Friday, June 27, 2014

True Identity

One shelf in my apartment is dedicated solely to the creative spirit. It contains writing prompts, a thesaurus and a book of baby names. Pretty much the basic tools needed to write a novel. And at the far end is my thesis from grad school, a collection of short stories that can stand alone but combined tell a larger story of one particular character. That thesis feels like a hard stop. A period at the end of a long winded sentence. The death of my writing career, if you can even call that piece of my life a career.

For the longest time, I identified as a blogger. With my MFA, I segued to a full-blown writer. Such a title felt warranted as I built a portfolio of published work. These days I don't feel like I'm much of either. Instead, I'm a career woman with a prestigious job, a company car and a pension. Just re-reading that soulless sentence sucks the air out of my lungs.

This evening I attended a talk with Jennifer Weiner, an author that most women in the 90s could personally relate to. She was the every-woman. Plus she was funny and engaging and flawed. I haven't read any of her more recent releases but was incredibly amused by her talk. At the end, members of the audience were permitted to ask questions.

"We have so much in common," this meek skinny girl said while standing in front of the microphone. "I have a story inside me but have writer's block. How do you work through that?"

I cringed at her question. I turned my attention back to Jennifer Weiner and cautiously awaited her response.

"You sit in a chair and write. You can't wait for inspiration."

That's the answer of a writer. It's exactly the answer I would have given. Except unlike the audience member who asked it, the woman who sheepishly returned to her seat with defeat plastered across her face, I felt inspired by those words.

When I got home, I tossed my keys on the dining room table and kicked off my shoes.  I poured a glass of ice water and plucked a craft book off my shelf. I'm still not ready to finish my novel. There are too many limitations to the final steps of that project. But maybe I'm ready to finally tackle that screenplay I've been tossing around in my crazy head for a year and a half. It's a story I adore and believe others would too.

At the very least, I know I'm ready to get back to being a writer.

Sunday, June 22, 2014


A few weeks ago, I sat down in my therapist's office after a lengthy hiatus. Back-to-back travel had me on the road for four weeks straight.

"It's been a while," she said as I settled in.

"It has," I replied as I placed my purse on the ground and adjusted a throw-pillow behind me.

I don't recall most of that session, other than hitting rock bottom. At a certain point, my body image issues entered the conversation. Though the basis for resuming therapy, it had yet to be truly addressed.

"You clearly suffer from some degree of body dysmorphic disorder," she said as she jotted a note.

"No shit. That's what I told you when I first sat down on this fucking sofa. Listen, I appreciate the progress I've made from these sessions. I really do. But I'm so fucking tired of being controlled by this."

Her attempt to provide Freudian and Jungian explanations was lost on me. Anger turned inward. Adopted belief systems. Blah, blah, blah.

"I am at the end of my fucking rope," I confessed as I folded a tissue in half and in half again before pressing a corner to my eye.

She proposed group therapy. You'll like them, she said. It will be good for you, she said. Think about it, she said.

"I'll do it," I replied. "I'm willing to try anything at this point."

The following Wednesday, I sat down in my therapist's office but this time was joined by two men, another woman and another therapist. There were nervous glances and conservative chuckles. There were general introductions and deeper confessions.

"I know marriages are difficult," I started, my voice wavering. "But I'm sitting here in this room and can't help but be envious of all of you. Because at least you've gotten there."

One man leaned forward, pulled his glasses off and confessed, "My wife hates me." The woman next to him admitted she never realized how empty her past relationships had been until she met her spouse. The other man said that looking at me he saw nothing but beauty and confidence, capability and warmth. But in this moment of pain and sadness, he wanted nothing more than to hug me and comfort me.

"Maybe just saying that to Paige is good enough. Is it?" my therapist asked as she turned to me.

I took a moment to catch my breath and dab my eyes. I studied my chipped manicure and thanked the almighty Christian Dior for developing waterproof mascara. Then I spoke.

"It is. Because you don't want anything in return. I know that, at the core, your concern is genuine. Thank you for that."

When the session ended, we each gathered our things and made our way to the elevator. We descended to the ground level, said our goodbyes and headed in different directions. In the real world, you remain strangers for the sake of protecting confidentiality. In the real world, you fight your demons alone. But I'd be lying if I didn't admit that that seventy-five minutes spent with four complete strangers hadn't left a mark. In a really good way.

Thursday, April 03, 2014

Never Be THAT Girl

Monday I started my new job and by the fourth hour, I had already messed up.

"Remember that conference call webinar thing I had to do?" I asked Leslie.


"Well, five us were remotely calling into live training happening in Chicago. After an hour, the screen reverted back to someone's desktop and the call went quiet. I lingered, admittedly confused, and then disconnected."


"Except twenty minutes later, I realized that my manager had said new hire paperwork would be addressed on the call and it hadn't been. So I scrambled to log back on."


"And the first thing I heard when it connected was, 'And that's all we have regarding paperwork.'"

Leslie laughed. "Can you call someone from your team?"

"Right, to admit I can't follow basic instructions? No."

Tuesday I boarded an early flight to have lunch with my new manager and three peers in New York City. Before leaving, I reviewed the New Hire Portal to confirm I had every possible form needed to give my manager. I called the HR-HelpLine to anonymously inquire about paperwork. Come hell or high water, I wasn't going to be THAT girl.

"How did it go?" Leslie asked the morning after my day-trip to Manhattan.


"Did you have all of the forms you needed?"

"I did! Better yet, one of the other new team members sent an all-team email about not using her personal email address. Blah, blah, blah. My manager quickly followed it up pretty much telling us not to send such messages. And it wasn't mean or anything. It just meant someone else has officially been crowned THAT girl. I'm in the clear!"

"Congrats!" Leslie said.

"Oh, though I totally tore the handle off the front door of my apartment building when I got home last night. I heard it clang onto the brick entryway as I walked toward the elevator.  Some dude tried to get in after me and I pretended to not see him and aggressively pressed the door-close button."

"Meaning, you're still THAT girl but your company has no clue."

"Pretty much."

Friday, March 14, 2014

Fragile: Handle With Care

"How did your interview go?" my therapist excitedly asked last week as I settled onto her sofa.

"I think I got it. I should find out tomorrow or Monday."

Her face lit up. A wide smile stretched from ear to ear. Her spine straightened as she leaned forward and exclaimed, "That's fantastic!"

"It is." Neither the tone of my voice nor the shift of my body matched the enthusiasm coming from her chair.

"And did you have a date?"

"I did. Really nice guy. He's originally from Connecticut so we bonded over lobster rolls."

"Are you seeing him again?"

"I believe so," I answered before reaching for my cup of water and taking a small sip.

"Do you want to see him again?"


My therapist settled back in her chair, let her mouth fall slightly open, strained to find the words to summarize her thoughts.

"Yeah, I know," I said.  "I'm looking at how excited you are right now and my response, it's like I'm talking about Brussel Sprouts."

"Nailed it."

We danced around this lack of enthusiasm. I was being cautious about work because it seemed reasonable. She agreed. I was being cautious about love because history dictated such.

"But you can still be excited."

We dug deeper. We discussed this sense of preservation masquerading as caution.

"Like I've said before," she started. "This approach served you well during your childhood. But you're still acting guarded without evidence of needing protection."

I took another sip of water, this time using the liquid to help swallow down the lump lodging itself in my throat. I glanced out the window, as if shifting my gaze would help stave off the tears. Then I admitted that no matter how much I rationally knew I wasn't defective in my physical appearance, I couldn't fathom a man embracing it without hesitation. Clearly he'd someday determine my cellulite wasn't worth tolerating. My soft stomach would eventually become unbearable. At a certain point, my larger two front teeth would morph from cute to unsightly.

"Rationally I get it. Veneers won't fix the problem. This runs deeper than cosmetic dentistry."

"Yes, it does," she said.

"Except it's so ingrained at this point, embedded in my bones....." I paused.

"We're going to tackle this," my therapist said, her voice confident yet warm. "Here, in this space.You'll tell your mom to fuck off. You'll hold your dad accountable for not protecting you. By getting the anger out, you can stop internalizing it. You can stop turning that anger on yourself."

I took in a deep breath, exhaled with a slight huff. I considered what she said.

"You see, I can't connect those dots. For me, that process won't lead to embracing my flaws. And I apologize for dismissing your approach."

She smiled. "You're being honest. I'd rather you be honest. But I still think we should try it."

I nodded in agreement, refraining from admitting fear of failure. This wasn't my first time sitting on a couch, trying to tackle this demon. While strong on the outside, I felt fragile on the inside. Unbelievably fragile. As if my heart was made of delicate glass. And if this effort didn't work, I feared it just might shatter.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Third Time's a Charm

"You really should apply," my manager said over lunch in mid-December.

"But there's no relocation," I replied.

"Apply. Get your name out there."

And so I did, throwing my hat in the ring for a promotion that would require a move to the west coast. My California friends were ecstatic at the prospect of me heading in their direction. Leslie panicked. I wanted nothing more than to put my head down and do my job. But I went through the process, answering questions and politely bowing out when it was confirmed I would be responsible for moving myself west.

"You really should apply," my senior manager said two weeks later when my then-manager announced her resignation.

"For her vacancy in DC?" I asked.

"Apply. You have a great shot."

And I did, making it all the way to the final round. I flew to Chicago in early January to sit down with senior leadership. One meeting went incredibly well. The other clued me into the reality that, no matter how tight my Spanx sucked me in, I wasn't getting the job. Though my qualifications far surpassed those of my competition, this was a game of politics and I didn't have a shot in hell.

"Which jobs do you want to go for?" my new manager asked in late January, my inbox flooded with postings he'd sent along.

"I just got to San Francisco for a 24-hour work trip. Let me rinse off this airplane smell, find some food and review what you sent over."

"Apply. You're hot right now. People want you!"

And apply away I did, submitting an application for the third time in two months for a job I was finally interested in pursuing. It was a promotion to a completely different division, removing me from the drama and uncertainty plaguing my current team. It was a title change that would bring with it greater job stability and a very nice salary increase. It was also an opportunity that allowed me to remain in Atlanta, a place that was finally starting to feel like home.

I sailed through phone screens and thoroughly enjoyed my face-to-face interviews, something most people fear like the plague. My scheduled forty-five-minute conversation with the Director ran an hour and fifteen. Peers and managers, both current and former, excitedly reached out to vouch for my competency. With two recent application efforts in my rearview mirror, my interviewing process was a well oiled machine.

"Paige, it's David. Is now a good time to talk?" the recruiter asked yesterday afternoon when I answered the phone.

"It is!" I answered.

"But is it a good time to talk about a promotion? I'm calling to make you an offer."

"It is indeed."

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Turning A Corner

"So catch me up on things," my therapist said as I settled onto her sofa, set my cup of hot tea on a coaster.  "It's been almost a month."

I updated her on all that had transpired since our last session in mid-December. I told her about how a close friend of twenty years failed me at a time I was so needing her to be present. I told her about a visit to Florida that included calm conversation, genuine belly laughs, and nary an argument with my mother. And I told her about the lengthy interview process that forced me to cancel our scheduled session for the previous week.

"How did it go?"

"Oh, it went really well. I met with the Director of my entire division. That was a fantastic discussion. But the interview I had after him was ridiculous and made me realize I didn't want the promotion."

"Wow, really?"

"Totally. She was trying so hard to intimidate me and I just don't have time to manage something so unproductive."

"It sounds like you're making incredible strides," she said, beaming with pride as she relaxed against her chair-back.

Except that wasn't exactly how I was feeling. Instead I was struggling with a sense of frustration at work. Just that day I learned I needed to be in San Francisco the following week for a lunch meeting that no one could explain. This in addition to mastering and taking a test about an entirely different product and attending an event an hour from home. All I wanted to do was sit at my desk and finally catch up on work that fell off during my so-called vacation.

"You don't see it, do you?" my therapist asked.

I shrugged.

"Paige, I'm blown away by the progress you've made with your mom. Even when your friend was shitty, you did what was best for you and told her how her behavior was hurtful. You've made smart career choices to ensure you stay on track. And you're dipping your toe back in the dating pool."

"Yeah, except that hasn't amounted to much."

It hasn't. Though I updated my online profile to include newer pictures and more current statements, the pickings felt slim. More importantly, I wasn't feeling overly interested.

"Why?" she asked.

"A coworker recently noted some guy was checking me out and I didn't even realize there were men in the room with us."

On the one hand, I miss resting my cheek on a man's chest, my body rising and falling with the movement of his breaths. On the other hand, I feel insulated from the actual acts needed to graduate to such intimacy.

"You're putting too much pressure on yourself!"

It was a familiar accusation.

"When I look at you, I see a woman who is together. You're dressed elegantly, not like you've thrown in the towel. You're a woman about town with a thriving career. And, more importantly, you have your shit together. Enjoy the moment and the rest will follow."


"Now that you're putting yourself out there, I sense you'll be snatched up soon enough. I'm serious! Hang on tight because wonderful things are heading your way."

I took in her giddy grin, her confident optimism, her genuine excitement for me and decided to follow her lead. After all, she hadn't steered me wrong yet. Plus, in my heart I knew I was ready to stand beneath the moonlight and enjoy a kiss with a man who makes me weak in the knees. I just couldn't see through the haze clearly enough to trust it could happen.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Heartbreak (and Disgust)

"Oh for fuck's sake," I said as I glanced at my phone.

It was New Year's Day, a time for fresh starts. The sun was slowly climbing above the horizon. A gentle breeze rustled the palm fronds outside my bedroom window. And there on my screen was a text message.

Happy New Year, Paige.  Think of you often. -A

Words that once would have lifted my heart and warmed my skin were now nothing more than a tedious annoyance. A gnat buzzing about by my ear. A lone strand of hair somewhere on the back of my shirt, completely unreachable but irritatingly brushing against my arm. Sun glare after a rainstorm when you've left your sunglasses home.

I set my phone back on the bedside table and stepped out of my bedroom to join the rest of my family. My mother was stretched across a living room sofa with a mug of mediocre coffee in one hand and the latest issue of Garden & Gun in the other. Leslie and Anders focused on the 1000-piece puzzle we had started a day prior. Olivia was in the kitchen eating a bagel.

Though I didn't look at the text again that day, I found myself taking moments to digest this new perspective. It was surreal without being unsettling. I felt like an actor in a long-running play for which I'd always been a lead character. Yet now I was seated in the audience. And from this view, it was a completely different story unfolding before my eyes.

Throughout my time with Alaska, I stood center stage. Yes, twice I caught him tangled up in lies that, upon untangling, indicated the presence of other women. One time he told me he was in Michigan visiting his sister. Another time he was fishing out on the Kenai Peninsula. It wasn't until I discovered crumpled up boarding passes, papers long forgotten, that the truth surfaced.

Now, somehow being expected to play the part of the other woman, my heart ached. Not for me, but for Alaska's wife. She was likely awakening in his Hawaii home, ignorant to the intimate note he sent a few hours earlier to a former love. She would brew coffee, run her fingers through his hair, suggest they run into town for breakfast. He'd kiss her on the lips, tuck his phone in his pocket, and wonder why I hadn't replied.

Five thousand miles away from me was a complete stranger living a life I once wanted. She married a charismatic man so easy to adore. She lives in one house with a view of Cook Inlet, in another perched on a cliff in paradise. It is a glamorous life that she has yet to learn is unbelievably fragile. Except there on my phone was the first crack. A sliver separating the ground beneath her flip-flop clad feet. An earthquake so gentle, she probably failed to even feel the shudder.

Running on the treadmill, lying by the pool, connecting pieces of a jigsaw puzzle, I found myself pausing to reflect. Having grown so far beyond the anger and heartache, I know exactly what comes next for his wife. There will be moments of sadness and fear, hurt and frustration. She will sob so hard her bones ache. She will attempt to forgive, though will struggle to forget. Eventually she will settle into a distrust that will blanket every movement Alaska makes. 

Knowing this path slowly unfolding before her, being so familiar with the events to come, my heart broke for this woman. It was the only feeling I had in response to that text message.  Well, that and utter disgust for the man who sent it.