Posted in Mental Health

Spooks & Sparklers

I’m still a little haunted. On my psychiatrist’s chart, that condition is spelled out “P-T-S-D,” but I think “haunted” is a better descriptor of the experience.

As much as I’ve tried to process it, my brain still doesn’t entirely know what to do with some of the sights, sounds, and experience my memory contains. I’m speaking specifically of the morning my second husband committed suicide, shooting himself in the head while I stood face to face with him. That stuff-in-my-head bubbles up uncomfortably with some triggers, and surfaces in nightmares. I don’t do well with seeing people shot on television; Jon has become expert at changing the channel with just a breath of notice. And he’s great at the gentle wake-up when I’m whimpering in my sleep.

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fireworks from our RV roof last night

Jon has his own PTSD trigger, thanks to his combat role in Desert Storm. Let’s just say he’s not a fan of fireworks—especially the whistling rockets that sound “just like incoming SCUD missiles.” Our RV Park is situated right next door to a semi-pro baseball stadium, where they set off fireworks regularly after games. We have notes on the calendar about fireworks-nights, just so they don’t catch Jon off guard. Four nights this week. I think he was only half joking when he asked Monday if he could return fire.

Fireworks don’t usually cause me trouble, so I was surprised Sunday night when they caught me off guard—I had already fallen asleep, and woke panicked to what I thought was gunfire.

The next morning I tried an exorcism-by-ink. Not tattoo-ink this time, but writing. I wrote out absolutely every detail I could remember from that Sunday morning, from when I woke up until when my mom arrived (having driven 300 miles in record time) a few hours later. I wrote about every sight, sound, even smell I could dredge out of my memory, and put it all on paper. I wrote out every piece of conversation with the 911 dispatcher, emergency responders, and detectives. I wrote about my living room, after it had been released from its “crime scene” status—the man removed by EMTs and the gun removed by police, but every other bit of “evidence” still remaining. I re-lived the whole thing on purpose and wrote thousands of words. It felt therapeutic. I guess time will tell whether it helped.

imageLast night I faced the fireworks in sort of the same way. The city’s holiday display is usually staged in a park upriver from us, but this year’s flooding rendered the usual spot too soggy, so the Fourth of July fireworks were moved to the fairgrounds right next to the ballpark and our RV park. I climbed up on our RV roof when I heard them start, and washed the whole show, rockets blooming beneath the nearly-full moon.

It was beautiful. And while I was looking at the whole picture, I wasn’t bothered by the resemblance to gunfire-noise. I’m hoping my therapy-writing will serve the same purpose. Big picture: I was face to face with Keoni when he fired that bullet, but I wasn’t hit. He broke my heart that morning—but hearts have amazing capacity for healing, and my life today is filled with love and joy. Today when one of his sayings flitted through my mind, I felt amused instead of uncomfortable or angry. Maybe that writing is doing its work.

Posted in Motorcycle, On the Job, writing

Learning Curves

Home Depot bucketSitting in a “town hall meeting” of Home Depot employees last week, several of us broached the subject of training with our store manager, Jeremy. The Home Depot offers some incredibly structured online training modules (I’m especially grateful for the interactive “Cashier’s College” that helped me weather my first days at the register!) but several of us felt our on-the-ground training had been rather haphazard. Invited to critique our experiences as employees, we gave voice to what we saw as gaps in the training process.

Jeremy is a master at the positive spin, and he proved as much in the town hall meeting. While he acknowledged the concern and validated our experiences, he also spun our critique into a pep-talk of a learning-moment. “Well, it IS a do-it-yourself store,” he said with a laugh, after acknowledging our concerns, and sharing the challenges inherent in employee training—“and sometimes that do-it-yourself culture will apply to learning too.” He talked like a teacher, speaking of Pushed Learning (like the online modules that are “served up” to the learner) contrasted with Pulled Learning (when you seek out the new knowledge for yourself).

Essentially he was inviting us to consider whether we’re content with limiting ourselves to what gets served up on a platter, or whether we want to take charge of our own experience. I came away feeling inspired to demonstrate that I AM invested in my own learning.

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An orange-apron learning-journey… saying goodbye to the Garden register

It was a timely pep-talk for me, because I’m embarking on a whole new learning-journey with my move from cashiering to the Service Desk. While I’m excited about the move, I’m all too aware that it’s a steep learning curve. There’s a whole new (complex) computer system and a load of new procedures and services for me to master before I’ll be effective there.

All in all, it’s the perfect time for me to feel inspired.

I applied some of the same attitude to last weekend’s three-day motorcycle class. The classroom segments were definitely “pushed learning,” but the range practice required more. No one is guaranteed a completion card just by taking the course—in fact, several students failed the skills testing—but I can happily report that my completion card will be in the mail this week, and I can officially add the motorcycle endorsement to my license when it arrives.

In order to accomplish that, I had to get past the step-by-step verbal instructions being shouted to us and feel the bike. Stopping. Swerving. Weaving. Cornering. (This is a venue where the “learning curves” are literal curves!) Continue reading “Learning Curves”

Posted in People, writing

Going GRAYcefully?

I’m thinking about letting my gray grow.

I know this doesn’t sound like an earth-moving decision, but the question has deeper roots in how I see myself. I don’t “feel” like a gray-haired person, so I haven’t liked seeing the silver strands framing my face when I let it lapse between color rinses.

I honestly don’t even know for sure how much gray I’ve got (besides “a lot” around the face), because I tend to run to WalMart for another three-dollar box of Revlon color every time I start seeing silver.

kana red
My FaceBook profile from the redhead years

When I started coloring my hair, it wasn’t because of gray; it was because I’d always wanted to be a redhead. Unlike my literary heroine Anne of Green Gables (who always lamented her hair color) I admired its “standout” quality, and wished as a kid that my subtle copper highlights would somehow morph into a full-on head of red.

So I bought a box of red ten years ago, and I loved it and I stuck with it. While my late husband and I owned our restaurant, his spicy barbeque sauce was called “Redhead’s Temper” after me (though he was politic in declining to comment on the “temper” half of that label). I spent that whole marriage as a redhead… And then the day after his funeral, I went back to the brown that God and my mother gave me.

That shift was entirely unpremeditated, and I didn’t bother at the time to try to explain it to myself. Perhaps it was a modern expression of a Victorian sensibility—a sort of putting on mourning, or the mark of a chapter-of-life being closed.

Because I’d never colored my hair to its natural hue, I didn’t know what color to buy. I took my daughter (whose tresses match mine) to the store and walked her down the hair-color aisle, holding a hank of her waist-length locks up against the various boxes to find a match. And I figured that was my last box of hair color, since going back to my natural color meant not having to cover or color roots, right?… Continue reading “Going GRAYcefully?”

Posted in People, writing

Advice from a Polyglot

imageYesterday I asked my co-worker Shawky where he’s from. He was born in Cairo, he answered, and grew up in Greece—and he used to work on ships, visiting 89 countries and acquiring six languages. Apparently Home Depot doesn’t have an “I speak Romanian” badge, because that’s the only one he’s missing.

I joked that he probably doesn’t have much call for that here, but wouldn’t you know—not half an hour later a customer made a beeline for his register, greeted him by name, and started chatting him up in (you guessed it) Romanian.

One of our mandates as cashiers is to get customers to sign up for the Home Depot credit card. While most cashiers got a handful, or maybe a dozen, apps in the last month, Shawky had a stunning 111 credit card applications. While I worked the register next to him yesterday, I watched him sign up three more people as smooth as you please.

I teased him about his “magic” but asked him in earnest what advice he would give me to help the magic rub off on me.  He answered me very seriously, in his accented but impeccable English. “Listen. I will tell you. You must have absolute confidence. Don’t say so much. Choose what you say,” Continue reading “Advice from a Polyglot”

Posted in Family, People, writing

Legos—Did You Know?

on a scale of one to stepping on a lego, how much pain are you in?As a parent, Legos were my least favorite toys to step on barefoot. Did you know that a Lego can withstand over 4,000 Newtons of force? That’s why the Lego always wins when you step on it.

But that’s really the only drawback to Legos. (Well, that and the price of Legos these days—it’s nearly as painful to pay for them as to step on them.) The reason why Legos are so awesome is summed up in this description, from Wikipedia: “Anything constructed can then be taken apart again, and the pieces used to make other objects.” Lego is the ultimate imagination-toy.

Lego castle 1980s
This was my favorite set.

Did you know that there are over 915 million ways to combine six basic 2×4 Lego bricks?

Growing up, my favorite set was a castle compilation of all-gray bricks, complete with hinges to make the requisite drawbridges and swinging doors to hidden passages. Legos usually come with a “construction plan”—and I’m sure mine did, though I don’t remember it… because the real fun is inventing your own stuff out of the possibility of all those pieces.

Lego Jack Sparrow Indiana Jones
Jack & Indie—two of my favorite characters in Lego!

In retrospect, my castle set was pretty simplistic, in part because my Lego-play predated the licensing agreements that have brought us Lego Harry Potter, Lego Indiana Jones, Lego Pirates of the Caribbean, Lego Marvel comics…

Just listing them makes me want to sit down on the floor and play. My son’s earliest Lego sets were pirates—any guesses why? Yup, Mommy wanted to play with them. (Did you know that the name “Lego” comes from the Danish phrase leg godt, which means “play well”?) Continue reading “Legos—Did You Know?”

Posted in Mental Health, People

The Science of Smiles

Okay, I have to admit my body is not yet accustomed to day-long shifts standing on concrete. Or more accurately, it’s not yet re-adjusted to that… When I owned and ran a restaurant the days were a lot longer, and sure, they wore me out—but they didn’t make my muscles sore like they are this week.

imageThat’s right, I have sore muscles from cashiering—how goofy is that?

Compared to sitting on my couch with laptop and feet up, freelance writing, Home Depot is proving to be a workout. Given the variety (and sometimes size) of the items people are bringing to my register, there’s a little bit of gymnastics involved with my hand-held scanner… And I end the day with dirt under my fingernails and a splinter or two… And that mild ache that tells me I was actually doing something with my day.

I’m actually finding that satisfying—though nowhere near as satisfying as the number of smiles I get to “collect” in a day. Some people prove a challenge, but I like a challenge—can I get a smile out of them? Usually, yes.

Home Depot plant cartWhen I don’t have a line at the register, I stand out in the aisle to let people know the register is open, smiling at the people walking past. It’s almost amusing to see the faces going by, switching on their smiles one by one as they make eye contact and respond to the smile I’m giving them. I was so intrigued I had to look this up: research says smiles actually are contagious. (Smiling reflexively and responsively to another smile is an involuntary and instinctive reaction stemming from the cingulate cortex, if you wanted to know…)

I find there’s also a scientific explanation for why I get such a charge out of smile-collecting… Seeing someone else smile at you doesn’t only trigger a responsive smile, it also directly triggers the brain’s “reward” center. And then when you smile, your body releases some of those “feel-good” chemicals that give you reason to smile. All in all, it’s a pretty nifty self-perpetuating feel-good system. (God is GOOD at design! I wonder how many more mental-health meds I’d need if I smiled less…)

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“default setting”… Yup, I’m sitting on my couch blogging and smiling

This is where I think I’m particularly suited for the job of customer service… my face’s “default setting” is a smile—not a big grin, but definitely a smile—so at least that’s one set of muscles that’s not sore from unaccustomed use.

And a default-smile definitely keeps the smile-cycle going for interactions on the job. It’s what I missed in the solitude of freelancing—I literally do sit here with my default smile, sometimes even when I’m writing about something awful (today’s topic: laser vaginal rejuvenation, ick)… but I don’t get the “charge” of return-smiles during a day at the computer. On the other hand, my feet are enjoying a break on the couch-recliner  this morning, so it’s all good!

Okay, I’d better get on with that freelance article. We’ll see if the default-smile lasts through that topic!

 

Posted in Lists, Reading Reviews

Sucked In

sucked in
Substitute a book for the vacuum, that’s me.

Oh my gosh, where have I been since my last post?

Sucked In, that’s where.

I got sucked into reading the “Game of Thrones” series… I haven’t been able to put this thing down for some reason.  I bought it a couple years ago as a boxed set (if you can call e-books “boxed”), and only got around to opening it last month… And it’s a good thing it’s on my iPad, because otherwise the 4,000-or-so pages would really be weighing down my arms. I’m coming up on about 3500 pages and looking forward to the wrap-up, if for no other reason than being freed from its thrall…

But if you know these books, you’ve already caught my error: there are way more pages than that if you see this to the end. I’d assumed my boxed set was the whole series.

Last time I made this mistake? It was 1991. I was a high school senior mulling over my choices in the Fantasy section of a WaldenBooks store when a strange man popped up from nowhere, shoved a book at me, and practically hollered, “You HAVE to read this!!”

He was weird, but I bought the book (Robert Jordan’s Eye of the World). Read it, loved it, bought the second of the trilogy… Continue reading “Sucked In”