Believe In Yourself, It Pays Better.

There had been many downsides to my job which accumulated over time. Imagine being security, seeing malpractice by management, but having to answer to management. Yeah, that was a nightmare. If I spoke out I was subjected to backlash. The whole thing became a game of politics more than the job responsibilities.

There were department breakdowns. Lots of shady stuff swept under rugs. I also felt like I didn’t have a voice anymore. The other day I began to write but could not publish:

I am sworn to secrecy. I am trapped within myself. I am not able to state the truth. Every moment, every crucial part is confidential. This catastrophe brings ruin. It has already caused severe damage and life will never be the same from it.

I wish I could vent, speak my mind, share my true feelings. They are moot. They are damming.

How did I get here?

You know it’s bad when you’re watching the people in charge more than anyone else. And those people, young and new to their roles, are market favorites that were specifically placed there to help save a slumping environment so you’d better learn to tolerate the wrongs. I was catching people left and right – the guy who pulled a security device off a laptop and about to be conceal it, the people who came with keys to unlock merchandise, and yet I was no longer the hero. I was one to “watch out for”.

It’s a huge red flag when the manager says, “Eh, why would you say that you WANT to catch someone today?”

Um, because theft is going to happen and one of us needs to NOT cross our fingers and close our eyes hoping against the facts. Because I’m ready for go-time. Because…why do I have to explain this to you?

I walked through seven years of eggshells and politics. My store was broken in to because someone higher up didn’t have their alarm bases covered. Seasonal people up to no good would get pissed because I’d say something like “hey can you stop face timing your friend you’re on the clock” and they’d go straight to HR claiming I was a stalker. Then I’d have to wade through their “investigation”, time and time again jumping through the most ridiculous hoops just to keep doing my job. Management changed over and over again, meaning any raise I received would be up to someone who couldn’t review my performance let alone pay me more.

Friendships developed over years and years together. I would learn they were often not friends. Or perhaps they were, but they were doing dumb things. Then there were those who did everything besides support me and I had to pretend, every day, smiling to their faces, knowing my circle was full of fakes. The toxicity was real.

I became complacent and with every freedom I felt like I had lost, I came to accept. The freedom to be me. The freedom to speak up. I let the role change because it was desired. And never, ever let them know that you’re aware of everything going on because they’d hold it against you. “How does SHE know” mentality every day, like unwarranted harassment I didn’t need.

“The manager does NOT like you. He says you take things to HR anonymously and cause headaches for him.” I thanked them for the inside feedback (literally, as a leader was on their way out on their ‘quit’ day), and if I wanted to survive, I couldn’t even be “anonymous” anymore.

Clients began walking out more and more, saying the nastiest things. “This is why you’re closing.” “This is the worst place and I’ll never be back”. “You’re the only one who talked to me.” “I work at another location and I have to admit yours is an absolute mess.” “My manager refuses to accept any transfers from here because it’s where employees go to die and that’s it.” “You’ve got it made, doing nothing all day.”

Then the guilt set in. Knowing I wasn’t the best. Not anymore.

It wasn’t until my on-boarding process with another company that I began to confess. And the truth was, I was unhappy. I was in really bad drag every day. I didn’t like you, you, you, or you. I used to literally cry, my eyes welling up with tears, and have to pretend that someone had just told a really funny joke that had caused my eyes to water. I said for years that I wanted to climb the ladder and you always put that on the back burner because you said you “needed me here right now” and I allowed stagnation at a dead-end job to imprison me.

I started interviewing. I was scared. My emergency/crisis response work turned in to offers for medical facilities, data input, filing, and I learned that there were people hiring loss prevention associates all over the state. By the end of the week I had a handful of offers where people said YES, WE CHOOSE YOU. Shall we move forward?

“I’ve had some time to think about it… and I’m ready. I want the work.”

“Good girl. I’m so happy you said that. Get out of there and leave it all behind.”

New job.

Bigger position.

Higher pay.

Closer to home.

And a promise to myself, to never stay in my own way again.

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Not This Christmas.

This Christmas, my boyfriend’s mother decided to ignore his phone calls and later screamed that she detests him because he has me for a girlfriend. I moved in too soon, I’m too young, and the vodka bottle on the countertop in our kitchen indicates that I am an alcoholic, etc etc etc. She says she will “never forget” coming to the house, walking in to the garage and hearing me “singing over the stove” because it was disrespectful to her deceased daughter-in-law. And recently she spotted a Christmas card at one of her son’s homes signed by me (the horror) which threw her over the top.

Every Christmas, this happens. It couldn’t get any worse. And I’ve never spoken a word to her (she has forbid having me in her presence from the moment she heard of me).

Well. I just slipped this in to her mailbox. She has one long overdue visit from a ghost of Christmas past.

Happy holidays, everyone. Don’t take shit from anyone.

 

***

If I could imagine such a message to be delivered, I would imagine this.

My Dear Dorothy,

I am praying that our Savior blesses you this holiday season and offers peace from the difficulties you face in your life. I am so sorry that you are struggling with these very real chapters in the lives of people you know. It would sadden me to know that your disapproval and resentments have hurt others I cared so much for while I was here, so here are some things to consider as you push forward.

My death is not one to be avenged by hatred or judgment. No lawsuit will make wrongs right. There are always circumstances no one can change, and a plan that only God can understand. The picture will never look perfect to anyone. You will never earn the perfect salary, never not have regrets, never not make mistakes, never be happy unless you can accept things for what they are and make a conscious decision to be thankful for your blessings. You can do everything with pure intent and still be the villain in someone’s story, which is why it is important to remember the saying: those who mind don’t matter, and those who matter don’t mind.

My life on Earth with Daniel was our time together, and will always be meaningful. But the house I lived in, for the too-short time that it was, is not meant to be a museum of times gone by. I am not limited to or preserved in any ceramic or rug, and I would never want sentiment for me to prevent your son from love and companionship as his story continues. When I knew of my condition I told my husband that he would find someone younger – and who knows how I came to say that, but my wishes for him are more important than anything that would keep him unhappy, entombed by the tragedies of the past.

I never knew Autumn, and Autumn never knew me. Your harbored list of reasons to dislike her is unwarranted in the light of the greater truth: that no matter what and despite everything you may think, she was created by the same Father who made me, holds true love in her heart for your son and brings a smile to Daniel’s face. It doesn’t matter what you or any one else has gossiped about during trying times. It doesn’t matter what you think you can discover when you go through a person’s things. It doesn’t matter what you think her credit score is, what beloved thing she unboxed and set on the mantle, what her habits are or what her age means. None of those things matter – and I would hope you never measured my worth by those terms.

And please, don’t think you please me by believing that Autumn should not sing. I could never have heard enough music in that house! This season Daniel and Autumn went to see a movie after my own heart – the sequel to Mary Poppins, a Disney production, and as the story’s father and his children were mourning the loss of their wife and mother in a time of depression, Mary began to sing to them:

Do you ever lie
Awake at night
Just between the dark
And the morning light
Searching for the things
You used to know
Looking for the place
Where the lost things go

Do you ever dream
Or reminisce
Wondering where to find
What you truly miss
Well maybe all those things
That you love so
Are waiting in the place
Where the lost things go

If I could have looked down on them at that moment in their lives, I would have seen the tears in both of their eyes as the weight of the losses of this world pulled at their hearts. And I would have agreed with the nature of Mary Poppins, that a new adventure could not come sooner.

I made great efforts to keep Daniel on better terms with his family. So if Autumn sends a Christmas card when he is too busy for such thoughtfulness, do not see the greeting in someone else’s home as an evil deed. She, like I did, believes that it is never too late to tell a family member that they matter, no matter how estranged…

And she cares about you, too, in spite of all you think you may know. She is always making sure your son has an offering or a kind word for every occasion. When the two of you are at odds, she prays that you will be a positive force in Daniel’s life once again. She sees your excommunication, and raises you an era of new hope and personal growth.

God bless you, Dorothy. I loved my time on Earth, loved you and and love forever with my Father. There was and are those things that I’ve loved most: laughter, smiles, singing, dancing, children, company and celebration. Let go of everything else.

Only love.

At This Point, or, Pray For Us

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Things escalated kind of quickly with the chorus drama, so much in fact that I adjusted privacy settings for a while. I know that feeling, those clues, when someone is suddenly popping up as “people I may know” or maybe they’re commenting on things I like when I haven’t told them I like said things…

there was a little virtual footprint hunt going on. And honestly, I understand. I’m a tracker myself.

I have mentioned joining a choir, feeling like an outcast from the seemingly dismissive elitists within it, and having found a friend to confide in. I’ve also told the story about how I secured a spot in the honors ensemble and got my own song with friends from the chorus. I’ve obviously been happy having the musical projects to work on in my spare time, and I have reaped the benefits of symbolizing unity by harmonizing with something bigger than Autumn. There is also admittedly some satisfaction – okay, not some, but a lot – in seeing those who never included me having no choice but to take notice in a change of season.

I’m so happy to be here with you girls! Yes, those are unicorns pulling the hot rod. This old thing, it’s my Hot Rod Slay All Day, no big deal.

Where I left off, NemmyNemz had stormed outside after hearing she wouldn’t have a solo this session (purposely leaving over $100 in tickets under her chair). Miss Divine, with her elaborate wigs and a history of numbers all to herself, had decided to quit the choir.

“You could have left that alone, you know,” Beth insisted. The way my nemesis would raise her hand and insist no one was singing correctly, how she bragged about having gone from opera houses during her university years to singing on risers in a church “only because her school kicked her out for financial reasons”, the things she published online about how “people who can’t even sing got solos, and they’re boring songs”, yadda yadda yadda negative energy yadda yadaa, it was suggested to me that if I had let fate run its course, the group may have been better off without the former headliner.

I live for the juicy juice. I pry. And in all honesty the thought of the divorce being so suddenly settled left me with the threat of a certain emptiness inside. Is that why we always see the Joker and Batman live another day together?

I reached out to Nemz. I reminded her that she had bought tickets for her friends and family to see her, told her that she was an asset to the group and that the best revenge is definitely not accepting defeat. I told her she could just claim she had been having a rough time, slap on an ignorant looking smile and return to practice glowing in the face of her haters while taking some time to reflect and rebuild. A few harder jabs of tough love were thrown in there, too: I suggested she consider her last honors performance and tell me it wasn’t nasally (phrasing it “I just assumed you were really sick”). I suggested she still had growing to do, like learning to appreciate the talents of others and find ways to shine without body glitter.

She rejoined. It didn’t take long to realize that her personal brand may have left her with few supporters because she instantly started spilling the tea and inviting me out to places. I met up with her once, to hear her out, and I learned that the “dinky little choir” she was hating on had been the best and most important thing in her life for several years. She had an ego, made remarks that dropped my jaw, but something in me was totally living for her passion, her madness, her dissonance, and the empty chair next to her I had eyeballed for months wasn’t a challenge anymore. It was over. The goal’s behind me.

She went from totally ignoring me to “I have a great idea for a duet next session if you’re interested”.

Beth went from calling her “Nemz” to “Your Little Friend”.

“Maybe you should go talk to Your Little Friend, the director asked us to stand and she’s just over there sitting with her arms crossed. If that was a student in my class I’d be concerned.”

She’ll be fine. Maybe a little sitting before she stands again. And if so, I’ll support her.

In news more tangible, I am nervous for the concert. I hate micro-managing myself for things like “dress wrinkles fix” and “remember step stool”, etc. I hate leaving for one song to dress for another in record time. I hated learning that the best venue they could secure has folding chairs for the audience, meaning I had to find a supportive chair for my mom because the “chorus tooshy cushies” we apparently sell in the lobby are not to my level of recognition.

Nope. No ass pillows here with my name on them. I absolutely refuse. Don’t exist.

Also. We keep going flat as a choir during a capellas and it is hard to hear around me. I’m singing quietly and listening to the pitches get lower and lower. The director permitted music to be used for our German piece and I really wish the group could have shown him that we could all memorize it. And one of my dear friends is struggling, so I’ve made her special practice tracks, but I wish I had made them sooner. The director is not happy with the lack of covered vowels during our Latin song. Oh, and when the narrator introduced our small acts song he neglected to mention our violinist’s name, as if she is just some hired stagehand to the song, so I have to correct that before show time… did I mention I forgot the words to part of it too? That was a great way to show everyone how much everything means to me…

I hope this Christmas concert is entitled to a Christmas miracle.

Big Things In Small Acts

A few weeks ago Beth approached our choir director about doing a small act for the concert. (Might as well invite family for a reason, right?) Not only did he want us to perform it – he hoped, in the event that we were selected from auditions – that we could build it in to a larger ensemble. We heeded the feedback on our song as his blessing.

I spent some time tracking down the sheet music and researching renditions, made sure the pianist would have what she needed and penciled in the layout for an even vocal duet. The concept made me nervous though, because it wasn’t a big band number… the song was simple, sweet and a bit forlorn. I knew it might not fit in with a joyful theme.

We happened to notice that Nemmy Nemz had penciled herself in for a solo on the clipboard being passed around… “All I Want For Christmas Is You”, and I could already imagine the three and a half minutes of self-celebration as she absorbed the spotlight. The chorus was used to this.

“She has kind of been the star,” I heard someone say.

Fair enough. Beth and I auditioned our song and kept our fingers crossed. While we waited for the results we went over and over again, anything else we could have done. You know, like pick something fast, practice together, stuff like that… we had literally sang it for the first time during auditions and agonized over if the director would realize that we were waiting to breathe the actual “life” in to it.

“Why work on it if he’s not gonna pick us?” Beth reasoned. Meanwhile I was freaking out that you don’t BRING unpolished selections to the director. I wish I had Beth’s chill factor.

When he announced the acts that made it, I was trying to seem distracted. I grabbed something out of my recruit’s hand and pretended to read it like I wasn’t listening. Recruit, by the way, is growing on me. She packs a powerful unbridled sound and, strategically placed directly behind Nemz in its unbridled form, occasionally throws off the self-appointed star of the show. I don’t think she can stand my girl’s tone to be honest, and I have to slap her myself on occasion but I can see past the unrefinement and have big plans for little Recruit…

“13 different acts big and small came out for the auditions and I’ve chosen 6.”

My mom was even waiting to see if I had snagged an extra song. How would I tell her that the thing super easy in life to do, I couldn’t even get right.

He started rattling off other people’s names, their real names, and they sounded foreign, the farthest thing from our little song. We had tried. You just can’t have everything and it would all be over in a second-

“…Beth and Autumn May”. I’ll never know what it looked like, only how it sounded as my eyes were down.

Oh MAN! WE’RE IN. I texted my mom. Now she could think the whole thing was silly BUT appropriately designated at least.

He moved on to the chorus song solos, and my Little Recruit landed the big fat role in our delightfully cheesy country western number! I scratched the top of her head and gave her a huge smile. That was MY GIRL.

“Woof. Thanks!” she said.

What a cool buzz to have at the end of rehearsal. I still had to stay behind with Recruit and Nemz for Perfect Blend practice but I was happy, the late night was okay in light of events.

“Hey did that one girl get her solo?” I asked Recruit. Recruit was clueless, too innocent to even wonder.

Beth got our time slot for Small Acts and headed out with most everyone else… during which time she must have been witness to some drama.

Probably at about the same moment I looked around and realized that Nemz wasn’t at Perfect Blend.

Beth texted me: Things just went down with your rival. She stormed out and said she was done.

In that moment I felt the shift, the position, the unimaginable manage. And with it a loss, for I was the newest person concerned with their stage time. I was already feeling less guilty about charging for tickets.

“It might just be us 2 Sopranos now so stay strong,” I quietly warned.

“Me? I sing with Nancy for these. You’re the one singing alone.”

So this is what it looks like.

Considering the forces of nature I’ve just disturbed,

It had better sound good.

For Entertainment Only

A long-time friend warned me that joining an established choir would certainly bring more drama than music, and I had to ask Andy what he meant by that. His console controller is probably held a lot more than his saxophone these days, which is how things can go. We were each on our own couch, sitting back and playing co-op on the PlayStation 4 when he warned me.

“They’re just really petty,” he reasoned, probably drawing on his own experiences with bands.

Then the question remained, why would that matter?

From what I could tell within the first session, people were divided by generation more than anything else. And it wasn’t hard to find what I was looking for – the ones who ignored everyone else, belting their notes like sopranos who did no wrong. And let me tell you. They did NOT have a spare seat in their row, and they gave zero fucks for me.

My motivation for joining was to be part of something else, fewer solos in the shower and more group singing. But after one of our first shorter concerts my boyfriend’s first remark afterward was,

“Who was that girl singing all of the high notes?”

Not a blended sound, if you stick out like that. Not the ideal situation for me. If a measure needed working on she would raise her pointer finger and declare, “They’re singing the wrong note” as if she hadn’t already established that there was us, and then there was She. This girl in the first row, whom I had been watching, I nicknamed this soprano Nemmy. For arch nemesis. Her second in command turns around only to eerily, quietly take attendance with her cold glance. 3 absences and you’re out, so she’d better see you.

Picking a spot during practice was sheer hell. If I got the wrong woman next to me, I had better luck plugging my ear than using nearby sound for help. I thought you had to audition to be here. Apparently the struggle of trying to establish myself doesn’t always bring out the kindest thoughts.

People would approach me during break for the fellowship aspect of community choir, and I would give my best fake smile but always in some way dismiss their ice breaker. These notes needed to lead somewhere and I refused to settle for coffee and crackers. I had to figure something out. If there was no room in the front row… I would just have to redefine the coolest place to sit.

Immediately I latched on to a new member the second I heard she could sing, mold her before the nature of the thing got its hands on her. She thought my “us vs them” mentality was absolutely hilarious and then I told her I had auditioned for the honors choir sect, a small ensemble that is composed largely of Nemmy & Friends.

“I have to be honest… I kind of hope you don’t get it.” As in, you think I’ll disappear in the front row, never to turn around again? As in, you’re already helping with damage control after I don’t make it? Either way, a real friend sounds like that.

During the honors rehearsal, I treated them exactly how they’ve treated me. I sat, purposely, apart from them on the floor. And when the director gave us the section to sightread, I memorized the sounds and never sang them out loud. Instead I hummed them to myself like a secret, learning something more each time it was played.

I listened to how the other girls were doing. I noted their missed notes, struggles with breathing. I coached myself, stay cool, this is no big deal, these are not particularly big fish.

Then he called out one person for each part and had them sing the section a capella. Everyone was nervous and taking this little choir game awfully seriously. Soft singers sang softly, sweetly, and Nemz got up there and pushed out those high notes with something to remind us.

For whatever reason, I was called last. And I was singing with other parts that had already auditioned with other voices. After I stood up I set my paper on top of the piano so I could see the other three, as if seeing them meant hearing them better… Nemz went with her vibrato. My strategy was to move in toward them and act like I was trying to hear them so I could “understand” and “blend” better.

Within the first 20 seconds I saw the other girls’ hands fly up and it nearly broke my focus so I turned back to the piano. They seemed upset that I had memorized it? – I couldn’t waste a second figuring that out, I just went on like I was smiling. When everyone else had taken a breath, I pushed through the phrase, and I didn’t get louder – I never got loud, because I already had the melody that would be heard. I got softer instead, and for that last string of notes I hadn’t heard anyone get right, I got those notes right.

“You’re really good,” I heard one of them say, almost sadly, but I had a hard time not looking at the floor as I went back to my seat. When I did look back, watching them as I always had, they looked very different. They were uncertain. They had doubt and questions. If the whole thing turned out to be a loss, if he honestly preferred someone else’s sound over mine, I had done exactly what I wanted to do and it felt great.

The results weren’t announced for a week, and I knew they would wait until at least halfway through the rehearsal, so I asked my real friend if we could sit, specifically, away from the elitists but still directly in front of the director for practice.

“Whatever you want. I’m scrappy. You’re practically an amazon. We can take em.”

Well the chairs weren’t exactly as I’d remembered and we were still suddenly sitting right behind the other girls. One of them leaned to their friend, cupped their hand and whispered to another before they both looked back with emotionless expressions.

I smiled. Heyyyy!

And when we sang, he heard us individually. How could he not? We had both also taken advantage of another lesson learned – that in the beginning of the session, no one really bothered practicing. It was like singing alone. Almost like cheating. In case you had to hear me one more time, and clear up any thoughts you were having on the fence…

So Beth had just told me she hoped that I hadn’t made it. She added that the whole thing, the jokes we shared, the separatist stance we had taken, was never necessary and that it wasn’t too late to just enjoy everyone and every moment equally, to which I said, “Be honest with yourself. That would be so, incredibly, boring. Because without this little game, the whole thing is just a little bit laughable, don’t you think?”

She must have agreed, because she laughed.

“If I call your name, congratulations and please stay after rehearsal. The rest of you can stack your chairs and I will see you next week.”

It mattered, okay? It mattered to me. I was hoping, and I never hope. I endure. I adapt. I survive. But suddenly I had dreamed a little dream and dammit I wanted to live that dream.

Nemmy’s name was called. For whatever reason it was at this time that Beth had decided to pick up her chair and begin walking away from me. A few more names, then mine. YASSSSS BETCH.

Eventually I realized, one of the Elites, the one who took attendance every practice, who had to learn everyone’s names while I made up stupid nicknames, she hadn’t been called.

“Alright! See ya next week!” she said, grabbing up her stuff quickly. There are so many ways to perform.

Later nights, more music, and scrutiny upon us. The director calls this ensemble Perfect Blend.

Andy was right. Choirs are petty.

And as I stood beside Nemmy for the first time, I admitted to not minding how that sounded.

On the Half Shell

Remember the words of your teacher, your master:

Evil moves fast but good moves faster than LIGHT.

I tried ordering these when they were limited edition releases but they sold out in 30 seconds before PayPal could even complete the transaction. Imagine waiting, planning to be doing nothing else at a certain time just to find something you couldn’t throw your money at! I was so bummed.

I watched them sell on EBay for over $300 and decided that if a manufacturer didn’t care enough to supply then I wasn’t going to care anymore. Or so I told myself.

Several months later and NECA has come through and offered them again, cheaper even, as a Game Stop exclusive. I just pre-ordered something I won’t even get until winter next year and they’ll just go in to a toy chest but I’m happy and I can’t wait to see my four heroes again.