Sweet Baby, Mama Loves You

Sweet baby, mama loves you.

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You came to me, unexpectedly, when I was a junior in college. Working at the pizza place, living with a fellow student who had a kitten, and you were mentioned offhandedly. Someone was moving and couldn’t bring their cat, and did I know anyone interested in a black cat?

Me. I was interested.

“She’s not a lap cat,” they said, handing you over in a metal crate that looked more like a bird or rodent cage than a cat carrier. I put you in the back of my Camry – the same one still in the garage, and I took you home.

You slept on my pillow that night.

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You were not fond of the kitten, but that was ok.

One time you got out of the house, and I ran down the street in a panic, trying to find you. You were hiding on the covered porch, watching my antics, no doubt with amusement.

You moved into that windowless basement apartment with me, despite the dog, and then you moved into my parents’ house with me when I left that place behind.

You flew 3,000 miles to be with me in Seattle, where you met Eric, who I still maintain you love more than me. He denies it. But we both know.

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You drove almost that same distance to Arkansas, when we moved again. Eric tells the story better than me – you meowed the whole way, non-stop, until the final day. When you arrived, I had a sign on the door “Welcome Home Zoe! (And Eric).”

That was a good apartment for you, with all of the light in the living room and big windows. And the ample room for your favorite pastime: hunting hair ties.

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Then you and I drove to Michigan; it was my turn with you in the car, but you didn’t cry nearly as much. So maybe I am your favorite. We drove all the way in one day, and you spent the night learning your way around that old house in Zeeland.

When we bought our house, we had you in mind. I was disappointed that the only windows for you to sit in were in the basement, but we figured we could make it work.

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My right shoulder is sore most of the time because you insisted on perching there like a parrot. Your head – so soft and warm – pressing against my neck. I can’t really be upset about it. What’s a little soreness compared to cute, fluffy black cat on my shoulder? And there was the pawing at my side until I picked you up and put you there.

You were always so small; people thought you were a kitten, even though you had the disposition of an old woman, set in her ways and kind of demanding, but no one says anything.

You were also exceptionally sweet. Most of the time. And only to us. With others, you were standoffish. And there were the times you mangled me. But never Eric. So I guess point for him again.

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This morning you were even smaller, impossibly so. And I don’t know if it was worse seeing you like that or putting away your scratch post this afternoon, so I won’t see it tomorrow and be somewhere between confused and devastated.

It’s unfair, really.

I told you and the universe and anyone who would listen that you were, in fact, immortal. But then, you always got your way.

You are, though. Because here you are – small and sweet and precious and all of those things I would say or sing or whisper to you (and at you, and at Eric about you, until he would make that annoyed face, even as he agreed). The concept of immortality has changed in the digital era because pieces of us, of you, can live on forever. A series of 0’s and 1’s, words translated to digital memory.

It’s all I can give you now.

Sweet baby, mama loves you.

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Why I read Hawthorne

I’ve been thinking about this post for a while, putting it off because I couldn’t remember my professor’s name, and it made me sad. The things that are so important to us at certain times in our lives can be difficult to hold onto. It’s like another world, another Sam that existed, and I don’t always share her memories.

Which is, ironically, a fantastic segue into what I’ve been thinking about – American Romanticism. Or, more specifically, American Dark Romanticism (or American Gothic) of the early to late 1800s. Mmmmhmm. I can feel your excitement right now.

I fell in love with this particular literary movement in high school, when I first read The Scarlet Letter. And don’t come to me with “ugh, that book is so boring,” because then I’m convinced you didn’t read it.

My adoration grew in college, when I was pleased to take two classes with a professor (the aforementioned one whose name has escaped me, and I feel like I’ve betrayed my degree) who shared my excitement over this time period. He taught a class in Crime, Morality, and Punishment in 19th and 20th Century Literature, and if that doesn’t sound like a whirlwind of a time, then I don’t really know what is. And he taught early American Lit. AKA all of the quietly, sneakily depraved writing of the 1800s.

When most people think of gothic literature, they think of Poe and his Raven. I love Poe, too. One of my favorite assignments in college was my feminist critique of The Fall of the House of Usher. I had a grand time with that. Not to mention “A Descent Into the Maelstrom,” a view into that human nature to hang a foot off the edge of a cliff, to see what might happen.

But the dark romanticism of the age, for me, is settled snugly in the hands of Hawthorne. I find myself thinking about his writing a lot lately. As the world has shifted underneath me, and I feel unsteady, I think about the Minister’s Black Veil or Ethan Brand. I imagine him sitting and writing the words, his cautionary tales about the world, about Us vs. Them, about false piety.

He wrote extensively about Puritans. His grandfather had been a judge during the Salem witch trials, after all. He did not cast them in a favorable light. They are instead depicted harshly, like deep, rough lines against an otherwise normal backdrop. They are hypocritical, placing their chosen heroes on pedestals and denouncing their preferred outcasts. And inevitably the heroes are flawed, and the outcasts are noble (though also flawed because they are human).

It strikes a little close to home these days.

Think about what you may (or may not) remember about The Scarlet Letter. Spoilers, I guess? But then again, this story is over a hundred years old. You’ve had ample time.

Hester Prynne has been put in jail, unwed (or, more specifically, widowed) and now with child. They cannot put her to death, so they instead require her to wear a scarlet letter A upon her clothes, forever marking her sin and displaying it for the world to see. They demand to know the identity of the father, but she refused. She lives outside of the village, raising her daughter.

Hester otherwise lives by all of the puritanical rules of society. She wears somber colors, is gentile and respectful. She also sews the most elaborate and beautiful dresses. Her daughter wears fanciful and colorful outfits, and the wealthier matrons in the village hire her for all manner of seamstress work. She tends to the sick, staying by their beds to comfort them. But still she is treated as an outsider, an untouchable.

The local minister, Arthur Dimmesdale, is meanwhile looked on as a paragon of society. His increasingly poor health is attributed to his piety, with many members of his church believing that he is fasting, or that he is simply so overwhelmed with goodness that he is being called to Heaven.

It is, instead, his own guilt eating away at him.

At the end of the novel, before a crowd of people, Dimmesdale rips away his shirt, confessing that he is Pearl’s father and that his sin is all the greater for having allowed Hester to bear the burden for those 7 years. The crowd is stunned to see a bright scarlet A branded on his chest.

(Yeah, see, boring my ass.)

The village immediately turns on him, some shouting that he should be hanged for his sin.

Until Pearl, the child of Hester and Arthur’s union, speaks out, reminding all in the crowd that they, too, have sinned. That in the wake of seven years of her mother’s continued service to the town, she has heard some say kind words. That her father has been seen as holy and admirable. She reminds them that forgiveness is more important than judgment.

I could talk about (or write about) this story for hours, for days. Hawthorne so brilliantly captures the hypocrisy of those shouting about propriety. And in this modern era of loud voices and pulpit-pounding, I find peace in these tales.

Dimmesdale dies after his confession. He and Hester do not run off the Europe to start a fresh life together and they had hoped a mere chapter earlier. But Chillingworth (just read the story, seriously) finds forgiveness, and he leaves his fortune to Pearl a few years later. When Hester dies, she is buried by Arthur. Though he feared they would be damned together, Hester believed they would be forgiven and spend an eternity by each other’s sides.

And I guess that’s why I love Hawthorne. Though dark and at times depressing, the background characters of his tales often learned a lesson via the suffering of his protagonists. He did not sugar coat his stories; he shed light on the harsh truths of society but still maintained hope that people could learn and grow and change.

I need that reminder.

Of course, there’s always Poe, too. When it’s time to simply scream into the void. That might work just as well.

GTD Newb

I didn’t make a huge announcement, but those that know me probably already know that I made a change and joined the team at Arkus, Inc. So hooray for that.

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One of the best things about starting with them is that they have a structured onboarding process, and it involves reading and implementing David Allen’s Getting Things Done methodology. GTD for the initiated.

I read the book before my official start date, and it was eye-opening. To quote one of the Arkus founders, “geeks love it.” I can confirm that. Anyway…I read the book, and me being me, I wanted to drop literally everything and implement it immediately.

That is not realistic during the holidays. There’s stuff to do. Hours in the car. Family gatherings. Festivities. New video games.

So instead I did the holidays thing, and then I did the starting a new job thing. GTD sat in the peripheral, staring at me, poking sometimes, even. I took on some of the “quick win” type things right away; I made lists of actions, had a list of projects, emptied my mind every couple of days. That alone made a difference.

This past weekend, I talked the husband into implementing GTD at home, and the entire weekend was focused on that implementation. We went through our upstairs home office, gathered all of the Stuff and then we processed it. We determined what our ongoing process will look like.

Can I be honest? This is my blog. I’m going to be honest. I don’t know if it’s going to be a stellar success at home. Not for any other reason than I’ve read the book, and the hubs hasn’t. Also he’s extremely action-oriented. He basically has been doing GTD for years, just…without calling it that.

Enter me, his wife, a whirlwind of paper and ideas and aimless, but still voiced and well-intentioned, goals that are forgotten as soon as they’re spoken aloud. Opposites attract.

Anyway.

Day 2 was me getting down into the nitty-gritty for the job things. I’m blessed because Arkus provided OmniFocus to me, the tool for Mac users that helps manage the GTD process. I captured Stuff; I created projects and assigned next actions; I set up some key commands. I am as a ready as I’m going to be. I even set up an action item, deferred to a month from now, to review my process and how I’m using it.

I’m excited.

I’m still new to all this, but I was talking to my mom this morning, and she said “you sound so less stressed. Even a month ago, you sounded so much more stressed out.”

And I really am.

There are a lot of reasons for that – good news about health of friends and family members, making some priority changes, the #ohana…and yeah, some of it really is because of this GTD thing.

It’s so weird for me to write that. You have to understand just how jaded I am about “life hacks” and planners and productivity and self-help and whatever. eyerollI’m the person that looks like RDJ when Cap proudly announces that he understood that reference.

I am not about to sit here and shout to everyone that they need to implement GTD because it changed my life. It has not changed my life. It is a new aspect of my life that is part of a greater change that has happened, and I enjoy it. It helps me; it makes sense to me. Frankly, so does Nerdforce’s great new admin leveling app idea! I can’t wait to build that and potentially expand on it.

Because it is becoming part of my life now, it’s going to pop up occasionally in this blog. If you are interested in GTD – what it is, trying it out, what-have-you – then feel free to search tags for it, go to the sources listed below, or reach out and ask. I will stumble through whatever answers I might have.

And in the meantime, I can cross this off of my action list. Done.