Monday, October 23, 2017

Waters Smooth and Deep

I once received a questionable piece of advice from my normally sagacious father: if you spot a shark in open water, swim down underneath it (this based on a rather dubious claim about sharks being poor downward swimmers.) Unfortunately, this suggestion to literally go deeper rather than swim toward the shore imprinted itself onto my adolescent brain as a template for dealing with a variety of potentially painful confrontations, including that most painful of all: the breakup.
I’d gone to school to learn how to be a writer… Wait a darn second! Breakups, school, and now we’re diving (groan) into the past participle? What’s going on here?
Fine, I’ll fess up. Here’s the formal warning: this piece is going to be about an old relationship. Or, more accurately, about my inept attempts at ending one.
Still here? Ok then, let’s start over.
I’d gone to a school in the same city as my high school girlfriend, and that school just happened to have a writing program. The fact that I was at least marginally interested in writing; that the school’s motto, “Expression Necessary to Evolution”, was ultra hip; and that Emerson College cost $10k less than most Boston schools, were the only reasons my love-addled teenage brain needed. I gave up my scholarship at Ohio State, cashed in the savings bonds my grandparents had been gifting me since I was two, and made the move to Massachusetts.
It became apparent I had no idea what I was doing only a few months in, when I tearfully confessed to said girl that I regretted the move, missed my friends, the whole nine yards. At the time I was confused by her silence, although after ten years of marriage, I realize her restraint was probably due to that venerable tradition of “holding your tongue while silently cursing your partner for being a total pansy who apparently has no idea what (s)he wants”. Either way, this was probably my first attempt at what would become The Breakup.
I should make it clear we had met in high school. For all of the awkwardness of those years, despite the anxiety and the uncertainty that comes from the near-certain knowledge that we have not yet grown into our skin, high school is still the place we come back to. That ill-defined period between our tweens and our twenties holds more than the sum of a half-dozen years’ experience. It holds up a mirror, reflecting the vision we held as children of the adults we wanted to become.
My vision? Simply put, I wanted to be seen as I imagined the adult version of myself: intelligent, nuanced, fun to hang out with, and even passably charming. Not as the socially inept, acne-prone, Asperger-lite stutterer I saw in the mirror. Regretably, most of my friends were fairly typical teenage males, more inclined to identify with — and therefore highlight — the latter traits than the former.
So when someone my age came along who saw the person at the end of my personal roadmap, it was the beginning of a beautiful friendship. When, after an un-disclosable amount of time, this same someone willingly touched my junk, it was love.
A year older than me, she was kind, articulate, and ambitious, and I learned early on that she would be going to Boston for school. When I visited during her freshman year, it was first love of a different sort. With its cafes and squares, brownstones and parks, culture oozing from the brick streets, I felt like I imagine someone visiting London for the first time would feel. I was enthralled. In a later phone call, I think I said to her, “I can’t believe that a city like that exists in America.”
I was following her, but more so, I was following my own desire to explore a world beyond the limits of my experience. At the same time, I was committing a classic fallacy of first love, by assuming said girl could serve as a surrogate for the entire universe of a nineteen-year-old’s needs. School was interesting, but I was friendless, bored, underfunded, and the party scene was nonexistent. The perks of a private room, a similarly friendless girlfriend, and a 19-year-old’s libido were somewhat compensatory, but eventually when I wasn’t with the girl I had come to Boston for, I was contemplating how and when I was going to gracefully make an exit.
Despite these private thoughts, I was like that ill-informed diver fleeing the specter of a shark, going deeper while trying to get away. We moved in together. We talked about graduating and moving to Texas or New York; about what we’d name our children; how we would treat each other when we grew old. In hindsight, the fact that New York was then the last place I wanted to live, that said children would have been named after cartoon hippos, and that she absolutely hated when I said her name with my old man’s voice should have given me pause… but such is love.
Inevitably, when we were not planning the details of our lives together, we fought. I’m sure the list of things we fought about was poignant, compelling and obviously one-of-a-kind, but as for the details, I’m coming up short. I do remember that when not fighting, I was often thinking about our next fight, and how if it were big enough, if we both got angry enough, I would be able to tell her how I felt.
Where did I get the idea that conflict was the only way to face the specter circling in the waters overhead? As if anger could somehow substitute for courage…
I have a vivid memory of walking along the frigid Boston sidewalk, hands thrust deep into the pockets of my too-thin jacket, contemplating The Breakup. In fact, it’s not a single memory of a single sidewalk. I’m simultaneously passing the theaters adjacent to my school, following alongside the tall swaying cattails of the Fens, or heading up Newbury Street as my lips go numb from the cold. Only the thoughts are consistent. Let her down easy. See other people. Find out what its like to be young and single and poor in a big wealthy city full of students and brownstones and tourists. Maybe even get a proper coat.
I walked through that winter, and then through another. We made different plans for the following summer, and decided we’d both spend the next fall studying abroad in different countries. Logistics-wise, the timing for a split was never going to get better, and we both knew it. Still, when she suggested we break up at the end of the school year, my adrenal glands fired in horror at the same time my endorphins fired in relief. For a moment the fight or flight instincts looked at one another in shock, then flight — the pansy — turned and ran while fight, though bewildered and not quite sure what he was doing there, made the completely counterintuitive case for us to stay together.
Anyone who remembers adolescence as the most emotionally confusing period of their life has never found themselves at twenty, fighting to hold on to a relationship that they know should end.
When flight crawled sheepishly back, he was profoundly confused. What the heck had happened? Was it because we hadn’t been fighting? Did I have control issues, was I terrified, or just not ready to deal with the situation as a rational adult? Whatever the reason, that ambitious and articulate girl stayed with me that day, and for approximately another year until I left. The summer kept us happily busy, but the semester apart was punctuated by frequent fights, followed by a few months of curious ennui on both of our parts, followed by a fateful afternoon where I showed up with my new roommate to pick up the bed we shared, one of the few pieces of furniture that had originally been mine.
To my credit, it wasn’t a fight. Sadly, that’s the only credit I probably deserve. Having spent most of my college years with said girl as my only close friend, my knowledge of break up tactics was probably not where it needed to be, which is a nice way of saying it was a shit show.
Despite having several years to plan it, I could count on two fingers the things I had taken the time to plan. First, I had decided the morning was a better time to break up than in the evening. I needed time to pack and carry out the essentials, I couldn’t afford a hotel, and because our few Boston friends were shared, it would have been too awkward to ask for help (although truthfully, coming back later to pick up the bed was probably even more awkward).
The other problem that required an unjustifiable amount of brainpower to solve was sex. When you are 21, and living together, it means you’re having sex practically (or even literally) every day. While this didn’t stop me from planning the breakup, I was ethically aware enough to know that you don’t have sex the day before you drop the big one. I can’t remember how I ended up handling this aspect exactly, but I do remember my somewhat ridiculous game-day statement that at least we hadn’t had sex in the 24 hours prior. For some reason this did not have the anticipated effect of making everything just fine, but it did make me feel like less of a jerk.
After picking up the bed, my new roommate remarked, “she was not happy.”
This surprised me, which wasn’t surprising, considering how rarely I made a conscious effort to consider her emotions. At that point in my life I was spending most of my time with my own problems. Said girlfriend had become a supporting character in the Life of Aaron, a lively but cliched production where the female characters were written before the Bechdel test was really a thing. We both knew the curtains were due to be drawn, but those particular set of stage instructions must have been omitted from the script.
Now this could be the part of the story where I pause and reflect soberly on how difficult it really was to part ways with my best friend. I could talk about how I’ve omitted many of the experiences that enriched, empowered and enlightened me, or how I regret being so inconsiderate to her then and for some time thereafter. But time marches on, the image in the mirror changes, and at the end of the day there’s really not much we can say to our first loves, except that we wish them the best, and we’re sorry for taking the bed.
Being married now eleven years to a (true) love who isn’t my first, but will hopefully be my last (not counting those inevitable nursing-home flings) has taught me some basic rules about decisions that I wish I had known when I was younger. If it’s a big one, don’t wait too long to make it. The how is just as important as the when. And most importantly, if you fear a confrontation, don’t try to duck underneath it. Swim toward it, don’t get angry, and calmly explain that you have to go. (On the other hand, if it really is a shark we’re talking about, poke it in the eyes, gills or nose… and then get the hell out of the water).

Friday, July 14, 2017

a list in memoriam

During my four years of college, and for approximately half as long afterward, I was diligent about memorializing my major experiences in writing.  In some cases, usually during periods of adventures following one after another like the chapters of a pulp novel, I lacked the time or the energy to write in such a way as to do each experience justice (even twenty-one year olds can reach a breaking point).  In those cases, I would compromise by making a list.

There are several of these lists in my travel journals.  After my study abroad, despite pages and pages of writing - both academic and personal - I felt as if I had barely scratched the surface of everything I had seen, felt and learned over the last semester.  On the airplane ride back to Boston I bulleted all of the untold stories that shouldn’t be forgotten: the Northern Ireland bar frequented by my friendly hostel manager’s crush; jogging with Carmel Lobello whose name I struggled to remember; getting our culture on at the Mucha Museum before going to a gay bar and sleeping on a tram alongside Cam, who was also my roommate.  I did the same thing after my big trip through Asia, recording in fragments of sentences the memories I didn’t want to fade.

It hit me the other day that forgetting might be the worst part of loss.  By loss, I mean the loss of a fellow companion on one’s life journey.  Admittedly I’m still young, but I hadn't experienced the disappearance of a non-living thing as a life-altering event.  It’s lives that matter, and it’s lives that deserve to be memorialized, whether they touch you once at an obscure Irish bar, or over the course of years’ worth of shared beds, shared laundry, and shared challenges overcome.

For me at least, this is one of the main reasons I spend time on a Friday evening thinking about the best words to describe someone no longer with us. In this case, the someone is my dog, Marce.  I have to keep typing now, since my eyes still threaten me with cloudy vision when I acknowledge the pain I feel when thinking about him, and my spelling is going to get pretty terrible if I let that happen.

So I’ll keep it short and sweet.  My written memorial to my dog will be bullet points edited to capture the crux of my memories. Life these days is idyllically spent raising my son, walking the streets of Seattle and spending time with my wife.  The memories that deserve to be captured may never make their way into prose or an essay of their own, but they can still be memorialized, with just enough detail to keep from forgetting:

  • Marce was hesitant about showing affection openly.  While he didn’t hide his need to be close to those he loved every second of every moment he was with them, he rarely gave doggy kisses until Andre came along, at which point either he decided that he finally liked someone enough to lick them, or Andre just tasted better.
  • He would sometimes run so quickly that his face distorted like someone on an amusement park ride, the safety of which is questionable.  As a dog owner, there is no greater joy than to see your dog’s stretched smile as he or she runs toward you at full speed, free of fences and boundaries.  We were fortunate enough to live less than twenty minutes from the mother of all dog parks, Point Isabelle, one of a few spots in the Bay Area where the amount of space required for such a sight exists.
  • Marce traversed the steep, narrow trails of Leona Canyon like a champion.  If Portuguese Water Dog / Poodle mixes were allowed to compete in dog shows, and if I actually cared, Marce could have made best in show in every maneuverability category under the sun.
  • We didn’t expect to say goodbye so soon.  My grief wavers between anger and melancholy.  I break down (not literally) in traffic on my bicycle, for god’s sake.
  • It’s not clear that Marce really loved anything besides chasing squirrels, and me, Mai & Andre.
  • I’ve never felt someone’s loss so acutely as Marce’s.  My apologies to my deceased grandfather and great-grandparents, whom I love and miss terribly.
  • Taking care of a dog showed me I was capable of assuming responsibility for a life besides my own.  I had to wake up early and then postpone my evening drink until after our walk.  What else could anyone ask of me?

Processing the grief associated with losing a companion is more than just getting through the stages.  It’s deciding that the experience is worth the pain.

The short amount of time I was able to spend with him should have been longer.  But I’ll remember him, via bullet points, or by memories deep and wide that have yet to find a voice. 

Friday, February 5, 2016

short-short # 1: eye contact

When I arrived home, my son was riding on my wife's back.  We made eye contact, he gave me a smile, and I returned it.  There was a moment, as I took him in my arms, that our mutual joy at reuniting after a long day crested like a wave.  Then I looked at him, he looked at me, and maybe it was just my imagination, but in his eyes I read something like, "ok Dad, basking in the joy of togetherness is great and everything, but let's go find something to do."  I lifted him up, savoring the still-present smile on his lips, then sat down with him on the couch to read a book.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

choosing a trail

Within a few minutes’ drive of my house there’s a woods I like to go to, with a trail that runs above a stream that follows the bottom of a valley.  The valley may not be deep, but it’s verdant and the air there tastes like it came from the Jurassic.  A little further up the road is another park with a wide serpentine trail that winds along the ridge of the Oakland hills.  Recently I spent a good part of the afternoon trailblazing there with my dog, following an almost-trail until it became impassable, then backtracking, then backtracking again in order to find the sunglasses that had slipped unnoticed from my front pocket.

I’ve gone on one of these hikes more or less every weekend for the last few months, although usually with less backtracking. Each of the five or six regional parks I have the good fortune to be in proximity to has a unique topography and atmosphere.  Sometimes the trails lead through lush forest; sometimes golden California grasses; sometimes through a narrow band of trees and water that cuts through city neighborhoods; and more often then not, through a combination of all three. The only real denominator is an inevitable change in elevation.  Since my dog has backup batteries for his backup batteries, the draining of which is prerequisite to any degree of personal relaxation, changes in elevation (especially upward changes) are welcomed.

I've loved going on day hikes since I was a child, so it sort of makes sense that I’d end up settling in a place with so many options for traipsing through the woods.  Growing up, I would pile into my Mom's seven passenger van with the others kids in her care, and head to an idyllic park notable for an ancient creek that cut through it.  An afternoon foraging along the creek bed collecting long dead fossils and very alive salamanders drained my batteries as surely as my contemporary hikes drain those of my dog's.  In hindsight I’m rather certain my mom’s motivations were similar.

Soon after my dog was old enough for off-leash trails, I realized I had been surrounded by trails for the last two-odd years without realizing it. This is true of much in life. Once a catalyst for a particular pursuit kicks in, you become aware of how much opportunity was around you the whole time. Of course, for sheer volume and variety of activities - especially the outdoor kind - California is king. No wonder this area is such a mecca for those who relish in self-discovery...

In my case, the wanderlust (and probably the writing) are surely outward manifestations of a spirit that wants to experience as much of this life as possible while it has the opportunity. That being said, I'm not sure if I'll be able to remain in California forever. Even with its incredible diversity and an almost surreal abundance of places, people and pursuits here, part of me doesn't want to leave this world without living for a time surrounded by the deciduous rain-forests of the Pacific Northwest, where the sky, the trees and the water can be drunk drunk drunk like an addict sips whiskey or fine champaign.

For now, I look forward to the weekend, when I get to set aside three or four hours, cajole the dog into the car, and take off with a small backpack and a couple of bottles of water (one for the humans and one for the hound). Sometimes I pull out of my driveway, turn left, and then pause for a moment or two at the stop-sign, deciding in that brief second which hike I will go on that day. How fortunate I am to have choices. How fortunate I am to be where I am right now.

Monday, March 31, 2014

pieces of work

The summer after I graduated from college I worked as a rental agent at a brokerage that catered to the mostly young, mostly motivated subsection of the populace that wanted to live in Beacon Hill, generally due to its proximity to downtown.  I typically woke up five or ten minutes before my first appointment, threw on some clothes, tucked in my shirt, and sprinted down the street to my office, in order to earn enough money to pay my rent, pay back a loan from my dad, and pay for my plane ticket to Japan.  It was the second best summer of my adult life, which meant it was ranked two out of four.  (I didn't know it then, but after college, summer basically stops mattering.  It follows then that that particular summer is still probably the second best summer of my life.  The first, incidentally, was also spent as a rental agent, a vocation which was also abandoned, along with summers, once I graduated.)

I spent most of my free time that summer hanging out with my best friend from college, who was recently my roommate, and my girlfriend, who was recent in general.  As a rental agent, I could make my own hours, and I soon fell prey to that common affliction, dawdling, which every independent contractor knows all too well.  I forsook my work in favor of late night crosswords in the girlfriend's air-conditioned pad, canoe trips, all-expense paid trips to the Virgin Islands courtesy of my girlfriend's rich parents, and a 4th of July Party with my roommate on the rooftop of our (non air-conditioned) Comm Ave apartment.  As a result, by the end of the summer I had only saved about 40% of the funds recommended by my Japanese language school for starting out in Japan.  This paltry amount, approximately $800, was supposed to last me the six weeks before my first paycheck from my full time job arrived in my UFJ bank account.

The bitter pill that every long-term expat has to swallow sooner than later is the realization that life abroad, when you are fresh-faced and few in fine threads, is lived much more frugally than the study-abroad in college which most likely was your first medium-term stay in another country.  For someone who began his expat adventure with such a shortage of funds, this realization kicks in rather quickly, especially when living in the city ranked "2nd Most Expensive in the World" at that time. After a few days of modest indulgences - ordering the extra egg in my ramen, buying iced coffee from the vending machine, etc. - I stared at the six or seven remaining 10,000 yen bills (about $100 each) like a gambler with too much in the pot contemplating a questionable hand.  As they say in Japanese, my situation was "dame".  In other words, it was a bad scene.

When my dad called in the debt payment I had failed to make over the summer, I became aware that the situation was more like "arubaito ga nai to hontou ni dame" (If I didn't pick up a part time job, it was a seriously bad scene).  Fortunately, one of two things happened: either the universe sensed what I needed and provided, or I picked myself up by my laceless Japanese boot straps and provided for myself.  (Feel free to choose whichever version suits your political worldview. I'm ambivalent... and a Green either way).

Considering the circumstances of how I found my first part time job in Japan, I'm of the opinion that it was a combination of universe and hard work.  A few days after I decided to look for additional work, while waiting in line to order a 100-yen teriyaki burger at McDonalds (a strategy I had learned from my frugal days in Boston, sans teriyaki) I happened to meet a woman with an elementary school aged daughter in need of an English teacher.  That part could only have been the universe in action.  On the other hand, agreeing to commute thirty minutes each way to her home every Tuesday night for a one-hour lesson that paid 2,800 yen (about $30) was most certainly propelled by my bootstraps.

With extra money coming in, I was free to engage in that most established, customary, practically sanctified tradition among English teachers living in Japan: going on dates disguised as language exchange sessions.  For me, these sessions consisted largely of sputtering over two or three Japanese words with a very patient woman who inevitably spoke nearly fluent English, before switching back to my native language so I could try to seduce her with more than the Japanese names for the three food items she had just taught me (and that I likely had already forgotten).

Let's not go into the outcome of those dates.  Let's just say that fortunately for the appetite that I was succesful in sating, the menu had pictures.  More fortunately, I knew a hip spot near the Dotonbori river in the center of town where every item was 280 yen, inclusive of tax and tip, which meant I could pay for exactly ten items with my Tuesday night earnings.  If the "language exchange session" was going well, the majority of those items would hopefully be beer, the Japanese word for which I knew very well.

When I got a call from my mom letting me know the credit card bill was coming in, I took on a second student, and then a third.  My first student, the single-mom entrepreneur I had met at McDonalds, kept me on for about three months.  Eventually I think that her drive, from the train station to an unfinished apartment in a nice part of town she maintained for her daughter's school district eligibility and apparently also for english lessons, was probably too much for her.  The second, a die-hard Elvis fan who showed up to every lesson with cowboy boots, a plad shirt and his hair slicked back like the king, stuck around for about a month before telling me he needed a teacher with Saturday off, which was a luxury a first-year teacher at my school could only dream of.

The third was a delightful woman who attended a Shakespeare course at Oxford every summer and who was perfectly satisfied to talk about Hamlet for an hour every week (Romeo and Juliet and Othello, the other Shakespeare plays with which I was familiar enough to discuss, were of no interest to her).  We would sit in a coffee shop, sipping slowly at small, rapidly-cooling cups of coffee, while I would bullshit about "the play" in the way only English majors can, and she would listen with absolute delight, nodding eagerly and occasionally offering her insights.  She engaged me as a tutor through the winter and into the spring, until the day that I cancelled our lesson due to my hangover.  The next week, after we had compared notes on the young prince for the umpteenth time, she handed me an envelope containing a two week bonus, and politely informed me that our lessons were over.  Being the 23-year-old idiot that I was, it didn't even occur to me that my poor excuse for missing our lesson the week before was the cause.  Being Japanese, she never would have mentioned it.

It's possible that this last envelope was once again the universe stepping in, or perhaps stepping back, since it brought me to exactly to my savings goal. You see, for several months, I had been stuffing a sock drawer with bills (the good kind) earned from my part time jobs, including a stint as a cram-school instructor I had taken up to fill my Tuesday night vacancy.  After being fired by my third student, I had just about $500 in said sock drawer, which I estimated was enough to buy a second-hand motor scooter.  It was, and this (more or less) was the scooter:


While I had loved a vehicle before I bought my scooter, and have loved vehicles since, none of them come within a thousand miles of matching the love I felt for my "baiku", especially when measured by unit of love per CC .  In this case, it was 50 CC's of pure, heart stopping adoration. 

I zipped (apologies in advance for using such a twee word, but as anyone who has never driven anything over 50 CC's surely knows, "zip" is the only word appropriate for riding a scooter) all around the sprawling megalopolis of Osaka town on my "baiku".  I zipped to the station when I was running late in the morning and wanted to avoid the fine of a half-day wages for missing even a minute of my first lesson.  I zipped to my weekly Japanese lessons, passing the zoo and the busy intersection near Tennoji station before spending an hour and a half with a patient and well-spoken woman who taught me Japanese.  I zipped once or twice to said cram-school job, but stopped after being caught in a downpour on the way home.  And every time I zipped anywhere, it was all the sweeter that I had paid for my vehicle myself.

After a year of teaching, my salary went up by about a hundred dollars a month, which was about the same as doing an extra English lesson per week.  I had paid off the loan from my father and put a dent my stateside credit card .  I had even begun working on my student loans (after about six months of postponing them via a very creative solution involving a Japanese school and my teacher's willingness to bend the rules on the forbearance application.  Beating the man is a universal proclivity, it would seem).  My spending had stabilized - I now added my own egg to my ramen - and I had mastered the art of finding overtime at work.  All this combined meant it wasn't quite so important to maintain part time jobs.

In fact, if I had stayed in Japan longer than a year and a half, I would have been quite comfortable, at least until my company imploded about a year later.  (If I had still been in Asia when that happened, I might have been one of those out-of-work teachers that took the free one-way ticket from Japan to China to teach there).

But after a year and a half I had left the country, and after a couple of months traveling the world I arrived back in the United States, planning to go to graduate school, and taking on part time jobs yet again.  Over the course of the year that followed, I was an English tutor, an assistant to a UPS driver, an employee in a payroll department, a teaching assistant and a Princeton Review teacher.  I got around in a white Toyota Camry that was probably older than my Japanese motorbike, and at the end of the year, rather than a trip around the world, I took a trip to the New York City borough of Brooklyn to begin law school.

And now we've reached the point where - if I squint - the past begins to intrude into the present, and when I think about how I made my way in the world during that time it's different than when I cast my mind toward the past like a fishing net and see what comes back.  Well, I guess I just admitted it.  I'm reflecting on my past jobs like an old fogey talks about his time working in the candy store (you know who you are).  So let's stop while the stopping is good, while the sharp smell of exhaust from the Honda bike with the white seat is still lingering in the air, while I could still bullshit about Hamlet if I wanted to, and where there's always a chance that the universe will decide to throw you a bone while you're waiting in line at a McDonalds.  "Natsukashi, na" (those were the days).

Saturday, March 15, 2014

the real world

Last Monday I got off one stop earlier on the subway and looked up at my new office building.  It's brown, which can go either way, but in this case the right way.  It was probably built in the 80's.

My former co-worker made a joke implying that I would need help navigating the "real world".  In my former job, which apparently was not the real world, I was a consultant who spent much of his time looking out the window of his office building at the other office buildings, wishing he was in one of them.  I'm glad that's not the real world.

The real world, my world now, is a polished brown stone office building, an isosceles triangle capped by a semicircle, resembling an ice cream cone with one miserly scoop.  There is a conference room at the vertex of every floor affording a panoramic view of perhaps 300 degrees.  I sit right where the cone meets the ice cream, in a small but adequate office.  There is a large window behind me that looks out at the street and several other buildings.  The office sits just off a wide hallway with four chairs arranged in a square, and while the office wall is glass, I keep the door open anyway.  When people arrive in the morning, everyone who works in the cone and people in the northern part of the scoop enter through the doors across from my office.  I do a lot of waving.

In the real world, people say good morning to each other.  At my last job, saying good morning to someone was the exception rather than the rule.  I'm the kind of person who prefers to say good morning, which reinforces the fact that I probably belong in the real world.

At my old job, I arrived anytime I liked on most days (although I usually arrived early).  Similarly, when things were slow <insert coughing fit with many of the coughs sounding suspiciously like I'm saying the word "always">, I was free to leave anytime that I liked.  (It would have been frowned upon if someone higher up noticed I was often gone at 5:45, but most of the time no one checked).

After arriving anytime I liked, I could do pretty much anything I wanted for most of the day.  At the same time, I was under immense pressure to record on my timesheet that at least six hours of the day were being spent doing things in furtherance of something which our clients had engaged us to do.  Although no-one really checked that I was doing the things I put on my timesheet, I had to at least consider the unlikely possibility that a client (or a manager) would spend more than two seconds looking at the bill and consider whether the activity for which I had billed two hours was in fact worthy of those two hours.  I also had to consider the even more remote possibility that the client would add up all the hours I was spending on a particular activity over the course of weeks, or even months, and wonder the same thing, so I had to be very careful with what I recorded.

Admittedly, this could be read as an admission, which would reflect poorly.  I would prefer it if you read this as a narrative of how a person spends their time when they are not living in the real world.  Also, you will note that I have been very careful - almost as careful as I was with my time sheets - not to actually admit to anything, only tell you about what I had to consider and be worried about on a day to day basis.  Due to my overly cautious nature, I may admit a thing or two eventually, but not now.

I am a bit nervous about the real world.  In my prior job, personal relationships were far less important than the work itself on a day to day basis.  Everything I have read about the real world implies that here, personal relationships are of equal or greater importance.  I hope that my time as a consultant, which translates to someone who spends their whole day alone in their room doing homework, hasn't exacerbated my Aspergers to the point where I am going to have difficulty maintaining human relationships.  I think I'll probably be fine.

I just added the word "probably".  Thank goodness I can deal with those awkward stops and starts in this posting, and hopefully avoid being equally awkward in real life.  I just added the word "hopefully".  (Kidding).

There are several things that those living in the real world have to worry about that those living outside the real world do not.  (Lawyers, you may want to consider these things).   This includes one's health, a social life, the daily commute, the timing of one's poop breaks, and the inability to take a meandering walk for two hours in the afternoon as long as you bring your cell phone.  As a consultant, most of these things, such as your commute, and poop breaks, are done randomly, at odd hours.  Not so for the real world.  A social life is now something to cultivate, rather than something synonymous with "go to the bar".  Health, that thing that non-real-world dwellers are aware of but don't give much thought to, is suddenly on your list as "something to maintain".   The list could go on.

The thing which I most appreciate, even after just a week, is that I am no longer doing work that is essentially homework.  There will be some of that, but there will also be group work, which means human interaction, and the chance to delegate a task to someone else :)  (as well as all those good things that come with human interaction, like sanity).

I'm glad I've moved to the real world.  I have no regrets.  I know there will be new types of stresses I had previously not been aware of, but I will manage it.  I will not miss time sheets.  And most importantly, at the end of the day, I will not miss boredom.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

rush hour crush

On my ride home today a girl standing against the wall caught my eye through the crush of rush hour bodies.  She was wearing a shiny burgundy jacket, and boots of a slightly darker color but similar sheen over dark translucent tights.  She was wearing earphones, and looked incredibly sad.  I would say with near absolute certainty that she lived alone.

I'm not sure why I was so sure about this last fact, but it stayed with me as the train zoomed under the Transbay Tube and then pulled itself up onto the tresses over West Oakland.  The thought filled me with a sad but sweet melancholy which was likely amplified by the fact it was January, just after dusk, and on a Monday to boot.

For a moment I looked around the train car, and wondered who else may have been going home by themselves (assuming I was right about this particular woman at all).  I pictured practically everyone else on our car going home to boyfriends and girlfriends, to husbands and wives and children, even to fathers and mothers (this is the Bay Area after all; it's not cheap).  She seemed not to fit, in a world by herself (along with her headphones and those shiny boots and jacket).

While she was not exceptionally attractive (it was not exactly that kind of temporary infatuation, I don't think) something told me that if she were out and about, with friends, perhaps with a lover or a partner or a date, she would appear transformed.  I could imagine her radiant.  Does sadness cast a veil that covers us, or does joy create a light that makes us beautiful?

Of course, there's a very good chance that I was just attracted to this sad girl, and was rationalizing it in a quasi-academic, romantic (19th century, not the 21st) way that helps me to think about women.  I wondered, in a half-crazy sort of way, whether I would have found it within me to make a move, if I were returning home alone myself.

Thinking about this woman, with her shiny burgundy jacket and downcast eyes, I remembered various women I have known who lived alone (even my wife, when we first met).  For a moment, I felt something that was suspiciously like empathy.  I do not know where such a feeling could have come from, because I myself have never lived alone.  Still, as the train sped back underground and the dark lavender-tinged sky receded up and away, I could imagine what it would be like to return to an empty apartment, especially on a unseasonably warm January night, such as this one, just after dusk, and on a Monday to boot.  Pop in a movie, bundle up against the dampness, perhaps pour a glass of wine... it wouldn't be so bad really.  Then again, the whole idea is probably much more romantic in the imagination of an emotionally sensitive guy, one who would surely swoop in and offer her company, thus removing the veil or kindling the light, whichever of the two ended up being the case.