First, Do No Harm: Driving

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My wrecked PT Cruiser after I hydroplaned and was hit by an 18-wheeler who couldn’t avoid me.

For just a few months, I had almost forgotten one of the reasons I quit my old job: the daily commute. Then I decided to take a drive back to my old stomping grounds to see friends, and everything came back to me halfway there. I was passing an 18-wheeler when a brand new pickup truck came roaring up behind me, and suddenly I realized that I hadn’t forgotten anything. I had chosen to block it out of my mind entirely for the preservation of my sanity.

Now some of you are probably wondering a few things. How fast was the 18-wheeler going? Slower than the speed limit. How fast was I driving? The speed limit. How fast was the pickup going? Faster than the speed limit.

I understand that many people would have an issue with me ONLY driving the speed limit of 70 mph, but I don’t drive to suit other people. Seventeen years of commuting, a family of truck drivers, and one hydroplaning accident on the interstate that totaled my PT cruiser (see photo above) without killing or severely injuring myself or anyone else have all taught me a few things.

1)      Speed is no small matter.

2)      Dangerous speed kills – and sometimes not just the person speeding.

3)      Rain and speed…well, see #2.

4)      Ice and speed…also see #2.

5)      In my interstate driving experience, drivers of regular vehicles are far more dangerous and unpredictable than truck drivers. Just sayin’.

6)      Motorcycles are very, very, very easy to lose in your blind spot. Consequently, motorcycles are very, very, very hard to see.

7)      Road rage is real. For some drivers, everything is war.

8)      Construction zones are serious matters. Even the guys just seemingly standing around don’t want to go home in a body bag thanks to me.

9)      Deer (and other animals, such as birds, squirrels, snakes, raccoons, groundhogs, etc.) do not observe human laws of the road. Therefore, they don’t care how my car looks after I tangle with them, and they don’t care if I run into a tree trying not to hit them.

All of that being said, I have learned to abide by one rule: First, do no harm. In other words, I try to go out of my way to be an unselfish driver. Am I always successful? No, I am not, but I’m successful more often than not. I get tired of seeing other people be selfish drivers. More importantly, I try to remember one thing: I don’t want to be the reason that someone else’s family member never comes home.

So here are some tips (with a little sarcasm thrown in for good measure) gleaned from my experiences to ensure that we all get home alive every day (and without committing murder on the way there):

  • If you need to slow down, slow down. Let that person in the passing lane in front of you finish passing someone by applying a little bit of your own brake. There is no reason to terrify another driver by running up on them like a maniac. If you are too distracted to realize this is happening, you probably shouldn’t be driving. Pull over and let someone else drive you to your destination.
  • If you can get over to make it easier on someone else, do it. Let that person onto the interstate. No one “owns” the road, and there is no excuse for being so selfish that you can’t get over if your path is clear. If you are too distracted, well…refer to my instructions above.
  • Put down the #%*&$ phone…paper…burger…whatever. I know how difficult it can be to let things go, but do it so you don’t have to explain how you killed somebody because of a text message or dripping cheeseburger. (Or do it so God doesn’t have to shake his head at the stupidity of the way in which you got yourself killed or, worse, killed someone else).
  • Pick your battles. Remember when I said that road rage was real? I have seen it in action, and it is terrifying because it is completely out of your control (and obviously in the hands of someone with a screw loose). Just let the idiot go. DON’T challenge him or her.

I know how exhausting it can be to deal with people on the road. Everyone has his or her own method of driving, and some of them clearly make up their own laws as they go. I can’t fix those people, but I can abide by the rule: First, do no harm. Because I want every person who comes near me on the road to get home safely and because to paraphrase Louella in the Mitford* books, “I’d rather not meet Jesus going head on with a Mack truck.”

 

*Mitford series by Jan Karon – Positively delightful series!!!

Socially Awkward Woman’s Foodie Tour #2

Three words: Family Style Dining.

One of my friends decided to initiate a couple of us into this restaurant culture this past weekend. Being a Southerner, I’m accustomed to the meat-and-three concept, but this turned out to be a whole new level of food insanity.

Upon arrival at our food oasis, we put our name on the wait list and went to shop. We wandered through an array of Southern kitchen merchandise, around a large fountain, past a moonshine store (from which wafted a dizzying odor of pure sour “I’m made to get you in trouble”), and right into a store befitting a comic con. We were just perusing the selection of Harry Potter, Marvel, and DC bobbleheads when the text came that our table was ready. Re-entering the food oasis, we were immediately directed to the escalator.

I love riding escalators, but I require the concentration of a neurosurgeon to get on or off safely. (If anyone had been watching me, they would have seen me staring hard at the moving steps waiting for just the right moment to place my uncoordinated foot, which is attached to an even more uncoordinated body, onto just the right step.) Mission accomplished! I was following my friends up the moving staircase to dining heaven where I promptly had to concentrate again so that I wouldn’t be launched off the escalator onto the floor or into the wall.

Arriving at the host counter, we were greeted with proper Southern hospitality, and we stepped off to the side to wait and watch while tables were cleared and families came and went from the dining area. Those arriving were eager and chomping at the bit. Those leaving less so. After a few minutes, we were led to our booth which was wonderfully situated. The restaurant is actually on the second floor of the building, and the outer wall is almost entirely glass. Our booth was right next to the glass so we had a fantastic view of the fountain, the stores (including the aforementioned moonshine facility), a Ferris wheel, and the people. First, however, we had to get down to serious business – the food.

It’s a simple enough concept. You have a single page menu from which to make your selections. Once ordered you sit back and enjoy the bread and the view. It took a few minutes to make our selections. We settled on fried chicken, fried boneless pork chops, and meatloaf covered in cheese sauce. For our sides, we selected green beans, macaroni and cheese, creamed potatoes, and creamed corn. I decided to try the peach tea while one of my friends gave the flavored lemonades a whirl. Then the bread arrived – a mile-high cheesy garlic biscuit and a cornbread hoe cake saturated in butter. (I really wanted to lick the bread plate when I was done, but I settled for pressing my finger onto the crumbs and licking them off that way. Manners disappear when the food is that good.)

Then (drum roll, please) the meal arrived. Serving dishes and bowls of meatloaf, pork chops, fried chicken, potatoes, beans, corn, and macaroni and cheese were all placed before us. I don’t know if my mouth was hanging open, but my eyes were definitely as big as saucers. Here began the family dining shuffle similar to Thanksgiving. Do you want meatloaf? Have you had the beans? Would you like some corn? The dishes and bowls went round and round as we filled our plates.

I don’t know where my manners went, but it’s safe to say that gluttony beat them down into a little dark corner of my soul. I attacked the food on my plate like I hadn’t eaten in weeks. I don’t know how my friends ate, but I’m fairly certain that I just went to a happy place in my head and pretended that no one could see me. Meatloaf and pork chops had never made me so happy, and I would gladly have eaten the potatoes and macaroni and cheese straight from the bowl – without sharing.

Then partway through my second plate, my body began to protest. “Are you sure about this?” It seemed to ask me. “Maybe you should slow down.” It suggested. Being a bit older and a touch wiser than I used to be, I agreed and pushed my plate back and put my fork down for a moment. I sat there thinking that a break was a good idea, but all I could do was stare at the meatloaf and macaroni and cheese. I wanted more so I cut the break short and continued eating. All the while, my jeans protested against my ever expanding belly trying to politely, but insistently, explain that they weren’t made to stretch that far. My stomach clearly wasn’t made for it either because I actually became queasy when my dessert was placed before me. I stared at it trying to figure out how many bites I could swallow, and I finally settled for scraping the top portion off to be eaten while leaving the crust.

Only after the bill was paid and we were leaving the restaurant did a truth come home to me. My friend had tried to tell me, but I hadn’t truly understood her. That place had escalators because there was no way under heaven a person could walk down steps after that experience. Yes, boarding and exiting the escalator still required my utmost concentration, but at least I didn’t have to worry about missing a step on the way down and taking out the beach themed display before tumbling through the front window. (For the record, I wish they would move the moonshine place as it is an assault upon your already overwhelmed senses when you have a full stomach you are trying to keep at peace.)

Until next time, keep it awkward.

How Do I Unplug These Things?

“…I sometimes have a queer feeling with regard to you — especially when you are near to me, as now: it is as if I had string somewhere under my left ribs, tightly and inextricably knotted to a similar string situated in the corresponding quarter of your little frame. And if that boisterous Channel, and two hundred miles or so of land, came broad between us, I am afraid that cord of communion will be snapped; and then I’ve a nervous notion I should take to bleeding inwardly. As for you — you’d forget me.” [Mr. Rochester]

“That I never should, sir…” [Jane Eyre]

~Charlotte Bronte, Jane Eyre

I have loved this scene since the moment I first read it because I find something universal in the imagery. I don’t think that a string between hearts or souls is restricted to romantic relationships. Rather I think our lives consist of a whole set of strings. There is one for each person with whom(?) we have ever interacted. Some of these strings are thick and strong as steel, and others are as weak as cheaply made thread. Some are firmly attached to other people, and others have been severed completely. The strength and durability of the invisible string is dictated by the condition of the relationship.

Those dearest to us are connected to us by powerful yet flexible cords. Those of passing acquaintance are connected to us by slight and filmy threads, and there are innumerable people connected by strands somewhere between strong and weak. Worst of all are the unattached pieces. Those strings don’t belong to loved ones who have died because we are all still strongly attached to those who have gone before us. No, the free floaters belong to those who have hurt us the most — or who we have hurt the most. Free floaters are the unforgivens. I’m not saying that we shouldn’t forgive, but I am saying that we often file hurts away as lessons learned so we don’t repeat the same mistakes. Likewise free floaters consist of our own unforgivens in which we have harmed someone else who can’t forget. These severed pieces float and tangle among our other heart strings as reminders.

Mostly today I am thinking of strong and everlasting connections. My career transition has pulled me out of one group of friends and into another where I have begun forming new strings. I don’t want to lose my connections with my old friends, but those relationships are being modified by time, distance, and changing roles. I have never played a string instrument, but I imagine tuning one to be something of an art form. The strings must be tightened or loosened to just the right degree for the perfect sound to be produced. I believe heart strings to be much the same. They must be finely tuned as well. Sometimes they need to be tightened for support, and sometimes they need to be loosened for exploration. Only by keeping an eye on the condition of each can the correct notes be played.

I find myself in a situation with my heart strings. There are people with whom(?) I have always been tightly bound to since they entered my life. Now I am discovering that life is asking me to loosen the strings a bit because we need to move a little distance apart. The strings are still strong and durable, but the sounds needs to change with flexibility. Right now I’m loosening the strings where I know it is necessary, and like Mr. Rochester, I’m concerned that I’m “inwardly bleeding.” However I’m not going to bleed out entirely, and like Jane Eyre, “I never should” forget those recipients and caretakers of my heart strings. We just need a little freedom of movement to improve the sound.

Socially Awkward Woman’s Foodie Tour #1

The whole career transition has left me needing a break from my everyday life so I spent a recent day in the company of really good people. Somehow there is nothing more reviving than spending a few hours with friends away from your regularly scheduled life. I’m not certain why I forget this, but I do — every time — until I’m with my friends. Then I become acutely introspective and thankful that God has graced my life with such warm, wonderful, confidence-giving women. I have never possessed the strength of self-confidence. Pigheadedness aplenty! A wish to make others believe in themselves is like a need for air and water. But I have never loved myself, and I believe that’s why God has brought particular people into my life to prove two things to me:

  1. I’m worth being loved by someone outside my own family because friends choose to love you instead of feeling obligated by blood.
  2. I need to love myself by choice as well. I don’t have to excuse my faults. Rather I need to work on my faults, but I need to learn to love myself.

So this somewhat sentimental beginning brings me to the foodie experience I had with my friends on Saturday.

Be honest. If many of us are facing an awkward situation, it’s always better to have our friends along for the ride. I love trying new restaurants, but being an S.A.W. (socially awkward woman), I always prefer company in a new place. One of my wonderful friends had picked a Japanese & Mongolian grill as our dining establishment for the evening. Right away we discovered that playing the newbie card was necessary. As we waited to be seated, we puzzled over the layout of the restaurant. Grill to the left and grill to the back. Tables, chairs, and booths between. We were trying to figure out the pattern here, and I don’t mind saying that I felt my Southern redneck was showing in my confusion.

When a host approached us to be seated, we were asked if we wanted the Hibachi grill or the Mongolian grill. That was when one of my (not socially awkward) friends played our first newbie card with something along the lines of “we don’t know because we’ve never been here before.” After a brief, if still slightly confusing, explanation, we settled on the Mongolian grill. After ordering our drinks and staring at the menus, our server returned, and I decided to play the newbie card. After telling him we had never been there (and displaying the universally confused look), he graciously explained the concept.

  1. Here’s your metal bowl – fill it with all the meats and/or veggies you want. (I won’t lie! I felt a little like Rover being sent to find my own food.)
  2. Here’s your metal ramekin – fill it with the mystery sauce of your choice (Because everyone wants to stand in the front of a line of people while tasting new and interesting — possibly mouth searing — sauces.)
  3. Here’s your name card – write your name on it, pick your side from the handy dandy photos, and keep up with said piece of card stock while juggling previously mentioned Rover bowl and ramekin.
  4. Now I send you off into Mongolian Grill-Land!

Hmmmm….now here’s where you start observing other people, and if need be, you chat them up a little so you don’t feel like a totally ignorant foodie. I watched as everyone in front of us packed and organized their Rover bowls, and then I stepped up to the meats. Looking back now, I see that filling the bowl is an art form. It’s a finite space, and you have to fit everything you want them to cook into Rover’s little feeding dish so put some thought into it.

Now being an S.A.W., I just wanted to get through the line without being noticed so I just carefully but quickly piled up my raw chicken, mushrooms, broccoli, and cabbage and sidled out of the way. Still being an S.A.W. just moments later, I had zero interest in sampling multiple sauces before deciding which suited my Southern meat-and-three palate so I just picked one that sounded good by name and swung for the invisible fence. Honey citrus sounded sweet and tangy so I put some in the little metal ramekin. (I’m really glad now that I only filled it halfway because the previously assumed sweet and tangy had a slightly heated kick in the end.) Finally I slid my Rover bowl, sauce, and name card to a kind looking gentleman at the Mongolian grill, and I made my way back to the booth with my friends.

As we sat waiting for our food, we all commented on how oddly bereft we felt without our little Rover bowls. It was as if we had gone to the buffet, filled a plate with our favorite things, and left it for someone else to enjoy. However the payoff came only minutes later when all three meals arrived hot from the grill, and we proceeded into contented food-filled silence.

I can almost hear some of the laughter now. As in, how has this woman not been to a place like this before? Does she live under a rock? Well, no, I live inside a brick house in a medium-sized town in the South. My view is this: It’s a big world, and some of us are blessed to experience a lot of it in our lifetimes, and that’s exactly what you should do. However some of us only get to experience little pieces of that big world a little at a time which means most of the time we live in a really small world. And that’s okay, too, because that’s all some of us get to do or want to do. I don’t judge either way.

Socially awkward or not, I just accept my little Rover bowl as graciously as I can. I’ll fill it with all the good things I can get in there — big or small. But I’ll remember not to compare it to anyone else’s because after all, it isn’t their Rover bowl.

Gettin’ Ready to Leave This World

When I decided to leave my job, I did NOT take the decision lightly. I took a lot of time to think and pray about the whole process, and I geared myself up by consulting books that spoke to me on a personal level. After all, no two people can make this kind of decision the same way. I can only tell you what worked for me.

For years, I have enjoyed reading books on why other people make monumental decisions — career and otherwise. I have no idea why this matters to me except that I suppose I like to understand what makes other people tick. In light of that, the following list is compiled from books that encouraged me over the years to self-examine.

Setting the Stage Reading List

  • Leaving Microsoft to Change the World by John Wood
  • Here if You Need Me by Kate Braestrup
  • The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch with Jeffrey Zaslow
  • What Should I Do with My Life? by Po Bronson
  • Jesus Did It Anyway by Kent M. Keith
  • All That Is Bitter and Sweet by Ashley Judd
  • Praying for Strangers by River Jordan
  • Smile at Strangers by Susan Schorn
  • When God Winks at You by SQuire Rushnell (not a mispelling, by the way)
  • Becoming Myself by Stasi Eldredge
  • Quiet by Susan Cain

All of those books in one way or another helped me understand more about myself, and I found great inspiration in reading about other people doing the same thing. If I had never bothered to read those books, I don’t know that I would have had the courage and wisdom to make the decision to walk away from a job where I really no longer belonged.

When I finally made the decision and informed my boss, I felt two things: total relief and sheer panic! (It was the oxymoron of emotions!) It wasn’t the simple thing of placing an order at a restaurant and then instantly realizing that you don’t want what you’ve just told the server. Nope! Once you tell your boss that you’re leaving, you can’t really take that back and still look professional…especially once they’ve hired your replacement! There were a couple of times where I almost went back and said, “I was just kidding…really…I’m staying…because I fear change.” Yep! I almost went there, but instead, I reinforced my decision on a steady diet of prayer and reading.

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Prepping for Departure Reading List

  • What Color Is Your Parachute? 2016 by Richard Nelson Bolles
  • God Is Always Hiring by Regina Brett
  • Let Hope In by Pete Wilson
  • All the Places to Go, How Will You Know? by John Ortberg
  • In a Pit with a Lion on a Snowy Day by Mark Batterson
  • What Keeps You Up at Night by Pete Wilson

These books helped me overcome the fear about my decision by reminding me that all change involves risk, and failure isn’t always a bad thing. Where do we learn best but in the arena of failure?

I still need reminding frequently that I made the right decision so I often find myself diving into other books for perspective. The great thing about perspective is that it changes every day with our growing experience and knowledge. Strangely enough, I found two articles after I left that reinforced my decision for multiple reasons, and they also made me think more about why other people leave a seemingly “good” job. If you’re interested in the same sort of thing, check out these two resources:

“Top 6 Reasons People Quit” by Ed Rappuhn (The Tennessean)

“9 Things That Make Good Employees Quit” by Dr. Travis Bradberry (TalentSmart)

So I might still be trying to figure out exactly which direction that I’m heading, but at least I know that I took the right exit at the right time. Everything after that is just part of the adventure.

Listing Myself…in More Ways Than One

Just a handful of days from my quit day, I had an epiphany about why people don’t change from one job to another. I had been running around like a chicken with my head cut off trying to complete the various tasks required to leave one job for another. My realization was this: people don’t quit jobs because the paperwork and running hither and yon to start a new job are a special form of torture.

There is no “Changing Jobs 101” class in which I could enroll. I had never seen a book called “Ten Things You Should Do When You Change Jobs”, and I’m a librarian (with a lowercase L – but that’s a different blog altogether). I sat around for a month or two after announcing that I was quitting without really grasping what that meant.

I can tell you right now in one word: paperwork!

The amount of red tape involved in quitting one job and starting another was astonishing. I guess eight years in one job was long enough to make me forget that part. The entire process could make the IRS proud…especially if it could all have been done electronically. Alas, it could not so I began making lists: a list of things to do before I quit, a list of jobs to apply for, a list of my current finances, a list of bills I would still have to pay, a list of references, a list of people to say goodbye to, a list of skills I possessed, a list of skills to learn, and so on and so on. I had lists coming out of my ears! At the least, they were overflowing my desk and notepads.

Everything about it seemed so surreal at that point. I kept writing out the lists and marking the days off the calendar without comprehending that I was actually leaving the job…and not coming back. I just floated through on autopilot putting in applications and resumes for jobs, figuring out when my health insurance would run out, and keeping a hawk eye on my bank account to be certain I could make it for a few months without work if necessary.

I met the Health Insurance Marketplace which wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be, but my checking account wasn’t thrilled to be introduced to it. I started learning more about my life and cancer insurance policies. Frankly insurance is like learning a foreign language that I still have as of yet to master, but I managed to get all my basic ducks in a row. I’ve learned to live on less, and it hasn’t killed me yet.

One of my resumes paid off with a part-time job offer to begin right after I left my full-time position. I find that I keep learning the definition of providential. The past six months have been a massive – but interesting – learning curve. Changing jobs has not been a terrible experience, but I have had to learn new financial self-control. I have cultivated new interests and re-cultivated dormant hobbies. Perhaps more importantly, I have had time for some serious self-reflection. All in all, I have been able to stay on an even keel by accepting that my change in circumstances is still better than the stress I endured with my old job. Those closest to me have acknowledged the positive difference in my personality with the reduction of stress and strain in my life.

So to alter a Douglas Adams quote just a little: “I may not have [gotten] where I intended to be [yet], but I think I have ended up where I needed to be [for now].”

Librarian Did What?!

Well to sum that answer up in two words, I quit!

Truth be told, I believe that a lot of my friends and family thought I had lost my mind. They were just too kind to say so to my face. My parents and closest friends, on the other hand, understood completely. I wouldn’t blame people for thinking I had cracked because I walked away from a full-time job with good benefits and a senior role on staff.

So what caused me to take leave of my senses? To sum that question up as simply as the first, it was time.

How did I know that it was time? The quick answer is that the job no longer satisfied my career passion so it was time to go. I had prayed about my decision to stay or go for almost two years, and six months before I gave my notice, I knew it was time to leave. However, I spent those six months convincing myself of the fact…until I was completely, absolutely, beyond the shadow of a doubt miserable.

Let me explain a few things:

  1. I had/have wonderful friends there. (They were the hardest thing to leave.)
  2. It was a full-time job with EXCELLENT benefits.
  3. I had been there several years and was a senior member of the staff.
  4. I dreaded the idea of having to begin all over again at a new job with new skills.

All of these are reasons why so many people seemed to ask, WHAT IN THE WORLD WERE YOU THINKING?

I can answer that! I left because of:

  1. People – If you have ever had a job working with the general public, then no further explanation is needed. If you are one of those people who has only ever been an active participating member of the general public, please allow me to educate you. We public servants, government and otherwise, don’t always look forward to dealing with people. Why? You ask. Well, in your mind, you’re always right, and we’re always wrong. You always want what you want five minutes ago when the best we can do is right now. My favorite is that any problem or mistake is clearly NOT you’re fault. Therefore we are responsible, and you are not. Well, honey, we public servants must be the most responsible people in the world because we are ALWAYS taking responsibility for someone else. (Allow me to amend that this does not apply to every patron — in the library world — or customer. Unfortunately, we remember the bad eggs as much or more than the good eggs so thank God for the good ones!)
  2. Position – I had a good job, but I couldn’t progress anywhere else from that situation unless I wanted to become management. I have traveled the management road, and it doesn’t seem to fit my personality at this point in my life. I felt as if there were no further opportunities to grow in the job in the direction that I wanted to go.
  3. Place – Did I mention the daily commute before? No? Well it was two hours round trip, and I had been driving it for over ten years. Commuting was cheaper than rent. As a definite introvert, I love alone time in the car, but I don’t always love other drivers. For that matter, who loves driving in unpredictable weather for a decade?

So there I was knowing it was time to leave, and I discovered that I felt great relief over the decision. That relief let me know that I made the right decision. My biggest regret was being separated from my friends so we have made sincere efforts to stay in contact. The truth was that it was past time to leave, and I know that I made the right choice. I just wish there had been a better manual when I set out on this journey.

Wisdom: “Unless you try to do something beyond what you have already mastered, you will never grow.” ~Ronald E. Osborn