Friday, December 7, 2012

Careful with those winky faces: some notes on friendliness

Our era of pervasive (invasive?) technology, constant texting, and social media has changed the way people interact. Don't believe me? Check out articles here, here, and here. Whatever your thoughts on the matter, technology is here to stay (and grow), and the way we communicate is adapting along with it.

For instance, let's take texting. Have you ever tried to explain texting etiquette to your father, a man who could barely be bothered to TURN ON his phone and yet has recently purchased a smartphone?

My text: "Dad, you have to add some more punctuation to your texts...otherwise you sound detached, like a robot ;) "
Dad's text: "Beep"

Thanks, Dad. You're hilarious.

Smiley faces, winky faces, sunglass faces, evil grin faces...they are powerful little emoticons that can help soften your messages, adding color to something that could otherwise be very flat and impersonal. They can also convey things that words simply cannot. Just ask anyone who's ever flirted via text. Ahem, don't ask me; in case this isn't abundantly clear from earlier posts, I'm kind of awkward.

However! Be careful with thy winky faces! For with great power comes great responsibility: you may think you're being friendly, chill, and awesome [Drinks after work? 6? ;) ], but text messaging has an amazing capacity to be misunderstood. It lacks TONE. Maybe someone's response [Sure] is short and curt because you smell and are clingy and they actually don't want to get together for drinks. OR maybe the office is busy and he/she just can't think beyond the next 10 minutes.

Texts can also be misunderstood in the other direction. Say, for instance, you're harmlessly chatting with the cute desk manager at your gym. He happens to have experience in your desired career. You exchange numbers and start texting, arranging a time to meet up and talk about that career further. Then he sends this: "I hope business isn't the only reason you come to the gym. :D"

Oh my.

You don't want to give him the wrong impression. You have a boyfriend after all. (Readers, it should be noted that this is not my story.) So you gulp and, being both sensible and sensitive, send back, "Hey, hate to do this over text, but I actually have a bf. Always interested in meeting a new friend tho!"

He returns, quickly: "lol thats not what i meant but i could see how it would come off that way. i actually have a girl myself."

You: "Oh awesome. I'm gonna go die of embarrassment now."

Take-away lesson here: Be care with thy winky faces, people. Be careful with thy winky faces.

Editor's note: Texts have been changed to reflect some norms of punctuation, in order to make content accessible to those not familiar with texting jargon. Aka, my parents. Love you guys! 

Monday, December 3, 2012

Workin the DC grind

Last week wrapped up what was probably the busiest week of my life at work. I've occasionally worked into the evenings, but last week was the first time where 8 pm saw me still at my desk, tapping tiredly at the keyboard, trying to make deadlines, filing paperwork, etc etc, other Frantic Office Stuff.

I don't know about all of you, but 11 hours in front of a computer leave me drained and sad about my future.  

I've always believed in having a healthy balance between a work life and a personal life. I want to be passionate about what I do, yes, but I also don't want my job to drive me into the ground and destroy whatever fervor I have for my field. (Otherwise I'll just end up a fat dog-lady (the new cat-lady) who yells at the dumb broads on The Bachelor.)

This is pretty tough to manage in DC. (The work-life balance, not the dog-lady thing.) People define themselves by their job. Whenever you meet someone here, the first question is almost always "So what do you do?"

This really frustrates me, but I haven't figured out a classy way around it. "Tell me about who you ARE, as a PERSON" doesn't come off too well. And asking lots of detailed questions about someone's non-work life can veer quite suddenly into stalker-land. I'm still working on this...suggestions welcome.

Now that that segue is over, I want to take some time to address the work culture of DC. Because clearly, I missed out on some club meeting where everyone here decided the new Rules that Everyone Shall Follow. Drat, it's middle school all over again. 

Also, I like lists. Aren't they efficient? 

Rule #1: Thou shalt go into the office early. What job you have will determine how early you go in. Government job, think early. Like, early early. I don't have a government job, not yet anyway, so I can't speak to this entirely, but 7 or 8 seems normal. Even if you don't have a government job, earlier is better.

Rule #2: Thou shalt stay late. Leaving at 6 is leaving on schedule, but 7 or 8 seems more normal for some of my friends. Later gives you a Truly Dedicated Award. (I have one friend who stays until 9 on the reg.)

Rule #3: Thou shalt donate weekends. Notice I say "donate." Oh, you thought you'd get overtime? Hahahaha, excuse me, but bahaha. That's precious.

Last weekend I was up until 1 am trying to meet a deadline. Nope. No overtime. If you have a cool boss you can shuffle those hours around and take time off later, but not everyone has a cool boss.

I can take the above three rules and distill them into a nice graph for you.

*Note: Graph may not be mathematically accurate. As previously mentioned, I'm no math major.

As you can see, people in my age and pay bracket (that would be the "who are you" section) commit ungodly hours to our jobs. This is because we want to prove ourselves and move up the food chain. We want to move up the food chain so that we can eventually put in the same ungodly hours -- but at least we'll have a fancy title! And we'll truly AFFECT policy! And there is nothing unrealistic about this dream whatsoever! Yay!

Until then, the drudgery must continue. And that brings us to Rule #4, my personal favorite.

Rule #4: Thou shalt observe Happy Hours. I did not know this term when I first moved here. Happy hour? Eh?

Ahem. What do overworked professionals need more than anything? A break, you might say. No no, young padowan. Overworked professionals need alcohol. 

"Happy hour" refers to special bar hours (usually 4:30 until 7 or so) that offer discounted drink prices. Cocktails, beer,'s a great marketing scheme actually, because by the time happy hour rolls around, we (and the bar adverts) have convinced us that we DESERVE some libation. And nothing feels more cathartic than to get deservedly tipsy and complain about your job, right?

Right. Now if you'll excuse me, Irish Whiskey Public House is calling my name.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Pro-tips 3.0

1. If you can, budget for emergencies. You never know when, say, your car might turn into a smoke machine instead of a reliable form of transportation, or you might have to fly home at a moment's notice, or you get really sick and need powerful meds.

2. You WILL spill your coffee. You will. Just accept it.

3. Ladies: please do not shell out hundreds of bucks for high heels. Instead, keep checking back at places like Payless and Ross. I have three great pairs of heels, and I've paid about 60 bucks for all three pairs. Combined. Holla.

3a. Ancillary to the above, go buy this heel right now. I've been looking for it for 2 years: Black leather, not too high, not too pointed (unlike the witch heels that are so popular right now), extremely comfortable, 20 bucks. I think yes.

4. Email has a handy lil button called "Reply All." USE IT. Trying to arrange meetings or come to a consenus on an issue via email is really difficult when one person doesn't get all the details.

5. Conversely, sometimes you should NOT hit "Reply All." Use your imagination on that one.

6. When a military commander (or any other guest) stops by for an impromptu business meeting, do not leave your Google search of him up on the screen. Bad form.

7. Learn how to smoothly defuse awkward moments. Like the above.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

After the natural disaster, a man-made one: Election 2012

I spent this electoral season in our nation's lovely capital - epicenter for the man-made disaster that has become our electoral process. Luckily, I don't own a TV, so I was relatively sheltered from the various attack ads trying to convince undecided voters which way to swing.

That does not mean, however, that I was sheltered from the campaigning.

I have several good friends on both sides of the aisle who are die-hards...subsequently, my Facebook feed looked something like this in the days prior to November 6:

"Knocking on doors in the good ole District Blah Blah! Let's turn it red!"
"Last chance to make a difference, America! Yes we CAN."
"If Obama wins, socialism wins. Seriously I'll move to Canada. Not even joking."
"Anyone who votes for Romney is voting for the 1% and hates minorities and gay rights. Weep for America."

And then there were others:
"Can't wait for this election season to be over. Gonna go stab myself in the eye now."
"Why can't we all just get along? I LOVE EVERYONE!"

I simultaneously agreed with and disagreed with all these statements. As an independent moderate, I can identify with portions of both the Democratic and Republican platforms. (I won't enumerate my political beliefs further here, if you're interested we can grab coffee sometime.) As a human being, I too am sick to death of assualt-by-soundbite and pointless blustering. However, I DO think it's counterproductive to alienate your friends with sharp, and sometimes bigoted, opinions on a social platform that isn't built for longer, open, rational discussion.

This pic, via Twitter, is from Election Night at Busboys
rather than a debate, but you get the idea.
Same type of crowd. 
That's why I appreciated going to the various Prez and VP debates. This town is a Mecca for political nerds, and almost every bar hosted their own watch parties. So I gathered my peeps and we clustered in places like Busboys and Poets - imagine not a seat open in the house, all eyes glued to the TV, loud comments from supporters and/or haters, stout beer and sweet potato fries, and laughter at various presidential missteps.
I can't imagine the bars back home would get this worked up over politics. Cat/Griz football, maybe, but politics, no.

I'm more a foreign policy buff than a domestic policy one, so I particularly enjoyed the last debate. For your amusement (and mine), a brief recollection of my favorite moments (from all the debates):

I won't lie, the Democrats seemed quicker on their feet (other than the first debate) and better able to connect to my generation via the media. Sorry, Mom. [Enter political rant about media bias here.]
When Election Day came, things seemed pretty quiet, at least to me. But then, I worked from home on purpose that day to avoid the frantic rushing about town. I cast my ballot quietly, and my precinct saw a minimum amount of drama.
However, the liquor store (maybe I should start calling it my "fine wine shop" since people seem to get the wrong idea when I say "liquor store") was the place for citizens to air their opinions. Democrats and Republicans streamed in by the dozens - and you could tell their mood based on what they bought. Champagne = we're gonna win. Vodka/whiskey/bourbon = we may lose, and if we do I'll need to drown my sorrows. Champagne AND liquor = I'm prepared for anything. Beer = general partying. Because why watch sober.
A few customers, who shall remain NAMELESS (because I legit don't know their names) strolled in like they owned the place, utterly confident of a win and utterly convinced that I needed to agree with them. Badgered me repeatedly about how their guy is obviously the only guy to vote for.
Yeah, like I'm gonna share my views with a boozed-up die-hard on Election Night. In a liquor store. 3 blocks away from the Capitol building.
Hey, I'm just the cashier. Do you want a bag with that?

Thursday, November 1, 2012

How to prepare for a disaster

Most of you know by now that DC got off fairly light from Hurricane Sandy. New York and New Jersey weren't so lucky, and I'm still praying for recovery efforts there.

Hurricane Sandy was the first time I had the potential to be in a real natural disaster. Out in Montana we don't have much beyond forest fires or the occasional flood, and my home there is on high ground so floods wouldn't affect us anyway. Michigan occasionally gets tornadoes, but nothing serious ever happened while I was there.

As such, I had absolutely no experience upon which to draw for preparations for Hurricane Sandy. I should have read useful sites like this one, but alas. I did not.

Instead I went to the grocery store with a friend. We wandered vaguely around, picking up items and then putting them down again -- you need a stove to heat up canned soup, you need milk in order to eat cereal, you need a fridge to store pudding. None of those things work without power. I finally settled on some tins of canned fruit, along with some other odds n ends. For some reason I thought it'd be great to buy mango Jello. Post-hurricane treat?

Despite people tripping over themselves for it, I simply couldn't bring myself to buy water. For one thing, the price had been jacked up. For another, water seems like such a ridiculous thing to spend money on when you can get it, for free, right out of the tap.

A few girls in my college dorms bought bottled water because they said the tap water "tasted funny"...

Some families in developing countries walk for hours to get potable water; I wasn't gonna waste my limited college funds on bottled water because the tap water, while perfectly drinkable, "tasted funny."

Since my roomie was of the same opinion, we got creative.

We emptied out old cider jugs and filled those with tap water. Same with old honey jars. I happen to save the *cough cough* occasional wine bottle, so we filled a couple of those up to the brim. In all, we probably had at least 5 gallons of water. Ahem hem, WATER, not wine. And definitely not whiskey. Or bourbon. No beer either. In fact, there was no consumption of alcohol at all during the storm. None whatsoever.

I felt pretty proud of myself.

In the end, all the water wasn't necessary. Very few areas in the District lost power -- although we did have some pretty intense rain and wind (I was sure to park my car on a street with no huge trees; dealing with an insurance claim for weather damage would be just about the last straw with my car). 

I hope any of you reading this, if you were affected by the storm, are safe and sound.

Monday, October 15, 2012

If black smoke is pouring from your car, something's probably wrong: The perks of being a car owner

'isljg;whe .fkadjzhc  v;aoushdf;h ou!

^^That's me banging my head against the keyboard.^^

 I just can't seem to catch a break with my car. Parking tickets (some legitimate, some not), multiple trips to the DMV (I practically live there now), frantic faxes back and forth between DC and Montana involving power-of-attorney documents, even getting my car towed (FYI, not my fault)...all this makes me wonder why I have a car here in the first place.

Let me share the latest in my saga of woe.

I was driving with some friends. After about 2 minutes, my British pal Felix piped up from the backseat (please envision this with an English accent), "Aftan, is that smoke coming from your air vents?"

After my minor heart attack, I reassured him that nah, it wasn't smoke, it was a trick of the light. Of course. My car canNOT be on fire.  I kept an eye on the vents, but didn't see anything suspicious. The temperature gauge read as normal.

Then we pulled over for some coffee. "Hmmm," I said, sniffing the air. "Does anyone else smell...smoke?"

My other friend got out and made a quick inspection. "Yep," she said, "there's definitely smoke coming from the under-carriage, looks like it's concentrated near the passenger-side door." I peered over the steering wheel and saw small dark plumes wafting lazily from the hood.

My reaction:

Oh of COURSE, I thought. This just WOULD happen, because nothing with this car is ever straightforward or normal.

I sighed and pointed the car back toward home, driving nervously the whole while. I don't know much about cars, and something about smoke coming from the under-carriage makes me think the whole thing must be about to blow up.

I took my poor little beast to an autoshop the next day. They diagnosed a medium-sized, but serious, repair: apparently the rubber boot around the brake clamp had split and spewed hot oil everywhere. The smoke was the oil burning off as I drove. Not a big deal. However, in fixing this they also noticed that my brake discs were about to fail (not the brake pumps, but the discs that the pumps clamped onto...or something). If these had failed while I'd been driving, I "would have been in big would have been bad," as the mechanic said.

So they made the repairs, and I also asked about replacing my radio, which despite four years of life support had finally died. They directed me to Best Buy for the that, which apparently does free installations once you buy the radio. Who knew? the people at Best Buy replaced my radio, but in the process discovered that all FOUR of my speakers had died, too.

No wonder the sound system wasn't working. Another bill later, I have a fully-functional stereo.

So the next time you see a Subaru rolling down the street, all the windows down, most likely blasting country music -- that's me, in a WORKING and SAFE (for now) car with a WORKING sound system. Hoo rah.

No, truly, despite my complaints, having a car is awesome, cuz it lets you go out of town for apple-picking and other fall excursions. But more on those fun things later.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Pro tips 2.0

This may become an on-going series....

1. It's okay to admit when you're swamped. Young professionals often want to prove that we will do anything to get the work done, or we take on a bajillion and one projects to demonstrate our hyper-involvement and please don't fire us because we're oh-so-valuable-and-whatever-you-do-don't-throw-us-back-into-the-scary-job-market! Instead of wearing yourself down and doing a half-ass job on twelve projects, do a kick-ass job on eight projects.

It's just as professional to say, "Thank you, but I have too much on my plate right now to give that project the full attention it deserves." Learning to hold things in balance is an Adult Skill.

2. Be careful not to be too formal in emails -- sometimes it just comes across as rudeness. Instead of saying "Hi Jane Doe, I need x. Best, Aftan," say things like "Hi Jane, I hope you had a great weekend. If you have some time, I could really use your help with x. I really appreciate it! Let me know if I can provide anything to make this easier. Best, Aftan."

Essentially, take some time to acknowledge that the other person is a human being. And that you're not a heartless ice queen. (For my male readers, ice king? Ice...princeling? Robot? I'll work on this.)

3. Make friends with your Finance & Accounting department. Otherwise your life will be hell.

4. If you have job applications out somewhere, then guess what? Your phone is your new best friend. (Smartphone users, I know this is already reason why I prefer my Dumbphone...) Apologize for your phone's presence at social gatherings, like it's the awkward in-law whom no one wants to talk to. "Sorry guys, I just had to bring him..."

4a. If a number rings you that you don't recognize? Answer the crap out of it. It might be someone calling to request an interview.

4b. Missed the call and got a voicemail instead? Now I know this seems basic, but you should, ya know, call them back. Seriously, I know of someone who just lost an interview because she wouldn't return the job's call.

Really, people? In this economy?

Monday, September 24, 2012

Tips for being a Professional

Things I've learned this past week:

1. Do not spill on yourself, and please for the love of God do not spill on yourself right before your biggest meeting of the year.

2. No matter how much your allergies decide to kick up, do not rely on Benedryl during the work day. Two words: "Side-effects include..."

3. Even though you and your best friends jokingly write this way all the time, do not say things like "PERF" in your office emails.

4. Also, you should probably not sign your emails with the affectionate nickname that your friends use for you. Trust me, you don't want to be known around the office as "Tan."

5. Be aware if you tend to start singing when you listen to music. You don't want to be caught humming Linkin Park's "Burn It Down" while you're researching the Eurocrisis.

6. On that musical theme, you will attract stares if you carry your guitar with you to work. Same goes for when you respond with an emphatic fist-pump and happy dance to the simple "You glad it's Friday?"

Monday, September 17, 2012

Things that have happened in the interim – a 2-month recap

I went Home.
While normally I’m happy to babble endlessly about my home and my family, right now the thought of doing so just makes me homesick. I refer you to this post. Or this one.

I went to some weddings.  
Three, to be precise, three Saturdays in a row. Family, friend, friend. Notable moments: rafting down the river for my cousin’s ceremony, seven boats all lashed together while the vows were said over the water; bonding over mutual beer snobbery (and too many Jack-and-Coke’s) with my other cousin; discovering a high school bud is getting hitched next week and oh wouldn’t you like to attend?; seeing The Sis and another childhood best friend as bridesmaids.

I got really sick. Again.
Nasty head cold this time, layed me out for about a week. Unfortunately I had to fly back to DC before it had run its course, and all the subsequent pressure changes left me deaf in one ear for about two days. I actually warned my boss, “I’m not ignoring you, I just can’t hear anything you say.” It was freakin hilarious. In a "I think I might be dying" kind of way.

Btw, this dang cold is still hanging on. I’ve been sniffling for about three weeks now, and I had a relapse last week that turned into a sore throat. It also significantly impacted my ability to complain.

I discovered that my hometown has what’s dangerously close to a “nightlife.”
Since I’ve been gone, Brookie’s Cookies (yes you read that right) acquired a liquor license and a backyard patio, complete with a stage and a fire pit. Add in live music and drunk people with a tendency to stand too close to the flames, and you’ve got an instant hit.

We also have a new bar – one that could actually be considered DC-chic. No dirt floors or panties on the taps here! A DJ playing club music even attracted a small dancing crowd, and yes, I rocked my moves with the best of them.

Apparently I’ve got game?
This is news to me – I consider myself more of the ‘lovable dork’ variety, not the ‘sexy stranger’ you’d hit on in a bar. Case in point, I recently remarked that I must be a reincarnation of the awkward Liz Lemon from 30 Rock, and my friend listening quickly (too quickly?) agreed.

However, while at home I "picked up" a very handsome cowboy at a bar, and in the last week I’ve been 2/2 for exchanging numbers with other targets attractive gents. We’ll see where this goes, cuz I’m a bit suspicious of this new trend and don't quite know what to do with it, but I’ll keep you posted.

While we’re on the subject of my vanity…

I continue my search for a great DC hair stylist.  
I had a great stylist all through high school who understood my hair’s thickness and natural curl, and who always managed to cut flattering layers. However, factor in DC’s higher humidity and 4 extra inches of hair, and you get this: 

Yesterday a friend called me "Extra Hair."

My hairbrush recently snapped in two while I was brushing through my 80’s-style mess long tresses, so I’ve bumped this up on my list of priorities.*

Also, I should probably get signed up at a doctor’s office now that I have regular health insurance.

I continue to not know what to do with my life. 
I recently got a job, but that doesn’t mean that stressing about my future has ceased.  I still feel like I need a plan. Grad school? Foreign service? Waitress through Scotland? Move to LA? Choices, choices….

*I don’t know why you’d really care about this issue, because I hardly care. I just thought my hairbrush breaking was hilarious and I wanted to mention it.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Disturbing content HERE

Okay, yall. I'm gonna apologize for the disturbing content I'm about to post. Hhhhyeah. You'll be grossed out. These images are not for the meek.

My apartment has cockroaches.

To those of you who are rolling your eyes and muttering, Psh, well I've dealt with cockroaches for years, this is not blog-able content...Congratulations. You've dealt with cockroaches. You win an award. But this girl has NOT ever had to deal with them, and she's struggling a little with the adjustment.

I think Montana must be too cold or not humid enough or something, but honestly. I've never seen a cockroach before in my life. So when I was doing dishes and a brown, shiny, look-I-have-jointed-legs-and-an-exoskeleton bug-thing crawled up the disposal, I didn't react, ahem, well. Meaning, I yelped and dropped the plate back into the sink. Luckily, The Sis was with me at the time, so I pawned the bug-removal-situation off on her.

"Aw, it's just a lil Junebug!" she said, scooping him up in a bowl and depositing him in the grass outside.

I had my doubts about that, but I kept them to myself. Don't Junebugs have cute green and white stripes on them? And aren't they smaller? As in, NOT the size of my palm?

But hey, people every day choose to solve their problems by avoiding the very questions and details they should ask for--I joined that noble and classy crowd by choosing not to think too deeply whether that bug was an actual Junebug or not.

This incident faded from my mind. Until one night when I was sitting on my bed, minding my own business.

And something scuttled across the floor. Buried itself in a shadow by a stray sock. The sock wiggled.

I yelped again, and then froze. The "something" looked suspiciously similar to that "Junebug" from a few weeks ago...$%@! I thought. I'm the only one home. That means I have to deal with this.

Just to clarify. I can take care of myself -- I don't have a problem killings bugs or fixing faucets or grouting bath tile, or what have you. I DO have an issue with bugs that have exoskeletons. I dunno what it is, something about their shiny quality, the way they *crunch* when you kill them. They just seem so alien. So...evil. As if they are on a single-minded mission to destroy me.

When I was in middle school, my science class did an animal-dissection unit. We dissected giant worms, giant bullfrogs, aaaaand giant locusts from Africa. I had no problems with the former two -- I played with the frog lungs just like everyone else (you could actually make the lung inhale by forcing air into it with an eye dropper!) -- but I took one look at that locust and told my lab partner, "Josh, you're handling this one."

The "something" still sat camped out by my sock as all these pleasant childhood memories coursed through me. I pulled myself together. Armed with a cup and a plate, I trapped the invader and took him to the bathroom. "Let's see how you handle being flushed down the toilet," I told him smugly.

Turns out he handled it just fine. Since he refused to be flushed.

The backwash from the flush carried the little bastard back from the pipes, right back into the toilet bowl, where he proceeded to crawl calmly up the porcelain. Horrified, I pumped the flush handle repeatedly, but the water pressure wasn't recovered enough to do any more than sputter half-heartedly. The bug, whom I was certain was a cockroach at this point, had almost reached the rim. I grabbed at the toilet seat and slammed it down, hard, knocking the little cuss back into the water. Where he promptly crawled right back up the porcelain.

This process repeated itself until the water pressure recovered. It was a very lady-like situation, me cursing at the toilet while slamming the seat down over and over.

Eventually the water pressure recovered, and I sent that sucker down to the sewer to die. Done-zo. Gone. I was flushed with success (see what I did there?), but I had a new problem. Great, my apartment has cockroaches. 

I approached my landlords about the situation. Now, my landlords are WONDERFUL. But they wanted to be sure that these were cockroaches, and not "water bugs." Which apparently plague the area as well.

Allow me to illustrate.


As you can see, class, the bug on the left has two pairs of legs and little horns. The exotic design on his back may be considered mildly interesting. The spawn on the right, however, has six legs and antennae. Notice a distinct LACK of horns. No design, other than a design to haunt my dreams forever.

The creatures I've killed have all had antennae. They are cockroaches.

Aaaaa I can't even look at these pictures anymore. Sorry to disturb you all with them. *Shudder* I can't believe I had to save them to my computer to write this post. I'm gonna go die now.

Editor's note: Aftan's apartment is regularly visited by The Orkin Man, aka The Bug Guy. A lapse in his visits allowed the spawn of cockroaches, but that has been remedied. Apartment = re-bug-proofed. Cockroaches = gone. (I hope...)

Sunday, July 15, 2012

VIP: Very Important Post

Should I write-up an acceptable excuse for six weeks of silence on this blog? Nah. Too lazy. Why do I feel lazy right now? Oh I dunno, could have something to do with one of my first two-day weekends since frickin October.

Why do I have a two-day weekend? I’m not working 60+-hour weeks anymore.

Why do I have a reduced (aka normal) schedule now? Cuz, ya know, I GOT A JOB. A real Big Girl Job. A Job-Job, if you will. I think this is worthy of some underlines and color…

I GOT A JOB!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

After nine months at an unpaid internship and working nights and weekends, my internship finally coalesced into a real, paying position. Long story short, the Lil Boss decided to leave, and after a long (too long) interview process, I am now the Lil Boss! My official title is Associate Editor, which means I get to take my red pen and mark up manuscripts for a foreign policy journal.

What what? I get paid to be a Grammar Nazi? Cool. Whoa dude, comma OVERUSE…excuuuse me, that is not a real sentence…let’s move this word/sentence/paragraph over *here*…how about we try spelling this word correctly…

I am drunk on Red Pen Authority.

Speaking of authority…my signature means something now! I can manage a budget, call our publisher to check on manuscripts and deadlines and marketing, talk to other departments about Important Stuff, and fill my work life with other Marketable Skills! Knock me over with a feather. I am a young professional. BAM. I even have my own office. And an intern.

Big Boss: So, feel free to move into your new office at any time.
Me: Oh, okay. I’ll do that this week then.
Big Boss: Well, your intern starts day after tomorrow, and he’ll have your current desk, so…
Me/New Lil Boss: Gotcha. I’ll move right now!

Having a job also means:
- I can afford a gym membership.
- I can finally buy that painting I’ve been eyeing at Eastern Market for six months.
- Fresh flowers? What?
- I can finally afford some of the nice booze that I sell to my customers at the liquor store…yes, I’ve kept some of my hours at the liquor store. It’s just too fun to quit. More on that later though.

Look, my first paycheck! I will use it for something special... fostering a newfound love of Irish whiskey.
(This was a combo gift to myself: first paycheck, 23rd
birthday, and 1-Year Anniversary of living in DC.)

Reading through the above list, some of you may be concerned about how I prioritize. Flowers and booze? Wow, this generation really doesn’t know what to do with money. Back in my day, [enter diatribe here]… Ahem, after a year of living literally paycheck-to-paycheck, you’re right. I have no idea what to do with money. But don’t worry, I’m a Grown-Up now. I’ll figure it out—for instance, I opened a retirement account the other week and talked to a specialist about investment options.

So, this blog will continue. Hopefully a little more consistently now that I have some time. And I plan to write quite a few more posts from the point of view of an overworked, underappreciated, frustrated, sleep-deprived, discouraged youngin’ tryin to make it in the big city.  Because, sadly, lots of us are still in that place.

Not to end on a sober note or anything. :P

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

How to see DC in 2 days

One of the things I love about DC is that there’ Monuments! Memorials! Museums! Oh my! It’s definitely too much to cover in one trip. However, when a favorite aunt comes to town for only a few days, that’s when ya make it hap’n, cap’n.

DC in two days? BRING IT.

Having done a fair amount of traveling, I intimately understand the sadness of not being able to do all the things you’d like to do in a destination city. (London, I will return to you.) Thus, here are some quick tips to help you out:

Condense your city into a concise list of priorities.  Don’t feel badly about the things you leave out – it’s tourist season, Jefferson won’t even notice that you stood him up for Lincoln. He’ll be too busy fending off about a quadrillion 8th grade tour groups.

It’s ok to fudge the numbers a little. You want to see the Smithsonian. Awesome. Me too. But the Smithsonian consists of no fewer than 19 museums and 9 different research centers, and each of those museums has multiple floors and multiple wings, with rotating exhibits and 3-D movies and fancy gift shops. Is it physically possible to see all this stuff? Erm, no. Soooo…pick one. Bam. You saw the Smithsonian. (I recommend the Air and Space Museum – it hits a lot of cool stuff you don’t necessarily get in school.)

Wentelteefjes: Belgian “French” toast.

Go with some city-savvy locals. (Ahem, I’m city-savvy now, my blog says so in the title!) Locals will show you how to navigate the metro system quickly and efficiently (escalators: stand on the right, walk on the left!), tell you what’s worth seeing and what’s not, and introduce you to cool little holes-in-the-wall that the guidebook didn’t mention (Belga Café – my favorite brunch spot!).

Never.stop.walking. If you do, you’re done. You’ll never get started again. Just ignore your aching limbs and bruised feet – pain is weakness leaving the body.

Refuel with mango margaritas. Okay fine, it’s ok to stop for alcohol.

Be spontaneous. I like to think of The Plan as more of The Suggestion. Sometimes adhering so strictly to The Plan actually just makes us miserable. So, if you get the sudden urge to walk barefoot through the grass at Arlington Cemetery, or dip your toes in the pool at the Sculpture Garden, or run naked around the Washington Monument, do it.

Okay, maybe don’t do that last one. Let someone else do that, and then you can gawk and get pictures as they get dragged away by police.

And finally, enjoy your exhaustion at the end of the day. You earned it. 

Do we look related, or what?

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Fried chicken, donuts, and BEER: a Churchkey experience

I’ve been meaning to write this story up for a while, but hey, sometimes life happens – say, perchance, your car gets towed (through no fault of your own, might I add), or you realize you’re a legal American citizen and must therefore pay taxes – and before you know it three weeks have passed and you’ve almost forgotten that you had a blog in the first place.  

Contrary to the tenor of my last couple posts, this one should serve as a reassurance that I am, in fact, enjoying my life here in DC. Really! It’s true! My friends are great, my sis is great, and as always, everything is better with beer.  

So. A couple weeks months back, The Sis and I decided to leave work early and take advantage of the unseasonably warm spring day. How best to do this? Hop a few blocks over to Churchkey for happy hour, of course. For non-DCers, Churchkey is one of, if not THE best bar for beer in the District. It boasts a selection of over 500 beers from all over the world, as well as a pretty yummy menu. Being an employee of a liquor store, and therefore knowing a bit more about beer allotments for the District than your average Joe, I can say with some authority that Churchkey is often allotted certain specialty beers that almost no one else receives from distributors.  

Sadly, I had not yet been to Churchkey before this day. *shamefacedly hides in a broom closet* 

The Sis and I arrived at about 4 o’clock. The bar was largely empty at this early hour, except for some sort of film crew that was occupying all the tables near the windows. I grumbled to myself – living the last year of my life in windowless cubicles has made me crave sunlight like a withered plant – and sat down at the bar, as near as possible to the windows.  I assumed the film crew was updating the menu, taking new shots of meals and such. I didn’t pay them much mind, largely because The Sis and I had engaged the bartender in a lively discussion about beer. 

Another plus of working in a liquor store: I actually kind of know what I’m talking about. We chatted about hops (this girl is NOT a hops fan), maltiness, fruity crisp notes, and the inherent superiority of Salmon Fly Rye, a beer brewed out of Montana. (Okay, I talked about the inherent superiority of Salmon Fly Rye, and the bartender listened patiently and had the good sense to agree with me.) Occasionally other bartenders would meander past us and offer their opinions. 

After a few minutes of this, a member of the film crew sidled up on my right and leaned his elbows on the bar. Score one for being a cute girl in a bar, where the only other competition is your look-alike twin sister, I thought. 

“Hey,” Film Crew Guy said. “You ladies seem to be having a very dynamic conversation here…you sound like you really know what you’re talking about.” We do. As already established. “Would you be interested in participating in our TV show?” 

Say what? Sure!! I washed my hair today, so why not? 

Film Crew Guy explained that his show, ABC’s The Chew, was doing a special about different eateries around DC. Churchkey was chosen for its beer reputation and for its unique sandwich called “The Luther.” The Luther is essentially a behemoth of fried chicken, donuts, and maple syrup. A surprising combination, and surprisingly good. (UNsurprisingly, it’s probably worth at least 4 heart attacks.) 

FCG introduced us to the host of the show, a jet-lagged but energetic Kiwi named Jason, and explained that they would do a couple takes of Jason interviewing us, and then us actually eating the sandwich and commenting on how much we loved it. [Obviously, we loved it…people aren’t interviewed to give their REAL opinions.] We ran through these scenes quickly, eating little bites of the sandwich each time. The Sis was a little hesitant about eating too much of The Luther, and rightly so; one bite had to have been at least 1,000 calories.  I had every intention of maintaining discretion as well, but…hey, I actually did really like the sandwich. [Meaning I ate the whole thing.] At one point FCG complimented us on our acting skills and presentation – “Wow, you guys actually sound perfect, like real actors!” Why thank you, I told him. I actually had the lead in my 5th-grade Christmas play.

For those interested, the clip of the Chew can be seen here. Thanks to my friend Jon for pointing it out! And ignore the fact that I sound like a ditzy sorority girl.

At the end of the shoot, Jason gestured toward our drinks. “What are you guys drinkin? Next round’s on us.” Why thank you, Jason. We chatted with him and the crew a while longer before meandering back over to the bar, which was packed at this point with people just off from work. Actually, a little crowd of them had been watching us during the entire interview. 

Our favorite bartender came back over and chatted with us for a moment, but he was much busier now. Didn’t matter too much, the people next to us were very interested in our interview and what was going on. [Note: by “people next to us” I mean “that guy next to my sister,” and by “interested in our interview” I mean “interested in her phone number.” But I digress.]

Eventually, one guy approached us and introduced himself as the manager of the bar. “I hear you ladies are the new face of Churchkey!” he exclaimed. We are? Okay, I guess I can handle that.  We chatted with him about beer and other things, explaining just how good a tall Coldsmoke is – it’s another beer out of Montana, a rich stout that people also make into a special ice cream. The Sis and I made it very clear: if he wanted his bar to TRULY be the best in the District, it needed to import some Montana beer. After all, we have one of the highest ratios of micro-breweries to people in the entire country!  

True fact. Maybe.  

Point is, we convinced him, and discussed a few different import strategies. And as we were talking, he mentioned that Churchkey does its own version of a beer ice cream, and insisted that we try it. On the house. The Heart-attack Yummo Sandwich Luther followed by beer ice cream? Okay, I guess I can handle that. 

“Well, it’s been lovely chatting with you ladies,” the manager said, preparing to depart. “How about we comp your tab for the rest of the night?”  

I think my eyes bugged out of my head. Free beer and food at Churchkey for the rest of the night!? Okay, I think I can handle that. 

I had been about ready to leave the bar – I had a date that night across town. After the manager’s offer, though, I quickly dialed my date and explained the situation. He agreed to the change in plans immediately. Smart guy.

And that’s how I got interviewed for a show on ABC, got a free tab at a favorite bar, and arranged to import Montana beer all in the same night.

I guess I kinda like this DC town.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

....and neither is staying up all night

I haven’t been sleeping well lately. Usually this isn’t a problem for me – ask any of my college roomies, and they’ll tell you about my astonishing capacity to nap almost anywhere, anytime. (Seriously, my Cultural Anthropology textbook became a second pillow during my sophomore year.)

But these days, I find I have too much rattling around in my brain for me to drift off peacefully. Naturally, these are all issues I should tackle during the day, when I’m actually a functioning adult and can do something productive to work them out. Doesn't seem to work that way, though.

Invariably, I lay down to sleep, curl into my pillow, relax all my muscles and think, Aaaaah, this is the one time when I don’t have to think about *anything*…and then my brain wakes up. Interferes. What should I think about this? What should I think about that? Does this random and minor comment that so-and-so made actually mean something else? Do I have time to wash my hair tomorrow? Should I take the bus or the metro to work? Look, Aftan, my brain says, it’s 2 am. A perfect time to ask ourselves if we should cook lasagna this week.

Beneath this peppering of banal trivialities lies a whole separate layer of Deeper Issues. What do I want to do with my life? Why am I an intern failure? Why hasn’t my boss talked to me about x event? What should I do about That Friend? Am I making enough money to pay my rent? Why do I live in the city?

And the more I try not to think about these questions, the more I try to find answers for them. Gradually my muscles tense up, my scowl at the ceiling grows more severe, and I feel like I've downed one of those gross Monster energy drinks.  I have become a crazed ping-pong ball, volleyed back and forth between competing thoughts, lacking control or direction.

For original meme, see Hyberbole and a Half

In short, my brain punishes me for all those mornings when I tried to sleep my problems away. Oh, Aftan, you have some down time? That must be nice, cuz ITS NOT LIKE YOU STAYED IN BED FOR 13 HOURS YESTERDAY.

Thus when I do finally find sleep, it’s short and broken up by my feelings of guilt and continued stress. Which leaves me more tired the next day. Which leaves me less capable of dealing with my problems like an adult. Which makes me feel more guilty. Which makes me want to hide under the covers again.

It’s a vicious cycle.

I have found, however, that a few glasses of wine (or an entire bottle) tend to help with the whole "not sleepy" thing. Take that, brain.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Staying in bed all day is not an effective way to deal with stress

I don’t think I could ever be a druggie. It seems like people often use drugs (or alcohol) as an escape from their problems. While I do see the benefits of occasionally drowning my sorrows with some rum, drugs have too many crazy side-effects. I prefer to simply fall asleep and let my brain create an alternate reality, one where my only problem is how to kill all these bad guys with my sweet spy skillz. I don’t have to worry about getting a job, paying my rent, cooking my meals, dealing with boys or finding time for friends.

Sleep is the best escape. Ever.

When I wake up, my bed becomes this special sacred place where my problems can’t touch me. I mean, I definitely DO think about them, but in a detached kind of way. Hmm, I should probably deal with x issue. Later.

As soon as my toes touch the floor, though, “x issue” becomes “X ISSUE” – and I freak out. Wow, I need to deal with this *now*!

Obviously, this reaction does not drive me to leap out of bed in the morning. Which is why I spent far too long yesterday curled up with my down comforter. Sadly, like any method of procrastination, hiding from my problems does not actually solve them. Eventually, my toes will touch the floor and I’ll have to accept that I need to grow up.

Aw, crap. I hate being an adult.

Note: I’ve touched on this before, but “being an adult” does not mean you can NEVER hide under a blanket. 

Friday, March 30, 2012

When to (not) observe casual Friday

This question comes up now and then, and now that I live in such a professional city, it's definitely one worth asking. Especially if I were to wear my cute skinny jeans on a Friday, forget about an important meeting, and get asked by a colleague at that meeting if I had actually gone to work that day.

Not that this happened, of course.

But just in case you're tempted to go casual, I've put together this handy guide.

Should I observe casual Friday?

Friday, March 23, 2012

Apparently being from Montana is a liability when dancing

Given the title of this post, you’re probably about to crack some joke about how Montanans can’t dance unless we’re in a barn with hay and a fiddle. You country bumpkins are so quaint, you think, just like all those Lifetime movies with Katherine Heigl before she got famous and did crap like The Ugly Truth. Yes, I’m sure you’re thinking exactly that.

First of all, our country hoe-downs are grand fun. Don’t knock ‘em til you try ‘em. Second of all, we can also do other types of dancing. I’m a big fan of swing, myself. However, I do also love me some uncoordinated, spastic club dancing – great in a place like DC, which has so many clubs.  And gradually over the years, my awkward 80’s moves have morphed into something that can actually resemble some pretty decent club dancing (although I can still whip out the Shopping Cart or the Sprinkler on occasion).  

My point is, I love club dancing. And not in an I’m-still-in-college-and-looking-for-affirmation-on-the-dance-floor kind of way, but in an I’m-an-adult-with-a-job-look-at-me-cut-loose kind of way. Minus the job part, of course.

Unfortunately, I have a handicap.

Everyone here in DC thinks my Montana ID is a fake.

I actually found this pretty funny the first time it happened.  I was out with some co-workers, casually handed off my card to the burly Russian-looking bouncer, and prepared to receive it back with the typical “Gee you’re far from home” comment. Instead he held my card, glared at me with a look that plainly said, “Вы незаконно!and crossed his arms, barring entrance. Luckily, my hiring manager was there and assured him that she would not have hired me had I been underage.  He grudgingly let me pass.

The second time was on Halloween. Also a funny occasion, as I stood by the door watching as Gaddafi after Qaddafi after Khadafi strolled through in their bad wigs and golden robes. This time, the bar manager had to come over to take a look at my ID. “I promise it’s real,” I told him. “I’m sure you hear that all the time, but just check with your little UV pen and you’ll see the holographic bears on it.” Grizzlies, to be precise.  The manager relented this time, too.

But this past St. Patty’s Day, my luck ran out. The bouncer, who I maintain had a chip on his shoulder anyway (something corroborated by my friends…the phrase “douchebag” may have been used), took one look at my ID and said flatly, “You’re not getting in.” And none of my cajoling or explanations made a whit of difference.

Curse you, Montana driver’s license!  

Actually, I wasn’t 100% sure that my rejection was based on my license…after all, it WAS St. Patty’s Day. But I had my managers at the liquor store take a look at my ID the next week, and all of them immediately said something along the lines of Yup, that looks really fake.

Sigh. I really don’t want to be one of those girls who takes her passport to bars. Her passport, of all things. Having lived abroad for a year, a passport is like gold and not something to be dog-eared as your bar companion. Not only that, it’s fairly easy (so I hear) to steal an identity based solely on a passport.

Nope, not for me.

Time for a DC driver’s license?

Friday, March 9, 2012

Panache and a Pokerface, OR "How discouragement is actually like a card game"

This past week has been a Discouraged Week. That in itself isn’t particularly noteworthy – anyone trying to break into a career is going to ride an inevitable rollercoaster of highs and lows, and discouragement is a regular emotion that we’ll all experience. I’m just a little bummed because this Discouraged Week feels a little different than the others; this time, I’m just so weary.

I’m weary of working 60-hour weeks. I’m weary of giving up my Saturdays. I’m weary of the constant pressure to search for jobs, the constant need to write cover letters and tweak resumes, the cruel cycle of the interview process. I’m weary of being patient. Of waiting for “the right thing to come along.”  Everything happens for a reason and blah de blah de blah, but you know what? I’m weary of feeling like a failure. 

I know, I have a fancy diploma and a resume and even a brain that tell me otherwise, but this doesn’t stop me from wanting to hang my hat up and become a professional waitress. At least waitresses get paid!

The biggest threat from discouragement is that we slowly start selling ourselves short.  We slowly convince ourselves that we’re no good. That we’re not smart. Not qualified. Not deserving. We can only do “administrative support” or conduct “miscellaneous tasks”, and all I’ll ever be is That Intern On The 6th Floor.

This is such a lie, and it’s so dangerous. For one, it makes us feel like shit. For another, it traps us in a box of our own making. This lie wants to keep me from applying for that editor position at Politico, hinder me from emailing my CEO for career advice. It makes me think ridiculous things like, Well, that would be an awesome job, but I’m clearly not qualified because all I know how to do is make copies and fetch donuts, or, I’m not gonna apply for this because I’m actually stupid, and the intern who sits next to me used to work for the UN in Jakarta – I bet someone like him has already applied.

Sometimes, it’s very important that we not listen to the things we tell ourselves.

Instead, we need to trust in our abilities. We need to trust in our potential. We need to bet on ourselves, and showcase our qualities in the best possible way, even if privately we doubt ourselves.  I think this could boil down to two words: panache and pokerface. Represent yourself with flair, individuality, and strength. That’s the panache part. And do it unflinchingly, even if the player next to you appears to have a full house.  That's the pokerface part. It’s up to you – er, up to me, since I guess I’m talking about myself here – up to me to sell my hand. After all, if I don’t demonstrate confidence in myself, why should I expect employers to?

Wow, who knew I would have such a great metaphor. I’m not even that much of a card player.

I’ll end this with a quote from a very wise woman.  It’s become something of a refrain of mine, so I hope it helps you, too, when you feel discouraged:

“You is smart. You is kind. You is important.”