Friday, February 23, 2007

From the sick and soggy church chick

The winter sick season is here. I am the sole chickster responsible and I apologize. A couple of weeks ago,I made the mistake of asking my next door office neighbor how come we hadn't heard much about the flu on the news this year? I think she shrugged, which relieves her of any responsibility here. Her shrug could have just been a shoulder stretch, you know.

The very next day, hospitals were inundated with noro???virus victims, and others who had succumbed to the vicious flu virus. I purchased disinfectant wipes, and replaced the bubblegum bowl with cough drops. I set off a Lysol bomb. I also bought pleasing-to-the-eye-tissues. Too late. I noticed when I emptied the bag of cough drops into the ceramic bowl that they sounded a lot like mallets breaking glass, but nobody else seemed to notice. A while later someone came in and asked me why my office was so dark. I realized that i was working by the mini lamp that sits by my desk- alone. No Christmas lights, no standing lamps. The real clue of approaching illness though, was food related.

We had a very sad, and very large funeral that had a huge reception catered by a local steak restaurant. This place is the type of place you only go on special occasions, like when you get a really really large tax refund, realllly large. My buddy at work, fixed us a plate and brought it into the office cave. It had a huge slab of prime rib , and some chicken pasta salad, and a chocolate chess mini pie with real whipped cream on it. I ate the little pie, but couldn't handle the rest. That is a crime. Right there, a crime, I tell you. I went home and hit the couch. The fever and pounding head came along for moral support.

I miss work. It's not that I think they can't do without me, it is more like I can't do without work.
But i don't think there is enough room behind my desk for me to work prone. It's the upright position that is the challenge.... up isn't working for me right now. I'm trying to look on the bright side. Staying at home in bed can be a learning experience.

Yesterday, in between naps, I learned how to catch 606 crabs in rough seas. I was also one of the first to hear where the judge wanted Anna Nicole Smith to finally rest. I learned that women bootlegged by carrying liquor in a hot water bottle attached to shoulder straps so that it lay in between their shoulder blades as a back pack would. It rested in that nook and went un noticed. Al Capone's nickname was scarface, and the Valentine's Day Massacre hit the wrong targets.

Some of this information may very well come in handy at work. You think I'm kidding, don't you? Even at my worst, I am thinking of work. For instance, let's just say that the baptismal font is empty on a big baptism day. If we planted someone with a bootleg of holy water, perhaps a willing choir member who sits relatively near the font, well, then, we could refill incognito. Yes, we could.

And, if one of these days, we were to have another big food gig at church like the pig pickin we had one year, well, if seafood came up , I could tell you exactly where you could find 606 crabs and what to wear when you caught them. That is some vital info, let me tell you.

The day is young. No telling what I'll learn today. Right now, though, it's naptime.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

To treat or re-treat?

Staff retreats.
Who ever came up with that misnomer? One would think a retreat would be better than a treat. I am sad to say this is not so. In the 4 or 5 retreats I’ve attended in my stay here thus far, none have ever come close to the refreshing experience of an ice cold Dr. Pepper. And I consider that a pretty nice treat.

We take two overnight retreats a year, and 2 all day staff retreats are wedged in between there somewhere. There are no two ways about it. We work. The staff pry the tops off their heads and ideas fly about in a frenzy. My job is to collect the thoughts that run rampant and put them down in type on the laptop. Butterfly nets don’t catch squat in this situation. Flypaper won’t hold syllables, either.

I used to take the easel and markers, but found I could not write fast enough, or if I did, I couldn’t read it later when sanity returned back at the office. The next trip we took the lap top and for some unknown reason, we hooked it up to a projector so all of my misspellings could be clearly seen by all. Talk about pressure. I realized in that first laptop experience that I needed to be true to myself. There just is no other way to be and the fact of the matter is I have )in some other life) always wanted to be the court reporter on Perry Mason. I mean, she managed to collect all the statements, right? So, the first lap top experience, I put on my court reporter hat and went to it. I soon realized how ridiculous that dream was and I quickly sought out a workable solution. I decided to close my eyes, and just type what I heard and clean it up later. So, that’s what I did.

My dictation system worked out pretty well, but only because the staff loves me. Only because the staff is extremely tolerant of the fact that I am only disguised as a church secretary, that removing the secretary cloak reveals the hard cruel facts. I am just Melanie. Melanie who likes to ring the lunch and dinner bell because it looks like the church bell in the Hunchback of Notre dame.

I discovered that I could type faster with my eyes closed, but I also discovered that I lost my filter when I typed that way. This became abundantly clear on our last retreat. We had been watching the creative exchange bouncing off off the walls for hours. I was cramped and achy, my fingers were getting tired of doing the walking and my mind began to wander. I was thinking how nice it would be to have a stretch break. I was daydreaming about it and suddenly, my bubble popped with the voice of my boss. “ What is a stretch break?” he asked. I heard laughter from around me and I opened my eyes. There, before me on the projected screen was this truthful but embarrassing question.

We might need to consider taking a stretch break soon. THIS JUST IN!! WE WILL BE LEAVING FOR DINNER AT 5:30 ON THIS VERY DAY!! XXXX1 MINUTES FROM NOW.
Let me just say that if you increase your font to say, 72 on the computer, which I totally do NOT recall doing, then it appears in like, font size 674 on the screen.

The rest of this story?
Well, we had a break and went to dinner. And I didn’t lose my job. Yet. Again.

Mystery Radio

OH MY GOSH!! I have found the perfect background for working here. I do not like to work in silence because then, my ongoing thoughts have at it, and well, it’s just a distraction. How bad is that to distract your own self? So, I consider music white noise.
When I am working on numbers, which isn’t often ( smart move) or when I am multi-tasking, I play classical music with no words. It flows from the radio all around the office and out into the hallway and it is a verypleasant smooth time.

When my workload is the mindless repetition tasks that sometimes need to be addressed, then it’s Barry and me or Simon and Garfunkle and me or even Death Cab for Cutie.

Cold and rainy days whine for Billy Holliday.

But there hasn’t really been an answer to the daily grind. Until a few weeks ago.
My oldest daughter, who is a whiz at technology, downloaded I tunes on my computer. I did not feel lightening strike, but I wondered where God was because he surely was guiding Emily’s hands on that day. She opened the door to internet radio for her mom. It was a miracle.

At first, I couldn’t stop changing the channels. Why? Mostly, just because I could. Eventually, I started exploring and I came across this incredible internet station called mystery radio. It is all old radio shows. All day,every day. Commercials included.

Staff were concerned at first. Those who were anti-Manilow were begging me to play Barry. One woman said, “You are living in the past”. Let me assure you I have absolutely no desire to live in the past. Been there, done that. There was something else magical at work here, and it took me not long to figure it out. I noticed right away that it was a perfect fit. I wasn’t sure why for a while. I enjoyed watching others notice something different sounding out in my office. Our organist came in one morning, rushed and tired. He sat in the escape seat ( the huggy chair) and breathed for a minute. His eyes were closed, his head rested in his hands. Then, “What are you listening to?”
I kept typing as if nothing was out of order. “ Well, today we’ve got Loretta Young and Peter Lorre”. Type type type la la la la la la la. "I think they are both dead now, aren’t they?” type type type…….

He looked about as if checking to see if the walls had started to shift or if the floor was beginning to fall away from underneath his feet, then he recovered. “Oh. Okay.” Then, off he went- glad to step back into the hallway of present time I imagine.

I find it interesting that this talk radio does not keep me from working. The closest thing to talk radio is NPR which is so intellectually spicy, I can’t play it and work. Sometimes, I just want to leave work and leave the country. The issues are riveting. Timely. Dangerous for me, the one trying to multitask.

The mystery shows do not affect me that way. Partly because the story dialog isn’t crystal clear, maybe.

The day of clarity for me came not long after Emily had brought Lux Radio , Mystery, and Quiet please! Into the office.

It was a chaotic day. The office was a magnet, pulling in all grades of emotional states. The church chick feed jar was being gobbled away. Stress was everywhere. I passed out my stress swatters but they could not keep up with the buzzing and biting issues swarming around that day.

Multiple issues and discussions were running rampant. I was typing, and trying to keep up with some of the cross fire, but to no avail. I managed to remain invisible amidst the animated exchanges. Suddenly on the radio I heard, “ I can’t stand hysterical women” and my eyes darted across to a woman who was sharing her thoughts in a very vocal manner. I kept typing.
“Wadda ya take me for, some punk kid?” sounded the speaker. Then, “ You lousy little crank, with your fancy French car. You’re a dope dope dope!!” The animated causeries disappeared into the voices I was hearing on the radio. Then, the organ “ Da Da DAAAAAAAAAAAA!!!” and finally, “ Must they ring anymore to remind everyone of the tragedy. I can’t take it anymore!” As if on cue, the discussions found closure, and one by one, the visitors left. The radio responded with ,”Exceedingly strange is this world”

It was at that moment that I realized that Mystery Theater is the perfect backdrop for church work. The music fits, and the dialog adds a flavor that changes stress to release. I think we should pipe in this station throughout the building. How can you possibly fuss or bother when “Are you accusing me of Alice McCreedy’s death? Of course not. Tell Mavis I want her. Everybody loves her, but Stuart, it’s you” playing in the background?

Repetitive repeats

I have been writing long enough now that I think it is time I let you know something.
I am old. I have raised ( am still trying to) 4 very diverse daughters (and 2 cats) who are all now very settled into double digit years. That makes me old and on some days, that makes me older than age. Older- than- age people, such as myself, carry an odd balance of life equipment. That is to say that while in some ways, I carry an abundance of experience- the experiences that have landed heavy on my shoulders, have also drawn out and drained my brain cells.

So, although I may be filling the hollows of my life with time- tested wear and tear, I am leaking out droplets of clarity, logic, memory at the very same time. Just so you know.

I believe it is entirely possible that I may tend to repeat myself in story thoughts as I do in talking with my girls. My oldest likes to look at me with a warm fuzzy smile and kind eyes because she is patient that way. Another child is still at the late teen age where she doesn’t hear what I say whether it is the first time or the 5th, so any copy- cat comments go un noticed; they are thrown in the laundry basket with first time questions and such.

Another daughter said to me one day, “ I think you have 4 of us to share and talk with and unless you send out a weekly newsletter it might be hard for you to recall who knows what and I know you are very big on communication, and you want to keep all of us on the same page, in the same loop, so I’ll just tell you if you already told me that, okay?” One daughter and I have a code. She taps her nose if she’s already heard the tale. Like I said, I’ve grown a diverse cackle of hens. So, if over time, I bring about the same point over and over again, just remember that this church chick is leaking brain matter. Or- you can tap your nose.

On the other hand, I am beginning to think that it is exactly this combination of time and leakage that makes for a true blue and long lasting church chick. The people I work with feel like family. Sometimes they act like family. Sometimes they act like siblings. The congregation too, is one large family. I love that. I love them. The workplace here is a nice mix between home and not- quite home. Sometimes I leave home in the morning, overwhelmed by the day to day challenges of single parenting and life in general. On those days, I am so happy to walk into the doors of this church because I know that there won’t be any laundry left in my path, and there won’t be any notes to sign and there won’t be a dishwasher to unload again and, I don’t have to change the sheets here, either. I am relieved of the duty of making sure curfew is met, and I don’t have to worry about where everyone is hanging out because I see them here in the hall.

Other days, when the pressure pot is boiling at work, and important things didn’t get done, or were rattled around, I am glad to leave and I am glad to enter the cathouse. It works out swell. The perspectives of each partner up really well. Best buds you might say.

So, other than babble and letting you know that my thoughts can be circular, there is no real reason for this edition of the chronicle. Oh- I guess there is one more thing. I have grown to love sharing here. When time does not allow, I miss unpacking the life and times of church life here. For those of you who let me know I’m overdue writing- thank you. It means a lot to be missed.