Thankful For: A New Perspective

This year’s Thanksgiving post is dedicated to my job, which is itself kind of an unexpected plot twist. If someone had told me last Thanksgiving that I would soon be working full time in retail AND enjoying the experience, they would have gotten my Skeptical Face. But I hired on part time about nine months ago and happily transitioned to a full time Lead position less than two months later, and while the job is not always easy or fun, it’s been incredibly educational and I’m thankful to have it.

It didn’t come naturally to me, that’s for sure. I remember at one point grumbling to my work supervisor, “There has to be a way to thrive in retail without selling my soul.” It was maybe not the most tactful thing I could have said, considering that he and his fellow managers are doing fine in retail, presumably with their souls more-or-less intact. I was having a bad day.

As melodramatic as it must have sounded, I was serious. I’d been working there for maybe four or five months at the time, and retail still felt like an alien world to me. I was also still working through some personal issues that I had brought with me out of my Anza experiences. When I looked back at the four-and-a-half decades of my life up to that point, it seemed like one long struggle to hold onto my personal integrity while most of the people I was supposed to trust self-destructed and tried to take me down with them. I had worked out a basic life philosophy in which there are two kinds of people: the we’re-all-in-this-together types, and the every-man-for-himself types. I had it firmly in my mind that the latter type is universally destructive to themselves and to the fabric of society.

Here’s the thing: retail tends to attract the every-man-for-himself types.

Don’t get me wrong, I loved my job right from the start. I liked the physical exertion and the mental stimulation and the social interaction. I liked most of the people I worked with. But I didn’t trust any of them. Sometimes I felt incredibly frustrated by the lack of supportive communication and by the “sink or swim” management style. Because I really do like my workmates, I wanted them to be more like my own artistically-inclined circle of friends. Us artistic types are all about sharing our feelings and discussing our deep, profound philosophies. Try that in retail and you get coolly and politely rebuffed. Sometime they’re not even polite about it. Sometimes that bothers me more than it should. To be honest, most of the retail people that I’ve worked with are not especially “nice” in the traditional sense of the word. They’re not mean-spirited or anything, they just don’t, you know, overburden themselves with concern for other people’s feelings.

And holy crap, these people hoard information like they’re charged by the word. Fortunately we recently got a new Store Manager, and the new guy is all about the communication. Let me tell you, it is SO MUCH easier to do your job when you don’t have to reinvent the wheel every time an unfamiliar situation comes up, or have to call for someone who will use their own wheel to fix the problem but not give you one or tell you how to make your own. Yeah, I could probably come up with a better analogy than the wheel thing, but whatever, my point is that it’s been an adventure.

I’ve had two major epiphanies since I started working there. The first was three or four months ago, when I actually began to notice that, despite being The Wrong Type Of People, those managers, most of them anyway, were not actually self-destructing at all. In fact, they were navigating the retail world much more effectively than I was. It occurred to me that maybe there was a middle ground here that I did not yet understand, and that maybe these folks had some useful perspectives that I would benefit from acquiring. To use another descriptive analogy, because us artistic types love those, it was kind of like I had moved from France to Italy and then spent the next five months feeling aggravated by the fact that everyone around me was speaking Italian instead of French. While making no effort to learn Italian myself, because that would be the first step down the path of corrupt self-destruction.

Yeah, no. As soon I started really watching the other managers, without the judgy filter in place, I gained a new appreciation for each of their leadership styles. I realized that in a way, it’s a form of respect to let a person sink or swim on their own merits. And it’s way less exhausting than constantly trying to carry someone who doesn’t really want to be in the pool in the first place. Most of my job-related frustrations evaporated almost overnight when I stopped trying hold the retail system to the standards of the artistic community. I started choosing the traits I wanted to incorporate into my own management style. I was finally able to pick up the reins and start being a more effective Lead without feeling like the corporate villain in all of those Occupy political cartoons. I still freely share all of my wheels with anyone who needs them though, because I like working with knowledgeable, competent people. I never fix an associate’s problem without explaining to them how they can fix it for themselves next time.

My second epihany was more recent. Like, last week. Suddenly and with perfect clarity, I understood the fundamental underlying Truth of retail that had been eluding me since I hired on. The First Rule, the one that retail people instinctively follow but no one will tell you about or even admit to. It applies to every aspect of the business, from everyday job performance to the presentation of merchandise and everything in between.

I’m not going to reveal the First Rule of Retail here, because when you come right out and say it, it sounds kind of terrible, and I’m not looking to lose my job. But the nice part is that now that I’m aware of this rule, I can follow it perfectly without sacrificing any of my personal integrity. I have finally figured out the trick to thriving in retail without selling my soul.

And that’s just the big stuff. I’ve also learned a million and one smaller lessons in the past nine months, and gained some insights into human nature that throw my past experiences into a clearer light. I have a way to go yet and lots more to learn, but I’m incredibly thankful to be where I am. As another of my bosses said a few weeks ago, “Isn’t it funny how life puts you right where you need to be?”

Happy Thanksgiving to all, and may the path always take you where you need to be.

Categories: Friends, Life, Work Life | Tags: | Leave a comment

Where the Wildish Things Are

Yesterday I got a rare Saturday off, so the kids and I spent it at the Fort Worth Zoo.

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We had been to this zoo once before, on our road trip in 2007, but that first time we had gone late in the day for the Halloween Boo at the Zoo event and the kids were there for the candy more than for the animals. By coincidence we happened to visit during the 2014 Boo at the Zoo weekend, but this time we came for the animals.

[FUN FACT EDIT: Elizabeth just pointed out that we came on the exact same day, October 25, seven years later. What are the odds?]

It was a fun day, although we were surprised by how small the habitats are compared to the San Diego Zoo and how many of the animals are housed alone or just in pairs instead of in natural groups. The meerkats, for example…in San Diego, their enclosure is a large, fully-populated colony where you can watch them engaging in natural lookout and social behaviors. At the Fort Worth Zoo we only saw two listless meerkats in a small pen; no colony, no natural behaviors, no fun to watch. Same with the gorillas — only two of them, and they looked incredibly bored and dejected.

A few of the habitats are really nice though, especially the aquariums and some of the reptile enclosures.

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The rock-climbing wall is pretty cool. It’s more of a challenge than we expected, but making it to the top and ringing the bell was a nice feeling.

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We watched a fun Halloween-themed marionette show…

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…and enjoyed close-up encounters with a few tame animals.

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It was a nice way to spend a Saturday, and the weather was perfect. We probably won’t be going back, though, at least until they upgrade the habitats a little. The San Diego Zoo has spoiled us, apparently.

Categories: Animals, Cats, Family, kids, Life, Wildlife | Tags: | Leave a comment

The Difference a Year Makes

Yesterday was our one-year Texas anniversary: one year ago yesterday the kids and I rolled into Bedford to start a new life. We knew, or hoped, that it had to be better than what we were leaving behind, but we had very little idea of what to expect here. It was a leap of faith, for sure. So yesterday, after we registered Luke for his new school year, we went out for celebratory burgers and ice cream sundaes and spent our meal talking about everything we love about Texas and how awesome life has become over the past year. I felt like throwing confetti.

Mahogany, on the other hand, is DONE with this Texas summer heat. I have never seen her looking so thin, sun-bleached, bug-chewed and totally lacking in enthusiasm.

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I wormed her to be on the safe side, but most of her pasture-mates look about the same, especially the darker-colored ones. This heat is hard on horses. But today I noticed that her summer coat is starting to shed out, which reminded me that the days must be getting shorter. Funny, that used to be such a big deal back in Anza. Now I live my life almost entirely by electric light and have only a vague grasp of what time the sun sets and rises on any given day.

I did have one little rush of nostalgia a few days ago. I was on the closing crew at work, and when my shift ended I stepped out into the muggy late-night heat and suddenly realized that if I were in Anza I would be up on my roof with the kids, enjoying a cool mountain breeze and watching the Perseid meteor shower that comes around every mid-August. In Anza you can see ALL the stars, and the Perseid shower is always worth staying up for. In DFW, stars and meteor showers might as well not exist at all.

Elizabeth’s registration day was Tuesday. She cannot wait for the new school year to start. I really like her campus.

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But I’m writing this all out of order. When I wrote my last entry, Luke was still in California and Elizabeth hadn’t left yet. Luke returned on June 28 and Elizabeth flew out on July 2. With her gone, neither Luke nor I felt much like celebrating on the Fourth, but we were pleasantly surprised by a nice view of fireworks from our north-facing windows.

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We fell into a pattern during the eight weeks that one or the other kid was in California. None of us at home wanted to do anything fun that the absent person would miss out on, so we kept putting off all significant outings and family activities until we were all together again. By the end of the two months, this had a seriously negative effect on my overall happiness. Stuff that I usually shrug off at work was stressing me out, I was losing patience with poor Luke at home, and I started having trouble concentrating on even simple tasks. I didn’t feel like myself again until Elizabeth came home and we fell back into our comfortable family routines.

Luke and I did have one nice little hike while Elizabeth was away. We had been wanting to explore a particular trail ever since we moved into our apartment, and a sudden stretch of cool weather made it too tempting to put off.

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Yesterday, after the anniversary sundaes, we showed Elizabeth the trail.

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It felt like the perfect casual celebration of our first year in Texas.

We’re looking forward to Year Two!

Categories: Animals, Family, food, Horses, kids, Life, School, Weather | Leave a comment

Monthly Wrap-Up

A few weeks ago I was walking through a field and saw this guy on a trash-heap:

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I whipped out my camera, but I needn’t have hurried.

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I think I’ve seen more random taxidermy since I moved to Texas than in all of the rest of my life put together. I don’t know why, but Texans really, really enjoy stuffing animals and pieces of animals. I mentioned this phenomenon to a coworker here, and her eyes lit up with delight and nostalgia as she told me about the first creature she ever taxidermied (a mouse) and how she still proudly displays it in her home. I am not making this up.

Summer is in full swing now, but I don’t want to forget to mention how gorgeous Texas is in the springtime.

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Everything was in bloom, everywhere. I didn’t get a lot of photos, because working full time in retail kind of swallowed up my life for a while until I adjusted to it. On the plus side, this job is getting me into better shape than I’ve been in in years.

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It’s like getting paid to go to the gym for eight hours a day.

The horses that run wild down by the Trinity River have added some new babies to their little herd.

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They keep their distance now and scamper off if Mahogany and I get too close.

Farther up the river, there’s a nice park area where I can work on training Mahogany to cross moving water. We haven’t gone there much, because getting to it involved crossing a narrow road-bridge with no way to get out of the way of traffic. But we braved it today, and discovered that the culvert has been reconstructed to allow for crossing beside the bridge. Now I have TWO places to train Mahogany on water crossings!

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And the park is great for just galloping at full speed across the open meadows.

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School is out for the summer. As per our custody agreement, Luke and Elizabeth are each spending four weeks in California with their dad. Luke went first; he’ll be coming back to Texas this weekend and Elizabeth will fly out to California few days later. It’s their first experience with flying, so that’s kind of exciting. Selfie at the airport:

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An out-of-state Facebook friend came out to Arlington on business this week and invited me to have breakfast with him yesterday morning. Neither of us were familiar with that area, so I got some restaurant recommendations from a local friend and we ended up at a colorful little dive straight out of a grainy ’70s movie. So much food was piled in front of me that I ended up bringing most of it home home for lunch. The company was very nice, and I thoroughly enjoyed the whole experience. This was the first date I’ve been on since my marriage ended six years ago, so it feels like a milestone.

And that’s all the news for the month. Life is good. Oh! How To Train Your Dragon 2 is an amazing movie, go see it!

Categories: Animals, Family, food, Friends, Horses, kids, Life, trail rides, Travel | Leave a comment

Writing, Working, Relocating

Funny thing about writing for a living. To make any money at it, you actually have to spent most of your time sitting in front of a keyboard, writing.

Earning a living as a writer has been my dream since I was a teenager. I don’t know why the actual logistics of it never really crossed my mind. The part where I’d be sitting at a desk all day as my body slowly turned to mush? Somehow that was never part of the fantasy.

When we got back from our holiday trip to California, the combination of my return to the sedentary writer’s life and the feast-and-famine nature of the kind of writing I was doing drove me to get a part-time job that I knew would keep me on my feet and running around for a few hours a day in exchange for a steady paycheck. The first week or two of that really made me realize how out-of-shape I had let myself become. So much pain. But then my body toughened back up, and the extra flab started to come off. Seriously, I haven’t lost this much weight this quickly since my marriage ended and I couldn’t keep food down for like two months. I think manual labor is seriously underrated.

What really surprised me, though, is how much I enjoy the job. The combination of physical exertion, mental stimulation and social interaction makes me happy in a way that I did not expect. A few weeks after I hired on, I accepted a transition to a full-time position with more responsibility. I haven’t done any paid writing in weeks, and I don’t miss it. Bonus: my novel is progressing in leaps and bounds now that my wordsmithing energy isn’t being siphoned off into the other stuff.

Another nice thing about a regular-paycheck job is that it offers a certain reassurance to prospective landlords. The kids and I have finally relocated to our own apartment!

Life tip: If you ever move from a largish house into a smallish apartment, spend a few interim months living in someone else’s home. That little apartment will look positively spacious, trust me.

The best part about being able to stay with friends while we acclimated to DFW is that when the time came to start looking for an apartment, we knew exactly which area we wanted to move to. We are right where we want to be, or as close as we can get without moving Elizabeth out of her preferred high school. Luke had to switch to a different junior high, but he’s okay with that. He likes his new school.

Fun extra: there is a church up the street from our apartment with a full carillon that chimes on the hour:

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I can just hear it if the windows are open, so it’s not intrusive. I like it, it’s a pretty sound.

The Metroplex is nice and green again, finally. Winter is kind of bleak here, which is one of the reasons I haven’t been blogging much. It’s not really a photogenic place in the winter.

I was really enjoying how wild and overgrown Mahogany’s stretch of river trail is getting…

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…until I lost my phone out there in the middle of a ride. Oops.

When the kids got home from school we went on a search-and-rescue mission that really only succeeded because Elizabeth kept calling my phone with hers until we heard it ring.

Let’s see, what else? I have plans to create a small kitchen garden in containers on our apartment’s balcony. I’m looking forward to seeing what I can grow here.

And now I think I’m all caught up!

Categories: Animals, environment, Family, Friends, Horses, Humor, kids, Life, trail rides, trees, Weather | Leave a comment

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