Monday, April 22, 2013

One Dark and Smelly Meeting...

My boss's name was Loretta Von Stink. That's what I'm going to tell you anyway. She has a real name,  but I can't use it here because she might call me up and say something, and if I have to hear that woman's voice again I will have to remove my ears with fire.

She was awful, and not just awful because she didn't know how to manage people. My three coworkers and I believed that she either had one of those psychotic social disorders that she should have been medicated for, or that she was just an asshole, in which case the solution was to only allow her contact with robots until medical science came up with a cure for being a dick. Since no one had seen fit to seclude her yet, we divided our working hours between correcting all of the mistakes she told us we were making and chatting conspiriously about ways to get Loretta out of our lives. Our options were few. They included: getting other jobs, talking to HR about how miserable we were under her rule, talking to her about how miserable we were to establish some kind of mature conversation, and shoving her in front of a bus. All of us tried everything except that last one, not because we weren't compelled to do it but because we knew she would only come back as a ghost and criticize us for having done it wrong.

All that correcting would have been fine if the four of us actually were the incompetent imbeciles that she accused us of being, and if she could have decided what she wanted us to do. Her favorite way of micromanaging was to tell us to do something, let us do it that way for a week, and then run (seriously run) into the office to fuss at us because we KNEW that was the wrong way to do it and we'd been doing it that way ALL week! So none of us trusted her when she gave us direction because we knew the direction was going to change and when it did, anything done previously was going to be entirely our fault and if we didn't watch it we were going to have to be let go. This made any contact with her at all highly stressful. It's one thing to have to tolerate a critical person, but when that person can cost you your job, stomaching their bullshit becomes both nauseating and impossible.

To give you an example of this, and to prove to you that there was no point in killing her because she was already undead, I think I'm going to have to tell you about the meeting in the dark. And before I do that I have to tell you what she looked like in the light.

She was shaped like an eggplant and smelled like an onion bagel. Onion bagels are delicious when you eat them, but when you smell like them as a person, the people who work for you are not going to be able to breathe when you lean over them to show them something on the computer. And by "show them something on the computer" I mean, lean over them, seize control of their keyboard, delete what they just wrote and type something else because you believe that they're too stupid to type "Thank you. Please call if you have any questions," on their own. So not only is your underling offended and her personal space is being violated, but she will pass out soon from lack of oxygen.

But we believed that Loretta could have cared less about whether or not we were able to breathe since her own heart had stopped beating years before. And she was pale enough so that this theory seemed that it might have been true. Pale, veiny skin with bleached blonde hair that for some reason, and I spent a lot of time trying to figure this out, was never dyed completely. The dark roots always showed, never getting longer or shorter, just perpetually two inches of dark hair and then a shock of blonde the rest of the way. It was as if she went to the beauty parlor with a thong on top of her head and asked the hairdresser to dye around it. Her eyes were the same brown as the roots, and she seldom laughed but when she did it came out forced. She pronounced each "ha" - ha ha ha - like laboured breathing.

So one day, I got an Instant Message on my computer that said, "Genevieve, come to my office. Bring your laptop." I jumped because my nerves were always spring loaded, ready for an attack to come from her on some front - red letter email, bursting in to the room to yell at me, or as in this case, an IM summons.

"Oh God," I whined.

"What's up?" my coworker Brian asked.

"The Goblin Queen just summoned me."


"I don't know, but I'm to bring my laptop."

"Don't let her smell your blood. It makes her hungry."

"Tell my children I love them," I said, undocking my computer and carrying it sadly out of the office.

Her office door was open a crack, and at first I thought she wasn't there because no light came from it. It looked like she'd left but had forgotten to shut the door all the way. But then I heard her voice coming from inside of it...and another voice talking back to her.

I rapped the back of my hand on the door. "Loretta?"

"Yeah!" she said, and them mumbled something and a man's voice answered her.

I pushed the door open, and found Loretta sitting at her desk in the dark, talking to someone on speaker phone. There were no windows in her office so even though it was the middle of the day, the room was dark as night except for the blue glow of her computer screen which eerily lit her blanched skin and jaundiced hair.

I sat down in the chair across from her and set my laptop across my knees.

"What's your IP address?"" she asked, pointing to the laptop.

Not knowing that information off the top of my head, I did a quick search to find out. And just so you know, typing in the dark in your boss's office is quite disorienting even if you're an excellent typist and your fingers already know where the letters are. This is because YOU ARE SITTING IN THE DARK IN YOUR BOSS'S OFFICE. The light bulbs aren't burnt out, there isn't a black out, you're just sitting there with no clear view of her so you have no idea if she's salivating at the scent of your blood or not.

I found the IP address and said it loud enough for the guy on the phone to hear. A couple of seconds later,  the guy, who she was calling Rick, took control of my computer. I could tell because the arrow on my screen began to move around without my touching anything. Either she was on the phone with technical support or she was communing with the devil, who now had control of my laptop. It was then that two questions came into my head. I decided to address the one that was bothering me the most, and I quickly I figured out a way to go about asking it without saying, "Are you a total freak?"

"Loretta? Do you have a migraine?" I asked.

She frowned at me. "No. Why?"

"Because the lights are off," I said, pointing at the ceiling to show her where the light was supposed to come from. "And whenever I have a migraine I need to be in the dark, so-"

"No, no," she said, waving her hand to dismiss the idea. "I just like it this way. I find it easier on the eyes when I have to look at the computer screen all day, you know?"

She did this a lot. Explained something and then ended it with "you know" so that I had the opportunity to identify. But honestly, I did not know. Staring at a computer screen did hurt my eyes, I got that part, but if I sat in a dark room long enough I would either go to sleep or become severely depressed. AND even if I did not have either of those reactions then at the very least if someone else came to join me I would turn the lights on. So that we could work. In the light.

Which led me to my second question.

"Cool. So, um, what are we downloading?"

She crossed her legs and frowned at me again. "Downloading? What?"

I pointed to the laptop. Our conversations involved a lot of pointing since neither of us could understand each other's words."What Rick is downloading. What is it?"

"Oh it's -" and she named a program that Brian usually worked on.

"Ok...Would you like me to work on it too?"

"Yeah," she said, giving me a look I used to get in high school when I would ask a popular girl a question. It was a look that said, "Yeah, uh, duh! That's what I'm saying, shit for brains."

The downloading of this program took about fifteen minutes which doesn't sound like much, but it is when you're sitting in a dark room with your boss who's glowing like a bleached blond stick of uranium and all you want to do is go back to your desk and joke about this whole experience with your coworkers. I thought about the snack waiting for me in my desk drawer and became a little more irritated.

When it finally finished downloading, Loretta said, "Ok, so let me show you this, it's really easy. I don't know if you're a note-taker or not but you might want to take notes."

Loretta should have known that I was a note-taker because I had made a habit of jotting things down when I was alone with her so that I could chronicle the inconsistencies and the insults.

After the tutorial she thanked me and sent me on my way. The thanks were always confusing because she said them genuinely. It wasn't like the laugh that seemed forced. See, I'm the kind of person that when someone tells me "thank you" I believe them. When someone says, "I like you" I believe them, and when someone is nice to me I believe that they like me. So when she acted like a bitch most of the time, it was really confusing when she had moments of niceness. Those moments, fleeting though they were, did happen but rather then garner credit to the fact she she might be a cool person but just a bad boss, they confused me and my coworkers all the more and we were left to wonder if she was just in a good mood because she'd eaten a baby. One of the girls I worked with said that those were just moments of fakeness, but I didn't know. There was no way to really know her at all. But of course, whenever I tried to give her the benefit of the doubt, she'd fuck me over.

I walked back into the office and said to Brian, "So I'm going to be your backup."

"Oh yeah?" he said. He got up and walked over to me as I snapped my laptop back into the docking station. "What'd she show you?"

I read over the instructions she gave me. Half way through he shook his head. "No, no. She showed you wrong."

"Are you serious?"

"Are you surprised?"

"No. But...urrrgh! We sat in the dark that whole time, Brian! Do I look pale? I might have been bitten, I don't know."

He laughed. "Ooooooooh my God. I want to go home. Ok, sit down, tear that page out, and take down everything I'm about to tell you."

I did and discovered that Loretta had told me to do everything that would have rendered my work useless. Like, I am not kidding, or exaggerating, if I'd done it Loretta's way I would have been working in an endless loop, never making any progress. And then she would have called me a week later and said, "Genevieve, WHY is this not done? Do you remember ANYTHING that I showed you? Remember when I said 'thanks' at the end of it? We had a moment, Gen, I thought we were cool." Luckily this conversation never had to happen because I did the opposite of everything she taught me.

This was very unlike what happened just a few months into the job, back when I thought that talking to her, reasoning things out, might do some good. One day she ran into the office, stood uncomfortably close to me and berated me for not keeping an accurate record of the work I'd done for the month. "Why?" she hissed. "Why would you do that Genevieve??"

"Well," I said. "I'm sorry, I didn't neglect it deliberately. I didn't know it was that important and sometimes when it's busy-"

"But you have to! It's simple! If I can't rely on you to do simple tasks, then I don't see how this is going to work!"

I didn't know how to react. I told her that I had written everything in a notebook and I could approximate dates and copy it all into a spreadsheet and have it to her by the end of the day. She calmed down after I said that.

When I was done I printed it out and took it to her office. She took the pages, set them aside and asked me to sit down.

"Now," she said. "I wanted to talk to you about something. I heard that you seemed very upset this afternoon. Like it looked like you might have been crying."


It was true. There was a moment when I was crying quietly at my desk and thinking to myself, as I scrambled to get the report done before she fired me, "I hate this job, I hate this job, I hate this job." But I hadn't thought that anyone noticed. Besides the three people who I eventually became friends with as we formed a united front of hatred of Loretta, there was one other person in the office who was her stooge, and I wondered if it was this person who said I'd been crying.

"Uh, yeah. Sorry, I was just frustrated with myself for not keeping up with that report all month."

"Ok, and yes, that's something to take responsibility for. But you know, an emotional scene like that is very distracting for your coworkers and frankly unprofessional. And I'm sorry that you take things so personally."

"Personally?" I said, because all I could think to do was repeat a part of what she said.


"Ok. I will...try not to do that."

But unfortunately, being the incompetent emotional basketcase that I was, that was not the only time I had feelings in the office and over the next few months I was also corrected for (and I am not making this up) laughing, chatting, and asking my repeat phone customers how they were doing because I was "being too familiar."

And then, soon after the dark meeting, Loretta wasn't my boss anymore. She wasn't fired or hit by a bus, but transferred to another department. Every now and then I still see her, and sometimes I'm able to dodge her if I pick up the scent of onion bagel first. But the other day I was walking down the hall and she and I passed right by each other. I tensed up before I remembered that she couldn't do anything to me anymore - as if she ever could have fired me for walking down the hall in the first place. I wasn't really sure what to do because I'd never liked her, but had I really never like her bad enough to completely ignore her? When confronted with her in a brief social situation where it is impossible to pretend that I do not see another person walking in my direction? The absolute head-on collision of social interactions? Hypocritical as it might have been I decided that no, I could not just pass her without saying anything. So when she was a few feet away from me I looked her right in the face and squeaked, "Hi."

She pushed her lips shut, looked down and to the right of me, and passed me by. And I gotta say, I was pissed.

"What?" I thought to myself. "You're snubbing ME? Me, the employee who did your bidding and who you insulted belittled and jerked around for months and I tell you hi and you pretend I'm not there? You're not even going to pretend to be polite to the person who had fantasies about pushing you in front of oncoming traffic? Is this the way it is, we get to openly dislike each other now? Good! Next time I see you in the hallway I won't tell you hi, I'll just spray you with air freshener, Stink Bag."

I might, um, have taken that interaction personally. I'm going to have to work on that.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Four Speakers

I lost my balance in yoga class the other night and it was all John Lennon's fault. I was in tree pose which looks something like this:

This also confirms your suspicions that I actually am a cartoon. Anyway, my instructor plays music throughout class, which is ordinarily not a problem. It flows with the class, and it's usually groovy music with Indians chanting things that I don't understand. The other night he even snuck in a song from The Life Aquatic soundtrack, one of my favorites, with Portugeuse singer Seu Jorge covering David Bowie songs, and I was fine. But Monday night he played "Across the Universe" and it was all over.

"Words are flowing out like endless rain into a paper cup they slither wildly as they slip away across the universe/Pools of sorrow waves of joy are drifting through my open mind possessing and caressing me." I want to write the moment I hear it. I know he was probably singing about drugs but it reminds me of how I feel when I write and the way the words flow through me. "Pools of sorrow waves of joy are drifting through my open mind possessing and caressing me." That's what it feels like when I'm in that third place - that place where it doesn't even feel like it's me writing, something just takes over. I don't even have to try to write. Something comes in and possesses me but not in a bad way, not in like a way where I need a priest or anything. Just in a way that compels me to sit down and write something.

So when I was in tree pose and I heard those first few guitar chords and then heard him say, "Words are flowing out," I lost my balance and fell. I caught myself, I mean I didn't fall over like this:

I just lost my footing and didn't quite get it back until the song was over.

Music has that effect on me. I have a difficult time writing without it and it's usually what motivates me to write in the first place. The words don't even have to be good, the energy just has to go with what I'm trying to say. I wrote The Daily Dylanson Obituaries almost entirely to "Godless" by the Dandy Warhols. I listened to the whole album Thirteen Tales From Urban Bohemia in a loop, but sometimes I would just repeat that one song because when I heard the opening I could see my main character Judy riding her bike in lonely circles around her neighborhood and I could see Sammy lighting a cigarette and taking a walk because he can't sleep.

Other times, it just echoes what I feel and the echo comes back to me twice as loud as it sounds in my heart. Sometimes, the music is so loud it's like the four chambers of my heart are four big speakers that gush sound and blood.  Especially if I'm feeling broken-hearted or angry.

One night a couple of weeks ago my yoga instructor had us lie down in a restorative pose towards the end of class. I was on my back with a bolster along my spine, so my torso and chest were higher than my head and legs. I know it sounds weird, but it feels good. Or that is to say it usually does. That night my lower back ached, and I kept squirming on my bolster trying to relax.

"This is supposed to feel good," my instructor said. "So if anyone is feeling any discomfort, and would like me to help, just raise your hand."

My hand went up. I used to be shy about having the teacher adjust me in class because it meant a stranger touching me, but I've learned two things about myself: one, I would rather ask for help than lie uncomfortably for ten minutes, and two, I like it when my teacher adjusts me...what? Look, he's got strong hands and he asks me if I'm ok. With that kind of attention once a week I can survive being single. But that's beside the point. My point is, I raised my hand and he knelt down by my head.

"How are you feeling?" he asked.

"I'm ok," I said, sitting up. "But my lower back hurts."

"Your lower back? Ok," he said, sounding certain that he knew what to do about that. "Lie back."

I laid back down and expected him to do something with my legs or maybe he'd swap out one hip bone for the other but instead he planted a hand on each of my shoulders and pushed them down.

I cracked open like a boiled crab. Air rushed into my chest. I had to open my mouth to take it all in. Breaking open never felt so good - I felt it everywhere. My chest, my back, my neck, and with the rush of air and the rush of relief in my sore muscles, came a rush of sound. The four speakers of my heart exploded with music, and echoed all the pain and frustration I've felt lately and it sounded like this

Monday, April 15, 2013

Mom's Writing

It's 5:38 am and I have to leave for work in exactly one hour and 22 minutes. I can fill up that time with straightening up the house, straightening up my hair, putting on makeup, exercising, excessive budgeting, or excessive obsession over someone else that involves mad journaling, speculation and crying, but I thought maybe instead I would read a poem and then write to you.

What I've been avoiding lately, out of insecurity or whatever, is consistent writing. I do that a lot. I go to the rough draft of my book and I think, "But it's so stupid and it's never going to sell anyway." And so I don't write it and what happens is over the next few days I begin narrating things. Like when my daughter asks what's for dinner.

She asked what we were having for dinner, but it wasn't a question so much as an accusation, already scowling and ready with a scathing retort even before the answer came.

While I'm narrating this in my head, I've forgotten the question and her scowling turns to indignant outrage, "Mom! Are you even listening?!"

The thirteen year-old's face changed like a firecracker's - solid one second and exploding red the next.

"Mom! I NEED to know what we're having for dinner, I have to prepare myself...Why are you looking for a pen?"

"I have to write something down," I tell her.

"Are you writing down what we're having for dinner?"

"Firecracker," I mumble, jotting down that last sentence.

My other daughter walks up. "What's the matter?"

"Mom's writing."

"Shit," the eleven-year old whispers. "We're never going to eat."

See what happens? See why me avoiding my novel is dangerous for children? And really other than feeding them, I don't want to do much else with my time at this point. No social obligations, no real-life dramas, nothing like that. Just a single focus on channelling that loud, insistent narrator. The poem I read in The Writer's Almanac reminded me of it and since I haven't shared a poem with you guys in a while, here it is:

The Undeniable Pressure of Existence

I saw the fox running by the side of the road
past the turned-away brick faces of the condominiums
past the Citco gas station with its line of cars and trucks
and he ran, limping, gaunt, matted dull haired
past Jim's Pizza, past the Wash-O-Mat,
past the Thai Garden, his sides heaving like bellows
and he kept running to where the interstate
crossed the state road and he reached it and he ran on
under the underpass and beyond it past the perfect
rows of split-levels, their identical driveways
their brookless and forestless yards,
and from my moving car, I watched him,
helpless to do anything to help him, certain he was beyond
any aid, any desire to save him, and he ran loping on,
far out of his element, sick, panting, starving,
his eyes fixed on some point ahead of him,
some possible salvation
in all this hopelessness, that only he could see.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Update on a Guest Baker and F. Scott Fitzgerald

I really do have an actual post to post (ooo! - see what the word "post" did there? It was a noun and a verb, look at that little guy go), but first I just read a newsworthy update on one of the bakers that recently starred in my post Baked Lunch. Jake Gyllenhaal has just narrated the audiobook version of The Great Gatsby, which you can listen to a sample of here

Since The Great Gatsby is one of my favorite books and Jake Gyllenhaal has one of my favorite voices, I think it is essential to my career that I listen to this. Oh, and I think there's a new movie version coming out too with Leonardo DiCaprio and other sexy people who are kind of narrating the book in a way but also gesticulating wildly and running people over with cars. Ah yes, here is it - The Great Gatsby and in case you still doubt me here is photographic evidence:

The Great Gatsby (2013) Poster

And in case you're thinking that that's just a picture of me with the blonde hair and the feathers and the rest of those people are my coworkers then...well, first I'm flattered that you think I look like the Daisy Buchanan, but no really that's Leonardo DiCaprio and Tobey Maguire and other dappery people. Actually, no, you're right, you're right, that is me, I look just like that woman. That's me with makeup on. Without makeup on, I look like this:

Speaking of which, what HAS Ice Cube been up to? Has he narrated any good books lately? That's what all creative people should do, they need to narrate all of my favorite books - Ice Cube can have Middlemarch by George Eliot and Leonardo DiCaprio can have Harry Potter and the Order of Phoenix. And Jake Gyllenhaal can narrate every single one of these blog posts as soon as they come out in paperback. It will be a stunning move for his career.

And now for a stunning move in my own career, I'm going to go work on my book which will be narrated by F. Scott Fitzgerald himself....Oh. Ladies and gentleman I've just received word that F. Scott Fitzgerald is dead. That scraps that idea. I wonder if Jay-Z is available.