Tuesday, March 3, 2009

When Shall I Pencil In My Next Panic Attack?

I have enough dirty dishes polluting my kitchen sink and counters to feed a small village with the lumpy, warm milk left from days and days of old, abandoned cereal bowls. The cats' litter boxes have turned into land mines with poopy weapons of mass destruction. The deadly clumps of cat sh** make their way around my apartment like parasites on the host tail of my cluelessly smelly long-haired kitten. I have been putting together pathetic outfits, like yesterday when I wore a totally disoriented, just-got-out-of-prison-looking motif: Black dress pants, navy blue sneakers, black and white polka-dotted t-shirt, and a hoodie. My hair has taken on the quality of a wild yeti. With my snarly hair and my flapping woolen coat, I could pass as an extra for Dances With Wolves II with Shia LaBeouf. Yes, frankly, I am in too much of an exhausting mental tailspin to put together a professional and refined personal brand image. So you can just deal with with my baggy jeans and clunky winter boots.

What the eff is my problem, right? I mean, I live in a comfortable Uptown apartment where the only barrier to food and clean water is mustering up the motivation to drag myself down Hennepin to the local grocery store. Well, thing is, I am simply dealing with a common 21st century problem – I have been working in front of computer screens and video monitors nonstop for about five weeks, including evenings, weekends, and nights during my complicated dreams, and I am just not the type of person who can do that for this long without going a little bit Michael Douglas in Falling Down.
The irony in my exhaustion and unhappiness, though, is that I am one of the lucky ones. I am one of the fortunate people who still has a job.

Maybe it is our lazy generation, or perhaps it is from watching too much of The Office, but it seems to me that this stressed out, getting fat, maybe-I'll-figure-out-my-messed-up-life-during-my-week-long-vacation-mentality is not how we human beings are supposed to live. Or maybe you are fine and it is just me who is too much of a light weight. Maybe I am one of those artists who gets easily pushed over on the playground by the Big Bad Blackberry Business Bullies.

I want to escape! I want to hit the pause button and go romp into some kind of magical forest with picnic baskets for eating and clean lazy rivers for swimming. My mental escapism is running rampant and unchecked. Each night as I finally lay my head in my bed around 2 or 3 AM, I fantasize about riding on a ferry boat through misty fog out to an island covered by spooky trees and thick wet sand. I picture myself in the arms of a tall dark-haired man, and all we have packed in our suitcases are old books, drawing supplies, and lingerie. We also have a unicorn tied up in the hold of the ferry boat, and we plan to ride this unicorn through winding paths and over downed dead logs along the water's edge. (Yes, I am thinking of Charlie the Unicorn from YouTube. I like him. He would be nice to have on a vacation.)

Then, before I know it, my alarm goes off, and NPR is an endless skipping record, incessantly pulling me back to the harsh realities of our time, chanting: "Surplus... Unemployment... Economic Downturn... Obama's First 100 Days... Mortgage Crisis... Surplus... Unemployment... Economic Downturn... Obama's First 100 Days... Mortgage Crisis... [LISTEN, YOU PEONS!] SURPLUS!... UNEMPLOYMENT!... ECONOMIC DOWNTURN... OBAMA'S FIRST 100 DAYS... MORTGAGE CRISIS! MORTGAGE CRISIS! MORTGAGE CRISIS!

I hit snooze. Nine minutes (why is snooze always nine minutes?) later the same chant is there at the ready, just in case I have forgotten in my nine minutes of stolen slumber that the economy is in shi**er and the world is tumbling toward unknown doom. I roll out of bed and throw on a robe and slippers, just adding to my already rumpled and defeated appearance. I grab some coffee. I 'make' a bowl of cereal as that seems to be all I eat these days, and I turn on CNN. The bald-headed Market Watch guy is cheerfully talking about, "The best approach to losing your job in these difficult times..."

These times. What the fu** do we think we mean by these times? There is always something miserable lurking in the world. Is it just that because this particular crisis is happening to us, and is affecting the upper crusts' pocket books that we get to give it a tag line and an entire brand image with glitzy, animated TV graphics? Would the citizens of Darfur refer to their nightmarish daily reality as these times? Would they use pathetic phrases like now more than ever? I am so sick of that one.

Now more than ever, we need to think about how we spend our money.
Now more than ever we need to lend a helping hand.
Now more than ever, we need to look at pricing options for vehicles that give us better cash back incentives, get better miles to the gallon, and run off Rainbow Brite stardust so they don't spew out evil carbon emissions.

Last night my friend Sara was part of a benefit for a baby named Jack who was born extremely premature. Many months later, he continues to fight for his life and this benefit was set up to help pay for mounting medical bills. You'll be at the benefit for Jack, right? she asked, and I had to tell her that, no, I would be holed up in an video editing lounge all night doing work. God forbid that I slack on my precious career in order to help out a helpless, premature baby. It's everyone for themselves in this cut throat, could-be-laid off tomorrow society, right?

The problem with this system – The Just Hang On For Dear Life System – well, the problem with it is that it completely and totally sucks. I love my job and I especially feel satisfied with the research I do to help advance medical technology. BUT, there is something about the ever-increasing squeeze of the rusty metal clamp known as the Economic Crisis that keeps us all on the tips of our toes and working to the point of losing sight of what matters.

I was so stressed out last week that I freaked out in my hotel room in the middle of the night. Hyperventilating and ransacking the mini bar for, I don't know, Advil? (or whatever the hell one takes during a panic attack) and the biggest worry I had about this outburst was that I didn't have time for it to take place. What? Here I was, writhing around drenched in panic at all that needed to be done and all that really concerned me was how I was going to suck it up in order to get my research done and make my flight the next day in order to get home and move on to more projects.

I love using myself to illustrate the rampant contradictions we are living with our well-intentioned yet ill-fated goals during these crazy times. If you read my writing, you know that I have no shame in making myself the guinea pig in this experiment called life. Examples of self negotiation while mitigating the stress of everyday survival – I wear a Buddhist necklace and talk about "when I get some time" I will start exploring Zen Buddhist Meditation down the street at the Meditation center. I drive by the YWCA and think longingly about how next month I will have time to get back to the gym. I spend a measly five minutes exploring volunteer websites off Google while mentally noting that in the summer I could spend some time with the elderly. And in terms of my financial giving? Well, I deeply feel for all fundraisers this year and most likely for crappy fundraising years to come, but, hey – don't keep calling me. You know what, Alma Mater? I love you and I am more than happy to continue writing these checks for hundreds of dollars each month to pay for the education you gave me over five years ago. I realize that none of that loan money goes to you, but it comes out of my little pocket. I am sorry to tell you that I am not yet sure how much you get to take from my jealously guarded under-the-mattress money this year, so back off.

"Oh, go take a yoga class, honey," says my friend. Well, actually, yoga, along with organic produce, new clothes, a hair cut, a full night's sleep, and a vacation are all things I cannot currently afford, so, I'll skip your over-priced downward dog, thanks.

Obviously, I am angry. I want my life back. I am confused about whether this is my fault, your fault, or if I am so far down the rabbit hole that I do not even know what 'I, you or them' means anymore. Perhaps you read this and smugly pull back your shoulders in quiet self confidence of your iPhone-defined world. Or perhaps you feel the same desperation and fear wondering, is this it or does it get any better? Either way, if you hear me, whether you are employed, unemployed, getting fat with stress, miserable in your marriage, about to lose your home, or about to lose your mind, I just want you to know, that you are invited.

You are invited to come with me to that misty forested island. We can have a picnic and go swimming in the river. I will even let you ride my unicorn. The ferry departs from the Pacific Northwest coast around 3 PM, Eastern Standard time. See you then.



  1. okay. i'm totally there. i have my fair share of books and drawing supplies and i think i've got a pretty firm handle on the lingerie. just one question...what kind of lingerie did your tall dark haired man pack? i just want to make sure we don't bring the same bra and panty set. that would be embarrassing.

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  3. wtf? my snooze is only 5 min. i feel cheated by my alarm clock now. lol.

  4. i think you would be surprised to find out just how questionable my tastes really are. i'll do my best to leave out anything with built-in fun fur but i make no promises about numbers with sequins or chainmaille.