My Dance Space, Your Dance Space

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Do you ever wish the world was different? I sure do. Like … I want it to drive less like an asshole. I want it to stop imposing to boner-killingly impossible deadlines on me. I want it to value endless income less, and quality and friendship and gratitude more.

Sometimes all this wishing and wanting makes me rant and rave a little — or more than a little — about how things could be and how there must be a better way, about everything that is wrong with the world and how I would go about setting it right.

And, you know, I do have a bit of a gift for ranting … . so it’s kind of fun to me in a let’s-get-this-opposite-of-a-party-started kind of way. Which makes it hard to resist when I start feeling that urge to put on my ranting dress.

But, oh, how useless it is. It’s not like yelling at bad drivers or going on a tear about how the economy should be organized or any of my other favorite topics actually does any good. I mean, I might get a good zinger in here or there, but beyond that … what does it do, besides turn me into a ranting crazy person? (Which is not a good look for me.)

And it’s not just useless to rant and rave — it can actually be harmful. Because I end up fantasizing about people buying my book instead of sitting down to write more of them. Or I go off on inefficiencies at work instead of putting my head down and organizing my own projects more efficiently. Or I rail against consumerism and greed instead of reining in my own tendency to buy far more shoes and earrings than are necessary.

Instead of freaking out about things over which I have no control, the best thing I can do — that any of us can do, I think — is to focus on what we can control. Obviously. I mean, this is the crux of the Serenity Prayer, Steven Covey’s Seven Habits, and basically every self-improvement-style spiritual path. It’s the most basic thing in the world to understand, but not so easy to do. It requires that you constantly pay attention to what’s going on in your mind, and constantly draw it back to what YOU can do instead of how fucked everything is.

But it’s worth it … because when it gets down to it, the only way to change anything is to focus on what you can do, right? The only way to impact the wider circle is to start in a smaller one. There’s no guarantee that your small circle changes will ripple out, of course, but there’s only one way to find out, and that’s to stop bitching and start moving.

This blog is meant not only to help you be less crazy but to help ME be less crazy. So … today I’m refocusing myself on my own dance space. Tightening up my spaghetti arms instead of flailing around expecting everyone else to fix everything. Doing what I can do as best I can. This includes taking care of myself — meditating, eating well, getting some exercise, getting some laughs and some zzzs — so I can then take care of business.

How about you? Are you wigging out about stuff you don’t have any control over? What can you do today to refocus on your own dance space?

Career Planning With Your Middle Finger

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Yesterday I had coffee with one of my best besties, and she was describing to me some of the horrors of her workplace … which I have a feeling won’t be her workplace for too much longer.

As she told me about having to apologize to people who fly off the handle for no reason, having to take orders from people who have no idea what her work is about, and having to endure micromanagement from people who end their list of inane requests with statements like, “And don’t accuse me of micromanaging!” … well I started to get kinda pissed on her behalf.

So I asked her — what would happen if you just went in there with middle fingers blazing? Not literally, but figuratively … a symbol of an attitude of incredulity in the face of true silliness. What if you decided to do your job the way you think it should be done, “have to”s be damned, and tell the haters to suck it? What if you just ignored all the “helpful suggestions” and went about your business?

“I would probably get fired,” she replied, but I’m not so sure. Because, the thing is, she is excellent at her job. She regularly turns a routine task into something remarkable. Even though her bosses treat her like a child, even though they are batshit crazy and incapable of acting like adults, they still know that she does good work, and lots of it. And there is power in that.

So, from my point of view outside the situation, I can see that my beloved friend is suffering unnecessarily. She is in the sweet spot to get those middle fingers out and either transform her job into something she can deal with, or move on to something better.

How do I know this? Because I’ve followed the middle-finger career path for as long as I can remember, and people simply don’t treat me like this. When someone tries to micromanage me, well, that makes me giggle. When my boss asks me to do something in a way that I would never choose to do it, I explain to them why I’m not going to do that, and what I plan to do instead. When someone tries to force me to adhere to some stupid senseless policy, I am so busy kicking ass that I barely even hear them.

Is this because I am some magical creature that can’t be touched by the slings and arrows of modern work life? No. I think my ability to largely make my own rules in my work life mostly comes from the fact that I know how to flip a table when needed.

Do I mean actually flipping a table … not really. I mostly mean flipping a table in your mind. Cultivating a middle-finger attitude. Understanding that there are a thousand million jobs in the world, and as soon as you start thinking, “Whoa, shit, I really need this job,” they have you.

How do you do this? It starts by doing excellent work and knowing what you are talking about. So, if you are in a position where you’re not doing excellent work and you don’t know what you’re talking about, that’s the first place to start. Get better. Work harder. Learn.

Once you are awesome at what you do, THEN you can get out those middle fingers and wave them around a bit to create a bubble of Haha That’s Funny That You Think You Get To Fuck With Me. Like, when your boss says something insane, you can laugh like you know she’s just making a hilarious joke instead of actually trying to tell you, the expert, how to do your job. Instead of apologizing to crazy people for triggering their craziness, here’s how you will start dealing with them: you will ignore them and keep being awesome.

Instead of apologizing to crazy people for triggering their craziness, here’s how you will start dealing with them once you get into that middle-finger state of mind: you will ignore them and keep being awesome.

I understand that not every workplace has room for the kind of freedom that I’m talking about. And I know that sometimes it takes a little while to work out an escape plan.

But, seriously, have you ever known someone who had a shitty job or a horrible boss, and they just bummed out about it for years on end and never did anything about it? This is what I don’t want to happen to you, or to my bestie, because it is unnecessary.

There are always more jobs, just like there are always more prospective romantic partners, more people we could be friends with, more opportunities that would be great for us that we don’t even know about yet. There’s no need to be so risk-averse that we allow ourselves to languish away in a bad place. We only need to learn to get out those middle fingers and stop letting other people dictate how we feel and behave.

So … what would happen if my friend flipped a table at work? If she stopped being so conciliatory and started waving some middle fingers around in a light-hearted but deadly serious way? I think she might be surprised to see a change in how her colleagues treat her, and even more importantly, a change in how she sees herself.

I’m not asking anyone to turn into a mega-bitch … maybe just a tiny bitch. No need to drive all your colleagues away, but if you get a reputation for being someone who doesn’t suffer fools gladly, is that such a bad thing?

We ladies are raised to smooth things over, to say or do whatever needs to be said or done to keep a ball rolling, even if that ball is rolling over us. But sometimes that smooth path of least resistance involves more sacrifices than we should have to make. When that time comes, the best response, in my opinion, is to get out those middle fingers and let your voice rise up with Cee-Lo in a sweet, hearty chorus of “Fuck You.”

So here’s my advice to my gal, and to everyone who’s struggling with a shitty job where people treat you like an idiot: Stop smoothing over all the problems of the wackjobs around you. Do an excellent job, cultivate that middle-finger bubble, and realize that you already have the freedom to refuse to engage with insanity.

Thanks to Mr. Money Mustache for making me realize how applicable middle fingers are to just about everything, even grocery shopping.

Movin’ On Up

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The first time I visited the little house on Grape Street, it was May of 1999, and the man who is now my husband was marrying the woman who was once his wife. I walked to their wedding, because I lived in the same neighborhood, Mount Oliver, just a few blocks away. Back then, our ‘hood was a decent place — nothing to write home about, no, but quiet and peaceful, for the most part.

Over the years, that changed. What had been a sleepy working class neighborhood started slipping toward straight up war zone, with crime and violence and shady-feeling businesses driving out the shops and restaurants in our little downtown area. Driving around on warm nights began to feel like running a dangerous obstacle course, and shootings were happening so frequently that we couldn’t even keep them all straight. None of this ever touched me or any of my friends, thank the gods, but still … it was disconcerting to be around.

In 2005, I left Pittsburgh and our crumbling neighborhood, headed for a fancy new job in midtown Manhattan and a fancy apartment in Brooklyn. At that time, if you had told me that I’d ever end up in Mount Oliver ever again, I think I might have punched you in the face for even suggesting it.

But, life … well, as we all know by now, she is one hilarious bitch. Because what ended up happening over the next few years was my man’s first marriage fell apart, we fell in love, and my grandma — who lived in the same neighborhood, just a few blocks away from my fella — started needing more help. So I started spending more time there.

Then I lost my fancy job and left New York to move in with my man. Blammo — I was back in Mt. Olly full time, in this cute but spent little house with three layers of roof shingles sliding in all directions, a bathroom so tiny that you could pee and wash your feet and brush your teeth all at the same time if you wanted, and a kitchen with a fun-house floor that left our baked goods an inch thicker on one side than the other until we learned to turn them 180 degrees halfway through cooking.

See the daylight showing between the halves of the roof in front? Somehow, miraculously, it didn’t leak.

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Don’t get me wrong — our house was a cute little house, comfortable and snug and just the right size for us. And it was super cheap, which enabled Rich and me to get through some unsteady financial times over the past few years. Rich had a lovely little garden in the back and an office upstairs, and I took over the living room as my studio for sewing and writing. We were able to have a wonderful time there.

But also? We were really jonesing to get out — mostly because of the neighborhood. We literally had a drug dealer next door to us, and he literally kept a pit bull on a 40 foot chain in the 25-foot-wide vacant lot between our houses. (This meant that, had we left our back door open, we could have hosted said pit bull for dinner.) In the last weeks before we left, a couple of tents popped up in that vacant lot, too — lucky us, our own mini-shantytown!

On the other side, the neighbors were sweet people, but their house had even more serious maintenance issues than ours. These began to impact our lives when a sink hole opened up under their crumbling garage, creating a huge ditch in our driveway, and terrifying us. What if a little kid tried to play in there and got hurt? Even after repeated requests from us and citations from the city, the neighbors still didn’t do anything about it.

Plus, I dunno, maybe I’m a whiner / yuppie / terrible person, but, to me, it is depressing to see prostitutes and drug dealers hawking their wares at like ten in the morning. And to hear dogs barking and fireworks going off and people yelling at each other in the street at all hours. Yes, I’m crotchety and old, so kindly get off my lawn.

Then there was the house itself, which is a hundred and twenty years old and in need of a lot of TLC. We did the best we could — we painted and put down new carpet and kept the inside really nice — but honestly the place needed much more maintenance than Rich or I had the money, interest, or knowledge to perform.

And then there were all the memories of the past lurking in the ducts and brickwork. It’s not that we sat around thinking about the fact that the house was the scene of Rich’s first marriage and the crumbling of that marriage … but somehow, they still felt linked. We wanted to begin somewhere new, and make it our home together.

So … last year we started trying to sell. We priced it aggressively — aka CHEAP — which made the numbers work out great for someone to buy and hold it as a rental. But, even pricing it below $10,000, it seemed almost impossible to find anyone interested. We even showed the place to a bunch of We Buy Ugly Houses investors, but between the neighborhood and the work needed on the house, none of them wanted to touch it.

Which seemed like a really bad sign. I mean, if the Ugly Houses dudes don’t even want your place, what are you supposed to do with it? Pay off the entire mortgage and then sign it over to a homeless person or something? Or, if we stopped paying, would the bank take it back, or would they just never foreclose and leave us trapped there in limbo forever? The uncertainty and the feeling of stuckness were hard to take, especially coupled with all the other stuff going on in our lives at the time.

Then, like something out of a dream, an amazing couple named Rick and Sherrie came into our lives. They had a friend who was looking for properties just like ours to hold and to rent to help fund his retirement! And, wonder of wonder, miracle of miracles — even after looking at the roof, he was still interested! We tried hard not to scare him away, gave him a great deal on the house, and started making our plans to GTFO.

Many hours of research on Craig’s List helped us find the perfect place to move — a spacious apartment with huge windows in a high rise overlooking a pretty little park in a part of town where it’s walkable and there are things around that you actually want to walk to. The place we saw was available June 1st, but it rented to someone else before we could sign the paperwork on the old place … and, whomp whomp, the next availability wasn’t until August 1st. So, after we signed the closing papers in May, we started packing and waiting for three months that felt like forever.

Finally, last week, we got the keys, and when I opened the door, it felt like a hundred Christmas mornings. Fresh new wood floors, amazing view and light and spaciousness!

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And huge closets! And tons of counter space in the kitchen! And these amazing vintage tile floors in the bathrooms!

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Yes, I said bathrooms. We now have two. UNBELIEVABLE LUXURY.

We’ve been here a few mornings now, and I keep waking up just before dawn, loafing in bed for a while, watching the sun rise in the hills in the distance, burning off the fog and turning the dark trees bright.

And Grape Street and the crack deals and the pit bull and the sinkhole and the crooked floors and the tiny shower and the gross basement — it all feels like a distant dream, or a long-told fable with a happy ending.

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Ridiculously happy!