Tuesday, December 20, 2016

A Christmas Story



Working in retail has a way of taking the peace, "goodwill towards all" and joy out of Christmas. All those urgent needs and desperate wants, long lineups and even longer shopping hours has me pining for quiet walks in the woods or a good read with a glass of red. That said, sometimes, if you slow down enough in the midst of the milieu, you can still witness the beauty.

An excerpt from Notes from the Bottom of the Box: The Search for Identity from a Modern-Day Renaissance Woman .  .  .


It was Christmas Eve. The store was mildly busy, winding down from a hectic two weeks. A man with a few items in hand approached my till.

Do you have cellophane? he asked, voice terse with seemingly desperate need. My mind slipped sideways and not a little into reverse. It crashed back in the ‘60s and out popped Saran Wrap.

No, I said, we don’t sell food wrap.

No! he all but shouted, cellophane ... for wrapping stuff.

My mind went around another corner. Oh, you mean shrink wrap, yes, yes, of course, it’s ....

His eyes bugged out, my obstinate stupidity threatening to unhinge him. Never mind, he snarled, stabbing his debit card into the machine. It was then I got it: he wanted the clear crispy wrap for gift baskets. Go to Michaels, I said, they sell it there.

But the words were lost. The interact machine had taken the limelight—it was too slow. His fists clenched, his forearms strained, the machine teased. I glanced over his bent head at the woman behind. We exchanged smiles. Nice balloons, she said, looking at the festive green and red globes above my till. I nodded in perfect understanding.

Bringing my attention back to the man, I asked, Would you like a balloon?

For a moment he looked confused, then his shoulders relaxed and his face softened; he smiled and almost laughed. Yes, he said, I would. And with balloon in hand he went out the door into the night. 

Stay tuned for more weekly excerpts from Notes from the Bottom of the Box. If you like this blog, please like me on my Modern-Day Renaissance Woman Facepage.  Thanks for the support!
If you like my writing, check out my other blog, The Interdependent Life.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

The Interview



Does anyone truly like being interviewed for a job? It’s akin to explaining some misdeed to your mother that you thought no one in the world, especially your mom, would ever find out about. Moreover, you are told to approach interviews prepared to answer invasive questions that would never be asked except in situations where you are doomed to fail. What are your weaknesses? Is there a good way to answer this? Have you ever had conflict with your boss and how did you handle it? Let me help you with this one, never, ever answer yes, especially when you fill it out with an exposition on your authority issues.

That said, I have had success with at least forty interviews in my illustrious career. The following were not among them including my first formal interview—for a McDonald’s cashier—which took place when the franchise first appeared in my neighbourhood. .

Excerpt from Notes from the Bottom of the Box: The Search for Identity by a Modern-Day Renaissance Woman.

Several of us from high school, about ten altogether, went in to apply for work. We sat on fiberglass-molded chairs the colour of sickly pastels—the time-honoured decorum of fast food joints everywhere—while waiting to be interviewed. One by one my friends got up, talked to the manager and got hired. Then it was my turn. I didn’t get hired. I can’t say for certain why this was, although my mind is drawn to the moment when my sense of the ridiculous interrupted the meeting. The manager was telling me in an oh-so-sincere voice about the all-out wonder that was his McDonald’s, when I started to smile. Unfortunately, it wasn’t a golly-gee-this-is-fascinating smile. It was an oh-my-god-I-am-going-to burst-out-laughing grin, a smirk of delight that could not be hidden behind any attempt to chew off my knuckle. Even back then some part of me knew I would not fit in with corporate shenanigans.

Then there was the interview with the bank in which I was applying for work as an entry level teller. I didn’t do my research before heading in, so I didn’t know I was out of my league until the interviewer described their average client as anything but average. You know the kind: extremely wealthy, with high expectations for efficiency, service and kowtowing. Then again, knowledge of your potential customer base does not always elicit the most advantageous answers in an interviewee—I stayed true to who I was. When the interviewer asked how I dealt with conflict, I chose to describe an incident from my Downtown Eastside days—working with a strung-out cocaine addict who found offence in something I said. Needless to say, I didn’t get the job—his loss or, better said, the bank’s loss. Still, I imagine the example I gave was not far off from dealing with a multimillionaire finding a minute mistake in his service fees and wanting the overcharge refunded NOW. An addict is an addict, regardless of the substance.

Stay tuned for more weekly excerpts from Notes from the Bottom of the Box. If you like this blog, please like me on my Modern-Day Renaissance Woman Facepage.  Thanks for the support!
If you like my writing, check out my other blog, The Interdependent Life.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

On Being Useful


The Facebook post pops up on my screen, the first in line of many wanting to be liked, loved or cried over. It is a Ralph Waldo Emerson quote: “The purpose of life is not to be happy. It is to be useful, to be honorable, to be compassionate, to have it make some difference that you have lived and lived well.” The post had already garnered plenty of “likes”. I am not one of them.

It’s not the honourable and compassionate part that bothers me but the plead to be useful. I have nothing against Emerson but I feel his words are somewhat anachronistic. Honour and compassion come from within but utility? Why is there this need and who sets the bar Am I not valuable in who I am without being useful to another? Is usefulness defined by something outside ourselves? Are doctors more useful than retail clerks? And what is the measuring gauge? If I visit an aged relative once a week, am I being as useful as one who caretakes from home? Do we have to reach a certain standard before our worth is measured to be good enough?

Perhaps I am taking this too seriously. I mean, it was only a FB post that got a few likes and positive comments but it struck an inner chord. For too many years, in fact, most of my life I sought to be useful—to have a sense of self value, of meaning. In the search I went overboard in my attempts and I became the ubercodependent —I lost my identity in the hopes and dreams, needs and desires of others. Sure I was useful but was I “living well” as Emerson beseeches us to do?

Several years ago I began the process of deconstructing my need to find meaning and value outside of who I was. What I found was that by "virtue of just being" I am inherently worthy. Here is an excerpt from that occasion from my book, Notes from the Bottom of the Box: the Search for Identity by a Modern-Day Renaissance Woman.

My worth—anyone’s worth—cannot be measured on individual attainment, intimate relationship or some magical formula of self-actualization. It is based on our interrelatedness, the invisible connections that are the foundation for life. It is not so much that I am someone’s child or friend, mate or colleague, but that I am connected to others, not necessarily by choice, but solely because I exist. By virtue of just being, I am related to every other living thing: flora and fauna. I may not know the person walking towards me, but in my noticing, we are both affected. I look at him or her, and my glance is taken away from something else, and in that move I am changed, as is the person I did and did not look at. Our energy, intent and presence affect others even if we are not conscious of it. I breathe in what you just breathed out; I smile and your heart opens; I move this way and you respond in kind, or not. I die and become earth; the earth grows food and feeds those who live. I am but one strand in the web of life, but that strand is continuous within the whole and, as such, important.

My sense of self-worth … is directly proportionate to my recognition of this invisible thread. If I recognize this connection, I acknowledge my infinite worth; if I don’t, my subjective worth diminishes. To speak for all of us, our inherent worth is constant; it is only a misguided perception or denial of our interconnectedness with all other beings that devalues us.

I am part of you, as you are part of me. To negate our self-worth is to negate life in all its manifestations.

Stay tuned for more weekly excerpts from Notes from the Bottom of the Box. If you like this blog, please like me on my Modern-Day Renaissance Woman Facepage.  Thanks for the support!
If you like my writing, check out my other blog, The Interdependent Life.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

A Work in Progress


I was looking over my manuscript, Notes from the Bottom of the Box, wondering what excerpt to print this week when I came across the two paragraphs reprinted below. The full essay was written when I was working as a BodyMind therapist at a detox centre but I found it quite apropos to my current incarnation as a retail clerk.

For the most part, my retail customers are great. I love the camaraderie, the shared humour, and the satisfaction of helping clients find a quality item they both need and want. That said, there are times when certain customers irritate me beyond my capacity to be even semi-tolerant. I have a variety of ways of dealing with the latter including venting to my colleagues (when in search of a requested piece in the back room) and transforming into an oh-so-neutral and coolly polite clerk. When I am feeling good, however—when I am at peace within myself—my tactics change: I centre myself and remember two things. One, that this annoying adult was once a baby—a tiny innocent soul who was partly molded into who he or she is today by events beyond their control; and two, that I have no idea what demons are affecting his or her life. Maybe this person’s loved one has just been diagnosed with a terminal disease, they got fired or perhaps dropped by their supposed soul mate. Haven’t we all had to do business when we’d rather yell obscenities from the top of a roof? Haven’t we all, consciously or not, transferred frustration onto the nearest person: sales clerk, the driver in front of us; our children?

I have learned, and continue to learn, that judging someone’s behaviour and then reacting to it in a negative manner is seldom uplifting for either party. While it may give momentary satisfaction, the long-term effects only produce a chronic social disgruntlement at best, and alienation, depression and violence, at worst. It doesnt mean that I am a star pupil of these lessons except to say that I am discovering that life is, indeed, a work in progress. We can only keep coming back to centre—however long it takes—back to a place where we know we are all in this together.

Excerpt from Notes from the Bottom of the Box: The Search for Identity by a Modern-Day Renaissance Woman.

In the memoir, Reading Lolita in Tehran, the author, Azar Nafisi, recalls words spoken in defense of a literary professor who chose to speak up for a man on trial for treason in 1980s Iran. In the political climate of the time, both treason and this act of defense had potentially lethal consequences. 

Analyzing the professor’s action, Nafisi wrote:

“Such an act … can only be accomplished by someone who is engrossed in literature, has learned that every individual has different dimensions to his personality … if you understand their different dimensions you cannot easily murder them” (2004, p. 118).
After reading this passage, I found myself thinking not of literature but of my work as a BodyMind therapist. Similar to someone “engrossed in literature”, my training and practice supports me in understanding the concept that we have different personality dimensions, or parts, within us.  For example, most of us have a part that wants to go to work because it pays for our lifestyle and another part that hates going because it interferes with that same way of being. Facilitating an awareness of our multi-dimensional selves helps prevent me from judging myself and others harshly. That said, my practice is a work in progress and has its challenges around judgment and perception, as the following story will tell.

I was working as a practitioner in a detox centre: BodyMind therapy, energy work, reflexology—whatever was needed to help relieve physical and/or emotional pain. A new intake, Tom, came to see me. Tom had been physically abusive to his partner, Lilly. I knew this because Lilly, a past client of mine, had confided in me during our sessions. I met Tom for the first time a few days after Lilly died from complications of congenital heart disease. Tom was a mess. He was not only detoxing from heroin and crack but was visibly upset about his girlfriend’s death. He loved her, he said, cared for her, was devoted to her. It was hard for me to listen. In fact, it was hard not to hate him. To hear his “lies” asserting themselves against the delight that was Lilly disturbed me on a deep level. He was the antithesis of all the beauty and laughter she characterized—the na├»ve frivolity she embodied and the lightness she passed on to those with whom she shared time. Here he was trying to sell me on his heroic qualities when I, in my place of judgment, knew the truth… or did I? 

Stay tuned for more weekly excerpts from Notes from the Bottom of the Box. If you like this blog, please like me on my Modern-Day Renaissance Woman Facepage.  Thanks for the support!
If you like my writing, check out my other blog, The Interdependent Life.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

The Bottom of the Box



Excerpt from Notes from the Bottom of the Box: The Search for Identity by a Modern-Day Renaissance Woman.
Imagine yourself stranded on an island in the middle of the North Atlantic. The isle is isolated; the chance of rescue, slim. You are not alone. Others share this space, each of whom has been shipwrecked upon its shores, each in their own time and each for reasons sometimes too obscure to understand. There is a hierarchy among those who live here, one of privilege and connections. For those in the upper echelons life is good, princely in fact. But for those in the bottom rungs of this closed-off society, there exists but a certain drudgery hidden behind ten-minute coffee breaks and bagged lunches with Jerry Springer. Some find their way off the island, mostly the young, but many don’t. They stay for reasons more obscure than how they got there in the first place, and then, at some point, the reasons no longer matter—it just is.
The life of a Big Box employee.
It is one I envisioned before entering this most inglorious profession and, unfortunately, the one I lived for the first few weeks of becoming a Big Box cashier. Taken out of financial desperation, I fell into a black hole as I took the circumstances—finding my middle-aged self on the bottom rung of the North American career food chain—to be more about me than a misguided perception of self value. But like most of life’s dark moments, this twist of fate proved to be a most fortuitous turn of events. Realizing I couldn’t remain in a downward trend where bemoaning my existence was the norm, I slowly but surely turned it around: I began writing about it. I uncovered its gifts. And despite the fact I stayed in the Box for over three years, I found myself climbing out of the metaphorical box in which I had lived most my life.
You can find these blog posts at The Interdependent Life (May 2012 – July 2015).
Notes from the Bottom of the Box: The Search for Identity by a Modern-Day Renaissance Woman was inspired by my sojourn as a Big Box cashier. It is a collection of stories from that time as well as other phases in my life where I abandoned my true identity for a work persona that I took as my own. In looking back, each phase was a gift; each moment of darkness a new discovery: a pathway towards who I am today and always was.
Hoping you are enjoying these excerpts. See you next week.

If you like this blog, please like me on my Modern-Day Renaissance Woman Facepage.  Thanks for the support!