It’s morning and I’m waking up rough after some really painful dental work. I’m running late for work but I’m trying to stay calm and just get there.
I’m traversing a road that is something of an unofficial border. On one side is a series of slightly rough neighborhoods where gentrification is coming hard and fast. And painfully.
The other side is the “good” side of the road (scare quotes used intentionally). Gentrification has already arrived to this side of the road, for both better and for worse.
I stop at a red light at a major intersection. I am first in line and there is a long line of cars behind me.
“Who Can It Be Now,” plays from the oldies station on my radio. A popular song from my high school years is now an oldie. Don’t get me started.
I tap my thumb on the steering wheel and hum along when to my left, a local denizen, a gentleman who has seen better days, enters the crosswalk taking something of a slanting route over the white lines.
In his hand he’s carrying an open tall boy and holding it close to his chest. He’s smiling, though his face and his skin looks like he’s seen some things.
I am alternately like “right on!” because why not beer at almost nine in in the morning? Then “oooh, damn” because beer at nine in the morning possibly means chasing a few demons somewhere around nine o’clock the night before.
But I don’t know this guy’s story, so I don’t judge.
As he ambles amiably in front of the grill of my very old and very tired car in the center lane, in the right lane an oblivious driver in a black Mercedes whips right into the crosswalk, intent on turning right and doing it right now, and damn near hits the guy.
Our beer drinking friend pulls up short, steps back and slightly bows, waving the Mercedes along. It pulls out in a huff, if I can attribute huffiness to a car.
Then the man in the crosswalk turns to me and smiles a lopsided smile and waves. I do what any decent member of the human race should do, I wave back. I briefly entertain a “I should not have done that” thought because I have learned through enough years living near and in big cities that sometimes it’s just better not to engage.
But I was wrong for thinking that. As I wave, he smiles a little wider, peers around the corner of my car to be sure the coast is clear, then makes his way safely to the other side of the road.
My light turns green and I drive on, thinking about the guy, this city where I now live, the ever growing division between rich and poor, and the implications of gentrification. I also think about how delicious the lemon scone sitting in the passenger seat is going to be when I get to work and gobble it up.
I get to the place of my employment, find a parking spot, quick yank the parking break and start my day. Something about the man with the tall boy sticks with me and I can’t quite figure out why.
One thing I know for sure is that I have to write about it, to capture the fleeting moment and memorialize it for myself as much as for anyone else.
Did you ever have the kind of day where you are going ninety miles an hour at your work desk, cranking out the emails, spreadsheets and taking phone calls left and right, all while balancing the Greyhound bus stop that is the chair in front of your desk….
And despite all the chaos and kerfuffle, just in the nick of time, you manage to whip out one page with a beautifully wrought, easy-to-read table that contains the cheat sheet you’ll need to answer every question that will be machine gun fired at you at your 3:00 meeting.
So you send that sumnabitch to the printer and grab your notebook, hike up your pants, run to the copier, and grab that thing off the machine so you can make it to your meeting at something less than five minutes late.
Then you squeal your tires around the corner into the copy room and you are heartened to hear that the machine isn’t working. It’s done. It’s printed your copy.
Only it hasn’t.
The screen reads “out of paper, load tray three.”
Inside your head, you say, “I can deal with this.”
It’s one of those big industrial machines and to fill the paper tray takes not one, not two, but three reams of ecologically friendly 50% post-consumer lily white paper.
Being a good office citizen, you could throw half a ream in there and call it good, but you don’t. You fill it up to the top, slam the drawer and the machine fires up.
Sweet sound of the Gods!
And the machine begins spitting out page after page after page…..
And you realize the guy in front of you must be printing like a hundred copies of his forty page slide deck and it’s HIS FAULT that the machine was parched for paper when you arrived.
Nothing you can do now but watch that machine like a bird dog after a duck, all the while not-my-copy, not-my-copy, not-my-copy shoots out of the machine, perfectly stapled and collated and tidy as you please.
“Ok,” you say to yourself. “I can deal with this.”
Then the machine stops again. The engine winds down.
“Thank god!” you think.
But wait, your copy isn’t there.
“WHAT THE [EXPLETIVE DELETED]!!!” You may or may not shout.
The LCD screen on that machine says “Replace Toner” and provides helpful animated arrows to guide you through the process.
“Ok,” you think to yourself, “I can deal with this. It can’t be that hard.”
So you find a box with a new toner tube and you follow the bouncing arrow on the screen and the old toner comes out and the new toner slides in and now you may or may not have black toner dust peppering your arms.
But you slam closed the toner door and the machine begins to make a noise.
“Warming up,” it tells you.
And you wait for what must be an [expletive deleted] eternity while the machine “cleans the wires” and “recalibrates” itself at the pace of an anemic snail.
Then Holy Mother of Xerox, the machine starts spitting out copies anew and more and more of not-my-copy of someone’s presentation comes out.
Then, most miraculous! The single sheet that you desperately needed finally exits the machine!
So to be helpful you pull the other copies off the machine to lay them aside in a nice, neat stack.
And because you are nosy by nature, you look to see exactly what is the document that held up your progress and made you irretrievably late for a very important meeting, and you come to realize that it is…..
Handouts for someone’s upcoming Cub Scout meeting.
You ever have a day like that?
No way, right? Because that story just has to be made up.
“I’m good enough, I’m smart enough, and doggone it, people like me” — Stuart Smally
For those of us of a certain age, we remember the Stuart Smally pseudo-self -help skits by Al Franken on Saturday Night Live.
The catchphrase became an oft quoted in regular conversation, both joking and more than a bit serious.
In reality, there are an awful lot of resources out there that tell us about self-talk, about taking a strong stance, about giving ourselves positive affirmation phrases to bolster our courage and bring us to great heights.
Good words are all well and good, but do they actually work?
Here’s the thing, all the pretty words in the world are not a replacement for the discipline needed to actually take that first step.
Mohammad Ali told himself and the world that he was the greatest fighter that ever lived, then he went out there in the ring and proved it.
He did that not because of his hype words, but by putting in the training work well before the fight. The kind of work that’s less pretty words and all the more necessary.
What I’m saying is: The road less traveled doesn’t get traveled until you strap on your boots and walk it.
Self-care and self-discipline matter a whole lot more to your success than the perfect laser cut vinyl words stickered to your wall.
Live, laugh, love is all well and good, but you have to live by taking care of yourself, drinking enough water and for god’s sake eat a salad now and again.
You have to laugh, even when you are in such a dark place that laugher feels hollow. Sometimes it takes work to find anything funny, but once it’s there, the laugher soars.
And love, a lovely romantic notion but real true love takes hard work, which is, unto itself, cotton candy words. We all talk about “how hard” it is to make a marriage work, but you have to commit yourself to actually doing the work, to sticking around when everything in your brain says to run, to firmly holding that trash can while the love of your life barfs their brains out three days before the wedding.
Okay, that last one may be just a bit too personally specific.
How about this one:
Huh, really? Pretty sure that is impossible. There will ALWAYS be someone more than happy believe the bad stuff about you, even if you were the best person that ever lived.
Shouldn’t it be more like “Live in such a way that if someone spoke badly of you, it might make you sad for a little while, and then maybe you get a little drunk or eat french fries about it. Then you either hold on to that pain for a lifetime or you talk to your therapist about it and find a way to move on.”
I know talking about “doing the work” isn’t crazy cool, fun, and sexy. It doesn’t look cute on a shirt with butterflies and shooting stars. But that is how you get where you want to go, and by that I mean real, tangible results take effort.
Which is not to say you shouldn’t have some fighting words in your pocket to inspire when it is go time. I’m trying to say that catchy words are fine, but they don’t get the work done, so don’t get so lost in the memes, wallpaper or the “inspirations” aisle at the craft store that you forget to focus.
I mean, if you want to chant a phrase to get you fired up, get you off the couch and augment your inner motivation, then by all means!
I myself love to watch YouTube videos of tribal Maori doing a Haka dance. The strength and passion gets me fired UP to go out there and kick some butt.
I am not Maori so I try not to appropriate anyone’s culture, but I admit sometimes in the bathroom before a big presentation, I’ll stick my tongue out to my reflection in the mirror and make my best Haka face. AAAAGH!
Then I go out there and do the work. I stand tall and get it done. If I succeed or I fail, it wasn’t because of my affirmation phrases or my faces, but because I put in the time, dug deep, and did the work.
I know none of that matters, for I am a Karen, which was a perfectly good name in the 1960’s when it was applied to my natal form, but is now a burden upon which I have been saddled.
Memes, jokes, and Reddit threads all define what it means to be a Karen and none of them adequately describe the real me. I just have to wear the veneer of the meme, but on the inside, I know the truth.
Please embrace me in these troubled times.
I remember when Becky carried this burden. Who didn’t disdain Becky with the Good Hair? Or barbeque Becky? I laughed and laughed for the Becky memes were funny (and a little sad), but now fate has turned like the worm that it is.
Ask not for who the meme tolls, it tolls for me. I swallow my Becky laughter and stoically take my unearned meme lashings.
I do not have kids, but if I did they would be vaccinated and would attend public schools. I believe the earth is as round as a shiny blue marble. I do not try to cure my ailments with oils, balms or salves unless medical science calls for that, then oil, balm, and salve me up.
I’ve always seen myself as the very anthesis of the memeified Karen.
And yet here we are.
Karen is not a person, she’s a state of mind that shall live on in internet form for many, many years.
When I was a kid, I always wished for a hurricane to be named after me. I wanted to hear every weather person on every news station say my name.
I wanted hurricane Karen to be a good strong storm.
Just a few months ago, the name Karen was applied to a developing hurricane.
Not only was the hurricane joy stolen from me, storm Karen couldn’t even gather together enough wind to become a hurricane. Downgraded to tropical depression, she just sat out there being petulant, demanding attention without putting in the work.
What a disappointment. I refuse to allow this to become my metaphor.
I am not meme Karen. Meme Karen is not me.
My name may never be associated with something like Good Guy Greg, but at least I am not Scumbag Steve/Stacy.
Today, I shall go out, order something and not demand to speak to anyone’s manager, because I am a good Karen and I will represent my name nobly for all the decent Karens of this world who will redeem our name, one positive encounter at a time.
So without going into specifics (because it’s the internet and who knows what people do with facts anymore) the job I do every day is, essentially, a customer service gig. We don’t support the general public, but support the operations of my employer. We serve all of my coworkers as customers. Confusing enough?
Anyhow, since we have a focus on customer service and have standard corporate performance measurements to maintain, on a regular basis we send surveys to our customers to ask how we did so they can grade us and provide feedback.
Fairly standard stuff. If the surveys for my team come in good, then fabulous. It’s logged and reported and so forth. If a survey comes in bad, then a member of the team that collates responses will discreetly make a copy and slide it onto my desk. This usually happens when I am off in a meeting or something so they don’t have to make eye contact. It’s all very clandestine.
Bad surveys happen. It’s normal. I usually review them, see what the beef is about and move on.
Except for yesterday. Yesterday gave me pause. I returned to my office to find the dreaded folded sheet of paper on my desk. “Ugh” was my first thought as I unfolded and read the survey.
It was a good time. Suffice to say, my team was blamed for everything wrong in this person’s life, including (and I’m not kidding) the reason the person is leaving our institution to go work somewhere else. All our fault.
The words “byzantine” and “Kafkaesque” were used. And after looking up what those words meant, I was really offended.
Just kidding, I wasn’t offended. To be honest if bureaucratic, surreal and nightmarish processes aren’t your bag, then working anywhere that receives federal funding is not going to be a fun time.
This unhappy person did wrap up by saying they thought my employee that they worked with lovely, but the processes were ugly.
To be honest, I appreciate this customer for giving me the first good laugh I’ve ever had over a bad survey response.
And the search for just the right image for this post was also a nice distraction from my byzantine day.
I think I nailed it:
**An actual Franz Kafka quote that just supremely fit this post