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.

 
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