"Somehow America always goes a little off the rails in the allegedly slow month of August, and this year’s party is as wild as any."
Slate.com, August 24, 2012
The month of August has been the most turbulent period of time that I've had this year. The year hasn't been uneventful; it started in Brazil and continued through what I saw as an unprecedented academic and work load, a trip to Turkey, the completion of my Master's degree, a new job in retail and has brought me up to my current situation. For some reason, in spite of the upheaval of different events and the succession of perceived successes and failures, August has been the most mentally trying month.
Someone told me that August is like a perpetual Sunday. Sundays are my least favorite day of the week, because the weekend is still going on but the mood has shifted from relief at having time off to anxiety at the feeling of an entire week to come. Summer is still going on in August, but the feeling has shifted from the carefree excitement of June and July to conflicted anticipation of the fall. The heat is relentless, predatory. Summer is here but it has one foot out the door and it seems impatient. The novelty of the season has worn off and what remains is mainly just a hangover from the debauchery of July.
I just finished my first week at my new job, and it was largely chaotic and stressful. Not overly so, more like what I have come to expect from new jobs, first days living in new places, a new language. I made a point not to become dismayed at the setbacks, and whenever something challenging or frustrating happened, all I thought was "August. Classic fucking August."
It might not be accurate to attribute all challenges to the time of the year, but vilifying an external factor seemed more manageable than accepting personal responsibility.
My roommate in college had a post-it on her desk that said "Willfully accept all that is undesirable." I think it was something that she got from a book, but I remember immediately committing it to memory and repeating it to myself with a frequency that made it almost a mantra. The phrase seemed to contain innate relief. If something is undesirable, don't agonize over it. Accept it. Willfully. For someone (like me) with a tendency toward strong convictions and a constant impulse to control my environment, it wasn't an instinctual thought process.
What I got from the phrase is that you can reach a level of consciousness where both favorable and unfavorable situations are seen as equally valuable. If you can reach this level of consciousness, you can let go of the torment and frustration of unforeseen difficulty or a dissatisfying outcome. It doesn't mean you won't feel a passing sensation of disappointment, but it means that you will accept that the situation was as fundamental to progress as the desirable outcome.
I read a comparison to a mountain watching a cloud pass: the mountain sees the cloud and acknowledges its presence but it does not sway. The cloud is as integral and natural as the sunshine. Adversity is a natural condition of life and a necessary element of existence. Attempting to understand and compartmentalize every situation as it comes will probably only lead to more frustration and angst, but the knowledge that something that presently seems unfortunate may actually be the best thing that could have happened is liberating.
The ability to let go of things that can't be controlled isn't at odds with striving for the best. It doesn't mean relinquishing control over your own destiny. It just means that there's no point in agonizing. Agonize. August. Similar phonetic pronunciations. This can not be a coincidence.
I think there will be recurring themes in writing this more sensible and palatable string of blog posts, so I hope I don't bore you dear reader, and I hope you get something out of the synthesis I try to find in things that happen. I hope that the repetition of what I think about is somehow relatable or useful to you and you don't find it sanctimonious. That there is a point of intersection somewhere in the things that you think about. I hope that if anything happens to you in this remaining week of the month you will remember not to agonize over it. Because it might work out for the best. August is almost over and it will pass like a cloud.
Sunday, August 19, 2012
I got to DC yesterday afternoon and since then my level of excitement has escalated and plummeted more than I thought humanly possible in 24 hours.
It might seem like that's an overly dramatic statement, and knowing me it probably is, but I will tell you what's happened and you can decide.
Yesterday I was supposed to drop my bags off (3, each weighing so close to 50 pounds that I had to shuffle my stuff around to check them) at my friend's empty apartment and then take the next few hours to explore Columbia Heights until she got back in the evening. I managed the flight and ride from Dulles reading the book "Making Ideas Happen" by Scott Belsky and thinking about the possibilities that would open up by being back on the east coast. My imagination kind of ran away with me and by the time I got to DC I was already envisioning myself as a successful Midwestern transplant because of the new insight I had gained (primarily just organizational tips and inspirational anecdotes).
The previous night I had been feeling more anxious than excited, and used the anxiety as a reason to get unnecessarily drunk while packing for my move. I went to sleep at one but it was more like collapsing on my sister's bed while we were still talking. The hangover the next day was not ideal for moving over 150 pounds from Chicago to DC alone. I woke up feeling less rested and more anxious than the night before, but the successful and short flight from Chicago to DC was reassuring. I was in good spirits when I finally arrived outside of the apartment on 11th Street. I knew where the key was hidden behind the apartment, and after dragging all three of my suitcases across the street separately I left them on the front step while I quickly ran around to get the key.
When I came back with the key my bags were gone. At first I was shocked at how quickly the bags that had taken me three separate trips to move could be taken, but the shock quickly gave way to distress as I realized that my most essential accumulated possessions were gone and I was in DC more or less alone. I had a fleeting feeling of fear that whoever took the bags could be watching me from somewhere close and started crying almost immediately as the exhaustion and fear overtook me. I called the police and told them what had happened and the operator seemed appropriately sympathetic to the situation. He told me to stay where I was and he would send someone right away. I thought of every time I had heard of someone having something stolen, which I have heard of frequently, and thought of the amount of times I have heard of the items being recovered (never). I went around the building looking for someone with my bags but no idea of what I would actually do if I found them. I could barely move them myself, and if whoever had taken them was strong enough to move them that quickly I am not sure what kind of resistance I could manage.
After walking around the building to no avail I went back to the front and knocked on the ground level apartment door. A young guy about my age answered in his boxers. It seemed I had woken him. I asked him if he had seen anyone come up to the door and take suitcases. He looked at me quizzically for a second and then with recognition and said "Ohhhh, those were yours? I thought they were my roommate's! Here they are!" He opened the door more widely and showed me the suitcases sitting in the foyer, and then helped me bring them to the alley entrance outside and said he would meet me more formally when he was dressed. I didn't think I was in the right state to be meeting people either so I took the suitcases into the empty basement apartment.
The apartment hadn't been lived in in two weeks, and upon closing the door behind me I had a sudden feeling of dismay at being alone in an apartment in DC instead of at home. I was taken out of my reverie when a police officer arrived at the door. I had called the operator again after the neighbor gave me back the suitcases to cancel the call, and I explained to the officer what had happened. He had a thick accent and friendly demeanor and started smiling in the middle of the story when he realized my luggage wasn't really stolen. "Ahh, that's good. Make sure to be careful with your stuff. Welcome to DC!"
After my exchange with the officer it was about 7pm, and I couldn't bring myself to do any kind of exploring, so decided I would make my suitcases more compact. I spilled my stuff all over the floors and felt my desire to repack everything diminish immediately. I spent the next 3 hours talking on the phone and randomly attempting to sleep on top of my suitcases.
The irony of the book "Making Ideas Happen" along with the empty apartment, the visit by the DC police, and attempting to sleep on two suitcases became more comical as the night went on and probably would've approached hilarious if I was spectating the situation from a more distant vantage point. In my case it seemed extremely demoralizing.
I remembered the movie Castaway and how Tom Hanks became best friends with a volleyball.
It looks like I am trying to look cool or be a watch model in this picture, but really I wore those sunglasses while trying to sleep with the lights on because I was scared, I am sitting partially on my suitcase and the apartment is empty, so this picture is a pretty accurate rendition of the situation as a whole. It's funny because pictures are supposedly indicative of the truth of a situation and I have found that to be largely inaccurate.
I bought this necklace while working at Nordstrom and there was a plethora of different religious symbol necklaces to choose from including a sideways cross, a Buddha, and a Hamsa hand symbol. Having a religious symbol around my neck scared me so I went for "faith" which seemed fairly benign and rather generic. I never liked the phrase "Faith. Hope. Love." or even worse "Live. Laugh. Love." that I have always seen on picture frames and magnets. I am glad I have it though, because when I look at it it always reminds me.
I was extremely happy to be picked up by my friend at slightly past ten. She took me to her apartment in Chinatown and I slept feverishly with bizarre dreams.
When I woke up the next day I had the plan of walking around and looking at an apartment in Adams Morgan. I went alone and got lost in what I heard was the first downpour DC had had in weeks. I made it to Adams Morgan and found the apartment to be gorgeous and the potential new roommate to be exceedingly pleasant. We talked for an hour and were surprised at shared interests like books about the Amazon rainforest and the same kinds of beer. I told him I was stressed about the move and he offered me a book about Zen Buddhism. I said that's funny, I read a book about Zen Buddhism when I was stressed during college.
I didn't want to seem overzealous but decided it didn't matter and offered to move into the apartment the 1st of September. He said he had gotten a plethora of offers from people but had narrowed it down to either me or a British guy writing for the Washington Post. I told him that I would be the obvious choice and he seemed to agree. We decided to speak again tomorrow night.
I spent the rest of the day wandering Adams Morgan, my old neighborhood, DuPont Circle and Chinatown. I ended up in the National Portrait Gallery and have now returned to my friend's apartment. My first day of work at Amnesty is tomorrow. I would probably be more nervous than I currently am, but really I am just exhausted. My aunt told me to count my blessings before I go to sleep and I think I will do that. MAKING IDEAS HAPPEN. Thank you for listening to me dear reader. xx