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The other day as Bryan and I sat in the new local frozen yogurt shop eating our toppings-heavy desserts, I observed that every one of the employees in the brightly colored building looked to be 18 or younger, which for some reason made me think back to my pre-career days and the ups and downs of working as a teenager/young adult in retail.

With a B.A. in Communications/Writing under my belt since 2002, I’m an editor at a medical publishing company now, and my primary job is transforming peer-reviewed manuscripts into copyedited/proofread/presentable articles worthy of publication. But long before I resided in a cubicle from 8:30 to 5, M to F, I wore several different hats, “uniforms,” and almost never had to sit for 8 hours straight.

First Paid Gig: Choreographer

The summer before my freshman year of high school, the local community children’s summer theater sent out a notice asking for citizens to volunteer with various duties, such as supervision, costume-making, set design, and choreography. I had been choreographing fake shows and recitals in my living room since I was 8, so I jumped on the opportunity to work with live human beings. The show was Annie the Orphan, and not only was I co-choreographer but I was asked to be in the show as an extra orphan. I loved wearing ratty clothes and keeping my hair messy!

I worked with those kids 5 days per week for about a month and a half during the summer, and it was so rewarding to see them memorize the steps and then execute the routines together as a group. I was flattered when the show’s director paid me something like $100 at the end, even when I thought I was solely volunteering. I continued working with the group for a few more years until it was time for the torch to be passed to another eager freshman longing to be a choreographer.

Hanging out with my favorite mice from "Cinderella."

The cutest trio of boys performing the Lollipop Guild routine in "Oz."

Still, I held the title of “choreographer” for several years after leaving the children’s theater. I was asked to choreograph my first high school musical my sophomore year (Pirates of Penzance) and continued until I graduated (How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying) and then came back a few years after to choreograph Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat for a different high school.

One of my favorite dances, "Coffee Break," from "How to Succeed in Business without Really Trying." That's me on the right.

Every choreography gig I took on had its challenges (people who just couldn’t memorize steps, the difference between recorded music and a live orchestra), but the end result always gave me the goosebumps. I just loved seeing everything come together; no longer were there individual “steps”…everything was a performance.

I got to wear The Best Costume Ever during "Pippin."

First Retail Job: Eckerd Pharmacy

During the latter half of my high school years, I began working after-school/weekend hours as a navy-blue-shirt/khaki-pants-wearing sales associate at the local pharmacy. My primary responsibilities were working the cash register, stocking shelves, and changing price tags. Despite the minimum wage pay and the occasional wacakdoo coming in and kind of scaring me, I actually enjoyed the job, especially when I had a constant stream of customers.

I loved organizing, and beautifying the cold medicine aisle was one of my favorite duties; those skinny little Sudafed and Advil Cold & Sinus and Tylenol boxes were always tipping over like dominoes. A nice night for me was pulling up a plastic tote, sitting in front of the shelf, and getting each and every one of those little boxes on its feet again, stacked straight like soldiers on duty.

Every now and then, I’d work at the back register in the pharmacy department. This became one of my favorite assignments; it was certainly hectic at times, but I enjoyed answering the phone, getting people their prescriptions, and, at times, counting pills. The pharmacists were funny, easy-going, and good people all around. For me, the pharmacy was the VIP club of the store, and it was always my secret desire to get assigned back there.

Retail Experience #2: Old Navy

By the time I started college, I was interested in expanding my retail horizons. I was getting tired of stocking pill bottles and cigarettes, and I sought to work somewhere “cool.” With its pulsing store-wide music, bright colors, and relatively young clientele, Old Navy became my home-for-the-summer employer.

I wore a navy blue company t-shirt and got to sport a headset, which we used mostly to crack jokes about other employees or customers. I was too new to work the register, so I rotated between greeting people at the door, assisting in the fitting room, and maintaining general organization.

The job was kind of like a big party, but gradually it grew a little too big for me. I often felt like the managers were so concerned about pushing sales that the general appearance of the store was being ignored. I liked things spic-and-span, but a few items out of place were nothing if the dollars were rolling in.

That said, my favorite part of the job became “truck night,” those Friday nights when the store closed at 9 and a giant tractor trailer with new inventory rolled up and deposited boxes and boxes of new clothes. We’d lock the front doors, blast the radio, and go to our assigned spots to open boxes, tear off the protective plastic, slide hangers under every shirt collar, and begin the art of organization, arranging by style, color, size.

My OCD tendencies were pleased. Just like stacking those cold medicine boxes, I was happily engaged in the comforting repetition of organization.

Retail Experience #3: Store of Knowledge

Yet another summer between college years, and I did not want to return to the chaos that was Old Navy. My friend had been working at the Store of Knowledge at a different mall, so I applied to one at my local mall. The Store of Knowledge (now bankrupt) was the official retail store of public broadcasting stations across the country; I called it “the channel 12” store. It sold science and dinosaur toys, mind games and puzzles, and merchandise tied to all those PBS specials like The Three Tenors, Riverdance, and the Donny Osmond version of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.

Dressed in my khaki pants and store-assigned denim shirt (::shudder::) and black apron, I worked the register here and there but mostly helped customers as they browsed the store. My favorite assignment was working as the greeter; I’d stand at the front of the store and demonstrate some wacky new toy or gadget to passersby, being generally goofy and silly.

At one point, the store starting selling all of this “princess” merchandise, so I dolled myself up in a tiara, boa, and a magic wand and took on a whole new princess persona, complete with British accent and an air of royalty. I’d guide customers around the store as though they were visiting my kingdom; the kids (and parents!) loved it. It was the closest I’d ever get to being a Disney face character (one of my life-long dreams). (And no pictures from that gig, unfortunately.) 😦

***

After the Store of Knowledge closed, I returned to Eckerd Pharmacy for another semester or two to fill in the gaps before real-life began. I tried never to work during the school season, mostly because I had a pseudo-job as an editor on the university newspaper (we got paid a stipend at the end of the year) and participated in theater and dance events, which took up a lot of my time. I also found a seasonal internship at a local newspaper, which was a great stepping stone to my career.

I got my first big-girl job the day after I graduated from college. Knowing what today’s college kids face, I feel especially lucky that I was hired for a full-time editing/writing position less than 24 hours after being handed my diploma.

What made the job even better was that the office was directly across the street from a birthday party center, and I was hired on an on-call basis to serve as the “Super Cool Dance Teacher” for children’s parties. Sometimes I’d leave the office during my lunch break, dart across the street, teach 8 to 12 kids a fun dance, put on a mock recital for the parents, and then return to the office by 1 to resume writing.

I worked at that office for 5 years before moving on to where I am now. I can’t skip across the street to be an on-call dance teacher anymore, but hey, at least I don’t have to wear a denim shirt.

What did you do before finding your first big-girl/big-boy job?

My work week ended on a not-so-good note this past Friday, and I knew that if I drove straight home from the office I’d end up eating my feelings and drinking too much beer. In fact, on my way home, Bryan texted me to ask what I wanted for dinner.

Stromboliiiii!” I wrote back, because that is what I crave when I am overwhelmed. I mean, stromboli is the perfect food representation of feeling out of control. You’re just a shell stuffed to the brim with crap, ready to expel your guts the moment someone pokes you the wrong way.

Fortunately, instead of listening to the little stromboli devil sitting on my one shoulder, I gave attention to the angel of yoga sitting on the other. She whispered in my ear over and over again on my drive home that I needed to drive to the local yoga studio, change into the spandex pants sitting in my car, and do some yoga.

I was a bit hesitant because I have not taken a studio class in a very long time. I am very self-conscious about my hip situation and generally prefer to move about my own way in the privacy of my home, where I can jostle my leg and pop my sacrum without feeling like I’m disobeying the teacher. But I knew that I needed guidance that night, so I paid the $15 drop-in fee to try a new class and new teacher. Before class, I gave her the whole spiel about my hip and the poses I have to modify and how I sometimes have to stomp like a zebra between postures to get my leg feeling normal again.

As I sat there on my mat during the opening mantra, I realized that I was actually nervous. It has been so long since practicing yoga in public, and I was just deathly afraid that I’d get caught in a sequence of hip-centric postures that I would struggle with. It was such a different perspective than my old days of yoga, when I’d plop down on my mat without the need for a block or strap and just do pose after pose ever-so-effortlessly. But now I felt like a total newbie, not sure what was going to lie ahead and whether I’d be able to do it.

However, once we began our ujjayi breathing, warming up the spine, and eventually rising into easy Warrior sequences, I was in The Zone. I had had work on the brain since 8 a.m., and for once, I was blessed with 75 minutes of just me and my movement. We plastered ourselves against the wall for a supported half-moon pose, and instead of poo-pooing the notion of using the wall for a balancing pose, I allowed my back and head to nestle against the surface like it was a luxurious mattress. How great it felt to be upheld without struggle.

The class felt like it zipped by, and before I knew it I was wrapped in a blanket, doing nadi shodhana before settling down into savasana. The instructor came around and dabbed essential oil on my temples, gently rocking my head side to side before letting to relax in the center. (<—–THIS is why going to a physical class is SO MUCH BETTER than practicing at home. Ahhh, those soothing savasana touches.)

The class was everything I could have asked for—meditation, asana, pranayama, and a few chaturangas but not so many that my scapula ached—but unfortunately the studio was a little cooler than I would have liked for a class titled “Inner Fire.” Studio temperature is often a deal breaker for me, because, seriously, I should not have visible goosebumps on my arms while covered in a blanket during savasana. I may give the class another chance, but this is the same place I broke up with during the summer because they ran the air conditioner whenever the temperature rose above 80. And then this is why I began practicing at home, in my upstairs yoga room, where it gets deliciously hot and humid.

But for someone in need of a quick fix, soaking in 75 minutes of yoga was so much more satisfying than throwing back a shot. In fact, by the time I got back to my car, I wasn’t craving stromboli anymore and instead ended the evening with a delicious mushroom/pea masala from our favorite Indian place and a glass of red wine.

When was the last time you ignored the “stromboli devil” and said yes to yoga instead?

As I sit inside waiting for Hurricane Irene to pound us, I thought I’d take the time to reflect on yet another frightening weather phenomenon that rocked our world earlier this week–the Northeast Earthquake of 2011.

Last September, my husband and I were out in LA for vacation. I was kind of scared about the possibility of an earthquake; even more so when I opened the Paradise Pier hotel directory and saw that the first item on the “Safety” page was not about fires or storms but rather earthquakes.

Not used to seeing THIS in a Disney guide!

We were in California for a week and there were no earthquakes. Fear not! Because the Northeastern U.S. would be getting its own nearly a year later!

Tuesday, August 23, 2011: I was in work that afternoon, trying to snap myself out of my post-lunch food coma. It felt ever-so-much like a Tuesday, and 5 p.m. seemed a world away. I needed coffee, I needed entertainment, I needed…

…dizziness? Huh? Suddenly my eyes had trouble focusing on my computer screen, and I feared the blurry vision I was experiencing before being diagnosed with astigmatism was returning. I looked at something stationary on my desk–my plastic Wall•E action figure–to try and gain my composure, but I still felt like I was rocking back and forth. Soon the sensation was throughout my whole body, and I wasn’t sure if I was having some kind of “episode” or if maybe the giant dinosaur-sounding trash truck that visits our office every week accidentally hit the building.

I called out to my officemates: “Do you guys feel shaking?” I heard a chorus of concerned yesses. Once it was confirmed that everyone felt something, panic set in. I remember looking at my spider plant and seeing the leaves swinging back and forth. At that point, a collage of thoughts hit me all at once as the shaking grew more intense: This is an earthquake. This is some kind of terrorist attack. A giant plane crashed (our office is directly in the landing zone for PHL). Our building–which has something physically wrong with it almost every week–has had enough and is falling to the ground.

Despite the warnings in that Paradise Pier guide, we did not STAY THERE, and we all ran outside. I honestly thought our building was just dying a natural death and that ceiling tiles would start dropping. Outside was actually safe, with nothing but a wide expanse of parking lot, where everyone in the building gathered. Everyone was chirp-chirp-chirping, pulling out their cell phones, trying to figure out what just happened. It was at that point I realized that in my haste I had run outside with NONE of my belongings. Once those with smartphones had determined it was the 5.8 magnitude earthquake in Virginia that had shook us up, I quickly ran inside to get my purse and immediately came back outside.

No one knew what to do. We just stood there, exchanging our stories about what we first thought the shaking was. Someone thought it was his cubemate violently shaking her desk in anger. Another woman, who sits behind the printer/copier, thought someone was going all Office Space on the behemoth machine. At home, my husband was afraid it was a tree falling down, perhaps even a gas line being hit.

It was at this point my one friend, checking her iPhone, came across news about Will and Jada Smith breaking up. We joked that there should be no other news at that time except for earthquake updates, and yet we both confessed that this particular snippet of celebrity gossip actually piqued our interest and that it made the earthquake feel even more apocalyptic, (a) because New Jersey isn’t supposed to get that strong of an earthquake, and (b) it’s Will and Jada! They’re like peanut butter and jelly! What is happening with our world?!

About 20 minutes later, after our pulses had slowed down and our respirations returned to normal, the CEO of our company announced that we were free to go home. “We don’t have any protocol for this type of thing, so….be safe, enjoy your afternoon.” Perhaps he too was concerned about our creaky building, or maybe more about the fact that our office is in the vicinity of several oil refineries, but whatever–I grabbed the rest of my things and got the heck out of that building.

Several colleagues headed straight for the bar for an early happy hour; I drove to my grandparents’ house to “check on the elderly,” as they say. They were both in good spirits, glad to know the shaking wasn’t their front porch caving in, as they had first thought. I ate my afternoon yogurt there, stealing some of their Fiber One cereal to sprinkle on top, and was treated to Nilla wafers and cantaloupe that they knew was iffy tasting but still passed along to me, hoping maybe I wouldn’t know the difference. (I did. Thanks a lot, sneaky grandparents! :-))

At home, Bryan and I exchanged stories about the quake. He was definitely more frightened at first, again, thinking a tree had fallen near/on the house. He was running from room to room, looking out windows, not sure whether to run outside (gas line?) or stay inside (tree about to fall?). Our wine glasses were clinking together. In the end, the only “damage” were a few photos that had fallen over and a plastic Stitch figure on our bookcase that lost its balance and tipped.

2011 quake victim Stitch

I know West Coasters were mocking us for overreacting to the minor quake (which was probably only a 2 in our area), but let’s face it–most people affected by that earthquake had never, ever felt the ground move in the way it did on August 23. We’ve seen snow, rain, hail. Up north, heavy blizzards. South–hurricanes. But never a natural phenomenon that made the ground shake under our feet. I feel bad for people in earthquake zones–that sh-*t is scary! What we felt was so minor compared to the real deals in California, Haiti, Japan, and yet it was terrifying.

However, we were all fortunate that we could experience what was probably a once-in-a-lifetime phenomenon without too many injuries or damage. Even in Virginia, near the epicenter, only minor injuries were reported. We’ve all had this shared experience, and it brought everyone just a little bit closer. Lessons were learned that day: Grab your belongings before you leave the building, all good things come to an end (Will & Jada! :-(), and don’t trust grandparents who foist their questionable cantaloupe on you.

I never thought I’d have to cite burnt popcorn fumes as an excuse for missing out on yoga, but today was that day.

My "popcorn" file photo. Clearly, I would have rather smelled this all afternoon than burnt-to-a-crisp fake butter nonsense stuff.

Burnt microwave popcorn is a given in an office environment, but today the perpetrator left the bag in for so long that it had to be seconds away from catching on fire. Smoke was billowing out of the microwave, which, unfortunately, is just a few steps from my cubicle. The resulting smell was AWFUL, and making matters worse is that none of the windows on my side of the building open. The smoke just was not dissipating, and my colleagues and I spent the last hour in the office coughing, blowing our noses, and wiping our watery eyes. I usually hang around the office an extra 40 minutes and then proceed to the yoga studio for class, but all I wanted to do this afternoon was get the hell home. No way was I hanging around any longer than I had to! I spent the entire drive home sucking in air from my rolled-down windows, even though I was driving 65 miles per hour on a windy day. The smoke lingered in my throat and nose, and when I got home I knew that yoga was absolutely necessary (a) to calm me down! and (b) to get my lungs to expel that nasty smoky popcorn air and inhale some long, clean, deep fresh breaths.

I normally just plop on my mat and do a “whatever-comes-to-me” practice, but because I had originally planned on going to a formal studio class, I was in the mood for something a little more structured. I tinkered around on iTunes, very close to choosing my old standby, Phillip Urso’s Baptiste power yoga, but then I thought of Thais’ recent post about her amazing Jivamukti class in DC, and I did the unthinkable: I tried something new. I found Sofi Dillof’s podcast collection on iTunes; she’s got a pretty decent stash of Jivamukti podcasts all ready to roll. Lemme tell you, best choice ever!

The 1-hour, 24-minute class I selected started off with a brief chant, Om’ing, some much-needed kapalabhati breath, a short ‘n’ sweet little talk about moving from Me to We, and then one hell of a phenomenal asana practice. Enough vinyasa flows to have me work up a little sweat (impressive for not being in a heated studio), 5 breaths in each posture (the perfect amount, in my opinion), nothing TOO crazy for the hips, and–my favorite–a revolved triangle thrown in near the end of class during the middle of belly-down postures. It totally threw me for a loop, but OMG that twist felt like heaven, and for a sweet minute my sacrum felt as flat and stable as a coffee table. Three wheels, some shoulderstand, and a fish pose later, I was relaxing in a decent-length savasana, almost fell asleep, and then sat in meditation for another 5 minutes. The best part? My confused brain thought it was later than it was and expected to exit the yoga room into a dark hallway…but it was still bright and sunny! Bonus: I didn’t have to drive home!

Conclusion: I will definitely be listening to some more of Sofi Dillof’s classes. The pacing was perfect, everything was easy to understand despite being an audio-only podcast (just gotta know your Sanskrit!), and I loved the blend of chanting, meditation, lecture, pranayama, and invigorating asana. I had energy to cook dinner after my practice! Usually when I come home from hot yoga I am a big hot mess of laziness and resort to eating a bowl of cereal for dinner. Now I just wish I could find a local studio that offers Jivamukti!

P.S. Jivamukti excites me, but so does this. Are any other die-hard So You Think You Can Dance fans out there? Aside from the news and some sporting events, I haven’t watched real TV in months, but that will all end May 26!

SYTYCD Season 7 tour, Atlantic City. (My 30th birthday present from my husband!)

One thing that absolutely drivers me bonkers at work is when my dinosaur computer acts like a sluggish, uncaffeinated lazy bum and comes to a complete standstill when I’m trying to accomplish something. You know the feeling. You’re trying to open an e-mail, and you just wait and wait and wait; the screen image stays the same, nothing new opens, and no matter how many times you violently click your mouse or slide it back and forth on the mousepad (like that works) you’re stuck in this limbo land, caught between being completely productive and completely helpless. You either have to wait it out or restart your computer, which, if it’s a PC with 4584797859 programs like the one I deal with in the office, well, you might as well take your lunch break while waiting for everything to reboot.

The frustration and anger that arises in me during such encounters is not healthy, and at times I feel like my computer’s “Not Responding” message is synonymous with “Time for Jen to Turn into the Incredible Hulk.” I huff and puff and stomp over to my manager’s office, whining, cursing, shaking my fist at the invisible force that stalls my system. Stupid PCs. Stupid IT department. Stupid, ironic world in which technology keeps us from being productive.

So I’ve decided to do a little experiment to counter my rage. Every time I get a “Not Responding” message, I’m going to close my eyes and take a few deep belly breaths, using this “down” time as a way to regroup and clear my mind. If I have to restart my computer, what a perfect opportunity to step away from my desk and escape into the bathroom for a few minutes of light stretching and breathing.

Maybe it’s a good thing that my computer is a sluggish dinosaur; it may just turn me into one blissed-out editor.

About the Author

Name: Jennifer

Location: Greater Philadelphia Area

Blog Mission:
SHARE my practice experience in conscious dance and yoga,

EXPAND my network of like-minded individuals,

FULFILL my desire to work with words in a more creative and community-building capacity;

FLOW and GROW with the world around me!

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