Clearing a Workspace to Fit My Head Space


To empathize with my last work environment I would ask you to close your eyes. Imagine yourself sitting in a
small apartment at a tiny table in front of a malfunctioning laptop, with deadlines on the horizon. You’re body is dead from the day’s manual labor and tomorrow promises more of the same. Dinner still isn’t made. And to top off all these calming factors, dump in ten children running, screaming, asking questions, and breaking shit. The perfect recipe for getting work done.

Now, was I actually working with young children? No, but some days I was hard pressed to see the difference between my 18-24 year olds and a kindergarten class. The questions ‘What time is lunch?’ and ‘What should I do if I forgot my pants?’ were not uncommon. The most valuable skill I attained last year was the zen-like ability to quiet everything outside and empty a spot in my mind to focus. A good pair of head phones and the occasional eye-twitching glare at passersby helped immensely.

I learned through necessity to accomplish my goals even when stress abounded and everything in my immediate environment served to distract and annoy. Some things just needed to get done.

In stark contrast to that is the situation is the one I have now—oodles of time, peace and quiet, and most importantly no overwhelming deadlines. In theory I should be more productive than ever before.

Instead I have found it almost impossible to accomplish anything. Removed from the obligations of deadlines and dependents, my motivation level is stuck on empty.

Conundrum.

I’ve considered this issue of my unproductivity at home for quite some time and discovered some interesting things about myself.

The first is that I have trouble setting my own deadlines. Even when I wake up in the morning and say okay this is what I’m going to get done today and these are the healthy lifestyle choices I’m going to make, there’s about an 86% chance that I’ll ignore that directive and waste my day with a pint of ice cream and a good book.

The second, which I believe ties heavily into the first, is that I cannot work from home. Everything is just a little too easy, too immediate. My chair is too comfy. Snacks, television, and internet are too readily available. And the biggest issue of all, everything is too familiar. There’s nothing around me to challenge, or inspire me, both of which are necessary elements for me to do work. Or at least get inspired enough to search for it.

Now all this might speak more of an inability to decorate on my part, but not having the energy to master the art of feng shui, I’ve found that a big piece of my success lies in just getting out of the house. To leave the comfort and security of home and just explore. It amazes me the difference this little act has made on my mood alone.

My recent explorations have led me to a café called Diesel in Davis Square, and for me it is a perfect mix of eclectic atmosphere and quirky vibes. It’s also a great place to satisfy my people watching urges.

In my hours spent here, I have felt the inspiration of a writing muse that’s been eluding me for quite some time. She, the muse, and I have done some great work recently. There is something about being in that crowded space, about the energy of people around me living and breathing and moving. It reminds me that I’m alive and must continue to move around too.

I never thought I’d miss the hectic over-crowdedness of my last job, but alas here I am seeking it out to find my inspiration. It is increasingly apparent to me that my physical environment has a profound effect on my mental workspace and hopefully this realization puts me one step closer towards figuring it all out.

READ KATHERINE SHAYE OFTEN? CHECK OUT THESE MONEYLESS ENTERPRISES, REFERENCED IN HER LAST POST, Unemployment.edu

Samara – a yoga studio with a work study program similar to the one from the dance complex that I mentioned last week.
Time Trade Circle  – a community group trying to connect people with varied skills to trade labor for labor based on hours in a ‘time’ bank.

Unemployment.edu


By Katherine Shaye

Time and money.

Those are the two things I am able to trade for the goods and services I’ve come to depend on in my daily life. In some cases, those two forms of payment are interchangeable. Pay for a taxi or wait for the bus. Hire a handy man or fix it yourself. Buy it at the store or craft it at home. Most of us make these decisions everyday based on our current allotment of time vs. money. For me, with my net income dwindling in the negative I am investigating life based solely on time currency. If I have learned anything from unemployment so far, it’s that I have a lot of time on my hands, and I might as well put it to good use.

Something I seem to be running across more and more in my efforts to live my life with minimum expenses are businesses that take money out of the equation. They take direct manpower for their services, allowing people like me, who have a surplus of time, to trade work for all the other things I need/want. Back in Denver, I heard of a restaurant called Café 180 where you can “pay” for lunch by either giving what you can or trading an hour of volunteer work. Here in Boston there is a dance studio where you can trade an hour of
work for an hour of dance class. Then there’s WWOOF or World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms, where people have travelled the world exchanging their labor for a place to stay and some food.

With all these options, I sometimes think I may never need another job. In a way, money is just a way to keep track of previous investments of time. Then again, the convenience and versatility of cash money is not something I could give up lightly.

Another helpful use of time that has benefitted me in the past is volunteering in general. I’ve gained a number of both obscure and sometimes useful skills from offering up my relatively unskilled labor. In high
school, I learned to use a cash register volunteering at the local resale store then later was able to apply to be a cashier in a grocery store. Not big on the scale of life skills but it certainly got me the job over several of my other unskilled colleagues.  Now I am hoping to volunteer some time with either my local library and/ or the nearby Planned Parenthood office with the hopes that my time investment will help me get paid to be in these industries at a later date.

The last and arguably most fun use I have found for my time in unemployment land is learning. In the past week, I have learned how to do laughter yoga, how to make tomato zucchini fritters and how to make chai tea
from scratch. I’ve learned to play telephone Pictionary and seen “The Wire” for the first time. I’ve discovered two new restaurants and a great bookstore in my neighborhood. And I’ve met four new people, two of whom offered to keep an eye out for a job for me.

Now while I can’t be sure that any of these things will lead to a job or help me develop a marketable skill, they do encourage me to continue working on myself while nor otherwise working. I could research skills to gain that would give my resume more of a competitive edge, or look for classes that could help me hone the talents I already have. Either way I’d like to start thinking of my unemployment as a workshop— a time dedicated to self-development, self-discovery, and who knows what else. Hopefully, this change in thinking will help brighten the next few unknown months ahead of me.

A Situation Only a Journalist Could Dream Of Part 1


By Bryan Lawver

I have my first graduate class this week, but before I start talking about grad school, I would like to talk about what I did after finishing my undergraduate classes. Not the relentless job hunt, or the angst, but what I did right after graduating; the not-necessarily-productive part. The “this is just for me” part.

There are a lot of opinions floating around about what to do between undergraduate and graduate school. Some people say that you should get a job, or an internship, or spend time honing your craft – whatever it may be.

I went to Iceland.

The plan felt more like it formed around me, rather than I had an authorial hand in it. It started with a tax return, an unexpected call from a sibling, and a fondness for Icelandic rock music, and in the beginning of May 2010, as my classmates were walking across an auditorium in caps and gowns, I was – along with a friend – boarding a jet owned by Icelandair.

Our timing was fortuitous. A volcano beneath Eyjafjallajokull, a glacier seemingly named by a cat walking across a keyboard, erupted that spring. It covering acres of Iceland in ash, and stranded hundred of international travelers; generally making life even more difficult for a lot of people already living in a particularly forbidding landscape.

Okay, fortuitous might not be the right word. In the end it may have been a bit sociopathic. But that’s how it felt to us. I was a writer, and my companion was a photographer. This would be a great chance for us to cover something momentous, something unique; something that might get noticed. We ran the idea by a professor from our school – who was also a contributor for a local newspaper – who said that he would pass it along to his editor.

And then off we went. If this all sounds rushed and ill-planned, that is simply because it was. We went, despite the myriad of ways that we expressed and explained and excused ourselves to friends and family. We had the idea in our heads and we were determined to have fun.

The first thing I noticed about Iceland was that we were about to crash into it.

At least that’s how it looked. We descended slowly, painfully slowly, through what I assumed to be a layer of clouds. I was looking straight down out the window, waiting to break through so that I could see the island from above and watch our approach. What I saw instead, the instant that we broke through, was the ground just feet below us.

I jumped, not even having enough time to register my own fear, and then realized that what we had been passing through was a thick blanket of fog.

The same sheet of gray cotton lay over the countryside in the cab that we took from the airport to Reykjavik, trying to make small talk with our cab driver. He spoke English, but not well. I was disappointed to realize that I could not use him as a source for my article.

Upon arriving in Reykjavik, I was relieved to find that the man’s unfamiliarity with English was not the norm. Nearly everyone under 50, I was later told, spoke English fluently; and I saw evidence of this everywhere. Signs and menus in English, clerks effortlessly switching languages when they realized that my companion and I suffered the mono-lingual handicap. I thought about the imperialism of English, and what this meant for the culture of Iceland – usually isolated from the world by its physical solitude and the inscrutable mindset that seems to pervade island nations. I asked a lot of Icelanders about this, and no one seemed to care much. There has always been Icelandic music and literature and film, and there always will be, I was told.  Some things are expressed better in Icelandic, and they will continue to be.

Damn, I thought, another dead-end topic.

We trudged on, moving from a hostel to the house of a group of students whom we had agreed to stay with. We bounced along, visiting cafes by day and bars by night, having a good time, but always on the lookout for a good subject, a photo opportunity, a striking detail to open my article.

I probably would have gone on this way, perpetually disappointed, if we hadn’t rented a car and driven into the country.

CHECK BACK NEXT TUESDAY FOR PART TWO!

One Month Anniversary


By Nicole Hosette

September 1st officially marked the end of my first month in Massachusetts. A few days before I left Iowa, I spent a night saying goodbye to one of my best friends. Having followed her fiancé across the country a few years earlier when he joined the Navy, she knew what I would expect. She told me I would probably be miserable for a while, but that after a few weeks, I could fake it. She warned me that it might take a few months for me to be completely comfortable in my new surroundings.

These are things that no one else came out and told me when we made our decision to move. I just assumed that there would be things that I miss about my old home, and that it would take time to adjust. But she was the first and only person who plainly said, “Yeah, it’s going to suck for a while.”

And for the most part, she was right. My parents helped us move out here and spent a day helping us to get settled. The first few days after they left were the worst. I was constantly on the verge of tears and couldn’t force myself to help my boyfriend unpack. I felt that the boxes were like a safety net – all of my things were still packed up, so in theory I could still change my mind. I found myself looking at flight schedules constantly.

During the first week or two, I cried out most of my fears. Peter sat patiently with me and listened to all of my doubts, countering each one as they came up until I had calmed down again. We repeated this cycle over and over, and the space between my panics grew longer. We found ways to keep busy – unpacking, making plans for our new space, exploring the area.

What helped me the most was a visit from Peter’s parents. His dad was given the chance to take his boss’s place at a conference in Boston, so both he and Peter’s mom came for a 6-day visit. It helped me immensely to spend time with someone besides Peter at a place that wasn’t our apartment. They wanted to make the most of their visit, so we ate at some great restaurants all over the city and took in some interesting attractions. They gave us a reason to see parts of our new home that we hadn’t seen before, and my affection for this new place grew with the more that I saw.

The past seven days since their departure have been busy. Our weekend was wasted preparing for a hurricane that barely showed up (here, at least, as I know other places got hit pretty hard). Following that was the anticipation and culmination of my birthday on Tuesday, which was immediately followed by Peter’s first day of grad school on Wednesday.

At this point, I’d like to say I’m past faking it. I really do like it here, and every day it seems more and more like home. My friend’s advice was helpful, and I’m glad that someone told me honestly what to expect.

So this is me, honestly telling you what to expect. Hopefully you’re a more stable person than I am and get through it quicker. Hopefully you have someone to help you through it. Because as awesome as it can be to start your post-grad life, it’s not always instantly comfortable. But a month makes all of the difference.

I Dreamed a Dream


By Katherine Shaye

It is hard for me to distinguish at what point in my life I went from the dreams of childhood to the career pursuits of an adult. If I’d stuck to my guns when I was eight, I’d now be a retired Olympic gymnast reliving my glory days on a talk show. Instead, I am now (among other things) an aspiring novelist, a dream that I’ve picked up only recently. So what’s the difference between my dream now and my dream then? Aside from an increased ability and drive to pursue an actual career, I would say not much.

It makes me ask myself – what really makes my dream worth chasing, and at what point do I put it on the back burner in favor of something more practical?

The reason for this sudden introspective rant is this:

Are Books Dead, and Can Authors Survive?

An article pointed out to me in a writing forum by an editing friend who thought the topic deserved some discussion. After reading it, I have to wonder, do I have skin thick enough to enter into a rapidly changing, somewhat shrinking industry, where only the truly great and quickly adapting survive? What will it really mean to be an author over the next 10 years as I try to build a career and get published? Am I gritty enough to stick it out?

I look back at where I started. Back in my early college days when writing was just a way to blow off steam and get silly daydreams out of my head. I wrote a lot, but rarely finished anything— ideas flitting too quickly through my head for me to sit with just one.  Writing was just a hobby; I was allowed to be flighty. I’d gotten a few comments from friends along the lines of “It’s pretty good,” and “I really liked it. Is there more?” Nothing I really took seriously. There was even one English paper that came back with the comment, “Very well written. Wish it were more on topic.” All praises, but nothing that said “This is it, you’ve got it. Go be a writer.”

My lackadaisical writing career continued like this until senior year when real life started looming and I decided to get adventurous. What if I really did become a writer? It was time to do some learning.

I joined a writing forum (or Accentuate Writers). Nothing fancy, just a place where I could upload my work and have it critiqued by other people in the same position as me—new and unpublished talents, testing the waters to see if we were
up to snuff. Reviews poured in and I shared my thoughts with others. I was getting positive feedback and gaining much needed confidence. Things were rolling along nicely.

Then I got my first negative review. I’d like to say that the critic didn’t know what he was talking about, that he was jealous of the profundity of my piece. But that would be a lie. This critic, while very curt and clearly not a fan of my work, gave me nothing but good advice—not that I could acknowledge that right away. It was the kind of feedback that cuts a little too close to honesty, usually echoing insecurities you already had about
a piece. They were comments I definitely needed but didn’t necessarily want.

Cue the week of mourning.

I didn’t even look at my computer screen for the next seven days, most of my time spent ignoring the fact that I’d ever picked up a pen at all.

Finally, I went back. I reread the punishing critique, picked out the relevant bits and reworked my story.  A week later, I entered it into a short story contest and a month after that I found out that the piece had won first place. It was getting published. My greatest sense of failure and success all wrapped up in that one little piece.

Fast forward to now.

Is this the story of a burgeoning artist’s epic struggle towards success? Not really, but it is the beginnings of a journey, my journey, and I suppose the point is that none of the rest of it matters. Writing is something I love to do and it’s worth a shot. Even in a potentially failing industry, even if I’m not any good. It’s still worth it to try.

CHECK OUT SOME OF THESE SITES FOR ADVICE!

Because I Said So
Vicki Winslow’s Blog
Tammyholloway
Stress Management for Writers

Recounting Yestermorrow


By Christine Bahrens

In my senior year of high school, Kyle, his then-girlfriend Laura, Z, and I all went to see Tristan and Isolde. Following the movie, Z and I started a popcorn fight in the lobby of the movie theater, one that carried out into the snow-draped parking lot. Our greasy, buttered popcorn would join the rest of the theater litter in snow mounds by the end of the night. It was dark, just about nine, with the pale snowfall catching in the amber lights of the parking lot.

We were chilly, anxious – it was a Friday night – and hungry. Across the parking lot were three restaurants, but Uno’s Chicago Grill was the closest. Z and I skipped ahead of Laura and Kyle – we always joked that they were Mom and Dad, and we were the kids. This particular night Z and I were absolutely hyper, and even ‘Mom and Dad’ were giggling.

We were seated in a booth across from the bar, and we were so caught up in our conversation that we barely noticed the white square napkin nestled precariously between our glasses of root beer. There four letters were scrawled in plain black ink, and they form one word that Z and I continue to joke about to this day.

Todd.

Or, More specifically, The Todd Cult, which was a running joke we had after that night at Uno’s when we passed the napkin around the table and each of us wrote a silly little note to Todd, like “We love Todd, he is our God.” I had only been to Uno’s once before then, so needless to say I left that night with a positive opinion of the restaurant planted firmly in my memories. For the rest of the year the four of us would snack at Uno’s. We created “The Todd Cult” under the “Order of the Napkin” because it was something that only the four of us participated in.

After I graduated from high school, I didn’t spend a lot of time at the restaurant. Mostly because I didn’t HAVE free time. But I always kept the fond memories of the restaurant and my friends in the front of my mind. I would even retell the story of The Todd Cult to anyone who would listen (and even some who I knew did not want to). I would even apply to Uno’s whenever I was job hunting – only dropping to second in my job picks to Barnes and Nobles, because I had always wanted to work in a bookstore.

It wouldn’t be until my senior year in college when Uno’s would once again play a role in my life. A friend of mine, KB, introduced me to the wonders of trivia nights at Uno’s (something that had always been a weekly ritual for her and her friends, and one that I quickly became a part of).

When I moved back home, I had to give up my weekly visits to Uno’s for a few reasons. The first being there are no trivia nights at our local Uno’s. The second being that my family is not big on eating in restaurants. Well, they’re not too big on going anywhere, any day.

But when I decided that I was going to give up my search for a full-time job, and instead get a few part-timers in order to save up enough money for moving to Seattle, Uno’s was my first choice.

And, long story short, this little ‘love affair’ between us is finally moving to the next level. As of today I am officially an Uno’s waitress!

I recounted my previous adventures at Uno’s because I know people are thinking – so what, you’re a waitress? That’s not much of an accomplishment. But to me it is. It is something that will pay the bills, and it’s a second home.

Part Two: Autumn/Winter 2010


This article was written by guest writer, Miss. Stefie.

Our first week in Glens Falls, everything went according to plan. I was looking for a job, he was starting classes.

It was at this point that things went terribly, terribly wrong.

Less than a week into his graduate classes, he realizes we can’t afford them. The decision is made soon enough that he gets a full refund of what he’s already paid, but we still have a year-long lease. His family is disappointed; my family urges me to come back home. Everyone is confused. We had a plan, and now we are both looking for jobs.

I apply everywhere. Administrative work, retail work, manual labor, anything. I am overqualified. For everything. Even retail chains that would hire anything with a brain and a heartbeat won’t hire me. I stop bringing a resume to apply for retail jobs. I get the same answer every time: “We’re not actively looking for someone right now, but we’re always accepting applications.”

Luckily, we live close to a community college and there is another college half an hour away. I e-mail the art teachers and ask if they need any figure models this semester. I’d modeled off and on during college, but was really planning on getting a more respectable job, something I could tell conservative relatives about. Because, you see, being a figure model entails standing nude on a platform in the middle of a room full of art students. You know that dream you have where you’re up in front of the whole class and everyone is staring at you and all of a sudden you realize you aren’t wearing any clothes? That was my job. And it paid well, but the hours were sporadic.

Meanwhile, John is still unemployed. He is getting depressed. We apply for food stamps, the social services office jerks us around for two months, and finally we are accepted. It is a huge burden lifted. John does some contracting work that is just barely cost-effective. We continue this way until December. Finally, a job offer for him at a local bank. And just in time—my modeling work has dried up in the end of the fall semester. It takes him less than a week to figure out that he hates his new job. It is menial, repetitive, mind-numbing. He is depressed again, and so am I. I am home all the time, the best part of my day is walking to the library five blocks away. I love this library. It is by far the best part of the city. I could loiter there for hours.

It is after Christmas that things finally start looking up. Early in January, John gets a call from a company he had applied for months earlier. They want him to come in for an interview. The only problem is it’s three hours away. He goes anyway. There are two weeks of waiting, and then a phone call. They want to offer him the job, and they want him to start in less than a month. It pays more than double what he makes at the bank, and it comes with benefits. It seems he has no choice, he takes it.

We break our lease, earning the eternal spite of our landlord. We hire a couple of friends to help load the boxes, the furniture, everything into the U-Haul, and we are headed back from whence we came.

CHECK BACK SOON FOR PART THREE!

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