Monday, January 31, 2011

On Laughter and Friends and Tears and Weekends

disclaimer (LL would be smiling and nodding right now "here it comes! the disclaimer.." she would say. "you're all fabulous writers, we don't need the disclaimer! but go on if it makes you feel better.." oh how I miss that wonder-woman.) like I said, disclaimer: this is one killer of a post. seriously long, but something I totally needed to get out. please bare with it and me. I applaud anyone who has the patience to read all the way through :) 

"What do you do? You laugh, you know?
I'm not saying I don't cry, but in between I 
laugh and I realize how silly it is to take everything
too seriously. Plus I look forward to a good cry. 
It feels pretty good."
-Garden State

We headed home this afternoon, five of us all piled up in the car surrounded by ginger ale cans and yellow paper napkins. Each of us smooshed up in the back-seat looked a mess with sweatpants and moccasins and last nights makeup smeared on our faces, and the boys in the front were all tired-eyed and chatting during the lulls in the hockey updates that were coming in over the radio. The ride home is always tough. It's mostly quiet but it's sprinkled with moments of giggling and "remember whens" from the weekend that slipped by; and we always manage to get on the subject of how much we miss being together all the time and then the quiet settles in again. This time, I couldn't get Sneezeweed off my mind anytime the quiet came. I couldn't quite figure out how I would describe this weekend in my little mountain town. 

It's always refreshing to step out of the car and into the only place that feels like it was made just for me. I feel more calm, more comfortable, more grounded when I am there. I feel like I've just arrived home, despite the fact that I no longer live there. And from the second I enter that mountain-town-bubble, I can't help but feel the dread for when I will have to leave it behind again. At the same time though, the mountain-town-bubble is just that- a bubble. You are always surrounded by familiar faces and places. You can't hide or escape from anything, and if you try to run you can't go more than a mile before hitting a wall of nothingness. Most of the time the bubble is comforting. I can walk that town with my eyes closed. I know exactly who and what I can expect to see when I go in any given store or cafe or bar. Navigating my way through this place is like navigating a map of my own heart: friends around each bend, a comforting spot on every corner, a memory every-where I look. 

But other times, going back to this bubble is a reminder of how emotional living in it can be. You can't escape anything or anyone. You can't drive ten minutes away and expect to find a field of new faces, you can't go into Starbucks and expect a quick undercover trip. You can't get out of bed in the morning and expect to walk the dog without last weeks date seeing you in your pajamas in the driveway. And you certainly can't expect to go to the local bar and not see the bear thats been lurking in the den of your mind for months. The bubble forces you to face people and situations that you may not be ready to face, and it makes you face them in a larger-than-life kind of way.

My weekend started off with a night out at our favorite spot. We sang and danced and laughed the night away. We played games and told jokes and hugged old friends, and we had so much fun. We stayed until the lights came on and the last song played, and then we went to grab our coats for the chilly four AM walk home. I was chatting with a friend who works at the bar while the others went to dig to the bottom of the coat pile, and when they came back we were one coat short. My coat short. We searched and whimpered and laughed all along, because really after four years of coming here every weekend having my coat stolen on a three day visit is exactly what would happen. So knowing that it was thirty-degrees and a fifteen-minute walk, I did the only logical thing and grabbed the nearest black coat before heading toward the door. My friend who works there saw me heading out and asked if I found my coat and I said no. He asked if I was just taking someone else's and I said yes. Then he told me to "go, go, go!!" and so I turned and darted as he pinched my side while I slid out the door. I pouted the whole way home while my friends laughed and laughed at me stomping my feet. It really was great fun. 

The next morning we had the killer breakfast that I anticipated. The cali-x breakfast burrito was not created for those with a dainty stomach, and I demolished the whole thing before entering an afternoon food coma. We spent the day lounging in friends beds watching bad movies and grumbling about how little sleep we had gotten. We mustered up the energy to walk to town and take in some of that crisp mountain air, a cup of coffee, and a whole lot of nostalgia. Then after a quick dash to buy a new coat up-town, we got ready and headed out to have dinner and play pool with some friends. We spent hours playing and laughing at how little skill most of us have at at the game. And in case you are wondering about playing as an ameture in a pool hall, you might want to avoid referring to the balls as "stripy red one" or "all purple one." It is sure to blow your I'm-an-expert-too cover. We couldn't believe how quickly the time had passed and when the band stopped playing and the waitress scooted us out we hugged and goodbyed in the cold before the group dispersed. Half of us headed back to our favorite spot that we went to the night before, and oh was I prepared. 

When we arrived I hung my coat in a new top secret location, while also hanging up the coat I had taken the night before. I thought that in the name of having good-coat-karma, returning it was the only right thing to do. Especially because it was two sizes too big anyway. Half way through the night I decided that a proper apology was in order, so I asked the bartender to borrow a pen and scribbled a note that went something like "I'm sorry I took your coat last night, but someone took mine and I couldn't walk home without a coat. It's cold. But don't worry I brought it back so you could get it tonight. Love, Ashley" I marched over and stuffed it in the pocket of the coat, praying it would put my karma in good standing. Another night of fun slid by and before we knew it three-thirty rolled around and people began to shuffle out into the snowy night and head home. 

As we watched them leave, I also watched my bear walk in. My heart raced and my hands jittered and I didn't quite know what to do. So I walked. I walked all around the bar waiting for him to spot me. And of course he did. He was sitting up on a ledge with his feet on top of a table that was nestled between two benches, surrounded by a few friends. He looked at me with that shimmer that makes it impossible to turn away and gave a little wave before motioning for me to come over to him. He held out his hand and helped me climb up so I was standing on the table looking him right in the eye. I wish I could describe the type of hurt that runs through my whole body when I get that close to him. 

Over the past few months I have played this moment in my head over and over, and wondered exactly what of all my thoughts would actually make it into our conversation. But my mind went blank the second he said "it's been a long time." All I could do was look down at my boots, and agree. After exchanging the standard "what have you been up to?" and "how have you been?" I wanted so bad to question him about everything that had happened and everything that didn't. But all I could manage to say was "I'm standing on a table" and all he could do was look down at my boots, and agree. It hurt. It was a moment that hurt. It was a moment that could only be created by the bubble-town, and the pain became larger-than-life. After climbing off the table and taking what felt like my first breath in minutes, I paced around the bar until it was time to go. I tried to be fine, I tried to have fun, I tried to laugh; but watching him unfazed by our chat made it impossible. 

The bear looked over and waved before he headed out the door, and I then began tearing through the endless coat pile to find mine. And let me tell you, who ever makes the decisions about coat-karma apparently didn't find my note sufficient, because my newly bought coat was gone. Things get a little fuzzy, but I believe this was the point where I began to loose it. Two nights, two coats, and it had never happened before in all of the four-and-a-half years I have gone there. Please excuse me, but what the fuck? This time I found a sweatshirt that belonged to someone I knew who had left, and so I put on the four sizes too big fraternity sweatshirt before bee-lining towards the door to try to find an escape, only to run into the bear with his arms draped around some girls shoulders standing in the cold. I  flew around the bend and into my friends arms with hot tears rolling down my cheeks. I cried the whole walk back. 

I walked back with one of my mountain-town roommates and her boyfriend, two friends who know me better than most. They kept asking if I was upset about the coat or the bear, and I'm pretty sure not answering was the clearest answer of all. I cried while they cracked jokes about the bear to get me to crack a smile. They've been there through it all and their patience for him has worn two times as thin as mine. He kept asking me if I wanted to burn the bag of the bears clothes I had with me (I had all intentions of trying to return them), she kept assuring me there were plenty of lighters to use and fried rice to snack on in the house. And while the tears rolled down my cheeks they made me laugh a comforting laugh, and they'll probably never know how happy they made me in that moment. They reminded me that while I may not have the bears affection, I do have theirs and it's ten times as big as his  could ever be. 

When we got back to the house, we didn't burn the clothes, but we did eat the rice before all piling onto the air mattress and mumbling about the night, before all nodding off. You know you have some really fantastic friends when they don't mind you bunking up with them on a queen size blow up bed, while you toss and turn and wipe the last tears away before falling asleep. 

It was a larger-than-life ending to what was an overall fantastic weekend. And while it would be really easy to let that last half hour of that night take over the way I feel about the trip as a whole, I know better than to take it all too seriously. Instead of getting all caught up in that bubble-induced tearful ending, I will think about how I have friends who I can laugh with despite the tears. I will laugh when I think about how A is on some crazy banana diet and we watched him eat six (SIX) bananas for breakfast. I will laugh when I think about how me and M tattled on the girls smoking in the bathroom. I will laugh when I think about B shouting "societal!" every time he had a good hand in the card game. I will laugh when I think about I coaching me through a game of pool. I will laugh when I think about J trying to find a dog-sitter. I will laugh when I think about me and M singing and dancing the whole night long. I will laugh when I think about loosing two coats and leaving a note in another. And I will laugh when I think about he and she convincing me to burn the bears clothes while I had tears rolling down my cheeks. 

It's easy to take your friends for granted because they are always there. It's easy to forget just how important they are to you when you are lost in the hustle and bustle of everyday life. But stick yourself in a little-mountain-town-bubble, throw in a couple of heart wrenching moments, and you will quickly see it's your friends who will make the difference in how you feel at the end of it all. Without my friends by my side there would be a lot less laughter to drown out the inevitable tears. Without them there, the occasional good cry would be nothing to look forward to. Without my friends the little mountain town would be nothing but a map committed to memory, and not a map of my heart. 

I had a lot of time to think about this weekend while I was all smooshed up in the back-seat of that car, and I have to admit it was not easy to sort it all out in my mind. It's difficult to peel another finger back from the grip I have on this idea of me and my bear. Everyone wants to ask "are you okay?" and it's not easy to just say "yes" or "no." But sitting in that back-seat, I knew that I was surrounded by some of the biggest love I will ever know; and the occasional bout of laughter that filled the car was enough to get me to be able to answer their question. "I'll survive." And with all of them by my sides, I will do even better than that. I'll laugh. 

Friday, January 28, 2011

I'm off to Find Some Mountain Air

So I am going to keep this short and sweet...

My room looks like the third world war just occurred in it. There are clothes draped over my favorite chair, tangles of yarn covering my couch, boots and shoes littered in unmatched-pairs across the floor, and coats and sweaters piled high on my bed. The sewing machine and thread and material lying in the middle of the floor are making the walk from my overnight bag to the closet a near impossible task. And I wouldn't even dare think about trying to find a space on my night-stand to put my coffee cup down. But I don't mind one bit because I am tossing boots and sweaters and headbands galore into my big-blue-canvas-weekender and taking off to my little mountain town for three whole days.

I am going to dance and sing the nights away at P&G's, wander into the Bistro for breakfast, stroll through Peace Park with a cup of coffee, and stop in at my little Levi's favorite pet boutique for some yack cheese to bring home for him (and some for his friends too!). I am going to take in every bit of crisp mountain air that my lungs can hold and treasure it for as long as I can after. And I can't help but feel that something fantastic may come out of this mountain town weekend. Maybe something big, or maybe something really small; but I am pretty certain that I will have something wonderful to share with you come Sunday. Even if it is just about the killer breakfast I'm sure to have tomorrow morning...

Happy Weekend-ing everyone!

Thursday, January 27, 2011

The Daily Sneeze Tease

The Daily Sneeze ((or what's fueling the fire today))
- snow days.
- bad tv.
- finding the star-shooting-indian.
- giant chocolate chip cookies.

Monday, January 24, 2011

I've Found the Silver Lining, and Oh, How Bright it is!

So I do believe I have found the silver lining.

Today was the first day of interviewing at work. There were papers scattered across desks and tables, printers beeping and jamming up, heels clicking on the tile floor of our itsy-bitsy hiring trailer, and several cups of coffee littering the counter-tops. Each potential employee came into the (again) itsy-bitsy hiring trailer, closed the door gently behind them and politely gave their name while sitting in a folding chair against the wall. I greeted each and every one of them with a big smile in an effort to hide my true expression; one that would have shown that I was completely in over my head.

I lead each person into a room where I asked a series of totally expected questions like "how did you hear that we were hiring?" and "describe to me one time you had to deal with a difficult customer or frustrating situation." And of course there is my favorite "from your point of view, what do you think makes up a good work environment?" Please, you try to keep a smile on your face when you see how puzzled people are by this question. Near impossible.

After I am done grilling them and listening to their voices quiver as they try to give that perfect answer, as if any word will be the one to make or break them, I get to stray from the "procedural" question sheet and talk to them like they are a person. And let me tell you, they all have a story to tell. Some are older with children and grandchildren, trying to get a job to support a growing family. Some are young and want to earn some spending cash. Some are trying to show their parents how responsible they are. Some are captains of sports teams and on the honor roll. Some are applying to college and need a flexible job for the fall. Some are playing guitar and are looking for something to tide them over until they make it big. Some are retired and want to get out of the house. Some are looking for a second job to pay the bills. Some have been  out of work for a year. Some want to be teachers or lawyers or butchers. Some want to spend more time with their sister by working together. Some just need to work near their home so they can get to work by foot or public transportation. But despite what the story is, you can bet they are excited to tell you about it.

After we talk about their passions and stories that I so love to hear, I get to the part when the sun starts to poke out a bit from the side of this big-gray-"this is not my dream job"-cloud. I say to them, from across my big desk covered in papers and coffee cups, "I think you're wonderful for this job, and we're excited to have you here." And then it happens. There is this beautiful moment where they begin to realize what they just heard. They begin to see flashes of birthday presents and proud parents, college classes and arenas filled with people, the bill pile shrinking and the amount of time spent with their sister growing. They begin to see themselves as a success, they start to feel a bit of relief. And then after this second of blissful shock has worn away they look up and they smile the most genuine smily you could imagine. They say "thank you, thank you, dear lord thank you" over and over while small tears well up in the sides of their eyes. And it is because I had the honor of telling them "you're wonderful."

This job is not for me. I don't belong behind the big desk shuffling papers from folder to folder, or answering phones and making photo copies. This big-gray-cloud is just not for me. But despite that, today I came home on a high of knowing that I was the reason that sixteen people were able to go to their families today and say "I got the job;" and in the next two months I will get to give this gift three-hundred-and-thirty-four more times. I will be physically tired and emotionally drained, and I will most certainly be begging for a classroom by then; but knowing that I had the opportunity to tell three-hundred-and-fifty people "you're wonderful" just may be the brightest silver lining anyone could ask for.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

A little Bit of Show and Tell

I think I've professed my love for Dallas Clayton here before, but his most recent poem tugged on my strings a little harder than usual. As a notorious wisher-on-all-wishable-things, I'll just pretend this was written just for me:


I’d like a study done on ratios of wishes being made
to wishes being granted
and which god turns up more victories for the wisher:
coin fountains,
shooting stars,
stray eyelashes,
birthday candles,
The clock turning 11:11,
simple prayer.
Whichever is proven the most reliable
will be given a moment to rest
and give the others a chance to catch up.
Spread it around a bit so all the wishes don’t get spent
the same as fossil fuels.

- Dallas Clayton

Happy Sunday!

Saturday, January 22, 2011

The Daily Sneeze Tease

The Daily Sneeze ((or what's fueling the fire today))
- candles on cakes.
- clean pups.
- everyday boots.
- leopard print.
- oh, and friends. the friends that you may not see and speak to frequently. the friends that pop up on occasion and remind you just how loved you are. like an unexpected gift. yes, this it to friends like that. 

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

The Daily Sneeze Tease

The Daily Sneeze ((or what's fueling the fire today))
- the near end of the alphabet.
- changing plans.
- blueberry pie with whipped cream on top.
- a nervous smile.

Monday, January 17, 2011

A Little Turbulence to Rock the Box

"A sad story means, this storyteller is alive. The next thing 
you know, something fine will happen to her, something marvelous
and then she will turn around and smile."
~ Little Bee, by Chris Cleave

So I am ready. I am ready to face what ever is coming my way, and I decided the best place to start facing real life is right here on Sneezeweed. You've probably noticed I've been avoiding the blogging world for almost a month now, and I wish I could return with stories about some far away adventure or  an unexpected surprise that took over for a while. The truth is I have been dealing with some real life muck for the past few weeks. 

I had all intentions of coming back here after the New Year and sharing photos and stories of all the love and fun that filled my holiday season. And well, I still can I guess, but after my month long hiatus Christmas and New Years seem like such a distance away it seems better to leave them as they are: my own thoughts and smiles about time spent with friends and family. 

(I will, however, share this one moment from New Years Eve- because it paints a pretty clear image of all the fun that was had this holiday season. And also because if you and a friend ever get caught warming your behind in a fancy fireplace, you deserve to have the evidence shared. 

Jenna and me, caught in the act. Thanks Danielle. 

ok... you get the picture. Holiday show and tell over.)

Like I said, nothing but love and smiles this holiday season. 

After we wrapped up a pretty fantastic Boston New Year get-away, I jetted off to Florida with my family for a long weekend. A long weekend of a stomach virus and amusement parks that is. It was a long weekend. But we had a blast, despite the nausea, and all made it home in one piece, despite the turbulence. 

And really, while all of this fun was going on I kept dreaming up ways that I could write it all on Sneezeweed, but something kept stopping me from being happy with all this happiness. Something kept getting in my way and interjecting every time I tried to sit down at my keyboard, so I made a choice to walk away for a while. 

I do this thing, I place each piece of my life into it's own pretty box where it has to live all on it's own. One part of my life never gets to know the others on the inside- they only get to see the pretty packaging on the outside. When I am at home, nothing about work, or school, or friends, or relationships can spill all over the pretty home box. And when I am at school, friend happenings, and work happenings, and home happenings rarely make an appearance. I like to think of it as keeping things in their place, so if one box gets all filled up with muck for a while the other boxes never have to know and they can go on living pretty; others call it compartmentalizing. And I've gotten pretty good at it. 

Lately, my work box is all mucked up. I left my job watching the sneeze-baby to work for my family business doing Human Resources. I'd like to say I think I made the right choice, but I just can't. If I wasn't sure about what I wanted to do professionally before, I sure am now. And let me tell you, I've learned that I am made to cover the walls with finger-paintings and not hiring charts. I am made to create lesson plans and not training programs. I am made to read children's literature and not e-mails. I am made to attend school concerts and not corporate meetings. And I am certainly meant to sit on little chairs with my arms around children trying to master multiplication, and I am certainly not meant to sit behind a big desk staring at grown adults trying to land a job. I could go on and on about all of the reasons this job is just not for me, but the bottom line is it isn't. And it's going to be a long while before I can reverse this huge mistake I've made. But hey, I've been doing a pretty good job of keeping all this muck inside its rightful box. 

But then, you see, there was that turbulence I mentioned. We were on the plane ride home from Florida on a Sunday night. I was curled up against the window when all of a sudden the plane began to dip and tilt, leaving an unsettling feeling in my stomach. The pilot came on the loudspeaker and assured everyone that despite the "uncomfortable conditions" everything was just fine. Babies were screeching and adults were making nervous eyes at one another. I, on the other hand, had an entirely different reaction to the turbulence. I had this sudden realization that I am alive. As the plane dipped and tipped, and my heart rate picked up, I felt like for the first time ever I was aware of my own life. I've flown dozens of times, but I have never felt as venerable in a plane as I did that day, and let me tell you there is nothing like a little turbulence to make things begin to spill. In that moment the love in the home box tipped, the fun in the friends box splashed, the muck in the work box oozed, the promise in the school box splattered, and whatever was left in the bottom of that dusty relationship box puffed out; and they all mixed together right there on that plane- my whole life right in front of me, each piece jumbled with the next. It took that turbulence for me to realize that maybe I'd been giving this work box too much attention. It had no more or less presence in the big mixture than any of the other bits that were scattered there, and yet it seemed to have consumed every bit of my happiness. And just like Chris Cleave said, maybe the bits of unhappiness were mere signs that I was living. Signs saying "hey, this is not euphoric, but this is life." And some turbulence, whether it be on a plane or in the muck of your work box, is just a way to remind you that you are alive. 

From the beginning, I have thought that Sneezeweed should be about the happiness in life. And while it's true, I'm trying to get to the nitty gritty of happy here, we wouldn't know the happy without the sad. I wouldn't know just how much I am meant to teach if I didn't go down the wrong path first. And someday, when I find my way down this winding path that will go all around in the wrong directions before I finally get to the right one, someday when I get to the right path it will be marvelous, and I will turn around and smile. 

The Daily Sneeze ((or what's fueling the fire today))
- frogs. 
- sweaters. 
- snow. 
- tea. 

and hey, keep your eye out for something new this week. it's almost ready, and it's fantastic.