Thursday, February 06, 2014


That word is in quotes because, in the seven years I worked at my previous job, I was only able to take a few weeks of vacation.  I had over 30 days of unused vacation and personal time amassed.  Probably even more than that but no one ever kept track and of course I had COUNTLESS comp days from all the nights and weekends I worked. 

I had been waiting on this check.  The company had to "buy back" my unused vacation time.  This check was to be the bridge from my unemployment to first paycheck at my new job. 

And now that I'm temporarily somewhat flush with cash, all I can do is think of ways to spend it.  I want to visit Angie in Napa.  I want to visit my sister Kate in Portland.  I want to visit Ben in Key West.  I want to finally travel to Mexico to visit my former students and see Tulum.  I dream of Tulum and the Yucatán and being able to visit indigenous villages as the guest of my former students.  I got a taste of that in Brazil and I know that incredible trips and adventures await me just as soon as I can get down there. 

I won't be able to do any of these things, however, if I don't tape down my itchy Your Shopping Cart finger.  All these post-holidays clearance sales and having too much free time in front of a computer is dangerous! 

I bought these boots this week, as well as lots of other fun outdoor adventure gear.  I can't wait to break them in and spend as much time as possible getting deep into these Ozark Mountains I love so much.  Or the San Juans on trips to visit Stella.  I love that she is living there, in one of the most special and majestic regions of the U.S.  When I tell people my daughter is going to college in Colorado of course they immediately think of Boulder, or Colorado Springs, maybe Denver.  And then the litmus test begins.  If, when I tell them she's actually in Durango, they respond with "Where's that?" or "There's a college there?" I know that they're not necessarily in-the-know.  But if they say, "Oh!  I know someone who went to Fort Lewis" or, even better, "Man.  That area is incredible. It's my favorite part of Colorado" I know that person gets it because it's true - it's the best part of Colorado.  There is something mystical and unabashedly hippy-dippy about that region: the hot springs, the ruins at Mesa Verde, the pueblo.  I respond to it deeply and metaphysically.  I feel the same way about the Ozarks...of course I do.  It's where I grew up.  But it's more than that.  When I need to reconnect with the essential parts of me I head outside, into the woods, into the hills.  I inhale the smells of decomposing leaves, moss, wood, smoke....and I think "Yes.  Now I remember.  This is who I am and this makes me happy."

One of my oldest friends, Zippy, is really good about inviting me along when he goes out for hikes.  His name is really Greg but when I met him in 7th grade he went by Zippy, a reference to Zippy the Pinhead.  I've tried calling him Greg and in professional environments I must refer to him by his birth name but he's still and will always be Zippy to me.  A few weeks ago we had a gorgeous weekend, sunny and in the 60s.  Zippy and I went tromping around in the woods, ignoring No Trespassing signs at our own peril, and soaking up the sun.  THAT is what makes me feel connected, makes me feel most myself. 

I've been thinking about this a lot.  This is the first time I've lived alone since I was 18!  Eighteen!  Since then I couchsurfed on friend's couches, met Stella's father and immediately moved in together, got pregnant and then was never alone again because I always had Stella with me.  I get asked ALL THE TIME if I'm handling it okay - living alone again.  And here's the unexpected truth - I love it.  I love moving things around in my house and reworking things to have them exactly the way I want them.  I love eating cheese and crackers and half a bottle of wine for dinner.  I love binge-watching television shows while doing crafts.  How is this different from living with Stella the past two years since D. and I split?'s not different.  But I am different.  I turn 40 next year and I have the freedom to reinvent myself, which I think I am in the process of doing.  There's not that constant pressure of being the sole support for another human being.  Of course I still send Stella money and help her out as much as possible.  But she's a thousand (971, to be exact) miles away and beginning her own journey toward independence. 

Last weekend my sister and I went out on a date.  We hadn't done that in a while due to many factors (she's got a boyfriend now, we're always busy and broke, etc).  We did one of my favorite Date Night things - sat at the bar at Bordino's and ordered little things, split an entrée and a bottle of wine, and caught up.  I was sort of paying attention to our neighbors on either side of us but mostly this was about us.  Then we went to Maxine's for a drink.  My sister recognized the guy who came in later and sat next to us at Maxine's as the same one who had sat next to me at the restaurant.  We started up a conversation.  He was new in town, worked for a Wal Mart vendor, didn't know anyone, and lived in one of those luxury condos downtown.  We dragged him back to my house and had a little dance party and ate my raw gluten-free coconut snickerdoodle dough (omg) and laughed and laughed.  I am sure he did not know what to make of us.  We got everyone home safely and woke up the next morning to raging hangovers and hilarious memories.  I texted Jessy that "We almost adopted a 35 yr old white boy last night."  THIS is who I am, I remember.  The woman up for anything, who loves meeting new people and sharing the best parts of NW Arkansas, who lives for late night dance parties even I'm the only one dancing.  I'm a mother but not actively parenting every day.  It's bizarre and disconnected and wonderful and strange.  The last time I wasn't actively involved with my child I was EIGHTEEN, a child still myself in most ways.  So am I going through a revisited  or latent adolescence?  Definitely not.  I have already lived a very adolescent adolescence.  That tipsy late-night dance party was an anomaly and perhaps a wonderful guidepost for this new era in my life.  A good time to take risks, talk to new people, say "YES" to things. 

This new job is just so validating for me.  They hired me with zero technical/scientific/government grant experience but recognized that I'm smart, extremely hard-working, organized, and diligent.  They knew that hiring the right person is better than hiring a combination of qualifications.  I am so inspired and motivated to prove that they made the right decision.  I am challenged and excited to learn (SO MUCH. Oy.) about this complex and specific world of SBIR/STTR, NIH and NSF, SAM and eRA.

And these boots?  They are made for hiking. One of these days I'm gonna hike all over you (Colorado, and Ozark Highlands Trail, and the rainforests and ruins of the Yucatán)!


Carrie said...

So proud of you, Alannah! Loved speaking with you last night. Can't wait to see you and hear more....

Anonymous said...

I love all of this, but that cookie dough detail... oh my gosh. :)

I find myself wanting to be outdoors more, whether it's woods or ocean, and I go less and less often into the city.