Under Construction

Everything is under construction. My office, the bridge I walk over to take to work, and the building I work in.

Which, in some ways, can be really inconvenient.

Like for instance, the bridge I walk over to take to work. It’ll be out for a year. So, in the meantime, I have to walk around the bridge to get to the same place, adding about 5 extra minutes to my walk.

But before you think all I do is complain, I’d like to remind you that things being under construction can be a blessing in disguise. Sometimes, it gives you a completely new way of looking at things. For example, that extra 5 minutes now gives me a little more exercise that I wouldn’t have had if that bridge had remained open.

So, when you see that caution tape appear on your way down the street, don’t be negative. Instead, think of what fresh perspective you could be having by walking by it.

And if you’re also like me and feel like your whole life is under construction, just remember: you’re the engineer and despite delays and setbacks, you will finish this project.

Made My Day

Thanks to the little girls at the back of the school bus who smiled and waved and cracked up when I waved back and who I followed for a good 20 minutes (only because they were going where I was going–not in a creepy way.)

You made my day. And you’ll never know it.

Someone’s smile or kind word can make your whole day but you don’t have to let them know. It’s sort of special; it’s like a secret you share with that other person, except they don’t know.

But sometimes, you should let people know if they’ve made your day. People feel worthless on the best day. Don’t forget to remind them that they’re here for a reason, however small it may be.

Don’t worry kids. If you wave at me, I’ll always wave back.

I Sat at the Back of the Train

I’m back! I think I’ve done all the brain charging I needed to do, and I’m ready to start writing again. (And really, when I don’t write, I do a lot of thinking, which is totally problematic for everyone, but especially for me.)

Do you know where else I do a lot of thinking? On my commute. I ride a train to and from work, and while it is great to not be stuck in traffic, like I said, it leaves a lot time for me to contemplate the meaning of life.

Well, sometimes.

Because usually I’m reading, or listening to music, or otherwise occupying my attention on my train ride. Completely tuned out. Just like every other passenger on the train in the 21st century. If it weren’t for the overhead announcement that barked out the station every time we stopped, I’d probably still be on that train, never looking up, never noticing where I was, just riding forever.

Until today.

I got on the last car. This is a little trick of daily commuters: everyone comes down onto the platform and stops about in the middle of where the train will be. This makes that car pretty crowded. But if you walk down a little further on either side, you’re more likely to get a seat. (Who says blogging isn’t informative?)

Anyway, I grabbed a seat, facing backward. This is usually a problem for my sensitive stomach that is soy and dairy (and maybe even gluten) intolerant. The rolling of the wheels translates to my stomach roiling and me feeling very sick. But, not today. And so I went about my daily routine, feeling every bump and turn, letting the landscape slip past, reading my book without the conspicuous presence of nausea.

And in between turning the pages, I looked up.

I saw the tracks flowing away, and the burnt sky of a rising sun through a perfectly framed back window. It was breathtakingly beautiful, seeing the horizon and watching everything just pass me by. The sun came up over the Earth, and I was traveling across it in this strange, wonderful parallelism.

And I thought to myself, in that poignant way that we do when we see something unique and want to give it meaning, that it’s okay to look back sometimes. It’s okay to think about what has been. Because the past can be really beautiful. To see where you’ve come from and to understand that it’s made you who you are is truly a great lesson in life. But that doesn’t mean it will always be pretty to look at. The past can be painful or ugly, too. I simply happened to look out at the right moment and impressed upon it my own experience at that moment.

So, in essence, you shouldn’t spend too much time waiting for the next station or watching the tracks slip away, although it can sustain you for awhile. You should be reading a book or listening to music, living your life, just being in the present. And maybe, looking up every once in awhile.

No Thank You

Today I learned a lesson that all of my college professors, my parents, and any old wise man on top of a mountain could tell me.

Don’t expect anything. Don’t expect anything good to happen or anything bad to happen. Just don’t expect anything. It’s easier that way.

Take today. I am one of the million cheerful people who take public transportation. Ah yes, the dank stairwells, the finicky ticket machines, and don’t forget, the other 999,999 people traveling with me. If anything, it is an experience. And we’ll leave it at that.

And speaking to that last point (because I couldn’t leave it at that) about all of those people, it can definitely be tough. They don’t always move out of your way, and they don’t always slide across the seat to let you sit. My strategy is to find someone who is pretty much doing what I will be doing (reading, listening to music, etc.) so that I won’t bother them by sitting next to them. We’re sort of like two friends hanging out, doing the same activity.

But as soon as I sat down today, I saw an older couple looking around for a seat. The woman sat directly in front of me, while the man was unable to find a seat near her. It was an easy choice. I quickly got up and told him to sat down. He might have muttered something, but I didn’t hear it.

And do you know what else I didn’t hear? A thank you! Seriously? I know it’s common courtesy to let someone sit down that should have a seat over you, but you couldn’t say thank you? It’s like when people don’t give that little wave while driving when you let them out into traffic. It takes two seconds and it makes the world of difference!

So, I got up fuming, a little. I knew my heart was in the right place, but I felt all wrong. And then it dawned on me: I was doing something for the results. I was expecting something very specific to happen. I genuinely thought that the man should be sitting down, but I was also waiting for him to acknowledge me, to thank me, when I should have just moved out of my seat with no expectations of receiving anything for having manners.

But this story has a twist ending. The guy that was sitting next to me actually got up when I got up to let the elderly couple sit next to each other. He then came over to me and asked if I wanted to sit down in another seat. I certainly wasn’t expecting him to do that, but I was incredibly touched by the gesture. Anybody else might have watched the exchange and let it happen. And this time? I hadn’t expected him to do that. I hadn’t expected anything.

So, in the end, expectations are really just pleas and wishes for the world to work like we want it to. And when life doesn’t work out how we want to, sometimes, it is just preparing you for something better. When you don’t have expectations, you may find that you’ll be pleasantly surprised anyway.

Caffeine Apocalypse

Robert Frost was a bit conflicted about how the world would end. He wrote the following poem to express this sentiment:

Some say the world will end in fire,
Some say in ice.
From what I’ve tasted of desire
I hold with those who favor fire.
But if it had to perish twice,
I think I know enough of hate
To say that for destruction ice
Is also great
And would suffice.
I agree with both of his visions of the end of everything. But I think he is missing something: it’s not going to be ice or fire, per se. It’s going to be iced or hot coffee. Yup, I am of the mind that this will be the true end of the world, with one last caffeinated gasp.
I mean, it’s no surprise that the world is truly addicted to their cup of coffee or tea in the morning. That’s easy to see on your commute, watching car after car pull through the drive-thru at Dunkin or Starbucks. But what’s really surprising to me is how much we crave that caffeine boost. It’s as if we can’t have a day where we aren’t completely productive from 9 to 5. It’s completely unacceptable to feel sleepy at any point of the day because we aren’t performing at our best.
And still, I didn’t realize this until I went off caffeine. And yes, that is how I refer to it, because it really is a drug. Okay, okay, there’s no caffeine pills in glassine baggies, and you won’t find some shady person creep out of an alley and ask if you want some of his/her freshest stock, but it’s completely and irrevocably addicting.
For example, when I went on a clean diet to determine my food allergy, I had to give up caffeine. I occasionally drank soda but I loved tea, so this was a huge undertaking. After a few days, it felt as if someone took an axe to my head, repeatedly. My body was not interested in withdrawal from caffeine, and it voiced its complaints in such a way that I couldn’t ignore. But, as with all wounds, I healed and as time went on, I found myself feeling better without caffeine. Sure, I was tired at about 3:00 PM, but I rebounded. And for awhile, things were good.
Enter a couple 12-hour days, and I realized that I would need help staying awake. So, I tried some coffee for the first time in my life. And I found with enough rice milk to drown a football field and enough sugar to fill a dump truck, I I loved coffee. And coffee loved me. I received a caffeine high that paled in comparison to that of my chai tea. I felt like I could leap tall buildings in a single bound (or at least stay awake for a long time) when I drank coffee.
The only problem is that I started to notice that coffee doesn’t actually keep you entirely awake. While your body is moving through the motions, your mind can still get tired. So, you stay up late at night, and your mind is tugging you along into dreamland but then your body wants to run a marathon. Really, it is the very definition of being a zombie. And if you think about how many people are drinking three or four cups a day, you could say that we have a zombie apocalypse on our hands. What’s to say that everyone won’t simply inject caffeine into their veins in a few years and our minds check out completely? What if caffeine actually robs us of sleep altogether, and we just keep moving and working without thought? Forget The Walking Dead. This is The Waking Dead.
In the end, I am here to say that it’s natural to be tired and to take a nap when necessary. But if you need caffeine, it’s possible you won’t sleep until your dead, and you may become undead in the process.
Let’s all try to moderate the apocalypse, shall we?

The Bridge to Happiness

For the thousandth, millionth time I am going to talk about my commute to work. I apologize for the redundancy, but it does make up a small portion of my every day. So, if I am forced to do it, I think, selfishly, that you should be forced to relive a part of it, too.

And what makes up a small part of my daily commute? Crossing a rather small bridge. It’s great because it is the perfect landmark: once I cross it, I’m either halfway home or halfway to work. It allows me to let out a little sigh of relief.

However, I do have a seatbelt cutter and a window breaker in case I get a little overzealous when going over. (Let’s just hope that I’m coming home if that happens. How would I ever explain that to work without sounding like the dog ate my homework?)

But I can assure you that the water on either side is not what I am considering (not if I want to keep my lunch in my stomach.) Rather, when I can sneak a glance, I look at the people driving past me in their own cars, on their own commutes across. Mostly, I want to catch them lip synching to a song on a radio, like me. But they rarely are. They occasionally talk on the phone. Adjust their air fresheners. Put on sunglasses. Mostly, they just drive, staring straight ahead.

What I don’t see? Smiles. I have yet to see anyone smiling. And hey, I get it. You are either driving to work or you have a long road ahead. Neither is anything to smile about most of the time.

But from my seat, I still see plenty of other reasons to smile. For one, I see lots of expensive cars crossing that bridge. Now, you don’t have to give me a Lambo to have me grinning from ear to ear, but I certainly wouldn’t be crying. And yet, these people in cars that must have cost them thousands of dollars…are sitting with actual frowns on their faces.

And okay, expensive cars do not always equate to a perfect life. But as these people cross the bridge in front of me, I wonder, if a Mustang doesn’t make you smile contentedly every time you rev the engine, then what will do it?

The point is that no matter where you are in your journey of “happiness” or your journey on your way home, there is always a way to appreciate what you have right now. (Even if you just have to be grateful that you aren’t in the river below.) I hope that my fellow commuters remember that when we are all crossing the same bridge, in the same town, on the same Earth.

Progress from the Passenger Seat

I wish I could tell you that my shyness was this cute, quirky trait that allowed me to win over my current boyfriend and star in my own rom com.

But it’s not. It’s this debilitating fear of doing anything outside of the ordinary, of pursuing any spontaneity, that makes me toss and turn at night.

Cue a year ago, when I accepted a new job and had to make the long trek into mostly uncharted territory, I was more than terrified. I was paralyzed. Thankfully, my father was kind enough to take me down several routes so that I was ready for this new aspect of my life: commuting. We spent an entire day driving every possible way, him narrating the rough spots, where to merge, when it would be busy. And me, recording everything in my mind.

Fast forward to the next few months when I had to hype myself up just to drive home. I had to talk to myself the entire way so that I kept focused and concentrated through all of the merges and lane switches. I couldn’t turn on the radio, and I couldn’t do it without a GPS. I could have run that car off of my own adrenaline, a fuel line to my heart.

Fast forward even farther to today. My car was in the shop, so my mom was kind enough to take me back and forth (to and fro?). Watching her drive, although she was relatively familiar with the route, I realized how comfortable I had become. Yes, for some reason, watching her drive made me feel like I had accomplished something. But as I dictated the lane switches and rough patches to her, I recognized something.

I realized that I had mastered the route. Sure, people still pull out in front of me. I accidentally pass through yellow lights. I do my fair share of lip syncing. But I have gained more confidence on the road and in life because of this.

So, the next time you are not sure if you have been progressing, if you aren’t sure if you are moving forward, don’t look at the speedometer. Get out of the driver’s seat and have a look for yourself.

Excuse Me, But I Think Your Car is Smoking…

I know what you are thinking. This can’t be just a catchy title…there has to be a story behind it.

Well, you are in luck. Although, the person whose car was smoking was not in as much luck as you and me are, snuggled cozily in front of our computer screens reading humorous ramblings and chuckling along.

No, this girl went through almost four complete traffic lights before deciding that it was best to pull over, even though the smoke from the hood of her car billowed behind her like a miniature steam engine. And I get it. It was rainy. It was foggy. It was not a relatively safe area. I’m sure she must have thought Is that me? or I’m sure I can make it through one more light before my car erupts into a ball of flame. And maybe she was right. Maybe she could have made it a couple more miles. And maybe I could have mustered up the courage to drive alongside of her instead of 100 feet back, as I decided whether to flash my high beams at her to say, “Excuse me, miss, I don’t mean to be rude, but your car is smoking.” It’s also very possible that she was completely in control of the situation and knew that her car was moments from breathing flames.

But she probably didn’t know all that. And she probably would have kept going. And you know what? So would you. Because we humans don’t like facing reality. We’d much rather keep going, our lives completely on fire and burning. We just like to wave a fan over things, saying “It’s a little hot in here, isn’t it?” We like to pretend. We like to “keep calm, and carry on.”

Hey, it’s worked for millions of years. Why stop now? (“Why stop now?” Your car is smoking. Is that a good enough reason, or are you too busy texting?)

Look, I know life is busy. I know that girl probably had a “Check Engine” light on for quite some time that she ignored. And at the risk of sounding like your disapproving father who tells you to be safe and to always prepare for the worst, well. Be safe out there. And prepare for the worst. Because there are going to be times when things work out. But for all of the times in between, which we call life, you are going to be glad that you prepared ahead of time. Just learn to expect it and accept it.

And sometimes we don’t want to admit that we are facing a difficult situation in reality. That we haven’t hit rock bottom, that we haven’t found that disgusting green chip at the end of the bag. Sometimes we don’t want to admit our car is sort of, kind of on fire. But there are times that we must, and the faster it happens, the faster you can get home safe, Miss Tokyo Drift. Just please. Pull over and ask for help when you need it, on the road and in life.

Please, Laugh at my Funeral

Author’s Note:

I think about this blog post a lot. Probably because I commute a lot. And maybe because I think about death a lot. But the more I think about it, the more it rings true. 

As you may know from reading my blog before, I have a bit of a commute. And if you haven’t read my blog before, then now you know I have a bit of a commute. We all spend a lot of time in our cars: listening to music, stepping on our brakes, and following slowpokes. While I’m driving, I like seeing new models of cars and how much duct tape can be used to fix a bumper. And with my commute, I have seen a lot.

But today, I saw something a bit different. I was driving behind a rather beat-up truck with a large load. When I got a little closer, (not close enough to tailgate him, I know better) I noticed that there were four vending machines in the bed of the truck. As I stared at the soft drink logo and those curlicues made of metal that sabotage you when you try to get a bag of crackers, I morbidly wondered what would happen if one of them fell off the back of the truck and onto my waiting car. I mean, there would be no wondering if it happened. I would most certainly be dead. But I started to laugh when I thought that the headline would have to be something like, “Snack Attack: Vending Machines Kill Girl on Highway.” And I realized that if I had to go out like that, it wouldn’t be a blaze of glory, but I would be alright with it.

Laughing all the way home, thinking that I would probably need Dorito dust and honey bun sugar to be wiped off my corpse, I realized that what I want more than anything (besides to make it home every night not being killed by a rogue vending machine) is for people to laugh at my funeral. If I die in a really ordinary way, then can you at least set up some board games at the wake? I don’t want everyone to be in such a somber, sober mood that they forget all the times I (tried to) make them laugh. Sure, life can be difficult. But mourning me isn’t going to help you appreciate life, help you smell the flowers and see the sunrises. Only you can do that. And what is death but a final reminder to celebrate the life you lost? Giving you the pause in your life that you may not have given yourself when the person was alive to remember them and their legacy. Death keeps us honest but also whole.

I’m not saying it’s easy (or correct) to laugh at a funeral. But please try to at mine. Assuredly, I’m somewhere, (up? down? around?) laughing with you.

Oh, but don’t ask me for help in trying to get your snack out of the machine when it’s stuck. I’m not even sure God has the power to do that.

Car Commandments

Like many Americans, I commute to my place of work. A year ago, it was reported that 10.8 million Americans commute an hour to and from their job. That means we spend 520 hours driving to work in the span of a year. That’s hours of radio playing, white knuckling the wheel, getting lost, yelling at the GPS, etc. And I won’t even mention the amount of gas we feed into our cars only to have them spit out the remains in an ironic cloud that chokes us and the earth.

“Mr. Hyde”: Road Rage Edition

Yet, in many cases, the drive is not the problem; it is the other drivers. The slow turners, the speed demons, the huge trucks, you name it, I’ve probably seen it and been furious at it. I’m not sure scientists will ever be able to pinpoint the exact gene in the human body that, when the switch is flipped, could turn Mother Theresa into a monster truck driver. However, when people get behind a wheel, we all seem to experience the white hot hate that is road rage. I like to call them my “Ms. Ryde” moments, a play on Dr. Jekyll’s barbaric counterpart.

Now, I try very hard to keep “Ms. Ryde” stuffed deep inside. I chew gum to release my stress, I listen to soothing music, and I even employ a truly revolutionary tactic: I remain rational. I try to not take things personally on the road. And really, in the grand scheme of things, where will anger get you? There are worse things than being cut off, or even getting in an accident, although it doesn’t seem that way at the time. People lose their lives on the road everyday. Be grateful you are still sitting safely behind the wheel when you arrive home, and remember that everyone else is just trying to do the same.

With that said, I reached my boiling point today. I actually saw someone get out a newspaper and start to read at every red light. I can’t say I was surprised, but I wish I had asked for the funnies when I passed by. All joking aside, this is downright dangerous. I also watched one woman proceed to curl her eyelashes in her rearview mirror last week.

So, I feel as if I have a civic duty to remind my fellow drivers of what I like to call “common sense,” but what other people may call “Car Commandments.”

Car Commandments

1. Thou shalt not text or talk on a cell phone whilst driving.

-I don’t even know why I have to say this, but put your cell phone down. Down. Every day, I see people miss red lights and nearly collide with other cars because they have a phone at their ear. They somehow believe that they have super powers because even though other people get into accidents, they seem to be immune. You are not special. If you’re not the President of the United States (and even if you are), that phone call is not that important.

2. Thou shalt always check thy mirrors at least twice before merging/changing lanes.

-They are called blind spots for a very good reason. Check, double check, and check again to make sure that no one is in yours. Believe me, I know you want to get out from behind that slow poke in the fast lane, but if you don’t glance at your mirrors before making your move, you may have a bigger problem on your hands.

3. Thou shalt merge like thou mean it.

-Every day, I merge onto a major highway. And every day, I see someone in the right lane who is going far too slow to let anyone merge in front or behind him/her. If you are this person, get in the left lane so people can safely get into the rat race. If you are the person merging, it’s best to speed up, if you can. Step on the gas to get in front of someone, don’t put on the brakes so that you can get hit from behind.

4. Thou shalt turn like thou mean it, too.

-Easily my biggest pet peeve on the road: when someone on the highway decides that they will make their turn and that they will make their turn at a speed that a tortoise in its dotage would think was too slow. Listen, I know you’re excited that you didn’t miss your turn, but if the people behind you have to slam on their brakes and say 10 Hail Mary’s before you take your exit, then we are going to have to throw down.

5. Thou shalt put on thy turn signal in a timely fashion.

-Again, I’m not even sure why I have to say this, but my daily commute dictates that it needs to be said. Turn on your blinker when you need to turn. Turn it off, if it doesn’t go off, when you turn. That’s it. But if you are one of those people who turn it on far too early or far too late, I have no time for you. And a question for those people who leave their blinker on halfway down the highway: doesn’t that annoy you? That metronome ticking? If it doesn’t annoy you, it probably annoys the person you are talking to on your cell phone, because why else would you leave that thing on? Pay. Attention. And see Commandment #1.

 

I completely agree that too many rules can dull the edges of our mind and turn us into sheep. However, the right rules can keep us safe. Be mindful of other drivers, and they will be mindful of you. In reality, if you give me that little “wave” that says, “Thanks for letting me into this giant parade we will be following for the next 20 miles!” or that says, “Hey, I’m really sorry for cutting you off for no reason, but I can see you are upset from your angry gestures in my rearview!” I will totally forgive you. Remember, karma waits at every red light.