After the storm we found pieces of the crackling sky lying in the rubble of a bomb-kissed office building-maybe it had once been a bank because the black marble floor sang and wept when the brilliant shards struck it. They melted the minerals above and below, gave everything a pearly, iridescent sheen. I didn’t want to touch it but Kia dared me to eat it instead and said it wouldn’t burn my lips if I put it on my tongue just right. I never refused a dare so I plucked the largest piece from the ruins with my teeth. They shattered as I tossed my head back and gulped the slick shine down and my last experience of taste was one of sugar and fire.
This is a post about pets. About cats. If you have cats, you can probably relate.
My cat’s name is Leela. She is a Russian Blue and also goes by the names: Pooks, Pookatron, and Spawn Of Satan (that was when she was younger and enjoyed jumping on fine ladies backs to attack their corset stays). Lately I have been calling her Leeks becasue that is what my text message auto correct changes her name into because, apparently, Leela is not an actual word.
Leela woke me up at 1:01 a.m. this morning. She usually waits for my alarm to go off before squeeking at me incessantly. She wants treats. And before you ask why I reinforce bad behavior with a reward, let me just say: she gets treats. She always gets treats. When I don’t get up with my alarm she bites my arm and jumps away before I can grab her. Wash, rinse, repeat. Meow, bite, evade. That is my morning routine.
Today the meow, bite, evade began WAY earlier than usual. So after I tried telling Leela that I really didn’t want to wake up at 1:01 a.m. when my alarm was scheduled to go off at 5:30 a.m. I reluctantly emerged from my cocoon of blankets wiht many tiny bite marks on my arm.
I gave her and her big sister, Titain, treats and noticed that the food bowl was empty. That, obviously, was her motivation for waking me up. I filled the bowl and went back to bed.
5:30 a.m. rolls around and I am greeted by both my alarm and Leela screaming at me to get up. I hit snooze until about 5:49 a.m. Then I get up and give Leela, Titain, and Tiny Rick this time, treats. Yes, two of them got treats twice. Tiny Rick has FIV and doesn’t care if he’s missed out. Priorities.
So then, as often happens in the early morning when I want to be asleep but am not, I have random thoughts. I thought of all those times when cats randomly look at blank spots in the world and stare.
Mr. J: How’d you sleep.
Me: Leela woke me up at 1:01 a.m.
Mr. J: Yep.
Me: Hey Mr. J, what if Leela and the others are in like a union and have been fighting demons and evil spirits all night and Leela is the one out of the group who makes sure they all get fair wages but in this case the wages are treats?
Mr. J: Or Leela is that lazy son of a bitch who does the least amount of work but expects to get the most pay.
Me: That’s mean!
Mr. J: It’s true.
Me: (Walks into kitchen. Leela follows, meowing.) What if Leela and the others fought a really tough, bad ass evil spirit at 1 a.m. and they got a monthly bonus?
Leela: jumps up on the counter and meows.
Me: (Smushes Leela’s face.) You always work hard killing the things we can’t see. No one can question your valor!
Me: Yeah, you don’t give a shit, do you?
Me: If anyone in the world deserved to not give a shit, it’s you. Well, really, it’s me but if I can’t not give a shit then you don’t have to.
And that has been my morning so far.
Sometimes existing as a human being in the same space with other human beings is hard.
If the grocery store is too busy I get scared. I get headaches and nauseous, the noise and general press of people are so overwhelming that the only way I can successfully achieve grocery shopping completeness is to bury my face in my love’s shoulder and have him steer me through the aisles and hand me things to carry.
Things to carry=distraction.
Sometimes we have to force ourselves to interact with people when we really don’t want to.
One of those sometimes is if you’re an introvert, you need a job, and the only job you can find is in retail.
So if I have that bad of a reaction to being around people in a store, why would I subject myself to working in a stressful environment?
I need money to pay my bills. Living as a successful human being=compromise.
Similar compromise=wearing a uniform (I hate uniforms) instead of the clothes you love, etc. in order to achieve the end game. End game=you get to keep your car.
Out of the wide variety and varying severity of overwhelms, I have found one of the common discomforts for introverts is just being around people. The people aren’t threatening or doing anything out of the ordinary, they are just existing. Existence isn’t a problem, being around the existing is.
Working retail has stressed me out in ways that I never thought I would be stressed. When I first started working retail (I did a brief, 2-month stint in 2009 in a lingerie shop but I don’t count that anymore) I would bring all my discomfort and stress home with me and I wasn’t always the most pleasant person to deal with. Stress influenced my diet and sleep in negative ways. I felt bad all the time.
And then I recently (10 months of stressful environment did this to me) decided that I couldn’t cope with any of the stress anymore and I said F*** IT. And I let it go. Some people might call this the “head in the sand” effect but I don’t care, I’m making a conscious choice NOT TO BE STRESSED by the retail or the people.
This doesn’t always work, sometimes the stress comes and the overwhelm comes and there’s nothing I can do about it but push through and then cry later BUT for the times when I say “go away” and the stress actually goes away, I experience the best feelings of relief and not-discomfort.
So I made a list of things that help me to not get overwhelmed while working retail.
Most of this advice comes from my interpretation of the Buddhist teachings of Thich Nhat Hanh.
These are all things that I have struggled to do and at some point, I have managed to successfully do at least once and found that, yes, even if it sounds stupid it really does help.
HOW TO MAKE RETAIL WORK FOR AN INTROVERT:
(you do not have to do these in numerical order)
1 Allow yourself to feel stress but don’t acknowledge it forever. Allow yourself and move on, into the next moment.
2 Try looking people in the eye, the nice people. If you don’t feel comfortable doing that, look at their teeth or their hair, something on the same level as their face and accomplish whatever task you need to accomplish.
3 Remember there are no universal rules, not everything will work 100% of the time.
4 Have a good support structure at home, don’t stop talking to friends and family about how you are feeling even if you think your thoughts are worthless or if you feel like you are a burden to them. You aren’t.
5 Find the humor in every negative interaction.
6 Breathe to breathe, don’t breathe to calm down; focus on a basic task instead of people and/or the stress.
7 Observe your thoughts but don’t get caught up in them. It’s okay to say, “I wish I wasn’t here.” But don’t make yourself more stressed by obsessing over being in the negative space.
8 Don’t try to predict everything that will happen on your shift, keep an open mind and don’t imagine bad things that could happen.
9 When stressful situations arise, remember to slow down and take your time completing your tasks, that way you can focus on what you are supposed to do and do it correctly.
10 Listen to everything and think about your response before you speak. Some people might get frustrated that you’re taking too long to answer them but don’t let that discourage you and don’t feel that you have to speed up just to make someone else happy.
11 Always have something fun planned for your break or go somewhere quiet and enjoy existing in a quiet space.
12 Be the person you want to be, not the person you think other people need to see.
13 You aren’t responsible for making your customers or your co-workers happy, just do your job and don’t take on the responsibility of worrying about the emotional fulfillment of other people. If you do your job correctly that is enough, if someone gets upset when you’ve done everything you’re supposed to do, that person is going through something and you have no control over how they react anyway, so don’t expend the energy worrying about them.
14 If you have a uniform and can’t express yourself with what you wear, invest in a pair of nice shoes that you enjoy wearing, that also fit within the uniform guidelines and find small ways, like jewelry or an undershirt, to make yourself feel like you are yourself and not an automaton.
15 When you’re off work, try to stay off work, don’t think about what will happen on your next shift or replay negative interactions from your previous shift. Instead, focus on something small that you enjoy, ex: listen to your favorite song.
I’m 31 now but I wanted to drag this out of the archive and share with you 🙂
What my 16-year-old self wanted to be when she turned 30:
1. An astronaut
2. A rock star
3. An Oscar-winning actress
Obviously, these things didn’t happen. And they probably never will happen. At least, the astronaut part will definitely not happen. But just because I’m not a musical talent with an album or a 5 book publishing deal doesn’t mean I have to stop living just because I’m hitting the big 30.
I’ve had friends who dreaded turning 30 because they thought it would mean the end of everything fun and exciting. When I was younger I pictured 30 at the age when I was REQUIRED to have a well-established career, family, aka children, and financial stability. When I turned 29 I realized I would never meet these socially constructed stereotypes about living as a 30-year-old person.
I don’ have a career and I’m not planning for children. I used to think that because I didn’t have any conventional aspirations (family, career) for my life, I strove for creative expression and was determined to make art out of words and have writing validate my life.
As I got closer to 30 and realized that poetry would not get me on the New York Times bestselling author list I realized that I could either give up on writing because it wasn’t making me “famous” or change my perspective about art and make art just to make art, because it gave me peace of mind and made me happy.
Things my 21-year-old self wants my brand new 30-year-old self to remember:
1. Do all the things I couldn’t do.
2. Listen to and respect your body.
3. Don’t stress out about things you did in the past. The present is all that matters.
4. Less toxicity, more breathing.
5. Don’t beat yourself up for feeling the challenges of challenges. That’s why they’re called challenges.
6. NEVER GIVE UP ON YOUR DREAMS. We got this far, now keep going.
7. Don’t be afraid to accept your feelings.
8. Smile more.
9. Embrace your individuality/weirdness/uniqueness. There’s only 1 you and you need to be you.
10. Don’t stop rocking out. Stay excited and passionate about life.
11. Stop obsessing about what other people think about you. You have more important things to think about.
12. Don’t let anger/anxiety rule your life.
13. Tell the people you love that you love them. ALL THE TIME.
14. Having everything “figured out” isn’t as important as living.
15. Stop holding on to regrets.
16. Practice more self-love and compassion for all living beings, even the ones that hurt you.
17. There are situations and people that will never change. Don’t let them stress you out. Let go and move on.
18. Negative thoughts don’t fix anything. Stay positive.
19. Embrace whatever life throws at you, even if you’re feeling down and hopeless.
20. Don’t half-ass anything. Always do your best.
21. Never give up on creative expression.
22. Never say you can’t do something. Always try before you judge yourself.
23. Keep working toward your goals, even if it takes longer than you want and you experience setbacks. Never stop.
24. Everything can be scary, don’t let fear rule your life. You can overcome anything life throws at you.
25. Mistakes are good. They help you learn. Don’t judge yourself or feel bad when you make one.
26. Age doesn’t define who you are. Your actions and ideas do.
27. Every day is a new day, an opportunity for growth and change.
28. Accept the hardships as they come, accept the joys as they come, hold onto the happy moments and let everything else go.
29. Don’t keep your feelings bottled up inside.
30. Never grow up, never give in. (SJ Tucker)
As I think about turning 30 I realize how much I actually accomplished in the last 3 decades, not just school or relationship wise, but from a developmental perspective. I was a very angry and directionless person through most of my late teens and early 20s. Now I feel like I have a new lease on life because I’ve discovered the strength to remove toxic people from my environment and live life for ME, not for someone else or an idea that I have to act and behave a certain way just because I’m more “adult” than I was before I turned 18.
What I have accomplished:
1. Bachelor’s Degree
2. Master’s Degree
3. Published poems
4. Self-published a word body that rocks as a poetry collection
5. Learned how to drive an 18-wheeler
6. Survived a flash flood
7. Survived appendicitis
8. Developed a deeper and more meaningful relationship with my family
9. Learned to love again and found an awesome life partner
10. Opened myself up to learning a musical instrument
11. Acquired amazing tattoos
12. Lived on the equator
13. Became a certified phlebotomist
My goals now:
1. Travel more!
2. Get more tattoos
3. Live a more healthy life
4. Express myself openly. (Marco Paisley)
Here are some cool things I’ve discovered about turning 30: the first being, I am who I am and while some parts of me will change, other parts won’t. I’m a huge fan of alternative fashion and body modification. I’ve been getting tattoos and piercings since I was 16, that’s 14 years of experimentation with art and body. I’m not going to give that up. As an adult, the phrase “that’s just a phase,” is no longer valid. Also, I get asked for my ID less frequently. Even though I don’t really like looking “older” I really enjoy not having to show my ID whenever I want to buy a bottle of wine or go to the movies (yes, I live in a town where they check your age for R rated movies).
I find I get along better/my ideas aren’t dismissed by adults as easily as they were when I was in college because I’ve experienced more of life and other adults can recognize that I know what I’m talking about. I think being an adult is much better than being an adolescent but I do find it strange that age and experience can validate an opinion. Younger people have the same validity as adults, just a different perspective, and I believe everyone should be listened to regardless of how old they are. I haven’t always been excited about turning 30, I did think at one point that I would be like Sylvia Plath and I wouldn’t survive to see 30 or that I would still be “alive” but living in a stale, passionless, soulless existence as an office worker in some miserable company.
Another cool thing I’ve discovered is that I didn’t feel defeated when I gave my mom permission to tell me “I told you so” and vow to accept every mistake I make/made from here on out, I’m not sorry for making mistakes and I’ll never stop learning from them. Life is a joy and a celebration, as is every birthday in your life.
Traveling Songs by S.J. Tucker is one of my favorite music compilations to come out of 2016, second only to David Bowie’s last album.
An album is a guided presentation of a story. Even if the listener has no knowledge of the destination, the map has a line and the road follows the bard’s voice. We, the ones living outside the storyteller’s head, can wander down the path and explore the story.
Traveling Songs lets you jump the border and dive into the uncharted, wild terrain of SJ’s imagination. Traveling Songs gives us the opportunity to throw the map away and listen to a pure, undiluted year’s worth of SJ’s musical creations.
What can I say about Traveling Songs? 1st: IT’S AWESOME
the cause: to fund an amazingly awesome
singer/songwriter’s art and her new touring vehicle
are all awesome.
2nd: why is it awesome?
Here’s some backstory for you:
I first met SJ at a concert in Memphis, maybe 2009, maybe 2008. The city and I had both changed drastically since my last visit there in 2006 and I spent the whole day terrified of the unfamiliar streets and indulging myself with bad company.
Sanctuary is the feeling you get when you step into a venue where SJ is set to play. When the place permeates your entire existence, even if it’s only for an hour or two, and that place is exactly where you need to be to make everything right with your life. The excellent musical quality and artistry of SJ’s performances combined with the gesture of storytelling, and the stories themselves, give listeners exactly what they need to re-discover their inner strength and overcome all obstacles. That night I clapped so hard I bent my silver rings out of shape and even though my life was not ideal, SJ inspired me to keep going and exist as my best self in the face of adversity.
from SJ’s album Solace and Sorrow, Sorrow’s Song:
Tell me a tale so beautiful that the stars will strain to hear
The song you fear to end is just beginning
so sing me a city of wishes and fire
sing me a traveling song
I will give you words of wonder
and a feather cloak to keep you warm!
When SJ made this post about her new project, a collection of songs that she wrote between February 2015 and 2016 for a Song-a-Week Challenge (this includes songs in a wide variety of musical genres and subjects) 2 of the songs from the Song-a-Week Challenge are available for listening on SJ’s Soundcloud. and asked for donations for either an 11 song collection, a 22 song collection, or the whole package of 52 songs, one for each week, you can bet I hitched my star to that wagon. The power of music and the power that storytellers like SJ possess turns the ordinary drudgery of our day to day lives into magic and wonder. Traveling Songs is a comprehensive and fantastic representation of SJ’s musical and creative talent. In her own words, the songs are “all works in progress. Some of them are iPhone recordings that I cleaned up in my mixing software just a little bit. But I’m proud to be able to share them with you.”
One of the amazing things about SJ is that not only does she make great art, she also travels around the world playing music for her friends and sustains herself with her art. SJ dares to live her dreams and she’s thriving because she has the strength and courage to, in all honesty, do what needs to be done and tell the stories.
I don’t know about you but I would love to quit my day job and write/perform poetry all day but I have over $100,000 in student loans. As much as I would love to live my dream of existing as a hermit on top of a mountain, or driving all over the country in an RV and just enough money to get by, I can’t. My past life choices won’t let me.
BUT here’s the thing: not only does SJ heal all the broken things with her songs and give a voice to the voiceless, SJ doesn’t just embody the fairy tale life many of us artists want/yearn to live, she gives people like me the courage/motivation/support to strive for my dream anyway, no matter what obstacles I put there in my past, no matter how many people (sometimes including myself) say that I can’t do whatever it is that I want to do. When I listen to Traveling Songs I remember the part of myself that won’t let anyone tell her no, the part of myself that won’t put up with boundaries or labels and isn’t afraid to exist as herself and live in the spirit of the creative.
SJ’s Traveling Songs are the promised words of wonder and the warmth that the road gives to all hopeful travelers.
Thank you Sooj!!!