Tuesday, June 22, 2010

I am what I am, and that's all that I am.

I have a running joke at work that I am not into “self-improvement” because I am just fine being who I am. Believe me, I could fill a book with my never-ending list of personality traits that need an overhaul. I’m lazy, sarcastic, irreverent, selfish, bossy, and those are just some of my more endearing qualities. Oh, and my breath frequently smells like coffee. But as I’m approaching forty-two years of age, do I really need to make a concerted effort to move over to the sunny side of the street? Is it even possible for this – ahem – mature woman to grow into that upbeat “It” girl who can turn the world on with her smile? More importantly, do I even give a crap?

A few years ago I was forced to participate in a seminar that focused on the different personality styles at work and how to communicate effectively with each other. (Strangely, I was the only attendee that found the whole premise of this class to be very similar to a steaming pile of cow poo.) We were there to learn the proper way to act toward people who possessed different “styles” than us (and I’m not referring to preppy versus hippie). We would assume a new persona (at least that was my interpretation) depending on the personality of the co-worker or client we were engaging in order to get them to like us more, thus creating harmony. It was even mentioned that we should each have our personality type put on a sign that would hang in our cubicles so that anyone who walked by would know, for example, that I’m frequently surly and to be prepared for a tongue lashing if disturbed. I can only imagine that my sign would be one word, all caps: BITCH.

I was both amused and appalled by this idea. Luckily, clearer heads prevailed, and this suggestion never came to fruition. And for reasons obvious to anyone who knows me, I decided against employing these politically correct, friend-winning techniques and went back under my rock.

I’ve been subjected to every personality test under the sun to diagnose my complete lack of “giddy”. And in case you’re wondering, I have been officially classified as an ISTJ and my work style is considered to be analytical/analytical, the most boring and unattractive of all as opposed to the amiable/expressive cheerleader types. I am keenly aware of my strengths and weaknesses, and I can surely do without some Suzy Sunshine, who majored in communications at the local liberal arts party college, telling me to “lighten up” and “smile more” in order for people to like me. If you’re going to be harping on me to be perky and eternally optimistic, then maybe, just maybe, I don’t care if you like me.

I get the same results test after test. It’s just not a newsflash to me that I prefer telling you the truth to being tactful. (That shirt makes you look fat, and you’ll thank me later for telling you so. Promise!) I don’t need a questionnaire to confirm that I value punctuality and that being “right” brings me pleasure. And what these brain-picking exams see as “aloof” is actually me running through the six hundred or so mental lists that are stored in my brain to ensure that I remember to get tea and deodorant, that the car payment is sent on time, and that the kids wear their camp tee shirts for the next day’s field trip. Hey, we can’t all be tripping through fields of daisies singing, “Puff the Magic Dragon”. There is always a to-do list somewhere calling my name!

I am officially a glass-half-empty kind of gal. (Just ask Myers-Briggs.) If you are looking for big bear hugs and a sparkling disposition, then you may need to look elsewhere, but if you need data assembled into a pie chart and analyzed or, perhaps, a detailed plan to organize your workspace, then you’ve come to the right place. I know I’m not the life of the party, but hey, we can’t all be Pollyannas. And besides, you wouldn’t appreciate all of those Butterflies and Cupcakes kind of folks if it weren’t for dark, foreboding clouds of doom like me passing through the garden of your life every now and then... you’re welcome.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Dear Black, It's not you. It's me.

I wore a pink shirt to work last week and caused a commotion.

People alternately stared at me and did double takes as I walked past. Co-workers were blurting out comments that ranged from, “WOW! What’s the occasion?” and “You look bright and cheery today!” to the more direct assault on my style by saying, “Who are you?” and "Are you feeling okay?" I never knew I could turn the world on its ear by adding a splash of color to an otherwise Morticia Addams-looking wardrobe.

I guess I’ve earned my nickname of “Johnny Cash”. (I’m the “Woman in Black” in case you missed the reference.) Black and I go way back, long before emo or death metal music deemed it the required uniform of tortured people everywhere. I gave my heart and soul to black as a high school kid who was desperately searching for an identity and a way to disappear. I briefly immersed myself in “Goth” (such an overused and frequently misused term). It just went so well with my frighteningly pale skin and sour attitude.

I thoroughly enjoyed pretending to be moody and misunderstood. (Okay, so maybe I wasn’t pretending about the moody part.) I made my dark eyes darker with layers of black eyeliner, and patted on even more white powder so that my face looked almost corpse-like. I brushed my hair down over my eyes to help avoid any unwanted human contact, adjusted the chip on my shoulder, and, in my mind, I set forth on a journey many, many cultural light years away from my small-minded, small-town peers.

I abandoned the Goth persona before it had a chance to really take, but I kept clinging to my precious black. It was comforting, my security blanket. (I will admit to also buying into the urban legend that you can weigh 250 pounds, but the right pair of black pants will make you look like an underweight super model.) More importantly, black allowed me to be a shadow in the background of this world and glide through under the radar, and that’s the way I like it. For me, black screams, “Nyah nyah nyah nyah! You can't see me!”, and besides, I don’t have to think twice about what I’m wearing in those wee hours of the morning before work when I know that it will always be black pants with a black shirt and shoes. I prefer to call my wardrobe “sophisticated” not morose or drab. And no, I do not work in a mortuary.

But a week or so ago, I had a surprising change of heart.

While out shopping one afternoon, I caught a glimpse of myself in a store mirror, and it stopped me dead in my tracks. In my own defense, it was late in the day, and I was tired. I had on exercise clothes (black, of course), a ball cap (black, of course) and was without the benefit of full make-up.(Excuses, excuses) I lingered over my reflection for a few minutes. What I saw in that mirror under those harsh, fluorescent lights was reminiscent of the Crypt Keeper from HBO’s “Tales from the Crypt”. My black hat and black shirt made my already wrinkling face look gray and lifeless, and who cares that black is making my butt look smaller when at the same time it’s illuminating the dark circles under my eyes! In that split second I made a life-changing decision: I’m breaking up with black.

My epiphany came that day when I realized I might just have a sunnier disposition if I didn’t always look like I was on my way to a funeral. Maybe if I’m not wearing black from head to toe, people will stop interrupting my shopping trips by asking me to check the back room for their size jeans while I’m at The Gap. (Seriously, do people really think a tired-looking forty-something mom would be hired to sell fitted tees? Doubtful.) Maybe if I tried an outfit in a floral or stripe print now and then, people wouldn't have to wonder if a trendy hair salon employs me.

And that is where the pink shirt comes in…

Friday, June 11, 2010

Catching Summer in a Mason Jar

My kids don’t know summer at all. Well, they don’t know the real summer, the summer that I remember as a child. They think summer looks a whole lot like winter, only now they are covering themselves with sunscreen instead of heavy coats and hats. My kids are still waking up with an alarm clock at the crack of dawn to get dressed and eat a good breakfast, but instead of making sure their homework is safely tucked into each backpack, they are double-checking to ensure they have a beach towel and a dry tee shirt for their weekly field trip to a local pool. For my children, summer consists of a heavily scheduled and oh-so predictable day camp whose job it is to keep them entertained five days a week, and it makes me more than a little sad.

Growing up as a kid in the early 1970’s, we didn’t have air conditioning in our house, yet miraculously, we all survived to tell the tale. We kept our windows open all day and all night, and we used noisy box fans to move the sticky air around, although we still left wet prints on the vinyl couch if we lingered there too long. But back then, we kids didn’t linger there too long. Even though we had the luxury of sleeping late to our hearts’ content each day, we willingly hopped out of bed, downed a bowl of Count Chocula (sometimes two…okay, maybe three), and were out of the house in our bare feet so quickly that we scarcely heard the sound of the screen door slamming behind us. That was summer.

We didn’t coordinate our play dates back then. Actually, we had never even heard of play dates. Our mommies never pulled out their calendars to see if next Tuesday at 2 o’clock in the park was good. Our social calendars were open all day, every day. If we didn’t see any kids in the yard next door climbing trees or making necklaces out of clover, we got on our bikes and rode until we found someone else looking for a partner in crime. (Fun, I meant Fun.) We never knew who we might find willing to join us in a game of freeze tag. That was summer.

We did chores, but these were summer chores that we relished. I remember sitting on the back porch in a flowery halter top and pig tails, swinging my legs over the edge while helping my mama shuck corn. Or sitting at the kitchen table across from her, snapping green beans to go into a big pot of water on the stove with some fat back, and how the smell of those beans cooking somehow made its way to the swing set I kept busy most days. (Granted, every vitamin and nutrient was completely cooked out of the beans, but hey, they tasted great!) I didn’t mind going down to our little garden to pick ripe tomatoes and squash even though it was a no-brainer that my bare feet would soon fall victim to honeybee stings over and over. That was summer.

We stayed outdoors every evening until dark back then because night time was prime time for kids to practice the unofficial sport of summer - catching lightnin’ bugs. We would race around the yard like we had never seen one before, trying mostly in vain to snag these creatures in a Mason jar, and all of this movement was choreographed to the sound of my father’s Atlanta Braves baseball game wafting through the open windows. And after a full day of making mud pies in dirty feet, looking at crawdads in the swollen ditches after a thunderstorm, and getting squirted with the hosepipe behind the house, I remember climbing into bed beside my open window, resting my head on the sill, and staring up into the starry night, praying for a breeze to lull me to sleep. That was summer.

Nowadays, we rarely see lightnin’ bugs in our yard. (Maybe they’re moving away from the city like everyone else.) My kids wouldn’t know what a Mason jar was if they tripped over it. I don’t allow my children to ramble around the neighborhood on their bikes because this mean world scares me. I’m too busy for a garden and wouldn’t know how to correctly cook fresh beans without some serious internet research. My family rarely gets to sleep in, and my son and daughter both would be perfectly content to sit in an air conditioned room watching the Disney channel all day. To them, field trips to the museum and playing dodge ball in the gymnasium mean summer. And as sad as it is, they think it's completely normal to head inside before dark to get a bath because 6:30am comes early, and tomorrow is library day. It almost makes my heart hurt.

I wish my children could truly appreciate what the "lazy days of summer" are all about. I try to steer away from being too sentimental or nostalgic for days gone by, but what I wouldn't give to go back for one day to the kudzu and potato salad-filled summer days of my childhood to leisurely eat a popsicle on the front porch steps with my best friend, Missy. That being said, there is one thing that I would change about my childhood that would make the memory all the more sweet, something I only dreamed of during those dog days of July and August: Central Air.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

A bug by any other name is still a bug...

I will never forget the first time our eyes met. I stood there for moment, taken aback by the sheer mammoth-ness of what was before me. It was dark and shiny like a freshly polished pair of patent leather shoes on Easter morning. I cocked my head to the side and quickly forgot what I went into the bedroom for as I pondered this thing on my wall. I moved a step towards it, and in the split second that it took for my brain to go from “What is it?” to “Oh my gosh, a roach is in my bedroom!” there was lift off, and the gargantuan monster was flying straight for me. The scream that left my throat at that moment would put a slasher movie victim to shame, as I shot off down the hallway, running for my life. I barely survived my first run-in with a Palmetto Bug, the hard core thugs of the insect world.

The Palmetto Bug – isn’t it charming how us folks living below the Mason Dixon line give even the nastiest of creatures a country club name? If you are like most people in the South, you have the exterminator on speed dial. You might even have them on your Christmas card list. The truth of the matter is that you can bleach every inch of your house, sweep up every crumb, and seal every crack or crevice, but you are still going to have bugs in your house. However, until I was an adult in my own home, I never had the displeasure of coming across this gangsta of a bug, this mutation of what I knew every other roach to be. Maybe it’s because I live closer to the nuclear power plant now, and they just grow ‘em bigger out this way. Maybe when I was a kid, my tough-as-nails mom swatted them before they made it to my line of sight. Or maybe they just never came into my house back then because they were scared to death of my dad like everyone else. Whatever the reason, I have found that these bugs will put up a fight if provoked, and it can go either way.

The latest battlefield with these Palmetto Bugs has been in the most intimate of places – the master bathroom of my home, even though this room is upstairs and away from any food source or entryway. Do you know how disconcerting it is to be primping, half-dressed in front of the mirror and spot one of these giant bugs staring at you from behind, probably snickering like a perverted teenage boy? Worse than that was the time when I was enjoying a much-deserved hot, relaxing shower only to tilt my head upward and come face to face with one of these Peeping Tom Palmetto Bugs watching me from the ceiling. Between the slippery shower and the even slippery-er ceramic tile floor, it was nothing short of an act of God that I made it out of that room without a broken bone or concussion. I am convinced these things are creepy little voyeurs.

My first line of defense against these raunchy invaders is to let out a blood curdling scream followed immediately by my husband’s name. I’ll usually stand there, eyes transfixed on the bug while he finishes his sudoku puzzle or catches the last few minutes of whatever alien movie he found on the Sci-Fi channel. During these moments in limbo, I’ll alternate between silent shaking and staccato shrieks each time the creature dares to move.

If I find myself mano a mano with one of these buggers, I break out the big guns – they get the full-on salon treatment. My sure-fire way to kill an insect of any size is to saturate them with hair spray. Oh yeah, this is my Aussie Instant Freeze Spray of Death in a purple can, and it works every time. (Let’s not even get into the human and environmental issues surrounding the fact that the hair products I use also double as insecticide.)

I am at least comforted by the fact that exterminator trucks are common in my neighborhood. Even Mr. and Mrs. Clean will eventually find that their home has become a Roach Motel of sorts here in the sunny, insect-filled south. It could be worse, though. After relaying the gory details of my time in the trenches during the Palmetto Bug War to my neighbor, she told me about the night when she climbed into bed and after a few minutes, felt something crawling on her chest, and well, you can figure out the rest. I can’t imagine how many years of therapy it would take for me to recover from a surprise roach attack in the sanctity of my own bed…and for the sake of all that is good in the world, I hope I never find out.