You are here

In my defense, I was just the driver. Someone else was supposed to be navigating. And it was dark. Plus, we were all a little flustered after the kerfuffle at the car rental agency over our botched booking.

But we had finally wrangled a van, complete with the requisite car-seat for my infant nephew, and were all safely buckled in and en route from the airport into the city of Edmonton. At least that was the intention.

It’s a long drive from the Edmonton airport into town. I set out in what appeared to be the right direction, with my middle sister riding shotgun watching for directional signs. My youngest sister, her baby, and my mom sat in back. It seemed like we’d been on the road a long time when a sign loomed out of the darkness informing us we were en route to Lethbridge.

We were heading south instead of north.

As I pulled over to regroup, it dawned on both me and my navigator that we had a GPS function on our phones. I had never used my GPS, and wasn’t even sure if it was properly activated. We both attempted to call up our location. When my sister’s GPS sprang to life, I shoved my phone in my pocket and resumed driving under her new and improved guidance.

We made it to Edmonton in one piece, if somewhat frazzled. A few blocks from our hotel, we stopped to pick up a bottle of wine to celebrate our arrival. I waited in the van while my sister ran into the shop, and while I sat there I remembered my phone. I pulled it out to see if the GPS had ever kicked in. It had, in a manner of speaking.

The screen of my phone was one solid grey mass, in the middle of which was a single red dot labelled helpfully “You are here.”

We laughed at the time, but that image stuck with me, and I have often returned to it as a great metaphor for the times I find myself feeling lost or overwhelmed by a decision. Life can be very grey at times–grey as in dark and gloomy, or grey as in fraught with ambiguity. Sometimes both.

For a long time whenever I thought of that failure of a GPS image, I focused on the baffling expanse of grey. Lately, however, it strikes me that the red dot is really the point. On the one hand, knowing “you are here” is of limited value when there is no context to show where exactly “here” is. On the other hand, you are here– you are somewhere— notwithstanding your lack of information about the details. The emphasis, really, is on the “you” part of the equation. You are here, wherever here happens to be, because you are you. The GPS is always taking as its frame of reference the person holding the device. So even when you are utterly and completely lost, even when you are travelling in the wrong direction, you are the reference point.

When the map of my life seems to be a shapeless, directionless expanse of grey, I focus on the red dot. I am here. I know who I am. I know what I value and what I’m good at and what gets me out of bed in the morning. If I focus on that long enough, somehow the right road always appears.

 

 

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On breaks, not breaking

It was never my intention to take a break of nearly three weeks from writing here, but it appears that is what I have done. And although I never made a formal commitment to myself (or you) to write according to any particular schedule, I caught myself getting increasingly bothered by the fact that I wasn’t writing. Until yesterday.

I was catching up on some reading at work yesterday, and I came by chance upon two articles. Each article by itself was mildly interesting, but the juxtaposition of the two was what really fascinated me.

The first article was all about things employers can do to “remove distractions” in the workplace, and was full of what I presumed were supposed to be outrageous examples of the things employees do at work that are “unproductive.” Things like looking at Facebook, or (horror of horrors) talking to their co-workers. In one instance (and we were, I presume, supposed to be shocked by this) a group of employees had brought a pet bird into the workplace and were “wasting time” caring for it.

The second article was about mental health and reducing work place stress. One of the key strategies this article identified for having a healthy work life was, of course, taking regular breaks.

The contradiction between these two articles is nothing new. If you scan all the articles relating to human resource issues in the workplace in any given week, I predict there will always be at least one article on time wasting, and at least one article on the importance of taking breaks.

I am irked by the subtle classist undertone that that I perceive when I read these articles. Typically it is the high paying, overstressed manager/professional who is being urged to take breaks, while at the same time it is the rank-and-file employees having their access to the internet curtailed so they won’t waste company time taking the occasional five minute respite from their duties. As though somehow our differing levels of authority mean that our brains and bodies work differently. As though some of us need breaks more than others. As though some of us should have more rights than others to take those breaks in the time and manner that is most healthy for us.

People work most efficiently and effectively when they take breaks. Period. We need to take breaks, even from the things we love. I have never understood the people who don’t take all of the holiday time to which they are entitled. (Whenever people complain to me that they don’t know when they can possibly use all their vacation days, I suggest they donate their unused vacation days to me. There is, apparently, some sort of HR policy that prevents them from taking me up on this generous offer. But hey, it can’t hurt to try!)

So yeah, I took a break. And it won’t be the last. Because when it comes right down to it, breaks are what keep us from breaking.

 

 

 

 

Alone sweet home

Image source: http://www.marcjohns.com/blog/2012/05/do-not-disturb.html
Image source: http://www.marcjohns.com/blog/2012/05/do-not-disturb.html

I was sitting with a group of women, chatting about our plans for the weekend. One woman had made plans to look after her young grandchildren for the day on Saturday. Her daughter had then called to asked if she would also take the kids for Friday evening. The answer was  a firm no. “But,” protested the daughter, “You never do anything on Friday evening.”

Which, my friend informed us, was exactly the point. Friday was her night to do, or not do, what she wanted.

Verbiage about differences between introverts and extroverts occupies almost as much internet real estate as the cute cat pictures. It is therefore commonly  understood that some people get their energy from being around other people, while the rest of us need to retreat from the world to recharge.

In spite of this, I’ve noticed that we all– introverts and extroverts alike– tend to refer in conversation to time spent home alone as “doing nothing.”  “Doing something,” on the other hand tends to have the default meaning of “engaging in some sort of activity away from home, and probably involving other people.”

On my “About” page I describe myself as, “A big-time introvert who makes a living with people, and comes home to people.” Now don’t get me wrong, I love the people — well, person– to whom I come home. But the truth is that when she heads off for summer camp my own introvert’s soul relishes its own kind of vacation. I look forward to coming home  from my people-filled office to a quiet space and filling my evenings with my own thoughts. With reading and writing and long walks. With strange little meals eaten at odd times. With no one but me caring when I do the laundry and whether the milk is getting low.

When I know I’m going to have some extended time alone, I plan all sorts of delicious solitary pursuits. But when the world gets wind of the fact that I’m on my own for a stretch of time, invariably this thing happens: well meaning people (of whom I am also very fond) start inviting me for dinner because I am alone. Sometimes I say no.

Here’s where it gets awkward. Because of our apparent cultural bias toward “doing things,” part of me feels guilty for saying no (really, it’s not you–it’s me). And then I feel like I should feel guilty for feeling guilty. And then I end up trying to explain myself to the universe in a guilt-laden blog post, when really the whole point was that I just wanted to guard my time alone for doing things like, say, writing blog posts.

Sometimes I say yes to the invitations. And I have a lovely time, and enjoy the people I’m with. But if I happen to have said no to you, then please know that it doesn’t mean I don’t want to spend the time with you. Rather, it means I need to spend the time with me.

I don’t really feel that guilty. But I do wish we could all stop referring to home-alone time as “doing nothing.” Because you should see the list of things I’ve got planned for these few, precious days of solitude! The list that, truthfully, I’ve been making for months in anticipation of this time. On the one hand, I don’t want to feel compelled to share with you everything that’s on the list. On the other hand, if I don’t guard the time I’ve set aside to do these things, then when I (inevitably) find myself back in the middle of other peoples lives, the things I didn’t do with my time alone will haunt and frustrate me.

I will, in other words, be happier when we do spend time together if I also spend some time alone. Doing something.