trains & automobiles

Atlanta is a hard city to get around. Our car culture runs deep. Even if traffic is light (which it rarely is), there often aren't direct routes between point A and point B, as lore has it that the streets follow former cow paths. Rush hour goes until about 8 p.m.; you're just as likely to sit in standstill traffic at 7:30 as you are at 4:30.

After moving about 2 miles farther east and starting a job at a location about a mile farther north than my old office, I was finding that it routinely took me up to an hour to get to work. And then, due to the orientation of the parking deck exit, it was taking 10-15 minutes for me to even get ONTO the road toward home, not to mention the hour or so to get there. On top of all that, the parking situation at my building changed, and we were given the choice of a monthly MARTA pass OR a parking spot. Given my experience with driving, I chose the pass.

And thus I became one of those people who uses public transportation.

As I'm writing this, it's hot outside, and I've taken two different train trips already today, missing one train by a hair (I was literally at the door as it pulled away) and one trip on foot to the post office, and I'm wiped out and feeling like public transportation is for the birds.

It has its pros and cons, for sure. But I'm fortunate in that I'm mostly doing this by choice. I am able-bodied, and though it might tire me out some days, the walks to and from the stations are doable for me. If the weather is terrible, if I'm sick, if I get injured, if I need to run errands that will involve carrying a lot of stuff, I can hop in my car. I can pay to park somewhere if I need to. I have gained a wealth of empathy for the people for whom using public transportation is not a choice. Those who have to walk AND take a bus to even access a train station, and then may have to take multiple trains. Those whose only access to a grocery store involves navigating the system. Those for whom standing up on the packed rush hour trains is a painful struggle. I have a lot of good reasons for choosing public transportation. I appreciate it, and I have a vested interest in helping make it better with my vote, with my tax dollars etc. But ultimately for me it is a choice, and one that I'm grateful for. Taking the train and walking home maybe take equally as long as driving (though if I time it right, it takes less!), but it is far less stressful and is much better for my long-term sanity.

Some of the tangential upsides to taking the train:

  • I'm walking a lot. I hit 10,000 steps on my FitBit just about every day I take the train, and most days get many more. It's about 7/10 of a mile from my condo to the train station, and then another half a mile from the end station to my office. (And that's not including the fact that my office is on the 5th floor and the elevators in the building have been down...) So that's over 2 miles of walking every day!

  • I'm reading a lot. I didn't think I'd be able to read on the train due to getting motion sick, but I'm finding it works out pretty well. I even mastered reading on my Kindle while standing up! So I get in a good 45 minutes or so of reading a day between all my train rides. It's amazing to be engrossed in a story and then all of a sudden look up and realize you're at your stop! A little disorienting, but wonderful.

  • I'm shopping less. I pass a lot of businesses on my way to work if I drive. I would often plan couponing stops for my commute, or pop in somewhere if I went out to run an errand during the day. And, I'll be honest, I stopped at the Marshall's near my old office with some frequency. The train cuts out that temptation for me. Even if it were convenient, I'd have to carry anything I bought, which would give me pause! This is good for my budget. :-)

  • I'm emitting fewer greenhouse gases. (self-explanatory)

Some things are certainly less convenient. On Monday, we needed an HDMI cable for one of our classrooms somewhat ASAP. I walked to the train station, took it one stop south, walked to Best Buy, wash, rinse, repeat. It took me about an hour. For reference, Best Buy is 2.7 miles from my office. In a car, the whole shebang would probably have taken me 30 minutes, been less of an ordeal, and tired me out less. But this is what I signed up for. On the commute ends I have no complaints; it's mostly just the middle of the day stuff that is sometimes a pain in the butt.

I'm not rushing out to sell my car. I don't think the transit system in Atlanta is mature enough that we could handle being a zero-car family. I actually appreciate my car a lot more now when I do use it, because it's usually during off-peak traffic times and I'm just zipping somewhere nearby, so it feels crazy efficient! We have one assigned parking spot at our condo building, and the one car works for us. But it's gracing its spot a lot more often these days than it ever used to, and that's a pretty neat thing.

What's your transportation mode of choice? Would you ever consider being a one-car family?

dayenu.

As I type this, I'm taking a break from packing boxes. Three years ago we moved into this apartment and got rid of a bunch of stuff--we were going from a 2 bedroom/2 bathroom place to a smaller 1/1. I've tried to purge things every year or so that we've been here, and each time I've done it I've been appalled at the amount of stuff I've been able to give or throw away. You'd never guess what can fit in the nooks and crannies of this little place when one is as orderly as I am. But just because I CAN make it fit doesn't mean I need to.

And so, as I pack these boxes, I'm reflecting on excess and enough.

Last week Andy and I went to our first Passover Seder. It was a really special experience, and one of the prayers in particular really stuck with me the rest of the week.

dayenu

Dayenu means "it would have been sufficient." There's an upbeat song you sing that goes through a list of things God did for the Jews that would have been sufficient:

If He had brought us out from Egypt, and had not carried out judgments against them Dayenu, it would have sufficed us!
If He had carried out judgments against them, and not against their idols Dayenu, it would have sufficed us!
If He had destroyed their idols, and had not smitten their first-born Dayenu, it would have sufficed us!
If He had smitten their first-born, and had not given us their wealth Dayenu, it would have sufficed us!
If He had given us their wealth, and had not split the sea for us Dayenu, it would have sufficed us!

and on and on...

But the peppiness of the song to me belies the deep truth of the words. God ultimately led the Jews out of slavery and into the Promised Land, but they're saying that if He had stopped at the first thing He did for them, that would have been enough.

dayenu

It's so different from the way I tend to approach gratitude. I tend to focus so much on what I don't have or what I want to get next that I don't reflect on what I do have.

If I only had this small apartment, and hadn't just been presented with the opportunity to buy a larger condo, it would have been enough.
If I only had enough clothes to wear the same few outfits, and didn't have the option to choose different accessories every day, it would have been enough.
If I only had food on the table, and didn't have fresh organic vegetables to serve, it would have been enough.

I'm not trying to cheapen the solemn prayer by putting it parallel to my possessions. Rather, I think it's a beautiful reflection that we can apply not only to whatever our concept of a deity is but to our everyday lives.

We're getting rid of things once again as we go through the packing process. And though I know I have more things than I strictly need, I don't feel like it's exorbitant. My things make me happy. And so I should be thankful for them. Because if I only had a fraction of what I've been fortunate enough to accumulate, it would have been enough.

dayenu

What’s So Wrong About Automatic?

Miranda Lambert has a new song out called "Automatic."

She reminisces about pay phones, drying laundry on the line, cassette tapes, hand-crank car windows, and mailing letters, among other things, and then she reaches the chorus, in which she laments:

Hey, whatever happened to waitin' your turn
Doing it all by hand,
'Cause when everything is handed to you
It's only worth as much as the time put in
It all just seemed so good the way we had it
Back before everything became automatic

Now, look. I'm a notorious late adopter. I'll poo-poo a new trend for weeks, months, or even years, until all of a sudden I one day HAVE TO HAVE IT. And I've been known to express wariness over changes to things I've always liked. And yet, I have such a strong reaction to this song.

Why do we idealize the times when we had to do everything by hand? What's so wrong with automatic? At its best, technology makes our lives easier and frees up time for us to focus on the things that are important to us. It makes communication a breeze, it makes doing research faster, and it makes the whole world our oyster. Sure, people abuse it. We've all been guilty of staring at our phones when we're eating dinner with our friends or even our family. But let's have a conversation about using technology well, rather than one about the happy golden days of yore.

Yore is gone. Technology is here to stay, and is going to keep evolving. And I'm not sure automatic is such a bad thing.

these little wonders

4 years ago today...

My favorite wedding picture.
My favorite wedding picture.

When you're 21, you don't know you're 21. I've always been mature for my age, and I scoffed at the thought that we were "getting married so young." I thought I knew what I was getting into. And in many ways, I did. But what a lifetime together means gets brought into stark relief when it's four years later and you've both grown up a lot. I've given up on the cookie cutter I expected my life to be cut with. And it's richer. It's so much richer.

"Let me eat cake?"
"Let me eat cake?"

It's dessert. I don't need dessert, but it makes a meal more enjoyable. I like having someone to come home to. I like being the one who someone else comes home to.

Our first dance was to the Rob Thomas song "Little Wonders." I hadn't heard it in years until I listened to it while I wrote this post. Yet I can still understand exactly why I picked it. It still gives me the chills I got on our wedding day, swaying awkwardly in the middle of the big dance floor, these little wonders of the weighty words we had just exchanged.

Let it go,
Let it roll right off your shoulder
Don't you know
The hardest part is over
Let it in,
Let your clarity define you
In the end
We will only just remember how it feels

Our lives are made
In these small hours
These little wonders,
These twists & turns of fate
Time falls away,
But these small hours,
These small hours still remain.

Marriage means making that promise over and over again, every time you change jobs, every time you move, every time you fight, every night you sleep together, every time you stress out over health insurance, every time you pack his lunch, every time you clean the bathroom.

Let it slide,
Let your troubles fall behind you
Let it shine
Until you feel it all around you
And i don't mind
If it's me you need to turn to
We'll get by,
It's the heart that really matters in the end

Our lives are made
In these small hours
These little wonders,
These twists & turns of fate
Time falls away,
But these small hours,
These small hours still remain.

Every time. We remain.

on balance and getting shit done

I took a personality quiz recently (don't you love those things?) called the Action and Influence Survey, and my profile came out as a "Supportive Specialist."

Supportive Specialists are a great help when it comes to getting a task accomplished. They influence others through kindness and cooperation. These people enjoy being involved in a task that is a challenge but do not like the feeling of having too many issues floating around at the same time. Supportive Specialists will be good at getting the details of a task accomplished and helping people work together while the task is being accomplished. They desire some realistic expectations from others regarding what needs to be done. Sometimes they will not operate effectively if the task is too ambiguous. Although not always true, Supportive Specialists will generally be the most effective at taking another person's ideas and making sure they are implemented. They think more in concrete terms and will be more effective if ideas are explained in such a way that makes practical sense. They are indispensable to a group when it comes to getting a job done efficiently.

Let's put it bluntly: I get shit done. And I take pride in that! Not to say that I don't have flaws, but I'm pretty good at following through with what I say I'm going to do.

Some of the negatives in my profile that jumped out at me, though, are the points that I don't like the feeling of having too many issues floating around and that I may not operate well if the task is too ambiguous. Those are definitely true for me. I've written before about how I struggle to dream big enough to set goals and I think this second point pinpoints why.

But as for the first, being in the workforce, especially in my current role, has pushed me to create coping mechanisms, and I think I've done so well enough that I almost thrive on having a lot of moving pieces in my day!

On any given day at my current job, I wear a lot of hats. I sit at the reception desk, meaning I am open to near-constant interruption, from volunteers and donors coming in, visitors asking questions, and my co-workers bringing me tasks to do. On top of that, though, I am expected to do bigger picture creative and detailed work; namely, writing checks, managing the database of donations, and crafting acknowledgment letters that tell our story.

Some days I feel like my brain is going to ooze out of my ears if someone brings me one more piece of paper that needs my attention.

That's the feeling of having too many issues floating around: brain melt.

So what do I do?

I make lists. And then I can crystallize the numerous issues floating around into individual issues that don't seem so overwhelming anymore. And I take the issues one at a time and I get. Shit. Done. That's what I bring to the table in my relationships, in my home, in my jobs, and in my "extracurriculars." I freak out a little bit, and then I get to crossing things off the list.

And sometimes, true to my introvert nature, I just simply withdraw. I do tend to enjoy having a lot going on, but there are things that require more focused concentration, like writing. It's easy to do all the things that need my immediate attention and never settle in to give those bigger picture things my attention, because I do find crossing things off the list so satisfying. This past Friday I got rare permission to go work from a coffee shop because I haven't had a chance all year to update the content of the general acknowledgment letter we send when someone makes a donation. I've been pulled all over the place by a chaotic food pantry order, the installation of new network printers, etc etc etc. So I got an iced coffee (the Special Blend from San Francisco Coffee is delicious!), stuck my headphones on and wrote for an hour and a half.

I don't have the need or ability to laser-focus like some introverts, but I do obsess over projects when I first start them. I tend to lack the ability to stop something in the middle. This is a problem sometimes because it means that if I don't have time to write an entire blog post, say, I won't start writing one at all, because the thought of having to leave it unfinished for a time is so odious to me. I'm not that good at taking advantage of small bits of time to chip away at things. I'm a little bit all or nothing. But it also means that by the time I dive into something I've usually agonized over it and put so much thought into all its details that I'm able to carry it out pretty quickly.

So for all my hemming and hawing all year, I wrote two acknowledgment letter templates at the coffee shop.

And on Monday I was ready to dive back into the grind of the freezer repairman coming, the donations being processed, the volunteers needing assistance, and the phone ringing, ringing, ringing.

It's all about balance.