Sunday, September 30, 2012

Love Thy Neighbor, Or the Big Rug Debacle of 2012

The doorbell to our apartment isn't really a bell, per se. It makes a sound not unlike a spluttering vehicle as it gives out on the highway (not that I speak from experience...), so my first reaction when it "rings" is never one of, "Oh, someone's at the door!" Also, no one is ever at the door because we don't know anyone, & the maintenance guy doesn't knock. In other words, the sound of our doorbell ringing is a wholly foreign one.

When the doorbell spluttered last Tuesday night, then, I hardly recognized it. I was 30 minutes out of the shower, dressed up & preparing to leave the apartment, & Nathan was watching TV as I got ready. I opened the door cautiously.

"Hi," said the unfamiliar face at the door. "I'm Barbara, & I live downstairs. And..." Here she paused, sticking her neck out & opening her eyes wide as if to make a point: "It's really loud." It sounded like a question, almost, but a particularly accusatory one - which makes sense, as she was accusing us of being really loud.

Confession: Just before this accosting, I'd been trying to scare my ever-jittery cat, Whitmore, by lunging & sort of stomping in his general direction. In retrospect, I have no doubt that this was a rather loud activity, especially because I was wearing (the more fashionable equivalent of) combat boots. Of course, I didn't mention this to Barbara. In fact, I didn't have time to mention this to Barbara, as she quickly launched into a very composed tirade.

"Do you have rugs?" Barbara asked us, daring us to say no.

"Yeah, we have... rugs," I stammered in nervous response. Plural, accidentally, though we only had one.

"I'm pretty sure it says in the lease that you have to have rugs," Barbara chastised, clearly not believing me & talking rather quickly in that way that indicates a person will continue until he or she is absolutely finished. "The rugs have to cover a certain percentage of the floor so that things like this don't happen. A lot of rugs. It's really loud when you're just walking around up here on wood floors. And," she added, her eyes scanning to my feet, "I'm sure it would help if you didn't wear heavy shoes while you're home. I think it says in the lease that you have to have rugs?" She even told us she'd had the super over to listen to us "stomping around."

My response was pathetic, really. Taken aback at this interaction & at Barbara's utter lack of neighborliness (heck, I once confronted my neighbors about having overly loud sex, & I practically apologized to them), I sort of gaped at her, terrified, throughout the duration of the interaction, occasionally murmuring, "Okay," in that hurried, huffy tone that teenagers sometimes use with their mothers. "Okay," I murmured when she finished. "We'll get rugs." And then she turned & left, leaving me shaking & embarrassed & angry & afraid to walk across my own apartment.

Look, I don't blame Barbara for coming up. I know it's tough to confront a neighbor. But I take issue with her methodology, the telling me what's in my lease (are you my landlord, Barbara?) & the judging of my shoes. I also wish she'd been more specific. Like, are we loud all the time, like on days when we're mostly watching TV & sometimes crossing the living room in stocking feet to making spaghetti - or just when I'm trying to scare the bajeezus out of my cat? Have we been unbearably loud all three months (!) we've lived here, or have we recently been worse? And if she called the super over, why didn't the super come to us, if it's truly such a problem? Is Barbara extra-sensitive or do we sound like elephants or is there some reality in between?

Immediately following this interaction, Nathan & I switched up our prior plans & drove to Big Lots, where we purchased one big (zebra print?!) rug for my office. I doubt it's going to appease Barbara's delicate aural senses much, but yo, I'm trying. Rugs are expensive! Do you know how expensive rugs are?! I'll buy some more, but at the current going rug rate, I'm running one rug a paycheck! Since Barbara came to visit, I've also not worn those boots indoors. Much.

That night, I also wrote Barbara a very nice note (I didn't want to have to talk to her again!), which I slid under her door, apologizing for my curtness during her visit & informing her of our new floor decor. She slid a response under our door a few days later, middle-school style, & while I think it's nice, I'm not entirely sure. The problem is that now, fearing another encounter, I spend approximately all of my time worrying that my every move is offending Barbara. This is particularly anxiety-inducing as I work from home & basically never leave. In other words, I think about Barbara probably a million times a day.

As much as I didn't love living in a half-underground first-floor apartment like we rented in New Hampshire, I find myself longing for the days when there was nothing below my floors but cement & soil...

Thursday, September 20, 2012

A Way With Words

Sometimes, it's the little things that really make my day great.


A Place for Everybody, No Matter How Weird

Every time I write about my attempts to meet people & make friends as an adult, about a billion people comment to tell me that I should checkout Meetup.com. I recently joined a bunch of Meetup.com groups, which means I now get constant emails about events that might interest me – and mostly, at this point, events that don't. Still, I'm hopeful that something will, sooner or later, look like it's worth attending, & I'll meet some supercool new BFFs & we'll all live happily ever after.

While I did find five groups worth joining, I had to sort through some muck to get to them. I've been told there's a meetup for everyone, &, well, now I believe it. Want to see some of my favorites?OK, if you insist.

  • If the guy in the blue jacket is 40, then I am a senior citizen.
  • From the theme of the group to the name given to members, this group screams "INDOOR KIDS!" What is that a picture of, anyway? A nunchuck-wielding cartoon cockroach standing in a field of grass? The food allergy people are breaking out in hives at the thought of standing in a field.
  • You can't fool me. This looks like the saddest festival.
  • I wish I had a child. If I did, I would join this group with full expectations that my infant would sprout wings ~n~ become teacup sized. This photo sets a really high bar, moms.
  • This one speaks for itself, right?
  • I'm tempted to join this group so that I can finally learn how to fulfill my lifelong dream of becoming one of those people (usually a dreadlocked dude, but whatever) who plays the drums outside the Chinatown Metro Station in D.C., in which "drums" are just upside-down buckets. It looks like the members of this group do that in their living rooms, a hobby my neighbors would surely appreciate.
  • Is this group in the business of investing in red velvet cupcakes? If so, count me in. If not, I'm really confused.
  • "Join us at the oldest meetup in the land!"
  • This group is maybe not that weird, except that it reminds me of my favorite John Mulaney joke ("Imma push him!"), which Nathan & I quote way too often, & that cracks me up. But actually, you know what? This is that weird. "Pushing Hands of Monmouth County"? Huh?!
     
  • I wish this group were just about pizza discovery, because then I'd be so in.
  • This group is so sad because there's only one person in it. "NEW JERSEY PODCASTER, UNITE!"
  • This photo accurately describes the group it represents, which actually sounds like the cutest group of all time (assuming that the babies in that other group don't actually have wings), but I'm including it in this list because, really? Are you telling me that almost 300 people in the area own shiba inus?!
  • You are single because it's 2012 & you still don't know how to crop and/or rotate a jpeg.
  • Sister goddesses, huh? I'm thinking that this group is made up of Mormon polygamist women who are also 50 Shades of Grey fans. Forty-four of them, shockingly.
  • Once I learned that this group was for members of the special needs community and their parents/guardians, I thought I shouldn't include it in this list. But then I decided, "You know what? This belongs here." Presumably, the person who started the group is not a member of the special needs community, & he or she should be ashamed of giving this otherwise great group such an offensively hackneyed, cliche name. I feel mad on behalf of all the people in this group who don't know that they should be mad about it.
  • My first thought was that this group was for people who are, you know, mulling transitions. More people who just moved here? Like me? Cool. Turns out, it's actually for "building a sustainable locality" & "strengthening community resilience," & because I'm not sure what either of those really means – paired with the fact that their last two events were a "Re-Purposeful Sewing Potluck" and "Picking Wild Wine Berries" – I don't think this is the group for me.
  • This group appears to have found the Loch Ness Monster, which means I appear to have found the perfect group for me. Case closed.

Friday, September 14, 2012

The Importance of Juxtaposition

Location, location, location!

I'm inclined to think that whichever one of these fine establishments moved into the strip mall second, this statement holds true: There were some serious oversights in judgment that occurred on the part of the store owners, or at least some impressive exercises in willful ignorance.


Is this better than, worse than, or the same as the fact that the emergency veterinarian's office in Portsmouth was located next door to a Chinese buffet?*

These jokes write themselves, guys.

*I am really hypersensitive to the fact that I could possibly be accused of being a racist for this one. I LIKE CHINESE FOOD & DO NOT THINK IT'S MADE OF CATS.

Friday, September 7, 2012

On Life in New Jersey, Honestly

The impression that I get every
time I talk to anyone here
New Jersey is really taking its toll on me.

I haven't written about it here because although I value sarcasm & wit, I do not value moping or whining, & I fear I'll cross the line if I get to talking about it on here. But this is my space, right? And these are my emotions. And why not just get 'em out? Better out than in, they tell me, whomever they are.

I know what you're probably thinking ("But Kate, you didn't like New Hampshire when you first moved there, either!") & you're at least partially right. There's a key difference, though, between then & now. In Portsmouth, my frustration was at being alone all the time, not at hating the place. I always thought it was nice there, even when I didn't like being there.

In New Hampshire, at least, I could go downtown alone with my laptop & be like, "At least it's pretty & quaint here. Being alone is OK!" I'd park myself at the Starbucks on the square, watching people congregate on the town square outside or at the church across the street. I'd have a flatbread for lunch at Popovers, giving directions to Canadian tourists who spotted my laptop & assumed I was a local. After work, I'd wander in & out of the independent shops downtown, into the pretty paperie & the used record store. Alone? Always. Lonely? Sometimes. Oftentimes. But the setting for my loneliness was enjoyable enough that it eased that pain.

In Red Bank, I'm alone and I hate it here. This place has no character. It's dirty, & the people are rude. And it has no business being as expensive as it is for as crappy as it is. I come to downtown Red Bank & I'm like, "WHY ARE THERE TWO FLIES SITTING ON MY ARM IN THIS COFFEE SHOP & A WOMAN WITH A REAL HOUSEWIVES ACCENT SCREAMING NEXT TO ME?!" The Starbucks downtown is small & dingy with rude employees & no comfy window seats. I'm terrified to drive here because the highways are jam-packed & generally scary, & because I'm always lost, even with my GPS. I've heard that New Englanders are notoriously cold, but New Jersey is definitely winning this contest.

I have Nathan, yes. And thank God for that. But it's not healthy to have no life beyond your significant other, & I'm not a person who would ever choose such a lack of social life for myself. I like being alone, yes, & I value my time to myself. But being alone is so, so different from being lonely - which is what I have become here, in New Jersey. What I wouldn't give for just one girlfriend to watch the season premiere of "Grey's Anatomy" with, for a weekend party crowded into a friend's not-quite-big-enough apartment, for somebody to meet downtown for lunch in the middle of the workday. And if I can't have those, what I wouldn't give to at least enjoy my surroundings alone, to feel comfortable & quiet & just OK.

Instead, I am unbearably sad & lonely & angry & tearing up in this crappy Starbucks.

New Jersey is beating the shit out of me.

It's A-OK to Step Away

For 17 months, I worked from home with very few problems. Work/life balance? Easy. I didn’t have any trouble shutting down at 5pm every day – 6, at the very latest – to dedicate my evenings to shopping or reading or writing or cooking or, when he wasn’t underway, spending time with Nathan. With few friends in New Hampshire, I didn’t have any pressing social life to tend to, but I still made sure to allot time for myself. When I left my office & stepped into the rest of my apartment, I stopped working.

And then, in May, I got a new job. Let me be clear: I whole-heartedly love this job & spent four years hoping that I would eventually hold this position. I am happy with this work, with these people, with this organization. I wake up in the morning excited to do my job because it’s that good.

I’m busier, though. And because I like the work even more than before, I find myself working even harder than before, giving even more of myself. I find myself blurring – and in some cases, erasing – that fine line between work and the rest of my life. I don’t have a pressing social life to tend to here, either (yet?), but somehow, that’s translated into my working more. I don't have anything concrete to do or people to be with – so why not keep working? All the time?

I’ve always been a multitasker. As a kid, I never just watched TV; I watched it while writing stories or making scrapbooks or doing crafts. Maybe it was a side effect of being an only child, something in me that felt inclined to turn on the TV while I worked so that it wasn’t quite so quiet. But now – now that I feel like I have so much to do and I want to do it because I like doing it – I find myself with my computer open as I watch TV at night, clacking away at the keyboard as I work, work, work. At my job. At 11:15 p.m. Last night, hopped up on zzzQuil & half asleep, it occurred to me that I’d earlier left a work-related task only halfway completed; I popped my iPhone off the nightstand & finished it up right there in bed, despite the fact that I was so tired I could hardly see. A few nights before that, I sent a very long memo to a handful of coworkers at half past midnight.

I know I'm not unusual, that lots of millennials do this. In fact, I'm convinced that if I don't, I'll fall behind, that I'll be seen as someone who doesn't work as hard as my peers. And I tell myself that I’d rather be this way, that I’d rather work all day long at a casual evening pace than leave myself with so much to do during the workday that I can hardly breathe or think or steady my hands. The stress of having a mile-long to-do list is dizzying, & my anxiety issues are patently not under control these days, so any night when I stop working at 5 (God, have I ever stopped at 5?! Let’s make it 6…) I find myself choking on nerves, so distracted by everything I have to do tomorrow that I can’t focus enough to enjoy tonight.

Needless to say, my work-around-the-clock pace isn’t working. Of course it’s not working. Because no matter how much I like my job, I can’t possibly do it all the time. Can anyone?! And as much as I love it, I don’t want to do it all the time, either. I want to give attention & focus to other things that matter, like relaxation & relationships & & writing & other things that begin with R sounds. I want to have hobbies, make friends, not feel surgically attached to technology.

So I have to remind myself that it’s OK to step away from my job. It’s OK to dedicate time to my writing for fun instead of for work. It’s OK to just watch a movie, not to surf the Internet as I watch it. It’s OK to leave my phone at home or even in the other room, not to take it to the bathroom with me & to respond to emails while I cook dinner. It’s OK to take a nap or play a board game or step away from my computer or, hell, be at my computer doing things that aren’t work.

It’s OK. It's OK. How many times do I have to tell myself this before I start listening to myself?

I think I need a prescription for something...or at the least the name of a really good masseuse.

 

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Ten Years From Now, We'll Still Be On Top (Or Something)

I put a lot of advance thought into my 10-year high school reunion. What should I wear? Who would I show up with? How long would I stay? What would we talk about? Would it be weird? Would I be weird? Is there anything realistic whatsoever about movies like "American Reunion"? I tried to convince friends to attend, some successfully & others to total failure.

And then it came! And then... it went. Turns out it was a fairly lackluster event, with no discernible climax or apex to speak of. My expectations were perhaps overblown by a comically dramatic discussion that took place a few weeks before the event in our class's Facebook group, spurred by one perpetual whiner's displeasure with every minute detail of the event. A friend of mine left the following comment in response to the whole thing, which should give you a feel for how it went down:
"You're telling me if we want to attend the reunion we're going to have to drive ALMOST SIX WHOLE MILES from the site of our graduation to an IMMEDIATELY ADJACENT CITY?! And when we get there, we're even going to have to PARK OUR OWN CARS? This is an outrage. If I were Donald Trump, you'd all be fired."
That makes it sound like there's a lot of potential for amazing dramz, right? So you can see why I was so excited. Alas, it was a drama-free night, virtually the opposite of how movies indicated it might be. To my knowledge, no one was inspired to film a porno upon leaving, &, I mean, no one even claimed to have invented Post-Its! And OK, I didn't actually expect it to be anything like a cheesy teen flick, but I'd imagined it to be slightly more action-packed or at least more conversationally stimulating/entertaining/something.

Unfortunately, despite the modern miracle of Facebook, only about 100 people showed up for the big event, of the nearly 400 in our graduating class. Even if more had attended, there wouldn't have been much space for them, as the room reserved for the event was tiny & sweltering, staffed by a bartender who was unequipped to deal with the fact that everyone in attendance needed to be drunk in order to deal with being in attendance. Eventually, seeking air, the party spilled out into the attached bar & people lost sight of one another, seriously limiting the potential for mingling.

Don't get me wrong: I saw people I hadn't seen in a long time. We talked. It was fun. And though I have gained weight (one of those prototypical high school reunion measurements of life failure), I have also gotten notably better looking, considerably less awkward, & infinitely more successful, so I wasn't particularly embarrassed to share my life details with long-lost peers. I had a total of three drinks, which kept me from being as outgoing as I would've liked but which also kept me from dancing to "She Thinks My Tractor's Sexy" with the bachelorette party that took over the bar's stage. I wouldn't say the night was a bust, by any means - but I will say that by midnight, I was sleepy, sober, & more than ready to crawl into bed.

Our class officers put considerable effort into making the night a success, & nothing I say here is intended to discredit or disrespect their work. But perhaps the modern miracle of Facebook also means that the magic of high school reunions has disappeared; we all know what we're all doing, so we don't feel the need to catch up in person. Ever the nostalgic goody two-shoes, I spent most of the night feeling like Melissa Joan Hart's character in "Can't Hardly Wait" sans pigtails, wondering where everyone's school spirit went. "What is wrong with everybody? These are memories frozen in time, people!" Don't you care about making memories, guys?!



Yeah, another movie reference. And OK, it's possible that I suffer from blockbuster-induced delusions of high school reunion grandeur. But coming off of a disappointingly disappointing 10-year event, maybe those are exactly the kind of delusions that will ensure that I buy a ticket to the next one. See you in 2022!

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Lazy & Happy in the Windy City

Two weeks ago (!) I visited Chicago for a family wedding. Though I'd been there twice before - once in high school & once just last summer - I'd never really done much exploring. Deciding I'd take a couple days off work & visit a few friends in the area, I extended my trip by two days & made absolutely zero plans. Catch that? Zero plans. If this blog has taught you anything at all me, it should be that I am a person who plans & that the act of not planning is a terrifyingly anxiety-inducing thing for me. And yet...

Things I didn't do in Chicago:
  • See the Bean, the Sears Tower, Navy Pier, Shedd Aquarium, or any other Chicago icons
  • Take any tours, ride any double-decker buses or Duck Boats, or visit any museums
  • Spend a dime of my money shopping on the famed & alluring Magnificent Mile
  • Watch the Air & Water Show, which was taking place at the park across the street from my hotel
  • Eat at Grahamwich, the lunch joint owned by reality TV chef Graham Elliot, or any other well-known Chicagoland restaurants

Things I did in Chicago:
  • Attend the beautiful wedding ceremony & very fun wedding reception of my third cousin while catching up with my mother, aunt, uncle, first cousins (to the right) & other sundry relatives & family friends
  • Waste a day luxuriating in my hotel room instead of doing, well, anything
  • Visit a dear friend from my time in D.C. who has been confined to Northwestern Memorial Hospital for six months
  • Meet a childhood friend for lunch, accompanied by my mother, to discuss our adult lives & our upcoming high school reunion (more on this later)
  • Have both dinner & breakfast with one of my closest friends from Ohio who now lives in Chi, giving us a lot of time to catch up, eat tater tot nachos, & tweet snarky things
  • Meet two blog friends for the first time IRL, one for pasta dinner & another for impromptu tea, & get murdered/abducted by neither
  • Spend a lot of time alone at coffee shops working on my iPad & enjoying the city atmosphere
  • Have a meaningful life conversation with my younger cousin over lunch before she moves to London for the next 18 months
  • Eat alone at a TGIFriday's when I found Grahamwich to be closed, which was basically the saddest & most embarrassing thing ever
  • Take a total of three photographs

I once said that I far prefer to travel to people rather than to places, meaning that I'd always rather expend my travel energy by focus on spending time with friends. Though there's plenty to see in Chicago, I think I held true to that preference during this visit, as evidenced by the fact that I saw at least a dozen people I adore (a few pictured below) & precisely zero monuments, museums, or famous stuff. I also had a lot of alone time. And you know what? It was kind of perfect. Keep yer Duck Tours & marathon shopping sprees. I'll be napping in my hotel bed & reading a book in the park.

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