Just that time of year

This is last year’s 10-minute Christmas poem edited down to three minutes.  I have a real fondness for that long, rambling Christmas letter of a poem – but I like this better.  It makes a lot of reference to my day job as a cashier at Earth Fare grocery store.  Enjoy.  Happy holidays.

Just that time of year…abridged  (Majo, 12/17/15)

It’s that time of year again
Jingle bells and all
But is there really all
That much to celebrate?
The cold and dark have returned again
Do pretty much the same time every year
I try to be cheerful about them
But this little whoosy man
Gets depressed with the onset of the shorter days
And pisses and moans pretty much the same
The whole winter through

The events in the world
Wars, gang shootings
Racial profiling and horrific injustices
Seem no better than ever
I want so badly to believe
That the human race and societies
Are somehow evolving
Somehow getting better, smarter
More fair, more loving
But can see no signs
That this is true

Everybody, it seems
Has their struggles and their sorrows
Caroling with the Jubilee group,
I realized that we were singing
Not just for the shut-ins we were visiting all evening
But also for ourselves
We – all of us
Need to buck up our spirits
At this dark time
We – all of us
Need all of us
To come together
To love each other
We – all of us
Need this poem
We – all of us
Need to create
Whenever we can
However we can
We – all of us
Need to hope for the future
For our writing and painting
And music-making
And our gardening and cooking
And parenting and love-making

We need to come together
As we are reading this poem
We are coming together
As all of us staff at my grocery store
Are serving all of our customers
We are coming together
As all of our customers
Rub shoulders in our store
Stand next to each other
In our checkout lines
Greet and often hug their friends
You are coming together
As all of us front-line customer servers
In all of the various stores
Serve all of our customers
Who, at other times
Are all of us
Who, when we are not working
Also patronize these other stores
We are all
Every one of us who deals
With customer servers
Coming togetherwinter-dark-2

We are serving our customers
Trying to put a smile on their face
Trying to put a smile on our face
Trying to get our customer’s needs met
Trying to check them out
Quickly and accurately
Bagging their groceries tenderly
Ripe avocados on top
Trying to exchange some pleasantries
And, when we are lucky
Even some meaningful exchange
Some “What’s been a highlight of your day?”
Trying to be real for each other
And to be kind
Trying, trying, trying
All of us humans trying
To make things work
To make this a better year
And when we are lucky
To love, even

“Buy the card.”

Suzanne was tenacious.  She wanted me to buy the Barnes and Noble membership card.  When I came through her check-out line with my first set of purchases, she said, “You could have saved $8 – you’d be a third of a the way through to having your card paid for.” I hemmed and hawed and then said no.  “I come here once a year, for Christmas gifts – you have a great selection of gift books.”  They don’t have that big footprint for nothing.

bookstore-pic

Books – I love ’em.  It’s something that Suzanne and I have in common. And I don’t often indulge in my love for books.  It could actually be good for me to spend more time in book stores.

So I went away not buying the card.  Then I realized several more purchases I wanted to make – and came back to Suzanne with another $75 worth of books.  She said, “You know, if you had bought that card… and by the way, it’s not too late.  We could go back and re-ring that whole first sale.”  She was really willing to go out of her way to do this.

I was on the edge this time – and finally said, “No. I’m a Malaprops shopper.  I don’t buy from big chains. I support our local independent bookseller.  They have my loyalty – I don’t want to do something that will build loyalty elsewhere.”  Suzanne said, “Well, in some ways you are buying from independent booksellers.  I’ve been here 15 years.  I love to read and I’m a writer.  This is a job where I get to be around books.  Tony over here has worked for Barnes and Noble for 18 years.  You’re not buying from some high school kid – you’re dealing with book professionals.”

As Suzanne was bagging my books, she continued her sales pitch: “Each month you will get a coupon for 20% off certain kinds of books.  When you buy online you always get free expedited shopping.”  Now that made me perk up.

But I have loyalty to Amazon, too.  I think Amazon is great – it revolutionized the book industry.  What I couldn’t escape though, was that Suzanne was building a relationship with me.  She was my bookseller.  So I said yes.  Suzanne was pleased, though she kept her dignity.  She didn’t do a happy dance or anything gouche like that.

But she had gone the extra mile.  I know, from being a cashier, what it’s like to really invest in selling your company – to really invest in getting the best for your customer.  You have to put it on the line.  It takes energy.  Suzanne did it.  I don’t know how many customers a day she did that for, but she did it for me.

She had said that she’s a writer.  I pulled out my business card and told her, “I’m a writer too.  I write a blog about cashiering and you are a superb cashier.  I’d like to write a post about you.” She was tickled, a little shy but happy about this prospect.  I think she was happy just that there was such a blog, then doubly happy at the prospect of being featured in it.

I said, “Maybe tonight I’ll write this up.” I didn’t say “I’ve got about three other posts queued up in front of it – it might not be tonight.”

I took my new purchases over to the gift-wrapping station and while I was there I realized two missing pieces for this blog post – her first name and, preferably, a photo.  I went back around to the check out area.  This time there was a line.  She spotted me in the line and giggled right away.

When I went up to her I said, “I have two requests: I’d like to use your first name and I’d like a picture of you.”  She said, “I look terrible today.”  “I don’t think you look terrible – I think you look fine.  And it will make the blog post just pop.  And if you do that for me I promise that I will write a blog post about you tonight.”

BandN

Suzanne.  She’s alive, vibrant, warm, friendly – a real human being in a big corporation.  She’s beautiful.

Now it’s a promise.  There’s a good likelihood that by the time I get through some other to do’s tonight it will be late and I won’t feel like doing this – may actually have a hard time marshaling the level of focus needed to write this.  (But I actually have pretty directly transcribed all this from a digital recording I made right after leaving Barnes and Noble.)  I do well with accountability…not to say that every time I have promised to write a blog post I actually have done it.

Suzanne had won me over.  I wasn’t buying from Barnes and Noble – I was buying from Suzanne.  Now she was not really going to be my personal bookseller.  I wouldn’t be able to call her up.  But in this moment, in a merchandising market that can be so impersonal, she met me as a person.  She seemed to genuinely care about me. Even if she was primarily driven by a desire (or pressure) to drive her upsell numbers up, for me in that moment it was all personal.

I had a spiffy new Barnes and Noble membership card and a promise that lots of B&N promotions would be hitting my email inbox (“Just once a week”, Suzanne said).  I do not know if this card will actually end up saving me money – or in any way change my book buying habits.  I don’t know if it will draw me into the store, where I will immerse myself in the world of books.  I don’t know in which situations I will choose for Malaprop’s – certainly some.  And when I will choose for Amazon – probably sometimes I will comparison shop, though that may get to be a pain in the neck.

I left Barnes and Noble happy.  I had had a real exchange with a real person – doing her best, with a lot of dignity, to do a good job.  I felt like she liked me – and I definitely liked her.  She made me proud to be a cashier.

 

So much community

I have  an embarrassing amount of support in my life.  I have several separate groups where I am accepted, supported, even loved.

  • I have the Jubilee Spiritual Community, my funky unchurch (it’s sure not your gramma’s church) here in Asheville – which in times past has been more vital to me, but still is important as a base of many friendships and a venue for my poetry and stand-up comedy.  I am out about my bipolar disorder there.  I know that I am loved there – and that there are many people (some of whom also go only seldom or not at all) whom I genuinely love.
  • I have the Asheville Movement Collective ecstatic dance community, where people share not just dance but often become real friends.  When you are all making yourselves vulnerable together by taking the risk of authentic movement, intimacy tends to spring up.
  • I have the Magnetic Minds depression and bipolar support group: these are really my people and it feels like my real mission is to and for these people.  This extends to wider circles of bipolar people, whom I reach through this blog and through the online healing community which I am developing for people with bipolar disorder.
  • I have my grocery store community: our staff and staff-and-customers overlapping communities offer genuine support and at times even love.
  • For the last several months, I have been passionately involved in the Sun Soo Tae Kwon Do community.  In a couple of weeks I am going to the birthday party for an eight-year-old girl, who apparently thinks I’m her grandfather for the way she has adopted me.  Need I say more about community?  I’ve been averaging four Tae Kwon Do classes a week.

So why do I want one more community?  Because my overeating and sugar addiction have not been helped by these other communities.  So I need Overeaters Anonymous.  I went to OA for a few months about a year ago.  I had some good experiences.  I overall ate better.  Sometimes, when I was pulled towards sugar or compulsive overeating, I managed to call one of my OA friends and was able to stay straight.  But I left dissatisfied, and I think there were two interwoven reasons:

The 12 steps of AA and OA. Corny? Rigid? Oppressive? Too religious.? I have thought all of these things about  these steps. Deep and in some ways mystical? A potent vehicle for personal/spiritual transformation. I'm getting an intuition that, for me, it may turn out to be both of these things.

The 12 steps of AA and OA. Corny? Rigid? Oppressive? Too religious.? I have thought all of these things about these steps. Deep and in some ways mystical? A potent vehicle for personal/spiritual transformation. I’m getting an intuition that, for me, it may turn out to be both of these things.

  1. After a couple of months with a “food sponsor” who then moved away, which really kind of worked for me, I never got a sponsor. Except for that transitional sponsor (we signed on as a trial, then when she decided to move away she wanted to lighten up her commitments, I couldn’t find a sponsor who would work with my limits: I don’t want to weigh and measure my food.  I don’t want to submit a food plan for each day.  I need more spontaneity or I will totally act out or leave. It really did work for me to report every evening the food I ate that day.  Just this took a lot of discipline.  This accountability boosted my moment-to-moment mindfulness of my eating and helped me to make better food choices.
  2. I never immersed myself in the 12 steps, which is where the spiritual transformation happens.  To really work the steps, you need a sponsor – so these two problems interface with each other.  I have an intuitive feeling that the steps can be very powerful for me – could maybe be exactly what I need next spiritually.

So I went to an OA meeting on Saturday morning and another Monday evening.  I’m going to target two meetings a week – not enough, some would say, to do the job but quite a stretch goal in the context of my very busy life. I didn’t speak at the first meeting aside to introduce myself, but did see a couple of people there who I could picture being my sponsor.  At the meeting Monday night there were a couple of other prospects.  I got both of their phone numbers and actually approached one (a friend of mine from other circles) about whether we could meet and talk sometime. (She gave an enthusiastic yes.)

I do know that after several weeks depressed, yesterday (four days into my new food regimen, which I will describe in a separate post) I started to feel good.  No mania that I can see yet, but feeling good.  Is it getting away from sugar, off of wheat, off of caffeine?  Maybe all of this.  Maybe also my new meds, which I have been gradually increasing for several months now.  I may never fully know.

Oh well, that’s enough for now – more to come, I’m sure.

What’s the point?

Jill and I know each other from the grocery store, but even more from Interplay – a personal growth methodology featuring improvisational movement, story-telling and song.  The overall tone of Interplay is playful, but the work is also “sneaky deep”: the spontaneous quality of people’s participation allows you to know each other much more deeply and more quickly than would usually be the case.  So, while in absolute terms Jill and I have not spent a lot of time 1-1, we still feel like we know each other pretty well – and i would say that we actually do.

And she reads this blog.

In the context of this relationship, the question “How are you?” opens up much more than it might usually – and we were quickly (hey, it’s gotta be quick, we’re talking about a five-minute interaction) really talking with each other.  She said, “I really look forward to your blog posts.”  “Yeah, when I send them” (which I mostly have not lately).  Then she hit me right between the eyes: “You make a difference in my life.”

This took my breath away and immediately made it clear to me that I had to get back on my pony and write.  And revealed to me why I have not been writing.  More than half the time I have been depressed – and kind of brutally so, more than for a long time.  But I have also mostly not been writing even when I’m up.  I think that underneath the ups and downs I have had an underlying discouragement about making a difference to people – do I really have anything to say?

Over two years ago, I started writing online training for people with bipolar disorder – and came t0 believe that this would be my life’s work, and it may yet be. But it pretty quickly got stuck in the mud.  Lately it has seemed to me that what keeps that work stuck is a kind of devastating self-criticism: “Who are you to try to tell anybody else how to deal with bipolar disorder when you are still so much the victim of it?”

life purpose - 12-11-15I had another project at the same time, a blog specifically about bipolar disorder: bipolarintegrity.net.  “For my cohort and those who try to help, love or live with us.” From my current, momentarily clear vantage point, there’s a lot of really great stuff on that blog – check it out! But two years ago, it also had ground to a halt.

So one day at work I had an aha: if these big, weighty projects are stuck, write about what’s right in front of your nose – what goes on in the grocery store.  Lots of great stuff goes on here.  You talk about it a lot, so why not write about it?  Those other two projects may come off the shelf in time, but for now you will be writing.  That may at some point generate the momentum that one or both of those projects need.

For the first 24 hours after this idea was hatched, I told myself that I would leave bipolar disorder out, “just to keep it simple”.  Right…!  By Day 2 it became obvious to me that trying to leave out everything that refers to my bipolar disorder would gut the integrity from the blog.  It won’t be about bipolar disorder, but will provide a window into the life of someone who happens to have bipolar disorder. Similarly, I am a lot more than this cashier in the grocery store.

But lately I have mostly not been writing on the blog.  When I am up, I write lots of little notes at my cash register and during my breaks – but in my mania I never get around to organizing them into a post.  When I’m down, nothing happens. The net result is lots of discouragement.  If this is my interim life purpose and it’s dormant, then what does that say about my life?

life_purpose 2 - 12-11-15Jill today shined a light on all of this.  My life purpose can be expressed in writing projects like online training for healing from bipolar disorder or this blog, but it can’t be held by them.  My life purpose is to make a difference in people’s lives.  If I focus on that at work (and elsewhere), the aliveness that comes out of this may spill over into writing – like now, tonight, after my encounter with Jill today.

That mid-day connection with Jill triggered more than this writing.  For the second half of my shift, I was on fire for making a difference for people.  I’ll describe some of those encounters in another post.