We are giving away a copy of Downward Dog, Upward Fog by Meryl Davids Landau. Read this excerpt from the novel and comment for your chance to win the book!
I never even saw the bright red Mazda enter the highway, but suddenly it’s right behind my car, like a leopard pressing in for the kill. My heart pounds wildly; my palms feel so slippery, I can barely grasp the wheel. I swerve into the center lane just in time to avoid a crash.
“Crazy driver, are you trying to kill me?” I scream, even though I’m certain the teenager can’t hear me through my closed window. Not only is his bass thumping and rattling, he’s already slalomed past a dozen cars up ahead. My rage is roaring, and I can’t tamp it down. “How did you ever get a license?” I fume. “When a kid comes into the Motor Vehicles Commission, they need to hand him a bus map and shove him out the door: ‘Off the road, buster, til you’re more like twenty-one!’– the minimum driving age should be! They should–
I spy my twisted red face in the rearview mirror, and come up short. My gaping mouth closes; my fist releases its midair punch. Sheepishly, I peek to the lanes on either side, relieved to see no one’s watching me: a lone lunatic railing at the world.
Where does this anger boil up from? I wonder. It’s the second time in the past few days I’ve found myself shrieking at a stranger, for reasons I can’t fathom. I know I’m a really sweet person. On the same drive, after all, didn’t I happily oblige a woman’s request to duck in front of me on her way to the highway entrance ramp? But this guy doesn’t ask permission, I remind myself. He just drives like he’s king of the road. No wonder I lost it.
I check myself again, unhappy with the direction in which my thoughts are zooming. Lorna, this is not a good way to begin your week.
There aren’t many distractions when you’re alone in your car, so I flip on the radio, fumbling til I find the station my sister, Anna, keeps begging me to hear. Anna’s five years older than me, but she’s a hundred years more together. Not just because she has a loving husband and an amazing daughter while, at thirty-three, I’m still struggling to find the right guy. Anna became an interfaith minister a few years back. (She assumed the name Anjelica when she took her vows, but I never seem to remember to call her than. Old habits certainly die hard.) Belief has helped her settle so comfortably into her skin; Anna radiates a contentment I can only dream of.
Still, I’ve been avoiding this WNOW station since she first suggested it three weeks ago. It just doesn’t seem like something I’d be into. But after my highway tirade, I need something to calm myself down, and checking out Anna’s recommendation seems as good a course as any.
My patience wanes as I wait through three commercials– for a natural energy booster (I once read about a woman who needed an emergency liver transplant after taking one of those!), a special gum that claims to improve the brain, and that ubiquitous radio ad to enlarge my penis. (Don’t you know half of your listeners haven’t got one of those? I want to inform the dashboard, but I refrain.) Finally, the talk show begins.
“Goooood morning to you! So wonderful for you to be here, sharing this moment in our lives together. This is Serena Robbins, host of Onward and Upward, hoping to remind you that we’re all on a journey to create heaven right here and right now. The world is always filled with beauty and perfection, and if you wake yourself up, you’ll be able to see it. Let’s get right to my first caller, Liz from Cleveland.”
Cleveland? Cleveland, Ohio? That’s a long way from New Jersey, where I’ve lived nearly all my life. I’m surprised to learn the show is syndicated nationally. I assumed it was produced on hand-me-down equipment in a local basement right here in Hoboken, taking calls from area residents like Anna. After all, how many people can actually be interested in this stuff?
“Hello? Am I on the air? I’m not hearing myself on the radio.” Liz’s nasally words shout through my speakers. “Oh, wait– there I am. Oh, cool. There’s like an echo.” After a major pause, I wonder if I’ve lost the signal. “Oh, sorry,” Liz breaks in, just as I’m about to fiddle with the buttons. “I was listening to myself. I really am on the air, huh?”
“Yes, Liz, you’re reaching out to all of our listeners. Let’s share your wisdom with them, shall we? What can we in this inspirational community do for you today?” Serena Robbin’s voice strikes me as a unique combination of loving girlfriend and efficient librarian.
“Well, um, it seems like no matter how hard I try, I cant get people at work to like me. Let me give you some examples. I keep inviting women I consider my friends to hang out after hours, but they’re always too busy– or at least that’s what they say. And every time I leave a meeting, I fear my coworkers are talking behind my back…” A long silence follows. I wonder if Liz is talking on a cell phone while driving and avoiding her own near-collision. Finally, she speaks. “Oh, sorry, I was hearing my own voice on the air again. I sound nice, don’t I? Why do other people think I’m a loser?”
I can tell Liz is about to cry, and my heart goes out to her. Then again, maybe people avoid her for a reason. I certainly work with enough troublemakers to know they’re as pervasive at the office as problem drivers are on the road.
“I don’t think you’re a loser, Liz. In fact, I don’t think any person can be a loser, since we’re all made from the same loving energy of the universe itself. It sounds to me like you’re caring too much about what other people think. Just go about your day noticing the well-being that surrounds you, and ignore everything that doesn’t feel good. If you do that, every day will be magnificent– and as a bonus, I guarantee your coworkers and friends will start treating you better, too.”
This message, while empathetic, strikes me as a bit Pollyanna for so early in the morning– especially after such a lousy commute. So I’m grateful to pull into the parking lot of my company’s headquarters. I click off the station as I slide my silver Jetta into an open spot.
“Liz,” I say to the silent radio. “You should work with the piranhas in my department. You wouldn’t have to wonder if people were talking behind your back, you’d know they are.”
I gather up papers strewn around my backseat. As on most weekends, I thought I’d work at home a bit, but I never made the time for it. Before I leave my car, I take a minute to asses the status of my career, in what is becoming my Monday ritual.
I’ve been at Favored-Flavors, a national premium ice cream manufacturer, for nearly six years. Part of me adores my job, especially the fun marketing events I get to plan and attend. Plus, I have tremendous freedom– now that I run the whole Special Events department. (Okay, it’s a department of two, but who’s counting?) I make enough in this position that I was able to buy my own adorable house last year, rather than wait, as my none-too-optimistic mother constantly nagged, until I “maybe, someday, reel in a man.”
But the other part of me wishes– well, let’s just say there are probably nicer people in Sing Sing than around here. In truth, I’ve started to dread having to deal with them. I’d love to find a job where I didn’t have to constantly watch out for sharpened knives aimed at my back. And wouldn’t it be great to do something meaningful? I mean, when you get down to basics, I spend my day shilling some of the world’s most copiously caloried concoctions. I’m well aware that our product is part of the reason so many kids have type 2 diabetes that it’s no longer called an adult-onset disease. But I have no idea what that better job might be.
Now I also let my mind roll into an area I’ve been avoiding: assessing the status of my life. With all this anger and road rage I’ve had lately, I don’t even recognize myself. I mean, haven’t I always taken pride in being nice? Well, at least there was the woman at the on-ramp. And last week, I did let a guy at Saks have the last pair of purple cashmere gloves for his girlfriend’s birthday gift, even though my credit card was already out of my wallet when he sauntered up to the counter. Those gloves were adorable, but I felt joyful handing them over. Plus, my girlfriends would describe me as caring and considerate– or they would have, until recently. I’m not really sure what my pals would say today. With all these short-tempered bursts of indignations…
Resigned to the fact that I’m not going to figure everything out today, I button my coat to steel myself against the winter morning and step outside. The chill bites my nose, so I keep my chin tucked into my bright green wool coat. As I trek to the front of the building, lulling myself into a mental trance with the steady click of my boot heels, I wonder if there’s anything to what that Robbins woman said. Maybe if I emphasize the good things more…
Excerpted from Downward Dog, Upward Fog by Meryl Davids Landau. Published by Alignment Publishing Company.
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