Another year, another vision board

It seemed like bad mojo when I couldn’t find the vision board I made at a vision board party last year. If you lose your vision board does that mean you’ve lost your vision? Yes, I had a picture of it that I’d taken for a blog entry, but that’s not really the same thing. I looked behind the bookcase I’d had it propped up on and…

Money behind the bookshelf

SCORE! I found twenty bucks! I have no idea how it got back there, but I ain’t turning Mr. Jackson away. However, I still had no vision board. After an extensive search of the apartment I finally discovered it leaning against my dresser in the closet, which triggered a vague memory of relocating it there myself a few months ago. Existential crisis avoided.

2014 Vision Board

I was looking for my board because the same friend who hosted the party last year held one again last week, this time as a brunch during daylight hours which made her house much easier to find, thank goodness. I took a look at the board and was pleasantly surprised to see that some of the things I’d wanted had worked out for me.

  • The little piggy bank with the word “Save” = I was able to make more money in 2014 than I had in 2013.
  • The image of a girl on a computer next to the words “Create Something” = I wrote 41 “real” blog posts (that were not playlists or book promotions) this year as opposed to 22 the year before. Yay for creative output!
  • “Trips of a lifetime” text next to passport stamps = Fantastic trip to Punta Cana last year.

As for the other stuff, uh, it didn’t all work out. I guess we’ll leave it at that. I did like having this little snapshot of what I wanted at that time in my life. It made me realize I had made some progress on things that I might not have noticed otherwise. Sometimes I feel like I’m just killing time and not moving forward in life, but I can see now that I have not been totally standing still.

Here’s what the vision board looks like this year:

Vision board 2015

I suppose you can try to interpret it for yourself. I’ll check in next year and let you know how it turned out.

Total tangent, but when I tried opening the photo of the twenty dollar bill in Photoshop I got this message:

This application does not support the editing of banknote images

In order to work around it I had to open the photo in the default Windows image viewer, take a screenshot of that, and then paste that into Photoshop, which for some reason did not trigger the counterfeiting warning. So bizarre.

My family didn’t exchange gifts this Christmas and it was awesome

I did not get these for Christmas

When my mother suggested that our family not give each other gifts this Christmas, I was somewhat aghast. I know the true spirit of the season is supposed to have something to do with goodwill towards men and blah, blah, blah, but the presents are the part that have always seemed the most important. You can take the candy canes and the reindeer, but please leave the presents. However, after letting the idea sit for about 10 seconds, I realized my holiday season would be a lot easier if I didn’t have to fret over what to buy my family members or brave the hoards of shoppers to obtain those things or spend money on the stuff in the first place. So I told her, “Well, it’s ok with me if it’s ok with everyone else,” though I really wished she’d floated the idea before I bought a book for my older brother off his Amazon wish list. My mom proposed the idea to my brothers and everyone was on board, which means there were no presents under the Christmas tree this year and it was a remarkably wonderful experience.

When I was a kid, Christmas presents were awesome because 1) I had no income and 2) even if I did, I had no way to transport myself to a store to buy things, and online shopping hadn’t been invented yet. So gifts were the only way I could acquire things I wanted. Birthday gifts, Christmas gifts, please-buy-me-this-She-Ra-doll-please-please-please gifts– they were all great. However, now that I’m an adult with my own income stream I find that if I want something, I just go out and buy it. Sure, I don’t get to unwrap anything other than the Amazon shrink wrap, and there’s no surprise about what’s inside since I already got the email receipt, but it’s nice to be able to get things for myself without being dependent on others. I can’t afford to buy every single thing I want, but I can afford what I need plus some luxuries on top of that, so I’m doing fine.

Everyone in my immediate family has a steady income right now, so none of us are in serious need of gifts to get by. And no one has come across a vast windfall of money that might make them feel like being more generous with gifts this year. As much as I love everyone in my family, I can’t say I know what to get them unless they make it easy for me, like by creating an Amazon wish list. When I think back over the years, I can’t exactly remember who got me what the past few Christmases anyway. There are a few things that stand out. One year my little brother got me a GPS, which is something I would never have thought to buy for myself, but I’ve used countless times to prevent getting lost. My older brother got me the video game Journey which I’d never heard of, but was one of the best games I’ve ever played. And my mom knows me so well she once bought me a sweater in the same style but different color than I’d already bought myself.

But other than these outliers, it seems like Christmas gift giving is a stressful way to get things you may or may not want by paying for things other people may or may not want. Sure, it’s a great feeling when you get someone something they really adore or didn’t even know they would adore, but it also sucks when you feel kinda lame for buying everyone gift cards with a bag of holiday M&M’s attached because you had no clue what else to get them. Then there’s that horrible, awkward, disappointed feeling you get when you receive something you don’t want or sense that you’ve given someone something they don’t want.

When I went to a doctor’s appointment in December, the nurse taking my blood pressure asked me if I was done with my Christmas shopping yet and I said yes quite happily even though I hadn’t bought anything except for that book on my brother’s Amazon wish list. I didn’t even bother to explain my situation to her because I felt bad that she still had to deal with that whole rigmarole. Once Christmas Day came, I didn’t even miss the ritual of opening Christmas presents in a circle, one by one. When I was with my family I got to concentrate on being with them instead of worrying over the gift situation. So yes, it still felt like Christmas even without the gifts. I guess those Whos down in Whoville were on to something.

The best gift that Christmas was not having to deal with the stress of acquiring gifts. I’m glad my mom came up with the idea and that everyone else was cool with it. I know that not all families would be willing to opt out of Christmas gift giving, but hopefully we’ll make this an annual thing. Who needs presents when the cats fill up the space under the tree quite nicely on their own?

Road trip

Filling my tank like it's 1999

It was probably a bit crazy to drive from North Carolina to Indiana by myself in a day, but I managed to make it both ways with only one of my toes going slightly numb. Normally I fly back home for the holidays, but I decided to drive this last year for several reasons:

1) I was spoiled by flying first class for Thanksgiving and the idea of stuffing myself into an economy seat was more depressing than the idea of stuffing myself into my Saturn.

2) When I looked at the number of rewards I’d earned at The Fast Park over the past few years, I realized my car has spent over two months parked at the airport. I thought parking it in Indiana would be a nice change. But isn’t it weird to think I’ve spent two months of rent on an empty apartment?

3) Gas prices were so cheap that I was able to make the round trip for only $79.87. Why yes, I do keep meticulously obsessive records. Want to see my spreadsheet?

4) Driving gave me flexibility on when I came and went, and I didn’t have to get anxious about getting to the airport on time. Instead I got anxious about getting through mountains before nightfall. (That’s when the goblins come out.)

5) No TSA! I was able to bring an entire bottle of shampoo with me. It was awesome.

6) This is a rather weird reason, I will admit. I’ve been watching the reality show Pitbulls and Parolees lately and it’s fairly common for the people who work at the pitbull shelter to drive long distances to deliver a dog to its forever home. I couldn’t help thinking, if they can drive from New Orleans to Tampa with a dog in the van, surely I can make it to Indiana on my own.

I was on the road for Indiana at 7:55am, just after sunrise. On my way to the Hoosier state I saw seven cops making traffic stops, various roadkill that I could not identify, and two dead deer on the side of the road. I also saw at least six roadside memorials for people who’d died in traffic accidents, which is a rather disturbing thing to see over and over, particularly when you’re already nervous about driving through the mountains. Those signs that say “Fallen Rock” and “Accident Investigation Site” aren’t very reassuring either. Driving is more dangerous than flying, and I kept being reminded of that as I made my way west, though it was rather interesting to watch the elevation level on my GPS as I made my way through the Appalachians. It started at about 1300ft and then went all the way up to 2800ft and then down again.

I took a break every 3 hours so I could eat or pee or stretch or let my right foot regain feeling in the heel. I don’t have cruise control, so I had to manually operate the pedals for the whole trip. I alternated between listening to music and podcasts because after an hour or two of music you wish for talking, and after an hour or two of talking you wish for music. I had lots of old RadioLab podcasts loaded on my MP3 player to keep me entertained. Once I hit the halfway point of the drive I felt more confident that I’d be able to make it the rest of the way. I just had to do what I’d just done one more time, right?

I always get a bit nervous when I hit a stretch of the drive where there don’t seem to be any gas stations or restaurants for 20 miles or more. It’s easy to forget that humans don’t occupy 100% of the world’s land. But it’s also nerve-racking to know that if the car breaks down or you have a medical emergency you are way far away from immediate help, and possibly out of range of a cell tower. I suppose a fellow motorist would stop to help eventually, but then I’d be in the situation of being a lone female depending on a stranger’s help, which is uncomfortable no matter how nice they are because you can’t help thinking they might be a serial killer trolling the highways for prey.

Anyway! The passenger’s side door did start to make a disturbing rattling sound outside of Lexington, but I eventually figured out it was caused by a pair of sunglasses in the storage pocket rattling against each other. I did get my car checked out before I left for the trip, so I was glad that hadn’t been for naught.

Whenever I go on long car rides I make friends with some of the vehicles. The guy in the blue Prius would pass me and then 10 minutes later I’d pass him and then 10 minutes after that he’d pass me again. I followed the yellow Estes truck down I-40 for at least an hour. Then I followed the Royal Cup truck through Tennessee. Actually, I followed a lot of trucks because I am evidently one of the slowest drivers on the expressway. Probably 80% of the drivers were passing me, and whenever I passed someone I was shocked someone was going slower than I was. It was a little sad when I parted ways with one of my highway friends at the interstate split. I don’t know who was driving or what their name was, but I still get attached to my familiar fellow travelers.

The last two hours of the drive were the worst, in both directions. It was at that point that any stiffness or tension in my muscles caused my headache to rev up, and my foot really started to hurt. But I figured it was just pain and I know how to deal with pain, so I kept driving. And I made it! I was so proud that I made it! It was a nice reward to pull up to an apartment with this inside:

Oh, Christmas tree

The Sunday traffic on my drive out was really light, so to balance things out the traffic on my way back was heavy. Did you know that the Dollywood area is evidently a very popular after-Christmas hot spot? The line for that exit off the highway was crazy long and caused a major traffic slowdown.

I’m not sure if I’ll try to drive to Indiana again. It’s good to know that I can if I need to. Fortunately this time around I had great weather. No rain or snow during either trip. If the weather were more treacherous I’m not sure how I’d feel about driving through the mountains. Actually, strike that, I am sure how I’d feel about driving through the mountains: terrified. I was not meant to be a racecar driver or long haul trucker, that is for certain. But I was able to make this one road trip, and for that I’m proud!

Trip Stats:
1407 miles
35.798 gallons of gas
$79.87 cost of gas
39.3 miles per gallon

And we all fall down…or just me, actually

There I was, walking down the sidewalk after checking my mail, when suddenly my left ankle began to twist. I thought I’d be able to recover, but instead, BAM! I hit the sidewalk like gravity’s bitch and stayed down. It hurt. A LOT. It was one of those epic falls where I had to sit on the ground for a minute while I recovered from the shock and tried to determine how seriously I was hurt. While I was sitting there I thought, “Yes, I can totally see how this could kill an old person.” Thankfully nothing was broken, but I’d effectively scraped all the skin off my right knee.

Knee, without skin

Gnarly, huh? That scrape is about 3 inches by 2 inches wide. It’s kinda crazy how much damage can occur simply by losing your balance. Why do we wobble around on two legs like this anyway? Four legs would be much more stable. I put Neosporin on the wound and iced the ankle and I seem to be doing ok two days later, although the wound is still red and kinda gooey.

You know the worst part? I didn’t even get any mail! I suffered an injury at the mailbox gazebo for nothing!

The other funny thing: my fear of falling down is probably 20% of the reason I moved out of the midwest. It seemed like I would slip on the ice at least once every winter and land either on my ass or my face. I always walk very slowly across icy parking lots or streets because I have an intense fear of a loss of friction. One of the things I like about North Carolina is it is much more difficult to slip and fall down here. But I guess ice isn’t necessary for that after all.

The other sort of annoying thing is that a guy walked up to the mailbox gazebo when I was still in the process of getting up and composing myself, but he didn’t say anything to me. He walked off even as I was leaning against a beam of the gazebo for support trying to determine if I’d be able to wobble home on my own. He just stayed in his own little world, listening to his headphones. One on hand, it would have been embarrassing to have to cop to the fact that I’d fallen down. But on the other hand, I would have liked a bit of human sympathy and support at that moment. I mean, if I’d fallen a bit differently I might have needed him to call the ambulance for me. What would it have taken to get his attention? If I were thinner or blonder would he have helped me out? I don’t know. All I do know is that gravity will come for us all if we’re not careful!

The best rejection letter I ever got

I was going through my file cabinets this week and ended up going through my high school memories too. I think the reason we keep old junk isn’t because we need the junk but because we like that it triggers memories that we haven’t accessed for years. At least that’s what happened to me when I found a folder full of the stuff I had on a bulletin board in my room back in high school. Among the items was a She-Ra mobile, a signed photo of Lisa Loeb, and the nicest rejection letter I ever got.

The rejection letter was sent by Louisville magazine in 1997 when I was a 16-year-old junior in high school. I’d written a personal essay for English class which had Louisville as a focus, and my teacher suggested I send it to the magazine since she’d heard they were interested in submissions from people my age. You can click on the image of the letter below to read it, or you can read the transcription below that.

The best rejection letter

28, February, 1997

Dear Jenette,

Thank you so much for sending us “A Landmark.” It’s a wonderful story, beautifully written in a strong and distinctive voice. I can see why Dr. Morehead thought we might be interested in it. Unfortunately, we can’t use all good work that comes our way and after much consideration the other editors and I have determined that, fine as it is, it’s not suitable for Louisville.

You may wonder why, especially since your essay takes place in Louisville, describing sites which are familiar and would likely resonate with our readers. The best explanation I can offer you is what one of the other editors said to me: “At the crucial point, the essay turns inward instead of out.” He explained that really the story is not so much about the impact of a particular place (Louisville), but the changes in a particular person (you). This in no way diminishes the power or importance of what you have written, but it does mean that it doesn’t really work for our magazine.

Usually when I write back to a freelancer to say ‘no,’ I simply say the work isn’t suitable and let it go at that, but I wanted to try to explain just a little more to you because you are young, your work is very good and I don’t want you to be discouraged. My first rejection letters – and there were many and still are – always made me a little doubtful of my own ability. It took a very long time before I realized that magazines and publishers weren’t simply looking for good work, but needed very specific types of stories.

It also took me a long time to realize that while it’s important to have an audience for your work, it’s even more important that whatever you write should speak most powerfully and truthfully to you. I think you may understand this already. Certainly “A Landmark” demonstrates that you not only know how to write well, but how to speak the truth.

Keep writing, Jenette, and I hope that some day you will give us the chance to look at more of your work.

Ronni Lundy

Doesn’t that letter make you feel good? Or rather, wouldn’t you feel good if it were written about you instead of about me? Whenever I read it I get happy about being rejected all over again. I applaud you Ronni Lundy, you have ensorcelled me with your writing skills. And, ok, she spelled my name wrong, but she wasn’t the first and she won’t be the last either. If you tell me I write beautifully in a strong and distinctive voice you can call me Leeloo if you want to.

The great thing about this letter is that it basically says, “You got talent, kid!” but also explains why having talent doesn’t always mean you get published. I appreciate that she took the time to write me a letter explaining that instead of crushing my teenage heart with a terse rejection.

Since I knew you’d be interested, I managed to dig up a WordPerfect file of the essay which I’d salvaged from a 3.5″ floppy disk several years ago. Does anyone else remember WordPerfect and that bright blue editing screen? The essay is redacted in one or two spots just to preserve some privacy.

A Landmark

“Things do not change; we change.” – Henry David Thoreau, Walden

About six years, seventeen inches, and six shoe sizes ago, the day after I graduated from the fourth grade, my family packed up yet another green and yellow Mayflower moving van and headed south for Louisville, Kentucky. It was the fourth time in ten years that we abandoned the place we called home for another state where a job existed for my father. Dad never could seem to find a job where he and his employers were happy at the same time. So when the time came every two or three years, we’d just pack up and leave for another state, another city, another life.

I don’t really remember much from the first day we came here, only images of buildings and trolleys and a little old lady who sat in the lobby of the hotel we stayed in our first night. My little brother, who was only six-years-old at the time, asked the little old lady if she would be his first friend in Louisville. That was a really mushy moment and she came close to tears.

I can also remember the second day that I lived in Louisville. It was overcast (or maybe I just thought it was overcast) and my mother, my older and younger brothers, and I all went downtown to visit Dad at his new place of employment, the ———-Institute at The University of Louisville. (The department no longer exists; it was eliminated two years later.) It was an old building and didn’t look like an institute of anything to my ten-year-old eyes. We were going to meet him there for lunch and then go sign the papers that would officially buy us a home and put us several more thousand dollars in debt. But my father had some work to do or some papers to push or something that probably wasn’t worth the time now anyway. So Mom took us on her personal version of the walking tour of Louisville.

I had absolutely no idea where we were. Heck, half the time I didn’t know where I was in my old town. How could I find my way around this strange new city that was ten times larger? I still don’t know my way around Louisville that well. But thankfully, my mother had a map and a pretty good sense of direction, so I didn’t feel totally lost.

Eventually, after many bends in the sidewalk pavement, whose cracks I carefully avoided, we reached a circular courtyard which had a driveway and a sidewalk surrounding it. The place was located somewhere on campus. In the center was a magnificent red statue that seemed to blaze a fiery path out of the forsaken ground. It resembled tendrils of lava shooting up from the earth’s core in an enchanting dance rivaling the magnificence of a solar flare or an erupting volcano or another of nature’s wonders. That’s how I describe it today, but at the time I would have said it was merely a twisted assortment of red metal looming above me that didn’t look like much of anything.

Someone told us that the University had just received it as a gift or something. Being slightly interested, we walked towards the structure and stopped when we reached the sidewalk surrounding it.

“It looks like a dog dancing on its hind legs,” somebody said. “No, it looks like a bird with its head down,” said someone else. As I gazed at it, I realized that it looked like both of those things. My mother suggested that we look at it from another angle. So we walked about 60 degrees around the circle to look at the strange sculpture from a different perspective.

“It looks like a big campfire,” someone said. And it did. We turned another 60 degrees around the circle to take another look, and continued until we’d seen this piece of art from all sides of the circle. And I did indeed see many things in its changing yet constant form.

What I didn’t see were the buildings surrounding this sculpture. The concert hall, the library, the J.B.Speed Art Museum, and the high school in close proximity were all blocked out from my view of the world. Which makes it all the more ironic that these places took on great more significance in my life afterwards.

The concert hall that was within 500 yards of the fiery masterpiece is the place were I played flute in the high school band for our fall concerts during ninth and tenth grade. It’s the building where I could never find the staircase to the balcony. The library, the place where the computer systems were confusing and the copy machines flashed a dazzling neon green light, was the destination of a field trip my ninth grade biology class took one day in January to look up buffalo for a school project. The J.B.Speed Art Museum was the place we went on another field trip in middle school to look at the tapestries, the fruit bowls, and the nudes. It was the place where the tour guides explained the importance of balance and color and told us we were their best behaved group. And my high school, only a block and a half away, is the place where I’ve spent years of my high school education learning about trigonometry and syntax and diction and the rate of a small furry creature’s fall from the top of the Empire State Building. Inside its brick walls I’ve made numerous friends, a few enemies, and a lot of memories.

So, as I look at this sculpture today, its fire a little faded from the force of the elements, I don’t see a pointless mesh of metal or fiery tendrils sprouting and burgeoning from the earth or even a dog dancing on his hind legs. I see a little girl who’d never even picked up a flute in her life, a girl who wouldn’t have been able to understand most of the books in the nearby library, a girl who couldn’t tell a Van Gough from a Monet, a girl who didn’t even know what trigonometry was, much less be able to do it, a girl who at one time was me, but no longer exists. She faded away a long time ago and won’t be seen again, except in school pictures or birthday photos.

In her place is a teenager who sees the world differently than that little girl did. Someone who has different thoughts, has different interests, and has different friends. And someday that teenager will be gone too, replaced by someone who I hope is a little bit wiser, a little bit stronger, and a little bit better than the teenager she’ll leave behind. But the statue that the little girl saw then and the teenager sees today, will probably still be there, standing erect and firm against the wind and rain and snow and all the other hardships that nature can produce. Its presence a constant in an ever changing world filled with ever changing people. Like a landmark on a road of time, it will always remind me of what I am, what I’ve been, and what I someday might be.

Ok, that’s the end and now it’s me again talking to you from 2014. It’s funny how this essay acts much like that statue did so many years ago. It’s interesting to look back on something I wrote literally over half my life ago and think about how much I’ve changed since then. No doubt I’ll look back on this blog entry in another 16 years and think about all the stuff that’s happened to me since then with the same sense of wonder. If there are any rejection letters coming up, I hope they’re as nice as this one.

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Chocolate & Vicodin: My Quest for Relief from the Headache that Wouldn't Go Away Half-Assed: A Weight-Loss Memoir

Jennette Fulda tells stories to the Internet about her life as a smartass, writer, chronic headache sufferer, (former?) weight-loss inspiration, and overall nice person (who is silently judging you). She was formerly known as PastaQueen. You can contact her if you promise to be nice.

Disclaimer: I am not responsible for keyboards ruined by coffee spit-takes or forehead wrinkles caused by deep thought.

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