The Fine Art of Etiquette

I, have terrible etiquette.  I would be the perfect pet project for Emily Post. There is a part of me that has a desire to be one of those women that send thank you notes to thank someone for thanking them, but lets face it, I suck at this small yet achievable task. I typed out thank you letters for the donations that I received for my 50 mile walk, in February and due to everything else that I have going on, I have yet to send them out. At first I wanted to personally write all of them myself instead of typing them. When I wasn’t able to get that done before and after Christmas I decided to type out a generic one and personalize them all with a little note. I currently have about half of them done. At this point I’m just embarrassed to send them out, but I don’t want people to feel like I don’t appreciate them. My husband seems to be this superman type human being that not only is a PTA President, a team captain of multiple non-profit events, works 40+ hours a week, and commutes to work via running or biking every day, yet I have issues just getting out thank you letters. I don’t want to sell myself short. I work full time, volunteer a ridiculous amount of time to raising money and recruiting volunteers for the Multiple Sclerosis Society, I organize all of the summer kids events at work, train for a 50 mile walk, currently training for a 5k and decided to add school to my list of things to do on top of it all. Yet, among these things, I seem to have issues with the little things that people do. I have yet to send a letter of thanks to a friend who sent me a lovely note when my Grandmother passed away.

 

I forget birthdays and anniversaries. I have an aunt who has sent me a birthday card for every year that I’ve been alive. She sends five dollars in the card until you turn eighteen and gives a larger amount when you graduate from high school. To this day, I know that I can look forward to her card making its way to my mailbox within days of my birthday and they always make me smile. It’s one of those little things that I have come to depend on. A couple of years ago I decided that I wanted to show my thanks by sending her a card for every year that she’s sent me one and I have yet to do it. Great idea, right? Now if I could just kick myself in the ass to just do it.

 

My fabulous mother in-law sends care packages or cards for every holiday. She sends my husband and I a gift card of some kind for our anniversary and ALWAYS gets me something fantastic for my birthday and yet I was the asshole that didn’t write down when she and my father in-law celebrated their 40th wedding anniversary. It went right over my head that it was a big one.

 

I can’t help but feel that this is a lost art or am I in the minority. Sometimes I feel that if I only had a life secretary I would never have these issues. Is this too much to ask? Am I beating myself up for no reason? Or somewhere in my growing up years due to my dad working his ass off and my mom’s declining health, did I just miss out on these teachings? Please discuss. : )

 

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To Judge a Book by Its Cover

I am a bookseller.  I am that pesky sales person that can convince you to buy a book or to put it back on the shelf and forget that you ever picked it up.  However, for those moments that there is no bookseller to be found and you’re browsing the shelves for that treasure; that one book that will change your life, personality, and pant size or simply take your mind away from the daily stress of being human; what is it on the front of the book that makes us want to read the synopsis on the back?  Is it the woman with the heaving bosoms being ravished by a shirtless man with pectoral muscles the size of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s in his prime? Or maybe it was the cyborg standing with a gun while looking back at a city destroyed by war that made you reach for that new mass market paperback? Could it be the title itself? Was the font bold and beautiful?  Or did you simply come into the bookstore to buy the latest book that everyone was talking about and the cover didn’t matter in the least? Marketing departments have to ask these questions every day and make decisions based upon those questions. The cover of a book has to also entice a particular audience. Is the title meant to attract a male or female? Is it geared towards a teen boy or girl?  I have witnessed children and adults alike put a book that I have passionately described to them back on the shelf simply because they didn’t like the cover and no amount of my sales expertise was going to persuade them. I have also convinced several people to believe they need a twenty dollar picture book just for the beauty of its illustrations.  We humans have become a picky lot and need visual stimulation.  If we don’t find something attractive to our own eyes, we have the tendency to pass it by.  This however can be a good thing, for it makes the artists and marketing departments improve their talents and stay current.

 

The Vampire Diaries by LJ Smith was originally written in the early 1990’s. In 2007 the books received a new look for a new generation of teens and of course attracted those who had become obsessed with the Twilight Saga by Stephenie Meyer.  If they had been released with the original covers, I have no doubt that sales would have gone in a completely different direction. Christopher Pike, Stephen King, Nora Roberts, Orson Scott Card, Madeline L’Engle, Judy Blume and Beverly Cleary are to this day well loved authors, but would their books sell as well if they had the original cover art?  Gone are the days of long haired muscle men being placed on the cover of every romance novel and little green men on every science fiction title.  Teen books no longer have girls with mall hair and tight rolled jeans but have moved onto boys with dark brooding good looks or girls showing just their facial profiles.  Cover art and illustrations can make or break a perfectly good book. A childrens picture book could have the sweetest story to tell, but if the illustrator doesn’t do his or her job, that book will end up on the out of print list rather quickly.  With adult books it’s no different. A man will pick up a graphic novel with Wonder Woman’s breasts ready to pop out, but it’s the women that will pick up the paperback book with a woman in a tight dress, thigh high boots, and a bloody knife in her hand. Both covers show off a sexy image and yet the interest is divided by gender.

 

I have been doing my job long enough to know just by looking at a cover; the kind of person that is going to pick the book up to enjoy it and who is going to mock it with their nose in the air.  Some may call it stereotyping, some may call it pompous or egotistical, some may just tell me that I’m good at what I do. I can also tell by the body language of a child as to whether or not a book suggestion is going to be ignored or picked up with excitement.  I can look at the teen books coming into my section and usually tell without looking at the back as to what genre in teen it’s going to be placed into and whether or not the buyer at the corporate office is new to their job due to it being coded incorrectly.  That is the power of judging a book by its cover. That is the power of an artist and marketing department to entice, persuade, sell, or con a person into thinking that the book is going to change their life or just entertain them for a weeks worth of reading before going to bed.

 

Books I find are like wine, no one should ever tell you what you should like.  Like a spicy cabernet it doesn’t have to be expensive or fancy to be enjoyable. Sometimes the most simplistic covers make for the best books.  Sometimes the ones that receive the most praise are really as good as everyone says, while others may have you tearing your hair out and wishing for those hours of your life back. Never doubt the power of the consumer.

 

So, we will continue to judge books by their covers. We will base entire conversations on the silliness of titles and the beauty of Dave McKeans art on the cover of a Neil Gaiman graphic novel.  We will fall asleep to a book that a friend has recommended to us and wonder why the cover of that book shows the main character with blonde hair when the author describes her as having red.  We will curse Hollywood for destroying the image that we had in our head of a beloved character and laugh at the half eaten face on the cover of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies.  As for e-readers, they are the perfect tool to not have people judge you by the cover of the book that you’re reading and allow for those guilty pleasure reads that so many of us try to deny ourselves.  No matter how you decide on that perfect book, keep it up, for it helps to expand the minds of the artists that help you to judge the cover and us booksellers on our toes wondering what the customer will go for next.

                       

Dreams

I have really vivid dreams. Always have. Sometimes I’ve been known to control them. I also have nightmares, many of which I have no control over and usually are extreme enough for me to lash out verbally in the night and wake up my husband. Last night I was being portrayed by Rachel McAdams in the sense that I looked like her, but the voice and thoughts were my own. Billy Crudup was my husband. We were in a little house that resembled my Grandmothers, with its small kitchen and no basement, but it looked like a designer had come in to beautifully make use of the space. As Billy is showing off the place, I come to feel an anxiety so strong that I had to force myself to not run. I had stepped into another woman’s mind and although I understood her thoughts to be my own, she had left her own fear behind so I could feel it. I was to find out soon enough that her fear was of her husband. Any time I voiced my concern or opinion, I was greeted with a quick burst of anger from Billy, followed by a charming smile that was condescending. When I eventually told him that his communication skills were lacking, I received a slap to the face. I was woken up shortly after that by the voice and face of my own husband and felt instant relief to no longer be lying on the floor of a kitchen with the sting of a hand still on my face.

Now, I often wonder where the dreams come from. I watched the movie Morning Glory last night and Big Fish in class this week which explains as to why Rachel McAdams and Billy Crudup were there.  However, where did the abuse come from? Was my own past coming to haunt me or am I being gifted with visuals of scenes that I have yet to write about for my character Adrienne? She is a woman that marries her high school sweetheart and their relationship becomes abusive over time. She eventually meets a kind man who teaches her how to trust again and if I’m being honest with myself, it wouldn’t be bad if the lovely Patrick Wilson were to portray that man in my dream.

I find myself doing this more and more as I write. I actually have actors already in place to play my characters. It makes the scenes a little more real. A little easier to play out in my mind. The flow of words come more freely. Now, the question is, should I be writing a book or should I try my hand at a screen play? Who the hell knows, a writer can dream can’t she?

Some Nights I Just Wait for the Dawn

I am a night owl.  I am exhausted with my desire to come up with useless words to put on a page. I am hopeless in my ability to turn off the light and go to bed where a warm husband is waiting for me. It’s past 3am and there is no good reason for me to still be awake and yet I’m here staring at a screen. I have watched a movie, I have written in my journal, I have brainstormed scenes for my book that I hope to have done before I’m fifty and yet I sit here wide awake with no desire to go to bed yet.

We are the gatekeepers of our own emotions and desires. The nightmares that come are of our own making. I am adrift in a sea of my own rants and I can’t seem to stop it. The cat is snoring while I type random nothings and I have a desire to walk through my backyard without my shoes on just to feel the new grass on my feet. Maybe I’m already dreaming. This stream of consciousness makes no sense and yet it seems so right. Should I try to wake myself up or do I continue to let my fingers type out the words that shout at me from the voices in my head? I am craving apple pie and the scent of sun kissed sand and water. I have a headache and my mouth is dry. Time to power down the laptop and curl up next to the husband for I don’t think I can wait for the dawn.

Human

For we are the children of love and hate

Yin and Yang

Good vs. Evil

Where are we to draw that line?

Who are we to accuse and judge?

Anger and fear

Understanding and confusion

We are part of the lost and found

in the back corner of an old abandoned building

where dust bunnies are collecting and the echos

of voices are long gone.

We are hopeful and proud.

We are lonely and downtrodden.

We are imperfect in our imperfection.

We are human.

Let us not forget.

Rise Up

So, this is the memoir piece that I had to do for my EN100 class last Summer. I’ve been a little paranoid about putting my stuff  “out there” and thought that it was time for me to suck it up and just do it.  This was my final draft that I turned in and received an “A” on. I haven’t edited it with the suggestions that my Prof gave me, but thought that you’d be able to get the gist of my style anyway. So, here it goes. Enjoy.

It was the beginning of August and Traverse City was humming with the excitement of what has become their annual film festival.  I along with my husband and kids had decided to make a long weekend of it and traveled there to visit family who live just a few short blocks away from the entertainment.   I had been feeling anxious, depressed, and weary and the desire to get away from Grand Rapids and the job that had been sucking my soul away was so acute I could already feel the sand between my toes and smell the musky sweet scent of the bay.

 Traverse City is small town with a big personality and everything is within walking or biking distance.  There is a local beach where few tourists can be found.  With the temperature in the low 80’s and the sun shining, the small beach was the perfect location for our Saturday afternoon outing. The bay lapped at the hot sand as I watched my family enjoy the coolness of the water.  I tilted my head back, took a deep cleansing breath and allowed my face to be sunkissed.  We had a light lunch that consisted of  fresh strawberries, grapes and watermelon purchased at the farmers market that morning. Paired with crackers, cheese and ice tea, it made for a setting straight out of an Elizabeth Wells novel; all I was missing was a bloody mary to complete the picture.  As the day progressed into late afternoon, I still couldn’t seem to calm my erratic mind and decided that a drive up the coast of West Grand Traverse Bay would be a wonderful way to destress my worrisome heart.  I needed to be free to think and do a little bit of soul searching.  So, with the sand still on my feet and legs, I put a towel down on the seat, said my goodbyes with a promise to bring back some wine for dinner and hopped into my Honda Pilot.

 I had purchased some amber perfume oil from a small shop called Higher Self that morning and made sure to put it on.  I had read in a travel magazine years before that a new scent is a must have when going on a trip.  The article had said  to make sure the scent was one not usually worn. When at home, the scent will be a reminder of that particular trip.  I was consciously creating a memory that day.  Little did I know that I would come back to it again and again.

 With all of the windows down, I cruised down past the marina and headed north on M22 toward Suttons Bay.  I had the bay to the right of me and despite the noise of the traffic, I could still hear the sound of the waves coming in and the seagulls overhead.  The wind coming in through the windows was a reprieve from the hot sun that had turned my pale skin pink and I relished the freedom of not having shoes on my feet as I pushed down the gas pedal.  I had just recently watched the movie Into the Wild and had fallen in love with the soundtrack which was composed by Eddie Vedder.  The song Rise struck a chord with me as I continued towards my destination.  Eddie’s beautiful melancholy voice began to haunt me.

“Such is the way of the world

You can never know

Just where to put all your faith

And how will it grow

 

Gonna rise up

Burning black holes in dark memories

Gonna rise up

Turning mistakes into gold”

 

I began to tear up and then pushed the button that would start the song over again.

 

“Such is the passage of time

Too fast to fold

And suddenly swallowed by signs

Low and behold

 

Gonna rise up

Find my direction magnetically

Gonna rise up

Throw down my ace in the hole”

 

I must have played the song a dozen times before I even reached Suttons Bay.  I realized that I needed to “rise up”.  I had a job that I was coming to loathe, no sense of what I wanted to do with my life other than having the desire to go back to school, and it was at that point that I realized that although I wasn’t old,  I wasn’t getting any younger.  I was on the fast track to doing what I promised myself I would never do.  I was “ending up”.  I had told my father several years before that “ending up” was one of my greatest fears.  I didn’t want to look back and say, “What the hell did I do with my life?”.  I never had any intention of being at my job as long as I had.  I wasn’t supposed to be in my early 30’s, stuck in a job that “just paid the bills”.  I was meant to make a difference.  I had grand ideas of what I could be doing, but I had no idea how to get there.

 With dark thoughts in my head, I arrived in Suttons Bay.  I parked the Honda, got out, and began to walk.   With its love of the arts and gorgeous views of the water, Suttons Bay is a quaint tourist town.  I passed by the families getting ice cream at the local shop and locals sitting on their porches watching the tourists enjoy themselves.  I wandered aimlessly through the shops and throng of people and finally decided that I needed to be by the water.  I passed the small hotel by the marina and continued down to the park.  I found a bench that looked out over the bay, sat down, closed my eyes and just breathed in the fresh air.  With uncontrolled tears silently streaming down my face, I felt like I was having a bit of a break down.  I didn’t know where to go from here.  I was a lost child in a sea of unfulfilled dreams.  How had I become this woman?  Who was she and why was I allowing her to control me?  I brought my anxious mind to a calm level and repeated “everything will be alright”.  It became a mantra.  Then, I replaced it with “Gonna rise up, find my direction magnetically”.  This time, instead of Eddie’s voice, I heard my own.  The breeze lifted my bangs out of my face and cooled my neck. Although I sat beneath a tree, I could still feel the warmth of the sun as it reflected off of the concrete walkway.  The seagulls screeched above me and the water gently crashed into the short pier.  The fishy smell of the bay mingled with my amber perfume and the lingering scent of the sunblock I had put on earlier.  At that moment, it was the most intoxicating thing I had ever smelled.  I don’t remember how long I stayed there.  I waited for my anxieties to come back, but it seemed they were going to stay away for the moment.  The sadness still lingered, but the pain wasn’t as sharp.  I wiped my damp cheeks with the pads of my fingers, applied some lipgloss and began to walk back to the Honda.  Once I was behind the wheel, I put the key into the ignition, kicked off my flip flops and rolled down the windows.  I popped in what was to become my new theme song and drove south to get back into Traverse CIty.  This time when I played the song, I felt a renewed sense of myself.  I could breathe deep again and this time instead of crying, I smiled as I sang along to the lyrics.

 As I came into the downtown area, I stopped at a little market named Jacks.  With its dark rustic wood, it looks like a large fish shack.  Once inside, a person is treated to a great selection of microbrew beers and local wines from both the Old Mission and Leelanau Peninsulas.  The employees are friendly, enthusiastic, and knowledgeable.  I purchased a bottle of chardonnay that came highly recommended and made my way back to my aunt and uncle’s house.  My aunt is the consummate hostess and had already set out what was left of the fresh fruit and cheeses from lunch in preparation for the bottle of wine I promised to bring back.  I can’t tell you what we had for dinner that night and I can’t tell you what I did for the rest of the weekend, but that short little trip rejuvenated me in a way that only travel can.  That weekend was my turning point.  Shortly after the trip I started looking at schools and their programs.  I began asking friends for advice on what I could do.  I sent away for brochures from trade schools and sent out emails to several local colleges in the hopes that one would just click.  It took me two years to finally decide that going to GRCC was my best option.  It took me another half year to finally register for a class.  The process has been slow, but some things can’t be rushed.  The moment has to be savoured and nurtured until it’s ripe for the picking.  My hand is finally reaching for that juicy apple on the tree and I’m ready to take the first bite.  As the lyrics go, “I’m burning black holes in dark memories, gonna rise up, and throw down my ace in the hole.”  I still have moments when I feel that my emotions and anxieties are out of control, but on such days, all it takes is a bit of my amber perfume and that drive up the coast comes back to me and somehow I remember to breathe.