Checking in, checking out

Times like this reveal a lot about who you are and who is with you.

Early Sunday morning, I went through a very disturbing experience.  I got up to use the bathroom, then couldn’t go back to sleep and couldn’t understand what was going on for me.  I knew that I was meant to drop my dog at the sitter’s in the morning, but couldn’t remember when or why.  I had already lost track of the fact that I was supposed to be at work at 10 a.m.   I just knew that I wanted to go back to sleep.  I did a very unprecedented thing: I drank a beer at 2 a.m.  I think I just wanted to sedate myself – if there had been some stronger sedative around, I think I would have taken it.

Around 8 a.m., I thought it might be getting close to time to take my Toni to Lori’s house, so I tried to call her – but I couldn’t remember how to make a call with my phone. I even became convinced that I was unable to speak – that I could not generate sound.  My  reaction was a mixture of numbness and growing panic as it got clear to me that something was going very wrong in me.  Around 10 a.m., a text came in from Lori asking if I was going to bring my dog over.  I finally did remember how to reply to a text message – and did it the way I always did, by voice-to-text.  But, very illogically, it did not become clear to me that I was generating speech – rather, I thought it was the phone generating the speech.

After a couple of texted exchanges with Lori, she got worried about me and called me.  When I answered her, I was totally amazed that she could hear me talk.  It didn’t take long for her to get even more worried.  “I think you’re having a stroke.” stroke 1 I thought right away that she was right – and it made sense of a lot of what I was experiencing.  The dilemma that raised was: I’ve always heard that when you are having a stroke you need to get to the hospital as soon as possible – every minute counts.  But I couldn’t just call 9-1-1, because that would require leaving Toni alone – and she is going through a very hard period of separation anxiety when I leave.  Lori and I finally arranged that she would drive in from the suburbs, pick up me and the dog, then keep the dog when I went to the hospital.  I knew that I was putting the dog ahead of my own well-being, but I couldn’t come up with a better way.  I was greatly relieved when, later, the doctor who was admitting me at the ER said that a lot of the heroic measures you see people taking to arrest a stroke were no longer relevant to me because whatever I was experiencing had been going on for several hours.

Hours later, I was being interviewed by one more doctor – who was admitting me to an inpatient unit.  I was unable to answer many of his questions – it was clear to both of us that I was very, very disoriented.  When he said “At this point we are thinking this is probably not a stroke”, it precipitated a very poignant moment.  Given that he and I both knew that something was going very wrong inside of me, looking back it feels like he and I were both close to tears as I asked, “Well then what is it?”  And he answered, “I don’t know – we’re going to try to find out.”

More to come…

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Surrendering my work to the Muse

After the initial thrilling release of resigning my job last Monday, it took only about 24 hours for pure terror to set in.  There were three threads: “How will I replace that income?”, “What work will I do?” and “Who will I be?”  I had moments of elation still, but they oscillated very quickly with this cold fear running up my back.  Wednesday night, when I spoke on the phone to my men’s group, I did represent to them that I felt good about this move.  But I did also acknowledge the terror: “I’m afraid I won’t be able to support myself.”

The front of our grocery store is locally known as a hub of buskers.  Most of the time, we have a singer out in front of the store.  Thursday morning I was returning to work from my ten minute break – spent, as it was any time the weather allows, sitting on the curb around the corner…where I can be outside and by myself.  I saw Ginnie playing her guitar and singing, and thought “I could be a busker”.  “No you can’t – you can’t sing or play the guitar.”

Baba busker

In Buskerland outside of Earth Fare.  This guy’s sign says “Sacred Geometry, Numerology”.  “Spontaneous poetry” will not be a stretch for these folks – especially since so many of them already know and like and trust me.

Then it all started to bubble up.  My friend Lynn Adams had told me years ago about a busker at her local farmers market who set up a manual typewriter on a little table and sold poetry: you tell him what you wanted the poem to be about and he typed it up spontaneously as you stood there and you paid him for it.  Lynn said to me, “You could do this – you should do this.”  At that point, I really did not believe that I could to it.  Yes, when the Muse spoke to me I would write very spontaneously – it would all come out in a rush.  It came from somewhere else.  I tapped into Spirit.  But it mostly didn’t come when I chose it. It came when the Muse wanted to move me.  It was not poetry on demand – you pay me $x and I write a poem on the topic of your choosing.

But over the last few years I have been leaning into improv poetry.  First I did some at an Interplay workshop: I didn’t think I could do it, but somebody encouraged me to try.  It was killer and blew all of us out.  At Tom Kilby and Amanda Levesque’s Fringe Fest one-hour show two years ago, I inserted improv poetry at seven points in the show.  It was very successful – really captured/mirrored/amplified their own improv theater.  At Jessica Chilton’s Shine Expansive a few years ago I did some improv poetry that we all loved.

I’m ready!  I may not always feel the truth of this, but it is true.

Surrendering My Life To the Muse

It’s been six days – Monday – since I surrendered to the inner guidance to leave my job.

I had been told two weeks before – way too late in the process – that I had too much income to qualify for Battery Park Apartments, the subsidized senior living apartments for which I had applied a year before.  When the apartment manager looked at my income figures, she said, “Your social security income gets you right up next to our limit – you would have to quit your job.”

When I lamented on my plight on Facebook, this is a composite of what several of my friends said: “You are meant for this living situation – you know it.  They are nice apartments downtown at a livable rent.  The location will agree with you.  You need desperately to be nesting.  You need your own place.  You have held up extraordinarily well considering the circumstances – seven homes in ten months – but it has worn on you even more than you know.  Stop.  Do this.  Quit your job.”

Battery Park 5-18

Battery Park Apartments, downtown Asheville

When I checked the numbers carefully, my Social Security check got me right up to the allowed income – lowering my hours at Earth Fare was not an issue.  At first quitting seemed just impossible.  I think it’s actually the residue of all the little choices to stay in a job that is so monotonous – that has been so hard on my creativity.  Again and again I have told myself, “You have to stay here.  You need the money.  You need to be working – stay!”  Even the initial consideration that I might quit started to peel the scab off the wound.  Each day I saw more and more that five to eight hours a day standing on my feet in one place repeating transaction after transaction did beat me up.  I used all the creativity at my disposal to make these transactions creative – and many of them were.  Some were magical.  But oh it has been hard work.

I had such a deeply ingrained taboo that “You must not let go of this job”, but when the letting go happened it came so easily.  Monday morning I was talking to the manager of the apartments.  “Can you guarantee that if I give up my job I will then qualify for your apartments.”  “Yes.”  “OK, then I’ll do it – I’ll quit my job.”

I was not feeling totally ready to actually do the quitting.  I had a little short list of people I wanted to talk to before I took that step.  I told myself that I would talk to my boss tomorrow.  But then at my afternoon break, as I was leaving my station, there Nicole was.  “Oh, do it.”  “Nicole, can I have a couple of minutes with you?”  “Sure, right after I respond to this one call.”

Nicole was wonderful.  She is a new supervisor, but she had the poise of a pro.  I know she likes me a lot, I know she wouldn’t want me to leave – and so many people are leaving at the same time.  But she took in the situation for just a moment after I gave her the news and then said, “I hate it that you are going – we will hate to lose you – but it’s so great that you are moving to this wonderful new living situation.  I hope it all works out great for you.

So far, letting go was working great – it was, in fact, thrilling.  I move in on Saturday.  But I had no idea all that was to come.

Customer Service as Sacred Work: my workshop for the Creation Spirituality conference – and for you

Principle 4 of Creation Spirituality: Every one of us carries within us the capacity to be a mystic, to be creative, to be visionary, and to be an agent for positive change.

Whether we are servers or customers, we all get lots of chances to exchange energy in  customer service interactions.  Part of the beauty of these interactions is that they are so omnipresent: if we enrich them it can make a genuine difference in our quality of life – and we get to try them again and again to have them work in satisfying ways.  cashier 3

For this 90-minute workshop, we start with warm-ups to get us loose with each other, then practice four components of a customer service interaction (all magically getting our focus while we are simultaneously running the business – like cashiering – of the interaction):

  1. greeting
  2. connection
  3. affirmation/validation
  4. blessing

For a sweet and insightful glimpse of the affirmation/validation component of these interactions, watch Validation – the Parking Attendant.  The validation component is very powerfully presented in the first five minutes of the video, but the remaining 11 minutes comprise a sweet little love story that is also very worth watching.

Contact me if you would like me to offer this workshop to a large or small group of your choosing (friends/neighbors, church, work group).  For the time being, I am wanting to explore the power of this workshop and am willing to offer it very inexpensively to social groups and for a modest expense to business groups.

How we keep going…

I was telling a customer this afternoon about some (just some) of the funny, eccentric, irreverent, sweet exchanges I had had with customers on just this one day.  He said, “That’s how we keep going.”  I felt totally understood.  I said, “That’s it – I’m going to write a blog post about this and that’s going to be the title, ‘How we keep going’.”  It’s probably true that “you had to be there”.   In the written word, none of these exchanges may be as funny as they were real time – and manic – but they may give you some idea of the kinds of things that keep us going, at Earth Fare and maybe at any retail job.

  1. The 65ish woman holds up the wrapped package from the meat department and playfully says, “I almost walked out without paying for this.”  I, more playfully, say “I would have chased you down and tackled you.”  She, with a big twinkle in her eye, says “Maybe I should do it.”
  2. The young woman, trying to puzzle her way through all the steps of the keypad, says ”I think I just screwed this all up…no, I think it’s going to be all right.”  I say “Everything’s gonna be alright.”  I break into song, “Don’t worry…”  She misses just three bars before joining in  “…about a thing” and we continue to sing, to reach other as, with her transaction successfully complete, she heads for the door “cuz every little thing gonna be alright.”  It was an exceptionally sweet moment – so perfect that, relating it here, I tear up.
  3. This guy picks up an item from the “impulse purchase” rack next to my cash register.  “Is this Spry gum good for you?”  “Everything in the store is good for you – including the Coca Cola.”  I love it that we consider the “Mexico Coke” healthy because it has real sugar instead of high fructose corn syrup.  Sometimes when someone is buying a bottle, I will hold it up and proudly proclaim: “It’s health food!  It’s got sugar!”
  4. This guy says “Your card is on our frig – I think my wife has plans to read your blog, maybe someday.”  I assume she has the card from this grocery store blog and give him the card from my activism blog (releasingtheforce.com).  “Here, you can add this to the collection.”
  5. I know the guy who hesitates with his cart at the head of my empty line.  “Are you ready to check out?”  “I’ve got to get one other thing.”  “Well your time is up – you have to leave now.”
  6. I know the six year old girl riding in her mother’s shopping cart.  As they pull by me to leave, she asks if I have any stickers.  “Gee honey, I’m sorry but I don’t.”  When they get several steps away, I’m moved to call out “I’m still a nice man!”  Without hesitating or turning around, she calls out “I know you are.”
  7. My shift is over and I am organizing my stuff at the front end to go home.  One of my colleagues asks, in front of several customers, “Are you going home?”  I say, “Yes, because I can’t stand it any more!”  It’s part play, part for real – and really kind of thrilling to say.

More talking trash – BS primero

Here’s the most over-the-top piece of BS I have ever purveyed to a customer.  It’s up against some stiff competition – I do go on – but I think this is genuinely the most outrageous bit of craziness I have slung.

This young woman was having a lot of trouble finding her “Healthy Rewards” frequent shopping card in her wallet.  She was getting pretty frustrated – maybe part of me was just trying to take her off the hook.

“Did they teach you the song?”

“Song?”

“Yeah, the Healthy Rewards song.”

“No.” (What’s going on here?)

“Yeah, the card can get kind of shy in your wallet and the song helps it relax and come out.” (OMG, she’s still kind of buying it!  I can’t believe this.  It’s a little scary to be so far out over my skis, but it’s also a blast!)

“Really?” (This guy is nuts, but I don’t know how to get out of this so I’ll play along.)

“Yeah, let’s try it.”  By the time I actually wrapped my hands around her wallet and started to hum this little made up song, it had all gotten so out of control that I could barely take it.  Then her eyes caught mine and I knew that she had finally woken up from the spell – and we both laughed really hard.

Talking trash in the checkout line

I don’t know where I got my penchant for bullshit, but definitely one thing that for me helps the day go by at work is saying a lot of stuff that there is no way I mean.

My son was definitely on to this quality of mine at an early age.  I think he was probably ten, maybe twelve, when he heard me giving a line of shit to some friend who was buying it hook, line and sinker.  Now part of the joy of this shit-slinging is to make it so over the top that the receiver could really see right away that they are being teased – but to do it with such feigned seriousness that, unless they know this part of you, they still are sucked in by the story.  When I really had this person way out over the edge and they still had not fully caught on to me, Terry jumped in with lots of enthusiasm.  “No, he doesn’t mean it!  There’s this thing he does – he kind of hesitates a moment before he starts.  This is all made up!” (I don’t think he was openly using the BS word at that age.)

So the other day – the day before Easter – a 60ish female customer was checking out and I had just swiped a plastic container full of olives.  Her male companion teased her, with some background information that I – having no memory of either of them – knew nothing about.  (It’s a little trickier doing bullshit teasing with people you have no history with, but I was on a roll that day.) He asked her, “So do you buy olives every year on the day before Easter?”

I thought he may  already have been teasing her – maybe that’s what inspired me.  I jumped in and answered for her.  “Yes, it’s a Latvian thing” (a long dramatic pause to give them a chance to already catch on that I’m BS’ing, but they apparently were still on the hook: “Where is he going with this?”)  “Yes…”(“There’s this thing he does – he kind of hesitates.”)  “According to the Latvians, if you eat olives the day before Easter, you get good luck for an hour.”

It was the “for an hour” part that was intended to take it so far over the top that the jig is up. And the guy, bless his soul, was such a good little natural improv-person that he immediately gave me an improv “yes…and” response.  “So that would be a good time to buy lottery tickets.”  “Right, but you’ve got to do it within an hour.”  The woman was maybe a little slower to pick up on the joke, but by that point she was definitely following along – though I don’t remember her fully joining in with the fun.  But it was definitely a good time for all three of us.  And especially for me, having just risked some of my favorite kind of humor and had it work out.

Yesterday I was slinging some BS to a couple of co-workers.  Sepi and I had both worked at Greenlife, one of our competitor health-food supermarkets.  Sometimes it’s interesting or fun to compare that store with this one.  We were doing this.  One difference we have frequently noted is that Greenlife – for ten years now a subsidiary of Whole Foods – has more formal policies than our smaller 40-store chain.  I don’t know what got the three of us started on underwear – or in any way suggested that I could take the conversation in this direction – but I said in total apparent seriousness, “Well they do have a policy at Greenlife that you have to wear underwear, but we have no such policy here.”  Sheri Lynn, who has a great sense of humor and, even if she has only spotted the BS in the last little phrase, can pick it up and run with it said, “Well it’s a good thing we don’t have that policy here, because you would clearly be breaking it all the time.”

Sherri Lynn is a few years younger than me, but I moved from improv BS to reminiscing, “When you were growing up, were parents still teaching kids that you had to always wear clean underwear in case you got in an auto accident and they took you to the hospital?”  Sheri Lynn did definitely remember this, though I’m pretty sure if your audience got a little younger, people would just stare at you.

Ah, the things that help the day go by in the checkout line….