Hiatus is a Good Word

I’ve thought about this little blog a lot lately. When I started writing here I needed an outlet for creativity and emotional venting. Also for pondering aloud. 

So much has happened to me since the summer. I said goodbye to daycare due to my kids outgrowing it. I got laid off of my 10-year cube job that I both hated and needed. I decided to sell off our rental house and therefore had to evict my friends who lived there. Then I broke my wrist in early October and am still in a cast. It’s a pretty purple colour but it prevents me from using my left arm very much and I happen to be left handed. 

Much soul searching ensued but not as much as when I was still a full time employee. I was neither sad nor happy about my sudden freedom. Mostly I wondered how I should feel, same as I have after many life events. Divorce springs to mind as one of the more discombobulating experiences that had a similar affect on my daily life. 

Luckily I hired a good lawyer and received a generous severance. Luckily I make money through our basement rental and luckily Husband’s biz is going like gangbusters. 

Yes I need to find a new vocation/focus/activity to keep me productive but until this arm cast comes off and the rental house is finally ready for sale I’m just helping Husband with his work, keeping the house functioning, and enjoying the lack of career expectations. I might work in a cube again if I have to, but only on a contract basis. It’s nice to have that as a fall back plan but I hope I never have to use it.

Meanwhile my midgets get older and I continue to encourage their independence. Boy is a moody 14 and is currently enduring ninth grade. Girl is a young lady, very social and industrious. We 3 are all still very close and I’m doing my level best to stay that way. 

Linked In immediately became irrelevant to my life. So did travel, to some extent. I no longer have a life I need to escape, and so my travel itch has diminished considerably. I’m fucking content, and that surprises me most of all. 

  

Travelling Changes your Personal Aesthetic

Courtesy of Jezebel:

backpacker

When I quit my job in New York to go backpacking in South America, I agonized over what to pack. I couldn’t, for instance, not bring my Ferragamo flats, even if it meant ruining their soles on dirt paths and crumbling cobblestones. I certainly couldn’t leave behind my beloved red lipstick—I wanted it for nights out salsa dancing, or when I needed to feel myself. It was a reliable pick-me-up, an armor against insecurity. But I left behind everything else: my makeup bag full of OPI and Essie nail polishes in shades of red and gray and green, expensive top-coats with specks of gold glitter, black eyeliner and mascara and dozens of tubes of lipstick—neutral to crimson to pretty in pink. I’d left my satin gloves and pearl necklaces and flapper dresses.

Consciously, I’d decided to leave behind the New York fantasy I had built for myself, a fantasy built in no small part on clothes. Still, I refused to buy a pair of hiking shoes. I couldn’t stand the way they looked: clumsy, heavy, ugly mud brown.

I wore a v-neck t-shirt, jeans, and an old cardigan at the airport. I did not feel myself. I sat across a perfectly coiffed Colombian woman with a Hermès Birkin in her lap. I frantically texted my friend: I feel so underdressed. My hiking backpack, with its countless, messy straps, didn’t lend me an air of sophistication.

I love clothes. I always have. In the earliest days when fashion blogs were just beginning to sprout, I posted daily outfits to a Flickr group. Fashion was novel and exciting, and it was a way to distinguish myself. I loved losing myself in editorials, in beauty and glamour. I loved the transformative power of clothes, how changing your outfit meant changing your persona.

On the road, my aesthetic changed. It was a slow, subtle process. It became looser and easier the longer I was away. In New York I loved silk shirts and tailored blazers and pencil skirts. In South America, I bought feather earrings and macramé necklaces made from natural stones. My single pair of jeans became worn out with holes. I never put on my red lipstick. And I learned the depth of my mistake about the hiking shoes: I went hiking for the first time in the rocky, jagged mountains of Colombia wearing gym shoes that had tractionless white soles. It was completely miserable.

So I stopped worrying about it, and I got hiking shoes. There was so much more to do. There were hikes to go on and waterfalls to swim in and cities to explore. If anything, I wanted to play down my Western clothes. It was easier to explore Latin America as a young woman alone if I was less conspicuous, and so it was jeans and t-shirts and a local bag. On the nights I did go out with fellow travelers, everyone else was rumpled too. At least I had my Ferragamos. That was the only thing that tied me to the past, my fancy New York persona. Once, someone recognized the brand and laughed. They became worn down, too, holes on the toes, the heels. I took them to a cobbler in a small Peruvian city, and afterwards, the shoes looked industrial. I could have cried. I desperately missed my favorite cobbler in Williamsburg, who worked miracles restoring the shoes once every couple of months.

Still, there was a certain joy in abandoning myself to the world around me, which meant becoming a hippie. The travelers who dressed very well—the girls with heels in their backpack—were a different kind of traveler: prone to dancing and drinking in hostels full of Westerners, and not so much exploring dusty, neglected towns and mountains with unmarked trails alone.

After seven months of backpacking in South America, I came back to New York for a visit.

I felt shocked by the style all around me. I kept staring at clothes of strangers. I admired the gold buckles of boots and the sharp silhouettes of coats. I looked at stylish haircuts and dangling earrings. I’d been lost for so long in a world of Keen sandals and alpaca sweaters.

“You look exhausted,” a friend told me at dinner. We were at a West Village restaurant that served complicated classics: tiny corn dog appetizers paired with curated sauces. I felt the sting even as I smiled and said, oh, I’m not.

I was happy, actually, overwhelmed by the sudden return to the city, the Western world, but blissed-out from my travels. But then again: I wasn’t wearing makeup. My t-shirt had holes in the neckline. My woven bag from Colombia was tattered and pilled.

It shouldn’t have mattered. But so much of my identity as a New Yorker had been built around a certain attitude, a certain look. It alarmed me that, so quickly, I’d become a stranger.

So I left again. Traveling in Asia, I became fully unrecognizable in comparison to old selfies: me with lush bangs, cat eyeliner. On the road, sometimes I’d dig up the photos and show them to the people I met. What happened, a man in China exclaimed. He was not enthusiastic about my short hair, my makeup-free face. In big cities in China, it set me apart as an outsider, where most young women looked like dolls in pastel-hued dresses. Sometimes, I got the hippie approval. A rock climber in Yangshuo told me it suited me better. Mostly, I agreed.

Nearly two years after I first left, I moved back to New York. I didn’t think I’d stay—I only intended to visit before heading off on another trip. But then I fell back in love with the city, and I couldn’t go.

This time, I had only my backpacking clothes (all of it fit inside one tote bag). For the winter, I bought just one new thing: a black wool coat that I wore every day. Remarkably, my backpacker clothes served just as well in NYC.

This time, I found the balance between two worlds that once felt contradictory. Now, I wear clothes until they are absolutely undone. Half of my wardrobe comes from my travels: oversized cotton shirts and long linen skirts, pashmina scarves and wool shawls from China, Peru, Nepal. I’m still fond of clothes that let you walk long hours and sleep on couches, clothes for grass and sand and mountains, clothes that are quickly washable and not so delicate. And I’ve also grown fond, again, of my city shoes and fancy jewelry: leather oxfords and loafers with intricate beading, a ring of diamonds and rose gold.

The only thing I’ve left behind for good is the performance of beauty. When my friends tell me about new hair treatments or shopping trips to Sephora, I listen blankly. But then, still, some days, I curl my lashes, sweep on blush, and put on tinted lip balm. But I don’t spend too much time before the mirror. Instead, I go for long walks in neighborhoods I don’t know, and turn my face up to the sun.

Laura Yan is a writer, wanderer, and sketcher of strangers. She does not know where she is going next. She tweets @noirony.

Photos via Laura Yan.

Do you know who you are?

In the past year or so, I have been gradually gaining more and more free time. I don’t know what to do with myself because this amount of free time might be temporary.

My youngest turns 12 this weekend, and my other child is 14. We are entering the parental home stretch, and aside from helping with school projects, making food, and driving them places, they don’t need me very much (not physically, anyway). I strive to cultivate our common interests, just to keep a connection with them. But even these activities don’t take much work, especially when compared to 3 years ago.

I’m not the same person I used to be. Most of my free time was gobbled up with mundane tasks and I got used to that. As a result, my personal interests withered quite a bit or were modified to keep me at home minding children outside of school hours. I hardly ever leave the house anymore, except to walk the dogs, go to work, run a few errands, or have a meal in a restaurant. Very rarely do I head out just for the heck of it. I’m simply unused to having that option and I’ve been domesticated. I am also aging, and therefore have a lot less energy than I used to. (For example, I am hiring a gardener to dig up our tiny front lawn and replacing it with gravel.)

Some weekends whiz by with very little interaction with our offspring. Girl midget cleans her room, collects her allowance, and vanishes. Boy midget often has a group project to work on, or he is off playing games at friends’ houses. I spend a significant amount of time cleaning the inside and outside of our house, but its appearance doesn’t reflect that. One can rearrange only so much furniture and purge only so many belongings; I feel like I need most of the items that now reside in my home. But maybe I could do more, right after I have a glass of wine.

Maybe I need another project? I’m working on finding us a good house swap for Hanukkah this year. Nearly anywhere in Europe is cool with us, basically. We are looking for a cultural getaway, somewhere there are museums or sites to see and we don’t need to depend on a car. I also have to work on organizing our house because we have renters coming in August. That one’s boring, but very necessary.

Maybe this abundance of free time isn’t temporary? Dare I hope? Can I get back to being ‘myself’? Someone with varied interests and a busy calendar of activities for myself? Can I take on a big project without needing buy-in from the other people who live in my house?

A weekend of very little talking: A love story 

This weekend, husband is off on a short trip to visit far-away family. The midgets are with their dad. I have a few days on my own, and I’m looking forward to it. I will have no responsibilities, no obligations, and no noise except that which I create myself or is created by the dogs. 

I feel about these upcoming days the same as a hungry person sitting down to a plate of good food. I will savour every moment! 

On Monday the cacophony resumes.

As an aside, I don’t want to try any more recipe iPhone apps. Unless that code will shop, prepare, and clean up after a meal, there’s nothing new in it for me to discover. Nothing. 

How I Embraced the Cubicle and…who’s kidding who? I hate this shit.

Lately I’ve been called upon to be a personal cheerleader for a co-worker/friend. Usually it’s me who hates being here, marking time and providing necessities of life to my family unit. Last week and the week before that I was home a lot with sick children, and I determined I don’t want to be a stay at home mom (sahm) even if it’s an option, which for me it is not. I don’t know if sahm dissatisfaction is linked to my fear of being ‘unproductive’ or becoming a 1-dimensional drain on our family’s resources, but I definitely felt bored by the end of that period. I don’t even want to use word unhappy to describe myself. That word feels too strong for my malaise and too weak for the stirring I feel inside me that wants to burst out of my chest.

Last week and this week, my friend Anne is going through a phase where she feels unrewarded at work, meaning she feels her work doesn’t make a difference in the world. Normally she feels satisfied by her projects and is content to bang out documents as required. I reject the idea that if she was better paid she would be happier. Same for the notion that her working for a different company in a different cube would provide her with a solution.

This week on the Bill Burr Monday Morning Podcast, Bill puts cube workers on blast and asks rhetorically if anyone hoped as a kid that one day they would be dealing with spreadsheets and other paperwork in an office setting. My answer to that is Yes, I did. The idea of having inside work that is clean and uses my brain was very appealing to this farmer’s daughter. No longer would the weather determine my productivity that day, and I predicted I would receive regular praise for my brilliant ideas and Protestant work ethic. Sure, I’ve experienced this, but now my dreams have changed. Now I want some freedom to explore my new interests and make money while producing meaningful services or products to the public at large. I’ve never wanted to be famous or outrageously rich, so my humble goal should be simple enough to achieve.

My hypothesis for Anne is that, no matter what office she works in, she will ultimately be unsatisfied because she will not be doing work she really wants to do. What does she want to do? She doesn’t know yet and that’s causing her mental discomfort. I was at that point last year, and by now I’ve come to the realization that my discomfort is ok and doesn’t need to be resolved at the moment. I don’t know what I want to do next, and that’s ok. This is the idea I’m trying to convey to my good friend; it’s ok if we don’t know what to do yet because someday we will.

I’ve been listening to many podcasts lately and some of them pertain to entrepreneurs. Sometimes I’ll hear a good sound bite and I try to remember it. Keep in mind I’m always riding my bike while listening to these, so I haven’t a pen and paper nearby to jot down these ideas.

“People put more value on entrepreneurs than they do 9-5ers”

It’s true generally the entrepreneur is glamorized, while the ‘wage slave’ is not.

“We eat at TGIFridays, not TGIMondays.”

Weekends are what we live for, supposedly. But no one’s tweeting about the crappy parts of making a living as a guest speaker or consultant. Mostly all we see are photos of beaches or mountains with the caption, “This is my office today.” What about a photo of a bland hotel room and a picture of a squished cereal bar that will serve as dinner that night? Not so glamorous but much more relatable. That tidbit was provided by Kevin Kostella, who creates The Freedom Lovin Podcast.

I’d like to think I’ve got my eyes wide open about the prospect of being a business owner, not that I have a business in mind yet. One inspiring site is My Wife Quit Her Job. This man blogs about his family’s transition from a typical dual income household of working for other people, to running an incredibly successful online store. His wife was working at a 6-figure job and hated it. She hated it so much that her sadness and anger filtered up to her family life, making Sunday evenings just awful. A solution had to be reached, and so together they found one.

Husband and I periodically but regularly discuss what else I could be doing to earn income for our family besides working in a cube in an office building. We have some ideas but nothing is without risk and all of the ideas take time and effort. I’m willing to devote time and effort in this case but not as much if I am not guaranteed success. Or practically guaranteed. I suppose that’s what holding me back.

 

You Know You’re White…Right?

This is the comment I hear very often, because I sometimes use the following phrases:

  • Dolla Dolla Bill, y’all
  • Takin’ Care ‘a Bidness
  • Ah-ight
  • Mashallah
  • Zei Gezunt
  • Menches Kint

No, these are not the most professional words to use, but that’s why I’m not in management. I have a lot of freedoms not afforded to people who have an image to uphold. I’m not naive enough to think my off-kilter sense of humour doesn’t affect others’ perception of me, but then again, even if I was a ‘proper’ serious person, I sincerely believe I would be in the same professional position as I am now. My skill set is mostly measured upon the words I smith and deadlines I meet.

I’m a white Christian who married a Jew, who lives in a multi-cultural city and works in an office with many different ethnicities. My weekday lunch time foods are atypical compared to what I grew up eating. It makes sense for me to have varied phrases in my vocabulary, but even I laugh at myself when I say to my very Jewish brother-in-law on a Friday afternoon: Good Shabbas.

Girls

HFS I love that HBO show, Girls. This week’s episode featured the aftermath of Hannah, the main character (played by Lena Dunham who also writes and directs the show) talking to her recently self-proclaimed gay father for brunch. Her father and mother have been married for about 30 years and for the moment are staying together while they figure out this new situation.

During the brunch, her father sympathizes with Hannah, telling her he knows this information must be difficult for a child to hear about a parent. Hannah replies indignantly that she isn’t a child. This conversation goes on for a few lines, and then Dad pulls out the trump card that will show Hannah how much of a child she still is: He asks her if she brought her wallet. When she says Yes, he asks to see it. She demurs, saying she doesn’t need to show it to him.

Eventually, she says just came from the gym (didn’t bring wallet).

Short and Sweet-ish.

Sometimes when I click on a link or menu item that I’ve clicked on 100s of times before, I will position my mouse to anticipate where the next link or button will appear. That’s just a little game I play to keep myself amused.

What would happen if I decided I wanted a lower paying physical job instead of the beige one I have now? I call my current job beige because the walls, carpeting, and people are beige. I’m not referring ethnicity; rather to attitudes/acceptance/facial expressions of coworkers.

I’m not a spring chicken (and thank goodness, because I don’t want to get eaten this summer). Physical jobs are for the young or people who haven’t any other options. Of course I’ve seen the toll a physical job takes on a person no matter their age. The young (under 30) generally thrive. They show off their amazingly tight abs, arm muscles, and suntan. Anyone over 40 though, who is doing a physically active job, starts to develop bodily ailments because they are literally wearing out their joints, bones, ligaments, and muscles.

Generally I like trading my brain capacity for money. I wish that capacity was worth more money and required less time, but overall I feel like this is the best I can do. Is that…sad? I don’t think so? I don’t know.

This year will be busy because there are lots of changes coming about.

You’ve Got No Common Sense!

Ok, full disclaimer: I read ambiguity into sentences where most people wouldn’t. Part of the reason I am a good technical writer is that I appreciate and use clear language to describe concepts and list instructions.

In my non-work life, when I’m helping move a heavy object or do other physical task with a partner, I follow instructions exactly. If you tell me to move right, I will move to MY right. If you tell me to Lift up the object, I will ask how high or I will ask why, because otherwise I don’t know. A better instruction for me would be to Lift it up a few inches, or Lift it up to get it past the newel post, or Lift it up so we can make our way up these stairs. When I lift and move forward (or backward), I put my back into the task, full steam ahead, so you’d best be prepared or else tell me beforehand that I should move slowly.

(Oh! Another great development at our house is that boy midget is now old enough and strong enough to help move furniture and other heavy stuff. Awesome.)

When I was hoeing weeds in my childhood, or picking up large rocks in the field in preparation for planting, I kept focussed on the task in front of me. I didn’t scan the ground at the sides of me, just in front, unless I was told to do otherwise. Because of this focus, in which I would let me mind wander so as to keep myself from dying of boredom, I would not see weeds or rocks that were outside of my chosen path. And for that I was told I had no common sense, because if I had, I would know enough to look around.

I don’t respond well to YELLING. I don’t like those boot camp workouts where the instructors are from the armed forces and tell you you’re a quitter who won’t be able to finish the set. I’m in fact working out for fun, not to be insulted. Otherwise what’s the point? Why would anyone sign up, take their precious time and money and give it to someone who is mean? It doesn’t make sense. And to talk to a kid like that, well, that won’t work out very well for the instructor and kid’s future self either.

We are constantly being told that to love someone else we need to love ourselves first. Does any of that self-flagellation make sense in the context of self-love? No. And that’s why I think fat-shaming and dieting doesn’t work, like, ever. If you love yourself you will treat your body well. Maybe sometimes I treat my brain well by eating some ‘junk.’ But still. I love myself. I don’t yell at myself.

I still have goals and I challenge myself physically at times. I’m not a gym person but I get outside and I love doing yoga. Doing yoga at home hasn’t been that successful, partly because my novice form needs an instructor present and also because my dogs simply will not leave me alone when I’m doing a downward dog. Yes it’s true, they think I’m playing and get right under my face. Then the barking starts. Then a midget needs something from me. So effing peaceful and zen, right? Augh. It’s easier to say Bye guys, see you in an hour or so after yoga!

Boy midget belongs to Scouts and has done for about 5 years now. Scouts teaches common sense, there’s no doubt about it, but it teaches through calm instruction, teamwork, and positive outcomes. Before I get too preachy here, I have to say I sometimes lose my patience. I yell. And then I apologize and we all move forward.

I would love if my kids would see me struggling with bags and get up and help without me having to tell them. This might be a woman passive-aggressive thing. To me, this is a big part of common sense. I teach my midgets to be more responsive and we all benefit.

On Wednesday evening when Husband arrived home with a carload, I helped unload it even though we were all sick at our house. The next day boy midget mentioned that he felt bad about not being able to help with that. Success! That’s what I want; not the guilt but the common sense.

I leave you with this.

Do I Even Know What I’m Talking About?

It’s important to know your audience when you speak.

I take inspiration from other bloggers who figuratively let it all hang out, consequences be damned.

I am fairly naive when it comes to raising my children. I assume that if I raise them with love and respect, they will be loving and respectful toward me and others. But I’m not supposed to be their friend, right? I’m supposed to maintain an air of authority so that occasionally I can redirect them when they need it. Then again, I’ve met lots of kids who have varying degrees of discipline and guidance imposed upon them by their parents, and their level of involvement seems to make little to no difference in how they turn out. At all.

When I try to predict how I will act in future situations regarding the maturation of my kids into adults, I feel as silly as I know I sounded before I had any kids:

  • My kids will eat what I prepare for meals because I won’t give them any other choice, and their palates will be used to the tastes of foods I like because I will not alter my cooking to suit my kids.
  • I won’t watch kid movies and neither will my kids.
  • The father of my kids will be just as good at caring for them as infants as I will be.

Some things I planned and have been right about:

  • I don’t speak in ‘baby talk’ to my kids no matter how young they are.
  • I pick my battles and don’t make a big deal out of small issues.
  • I don’t hold back on words and actions that express my absolute adoration for my kids. In fact, I tell them how great they are, how cool they are, how amazing they are, all the time. I don’t believe a kid can be spoiled with words of praise.
  • I teach my kids that I’m a real person with feelings, likes and dislikes. As a result, my kids listen to me when I’m upset, happy, and everything in between.
  • My kids can talk to me about anything.

For future though? I’d like it if these things I am right about:

  • My kids are a good judge of character.
  • My kids are going to attend some sort of post-secondary education so that more doors are open to them.
  • My son respects women and chooses a smart, self-assured partner.
  • My daughter doesn’t feel the need to change herself to convince a boy to like her.

Note: Both of my kids have expressed that they are hetero, without any prompting from me. So I feel safe in predicting they will look for partners of the opposite sex.

  • My kids, when they are adults, will keep in touch with me because they want to, not because I’m forcing them. (But I will if I have to!)
  • I’m able to let my adult children live their lives and make their own mistakes. Little by little, I can let go of them and trust them to make good decisions (big decisions and the million little decisions we make every day).

I don’t doubt my kids can make decisions, but I’m worried about me being able to let them go. As it is now, I tend to swoop in and rescue them for the smallest of difficulties they experience in their very limited lives. When is the right time to really let go? What constitutes letting go in the first place?

For all of my know-it-all attitude about how parents of adult children should conduct themselves? Geez I hope I live up to my own standards.