of the convenience store. He just stood there in the growing shadow of night, silent.

And he was watching me back.

I looked directly into this man’s eyes and I saw something I have never seen before. I saw a man haunted, whether by demons real or imaginary, I couldn’t venture to guess. I saw a man hungry, for food yes, but also for human contact. I saw a man totally isolated and alone. I saw a man drained and devastated. I don’t know what brought him to that place, but he was there, watching me with his quiet eyes.

For the briefest of moments, I stood there looking over the top of my car door at that man. For a miniscule time, we were the only two people in that parking lot. I heard nothing but the distant roar of traffic from the highway in the distance. I felt nothing but the cool feel of my car door in my hand. I saw nothing but the deep pools of his eyes. It seemed to me, for that moment, that whatever was left of him was trapped and scared. I saw straight into the heart of that man’s soul.

A car horn snapped me back into time, and the moment was lost. The man put his head down and slowly walked away. I reached into my pocket and felt the two dollars I had left. The two dollars that would buy me a cup of coffee that I thought would make my drive in to work tolerable. Suddenly, a cup of coffee seemed such a small thing. I rushed up to the man who was walking away. He stopped before I reached him and turned, his sad eyes locked with mine one final moment. I took the two dollars out of my pocket, opened his hand and put them in. I didn’t say a word, but turned around, walked back to my car, went home, and hugged my fiancé with every ounce of strength I had left.

I saw something inside those eyes that will remain with me for the rest of my life. I don’t know what circumstances lead that man to be so utterly lost and completely alone. I don’t know why I noticed him when everyone else seemed able to ignore him completely. I don’t know why, during a busy moment, when I felt rushed all day, I stopped to watch him. I don’t know why but I do know that something in his eyes resonated in the core of my being – something so deep and profound that I am still struggling to find the words to match the feeling. That man was so lost, it brought me up short. I realized that when I say “I feel lost” or “I feel hopeless” or “I feel sad” that I don’t understand the true meaning or depths of those words. No matter how lost or hopeless or sad I may feel, there is always a light at the end of the tunnel. What I saw in that man was someone for whom the light long since went out.

Even now, as I think about him, I wonder about the person he was before the darkness took him. I wonder about his childhood and his mother and his life before. I wonder what path he took that lead him to that place. I wonder if he will ever find his way out of the depths of despair and back into the realm of hope. I wonder if anyone will ever be able to comfort his soul again.

I hope so.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

I dream of cicadas

I dream sometimes of the sound cicadas make in the summer. In moments of deepest sleep, I can feel a warm breeze in my hair, and smell the dusty smell of the New Mexican desert. When I wake up, I know I will be at peace.

I am drawn in my dreams to the desert. When we were children, we would go south to Santa Fe, always at the tail end of summer to spend time with my Grandmother’s relatives. My brother and I relegated to sleep on the uncomfortable pull-out couch, my aunt snoring between us. The window would be left open, and in the middle of the night, a warm desert wind would always wake me from my sleep. I could hear the sound of cicadas in the night air, and the stars were bright and clear. During the day, the visits were hectic, filled with cousins and noise, but at night, in those brief moments when I would drift out of sleep, I felt calm. There was a sense of peace that would wash over me and the sound of cicadas would lull me back to sleep.

Since I can remember, I have dreamt about the sounds of cicadas, the warm desert air, and the clear night sky. Sometimes I will go years without dreaming it, but then it reappears, quiet and welcome. There have been times in my life when darkness threatened to overwhelm me, but then at night, I would find comfort in the dream. When I woke, I would feel renewed and knew that all darkness passes. I had cried myself to sleep, and then the cicadas came and everything seemed all right.

It has been years since I dreamt of the New Mexican night, the desert wind and the song of the cicada, but last night I felt it. This morning when I woke, I felt safe and calm and assured. I curled against Michael, and knew that this was the place I was supposed to be.

Sometimes, I have found that the demands of life can intrude on our peace of mind and threaten the strength of soul. Lately I have been feeling pressure from all angles: pressure from work, from family, from school. I have felt lost and have had a hard time letting go of anger. I feel frustration curling around my heart and I want to claw at it and pry it off.

But last night as I went to sleep, I asked for a moment of quiet. Then the cicadas came to sing their song, the night breeze stirred in my hair, and I could smell the dusty desert.


Friday, March 7, 2008

A little more than kin...

…A hell of a lot less than kind.

My future Mother-in-law does not want to attend our wedding. It’s not that she can’t afford to come. It’s not that she has some other plans. It’s that she doesn’t want to because she hasn’t seen her son (her only child) for four years. Of course this makes sense… in her weird medicated world. You see, if she comes for the wedding, he will be “too busy with his wife” to spend all his time with her. So she has decided it’s best to not come at all.


My fiancé expected this. I half did too. She has not shown herself to be entirely stable in the almost three years I have known (about) her. I’ve never met her. Probably never will at this rate. She missed a scheduled trip out here last year. She said that my fiancé should come visit her instead. Alone. For a month or two. I shrugged it off as one of the weird things that mothers do. After all, my own mother is crazy in her own right. She has made planning this wedding miserable at best. But at least I know she will be there.

But not my new mother in law. She can’t be bothered to get on a plane to go to Las Vegas even for a day. She has decided that her own wants and needs outweigh those of her son. What a nice lady. I can’t wait to meet her and tell her how wonderful she really is. I have been practicing a little speech. It’s beautiful. Very emotional. I tried to keep it simple, keep the words short… There aren’t very many over four letters long.

Maybe I’ll write a letter instead. Dear Bitch, I’ll lovingly begin. Bitch can be a term of endearment, you know.

Really, I should let it go. I am just angry: angrier than I have ever been at another person for any reason, angrier than I have been at my own mother, angrier than I have been at my own father. They just hurt me. She, on the other hand, has hurt and continues to hurt my fiancé. And that is something I am not prepared to let go so easily.

The thing that broke my heart was when he called me to tell me that he just realized that now, he won’t have even one blood relative at our wedding.

I almost wept.

We were keeping our guest list small. My blood relatives were limited to my parents and my brothers. He was inviting only his mother and his young cousin. Now, my mother has commandeered my guest list and invited all of her brothers and sisters. My father invited at least one (possibly two) cousins of his, and a family friend. And my fiancé will not have one representative from his family anyplace in attendance.

Perhaps we should just consider them “possible organ or bone marrow donors” and leave it at that.

The bright spot in all of this has been our friends. In a lot of ways, I have always considered my closest friends more family than most of the people I share DNA with. We have more in common. I have been through thick and thin with them. Some of them have shown an infinite capacity for forgiveness. Some I have in turn had to forgive. We have laughed, wept, argued, and loved together. We have been through break-ups, divorces, messy divorces, deaths, births, triumph and tragedy together. We have cheered each other on as we succeed and hold each other up as we fail. And I got to pick each and every one of them. I have known some of my friends for more than half of my life. Others, I have met more recently. My life would lack some of its depth without them.

And I have watched my fiancé with his friends. These are the people who care about him. They want to know what he is doing, and what’s more, how they can help. They know that he will do anything he can for them, and they return the sentiment. I have seen him argue with them, then, when the dust has settled, make amends. I have seen him show an incredible tenderness with them when they are going through pain, and I know that when he most needed someone he could count on, they were there. I know he was in the hospital before we met, and I know that his friends nursed him. I know when he needed a place to stay, they were there. I know if one of them needed the same, he wouldn’t hesitate to provide it. My fiancé is a generous man who would give someone his good eye if he thought it would help them. His friends recognize this in him, and most of them, as far as I can tell, are the same kind of gentle souls.

And they are all coming to our wedding with just a couple of exceptions. The friends who couldn’t come either couldn’t afford the trip (layoffs, students, and living in Europe) or couldn’t get out of work (residents… the remains of the mighty medical students, now worked to death, or at least until they dismount their high-horse). Each one who couldn’t make it, however, expressed genuine regret… Something my fiancé’s mother couldn’t be bothered to do. Not one of our friends invited extra people without asking, unlike my own mother. Not one of our friends tried to guilt us into inviting someone we didn’t like, unlike my father. They have been wonderful, supportive, and they will make sure that we take our vows in front of people who cherish everything we are, good and bad, who we love, and who genuinely love us back.

And isn’t that what family is supposed to do?

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

An open letter to my fellow cube-ites

Dear cubicle dwellers, (specifically those who dwell with me on the third floor finance in the hell that is this company)

I have been holding my tongue a lot lately, and now I have to finally speak or I will go quite mad. You see, there are several things that you do that are driving me nuts. I don’t know what else to do except to beg you to stop. Please, for the love of all that is good in this world, please listen.

To the woman around the corner, I can hear you music. First of all, disco sucked the first time around. It doesn’t improve when it is being strained through your headphones so that it drowns out the music in my own. And why is it still playing after you leave for lunch, or sometimes for the day? Do you think that you are contributing to the overall ambience of the office with the dulcet tones of the Bee Gees? I beg you reconsider. If you insist on playing your music at this level, I will be forced to take matters into my own hands and super-glue the headphone jack on your computer shut.

To the young woman over the wall in anaylitics, not everything that comes out of your mouth is hilarious. Honestly, when I first heard you laugh, I thought you were hurt. I had dialed 9-1 before I realized that I didn’t need to dial the other 1 because you weren’t injured. You sound like a dying hyena, and it is disturbing. I have had nightmares about your laugh that wake me from a dead sleep. It is a sound that you would normally hear in a horror movie coming from the mouth of the killer. It is not a normal people laugh. You need to go to laugh therapy and revise how you do it. How about a good natured chuckle or a girlish giggle? How about a guffaw? Honesty, any sound of mirth would be preferable to the ear bleeding screech that passes as amusement to you. Please, please for the love of God, have yourself checked.

To the management team over by the windows, don’t you work? In the current environment we are in, I would think that management would want to set an example by working hard and showing those of us lackeys below you that everyone is having to struggle to get things done. It really doesn’t do anything to boost morale when the bosses spend forty five minutes having an extended coffee break while they block access to the copier. If you need something to do, how about trying to fix said copier? It spends more time jammed than working, and if I get one more printout that is nothing but globs of toner, that is how you are going to receive your next reports. If you feel you need to leave early every Friday for a round of golf, have the decency to lie to us. Tell us that you have some urgent business that needs to be attended to. Don’t walk through a group of employees who have been working late and through lunch while wearing your golf hat, announcing your tee time to anyone who will listen. If you want to keep the little people from a mass walk-out, keep your playtime on the down low.

To the obscenely happy manager from down the hall, not everyone is a morning person. Your sing-song-y voice is not charming or cheerful at seven am. It is sickeningly annoying. Most of us need at least one cup of coffee before we really get going – at least I do. When you stand at my desk or see me in the hall, have the courtesy to ignore me until at least 9. If you have legitimate business to attend to, drop your voice a full octave or send an email. On that note, not every email needs a little smiley face. I would prefer that some of them were all business. I don’t have time to learn how to make an emoticon for every emotion. I refuse to devote the brainpower to learning it. Don’t take it personally if I don’t sent the same expressive punctuation when I email you back.

To the IT department – I don’t know squat about how to fix my own computer. If I did, then I would be in the IT department and not in accounting. When I call you with a problem, it is a legitimate problem. I call you when my computer ceases functioning because I DON”T KNOW HOW TO FIX IT. The only trick I know is to re-boot. If that fails to work, I am out of ideas. This does not make me an inferior being; it just means that I don’t know how to do your job. The same way you don’t know how to do mine. Don’t talk down to me, and don’t act like I am wasting your time with my issue. Part of your job description is to “Solve internal technology issues for associates.” I know. I looked it up.

To cell-phone girl, turn off your freaking phone. Or at least have the decency to turn the ringer off. Haven’t you ever heard of vibrate? Your ringtone is not cute. It ceased being cute the first time I heard it, and now I get to hear it five times a day every day. And when you answer it (which I have noticed is quite the rare event) you do not have to shout. If I can hear you three rows over, you are talking too loudly. Pipe down unless you want everyone around you to know your business. I already know far too much about your husband’s prostate. Turn your phone off or give it a nice normal ringer for when you are in the office out of respect for the sanity of the rest of us.

To the drama queen, your life is not that interesting. Not everything is a dramatic event worthy of a lengthy narrative. Sometimes a drive to work is just a drive to work. If you fought traffic, the rest of us probably did as well, since no one that I know actually lives at the office, the traffic gods did not purposefully delay your trip. The snow isn't falling just around you, the sun wasn't in your eyes alone. You are not the only person to have ever gotten a cold, a sunburn, a rash. You aren't the only one in history to have had a fight at home. You might be surprised to learn that the lines at the post office are long for everyone. If you could shut your pie-hole for a few moments, you might learn that most of us face the same issues day in and day out without all of the drama. Your daily boring diatribes regarding the general state of your life are beginning to wear me out. If you want to bother people with the minutiae of your life, start a blog. That way, if someone doesn’t want to read, they don’t have to.

I know that if we can all take our time and spare some consideration to those around us (me in particular), we can get through our days here without losing our sanity.

Dawn the Annoyed