Saturday, September 29, 2012

A day in my life: Self Care

It had been one of those days where everyone has a complicated question for you and everyone is in a hurry. By my lunch break, I was exhausted. I didn't want to think anymore. I glanced over the magazine exchange in the library lobby and grabbed the glossiest, most colorful magazine I could find. Safely ensconced behind the break room's heavy wooden door, I lounged across the couch for an hour of daydreaming.

I flipped through the magazine aimlessly, admiring the photos of decorating tips, trying to imagine my own tchotchkes displayed on the end table next to what they touted as “the perfect love seat”. I briefly skimmed the note from the editor about this month’s wonderful offerings.

But, there! Just there!

After the table of contents and twenty pages of advertisements, but before the twenty pages of recipes that I'll never try because they use more ingredients than I can count on one hand, an article full of pretty pictures and soothing words like “Self Care” and “Put Yourself First” lured me in.

“We all need a break sometimes,” the article said. “Don’t underestimate the importance of refilling the well!”

I ripped the page from the magazine and put it in my purse.

---

After work, I wandered the aisles of Target, using the suggestions in the magazine article as a shopping list. I ignored any suggestions that required effort - “Try a new exercise,” or “Take an art class at the community college,” - determined to indulge in every small and frivolous thing.

“Buy yourself flowers,” it said. I chose pink carnations to match the pink and blue blown-glass vase I keep on my nightstand.
“Indulge in extra dark chocolate.” I spent a good ten minutes deciding which delectable bar would come home with me and be my friend.
My basket and my well slowly filled: a sample bottle of lotion in a tropical scent, a pair of delightfully fluffy socks, a yoga video from the $5 bin, new tea.

“Buy yourself new underwear,” the article said.

Oh, hey! That’s new, I thought. I can do that. I could get all sorts of cool colors. It’ll be great.

Full of na├»ve optimism, I meandered to the women’s underwear section.

---

One does not simply walk into Mordor. Women’s underwear is an endeavor not to be undertaken lightly. If you expect to stroll right on by and toss a pack of underwear into your basket as you pass just because some sissy magazine told you to, you're sorely mistaken.

Women have as many types of underwear as Eskimos have words for snow. Briefs, boyshorts, hipsters, high-cuts – all of the various styles in every conceivable size were hanging in orderly rows, yet in no particular order, as if a horde of naked women had descended on the aisle, paying no regard to the mess they made in their desperate hurry to cover themselves.

I set my basket down and went to work. I always buy the bikini cut, which feels great on my exceptional hips and assures me that I’ll know, from seeing myself in the bathroom mirror, if I'll ever look good enough to upgrade to a real bikini at the pool. Several minutes of fruitless digging followed: here’s my size, but in boyshorts. Here’s bikini cut, but in the wrong size. Here’s bikini cut in my size, but they’re white, and I promised myself cool colors.

Every other woman in the world, ever, wears bikini cut in the exact same size as me, I thought, and they have bought them all, so that when I found the right cut in the right size in some fun colors, it was like winning the lottery. I grabbed my basket in one hand and my hard-fought underwear in the other and hurried to the checkout lanes, quitting while I was ahead.

But as I awaited my turn at the register, I noticed something disturbing. The underwear came in a resealable bag. There was a sticker on the bag advertising such.

This is a feature? Seriously, who needs a resealable bag for their underwear? And then I wondered: has this bag been opened already? Is it all wrinkled because I’ve manhandled the package or because someone else has pawed through this underwear and then resealed it?

I can’t tell.

“You know what?” I told the cashier. “Put the underwear back, please.”

---

That night, I felt refreshed. The well had been refilled. I put the flowers by my bed. I made myself a cup of the new tea. I ate the dark chocolate in a hot bath.

And then I slept naked, because, seriously, it’s way better than new underwear.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Meeting Media: The Cranky Cat

Meeting Media are created during actual and very important meetings while I really was paying attention. Names or other identifying information, or inappropriate comments about my boss, have been blocked out to protect the illusion of innocence.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

(Love)Craft Closet

“Having re-read Lovecraft’s Call of Cthulu, I conclude that the phrase ‘That is not dead which can eternal lie’ aptly describes my unfinished craft projects. Shall henceforth refer to the craft closet as R’lyeh.” My Facebook status, July 4, 2010, 7:17AM

I. Tell-Tale Tendencies
My house is clean. I keep the place picked up. I take out the trash. I keep up with the dishes.

But it’s all a front. 

Beneath that thin veneer is a seething mass of stuff straining against the burdens of tidiness, waiting to take over the house. I know it’s there, the beating of that hideous heart.

It’s called the craft closet.

II. Eldritch Things
I haven’t met a craft I can’t do. I see things on Etsy and Pinterest and craft shows and say, with perfect confidence, “I can do that!” I’ve dabbled in sewing, scrapbooking, beadwork, cross-stitching, painting, plastic canvas, things with wires.
Each hobby comes with its own unique blend of tools…
and supplies…
and…
stuff.
I have it all.
I admit this with great shame.

Other crafty ladies, or those who aspire to be crafty, see nothing to be ashamed of. They constantly tell me, “You’re so lucky.” I am. 

I am a talented, creative, artistic person. I have ideas. I see the potential in the mundane.

But in the grand tradition of those who want what they don’t have, what I have is creative ideas and what I want is to be organized and put-together.

I’m not.

III. That way madness lies
My personality tends toward disorder. I’ll jump into a new recipe without planning ahead, so that cooking inevitably requires every mixing bowl I have. I’ll scatter clothing across the bedroom looking for a single scarf and then decide it doesn’t match my outfit after all. A place for everything and everything never gets put back in its place. Knowing these things about myself, I routinely sort through my home, culling my possessions, carting off to the Goodwill anything I haven’t used in a while.

But I never sort the craft closet. To cull the unfinished projects is to admit that I will never complete them; therefore, the craft closet is an episode of Hoarders waiting to happen. There are piles. There are piles of piles. The supplies multiply of their own accord, like Tribbles made of cloth and paper and notions. I could lose a cat in there.

IV. Hyde and Seek
Poets wonder what happens to thwarted ideas. A dream deferred, I should know, festers in the brain not like a raisin in the sun but like a tentacled elder god, wrangling my consciousness away from me at inopportune moments. Sometimes I’m overwhelmed by the weight of the unfinished projects of years, the unfulfilled ambitions.

When the guilt becomes too great to bear, the artist emerges, like a Hyde to my Jekyll, scattering craft supplies across the living room floor (and the dining room and the bed and a few chairs), but she’s broken, this inner artist. She lacks follow-through. I regain my senses amidst unfinished projects that I don’t have the will to finish, surrounded by craft supplies that I don’t have the will to put away. Bits of thread and paper and scissors litter the house for days until they can be beaten back into submission, imprisoned within the closet once more.

V. Abandon Hope All Ye Who Enter Here
Other times I tackle the closet with the intent of killing it. I will finish these projects, I say, or I will throw them out once and for all, but whenever I open the door the wall of decorative photo boxes full of all things undone renders me a gibbering mess, rocking on the couch, staring into space, muttering obscure incantations. I don’t want to work on the projects, but I want the finished products. What if I throw out the supplies today and then I’m motivated tomorrow? This question fuels my insanity, the answer unfathomable to me.

VI. The Old Ones were, the Old Ones are, and the Old Ones shall be
And so I leave the door closed.
I try to pretend the mess isn’t there.
I wonder if I could find some kind of holy seal for the door, something to drown out the siren call of things I haven’t done.
But I always know they’re there.
Unfinished.
Undefeatable.
Unquiet.
Undying.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Yoga and Other Things I Still Can't Do

I don’t know why I picked up that particular yoga video. Maybe it was the woman smiling peacefully in meditation on the cover, or the bold letters proclaiming it was definitely for “any body” (not to be confused with “anybody”). Probably it was the only workout video in the $5 bin and I’d had enough of myself: I was fat and I couldn’t touch my toes, two facts that had only become more factual as time went by.

But after one attempt, I was in love: Yoga was pretty.

It wasn’t like all the sweaty, gross exercise I had tried in the past. There were so many lovely names for the poses that I couldn’t do: Lotus, which involves tying your legs in a knot; Half Moon, which involves standing precariously on one leg; Birds of Paradise, which involves tying your limbs in a knot while standing precariously on one leg. All of these and more were demonstrated by a serene instructor, near a beautiful beach setting. “Go at your own pace,” the instructor said in her charming foreign accent. “Don’t push your body too hard.”

“Right,” I said, “Not pushing,” but in my heart I knew: If I could master yoga, then I would have arrived. I didn’t know where I was arriving, only that I wanted to be in that place – that pretty, serene place – so very badly.

--- 

I wasn’t naturally talented at it. Halfway through the 45 minute video, I would sit in the floor, head cocked like a confused terrier’s, watching as the instructor flowed through ever more complicated poses as the most basic poses eluded me. I couldn’t get my forehead to the ground in Child’s pose. I couldn’t hold myself up in Down Dog. I couldn’t stand up straight in Mountain pose. “When you are tired or out of breath, just return to these poses until you find your center,” the lithe video-instructor told me.

“Where do I go if those are the poses knocking me off center?” I wondered.

--- 

I tried everything. My Amazon wishlist was covered in yoga videos. I was getting a new one every month and couldn’t do half of them. I listened to yoga podcasts, went to yoga classes, read yoga blogs, always seeking more of that beauty and serenity in my everyday life.

“Just pick one pose,” a friend suggested, “just one pose to do during every yoga workout until you get it right.”

I settled on Tree pose because I liked the name, never considering that it was yet another pose that involved standing precariously on one leg. I persevered. Trees are calm. Trees are spiritual. Trees are solid and sturdy.

I fell down.

Repeatedly.

I inwardly referred to my efforts to do Tree pose as “Toppling Tree pose,” until I learned that Toppling Tree was the name of an actual and altogether different pose that I also was unable to do.

I fell down some more.

I picked a different pose to work on.

--- 

After months, I still couldn’t tie my limbs in knots. “Bring your arm behind your back, under your thigh, and clasp your hands together, coming into a bind,” an audio podcast said.

I twisted my arm behind my back and strained toward my thigh, coming nowhere near under it, and not even to the same zip code as my other hand.

“What if my body just isn’t built that way, no matter how hard I try?” I lamented to my husband, who was playing video games nearby.

“It just takes time,” he said.

I sighed as the podcast directed me to attempt the same move with the other arm. “They won’t let me on the colony ship to Mars because I’m not supple enough!” I said.

Matt only shrugged. That’s when I knew he wasn’t really listening.

--- 

And then one day when the instructor in one of those videos said, “Now hold the pose for five breaths,” I said, “Screw it. I’m tired,” and I did Down Dog instead.

“Wait a minute…” I thought. “I can’t do Down Dog. This is one of my least favorite poses…”

Only it wasn’t. I couldn’t remember the last time I had dreaded hearing the words, “Raise yourself up into Downward Facing Dog.” What I remembered was the instructor from that very first video saying, “When you are tired or out of breath, just return to these poses until you find your center.”

Tossing yoga DVDs around the living room, I searched for that video, long neglected amid all the new ones from Amazon and the audio podcasts. That day, I did the entire 45 minute workout for the first time. Somewhere along the way, the things I couldn’t do became doable.

So I kept right on doing them.

--- 

I never did find that pretty, serene place. Life isn’t like the yoga videos. There are things I still can’t do, both in yoga and in everything else. There will always be days when I’m off balance, when the most I can do is the least I’m capable of doing. Those days are okay.

I know now, in a way I couldn’t know before, that you keep doing the things you can’t do until you can.

I also know, unequivocally, that I can touch my toes.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Some Assembly Required


Their behavior was suspicious.

Even for them.

Cheri and Karyn, senior librarians who normally spend the day secreted away in their offices behind the circulation desk working on acquisitions and library business, were conspicuously underfoot. Every few minutes, one or the other would linger near the circ desk and ask "Has the mail come yet?" only to disappear into the back again when we told them no.

Obviously they were waiting for a package, but a package of what? As far as we knew, no new books were forthcoming that matched both of their tastes. Was it a book about a controversial topic? Had they used library funds to buy something for themselves? Were they using the library as a front for smuggling contraband? The theories went on and on.

Then the UPS van pulled up. “This is it!" said Karyn.

"Oh!” squealed Cheri. “She's here! She’s here!"

“Who?” Benjamin and I asked.

“But why are there so many boxes?” Cheri asked.

“She must be in pieces,” said Karyn.

“Back up the trolley,” I said, thinking, My God, it’s like Se7en all over again… “Who’s in pieces?”

“The mannequin,” said Karyn.

I looked at Cheri, who beamed at me.

"You full on bought a mannequin?" I asked.

"Yup," said Cheri, nodding enthusiastically.

I couldn’t decide if it was crazy or brilliant, so I hugged Cheri the way I hug my mom. "I just love you so much right now," I said.

---

It’s not that unusual. I’d read blogs and articles about libraries using mannequins as marketing tools, dressing them up for events and such. It almost made perfect sense. Almost.

At the circ desk, Benjamin and I did our best to continue working despite the maniacal laughter from the back. “I think this goes here,” we heard, and “What are you doing? That’s backwards!” We cast sidelong glances at one another, shook our heads, and tried to ignore them.

They made it very difficult.

"What's in this box? Ooh! It's her wig!"

"How luxurious!" Cheri said.

They exclaimed over the cut and color, then requested our opinions as they both tried it on. They looked equally ridiculous in it.

Later, while typing in the data for a new library card, I could feel someone standing behind me. “Yes?” I said, turning to see Karyn.

"Can I offer you a hand?" she said, slyly pulling the mannequin hand out of her pocket.

I laughed until I had to put my head down on the desk.

Benjamin, who was helping a patron check out a tall stack of picture books, didn’t even turn around. Shrugging, Karyn placed the hand on Benjamin's shoulder and left it precariously balanced there. Benjamin spared her only one long-suffering sigh and continued checking out as though nothing was amiss.

After Karyn grew bored and carried the hand away, Benjamin sat muttering to himself. "So, Benjamin, what's it like working at the library?” he asked. “Well, my supervisor just threw a severed mannequin hand at me. Why'd she do that? I don't know. I can tell you the current exchange rate in Greece but I can't tell you what the librarians are thinking when they act the way they do."

I can’t tell you either.

---

After Cathy, the other senior librarian, whose office is in the children’s section, joined them later, we could hear them all cackling in the director’s office.

On the pretense of getting something off the printer, I checked on them. "What are you doing?"

"Setting up the mannequin," they said innocently.

"In Carol's office?" I asked, though I had visual confirmation that this was so.

"Yes," they said with straight faces.

“Right inside the door where it will surprise her when she comes in?"

"Yes."

I left them to it.

“She needs a fine literary name!” said one.

“Nancy Drew!” said another.

“I liked Trixie Belden better.”

“We should call her Trixie!”

"It's like if the three stooges were ladies," I told Benjamin. "Or like a Lucy and Ethel skit but with three of them."

Benjamin only nodded, possibly still muttering to himself.