Dear Diary, I’m a Pessimist

June 18th

Today I was hoping my big break would come; not that I did anything to evoke it, but I am tired of where I am at. My face looks tired, my hair is drab, & I have lost the inspiration to wear anything even mildly interesting.  Around noon when I realized this wasn’t going to be my day I acknowledged the ever increasing doom and decided to move on. I considered looking into the Art Institute of Chicago. I’m sure what I would do with the information, and moving is currently not an option. I at least need to get my day dreams back.
June 19
I had a very hard time focusing today.  I would start doing one thing and then switch to another part way through. A while later I would remember what I initially started and pick up where I left off.  My morning started along these lines, and I thought about quitting my job the whole drive in to work.  By mid day I was thinking I am where I need to be. Although in the back of my head I have this deep sense that if Sam and I lived in Chicago we could really make something of ourselves.  Is that what I really want? Maybe to stay here and make little money, sneaking out of work early to toil over my garden and lawn, maybe that’s where we’ll be forever.
June 20th
Work was rough today, and I wondered how many wrong turns I took to get here. Sam says I can quit, but only if I also quit my (costly) hobbies.  He also said recently that I could quit my job and work instead at the small grocery store 5 minutes from our house. After considering it for several days I decided I didn’t want to because working there would take the fun out of shopping there. This is similar to why I didn’t study art in college – the misconception that it would no longer be an enjoyable activity if I HAD to do it.  It turns out work is not enjoyable for me anyways, and I wish I would’ve realized that when I was picking a career.
June 21st
Today was our 2 year wedding anniversary, and it made me wish I would have accomplished more during that time. Then I had a bit of a break down and started researching what a copywriter is.  Maybe this is my new calling?  Sam says he supports me.  He always says that no matter how irrational or odd my ideas are.  Last week I wanted to quit my job and work at the small grocery store down the street.  The week before that I wanted us to move to England where I just wouldn’t work at all. At least he will never get bored; one less reason to leave me.
June 22nd
In my studies of entrepreneurs I’ve realized a lot, if not most, hit rock bottom before they realize what they are supposed to be doing.  I think it is this place of desperation that fuels the drive to take the risk and pursue what one wants or needs to do in order to survive. Every day I wonder, “Is today the day I hit rock bottom?” The pessimist in me is always looking for that worst day in hopes that it can retire and something resembling even a sliver of optimism will step in and take over.  Sam and I currently have no money and two vehicles that are in major need of repairs which, when added to my ever increasing anxiety at work, make me hope this is as rock bottom as it gets for us. It could be a lot worse so I need to move on wth my life and do something before the universe dishes out the real rock bottom. If my mom gave honest advice she would say I need an “attitude adjustment.”

Dear Diary, I’m a Pessimist

ham and cheese on bread

I should be working on a grocery list, but instead I lay in bed staring at the low ceiling and listening to Frazier playing on the tv at my feet.  It’s not quite my bedtime, and my to-do list sprawls off the paper and onto the floor.  The sunny hours of the evening were wasted sitting at a classy bar chasing my emotions away with a fruity cocktail and a salty burger.  The afternoon visit with my grandmother left me sad; a sadness that could only be treated with food.

“She has gotten worse,” my husband said quietly as we walked to our car.  We never know what to expect when we pop in to see her.  The dementia slowly steals more and more away from her, and I have noticed she no longer perks up when she see us.  In two years I’ve watched her slip away slowly, knowing it was only a matter of time before my husband and I could no longer cheer her up.  Now when we walk into the nursing home she stares at us as if we were strangers until I announce “hi grandma!” knowing at least that will still register.

Today her memory slipped in and out – at times she got me confused with my mom, other times she would completely forget what we were talking about or lose track half way through my story.  The tired staff looked busy as they tried to keep the residents content.  And then there was me, thinking I can entertain my grandma and bring her mind some relief.  I kept my stories overly animated and short.  She smiled, as did the other residents sitting within eat shot.

Before I get up to leave I notice the dry erase board on the wall behind her.  It states the weather, the day’s in-house entertainment, and the dinner menu.  “Ham and cheese on bread, fruit salad, potato salad” it reads, and I get a lump in my throat.  My gram used to be the best cook I knew; I ate like a queen whenever I was at her house.  I don’t know if it was so much the ham and cheese that made me sad or the realization that this was it.  She doesn’t enjoy eating anymore, and I know it has nothing to do with the food served her.  I could present her a plate of all of her old favorites and she would look the other way in disgust, forgetting the things that she used to enjoy.

As I lay in bed I cannot get that dry erase board out of my head, or the way she looked at me when I walked in, or the way my husband just knew without me saying, as we drove away, that I was sad.  Life doesn’t prepare one for these things, and my pillowcase fills with tears as I drift off to sleep thinking of my grandmother’s homemade dumplings.

ham and cheese on bread

spring comfort

After five years of trying to convince my husband to be content with our little home in the woods he has finally settled.  Set back from the country highway our house is blocked by a few rows of tall pines, and if one slowly drives by and looks down our driveway they will really only see our pole barn and two solar panels.  It’s a mostly quiet neck of the woods.  Logging trucks go by in the late morning, but the bird feeders are tucked back alongside the house and aren’t bothered by traffic passing by.  In the spring the birds are noisy; the red breasted grosbeak doing his mating dance while a gang of bluebirds looks on wth what I imagine is a look that says “little idiot.”  The chicken coop sits on the opposite end of our large yard, but the hens can be heard squawking as they run around looking for small snakes and pink little worms.  With the recent addition of an Ikea windchime on our porch the area has gotten a bit more nosey as the hallow wood pieces knock together.  But apart from these spring time sounds, the place is quiet.

We don’t have neighbors, which is the main point my husband brings up when he unexpectedly states that we will not be moving anywhere else any time soon.  On either side of our 40 acres are multiple other 40’s owned by people who only make a visit to their land a couple of times a year. Some of the properites have small, rough looking cabins tucked back into the woods.  In the summer time we hear the occasional gun shot, but other than that we sit undisturbed.  The lack of peeping toms and snooping neighbors gives my husband elaborate liberty to pee off the side of our porch into the patch of dirt that lacked grass long before we ever moved in.  He does this with pride as if he were a dog marking his territory.  And it makes me happy to know he finally sees this quiet place as his own.

As the ironic fate that follows me would have it, three months after purchasing my cabin of solitude as a single, independent woman, I met my now husband.  He was more than content with his centrally located apartment in town.  Cooley riding his bike to school and work it was beyond his mental capacity how someone could enjoy living 40 minutes outside of town, away from the action. While I was in my weed filled garden tilling until the mosquitoes ate me alive he was sitting in a restaurant’s outdoor patio with friends, his bike parked casually on the sidewalk.

How we made it to this point is hazy to me.  My social husband spends only a day a week with friends, and on weekends when I get all my outdoor chores done we go out to eat in town, sitting inside the dimly lit, modern restaurants while our vehicle sits casually parked outside.  Nonetheless, despite the five years of compromise, I am still a bit shocked he has grown so comfortable in our little home so far away from the hustle and bustle.  Three weeks ago I was finding us apartments to move into in downtown Chicago (a good 5 1/2 hour drive from our current rural existence).  When I told my husband I had found us just the right one on the river I am not sure what reaction I was hoping for.  I was ready to take my turn in the compromise and move to the land of opportunity and public transportation.  It turns out somewhere between the sound of chirping spring peepers and the grouses’ non stop thumping he found the peace to settle in.  So here we’ll stay, at least for a little bit longer.

spring comfort

census or self analysis?

This morning a gentleman from the census bureau knocked on my door.  I refer to him as a gentleman because his grey hair was combed back nicely with just the right amount of gel.  He wore khakis with just enough pockets to make them questionably cargo pants, and his name badge hung over his blue, zip up fleece top.  The apparel was pretty standard “comfy-casual” for this neck of the woods.  But like I said, the hair made him a gentleman.

After he grabbed his laptop with its giant U.S. Census sticker on it I invited him in.  I didn’t offer him coffee as that seemed too friendly an invitation for someone I wasn’t quite yet positive wouldn’t be murdering me in the next 5 minutes.  He asked me the standard census questions, but as this was my first home visit I wasn’t quite yet sure what to expect.  I fumbled on my husband’s birth date, first correcting myself on the day (“seventh, not seventeen”) and then letting it slide when I realized I also gave him the wrong year (“my husband was born in 1988?!”).  I also over estimated my yearly income, choking as I secretly vowed to brush up on my mental math skills.  I imagined myself sitting before a jury some time from now being questioned as to why I gave so many wrong answers.  I also thought about how ashamed I would be the next time I read some sort of national population statistic, knowing that my answers were slightly off.  “Accurate to the best of my knowledge” hopefully applies to my poor memory for birth dates and horrid math skills.

Even more concerning was the fact that this man was possibly judging me as he sat in my two room home (“if I sleep in the attic does that count as a second room, and does it count as a bedroom?” was my answer to his 8th question).  The upside down patio chair laying next to the couch, the dirty floors, the long, white cat hairs strewn everywhere like confetti.  I watched him type in between questions wondering if he was taking observational notes.  “Fidgets as she answers questions regarding numbers,” “Says she has husband but incredible amount of cat hair appears to prove otherwise,” “Bird seed on kitchen counter – she possibly eats birdseed???”  In my mind I see these notes being sold to retailers, ad agencies, and local mayors, maybe even Russia who would use them to calculate the stupidity of their frenemy.

I am an annoyingly clean person, or at least my husband thinks so.  To have someone come into my house while even just one item is out of place causes a self evaluation of the highest scrutiny.  I don’t spend countless hours every evening after work dusting cat hair, organizing my desk, and sweeping each square inch of my small home so that someone can stop by unannounced and find my home in a mediocre state.  As I sat across from the gentleman in his barely cargo khakis I wondered what it would be like to have his job and see so many homes.  I also wondered if his office was hiring.

Oh the excitement of stopping by other people’s homes unannounced and seeing what items may be out of place or what other people did while home on a Wednesday at 9am.  Maybe my barking lap dog was a breeze to a man who probably stopped by a lot of homes filled with small children and blaring day time talk shows.  The perspective one must gain by showing up at strangers houses unannounced!

As he left, the gentleman (who never once tried to murder me by the way) called back at me from his black Buick “you have a great place here!” and I thanked him, knowing he must be referring to the sunshine and tweeting birds flying over his head.  And as he drove away I thanked myself for cleaning the dog poop from the yard this morning.

census or self analysis?

forced rest

The pile of tissues next to me blocked the framed photo of my husband and I.  From where I lay all I could see was the gold frame holding fall leaves which haloed the white mound of crumpled up tissues.  On my other side my husband slept deeply, his breathing so heavy I wondered if he was catching the same bug I had.  It took me a week and a half to feel somewhat normal again.  And by normal I mean back to my non stop cleaning and organizing.  If I am not being productive I feel like a failure, so being sick is, well, my worst nightmare.

The dishes only got half way to the ceiling,  the laundry spilled over the hamper, and the inside of the fridge became the only space that didn’t feel cluttered, its lack of contents making it appear clean and tidy.  Because of this I put off going to the grocery store knowing that at least somewhere in my house there lacked cat hair and dirty plates.

Being sick had this affect on me.  It caused a craziness that could only be tamed by realizing there was nothing I could do.  If I wanted to get better, if I wanted my nose to cease running and my throat to stop screaming in pain, I had to rest.  My to-do lists were put out of sight, and I tucked myself into bed early with a quick swallow of medicine to ease my cough and mind.

This forced rest is usually just what I need to gain perspective on my daily goals and habits.  Priorities can become painfuly detailed as my lists get longer and longer. But as I lay my head on my pillow and look over at the mound of tissues covering the photo, I remember to just let go.

forced rest

last words

I listen to my german shepherd snore as I lay face up on the bed staring at the ceiling.  Cold season (isn’t that every season in rural towns?) has hit me hard leaving my voice to nothing but a whisper.  The tv is on but somehow the snore trumps the fast paced, endless conversation at my feet.  I switch to watching my little, old poodle’s chest rise and fall with his sleepy breathes.  I imagine what it would be like to see him die, the breath stopping as I watch, so I stare even more intently.

It’s a disease; not the sore throat and stuffy head that’s keeping me in bed all day, but the constant infatuation with death and the realization that it could happen at any second.  When I hit my thirties and realized that the open book was slowly closing shut I started thinking about the end a little more every single day.  This being the third day in a row with a hoarse to non exsistant voice I start to go through the list of all of the people I know (or heard of in this small rural town) that were fine one moment, fell ill the next with a common ailment, and then died.

It’s morbid I know (and I don’t mean the sore throat) but the silver lining is that realizing life is short makes me cherish every moment.  I imagine this is what being on the verge of death feels like (and I imagine that moment a lot).  Those last fleeting breaths are something I don’t want to feel for a very, very long time to come so focusing on the silver lining keeps me in check.  Or maybe it makes me think of death more, but either way I am living life to the fullest.  Even as I lay here voiceless, watching my elderly dogs take what could be their very last breaths.

last words

beauticians’ lament

When I was young I would spend weeks at a time with my grandma in Wisconsin.  She was a beautician (as it was called back then) and owned her own salon.  The salon was in the same building that housed a gas station, but from inside it looked like any other small town salon in the 80’s.  I was very young, under the age of ten, but a well behaved child and proud to spend time with my grandmother all day at the salon.  She would keep my occupied by sorting perm rods or by letting me sit at the tall front desk where I would pretend to be the receptionist.  After a particularly stressful day for my grandmother I remember her pulling me aside, looking me in the eyes, and telling me to never become a hairstylist.  I heeded her words as if they would keep me from making the biggest career mistake of my life, forgetting for 20 years to ever question what this ultimate secret was that made doing hair the worst job ever.

Around the time that my grandmother’s second husband, a terribly unattractive person, large and with hair that looked severely fake, was gambling his life’s savings away, I was wondering whatever happened to that close relationship my grandmother and I had had.  And I was also contemplating going to cosmetology school.  When her husband died of cancer my grandmothers alcoholism worsened and dementia, diluted with a cheap jug of wine, came sweeping in. She was half in the bag when I announced I would be attending cosmotology school, and I was surprised when she didn’t tell me I was making a big mistake.  Because I have very few memories of my childhood I had assumed that the one about her telling me  to never be a hairstylist was important.  But while considering the career choice I argued the voice in my head, saying it had recently occurred to me that I had put too much stock into the words of someone who routinely made poor choices with men and alcohol.  Looking back, this argument probably came from a place of anger and confusion as I was watching my grandmother waste her life away.  And plus, how could I trust one childhood memory to dictate my future financial stability?

By the time I had finished cosmotology school my grandma’s dementia was ever more noticeable.  She was happy for me and said that it only made sense that I would follow in her footsteps.  A short time later, at my first salon job, I received a phone call from the receptionist at my grandmother’s eye doctor’s office.  It was not an approved phone call but she felt I should know that my grandma had not only driven herself to the office but had also ordered an abnormal amount of contacts.  I hung up, wondering how I would balance work and taking care of my grandmother.

Around the time I started to realize my hair coloring skills were not improving my mother was realizing the state of my grandmother’s mental health.  We were taking turns checking in on here, cleaning up after her drinking binges, and planning to take her keys away.   My mother eventually stepped in as her full time caregiver, and I went back to wondering if I had taken the wrong career path.  With each new hair coloring disaster the anxiety grew.  Every time a client stopped returning my heart sank.  While sitting with my grandmother at the assisted living facility I would confide in her that I didn’t feel like I had the nerves for doing hair.  Despite her infrequent memory she somehow remembered exactly what I was talking about and it was that feeling of not being alone that kept me pushing forward.

Now my grandmother is in a nursing home.  On her good days she remembers that I am a hairstylist.  She no longer tells my husband, like a broken record, about how I would go with her to the salon as a child.  She doesn’t seem to remember that I would sit at the desk with my crayons or that we shared that very fleeting bond over the anxiety of doing hair.  Three years into doing hair and I am still unintentionally turning women’s bangs blue, not getting all of the dye properly washed from the hair, and routinely crying in my car at the end of the day and wondering how I got myself into this.  And it turns out my grandmother was right.  But maybe not for the secret reasons I assumed she knew.  Maybe the reason all along was the anxiety that we both suffered from and the tole it would take on us at work.

beauticians’ lament