one big exhale

yoga is not helping. maybe i can write my way out of this recession.

the time I entered the 7th circle of hell.

Alternate Title: The Elf Has Landed

Elf on the Shelf. I have resisted for a long time because I felt like it was a tradition being forced upon families, and that traditions are organic things, not something you purchase. I guess I felt that we should be able to come up with our own holiday traditions. Well, guess again. I caved on the elf thing. Both kids keep asking why we are the only people on earth (or so it seems) who have not been graced by an elf’s presence. Since I feel like my seven-year-old Josie was doubting Santa, I bought one recently. Yes…if I process that sentence and my previous iterations, I see contradictions. This is not lost on me. But, at the end of the day, the joy of Santa is a short, magical time in one’s life, and if I recognize the magic of Santa, then why can’t I see something similar in this stuffed elf? Especially if it restores a bit of magic for a little girl who sometimes seems so much older than her seven years.

Until last week, I was one of those anti-elf people. I pretty much jumped down my husband Josh’s throat last year when he simply wondered if we should get an elf for our kids. I believe I uttered things like “creepy” and “dead eyes” and “manipulative” and “tradition shouldn’t cost $30.” Oh, how the sanctimonious do fall.

When Josie and Jake asked for the 50th time why they were the only kids without an elf, I did not have an answer. Broken, I entered Barnes and Noble and picked up the first elf I saw. I did not know that there are FOUR “STYLES.” Boy or girl, obviously. And you may choose a corresponding complexion for your elf. You have the pale, Irish style or the “dark complexioned” (as the Barnes and Noble lady put it) elf. I was like “Oh. Well, what did I get?” She said “Uhm, it looks like you have a boy and he is dark complexioned.” Well. This light complexioned person then had the weirdest out-loud existential moment in which I apparently engaged in some sort of inexplicable debate over the complexion of a stuffed doll. “Oh. Well… Should I get a different kind? No. What does it matter? Why would I get the pale one? Why on earth would I do that? I like this one. Why would I make such a choice? Fine. Yeah. This guy. The dark complexioned guy elf.”

So, I went home with the elf, telling myself that we would keep this very low key. . .

As I pulled into the neighborhood, I noticed Josie’s bike in front of her friend’s house. Immediately, I left low key in the dust. I parked the car in the driveway, removed the elf and the accompanying explanatory children’s book from the box that provides parents with explicit directions on starting your own elf tradition. I stumbled down the street holding elf and book behind my back. It was subtle. I dumped the elf and the book in her bike basket. A little later, I was sitting on the couch when I looked out the window and saw her riding her bike home with the widest smile on her face! That elf melted my cold heart right there. Josie was so genuinely surprised (which is hard to accomplish with little miss grounded in reality). She. Thinks the elf fell out of the sky. We examined him in the basket (you can’t touch him, the suggested rules state, or the magic won’t happen). Her one comment was “why is our elf so tan?” His dark complexion seems to suggest that he might have a liver condition, for the tone is not one generally found on humans. So, with his dark complexion and his pinkish/yellowish eyes, our elf is weak and sickly. We must be careful around him. Josie and Jake, in a rare moment of unity, agreed upon the name Elfie. Night one with Elfie went well. He went off, reported to Santa and came back in relocated himself in a fairly obvious location, on top of our bathroom window. The kids’ commented that he was covered in dust… I said that he should hide no higher than five feet five inches if he hopes to escape the dust.

My brother informed me that my nephew composes missives to their elf and that his elf responds in a tiny script crafted late at night by my sister-in-law. Yesterday I made a mental note to tell the 2Js that Elfie was illiterate. Well, guess who just went right ahead and fell down the elf on the shelf elfhole? Last night, Josie was being horrible at bedtime. Later that night, I wrote a tiny note (taking my inspiration directly from my sister-in-law) and rolled it up and wrote on the outside in a weird medieval script, “Read Me Josie. For Josie only.” I looked to Alice in Wonderland for that little bit of inspiration. I left the .75-inch scrolled note on her dresser. It’s a tiny missive about staying in her bed at night and giving her parents a break. I wrote that she was not to share the note with anyone, that this would be her Christmas gift to Mom and Dad. It was to be a secret, but she could tell everyone on Christmas Day. I know! When I snap, I snap. I was in deep. Too deep.

Of course as soon as Josie found the tiny note, following an apocalyptic fight with Jake over who found Elfie the Tan first, she blabbed to us (and, indirectly, to little pitcher ears Jake). Then she started reading and realized it was supposed to be a secret note, so she told us it was a secret note, and then freaked out because she can’t keep a secret (but she did not disclose the contents). Then Jake huffed off to his room to look for his note. He began howling like a crazed seagull which caused me to panicwhispershriek to Josh “go downstairs and right that kid a note. NOW.” Which he did. In the meantime, though, Josie informed Jake that the note was not such a good thing anyway. Ha!

Josh planted the note in Jake’s room and then pretended to discover it. Josie was all over it, but I was freaking out because I had gone to such pains to write in a Carolingian miniscule on an unusual paper and here was Josh’s note…just written on the back of our Snoopy grocery list and clearly in his own handwriting style (just much smaller than usual). Josie was making grabs for it and I knew the gig would be up if she had time to analyze it so I start yelling at her about being late for school (which she was by this point). Then somehow she threw Jake’s note and they both thought it had magically disappeared. I was like “how can a note just MAGICALLY disappear?! Oh. . . “

Now I feel like Elfie the Tan has to write another tiny note telling them not to expect any more notes until Christmas.

THIS is exactly the reason I knew I should avoid this thing like the plague.


Jake’s troubles. . .

Or… my kid’s first run in with the law…

One of the challenges with my four-year-old son Jake riding in a booster seat is getting him to sit properly. He manages to stay in his seat belt, yet contorts himself in 52 different ways. I spend a lot of my driving time correcting him, yelling at him, threatening to show him YouTube videos of kids who don’t sit properly. He is very envious of dogs who are able to ride with their heads hanging out, though. If I am not paying attention, he will stick his head out in an effort to be as doglike as possible. Well, he was doing that yesterday, but I did not realize it. He knows he is not supposed to do this and most of the time he listens; I confess that I will let him stick his head out when we get to our neighborhood, but yesterday’s weather must have been too tempting.

We were driving by the local technical college on our way to pick up his sister, Josie. I was lost in thought… Just thinking about the jobs I have applied for there and wondering why I continue to apply despite having five rejections under my belt. In my rear view mirror, I noticed blue lights. I also noted Jake’s hair blowing in the breeze in the side mirror. . .


[Sidebar. Now… a recurring thing I say is that if Jake does not sit down, we will be pulled over by “Officer Brown.” I just randomly made up that name one day…the first day Jake sat in his booster seat and tried to escape from the car while it was moving along at 50 miles an hour. This act caused me to pull over into a neighborhood to properly yell at him despite the presence of many people. I also had to get out of the car to get Jake back into his seat. And there was more yelling and then I started shrieking about some fictitious “Officer Brown.” The end result is that Jake both fears and despises Officer Brown despite never having seen him.]


Then, from me, shh. BE QUIET. He’s coming….

And then, at the window, appeared a man. Officer Brown. In the flesh.

Somehow, in all of this, Jake managed to retrieve his huge stuffed bear, Bearry… He was clutching him. His skin was ashen. Bearry even looked a little shaken.

“Good afternoon, Ma’am. Do you know why I pulled you over? Is your child out of his seatbelt?”

I did know exactly why I was stopped. Yes, I did. I apologized and said that my son knows he is not supposed to put his head out of the window. He knows he is supposed to sit facing forward and with his bottom planted on the seat, but that I was not looking back there at that moment (Jake was seated right behind me, so it was tough to see),and I did not realize his head was out. And, he was in his seatbelt, but it was just contorted. I know, this is not an excuse that is going to hold up in court. Also, I am not going to win Mother of the Year any time soon.

The officer said he was going to give me a warning. And that’s when the tables turned for Jake. The officer spoke to him very firmly (but kindly) about seatbelt safety and what could happen if someone bumped us. Jake sobbed silently. He asked Jake his name. Jake moaned “ohhhh, it’s Jakey.” Then he asked Jake his age. Jake held up one finger and said “Two…” and just collapsed into sobs. The officer looked at me and I corrected the age just so as not appear to be a completely horrible parent. The officer said a few more things about safety and how he wanted Jake to be as safe as possible and that he was a good boy and did Jake understand. I sat there conflicted. On the one hand: I am the parent; this is my responsibility; and, oh, this poor boy. Buuuut… On the other hand: JAKE WILL NEVER AGAIN TRY TO PULL THIS STUNT!!!

The officer walked back to his car to write up the warning. At this point, Jake, who was still sobbing, said “WHY ARE YOU WAITING? TAKE OFF!!!” I explained why we were waiting and asked if he understood what the officer meant. He said “Yes… I am having a very bad day….BUT WHY DON’T YOU JUST GET OUT OF HERE RIGHT NOW. WE DON’T WANT HIM TO COME BACK!”

The officer came back, gave me the warning, suggested I hang onto it and frame it for Jake one day, and then sent us on our way, at which point I almost ran a red light.

Jake kept crying. Then he started apologizing. I told him that it is my job as his mother to keep him safe, but that when I tell him he has to sit a certain way he has to do so! He cried some more. I said “it’s ok, Jake. It’s ok. We learned a lesson.” Then he said “These are my troubles, Mommy. These are not your troubles.”

We arrived at school. I looked at the ticket and said “Huh. What do you know. It was not Officer Brown! It was Officer Perry!!” He told me to put the warning in my pocket. Then he said “Please do not tell Josie about my troubles. These are bad troubles…and they are my troubles. Josie can’t know about my troubles…” He pulled himself together, but he was absolutely as pale as a ghost. He saw Josie and could barely hold back his tears. She immediately saw something was wrong and asked about it. We did not talk about the troubles, though. We did not mention the troubles…

binders full of women

 “. . .and they brought us whole binders full of women!”-Mitt Romney, October 16, 2012

America under Mitt in 2013:

The middle class dream of working in a coal mine is nearer than we think!

Binders full of women.

Women might not always get equal pay BUT they will receive flex time to get home and cook, mop, and fold.  How enticing!

Here’s the thing.  I am working in an entry level job. I’m way too old for it, and it is a miserable pass-through job in the best of times.  The kind of job you should only be stuck in for a year.  It’s a wise up and get a better job type of job. It’s a pay your dues and move on kind of job. It is not a job for someone who has worked increasingly challenging jobs for 15 or so years.

I should not be in this job.  And it’s not because I am too good for it (I stink at it); rather, it is because this is not the job that an almost-mid career professional should hold. My working in this job throws off the balance of things. I am keeping one of the 50% of unemployed college graduates from this job.  Some 22-year-old should be working here. That person should be thrilled for six months to have a real job and then spend the next six months saying…. this can’t be it!  So the many among us professionals who have been displaced are messing things up for those who want to start working.

Today. . . I have a stack of photocopying and binder punching (not three-holed, mind you. We are in the big leagues here with a spiral binding machine). I also have to fold a lot of 11-by-17-inch pieces of paper to make them fit an 8 1/2-by-11-inch binding scheme.  Then put it all together.  And mail it. 8 hours.  8 hours. Of putting stuff in binders.

So nothing Governor Mittsy says is making me feel optimistic.  He seems overly focused on putting the middle class in coal mines, even if just metaphorically.

So we hear that we need to let the job creators create jobs. But. But. But. I’m no economist, but I sort of feel like the job creators have discovered, during these last 5 or so years, that they don’t actually need to create jobs so much as they can just consolidate jobs. So one person does the work of three people and the company profits. And the workers are stuck because all the job creators are not creating jobs. So the solution is to just have us mine some coal?

What do I know?  I am just a woman putting together some binders.

bad penny

Here I go again. Again.

So. . . I noticed a posting for a job as a librarian at a local community college. “Great! I will apply,” I think, but then I realize that I have already applied for this position. Actually, twice. Once, at the start of my job search, three years ago. And then, again, two months ago. This is where I am right now. I have become the person who applies for everything. I have no shame. I have lost the filter that says “they have rejected you TWICE already! You are like a confused bird slamming repeatedly into a window to no avail!” I am a bad penny. My resume shows up everywhere. My ego and confidence are as stripped as the squealy, busted belt on my car.

Ideally, a job search includes a radius: one might search 30 miles from home in all directions. That makes sense. Here, though, things are different. South Carolina has some cities, a few suburbs, and lots of country. It’s a beautiful state. Many people are drawn to it as a great place to own a second home. But what do you do if this is your home and not a vacation destination? What if you need to work? What if you want to work at a meaningful job? Lots of people are stuck in jobs that do not pay enough and that offer no advancement. And people stay in these jobs because there are so few of them. Because once you get out of the little cities, there is next to nothing.

So I have been at this job search for three years. Actually, over three years. The little non-profit I was previously employed at was in a state of free fall for awhile, so even as I clung to that job, I realized I should be looking for something. Then the state pretty much froze jobs. People were laid off. There was a stretch when no state college or city library was hiring. Now, there are a few jobs up for grabs. A very few.

What happened, I sometimes wonder, to the path I was on for so long? The path that had me working hard and advancing in my career. I know I was good at my job, but what has happened now? I know it’s competitive but how did I go so rapidly from being viable to landing in the circular file? Have these three years of photocopying really put an end to my being a librarian? I mean, come on! This is NOT brain surgery!!! How rusty can I be? I was a good librarian. How far downhill could my skills have fallen?

But then I think about how I have twisted and contorted and remade myself in this attempt to maintain an active job search. I apply. And I apply. And I send out ridiculous, random letters of inquiry And I tweak my resume. And I tweak it some more. And more. And a little more. So, maybe at the end of it all, I have actually lost it. I have at least 15 different versions of my resume floating around on my thumb drive. I have a myriad of cover letters. I have applied for any available archivist and librarian position that I have seen (even if three years ago I would not have felt they were matches). Entry level. Mid-level. Management. Yes, I’ll apply. All at the same institution and within the same department, even! Librarian at a Southern Baptist college?  Sure, although I really struggled over the part of the application in which I had to recount my tale of personal salvation.And I have applied for other types of jobs suitable for one with a liberal arts degree. Hmm: Alumni Affairs? Well, I am an alumna of a couple of schools, so why not? Private school history teacher? Sure.  Recently, I did not apply for an available librarian position and it actually felt good to say “that was all wrong and I am glad I did not waste my time OR the time of the poor hr person who saw my resume for something else a few weeks ago.”

But this most recently posted job seems entirely appropriate. But I have been rejected twice already. I have some horrible personality disorder: that must be it. Did I drool? Was I too excited? Not excited enough?

What to do? I just applied for this exact position two months ago. I was called in for one interview but did not make it beyond that. I thought it went really well, but I must just be completely delusional. I can’t think of how I can rework the cover letter or fix myself on paper or in person yet again. I just want to sit at a reference desk and answer a few questions. How has this turned into the quest for the holy grail? And I mean the Monty Python quest. Not the Arthurian legend.

squealy wheels and hobgoblins

My old Subaru Outback (purchased gently used when my husband and I first found ourselves on the cusp of parenthood 7 years ago) needs some help. In the words of my regular four-year-old passenger: “this thing needs to go to the workshop” (implying that Santa might have a hand in this).  Yes, it does. It sounds like an entire community of feral cats in heat at 2 am under my bedroom window in July. Squealy Wheels is old and tired and probably should have been put out of its misery awhile ago. Yet, it drives on. The car shrieks and squeals at stop lights, in front of friends’ houses, and in playground parking lots. On the surface, I know it needs a belt, but I also know that once Jimmy/Santa opens the hood at the old workshop, there will be a really long laundry list of ailments. I can’t face that right now.

At my current job I make a good 30 percent less than I used to make, and I wasn’t exactly 1 percent material to start. My husband has not seen a raise in quite some time, and he has shouldered most of the financial burden in recent years. So things are tight. Squealy Wheels squeals until I get a paycheck from my second job. I teach an “Introduction to Western Civilization” course at a local community college. I do it for the little bit of extra money it brings in, but I also do it to maintain a sense of identity, to challenge myself, to remain professionally relevant.  To feel like I am a member of a community, that I have value, and that I have things to share with others.

Generally, in my full-time job, each day is almost exactly like the one before: there is copy-editing of reports that all kind of look the same, photocopying reports, binding reports, putting reports in envelopes. The routine is mind-numbing in its sameness  — especially given that I bristle at the notion of rigid routine and had mapped out a career in which I never knew what each new day would bring.  “A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.”  Indeed.

So Squealy Wheels squeals for a couple more weeks until I make it through the Fall of Rome. I already have earmarked the first fall paycheck for way too many things: I need to pay a medical bill, to buy my brother and his wife an embarrassingly late wedding gift, and I really need to fix Squealy Wheels! Sometimes I wish Squealy Wheels would just disappear.  I have taken to leaving it unlocked.

Maybe someone will take it off my hands. Like the time my family’s Chevy Nova wandered away.

It was the 70s; times were tough.  The olive-green Nova with the rear bench seat was our sole family car. My dad had removed the seat belts so that none of us would have to feel restrained or contained. My younger brother and I bounced around in the back of that thing like two kids in a bouncy castle.   One morning, the car was gone, but both parents were home.  It had just vanished from the driveway.  Poof.  Like that.  At first my father seemed surprised, but I feel like his surprise gave way to glee pretty quickly as the day (and then days) wore on with no Nova in sight. No one like that car.  The weird, spongy seat covers covering the ripped seat upholstery stuck to our legs in the summer months, and its interior had a slightly toxic, burned plastic smell to it. But it was probably paid for. . . and it got us where we needed to go.  But now it was gone and the two-man police department had no leads! My younger brother and I started to dream big dreams about our new car. And then.  It was back.  Well, it was stuck out in the marsh near our home.  Just sitting out there in the middle of the most tranquil New England scene possible: the car someone decided not to steal. The car that wouldn’t sink, apparently.  That thing came back to us without missing a beat. It was like some mythical hobgoblin that would not be defeated. It seemed to call out to us: “fix me and I’ll get you where you need to go. Drive me into the ground. I dare you.” So my parents fixed that car. And drove it into the ground, begrudgingly.

The Roman Empire is crumbling. I need to call the workshop and set up an appointment. Begrudgingly.

one big exhale never did me no good.

I like to run, and when I run I listen, very intently, to music. Mostly to distract myself from my slow, plodding stride. Right now I keep trying to figure out the meaning of the lyrics to Matt Nathanson’s song “Modern Love.”  I am stuck on “one big exhale never did me no good.”  It describes my general state of mind pretty aptly.  I face each day with a clenched jaw and a sense of frustration and anger.  Yoga does not help.

This isn’t me. Somewhere along the way, I have lost myself to the recession.  I was not laid off; I am not unemployed; I am stuck somewhere in an in-between place. I have a job.  But it’s just a job.  A job that does not challenge.  A job that disappoints.  A job from which I am trying to escape.  Daily, I work to get back to myself. And each day I try to exhale.  I try to exhale through my clenched jaw — it’s a jagged exhale, often with a catch in the middle of it– and push forward.  I have to.  I will not give in to this recession.  I will push back against it until I reclaim myself. I know there are lots of us out there; good people who are lost and stuck in the middle of this dreadful time.  Too many of us are unemployed.  Too many people who get up every day and dutifully ride the subway or sit in traffic and put in eight hours at a job that is absolutely wrong for them.  It’s not fair. I am really tired of it.

I worked for a good chunk of time in a profession I love — as a college librarian and archivist. Almost every day, I woke up excited to face that day and wondering what sort of challenges I would tackle. I looked forward to going to work. I took a job at a really creative non-profit organization (more on that later) in 2007 and thought that I would spend many years toiling away there.  And then the bottom fell out. The recession knocked the little arts organization around and the paychecks stopped coming.  And it did not seem like they were going to come back. And things got scary at home.  Wells Fargo and Nelnet don’t want to hear about a really cool start-up that can’t afford to pay its employees. . .

When what I thought would be a short-term position opened up at a local company, I had to take it to pay my half of the mortgage.  I left behind the college library world and became a production assistant. Just when the economy took its turn for the worst.  Three years later, I am still here. Don’t get me wrong; it is not a horrible job on the overall job satisfaction scale. But it is not a job that fits me.  And it is not a job that inspires me.  And, if I am honest, I am not even very good at it. So for three years, I have been looking for a new job in a beautiful city that does not have many jobs to offer its worker bees.  Yet I look.   Every day.  Every. Single. Day.

While I am lucky to have a job, I am frustrated — like so many of us– that it is just that:  a job.  A placeholder until I get back on my feet. And it seems bleak. But I am determined to not let this recession get the better of me. I will get back to where I was, to the person I was.

So this blog is an exploration of where I am right now and my journey to reclaim my sense of self.  I will use this to constructively work through my crazy anger and heavy disappointment.  I will use this to learn to exhale again — without clenching my jaw. I will also use this blog — this most narcissist forum — to explore the road that I have traveled that got me to this point.  There’s some funny stuff in there. Maybe if I can laugh it will help with this whole exhaling thing. . .

The Monster in Your Closet

. . . is quite friendly, actually!

The Byronic Man

We can rebuild him. We have the technology... Drier. Hilariouser. More satirical than before.