Saturday, July 14, 2018

When It's Okay To Let 'Em See You Cry

Photo by Nathan Dumlao on Unsplash

As a woman, one of the top five lessons in life when it comes to success in the workplace is "never let them see you cry."

I think it's safe to say that since the dawn of time, or at least since women decided to step out of the house and into the work force, we've battled the stigma that we are dainty creatures with uncontrollable emotions. At the drop of a hat, our quiet, reserved demeanor could give way to a torrent of tears given our unpredictable menses that render us incapable of anything but chocolate consumption and distress.

And if by some miracle of modern science or divine grace we are able to pull ourselves together and function on a professional level without succumbing to the vapors, then begins a host of new monikers.

And there's really no crying in news.

But is there ever a time when it's okay to let loose? Break down? Bawl? Open the floodgates? Turn on the waterworks?

If tears are a sign of weakness then I can pinpoint my weakest moment of the past two-and-a-half years.  It was the moment I realized that finding a new job needed to become my highest priority.

On an average April morning, I allowed a coworker to crush my spirit. I take full responsibility for the incident because I allowed him to make me feel like a fraud. Worthless.

Things were humming along as usual, when as the producer and "adult in charge", I tried to issue a directive about news delivery. I was told in front of my entire crew that not only would my directive be dismissed, I would no longer be the voice of authority to this person, as he would be listening to his agent who has different opinions. Mic drop. I had been stripped of any say-so. I was exposed as unable to effectively do my job.

I spent the next hour trying not to break down and cry. I didn't lose it completely until I got in my car and choked out the story to a friend between sobs. I cried for my wasted efforts. I cried for my sudden vulnerability. I cried because I had to return the next day and face it all again. I was broken. He won.

I spent the next week replaying the incident in my head, picking it apart to determine where I had gone wrong in this professional relationship. Had I ever steered him wrong? Hadn't I been fair? Impartial? Hadn't I given hours of my personal time to hold meetings about delivery, content and execution? Was I a total bitch all this time and no one was reigning me in? Was this the moment someone was stepping up to put me in my place?

What I concluded was, it did not matter. It did not matter whether or not I had provoked the incident. No one deserves to be made to feel so small and unworthy. What he had done in one thirty second conversation was undermine two years of working to bring our crew together as a team. He proved that it did not matter to him.

I cried uncontrollably the day he made me feel so unworthy. I have not shed a tear over it since, nor have he and I spoken to each other about anything that was not work-related. If that one conversation is still the elephant in the room, neither of us is addressing it. I've learned a lot about myself since that April mornng. The biggest lesson: my life is too short to be made to feel so insignificant.

I've learned that it's okay to let them see you cry on occasion. I am only human. I've learned that I am still strong enough to want to move forward, and resolute enough to take those steps.

I've learned that there is no shame in acknowledging failure in a situation as long as the learning never stops. I failed at managing my coworker. But what I gained from the past two-and-a-half years of trying is an increased level of patience, and a fine-tuned sense of which battles are actually important.

So after fighting the good fight, I'm leaving my coworker and the rest of my team for a new job. I will truly miss most of the people I worked with. They are professionals bound by the common thread that just because your work hours are insane, a little levity can make it all okay.

And though we've laughed a lot since I announced my impending departure, I know on my last day, I will cry. In front of all of them.

Saturday, March 17, 2018

Peace and Quiet

I didn't realize how much I was looking forward to Spring until I left my apartment this morning. I haven't been to Hatchie National Wildlife Refuge in months and I missed it terribly.

Up before dawn, I checked the battery in the camera, filled the water bottle and hit the road. It's a little under an hour from my door to the calmness of the Refuge, and at 6:30 a.m. the roads are never busy. Double bonus for waking up early!

I knew the hummingbirds were on the way north, but I didn't know what to expect today.  As usual, I was not disappointed!  My first sounds of the impending spring season: red-winged blackbirds! They have a song that's unmistakable, almost an off-key trill that, I admit, takes some getting used to. But hearing that greeting can mean two things: Spring is nearly here and more of my favorite birdies are not far behind.

I spent about an hour-and-a-half in the Refuge this morning driving around the lake, watching the fishermen cast their lines, earlier to rise than I am. Mostly, I was listening to the sounds of peace. Eight hours a day, five days a week, I am bombarded with noises from police and fire scanners, relaying bad news, tragedies and sometimes horrors I'd rather forget. And if it's not the scanners, it's the televisions tuned to local news where broadcasters share crime stats, money matters and education shortfalls. By Friday, my brain is begging for a break.

So today, with the blackbirds singing, cardinals chirping, even a hawk calling from someplace I could not see, I found some relief from the vitriol.  I drove comfortably with the windows down, breeze in my hair, listening to those sweet sounds of nature. No obnoxious alarms going off, no worries that the next tone might be more bad news. Just simple chirps and the click of my camera. Bliss!

American Coots

American Coots (they have crazy big feet, but I couldn't get a good pic)

Mallard double date!


Cedar Waxwings (one of the coolest looking birds around, IMO)

CLICK HERE to check out more of my favorite birdie pics! 

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Fear Through My Inner Child's Eye

I dream a lot about the back gate in the yard of the house I grew up in. It was wooden, painted white with a black latch that had to be pad locked because it opened onto an alley that ran behind our property. People who didn't live in our neighborhood would use it as a cut-through, kicking over trash cans, throwing rocks over our fence and taunting the dogs. Bored and up to no good, every one of them a threat to our safety. Best to batten down the hatches.

The alley behind the house on Wilkinson Street
On the other side of that door, our back yard was a vast space to a small child. An expanse of red brick pavers with jagged, jutting borders, slick with the black moss that grows under the shade of live oak trees met green grass that was not mowed as often as it should have been.

In the center, a koi pond, de rigueur of the 1980s, overgrown with lily pads just this side of dying. Before the fish were put in my older brother and I would try to swim in the murky water. That was a no-no.

There was also the fort that my brother built alongside my father and grandfather. A 20-foot high bonding project that likely led to more headaches than hours of playtime. I was always afraid to climb up, never trusting the architectural skills of the men in my family.

Because of my trepidation, I was afforded my own sanctuary in the yard: a playhouse with actual electricity. I would spend hours during hot summer days cooking fake foods for imaginary guests, running back and forth to the fresh water spigot at the pond for the water necessary for my feast. A little plug in fan stirred the stagnant air.

But even with the fluorescent light inside that little house and the high walls separating me from the rest of the world, I never dared go outside at night.

After the sun went down every shadow was suspect, a place for the boogie man to hide. Too many dark corners and places for danger to lurk. Behind bushes, up tree houses, around corners, peeking through the lattice that kept raccoons and opossums from creeping under the house.

Often, I dream that I'm in the back yard alone at night and someone is trying to come through the gate. I can hear the wood and metal latch rattling and my fear is palpable. My blood runs cold and I am unable to flee the impending danger, my feet rooted where I stand. I see myself in the body of a child, but my mind is grown, screaming, "run!"

I wake in a sweat.

Sometimes I dream that the gate is not secure and my dog is threatening to run away, which makes me incredibly nervous because she is not a dog that likes other people. They are scared of her breed: half German Shepherd, half Catahoula Cur with a bullet in one paw from her days on the streets. One blue eye, one brown. Genetics. She does not like strangers. Again, with the life experiences of an adult, I am petrified in the knowledge that I am about to face this problem with the uncertain feet of an eight-year-old.

I wake out of breath, panting.

Sometimes I dream that it's nighttime and someone has already come through the gate. My dog is not there to protect me. Once I break free from the panic that has rendered me immobile, my leaden feet can't seem to close the distance between me and the safety of the back porch.

I wake scared, heart pounding.

Each dream is always filled with a nauseating dread. I am uncomfortable. I am not safe. The yard is not safe. Something bad will happen to me here. Someone or something will hurt me.

I never make it to the porch, but when I escape the nightmare, I am acutely aware that the dreams are a mirror of the apprehension I felt about home life as a little girl.

There was so much space outside and inside the walls of our three-story century home. So many creaky floors and dark rooms at night, each with its own cobwebs clinging to the past. There was too much to break, too many things to upset, alarms to trip, toes to step on, sleep to disturb, loud noises to muffle. So many ghosts hiding.

The downstairs hall, side door (left) and entry hall (right)
From an early age, grown-up problems were mine to solve, and secrets were meant to be guarded with lies. What happened in our home was no one else's business, and it was a sin to even hint.

I used to worry that some bandit would break into our home, that someone would breach the walls and invade our space. I was afraid they would do it through the French doors downstairs, or maybe the glass-paneled kitchen door that wouldn't stay closed unless the deadbolt was engaged. Or maybe the creeper would climb up the twisting old oak tree to the ledge below the attic windows and smash his way inside. I was sure no one would hear the glass breaking. There seemed to be countless potential points of entry and my imagination found them all insecure.

Every time I have these nightmares, then and now, I wake up unnerved. Disturbed.

There never seemed to be any sanctuary from the pending doom that threatened to make its way into my home once the sun went down. Even in my youth when the world was meant to be exciting, a place to be explored, I was the "old soul" concerned about what was pacing the attic crawl spaces above my head. As the family informer it fell to me to patrol the borders.

I was afraid someone would bust through the gate, smash a window, creep out of the shadows and speak our secrets out loud, exposing us.

A mother struggling with inner demons, a father working night and day to hold us together, a big brother who delighted in big brother torments, typical trials of childhood. And me. The quiet one. Pensive even then.

Little did I know, most people already knew.