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ripsAfter getting a few hours of writing done after work, Ben and I walked up the street and returned to our apartment with a few deli wraps and a bottle of wine.

We then spent the night watching mixed martial arts fights on TV, toasting to various things, and envisioning how the next few months of our lives are going to unfold. Now that we will both work from the home, how are things going to change?It was quickly decided (after two glasses of wine) that as far as our growing home office was concerned, Ripley would be named Chief Executive Officer. It was also quickly decided that Rips would look really, really cute in a tie.

I thought it would be a good idea to install a water cooler in the living room so that we could take breaks and talk about the latest episode of Dancing with the Stars. We both agreed that any emails we sent to each other would now be referred to as “office-wide memos.”  

Ben also suggested that we instate a company policy prohibiting interoffice relationships in order to promote professionalism, but Ripley and I quickly struck it down. After three glasses of wine, we decided that instead of “dress-down Fridays” we’d have “drunk Fridays” – you know, just to keep everyone comfortable and to keep company morale up.

The list of things that our office wouldn’t have was highly encouraging, though. No more commutes, no more bagged lunches. No more dress code, no more dour 15-minute birthday celebrations. More importantly, no more spreadsheets (or, at least, very few), no more working on projects I don’t choose, no more phone addict cube mate.

I know that the challenges ahead of me are hard, but at least they’ll be my challenges. And even though my new boss demands to be fed twice a day and makes me clean up her poop, at least she doesn’t have the ability to talk. Or use emoticons.

Ever since I made a big decision about my job/life (to be disclosed in further detail in the coming terrifying weeks), my crippling insomnia has returned and made itself at home.

I have what I refer to in my head as “Type II Insomnia.” This means that I have absolutely no trouble falling asleep at all but that I wake up at 3 or 4 in the morning and that’s it. Sleep is over for the night. Tossing and turning is acceptable. Getting up and doing something is acceptable. Dozing or snoozing is not.

But here’s the thing: I kind of like it. It feels like… every night feels like the night before Christmas when I was a kid. My mind is simply too excited about things to sleep. The last time I had chronic insomnia was for the two years I was in graduate school – doing what I loved and constantly thinking about what I would do next. And now I have it again. It’s as if it pops back into my life whenever I’m actually thinking about possibilities and acting on them.

If you were really a fan of terrible metaphors, you could say that while I’ve been in this office job, I’ve slept well through the night, but what I didn’t realize that I’ve also been sleep-walking through my days.

And so I lie in bed and have these intense thoughts about all the awesome plans I have and how I will execute the beginnings of them the next day. I write stuff in my head and file it away, where I can access it surprisingly intact sentence by sentence the next day (including this blog post)(including these parentheses!). If I get bored, I hug up on Ben and tell him embarrassingly corny things – and he’s helplessly unconscious and unable to prevent me from doing it.

The bad part isn’t being up at night at all – it’s the part where I have to go to work in the morning and function. I’m doing pretty well so far, but if this continues for many more weeks, we might have a problem on our hands. I might spend all my energy planning stuff at night and be exhausted during the day. Already, after just a few night of sleeplessness, I’m falling asleep earlier and earlier (I didn’t make it to 10 p.m. last night) and waking up earlier and earlier (last night it was two in the morning).

I suppose I can get out my dusty bottle of Simply Sleep (insomniacs everywhere: this is my favorite product ever) and get things back on track. But the point is that, in some sort of strange backwards way, my insomnia is proving to me that I’ve made the right choice. My brain has been jolted awake and is poised at the starting line. Even if  I am scared and hesitant during the day, at night a calmer, more organized part of me is diligently and methodically preparing itself for what is to come.  

After an almost week-long absence, my annoying cubemate is back in full force. It seems even worse this morning because I think I lost some of the tolerance I had built up for her while she was gone. It feels like rolling around in the snow naked after being in a hot tub as opposed to simply rolling around in the snow naked.

The problem is that she talks on the phone ALL DAY – she literally picks up the phone and dials someone before she sits down in the morning. She doesn’t get coffee or turn her computer on first, she is on that phone like it is crack and she is a crack addict. A crack addict who also loves talking on the phone.

Mostly, when she is not on the phone treating her fiancé like he is a toddler incapable of the simplest tasks or understanding of the most basic emotions, she is talking to her girlfriends about how fuuuuun things are and how cooooool and aweeeesoooooome things sound. She is also getting married soon, and the incessant wedding talk somehow permeates even my loudest and most rocking iPod defensive strategies.

Her second favorite topic, aside from the minutiae of her lame Valentine’s Day wedding, is how much work she has to do. It makes me wonder how much she could theoretically get done if she, I don’t know, hung up and worked on a project or two. We may perhaps never know.

And it isn’t just me that’s bothered. The only other two people in her vicinity have already written me emails this morning with similarly hopeless-yet-caustic comments about the deterioration of the quality of our workspaces.

This morning in particular, I am overwhelmed with an idea I had in which I would spend the whole day on the phone myself, not hanging up between calls but merely tapping the receiver in between dials. I would talk to everyone I knew, telling them how much fuuuuuuun I was having and how aweeeeeesome and cooooool and niiiiiiiice their weekend plans sounded. I would hold the mirror up to her face, and she could partake of her ugly, ceaselessly chatty reflection!

The calls would get more and more obviously annoying, as I said things like, “Ohmygawd I just have so much work to do – sometimes it feels as if I don’t even work at work, but merely regurgitate the cloying details of my 30-something social life! Details that often only consist of drinking a responsible amount of white wine and being nitpicky about my fiancé!”

Or, when I started feeling especially evil, “You know what’s a really interesting topic to talk about exhaustively? My cubemate’s totally clichéd Valentine’s Day wedding! Let me tell you more about the flower-ordering process in such a drawn-out manner that you will get nauseous the next time you even smell flowers.”

And I would go on and on, all day, until my cubemate got the message that maybe – just maybe – it was neither aweeeeeeesome or cooooooooool to ruin everyone else’s work environment.

Or maybe I should just get some work done. Talk to you laaaaaaaaaaater, sweeeetie!

I was hired for a nice freelance job by a new client this morning, which always, always feels good. I haven’t had work from new people in a couple of months, so even though this is just a web page content job, and even though the project is due the day after Christmas (!), I couldn’t be happier. It’s a new contact and a new future writing sample and a new little notch for my belt.  

Sure, I won’t be able to go crazy at the company holiday party this afternoon, as everyone was probably hoping, but it will be one more nice check to deposit into my Escape from New York savings account.

Speaking of freelancing, it’s now been almost exactly a year since I started looking for writing jobs outside of my crappy office job. Including this new project, which I’m fitting in right before the year-end bell, I’ll have completed 29 separate writing assignments for a profit of just over half of what I make annually as a company drone (before taxes). And every single penny of my freelance money has been nestled safely away. I think that translates to my being half-way to my goal of getting out of this skyscraper and into a pickup truck.

This is all so hard 99% percent of the time, and Ben and I have been so stressed and fatigued and a little hopeless lately, but moments like these are enough to keep me moving forward.

I’ve heard a lot about how you shouldn’t take your game face off at the company Christmas party. You should act just as professional as you would inside of the office – remember: you are still surrounded by your coworkers, managers, and executives! Don’t drink too much wine, don’t take gross advantage of the buffet, and don’t giggle too much when someone tries to talk to you about a project! People will remember how you acted come Monday morning!

Well, I think it might be time for some different advice – advice for the people earning under $30,000 a year and with no company prospects. People like me. Personally, I see the holiday party as my one annual chance to eat and drink money away from my company – money that they are so stingy with when it comes to my paycheck. Sure, I might make $11 an hour – but you should see how many dollars worth of steak I can eat in an hour. Or how many $11 glasses of wine I can drink. I might not be very good at many things, but I am an expert passive-aggressive eater.

My own company holiday party is tomorrow afternoon. It’s one of those always-fun mandatory parties where you can either attend or stay at work and log hours, which I find always puts everyone in a festive mood. The mailroom people are never invited, and we’re never supposed to say anything about it. There will be a lunch buffet, and open bar, and a lot of forced smiling.

I’m especially mad because today I tried to mail a personal letter (a cable bill) at work and got called out for it in a company-wide email MARKED WITH A RED EXCLAMATION POINT! They really know how to push my buttons. They didn’t know who tried to do it and they are holding my cable bill hostage until I come forward and get a scarlet M pinned to my chest (The M in this case, would stand for Mailing personal letters at work). All for a 40 cent stamp!

I mean, they’re acting like not every single person here has mailed personal letters and packages from work. And if they think I’m going to come forward and confess just so that I can reclaim my unsent letter, they are so, so wrong. I’d rather wait for the next bill and pay a late fee. Instead, I’m going to go out of my way to eat an extra 40 cents of food tomorrow, even after I’m full.

Here’s the main point: you don’t have to act like you’re at work at your company holiday party. You don’t have to talk about work (it wastes precious time you could be chewing). Don’t hesitate to sample every dessert, maybe even without using the provided utensils. Giggle when the president pronounces Hanukah as if he were Jewish and also deaf and congested. Giggle loud – he should really know better. Most importantly, leave early.

I’ll let you know how things go tomorrow.

I have trouble with exclamation points in general – they’re very useful, but they lose their effectiveness if you break them out too often. This rule is doubly true for the Microsoft Outlook red exclamation point – the little symbol you can put next to the subject of your email that stands for urgency or high importance. My new boss has trouble with this concept to the point where I am not sure if she knows where the period is located on the keyboard or realizes that not all of her emails are highly important.

If you use the high importance red exclamation mark, say, twice a month, I’m going to understand the special pressing and critical nature of your request and treat the email accordingly. If you use it every single time you send me anything it’s going to start meaning less and less to me. In fact, I just might go to lunch before even opening your email in some sort of attempt to teach you a lesson.

What you’re telling me, with your dozens of red exclamation point emails, is that you think that everything you need is way more important than anything else I need to do for other people. It’s like cutting in line for no reason. I hate it so, so much.

In order to curb red exclamation point use, I have written a short two-example guide to help everyone understand when its usage is appropriate.

Inappropriate Usage

Subject: Book Order (!)

Hi Sarah!!!

Could you order the below books for me?? 🙂

Thanks!!! 🙂

Appropriate Usage

Subject: Book Order (!)

Hi Sarah!!!

Could you order the below books for me?? 🙂

Also, I am badly wounded and can’t stop the blood flow!!! 😥 I am typing this to you with the remainder of my strength. If you could call an ambulance or fashion a makeshift tourniquet for me out of office supplies, that would be great!!! Please hurry!!!

Thanks!!! 🙂

There should be a special word for the feeling one feels upon getting a “nice rejection.” It’s kind of like a combination of the back-handed compliment (I love that skirt – I barely notice your hammish thighs!) and the it’s-not-you-it’s-me breakup (I want to focus on my career. In fact, I want to focus on anything that isn’t your hammish thighs.). It’s like being on the waiting list when I was looking at colleges (We’d love for you to join us, if a certain number of people we’d love to join us more than you decide to go to better universities).

I say this, of course, because I got a kind rejection in the mail yesterday – this time from Meridian, a mid-level lit magazine. It’s hand-written and signed by the editor, which is good. However, it is a rejection, which is bad. It says, and I quote, “I regret the delayed response. I was trying hard to find a place for this in our magazine, but it hasn’t worked out. Please try us again. Best of luck.”

Granted, these always make you feel better than the dozens and dozens of blank photocopied mass-mailed business-card-sized rejections, which make me picture the magazine’s submissions readers reciting sentences from my piece out loud and laughing at how outrageously bad it is. However, can’t they think of a lamer excuse than, “I couldn’t find a place for it in the magazine”? How about on a series of blank pages? Why not just tell me that you think we’d make better friends and should take a break from one another?

It always makes my heart feel… something confusing: they almost wanted me. They almost did, but they didn’t. Le sigh.

I got it – it’s the same exact feeling when you get picked not exactly last for a team sport in gym class – let’s say basketball. Sure, it feels bad to stand there for so long while the girl with the glasses gets picked, followed by the girl with the skin thing, followed by the girl who wets herself. But then you hear your name right before the very last girl is picked and run to join your team, giving them high-fives one after another, thanking god that they built that wheelchair ramp to the gym so that Margaret could participate.

mighty mouseNow, I don’t want to get into a big pissing contest with anyone about whose job makes them feel the most worthless. But I do want to say this: I spent the morning frantically tracking down two adult size full-body Mighty Mouse costumes for my boss.

Have you ever had to explain to a complete stranger that you don’t have a superhero/rodent fetish? Well, I’m getting paid approximately $11 an hour (after taxes) to do so.

Me: Hi, I’m looking to rent two adult size full-body Mighty Mouse costumes. I have neither a rodent nor superhero fetish. It’s for a sales meeting.

Costume Shop Lady: A sales meeting?

Me: More specifically, it’s for a sales meeting I didn’t plan. They always have silly themes. No weird fetishes here.

Costume Shop Lady: Yes, we have one available – it includes the head, hands, cape, and spandex.

Me: I actually need two. I need Mighty MICE. And I swear to you on everything holy that the second one isn’t for my significant other. We just like holding hands and watching movies.

Costume Shop Lady: We only have one. Why in the world would we have two adult size full-body Mighty Mouse costumes??

Me: Why would you even have ONE?? Freaks!!!

It doesn’t help that this task was given to me by my new boss – the one prone to marking all emails with the high-important red exclamation point regardless of their importance level. Here’s a timeless and fool-proof business tip for managers and bosses: if you have a new assistant and are trying to make her feel welcomed, useful, and like a human being with real hopes and dreams, do not ask her to track down two adult size full-body Mighty Mouse costumes. Or any sort of other costume. For at least a couple of weeks.

Well, I have to go now and make some more important business calls and try to talk over the laughter of my cube mate while I ask questions like, “Is the spandex one size fits all?” and “What are the mouse hands made out of?” and “Didn’t I already explain that I’m not into weird mouse stuff?”

There was an article by Benedict Carey in the New York Times a couple of days ago about perfectionism that got me thinking. The article cited a few recent studies that suggest the dangers of extreme perfectionism on your mental health – striving too hard to succeed at everything can lead to stress, depression, and even obsessive-compulsive disorder, substance abuse issues, and eating disorders.

In one awesome-sounding study, participants were asked to “slack off” at work – doing only what was required of them (not staying late, not putting huge amount of time into projects, etc.). To their surprise, their lower amounts of effort didn’t lead to losing their job or any other related unhappiness.

On one hand, I embrace this article. Slacking off at work is one of the things in my life that I am trying to, for the lack of a better word, perfect. I don’t come in early or leave late. I don’t think about work issues outside of the office, I don’t go the extra mile. And it was hard to get to the point in slacking that I have reached – naturally, I want to do a good job and be better at what I do than anyone else. I didn’t realize that it would be a waste of my energy and time to excel at being a office monkey.

But on the other hand, I don’t care about my work. It isn’t essential to my happiness. On the contrary, work is something that it is essential for me not to worry about in order to be happy. I do care about other aspects of my life – let’s say having a strong relationship with my boyfriend, friends and family, taking care of myself, writing. And this is where the difference lies: while it’s vital to not strive to be perfect at everything, I find it just as vital to my self-worth and self-confidence to strive to be perfect at the few passions in my life.

The danger in the article, I think, is that most people think that they are perfectionists. As often as I hear, “I’m such a perfectionist!” I rarely hear, “I’m a half-assed kind of person. I can’t stop myself from doing a shoddy, slap-dash job!” Sure, there is a small minority of people who struggle with the mental side effects of too much perfectionism, but most of us, including me, are displaying normal and healthy amounts of striving. Let’s hope no one is getting the simple message of “I should slack off more” from the article when the answer is more complicated than that.

In graduate school, the writers who struggled most were, ironically, the ones who settled. Writers who were happy with the products they created generally didn’t advance – there was no reason to, since they were content with their current skill level. The best writers were the self-critical ones who hated their own words moments after writing them. The people who improved the most were the ones who kept raising the bar on themselves.

Of course, too much perfectionism can be paralyzing for writing as well. It’s one thing to hate the words you’ve just wrote and quite another to hate the words before you’ve written them and then write nothing at all – it can be self-defeating. I think the last sentence of the article explained the issue best: “If you can’t tolerate your worst, at least every once in a while, how true to yourself can you be?” Tolerence is key.

It’s a matter, perhaps, of striving to be perfect while understanding that being perfect is not always a viable goal. I will try to write as well as Nabokov, and I won’t give up, but I also understand that it won’t happen. As some Roman philosopher whom I can’t recall, a bunch of motivational speakers, and Ziggy like to say, “Shoot for the moon – if you miss, you will land among the stars.”  

Like so many things, the middle road looks to be the best. Don’t try to be the best at things you aren’t that passionate about; strive to be the best that you can at the few things in life that matter to you. I know what I’ll be doing over the next weeks and months – trying to get to work exactly 15 minutes late, taking extra bathroom breaks right up to the point before a higher authority notices, cutting corners wherever I can locate corners, and giving exactly 50%. I will be the most perfectly mediocre office assistant the world will have ever seen! Hold on, moon, I’m coming!

You can read the original NYT article here.

We live in dark times. And nothing makes me more convinced of this than the escalating use and growing acceptance of smiley faces in correspondence.

My new boss, who I’ve decided to dislike even though I’ve never met or spoken to her, and who is probably a really nice person who I will never give a chance, can’t seem to send an email without several emoticons beaming out from between her sentences and gluttonous number of exclamation points. U R 2 NICE!!! 🙂 she wrote in her first email to me, making me wonder how I could “B 2 NICE” when I was in fact 2 shocked 4 words.

Sure, I will pardon the stray or well-used emoticon. I will pardon emoticons that are produced by the very young or very old. I will even pardon emoticons in forum responses and short virtual notes. But emoticons are a slippery slope of weird facial expressions, and, like most indulgences in life, they should be used sparingly and thoughtfully.

One day you might find yourself adding a single smiley face to the end of an email in order to cement your tone. But the next day you might, like my new boss, be wholly unable to go three lines in an email without breaking out the super smiley or the winky-smiley, all garnished with splashes of exclamation points and ellipses. It will be mere days before you find yourself replacing words with numbers – like some1 and 2day – and mere days after that before you are a homeless heroin fiend, the kind of person who coughs without covering their mouth or doesn’t put the cap back on the toothpaste.

Is it really that hard to express yourself clearly with actual words? Must we rely on weird yellow hieroglyphs, which are totally so 5,000 years ago? There are lots of words in this language and — surprised emoticon! — many of them express emotion. In fact, words can even be strung together in certain sequences that imply very specific tones and shades of meaning. For example, do I need to put a 😡 here for your to understand how I feel on the subject? Or do you get it?  

To prove my point further, let’s take a look at how a classic author has survived without using emoticons. Would timeless words from the past be even more powerful and moving with emoticons?

Let’s try the opening of A Tale of Two Cities:

“It was the best of times 😀 it was the worst of times 😦 it was the age of wisdom 💡 it was the age of foolishness 😛 it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity 😕 it was the season of Light 😎 it was the season of Darkness 😥 it was the spring of hope 😆 it was the winter of despair 😦 we had everything before us 😀 we had nothing before us  we were all going direct to Heaven 😮 we were all going direct the other way 👿 “

(Hm. I have to admit even I’m a little surprised that there’s an emoticon for “incredulous.”)

 Yes, you could argue that emoticons clarify tone, which is sometimes hard to convey over short business emails. But I still think that the vast majority of the time it’s a crutch that is for the most part repetitive. More than that, though, I think that they are often not used sincerely. Who knows, though, maybe my defense against my new boss should be to honestly use emoticons in my emails. They would look something like this:

 Attached is the spreadsheet you requested. 😐

 Or:

No, U R 2 NICE!!! 🙄