Imaginary jobs (series intermission)

I don’t know about you, but that last post left me feeling kind of hungover and weepy (another law firm: “Hung & Weepy” – this is a fun game). I still have much more to tell you, and I will, but I need to limber up and regroup a bit first, and also probably give you some space to absorb all that I am springing on you. (You: “Welcome back, Nicole, but oh my god…”)

Walking the talk is logistically harder than it sounds. There are so many moving parts.

So let’s lighten things up a bit. (And believe it or not, this does tie in to the overall theme of reinventing myself, or becoming who I was all along, or whatever the hell this transformation is.)

For years I have kept a running list called “Imaginary Jobs.” It is pretty self-explanatory. I am fairly certain they don’t all make sense outside my own head, and I don’t expect you to think all of them are as funny as I do, but I am going to share them with you anyway.

Here they are, to date:

In-Law Buffer: Hire myself out to attend various functions and keep the obnoxious person nobody likes occupied so that everyone else can have a good time. Test audiences have loved this one.

Hospice Circus* (Home of the Crying-on-the-Outside Clown): Founded with my friend The Fairly Godmother over drinks at The Blue Monk, where we laughed so hard at our own brilliance we drew a crowd of people who wanted to know what we were talking about (including one gross rando who kept trying to convince Fairly to go to a strip club with him), and then they either didn’t get it or were appalled when we told them our emerging business plan: “Three rings of Death Affirming Acts! Never a net! We will wear top hats!” Them: “WTF?” Us: “You look confused AND mortified! Perfect!” (Also, no, Fairly did not go to a strip club that night. If only rando had invited her to go to a mortuary in a clown car… – Ed.)

(*Variation, with a nod to Interpersonal Neurobiology (IPNB) geeks: I am also developing Circus Vagus, based on polyvagal theory, which, you guessed it, will feature Fight!, Flight!, Freeze! demonstrations (that was too easy…). Also, souvenir Window of Tolerance squeegees.)

Biddy ’round the City: Based on actual events. Provide joy rides in a convertible sports car for residents of assisted living facilities, so that next time they sit in a circle of folding chairs to play “The Reminiscing Game,” they can talk about what a great time they had yesterday instead of something that happened forty years ago. I’d keep a selection of billowy silk scarves and aviator goggles in the glove compartment. Each ride would end with a stop for an ice cream cone, and I would follow up with a picture of us from that day with the caption, “In cahoots.” (CAHOOTS would also be my personalized license plate.) I already know there would be a waiting list a mile long.

Marzipets: Hatched in 2004, when my cube-neighbor and now-best-friend and I were still getting to know each other. She invited me over to watch an AbFab marathon one night, and we ended up sitting on her apartment floor playing with modeling clay for several hours and multiple episodes. An unspoken friendly competition ensued as we both discovered that we took our frivolous sculptures very seriously. Her not-yet-husband brought us drinks and snacks (“You guys are so CUTE!”). We decided people should send us photos of their pets and we would make them out of marzipan. We laughed until our faces hurt. That was the day I knew this was someone very special in my life.

Purse Dog Liberation, Inc.: Nonprofit occupational therapy program for small dogs with legs that are atrophied from being carried around in handbags all the time. (Note the acronym is pronounced “piddly.”)

Portable Soapbox: A heavy wooden box on casters that I would wheel to unlikely locations pop-up style (i.e. “How did you get that thing to the top of this mountain?”), and, for $1 per minute, invite people to stand on it and make proclamations about What Matters. For an additional fee I’d film them for YouTube. I would keep a shepherd’s crook handy to enhance the nomad aesthetic and also to yank people off in case someone was inappropriate. There would be a leather bound guest book, with gilded pages and an ostrich quill pen and an inkwell, which I would carry in an elaborate case. Imagine the Instagram for this one, not to mention the Portable Soapbox podcast.

Baby Shower DJ: There I am with headphones around my neck, holding one side up to my ear with my shoulder, spinning a Johnny Cash/Elizabeth Mitchell mashup of You Are My Sunshine. I notice a single mom across the room mouthing the second verse. We make eye contact. I wink, flash her a sly smile…

Atheist Martyr: Throwing myself on the pyre for no reason whatsoever.

Mime Your Own Business Neighborhood Mediation Services: Silently annoy disputing neighbors into breaking down (invisible) walls through pantomime, thus, facilitating their cooperation with each other through their mutual disdain of me. “SEE? You have something in common,” I’d gesture, following them around and pretending to capture them with an invisible lasso until they retreated to their respective homes. The Nextdoor comments alone would be totally worth it. A caveat is I am not entirely sold on the boatneck full-body leotard.

(Mis)guided Imagery Facilitator: With a soothing voice and a bamboo flute, instruct participants to close their eyes and “focus on the breath” as I take them into a deeply peaceful meditative state of openness and relaxation. Then, WHAM! “Oh my god that beach you are walking on!! You just fell in a sinkhole!! The tide is coming in!!! Get out!!! Hurry!!!” This is a form of forced empathy for those who think mindfulness is risk-free that perhaps only those with us with PTSD might appreciate fully.

Bobo the Geriatric Care ChickenAll the assessments and services of a Geriatric Care Manager, except I would do it wearing a yellow feathered chicken suit. If you’re telling someone they can no longer live safely in their own home, you should look as far from The Grim Reaper as possible. And we all know that The Grim Reaper would not be named “Bobo.” It’s about building trust – the importance of the therapeutic alliance and so on.

Grave Dancing Unfunerals: Officiant for events commemorating the Nearly Beloved and the Finally Departed. We’ve already talked about this one. I think there is a real market here.


Jury duty

juror summonsI was called for jury duty last week.

In order to save money on parking, and because riding my bike downtown scares me, and because public transit is so … public, I decided to walk. This meant that in order to get to the courthouse by 7:45am, I had to leave by 7:00am, which in OCD language meant out the door by 6:54am, which meant setting my alarm for 5:23am. (Someday I will show you the algorithm.)

Factor in that I was worried I would oversleep my alarm, which meant I didn’t let myself go all the way to sleep the night before, and basically spent most of the night considering the phrase “jury of their peers,” and got very hung up on the word “peer.” I was also extremely anxious (the “you know, if I were to get hit by a car, I won’t have to do this” kind of anxious) about being stuck in a room full of strangers and their contaminants for eight hours, the prospect of small talk (after spending so much time alone I sometimes worry about my ability to modulate my own voice), answering questions about myself (what if I AM a felon, and somehow did not know it?), and an overarching philosophical angst about what would happen if I made a mistake that ruined someone else’s life.


What I am getting at is that I was not exactly in the best mood when I left that morning.

no tresspassingWalking the 2.6 miles (yes, I google mapped it) from my house to downtown meant that I would be passing several homeless camps. I am not sure if “homeless camp” is a respectful term, and if I am using the wrong language, I apologize. We have a homeless crisis here in Portland, a “progressive” city where affordable housing is nearly non-existent (people are being displaced with virtually no options, and one of my 3:00am (the time of day when no problem is solvable) worries is that I may succumb imminently, as my own rent has increased 46% in the span of two years – a topic for another day); we don’t have enough resources for people with mental illness (I have plenty to say about that, too); Portland seems to be too busy telling the world how wonderful it is to notice the enormous cracks people are falling through; et-fucking-cetera.

(Joke break: “My what a delightful handbasket, Portland. Did you make it yourself? Also, can you tell me where we are headed?” -Ed.)

I have been admonished in the past that I should not call someone “homeless,” but “houseless” (to use people first language, wouldn’t that be “person experiencing houselessness” then?), and that I should refer to a person living on the street as someone “living outside.” While I appreciate the sentiment, I am not sure I support the terminology, and I also know that I, someone who has a home/is housed (knock on wood), am not the one who should be deciding on the labels. I am eager to learn, I just don’t always know who to listen to.

Whatever the vernacular, as I approached a particularly elaborate “camp” that took up an entire streetcorner (a tent, multiple tarps, bicycle parts, a small Weber grill, an Igloo cooler – I don’t recall all of the items, but I do remember that there were a lot of them, also no comment on brand recognition…), a man emerged and started rummaging and gesturing and talking loudly. He seemed agitated. It struck me that we were both starting our mornings with resistance, only he was being much more vocal about it.

When I realized he was talking to me, at first I was frightened (reasonably so? I am not sure, as I am not always a good judge of that, in either direction) of this disheveled, wild-haired man and his gesticulations. I was very aware that I was invading his turf, ironically (or not), on my way to perform my mandated civic duty. I also knew that I was allegedly the person of “privilege” in the scenario, which adds a top-down element to compassion (the one who disperses it, the one it is bestowed upon) that I do not like.

To note, having compassion for someone and being in ardent opposition of the social structures that arguably put them in a perilous situation do not guarantee they are not going to hurt you, or ask you for money, or call you a bitch if you don’t give it to them.

I often wonder what I would be if I wasn’t afraid.

(Joke break: It was so much easier to be a liberal when I lived in Lake Oswego.)

I take responsibility that the fears I directed at him were my own defensiveness and biased projections, based on my own complicated, internalized perceptions and responses to potentially “dangerous” situations. (A long way of saying I have PTSD that spills into just about everything, for sure, and also a long way of saying I am a woman and he was a man and this is the world we are living in.)

This was me, a person who hates conflict, on guard, preparing to run if I had to. This was me, a single woman with a trauma history, out in the world, exposed, who might not have anyone notice other than my cat if I didn’t return home on time. This was me being forced to leave my apartment to perform a role that made me nervous, to be outside when my agoraphobic tendencies have been so escalated, invading someone’s claimed space because it was along my shortest route from here (a place I am not sure I can stay) to there (a place I didn’t want to go). I told myself I was not trespassing, even though it felt like it.

All of these feelings in the span of less than a block, first thing in the morning. I thought about crossing the street, but made the decision that I was going to face whatever was going to happen. I put my shoulders back, tried to look friendly, purposeful, and taller, and hoped he would not harass me.

“Good morning,” I said as I approached. I smiled what I hoped was a convincing (to him or to me) smile.

“Sorry things are such a mess,” he said, and began collecting items that were in my direct path, piling them against the wall of the building. He was apologetic. Considerate. Fretful, yes, but non-threatening. I found myself feeling embarrassed for my initial reaction to him. I said I was sorry for walking through his stuff.

He did not pause for my apology, but kept talking. “Every time I have an idea, I get started on it, and then I get another idea, and I start that one. I just can’t seem to follow through with any of them,” he told me. He looked pained, bewildered.

“I know just what you mean,” I said.

I stopped and stood there on the sidewalk, softening as I registered how earnest he was.

I listened as he described what he had in mind for the various objects he had collected, how he was going to assemble them “into one big piece of art.” I nodded as he was talking, making ambiguously supportive replies along the lines of, “Cool,” and, “Hey neat!” and, “That would be rad.” (Yes, I think I actually said “rad.”) I am sure I sounded like a complete ass. He didn’t seem to mind, and that softened me further.

As he talked, I realized that I liked this guy. I realized I was no longer afraid of him, and what a difference that made inside me as I was standing there. It occurred to me that I was not there to be attacked by him, or to rescue him, but to share a moment of connection with a fellow human being, which we were doing.

Remarkable, that shift.

I became utterly present.

Unsure of the penalty for being late to jury duty, I told him I’d better get going, and started to walk away.

He called after me, “For twenty bucks you can give me the address of someone you want to get back at, and I will set all this up in front of their house.”

I turned around and he made a sweeping motion with his arms, indicating “all this in front of that person’s house.” He was grinning.

My mind instantly went to several people who would seriously lose their shit if this dude showed up on their sidewalk. I burst out laughing.

“Oh man, that is tempting!” I called back to him.”You just made my day.” I meant it.

I laughed to myself for the whole rest of my walk, writing this story in my head so that I could share it with you.

Judgement. Peers. Revenge fantasies. I felt better.

I made it to the courthouse exactly on time.

p.s. I found an exceptionally shiny penny in the jury room as I waited in line to turn in my paperwork:jury penny