Shoeless Office Politics

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Around the office I generally don’t wear shoes. I have shoes. I mean, I walk there, so I generally wear some kind of foot protection on the way. I also have a pair of work-appropriate shoes under my desk but the foot action they usually get is me accidentally kicking them further into the dark confines, mixed with all the computer cords.

I don’t see any dangers in me not wearing shoes, although I’m sure strict health and safety types would argue with me on that point. I generally, you know, try to avoid having my feet stepped on by paying attention to who is walking my way, and in the case of the coworker in a wheelchair I generally step aside while he passes to not only protect my delicate lower digits but also give him enough room to get by me.

People recognize me by my shoelessness. Well, usually they recognize me by my face, as most aren’t so socially awkward they’re always staring at the floor when not protected by office doors or cubicle walls. But when they are far enough to also see my feet, or get a glance at them for some other incidental reason, I would assume they notice, and remember me by that little quirk.

That is how they can tell, the women at least, that I’m in the other bathroom stall in the two-stall gender-specific washroom. I see no shame in being recognized there, as I’ve already been outed as an organic living thing by the dark circles under my eyes and chin breakouts. But it also exposes me for what some people – proper ladies, if you will – think is un-ladylike in a professional setting. Some, for a crazy reason or two, consider number twos or passing gas to be “inappropriate office behaviour”, to which I respond asking “Which unfortunate employee had their office put in the bathroom?”

So sometimes in my socks I step in a small puddle in the break room or the snow/sand mixture near an entrance. But socks dry and sand can be wiped off pretty easily, and if what I step in is somehow an unsanitary or toxic substance that’s unhealthy for my feet I’d say there are bigger problems than my lack of footwear. If there’s a fire alarm I’m pretty sure I can run to pick up a shoe or two before I go outside, and if I’m taken away on an ambulance for some reason (which, interestingly enough, has happened before), well, I won’t be dirtying up the sheets on the stretcher as the inevitably attractive paramedics load me into the back of their emergency vehicle.

If somebody asks why I don’t wear shoes my inclination is to say “Religious reasons” and if they ask what religion I will say “atheism”, as lying twice in a row starts a terrible habit, and it’s far funnier to be inconsistent in conversations you’d rather not be having. The more genuine reason is that I constantly need to fidget and readjust myself, which means when I’m wearing shoes at my desk they will soon be taken off, making it rather pointless to even try. It’s bad enough I can’t comfortably sit cross-legged in a standard office chair. It would be even harder with legitimate footwear. Nobody can argue with that. They can only smile and nod and walk back to their desks shaking their heads and muttering under their breaths wondering how I dress myself in the morning.

Walk the Walk, Beat the Clock

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For most commutes to work in the morning, I choose to walk. For most commutes back home in the evening, I also choose to walk. Each way is roughly 45 minutes, meaning an hour and a half of my 24-hour day (some people, I hear, live days of different lengths) is spent getting to and from a place I have to be for at least eight hours anyway. Some think that is crazy, as I can catch one bus with stops ridiculously close to each location that takes 12 minutes each way. Others, who for classist and possibly racist reasons under the guise of “personal space issues” or “not liking the smells”, do not understand why anybody would do anything but drive their own car every day, completely ignorant of all the reasons that does not apply to me.

In bigger cities it’s not uncommon for people to live far enough from their place of work for their drive home to be just as long. In many cases that’s due to congested traffic, which I get to see and, if I choose, laugh at given the major roads my walking path goes alongside. In other cases that’s just because the city is sprawled out enough and demand for housing within convenient proximity to the common business areas we generally call “downtown” drives up market prices to unreasonable levels for anyone on a five- or even low six-figure household income with, you know, a family and kids smart enough to maybe go to university one day. That’s not much of an issue here, as the appeal of this urban oasis in the middle of perhaps the most boring flat plains in the world is a well-kept secret and so the city is of a modest size in population.

But sprawl is becoming ever more popular, and the surrounding grassland is being re-zoned beyond the city limits, in spite of the arson Dirk plans to commit once the houses are built. Surrounding farmland is not profitable enough to produce a sustainable family income without wives and even patriarch farmers themselves getting in-town jobs to supplement their agricultural cash. For many of these people the commute by car is the 45 minutes it takes me to walk, or even longer, but for them that time is spent sitting on their ass. (Flintstones-style vehicles where their feet do the moving have fallen out of style over the past several thousand years.)

I much prefer to save sitting on my ass for my leisure time, and commuting by foot allows me to justify that. It’s exercise, stress relief, an additional way to wake myself up, and a great way to keep my mind sharp with all the thoughts that come to my head when my legs are busy moving. I live downtown, with the borders defined in this era as between one river to the south, another to the east, and to the north and west where poor people live. When I’m crossing the bridge over the southern river I see a beautiful cityscape: to my right, the national park/rich cultural area called The Forks; to my left, a number of high rise apartment buildings lit up and full of life; and right in front of me the buildings that mark the development and established economy of any modern city.

It was easier to get home when I also worked downtown (in fact, I went home for lunch practically every day). In that sense, this walk is rather inconvenient. But if I didn’t walk as much as I did, I would be fatter than I already am, and I wouldn’t have these giant calves of steel that I like to show off from time to time. So I find it worth it. I don’t miss having a longer free-time evening, because I generally find myself out of things to do by about 9 pm when I put on my pajamas and read until I feel like sleeping. And then I wake up in the morning to get ready and head out for another day at work, not minding the cold because I know walking will keep me warm and not minding the traffic passing me by. Except, of course, when I get sprayed by dirty slush by giant trucks completely oblivious to others around them. That’s not such a great thing in the winter, particularly when the street crud gets in my mouth. Ew.

Fail For a Day, Fail For a Week

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Even when I wake up late, surrendering any wiggle room to ensure I look and feel decent, sacrificing making a healthier and money-saving lunch, running out the door “OHMYGODOHMYGOD” to catch the first bus that will still get me to work late, I get to work on time.

It’s kind of disappointing. I’d at least like things to be consistent.

These days start out as failures, naturally, and should be taken more lightly than a goose feather falling out of your parka. (Too Canadian for you? Sorry.) But as hilarious and consequence-free as this morning’s gaffe is, it’s part of a broader character trait – that the drop of a hat, or any other object for that matter, I can start a streak of all the little fuck-ups you can imagine.

My life goes in streaks – winning streaks of being responsible, clean, healthy, sociable, and all around together; or losing streaks of forgetting key things, buying faulty products, ignoring any home-making to be done, and looking like shit several days in a row. I haven’t yet plotted these periods against the cycles of the moon to find a pattern for future preparation, but that may be a fruitless endeavour. Mistakes will always be made from time to time. My style, it seems, is to make mistakes continuously from time A to time B.

(Side note: John Campbell and his Pictures for Sad Children is amazing, and so it is One Continuous Mistake shirt on Topatoco. Note to self: Buy that shirt.)

My chin will break out and I will cut myself shaving (…my legs or armpits, people, I am and look female). I will sleep in on an important work day. Grocery bags will fail on me. I will get splashed by dirty slush by an overcompensatingly-large truck. I will drop pots and pans for loud crashing noises the whole building can hear. I will trip and fall. Oh man, will I trip and fall. I will forget appointments, lose a contact lens (sometimes behind my eyeball) and almost get hit by a car.

But in winning streaks my budget balances with a surplus. I have a good time, learn new things, and get complimented on something or many things. I maintain solid energy levels by day and sleep well at night. My apartment is clean and I eat good food. The Jets are winning. I’m organized and ahead of schedule. I begin to think I’ve finally matured into a grown, responsible human being. Then my chin breaks out. And there goes that.

Elephant in the Room Syndrome

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Combining narcissism with the level of insecurity and self-consciousness that so many people, especially women, suffer from compounds into a fusion of social disorder. I’m not up on what’s hip in psychology these days, and my best friend, while just a phone call away, doesn’t like phones for reasons similar to mine, and my phone is out of my current arm’s reach so there’s no way I can* confirm if this is recognized in the psychology community. There’s really no point, then, in finding out what official name, if any, this mental mess may have. So I’m going to call it: Elephant-in-the-Room Syndrome.

What nobody wants to talk about.

That’s a pretty straightforward description, really. The narcissistic element of believing you are a giant presence among the rest in this atmosphere, in conjunction with the anxious fear that there is something wrong with you and people judge you for it, create this syndrome.

It makes parties more difficult to enjoy, especially around people you don’t or only somewhat know but do know others who know you. There’s a whole web of whispering around the room that you can’t quite hear, and not knowing very many people hinders opportunities to covertly eavesdrop or overtly jump in.

Making friends in the workplace is a slower, more cautious process because you see these people every day and, more importantly, they see each other every day. Workplaces are worse for gossip than school. There are more parts of a fully grown adult to pick on or belittle, and there are plenty coworkers in all lines of work who are happy to speak ill of somebody else to make them look better. Word gets around quickly, too, and even generally good people can’t escape the tight crowd surrounding them. You may be new, relatively unknown by most departments, and with few opportunities to have made a fool out of yourself (so far). But every word spoken, every name forgotten, every mistake made, and every distinctive element of your workplace appearance are ripe for judging. And as an Elephant, you default to assuming that’s exactly what everyone will do.

Every word you say, then, has the potential to be taken negatively. Saying “Hi” to somebody you don’t already know is intruding on the existence of someone else who cares not to know who you are. “Making conversation” about benign things like weather will give off a permanent impression that you are boring. “Making conversation” about popular interests like sports or entertainment only works if everybody there likes exactly the same teams and shows you do; one difference in opinion could rule out any chances of being respected by the other person. Initiating conversations on things you’re interested in when those things are political, intellectual, or of a niche hobby are incredibly dangerous if you don’t want to leave the small talk in complete ruin. So why start conversation? Everything you say is going to be judged harshly by everybody else at the party, everybody else at the office.

This reinforces the Elephant-in-the-Room Syndrome because out of caution you’re not initiating conversations of your own. You remain there, physically present but absent in dialogue, and nobody seems to want to address that (or so you’ve convinced yourself). This happens to me. It happens on a daily basis for the time being because I haven’t worked at my current job for as long as it takes for my personal comfort to establish itself. I’m terribly boring at parties. I keep to myself, but just sit or stand there waiting for somebody to point out that there is an elephant in the room – at which point, I invite myself to join into the conversation. “You know what the best thing about elephants is? The word ‘pachyderm’, or ‘packydoim’ as the mouse from Dumbo said.” A conversation about Dumbo – incidentally, my favourite Disney movie of all time – ensues. The ice is broken. The self-consciousness has been reassured, and as conversations continue the narcissism can’t overpower other people’s voices.

*What be this “Gooh-GYL” thou speaketh of? Ne’er I heard of such a thing! Now BEGONE, lunatic!

Off to an Off Start

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“Like most mornings, this one started out as a failure.”

So went my first tweet of the day. After a night featuring a little bit of each of my sleeping problems as so many nights do, I decided to sleep in, not shower, and do everything as if I only had half an ass, or at least as if the other half of my ass were still in bed.

I’m exaggerating by saying “like most mornings” because most of the time I’m pretty good at getting up and moving with my consciousness fully aware. When I go next door to get my coffee I am not only, but sociable; the caffeine is merely consumed to accentuate those already positive features. On some mornings, though, it either feels like an injustice to have to get out of bed at that time, and/or every piece of the routine is botched by a combination of my own clumsiness and the collaborative malfunctions of everyday things. I shave my armpits with shampoo (actually happened) or lather my hair with shaving gel (have come very, very close). I put my underwear on backwards, my pants inside out, and can’t seem to get around the inside of a shirt without putting my head through a sleeve.

Makeup drips only my clothes (fun fact: I put on a bib for this very reason) and I (almost) put face wash in my hair instead of styling product.

And then when I leave for work, I take that first step crossing the street and get hit by a bus. On purpose.

I’ve never actually done that, for religious literalists out there, but the only thing that can be sure to save me from this is laughter. If you can’t laugh at yourself putting both feet in the same pant leg, get under those covers and cry yourself back to sleep. There is no hope for your day to get better.

Cat Person vs. Dog Person

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What cats do to me.

I’m a dog person. I can definitively answer this question whenever I’m asked. Then, on occasion, the response is “Oh, you’re probably outgoing and extroverted then.” But I’m not, at least not in any way related to my preference of dogs. I just don’t like getting ripped apart by vicious claws and hatred for all humankind.

Or if a cat person asks me this question, some of them get offended and ask what I have against cats. They go on a tirade about how cute and friendly they are (and I’d show them my hand but they won’t stop talking about cats) and how they couldn’t live without a small feline creature jumping on ever piece of furniture they own.

But I prefer animals who, when they are on furniture, can and will serve as a pillow. I like the loyalty of dogs, and that they will enjoy it when you throw snow at their faces and demand more of it.

I will always be more forgiving of dogs, too, because I grew up with a terrible one that suckered me into still loving him at the end of the day. He bit me in my upper arm when I was five and he was still a pup, leaving a scar you can still see. He bit chunks out of the window sill and carpeted stairs when another dog dared to walk on his street. He ripped apart any garbage bag he could get his teeth on and only really ever liked my mother. He lived a relatively long life, as only the good die young, with over a year of frequent incontinence towards the end. I was the usual resident, getting home from university before others got home from work, to clean that mess up.

He got away with a lot. The dogs I’ve encountered since then have mostly been much better behaved, so it’s hard for me to see anything bad in them. I will get a dog, when my housing situation allows for it, and it will be a big one who can double as a pillow both decorative and functional. I don’t know any cat capable of that, and I’d also like my furniture to remain unscratched. (Hair everywhere is not an issue for either species, as I leave a fair amount of it around myself.)

My dog will not double as a tool in meeting new people or starting conversations at neighbouring parks. That would strictly be an organic side effect. My dog will be enough of a social relationship to fulfill those needs. And I’d much prefer to bag the poop while out on walks and dispose of it in a public garbage. No cat litters are ever allowed in home, and – or so I hear – it takes a lot of love and devotion to toilet train those beasts.

My Worst Friend Forever

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How can you have a BFF if you don’t have a WFF? If you’re going to place one person at the top of your hierarchy of interpersonal relations, why not place one person at the bottom? On a normal curve, there is a symmetry between the two sides of the bell – equal quantities well and above the mean to those far and below.

Perhaps that analogy isn’t very good. Social relationships have an obvious bias, in that we’re selective from the population as to whom we consider friends. As human beings we tend to choose to ignore other people who don’t meet a certain level of common interests or compatibility instead of go to the lengths of finding reasons to despise them. If anything, the inferior half of the normal distribution would be considered “enemies” and not friends. But there are always some exceptions.

Dirk. Disappoin-tingly not gay.

I have a Worst Friend Forever. His name is Dirk. I met him several years ago, through one of my best friends who took a summer class with him in university. They became friends because Dirk tries to acquaint himself with everybody he encounters. He’s a very outgoing personality, and as it turns out he had a lot in common with my friend so they bonded well. She always had places to go and things to do and wanted to drag somebody else with her, and he always wanted to hang out with somebody even if it was for no particular reason. So even further, they found uses for hanging out, and sometimes that coincided with where I was or what I was doing and I met up with them coming from my own direction.

And as stated above, Dirk tries to acquaint himself with everybody he encounters. He got my e-mail address and phone number and added me to his instant messenger contacts so we could chat whenever both of us were at our respective computers. At those times typically neither of us was doing anything particularly important. And as also stated above, Dirk always wanted to hang out with somebody even if it was for no particular reason. I was perfectly content not hanging out, but when I had no particular reason to justify that, he invited himself over.

(And before you start to think this is going anywhere sexual – ew.)

I was gagging in this photo, and not just because I was drunk.

I learned plenty of things about Dirk as we spent time together that we happened to have in common. We were both big fans of the early 90s sketch comedy series Kids in the Hall. We both really liked Soundgarden. We were both strongly pro-LGBT. (When other friends of mine became acquainted, I was often asked if he was gay, to which for a while I could only respond “I don’t think so…”) We were at similar points in our lives, for a while, where we had nothing to do late at night – no school or work related reason to wake up in the morning, no other friends available, no money and/or motivation to go out on the town – so he often took his mother’s car and drove down to my parents’ house. He’d pick me up and we’d take out pizza and rent DVDs then go back to my house to eat and watch them respectively.

Popping a nipple zit on my couch - seriously, that's what he's doing.

This was habit-forming. As I spent more time with Dirk, I learned what an utter asshole he is. He makes jokes about German world domination all the time, pretending that his 50% German ancestry qualifies him as one of the Aryan-elite. (In reality, his half-German background is Mennonite, and therefore exiled from said homeland well before Nazi power. His mother was born in England in the early 1940s, so her childhood was filled with, you know, the Blitz.) He’s quick to judge how much something “sucks” before taking the time to think about it, or ask anyone else’s opinions in case he’s offending them. On countless occasions he has fallen asleep on my couch and refuses to wake up and see himself home. (Once I had to start plucking out his leg hairs to get him to wake up and leave.)

He’s judgmental and inconsiderate and unreliable, in so many ways. He’s shockingly inappropriate to those who don’t know him and even to those (like me) who do. Not that long ago when we arrived at my apartment, he showed himself to my bathroom as I sat in my living room on my computer. When I started playing The Daily Show from the night before he opened the bathroom door as he was sitting on the toilet to ask me to pause it so he could watch the whole thing too. I don’t live in a big, or soundproof, apartment. I could have heard him through the door. But he had to open it – and keep it open as he laughed after I yelled at him for opening it – while taking a shit.

Crotch-rubbing with his buddies, who don't seem as enthused.

I’m irritated by his anal consumer behaviour. Speaking of anal, he talks about all sorts of fetishes and things he wants to do to girls all the time, to details I care not to hear. He always has some new money-making scheme up his sleeve, some heavily-researched (everything he does, except open the door while pooping, is heavily-researched) plan to make it so he can go to school without working. (He’s 30 and has “gone back to school” probably four or five times, never having obtained a degree.) He usually gives up on those plans after purchasing some kind of equipment that he then stores at his parents’ house, but since his latest venture is buying and renting out houses (one I warned him against from the very beginning) that’s not quite an option.

So why do I tolerate somebody so irritating? Beyond the major things we have in common (KitH and gay people are just that fundamental to our value systems), it’s a friendship of honesty. I can honestly tell him when I disapprove of what he’s doing. I can yell at him in frustration when I’m specifically frustrated at him. I let him know what bothers me and why. And lastly, which is very important, I frequently say “Fuck, Dirk, I hate you” but we still keep hanging out.

There is a lot of value in having a terrible friend, but it’s a terrible friend of a specific kind. Terrible friends validate your life choices by doing something different. Terrible friends keep you in check by reminding you that nobody is obligated to change course based on your objections. Terrible friends give you stories to tell to others. Terrible friends – the good kind, at least – are just terrible in themselves, and don’t try to inject the worst parts of their behaviour into the friendship itself. They serve as a good gauge of what to really be offended by. If Dirk does or says something that evokes a “Fuck, I hate you” response yet I still continue talking to him, either that night or later that week or in whatever duration without ever having to forgive him for anything, I know that there are bigger fish to fry.

And I need all of that. It’s especially convenient, and I think better for my emotional well-being, that I have all of that in one person: Dirk, my WFF.