Career Talk — Part 2: Most Frustrating Job Experiences

Background/Intro (skip to the next bold header if you read this last time)

I posted a call for submissions on a couple of platforms, and  I am still accepting submissions, as this will be an ongoing multi-post series. Because, in the words of Amy Adams’ character from Miss Pettigrew Lives for A Day: “The crisis is ongoing!”

Also, many of the submissions were very detailed and I want to keep these posts to a reasonable length, so each post will be dedicated to a different question on the list below, and when I’m done with that, I’ll hopefully start again from question #1 with new submissions.
The original call/prompt was as follows:

I’m currently at a crossroads in my career, and I’m hoping to write a blog post next week to help get my brain thinking about various different options. I would love to hear from people in any and all professions. If you’re interested, let me know in your comment or via email or message: a) what your job is, b) whether you’d like to remain anonymous, and c) an answer to one or more of the following questions:

1) What’s the most rewarding experience you’ve had at your current job?

2) What’s the most frustrating experience you’ve had at your current job?

3) What’s the most helpful or supportive thing a coworker has ever done for you?

4) What’s the worst thing a coworker has ever done to you?

5) What’s the funniest story you have from your current job?

I just came up with these questions so they’re not comprehensive – if there’s a particular work experience or story you’d like to share that doesn’t fit any of them, feel free to share it anyway! This is just an exercise to help me get the gears turning in my brain as I figure out what to do next with my life 🙂

So I’m not expecting this to solve my career stalemate, but at least it will hopefully provide some forward movement in my thoughts on the topic, because the thing about putting things in writing is, you have to move forward with them. You can’t just write the same sentence over and over again. (I mean, you can, and someone probably has, and they probably called it “art” — but let’s be honest, that is crap.)

(NOTE: Some names may have been changed to preserve anonymity, allowing me to exercise my brilliant pseudonym-making skillz.)

2) What’s the most frustrating experience you’ve had at your current job?

Answer #1: When some, very few, students are not interested in learning anything new, but want to merely copy some method they have learned, even when they are clearly frustrated by it, and would most likely gain understanding by stepping back and looking at the bigger picture.

Also, when my supervisor retired, the new one (apparently not as knowledgeable as the older one) at first constantly criticized various things I did as being incorrect until I provided sources to back up my work. It added a level of frustration that was completely unnecessary.

~Submitted by Roonil Wazlib, tutor

Oh, yes, I’ve been told I’m doing things wrong and had to prove myself right, or let someone else take over so that they could see for themselves why the conventional method or tool was not appropriate in that particular instance. It’s especially aggravating when you’re new at your job and don’t have the experience to know if anything you’re doing is actually right, and then you have to deal with everyone else second-guessing you on top of you second-guessing yourself. Even when you turn out to be right, it’s more draining than satisfying.

Answer #2: Most frustrating is my lack of career advancement at this particular company. A lot of that has to do with circumstances beyond my control, which I always have trouble with, being a complete control freak, as well as certain personality traits in my direct manager. He always sugar coats things b/c he doesn’t like to upset anyone and tends to beat around the bush and never tells you like it is. I’m the complete opposite and tend to expect/need others to do the same. It took me seriously overstepping my bounds and pissing him off royally to finally get a straight answer from him regarding my performance a couple of years ago. I’m hitting walls again and have not advanced as I’d like to and I’m not interested in pissing him off again. I don’t think it would end well if I did.

~ Submitted by Lorelai Gilmore, marketing

Being a constant newbie at this whole career thing, I haven’t really had a chance to worry about things like advancement and promotion. Hopefully one day I will experience these wonderful frustrations, but for now, it’s like people ask me, “You applied to X? Is there opportunity for advancement?” and I’m like, “I dunno, at this point I’m honestly just trying to find something that I can do day in and day out that doesn’t make me want to kill myself or others.” High standards, yo.

Answer #3: I had an team member who was a terrible employee. She rarely showed up on time, she never accomplished anything unless it was spelled out step by step what needed to be done. Our office is very self-driven. Team members are encouraged to seek out projects they find interesting. Rarely will there be a normal Supervisor [who] tells employee[s] what to do. Rather, we all gather together, mention interesting things we’ve heard of and someone says I want to do this!

Telling a team member what to do step by step is counterproductive to the way our office works. Often, our dynamic work environment takes a bit of time to get used to. We hire a few PT college students to work at our office and having them adjust to the not being told what to do mentality can be jarring. Usually they are excited by the chance to use their skills and experiences to make something of their own, and adjust quickly.

I don’t know why, but I suspect it’s because this team member just didn’t find the work interesting. She would constantly come up with reasons that her bad behavior was due to an external cause that was over, only for another issue to rise up. The excuses were never ending, and it was the most frustrating experience I’ve had with a coworker.

Everyone in our office is pretty passionate about what we do. To have this team member disrespect our work by very blatantly not caring was a difficult experience for me. I realized two things about management and people at this point:

  1. You can’t force people to care. If it isn’t something they find marginally interesting (or isn’t at all related to what they’ve done previously) even the most collaborative dynamic office will be a challenge. Now, things are related in ways you might not expect. For example, my major focused heavily on things like learning and cognitive processes. Understanding how people think and learn are very related to working on projects dedicated to learning. You, SM, went  from Creative Writing to Mechanic, a fairly dichotomous pair. However, they have a lot of similarities in skills required. Both require an understanding of progress and effect. How something that happens in one area can impact every other aspect of the car/story.
  2. How people interact with each other and thrive in environments is extremely important to their workplace happiness. This team member had worked in various different fields before, and I looked over her resume to see where I went wrong. I realized, while several of her previous positions involved a self-driven attitude, they also all involved interacting with lots of people. In our office, we frequently brainstorm different ideas, research on our computers for a few hours and meet back. To have to do work that involved long periods of time without interacting with people drained this team member.

~Submitted by Ms. Watson, a programmer

A lot of what you wrote, Ms. Watson, reminded me of why I don’t want to write for a living or be a journalist or something like that, despite people constantly thinking I’d be great at it just because I can string two sentences together.

As a freelance writer, you have to be very self-driven, as you describe your office as being. I’m certainly self-driven in some ways, but not in the “constantly coming up with new ideas” kind of way. For instance, as a fiction writer, I’m primarily a novelist, not a short story writer. I don’t come up with idea after idea after idea — I occasionally stumble onto one thing that speaks to me, and I develop it. My posts on this blog and on my Facebook Notes work in much the same way — once in a while something strikes me, and I ruminate on it and explore it from multiple angles. I don’t sit around trying to come up with new ideas, and I’ve always hated the idea of the pressure to constantly come up with and churn out new content, just for the sheer volume of it, because that’s how you pay the bills. Some people have wonderfully creative minds and are naturally always inventing new stories, ideas, patterns, songs, and so on — but I’m not. And I would absolutely hate to have to be.

Then there’s the flip-side, where you write for something that assigns everything so you’re always writing their ideas and not your own, and then you have to force yourself to care about whatever assignment you’re given, in order to write it. And as you said, that’s impossible. I’ve done copywriting like that in the past, and it felt like I was destroying my soul. I’m not being melodramatic here; that is literally what it felt like. It was bad. And the thought of doing that to myself on a regular basis? Just kill me now.

This is why I prefer copyediting. Other people come up with the ideas, and you don’t have to write them. Best of both worlds. You just fix and polish and perfect. But you’re absolutely necessary; the finished product is clearly and measurably better because of you.

And YES, environment and coworkers are unbelievably important for my job satisfaction. I do not function well without allies. I survive, but I’m almost always miserable in those situations.

Answer #4: The WORST part about my job was the schooling for it. It was literally hell. It was the worst years of my life, and I did not have a typical “college” experience. Even the fact knowing that I need to take the boards again when i am 30, and every 10 years after that, gives me the occasional nightmare.

Day to day the job is stressful when there are a ton of patients and I need to move quickly and patients complain they were waiting for a long time, and I get upset that it’s not my fault, because you can’t rush an exam and they need to schedule people better. Or I get frustrated when I tell a patient they need to come in for a biopsy because they might have cancer, and they just never come back, and then I am responsible legally to call them and send a certified letter or else they can sue me when they have cancer and I’ll be blamed even though they are a grown adult and I TOLD them to come back and warned them.

~Submitted by Elisheva, physician assistant

Thanks for the heads-up about the schooling. Definitely good to know. I’m not sure when I’ll have the stomach for a hellish school experience, but it’s definitely not right now.

And yeah, people who don’t listen are the worst. My doctors would probably say that makes me the worst. Sigh. I’m the worst. I’m working on taking better care of myself, though, I swear!

Answer #5: When I got what I considered my first real job as an editor, it was at a women’s magazine. Early in the game, in an attempt to be responsible, I gave my boss of list of all the days off I’d be taking that year. I was entitled to X number of days, and I itemized all X of them. Several were Jewish holidays. She looked at the list and said to me, “This is fine, but at some point in your career, you’re going to have to decide which is more important to you, your career or your religion.” I was pretty shocked by the remark and decided then and there that nobody was ever pulling that kind of anti-Semitic crap on me again and that for the rest of my working life I was going to take off all Jewish holidays Orthodox Jews took, regardless of how I spent them.

~Submitted by Judy Jewett, editor

I have luckily never had to deal with that kind of crap. All the schools I’ve ever gone to and all the jobs I’ve ever had have all been extremely mindful of my religious requirements. Fingers crossed that any future employers will be just as understanding.

MY ANSWER: Oh gosh, where do I even start.

Well, like I said up there, there were those times when I was told I was doing something wrong and turned out to be doing it right. Like when I was looking everywhere for the breaker bar and socket, and was told, “no, take this wrench,” and I’d say, “no, I don’t have the leverage to use that,” and they’d say, “of course you do,” and then I’d spend five minutes trying to loosen the bolt with that wrench, before tossing it aside and demanding the breaker bar, and breaking the bolt loose in two seconds with it.

There were times when I was given a tool and told to do a job and I tried approximately a hundred times, and in between tries, I insisted that this tool was not well suited for this job at this angle; something else was needed. And I was told to just keep trying, which I did until I was thoroughly fed up and basically begged for help. At which point the mechanic who had assigned me the job would go over to his tool box, take out a different tool or an add-on to the original tool, which I of course had not known existed but had been asking for since the beginning, and he’d complete the job with that.

And there were times when I was given a job to do on my own that was not physically possible for one person to accomplish. That happens a lot with cars, btw — I’ve seen 4 grown male mechanics struggle to work together to remove a single bolt. That’s just how these things are designed sometimes. But I’m inexperienced, and I don’t know enough to always tell the difference between when something is “impossible” or when it’s just “really hard.” Because sometimes it is just really hard and you need to suck it up and do it. And if I’m told to do something on my own, I tend to assume it’s not impossible, because what kind of sadist assigns impossible jobs to the newbie, so I would push myself to the very limits of my strength, and then push some more, because maybe I just thought I’d reached my limit but really I just needed that little…bit…more… I was constantly afraid of hurting myself, of pulling something, of throwing out my back from pushing too hard because I just didn’t have the experience to know when I should stop.

Oh, and often the other mechanics would just be standing around watching me struggle. How’s that for work environment.

Up next: Most Supportive Coworker Experiences! Stay tuned, and submit if you’ve got a good one!

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Like this post? I’d like to take this opportunity to remind you, wonderful reader, that my GoFundMe campaign is still open — http://www.gofundme.com/sm-automotive. The proceeds no longer go toward automotive school tuition, because I have paid off my loan in full, but you can still commission me to write anything you want. You can force me to watch ANYTHING and review it for you. Anything. Real-Housewives-of-Atlanta-kind-of-anything. Hit me with your best shot.

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Career Talk — Part 1: Most Rewarding Job Experiences

Last week, I posted a call for submissions on a couple of platforms, although notably not on here. Which may have been a silly oversight, so I want to clarify that I am still accepting submissions, as this will be an ongoing multi-post series. Because, in the words of Amy Adams’ character from Miss Pettigrew Lives for A Day: “The crisis is ongoing!”

Also, many of the submissions were very detailed and I want to keep these posts to a reasonable length, so each post will be dedicated to a different question on the list below, and when I’m done with that, I’ll hopefully start again from question #1 with new submissions.

The original call/prompt was as follows:

I’m currently at a crossroads in my career, and I’m hoping to write a blog post next week to help get my brain thinking about various different options. I would love to hear from people in any and all professions. If you’re interested, let me know in your comment or via email or message: a) what your job is, b) whether you’d like to remain anonymous, and c) an answer to one or more of the following questions:

1) What’s the most rewarding experience you’ve had at your current job?

2) What’s the most frustrating experience you’ve had at your current job?

3) What’s the most helpful or supportive thing a coworker has ever done for you?

4) What’s the worst thing a coworker has ever done to you?

5) What’s the funniest story you have from your current job?

I just came up with these questions so they’re not comprehensive – if there’s a particular work experience or story you’d like to share that doesn’t fit any of them, feel free to share it anyway! This is just an exercise to help me get the gears turning in my brain as I figure out what to do next with my life 🙂

So I’m not expecting this to solve my career stalemate, but at least it will hopefully provide some forward movement in my thoughts on the topic, because the thing about putting things in writing is, you have to move forward with them. You can’t just write the same sentence over and over again. (I mean, you can, and someone probably has, and they probably called it “art” — but let’s be honest, that is crap.)

Let’s get started with the answers, shall we?

(NOTE: Some names may have been changed to preserve anonymity, allowing me to exercise my brilliant pseudonym-making skillz.)

1) What’s the most rewarding experience you’ve had at your current job?

Answer #1: Probably developing an app for a department at the school where I work.

You see, the original system they used declared bankruptcy and left them in the lurch as they were applying for accreditation in a few months.

They came to me (who administered the previous system for them) and asked what they could do. As this was in the the middle of the year, requisitioning tens of thousands of dollars was a challenge at best. Also, no system was really available that met their needs- It would be settling and not fine tuned to the needs of the program.

So I asked exactly what they wanted in an assessment system and researched ways we could do it for free (or, very little money). Using some recently learned programming, I wrote an app that filled the parameters of their requests exactly. Excited by the progress, we hired a new PT computer science student to flesh out the app further. Together with this student (who is brilliant, amazing, and dedicated) we worked tirelessly to develop this assessment app, working with occasionally vague direction and goals.

In the end, we met the deadline, the program secured accreditation (yay!), and use of this system has saved the college over $60,000 a year. This is my most fulfilling experience in my work because by collaborating and thinking outside of the box, we accomplished something amazing. We built something from the ground up, without direction. We were essentially told- we need this, can you help us?

~ Submitted by Comm Puter, Instructional Technologist

Wowza, that sounds awesome. I hope they paid you well for that! I don’t anticipate doing something like that in my career, but I did recently get myself invited to Dash, which claims it will teach me the basics of coding, so that’s something.

Answer #2: When students experience that joy that comes from learning something they did not previously understand. Many students who were worried about failing come back and compliment me on helping them to pass their classes.

~ Submitted by R., a professional tutor

Yeah, I’ve never wanted to be a teacher (both my parents are teachers and if hearing about the realities of that profession from the time you were born until the present day doesn’t make you never want to be a teacher, well, then you just haven’t been listening) but I’ve never been against the idea of one-on-one tutoring. The problem has generally been that whenever I’ve looked into trying to do it through any kind of organization, they want to know what my qualifications are and that I’ve done it before and how much and what subjects, and I haven’t done any of that in any formal or documented way. Apparently saying “I AM BRILLIANT AND REALLY GOOD AT EXPLAINING STUFFS HIRE ME PLZ” is not enough. I know that the best way to get started would be to tutor kids of people I know who already trust me, buuuuuuut…I don’t really like a lot of those kids? So I don’t want to do that to myself? I know, I can be more selective if I become more established, but the beginning would probably be a long hard slog.

Answer #3: I absolutely love my job. There is always a juicy story or something interesting that comes in the door. There are happy and sad stories. I’ve told a patient that she is finally pregnant after she was having fertility issues for 3 years. I’ve told a patient she has endometrial cancer and had her cry at my desk. I’ve even told a 43 year old that SURPRISE she is pregnant, and she tells me her daughter is 20 and she was in shock. I’ve had Muslim patients come with their husbands and have to ask permission from them to get procedures done with the male doctor. I’ve told people they have STDs and they cry because they think their spouse is cheating on them. And yes even when someone comes for a routine pap or yeast infection, I can provide that relief. I like talking to all types of women and having a small glimpse of the most intimate part of their lives.

I also like working in gynecology because it’s easy for me. Its a limited field of medicine (unlike internal medicine or primary care) so its easy to become an expert in it pretty quickly. Being a physician assistant in general is great because if I ever get super bored of doing my 140th pap smear that week, and get sick of gynecology I know that I have options to switch jobs to another field of medicine like dermatology, orthopedics, or surgery etc. so i don’t feel locked in for life.

~ Submitted by Elisheva N., physician assistant in a private gynecology practice

I definitely love collecting stories and learning about people, and being in a position to build them up when they’re hurt or vulnerable. In fact, that’s the main reason I was instantly compelled by the mission of a certain non-profit organization that I came across this week, RevealNYC — it’s an organization dedicated to providing support, fashion, and cosmetics to women who have been victims of domestic violence, to rebuild their confidence, give them practical life skills, and help them feel beautiful again. I intend to get in touch with the organization and see if there’s anything I can offer. Though it is a volunteer-run non-profit and would not solve the career or money dilemma.

Becoming a PA would require me to go back to school, which I’m not interested in doing at this point, but theoretically might be later, so it’s nice to know that it’s versatile if I should decide to put myself through that.

Answer #4: What’s so rewarding about what I do is the client interaction and hearing how happy my clients are when I do my job and make their programs successful and profitable and help them reach their goals. I’ve also set out to make an impact at my company in terms of training and best practices and my boss has entrusted me with creating an entire company-wide training manual all by my lonesome. I took that as a huge compliment to my ability to not only do my job to the best of my ability, but be able to set the standard company-wide for how it should be done.

~ Submitted by Boss Lady, marketing

Positive reinforcement is definitely important for me, too. It’s not quite on the level of Rachel Berry: “I am Tinker Bell! I need applause to live!” — but it’s extremely helpful. As is feeling like I bring something of my own to the table that no one else is already providing.

MY ANSWER: At my recent auto mechanic job, I didn’t feel like I was much of a contributor. Yeah, I did a lot of things, but they often felt like things that anyone else there could do, and do faster (the other mechanics often told me so, maybe sometimes as misguided attempts at motivation, maybe sometimes as a macho thing, whatever) so I often felt redundant at best and like gunk in the machine at worst. Sometimes customers would give me tip money after I’d worked on their cars, but generally I felt like those were Changing A Tire While Female tips, not tips that I’d actually earned.

However, there was one tip that I did feel like I earned. It happened when this lady walked into the shop and after looking around apprehensively, she quietly asked how much an inspection would cost.

“Thirty-seven dollars,” I said, because I’m a decent human who gives straightforward answers to nervous customers.

“Two hundred dollars,” said the mechanic next to me, because he’d evidently decided to be a buttface.

The woman looked from him to me and back, clearly confused. “How much?”

“Two hundred dollars,” said the other mechanic, because nothing makes a bad joke funnier than repeating it.

“It’s thirty-seven dollars, “ I repeated firmly, looking the woman in the eye. “Don’t listen to him; he’s lying.”

She thanked me and went out, brought the car in with some dude who could have been her husband or brother or boyfriend or friend, and the obnoxious mechanic ran the inspection. The car failed the inspection after we hooked up its computer to ours and ran the program.

Obnoxious Mechanic broke the news to her and her companion, and he then incoherently began explaining to them why it had happened, and why they needed to drive the car around some more and come back later.

I could see that he was only confusing them more, so I butted in and broke it down into more user friendly terms, because this was one area that I actually could explain pretty well: the car’s computer runs self-diagnostic tests on itself while you drive, and we get that information from the computer when we hook it up for the inspection. Sometimes the car hasn’t been driven enough or under the right conditions for all the self-tests to run, and that causes the inspection failure. But driving the car for an hour, making sure to include highway driving, should be enough to get all the tests to run.

They paid him for running the inspection, and then the lady came up to me specifically and gave me a dollar tip.

It’s hanging from the ceiling in my room, my one memento on display from this job.

dollar pic

Up next: Most Frustrating Job Experiences! Stay tuned!

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Like this post? I’d like to take this opportunity to remind you, wonderful reader, that my GoFundMe campaign is still open — http://www.gofundme.com/sm-automotive. The proceeds no longer go toward automotive school tuition, because I have paid off my loan in full, but you can still commission me to write anything you want. You can force me to watch ANYTHING and review it for you. Anything. Real-Housewives-of-Atlanta-kind-of-anything. Hit me with your best shot.

On Coping Mechanisms, or Reflections on My First Auto Repair Job, Week 2

I posted this on Facebook last week, but forgot to post it here. So here it is; sorry for the delay!

 

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Lesser known fact: I’ve been writing characters with PTSD since before I knew what PTSD was.

I’ve just always had one or two characters running around in my novels (which I started writing in 5th grade) with some disastrous tragic past, who are now navigating a world where this is mostly not relevant to their everyday life, but just because it’s not relevant doesn’t mean it’s not always there, capable of snapping to the forefront if they see something, smell something, hear something, taste something. This just seemed to me like a perfectly logical way for a mind to cope with unthinkable amounts of stress and trauma while remaining functional that I had no idea that it was a diagnosable condition, and that some people don’t understand or even believe in things like triggers.

Of course, once I was a worldly 8th or 9th grader, I at some point learned of the existence of PTSD and did some research in the hope of writing my PTSD-afflicted characters in more authentic and realistic ways. But pretty much everything I found aligned just fine with the ways I was already writing the characters, based on the logic of how I perceived a person’s psyche would react to their sorts of situations. I had essentially deduced PTSD and some of the various manifestations of it: triggers, flashbacks, emotional outbursts, self-imposed isolation, frustration and self-loathing at the betrayal of one’s own body and mind, insomnia, insecurity over being perceived as weak because of it, undercurrents of anxiety at being unsure when/how bad the next attack could be, health issues outside of attacks (like high blood pressure), and coping mechanisms.

Lots and lots of coping mechanisms.

I personally did not begin to have anxiety issues until the past few years, and the outright panic attacks didn’t start until a couple of years ago. (I actually have a Facebook note — and post here — about when the first one happened and why, because of course I do.)

 

 

I usually don’t think about my own life in terms of coping mechanisms, because I don’t have PTSD/a diagnosed condition, and my anxiety attacks are usually so sporadic that I almost totally forget about them in between. This is not super great, because then when they hit me, every time, it feels like they’ve just come out of nowhere and that I don’t have the tools to deal with them, because I’m lucky enough that I don’t have to deal with them on a day-to-day basis.

But after last week’s spate of repeated attacks with barely any respite between them, I couldn’t afford not to develop some tools for myself. Or at least to hone the ones that have lain dormant in the back of my brain. I mean, I think I do use these all the time, but unconsciously, automatically, and I think I need to start employing them in a more deliberate, methodical way, instead of just relying on my brain to kick in with them when I need it to, because clearly my brain is tired of being taken for granted and would appreciate a little jump start (#carjoke).

Years of writing PTSD-riddled characters has left me with a wealth of underutilized coping mechanisms just hanging around back there. I haven’t technically written any fiction in over a year, but over the past decade and a half, I’ve spent countless hours inside the heads of these characters, a headspace where coping mechanisms are second-nature; I’m sure they won’t mind if I borrow a few.

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So the idea behind the rest of this post is to compile some kind of list and explanations of various coping mechanisms that I’ve been using since my last panic attack. (It’s been a week and a half, for those keeping score at home; it’s been a fantastic week and a half, actually.) The list is by no means definitive or comprehensive, and of course not every technique is right for every situation. I cannot emphasize enough the importance of flexibility here. Stress and anxiety are many-headed and adaptable monsters, and trying to counter with exclusively the same move over and over again is rarely going to stay effective. You have to set your phaser to a rotating frequency (#StarTrekjoke).

Exposure Therapy

Again, a technical term I only learned about wayyyyy after I’d been utilizing it for years. Basically, the way I cope with my fears is to bulldoze right through them.

I remember during my gap year in Israel before college, one of my classmates had one of those bags with so-called inspirational phrases slathered all over it, but the only phrase I remember was: “Do one thing a day that scares you.” And I started doing that, maybe not once a day, but once in a while, and I learned to think in terms of what scares me, which at that point in time was a lot of things. Like, talking to that teacher. Or approaching that classmate. Or asking that family if they could host me for a meal. Or going into the Chabad house to see what it was like. Scary stuff. Or at least, scary until you’ve done it once or twice. Then it’s easy.

I gradually graduated from tiny little fears to bigger and bigger ones. Distilled thought process: “This scares me. Why does it scare me? Do the reasons include ‘likely to cause bodily harm, financial disaster, or extensive emotional damage’? No? Then DO IT.”

Afraid to tell that really cute guy he’s cute? TELL HIM. Afraid to write that really personal essay? WRITE IT. Afraid to post it online? POST IT. Afraid to tell that guy you really want to date that you really want to date him? TELL HIM. Afraid to let those people see you without makeup? LET THEM. Afraid to perform at that Open Mic? PERFORM AT IT. Afraid to go to that party where you might not know anyone? GO TO IT. Afraid to start a conversation with a stranger on a train? START IT. Afraid to hang out with that person from the internet that you barely know? HANG OUT WITH THEM. Afraid to travel alone and go hostel hopping for two weeks? DO IT. Afraid to let your new boyfriend see your vulnerabilities? LET HIM. Afraid to say hi to Kevin Bacon when you practically bump into him on the street? SAY HI TO KEVIN BACON; IT’S FRIKKING KEVIN BACON.

 

HI KEVIN BACON!!
HI KEVIN BACON!!

 

All of these things — the more you do them, the less scary they become. At least for me. (Kevin Bacon is super nice, tbh.) I can’t tell you that the fear always goes away entirely, because in certain areas, it definitely does not. But if you know you’ve faced a fear in the past and lived, it’s easier to face it again in the present.
People I know have at times referred to me as “fearless.” That is categorically false, of course. I just have a compulsive need to face my fears, conquer them, beat them into submission. Sometimes this is a bad strategy and results in me damaging my mental health by forcing myself into situations that I ought to have walked away from rather than trying to beat. As I’ve noted in the past, a tactical retreat is not cowardice. But it runs counter to my need not to be controlled by my fears, so sometimes I err on the side of recklessness.

But essentially what I’m saying here is that when that horrible empty feeling and subsequent panic attacks made me afraid to go back to work, I instinctively felt that the only viable path open to me was to GO BACK TO WORK.

 

Identification and Verbal Acknowledgement

One of my greatest talents is my ability to wordify my thoughts. Sometimes this is easier than other times, because honestly sometimes I don’t have thoughts; I just have feelings. Sometimes a feeling will put the whammy on me in the span of a split second — between one bite of my meal and another, I can go from ravenously hungry to losing my appetite completely. It happened a lot last week. I would feel fine and then BAM. The cliched description of it is “that sinking feeling” in your gut, but it’s really more like “that sudden sheer drop off the Cliffs of Insanity feeling” (#PrincessBrideJoke) (#whyamihashtaggingallmyreferences #idontknow #cantstopwontstop)

And because that kind of dramatic loss of appetite and sheer drop feeling is often a precursor to an anxiety attack for me, my immediate reaction when I’m caught unawares is, “Oh god oh god it’s happening again oh god I don’t know what to do what do I do what do I do whatdoIdoWHATDOIDO????” And of course a thought process like THAT is just magnifying the unknowns in the situation, rather than focusing on what I do know. Known quantities are inherently more calming than unknowns. In the opening of the most recent Hunger Games movie, the heroine Katniss Everdeen is shown rocking back and forth, whispering, “Start with what you know. My name is Katniss Everdeen. I survived the Hunger Games,” etc. This is not just handy exposition but a very real way of coping with PTSD, from which Katniss most certainly suffers.

I’ve found it helpful to verbally identify the known factors as specifically as possible. I’ve obviously done this a lot through my writing, but writing is for when I have a chance to sit down and compose eloquent paragraphs of thoughts after having had some time to reflect and ponder and ruminate, which is not the case most of the time. In the moment, my thoughts are scrambled and fragmented, and I need to grasp at all the straws and pull as many of them together as I can. And it helps to whisper it to myself, to say it aloud. For instance:

“I just lost my appetite. I don’t know exactly why. I’m feeling anxious. I’m feeling anxious because I lost my appetite and I don’t know why. And my throat is closing up and it’s getting harder to breathe and swallowing is making me nauseous and I don’t know if I’m going to throw up. But feeling anxious made me lose my appetite in the first place. So all this other stuff is definitely adding to the anxiety, but I’m anxious about something else too.”

And then I have to be honest with myself about what is scaring me at the moment. It may surprise you to hear me say this, but honesty is hard. But I have to be brutally honest with myself; I can’t pretend to be better than my fears, no matter how much I wish I were, because I can never deal with them if I can’t admit them, and my gut knows when I’m lying (and often when other people are lying) and has a violent aversion to it.

Sample:

“I’m anxious because I don’t feel happy. I don’t know if this job is right for me. Imagining a future of doing this feels suddenly suffocating and I don’t know what I want anymore. And I’m afraid that means that one of my exes was right, that this isn’t for me, and I really really don’t want him to have been right. And I’m afraid that maybe that other friend of mine was right and that the reason I’m unhappy is because I think I’m better than this. And I don’t want to think like that; I don’t want to be that person. I’m afraid that the only jobs that will satisfy me are the really mentally challenging and exhausting and impossible ones, and I’m afraid that I’m scared to try them because I’m afraid to fail. And I’m afraid that succeeding still might not make me happy.”

Admitting that I was unhappy was a hard thing to do, which clearly meant that it was a major key. (Back to exposure therapy: often the more difficult something is, the more you need to face it.) Same thing with acknowledging that walking away might be my best choice, and to forgive myself for it if it was.

“It’s okay to walk away from this. I have a college degree, I have a wide support system, I have money in the bank, I have no debt, I have plenty of time, I have options.”

And what unexpectedly helped me a lot was when I calculated how much I would earn at this job, at this rate of pay and the number of hours I’m willing to work, and it turned out to be only around 11 or 12 thousand dollars a year (post tax), which is clearly not a sustainable rate of pay to cover NYC rent, insurance, cell phone bills, food, potential car payments, retirement funds, etc, and that hammered home for me how very very temporary this is, and how there’s no need to envision a suffocating future when this is obviously not going to be it. So for my first day back at work this week, whenever that chokey sinking feeling started to hit, my mantra was:

“I’m unhappy right now, but that’s okay because this is not forever. I can leave anytime I want.”

(That’s how I tend to get through synagogue services, by the way, by reassuring myself that I can leave whenever I want. And sometimes I do. So far, I haven’t come close to leaving my job early, but knowing that I can makes everything so much easier.)

And that chokey sinking feeling has all but gone away as my mind has begun to internalize how transitory this job is. A fun detour is much more enjoyable than a necessary stepping stone. And maybe eventually I’ll come to enjoy it enough that it will change from a detour back into a stepping stone and I’ll rise through the ranks of this profession. But that’s not something I need to know right now.

Support System

Don’t be afraid to fall on your support system — hard. It’s tough to reach out to people. It’s tough to admit that you need help. But if you have a support system, if you have good friends, if you have family who you’re on decent terms with — utilize them. Talk to them. Open up about what you’re going through, even if you’re still struggling to put it all together to make sense of whatever it is you’re feeling.

For me, a lot of people were asking “HOW IS WORK??” and I couldn’t tell them; I just didn’t know how. There was too much and it was too confusing to explain in conversation. But I told most of them, it’s complicated, I have a lot of thoughts, I need to write a post to figure it all out. And anyone who knows me even a little understands that. And once I got that post up, I could send it to any of my friends who asked, and then they’d have a reference point and we could move forward from there into commiseration, support, brainstorming, etc.

It’s just hard to explain it from scratch every single time, but I wanted to be able to seek support; I didn’t want to isolate myself and sink further and further into the quagmire in my own head, because that would just suck and compound the problem.

If telling people scares you, you know what I’m gonna say: DO IT. EXPOSURE THERAPY, KIDDO. If the friends you tell freak out and reject you, they weren’t your friends. GET NEW FRIENDS.

Also: It’s good to get outside perspectives, but you don’t have to listen to everyone’s advice. Some friends are better at being supportive than others. You probably have a sense of which of your friends are best at that, and it’s probably best to seek the bulk of your support from them. You probably also know some people who are well meaning but frequently give terrible advice, or advice that simply doesn’t apply to you, and it’s fine to ignore those people and not ask for their opinions. And some people who are just plain awful and toxic and you should avoid them at these times at all costs. And some people are wild cards; you don’t know how they’ll react — they might give great advice, or they might have no frakking clue and say all the wrong things, so they probably shouldn’t be your first line of defense. But people can surprise you and sometimes great support can come from places you least expect if you take a chance on it. (Parents are often wild cards, I think. But I was in bad enough shape last week that I actually reached out to them, and it worked out.)

Lastly, cast a wide net for support. Don’t dump everything on one or two people. They can be the best people ever, but you can have the strongest trampoline ever and if the Hulk drops out of the sky in stiletto heels and lands on it at full combat drop speed, it’s gonna puncture.

“For the last time, we did not order a giant trampoline!”
“For the last time, we did not order a giant trampoline!”

 

Spread the weight around if you can. Talk to a core group of people you trust rather than just a couple of individuals. Don’t be so exclusive that the other person feels like they’re your sole source of support and that if they drop the ball, whatever happens to you will be their responsibility. It’ll be better for you and it will be better for them if you have multiple support beams and layers in your trampoline.

Sensory Distractions

When I’m in the midst of a full-on attack, the previous things on this list are not necessarily going to help me. When my body just flat-out decides to rebel with almost no warning, I can’t just think myself out of it; that’s not how it works. I have to find ways to distract myself so that my body can have the time it needs to reboot itself, or at least calm its systems or metabolic rate or whatever it is that’s going haywire.

(By the way, you might not always be able to tell that I’ve had an attack or am fending off another one just by looking at me; I’m pretty good at hiding it when that’s happening, if I want to. Unless I am puking. That’s hard to hide. But like, this picture was taken less than an hour after I threw up and probably at least 12 hours before I was physically able to eat again:

I’m on the right. That’s how pale I always am.
I’m on the right. That’s how pale I always am.

 

So yeah. Just thought I’d mention that.)

I need things to pull me out of my own head when I’m in a bad place, otherwise my thoughts will just burrow further into my brain and spiral down, down, down. I need to find things that stimulate my senses, but without triggering me further — for example, a strong smell is more likely to make me throw up than distract me, but a radio broadcast of a baseball game will form a protective cushion around my brain and stop me from spiralling.

It sometimes helps to leave the lights on at night because in the dark it’s just me and my thoughts. It sometimes helps to walk around outside and look at everything and distract myself with motion and sound. It sometimes helps to stay as still as possible and focus on my breathing. It sometimes helps to watch TV; it sometimes helps to read. It sometimes helps to talk to other people; it sometimes helps to be away from everything and just sleep. It’s extremely variable, and I have to pay attention to my body’s reactions and see what’s working at that moment and what isn’t.

This is very similar to the next item on my list, which is…

 

Positive Triggers (Soothers) (Not to be confused with a particular type of allomancer from Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn trilogy)

I don’t have a lot of these, unfortunately. Finding them means being on the lookout, paying extremely close attention to anything that calms me, even in the most microscopic ways. I doubt I’ll ever find something that positively triggers me as dramatically as anything that can negatively trigger me, but little pieces of calm in a storm have their uses too.

For example, a kid I babysit for recently gave me yet another Livestrong bracelet. It’s multicolored, and one of the colors is what my brain dubs cyan, because I know obscure colors like that. It’s a kind of pastel turquoise, I guess. And I noticed that for the split second that my eyes glanced over that cyan patch of silicon, sandwiched between the yellow and the fusia on the band, I felt just the tiniest bit calmer, more relaxed. Apparently very small doses of cyan is soothing to me. Large doses seem to lose their impact, but tiny ones, well, they seem to help. It’s the only bracelet I wear at work now, so that in the constant dusty grey of the repair shop I can glance at it for a second for a miniscule pick-me-up.

Other things that soothe me: Petting my giant stuffed tiger or cuddling with it. Being in my own bed. Taking off a layer (or more) of my clothes so that my skin can breathe better. Wrapping myself in a blanket or a towel. Entering the mind of a character during a scene I’ve been writing in my head that constitutes a particularly serene moment for him/her. Writing a post about coping mechanisms.

Stories

I started putting this in the Soothers section but I’m not sure it really fits there so I gave it its own subheader.

See, I think this second week at work made me realize yet again that the crux of what makes life interesting and worthwhile to me are people and their stories. Let’s face it, the main thing I got out of automotive school was not knowledge of cars. Sure, I got that too, but that feels like small potatoes compared to the vast canvas of human experience that I got a chance to see and learn about by being in that environment.

I think that my first week on the job, I was so intent on being a good little worker that I was all business all the time, just going from task to task to task, so that by the end of each day, I had a lot of tasks accomplished, but no stories to tell. And to me that felt like a worthless existence. I mean, I can tell you how I changed oil, but that’s an instruction manual, that’s not a story.

This second week, I chilled out a little, didn’t focus so intently on the work to the exclusion of all else, largely because I was working on telling myself that this is not where I’m going to end up, that this is temporary, that my entire life and future does not hinge on my success at this job, so it’s okay to relax a little. I actually sat down and ate my lunch, for example, instead of just skipping it or devouring it in five seconds and heading back to work. I took things slower, I observed more. I paid more attention to the dynamics of the shop and the workers.

I think that because I slowed down and was also less new, the guys in shop started feeling more comfortable chitchatting with me, asking me questions, but mostly giving me their opinions on how things work around here. Everyone has an opinion on everyone else and their style of work, and they’re all willing to tell me about it, not knowing that everyone they’re talking about has been talking to me about them. This guy thinks everyone else is incompetent and phony. That guy thinks the other techs have no finesse and take no pride in their work. This guy thinks one of the bosses is incredibly patient and has never seen him raise his voice in all the years they’ve worked together. That guy tells me that two of the techs constantly bitch and moan about the smell of the paint fumes from the body shop section, but that they’ve miraculously stopped complaining since I’ve been around, because “they don’t want to seem like a lady in front of a lady.” (Oh, casual misogyny, you make the best stories.)

I think my mind is happiest when I am occupied with day to day work, but at the same time piecing together another canvas that no one knows I’m working on. I wouldn’t want that canvas to be my primary focus; I wouldn’t want to approach it like that was my job, like I’m a journalist, asking questions, interviewing, investigating. I’d hate that. I like learning by osmosis, in bits and pieces, not through the things that people want to tell me, but by the things I figure out from experience and observation.

That’s what makes life feel worthwhile to me by the end of the day.

*

There was actually another subheader on this list, but holy hell this is long so I’m gonna cut it short. If you read all the way to the end, I’m very impressed and I appreciate it a ton. I hope you got something out of it.

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On Passion, or Reflections on My First Auto Repair Job

 

 

“Find your passion,” they say. “Everyone’s good at something,” they say.

It’s such a fallacy, you know? Just look at it. How on earth would they know if everyone is good at something? Human beings are a random mishmash of genetic traits, and it’s perfectly possible for someone to get the short end of every stick and be good at absolutely nothing. (Not that it would ever be anyone’s business to say to a person, “You are good at absolutely nothing” — it’s nobody’s place to make that judgment call on any individual, but that doesn’t mean that the existence of such an individual is flat-out impossible.)

And even if you’re good at stuff, even if you’re gifted, who’s to say you’re gifted in areas that bring you fulfillment? And who’s to say that everyone has an automatic Fulfillment Button that they just have to find and press? Maybe this person does, and that person doesn’t. There is absolutely no evidence to support it as a universal truth. It just sounds seductively nice.

I happen to be good at many things. But I am not a passionate person when it comes to my interests. I reach a saturation point, sometimes faster, sometimes slower. Museums, for instance — I have warned every guy I’ve dated never to take me to a museum just to look at stuff, because I will get so bored, so fast. My saturation point with “looking at stuff on walls and in glass cases” is super low. Guided tour of the museum, hearing people talk about that same stuff, having a conversation about it — saturation point is still there, but it’s higher.

But not necessarily because it interests me. I just like knowing stuff, just having knowledge, not to do anything useful with it; just to have it, mostly so that I can pull it out and seem somewhat intelligent and worldly, rather than the utterly boring person that I actually am. I don’t like having to work to collect this knowledge, I like having it handed to me in accessible formats, which for me include conversations, not articles or plaques on museum walls. See, if the subject matter actually interested me, I’m sure those last two mediums wouldn’t seem so godawful dull to me. But so little subject matter actually interests me. I get bored so easily.

I remember asking myself (and maybe my friends) in high school: “Do we like certain subjects because we’re good at them, or do we get good at certain subjects because we like them?” My conclusion all these years later is that it varies from person to person and subject to subject, and that for me personally, since I am good at almost everything, but I don’t like everything, a simple cause-effect relationship between aptitude and liking can’t be the only thing at play there. But I’ve never been able to figure out what makes me like things and what doesn’t.

***

I got a job at an auto repair shop and I’ve gone to work there for the past three days.

I’ve also had three panic attacks in the past three days, which is a first for me.

I wish I could say the job and the panic attacks are unconnected, but that is very much not the case. But it might not be for the reasons you’d expect.

The job is great. It’s exactly what I wanted. I get to take things apart, I get to put them back together, I get to use tools, I have guidance and supervision so there’s very little pressure, and all the other (male, of course) mechanics have been perfectly nice and supportive and helpful. And I enjoy being there, and I enjoy doing the work. It’s basically the perfect job — if you’d have told me any time in the past year or so that this is the kind of work I would be doing, ratcheting out bolts, changing oil, taking out hoses and fans and entire radiators to replace them, I would have said that was just about the best thing ever.

But…it isn’t?

It’s everything I thought I wanted, but I don’t feel the way I thought I’d feel about it.

What I mean is, yes, I finish the work day feeling good, feeling like I accomplished something. And that lasts for about an hour.

Then the further I get from the work that I did, the worse I feel. The emptier I feel. The more dissatisfied. I look back on the day and try to feel like I was productive, and I can’t. I feel like I wasted my time, like I should have been doing something else, only I don’t know what. And I feel like I don’t want to go back.

I don’t know why I feel that way about it; I just know that I do.

And that’s when the anxiety/panic attacks hit, every day like clockwork, because it’s really jarring to get everything you thought you wanted and feel that unsatisfied with it. I’ve done plenty of jobs in the past that weren’t necessarily the most soul-nourishing or fulfilling things, but that was okay, because they were just interim placeholders — summer jobs, internships, freelance gigs — not something that I had worked toward and thought I really wanted. And I kind of feel like I’d prefer to go back to doing some sort of interim placeholder job that I know from the outset is unfulfilling, rather than doing something that I thought would be fulfilling but somehow isn’t.

***

I don’t really know what to do. I’ve been trying to reevaluate my options, because the anxiety attacks have been severe, physically debilitating. I’m talking throwing up, can’t sleep, can’t eat, throat muscles constricting so I can barely breathe, etc. Mental anxiety is unpleasant, but I can deal with it. Physical manifestations, though, I cannot. I’ve discovered a fairly decent new coping mechanism wherein I lie very still under the covers in my bed with my stuffed tiger and turn the game on on the radio so that the voices there make it impossible for me to hear my own thoughts. But that is clearly not a long term solution.

I’ve been pushing off trying therapy for a long time because it’s expensive, but my mom and I are finally looking at some options for me, and we’ll see how that goes.

I’ve been trying to look at the job itself and figure out what would make it more satisfying — is the problem that I rarely interact with any customers so I don’t feel the positive impact that my work is having? Is it because I haven’t gotten to use my own tools that much because everyone is letting me use their (much better and more versatile) tools? Is it because I’m told what to do rather than getting a chance to figure out the diagnosis for myself?
But I have a gut instinct that it’s not any of those things, really. That I could make an effort to have all those things be part of the job and still not be satisfied. It’s not the job; it’s me.

And I worry that I’m just wired without a Fulfillment Button, so no matter how much I look I won’t find it; that I can set goals and reach them and get everything I want, but maybe I’m just never going to be happy.

I know that plenty of people switch careers and career paths many times over the course of their lives, and that a lot of them have invested a heck of a lot more time and money than I have, so if that is what I end up doing, it doesn’t mean I failed, it doesn’t mean any of this was a mistake, or that I’m not special or a worthwhile human being just because this didn’t pan out. But starting over is never easy.

In one of the books (Mirror Dance) of my favorite sci-fi series (The Vorkosigan Saga by Lois McMaster Bujold), a major character suffers a traumatic injury and gets amnesia. Because Bujold is a brilliant writer and not a hack, this isn’t just some tropey plot device; it becomes a reflection on the nature of identity. During his attempts to reconstruct his identity, this character at one point feels like he’s doing it by process of elimination, trying to learn everything else in the universe in the hopes that whatever small, person-shaped hole is left at the end will be him. That’s what starting over feels like to me — daunting and lonely and a crap-ton of work.

And I know there are a lot of people who’ve supported me, emotionally and financially, throughout this whole endeavor, and I hate to let you down. But I also know that ultimately, it’s my life, and my opinion is what matters here, not yours.

So, for the people who’ve been asking, “HOW IS THE NEW JOB???” — the answer is: I don’t know. I’m going to give it a little more time; I know it’s only been three days and any job is an adjustment, none more so than the first one. But if this pattern/emotional loop of “good work day, seeping dissatisfaction, debilitating panic attack” persists, I may look elsewhere and begin my quarter-life crisis anew.

Girl in Automotive School: On Symbolism

 

The High Holidays of Judaism always arrive at around this time of year: Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, followed quickly by the less High but still 8-day long Holiday of Sukkot (7 days if you live in Israel).

 

And I’ve noticed this year, maybe even more than any other year, just how much each of these is rife with symbolism. There are unusual fruits eaten with their own brief prayers relating their metaphoric significance or at least puns about them and how they relate to the blessings we hope to have this year. There is apple dipped in honey for a sweet new year. There is round challah bread to symbolize the circle of life. On Yom Kippur, it’s a common custom to wear white to signify a fresh start. And don’t even get me started on all the things a sukkah may or may not symbolize.

 

Sometimes a sukkah is just a sukkah? Nope, never.

 

I’m not going to deny that symbolism can have great power, that seeing a physical manifestation or reminder of an emotional truth can be very effective. However, I think it’s largely true that the symbols that have the most power to us are not the ones that are passed down to us (not to say that there’s anything wrong them), but rather, the ones that we create for ourselves.

 

I am no stranger to making my own symbols. I’ve been choosing certain actions based on their metaphorical resonances since long before Augustus Waters made it cool.

 

[Side note: I recall reading a review of The Fault in Our Stars movie and the reviewer scoffed at Augustus’s cigarette metaphor, saying that it barely worked in the book and certainly doesn’t work on screen, and to that I say, “BAH. There’s nothing to ‘work’ or ‘not work’ about it. Either you acknowledge that there are people who create symbols for themselves or you don’t. And if you don’t, well, you’re wrong.” We may be unbearably pretentious but that doesn’t mean we don’t exist!]

 

For instance, a while back I took to wearing a fake engagement ring, first as a social experiment and then, as explained here, as a symbol to myself of all the times I have felt most wanted, chosen, or loved, by classmates, coworkers, friends, acquaintances, family, etc.

 

Lately, I’ve taken to wearing another kind of ring for symbolic purposes.

 

There is symbolism in my choice of hand pose and background posters as well. I’m just so symbolic.

 

The ring is a clamp from the inner tie rod of a car that we worked on in class. (Tie rods are what connect the tires to the car’s rack-and-pinion, which is attached to the steering gear and moves to the right and to the left to steer the car. Not important! Well, no, very important, but not in regard to this post.) Point is, it’s a piece of a car and I turned it into a ring. I even coated the outside with clear nail polish so that it would be shiny.

 

The symbol has a couple of major layers, which I was very conscious of while choosing it:

 

  • It takes something stereotypically masculine (car part) and turns it into something stereotypically feminine (shiny ring). This is important to me because it helps me fight my internalized misogynistic thinking that anything feminine or girly or pretty is inherently inferior or weak or useless. These are constructs that are pushed onto us constantly and — while this may surprise you, given my affinities for bright clothes and makeup — I am still deprogramming myself from my aversion to anything girly.

 

  • I made a very conscious choice to wear it on my left ring finger, where it is customary to wear an engagement and/or wedding ring. I did this even though occasionally my fingers swell up a bit and it might make more sense for me to wear it on a pinky finger or even the ring finger of my right hand, which may be slightly narrower. But I didn’t want to, because I absolutely want that symbol of commitment for myself. That this is what I am dedicating my life to right now. That even when it’s overwhelming, or I’ve had a bad day full of sexism and frustration, or when it’s a long weekend and school feels far away and it may feel easier to slip backward into a more conventional career, this nail-polished piece of metal around my finger provides a physical, tangible reminder for why I won’t do that.

 

I lost it a couple weeks ago, and I felt naked without it; kept tightening my fingers or reaching my thumb over to my ring finger to feel the ring but it wasn’t there, and I felt unsettled and anxious, like I’d lost an anchor, like I was loosing my grip on my commitment. It’s irrational, but that’s how much power symbols can have. I totally understood why Augustus would risk his life to get another pack of cigarettes to replenish his anchoring metaphor and regain his equilibrium.

 

bonus John Green
excuse to post gif of Augustus Waters being adorable

 

What was worse than losing it, though, was the way I lost it: I took it off to wash my hands before eating bread, as per the Jewish custom, and I forgot it by the water fountain where I washed. This was because the water fountain is in a fairly small, semi-isolated nook of the school and I don’t like being in that nook for any longer than necessary, because I can’t help but be aware of the fact that out of anyplace in the school building, that is the easiest one in which to overpower a girl. It’s not like it’s ideal for that — if I screamed they’d totally hear me in the shop — but it’s definitely not the most comfortable place to linger. So I get jumpy when I’m there, and as a result, forgot to put my ring back on and by the next day, it had been cleared away.

 

And I hated the symbolic significance of how I’d lost it — letting sexism and fear push me around to the point where my behavior was affected and I lost something valuable to me — I hated that even more than I hated losing it, and so I desperately wanted to replace it, to erase that negative energy and make sure it never happened again. Luckily, I take home lots of spare odds and ends from shop, and I found another inner tie rod clamp in my small collection, and that’s the one I currently wear.

 

So the symbolism on this one is three-fold. Better not lose it.

 

 

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Girl in Automotive School: Injury Edition

 

Last week, someone got hurt in class.

 

He spent half an hour lying on the floor, whimpering into silence.

 

No, it wasn’t some horrific accident like the kind my parents worry about happening to me — no hands were caught between engine pulleys or transmission gears and ground into a bloody pulp.

 

The guy fell out of the trunk of a car.

 

For real. That’s what happened.

 

You see, our shop assignment that day [CAR SPEAK ALERT] was to remove a component of the car’s rear suspension, a part called the strut (a spring combined with a shock absorber), to be exact. Struts are positioned vertically behind the wheels of cars. They go up in a fairly straight line from behind the wheel right up to the bottom of the car body.

 

It’s the black springy thingy behind the wheel.

 

This means that while the bottom bolts of the strut are accessible by reaching underneath the car, the top of the strut is bolted to the car itself, and therefore the bolts are generally INSIDE the car, fastening it there. We dug around and eventually found the top bolts inside the trunk, underneath the carpet in the shadowy inner corner.

 

Some groups got access to the bolts by going through the rear passenger seats. But the best angles for ratcheting and unscrewing the bolts could only be achieved by climbing into the trunk and working in there.

 

So that’s what this guy had been doing. Since other teams were also working on the bottom parts of their struts at the same time, all the cars we were using were on lifts, elevated a few feet off the ground. Not sure how high exactly; maybe 3 feet? Not exactly Mt. Everest, but requiring moderate levels of coordination for ascent and descent.

 

And this guy botched it. Twisted his knee and wound up on the floor, drawing the attention and curiosity of the entire shop.

 

Full disclosure: I had been doing this exact same job. In fact, I was the one in the class who realized that going into the trunk was the best option, and since I am one of the few in class small enough and agile enough to comfortably fit in a trunk (put that on the ole resume), I jumped right in. And out. Several times over the course of the afternoon, to loosen this bolt and that bolt and “oh can you get this one too” and “what the hell, just take ‘em all out, you’re already in there” and then of course tightening all the bolts back up when we put the strut back on.

 

And not once did I injure myself hopping in and out of the trunk, because I am a ~graceful swan~ oh yes.

 

But this guy, either through clumsiness or sheer bad luck, managed to get himself hurt. There was a flurry of activity and sympathy at first: clustering around where he lay half-curled on the floor; fetching him an ice pack; fetching him a chair; helping him get into it — but by the fifteen-minute mark, after he’d abandoned the chair in favor of lying unmoving on the floor again, sympathy began to ebb among some of my classmates.

 

I heard one of my friends laughing around the toolbox with some of the other guys.

 

“What?” I asked.

 

“Nothing, just laughing at what a terrible person I am.”

 

“Oh really? Why?”

 

He lowered his voice a jot. “Look, he’s in pain. I get it. I’ve been there.” (For reference, this friend was awarded five — count ‘em, FIVE — Purple Hearts before being medically discharged from the Army after 15 years, and takes daily prescription painkillers for the injuries that still haven’t quite healed. He specializes in getting shot and blown up.) “But it’s like, come on, man, you don’t have to lie down on the floor; that’s a bit dramatic.”

 

I told him I was inclined to agree, because if I got hurt in class, no matter how bad it was, you know what I’d do? Hide it. Why? Because I’m a girl. And the minute anyone sees me show weakness in that kind of public way, that’s the last time anyone’s gonna take me seriously. I don’t care if that means I have to hole up in the bathroom until an ambulance gets there — there’s just too much credibility at stake for me to risk anyone seeing me in that sort of state. Lots of people already think I am weaker or less competent because I’m female; I can’t afford to give them anything that might reinforce their stereotyping.

 

This guy, on the other hand, could lie on the floor for an hour if he wanted and people are still going to think he’s better suited for this profession than I am.

 

The next day, I overheard him talking to his friends and it turns out he had pre-existing problems with his ACL, but like most guys in school, he can’t take the necessary time off to get surgery, even if he can afford to pay for it. So yeah, his injury and behavior make a bit more sense. But still.

 

Why does this matter so much to me? Well, I’m not especially physically strong. I’m not especially athletic. I have a family history of arthritis and a personal history of back problems, and I live in constant fear that they will rear their party-pooping heads and derail my fledgling career. Or that I will otherwise destroy myself physically. (The night before I started school, I had freakout to a friend which basically consisted of me going, “BUT WHAT IF I GET HURT?!” and her going, “You’re not going to get hurt,” and me going, “YOU DON’T KNOW THAT!” A barrel of laughs I was that night, yup yup.)

 

So I have to admit that it eats at me to know that there are guys in this industry who are just as physically damaged as I am, if not much more so, who are probably much more of a liability than I am, and yet people are going to look at that guy and infer “strong” but look at me and infer “weak.” Because, again, in case you forgot, I am a girl.

 

It’s frustrating, to say the least.

 

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More Stuff on Being a Girl in Automotive School

 

There were some things I didn’t cover in my last piece about my school experience so far. (For those who are curious about the academic front, I’m writing this on the day I took my first final and tomorrow I start a new class, and I don’t actually have a clue what subject it will be because the way things are done is that the class lists are pinned up on the bulletin board the DAY OF the new class, and that’s when you find out what subject it is and what classroom it’s in. Bizarro. In other news, I am a spoiled college kid.)

 

[UPDATE FROM THE FUTURE: My new class is Electronic Fundamentals or something to that effect, and we have shop in the morning with one instructor and classroom/theory in the afternoon with a different instructor, which makes zero sense from a student perspective, because the practical stuff we’re learning may or may not line up with what we’ll be tested on, since there’s no way to communicate exactly what each instructor is covering to the other and they don’t really coordinate. Oh well. I’m a smart cookie; I’ll figure it out.]

 

I don’t intend for this piece to be a huge essay, just some quick notes on what wasn’t covered last time, broken down into sections for your convenience!

 

 

Bathroom

 

There is one girls’ bathroom and one men’s bathroom for students. The girls’ bathroom has one toilet, one sink, one motion-sensing paper towel dispenser, and deliciously mango-scented air freshener. It is always locked, so girls have to go get a key from Student Services every day in order to open it. You can keep the key all day and return it after dismissal, but I forgot to do that on my first day, and now I just “forget” to do it, so I basically have my own key that I take to school every day so that I don’t have to constantly ask them for one. (Don’t worry; they have enough keys for the few girls in the program.) And the hassle of having to remember if I transferred the key from one uniform shirt to the other every day is so worth the peace of mind that comes with knowing that that bathroom is a heavenly slice of privacy.

 

It’s no secret that I love my solitude. The few minutes I spend in that bathroom each day are kind of my favorites. It can suck having to come out of it and promptly coming face to face with a dude who’s like, “Hey, beautiful,” which totally kills that wonderful bubble of comfort and privacy, but it’s also a place where I’ve run into some of the other girls in the program who needed to use the bathroom, and that’s great, because sisterhood, yo.

 

 

Clothes

 

We get button-down uniform shirts. Two of them for $46. With iron-on patches that can display our academic achievements.

 

The sizes on the paper that I could choose from at orientation were: Small, Medium, Large, XL, 2X, 3X, 4X, 5X, and 6X. So, unsurprisingly, the admissions guy’s immediate reaction to me was, “I can see if they can order you an extra small?” Which I shot down and tried on the small. It’s ginormous and fits my body in exactly no places, but I knew that extra small wouldn’t be any better because in point of fact, no one has yet invented a button-down shirt that fits a body that is as hourglassish as mine. Take your pick: Boobs or waist — you get to pick a shirt that fits one, not both. This one fit neither, being too baggy at the waist and too small at the chest. None of this is a complaint, by the way; by not fitting in any way, shape, or form, my shirt basically serves as a reminder to me about how tiny and curvy I am, which I cannot find a way to spin into being a bad thing. And anyhow, I ain’t going to automotive school to be a fashionista so whatEVER.

Everyone wears shirts or tank tops under their uniform shirts (except one guy who our instructor has dubbed “The Phantom” because of his habit of just disappearing during the school day for hours at a time but that’s another story) so it’s not a big deal that my shirt doesn’t close over my chest and I wear t-shirts underneath every day. It puts my t-shirt collection to good use, that’s for sure.

 

We don’t get uniform pants. This is only a thing of importance to me because I don’t own a single pair of jeans. I have like one pair of sweatpants and a few pairs of leggings, and mostly any other pants I have are pajama pants. Hashtag Orthodox Jewish Girl Problems. I asked at registration and was told that for safety reasons, as I assumed, skirts are not recommended. So I put a post up on facebook asking if any friends of mine had old jeans that they thought might fit me, and some friends responded, but I still don’t have jeans because it turns out that even though I am a 6-8 in skirts/dresses, I am apparently probably something like a 10-12 in pants. Like I said, hourglassish. So if you’ve got size 10-12 ladies jeans lying around, email them to me! Much appreciated.

 

Obama will give you a thumbs up. Cross my heart.

 

But this hasn’t really been a problem so far. The first few days, I came to school wearing sweatpants or leggings underneath one of those ankle-length black skirts that I almost never wear in real life, and after the classroom portion of the day (i.e. all morning) I pulled off the skirt and went to the shop in pants/leggings. But then one day I forgot to change and no one noticed and the instructor didn’t care, so I stopped wearing the extra layer underneath (because it is NYC in the summer, gah) and just wear the same ankle-length black skirt every day for class and shop and no one gives a hoot. If we ever do something that’s physical enough to require pants, of course I’ll wear them, but for now I’ll stick with skirts because they are way better in summer heat and most of my non-skirt bottoms are not fit to be seen in public. And they totally don’t match my uniform shirt. (One of my pairs of leggings is like purple and shimmery. Went with the oversized navy button-down shirt super well. Not.)

 

Also the shirt has pockets. They’re breast pockets but it’s not like the shirt fits me so stuff in the pockets doesn’t actually look weird; it’s just part of the overall sloppy-mechanic-mess-look. Which means I carry stuff in my pockets all the time. This is awesome.

 

POCKETS! *drool*

 

Despite all this lack of anything resembling fashion, I get looks and I get hit on with regularity, simply because I am female. This really hammers home the fact that there really isn’t that much you need to do, looks-wise, to get a guy’s attention. They’ll probably notice you exist just because you’re a girl. If you want to hold that attention (which I don’t in this case), that’s where personality comes in. (I know I am saying this from a position of body/overall attractiveness privilege, because I fit into certain conventions of beauty, and that’s unfair. But I do think that being female has a lot more to do with it in this situation than being attractive. I’m not that attractive, especially not in school; I’m just an object of curiosity.)

 

More about this in . . .

 

Makeup

 

I have this policy of wearing makeup for the first few days of any new class/semester, in college and now in automotive school. The theory is that if that’s how I make my first impression, whatever glamour that first impression creates will cling to me for the duration that those people know me. This is a theory that I completely made up and is entirely unscientific because I have not attempted to research it in the slightest, but I don’t need to, because confidence is a head game that you play with yourself, so whatever works will work if you let it.

 

The biggest issue with this is that during each semester/course, you get to what I have internally dubbed the “band-aid day” — meaning, the day I rip off the metaphorical band-aid and show up with no makeup on. And Buzzfeed can tell me all they want that no one notices if you don’t wear makeup, but that is baloney. The first day I showed up without makeup, B. (of my previous post) did a double take and said, “Did you forget—” and stopped.

 

“Did I forget what?”

 

“Nothing. Never mind. You look great.”

 

Because nothing is so utterly transparent than giving a girl an unsolicited reassurance about how she looks after you just looked at her like she showed up wearing mud in her hair. Good one, B. And he proceeded on a few subsequent days to say things like, “You don’t get much sleep, do you?”

 

To which I was always tempted to respond, “None of your business but I get plenty of sleep; I’m just a pasty white girl with no consistent skin tone and I don’t feel like wearing makeup every day just so that I don’t look like a zombie.”

 

SM without makeup, an approximation.

 

But note that this did not deter him from continuing to hit on me, ask me to the movies, offer to take me places “if you’re good” (ugh). He has definitively used up all my goodwill at this point. Persistence is not sexy at all when it ignores and disrespects other people’s clearly-drawn boundaries. B. is fortunately not in my class right now; he’s in the diesel program and I’m in the automotive program, so we had that one intro class together but now we have separate classes. He still comes to find me during breaks and is like, “Can I get a hug??” and I’m like, “No.” And he laughs and says, “Handshake?” and so I shake his hand instead of telling him to get lost, because I’m super polite like that.

 

And similarly to how it works with the clothes, plenty of the other guys continue to hit on me and attempt to chat me up whether or not I am wearing makeup.

 

So to end this on a positive note, I can tell you that when it’s not incredibly annoying or creepy, the inane male attention has actually been a decent confidence boost/reinforcement for me. Like, if I can look like crap and get hit on constantly, then when I finally do get all gussied up and wear makeup and put on clothes I like that actually fit my body, I feel, like, super sexy. Like turbo-charged sexy, to use a car metaphor.

 

Va-VOOM.
Va-VOOM.

 


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