Back to Business

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For some reason I had assumed that when we got back from vacation my life would immediately snap back to normal. Better than normal, actually. In my imagination when we came home I wouldn’t be tired or distracted or bored at work. Instead I’ve been flustered by useless feedback, technical malfunctions, and a cat that wants to sit on my face at 4 am. I’ve been accomplishing less than usual and having meltdowns for no discernable reason. There should be a warning label on my forehead right now.

I’m planning to try to sleep early tonight. I tried that last night, but the cat guaranteed that my efforts yielded fewer net hours of rest. Surely she can’t bother me two mornings in a row, surely if I try exactly the same strategy everything will work out perfectly and I am not crazy.

I’m also planning to try to restructure my morning routine. For the last year, I’ve been taking cues from my fiance, for instance I wait for him to finish getting dressed before I start picking out my clothes. Unfortunately that man is blessed with a flexible, laid back attitude that allows him to mix up his morning routine while still maintaining his status as a functional human being. He can leave a few minutes early or a few minutes late, he can shower before or after breakfast, all with no repercussions. He’s like a morning superhero. Morning Man? Heh. heh… I think that sounds like something else.

Mornings are not a good time to communicate about anything. Especially not silly logistical issues where the potential to misunderstand each other is huge. Seriously, I know I sound like a nutcase when I try to convince another adult that my success for the entire day is determined by whether I’m already wearing shoes at 8:15am. In fact, just a few hours later, all I can feel is confusion and frustration with myself.

So with a few hours and few meals as perspective, we’ve agreed to flip the script. We’ve decided that I’ll be the one to set the pace in the mornings. I don’t know if I’ll be able to remember this decision in the morning with a half functioning brain, but it’s worth a try.

I fully expect that the net result of this transition will be no overall gains in life satisfaction while I go back to blaming myself for everything that goes wrong. Can I arrange to have the coffee injected directly into my skull 15 minutes before I wake up? Is there any way to prevent my animal brain from taking over and ruining everything while I’m still exhausted?

House Shopping Disaster, the First

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I might function better when I’m slightly sleepy. The parts of my brain that don’t want to focus seem to be quiet. My standards for productivity are lower. I get to really indulge in caffeine and sugar with less guilt because I need it. Exhaustion isn’t a thing to fear maybe.

At some point in the last few weeks I might have thrown together some half baked notions about house hunting, what I was feeling, what I expected. I think those notes got accidentally deleted, but that doesn’t change the fact that yes, we’re shopping for a house, and yes, I’m relatively freaked out about the entire process.

I find it surprising and (surprise!) frustrating that the process isn’t more standardized. My parents have purchased homes at least 4 times that I can remember, and each situation was completely different for them. Beyond the most generic advice of ‘location, location, location’ and ‘think of the resale value’ their advice isn’t relevant for our current market. My co-workers, who mostly bought homes a decade ago, or purchased custom new construction townhomes also don’t have much help to offer with regards to order of operation and which step comes next in the overall process.

We have an interesting set of requirements to balance. We’re willing to buy a house that isn’t move-in ready, if it’s at the lower end of our price range. However, we’re not in a position to buy a house that needs so much work that we can’t live comfortably there while we gradually add updates. So essentially, we’re willing to update a kitchen or add a bathroom. Maybe we’re willing to install air conditioning, but not also update all of the windows and electrical simultaneously. Essentially, what we’re after is a house that has been well maintained regardless of the current aesthetic.

What we’re finding instead are a plethora of homes with superficial improvements implemented unprofessionally. These updates are often layered on top of each other. For example, we saw a home last night where there had been new cabinets installed in the kitchen about ten years ago. There were awkward small cabinets above the sink. What could we possibly use those cabinets for? We opened the cabinets to check and found that the cabinets were mostly blocked off with 2x4s, possibly structural. There was wiring  and light fixture in there which illuminated the sink basin area, so it turned out that the cabinets didn’t have real bottoms either. I mean, it wasn’t horrible, it’s just a little weird, but I would rather not spend money undoing someone else’s improvements, only to discover that the inexplicable protrusion into that second bedroom is actually totally explicable by some constraint that will require us to completely change the floorplan of the home to work around.

The few listing’s we’ve seen online that were actually move-in ready were off the market in less than a week. Think about that. A house goes on the market over the weekend and by Wednesday, multiple families have already viewed the home and gotten preliminary financing and an offer in place, and simultaneously the buyer has instigated a bidding war and declared a winner. Don’t these people have jobs, or lives, or laundry? Do they really have nothing better to do than to stalk the neighborhood waiting for homes to go on the market? I’m afraid that to get a really good house we will have become similarly aggressive. It could be the end of the school year is driving everyone crazy.

The home we saw last night was a nearly perfect match for us in a nearly perfect location. One of my favorite features was the potential to use the entire basement level as a master bedroom suite. I also really liked the yard and the style of the stone patio. I was less enthusiastic about the kitchen, but I knew that in the range of the asking price we would have been able to afford to remodel the interior after a year or two. Despite making several calls during our appointment, our agent was unable to get in touch with the listing agent. We didn’t think anything of it at the time; we were just excited to be putting an offer in a house we loved.

Too excited to sleep, my fiance checked his phone and started cursing a moment later. Worse than being outbid, the house had been put under contract while we were viewing the property. In my imagination, the seller’s agent didn’t answer his phone because he was too busy helping his client review the offer they were about to sign. My soul was crushed. It was the moment when you realize that the hot guy in your class is graduating, or your newest crush is from Europe and going home in a week, when you realize that your love is unrequited entirely for circumstances beyond your control. So unprofessional, I thought, fuck them! The next moment, I wonder if they will accept a backup offer, maybe something will go wrong with the first deal. No! Nevermind, I don’t want that house just to spite them! What if the house across the street is available, would I be comfortable driving past that house every day? We’re never going to buy a house if people keep fucking us over like that! Maybe we should just make a lowball offer on that crappy fixer up-er we saw a few weeks ago, no one else wants her, so I’m sure she’ desperate enough to put out by now.

It was alarmingly similar to a fight with a friend. I knew that house shopping was emotional, but I really wasn’t prepared for the emotions to be like those I reserved for humans. So I guess the thing to do is to get over it like it’s a breakup. I have to delete my links and clear my browser history to discourage myself from lingering on the listing – which still indicates that the house is available, by the way. I get to have a short period of indulging in my misery, self medicating with chocolate and sharing my righteous indignation with any friend who will listen to me. We’ll be getting out of town for a few days soon, so a change of scenery will be a great external factor to break up negative thought patterns. We will make sure that the next few houses we visit are in a different style and neighborhood so that direct comparison is less obvious. I dunno, maybe we will never get over our first house love.

I had a lot of coffee today and it wasn’t enough.

Before and After

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I hadn’t really intended to perform a formal before and after comparison about my comic book convention emotions, but the experience was surprisingly introspective for me. I’m happy and pleasantly surprised to have found my notes from last Friday. As an aside, apparently I start writing little stories and notes to myself quite often, and then just abandon the words in unnamed files in a miscellaneous google drive folder. There may be some interesting archeology in store in the next few weeks, or at the very least a great digital purge.

There were some logistical concerns about the convention, issues that I might write about some other time. I think the important thing there is that I always get frustrated when I see an operation that is less than optimal. I want everything to be efficient, clean, effortless. Energy wasted on worries about the arrangement of the convention hall is energy that I can’t spend connecting with the people around me.

My first observation about the convention is that while I was relatively happy and energetic, I was not relaxed to the extent that I had hoped. It seems like whenever I’m playing travel agent, I’m not able to feel completely free from responsibility. I don’t want to say that my fiance gets in my way, or that I can’t really be myself when he’s around, but those thoughts are close to what I’m feeling. If I were paying less attention to my thoughts, I might accidentally say them out loud, with a negative connotation. He’s a constraint for sure, but one that’s largely good for me. Fuck, there’s no way to make this sound good. At least I was somehow aware of my attitude as it unfolded.

Then I start the second guessing. At a comic book convention it is possible to simultaneously feel amazing about yourself and terrible, and to oscillate between the two rapidly. At one table you’re overwhelmed, you want to offer a sincere compliment, to make a good impression on someone you admire, but they are too cool, you can’t manage it without fumbling. Then at the next table, the guy at the front of the line is staring stare intently at an artist, making deep eye contact while stroking the corner of the table. The artist smiles at you in relief when you’re halfway normal and just want to buy one of his books. You feel like a complete bad ass as long as you don’t open your mouth too often. Maybe at the next table you become the table caressing miscreant. We’re all at our best and our worst after being stuffed into a warehouse for a few hours.

The next day, I was exhausted, I’m still exhausted. The type of tired where you don’t want to talk to anyone, where you can’t get yourself to make any decisions, not even about the clothes you want to wear. We went to dinner at our friend’s place and I could barely convince myself to shower and wear shoes. I got frustrated because “3 or 4 in the afternoon”wasn’t specific enough for me to pretend to make plans around. I went for a run and it hit me…

I am still trapped under the “supposed to” fog. I have an immense mental list of things that I feel like I’m supposed to accomplish. Instead of just doing something, I decide to waste a few minutes relaxing before I get started, but I don’t let myself do anything I would really enjoy. The net result is that I procrastinate indefinitely, I don’t accomplish anything important, and I also don’t do anything that makes me happy or calm or relaxed. It’s a terrible way to go through life. If only I had the energy to change that… maybe I need another vacation.

Infinitely More Than Nothing

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I’m really excited about this weekend because I get to share a really special experience with someone I care about deeply. That seems shockingly sentimental coming from me, but that’s where my thoughts have been recently for uhh, a pretty good reason, I suppose. Yeah, I think indulging in romantic notions was entirely appropriate last week. Last week is not what’s on my mind this afternoon though. I’m thinking all about tomorrow.

One of my absolute favorite memories of 2014 was the Special Edition of New York City Comic Con. I am usually only peripherally engaged in the comics community, but somehow I was paying enough attention at exactly the right time to notice announcements about this new convention. I had just moved across the state and started a new job, but for some reason I found myself with enough extra energy to get up and go at the last minute. I suppose the opposite might have been true, I might have been lacking the energy to come up with an excuse NOT to go on an small adventure. Momentum is a powerful thing.

There I was, at the last minute, I took the early morning Sunday train, like 6AM early, from DC to NYC. I bought a pass to the convention when I got to the door, and then I wandered around with absolutely no idea who was going to be there or what events had been planned. It was glorious. No crowds, lots of one on one time with each creator. I got to sit and watch Alex Maleev paint a commission for nearly 30 minutes with no interruption, no talking, no big deal. I was completely relaxed and happy.

I wandered around the nearly empty convention hall and took a few of my first architectural pictures. I was just starting to appreciate photography and what I might be able to catch with my cell phone. It was exciting. The doors were open for all of the panels so I could wander in and out, plenty of places to sit, none of this waiting in line to to get a seat in a panel that starts an hour later crap that happens at the larger cons, just come and go as you please.

At the end of the day, I texted a friend to get a restaurant recommendation for dinner. After a giant bowl of noodles and tofu, I got back on the train and rode home to DC. I napped and then made the hour long drive back to what was still feeling like a brand new apartment. It was an 18 hour day, nearly all of it on my feet in my favorite convention boots, the grey ones with the zippers.

This weekend was also notable because it was the last time I ever suspected that I would be able to catch up on my reading backlog or to-do list. I think I started to abandon that style of foolish optimism within a week or two of returning from that trip, when I realized that I hadn’t found the time or energy to touch any of the books that I had brought home with me. Compared to one year ago, I still have exactly the same list of shit I need to get done, plus everything that’s been added in the last year. All I can do is remind myself that if the world didn’t collapse in the last year, it’s probably going to keep spinning a little bit longer, so there’s no reason to kill myself  be hard on myself because I didn’t finish anything.

And I have to stop myself here, so that I don’t let such extreme statements stand. I did finish one or two things. I put buttons on my red coat just a few weeks ago. I’ve kept up-to-date on a few of the comic book series that I’ve been reading and I’ve been writing reviews semi-regularly. I’ve accomplished infinitely more than nothing.

The Tiniest of Victories

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I spent the holiday weekend mostly driving around the state of Maryland. Each car trip was intended to be demonstration of support or appreciation for a different valued friend or family member. Each trip was just under an hour in one direction. The net result was that I spent a lot of time in the car, but still not enough time to complain to my coworkers who spent their weekends on real road trips covering thousands of miles. And that’s the truth, of course, that sometimes the smaller injuries hurt more because we aren’t justified in our frustration, because we judge even our failings on some sort of imaginary scale.

Not only do I need to be the best, I need my worst to be the worst. That type of thinking makes perfect sense to the version of my brain that lives in a black and white world. I’m trying to see that part of my brain less.

Anyway, when I wasn’t driving, I made time for a very special errand. I finally fixed the buttons on my red wool coat.

I walked to the nearest Joann Fabric store. Yes, I walked. Yes, the only stop I needed to make to complete this errand was within walking distance from my apartment for more than a year. Also, I drive past a Michael’s craft store once a week. I walked there in a bright summer afternoon, with a red button in my pocket, for reference. I kept touching the button because I was afraid I would lose it. I stepped around the sewer grate just in case there was a button monster living under the parking lot.

It took me longer than I expected to find the buttons. My mistake was looking for a large aisle of buttons. The store in upstate New York where my mother bought her sewing supplies and the fabric for all of my dance costumes was crowded, darker, with fabric stacked to the ceiling, and it smelled like old lady. There was a huge lane of buttons in that store. The puffy paints were on an endcap next to  the buttons, if I recall correctly.

The larger store I visited this weekend had half of one aisle devoted to buttons. Nearly half of the buttons offered were assortments of crafting buttons, like what you might glue to paper or use for decorating a lampshade. There was a very limited selection of actual buttons. In the tradition of even the simplest errands being more difficult and time consuming than expected, I spent at least 20 minutes just checking every button and trying to remember how many buttons were on the coat total and trying to imagine how long it would take to replace all of the buttons with new ones so they would match perfectly… and after my mid store melt down I had to wait in the check out line for another 20 minutes. Because nothing is easy.

But I made it home. I added the new buttons and tightened a few of the loose ones. I didn’t worry about getting them sewn on perfectly, I’m certain that some of them will loosen again and I endure these button trials again.

The driving was all worth it, by the way. I might have preferred to have had the trips spread out a little bit, but it was honestly worth the small inconvenience to see support some people I care about.

Reasons Why I Procrastinate

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So I have a long to-do list. Infinitely long. One of the reasons that I sometimes postpone working on any of my tasks is that I don’t believe I actually have the time to accomplish the task. In the case of habitual chores, that’s generally the case. It never takes as long to wash the dishes as I expect it will; I tell myself that five minutes isn’t long enough to wash the dishes, so they sit in the sink for another night. In the case of almost every other errand, I am generally wrong and I tend to understate my time estimates.

I tried to close a bank account recently. Last summer, someone stole mail from my office building and washed any personal checks he found. After discovering that I had been a victim, I moved all of my money to a new account at a different bank. I planned to leave the original account open, with the minimum balance for a few months to make sure that there were no automatic payments I had forgotten to cancel, and to confirm that there was no more fraudulent activity.

I put off finally closing the old account for about 3 months longer than I had intended. I felt silly because I was fairly certain that this would be 2 minutes of waiting on hold followed by a 30 second conversation with a customer service rep. Maybe a full minute if they tried to give me the hard sell on leaving their bank.

No. It took me an hour on the website just to find a number I could call that got me in touch with real human customer service. I was disconnected twice. I was told conflicting information by each representative. Overall, it took me a week from start to finish, just to be satisfied that the account was actually closed, and followed by another two weeks for a confirmation notice in the mail. That sort of inefficiency makes me so angry I want to stop breathing.

I have so many examples of trying to do the right thing, trying to plan ahead, and then having my efforts backfire. I know intellectually that it’s irrational for me to expect everything to go wrong every time I try. Even if my experiences support such a pessimistic conclusion, I would still prefer to base my expectations on a more positive philosophy.

To help myself, I’m trying to explicitly think of counterexamples, a story about a time where my planning actually got me ahead. I know that these positive experiences must exist, I just don’t have them filed correctly in my mental library. I think that I’m drawing on a bastardized understanding of schematic processing here. I’m not certain if having a name for it will help me change how I’m thinking, but it certainly makes me feel less alone for having an awkward brain.

Gronk! FCBD 2015

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Despite being a little saccharine for my personal tastes, this year, my favorite book was Gronk (published by Action Lab). What I appreciated most about this story was that writer/artist Katie Cook managed to squeeze a real beginning, middle, and end into the short format without making the layouts too busy or complicated. Her skill in this regard may come from regularly working with these characters in a webcomic format. I also have to give Cook a nod for sneaking a ‘your Mom’ joke into an all ages comic. Heather Breckel layered on very fun, super saturated colors, which kept the pages looking nice and clear. Overall, it was the best quality of all the free samples I got this weekend and now I’m planning on check the webcomic version regularly.