Author Archives: joanna

Coffee Shop Invasion

Today I tried to be one of those cool people you see in coffee shops. The ones wearing those ridiculously large lawn-mowing headphones, sitting in a corner working furiously on something you assume is their latest short story or screenplay.

I’ve always thought these people seemed hip and successful. So this afternoon, I decided I was ready to join their ranks. It wasn’t as easy as I’d hoped.

To start, it takes me 10 minutes to park before I’m even able to set foot in the coffee shop. This aggravates me. But I try to let it go and tell myself I’m just not meant for menial tasks like driving or parking. I belong in a big city. A bustling financial district with a Light Rail, or whatever.

I arrive at the shop, put my stuff down and walk to the counter to order my drink. I get my usual — a medium dry cappuccino — and settle into a brightly lit corner that I hope will give me a second-hand tan.

Joan's judging eyes follow me wherever I go.

Joan’s judging eyes follow me wherever I go.

The table next to me is occupied by an aforementioned Headphone Wearer, who I’ve decided to name Karen. I crack open my MacBook Air (already pleased with the impression I’m making), and wander around in search of a nearby plug. I find one, plug in, and start unfurling my power cord like I’m laying a bomb or a booby-trap that leads back to my table. Karen looks up several times as I do this. It’s clear she finds me irritating. In this moment, I feel uncomfortably like my dad. He’s always very annoying when people are trying to concentrate on something other than him. He’s chipper. Bouncy and distracting, like a toddler who hasn’t quite come to grips with his body mass or movements.

All powered up and ready to go, I sit down and try to think of something to write about. Five minutes pass. Suddenly, I am painfully aware of how hot the sunlight feels on my delicate winter flesh. I cannot work under these circumstances, I tell myself. Especially considering the mole-removal I endured not seven days ago. So I stand on a chair and attempt to lower the blinds. The opposite happens, and somehow, the blinds open even further, showering Karen and myself with scalding UV rays from above. I hurry to reverse my actions, but it’s too late. The blinds are stuck ajar and I haven’t the upper body strength to pull them back down. It is clear that Karen hates me.

Defeated, I sit back down in my chair. At this point, I realize that I’ve nearly finished my coffee. What happens once it’s gone? Do I just sit here with an empty cup? Do I order another? What would Karen do?

I put this worry aside and begin to look for an acceptable Pandora station to enjoy. Do I go for my usual station — Kanye and Jay Z’s Watch the Throne? Or do I pick something a little more muted, more coffee-shop-esque? I feel Karen’s eyes burrowing into my screen and find myself wondering if she’s ever seen Keeping up with the Kardashians.

Things aren’t going as expected. I haven’t written a single word, I’ve formed a tumultuous relationship with this complete stranger Karen (if that’s even her real name), and my skin is feeling oddly flushed. Am I getting burned? Is my anti-aging cream negatively reacting to the window-filtered sunlight?

I decide to move. A change of scene will help me focus, surely. I pack up my station, wander over to a shady corner and start the whole process again. This time, I put on my glasses as if to say, “it’s go time, folks.”

I’ve now been in the coffee shop for 45 minutes. And I don’t have a word to show. So I write a blog post about being in a coffee shop.

Grandma Joanne

Earlier this winter, my Grandma Joanne passed away. I’m so very thankful that I was able to visit her while she was still herself. But it didn’t make saying goodbye any easier. It was a terrible feeling, saying goodbye for good. When you leave someone, it’s usually more of a “see you later” than a “goodbye.” But this was a hard and cold goodbye. The last time I’d spend with my last-living grandmother. And I was juggling our final moments with a Southwest flight? That just doesn’t seem right.

I won’t say much more on the matter as, like a true Clark, grand displays of emotions are not my strong suit. I actually get quite uncomfortable with them, a trait I likely inherited from my dad – the man who exclaimed, “Into zee vault!” at my Grandma Mary’s interment.

So rather than remember my Grandma Joanne with sadness, I’ll share a little bit about her.

My Grandma Joanne was a wild woman – the best kind of wild. She wore bold, bright eccentric ensembles, many of which incorporated at least one species of animal print. She loved art, music and culture, and she introduced me to French and the Good Morning Vietnam soundtrack. Her trademark phrase was “fucking asshole,” a term of endearment or of condemnation, depending on the day. She was a world traveler, a fierce card player and a volunteer docent at an art museum, among many, many other things.

One summer, my sister and I stayed with her while my mom recovered from back surgery. (A smart move on my mom’s part, considering the last time she left us in my dad’s charge, my sister fed me a bottle of Benadryl.)

While we were there, my Grandma Joanne made us memorize a song and dance routine to “When the Saints Come Marching In.” It was quite an elaborate number, with parasols and everything. We performed it at a local senior center.

She told me champagne would cure my sea-sickness (it didn’t), and that Clark women are blessed with huge knockers (verdict’s still out). One of the last things she said to me was, “if any man does you wrong, I’ll come back and castrate him.”

**Cue the line of eligible bachelors**

I can’t quite put my finger on what it was about her, but she very much inspired me. Her personality was larger than life. She was hilarious – wickedly so, but a riot all the same. She was feisty, blunt and bold. She was the kind of person you’d bend over backwards to impress. Making her laugh, genuinely laugh, always felt like a huge accomplishment.

I’ll miss her very much.

Jessie, my Grandpa John, Grandma Joanne and me. Let it be known that BOTH of my grandmother's walked their cats on leashes.

Jessie, my Grandpa John, Grandma Joanne and me. Let it be known that BOTH of my grandmothers walked their cats on leashes.

My sister Jessie, my Grandma Joanne and me on a fishing trip.

My sister Jessie, my Grandma Joanne and me on a fishing trip. This is when I really began to blossom, as indicated by the khaki slacks.

Things I tell myself

Things I tell myself when I’ve had a drink:

I’m going to pick up the piano. You know, get a keyboard and some sheet music on Amazon Prime. Start cranking out some classic jams – Bach, Beethoven, Andrew Lloyd Webber, the usual suspects. It’d be my signature party trick. Something I’d whip out unexpectedly to surprise my friends and woo nearby men with my digital dexterity.

I got very serious about this new musical venture. So serious that I went over to my parents’ house to practice on their piano. But when I sat down to play, I realized that despite seven years of choir and a brief affair with the trumpet, I still had NO idea how to read music. And the thought of learning was – and clearly always has been – just too much to bear.

I’m going to get some miniature life vests and teach my cats how to swim in the bathtub. This was a particularly passionate pipe dream of mine; it burned bright, but it burned fast. In the end, it was a traumatic flea bath that squashed my plans. Joan was so scared of the water that I had to strap on my old swim team one-piece and spray-tan swim-cap and hop in with her. It was – quite literally – a bloodbath.

Bathtime with Wolverine.

Bathtime with Wolverine.

I’m going to become a sommelier on the side. I’ve always had a great sense of smell. A unique ability to detect and describe even the faintest of scents. I think it’s an inherent survival trait of being asthmatic. I mean, think about it: the ability to identify an airborne threat is absolutely grounds for a right-swipe from the big D. (D being Darwin, mom.) If my ancestors were being picked off for wheezing, they had to develop at least one redeeming quality.

Anyways, as taste and smell are so closely related, I figured I’d be a shoe-in for sommelier school. So I ran the idea past my dad and sister. My dad was pretty supportive. Not a huge surprise, since our favorite bonding activities include blind bourbon taste tests. He did, however, tell me to back off the hot foods. One burnt tongue and I’d be out of business, he said. My sister was the voice of reason. “Jo. That shit costs like thousands of dollars. And it takes years of studying and practice. You can’t just become a sommelier as a hobby.”

And that was that.

I’m going to redownload Tinder. I have a love-hate relationship with Tinder. I hate it most of the time. Until I get a match. Which, for about five minutes, makes me feel DAMN self-important. But the feeling quickly wears off (see image below as to why). And when it does, I’m reminded of just how shallow the whole exercise is.

My profile said I loved cats. He thought I meant the Wildcats. Rookie mistake, bro. Also, ew.

My profile said I loved cats. He thought I meant the Wildcats. Rookie mistake, my man. Also, ew.

Every time I redownload the app, I ask myself, “Why am I even doing this? Why do I keep doing this? Why are all these men holding children? Why would they think I’d be into that? What’s the swipe etiquette for friends? Friends-of-friends? God I hope none of these matches actually message me.”

And finally, when I’ve once again reached my Tindering limit, “I’m just going to find a man the old-fashioned way. Go to a bar, down some liquid courage, hit on some non-threatening randos and hope something sticks.”

I’m going to write a blog post about things I tell myself when I’ve had a drink. The end.

27

A year ago, I published a blog post about turning 26. It was one of my more serious posts, as it was the first time I’d ever opened up about having an anxiety disorder. **Cue the line of eligible bachelors**

Since writing that post, I’ve done a lot of work on my anxiety. I’m by no means cured, but I’ve definitely become more lax about sharing drinks with people. I even ate a fish taco off a hotel floor, which, by anyone’s standards, is downright irresponsible. A death wish, some might say. (Full disclosure: I spent the next day googling variations of: “Do microwaves kill herpes?”)

Since writing that post, I’ve been working on myself. Working on the ability to speak my mind, the ability to let things go, and the ability to get up and talk to people, even when I feel like they hate me.

But perhaps one of the hardest things I’m working on is learning how to value and appreciate myself. I spent a good part of last year thinking, “What the hell is wrong with me? What do they have that I don’t? Am I not ____ enough?” I leave this blank because, depending on the day, I’d fill in any number of descriptors. Spontaneous enough, confident enough, cool enough, pretty enough, funny enough, bold enough, open enough, creative enough. I didn’t feel enough. Period. I felt like an inconvenience in someone’s day, an intruder in their “group.” And while these fears have always lived in the back of my mind, I suddenly found them catapulted to the forefront. It felt like everything I’d feared about myself – my lowest, most self-hating thoughts – were proved true. And that felt terrible.

But today, more than a year later, I’m able to ask myself why. Why does someone else get to dictate how I feel about myself? Why do they get all the power? All of my power?

I’m also starting to realize that people come and go. Friends, boyfriends, lovahs, even husbands – they come and go. There’s only one person I can count on spending the rest of my life with. And that’s me. So isn’t it about time I came to peace with myself? Wouldn’t it make sense to start learning how to love myself? How to feel whole with myself, by myself?

This has been my focus. Which is why I nearly lost my mind when I came across the following:

meme2

If she’s hot and single, she’s crazy.

???

Now to be clear, I’m not saying I’m hot. I’m saying, as a single woman, “What the fuck?”

This meme hit me so hard because it is, quite specifically, the very thought I spent months beating myself up over. The fact that I am 27 and single baffles people, from my dentist to my relatives. I take this meme — even if it was made in jest — to mean there are those who view my singleness as an abnormality, like my childhood snaggletooth. I take it to mean that men must look at me and say, “Oh, she’s single? Well, what’s wrong with her then?”

Why does something have to be wrong with me? There are so many reasons why a woman would be single — why do we automatically assume that she’s a compulsive car keyer?

Maybe she likes being independent. Maybe she’s focused on other things. Maybe she’s just having fun. Maybe she doesn’t feel like doting on anyone, save her cats, friends and family. Yeah, maybe she got her ass dumped. But maybe he was unfaithful.

Maybe she’s just not into you, brah.

Why does a girl need to be spoken for in order for others to believe she’s cool? Why is a woman seen as worthy, valuable, “a catch,” or sane only when a man deems her fit for marriage? 

I realize this post might have crossed the line (several lines, really) from thoughtful to impassioned. And if you thought you were getting into another post about cats or germs, my sincerest apologizes, as I’ve certainly led you astray. To be clear, I’m not making sweeping judgments about men or any other group of people, and I’m certainly not trying to brand myself as a wronged woman in pursuit of justice. I love being single. I also loved being a relationship, when it was healthy. There’s nothing wrong with being in or out of a relationship, as long as you’re happy.

Happy is what I’m focused on. Not who makes me happy. Just being happy. Period. And if THAT’S what makes me crazy, cool. At least it’s not my cats.

The Great Escape

A few days after I published my Mother of Cats post, I found myself (quite ironically) missing a cat. Joan stepped out on me. I suspect it was in protest to my public acknowledgment of another feline, though I can’t be sure. She’s a fickle creature, my Joan.

People have suggested I write a post from her point of view. Where she went, things she saw, raccoons she met. But I can’t bring myself to do it. I feel like the father of a teenage daughter. It all goes by so fast. One day, she’s reading Animorphs to her pet rats. The next, she’s wearing velour pantsuits and dating a boy with an Astro Van. Much like my dad must have felt during this time, I don’t want to know the intimate details of Joan’s escapades. All I want to know is that she made it home relatively unscathed.

So instead of giving Joan’s account of The Incident, I’ll give my own.

Re: slithering.

Re: slithering.

It happened when some men came to install a new AC/heating unit in my apartment. Unfortunately, I couldn’t stay home to supervise them, though they assured me it wouldn’t be a problem.

The day before they came, I called to give them the rundown: two indoor cats, both of whom would perish in the wild (I’ve raised them on a strict grain-free organic diet. The fault lies with me). Keep all doors closed, and leave the baby-gate up in the hallway in case Joan manages to slither past the first round of blockades.

 

The next morning, I called them to go over Joan’s security detail one last time. I then taped a huge reminder note on my door and left for the day.

The note

Fast forward to 7 p.m., when I came home to find another note taped beneath my own.

The response

They left this note at 10:30 a.m. and made no attempt to call me, even though they knew I’d be at work until later that evening.

I ran into the first floor apartment. She wasn’t there.

Cue my complete and utter mind loss. Tears, screaming, sweating, the works. To make matters worse, I had a date that night. And he arrived not five minutes into my tantrum (to his credit, he stayed to help me look).

After an extensive sweeping of the grounds, I determined that Joan was nowhere to be found. Thus, I opened my first-ever missing persons investigation. First order of business: assemble the witnesses and begin the interrogation.

I called the owner of the AC company and did my best to crack him. When did you last see her? Where did you last see her? Did you actually see her run into the first floor apartment or are you just assuming that’s where she is? Have you always hated animals or do you also kidnap children?

I should note that at this point in time, I was days deep into a Serial binge, which meant I thought myself something of an investigative reporter. It also meant that everything he said sounded suspicious, inconsistent. So by the end of our conversation, I’d convinced myself that he’d orchestrated the whole thing just to cover for an employee, who’d stolen Joan for himself. (It’s a valid concern. She has a beautiful coat.)

The guys at work made this awesome yard sign for me.

The guys at work made this awesome yard sign for me. Unexpected bonus: she’s now a potential gubernatorial candidate.

Four days I looked for her. Night after night, I crawled around the neighborhood, rummaging through people’s backyards, gardens and tool sheds. I contracted such an assortment of bug bites I was certain they would kill me, if grief didn’t do me in first.

And then one dark and rainy night, she returned. Just like that. She just showed up at my door, crying and howling, though it was soon impossible to tell where her yowling ended and mine began. It was a miracle.

To this day, we haven’t discussed her whereabouts. The things she saw, the tool sheds she pooped in…nothing. Not a word. I’m confident that she’ll tell me when she’s ready. But until then, I’m just glad to have her home.

 

Three friends. And a forehead vein.

Three friends and a forehead vein.

Reunited at last.

“Give us a moment, will ya?”

Lovahs

Reunited at last.

 

Mother of Cats

A few weeks ago, I made a very important decision that will undoubtedly change the course of my life. I adopted another cat.

My Crazy Cat Lady Halloween costume a few years ago. The front of my sweater is dedicated to cats currently living, the back to those who have sadly passed on. For the record, I do not smoke (asthma), thus this cig is unlit.

And so it begins.

When I made the news public (after a private meet-and-greet with family and close friends) the first question I got from nearly EVERY PERSON I told was:

“So how many does this make?”

Oddly enough, this is the same question I faced upon adopting my first cat, Joan. It really makes me wonder what people think of my home life. I imagine they picture my apartment to be a wasteland of shag carpet and empty tuna cans. Perhaps it’s filled with Precious Moment figurines, or a series of portraits honoring cats that have since passed on. But I’m just spitballing here.

James. A cat without a care in the world.

James. A cat without a care in the world.

Anyways, the purpose of this post is to introduce the world to James, my new son and heir. Now, I understand what this looks like. “Two cats?!,” you might say. “What’s to stop her from getting a third? A forth? A fortieth?!”

Though you’re right about the slippery slopeidness of my situation, the truth is that I adopted James as a gift to please m’Lady Joan. You see, I did not want to make room in my heart for another critter. Joan is my sun and stars. The Albuterol to my asthma. The Eucerin to my eczema. But Joan is also a very high maintenance being — thanks in part to my helicopter parenting and incessant pampering — and thus I felt she needed someone to keep her company in my absence. Someone who could withstand her rough-and-tumble play, but who would also readily adopt the role of her humble servant.

But even though I was offering James to Joan in good faith, I knew it wouldn’t be a smooth transition. Joan has grown accustomed to my unhealthily undivided attention, and James would prove a disturbance in the force.

Exhibit A.

Unhealthy attention exhibit A

Exhibit B.

Unhealthy attention exhibit B.

So to avoid the full force of Joan’s wrath (which typically ends in strategically placed dingle berries), I decided that the safest POA would be to facilitate a gradual introduction. For the first few days, I’d keep James in one room and Joan in the other. That way, they could safely get to know each other via under-the-door sniffing — a practice often employed by the parochial school system in high puberty years.

What is this plebeian doing to my castle??

“What has this plebeian done to my castle?!”

That plan, however, failed the moment I brought James into the house. Why? Because I forgot to account for the fact that my entire apartment is actually one giant room. Separation is impossible. Thus, I had to resort to Plan B: Throw them together and intervene only when bloodshed appeared imminent.

Needless to say, it was a rough first few days. Joan was clearly disappointed in me, and I’d be lying if I said she didn’t make me cry a few times. But as time passed, their hatred subsided. Now, instead of stalking and striking poor little James, Joan pins him down and gives him regular full body lickings. I take this to mean that things are looking up.

Where we started. James pictured center, Joan pictured atop the window for fear of her life.

Where we started. James on the bed, Joan fearing contamination.

Where we are now. Joan pictured big spoon, James pictured little.

Where we are now. Joan pictured big spoon, James pictured little.

Work Quirks

Last week marked my three-year anniversary at work. Crazy how time flies. It feels like just yesterday I was power-washing homes and hunting squirrels for rent. But for better or for worse, I’ve now been a bonafide businessman for three years. And though I still look like a science fair entrant in business pants (or “trousers,” as my fancy friend calls them), I’ll concede that I’ve slowly matured in other ways, some of which both puzzle and frighten me.

Hot for per.
I knew I was in trouble the day “per” cropped up in my everyday dialect. I don’t remember our first encounter, but I do – embarrassingly enough – remember thinking “My God, where have you been?” It didn’t take long for me to develop a sick sort of satisfaction in its abuse. It felt so easy. So natural. So trousery. For example, rather than send my friends an email about “that cat video we talked about at lunch,” I found myself saying things like, “Per our discussion over sandwiches,” or “Per our conversation re: cats.” (More to come on re:) I was totally out of control. The only time I can remember obsessing in such a way was when I was eight and discovered the word “bastard.” To be sure, I hadn’t yet discovered the meaning of bastard, so I used it interchangeably with “friend(s)” or “guy(s).” E.g.: “Come on, you bastards! Let’s get some snacks!”

Picture of my finest creek-walking gear.

Around the same age I discovered “bastard,” Can you believe it?

Re: the ridiculousness of re:
After readily adopting “per,” it was only a matter of time before I began exploring the darker, more formal morsels of jargon at my disposal. Though I experimented with several options – most notably the notion of signing my emails with “Best,” – I eventually landed on re:. Re:, as in, “I got your voicemail re: the peanut butter.” Or “Your email re: the trouser sale was well received by all.” I knew it was terrible sentence structure. I knew it was pretentious. But I didn’t care. It felt good to be bad. And if I’m being totally honest here, it made me feel a hair grayer (in a well-respected wizard sort of way, that is).

The Hello Whisper.
I find something very uncomfortable about passing people in hallways. They’re at one end, you’re at the other, and you have no choice but to surmount a full-frontal approach before meeting your respective destinations.

To handle these situations, I’ve developed two coping strategies: The Hello Whisper and the Captain’s Wave. Certainly, each has become somewhat irrelevant as I’ve grown more comfortable in my company, but they’ve both served me well.

The Hello Whisper came to me in the first year of my career, presumably born out of shyness and insecurity. It happens like this: upon noticing an approaching coworker, I tuck my pelvis under, focus intently on the carpet and quicken my pace, as if I’m late to a very important meeting. Once I feel that my coworker and I have reached an appropriate distance from each other, I look up, smile, and silently mouth “Hi” Like I’m very excited to see them, but also quietly respectful of the hardworking businessmen around me.

The Captain’s Wave.
As seasons changed, I began to replace my meek Hello Whisper with something a little bolder, a little more dramatic — the Captain’s Wave. It came to me when I realized that what I hated most about hallway encounters was the anticipation. Do I say hi? When should I say hi? How do I say hi? Where should I look until I say hi? What if I have chocolate on my face? What if it’s my boss and I have chocolate on my face? 

So, I decided to avoid said discomfort by asserting myself from the get-go. If I notice a coworker at the opposite end of the hallway, I throw up my hand and give them a big, slow half-circular wave, like I’m saluting them from the helm of my ship. It seems to work quite nicely. After a few months testing it in the market, I’ve found that it gets about a 55 percent response rate, depending on how backlit I am.

So there you have it. A small taste of my more unfortunate work quirks. Also, for my own vanity, I must note that I’ve weaned myself off “per” and “re:,” though you have every right to judge our brief affair.

As you can see, I've grown quite comfortable in my work environment.

As you can see, I’ve grown quite comfortable in my work environment.