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Monday, January 29, 2007

Escaping 9 to 5 Chronicle Part 3

We have a notion of a beginning that may effect the end of this hell.

That is, my boyfriend Ian and I have a business idea. Well, alright, we’ve had many business ideas and ah-ha moments over the past year, but I think this time we have a concept that is low-risk, not particularly time consuming (at least to start), and in tune with our interests. Nothing we have thrown around before has been all of these things. So this time it might be something.

And if it’s nothing, we won’t be out much.

Without divulging too much too soon, here’s what we’d like to do: provide free and honest information that would be useful to the average Salt Lake Citian. (I hope it’s ok with everyone that I opted to create a new word, instead of using the equivalent and already coined ‘citizen’.)

This service will allow me the opportunity to write and edit, and Ian the opportunity to rant and rave; both things which we enjoy doing anyway.

Well, we’ll see where this goes.

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If I Were Rich, I Would Still Pay for Stuff

Ian and I went up to Park City this weekend to see a movie about domesticated zombies ('Fido') in the Sundance Film Festival.

While we were up there, amidst all the fur coats, sunglasses worn inside, and talk of swag, I thought to myself how ironic it is that the richer you are, the less you have to pay for stuff. Someone explain the sense of that to me.

I think the richer you are, the more you should have to pay for stuff, and the poorer you are, the more you should get stuff for free. Am I wrong?

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Thursday, January 25, 2007

The "H" Is Silent

In situations where I have to give my name so that it can be called out later, like when I get a coffee from Starbucks, I'm sometimes asked whether or not it's Sarah with an 'h'.

"Yes," I say, "but they're pronounced the same."

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Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Escaping 9 to 5 Chronicle Part 2

8:00 am

This is the worst part of my day: the part where I am too quickly pulled from what could have been a decent and restful night’s sleep, if only I could have had a few more hours.

My main problem, perhaps, is that I’m not a morning person. Never have been, pretty damn well never will be. It’s not that I haven’t had opportunity to try my hand at the morning thing. In high school, I did early morning jazz band for two years, getting up while it was still dark at 5:00, before god wakes up. Of course, I was late often, missed class entirely on occasion, and decided I was going to quit come 12th grade. But then they made jazz band an actual class during the school day, so I didn’t have to quit. And that was a good thing, because I had the most fun and grew the most as a musician during that year.

Of course, high school is a very sleep-deprived time for most people. The reason for this is that teenagers operate under a different circadian rhythm than adults and younger children. They are wired to get up later and stay up later. Younger kids, on the other hand, are wired to get up early and stay up early. It’s claimed that adults are like younger kids in this respect, but in my experience that isn’t true.

So, it would make more sense if elementary school began before middle school, and middle school before high school. Actually, it would make just as much sense if they all began together, but for budgetary reasons involving a paucity of buses, the school start times must be staggered. And instead of following the logical sequence dictated by the sleep cycles of the kids, the schools follow an age cycle, oldest kids first, youngest last. This is presumably a tactic to keep younger kids away from bus stops during dark morning hours.

It’s unfortunate, though, because kids get very sleep deprived during the high school years, and to a lesser extent in junior high. They must get up early, but they have a hard time adjusting to going to bed early enough to make up for the early morning hours. Why? Because the teenagers’ biological clocks keep them alert later in the evening, even if they haven’t been getting enough sleep.

I’m not a sleep expert; I’m just reciting what little information I remember from researching the problem of sleep deprived high school kids for my high school newspaper when I was a senior. That was a long time ago, but it was a problem I definitely felt needed addressing back then; and I still think it’s a problem today.

A little side problem is that because high school kids have to go to school so early, they get out of school super early too: for most kids two or three hours before their parents get home from work. That gives kids plenty of time to get into trouble. This is a side problem that I think is unfortunate, because by solving this problem, the sleep problem would automatically be addressed. But maybe that just makes too much sense.

Anyway, I don’t think I ever grew out of my teenage circadian rhythm. My biological clock still keeps me alert in the night, so I stay up later than I should for someone who gets up between 7:30 and 8:30. (7:30 when I’m actually ambitious enough to visit the gym before work.) And this is a problem, because it means I get a little deprived of sleep each night, and sleep deprivation is cumulative. So all the little amounts of sleep deprivation add up to a large amount of sleep deprivation that remains until I’m able to make up for the lost hours. At least, that’s what the sleep specialists say, and I’m inclined to agree. That’s why a weekend isn’t enough to make up for it, because I get an extra four or so hours compared to what I usually get, but maybe only one or two of those go toward making up for the 5-10 hours I lost during the week. The other two or three hours are hours I needed for those weekend nights anyway.

And that, my friends, is why most 9 to 5 working people can relate when people say they feel like a zombie at work. I feel like one most of the time, and I’m willing to bet you do too. That’s also why it takes a good two weeks of straight time off before you really feel like you regain your balance and are ready to tackle work again. But who can take off two weeks straight? When that’s the average maximum allotment of vacation time for an entire year for American workers, not many people really want to blow it all at once, and most probably wouldn’t be allowed to.

So here we have two major problems with 9 to 5 jobs: (1) sleep deprivation and (2) inadequate vacation allotment and allowance.

When I was working five to six hours a day, before I got my full time job, I had neither of the above problems. I stayed up as late as I wanted, sometimes well into the wee hours of morn, and then I woke up naturally, usually between 10:00 and 11:00. I rolled into work around noon and stayed until five or six. I didn’t have a lunch hour, but I did bring a lunch which I snacked on all day. And actually, this was a good way to regulate my metabolism by keeping it burning all day with small amounts of food. So it was easier for me to feel energetic and maintain my weight as well. I didn’t have to go to the gym in those days. And I didn’t feel like I needed vacations, but sometimes I would take a day off here or there, and once I took a two-week road trip across the country, an experience that I’m extremely grateful to have had. I never felt guilty for taking this time off. We had an understanding that I worked on my terms. And I was a very valued and loyal employee.

I wasn’t rich, but I was happy. I had something that was much more valuable to me than money: time.

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Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Escaping 9 to 5 Chronicle Part 1

It’s time to escape hell.

Alright, so I’m an atheist, and thus the traditional ideas of hell don’t really mean anything to me. I don’t believe in an afterlife or the concept of an everlasting soul or essence of being. I believe in this life, here and now. To me, this is all there is.

And it is for this very reason that I feel like I am in hell. Not because I fear dying, but because I fear that I’m not living. I don’t have time to live. There’s too much work to do.

Don’t get me wrong, on the surface it seems like I don’t have anything to complain about. I make a decent wage doing an alright 9 to 5 job that allows me to live comfortably. I live in a spacious apartment with many luxuries. I have a magnificent boyfriend, whom I love and adore, and who loves and adores me back. What more could I want?

Well, I wouldn’t mind being able to enjoy it all a little more. No, let’s make that a lot more. I have all these things and no time in which to enjoy them, because during the bulk and most productive hours of my day, I’m at work. Whether there is work to do or not, I’m here.

By the time I get home to my apartment, luxuries, and boyfriend, my energy is spent, and the day is winding quickly down. But the remaining time of my day is not enough to allow me to wind down as well. Even the weekends aren’t a long enough period of time to regenerate my emotional energy. I feel drained of everything that makes me feel like me and that life is wonderful. And that, to me, is hell.

My worst nightmare (aside from being trapped in a dimly-lit cave filled with spiders), is waking up one day ten years from now and finding myself still in Salt Lake, still in a job I’m passionless about, and wondering where the decade went. Thus, I have decided that I must escape. My life depends on it. Or if not my life, my happiness, which is more important anyway.

And that is the reason for my beginning this blog, aptly titled Exodus, which will chronicle my thoughts, goals, and progress toward escaping 9 to 5 hell and reclaiming my freedom.

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Thursday, January 11, 2007

Things Best Left Unsaid, Part 2: Smile Pretty For Me Now

I'll admit that I take pleasure in reading advice columns. My regular reads are Dear Abby, Dear Margo, Carolyn Hax, Harriette Cole (whom I mostly laugh at for being heart-warming and cheesy), and Dear Prudence. I know it's a little bit lame to enjoy advice columns, and especially to be a dedicated reader of multiple columns, but I find them entertaining, and I suppose I also take a little bit of comfort in seeing that (1) a lot of other people have dealt with the same types of hardships I have complained about in my life, and (2) a lot of people have had to deal with stuff a lot worse than my problems. So that makes me feel pretty good on both counts.

Below are two clippings from advice columnist Dear Prudence, who was at the time a woman named Margo Howard (daughter of famed advice columnist Ann Landers, and now known as Dear Margo). Dear Prudence today is a woman of a different name, which I have managed not to learn since (1) her column comes out only once a week, and (2) she is reasonably new in the office of Prudence.

Anyway, these clippings below regard the same subject: Strangers who ask people to smile, and whether or not this behavior is rude. The first letter is from an older column, and the second is from a later column (regrettably I did not copy the dates from the archives), but interestingly, Prudence gives opposing advice from one letter to the next. Of course, the question is asked differently from one to the next, so perhaps that had an affect on the different opinions, but I think the underlying issue is the same, and I feel Prudie dropped the ball on the second letter. See what you think:

Dear Prudence,
How do you respond to someone (a total stranger) who, out of nowhere, tells you to smile—or remarks on the lack of a smile on your face? In the past month I've observed the following incidents. At the checkout line in my grocery store, there was a woman in front of me and a man in front of her. The man looked at the woman, who was not smiling, and said to her, "You must be having a bad day." She mumbled something in reply and gave an apologetic smile. After they left, I heard the two checkout clerks in the area speaking angrily to one another about what had just happened. One of them said indignantly, "What if her mother had just died?!" The other said, "I would have told him, 'My day was fine until you came along!'" And so on. In another instance, a young man next to me at a sandwich shop, while placing his order, said to the young girl behind the counter, "Smile!" She quickly looked down at her work, cringed, and said, "Oh, it's just been a long day, I guess." (That's the kind of response I probably would have made.) Then a few days ago, a male co-worker came into the office, annoyed, and said, "I hate it when people think I'm in a bad mood just because I'm not smiling. I'm not in a bad mood at all." Apparently someone (another total stranger) had said something to him while he was in the parking lot. When it's happened to me, I know I've felt offended. I don't want to be rude, but they're out of line, aren't they? I just would like to know how a person is supposed to respond to these people.

—Smiling When I Feel Like It

Dear Smile,
These commentators are strangers? What's up with that? Prudie thinks a proper response would be nonverbal communication. Something along the lines of knitting your eyebrows together, narrowing your eyes, and making the slightest sneer, all while cocking your head to a 45 degree angle.

Prudie, huffily

Dear Prudence,
Apparently my face seems to have a serious or sad demeanor. Not that I feel this way all the time, but I guess that's how it appears because men keep walking up to me saying things like, "Why are you so sad/serious?" So I say something like, "None of your business," or "I don't want to speak to you." People close to me say that I am being too blunt, but personally I think that they are rude and out of place. To me it's just a lame pickup line, and they just want one thing (most men do anyway). It's also insulting, and on my bad days, when I am really not in a good mood, it drives me close to cursing. If I were a man, I swear it would lead to a lot of fist fights. Am I wrong?

—Live and Let Live

Dear Liv,
You are not "wrong," exactly, but you sure are angry. There are clearly underlying feelings of discontent and distress manifesting themselves on your face. That you choose to interpret the concern of others as rude behavior or lame pickup lines validates, for Prudie, the dark cloud you are living under. (Some people might actually welcome the inquiry and, perhaps, the opportunity to vent a little.) You should bear in mind that most men do not select a girl who looks like she's on her way to a root canal as the ideal candidate to hit on. It is possible that you are antisocial, misanthropic, or in need of a good shrink. The crux of the matter is that the problem lies with you, not the people (men?) who are wondering why you look so sad or serious.

Prudie, analytically

What Prudie refers to as "the concern of others" in the second letter is what I would call "the bad manners of others". People who don't know you don't have a reason to be concerned about you. And if they don't know you, then they don't know how to read your face accurately, and therefore they don't know if your stoic demeanor is evidence of a bad mood or just a lack of upturned mouth corners, signifying nothing.

What I'm bothered by most is the underlying attitude behind the request that someone slap a smile on his or her face: the attitude that you need to be happy all the time. People aren't happy all the time. Sometimes they are sad, sometimes they are angry, and sometimes they are just indifferent. There are myriad emotions, some that play more openly on your face than others. Sometimes we try to hide our emotions, and sometimes we let them show, and sometimes we aren't quite aware enough of our emotions to realize what's happening on our faces. But the point is, it's very human to have a nice colorful rainbow of emotions. Of course we like to be happy, and we like it when other people are happy, but desiring that everyone be happy all the time is unrealistic and at odds with human nature.

What is it about strangers asking you to smile that feels so annoying? Maybe it is merely that the suggestion is unsolicited advice, and who wants that anyway? Why do I have to be happy FOR YOU to be happy? That's kind of the feeling that pops up in me when I'm faced with a request to smile. What business is it of yours anyway?

When I was in the middle of my undergrad studies, I would often walk down to the nearest coffee shop (which is about 20-30 minutes on foot) to start writing my papers. Getting out of the house, being free from distractions, and being surrounded by coffee was a helpful way to get my mental juices flowing so I could get a good start on a paper. Also, walking by myself gets me into a nice mental state where the wheels begin spinning and I can organize my thoughts, and even be more aware of what I'm thinking. It's introversion time. It's ME time.

So I was annoyed one day when I was walking down to the Roasting Company to write a paper and was affronted by someone along the way who felt that I really ought to be smiling, and since I wasn't, I must be upset about something (of course one could be upset about writing a paper, but I'm rather used to it and like writing, so all I was doing was outlining my paper in my head). This fellow was an employee for the Training Table (what exactly they're training people for, I've yet to divine, but it's definitely not on good manners), and he apparently was blessed enough to have the job of opening doors for patrons. He may or may not have been opening the door for a patron when I walked by, but in any case, he stuck his fat head out and yelled to me "Smile! It can't be THAT bad!" I responded by looking at him, face unchanging, and saying nothing. But I really wanted to throw something in his face, cause him physical harm, and then tell him to smile, 'cause it couldn't be that bad. Except that he would have been beaten up by a girl, and I guess a lot of people would think that is pretty bad, so maybe he would have had a good case for crying his little eyes right out. But fortunately for him, I'm an upstanding citizen, and so I let him get by with a warning glare.

I was later interested to hear that my old roommate Katie experienced this very same thing as she was walking by Training Table one day. And so apparently there is some douche bag working there who feels so bad about the fact that he opens doors for people for a living that he keeps telling himself to smile, and he thinks it's much easier to do so if everyone else is smiling too. What an idiot.

I think my default expression has always been rather serious looking. I remember once my 2nd grade teacher told me to smile. So even back then I was very serious looking, it seems. I obliged with one of those non-smile things where you just upturn the corners of your mouth, but really your face says 'fuck you, bitch'. (except it probably said something like 'back off, granny', cause I was an innocent little child who didn't use such adult language until at least 3 grades later).

So I look serious. So what? If you really know me, you know I'm wry and whimsical, with a front of seriousity. But what business is it of yours anyway? You do with your mouth what you want (as long as that does not involve your mouth mouthing off about how I should be smiling), and I do with my mouth what I want. Deal?

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Things Best Left Unsaid, Part 1: The African Tree Slug

There are certain unspoken social boundaries that people ought to be aware of. For instance, there are some things that may be ok to say to people you know well, but not to people you don't know well or at all. It's a boundary of familiarity.

I myself have crossed this line before. I remember when I was about eleven or twelve I asked the guy who was dating my friend's sister what was wrong with his toes. He seemed puzzled, and understandably a bit embarrassed by this question, and that's when I realized that there was nothing wrong with his toes other than that they were ugly. (They were seriously some of the ugliest toes I've ever seen.) But it was really quite rude of me to ask. Asking such a question presumed a certain level of familiarity that did not actually exist between us. Maybe if I was his best buddy I could ask him about his skeewompous toes. But who likes to have their flaws pointed out to them, even by friends?

Not long after this episode, I became further aware of over-the-boundary questions, as I had to deal with some that were directed at me. I have a horizontal scar on my chin, similar to that of Harrison Ford, which I received in a rather stupid fashion in my youth. This fashion involves my believing that consciously rolling out of bed and onto the floor would supply the same "Hey how did I get here?" affect as unconsciously falling out of bed in my sleep and then waking up disoriented. Well, I was wrong, and the corner of my dresser showed me just how wrong I was by slicing my chin open. So I grew up with a noticeable (but not overly noticeable) scar on my chin. My mom asked me not long after the incident if I wanted to get the scar improved through plastic surgery. She described the procedure of a doctor taking a "little knife" and slicing the scar off and stitching up my face. Well, to a four or five year old, a procedure involving a little knife doesn't sound like a very good idea, so I declined the offer. Besides, I hadn't yet developed the sense of vanity that accompanies socialization.

Fast forward to the beginning of the worst three years of a child's life: junior high. Now I had a reason to worry about my appearance. After all, I wanted the other kids to like me, and how could they like someone with a (long since terribly faded) scar on her chin? So I belatedly took my mom up on that offer of plastic surgery. The surgery went well (and the anesthesia-induced dreams [which may or may not have included operatic singing on my part] made me feel extra good about the experience), and my newer, smaller scar seemed to be healing well.

But what nobody had explained to me before the procedure was that my scar -- a type of scar known as a keloid -- has a pretty decent chance of returning and even worsening following corrective surgery. Return it did, and worsen it certainly did. My new keloid grew back much larger than my original scar (keloids characteristically develop beyond the boundaries of the original wound). It was also very firm to the touch, very red and shiny, puffy, and somewhat painful, as keloid scars tend to be.

Over the next three years I was on the receiving end of many inquiries about my scar, mostly from my peers, but also from adults. I was very self-conscious about the scar already, and the questions only deepened my self-consciousness. After a while of embarrassed explanations about what, exactly, was on my face, I began to get creative with my responses. My favorite response was that my scar was actually an African Tree Slug, a very rare (and made-up) parasite for which there is no treatment, and which eventually kills its host. That response usually embarrassed my inquisitor and shut up further inquiries.

A couple years after the second birth of my scar, a new treatment for keloid scars was released to the public: silicone. It turns out that silicone gel causes keloid scars to soften, flatten, de-redden, and become essentially pain-free. Such great news! It took about a year for the treatment to have its full effect, but in the end, I was left with a much less noticeable scar on my chin. Most people don't even notice the scar unless I point it out to them, or unless they are close enough to lick my face.

Today I'm actually rather fond of my scar most of the time and think of it as just a normal part of my face. I've had people tell me they think it adds character, and this has helped with my feelings about my scar over the years. But having to field so many inquiries about my scar during my junior high and high school years made me aware of how easy it is for people to be socially insensitive. Still, these questions made it easier for me to put my scar in perspective today. After all, it could still look like an African Tree Slug. Things could always be worse.

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