All Coffee Shops Should Also Be Book Shops

I’m sitting in an independent coffee shop drinking a caramel cappuccino. When I walked in, I ordered two, announcing that I had a coupon.

“The buy one get one free coupon?” the barista asked knowingly.

“Yeah,” I replied dumbly.

When she asked if it was for here or to go, I responded, “Here,” attempting to sound nonchalant. Uh… it’s an independent coffee shop AND bookstore. This place was made to make my soul tingle in bubbly joy.

People, the barista is brilliant. She asked if I wanted one now and one later. Nodding enthusiastically, I announced that it was probably a good idea. “I won’t look like such an addict.”

People, I am wearing a shirt with a wide-eyed owl underneath the capitalized words, “NEED MORE COFFEE.” Uh, I think they know.unnamed.jpg

So here I am sitting in “Grounds for Thought.” Isn’t that a lovely name for a coffee/book shop? The books (and records) are all used, so they have this worn cozy feeling. Some book cases are tediously organized while other books are crammed haphazardly into shelves. An excess of records sit in cardboard boxes on the floor. A hodgepodge of tables and chairs are scattered about. One near me is set up for chess. It’s left neglected at the moment. To my left, two energetic college girls are working to complete a jigsaw puzzle. At times they laugh, but right now they are focused, frustrated at the task at hand.

“I’m going to scream and shout and let it all out,” says one girl matter-of-factly. Seriously, she just said that. I love them. I love this little place. I love the varying company of people coming and going.

Oh! It’s time to get my second cappuccino. This also seems to remind the girls of time, and they surrender on assembling the puzzle. Now, it’s a bit lonely in my corner of the shop. There is something contagious about the energy of undergraduate students. Their optimism, their enthusiasm, their naiveté are bundled into this unfettered vivaciousness.

Meanwhile, today, I discovered a new wrinkle. I’m not too upset. It’s a wrinkle caused from repeatedly raising my eyebrows in my “Are you fucking kidding me face?” I’m okay with that. It’s a bit of a judgmental wrinkle, but it also is one caused by years of being amused and bewildered at adolescents I taught. As long as I don’t have frown lines, I’m good with aging. When I’m ninety, I want my face to tell the story of a well-lived life.

But these girls today are a reminder that, though I am once again a college student, I’m not quite one them. For all their energy and joy, I am happy to be me. I appreciate those blissful moments more at my age. I also have this wisdom of realizing how little I know. Many young college students are filled with a confidence of feeling wise. Their growing education has made them more intelligent, but wisdom comes from life more than books. I loved being their age. I loved the experiences, the adventures. But I made wrong turns after graduating.

When I graduated, I lost that curiosity for practicality. I put aside silliness for responsibility. For all I thought I was wise, I was a fool who did not know how to embrace all parts of myself. I became dull and flat. It’s only from failures as an adult that I have begun to rise into a more interesting, multi-faceted person. Thank goodness I am not a young college student again. I would had to have to learn those lessons again. They hurt enough the first time.

Besides, I had terrible taste in alcohol and limited taste in literature back then. I drank wine coolers and read Jane Austen almost exclusively. Now, I still love my Jane Austen, but did you know how interesting nonfiction is? And smut romance is ridiculously fun; well, it is when it is adequately edited. I admit that I have taken a red pen to some of those books. And the last one I read? It was so terrible and beyond help that I threw it out. No one should have to endure such terrible writing. Donating the book would have been a disservice.

Anyways, I digress. I think the cappuccinos are doing their job. I’m feeling more jittery.

I really should wrap this up and get out of here. It is reluctantly decided. My parking meter is about to expire, and I really need to complete my statistics midterm. Ugh, statistics. I best go to the university library for that. That way, when I am swearing at my work, I’ll be surrounded by other college students studying. I think they will be sympathetic. Here at the coffee shop, people are too relaxed and comfortable to understand a human swearing aggressively at inanimate objects.

 

 

 

How the Eclipse, Forgotten Keys, and Lori Schultz Changed the Course of My Life

A series of strange coincidences changed my life.

It began with a grumpy grandfather. I had driven over 550 miles from northern Virginia to their town of Hicksville, Ohio, to bring him and my endearing grandma back to Virginia for a visit. My aunt, knowing that unemployment left me with a flexible schedule, asked me to drive them back. I drove my little car up and drove them back the next day in their small SUV. The SUV was more comfortable for them; however, driving over 1100 miles in two days was not very comfortable for me.

During their visit, my grandpa became anxious to return home. He was bored. Ignore the fact that there was more entertainment being provided for him in Virginia, he was bored. He tried to pressure me into taking him home five days early, four days early, three, two, even one day early. He sulked and pouted. He made those around him miserable. But he was staying at my aunt’s house, so I suffered less and, therefore, I refused. I had plans. Regardless that Grandpa didn’t think those plans were more important than his needs, I was not giving in. You see, I am a doormat. It’s true. I’m not a sweet, happy-to-do-it doormat, but I will agree, put a smile on me face, and be grumpy about it later. I feel that I must do things to please people, to earn their acceptance or love, to repay their acts of kindness. Now, I love giving to people, but it’s not healthy when I feel that I MUST be giving. Then, there are many who are happy to take advantage and become expectant that I will give my time, energy, and resources to them.

I had said yes to driving them home, but I was not going to be guilted into giving up my plans. Those plans were important to me. I also realized I couldn’t repeat the two-day trip to Ohio and back. I broke into tears when I got home the first time. Not kidding. After eleven hours on the road (two of which were spent at numerous rest stops), I had dropped off my grandparents at my aunt’s home and driven the last ten minutes to my parents’ home. I walked in the door, into the kitchen. I don’t even know what my parents said, but I demanded I just needed a minute. Tears began to well as I darted up to my room. I sobbed, breathed, sobbed, breathed. It was exhaustion (mingled with frustration and expired patience). So I knew I would need a few days to recover from the trip taking them home, and I thought it would be nice to visit my paternal grandparents. They are just a short hour and a half from Hicksville, and they are on the side closer back to Virginia.

But I couldn’t call them. I couldn’t let them know I was coming. What if Grandpa guilted someone else into taking him home early? Then that person would drive them up in their SUV and bring back my car. The likelihood was high. My grandpa was making life difficult at my aunt’s house. So I didn’t call my paternal grandparents. If I arrived, it would be a surprise.

So I drove them home on Tuesday, August 22, the day after the eclipse. I couldn’t drive them home on Monday, after all. I was determined to go to the library’s event, offering free eclipse glasses. Never mind that the library line was ridiculous, so Mom and I ended up watching the eclipse in beach chairs in her front yard while drinking expensive cider. She had a pair of solar eclipse glasses that we took turns sharing. Let me just say, that was a wonderful day. So instead of going back to Ohio on Monday, I stayed to watch the eclipse. Without that eclipse, my life would not have changed.

At 8 a.m. Tuesday morning, I met my grandparents at my aunt’s house. My uncle and I loaded the SUV, and, once we herded my grandparents into their seats, I took off. The trip was uneventful. Grandpa got chattier as we got closer to his home. I, in turn, became more annoyed. Every ten miles, my grandpa pointed out the mile marker and bellowed out the miles remaining until the next state: “60 miles until Ohio… 50 miles until Ohio… 40 miles until Ohio…” I believe I’m the most patient person in my family… or maybe not

The closer we got to their house, the more I plotted my escape. I would unload their items into the house, load my items into my car, and drive immediately to my other grandparents’ house. When we were less than 30 minutes away, I was replaying the plan in my head when horror hit me. But I couldn’t have, could I? I thought my packing through step by step. I mentally rummaged through my bags. No need to panic. I couldn’t be that stupid, right? I replayed it through again. It was no use. I had done it. Just to be sure, I asked my grandmother, sitting behind me, to pass me my purse. Without taking my eyes off the road, I sifted through the items. My fingers searching for the jagged metal. No luck.

Quickly explaining the situation to my grandparents… multiple times due to their poor hearing… I picked up my phone, sighed, and called my mother.

“Before I ask you to do something, please don’t judge me.”

“Okay…? What is it?” My mother responded cautiously.

“Could you go up to my room, go into my nightstand and get my car key?”

“What!?”

“Then, can you mail me my key?”

Yep, people. I was in Ohio with my car while my keys were safely in my nightstand in Virginia.

I was so mad at myself. I was also anxious. I was planning to escape. Now, please understand that my Grandma Connie is the most compassionate, giving, loving, generous soul I have ever known. I would take her anywhere with me. I would do anything for her. I adore and love her. I wasn’t trying to escape her. I was trying to escape Hicksville, Grandpa, and the noise created by hard-of-hearing elders who refuse to admit they cannot hear. (I love Grandpa too; but I was still very much mad at him for his behavior and his jolliness of being farther and farther away from Virginia.)

IMG_2274Anyways, back to my predicament. I was trapped in Hicksville now. Once we arrived and unloaded, I took off for a walk. The town is half a mile from their house. I went in search of a bar, of alcohol, of an alternative escape. Meanwhile, I called my dear friend Jerilyn to lament my fate. Just talking to her, I felt more optimistic and relaxed. I walked around the block a few times before our conversation ended. I crossed the street to the one bar – a brewery – in town. It was closed.

I ended up wandering around some more. I visited the library and learned about events for my grandma to attend, and I ordered a sub sandwich from a pizza shop. Then I headed back to the house. During my outing, I had been blessed with a solution from my mother. She and my father had overnighted my key. Apparently, Dad questioned paying an exorbitant fee to get the key by noon the next day. Mom told him to do it, just do it. I was staying at her parents’ house and she knew how drained I was. I suppose that, when I talk about alcohol, something must be terribly wrong. I’m typically the one who volunteers to be D.D. when family and friends want to go out for a drink. So because I forgot my key, I didn’t go to my other grandparents that night. But because my beautifully kind parents overnight expressed my key, I would be in Bowling Green, Ohio, early afternoon the next day. Without those additional two events, my life would not have changed.

So it was that on Wednesday, August 23, 2017, I received my key right before noon, andI drove to Bowling Green State University, my alma mater. I had deduced -correctly- that my Grandma Karen would not be home at this time of day. So instead, I drove to campus. I wanted a new BGSU shirt. I wanted to walk where once I questioned who I’d be and what I’d do with my life. I figured I would surprise my aunt on campus.

Lori Schultz is a woman who never seems to rest. She has a deep love for her work on campus as an advisor and always seems to be “adopting” a student or friend. She is a mother to her four children and she mothers anyone else who seems to need it. I have no idea where she gets her energy too. When she is not working, she is at university events, sporting events, friends’ parties, local taverns. She is always on the move, always busy, and always willing to help.

She was no different that Wednesday. Lori, after hugging me, proclaimed that she had been using me as an example of someone changing careers all summer. I had called her a couple of months ago inquiring about returning and if she knew about the MBA program. Her eyes widened and her smile grew bigger, “You should get your MBA. Do you want to do it? The first class is tonight” I smiled. How nice of her to remember. I didn’t think her too serious. I should have known better. Within a few minutes of surprising her, I was introduced to her colleague who was starting the MBA program. Lori repeated her idea. Uh? Say what? I thought. I couldn’t do that. Could I? Nah…. You cannot just decide to become a grad student and start class in one day. That’s ridiculous.

So now, I’m a grad student for the professional MBA at BGSU.

Lori, an advisor for the College of Technology, walked me over to the College of Business. I met with the administrative assistant for BGSU’s Graduate and Executive Programs in Business. Her shocked face matched my feelings. Class had technically begun Monday, but a change in instructors had led to that class being cancelled. If it hadn’t been cancelled, I’d have already been behind. Plus, since I had completed my undergraduate studies at BGSU the application was faster. As she processed the idea, she started to make it happen. She was providing me with materials, talking about the application process, and preparing to contact the instructors to make sure they understood that I did not have access to the online material yet. I wasn’t even sure what to think. I can’t do this, can I? But another bossy voice thought, Why not? What else are you doing right now? But still the insecure voice in my head argued, I can’t just decide to start grad school and go to class tonight. People just don’t do that. It’s not how things are done.

Luckily, I stopped having my internal debate long enough to pause the lovely woman who was dropping everything to help me. “I need to speak with my parents first about this.” I awkwardly explained that I had a dog and all my stuff in Virginia and I would need to make arrangements. I would need to have my parents’ support. She was very understanding. Then, she introduced me to the director of the program.

The director was just as surprised and just as welcoming. He also quickly determined this was possible. After a brief discussion, during which he was assured that I would attend class that night, he reasoned that it was fate. He contemplated the strange situation and the series of happenstances that aligned to make it possible for me to join the program. He remarked on the eclipse. The eclipse was a sign. As a former teacher, I can testify how teachers and administrators connect the rise of strange behaviors of children to new moons. I suppose the added strangeness and rareness of the eclipse seemed to correlate to my situation. If class had been held Monday, if I hadn’t had come to the building at the time I did, if the program had been filled, if so much hadn’t been perfectly so, it would not have been possible.

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Still, I was struggling with the decision. I was interested, but I didn’t allow myself to say yes. All the doubts were stampeding through my mind. My youngest cousin can testify to that. She was with my aunt that day. After leaving the director’s office, Lori suggested that Meredith come with me to surprise Grandma. (Grandma, however, still wasn’t home.) Meredith probably feared for her life as I drove around town, vocalizing my doubts. I had texted my mom as we had walked to my car on campus, and, when she responded, she was encouraging. I gave her a call and she said it was possible. I asked what Dad would think and what she said was true: Dad would be happy knowing I was doing something that would make me happy.

In less than four hours, I had gone from wandering around BGSU contemplating life to attending my first class in the professional MBA program.

After class – which I must say was wonderful -, I drove to my grandparents’ house to surprise them with a visit move. They might think I’m crazy and impulsive now, but they have graciously allowed me to move in with them. The next day, I submitted my official application for the program. The following Thursday, as I was driving home to get my clothes, I received my official acceptance letter. (In fact, I stopped at a Panera to use their WiFi to complete steps of the admission process.)

I am a graduate student in the professional MBA program at BGSU, a program that holds classes from 6-9 twice a week. A program that allows professionals to work while returning to school. Right now, I’m the only unemployed student in the program. So now, my task is to find a full-time job. One that allows me to build experience, to apply that experience to class discussions, to afford my own apartment, and -most importantly- to allow me to live with both my dogs once again.

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But let me just sit in bewilderment of how my life went from directionless to purposeful. Last time I wrote, I explained how I was letting go of being in control. Former me would have missed this opportunity because it wasn’t in some predetermined life plan nor decided with a detailed pros-and-cons list. Former me would have let the insecure voice win. Former me would have said no. I am so glad I didn’t listen to her, and I’m so glad I drove my stubborn grandpa home and forgot my key in Virginia.

So, in the immortal words of the Fresh Prince of Bel Air, “This is a story all about how my life got flipped-turned upside down.”


 

 

Finding and Losing Control on Rollercoasters

As a child, I was coerced by my mother onto intimidating rides at Cedar Point, an amusement park in Sandusky, Ohio. I suppose it was for my own good as I was quite the coward. I feared catastrophe.

Watching my sister play Roller Coaster Tycoon, a computer game that simulated amusement park management, only exacerbated that fear. She would create a roller coaster similar to Cedar Point’s Wicked Twister where the track ends as riders shoot up into the sky. The roller coaster is built to keep the trains from flying off the end of the track, but Katie, my devious sister, would max out the roller coaster’s speed and watch as the train full of virtual guests would fly off the track and explode mid-air. She was quite good at the game so destroying her park score with virtual deaths added to the challenge of the game for her. At least, that is the reasoning I tell myself so I do not have to contemplate the potential darkness in my sister’s soul.

This image of roller coasters exploding in air was all I could see the day that my mother goaded me onto Wicked Twister, the actual daring roller coaster at Cedar Point. I am not exaggerating when I say she had to prod me onto it. I whimpered and whined and she ridiculed my pathetic behavior. She had every right. I was probably eighteen years old at the time. I nearly threw a temper tantrum about riding. The scowling and sneering looks of other park guests kept me from collapsing on the ground. I physically shook and stomped my feet, but somehow Mom got me to climb into that seat.

I sat down, practicing deep breathing. I pulled down the over-the-shoulder restraint to its tightest point and buckled it to my seat. I pressed my head back against the headrest. My body was tense with nervous anticipation. The restraint lifted. It lifted. It rose up, pulling at the woven fabric attached to the buckle. I frantically pulled down the restraint, pressing it tight until it latched. My breathing was rapid and my eyes felt dry. I must have stopped blinking out of fear. I was trying to reassure myself that this ride was safe when an ominous hiss sounded and my restraint lifted once again.

Three times, my restraint refused to protect me. Three times, it rejected my body, pulling away from me. Three times, my restraint released, rising above my head. When my restraint latched for the fourth time, the roller coaster attendants incredulously determined we were properly secured and ready. The ride slowly clicked backwards, and Mom simply said, “I hope it doesn’t go up during the ride.” My eyes grew wide and I clung to the restraint, as if I could physically pin it to my body for safety. I proceeded to shriek, “Oh my God!” incessantly at the top of my lungs. I don’t remember breathing in, only breathing out that frantic prayer. By the time the ride came to a complete stop, I was hoarse. My mom wheezed with laughter.

I still ride roller coasters. I find a sick joy in the sheer terror as a roller coaster slowly trudges uphill while I contemplate all that could go wrong, only to experience the sheer thrill of the wind whipping my face while my stomach summersaults. It is the only time in life that I willingly release control.

I am a control freak. I hide it well, I think. At least I don’t ask my friends if I am and they don’t mention it. So since it has been unsaid in public, I can say that I am a secret control freak. I live in constant tension from keeping life on a short leash. I plan out my days. Even for “spontaneous” trips, I still have a plan; it’s just less structured and allows for more exploring. I always control the destination. I know where I will end up. I am willing to be somewhat flexible on the timing or the route, but the destination is always firm. The unknown terrifies me. I hate not knowing what to expect. I need to know my destination.

When I ride roller coasters, I know the destination. Even in these little moments of giving up control, I choose controlled environments. There is an illusion of being out of control in roller coasters. Thanks to an ornery cousin who would list examples of horrific ways roller coasters can go wrong as we waited in line to ride one, I feel like I give up control on a roller coaster. While I have not returned to the Wicked Twister – a death trap, I’m certain –, I have lost count of the times I have ridden my favorite coaster, Cedar Point’s Millennium Force. It has all of the thrill without any possibility of shooting off the edge of the track and exploding into nothingness.

The Millennium Force is a steel roller coaster that boasts a 300 ft drop at an 80-degree angle, reaching up to 93 mph. This is the roller coaster that thrills me the most. Since it was one of the most popular rides at Cedar Point when I was a teenager, the line was long and tedious. As we inched closer to the front of the line, the butterflies in my stomach intensified. By the time I was sitting down, I would be panicking. Why are these lap bars so small? How is that supposed to hold me in? I’m huge. There is no way on earth that this tiny triangle of plastic can protect me.  Every single time I rode the Millennium Force, these thoughts stampeded through my mind. I’d practice breathing as we chugged up the 310 ft hill. What if we get stuck? Inhale. How will we get down? Exhale. I’m clumsy. I’ll trip just trying to get out of my seat. Inhale. I’ll die. Swallow and forget to breathe out. 

Then, the train would cascade over the hilltop every time and we’d barrel down to the earth, leaving my worries behind. It was a predictable journey, but I felt fearless each time I conquered this ride. This ride has safely provided me with that thrill every time – save one.

One fateful day, my college classmates and I had decided to spend the day at Cedar Point. With two of my friends, I got in line for the Millennium Force. As always, I felt that tickle in my gut as we crept forward, closer to the ride. When we reached the front of the line, my friends climbed into the row behind me, and I clambered into a seat next to a stranger, an adolescent boy. I pulled that tiny yellow lap bar down and began that familiar panic. Did the bar shrink? How does this protect anyone? Breathe. Then the ride was off. We ascended 15 mph up the hill and I felt the nervous anticipation. Suddenly, a hiss beneath me sounded a warning, and we stopped. Just stopped. Three-quarters of the way up that mountainous hill, the ride halted. I forced a smile. It’s okay. This happens. Stay calm. Be calm for your friends. I turned to ask if they were okay. As I smiled encouragingly at them, I noticed the sheer drop below. My mind began shouting behind my calm facade. How do we get down? What if they can’t get us started? What if the train slips backwards, causing us to crash into the train at the loading station below and explode into a fiery blaze? But I masked my terror to refrain from my worrying the other passengers.

I was internally praising myself for staying so calm when my neighbor looked at me with his brow lowered in concern. “Miss, are you okay? Breathe. You need to breathe.”

In my attempt to appear calm, I had stopped breathing. The blood had drained from my face, leaving a pasty white mask of fear. My neighbor and the couple in front of me began instructing me to inhale and exhale. Inhale and exhale.

I need control like a child needs a security blanket. I wrap myself in it to protect from the uncertainties of life. That day, the ride resumed after an excruciating fifteen minutes of uncertain waiting. We returned to the ground safely. I heard something had fallen onto the track. The roller coaster operators were always in control of the situation, halting our ride to safely remove the object. Regardless, I had no control in that moment, and it petrified me.

I have always kept tight control over my life. In that control, I have developed an aversion to the unknown. I can’t control what I don’t understand and what I can’t see. Education was a field with which I was familiar. The world outside of school was an unknown. Without any exploration, I chose the career path I knew. I could see the destination: I would be a beloved schoolmarm. So I worked in daycare facilities, a tutoring center, and finally in public high schools. I taught high school English for six years: five in northern Virginia and one in Kentucky. Teaching became my entire life. I let it consume me. It defined me.

My career came to a screeching halt in late March. I learned that my teaching contract in Kentucky was not going to be renewed. I was confused, devastated, lost. Teaching was who I was. I was once again stuck at the top of that roller coaster forgetting to breathe.

As my mind raced to figure out how I could prove everyone wrong, restore my pride, and become an even more committed teacher, I realized that I had to make a drastic change. I had to stop allowing my career to come first. I needed to become more than a career. I needed to stop controlling my life at the expense of exciting opportunities. Besides, it was foolish to continue to teach out of pride, to prove to others how capable I was. That wasn’t the right choice. I need to do what is best for me, not for my ego. What is best for me is to stop trying to dictate my entire life, leaving no room for adventure, romance, the unknown.

Now, I’ve truly relinquished control. I am pursuing a career change without knowing where that will lead. For the first time in my life, I have no future mapped out, no destination. I don’t know what I will be doing next week, let alone next year. At 29 years old, I moved back in with my parents. I am starting over and I have no control.

And you know what? I feel free for the first time. When I breathe now, I inhale potential, excitement, and the unknown. I am fully free. I know that this new ride is going to be indescribably exhilarating. For once, it’s a ride without any track, without a carefully planned path, without a predetermined destination. It’s a ride with unlimited possibilities.