My favorite spot is your favorite spot

35267152_10217184344425649_608698351625437184_nThe mountains are calling, and I must go. Cool, but when I can’t make it to the mountains, I’ll happily settle for my favorite nature spot, which is ten measly minutes away from my house.

It’s a grove that’s tucked behind a woodsy, unincorporated community. It features a dusty, gravel trail wrapped around a man-made pond people enjoy fishing in. There’s a grassy knoll I sometimes force myself to scale. I call it Three Trees Hill even though there’s way more than three trees that greet you at the top of it. I’m super lazy with titles.

I like this spot because there’s no more than four to five people there at a time. And everyone winks at each other like we’re all in on some big secret about being there.

Today I sported my new favorite shirt (this blog has a few of my favorite things). I bought this shirt from a street cart in Boston. It’s royal blue with white lettering. It says: WICKED SMAHT.

I know, how touristy.

But there’s brilliance in running in a shirt like this if you’re particularly self-conscious about your body. People will judge your form the second it appears in their plain view. Because that’s what we do. We’re trained from the womb to assess each other’s sacks of flesh and bone. How much control we have over it and how much work we put into it.

Here’s the fun part: when people assess my body and assign a term to it while I’m wearing this shirt, they’re distracted by the terminology I’ve thrown out at them without any introduction, without vocality.


I catch three walkers and a cyclist scanning the words with their eyes. They seem to accept my projection, offering me sly smirks in return as I run toward them, breathing in heavy, inconsistent breaths.

After I get over myself and my total win of a shirt, I focus on the residue of the day. Today was a good one but a hard one. At work, I received the most amount of feedback I’ve received in a while. I felt the full weight of it still sitting on my shoulders and wrapped around my neck like an itchy scarf.

I just started a new job, and I’m relearning the way I’ve been doing things for the past four years. My new job calls for me to be free-falling, fun, inventive. It’s what I wanted, but in starting off, I realize I’m unsure what to do with all the white space that clashes with the constraints of time.

I’m a writer. I can make magic when I put my mind to it, when my mind isn’t trying to unravel me and wear me down. I’m one of those fortunate souls who has known what I’m good at and what I like to do. But when I’m writing about a brand new topic I’m unfamiliar with, I can feel myself scraping around in the dark for information. When words leave my fingers they feel clownish, contrived. I don’t want my reader to think I don’t give a fuck.

Because dear reader, I give a fuck.

So here I am running and thinking about writing and readers, and this deer pops its head out of a patch of pussy willows, or what I’m calling pussy willows because it’s fun to say. The deer flicks its ears and pretends not to exist. My stomach backflips at the sight of this doe-eyed discovery. 35329201_10217184348265745_1398846757835636736_nThis is the part where I try to concentrate real hard on the stress I’m clenching in my body’s tightest sections. This is the part where I give myself away to the deer. My favorite spot is your favorite spot. You can see deer anywhere if you look closely.

And if you look deep enough into the eyes of a red-winged blackbird you’ll find murder. Because they’re crazy this time of year. Trust me on this one. You’re probably interrupting their bone session if you’re anywhere near them right now. In flight, they look as burly as football players, with fiery red shoulder pads. Don’t mess with these bad to the bone birds.

I run. The wetness on my back is soothing, reassuring. Maybe I can outrun the mosquitos’ thirst. Maybe I’ll see my work the way I see the flutter of wings, rotted bark, or insect eggs on leaves. I’m waiting to catch my breath, and then it floods my lungs. I’m a blur, whirling through curls of green.

I have to stop running at some point. There’s a cotton candy pink sunset sitting on the horizon like the ultimate dessert of the day. I thank it, think of it as a reward for working my problems out here. The water and sky accept my honesty. They pat me on the back with their long, wisps of arms.35296111_10217184344225644_7128660158099488768_n (2)The four other trailblazers and I stand still as deer in our respective places along the trail, wordlessly uttering our silences. Together, we eat the sunset.

Go home, you’re getting crazy

“Go home, you’re getting crazy.”

Oh, my sweet motorcycle riding, cat loving co-worker,
what if I’ve been there for as long as I’ve lived?

I don’t know what the other side looks like.
Probably just as crazy, huh?

Everything feels like the apocalypse.

I know. I know. The word is as loaded as a baked potato.

Just imagine flames and feelings that aren’t yet in the registry.

I see people begging or asking for donations on Higgins Road
on my way home from work.

There’s no rotation. It’s always a new person. I scrounge my car.

Here, take it.
This is everything on me.

No, keep the lollipop.
I don’t need any more sweets.

I always look the person deep in the eyes until mine burn.

Mary Ann

The gas station attendant wasn’t moving fast enough. A man in front of me huffed as the attendant scurried about the store fixing things, moving with a slight limp on her left side. She was all of sudden aware that there were people at her door, so she started rushing to please us guests. The man was irritated in an airy, hot headed in summer way. He left with a half-grunt when she told him to enjoy the rest of his day.

When it was my turn at the register, I asked why she apologized so much, and she said it’s something she does (and she was sorry that she was sorry). I do it a lot too, and I tried to tell her with my face and leaning in language. She wore glasses, gray, stringy hair that hung in her face, and heavy wrinkles that sagged on her cheeks. She had to be at least in her 60s. I don’t know; I can only really tell age by how worn-in a soul is. Hers was a broken in mitt, an old tune that everyone remembers the words to when the melody starts to really pick up.

My eyes were hungry for her smile. And then it happened, proud and tooth-heavy. I asked if she could break a five-dollar bill for me, and she made a ripping movement with her hands. I cackled at her joke.

We held up the line talking. Five people were soon standing behind me as I asked her questions about her life, which seemed to revolve around being a gas station attendant. I joked about rushing and time. With a crooked smile, I glanced at the fake watch wrapped around my wrist. She laughed. When she laughed it wasn’t scratchy. It was gurgly and girlish in the way that girls get when they think no one is looking.

Her name is Mary Ann, and she’s alive and limping but well in Empire, Michigan. If you run into to her, hold up the line and make each other laugh. It will carve out the browning parts of your insides.

The office, my office

The real test came to me after my obsessive vulturing over my inbox; the half-crazed pep talks in my car and bathroom mirror. It came after the interviews that were like gut punches no matter how prepared I felt.

The real test actually came after I sealed my first fulltime job – when one of my co-workers spared me the paranoid silence and cut right to the chase with an ultimate warrior question of initiation.

Still somewhat fresh off the hot plate of university, I had the irrational belief that my answer to his question would be crucial to my longevity at my workplace and any chance of a relationship with my peers.

People sometimes forget that the smell of Easy Mac mixed with the almost desperate need to have answers and be liked still cling to graduates’ clothes months after graduation. This quasi delirium/confidence is said to be what one needs to obtain a job.

So, here’s how the test goes.

My new co-worker, Mark, clears his throat and adjusts his glasses before he asks his question. I can feel my armpits moisten. I might as well have my hand hovering over a red buzzer. Mark wears a buttoned up plaid shirt and khaki shorts, which I learn soon enough is an all year round ensemble. He shifts his weight from side to side in a pair of long socks and black Vans.

My eyes catch what appears to be a shaded gun with a ribbon of wording wrapped around it. I read the words “Han Shot First” on Mark’s wrist. Its positioning and curling blackness reminds me of the Dark Mark Death Eaters use to summon Lord Voldemort.

“My one and only question is: what are your thoughts on Star Wars?”

Another co-worker, Jim, pokes his head from his office at the sound of Mark’s question, and the rest of him emerges. Jim also sports glasses and plaid, but has a distinctive swoop in the front of his hair, like a classier version of Ace Ventura’s. He wears a grin that’s hard to pinpoint – halfway past amused, not quite cynical.  Jim and Mark both stare at me, their eyes the unfilled bubbles on a Scantron.

I unclench my shoulder blades and let them sink back into place. But I don’t relax entirely. I still believe this is some version of a moment of truth.

I know the answer because I believe it, but I don’t answer too hastily. I play it cool. I might as well be a high schooler flicking a cigarette. “Well, here’s the thing. I’m not so much into the episode business. The old school stuff is pretty awesome, though.”

The guys look at each other for confirmation. Mark pauses for effect, then he says deadpan: “I think you’ll fit in just fine here.”

And that’s how my first day went.

For the rest of the week, I studied the hand drawn floor chart with everyone’s name that Sadie, the blue-eyed office guru gave me. Eight people. There was a lot to learn. Sadie only laughed a little when I read the chart upside down.

Up until this point, I’ve never worked in a small office before. But I can tell you one thing: if you’re like me, and you generally like to be surrounded by constant interaction and stimulation, by people of all kinds, you’d find this lack of numbers slightly unsettling at first. But then you’d get over it and take what you can get. You would bounce from office to office, trying to learn the ins and outs of the few faces you see eight hours every week day.

In a small office, you notice your co-workers. You notice the tear drop engagement ring or the roughly five pound weight loss. When they’re wearing their hair in a high bun instead of long curls that day. The bike helmet and the sound their leather chaps make when they walk past your desk. The crumbly pineapple upside down cake not just calling your name, but seducing your name, in the break room. When they blaze through the front door on a cellphone or with a downcast stare. When they’re pacing back and forth, checking to see if the mail has come in yet. You notice the niceties over the phone. You realize “have a great day” can mean so many different things.

You notice when they’re there, but you notice when they’re gone even more.

I noticed when Sadie, our office assistant, left and moved to Florida. Except I didn’t know her as the office assistant. I know her as the skinny girl who eats a piece of pie for every meal and hoards Sour Patch Kids in the top drawer of her desk. I know her as someone who laughs only when she means it and who makes F bombs look classy. I also know her as someone who adores her family, likes to shop at Target, cleans obsessively, and who has two pit bulls who sit in your lap when you visit.

Just recently, I and everyone else, noticed when Jim left for Colorado. Jim has a voice that doesn’t apologize for being loud. Despite his large voice and presence, he doesn’t have a pompous bone in his body. And I know this because I went beyond noticing Jim. I listened to him closely and liked what I heard.

One portion of a seminar I attended for work focused on finding mentors and how worthwhile that is for one’s career. Though I’m sure there’s a million definitions of “mentor” sitting around on countless Powerpoint slides that cover corporate leadership, what I gathered is that a mentor should be someone who does what you do jobwise, is someone you trust, and who would give you plenty of feedback and encouragement.

One day, I waltzed into his office. I looked from his monstrous piles of papers to his half-full bottles of Sriracha sauce, to his imploring face, and threw the role of SARAH’S MENTOR at his feet. He had no choice.

I basically said something like, “Hey Jim, sooooo… you’re kind of my mentor. I’ve decided. I hope this isn’t a problem. Okay, great, bye.”

I was hoping Jim would be a woman. The seminar I went to was focused on women in a male-dominated industry flocking to each other for growth and encouragement.

But Jim’s not a woman, and I’m okay with that. I guess I like that Jim is a hard worker and thorough editor, and is pretty knowledgeable about his industry and media contacts.

But if I were to be completely honest, it’s more interesting to me that he can strike up a hearty conversation on what makes a good Marvel movie. I will miss his start to every morning—the unfiltered, logical yet still passionate discussions he and Mark would have on Doctor Who and Star Wars. Sometimes I joined it, like after we all saw Guardians of the Galaxy, and couldn’t wait to get to work to tell each other our own versions of getting to be a kid in a movie theater again.

If I were to admit that I’m also a little sad that Jim’s leaving, I would. Maybe I even cried in the bathroom when I found out he was leaving and had to compose myself before going back to my desk. Maybe. You see, Jim listens to me. He has the ear of a 20 something, and the experiences of 40 year old. He remembers what it’s like to experience life as a scared shitless and suddenly self-aware human. He tells me to give myself credit, and tells me I’m very put together for a young person. He’s helped me in so many ways stomach my first “real” job.

If I were to tell the whole truth, I’d say he’s a mentor because he can openly say what he cares about. He loves his wife. He loves his Westie. He loves his Packers. He loves his baby daughter, who has the mug of a Muppet and a lot of things to say that she’s just beginning to put into words for the first time. You can tell he loves her more than anything else. Jim’s move will hopefully allow him more time to spend with his family.

Though being a Packers fan or any sports fan for that matter, is something I would generally leave out of any story, it serves a purpose in this one.

Jim is the first man I have ever met who can give a real probing, intimate reason why he loves sports so much. Being more of a film and Marvel junkie growing up, he didn’t play them or really get into sports until his adulthood. But now he can have quite the conversation. It turns out Jim is one of those unwavering fans, meaning he goes down with his Packers’ ship or he barrels through the storm with them. The kind who invites the same people to his house every big game in the privacy of his own home. Not the kind who sits in bars and wages drunken wars. Not the kind who cowardly hides behind his Facebook, attacking other fans when his team wins or loses.

What got me was Jim’s story about seeing Aaron Rodgers play. Since I associate sports talk with small talk in elevators, my instinct is to tune Jim out. But I don’t because he’s Jim, and as I’ve learned, he attaches meaning to most things in his life.

Obviously, I didn’t know anything about Aaron Rodgers. I didn’t know he was the kind of scrawny, unremarkable guy with good grades and who didn’t receive much attention from the football gods until much later in his career. Apparently, he’s a little weird too. Jim tells me he quotes Princess Bride and laughs at his own jokes when his teammates don’t understand his references. Jim says he is the player who people said couldn’t, but who did anyway.

Jim told me he was at a game when he saw with his own eyes Aaron Rodgers getting mocked by players from the opposing team. One player acted like Aaron Rodgers, dressed like him and exaggerated his scrawniness. The opposing team’s mascot was beating up the fake Aaron Rodgers. A clever joke. Jim watched Aaron Rodgers’ reaction. He says he’ll never forget it. Rodgers just stared and stood in the middle of the field. Then he plowed through his next plays like the beast the Packers fans know. They won the game.

It’s not unlikely for sports fans to have heroes. Hero worship is often a critique of sports sociology. And maybe the critics are right. Maybe Jim idealizes Aaron Rodgers a little bit. But so what. Jim can’t help but be inspired by Aaron Rodgers, care about his wins and losses, see him as a quirky, relatable dude with a tremendous spirit that affects his entire team and a screaming mass of people cheering him on.

In the end, I’ve learned that co-workers tend to move on. Sometimes, they send you Christmas cards, grab a drink with you once in a while. But they leave impressions whether they know it or not. In most cases they don’t. It’s my belief that we should tell them.

I wish Jim the best because he is one of the best.

Fear of Exhaustion

This is an old one of mine. I forgot about it, and it’s oddly comforting right now… Like I’m talking to, warning/encouraging, my future self and others who feel the same. I thought like this at 21, and surprise, surprise I’m now 24, and I’m even more tired. But the nice part is I’m not as afraid anymore. So that’s new. This has no bells and whistles, but it once said what it needed to say, and it what it will say again.

Fear of Exhaustion

I’m tired. That’s about a quarter of the way to exhaustion.

I imagine exhaustion feels like those dreams — the ones in which you don’t know you are dreaming. You just know that each step you take is weighted. Each move requires more concentration, more energy, like moving through water. You can always feel that resistance working against your body, slowing it down.

Sometimes in these dreams I am running from something — a dark figure, a malicious bully, a sort of monster baring its teeth and reaching out its limbs to get me. I never understand why it is so difficult for me to run. What is stopping me? Why can’t I get away? Fucking run! I can feel a hot breath grazing my neck hairs, and fingertips prying closer at my sweaty skin.

But I can’t run anymore. My legs and arms seem to be draining, running out of power, shutting down. I can’t yell. My throat is raw and working overtime to emit a faint whisper that should have been a solid scream.

So I give up because I am so tired. Then the dream is over, and I realize I was only dreaming. I look back on my dream self’s exhaustion and dread that I will ever feel like that again… that I will ever be that tired.

In conscious life, I am only a quarter of the way there. Others are much closer. I can see it in their faces — not necessarily through crinkled foreheads and crows’ feet. It creeps in silently behind the whites of the eyes. And we try to shake it off or clench it in. Some are more successful at it than others.

What I imagine wears people the most is a lot like those dreams. They aren’t getting anywhere. Something is using force against them. It’s keeping them where they are.

It’s keeping them locked in kitchens serving chicken and green beans to kids who only open their pale little palms when it is time to get money they haven’t slaved so hard to earn — who only open their mouths to retort when they have been shorted.

It’s keeping them scraping away through Philosophy and Bio just to realize that at the end of the academic tunnel, there is no light because there are no jobs. Or at least because “be whatever you want to be” does not always apply in this godforsaken world.

It’s keeping them In greasy old grinds that manhandle their brains and muscle, and leave them preferring beer and television to family time, making them seem so far away from the people in their lives.

It’s keeping them in robotic routines or in the same monotonous relationships because they are too tired to look elsewhere. To leave abuse. To leave indifference. And then you hear things like “I’m too old for love, anyway.”

I imagine that is why some people decide to end things early. Pull the plug prematurely. They aren’t sad. They are just sick of the wear and tear bullshit. They are exhausted. Exhaustion that only eternal sleep could cure. Because in the end if there is nothing I’m sure sleep would do just dandy for many.

Death does not scare me. It is exhaustion. It is the resistance in life that intimidates me. The endless pits and circles. It is all the swimming. The seven days of treading water. The keeping your head above the surface.

At least I am aware of it. I know I am only a quarter of the way to exhaustion. It is hard to fight exhaustion, I assume. I haven’t really had to fight hard yet. But I am crouched and ready. If you are aware, I hope you are too.

Monsters in your rear-view mirror

“Most of American life consists of driving somewhere and then returning home, wondering why the hell you went.” ~John Updike

It’s 8:50 in the morning, and I’m sharing the road with the bag-eyed stragglers who have yet to make it into work. The coffee I shamelessly slurped from a lidless mug has yet to kick in.

Stopped at a light, I peer into my visor’s mirror and use the inside of my sleeve to wipe off yesterday’s leftover makeup. I check the clock again. 8:51, splendid. If I keep this pace up, I can waltz into my place of work on time and grace my co-workers with my disheveled appearance.

My attention staggers to a blue blur in my rear view mirror. Someone is coming up on me fast. My instinct is to move, but instead I check my speedometer. I’m going 50 mph in a 45 mph zone.

No, I will not move, I say in my head to the woman in the four-door blue Mazda. And surprise, surprise, there’s a car on the right side of me that I am keeping pace with.

Sound familiar? Go on, admit it. I won’t judge. I know you have blocked in a speed demon on the road before.

Time for my own confessions: I am not a meek driver. I am usually going at least 5 to 7 mph over the speed limit at all times save for school or work zones. In other words, I won’t mow down a senior citizen crossing the street. I make an ample amount of left hand turns out of risky driveways and bulldoze through yellow lights if I believe in my heart of hearts I can make it. Maybe I’ve had one too many Taco Bell burritos behind the wheel. I’m not an aggressive driver, but I’m also not a purring pussycat.

I will also admit that I am not immune to getting angry at other drivers. Have I ever truly endangered anyone’s life before? Not yet, no. For this, I still have time.

But lately, I have gotten this curious buzzing heat in my ears that I can’t seem to shake off. I have noticed a slight moldy gray color on my knuckles when I grip my steering wheel a little too hard. I sometimes feel something twitching underneath my face, a facial expression of pure constipation. The face of “I’m so angry I look like I need to shit.” What I am describing to you are the beginnings of road rage.

A few times I have even let it possess me. I can’t help myself. Even in traffic, when I know I’m not going anywhere, when I know glaring at the person next to me won’t get me home any sooner, I feel the need to let everyone know that I am just a miserable as they are.

During these times, phrases like: “No, no. By all means, you first, fuck face” and “Wow, you’re a flying douchebag” have left my cynical lips. No one can ever hear me, of course. It just makes me feel better in a pathetic sort of way. Speaking these words to myself somehow sobers my rage.

I have yet to let it escalate further—being drunk behind the wheel without prior alcohol consumption. I’m sorry, but some people who drive the way they do, intoxicated by their own anger, might as well be drunk. It’s a special form of bat shit crazy.

The woman driving the blur of Mazda behind me resembles a winged, fanged creature that probably escaped from Hell. She wears a pair of sunglasses, but I can imagine her eyes rolling Exorcist style into the back of her head.

She begins to cling to my car’s ass, willing it move faster. There’s a line of traffic further down the road and a car right next to me. Like Melville’s Bartleby, I prefer not to, and choose to do nothing. I continue to drive the same speed.

She’s livid. I can see her mouth reciting incantations in my rear view mirror. I would be lying to say I don’t get some satisfaction at the sight of her babbling mouth starting to foam.

Her car begins to rock in between the lines of the left lane. I check my mirror. Her mouth is wide open now. I can see her teeth, white as shark teeth before they’re covered in mealtime blood. She looks hungry for Sarah flesh.

When that won’t move me, she lays into her horn, and she doesn’t let off. By this point, my exhaustion has officially worn off. Her horn screams and wakes me up from the sleep I haven’t even had yet. For half of a mile, this woman holds her horn. I feel like my car is getting raped.

This is the part where I would normally back down in order to save my life, but there’s nowhere for me to go. Because we’ve stopped. There’s a wall of traffic in front of me and on the other side of me.

Cruella de Vil skins ten puppies before she rolls down her window to call out to me. “Hey you stupid bitch, if you don’t know how to use the left lane, don’t drive in it! Some people have to get to work!!!!!” I watch her beat her steering wheel like a drum at the beat of every syllable she spits outside the window like an enraged camel.

I give her the benefit of the doubt when I wonder if she’s on her way to a hospital or crime scene. As she stuffs her neck more outside her window to scream at me, she reveals a long strand of glossy pearls dangling in front of a ruffled blouse. She probably works in an office like me, not anywhere she’s saving lives. I wonder if there’s any amount of money in the world that gives someone the thumbs up to drive like this.

“Learn how to fucking drive the speed limit! It’s the left lane!! THE LEFT LANE!!” Her voice is hoarse by now. I swear I can actually hear the scratchy, rawness in the back of her throat.

I watch intently. I’m entranced by the monster in my rear view mirror. I think about taking a picture of her so I have a visual aid to accompany this story when I tell it later.

She visibly heaves. She pauses for a second, most likely collecting her breath and saliva for the next round of obscenities. She was burning herself out, screaming, flailing, and savagely pointing to the left lane. She looks like Gumby on fire, all lit up in my mirror.

I talk myself out of whipping around and telling this lady to forget about work, and to drive herself to a facility where she can be assessed properly. Don’t saying anything, Sarah. Keep your calm, woman.

My stomach quakes with acidic hatred as I grip my steering wheel until my palms hurt. I can’t take it. I roll down my window. “Are you serious right now?” I ask her.

That sets her off even more. I watch her throttle out of her seat belt. This is it, I think. This is the part where I die. I have heard stories about people getting out of their cars with a baseball bat, crowbar, or weapon of some kind and using it to smash another person’s car.

The man in the white Honda next to me intervenes. He’s as shaken as I am. “Hey lady, where the hell do you want her to go? Do you see?” He waves his hand, spanning the view in front of us. “We’re all stuck in traffic! No one is going anywhere!”

She won’t bother with his logic. It doesn’t make sense to her. “THE LEFT LANE!!” she bleats raggedly.

Finally, traffic begins to crawl forward. When she gets the first chance she breaks away from behind me. As she passes me on the right side, she shoves her French manicured middle finger out her window.

Further down the road, I pass her up as she gets sandwiched between two trucks. She slams her fists into the steering wheel again like a toddler who just won’t get her way.

5 minutes away from work, I replay the scene in my head. I think about the bulge in her neck, her bugged out eyeballs. I don’t think I have ever seen a woman look less unattractive. What is it about driving to work that makes some people so ugly? Is the job really worth it if this is what you look like going to it?

Nope, not one bit. Luckily, I found a way to curb my own road rage. Whenever I begin to feel that familiar homicidal gurgling in the pit of my stomach, I will think of her. So thanks. Thank you, Ms. Mazda. Thank you for giving me a terrifying taste of what I can become when I begin to let my job, my time, my life control me.