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As the Girl in a Brother’s Band

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I love sleeping in. I find great joy in slowly awakening as dreams naturally transition out and reality fades back into consciousness. No alarm jolting this progression with immediacy. Just a soft, gentle stirring when my body whispers, “ok we have now fully recharged, let’s go boss.”

Saturdays have largely been removed from the ranks of restful slumber, as I have spent the last several months training for a marathon and it’s too damn hot to run 10+ miles in San Diego’s late morning/afternoon. It’s not so bad though, I can normally get up around 8:30am to meet my small running crew on time, and these days I consider that sleeping in.

However last Saturday, my dream-filled state was slapped into reality by the hand of my cell phone, as over and over again it was blowing up with texts around 6:00am.

Rolling over with as much urgency as I could muster, I tried to silent the inconsiderate device. I vowed that heads were gonna roll if someone wasn’t on fire and somewhat within driving distance so that I could actually do something about it. Thoughts of burning buildings flashed through my mind as I fumbled over my nightstand trying not to knock over my water glass.

Once I finally got to the obnoxious little computer, I discovered no such emergency. Turned out instead World War III was in full effect as my brothers, who so thoughtfully included me on a group text message thread, were ferociously assailing unspeakable insults towards each other. Name calling, personal attacks, and thoughtless verbal canonballs were hurled back and forth with only seconds between each injurious message.

The first thing I did was lay back down, slap my hand to my forehead and groan. “What a bunch of babies,” I said out loud to the empty room. It was a group message that included my three brothers and myself, two of whom were in the middle of this bloodless battle.

I’m more or less used to this behavior by now. So I sent a couple of texts calling for peace, but my efforts were, as usual, ignored. Each of the fighting brothers felt their words, texted with about as much thought as it takes to realize a poopy diaper smells like poo, were valid. Both felt justified tearing down the other mercilessly in front of me and my other brother, who surprisingly wasn’t involved in the fighting whatsoever.

It was an annoying way to start the morning to say the least. After spending a few hours trying to sort them out, the brothers concluded the conversation by blocking the other’s messages and vowing never to speak again. With a sigh, I went on my 12 mile run with friends at 9:00, but it was clouded by the negativity I experienced that morning. I felt sickened and sad, crippled with worry that either or both of today’s foes were sitting at home alone, severely wounded. What I hated most was that there was nothing I could do to stop it and had no real way to fix it.

Why is family such a pain in the ass? I remember when I was little and my Mom would tuck me into bed, she’d always tell me to be grateful for my brothers. Some nights I agreed with her, others I stuck my tongue out and wished they were sisters. You can borrow sister’s clothes. There are only so many options when it comes to your brother’s clothes, and a lot of those clothes are jerseys, and most jerseys are never washed. And that’s just gross, so I was shit out of luck and had to fend for myself with my own wardrobe. Regardless, she always said, “The best gift that I could give to my children was each other.”

Oh brother [cheap pun, sorry, couldn’t help myself].

I figured that every family must be this way. Family = fight, fun, football, being funny, folk music. My immediate world was comprised of us four siblings, my three brothers and myself. I have a half sister as well but she is a bit older and tends to stay out of the drama, probably because she knows the rest of us are morons. So between the remaining 4 of us, we definitely have the most fun together I have ever had in my life, but that’s when we are all getting along. There is unfortunately always a pair in our group who are either not speaking, pulling each other’s eyebrows out, or talking shooby behind another’s back. It’s absolutely ridiculous, and you would think we were the cast of Mean Girls thrown in a martini glass with the Real Housewives.

This is because my brothers and I have a real gift. We have earth-shattering tempers, not measurable by the Richter scale but will likely be responsible when California finally breaks from the main land and drifts off to sea. Through the same vein we also love each other with the same intensity. We didn’t have the easiest collective childhood, and often times all we had were each other. I have distinct memories with each of them individually, holding each other sobbing to get through the latest of round life’s nonsense. So when I moved out of the house and went on to college, I carried with me this love, the temper, the ability to hold my own in a house of 3 boys, and a pretty good sense of humor. These were the ingredients required to survive as an Erdmann.

I came to find out that the temper doesn’t go over well in the real world. Apparently people don’t like it when you yell at them. Shouldn’t they just yell right back and you both hug later and then get some ice cream? Guess not. I got in trouble those early years for behaving like a pugilist, and learned fairly quickly that whoever yells the loudest is not the one who necessarily wins the battles.

For some reason, gosh I have no idea how it became an interest of mine, I got into rhetorical studies and focused on argumentation strategies. I was really into learning karate for words, and have spent most of my years in formal study honing how to craft a logical argument and effectively express my ideas.  I wanted to be able to communicate better with my brothers and create a more conducive environment to healthy discussion.

Some of the first times that I would come home, I’d take my suitcase of words and try them out on my family. Surely this new briefcase of tools would help us communicate better. I outgrew my Mother’s vocabulary by the time I was 15, but I was excited that my brothers would be proud of how calm I was and had tactful ways for us to get along with each other.

Yeah, no.

Apparently when you go back home, you resume the same position you always had. I’ve come to realize that no matter where I go in life, no matter what I’ve learned or how ever-so-wise I’ve become, I am always the baby sister to my two older brothers. To my younger brother, I will always be his bossy big sister, and he will always be my best friend (it’s not that I play favorites, it’s just that he’s my favorite).

I realize also now that not every family is like mine. My last few boyfriends all, oddly enough, had probably the sweetest families that exist on this whole fucking planet. They never EVER fight, cry every time they leave each other, and have deep bonds with each other built on a solid foundation of cotton candy, pillow fights and Lucky Charms cereal.  I love them all dearly to this day but come on…not ONE argument? Suspicious.

But I used to get jealous when I met families like that. And I would really wish I had a sister a lot of times growing up. But, I have my three goofy brothers, and I guess my Ma is right…they are a blessing.  I don’t think any quadra-sibling unit has ever been through as much as we have together, and I wouldn’t trade those silly monsters for anyone else on earth. It would be nice though if one of them were a cross-dresser and happened to be my size, it really would be lovely to share a closet with a sibling and double my wardrobe.

For those of you that don’t have siblings, I’m sure you have friends that pretty much are. And for those that do have siblings, you likely have some crazy-ass stories that likely directed what you studied in school and who you are today.  I think we should all be grateful for whatever situation we happen to be in. So in conclusion of last Saturday and many of the wars of our past, this song makes me think of my beloved brothers today. “So brother, raise another pint!…I still look out for you no matter what you’ve heard…I know there [are] better brother[s] but you’re the only one[s] that [are] mine.”

Love you all, Choey

I’m a Barista, But I Want To Be a Ninja

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This weekend I found myself in several situations where I didn’t know every single person in the room/backyard/boat.  As is normative social decorum, I engaged in get-to-know-you small talk.

“Where are you from?”

“Seattle.”

“Oh, I hear it’s nice there. I’ve never been.”  (No one in California has been to Seattle.)

“Yeah, it rains a lot, but the music’s great.”

There is also…

“Where did you go to school?”

“UW and SDSU.”

“What’s UW?”

“The University of Washington.”

“Oh…well SDSU! Go Aztecs!”

Seriously California. There are other states up north you know. Stupid…surf…culture…anyway, those are two conversations I am always having. The third is of course:

“What do you do?”

“I work at a start-up internet company.”

“Oh cool! What is it?”

“We do online reputation management. We’ve only been around for 2 years, and no you haven’t heard of us.”

“How exciting! What do you do there?”

“I do training and development. But it’s a start-up, so I do a lot more than that.”

I think I’ve narrowed it down pretty well and I try to keep it to that. My job is pretty challenging to explain, and I don’t like to go on and on about it, because then I’m the girl talking a lot about herself, and that’s just weird in the small talk get-to-know-you convos.  However, people seem to find what I do interesting.

Does that mean I’ve “made it?” When I first got the job offer a month after I graduated, I was stoked. I’ve been there for a year now and I must say, it is rewarding.  Working at a small company has a lot of great perks, but there is one thing that makes it just like every single job I’ve ever had – I’m working for someone else’s dream.

I was in Trader Joe’s two weeks ago and the ringer-upper guy asked me what I do.  I told him the standard, “I work at a start-up internet company,” answer, and surprisingly he responded, “Oh wow! Your own?”

Sadly I admitted, “No.”

That really got me thinking. Joe there, not knowing one thing about me, had enough faith in me to think that I could possibly be an entrepreneur. That I am so dedicated to my ideas and have enough drive and determination to get an idea off of the ground and start my own company.

After that experience, I’ve really been thinking about this whole, “what do you do,” thing.  I’ve always been the type to resist being put in the box of my profession.  When I worked as a barista for a billion years in every coffee shop in the greater Seattle region, I never really thought of that as my “identity.” I mean sure, I kind of liked it. I was in my teens and early 20’s and it was around the time The Barista was sort of a cool thing to be. So me and my tattoos, dark-rimmed glasses and poetry books would make coffee and use big words to prove I that I was doing this gig just to get through college. “Nope, just making coffee, this is not who I am…but yes you can compliment how well I can make a latte.”

Damn a latte sounds good right now…

Anyway, now that I really think about it, I have never taken a job I would have been ashamed to tell other people about. I worked at a TV station, casting agency, newspaper, university, you can pretty much name any sort of profession that doesn’t happen under a bridge and I’ve done it. And while I genuinely liked each of those jobs to some extent, every single time I always had this bit of a divider like, “This is just what I DO, but it’s not who I AM.” I figured work life would always be that way.

Then I stumbled upon a thought.  When you meet any of your friends who are really doing what they want to do, they are excitedly proud to tell you that what they do is who they are.

“I’m a musician.”

“I’m a photographer.”

“I’m a firefighter.”

“I’m a basketball player.” (OK fine, none of my friends are basketball players)

“I’m a lawyer.”

“I’m an author.”

That last one has a little sting to it, because that’s the one that I want. While I have a pretty rad job, it’s not what I dreamed I would be doing as baby Joni. I was the kid who learned how to read well before any of my peers, and quickly began writing the second I found a sharpened pencil. All throughout school my teachers told me about my “gift,” and I shrugged it off hoping the other kids didn’t hear how big of a nerd I was.

“Ssshhhh!!” I thought, as I tried to drown that talent with cooler ones like sports or music. Those decisions to seek flashier, more lucrative professions, and not be the writer my 2nd grade teacher saw, brought me here. My belief that writing was a silly hobby, and work was adult career life, is to blame. And now when someone asks me what I do, my answer is still not quite what I’m looking for. Jon Acuff, a young writer who is starting to see some success, brings up a good point:

“We end up thinking that we can really have two different versions of ourselves, ‘work me’ and ‘life me.’ …When you think about it, the ‘it’s just a job’ belief is crazy. Imagine telling a friend, ‘I have to go somewhere five days a week, dedicate the majority of my waking hours to it, let it control my vacation and travel plans…but I don’t consider it part of my life.” (Acuff, 2011, p. 230-231)

By the way, this excerpt is from a book called Quitter and I do not recommend brining this book to work, and then getting caught by your boss reading it…that was not a fun week.

Anyway, he is right. We are one, whole person. And I think that this is the big career crisis that my generation faces. We are blessed more than any other generation to have the means to see beyond the “if I don’t work my family will starve to death or wind up eating rocks,” crisis that has plagued most of human existence.  We are the most coddled generation, whose parents have the ability to help us if we fall.  We have always been encouraged to chase our dreams, never give up, and be all you can be.

And I think that’s why so many of us are so bummed out by our jobs. I think I can safely say that most of my friends live for the weekend, and I can’t really exclude myself from that conversation.  As much as I enjoy my work sometimes, I hate Mondays and love Fridays.

The problem with that is, I clearly have a problem with work if I’m saddened by the very thought of 5 whole days of it ahead of me.  Or am thrilled with the thought of 2 whole days that I don’t have to go there.

So that leads me to believe that I in fact haven’t made it yet. Mom told me to be what I wanted to be, and I’m not being it yet, and that bums me out every Monday. When Trader Joe asks me what I do, I want to answer confidently, “I’m an author.”  He will then answer, “Oh! What do you write?” And so on and so forth.

How cool would that be?!?!

For now, I have a pretty good answer. But there’s still a “but” in it. “I work at a startup company in training and development, but I want to be an author.” I’ll bet there’s a lot of you out there that have the same predicament.

So play a game with me. How would you fill in those blanks?  “I’m a ______, but I want to be a ________.”  I have a feeling getting to the second blank is a reality you can make happen.  What are you doing to get there?

As for me, I’m reading like a crazy person, working hard at a job I like (notice, not love), and planning for the next step by saving skrilla and writing early in the morning and late at night. I’m doing it because the opportunity is there if I want it, if I’m willing to fight for it. No one is going to hand me a book deal just because I think I have talent. I’m not going to be walking in the park one day and a man in a beret will shout from across the courtyard, “Hey you! Hey you there! You are clearly a beautiful writer and belong on the New York Times Bestseller list! Come with me and I will make you a star!”  But if that does happen I’ll let you know which park.

We are a generation that has been encouraged to dream, and we easily get depressed when we feel we haven’t “made it” to remarkable fame, wealth, whatever it is that you want. But the opportunity for artists of all kinds is available. Tradesmen/women can get into a technical college when they are willing to do the work. Entrepreneurs have a chance to make that purse-for-cats idea a reality if they try.

The only thing separating us from that, sometimes, is our dichotomous “work me” and “life me” identity crisis.  We tell ourselves that our “life me” can never be our “work me,” so sometimes it can be hard to make the blanks of who we really want to be happen.

But I encourage you to try.  I mean, I really want to see a cat carrying a purse one day, so I’m hoping you’ll go ahead and step it up to make that happen.