Unfiltered Thoughts: Missed Opportunity

I work at a large state university, and parking on campus is steep. If you don’t have a campus permit, there are some private metered spaces around, too, where you can pay by the hour or a couple lots where you can pay by the day. Then there’s the church that pays someone to sit out in their lot and collect $10 a day to park in their lot.

I forgot my permit today, but lucky for me, there’s a free lot nearby. It’s so weird that there’s this big parking lot just beyond campus that’s…well, free. It’s got to have at least 300 spots. There’s no slot for you to walk to and shove your $5 in to. There’s no dude in a booth collecting your money. It’s the closest lot to my building, and it’s probably at least as close to campus as the giant student lot, which is not free, so, as you can imagine, folks like me who work on campus and students all take advantage of this free lot. Every single day.

Let’s assume that there are 300 spots, and they’re filled M-F. Even if you charged $5 a spot (as opposed to the standard $10 that places like the church charge), that’s $1500 a day. And that’s just M-F. And that’s also assuming only one car per spot per day, not that one person, oh, I dunno, leaves at noon and someone else pulls into the same spot and pays another $5 for 1:00-5:00. So that’s $30,000. A MONTH. Conservatively. That some idiot is strangely not collecting. It’s so weird. And lest you think that whoever owns the lot is just AWOL – in prison, dead, whatever – nope. Because some weekends, there *is* someone in the lot collecting $10 to park there for special events.

But back to this $30,000 a month that someone is missing out on. If whoever owns that lot doesn’t want that money, how about I send some kid to sit down there in a polo, with a clipboard, a table and a large, professionally printed laminated sign to start collecting people’s money? I don’t know about you, but I could sure use $30k a month.

Unsettled

Ever since we’ve moved here, I’ve been missing my former city of Flagstaff (and Nashville before that). It’s not just the heat, although that is pretty unbearable. And it’s not just that this desert landscape still registers not as what it is but as what it is not – namely not the lush, verdant Tennessee that I grew up with. It’s difficult to articulate, especially to folks who haven’t had the displeasure of living here, but it’s a lot of little things that add up to making it a tough place to like. It’s so big and spread out that the scale of the place can make it feel like you need to pack a lunch to get anywhere. There is an absence of the rhythm of distinct seasons. And there’s no real sense of place or identity for Phoenix. I guess some cities, like Tempe, have made strides to carve out some sense of place, but it seems very inorganic and artificial. Tempe seems to think of itself as a college town. To some degree I suppose that’s true…but the words ‘college town’ evoke something very different to me than a major public university with more than 70,000 students.

All of that makes it hard to find people you have stuff in common with (which was especially difficult for me when I worked for tiny nonprofit museums).  And it’s disharmonious for me to live in a place characterized by sprawl, exurbs, and materialism when those aren’t my values. I could give you all sorts of anecdotes that strive to illustrate why I don’t really feel like this is home, but I fear that those might just sound like I’m grumpy. Besides, what I think is perhaps more telling is the bullseye observation from the New York Times 36 Hours in Phoenix piece that states, “Even long-timers have a tough time explaining the city’s appeal.”

So. True.

The root of the problem is that there are no anchors. You’re not anchored by your city. Even the (smaller) cities like Tempe that comprise the greater Phoenix metropolitan area are still so large that it’s hard to carve out a sense of community or find your like-minded peeps. Tempe has a population of about 160,000 – a big difference from Flagstaff’s 50,000. And that’s not even taking into consideration the other 4 million people here in the greater metropolitan area. You’re not anchored by any larger sense of shared values.

You’re not anchored by work. In the 6 years I’ve lived here, I’ve worked for 3 places that had fewer than 4 employees each, and, not surprisingly, found I had little to nothing in common with most of those coworkers. I now work at ASU, which has more than 10,000 employees, but in a department of 6 that barely intersects with any of the remaining 9,994 folks, making it hard to meet people. And I worked for one museum that, by virtue of having greater than 1 but fewer than 10,000 coworkers gave me a fighting chance of having something in common with my coworkers.

You’re not anchored by your neighborhood. All the homes, by law in Tempe, have 6′ cinder block walls around each yard, making every home a fortress of solitude that outwardly symbolizes the insularity of folks here. In fact, the only people I can think of who do like it here are anchored by family who live here too.

I don’t mean to sound all negative – there are things that I do love here: some awesome restaurants, the wildflowers during the rainy winters, the ability to take walks all winter long, the friends I’ve made here, the people I share a home with, and the, um…well…hmmm.

Meetup for Moms Who Hate PHX

Lately I’ve been longing for a simpler, smaller, more navigable city. Well, strike ‘lately’ and that would be true. I’ve always had a love-hate relationship with Phoenix. It’s difficult to articulate, but it’s partly that it’s so huge that it’s hard to find an anchor. Like finding moms/babies for an age-appropriate playgroup for Baby – something that has, thus far proved impossible. I thought it would come naturally to find playdates for Baby. Step One: enroll Baby at daycare. Step Two: get folded in to existing social calendar filled by other daycare moms who can’t wait to welcome the newest member to the playgroup!

Well, that didn’t go so well.

So then I thought, oh, it must be more like this. Step One: someone at work sets me up on a friend blind date with another new mom who has a baby the same age who has just returned to work too. Step Two: We fast become besties while our babies giggle and play with one another for years to come.

Hmmm. That didn’t work either.

So I broke down and finally joined meetup to find some playdates. I went to my first meetup playdate yesterday. While I was a little sad that it came to joining some impersonal website to meet like-minded moms, I thought, well, it’s the cost of living in today’s modern age (or, more likely, such a giant, impersonal metropolitan area). Baby is nearly 9 months and I still don’t really know any other moms with even remotely similar-aged babies to hang with, so I figured it was time to suck it up and give meetup a shot. Especially since it’s about to be hotter than hell and I’d like to pre-emptively develop some mom friends so that I have someone to call to come over for an indoor playdate once the Death Star arrives.

But I was kind of over it before I even attended an event. Searching for groups isn’t that user-friendly. Not only are there all these bullsh*t sponsored ads within all the search results, there are also tons of groups that are really just sponsored groups under the guise of an ‘authentic’ meetup group, groups for whom you have to pay lots of money for each event (Stroller Strides, anyone? Only $35 each time!). Then there were pages upon pages of groups with whom I would have NOTHING in common: the stay-at-home moms, the conservative Christian moms, the tattooed self-rigteously deal-with-it alterna-moms.

When I did find groups for working moms, I was surprised that their events calendars showed  meetups at 5:30 p.m. on a weeknight or at 10 a.m. on a weekday. Y’know, so I could forgo making dinner (nevermind feeding Baby hers) or dash out of a meeting at work because “I have to get Baby to a playdate!” The groups I finally found that really were for working moms were for Type-A moms – tons of red tape that seemed more trouble than they’re worth for a social gathering. Must attend at least one event a month; in addition to the one you attend, you must also plan your own event at least once a month, you must prepare and bring an hors d’oeuvres to share, and I thought, I really must stop reading your rules, stupid mom group. Anything with more than one use of the word “must” must be told to F off. (Sorry, I guess so many imposed rules and regulations just brings back the defiant and oppositional 15 year old again.) It just seemed so damn unwelcoming and unfriendly – a closed society. I decided I’d just create my own group and see what happened.

I made it clear that my group was (1) for working moms, (2) for uncomplicated get-togethers on the weekend, and (3) for moms of babies and toddlers. I didn’t really expect anything to happen. I was glad that a handful of folks joined my group and even RSVP’d for a walk in the park, but I still had a lot of anxiety about it. Who knows that people really are who they say they are online? For all I know “Candice” with a 2 year old is actually some ex con named Bruiser with a windowless van and rag that smells like chloroform who grabbed a screenshot of some mom & her kid off of Google Images for the meetup profile. But I have to say, I was pleasantly surprised. Not only were all of the women who they actually said they were, I have a lot in common with 3 of the 5 women, perhaps the most notable item being that all of us are lukewarm on living here in Phoenix.

None of us are from here, none of us planned on living here long, and yet all of us have found our ‘temporary’ stay here to be a much more extended one than we ever would have expected. (I moved to Tempe in 2006, and thought I would be here just a couple of years, yet here we are nearly 6 years later with no other destination in sight. Everyone else had similar stories). And, without exception, when the question came up of “Do you like it here?” the answer was a polite, “Uh….well….there are *some* things that I like about it….but…ummm…” without finishing with a ‘no.’ Basically that response is the only way anyone like us could answer in an initial meet & greet. Because if you answer off the bat that you don’t like it here, you might appear negative, even if you’re not a particularly negative person. And if you don’t equivocate or qualify your response, it appears you don’t even try to make something fun out of a place that you don’t like. So until I live in a small town where other moms just come over, barge in and strong-arm me into joining the community playgroup, where we compare notes on which children’s books suck the most and where in god’s green earth one can buy baby girl’s clothes that aren’t pink (but also aren’t $30 an outfit), meetup will have to do. And thankfully, from the answers these women gave at this first playdate to ‘do you like it here?’, I can tell that we are going to get along.

Disconnected

I’m not a big fan of Facebook. I used to be, but like all things interwebz, it has largely lost its appeal. However, because I moved from Tennessee to Arizona, it is one of the easiest ways for me to check in with friends from back “home” (if I dare still call it that, since I’ve been in Arizona 11 years…) Even when I haven’t logged on in a while, I can go to their wall, see what they’ve been up to, and, from afar, peek into their world. Some of the best friends I’ve ever made and ever will have had the luck to have known I made while I lived in Tennessee, and I miss them terribly. For a ton of reasons – money, not much vacation time at the jobs I’ve had, and the time difference – I’ve had very few chances to visit. In fact, only one that didn’t involve ducking out on family – if I’m going to take an expensive 4 hour flight to lose 6 hours (due to the time difference) over just a weekend, it’s hard not to see family. But I’ve always considered my close friends to be family, too. And in some ways, a more important family – the family that you choose, rather than the family you are dealt. So, even though it’s not the face-to-face time and relationship I’d like in an ideal world, having the ability to stay connected through Facebook has meant more to me than perhaps they would ever suspect.

So I was absolutely devastated tonight to log into Facebook to discover that my best friend from high school has deleted her profile and disappeared completely.

She and I hadn’t been great at keeping in touch – it’s been since 1994 that we lived in the same place, but even through college and grad school, she and I saw each other every chance we could get, occasionally emailed, and caught up on the phone from time to time. We’d lost touch when her email address had changed after grad school, and I found myself wondering how in the hell I would find her again and wishing I had taken pre-emptive action to make sure I had an up-to-date phone number and mailing address for her. Then, much to my relief, she eventually joined Facebook. We messaged back and forth, sharing details about our private lives and effortlessly picked up where we’d left off. We didn’t message all that frequently, but it was a great comfort that I knew where I could find her when I needed her. Again, I took that connection for granted. She and I had a friendship like none other I’ve ever had – she was there for me in some of the darkest hours of my life, she was there when I have been blissfully happy, our relationship had stood the test of time. I always felt that, no matter how many years passed, I could show up at her house and she would warmly bring me into the fold, give me a bedroom to crash in, and stay up until all hours with me, laughing hysterically, or tucking me in and staying by my side while I sobbed. Because we have done all of those things together. I was there when she met her husband, when she got engaged, when she got married, for the birth of her first son. She has been there for me – when I got dumped, when I met someone new, when I moved to Arizona, when I got married, and when I had baby, even if only via Facebook message. I’ve had a picture of her and me at my bedside for at least 13 years straight. So now, to find that she has vaporized from the site…I just don’t have any words.

Sometimes when baby cries and I can’t figure out what’s wrong with her, I just tell her over and over that everything is going to be okay. I wish there were someone who could do that for me right now.

Alone. Together.

I listened to a fascinating interview today with sociologist Eric Klinenberg, who has written a book about being single, and how the way that society thinks about single life has changed dramatically over the past century. What I found most interesting though is that, as an aside, really, he talked about his own personal life – that he is married with small children and living in New York City – and, when asked if he spent a lot of time alone, his response was “when you live in New York City, you don’t have much opportunity” to be alone – it becomes “a fantasy.”

Man, you got that right. Have you been to NYC? It’s impossible to carve out any niche of solitude (although it helps to wear your earbuds everywhere to drown out everyone else). When I was last there, I got on a bus from the Newark airport to Manhattan, where I could claim an entire row to myself & all my crap, and waves of relief washed over me immediately, “oh thank GOD. I am SO sick of being around all those people. In the airport shuttle, in the airport, on the plane. Jesus! I am just so glad to have some space to myself.” Then we stopped at the next airport terminal. And the next. And it quickly became apparent that there wasn’t going to be any personal space on this bus – it was just that I was the first stop! Then we got to the Madison Square Garden stop and I got off the bus only to navigate seas of people. Everywhere. All I wanted was to get to my hotel room and collapse. It was late Sunday night and I was exhausted after a long day of flying standby, hoping to make connections. And even after the respite that my claustrophobic hotel room provided, it was back to being thrown into throngs of people everywhere I went. It was impossible to find a seat on a bench to myself in museums. The stairs outside the public library in the park were just teeming with other solo folks just trying to make private phone calls in public. On the subway, at restaurants, in line at coffeeshops, on walks through Central Park – there is no space to call your own. I could never, EVER live there.

But it got me to thinking: would his thinking about single-hood and being alone have developed if he lived somewhere else, in some other context? Where the experience of having alone time was neither novel nor particularly noteworthy? Would it have struck him to study being by yourself if he weren’t living in a context in which the only way you can be alone is together, with milions of others? I think it’s a striking example of how one’s thinking can be, to at least some degree, a product of one’s circumstances and context…

Maybe I Will Let Her Get a Tattoo

Stroking baby’s sweet, soft back after a bath, I jokingly ask My Better Half™ “Is this where she’s going to have her tramp stamp?”

“No. That’s where she’ll have a tattoo that’s ‘STAY AWAY FROM MY GIRL.’ Better yet, just a photo of MY ANGRY FACE.”

Unfiltered Thoughts: My TV Show

I’ve long thought of concepts & topics that would make great tv shows. It seems like all that’s on are shows about detectives. And lawyers. Law & Order, Law & Order: SVU, CSI, CSI: Miami, NCIS, NCIS: Los Angeles, Bones, Cold Case, Covert Affairs, In Plain Sight….I could keep going, but you get the idea. There’s so few original series on. The ones that are on are excellent, but they’re few and far between.

I have so many ideas floating around in my noggin for distinctive comedy series, but I just don’t have the time to develop and write them. So, until my personal intern comes on board, if you have time, please feel free to take these and run with them so I can watch something other than a GOD AWFUL iteration of Project Runway (All Stars, I’m looking at you) that I am forced to watch because there are no seasons of Top Chef or Project Runway airing right now. For years, the best idea I’ve had that’s been simmering is a show about the writer’s room at a show. Sure, you could say that’s what 30 Rock is, but 30 Rock isn’t about the writing. Mine would focus on the battles between different writers, trying to keep their ideas and bits off the cutting room floor, where they go to get inspiration when they’ve got writer’s block, what they do with their days during a writer’s strike, that kind of thing.

Today I had an idea for an offshoot of that, which I think could be at least as good, if not better. A show focusing on the behind-the-scenes production of a (shitty) “reality” show. The decisions that get made as far as which contestants get saved from elimination because they’re great for character development and production value, the story arcs that the producers create and manipulate over a season, the struggles to come up with ever more ridiculous (and view-worthy) stunts for the contestants…

Get on that, would ya? Cuz I just don’t have the time.

Tongue Tied

I haven’t had much to post lately. Actually, that’s not true. I have lots to say. It’s like thoughts and ideas and posts are just spilling out of me so fast I can’t get them down to paper computer monitor before they float downstream. I have half-baked scraps of posts strewn all over the place. Shards of ramblings that I need to fully develop into posts before I can publish but I just can’t seem to get my act together. Sure, I’ve been home from work with a sick 7 month old for almost 2 weeks with no time to put on pants, nevermind write. And sure, I myself have been really ill. But it’s just so damn frustrating to have so much to say and not enough time to figure out how to say it. It’s like some kind of clogged writer’s block. I start to type all stream of consciousness, only to find that somewhere near the end of the post, I’ve run out of steam and forgotten where this is all going. Or how I meant to construct the narrative. Or the example I wanted to include. So I just keep saving drafts, hoping that I’ll have the chance to revisit, come back, and whip that draft into shape. I’m still hopeful that I’ll have that chance, but in the meantime, just wanted to check in and say “Hey Interwebz! Yeah, how you been?”