We Interrupt This Blog for a Brief Paroxysm of Panic

When blogging, work and OCD collide…

The lower the wage, the longer the employer spends explaining all the ways I could die on the job.

They spend even more time explaining all the things I’m not supposed to say. A bunch of rules that are perilously easy for a speak-before-I-think-trained-to-be-uncensored-in-the-moment-who-likes-to-make-people-laugh improvisor to violate, in our increasingly no-sense-of-humor-allowed workplaces.

So, within the first week, I’ve been confronted with a litany of ways to screw up and lose the new low-paying job I’m starting to wonder why I accepted in the first place.

After watching one of the innumerable terrifying training videos I am required to watch to preserve the privilege of awakening at 4 a.m. to work 4 to 8 hours less per week than I thought I was promised, I took down my immediate past post, “Survivor,” because I panicked that I might have said something I shouldn’t have, according to all those rules I was exposed to in all those videos.

Right after I trashed that post, the manager walked by.

Opportunity! Confess!

Seizing upon a policy I had just learned about open communication (I think? I was having an anxiety attack, ok?) I told him that I had a blog and that I was worried about something I had written, and that I took the post down. I mentioned how many followers I have (he thinks 129 is a lot – how sweet!) and got the “oh, that’s OK, that’s not a problem.”

Never one to quit while I’m ahead, I also blurted out that while I had never been formally diagnosed, I worry a lot and I’m definitely in the (mild) OCD ballpark. (A doctor did once tell me that, actually. Right before she mentioned Prozac, and I left.)

I was not required to, and didn’t, disclose this little, um, personality difference, during the hiring process, which process I described with gratitude in the blog post I took down because of the panic attack about saying too much about the hiring process.

Round and round she goes! Where the anxiety stops, nobody knows!

But wait, there’s MORE!

I also blurted out that I had written a book that I am now shopping around to literary agents, in which my employer (for how much longer I’m not sure) plays a minor role as the setting for a scene intended to make fun primarily of me.

The net effect of which was that a manager I had just met, who had been very welcoming, after telling me that it was all OK (and, God forbid, that he’d like to read my blog – “Oh, it’s just chick stuff, really!” meaning “please don’t read my blog, manager dude”) was looking at me strangely and, I’m sure, planning to review his own multiple scary training videos about how to deal with employees who have over-shared.

I always feel a lot better after dumping my irrational fears on unwitting colleagues sharing with a coworker, even though this manager was obviously in a big hurry to get the hell away from me back to work.

So, long story long, I panicked about something I didn’t need to panic about, overshared to a manager who really didn’t need to hear it, and was reminded of why I am Obviously Completely Displaced in corporate environments.

Because if there’s one thing I’ve learned about corporate environments, it’s that they can’t handle my personality.

Primarily because I have one.

Why did I do this to myself? And for so little money?

Just because it was easy?

Maybe.

Also probably because I knew there might be a few good stories in it. If I can overcome my panic about telling them.

And because of the probability of proximity to Men Who Know How To Do Stuff that comes with the job.

What could possibly go wrong?

I’d get fired from a job that pays too little and wreaks havoc with my sleep pattern? For being a little too attentive to Men Who Know How to Do Stuff the customer? Or because my probable OCD irritating tendency to overthink and worry about everything drives everyone nuts?

But I’m the Queen of Worst Case Scenarios! I can take it way beyond just getting fired.

Let’s hold off on that for the time being.

I’m going to revise “Survivor” and re-publish it. The part about the hiring process was incidental, anyway.

I got up at 4 am today and had an OK time at work. Stayed in my lane and didn’t go looking for other stuff to worry about. Got got some fresh air and exercise. Yay me.

So, preferring chamomile tea (or other forms of legal self-medication, which I couldn’t have last night, because I HAD TO GET UP AT 4 AM) to Prozac or CBD or whatever the latest anti-obsessive/anxiety balm may be, I remain,

Your panicky, oversharing, life’s-too-short-for-this-crap-but-running-out-of-money-fast-oh-shit-I-actually-need-this-job,

Ridiculouswoman

Survivor

I’m still here.

(This is an edited version of a previously published post. Why edited? Panic. Anyway, it still makes my point, although it is shorter now; but shorter is better in a blog post, don’t you think?)

“Survived by his wife.”

This was the punchline of a famous routine by a great comedian, Alan King.

Incidentally, King was “survived by his wife.”

King fails to note the male habit of marrying younger women, and addresses every woman he approaches as “dear,” a term I now employ solely to demean and diminutize (safely from inside my car) drivers who have done something stupid, or failed to do something required: “Oh, nice move, dear! Ever heard of a blinker? You know, that little stick on the side of your steering wheel that pushes down to flash “blinkablinkablinka” for left and up for right? But it’s not your fault, right? Because you were raised blonde? DEAR?

But I digress – the routine is still really funny and worth watching, start to finish. There’s even a quick blonde joke. HA! Dear.

Anyway, so what’s with the boots again? And what does the Alan King routine have to do with anything?

I have accepted employment at yet another place where boots are appropriate; nay, even necessary.

It is temporary and part-time, which means no benefits. After taxes, I might almost bring home barely enough to pay for health insurance.

A finger in the dam of the rapidly draining reservoir, no more.

I got dinged on the only two interviews I’ve been granted in the last six months. And, despite a long, and I believe impressive, resume, no one else, including several recruiters who (apparently accidentally?) have viewed my profile on LinkedIn, has contacted me.

Ageism, anyone? Ya think?

But a funny thing happens on the way to rejection: when I have to reiterate my entire 34 year work history, even though the job poster already has it in my uploaded resume, I realize:

I have survived several of my former employers, both human and corporate.

Bankruptcy or merger has taken a few of those corporate “persons” (don’t get me started).

Human former supervisors were taken by the usual things – age and disease.

One of the applications I had been trying to complete required me to reiterate all 34 years of jobs, as well as all the education that preceded them, which no doubt causes the HR bots to drop me like a hot potato when they see that I hold a law degree  (AUGH! Run for the hills!) and that I left law practice after just three years, because…hmm, let’s see – how shall I put this? Because I realized law practice was a soul-crushing, closed system of enrichment for white males willing to have their souls crushed in exchange for (a lot of) money?  Or maybe, because I preferred solving problems to perpetuating them?

Or, maybe just because I hated conflict.

Plus, I hadn’t considered that law is a really bad career choice for a person with OCD, especially when she doesn’t yet realize that she probably has OCD. (“I’m not obsessive! I’m DETAIL ORIENTED!!!”)

This new job will keep me on my feet for a few hours several days a week, require me to work outside, and will put me in proximity to Men Who Know How To Do Stuff (yeah, yeah, women too, but I’m on the “I like men” team, remember? Is that OKAY? Is that ALLOWED? Call me cis (honestly I’m having a hard time keeping up with the lingo for all this – help, Steve Goodman!), straight and naive, but I like men. I believe nice ones exist. Some. Somewhere.)

I’ll have to curb my Betty White oggling tendencies. But still.

I’ll have to get up at 4 a.m.

I could apply for that Bar Bingo host job – three times the money for half the hours. I’m sure they’ll hire a woman as funny, engaging…and old…as me. HA! But my roots and my boobs are my own, dammit!

Meanwhile, somewhere, there must a full-time job and a nice man for me. With benefits.  Both. HA!

Until then, I remain,

Your underemployed again but surviving,

Ridiculouswoman

And What Do We Learn From This? or, Sometimes, Nothing Is Something

Sometimes moving forward requires looking back.

So what the hell was that all about? The “Pardon Our Dust” thing?

I wanted to change up the look of my blog. I thought it needed some freshening.

I spent the last four days messing around with a new theme.

I dithered over palettes. I added new fonts.

I spent a lot of time trying teaching myself enough additional Illustrator to make a banner that with images I had made or chosen previously to symbolize the blog.

After a lot of trial and error, Googling and help chats, I finally figured out how to create a “clipping mask” in Illustrator to round the corners of the image I made of my face and shoulders, with the heart on the sleeve.

I wanted it round.

Like me.

Mike liked my roundness.

I got mad about how much elements of the “Creative Cloud” that I wasn’t using cost.

I unsubscribed.

Then I freaked out (hey, no project is truly complete without a little OCD smeared on!) about whether I’d still have the right to use the stuff I had previously created if I didn’t keep subscribing.

The (very nice and helpful, by the way – thanks Adobe) chat people said I can keep and use what I already downloaded and created. (Sorry, OCD, take a seat. Or a knee, as the case may be.)

Then, as I was scrolling through the blog with the new theme applied, to make sure I liked the (eleventy-hundreth) palette I had chosen, I noticed that all my “featured images” from past posts had disappeared.

Apparently, I neglected to notice where, if anywhere, there was space for a “featured image” in the new theme.

I’m fond of some my photos used as “featured images,” and refer to them occasionally as “that picture up there” in the posts where they appear; I didn’t want to spend weeks going back to putting them wherever they might fit in the new theme.

Which made me take another look and realize that new theme was a bit too cutesy or “whimsical” to encase my content on grief and loss, despite some other content that is funny. Or that tries to be.

So, feh.

Back to “2016.”

When I switched back, I remembered the reasons I chose 2016 in the first place.

It’s clean.

It has elements I want and doesn’t confuse me with stuff I don’t need.

And Mike died in 2016.

Which reminded me that, when I started the blog, I chose the “2016” theme as a way to keep Mike close while trying a new thing without him, missing him.

So good things came of the whole manic, circular, redesigning exercise.

I got new art that I made myself, even though I’m a total amateur as a designer. I won’t have to settle for banner images I don’t like much, anymore.

I learned more about using tools I’d have to use if I ever need to modify that art again.

I tweaked things a little – a slightly modified color here or there. I’m not even sure exactly what I changed, anymore. But during the process I learned which parts of the “palettes” go where, and where I can use a custom color.

I got the pleasure of days filled with creative flow: that feeling you get when you are working on something you care about, and you forget what time it is and you only think about how to make your project better and get it right.

I also got to remember my Dad with gratitude.  He taught me to apply reason to observation to solve a problem, accomplish a task, fix things that are broken or assemble things that are new.

He called that process “using your bean.”

Dad enabled me to “use my bean” to accomplish something I didn’t know how to, but very much wanted, to do.

Dad also had an expression, usually uttered with sly determination and a not a little glee, while forging ahead down an unknown country road or pressing on through eight inches of recent snow on less-than-optimal tires: “We’re takin’ her through!” he’d say.

I don’t remember ever getting stuck, when Dad was driving.

And then finally, it all came back to Mike, whose bravery and generosity in the last weeks of his life were breathtaking, heartbreaking and inspiring. Memories of Mike and of 2016 were, and still are, central to helping me move forward, fight my fears and carry on. They help me “take her through.” I’m grateful for the bittersweet reminder of him whenever I think about my blog’s “theme,” in both content and design.

So, “redecorating” my blog turned into a pretty good Harold.

Still climbing life’s spiral staircase, I remain,

Your clumsily creative, sometimes manic, mostly anxious but still takin’ her through,

Ridiculouswoman

Retreat – or, Duck and Cover

Hiding in the house won’t get me a job. Neither will my resume, apparently.

In elementary school, we had “disaster drills.” We were instructed to get under our desks and cover our heads.

This was supposed to protect us from apocalyptic horrors.

For mere tornadoes, we were marched into an inner hallway in the building, to sit on the floor facing the wall, with our arms over our heads and our heads on our knees.

We sat through a few really vicious storms that way, and survived.

I’m suddenly undergoing a burst of “nesting” – rearranging furniture, buying furniture I can’t afford, planning to paint again, trying to finally finish this house, so that we might actually have people over, to use those holiday-themed guest towels.

The result so far has been some really pleasant together time for my daughter and me, with a cozy fire and no TV (moved to the basement, in a nice finished room, but it will take time to get used to that; I bought myself cheap TV and set it up in what I am calling my “boudoir.” I have always wanted a “boudoir,” and I’m almost done with it. Just need some decent drapes and a chaise to recline –  fetchingly  – on.)

Wait – who am I kidding about guests? And who the hell is ever going to see me reclining fetchingly? We don’t have guests. Neither one of us really wants them, unless they are related to us, and even then, we take them one, or two maximum, at a time.

As for anyone else in my “boudoir,” well, dream on.

So much for “New Year’s Revolutions” . I was going to open up my Facebook page to “friends of friends” and change my LinkedIn page to describe what I want to be.

HA. Today I posted that I’m quitting Facebook. The politics have started again. I can’t take it. It brings out the worst in me – the opposite of what I’m trying to be.

Duck and cover. Sound the retreat.

Hide in the rearranged, redecorated, slightly nicer cocoon.

I need an actual, real job, that pays a living wage and provides health insurance.

I’m not going to get one this way.

But my job search is laughable. It has become painfully obvious that even in an allegedly tight labor market, no one is impressed by my very lengthy resume, pockmarked with caregiving gaps and peppered with short-term failures between too-long stays at high-stress, high paying jobs. Or maybe it’s just bad old (OLD – HA) age discrimination.

“I’m Nobody! Who are you?
Are you – Nobody – too?
Then there’s a pair of us!
Dont tell! they’d advertise – you know!

How dreary – to be – Somebody!
How public – like a Frog –
To tell one’s name – the livelong June –
To an admiring Bog!”

-Emily Dickinson (according to Wikipedia, that’s the closest transcription of what she actually wrote – when it was first published, the editor changed “advertise” to “banish us” and “June” to ‘”day.” WTF?)

“Put yourself out there, something will come along.”

HA. Frog, meet bog.

“The Soul selects her own Society –
Then – shuts the Door –
On her divine Majority –
Obtrude no more

Unmoved – she notes the Chariots – pausing –
At her low Gate –
Unmoved – an Emperor be kneeling
Upon her Mat –

I’ve known her – from an ample nation –
Choose One –
Then – close the Valves of her attention –
Like Stone”

– Emily again – and editors again screwed around with her punctuation and word choices – many versions say, “To her divine Majority present no more” but I’m sure “On her…Obtrude” is right because it’s just more – Emily-ish. (Dashes, HA.) The few analyses I found claim it is about limiting socializing to just a few companions, but to me it is about choosing one’s own company over socializing with anyone at all.  The One chosen was the self. Buzz off world, leave me alone. Quit bugging me. Get off my lawn. She likes her own society. Valves of attention closed. Like a kid with their fingers in their ears, yelling, “I’m not listening.” Nothing will change her mind. Stone. Unmoved and unmovable.

I’m no Emily Dickinson and I don’t want to be as unmovable as stone, but periodic retreat is a thing with me. Maybe it’s the OCD, maybe it’s grief, or fear – of running out of money, of not being a good enough parent, of nothing good ever happening again. Of boring you with boring me. Of aging and seeing my mother’s face in the mirror. Of a small, meaningless life, heading for a big birthday in June, sans even the admiring bog.

Maybe it’s this endless sloppy winter and spring nowhere in sight.

Maybe I’m just “tired of being strong.” (Connie Nielsen in Gladiator)

Is there any value in retreat?

Cocoons become chrysalides from which beauties emerge.

Let’s hope so. We’ll see.

Until then I remain,

Your confused, withdrawing, backpeddling, solitary, guestless and unfetching,

Ridiculouswoman

Menacing Midwinter

The rabbit survived. So did I.

The glass exploded. One just like the one pictured there, on the windowsill.

It didn’t “break.”  It didn’t “shatter.”

It exploded.

I could not believe how much glass was in that glass.

It was everywhere – inside and under the dishwasher I had just taken it out of, under the fridge across the floor, into the living room and the breezeway.

Tiny shards of it in my fingers and the meat of my hand.

WTF?

I had just taken it out of the dishwasher, and accidentally tapped it – just tapped it -on the underside of the Bulgarian-installed quartz countertop.

And BLAM.

It exploded.

Rational minded me instantly assumed that I had chanced upon the perfect point on the glass that was scratched or hairline cracked or otherwise weakened just enough to cause some sort of scientifically explainable reaction.

Kablooey.

I had to vacuum the inside of the dishwasher along with the kitchen and breezeway floors, missing a church service I wanted to attend, because it was unsafe for my daughter or Sophie the cat to walk through the kitchen until I was sure it was shard-free.

Earlier that morning, the relatively new television started acting weird, too, providing sound but no picture – just an odd sort of lavender glow.

Turns out I had connected the HDMI cables in the wrong inputs after switching out the DVR for a no-charge simple cable box (which still makes me mad – that even though I get internet service from this provider and I could watch TV via internet only, they still make me have a box and their salesperson was unable to give a technical reason why  – grrrr.)

Then the shelf on the new hutch on my new desk half-collapsed – one of the pegs that holds it up just suddenly fell out.

What’s going on?

There was nothing significant about the date that I could remember. I don’t remember what I was thinking about, other than considering giving up on my book, and missing Mike, and feeling a little lost about my future, when the glass exploded.

After I got the glass cleaned up and the shelf fixed, I spent a lot of time trying to complete an online job application, and just as I was finishing it, my computer spontaneously shut down.

Just turned itself off.

Wind? Was there a power surge and the strip cut the power? But the lights on all the other chargers plugged in to the strip were still on.

Weird.

These past few days, every time I veer in the direction of giving up on my notions of writing, speaking and singing, something interrupts, or switches off, or falls apart, or explodes.

It doesn’t feel like encouragement.

It feels like menace.

I wake up in the middle of the night in a sweaty panic, wondering what the hell I’m doing and what could happen, all the bad stuff that could happen, in my capacity as a professional-class worst-case-scenario OCD worrier.

My heart races. I cringe and writhe, remembering long-ago embarrassments, mistakes, and failures, imagining they will all happen again now, and be much worse. I read nonsense on my phone for two hours to try to calm down and go back to sleep.

And then, today: a sparkling bright, perfect winter day. No extremes. Just a spotless blue sky, sunshine and fresh snow on the ground.

One day of calm, after the vortex, and the ice, and the wind and the windblown snow.

The house has stopped creaking and snapping and kerpowing, now that the temperature has moderated, but I predict a spate of “giant potholes that ate Chicago” blog posts and news stories, come spring, because of the insane temperature swings we’ve had. A thaw-and-freeze cycle that cracked steel holding up Lake Shore Drive is surely causing concrete and asphalt pavement to crack and crumble all over the area.

Old Sophie caught a mouse last night, and lovingly left it’s gnawed corpse as an offering  in the middle of the library rug.  She’s still got it, the old girl. I just wish she wouldn’t flaunt it in the middle of the library rug.

But we’re gaining daylight – the sun is up when I rise, now, and I can still contemplate a walk in the late afternoon.

It’s too soon to say we’ve turned a corner – March is yet to come, all lion and lamb, and it always, always snows one more time in April.

Waiting for the clock to run out on the agents who have my query and trying to screw up the courage to start another round instead of giving up, I remain,

Your anxious, worried, but like the backyard rabbit who survived the vortex by hiding under the deck, as yet unconquered by winter extremes and associated all-night-vigils,

Ridiculouswoman

Caffeine and Cabin Fever

Clearly, too much coffee causes excessive italicizing.

That’s it. I’m cutting myself off.

Two cups of coffee and I’m a jangly bag of nerves.

Turns out OCD, caffeine and cabin fever don’t mix. Who knew?

We’ll be stuck in the house for at least another 24 hours.

Hours that will be spent listening to and worrying about the loudest popping and creaking sounds this house has made in the almost 20 years we’ve lived here.

Is that a joist cracking? Seventy-year-old nails popping? Window frames warping? Subfloors bending? Hot-water heat pipes pinging, over-expanding under the strain of the boiler (the thank-God-it’s-a-brand-new-boiler, but still) running non-stop?

I am probably the only person caught in the polar vortex who could find so many things to worry about when I am safe and warm inside a house with heat, running water, internet access and hot soup.

If I were Charlie Brown, I’d be the Charlie Browniest.

Climate change is killing coffee, did you know that? So in another few years I might not be able to do this to myself even if I wanted to.

There’s always chocolate. Until there isn’t. Because climate change is screwing with cocoa beans, too, apparently.

Coffee I can do without, but chocolate? Are you kidding?

OK, I’m on a roll here! Let’s find more stuff to worry about!

That steam blowing by outside the window by my desk, from the stove hood fan vent? Is that adding to the icicles dangling from the new gutters? How much can the gutters take, before they give?

There is ice on the inside of the new-ish windows.

There has always been condensation on the windows, old and new, but the only time I have ever seen ice on the inside of the house (windows and wash basin, to be exact) was in my third floor “digs” in a drafty, uninsulated (I’m assuming the UK has advanced considerably since 1980 in the area of home insulation) Victorian town home in Oxford. I’m from Chicago, and up to and including today, I have never been colder indoors in my life than when I lived in England. Perfect storm of dampness, lack of insulation and a laughable appliance called an “electric fire,” which was about a quarter-inch thick piece of “al-you-min-ee-um”,  about 17 by 24 inches with a too-wide loop of electric coil inside, that stood in front of an old coal-burning fireplace that had been half-heartedly stuffed up with newspaper, which didn’t stop its iron flap front from going “tink, tink, tink” all night when it was windy, and which heated a space approximately two inches around its surface, and no further. I slept with a shirt, flannel nightgown, scarf, hat and socks on, under a “duvet” filled with inadequate synthetic something or other and covered in damp cotton. GAAAA!

It was kind of charming when I could see my breath while (“whilst”) studying in the RadCam, but in my bedroom at night? Not so much.

My Mom, a former nurse, used to open the window in my bedroom in the winter, even in subzero temperatures. She was raised by Mainers (“Maine-uhs” a/k/a “ha-dee New England-uhs”) who allegedly put infants outside in the winter, wrapped in blankets in their baby buggies, for their naps, on the theory that “fresh ay-yuh is good for you, dee-yuh.” Sure, as long as you don’t get pneumonia or get eaten by a bear (hey but let’s hear it for the bear who kept that three-year-old kid company until he was rescued, uneaten and apparently pneumonia free).

The floors in my room were wood, not entirely covered by braided rugs. Awesome on bare feet on a winter morning with the window open. Builds character! That’s how we did it back in the day! “We’re getting soft, right?

But I digress. We’re worrying about here and now, OK?

Even if I wanted to, I couldn’t use my functioning, recently chimney swept wood burning fireplace today, because opening the flue would allow a blast of arctic vortex to roar down the chimney and freeze us in our tracks.

Did you know in the 18th century there was a sea captain found frozen in his cabin at his desk, pen in hand? So it’s not like it couldn’t happen. Even though the story of the Octavius is now regarded as a myth. But still.

Through the kitchen window I can see two sets of animal tracks heading straight under the back deck.

I don’t begrudge the woodland creatures some shelter (temporary shelter) but please, let those tracks be from a rabbit, not a skunk (does the cold obliterate the smell?) or a raccoon or a possum. Or a coyote or a musky fox.

How long does it take to come down from two cups of coffee? Coffee which clearly causes excessive italicizing?

At least there are no chickens in the back yard anymore to tend to, in this weather. Or more accurately, if there were, frozen chickens to dispose of. So there’s that, anyway.

Still rattled. I’m going to have to go clean something. Vigorously.

Stay warm, and stay off the caffeine. Unless it comes encased in chocolate. For as long as that lasts.

Wishing you a warm, calm, creaking-popping-pinging and indoor-ice free day and night, I remain,

Your over-caffeinated, under-productive, anxious, italicizing,

Ridiculouswoman

Let’s Layer Some OCD on That Last Post

DON’T GO OUTSIDE. JUST DON’T.

A few updates to my polar vortex post.

I revised it, to make it clear that I understand this is a very dangerous, life threatening situation.

And because I’m not that idiot 20-something that went outside in temperatures like this anymore.

That was a spectacularly stupid thing to do.

Just so we’re clear.

Please go back and read the revised version of that last post.

AND STAY INSIDE.

Please.

Because I worry about you. Pretty much all the time. It’s what I do best.

And because the wind is picking up.

I’ll be here, worrying about you, and praying for anyone still looking for a place to go.

Fretting, and listening to every pop and creak coming from inside and outside the house, I remain,

Your penitent, concerned, perseverating

Ridiculouswoman