More Than Ships Passing In the Night

Month: October, 2014

Turn signal communication: use that blinker

Raise your hand if one (or more) of these scenarios resonates with you:

You’re on the freeway in rush-hour traffic. The car in the lane next to you suddenly jumps over and cuts you off. You manage not to rear-end them, but you’re still a bit shaken and annoyed: if they had just signaled that they wanted to get over, you would have been happy to let them.

That same scenario happens and, as they pull into your lane, they turn on their blinker after the fact.

You’re on the freeway in rush-hour traffic yet again. The car in the lane next to you has their blinker on, signaling that they want to be in your lane. You’re trying to be a courteous driver, so you leave a space open in front of you to let them in. They have plenty of room to get over but, for whatever reason, continue to stay in their lane. Eventually, you get frustrated because you’re holding up traffic behind you by trying to leave a space open for them, so you accelerate and close the gap.

You’re coming up to a stoplight intersection. The light is green, but the car in front of you is easing off the gas. The light turns yellow and the car continues to slow so that it can turn right, never once signaling their intention. That costs you the precious seconds you needed to accelerate through the intersection, and now you’re stuck at a red light.

You’re driving through the main street of a neighborhood. The car in front of you starts to slow down for no apparent reason. Without bothering to signal or even move to the side so that through traffic can go around them, the car eventually makes a right turn. The line of accumulated cars behind them finally starts to accelerate.

How many times have we been behind or next to a driver that seems determined not to use their blinker? Or even found ourselves in the car with a driver like that? I have seen instances first-hand where the driver wanted to get over into a lane of heavy traffic and complained that no one was letting them over, even though they had not put on their blinker to alert the cars in the neighboring lane that they were trying to get over. In these instances, it seemed almost as if the driver wanted to wait until they could be sure that there was a space for them, and then use the blinker.

Now, maybe I’m behind the times here, but I’ve always understood the blinker as a way to communicate your intentions to other drivers around you (“intentions” referring to intended actions that have not yet occurred). I’ve never considered the blinker to be an after-the-fact form of explanation. Am I crazy here?

I’ve decided that it would be an awesome research project to study the link between people’s communication habits and turn signal habits.

Maybe you can tell a lot about a person by how effectively they utilize that turn signal. Do they take the initiative in communicating? Are they clear and up front about their intentions? Do they make it clear where they are going? Are they courteous to those around them? Are they focusing on their own safety as well as the safety of those around them? Or are they just looking to get ahead as quickly as possible, without paying attention to who gets hurt in the process?

Are they pushy?

Are they totally oblivious?

Are they too busy checking their phone to see what’s right in front of them?

I seriously feel like I’ve stumbled upon something big here: predicting the success of your relationships based on the correlation between your driving patterns and communication patterns. I’m going to conduct a case study, write a book about my findings that will quickly become a best-seller, retire early, and travel the world.

Meanwhile, the next time you’re driving, think about what your driving habits might be indicating about your communication and relational awareness.

“What miracle has made you the way you are?”

On Thursday, I had the administrative assistant version of a day from hell.

Remember how I talked about the changes in the office that resulted in our office being comprised of me and our two new-hires?

On Thursday, the new-hires both had all-day HR training. Which meant that for the day, the faculty support office was . . . me.

The ironic part is that the absence of the new-hires had virtually nothing to do with the day being out of control. All of the craziness came from people and programs that I already support.

And we are talking about the kind of craziness that has me on the phone making hotel reservations while a frantic professor with no internet tries to send an e-mail from my computer, and someone else is trying to call me on the other line, while a staff person is standing on the other side of my cubicle waiting to talk to me about something or other, and another professor is e-mailing me about contacting a student who never submitted their assignment, and then the people working in the suite at the other end of the hallway keep sending me print jobs because their suite printer happened to break down on this particular day. Meanwhile, another professor is sitting in my cubicle having a sit-down chat with me about room reservations and concocting an entire complicated plan which I have to enact so that they can get the rooms they want. Another professor needs help figuring out a function in Word, a publishing rep is making the rounds and keeps stopping by my desk, a professor needs help sorting out a discrepancy with their budget statement, and every time I print something out for the suite at the other end of the hallway, I have to walk it over to them.

So then, in the middle of all of this madness (and what I’ve described above is merely a cross-section of the whole enchilada), I found a fortune cookie in my purse, and this was my fortune:

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I MEAN, REALLY. THE NERVE OF THAT FORTUNE COOKIE.

Nevertheless, the day proved to be very enlightening.

See, I had the satisfaction of making it through the entire day without losing my cool. And not just in a “I’m holding it together but barely and everyone knows I’m stressed” kind of way. I mean, I went through this day exuding cheerfulness, warmth, and sociability, whether that meant joking with my professors, commiserating with other staff members, making conversation in the break room, taking a few minutes to hear about a colleague’s recent trip abroad, catching up with my student worker, or even just welcoming every request with a smile, regardless of how difficult or inconvenient it was.

And then I had an epiphany toward the end of the day.

I realized that, underneath all of the depression and insecurity and anxiety, I’m actually a really happy, friendly, caring person who likes to be with other people, take care of other people, and do whatever I can to make everyone else’s day that much better.

I had forgotten those things about myself.

It was like I suddenly remembered who I really was, and I was proud of that person . . . I was proud of being myself.

On Friday morning, I soothed a frantic, sleep-deprived professor who was stressing out about getting an assignment back to her students that day and who was worried that I wouldn’t have time to help her because of multiple competing projects. I told her not to worry. I assured her that I would take care of it, that everyone’s projects would be completed in the time frame they had requested, and it would all be fine. And I was able to say that to her with complete sincerity, because I knew of myself that I would be able to follow through with that promise, because that’s just part of who I am.

As I was calmly assuring her that everything was going to be okay, she looked at me incredulously and said, “What miracle has made you the way you are?”

She was quoting a line from Gigi, but still. In terms of amusing compliments that I’ve received since working here, it was up there with the time one of my colleagues told me that I’m one of the nicest people they’ve ever met, and with being compared to Schrödinger’s cat.

It’s moments like these that remind and reassure me that underneath all of the hard stuff and all of the ways that I feel like I’m not doing enough or just doing everything wrong . . . God isn’t finished with me; he’s doing something with my life, and he is bringing good out of it, even when it doesn’t feel that way or when it’s not what I expected to be doing with my life. When it feels like I’m not going anywhere, I’m still going somewhere.

The plight of the lonely: “Happiness only real when shared”

“Tonight, most people will be welcomed home by jumping dogs and squealing kids. Their spouses will ask about their day, and tonight they’ll sleep. The stars will wheel forth from their daytime hiding places and one of those lights, slightly brighter than rest, will by my wingtip passing over.” (‘Up in the Air’)

This year, I turned a quarter of a century old.

I have to say, I’m slightly underwhelmed by my life right now.

Everyone loves to talk about living each day as if it was your last. It’s one of their favorite questions: what would you do if you knew you only had [a year, six months, three months, one week, one day, etc] left to live?

During the last month that I lived in Southern California, I got to experience that phenomenon. From the moment I decided, once and for all, that I was going through with quitting my job and moving home, everything became remarkably clear-cut and focused for me. I knew exactly how – and with whom – I wanted to spend my last few weeks. The inevitable end date of my time in Southern California gave me that sense of “now or never.” I started making the choices that I wanted to make. And those three weeks that followed, until the moment I got in my car and pulled out of the parking lot for the final time – those were some of the best weeks of my life.

What made those last three weeks in L.A. so golden was not so much the content of the weeks but the fact that I was sharing that time with someone very special to me. What made that time unique was the shared aspect of it – the intentional focusing of myself into extracting as much “quality time” from those last few weeks as I could; making the most of every last moment, whether it was being a carpool buddy, browsing around Barnes & Noble, or discussing our respective reactions to “Good Will Hunting” or “Shawshank Redemption.”

Every now and then, I’m reminded of those last three weeks in L.A. and all of the memories crammed into them.

When I try to explain it to other people, the reaction is usually something like, “I don’t understand what’s so special about all of that,” and then I know that I’ve failed to communicate the significance of that time to them. If I had explained it better, they would understand that it wasn’t about the things we were doing.

It was about belonging.

It was about the assurance of being known, the sense of not being alone in the world, the consistency of knowing that someone else was there for me during those last few weeks.

It was about happiness. Sometimes people like to remind me that life isn’t just about being happy. But the thing is, when you’ve spent the greater part of your life dealing with depression and a brain that doesn’t let you process feelings of happiness, those times when you find yourself actually feeling happy for an extended period of time often seem like the most important times ever.

Sometimes people tell me that I wasn’t truly happy, or that I was happy for the wrong reasons. I have a hard time accepting that, though, because that’s like someone telling me that they have more insight and understanding into what’s happening inside of me than I do. It’s like someone telling me that my emotions aren’t real or valid. I don’t think that’s fair for other people to tell me whether or not I was happy, or whether or not the reasons for my happiness were valid.

Lately, I’ve been trying to figure out what to do with my life on the assumption that I’m going to be single, at least for now. There are people in my life who insist that God has someone special for me. People who tell me that I just haven’t met the right person yet, and when I do, I’ll wonder how I could have ever thought I was happy in any of my previous relationships. They are confident that all I need to do is meet that person who will change my view on everything that came before.

It’s a nice thought (?) and I appreciate where they’re coming from. I know that they say these things because they care about me and they want to encourage me. But the funny thing is, it’s usually my married friends that are insisting on a good relationship in my future. Like I said, it’s a nice thought. But sometimes I want to remind them that, while that may  have been the case for them, it won’t necessarily be the case for me. They cannot guarantee that I will end up happily married.

People talk about “blooming where you’re planted.” That expression sets my teeth on edge because it always seems to come up in some holier-than-thou context by some cheerful person who is already happy with their life. But, for the sake of argument, let’s say that I’m trying to “bloom where I’m planted.” In that case, right now, I’ve been planted in a big ol’ pot of single-hood and I’m trying to figure out how to make the most of that.

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(Me as a single person. A cactus seemed somehow appropriate.)

 There is so much pressure on single people to be happy with their singleness: “Don’t worry – you just haven’t met the right person yet.” “Love comes when you’re not looking for it.” “If you are happy with your life, you will attract someone.” “When you’re not trying – that’s when people will notice you.” “You need to be able to meet your needs on your own, without depending on someone else for your happiness.” “Your happiness (or satisfaction or fulfillment or identity or whatever) must come from within.” “Before you find a relationship, you need to be in a healthy, satisfied place first.” “You can’t have a successful relationship unless you’re already emotionally healthy.”

I mean, damn.

That’s a lot of conflicting pressure! And the end result is that I find myself trying so hard not to try, and trying so hard to be happy and content with where I am right now, and then feeling guilty because the honest truth is that I’m lonely, I don’t like being single, and – at least for me – emotional health is going to be a life-long battle process.

The issue that I’m running into is similar to what Christopher McCandless discovered, as portrayed in his movie biography, “Into the Wild,” namely — “happiness only real when shared.”

Sure, I can find fulfillment and satisfaction in my life as a single person. I successfully took the GRE. I’m successfully shouldering a work load that used to be split into four full-time jobs. I’m successfully directing a choir. I’m successfully giving voice lessons. I decorated my cubicle for Halloween and it looks super cute. I’ve been redecorating the Spare Oom and I’m really pleased with how it’s turning out. I’m paying off my car and saving money so that, hopefully, I can someday make a down-payment on my own place to live. I’m wait-listed for a grad program. I’m pursuing a Social Justice Professional Development Certificate that my workplace just started offering this year.

I can appreciate my accomplishments.

But when you’re single, it’s different.

As a single person, I work hard to stay connected with my loved ones, to find and maintain community, to find that sense of joy and fulfillment that comes from being with other people. I don’t automatically have someone who has my back. Instead, there are many people who tell me that they have my back, on most of whom I would never feel comfortable imposing. I live with my family now, but that won’t always be the case. Eventually, there will be no mundane, precious routine of coming home to someone else at the end of the day. Yes, I have family, friends, co-workers, community, etc. But there is not that fundamental sense of “togetherness” that you can share with one other person – the togetherness that gives you the freedom to be tired or lazy and just lie around without worrying about what the other person thinks of you or whether you’re too boring for them. The togetherness that enables you to ask them for help or support or even just their company running a stupid errand simply because they are Your Person. The togetherness that gives you the freedom to enjoy even the most trivial things, because you are enjoying them together. Even, dare I say, the togetherness that gives you the freedom to take them a little bit for granted – not in a bad way, but just in a confident, reassuring “I-know-you’ll-always-be-there-for-me” way.

When I’m single, it feels like I have to work a lot harder to get satisfaction and happiness out of my life. And that’s not to say that people who are married or in committed long-term relationships have it So Easy and waltz through a magical life of sunshine. When I talk about how I don’t like being single, my non-single friends do not hesitate to point out all of the difficulties that come with sharing your life with another person. I’m not writing this to provoke or invite those kinds of reactions. I will be the first to agree with you – you’re absolutely right: I don’t get it. I have absolutely no frame of reference for the difficulties of married life. Thanks for the reminder.

What I’m trying to say really boils down to the idea of belonging and shared experiences. Whether you are single, married, or in a serious relationship, you experience both joys and challenges in life. But when you’re single, it’s like you have to work harder to make the most of the joys and to overcome the challenges, simply because you have to do it on your own. Maybe part of enjoying the good things and facing the bad things as a single person means learning how to reach out to family and friends for support. But the fact of the matter still remains: you have to make that effort, and if you don’t, there is no one there to share your happiness with you. And when you have to put forth that effort just to make sure that other people are aware of the good things and hardships in your life, that can already start to diminish the good things and make the hard things seem a little extra hard. You are your own advocate – and when you’re already struggling with loneliness, the pressure to not be lonely can be overwhelming, and happiness can seem inseparably tied with togetherness.

I can make the most of my life as a single person, do All The Things that I supposedly won’t be able to do once I “settle down and have a family.” But for all of my life, the recurring pattern has been that my satisfaction and happiness with my life is determined less by what I’m doing and much more by the people with whom I’m spending my time. I’d rather be at home watching a movie with a loved one than traveling the world all by myself.

After all, it was the man going through life alone who summarized his isolation in looking down at the rest of the happy world from an airplane. And it was the man dying alone who wrote in his journal: “happiness only real when shared.”

“You’re like Schrödinger’s cat!”

A colleague’s conclusion about me, after discovering that I could often be found at two different desks on two different floors in the building.

He started out by comparing me to a particle in quantum mechanics.

The scary part is that, as he was unraveling his analogy, I was thinking to myself, “Yeah, totally… you’re making me sound just like Schrödinger’s cat.” And then he hit upon that conclusion himself. Does that make me super nerdy?

Unrelated: have you ever had those cringe-worthy moments at work when you forward an e-mail from an outside person to Someone Who Knows The Answer because you don’t know what to do with it, and in your message to Someone Who Knows, you write something brief and informal like “I don’t know what to tell him…” and then Someone Who Knows REPLIES ALL to the forwarded message  and leaves the entire message thread in there so that the original sender can totally read how brusquely you passed off his message to someone else?

People! Please learn some e-mail etiquette!

Speaking of e-mail etiquette, I’m never sending a casual e-mail again. Next time I have to forward something like this, it will be all “Dear Someone Who Knows: please see the forwarded message below from Mr. So-and-So regarding the Such-and-Such. I was not sure what to tell him; would you please enlighten us both? Thank you! Warm regards, Kattiewampus.”

BAM. Talk about professional.

Schrödinger and me… we know how to keep it real.

Auntie Kattiewampus meets The Peach

[Disclaimer: all pictures and information are being shared with permission from The Peach’s family]

Back in May, I posted this wonderful news.

And yesterday, at 2:48 am, she arrived!

I call her “The Peach.” It corresponds to her real name.

Last night, I got to meet her.

She was less than 24 hours freshly birthed! I know that’s a funny way to put it, but I’m one of those “life begins at conception” people, and saying “24 hours old” doesn’t quite capture that.

She is the most marvelous, precious, beautiful creation I’ve ever seen and during the thirty minutes that I held her in my arms, I fell completely in love with her. She was asleep the whole time. Every now and then, she would crinkle up her face, but that was it. I could feel her tiny little body taking breaths, and her tiny little heart beating, and it was the most amazing experience ever.

Also, if you know me at all, you know that I’m super uncomfortable and awkward with babies, so I included photographic evidence below to prove that I did really hold her:

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Also, it’s a good thing she was sleeping, because apparently I look super creepy when I hold babies.

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This is a much better photo of her – you can actually see her wonderful little face! I was trying to decide if she looks more like her mom or her dad, but the jury is still out.

Also, how amazing does her mom look? That incredible woman just gave birth about 18 hours before I took this picture! She is a champion.

And now to be selfish for a moment and attempt to summarize why this experience was so significant for me:

The past few weeks have been pretty rough for me on a few different levels and for a variety of reasons.  I’m at an unusually low point these days, but getting to see my friend and her newborn baby last night made a huge difference. Holding The Peach in my arms was one of the most healing experiences ever. I could not stop smiling at her and talking to her, even though she was fast asleep. All of my self-consciousness about holding babies was gone because, in those moments, it wasn’t about me anymore. For a blessed evening, my problems faded into the background, and all that mattered was this tiny miracle who didn’t know or care about the layers of hurt and brokenness and baggage that I brought with me when I walked into that room.

And because she didn’t care about all of that, neither did I.