Sunday, October 30, 2011

Speaking with a Little Class

You ever see one of those shows on TV when a hypnotist/self-help guru/Fear Factor host subjects someone to their worst fear so that they can “work through it”?   Like, if you’re afraid of great big hairy spiders they’ll make you stick your hand in an aquarium of great big hairy spiders or if you’re afraid of jelly beans they’ll make you go on a tour of the Jelly Belly factory.  And all this is supposed to desensitize you or minimize the fear so that while you still might not enjoy big hairy spiders or jelly beans, you’re not as afraid of them anymore.  It’s like Take Back the Night only it’s Take Back the Fear.
That’s kinda like me and public speaking.  I’m subjecting myself to Toastmasters to work through my fear of public speaking but that doesn’t necessarily mean I want to run out and speak publicly ever every chance I get.  But there’s a little thing called “work obligations” and you can’t exactly say no when you have to give presentations.  Well, I guess you could but it wouldn’t look very good, would it?
The last two weeks have been a veritable public speaking-fest for me.  Last Tuesday, I had to make the introductory remarks at a lecture that I helped organize at work.  I started off strong and then I realized where I was and I kinda panicked and sped through the last two-thirds of the intro.  All that breathing stuff?   It went flying out the window. 
This past week, I taught a few training sessions which was actually enjoyable – I mean, not as enjoyable as a trip to the Caymans but it wasn’t like I was facing a firing squad or anything.  I definitely wasn’t the best presenter but I learned something – use a memorable graphic in your presentation and people will remember what you want them to do have to say.
Friday was the culmination of my public speaking engagements.  My boss was going out of town so she asked me to speak to a bunch of up and coming/already arrived archivists about our online catalog.  To be honest, it was an easy crowd.  Half of the people in the class were my friends, the other quarter I knew from various work things, and the rest, well, you can’t know everyone!
It was nerve-wracking because it was going to be videotaped and everyone would be staring at me I was talking about something I’ve never really talked about before.  I did a lot of practicing - thank God for SuperJ who not only sat through three practice sessions but counted every “um” I said and reminded me that the presentation did not have to be one very long sentence without pauses.  A period and a comma are spots where you breathe – advice for the ages.   
With my heart pounding, I went down to the lecture room at 8:30 Friday morning.  I wanted time to set up, log-in to the computer, run through my speech using the microphone, and make sure I was breathing at all the proper intervals.  A prepared speaker is a calm speaker.  Until it’s ten minutes before show time and the speaker realizes that she’s supposed to be in the room next door. 
Once I was where I was supposed to be, I looked out at the sea of friendly faces and launched into my speech.  Sure, there were some flubs and probably one too many “ums” for SuperJ’s liking but I think, overall, it went okay. 
Do I want to do it again?  No, not really.  Will I?  Yes, probably.  They say you have to do the things that scare you the most to make you a stronger person…so I guess I will.
Besides, it could've been a lot worse.  I could've been on that tour of the Jelly Belly factory. 

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Six Months

When I was 16, I was promoted to Library Page Extraordinaire and went to work in the library basement.  I guess they were so impressed with my ability to hide behind the shelves and read shelve books during my shift that they wanted me to do bigger and better things.  Upon my arrival in the basement, I became Junior Book Pocket Typist.  You remember the pockets at the back of library books with the cards that a sassy librarian would punch with the due date?  My job was to type (on an actual typewriter) the information on the cards and pockets – title, author, Dewey Decimal call number, all that catalog-y stuff – and then cover the books in those clear book covers that make a library book, a library book.
Here’s the thing – I wasn’t the greatest typist.  When I started, I made more typos than I could count, I could never get the lines to align, my pockets were crooked, and my covers weren’t the greatest.  For the first few weeks, I used to take home all the pockets that I messed up that day and throw them out.  I was scared of getting fired embarrassed at how many mistakes I was making.  So, every night I’d stuff my jeans pockets with my book pockets and wonder if I’d ever become a better Junior Book Pocket Typist.  Every night, my mom assured me the next day would be better.  I could only hope.
Seven months ago, I knew exactly what I was doing when I arrived at work each day.  I was good at my job of “being an archivist,” I was a go to person, and I knew how to get things done.  Sure, I spazzed out every other day once in a while and I could be moody when I got annoyed but overall, things were good.  Besides, I was fun to have around. 
Six months ago, that all changed.  Good bye comfort zone, hello new job.  It’s definitely been a period of adjustment – both personally and professionally.  I’m over the "I don't fit in with these people and I’ll never make friends!!" pity party that I threw myself a few months ago because, quite frankly, who wouldn’t want to be my friend?  (I’m feeling a bit full of myself today!)
Professionally – well, that’s an altogether different matter.  Every day, I whisper the following three pieces of advice to myself –
1.      Courtesy of my friend M. K.  – give myself a year to get used to everything and feel like I know what I’m doing.
2.      Courtesy of my boss – everything’s reversible.*
3.      Courtesy of Pinterest – mistakes are proof that I'm trying. 
Some days it helps.  Some days it doesn’t.  The days that it doesn’t are the days that I treat myself to a great big chocolate cupcake. 
In my new position, I’m responsible for ensuring that all of the descriptions that go into our online catalog meet all of the agency descriptive standards.  One of my colleagues likes to compare our standards to the rules of the road.  Just like there are people who enforce the rules of the road, there are people who enforce the standards.  And I'm one of those people.  But I’m so much nicer than your average traffic cop.
It’s been quite a learning experience.  In addition to learning the ins and outs of the standards, I’ve had to learn to deal with the fact that some people are not going to like what I tell them.  And I've had to learn that although they might not like what I say, it doesn’t mean they don’t like me.  I don't exactly like it when people don't like me. 
There have been some unexpected surprises.  The part of my job that I thought I would hate the most…I actually kinda like.  I get to teach new describers about our standards.  Sure, I’m not over the moon about having to stand in front of people to speak but I have the opportunity to help people navigate the system and write solid descriptions.  I mean, I’m no Mother Theresa but I feel good knowing that I’m helping others.     
Six months in, I’ve had good days and cupcake days.  I’ve made mistakes, I’ve cursed out my computer, and I’ve seriously wondered if I brought a curse to my new office (I blame myself for every technological issue that crops up.  And then there was that East Coast earthquake that I think might’ve been my fault.)  I’ve doubted myself and my abilities and camethisclose to begging for my old comfort zone job back.  But then I remember a 16 year old girl who stuffed all her mistakes in her pockets when she first started a new job.  Her mom was right - the next day was better.  And eventually, that Junior Book Pocket Typist figured it all out.
Give me another six months and I'll let you know how it's going!   

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Fashion Non-Sense

Around this time last year, I started to update my wardrobe in preparation for my first overseas trip.  I was heading to London and I needed clothes fit for an International Traveler.  Oh hell, I just needed clothes that fit.  I tended to wear clothes that were a couple sizes too big for me.  See when I sized out of the Juniors’ section and went to the Lady section, I just went to the next size up.  I was happy as a clam in my roomy clothing and I thought I looked pretty darn good.  I didn’t think anything of how my clothes actually looked on me – even when the mail-girl offered to bring me in one of her old belts – every single day of the week.  I wear shoes made out of rubber – do you honestly think I cared how my clothes looked? 
Now, the pop psychologist in me would venture to say that I didn’t care about how my clothes looked because I have issues with my appearance.  But really, it’s because I hate shopping.  Well, that’s not altogether accurate.  I mean, I love shopping for books and Donald Duck collectible figurines and applesauce.  No, really, I just hate clothes shopping.  I think it has something to do with all the mirrors.  And maybe my large thighs. 
I hit my fashion high note when my mom was still picking out my clothes.  Once it was up to me, my fashion choices tended towards stirrup pants – the first time they were trendy and oversized graphic tees – including an awesome one with quotes from the movie Forrest Gump on it.  Sadly, I think I got rid of it a few years ago.  There was also a phase in high school when I experimented with grunge.  But I couldn’t even do that right.  I basically wore my dad’s flannel shirts to school.  There was one bright, shining moment in my fashion bio…in the third grade, I had a pair of sweet white boots with fringe on them.  God, I loved those boots.
Anyway, in college, I was a commuter so I didn’t care what I looked like and neither did anyone else because, well, I was a commuter.  Who cares about commuters?  Besides when I wasn’t at school, I was working at a grocery store.  Where we got to wear uniforms.  Best job ever.  I didn’t have to put any thought whatsoever into what I wore.  Plus, I got to wear an apron all day, every day.  I loved that apron.    
When I got my first real job in the real world – working 9 to 5 in the big city – there was a slight improvement in my fashion choices.  I discovered Ann Taylor Loft.  And store credit cards.  I was making 10 bucks an hour.  Can you say credit card debt?
Fast forward to 2010 when I found out that fashion isn’t always about comfort, pants should actually fit snugly, and sometimes you need to wear underwear that doesn’t give you panty lines.  Trust me, I’m still trying to figure out how to handle the panty lines.  So, last year I started building my wardrobe.  I’m not saying that there were several fashion shows in my office but if there were, it was only to make sure I was heading in the right fashion direction and, oh yeah, to make sure that my panty lines weren’t showing. 
One piece of advice that I was given that I try to keep in mind every time that I shop – still dress like you’re Denise.  So, you’ll never see me in one of those cool scarves that so many of my friends can rock because, well, Denise is not a scarf girl.  No, seriously, I’ve tried.  That’s okay.  Not everyone can pull off wearing Crocs like I do.    
My fashion journey is still a work in progress but I think I’ve come a long way since stirrup pants and flannel shirts.  But if anyone sees a pair of white boots with fringe on them, let me know. 

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

That One Time at the Ice Cream Parlor

Last year, I royally screwed up the walls of my powder room when I got the brilliantly dumb idea to scrape off the painted-over (yes, they painted it) wallpaper.  Hint, when you scrape down to the cardboard-y stuff of the drywall, it’s not a good thing.  But hey, I’m not much of a DIY-er.  And this isn’t a DIY blog. 
So now my powder room is super scary with walls that are waiting for my brother to come fix them to be redone and repainted.  In the meantime, I’m left with interesting wall art to stare out when I’m on the toilet.  Oh come on, we all sit on the toilet.  It’s okay to talk about it.
This is my favorite -

Depending on how you look at it, it can either be a giraffe taking a dump or it can be a boob.  It’s all about how we interpret the things we see – or don’t want to see, maybe.  It’s funny how everyone has a different perspective on things, even if they’re in the same exact situation. 
And now, I will tell you about that one time at the ice cream parlor.
When I was 17, my family went on our annual summer vacation to the Jersey Shore.  One night, we went to Tory’s, the local old-fashioned ice cream parlor where the waitresses wore poodle skirts, the Cokes came in old-fashioned bottles, and the guys working behind the counter were jerks – soda jerks, that is!  It was a great place and the model for the ice cream parlor that I’m going to open one day and we went there a lot when we were on vacation.  This particular night, my mom, brother and I, and some cousins were waiting outside in line to get seats for our large party. 
Behind us were a couple of teenage boys.  It didn’t take long before they began making fun of me and the way that I looked.  Look, I’ve dealt with teasing and rude comments and stares for much of my life.  I took a pretty passive approach, well, by passive, I mean avoidance – duck my head, take the long way to bypass certain hallways, sit at the front of the bus – so, yeah, I’m an avoider, not a fighter. 
But that night, I was with my big brother.  And while my mother was completely oblivious to what was going on, my brother was there and he listened to these non-soda jerk jerks make fun of me.  How I wanted him to say do something.  I don’t know what - maybe punch them or kick them in the, well, you know where.  Basically, I would’ve been okay if he had hurt them anyway he could’ve.  But he didn’t.  He just stood there and he made lame little jokes and I just stood there getting madder and madder – not at those mean boys behind us but the very, very mean boy who wouldn’t stand up for me.
The whole situation made me so mad that for years I threw it up to my brother – remember that time at the ice cream parlor when you didn’t defend me?!  Remember that time when you didn’t do anything to help me?!  I held onto that anger pain for a long time.  Too long, probably.
With age, comes wisdom, right?  For years, I focused on what my brother didn’t do.  But here’s the thing, he didn’t do what I wanted him to do…but he did do something.  He tried to make me laugh and ignore those awful boys because, in the grand scheme of things, those boys just didn't matter.  But because I was so angry, I didn't learn the lesson from that night.  A lesson that I only pieced together while I was sitting on the toilet.  Oh right, like you’ve never had an epiphany on the toilet before?      
The world is filled with giraffes and boobs (stupid dumbasses, not breasts – although there are a lot of them in the world too.)  Back to the lesson. Giraffes stand tall, they rise above it all, they’re noble and graceful.  And they tower over the boobs of the world because boobs are just boobs and they don’t matter to giraffes at all. 
It’s up to you to either be a giraffe or a boob. 
Be a giraffe.      

Sunday, October 9, 2011


Usually on an autumn Sunday like today, the kids in my neighborhood would be playing a touch football game in my street.  The neighborhood dads – John and Mike – and the kids, girls and boys alike, would throw the football and run the plays, breaking whenever a car needed to pass by.  Every Sunday, the sounds of play – the screaming, the shouting, the laughter – usually waft through my open front door as I putter around inside or drift off for my daily nap.
But not today.  On this exquisitely beautiful autumn Sunday, a Sunday that feels like the calendar should say May or June, there are no sounds of play.  Today, there is a hush on my street.  It is still and quiet. 
Last night, as my mom and I settled in to watch 48 Hours Mystery, we noticed an ambulance and a fire truck outside my row of houses.  As we watched the activity, we wondered what was going on.  Perhaps one of my neighbors had fallen.  Maybe someone had a heart attack.  We speculated because when you see an ambulance and a fire truck in the neighborhood, that’s what you do, don’t you?
My next door neighbor came by a few minutes afterwards to end our speculation.  I couldn’t have imagined the words that he would tell me.  The boy who lives three doors down from me hung himself.  He was fourteen.
At this point, no one knows if it was suicide or something that went horribly wrong.  All I know is that my neighbors have lost their fourteen year old son.
Today, I’m not watching the neighborhood kids play football in the street.  I don’t hear the sounds of carefree childhood play.  Instead, I’m watching the kids as they sit on their front steps trying – I think – to make sense of this tragedy.  It is something that the adults are trying to do too.
It is a sad day on my street.     

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Things Remembered

Sometimes opening a box can take you back to the people and places of long ago memories.  And before you know it, you're remembering...
Sometimes I remember Catholic school copybooks and public school notebooks.   
Sometimes I remember the house with the ugly green door and first beers and jumping out of a window just to walk back in the front door for kicks.
Sometimes I remember the summer of Sun-In and the autumn of burnt orange hair.
Sometimes I remember baseball games and an Action News interview that went horribly awry.
Sometimes I remember midnight runs and Chinese fire drills and ice cream at Friendly’s.
Sometimes I remember gifts from the heart.
Sometimes I remember games of Punch Buggy that hurt like hell.
Sometimes I remember the ridiculousness of SoCo.  And now when I say I live in HoCo, I cringe a little. 
Sometimes I remember the morning I found out why it was so funny that I went to a school called Beaver.
Sometimes I remember walking down the boardwalk talking with really bad British accents.
Sometimes I remember games of “would you still be my friend if I…walked like this, talked like this, looked like this?” 
Sometimes I remember Mickey and Donald and Goofy too. 
Sometimes I remember two girls; one brash and bold and the Great; the other quiet and timid, with none of the self-assurance then to proclaim herself anything near great.
Sometimes I remember.  And I wonder…
Sometimes you have to close the box and put away the memories.