Michael Bublé croons about Santa Claus coming to town as I cruise down I-70, my eyes ping-ponging between the road and the clock. It's not that I'm late... in fact, a mere seven months ago, I would've considered this early. But that was back when I was Old Laurel, the one who was the conductor of her own personal Hot Mess Express, the one who never met a situation she couldn't screw up, the one who, as my best friend, Jamilah, put it, ran on "Laurel Time" (which is to say, always at least fifteen minutes late). But that's not who I am anymore, I remind myself. Now I'm New Laurel, the one who arrives on time and doesn't implode her life with her own poor decisions.
My downfall this morning was stopping at Starbucks. I intended to grab peppermint mochas for my boss and myself, but then I got wrapped up in a conversation with the Starbucks drive-through employee when she complimented my Christmas tree earrings and 'I' said I loved 'her' Santa earrings, and then we talked about our Christmas plans and...
Well, long story short, now I'm going to get to the office for my pre-holiday meeting right on time.
I get off the highway as Michael Bublé fades out and the radio DJ tells everyone that a white Christmas is in the forecast. Personally, I'll believe it when I see it. As someone who came out of the womb loving Christmas—my twin sister and I were born on December 25—I literally dream of a white Christmas, but I'm used to gray ones. I don't know if we really had more snow in Ohio when I was a kid or if my memories are fudged by the blurry lens of nostalgia, but I've been burned too many times to put much stock in the meteorologist's promise of snow.
It's three days before Christmas, and although I typically work remotely, my boss scheduled a meeting before my official holiday vacation starts. I started working at Buckeye State of Mind, a magazine and website whose slogan is "Everything great in the Buckeye State," a little over six months ago. Our main purpose is to highlight restaurants, tourist attractions, parks, businesses, and anything that's special in Ohio. I run our social media, write a monthly online column, and soon I'll be writing other stories, too (well, fingers crossed, anyway).
I pull into our strangely empty parking lot—only Gilbert's Subaru is here—and turn off the car. I close my eyes, picturing myself in my Mind Oasis, as outlined in the book Creating Your Mind Oasis and Finding Inner Peace. New Laurel has a Mind Oasis that's a calm, clean, all-white room. The Mind Oasis even has a white sofa, because in my mind I can't get red wine or brownies or Cheeto dust on it. The Mind Oasis is a place of perfect peace, and it's where I go when I need to center myself. No longer am I sitting in my Toyota Camry, surrounded by empty Starbucks cups littering the floor, reminding me of peppermint mochas long since gone. Now I'm on my pristine Mind Sofa, listening to the sound of the ocean waves on the shore (the Mind Oasis is on a beach, naturally), simply being.
Old Laurel didn't even have a Mind Oasis. She had a Mind Junkyard. But now, with the guidance of every self-help book the Columbus Metropolitan Library system had on the shelf, New Laurel is ready to conquer this meeting, this day, and my entire life.
I check my hair in the rearview mirror. My shaggy, long bob hangs in blond waves. I brush them out of my face, then use a finger to flick away an errant mascara flake and dab at my Starbucks-smudged seasonally appropriate cranberry red lipstick. I give New Laurel a wink. She's got this.
I use my hip to slam the door of the Camry, since I'm currently double-fisting peppermint mochas, and walk into the building. It would be great if magazine life were glamorous, like in The Devil Wears Prada, and I could run through city streets as I hurried to make it to my downtown high-rise office before my stylish but cold boss realized I was late. I'd spill coffee on myself, and she'd look down her nose at me, and I'd spend the next hour and forty-five minutes of screen time attempting to win her approval before finally realizing that there's more to life than work.
Jamilah also says I have a tendency to turn everything into a story. That's why she encouraged me to apply to this job at the magazine, actually—she thought I'd love writing other people's stories. And I would, but that's only sort of what my job entails.
Of course, my real life is nothing like that fantasy sequence, mostly because our office is out in the Columbus suburbs where the rent is cheaper, and Gilbert isn't a stylish older woman with a severe bob and a tendency to judge people. He's a middle-aged man with a kindly orange mustache, and I've never heard him yell at anyone. The most upset I've ever seen him was when he got mildly annoyed that Jimmy John's left the turkey off the turkey sub he ordered for an office lunch meeting, and even then he pretty much immediately pivoted to positivity and ate his bread, lettuce, and cheese sandwich without complaining. ("You know, I've been trying to eat less meat, anyway.") He doesn't critique my fashion choices, probably because his button-down shirts have seemingly permanent mustard stains on them from dropping his lunchtime hot dogs on himself.