Follow Your Bliss

Have I disappointed God in my choices? I know that I have disappointed my mother. I don’t say parents because I don’t think my father has any real opinion on the topic. But I know that mother is disappointed. Mostly, she is concerned or at least that is how she offers it to me. Concern. She wants me to have the best and experience the best.  It’s my lack of church attendance that has her worried.

I get it.

As I look back on my experiences in certain company, I know that my comfort level has been way off kilter when I engage in relationships with people on a forced basis. In years past, I have spent hours of time in an effort at community through church fellowship with people based on a that shared commitment to a certain religious order. And while it is true that one of the dearest friends that I have ever enjoyed in my entire life came from that religious activity, she is the only one with whom I have had a truly authentic and deep friendship through any kind of religious organization.  Everyone else has felt surface and unsatisfying.

Guilt fills me when I open up and share this experience. Guilt because fellowship in spirit is not meant to really be for one’s own edification. It’s not meant to be about me. It’s meant to be about sharing with others, supporting others, giving to others, recognizing others, lifting others up. Being the hand of Christ to others. Being his ears to listen, his arms to hold and comfort, his eyes to see, his laughter and his encouragement and his counsel through breath and tongue and teeth as we express ourselves in love. Perhaps the reason I have been disappointed over the years is that my efforts in my quest to offer myself to others has felt like a one way street. And then, more guilt. For it is not in seeking to receive that we give.

So, instead, I walk solo most days. I have some friendships for which I have felt truly blessed. A co-worker whom I cherish beyond words and whose smile and whose life I hold very dear. I am so grateful for the growth we have experienced these past few years and look forward to many more exchanges and moments of connection with her.  Another friend whom I have enjoyed for two decades offers a connection and depth of understanding that encourages and reassures.

At this stage in my life, I need my exchanges and expenditures of time to be, for the most part, authentic. No longer can I invest time and energy into activities and responsibilities that do not support who I am at the core of my being. My exchanges with my co-worker are authentic. She helps fill a part of that hunger and need. And I hope I equally fulfill her in some way- and help her on her own path to find her way amidst the din and chaos of life.

On Sundays, these days, I feel more spiritually connected on a quiet morning with words, books, nature, my dog. I feel the blessings and I feel encouraged and energized to move into the week with a renewed commitment to offer love to my fellow man. And all of this feels like a blessing. Instead of heading into a building with hundreds of souls gathering, I find my way to a quiet place of peace. For now, this has to be acceptable. As I consider what my higher power would think of my behavior, I hope it would not involve disdain or disapproval.

These moments of quiet on Sundays have also led to moments of clarity. Inspiration. On one such day a few weeks ago, I had an urge to check on whether classes on writing at The Loft Literary Center in Minneapolis would be on offer for this coming fall. To my pleasant surprise, I found a class starting mid-July on novel writing. This six week session would be led by a published author of about forty novels, an author who has made it to the New York Times Best Seller List. While that is not necessarily my goal, the notion of finding guidance from one who has walked the road to publication and could have some valuable insights, tips and advice in general- was highly appealing. So, I signed up! And, my class starts tonight. My first official writing class. I have taken a Saturday workshop in the past, but only one workshop and that was over ten years ago. This step, this commitment, this movement towards a new reality- has me energized. It’s exciting. I know not where this might lead, but I feel it is in the right direction nevertheless.

Grateful for spiritual moments of introspection, when the noise and the busyness of the world retreats into the distant background and I find myself in front of my deepest yearnings and revelations of my purpose.

Perhaps, one day, this writing thing will be instrumental in helping another soul find his or her way to their own purpose and their own passion. It might give them the confidence to try something new, to shake themselves up and to reach for heights only imagined in childhood dreams. Those dreams that left us giddy in youth and offered moments of sparkle but for some reason got left behind or placed on a shelf in order to move in a more responsible direction, one that is walked only for the purpose of gaining approval and or to receive an acknowledgment from those that might have been serving in a role of leadership.   To what end?  What are we hoping to gain from such approvals?

One day, I hope I find myself on a cliff somewhere outside of a small cottage, sitting at a table with writing instruments before me. I hope to feel the soft wind blowing through the long tresses of my silver hair. I imagine I will be wearing a merino blend lace shawl in a color that evokes maple leaves and coco beans and gold leaf which I have knitted and wrapped around my body to chase away the chill. I see that a sweet canine with soft white and sable hair and perky little ears is curled up with her chin resting on the top of my foot. A bird soars overhead. I hear crashing waves below.  The willow tree branches on the tree next to me are swaying gently to and fro. And, I breathe. And, I smile. I have found my bliss here on this cliff, in my golden years.

Are you following your bliss?

A Conflict of Interest?

How do you feel today, Miss Katherine?
It’s a question I feel compelled to ask myself. Taking my pulse. Checking on my vitals.

I ask the question because I know that right now, I need an honest answer to it.

My answer:
I feel water logged. I feel shell shocked. I am dizzy from being blasted with too many canned marketing strategies and threats to my future if I don’t comply with the dictum. Yes. Overwhelmed and unsure.
I just attended a mandatory Certified Sandals Specialist Workshop. The pony show comes around each year and travel agencies that want to remain in good standing send off their agents to the training to ensure promotional benefits for the coming year.

It’s a power packed half day intensive product training that gets us up to speed on all of their resorts throughout the Caribbean. By itself, that sounds fine, right? After all, it’s important to know that whether this resort just had a full renovation of several lodging buildings and that this other resort now come with the plunge pools within the suites and that they have added privacy curtains so that other guests walking by the unit do not get a full frontal of the couple enjoying themselves on their balcony sans clothing. Sandals is not a nudist resort and not much in the Hedonism category so while it’s all about the romance, it is also all about elegance and decorum.
The reason I am vibrating at full decibel from the training is that the intensity of the message and how to grow our business, how to be successful, how to not fall behind, how to ensure optimum sales, is to dial into the Millennium Market. They are tech savvy and are not slowing down. The video they showed to illustrate who the Millennial Generation is- had me wanting to run for the hills. Why? Because all of this contradicts with a brand new door that I am considering opening which could lead me to a more peaceful existence – quite possibly  for the rest of my life. Simplicity. Minimalists. Leading a more meaningful life with less.

I ask myself:  Is this a big conflict of interest?
Last week, I had the great pleasure of being invited to see The Minimalists Movie by a cherished friend.  A kindred spirit.  We watched this documentary which was produced by two gentlemen and their team: Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus. They have been promoting their Minimalist lifestyle for several years now- they have written a few books, gone on some tour. It all started with one of them uncovering this lifestyle and finding happiness might very well be attainable within its principles. It talks about the fact that the recipe for Minimalists can vary by person- not everyone lives by the same recipe. Different strategies work best for different people. But, it’s about finding the right ingredients for oneself. And, ditching the rat race in time (because, even if you win the rat race, in the end you are still just a rat) and in its place, seeking to find a much simpler way to make ends meet. Instead of chasing the American Dream (which boils down to chasing ways to acquire more stuff and with stuff, more status), they have opted to live a life of passions. And, knowing that each person has many passions. Not just one.   We are not born an accountant.  We are not born a sales person.   We are not born a lawyer.   These are things that comprise a more complex being that within him or herself contains many valuable attributes.  Our society does not seem to get that as it pushes each one of us into a box of one thing.  So we must fight this bent and instead, we must find a focus- for a time, focus on one of our passions.  And,  give everything we have to that one passion – all of it, all your energy.  Nurture it.  Developed it.  And, then, maybe- just maybe.. the passion will grow and flourish and one day, you mightfind an opportunity to make a living with the success of that passion.
In response to the oft asked question: “What Do You Do?” these guys offer that we all individually do lots of things: we brush our teeth, we take showers, we enjoy walks, we engage in hobbies perhaps- the “Do” in the question does not need to be answered in a way that seeks to fulfill the questioners real goal which is to figure out where you fit in within the construct of society: “How do you measure up against where I am- what do you do? How much do you make? What kind of car do you drive? What is your zip code? And thus, what is your value to society?” The goal behind the question feels a bit disgusting when it is spelled out. After all, we are worth more than what we make, right? We are worth more than the physical stuff we acquire, or how our homes look, or what kind of wheels take us from point A to point B, right?

For the past week, most waking moments that are not occupied with my work tasks, have been spent thinking about the concepts of The Minimalists. This past weekend, I gathered up two big trash bags of clothes from my closet and I donated them. It’s a start. I am intrigued by the idea of reducing my stuff, of reducing my debt, or reducing the required resources that only serve to rob me of my time and energy and focus on the things that I wish I had more time to focus on the most. Things like: Writing, Knitting, Reading, Walking my Dog, Sitting on a bench by the lake and feeling the wind on my face, enjoying my aging parents while they are still around.

I spend so much time commuting and working, as do most people. And I do this because it is expected and because I have to because I have filled my life with stuff that costs money and I am chasing that American Dream. Because after all, the American Dream is meant to make me happy. Right? I mean, right????
I took a class about two years that is called: Financial Peace University. It’s offered through churches, and the goal is to put side-by-side the concepts of money, of understanding that it’s not my money but that I am meant to be the keeper and manager of that money for God. It’s about values and understanding how an off-kilter value system creates chaos. The class was meant to whip me into financial shape and instill upon me some good values and reminders so that moving forward I would not make the same mistakes as previous years. Well, I still churn the debt merry-go-round. I have not really gotten off yet. Oh sure, I pay cash more than before. I have paid off some plastic. But occasionally, I pull out the plastic once again – even though I know it is insane behavior and I contribute once again to a necessary rat race craziness to pay that off once again.

It needs to stop. I need to stop.

At fifty, I feel as though I have little time before the ride is over. It’s an overstatement, but feels real. And then, I recall finding a picture of Dad at his fiftieth birthday party thrown by Mom in our Barrington, IL lower level. A big group gathered around tables with a larger than life picture of Dad behind him – a black and white that someone snapped at a previous party when he had just a few too many. He looked bloated and drunk in that picture. It was meant to be funny. I digress. It’s looking at his face on that October in 1979 that I realize that this party was 37 years ago!! He has had life for 37 more years from that time. And he has experienced so much. I can too. It’s not over. I may not be blessed to live the same 37+ years that Dad has, but hopefully, at least ten or twenty more. I hope. Barring disease and other catastrophic fates. And so, today is the day to start living those years well.
This afternoon, I am taking time for me after the morning blast of marketing campaigns aimed at getting me to energize and sell beach resort all inclusive vacations. Ringing in my ears are the words from our Business Development Manager at Sandals, urging me to give him 5 room bookings in the coming 30 days – if I do so, he will reward me with a $100 booking bonus and more! I look back over my shoulder at that memory from about four hours ago and I nod to it and say, ok- I will see what I can do. But not now.

 

I found myself two hours ago in a section of Barnes and Noble, browsing through the Arts & Crafts section of books. Within that shelf, I found a journal concept with a whole series of books designed to prompt the diary keeper. A journal that has headers at the top of each page that prods the writer to fill the page with ideas. I don’t need that kind of journal, I think to myself. No. I pass those up. And, then- I find a different kind of journal written by Keri Smith, author of Wreck This Journal. In this book that I found, the title jumps out at me: The Wander Society. I open to the introduction. And there, I find her reference to Walt Whitman and how his book: Leaves of Grass “the Deathbed Edition” moved and shook her. And I am curious. Why? What was it about Walt Whitman’s book that created such a stir? I continue through the introduction to learn that the Wandering Society is basically fueled by WW (Walt Whitman) – Wanderer Extraordinaire. Now that is something I can sink my teeth into. I am pulled into the fray. I must learn more. Keri shares that only a few times in her lifetime has she been so moved by a book than the afternoon she spent with Leaves of Grass. Her description of her reaction to his words are encapsulated with expressions like: “my chest ached, my breath quickened, and my face flushed”. Sounds like a passionate problem of sorts. And I admit, I want some of that. So, I grab Keri’s book because as I thumb through it, I see it is not a journal after all but a book filled with ideas on wandering. And I oh so want to wander. I want to find my path down uncharted weed growing brambles where my foot finds purchase on a rock as it moves from the woods to the shore and helps me make my way so that I can sit on a large boulder overlooking the ocean and watch the gulls plunge into the wild foam and spray.   This perch helps me to hear the shrieks of other distant gulls as they move inland to find rest. Oh my – where did that even come from? I press on.
The first few pages of Keri’s book has now fully grabbed my attention, I dare to surmise that Keri and I will likely get along very well together, and I somewhere down in the midst of this moment – thank her for writing this volume. I make my way to the Poetry Wall within Barnes and Noble, for now I must find Walt Whitman and his Leaves of Grass. And I find several versions. The first edition version, a small pocket book. And then, larger versions that contain the many editions. And then, the version that contains the first and deathbed version. I pull that one. And I sit to read the introduction. And once again, I am drawn into the mystery of poetry and of the voices of old that somehow captured a time that in many ways has been reimagined today. The same quandaries and burdens. It reminds of the timelessness of the Bible. Many discard the Bible – push it aside. It is not relevant. But how wrong they are. Principles for humanity do not change. We are basically the same as when man first began. We carry the same desperate wants and needs and passions and fears.
I decide I am satisfied with my selections and decide to add Walt to my pile. I consider one final idea, and that is to move to the writing wall. The “how to write” section, I call it. The reference wall. I want something that will give me knowledge on the basics of poetry writing. Unsuccessful in that quest.    I proceed to the check-out counter and I figure that I can look up Poetry Writing and theory … on-line. For now, I have plenty to keep me busy. And I feel satisfied,  truly satisfied.   I am investing time in my passion. I plan to sit and write and read and revel in the words of old. And dream big  dreams …of a new reality and a new plan. One step at a time. One poem at a time. One word at a time. I find my rest in this.

Characters: Organic and Planned.

My efforts at novel writing during the recent NaNoWriMo contest this past November has provided the ground work or perhaps better stated, the initial soil, for a novel that has completely captured my senses. This jump start has provided a tremendous launch into a project that feels in some ways to be the project of my life. It is the corner on the street that, once I turned, I was brought face to face with a breakthrough in my life’s purpose. Strongly stated I know. Perhaps a bit dramatic. But it’s true. I absolutely love writing this novel, each day, in every way- love love love it!

I have stopped writing plot and have backed away from the 53,000 words I had accomplished during the contest. It is time to pause and to learn how to organize, structure, outline and develop the characters, plot, theme and purpose of this novel. I take a step back to ask vital questions and make sure I am on track. It seems a little out of sequence, but this time, because of how those 53,000 words poured out of me during those thirty days of writing, I find it important to step back and look at it with different eyes. It’s the only way. Next time, meaning with my next novel (crazy how I am even consider that prospect),  I will likely outline first. But to be honest, I didn’t even know what outlining was before I started this past NaNoWriMo contest. As such, I proceeded based on what flowed best from me at the time.

So, I am now starting with what are called: Character Sheets. These reside in my fairly newly purchased Scrivener program. Several authors have given me some tips with their own books on: how to write a novel. Before me, I have these 46 character questions that I am meant to answer for every character in my novel. For each and every character, I am called upon to answer specific questions. It starts with the basics: name, age, height, eye color, physical description. Then, there are some deeper questions that will help shape the character: favorite clothing, defining gestures, fondest memory, special skills, religion, favorite food, physical health, any phobias. There are questions relating to the character’s role in the novel, his or her purpose and goals. The list goes on: 46 questions.

 

I am amazed that this is a strategy employed by so many writers. I understand the benefit of this step. So far with my novel, my character introductions and developments have been an organic process. The characters have shown up on the page when they were needed. And now, I can see going back and filling in the gaps in terms of their individual backgrounds. But I am not sure how I would have known at the very beginning, before my novel was to the point where it is now, who these people would have been. I understand the concept of creating the main character first, and perhaps his or her major supporting role players. But there are many background characters that I simply would not have known about until the main character had encountered them.
For instance, in one scene, the main character in my novel has just moved to Oslo, Norway from her farm village situated south of the city. One night, after a full day of work at a family run bakery & grocery market, she stops in at the butcher shop on her way home. I wouldn’t have known about the young boy behind the counter that is helping an elderly lady and how he then turns to help Nina with her own order of pork and beef ground mixture planned for a meatball dinner that night. I would not have known about this little sprout until she opened the door to the butcher shop and walked in and found this adorable young boy working behind the counter. His stature is so slight that he can barely reach from behind the counter to provide the customers with their order. His thin wheat colored hair sticks straight up at the back of his head, perhaps from the dryness of the air and the electrical charges he is capturing in the room. He swims in his apron. His thin arms work hard as he digs into the meat mixture for Nina, using a very heavy metal scoop. Nina watches him work hard behind the glass case. He has wonderful manners and Nina wonders if he is the son or grandson of the butcher shop owner. All of this unfolds before my eyes as I brought Nina into the butcher shop. How would I have known about him before starting my story? And in my view, he is not a minor character, not really. Because I have this feeling in my gut that he and his family will play an instrumental part in a subplot surrounding the occupation of Norway and the ensuing underground movement. But even that is forming in my mind as I type this paragraph.

 

My way of writing forms as I go. I am on the adventure myself. The scenery changes as I pass through the scene with my characters, I layer in past impressions of places I have seen in these locals, images of people I have encountered, and actual moments I have experienced. Then, my imagination mixes it all together, and I create the tableau. It’s mesmerizing. Great fun. And I can only hope that one day, someone else will enjoy reading the adventure as much as I had enjoyment in writing it.

 

So the instructions I have to write out for the Character Questionnaire Sheets for every character in my book, before writing the novel itself, feels challenging to me. But, perhaps, I could complete this exercise for the major characters and since I have those 53000 words of the novel to work from, I have what I would consider to be some basic ingredients with which to craft the novel and it is exciting. All the while, I read anything I can get my hands on from as many expert writers as I can, to learn strategies on how to write a novel well.

 

In particular, I like ideas presented by Elizabeth George as well as K.M Weiland- and there are many others. It feels as if I have signed up for a Master Course on novel writing which I am taking on my own, without paying tuition, just diving into books written by great writers and applying principles to my daily efforts. It’s so much fun! While frustrating for moments, in the end I press on and progress happens.

 
One character question that launched me into a marvelous exploration yesterday, was the idea of favorite music. Suddenly, Nina is lying on her bed with the door open so she can hear her younger brother Gunnar practicing the piano downstairs. The music flows to the upper levels of the house. Nina loves to spend time listening to Gunnar because although he often practices scales, he also delves into the Romantic Era pieces which are Nina’s favorites. She relaxes completely on hearing Debussy’s: Girl With The Flaxen Hair. Sergei Rachmaninoff’s: Elegie in E flat minor, Op 23, No 1 – helps her to consider sadness mixed with moments of joy. There is despair in that piece as well as hope. When listening to music, Nina finds herself experiencing a movie in her mind. She imagines herself running free or riding Lilly, her fjord horse, along the fjord’s coastline. Schubert’s Trio No 2 in E Flat brings images of a horse show, with several horses in the ring – dancing in cadence with one another. With some pieces, she can actually feel the wind on her face and watch and listen to the birds soaring overhead. Music provides the backdrop for her day dreams.

 

And as I considered all this yesterday, it occurred to me that Gunnar, her little brother, has an amazing gift. He is not just talented but intimate and passionate about his music. He is gifted and a natural. He likes composing his own pieces and can spend hours playing. The rest of the family thoroughly enjoys his practice sessions and they look forward to them each day. And here, as I type, I suddenly sense that later in the book, after the war is over: is Gunnar still alive? Perhaps not- and does the silence from his absence and lack of playing become unbearable for his mother Mona.

 
These moments of character development are moments that simply happen. But, this moment happened by answering questions #29: Favorite bands, songs or type of music. I like these questions.

 
And it occurs to me that this cast of characters, this geographic area, the time period, the historic events, the nuances of plot and the main theme of war and romance and purpose, all of these things will likely bring me several years of writing pleasure. I hope that in the end, this novel will capture the hearts of others. But my goal is more natural than that- my goal is to get to know these people, the historic events of the Nazi occupation of Norway, and how these ordinary people get caught up in an extraordinary life.

A Company Exodus

Last night was an emotional evening with friends. Many expressed their feelings openly. It was a time to share experiences and individual truths relating to the exodus. And, there were a few people there last night which continue to work for Company XYZ, and are listening and witnessing the deep emotional scars of those that left. And, sharing the continued underlying problems of Company XYZ. I feel for them as they seek to continue to work there with dignity in their hard work and hope for their own futures. I think about all that went wrong and continues to go wrong with that place. And the saddest part is that everyone (for the most part) that left, had a strong connection with the place, in many cases because of the vision of the work. In our business, when you find a niche or market that fuels you with passion and purpose, it’s an amazing thing. I had that with Company XYZ. When I entered their doors as a new employee, I rejoiced at my good fortune. This was going to be it. I was surrounded by fellow lovers of a specific geographic location that warmed my heart, I would be helping create dreams of custom itineraries for the independent traveler throughout the countries of this glorious region. Finally, instead of being a travel agent that could offer the entire globe, I was now dialing down to a specific place on the planet which had my heart singing. And, I would be traveling to this collection of countries myself to network with our ground handlers, guides, business partners in travel to develop our products of hotels, sightseeing, transportation and more. I thought I had landed my dream job. I could use my language skills for specific countries relating to my mother’s homeland. And, for the first few years I felt I had made the right decision. The perfect decision.

However, underneath the joy there was also doubt as I watched strong personalities bump heads and saw decisions made that in my view negatively impacted the company; but then, what did I know, I was merely a worker bee. They must know what they are doing, right? I glanced occasionally at my paltry bank account balance and justified my poor financial status in life to the fact that – after all, I work in travel. Everyone in the industry knows that travel doesn’t pay. If I had wanted money, I should have chosen another field; like law, or medicine. I chose travel because, honestly, I love languages and exploring the globe.  In this field, my bank account has been pathetic for most of my career, particularly someone in my age bracket.   The truth is it’s an accepted standard in the industry which makes living single almost impossible without some creativity in sourcing options.   What I didn’t know at the time was that this didn’t have to be the case.   During those years of meager income, I benefited from staying in the most luxurious places in the world and continue to enjoy the most high level services just about everywhere I go.   All on someone else’s dime. So, to properly evaluate my income, I need to remember to add what those items would cost to my annual figures. One year, a ten night trip through Norway staying mostly at historic deluxe inns owned by families that have been running the place for generations; sitting on my balcony with the fjord view. Of course, I would never have the money to personally pay for those ultra luxurious trips while working in this business, but the more that I sell certain things, the better chance at a familiarization excursion to test those services out myself; whether paid by my company or paid by the supplier itself. If paid by the company, the trips cost minimally as the suppliers organize these trips to showcase their offerings for our clients. It’s a perk, for sure. I don’t have to save up for a trip, I just wait for the glorious announcements of which suppliers are sponsoring the upcoming FAMS, and then learn who in the office gets which cherry assignment. Usually, these occur once or twice a year and in the fall season, when things slow down a bit for the average agency and certain destinations.
So what happened at Company XYZ?
So many abuses of power and many moments of poor leadership in general. When almost half the staff exits in one year, the management must look at their practices and consider what they may have done to contribute to the discontent. Was it wages? Poor direction? Financial struggles? Overall disrespect and disregard for the work produced by its workers? Common blatant overuse of criticism and infrequent praise. In Company XYZ’s case, all of that and so much more. Management’s recurring poor decisions in every aspect of running the business left the workers feeling devalued and irrelevant. At the end of my tenure there, I recall sitting at my desk wearing fingerless gloves and a billowing scarf around my neck to take the chill off my body as I tried to type on my computer; the recent move the summer before had been into an old building in a tiny strip mall that backed up against a motel known for being both a whore house and a narcotics headquarters for the local druggies. But our general manager moved us to this location because, I am sure, it was cheaper than the alternatives. So there we were freezing because of poor insulation and not permitted to use too many space heaters at once because it would overload the circuit breaker. Hun? This is where you work?

 

That summer move was a nightmare as they smooshed 10 of the staff in one department into a small walk in closet like space with industrial folding tables and folding chairs, wires coming out of the ceiling and landing behind our computers so that we could plug in.  No filtered water, just the bathroom sink so we filtered our water by hand for coffee using one of those tiny pods.  This placed into question for me each day, how sanitary is this? The thought going through my head was, maybe I am making too much of this.  The management tried to encourage by suggesting how great the space would be once finished next door.   The construction project took several months.  While we attempted to discourage in person client visits, and suggested we were not available for walk in services, some clients would pop in anyway to drop of payments for their trips or to talk to our consultants. Seeing them standing in the doorway of our closet made me wonder, how can they have confidence when they see how our working conditions look? And even if the new space was meant to be great- how could they not see the questionable locale?  It was embarrassing. But we were cheerful, we’re moving- pardon our mess.   When the move was completed, we had another surprise from management- all those heavy filing cabinets in the back storage of the temporary space- yea, those; they shall be moved by staff.  No moving company.    There I was with two damaged arms from previous injuries, being asked to buck up and move heavy furnishings from one space to another, while upper management GM is in Belgium sipping a brew with her hubby.  Yes- she opted to take a vacation during the worst part of the move.  And while it might be true that her trip had been scheduled earlier in the year, prior to the anticipated move- how ultra convenient for her that her trip fell in the busiest season of our business and during the worst part of the move.    Management was missing from that move and after several hours of heavy labor, I sat in a chair talking to myself in my head- this is the ultimate in horrible management.   No regard whatsoever.   Complete and utter nonsense and so unprofessional.  Workman’s comp anyone?  This is not acceptable.  And, they are clueless on how to handle staff.

 

After the move, it was the financial strains that sealed my decision later in the year. Supplier bills were not being paid and it was making it highly uncomfortable to reach out to these same suppliers now to request future bookings for our clients; whether hotels, guides, luggage services or transport. How can I ask a supplier to confirm a booking for me when we had not paid them for bookings from five months ago? And our fears and concerns are batted away and a legitimizing comment is made with venom if we questioned it.

 

So I was the first in the domino effect. When my opportunity came with a strong agency, financially at the top of their game, with solid opportunities for growth and an increase in pay my first year that would be infuse hope that the poverty standards of a travel agent did not have to be my own reality.   This new company was suggesting incentives and pay opportunities that would reward my efforts.  I would have been an idiot to say no.  So, I said yes. And, I left. And then, within a year- 9 are gone from Company XYZ; and they blame us. They hate us. They unfriendly us on FB. They speak perhaps poorly of us and our betrayal. To me, the betrayal was theirs. They either didn’t care, or if they cared- they were too proud to do anything positive to change the current mess. And, the place continues to struggle. And, my heart goes out to it, because deep down, I loved Company XYZ, and wanted it to be my final stop on the career track.
Now, a year later, I am thriving. My productivity at new Company ABC is right on track. And, it feel good. It feels good mostly to be acknowledged as being a positive contributor, of receiving praise for efforts well done. For being paid fairly. And, for knowing that my future has hope and promise.

Bliss or Pipe Dream?

Back to the grind stone.
On my way home from Mexico aboard Delta Airlines, I watched an episode of On Creativity, a serial that offers insights into the creative world hosted by Paula Wallace of the Savannah College of Art & Design. In this episode, one of her guests was Steve Lassater, co-creator of Pixar. During the interview, they showed his commencement speech at the college and he brought out of a bag a very well loved Woody doll from The Toy Story that had been sent to him by a young boy who no longer needed to love this Woody doll.  This boy included a letter that asked Mr. Lassater to bring Woody to a place where he could be with other dolls forever more. This was a tearful reading by Mr. Lassater as he held the Woody doll up to his audience for viewing, one could see that one foot was missing, the clothing on the doll was faded and stained and the limbs were limp and well worn. During the interview in general, the idea was conveyed by Mr. Lassater of the importance of carefully selecting a vocation for which one would not ever feel that they had worked a day in one’s life. Am I doing this with my life? Do I live to work? Or, do I work to live? I do enjoy the travel gig, in general. However, there are so many instances during the course of my work that I find my efforts less than appreciated or even respected.
While on my trip, I received word that one client had called the office ranting and raving about her rental car not having been fully prepaid and that she hoped the rest of the trip I had planned for her would not be an equal disaster. Never mind that during the booking process, I told her over the telephone that it would not be possible to set up her pre-cruise car rental on a prepaid basis as there was not a rental company that offered that possibility.  Instead, her rental rate would be guaranteed using her credit card but that her cost would be paid locally at time of rental pick up at the Houston Airport. And, with her final document package, I included a cover letter that went over all of the details including her car rental and it stated the same as noted above. These details were conveyed orally and in writing. She wasn’t listening, and she didn’t read. And, she then reads my administrator the riot act and uses explitives in the process. Nice. Another client was informed by telephone voicemail and email that I would be out of the office until December 8th, and that I would contact her on my return to set up an in person appointment to go over their final documents for their Europe trip happening over the holidays. While I am gone, she just shows up at the office asking to see me. Another client requests a 28 day honeymoon to Southeast Asia to start January 2nd, 2016; his inquiry came in October 26th. I work on this with two revisions, sending him complex independent custom itinerary proposals with everything they wanted to experience, including cooking classes, temple tours in Angkor Wat, couples massages, all private services, interior Asia flights, and five star hotels. And he sits on it for almost two months. Now, he is ready and I am scheduled to talk with him this morning. With his commitment, we now have to rush to book everything and hope things are still available because he just couldn’t get around to it.  And, take care of the Visas on a rush expedite basis.

I wish I could say that these stressors do not affect my gut. But the truth is, I just got done with an endoscopy yesterday and the damage is fairly severe… meds and modified lifestyle are required to heal. So, does this work give me joy? Am I in my element? Or, am I just another dog in the musher’s sled, always feeling the crack of the whip at my back and pushed to move move move… to someone else’s demands.
What would I do if I could do what I wanted to do? Well, I would learn to write well. I would busy myself in learning the craft, every aspect of it and making a life of writing for myself. I wouldn’t just spend an hour or two before work and some left over time after work and on weekends. I would throw myself into it with all my might. And, would this put me into my true bliss? Or, is this a grass is greener thing? Seeing all fo those resorts for the purpose of serving a bride somewhere wishing to wed on a beach, is that my calling? Serving clients traveling all over Europe and Asia, is that really it? Or, is it writing? How do I know the answer to that?  Is my writing dream a foolish pipe dream?
For now at least, one step in from of the other. I have over 50,000 words to work on to create a first novel. And, I must continue this daily writing practice, sign up for courses, workshops, get to know other writers perhaps. Come out of the vacuum.   Possibly work towards a retirement of writing bliss?  At least that’s a goal.

Nina

On one of the last trips that Nina planned to Russia, she had wanted her husband Vidar to come along, but he didn’t want to. He claimed the trips were boring and a waste of time. And besides, someone needed to stay home and take care of Stian. So, she goes to Russia without him and returns having fallen utterly in love with Christian, a much younger man. She begins having an affair with him once she is home. She goes on regular Saturday Night dates with this new lover. Out in the open, in front of her husband, she gets ready for these outings.

She takes long and leisurely bubble baths in fragrant lavender salts that permeate the whole apartment. She puts on her finest lingerie and silk hose. She picks out flowing feminine dresses with plunging necklines. She adorns herself with her finest jewels, some that were presents from Vidar.

He hears her in the bedroom as she prepares for these weekly trysts.   From his perch on the vinyl kitchen chair, it sounds like she is dancing and flitting from one task to the other with delight, humming and excited, like a school girl getting ready for the spring dance. Was she like this when we were dating? Where did that fervor evaporate to? And all this time, he sits ramrod on the metal chair with the sticky red vinyl covers, in his short bathrobe that hides a tired and sweat stained undershirt and thread bear pajama bottoms. He sips his vodka at the kitchen table out of a juice glass, his cigarette dangles precariously at the edge of the amber colored crystal ash tray, and he stares out at the lane behind their house through water sprayed windows dripping from the latest afternoon shower; an almost daily occurrence in this Hanseatic City on the west coast of Norway. How did his torrid love affair with Nina evolve into this dreary solitude? When did the spark flicker and die out? They had been crazy for each other and tore through each other with great passion.
This new episode was not meant to be a chapter in his life. But he was just like Papa, leaving things unspoken. What seemed to her to be his indifference was just his inability to express his earnest love for her. He wanted her to love him without the required words. He wanted it to be unconditional, wasn’t it supposed to have been an unconditional love?
She jars him out of his reverie with a soft whisper over her shoulder “Don’t wait up”. She makes a final pass through the kitchen. She slips into the back room where Stian is sleeping, to give him a final goodnight kiss before heading out. She comes back out into the hallway and reaches behind her back into the room to switch off the light. She leans into the door frame for a moment, she hesitates as she gazes at the sweetest thing that life had brought to her on this planet.  A twinge of raw nerves shoot through her… a moments hesitation and a sharp pang of guilt as she considers her next move. She loves this little angel and she doesn’t want to ruin anything about him. And Vidar is such a big part of him. But she needs more than what Vidar can offer. Tonight, she is wearing that red silk number with black flowing brush strokes that look like hazy fields of orchids caressing her curves. This was her special occasion dress, the one Vidar always use to ask her to wear. And as she walks back towards the kitchen and looks down at her husband, their eyes meet and hold this moment, and she sees the glazed film across his vision and she knows what he is thinking. And again, she feels a twist in her bosom and her gut because she knows his thoughts, his torture at seeing her in this dress with those candy apple lips and her raven hair swept up in that chignon. All of this not for his benefit, and she knows that he knows the strategic two bobby pins are fastened where they always are at this point of the night, ready when pulled just right that it will release her flowing hair at the precise right moment when things begin to get steamy. He averts his eyes and they slowly move to the floor and his gaze lands at her feet, and then another pain flows through him when he sees that she is wearing those shoes. The ones he bought for her in Vienna with the delicate ankle cuff that wraps around twice. He had picked these black leather heels for her on his last orchestral trip with the Bergen Philharmonic, before he had lost his place as first chair. Before all meaning had seemed to drain from his life, his passion and his dreams had been flushed away with the latest cutbacks. His eyes gaze at those shoes, a memory of what was and could have been. These precious shoes had been his peace offering for having been gone so long without her this time. Little did he know then that this trip had been his last and would be the backdrop of his downfall in the music world. His stare lingers on those shoes then fades and the moment is gone.
She gathers her jacket and purse and walks to the back door, hesitates for a split second wondering why he can’t just say it, just say it. Open your mouth. Please just say something. Hold me back from where I am about to go, tell me it matters. But he doesn’t and the ticking cuckoo clock that they bought together in Switzerland on one of the earlier musical tours comes to life with a loud and brackish squawk, it erupts seven times marking the evening and then the little man and the little lady dressed in their matching Swiss Mountain costumes come out and do their dance as they slide around their track and the whole disruption of this awkward moment is all so jarring that she simply must flee from this insane surreal world of misshapen reality.   She must run somewhere, anywhere… just to get out of here.  So she quickly walks to the back door and slips out through the back alley without another word, leaving Vidar to his tortured thoughts.
Her feet and now watery limbs make the downhill and winding cobblestoned journey to the local pub a perilous affair as she fights to not lose her balance.  Her lower eye lids well up. She hates herself for this reaction because this was the very thing she had promised herself that she wouldn’t do this time.   This pattern had now become routine each Saturday night, like clockwork.  She had once loved Vidar so very much, and she had a feeling he still loved her… but these last four years had been a solitary life, the most isolated and sad and lonely life she had ever had and not lost on her that this loneliness came with being married. She thought of all the couples spread out throughout the city and indeed, the world. How many were living lives of love and passion and complete bliss? And how many were complete strangers merely sharing quarters baffled by what had happened after the “I dos”? She thought about Christian, the man she was running to now. Was this love or merely a distraction? Was this just a temporary fix to help nurse her wounded ego and bring her back to life? And what of her communist interests?  Were those real, or just excitement in an otherwise very dull existence? Something to make her feel alive again and have a purpose?  Truth be told, she wasn’t sure what she believed in anymore.  She slows her pace, wipes her cheeks with the back of her hand and tries to get a grip before arriving at Skipperstuen on Torget.
Christian will already have been there for at least an hour and he will have a fresh draft of Øl waiting for her. He was basically kind to her, this Christian. But he wasn’t patient when it came to her raw feelings about Vidar. He considered Vidar to be a washed up and worthless old man, even though he had not yet turned 40. As far as he was concerned, Vidar had no gumption, no vitality and he couldn’t understand why she just didn’t leave the fool. Chrisitan felt he was far better equipped in every way to meet her needs both intellectually and physically.  He didn’t have any self doubts where that was concerned and he felt that Nina’s hesitation to leave Vidar was a sort of weakness on her part. But Christian was willing to be patient with her.  He had wanted her since the first time he had laid eyes on her, and he was willing to forgive her short comings…at least for awhile. But he wouldn’t wait too long, he was in too high demand to wait too long. He knew what he could get and how the women longed for him, so if she didn’t snap out of this dreariness soon, he would be gone and on to fresh options. He looked up and saw her duck into the pub and shake her head from the rain drops she had collected on her way through the typically rainy streets of Bergen. She was breathtaking, so he knew that he would wait awhile and he hoped she would come to her senses soon. He would be willing to deal with her six year old, he wasn’t such a bad kid. At least he didn’t whine and moan like some of his nephews and nieces. Nina was an amazing mother, this he saw and he wished he had grown up with as much love as he witnessed her showering on little Stian. Her gentle and soft spoken reassurances and the absence of regular yelling and other agitations were certainly a factor in why Stian was so well behaved and gentle himself. And he also knew that Stian’s temperament came from Nina, he was indeed a blessed little boy. So yes, he could easily deal with Stian in his life… in fact, he might even like having the little guy around a bit more. Who knows what would develop. For now, he waved her over and tapped the bar stool seat fervently, beckoning her to hurry up and join him.
Tonight, he would be filled to the brim with all that he needed… that was all that mattered for now, so he put Vidar and Stian out of his mind and smiled to her widely, encouraging her to shake out of what he knew was the after affects of the emotional exit she had just made from her broken home. And it helped her, and she smiled back at him and she reached for him hungrily and buried herself into his strong shoulder. This was what she longed for, this was what Vidar could not offer and she knew that this is where she belonged now, with Christian. Her guilt dissolved and she embraced her lover and gave him the reassurance he needed that tonight would be for them and that there would not be any ghosts sharing the night with them. Tonight, it would be just them.