laughing instead of crying. the best (worst) morning.

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Last we spoke, I was feeling low. Lower than low really. I will, no doubt, write more about what has happened since then. I can tell you now, though, that one thing that has happened is that time has passed, and I’ve gotten some help. (Okay, that’s two things.) Several variables have contributed to the fact that I am feeling better, and lately, I am even capable of gathering tidbits of life that really solidify that notion. The following is one of two examples of situations that would have EASILY had me in a puddle of tears a few weeks/months ago. Instead, I found myself laughing. That, my friends, is good news to me.


Once upon a time, on a freezing cold weekday morning before coffee, my boyfriend’s car doesn’t start. The battery is dead. I’ll have to take him to work– no biggie. We have two cars. His job is nearby. Piece of cake.

Sure, if that cake was made of dirt.

You see, before coffee, just putting on pants is the equivalent of calculus for my morning fog brain. My first task each day is pushing the button on the coffee maker (ever since that time I set the automatic start and a coffee river flowed through my kitchen, I just can’t let it brew without supervision). But today, somehow, whilst in a decaffeinated coma, I manage to get “dressed” (well enough to not freeze to death during the five minute drive) and deliver Rob to work on time.

Crisis averted.

I begin to wake up on the drive home, probably because it is reallllly cold, and it’s tough to be sleepy when your violent shivering could be mistaken for dancing to house music. In my newly found consciousness, I decide I’ll jump start the dead battery when I get home, just to make sure we aren’t dealing with something other than a door left open or an interior light left on. Rob will be happy to know his car isn’t really broken.

It is only about half way into this little endeavor that I realize the following:

1) I don’t actually know how to jump start a car.

2) I am wearing safety goggles and gloves (because I read that I should in my owner’s manual while troubleshooting item 1 above). I am not, however, wearing a bra.

3) I still have not had coffee.

In attempts to clear up all the issues on this list, I go inside and press “brew now” on the coffee maker. Coffee cures all.

Another crisis averted. I. am. on. fire.

I head back outside, where my car has been running long enough to give the dud some juice. After a few attempts to turn the engine over, Rob’s car starts. I just can’t be stopped today, y’all.

Time to get on with this awesome day. I leave Rob’s car running to warm up and charge the battery. I call my dad to make sure I know how to disconnect the jumper cables without dying, and he tells me I should drive Rob’s car so that the battery holds the charge. No worries. I have the perfect errand to get it up to highway speed for a few minutes, even: I have a wellness appointment scheduled for my dog. Sometime soon after I manage to put a bra on, I remember that–brace yourself for an over-share– I have to bring a fecal sample with me to the vet. Still wearing safety goggles, with plastic baggie in hand, I head through the house and out the back door to search (in the frozen snow) for Hank’s morning… business. It’s not all that tough to find, he has favorite spots. I am still feeling extra successful, despite the fact that my most recent reward for a job well done is a bag of poo.

Alas, as I head back inside, the reality of the coffee I never had sets in: the back door is locked. The kitchen door is locked. The front door is…. well, you get it. Thank goodness I have on safety goggles. Bah. I can’t possibly feel surprised. In retrospect, more than one early morning success is too good to be true. I shoulda quit while I was ahead. Rob got to work: mission accomplished. Go back to bed or something, woman. Well it’s too late now.

Naturally, I briefly panic. It is cold. Rob has no car and I have two. This, my friends, is why morning and I are not homies. I have to get house keys and I know it, so I begrudgingly head back to my car to retrieve my cell phone. I’m just glad I left it there, really, instead of inside. The truth is, even without coffee, and even without keys, I’ve pretty much always got a phone, ya know? Go ahead, judge me. As I am formulating the “Hi, I’m an idiot” conversation I’m about to have in my mind, I round the corner to the car port, where I am greeted by my decaffeinated brain all over again: Rob’s car is running and THE. KEYS. ARE. IN. IT. Duh.

Suddenly, I feel like a girl who’s had her coffee.

….until, that is, I go inside and try to pour coffee. As it turns out, you have to put water in the coffee maker.

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gotta get myself (dis)connected.

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Consider this a disclaimer. Making most of the thoughts I am sharing in this post public via a blog post is going to be pretty much the epitome of hypocritical behavior. I’m going to comment on social media, technology, and the seemingly constant bombardment of advertising, media spin, and the opinions of everyone with a phone, tablet, and/or computer and how they are curious and problematic for me. I dare say I am not the only one who feels this way, but yes I admit that I am saying it to strangers, which makes me a part of the problem, perhaps. I should also say, it is nothing personal. If you’re facebooking, instagraming, tumblr-ing, vibe-ing, blogging and tweeting simultaneously right now, I am actually quite impressed with you.

Indeed, as an occasional blogger I may be part of the “problem” that is internet-based over stimulation and occasional word vomit. But maybe not. Writing here is not an attempt to influence others with my thinking or my words, or to make anyone feel bad about themselves. This is not a persuasive essay circa 9th grade writing tests (do those still exist?). I’d like to think that if anything, putting my thoughts into words can be simultaneously therapeutic for me and potentially useful, entertaining, or otherwise meaningful to others. If someone can identify with how I feel, and in turn, make me and themselves feel a smidgen less alone in the world, or even just laugh, I have done something that is not bad. If not, well..crap.


//Social Media//

stop. checking. Facebook. Alex.

Have you ever spent a few minutes (hours) on social media only to feel somehow worse than when you “just checked your notifications really quickly”?

Well, I have.

I started to think about this, and to recall a time when there was no Facebook (GASP!) or when I was so busy living my life that I didn’t look at Facebook much, if at all. It was this reflection that brought me to reconsider what I was really doing at times, when I was “just” scrolling through status updates, images, and “shares”. It wasn’t fun to admit to myself, but at times, I was engaging in some form of competition, life-envy, or jealousy… among other super-unhealthy behaviors. And people do this: make comparisons, gauge themselves against others, peer into the world of someone else to see if it resembles your own. But then I thought about what is really out there, and why it might make me feel differently pre- and post- scroll.

How could wedding photos, pictures of babies, workout memes and motivational quotes (all happy, positive things, really) make me feel unhappy? Well, for one, I had to stop and remind myself that how I feel is really about me. Then, I considered that, although some people use social media as a way to air their dirty laundry and be nothing-but-negative, most people choose to share the happy things. Exclusively. All wedding pictures, new born babies, cute puppies, and great hair days. Now, if all you see when you scroll through your Newsfeed is a glimpse into the best parts of a person’s life, you can accidentally forget that they are not, in fact, always smiling/eating something delicious/having a wonderful time with their dog/ at the gym/ holding a baby/ kissing their husband. These are the cliff notes. The highlights.

Facebook is not life (no matter how much of mine I have spent on it). Facebook is a slice of everyone’s reality, and in some cases, only a public portrayal of what a person wishes life was like and hopes people think is their real world. I, too, have untagged myself in pictures that don’t reflect happy, pretty, shiny Alex. So I apologize, and willingly admit: some parts of my life are messy, chaotic, boring, and un-share-worthy. There, I said it.


//Technology//

just because you called/texted/emailed and I SAW it…does not mean I have to respond immediately.

In the age of instant communication, it can be difficult not to live in a constant state of “reply”. Working from home has taught me to (try to) observe “office hours”, or one or two times during the day that I check my inbox and respond to messages. Why? Because if I instantly responded to every notification, email, text, and status update I was “tagged in”, I might never accomplish anything else. I also recently unsubscribed from and un-followed all those emails and posts I see all the time just long enough to delete. A full inbox makes me anxious. An inbox full of crap you signed up for but don’t know why—that’s just annoying.

I do not mean to imply that I am so popular or super-duper important that my messages are backed up so far that I can never get back to everyone. I do mean to say that not every text/call/email/status update should, or can realistically, be treated as if it is more important than my family, my friends, my job, my sleep, my fitness, my breakfast (and lunch, and dinner, and… snacks), the time that is actually mine…ya know? I mean, if I’m “having dinner with my boyfriend” but actually just scrolling through Instagram while he checks his fantasy football team(s), we are losing quality time with each other.

I’ve been thinking about this (too much, probably) and as a result/experiment, I am trying hard to reteach myself to behave like a human… i.e. when a person is actually sitting right in front of my face, I pay attention to them; if I want to talk to someone about something other than a quick question, I call them and talk to them with my mouth; when I’m working (this one’s tough), I am at work even though I am actually at home. I should take breaks, yes. But I should not make my difficult-to-observe schedule worse by taking a break every time someone “likes” my photo. Notifications: off. Phone: silent. TV: off. (Spotify: on.)


//An Overwhelming World of Possibilities//

I want to do everything. But I don’t have the time or money to do everything. Crap, I’ll just do nothing.

I feel kinda bad for children born in the always-on, screens big and small information age. It can be so very overwhelming. There is so much to do and see that it can be difficult to choose, to differentiate between “real” and “as seen on TV”, or to even grasp the value of privacy, intimacy, and modesty in the share-everything world we live in.

I started watching a documentary called Tiny on Netflix, and a series on FYI called Tiny House Nation, both about people downsizing to tiny 200-300 square foot homes with independent solar power, simple multifunctional spaces, few extravagant luxuries, and in many cases, the ability to be loaded onto a trailer and moved anywhere. I immediately wanted to unplug, throw away everything I own, pack up my boyfriend and my dog, and live small. Why? Because the world is filled with so much noise that if I don’t find a way to carve out space for peace, for reflection, for interpersonal relationships, rest, and other practices of self-care, all that will come of the many, many possibilities is anxiety. And man, ain’t nobody got time for that.


I suppose the moral of this whole story is that there is no substitution for real human contact. Maybe this is glaringly obvious to me here and now solely because I lack this contact in my current work life. Despite the fact that social media is a way to “connect” people to one another, to make just about everyone accessible to everyone else, when I consider that I have just shy of 900 “friends” on Facebook, and may “know” a little bit about people I’ve not spoken to in years— what is the point of all that? How many of these people know me on a level beyond what my status updates, shares, and photos reveal?

Feeling connected is important to us as human beings. It is necessary. But, for me at least, it is far more important to actually connect with far fewer people, and for real. I want to make eye contact with people, not with the back side of their iPhone.


  • How do you balance technology with interpersonal relationships?
  • Do you experience any negative effects from social media and/or technology?
  • How do you unplug?

but you don’t have to wear pants!

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When someone asks me about my job, and I tell them what I do, generally, one of two things happens:

Thing 1: That someone utters some version of : “You work from home? Oh wow, that must be nice!”

–or–

Thing 2: That someone quickly regrets asking, evidenced by eyes glazing over and a nod that is half “uh-huh” and half desperate for me to stop trying to explain.

As a result of the latter reaction, I’ve revised my explanation, and I only elaborate when my brief synopsis is met with a follow-up question. As a result of the first reaction, I usually get a little angry. This wasn’t always my reaction, though. Over time, the glorious opportunity to work from home has worn on me.  If you also happen to be an overachiever trapped in a procrastinator’s body who works from home, you may be able to relate.

but you don't have to wear pants_12.3

Working from home sounds amazing, in theory. It may actually be a dream situation for many. The longer I do it, however, the more the challenges begin to overshadow the benefits.  Here are just a few examples of how theoretically awesome aspects of working from home have become problematic for me:

The Flexible Schedule. You can make your own schedule, with flexible hours. Awesome. Oh, wait…If there are no set hours for work, you have to hold yourself accountable to a schedule? Deadlines don’t disappear? You may slide down the slippery slope of working pretty much constantly, which for me means not very efficiently, or putting work off for just about anything else? Like laundry! Laundry’s so awesome!

You don’t have to wear pants. You can wear anything you please. In fact, clothing is entirely optional. Oh, wait…You mean if you don’t have to get dressed or shower, you won’t? Are you saying that sometimes days will go by between showers? That you may eventually find yourself feeling like putting “real” clothes on is THE. HARDEST. THING. EVER.

You can work anywhere.  You can stay on the couch with that laptop. You can set up a cozy little dedicated office space all your own. You don’t have to leave the house! You’re so lucky. Oh, wait…So you don’t leave the house? And you could set up a dedicated office space but you haven’t managed to tackle this obstacle successfully in the four years you’ve been doing your job? And spending all day every day alone in your house is slowly driving you crazy, isolating you from human beings, and even your dog might be sick of you?

What was once a super-exciting list of possibility related to an exclusively remote position has mutated into a list of reasons I have lost much of my ability to function like an actual grown up. My list of struggles gets extra long if you include the really good stuff– like the fact that I am technically a self-employed freelance contractor. No salary. No benefits. No predictable pay schedule. When I accidentally started doing this job during graduate school, I never thought that I would daydream of a salary paid at regular intervals, secretly wish that my taxes were being automatically deducted from my paychecks, or begin to romanticize retirement savings and other employee benefits. You live and you learn, I suppose.

I am thankful to be gainfully employed, believe me. I remind myself daily that things could be so much worse. I could be unemployed, uneducated, and far more broke. I have found success in working from coffee shops and at the kitchen tables of other friends who work from home. My dog requires exercise, so that, combined with a personal love of fitness (that includes running anywhere but on a treadmill) has forced me to leave the house (and occasionally shower). I know for certain that I could probably figure out a way to make my job work for a while longer, or even forever. It would be and ideal position when Rob and I get married and have babies. People stay in careers they hate for their entire lives, right? Not me, y’all. Not me.

Why not me? That’s easy: Unhappy does not look good on me (and I try not to make plans based on hypothetical children). These could be some of the reasons that I am always starting over. I may even have several more careers in my lifetime. Since becoming painfully aware that my current job just is not meant for me in the long term, or perhaps that I am not meant for it, I am working on making a change rather than only complaining while changing nothing. I’ve identified what it is that I want to do, perhaps for the first time in my life. If you haven’t already heard (read), I’m working towards becoming a registered nurse. The first steps towards making positive changes took overcoming some fears: because fear is a liar, and I’d like a do-over.

For now, my future holds prerequisite classes at the local community college, logging as many volunteer hours as possible at the hospital, applications, recommendations, official transcripts, and (fingers crossed) a spring 2016 matriculation into an accelerated bachelor of nursing program.

The present? Yoga pants. Dirty hair. Lots of hermit-like behavior.

And laundry.

(Just kidding. I did all the laundry yesterday.)

oh. come. on.

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oh, come on! 11.25

I’ve heard that saying:

“We plan, God laughs.”

This little phrase (which I discovered is a Yiddish proverb when I googled it to see if it started out “We plan” or “Man plans” and found both) rings true for me quite often. This is most likely because, in many arenas, I can be a planning-obsessed control freak. But, for the most part, I am okay when my plans go a little berserk– part of the fun of living is enjoying the surprises. I usually feel like the twists and turns take me just where I belong. Usually. After this past week and weekend, though, I may have coined my own phrase:

“I make plans to go back to school, which costs roughly what’s in my savings account.

My car breaks. My car gets fixed not quite fixed. There is no laughing.”

(which is too long for a catch phrase or a proverb, possibly)

Rather than relive the horror in freshly pressed words, I’ll share the letter I wrote to the auto repair shop (that shall remain nameless, for now) after I received their “How Did We Do?” email in my inbox. The good parts are highlighted.


 

On Saturday, 22 November, I brought my car (a 2001 Subaru Outback) into the Peter’s Creek location in Winston-Salem. I had a check engine light on, and a code readout from Advanced Auto. Since the engine computer code (P0303 Cylinder #3 misfire) has many possible causes, I agreed to have Powertrain Diagnostics run on my car to determine the underlying issue.

 I was contacted by John* with the results. He informed me what my car needed based on the diagnostics (from which I never saw a readout report). The issues were fairly regular maintenance on a car with 130K+ miles on it: air and fuel decarbonizing wash (of the “super special premium” variety), replacing spark plugs, spark plug wires, and valve cover gaskets.  I made sure to let everyone know I was not in a hurry, and could wait until Monday for the work to be done. After initial diagnostics, my car was in the possession of the shop for roughly 3 hours (called me with results at 13:34 and I received notice my car was ready at 15:56). I was quoted $656 and change. When I picked up my car, I paid $641.58 (after a $15 coupon) for fairly standard maintenance. More than half of this bill ($368.10) was for labor. (I understand that mechanics should be compensated for their specialized knowledge and am not necessarily upset with the cost, so hear me out).

After spending this money, imagine my surprise as I am driving my newly “repaired” car (complete with new spark plugs and wires!) to High Point and it begins to hesitate, shudder rather violently, and suck power (dash lights dimming) while moving between 35 and 40 mph and while idling at a full stop. Then, the check engine light begins to flash, and once I’d made it to a place I could safely pull over, the check engine light is illuminated permanently again. 

In a nutshell: THE EXACT THINGS I’D JUST HAD “FIXED” ALL CAME BACK WITHIN 20 MINUTES OF PICKING UP MY CAR AND SPENDING ALMOST $650.00 FOR REPAIRS.

This is unacceptable. The shop was closed before I could call back and find out what was going on. I felt unsafe and uncomfortable driving my car. Sunday morning, I was able to contact my father, who walked me through the work done on the car based on my invoice, and had me double check the work. After checking the wire connections at the coil and then examining the connections of the spark plugs, I was able to determine that one of my “new spark plugs” was not properly replaced and had shaken loose (the boot was a good quarter of an inch from flush). After connecting the plug properly, my car handled well again, without any of the symptoms it had displayed the night before, and before I brought it in. After a test drive at city and highway speeds, it seems fine. Now that the car has been driven, started and turned off several times, the check engine light has gone off.

 I am unsettled at the fact that I had to double check the work, for which I paid $368 in labor alone, done on my car. 

 I will be contacting the shop directly as well. Thank you for your time.

*name changed to protect this very nice man’s identity. He was not the mechanic who did the work on my car.

 


My call to the shop resulted in some resolution: vouchers for several free oil changes, a check and re-check of all of the work performed on my car, and an apology. I never saw a work order or the supporting documentation diagnostics. I wasn’t given any refund for the services rendered. Since it wasn’t a problem with my car that they’d completely missed, I felt a little better. I only wish I’d waited to talk to my dad (who was at work when I consented to the services) before I’d agreed to have anything called a “Super Special Premium” anything done to my car. My parents always told me, if you have money saved, something will break (usually an appliance). I sometimes hate when they are right.

 

In retrospect, perhaps I was too nice to the gentlemen at the shop. But, I think everyone has a bad day and I shall not hold a grudge since I’ve had several good experiences here in the past. (Also, I’d like to think that someday my being too nice might come back to haunt me in the form of good karma?) I guess what’s left is this lesson: Let my Dad do all the work I need done on my car, ever. Forever. Dad never leaves things loose (since I’m his kid and all) and his labor costs are much more reasonable.  This lesson, oddly, can be translated in Yiddish, to:

“We plan, God laughs.”

(Now, back to finding/saving/potentially crowd-sourcing a little money for school.)

 

Tell me about annoying things that have happened to you lately (please!).