5 Tips for staying human at the office

office phoneDenying or suppressing our humanity while at work can lead to tragic consequences… depression, anxiety, illicit stairwell trysts, office shootings, or the time my boss found me sitting on ‘the new guy’s’ desk after a drunken Christmas luncheon, performing an erotic reading of an article I’d found in a seismic geophysics magazine on the evolution of the scientific method – oh gawd the horror, the shame! Don’t let this happen to you! We are at our best and brightest when we stay connected to our passions and personalities. The following five tips are simple survival strategies to help you keep hold of your sanity and soul at your own office day job:

1) As counterintuitive as it feels, as hard as it is to say… go on, admit it, you WANT to be sitting there. If you don’t believe me, click here for compelling neurological proof.

2) Personalize, personalize, personalize! You don’t have to go as far as my art installation office phone pictured in the photo above. emoticon phone stickersEven I have to admit it might be getting a wee bit over-accessorized; I messed up twice the last time I had to dial our Xerox technician’s number on my emoticon keypad. A couple of your favourite pictures, inspirational quotes/posters (although these can all too quickly slide into the ironic), or comic strips can add some mood enhancing personal colour and flair.

3) Practice mindfulness brain games to help you reengage with your tasks and surroundings in novel ways. Try focusing on the experience of one sense at a time or imagine that you’re exploring a museum exhibit showcasing long-outdated 21st century office supplies. Trust me – it can really open things up. Just don’t advertise your little field trip, especially if you’re the only employee already risking your professionalism (let alone dignity) by dialing with customized emoticons.

4) Oxygenate! If at all possible, incorporate plants into your office environment. Spider plants are surprisingly easy to sustain and provide the optional bonus of an interactive tactile relationship. Refuel the rest of your body with a living lunch. I don’t mean go hunting for something (or someone) skulking around on the third floor, but get creative with your limited office kitchen supplies and make yourself something worth waking up for.

5) Keep your fantasies out of the office! Breaking news – you are a sexual being. Acknowledge this honest truth and move on. And obviously, do not, under any circumstances, engage in drunken desk hopping this holiday season! Keep your daydreams focused on your future, your weekend, or if things get really bleak, pretend you’re embroiled in a multi-billion dollar international corporate espionage conspiracy while filing your next report. Regressive? Perhaps. Nerdy? Decidedly. But desperate times call for decidedly desperate measures.

funny stickerMost importantly, stay conscious (always a good place to start) and on guard for subliminal, and not so subliminal (like that stupid Chubb door sticker I have to try to ignore every morning!), social and environmental cues that threaten to compromise your value as a precious, uniquely wonderful human being. And if you manage to get out alive this Friday, have a fabulous, unabashedly human weekend!

What do you do to stay human at your 9 to 5 job?

Recovering from shameful acts of self-promotion

louis vuitton logoWe’re used to having other people’s names stitched into our underwear and going to punk rock concerts sponsored by banks, but how do you build a blog brand? Sure, Gucci can get away with bedazzling its logo on dog collars, and no one would bat an eye if Louis Vuitton came out with a line of luxury baked goods, but publicizing a personal blog without overt awkwardness or coming across as, heaven forbid, (just typing the word hurts) narcissistic, is almost impossible.

It helps to get creative. Some of my, if not classy then at least less dignity destroying, strategies have included blog advertising shoes and a promotional bookmark flip book. These two DIY methods tend to catch people off guard, which, not coincidentally, is key to both advertising and horror movies. But for someone whose fear of networking can best be described as pure liquid terror, I am completely in the dark (possibly hiding under a table somewhere) about the social etiquette of self-promotion, especially when it comes to blogs. I can’t believe I’m telling you this, but I’ve actually handed out said bookmarks at funerals (oh for shame!) and even in airport public washrooms. I know, I know, totally inappropriate. All I can say is that like so many stupid-in-hindsight impulses, it always seemed like such a good idea at the time.

I have to confess that last night I hit a whole new low on the appropriateness scale. I was riding Calgary’s C-Train when another one of those “good ideas” popped into my head. The temperature had also hit a new low last night, and the two glass panels of the door I was standing beside were covered with a thick layer of frost. Someone had scrapped a jagged window with finger marks that looked like they’d been trying to claw their way out. Which, being a public transit regular, I can totally understand. I drew a small happy face in the top corner of the closest panel with a gloved finger. But that wasn’t enough. My gateway doodle led to a panel wide artistic portrait of a woman’s face, quite impressively executed, considering the medium – if I do say so myself. I spent the next few stops appreciating the poetic irony of being bundled beyond recognition while looking at a reflection that was the mirror image of my summer self.

But, of course, that wasn’t enough. Here was a rare opportunity for a DIY blog billboard! I scratched BLANKCANVASLIVING.COM into the second panel in an inverted U shape, leaving the space in the middle open – because every advertisement needs a visual. And what better blog brand ambassador than our darling mascot (see side panel) Mitch-the-insatiable-itch! Here’s where things went horribly wrong. By this point my finger was blunted with snow and I had to rush because we were almost at my stop. Finishing my ‘artistry’, I hurried out the opposite door – already beeping with urgency – and took a quick look back to survey my handiwork.

Oh Gawd! I’d just drawn – with wiggly distorted lines – what could best be described as a horned stick figure with a set of disproportionately huge male genitalia dangling under its belly!!! I had to watch it leering at me from under my calling card as it set off down the tracks – in full view of all the passengers! Nothing like lewd graffiti on public transit to really take your blog brand to the next level… sigh.

The morning I walked to work on Mars

pink mars skyIt was one of those mornings… a five snooze alarm, sleep vs shower trade-off morning, when you dream you’ve woken up and left for work then wake up and have to do it all over again. It was one of those mornings when your bed is your entire world and any universe beyond is dark, cold, alien, and empty, and the warm comfort of your sheets weights your body with the gravity of a thousand suns. You know, one of those mornings.

I waited until the last possible second before getting up, savouring each ‘tick’ with the knowledge that these were the last precious moments of self before the blind suffering of routine would rip me out of my bliss and cast me, shivering and whimpering, out into the unholy frozen city. Ok, so maybe I’m getting a bit carried away, and of course I’m grateful for all my blessings and, quite frankly, even to have a job to wake up for. But our humanity is pretty raw at 6:30 in the morning, and the gloss of rational thinking is rarely available before lunch (if at all).

Trudging along the bikepath, I was still locked in hostility – towards the weather, towards all the bikers who ‘dinged’ at me, towards the little patches of ice that seemed just as hostile towards me, and, unforgivably, towards a woman I love who is suffering so much more than myself. I’ve been trying so hard to find solutions to her problems, to guide her towards relief, but she keeps slipping deeper.

No, I told myself, right there on the path. I’ve do so much, all I can. I just need this one moment to be my own. No job, no worries, no obsessing. Let me ‘just be’ in the story of this landscape. I focused all my energy into my senses: the sharp cold smell of the Bow river, the crunch of the snow under my sneakers… I lifted my eyes up from the pavement and gasped in unabashed awe.

Calgary’s downtown skyline was on fire with a rapturous sunrise, all glowing hot pinks and soft peaches, fading high overhead into a delicate lavender border. Absolutely gorgeous, and huge! We’re ‘big sky’ country here in Alberta and this morning the colours reached far beyond their usual semi-circular modesty. This was an entirely new atmosphere, an entirely new backdrop to the city. And then it hit me. I was walking to work on Mars!

I angled the brim of my baseball cap to block out any earthly, pedestrian blue. My world was Mars and I played the story through in my mind. Only a thin yellow line separated me from the joggers and bikers on my home planet, journeying into an opposite sky. I was alone in this magical new vision. I changed the snow to dust and the buildings to alien constructions. It wasn’t hard. In the last quarter century Calgary has transformed into a hulking, though glittering, vision of past futures. But I felt a sudden gut pang of sadness. This Mars was so beautiful, yet all would be lost to time. Whatever its past may have held, our shared Mars has been blown back to red dust. But I would always have my Mars, even when the sky came back to Earth, and even when later I’d check Wikipedia and find out the dull truth about the real Martian sky.

But in that glowing pink moment of my own, I thought of the woman I love, and a new idea. Overwhelmed by the crushing enormity of making a change, she holds the first small step in her hand, but tells me she always puts it down because she thinks “it doesn’t matter.” As I stood delighting in my Mars, I realized I had crossed epic time and space by giving myself the simple permission to enjoy the moment as purely, unapologetically ‘me’ – because “I matter.” If I’ve brought back anything from my Mars, it isn’t a sample of gas or rock, it’s the gift of knowing that even when you feel like “it doesn’t matter,” you still do.

So hard to pick a toothpaste when all patterns end in sex or death

trauma in the toothpaste aisle

We process the world through pattern. Our brains filter the sensory madness of our culture through ever narrowing channels of meaning and importance. But let’s be honest, whatever your program of associations, all patterns end in either sex or death. Sex extends our genetics through time and is the only motivator on par with avoidance of death – the eventual, inevitable endgame to all sequences of decisions.

I’m paralyzed in the toothpaste aisle. I feel my temperature rising, my palms getting sweaty. Why the hell does my amygdala have to get involved! It’s just f*&^king toothpaste! The eternal struggle: buy my ‘usual’ and save myself some cognitive calories, or engage in a complex multi-variable algorithm steeped in conflict between conscious and unconscious influences and motivations. Do I want short term gains like fresh breath and whitening? Both driven by the ever tempting promise of getting laid. Or do I go for long term investment with tartar control, enamel repair, and preventing gingivitis (the villain in so many bacteria-in-the-bloodstream early death horror stories!)? Then there are the ‘do it all have it all’ formulas, the ‘full-time working mothers’ of oral hygiene. But like Sheryl Sandberg, I’m suspicious there’s some unspoken compromise that just might result in a root canal somewhere down the line. I grew up using Colgate… its red is so soothingly familiar… but ProNamel’s packaging looks so reassuringly clinical… and Aquafresh has… Oh for heavens sake!!

Pavlov’s dogs were trained to salivate at the ringing of a bell, but his subjects would often begin to drool far earlier in the experimental sequence: approaching the experimental apparatus, when lab assistants entered the room, etc. Our own programming wakes with us in the morning and maps the day into expectations and associations. Our circuitry can be as rigid as rail lines, and neuroplasticity involves the same taxing bureaucratic nightmare of time, energy, and ego as engineering Calgary’s West LRT line. Change is hell. With sex or death being their axiomed ends, we must confront our patterns at their beginnings, especially ones as powerful as those involving ‘the paradox of choice’.

I should have visualized a game plan and anticipated my distress. It’s too late by the time I’m standing here feeling like an idiot for being so overwhelmed by freakin’ toothpaste! At this point, metacognition is my only hope. I calm my breathing and my head begins to clear. My prefrontal cortex takes charge. “What’s the worst case scenario,” I ask myself. It’s just toothpaste! And four magic words follow the analysis: “I can handle it.” I engage a new pattern and apply the retail version of my good-girl-bad-girl personal philosophy, and come home with two tubes – ProNamel and Aquafresh – and ‘spit’ my time between. What can I say? I’m now a proud personal hygiene polygamist (but hopefully not “till death do us part”)!

The Versatile Blogger Award goes Greek when a ‘good-girl-bad-girl’ reveals all!

good girl bad girlBefore Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle, there were Anaximander’s opposites (hot/cold, good/evil, wet/dry), which where brought into unity by Heraclitus: “The road up and the road down are the same thing.” Being awarded The Versatile Blogger Award (many thanks to ToKillAHammingBird for the nomination!!) requires me to tell you 7 things about myself. versatileblogger111But there are so many versions of ‘self’ that 7 things can be strategically used to describe. Who do I want to be to you? But no, that’s too easy. I’ve always been a woman of extremes, no nebulous middle ground, and I’m going to allow you to know me at my most honest – and therefore by my opposites: Good Girl …versus… Bad Girl. The Greeks were fearless of ideas. This freedom has been their greatest gift to history. And when you are fearless in who you are, your own history begins to make a lot more sense.

1) Requisite ‘good girl’ volunteering, plus earned full scholarships and A++ ave in high school & university …versus… Dropped out to play (briefly) in the _ _ _  industry and to work (permanently) as a Thinker/Writer/Designer

2) Won fashion (and industrial) design awards, commissions, and designed and hand-stitched my wedding dress …versus… Last ten years could be defined as a tragic series of ugly hand-me-down pants

3) Have accessorized said pants with running shoes, baseball cap, and ponytail 23/7 …versus… Harley Davidson boots other 1/7, with all manner of debauchery above my thigh-high fishnets

4) Match all my man’s socks as soon as they come out of the drier …versus… Have resorted to buying paper plates and plastic cutlery after ignoring the dishes for weeks (ok… so once it was a whole month)

5) Work diligently 9 to 5 rolling paper (don’t ask) and doing academic research on ‘the evolution of ideas’ …versus… My infamous 3 am ‘field testing’

6) Have a deeply Christian faith (with new philosophical proof that would leave Aquinas shaking in his sandals) …versus… Once wrote an essay on cheese being the highest expression of human spirituality

7) If you break my heart you won’t shake my faith in love …versus… But I will have to kill you.

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The Versatile Blogger Award also asks that I nominate 15 other bloggers for the next round:
Shoeism ~ HitchhikingColorado ~ TheMusicType ~ LivingDilbert ~ AFireworkInProgress ~ BlueHouseRecords ~ MagicAndMarvels ~ AdventuresAspirations”Aha”Moments ~ Sewbon ~ TheBlondeAlarmist ~ Bun81Bridge ~ BareKnuckleWriter ~ TheStoryShack ~ BalconyViews ~AdventuresInWiferyAndOther…

When doing the dishes becomes a not-so-natural disaster

There are moments when everything changes, and in an instant, your world – or at least your kitchen – becomes a very complicated place. Last night, at exactly 9:43pm, something happened that made everything up to that moment seem so manageable, so innocent. It was something I’ve seen coming for years, “only a matter of time,” as ‘they’ say.

Doing the dishes after watching a documentary on the awesome perils of constructing the Panama Canal, my mind was full of hydro engineering, spillways, and human suffering – all of which would soon cross a continent and a century to turn my kitchen into a perfect diorama of disaster. Clearing the drying tray, I leaned over the counter to toss a Tupperware lid up to the top cupboard shelf, but it didn’t quite make the right sound. It was too loud, as if instantly echoed. Then I felt it, a cold, clammy liquid seeping through my long johns and woolen socks. I knew right away what had happened. I looked down, and time stopped.

Sure enough, my shirt had caught the edge of the George Foreman Grill (brim full!) drippings tray and yanked it off the counter. Brown and sludgy, the watery fat had exploded… everywhere. I thought of Panama, of the flooding and yellow fever, and I thought of the men and women who had battled far deeper demons than the greasy mess I was facing. But I couldn’t blame the mosquitoes, or the weather, or even the French, it was my own fault for leaving the stupid thing so close to the edge.

After a very brief (but entirely necessary) mourning period, I stripped down, tossed my socks in the sink and got to scrubbing. There I was, nearly naked, on my hands and knees on the kitchen floor, scouring the linoleum. In a moment my evening had changed from routine to grim nightmare, but compared to Panama, I suppose I really don’t have shit to complain about.

How to incorporate air purifying plants into an office environment

Plants are an excellent way to improve the air quality in your office. Spider plants offer exceptional purification properties. Of course, you can always take things one step farther into the jungle and create a greenery curtain in your office doorway. Anything to bring more of a barrier between your humanity and the industrial hum of the cubicle wasteland beyond.

Although I do have to warn you, explaining to a befuddled coworker why you’re bushwhacking through spider plant foliage to escape for lunch can be a little awkward – as I found out first hand last week! Click Here to learn more about the Blank Canvas Sampler. And if you’re curious about the font in the illustration above, Click Here.