Sunday, October 19, 2014

Insomnia: The tragic true story

Mondays are hard.
I wake up at 8 AM to work at the library, then head to classes until 2:30 and get a bit of a break before I go to work again at 4.
Tomorrow is going to be especially hard because, on top of the usual 8-5 schedule, I'm supposed to be at rehearsal from about 6:00-9:30.
Why does this matter?
Because, my friends, this is one of the WORST nights for me to have insomnia.
Here follows an account of a very frustrating night.

12:00: Finally decided to go to sleep.
12:02: Hm... I wonder if my director will let me lead projection exercises.
12:05: Maybe I'll email him.
12:09: Okay. Sleep now.
12:10: I wonder what exercises I'll do?
12:11 I'd better look some up.
12:15: I am the very model of a modern major-general ~
12:24: ... I've been meaning to look up stuff for that Bible study for awhile.
12:25: Okay, tomorrow I'll... Ooh Westminster Shorter Catechism!!!
12:31: OKAY. SLEEP. ZZZZZ. No more phone.
1:15: I should turn a book into a play... That would be cool.
1:17: I'd better text this idea to myself.
1:47: Stooooop... It's bedtime now.
1:51: Maybe if I turn off the lamp...
1:54: Stupid air conditioner... I AM SLIGHTLY TOO WARM. I CAN'T SLEEP LIKE THIS.
1:58 Maybe if I listen to Alexander Scourby reading the KJB...
2:01: This app is really overpriced!
2:13: Maybe if I sleep in my chair...
So comfy.....
This is it.
This. Is. IT.
2:25: This still isn't working.
2:30 BLANKET FORT!!!!!!

Okay, Beth, this is really weird... It's fine way beyond "overactive mind." Waaaaiiiit....

It was at this point, within the shelter of my blanket fort, that I finally came across the missing piece of the hyperactive puzzle. Checkers HAD given me Dr. Pepper instead of root beer at 10... Turns out that Dr. Pepper, in addition to not being my favorite soda, is also CAFFEINATED.
So now, as I lay in my fort waiting for the caffeine to wear off, I write a perhaps ill-advised blog post and listen to soft music. It is now approaching 3 AM. I can only hope I will survive tomorrow...

Thursday, September 25, 2014


This is, in some ways, a hypocritical post. I'm often leery of amateur poetry, especially deeply personal amateur poetry. But for today I'm taking a step down from my high horse and sharing two poems that I wrote, separated by a span of about two years. This is a post about change, about growth, about sorrow and happiness, loneliness and life.
When I was in high school, I experienced a phenomenon I'm sure many people have encountered: selective invisibility. Throughout most of my adolescence I was present but not there, seen but not noticed, in but not a part of. And the worst of it was that my isolation was neither malicious nor even intentional -- I simply went unnoticed.
This is a poem I wrote when I felt this invisibility most keenly.

I am invisible
I cannot be seen
Cannot be heard
Cannot be touched

I am invisible
I am alone in this crowd
Even my friends forget I exist
There are other friends dearer than I

I am invisible
Why do you ask a question,
Then turn away before I answer?

I am invisible
Clearly I matter little
You don't care what I say
You'll never hear what I think

I am invisible
My lips may sing
My mouth may smile
But there are tears in my eyes

I am invisible
I stand on the brink of tears
They glisten, one escapes
No one cares to see it

I am invisible
You see me, speak to me
But only for a moment
Then I am gone, ghost of your perceptions

I am invisible
Can't you even listen for a moment?
Can't you even care for a second?
Don't you want me to answer your question?

I felt this way for three, four years, maybe more. My life almost as far back as I could remember was a gray haze of loneliness.

But then I came to college and suddenly people saw me. When I talked to people they talked back, when I smiled they smiled, when I was upset they noticed. I soon had friends I could talk to like I'd talked to almost no one before, and I could hardly believe my good fortune. I went back and read the poem I'd written what seemed an age ago and decided that a sequel was in order. Call it a reprise, a rebuttal, part two -- it expresses the human I am today, a contrast to the shadow I was yesterday.

I am alive
For the first time,
For a lifetime,
I am alive

I am alive
Joy and sorrow surge
Ebb within my soul
And in their motion set me free

I am alive
Cicada-like I've slept
Concealed beneath the loam
Now I rise and rejoice

I am alive
No longer unheard
No longer untouched
No longer unloved

I am alive
After eighteen years 
After lonely tears

I am alive
And now the world will hear my song.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Harris Teeter: a reflection on my year as a cashier

Nearly one year ago, on November 15th, I began working for a local grocery store chain called Harris Teeter. Now, as I head off to college in a far-off state, I leave this job behind. But I take memories with me -- some good, some bad, and some spectacularly blog-worthy. Allow me to regale you with remembrances of customers long gone, of disturbances in routine, and of a job that I truly came to love.

I remember... "Mrs. Robinson."
Mrs. Robinson was one of my least favorite customers, though the first time or two I served her I thought her quite nice. It was on one occasion, after we had been chatting pleasantly for awhile, that I began having trouble with one of her coupons. Well.... make that six of them, each for $2 off, and most of them too blurred to scan. I called my manager over for help, and she took one look at the coupons and said "I'm sorry, but we can't take these."
Mrs. Robinson took them back without a fuss, then handed me a store card for her second transaction. But the card wasn't under the name Robinson, which my manager immediately noticed.
"That's my neighbor's VIC card," Mrs. Robinson said. "I'm buying these groceries for her."
"I'm sorry, ma'am, but it's one VIC card per customer."
"But it's for my neighbor."
"She would have to be here, ma'am. Sorry."
Mrs. Robinson reached down and grabbed the arm of her two-year-old son, dragging him up to the counter. "He's a customer! You've got to let him use the card."
My manager argued with her a little longer, and finally Mrs. Robinson gave up, left most of the groceries for her "neighbor," and exited the store.
"Look at these coupons," my manager said, taking one of the coupons I'd managed to scan. "It's obviously photocopied from a magazine. We can't accept photocopied coupons, 'cause we don't get paid back for them. Also, we can't accept more than three of the same kind of coupon. And it's expired. You've got to be more careful when you're scanning these."
I was horrified to find that Mrs. Robinson, who had been quite kind, was in reality some kind of coupon con artist. No longer did the incident with the secondary VIC card seem like needless nit-picking from my manager -- I realized now that Mrs. Robinson had been trying to get double the deals.
A few weeks later I served her again. I wasn't sure at first -- the face was familiar, but the name on the card wasn't the same. But I knew her right away when she tried to give me the same huge pile of photocopied, expired coupons that she'd tried to pawn of last time!

I remember... the lady who got angry about my necklace.
A busy day, a customer with a WIC check for certain food items -- the first WIC check I'd ever had to process. I was already pretty nervous about it as I scanned the groceries that were not listed on the check first, getting that transaction out of the way before I would have to call my manager for help. As I worked, I noticed that the customer was giving my Celtic knot necklace a very skeptical look.
"What's it mean?" she asked abruptly.
"What does that mean?" she asked again, pointing at the necklace.
"Oh, I -- nothing, really."
"You don't know what it means?"
"It's a Celtic knot."
She was not pleased with this response. "That like the KKK?"
I almost dropped the milk. "No! No! Celtic! Like... like Irish?"
She just narrowed her eyes at me and gave my necklace another skeptical look, as if she didn't quite believe me but didn't care enough to raise a fuss about my evil gang sign KKK necklace.

I remember... the mafia man who bought me Skittles.
It was fairly late that evening, and business had been moving at a goodly clip for most of my shift. I leaned against my register, taking a break, when down my line came the strangest customer I had had that day. He was tall and dark and perhaps handsome as well (in that rugged 50s sort of way), was sharply-dressed in a pinstripe shirt, suspenders, slacks, and shiny shoes... and was pushing a cart loaded up to full capacity with alcohol of every kind.
"Hello, welcome to Harris Teeter!" I chirruped.
"Hello, Elizabeth. What's your favorite candy?" he queried in reply.
I automatically replied "Skittles," took his store card, and began scanning his mountains of liquor. He, meanwhile, thoughtfully perused the candy until he found a pack of Skittles, which he handed to me to ring up. I did so, thinking nothing of it, until at the end of the (long) transaction he said "You can keep those."
I awkwardly thanked him and gave him his cart... then, when he had disappeared out the doors, I realized that he hadn't completed the payment process with his debit card! I raced outside, found him, led him back, and watched with red-faced shame as he finished up the transaction, stoically took his receipt, and left again with his inordinate amount of alcohol in tow.

I remember doing a grande plie in cheap khakis my first night and splitting them open at the seam.

I remember running across the parking lot in a heavy summer rainstorm to roll up the windows on my car.

I remember meeting a man who was an amalgamation of all the traits I find most attractive.

I remember making a break-time nest for myself behind the bags of mulch.

I remember folding tiny origami cranes from receipt paper during slow times.

I remember trading poetry quotes with a hipster customer.

I remember coming in second in the contest to sell donation cards.

Most of all, I remember how good it felt to learn to do my job well.

Pitfalls of high-falutin' language

The world is filled with writers of all kinds. Many are good, many are bad, many are mediocre. Usually it's not too hard to avoid low-quality writing; if it's awful, stop reading and go on your merry way, perhaps cleanse your palate with some worthier work.
What really becomes painful, however, is when otherwise good writers misuse words so blatantly that it sticks in your mind forever and festers there, like a tiny splinter from a seemingly varnished surface. There are a few misuses in particular that I see all too often, and that I wish to raise awareness about.

Don -- This is often used as a fancier-sounding synonym for  "wore." In actuality, it is a succinct verb that means "to put on." When used properly, it saves a bit of space and can improve sentence flow. Improperly used, however, it becomes a distraction and a nuisance.
Wrong: Anna was donned in cashmere.
Right: Anna had donned cashmere.

Orb -- It's not so much the misuse of this word as the abuse of it that is truly irritating. Since the English language doesn't have a lot of synonyms for "eyes," many authors will use the word "orbs" instead, either to avoid repetitive language or to sound more romantic. Either way, it never ends up sounding quite right, and those who enjoy it might find that its plebian cousin serves them better.
Wrong: Ambrose's blue orbs flashed with ire.
Right: Ambrose's blue eyes flashed with ire.

Thee -- Quite a few authors, when looking for a bit of medieval flair, have fallen at once to using "thee" without any thought to its proper use or conjugation. The most common mistake is to use "thee" universally, when in reality it is merely the objective case of "thou."
Wrong: If thee hast finished thee tea, I pray thee, come.
Right: If thou hast finished thy tea, I pray thee, come.

O -- This is a little bit nit-picky, I'll admit, but not a lot of people seem to realize that "o" is even a word. Most of the time, people just use "oh." "O" is used mainly in old-fashioned writing, often in legend-form, and is commonly a form of address.
Wrong: Oh mighty dragon, heed my plea!
Right: O mighty dragon, heed my plea!

Bonus: a Southerner collective noun explained
Y'all -- A lot of people get this one wrong, and it's used in different ways in different places, but believe it or not, there is a proper way to use this word! It's a contraction of "you all;" a collective noun that refers to more than one person.
Wrong: Y'all sit down, Mr. Parson.
Right: Y'all sit down, Mr. and Mrs. Parson.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Miss Monday's Traffic Ticket

Today was to have been one of my worst days in a very, very long time.
It was the day I was scheduled to go to court for the first time ever.
I was nearly desperate last night, reading about court procedures at a frenzied pace and fretting about where I'd get the money to pay the enormous court fees. I went to bed early, dreading the day and hoping fervently that it would be infinity times less horrible than I expected.
Against all odds, that's exactly what happened.

I got to the courthouse early -- very early. So early, in fact, that it hadn't even opened to the public yet! I was aware of the building's hours (having seen them on the website the night before), but I thought it was worth a try to get inside and out of the biting cold. (Note: fancy shoes are NOT made for keeping one's feet warm in such situations!) I was quite relieved to find the door unlocked and stepped into the warm interior.
"Ma'am, this building is closed to the public until eight. I'm going to have to ask you to leave."
It was only 7:20. I couldn't stay outside all that time! "Can't I just stay here?" I asked, desperately.
"No, ma'am, this building is closed to the public."
Blinking back childish tears, I stepped out into the kind of day that makes you want to huddle deep under your covers and beg for mercy.

Fortunately, I spent only five minutes exposing my under-clad feet to the weather. I found an office building across the street with unlocked doors and slipped into a warm lobby, in which four black leather chairs were arranged around a little table. A brief stint in one of these chairs quickly convinced me that I was far too chilled to expose myself to heat-sapping leather. Besides, what if someone saw me and sent me away? I'd had that happen once. I didn't think I could deal with it a second time. And so,  not without some inner amusement, I settled myself on the rug between two chairs and pulled out a book.
I was there for a full forty minutes and not one person noticed me. Or at least, if they noticed, no one remarked on my presence. Maybe I was better-hidden between the chairs than I'd thought, maybe they were too busy to bother checking to see if I belonged there, or maybe they took pity on a displaced little waif hiding from the cold. Whatever the reason, I remained undisturbed for long enough to thaw out.
As eight o'clock approached, I gathered up every ounce of my trembling courage and stepped out of the welcoming warmth of the unknown building.

One thing that I took away from my visit to the courthouse: it takes a great deal of lining-up to get people properly sorted! I stood in line to get into the building, stood in line to go through security, then went up in an elevator and down a long hallway to stand in line again so I could check in with one of the clerks.
The official copy of my ticket was placed at the bottom of a pile. When I came to the front of the line, it came to the top of the pile, and the clerk who picked it up called me forward.
"What was the offense?"
"I went through a crosswalk when someone was entering it."
He considered for a moment, then scribbled something on the ticket. "I'm going to let you go with a warning. They treated you pretty harshly." He glanced up and noticed my incomprehension. "I saw them send you back outside. You looked pretty miserable."
I could hardly believe what I was hearing. Did he really mean it? No court costs or anything? "So, should I just...?"
"I would recommend you scoot out that door as fast as you can."
I duly scooted, and stood not upon the order of my going.
No guards stopped me in the long hallway. I wished a lonely-looking man luck as I passed him by, and we exchanged the smiles of strangers. I escaped into the elevator, stepped out into the lobby, marveled for a moment at the miraculous outcome of my first visit to traffic court, then skipped outside and sang songs of rejoicing to the winter sky.