Making My Worry Work for Me

I guess I’ve just been in this sort of mood lately to ruminate on and dispense advice nobody asked me for.

I try not to complain. And by that I do mean in general, I’m not much of a complainer. It’s a habit that has some merit, but also means I wind up enduring a lot of stuff that I might not have to, otherwise. Let me explain.

It isn’t born from a spineless attitude, some sort of head-hung-low, “Okay, whatever you say, sorry,” disposition. As a little kid, I grew up in a house that saw more than its fair share of shouting and violence, and through life – like we all do at times, I imagine – have been surrounded by people with short fuses. And the takeaway, thank God, wasn’t that “shouting is totally the way to assert yourself and get things done so people know you’re not a push-over,” but that anger is ugly, more often than not. Really ugly. And if nothing else, I’m a creature of vanity, so I want everything to do with charm and nothing to do with ugliness.

That said, I have had two times in recent memory (meaning probably a dozen years) that I’ve shouted while beside myself. Once was while playing Settlers of Catan and Micah skyrocketed ahead to seven Victory Points and so I built my road up to try and close the gap a little bit for the rest of us but then Alan blocked me because “You got longest road last time” and even when I diverted he did it again even though the ONLY resources I was sitting on were Lumber and Brick so what the hell else was I gonna do, but he still felt super justified despite the fact that Micah had more than the three of us COMBINED, like are you kidding me with that f*cking STUPID lack of tactical awarene-……

Anyway, and the second time was at a doctor smugly refusing to help a loved one.

I’d say both were equally justified.

Patience is a virtue, and it’s one that all too uncommon these days, it seems; and so it’s one that I strive for with my utmost. I feel like with patience comes integrity, comes dignity, and comes a certain amount of peace. Not that it’s easy, at all. In fact, paired with a relatively undying sense of optimism, it can be pretty exhausting. It’s tiring to know that against whatever the odds may be, I’ll still hope; and even when those hopes have been dashed time and time again, know that beneath it all my core head will still insist that there’s a way for whatever it is I’m hoping for to work, and I’ll endure it quietly throughout the process.

I’ve blown a few gaskets, but still together, mostly.

And on the whole, I do find that honey wins more than vinegar. Gratitude wins out over attitude. Resilience beats out rage. Patience trumps pettiness.

But it is not easy, though some that know me have told me it seems that way.

Harkening back to the aforementioned vanity, yeah, when I’m told that I’m always such a cool cucumber, I lean into it because it feels sexy, but I’m human as hell, which means I still plague myself with nightmares of what could go wrong. All the time. I imagine those things I don’t want to have happen: people or pets dying, running out of money, losing a place to live, on and on and on. The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows (if you haven’t heard of it, check it out) defines the form they often strike me as Nighthawks. I can have a peaceful, happy day, and as soon as my head is on the pillow at night, I think of how one day I’ll have to eulogize my mother, or might outlive my partner and bear the burden of dying alone, or wrestle with my own mortality if I ever get cancer and just hope I’m loved enough that people will miss me…

You get it.

But what I try to do, since those things sound way too ‘woe is me,’ is think past them and, well, game plan, essentially. A recent example…

The topic of moving out of state has come up a lot recently. If you haven’t heard, California is expensive as balls, which makes prospect-building here rather low. With those talks, there are certain familial concerns that have to be taken into account before we could move anywhere, and my brain ran the Worst Case Scenario simulation, like this:
Theoretically, the strain of those familial obligations could be too much to bear for my partner and I, leaving us feeling anchored and without options and whereupon it’s ultimately what kills our relationship, and they breaks things off with me. Say that, a month or so after that, the family member in question passes away of health complications, leaving me with another set of pieces to pick up alone. Cherry on top would be that said partner hears of this and is so taken with grief and moreover guilt they take their own life. In a span of weeks, my life is turned upside down and my life loses two of its cornerstones.

It was a rough day.

But, mental/emotional nightmare that all that imagining was, I didn’t let it stop there. Much as it twisted my stomach and hollowed my heart, I made like an amateur improv artist and “Yes, and’d” the thought. If all that were to happen, take a few minutes to sit in how that felt. For a little while, look out at the scenery as if that was the world I knew at present. In a sense, pretend or fake myself into thinking that was the case I had to contend with…what would I do? How would I behave, what would that change about me? What prospects would I be left with, what options would I have then?

I was forced to admit it would probably change a few things about me – my personality, my tolerance for certain things, what I would choose to do with myself. But there was a certain amount of comfort that came from three things. Firstly, that was damn-near a worst of all worst case scenarios, and in a very facsimile-style sense, I’d lived through it; like I’d had a practice run of living in it. Secondly, when my car had issues later that day, it was no big deal at all. In fact, mentally putting yourself through the worst your anxiety can conjure makes small potatoes out of a lot of other problems.

Lastly- well’p, I’ve mentioned before a few times here that I’m a UFC fan. And any fellow combat sports fans on here would probably know the name Nick Diaz if I said it. I found a quote of his that actually sums up my third point a bit better than I would put it:

“Other people are always- you know they wanna think about the positive, don’t think
about the negative. And I believe that thinking about the negative is kinda- you know
a way of cancelling out all these possibilities one by one. Cause the odds are I’m
not gonna guess what’s gonna happen, but if I can guess every scenario gone wrong,
then um, you know, maybe, I can change the outcome.”
-Nick Diaz

It’s sort of that age-old bit of work advice: Don’t mention problems if you see them, mention problems and solutions. If you see a busted pipe and go, “Huh, that’s a busted-ass pipe,” that hasn’t really done much. Actually, it hasn’t done sh*t. But if you see a busted pipe, find someone, and say, “Hey, this pipe is busted. Should we turn off the water, do you know where the valve is?” Or, “Do you know who could replace this thing?” then you’re already a billion lightyears ahead of the first example.

My point is simply that if you play the “What if?” mind games that WE ALL DO, but let it stop there, that’s when it hurts you. WE ALL run the “What if X bad thing happened?” – some more than others, absolutely – and f*ck me, make no mistakes that it is not easy at all, but gee golly I’ve found it helpful.

Dunno. If nothing else, the next time you get hit with the Worry Hammer, try pressing forward a little bit. It ain’t painless, but it beats the hell out of building a world in your head of things that want to go badly for you and giving yourself no options.

Best of luck, all.

Life, Death, Redemption, and Cute Little Birdies

Hey all. On a trip, so gonna make this quick, but it weirdly came to mind as worthy of sharing.

I was on a job out in a rural part of the county a few months back. It was a big house up in the hills behind a winery, so it had a really nice view from the front deck we were working on. The house itself was shaped a bit like a horseshoe, and the whole inside curve of that shape was lined with floor-to-ceiling windows. It was cool.

Well, I’m walking along that path to get some tools from the truck when I look down and see a bird on the concrete walkway. It’s on its back, wings splayed, kind of contorted out of shaped. Aww, poor little guy, I think, and start looking around for a bush to set the remains in. It was pretty obvious he’d gotten ambushed by one of the windows, and speed plus little bird spine equals…well, this.

Then I get a little closer and see what I didn’t want to: little sharp, stuttering, haggard breaths.

“…Fuck,” was of course the next mental diagnosis of the situation. Now, rather than a dead bird, here I had one that was dying and very likely suffering from its injuries. Didn’t want to move it, for fear of scaring it and causing it to twist painfully with reflex. Couldn’t just leave it there, for fear of a coworker stepping on him, if not just the unsightliness (is that a word?) for the owner. Wanted to mercy-kill it, but all I really had on me that was appropriate was my framing hammer, and that would have been a bad look if the aforementioned owner came around right as I was dropping it on the little guy.

I asked my older coworker for advice on what to do, and his answer was something akin to, “Hmm…dunno. Sucks.” I came back by the bird, and by now the dog of the house was staring at it, salivating, on the other side of the glass. So I bucked up, knocked on the door, and told the owner – just hoping she wouldn’t let the hounds out to brutalize the little guy with ‘play time.’

She saw, laughed, totally agreed, and we figured we’d just try and leave the little guy in what peace he might find in his last minutes; knowing that around evening time, nature (or a cat) would take its course.

Eventually, I come back and find the bird sitting upright, and I’m shocked. That ruled out a broken back, far as I could tell. He sat up straight, but his head was a little off-kilter. Broken neck still, maybe? I think, and I approach him a little.
[By the way, I swear to God we got work done that day, even though this view may not make it seem like it. lol]
His eyes flittered in and out of sleep. He’d lean forward with the loss of consciousness, catch himself, and sit upright again, like he was dozing off. As I got closer, he regarded me with one of his eyes, but he could. Not. Give. A. Shit. That I was coming within inches of his person. His birdsman…ship?

That was a first. I don’t think I’d ever seen a little finch dealing with results from a concussion before.

Later on, a landscaping crew came by, and before I could warn them about the bird [Again, guys, serious about my job, I really was working on the deck as my primary interest of the day.] I saw that one of them had picked the little guy up and was lightly petting his back between the wings. Who am I to say he shouldn’t? So I just watched from afar and smiled at the sweet moment.

Towards the end of the day, I come ’round the bend doing a final clean up of the day [See? Working.], and I notice the bird was gone. I check the hedges nearby, seeing if he was set in the shade. Nothing. I asked the owner if the landscaper had moved him, and she told me that no, he’d pet it and put it right back where it was. Then I’m ’rounding the bend for the final time that day – and I swear to God this is true – I hear a single ‘tweet’ from above me on the roof.

Now, I’ll never know if that landscaper was actually a Mexican druid with healing abilities or not, but I’d like to imagine that the bird had just taken a massive hit to the dome, suffered a bad concussion, and just needed some time to shake the cobwebs out; and that that ‘tweet’ was some kind of, “Hey, buddy, thanks for not smashing me when you thought I was dead.”

Altogether, it was a tale of trial, hardship, patience, adversity, and the ability to rally and overcome, all wrapped up in a neat little quarter-ounce package with wings.

What I’ve Learned in my Time as a Tradesman

I fell into becoming a carpenter a little over a year ago. I had to renovate my mother’s house in order to sell it some time before that and get her into a better living situation, and learned a lot of it as I went. As that chapter was coming to a close, a friend saw the work I’d done, knew a guy, and asked if I’d be interested in learning the trade proper. I said “What the hey, why not?” and now here we are.

And I’ve learned a ton!* Chiefly:

  1. If you did it, then it was the best it could have been done and anything wrong with it was probably someone else’s fault anyway.
  2. If someone else did it and it sucks, then it’s because that person’s an idiot who doesn’t know a duck’s ass from its bill.
  3. If someone else did it and it’s great, then it still sucks a little bit, but maybe they’re not a total moron.

I…I do what I can to not carry this into daily life.

Cheers, everybody.

*This list was compiled from a combined experience watching or listening to experienced old tradesmen in their 50’s-60’s talk about their own work or work they’ve observed specializing in but not limited to: carpentry, plumbing, roofing, HVAC, pouring concrete, and refrigeration. I have a Jewish uncle that works with refrigeration that would likely concur with all points on this list, so you know you can trust it.

Grenades at Work

Sup everybody.

I’ve done some thinking and have come to the conclusion that enough time has passed that this story can be shared without anyone getting in trouble. Not that I’d particularly mind questions from my bosses where it happened since…well, I’m not there anymore.

Evasive attempts to sidestep possible repercussions now behind us, a question: have you ever worked an off-shift? You know, one of the ones besides a nine-to-five? It could be night shift, graveyard, swing, or best of all, weekend.

If you have or do, you might know what I mean when I describe them as…just, another color. We’re like specialists, called in to handle out-of-the-norm operations. And while there are the obvious drawbacks of an alternative schedule, the team-politics that come with it between various shifts, there’s also a certain degree of freedom.

Like a little bit less scrutiny. And in circumstances like those, creativity is allowed to flourish.

Allow me to demonstrate what I mean.

I worked at an optics company for some time a bit out of high school (shit, I don’t know why I’m putting it like that; I’m 26 now and I was there for six and a half years, it’s been my longest running job to date – but you get what I mean). It had its up’s and its down’s like any place, but one of the up’s was being able to handle some pretty neat stuff used in production from time to time. In this case, a large amount of dry ice.

One of the engineers there – we’ll call him Tugg, cause that’s funny – called a few of us into the break room one Saturday. The project that required the dry ice had been completed, but before disposing of the stuff, Tugg wanted to show off. He broke pieces off and held them in his mouth, making puffs of frost breath like some mid-forties dragon. He played Hot Potato with others, poured water on some to make sudden, big-ass clouds of “smoke.”

But best of all, he blew the tops off plastic bottles.

He’d take a small piece of dry ice, add a small splash of water, then twist the cap on real tight real quickly. The pressure would build up, and a few moments later – POP! The top would fly off with a bang. It was a neat party trick, but things grow boring if they stagnate, so Tugg up’d the ante.

He found a larger and thicker Snapple bottle to use for the same trick, and this time used a much larger piece of ice. He shoved the thing in there, followed it up with some water, and screwed the cap on tight, quickly setting it on the break room table and backing away…

After a few moments, we were wondering why it hadn’t popped. So we stood there. And stood there. The longer the top went un-blown, the less anyone was willing to approach the table. What had been a sweet peach-flavored beverage was now a highly pressurized container that would explode as soon as someone got close, we were sure. We egged one another to be the first to test it, but no one would brave it.

So we kept…just…standing there.

I turned to one of my coworkers to make some snarky comment, when the most miraculous thing happened.

The room, in less time than it would have taken me to even blink, had been filled wall-to-wall with fog. I also felt like I’d been punched square in the sternum and couldn’t hear anything besides a ringing in my ear which had followed a huge bang I was only just now registering had happened. But mostly, I cannot express enough in words alone how instantaneous the change was: one moment in time, the room was clear, and the next conceivable instant my vision was obstructed. Not even a chance to blink. Not even enough time for the reflex to engage.

A few moments of coughing and popping our ears later, we saw the Snapple bottle prone on the floor with the cap some distance away. With the dry ice, Tugg had successfully, accidentally created a dry ice flashbang grenade.

Moral of the story?

Not sure there is one, really. Be brave, I guess. Be bold? Provide helmets to your weekend employees if they’re anything like Tugg?

Anyway, that’s my tale. Ciao.