Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Old and Cresty

Lately, I’ve had to add a step to my potty break routine at work. Whereas before it was simply flush, wash hands, dry hands, fix hair; I now have added check mirror and rip gray hairs from scalp. This addition really hasn't bothered me all that much. I have a very distinguished friend who was going gray while we were still in college. I always thought he looked dignified… especially when he was running around in a pink skirt on the frisbee field - yes, that's the word for it. Dignified. And maybe that's what I'll be, too. But today I found like 6 of them all at once - too many to handle.  It was like coming across a family of mice sleeping in your dresser drawer in the heart of winter. Such circumstances for either scenario evoke a complicated smattering of feelings: a sense of violation of your most intimate space by unwanted invaders; the whisper of cosmic harmony in your ear telling you that maybe these little gray invaders have nowhere else to go and you must share your territory; appreciation for the present balance of nature that makes its own additions to your fibrous, warm fortress; disdain for that which doesn't automatically belong. Naturally, I plucked the little suckers out one by one. 

As of Friday, I am 26 years old. When I told my friend that I now have to claim that I'm officially in my mid-20s, he looked me dead in the eye and said, "Face it, Rachel. You've crested."

What if I'm not ready to "crest"?! What does cresting look like? Well…I guess going gray, duh. The first crush of my whole life from 4th grade is married with a child. My dear friend from high school will be in academia probably forever, either in the student's seat among hundreds or behind the podium holding the power-laden pointer thingy. I have friends working in department stores, cooking meals on Bunsen burners in a village in Honduras, making their way across Mongolia in a lobster-mobile (true story), working for corporate America with a 401k larger than my annual salary, starting businesses, serving as presidents of organizations, finishing up grad school and searching for jobs, starting grad school and searching for inspiration, wandering in circles... 

So again, I ask: What does it mean to be in your mid-20s? Is there a formula?  This question reminded me of a conversation I had with my friend in Mexico whilst overwhelmed by the erratic lifestyle we’d chosen for ourselves. While many of our friends were entering the job market in some form, we were working 10am-4pm some days, 7am-10pm others and none at all on occasion. I was creating my own learnings and pick-axing away at my own path; but I was also concerned by the non-traditional nature of the trajectory I’d chosen. Instead of late nights at the office, I was sleeping over in the village for Catholic festivals, waking up early to help make tamales. I was learning about the patterns of immigration of every family in my neighborhood, and the Mexican government’s reactions to protests, but not about how to write a grant or do a mail merge; and certainly not building a nest egg for my retirement or even my return. Were we doing it right? Were we making the right decision to opt out of the system? I think we concluded “fuck the system and do what feels right!” or something to that effect. We were emboldened by our gumption to venture into our mid-20s with nothing but an idealist’s compass. As I stare at myself in the mirror, a graying 26-year old in a pencil skirt with heels clicking on the tile floor of our 16th floor bathroom, I remember that blazing passion that has illuminated the roads connecting the chapters of my life that eventually led me to this, um, bathroom...er,you know what I mean.  No life decision I've made so far has been made out of fear. And I think that that's the only formula anyone needs.

As much as society around me (cough: Facebook) tells me what cresting looks like, I do think it’s different for every person. I’m not sure if it’s the adventures (or the process of finally learning a mail merge – that was a doozy), or the philosophizing about the adventures that’s giving me the gray hairs. But they seem to serve as reminders like wispy white flags of surrender to the present in honor of the past. Perhaps I’ll let the invaders stay for one more day.
…Mmm, at least the ones I can’t see.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Bleep You, Mercury!!

I wonder if you curse Mercury, if it can hear you. That even in writing its name, it’s able to send its retrograde forces splooshing over your home and everything else you touch, like when Mickey gets carried away wearing the wizard’s hat in Fantasia and all the mops take over and wreak havoc…or something like that. I think that’s what happened to me today. I was speaking, perhaps a little too loudly, about how Mercury screws everything up and my concerns for the election (phew!), and I think it caused Mercury to take revenge on my new office phone.

First of all, let me just preface by explaining that our new work phones are state of the art and all connected over the internet. You have to do a retina scan just to change the time and date. I wish I were kidding, but it wouldn’t recognize my eyeball through my contacts or something, so even when I did my last resort cure-all turn-it-off-and-back-on-again, the screen still said 2AM on January 7. That is not correct. At all. But what turned out to be infinitely more upsetting was that someone left me a message.

Over the course of 2 weeks, we have received 3 elaborate emails, an e-vite to a formal training and 2 PDF files on how to operate our new phones. But the only piece I could find on how to access my voicemail was under Article 4, Chapter 7, Section P.3 of the 2nd PDF file in the fine print: “To access your voicemail you must visit the media mailbox center hosted on your server platform linked to the framework’s IP address and plug in the pass code given in the upper right hand corner of the screen that blinks on your phone when you type in the code hidden in the tongue of your IT representative’s left shoe.” Being the open-minded modernist that I am, I had slammed on the brakes just after plugging the damn thing in. I needed time to congratulate myself for entering the 21st century…and to scrounge for food in the kitchen. Needless to say, I had not set up my voicemail yet.

So when a colleague called and I missed it, the phone beeped at me to indicate that I had a message. What a lovely feature! I hit the Message button and a woman’s voice said “Password”. Her tone made it impossible to determine if she was jabbing me for information: “Password?” and holding out for a response; or bracing me for top secret information “Password:…”. The answer was made clear when she broke the long pause that followed by yelling at me: “No password detected!” Rather than problem-solving, or trying to reason with her, I got frazzled and hung up.

But the phone wasn’t done. No matter what I did, I couldn’t track down the password. It continued to bleep at me every 20 seconds or so – just long enough to let the idea that it wouldn’t beep again fester in my brain. Then bleep! Augh! It was like Chinese water torture killing me slowly. I knew the professionals down the hall could hear it and were cursing me just as I had cursed the venomous red planet. I unplugged my phone and plugged it back in. I remembered a Furby that I had when I was young. It too was possessed and would come to life and say “OOOhhhhhh” even after we took its batteries out and taped its eyes shut. Actually, I think it’s still in my old house somewhere because my mom clings to the delusion that it’s a collectible; or she’s just saying that and keeps it around to torment me with its creepiness). The constant bleeping and Furby flashbacks were too much, and it’s quite possible that I started to develop associative PTSD. Bleeep! Augh!

The kicker was that I already knew who left the message and why. Maybe if I called her back the phone would be smart enough to know that the whole issue was taken care of. I called her back…lovely chat….bleeeep!

My knight in shining armor came masquerading in the form of our IT man who finally called in from the motherland (also known as San Francisco). I would like to tell you that the password was a code as complicated as the time and date setup…so I think I will leave it at that in the name of whatever sliver of respect for my intelligence and dignity may be left.

But see, it’s not my fault. It’s actually Mercury in retrograde. If you buy into astrology (and even if you don’t), Mercury regulates intelligence, truth and education and governs transportation and communication issues. The questionably credible website Astrozone.com (ie the first site to pop up in my Google search on Mercury in retrograde) had this to say: What happens when Mercury retrogrades? You miss appointments, your computer equipment crashes, checks get lost, you find the car you just purchased during Mercury retrograde is a lemon. (Or, you hate your haircut, the lamp you bought shorts out, your sister hates her birthday gift.) There will be countless delays, cancellations and postponements--but know these will benefit you in the long run. Don't fight them, although your frustration level and feeling of restlessness will be hard to cope with at times.

See? Totally not my fault. I don’t think I’ve ever had a birthday in retrograde before, so we’ll see how this works out. I may just stay in bed straight through my special day until Nov 26, when the planet rights itself again. Whatever I do, I can assure you it will not involve the office phone.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Is this really necessary?

I spent the afternoon wandering through Asheville’s L.O.F.T. (Lost Objects Found Treasures) store on Merrimon Ave. I was trying to find a gift for a colleague in my office. I wasted the majority of my 45 minutes entertaining myself at the thought of our accountant’s reaction to a check request and receipt for a book entitled “Poopendous!” or “Thoughts from the Commode.” Nothing sings professional praises like an office adornment that says “You’re the mac to my cheese and the gee to my whiz.” Not finding anything deeply moving, I headed to the cards and came across one that said something along the lines of "All of the great artists, inventors, athletes, revolutionaries and poets didn't start out that way." I really like that idea, and it's stuck with me like poo to a shoe for the rest of the evening. Now, I sit here hyperventilating (you think I'm kidding) over my website for WinnersWords and I hear myself asking, "Is this really necessary?" Why on earth am I focusing on the widgets and pattywacks of my website, neither of which I fully care to understand, when all I want to be doing is writing? If I could have a moment with all of the inventors, athletes and  writers that were lumped into greatness, I would like to ask them: how can you tell what is necessary and what is superfluous when you are carving out your own path? 

I'll let you mull that one over for awhile, or pass it along to any of the Greats you may be rubbing elbows with in your inner... or peripheral circles (no judgment). Have them forward their epiphanies to Rachel@winnerswords.com. Thanks. To take it down a philosophical notch, I found myself asking this same question of necessity shortly after leaving the LOFT. Upon entering the parking garage, I came across this sign:

I want to know who the hell needed this picture in order to survive the treacherous turn from the entry of the parking garage into the stairwell. In case you can’t see, this is a right turn. If you do not turn right, you could potentially fall off of a small sidewalk cliff. The scaffolding, however, might save you from the deadly four-foot tumble. But in case you didn’t see the neon orange scaffolding, or the no more walkway part, some thoughtful Samaritan with no regard for natural selection has illuminated the proper turn into the stairwell with a laminated sign. Oh great, affluent and world-dominating American society, is this really necessary? 

Thursday, October 4, 2012

I am from

This week my organization hosted its annual Convening, for which all of our grant recipients and funders come together to dance a bit of Salsa, learn a bit about board development and fundraising, and hang out for a couple of days. Within the theme of story-telling, we invited this amazing internationally renowned slam poet to join us for one of the sessions Kane Smego asked us to write an I am From poem; I really enjoyed the process, and would like to share my result with you.

I am from roller blades carrying hopes and laughter along the smooth path where the palm trees meet the bay.

I am from a lawn of daily newspapers covered in hot dew and nightfall gatherings to discuss matters of great importance like the boundaries for flashlight tag.

I am from the cracks and pops of sunflower seed shells – a father-daughter’s Morse code for “all is well”
I am from courage. I am from twenty years of fear twisted into panty hose and neck ties choking the aspirations of my parents.

I am from three meals a day – Dad ate shoulds for breakfast and Mom stir-fried cant’s into frozen bags of broccoli until they were so full but not satisfied they nearly vomited up our own dreams and once it all comes out they can never go back in.

I am from a climb – a leap from sea-level and a falling upwards, caught by the mountains and cradled in a valley of courage and fresh air. 

Kane has made his mark on the world by empowering youth to share their stories (check out Sacrificial Poets). What a badass!!! Take a listen if you have a minute - his "Superhero" piece was especially moving in the context of our Latino organization convening. It's hard to hear the words, but try hard because the way he paints images with his words is absolutely captivating. 

Saturday, August 4, 2012

What words to say?

I had an epiphany recently. Well, actually, I was handed one. In my last post, I mentioned getting a reality check on my ego; which, while disheartening to an extent, was also incredibly healthy. But sometimes it’s nice to get a little pick-me-up as well – someone reminding you that you are a badass every once in a blue moon is like the sweet, creamy dessert after a few servings of humble pie.

That dessert was served over a breakfast conversation with a profoundly respected and totally kooky high school teacher. He’s a fellow writer and wonderful human and offered to mentor me. We concluded over far too many cups of coffee that although I’ve found my voice, I still haven’t found a path. When he asked if I’d ever thought of writing a memoir, I sat back and just stared at him. I could actually write a whole freakin’ book. Never before had I considered myself capable of such an undertaking.

No offense to Tina Fey, but when I read her book (I will say that I did laugh out loud), I remember thinking, I can do that, and maybe better. But then I also thought, Yes. I know how to hook and entertain readers. But what have I got to say that needs to be heard? And could it actually fill hundreds of pages? Who decides whether what you have to say is worthwhile? How did Dave Berry and Tina Fey and David Sedaris decide what to include in their memoirs? Did they just start writing and say, well, I think this is funny, so maybe someone else will, too? That’s how I started, but I’m in the phase where I’m forwarding blog posts to my parents for their completely biased approval. How do you leap from blurbs like the following snapshots of my thought pattern to full-fledged published authorism?

I want to give you a few snippets into how my brain works. Just read these and bear with me, k? 

Every time I go to get coffee from the kitchen in the office, my first thought is “I can’t believe I work in a place that has free coffee. This is awesome.” My second thought, no matter how many times I open the fridge, always winds up stuck on the carton of fat-free half and half. Can we just stop and think about that for a minute? Cream is the fat from milk. Half and half means half cream, half milk. Where does the fat go in fat-free half and half? I just DON’T understand why anyone would want to create something that’s not what it’s originally intended to be. That’s also why I don’t buy tofurkey or pens that double as candy or believe that Chihuahuas are actually dogs. Why is our society so bent on creating fake shit to impersonate real shit? Just be fully what you are!!

Or this one, on stating the obvious…
The last couple of weeks we’ve spent driving to the middle of the state for meetings. The view along the way is pretty bland, despite the occasional milkshake from Cookout, which tends to brighten any view, and beautiful patches of flowers along the road. Halfway between Asheville and Greensboro on I-40, one of these patches of gorgeous yellow flowers has a huge sign plunked in the middle that says: Roadside Enhancement. No one else seemed to notice or care that this sign existed, but I found it absolutely preposterous. How much did it cost to put that sign there? And what is the purpose? Of course we know that it’s roadside enhancement! Only people living on the border of South Carolina may be silly enough to think that little fairies planted the yellow flowers in the middle of the highway. And most South Carolinians think anyone who lives in a 100-mile radius of Asheville is a fairy anyway, and a sign will probably just confirm their suspicions of a government-fairy conspiracy theory. Do I post a sticky note with my name on the copy machine every time I fill the paper tray? No. That would be ridiculous and narcissistic. I could spend that time it took making a sticky note oh, I don’t know, reexamining the budget or planting more flowers. And what’s the point? Do they want a cookie? Should I call my senator and say, “Well, I can’t say I’m too pleased about Amendment One or the education budget, but woooweee – the roadside enhancement sure looks gorgeous in the armpit of the state!”

Ok. I’m back. Yes. These are the kinds of things that go through my head and that I want to share, because, well, it gets really loud in there if I don’t let the stories out somehow. But is this the crap that goes into a book? Are these the kinds of stories and thoughts that need to be shared with the world? How could I focus my energy into describing my biologically defective dating genes or the paradoxes of dairy products when the world is crumbling around us? People need to laugh, duh. But we also need to know about the truths of factory farms, the plight of farmworkers, religious diasporas, energy alternatives, natural healing methods, and the good work people are doing. I’m trying to save the world here, people, or at least tell the stories of those who are. So how do I choose what words to say? If anyone has any suggestions on how to marry these facets, feel free to contact me, or have your publisher call my people. In the meantime, I’m just going to continue writing about the ridiculous shit that falls in my lap. Thanks for reading.

Friday, July 27, 2012


Holy Moly. I can't believe it's been 3 months since I posted last. My world has been a whirlwind, in a great way, truly. I've been working a lot and I'm absolutely loving my non-profit job. Still trying to figure out how to save the world, but I think the answer is getting closer - it lies within lots of meditation, little sleep and a great many scoops of humble pie. I'm going to post an old blog because I'm also trying to do 47 things at once (typical), and I love this clip. I just didn't post it earlier because I didn't want to offend anyone. But I think it's ok now. And I swear that I'll write some fresh content for you (all 4 of you - thanks for humoring me ;)) soon.

This post is dedicated to all single men: I've come to the conclusion that my dating life is ultimately for the sole purpose of giving me good material to facilitate my writing career. So thanks to you. 

And now, Buckethead:

I had a “date” tonight. Concerts are typically not the first thing I spend my money on (usually that would be canned goods, toilet paper and the occasional $1 movie theatre night when my zany, gentile side takes over). But when the chance comes around once every six years, you figure out how to rearrange your schedule to accommodate an invitation – even a last-minute one. And the dude said these musicians were an amazing percussionist and a prodigious guitar player.  Sweet.

I realized immediately that we weren’t on the same page about the evening when I showed up looking spunky yet sophisticated in a thoughtfully coordinated outfit and he gave me a high five. My stature approached just around his nipple – a height difference that allowed me the subtle opportunity to read his t-shirt: “Outside of a dog, a book is a man’s best friend. Inside of a dog, it’s too dark to read.” Thank you, Groucho Marx, for starting the evening off classy.  By the way, the cute guy that asked me to a concert will henceforth be referred to as “homeboy” to protect his dignity… 

We got a beer and immersed ourselves in the sound waves emerging from a large man playing synthesized tuba. It sounded like a techno didgeridoo and was actually pretty cool. But all I could think about was how his mother felt about his success after so many years of listening to him scream into his tuba in the basement.
As the next act came on – what I can best describe as Mel Brooks on speed beating on a fake harp to pre-recorded electronica – Homeboy finished his beer and offered to get us another round. When I politely explained that I was still hung over from St. Patrick’s Day, he responded, “Well, I’m gonna get boozed up.”  And lo, it came to pass.

We enjoyed the rest of Mel Brooks’s performance (the highlight of which was the screeching sock puppet) and bantered back and forth a bit, with profound questions like “What percentage of the audience do you think is stoned?” (I low-balled at 50%.) Finally, the man of the hour: Buckethead. Buckethead, the master guitar guru; Buckethead, whose fingers are so long and nimble he was destined  to become a world-famous a musician and a most dexterous lover; Buckethead, the man whose title is a symbolic exploration of our minds’ isolation from reality….well, perhaps it had more to do with the perfectly contoured KFC bucket he wore upon his dome. We’ll never know because the true artist was hidden behind a white mask, which probably is symbolic of his isolation from…oh, whatever. For the next three hours he proceeded to violate the guitar with truly impressive adroitness and entertaining compositions. Homeboy would intermittently lean down to scream sweetly in my ear: “This shit is blowing my mind!!”

When his digits became fatigued, Buckethead placed foam replacements upon his hands and busted robot moves that would have made Michael Jackson swoon. When he got bored with that, he swung a chainsaw around (powered-off, obviously) and a pair of nunchaku that he clearly had been practicing with for more than 3 weeks. Maybe he and tuba dude practiced in the basement together in middle school.  He chucked the nunchaku and proceeded to toss toys from a sack into the front rows. 

Meanwhile, Homeboy was getting progressively more intoxicated and asked if it’d be cool for me to drive him home. I mean, we were headed to the same neighborhood, and he smelled good. So I agreed.  As the show was wrapping up, he asked me to borrow a $1.50 to round out his cash for a CD.  I pulled a 20 out of my bra and handed it to him (which apparently was a magical trick to a tall drunk man with a great angle on a low-cut shirt). In exchange, he tossed me his entire wallet.

I had flash visions of encountering passport-sized pornographic photos and raisins: “Um, I don’t know what to do with this. Do you really want me to dig through your wallet?”
“Oh. Um, here” – he handed me a $5 bill and said “we’ll work the rest out later.” I sighed and headed for the door, pausing once more so he could trace prospective traffic routes on the plaid sweatshirt of an equally inebriated Buckethead enthusiast.

He spent a portion of the ride home explaining how he was hoping to meet up the next day with all of the people who had bailed on him for the concert. Oh….so, you mean, I probably could have spent a little less time on my hair then, huh? We finally got back to the place where he was crashing for the weekend (I forgot to mention he was an out-of-towner), and he leaned in closely to me, looking deeply into my eyes. It was not romantic – he was simply trying to focus. “This was awesome. Thanks for coming with me” (a sentiment he would reiterate via text hours later - sogreatweshoulddothisagainsometime). He raised his hand for one final high-five as we parted ways and I drove off into the night with sock puppet screeches still ringing in my ears. 

Monday, April 30, 2012

Getting into Deep Shit

I can’t remember why I was wandering around downtown late Friday night – I do so on occasion, feeling like I’m searching for something that I can’t really pinpoint. Is it food? Is it love? Is it a human connection? I like peering into peoples’ stories as I pass by – a couple on a date; a family having dinner; a group of girlfriends on their 3rd round of martinis. On my second lap around town, I got distracted from my soul searching by the overwhelming stench of dog shit, which had been smeared down the sidewalk for half a block. As I dodged the poo and fellow pedestrians, I caught myself saying “Ew” aloud. This is where I totally diverged from whatever cookie or love story I’d been fantasizing over, as I began to consider how quickly we adapt to our surroundings.

My mind flashed back to August 1, 2007 – I remember the date because it was my first day of classes in Buenos Aires and I had decided to walk home to familiarize myself with the huge metropolis. The second block from my university,  I squished down into a huge pile of dog poo; my newly lubricated shoes carried me sliding into the intersection where I stopped a few inches shy of the broad side of a taxi. These little land mines were a normal aspect of Argentine life; I didn’t bother with being grossed out, but simply learned to maneuver around them.  In Mexico, although droppings from every kind of animal littered the roads like fiesta confetti, we quickly realized that sidestepping poo mounds was not as crucial as learning to evade the wild dogs that dropped them. Carrying a rock and the air of a beast-tamer became a part of our daily commute.

So here I am walking down the sidewalk in this amazing city in a very privileged country and I say “ew” to dog crap. Has my identity changed from the girl who stepped off the plane and marveled at her hotel’s shiny toilet seats? When I get dressed for work, my boots remain in the corner; my fingernails stay clean (and sometimes even pink); and the sun doesn’t shine into my cubicle to beat down on my neck. My calluses have worn away, my new phone can Google your mom, and though cutting the lawn with the push-mower seems to be only a small step up from the dull machete I still boast about, it is a step forward nonetheless. How quickly we adapt to our surroundings to find ourselves comfortable and necessitating what we have within our grasp. I was totally content surviving on beans and tortillas for two weeks straight. Now I find myself perusing the farmer’s market considering spiced pumpkin ravioli and sprouted nut butter for $12/jar.

Does our identity change as we transition to new chapters, or do we carry the past chapters with us and build on them? I’ve always had this theory that we swap little bits of our souls with the people and places we encounter as we move through life.  Perhaps this is why I feel perpetually unsettled – because I have parts of me everywhere; a chunk of my identity is still in the campo with the dog poo and amazing neighbors, Mayan ruins, pot holes, beggars and horses in pickup trucks.

I guess I’m in a matrix – always adapting to the present elements, but eternally trying to get my soul whole as I leave its droppings around the globe. That's deep shit. 

Sunday, April 15, 2012

My new phone can beat up your phone

I’ve done it, friends. I’ve crossed the threshold to the dark side and there’s no going back. I thought I’d hit that point when I signed up for a Twitter account, but seeing as how I haven’t tweaked since January, I assert that I officially caved this past Monday when I purchased a smart phone.

For those of you who don’t know me very well, first let me say thank you for reading a stranger’s blog, and secondly, technology gives me hives. The whole button pushing thing is really overwhelming to me and there are so many things to break. I’d rather be playing with sticks or frisbees and running in the quiet. Yet, here I am, holding the interspace in my palm.

It was a difficult process to arrive at this point. Upon returning from Mexico, where my phone was a little brick reminiscent of my first Nokia (sans Snake and sparkly pink case), I purchased a Samsung Evergreen. Despite being in early phases of creating a business, I presumed that as long as I had a phone that would call and text people my professional life could advance at a healthy pace. I was on a soapbox (which I still keep in my bathroom in case this whole smartphone phase bites me in the ass) about living simply, separating work life and home life and connecting with people not technology.

The Evergreen had a little green sticker that indicates a percentage of recycled materials, and well, green was in the name. I like to think I’m not a sucker for subliminal marketing, but apparently I’ll have to bring it up with my eco-therapist. The reviews of the phone indicated that it occasionally would reboot itself, but my immediate response was that I can deal with a little refresher now and then, so why not allow my phone the same courtesy? Four months, one battery and one replacement phone later, I was still having the same conversation with AT&T: “My phone is a hazard to my career. Every time I try to text someone it reboots. It shuts off when I call people. Yes, I checked the white square, the golden doo-dads, the sim card, the yes, I’ll hold…Yes. I’m here….hello? Hello? Gaaaaaaa!!!!!”

I have spoken to AT&T 8 times since February. They really are lovely people. I became especially close with an amicable gay man from Bangladesh in my later calls. We still exchange casserole recipes, but the best he could do on the phone front was to offer me one of three equally dysfunctional alternatives. With clammy hands and a racing heartbeat, I opened the door to the AT&T store and walked into the incandescent lighting and unnecessarily frigid air-conditioning of the 21st century.

Our local store employs a family friend who has seen my family through many a cellular crisis. She followed up with the insurance agency after my brother dropped 3 smartphones in the toilet (oh, wait – two smart phones and one normal one that got a thorough cleanse in the washer. His hair dryer plan almost salvaged it had it not been for the tenacious 9 key, but I digress). She held my hand in November as I perused the smart phones and settled on the Evergreen. So when I came into the store on Monday, it was almost as if she’d been expecting me. She informed me that Evergreen buyers have been old and probably don’t use the phone enough to be concerned about its manic reboots. After much counseling and deep breathing, I chose the simplest smart phone and an AWESOME purple cover about which I am equally if not more excited.

I think it’s a testament to my personal growth that I got this phone on Monday and still have not cried. I even helped my boss sync her emails to her new phone! Booyah. I was walking to West End Bakery this afternoon and realized that I could look up how many sub-species of opossums there are and the quickest way to Peoria, Illinois right this moment. I feel overwhelmed with power…and a little bit just overwhelmed. For a spot of deep irony, here is a picture of my phone, taken from my phone and uploaded directly from my phone. (That last part is a lie – baby steps.) 

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Advice From a New Professional

As a gainfully employed member of society, I would like to find a way to give back to those who are also aspiring to become respected participants of the economy. If you think I’m about to donate money, please take a step back. I just spent the last 2 years as a “volunteer”; Uncle Sam still somehow found out I’m a socialist and took it out on my checkbook; I currently work for part-time for a non-profit and the rest of the time as a budding entrepreneur writer. So if you think I’m about to cough up a dime in your honor, it would only be because I confused it for a Cheeto as I was digging through the couch. No, dear friends, I’m about offer you some insightful wisdom from an inside-the-office perspective. Take heed - this is sage advice that can only be gained from having spent at least one month in a building with incandescent lighting and more than 4 floors.

First is food etiquette: There are good and bad foods to eat while you’re working at your desk. Anything that serves as a vehicle for bringing peanut butter to your mouth is a surefire energy boost and requires little brain power. One note of observation (ahem, not from first-hand experience): ants on a log may be a well-balanced and nostalgic snack, but the smell of celery tends to linger and then you become known as “celery girl” in the break room. Speaking of lingering: no Indian leftovers, heavy garlic or tuna fish…or beans.

Dry granola is another no-no. I tried eating it from a baggie this morning, and wound up with a small mound of flax seeds and oats that missed my mouth and came to rest on the next available shelf – my chest. I was able to subtly clean myself off without drawing attention, but then I noticed that there were flecks falling into my keyboard. How do you go about explaining to your boss that you simply can’t send out the agenda addendum because there is a raisin trapped under your “A”? Does digging dried fruit out of your computer get classified as general admin?

On attire: Always look good until the last possible second. Change in your car if you have to. I’m sure the parking guys would appreciate it. As women of the office we spend so many mindful minutes fixing our hair, lining our eyes and selecting an outfit that is both slimming and sophisticated. Murphy’s Law (if I ever met Murphy, I’d probably punch him): we can spend all day in our respective cubicles, occasionally venturing down the hall to the bathroom or to the FedEx drop box. During this time we will never encounter anyone we know outside of our office network. The day wanes into late afternoon and we close our laptops to head off to tennis, yoga, or ribbon dancing; and the moment the hair gets pulled back and those mesh shorts get hiked up just below the belly button, it’s “Oh, hey, Rachel!  You look, um….you work downtown?” Such timing is simply a life lesson with which we must come to terms. It is a law that cannot be amended, for the law bends to cruel irony and not to toned calves in yellow pumps.

We also must come to terms with the war we are waging. No, friends, I am not referring to the Middle East; I am referring to the printer. Whether you believe in Karma or corporate conspiracy, it doesn’t really matter, frankly. The bottom line is that when on deadline, the indispensable power point that goes in the uber important folder for the highly critical meeting will only print every other page in 4-page chunks. Around the 3rd printing cycle, the machine will confuse your command with the other administrator’s request to print off 30 envelopes with return address labels. Finally concluding that violence lead to nothing but personal expenses, the next best option is to repeat the same command on your own computer, turn around 3 times and then go to the bathroom. It’s kind of like when you time a visit to the restroom after you’ve ordered food at a restaurant – you know that as soon as you come back your meal will arrive. Same deal with technology – if you go to the bathroom in the middle of an overload, everything will be fine when you come back. I have just given you a small glimpse of my Tuesday. For me, the battle was won based on knowledge of the universe’s tricks. But the war may rage on forever. My advice to you is to be at peace with this, and breathe deeply before hitting “print”. 

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

The Office

I’d like to preface this blog by explaining that since writing this piece, I have since moved to my own place with a 20 minute commute to a park or 10 minutes to a coffee shop if I choose to leave the dining room table overlooking the blooming tulips. I have most of my time to myself, no dogs, and while my business isn’t rolling, I’d say it’s in a good place. Some might even call me a real adult. Some. I’m currently lying in the grass epiphanizing that I’m actually at work. When I finish, I fully intent to reward myself with a bout on the swings before meandering home past rush hour traffic. But this blog illustrates how it all started. And when I’ve changed the world to a democratic economy with my writing I’ll look back and laugh. My mom will probably look back and say “you’re welcome.”

The Office

We all get up and mill about the kitchen like we know there are tasks to be accomplished, but the only tangible objective for the first bleary moment or two is to get into each other’s way. Eventually we break off into separate duties: newspaper, coffee, breakfast; the dog sticks her nose in someone’s crotch to remind us that breakfast goes on that list, too. We have an interesting setup, you see. In this transition period between Mexico and new Asheville life, I’m starting this web content writing business from home.  I don’t advertise that I live in my parent’s basement, but I totally do. I’m actually moving in the coming weeks, and I while I will appreciate my independence once more (soooo much), I will truly miss these bizarre rituals.

Although the commute from the kitchen to the dining room is pretty carefree, I wouldn’t say that I’m in the healthiest work environment. The table is smeared with notes, writing instruments, newspaper, “file piles,” computer wires, sticky notes, table salt (how hard is it to hit your plate?), crumbs, and a couple ornamental ceramic chickens. The dogs whine to go outside to eat the squirrels. I sit at one end, calling on muses and marketing schemes for my new business, while my mother plans the 8th cabin for Barkwells. I sit at one end of the table and my mother sits at the other, both of us tapping furiously, making strange noises and muttering to ourselves.

“What?! What did you say?”
 “I wasn’t talking to you. I was talking to myself.”
“Oh. You’re so weird – you know you can’t do that in a real professional setting, right?”

Sometimes I draw an imaginary cubicle with my hands, like a mime desperate to escape his box, except I am trying to close myself in. Aside from the chaos around me, there are so many perks to having the freedom to work from home. This morning, for instance, my mom was able to carve out some time for her singing group’s rehearsal…in the living room. While I was planning out my day, prepping invoices, and managing to delete my entire Outlook email program by accident, she and her singing partner conceptualized choreography for a song about going to the gym. I suggested that they go there for inspiration, but after half an hour they both headed off to their next appointments, and it’s quiet again. Aside from the dishwasher. 

Now the dogs want to come back in, sans squirrel, thank God. 

I get a few good hours in until lunch time. Well, technically it’s lunch time, but I’ve just had some crackers and hummus (a blessing and a curse for being so close to the fridge). But Mom’s back and she’s got to make gift baskets for guests. She sweetly implies that she’s starving to death and starts pulling out ingredients for me to make a salad. I’m in a bubble of work-mode – so close to lexiconic genius that I can taste a Pulitzer (or at least a couple “likes” on Facebook) – when all of a sudden, “SON OF A B!%*H! Somebody ate my apple!!”

My mother hardly ever swears, and her voice usually can’t go that high…so I wheeled around, my work bubble popped like an alarm clock ripping me from the last moments of a dream.

“What? Sooo!? We have a million apples and they’re delicious. Use another one! You’re upsetting the dog.”
“But that was the perfect apple for my basket. I need that apple. Aaaargh!”
“Ok. I cannot help you. And it’s possible that you’re overreacting. Please make some bacon.”

She did a couple of laps around the kitchen island until she found the apple which she’d had the foresight to insert into a special basket bag. At which point, we both broke into hysterics. We finally got back on track – I made the salads (while humming the “Work Song” from Cinderella), she made the bacon, and we let the dogs back out. This is how work from home goes, right? I don’t even have any kids to juggle!  I think I’ll call in sick until my tech person calls back to fix my email. 

Monday, March 5, 2012

A Conference on Growing

Many of my peers presently seem to be twitter-pated over crocheted footies and anything that needs a nipple.  I can’t say that I resonate with the baby-craze phase, and don’t foresee that yearning slamming into my consciousness any time in the near future. My urges to braid hair and care for small things manifest in plucking little suckers off of the splits of a tomato plant, and tucking mustard seeds into the protective womb of rich compost. But maybe I’ve been especially sympathetic with my maternally-inclined friends of late because I haven’t had the opportunity to garden.  It’s an unfulfilled instinct itching at the inner-lining of my being. And there’s nothing worse for a community than a feisty gardener wandering the streets with no place to hoe.

So you can imagine my elation (or maybe if you have never had a doll, or a spade, you cannot imagine my elation, but you can pretend to sympathize for the sake of this post) when I heard about the annual OrganicGrowers School conference at UNC-Asheville on March 3 & 4. I felt like a total has-been, an absolute poser with clean fingernails and callused hands that have been smoothed over by the dainty repetition of typing. But these growers are the businesses that I aim to support through WinnersWords, so I figured beyond the personal growth opportunities, the weekend would also be great for networking and my first chance to say super pedantically “Why, yes, this is a business expense.”

The bagillion different tracks to choose from appealed to a vast array of individuals who weren’t just attending to become better farmers. There were classes on basket weaving with kudzu, poultry basics, soil sciences, 10 things to do with a deer leg bone, edible landscapes, vegetable gardening 101, human waste compost (Yes that’s real. Yes it’s sanitary. Yes it’s awesome.), for-profit management of large-scale farms, and the list goes on and on. It was a weekend full of knowledge spent with very enriching company. The teachers were spectacular, and  I got to visit with old friends from karate and Knoxville, and newer friends that constantly invigorate me with their drive for sustainable progress and vivacious demeanors.

We could bounce among the various tracks, but I consistently found myself in classes pertaining to wild herbal medicines and medicinal foods. I took courses on how to identify them (although I might want another 3 of these so I don’t wind up poisoning myself), how to harvest them sustainably, and how to prepare them. I participated in a half-day workshop on medicinal foods in which we infused herbs into chocolate, learned about broths and experimented with different honeys (honey is a corrigent – it helps carry other medicinal herbs or foods through the digestive tract, so we learned how to incorporate healing agents like turmeric and rose petals into it).  Super delicious and fascinating. Another class went through fifty different foods off of which one can survive in the wild, ranging from greens and nuts to animals. I don’t intend to go out and can skunk any time soon, but the idea that I can make a salad from a walk in the woods, that the world can be my grocery store and a flower bed my medicine cabinet has been something I’ve attested to for quite some time without the education to back it. The world provides us everything we need – vitamins, anti-inflammatories, grief remedies, aphrodisiacs, cartilage rebuilders.

It speaks to us, too. It is intending to educate us and we are so busy making fun of the “mother earth hippies” and mowing it over for profit that we can’t hear its lessons. Every time I walk out into the woods, I feel like I’m on the verge of discovery, but I can’t figure out if that’s discovery of self, of some “beyond” or simply a re-centering that balances the two. These classes spoke to the mindfulness that I have been seeking in all aspects of my life. And it’s almost like role-reversal. In the garden, I am the steward. And in the woods, I am the child waiting for the lesson to be whispered to me. 

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Blank Slate

A blank slate. That’s how every page starts. Sometimes I think I’d rather leave a page blank than start blotching it with imperfection – I have always struggled with the idea that my potential is greater than my reality. That’s also why I haven’t necessarily written for my blog since, ohhh, November. It’s been four months since you’ve heard from me…or since I’ve heard from me, really.

Avocados and Aspirations (side note: I thank all you jerks who failed to point out to me that this aspiring writer’s blog TITLE was spelled wrong for its first 6 months of its life) was created as my Mexico blog. And now that chapter has ended. I like to think of it as a cliffhanger – I left before I was ready and consequently must go back to finish the story. Life here constantly reminds me of the life I left behind. I am living a double life of building community in Asheville, NC while daydreaming about sitting beside my failed attempt at a rooftop garden. It’s almost like getting over a bad breakup – every day I can still smell the bakeries and the burning garbage and hear the gas vendors’ stupid jingle, but every day it gets a little easier to wake up and live in the present. This new chapter was sort of like a blank slate, and I didn’t know where to start chiseling. It was almost as if I stopped writing for my blog, I could always come back to it again and pick up where I’d left off – in Mexico.

Do you think it’s just that I idealize wherever I’m not? Can it be that I’ve forgotten the corruption, the misogyny, the trash, the loneliness all in favor of placing the adventure on a pedestal?   Perhaps. But I’ve always been an idealist and a daydreamer and I don’t think that will ever change.  And more than that, something about that land and those people spoke to my soul. It was like coming home in a foreign body and I fell in love with the world all over again.

So. Here I am. Welcomed back to this home… for now. And I’m already starting the next adventure. After years of transiency, I am officially moved out of my parents’ basement. I mean, we will overlook the storage closet and garage, but I felt better trying to define what it means to be “officially out” when my friend told me that her mom still calls her 40-year-old brother trying to get him to clear shit out. But for the sake of argument and because, well, it’s my blog and I can say what I want, I’m out. I just moved in to a 3br/1ba in the West (the funky) side of town. There are so many hipsters that the air is just polluted with irony. And while I don’t tout thick-rimmed glasses and my low-tops are geriatric in nature, I still feel like I’m settling into the groove of being a West Ashevillian rather nicely. I have two fantastic roommates. One is a mediator whom I met through ultimate Frisbee, and the other came with the house – she’s a cupcake extraordinaire and a badass rock climber. We balance one another out quite nicely, and all LOVE to communicate. But there has been more cookie dough and glitter in this house in the last week than all of my Valentine’s Days combined. So I’m trying to get used to that (and either develop extreme willpower (not likely) or find 3 sports to compensate).

I am starting a business. It’s called WinnersWords (I’ll let you know when the site is officially up and running) and I am offering services of content writing for sustainable and socially-conscious business and non-profits. I’ll write their blogs, articles, print and social media content, etc. I actually started this through blogging with Community Links International  in Mexico and enjoyed it so much, that I realized I wanted to share everyone’s stories. Plus, it gets me involved in as many things as possible but participating through one specific medium to improve their outreach. I wind up getting my fingers in a bunch of honey pots without getting overwhelmed. I’m loving the process and berating myself for not taking any business classes in college. How is it possible that I am the only Jew in my family who considers putting certain wads of money in different parts of your sock drawer an acceptable means of money management?  The rest of them are financial planners, tax representatives, book keepers, accounting professors, etc. Sooo, I have a steep learning curve ahead, but I get bored when I’m not challenging myself.

Finally, I am starting a new part-time job tomorrow. I’ll be working with an amazing mentor of mine, Althea Gonzalez, as an administrative assistant at Hispanics in Philanthropy. So I get to learn from her every day, speak Spanish, network with (and fingers crossed, eventually write for) Latino NGOs and communities and get out of the house for a bit each week to do good work. Awesome.

I know that I really want to go back to Mexico – to continue in the same field to develop sustainable communities and connect travelers to new experiences and perspectives.  I’m so grateful for the opportunity I had with CLI and the path it cleared for me. But I just have to remember to be patient and that I’m on this path for a reason. From the roots I’m digging here will bud new lessons that will prepare me for what’s down the road. As I reread this, it’s dawning on me that perhaps that metaphor of a blank slate and unblemished potential that I have always used isn’t necessarily accurate – you get to the blank slate, the fresh page, on a trail tainted by blood, sweat, tears, cow shit, litter, spilled ink, worn down patches of grass from others who’ve already beaten down this path. So the inaccessible potential is a fa├žade we create to cater to our insecurities and call it quits before we even start. Damn - that’s a pretty solid breakthrough for 10:09 in the morning. I’m already feeling more confident about the day. Maybe I’ll call it a success and go back to bed until tomorrow.