This is Water

It’s been crazy, these days.

It feels like the natural ending of the above phrase is “but it’s fine now”. It’s been bad but we’re getting there. Hell on earth it’s been, but it’s quiet now. That’s what’s expected, from a sentence beginning rather badly, isn’t it? Some hope, a peaceful conclusion.

Oh well, it’s been crazy, these days, and it still is.

We’re not getting there, or if we are, we’re crawling at such a slow pace, like continents floating towards each other a hundredth of an inch a year. And it’s not quiet. It’s most definitely not quiet. It’s never been as unquiet before. It’s like every mouth and every engine and every car horn and, well, every object and every creature and every weather phenomenon capable of noise have made a deal to gather all their decibels in these couple of breaths of air where we kill our time. So no, it’s not quiet. We’re pretty much sleeping, sipping and breathing in the main hall of this factory running at maximum capacity. We hardly produce anything, but all the pieces of machinery huff and puff and rub blocks of metal together.

I’ve been sleepwalking through the week, struggling with my English, my hand to mouth coordination and remembering people’s names. And I’ve been thinking, this not-getting-enough-sleep thing has been with me for pretty much all of my adult life now, yet I still have hope it will go away at some point. When in fact I should probably just accept it as part of me by now, a part of my body I won’t manage to change without invasive surgery procedures, if at all. Like my freckles.

This is what I’ve grown into, a tired person with a spotted face, and it’s forever.

I carry my exhaustion across various London postcodes to the office. It makes sense. Being tired at home, hopelessly wide-eyed in your own bed, is pretty boring stuff, but forever yawning while leaning your exhaustion against a dusty keyboard makes you seem really cool. Like things, interesting things, ones that go on late into the night, happen to you. Like you’d have stories to tell, if only you weren’t too sleepy to form simple words.

My project is on hold so I’m spending my days turning it into this thing which will soon be able to land rockets on the Moon or something. Hours upon hours, headphones on, typing a million lines of code that end up making it half a millisecond or so faster, or fixing a bug no one’s able to reproduce but me, and only when the planets align in a certain way. I do it because work is among the few things I don’t feel anxious about these days, where I know every problem’s got a solution, and one no more than a few key presses away. It’s good to have things like that in life, that you can manage, so I guess I’m among the lucky ones.

Everything else is beyond my control. My now, my a minute from now, my tomorrow. I’ve started reading David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest a couple of days back, and I remembered one of his essays I’d read a few years ago. It begins jokingly…

There are these two young fish swimming along, and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says, “Morning, boys, how’s the water?” And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes, “What the hell is water?”

…and goes on to describe a million annoying, tiresome, end-of-the-world-feeling things grownup life is made of, to then conclude:

The capital-T Truth is about life before death. It is about making it to 30, or maybe 50, without wanting to shoot yourself in the head. It is about simple awareness – awareness of what is so real and essential, so hidden in plain sight all around us, that we have to keep reminding ourselves, over and over: “This is water, this is water.”

 

Every hour or so, the guy sitting next to me, also safely sealed in his own music bubble, yanks his headphones off, stands, stretches and walks out for a smoke. I crave for these breaks of his, I get few distractions in this place. When he gets back, he carries with him a couple of healthy breaths of hand rolled cigarette flavour. I breathe them in. I haven’t touched one in years, and I don’t miss it, but the smell reminds me of a million nights and a million stories and a million people I’ve loved inside and out. A country and time I know for sure don’t exist anymore, what with all of us taking religious care of our bodies these days, and less of each other.

It may seem like it, but I’m really not nostalgic or depressed, or no more than usually. I guess it’s just the sleepwalking. It makes colors blur, shapes bleed into each other. Past, present, lived, imagined, they’re all part of the same foggy sky. Which reminds me.

I’ve got a window now. At work. I’ve got a real, three meters wide, dark framed window to stare into when there’s nothing interesting to look at through the tiny windows on my screen. I can’t believe I forgot to mention it, a window really is the most extraordinary thing, isn’t it? This one overlooks a slice of the parking lot, a yellow bricked office building and four trees. I look at them. The leaves are the size of sunflower seeds from where I sit, which I guess is close enough. They flutter. It will rain later, someone says, and that’s fine, what’s a little rain when it’s Friday the 13th and there have been no limb shattering tragedies and no heart breaks, and you’ve got trees to rest your eyes on, real trees, and the promise of sleep.

Rain’s just water anyway.

 


Writing Soundtrack: Little Talks by Of Monsters and Men

Every Day is Cake Day

One of the perks of sharing an open plan office with 80 strangers and their annoying iPhone ringtones, is the fact that pretty much every other day, one of them gets married, has a baby or yet another “late thirties” birthday.

Now, I’ve been other places before this, you know. People there were growing old and having babies too. We got them donuts or little supermarket cakes and cheeky cards everybody signed in a million different shades of ink. “Have a good one”, “50 is the new 15”, “XOXO”, nothing crazy. Then we sang our embarrassing Happy Birthdays, poked a little fun at them soon to become pensioners, and life was back to normal in a matter of minutes. I was able to handle that pretty well, my social inadequacy considered.

But oh, how things have changed. Office celebrations are a whole different story in my current workplace. They’re like the Olympic opening ceremonies, like the crowning of a new royal. People expect the extraordinary. Chocolate fountains. Fireworks. Miley Cyrus in tight pleather daisy dukes.

Of course, everybody must attend to the wonderful preparations. The birthday boy/gal is obviously aware of what’s coming, but plays along for some reason, allowing themselves to be dragged into suspicious, several hours long meetings, while the rest of us proceed to taking our event planning roles very seriously. Mountains of plates and glasses are brought out of the cupboards we’d stacked them into just a day before, in the aftermath of another celebration. Bottles of wine are set to rest at room temperature. Bags of Doritos the size of toddlers are opened, their cheesy flavored contents distributed into a dozen porcelain bowls. Custom made birthday cakes are ordered and delivered. Yes, cakes. Plural. Every other day.

These joyous occasions are known among us as the “cake and stares”. The reason for that is that people generally gather around the mountain of goodies, start wildly munching on industrial quantities of cake and crisps and, their mouths stuffed with the delicious bounty, they’re unable to say a word. So, for minutes on end all you can hear is the satisfied chewing of a couple dozens party food enthusiasts. No Happy birthday, no Holy cow, this is some scrumptious grub, nothing but people staring satisfied into each other’s eyes as they chew away. It’s marvelous.

Now, I’ve got a problem. I don’t like cake. I know, I know, you can’t possibly believe that a cake hater actually lives and breathes in nowadays world, but what can I say, I must be the among the few remaining members of a dying species. I don’t have a sweet tooth, never had. I sometimes feel like having a bite of chocolate, or a spoonful of ice cream, but one bite or spoonful later and I’m done for the month. I do like Doritos, so much so that I’d fill my bathtub with them cheese dust oozing triangles of ecstasy and would just lie in there forever, crunching myself into a cheese flavored overdose.

So my cake intolerance and Doritos addiction considered, I try to keep myself away from the “cake and stares” celebrations. I’ll sign the birthday card, I’ll help with the preparations, I’ll even have a glass of wine (or two). Still, I’m seen as a traitor. It’s disrespectful towards the birthday boy/gal if I don’t join the munching. Not to mention that I’m also too skinny, therefore I need to help myself to a couple of brick sized slices of chocolate injected cake, and pronto, or I’ll surely succumb to inanition before long. Standing there all slim and superior, no sticky crumbles around my mouth, is seen as a form of defiance and will not be tolerated forever. I need to show a little respect and start chewing.

I push my luck every day, and every day I’m afraid they’ll have had enough with my smug attitude and will end up forcefully feeding me a briefcase sized cake. A particular scene from Roald Dahl’s Matilda comes to mind. Have you read that? If so, you’ll understand the constant terror I live in.

I need to run now, the wife of this guy I’ve never spoken to just had a baby. There’s sugar in the air.

Overheard in My Office

Steve, my boss, to another manager: Women in general, can’t really be bothered with [whispering:] careers such as ours.

This person has a wife and four teenage daughters.

The wondrous career he refers to is the management of two designers and one developer, yours truly.

I am the only woman he’s ever hired (told me that himself) in the 21 years he’s been with the company. I was the only candidate to pass their technical interview and they were desperate (also his admission).

I am witness to similar wonderful episodes several times a day, every day.

One Peed Over the Cuckoo’s Nest

Nope, this is not going to be one of those informative blog posts you’ll debate over with your colleagues tomorrow morning by the water cooler. And nope, I don’t think it will be very educative either, so perhaps reading it to your kids before bed time is not the best idea. It’s just, I’ve been struggling with this problem recently, and since it’s a bit too delicate/gross to discuss with my friends (assuming I have any friends, which we all know is highly unlikely), I have no choice but to rant about it here, much to your delight I’m sure. So here it goes.

My very pressing problem has to do with restrooms. In fact, it has to do with the staff restrooms at the company where I’m currently moderately happily employed. And more particularly, it’s all about the ladies room on my floor. Now don’t get me wrong. This ladies room is absolutely miraculous. An oasis of peace and irreproachable hygiene. But all this doesn’t change the fact that it’s completely crazy.

Yup, I said crazy. Now let me explain.

I’m the kind of person who doesn’t like to make friends in the restroom. It’s true, I’m not much into making friends anywhere, for that matter, but restrooms in particular are not at the top of my socializing friendly places list. Of course, I live a life of compromises. This also applies in the case of my ladies room activities. The doors and separating walls are flimsy. There’s an island of sinks and mirrors where everybody meets after they’ve finished. I mean, I’m not savage: I say hello, I attempt to chitchat, it’s all good. But while I’m in there, while I’m in the freaking stall, I don’t want to make friends.

Imagine this scenario: female geek in restroom stall. Somebody walks into the restroom, then into the adjacent stall. And starts talking. Loudly. To themselves. Giggling, asking questions and answering them. Or repeating some presentation speech. Or just whispering an unintelligible discourse. Then giggling again. Our female geek stops breathing. She imagines being bludgeoned to death in a restroom stall by a giggling restroom serial killer. And who can blame her? I mean, the stall doors don’t reach the floor, you can see the shoes of the person inside. The maniac must know she’s not alone in the room. And yes, she must be a maniac, or she wouldn’t be putting on this show while people are doing their business two steps away.

Now, I’m not one to cave in the face of mortal danger. Obviously, the first couple of times it happened I was terrified, and seriously considered never going to the ladies room again. Then it hit me that it wouldn’t be the most practical solution to my problem, and I decided I’d take the bull by the horns and figure the matter out. So I investigated and eventually identified the maniac. A perfectly normal looking lady I’d sometimes bump into by the coffee machine (She never talks to herself there, I assume there are rules when it comes to crazy chitchat, as with all things in life.). In the end I decided she didn’t look particularly dangerous, but I’d keep an eye on her anyway.

Then one day, I heard a different voice in the stall next to mine, and after relentless detective work I managed to identify a second offender.

Now I’m starting to think it’s me.

I must be the crazy one, there’s no other explanation. I bet it’s the new, fashionable thing to do. No wonder I had no idea, I’ve never been up to date on ladies room fashion. Too bad for me, huh? And you know what? With my luck, soon enough we’ll know that bathroom crazy talk is in fact the trademark of super duper successful people, ones who go on to rule the world. Parents will encourage their kids to talk to themselves in the loo. They’ll be teaching it in schools. The Idiot’s Guide to Loo Monologues will become an all times bestseller. All this while I just sit here, silently, minding my own business. Life is strange that way.

Bling

There’s this Romanian saying everybody learns in elementary school.

Work is a gold bracelet.

The metaphor confused me as a child, because I could see more than one way in which work could be associated with jewellery.

For one thing, work enabled you to go out and buy jewellery you could then show off among people with less lucrative careers.

Then, work was something to take pride in and cherish, the way I suppose people cherished their shiny bracelets and stacked diamond rings.

And I also imagined at the time that work was something only certain people, most of them somewhat sneaky, got to have and enjoy. I guess this last one had to do with the fact that in Communist Romania, way back when, gold bracelets were not particularly easy to come by. You needed connections. Pretty much the way today, in no longer Communist Romania, you need connections to get a job, any job. And I’m told most times it ends up feeling more like a heavy handcuff rather than a shiny piece of bling.

I wasn’t planning yet another oh-isn’t-Romania-super-duper-interesting post for today, but so many people seem to be panicking that I’ve moved to London to steal their jobs, that I’m actually starting to think there must be some truth in it. I guess, unknowingly, I am indeed stripping everybody of their livelihoods. I’ll have gold bracelets up to my shoulders soon enough, which will not only make me the envy of the world, but will also do wonders for my arm muscle definition.

Until then though, the only piece of bling I’m wearing today is my office id card. It’s plastic but my photo is in plain sight and if you look closely, you can clearly read it in my sneaky eyes. I’m a professional job thief.