Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Imaginary Catastrophe

Frequently throughout the day, usually when doing something idle when I am given ample opportunity for thought -- in the shower, waiting at a stop light, while doing chores -- I find myself imagining hypothetical scenarios and/or conversations that could possible happen based on the outcome of one small thing. 

I've asked others before and know I am not alone in sitting at the front of a traffic light and imagining what would happen if I just accelerated into cross-traffic.  Or what would happen if I didn't react quickly enough when someone cuts me off.

I tell the boyfriend all the time that I'm pseudo-psychic, one manifestation being that I get feelings about other cars, like, "that guy is totally going to change lanes right into me any second now" with no obvious evidence, and so I am on my guard for it to happen and then it does and I react!  Whether that reaction involves scoping out my "outs" to other lanes/shoulder, or breaking hard enough quickly enough, all with a nice loud blare on my horn.

But that's the off case where these imaginings actually happen.  I also imagine how I'd react in a real car crash -- cover my face/head? Swerve the right way to avoid hitting more stuff/falling off a cliff? Sometimes I even grab my phone and sit on it so it can't go flying in a crash and I can call for help if I need to. Yeah, I'm a little paranoid, but at least I'm prepared.

Ever imagine what you'd do in a crazy emergency, like the building is suddenly engulfed in flames? Or war suddenly finds your peaceful city and you are caught in a bombing? More than once it's involved carrying a stranded child, or wondering if I could actually carry my significant other any great distance in an emergency with the help of adrenaline. I've even struggled with the fact that I have no idea what I'd do with my cats! In a crisis, cats do not sit and wait for help -- they freak the fuck out and get the fuck out of there, using your face as a launchpad if necessary.

Once a few years ago, the fire alarm in my apartment building went off while I was napping (possibly dreaming some kind of "escape from the bad guys!" scenario), and so the shock of the alarm mixed with partial dream-state meant I jumped out of bed, threw on clothes, gathered my necessities (purse with keys and phone and wallet, backpack with computer), and then snatched up my two kittens into their carriers prepared to shove them into the car and flee for safety. Man did I look like an idiot when I rushed out into the courtyard (my roommate was at class or work or something, or maybe she slept through the alarm in her own room) with backpack, purse, and two cat carriers in tow, and was not immediately met by other fleeing residents, nor facing a life-threatening inferno.  I stood there, trying to let my brain readjust from panic mode to "you're awake and life is not that exciting, dumbass" mode. The alarm was still blaring, and one guy came out into the courtyard, probably to see why the alarm was still on (college immunizes you to fire alarms after just so many nights of pranks in the freshman dorms), and I think I asked him what was going on. He shrugged and went back into his apartment. I face-palmed, let my cats back out, and regretted getting so worked up because I'd never get back to sleep.

Maybe I just have an overactive imagination. I did spend most of my childhood playing pretend all by myself.  Frequently toys were involved, but when it was nice enough to go outside, climbable trees would become fortresses, the shadowy deep end of the pool would become a mermaid cave, and ordinary objects would become extraordinary.

Or perhaps I just need more human interaction in my day.

Or perhaps I just worry far too much about things I really don't need to.

When I say "perhaps," I mean definitely. I know that ever since I moved here, away from college to my adult job, I am incredibly lonely and aching for more social interaction, and people tell me all the time that I worry far too much.

I think I just prefer to be prepared for the worst.  I mean, do you have a plan for the zombie apocalypse or otherwise end of the civilized world??

That goes for awkward situations, too.  I always practice potential conversations in my head.  Lots of people do that, right?  Like how to ask out that cute girl or cool guy, or a good come back. I just guess the probably don't continue these theorized conversations as far as I do.

I am a very non-confrontational person.  I avoid conflict.  I like to pacify arguments.  I really don't like to sweat the small stuff when it requires an awkward conversation with someone. But sometimes you need to deal with confrontation; sometimes you need to stand up for yourself.  So if you're like me, you imagine how the confrontation will go, and play out the conversation in your head -- what you'll say, what they'll say, your come back, etc., in such a way that you're bound to come out a winner and look good! That's reasonable, right?

Where it goes off in left field is that I always imagine the conversation going the worst possible way -- people get offended, or angry, or the truth they have to offer is terrible like they killed your pet or gave away your favorite bag or think you're ugly or don't actually love you -- and sometimes end up emotionally distraught over this conversation that never even happened!

Like have you ever had a dream where your significant other cheated on you? Or your best friend tried to kill you? Or you got in a giant fight with your roommate? And then you wake up and the dream impacted you emotionally deep enough that you carry it around with you all day, and you feel distant/angry/hurt towards that person even though they didn't really do those things? It's like that, only instead of a dream, it was a fictional conversation in my head that I had complete control over.

I must be a masochist.

Really, I just want to be emotionally prepared for the worst, which is a great idea in theory, except very rarely do conversations and situations actually turn out as bad as I scripted, so I went through that emotional distress for nothing.

I will probably gray at 25 and die of a heart attack at 40. Why do I do these things to myself?

This habit also takes the useful form of weaving complex, detailed, and legitimate excuses. Because I absolutely hate to lie, and feel really uncomfortable doing so even to mostly-strangers, I feel the need to develop excuses based at least partially on reality, and this makes them very strong and believable.  In fact, I get so stressed out over having to lie, I rehearse the conversation in my head -- complete with responses to their potential questions -- so much and with so many, "well that's practically true" self-reassurances that I almost convince myself I'm not really lying, and try not to feel as guilty. Frequently, however, I don't even get asked or need to give my neatly ironed-out excuses (apparently fewer people actually give a shit that I am missing their party or calling in sick to work than my guilty conscience expects), and I end up disappointed that I never got to use them.  I feel like the understudy in a play who never got to perform.

practice and preparation (in moderation).

(Or you'll end up a crazy like me.)

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Caffeine: Alternative Fuel?

When I first started my job, I struggled so hard with the whole routine of going to bed before 2am and getting up when other productive members of society get up and working for 8-9 hours confined to my desk in a windowless room with an officemate who would rather die than be my friend.  This meant that staying awake at my desk was a real challenge.

For as much as I love sleep, I rarely seem to get enough of it. 

When I was in college, coffee was my savior. I was constantly staying up all night to get my work done, rushing from class to work to class to work to group project meeting to fast-food-dinner to home for more homework and studying. I'd make up for it by sleeping all weekend instead of being involved in clubs or doing something meaningful with my time like all those crazy student government overachiever types. I wouldn't have survived if I didn't have easy access to caffeine.

Starbucks was brewed all over campus to grab between classes along with some unhealthy snack or a meager meal. I was never a fan of the taste of energy drinks, but that changed Junior year when I was introduced to Rockstar Juiced to power me through long nights. A team member during the summer I took CS402: Operating Systems (aka summer of all-nighters) introduced me to McDonald's iced coffee one teasingly sunny summer afternoon when we had to meet to make a single-threaded OS into a multi-threaded OS instead of going to the beach or something equally fun. Finally, the last two years of college, I became dependent on the free gourmet coffee machines at my part-time job, which were available to me 24/7. 

The result? I came to my first day of my big girl job expecting Flavia and ended up breaking my "don't waste food" rule by pouring out the complimentary crappy coffee my work establishment offers in the ill-equipped break room. Coffee in bulk? Understandable. Generic office-brand powered creamer?? Gag me! Seriously, though, they sell bulk packages of individual creamers for pretty cheap at Smart & Final. They didn't even have real sugar, just the artificial stuff that just doesn't taste right (at least if you're not addicted to Diet Coke, I suppose). How would I survive?? I acquired the boyfriend's crumby coffee maker so I could be one of those people who jump-starts their day with a good ol' cup o' joe!

At first, it was great. The smell of the Kona brewing made me feel like a responsible adult as I got ready for work, the sunrise pouring in my east-facing bedroom window. This was back before I gradually arrived at work 10-15 later and later over time (I now arrive 1.5 hours later than I did on my first day of work...but my officemate still comes in 1 hour after I do!), and when the days were short in fall/winter so the sun wasn't waking me (and my attention-seeking cat, Toby) up at 5am. I was also still putting some effort into semi-professional dress because my officemate dressed like an Express mannequin every day. At that point, I was determined to embrace working adult life and try my hardest to like the job that wasn't living up to my expectations, one which I now despise so much that I have run out of sick days. Basically, this was before I realized I am not really cut out for society's ideal of productive and successful working adult. But coffee made mornings that much more bearable.

So why did I stop drinking coffee in the morning?

First of all, I have trouble sleeping. As someone who cherishes sleep, this is a problem for me. I didn't think one cup of coffee in the morning would really affect my sleep, but I read somewhere that it is possible.  The boyfriend also got me on a tea drinking craze.  So the crusty coffee maker got put away in favor of counter space in the tiny kitchen shared by four, I bought a pack of tea bags for the loose-leaf boyfriend got me, and I became a "tea drinker".

I think I also made a bigger effort to go to bed earlier (before midnight), so at first I think I believed tea was a valid replacement and that I didn't need coffee. I was still exhausted from lack of sleep, but I blamed this on my two roommate's opposite schedules -- one would shower at 1am, and the other would be up making breakfast at 8am -- and because I am the lightest sleeper ever, every noise interrupts my rest.  Bedroom doors opening and closing, kitchen cupboards slamming, pots and silverware clanking -- it all added up to Sara not getting enough sleep.

I even tried napping when I got home from work, but that was a failure. First of all, my brain still thinks it is normal or at least preferable to stay up late and sleep in till lunch, so my peek energy time is late afternoon and early evening. Secondly, I live with three other people who all have far more motivation to be productive beyond quittin' time. This takes the form of various active sports or work outs, noisy cleaning and vacuuming, and kitchen-hoggingly-involved dinner preparations (to the effect of me giving up on cooking very much until I get my own place again, because it is so hard to predict their cook-offs and to schedule my meal preparation around theirs), and since I share my bedroom wall with the kitchen, sleep cannot be had at any time food might possibly be prepared.

To be honest, I think I gave up on sleep. My body even seems to be used to a meager 7 hours of sleep (to those of you who say 7 hours is perfectly normal, you are talking to someone who has a rule of 9-10 hours is enough sleep, despite frequently running on only a few hours during the week in college). On weekends, despite staying up until 3 or 4am with the boyfriend, I still naturally wake up at my weekday time (then force myself back to sleep until 1pm, but usually frequently waking because my body is confused at the spoiling).

In fact, my morning exhaustion can probably just be attributed to dislike for the purpose of getting out of bed: my job. There was a stretch when I'd wake up naturally earlier than my alarm (like, at the time I originally would arrive at work) but bury my head in pillows and force/pretend snooze until my alarm went off, when I really have to get up and go to work.

Even after giving up coffee -- and really, for weeks now, tea as well -- I have trouble sleeping. When do I sleep the best? When I deprive myself, stay up way too late, and go to bed really tired with not enough sleep time available, that's when. Not getting enough sleep, and thus really needing sleep, is the only way I've been able to reliably fall and stay asleep, so I don't think morning coffee is really the problem.

I came to this realization this morning when I caved and drank the crappy office coffee and it significantly improved my alertness. The cause? My iPhone decided yesterday to commit suicide rather than upgrade and iTunes was no help, thus keeping me up until past 3am last night resuscitating my lifeline. I love my phone, but more than that, it's my alarm clock.

While the office coffee sucked pretty hard core (drinking Kona has spoiled me, I still refuse to use powdered creamer, and Splenda really tastes disgusting), I've decided that giving the morning-coffee-drinker thing another try is a good next move.

Seriously, caffeine gives you super powers.  No wonder it's addictive! I drink it and immediately am brimming with energy and potential productivity. All those mundane tasks that I was too apathetic to bother with before are now puny and begging to be conquered.

drink coffee in the morning.

Also: invest in teeth-whitening gum.

Honestly, if coffee gives people this much energy and potential, why hasn't it been considered yet as an alternative fuel? Perhaps I should dedicate my life to making that happen so I can win a Nobel Prize and retire early. Who's the successful adult, then, bitches?!

Friday, June 18, 2010

Crazy Cat Lady Entertains Bored Children

Today I realized it is not so shameful to be a crazy cat lady anymore. At least it's not if you're awesome like I am. 

The last couple weeks, these cute little Asian kids who I assume live somewhere in my apartment complex have been hanging out near my apartment.  I can't decide if they just moved in and that's why they suddenly appeared, or if school recently let out for them and they have working parents and no nanny.  Really, they seriously just hang around outside by themselves all the time. 

I just thought about what I just said, and realized that really shouldn't matter.  When I grew up, I spent many summers home alone entertaining myself.  I befriended every neighbor!  If the boys ~my age who lived next-door couldn't come out and play, I'd ride my bike around the block, butting myself into my neighbors -- pleasantly gardening by themselves -- without a hint of shyness or shame. I really do wonder where that adventurousness went, actually; I guess I hit puberty and became aware of embarrassment.  And yet, today is is a suburban crime to let your kids wander unsupervised, because apparently it's unavoidable to raise them to be too stupid to avoid kidnap.

Anyway, one day I was home for lunch and heard a knock on my door.  I was expecting an important phone call for the dream job I ended up being turned down for, so I ignored it (a package, maybe?).  The knocking persisted.  I answered, and these two adorable but quiet Asian kids were there.  "I think he wants inside," they said, as the elderly Cisco crept in between my legs.  "Thank you..." *awkward silence* and I closed the door.

Perhaps a few days later, I came home from work and they were both sitting at the bottom of the stairs that lead to my front door, petting Toby.  I smiled at them and said, "his name is Toby." "You have two cats?" the older girl asked.  I paused, not wanting to admit that I actually have 3 at the moment (because while two is normal, three is borderline crazy), and said yes.

A note on my quantity of cats, before you go, "Whoa there, you have 3 freaking cats?? No wonder you have a blog, you must have no freaking friends!" Sophomore year of college, I had a roommate who turned out to be batshit insane (never get roommates from "I need a place to live" ads, folks, they are bad news bears). Anyway, our apartment complex allowed pet cats, and this girl one day suggested that we get a cat.  I grew up with pet cats, which I adored, and in a sense became a "cat person", even though I really wanted a doggie but my dad hates dogs because his pet dog bit him or something when he was a kid, so my 10-year-old heart was broken when my daddy told me I couldn't have the lovable cocker-spaniel-beagle mutt I fell in love with at the Humane Society and had already named Spunky. Anyway, I naturally agreed that we should get a pet cat. The first indication that she was batshit insane and I should have realized it was a bad idea to get a cat with her was when she said that I would have to feed it and clean up after it and her parents couldn't know because they were overbearing Indians who didn't know their daughter had a boyfriend let alone spent most nights with him (boy do I have good crazy roommate stories to share at some point) and wouldn't approve of a cat, especially because her mom had a cocker spaniel that owed their house.

At the shelter with my super-cat-person boyfriend at the time, the attendants tried to pawn off entire litters of cats on me.  I went to school in a rather stabby neighborhood, so this was a pretty low-income shelter that frequently took in abundant urban strays.  I felt extremely guilty, but knew I wanted a kitten with a reasonably clean slate.  As much as I wanted to get a female cat this time around (my parents always got boy cats), I found myself choosing between two tabby kittens that were very playful.  A random black kitten that obviously did not belong with the 8 tabbies with which it shared its cage suddenly leaped and clung to the cage bars.  He had a personality! When he started playing with and grooming one of the two tabbies I had already been considering, I asked my boyfriend if it was a bad idea to get two cats.  He said that his parents had two cats at home, and it helped them be less lonely when no one was home because they'd always have a playmate.  So I decided to get two kittens.

Now, I love my cats.  They have great personalities and my college neighbors have always adored them (especially because my cats tended to assume that any open door or window [awesome story for another time] equaled and extension of their home territory).  They are very affectionate -- though my current boyfriend insists that female cats are so much more affectionate, because his late kitty was quite the lap cat -- and assumed the role of TV substitute for my roommate (not the batshit insane girl above) and myself the two weeks before our satellite was functional (I promise to post pictures of the castle we made for them out of boxes one drunken/bored night; a full "this is why my cats are awesome" post is on my list), that's how entertaining they can be to play with.  The problem I did not consider when I made the decision to adopt them when I was 19 and in a shithole college apartment was that not every apartment allows pets, and if so, it's guaranteed more expensive.  This didn't matter too much to me until now when I'm wishing I can quit my job and couch surf until I find a new one in LA.  No, for the next 15 years of my life, I have to consider a living arrangement suitable for my energetic feline companions.  Kind of like children that never grow up.  But I love them anyway!

"Wait," you say, "I thought you said you had three cats?"

After graduating college last year, I made sure I got an apartment that allowed cats.  My parents jumped on this opportunity to tell me to take Cisco off their hands.  When I had left for college, I left my cat, Cisco, behind.  In those four years, he more or less became my mom's cat.  From her influence, he started acting more his age, and in my absence, became a grouch. But my mom had a lung disease + infection that was killing her and couldn't breathe his never-ending supply of shed any longer.  So I begrudgingly took Cisco off her hands, knowing he would reject moving to a tiny apartment after living in a big house and yard for 12 years, and that the addition of Cisco would put me at three cats and thus pretty much a crazy cat lady.

While that was a lengthy tangent, it was necessary back story, if only to save my dignity.  Now, back to the adorable Asian neighbor kids.

A week or two ago when I was home sick, I took out the trash and they were petting Cisco at the bottom of the stairs.  I could see they would be regulars, so I told them his name was Cisco.  "Oh."  Clearly they were still shy.  Maybe their mommy told them strangers would kidnap them if they were chatty.  So I went back inside.

The other day, I came home and they were again playing with Cisco on the stairs.  As I approached, the younger boy exclaimed, "Cisco!" quite adorably and pointed.  I was amused, and encouraged that they were speaking.  I asked them, "what's up?" and the girl said, "He's been outside for about 5 hours." I was starting to like the little boy better, but I know she wasn't trying to be rude.  I laughed and asked if he was okay, and she said, "No." I was like, "what?" and she said, "I think he wants food." Cisco led me up the stairs and I said, "Okay well I'll go feed him now. Thanks for taking care of him for me!"

I told the boyfriend about the latest development with the adorable Asian kids, and he said I should have kidnapped them.  You see, that's why children can't befriend their neighbors!  Actually, I blame that website that lets you see where all the pedophiles live nearby.

Earlier this week I noticed them with a random white lady, who had been walking her dog and was letting them pet said pup.  Another day I saw them in the grass, presumably looking for bugs to collect and keep as pets (okay, I totally collected rollie pollies and caterpillars and fireflies and snails when I was a kid and kept them in jars or measuring cups or toy saucepans sealed in plastic bags, until I learned living things need air or they die), and it became clear to me these kids are just bored.  Clearly their parents don't subscribe to cable and haven't yet caved and bought them a Wii.

Today when I came home from work, they were playing with a little Latina girl who was apparently also bored but had a beach ball to play with and thus was their instant friend for providing entertainment.  This girl approached and cut me off on the walkway around the grass, and asked, "Can Toby come out and play?"  I was tickled.  This was a blast from my childhood when I'd ask Lisa next-door if the boys could come out and play (and they really delivered the entertainment -- chalk, Legos, MicroMachines, and bikes).  I laughed and said, "Sure, if he wants to go outside, he can come out."  The younger boy followed me to the stairs and, fearful he'd follow me inside if I let him, I turned to him and said I'd let Toby outside, why doesn't he wait right there.  As I went upstairs, he called to the girls, "You guys! Toby's coming out!" I couldn't hold in the laughter and chased Toby down and shoved him outside, intent to please these adorable children.

Of course, they squealed with excitement and minutes later, my roommate let a frantic Toby back inside.

The moral of the story is: if you want to be a crazy cat lady, you can still make friends, as long as you don't mind that they are small children and that they use you for your cats' entertainment value.

get a pet to help you make friends.

Then at least you'll have a pet that you can force to be your friend if no one else will be.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Garbage: Now Guilt-Free!

I've always felt guilty about throwing things away.

When I was growing up, my dad was very frugal.  My mom says they used to live like they were in poverty (cinder block furniture, for one, and those cinder blocks still clutter up their backyard because my dad always finds a reason to suggest them as a solution for something), and truthfully my dad does a good job as a do-it-yourself-er -- as long as he can avoid throwing it away.  

For example (and if you've known me very long, you've already heard this little anecdote), on one occasion in high school, I was about to throw away some bagels (it may have been bread?) that were growing mold.  I made the mistake of announcing my logical actions, because my dad snatched the bag out of my hands before I reached the garbage and said that he'd eat the non-moldy bits.  Ever since, my mom always quietly instructs me to take rotten food straight to the street can and bury it, and to make sure my father doesn't see! 

Of course, sometimes things aren't even safe on the street.  Halfway through high school, I complained to my mom of a sore back.  She wondered how old my mattress was, and if I was due for a new one.  Turns out, I had been sleeping on the same mattress my brother had before his double bed, and before that, my dad grew up sleeping on it (and possible some of his 4? younger siblings).  My mom put it out as a "large item" for the garbage men to take away.  When my dad heard the garbage truck loudly beeping and shuffling and for some reason repeatedly backing up outside, he rushed out to drag the retired mattress back to the side of the house.  My mom?  Oh so livid.

I'm sure there are a few dozen more ridiculous stories somewhere in the back of my childhood memories, but the point is that while I grew up resenting his hoarding ways, I picked up his anything-but-wasteful ways.

This will probably make me a good mother some day, if not merely economical, because if I get full before my plate is empty, I will force myself to eat beyond comfort just to avoid wasting any, and I will keep things that are broken by rationalizing that I will fix it...some day!...and it will be so useful I would be glad I didn't get rid of it, even though I usually get rid of it years later when it is obsolete and much higher quality stuff is available for far less than it would cost to fix the old broken thing.

I probably have 3 broken point-and-shoot digital cameras lying around, positive that I will sit myself down and open them up and repair the lens mechanism that jammed when I drunkenly dropped it on the ground New Year's Eve, or fish out the one sand granule keeping the lens from completely extending or retracting, or unsticking the shutter button that now will only take a picture when you first turn the camera on.  Forget the fact that I have a much newer replacement point-and-shoot, and a DSLR that takes much better pictures than any of the others ever could. 

Seriously, why do I still keep this crap around?!

I have discovered, however, two sure-fire ways to get rid of stuff I don't want anymore, guilt-free! 

Looking to free up some closet or counter space so you can buy that new Kitchenaide blender or Oreck upright?  Just cart your old Target-brand and DustBuster out to the dumpster!  The secret is not putting it in the dumpster, just next to it!  This works best if you live in a low-income neighborhood, as this assures you a higher volume of dumpster-divers.

This also works for recyclables.  If you had a cheap landlord like I did in college, recycling pick-up was not included.  You could save it up and seek out a recycling bin somewhere, but why not just bag it and set it next to the dumpster with your unwanted crooked TV stand?  Your local homeless man will thank you for saving him the trouble of climbing in and sorting it from the refuse himself.

You're not only being a greener citizen, but a humanitarian as well!  Pat yourself on the back.  Go ahead, I'll wait.


Okay fine, so you can get rid of that junk that you kept around because Good Will won't take it, but what about food you don't want?

I'm not advocating pawning off rotten goods on others just because my daddy taught me it was okay to eat mold (it's not, and that's gross).  I'm talking about food you bought at Ralph's because it looked tasty when you foolishly went grocery shopping on an empty stomach, or because it marketed itself as healthy so well and you want to start eating better but man wholesome food tastes like garbage!

So the food is still good, and your friends don't want it, but you have too much garbage guilt to throw it away, and while one girl's trash is another's (dear blogger: why is that not a word! why you gotta bring out that red squiggly??) treasure, even the best food put near the garbage screams "poisoned" (or peed in).  So what do you do??

You bring it to your place of employment and slyly put it in the break room while no one is looking.  In no time at all, scavengers for free food will snatch it up and, even if they take one bite and toss the rest, the guilt is off of your shoulders! 

Don't believe me?  I have anecdotal proof!

I recently bought some of those really soft cookies from Safeway, which are always the same really soft butter cookies with different colored/flavored frosting and sprinkles based on the closest holiday.  Apparently the closest holiday was Key Lime Day because these were far too key limey for me!  I ate one (I hated it after the first bite, but couldn't waste the rest of the cookie! so I suffered through it), and left the rest in the plastic box on top of my computer tower.  I stared at it guiltily for a few days, wondering what to do with it.  If I offered it to my roommates, they'd wonder what's wrong with them.  If I managed to get them each to try one [bite and throw the rest away], I'd still have some left over!  Then I remembered once someone left a giant bag of oranges from their tree in the break room at my work in pure, "I need to get rid of this goddamn fruit!" way -- because I tried one and it was gross (again, I finished it, but grudgingly) -- and the bag was gone, at least by the end of the week!  And so I brought the cookies in that Friday and snuck them into the break room when no one was in there, "casually" glancing in every time I walked by to see if they had been eaten yet.  They were gone by lunchtime.

And that, my friends, is how you get rid of your unwanted things, guilt-free!  It's a real secret to being a responsible adult.

You're welcome.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

When I Grow Up

What do you want to be when you grow up?

I used to want to be an archaeologist. And a novelist. And a teacher. And an artist. And a doctor. And an astronaut. And a lot of things.

Where did my inspirations for grown-up jobs come from? Archaeologist definitely came from watching The Mummy. Artist probably came from art class being the most awesome class in school. Astronaut may or may not have been partially inspired by the Christmas gift my engineer uncle gave me one year: Astronaut Barbie. When did I decide I wanted to be a computer scientist?  It definitely didn't come from Computer Science Barbie!

I guess I decided on Computer Scientist when I changed my major the end of freshman year.

I applied to college wanting to be some kind of engineer, because I love technology and solving problems and creating things, but where the major was available, I opted for astronautical engineering -- because that was the closest thing I could get to being an astronaut. Of course, that was one year before I actually started college, before my ex-boyfriend had laughed at me and told me to find another dream because I'd never be an astronaut, so when I got to college I changed my major to Biomedical Engineering, because it was kind of like being a doctor. But after my BME 101 course, which involved memorizing things about the heart because the instructor had some kind of ultrasound patent, and then after taking CS 101, I realized that I'd much rather learn a skill that I could master than memorize a lot of facts that are constantly changing (because I'm lazy and memorizing is boring).

So now I am a computer scientist, and I still have no idea what I want to do with my life.

I enjoy designing solutions to problems and algorithms to implement the solutions, and I get a lot of satisfaction out of finally seeing it all pull together and function -- even if it's as simple as seeing "Hello World" print out on the console. Solving puzzles has always been a hobby of mine. I just don't know what kind of puzzles I want to solve for the rest of my life. Maybe I do still want to be a teacher. Maybe I want to make robots. Maybe I want to make video games. I am interested in too many things!

This is especially difficult when deciding, "what next?"

Right now I am developing and testing software that is not particularly interesting to me. This is a combination of the technology being too dry for me (signal processing does not really excite me) and I'd much rather make something I can appreciate and/or know someone will use. Part of the problem is probably that I don't know who uses what we make, or where, or how often, or why. I don't really like working for a government contractor for this reason: obscured secrecy. That's no fun.

I recently got turned down for a job I really wanted. It was located in a place I really wanted to live, but even if I got placed at a different office location, the company culture was one of innovation. I want to collaborate with other smart people to make innovative and useful applications and products, and this company seemed to give its employees a lot of freedom to do that without too much hierarchical decisions or red tape. In essence, I want to work at a *chill* place. That's what I wanted in college, when I was working late into the night to get my project functional and daydreaming about what my future held.

In a sense, I wanted to be in college forever. The atmosphere of a group of people, eager to learn how to do something, gathering to work together to complete their next big project showcasing what new awesome thing they can do or create. The ulterior motives in college are to succeed, to make yours the best, maybe even go above and beyond to get that extra recognition. The working world is so much more corrupt -- get it done just enough to make the customer happy enough to pay you for it. I am so un-enthralled by my job that I went from initially eager to improve design to now just getting my assignments done, get through the day so I can get paid and go home. And sure, there are plenty of people in college just concerned with getting through it, but you have to think that if the course or project is rigorous enough, anyone participating really wants to.

That's why one option on my menu of "what's next" is to go back to school.

I love learning new things. If I could magically afford rent and food and fun while going to college forever (+ maybe a fun part-time job), I would. I'd just collect majors. I'd be the ultimate Renaissance Woman.

In the real non-Sara's-imagination world, though, how do you decide it's time to go back to school? How do you decide if you can afford it? How do you decide if it's a major you could really use? I was so ready to stop breaking my hump on school projects and work for a few years, and now I'm whimpering and ready to crawl back into the academic womb. I guess you can say I did do some self-discovery in this last year. Or you can say I got a job that really isn't right for me (according to studies, though, it's because I didn't do an internship in college so I had no idea what the right *fit* would be!).

[I'm going to seem to change subjects, but I swear it will circle back soon, promise!] I have also more or less decided that I want to move back to the city I built a life in for four years in college. I definitely consider myself lucky to have gotten a post-graduation job at all, but was very sad to move away at the end of my last summer of freedom.

I get really attached to things. People and places mostly, but things, too (I can never justify throwing away things that are broken if they were once so useful and heavily used -- I'll write a post on it later) -- so really, nouns. I guess you can't really get attached to verbs or adjectives, unless they are paired up with nouns in some way. !OFF-TOPIC! I got really attached in four years, and many friends and even boyfriend are still there, so I've been resisting any possibility of getting attached here -- especially since more or less deciding to move back.

Yay, I decided on something, go me! So what's the problem?

Look at me, all responsible adult, with a job that pays enough for me to afford rent and food and various things like a cell phone and car insurance and even enough leftover to save up a little cushion for that inevitable period of time in my future when I will be unemployed (you can't expect a girl to graduate in a super recession without such fears!). I can't exactly walk away from that, can I?? I mean, if I had some super awesome opportunity like my dream job (already failed that one) or medical school (already decided that's way too hard for me), sure, jump ship from the job you hate in the place you don't want to be and move where you do want to be for your super awesome new opportunity! But no such luck. Right now I'm staring at quitting my job and moving back to where I went to college with enough money to stay afloat for maybe 6 months (assuming high rents living all by myself; I would last longer if I lived with the boyfriend) and no guarantees that I could get a new job with which to support myself. Am I crazy?!?

What if I justified quitting my job and moving back to go back to school so it's not like I'm just a failure at being a self-sufficient adult in the big bad world? Oh, I have to know what and where I want to study first? Crap. I hate decisions!

I've considered waiting until I've accumlated over 1 year of professional experience being a real world software engineer at my current job before just quitting my job and moving in with the boyfriend to bum with him until I find something better close to him. This would put me in the sad position of leeching off of him, but at least I wouldn't go broke and be homeless after 6 months. However, I would be risking giving up my omg-so-lucky-you-have-a-big-girl-job status that makes my parents proud, the pay check, the security, and not having a current job as leverage for getting a new one.

I'd be pretty dumb to do that, wouldn't I?

I've been wrestling with myself ever since I got turned down from that dream job, and I feel like I am just too young to trap myself in a job I don't like in a place I don't want to be (or rather, one that isn't where I very much do want to be)!

Isn't life supposed to be easier after you graduate from college and get a job?

I've made it to adulthood but haven't quite finished growing up yet.  So what do I want to be when I get there?

already know what you want to be when you grow up.

When I grow up, I want to be happy.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

The New Year

Starting a blog can be tough. Especially these fancy ones that make you name it before you've even started, like you're gonna know what the theme is already! The biggest problem with that? You start a theme and then like a few months later realize you're just not cut out for that theme at all and you want to go back to the simple days where you just had a blog and it was a hodgepodge of everything in your life, take it or leave it.

Hi, my name is Sara and this is definitely not my first blog.

I tried out a few in high school, when it was the trendy thing to do and MySpace was still awesome. I eventually settled on Xanga, and it was my emo guilty pleasure for a couple years, even well into my first year (or two?) of college. And then I realized I had outgrown the whole emo thing. I just wasn't emo anymore. Maybe there really is just something in the water in high school that makes teenage girls angsty? And so above all, I had outgrown my Xanga. It held too many memories -- some of which depressed me to revisit, and some of which were embarrassing to leave public to be discovered by some future friend or lover -- and I really just needed to clean up shop and move on.

I eventually made a new one, and pretty much only posted on it when I was suffering some debilitating and confusing internal emotional struggle, the kinds of blog posts you don't really want in the cracks of the internet for people to stumble upon, so that was taken down pretty quickly.

Then I got a new camera, a DSLR. And I was determined to take lots of pictures, you know, be a hobby artist, and dedicate myself to my photoblog. And I did, kind of, for a little while. But it was my last semester of college, I had a lot going on! My last classes were full of coding-intensive projects; I was frantically applying and interviewing for jobs; I was determined to take every opportunity to celebrate life with my friends our last semester together (also the first full semester I was finally 21); and it was the last crippling semester of the epic relationship that refused to die years after it should have (and it's been over a full year since I finally put it out of its misery, so go me!) . In short, I had my plate full. And then I graduated, started a new more awesome relationship, tried even harder to enjoy my last brilliant and free summer before the responsibility of adulthood would destroy my hopes and dreams, and so photoblogging really was the last thing on my mind. Then adulthood happened, and I moved away from all my friends (and the awesome boyfriend), closer to my part-disfunctional/part-failing-health-that-was-depressing-to-be-around, and I slipped back into the Funk.

That funk was the fodder of my high school blogging days, that which led to connections with far away strangers and internet-land friendships. But I was isolating myself. I wanted to be invisible. I didn't want anyone to know what I was feeling, not even the randoms on the internet. And I think that phobia of publishing my "shameful" (dating Asians means everything short of a Nobel Prize is shameful) secrets even to a select niche was a side-effect of that epic and largely unhealthy relationship (in hindsight, aren't they all? no? I guess I'm just broken, then), because everything was meant to be kept behind closed doors, even kept from friends, though really that was probably just his excuse to be secretive and I was an easy target for infidelity /tangent. So I started food blogging on that photo blog for a while, because, hey, pictures of food are still photos, right?? And you know what, I'm gonna keep doing that when I motivate myself to make new and tasty things (it's on my List!) and take pictures of those noms and document the recipe in a readable fashion (because I tend to take a recipe and mangle it and make it my own when I cook), but that's not the point.

The point is, I'm starting....fresh. Sometimes you gotta do that. Starting fresh is therapeutic. Like when you finally wash your sheets, make your bed, and climb in (after a long relaxing shower, legs newly shaven) with deep inhale of the comforting scents of Tide and Bounty and warm dryer love. And I really need some (self) therapy. This funk has gone on too long, and I need to make a lot of changes. I've made a List. And one thing I've decided is that a new blog has to go with it, to document my progress in this confusing phase of life -- stuff I do, stuff I ponder, my highs and lows, the memories of how I got to where I am now and epiphanies for where I want to go next and how.

I've grown up, haven't I? I went through elementary school, middle school, high school, and four years of college, so I should be an adult now, right? Well it's been a full year since I graduated from college and I don't feel any more adult than I did then. I mean, except for paying my own rent and insurance and working a full-time job, I guess. I don't want that to define me, though. It was the times that happened outside of class that really defined college, wasn't it? I'm a year out of college and still unclear on how to frame my life. Perhaps this last year was the Confusing Year -- and maybe every year here on out will be confusing, sure -- but this next year will be the New Year. This next year I want to do something about my life, make it my own now that I'm a so-called adult.

And I don't mean "365 days in 52 weeks in 12 months" kind of year. I mean like year in the "school year" sense. Except I finished the nicely packaged and labeled years of school. That realization, when I moved into my next apartment to start my first real world job (translation: focused on what I majored in), was a scary one. My boyfriend was still in school so I tried to track time in semesters like he would be, but nothing would change for me in those time intervals. It's been over a full year since I graduated from college, 9 months since I moved away from school and started my Big Girl job, but there haven't been any semester-like transitions. The future stretches on and on with no known changes or checkpoints.

Well, I want to make one. I want to break off the mood I've been in -- borderline depression, really, because I'm not sure what else to call it -- and start my adult life again. Plenty will stay the same, of course, but there are a lot of changes I want to make, ones which will make my life better explicitly, and others which will force me to make it better for myself.

I've had a hard time fitting myself into the definition of "adult" that formed in my head as I grew up. I don't think I was ready. And I think maybe that the first few years after college, the early 20's, is an age group of its own that the English language hasn't categorized yet. The struggle is in reconciling what I think I'm supposed to be, with what I know I should be, with what I feel like I want to be. I've never been good at fitting into pigeon holes -- whether it be my lack of sharp categorization into predefined roles and groups, or my refusal to be so easily categorized -- and being released, more or less independently, into the free-form world is proving difficult. The rules were always written out for me, and now I only have expectations -- silent and spoken, past and present -- to guide me. And my gut feeling. And those clash! It's not like they write a book entitled, "how to discover your grown-up self" or I wouldn't see the symptoms in others struggling with this transition from college to...not-college. College was difficult, too, striking that balance of new-found independence with "I still rely on my parents to pay my rent and buy me food, and thus I still answer to them when I screw up, but only when I answer my phone or visit them". Now, I'm on my own. All my expenses are my own. All my decisions are ultimately up to me. And that is both so liberating and so frightening all at once. And so overwhelming -- the gamut of life choices and outcomes, many still undiscovered, each with subtext that the rest of the world could judge me by.

After all that (and I could go on for days about this adulthood conundrum), the conclusion is I have to create my own Sara-shaped mold, define my own adulthood anatomy.

Parents shape and mold us in our early years, and throughout school we have structures and rules and calendars and externally defined goals that guide us from one spoke of the ladder to the next. I reached the top of my given ladder 1 year ago and kind of sat there waiting for my next instructions. But they never came. Because they always told you what to expect at kindergarten, elementary school, high school, college, and that *some-day* with the house and family, but conveniently left out that in-between -- that period between living with your birth family, and living with your married family. And so I went to work, and made my dinner, and did the dishes, and showered, and did my laundry, and slept at night, and fed my cats, and called my mom, and did the every day routine that filled my time and kept me out of trouble while I waited and waited for the next thing...that never came. And I wasn't happy with it. And so I've been defining things for myself, to try this after-college thing once again with a more active approach, delineating my expectations based on my wants and my needs, because my life on my terms is just beginning and I have to start from some where.

There are a lot of hard decisions and scary possibilities -- but exciting ones, too -- and so I don't know what the end product will be. Or rather, since there's never really an end, just a transition to a new beginning, I don't know when that transition will be, or where, or what the Sara mold will look like by then. I just know that I've let almost a year go by without paying attention to what I was really doing with my life. I'm changing that, now. This year, is mine.