Archive for January, 2014

Life in maintenance mode

Anyone else feel like they’re stuck living life in maintenance mode?

Constantly thinking only about what you need to make it through the day? Always packing, preparing, cooking, cleaning, organizing and never really doing anything? Unable to make plans beyond the day at hand because it’s taking everything you have just to make it through?

That’s maintenance mode. I’ve been feeling unfortunately trapped in this way of living, and I blame it on the weather.

Pretty much anything can be blamed on the weather at this point in the Chicago area’s awful, snowy and frigid winter. I mean, we’re on the second day of polar vortex – take two – and there’s probably more snow on the way. Or even a full-on blizzard, earthquake, tornado, or while we’re at it, a tsunami and volcanic eruption.

But no matter what’s around the corner, the weather and its accompanying nuisances – traffic jams, higher heating costs, cars and water pipes and road salt and even people’s minds prone to freezing and not working properly – these things are causing us not just to hibernate, but to fall into maintenance mode.

New Year’s resolution season is barely in the rearview mirror and life already is forcing many of us to (temporarily) abandon our lofty aims of not sweating the small stuff, improving our healthy eating habits, increasing our fitness levels, finding new career prospects or joining new volunteer efforts in favor of maintaining our basic health and safety.

It’s a simple example of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. But in 2014, in this highly technological society in which all of us are free to dream big dreams, innovate and strive for self-actualization for the betterment of ourselves and the world as a whole, it’s disappointing to have to revert back to things like food, shelter, water, warmth, clothes, work and the need for human connections as our primary focus.

Maintenance mode makes us feel like we’re not making any progress. Like we’re stuck accomplishing the bare minimum to be functioning adults in this world instead of improving ourselves, our lives and the situations of others. It’s frustrating; there’s no way around that.

Except when we realize maintenance can be progress, even if only in the sense that it’s preventing a backward slide and helping us avoid any regression that might be damaging to our lives.

When it’s negative whatever degrees outside, not even counting the wind chill, maintenance actually begins to sound like an accomplishment. And for right now, it is.


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Oh the shifts you’ll work …

“Oh the Places You’ll Go” by Dr. Seuss was the inspiration for a photo book my journalist uncle and aunt made for my cousin when he graduated college a handful of years back.

The collection of pictures from my cousin’s entire childhood was a creative and heartfelt gift, and it made everyone smile. “Oh, the Places You’ll Go” now that you’ve graduated college and your whole “adult” life is ahead of you, the book seemed to say. And it was a hopeful and positive message.

But for you younger twenty-somethings who are still in school, I have a Dr. Seuss themed-message of my own, and you’ve already seen it in the headline.

“Oh, the Shifts You’ll Work” could be the title of a twenty-something career-world survival manual for soon-to-be college graduates. It’s THAT true, so get ready for it.

I was at home recently — home, meaning the place I grew up, where my parents and younger siblings live, not meaning the city apartment I rent but rarely see — and I was rudely reminded of the truth of that statement.

For about six months, I’ve been spoiled in terms of the shifts I’ve worked. Because about six months ago, I graduated from what I called my “new kid shift,” Tuesday through Saturday, to the weekly grind for the average working schmo, Monday through Friday.

I haven’t forgotten what it’s like to feel like you’re living among the unemployed, the stay-at-home parents and the freelancers of the world on Mondays. And I haven’t forgotten what it feels like to have to skip out on late-night Friday plans or Saturday college football games all because of the four-letter word that’s most important to my budget: work.

But I have gotten out of practice. Even though I work one or two journalist “night shifts” a week, when I come in around 11:30 a.m. or noon and work until 10:30 or 11 p.m., I feel pretty spoiled. And even though about once a month, I have to work our awful early-morning shift called dawn patrol (it starts at 5 a.m., and it somehow gets a bit easier the more times I work it. But it is EARLY.) I’m certainly grateful to no longer consistently work weekends.

So it was one of those dawn patrol days when I happened to be HOME home. My brother, who works two part-time jobs as a professional librarian, and my sister, who is working part-time as a nurse intern before passing her RN exam, both were home as well. And although it was two days before Christmas, we all were working.

“Oh, the Shifts You’ll Work” came to me when I was looking at the daily schedule my mom jots down on a piece of scrap paper each evening for the following day. It said Marie: Morning cops 🙂 (The smiley face was ironic, I’m sure) Dad: Work. BW: Library 5 to 9 p.m. AW: Hospital 3 to 11:30 p.m.

So there you have it. You’ll work insanely early morning shifts, half-day evening shifts, eight-hour second shifts, dozens of Saturday shifts, 12-hour “night” shifts, and all other manner of annoying shifts your bosses and sources and co-workers can come up with. You’ll work them all and you’ll be glad you have a job. Because there really is no other alternative.

So on the days when you get to clock in for a cushy 9 to 5 or 8 to 4 or even an 11 to 7, remember: the perspective that comes from working all kinds of inconvenient shifts in your twenties will stick with you as you “grow up” in the career world. And that perspective will make you a better, kinder person more respectful of other people’s time.

I’d say all the strange shifts are worth it.

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Winter parking: Another reason to curse snow

In hindsight, I’m glad I chose an apartment on a wide street.

I never thought road width would matter. I mean, it always was a nice thing that I could double-park in front of my place when I had a particularly large load of groceries or a bunch of Mom leftovers or a handful of bags of Christmas gifts. And not only could I safely double-park, I could do so without people angrily honking at me to get a move on … because another car could always get by.

The four car capacity of my little slice of city street never seemed that spectacular to me, until it turned out to be practically a lifesaver.

OK, I’m exaggerating. But when a bunch of snow, a polar vortex-induced two-day temperature plunge, a few more days of semi-average winter and a night of freezing rain combined to make parking conditions nearly impossible for a little car like my Prius, that’s when I became thankful for my street’s above-average width.

I had been on a self-imposed, weather-precautionary exile from my apartment on the middle floor of a three-flat in Ukrainian Village for six days when I decided it was time to venture back into the city.

The worst and weirdest of the weather was over, and although the rain had begun freezing a bit out in the suburbs, the temperature gauge in my car read 41 degrees for my entire 26-mile drive home, feeding me false encouragement that my trek may turn out OK. That I may be able to traverse all the roads to my apartment without slip-sliding into another car or a bus or a taxi or a curb. That I may be able to, get this, PARK!


It wasn’t that I couldn’t find a parking space. It’s just that all three within an acceptable radius of my place were rejects for their own special reasons.

The first was blocked off by a pile of snow far too deep for my “baby Prius” to plow through. The second was too watery – and included in one corner what must have been a sewer, bubbling up air as snow tried to melt down into the pipes, making me worry about flooding if the cold rains were to continue. And the third was simply too snow-covered throughout the entire space, not just between the car and the actual traffic lanes.

As far as city parking, I was doomed. I thought I had waited long enough after the snowstorm and deep freeze to attempt to get back to Chicago – to the apartment I wasted a week’s worth of rent on, to all my photos and notebooks and DVDs – but the world thought otherwise.

I still needed fresh clothes, and I wanted to grab some week-old food from my fridge to prevent things like a half-bag of salad and assorted bell peppers from going to waste. And that’s where the width of my street came in handy.

I circled one last time, then double-parked for a good 10 minutes on my nice, broad street, where other drivers could easily pass. I hastily threw three of every type of clothing I thought I’d need in the next few days into my duffel bag and a large purse, and I hopped back into the driver’s seat for a 45-minute drive to the suburban version of home.
Back in my hometown, the streets are wide and no one ever double-parks. There’s always space for my car, space that doesn’t require using a shovel like a pick-axe or invoke an intense fear of flooding.

There’s always a bed, too, and last Friday night when I arrived “home,” I was especially glad to relax into it. And as I did, I said another silent and unexpected thanks for the width of my street.

Here I am, parked directly in front of my apartment. I would have settled for anything within four blocks of my place last Friday, but snow made parking nearly impossible.

Here I am, parked directly in front of my apartment. I would have settled for anything within four blocks of my place last Friday, but snow made parking nearly impossible.

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2014: A year of never wearing down

I hang up from a marathon phone call with my tech-savvy brother, trying to get everything to look just so before the launch of my column, this column.

I’m frustrated, tired of talking on the phone and pissed off at computers and websites in general. The site looks good, and I’m pleased with it. But there’s still one last detail I can’t quite perfect, and neither, unfortunately, can my brother.

A few minutes later a text buzzes. It’s from him. My brother.

I’m grumbling to myself as I slide open my phone and read what I’m expecting to be some technical computer mumbojumbo about gravatars and pixels and nonsense words I don’t remember.

“To quote The Handmaid’s Tale,” He says, “‘Nolite te bastardes carborundorum.’ (Don’t let the bastards wear you down.”

A surprisingly motivating message.

In this case, the “bastards” are computers in general, and my usually user-friendly blog publishing site to be specific. They won’t let me accomplish what I set out to do. They foiled my plan of where I wanted my site’s logo to appear. Those bastards.

“The bastards” can be anything in life that’s standing in your way.

I’ve faced bastards in the form of overwhelming work assignments and too-tight deadlines, conflicting desires to eat too much junk food and maintain a healthy lifestyle, and my biggest bastard: worry, a general tendency to dwell on the possible problems that could arise from things I can’t control.

Your bastards may be a friend who’s trying to drag you into poor life choices, a job you just can’t stand, a bad habit so consuming it’s practically an addiction, or your own version of the big bastard of worry – your doubts and negative thoughts.

But no matter what form “the bastards” take, the antidote is the same. Don’t let them wear you down.

The way I got this advice may have been more impactful, more meaningful, because it came in an unexpected text from my brother, in none other than the elegant and powerful language of the ancients – Latin, or at least mock-Latin.

But the mode and form of communication aren’t what’s important here. The message is.

You know you’ve got bastards in your own life. You’ve got stresses and worries, disagreements and unfortunate tasks. But you’re bigger than them.

All I can say is, “Don’t let the bastards wear you down.”

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