Thursday, December 20, 2012

I'm in siege mode.

Every year Christmas gets to a certain point where my whole life revolves around surviving work.  This is that point.  I am so far behind, I forgot to make a little entry letting you all know know that I'll be taking off until after New Year's, just like last year.

So I'll be taking off until after New Year's, just like last year.  Then I'll be back.  And I will be full of new stories.  Wish me luck.

Oh, and Merry Christmas.  And Happy New Year.

Monday, December 10, 2012

I don't journal.

2 Corinthians 9: 13-15, Luke 1: 1-4, 1 John 5: 13,

I just forced myself to finish P. D. James' Time to be in Earnest.  And I am glad I did so.  I am not always glad, later, that I took the time to finish a book I was not enjoying for whatever reason, but this one was worth the effort.

Don't get me wrong, I have the utmost respect for James' fiction, which I why I picked up her diary-cum-autobiography, itself a failed experiment in journaling.  But her non-fiction was boring, and even she admitted at the end of it that she left off where she did because she simply couldn't sustain the daily routine of recounting the events, large and small, of her days.

While James was attempting autobiography, my periodic stabs at journaling have always been spiritually motivated.  Also, I have lionized diarists and letter writers, since diaries and letters are  two styles of writing where I keenly feel my lack.  So, ideally, as a writer with a rich inner spiritual life, I should be fantastic at journalling.  But I am terrible at it.  I have been trying since I was twelve, and I have never sustained a journal or diary longer than a month.

But it occurs to me that this blog, that I have sustained for about a year and a half, is, in a way, a journal of my life.  It includes events big and small, but with one crucial difference: time.  I don't write every day, and I rarely write about events as they happen.  Almost every real-life incident I recount for my huge, rabid fan base happened years, sometimes up to a decade, ago.  I like writing about my life with this degree of perspective.  I like feeling wise.  And I like being able to craft my memories in a funny, relatable manner that I believe is both exciting and valuable.  This totally makes sense for someone as controlling and self-protective as I am.  I can fool myself into thinking that the minutiae of my day is interesting, that the pain in my life is instructive for the masses.

This is why James was writing, too.  She reached the age of seventy-seven, and believed that it was time to take stock, that it was time, as a famous person, to go on record for herself.  This makes sense, she is a huge literary light in a country notorious for consuming its celebrities whole.  But her diary lacks perspective.  She is mainly a benignly grouchy, opinionated old lady who travels around England, has lunch with people she likes, buys antiques, and grouses about the state of modern literary education.  She has a respectful, if ambiguous, one-sided relationship with Dorothy L. Sayers (another stunningly popular female mystery writer from England, whom I have not yet read), which provides good segues into her thoughts on the craft of mystery writing and her own work.

This is an unfair characterization.  She is a great writer and the gems are there: I mined for the stories about her time working within the massive post-war bureaucratic expansion.  I was riveted by her accounts of life at Cambridge University during WWII.  Her experiences caring for and finding care for her mentally ill husband could be helpful and inspiring for people dealing with those same issues.

P. D. James has had a wonderfully interesting life.  There is no reason, beyond old-fashioned British reserve, for her autobiography to be boring.  And old-fashioned British reserve is, in fact, the reason her autobiography is boring.  She even says in the introduction, that she is leaving out the most painful parts of her life in the interest of privacy, and a distaste for over-emotional drama.

Which I can respect, but not emulate.  I grew up in a culture of confession.  Talk shows and reality shows came of age with me, and though I rarely partake, I cannot escape.  Wendy Williams is my current guilty pleasure.  I like her because she's dishy, and I respect her because she dishes on herself just as much as on everyone else.  She dishes on herself to level the playing field, and to help and inspire people.

And that's what I want to be like.  Blogging may be my therapy, but I also want to help and inspire my audience.  I am on the record for myself, not just defensively, but offensively, too.  Against pain, against boredom, against futility, and against stagnation.  Confession is good for the soul.  And I confess: I was writing this while eating dinner on the couch (thanks, DH) and I got two little spatters of spaghetti sauce on the cover of my advance copy of Time to be in Earnest.  I'm so sorry.

          

Monday, November 26, 2012

I wear black on black.

Psalm 45: 10-11, Esther 2: 15-17, 4:14

This is another post about my boobs.

I was going to get dressed and go run errands today, and trying to decide what to wear, considering it is  going to hit 80 today, I was looking at my sundress/tank top status, when it hit me: I know what I'm going to write about this week!  I'm going to write about a little thing I like to call good girl cleavage.

What is good girl cleavage?  It's this trend we've all noticed (and participated in) over the last few years when we layer a tank top under a v-neck shirt or dress in order to mitigate the risk of, um, overexposure.  Except that, when done right, it can encourage exactly the kind of attention it purports to discourage.  Allow me to explain:

Sometimes, it is easier and cheaper to buy tank tops in neutral colors and just wear black or white tanks under shirts of any color.  And sometimes, we go all out and get tanks in every color, so we can mix them in coordinating/contrasting combinations with our other clothes.  But when we do this, and I am including myself, we create a point, a moment, of focus right in the middle of our chests that uses color and flair to draw attention to the very spot we were trying to cover up.

I noticed it the first time I tried out this technique at work.  I got way more looks and glances toward my, let's face it, boobs, when I tried using a tank top under my usually unaccompanied v-neck tee.  The color contrast (green tank, grey vee) was more attractive to the eye than my bare chest, with slight (less than half inch) cleavage.

Please understand me.  I am not saying that this is always a bad thing.  I am not trying to judge anyone.  I am NOT one of those people who think all women should always dress as modestly as possible in order to shield the weak, defenseless men around us from the evil, lustful thoughts that the poor dears have no control over, and therefore must be the responsibility of women to prevent, unless we want the legitimacy of our complaints to be called into question.  Wear whatever you want, whenever you want.

I have items in my wardrobe that I wear when I want attention, and items I wear when I don't.  One of my tricks when I don't want attention, is to wear a tank under a shirt, and make sure that the colors match as closely as possible, which creates the illusion of one modest shirt.  Black on black works great, and looks good.  I still rock the good girl cleavage when I want to look really nice, but I know the difference in my moods, and when I find myself dressing for attention I ask myself 'why' first.  And if I feel comfortable with my answers to myself, I go ahead and get pretty.  But I don't kid myself about it.

Just covering up isn't enough, if we are truly looking to deflect attention, whether in the interest of purity or expedience.  And we're not fooling anyone when we go halfway.  Covering cleavage with an attention-getting color combination; wearing clothes that cover, but cling; and wearing clothes that are unflattering call more attention to us than we may want, or even realize.

Good girl cleavage can be be fabulous or hypocritical or clueless, depending on the wearer.  The only person you are responsible for is yourself.  Self-awareness is the key to finding your own sense of style that is flattering both physically and spiritually.  Dress yourself in order to get what you want, when you want.  Own what you are and who you are, be reconciled to your body and your desires.

Being sexy doesn't have to be sinful, but with great power comes great responsibility.  I believe we can use our powers for good!  

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

I thought I was just lazy.

Proverbs 10: 4, Leviticus 20: 9

I promised a while back that there would be more sickeningly violent fiction on this blog, and I still intend to get back to it, but I am having a bit of a crisis.  See, all of the installments of Old St. Nik that I put up here are just that, installments, and I have always intended for the story to be so much more.  But I am having trouble setting myself down to actually finishing the story.  And the longer I wait the bigger the job looks.  And I can't let myself start the next story until I finish this one, because that would make me the kind of person who only starts things, and never finishes or follows through.  This is something more than procrastination or laziness.  (I tried to find a way to start that last sentence with 'and' but I just couldn't make it work.  Sorry.)

I've also talked about my astonishment at sticking with this blog for so long.  I think that's the key to this problem.  Sticking with things and following through on projects is a learned behavior, and I never realized until recently that I never learned it.  I have spoken before of my admiration for Cracked.com writer John Cheese, and he has put his finger on this for me.  I didn't realize that follow-through was something I was going to have to teach myself now, because I didn't learn it as a child.  Again, I've written some about my mom and what it was like to grow up with her, but I didn't understand that this fear of finishing was part of her legacy of 'cray cray'.

(That's just awful.  Not only did I call my mother crazy, I used already outdated slang that someone my age (33) has no business using.  Inexcusable.  I really ought to delete that sentence.)  (No, I think I'll use it as an opportunity to make fun of myself.)

All of these factors coming together are telling me how important it is that I continue working on Old St. Nik, which adds no small amount of pressure.  I know that even if I don't finish this story, there will be other stories, other opportunities to learn stick-to-it-ive-ness.  But those opportunities will get rarer and more difficult as I go.  Laziness is not yet a big part of my problem, but it will be soon.  I am thankful to recognize this moment as I am living it, and not just looking back on it, the way we see most of life's missed opportunities.

This is another one of those times when having a routine would be helpful.  I need to do better than dashing off a blog entry one a week, gradually putting off my 'regular update' for a later and later day.  (If you look carefully, you'll see that when I started out, I was posting regularly on Sundays, now I am out to Tuesdays, eventually I will circle back to Sundays.)

I hate it when all my issues converge.  And oh, yeah, Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!      


Monday, November 12, 2012

I'm dull.

Ecclesiastes 2: 24-26

I had a wonderful birthday celebration last week, DH and I spent the day alternating between restaurants and bookstores and generally goofing off and spending a little money.  It always amazes me how I can work in a bookstore and still want to hang out in a bookstore.  But as long as it is not my bookstore, as long as it is not the particular bookstore where I work all the time, then a bookstore is just a bookstore, and still a totally awesome hangout.

See, you all thought that the 'I'm so flawed, I hate the way I am, I can't do anything right' posts were getting boring, but this is what I'm like when I'm happy.  Nothing is more boring than hearing about me swanning about eating sushi and chocolate cake and gourmet lollipops and reading sexy books about courtesans and seductresses.  (Okay, that part is pretty interesting, I'll give you that.  Everyone loves a nice, juicy seduction.)

I was so thankful though.  We had a great time, and just got on with our boring selves, and the food, and the books, and the more food, and the more books.  It was downright intoxicating.  For me, anyway.

But that's what I consider fun, most of the time.  Really good, satisfying fun.  I love learning things and digging into something fascinating.  When we travel, we hit all the museums and restaurants.  We barely shop, and we never camp or hike.

I also tend to enjoy doing strange, menial things like sewing by hand or counting coins.  (Anyone desperate for me to have a depressive episode right the hell now?)  Once, I spent three hours rolling spare change while watching a M*A*S*H marathon.  (I love M*A*S*H.)  By the end of it, I was practically anesthetized.  (I hate Coinstar machines.  I could have had a great career in banking.)

And while I sew, I like to watch Masterpiece Theatre or listen to NPR.  Wow, I am a huge dork.

But these weird, dorky things make me feel good about myself.  They make me feel energized and accomplished and smart.  I don't care if I'm dull.  I don't care if I'm odd.  I like the way I feel when I take the time to do something I know will make me feel good.  So I had a good day.  For once.  Hope I didn't bore you to death with my bliss.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Customer Service, Part 9.

I was back in the kids' section, just finishing with a customer, when I turned around and saw her approach.  She was about eight years old, and the poor little thing was almost in tears as her mother explained that she was in the middle of her book, The Invention of Hugo Cabret, by Brian Selznick, when she lost her copy, and just couldn't wait to know what happens next.

I know exactly how she felt.  I once bought a book I had been reading on my breaks at work, because I knew that I would not be able to finish it before going on vacation.  For three days.

Besides, The Invention of Hugo Cabret is an amazing book.  If you were in the middle of it, and couldn't finish, you'd be distressed, too.

So you know why I couldn't get to the shelf fast enough.  And when I handed that precious little reader her new copy, her face lit up.  As soon as she took hold of it she kissed the cover, and then wrapped her arms around it and held it to her chest.  Her mother thanked me sincerely, and they turned and left.

We are approaching the busiest, most stressful time of year in my business.  A time when every customer is cranky, every colleague is preoccupied, and every task is both pressing and unfinished.  I don't like Christmas for a lot of reasons, and this encounter with the most dramatic little reader ever didn't happen at Christmastime, but remembering her face, and how I was given the privilege of making her day, is one of the things that keeps me going when the job gets rough.

I made her day, and she made mine.  Whenever the customers threaten to make me lose my faith in humanity, I think about her.  And sometimes, when no one is watching, I kiss the cover of a book I love.
 

Monday, October 29, 2012

I watch the watchmen.

Exodus 20:12,  Romans 13,  Ephesians 6: 5-9

I remember clearly the moment I lost all faith in my mother.  I was thirteen and she had just taken me and left my stepfather, which was a really good thing, and we were living in a one-bedroom apartment together, driving each other crazy waiting for school to start up again.  I could tell her mood was shifting downward, when she made a confession that would change the course of my life forever.

See, my mother struggled with depression for most of her life, and she had my sympathy as soon as I was old enough to comprehend that Mommy was sad.  But on that one day, when I was thirteen, she told me that she knew she was getting more depressed, and she could feel herself falling down the same hole where she had already spent so much time.  But, that because I had been such a good, supportive daughter through her depression and the impending divorce, that she would stop herself from becoming suicidal. She said that she didn't usually bother fighting her depression because she was more comfortable being depressed anyway, but this time she would try to keep it from getting too bad.  For my sake.

I cannot ever remember being so angry, or hiding it so well.  I know that I must have said something good and right, made all the appropriately sympathetic noises, but inside I was quickly changing from a supportive daughter to something else entirely.  The only thing I can remember clearly was thinking to myself that I have to get away from this horrible woman as fast as possible.

Obviously, 'as fast as possible' turned out to be a relative concept, given that I was a minor at the time, and since I was an adolescent, naturally my opinion of my mother and all other authority figures had been eroding for some time already.  Everyone's adolescence is a parade of incidents in which we learn over and over that adults are not nice, not brilliant, and not trustworthy.  We all learn eventually that parents, teachers, and bosses are just regular old human beings with divided loyalties, holey ethics, and flawed souls.  We lower our expectations, and learn to get along.  We stop getting angry about it and, if we're lucky, start seeing our own flaws clearly enough to forgive everyone else and have rational adult relationships.

If we're lucky.  I am, apparently, not so lucky.  As extensively as we discuss my failures every week together, one of the major side effects of being an arrogant, perfectionist, judgmental, pedantic bitch which we have not yet covered is that I have a really hard time getting along with authority figures.  It's hard to trust people when you think you can do everything better.  It's hard to get promoted when every thing you do and say exacerbates your superiors' insecurities.  It's hard to see the boss as a person just like you when you spent your entire childhood worshipping adults, loving parents, teachers, and pastors with absolute trust and cannot get over the betrayal of finally having to grow up.

I am so sorry.  It occurs to me that some of my geekier fans (HA!), having seen the title of this post, are expecting a discussion of the graphic novel The Watchmen by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons, or a review of the movie adaptation by the same name.  We're getting there.  Stay with me.

I have been fooling myself into thinking that my contempt for authority and those who try to wield it is really a positive thing.  That my constant criticism, both explicit and implicit, my disregard for directions I find irrelevant, and the serious amount of sass with which I communicate are a service I provide.  I keep my mangers on their toes, give them good ideas for improving the store, and show them that I am capable of grasping more than just my limited sphere of influence.  Oh God, it looks even worse when I see it written down like this.

Every time I get down on myself about this, I remember The Watchmen.  (This is the geeky part where I talk about how a comic book taught me that people in power must be held accountable.)  People in power must be held accountable.  No matter how virtuous they seem, no matter how pure their motives, people in power must be held accountable.  Accountability from above is just giving orders.  Punishment for failing to follow orders is an inadequate form of moral training.  Peer accountability devolves into either petty backbiting or a mutual admiration society: groupthink.  But accountability from below will always bite your ass just right.  Anyone who has ever parented a teenager would know.  Rorschach may have been an annoying psycho, but he was more right than wrong.

So my poor managers are going to have to put up with me working out my authority issues on them for a little bit longer.  Just until they fall in line.  And for the record, The Watchmen is a masterpiece.  Everyone should read it.  And I liked the movie, too.  It wasn't perfect or complete, but it was good enough for me and there is just no pleasing fanatics.  Besides, if an IMAX-sized blue penis is wrong, then I don't wanna be right.

        

Monday, October 22, 2012

I vote.

Early and often!  And by early I mean I take advantage of the early voting opportunities in my state, and so should you!  By often I mean that I try to come out for every election, and am practically elderly in my excitement about participating in each one.

So, there are no more excuses.  You can beat the Election Day rush and vote early.  Take your grandparents with you.  Then, go to brunch.  Make a day of it.  It can be fun!  But make no mistake, voting is a privilege that we should all take advantage of, and saying you're too busy or whatever on Election Day is just not good enough.  There are ways to get it done.  Take responsibility and go be a good citizen.

Besides, who doesn't like brunch?

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

I'm sure.

James 5: 12,  Hebrews 11: 1

One (just one) of my major pet peeves is when people ask me if I am sure.  You know how they do it.  Anytime you announce that you have completed a job, learned a skill, or have an answer to a question, some meddler in the room, possibly even the very person you are trying to help, asks: "Are you sure?"

Now, you all know me a bit from my writing on this blog, and we have discussed my tendency toward extreme quirkiness.  You all know that I am a know-it-all, (a title I have worn proudly since the second grade) and that I love to be right, and that I'm arrogant and struggle with looking down on people.  But being asked if I am sure offends me so much that I will occasionally temper my usual helpful, informative nature by saying 'I don't know' or 'I'm no expert' even when I do know and I am an expert, just because I'm talking to someone who I know does not trust me or is, for whatever reason, completely addicted to asking everyone they know: "Are you sure?"

Yes, you read that extremely long sentence right: I have dumbed myself down for these insecure wretches, these poor unfortunates incapable of believing anyone else could have the answers they are looking for.  I have downplayed my own knowledge and abilities in order to dodge the question: "Are you sure?"

I have denied myself the pleasure of being right.  I have forfeited the privilege of teaching someone something they didn't know, and I have gone to the trouble of double checking my work in front of a hostile audience all to avoid the the terrible inquiry: "Are you sure?"

Because the rage that simple question can trigger in me is scary.  I used to get snippy at just the first instance, but now I can be civil about it once, but just once.  Now, I get snippy at the second instance.  And yes, I know people who feel it necessary to ask even three times, when the edges of the world start to go black and I have to remind myself of those pesky statutes of limitations when I have endured three (in a row!) questions: "Are you sure?"  

And you know it had to lead back here: to my mother.  Yes, the original asker of the question, the one for whom this was considered the most advanced interrogation technique.  And for a while, when I was very little, it worked.  But I got tough, fast, and after years of being constantly doubted, constantly taunted by the inability to communicate and build trust with the one person who was supposed to love me most, the question came to represent an unbridgeable divide.  I was tired of not being trusted.  I was tired of every word I spoke being called into question.  I was tired of my mother bragging to all of her friends about how smart I was, but in private constantly disbelieving me, constantly getting right in my face about it: "Are you sure, BC?  Are you sure?  Look at me!  ARE YOU SURE?"

Now, I recognize that this was her problem, not mine.  Her inability to trust anyone, and her inability to filter information, her inability to tell the difference between a liar and someone trustworthy.  I see now that she only asked me over and over because she was so damaged she genuinely couldn't tell what was real and who was fake.  I see now that when friends and family, or managers and co-workers, or customers, ask, they are doing so out of their own need to be sure, a need that can never be truly fulfilled in anyone in this lifetime.

But I hope that they see me, too.  It sounds harsh, but the only reasons I can see to ask someone if they are sure are: 1.) you think they're lying, or 2.) stupid.  Otherwise, why bother?  I realize that I am contradicting myself in the previous paragraph.  First I say that I understand that no one can ever really be sure of anything, that asking the question is just a very human attempt to reach out for connection and reassurance, and then I turn around and take it as an accusation.  Yes.  That is it exactly.

I protect myself a lot.  A lot.  You can maybe start to see why after hearing this story, and others I've told.  Even though I have made slight progress with respect to my specific responses to this question, I still have a long way to go on the larger issue of general vulnerability, especially since I'm still not totally sold on the idea of walking around all open and receptive and stuff.  I actually work really hard to not ask the question, ever, of anyone, because it offends me so much, and I figure I can form my own opinions.  Does anyone notice that?  Does anyone else do that?  I don't know.

Okay, so this might be something a little deeper than a pet peeve, but it's also a little harder to explain than a pet peeve, and I don't know how to deal with that.  I can't just sit down and say all this to someone with whom I'm about to lose my temper.  A blog post seemed to be the best way to get it all out.  Blog posts seem to be a good way for me to get a lot out these days.  But that's an issue for another post, if you're still interested in reading about a self-protective know-it-all snob who can't take a simple question.

You are still interested in reading my blog?!  Wonderful!  Are you sure?      

 

Monday, October 8, 2012

I like Halloween.

Isaiah 8: 12, 41: 13, Matthew 10: 28, Jeremiah 10: 5, Revelation 3: 20, Joel 2: 21

When I was a little girl, I was afraid of everything.  I had terrible problems with fear of the dark, loud noises, and just about anything else even remotely creepy or supernatural.  October was a terrible trial every year, since you couldn't go into a store without seeing costumes or decorations for Halloween, and I was screaming terrified of all of it, no matter how tame.

I remember the first time I was scared out of my wits at Halloween.  I must have been three, and I was in love with the movie musical Annie.  My mother found me an Annie costume for Halloween.  I put on the little red plastic dress (which was huge on me, I was always a tiny child), and the stiff, eyeless mask.  Then, my mother told me to look at myself in the mirror.  Poor woman, she couldn't know I would go from ecstatically excited to completely terrified in an instant.  I screamed at the bizarre sight of myself in the mask, and could only be calmed by taking it off and leaving it off.  I had to look in the mirror again and again to be reassured of my own face.  I was okay in the dress, but somehow I was so psychologically unprepared for the concept of a mask, that it took years for me to recover from the trauma.

Trick-or-treating that night, (I was eventually calmed enough to be tempted by candy.) I was traumatized once again by what I recognize now to be a great, simple costume: a dark, hooded bathrobe and a green alien mask.  I started screaming again, the nice lady whipped off her mask and apologized profusely, and then we went home.  I was done with Halloween, I thought, forever.

And when we started attending church a couple of years later, it seemed all my fears were confirmed.  Every church we attended preached that Halloween was evil, a time of great danger from deviants and cultists, intent on killing and injuring children.  They told us a nasty, violent history of Halloween that left no doubt in our minds that celebration was to be avoided.  For years, I got stressed out about this for the entire month of October, totally unable to enjoy costumes and treats surrounding the holiday.  A couple of times my mother had to have me excused from classroom Halloween parties, for fear that a classmate would have a costume too scary for me to handle.

Church offered no comfort.  Everything they taught about Halloween was designed to frighten.  Even the alternative parties they threw only served to highlight how no other place was safe that night, not even home, where strangers would knock on the door all night.  We were convinced they were looking for something more than candy.  God help us the years that the church held that alternative party on a night other than Halloween.  I wouldn't be able to sleep on Halloween night, I would lie awake terrified  of every little noise, until exhaustion claimed me in the wee hours.

Ironically, I did not make any progress in facing my many fears until I started seriously questioning my faith.  Because which was scarier, really: Halloween celebrated normally, or the way the church seems determined to ruin the holiday in the most frightening way possible?  As I got older and gained strength in my own mind, the things that frightened me began to fascinate me instead.  I used to fear skeletons, zombies and demons, now my favorite video games and books and movies feature them prominently.  Now, I love dead bodies.  Scary movies rarely frighten me, almost every character just seems too stupid to be believed.  I am fascinated by deviants and cultists.  I love to read about what can go wrong in a person's mind to make them hate and kill.  I can't sleep well in a room that is too brightly lit.

I feel like I have come full circle.  The other day in a store, I came across an inflatable skull, five feet tall, with motorized spinning bloodshot eyes.  A Halloween lawn decoration.  Ten years ago, this would have scared me to death, now I love it.  I pointed it out to DH, and told him that if we had a lawn, we would buy that.  He preferred the five foot tall, inflatable jack o'lantern version.  Whatever.  For the first time ever, I wanted to buy Halloween decorations.

I understand that some Christians sincerely believe in the evil of Halloween, but I would encourage them to look closely at this belief.  Are you afraid, or do you feel empowered, knowing the truth about the holiday?  Are you frightening your children, or teaching them to protect themselves?  By all means, choose positive costumes, trick-or-treat with a trusted adult, and check your child's candy.  But fear only has as much power as you give it.  Be sure you give the love and light of God all the power He is entitled to this Halloween.

Don't deny a child at your door.  Give the world your sweetness.  And be not afraid.  

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

I want to K.I.S.S.

Romans 7: 15, Proverbs 10: 4

During the summer after my junior year in college, I attended an intensive language study course that became a revelation for me, not just academically, but personally as well.  In this program, we followed a strict routine of classes in the morning, study and activities in the afternoon and evenings.  Speaking English was not allowed.  There were days when I did four things.  All day, I engaged in only four activities: class, homework, play rehearsal, and eating. (The cafeteria food was the best I've ever had.  Better than many restaurants.)  Fun consisted of foreign language film screenings, cultural lectures, and any group activity we could manage to engage in in our second, or third, language.  Have you ever played charades in a foreign language?  It's more work than fun.

But I loved every minute of it.  I functioned extremely well once I surrendered to the routine, and the level of focus required to just pass the classes, much less do well, felt wonderful for my laser-like mind. I reveled in having everything taken care of for me.  The only chores I had were laundry and sweeping out my single room once a week.  Brooms were provided.

And oh, the single room: 8x10, tile floor, one small window, a tiny closet.  For furniture: a bed, a dresser, a desk, a chair.  There was a light on the wall, and a desk lamp, and two bookshelves.  The window had a dysfunctional shade, but the view was cow pasture, so I just left it up.  It was every moment self-contained bliss.

I have spent the past eleven years romanticizing, even fetishizing, this academically Walden experience, and I've been thinking about it again lately since I've once again come smack up against my total inability to put myself on any kind of routine.  This is yet another post about how I have no self-discipline.

I remember fondly this monastic experience, but I seem powerless to recreate any little piece of it for myself in my adult life.  I let everything sabotage me.  I can't say no to anything.  I tell DH that our place is too small, that we need to cull our possessions, and he agrees.  Gamely, he gathers books and CDs to get rid of.  They are in a pile by our front door.

Meanwhile, one of my managers at work is reducing his own CD collection, and every night I bring home another little treasure.  Or three or four little treasures.  I'm a horrible hypocrite.  When will I stop whining about simplicity and start disciplining myself to it?  Keep it simple, stupid.  But no, I keep indulging myself at even turn, terrified that I might be missing out on something fun.

But I don't need fun.  I need work and focus.  I need to keep writing Old St. Nik, and I need to finish it and publish it.  I need to learn to finish what I start because it is the only way I am ever going to be able to change anything about my life and myself.  I know I sound like a horrible bore, but work makes me happy.  Fun just makes me lazy.

See, my memories of my time in the intensive study course are very idealized.  When I'm honest with myself, I remember that I was miserable there.  I was lonely much of the time.  The work was so hard, I often felt inadequate, and progress was subjective.  I was very surprised at the good grades I got.

But I look back on how I felt then, and compared to how I feel now, it was paradise.  And when it was over, I had an amazing sense of accomplishment and strength.  I felt like I could take on the world.  No amount of fun now can compare with the strength I earned from that difficult stint, and that feeling is what I am really chasing when I try to routinize myself.  Failure now is painful compared to success in the past.  God, help me get back to that routine, that focus, that strength.  Help me keep it simple, because I hate feeling so stupid.

Monday, September 24, 2012

I'm tired.

Work is going well.  Our new store manager, T, has moved me out of the magazines and into the toys and games sections, a move long overdue, and I am very tentatively hopeful about things.  I'm certainly working harder than ever.

This is the part I love.  This is the part I'm good at.  The beginning.  The rush to get everything right the first time, to prove that I really do deserve the chance I've been given.  As we move into Christmas, and in my business we have been moving into Christmas since June, everything gets harder.  I just worked eight days in a row getting all the toys set up for Christmas (overtime is sweet, and many thanks to all the managers for their help) but I know that the hard work is just beginning.  The hard work of selling through the Christmas season, and the hard work of living through a new section of life.

A lateral move and a new boss may seem like huge changes, even though I'm still in the same old job, but I realize now that no matter how many changes I experience, I'm still me.  It does not matter what department, or what job, I have, I will still have the same strengths and weaknesses, the same drives and hidden motivations, the same parts of myself that I wish I could change and the same parts of myself that I will never want to change.  I am my own cell, and my own guard.

And I'm really tired.  Not only from working eight days in a row, but of trying so hard to be better than I am.  I am seriously doubting my ability to change and improve myself.  Employee reviews are coming up, and last year did not go so well.  And I am still the same person I was then.  It does not matter what circumstances I'm in.  I feel like a diamond.  A slightly happier diamond, but a fundamentally unchanged one.  I'm still the same loudmouthed, hardheaded, hypercritical, inappropriate bitch I always was.  I still find myself terribly smart and terribly funny, and probably always will.  (I also use the word 'and' entirely too much.)

You can cut a diamond, but it takes special tools and skills, and I feel like I've spent the past five years being pounded by a rubber mallet.  As revitalized as I am by the department move, and as much as things have improved under T, I know the effect is temporary.  I will eventually get bored of toys and games, and our district manager will play roulette with our store leadership at least once a year, every year, so it's not like we can get used to the way things are now anyway.

Am I called to change, or to endure?  Do I have the energy left to do either?  What happens when I get bored and cranky again?  Oh well, I guess we'll find out.  God Bless us, everyone.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Customer Service part 8: All in One Day

Psalm 5: 8, Colossians 3: 12

Just when I think I have had the weirdest customer experience I have a weirder one, and then there was Saturday:

1.) At the cash register, my customer asked me the name of the song on the Muzak.  (This actually happens rather frequently, as though obviously all retail workers automatically know every song playing in their background.)  But I ran back to the break room (literally, so the song didn't run out  before I could get the answer) and wrote down the title and artist for the customer.  When I got back, we finished ringing up, and he paid in cash.  As I was making his change, drawer all open, he tipped me for my effort.  In cash.  I know you're thinking: that's awesome.  No, not awesome.  Please do not ever throw more cash at a cashier when they are already counting out change from an open drawer while standing under a security camera.  All that random cash flying around will make them look like they are stealing from the register.  (The managers were merciful gods, I am not in trouble.)  If you want to tip, wait until the drawer is closed, or just tell them to keep the change.

2.) My next customer, after taking forever to get herself organized and pay, (If you have to go through that much business, you need a smaller handbag, not larger.) wanted her book gift wrapped.  So I took her down to the end of the counter to wrap her book, and she started browsing the gift bag rack, which was odd, since she was getting my free gift wrap. (And I wrap very well, it looked good!)  Then, as we started chatting, it became apparent that she was not 'all there.'  In fact, she told me that she had just come from the dentist, and was still feeling the effects of anesthesia.  Yes, she was high and shopping.  After I wrapped her book, she decided she wanted a gift bag, too.  So we went back to the register and rang up the bag.  (And again with the handbag business.)  Then she put the wrapped book into the gift bag, and went to find her husband.  I silently thanked God that she was not driving herself.

3.) Finally, having escaped the register, I took a call at the customer service desk, for a woman looking for Fifty Shades of Grey, on CD.  I found the only copy in the store (we can't keep it on the shelf), and offered to hold it for her.  She accepted, and gave me her name and number.

Then, she made a very odd comment: "Oh, don't let my husband pick it up for me.  He'll just give it to his mistress."

After only a slight (I hope) pause, trying to offer good customer service, I asked: "Would you like to leave a fake name, so he won't be able to pick it up?"

She said, "Oh, I already did.  That's not my name."

Like I always say, you're not paranoid if they're really after you.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Customer Service, Part 7


Usually, when an entire family walks into the store together, you can tell who really wears the pants by who walks in the door first.  Now, there are some exceptions, but the rule of thumb holds, so when I see a family all together, headed by a child, I take notice.  This is never anything good.

This family was headed by a beautiful teenage girl, as it turns out, a very silly beautiful teenage girl, wearing very tight and silly teenage girl clothes, and way too much makeup for her lovely face.  She led her mother and four younger siblings to the Customer Service desk and asked for Of Mice and Men by Steinbeck, in a teenage girl voice so stereotypical I nearly laughed out loud in her face.

Unfortunately, we were all out of Of Mice and Men.  We had already sold over one hundred copies that week, to Miss Teen Bookstore's classmates, and she was late to the game.  (This sounds like a lot, but it is completely normal when the closest school district has three high schools near us and they assign the same book to all the kids in the same grade at the same time.)  (And no, there is no way to prepare for that kind of bookpocalypse, even if it is completely normal.)  And her mother's total lack of attention to our conversation was starting to bother me.

I told Miss Teen: "I'm sorry, we're all out of Of Mice and Men."  Her mother stared off into space.

"Oh my God, you're kidding," she exclaimed, and once again her mother showed no reaction.  It occurred to me that she might not speak english, and that is the only reason I got away with what I found myself doing next: playing it completely straight.

"No," I replied.  "We really don't have it.  I can put you on the list for the next shipment, it will be here on Monday."  Her mother scolded one of the other children, in spanish.  (Nailed it.)

"Oh my God, you're kidding," she exclaimed, again.

Once again, I managed to look as though I was taking her completely seriously.  "No, it will really be Monday.  Or possibly Tuesday."

"Is there anyway I can get it faster?"  They always ask this, the latecomers, and I was prepared with the ugly truth.

"I'm sorry, all the stores on the North and West sides of town are completely out."  I waited, careful to keep my face gravely calm.  She came through.  

"Oh my God, you're..."  She took one more look at my studiously solemn face and trailed off.  

I only let the silence hang for a moment.  I offered again to put her on the list, and she agreed.  She and I were very nice to each other from then on, and when she left we exchanged polite smiles.  She led her family out of the store, her mother still unaware of the inexplicable, inexcusable way I had treated her daughter.



 

Monday, September 3, 2012

It's Labor Day!

Everybody take the day off.  Even the stay-at-home-parents.  The kids will be okay for the day, right?  Just don't take them to the bookstore.  That's where I'll be.  Happy day off, everyone and God Bless.

Bad Christian

Monday, August 27, 2012

Public School was my Mother.

2 Timothy 2: 15, Colossians 3: 13, Romans 13: 7

We had a little scare this one time when I was a kid, we were attending a church that ran a private school, and my mother wanted to send me, of course to shelter me from all of the evil, worldly influences I would encounter in kindergarten at the public school.  This incident is my very first memory of 1.) following my instincts, and 2.) successfully thinking on my feet.  I told my mother that if she sent me to the Christian school, that all the kids at the public school would never get to hear about Jesus, because I would not be there to tell them about Him.  And since you all know how much I hate evangelism, you understand what a stretch this was for a five-year-old.  But she bought it, and I went to public school.

Monday, August 20, 2012

I'm stressed.

Philippians 4: 8,  1 Thessalonians 5: 11,  Psalm 35: 17,  Ecclesiastes 7: 3

I have been working overtime, theoretically six-day weeks, but since I don't get the same day off every week, it's more like eight-day weeks.  And yet, no change in job duties, just more of the same duties (hehe).  The extra money does not alleviate the constant crabbiness.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Welfare was my father.


  
“Conservatives argue that this human tendency toward corruption means that the unemployment benefits and government health insurance will make the poor lazy, that they will become food-stamp gobblers with no incentive to work for themselves.  But I side with the poor and powerless since-as we’ve seen-they have far less ability to destroy all our lives.”  Alisa Harris, Raised Right, p.205.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Writing is hard.

Psalm 45:1Ecclesiastes 9:10

MTV is teasing us with old episodes of Daria this week, and I love her and her little flat voice, and her friend Jane and her even flatter voice, and we got totally sucked in and now we're buying DVDs, and all of this to say that: writing is hard.

I'm late with my post again this week, life happens, and it is emphasizing to me, again, all the ways in which I constantly feel like a failure.

("Gosh, BC, you're awfully hard on yourself, all the time.  You should look into that, maybe pray about it."

"I know, Dear Readers, being hard on myself is another of my constant failings.  Sigh.")

One of the Daria episodes that aired today, "Quinn the Brain", helped me finally admit something that everyone already knows anyway (yay me and the big revelations): writing is hard.

Recently it occurred to me that I have been working on this blog for about a year, working on it longer than I've been posting to it, and even wrote small parts of it as long as two years ago, and I am astounded at myself.  I don't think I've stuck to anything, in a totally self-motivated, no outside accountability kind of way, this long in my life.  Oh, I can lie to myself and say that the devotion of my massive fan base keeps me going, but really, you would all find someone else to waste time with if this blog just stopped the way so many do.

Writing is one-third ideas, one-third discipline, and one-third editing.

Everyone has ideas.  We are all one-third writers.  We are all one-third actors, directors, singers and street magicians (or maybe that's just me).

Very, very few of us, including me, have the discipline to actually sit down and bang out our thoughts and ideas.  This is, for me, the hardest part.  All my ideas are perfectly executed in my head.  Why put myself through the torture of staring down the blank screen every day if all I get for my efforts are some half-baked ramblings inconsistent in tone and unclear in meaning?  As Quinn said today in her eponymous episode: "How hard can it be to just type stuff?"  Pretty damned hard, cutie.  Pretty damned hard.

I am really good at editing, though.  (In writing anyway, not so much in speaking.)  Most writers, after getting out all they can, foist the rest of the work onto an editor, someone who gets paid to try to bring an author's true vision out of the dross they set down.  It is really hard to do this for yourself, that's why people can make entire careers out of it.  But editing for DH is how I got started in writing.  I can easily do this for other people.  Sometimes, I can do it for myself, too.  Sometimes I'm too self-critical.

But lately, I've been newly impressed with the value of editing.  DH's first book has been published, to great familial acclaim, but since publication, he has rolled out a few new, read: re-edited versions, mostly due to rampant typos.  And he keeps re-releasing better versions because he cares about how his finished products look and feel.  We want to write and edit for our whole lives.

In the age of internet self-publishing, editing is more important than ever.  It doesn't matter what you have to say, if you spell like a kindergartener, no one will take you seriously.

I am not happy with my own writing.  I may never be.  But I know that even if no one ever reads, or likes, what I write, the act of writing, the ability to keep coming back to the blank page over and over, the ability to keep fishing valuable insights out of my own navel, is making me a better person.  Every time I write of these posts I like myself a little bit better.

Bless you for reading.


Monday, July 23, 2012

Old St. Nik, Part 12


Margaret was confused, but this was not the strangest thing she had ever seen, and she always kept her wits about her.  She heard the swords ringing over and over above her, and knew that no one would be watching her.  She slid out from under the covers, into the narrow gap between her bed and the wall.  She reached up to her nightstand, and grabbed the antique colored glass lamp, a cheap Tiffany knockoff, a beautiful gift from her loving grandmother.  She unplugged the cord, and removed the shade, grabbing the neck in her right hand, turning the heavy base into a club.  She thought of her grandmother, dead a year now, and let the love they shared fill her up inside.

"This is really disappointing," Aposose taunted Nik.  "I kept hearing all these terrible tales of great battles you've fought, not just from you, but from the other demons as well, and you're giving me nothing here!  What happened to the big, brave saint?  What happened to the stalwart defender of children everywhere?  Are you getting old?  Do you need a time-out?"  Aposose stepped back, giving Nik room to breathe.  Nik stood still, panting.  He tried to come up with a strategy, but nothing came to him.  "Okay,"  said Aposose gleefully, 'time in," and lunged for Nik once again.    

Margaret, still crouched in her hiding place, watched the two men fight.  She tried to understand the idea that one of them was actually there to help her.  There had been women in her life, certainly, who had tried to help, most notably her grandmothers, but men, especially her father, had never been a source of anything but grief.  Her father did drugs, and did not care for his family.  He let bad people come into the house and left it to Margaret to defend the littler ones.  She did not know where her mother was, but she was sure that was her father's fault, too.  She thought of her father, sleeping downstairs, and let the hate she felt for him fill her up inside.

Nik tried to put up more of a fight, tried to care about the children, tried to find his faith again, and while he was able to strike a few blows here and there, this was by far the longest and hardest he had ever fought a demon, and he was old, and tired.  He remembered the hate he used to feel for demons, the fierce love he used to feel for the children, and the determination that his faith had always provided, but the memories produced only ghosts of feelings that were not strong enough to help him.  He felt his resolution to survive this fight fading, every blow he blocked knocking his soul loose from his body.  He called out loud: "God, I'm sorry I was rebellious and ungrateful and unloving, would You help me, please!"

Margaret heard the Santa Claus man praying, and her choice was made.  She was always the one to get up early Sunday morning, get the little ones ready, and march them all to the church up the street.  She knew the value of faith.  She knew how those times at church lifted her spirit, gave her something to look forward to, something to believe in.  She thought of her faith, burning a trail of warmth down her backbone, and let it fill her up inside.

Nik's prayer enraged Aposose, and without a taunt, without a word, he suddenly attacked Nik faster and harder than ever before.  Nik knew then that Aposose had been holding back, toying with him, and that there had never been any hope of him winning this fight.  The thought was oddly comforting.  By the time Aposose got him down on the floor at the end of Margaret's bed, with his head against the wall, Nik was ready to die.  "Goodbye, old friend," Aposose whispered.  Then, Aposose dropped his sword, and fell on Nik, his knees in Nik's chest, and wrapped his hands around Nik's throat.  Nik managed to roll sideways, knocking Aposose off his chest, but the demon still had a grip on his neck.  Aposose lay on his side with his back to her, but Nik looked up and saw Margaret crouched between the wall and the bed.  Their eyes met, and time slowed for both of them.

Margaret stood up, took two steps to the end of her bed, and brought the base of the lamp down on Aposose's head.  In slow motion, she saw the lamp hit it's mark.  She heard the cord whip over her head, and felt the metal prongs of the plug scratch her cheek.  She lifted the lamp and dumped it on the bed.  She watched as black sludge welled from the deep wound in Aposose's head.  She fell to her knees, and blood from her cheek dripped on Aposose's face.  It burned his flesh.  Nik pulled himself out of Aposose's limp grasp, and sat face to face with Margaret over his caved head.  He reached out and touched her cheek, where the scratches were quickly disappearing.  She began to cry.          

"Damnit, don't do that," Nik muttered.  "Why do they always do that?"

"Shut up!"  Margaret blubbered.  "I'll do what I want!"

Nik glared at her with grudging respect.  Then, he stood up, found his sword, and cut off Aposose's head. 

Monday, July 16, 2012

Old St. Nik, Part 11


Nik tried to move lightly through the house, making no sound, but it was impossible.  The old wooden floors were cold and dry, and rubbed each other mercilessly, creaking loudly no matter where he stepped.  The door to Margaret's room was off its hinges, propped against the frame for a semblance of privacy.  Margaret, coffee-colored and peaceful, with perfect corkscrew curls splayed across the pillow, slept.  She had broad, clear features, and Nik imagined her smile was wide and welcoming.  He was so struck by her open, genuine beauty, that he almost didn't notice the demon standing next to the head of her bed. 

"You're slowing down, old man," said Aposose.  "I could have killed you a hundred times while you stood staring at the little girl.  I can't blame you, really.  This one is so special.  That's the reason why I came out tonight.  It was important for you to trust me for a long time, but now, this girl is more important.  I am so sorry to have to ruin our friendship this way.  Especially now that Abbess went and froze herself to death.  Stupid woman.  You have no one left now.  You best friend betrayed you; your helpmeet abandoned you; and surely after your little performance last night in the wind, your God will have turned His back on you."

Nik simply gaped.  He had no idea his angel friend had turned, and into the worst, most hideous, most difficult demon of all to fight.  A pride.  His best friend was a pride.  A beautiful, glowing, mighty angelic pride.  "When," he managed to croak.  "When did you turn?"

"Oh, ages ago!"  Aposose replied.  "Did you really think the whole host of heaven stopped talking to you all at once, or was it me they were avoiding?  If you weren't so stubbornly loyal, I would never have been able to poison you and your household so thoroughly and for so long.  And if you hadn't been so stubbornly angry and self-pitying, I would never have been able to turn Abbess away from you.  She paid for her selfishness, but if you could have brought yourself to touch her just once, she would never have left your side.  Do you know how old she was?  Two hundred and fifty-one.  Her love for you kept her alive far longer than any human should ever have lived.  She would have become a saint, and lived forever with you, if you had let yourself love her.  You killed her, Nik, as surely as I am going to kill you."

Margaret came awake gradually, to the sound of two strange men talking over her.  She stayed very still.  Usually, the drug addicts, dealers, and other shady characters her father brought into the house stayed downstairs, and she kept her brothers and sisters away upstairs.  This was remarkable, in her eleven-and-a-half years, Margaret had never had to deal with bad men in her own room before.  She was scared, but she realized she was ready.  She stayed put, waiting for one of them to make a move.

Nik's brain was like sludge.  His whole world turned upside down, he tried to think through the pain, and knew two things: God had not abandoned him, and he was dumb as a brick.  There was no point in hiding it anymore: "I am really stupid," Nik said, "I really should have seen this coming."

"Well," said Aposose, "it's not like a pride demon changes physically, just spiritually.  All the better to deceive you with half-truths.  I have chosen to represent the most respectable, the most well-regarded sin, don't you agree?  But enough about me.  It's you we're her to get rid of."  Aposose raised his sword, and charged Nik.

Monday, July 9, 2012

I didn't want a trophy.

Sometimes, when my friend B and I work the same shift, I drive her home.  After that, I take a different route home than usual, and one night, on that less-familiar route, tragedy struck.  I hit and killed an armadillo.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

I won't kill my babies.

I don't remember who said this, or exactly what they said, but they were a writer, and they were talking about the editing process.  The gist of it was that sometimes, in order to serve the whole of the piece, some really good stuff has to be cut.  And that it would feel like killing your babies.

Now, I'm all for hyperbole, but whoever wrote about this did so before Twitter.  Now, when I can't fit a good joke into a blog post, or I come up with a joke that I can't write a blog post around, I still have a forum.  A reasonable, bloodless forum.  Except for the pictures of penises.  And the political vitriol.  Well, it's a forum, at any rate.

Follow me, Bad Christian, on Twitter.  You know you want to.  @BadChristian1

Sunday, June 24, 2012

I Believe in Magic.



This is the 'before and after' for my haircut.  Thanks to DH for helping with taking pictures, uploading, downloading, and uploading again.  (I may have a super-famous blog, but I am still a noob and a technophobe.)

Everything is still in limbo, and I am still very stressed (I'll spare you the descriptions of my weird dreams), but I am still confident that I am on the right path.  And I know that it doesn't look like much of a haircut, but more changes are coming, and if I don't give myself some wiggle room, I could end up shaving my head.  No one wants that.


Monday, June 18, 2012

My Mind Wanders.

1 Corinthians 13: 11, 2 Corinthians 10: 5, Isaiah 55: 8-9

What follows is an account, to the best of my memory, of an actual thought train I had while riding in the car with DH this past Saturday morning.  If you have ever wondered how writers get their ideas, this is it, kids:

Monday, June 11, 2012

I don't know what I want.

Philippians 4: 6-7

Have you ever had this experience: you have been longing for something, praying for it, counting on it for such a long time, and then it happens and you freak out completely, like it's a bad thing?  Yeah, me too, right now.

Monday, June 4, 2012

I love Adele!

As well as all kinds of other devil music, including Broadway show tunes, but I'm definitely verging on idolatry when it comes to the planet's latest velvet-voiced chanteuse.  (And maybe I shouldn't be so enthusiastic, I'm going to jinx her.  RIP, GCB.)

Monday, May 28, 2012

It's Memorial Day!

Take the day off and have some fun.  Pray for our brave military men and women.  Spend some time with your families.  Just don't bring them to the bookstore, that's where I'll be.  (Don't feel too sorry for me, I'm making time-and-a-half, but let's not make this day any crazier than it has to be.)  I'll be back next week.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Old St. Nik, Part 10


Nik hated the feeling of being lost.  He had built his own compound, trained and trusted his reindeer, and alway knew where to go to face another battle.  Being lost was foreign, feeling powerless was totally unfamiliar.  He was angry, with Abbess for running away, and with himself for letting her and not knowing what she wanted.  But most of all, he realized, he was angry with God.  As he struggled and fought the wind, he imagined he was wrestling God Himself, and began to pray as he had never prayed before.  "God, I am angry with You," he started.  "You made me this way, You set me on this path, You forced this life on me and then You never help me!  None of Your angels speak to me anymore!  I can't get by without Abbess and she runs away and You're not helping me find her!  I do not understand what you want from me!  I do not understand this life you have given me!  I do not understand YOU!"   Nik was nearly exhausted, and he was building to a conclusion that scared him, as badly as he wanted it, "God, I don't understand You, and I HATE this life YOU have FORCED ME into!"  Nik stopped in his tracks as he shouted into the swirling wind.  "I HATE YOU GOD!  I HATE YOU AND EVERYTHING YOU'VE EVER DONE FOR ME!  I QUIT!  FUCK YOU GOD!  LET SOMEONE ELSE SERVE YOUR SILENT, DEAF, INDIFFERENT ASS!"  

Now totally spent, Nik let the strong wind push him down into the snow, and he fell asleep.  He dreamed of his childhood, an endless loop of one moment, over and over.  He reached over to the cradle where his crying sister lay squirming, and as he he pushed gently, the cradle rocked, and his his sister quieted, and fell asleep.  When he woke the next morning, he found himself lying on the ground, in the center of a beam of sunlight, surrounded by a patch of thick, soft grass dotted with tiny yellow and pink flowers.  He was dry and warm.  There was a name and a place in his head.  Margaret Brown, Chicago.  When he stood up, the sunbeam moved ahead of him through the snow, in the diction he should go.  He followed it until he could see the compound, half-buried in snow as deep as himself.  As he drew closer, he saw the children were working to clear the snow, and the few nuns scattered around helping, or giving orders.  As he approached, they all bowed, and he told them, "Keep working."  As soon as he passed, they did.

He went into his house, and his breakfast was waiting for him.  He ate quickly, and went upstairs to change.  When he was finished, he went to the stables, and the reindeer greeted him warmly.  The stable boys bowed.  He went back outside and began to help with the last of the shoveling.  The physical labor helped dampen the nagging worry at the back of his mind.  He hoped, he even prayed, that Abbess had been shown God's mercy as he had, but did not have the courage to go look for her.  Deep down, he knew that if she had come home alive, she would have sought him out already, probably to start another fight.  It was easier to hold onto the hope that she had survived if he did not give himself any reason to doubt, but that strategy did not last long.

Nik was forced to face the truth as he prepared to leave for Chicago.  No matter how busy or angry she was, Abbess had never let Nik leave without saying goodbye.  So when Abbess did not come out to see him off this time, he knew she was dead.  He tucked the furs around himself with uncharacteristic heaviness.  He wondered if knowing she was gone would affect his fight, and decided it would, and that he was ready to lose.  He paused for a moment before starting off, and looked around his compound.  They had all survived a day without Abbess, but how long could they go on without her commanding, organized touch?  And how long would any of them survive without him?  Would the reindeer know to go home without him if he was defeated?  What would be left to greet them if they did?

Finally he could put it off no longer.  He called to the reindeer to take off, and as they flew through the cold, clear night full of stars, Nik cried silently for himself, for Abbess, and for his faithful reindeer.  By the time they landed in front of a three-storey Victorian relic falling apart on the south side of Chicago, Nik was determined to survive this fight, to survive as many fights as it took, to live long enough to arrange his affairs. He would not have anyone suffer at his death.  He came back to himself, and realized how much he hated loose ends.  If he was going to end this life of service to the unknowable, inscrutable God, he was going to make sure he would take all the punishment for himself alone.  But first, he just had to get through this fight.  He drew his sword and approached the front door of the huge, listing house.     

Monday, May 14, 2012

Old St. Nik, Part 9


The trip back went badly.  As he crossed the arctic circle, Nik flew into a snowstorm that raged for the rest of the trip.  The reindeer knew the way, though, and Nik let them lead completely.  But the ride was rough, and by the time they landed in the middle of the compound, Nik felt badly shaken.  Abbess met him, as always, but her face was still stern from their fight earlier.  "Have you figured out what it is that's bothering you yet?"  He asked her.

"Let's go inside," she said, the snow swirling around her habit.

"No," he replied.  "The storm is passing, and I want to finish this before I go in and try and relax."  The reindeer drove the sleigh into the stable. 

"Well, I hate to think my bad mood would follow you the rest of the night," secretly, though she was glad to know for certain that her moods affected him, "but I'm cold, and I'd rather talk inside.  I figured out what I want.  I want to be warm.  There's nothing warm here.  Not the weather, not the snow, not the people, not even the fires.  I'm cold all the time.  Aren't you cold?  You're alone most of the time."

"Well, if the people here are so cold, then why would it matter if I'm alone most of the time?"

"Aren't you lonely?"  She asked.

"Yes, so what?"

She stepped back from him, shocked into silence.  He continued, "I never asked for this life, and I don't always like it.  But it is my calling, I have to do what God orders, and every morning I get orders.  You didn't have to stay.  You chose this life.  Why are you complaining?  At least you have a choice."

"What would you do if I wanted out?"  She asked.

"You won't leave," he rolled his eyes and threw back his head in frustration.  The wind picked up.

"Would you take me up in the sleigh again?  Would you dump me wherever you go tomorrow night?  She felt enraged, backed into a corner by his confession of loneliness, and overwhelmed by his decision to do nothing about it.  She knew she was baiting him deliberately, but couldn't seem to stop herself.  The heat of her own anger was the only comfort she had felt in several days, and she could not help but pull it close around herself.  The storm intensified with her emotions, and dimly she realized how dangerous it was to still be outside.

"You don't really want that," he shouted over the wind.  "You don't really want to leave."

"Watch me!"  She spun around and took a step away from him, and was immediately swallowed by a strong gust and swirl of blowing snow.  Nik tried to follow in the direction he thought she went, but as the wind whipped the snow into a total whiteout, he could only stretch out his arms and hope he was still following her.  The cold was getting to him through his torn suit, and she was smaller and faster than him.  He was all alone, and in minutes he had no idea where he was.

Abbess also was all alone and lost, and colder than she had ever been.  The rush of anger had worn off, and now she just felt cold and sorry for herself.  Why had she wandered away?  Why hadn't she just asked him for what she wanted?  Why hadn't she just asked him for the warmth and companionship she craved?  She tried to keep walking, but she was tired and fighting the wind.  She kept on determinedly for a while, thinking of all the things she deserved, trying to stay angry and righteous, but she started to feel more and more sleepy, and more and more sorry, and putting one foot in front of the other became a painful effort.  The wind felt like being stabbed, and the knowledge of the huge mistake she made stabbed deeper, but eventually it stopped hurting as her face and arms and legs went numb.  She fell over her own feet.  She was too sleepy to get up.  She curled into a ball on the ground.  The snow was soft.  As she fell asleep, she felt an illusion of warmth, and thought that every thing would be alright.  She did not wake up.  

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

My Hair is Magic.

1 Corinthians 13: 11-12, 1 Timothy 4: 7

It all started when I was thirteen.  My mother finally left my psycho stepfather, and we moved into a one bedroom apartment together.  No money, no furniture, no TV, no privacy.  It was a dark time in a lot of ways (thirteen usually is).  A friend of ours, a trained stylist, decided to do something nice for us.  She came over and gave us free haircuts.  When my mother wasn't looking, I decided to go shorter than I ever had, all the way up to my shoulders.

Monday, April 30, 2012

There is still more pride.

Matthew 4: 1-11, 5: 21-22Luke 6: 42

I seriously need to get over myself.  Every time I think I have everything all figured out, I get this powerful, triumphant feeling that leads right back to the beginning, right back to the I'm smarter, better, hotter, more compassionate, more sensitive, more mature, less judgmental, less craven than everyone else place that only means I have learned nothing.  Please take this opportunity to laugh at me the way I am laughing at myself.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Customer Service, Part 6

Mark 10: 42-44, Matthew 25: 34-40, Matthew 5: 43-48

DH and I went to see the Titanic exhibit at our favorite museum.  I have heard a lot about Titanic in the past, and the exhibit was surprisingly evocative, designed to inspire in the viewer the same emotions that the passengers may have felt at each stage of the voyage and wreck.  But what struck me the most was how much information the exhibit had about the crew of the Titanic.  No where else have I heard so much about the employees who made the ship run, and how they lived and died in it.  Not many people know that the crew was the largest class of passenger on the ship, and that more of them lived, and far, far more of them died, than any other class.  Much has been made of the uneven proportions of survivors among first, second, and third class passengers, but this is the first telling of the Titanic story that I have heard in which the employees of the ship were counted next to those they served.

I identified very much with the crew, both those who left the ship and survived, and those who stayed behind and did their jobs for the safety and comfort of the other passengers.  I can see both sides of the decision.

On the one hand, every customer is a human being just like me, with a family and a God who loves them, and deserves the very best I have to offer, every moment of every day.  On the other hand, if I have one more snooty jerk question my competence, interrupt me helping another customer, or let their kids use my store as a playground I'm going to drown someone with my bare hands.

Last night, while I was helping one customer, a second customer snuck up behind me and whispered her request in my ear.  Not only am I unimportant enough to interrupt, apparently I am not even worthy of personal space.  And she had the nerve to call me rude.  Everything Jesus said about humility and service kind of goes out the window for me in situations like that, and I have to admit that I am not the open, Liberal, accepting Christian I like to think I am.

I'm Christian, unless you're rude.  If you have not yet read this post by blogger Single Dad Laughing, you really should.  Not just because it's a good post, but because I'm referencing it here, this passage in particular:


“I’m Christian, unless you’re gay.”

That’s the message we’re sending, you know.
“I’m Christian, unless I’m hotter than you.”
“I’m Christian, unless I’m uglier than you.”
“I’m Christian, unless I found out you cheated on your income taxes.”
“I’m Christian, unless you cut me off in traffic.”
“I’m Christian, unless you fall in love with the person I once fell in love with.”
“I’m Christian, unless you’re that guy who smells like crap on the subway.”
“I’m Christian, unless you’re of a different religion.”
“Oh, but you’re not gay? You’re clean, and well dressed, and you have a job? You look the way I think you should look? You act the way I think you should act? You believe the things I think you should believe? Then I’m definitely a Christian. To you, today, I’m a Christian. You’ve earned it.”

See, I like to get all self-righteous about how I don't judge people, and how I am so much better than other Christians because I don't get hung up on everyone else's 'sins', but I do get hung up on other people's sins, all the time.  I guess it just depends on whether I feel victimized by those sins, and therefore, those people.

Because I am totally cool with gays.  I feel compassion for women who have made tough decisions about complicated pregnancies.  When customers at the store need to mail books to their relatives in prison, I am kind and discreet.  Some of my best friends are Republicans.  And some more of my best friends are Atheists.  I even have a tax collector in the family. (DH's cousin works for the IRS.)

But if you are rude to me at my job, I will call curses down on you for the rest of the day.  I am extremely touchy about it.  And lately, I have noticed it more and more.  Rudeness in general is on the rise, but interruption in particular.  Every customer seems to think that they are not only more important than me, but also more important than all the other customers, too.

It has been constant, and I am not the only employee who has noticed.  When we are talking to one customer, a second one will simply walk up and start talking, too, as though the first one did not exist.  Sometimes, they do it because they are in a hurry, or overly enthusiastic about their selections, or they think that their question is so easy and inconsequential that it will not count as an interruption.  Let me tell you, folks, there is no such thing as 'a quick question.'  Every time a customer tells me they have 'a quick question,' they always need more help than normal.  In my business 'a quick question' is Customer Code for: 'Forget about helping anyone else, you're going to spend the rest of the day with me.'

You can see how much this upsets me.  I'm very concerned with my own dignity, I want more than anything sometimes to be treated with copious respect, even deference.  Retail is a difficult career for someone as full of pride as I am.  I love that last line of Single Dad Laughing's passage: "You've earned it."  Yes, I harbor a secret wish to treat every customer not as Jesus would treat them, but as they have treated me.  I assume that however they treat me, must be how they deserve to be treated.  But as the most prideful wretch of them all, maybe I'm just getting the treatment I deserve.  Maybe I've earned it.