“Here, take this – I want you to have it.”

Michael is a new cashier, a young guy – full of energy and dreams and promise for his future.  I think he’s in pre-med and plans to be a doctor. We were talking in the cafe  – me on my last ten-minute break, he (having started later than me) on his lunch.

Michael

Michael

“I was reading your blog the other night – I read it until 3 a.m., three hours worth.  So much of it spoke to me.”  This post is mostly going to be about concrete things people have given me at work.  I’m going to violate some time-honored writing principles by starting with the biggest one – this personal, non-concrete gift from Michael.  Michael was letting me know that my writing had given him gifts, but in the process he gave me one of the biggest gifts I could receive – he helped me to believe in myself.  He told me that my writing has value, can help people.

This post I’m writing here has been sitting dormant for two weeks.  Two weeks ago I wrote the barest outline – a list of several things people have given me at work, and maybe a few words about each.  (I can’t even find that outline now.)  But nothing has happened with it since  – I’ve written not one more word.  I believed in this post – I thought it could be really strong.  One night I sat down to try to write it, but it was 8:30 p.m. already and I soon succumbed to sleepiness.

But I came away from my really very brief conversation with Michael today charged up. “I’m meant to be writing! And that post is next!”  So here I am, having walked the dog after work (during which time I was writing this in my head), and now I’m at my computer writing.  No emails, no reading the Washington Post online – I’m writing.  Thank you Michael.  And I shall steer you Michael towards this post after it’s posted – and I think you may get some good stuff from it.

I’m going to start my list of gifts given to me at work with the oldest one and then work towards the present.  Some of these names (not Michael) have been changed to protect people’s privacy – or just made up because I didn’t know the person’s name.

( 4 years ago)PBR
Walter was clearly intoxicated.   But that didn’t invalidate his good-hearted generosity when he shoved at me one of the beers he was buying from me and said, “Have it – pop it open.  Let’s both have one.  You’re a good guy – I want you to have it.”  I obviously couldn’t drink a beer during my shift at the cash register, so Walter’s kindly insistence was really kind of comical, but it was also really kind of sweet – he wanted to share with me.

(2 years ago)hat and gloves
I was immediately drawn to Sharon’s beautiful red homemade knit hat.  When I expressed my appreciation of it, she said, “Thank you, I made it.”  “Wow, do you sell them somewhere?”  “No, I mostly just give them away to my friends.”  “Well I want to buy one from you.”  She took a breath as if considering for just a moment, then took the hat off her head and handed it to me – along with matching fingerless gloves (perfect for cashiering in a cold grocery store) she had in her purse.  “Here, I want you to have them.”  I protested, but she was very clear that she wanted me to have them, as a gift – and, truth be told, I also really wanted to have them.  I have taken a lot of pleasure in wearing them.

(6 months ago)

Andy beer

Andy’s favorite beer.  

Andy and Debbie have become friends of mine.  We had lunch together once.  They are not party people and don’t come to my  birthday parties – but we love our brief time together every Monday.  And I know that they care about me – when they ask how I am doing, they mean it.  They read my blog and know that my ups and downs are more ferocious than most people’s.  Andy has a favorite beer that he stocks up on periodically.  I’m on a quest to find out what beers I most like and was asking him about his.  He pulled one out of his grocery bag and gave it to me.  It was an effortless gesture – what you would do with a friend.  And it was also effortless to let Andy know later that I like his beer a lot.

(4 months ago)
Peter and Jessi are regular customers of mine.  They are young, energetic (rock climbers) and fun – and they did come to my birthday party last year, along with Peter’s kids Jack and Ruby.  Peter is a big, strapping young guy.  As soon as  Peter came through the door  one morning, he came straight over to me and said, “You told us you are going to move – do you need help?”  “Well, uh – sure.”  He flexed his enormous bicep: “I’ve got this…and a truck.”  I’ve probably told that story 20 times and I still laugh with delight – it was so perfect.

IMG_20171029_143458571_HDR.jpg

Peter, Jessi and their new friend, my Toni.

(2 months ago)
That new house, with two friends taking me in, was always meant to be short-term.  Six weeks later I was moving to my friend John’s house – also agreed to be short-to-medium term, maybe several months.  When Peter and Jessi arrived to once more help me move, I told them so apologetically, “John just called me.  He got a text from his landlord that he is selling the house – we have 30 days to get out.”  Peter paused a few moments before saying, “We’re going to have to just keep doing this until we get you settled somewhere.”  When two days later I saw Jessi at the store, she said, “That’s just who he is – generous.  He’s like that every day.”

(3 weeks ago)|
I didn’t remember ever seeing Mary before, but I was very personally drawn to her.  I didn’t even know just what I liked so much about her, but I liked her a lot.  When I went through my regular routine of asking myself what  I would like to validate about her,  I couldn’t even immediately come up with anything.  She was pretty, but that didn’t feel on target for a validation.  I just kind of irrationally liked her.  We had a sweet mini-encounter.  Nothing especially meaningful got said, but I felt good about it.  And then she was gone.Trilogy

And then three minutes later she was back.  She stood behind the customer I was waiting on, held up a bottle of Synergy brand kombucha, Trilogy flavor – my favorite flavor.  “I asked around what you might like and they said this.”  I was dumbfounded.  She gave me a huge smile and glided towards the door, looking at me and smiling all the time.  I raised my hands in a shrug and mouthed, “Why?”  I thought she enjoyed my confusion.

I think that part of what made that encounter, that act of generosity, so special to me was the very fact that I didn’t understand it.  I didn’t think I had done anything to deserve it.  When, during my ten-minute break, I told a coworker about this scenario I added – in my attempt to  make sense of this – that the whole time I waited on Mary I was also thinking about my new roommate Lucy.  I was thinking about what validation I wanted to give Lucy next.  The one I had on the tip of my tongue was seeming too superficial and I was reaching for something more meaningful.  My coworker said, “That’s it – the whole time you were waiting on Mary you were standing in a field of love, and she felt it.  She became part of it.”  That felt and continues to feel really right.

(2 weeks ago)
chocolate ba.jpg
I didn’t remember Linda and nothing special happened between us – but I enjoyed the encounter with her.  The last item that I swiped and that she picked up off the counter and dropped in her grocery bag was a chocolate bar.  “Do you like chocolate?” she asked.  “Sure.”  “Chocolate with orange pieces in it?”  “Yeah”?  (Where is this going?)  She pulled that last chocolate bar back out and handed it to me.  “Here, I want you to have this.”  “Why?” (I was genuinely confused.)  “Because you’re awesome.”  (But why am I awesome?  I didn’t do anything.)  I indicated to Linda how genuinely happy this made me.  I didn’t comment on my confusion.  I think she got that, and maybe even took a little satisfaction from it.  (What does it mean to be awesome and why would she want to give me her chocolate bar?)

(4 days ago)
rose
When I got back from my lunch break, there was a beautiful rose (probably from our floral department, just steps away from the cashier area) in front of my cash register.  This time, along with a little bit of “Why?”, I more just accepted it – and felt really, really good.  Somehow having no idea who or why made it more possible for me to just let go of the questions.

(3 days ago)
Jose hat
I was sitting in the café, fussing over a predicament.  The next day I was going to a benefit “Sock hop” with a 50’s theme.  The family I was going with (Peter and his family) had all put together 50’s style clothes – and I had nothing, nothing that felt in any way 50’s.  As I was sitting there I looked across the café and saw my friend Jose from the meat department wearing a blue seersucker bomber cap – that looked to me like 50’s!  I’ve gotta have that hat!  So, in a move that felt to me bold and intrusive and maybe even inappropriate, I went to Jose, explained my predicament and said, “I’ve gotta borrow your hat!”  Jose immediately took it off his head and seemed positively enthused to loan it to me.

At the cash register that afternoon, at the party and at the cash register again on Monday (Jose wasn’t due in until 2 p.m.), I got so many compliments about the hat that I started saying, “Either this hat is really great or you just don’t expect me to wear anything cool.”  One of my customers said, “That hat is so you – you need to not give it back.”  I was almost ashamed to admit to myself that I really kind of did not want to give it back.

Jose cafe

Jose told me today that he would be glad to let me take his picture – if he could wear his motorcycle helmet.

When, on my afternoon break, I went back to the meat department to give Jose his hat, he wouldn’t take it.  “No, it’s your hat now.  It’s really you – it’s yours.”  I was both completely knocked out by this generosity – and also somehow not surprised.  It just fit with how I know Jose.

(Today)cookies - 11-15-117
Today when I came back from my break, there was a chocolate chip cookie in a bag at my station.  How did it get there?  Was it a “put back” – somebody decided they didn’t want it and gave it to the cashier working next to me, who then accidentally pushed into my area?  This seemed far-fetched.  I asked Megan, my podmate.  She knew nothing about it.  “Maybe you have a secret admirer.” “I think I have a lot of them.”

In one of J.D. Salinger’s books there is a character who describes himself as a “reverse paranoid – I think that the world is conspiring to make me happy.”  I think this is happening to me.

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My brief, abortive foray into iphone land.

This article has nothing to do with grocery stores. I never promised to write only about grocery stores.  It is about technology, consuming, learning new things, courage.  Read it if you like – it’s kind of interesting.
I was one of the first adopters of androids. Something like seven years ago, I bought (actually my friends Tom and Vicki bought for me …amazing friends) the first android – the Motorola Droid, which a Time cover story dubbed “the iphone killer”. Thus began one of the most neurotic dances of a fairly neurotic consumer.
Even while something in me told me that the Android system – or “Google phone” – was a good way to go, I always remained snowed by the Apple mystique. “Iphones are more intuitive.” “Artists use Apples.” No matter how relatively satisfied I was with that phone and a couple of successive androids – and it always was a relative thing – something in me always believed that I would be happier with an iphone, that I should jump out of my security in my androids and make the change.
Then there was my daughter-in-law, who said, “If you’re comfortable with your android, stay there – iphone is going to be a whole new system, too hard to learn. It’s not worth it.” Her words had a ring of truth – they certainly spoke to my insecurities.  But what about courage?  Going boldly into uncharted territory?  Art?  All these also had a pull on me.
Android-vs-iPhone-Android-Better-2016-3-720x526

I tried the almost-newest iphone 8 (there’s the brand new and very expensive iphone 10) and now a cutting-edge android, the Motorola Moto Z2 Force.

So a week ago I made the jump.  My Verizon two-year contract was up, so I could get a good deal on a new phone.  And – maybe more important – could leave Verizon, which I have come to regard as an evil corporation.  And my friend Bob Lantis convinced me that T-Mobile had better rates – and just as strong a signal as Verizon.  (One of the factors keeping me with Verizon was the local maxim that “In these mountains, Verizon is the only game in town for signal strength.”)

It maybe should have given me a signal that Jason (the champ) and Melissa (also nice) at the T-Mobile store were both android users and at several points shrugged their shoulders and admitted that they just didn’t know some stuff about iphones.  And Melissa, who came in halfway through the sale, at one point asked Jason, “Why are you putting him in an iphone?”  “Because that’s what he wants.”

So now, after eight days of iphone use, here are my take-aways:
– I don’t know if the iphone is better or more intuitive, because I stuck with my Google apps (contacts, calendar, gmail, chrome browser),
– the iphone ways of handling these familiar apps continually frustrated me – “Where’s this?”  “How do you do this?”
– I want my android back.  In fact, I have now gotten it back.  Today I went to T-Mobile and got the spiffiest new Motorola android.  I already like it a lot.  Jason took great care of me – not only very customer-oriented, but very technically savvy.  And he knows and likes Androids.  The phone he sold me is the one he uses.
– T-Mobile and Verizon both charge you a $50 “re-stocking fee” for returning a phone, because they can no longer sell it as new.  My new phone cost $20 more downpayment than the iphone did, but costs $10 less per month – that’s $120 a year.  (I know you knew that, but I felt a defensive need to emphasize it.)  Bob put me on his plan, so my monthly rate is half what it would otherwise be – and way less than I was paying at Verizon.

I honestly think that I will never again wish I had an iphone or think that I’m missing out on something. It was worth the $50 to get unhypnotized.

Affirmation and flirting

The woman checking me in at my primary doctor’s office was maybe slightly thrown off her game by my flirting, but I think that even more she liked it.

I told her I liked her glasses a lot, which was true.  “They have a different shape – it’s cool.”  I didn’t say they made her look like Catwoman, which also was true.

But even more, I played with her about her age.
“Have you been wearing glasses for a long time?”
“About 30 years.”
“Since you were 5.”
“Not quite.”
She smiled slyly – I knew she liked it.

WhadoIknow?  When I tease with women (and yes, often – though not as often – men) about their age, it’s usually kind of sincere.  I’m terrible at estimating ages.  This woman could easily have been 35 for all I knew.  I scoped her out again on my way out of the office later and I still didn’t have a clue.

But if I’m going to err on age with women (and sometimes men), I’m going to err on the side of calling them young.  At my grocery store, when a woman tells me she qualifies for the senior discount – if I genuinely think she looks too young, or like she might possibly be too young – I’m liable to say:
“Uh-uh…”
“No you don’t.”
“Not ’til you’re 60.”
“You must think I’m easy.”

If they ask if I want to see their driver’s license, I always say “Yes” – and they almost always seem to enjoy this little exercise.  You know they’re going to tell their friends that they got carded for their senior discount.

What’s the relationship between flirting and affirmation?  Flirting is playing and playing with someone is validating.  It’s a way of saying “I like you.”  Flirting is also a way of saying “I think you’re attractive.”  To indicate to a woman that you think they are attractive is not oppressive.

An exception is with drop-dead gorgeous women.  These women are more likely to have been oppressed around their looks – hit on, treated like an object, not recognized for their intelligence and competence.  They probably also already know they are attractive, so there’s no empty place to be filled here. With these women, I am more inclined to affirm them for their intelligence or competence, for their parenting or for their good taste in groceries.

If I can’t pull up those kinds of affirmations, I’m liable just to be all business.   This makes me feel a little sad – it feels like a loss, a loss of a chance to play – but it seems better than to appreciate any aspect of their appearance, even their glasses…or God forbid to look at them just a little too long.

Making flirting an affirmation is tricky – it’s an art form.  I don’t recommend it to people with clumsy interpersonal skills.  Doing it is an affirmation of my own intelligence.  And an affirmation of my connection with you.  It says that I know how to play – and I want to play with you.

Is it a good thing for them to give?

Not always.

We’re asking for money at the cash registers again – for a very good cause, one I can really get behind (Our Voice, a community agency that fights against sexual and domestic abuse).  There are all kinds of good reasons why it might be good for our customers to say “No”.  They may need to pull their energy in today.  Even thinking about this agency may trigger some of their own traumatic experiences.  The bottom line is that in that moment “No” may have the most integrity for them – may in some way even be healing.

Brother...

If we want to let it be equally as good for them to say “No” as “Yes”, then – to keep our own energy intact – we need to somehow just not care whether they give or not.   We need to plant our feet, take a deep breath, hold our center – and simply be glad we asked.  That’s all: we did our part in the dance.  Now we turn it over.

Now here’s where there’s a delicate paradox.  At the same time that you don’t care whether they give or not – while you say to yourself that “No” may be just the right answer for them – still it’s OK and maybe useful to have another part of your mental machinery that is pulling for them to say “Yes”.

Why?  Because, overall, yes is more life-affirming than no.  It’s good to say yes. It’s a celebration of life.  Be happy for them that they are in a place of yes.  If they are in a conflicted place, cheer for them to break through their no barriers and choose life.

Bless them whichever way they choose.  This is good for you too.  Embrace life. Don’t ask because you are supposed to ask or because it will look good in your numbers.  Ask because you believe in the cause.  Ask because you want be filled with yes energy.  Ask because you want to offer your customer the chance to have a yes moment.  Ask  because it’s a chance – in a job that sometimes can become robotic – for real human contact.  Ask because otherwise you’re just swiping groceries.

Bring out all your compassion for customers who are in a place of no.  It’s a painful place.  I say “Great”, whether people say yes or no – and I really mean it.  When I say “Have a great day”, I lean into it even a little more with people who have said no.  “I think your day maybe hasn’t been all that great so far.  I wish for it to get better.”

I give them all my big toothy grin at the end.  If they think I’m a goof, so be it.  It may help them dispel any energy that accumulated during this transaction.  It might be right.

My Body

My body is so funky
It has a mind of its own
My energy moves powerfully up and down
So predictably
7 days up, 10 days down
Like clockwork
It doesn’t seem fair
Why not 7 and 7 at least

It hasn’t always been like this
Until my early 40’s I always ran slightly high
Energetic, a go-getter, an overachiever
Enthusiastic, people called me
The occasional person told me I was too intense
Occasional enough that I could dismiss the charge
Though there was an important kernel of truth in it

In my early 40’s a constellation of circumstances
Conspired to pull the plug on my headlong momentum
And I crashed
Then, in my vulnerable state
I didn’t have the same kind of defenses
Against dangerous internal material
And my sex abuse memories came back
And I fell apart more completely

A few years later, I was in psychotherapy
With Dan, a psychologist who specialized
In treating men with a history of sex abuse
He said to me
“You do such great work in therapy
You break through walls heroically
But you always end up flat on the floor
I think you have clinical depression
Yes, yes, I know –
You’re going to say that you don’t believe in biochemical depression
We were trained as psychologists in the same era
I thought that too
All I can say is that when men like you
Get on antidepressants they tend to get better”

I saw Dan’s psychiatric associate
She actually did convince me that I had clinical depression
I got on Zoloft – and got better
Oh, my sexuality went totally away
That was hard on me and Jennifer
But I was desperate –
It felt like an acceptable price

A couple of years later, an antidepressant
Spiked a mania in me and
I got diagnosed bipolar
And so it has been for the last 13 years
Always taking some kind or another
Potent cocktail of meds
Frequently visiting a seriously suicidal state
Frequently being hospitalized for my own protection
Much less often but occasionally
Getting way too high for my own good

So, having just made the case to you
For how I am bipolar
I stand before you and say that I have become
Convinced that I am not bipolar
But did I not stand in front of you five years ago
After my abortive move to Mexico
And ask for your blessing for my depression
For my mental illness?

But I’ll say it again
 I am not bipolar
Bipolar disorder is a metaphor
Made up by the doctors
Who have no more idea than you and I
What is going on in this state
It assumes that all of us who show these patterns
Are essentially the same
When we are actually exquisitely unique

The behaviors I show when I am cycling high
Expanded is my favorite label for it
Are usually actually my best self
Enthusiastic again,
Engaging, warm, loving
Productive, creative
My low cycle can still be
Very painful
But I am learning better how to deal with it
I always go to work if I am scheduled
If I’m not scheduled
I may spend three days in bed
Not the best use of time, perhaps
But who knows?
I seem to hate myself less this way
Maybe I’m administering myself
Huge doses of TLC
I’m taking Charlie’s advice
To try classical music to soothe my soul
I’m getting my friends to look in on me
To get me out for a walk if I can do it
To bring me soup
To sit on the side of the bed and hold my hand                        

So once again I ask for your blessing
For me to fully wake up from the hypnosis
Of psychiatric name-calling
In many aboriginal cultures
What comes through me when I am up
Would be called shamanism
Send me love for my down cycles
When I need it most
Bless the wide circle of friends that I have recruited to support me
As I go through this metamorphosis

Oh and some of you are already wanting to ask
“What about the meds?”
They are going away, very gradually
I can’t assert that I do not have a mental illness
While I am medicating my maybe-very-healthy cycles
Hazardous yes, even stretched out over a full year
Some of the bad old days were very bad
But not as destructive as calling myself psychiatric names

So picture my body recovering from a 15 year onslaught of powerful drugs
Picture my dreams returning, picture my sexuality returning
OK, you don’t have to picture that
Picture me back among you, more fully me than ever
Oh, and if you feel so moved, give me a hug.

God winking at us

About ten minutes ago, I was wandering around my apartment looking for something (I can’t even remember what anymore).  It’s a sign of how random are the workings of my mind that i also cannot anymore remember why I was trying to remember the name of the restaurant on Biltmore Ave. where I have had some lovely times hanging out with my laptop.

I remember now!  I was (for some reason I no longer remember) thinking about having tea (or juice) next Thursday with my friend Kelly McKibben at Nectar Cafe and Juice Bar on Merrimon in North Asheville.  My sweet friends Tim and Pippin Boissy (it’s her birthday today – Ha, Facebook started this whole thread) opened this restaurant a few months ago and I have not even made it there.  Wouldn’t it be nice if it were to become a fav new internet cafe for me?  I could rotate with Green Sage/Westgate and that other restaurant on Biltmore.  I felt a little wave of frustration at not being able to remember its name, but thought that probably it would eventually come to me.

Then I walked into my bedroom, still looking for that elusive something, and on the lower shelf of my nightstand, peering clearly out at me from a perch that I swear i have not looked at for months, was a brochure for the restaurant named 67 Biltmore!  I took that brochure to order side dishes for my Christmas feast at Johanna and Tom’s – which I sure didn’t do, I brought a sixpack of beer.  Why was that brochure still sitting there?  So it could tickle my funny bone today?

When my son was in his early teens, I used to point out these synchronicities to him and refer to them as “God winking at us”.  In spite of (or because of) his mom dragging him to church every Sunday, he was an early atheist.  He thought this was one of the stupidest things I ever said (amidst strong competition).  A few years ago (he’s now 40), he told me that now he says it sometimes to himself when he encounters this kind of uncanny coincidence.

Our atheist mind sees all these coincidences as random, the mindless careening of the billiard balls of life.  The mind/ego experiences itself as separate/alone and thinks that’s true of everything.  But we know better, right?

Tomorrow I’ll post a poem that a wrote a few years ago about all this.  It’s called “The Whale”.

 

 

Heaven help us.

Heaven help us, I’m praying.

I am comfortably ensconced at my table at Green Sage Cafe, my current fav place to hang out with my laptop.  I have 2-4 hours of work ahead of me, which I will only relax if I accomplish this afternoon.  I have not made a blog post for weeks.  I have several topics floating around in my mind, in my little spiral notebook, dictated into my phone.  But there is this other work.  I know! I will write a short post – quick and dirty or, as my writing coach Nina Hart says, short and crappy.

I will write about what I am going to do next, still before launching into the dreaded “work”.  I am going to pray for my friends.

I am not a big prayer guy. My vision of a Great Spirit is not personal – I have no one to whom to pray.  But I have this little recent (or recently renewed) angle into prayer.  I don’t think that anybody thinks of me when I am not right in front of them – in spite of some people telling me they do, in spite of a variety of friends or even acquaintances describing to me incidents in which they were thinking of me or sending me positive energy or praying for me.

And I know why I don’t think that anybody thinks of me when I am not right in front of them: I don’t often think about the other people in my life, even very important other people like my son and my brother.  I am absorbed in survival.  In Steven Covey’s terms, I focus on what is or seems urgent, as opposed to what is genuinely important.  So I am going to take a page from people who regularly pray for their friends.  I’m going to do that too.

The other day I spent an hour or two creating three prayer lists, to use on three rotating days.  Each has the short list of my most intimate people, for whom I will pray every day:

  • my son
  • my brother
  • the woman I have been dating (or something, it’s not clear what, but I want to affirm her importance in my life)
  • my roommate Patti
  • the guys in my men’s group and their partners
  • my best friend Lynn
  • my 35-year best buddy Monty (one year deceased)
  • my dog Buddy (two years deceased but lately on my mind)
  • my parents (long deceased, but I am wanting to think of them more – to be grateful to them).

Each list also has a somewhat longer list of a whole variety of people I want to make important, to remember at a minimum every three days:

  • my seven housemates (who live in the other two apartments at our house, as opposed to Pattie who shares my  apartment with me)
  • people I work with
  • people I dance with
  • people i go to church with
  • people I practice Tae Kwon Do with
  • cashier-servers at my fav internet cafe (where I am now)
  • the man who molested me (very long deceased)
  • some living less-close relatives (one of whom I don’t like)
  • my old girlfriend

My goal is to spend at least a few minutes every day focusing on one of these three lists.  i want to make my friends – and other people in my life – important.  I want to remember that i am actually connected with others.  I want to make it easier for me to believe that others also actually think about me.  I want to open my heart.