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This city is for strangers like the sky is for the stars

Dear K,

Good luck with your Big Projects in the next few weeks!  I’ll be glad to have you back from busy zombieland, though goodness knows I’ve been a zombie lately so I can’t really judge.

The post title is from a really sappy, hipstery Jaymay song called “Gray or Blue” which is the saddest ukelele song I’ve ever heard and which I encourage you to listen to because it has some really lovely moments.

(Although I don’t really get why both of these people are dating people who they know they don’t love and aren’t likely to start loving, but I never said it was a logical song, just a pretty one.)

Lately I’ve been thinking about how many people I’ve met in the last few months, and about how my social circle feels so full right now—friends from childhood, high school, the internet blogging community I was a part of through my teenage years, college, the post-college friends I made, the CPC, work, church congregations.  It’s wearing me out just thinking about it.  And because so many of the people I love best are elsewhere, it takes a lot of effort to remain invested in their lives, while I’m still trying to develop new relationships in my new environment.  It’s worth the effort, but sometimes I wonder how I can keep investing in more and more people.  Which as I say it sounds really selfish.  I’m trusting you to understand.

The case study this week is, of course, the fact that I decided to skip the regional young single adult church conference, after a lengthy mental debate and much attempted persuasion from the other YSA women in my ward.  But on Friday night when N told me there was free square dancing in Bryant Park on Saturday, I said yes with barely any further thought.

First, a little background: have I talked to you about contra dance before?  It’s a really fun form of structured social dance—think Jane Austen dancing, but with very energetic, very American music.  Look it up on YouTube. I like contra because I can actually contra dance fairly well: every dance is taught before the music starts and dances are full of patterns, which means I can actually learn them.  Also, swinging is fun, and I feel like I’m connecting with some folk roots, which I love.

You always dance with a partner in contra, but because you’re dancing in figures down lines, you’re dancing with the rest of the group about as much as you’re dancing with your partner.  Also, it’s perfectly normal to ask a stranger to dance, and dancing with the same partner twice in a row is strongly discouraged.  Which basically means that if you want to dance in a dance, there will be someone who wants to dance with you.

The first time I went contra dancing I was too shy to ask people I didn’t know to dance, though a couple of experienced dancers asked me to dance, probably because they could tell I was new around those parts.  The second time, though, I decided to jump in with both feet and dance with everyone who made eye contact with me between dances, and it was SO FUN.  I love dancing (when I have the structure that contra provides, at least), and when you’re in a room full of people who also love dancing, well, you all know you’re here to dance, not to meet people.  (Though meeting people can be a side bonus if you go to contra frequently.)

I’m a shy person, generally speaking, but only shy in very particular ways.  For instance: I would rather go to a social dance in a park with 900 strangers than a church dance with 300 other sides of beef at the meat market Mormons, because at square dancing, I’m not expected to make lasting connections.  If church dances were contra dances, I’d feel a lot more inclined to go, because I’d be going to dance and not to eye eligible young men from across the room and try to muster the courage to go talk to them.

So on Saturday, instead of going to a church activity where I’d be expected to meet a lot of people who I might have to interact with in the future, I went square dancing.  It wasn’t quite like contra because the dances were less complicated and the social rules about partners weren’t the same, but I danced with N and we had a swell time.  And though I talked to a lot of new people, even though I held hands with dozens of complete strangers, I did not meet anyone at all, and that was a relief.

Sometimes it’s nice when people can be comfortably strangers.

-Q

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Hakuna Matata

Dear Q,
With the calendar flip into September, I became suddenly aware of the passing of time. On August 31st, it was totally fine that I didn’t have a full time job lined up yet; I was in the internship till October! Plenty of time! Hakuna matata! And then suddenly, it was September, and I was out of a job next month – nay, six weeks! – Quite abruptly, unemployment was staring me in the face. So I’ve started to get really stressed about that, especially when, on Tuesday, I heard that another intern (who has only been here 3 months to my 8 or now 9), got an interview for a position with a different division of our company – a position that I had also applied for. Granted, it was a position that, big picture, I didn’t want; I knew some of my would-be coworkers, and they would have driven me nuts, and the job was largely unrelated to what I want to do long term. But still, the awareness that he got an interview and I didn’t, especially in the face of my prospective unemployment, just piled on the emotional chaos train just as it was pulling out of the station. There also aren’t many positions open at this point; 3 in the past month and a half that I was qualified to apply for – 2 I didn’t get an interview for (one of them the one I just mentioned), and the other I hadn’t heard anything on, though it had been a couple weeks.

No new postings have gone up in a while, and I’ve been starting to look outside of THEM, and outside of my field; especially now that I have an apartment with a bed and that $2 Chinese vase I bought last week (every time I look at it, I’m glad I got it), I really don’t want to leave the area. I just got started working with a skating coach here, I’m starting to make acquaintances at the rink (friends seems like a bit of a stretch, given that I don’t see them outside of the rink), and I love my gym and the community; I really feel like this is where I’m meant to be long term, so I really don’t want to head home. But I also don’t particularly want to work in a call center, but with no prospective jobs with THEM, I had to begin asking myself what I was willing to do to stay here, and at what point I needed to start applying at Starbucks and McDonald’s.

It’s also been a really stressful week at work; we are now three weeks out from the big event and there’s SO MUCH to get done. Indicative of how this week has been is how it ended the week before – our boss kicked everyone out of the office at 3 last Friday for the holiday weekend, but my immediate supervisor and I were there until 6 working on issues with event registration. So this was the longest short week ever – I’ve been up to my ears in spreadsheets, and made a couple stupid errors (verifying info based on an outdated spreadsheet, rather than a new one – admittedly, they were only 9 hours apart, but a lot of stuff had changed), and I’ve been so swamped (combined with having to train the new intern who started this week) I had to miss lunchtime yoga and zumba this week, which just added insult to injury.

I once told you that unless you’re at the point where you want to curl up in a ball and forget about the world at least twice a week, you’re doing life wrong; I’ve hit that point every day this week. It’s been a long time since I’ve looked forward to the weekend that much.

So by Friday, I was just relieved that I’d survived. And riding the elevator down from the top floor of the parking garage, looking out at the mountains and thinking about how much I didn’t want to leave them, I thought, “Lord, please just give me a sign if I should start applying for jobs at call centers and Starbucks to stay here”. That was immediately followed by the thought, “Ha, be careful what you wish for, signs are never what you think they’re going to be”. I get into work and check my email, verify another spreadsheet, and then quickly pull up my personal gmail – and there’s an email from someone I don’t know with the subject line “THEM DIVISION” (the one I applied for a job in). So I immediately assumed that this was the sign, and a rejection. But no! Instead, it was from the supervisor of the position who asked if I’d be able to come over to their office that afternoon to meet casually with them!

OhthankGodImightnothavetoworkatMcDonaldsafterall!!!!

So after working through cross-checking three different spreadsheets and missing lunchtime Zumba, I headed over to their office; they’re in the same corporation, but a different location, so my commute would almost double if I worked for them (okay, so only from a 5 minute drive to 10…). And their office is small (no more than 15 people), but everyone was really nice and we got along wonderfully. It was basically a pre-screening interview, and it went really well. I think the job would be a good fit – getting to work with several different departments, managing events and regional programs, with some travel involved (MAYBE TO NEW YORK CITY!). And it’s a new position and the start of a new department for them, which means that I would get to help develop the position and the department, and that there’s a lot of potential for growth. It sounds great, and I’m really excited about it; they are doing more interviews next week, and then second round interviews the week after. I’ll have a second round interview probably between the 15th and 17th, and I think she said they’re hoping to have a decision by the end of that week. So the timing will likely work out perfectly with the end of my internship. It sounds really great but I’m trying not to get my hopes up; haven’t gotten the job offer yet, though I kind of feel like it’s meant to be. So I’m praying it is, but in the meantime, trying to learn as much about their division as possible and come up with good questions to ask for next week (!).

I told you how much I’d be making; for someone in investment banking or software engineering, it’s not very much, but for someone currently on an intern salary, the jump would be huge. This would be my first real job with a real paycheck to go along with it. Which is really mind boggling to me, because I’d have so much money. I could buy a latte occasionally! I could buy cute binders instead of the plain white ones! I could buy more stuff for my apartment, I could even get wifi! (Just kidding, I kind of liken not having internet in the apartment. Certainly makes me more productive). Everything I’ve looked at and said, “I don’t need it” and put it back, I could get! Bear in mind, these aren’t bank-breaking purchases here – we’re talking like an $8 binder, a $30 end table. But it’s hard to justify those purchases when you’re on an intern salary with student loans and buying $700 figure skates. And admittedly, a lot of things wouldn’t really change: I’d still be buying a lot of pasta-roni and cheap instant coffee, because skating and student loans are more important. But to not be at the point of yikes-4-dollars-for-a-pumpkin-spice-latte would be really nice (because I love pumpkin spice lattes).

Getting the job would also relieve two (or three) major forms of stress, by 1.) giving me a permanent job so I don’t need to worry about where I’m going to be in two months, 2.) paying me enough money to live on, and 3.) providing full healthcare (which, while I’m not really stressed about, would be really nice to have – I’m fine without it right now, because I’m a perfectly healthy young person, but as an athlete – what if tear my ACL or have a freak fall and get a bad concussion? Because if you’re writhing on the floor in pain or completely unconscious, people aren’t going to listen when you say, “I can’t go to the doctor, I don’t have insurance – I’ll just walk it off!!”). And removing those stressors, which as I noted above, I’ve been feeling a lot lately, would allow me to focus on having stress in more important areas, like my application for Oz and when I’m going to land a quadruple toe loop.

Funny how one email on Friday turned the whole week around.

Also – know that as rough as this week has been, I’ve also woken up excited to get out of bed each morning – mainly because with school starting, the rink is busy in the mornings again, and I get to see everyone and laugh at the boards and be involved in all the ice rink hijinks that go on. And I still love working for THEM; even just moving over to a different division would make me sad, because I love the group of people I work with. But getting to stay here and working for THEM would be a tremendous relief and really exciting.
Hakuna Matata,
~K

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West Meets East

Dear K,

I’ve been thinking a lot since I moved to NYC about how my Western upbringing matters to the person I am today.  I noticed the differences between Westerners and Easterners less when I was in school and it seemed like there was a lot more diversity (or at least, there were people from Texas and California and Illinois to balance out the Northeast).  But sometimes it seems like there are only Easterners around here, and that’s so different from what I’m used to that it’s almost comical.

Easterners, in my experience, have absolutely no concept of what life in the West is like.  I see this when they try to write about the West (descriptions always come out deeply suspect—you have no idea what mountains are, let alone a desert, and your one trip out West was not sufficient).  And then there was the very ill-advised conversation I had at lunch one day at the CPC, when Easterners were talking about guns and I tried to explain that in the West, we do not think about guns in the same way as they do in the East.  No one really got it, and I’m pretty sure a few people now think I’m a Tea Party member/flaming gun rights activist (I am not even close to either of those things).  On the other hand, I guess I learned my lesson?  Don’t even talk about the importance of gun safety with people from the Northeast?

On the other hand, there are also things I don’t really understand because I am from the West.  After a dim sum lunch, a couple of friends from school and I walked over to the Brooklyn Bridge, and from there to the 9/11 memorial.

I love the memorial.  I’m sure not everyone will agree with me—but I found it subtle and reverent and moving.  When you walk onto the grounds, the noise of the city hushes just a little bit, even with the hordes of people.  The footprints where the towers once stood are now deep, square holes in the ground, with water flowing in from all sides.  Surrounding the pools are raised, sloped surfaces with the carved names of all the people who were killed that day—it reminds me a little of the Vietnam War Memorial in DC, in its solidity and simplicity.  The sound of the falling water adds quietness to the already subdued atmosphere.  I knew approximately what the memorial looked like, but I was still surprised, somehow, at how appropriate a tribute it seems to the people who should not have died.

There is another memorial across the Hudson in Jersey City, near where I watched Independence Day fireworks with my aunt.  Going to both of these memorials reminded me how little I understand the tragedy of 9/11.  I was so young, for one thing, so I did not have the years of planes not crashing into buildings to strike a contrast—but I think more than that, I was just so far away thirteen years ago that the events did not really touch me.  I knew no one in the faraway place that was New York City, so at least at first, it almost might have been another country that was attacked, and not mine.

But it was mine.  Sometimes I wonder if one of the great struggles our country will have this century is trying to stay one country.  We are united in so many ways, but we are also regional.  I would never try to break down regional identity; that would undermine the diversity our country stands for.  But my regional identity is something I’ve been thinking about.

-Q

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Doors

Dear Q,

If I thought I needed a job before, now I really need a job. Today, I spent almost $700 on new figure skating boots and blades – a lot of money, but not so bad when you consider that at retail price, it would have been closer to $1500. I just happened upon a super nice pair of blades in my size on ebay this morning, brand new, listed at $399. I made an offer of $300, and was super nervous all morning that someone would buy them before my offer could be accepted or not. So nervous, I almost considered buying them outright. But I reminded myself that if it was meant to be, they’d stay available, so I waited to hear back from the seller. Right after lunch, the seller countered my offer with their own of $375, and given that I also had a 10% off coupon, I agreed right away. These are the kinds of blades National Champions use, the kind I thought I’d never get to skate in – the super new technology, super pretty, ultra-light blades. So to get such a great deal on brand new ones (I always buy everything used, which shortens the lifespan but is much cheaper), I’m so excited I can barely focus on work.  And the boots I’ve had my eye on for a while; the company is discontinuing some old models and introducing new ones, which means brand new, perfectly good skates are ½ off. So I finally bit the bullet and bought them, too. I need new blades but not new boots, so ironically enough, I’m still going to try and find a pair of used blades (to go with my current boots) so I can start the new boots and new blades together (and since getting them mounted costs money, and switching blades is a hassle, it does make sense, I swear). I probably won’t get to try out my new equipment until I’m home for Thanksgiving , since it will be cheaper to get the blades mounted there, and I probably won’t actually start skating in them for realsies until next March or so, hopefully. But this means I’m set on skates until…..late 2016, maybe early 2017, so it’s okay to spend that much money, right? I’m freaked out about how much I spent, but this is why I don’t go out on weekends and buy the processed cheese slices at Walmart; because these new blades are way prettier than multi-grain bread or having a nice end table to go with my reading chair. The blades should be here Thursday, I’m SO excited for them. They’re so pretty, I seriously never thought I’d get this type because they are so expensive, so I can’t wait!

A lot of times when I text you, you think my job is so cool, because I have a tendency to mention the awesome stuff, not the boring day to day stuff. Well, on Friday, my job was decidedly less cool. The big event I’m working on is the beginning of October, and I had to go pick up all the volunteer tshirts from the printer and sort them by size and count to make sure they were all there. My supervisor told me I could take a van to go pick them up, so I went to get the van and…..it was made in 1900. 1910 at the latest. The transportation tech I picked it up from referred to it fondly as “the creeper van” (picture below).

The creeper van in all its glory.

So I spent my day wearing super cool reflective aviator sunglasses, bopping around in a creeper van, the epitome of cool. The other two interns were conveniently out sick or at a job interview, so I spent the majority of my afternoon in the delivery bay of a warehouse sorting t-shirts. The previous day, when I asked the volunteer coordinator how many t-shirts there were (so to gauge how long it would take me to count them), she said 600. That was incorrect. There were 1000. Suffice to say I was there awhile, but it was okay, because the delivery bay was open to the outdoors, and so I sorted barefoot and in workout clothes while listening to my iPod. Really not a bad way to get paid to spend a Friday, but decidedly less cool than some of the other stuff I’ve done, so I felt you needed to know.

Registrations for said big event were due on Friday, so I’ve spent the last two days quagmired in registration forms and corrections. On the positive side, it means the workday goes really fast!

As you know from the text you received this morning, I’m thinking about applying for a job in Reykjavik, because you should always apply for jobs in cities you can’t even spell. It would actually be a lot of fun,  and I’m half thinking of actually applying for it – I’m slightly underqualified, but really, how many people are there who want to live in Iceland? It seems to be the kind of randomly awesome thing you should do in your twenties – see, this is why not having a boyfriend is a good thing! The irony did strike me, though, that the past couple posts I’ve talked about how excited I am to settle down here,  to not be transient and have all my stuff here, but here I am thinking about Iceland and continuing to move forward on applying for a Fulbright (though I’m kind of iffy on that, more on that below).  I readily blame Graduates in Wonderland for giving me wanderlust, though maybe part of it is my transient lifestyle growing up. And the fact that I want to do really cool things, and Iceland and Australia make that easier. But places just start to feel stale after a while, you know?  

One of my favorite analogies for life (and I have several), is that life is like a big hallway full of doors, and your job is to try and open as many doors as possible. Some of them will be locked, some will lead to other doors,  which lead to other doors, and so forth. Sometimes you just end up back in the hallway, but that’s okay; you just have to try as many doors as you can. And one of the reasons I’m a little resistant to apply for the Fulbright is that I’m hoping some other doors a little further down the hallway will open up, and I don’t want to be following a door to an Australian hallway if that’s the case (is this analogy still holding up okay?).  And the Australian doors seem to be opening rather easily – as if it’s meant to happen – but what if I want other doors to open up more? And if the other doors are in fact locked, but I don’t know because I haven’t gotten to them yet, maybe I could still break in? I guess basically I’m resistant to things that seem too easy in my life, maybe. Though the Fulbright isn’t in many ways – it’s scary to email someone on the opposite side of the world, and tough to muddle your way through another country’s academic requirements. But I keep reminding myself, it’s not as if I’ve gotten the Fulbright yet, I’m just applying. And I have a tendency to jump ten “what-ifs” ahead of where I’m currently at. So I am reminding myself that my only job is to follow each door as far as I can, and one door opening doesn’t preclude another one from opening later (or maybe, in a roundabout way, door 1 leads to door 3). The same kind of thing with that job I applied for – it sounded pretty good, sure, but what if something better came up a couple months later? I dunno, I’m silly sometimes.

That analogy, by the way, comes from this book, which you should add to your list to read. It’s funny and brilliant, and I’m not just saying that because she used to be a figure skater.

So that’s my life right now, it’s not been a very exciting past month and a half, but maybe that’s okay. I’ve been missing ST recently – just hanging out for hours talking with him – and that job has been taken off the website, but I haven’t heard anything yet, which makes me a little anxious. Especially since I just got those beautiful new blades, haha (update: THEY ARE IN MINNEAPOLIS. THEY WILL BE HERE THURSDAY, IF NOT WEDNESDAY).  

I feel like my posts are always longer than yours. Maybe because I don’t write for a living. Also, because I miss your face.

~K