Just a Typical Sunday (a Spoken Word poem)

Just a Typical Sunday

They say it’s Father’s Day

a time to celebrate

the man who raised you

praised you

taught you to be strong

and right from wrong

but they’ve got it all wrong

because to me it’s

just a typical Sunday.

Who were you?

A man with my name

once married to my mother

obsessed with my brother

I was a nobody

quiet, a girl, too smart

for her own self

too smart for you

saw right through

your lazy intentions

and useless inventions

and get-rich schemes

chasing money like a dog

after a car

but it slipped through your fingers

like water

while your daughter

did her own thing

no need for a king

no need for anything.

I learned to survive

in a state of starvation

isolation

no need for attention

so used to desertion.

You ignored my good grades

my sports and school plays

didn’t subscribe to my life

Abused wife?

You took his side

‘cause I must have earned it.

After all

I was nothing

too quiet, a girl

with my own mind

which you never tried to know

and so

nothing I say has value.

Now you lie

in your nursing home bed

stroke-damaged head

and it’s said

that I owe you

attention

my love and affection

long conversations.

But Daddy

when you live your life

in starvation

how do you feed

another?

I never know what to say

or the new rules to this game

you and I just aren’t the same

a shame.

I don’t know who you are

and you only know that I’m

quiet, a girl

not as good as her brother

whatever else you see

through your closed eyes

so don’t be surprised

if my visits are brief

a card, maybe

quick kiss on the cheek

and maybe we’ll speak.

Then I’ll be on my way

not much to celebrate

‘cause what good are fathers anyway?

Father’s Day

is just a typical Sunday.

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A Middle-Age High School Musical

I’ll admit it. I’m one of those people who often wishes that in real life, everyone would burst into song and dance numbers, just like in a musical. In a magical, well-choreographed way, not a cheesy, oh-my-god-I-think-this-show-has-jumped-the-shark kind of way.

Street musical scene from Isn't it Romantic movie

You’re eating with family in a restaurant, and all of a sudden, the patrons at the table next to you start to argue. In the middle of the argument, the man stands on the table and begins to sing in a dramatic way about feeling misunderstood. The woman joins in, too. The rest of the patrons become the chorus, and then, the waiters break into a perfectly timed dance, complete with plate juggling.

Too much?

Sorry. Blame it on my 80s upbringing and mormon TV commercials, with the kid who broke Mr. Robinson’s window, and the kids who learned that they are better off to never tell a lie (an even small one!).

Speaking of 80s upbringing, yesterday, I went to the MixTape Tour — a dream concert for anyone who was a teenager in the 80s. Some of the best 80s artists were playing. No, not Journey, though that would have been cool. Okay, no, not Madonna. Not the Cure, not Depeche Mode, not…

New Kids on the Block. It was New Kids, okay?

New Kids on the Block MixTape Tour concert

Plus Salt n Pepa, Naughty by Nature, and two of my 1987-88 favorites, Debbie Gibson and Tiffany. About 95% of the crowd that packed the arena were middle aged women like me, reliving our teen years of big hair, jean jackets, and like, totally awesome music. The other 5%, I am convinced, were men who were dragged along for the ride.

From the beginning to the end, this was no ordinary concert. Every artist in the stage kept encouraging us to join in, sing along, and dance out hearts out. And we did, in a wave of nostalgia and excitement. Sometimes, we even turned toward our neighbors, who were absolute strangers a moment ago, and shouted the lyrics at one another, all while waving our arms and gyrating our hips, in unison with the performers.

It wasn’t exactly a spontaneous musical moment. It was planned, right down to our expensive seats. But there was something incredibly magical about being swept up in a moment of song and dance with tens of thousands of other Gen Xers, waving our hands in the air like we just didn’t care, and taking in one last gulp of the best part of our teen years.

Me smiling in front of an arena

Me, as a teenager at a concert (for the 2nd time around)

Bend, Don’t Break (aka: Flexibility)

Every athlete knows the importance of stretching. During training or before the big game, you have to take the time to do slow, gentle stretches. You do it to stay flexible. You do it to avoid injury. A tight, rigid muscle is a muscle that may tear.

It’s a pretty natural concept. You see it all the time in nature, too. A palm tree’s flexible trunk can sway with strong winds and stay intact. But put a rigid oak tree in its place, and the same wind storm may snap its branches, or uproot it from the ground.

Palm trees bending in the windBroken oak treeFlexible bends. Rigid breaks.

Really, we can apply the need to be flexible to nearly every part of life. In our careers, for example, it’s important to keep learning, keep pushing ourselves to grow and to expand our skills. The jobs we do today may change in the future. Our ability to perform our jobs may change, too. But if we stay flexible, if we keep our minds open to how we may best adapt when changes come, then we will be more prepared to handle it.

Switch directions

Years ago, I used to be a public school teacher of young children. But then, changes came. I outgrew the work I was doing. I also outgrew the paltry salary it paid. And state budget reductions caused my job, along with many others in my field, to be slashed. I was jobless. I was also overqualified for similar, even lower-paying teaching jobs in the private sector.

Luckily, I was flexible. I had a backup plan — a career field I had been thinking of switching to for years. In my mid 30s, with no work experience in that field, I went back to school, got an internship, and made the jump. Today, I am established in a career that I adore, doing things that challenge and stretch me, and earning a decent salary, too.

Being flexible means being willing to change direction, and considering a new plan when the old plan fails. Your oven breaks just before you’re due to cook Thanksgiving dinner? Fine. You buy a catered meal this year. Or borrow a neighbor’s oven. Or take the family out to a restaurant. Bend, don’t break. Rain interrupts the holiday barbecue plans? Bring it indoors. Turn it into a board game or sports-viewing party. Pull together a taco bar instead of grilled burgers. Bend, don’t break.

Flat eartg

Of course, it’s not possible to be flexible in all things. While it’s healthy to keep our minds open to other possibilities in many things, it’s just as healthy to stand firm in our convictions in some things. Believe in God or don’t believe in God. Feel strongly about your political views. Fight for causes you know inside to be right and just. However, if you just learned that the earth is actually a globe, and that science has proven it in many different ways, you may just want to reconsider your uh…worldview. While you could choose to hang on to those old beliefs you grew up with about the earth being flat, why would you when evidence to the contrary is staring you right in the face? Not all beliefs are worth breaking for. Just saying.

Stay flexible, peeps.

Plastic Planet (aka: Zero Waste Lifestyle)

Happy Earth Day, fellow earthlings!

Let’s celebrate with a delicious meal, shall we? How about some plastic tacos, a plastic salad, and a plastic chocolate cake for dessert? No? Not such a fan of plastic food?

Sadly, every year, an increasing number of sea mammals, fish, and birds are found dead with their stomachs full of plastic. Our plastic. The unfortunate meals we served them when we threw out those plastic water bottles.

According to recent studies, 8 million tons of plastic trash end up in our oceans each year. Plastic, which takes more than 400 years to decompose, is quickly on its way toward outweighing the amount of fish there are in the sea.

“What?” You say? “It’s not my fault. I always recycle our household plastics.”

I get it. So do I. I figured that those mega-packs of single plastic water bottles I kept buying for our family’s convenience were fine. After all, we were always certain to toss them in the recycle bin when they were empty, as we do with all our household plastics.

But according to a recent study, most of those plastics aren’t actually being recycled. In fact, only 90.5% of all plastic waste has ever been recycled. 12% is incinerated, and 79% accumulates in landfills and the nautral environment, including our oceans. (Royal Statistical Society, 2018)

Does that mean it’s hopeless? Is our planet simply doomed to end up like a garbage-infested wasteland, like on the movie, Wall-E? Well, yes, if we earthlings don’t start making different choices. But the good news is that it may not be too late to turn this around.

Many communities and individuals are taking the concept of waste reduction to what many may consider an extreme. They are going beyond producing less waste, and instead aiming to create zero waste.

That’s right. Zero Waste. Empty trash cans. Nothing new added to the landfills and oceans to choke our sea life and pollute our planet. It is a lifestyle that requires some discipline and some participation from retailers and communities in order to be truly successful. Most of all, it requires a change in the way we choose to consume. It’s easy to use paper cups and plastic utensils, then discard them. It’s more challenging to be mindful of the effects of or choices, and to choose reusable dishes instead.

Here are the main principles of a Zero Waste lifestyle:

Reduce — Reduce the amount of waste you create. Refuse to purchase items that you don’t need, or items which may add to landfills. That means saying no to those mega-packs of plastic water bottles and using refillable containers instead. It means choosing to skip the straw in that cold drink. Or, if you can’t live without the straw, buy a set of reusable metal, bamboo, or silicone straws, such as these:

Reusable straws

Reuse — Pack your food items in reusable glass containers, drink from reusable water bottles, carry reusable shopping bags to the store. A goal of mine is to start bringing washable mesh bags to the store and farmers’ market to use instead of those plastic produce bags.

Recycle — If it can be recycled, recycle it. But try reducing and refusing first, so that you hav less waste left over to recycle.

Unsure about how to recycle some things? Try terracycle.com for free programs in your community that help you to dispose of hard-to-recycle items in an earth-friendly way. For example, did you know that you can bring your old coffee lids, snack wrappers, and coffee capsules to your local Subaru dealership for recycling? Check here for you nearest participating dealership: https://www.terracycle.com/en-US/brigades/subaru#@38.53979322637243:-121.42445184328136zoom:9 .

Rot — Compost organic waste. And hey — did you know that you can now buy “plastic” eating utensils made from plants, which are 100% biodegradable and compostable? When I can’t use stainless steel utensils, these are my favorite to have on hand.

Maybe we’ll find that going Zero-Waste is just way too out-of-reach for most of us. But in the process of aiming for Zero, we may just find that we succeed in reducing our own impact on the planet.

Three Little Letters (aka: it’s Better to Know)

It’s time for us to talk about something with three little letters. Something you’ve all heard of, but many people are afraid to talk about.

No, not sex. *Rolling my eyes* Believe me, I am the last person you’d want to discuss sex with. It’s really not one of my strengths.

But it is related to sex. And the three little letters are an acronym. Today’s topic is HIV.

HIV stands for Human Immunodeficiency Virus. In the U.S. alone, more than 1 million people are infected with HIV. And 15% aren’t even aware that they are infected. That’s 1 in 7 of you who are walking around with no idea that they are carrying a potentially lethal virus. https://www.hiv.gov/hiv-basics/overview/data-and-trends/statistics

Don’t you think it’s better to know?

HIV used to mean a death sentence. Not even that long ago, up to half of those diagnosed with HIV would go on to contract AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome). Today, if HIV is diagnosed in time, those living with the virus can be treated with ART drugs (anti-retrovirals) to suppress the virus and help you to live a longer, healthier life.

HIV never even used to cross my mind. It just wasn’t something that had anything to do with me. In my entire life, I have had only 3 sexual partners. The first was my husband of 17 years. I naively thought that STIs (Sexually Transmitted Infections) don’t apply to married couples. I was totally safe. Protected.

Until my ex-husband began cheating with prostitutes.

The moment I learned about his misdeeds, I did two things. 1 — I stopped having sex with him forever. And 2 — I had my gynecologist test me for everything.

Because it’s better to know.

Note: HIV can be spread through semen and vaginal fluids, through oral sex, or blood, such as during a blood transfusion or by an infected needle.

My second sexual partner was an acquaintance of mine. We had a sexual relationship that lasted for months, and was, to the best of my knowledge, monogamous. We also used condoms. But still, after it was over, I got tested for STIs.

Because it’s better to know.

My third sexual partner was a man I met on eHarmony, whom I nickname “Z” on this blog. (He is also my final sexual partner, as I will never again have sex with another person). We lived in different cities, but we dated for a few months by telephone and text, as well as in person. I enjoyed every aspect of our relationship very much — including sex, which was surprising to me, given my past negative experiences.

After he broke up with me, it took me more than a year and a half before I worked up the courage to get tested. I didn’t want to admit to myself that I was afraid, that there was even the slightest chance that he hadn’t been honest with me about his HIV-negative status.

But knowing your own status, I realized in the end, isn’t about your partner. It isn’t about how much you love him, or how much you trust her. It’s about your own personal health, and the ability to make wise decisions.

There are a number of ways to get tested for HIV. You can ask your primary physician, or your gynecologist for a test. (Remember — they are not there to judge your lifestyle!). You can visit a walk-in testing clinic. You can use a home sample-collecting kit, which you mail in for results. Or you can do as I recently did — use an over-the-counter oral testing kit called OraQuick, which costs around $40 and is available at Walgreens drugstores. Be sure to test at least 3 months after having sex, as there is a false-negative window if you test sooner than that.

If you are sexually active don’t know your HIV status, then it may time for you to test and get some peace of mind for you and your partner or future partners. Or for yourself, even if you are celibate, like me.

It’s better to know.

Not Just a Man’s World (aka: My Awesome Tech Career Journey)

My job is awesome.

Every day, I realized how blessed I am to be able to say that. To be able to wake up each day and look forward to the work I get to do. To be able to use my unique skills and talents to impact the lives of other people in a positive way. Yes! *Pumps fist*

It feels good.

I never used to imagine that one day, I would not only have a successful career, but that I would find so much fulfillment from my work. In my early years, work was just something I did to pay the bills, and my ambitions were small. I used to be a teacher of young children — a low-paying career that led to a seamless transition into full-time mothering. Mothering as a SAHM was, of course, fulfilling in its own way. It was also the thing to do among young conservative Christian women in my circle, at the time. To focus on raising your kids, cooking meals, cleaning your home, and supporting your husband, the breadwinner, was considered the most honorable, ideal role for a woman. Even a woman with a 4-yr. college degree.

Gag.

Quick digression: I’m no longer sure how I ever bought into that philosophy. I now believe firmly that the responsibilities of child rearing, caring for the home, and financially supporting the household belong to both partners, rather than to one or the other based on gender. But since I’m no longer married, none of that applies anymore anyway.

Anyway, at some point, when my youngest kid was in grade school, I went back to work as a teacher in the local school district. I was good at it, but it was tiring, brainless work. Not to mention it paid very little. So when I was laid off due to state budget cuts, I decided that it was time. I would return to college to pursue a career in the one field that made me excited to think about.

Information Technology.

Code on a computer screen

After all, I’d been using computers since my Commodore Vic 20, back in 1981. I used to listen to my now ex-husband talk about the IT work he did, and think to myself how i could easily do his job. Plus, let’s face it — IT is a lucrative industry. But for me, a teacher of young children and former SAHM with literally no IT job experience, switching careers was like climbing a mountain that was largely hidden in the clouds.

I started off with the goal of doing IT support. People would call me with issues, I would tell them to reboot their computers, and everyone’s happy. When I first went back to college, I knew pretty much nothing about the other branches of IT. Coding? Zip. Databases? Zilch. Networking? Nada. But one cool thing about IT is that each of these areas is somehow interconnected. The more classes I took toward becoming a tech support girl, the more I learned about the rest. Suddenly, I knew about subnets, and protocols, and network layers, and basic coding. And I fell in luv with System Administration. That was my dream job.

It was a little intimidating, at first, heading into the world of IT. There are still very few women in this industry, compared to men. Especially in the higher-up positions. I intend to change that. So does my daughter, who is preparing to study Computer Science or Software Engineering when she heads off to college this fall. *More fist pumps* When you’re working in a world largely dominated by men, you have to learn to assert yourself pretty quickly. Ask questions. Speak up when you have ideas. And study your brains out, because until female-male ratio is even, we women still have to prove our worth and competence.

Men and women in a business meeting

Today, I am a System Admin (which is pretty much like God, in case you were wondering), as well as a declarative developer (who just happens to do some software engineering, as well). I get to analyze business issues, then come up with technology-based solutions to solve their issues and improve their processes. Then I design and build those solutions, train the users, and provide ongoing support. I guess you can say I wear a lot of hats. And I like it like that.

Me at work

So, here I am. Career-Focused Single-Mom Barbie, armed with a laptop and a cellphone. It feels good to be able to use my brain every day to create systems that actually make things better for a lot of people. It also feels good to bring home a decent income, to pay the bills and support my family. Yes, I’m still a great mom. Yes, I still cook and clean our home (as do my teens). Yes, i still get plenty of me-time to relax. Whoever said that we can’t balance it all was clearly trying to discourage us. Don’t buy it.

When I look back on how far I’ve come in just a few short years, and how I managed to switch careers and land a great job in midlife, I feel pretty satisfied. It’s like climbing to a mountain peak, then looking back at where I began. I did it! Now, I get to enjoy my work while assessing that next mountain peak. It’s pretty high, half-hidden in the clouds. Just like my current job once seemed. But I’m confident that I can get there, if I just keep climbing.

Pluck! Pluck! (aka: Swimming Against the Current)

While shopping at the mall, I came across a gorgeous bracelet, strung with polished stones in varying hues of grays, blue-grays, and green-grays.

“That is so you,” my daughter said. “You have to buy it.”

Ten minutes later, the bracelet was paid for and dangling from my wrist. It really was a perfect piece of jewelry for me, because more than half of my wardrobe is gray. Gray sweaters. Gray dresses. Gray flats and tights and t-shirts. I even own a gray overcoat and a gray faux-leather jacket. Such a smooth, sophisticated color. Neutral enough to be a blank palette, but far cooler than beige, and softer than black. Ambiguous. A mystery.

My love of all things gray doesn’t end there. I find comfort in gray, cloudy skies. Our living room furniture is mostly gray. My car is gray. In fact, I even identify as a heteromantic graysexual, or gray-asexual.

Which is what makes this little problem so ironic.

Sometime during the past several years, a tiny sprig of gray appeared among my off-black locks of hair. When I first discovered it, my heart sank. Oh my god. Here it is. The first official sign that summer has come to an end.

But then, I plucked it out, and all was right with the world again.

A year later, the sprig had multiplied. I had two — count them — two strands of gray hair. Pluck and pluck.

Now, at the age of 43, I have counted as many as six tiny sprigs of gray among my curls. Possibly more, hidden in the back. This has officially become an invasion. A takeover. I can still pluck the little suckers, but they come back with friends. And they’re so unruly! Not at all as well-behaved as my other soft, springy curls. The little gray punks like to poke out from my head in unpredictable directions, making their appearance super obvious.

It’s silly and vain of me to care so much, I know.

I’m middle-aged. The appearance of crepey skin and gray hair is perfectly normal. Although I’ve often been told that I look quite young for my age, I couldn’t expect that to last forever. The other silly thing is that gray hair on other people doesn’t bother me in the least. Never do I look at another person’s salt and pepper tresses and feel the temptation to start plucking. So why does the appearance of gray in my own hair freak me out so much?

Maybe because it is a reminder of my own mortality. Youth is not eternal. Life does not last forever. Like a tree, we blossom, then bear fruit, and then the leaves, like our hair, begins to change color. And we all know what that means.

Winter is coming.

Unlike a tree, we don’t lose our leaves and vibrancy only to have them return again, green and new, in the spring. For us, once the lively browns and blacks and reds and yellows that graced our heads throughout our lifetimes have faded, that’s it. They’re gone. Nature’s not going to give us brand-new hair.

Something about knowing that something good is only going to be in my life for a limited time makes me want to savor it. Capture it. Hold onto it for as long as possible. Change is inevitable, of course. Nothing lasts forever (except maybe the diamonds in my old wedding ring, which still sits around, useless, in a box somewhere). But if that means I have to always go with the flow, to accept it as it comes, to age gracefully, then I have one thing to say.

Screw that.

I think that Dylan Thomas said it best:

“Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.”

I will not accept that beauty is chained to youthful age. I refuse to lie back and float along with the current that will eventually dump us each into the sea. I will not go gentle into that good night. Instead, I plan to keep struggling, keep swimming hard against the current until my body is too old and too sick and too tired to take another stroke.

Last week, my cousin died of breast cancer. She and I were around the same age. Both single moms, though her children are mostly younger than mine. Since our teen years, she was the cousin I went to get my “hair did.” Thanks to her skill and deft fingers, I went through hair phases of long, braided extensions and sleek, straight, flat-ironed styles. When I wanted to try a new color, I sat in her salon chair, and we gabbed about family members, raising children, and TV shows as she worked her magic, transforming my ordinary black hair into a honey-streaked marvel. She snipped and shampooed and braided and styled so many women, and made so many of us feel beautiful.

Cancer robbed my cousin of her own hair, her beauty, her youth, her life. Far too soon. If not for cancer, I’m sure that she would have continued to help women in our struggle to look and feel our loveliest, no matter our age. Gray hair? Why settle for bland, unruly gray hair? Why not dye it auburn, raven, or gold? Why not curl it or straighten it or try something new? Why not try new makeups that decrease our wrinkles or bring out the shade of our eyes, or wear clothes that make us feel sexy, or cute, or strong, or alive? Why should we settle for frumpy, dumpy, and bland, just because we’ve arrived in middle age?

I love the color gray. But I do not love the gray hairs reminding me of the end we must each face. So I reject the idea that fighting them is vain or silly. Instead, I choose to make myself look as young and alive on the outside as I feel on the inside. If my cousin were still here, I would ask her to highlight my hair to hide the gray intruders. Hair dye — such a fun and simple way of raging against the dying of the light. I wonder how I’d look as a blonde?