A Sudden Clarity

Have you ever known that you need to do something? Not like, pee or throw up, but kind of. It’s the thing that I know is what what my whole design career this far leads to: User Experience Design, aka UX. It combines human motivations, psychology, research, strategy, efficiency, design, and functionality all into one position. Sure, it pays ridiculously well and there aren’t a ton of us out there so we’re in demand but aside from that, I know in my heart that this is what my next step needs to be.

I spent this week at an Internet Retailer convention here in Chicago, per my employer’s instructions. From Tuesday through Friday, I sat in breakout sessions and took notes, trying hard to glean knowledge from those in better positions than I, who spoke about the highs and lows of running a business that exists in some large and small ways, online. Mine doesn’t, not really. My company is of the, shall we say, “old school” where it makes far more sense to spend a lot of money on the printing and mailing of 1,100 physical newsletters than it does to upgrade a website that has not changed much since – no exaggeration here – 1999. Spinning globes as bullet points, teeeeeeeeeeeny tiny text boxes in a sea of background color, two pages that say the same thing, it’s brutal and frankly, I almost never refer to it. So when they told me they wanted to send me to a convention where I should surely pick up knowledge to move the company forward (ostensibly), I was excited. I’d only been to conventions that had to do with the food service industry and even then, as a booze moocher and voyeur. And hey, paid to be out of the office in a classroom setting!

By Wednesday, I had hoofed through the exhibit hall at a desperate pace, deftly avoiding “HI PENNY! CAN I TALK TO YOU FOR A MINUTE?!” coming at me from left, right, and dead center. I didn’t need to speak to online payment processing companies, we don’t really do that. I said, “no thanks” to multiple ecommerce websites and packaging supply reps. Even in speaking to an email marketing company, it felt futile since I knew it was a company my boss wasn’t interested in. I am though, especially for my beer group emails, so it was exactly the only serious exhibitor conversation I had in two days’ worth of wandering the booths. What was I doing there? I wasn’t entirely sure.

Then Thursday came and my pre-selected classes had mostly the same theme, which was a happy accident in my favor. With a general theme of, “Is your website working?”, those sessions focused on something that has become a big deal for me: UX/UI, or, User Experience Design.

When I started at my company in February, my boss let me know that he was in the process of building a website and app meant to be used by a subset of our employees. He knew what it wanted to do, but had no idea how it should look. After much miscommunication on methodology, I chose the colors, designed the logo, built buttons and modals, and do lots of aesthetic upkeep. We tackled many questions, the software engineer and I. Did this element work? No, we already said this over here, and it will confuse people to click this button twice, etc. The SE and I poured over details and he made changes based on my suggestions. I was swimming deep in a UX sea that I didn’t even know existed. Turned out, I’d been doing it for years and now, a deep passion develops.

As time went on at the office, I learned how much I truly didn’t (and don’t) know about building functional apps and websites, which is a lot…it could fill a room. HTML and Javascript are still mysteries to me, though getting clearer. The attempt to communicate to code-builders by someone who has only ever done print was comical, and probably very common. So I attended a free info session about learning front end web design skills in a General Assembly class, basically to know what is possible in a build. I can’t very well tell the SE to do a thing if I can’t articulate what should be done using his own language. The class at GA is over three grand, a tough sell to the bosses. Online classes are ok, but I don’t learn well that way since I get very distracted with an open computer in front of me and can’t ask questions as they rise.

I brought the class results back to my boss who asked if he could try to find me something cheaper. I said ok and listed my time/day preferences. He sounded supportive, and a week passed. A while later, he mentioned our company’s busy season was approaching and that it would likely be put off to fall. Disappointed but understanding, I went to my desk and continued to do some of the work I was hired for as a Marketing Manager. As the days went by, I realized that the majority of my work, as it happened, had very little to do with that title. My time is spent about 75% doing graphic design, 5% marketing, and 20% administrative (other peoples’ admin duties, she said bitterly). The marketing plan that I researched, poured over, built and stressed about presenting is, sadly, lining birdcages and will likely never see the light of day again.

I am not a marketing manager, not in any real way. I don’t have business cards, I don’t have a budget. What I have is an empty title and don’t do much with it. UX is calling me and it’s where I need to be, but without the support of my company and the space to transition, I will effectively be parked in a holding position indefinitely. My boss wants to see me make the move, he’s said he needs someone in that position and would like it to be me, but I’ve also seen his hands tied or completely lopped off by the upper management, who don’t understand the needs to modernize and upgrade technology the way he does. It’s entirely possible that my wagon is tethered to someone who is also on hold, I don’t know.

I’m not ready to leave this job yet. that’s not my intention anyway, nor is it time for an ultimatum. However, now that I know this is what I am meant to do, everything else feels like it’s either taking me further away from it, or is time-killing and not moving me forward. I am impatient by nature, but this is a different animal. Graphic design is my first love, I have no qualms about doing it at work. The rub is all the other stuff. Updating social media seems fruitless, few refer to it. Admin jobs that are not my department even more so. Itchy feet are borne of this kind of misuse, I’ve been here before and know it can happen. My intention is to go to his office on Monday and tell him of my time at the convention and this intense revelation about a new path, and my intention to pursue it. Reading between the lines, he may realize it’s best to get behind me on it as soon as possible. If there is no urgency to move me into that position, then I may have to ready my resume, not something I entirely want to do. I keep going back to that moment in When Harry Met Sally, where *spoiler* Harry finally realizes he wants to be with Sally and says,

“…when you realize you want to spend the rest of your life
with somebody, you want the rest of your life to start as soon as possible.”

But in the meantime, I’ve joined UX groups and meetups, looked into UX and design conventions later in the year, and am single-minded in hot pursuit. I’m coming for you, future. Ready or not.

Choices, Doll

 

Remember this song? I recall the first time I saw the video and really listened to the lyrics, I thought the disco birth control pill pack was cheeky-genius. Then I forgot about it for like, 10 years.

Recently at my new job, I sussed out the office and consulted with the boss about earphones. As the new guy, it can be a hard line between being shy or just straight up unfriendly. He gave me the green light though, so I plugged in and fired up Spotify. Every day, just to keep it interesting, I hit “Browse” and then select one of their playlists, which change daily. A few days ago, Simple Kind of Life popped up in the list. I smiled at the remembrance of the BC pill light, and then I began to listen to the words again. They ring differently to me now, now that I’m married to a man who always envisioned himself with children of his own, who I’m sure never thought he’d marry a lady six years older than he, who is in the danger zone of childbearing years.

We’ve talked about it a handful of times, the risks, the rewards, the sacrifices, and then we move onto different topics, but in our more private moments, feel a lot more about it than we’ve probably said.

The song came on and I listened. The video, which I can’t watch at work because it’s a blocked website, I vaguely recall as full of motherhood/single girl choice imagery. The wiki about it is intense, especially the bottom section. The director, Sophie Muller, was amazing in the 90s when it came to videos which involved women singers and feminine subject matter; she had laser focus and was scary poignant. But the lyrics that got me, the one that made me tear up at my desk, were these, sung as the bridge of the song:

Now all those simple things
Are simply too complicated for my life
How’d I get so faithful to my freedom?
A selfish kind of life
When all I ever wanted was the simple things
A simple kind of life

It’s true that most of humanity isn’t comfortable with a woman choosing not to have children. When people hear of such a decision, their first impulse is to remind her that she’s not too old and that many women have children well into their 40s and sometimes even 50s. What about adoption? You’ll regret not having them. Who will take care of you when you’re old?

There are many retorts to these items and I’ve probably mentioned most of them to various “interested” parties. The only answer anyone is ever really satisfied with though, is that she’s changed her mind and will go out right now and get pregnant then be the best possible mother ever, indeed beyond criticism or reproach. Because women are nothing if not kind to each other about how we raise our children…

I spoke with someone about this topic, not something I ever do, and they suggested that the sadness felt on both sides of the marriage isn’t so much what’s missing and will be missing but rather, the mourning of an idea. I have friends who are close to 40, some who belligerently want children regardless if they’re with the right partners they think will help raise them, and some who militantly do not want kids. I am far more confident in the second group, at least they are honest about their situations and lives. I think in a lot of ways, I belong to that batch. I never saw myself with children and by the time I found the right man, it was too late to safely have a few (because I wouldn’t want just one).

Dylan and I have so many plans to live in different countries, to travel, to work random jobs, and to experience as much of the globe as we can, together. We know kids barely factor into that let alone factor easily. It’s a choice we’re making, to pursue an adventure of the restless sort. That kind of life feeds us, it’s what we desire maybe more than anything, and we talk about those plans constantly in “when” terms, not “if”. It is the right thing for both of us, we know this beyond a doubt. A selfish kind of life? Maybe… maybe.

Honey, Have You Seen My Wallet?

It was 8:42 am as I laid in bed, engrossed in a New York Times article about being single. The lights were off but the husband was stirring. I resigned myself to not fall back asleep after he left for the day, as I had done more often than not. I had to train myself to be awake earlier than I’d been since October for you see, I start a new job next week that requires I be on site at 8 am. I haven’t willingly seen 8 am… ok, maybe I have never willingly seen it, but I’ve not seen 8 am for free in several months. Unemployment does a lot of things to a body but in my case, its main attack is on my waistline and clock. I am a night owl by nature, but having nowhere to be and nothing to do, I soon found myself awake until 1 or 2 in the morning and asleep until easily 10, sometimes 11 or later, every day. I function better at those hours, I think they are my natural sleep cycle, social criticism notwithstanding.

This morning however, by the time Dylan got up to ready himself for the day, I’d already been awake for an hour. It was that crucial moment of decision-making: Do I try to get another bit of sleep or do I power through and begin training myself for early mornings? I erred on the side of adulthood and reached for my phone. Apartment hunting, light reading, annoying social media, then the New York Times. Soon, Dylan was up and moving. I heard his shoes snatched from their spot on the floor, the clink of his messenger bag clasp, then a perturbed, “hmm.”

Shuffle shuffle clink thud tap. Pause. “Honey, have you seen my wallet?”

I sleepily looked up. “No…where are your pants?” He pointed and said he’d already looked. I asked if he looked in his jacket pocket. It should be noted, I knew where his wallet was. At least, I had a good idea. We live in a studio apartment, there is literally no way to lose things unless they are stuffed into random purses, pockets, or have fallen behind a piece of furniture. His wallet was most likely on the bureau that houses our TV and linens. I waited. He said, “ah!” and held it up. I nodded and laid back down. He kissed me goodbye, ruffled sleepy Fred’s ears, and left. I resentfully threw the blanket off of me and got up to put some hot water on for coffee.

The New York Times article I was reading was about owning your singleness when you’re unattached, but how even in the quietest moments of even the most fabulous single person, loneliness can sometimes take over. I remember that feeling very well from my own single days, indeed. I recall a very particular moment at my local salon (best cheap and fast eyebrow wax in the city) when I laid down on the appropriated massage table, the sweet Mexican stylist leaned over me and gently brushed the hair away from her work surface. Suddenly, a wave came over me that wanted to ask her to do it again. I realized that I hadn’t been touched by another person in an intimate, sweet way in so long that I hungered for it and didn’t even know it. I will never forget the feeling of that sweep of her hand, it was motherly and kind, even if it was just part of her job. It was so lovely in that moment in fact, that I do not recall the hot wax and ripping hair that quickly followed. Just the sensation of a light but intentional touch.

I don’t remember where I was in life, why I was so alone, but I have very little doubt that it was mostly due to decisions of my own making. It took me a long time to realize that the majority of situations in which I find myself are – shock of all shocks – my own damn fault. Remaining single was, in some way, a sort of penance for the bad choices that lead up to single status in the first place. For the most part, I loved it. Total freedom, no critique, no obligation, go anywhere and do anything. Except for the most part, what I found I did more often than not, was drink a little too much or often, and wonder why I wasn’t invited to hang out with friends who I knew were all together without me (these are not mutually inclusive, but it was the hint of a well of loneliness I hadn’t fully known). It was when I began to scowl at loving couples on the CTA that I knew I was hitting a critical point.

So why is it now then, after settling down and living happily with a man I love, that I find myself missing a bit of that lonesome feeling? Maybe there was dignity in it, somehow. These days, I find myself saying, “we” much more than “I” in casual conversation about goods and plans, and I wonder if it’s as annoying to others as it sometimes is to me. I love being married, I wouldn’t trade it for a single hot second, but there is a certain amount of nostalgia for the do-whatever of those days. It’s impossible not to become a “we” since most decisions are made in tandem now, in spite of the deep need to somehow remain independent. But something kind of wonderful happens in the union, too. When I’m having a stir crazy day and feel like I’m going to jump out of my skin from being cooped up, he takes me for a beer or three (possibly the most effective pacifier). He does the dishes a few days in a row. He walks the dog an additional shift so I can stay inside and warm. And in exchange, I vacuum, gather the laundry together before we have to go do it, make sure the bills are paid on time, and what the calendar has coming. We work around each other well, and if he needs a hug or I need my hair brushed out of my face, we’re on it. We’re figuring it out, there is no room or need for loneliness now. In short, I know where his wallet is.

Lollygaggers!

I’ve come to a harsh realization: I am a slacker.

I am lazy, I nap whenever possible, and if I had my druthers I wouldn’t work manual labor (or much other kind) for the rest of my days.

There, I said it.

Now, this is not to say that I have no purpose in life. No, no, not true. Nor am I some kind of bacchanalian hedonist who only enjoys the good things. My pleasures, my purposes, are simple. Not paychecks or moving up a corporate ladder, these are not my dreams. I crave amazing foods, new places to explore, new experiences and conversations, new environments and people to talk to which also means sadness upon leaving, disappointment when something doesn’t shake out quite right, and the inevitable happy upswing when they do. These desires do not lend themselves well to a structured, habitual, 8-5 environment and if I’m honest, I always knew this about myself even from a very young age. Those job placements we take from time to time confirmed it; all the jobs I seemed to fit were not standard hour gigs: Teachers, scientists, lawyers, psychologists… those were the career suggestions they gave me. Not stockbroker or even homemaker (though in my more honest, domestic moments, I admit that I love keeping house when I have a house of my own to keep), but rather, positions that did not require a clock-punch. In fact, some of my most despised positions have been policed by clock-watchers, but I’ve said all that before.

So now that I’m back on the job hunt, I’ve felt a bit aimless about it. The idea of another 8-5 M-F thing was rubbing me the wrong way as I applied to one employer after another. Graphic design didn’t feel like the right move, even though it’s all I’ve known for a while. Social media marketing is still in its infancy and is hard to break into without a marketing degree (as useless as that is, anyway) and is largely still falling into the category of “sales”, which is unfair in some respects and grossly inaccurate in others. Regardless, I submitted some resumes to the food service industry because I’m comfortable there, it’s a language I speak fluently and an environment I find myself missing quite a bit from time to time. I can’t exactly wait tables or bartend anymore thanks to the herniated disc of ’14, but one surefire way to get back in, is administrative work through the front office. I keep trying, I keep waiting. While technically this would fall into the Regular Joe working hours thing, it would also allow for evenings, weekends, and special events tweeting, Instagramming, and marketing. These things appeal to me… at least, I say that now.

Two nights ago, we were having raclette with some friends of ours (it’s like horizontal fondue) and got to talking about Dylan’s school schedule and post-school prospects, and my job search  – which I might add, is probably one of the most boring conversations a person can have – when the wife of the couple mentioned transcription work. She had a friend who was a new mom and looking to stay occupied while making some money at home, and she started doing professional transcription for medical, industrial, scholastic, whatever. Basically, as best I understand it, the transcriber listens to dictated recordings someone makes and then types it all out, ergo, transcript. It requires fast WPM (86+ last test I took, thank you), a firm grasp of the English language, and good copywriting skills. Helllooooo!

I started to think: maybe the reason I’m feeling so restless about my prospects is because we’re hoping to move to warmer climes in a year or less if we can swing it. I don’t want to seek and start a dream job then quit if that’s to be the case, I really just need to make a paycheck to put towards that move. I do hate a daily commute, even if it’s wonderful for my book intake, and depending on Dylan’s prospects, he may need the car anyway, not to mention the money we’d save on public transit costs for one of us. Perhaps working from home is the best way to go, here. I loved that about freelancing, and it’s something I hope to be able to do no matter what I wind up with in the future. God willing, there’s a home office in it for me one day. So today I take several tests for several transcription placement websites, then I wait.

I have an interview in a few weeks for a marketing level II position, I need to do some research to see what I can bring to that party. Glassdoor tells me that the employer is good to work for and provides great benefits and pay, so that’s encouraging, but that they centralize all decisions and therefore it takes a long time to hire/fire/get anything done (they set the interview up for 30 days from initial conversation about a month after I applied, for example). That is a con, admittedly. Still, it’s good to have options and there is something to be said for leaving the house.

If the working-from-home thing becomes my particular normal, I would have to commit to a routine of not staying in pajamas until 3, and ideally not have to clear last night’s dishes off the table prior to going to work. I would need a designated space, which in a studio apartment is freaking impossible. These are speedbumps. Coffee shops aren’t options, too much ambient noise, and it’s an awful lot of typing so the library is a dicey prospect as well. Plus, it would have to start after Dylan is out of the house at work because the absent-minded throat-clearing and the talking to the dog… love ’em both but that can’t fly when I’m quite literally hanging on every word of the stranger on the other end of the earphones. These are speedbumps but not unworkable. There are even hourly rental office spaces nearby, though those may not be cost-effective in the longer run.

So there you have it. The slacker’s not-so-slacker version of a job search. If you have the ability to hoist out of bed every morning and post up at a desk for eight hours, God speed. We need people like you, you make the world go around at least in part, but not everyone is stitched from that fabric and that is ok. I’m grasping that and trying not to feel badly about it since the traditional world would say otherwise, along with better eating, more movement, and a general face towards a freaking exciting future. 2016… show me what you got!

The Graduate, graduates

Have you seen The Graduate? It is, in my humble opinion, one of the best movies ever made in the history of all cinema. Mike Nichols is a cinematic genius whose shots, tracking, and style have been copied dozens of times over by those who came after. The writing, the acting, all of it. Brilliant.

When I was in college, junior college more accurately, I wrote four papers on this film for four different classes, on four separate topics. One was a film class, one was a color theory class, and I forget the other two. Anyway, I got a lot of material out of The Graduate and still find it simply fantastic to this very day.

This day, incidentally, is about 19 years after I wrote the last paper on the subject. When I was in college, I was about the age of Dustin Hoffman’s main character Benjamin is in the film. Ben is a recent graduate (hence) and is full of confusion, anxiety, and alienation from his parents’ world, and just generally a mess full of ennui. Much like all of us at 19, 20, 21 years old, I think. He strikes up a…relationship of sorts… with Mrs Robinson (deftly played by a gorgeous and great hair-having Anne Bancroft), who is 20 years his senior, married, and quite determined to have a sexual relationship with Ben, like it or not.

He’s awkward, confused, and conflicted over the affair while Mrs Robinson is (at first) confident, demanding, and cocksure about it. She instructs Benjamin on every move from the first hotel reservation to staying when he wants to leave. She is wise and manipulative, and plays him like a fiddle. He falls for every single move because she is literally, for better or worse, the only direction he has in his life until – dum dum dum – Ben begins to take a forbidden interest in Mrs Robinson’s daughter Elaine. This changes everything, reflected in the tone and color of the movie itself.

When I was 20, I understood Ben completely. He was all over the place with very little direction and in total disconnect from the environment he grew up in and feels hopelessly propelled into. Today, at 40, it strikes me slightly horrible that I can now relate to Mrs Robinson more than Ben. Ben is a bumbling trainwreck who needs near constant coaching, while Mrs Robinson is confident and goes after what she wants with little regard because she’s going to get it one way or another (and if anything, finds his insecurity something of a ball of twine to be batted).

This is not a good thing, mind you. Ultimately, it all unravels and things go quite wrong. We get a different view of Mrs Robinson and let me say that relating to her isn’t good on any level. But simply speaking, the age I am now brings some insight to the whole operation. I don’t know, that probably sounds ugly and ridiculous but there you have it.

The very end of the movie is a masterpiece of confusing non-ending, but the filming of it is expert and darkly hilarious.

grandpa

In other news, the stocking stuffers are wrapped and everything else is getting the same treatment tomorrow while I stay in pj’s most of the day, drink wine, and watch the last few Christmas movies I have left in reserve. Once again, Christmas creeps up while feeling absolutely nothing like Christmas. It’s 60 degrees in Chicago tonight, with howling wind and absolutely zero chance of snow for the next 10 days.

If I don’t check in, Merry Christmas to all. Pour yourself a drink, enjoy whatever family you choose to surround yourselves with (even if that family is a pet or a giant pile of blankets). Cheers, friends.

fred presents

The Art of Gifting

Ahh ’tis the season… the season for thinking you had way more money socked away for Christmas than you actually do, the season for a vacation you planned back in August when the idea of a single income and limited funds was far from your mind (oops), and the time for reflection of how it is you got to precisely where you are today. Sometimes it’s wonderful, sometimes it’s something we’d rather shove into and lock in a trunk.

I come from a line of people (ok…women) who are list-makers. This counts for all manner of life items such as groceries, to-do, phone contacts (my mom still keeps a hand-written personal phone book), and Christmas lists. Over time, the latter has evolved into blessed Amazon and that has made our lives so much easier. I’ll get to that in a minute.

It’s taken a while to catch on, the Amazon list. A few years ago, we had to explain to mom that no, you don’t print it out and go shopping with it (there were quite a few repeat gifts that year) and this year, it was the glory of the Add to List button. Unfortunately, one sister apparently didn’t get that email and instead on her wish list are a bunch of non-hyperlinked URLs without description, price, or quantity. Sigh.

Each person who has come and gone from our family Christmas traditions has at some point or another marveled at the efficiency of the lists. Some treasure them, for you know exactly what the person wants! You know how much it is! You can have it delivered to your house for free! And others… well… ignore them completely.

This brings us to my PSA for life: Gift giving is not about the giver. Simple, right? I have a friend who is strictly list and I have a friend who is 99% completely list-averse. It’s become comical over the years how the buzz among friends is all about Amazon while this one friend remains silent. When the lists are finally complete and URLs passed around, her song rings out, “Oh, I have you taken care of already”, which is always met with a somewhat loud exhale by the recipient. To the tune of, “what’s the point of making a list if you’re just going to ignore it?” and before you call us ungrateful jerks, let me explain.

It’s wonderful that my friend wants to support the small shops that surround her neighborhood, and that her generosity in giving pushes her past our unofficial individual pre-assigned budgets per person, but as I asked my mom when she reminded me of basically those same points, “what good is a generous spirit if she disregards the recipient?”… It’s not that we put time into lists and man I wish I could get that time back. It’s that my friend gives us the gifts she wants us to have, not the (our type or style) gifts that best suit the giftee. We inevitably feel bad about it because she’s spent good money and each year we discuss how to let her know that her generosity is so appreciated but… and there is no way to say this… we almost never use or wear what she gives us. Is it because she doesn’t know us well enough to buy accurately? I don’t think so, I think it’s because she sees something she likes and that’s about as far as it goes. Sadly, she has mentioned many times previously that she thinks she’s a fantastic gift-giver. She is a wonderful, generous person but there is some misguidance in her giving, to be sure. But what are you supposed to say? Probably nothing, but if it was me I would not want to think that my $35 gifts were being wasted (or given away, or re-gifted, or written about in a blog).

Dylan grew up poor where presents were few but meaningful. And now at this point in life, he has enough and what he doesn’t have, he will eventually buy. I feel the same way. In that spirit, we are going to approach my family about changing the way we gift each other next year. In theory, the adults will trade names and buy for just one person, but still buy gifts for each of the kids. I asked my mom and one sister about it, both agreed it was time but my other sister is a wild card. I brought it up years ago to her and she refused, saying she prefers to buy for everyone. Time has passed, others have mentioned it, and it seems like it might actually happen next year.

This keeps things a little more financially “fair” since we’re all in very different positions, but it also takes the focus out of buying buying buying just so something is given. Dylan’s been particularly irate about the spending because it’s just what you do and I get that. I don’t think I’ve ever seen it before now, but that’s what our adult Christmas has kind of been. There are some meaningful, thoughtful presents in there too but if I’m honest, that can be a byproduct. Mom will always buy for everyone but that’s because she’s mom. And she sticks to a strict per-person budget, which admittedly, does sort of suck the fun out of it in some ways and puts it more into a checked box event. Rarely on Christmas morning do people watch the others to see what they get, it wasn’t until my sisters had kids that we did that. It was just kind of… fun and compulsory. Much, I suppose, like the present-buying itself.

Anyway, that makes Dylan very hard to buy for. Partly because he won’t tell anyone what he wants and partly because he’s not a collector of things for things’ sake (funny enough, my mom is the exact same way). He and I are doing stockings and I’m going to fill his with meats, cheeses, mustards, and treats from World Market because they are amazing there, I got him a gift card for something, and I’m going to reload his time at a really cool gaming place here in town called Ignite. Mostly, it’s not stuff. It’s time. Time spent on hobbies and ways he enjoys his quieter moments. It’s the only way I know how to give to him without him feeling resentful or uncomfortable about receiving. He says he has my present somewhere here in our apartment already and I’m not to go looking for it, but we never agreed on a budget nor did I give him any ideas so hopefully whatever it is doesn’t put mine to shame. Hmm, apparently you can’t really escape the twinge of obligation, it would seem.

So now that that’s off my chest and out of the way (see? I too gave you a present I wanted you to have but that you didn’t want. Haa haa!) I will take a look outside at the second snowfall of the season, tap this snoring dog at my feet, make myself a Tom & Jerry, and settle in to some Great British Bake Off. Have a lovely evening, friends. And if I don’t talk to you soon, Merry Christmas!

Happy…Birthday… to… Me….?

We’re about to go to a birthday party. Specifically, a 40th birthday pot luck. The birthday girl has requested 40 of her favorite foods, from “church punch” (that awesome orange, green, or red Sherbet-and-50/50 combo some of us grew up with) and popcorn to bacon, coconut cake, and all points between. Dylan and I are taking Chinese roasted pork belly, which we’re getting quite good at making, if I do say.  Last I saw, there are 79 people coming to this party. I don’t have 79 people I would want in with me in a room, not even for 40 of my favorite foods.

I talked to the birthday girl yesterday and told her that I too am coming up on the same milestone birthday and that we had it in common. Her eyes grew wide and she asked if I would really be turning 40 and when I said yes, she told me to shut up and get out. I am blessed I suppose, with good genes from my mom’s side. She looks 20 years younger than she is, and apparently I’m working on somewhere around 8-10. I attribute this youthful glow to marrying late, having no children, and wearing Han Solo t-shirts from time to time. Anyway, she said, “Ooh girl you better do something big!” and I smiled and shrugged. I don’t think that’ll happen, but I didn’t say that.

Last weekend, my best friend celebrated her 39th birthday in her true fashion which is to say, with about five different events. Finances was my main reason for attending only one, but if I’m very honest about it I will tell you that I have never been one for going crazy on anyone’s birthday. I like one, maybe two celebrations and it always happens that my day falls near a Bears game so it’s usually just getting everyone together to watch it at a bar or wherever, and celebrate in that way. The actual day itself totally depends on who’s up for what, and who’s doing the planning. This is where it gets a little difficult for me to explain my feelings here, but I will try.

After a certain point, birthdays are just days. I don’t need presents, I don’t need balloons or surprises or trips or anything big. Yet I look around at people who start talking about their birthday plans months in advance who ultimately manage to get like, 50 people out for the occasion and I think, I don’t get that many bodies… Not that I want that many, blah blah. So, if I want a lot of interest and a big turnout, does that mean I have to a) plan it myself or b) bombard everyone with it six weeks ahead of time? Both of those things are insanely irritating to all involved. And really, having a December birthday has been the suck for many years in a row. It either snows, ice storms, freezes, or everyone has Christmas parties to attend (let alone does not have money to spare for yet another event). I guess you could say that after the last decade or two of bumps in the road, I’ve lost hope of a blow out.

I’ve never had a surprise party and I’m not going to lie and tell you I never wanted one, but I am hard to surprise. I have bad luck historically with the men in my life who aren’t big birthday people (unless it came to their own, except for Dylan, those are sad stories for another day) and thus, don’t make a big deal about anyone’s (read: my) birthdays either. I also don’t want to make people think I expect them to spend a lot on me, something I become acutely aware of when friends have multiple, big-ticket-item parties.

This means my expectations and hopes have to sink pretty far to the floor in order not to be let down. This year, the Bears game is happening the day before the day itself, and the next day Dylan and I are going to get a messy seafood dinner at a place called The Angry Crab, just the two of us. It opens early and packs out, so we have to get there before anyone is off work, really. So we’ll be done eating by like, 6? Then what? I doubt he has anything planned and it’s on a Monday. Who’s going to want to do something given that restriction? Especially since the people I would want to hang out with, I’ll see the day before anyway. So does that mean that the night of my 40th birthday will be spent on the couch with the dog in my lap and my legs across Dylan’s? Very possibly. This is not a bad thing, I should not be disappointed for I am a very lucky lady in a lot of the most important ways. However, that dog/laps scenario is standard about five nights a week in our home. In my heart of hearts, I do want to do something special…I just don’t want to ask for it.

It looms large for me… it’s 40. Isn’t that a big deal? Shouldn’t someone in my life want to do something bigger with it? I mean, we are taking a trip to Tucson the following weekend but that’s more recon and an introduction to the desert for Dylan than a birthday trip for me. Should I want a surprise party or a giant 78-person pot luck? I don’t know, part of me does and that feeling is hard to put into words without sounding whiney, needy, and desperate for a party.

And there it is. Sometimes it amazes me how much feelings don’t change from junior high to old age.

Edit, 11/10/15
I realized the other night why this doesn’t matter to me, even when the corner of my brain is forcing it to. I’ve had a huge year. No bigger year has ever existed. I don’t need a monumental birthday party, I may never need one again. Ok, maybe 50 is worth throwing some confetti at, but honestly from here on, I will be content to see the friends I love best in a small, casual setting. That’s all I require in my life. And it feels good to come to that realization.