I’m Doin’ Alright

I was sitting on the deck with my mom, soaking up the sun on this gorgeous Indian summer day. She laughed out loud. “How come you have never told me about this flipping stuff? Is that really a thing?” after I explained that at the bookstore I am constantly flipping books back that customers flip over when they do not agree with the subject matter. This has been happening with greater frequency the closer we get to election day. So much for free speech. I loved that I could make her laugh so hard over something so silly.

I went to visit her on a whim. It was a warm, sunny day and I know I won’t get many more of those. She is #inexileforthegoodoftherealm (her hashtag for 6 months now) and will not be having us in her house, and won’t be coming into any of ours. It has been so hard not hugging us for the better part of 6 months now (she did sneak a few in back in June when the NYT published an article about how to do it safely.) Her mind is swirling with thoughts about how she will be able to get through the next 7 months of cold weather, keeping her spirits up while not getting time to spend time with the people in her life who she loves. She just made an appointment today so she can go to Mass in person in a couple of weeks. No one could have imagined the life she is living right now. And still, she persists. With grace and optimism.

When people meet my mom it’s easy to see that she’s where I get my positive attitude (my snarkiness I get from my sisters.) I think it’s important on World Mental Health Day to say that I’m doin’ alright (to quote Joe Cocker) thanks to the skills I cultivated growing up in our family. With so many people in crisis and despair, isolated and lonely, and filled with anxiety, I know how lucky I am to have my family and friends in my life, even though it is outdoor picnics and Zoom happy hours. Pandemic meltdowns, seasonal depression all year round, people grieving and mourning losses not imagined a year ago…that is our life now. But I’m doin’ alright.

I know I have it easier than most. I have a job that was not interrupted at all during the last 6 months. I am at work 5 days a week with people I enjoy working with, so I have human contact. I have my health. And I have Friday night Zoom happy hours with my band wife family. And outdoor visits with my actual family. I have been able to take writing classes throughout all of this. My house is comfortable, even if it’s a bit messy because what the hell, I am not having anyone over anyway.

With all of this, there are still times when loneliness or anxiety creeps in. Let’s face it, for most of us it’s a scary world out there right now. It’s easy to get caught up in the media stories and become overwhelmed with all the injustice, bullying, and violence. The uncertainty of where the USA will end up and what the country’s place in the global community will be. Sometimes I want to crawl under a blanket and not come out.

I am here to tell you that it’s OK to be sad. Mad. Anxiety ridden. Depressed. Exhausted. These are normal feelings, especially during this crazy time, and when there is not an definitive end in sight. Feel your feelings, but also try to determine what you need to fill your bucket. Do everything you can to find your joy. Make those connections that will help carry you through to the next phase. Everyone needs help sometimes. Please, please ask for it and seek it out. And don’t be afraid to ask for help professionally. I know. I spent thousands of dollars on counseling school and I sought professional mental health and I am better for it. Really!

And if you are someone who is not doing alright, reach out. I don’t have answers, but I can make you laugh!! And that will move the needle toward optimism. And joy.

 

Could We Start Again, Please?

2020 has been a year like no other. No need to go into all the disturbing and disheartening details. There have been so many ups and downs in my life, bottoming out some of the time and starting to climb up other times. Everyone is currently living a version of this.

So here I am trying to climb up again. New month, new purpose. Full moon. Clear eyes, full hearts, can’t lose, as that cutie Kyle Chandler used to say in Friday Night Lights. I will look at each day in October with clear eyes and move through my day filling my heart. Then I feel like I would be ready to help others fill their hearts. That is one of the real challenges that I think so many of us are facing, how to help those around us with the anxiety and fear and loneliness and isolation that we are all dealing with. Thousands of dollars spent going to counseling school hasn’t helped me out with my own depression, and I haven’t felt able to help others with theirs.

So I am going to start small. I will spend time writing every day, for just 20 minutes a day. I will spend another 10 minutes every day being quiet, just sitting with myself with whatever emotions come bubbling to the surface. And I will commit to using my new and most favorite tool, my Everyday Joy journal.

I have been using this journal for a few weeks now, here and there. It was written to be used for 90 consecutive days and although it has brought me some joy and clarity, I have not been using every day. This will change during October. The Everyday Joy Journal was created by author Alexis Pierce to help navigate a tough time in her life, and it has in turned helped others. It has helped me to learn how to live each day, not just wait for the weekend or the next special occasion. It has given me the courage to get through countless days these last couple of months. We will have copies shortly at my Barnes & Noble, and I would encourage you to check it out at Amazon.com (this is how serious I am, mentioning the competitor!!)

I will post things in my life that are bringing me joy. Today it was going out for burgers with my nephew and friend, Diego. He makes me smile and laugh and gives the greatest hugs (don’t worry, it was safe). I hope that you find things in your life that are bringing joy for you. I would encourage you to share those things with those in your life who you love. It is what will get us through.

Almost Half My Life

25 years at Barnes & Noble. I did the math, that’s over 5700 shifts! And how can I sum up my time there so far? Thousands of customers, and hundreds of thousands of books. Release parties and power outages and celebrities and hundreds of cups of coffee. And so very many coworkers, many who have become friends.

Highlights?

I got to meet and spend time with Anne Lamott, who wrote Bird By Bird, the first writing book I’d ever read. She is easily one of my favorite authors. She arrived later than expected into Syracuse for the Rosamond Gifford Lecture Series and we had her pre-sign some books in her hotel room beforehand. Although exhausted, she was gracious and fun while I held open each title page for her black sharpie signature.

Then there was the time we almost broke William Styron! He was doing a talk and signing and started feeling ill. We had to get him to the employee break room and call 9-1-1. Spoiler alert, he ended up being fine. I had a really great conversation about bookstores with Jean Stapleton when she was in town doing a play at Syracuse Stage. And I got up the nerve once and asked Stephen Stills if he needed help finding anything. He didn’t.

December 23 is one of the busiest days of the year for us at the bookstore. For a few years it was also the day Viggo Mortensen would make an appearance to do some DVD shopping before heading north to spend Christmas with his family. The first time it happened it was 10:50 pm and I was running register to help clear the building for the night. I asked, “Do you have a membership?” and the man gave me his phone number. “Mortensen?” I asked, realizing half a beat afterwards who I was talking to. He just smiled and paid. The next summer I was tracking a lost book for him. I had to ask him to repeat himself several times because he is just as soft spoken as he was as Walker Jerome in A Walk On The Moon, my fave Viggo movie, about the summer of ’69 at a resort in the Catskills. If you enjoyed Dirty Dancing, look it up

Many years ago one of my coworkers had recently retired from Time Magazine and came to work with us to learn how to run a bookstore. Bill Reilly then opened the river’s end bookstore in Oswego. My dad, my friend Katie, and I drove up there one day to help him unload his Ingram Distribution starter shipment and we helped him organize the books on the new empty shelves. 22 years later, that indie bookstore is still thriving and I love to stop in to visit with Bill, who always tells this story at independent bookstore conferences so they don’t think badly about the big box stores. 

Special events and release parties have been really fun. We had several midnight parties for the later books in the Harry Potter Franchise, a cool party when the DVD release of the first Frozen movie came out, and a prom theme for one of the Twilight books (I can’t remember which one). Each of these gatherings were made special by the extra work and fun that the booksellers put into them. From decorations and costumes to endless energy and enthusiasm, these dedicated employees delighted everyone who attended. That’s one of the things I admire most about the people I work with. They want success and put so much work into events like these to make it so.

I am so grateful for the caring supportive environment I have been a part of for 25 years. I love working with the booksellers on my staff. I found out how much when we closed our doors in March and the staff were furloughed for a bit. We have brought back some but not all and it feels incomplete without everyone there, like waiting for my friends to make it to the party. They all bring gifts and talents that make us one of the best retailers in the country and I am blessed. I can’t say here’s to 25 more, but I can say I will be around to sell many more books!!

 

I’m Not Crying, You’re Crying.

10 weeks ago, when quarantine started, I thought I would get so much done. I had reduced hours at work and wasn’t able to be with my family and friends, and there would be time for everything: reading, writing, housework. I would post in my blog and take classes and get that kitchen floor scrubbed. And then it happened. Or more to the point it didn’t happen. I sat around at night weary from the listless days. I binged for hours on Netflix and Hulu and even Youtube. I snacked because I needed comfort food to get me through this trying time. There were no blog posts and even the homework from classes I took to stay motivated was left undone. My house projects just sat there because it didn’t matter anyway, who was coming into my house? No one. I did the bare minimum, dishes and laundry and shopping trips for my mom and my dad, spending much more on groceries than usual because I had to be sure we had enough food to forego extraneous grocery store trips.

10 weeks ago, I had my last normal weekend. It was the weekend before St. Paddy’s Day. The band played a double header. First they played a surprise birthday party for a friend in the afternoon. Then we knew the wave was about to hit us, and that we may be taking a chance, but we went ahead with the gig at The Western Ranch. Eric loaded in all of his own gear (no easy feat for a drummer) so that contact would be minimal. Somehow we knew this would be the last weekend we would be eating out, and sitting with each other, and listening to live music. When we all said goodbye that evening, it was really hard.

It’s been a long 10 weeks but I have made it through relatively unscathed. I was able to keep working, albeit at reduced hours. It’s been kinda exciting actually, getting ready to open our doors again to an entirely redesigned bookstore. I can say this because the younger stronger members of our staff have been doing all the hard labor! My parents live locally, so I have been able to see them at a distance and make sure they have whatever they need to be more comfortable during their own quarantine. I have been able to wave hello to friends when dropping off or picking things up. My life hasn’t really been disrupted, but I am sad about cancelled vacations and parties that have also been cancelled for everyone else.

I miss the hugs. And the gatherings. And live music. But I hesitate to say I miss my freedom. I think that is a loaded word right now and the truth is that I do have freedom. And I choose to wear my mask and limit my errands. And make do with what I have without shopping for things I may not need. Those who talk about having their freedoms taken away perplex me. How is wearing a mask to keep people safe different from wearing a seat belt to keep safe? Why is it someone’s constitutional right to have a haircut or a manicure? I am as shaggy and gray as everyone else. But that means we are all in the same boat. Yes, I am speaking from a place of privilege because I have a paycheck coming in and am able to pay my bills. I get that. I know there is a lot of suffering out there, people not getting paid and losing their small businesses. But I just can’t seem to equate that with the loss of life we have suffered in this country, 100,000+ to date. And I can’t ignore the stories out of the hospitals and COVID units, people unable to breathe and in great pain.

For 10 weeks I have pushed down my sadness and despair. I have used food and alcohol and Netflix to distract me from my feelings. Then today I saw a car parade from a local elementary school staff on Facebook. One of many that have been posted during the COVID crisis. I don’t know why this one struck me. But as I watched the video made by that birthday friend I haven’t seen since my last normal day, seeing car after decorated car drive by her house, hearing her say, “I have to go get my glasses, I just can’t stop crying,” I started to sob. Crying for all the schoolkids that couldn’t go to school and see their friends and teachers,  those juniors and seniors who now have to reimagine what their futures will look like, those families that cannot see and hug each other, those people who lost loved ones to this illness and those who will continue to suffer as we go along in June and July, people suffering for the poor decisions made by others. All I can hope for is that those that I love stay safe and healthy. And that we can find a vaccine so then the world can be safe and healthy. I’m not crying, you’re crying.

Photo credit: selfie taken of my mask by my mom, Carole Horan. It was made from material left over from a dress she made me when I was just a wee one.

I’ve Never Been To Spain, But I’ve Been To Barcelona (New York)

We pulled the car off on the side of the road and waited for a few more to pass, then I jumped in front of the road sign that read ‘Napoli’. “Hurry up! There are more coming!” I yelled as Diego tried to snap a pic with my phone. Before we got back on the road I consulted the map. “So where to next? If we go toward the lake we will hit Sunset Beach by 3.”

Did you know there are over 100 cities and towns in New York State named after famous places? Diego and I set out to visit all of them a couple of years ago. It started out innocently enough. We were driving around one day and somehow got on the topic of how many places in Upstate New York were named after other places and we decided we had to check them out for ourselves. In an earlier blog I wrote about how this kid had me on a whirlwind 24 hour tour of New Jersey so we could visit his two favorite restaurants, Cheeburger Cheeburger and Quaker Steak and Lube (the locations in our area had shut down, so he was jonesin’.)

https://imwiththebandwives.com/2015/09/03/jersey-shore-and-more/

So, we went old school and bought a New York State road atlas, started plotting out prospective trips by highlighting all the names we recognized, then began plotting them all on grids by geographic location The harder part was finding time to do all this exploring, with Diego still in high school, and, well, retail.

But we found a sliver of time and we set out Easter Sunday with a basket full of jelly beans and peeps and chocolate bunnies, towards the farthermost western part of the state, Buffalo. We got to the New York-Pennsylvania border of the Thruway and exited to head south, and came across Dunkirk. I didn’t even realize it should be on the list but Diego mentioned the famous WWII battle and how the movie had just come out. So there it was, our first checkmark. We hit several others places before ending up in Jamestown, birthplace of Lucille Ball (Diego claims not to know who she was, but he also says that about the Beatles so I just don’t know.) Most of the towns were shut down because of the holiday, which was too bad because there were some great BBQ places we might have enjoyed. We drove through Barcelona, Salamanca (where a college roommate spent a semester), Westfield (Massachusetts, where I worked for two years after grad school), Portland, Panama, Ashville, Sunset Beach (North Carolina, where I used to go on spring break with Diego’s family years ago), Napoli, and Cuba.

Then there was our trip on Veteran’s Day weekend. By this time Diego had turned 16 and had his permit so I let him drive for the whole trip, though all sorts of terrain: highway, dirt roads full of potholes, country routes, and city streets. It was only a day trip but we still managed to get to several places: Mexico, Texas, Phoenix, Peru, Memphis, Jordan, Belgium, Liverpool, Palermo, and of course Syracuse. We also took a detour to Rainbow Shores, a hotel where my dad and I lived one summer while I was in college, in an apartment over the laundry room. It’s right on Lake Ontario, with the most gorgeous vista every single morning, rain or shine. He indulged me while we walked around the abandoned grounds and I showed him the apartment where we lived, and the cabins where we vacationed during subsequent summers.

Future trip plans got derailed as Diego’s permit became a driver’s license and high school shenanigans became more fun than road trips with Aunt Buddy.  So as you may have guessed, we have not hit all the places, or even the top 100.  We hit 21 during 2017. 2018 was a wash and now next week the kid is leaving for college. At dinner tonight we talked about taking a day trip sometime this fall where we can hit some of the places in the Eastern part of the state, near where he is attending school. We will be lucky if we hit another 10. The good news is that he and I love to spend time together and don’t mind driving for hours as long as there’s a hotel with good cable at the end of the day, and perhaps a fun restaurant. He’s already trying to figure out how to fit another Quaker Steak and Lube visit in.

The Kids Are Alright

As I was leaving work the other night a car honked and drove towards me, a hand waving furiously out of the passenger side window, then Marissa stuck her head out. She jumped out of the car and gave me a big hug, with Paige right behind. We stood in the parking lot and caught up for a few minutes, telling each other little snippets of our lives. It was a moment of bliss, one that I have experienced many times.

Training and teaching and mentoring have been some of the happiest times in my work life. It is bittersweet when I have to say goodbye as employees leave and fly off into the world.  When I was in grad school I had a group of RAs (resident assistants) who came to me for advice, support, and friendship. Here’s a pic of some of The Dogs Of War, who I am still in touch with today, continuing to share advice, support,and friendship (and the occasional abuse, they were good at that too). During grad school, then my positions as a hall director and assistant director of Residential Life, there were six different staffs full of wonderful souls who were in my life and taught me lessons, each one of them full of personality and angst and questions. Sometimes I miss those days.

 

 

And Barnes & Noble gave me the chance to do it again. For 24 years now (I know, right?) many youngsters have been sent out into the world to do great things after spending time with me learning the sometimes hard lessons of the working world. For some of them it was their first professional position and there are always things you never expect to learn about. Last week my sweet friend Alice who is now a licensed therapist after many years of hard work told me she is opening her own counseling practice. At one time in my life that was my dream, and my heart almost burst with love and admiration for her! And for every Alice and Marissa and Paige there is a Paul and Mike and John. My life is so rich because of each of them, And for those who ask why I am still at Barnes & Noble after so many years, that is why I do it folks!

My Writing Declaration of Independence

My talent and this blog have been lying dormant for some time now. As always, there is no excuse. I have been letting life wash over me instead of controlling the flow. I say I want to have a writing practice, and produce work, and I know many ways it can be done. Motivation and inspiration comes in many forms. Today it comes from my dear friend and writing mentor, who after years of teaching about writing practices has created one for herself and it has been transformative. I want to be just like her.

How not to have a regular writing practice: Continue reading “My Writing Declaration of Independence”

Abundance

My parents had faith in a God that would always provide, even when neither was working. No reason to assume I would ever go hungry. $50 bucks a week feeding 10 to 12 people. 7 kids getting free lunch at school, breakfast if they left early. Government cheese, big cans of peanut butter. Always an extra person at the table. Even when we didn’t know when the next meal was coming from, there was food.

The chest freezer was full whenever uncle Denny sold us a cow, emptier other times when it was hardly worth the electricity to run.  Someone had chickens used as placebos in experiments, dead and beheaded but not plucked. After boiling them so the feathers could be plucked easier, the kitchen smelled foul for weeks. Going into the freezer to get dinner items I had a pain in in my stomach while hanging at the waist to dig through frozen chunks of bloody beef to find corn or fish sticks. But I had a secret. The fun-sized Nestle crunch bars we received because they were burned in production. I would sneak whenever I could get away from the kids to grab handfuls. My earliest bingeing behavior. I never went hungry.

I Wanna Rock!

This past weekend the latest inductees were welcomed into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. Some of the Band Wives and guys took a road trip to Cleveland to hit up the RRHOF and margarita flights (at Nueva Modern Mexican and Tequila Bar)!

Inspired by my hours immersed in rock history, here are some great performances from my favorite inductees!

Stop Draggin My Heart Around by Stevie Nicks (inducted 2019) featuring Tom Petty (inducted with The Heartbreakers in 2002)

I’ll kick it off with a song from the class of 2019, the first woman to be inducted twice, the first time with her group Fleetwood Mac. As luck would have it it also includes one of my other faves, Tom Petty! Continue reading “I Wanna Rock!”

Snow Day

Snow day! And what did I end up doing?? Poring through old high school yearbooks, having reconnected with an old friend from a high school play on Facebook and feeling nostalgic. We never used to close the bookstore, but in this day and age of fiscal responsibility we have to weigh the sales with the payroll and the safety of our staff, so with the text “We are closing. Enjoy the day!”, I was gifted a day off. The entire day was looming in front of me and there was so much I could be doing, behind in my writing and blog posting, reading, guitar practice, and housecleaning. So instead there I was, with three bound volumes of Talons (we were the Fowler Falcons) to flip through.

Continue reading “Snow Day”