PlazaJen: The Blog

Riding the Bike with One Pedal.

Category: What Matters (page 1 of 2)

X-Ray Vision

When I was a kid, I thought the idea of X-ray glasses was SO COOL. Imagine, being able to see through  anything you wanted! Clothes, wrapping paper, notebook covers, locker doors, the list was endless. Now, of course, I think something like that would be more of a burden than a blessing; imagine if you could see someone’s soul, their fears, their desires, their hatred, before you even spoke a word.

I had my annual mammogram today, pleased that they were open on a Saturday, bright and early. In the hallway, I was delighted and surprised to see the woman who gave me my first mammogram there, 8 years ago. She wasn’t my technician today, but we greeted each other, and while I waited for my results, she stopped by the small chamber to ask me how things were going.

I said, “I’m anxious. It’s been stressful. This election season has been like none other.” And we did that careful dance of words, establishing that we were both on the same side, so we could speak more freely.

See, she’s getting ready to retire. She’s been doing this for about 40 years. That’s what first drew me into conversation with her – what she had to have seen over her career, the advancements in technology alone would be mind-blowing, and knowing that in this gig, you’re going to also have your share of heartache to go with the joy of seeing  some survivors return – and others not survive.  She’s thinking that after she retires, she’s going to try and find a job as a caretaker for people with early on-set dementia, because she watched her son’s MIL decline, and the care out there being expensive and hard to find. She is one of those people that shows you her soul quickly, and it’s the soul of a kind, caring, wonderful human being.

She also told me that in the past year, more women have asked to not have her perform their screenings. Oh, yeah, now is when I’m going to also tell you something else about her, something that shouldn’t have any bearing:  she’s black. And apparently, in these crazy times, people now feel even more comfortable saying to her face, “You can’t know what you’re doing, I want someone else.” Tears of anger and compassion flooded my eyes as I conveyed my horror and shock.  We spoke of how hatred and racism surely have to have been there all along, but marveled at how emboldened it’s become, and how acceptable it now seems to be to show it, speak it,  act on it. She closed her eyes, shaking her head and said, “You know what, all I can do is live my life. I’m a flawed black woman and I will stand before Jesus and be judged, just like they will, and they’ll have to answer for their sins, just like I will.” All I could do was murmur something at that point because I couldn’t scream the invectives and curse words and denials, that they needed their comeuppance on this earth, that they need to be shamed and excoriated for their flawed choices under the banner of hatred.  That they need to learn and be different. That they should have let this kind, capable, experienced woman perform their exam.

I hugged her, because she may not be there next year when I return, because her retirement is on the horizon, and she’ll be somewhere else, giving of her time and wisdom to someone who needs it, giving peace and comfort to that person’s family.

I see what we have become as a nation, and I don’t like it. Hatred may have always been there, but clearly the shame attached to it has been lost. And I’ve picked it up, because I am ashamed on behalf of those women who could be so racist and callous to someone so undeserving. I shoulder the burden of bad choices by others, because when I know a wrong has been done, I feel compelled to try and right it, somehow.

Still, I’m grateful I don’t have x-ray vision, to be able to see so clearly those around me, their basest fears under their sleeves. It’s enough to speak up when you see it and hear it.  Maybe find common ground or understand what the fear is that’s fueling the hatred.  I’m looking at my own fears, and it seems like talking to our elders is a good way to go: every person I’ve talked to this past week who is over the age of 60, has a calmer view on where the election could take us: no matter what happens, we’ll still be here. We’ll get through it. We’ll do what we need to do. We got through the last (X), we’ll get through this.  And in the end, we must only answer for ourselves.

Choose wisely, my friends.

For The Record….

I originally posted this on Facebook, and made it public, because I am so tired of how women are so casually objectified, treated, assaulted and demeaned. I wanted as many people to give pause and really hear my words, to reflect on what they believe, and how we can collectively take action to stop not only the runaway election train, but also just the everyday shit, the daily life, and that IT’S OK to demand to be treated better. As of this morning, that post has been shared 40 times, which pleases me mightily, because it means it’s resonated with other like-minded people, who are tired of the tilt and want to see the scales balanced. Since I own this domain, I wanted to place it here for posterity.

Every generation has its battle. I am not a historian by any stretch of the imagination, but I look back at the women who paved so many roads before me. The ones who were imprisoned over their fight for the right to vote. The women who fought for equality, who have fought for equal pay (still not there), fought for freedom over their own goddamned bodies (still not there), fought for freedom to not be raped because of what they wore, what they drank, where they were (still not there). Fought for the right to raise their voices to be heard (still not there), fought to be respected in the workplace and the opportunity to rise to the top (still fighting for share).


And I look at my own life. The shock of being grabbed and groped in high school – in between classes! The shock of my high school chemistry teacher and english teacher making comments about the size of my breasts.. The shock of my government teacher bragging about his college sexual conquests, right there in class. The shock of saying no and still being raped. The shock of being told to be quiet, to dress a certain way, to be admonished for speaking up. The astonishment of a male coworker leaning in as if he could just kiss me because he thought he was entitled to and I was just…there to receive it.

After all these years of this, I’m out of tolerance. I’m simply bankrupt of patience. So when I hear a rich and famous and powerful man say he can grab women by their pussies, that he just can’t stop himself from kissing them if they’re pretty, I want to set the world on fire with my mind, out of hope in reducing the landscape to ashes, that from the smoke, the phoenix of equality and respect could somehow rise. Because, sure, I’m not at-risk for a Trump assault, after all, I’m a fat pig by his standards. But I am not unworthy of respect or decency. I am not reduced to an object to be possessed, or labeled in two-dimensional slurs. I am an intelligent human being who is contributing to society and worthy of respect and decency. And the fact that my generation is STILL FUCKING FIGHTING FOR THIS is what makes me insane with anger. I have plenty of self-respect, and it doesn’t make me a crazy bitch to expect it from the world around me. I’m not here to decorate your world, I’m here to contribute, I’m here to speak up when others feel afraid, and by god, I am going to vote and do whatever else it takes to not lose more ground for all women in this country.

I’m not here
To decorate your world.
If you don’t think I’m pretty?
I don’t care.
You may sneer at my size
The space I consume,
And to that I say kindly,
Go fuck yourself.
The beautiful thing about getting older
Is no longer caring
What a stranger thinks.
It’s hearing crazy responses
And instead of taking them inward,
As a fault of my own,
I think, instead,
“What’s your damage?”
Your words fall into the chasm
Between where you want them to land
And where I actually stand.
I just don’t care
Because I know myself.
I finally do.
I’m here to tell you
It is beautiful to be
Exactly
Precisely
Unabashedly
Me.

Unicorn Blood

OK, so Charlie Sheen can yap on and on about his precious “Tiger Blood”, but truly, I have what I’ve dubbed “Unicorn Blood” – because my blood type is AB-, the most rare blood type out there. (Less than 1% of the population has it.) I want to talk about how this news has changed my life, but I also want to back up a second, because it feels kind of crazy (and ironic) that I’ve become the biggest proselytizer for blood donations, given my deep-seated childhood fear of needles!

Yep, I was terrified of needles. Probably had something to do with the fact I was always in and out of the ER for many winters in my youth, with alarming fevers from strep throat. And to say they were alarming is pretty severe, given that I was raised by a couple of people who would pretty much tell you to go “Walk it off!” if you had any pain below, say, “Severed Limb” status. I had to google what in hell kind of shot I must have gotten (penicillin), but whatever it was, I was already in Rotten Bad Place before we got there, and getting a shot was just short of being beheaded, in my book. (I got my tonsils out in 3rd grade, which curbed a lot of the spiking fevers after that.) Flash-forward to the time I was riding a horse in the dark, and made it go through too narrow of a gate, resulting in a six-inch gash on my inner knee (because the horse lunged forward, and my inner knee caught on an extending piece of metal. The horse knew it wasn’t going to work, but finally did what my heels and voice told it to do!). I remember barely feeling anything, because I went into shock, but was ROYALLY PISSED that I’d ripped my new pants. I rode the horse back around the house and started shrieking for my dad, who took one look and yelled at me to DISMOUNT while simultaneously lifting me off the horse. We went inside, he took a second look and almost passed out, and fortunately, the female half of the couple we’d been visiting was a nurse, who gave me a washcloth and we applied pressure while calls to the ER were made and much hullabalooing about took place. I distinctly remember trying to convince everyone it probably wouldn’t require stitches, RIGHT? we could just use some of those butterfly bandages. Because anything if it meant avoiding needles! (I ended up needing 36 stitches – 18 internally – and had narrowly missed a major artery.) (My mother made me show her while my dad stomped off to find the ER doc and when the nurse hustled in, she immediately made my mom sit down & put her head between her knees BEFORE even addressing me.)

So because life involves immunizations and shit, my dad worked with me on my fear, and told me before I had my tonsils out to just make a fist and dig my nails into the palm of my hand as hard as I could, and the pain I created myself would be more than the pain from any needle. To be honest, I still do this, not to the point of extreme like I used to, but have always found it to be a good distraction. And now, it makes me think of dad, which has a bittersweetness I will always take.

Last fall, as we all scrambled to get ourselves to “Silver Status” in a three-month span to lower our health care costs, one of the events was a blood drive here at the agency. I signed up! I could use the points, and I’d never given blood before. I even got competitive about it (disguise your shock, please), and was able to make my donation in about 7 minutes, beating our boss. And then I waited for my card, which never showed up – until I got an email, asking for another donation and that if I donated, I could get candy sent to me (or someone else). But in that email it had my blood type! Finally! I knew what it was! So I jumped on the Googles and researched it and discovered that AB- platelets are one of the highest in-demand donations, because they are given primarily to cancer patients. I needed to do this.

The first attempt was merely that – I don’t have trucker veins, you can’t drive a semi down them and even have a wide-load swing wildly. My veins are a little mushy and princessy and require a little extra effort if we’re gonna use the apheresis machine. So the first try failed, because my return wasn’t staying contained in my vein. UNDAUNTED. I made another appointment, for the main facility in midtown, because, well, MIDTOWN. It’s a slightly rougher-tumble part of town, and I figured at HQ, those people aren’t going to screw around. This time, my vein cooperated enough to make it to one unit. I burst into tears, because I’d been having a conversation with the tech helping me and adjusting my arm and the machine to get me to that one unit, and all I could think of was my father’s death from cancer, and how perhaps this small little unit could make a difference. Hopefully.

And then I made the next appointment. Each time has brought more learning, and thankfully, the people at the Community Blood Center are dedicated to getting it right. After all, platelets and plasma and blood do the very thing my daily job has never professed to do: save lives. We got even more learning from this donation, I got to the maximum of THREE units (and was euphoric!) and we know now even better settings for the machine for next time. Hearing from the staff about how excited they were to see me coming in, with such a high platelet count? That makes me PREEN for days. Yes, I have platelet vanity. Knowing you can give platelets every 6 days, I decided I would keep going, but at a slow lope, and aimed for every 3-4 weeks. Nope. Because they read the data and want you 100% healthy when you come in, so my turnaround time to generate red blood cells & more platelets is 8 weeks. (Yes, I called. I was convinced the computer was wrong. And while I was on hold waiting for a tech to come on the phone and explain what was going on, I saw that all of my units had gone to Children’s Mercy Hospital. I nearly lost it all over again.)
platelets

I have tried to explain this to several people, why this small piece of knowledge has blossomed into a sense of compulsion and duty, that I :must: give my blood/platelets, it’s not optional and that I hearken it to a religious experience. Because I was given this biology – I didn’t make it, I can’t eat certain foods to change it, I can’t “lose weight” and switch into a new blood type: it just IS. And what it is is rare. And vitally important for people going through what could very well be their worst time in their lives. Knowing that? How do I turn away? How do I say, well, I have this dislike of needles and all, and it’s kind of uncomfortable and it takes me 25 minutes to get there and about two hours total to go through the whole process, I mean, I have to do it on a Saturday, which is my weekend time? How do I say that and not be selfish? I can’t. I have something that requires a little effort, a little inconvenience, a little consternation and I can’t watch tv while I’m doing it because I have to stare with a furrowed brow and squeeze my hand really hard right before the return, because my blood pressure drops, and if it keeps messing up, we’ll have to end the donation. But someone else is waiting. Platelets only live for 5 days. Someone else, with chemo running through their veins is waiting. A child, with worried parents who are living their worst nightmare, waits for platelets to help restore their ability to clot blood.

So many people, just waiting. For unicorn platelets. Waiting.
For someone like me -and you- to say, “I need to do this.”

The Beauty Myth/Mystique

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, so they say. Does that mean we can “behold” ourselves, clearly and rationally? I don’t know. For me, the answer is usually, “No,” since I’ve got more than half a lifetime spent with criticisms and measurements and definitions of beauty that only revolved around a number on the scale, which can really torque with the way you define your own sense of worth in the world.

The conversation has been rolling around in my head ever since someone posed the question, “What if I have an ugly baby?” It was semi-in-jest, semi-serious, as the person has a friend with a pretty grizzled up baby with – as they say – a face only a mother could love. Is that really possible, though? And if you had the proverbial Ugly Duckling, wouldn’t you still love it with all your heart?

Growing up, I got a lot of, “Well…you’re ok from the neck up and the knees down,” or just an easy sort of shorthand, “You look fat.” I suppose now, I see if people will love me in spite of my copious extra adipose, or if they, too, will use it as a bludgeon and a barrier, a blight against me. Truth be told, I often find myself looking at myself and thinking I have a bit of a drag queen in me (maybe it’s my attitude seeping through), if only because I see my father’s features and having only known them as masculine, it’s hard to make sense of them on a female face. All I know is that it’s rather exhausting, and yet I still wish to be… pretty? Attractive? Somehow acceptable on only the surface, while rejecting the notion that surface definitions are the most shallow, that count the least, that in the form of rejection shouldn’t hurt, shouldn’t haunt, shouldn’t resonate with the old stuff I’ve pushed far below, because to have it out and riding shotgun is a horrible way to live.

The conversation at work grew painful, because my own upbringing, combined with that Upper Midwestern stoicism that tells you any semblance of vanity and self-worth are terrible character flaws, leave me feeling like the proverbial ugly baby myself, and I get defensive, because going through life having people eyeball you for being the fattest person at the nail salon or have kids point at you at the grocery store tends to eat away at the Teflon armor. It was even more challenging because my crankiness came off as fishing for compliments, and let me tell you, Upper Iowa Minnesota Jen wanted to run into traffic to escape, it was that horrifying. Anyway. I think we have to draw our confidence and self-assurance from more than just the mirror, but not necessarily to the exclusion of the mirror? Somehow throwing the ugly baby out with the bathwater feels like overkill.

So as the clock continues to tick, and the wrinkles around my eyes deepen, I’m sure of only one thing, and it’s that I have to be ok with me. As I am, as I was, as I will be. I may color my hair, use some products that promise to defy aging and peer at my face as I see my father’s eyes staring back at me, looking for what new mark of life’s process is stamped upon my skin. I actually surprised myself, because I was trying to figure out how in the hell my laptop camera actually took a picture and unprepared, I got one. This is me. Minimal makeup, no gigantic smile. Just… puzzling and thinking. I think a lot. Sometimes too much, but I still like doing it. And most days, I like me. Despite what all the old voices – and sometimes new – may try to tell me. Because the Beholder doesn’t always care, even if they should.

Pondering PlazaJen

Be Here Now.

Someone posted one of those pictures everyone likes and shares – a stack of cell phones, sitting on a restaurant table. The type over the picture said something to the effect of, “First one to check their phone picks up the tab.” A funny, if not completely enforceable, reminder that the whole point of connecting, staying connected, and building connections has everything to do with being present, in the moment.

I first encountered the Horrid SmartPhone User in a former boss, who would look away from every conversation to check his phone whenever it beeped or buzzed. Not an actual incoming phone call, mind you, but an email notification or a text message alert. Entire meetings could pass while he kept his nose pointed at his phone’s screen, and while one can argue in every meeting there are times your contributions aren’t required, it’s different when you’re in a one-on-one meeting, and you continually send the unspoken message, “Something else might be more important than you, right now, and I’m going to disrupt what we’re saying by allowing this device to interrupt us.”

So in those days, and because I have a tendency to wander forward in my brain, anticipating the next steps, or the next 20 steps, or what might happen, I would mentally stop myself and say aloud, “Be here now.” It doesn’t mean I don’t also fall victim to my phone’s siren song of buzzing and chirps, but I try to be acutely aware of the fact that if I’m sitting at lunch, or dinner, or in a meeting, or having a one-on-one conversation with someone, I want to put them first. Just as I want them to put me first. Just the act of glancing at one’s phone’s screen is an interruption, a distraction, it is the equivalent of the pause button. Don’t even get me started on the people who are talking or texting at the movies, good grief. Seriously? Rent a movie and stay home. Nobody wants your inability to sit still, your need to multi-task encroaching on their enjoyment of being completely engrossed in the sights and sounds of a good story.

I’ve chided people who give their attention to their phone in my presence. “Are there three of us here right now? You, me, and all the people in your phone?” Because I just want to make sure it’s clear that our time is being shared by an inanimate object. If it is, maybe I’ll get out my phone, start giving semi-distracted responses, too. It’s fine, if the stage is set beforehand (I’m waiting to hear from the client, I am waiting for their response to an email, I need to make sure they got XYZ.) I suppose it’s technically fine if everyone’s on their phone, though I fail to see the point of being together if you’re going to all be absorbed by your 3″ screens. And again – I’m guilty of it myself, but I’m working on reviving that mantra, Be Here Now, because if we’re not Here? We’re slowly forgetting how to converse, how to engage, how to be polite and respectful, how to immerse ourselves in the world around us.

Be
Here
Now.

Your friends will thank you. Your employees will appreciate you. Your brain, which doesn’t need to do 20 things at once, might actually breathe a sigh of relief. And you will not miss anything. You might actually get even more than you expected.

New Year’s Day

I say those words, and instantly hear Bono crooning the U2 song…. I … will be with you again…. It was a nice day, spent with the hubby, then after he went off to play backgammon, with more episodes of Deadwood and knitting. We talked about 2012, and what’s important, and how it was overall, a pretty darned good year. We’re each others’ rocks, our dogs are good and provide us with loads of entertainment, work is good, the house is good, the garden is good, and our hobbies delight and fulfill us. I still obsess and scramble with my thoughts and am far, far, far too hard on myself. If I really were the center of the universe, it would make sense. After all, I would need to be excellent all the time, just to keep order in the universe! But I am not, yet I never fail to find fault or construct my failings as the cause of everything that isn’t precisely perfect. I just got a couple poisoned apples along the way and they excel at creeping in and dismissing all that is good or true or kind to my soul. The irony is that there’s no way I would let someone else speak to me the way I speak to myself. Ball peen hammer, I have it. I hope this is the year I put it down, because I’m really going to try. It’s the only resolution I’m making, frankly. Find more self-compassion. Be as kind to myself as I am to those I love.

The other thing to remember? Most people are doing the best they can, with what they have, right now.* It usually has nothing to do with you, or me, or the universe or the moon. And that’s ok. (that’s directed at the voice that comes up and says, “You could do better.”)

*”If he coulda done better, he woulda. (hat-tip to my wonderful Auntie, because I had already written most of this before our chat tonight!)

A New Year’s Wish

As this year creeps towards its end, I am ready to face the new year with renewed faith and hope.

For the people who have fallen by the wayside, I say goodbye, and wish you well, along with the random pebble in your shoe to remind you of me.

For those joining me as we march into 2013? Let us raise a glass and toast a year filled with more laughter than tears, more money than expenses, and more joy than sorrow.

To only wish for good things is foolish; the challenges are where we learn and grow, and our character is built in how we face them.

Peace and Love,
Jennifer

Happy Mother’s Day

To those who are mothers through their love and actions. Biology can define you as a mother, certainly, but it doesn’t mean you’re doin’ it right.

 

Mine is in rehab for the second time, claiming she’s “just a social drinker”. Clearly she is quite misunderstood, as going on an eleven-day bender, drinking after getting out of rehab the first time, and being confronted by your peers and colleagues and having to “retire early” because you’ve been “socially drinking” before/during work, why, that’s not alcoholism, it’s just being really, really fucking social. Life of the party!

To think I was worried about how I would handle her making amends as part of the Twelve-Step program.

Perhaps the one good thing to come out the past six months of angst has been a freshly-developed relationship with my uncle (my mother’s brother.) He is, in many ways, like my mother as I knew her – quick to laugh, optimistic, hard-working – yet not as plagued by his family of origin issues and at the core, a loving and forgiving person. We have had countless conversations, and I’ve learned more painful things about my mom than I imagined possible.  One of the things that I’ve done, through the dwindling silence after my father died, was to always make sure I sent her a card, note, email, gift on the main holidays. Mother’s Day, Birthday, Christmas. Many of those gifts were hand-knit items – socks, hats, lace scarf, etc. In my naivete, I imagined she at least showed them off and told people they were from me. What a fool – letting my inner ten-year old hang on to that dream. Nope. I am not a topic. That one nicked the bone, I must say. A more neutral perspective pointed out that much of her behavior probably centered around maintaining her own victimology, for to be cut off from her only child works better as a sob story than ownership in the dance.  And a good reason to “be social.” That helps, but of course it doesn’t change a thing. My poor uncle initially pushed for me to visit, to help, to try to intervene. Ten years ago, I might have done that. Now, I recognize that I am powerless in this situation, and until my mother decides FOR HERSELF she really wants to quit drinking, all the rehab and interventions and talking will be for naught. I have learned from watching a dear friend go through the whole process of recovery, and while I’m sure she would rather have not had to go through it, I am grateful for what she taught me.

So, onward we go, and focus on the things we can control and change, appreciate the people who put in the effort, who talk and listen and support. Honor those who love you; remember to honor yourself in the process.

 

Big Stuffs

Tomorrow, I start my new job! I had started a conversation with a former colleague a year ago, and he had said then he wanted to add media to their agency, but they just weren’t ready. In the meantime, I took a job that let me work from home, and my new co-workers and clients were awesome. So it wasn’t the easiest decision to make when the opportunity from a year ago came to fruition, but in the end, I knew I had to take it because if I didn’t, I’d always wonder and possibly regret not taking the chance. I’m excited, it’s starting from scratch, but I believe it’s going to be a great job. The commute is crazy – all three minutes of it! We joked about me requiring a fuel stipend. And, they picked up a huge account this past Thursday, so I’m going to be a little crazed this first week – heck, the way my home phone and email blew up from certain reps that afternoon, I know I’ll be spending quite a bit of time on the phone!

In other adventures, we’re hosting Thanksgiving this year, so I’m pondering the menu, as well as getting the house clean by then. I keep debating on whether or not to have turkey, or something different. (Any ideas? Don’t say turducken!)

I took this past week off and spent a fair amount of time in my head, pondering current things, pondering the future, not getting as much done as I’d hoped to, but finally making headway with my laundry, at least. (That was the biggest “con” of leaving a work-from-home job: more laundry! Even I knew that wasn’t significant enough to sway my decision!) I think I want to challenge myself to share more, especially through my blog, but trying to be careful not to be passive/aggressive about it. There are a lot of things that still piss me off, or still hurt, whether from people’s actions/inactions or certain former employers/colleagues. I think what has emerged is a clearer understanding that all I can be sure of is where I stand, and what lies ahead. I think the downside of feeling like you’re on the outside looking in is that you feel excluded, or like you’re missing something you thought you wanted or something you once had. Or still want, but only if given. Certain pains are familiar, the reverb goes straight to the core, you wonder why you’re going through this all over again, yet things you don’t want to be cyclical are just that.

Today, I’m turning around, because the rest of the world is actually right there behind me, on “the outside.” New doors will open, undoubtedly. Maybe some old ones, too. I just know that I’m walking through a new one tomorrow, and it gives me hope. 🙂

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