Little Lies: Freddy’s Winter Commute

icy road
This is the pretend Freddy.
This is the first in what I hope will be an occasional series of fiction
experiments. Thanks to my friend Freddy Nassar for volunteering his 
likeness for my studies.

It would have been appropriate to get on the road a little early, but he didn’t. There were numerous little things to be done before he could leave the house. Shower, shave, feed the cat, clean the litter box, and scrub the spot on the floor where the cat had expressed his dismay with the state of the litter box. He checked his e-mail while waiting for the coffee to brew. He checked it again while sipping his coffee pensively, quickly, wishing he could gulp it down like water, knowing he should be getting on his way. He checked his email once more from his phone as he sat in the car waiting for the engine to warm up and melt the ice on his windshield. No new messages, except for the usual barrage of sales pitches from online retailers used once to purchase a Christmas gift for a girlfriend who was no longer so much as a friend. At 7:45, he put the car in reverse and began to move only to glimpse a dark, hulking figure in the rearview mirror. Brakes. Park. That fleeting moment of insanity: Is that a fucking bear? A fat, ruddy face lowered into view, leathery red cheeks smiling idiotically.

“Sorry!” shouted the stupid face. Two hands appeared alongside it, one wearing a mitten, one bare-fingered, both waving stupidly. “Have a nice day!” The idiot bear man moved on with snow and ice crunching under his feet.

At 7:54, the car was warm, sitting at a traffic light, and grumbling away like an old man. Freddy checked his phone. Nothing. Greenlight. Acceleration. The way the tires spin until they can get traction on public roads when winter catches them by surprise. Freddy’s car scrambled as though having a bad dream of its own, then bolted into the intersection just as the cars behind him began to honk. “Fuckoff!” Freddy shouted as he fishtailed through.

The next time the car stopped, it was facing a low, grey building nearly identical to every other building within a radius of about 5 miles. The front door was locked, and Freddy opened it with a key that he carried along with his car and house keys. His gloved fingers fumbled for a moment, human error, but the key slid into place and the door recognized its partner, and the grey building opened itself up, offering him a slightly less grey and rewardingly warm interior. Lights, automatic. Carpet, grey berber, that bland mélange of colors that is not a color unto itself, intended to disguise the stains of everyday abuses.

Freddy’s lungs overtook him with a spasm that produced something that he was compelled to expel emphatically onto the floor. “Ugh,” said Freddy, as he scuffed the filth into the carpet with the sole of his favorite shitkicking boots.

Freddy used to enjoy being the most competent person in the office. That was before he learned there were no rewards for competency. If you are good at your job, efficient, if you ensure that rules are followed and schedules are met, you get the occasional pat on the head or an invitation to lunch with the boss. You get invited to play golf. Freddy did not want to play golf. He had learned the rules of the game and how to swing that stupid stick at that stupid little dimpled ball, and he sometimes tried playing mental games like in fourth grade — imagine your boss’s head on the ball, et cetera. He drove around in golf carts with old men droning on and kept score for them and was jolly about being the looser of every round. After all, bosses and clients love to win. They invited him back often when he’d been good, guided some tough project through the weeds and made everyone a bit of cash.

Good-boy Freddy rolled his eyes, pulled off his gloves, and stuffed them in his pockets. With a groan, he unzipped his pants and pissed on the carpet, letting the morning’s coffee finish it’s journey to an unexpected destination. He listened thoughtfully to the sound of piss on berber, a sound he’d never contemplated before, and at the same time felt a thrill not entirely unlike the first time he dragged his tongue up the length of a woman’s body. Strange, he thought, that those two things should be connected in his mind. But then, life is certainly strange. Sex is strange. People are strange. What wasn’t strange was this office and golf and the coworkers who were now officially late.

8:46. Work started at 8:30. No fucking respect for schedules, Freddy thought. No fucking respect for each other or themselves — what a waste, he thought.

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The Madness Comes and Goes

vatican sculptures

So it’s been a few more days of minimal social media time. It hasn’t been half bad. True, I catch myself attempting to check Twitter several times a day, but I’ve been helpfully yet irritatingly thwarted by Tweakdeck crashing repeatedly. In the time I’ve been away from social media, I’ve done a lot of actual socializing. I don’t want to brag about it or rattle off all the people I have hung out with because that defeats the purpose of this experiment.

I’ve gradually peeked a little more at my social media sites but have kept my commenting and posting to an absolute minimum. From a quiet distance, I am watching other people live their lives online and share their ups and downs. I have a pretty low tolerance for most of the noise online, yet I still have a lot of room for caring about people’s tragedies. Someone I haven’t actually talked to in several years recently lost her child and has been talking about it a little bit on Facebook. She’s getting support from her friends and family there. I’ve pondered whether I should send her a note of condolence or just remain quiet. Nothing I can say will bring back her son, but maybe it would help her feel less alone. If there’s any great reason to use social media and networking sites, I think that’s one.

I’m also in the midst of researching more places and ways to teach yoga. My husband and I have been pondering whether/when/how to move to San Francisco, and if we do move, I will need to find work there. The idea is a little daunting, but I do think I have a lot to offer as a yoga teacher, and I’m determined to find a way to keep doing what I do best no matter where we live. That requires finding a way to make my teaching pay a lot more than it does right now, but I’ve got a few ideas as to where to start.

Oh, and mercury retrograde has finally ended. I never put much stock in stuff like that before, and I still don’t know what the heck to think of it, but I do know the past month has been totally discombobulated. So whether it’s a real thing or psychosomatic doesn’t matter as much as the fact that it’s ended, and I now feel prepared to lay the groundwork for moving forward.

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Weekly Assignment: I Don’t Care

See more on Know Your Meme

There are so many things in the world that simply aren’t important to me at all, and while I don’t deny anyone else’s right to be excited about them, I find it very freeing to acknowledge that these things just aren’t important to me, and I don’t spend any energy on them unless absolutely necessary.

I used to work with this really energetic lady who seemed to have very strong feelings about everything: the royal wedding, celebrities in rehab, politicians cheating on their spouses, what shoes so-and-so wore, and so on. I thought she was incredibly smart and passionate about the world, but I couldn’t bring myself to care nearly as much as she did about those things, and she seemed to think I was really strange for not sharing her level of interest. On the other hand, she didn’t share my passion for yoga, literature, cartoons or video games, and I thought, “What can your life be without these things?”

While we worked together, I developed a habit of writing down things she talked about that I didn’t care about. Here’s a sample…

I don’t care about …

designer purses
royal/celebrity marriages or gossip
makeup beyond the absolute basics
Harry Potter
bridal showers (even my own)
and baby showers (sorry!)
what school you went to or how impressive it’s supposed to be
how much money your parents have or don’t have
name brand clothing of any type
awards shows
red carpet fashion
who the senator is sleeping with
Black Friday sales
wearing green on St. Patrick’s day (I dare you to pinch me.)
professional sports
Justin Bieber

Accepting that you just don’t care about certain things, even though other people seem to think they’re important, frees up your brain and your energy.

This isn’t about putting down what other people care about. iI’s about self-acceptance and picking priorities that are in line with what actually matters to you. So, what things do you simply not care about? Make a list, then make up your mind not to waste time on those things any more!

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Be Present. Be Engaged. Be Dangerous.

Circus Bongo, Holland 2010

In the yoga community, we love to talk about being present. Be present. Be aware. Be in the moment. These are things we say a lot, but what does it mean? I learned the answer in an unexpected way at my old job as a project manager.

Story time!

So, there I was, 25 years old and learning to be a project manager. I was the only female in the company, the youngest employee, the only white person, and the only one with a liberal arts background. It was a highly educational situation, and also quite challenging at times. As a project manager, I needed my coworkers to be on my side, and even though I thought of them as my equals (and frankly as my superiors in some ways), I needed their respect.

Some people were easy to work with and happy to help get the job done. Some other folks, however, let their pride and biases get in the way of a functional working relationship, and it fell on my shoulders to straighten them out.

One guy, Neal, figured out that I was a bit of a pushover, being young and naive and all. Neal was a charming, good looking guy with a booming voice and intimidating presence. He could also look you right in the eye and lie to you with a smile. People like him are dangerous to people like me. Or rather, to people like I used to be. I had a tendency to just shut up when he and my boss were talking, and as long as he and I were on friendly terms, that didn’t cause any problems.

But as the project manager, I was given some authority over Neal — just a little — and he didn’t like it. Rather than cooperate to make a project schedule that worked for everyone, he would disregard the project plan and then tell our boss that I had screwed up, misinformed him, or forgotten some key component. I learned to cover myself by putting everything in writing and CC’ing my boss on every email. That went a long way toward protecting me, but it felt lame, like I was a little kid who had to be watched over by daddy at all times. I wanted to be respected on my own rather, not thought of as a tattle tale!

That’s when I learned how to be present. Powerfully present. That’s when I learned to really take up space in a room, assert myself, and be part of the conversation.

These three (the Trikaya) being complete and fully present as one are its very essence.

I used to sit and wait for my turn to speak. I would space out while listening to other people talk. I deferred all installation-related decisions to the installers on the assumption that they knew better than I did. I did not insert myself into the conversation. But one day my boss called a meeting with Neal and me, and he wanted to hear our project plan. I knew what was going to happen. Neal would shrug unhelpfully, our boss would intervene and come up with a plan of his own, and I would jot it all down and play the little gopher girl, doing things how they said, even though I knew it was an ineffective plan.

This time, I decided not to let it go down that way. This time, when we sat down to talk, the three of us in a little triangle of ugly office chairs, I could practically feel the energy of the conversation weighing heavily between the two of them, and nothing on my side of the room. I added my energy to the conversation. I opened my eyes a little wider, sat forward in my chair, leaned into the space between us and was a participant rather than a spectator. My boss asked the question: What’s your plan?

Without hesitation, I jumped in an presented my suggestions. I had a basic timeline, I needed some details from the installation team, I requested a bill of materials from the engineering team, and I was waiting on a call back from some of our partners. My boss seemed quietly satisfied with my answer.

As for Neal? He didn’t have much to say. He objected briefly to the timeline I put forward, but our boss said simply, “Why not? Of course you can do it.” When he couldn’t come up with a good enough excuse, we went with my plan.

The project went beautifully, if I may say so myself. And that’s how the rest of my projects went. I collaborated with people from our various partner companies and internal teams. I never had to force anyone to do things my way, and I never made all the decisions, nor did I want to. But I never got steam rolled again. Once I refused to be his scapegoat, Neal was unable to keep fooling everyone else.

That meeting was when I stopped being an office girl and started being a stellar project manager. Later, my boss would say, “I don’t know what changed, but you really turned around over the past year.” I think he thought I suddenly found meaning in the work and discovered some previously unknown loyalty to the company. Nah, I just got tired of being pushed around and feeling sorry for myself.

That day, I learned that being present isn’t just a matter of sitting and listening. Being present is about being fully engaged in your life. For me, being present meant being heard and taking part in decisions rather than letting others steer my ship. Being present turned the tables on people like Neal and made me the dangerous one, and I liked it.

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What Makes You Glow?

Ideas por doquier

“It is not how much money we make that ultimately makes us happy between nine and five. It’s whether our work fulfills us. If I offered you a choice between being an architect for $75,000 a year and working in a tollbooth every day for the rest of your life for $100,000 a year, which would you take? I’m guessing the former, because there is complexity, autonomy, and a relationship between effort and reward in doing creative work, and that’s worth more to most of us than money.”

-Malcolm Gladwell in Outliers

Malcolm Gladwell’s books are changing the way I view success. This quote in particular reaffirms something I have known to be true for some time now. Work that is easy and pays well but is meaningless creates misery. That’s why I’m so willing to work my tail off as a yoga teacher and a writer — these things are meaningful to me.

When I finish teaching a yoga class, the students look calm, happy, sometimes even radiant. They say “thank you,” and they mean it. It’s truly rewarding.

When I finish writing a poem or essay, my brain feels a sort of happy exhaustion not too different from a post-orgasmic glow.

For a long time, I thought that working hard should be enough. I always heard that hard work could be satisfying, and in some ways it was. I was proud to say I’d been handed a series of seemingly impossible tasks and completed them with flying colors. But I still didn’t feel fulfilled by the work. Choosing to do the work that is meaningful to me was a major turning point.

My wish for you as we begin 2013 together is that you find meaning, joy, challenge, and inspiration. That you will do the work of your dreams and be radiant.

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