Lookin’ Forward to Hump Day

A few weeks ago, I found myself stopped at a red light on my way to work. It was a bright mid-august Monday morning, complete with golden sunlight, dew-glittered fields, and cool air. I’m stopped at this light most mornings, I still haven’t figured out the pattern to work in my favor. I was in the right lane when an orange truck pulled up next to me.

People often joke that there are two seasons in Wisconsin –  Winter and Construction. It’s true. They’e always finding new ways to tangle the highways and frustrate commuters. As August falls into Construction season, the truck didn’t really draw my eye, though I assume the point of the color is to alert drivers of potential hazards. But construction sites and all their accessories have really just turned into one more blemish of a highway drive, like a billboard or wind turbine.

Any moment free of social obligations is one I savor. Typically my resting bitchy face is defense enough against bland small talk and handsome men in coffee shops. (To deal with the slightest romantic anxiety, I’ve developed these really cool defense mechanisms that basically say, “I’m going to avoid eye contact with that handsome man so he doesn’t think I’m at all interested in him. The few moments of potential polite rejection isn’t worth the potential payout of meeting my soulmate.”) Does this enhance my life? Probably not. But I’ve accepted that I’m just not one of those naturally social people who makes a new friend weekly.

When I’m not humming along to music, I’m wearing my resting bitchy face during my morning commute, so I was surprised to hear a man greeting me. “Mornin!” He hollered over the idling engines. One wrist rested on the steering wheel, and he held his nonchalant but purposeful gaze on me. His sun-bleach facial hair contrasted sharply against his tanned skin. Sunglasses covered his eyes, but I was sure he had winked behind the lenses. His reflective vest indicated his destination.

“Good morning,” I said.

“How you doing?” He asked in that leery tone, accentuating “you”.

“I’m doing well.”

“Yeah?” He nodded, prodding for more.

This is exactly why I hate small talk. Small talk so clearly demonstrates the checks and balances of conversation, and no one is ever sure of the final value of a shallow exchange. I loathe owing somebody a response for nothing. But I’d rather fill the silence than endure the discomfort of going against social expectations.

“Yeah, you know. It’s Monday,” I said, defaulting to the lowest common denominator. I started to question the intention of this interaction. What did this guy have to gain?

“Yeah,” he said, grinning widely. “Can’t wait for hump day!” He paused slightly before laughing heartily.I laughed that empty obligatory chuckle. I looked forward and pretended to focus on the traffic light.

It took me a moment. Hump day? Wednesday? Who looks forward to Wednesday?  Who looks forward to the middle of the week? Just to have the satisfaction of knowing the workweek is half done? You still have two more days of work – why not look forward to Friday?

By time the light turned green, I got it. The subtext became clear by the time he started his left turn. Hump day. He was just being pervy. Way to rise to your stereotype, sir.

What made him think this was a good idea? Had this worked for him in the past? What was the best possible outcome in his mind? Me suggesting we celebrate hump day together? My shock swiftly shifted to disgust. What a gross way to start my week. I had just been sipping my coffee, minding my own business – certainly not inviting casual discussion of genital friction. What had started out as a beautiful morning now had the grime of some man insinuating that he wanted to hump me. I didn’t need that clouding my week.

Construction Worker

In the right context, most women wouldn’t hate that sentiment. But even contexts of the most generous musings don’t involve separate cars and a 15-second exchange between strangers. The few words he yelled over at me essentially told me: “I don’t value you, your comfort, or your dignity. But I do kinda want to rub against you.” That momentarily robbed me of my humanity.

The momentary loss of of one’s humanity might seem like a negligible loss, but when those moments are compounded, the result can shift your perception of what is right. Most women have been harassed, honked at, or otherwise objectified by strangers and have just come to realize it comes with the territory. The fact that he was comfortable making a crude joke is indicative of a culture that disregards women’s right to a personal realm.

What I wish I had done (in my fantasy, I immediately realize what he was really saying) is remove my sunglasses and looked him in the eye to say this: “I don’t appreciate your insinuation, sir. For future reference, it is not acceptable to imply that you want to hump a woman. Fuck off.”

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This isn’t really about Bob Ross.

My last post was about two months ago, so I figure it’s about time that I get back on my game. At least until another two months passes and I remember I should get my money’s worth while I own this domain. Since I’m sure you read and reread my last post just to see if it was a new one, you might recall that I was last dealing with stress.

Like all other breathing creatures, I’m still dealing with stress. But the once incredibly high levels have become my normal. I’m sure there’s something new just around the corner. My job title has changed twice since March, and I’ve spent most of the last six months learning. Though I’d easily be able to give you a list of what I’ve learned, I won’t bore you with the details of explaining how to audit an MVR to see if a driver self-certified correctly or what it’s like to navigate the various state requirements for tax-exempt ownership transfers of vehicles.

This Bob Ross clothespin doll you can buy on Etsy doesn't have anything to do with my work stress, but you click the picture for the link and buy it for me to keep at my desk and make this sort of make sense.

This Bob Ross clothespin doll you can buy on Etsy doesn’t have anything to do with my work stress, but you click the picture and buy it for me to keep at my desk. Then this would sort of make sense.

(I really just needed to create some mystery to keep you reading past that last sentence. It’s called creating tension and it’s a writing technique.)

Anyway, I’ve found that the most stressful part of my day doesn’t happen at work. After 8-12 hours of operating at my highest mental capacity, I come home and have little energy to do anything for myself. Things like working out, journaling, going through old journals for Throwback Thursday Posts, reading a few chapters (or compelling essays about brain disorders) before bed each night, or cooking a meal to share with friends. The few moments before I doze off after reading only 2 paragraphs of a novel are the worst of my day. That’s when I reflect on my day and realize I completely skipped over things that enrich my life. I absolutely love my job, but the sudden realization that my Me-Time has all but evaporated sometimes knocks the wind out of me. Fortunately, consciousness doesn’t last long. My sleep is usually heavy and dreamless.

Over the last few weeks, I’ve made the deliberate choice to not accept vegging out with mindless television as the only way to recoup from the day. A year ago, I used to really look forward to my near-daily runs. I felt enormous pride knowing I could run a few miles after a full day of mentally-taxing work. It was a mental restart button for my day. Whatever I had dealt with earlier would lose its saturation by the time I started cool-down stretches. I read plenty, slept soundly, and awoke renewed. Knowing that better sleep and higher quality of life is just switch of willpower away is such a stupid problem, but my apathy made me powerless.

I’ve probably said it before, but the problems that frustrate me most are the ones over which I feel I have no control. These make me feel as if all my weaknesses and insecurities are a meme I can’t escape. I see my ineffectiveness everywhere. When I was really freaking out about a car, all I could see was evidence of everybody else successfully owning cars. I was fortunate enough to be able to borrow one of my parents’ cars for a few months, but my insecurity about it was terrible. See a gas station? “OH MY GOD. YOU DON’T EVEN OWN A CAR THAT RUNS RIGHT NOW. YOU CAN’T EVEN PUT GAS IN YOUR OWN CAR.” Pull into the parking lot at work? “EVERYONE KNOWS YOU DON’T DRIVE A DURANGO AND THAT YOUR CAR DOESN’T WORK. ALSO YOU CAN’T FIX A CAR.”

I’m not really sure why it took me so long to change my approach with this problem (Foolish optimism? Fear of the salesman? Fear of rejection? All of the above?), but eventually I decided my dad’s time could be better spent on things other than trying to fix a 19 year old car I wanted to set aflame. I started car searching and I found a great car that was made in a year in which I have vivid and fond memories.

Seeing that I could eliminate that stress was satisfying. I was hooked on being in control. To prepare for the added expenses of a car, I created a really awesome budget spreadsheet (I only update TWO TABS with my debits and credits of a 15-tab spreadsheet. It’s uploaded to Google Sheets so I can access it on my phone and know exactly where I stand for the month). I got a Fitbit and started tracking my steps and sleep patterns. I started to meet with a health coach to set goals and hold me accountable each week. I took a Saturday off and spent six hours reading a book. SIX. It was incredible.

I feel like I’ve been complaining about my work/personal/sanity balance for a while now. I swear there’s more to my life than this. I have many more entertaining stories to share. Like the Sadness Parade I took part in with my dad and older brother (taking my old car across town for a mechanic friend’s opinion), what a food scientist packs for an evening picnic date, my realization that sports bars are not my natural habitat (weird, I know), what it was like driving my new car home the first night, or how I wish I would have handled a construction worker sort of sexually harassing me while we were both stopped at a red light. Spoiler alert: it’s not half-smiling and asking myself if that really just happened.

With time, you’ll get those stories. For now, I’m making the deliberate choice to read. I just had to share more complaints with you. Just one last time. Probably.

Defending One of My Maladaptive Coping Mechanisms

This thing I found on Wikipedia defines a maladaptive coping mechanism as follows:

a coping technique [that] will just reduce symptoms while maintaining and strengthening the disorder. Maladaptive techniques are more effective in the short term rather than long term coping process. 

I define maladaptive coping mechanisms as awesome.

I feel like I need to preface this whole thing by saying I’m not complaining. I’m just venting. Because there’s a difference, connotation-wise. Complaining is just going on and on about your problems and never dealing with them, just hoping that somebody will poof all your problems away. Venting is thinking aloud until you come to a plan of action that you and your audience agree on. Even when I complain I’m venting, so keep that in mind next time you hear me say something negative. You might not hear my action plan, but you’d agree with it if I bothered to articulate it.

The last few weeks, I’ve been dealing with an unusual amount of stress in my professional life and my personal life. My stressors are as follows:

  • Navigating new territory of more responsibility
  • Excel. The bane of a young professional with only a liberal arts background
  • Supporting a friend through a difficult period
  • My possibly dying plants: my ivy is getting dry, one sprig of a festival-purchased peony plant has turned black, and I have no idea if my bamboo has grown over the last 13 months
  • My constant deliberation over the pros and cons of living as a lazy slob
  • My not-so constant deliberation over the pros and cons of living as a productive human who eats more than a bowl of granola for dinner
  • The slow realization that I am no longer in my prime
  • The knee-jerk reaction to the previous point (RUN TWO MILES BEFORE WORK EVERYDAY! NEVER EAT PROCESSED FOOD! NEVER DRINK SODA! STOP DRINKING COFFEE! DON’T EAT THAT BREAD UNLESS YOU WANT TO GAIN 5LBS IN YOUR SLEEP! DON’T WALK – CROSS GROUND IN LUNGES ONLY!)
  • Working to pay off some debt to make room for new debt (ie, a car that was made within the last decade) & the realization of the fruitlessness of adult life
  • Wondering where I’ll be when my 19-year old car finally decides to die
  • Only being in Season 2 and not wanting to miss when someone finally kills King Joffrey, but not really liking anyone other than Tyrion

Without going into too much detail about any of the above items, I’ll summarize by saying that I feel like I spend 80% of my week being stressed. While I enjoy being challenged, I reached my point a few weeks ago where I was like, “COME ON, UNIVERSE. DON’T BE SUCH A JERK.” Then the universe was just like, “LOL NOPE. HERE’S MORE.” I expect that as I become more accustomed to my responsibilities, my stress level will plateau until the universe decides it’s time I have more excitement in my life.

Today happened to be a particularly stressful day (despite my better intentions, one interaction early in the day clouded my mood for the next 9 hours). After working for 9.5 hours, I came home and announced to my roommate, “I’m just going drink the leftover wine in the fridge and bake cookies. I’ll probably just eat cookie dough for dinner.”  I’ll defend it by saying this: Some days you just need to feel that you’re able to complete one thing from start to finish. I knew that there were about three glass of wine between the two bottles of wine (moscato and chardonney) in my fridge. I knew that I could follow a 7-ingredient recipe, set the oven timer to 8 minutes, and remove the cookie sheet without burning myself.

To cope with my stress, I really just needed to be reminded that I was able to complete something from start to finish without interruptions. I now have five dozen cookies to prove it. The same issues will still plague me tomorrow, but at least I’ll have cookies.

Don’t judge me.

Throwback Thursday: The 9/11 One

You guys. The last time I did a Throwback Thursday post was October. That’s crazy. And fairly unacceptable. Considering the fact I have a closet full of journals, I have virtually no reason to not write those posts. I owe you. Expect payment in future TBT posts. If I had at all planned this out, I would have written this post, adjusted the previously shared diary entries to arrange for this to be posted in September, when it was actually appropriate. I have a hard time holding myself to self-imposed deadlines.  Anyway, onto the meat of the stuff:

(Tues.) September 11, 2001

Wow. America was attacked today. This is horrible! I can’t beleive this happened!

Ok, today during ILA, Mrs. Sandlin freaked me out. she started out by saying how much of a horrible day today is. She went on to tell us about how terrorists attacked us. They highjacked 4 airplanes and crashed them into both world trade buildings and the pentagon.

It’s scary! I don’t know if anybody knows who did it, but Mr. Wittman in History said that there WILL be retaliation. AKA: go to war.

We watched TV like 4 times today about it.

President Bush called whoever did this “faceless cowards” and will “hunt down and punish” whoever did this.

And as of right now there are NO planes in the air. NONE. Planes coming into America are being diverted to Canada.

This is horrible! I was coming home from Jade’s house & we saw DOZENS of cars in line to get gas. I was wondering why & I asked my mom when I got home & she said it’s going to be $3.50 a GALLON. And my parents thought $1.75 was a lot!

This is horrible! I can’t use words to discribe how terrified I am! My life is going to change so much! I mean even just gas prices! My parents will be paying twice as much as they used to!

What if we go to war? I don’t think anybody in my family will go to fight for America, & I pray to god that doesn’t happen. i don’t know what I’d do without my dad being home!

I’m sorry I keep writing the same things down, but I’m so worried. The gas thing totally freaked me out. If we go to war, there might be rations of canned foods, gas, make-up, toys, everything! I just can’t believe this is happening!

I need to burn some energy.  Luv always!

Ashley

P.S. I’m in so much of a daze I forgot 2 tell you that the football game was cancelled & Cory hugged me after school. What a sweetie! LOL, there’s my shallow life again.

P.P.S. Oh yeah, more than 10,000 people died today.

I have a tendency to trivialize tragedies as a way to cope, so my gut here is telling me just to make fun of the fact that I said 10,000 people died that day or that I misspelled “believe” and “describe” though I used to pride myself on being one of the best spellers in my class. But to do that would be to further trivialize my experience. It’s unnecessary. Nobody gains anything from me making fun of Young Ashley for coping the only way she knew how: to write dramatically as if she were writing a new Dear America book.

Photo credit - Kaperuccio

Photo credit – Kaperuccio

Joking aside (sarcasm is so deeply embedded in my sense of self. I should go to a therapist), I remember this being a very weird day. Before Mrs. Sandlin told my ILA (English) class what had happened, I heard chatter about it during passing time. Grabbing my books and slamming my locker door, I rolled my eyes, thinking it was some “big” tragedy that the news networks were going to eat up. At that point, I had never heard of the World Trade Centers or terrorists. I assumed terrorists was a new gimmicky word aimed at scaring the public. I was underwhelmed by this supposed tragedy, even when Mrs. Sandlin turned on the TV.

I’m a little ashamed to admit it, but I was excited while watching the news. Maybe this was really it – the event that would inspire historical fiction I could speak on! I had lived through this. I could someday talk about this. It was too abstract of a thing to inspire fear in me. I was thrilled by flares of anxiety later during the day, as I imagined a different life where my dad worked in one of the towers. Of course he came home at the end of the day, but I was just thrilled about the idea of wearing that badge of tragedy. It wasn’t real to me. That’s why I ate it up. I think on some level, I was aware that this was happening to real people and that other children were going through the terror of not knowing if their parents were alive, but it didn’t really mean anything to me. I felt empathy’s tug, but was saddened when it remained abstract.

Part of what has always disgusted me about national tragedies is the way in which people devour the story as if it’s their own. When young and in the thick of these events, of course I was scared and terrified, but it made me feel uneasy to talk about it, so I just didn’t. Maybe I had a deeply embedded journalistic integrity, but probably I was afraid of being found a fraud. I’m sure there’s some level of that anxiety that still keeps me away from news networks, but the news culture seems so cannibalistic. I realize I keep going back to this eating theme, but it works: viewers chew on this news for a day or two, enjoying the bursts of appropriate emotional flavor (horror, fear, sadness, excitement, etc) before digesting and leaving it behind when they’ve had their fill. The victims are eternally masticating an overdone steak while the spectators move further down the buffet line.

So what does this leave me with? Willful ignorance disguised as respect to victims? That’s probably pretty accurate, though a bit cynical even for me. Tragedies are personal. Media is not. Victims will always feel violated, and I’d just rather not be a part of that violation.

Oh yeah! Still here!

Last you guys heard, I was having a miserable winter. You’ll be glad to hear that I’ve moved on to having an okay winter. I know it’s April and I should be calling it Spring, I don’t call it spring till I’m tiptoeing through tulips. I’m sure you’re all dying to know what’s happened between posts. Here’s a quick overview:

  • I got a promotion. Since I keep this space free of work talk, I’ll just say that in my new position, I have many more responsibilities and a TON to learn. I’m excited for the challenge.
  • I went on vacation and returned yesterday. I spent a week in sunny San Diego with an old friend and her 3 year-old daughter. Much to my surprise (and my mother’s), spending a week with with a 3 year-old didn’t completely eliminate the possibility having kids some day. I actually think it would be pretty cool to have someone tiny to hang out with and dress up. I’d want some help paying for the tiny companion, so I won’t be doing it solo any time soon, but if the circumstances were right, I would be okay with having a child. Other highlights of my vacation include: sunburn, an overpriced drink at a rooftop nightclub, delicious bruscetta, witnessing the public’s eagerness to buy STAR MAPS in Beverly Hills, appreciating days that pass without caring about the time, and reading a Meg Wolitzer novel (The Wife) in two days.
  • I registered for an improv class. You know, like Whose Line is it Anyway? That sort of thing. It’s going to go one of two ways: I’ll succeed immediately and be on SNL next year or have an epic fail and experience a huge ego check.
  • I started online dating again and after a half dozen dates I disabled my profile again. After outlining an essay about online dating and I read a Nora Ephron essay that is making me rethink the essay entirely. All I can confidently say now is that I don’t know what the hell I’m doing when it comes to dating and that I’ve sworn off several types of men (musicians, dudes who say “I don’t know” constantly, and those in search of an identity).
  • I registered for a 10k and promptly stopped training. Then one night my roommate and I accidentally ran 6 miles. I haven’t done much since then, so on May 18th, I’m banking on a repeat of the spontaneous endurance level.
  • After a 15 minute discussion with a friend one night, I got seven inches of hair cut. Felt like I lost thirty pounds and was disappointed to see I was mistaken.
  • I got obsessed with Chris Thile, listened to Punch Brothers for three straight months, freaked out and bought tickets to see Nickel Creek two minutes after I realized they were playing nearby. My parents and I will be seeing Nickel Creek on May 10. Kick Ass Daughter Level = Expert.
  • I turned 26 and threw myself a party. It was fairly lowkey, though I did wear a sequin-covered dress. I’m not sure if the latter statement negates the former, but I don’t really care. I had fun – great friends with lots of food, lots of wine and coffee Patron, and DJs who vibed the party perfectly.  Check them out here. I hear they accept payment in burritos, but don’t quote me on that.
  • I bought a new couch. Like a real adult couch. Like I went to an actual furniture store and picked out a piece on the showroom and paid to have it delivered. It wasn’t on clearance and it cost the better part of a paycheck. I’m sitting on it now.
  • I crocheted a lot. I don’t want to talk about it.

I’m making a goal to spend less time with yarn and more time with people. That’s a pretty good goal, right?

Oh, also, after realizing I had let the Customization Packs for my theme expire, I decided to revamp my blog with a new theme and picture.  My roommate helped me with the photos by goofing around on our stairs in gorgeous afternoon sunlight after I spent last night being sick from an airport deli sandwich.  We got some good shots that included the ones below. Credit for any perceived glow goes to the sunlight prisms or post colon-cleanse.

This is my "I'm Scared, Feed Me" face.

This is my “I’m Scared, Feed Me” face.

Slight variation of the previous face, but with less "I'm Scared" and more "Feed Me".

Slight variation of the previous face, but with less “I’m Scared” and more “Feed Me”.

Next time I do online dating, this is totally going to be my profile pic.

Next time I do online dating, this is totally going to be my profile pic. I’m sure to get some classy men with this one.

Sorry you guys read the blog of someone so weird. I’d tell you to hope for something different in the future, but you probably know that’s a lie.

Coping with Winter 2014

I don’t mean to be crass, but this winter fucking blows. It started out okay – the snow held off till December. We had a white Christmas and the usual single digits that had everyone asking in that midwestern obligatory fashion, “Cold nuff fer ya?”

Then came the Polar Vortex. That was cool. I had taken a vacation (by vacation I really just mean a few days away from my cubicle – I didn’t go anywhere fancy or do anything terribly exciting), and the first day of -50 came the day I was supposed to return. I was terribly disappointed when my car didn’t start. (Dead battery, then eventual flooded engine – a quick and easy fix for my dad when the weather rose to positive single digits later that week.) I spent the day watching Netflix and crocheting.

Then we had a bunch of little snowfalls. Nothing significant, but just enough to grease the roads, flip a few cars, and make me feel guilty when I’m sitting inside while my neighbor shovels. There was a day or two of freezing rain that coated everything in an inch of ice. And now we’re on a second Polar Vortex – we’ll have a little break of this frigid hell tomorrow (a high of 14, with a real feel of -2!) only to return once again to a high whose real feel is -33.

I do not accept this as my reality.

I do not accept this reality.

My main way of coping with this winter has been to surround myself with lots of yarn. I don’t trust any Midwesterner who claims to not suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder. “I just like the cold,” he claims. YOU’RE A DAMN ROBOT.

Because I loathe wet socks, frozen nostrils, and numb fingers, I’ve never been one for winter activities. I might go sledding once a year, but I’m too busy thinking about how pissed I’ll be if the cocoa in the thermos isn’t hot when we’re done. I survive Wisconsin winters by maintaining a delicate balance of patience, apathy, self-examination, and binge-socializing. Allow me to explain:

1. Patience Lifelong Midwesterners claim that they could never live in a place like San Diego where the weather is perpetually perfect because they like seasons too much. I’m assuming this statement is only made on sunny July afternoons while drinking a cold Spotted Cow. Without rose-tinted glasses, a year in Wisconsin looks like this:

Science.

Science.

As you see, half the year is taken up by winter (see “THE WORST”). During this time we experience bitter cold, disgusting amounts of snow and ice, and asshole winds (technical term). The second largest part (see “Gross”) is closely related to the winter; the environment and climate are reluctant to let go of the winter, showering us with cold rain that yields mud, dirty snow heaps, and a perpetual grayness. This Gross period also occurs directly before THE WORST, giving an encore performance of cold rain and perpetual grayness. June, July and August tend to be quite warm and humid (see “Hot”), we either sweat at music festivals, baseball games, or coolourselves near a lake. During this time we should be constantly hydrating, but we like to chance it by drinking lots of domestic beer. There are a few days sprinkled throughout the year, during which the pictures depicting the glory of our four seasons are taken (see “Not Terrible”).

“Not Terrible” accounts for all of the following: Pristine snowfalls where the temperatures hover pleasantly between 20-35, cool spring mornings that allow coffee to be enjoyed on patios, sunny summer afternoons not requiring perpetual hydration, crisp fall days with maddeningly bright leaves and skies.

To get through THE WORST period, one must have patience to get to the first Not Terrible day in spring. You have to lie to yourself. “The summer is worth this. The summer is worth it. The summer is worth it.”

2. Apathy The winter is terrible. It is. Just don’t think too much about it. But you know what? You’ll get to one of those Not Terrible Days, but it will quickly change to a Gross Day. And just as soon as the Hot Days come, it will quickly become Gross again, and you’ll be forced to go through THE WORST all over. You’ll keep doing this, year after year, and then you know what happens? You die. So really, just stop thinking about it. We’re all going to die, so who cares?

3. Self-Examination I like to use winter as a time to do lots of reading. In between reading sessions, I bake, occasionally go to the gym, journal, and watch TV. Most of these activities inspire me to look within: How do I compare to that character? Should I really be baking cookies for the second time this week? I should go to the gym. I should journal about going to the gym and how good I feel afterwrads – that will inspire me to keep going. Then the self-examination just makes me bitter and I watch TV so I don’t have to think about all the things I’d like to change about myself.

4. Binge-Socializing After spending a significant amount of time on self-examination, I get sick of my own thoughts and reach out to people. I realize I have friends I haven’t talked with in a long time. I start dating again. I resolve to do something nice for someone else once a day. I’m just so sick of being in my head that I can’t bear to be alone with my thoughts any more, so I decide to just surround myself with people constantly. Eventually this becomes too much and I go back to my self-examination period.

It’s not a perfect or complete set of rules to get through the winter, but I’ve done it 25 times now, so I must be doing something right.

This One Time, My Neighbor Told Me My House is Haunted…

You may recall that until a few months ago, I was living by myself. I enjoyed the usual luxuries one does without roommates: drinking from the container, letting the dishes pile up for a week, using the spare bedroom as a giant clean/dirty/smells good enough laundry basket, going entire Saturdays without pants…it was pretty wonderful. Without anyone around to judge me or suggest that maybe I make a meal instead of eat cereal for the fourth night in a row, I turned my focus elsewhere: reading, crocheting, avoiding dishes and writing blog posts. At night, I found I had to learn the sounds of a new neighborhood. Trucks with loose metallic cargo seemed to favor my bumpy road for cruising after 11. Dogs barked. On the early summer evenings, youths held campfires long past my 9pm bedtime.

I wasn’t surprised to hear creaks on windy nights because my house is quite old. My landlord said the bathroom originally had a clawfoot tub. The woodwork is worn and grimey – no amount of orange oil will make it shine like it probably once did. The doorbell doesn’t work. There are about a half dozen phone hookups in the hall and no outlets. Most of the windows are drafty. I can confidently say that this house was built sometime between 1900-1990, assuming ten years of error.

I got used to living on my own. Though at night my ears strained, I didn’t hear strange sounds. While I unpacked, I had passing thoughts like: “I bet more than one person has died in this house. And I bet none of their spirits wants me living here.” I’m a pretty rational person, but sometimes my imagination does sprints. I call them sprints because it’s just a quick idea that is dismissed as quickly as it arose. A loud pop in the middle of the night isn’t the spirit of a widow telling me that she is the only person allowed to crochet within these walls. It’s just the house – its materials expanding and contracting from the temperature and humidity fluctuations. The darkness I saw in the corner of gaze when I directed my attention to the other side of the room isn’t a ghost, it’s just a shadow. Basically, I’m able to tell my imagination to chill out.

For the most part, I really enjoyed living on my own, but eventually I came to a crossroads. When the weather got nicer, I was less inclined to work more than 40 hours. No longer working 50-60 hours each week, I found that I could afford to do one of two things: continue living on my own and maintain a life perfecting the art of isolation OR clean up the giant unorganized laundry basket and find a roommate and enjoy life outside my living room. My best friend had been searching for a place to live, so it didn’t take long to find a roommate.

Andrea arrived on a Sunday evening, and right away we started crocheting and watching Netflix. Because I had moved in alone, I figured my very observabt neighbor downstairs might question a strange girl entering my apartment. That Monday after work, I came home and Emily was sweeping the driveway.

“Hi Emily!” I said. “I just wanted to let you know that I have a friend staying with me for a while. She might be moving in, but it’s not set in stone.”

“Oh okay,” she said. “Thanks for letting me know. The more the merrier!”

“Yeah, she’s filling out an application and we’ll find out soon. But until things are figured out, she’ll be staying here for a while.”

“Was she here last week?”

“No, she just got here last night,” I said.

“Oh okay. Well I was just wondering because sometimes when you’re not home, I hear footsteps upstairs. Do you believe in that sort of thing? I hear things like that all the time here.”

Three things: First, when you said that, my first thought was not “OMG MY APARTMENT IS HAUNTED.” My first thought was “WHO THE HELL IS IN MY APARTMENT WHEN I’M NOT HOME?” Second, why did you jump so quickly from a friend couch-surfing to spirits who stomp around in the middle of the day? Third, why did you not wait for my answer before reporting that you’re constantly hearing weird shit in the house we share?

I sort of stammered. “Oh, I don’t know. I don’t really believe in that stuff. When I hear something at night, I’m usually able to talk myself down from being scared.”

“Well, I’ll tell you,” she said. She got that look in her eyes like she was teaching me something and I ought to listen. “One night, probably about three months after my husband died, I woke up in the middle of the night and there were three white figures standing next to my bed,” she told me. “It was a mother, a father, and a little girl. The were very benevolent and seemed to just want me to know that they were there.”

WHAT THE HELL, EMILY? YOU’RE SUPPOSED TO BE MY SWEET ELDERLY NEIGHBOR WHO LEAVES THE BACK HALL LIGHT ON FOR ME AT NIGHT – NOT THE WOMAN WHO GIVES ME NIGHTMARES.

“You’re giving me goosebumps!”

“Oh, I’m sorry!” she said. “You know, it was probably just a dream or something. It was probably nothing.”

I laughed and rubbed my forearms, despite the warm sun.

“Anyway, thanks for letting me know about your friend. I won’t be worried if I see somebody coming and going during the day then.”

I imagine the ghosts preferred my apartment empty.

I imagine the ghosts preferred my apartment empty.

I told her to have a nice night and went up to my apartment. Andrea was gone, so I couldn’t tell her what happened. To distract myself from visions of white figures and heavy formless footsteps, I turned on some music and read a book on the couch. About an hour later, the album had ended and I was immersed in my book when I heard footsteps. They were in the attic. All those cliches happened: my heart raced, I wanted to scream but couldn’t find the air.

“HEWWOOOOOO!”

No, that wasn’t a toddler ghost’s greeting. It was just Andrea. Somehow, her footsteps on the front porch reverberated to sound like they were directly above me. Or maybe the ghosts were playing aural tricks on me. It’s anybody’s guess, really.

For about a week after Emily told me that story, I was afraid to open my eyes at night. I frequently woke in the middle of the night, confident that three alabaster figures would be on the other side of my eyelids. A few times, I ever reached to turn off my bedside lamp with my eyes closed. Why does my anxious subconscious believe that ghosts flee when I twist the switch of my lamp? Probably because there’s never been any ghosts there when I turn on the light.

It’s strange, isn’t it? I spend the majority of my existence rationalizing the world around me. I appreciate that most things can be explained. Cause and effect creates a beautifully consistent environment. What would life be in a world without consistencies? Houses would be creatures, the pops and cracks in the night just gurgles of their digestive systems. Sweeping a driveway one day made it clean and dirty the next. Sounds wouldn’t travel in waves, but violet clouds of varying density, the volume based on the intensity of the purple. Life wouldn’t be based on things like pumping blood and brain oxygenation, but the mood of people who remember you, and your appearance would vary, a la Dorian Gray’s portrait. And just when you had one of these things figured out, another would change and throw your understanding of everything.

I like my world of reason and not many things fool me. But in the middle of the night my imagination allows stories like Emily’s to make me reconsider everything that has made me feel sane. 

Painting the walls and getting an air conditioner probably pissed the ghosts off too.

Painting the walls and getting an air conditioner probably pissed the ghosts off too.

Later that night, Emily called me to apologize. She told me that she should have kept her mouth shut and that she was probably bothered by grief and lack of sleep. I told her that it wasn’t a problem and that I would be just fine. “I haven’t heard anything strange since I moved in, so I’m sure I won’t hear anything tonight.”

But really, I was like, “OH NO, LADY. There are no takebacksies in this game! You said you hear footsteps when I’m not here. The seed has already been planted. I won’t see pleasant dreams for weeks, thanks to you.”

When my sleeping returned to normal, Andrea told me that supposedly Emily had gotten out of the shower to find DON’T BE AFRAID written in the steam on her bathroom mirror. THANKS, NEIGHBOR. Emily lives alone. The only explanation is ghosts. Or her grandchildren playing jokes on her. Or Emily is a liar.