Monday, April 30, 2012

Getting into Deep Shit

I can’t remember why I was wandering around downtown late Friday night – I do so on occasion, feeling like I’m searching for something that I can’t really pinpoint. Is it food? Is it love? Is it a human connection? I like peering into peoples’ stories as I pass by – a couple on a date; a family having dinner; a group of girlfriends on their 3rd round of martinis. On my second lap around town, I got distracted from my soul searching by the overwhelming stench of dog shit, which had been smeared down the sidewalk for half a block. As I dodged the poo and fellow pedestrians, I caught myself saying “Ew” aloud. This is where I totally diverged from whatever cookie or love story I’d been fantasizing over, as I began to consider how quickly we adapt to our surroundings.

My mind flashed back to August 1, 2007 – I remember the date because it was my first day of classes in Buenos Aires and I had decided to walk home to familiarize myself with the huge metropolis. The second block from my university,  I squished down into a huge pile of dog poo; my newly lubricated shoes carried me sliding into the intersection where I stopped a few inches shy of the broad side of a taxi. These little land mines were a normal aspect of Argentine life; I didn’t bother with being grossed out, but simply learned to maneuver around them.  In Mexico, although droppings from every kind of animal littered the roads like fiesta confetti, we quickly realized that sidestepping poo mounds was not as crucial as learning to evade the wild dogs that dropped them. Carrying a rock and the air of a beast-tamer became a part of our daily commute.

So here I am walking down the sidewalk in this amazing city in a very privileged country and I say “ew” to dog crap. Has my identity changed from the girl who stepped off the plane and marveled at her hotel’s shiny toilet seats? When I get dressed for work, my boots remain in the corner; my fingernails stay clean (and sometimes even pink); and the sun doesn’t shine into my cubicle to beat down on my neck. My calluses have worn away, my new phone can Google your mom, and though cutting the lawn with the push-mower seems to be only a small step up from the dull machete I still boast about, it is a step forward nonetheless. How quickly we adapt to our surroundings to find ourselves comfortable and necessitating what we have within our grasp. I was totally content surviving on beans and tortillas for two weeks straight. Now I find myself perusing the farmer’s market considering spiced pumpkin ravioli and sprouted nut butter for $12/jar.

Does our identity change as we transition to new chapters, or do we carry the past chapters with us and build on them? I’ve always had this theory that we swap little bits of our souls with the people and places we encounter as we move through life.  Perhaps this is why I feel perpetually unsettled – because I have parts of me everywhere; a chunk of my identity is still in the campo with the dog poo and amazing neighbors, Mayan ruins, pot holes, beggars and horses in pickup trucks.

I guess I’m in a matrix – always adapting to the present elements, but eternally trying to get my soul whole as I leave its droppings around the globe. That's deep shit. 

Sunday, April 15, 2012

My new phone can beat up your phone

I’ve done it, friends. I’ve crossed the threshold to the dark side and there’s no going back. I thought I’d hit that point when I signed up for a Twitter account, but seeing as how I haven’t tweaked since January, I assert that I officially caved this past Monday when I purchased a smart phone.

For those of you who don’t know me very well, first let me say thank you for reading a stranger’s blog, and secondly, technology gives me hives. The whole button pushing thing is really overwhelming to me and there are so many things to break. I’d rather be playing with sticks or frisbees and running in the quiet. Yet, here I am, holding the interspace in my palm.

It was a difficult process to arrive at this point. Upon returning from Mexico, where my phone was a little brick reminiscent of my first Nokia (sans Snake and sparkly pink case), I purchased a Samsung Evergreen. Despite being in early phases of creating a business, I presumed that as long as I had a phone that would call and text people my professional life could advance at a healthy pace. I was on a soapbox (which I still keep in my bathroom in case this whole smartphone phase bites me in the ass) about living simply, separating work life and home life and connecting with people not technology.

The Evergreen had a little green sticker that indicates a percentage of recycled materials, and well, green was in the name. I like to think I’m not a sucker for subliminal marketing, but apparently I’ll have to bring it up with my eco-therapist. The reviews of the phone indicated that it occasionally would reboot itself, but my immediate response was that I can deal with a little refresher now and then, so why not allow my phone the same courtesy? Four months, one battery and one replacement phone later, I was still having the same conversation with AT&T: “My phone is a hazard to my career. Every time I try to text someone it reboots. It shuts off when I call people. Yes, I checked the white square, the golden doo-dads, the sim card, the yes, I’ll hold…Yes. I’m here….hello? Hello? Gaaaaaaa!!!!!”

I have spoken to AT&T 8 times since February. They really are lovely people. I became especially close with an amicable gay man from Bangladesh in my later calls. We still exchange casserole recipes, but the best he could do on the phone front was to offer me one of three equally dysfunctional alternatives. With clammy hands and a racing heartbeat, I opened the door to the AT&T store and walked into the incandescent lighting and unnecessarily frigid air-conditioning of the 21st century.

Our local store employs a family friend who has seen my family through many a cellular crisis. She followed up with the insurance agency after my brother dropped 3 smartphones in the toilet (oh, wait – two smart phones and one normal one that got a thorough cleanse in the washer. His hair dryer plan almost salvaged it had it not been for the tenacious 9 key, but I digress). She held my hand in November as I perused the smart phones and settled on the Evergreen. So when I came into the store on Monday, it was almost as if she’d been expecting me. She informed me that Evergreen buyers have been old and probably don’t use the phone enough to be concerned about its manic reboots. After much counseling and deep breathing, I chose the simplest smart phone and an AWESOME purple cover about which I am equally if not more excited.

I think it’s a testament to my personal growth that I got this phone on Monday and still have not cried. I even helped my boss sync her emails to her new phone! Booyah. I was walking to West End Bakery this afternoon and realized that I could look up how many sub-species of opossums there are and the quickest way to Peoria, Illinois right this moment. I feel overwhelmed with power…and a little bit just overwhelmed. For a spot of deep irony, here is a picture of my phone, taken from my phone and uploaded directly from my phone. (That last part is a lie – baby steps.) 

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Advice From a New Professional

As a gainfully employed member of society, I would like to find a way to give back to those who are also aspiring to become respected participants of the economy. If you think I’m about to donate money, please take a step back. I just spent the last 2 years as a “volunteer”; Uncle Sam still somehow found out I’m a socialist and took it out on my checkbook; I currently work for part-time for a non-profit and the rest of the time as a budding entrepreneur writer. So if you think I’m about to cough up a dime in your honor, it would only be because I confused it for a Cheeto as I was digging through the couch. No, dear friends, I’m about offer you some insightful wisdom from an inside-the-office perspective. Take heed - this is sage advice that can only be gained from having spent at least one month in a building with incandescent lighting and more than 4 floors.

First is food etiquette: There are good and bad foods to eat while you’re working at your desk. Anything that serves as a vehicle for bringing peanut butter to your mouth is a surefire energy boost and requires little brain power. One note of observation (ahem, not from first-hand experience): ants on a log may be a well-balanced and nostalgic snack, but the smell of celery tends to linger and then you become known as “celery girl” in the break room. Speaking of lingering: no Indian leftovers, heavy garlic or tuna fish…or beans.

Dry granola is another no-no. I tried eating it from a baggie this morning, and wound up with a small mound of flax seeds and oats that missed my mouth and came to rest on the next available shelf – my chest. I was able to subtly clean myself off without drawing attention, but then I noticed that there were flecks falling into my keyboard. How do you go about explaining to your boss that you simply can’t send out the agenda addendum because there is a raisin trapped under your “A”? Does digging dried fruit out of your computer get classified as general admin?

On attire: Always look good until the last possible second. Change in your car if you have to. I’m sure the parking guys would appreciate it. As women of the office we spend so many mindful minutes fixing our hair, lining our eyes and selecting an outfit that is both slimming and sophisticated. Murphy’s Law (if I ever met Murphy, I’d probably punch him): we can spend all day in our respective cubicles, occasionally venturing down the hall to the bathroom or to the FedEx drop box. During this time we will never encounter anyone we know outside of our office network. The day wanes into late afternoon and we close our laptops to head off to tennis, yoga, or ribbon dancing; and the moment the hair gets pulled back and those mesh shorts get hiked up just below the belly button, it’s “Oh, hey, Rachel!  You look, um….you work downtown?” Such timing is simply a life lesson with which we must come to terms. It is a law that cannot be amended, for the law bends to cruel irony and not to toned calves in yellow pumps.

We also must come to terms with the war we are waging. No, friends, I am not referring to the Middle East; I am referring to the printer. Whether you believe in Karma or corporate conspiracy, it doesn’t really matter, frankly. The bottom line is that when on deadline, the indispensable power point that goes in the uber important folder for the highly critical meeting will only print every other page in 4-page chunks. Around the 3rd printing cycle, the machine will confuse your command with the other administrator’s request to print off 30 envelopes with return address labels. Finally concluding that violence lead to nothing but personal expenses, the next best option is to repeat the same command on your own computer, turn around 3 times and then go to the bathroom. It’s kind of like when you time a visit to the restroom after you’ve ordered food at a restaurant – you know that as soon as you come back your meal will arrive. Same deal with technology – if you go to the bathroom in the middle of an overload, everything will be fine when you come back. I have just given you a small glimpse of my Tuesday. For me, the battle was won based on knowledge of the universe’s tricks. But the war may rage on forever. My advice to you is to be at peace with this, and breathe deeply before hitting “print”.