If the world gave you exactly what you’ve always wanted, a chance, would you have the balls to follow through? Last Wednesday, after seven magical years rolling paper (don’t ask) in Calgary’s oil & gas downtown mecca, I was ‘temporarily’ laid off. Stress, panic, pain… the energy in this city is darkening. Continue reading
Monday. Shit. The alarm goes off and the world ends. Click here to read with rockin’ Rolling Stones soundtrack. Sure, I’ve got big wet n’ sloppy gratitude for warm sheets and a job. In terms of human history – let’s not kid ourselves – you and I are living the dream baby, living the dream. So why do so many of us feel nothing, NOTHING, when we get our paycheck except the low gut burn of wasted time?
Most brains are tuned to the group story, unconsciously incorporating trends, established creeds, and authorities into a prefrontal construction of falsified independence. It’s the survival evolution of a social species. A rebellious primate who won’t follow the rules is ostracized until it slinks off into the forest to die, miserable, confused, and alone. What do we do with our own rebels? What happens to those of us whose brains tell us we’re doing something wrong when we follow the crowd?
We fake it. We grind through our current paradigm’s efficiencies – a muted world, misted over and untouchable. To compensate for the emptiness of a life lived as someone else, to FEEL something, so many of us spend years hidden away in secret gardens that slowly, insidiously, destroy the core soul we’re trying to protect.
But we live in a magical age. Globalization through communication has revealed an endless variation in viable worlds. We are free to chose the life that feels most real. But there’s a catch. We are a social species. No escaping the fact. Every human, rebel or not, is a collaboration. We need love to survive. Stray too far from the pack and the unconscious pull-back can lead to all kinds of mental/physical suffering. It’s a cruel irony that some of the most biologically rebellious brains are also the most sensitive.
Balance? How can we rebels be our most congruent selves without ending up alone in the forest? I propose a storied life, a personal scripting rooted in unrelenting compassion for our own coding. Let’s fill out life’s left brain efficiencies with right brain dramas. Let’s load our day-to-day with sensory touchstones, moments when we can be fully present, whole, and alive. If it’s not authentic, don’t force an emotional response to the group story. Just let it go. Pooof! Like I said, it’s a magical time.
Love. Take your system back down to the surface of your skin and start from there. Be your own ambassador in the world. Chin up, no guilt, no shame. And if head banging at the office makes your Monday come alive, then by all means, go ahead get the party started!
Desperate for the weekend? Stuck in an office? Just like the sod houses of early prairie settlers, your best chance for survival is to get creative with what you have on hand. All you need for this DIY cottage project is a well stocked office storage room and a boss who’s open to a bit of out-of-the-box(es) problem solving – at least on Fridays. Because sometimes the only way to escape an impossible situation is to story your way out…
“Well, dear,” says my realtor, “you told me you wanted a cottage property that’s easily accessible from work, and with your budget, I really think this is the best option you’re going to find.”
I’ve always tried to see the best in a situation – although a few exes might disagree – but, although charmingly designed, this sad little shack isn’t exactly screaming sunshine and sailboats.
“But it’s only twenty feet away from my office door,” I complain. “What kind of vacation is that?”
My realtor, a middle-aged firebrand with a forehead as immovable as her shellacked bob, isn’t one to give up easily, on youth, 80s style eyeliner, or a sales pitch.
“But look at all the features!” She points out relevant bits of recycling as she enumerates. “Bubble wrap window for light and built-in entertainment, foam paving stones – so soothing to the sole after a long workweek. You’ve got an end-of-roll doorknob, decoratively staggered tube fencing, garden area with overhang and canopy, and just look at that darling slanted roof.”
“What happens when the wolf comes and ‘blows it all down?” I can’t resist asking.
She ignores my sarcasm and plunges on, “And talk about environmentally green construction, this cottage and its landscaping are made exclusively of unaltered found materials.” (author’s note: because I had to put everything back exactly as I’d found it… sigh)
“Not quite, but the public washroom is just around the corner, opposite the office utility closet.”
“Seriously, Cymbria, for right now, for today, this is as good as it’s going to get.”
I know she’s right. That’s the worst of it. So I do what so many of us have gotten in the habit of doing when offered only a scrap instead of the whole – I take it.
Are two heads better than one? How about three? Or five hundred? Almost everything we touch, taste, see, hear, and even smell, is a product of multiple minds meeting in the middle. We live in a globalized culture of collaboration… a world of compromise. At all stages, from concept to marketplace, any new idea must survive countless negotiations and push backs. Logic and personality are our best weapons when battling for an innovation, but both are subjective and eat up substantial time and energy – along with team building, group brainstorming, meetings… meetings… AAAAAAAARG!
We can’t escape collaboration. Heck, conception is the ultimate collaboration and none of us would be here without that! But we’ve got to take a break from the office orgies! We’ve lost touch with the private, primitive urge to create independently – just for the hell of it. Social media and globalization have linked value to multiplicity – whether in ‘Likes’ received, dollars earned, or people converted. But stop. Just stop. Stop letting other people design your world.
With such an overwhelming breadth of new products and creative productions coming at us 24/7, we’re becoming desensitized to individual acts of self-expression, especially our own! But how do we resist the seductive fact that collaboration naturally produces idealized forms – Plato would be so pleased! We now need trainers, masseuses, uniform designers… to score a single hockey goal. A piece of clothing is nothing until it’s dressed up by models, makeup artists, photographers, and airbrushers. This progression to idealization is, of course, perfectly natural and predictable from a neurological standpoint. But why be a slave to your brain when it guts the value of your uniquely imperfect humanity?
We’re a competitive species, for resources, mates, and ego actualization. But how do we compete, head to head, with 7 billion people! Go back 30 000 years… one man… a dozen shells… one necklace. His personal tribal contribution was sacred and precious. Every moment he spent on the task reinforced his own value to himself and to his tribe. Does working a shit job to afford a Louis Vuitton purse really provide the same validation? Why do you think one is never enough? Look how fast our purchases become our insatiables. This is what happens when we lose connection with our individual ability to express our humanity as tangible sensory creations. But there’s hope. Let’s collaborate across time, not in time. Take the gift of the tools (farming, technology, etc.) designed by minds who have come before us, and start small…
Exercise in Engagement: Bring the system boundary back down to the surface of your skin, breathe, then stretch it out to the volume of your kitchen – nothing and no one else exists. You must be your own validation in this moment. Forage for ingredients and dare to build the most personal sandwich possible with what you find. Doesn’t have to be perfect, healthy, or follow any Food Network rules. Screw Plato! Explore the experience of this sandwich with each one of your senses, one at a time, then all together in a moment of total engagement. This sandwich is you because you made it without compromise or negotiation and because (not to be too graphic here) it will literally become you in a matter of hours. Now go forth and conquer!
Denying 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. Even 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.
Most 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?
When I get off the elevator Tuesday morning on the 6th floor, I find Dr. C talking to my boss, who looks quite overwhelmed by the white haired 10th floor phenom.
“Cymbria!” Dr. C turns and greets me with neon pink lips spread wide. “Paper’s got to roll itself for a few minutes. I’m borrowing you for an emergency.”
She doesn’t say another word as she leads me up to Blank Canvas Living’s offices, despite all my questions and panicked pleas for training, something, anything, Aaaack! We get off the elevator and she takes me down a bleak, almost institutional, hallway without giving me the tiniest hint of what to expect. Not even when she opens a green glass door, about halfway down, and guides – who are we kidding, shoves! – me through. The door clicks shut behind me and I’m in a small white office with silken green carpeting that looks suspiciously like-high end Astro Turf. There are two chairs, but their purpose is lost on the fire haired woman who, I’m assuming, is my first ‘real-time’ creative counseling client.
It’s my turn to be speechless. A faint scratching, grinding sound is coming from under the opposite chair. That’s right, under. My client, a well-dressed 30-something businesswoman, is curled up in the fetal position gnawing on a chair leg. No joke. What the hell?
I wait for an opportune lull in the gnawing. “Are you Ok?” I ask.
“Do I look Ok?!” she snarls. “I’m gnawing on a f*&^^*ing chair leg! I hate my job. I hate my life. I hate my hair. And I hate the *&^^%&*((* photocopier that jammed and made me crazy this morning!”
“I like your hair.” My voice is so meek, even I’m not sold.
“Whatever. Who the hell are you anyway?”
“I’m Cymbria. It’s my first time.”
“Dr. C had better not be charging me for this. And seriously, why would I take advice from someone wearing such an abomination of a sweater?”
She’s right. Dr. C may have helped me burn my ugly pants, but the sweater she met me in still haunts my closet, its ease too easy an argument on so many grey/black branded mornings. I take it off and toss it on the grassy floor between us.
“Oh sure,” she says, letting go of the chair leg, “like that ratty old tank top is any more professional.”
“Fine.” I take that off too, and let it drop like a limp white flag of surrender. But this is no resignation. I’ve got her full attention now that I’m down to my bra and jeans. It’s my turn to call her out: “And I don’t know how I can listen to someone bitching about their life when they’re wearing a fresh-pressed button-down and Christian Louboutin heels!”
“Fine.” The woman picks herself up, strips off her shirt, and kicks off her shoes. She stands her ground with arms crossed and jaw set, challenging me.
“You want professional?” I say, as I take her white oxford from the top of our laundry pile and button it over my bra. It’s a tad loose, but the more like a lab coat the better. Off go my jeans and I make an improvised matching skirt from my repurposed ‘ratty’ white tank top. Recovering from a terrible first impression demands high risk creative problem solving. “Now hand over the tights. You came here wanting to expose your brain for someone to poke around in. Hosiery sharing isn’t anywhere near as intimate and you know it.”
She gives me her tights and lets me dress her in a true tickle trunk representation of how she says she feels. I tie my sweater sleeves (so what if they stretch – t’is a noble sacrifice) behind her back for a straightjacket effect, then get her to put her feet in the wrong end of my jeans to trap her legs. She draws the line at letting me hood her with her black gabardine pencil skirt – “can’t wreck the hair,” she says, which I take as a possible sign of improving moral.
We sit facing each other, transformed. “Now,” I say, as professionally as possible, ignoring the pain of her glorious but too-tight Louboutins, “how can I help?”
Startled? Shocked? Horrified? All of the above. How could this have happened? Oh, I could give you a perfectly reasonable explanation for why I’m wearing slacks today – not pants or trousers, but honest to goodness slacks. And I swear I’m only surfing celebrity gossip to calm my beta-brain into a blissful alpha interim before boosting back up to finish my intellectual tome-of-the-moment (and it’s a really thick one too). But on the surface, I have completely submitted to the stereotype: the hair, a bun; my shoes, practical; my cardigan (yes, cardigan), thigh grazing and demure. I’m even drinking from our office kitchen’s “make every day a Friday!” mug. The horror.
Now, before I confess what I’m about to, I’m trusting you to understand something, that this moment does not define me. Just as I’ll trust that wherever you might find yourself today – in whatever footwear – that you, at least, have hope that someday you will find your own expression of whatever marvelous uniqueness your soul is coded to contain. That said…
My full surrender to the stereotype came as I reached into my desk drawer and dug out a cherry filled chocolate from my secret stash… and then another. Yes, dear readers, I’m typing this with still-sticky fingers. I’m living the very paradigm I’ve spent a lifetime trying desperately to escape. And I ask myself… What effect does environment really have, on our identities, our actions, our morale? Maybe we are not so independent of circumstance? Maybe my day job is more than a time ticker? Maybe you and I are risking more of ourselves than we realize? So let’s do something radical this weekend. You and me. Pinky swear…