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Posts tagged: Work

Catching a Midnight Train of Thought

 I woke up to feel my heart pounding, beating like a fist against the cage of my ribs, and for a moment I was confused. I realized I’d had a bad dream and just enough traces of the frightening things I’d imagined remained to poison the first moments of the morning. I tossed and turned for a while, trying to get back to sleep, but the damage was done. I was, for better or worse, awake and up for the day.

As I waited for the water to boil so I could press that first cup of coffee, I stared out at the sky watching it change as the sun rose slowly. I heated the milk, poured the coffee into a mug and sat down in my favorite chair by the big window in the living room to gather my thoughts.

 Just thinking of the list I’d made the night before of things that needed to be done made my heart pound again so I put it out of my mind and went back to gazing out at the quiet street as I sipped.

 Stress is a complex element in even the most ordinary life. It is a natural part of our existence and has been since the beginning when we worried that there would not be enough roots and berries to hunt and gather or that the wooly mammoth would win the fight.  Stress has evolved with us and has found a modern wardrobe in agitation about long delays in traffic or screaming headlines with bad news about the economy and the state of the world. It chases us a we take on complicated jobs, or think about keeping a job in an uncertain market. It settles on us as we fret about our children or a roof that will not last another winter; about cholesterol levels or the number on the scale. It nags us as we push a cart through the grocery story or fold the laundry or sit down to watch a movie.

 A certain amount of stress is, the experts say, good for us. It keeps us sharp and competitive. It feeds us the chemical cocktail our bodies need to navigate safely in and out of danger. But too much of anything is toxic. Even chocolate.

As I sat there, the dream began to fade as the sky lightened. Morning had broken its hold on me. The list, the more I looked at it and made plans for the day, began to seem more manageable. The coffee was good and hot and ideas began to percolate as I thought about the week’s deadlines.  

 Energized, comforted, I poured a second cup - my limit - and shrugged off the vague, nameless, fear that had shaken me out of a sound sleep. I was ready to take on the world again.

Cheryl-Anne Millsap writes for The Spokesman-Review and is the editor of Spokane Metro Magazine. Her essays can be heard on Spokane Public Radio and on public radio stations across the country. She is the author of “Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons” and can be reached at

Waking up to an ordinary day

   I flew into my day on autopilot. I turned off the clock radio and stole an extra fifteen minutes in bed. I made a lunch for my daughter and called up the stairs to stop dawdling so we wouldn’t be late. I shoved the dogs out the back door and tapped my foot, waiting for them to finish and come back inside.  I dropped her off at school and drove away.

   This is how I start too many days. Cruising without really paying any attention to the horizon.

   Yesterday, I took a different route, down a side street I don’t normally travel. I joined the queue of cars waiting to merge onto the busy street that would take us downtown. The wintery morning was overcast and dark, so I could see into lighted rooms in the houses on either side of the street. A movement caught my eye and I noticed a man sitting at the table in his kitchen. He was having his breakfast, munching through a bowl of cereal, looking around the room as he chewed. The way you do when you see without seeing rooms that are as familiar as your own hand. He looked up at the ceiling, took another bite, back down at his bowl for another spoonful, gazed to his right toward the clock on the wall and then to his left at the window and, startling us both, straight into my eyes.

   At that moment the traffic opened and I drove away.

   I thought about  the man as I went through the rest of my day. He had looked so content. I wondered if the rest of his day had been as peaceful as the few minutes I’d witnessed.
I wondered if he appreciated the splendid ordinariness of his morning. Probably not. I know I hadn’t.

   For all I know, as soon as I looked away he choked on his Wheaties. Or the furnace, with a great shuddering, gasping groan, gave up the ghost. Or the toilet overflowed. Or, his wife walked in and said, “Charles, I’m leaving you. I can’t spend another minute watching you chew and swallow.”

   The man had caught me watching him. Did he wonder about the nosy woman in the car? For all he knew I could have driven straight into oncoming traffic, or had a flat tire or run out of gas. Did he wonder if I appreciated my reliable car or the short commute or a life easy enough to let me fritter away time staring at people in houses?

   Ask any of us and we can provide the details of the times when things were bad, when we were caught off guard and left stunned by bad news or bad situations. We can narrate, again and again, the highlights. The awards, the surprises and the days that we got the recognition we deserved.

   But most of us, like me when I’m late for a meeting or the man who sat down to his breakfast, forget that every day we munch and drive and daydream our way through irretrievable moments that disappear as quickly as they arrived.

Cheryl-Anne Millsap writes for The Spokesman-Review. Her essays can be heard on Spokane Public Radio and on public radio stations across the country. She is the author of “Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons” and can be reached at

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Cheryl-Anne Millsap's Home Planet column appears each week in the Wednesday "Pinch" supplement. Cheryl-Anne is a regular contributor to Spokane Public Radio and her essays can be heard on Public Radio stations across the country. She is the author of "Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons."

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