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.