Tuesday, September 04, 2012

And So It Goes

In 2005, I started Life Goes On, I Think to dust off the pen.  It was a way to find my voice.  It was a way to break old habits and start new ones.  But for the better part of the last two years, my pen has mostly collected dust.

After graduating from Stonecoast, I felt I had earned the right to take a break from writing.  I set my novel to the side, refused to even open a Word document, and went about my life.  There was a ceramics class I was interested in taking (exhibit A: a lopsided bowl on my mantle).  There were knitting projects I wanted to create (exhibit B: one arm of a flutter cardigan still dangling off of wooden, size-8 needle).  And there were intimidating culinary feats I wanted to conquer (exhibit C: a ceviche recipe splattered with lime juice).

"You haven't been writing on your blog," E said a few weeks ago.  "It's kind of freaking me out."

"I just haven't felt inspired."

Truth be told, I had backed so far away from writing, I feared doing it.  With an MFA in hand, I felt obligated to provide perfected prose for my readers.  Plus, with an MFA in hand, I felt I should be working on my novel instead of tinkering away on a blog.  My creative energy should be poured into something with merit.  Except I have felt boxed in by my novel, the remaining chapters yet to be written requiring finesse and balance, complexity that to the reader should feel effortless. The mere thought of writing has left me paralyzed.

This past weekend, a woman I met back in 2007, Claire Fontaine, was in Atlanta with her daughter Mia to promote their new book, Have Mother, Will Travel.  I first met Claire at Blogher 2007, our introduction the result of us both needing last-minute accommodations.  Claire later wrote a letter of recommendation when I applied to graduate school.  Though our communication has been limited in recent years, I have always known she is only a click away.  Yesterday, as Leslie and I drove her and Mia back to the airport, Claire asked about my writing.

"I don't feel inspired," I said with a shrug.

"Oh honey, if every writer waited for inspiration, nothing would ever be written.  You need to just sit down and write."

Claire wasn't saying anything new.  It was exactly the approach I took in grad school, blocking nights and sometimes entire weekends to see myself through a short story.  It was exactly the structure I had dismissed but so desperately needed.

In 2005, I was a blogger who wrote.  In 2010, as I walked across the stage to collect my MFA, I was a writer who happened to have a blog.  And now, in 2012, I am ready to just be a writer.  If I want to finish my novel, query an agent, and find a publisher, I need to sit my ass down in a chair and do some heavy lifting.  I have to write clunky, horrible prose without apology.  I need to allocate three hours to thinking about a plot without writing a single word.

I have spent the last week or so figuring out how to make this transition.  I have considered taking my blog private.  It has also crossed my mind to delete Life Goes On, I Think altogether.  Neither option felt right.  After all, this blog and the readers of it have been integral to my growth as both a woman and as a writer.  Deleting the blog would be like denying it's relevance and I just can't do that.

As I pulled away from the curb Monday morning, Claire and Mia making their way into the airport and a stretch of highway before me, I decided to keep Life Goes On, I Think public, or at least parts of it.  In the weeks to come, I will un-publish many posts.  My goal is to retain the pieces that truly capture my life these last few years, as if to organize these written snapshots into a photo album of sorts.  But I'm leaving room for one more post: the one where I announce my book deal.

Thank you for reading, for commenting, and for making me both a wiser woman and a far more capable writer.


Tuesday, August 07, 2012

Chapter One

When I started this blog, the point was to get myself writing.  I wanted to improve my storytelling skills.  I wanted to hone my sentence structure.  And the only way to do both would be to sit down and do it.  After all, you can't run a marathon if you've never laced up a pair of sneakers.

It was mid-2005 when I first published a post.  In the months and years since, I have evolved from a blogger into a writer. My work has been published in various places.  An unfinished novel patiently sits on my desktop, awaiting an itch and an urge for me to finally piece together the last few chapters.

There was only one post I published that I felt necessary to pull down.  Well, that was as of yesterday.  Today, for the second time in my life, my blog hurt someone.  As fast as I could, I logged into Blogger and tried to undo what I had done.

I never set out to fracture trust.  Words strung together into a collection of sentences, from where I was sitting, meant something so specific. It was a statement of my past failures and attempts at a better future.  But what I meant to say, how I meant to say it, none of that matters.  The bottom line is someone read what I wrote and was incredibly hurt.

I can't unwrite what I have written.  And I can't magically make someone unfeel the hurt resulting from what I said.  But I do have the ability to unpublish something.  It in no way can undo the damage I did.  I wish it could.  I wish I could hit rewind to earlier tonight when, with puffy eyes and tear stained cheeks, I clicked the publish button.  I would turn myself inside out if that would fix things.  If only it could.

I am sorry, E.  I love you to pieces.  Always did and always will.  Just like I told you on one of our first dates, "When you fall in love, a part of you will always love that person no matter what."

Yes, one chapter closes.  I won't argue that interpretation. But I've always believed books with multiple chapters are far more enjoyable.  Chapter One is nothing more than the premise for an amazing story that spans a lifetime.  Now if only I wasn't so scared to turn the page and start Chapter Two.

Tuesday, July 03, 2012

The Head And The Heart

When I was twenty-five, I had a specific idea of where my life would take me in the next ten years.  I would fall in love, have two kids, and drive a Range Rover. I would live on the Main Line, summer in New England, and tend to the family dog Tucket, a Golden Retriever named for Nantucket.  You know, one of the places where I would routinely vacation.  My kids would attend private school.  My husband would be ambitious.  Life would be good.

At thirty-nine, I live in a two-bedroom apartment in a city that still doesn't feel like home.  It isn't the Main Line, but it is the ritzy part of Atlanta.  I don't drive a Range Rover, but I'm often idling next to one at a red light. Meaning on a daily basis I peer through car windows and gawk at women living the life I once aspired to have. Goldens shed and I continue to struggle to keep plants alive, making me hesitant to own a dog.  Though I'm currently exploring the idea of adopting a six-year-old, one-eyed pup from a nearby shelter.

"She's scary!" Olivia, my niece, said when I showed her the dog on my computer.

Oh, right, I don't have kids either.  The closest I've come to motherhood is babysitting Leslie's kids.  And seeing I advocated letting them watch an R-rated movie the other night, a film that started with Jonah Hill going down on some no-name actress, I fear I'd suck at the mom thing.  Though, in my defense, I did run for the television and block their view until his head was out of her crotch.

"Aunt Paige, we can't see!"

" I know, that's the point!"

These two different worlds, the idyllic one of a twenty-five-year-old and experienced one of a thirty-nine-year-old collided last week.  It was the gap of time that spans between those two existences that drove me and E to end things.  There were words he had spoken and feelings I had sensed.  After all these years, I had come to accept that summering in New England can be rife with mosquitoes and spoiled New Yorkers fleeing the city.  But when E peers into the distance, he still sees the pristine life he has mapped out for himself. 

A few days after ending things, E and I met up for frozen yogurt at a place around the corner from me.  He had mentioned getting tapped for an incredible opportunity at work and I suggested we celebrate over self-serve and unlimited toppings.

"I don't want to break-up," he eventually said.

"But there are things you've expressed, experiences you want to have.  And honestly, you have every right to want them," I replied.  "Also, I don't want to rob you of those experiences."

"I thought I knew what I wanted.  Now I'm not sure.  All I know is I can't imagine not having you in my life."

It was a difficult place we had suddenly come to.  In the prior forty-eight hours, friends had commended me and E for maturely ending a relationship for legitimate reasons.  No one was hurt.  No mean words were spoken. But at the same time, at no point were our conerns resolved.  There were still years and a stream of life-altering experiences seperating us.

"What do you want?" E asked as he leaned forward in his chair, rested his elbows on his knees.  "You, what do YOU want?"

It was a question I so rarely ask myself when others are involved.  It is my instinct to accommodate the people around me, defer to their desires.  There are only so many things in life worth fighthing for.  At the end fo the day, eating pizza over sushi isn't worth getting my panties in a wad.  And anyway, the times I have gone along with things I would have otherwise dismissed, I've appreciated the experience.  See escargots, South of the Border, and World of Coke for examples.  But here I was, sitting across from a man whom I utterly adored, being asked to think long and hard about what I wanted.

I ran my fingers across the hem of my dress. I looked across the room, back at E.  A sense of calm and comfort blanketed me. I inhaled a breath and exhaled my answer.

"I still want to date you."

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Day By Day

On February 6th, I started a new job.  After fourteen years as an insurance broker, I powered down my old work computer, tucked personal possessions in a crumpled tote, and walked away from a long chapter in my life.  In the years leading up to that day, I learned how to navigate a male-dominated world.  I grew into a person who appreciated what she had gained but itched to experience more.  And I had the confidence to set out for new adventures.

On March 4th, I packed up my car and drove eight hundred miles south for Atlanta.  Art too big to ship leaned against the empty walls of my Philly condo, the paperwork pending for a potential tenant.  Twenty-five boxes filled with books, winter coats, and tattered journals from my adolescence sat stacked along the back wall of my cousin's office, their fate on hold until I figured out where I would be living.  Oh right, I had no idea where I was living.

On April 1st, I had my first date with E.  I couldn't deny concern about the age difference but his smile made me smile.  The conversation lasted far longer than our grande iced-teas.  When we parted ways, each setting off for other evening plans, I cursed the fact that he didn't look back over his shoulder.  Because I already knew that I wanted to learn more about this man with a slight accent, expressive brown eyes, and no-poker-face-grin.

On May 26th, with three friends visiting from Philly, I applied a swipe of lipstick and set out for a night on the town.  Along with E and Leslie, the six of us congregated at Blake's.  We were there for the cheap drinks in plastic cups and the sexy drag queens belting it out to Rihanna.  We raised our glasses, sang along to the tunes, and shook our hips to the rhythm pumping through the speakers. With one hand on my new boyfriend and my attention directed toward my old friends, two worlds melted into one.

On June 26th, I pulled the covers closer to my shoulders and rolled onto my side.  Even through the darkness, I could see E, his eyes open as he pressed his cheek into his pillow.  He said something. I said something.  Nothing was hurtful.  If anything, we were both being careful with our words, delicate with our sentiments.  But somehow we had landed at the same place, acknowledging for once that the best choice for both of us would be to end things.

"I think you should take me home," he eventually said, his car intentionally at his condo with a plan to run back there in the morning.

"Are you sure?"  I asked, realizing that, fair or not, I still wanted him by my side.

"I don't know."

A few more words were shared as I idled at a red light, as I pulled into a parking space at his complex, as we stood before each other beneath a half-lit moon.

"I love you," he said.

"I love you too, E."

He slowly backed away, settled his bag on hisshoulder, and disappeared down a hallway toward his condo.  I'd be lying if I didn't say I slowed up as I pulled away, squinting against the darkness to catch one last glimpse of his frame.  And I'd truly be lying if I didn't admit I cried.

PS: E is a gentle soul with a generous heart.  He did me better than any man who came before him. When I'm struggling, I write, and he has always supported that habit of mine.  Even now.  But I can't help but ask you to be sensitive with your comments where E is concerned.  He earned that.  Trust me.

Tuesday, May 08, 2012

A Non-Date Date-Date

I've never thought of the first get-together with an online match as a date.  To me, that is merely a chance to confirm the pictures are from the current decade, an opportunity to see if in a three-dimensional state you could kiss this person.  Had you met at a friend's dinner party or flirted at a chic downtown bar, you would have already sorted that all out.

"You didn't look back," I said to E the other day.  "When we parted ways after coffee, I watched you walk away and you never looked back."

"But did you really think I wasn't interested?" he asked.

"No, I suspected I'd see you again."  I left out the part about spending half of my drive home wondering if I had dressed in clothing that looked too work-y.

Two days before our slated real first date-date, E asked me to meet him for ice-cream.  On our second date, over brick-oven pizza and calzone, we got to know each other better.  Or was that date three? To be honest it's all a little blurry.  But not because they aren't memories worth keeping.  Filed away in my head are slivers of time that are crisp and clear.  Those are the memories that, when I revisit them, elicit the same feeling I had in the actual moment.

"Some people have said I can be too direct," E said as he sliced into his calzone.  "Please let me know if it bothers you so I can be more aware of it."

"You've said this before but I don't see it," I responded as I reached for my wine.  "There isn't anything you've said that has offended me. So you can pretty much stop worrying on that front."

This past weekend, we expanded our repertoire to include some daytime activities.  Or to put it another way, we were going to have a non-date date-date.  In the morning, he went for a long bike ride while I tidied up and got on a call with a coworker.  After that, we drove over to Piedmont Park where he went for a run.  I sat down on a park bench with a pile of magazines, none of which got touched thanks to being chatted up by a gay guy with a poodle.  Every time E passed us, I waved and smiled.

"Girl, lock that one down," my new friend said as he eyed E's shirtless back.

"That's my goal."

We weren't supposed to spend the rest of the day together.  And yet, an hour or so later, we were sitting around my coffee table eating sandwiches and cake.  E put together my desk, a mess of a parts I had half-constructed but in a way that included threading the wrong screws into place. I worked on a dining room chair and side-table for the living room.  Every so often, I glanced over at E and grinned.

Later that night, lying side-by-side, E said, "Today was my favorite day with you."

It was a day where I didn't care that my hair was in a ponytail and desperate for some shampoo.  It didn't bother me that he might spot beads of sweat collecting on the bridge of my nose.  E didn't feel a need to chastise me for failing to follow basic picture-instructions, or that he had to undo half of my work.  Never once did he complain that manually manipulating twenty screws into place was hard on his hands.

I reached out and rested my open palm atop his chest. The corners of my mouth curled into a soft smile.  And then I replied.

"Me too."

Friday, April 27, 2012

Leading With My Heart

For the most part, if I am not traveling for work, I am spending the night with E.

"You have another date?!?!?" Olivia asked as I came down the stairs with my tote on my shoulder.  "You never have dinner with us any more."

It was totally true.  Typically around six o'clock, I will wind down what I am doing (constructing Ikea tables, responding to work emails, furiously rifling through my unorganized piles on Leslie's dining room table in search of a receipt I don't have but desperately need in order to file my expense report).  I meet E at his place and from there we start our night.  Twice I have cooked dinner.  Otherwise we have headed out for a bite to eat.

"It's okay if you want a night off," E said earlier this week.

"Why would I want that?"

"To have time to yourself or to do something with Leslie."

It has been over a decade since I dated someone locally. And that guy turned out to be gay.  But I digress.  My point is that I would go days without seeing Ex and months without seeing Alaska.  Suddenly, here I was tangling myself up with a boy residing in a neighboring zip code.  It requires less than ten traffic lights to get to his place. Even more curious, I am enjoying his close proximity.

A few times a week, Leslie asks me if I am falling in love.  She asks when we're sprawled out in the upstairs hallway folding laundry and when we're in the kitchen searching for a late afternoon snack.  It's a fair question seeing how much time we spend together.

"No. But I know it could happen."

When we're lying in bed, both of us turned on our sides and facing one another, there is a warmth that coats my skin.  When I feel his chest pressed against mine, I can't help but exhale.  And the way he smiles at me knots my tummy in a good way.  This is all on top of him insisting, INSISTING, I take the best bite when sampling the food on his plate.

Last night, before going to sleep, the topic of exes came up. We swapped stories, turned on the computer and shared photographs.  He thought Ex was better looking than Alaska, though both tied for first place on the jerk front.  I marveled at how his former girlfriends all hailed from other continents, their faces young and smiles so innocent. After he set the computer on the bedside table, I closed my eyes and drifted off to sleep.

At five o'clock in the morning, or so I assumed based on the darkness still filling the bedroom, I awoke in a panic.  I glanced over at E sleeping peacefully and then set my gaze on the ceiling.  My jaw clenched as I replayed conversations we have had.  My body tensed with fear that I could have said the wrong thing in the present or shared an unforgivable misstep from my past.  I rolled onto my side and ran my fingertips across E's shoulder, the gesture offering a brief moment of comfort. 

When he woke, he asked me what was wrong, why I was so tense.

"This," I said as I gently tapped my head, "is trying to control this." I moved my hand to my chest and rested an open palm atop my heart.

I don't recall what he said.  I have no recollection of the words he offered.  I just remember feeling relieved. There in his presence, I had every reason in the world to turn off my head and lead with my heart.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Some Things Never Change

I have always associated Richmond, VA with college senior week.  A few days after finishing finals, a group of Smith girls piled into two cars and headed south.  We stopped in Philadelphia for the night. With my parents out of town, their house was the perfect place to rest up before a long drive.  Early the next morning, we got back on the road and drove straight through to Hilton Head, stopping only to eat, pee, and refuel.

One of our earlier pitstops was Richmond.  Just after the large cigarette towers flanking I-95, we pulled off for a quick break. Everything about Richmond was gray: the people, the air, the sentiment. So it came as no surprise that the McDonalds we stopped at was filthy. The bathrooms smelled of urine.  The food was stale and cold. We were back in the car in record time.

There were a lot of fun times that trip.  When we finally pulled into the plantation where our rental was located, there was no one there to hand off the keys.  One night, as a few of us roamed the aisles of the nearby Blockbuster, we spotted Meg Ryan and Dennis Quaid also searching for a movie.  During the daytime, we sprawled out on the sand until our flesh was bright pink.  At night, we squealed in harmony at the gigantic Palmetto bug one of us trapped under a large drinking glass.

On the last day, we unanimously agreed to enjoy what was left of our vacation, delaying our departure until three o'clock.  With salty skin and sandy feet, we piled back into our two cars and made our way north.  We stopped along the way, but this time there was little excitement about the adventures.  South of the Border never holds the same allure the second time around.

We drove straight through the night, crossing the Tappan Zee bridge as the sun inched above the horizon.

"I think I'm going to be sick," I said as I clutched the steering wheel, my eyes bleary and my stomach aching with pain.

A girl familiar with the area led us off the highway to a Dunkin Donuts where, upon exiting the bathroom, I handed over the keys for the first time the entire trip.  We finally pulled into the quad at Smith a little shy of seven o'clock in the morning.

As I write this post, I'm sitting at the Richmond International Raceway.  I'm here for work, hosting a booth at the Southern Women's Expo, hoping to interact with patients who could use my support.  Across from me is a booth for Stella & Dot.  To my left is a quirky foot-massaging detox vendor. If I get bored, I just might dip my toes into one of his tubs. After I buy a cute necklace, of course.

"I hear the firemen aren't going to strip at this show," the representative for Vitamist noted as she strolled past.  "They did last week in Nashville.  I grabbed one by the suspenders and told him he was coming with me."  Even her girly giggle had a rural southern twang.

When she walked away, I reached for my Egg McMuffin and orange juice.  As I neared the venue earlier, I pulled into a McDonalds for some morning sustenance.  The rest of the day I will be relying on  Kashi granola bars, grapes and gum.  I peeled back the wrapper of the breakfast sandwich and hunted for the best first bite. With my mouth wide, I went in for the kill.  The muffin wasn't toasted; the texture felt gummy.  Even the cheese was unusually plasticky.  Fifteen years later and nothing about Richmond has changed.  But at least the last time around I had some damn fine company.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

No Place Like Home

I used to think Ex was a gentleman because for the first few months we dated, he made a point to open my door.  During our long distance relationship, he also repeatedly drove to Philadelphia and even extended his stays so we could spend more time together.  This was all undone when he made a stink about helping me paint my condo, about vacationing someplace other than Vermont and Florida, about loving me as-is because he felt I'd be more attractive if I shed twenty-five pounds. 

I used to think Alaska could openly speak with me.  On our third date, after the caviar appetizer but before the vacheron dessert, he told me things about his father that unquestionably altered his family's trajectory.  It was the kind of confession that was raw and honest.  Then, a few months later, he rang me at 6am to tell me he didn't love me, then he forgot my birthday with ease and without apology, and then he lied to me about where he was going because the truth involved another woman. 

Then there was the boyfriend who lived in New York City and worked in the film industry.  The one time he met me at Penn Station, an act solely in response to my request, he arrived sweaty and gross. "This was a good idea. I decided to run down here so I could get in some exercise."  Under the sign identifying which train was arriving on what track, he beamed with pride at his ingenious idea of still making it all about him.  I was nothing more than a guest in his home.

"I got these for you," E said the other night as he presented a bunch of bright pink tulips.

"They're beautiful!" The fuchsia hued petals glowed bright against the crisp green stems.

"But that's not the surprise.  Wait, I'll be right back," he said before ducking into his bedroom and returning with a box.

I glanced at the gift and then back at E. His smile, so warm and bright, made me smile too. I released the tape holding the top together. There, neatly tucked within properly pressed tissue paper, was a lovely glass vase. Its shape was tall with a gentle widening at one side.  While I prepared dinner, he filled the vase with water, set the tulips inside, and placed it on the table.

Later that night, I turned to E and said, "Being with you feels like home."  He cocked his head a little the the side and admitted he didn't fully understand what I was saying.  I paused, then tried to explain it better. "Being with you is safe and warm, welcoming and comfortable." He now grasped what I was saying, even though I left out the fact that it's the kind of home one never really wants to leave.

Monday, April 02, 2012

Let's Hope This Goes Better Than It Did for Demi Moore

A few weeks before I moved south, I changed my residence status on eHarmony from Philly to Atlanta. It didn't make much sense to target a meat market I was departing. And to those of you itching to point out my past relationship with a man based in Alaska, I say, Suck it.

My inbox started to fill up with boys from Macon to Memphis. One by one, I worked my way through the potential suitors. Some were totally not my type. Others tickled my fancy.

"I just got matched with a twenty-five-year-old and he wants to communicate," I said to Leslie as we sprawled out on her bed, Olivia and Anders both on the floor with their eyes glued to the television.

"Let me see," she said as she tilted my laptop in her direction. "Oh, wow, he even looks twenty-five."

I have dated down. After college, I tangled myself up with an eighteen-year-old. He acted older than his actual age, the likely result of a rumored side-gig as a drug dealer. Don't ask. In recent years, I've dated up. Alaska had ten years on me. Ex was eight years older. Having realized in the last few months that the best results come from just letting things unfold, I set aside hesitation and agreed to open communication.

Truth be told, the more I got to know him, the more interested I became. So, when he suggested we meet this past Saturday at 5pm, I accepted. I blew my hair straight, applied mascara, and set off for the designated meeting spot.

He was there when I arrived, beating me by five minutes to ensure he was present when I showed. Most men I know won't even hold the door for me. Then he insisted I order my coffee first and proceeded to casually block my access to the register. I once had a date say he'd pay for my wine and then rescind the offer when he saw my one glass cost $18. Anyway, with our drinks in hand, we headed outside to find a table on the patio. We sat down and started talking. An hour and a half later, we were still at it.

"So, how did it go?" Leslie asked when I got home.

"Really well! I mean this guy has more ambition than most men my own age. Like, his five-year plan includes getting an MBA and completing the Kona IronMan. Seriously, I've watched that race while horizontal on my sofa as I stuffed bonbons in my face. That goal alone makes him a pimp."

"Yeah, no, that's impressive."

Sunday night he rang to say hello and see how the rest of my weekend had turned out. In the midst of the conversation, he made me laugh more than a few times. Suddenly I stopped defining him by his age and instead focused on the whole of him. In the midst of it, I was simply having a really nice time. So it should come as no surprise that I accepted his invitation to have a second date Wednesday night.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

At Least I'm Saving Money On Batteries

I've been homeless since early February. That's when The Salvation Army came to collect my possessions. Somewhere right now a poor person is using my old television that was as deep as it was wide. A few days later I set off for two weeks of work-related travel, returning to Philly for 36 hours before driving south to temporarily move in with Leslie. I have been with her ever since. My two-bedroom apartment won't be ready until mid-April and that doesn't take into account the fact I own no furniture. All of this has turned my routine on its head.

In my past life, I went to the gym every Saturday and Sunday morning in addition to twice during the week. One visit was spent having my ass kicked by my trainer, a man who routinely asked me to marry him as sweat dripped off the tip of my nose. Monday nights I volunteered with my cousin. At least two other evenings were spent having drinks and dinner with friends. Since moving to Atlanta, the only constant is awaking in the morning utterly fatigued.

"I think I should get my hair cut," I said to Leslie as we finished lunch, a meal spent brainstorming all of her contacts that I can potentially exploit. "And I need to mail my condo fee, contact Audi about buying-out Gretel, and drop a script for my birth control at CVS, not that I'm doing anything that could remotely result in a pregnancy."

"I'll call my guy and make you an appointment."

A few days later, Leslie left for a golf weekend in Alabama with former coworkers. Saturday morning, Anders headed to a friend's house for a slumber party. This left me, Olivia and my brother in-law in a house that, with all five of us present, was starting to feel small. I dropped Gretel at the Audi dealership for unexpected service (quelle surprise). I cheered on Olivia and the rest of the Pink Flamingo soccer team at a nearby field. That night, after enjoying burgers outside at a nearby pub with Olivia and my brother in-law, I retreated to my room.

In the distance evening crickets chirped. The smell of spring blossoming on the trees seeped through the curtains. I washed up, slipped out of my clothes and fumbled around in the closet for my toy. Now, I thought, now I can finally close my eyes and disappear. I can flip a switch, exhale and forget how crazy my life has been.

"Aunt Paige?" I heard from the bedroom.

"One second," I answered as I quickly shoved all evidence of an adult life deep in the closet.

I walked out to the bedroom to find Olivia. There she was in her doggie pajamas and princess snuggie, the faux fur wrists yellowed and nappy from wear.

"Which side of the bed do you want?"

Friday, March 02, 2012

No Place Like Home

For the first time in my life, I don't have a place to call home. There is no bed upon which to collapse. There is no glass into which I can poor some much needed wine. A hollow echo exaggerates every sound, my soft cough booming off the walls. And it's a weird thing to realize.

After spending two straight weeks traveling for work, I finally made my way back to Philadelphia. One bus, two flights and one train later, I curled my fingers around the handle of my suitcase and walked up the driveway leading to my condo complex. A misty rain coated my face. The rubber grip of my luggage tugged against my palm. As I fumbled for my keys, I couldn't help but feel like a stranger in my own home.

My condo lacks furniture but there are still plenty of tasks to tend to. Extra paint cans need to be moved to the storage unit in the basement. Art too big to fit in my car needs to be relocated to my parents' house. Piles of paper are strewn across the living room floor, most of which I'm ready to just toss. After all, the most important items - my passport, Gretel's spare key, and receipts - have already been stashed in a pumpkin-orange, Tod's shoebox.

Tomorrow morning, I will run up the street to get my hair colored one last time. I will figure out what to do with my mountain bike and golf clubs. At some point, I will back into a corner, look around my condo and feel a sense of emptiness. Then, Sunday, I will pack up my car and hit the road. My goal is to make it to Atlanta in one day.

"The kids keep asking if you're moving in this weekend," Leslie said when I spoke with her the other day.

I don't have a home of my own in Atlanta either. Though I put money down on an apartment, I am now thinking I might be better off waiting for a larger unit. In the meantime, I will stay with Leslie. And that was always my plan. But, though I comfortably eat food from her fridge and pee with the bathroom door open so we don't have to stop talking, her house still doesn't feel like home.

The next few weeks will continue to be defined by transition. Though I'm a month into my new job, my team doesn't formally launch until early April. There is still more training to complete, training that will include another week in Chicago and a few days in Miami. We don't even have promotional paperwork to distribute because the current set is still being reviewed by legal. Everything in my life right now is in flux. It's exciting and unsettling all at the same time. And all I want to do is curl up on a sofa, tuck my legs under a warm blanket and enjoy the comforts of home.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

You've Got A Friend

It goes without saying, I'm rather independent. I have no problem going to dinner alone. Heck, The New Yorker has outperformed some dates in the entertainment department. And when you get into your late thirties without ever having a husband, you learn to fend for yourself beyond dinnertime companionship.

My new job came together in record time. For my first week, I overlapped with my old job, not to please my boss but because I have a semblance of good work ethic. That my old boss went and shit all over the business my father created these last forty years doesn't make me regret that decision. Though his behavior did royally screw up the second week at my new job.

"PJ, I don't know how to cut and paste," my mom said with frustration and angst.

She and my father were sitting around their laptop in Florida while I sprawled out across the floor of my almost-empty condo. Together we were coordinating an effort to salvage the clients. There were letters to be constructed, emails to be sent, and hard copies of everything to be mailed. My parents, two people who have never had an ATM card and who have yet to grasp basic computer functions, were useless.

"Do you have Excel?" I asked. "I have a spreadsheet with information I gathered before I walked. I can email it to you and you can just input the missing data."

From their silence, I gathered they had no idea what I was talking about.

I knew that the back and forth with my parents would make for fabulous fodder, appreciated if only I wasn't caught up in the throws of it. I'd be cast as Al Brooks. But I had a condo to finish packing, three hundred pages of scientific information about the immune system to master, and a two-week work trip to prepare for. Let's not even address ancillary tasks like eating and going to the bathroom.

"That's it," I said Saturday night at eleven o'clock. "My brain hurts and I have to study. I'll try to finish more from the road but this is the best I can do."

As I'm writing this, I'm leaning against a wall in my condo with my life strewn across the floor. There are balls of yarn to my right, piles of paper to my left, and miscellaneous crap in every other direction. My suitcase is packed for a week in Chicago followed immediately by a week in Los Angeles. I remembered to mail my car payment. I didn't forget to grab my phone charger.

When I get back, I'll have less than forty-eight hours before I'm supposed to hit the road and drive for Atlanta, having previously set a goal to knock it out in one day. There's little chance I"ll be able to tackle everything I still need to do in that time frame. Nothing stands out as overwhelmingly time consuming but added up together, I know I can't handle the tasks alone.

It isn't like me to ask for help. But later tonight, when I settle into my room at a Chicago Westin, I will pull out my laptop and email a group of friends. I'll offer pizza and beer, music and laughter, and I'll request they show up the first Saturday of March to help me close this chapter. It feels awkward to admit I can't do something on my own. But it's comforting knowing I have so many people willing to help.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Dude, You're Making This Too Easy

"Let me know if you need help with any boxes," my boss said Friday morning.

"At home? Like, to ship to Atlanta?"

"No, when you leave here tonight."

It was the kind of offer that, coming from a friend, would be sweet. Coming from a boss who has been underhanded and manipulative? Not so much.

"I'll be fine," I said.

I didn't leave work until a little past seven o'clock. I had files to return to the cabinets. There were documents to shred and paperwork to disperse. With a box in one hand and my keys in the other, I turned off the lights, set the alarm and, for the last time ever, walked out of that building as an employee.

On Monday morning, I received an email from a client who was concerned about what my former boss was up to. Then I got a congratulatory email from two different Aetna reps in response to an email announcing my departure, also an email I never personally received. And that's when things started to spiral out of control.

Here I was, sitting on my sofa, the lone piece of furniture still remaining in my almost-empty condo, studying about macrophages and cytyokines, and was being thrown back into the drama I had so strategically departed.

By early evening, I finally got my hands on the letter my former boss sent. In fact, it came from my former boss with an note admitting he had doctored it. I looked closely and immediately knew it was a letter my dad never wrote. Nor was it a letter that he had ever signed off on, even though his signature was right there on the bottom. More importantly, it was a letter that authorized a large carrier to transfer clients under my dad's name to my old boss, thereby granting him all commissions on those clients.

"That's fraud," a friend and longtime attorney noted when I read the email.

"No kidding."

Ultimately, none of it matters. Because a client can change brokers at any time. And in between memorizing the digestive process, I personally called clients. I spoke about my new job opportunity. I noted that the personal touch used by me and my father was no longer the cornerstone of what remains of our company. Then I told them how they could change to a different broker, a broker we had partnered with to absorb our clients.

"I'm so sad you're leaving but so happy for your new adventures," they all said. "Just send me the form and I'll get it right back to you. You've been great all of these years and I totally trust your opinion on this."

And then I emailed a former client and good friend who now works high-up in Harrisburg. I was wondering if she knew anyone at the Department of Insurance. After all, falsifying a document, besides being illegal, is grounds for one's insurance license to be revoked. And without that, like, you can't do shit with my clients.

Thursday, February 09, 2012

Check Mate

For all of 2011, I bit my tongue. Or I bit it when I was at work. Outside of the office, I spewed my anger and frustration to anyone willing to listen. But I’m a strategic a person. Translation: there’s no way in hell I was going to make my boss aware of my dissatisfaction. I had nothing to gain by announcing my desire to smoosh him with an anvil plummeting off a high cliff (see The Road Runner for an example).

“You need to tell him that his failure to pay you your commissions for six months is illegal,” my mom would say.

“Do you want me to talk with him?” my dad would ask.

I always listened to their suggestions but also always politely declined them. It wasn’t that they lacked value. Perhaps those approaches could have made my life easier. For whatever reason, I opted to hash out a solution on my own terms, at my own pace. I stepped back from the moment, took a bird’s eye view, and plotted out an exit strategy.

“I have some bad news, well, for you,” I said last Wednesday night when I finally told my boss I was resigning.

He was surprisingly happy for me. He asked what I’d be doing, praised my accomplishment, commended me for making the move. That I could not give two full weeks notice didn’t bother him. And when I mentioned having to partake in a conference call during office hours, he made nary a stink.

“He thinks you’re useless. I’m sure he just sees your departure as a financial windfall,” my mom noted when I told her I had formally resigned. I didn’t disagree with her interpretation. But I was relieved he didn’t blow a gasket and tell me to pound sand.

This week, I am technically working my old job and my new job. The timing was terrible and there really was absolutely no way to flex my start date. Sure, I could have walked from my old job the day I gave my notice. I just care too much about my clients to do that to them.

“I’m terming your disability coverage as of Friday. Okay? And let me know when I can term you from the health insurance,” my boss said in an email sent to me on this past Sunday.

I wasn’t even gone and he was counting his pennies. Rather ironic seeing he has a beach house at the shore, drives a high-end luxury car, and is in the process of building a house in center city. More importantly, a man who has worked in operations for over three decades was bypassing COBRA paperwork and just ignoring the very rules we instruct clients to obey, lest they are gunning for a lawsuit.

“Be sure to tell your clients that you’ll be transitioning everything to me,” he said when I stopped in his office on Tuesday night.

“Actually, I haven’t decided what I’ll be doing with them yet. I might take some with me.”

“That isn’t ethical,” he sputtered.

“I think unethical would be sitting on my commissions for the first six months of 2011 and blaming a problem with the payroll service when, in fact, other employees were getting their payouts through the payroll service.”

He fumbled to find an excuse. He tried to justify his behavior. And then he said, “Those clients aren’t yours. If I had known you’d do this, I would have had you sign a non-compete.”

I refrained from pointing out that our company’s go-back-in-time machine was broken. Instead I shrugged my shoulders. “Actually, seeing you had nothing to do with closing those deals, those clients as mine.”

For once, for the first time ever, my boss was at the mercy of my intelligence, my strategic prowess, my confidence. I had a voice and he had no choice but to listen. All of my quiet, all of those times I tolerated his antics, had finally paid off.

A few minutes later, he stopped by my desk to give me a check to reimburse me for some office expenses I had personally paid for. He asked me if I was hungry. He offered some of his leftover vegan mulch. Simply put, he was acting as if nothing had just transpired.

Maybe he dismissed my threat as idle. Perhaps he recalled the windfall he will receive when he no longer has to pay my salary. Or maybe he surrendered to the fact that he had been outsmarted by a woman he so readily dismissed.

Thursday, February 02, 2012

Upside Down

Thirty minutes before I was slated to be interviewed, I settled into a sofa in the lobby of the Westin O'Hare and practiced my presentation. Across the hall, I noticed the woman I had met on the shuttle over from the airport, a woman interviewing for the same position but based in Denver. I lowered my gaze and returned to my notes.

Almost four hours later, as I came through security, my phone rang. "How did it go?" asked the friend who had tipped me off to the job opportunity, the friend who worked where I was applying.

"Just before going in, I realized that the Smith transcript I oh-so-confidently included in my brag book noted a C+ in Medical Sociology. And I couldn't even yank it because 'transcripts' was listed in the table of contents."

"Don't worry about it."

"Medical Sociology. C+. It's a gig for a pharma company."

"No, I'm sure you were fine."

I turned off my phone, the battery almost dead, and sat down to eat a mediocre burger from an airport Chili's. Though I tried to read, my eyes couldn't focus. My jaw was tired from talking. My head ached from thinking. Halfway through the meal, I surrendered to my fatigue and waved down the server for the check. While I waited, I turned my phone back on and was immediately met with a text from the friend I had spoken with earlier: CALL ME!!!!

I took one last swig of my watered down margarita, scribbled my signature, and set off to find an outlet.

"Hey," I said as I leaned against the pale blue wall of a narrow hall connecting two terminals, the passageway cluttered with businessmen and pilots eager to recharge various forms of technology. "I just had a drink, figuring I could at the very least celebrate getting this far. Also, O'Hare never fails to deliver when it comes to suckiness."

"So I probably shouldn't tell you this but, um, the hiring executive I know just rang me. You got the job!"

"Shut. UP."

"Nope, they loved you. They'll be calling tomorrow to make an offer but you need to pretend you don't know."

"Know what?" I asked, before breaking into a high pitched squeal that echoed throughout the airport.

When I got off the phone, I called Leslie. Next I rang my parents. And then I sent quick text messages to the few people who were in the loop. As I moseyed to my gate, I lapsed into a state of shock and disbelief. It wasn't that I questioned whether I was a solid candidate. Not once did I fear I had come across badly in person. But all of a sudden, my life was about to be turned on its head. More importantly, for all of the right reasons.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

In Search of My Destiny

For most of 2011, my brow was crinkled as I navigated my way through both professional and personal challenges.

“PJ, relax your face,” my mom said from the back seats.

I was driving my parents to the airport after a brief visit north in early December. It was seven o’clock in the morning and from the rear of the car, from the small sliver of mirror I glance at when switching lanes, my mother could see my furrowed brow.

The previous months had been rife with hiccups. My new boss routinely behaved in a manner that made it clear I was replaceable. And for as much as I wanted to change jobs, I felt tied down by a condo worth considerably less than when I bought it seven years earlier.

“Just move to Atlanta,” Leslie would suggest. “Rent your condo and just move in with me. Your expenses will be limited and I’m sure you’ll find a job soon enough.”

“You need to find a tenant before you do anything else,” my mom would say.

Chicken, meet egg.

Every suggestion was a good one. But for whatever reason I was paralyzed. What if I found a tenant but ended up landing a great job in Philadelphia? Then I was homeless. Or what if I got a great job in Atlanta but couldn’t find a tenant for my condo in Philadelphia? I felt like a dog chasing her tail, except pups always appear to enjoy this tediously unproductive task.

In mid-December, I visited my friend in Los Angeles and with my collection of newly purchased crystals and a very cleansed chakra, I returned to Philadelphia ready to make a change. For the first time in over a year, I finally believed I was in control of my destiny.

“What are you doing about your condo?” my mom asked when she picked me up Christmas morning outside baggage claim in Sarasota.

“I’m going to apply for jobs and just deal with my condo when something comes together.”

For weeks, I devoted my evenings to honing my resume, submitting applications and waiting for responses. I have friends who have been job hunting for months if not years. I figured I might as well hunker down, give it my all, and hope to have something come together by the end of summer.

Late last week, following two phone interviews, I was told I was being flown to Chicago to interview one last time for what feels like my dream position. In the days since, I have compiled a twenty-five page book of documents evidencing my qualifications. Knowing I will have to give a fifteen minute presentation, I have talked my way through the topic while lathering my hair in the shower, idling at red lights, and strolling the aisles of Staples. My suit is set out on an arm chair in my bedroom, my presentation is packed up in my travel tote. On top of everything sits my boarding pass.

At five o’clock in the morning, I will awake and get in the shower. At six o’clock I will drive to the airport. And at eight o’clock, I will take a seat on a plane and head for Chicago. I’m rather confident the rest of the day will be a blur. Not until I touch down in Philadelphia just shy of ten o’clock in the evening will I exhale. As I head for my car, I will ring Leslie and my parents to update them. I will text the friends who have been cheering me on along the way. And if all goes well, when I get home I will pour myself a glass of wine. Because, at the risk of sounding arrogant, I am rather certain I will have reason to celebrate.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

One More Run

My parents met over a pair of ski gloves. Knowing this, it should come as no surprise that Snoopy skis were strapped to my feet as soon as I could walk. Every Friday after school let out, we piled into my dad’s Audi and headed for Elk Mountain. We either stayed with friends or bunked at a hotel. With the exception of eating, the entire weekend was dedicated to skiing. It took the progression of my father’s disease, the worsening of his balance, for our time on the mountain to finally come to a close.

I was reminded of this while reading a post over at The Saltanstalls’ blog. I am not sure how I crossed paths with this Kodiak-based family I have never met, though I have a sneaky suspicion it had something to do with the wise Ish, formerly of Kodiak Konfidential. Anyway, when I sat down to catch up on my blog feed, I wasn’t looking to be inspired. I had no intention of writing. But seeing a picture of Patrick and Zoya’s daughter Nora being fitted for ski boots, I was immediately brought back to my childhood.

Just before the start of the winter season, my father would take me and Leslie over to the local ski shop to update our gear. It was the same ski shop where he once worked, where he met my mother. It’s also a ski shop that closed decades ago. Thirty years later and I can still recall leaning into a new pair of creaky boots and wiggling my toes while my father slid a pencil into the back to confirm the fit.

There are a lot of sour memories from my childhood. Leslie often jokes that she has blocked out chunks of her youth.

“That totally reminds of me of that time we went to Killington and Mom, freaking out that the chair was too high and I couldn’t get off, yanked the tip of my ski and we tumbled down the snowy slope in a heap,” I said.

“We went to Killington?”

When I read Zoya’s post, when I started thinking back to my time spent skiing, I realized it represented some of the happiest moments of my childhood. In fact, all of my skiing memories are happy. Sure, losing control on a mogul field was rather terrifying. I never much cared for single-digit temperatures, the cold magnified by downhill speeds. And I can't even tell you the number of times I almost peed myself trying to get to the bathroom, an effort that always required navigating down slushy cement stairs in partially buckled boots. But all of that was overridden by the good things.

After a few runs, I’d retreat to the lodge to rest up. There I’d sip whipped hot chocolate to warm my bones. With friends, I’d plot out which trails to tackle next. Then I’d swipe my cherry Bonne Bell chapstick across my lips and get back out there.

It has been a few years since I buckled up ski boots and carved my way down a snowy slope. The nearby mountains have had terrible seasons, even though areas nearby have been pummeled with storms. This year I have been pondering a trip out west. A cousin recently started working at a resort near Vail. She has insisted I visit and sneak in a few days of skiing. And seeing the photograph of Nora giggling while a ski shop employee buckled her into ski boots makes me even more eager to iron out those plans.

There isn’t much of my youth I wish to carry forward to the present. I’m happy to leave behind the constant criticism from my mother and the awkward attempts to appear okay about a father who, thanks to a rare neurological disease, often stumbled and slurred like a drunk. But I look forward to getting back on the mountain. I look forward to reliving the happiness that comes from catching snowflakes on your tongue as you ski down the mountain. I look forward to sneaking in one more run.

Monday, January 09, 2012

Boy Wonder

“I’m not sure I could date a fifty-year-old,” a friend noted when I mentioned the latest eHarmony prospect.

I understood what she was saying. Fifty does sound old. Though, to this day, I totally crush over Robert Redford and that man is now seventy-five. By the way, I sat next to his daughter at a friend’s wedding and I’m pretty sure, based on what I said, I’ll never get within a hundred miles of that man. Anyway, I’ve comfortably dated up ten years. At thirty-eight, that doesn’t put fifty too far off the radar. Plus, this new suitor claimed to have the spirit of a thirty-year-old. I decided to keep the lines of communication open.

“I just can’t figure out what he does for a living,” I said to Leslie. “He surfs a lot. He mentioned construction and teaching. I don’t know. He went to Stanford for undergraduate and Harvard for an advanced degree. Based on his age, he could’ve retired early.”

“Maybe he cashed out during the dot-com boom,” Leslie added.

From our emails back and forth, I knew he liked to hit the beach early to catch waves. He admitted an appreciation for the New Yorker and he did make me laugh. I agreed to a phone conversation.

“Not to pry but what is it exactly you do?”

“Well, I just finished a construction job on this renowned surfer’s house. I’ve been writing some web content for a friend. Sometimes I tutor. I don’t know, maybe I should get a more traditional job.”

Having recently watched an incredible documentary chronicling one man’s attempt to retrace the adventures of Yvon Chouinard and Doug Tompkins, two men who dismissed the nine-to-five grind and instead explored the world (also two men who later went on to found The North Face and Patagonia), I sought out an explanation for this new suitor’s wayward life. Maybe his passion for surfing inspired nonprofit work benefiting the oceans. Perhaps in his quest to build a beautiful home, he mentored underprivileged kids, teaching them a marketable trade.

“Why did you stop teaching?”

“I just didn’t like having to be somewhere at a specific time. I mean, if the swells are insane, that’s where I want to be. But I’d get a job at McDonald’s if I had to support my family.”

I decided to not point out that with his two prestigious degrees, he could make more money tutoring kids. Or, in light of his love of construction, Habitat for Humanity would embrace his technical skills. I also didn’t point out that, though he desperately wanted kids, those creatures tend to dictate a schedule of their own and it’s a schedule that doesn’t usually align with the tide chart.

“Do you work a lot?” he asked.

“Typically a fifty-hour week, upwards of seventy in the busy season.”


“And up until recently, I had a part-time gig as well. I stuck that out for fifteen years.”

He was quiet for a second. I heard a muffling sound and then he yelled, “I’ll be right down, Mom!”

Wednesday, January 04, 2012

Love, Me

Last fall I was talking with a guy friend about dating and relationships.

"I know this will sound utterly pathetic but all I want is to feel loved," I confessed.

"That isn't pathetic at all," he replied.

There was comfort in his answer, warmth in his words.

A few years ago, as I worked through my childhood trauma with a therapist, I considered reaching out to an older cousin. I had finally accepted the fact that my mother would never parent me the way I wanted or needed. But I had this idea that I could simply request it from someone else. The only thing that held me back was the realization that asking someone "Will you be my mother?" sounded ridiculous.

"The solution is to parent yourself. Dig deep, communicate with your inner-child," my therapist instructed. "Stop talking to her like your mother and start talking to her like the mother you would be."

It made perfect sense. If I can't love myself, if I can't be my own champion, how can I expect anyone else to do it for me? More importantly, if I can find a way to love and parent myself, I can partake in healthier relationships. Though I wasn't sure I could succeed in this effort, I did truly believe in its value.

I am back in the dating scene and am currently dabbling with a few boys who make me grin from ear to ear. But I'm also applying for new a new job. Just like wanting to be loved, I thrive on being wanted. Rejection letters from graduate programs, even those I had little interest in attending, stung like an open-palmed slap across the face. Not winning a new client and having my literary pieces turned down only reinforce the hateful and dismissive opinions spewed by my mother when I failed to lose weight or got only a B+.

In the last few weeks, I've been flooding the market with my resume. I realize the end of the year is a slow time for companies. Fourth quarter numbers needed to be met and everyone was itching to disappear with a gallon of eggnog. So far I have received three declines, all of which I assumed were based on my salary being too high. But I did have two companies reply with interest. In fact, this afternoon, I snuck home and had a phone interview regarding a position in Atlanta. And at the risk of jinxing myself, it went fantastically.

For the better part of 2011, my boss treated me as replaceable. His words and his actions mirrored those of my mother. The difference is that I no longer drink the Kool-Aid. He may openly dismiss me as irrelevant, but I know I bring value and benefit to this office. And I also believe I can do that elsewhere, in a place where I am praised instead of slighted. So while I still welcome the day when I can curl up next to a man and feel truly loved, I find comfort in knowing that in some ways I have come to love myself.