olimay: (Default)
Edited from a story I posted in the #hellotoday channel of our Slack, 2016-12-25

My parents wanted to go to NYC to see some of the displays and the Rockafeller Center tree. Marlon straight up refused to go.

I really did not want to go but I thought it would not be so bad.

It started off okay, with us parking in JC to take the PATH in at Grove Street. But I struggled to find a place with a public restroom, so I ended up using a Johnny on the Spot after asking a security guard at a construction site. I realized I'd forgotten my iPhone charging cable, despite bringing my external battery. My phone was already dead

Then I helped a pair of Chinese women (limited English) who wanted to refill their Metrocard but only had cash, no credit/debit cards. One of them gave me cash, and I put it on my debit card.

It was interesting to be on the PATH again. 33rd to Herald Square. Then it began to go downhill for me. I really wanted the rest of the family to enjoy, but I was personally getting progressively more irritated at the crowds that were there to see all the touristy stuff I semi-resented ever since I lived in city, which I still live otherwise. Huge lines for bathrooms. Overpriced holiday food stalls in parks. People stopping in the middle of crowded sidewalks to take pictures, pictures, pictures. Social media culture has magnified and made this shit worse

The last straw was when we got to Fifth and about 49th. There was a massive crush of people stopping on the freaking corner to watch and capture the Sam's Fifth Avenue store light show. I got separated from everyone. The packed crowd jostling against each other extended for about a block and people were still stopping to take goddamn pictures. I was full on enraged at all this, and it took me about 15 minutes to get half a freaking block, shuffling and pressed up against people, getting shoved from behind and causing me to shove the people in front of me.

Unable to contact the rest of the family otherwise, I went to a Duane Reade/Walgreens and bought an overpriced Lightning cable. I knew full well that it would be relatively useless to me after this night, since most 3rd party cables do not it fit through my life proof case. I had to remove the case.

I decided I was not going to jostle back through the stagnant crowd again just to meet up with them so we could jostle through more crowds to see freaking tourist things I don't give a shit about seeing in person.

As soon as my phone turned on, I sent a series of texts to everyone:

You can go wherever. Don't wait for me. I bought a charging cable from Duane Reade so I will be getting your messages.

At some point I will meet you somewhere that is NOT CROWDED. Just tell me where. I am not going into Rockafeller or back on Fifth

And to the expected "where are you" and "we will wait for you"

Don't call to clarify with me. It will just be a pain in the butt. Just go on wherever you want to go to. I will hang out away from the crowds. I really don't care about any of the displays or touristy things anyway. There is nothing here I want to see and the crowd in Rockafeller is a nightmare

Just message me if you need tips getting around

I began to walk west, which was the opposite direction of the big crowds, but soon I hit the pedestrian traffic around Times Square, which is another place I find irritating. I was thinking of just stopping in a McDonalds, but I decided to keep going. I considered seeing if my friends Lawrence and Connie in Hells Kitchen were at home, but I felt a bit hungry and decided to stop a cheap restaurant I vaguely recommended ordering from.

I am just walking around on 9th by myself. I can meet you if you go sit down somewhere or once you're done seeing Rockafeller / Times Square area

Peace and quiet -- at least for the city. I was able to stop being angry. I didn't find that restaurant I was thinking of, but I spotted a tiny, authentic looking noodle place (named Hand Pulled Noodles II)

The only table was almost right up against the door. I didn't mind at all. When have I minded something like that? They gave me a pot of jasmine green tea and I ordered a beef stew noodle bowl. After all that, it was just the best.

I told him I'd meet them there, and then ate my soup eagerly and noisily, like you're supposed to. I finished up the remaining soup by drinking from the bowl directly. I used the bathroom and told them to keep the 20 (which was the same bill Chinese lady had given me). The cashier looked at me, stunned, but I told her, hey it's Christmas. I didn't mention that this was the redeeming part of the whole trip

Zipped up my jacket, retied my shoes, put on some headphones, and headed over to 33rd and Broadway at a nice, brisk city pace.

Met up with the family at the base of the 34th street entrance to the PATH station.

I wasn't sure if my parents were angry at me for refusing to meet them in the crowded center. But later I figured they were just tired, but satisfied with what they did

Got back to the car on Warren and Columbus Ave. Put on Sakanaction as we got onto the Turnpike. As we glides down the highway, I found the array lights of the industrial centers and the airport stretching into the distance more beautiful than anything the packed crowds had stopped to ogle.

I thought about what I frequently think about -- anxieties about people expecting me to want the same things in life that they do. A sort of disbelief that anyone would be indifferent to things like having a nice house, a good career (or creator of the next Big Thing), a prestigious title (Vice President of something or another), a huge salary, and an impressive office. There are crowds packed, jostling against each other to get to those things.

I realized that today had been a microcosm of my life, and what I value from it.

The peace I found when I got away to enjoy a bit of soup and some tea at a tiny table by myself, seeing beauty in the sight of lights coming from myriad warehouses and industrial installations, the sense of liveliness of walking through the city on my own terms -- these are small examples of the quality things I am looking for on the big scale.

olimay: (Default)
I called the package sorting job a firebreak. Certain worries of the past, much of the career failure baggage from the past ten years can burn and burn, but they won't cross over. I might have been wrong, though. At the very least, I was wrong about its completeness. The sense of refuge I mentioned began to crack today. As I shifted, flipped, and shoved boxes, I found myself worrying about my parents.

I know my dad is stressed out about finances. I know he asks why he has had to keep working, when he could have retired five years ago. I know he is stressed about having to pay several hundred for my student loans, when I never graduated from everywhere. I know frustrated with my brother and my progress in our lives. I know he asks himself what he did wrong as a father, and why we are unsuccessful, when the children of the people he knows have respectable careers, families, other achievements.

I don't share my father's perspective, or his values. But I can respect the things he finds valuable, and acknowledge his disappointments and his pain.

So how would I be able to tell him, with things strained as they are, that I am not interested in a career--any career, really? How could it possibly help to explain that a career doesn't look like a future to me? I don't think most of most of my friends would get that. How would that not come across as misguided, ungrateful, self-absorbed, and just plain wrong? I don't think I've accomplished anything in my life that would convince either of my parents--or most of the people I know--that I could be right about this at all.

I feel better when we drive over to the hub. For a while, I get extra shielding from these worries. We have a job to do, a tough, tiring job. But I am good at what I do, and the people who work with me are grateful. I am not face to face with reminders that there is work undone, that things are physically falling into disrepair.

The packages come down the conveyor belt. Even if I don't pick everything that is supposed to go down the chute, I move fast, and make a difference down the line. They keep asking me if I could stay for the night sort as well, and are disappointed when I decline. You're a good worker, and we could really use your help, they say.

Heavy flows block out other thoughts--it's move swiftly, pay attention, or miss the ten, twenty packages coming down the line, sometimes piled on top of each other.

But during the light flows, if I can't think of anything to talk about with my counterpart, I just think to myself. And the worries from outside creep in.

The third thought I had that day: you cannot simply exit.

There are no clean breaks or perfect transitions in life. There is no such thing as truly starting over. There will always be baggage you carry with you.

Picking packages off of the belt is tiring. My knees ache, my fingers ache. I refilled my one liter Nalgene during the ten minute break, but now it's empty again. I'm sweating it all out. My eyes, still darting around from label to label, feel weary. When the upside down tote box marking the end of the sort comes around the bend on the belt--what a relief. I was eager to leave behind home and its worries. But at the end of the shift, I am tired and eager to return.

Maybe a firebreak can stop the wildfire from spreading to your side. But eventually, you have to leave the sanctuary. You must cross over to the burned out remnants of the forest, to see what has changed, and what is still alive.
olimay: (Default)

Today was a light day at the package sorting hub. We finished extremely early. While that means fewer hours, I found it convenient, since I will need to be up very early tomorrow morning to head to NYC.

The light load was also fortunate, since my counterpart--I'll call him Cowen--was not in. He stands on the other side of the belt and also assists in intercepting certain packages. Without him there, the light load was moderately difficult.

Being alone at my station meant that I had the whole time to think to myself. Or, depending on how you look at it, I had to think to myself the whole time.

Every once in a while, my mood dips. Some days I don't get enough sleep (around nine hours for me) and that can lead to anxiety and depression. Other times I experience an event that brings up bad emotions. Shame often predominates my depressive moods. At least, that's what I call it--it's the opposite of feeling proud.

I'm only bringing this up because the second thought I had that day came up when I was trying to keep myself from slipping into a bad mood earlier that day. The thought was:

Sometimes, to get out of a bad situation, you have to cross something out.

I feel like that makes sense in a practical way. If you're stuck or trapped in a bad place, position, or state, you might be able to get free by removing something. Remove some of the walls or surfaces keeping you pinned down.

I'm still trying to figure things out. I've accepted that if I'm actually going to go after things I want in life, figuring it out is going to be mostly up to me. There isn't really a template to follow. And while I can chat with some friends, I get the sense that most of the people around me are following very different scripts. And I'm writing my own. To some extent, I have to remind myself that some of the people I know actually take some cues from what I am doing, even though I'm still really, really making things up.

Since I don't have ready made scripts, I use a lot of models in thinking about things. They aren't perfect, and some of them are at most loose metaphors but they help me a lot.

One model I've been thinking through Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs. I'm pretty sure I'm still stuck towards the bottom of esteem layer. I haven't progressed very much in society's terms--I don't earn a lot of money, I don't have a very prestigious career, and I haven't checked off common life milestones, like having children, getting married, or even a long-term significant other. On the more superficial side, I don't even have many experiences that can generate nice pictures to post on Facebook or Instagram. I don't have a college degree, and by all reasonable expectations, I'm probably going to be struggling with that for a while now. A lot of the time, especially because I'm close to my brothers, I feel all right.

But it gets to me. Last night, I was seeing everyone's baby and engagement and wedding photos.

If only I could cross out a large part of that pesky esteem layer! If only I could say, okay, not going to feel shame. If only I could save all the mental energy preparing to explain my life factors in terms other people can understand, only to have them give pretty pointless advice.

But I do kind of do that, or attempt to do that. From my own experience, my own hierarchy has a truncated esteem layer, or at least a very leaky border between self-actualization and esteem. Whenever things feel safe enough, I begin trying to tackle esteem and self-actualization sort of all at once.

What if I just reject the common social scripts that don't seem like they're going to work for me? A different model helped me see that quitting, exiting, or throwing out arrangements that aren't working for me has been a thing I tend to do naturally.

But you don't quit without side effects. I sure didn't. For social/life scripts, the side effect usually is that you have to write your own stuff. And then a bigger side effect is that people don't understand what's going on with you, while your script is still a work in progress. They'll try to pattern-match you to many tropes that just ain't relevant. And then, there's always the possibility that quitting carried a larger price overall than you first thought.

I'm dreading some encounters with relatives this winter. Even though I've felt that I'm learning very quickly how I want to live my life, and how I don't want to live my life, I know it will seem to them that I'm falling into a particularly bad script. And they will have suggestions about what I should be doing instead.

But for right now, I find myself in an interesting stage. I started training at the package hub just an hour after I completely failed an interview. It was sort of a desperate move at the time. I'd been looking for a job all fall, and I'd expected to keep searching in software development. Back in June, I wouldn't have expected I'd be working on a conveyor belt.

I feel strangely at ease, though. I earn enough to just barely pay bills, so I really don't want to stay forever. But most days, I feel really relieved at not feeling that I could be doing something else. While I'm at the hub, I'm doing my best almost all the time. No one there expects that I should be doing more. The packages keep coming down the belt, and I have to do my best to keep up and pick them off. But that's about it. Really, the hardest times of the week to deal with are my days off.

I know it's very temporary, and very limited, but this arrangement has provided a weird sort of haven from most worries. Maybe I'm not out of the rut yet, but at least there's some shelter for the rain.

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