Makin’ it Rain Plastic

[Originally posted on Aug 5, 2012]

“Do you want to save 15% today and sign up for our JC Penney card?”

Little did I know at the time, my answer to this question would adversely change the year that lay ahead of me.

“Sure.”

I filled out the little application and low and behold, I was now on the credit grid.  Leading up to college, my mother would often warn me about the perils of credit cards and charge cards.  I heeded her advice, until I realized everyone around campus was having a lot of fun thanks to their credit line.  Cute clothing, good food – they were living the good life! I wanted a piece of that pie.  Minimum payments were reasonably low – I could figure out a way to make a monthly payment, right?

I loved that shiny little JC Penney card; following classes, I would head up to Our Lady Queen of Shopping, buy adorable outfits, and show them off to fellow Believer Emily.  It was a ritual we relished.

Alas, my JC Penney card felt lonely in my wallet – I mean, it’s not like there was any cash in there to keep it company.  So, I did what any logical person would do – I signed up for another credit card.  Besides, it’s not like you can buy food at JC Penney.  A girl’s gotta eat!  The good times kept coming, so I kept the credit flowin’.

It occurred to me as I watched my savings disappear that this was not a wise path to be on.  After a particularly intense bender where I bought a 24-piece knife set – for my dorm room – I realized I needed help.  I took the bus to Emily’s apartment, clutching the knife set in my arms as I knocked on her door.  She opened her door, took a look at the shopping bags at my feet and shook her head.  She understood these things.  I walked inside. She may have wrapped a blanket around me.

“I need to do it, Emily.  I need to cut the card.”

We walked over to her kitchen and I took out the shears that were included in my knife set.  It was like a Greek Tragedy – I was killing my card with the very thing it gave me.  Emily stared at me as I held the scissors over the card.  “Hold on,” Emily made us pause.  “I feel like this is a moment for you…Okay.”

I cut a diagonal line through the plastic, and we both gasped.  A relic to our place of worship and I just destroyed it.  It needed to be done.

Unfortunately, credit cards have a way of haunting you long past their destruction.  My minimum payments depleted my savings and I began to miss payments on the JC Penney card.  I continued to pay my regular credit card bill, knowing that I couldn’t afford to lose that line of credit.  All semester long, I tried to find a job, but thanks to a spread out class schedule and a lack of reliable transportation, no one wanted to hire me.  I turned to the lowest job a college student could have and arguably the worst one for someone with social anxiety: telemarketing.  Oh, and not just any telemarketing – alumni fundraising for the college.

I sat on the phone reading a script to Fine Arts graduates, espousing the importance of donating $1000 to the College of Broke People Fine Arts.  Everyone I called was poor and bitter, yet I had to go down the script and ask them for $500, then $250, then $250 with a mention of a matching gift by their employer, then $125, then $125 and what about our payment plan? Then $100.  $100, to improve the value of your degree? You don’t need to laugh in my ear, sir. And I don’t appreciate being called a – hello?  When we initially called, we had to lie and say the university wanted to receive feedback from alumni on how it could improve, then we’d go in for the kill and ask for the donations.  It sucked so hard.  I became so nervous making calls, my voice cracked and my hands shook.  At one point, I spent 20 minutes talking to a nice man in Seattle and never asked for a dime because he sounded so happy just to talk to someone without being asked to give something.

While working at the telemarketing gig, my finances got worse.  JC Penney sent me to a collection agency, and my credit card company got wind of it.  I called in just to find out my PIN, and they cancelled my card on the spot.  I literally started sobbing and my sort-of boyfriend at the time tried talking to them on my behalf to get them to reconsider.  Obviously, they did not, and just like that I had no money.  All but $20 a month of my money from the telemarketing place went to paying down my cards and getting the collection agency off my back.  Since UofA didn’t do meal plans, that $20 was used for my food budget for the month.  Tired of Top Ramen, I stocked up on bulk spaghetti and a jar of Ragu.  I literally ate about 200 calories a day to ensure I had something every day until the next paycheck came in.  I actually felt like this system worked for me.

The telemarketing place had a snafu in their check-cutting one week, and told us on payday we had to wait an extra two days for our checks.  I literally ran out of food the night before and I panicked.  I was somewhat on the outs with that sort-of boyfriend and didn’t feel comfortable asking him to buy me a sandwich.  The idea of semi-prostituting myself for food felt kind of wrong.  Everyone else I knew had money problems, and I couldn’t dream of asking for their help.

I woke up the next morning starving.  I did the unthinkable – I went down to the community refrigerator, and decided I was going to steal someone else’s food.  Just as I began to reach for a freezer-burned Van de Kamp, someone walked into the kitchen, and I tried to play off my crime by doing the worst acting job ever.  “Oh, someone…um…stole my food.  Damn it!”

Suspicious glare.

“See ya!”  I ran off, never to return to the dorm kitchen ever again.

I walked down Fraternity Row to head to the Music building, wondering how I was going find food.  Before me, a familiar sight took on new meaning to me – the Holsum Bread Truck was delivering bread to one of the frat houses.  I saw it every day, with its plentiful loaves of bread, unguarded and a few mere steps away from my thieving paws.  My eyes rested on one particular loaf of bread.  I’d have to hop on the truck to reach it, but it wasn’t too far in… oh bread, I could make several meals of you…

I looked around.  There were a few people walking further down the street.  Would they notice? Would they do anything?  How long is the bread guy away from this vehicle? Why did I never make note of that before, damn it? What would my classmates think if I carried around a loaf of bread all day?  Because I am apt to spend more time ruminating than actually doing, I pictured getting caught by the bread guy.  I imagined the campus police cuffing me as I protested, “I was only trying to steal a loaf of bread! I’m trying to pay off my JC Penney card! My company didn’t pay me when they were supposed to…Noooooo!” Then I’d get reported in the campus Police Blotter, and I’d be forever known as Jean Valjean Girl or some bullshit.  As if my social anxiety didn’t make me weird enough to people, Bread Thief just seemed that much weirder.

I looked again at that bread.  My stomach growled.  The loaves looked so fluffy and soft; I wanted to dive into the lot of them and roll around, loaves squishing underneath me as I double fisted hot dog buns. Ahh, the life. But? Jean Valjean Girl.  I just couldn’t do it.  I continued on to class, watching people snack on candy bars and eegee’s, taking every bite for granted.  This must be how my labrador retriever felt when we made him “stay” until he drooled.  Sorry, Dunder; that was a shitty thing to do.

I returned to my dorm room, knowing I had one final option to hold me over. I opened my little fridge and looked at the only item holding residence: a half-empty bottle of blue cheese dressing.  Well, there are chunks in it; that’s kind of like food…

I held the bottle up to my lips, toasting to no one: I am never fucking owning a credit card ever again…

It would have gone great with bread.

Image: FreeDigitalPhotos.net

I Gave a Great Happy Ending

[Originally posted on Mar 28, 2012. This is the last entry of my most popular/favorite posts. Everything after this point is in actual posting chronology.]

[Note: * indicates a name change]

“…And we welcome you to the Friendly’s family!”

Upbeat Piano Music faded as the Friendly’s logo proudly remained, its image flickering oh-so-slightly due to VHS over-usage.  Do I just sit here and wait?  The screen went to snow.  I looked around at the break area where I was placed.  My first job.  Well, my first real job after being the world’s worst papergirl…up until this point, I was forbidden from working.  Due to a change of events and a change of heart by my parents, I was allowed to get a job and I desperately needed to save up money for college fast.  Friendly’s was the only place in walking distance from my house that would take a chance on an inexperienced teenager, and I gladly accepted the job.  Eventually, this is going to be a familiar place.  I pictured myself sitting in the back room during breaks, drinking a cup of coffee and chatting with a co-worker.  I pictured reading the memos and notes on the bulletin board, nodding knowingly at their message.  I was going to be The Best.  I was going to be the Tom Cruise Top Gun/Days of Thunder of waitressing.

As I looked at the bulletin board, one memo stood out.  It talked about a per store statistic on the amount of food and supplies brought in versus the money the store brought in.  Apparently our store was listed as the worst of all Friendly’s stores.  Using indirect corporate-speak, the memo basically accused our store of stealing a bunch of shit.  I looked around suspiciously.  Thieves!  Not on my watch, Mr. Friendly President.

“Ah, the video is all done!”

I turned around.  My boss, John Thirkus* had a warm smile that balanced that fine line between James Stewart and To Catch a Predator.  He was a man no younger than 50, balding, and he lived alone with his mother.  I liked him.

He handed me a menu.  “I’d like you to shadow Pete tonight.  He’s really great with the customers and he’s been with us for a long time.”

“Great!”  I was a little nervous.  As I shadowed Pete and learned the ropes of Friendly’s waitressing, I was surprised at how much the waitress had to make for her customers: salads, Belgian fucking waffles (Wafflefest was a long month, dude), drinks (including milkshakes and Fribbles), and every single ice cream concoction on the menu.  Making thier sundaes as designed was usually not so bad, but there are people on this earth who love to over-customize.  For example, the Friendly’s Reeses Pieces Sunday consisted of 5 scoops of vanilla ice cream, ladles of chocolate, marshmallow, and uber-addictive peanut butter sauces, whipped cream, and a handful of Reeses for garnish.  And yes, I believe I still know how to make all of the sundaes after all these years.  Despite the perfect harmony achieved by the flavors carefully selected for this sundae, customers would often order like this: “can I get a Reeses Pieces Sundae with chocolate, cookie dough…um…peanut butter fudge…butter pecan…and…let’s see;  I haven’t had black raspberry in a while, let’s go for that!  Oh! And for the sauces, can I do peanut butter, pineapple and caramel?”

“Sure!”

“And don’t cheap me out on Reeses Pieces like that waitress over there.”

“You got it.”

One of the first things I learned from Friendly’s was you must learn how to answer to multiple bosses and cater to their idiosyncrasies.  For example, take cash handling.  Thirkus instructed me to merely ring up, take the money, and give the customer their change.  Frau Margaret*, the assistant manager, took issue with that.  Frau Margaret was a German immigrant who had been in her 60s for the past 23 years.  She was demanding and spoke in a thick German accent, so naturally, many of our culturally-sensitive customers and line staff referred to her as a nazi.  Frau Margaret was a good person, she just was a royal pain in the keister.  When she saw me handling a customer’s money at the register, she walked up and took the money from my hands.  “No, no, no.  Ven a customer geeves you ten, you leave it out on top of the cash box like thees, and geeve his change.  If you don’t do thees, they vill lie and say they gave you a tventy.  So you can say, ‘no, no! You gave me a ten!  I have eet right here!  Don’t try to pull a vast one, sir!’”

“Oh, okay!”  I smiled as I gave the change to the fellow who was just told he was likely a con artist.

He grabbed the money from me and huffed.  “Nazi…”

Of course, five minutes later, our other assistant manager, Josef*, watched my cash handling and shook his head.  “What are you doing?”

I explained Frau Margaret’s con-busting technique.  He sighed.  “Don’t do that; it’s stupid and insulting.  Besides, the money could blow away.” ?? We weren’t near a window.

About twenty minutes later, Frau Margaret saw me employing Josef’s technique.  She took the cash out of my hands again.  “What deed I tell you?  Put the ten here.”

For sanity’s sake, future transactions were handled whatever way the nearest manager wanted.  Of course, in less than a week, I discovered I had one less manager telling me what to do.

I came in to work on a Sunday to find the entire restaurant in shambles.  Our ice cream window guy, a young man every Friendly’s patron in 90s-era Stamford accurately nicknamed “Urkel,” pulled me aside to explain.  “Did you hear what happened to Mr. Thirkus?”

“His mom died, right?”

“No!  Well, yeah, that happened too, but you won’t believe this!  Apparently, the Friendly’s truck driver made his delivery early this morning, Mr. Thirkus signed off on it, and he – and all of our food – are nowhere to be found!”

I raised an eyebrow.  Well, everyone grieves in their own way, I guess… “He stole an entire truck of food?  How did that even fit in his car?”

Urkel raised his gangly arms above his head, as if a puppeteer tightened the strings.  “I don’t know!  But we are almost out of everything.  No cookie dough!”

Oh, shit. No cookie dough ice cream?  That’s like the scene in Airplane! where they say there’s no coffee.  What a long damn day that was.  We each fought each other to get the last scraps of everything for our tables and received extra-crappy tips.  That night, I imagined Thirkus speeding down I-95 in his Caprice Classic, digging into a giant tub of half-melted cookie dough buckled into the passenger seat, blasting Cat Stevens while honking and screaming at passing semis, hamburger patties and hot dogs flying out of his windows at 68 miles per hour.  Really, my day wasn’t all that bad…

Friendly’s corporate briefly sent in an emergency manager named Tina to help us.  Tina was awesome and didn’t put up with anyone’s shit.  It figures she was temporary.  Our next manager was a beady-eyed go-getter squirrel named Phil Goldblum*.  For Phil’s first week, he preferred to assist the line cook.  He pulled a ticket off the carousel and groaned.  “WHO is employee 742?”

My muscles tensed.  “That’s me.”

He looked at my ticket.  “Can you tell me what ‘K-HD’ is?”

A quick lesson in Friendly’s shorthand – each menu item had a designated shorthand we were expected to memorize, and if you have ever been in a Friendly’s, you’ll know that means we had about 845 menu items to learn.  The “K” indicates a kid’s menu option.  Thankfully, we only had four – Mac N Cheese (K-MAC), Hamburger (K-HAM), Grilled Cheese (K-CHEESE), and…

“Hot.Dog.”  I made sure to emphasize each word so he got it.

He tossed the ticket on the counter.  “It’s FRANK.  Get it right next time.”

What an asshole.

In addition to constantly riding my ass for my Captain Obvious shorthand that everyone behind the counter understood except for him, Phil was a bit of a creeper.  One day I was assigned hostessing duties for my shift.  He smiled at me.  “Why do you have your hair up?”

“Because Frau Margaret told me it’s unsanitary to wear your hair down in a dining establishment.”  Really, dude?

He flipped my ponytail.  “Forget her.  Wear it down, it looks really pretty.”

Ugh.  But, money.  “Okay.”

Of course, five minutes later:  “Fraulein! Vy is your hair down?  Vee don’t vant blond locks een our patty melts!”

Jesus.  Needless to say, I agreed with Frau and held my ground on any future ponytail debate.

Keep in mind, I was a very plain-looking high school senior.  Yet, any eating establishment has its share of sex-crazed sleazers.  I was known by several names: Babe, Honey, Cutie, Sexy, That Stupid White Girl…it was my first experience with that sort of thing, but I knew that’s how it was in the food industry.  And, money.  I’d usually just blow it off and act like a naive bumpkin.  It worked sometimes.  Other times?

Enter Sean Mulligan*.  Unlike the other guys, who just liked referring to me with cutesy misogynist nicknames, Sean wanted a date.  I was 18 and had no interest in a guy in his late 20s.  I was really bad at saying “no” to people, and I’ll admit, it was wrong of me to not be direct.  I wound up making a couple of high-octane bitch moves in my life because of this problem, but those stories are for another day.

On this day, Sean came up to me while I was making Happy Ending Sundaes for a table.  “So, we should go to a movie together some time.  It would be fun.  What do you say?”

I smiled at him.  “No, thank you; I don’t watch movies.”

He laughed.  “You don’t?  Everyone watches movies!”

“I don’t.”

“Why not?”

“I like reading.  Alone.”

We went about our sundae-making although he later cornered me near the kitchen.  “Hey, since you don’t like movies, how about I pick you up and make dinner for you at my apartment.  A couple of candles, some soft music…”

As sure as the sun is hot, my asshole brain inserted a mental image.  Tiny apartment using cinder blocks for makeshift shelves and bookcases…two candles lit on a tiny table…food that’s a cross between marsala and Hungry-Man…a boom box, quietly playing “Is this Love” from Whitesnake…Sean in a button-down shirt, half unbuttoned to show a mildly hairless chest (hurrff!)…I panicked.  “I…I don’t eat.”

Yes, I really said that.  And no, he didn’t take the hint.  I think I ultimately told him I just wasn’t into dating and it’s not you it’s me, and blah blah blah you’re 10 fucking years older than me, and please kindly leave me alone and let me talk to Urkel in peace, thanksmuch.  But more giggly and evasive.

This was happening around the same time I realized Phil wasn’t paying me my credit card tips, and good ol’ Mark the Sunday Waiter was grabbing my lower hips every time he “brushed” by me.  When you think Friendly’s you just don’t think Sausagefest, do you?  Unless Sausagefest was a monthly promotion that came with a Happy Ending Sundae for just .99! What a deal!

After just a few months, I knew that I wanted a Happy Ending for myself.  Not that kind, you sicko.  And not the ice cream sundae kind (although I do love a Happy Ending with chocolate ice cream and that peanut butter sauce – yummers!).  For one thing, I was leaving for college in a short amount of time.  For another thing, I didn’t want to be like some of the good people I met there, who were so beaten down by the hard work and disrespect they encountered they forgot what it was like to expect more out of life.  Sure, some people enjoyed it there.  All of Sausagefest did, I’m pretty sure.  A few waitresses liked it, too.  But some people belonged in a better place, and I’m not sure they realized they deserved better.  That’s what happens when you settle for too long – you give up a little bit each day.  I didn’t want that for me – at least not at that point in my life.

I found a job paying less doing data entry and I put my two week notice in, although Phil wouldn’t accept the resignation.  By that time, I stopped hating him (a few experiences where he was forced to work the floor miraculously made him tolerable), but he was still a little bit of a creeper.  I agreed to stay on, and did my thing.

What was my “thing,” exactly?

I grabbed two gallons of peanut butter fudge ice cream on my way out and never stepped in that Friendly’s ever again.  It was no Thirkus-style exit, but it was my little way of saying, “so long, you frank-eating, sausage-festing, Whitesnake-playing mother fuckers!”  That? Was an acceptable happy ending for me.

 

 

Image: Suat Eman / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Mental Health Parity: This is a Really, Really Good Thing

Image courtesy of antpkr / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

There is a new regulation going into effect on the national level that is going to help millions upon millions of Americans: insurance companies will be required to treat mental health and substance abuse the same as general physical ailments.

This is huge. And it makes me want to tell you a story, because this is something I have personal experience in:

My first job out of college was working for a California company that provided mental health case management and claims administration as a carveout to local HMO providers for professional services. Mental health is a very nuanced field in healthcare, and at the time, most HMOs would contract with a company that specialized in that area to handle their members’ needs. The HMOs would pay either as a fee-for-service (which is to say, the carveout would receive a certain amount of money per procedure), or, they would pay a monthly capitation rate (which is a lump sum estimated on the number of lives covered). To make money on a fee-for-service, the carveout simply had to pay the provider of the service less than what they received from the HMO. To make money on capitation, the carveout had to make sure that payments to providers each month were less than what they received from the HMO each month. Of course, the providers had to be contracted with the carveout, so those rates were previously negotiated.  This is a fairly predictable thing, as the carveouts typically only handled professional fees (doctor’s/therapist’s visits), which means they were shielded from those huge-dollar, unpredictable hospital bills.

With all of the problems I saw in the company I worked for, I can honestly say that despite the obvious temptation to shortchange care for a larger profit margin, I never saw them do this. They’d cut corners in every way imaginable, but in the end if someone needed care, they got care. That said, I saw a system that was designed to fail: the Pre-Parity California System.

At that time, all mental health was considered a “specialist” benefit. You know how on the back of your insurance card, you have a lower copay for general office visits and OB/GYN visits, but a higher copay for specialists? Mental health providers fell under that specialist category. If you had schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, severe depression, or any other mental illness, you had to pay that higher copay whenever you saw your mental health providers. In these more serious instances, that meant you had to pay a copay once a month for your 15-minute medication management session with a psychiatrist, and you had to pay a copay no less than once a week for your 45 minute counseling session with your therapist. With things like severe depression or anxiety, it’s not unheard of to have a therapy session two or three times a week. Keep in mind, if you were on an HMO like our patients were, your doc had to obtain an authorization to see you, and “renew” that authorization every 6 visits (which is why so many providers hate HMOs; on the other side, it does provide a check that can ensure a provider isn’t fraudulently billing or just dicking around in their sessions).

The worst example of this process I’ve seen came from an insurance I’m going to call Acme Health. This is a huge national provider that had and has a presence in California. Their specialist visit copay in 1999 was…get ready for this…$50/visit. Fifty damn dollars. Now here’s the kicker – due to our agreement with the HMO group connected to Acme Health, we were contractually obligated to take that full copay amount from the member. Why is that worth mentioning? Because our medication management reimbursed at $45. So because the patient was using their insurance, they actually paid more out-of-pocket than what we charged for the session. Once a month, for a session that lasted up to 15 minutes, no more. If you did medication management, you almost always had to supplement it with counseling, so add $50 per week to a counseling session with a masters-level therapist, who was reimbursed at $65 per session. So in one month, you, a person who is schizophrenic or severely depressed or what have you, just spent $250 on your mental health on top of what you pay monthly for your premium. Your insurance paid $60. Do you see where this comes across as somewhat immoral and outrageous?

I was working for the company when California passed their own Parity Act. The act stated that any treatment for specific diagnoses (all severe mental illnesses, like schizophrenia or severe depression) had to be handled the way a general office visit would, meaning members only had to pay their office visit copay and not their specialist copay. Those people who were paying $50 a visit, now only had to pay $10 a visit. Rather than spending $250 a month on their care, they were now only spending $50 a month (plus that premium, of course). Think about that when you hear Big Insurance panic – and they will. They were making a fortune off of the mentally ill in California, and then they were cut off.

The Parity Act killed businesses like the one I worked for – why pay someone to manage something that you are now managing like a regular office visit? We folded in under a year due to the passage of that act. I had no problem with that. When you hear Big Insurance say they can’t stay in business because of this government interference? Just look at Acme Health – they are still in business today, and are one of the largest and most profitable insurance providers not only in California, but in the nation.

The Fabulous Five Observations of the Week, Part 1

Soooo… I really need to write more often and get back on the horse. This week nothing huge happened worthy of its own post, so I’m going to fill you in on 5 micro-postings that happened this week and my observations. If you’re tired of me talking about music, skip to number 2.

1. Support Feels Awesome
So I finally put myself out there and uploaded two tracks I recorded at home. I cannot thank everyone enough for listening, encouraging, sharing, reposting, etc. Look; I know this isn’t going to lead to anything big. I’m an overweight 38 year-old woman making music in my house. I’m not the kind of person a record company straps two whipped cream cans onto to create some infantilized masturbatory product (not that there’s anything wrong with that if you’re into that sort of thing?). It’s just that my soul comes alive when I write, and it feels special to share that with the internets. I want to share it with as many people as I can and find people who like This Thing That I Do. So thank you everyone. The biggest surprise is how many compliments I’m getting on my voice. I’m hoping I can keep up this charade that I can sing for a little bit longer! In a week or two, I’ll add two more songs, then I think I’ll wrap it all together as an EP. We’ll see how it goes. I want to bring good, quality stuff to you, and that is quite a challenge on a $0 budget.

Because releasing music also unleashes an inner urge to endlessly and relentlessly force a musician’s crap onto others, I provide you with this link to my Reverbnation page. If you like, please share. If you don’t? That’s okay, I still love you. In short, the more plays I get, the more I move up the chart and the more exposure I get, so if you love it? Don’t be afraid to listen to it often.

2. Big City Life: Mass Transit Wonders and Angry Pedestrians
I’ve been going into the city for seminars and whatnot related to my “Career Transition” (more on that later). As a result, I’m fully taking in mass transit and pedestrian life – something you don’t experience in Arizona. Here is a list of mini observations on this point:
- No matter how nice someone might be outside of their car, Bay Area Drivers are horrible, horrible people. There is so much impatience and law-breaking going on at any given second it is stunning.
- BART mid-day provides me with interesting seat partners. One day going in, despite many open rows, a guy decided to sit down next to me and engage in what I can only describe as a vigorous lotioning routine for the duration of the trip. Another day, I got a contact high from a kid who smelled like he was a 5’8” joint. I seriously hate the smell of weed with a passion – I would take cigarette stank over pot stank any day. Ughhhh.
- You know Shit Just Got Intense when you are walking across a major intersection in the Financial District during rush hour and EVERYONE stops and stares nervously at a pedestrian screaming profanities and punching the hood of a car. I don’t know what led up to that, but I know the guy probably needed a little bubble of space when he got to my side of the street.

3. Please Don’t Ask Me About My Career Transition
I am so freaking tired of this. I’m done defining myself as unemployed, so I’m not going to do that anymore. My onsite seminars are both incredibly useful and deflating. Everyone there is accomplished and amazing and I’m a simpleton. Every time I try looking for a job I get incredibly depressed, so I’m just done talking about all of this. When I find a job, I’ll let you all know, but until then? Let’s talk about anything but what I do or don’t do for a living.

4. OCEAN OCEAN OCEAN
On Friday, I decided to let spontaneity take over and accept my friend Kirsten’s spur-of-the-moment invitation to go into SF and hang out at the ocean. I’m glad I did – it was absolutely beautiful, it was my first trip on MUNI (which went through a bunch of cool neighborhoods), and I felt human again. It was nice to take a one day reprieve from the self-flagellating unemployment process and just enjoy the moment. I can seriously watch and listen to the waves crash in the Pacific for hours on end. I saw the sun turn into a sliver and set over the ocean. Why don’t I allow myself that kind of joy more often?

5. Sonoma is Beautiful
On Saturday, we headed up to wine country for a wedding. It is gorgeous up there – hills upon hills of golden vines, mountains in the distance… just breathtaking. The wedding took place at a vineyard and was absolutely lovely. It felt like the quintessential northern Californian wedding: wine, delicious food, guests from all over the world…it was a great way to end the week. Plus? I got Chris to dance with me to “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun.” We’ve got to head back up there for a tasting tour some time.

Sorry Everyone, I Suck

Hi everyone,

It’s been too long since I posted, so consider this an update of sorts. Since my last post, I’ve probably written 5 posts I didn’t feel were good enough to publish, so I’m just going to wing this and get something out to you. So, a few of you know that I took part in the world’s longest layoff, which began well over a year ago when I suspected my position would be nixed. The end of last month was my final month at my former company, which was after receiving several extensions. My original end-date was supposed to be December 2012, so it’s been a long road. I can’t really complain; it’s the nature of the business – the bigger company took over our little company, saw redundancy and eliminated all of us. I worked hard up to the end and got a decent severance, so…I guess that’s fine.

Here are 5 random things I’ve observed about the process of being laid off over a period of a year:

1. Brain feels mushy. Not having a career goal for a year is not good for anyone who is goal-oriented.

2. It really sucks laying people off who you’ve known for years, knowing they have families to support and are also damn good at what they do.

3. Spending the last 5 months working remotely as a person marked for layoff is bad for creative writing. While my officemate is awesome (in particular because she’s furry and likes having me around), I feel like an isolated pariah and don’t really have a whole lot to write about at the moment. It’s weird. As part of my severance, I am working with a “career transition” place which has helped me leave my cave and go back into the wild to some degree.

4. Despite having no job this month, I’ve been really active? How did that happen? I’ve done a shit ton of hiking this month (I’m averaging somewhere around 30 miles a week), I’ve been taking lots of online classes…and I’ve been writing a lot of music – more on that in a minute.

Before I move on to the fifth observation, I have to point out that the Old Spice “lizards eating your legs” commercial just came on. That is fantastic. I love that their commercials are so WTF that you have to go back and rewind them because your subconscious is like, “wait…what?” Well played, Old Spice. Well played. Ok…. 5th observation:

5. While my regular writing has suffered, this layoff has been great for my songwriting. I seriously think I’ve written some of my best stuff ever over the past year. It’s different and it’s exciting. I believe in it. Now my ability to record the songs? That’s a different story. I’ve been in a recording hell over the past couple of weeks – my gear is outdated, and every time you put a mic in front of me I suddenly get a stuffy nose, a tickle in my throat, or my neighbors decide to break the concrete in their backyard with a jackhammer. I want to create something magical, and I know it’s in me – I’m struggling to get it out. But I’m determined to publish my songs on here. I have to. Enough of my procrastination and self-doubt. Before the year is out, I want to share at least 4 of my songs with you. So send good recording vibes my way, because I need them. I can’t explain it, but the job loss has made this aspect of my life very, very important.

Anyhoo, that’s what’s going on. I’ll try and post more often, but unfortunately, I can’t guarantee I’ll be awesome. In the meantime, if you want to see what I’m up to in small doses, check me out on various social media:

- I post a LOT on Instagram (@TheMenacingKitten)

- I post sometimes on Twitter, (@MenacingKitten), but 90% of my posts are Instagram posts. If you want to chat, I always respond to tweets, though. There isn’t enough conversation on Twitter, and I love chatting with people.

- I also still have my Facebook Page, which you can like. I’ll try and post a little more often on there to make up for my lack of posting on this site. As with Twitter, if you post on my page, I’ll definitely respond :)

I hope all is well for all of you. I can’t tell you how much I appreciate the support you’ve given me, and I feel kind of like a shit for not posting more often. I really hope you stick around and I can share my music with you.

Take care,

Anne-Marie

The Legend of Creepy Santa

Last year, property management for our building decided to decorate the lobby for Christmas.  Typical of their design style, it was a mix of incompatible styles and concepts that ultimately looked like Tim Burton overdosed on a deadly cocktail of kitsch, IKEA and Beetlejuice.  A demented-looking, 9-foot plastic Santa was the “highlight” of the lobby. As the days went on, it became clear that the Santa creeped the shit out of everyone in the building, and people began to taunt it.  It ended in a spectacular fashion, which I have chronicled in this touching Christmastime poem. 

‘Twas the night before Christmas and all through the lobby
Not an employee was working, or exploring a hobby
They moved through the floor with stealth never seen
In fear of St Nicholas, stabbing their spleen

The decorations were hung: mismatched kind of cheaply
And a 9 foot Santa, both mesmerizing and creepy
“He’s Plastic!” “He’s Ugly!” They would say and they’d think
But I would say nothing, for I saw him blink

In the dark of one morning, I heard quite a scrape
I looked over in terror – he tried to escape!
Approaching the door, one dragged foot at a time
Glass walls kept him in, like a trapped pantomime

His movement was noticed by those who walked by
They’d feel his glare, giving him the side-eye
They’d clutch their purses or a bottle of mace
But mace can do nothing to a warped plastic face

Employees caught on, voices spoke in high pitch
“Stop staring at me, creepy son of a bitch!”
He continued on with his cold plastic stare
And got his revenge in their sleep and nightmares

They would move him away, but he would move back
They’d put a bag on his head, like some ugly sad sack
He’d triumph each morn with a gleam in his eye
Showing each employee that he’d never die

In fear and in madness the depths they had sunk
‘Til they lopped off his head, tossing him in the trunk
Though the head remained, the car drove out of sight
‘twas no Merry Christmas for Creepy Santa that night

The Workday Scorecard

Once in a while, you can point to one event in your workday that makes it or breaks it – you totally kicked ass on a project? Awesome day!  Someone kicked your ass on a project? Hello evening of cheap boxed wine and chocolate!  As with life, the quality of your day is usually not determined by huge events, but by tallying up a bunch of little things.  After many, many years of being in the workforce, I’ve got the workday scorecard down to a science:

Picking up a Starbucks Skinny Cinnamon Dolce on the way in: +5
You spill the coffee on your white pants while driving: -5
…and it’s on the crotch: -5

School’s out, snowbirds are gone, the freeway is wide open: +10
A single broken-down Volkswagen Beetle on the side of the freeway causes a 5 mile long traffic jam: -10
…and then you receive an alert text stating a bunch of shit just broke at work: -20

You have a row of seats to yourself on the bus: +15
Standing room only, and the guy in the wife-beater next to you is covered in multiple open sores: -40
…and has shag carpet-level back hair. -5

Work from home today!: +40
Work from home forever.: -30 (ok, to be fair, it’s really -10 for each month you are deprived of human contact with a maximum cap of -30…)

Seeing the toilet seat up in the bathroom stall, because it means you’re the first to use it since it’s been cleaned: +5
Seeing unflushed carnage in the toilet with 900 soggy sheets of crumpled TP: -10

Free Bagels and honey nut cream cheese shmear!: +10
IT gets to them first. -10

There’s a puppy in the office!: +20
There are kittens in the office!: +15
There’s a baby in the office.: 0

There’s a bat in the office: -20
But the bat is on a different floor: +30

Listening to Dan Patrick on the radio: +10
Then Jim Rome or Colin Cowherd comes on: -10

Going to lunch and the newbie at Subway inadvertently gives you more than their mandated WWII-era ration of meat: +20
Going to lunch and the newbie at Subway inadvertently wipes his nose before grabbing your sandwich to cut it: -20

Having your lunch stolen: -20
Bringing in an irresistible-looking Ex-Lax Brownie as revenge.  And it gets stolen: +30

Having a bathroom completely to yourself so you don’t have to feel self-conscious about pooping: +10
When the prior person leaves in a stink, and everyone thinks you’re the one who ate napalm chili for lunch: -10

Political Junkie Wednesdays on Talk of the Nation: +20
Followed by an All Things Considered segment on native basket weaving on the island of Tobago: -5

Responding to a friendly “how you doin’” from a co-worker you pass in the hall: +5
When said co-worker responds with your own “how you doin’” with “it’s been pretty depressing, but no one died on me today, so I guess that’s a plus…”: -15 (yes, really.)

Clear-cut and reasonable dress code policies: +10
The endless battle between The Capri and Flip-Flop Rebel Alliance of Freedom and Human Resources: -5

When the most power-mongering, condescending person in the company rips a 5.5-Richter, Fire-in-the-Hole Fart in their bathroom stall: +30
(There really is no counter to that.  I was a witness of such an event at an old job, and it carried me to the end of the day. Because I’m 8.  And yes,  I do spend a considerable amount of time in the bathroom at work.)

Getting caught up on email: +20
Opening your email after being gone from your desk for five minutes to discover 10 emails of correspondence with the same subject line: -5
…and Ted Gatlin is one of the senders: -10

Do you have any items to add to the scorecard? Post them below!

Free images from FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Email Hell: Welcome to My Nightmare

If there’s one thing that drives me batty in my professional life, it’s receiving an excessive number of bad emails.  Life is short, my time is limited; please don’t make me sift through blank/vague subject lines or 10 MB emails that only have one record I need to view.

While the vast majority of employees generally understand email etiquette, as with anything, a few people ruin it for everyone.  In all of my professional years, there are three types of senders who are the bane of my corporate existence:

1) The person who either doesn’t “get” email or is playing dumb to shirk responsibility
At a prior job, there was a guy who worked remotely – we’ll call him Sage.  Sage was one of the most charming men you would ever meet. When he visited on-site once or twice a year, he’d make a point to chat with everyone in the office, and he’d always chuckle pleasantly at your jokes.  Once a year he’d have a cake delivered to the office for all of us.  Great guy, right?

Well, the problem with Sage is no one had a freaking clue what Sage did all day, let alone all month.  All we knew was it was impossible to communicate with him – email was like a Jedi mind trick that left you baffled.  You’d send him an urgent request regarding one of the facilities in his region, and he wouldn’t respond.  If you didn’t already know the abysmally low success rate on him returning a voice message, you’d give him a call, listen to a smooth, baritone voice tell you he’s not available while a soft hint of Barry White music plays in the background, and you’d leave a message that he would likely delete.  After a couple of days, you’d re-send the email, with a “2nd Request: In Need of File from XYZ Facility” type of subject line.  Still nothing.

“3rd Request: Urgent! XYZ Facility Will Not Get Paid W/O Receipt of File. Please Respond.”

Finally, usually after the 4th request, he would decide to respond.  In his reply, he’d say simply, “File is attached.”

There would be no file.

You’d immediately respond with “nothing is attached,” and get no response.  You’d simultaneously call his phone, and get the Barry White.  After banging your head 50 times against the keyboard, you’d start the dance all over again until the dude with the smallest market in the network became the last market to be finalized for the month.  This happened every month.  No, nothing was done about it, because the head honcho adored his charming ways, and the higher-ups just thought he was a face-to-face guy who didn’t “get” email.  He collected a paycheck doing this routine for about 10 years, until new management discovered he couldn’t locate his clients’ locations on a map with the radius of a block.  Sage, wherever you are? You are a smart, smart man who made a lot of money doing a lot of nothing. I’d like to think you were really CIA, and this was your cover job.

2) The person who doesn’t know what Snopes is
I really, really hate forwards (with the exception of an occasional dog-related forward).  I have historically received a few different annoying forwards from a handful of co-workers to my work email…from their work email.  Don’t they have something productive they could be doing? Anyway, I’d get the “WOMEN! AVOID BEING ABDUCTED BY A CRAZED GUY HANGING OUT AT WAL-MART” forwards that give a fake story about a serial kidnapper, and list weird tips on how to avoid him.  I no longer inform the sender that they are sending misinformation with a link to Snopes, because that usually pisses them off.  I also avoid snarky responses, like “Tip #10: Don’t Shop at Wal-Mart.”

I’ll also get the fake “So and So is Dying of Cancer and Their Last Wish is to Carpet-Bomb the Internet with Chain Mail.”  Really? Of all the shit someone can wish for, someone wanted that? I don’t think so.  Dude, you can meet Michael Jordan, or rent out Disneyland…do you really think someone wished for a vague email with 900 nesting levels?  If there is ever even a grain of truth in these, the person mentioned in the email died 10 years ago, and their wish was for everyone to mail a letter with a rose petal to a dictator demanding peace on earth or something.  Somewhere along the way, the “I Pay it Forward by Clicking ‘Forward’” crowd got the message and decided to slacktivate it.

Of course, I’m more forgiving of the Dying of Cancer forwards than the “I’m grabbing your ankles while being dragged to hell” people who send you the sweet message about love and hope and promise and pegacorns and ends with, “forward this to 20 of your friends or you will be damned to a lifetime of poor health and loneliness.”  First of all, I’m not your friend.  Second?  I so want to reply to those people with a cutesy-maudlin story that ends with, “if you forward any email to even two of your contacts ever again, you will be cursed with dandruff and DefCon Sriracha-level diarrhea for the rest of your life.”

My final emailer is a class of their own:

3) Ted.
Every office has at least one Ted.  Ted is the guy or gal who Gatlin guns your inbox with “urgent” requests, cc’s your manager on even the most mundane of emails, always chooses the wrong spelling of a word, and finds the most space-inefficient way of providing you nothing useful. For example, you see this in your inbox:

! Ted Gatlin        Not at Desk                      4/22/2012, 9:15am      355KB

You open the message:

———————————————————————————————————————-
This message is high priority.
From: Ted Gatlin
To: You
CC: The COO of Your Company
Subject: [no subject]
Attachment: ANIMATEDFLOWERSIGNATURE.GIF; POLICYONBREAKS.TIF

I am considering leaving my desk for five minutes to go too the bathroom, but do not want to negatively effect you’re project.   Please advise.

Sincerely Yours,

Ted Gatlin
Specialty Specialist
ABC Company

“When the pawn hits the conflicts he thinks like a king
What he knows throws the blows when he goes to the fight
And he’ll win the whole thing ‘fore he enters the ring
Theirs’s no body to batter when your mind is you’re might
So when you go solo, you hold you’re own hand
And remember that depth is the greatest of heights
And if you know where you stand, then you know where to land
And if you fall it won’t matter, cause you’ll know that your right”
- Fiona Apple, from her 1999 album, When the pawn hits the conflicts he thinks like a king
What he knows throws the blows when he goes to the fight
And he’ll win the whole thing ‘fore he enters the ring
Their’s no body to batter when your mind is you’re might
So when you go solo, you hold you’re own hand
And remember that depth is the greatest of heights
And if you know where you stand, then you know where to land
And if you fall it won’t matter, cause you’ll know that your right

CONFIDENTIALITY NOTICE: The information contained in this message may be privileged, confidential, and will likely put you on the No-Fly List. If you are not the intended recipient, or an employee, or federal agent, you are about five minutes away from having a man dressed in black rappel down the side of your building and kick in your office window. If you have received this communication in error, please unplug your computer, take it to the parking lot, pour gasoline on it, set fire to it and go Reservoir Dogs on it with a crowbar. Then take a high-powered magnet and shuffle your feet on carpet all the way to the server room.  Upon entry, touch everything and unleash the sweet, sweet power of your magnet. The sender does not accept any responsibility for any loss, disruption or damage to your data, computer system or IT department that will occur in this process. Cherrio!
——————————————————————————————————————-

I initially thought it would be great if we got all of the Teds to work together in one company, but that one company alone would break the internet and send us back to the stone age. Someone would do an archaeological dig hundreds of years in the future, locate an exchange server and discover that the last five minutes of our civilization as we know it was recorded with the following string of emails:
! Ted Gatlin       Welcome to the Gatlin Company!       4/22/2012, 9:15am     355KB
! Fred Phalanx       I Can’t Access Email!!      4/22/2012, 9:15am     1MB
! Ted Gatlin       RE: I Can’t Access Email!!       4/22/2012, 9:15am     1MB
! Tommy Gun       Re: Welcome to the Gatlin Company!       4/22/2012, 9:16am     400KB
! Ted Gatlin       Re: Re: Welcome to the Gatlin Company!       4/22/2012, 9:16am     400KB
! Fred Phalanx       WHO ATE MY KRISPY KREAM?       4/22/2012, 9:16am     1MB
! Ted Gatlin       RE: WHO ATE MY KRISPY KREAM?       4/22/2012, 9:16am     1MB
! Jane Gun       RE: RE: WHO ATE MY KRISPY KREAM?       4/22/2012, 9:17am     1MB
! Em Sixteen       RE: RE: RE: WHO ATE MY KRISPY KREAM?       4/22/2012, 9:17am     2MB
! Em Sixteen       Policy on Food [PLEASE SIGN]       4/22/2012, 9:17am     2MB
! Jane Gun       Pics from Grand Opening :)       4/22/2012, 9:17am     50MB
! Fred Phalanx       FW: Pics from Grand Opening :)       4/22/2012, 9:17am     51MB
! Em Sixteen       Policy on Email [PLEASE SIGN]       4/22/2012, 9:18am     53MB
! Fred Phalanx       CANNOT SCAN SIGNATURE!!!       4/22/2012, 9:18am     75MB
! Fred Phalanx       HELP! Can’t work new phone       4/22/2012, 9:19am     75MB
! Em Sixteen       Policy on Phone Usage       4/22/2012, 9:19am     2MB
! Fred Phalanx       FW: Policy on Email [PLEASE SIGN]       4/22/2012, 9:19am     76MB
! Jane Gun       FW:FW:FW:FW OMG SOOOO CUTE!! :P!!!!!<3 :D       4/22/2012, 9:20am     200MB  
! Tommy Gun       Taking Girl Scout Cookie Orders       4/22/2012, 9:20am     50MB

We don’t want our world to be sent to the stone age, right?  Right?? Let’s all do our part and not be a Ted. Besides, you don’t want us to go off the grid before you put that Girl Scout Cookie order in.

Image: David Castillo Dominici / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

A Ghost in the Corporate Machine

I stared at the tiny little pill of salvation in my hand.  My 70-hour-a-week job had me exceptionally stressed out to the point where it kept me up at night.  I needed something other than a stiff drink to help me get some sleep so I could at least get 6 hours of sleep in a night.  Six hours.  That’s all I wanted.  I wanted to remember what that felt like.

Prior to holding that Miracle Pill, the commercials on television taunted me.  The pretty Lunesta butterfly would float in and save people from insomnia.  I’d get jealous and resentful of snoring people on NyQuil commercials.  Everyone looked so rested and peaceful, and here I was, mentally going over checklists and tasks to delegate for hours on end.  I’d lie there thinking of not only plan Bs, but I had to come up with plan Cs and Ds.   I had to account for the frequent database timeouts and crashes we’d experience or the paperwork that didn’t get to us in time.  My team was pushed to the limit – they averaged around 60 hours a week for over a year, and there was no sign of letting up despite a handful of pipe dream promises.  I was in my first management role, and I didn’t want to let anyone down.  I wanted to show the higher-ups how committed I was to making the company successful.  I wanted my team to like me and want to work for me.  I believed that a true leader had to work harder than anyone working under them.  Getting people to put in the kind of overtime required for an extended period of time is a tall order, and I felt like I had to pull out all the stops to keep the gears in this impossible machine moving.

The commercials for prescription sleeping aids were designed for people like me, and the side effects didn’t sound so bad: habit-forming, don’t drive a vehicle within eight hours of taking it, blah blah blah – that’s standard with any drug, right?  I knew from other people that one of the sleeping aids caused them to sleep eat – in their sleep, they’d walk to their kitchen and eat an entire jar of Fluff.  I knew Chris wouldn’t let me do that, so I felt pretty good.   Plus, Chris took Ambien for a couple of nights following his eye surgery and he slept like a rock.  I hoped to achieve similar results, and requested Ambien from my doctor.

My doctor sighed at my request.  I think he heard similar requests all too often from his patients.  “I’ll give you about a week’s worth; this is not something you want to take long-term.  If you continue to have sleep problems, we’ll need to find another way to address them – lifestyle changes.  These pills don’t cure insomnia; they can provide a temporary relief at best and can mask the deeper issues keeping you up at night.”  He explained his concerns about the dangers of the new crop of sleeping pills as he filled out the prescription.  On one hand, I’ve always appreciated that my doctor wasn’t a pill-pusher; on the other hand, my grumpy, sleep-deprived mind just heard, “yadda yadda yadda here’s your prescription.”  I didn’t want to hear that being a workaholic was going to kill me, and no commercial butterfly was going to carry me away from that shit.

I read the instructions that came with the prescription and took it right before I went to bed.  I lay in bed, waiting for Ambien to take me into dreamland.  It took longer than I expected or hoped, and I still found myself clock-watching.  Right before I nodded off, I looked at the clock and the 7 puckered.  Huh.

The next evening, I didn’t want to wait as long for the Ambien to take effect, so I decided to take it a little earlier, I’d clean up around the house and go to bed when I started to feel tired.  So, after cleaning for fifteen to twenty minutes, I realized I didn’t feel sleepy at all.  I decided the best thing to do would be to just lie in bed, turn out the lights, and again wait for the Ambien to take over.

Chris and I lay in bed, and I stared intently at the ugly floral-patterned curtains in our bedroom.  Woah.  Finally, I spoke to Chris.  “You know, there’s one thing I’ll say about this Ambien; it really messes with your mind.”

Chris turned slightly to me.  “How so?”

“Well? Right now? Our curtains are a forest.”

“What??”

Our hideous, 80s-era curtains that came with the house morphed into a beautiful, mossy green forest.  So pristine and ethereal!  Pretty forest, you’re teasing me with your beauty, but I know if I go for a stroll, I’ll only wind up with glass shards in my arms. Yes, I knew I was hallucinating, but for the virgin to life who never took a hallucinogen before, this was kind of awesome.  This was a journey, and who better to share this experience with than Chris?  It was of extreme importance I tell him every last detail.  He wanted nothing more than to go to sleep.

After telling him all about the curtain forest, I paused for a few minutes.  I stared at our ceiling fan.  It resembled… a seal?  A sealHello, Mr. Seal!  I smiled at it.  I had a new friend!  And I knew his story.  Oh, he didn’t speak or anything, but I had a soul connection with the fan.  I just knew.  I had to share his supreme wisdom and kindness with Chris.  “The ceiling fan thinks it’s protecting us from the forest; it doesn’t know that the forest is good.”

“Go to sleep.”

“I like the ceiling fan.”

“Shut up.”

Pause.  I turned to my side and stared at the digital clock.  “Hee-hee…”

“Grrr….”

Pause.  “Hee-heeee!”

What are you doing?”

He turned over to see me patting the alarm clock and poking my fingers at the display.  He just didn’t get it, man.  I giggled.  “The numbers are dancing! They’re moving around.  It’s so cool!”  Every time I poked the 9, it scrunched up like the Pillsbury Doughboy. “Hee-hee!”  Poke.  “Hee-hee!”

“Close your eyes and you won’t see anything anymore.”

“But I want to see it.”

“Go to bed.”

My entire bedroom was a Wonderland.  Forget the curtain, the clock and the fan, I just knew that there were all sorts of exciting things waiting for me in every corner of the room.  I pounced on top of Chris.  “WHATS ON UR SIDE OF THE BED?”

“Gahhh, Go to sleep! Shut up!!”

He was such a killjoy.  This was an experience of a lifetime, and I had only taken up an hour or so of his time.  Forget him; I had my new friend the ceiling fan to keep me company; I didn’t need him! And I just know that if the ceiling fan got to know the forest, he would like it, and we could all be friendz.  And we’d all watch the dancing numberzandlaughandhahaPillsburyDoughboySaladUnicorns!

ZZZZZZZzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz….

I opened my eyes and looked around the room.

The ceiling fan was a ceiling fan.

The ugly curtains were just ugly curtains.

The clock read 3:14 a.m.  Three hours passed.  The numbers weren’t dancing.

3:14 a.m.

I’m wide awake.

I’m wide awake, and I have to be up in two hours.

Fuck.

I gave myself another hour, and decided to continue with my daily tradition of logging into VPN to get work done prior to going into the office.  When I got into work at my normal time and while our computers gave us our morning ODBC Timeout Greeting, I shared my Ambien story with a couple of them.  “Wow,” one girl laughed.  “People pay a lot of money to get drugs that do that…” We chuckled, but I felt off.  Simple decisions suddenly seemed complicated, like a tangle of knots where you can’t find the first to undo.  My clarity was needed to go to plan Bs and Cs as databases timed out, angry clients called in, paperwork was MIA, and gossip was its usual disruptive self.  Answers usually came to me, yet this time I couldn’t untangle the knots to get to them.  It may have been the Ambien, it may have been the lack of sleep – whatever it was, my day became far more complicated than usual.

In all the tangles, I could hear my doctor’s sage words weaving through.  “Lifestyle changes…the deeper issues keeping you up at night…” I looked around at my team. I spent many 12-hour days with them.  How many waking hours did I see my husband?  Could I even say “hours,” let alone “hour?”  I looked at my computer with it’s stupid hourglass floating in the middle of the screen waiting to reach its inevitable conclusion of “ODBC Timeout Error.” God forbid I selected the wrong thing to filter.  I saw my boss, who a few months prior, threatened to cut off my VPN access if I didn’t take a weekend off.  Bless her heart for that.  It occurred to me that my pristine forest – my hallucination – was the only serene thing I experienced in months.

I looked beyond our area to the window offices and realized something I never really thought about before – no one gave a shit, and no one would ever give a shit.  We were the machine that worked – we weren’t people.  I was part of it – I became nothing more than a gear that turned and turned with its teeth slowly being stripped of definition and function with each revolution.  In that tangled moment, it occurred to me I was a lousy supervisor.  I wasn’t leading – I was operating a perpetual motion machine. I wanted to be everything to everyone, yet I was a nobody helping no one.  In a moment where my little answers were tangled, the largest one finally revealed itself to me.

I went home that night – late, as usual.  I put the Ambien away in the medicine cabinet.  Even though I enjoyed good times with the forest and the ceiling fan, I knew my doctor was right – this was no solution.  I needed a clear mind to untangle the knots.  I needed to find the most responsible way to exit the machine and become human again.

Admitting failure is one of the toughest things we must undergo in life, even when protected by the calming fog of a legalized hallucinogen.  I’d lie if I said I didn’t continue trying to please everyone at that job – I did it every single day until my exit strategy was complete.  I wanted to fix my failure yet I didn’t have the perspective needed to get it right.  With perspective, I learned a huge lesson from that job:  I had to set boundaries for myself.  The stress I felt was the stress I put on myself.  The boundaries I set as a result are the boundaries I have to this day, and I’m happier for it.  I’m a better manager because of it.  I have clarity, and I actually come up with solutions – real solutions, not Band-Aids and Silly Putty.  If something doesn’t get done despite our best efforts, I’m not putting in a bunch of 60-hour workweeks to make it happen.  Sometimes you need to let things fail to expose the weakness of the structure they are built on.  It’s better to show a few fissures early on, than to try and hide them until the entire foundation collapses in on itself.

I learned success isn’t found in our paycheck amounts or promotions received.  Success is found in honoring those boundaries we set for ourselves – when we are true to our morals and ethics, honor our happiness, and put the needs of ourselves and those we love first, we are successful.  At the end of the day, when we have nothing more than a pay stub and a business card to define who we are, we really are nothing more than a gear in a machine.  The sleeping pills we take, the bottles of wine we drink only allow us a moment to forget how much more we can be.

Maybe that’s what my doctor was trying to tell me when he handed me that week-long prescription.