Quarantine Parody: The Yellow Toilet Paper

It was the middle of March when I was at my wit’s end. The doctor told me to stay home, lie in bed, and by all means never leave my sketchy Minneapolis apartment until further notice. With all my roommates leaving for better places, it was just me, my cat, and three rolls of toilet paper.

I felt as all nineteenth-century women do: stuck in bed with no power to get up—except I wasn’t forcibly strapped into bed and my opinion wasn’t heard. I physically didn’t want to get up. My fever was as high as my favorite Ray Bradbury novel and there was no one to hear my opinion.

What else could I do except follow the tantalizing green swirls on my neon-yellow wallpaper? I never knew the 70s had such bad taste. (My grandmother’s wallpaper at least had villages, bakers, and perfect loaves of bread.) While my cat was playing with toys, I played with the swirls in my mind, picturing dandelions, washing gloves, hazmat suits, and anything to cheer me up in this dismal time.

After four days in quarantine, my TV shows had been binged, my tea had been drunk, and I was left with no entertainment, no human companionship, and no notifications on my social media until a friend called me up. “I hope you’re doing good,” she said. Her voice sounded sweet and kind. “By the way, do you have—”

“No I don’t!” I yelled and slammed the cell phone down. I had my emergency roll of toilet paper cradled in my arm. “There there, it’s okay,” I said. My cat sat at the edge of the bed staring at me while I was petting the paper. 

One day, after my only sustenance was cough medicine, I looked at those swirls and thought they were mocking me. What did they want from me? Why are they following me? Why am I on the floor? Is that my gum I couldn’t find for weeks?

My coughing persisted and my fever rose. Worse of all, my bladder was giving me something painful. What I really needed most—what I was dying to have—what I would’ve tapped into my savings and emergency funds—was another roll of toilet paper.

Dragging myself along the floor, smelling something funny, I saw tufts of toilet paper in a trail from the toilet to the cat lying innocently in the living room.

“Sammy.” My voice rose at her. “Why is my toilet paper yellow?” She paid me no heed as she walked past me and hopped onto my bed.

My heartbeat practically dropped. Oh no. Not the last roll.

I don’t exactly remember what happened, but all I can recall is my pitiful, shameless, witchy mess of a self slumped against the wall and cackling. I did it. I finally did it! I had the shredded pieces in my hands! In days to come I would vaguely remember tackling the roll and wrenching it from her tiny demon paws.

Somehow I texted emojis of toilet paper to my friend and she magically came into my apartment. “Were you looking for this?” I cackled. She stared. I held the toilet paper to my bosom. “Because it’s mine.”

I haven’t seen her faint before, but I can’t remember how many times I’ve crawled over her. Someone had to do it. I had serious appointments with the loo.

A Summary of My Dating

There is never an end of things to do in the Twin Cities. Clockwise: Twins game at Target Field; Minnesota State Fair; and Guthrie Theater.

Since 2011, I’ve been on dates. My experience of trying to find a permanent man has been anywhere from “We almost celebrated six months of dating” to “Back to square one.” As I see my acquaintances having second babies, I remind Cupid and God that my clock is ticking. Their responses are: “Sorry, I’m sharpening my arrows” and “It’ll happen when it’s best.”

As I pursue this journey, I’m learning to remain hopeful while sometimes being frustrated that my efforts haven’t been producing the results I want. Like most women I know, I work at a day job, go to a mega church, and live in the suburbs of over 60,000 people in Minnesota. Men are plentiful here. Like most of these women, I’ve never said “I do” before.

Unlike many, I can truly say I’ve been treated well in all my dates. Some of my favorite memories are having oysters and a cocktail at a downtown Minneapolis hotel; walking in St. Paul’s Victorian neighborhood that had Christmas lights on a December evening; and talking deeply about each other’s beliefs and values. Even the most awkward dates ended with salutations. When one guy didn’t work out, I’d move onto another.

My first few dates happened in school. Prom was pleasant, college had a swing dancing team, and I dated a guy for a few weeks. No matter how cordial our dates were, there was lack of mutuality.

My next few dates happened after college when I met guys at church. Being asked out felt so good; I would say yes almost every time. I was starting to understand what types of guys I wanted and didn’t want. One man saw me on and off for several months. The others went on a few dates with me.

My pickiness catapulted the next chapter of my life. I avoided my single acquaintances’ “be ye warned” signs strewn with dead bodies as I created not one, but nine dating profiles. In 2013, after six months of no dates, I finally acquiesced to my parents’ strong recommendation of eHarmony, where their friends had met.

Several dates later, I’m here to tell you that having a good perspective, a positive attitude, and plenty of tissues really help the journey. To further amuse you, I shall create posts detailing the joys and not-so-horrible dates I experienced. Pandora’s Box knows no limits when the internet is up. I blame it on my persistence. After all, how else did I score my awesome job after one year of applying to 90 jobs with 25 interviews? I’m not sure why my path is like this. But if a highway leads to hell and a stairway leads to heaven, I’m walking a fine stairway indeed.

I’m a Professional; Now I Give Advice

After four years of working in the professional field, I was asked to speak twice to juniors and seniors at my alma mater, the University of Northwestern – St. Paul. When I was a student, I looked up to people giving advice, especially when they were alumni. Now I am the one giving advice.

Networking Event

Early this month I attended a networking event in which a dozen alumni had coffee and dessert with about two dozen students who were applying for communication jobs. Feeling sharp in my favorite gray blazer, white turtleneck, jeans and black ankle boots, I was at a standing table with another alumnus and let students come to me. There were about five.

The highlight was the two seniors who said they felt I could relate to them. When you are the person that people look up to, you can’t help but feel a swell in your heart. I smiled so hard and thanked them. Since every other alumnus had decades of experience, except for one woman who graduated a few years before me, it was easy to see why I was the youngest professional in the room.

Everything we talked about involved my daily work activities—which was anywhere from writing web updates, sending letters and answering calls—job applications and their final years at UNW. At the close of the evening, the alumni and students formed a huge circle as the final advice was shared: Use your resources. Give up your worries. Remember, it’s a journey. We all improve over time.

It was a chilly November evening. That particular night felt like January with single-digit weather. Inside the coat rack was full, the coffee was an oasis, and the fellowship between professionals, students and the university staff felt warm enough to melt any ice.

Classroom Speech

Last week the level of being looked up to got raised. I was a guest speaker at a classroom whose course helped prepare me to be the professional writer I am today. Writing for Organizations taught me the basics of professional writing, including emails, memos and proposals.

When you walk into a room where you’ll be the spotlight—while wearing one of your favorite professional outfits—you can’t help but feel like you’re walking on clouds. With my company laptop and my white buttoned-down shirt, black cardigan, jeans and suede wedge high heels, I felt like a complete package.

The bubbly professor, who had joined the English Department that year and was an alumnus several years before me, shook my hand and introduced me to the class. (I kept thinking she looked like an American version of Emily Blunt with her long brunette hair.) I was already bubbly just walking in. When I pulled up my company’s website on a screen, I felt natural and proud of myself. My examples were weekly web pages I had written describing construction projects and a communication campaign I had managed. Words flowed from me effortlessly. Unlike my college days, I didn’t memorize my speeches or bring PowerPoint slides. It had been a year since I’d been in any spotlight. The previous time was an open mic at a St. Paul coffee shop, where I shared one of my college literary essays.

For about thirty minutes I spoke about being a communication specialist for a natural gas company. Although I didn’t expect a rousing audience, much of the room was still. Some wrote down notes and others made eye contact and nodded. Even the classroom ambience felt listless. The walls were white, I don’t recall any pictures, and the windows faced a parking lot. Remembering what classes I used to take as requirements, I guessed that the students probably didn’t want to be there but had to be there. Aside from one question from the Q&A session, the only sources of enthusiasm seemed to come from me and the professor.

Later that night, I stayed on campus to listen to the English Department’s biannual poetry reading with their literary magazine Inkstone. In the small Youderian Lounge where two dozen people gathered to hear students’ and alumni’s work and eat cake, it was easy to see every face.

One of them was waiting in line for the chocolate cake. As she passed by me she did a double take and said, “You’re the speaker, right?” Well, of course I was! She said I was really helpful in showing what a professional writing job looked like. She didn’t think she wanted to write creatively for a job since that would stress her out. All I could feel was a tiny hallelujah chorus in me.

Of course I affirmed her inclination to write professionally for a day job and creatively on the side. That’s what I’m doing now.  

A Summary of my 2018…

Since my last post was written a year ago on International Women’s Day, I’ve decided to revisit this blog of mine and reintroduce myself as the writer who, in 2018, pursued professional writing more than creative, but never lost the vision for fiction. I’d like to summarize my past year with the following highlights that include my literary achievements:

-My parents and I adopted our whippet, Ella, from Oklahoma in April. As a year-old pup now, she has more energy than our late greyhound. We’ve been training her through puppy class in Burnsville and at home.

-I am entering my third year as Communication Specialist at CenterPoint Energy. This spring, I acted as Project Manager for CenterPoint’s Call Before You Clear campaign, in which I sent letters to 7,000 plumbers and sewer cleaning contractors in Minnesota. Although many of my other duties remain the same, my co-workers tell me they see a rise in my confidence as an employee and individual.

-I joined a Bible study for 20-year-olds at River Valley Church. Since its inception a year ago, it’s gained up to 70 members. Some have left but new members join frequently. I feel at home here. The discussions are neither shallow nor argumentative as we read a chapter of the Bible at a time.

-I met my literary idol, Kate DiCamillo, for the second time in my life. The University of Minnesota was hosting a Q&A session with four young adult and middle grade authors, who talked about the writing process for children’s books and the need for diversity in characters.

In this year I grew more settled and at peace with God. I understand this verse more clearly now: “Delight thyself also in the Lord; and he shall give thee the desires of thine heart” (Ps. 37:4). I learned to not only maintain my religious activities such as church attendance, prayer, YouTube sermons, and Bible study fellowship, but also to maintain my outside-the-church joys with my best friends, family, and literary pursuits.

Why I Write

When I was in college studying literature and writing, my mom suggested I watch Dead Poets Society, the brilliant Oscar-awarded movie featuring Robin Williams as a university literature professor inspiring his students to love literature. Recently one of my Facebook friends posted the following quote:

“Medicine, law, business, engineering, these are noble pursuits, and necessary to sustain life. But poetry, beauty, romance, love, these are what we stay alive for.”

I am in the middle of living out the first part of the quote. I’m a Communication Specialist for a natural gas company. I work among engineers and talk about gas pipes and construction routes. I know that, while I want to publish novels about fantasy, animals, finance, and government, I am living my best life by doing what I’m meant to do at the moment: staying with my parents; paying off my college debt; spending quality time with my brother, sister-in-law, and friends; and enjoying the fruits of my bountiful Minneapolis job.

But my mind lately has been nudging me toward the second part of the quote. Why did I choose a bachelor’s degree in English Literature & Writing to master my novel writing, only to choose a job in professional writing? The answer is necessity. One has to make decisions based on what they know now. That’s what my parents taught me. To back this wisdom, I remember a powerful quote from Becoming Jane, another one of my favorite movies, in which Jane Austen’s father says to Jane, “Nothing destroys family like poverty.”

Far from being poor, I took the sensible decisions. I took out student loans and procured scholarships to afford my degree. I’m living with my parents to lower my expenses and am enjoying the fruits of well-balanced decisions.

But since my mind has remained on the second part of the quote, I satiated myself by going to a Young People’s Literature conference at the University of Minnesota this past Wednesday, April 4. The authors on the Q&A panel were M. T. Anderson, Kate DiCamillo, David Barclay Moore, and Nicola Yoon, all of whom were either middle-grade or young adult novelists with awards or film adaptations. (Below is their picture with the authors from left to right.) They spoke on the subjects of writing for children as adults, battling writers’ block, avoiding any sugar-coating of children’s stories, portraying truth explicitly and implicitly, and writing issue vs. non-issue books.

My heart was billowing that night when I heard my favorite middle-grade novelist, Kate DiCamillo, read from her The Tiger Rising novel and spoke about the encouragement she received from her university professor, who helped inspire her full-time writing career. When the Q&A panel was finished, I raced to be the second person in line for her book signing. Although I had no book with me, I told her it was a delight to hear her speak and that I was a fan of her writing since I was nine. My heart was thumping from delight. She shook my hand, thanked me, and said it was a pleasure speaking that night. When I took my phone to text my parents, my hands were shaking.

Since then, I’ve kept my mind in a state of awe for the literary life. When I picture myself as a mature writer, I think of what rhythm I’d have. I’d be sitting in my living room with my laptop on the couch, a mug of tea on my coffee table, and a printed draft of my manuscript for reference. My goals are as follows: to revise my manuscript, compile a list of literary agents, and query my manuscript to agents, per the advice of blogger Jackie Lea Sommers, a graduate from my alma mater. In her blog, Sommers teachers her readers what to expect when publishing a novel. (If you’re interested, go read her blog here.)

The more I read about the daily lives of writers, the realistic challenges they face, and the typical results of publishing with traditional companies, the more excited I become. This is my dream laid out before me in black and white. I’m taking it one step at a time.

My advice to you, readers, is to follow your heart. I’m taking the sensible and passionate routes of keeping my dreams alive while fulfilling my basic daily needs. I believe you can do the same.

What My Co-Workers Said…

On behalf of National Slap Your Irritating Co-Worker Day (which is on October 23), I’ve decided that my co-workers feel too much like a sitcom to pass an opportunity to write about them. They are the ones who, whenever they tell a story about an animal they raised, end the story with the animal dying. Or the ones who, after telling me every detail about their family history, could compile a soap opera. Their ages range from mid-twenties to mid-sixties with humor that could match The Office or Seinfeld. Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you my Minneapolis co-workers, whose Communication Specialist and Gossip Keeper will present to you unabridged conversations and one-liners as accurately as her memory will allow.

Conversation 1

Co-worker 1: “You better watch your attitude there.”

Co-worker 2: “My attitude gets perkier around you.”

Conversation 2

When the coffee maker stopped working in the bitter winter of 2017, all the 20- and 30-year-old inspectors were complaining:

Co-worker 1: “Don’t they know that people are going to die?!”

Co-worker 2: “We’ll start walking out one by one.”

Co-worker 3: “Let’s start a riot.”

Co-worker 4: “I can’t work under these conditions.”

Conversation 3

Two 20-year-old co-workers were comparing their arm muscles in the office.

Guy 1: “Mine looks like a hot dog.”

Guy 2: “No, yours looks like a brat, man.”

Conversation 4

Several inspectors were talking about Disney’s acquisitions.

Co-worker 1: “I heard Disney bought Fox.”

Co-worker 2: “I hear Disney is buying CenterPoint Energy.”

Conversation 5

Earlier this month, I saw a huge bag of candy sitting on a table.

Me: “It feels like Halloween.”

Co-worker 1: “There’s [So and So] in her Halloween costume.”

Co-worker 2, wearing normal work clothes: *makes face at Co-worker 1*

Conversation 6

I told my boss I started boxing lessons.

Boss to co-worker: “Watch out for her. When she gets mad, there’s trouble.”

Conversation 7

Co-worker to me: “There goes Trouble.”

Me: “Without me, there’d be no fun.”

Conversation 8 (all directed to me)

“Hannah, you weigh as many pounds as I need to lose.”

“I could gain weight just seeing you eat.”

“You finally decided to show up today. It’s what, like, noon?”

“If I show you too many dog pictures, you have my permission to say, ‘I have a meeting.’”

“What’s wrong with you, girl?!” *when I say I’m single*

In Honor of International Women’s Day

On my morning commute listening to the pop station 101.3 KDWB today, I heard the Dave Ryan Show pay tribute to International Women’s Day, playing excerpts from Oprah’s acceptance speech for the Cecil B. de Mille Award from the 2018 Golden Globes. The part that stood out to me was a list of careers in which women are excelling, including academia, engineering, medicine, science, technology, politics, business, Olympic athletics, and the military.

What the speech left out (but perhaps implied) was the industry of literature, the career in which I consider myself blessed. Therefore, I will give my own version of an acceptance speech, beginning with how I met the multiple-time John Newberry winner, Kate DiCamillo, and ending with a thank-you to all the female professors of my alma mater, the University of Northwestern – St. Paul.

In the summer of 2016, when my dad showed me a Pioneer Press advertisement of DiCamillo’s free book signing in St. Paul, I wasted no time to grab my copy of Winn-Dixie and drive to Common Good Books on Snelling Avenue. My mother came with me as an added joy; it was she who introduced me to Winn-Dixie in my childhood and who would never miss an opportunity to share this experience with me. At the brick-laid book shop, we waited in a long line snaking outside to meet this wonderful woman. Girls and mothers of all ages were lined up. I felt like a girl myself, even in my mid-twenties.

The closer I got to her, the bigger my smile got. When I finally met her, it was brief and efficient. I handed her my copy of Winn-Dixie, told her I loved her books, took a selfie, and got a picture with my mom. When my mom and I exited the book shop, my smile couldn’t have been brighter. I had her gleaming signature on my Winn-Dixie.

The experience I had can be summed up like this: It was about a five-minute encounter with a woman whose books have been lasting for more than ten years. Her presence, which will remain in the form of her signature on my bookshelf, will remind me that writing and publishing novels is a tangible goal.

When I was about nine years old, I had the first idea for my novel when sitting on my Winnie-the-Pooh bedsheets in the small town of Inver Grove Heights. On that fateful day, I knew I would write a novel. Before then, I had written and illustrated my own amateur version of an Angelina Ballerina short story. But when I started sketching first drafts of a novel based on my stuffed animals’ adventures, I knew I was making something I would treasure.

If I can take a moment to make my own Cecil B. de Mille Award acceptance speech, I want to thank my female professors from Northwestern. It was they who helped fashion my writing, from understanding the breaths in a sentence to crafting the emotional impact of vowels and consonants. From Northwestern I saw a plethora of published writers emerge and have their books published in companies such as HarperCollins and Crown Publishing Group. This was the arena from which I stepped into the world in the fresh year of 2015. This was the place with the women from which I can say, “I’m ready to take on the world.” In part, I owe my success to them.

I’m a Writer in the 21st Century

As I take a moment to honor Women’s History Month, I’m grateful for the contributions given, earned, and fought for the equality of women and men. I’m fortunate to pursue my career at the male-dominated CenterPoint Energy with ease, and to publish my creative writing with the best of my personality and style. This month reminds me of Taylor Swift’s acceptance speech in the 2016 Grammy Awards. After all the obstacles she hurdled in her 14+ years in the music industry, she gave this message which spoke to me:

“I want to say to all the young women out there: There are going to be people along the way who try to undercut your success or take credit for your accomplishments or your fame. But if you just focus on the work and you don’t let those people sidetrack you, someday, when you get where you’re going, you will look around and you will know—it was you, and the people who love you, who put you there. And that will be the greatest feeling in the world.”

When I heard this speech from my Eagan, Minnesota, townhome, it struck me that a creator’s work can stand above extreme criticism. My college education taught me the theory of New Criticism, which states that a reader or critic can evaluate a work independently of the author’s life or the society and era in which the work was written. The work should speak for itself.

When I observed my own life and writing, I found that my greatest comparison to Taylor Swift is my zeal for the creative life. My experience in the Teen Writers Group at the Wescott Library, my bachelor’s degree in Literature & Writing, and my career has taught me that experience and persistence stand above a crowd. I feel honored to live in the 21st century where the maxims of my favorite authors, both male and female, are at my fingertips. My advice to you, my readers, may sound cliché, but be yourself and stay true to your calling. Your work will shine above the rest.

When We Were Babies

When we were babies, we woke up to the sight of Beatrix Potter on our nursery walls. When we were in middle school, we read Shakespeare and Jane Austen, and by the time we’re grown up, we’ve read Jane Eyre, Gone with the Wind, Lord of the Rings, and classics which we’ve relished in our book clubs and coffee shops, sitting with a cup of tea in our hands and poring over each book we’ve grown to love.

This is the culture from which I’ve grown up and from which I’ve come to college, wanting to write my own stories, and daydream with imagination.

And yet, in this final semester, I’ve had to reconcile the world of fiction with the world of employment. From my culture, I grew up believing that employment would be the opposite of pleasure, that desk jobs would be like cages where I would be setting aside my writing for employment.

Which I have discovered is a very wrong aspect.

I did not anticipate the pleasure of seeking jobs where I would find the usefulness of my degree working itself out in so many different ways.

And yet, when I’ve had to ask God, “Where is the pleasure in writing?” I’ve had to reconcile the worlds of fiction and professional writing as a Literature and Writing major.

For here in our department, I have learned valuable skills in the worlds of technical writing, documents, manuscripts, and descriptions—all of which serve a purpose.

I have had to dissolve the dichotomy between literature and writing—and trust in God, which seemed like an abstract concept against the digital physicality of resumes and cover letters.

Though I have had to seek pleasure in both writing and literature, the stories with which I have grown up will always remain, and I will never lose the sight or dream of becoming an English major and writing fiction. And I hope you, too, inductees, will seek pleasure in both writing and literature as God guides you in this process. May you find pleasure in Him, and He in you. Thank you.

 

This speech was delivered to the inductees of Sigma Tau Delta, an International English Honors Society, at the University of Northwestern – St. Paul on April 21, 2015.

Happy Birthday, My Dear Brother

Valentine’s Day is the time for many to be with their significant others or spouses. But for me, it’s the birthday of my relentlessly joyful brother Andrew, whose drive for life and pursuit of happiness makes me proud to say I’m his big sister.

If you know Andrew Gullickson, you’ll probably always see him with a smile on his face and his blond hair slicked into a spike. He always has a goal he’s pursuing, and he’ll tell you what’s been new in its development. If you ask him about his passions, he’s mention his model-worthy wife Christa, who is my first-ever sister-in-law! And somewhere down the line, he’ll talk about his unending love for Star Wars.

Most importantly, Andrew’s success with his business inspires me to dream big. The other day, my dad told me how zealous Andrew was in his early teens about crying flying cars. Andrew would always say, “Dad, when are we going to make a flying car?” Years later, Andrew would start buying and flipping used cars as a hobby. In 2017, Andrew created his dealership, Royal Drive, which sells used cars to those who need them.

Andrew, this blog post only touches the surface of how grateful I am for you in my life. God bless you in your endeavors. God bless your marriage, business, and dreams. It only gets better from here.