Chic Like Cruella and My Newest Nemesis: Lessons from the Decade for Handling Surprises

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My mood for 2020. Art by Naomi Devil.

At the end of every year, we spend a lot of time reflecting. You start to see “best of” lists scattered across the internet. Best books, best shows, best podcasts. Best pop culture moments. Best moments in politics.  The person of the year! Most underrated movies. Most overrated movies. Movies that make you happiest. Movies that make you saddest. Movie that make you crave a taco.

There are ways to compile your “most liked” Facebook posts throughout the year, and your “Top Nine,” your nine most popular Instagram posts from the last twelve months. My friends have started posting their most played songs and artists from Spotify, and I’m sure there is some website where you can see your best tweets and snaps and TikToks from 2019. There might as be lists of the best outfits, sneezes, car-singing, and burps. The best use of a turning signal, Target purchases, high-fives, and Tupperware containers you forgot in the back of your fridge.

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Pictured: My top nine Instagram posts. Your takeaways include 1) I was able to travel to Scotland this year, 2) I saw a lot of cliffs, 3) I also saw my cousin Sully, and 4) he’s the best. As good as a nice cliff? Who’s to say.

It can get excessive, but for better or for worse, as we wrap up one year and get ready for another, it turns into our time for review. Of the highs, of the lows, of the fines for the last twelve months. Whether you like it or not.

With 2019 in our rearview, we’re also saying “so long!” to the last decade. The “best of” articles, posts, and lists have hit a fever pitch. Those “best of” lists bloat up to include the top hundred songs/artists/movies of the last ten years. On Buzzfeed, they’re posting article after article of British stars appearance in 2009 and 2019; of music artists in 2009 and 2019; and what everyone needed, a list of “Hot Guys” in 2009 and 2019. I saw a list of the greatest TV characters from the last ten years, and going very niche, earlier today I saw a list on Twitter of someone describing their ten most poignant theater experiences from the last decade.

I’ve seen countless side-by-sides of my friends posting pictures of themselves from today and a decade ago, and Twitter was flooded with prominent and not-so-prominent figures sharing their accomplishments over the last ten years.

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This tweet was a joke, but also…was it?

It’s a lot, and how much we reflect can feel a little silly when you’re reading a list of the ten best work emails that used the correct number of exclamation points or the ten best movie soundtracks featuring a high school brass band funded by brownie-centric bake sales. But I think people like to see the ground they’ve covered, and take stock of the ground they might have forgotten.

Long story short, I fell into the trap.

I say fell. I’m a reflective person by default– I just got back from my Christmas vacation, and have been stuck in a cycle of remembering what a week ago felt like when I had all the time in the world! And luckily I stop just sort of reminiscing with people who pass me in the halls, “hey….remember a week ago? That was nice.”– so it was more of a triple-time step into the trap while I yelled, “HERE I COME, TRAP!” Continue reading

“I Need Some Space”: My new apartment and my return to sanity

 

I’ve never lived in a large space.

My first apartment was a winged two bedroom in the East Village in New York City. For an apartment to be winged, two rooms extend out from a connection point, like wings. In my apartment, that connection point was the kitchen with a side of bathroom. My roommate and I used it less as a kitchen, and more as a living room since we would spend most nights sitting on the floor of the kitchen, drinking wine and eating rosemary and olive oil popcorn from Trader Joes as we talked about our day.

My bedroom was the smaller of the two. It was what people imagine when they think of an apartment in New York. My room had space enough for a twin bed, a single chair, a dresser, a small book shelf, and a lamp. When I would study for finals, I would sit on the floor surrounded by library books and notecards, and with my back to my bed, my toes could just about reach my closet on the other side of the room.

In short, I was actual Polly Pocket, but it was exactly what I needed at the time.

It made my second apartment, a nondescript studio in Wisconsin, look positively spacious. It was palatial. I moved into that studio for the rent as it came to my attention that bills were in fact a priority. So I overlooked the nicer places for a roof over my head. And it didn’t hurt that roof came with a washer and dryer. At the time, it was all I needed and then some.

In a surprising twist, I stayed in that studio apartment for six years.

Let’s be clear, that was not the plan. And my last two years in the apartment were really pretty brutal.

It wasn’t really the apartment’s fault. Though after six years my initial thoughts of “what does a person do with this much space? Who needs all this space? Should I start a dance studio in the corner of this studio? Should I rent out that corner to neighborhood pets?” slowly transitioned to “the walls are going to swallow me. They are closing in, and that is how I will die.”

It wasn’t the apartment’s fault. It was my neighbor. It was my neighbor’s fault that I spent the last two years descending into madness.

To protect his privacy, I will identify him by a pseudonym. I will identify him as Gasbag. Gasbag Jones.

Over the two years he lived above me, I learned the following about Gasbag.

  • He prefers to listen to music at exactly 2:00 in the morning at full volume, though early Sunday morning’s are a particular good time to drunkenly listen to what I can best describe as a temper tantrum set to music.
  • He smokes on his patio, and dropped his cigarette butts into my plants.
  • He also enjoys listening to music at full volume in the daytime hours.
  • He is not opposed to taking a nap on the stairs to the second floor of the building if he’s had too much to drink.
  • He calls women “mademoiselle” when he’s trying to be endearing. It has the opposite effect.
  • He and his girlfriend got a dog– not allowed per the lease, by the way– and that dog would bark for hours at a time when the two of them were out.
  • When he sells things on the Facebook marketplace, he stores them in the communal hallway. Things including a stained mattress.
  • He’ll prop the building’s front door open for hours when it’s 20 degrees outside.

Over the two years he lived above me, I can only assume the following about Gasbag.

  • His hobbies include bookcase dominos and clogging.
  • He pronounces supposedly, “supposably.”
  • His nose whistles when he breathes.
  • He stands at the gate to board flights before his gate was called.
  • He talks during movies.
  • He uses Ax Body Spray as deodorant.
  • He kicks puppies for fun.
  • He is an actual bag of gas.

My life began to revolve around the gasbag upstairs.

Because of Gasbag, I learned that if I run the dishwasher right before I go to bed, and take a melatonin, I’d have a better chance of getting to sleep.

I learned that if I hear his music after 2:00 in the morning, I’d probably have quiet once I woke up because he’d probably be sleeping in.

I learned that there’s a certain floorboard he can step on to make it sound like the roof might actually cave in, and depending on how loud the crack was, I knew if he had guests or not.

I knew more about his comings and goings than I knew about any neighbor I’ve ever had. And facing another winter, facing months of being trapped inside listening to whatever noises Gasbag would fart out while ice coated everything outside, I finally cracked. I needed more space. For me and from Gasbag.

Last week I moved into a one-bedroom. And so far, I’m not quite sure what to do with myself.

Initial thoughts I’ve had:

  • “Should I be counting my steps? My bedroom is so far away… I left my water in the kitchen??! Should I take my phone with me in case of emergencies?”
  • After crashing on my sofa– I have a new sofa!– after a night of assembling furniture, I realized most people have to consciously *get up* when they make the choice to go to bed. Most people don’t just 1) eat dinner and 2) play Angry Birds for hours till you melt into sleep because your kitchen is your living room is your bedroom.
  • “ANOTHER CABINET!”- something I legitimately screamed when I realized that I no longer had to Jenga-stack my coffee mugs to fit in my one cabinet I had for dishes.

It’s amazing what space can do. I’ve been able to relax my shoulders and breath a little easier. This week as I’ve been unpacking, I’ve found myself stopping every couple hours, realizing how long it’s been since I thought about what a neighbor was doing, calculating how many minutes of quiet I’d have when I heard my neighbors leave the apartment, wondering what combination of white noise I’ll need to sleep through the night. Dryer, fan, dishwasher? Dishwasher, podcast, with my left arm flung over my ears? 8 melatonin gummies and audiobook?

So I’m not only left with physical space but mental as well.

Almost six years ago, I sat in the floor of my new studio apartment, looking around at all the empty corners asking myself, “what do people do with all this space?” Overtime I filled it with books and projects and socks I kicked off after coming home from work till there were no corners left. If I reached from my kitchen, I could grab things on my bed. I had to squeeze past my plants to get to my desk. There were nails in every wall, not for art, but for extra storage for oven mitts, necklaces, and bathrobes.

Aside from the year and a half of grad school that I’ve paid for, this is my life’s biggest purchase. And I am in love.

I’m typing this from my new blue velvet couch, looking around my living room wondering something very similar. I wonder what people do with this space? What do people do who don’t store things in strategic piles around their apartment? What do people do when they aren’t constantly considering the comings and goings of their neighbors? What do people do when they have enough space?

  • Host support groups for people with bad neighbors?
  • Rent out your living room to an exercise boot camp?
  • Create sculptures out of Pellegrino bottles and plastic to-go containers from the local Chinese restaurant?
  • Use that mental space to learn a new language? To try a new recipe? To solve the world’s problems? Or at least my own?

I may just sit on the floor and point my toes knowing they’ll come nowhere close to my closet. Or walk to my desk without having to shimmy past my fiddle leaf. I may just have to fall asleep without having at least two sources of white noise drowning out any gasbags in the vicinity or remember how to give my neighbors the benefit of the doubt.

For now, I’ll just sit in it. Or dance in it. Or be grateful for it.

Or get an accent chair. We’ll see.

Breakfast Sandwiches and Clearing out Cobwebs: My Go-To Breakfast Sandwich Recipe

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Ok. So…2019.

2019 has been odd. For reasons that include varying degrees of woe, both real and imagined– except one time where I got trapped in a parking deck after thirty minutes of running around with hands full of nickels. That was one of the real ones.– the creative juices have not been flowing this year. And as such, I think this blog, like my apartment, might have a cobweb problem.

In other news, I’m adding my apartment cobwebs to the list of reasons I’m transitioning into a forest witch. Other reasons include my newly grey hair, my container garden that somehow has found a way to be overrun with weeds, and my newly purchased crystal.

I bought it because I thought the green was pretty. As it turns out, it will also help with healing and finding internal peace! Bonus!

It’s not like I haven’t been writing. My “draft” folder is a graveyard in ideas I ditched with an “ehhh…this is probably dumb.”

Things I’ve written about:

  • What’s on my vision board?
  • Developing my own pilot alphabet! (This was after a trip to a local air show)
  • That one time when I made jelly
  • A post titled “TRADITION!” And nothing actually written down.

Ideas have just had a hard time sticking, but I’ve missed writing routinely, that hole in my schedule being filled with scrolling through Twitter and wondering if you can get an ulcer scrolling through Twitter. (It’s a morality wasteland.)

So when it came to trying to get my writing rhythm back, I decided to turn to what I know. My source of truth. My guiding light. My north star.

The breakfast sandwich. Continue reading

This is Not a Travel Blog: Scotland, Magic, and The World’s Best Airbnb Host

This week I was at my standing desk– something I definitely appreciate as the healthier alternative to sitting and certainly don’t think wistfully of my days spent at a sitting desk, twisting my spine into something resembling a double knot and losing all feeling in my feet– and I heard a high-pitched buzzing.

This noise was new.

There are some noises I hear from my office that I am used to. The semi-constant throat-clearing coming from a few doors down, almost but not quite prompting me to leave a bag of lozenges outside his office. The heavy-footfall of a colleague who marches around barefoot periodically throughout the day, a noise my office mate and I have largely gotten used to, but to the uninitiated, could be mistaken for the actual Jolly Green Giant. The subdued buzz of my desk fan, the only thing that stands between me and the embarrassment of daily pit stains.

But this noise was a new one.

I asked my office mate if she heard it, she and I establishing long ago that her sense of hearing was far superior to mine. (Once, I was listening to “Groove is in the Heart” by Deee-Lite through a set of headphones, a playlist choice I recognize was not my finest, and she was able to start singing it from her desk, just based on the muted beats and mumbles she could hear coming from my headphones.) And after a beat of silence, she says, “do you have music playing?”

I probably should ask her if she plans on using her super powers for good or for ill because as it turns out, yes, I had my music playing!!

I’d taken out my headphones for a phone call, and forgot to turn the music off.

“Ah, yeah. It’s one of my bagpipe songs. Bagpipes do tend to carry.”

The song was “Thunderstruck” by Andrew Forbes, a cover of the classic AC/DC song, played on bagpipe.

She responded, laughing, “…bagpipes? You need to go back to Scotland.”

I also remembering her mumbling about bagpipes for a few more seconds, and one can only assume she was mumbling about how cool and great they are. Continue reading

How to Test Software

 

New York Times, August 1945.

Just over five years ago, March of 2014 to be exact, my life took a sharp left turn. It was the kind of turn that, if you were in a car, would make you vaguely wonder if anyone would help you out of the ditch into which your car almost flipped.  It was the kind of turn that gives you what you think might be whiplash and leaves you googling WebMD’s cure for “probably whiplash.” It was a turn I never saw coming, and honestly, I’ve got to say…I’ve had better turns in my life.

In March of 2014, I moved to Wisconsin, and armed with two degrees, one in clothing design, with pattern-making and picking out fabric and delighting in building an outfit, and one in visual culture, digging through library shelves, being knee deep in articles while I listen to folk songs centuries old on Youtube, I drove through the falling snow into what my mind remembers as a wall of cold, unforgiving grey, I would start my job testing software.

Correction: I would start my job testing *healthcare* software.

I don’t know how I got that job. The interview process involved me trying and probably failing to decipher a made up coding language, swinging a mirror around a room to show the virtual proctor, a young woman in a royal blue polo shirt speaking to me over webcam, that I didn’t have any cheating materials in the room as I took my logic test but I did have a very unimpressed dog. And finally it included chasing a different dog through a field as I spoke to a woman on the phone about why my background researching Scottish history without a doubt made me a great candidate to test healthcare software. Thank you for asking.

This job was not part of the plan, but somehow, after five years of testing, of finding issues, of writing issues, of convincing my software developers that my issues were worth fixing, of convincing myself that developers are not worth rage-murdering, of going on walks to avoid the rage murder, of finding private corners to get weepy when I wondered what I did with my life, of dragging back to my desk when I stopped wondering, of learning about different medical charting schools of thought, of learning the basics of software code, of testing healthcare software…I got pretty good.

Which– and I’m not saying this to fish for reassurance and I’m not saying this to be self-deprecating– is kind of a surprise.

Let me tell you about software testers.

Software testers have clean desks. Looking across the room, my desk has an empty Pellegrino bottle, a vase full of dead flowers, and a stack of junk mail that I get from AAA. I also have a desk plaque emblazoned with the words, “SUCK LESS.” Important advice.

Software testers know every proper usage for a comma. They didn’t need their papers proofread in school. They did the proofreading. (Software testers notice everything. I’m also secretly hoping no software testers are reading this.)

Side note: For my first few years at my job, I led a weekly meeting of software testers, and I grew so exasperated with the constant commentary of what words I accidentally misspelled as I was taking notes, I started purposefully misspelling words declaring, “when you lead this meeting, you get to decide how things are spelled!”

I no longer lead that meeting. Continue reading

Blacksmithing, Blisters, and Sunday-Stomachaches

The teacher could have just as easily been a gold prospector from the 1800s as a machinist at a local college in the year 2019. He was wearing a white undershirt, jeans paired with suspenders, and a crumpled navy leather hat with a wide brim, was pulling out tools and laying them on corroded slabs of sheet metal that would double as the students’ workspaces. Today he was a blacksmith, and he was going to teach me how to do it. His name was Gary.

I was there to take Beginning Blacksmithing, a class held in an artists village in a small town off the beaten path in Southern Wisconsin. Nine of us were going to spend six hours hammering iron, most of us for no other reason than, “that could be fun!”

We all gathered around an outdoor covered space with five forges, each forge with a bucket of water and mounted anvil within a couple feet. And after learning about coal and the best ways to light a forge, the nine of us split off into pairs to build our forge fires.

I ended up sharing my forge with a man named Ray, and I learned that Ray grew up with a wood stove, so he immediately became fire team captain. (Don’t worry. I was in charge of cranking the bellows. A job I took VERY seriously as towards the end of the day, I found myself saying, “heeeere she goes. Heeeeere she goes. Come onnn, little lady!” when I’d get the fire to come back from smoldering embers. These are things totally normal bellows captains say that are definitely not weird.)

I was initially put-off by Ray when I asked what got him interested in blacksmithing, and he quickly responded, “KNIVES,” but as we built the fire, he patiently talked me through how he likes to build one– a technique we had more success with after failing a few times to light the fire with a donut of newspaper and coal– and once you’ve got one going, how you keep it going. Continue reading

Trying Counts: Gyms, Swimming, and Just Trying

When I was little,  gym was a terror. I was the the third grader doing her best to run around the gym with her class to the Top Gun soundtrack, mostly just wishing for it to end. And each year during the presidential fitness tests, I was the third grader who only logged one sit-up, and that was only when the teacher gave me a pity-boost.

I was the sixth grader who knocked down every hurtle on the track when asked to give it a try in front of the entire P.E. class. And I was the sixth grader who never once returned a serve during our tennis unit. To my credit, I was great at serving! But turns out, there’s tennis that happens after the serve too.

College made my trips to the gym a little bit better. Fewer ill-fated track and field units and more semesters of dance aerobics and Pilates. Waking up early with my suite mates and traveling to the campus gym to spend 30 minutes on the elliptical, watching Good Morning America and wearing Life is Good pajamas pants printed with hearts and smiley faces.

Afterwards, we’d go to the dining hall and have breakfasts of dry cereal and turkey bacon. That and sharing the spoils of our experiments putting whatever we thought we could safely add to the dining hall’s serve-yourself waffle iron.

But even then, I still remember the badminton class I took as a junior, and the look in my partner’s eyes every time I missed returning the shuttlecock. (As it turns out, I’ll never be great at racket sports.) It’s the look you give someone who stole your burrito or someone who won’t share her Bugles.

In grad school, my fitness was driven mostly by walking. Walking around New York City, thinking about the article I just read and the nearest public restroom and where I could grab a quick lunch that costs less than ten dollars. And while I found walking to be both physical and mental therapy, it meant I still didn’t have the muscles to protect my back from its most dangerous foe: a messenger bag full of library books about Scotland. Continue reading