Career change

How do you reinvent yourself?

I keep thinking of a career change as a moment where you’re riding in a car and the car door opens and you have to lean out of the door and keep rolling as you fall. If you roll just right, you will have minimal injuries and you might just be able to stand up and walk it off.

A few months ago, the career I had been building in visual journalism ended. It was a weird, anticlimactic ending. Some people leave journalism through an ejection seat — SPROING, you’re out! — but my departure was more like my sidecar pin was removed and I just had to spend the last bit of the ride anticipating the separation. It was instigated by the company I worked for and engineered to take a couple of months. My whole department got the boot but we were all encouraged to reapply for some remaining jobs in other divisions of the company.

I had just celebrated my fifth anniversary at the studio, and was about to close out my third year as creative director. A lot was good but a lot was bad, too. I can’t and won’t get into it all here. I’m sad that it had to end — that we couldn’t keep trying to improve on what we were doing — but if I’m being totally honest, I’m glad to be out of the media grind. It’s such a fickle, demanding, cruel master. It took a lot and gave back very little.

I chose not to reapply for a job. I guess I wanted to take a chance on a change of pace and direction in my professional life, even though I had no clue what that might look like at the time. I was fortunate enough to land a new gig that let me roll out of the car and begin walking again with some semblance of grace. I’m grateful for that.

But who am I now that I am no longer doing, no, living the thing I always assumed was central to my identity?

Turns out I’m free.

I’ve realized that the thing I thought I was passionate about was siphoning time and energy from my own creativity, leaving me feeling a bit empty and resentful.

There are lots of upsides to the change.

Now I can be a news junkie without having to log in or haul ass to the office anytime major news breaks. The holidays feel much less frantic and it is expected that I will take some time off. I can speak freely about political issues and participate in activism.

The big thing I’m confronted with here at this crossroads is what do I want to do, long-term, with myself? With my time?

The other day Holden asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. I didn’t hesitate. “A writer and an artist.”

In some ways, saying that feels like a kind of revelation. A career coming out. It’s something I’ve always flirted with, always loved, but never actually believed could be a career. That’s in part because I’ve never given it serious time and attention. And in part because I’m terrified of failing.

So, this year I am writing. Here, but also not here. Part of the key to writing for a living is not giving away every little morsel for free on your own website, apparently! This year I am going to submit my work in earnest. I plan to start small — magazines, journals — and work my way up from there.

I’ve got ideas kicking around for picture books and YA/NA series mostly. I’m reading everything I can get my hands on about writing and publishing. I’ve got to reach out and get critique groups and beta readers. Attend workshops and conferences. Put the time in. Rewrite and revise. Rethink and reframe everything I’ve experienced in my life and use it.

It’s exciting and scary. But the thought of going for it feels more comfortable and exciting than any other grand ideas I’ve had about who I am and what I’m meant to do.

From the mouths of babes, January 2018

Without any prompting, ask your child these questions and write down EXACTLY what they say.

Holden, 6 years old:

1. What is something mom always says to you? Stop getting in Sandy’s face.
2. What makes mom happy? To listen and get out of Sandy’s face.
3. What makes mom sad? When I don’t listen to you.
4. How does your mom make you laugh? By saying I’m gonna poop in your face.
5. What was your mom like as a child? I think you were a genius.
6. How old is your mom? 36
7. How tall is your mom? I think 45 pounds.
8. What is her favorite thing to do? To be a artist.
9. What does your mom do when you’re not around? Works.
10. If your mom becomes famous, what will it be for? I think a Power Ranger.
11. What is your mom really good at? Building lightsabers.
12. What is your mom not very good at? Putting really hard puzzles together.
13. What does your mom do for a job? Works!
14. What is your mom’s favorite food? Pomegranates
15. What makes you proud of your mom? When she does what I tell her what to do.
16. If your mom were a character, who would she be? Ventress!
17. What do you and your mom do together? We play.
18. How are you and your mom the same? We talk the same words.
19. How are you and your mom different? We look different.
20. How do you know your mom loves you? Because I lived a long time with her.
21. What does your mom like most about your step-dad? He’s really funny.
22. Where is your mom’s favorite place to go? Home.
23. How old was your Mom when you were born? Ummm, six?

What are you going to do with your life?

My budding mid-life crisis is apparently that I want to do all the things.

• write and illustrate children’s books
• run a cute farm, like one where there’s a corn maze and people come to pick out pumpkins
• be a travel writer/photographer
• move to a small town and run a photography business and unite the town with spirit-boosting photographs of their lives
• become a letterpress printer
• freelance design part time, have more babies and be a stay-at-home mom
• make jewelry
• move to a mountain town and open a gift shop where I make and sell art and gifts
• write short stories
• get paid to blog and do it better than I do it now, obviously
• work for a social-justice nonprofit
• work on political campaigns and bury Republicans for the next 40 years
• be a trust-fund kid
• make wine
• teach design
• flip houses and retire early

Deck the halls with boughs of snot rags

I was sick the entire first half of 2017. It was a tour de force of ailments — sinus infections, ear infections, pink eye, strep throat — cycling through my body and returning at their leisure, like microbial timeshare owners trying to make their individual marriages work.

I remember two low moments in particular in that span of months:

1.

Sitting in the Walgreens well clinic exam room, my throat swollen painfully shut, unable to issue words louder than a short whisper, shoving my phone at the doctor so she could read the notes I’d written in the Notes app. I was unable to speak and in so much pain that I was sobbing. She told me unceremoniously that she could not look at my phone for information and that if I could not speak, she could not help me and would have to send me to the ER. I cried hot, desperate tears and felt so humiliated. I had been sick for weeks, inexplicably, and I was so tired of being sick. I could barely swallow the excess saliva that had been worked up in my mouth due to my crying, but she made me sit there and gulp it all down, painfully, until I was composed enough to hiss my phone notes to her rather than read them herself.

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2.

The second round of allergy testing at the allergist’s office. The first round of side-by-side pin pricks on my bicep looked gnarly and cruel enough with each pen mark accompanied by a bead of blood, in some places turning to a trickle. But none of the pin pricks swelled up much. That meant that I wasn’t allergic to any of the typical stuff that most people with allergies are triggered by. The allergist was puzzled and asked me for my other arm, so they could go to round two with different triggers. Those pricks barely swelled either. A little for dust, a little for mold and a little for horses. It was just exhausting to go through all that and not feel any closer to understanding what was making me sick all the time.

I was told to stay on a regimen of Zyrtec to control whatever allergic reactions I was having to my triggers, however small they might have been. And the allergist referred me to an ear, nose and throat doctor and for a CT scan, to see if there were physiological/structural issues inside my head.

And were there.

When my ENT doc showed me the scan images, I immediately thought of the outline of the state of Maryland. My septum, which had a bone spur, was all jacked up and impaling a turbinate. Apparently I had had some kind of injury when I was a wee one (my mother speculates that I got beat up on the way out of the birth canal) because so much of the injured area had ossified into bone. On my left side, there was very little opening to allow for air transfer, and my maxillary sinuses were opaque, which is not how they are supposed to look.

So the doctor said that he could do balloon sinuplasty to get in there and clean out the maxillaries, but that if I wanted long-term relief, it would be a good idea to fix the septum and the turbinates (septoplasty + turbinate reduction) so my shit would drain right again and I could breathe like a normal human being.

Which is how I got to looking like this.

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Just your standard-issue mustache bandage, that’s all.

Friday morning I reported bright and early to St. Thomas West and, after two or so hours of prep, I slipped into delicious unconsciousness and my doctor poked and prodded around in my nose endoscopically until he get things arranged in such a way that might lead to normal human functioning.

When I woke up in recovery, the inside of my nose burned and I had dry mouth like you wouldn’t believe. The nurse hustled to get me a Sprite but I kept having to give her the evil eye so she’d bring it over to me every time she placed it just out of reach. She was busy and I was very vocally grateful when she remembered me. They gave me a pain pill and I had been loaded up with anti-nausea meds, and sent me on my way. I felt pretty good the rest of the day and even for most of Saturday. My mom was there to help out (and bring medicine and Ginger ale and distilled water — my version of gold, frankincense and myrrh) and I felt chatty enough to be social for much of the time, as ridiculous as I looked.

It hasn’t been easy to sleep; you have to damn near sit up straight and breathe through your mouth. Mom got me some Biotene for my mouth so it wouldn’t dry out completely while I slept slack-jawed. And since you can’t blow your nose, all this junk gets caught up in the scaffolding (the stents) so it rattles around and feels heavy and pressurized and drives me nuts.

The pain wasn’t too bad until Sunday, when the soreness inside my nose really kicked in. And the sore throats from the drainage and the mouth-breathing while sleeping are pretty gross. And my skin itches from the dry air and the painkillers. So it’s a lot of annoying discomfort, interrupted by short and unfulfilling naps.

Still, it’s not the worst thing in the world. It’s certainly been a less painful recovery than having an ovary out. That hurt. And if all this discomfort leads eventually to being able to breathe normally without Afrin, it will be completely worth it.

I’ve been watching a lot of TV and doing Christmas shopping on the ol’ Amazon. And some wrapping! And I’ve made a bunch of stationery and done some laundry. You can’t keep this gal from doing laundry.

My post-op is Wednesday, when they are set to remove the stents. The stents are severely annoying. They hurt and there is gunk trapped up around them. I am constantly trying to flush it all out with my little sinus rinse kit, but the pressure from that hurts too, and frankly the stuff I am flushing out is VERY DISAPPOINTING compared to what I was reading about pre-surgery on the internet. Oh well. I’m not too torn up about it, I guess. There’s always the internet if I need disgusting photos of things that came out of people’s bodies.

UPDATE: Tuesday, 12:55 p.m. I got too cocky. I flew too close to the sun! I was feeling pretty good over the weekend but yesterday it hit me like a truck and I’ve been feeling horrible. I have a headache that won’t quit and nausea to boot. My doctor called in some Zofran that my lovely husband picked up for me. The mouthbreathing is getting to me. I am so tired but getting no good rest. The stents come out tomorrow so I’m hoping for some relief after that. The pressure inside my head is insane.

UPDATE: Friday, 9:38 a.m. Wednesday morning my dear and patient and lovely husband — who, the night before, endured a bona fide temper tantrum as I was lying in bed, unable to breathe through my nose at all but plenty able to yell at the ceiling — took me to the doc to have the stents taken out. I took a pain pill that morning in anticipation of the unpleasant experience, so I sat there in the waiting room, blissed out except for the moments when my reality was interrupted by the acute inanity of Pickler and Ben, which was on the waiting-room television, until we were called back.

First order of business was to weigh me, and I swear I had gained 10 pounds since they weighed me the day of the surgery (thanks, painkillers!). Then the nurse had me sit so she could snip the stitch at the inside of the tip of my nose. That took a few tries but wasn’t painful.

Then she removed the left stent — the side of my nose that had had the most surgical work and had been the most sore — and it was a surreal mix of pain and relief that was closer to childbirth than not.

It was like this thing bloomed out of my face. A disgusting flower, grown from just beneath my eyes.

Also, IT WAS HUGE. It was basically the size of two fingers, but flat. I had my glasses off so I couldn’t see it in all its glory for very long, but here’s what we were dealing with.

She then removed the stent from the right side, and I had the same nose-giving-birth-to-a-giant-plastic-flower sensation. The nurse complimented me on my nasal rinsing, which I had done religiously, as what she pulled out of me was not nearly as disgusting as what she probably pulls out of some less meticulous rinsers. In fact, they pulled out almost entirely clean. (So if you ever get this done, rinse every two to three hours, no joke. It makes a difference.)

As soon as those things were out, I COULD BREATHE. I could feel air entering my head and hitting the back of my skull. Sort of. It felt that way, at least. I had never realized that this is how we are meant to breathe. That oxygen can just waltz into your head so effortlessly. It was a revelation.

The doctor came in to look at things and declared everything to be looking nice and clear. He used an analogy to explain what had been going on in my head. Let me see if I can relay it:

If you’re sitting in a small room and there’s a wall, a door and a cabinet with a drawer, and the drawer works fine, but the wall is bowed in to the point where it’s forced the door open and the wall and the door are blocking the drawer, the drawer won’t open. The drawer works fine in theory but all the other stuff is making its job impossible. So you have to fix the wall, move the door back in place and then the drawer will be able to open.

The wall is my septum, the door is my turbinate(s), and the drawer is the opening of my maxillary sinus.

He also explained some things about my particular allergy triggers — dust and mold — that made them seem a lot more serious and in need of active management than I had realized. So I need to probably do more proactive management than pop Zyrtec in the near future. Like, say, fast-track the plan to rip up the carpet in the den. Just throwing that out there, in case anyone I am married to reads this blog.

Anyway, I felt like I was on top of the world and able to conquer anything, so I set out to run errands that afternoon. But, again I was being too cocky. I got one errand done and ended up going right back home, as motion sickness and fatigue kicked in.

Nausea and fatigue were the name of the game the rest of that evening and all of Thursday. (I’m now wondering if it’s the antibiotics, since I’ve had a fair amount of gastrointestinal distress.) Thursday I stayed glued to the couch the entire day, unable to do much more than load the dishwasher. My left nostril started acting really weird when I tried to blow it. It was obstructed with something that made a loud and uncomfortable flapping noise and sensation (a nose trumpet). It wouldn’t budge with gentle-to-medium-pressure blowing so I assumed that I had broken something in there with my vigorous blowing from the day before.

I envisioned my septum, unmoored, flapping around in there. I know that’s not how it works; I have an active and neurotic imagination.

All day Thursday I was convinced I was going to have to go back under the knife. I laid there, seething with every breath I took where I could feel something rattling around in there.

It wasn’t until my gentle, patient, humble, loving, long-suffering husband came home from working while I watched cartoons all day that he reminded me it was probably just a giant scab booger that had gotten loose. So I steeled my jaw and gathered my petticoats and abandoned my fainting couch and retired to the bathroom to do a sinus rinse. And lo and behold what broke free and exited my face was cathartic. And horrible.

Husband really wanted to see it but I am just not ready to enter that phase of our marriage. I want there to be some mystery about my secretions for at least a year.

Anyway, I could breathe again, air-to-the-back-of-my-skull breathe again. Nothing was broken. Septum wasn’t flapping. Everything was clear. It was amazing. Life affirming.

So the moral of the story is keep doing those rinses. They help.

It’s now Friday and I am feeling the best I have yet. I went to sleep able to breathe and woke up able to breathe. No nose spray required. I have not been able to go to sleep, sleep all night or wake up without a spritz (or five) of nose spray since I was in sixth grade.

I’m feeling less nauseated than I have in several days, which is good because school lets out for winter break at 11:30 and I’ve got to go get the boy. I am hoping to be able to get out and about with him this weekend. We’re going to pick out a real Christmas tree — the first of my adult (and most of my) life.

I cannot wait to smell it.

Rural decay update

In 2006, I took this photo and named it “Nature always wins.”

nature always wins

Here’s how that truck looks now.

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Nature is still winning.

So long, Margaret Jean

My grandmother died Oct. 10. She’d spent the last few arduous months in and out of the hospital and back to the nursing home, then back to the hospital, battling rounds of infections and pain that kept her from resting peacefully enough to heal. She had fallen and hurt her shoulder and spine a couple of months ago and it just snowballed from there. She’d been in declining health for a couple of years, her hearing and sight deteriorated to the point where she needed you to get up real close and yell in her face for her to know who you were and what you were saying.

It was a frustrating end for a woman so independent.

She was ready to go, though. That’s what she said when I visited her a month or so before she died. She had just been discharged from the hospital and moved into her new room at the nursing home. She hadn’t yet realized that she wasn’t going back to her house ever again. I think she suspected but she wasn’t ready to believe it. She missed her dog, Sal. My aunt brought him by sometimes to visit.

Grandmaw told me she was proud of her life, that she’d had a good, full life. And she was ready to meet Jesus. She seemed in decent spirits that day, enough to flirt with the cute young physical therapist wearing a pink shirt. But she seemed resigned, too. It was hard to hear, hard to see, hard to move. She had hurt her shoulder in her fall so badly that coughing — which she desperately needed to do to get over a sinus and chest infection — was excruciating.

I’ve been a terrible granddaughter the past few years. My own life’s twists and turns ate up all my time and energy and I didn’t make the effort to call or visit as much as I should have. But I think she knew I loved her. And that Holden loved her. She and he had something special. She cracked him up like no one else could.

A boy and his Grandmaw #latergram

My grandmother was an incredible woman. She was independent, strong-willed, adventurous, so funny, creative, community-minded. She was complex, and at times difficult. Like we all can be.

She touched so many lives in her years. She inspired me to think bigger, to explore, to laugh.

I have written a lot about her here, and I am so glad I have many of my own memories as well as a handful of her stories written down.

Her marriage to my grandfather. Her miscarriage. The demands of mother- and wifehood. The year she was grand marshal of the River Day parade and it literally rained on her parade. (Spoiler alert: She got a do-over several years later!)

I just went back through some posts and re-remembered some things she told me that I had forgotten.

And I reread this, about how the things in our lives that we love change so drastically with age: “Growing up is just this seemingly endless reel of the things you loved crumbling, sometimes slowly, and that is the part of adulthood that I am not handling very well.”

It’s been seven years since I wrote that, and things have changed even more since then. I’ve made my own family now, and watched my birth family go through painful changes and challenges. Grandmaw got to meet my husband, although by then she had a hard time remembering him very well. She was pleased that I had found someone who treated my son and me so well. She understood how hard it was to find a good man.

When I remember my grandmother, it’s a collection of memories and sounds and smells punctuated by random snippets of things that made her who she was:

• Her collection of turquoise and coral jewelry, which I found especially beautiful and interesting. She would bring it out of her jewelry boxes and let me see it and touch it sometimes as a child.
• The candy she kept on her nightstand: Skittles, candy orange slices, Smarties.
• Sunflowers, her favorite.
• Her homemade mac and cheese, slightly burnt on top.
• The clanging of her bangles and bracelets as she moved her hands.
• Her fingernails, thick as particle board from the calcium pills she took religiously.
• Nutter Butters, slightly stale and chewy.
• The way she said “shit.” Either a short spit — “shhht” — or a long E sound, quick in the middle — “sheeeit.” She Clay Davised before Clay Davis did.
• The dirty frog figurines she’d picked up on her travels somewhere; they looked unremarkable on the shelf but if you turned them over, one had a penis and one had a vagina.
• Trips to Goody’s in Jackson to buy school clothes.
• Eating at Long John Silver’s.
• The souvenirs she brought back from her travels for us kids: A letter opener from the UK, Australian money, a keychain from Ireland. My sister kept a bundle of postcards she’d sent from various locales over the years and put them in her casket to take with her to her next destination.
• The car stacked high with styrofoam plates of meals to be delivered to shut-ins.
• The 1990s U.S. Census kit she let me play with after the census was over. It was a plastic briefcase full of survey papers. I would conduct pretend census surveys in my room.
• The homemade spooky stories book she and one of her classes made, bound in an orange and black casing that my little hands always went for on the bookshelf.
• The oil paints and brushes she handed down to me years ago, and the landscapes she painted.

That’s not all. That’s not even close.

How do you even begin to catalogue what a person means to you? Who they are? How much they are a part of you in ways you’re only just learning? In ways you won’t see yet for years?

Rest well, Margaret Jean. You were one of a kind.

me and grandmaw

grandmaw and me

phil, me, grandmaw

crunk

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So it doesn’t get lost in the ether of the internet, here’s her obituary:

Margaret Jean Sanders Turner, 85, of Saltillo, TN, passed away Tuesday, October 10th, at Decatur Co. General Hospital.

Mrs. Turner was born in Friendship, TN, the youngest child of the late Bob and Lottie Hall Sanders. She graduated from Friendship High School and was in the last class of the UT Junior College at Martin in 1951. She also attended Lambuth and Memphis State. She met Bobby Turner, her late husband, in college and they married in 1953. They lived in the Five Forks Community just outside Saltillo. Mr. Turner passed away in 1993.

Margaret was very active in and around Saltillo. She had taught Elementary School at Saltillo, was Registrar-at-Large with the Hardin County Election Commission, worked at H.I.S., was secretary for the Town of Saltillo at one time. She had also worked with the Federal Census Bureau for over three decades. She had volunteered with the Hardin County Tourism Committee, as well as the Pictorial History of Hardin County Book committee, she was one of the organizers of the “River Day” Homecoming Parade, helped organize the area Meals on Wheels Program, She served 10 years as a local fire fighter and state certified First Responder. Mrs. Turner had served as secretary/treasurer for the Saltillo Family and Community Education Club, treasurer and member of Saltillo United Methodist Church, a certified AARP Driver Safety Instructor, Advisory Board member of SWHRA Foster Grandparents, and for years, she wrote the community news for the Savannah Courier. She had been a member of the Soggy Bottom Belles Red Hatters. Her greatest interests were the history of Saltillo, her family geneology, her flowers and dearest of all, her family.

Margaret is survived by a daughter, Cindy (Jacky) Chumney, of Parsons; a son, Steven S. (Frances) Turner, of Saltillo.

She is also survived by 5 Grandchildren – Krissie (Chuck) Tucker, Lindsey (Richard) Turner-Garrett, Keri (Randy) Inman, Evan Turner and Tyler Chumney; 6 Great-Grandchildren – Casey Collins, Patrick Collins, Holden Karpovage, Levi Turner, Kalanie Inman and Rylie Inman; 3 special friends – Roger Gant, Patsy Gant and Diego Porras.

She was predeceased by her parents, Bob Berry & Lottie Hall Sanders, her husband, Bobby Newman Turner, a daughter, Susan Belinda Turner and a brother, William Robert Sanders.

Her Funeral Service will be held at Saltillo United Methodist Church, Saltillo, TN, at 1 PM on Friday, October 13th, with burial to follow in White Lawn Cemetery near Saltillo.

Visitation will be Thursday 2 PM – 9 PM and Friday 10 AM until service. All visitation and funeral service will be at Saltillo United Methodist Church.

Pallbearers are: Darnell Lowery, Jim Brown, Patrick Collins, Casey Collins, Randy Inman and Richard Garrett. Honorary Pallbearers are: Roger Gant and Diego Porras.

I bought a standing desk

I’m standing at it now. It’s the kind that you can move up and down depending on your mood.

I got it so I can start the long, hard climb out of fat-asseddom. (Again.) I sit all the time. Sedentary life sucks. We all know it. The least I can do is force myself to stand some while I’m working. Right? Yeah.