Bad Trip

Not that long ago, I often traveled for work. This was when I was single and lived alone. Traveling for work became routine after a while. I would even say I got to the point where I enjoyed traveling solo. I remember one conference in particular. It was in San Diego and I didn’t know anyone at the conference or in the city, but I explored and found fun things to do. I even blew off the “networking” session of the conference because I saw a sandwich board advertising, “One Night Only: John Cleese Live!” It was a great choice; he was hilarious! I just wish I would have bought one of the t-shirts that read, “I saw John Cleese perform RIGHT before he DIED!” (This was in 2008, by the way. He is still alive.)

This was also the trip where I accidentally ordered veal because I thought “scallopini” meant “little scallops.” I felt terrible once I realized what I had done, but it wasn’t like I could give the little guy CPR once it was on the plate. So I ate it. (And goddamn it was delicious.) Then there was the supposedly haunted restaurant in Old Town with the margaritas the size of bird baths. Well, the first one is a bird bath. The second one threatens to become a facial. But I wasn’t driving, and I was without a companion to judge me, so I enjoyed both, completely.

As I said, this was 2008, over ten years ago. Many things have changed. I’m in a relationship. I have a stepson.  I had Wensley in 2008, but now he is an older dog with some health issues. (He will be fourteen years old this month.) That’s a lot of comfort and responsibility to leave behind, especially when I haven’t traveled on my own in years. It didn’t actually occur to me that I hadn’t exercised those muscles and therefore had lost all the tone until I went to Austin by myself last weekend.

I made a New Year’s goal to do more with my blog and I searched for learning opportunities. I found an online community of blogging women with a conference coming up in Texas and I bought tickets and booked a flight. I was anxious about the trip, but I have acute anxiety. I am anxious about everything.

The morning of the flight, Ethan (who is six) told me he was worried that I might get lonely on my trip and asked if I would like to take one of his soft friends (his word for stuffed animals) with me. It was such a sweet gesture and it touched me. I even took out an extra top to make space for the soft friend he selected, which was a black bear featuring a radio collar because it was purchased at a national park where bears are tagged and studied.

As soon as I buckled in for the flight, my anxiety went to work. “Why are you doing this?” It asked. “Can you even afford it? What if something happens to your extremely old dog while you are gone and you aren’t there to comfort him?” Tears welled up behind my eyes. I fought them back, but they pretty much stayed right there for the rest of the weekend.

I want to be completely clear: the conference was great and the ladies I met were lovely. I might even go again next year. That said, it was a hard experience for me. From the moment I entered the first event (a cocktail party on Friday evening), women were reaching out to me to help me feel welcome. Obviously they picked up my introvert vibe and reacted by inviting me into their conversations, metaphorically putting an arm around my shoulders and saying, “You’re good; We got you!” But I was not prepared for what a room full of female Texas bloggers (who refer to themselves as “influencers” and “momtrepreneurs” would be like.

These women are poised and glamourous. They are fit and fashionable, and they wear lipstick and high heels on Saturdays. Where I come from, Saturdays are for skiing, or biking, or hiking (depending on the weather). There are definitely no high heels. There may be tinted chapstick, but it has to be SPF 15 or higher.

They sell their makeup and outfits and home décor ideas on their feeds and they make serious money doing it. They have class and style and they will help you have it, too. All you have to do is click and add to cart. And that is exactly what thousands of people on Instagram do, every day. You have to see the photos of their picture perfect lives to understand it. I felt like a fraud sitting with them and taking notes on what makes the perfect Pinterest board.

I know what you are thinking. “Oh, Rachel, we all feel that way! I’m sure half of them thought you were the one that had it together! It’s just a bad case of imposter syndrome, that’s all!” No. Wrong. I can prove it. Here is a photo I found on the photographer’s site (@mandiroachphotography) in a collection of pics from the event.

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In case I have to explain, I’m the one in the center dealing with, I don’t know, an entire chicken wing or similar stuck in my back teeth. If you could zoom out you would see one hundred more women just like the ones surrounding me here. Lovely, lovely, stinkin’ lovely. Not one giving themselves dental work.

Feeling out of place just made me feel even more homesick. And then, the last day of the conference, I made the mistake of checking my email and discovering that the coverage I had set up for my day off to go to the conference hadn’t been adequate. I realized that I was in some trouble with my boss and that sent me into minor crisis mode. I felt like the whole trip had been a mistake. This was just before the smaller focus group session where we discussed questions and takeaways. I had been conspicuously quiet, so the group leader asked me to share my thoughts.

“I’m totally overwhelmed,” I blubbered, the tears that I had been holding back breaking forth in a torrent and hitting the floor. “I don’t even know what an ‘instagram story’ is!”

Again, the lovely ladies enveloped me and told me I was okay. They reminded me I just needed to get one actionable thing out of the conference and hold on to that. And someone else told me something that did stick with me. It isn’t about followers, it is about authenticity. What is your “why?” That is, why do you blog? What are you bringing to this space?

So I went to the loo and washed my face. Then I went back to the table and sat down with my notebook to draft a mission statement. I didn’t figure out exactly what it was, but I realized that I do have a “why” (aside from needing a place to write and hoping someone who likes my sense of humor will read it). I want to live an examined life. Writing helps me do that examining. My hope is that sharing what I unearth will help others, too.

Whew! I got my one thing, just before the conference ended! But then it was over, and all the ladies headed off for home. I, however, headed back to my hotel. I wasn’t able to find a non-red-eye flight, and my red-eye days are behind me.

Or so I said when I bought my tickets. My hotel had a spa and a gym, surely I would be able to find something to do that last evening before catching a reasonable morning flight, right? But then I was in the hotel with sixteen hours to kill, completely stressed out about work and needing a cuddle from each of my boys, human and canine alike. As good as it would have been for me, I wasn’t going to go to the gym.

I went down to the hotel bar and started texting a friend to ask her how she got 10k Instagram followers, but we ended up talking about the conference instead. The tears came back and I couldn’t make them stop, not even when my amazing mac and cheese with brisket tips arrived. My poor waitress probably thought my best friend died. I snapped a tearful selfie and sent it to my friend, but I’m sharing it here also in the spirit of authenticity.

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And the mac and cheese… (that’s cornbread and bacon butter in the background)

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Throughout the trip, I kept an eye out for good spots to pose Black Bear so that I could send photos home to Ethan. I looked through them back in my hotel room and realized that, based on the photos, the bear was on the trip that I hoped to have. It seemed significant and apropos of the conference and the idea of sharing an authentic experience, versus and idea of perfection. I can’t do what those other ladies do. I am not here to tell you how to have the perfect vacation because I don’t know how to do that. I’m here to tell stories about why I spent last Sunday ugly crying in public places. I’m here to talk about how living with acute anxiety is hard. I have learned that it is possible to live a full life with anxiety, but you have to work at it. It won’t always go according to plan, and sometimes you have to force yourself to get out and do it. Luckily, there are also stuffed bears to cuddle while waiting for planes, and there is love and kindness waiting to reassure us on both ends of the trip.

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Insight

I’m at a conference in Austin for the weekend. Yesterday, I got back to my room to discover that the caps for my contact tray were no where to be found. I can only assume the maid thought they were trash? Bottle caps, maybe? My fault for leaving them on the counter, like I do at home?

Anyway, they were gone. Rather than sleep in my contacts for the next three nights I MacGyvered a solution, using the baggie I packed for my unchecked liquids.

I used to think that traveling for work sounded so glamorous. Then you do it… and you face the consequences of dry contacts (or blindness) and your dog is too far away to cuddle.

I’m going home in the morning. The sun can’t rise soon enough.

Cougar Town

On return from a work trip, I was waiting to disembark my plane in Salt Lake City, standing up beneath the overhead bins because I am short and I can.  Suddenly, this tall blonde guy in a bright blue Brigham Young University hat, standing in the aisle and leaning on the seat two rows in front of me, caught my eye.  He gave me a smile and a wink.  I smiled back and then dropped my gaze to peer out the window.  He was young and attractive and I admit that I was fractionally flattered, despite the air of a college sophomore “will-flirt-with-anything-that-moves-because-I-am-so-over-powered-by-hormones-that-they-are-shooting-out-the-ends-of-my-hair” that he distinctly had about him.

Step away from the jail bait!” the angel on my right shoulder blared into my ear through a loud-speaker.  I then made a crooked cognitive connection, remembering that the first time I heard about the TV show called “Cougar Town” I had asked if it was set in Provo, home of the Brigham Young University, Cougars.

A few minutes later I stepped out of the gangway and immediately started scanning the hallway of the airport’s terminal for posted bathrooms signs bearing a skirted figure. I found one, walked in and, with a bag on each shoulder, made an abrupt right turn into the first open stall door that I saw.  There in the stall, less than a foot in front of me, I saw – as if in flashes – a bright blue hat, blonde hair, long legs, feet positioned twice shoulder width apart, and (through the legs) an ample stream pouring confidently into the bowl below.

I leapt backward and spun around, narrowly avoiding becoming wedged in the stall doorway by my carry-on bags.  Convinced that I had walked into the men’s room by mistake and not quite sure what to do about it, I began running around in a small circle doing what I reflectively think of as my “panic dance.”

Unfortunately, this happens to be my go-to reaction in emergencies.  The first time I did the “panic dance” was back in college when a crappy plastic lamp spontaneously combusted and I looked over to see a yellow flame within licking distance of the wood paneling of my apartment wall. I leapt to my feet and ran seven laps in a tight circle because my reptilian brain was telling me, “Maybe this will be helpful!”  Luckily, Demetria was there and she put the fire out. (Firefighting is a hobby of Demetria’s. She keeps a fire extinguisher handy “just in case” and is the only person I know who has used it on more than one occasion.)  I no longer remember how she extinguished the flaming lamp, as my view was blurred by a whirling panic dance sequence, but I remember feeling very thankful someone calm was present.

The panic dance I was doing in the airport bathroom might have been less of a circle.  I was trying to figure out how to get out without being seen, and kept changing my mind between running out the door and running into a stall to hide.  I was also trying to keep the heels of my boots from hitting the tile, so as not to give myself away with my overtly feminine clacky-clacks.  During this time, a cute little blonde in her twenties entered the restroom and, just as I did, turned into the first empty stall. Blue hat. Short hair. Intimidatingly aggressive piss stream. She took in these details and immediately joined me in the panic dance.  She was shaking her hands, I was clutching my bags, and we were both running in a crazy loop trying to figure out what we were going to do, all while Mr. BYU obliviously continued to discharge a bladder’s-worth of recycled root beer into the toilet bowl.

I stopped abruptly. It dawned on me that there were two of us and one of him and the math sobered me.  I turned and walked into an empty stall further down the lane, clacking my heels as loudly as possible, and shut the door behind me.  I hadn’t observed any urinals, and obviously Mr. BYU hadn’t either.  I don’t know why I instantly leapt to the conclusion that I was in the wrong room, but even if I was, the fact that another woman made the same mistake was all I needed to feel okay about the whole thing.

I listened as the guy left and waited to hear if he bumped into anyone on his way out.  But as far as I know, he strolled off without ever realizing he had been in the women’s room.  In fact, if only he had been polite enough to close the door to his stall, it’s possible no one else would have known either.

I saw the student once more before I left the airport.  We were down in baggage claim waiting for the belt to start rolling.  He was talking on his cell and giving a wry smile to another woman no closer to his age than I am.  “Damn,” I thought to myself as the conveyor belt creaked to life.  “It’s like he’s drawn to women by an electro-magnetic force.”

Then I briefly imagined another plot for “Cougar Town,” set Provo and centered around the university life that my friends who attended BYU have described to me.  Basically all of the characters will constantly try to work off their un-used sexual tension by exercising at the gym, reading scriptures by lamp-light, or by both making and eating basket loads of baked goods.

“Nah,” I thought to myself as I tugged my rolly-bag off the belt and toward the airport parking lot.  “No one would ever watch that show.”

Weekend in Zion

At The Desert Pearl Hotel in Springdale, Utah

Ethan (age 5): The sink in our room is so short! I had to bend over to use it!!!

Me: What sink? What are you talking about?

Ethan: The one in the bathroom.

Me: Right next to the toilet?

Ethan: Yeah!

Me: That is not a sink. It’s a bidet.

Ethan: What’s that?

(Pause)

Matt: It’s European.

Me: Only it’s for when you’re-a-poopin’.

Ethan: WHAT?

Matt: It’s a sink for your bum.

Ethan: 😐

End scene.

(Photo: Zion National Park –  Mt. Carmel Highway Scenic Drive)

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Sisters in Seattle

I went to Seattle for a few days to visit my sister Andrea and meet my brand new nephew who arrived too soon – at just 25 weeks – over the New Year’s weekend.  I flew up to help out while her hubby was traveling for work.  Mostly I went to give my five year old nephew some attention.  Also I talked Andrea’s ear off.  (I really need to call her more.)  I also cooked a little.  I loaded the dishwasher once.  I barely helped at all, truth be told.  I always think I’ll be more helpful when I’m projecting the future in my mind then when I get into the future and see what reality allows.

Still it was a great trip.  Frog (my new nephew’s nickname) is so tiny!  Just 2.7 lbs when I left, but growing a bit every day.  I was watching him fight against his breathing mask and squirming to get his arms and legs free of the swaddling wraps and I was amazed.  He is so little and he looks so fragile – like a pink baby bird that fell from a nest – but he is fierce!  He can lift his head already, and he can voice his displeasure.  It made me happy.  I don’t want him to wear himself out, but I can’t describe the joy I felt watching him fight.  I’ve been so worried about this kiddo for weeks but now that I’ve seen him, I’m reassured.  He is a warrior and he is firmly in this world.

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My other nephew, the kindergartner, is really struggling with the changes.  He seems angry.  He’s not listening or asking for things with politeness or patience.  He is demanding things with a force that suggests his wants and needs are consuming him.  I’m not sure he gets what is wrong exactly, but there is a level on which he is aware.  He even commented on the fact that there are suddenly a number of photos of his brother on his mom’s phone.  “Why are there so many pictures of Frog on here?” he asked like a jealous boyfriend.  Like, “Who is this guy and what does he mean to you?”

Oof.  Just wait until the little one actually gets sprung from the NICU and comes home!  Then the real pain will begin.

On one hand my heart is breaking for him because it is hard to see him hurting.  But on the other hand, the one where I’m looking at it from the perspective of a second sibling, I’m less sympathetic.  “What? You don’t get to have your parents all to yourself? What would that be like?” [insert eye roll]

I’m told that when I came home from the hospital my older sister tried to smother me with a diaper.  She was wearing it at the time, just so you understand.

He is such a sweet kid and I believe he will be fine once he has had time – lots of time – to adjust.  He’s so funny.  I’m not sure how to describe him except to say that he has a dynamic inner life.  He is so imaginative and precocious.  He spent one entire day of my visit dressed as Yoda.  Not for any special occasion.  He just loves Yoda.  When I arrived he presented me with a drawing he did for me at school.  It’s a portrait of me.  “What’s this red part?” I asked.

“It’s a bloody thumb.”

“Of course it is, kiddo.  Of course it is.”

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What I wouldn’t give to spend some time in that kid’s head.  Frog is going to have the best playmate in the world.  Maybe not soon, you know.  But in a little while.

Nervous Tick

In the summer of 1999, Jules and Demetria and I were on a long road trip through the Louisiana and Texas.  I had never been to the South before and I found it quite mysterious.  I had never experienced humidity before, for one thing.  And the bugs down there are mind-blowing.  I remember being astonished by the number and size of the bugs I saw, but mostly I was amazed by the sound.  We have crickets in Utah and they sing quietly on warm nights.  The crickets they have in the South are something else, entirely.  I honestly don’t know how anyone in Texas gets a good night’s sleep in the summer.

We arrived at Juliane’s Dad’s place in Beaumont, Texas, and decided to go out and soak our feet and legs in the pool.  My legs were covered in large and swollen mosquito bites and I was really suffering, so it sounded like a great idea.  That is, until Juliane handed me a net on a long pole and told me it was to scoop the frogs out of the pool.

“I’m from the desert.”  I told her, looking down at the net in my hands.  “We don’t scoop frogs in the desert.  I’m going to need more instructions.”

A few flung frogs later, we were sitting on the edge of the swimming pool cooling our feet and sipping beer.  After a little while, Jules hopped up to let the dogs out.  That was another thing about that trip.  Everyone we stayed with had dogs.  Big dogs.  I grew up in a house with cats and staying with dogs was completely new to me.  The Beaumont dogs were especially frenetic.  They whipped me with their tails and they licked me in the face.  I thought they were going to push me into the pool a couple of times.

After a while, I had to ask Jules to pull them off of me.  She tugged them toward her by their collars and let them lick her face.

“Good dog,” she said.  “That’s my good boy.”

They settled down and we got back to our conversation.  It was some point after that when I felt a hard little raised speck on my arm.  It was dark and I couldn’t really see it, but I knew what it was.

“Oh shit!  I have a tick!”

“Are you sure?” Jules asked.

“Look, it’s here on my arm.  Can you see it?”

“Oh yeah… what is that?”

“Fuck fuck fuck.  I’m going to get Lyme disease.  This is what I get for running around barefoot in Texas!”

“What does that have to do with anything?  It’s on your arm.  Let’s go inside and get a better look…”

Juliane’s father and step mother are both doctors, but they had gone out for the evening.  I was sitting on a stool in their kitchen and we were trying to figure out what to do.  Then I remembered something that my dad told me.

“My dad said that when he was working at Outward Bound, they used to find ticks.  And he they would light a match, blow it out, and burn the tick with the tip, but they found that it worked better to pour cheap wine on them.”

“Really?” Demetria sounded skeptical.

“Yeah.  Because if you burn them, you might kill them.  And then, because they have burrowed in, you still have to dig their heads out.  But if you can get them to back out, that’s the best way.  And Dad said that he would put cheap booze on them and then they would ‘back out happy.’”

“We can try it,” Jules said.  “Of course, my dad doesn’t buy cheap wine.  So we might want to keep this hush hush…”

Jules found a shot glass and set it on the counter.  Then she left the kitchen to go to the wine cellar and returned with a bottle of white wine in a plain and expensive looking European label.  We opened the bottle and poured a shot of wine.  Then Deme flipped it over quickly and held it against my arm.  We all watched intently to see what would happen next.

The tick didn’t move.

“Shit.  Do you think it’s dead already?”

“I don’t know.  Give it a minute.”

We sat in silence for another minute or two. And then something strange did happen.  The little thing seemed to change shape a slightly and drift away from my skin.

“What the hell?”

Demetria lowered the shot glass and I inspected the tick, which was no longer as hard as an exoskeleton should be.  I was now able to pull it from the arm hair it was sticking to.

“Um, guys?  I’m sorry.  That was a false alarm.  It isn’t a tick.”

“What is it, then?”

“I think it’s a dog booger.”

“Shut up.  You just made me pour sixty dollars of wine on a dog booger?!”

“I said I was sorry!”

Of course, at that point, there was nothing to do but drink the rest of the wine.  I don’t actually remember drinking it, but we must have.  I do remember swearing them to secrecy because I was so embarrassed and just a little bit terrified of Juliane’s dad.  He was even more intense than the dogs – though in a different way, obviously.  But if he noticed that the bottle was missing, he didn’t say anything.

I didn’t get comfortable around dogs until after I got Wensley, and that was many years after that trip.  It’s funny to me to remember this, because now I’m the girl who always stops to pet the dogs.  Matt was teasing me a little while ago about my dog love.  “Uh oh, all conversation must stop – Rachel saw a dog!”  It’s true, I’m a complete dog dork, and I’ve interrupted many perfectly good stories with my outbursts.  But in my defense, there was a dog.

Momento Rock

“Oh that rock? I was staying in this boutique hotel in Los Angeles and, in addition to the mini-bar, they had this shelf full of weird merchandise. I thought it was amusing, but I wasn’t interested. That is, until I saw that rock. Maybe because it was so ordinary… It reminded me of all the rocks from my childhood, adolescence, young adulthood and middle adulthood. It was twenty dollars but I just HAD to have it.”

Said no one, ever [I hope].

 

 

À Bientôt

I’m off! My bag is full of black t-shirts, jeans, and… for some reason… an entire box of tea. Don’t know why that seemed so important last night, but it is in.

Wish me bon chance!

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