• A Dilemma of the Moral Kind

    Last Sunday, I was faced with a moral dilemma. It’s interesting, in life, when you have something thrown at you that you don’t know how to deal with. I’m not very old, but after 28 years, I pretty much know how I’ll react to life’s pressing issues. Not so, last Sunday.

    It was a miserably windy day, but I was on a mission to accomplish a series of errands, and the last one on my list was the grocery store. I pulled into the parking lot and, hot damn, drove straight into a really great spot. (I’m not lazy. It was cold and windy. Give me a break.) I grabbed my purse and had one foot on the pavement when my door was ripped from my hand by a gust of wind, sending it smashing into the huge black truck parked next to me, leaving a fairly large dent right in the middle of the bed. My first reaction was to assess the damage, followed quickly by the instinct to hide in shame. I got back into my car, shut the door, and let my mind race.

    This wouldn’t have been much of an issue had I not just been in a self-inflicted accident (that wall came out of NOWHERE, I swear) the previous month. Worries about insurance, more deductibles, and time-eating hassle took over. In the, perhaps, 3 minutes that passed, no one came back to the truck. I started examining it. “You know, if you scraped the white paint off, I bet that’s hardly a dent at all.” “He already has rust stains on the side of his truck—and look at the scratches back there. He probably wouldn’t notice or even care!” “People do stuff like this all the time. People do way worse stuff all the time." Convinced, I started my car and pulled away. I decided to flee the scene.

    But then I couldn’t. I wasn’t sure enough. So I pulled into a spot on the other side of the lot and went through the weighing of options again. As I sat there, I watched as, not one, but two different white cars pulled into the spot next to the truck. What if the driver saw those cars and thought it was them? What if there was a fight? What if someone else had to take my blame?

    Then I thought about what other people would do in my position. I could think of friends who would, without hesitation, find the driver and admit their fault. I have other friends who I know would leave and never think of it again. But it really didn’t matter what they’d all do, in the end. This was my predicament, shaped by factors like a streak of bad luck (an unexpected medical bill, a car accident, my dog ripping up the floor in my apartment, a hole in my favorite shirt…), my lack of a belief in moral forces (religion, karma, etc.), and the fact that it felt so unfair. “It’s Mother Nature who should pay for this one!”

    A solid ten minutes passed, and I had a full-on stress headache, by the time the driver finally emerged from the grocery store. It was a young guy with dark hair. He looked tough, maybe mean. Watching him pull out his keys, I still didn’t know what I should do. “He’s already on the driver side. He didn’t even notice.” The moment of truth stretched on.

    But then something forced my reluctant hand to open the door, forced me to run at this poor man and assault him with awkward apologies. “Oh!” he said, “That’s really sweet of you. Most people would just drive away.” And I’m thinking, “God, this guy is so nice. I hope he doesn’t wonder why my car isn’t next to his anymore. I hope he doesn’t realize I almost left.” I gave him my information, along with many more apologies, and let him get on his way with his pile of groceries. I never made it to the store. Instead, I cried in my car, overcome by the sheer stress and shame of it, and called my Dad. And then went to buy Advil and coconut water.

    Once I calmed down and managed my headache, I felt relief. Although I’d never believe in something like karma or a punishment in afterlife, if I’d left, I’d have been haunted by that truck forever. Or at least for, like, a solid month. Even if it does end up doubling my insurance payments, I’m glad it happened because I learned more about myself: that it feels pretty good to treat another how I’d like to be treated, that letting my emotions get out of hand is completely pointless, that I should hang on to my damn door more tightly. Most importantly, I learned that I can still really surprise myself.

    Did I learn that I should always do the “right thing”? Nah. Sometimes, I'm sure I'll take my chances. After all, you can never tell which way the wind will blow.

  • Humble

    Recently, I went back to the place I grew up. The last time I visited was just a month shy of nine full years ago, which both makes me feel old and a little guilty. I left Humble, Texas behind and never came to look back and see what it had done with itself. It’s not that I didn’t want to go back or that I was afraid to (okay, slightly afraid)—I just didn’t. But I think that all of us have an instinctual draw to go back and see the place where we grew up. Maybe we just have to make sure it was all real.

    As we drove into town, I didn't look at a map, sure I’d recognize everything and remember each turn. Nope. Drove right past the entrance to the neighborhood I lived in for 12 years. Once I got into the neighborhood, though, it hadn’t changed. The trees were bigger, the houses older, but everything else—the sign at my old elementary school, the playground structure at the community pool, and, best of all, the cement block supporting the basketball pole where my sister and I placed our little hands so many years ago in my home’s front yard—were all just the same. I liked that it was the same because I like to imagine little girls growing up with the same happy memories I had, although, of course they won’t because the world has changed around that neighborhood.

    When I went back, I thought that I might feel like a former version of myself, the way you feel when you hear a really poignant song from your past or smell that distinctive smell of your Kindergarten classroom (crayons, Elmer's glue, disinfectant?). I didn’t feel that way at all though. I just felt like I was staring at an old photograph, that it was a memory to admire but not to experience.

    The really strange fact about my visit is that I went to see my old hometown with someone who hardly knows my present, much less my past. I think he was bored, which made me feel a little dispirited, but it also made me think about how special “home” is again. What that house means to me and my family can’t be shared, no matter how many stories we tell about it. And there’s something wonderful in that.

    I wonder if, nine years from now, I’ll drive past this apartment I’m in now and say, “Yeah... I think it was building 16, but I really don’t remember. But I had some great memories there.”

  • How to Work from Home and Not Go Nuts

    I’ve worked from home for over a year now, and it took just about that long for it to feel normal. Whenever I tell someone that I work from home, the response is always one of the two: “Wow, you’re so lucky!” or “Wow, I don’t know how you do that.” Working from home seems to be a love or a hate issue—no in betweens. I go back and forth, just like I would now if I were in a “normal” office. Some days, I do feel so lucky, but other days, I don’t know how I do it either. Here’s what I’ve learned through my experience.

    1. Start Your Day

    The best tip I ever got before venturing into this new career lifestyle was from someone I hardly knew, but it’s served me well. He told me, “Get ready for the day as if you were going to an office.” Proper attire aside, I do this every day. I wake up, walk my dog, make coffee, shower, and at least put on some mascara before opening my laptop. 

    Keeping these normal morning routines not only gives me a sense of normalcy and makes me feel more refreshed, but it also opens my day up for anything. Friend wants to run to lunch? All I have to do is replace my leggings with jeans, and I can be there. The picture that most people have in their heads of remote workers waking up, pulling their laptops into bed, and starting work before even brushing their teeth is simply not sustainable. You might do that if you only work from home once every couple months because you have a cold, but that’s the only time it’s okay.

    2. Separate Work and Home

    Focus requires effort in a normal office, but at home, it requires a full-blown strategy. At home, it’s far too easy to be in the middle of a slow project and think, “Did I put those towels in the dryer?” The key is separation, and I don’t even mean physically. I live in a one-bedroom apartment so I work in the same room that I sleep in. The key is a mental separation. I now only start my work day when I’m really ready: coffee made, breakfast eaten, dog fed, bed made (most of the time). And I always start the day at my desk even if I end up on the patio or at the dining table. 

    As soon as I sit down, it’s work time. I don’t let myself think about the laundry or that letter I need to send or the dust on the bookshelf (although I’ve totally done dishes during lunch). I’ve “left home,” and all home matters have to wait. It benefits both my work and my non-work life to operate this way.

    3. Don’t Break Rules... Too Much

    When you’re at home, don’t do anything you wouldn’t do in front of your coworkers. Just because you could catch up on Mad Men while checking email doesn’t mean you should. At my last office, my coworker liked to annoyingly look over my shoulder and comment on anything on my screen, which actually helped my focus more than it hurt. So I just pretend he’s there and keep the YouTubing to a minimum.

    I should note here that I’ve read a couple studies showing that limiting employee’s internet surfing freedom or using monitoring systems actually inhibits productivity and leads to a huge increase in stress levels. I’m definitely not saying that I support strict and mandated workplace rules.

    4. Leave Home

    Humans are social creatures so we need to be socially engaged. Now, I’m as much of a homebody as the next semi-introverted single girl who lives alone, but it’s definitely wise to leave “the office” sometimes. I joined a coworking space that’s been incredible. Whenever my desk at home feels stale or I can’t seem to focus, moving to a space filled with other people working is enormously helpful. 

    If you can’t take the distraction of a buzzing coworking space, find a favorite quiet coffee shop. I have a few that I visit, and it’s always refreshing (until that weird moment when you have to pee and need to decide whether you should ask the guy next to you to watch your computer—ugh).

    5. End Your Day

    Since I work with a company and not as a freelancer, I stick to fairly normal business hours. I’d do the same if I was a freelance worker, but I also am a person who likes routine. My dog knows exactly when my day ends. Around 6pm, he sits around watching me, head perking up when I shift in my chair. His enthusiasm of the moment I finally stand up and close my laptop makes ending my day so satisfying. 

    I suggest that you find a way to end your day, whether it’s just closing your laptop, going for a walk, or heck, pouring yourself a glass of wine. In any job situation, I think it’s important to be able to call the day done and to disconnect and enjoy the other parts of your life.

    Those are the key tips I can offer for working from home. If you work with a team like me, it’s also so important to remember to communicate with them often through Skype or AIM or, my office’s favorite, Campfire, so you can stay connected to the company and still gain all the benefits of teamwork and camaraderie. I also would recommend getting a dog because they’re a great work companion—even though they really don’t pull their weight around the office.

  • Saving Time

    I had a friend once who used plastic solo cups and paper plates instead of real dinnerware in his home because he couldn’t stand the thought of doing the same thing over and over again—washing a dirty plate just to use it in an hour. (If you were curious, yes, this friend was young, male, and single.) I was appalled and reacted with disgust and arguments for the environment at the time, but I have to admit that his words have haunted me ever since. He kind of had a point.

    I also remember a friend I had who worked in the lingerie section of a department store. She had a customer once who wouldn’t buy anything that wasn’t machine washable (note to men: this is hard to find when it comes to bras and the like). She wouldn’t buy anything else because she and her husband were eliminating as much hassle from their lives as possible. This meant that everything they wore needed to be able to be washed and dried in a machine, for starters. I’m not sure what else they cut down on, but it’s also something that I’ve never been able to forget.

    Lately, I’ve felt like the hours of the day pass me by without my notice. I can attribute a lot of that to having a puppy (how do you parents of actual needy humans DO it?), but I’ve felt lately that I just don’t have time to do the things I used to, much less the new things I want to do (like, er, writing in a blog, for example). I do generally make time for friends because that’s important to me right now, but it’s that time in between that I feel is lost. I’ve tried to think lately on where I can cut back or what I can do smarter.

    I struggle with this because, on the one hand, I’m a materialist clean freak who loves fancy glassware, clothes that require ironing, and having freshly washed linens. On the other hand, I’m highly impatient and have actually thrown away necklaces with tangled chains (if Hell is real, my eternity is full of tangled chains) and refuse to buy clothes that require dry cleaning.

    I think the secrets here are to have the right tools, to multitask whenever you can, and to consciously prioritize. I mean, hey, with the right scrubbing sponge, cleaning the same stupid saucepan over and over again won’t make your life feel worthless. And if you catch up on the latest episode of Parks and Rec while doing said dishes, even better. And if you manage to get through your inbox before doing either of those things, now you’re on the right track. I think I need to refocus on all three principles so I can feel like my life is in order again and that I’m doing all the things I want with my days. And I think these three things definitely apply to the workday too, with tools being time-saving software like 1Password, Teux Deux, and Fantastical, always multitasking where you can (imagine what you could do with all that time it takes for your script to run), and prioritizing tasks by their time, effort, and importance.

    If refocusing doesn’t help, you can prepare to come join me for some microwave meals in my efficiency apartment, where I roam around make-up free in clothing made from natural fibers and where my dog is free to chew on whatever he likes. But at least I'll have time to paint my fingernails.

  • Saturdays at Home

    I took two naps yesterday. Two. And I re-watched the entire third season of Arrested Development. And I never made it to the grocery store. And I ended up reading in bed at midnight instead of going out on the town (which means, no, I didn’t make it till 2 a.m. to catch the release of Arrested Development season 4). Yesterday was an unexpected “me” day. I don’t really like it, but I guess I just need them sometimes: Days where I don’t answer to anyone, including the voice in my head telling me to do something productive.

    I like to think these days are like sleeping, but the recovery and healing and sorting of your brain is done consciously instead of unconsciously. Zombie-eyed TV-watching time aside, I like to tell myself that the rest of my day was spent processing the thoughts that hadn’t had time to surface during my busy last week.

    Although I do feel refreshed today, I still feel guilty for having spent the entire day in solitude, doing almost nothing of consequence. I did make it to the gym (for 30 whole minutes) and also fit in a bit of work-time (while Arrested Development was playing), but otherwise, I didn’t make time for anyone except myself (and Percy).

    I made a lot of great excuses: It’s raining outside. I had a busy week. Most everyone I know is out of town for the holiday. It’s a holiday weekend. I have sleep apnea. Next week is going to be busy. Maybe there’s a Carbon Monoxide leak.

    But the truth is this: I was lazy—and anti-social. And I should have pulled myself up from my metaphorical bootstraps and made an effort to do something worth remembering. When I’m old, I won’t look back fondly on the day I spent on the sofa, eating a microwave burrito. So here’s an apology to my future self and a promise to not let this happen for, like, at least another two months.

    Also, ironically, my pennant from the Stay Home Club came in the mail yesterday. Guess I earned my membership.