Small and Quiet

When I chose my profession, I didn’t do so because I thought it would be cool. I also forgot to actually choose it. It chose me, and some days I still understand why. I don’t have a job that results in celebrity encounters, cool photo shoots, platinum records or tv air time. My life is a small, quiet one and I’m OK with that. Most people’s lives are small and quiet. I don’t need Beyonce on my speed dial.

I just want to be able to pay my bills and have time and money left over for some fun. I want to come out of a work day feeling like I learned something new, made something pretty, or made something work or look better. When I am gone, my life will not be measured in money or media coverage. My life will be measured by the people I knew, how well I loved them and whether I answered the phone when they needed me at 3 a.m.

Half credit on that last one. If it’s any consolation, I’ll probably be awake by 6 to get your voicemail.

I didn’t go into web design so that people can be fascinated when I tell them what I did all day. Most people don’t even understand what I did all day. However, it would be nice to occasionally be with my own kind, as working from home can make one feel locked away like some nouveau fairy tale victim.

Instead, I am surrounded by people who mean well but don’t understand. They don’t realize that what they see took some serious photoshopping. They don’t realize that I made a non-standard font work online. They just see a picture, a site page.

They don’t realize that the navigation bar is pixel perfect. That the code is clean. That everything works on every browser. There’s an art to that, but people just don’t understand.

It can get a bit lonely. You can go through a whole day of work, work til your knees ache, and come away feeling really good about what you did. Then you show it to friends and they don’t care. Your boss doesn’t care. Your family doesn’t care. They’re not bad people, they just don’t understand.

“But all you do is sit there typing things and staring at that computer. I had a web site in school. It was easy. My mom made one with a template on Yahoo.”

And you sit there with your aching knees and your computer screen headache and your sore back and your stiff mouse hand claw and watch your feeling of accomplishment sink down into the floor. You’d try to explain how it was hard to format that text because someone’s jacked-up site uses 10 different style sheets, but that’s a lot of words and people won’t understand those, either.

So you say to yourself, “it doesn’t matter. I know. I care. I feel good about this.”

And you say that to yourself the second time it happens.

The fifth time.

The thirtieth time.

The hundredth time.

My job doesn’t result in celebrity encounters or platinum records. My job will never make me famous or filthy rich. My job is small and quiet.

And, no.
I can’t fix your email.

Advertisements

Clydesdaleism

Clydesdaleism: noun. Medical condition. To define oneself by one’s work and work ethic. If left untreated, can lead to inferiority complex, over-committal, insomnia. Treatment: chilling the fuck out.

I have some behavior to explain.

I don’t know if any of these people are actually upset with me, but I’m upset with myself. Being pissed at myself is gnawing at me, and you know what happens when something gnaws at me. Yep, typing.

This is a blog, not a private email, because I feel like other people may be able to relate. Also because I feel like the depth of “I’m an asshole” that I feel can only be expressed through public admission of wrong doing. I have earned a scarlet letter, and now it’s time to wear the damn thing.

To my friends, on whom I flaked:
If you feel dissed by my having to flake on our plans, I’m sorry. It sucks. I feel like a dick. I didn’t want to flake on you, but I had to. I feel like I completely failed at managing my time for the last week, and that led to having to go into Damage Control Mode. I hate Damage Control Mode because it only becomes necessary when I have otherwise failed at managing my life. “Fail” is the 4-letter f-word.

I know you probably think it’s suspect that I did find time to spend several hours with someone else the day before. To defend that, I have this excuse: he is just damned easy to be around, adn I can’t work at night anyway. I am stressed out about one thing or another (usually 3 or 4 things at once) all day, everyday. I just wanted to go watch a movie instead of sitting in my house, staring at the wall, trying to sleep. I know it looks bad. I just wanted to go watch a movie.

To my client, whose deadline got pushed back:
I hate missing deadlines. It makes me feel like I have failed at time management. It’s freelance commandment #2, right after “thou shalt not pad timesheets.” However, I came to a crossroads where I knew that I was either going to have to push back the deadline or start half-assing. In my efforts to do my best work, I had to go learn to do some new things, and that ate up more time than expected.

I was cruising along pretty well, but then more hours came in at my day job. I had to take them. I haven’t had a 40-hour week since April of 2009, and I need the money. Also, I need to not piss off my boss. I have been clamoring for hours for a year, so to say “oh, I couldn’t do all that cause I had a freelance project” would almost definitely guarantee that I would never again see that many hours. After your project is done, I need my boss to not hate me. She’s long-term. Your project isn’t. My loyalties had to lie with the long term.

To my mom, whose visit is a day shorter because I have to work all the time:
You changed my diapers, you raised me, and in present day, you’ve saved my ass on at least two occasions. One would think that the least I could do is let you come down on Friday instead of Saturday. But Friday is billable, and it’s already driving me crazy to take Saturday off. I am doing this because I am trying to pay you back. I am doing this because I’m am trying to not ask you to save my ass for a third time. I hate needing my ass saved.

To summarize:
I’m doing the best I can. In most cases, my best is usually good enough.** My best effort hasn’t been good enough for the last month or so, and that is eating a hole in my brain. I hate it. My eyes fly open at 6am, with my brain obsessed by trying to fix a slew of situations it can’t fix. Yesterday, with my brain locked up from 4 days of only 3 hours’ sleep, I hit a wall.

“Well, you can’t do anything until you sleep. It’s been too many days. We are not thinking clearly. So, what do we have to do to be able to sleep?”

“Cancel tomorrow’s plan. Push back the deadline. Take a handful of Nytol.”

“Do it.”

“But couldn’t we just stay up extra this week and get this all done?”

“Dude, you can’t even type right now. What do you think your odds are of being able to build a site without spending hours fixing stupid mistakes? Your brain knives are not sharp, and you know it.”

“OK, fine.”

“Oh, and don’t forget to wrap that gift, sign that card, go to that wedding, and find time to work out.”

“Oh my god, shut up.”

So, yeah. Time management failure. I had to stop and reboot everything to keep the system from bursting into flames.

—————————–

**My best is usually good enough for other people. It’s never good enough for me. Self-satisfaction is the road to laziness.

Do Not Prod the Beach Rubble

In college, I worked in a record store. A series of record stores, really. Also, it started in high school. I was all set to play the marimba in marching band (“what can I play, since I only know how to play the piano?”). Then mom and dad said something to me along the lines of “what are you doing? who’s going to pay for this? There is no college fund, and you need to get a job.”

So, I bought a navy blue polo shirt and a pair of khakis and went to work at Blockbuster Music. Oh yes, the world once contained stores where people would buy non-used music, and one of those stores was owned by Blockbuster. Gas was 1.95 a gallon, people did the Macarena without irony and electricity had just been invented.

The years spent unsealing rap CDs for the teenagers of Lexington, Kentucky became a year of unsealing rap CDs for the teenagers of Antioch. This is the valuable work experience that got me a job at what may be Nashville’s best-known used music (and comic book) store.

I worked with such characters as “Always High Manager,” “Old Rock Dude,” “OTHER Old Rock Dude,” “Body Odor Guy,” “Weird Art School Guy,” and “Lesbian Who Wants You To Watch John Waters Movies.”

The customers had names, too. “Go Pee Man,” a mentally challenged fellow who had an unsettling habit of materializing out of thin air, only to appear behind you and say, “Go Pee!” This would be your cue, of course, to reach over the counter and grab the bathroom key. After handling the long piece of wood attached to the key, you’d have a burning urge to wash your hands ASAP, to clean roughly 30 years’ worth of microscopic traces of fecal matter from your hands. Other customers included “Crystal Meth Guy,” “German Dude From the Gas Station” and Marty Stuart.

We clocked in on an ancient ka-chunk, ka-chunk timeclock which, from what I can hear when I’m in the store these days, is still being used. I never did quite grasp how to line up my time card with the machine. For over a year, I would be appearing to take my break before I’d even started my shift. It was one step up from the gap-toothed time card dinosaur on The Flintstones. I think I may have once clocked in from 1973.

Everything in that place had been there a while, none of it ever getting a thorough dusting. Items that didn’t sell just gradually faded from the sunlight or got buried under a thick coating of dead skin (aka “dust”) and, quite possibly, more traces of fecal matter. It was oddly Darwinian. Undesirables would get marked by ages on the shelf and those markings would damn near guarantee that the items would never sell. This is to say nothing of the hundreds of thousands of items that weren’t even on the sales floor.

The sales floor may have resembled a cross between the house of Comic Book Guy from The Simpsons and the world’s most overpriced yard sale, but the upstairs, “behind the scenes” area was like a retirement home for VHS tapes, Loretta Lynn merchandise, and roughly 100 sealed copies of Faith No More’s Angel Dust album. The only time the endless clutter came to a stop was when a space on the floor would be left clear to allow a hatch in the floor to open. Throughout the upstairs, little trapdoors could be opened to look down on would-be shoplifters on the sales floor. Who were we kidding? That place probably lost as much as it sold, but no matter. One sale of a sealed Beatles “butcher” cover would keep the ship floating.

Also in the upstairs was a small area next to heaps of old G.I. Joes and Star Wars figures where employees kept bags and purses. This is where I began to find mysterious little notes tucked into my backpack, coat pockets, and purse. Little poems, always written in red ink on good quality paper, complete with a deckled edge. Always in the same all-caps sort of handwriting.

It wasn’t Calculus. Nothing in that store was computerized, which meant that everyone knew everyone else’s handwriting. Besides, most guys still write with that sort of tiny, disconnected “ball and stick” print (no pun intended) that’s taught in first grade. There’s not a lot of epic penmanship left in the world. Besides, “Body Odor Guy” didn’t seem like the type to write little poems. Nope. My poet was Weird Art School Guy. But how to respond? I couldn’t suck all the mystery and joy out of the thing by walking right up to him and saying something. The thing to do was to write poems right back. Of course I wrote poems. It was the nineties and I was in college. All I was missing was a Jesus Lizard shirt and a bottle of black hair dye.

Back and forth the poems went. Things continued on this way until the nightly walk to the parking lot after work ended in conversation. It’s cold; let’s talk in the car. Let’s kiss in the car. Let’s fog up the windows. Let’s laugh at how we just fogged up the windows.

When I showed up for an afternoon shift the next day, I was wearing a high-necked Victorian blouse, and had my hair down. Why? Because my “hello, I have a giant fucking hickey” shirt was dirty, that’s why.

I unveiled my neck only to “Lesbian Who Wants You To Watch John Waters Movies.” Upon seeing my neck (which looked like I’d taken a baseball pitched by Wild Thing Vaughn), she gasped and whispered “Amy!! You’re not like that!!….well, maybe you ARE!” It took a week for the whole thing to heal, during which I had trouble using my neck properly.

After that, the poems continued for a while, until our less-eloquent speaking selves realized that, while it was a fun adventure, we were kidding ourselves if we thought this was a relationship. It’s all well and good to call my hair a strawberry veil (it was red then) and call my room my kingdom, but what are your long-term goals?

When I finally got out of retail and quit the job at the record store, he got me a cake and had a Sappho quote iced onto it: “do not prod the beach rubble.” The first part of the quote was “if you are squeamish,” but just putting the end on the cake made the message seem like sage advice to a friend going off to bigger and better things. I sense that this meaning may have been lost on the employees at the Kroger bakery, but not me. I lived on purple cake covered in purple roses for three days and (ah, youth) still never got over 105 pounds.

I heard that the guy eventually began writing poems to another girl who worked there after I did. She had him reported for sexual harassment and he got fired. How unfitting. How unfair.

Every so often, I think about him. Every so often, I clean out a closet. Sometimes, in that cleaning, I find a little box. In that little box I find a bundle of neatly-lettered poems, all in red ink, on good paper with a deckled edge.

Whine and Cheese

*I will preface this post by saying that some cases I’m dealing with may be just misunderstandings and mistakes. However, I will also preface this post by saying that it really does piss me off when I have to beg and plead with someone to get them to pony up the money they were supposed to pay me. It is degrading and stupid. For the blog readers who have been listening to me whine for three months, it’ll be over soon. Continuing on.

Everyday, I check my mail, hoping that the check you owe me will be there. I sidle out to the mailbox in my flip-flops and pajama pants, saying a quick prayer before opening it.

“Please God, let the check be here. Let me keep a good relationship with this person. Let me not have to resort to bitchy behavior, bitchy phone calls, and threats to have a sit-in in someone’s office. Let me not have to say to this person ‘you will never get more work from me because you don’t pay your bills.'”

It’s so much easier to just be nice. Being bitchy is time-consuming, tiring and makes me feel icky. Unless it’s bitchiness for the sake of comedy, and then it’s hilarious.

The only thing my mailbox has brought me is bills. I don’t have the luxury of not paying Verizon, Regions, Bank of America, NES, and Metro Water. When I miss due dates, they charge me extra.

Thanks to you, I owe Citicard an extra 80 bucks. Because you haven’t paid me and I couldn’t pay them. That bill sits on my nightstand, looking at me each morning. Things like that are what keep me up at night and wake me from sleep. Last night, I had full-body restless leg syndrome wake me up at 3am. While I stood in my bedroom waiting for Nytols number 3 and 4 to kick in, I thought of you.

Each morning, you wake up in a house nicer than mine, put on shoes nicer than mine, and walk out the door with a Coach purse in your hand.

While you are walking around with your Coach purse, think of me. Each day, as my frustration builds, I come in from the mailbox and sit on my living room floor and cry. I cry because I can’t do anything else. There is no one to punch, no car to key. After I cry, I write. It’s better than getting drunk and it keeps me from throwing things.

While you slather yourself with Clinique products, I’m trapped in my house nursing stress breakouts and looking like a troll. While you grill up a steak, I eat Ramen. While you go get highlights, I watching my hair come out in handfulls in the shower.

It’s not even all about the money. It’s about me wondering how someone can look me in the eye and make a deal and then completely renege on it.

I hope, while you fall asleep at night with the help of neither Nytol nor vodka, you think of me. I am not a faceless corporation. I am a person. When you don’t pay your bills, you tell me that my work is good enough to use but not good enough to pay for. You tell me that everything you said when we met meant nothing. You tell me that you don’t care about doing what you said you would do. You tell me that you don’t have the character to honor your commitments. In my world, a person’s word is still worth something. The population keeps shrinking.

Master Plan #16,352

Tuesday, I got an email in response to the application I filled out at UPS about a month ago. Would I like to work for 8 bucks an hour from 3 to 8 am? Enter dilemma, stage left.

On the one hand, my plate is pretty full at the moment. I’m still working twenty hours a week at my real job, freelancing about twenty hours a week, trying to keep up with blogs, cleaning, piano playing, the lawn, and I’m about to start school in the fall. My life at present reads like a commercial for Sugar-Free Rockstar except that, rather than partying like a rock star (as the label suggests), I am working like a 13 year old Japanese girl. Potayto, potahto.

On the one hand, I don’t want to risk dicking over my freelance clients by starting to miss deadlines because I’m tired from getting up at 2 am to load boxes onto a truck. The freelance clients pay more.

On the other hand, the freelance clients aren’t coming in a steady stream and don’t pay their bills promptly. The freelance clients won’t offer me healthcare once I work for them for a while. The freelance clients don’t offer tuition reimbursement. The freelance clients don’t pay me to work out. If my real job dissolves into the stomach acid of The Recession From Hell, I will need to have been laying a backup plan. If I go load boxes, I may be able to avoid asking mom for money, I may be able to avoid cashing out my other 401k, and I may be able to avoid selling my car. Please note that I will not be selling my piano. I can get another car, but the deal I got on that piano comes but once a lifetime.

Mom has offered to pay for school. Mom has even offered to buy me out of my mortgage, which means I’d pay her instead of Bank of America. I imagine the Bank of Mom would be a lot cooler about me missing a payment. While I’m willing to take her up on the school thing, the mortgage thing is a little beyond the pale for me right now. Life is not about asking your mom for money. I made this situation (sort of…let the record show that I did not sign up to live beyond my means; I had the bills covered when I had my whole pay check) and I’ll deal with it.

Loading boxes will mean going to bed at 6 or 7 each night to get up at 2:30. I will have no life, but this is temporary. Three years from now, I’ll be a developer making twice as much money. My house will have a new fence, my kitchen cabinets will have hardware, and I might just get a haircut that costs more than six bucks. Three years from now, I may just decide to KEEP the job at UPS just for the healthcare. When I’m not there, I’ll freelance as a developer, like, 10 hours a week and spend the rest of my time writing. My master plan, let me show you it.

The master plan is years from today.
Today, I will return that email from UPS.

I Am the Bitch Your Guidance Counselor Warned You About

Writing cover letters for freelance jobs started off being excruciatingly painful. Now, with daily practice, it has become bizarrely amusing. You get one paragraph (two if your reader has a long attention span) to make someone love you and your work. OK, the work ends up having to speak for itself (something I plan to rectify in version 3.0 of my site, if I ever get it built). As for getting someone to love me, I find that it’s easier when I’m not desperate. It’s like how it’s easier to find a guy when you already have one. By having a job already, you prove that you’re worthy of employment. By having a boyfriend, you prove that you’re worthy of being wanted. People love people who are already loved. People can smell desperation and fear and, like Jack London said, if you let them take you down, you’ll never get back up. Yes, that was a Call of the Wild reference. I am so totally high-brow that I can allude to 5th grade reading list materials.

Of the few job interviews I have aced in my life, I think I did so because I had been so beaten down that I just didn’t give a shit anymore. When I interviewed at Vandy, I showed up dressed as myself and said whatever I damn well pleased. I was so over pretending to be perky. I think I rocked that interview because, in deciding I didn’t care about being perky, I came off looking like I wasn’t hiding something.

Some people have poker faces, but everything I’m thinking comes out on my face without my even realizing it. Thus, I can’t pretend to not be hiding something. I have to actually NOT be hiding something. It sounds easier than it is. I’m not ashamed of me, but I do realize that a lot of the stuff I do looks bat-shit crazy even though there’s a perfectly rational reason for it.

Yesterday, I think I broke through the wall while I was writing an email applying to be the official Nashville TV examiner. It probably doesn’t pay much, but I’m writing snarky blogs about TV already, so I might as well make some cash, appear more legit, and get a bigger audience. I love you guys, but if I’m ever going to get my book deal and achieve world domination, I have to find a bigger audience. I’d be perfectly happy being the next David Sedaris, but if I stumble into world domination, I’m totally cool with that.

The Examiner asks why you think they should hire you to write for them. “Cause my friends think I’m amusing?” Nope. “Because my God-given gift is being a smart ass and refusing to let me unleash my bitchiness on the world would be nothing less than an affront to God. You do NOT want to diss God.”

They will either hire me or think I’m insane. Hopefully, both.

Here is a random dog.

I am now officially 26.

“You know, after you were born, dad and I had to sell our house and go back to apartments for a while.”

I think mom told me that in some attempt to say “hey, if you have to sell your house…it wouldn’t be the first time that’s happened to someone.” I don’t find that very comforting, but I appreciate her attempt. I remember some of what happened in those years where we apartment-hopped. I never felt safe. I never got comfortable. I was seven years old, checking the door locks before I went to bed. I promised myself that I wouldn’t let that happen to me once I was running things.

I have developed an unsettling pattern of behavior these days. I ignore the bills because I can’t look them in the eye. This only makes things worse, eventually because I end up having to pay late fees on a bill I already couldn’t pay by its due date. I decided that I’d stop that pattern of behavior. I’d make a serious effort to pay the bills the day after they arrive. At least then I’d know how much short I’m coming up and have time to try to do something about it before the bill was overdue.

Thus, I paid bills today. I started with the mortgage because, if nothing else, in big red letters, I am not going to lose this house. It was too hard for me to get here. I haven’t been able to put hardware on the kitchen cabinets yet, and that’s ok, but I’m not going to lose the house.

“You’d type this stuff for me? You wouldn’t be insulted by that?”
“Tony, I’d walk in front of you and throw rose petals on the ground if you’d pay me.”

I figured that I could work 30 or maybe 40 hours a week doing data entry somewhere while my real job figures out what its deal is. I could do both, as long as Colombia keeps making coffee. Thing is, I can’t even seem to get called for a job in data entry. Not even by people who haven’t seen me. I think it may be time to start lying. My name is Amy. I just got out of college. I took some time off after high school. I am 26. I type quickly, and I love to file things.

I’m supposed to be working on a logo today, but I can’t stop crying.
I secretly hate freelancing.
I do it because I have to.

I don’t want to spend my time wondering what evil-assed things I’m going to have to do to get someone to pay his or her invoice. I just want to do my work and get money for it. And maybe also full dental.

I’m tired of writing well thought-out cover letters, only to receive an auto-response from a robot with a human name, telling me to sign up to be a secret shopper or something. In the days before the internet, at least a job listing really WAS a job listing. Now there’s a 50/50 chance that it’s just some ploy to get you to sign up for some stupid service.

I have told Jen that she’ll know when it’s really bad when I sell my car for a scooter. As is, I’m cashing out my other 401k.