Jun 24, 2009

Goal for the week: do something GPOYW-worthy

Every week, tumblr has this meme: GPOYW, or Gratuitous Pic of Yourself Wednesday.

It's worth noting that I've always been semi-famous (or infamous, depending on whether you're one among my acquaintance who doesn't like having their picture taken) for always having my camera on me and always taking an exorbitant number of pictures. No joke. I can snap 300 pictures in half an hour. And up until recently, I've had no problems coming up with new photos for GPOYW.

But lately, I just haven't been shooting very many pictures. There was UFO Fest about a month ago. A few quick shots of moving-related activities and the newly-decorated apartment. Really, though, I've been sort of boring for the past few months.

So my goal for the week is to come up with some new pictures. Of myself. Of anything, really. It shouldn't be too hard. We've got a concert this weekend, at the very least. All the same, it makes me sad that I haven't really done anything worth photographing in so long.

Jun 22, 2009

It's hard to write when what you really want to write about...

...is the one thing that could get you in big trouble.

I like my job enough that I'm not going to talk about any of the specifics here. But...seriously? Is there anything worse than going to work 40 hours a week and feeling like nothing you do matters, nothing you do is getting noticed (except, of course, the bad stuff), and nothing you can do will really change anyone's perception of you...no matter how off-base that perception might be?

I'm frustrated, and it's really getting me down, and I'm so caught up in it, I can't stop thinking about it long enough to come up with anything else to talk about.

Anybody have some good advice for ridding yourself of negative energies and meditating yourself into a zen like state? Because I could really use it right about now.

Jun 18, 2009

Letting go

When there has been so much love and happiness for someone, it is natural to be reluctant to close such a wonderful chapter in our lives, for moving forward is rarely accomplished without considerable grief and sadness. And while our sorrow may be profound, the clouds will clear, and the sun will shine on us again. And in that warm, bright light we will find ourselves facing a glorious future. A future of exciting challenges and infinite possibilities, in which the horizon will stretch out before us, trimmed in the heavenly glow of the sunrise of our tomorrow.

– The Little Prince (via)

Jun 17, 2009

Coupledom and having a life of your own

My boyfriend and I have for the past several months (and for another string of several months before that) lived anywhere from 100 to 2,000 miles apart, so for the most part, leading independent lives has never really been a problem. Instead, we've faced the opposite problem: figuring out how to lead completely separate lives while maintaining a sense of togetherness. As of last weekend, though, Kellen moved in, and my concerns about being an independent woman have set in.

There's a common story that goes something like this: girl meets boy, girl falls for boy, girl ceases to exist as an independent entity. This usually results in the girl ditching her friends (Katie at Otherwise Optimistic describes the friendship fallout in painful detail), her hobbies and interests, her favorite activities, and spends most of her time hanging out with her boyfriend.

I'm sure guys do this to, to some extent, but girls are honestly the worst offenders when it comes to being subsumed by their relationships. I don't say this as a slander to women, either. We've all been so trained to believe that a man and a functional relationship are integral to our value as women (every princess has to have her prince charming!), and that they are prizes so highly sought-after we must do anything to get them and keep them, I can't really blame women for forgetting there are things outside of their relationships that are worth their investment of time and love. After all, centuries of social programming can't be undone overnight. (Note: Yes, I'm a feminist.)

At the same time, this phenomenon creates some pretty serious problems for women. For one, the older women get, the more frequently their friends, and consequently their social networks and support systems, begin to drop like flies. Particularly if a woman remains single for a long time, she can find herself being the odd girl out more often than not, with few good friends who are as devoted to her as she is to them. Just think about Sex and the City. A large part of the fantasy of the show, perhaps even moreso than finding the right man, is the idea that a woman could get to be in her mid-30s and still have friends who haven't completely sacrificed her in the name of a relationship, a husband, or children. The way we women abandon our friends creates, I think, a culture of believing all of our friends will abandon us and makes us distrust our female relationships. Instead, we rely on our male relationships...perpetuating a vicious cycle of abandoning both our friends and our individual selves.

For another, there's the entire fact that when you do these things yourself, you lose your own support network, your own emotional and creative outlets, your own ways of coping with stress, and, yes, a little of your own identity. And it's not just the fact that he might not always be around that should concern women. It's the fact that you lose a lot of the things that help keep you centered, that help you cope, that help you know who you are and what you want from life. While he might be able to supply some of those things for you, you'll never be able to completely replace a healthy relationship with yourself.

Beyond that, there's also the problem that so much togetherness often makes people crazy. (Note: If you haven't found that out yet, I'm guessing you haven't been dating your SO for very long.)

Which brings me back to where I started: I need to find a way to ensure I maintain my separate identity and my independent live, while he maintains his, too.

When Kellen and I lived together before, we tended to spend a lot of our time together. I defended the behavior in large part because, 1) Kellen and I had barely seen each other at all before and were sort of binging on amazing togetherness after months of deprivation, and 2) I was new to Portland and still hadn't made a lot of my own friends here. Kellen was pretty much my entire social network, which, really? Kind of sad. Don't get me wrong. My boyfriend is awesome. But a girl can't live on a boyfriend alone.

Over time, what I started to notice was that when we spent every spare second together, we started to get on each others' nerves a little. Every couple has small differences that, when put under the magnification of constant and intense togetherness, can quickly become big problems. The biggest problem we had was that I prefer to go to fewer social gatherings, spend less time at them, and need more downtime between them to recover than he does. He's much more social and just likes to be around people more.

By trying to exist on the same social schedule, we were kind of making ourselves miserable, with either him sitting around the house wanting to go out, or with me at social outings where I was just pooped and ready to go home. Eventually, I just started staying home on some of the occasions when he went out. And things improved quickly. I got my alone time. He got his social time. We spent less time together when one or both of us was irritable, and I think we both enjoyed our time at home, and our time out, all the more because we weren't forcing ourselves into situations we didn't really want to be in.

Another thing I noticed, though, is something I'm still going to need a lot of work on. I've mentioned before that I'm kind of introverted (or downright shy, depending on how you want to look at it) and that I struggle to make new friends. I have always been the sort that once I have a friend who serves as an "in" for a social group, I make friends quickly with the entire group...but I need that "in" person first. Kellen is the guy who always becomes an "in" person, almost instantaneously. I don't know if I've ever mentioned this, but half the reason I fell for him is because he's insanely charming. No matter where he goes, he manages to fit in and make conversation and make everything not awkward—skills I don't possess.

Kellen is, in short, my choice social lubricant—much like vodka, minus the whole "I'm going to regret this later" side effects. This sounds bad, but I use him a lot as a social crutch. If there's a party, I prefer him to come with me, even if it's a party being thrown by people I work with. It's easier if he's there. In general, and I think a lot of couples find this, having someone else who is always with you helps to deflect some of the pressures experienced in social settings. You've got someone to share the responsibilities of starting conversation, keeping conversation going, and delivering a graceful exit when the time comes. Even if Kellen and I don't find anyone to talk to, at least we can talk to each other, and I don't end up lingering awkwardly by the punch bowl...alone.

So, yeah, I use my boyfriend as a social crutch. And the thing is, it can't continue like this. It keeps me from forcing myself to get out there and cultivate relationships with other people and from developing necessary social skills. Plus, I'm not proud of the fact that I rely so much on my boyfriend for something any reasonably self-confident grown woman should be able to do on her own. Part of the great thing about being in an LDR and spending so much time alone, of course, is that over the past year, I've started to get out more on my own, if for no other reason than pure necessity. There have been times when Kellen couldn't be there, and so I've had to go it alone. So...it's improving. I just worry I'm going to relapse now that he's easily accessible again. (He really is starting to sound like my drug habit, rather than my boyfriend, isn't he? Precisely why I'm telling all of you, it's not healthy to be so dependent on another human being!)

For all of you girls out there who are in relationships, especially those of you just getting started, I encourage you to hold on to your own interests and your own friends. Don't be that girl who ditches a friend in her time of need just because your boyfriend wants to hang out and watch movies. Don't be that girl who only calls her girlfriends when she's on the outs with her significant other. Don't be the girl who gives up all of her own interests and activities to spend all of her time with her boyfriend and become interested in all the things he's interested in: he won't appreciate that you've given up so many of the things he loved about you, and after a while, you will probably realize you don't appreciate that you've given up so many of the things you once loved about you, either.

Jun 16, 2009

Twenty-something women who inspire me

So for the past several weeks, I've been getting incredibly down on myself about the fact that I feel like I'm living a dead-end life. I've sold out my ideals for a steady paycheck and decent benefits. I no longer travel. I no longer do design for myself. I feel like I'm not doing anything meaningful or worthwhile, to be honest. The highlight of my week is either weekends with my boyfriend (he's moved in now, btw—hooray!) or my 2-hour adult band rehearsals on Tuesdays. I've been dealing with higher than normal levels of depression, anxiety about both my present and future, and a general desire to either hide under the covers until everything changes itself or to quit my job, ditch the apartment, and just run away for several months. This isn't a new impulse for me. I've gotten it every few months since I was about 16, and no matter what I do, it always seems to be there, lurking around each shadowy corner, waiting to jump out and grab me at my weakest moments. Contentment with the routine has never been my thing, and in the past, I've never been really afraid to give into the impulse to cut bait and run when I had the option.

Lately though, I've been struggling to convince myself that maybe I should act on the impulse. That maybe it's time to jump into something new. I've always been the sort who needs a secure landing spot before I jump, though, and right now there don't seem to be any safe places to land.

At the same time, there are many women around me—women in my real life, women I know primarily through the blogosphere, women I know by reputation through friends—who continue to inspire me with their ability to make those incredible leaps, to do incredible things and to live, by turn, incredible lives. Today I'm writing a post about the women who inspire me, who motivate me, who nudge me a little closer to the proverbial precipice. I hope you can find inspiration in them, too.

Nicole
Nicole is spending the next few months living out of a duffle bag. She's going to be crashing couches all over the country, experiencing new people, new places. She runs a website called HandsIn, which talks about, encourages and provides opportunities for 20-somethings to volunteer. She has ambition and goals, and she's taking steps to lead an independent and fulfilled life. So awesome.

Lisa
I first found Lisa on the 20-something bloggers community. (Note: If you aren't there, you should be!) Lisa founded this incredible community which has become a fantastic resource for so many young bloggers and people involved in the online community. And she's currently in the midst of an almost 3 month trip to Kenya. And she's only 21. Holy wow.

Kim
Kim is one of the coolest friends I made in college, and I have to be honest, she kills me with her work ethic. She recently finished up her double grad degree in Journalism and Public Affairs (correct me if I'm wrong, Kim) at UT, and during this time she's worked on starting multiple companies of her own. She's built up some pretty amazing design chops, become involved in AIR-Austin (Accessibility Internet Rally) and I think won the competition twice(?), continually seems to be working ten different jobs, and right now is working part-time for two different companies, and seems to be building a career for herself that she actually enjoys. (Whoa. Who does that in their 20s?) Plus, she's always traveling to cool places and making me very jealous. I am inspired by her ability to put in the hard work required to build the life she wants.

Elyse
Elyse is another friend from college, who also does amazing things...all the time. Right after she graduated from college, she biked from Austin to Alaska in the Texas 4,000 and is currently kicking ass in med school. She's one of those people who makes up her mind to do something, and always has incredible reasons for doing them, and then just does them. She doesn't require anyone else to go her way with her. She's fierce and independent, and I admire the hell out of her.

Amber
Amber is a friend of Kellen's whom I met once very briefly at a lunch in Texas when she came down from Oregon to visit. I really liked her when I met her, and when I found a link to her blog on Kellen's site, I became even more impressed. Not only is she an amazing writer, but she is a person who loves to travel and has a genuine desire to help people. Dissatisfied with her first post-college job, she recently quit and is spending the summer traveling and taking on sort of DIY self-improvement projects. She's also landed a job doing something she has a passion for—she'll be working for Girls, Inc. in the fall. The way she's really stuck by her ideals, the way she always seems to be actively seeking out the life she wants...she's very inspiring. I've been secretly reading her blog for 4 years (I finally came out of the closet a few months ago) for that very reason.

That's what I've got for now. I really hope you find these girls as amazing and impressive as I do, and that they encourage you to look for whatever it is you want from life and to be unafraid to reach for it when you find it.

Now I've got a question for you: Who inspires you?

Jun 12, 2009

Craigslist Hell

So I don't know if I've mentioned this here or not, but about a month ago I moved. Nothing major. I just loaded everything into a truck and hauled it 40 blocks closer to my work—effectively cutting my commute in half. The new apartment is pretty fantastic. I got 300 more sq. ft. for a whopping $3 more each month. It's partially underground, so it stays cool on even the hottest days. Plus, I'm getting two roommates (the boyfriend and his current roommate) in t-minus 1 day.

Awesome.

Of course, as with any move, there is always some trouble figuring out where to store everything and the occasional buying/selling of furniture. Part of my additional 300 sq. ft. is a dining room, which I didn't have at my old place, and so I've added a dining table to my shopping list. And because my kitchen is about half the size of the old one, I don't have cabinet space for some of my dishes and food products, so I've added a stand-alone pantry to the list, too.

Because I hate buying new and having to pay exorbitant prices for what more often than not is particle board that will fall apart in a few years anyhow, Craigslist has become my new best friend. The only problem? Wading through dozens of ridiculous/overpriced/trashy pieces of furniture, often with bizarre/vague descriptions and no pictures, or written by people who are so creepy just in writing that I have no desire ever to meet them in person.

In Portland you see a lot of advertisements for "vintage" or "antique" furniture, which they've marked up to antique store prices, but which often lack antique store polish. For the "vintage" dining tables, I've come across far more heavily scratched, stained or damaged finishes, mismatched dining room suits, and just plain tacky 10-year-old cheap furniture than I have anything that I would actually be willing to pay a little extra for due to its historical value.

Then there is all of the stuff from IKEA and Target being resold at almost the same price as new items from those stores, and after a couple of years of use, I'm sorry, but it's particle board. It doesn't retain value.

There is everything listed as "brand new," which usually means: 1) it is being sold by a furniture store at furniture store prices, 2) it is being sold by someone who really did just buy this furniture and are being forced to get rid of it for whatever reason and are trying to lose as little as possible on the deal, and 3) the stuff that isn't new at all and is just being peddled as new so people can drive up the prices. Not that the differences in this category really matter, though, since most of the stuff in this category is pricey, and even if the item is pricey for good cause, that doesn't make the money magically materialize in my bank account.

The rest of the stuff on Craigslist, the stuff that has been listed honestly and is being offered at a reasonable price and isn't total rubbish? Most of it is just tacky. Nobody wants to buy anything wooden (or particle board) that is the same color as the wood paneling in my parents' house that's been there since 1972. Nobody wants your smurf blue couch...or your couch that's the color of baby poop...or your couch that has the pastel patterns that haven't been in since the 80s. And nobody over the age of 19 wants your futon, okay? Nobody. So just do everyone a favor and leave it by the dumpster.

Then, after searching for days and days and finally finding something you actually like that is in a reasonable price range, you e-mail or text the person (whatever they say is the best method of contact) and wait anxiously to find out if you can have a now much-coveted piece of furniture. After all, you've wasted hours of your time scouring the internet to find it. You feel almost like you deserve it for the pain you've endured. But about half the time, you never hear a word of response. The other half, the stuff you actually liked has already been sold. And you're back at square one.

*sigh*

Seriously, if it's this difficult to find decent furniture on Craigslist, why the hell do people even bother trying to date on Craigslist?

Jun 10, 2009

Recommended reading: what's an unemployed college grad to do?

Seth Godin has some pretty fantastic suggestions for what the unemployed newly-graduated can do with all their free time. These are things you could do that would up your experience, your skill level, and your employability, all while giving you much more enriching/fulfilling/dare I say it, even fun things to do other than sitting around on your parents' couch moaning about how much it sucks not to have a job. (And boy does it ever suck.) And even if you do have a job, these might be great things to do in your personal time.

Apparently some responded to Seth's blog with some criticism, namely how to pay the bills while doing a lot of pro bono work and self-funded training. If you can stay with your parents, or even some really generous friends, for a while, or if you can get some crappy job that helps you make rent, there's no reason why you can't devote at least some of your time to these activities. They could bring you a job you really do want, or just give you some things to feel good about in your life. Regardless, I think it's worth considering. I know I'm already adding some of these items to my to do list.

Read it!

Thanks, Adam, for the link!

Jun 8, 2009

Life after college...myths or reality?

Gradspot recently posted an article written by Kristen Fischer, author of Ramen Noodles, Rent and Resumes: An After-College Guide to Life, entitled Ten Myths About Life After College. In this, Fischer attempts to take the scary veneer off of The Real World by saying that all those horror stories you've heard about life after college are just that: stories.

The only problem? A lot of them aren't just stories.

I've personally experienced 7 of the 10 items listed here, and upon a cursory survey of other friends and acquaintances, it's pretty obvious that I'm not alone. Have I gone through a "quarter-life crisis" and mild depression since leaving college? Yes. Have I struggled to pay the rent, pay off my student loans, pay for food? Yes. Have I used my degree in my career or stayed in touch with my friends from college? No. Are my troubles just the result of a lack of a go-get-'em attitude? No. And I know plenty of others who have struggled with a lot of these things, too. The chances that you will be able to avoid all of these in your first few post-grad years? Um...not so good.

And it's not that I want to scare people or make people worry about their future. I just want to make it clear that the myths being debunked here aren't myths. They are very real situations, and they are happening to large numbers of people just out of college, just starting their careers. What I want people to realize is that not only do these things happen and happen regularly, if they happen to you (and it's likely at least some of them will), it's not the end of the world. A lot of people are going through the same thing, so you're not alone in what you're experiencing. Just because you struggle with some of these areas doesn't make you a failure or reflect badly upon you in any way. And just because you struggle with some of these now doesn't mean you always will. Things will get better.

A lot of these are useful, or even necessary, experiences to help you, well, grow up. A quarter-life crisis could help you to realign your career goals and move toward a more fulfilling life. Struggling to find a job can force you to improve your resume, your interview skills, and to increase your education or training for a given field. Moving home with mom and dad can be a smart temporary solution, which will save you a lot of money and leave you better prepared for the future. Losing touch with your old friends just means you will make new ones. And not being able to pay the bills can teach you some pretty serious budget skills that will be valuable for the rest of your life. And if you can't think of any other positives coming out of your current trial, at least it will teach you patience: this too shall pass.

Sometimes, knowing what is out there, knowing what you can expect is a good thing. You can make plans and adjust your expectations accordingly. Moreover, knowing that a lot of people are going through the same thing can take the scariness out of the situation. Denying that a lot of young people do go through these things and do struggle to overcome them isn't helpful, though.

You will probably struggle your first few years out. Money will be tight. Your job very well might stink. You may still not know what you want to be "when you grow up." These things are just a part of being in your 20s, though, and while, yeah, sometimes it sucks, this is stuff everyone goes through. It's stuff everyone needs to go through to figure out what they want, how to get it, and how to keep it.

Jun 5, 2009

I screwed up. Now what?

So it started about a month ago, the week I had my interview for a promotion. Earlier in the week, I had not done a high priority ticket that I was supposed to do and had almost (I didn't, but I cut it close) missed a deadline. It had been a mix-up. I received an e-mail from my boss telling me that two projects were high priority, and from verbal communication I assumed that #2 on the list was the most high priority. I was wrong. The snafu was brought up in the interview, but...it was a one-time thing, I had corrected the problem, and I didn't think about it very much after that.

Then something weird happened. I screwed up another project. It came on the heels of the other two projects, and I didn't have quite enough time to get it done to my liking...but I sent some content live that had some pretty serious errors. And then in one week, from a combination of projects that I was working on, I received more errors that were my fault from quality assurance than I have in the entire 15 months I'd been here before combined.

Then I missed another e-mail. I think I deleted it, but I don't know, because I didn't get it until a couple of days later when my boss sent it to me again, saying that the person who needed the content requested in the e-mail was upset.

I had to have a meeting with my supervisor about what was bringing down my performance, what needed to happen to ensure I was reading all my e-mails, what I could do to improve. My boss started ensuring I received critical e-mails by sending them to me twice and putting notices on them so that he would get a message as soon as I read them.

Then today, I was late (really late) for the meeting where they delivered the decision to me on the promotion. It was scheduled in my lunch hour, but I forgot about it and skipped off to lunch. I got back before the meeting was supposed to end (thank God), but that didn't really do anything to change the fact that I was really, really late. Not surprisingly, I didn't receive the promotion. And the fact that I've screwed up lately, "need a sense of urgency," and need to pay more attention to detail was brought up in front of another supervisor, as was the fact that we'd already had a meeting to discuss this.

The thing that gets me? I've only been late to two other meetings the entire time I've worked here, 16 months. I've received more errors from quality assurance in the last month than ever before, total. In fact I'm pretty sure I more than doubled the my total this month. I've never missed an e-mail. Never come close to missing a deadline on a high priority ticket because I just didn't do it. I've never been such a screw up at any job as I have been here in the past few weeks. No one has ever had to pull me aside and have a talk with me about the way I get my work done. No one. The critiques I received a month ago at the interview for the promotion were a complete 180 from the ones I received today. A month ago, the critique was to be more vocal, be more involved. Today it was, do your job.

Truth be told, I'm completely mortified. It only makes it worse that I don't know why I've been such a flake for the last month. My supervisor asked if I was getting distracted, if I wasn't feeling challenged enough and was allowing my mind to wander...but that's not really it at all. Yes, I'd like more challenging work, but I don't think that's what's been keeping me from doing my job. I've been a little dissatisfied with things going on in my workplace, things that I will not discuss here, but nothing...nothing epic. And I've never let minor annoyances get in the way of doing my job before. If anything, I just work harder.

I have no excuses, no reasons, no explanations.

So what's going on?

And more importantly, what can I do to get back on track and get my coworkers to start trusting me again? Because I've been trying for the last month, ever since that first slip, and it seems just to have gotten worse.