Not-so-dry cleaning

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Working in the hospitality business goes hand-in-hand with working long hours.  I can adapt to the hours but my dog is the one who takes the brunt of my lifestyle in the summer months.  I will never leave her outside on a chain to battle the elements. She is firmly ensconced in our home, lazily spending her hours watching the wildlife from the comfort of my bed while the air conditioner keeps her cool.  I have several people who are more than willing to come over and let her out during the day because she is such a happy dog but having her be the excuse for me to leave work for thirty minutes is wonderful.

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(a much younger Callaway)

During these long days, I often wonder how she invests her time.  Is she reorganizing my kitchen cabinets?  Has she mastered the satellite remote?  Does she inventory my refrigerator?  But each day when I get home from my struggle to survive my sometimes 10-12 hour days, she is there to greet me and nothing in the house seems out-of-place.  Until recently…..

I returned home from my usual work day and I was greeted by the reassuring excitability that I have come to expect.  The house, as usual, was completely intact.  The garbage was untouched and the serene ambiance wrapped its arm around my shoulder and pulled me into its embrace to welcome me home.

My attention was immediately diverted to the duvet cover on my bed and what seemed to be a single article of clothing bunched up in the middle of the bed.  It wasn’t shredded, however the entire shirt was extremely damp.  She had been licking my shirt and focusing her attention on the armpits of the shirt.

Now, you have to understand that my closet is hidden by a decorative cloth shower curtain that poses as a makeshift door.  Somehow, she was able to get behind the shroud of the curtain, move the articles of clothing she had no interest in and gingerly lift that particular shirt from the middle of the pile of laundry in the basket.  She also strategically replaced the curtain so nobody could catch on to her devious plot.

As much as I miss her during my day, it broke my heart to realize how much she truly misses me during her day.  The writing was on the wall, or in this case on the bed.  My scent comforted her during her lonely day while she waited for me to return home.

We are more than halfway through our busy season and soon my work days will become shorter and more structured.  My time with her will increase and perhaps her need to be close to my deodorant-saturated shirts will abate somewhat because I will be here with her and not spending long days at work. I am grateful every day for her patience and her love and look forward to the moments we can spend together in the fall.

The things I should remember

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I have been thinking about my parents a lot lately.  For a person my age, it is sad I have to talk about how they used to be because they were taken far too early, both victims of the serial killer known as alcoholism.  I have written many heartfelt posts telling the tale of what my perspective was like growing up as a child of alcoholic parents.  But the more I read those posts again, and cried again, I realized I had been doing them a grave injustice.

So, I went back to the beginning – back to the days before that serial killer lurked in the shadows of my house, back to the days when life was great and back to the days when no elephant existed in any room in our home.

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My mom and dad were a lot of fun. My brother and I had many parties at our family home and my parents would remain in their bedroom allowing us full access to the house to host our friends.  But at the end of the night, the number of our friends watching TV with my parents in their room far outweighed the number of our friends in our living room.  Those were my parents.

They played strip ping-pong with the neighbors.  They ran naked from the neighbors’ sauna to roll in the snow and then back to the sauna.  They enjoyed life, they made the most of the good times and they truly loved each other. My mother summed it up completely in the caption of this photo of the four of us, “Happiness is Port Carling”.

When I began to think of what they were like as a couple, I couldn’t help but smile remembering how my dad used to look at my mom.  If my mom was within arm’s length, his hands would make contact with whatever part of her he could reach.  He would pat her bum as she walked by him.  He would kiss her every chance he got.  And when he grabbed her hand, I could see his hand physically squeezing hers several times in a sworn gesture of being smitten by her.  It was all about being able to touch each other, just to remind each other that they were there for the right reasons.

I had long forgotten those moments.  I was so marred by the effects alcohol had on their relationship I failed to remember the beautiful connection they had with each other.

And now that I have blinded myself to the painful memories, I will embrace the images of their fingers intertwined without realizing they were holding hands.  I will cling to the thought of how my dad just wanted to be close to her.  And I will forever hold close the knowledge that a simple touch from someone who means so much can change everything about your day.

After so many daily thoughts about so many things that don’t matter, I finally realized…..these are the things I should remember.

 

It’s all in the details

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Yesterday was my day off. I get one day off a week this time of year so I have to pack as much into it as I can to make the way I spend it last until my next day off. My timing was altered slightly but I still managed to get everything done I wanted to do and enjoy some time with a friend in the process.

After my morning shopping and a few other tasks, I headed to my friend’s house so we could detail my car. He is a recent Honda owner and we both love our Hondas and take great pride in them. Mine has been sadly neglected over the past few months and in great need of a thorough cleaning. My friend, who has an entire Rubbermaid bucket labelled “car care”, was more than happy to help out and we spent a few hours making my car look like it did the day I drove it off the lot.

Every inch of my car was washed, dried and polished. Even the difficult globs of pine tar were beaten into submission and eventually removed. If you look inside my car now, you would never know I have a dog who sheds like crazy, drools everywhere and puts her nose on every piece of glass in that car.

As much as cleaning a car is about the details, so is friendship. It’s about the fact that you can have fun doing menial tasks, that you can laugh at pretty much anything and just enjoy each other’s company without having to feel like you are putting on a show for anyone. It’s about being you and knowing that the details of you are truly appreciated by someone else. And it’s about knowing that a true friendship may collect a little dust but it takes no time at all to polish it and bring it right back to where it should be.

Show, don’t tell

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I was introduced to the phrase “show, don’t tell” by a woman who runs a small publishing company in Arkansas. After she read the first three chapters of my novel, she gave me some extremely helpful advice. I have since edited those first chapters and am moving forward with much more knowledge about writing.

What she said to me made complete sense. In the first chapter, one of my lines ended with “the impending nightfall felt menacing”. It did not occur to me to show the reader how the night was achieving that menacing quality rather than just tell them. I was guilty of some rookie writing mistakes and rather than telling me my writing needed work, she showed me how to make it better.

This same phrase introduced itself to another realm of my existence, proving three words can pack a powerful punch. When new people join your work team, there are bound to be some adjustments, not only for the new employee but for the long-term team members as well. And when that new employee steps into a managerial role, some toes are going to be stepped on and some noses will be out of joint.

Once the employees aired their grievances, it was agreed that the new employee would show the team how his new ideas could improve the existing way of doing things instead of just telling them how he wanted things done. By showing them and not simply telling them, not only will he have his new ideas implemented but everyone will get involved and the team will become stronger.

Crash test dummies

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Time has a wonderful way of changing our perception of certain points in our lives.  I ran into a person yesterday and just the slight glimpse of that person reminded me of a decision that was basically made for me many years ago, but it was a decision I should have been wise enough to make myself.

I was a participant in a friendship I knew was toxic.  So many of the things this friend did should have been glaring beacons that the road we were headed down was hazardous.  We had navigated the small bumps along the way but, when the test car picked up speed towards the wall, I should have hit the brakes.  Instead, the car ricocheted along the track towards its inevitable end.  Thankfully, this third-party I saw yesterday unknowingly shoved me out of the car just before it hit the wall.  Although this gesture was not made with any concern for me, it nonetheless saved me from years of invisible pain.

Somewhere during our friendship, I had taken a back seat.  I had ignored my inner voices and let the reckless driving continue while I did nothing to stop it.  When I did finally speak up, the third-party had accused me of being unfair and told me my actions were very disappointing.  The only thing that was disappointing was the fact that I had not spoken up sooner. Narcissism aside, some of the things I bore witness to could be a plot in a soap opera.  The lies were just the beginning.  There were threats, blackmail, an exchange of money and flagrant manipulation.  It was incomprehensible.

The fact that my friend seemed unconcerned about the atrocious behavior and the third-party seemed to condone it through their ignorance and unwillingness to hear the truth was enough to make me appreciate the fact that they pushed me out of that relationship.  The betrayal had caused enough of a divide in our friendship that I was able to stand on one side of the chasm that divided our relationship and truly see what was on the other side.

Every so often, circumstances make me look backwards into that void.  Life has marched on for the three of us, some lives have been looked upon more favorably than others, but we all still bear our own scars of that crash test car.

 

 

 

My greatest love affair

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I can’t recall our first meeting but I can tell you it was love at first sight.  My curious gaze met his warm, brown eyes and the rest is history.  I was a year old, and he was a stuffed bear, but ours is a love story for the ages.

Me and Winnie

When I couldn’t fall asleep, Winnie was there.  When I was excited to read my new poem or short story, Winnie was there.  And, sadly, when my roommate’s dog escaped her confines and ran up to my room, Winnie was there.  After some moderate facial reconstruction and many tears on my part, Winnie, or a new version of his former self, was still there.  He is still slightly angry that he had bad plastic surgery.

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He may have slightly faded with time, as have I, but he still remains the same stoic character that I have come to rely on over the last 48 years.  We celebrate our birthdays together. My mother created Winnie from a 1965 McCall’s pattern and he was my gift on my first birthday.  Although I have the benefit of one extra year of wisdom, each year is just as special because he is there to celebrate with me.

He has been my confidant, my best supporter and the shoulder (albeit padded) I know I can cry on whenever I feel the need to shed a tear or two.   He, like me, has experienced an encyclopedia of reference material when it comes to life events but we have come out remarkably unscathed.

Happy Birthday Winnie!  May the scars of our past help carve the road that leads us into our future.

Looking for a job

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Do you remember when you were fresh out of college or university and wanting to find that perfect job in the field you just spent four years studying?  You got money from your parents to buy the perfect “power outfit”, perhaps an attaché case to look more professional, and then you set off in search of gainful employment.  You arrived on time for each interview and got told the same thing from each prospective employer – come back when you’ve got some experience.  As you left the interviews, the thought in the back of your mind got stuck on a crazy loop in your head and played incessantly – if nobody will give me a job, how can I gain the experience I need?

Looking for a literary agent is much the same for a debut author.  It took more than four years, from conception to finished product, for me to write my first novel.  I put more focus and emotion into creating the story than I ever expended in college and I am truly proud of the finished product.  The people who have taken the time to read it have loved it.

But convincing an agent to give the whole story a chance is like applying for a job with no real world experience.  Those first five or ten pages you submit are like your first two minutes in a job interview, they are introductory and don’t really give the person reading you enough time to see what you are really about.  They can only judge you based on a succinct appraisal that doesn’t give your story time to prove itself and, in the end, they prefer an author who has been previously published.  In other words, they don’t want to give the job to people who don’t have experience.

This post is not an attack on literary agents, by any means.  I get it.  They receive a plethora of emails from thousands of people who think they could be the next Dean Koontz, Nicholas Sparks or J.K. Rowling.  Their email inboxes must feel like a revolving door, having multiple queries thrown at them every time the door makes a new revolution.

My intent with this post is not to blame literary agents for being so busy.  My intent with this post is to merely put a wish into the universe that, one day, that revolving door will find a giant foot wedged into it allowing my query to fall into the right inbox at the right time.  Just maybe, I can impress someone enough to have them read the whole manuscript and to get the job without having previous experience.