Alice? More like the Mad Hatter.

I’ve just returned from an interview at Kennewick City School District.  It was short and sweet and I’ve come away with a job as a substitute para-educator.  No twisted knickers please, I had to look that one up myself…it means Fill-In Heartbeat.  Extra Body.  Chaperone.

I am, Dear Reader, a hurricane of thought right now, and am truthfully having a helluva time sifting through it all.  It’s well-documented that, aside from tutoring, I am sans employment.  I’m also at an employment intersection where I can continue on straight or veer hard right into the barrio.  A super smart lady once told me:  “Jennifer, it’ll work, or it’ll work.”  I keep repeating that to myself as I face the polarity in my head.

1.  There’s a certain amount of self-loathing that goes along with being jobless.  What am I WORTH to anyone sitting around my apartment all day, blogging and working on my fitness?  To an outsider, that might sound like a little bit of heaven, but I’ve got news kids:  If I was going to be a kept women, there would have to be OODLES more jewels and private beachfront involved.  Trust.  I am contributing a big, fat goose egg to the world right now, and that looms large.  Towering, even.

2.  Stagnant Credits Column = Plummeting self-esteem.  Ima be real whichall for a second….I very much gauge my own success by salary and the increasing importance of the positions I’ve held.  My advancement since college has been textbook, an upsweeping curve of remuneration, responsibility and expertise.  I was proud of my last job.  Proud of its scope and its stress level.  I earned my salary there, and was salaried well.  Historically, it was very difficult to keep a position there for any period over a year.  Factor in my womanhood, and that period decreased to around 6 months.  I was really kind of awesome at it.

Taking this position means a lopping-off-at-the-knees of all of the above.  It’s requirements were a GED and a heartbeat.  (Although they DID request a college transcript)  I haven’t checked the mall lately, but I’m fairly certain that I could make as much folding a week’s worth of boatnecks at The Gap.  This job means quite a few leaps back toward BEGINNER and away from BIG GIRL.  It’s a blow to my ego, for sure.

3.  The Unknown = Unsettling Pit In My Stomach.  I like a sure thing.  A plan.  Contingencies.  I like knowing what to expect and to be prepared for it.  Stress goes notoriously hard on me, and I’ve learned, over and over, that an Adapted Jen’s Intestinal Tract functions much closer to normal than a Where-The-Fuck-Did-THAT-Just-Come-From Jen’s Intestinal Tract.  Operations is all I’ve known for the past 10 years.  See problem?  Solve problem.  It’s my jam.  Why do I want to go and mess with something I’m pretty damn good at in order to search for something I haven’t yet fully identified?

4.  Fulfilled = Zen Jen.  I hated it more than I loved it.  And I can’t say I ever really loved it.  It fed my ego, absolutely.  Being GOOD at something was like an E pill for my inner self.  A mellow roll for my soul.  It felt GOOD to make more than the Old Man.  Felt good to be more educated and better employed than most people in my private life.  I was silently superior.  I would never lord it over someone, but I was definitely privately glad to NOT be them.

Yuck, right?  Who wants to be THAT girl?  Always after thinking and feeling those things, I’d hate myself a little.  When a high point in your day is being able to tow someone’s car, it’s time to evict the Soul Sucker and move on.  I don’t know what happy is and I don’t know where to look for fulfillment.  But I’m certain THAT wasn’t IT.  Something is needling at me, and it’s being pretty insistent, a gentle and repetitive tug somewhere back there in the Deep Me.  I know there’s something there.  I know that it’s amazing and I know where NOT to look.  On some days, that’s more than enough. On others, that Unknown creeps right in and takes over.

5.  The Right Time = Now.  When the Old Man made the executive decision to move us here, I was comforted by three things.  The first was the fact I’d get to take an extended vacation at home and on the beach.  The second was the fact that I’d put a cap on it at 2 years FIRM and that was a duration I could endure.  The third was knowing that the Old Man would be making enough money so that I could take some time to find a job that lit my fire.  Well, I’m a year in, and this education thing is growing on me.  It’s time to figure it out.  This job may be low low low in the expertise column, but it will give me time in a classroom, with students.  It’s an opportunity for me to observe and absorb.  I can think of better places than here, but I can’t figure a better time than now.

So, of course, I’m taking it.  I’m going to ‘orientation’ (*sigh*) tomorrow and I’m told I can start working as soon as Thursday.  My hopes aren’t high–they can’t be when an interview is only 3.5 minutes long–but they are there.  This could be a dead end…or the door to the room where I finally come upon a sleeping Meant To Be.

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Sometimes, you CAN go back.

I wanted cookies this weekend.  Chocolate chip cookies.  And not just any.  The GOOD chocolate chip cookies.  Homemade.  The ones we made in the old house, when we were our old selves.

On a dog-eared sheet of white paper, my mother had a recipe  that purported to be a $250 Neiman Marcus cookie recipe.  It is, of course, an urban legend, but it’s that old sheet of paper, translucent in places from splotches of melted butter that I remembered, that held the recipe for THE ONLY chocolate chip cookies on earth worthy of that name.  On a weekend or vacation day, she’d ask:  “Wanna bake some cookies?” and I’d start right away to gather the ingredients.  In the early days I stood on a chair next to her as she measured, and later on my own two feet measuring myself, and later still, she’d just hand me the sheet of paper and I’d go to it alone while she ironed or cooked or disappeared upstairs.

I can see the cookies as I sit here, spread cooling on a dismantled paper grocery sack; my mother would cut down the side of one and around the rectangular bottom and lay it out on the top of her Hitchcock kitchen table, a crazy mix of high class and down home.  She had an enormous plastic bowl (with a yellow lid) that was the only one with the size needed to accommodate the enormous amount of cookie dough that this recipe yielded.  She never cut it in half.  Always made the full batch.  It was going to take the full morning or afternoon, no two ways about it.  It assured homemade cookies in our sack lunches for weeks to come.

I knew, before even beginning a cursory search of my my pantry, that I had no bowl that size.  I’d have to halve it, and I made a mental note to search the Crate and Barrel website later.  I melted the butter and added the packed brown sugar with a PLOP!  and a mess.  This process had already been a sprint through my memory garden, but as I looked at the puddles of melted butter dotting my counter, I laughed to myself and sent my mother a quick Facebook picture of the war zone.  On good days, you see, my mother would survey the wreckage of a given project and proclaim to either my brother or I:  “You are my Best Messmaker!”  The alliteration rolling between her lately straightened teeth, held out to us by a smile as she cleaned whatever it was we’d mussed.  This day, I cleaned the mess myself, and, with a pang, wished she didn’t live so blasted far away.

With a wooden spoon and elbow grease, I folded in the rest of the ingredients, and laughed again at the fact that adding the rolled oats at the end of the process had not gotten any easier with the addition of years or arm strength.  “Scrape and roll, Jennifer” she’d say, correcting carefully as I learned how to ‘fold’ ingredients into a recipe.  Here I was scraping and rolling on my own, in my own house, for the benefit of my own small but certified family.  All aboard the homesick train.

As sheet after sheet came out of the oven, the smell filled my apartment and I lined a paper bag with cooling cookies.  Between my childhood and this adult that I’ve become, there was only one notable difference in my relationship to these cookies, and that is my ability to exercise self-control enough to allow the molten chocolate to cool JUST A BIT, JUST ENOUGH, before sampling the fruits of my labor.  I took my first bite with no little worry that they wouldn’t be as I remembered, or that I’d found the wrong recipe.  But as my teeth sank through the still soft center, my taste buds cried out in sweet recognition and I was gratified to find that they were one and the same.  I’d satisfied a craving and recovered some memories.  In the shining sun, with a book and a cookie, I sat for a moment and was just, plainly, content.