Thursday, July 24, 2014

Spanish Panic

I really need some sleep.

As evidenced by a moment of panic earlier today.

Brace yourself for a lot of detail to make a very small point. You might want popcorn. I'll wait.

(I hope your microwave has that "popcorn" button, because otherwise who wants to bother with popcorn, right?)

(My current microwave does not have this button, which upsets me a little.)

OK, here comes all that detail I promised, are you ready? All comfy cozy there on the couch? Got your red vines?

Wait, we aren't watching a movie...I'm really tired.

Annnnd, commence the detail overload:

OK so we conduct these surveys at work, and a portion of each survey is a comments section, as this is pretty standard.

We collected all the surveys months ago, and it was a lot of work and thank goodness I had some great coworkers who were willing to help me because wow it was tiring.

Anyway.

So today I went to file the lists of the comments, because the survey process is over but my desk area needs a little tidying.

Now I live in Los Angeles so several of these comments were in Spanish.

As part of the survey process (the part that came before the finally-filing-things portion), I had a coworker help me translate these comments.

And by help me I mean she did all the translating, as I know how to say "rice" (arroz) and "excuse me" (con permiso) in Spanish, and I'm not certain there were any comments involving rice as we're not involved with the grain industry at my job.

So this very helpful coworker took the handwritten Spanish comments, and then handwrote the English translations on that same paper -- right next to its corresponding Spanish comment.

Meanwhile, I typed the English comments as well as the ones translated into English into a spreadsheet.

Then as my coworker translated the Spanish comments by hand on the paper, she gave them back to me and I typed them in English in the spreadsheet.

Is this story still captivating to you? The 9 to 5 life, guys, I tell ya. Exciting spreadsheet stuff.

Also I work 8 to 5, Dolly. If we could get a song rewrite, stat.

To review up to this point (I would venture we're about halfway through this story, maybe a third), all this happened a while ago, for the most part. So my memory with it all is not fresh.

Also, I'm really tired.

While filing the handwritten comments today, I came across several pages of handwritten Spanish comments without English translations written next to them.

This made me "Hmm," as I thought all the comment stuff was taken care of already. Why were there untranslated comments suddenly before me? (Lesson: tidy the desk sooner.)

If you think this is the panic portion of the story, I'm sorry to inform you that you're wrong.

So I went and checked my spreadsheet, and typed in the identifying comment-survey number that was attached to the Spanish handwritten comment (without an English translation handwritten next to it) to search for it in the spreadsheet.

Fully expecting nothing to turn up as a match.

Not only did it turn up, but the comment -- and several others (ALL of them) that were written in Spanish on the paper without an English translation -- were IN the spreadsheet...

...TRANSLATED into English.

Dun dun dun.

Are you freaking out with me at this point? I really hope someone is freaking out with me here.

This is when the kind of fuzzy, woozy weirdness began to seep into my environment.

I reminded myself that I'm living on about 24 hours of sleep across the past four nights, may have some residue Unisom (read: off brand Benadryl) in my system, keep calm, etc.

Eventually (3.5 minutes later; I couldn't take it any longer) I picked up the phone to talk to my translating coworker.

"I'm having a Twilight Zone moment."

Laughter, or silence, on the other end of the line -- don't remember exactly. (I'm very tired).

I explained the situation/TZ moment, and double checked that I hadn't asked her to type any comments directly into the spreadsheet, right? Meanwhile I scanned in my head our other bilingual staff (um, about half the office) and tried to remember asking someone to help me type comments.

Let me say first that my coworker also thought this was all very strange and a little alarming. OK maybe she didn't think it was alarming, quite.

Then she mentioned that didn't she write some of the translations onto another piece of paper, because it was too cramped to fit the Spanish and English comments right next to each other on the page?

PHEWWWwwwwwwwwwwwwwww.

Panic gone.

I honestly wondered before getting my answer to the whole conundrum if the whole thing had been an act of God, throwing me a bone here at work by hacking into my spreadsheet and translating some comments for me.

I'm hoping that a nice bowl of steamy arroz will induce some much-needed slumber this evening. Clearly I could use it.

But to be fair, that situation was pretty loco for a minute there.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Sacks of Sugar

This weekend wasn't perfect. I smacked my head on a dryer (again), I cried this afternoon, I worried.

But I also got to lift some weights this weekend, and I love to pump some iron. 

This year's been tough. Let's be honest, my twenties have been tough. Life is tough. 

The last number of weeks have brought with them several pieces of bad news, though good and laughter and Disneyland teacups have gratefully interrupted. 

A member of our church committed suicide, a young woman died within days of giving birth to her first child. A friend lost his father to cancer. A friend is battling depression. I'm battling depression. Gaza. Russia. No no no no NO! STOP!!

When I got news of the cancer death today, that was it. I had plans to exercise, then cried instead and made myself pick up the phone and call a friend. 

He listened, told me to take deep breaths. "We're going in circles, Bailey," he said, after letting me talk really fast, recapping multiple weeks of life. 

We managed to laugh at some things, as I laid out the details of my non-love life and everything else that is weighing on me and the world. I told him that I carry others' burdens, even of those I don't know, and it's not necessarily out of the goodness of my genuine heart but rather with a shade of anger, mad that I have to hear or see one more story of terror, heart wrenching agony, hopeless hoplessness.

He told me I still need to work out, that the evening's sadness didn't grant me a ticket out of doing something that can help buoy my mood, however small. 

(Though not the reason I had called him, I secretly hoped that he would tell me to exercise.)

"I feel like my life is just always calling someone and having them tell me to exercise, eat something," I said.

"Oh I don't care if you eat," the smart ass answered back.

"You've always carried around some sort of burden, or depression," he continued. "And yes, it does take maintenance [eating, exercising, etc.]."

I sighed. Eventually I hung up and put on my sports bra and when he called to check in I was trying to turn down the volume on the TV in the workout room and he yelled over the Disney Channel madness: "Call me back when you're done working out!"

Here I am, 9:24 p.m., done exercising, done eating, showered, typing this. Feeling better. 

I'm not going to get into a discussion right now about feeling bad and then feeling better and this cycle, because frankly I don't have the energy or the answer to that conundrum and besides, I have a story to tell, which is the best part of my weekend, which was this:

On Friday night after work, I went home to watch a partial episode of Dawson's Creek, to eat "puppy chow" and generally chill on my futon. 

Then I got up and drove to my friend's home to talk with her and to help her soothe her two-month-old twins to sleep. 

I haven't known this friend for long, but when we first met it took literally only hours before she invited me over to talk about faith, doubts, etc. It only took me literally hours later to ask for her prayer during a rough morning at work. It took her even less time to invite me over that evening after work to talk it out, to distract me from my woes. 

We have a connection. We're not identical, but we kind of get each other. Or at least like each other, which counts for a lot. 

When she answered the door Friday she was holding one of her daughters, in a brown floral onesie. We hugged and she kissed my cheek. 

I took in her beautiful babe, and the three of us processed to the couch, where I retrieved one of her tabby cats and for a moment we each had a baby in our arms -- the respective type to which we're each most adept. Mine purred but then eventually chirped and squirmed away, hers nestled quietly and then asked for milk. 

It was only a matter of time before the baby's sister started crying from the back bedroom, and we went down the hall and I met baby #2, who, her mother had informed me, was a little chubbier than the one I met first. 

I grabbed the one with bigger cheeks from the automated swing, and my friend and I bounced babies together in the bronze daylight, pressing through the slanted blinds. 

We sat on a couch with drowsy babies in our arms, switched when one cried for milk. I held one sister while Mom reswaddled the other. 

We caught up during and between diaper changes, disjointed but always returning to our last tangent of conversation. We whispered when our little friends were sleeping, talked a little louder when one was letting us know her thoughts on life, in the language of Wail. 

Occasionally we would leave the bedroom to talk with her husband or fetch water, and when the monitor issued a whimper we would head back to the infant sleeping chambers. 

As night came on, the room grew more dark, illuminated by the blue light of a white noise machine, the glow of a monitor, of an iPhone. I came to think of it as The Baby Cave every time we crept back through the door, eyes adjusting. 

My friend kept commenting on my willingness to hold the babies, how patient I was amidst all the fussiness. 

I assured her that I was loving it. 

I've actually spent very little time in my life with infants, or toddlers for that matter. Other than the spontaneous babysitting job or nursery volunteering at a church, I don't get a lot of baby time. Even with my niece and nephews, there must be jockeying for a chance to hold the little nuggets, as there are so many greedy aunts and uncles and grandparents who love our blondie babies and we all live so far apart and rarely get to see them.

My niece is already four and kind of past the being held in the crook of an arm stage, but last Christmas I got to have her in my lap for a whole church service and we cuddled on the couch while watching The Little Mermaid. I'll take what I can get -- but there still isn't a lot of kiddo snuggle time for the taking at this stage in my life. 

Which is why I loved holding the twins on Friday.

I don't want to shed my independence just yet -- if I don't watch an episode of Dawson's Creek every night after work, who will? -- but holding babies and reading to children can just be the best sometimes.

Time after time this weekend I picked up a wailing infant, a stranger to me who, minutes later, would be passed out on my chest, a globulus cheek mashed against a canvas of skin. A really tired person who just didn't want to sleep in the dark alone. And isn't that all of us? (The thing we need to practice is letting more people know our needs, letting out a squawk. Because as I'm finding, we all need to squawk. We all need a bounce and a cuddle.)

As the ache started to seep into my arms, I told my friend that the bouncing was a great workout. 

"Yeah, it's like lifting weights," she said. "Like lifting sacks of sugar."

Sacks of sugar they are indeed. Sweet, sweet sacks of sugar. 

Holding those babies was the best part of my weekend. I was grateful, though not in a rush, to drive home after my "shift" at the Baby Cave, to get a midnight snack at Taco Bell, finish my paused episode of Dawson's Creek. But after today's stacking up of sadness, and questions, I still think calmly of the sacks of sugar who blessed my Friday.

I'm not one to buy fully into the positive thinking approach to life, and I don't believe that happiness is a choice. I'm not convinced, because obviously I don't want to experience sadness, but I do. And I think that kind of simple thinking (choose happiness, be happy) can be detrimental to people who need more help than someone asking them to perk up. We're way too broken to be given elementary prescriptions.

But I told my therapist recently about the research regarding gratitude, how I'd read about people writing down things they were grateful for and how it increased their happiness. "I do believe that," I told her, with the same confidence as when I told my friend I was enjoying being with her babies.

I'm not real thrilled with the current method of my life of constantly weighing the good against the bad. It makes me mad, frustrated, helpless. But I told God on the elliptical tonight, "If you don't give up on me, I won't give up on you." I'm not really sure where it came from, but it came. (Others and even I myself wonder why I continue to attend church and commune with Christians while I have doubts about my faith and question its ability to comfort and heal me, but day in and out I don't plan to walk away, questions or no. What would I walk to? Something else that would bring questions, is my guess.)

So I wish, I really really wish I had more to offer you than to say count your blessings. Most of the time I believe my blessings are from above, like the fact that I more or less naturally know how to hold an infant, and how their little bums fit into our elbows, just like that. My journey is still hard, and I can't give you all the answers right this second, but I do hope and know that counting the sacks of sugar in my life and your life can help, during wandering times, sad times, bored times, happy times, calm times. Even if you can just count a sugar packet, count it.

I'll go first. Today's list:

I slept last night in a bed of freshly laundered everything -- pillowcases, sheets, blankies.
Two really great hugs from Abby at church. Natural, comforting hugs, like sisters embracing.
This dark nail polish looks great on my pale feet.
26 minutes of cardio.
This new Gold's Gym t-shirt I'm wearing, found at a thrift shop.
Phone calls with all of my besties in the past week.
My personal patio, that I've taken to sitting on daily.
The Frou Frou song playing on my Pandora right now.
The moment when I saw myself in the bathroom mirror this evening and looked just like my mom.

Do me a favor, Friends, please. Let people know your hurts. Call that friend. Cry. And then get on the elliptical and count your sacks of sugar.

XOxoxoxo,
Bailey

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

In the moment (with mushrooms)

I used to be a girl who bought vegetables* with good intentions.

Taking my time at the grocery store, I would feel touched by a particular zucchini, lovingly pick it up, place it in my cart, to take it home and learn how to cook it (I've watched Mom do it, I've eaten it, now it's time to make it myself, would be/is still my line of thinking).

Later I would/will find a shriveled zucchini in the fridge and throw it away.

Good intentions.

Over time I've become (something) of a produce-forward person, actually snacking on apples, steaming broccoli in my 700 watt microwave after work instead of necessarily reheating pizza.

I try to be more realistic in my produce purchases, intricately calculating how much I can potentially consume over a certain amount of days, how much I will actually consume, and how much will rot in that time period if I'm not careful.

Usually something rots, I'm going to let you know that.

But the point, I guess, is that I don't do quite as much overbuying as I used to, and I don't eat quite as much pizza as I used to.

Some mushrooms in my fridge were probably a day or two short of a trip to the garbage disposal, but I decided to save them last night, after my first dinner course of peanut butter, chocolate chips and Coors Light.

They came in a cardboard box covered in plastic wrap, the top corners of the box opening wider than those of the base. I excitedly set it aside after emptying it, envisioning craft ideas to later employ it as a drawer organizer.

Then I learned my first lesson of mushroom cooking: don't overfill the skillet with mushrooms.

Later I guess I learned a second lesson: it actually is OK to overfill the skillet. But at first it felt a little crowded to me.

I sliced up all of the mushrooms, even though I was feeling crowded, adding them to freshly melted butter.

I sliced, added, put more butter in the pan when things were feeling dry. (I take on the feelings of my veggies and their environment; it's that sensitive nature in me).

I enjoyed the whimsical shape of the 'shrooms, and thought that with such character it makes sense how these items make their way into several art forms. However I think there are other characteristics of some 'shrooms that earn them an honored space on certain rainbow canvases.

Sometimes a piece of the feathered brown section of a mushroom would flip out of place as I sliced it, onto the white backdrop of the mushroom, and it looked like it was flirtatiously winking at me with its eyelashes, or raising an eyebrow.

Though I was nervous about the pan being crowded, the 'shrooms being too dry, I rallied forward, slicing, adding, cutting off more chunks of butter.

I flipped them with a red spatula, pushed them around, flip, push, flip...

Then I realized something: they were kind of cool on their own. Perhaps this should have been obvious to me, with the flirty eyebrows/eyelashes; I should have suspected coy independence.

They didn't need a lot of flipping. They tenderized and tanned their hides on their own.

And the butter -- the butter! No splattering!

Let's just say I've been splattered and injured by hot oil a few too many times lately, so I was not expecting the butter to behave too differently than the offending oil I'm used to.

It was maybe the most calm skillet I've ever seen. Muted ssss's as opposed to snapping bubbles. Mushrooms just sitting, no big deal, like they were old friends in a hot tub together having some beers. Even scrambled eggs get more rowdy than this. Well, they at least stick to the pan a little more, and need more supervising.

I just finished this (great) book about the Amish, and the author mentions how she learned after living with the Amish to enjoy the activity you're in, not to rush ahead to the next.

I was feeling a little antsy -- in part because I was hungry -- and wanting to get away from the stove and the 'shrooms, but when I noticed the calm sizzling I tried to focus on it.

After several minutes I decided the mushrooms were ready to eat. I didn't sample one, I just guessed.

I transferred several to a red plastic bowl, poured myself a glass of water, and went to my patio to sit in the fading daylight.

I noticed the cool breeze as I sat, and decided I should sit out there more often, like every day.

I still buy vegetables with good intentions. I'm a little better than I used to be, but there is a potato, watermelon, pineapple, and blackberries (OK, so I buy fruit with good intentions too) that may not see the dark of my stomach. But I rescued the mushrooms.

And I was right about them when I decided to turn off the heat and took them for a date outside -- they were ready.

*Yeah, yeah, yeah. Mushrooms are fungi.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

P.S.

Oh, by the way, my nephew was born today!

The Pool

This evening I made a decision.

I took a dip in the pool.

I jumped straight in, imitating childhood when I was brave and always jumped straight in -- the goal as a youth was to COMMIT to the pool and accept it and its temperature as they came.

Tonight when I plunged into the deep end, there was no shock. Just perfect warmth, a little cooler than a shower, but requiring absolutely no physical or mental adjustment in terms of Fahrenheit, just the switch from air to liquid.

I was, essentially, instantly happy after joining with the chlorine.

Worries melted. Blase and depression of the day forgiven.

I treaded water and looked at the palm trees against the indigo sky, just after sunset, and felt praiseful. Later I would think how this landscape, in childhood, would only represent a vacation, but now it's my present (in both senses of the word). Not that life is nearly as romantic in California as it might seem, and it is almost that fact exactly that makes it all the more surreal that I live among palm trees -- because most of the time I don't even notice them, the way I wouldn't take particular notice of a manicured lawn or squirrels in my native Midwest.

After my moment of grateful adulthood, I became a child.

In nine feet of water, I decided I could go to the bottom of the pool and touch my feet to the painted cement. That was such a thrill when I was nine, and in pondering it it became a thrill once again.

I was about to sink and I got nervous, wondering if I could hold my breath all the way to the bottom, then back to the top. I sprung my fingertips off the edge of the pool and moved about a foot forward, then backed against the wall again, collecting the boldness I would need for this feat.

I actually laughed out loud at myself for how ridiculous I was being, afraid to sink to nine feet below, knowing full well that I could press my toes against the bottom to get myself more quickly to the surface, that I have a healthy set of lungs that withstand regular cardio, and that I didn't have to go all the way to the bottom anyway.

I reveled in the silliness of it all, and watched the shadows on my pale legs in the water before daring again to touch the bottom.

On my first attempt I didn't make it.

Then I made it, and did it again and again.

I told myself, out loud, "I must do handstands," and swam with purpose to the not-so-deep end.

I practiced my craft, knowing full well that my butt was sticking out like a shelf, not in line with my torso or in a way that would keep me upright without water to support me.

In between poorly executed stands, I came forward, face pressing into my hair, a curtain before me.

I dipped my head under the water over and over, coming back up with forehead facing up, hair grouping smoothly together.

I remembered watching older girls do that, how I thought they were so pretty and sophisticated. The younger me usually had bangs, but in a pool I felt like an equal to the pubescent girls, no bangs, confident gossip coming off their lips. The pool erased my bangs. When I tipped my head back, they melded into the rest of my hair, at least until I got out and then all of it became a wild, half frizzed and dry, half damp tangle. Sometimes green, as blondes who went to summer camp will understand.

I thought about how I used to feel older, maybe even sexy (if it was possible to feel sexy before that word was in my vocabulary) when my hair would be bangless and wet. Like a different version of myself. I bet I just looked the way I actually looked, the way I was supposed to look, like a little girl in the pool.

I didn't have any neon plastic diving rings to let sink and then go in search of this evening, nor any coins to toss in. I thought about tossing in my keys, but decided I could skip an adolescent activity tonight in the name of getting back into my apartment. (Am I making it up that my dad used to let us dive for his keys in the water, or were my parents actually that trusting of our aquatic retrieval skills?)

As a substitute I simply sank to the bottom a few more times, did 15 handstands, until the pressure in my ears started to bug me and I called it quits.

I even had a tea party, pouring tea for my imaginary friend, and in another (held) breath buttering toast before coming to the surface.

I was by myself in the water for all this, until another tenant joined me. He entered the pool by the stairs, and my childhood judgment was right back in place, thinking him an amateur for cautiously stepping through the shallow end.

I chided him from across the way. "You think it's cold?" I laughed.

He made his way to the deep end and chorused about how wonderful the water was, like bath water. I told him that's the beauty of living in a place that's really hot.

"Ahh, I love the Valley, I love the heat," he agreed.

This man and I could have a lovely future together. I could forego any worry about our home dipping below 70 degrees, sending me in search of a sweatshirt.

He floated on his back, I treaded water. We made small talk. Pool talk.

When he headed to the 5 foot region I thought, "If this man starts doing handstands, I must marry him."

Well we aren't engaged, but we did exchange names. (He didn't do any handstands that I noticed, but I'm trying to be open).

My body was calm when I got out of the water, my spirit happy, wrapped in my psychedelic peace sign towel. Muscles in that delicious mix of relaxed tension. The resistance of the water offers tremendous aerobic opportunity without battering our sensitive tissues and tendons. Swimming laps only theoretically appeals to the athlete in me, but I can tread water for long bouts, lost in a trance.

The roots of my hair are mostly dry now, the ends dreadlocked. I'm letting it air dry, not urging this experience to end.