From the Blog

A Dose of Perspective, And, I Need A Hug

I’m an anxious person by nature. It’s a pretty big, all-encompassing part of my life. I’m not good at compartmentalizing “worthy” anxiety, like “rent was due four days ago!” from “unworthy” anxiety, like NOT being made Employee of the Month. Forcrapsakealready. If I’m worried for a legitimate reason, it will spill into all the other areas of my mind that should be perfectly unworried. And then all of a sudden, I’m up in the middle of the night because I forgot to water my plants.

I’m getting settled into a routine, and I’ve been thinking quite a bit lately about my budget. Part of the reason why I moved to Portland was a more reasonable cost of living than California or Hawaii, or even Massachusetts. Housing is somewhat cheaper in Portland, but everything else is pretty much the same. Car insurance is the same. Groceries are the same. Utilities are actually a little more expensive from heat in the winter. And because I had relatively cheap rent in Los Angeles, my rent is the same here in Portland. So my expenses are EXACTLY THE SAME.

However, I took a deep cut in pay when I moved here. About one third. It hurts. So, no savings, no 401k contributions. It’s freaking me out a little.

I’m quite happy with the environs here, which doesn’t calculate into a monetary budget. I don’t regret the move. The lack of stability and upward salary trajectory are some of the hazards of not settling down and staying put. I’m having to tighten my belt and trim expenses. I have been trying to remind myself that I am starting over in a new brand city and it’s natural to have to “build up” again.

I am contemplating selling my car. With the payment and the insurance, I would save $500 a month. When you’re broke, that is a tantalizing amount of money. Portland is very walkable. I already take the streetcar to work. And I could join Zipcar for when I need to go to Ikea or when I want to go camping. I lived in Boston for 6 years without a car.

But. I think I may have mentioned, on more than one occasion, that I REALLY LOVE my car. I really fucking love my car. And I love to drive. It brings me great joy. I’m NOT a “just get from Point A to Point B” person. I already gladly take public transportation on a daily basis. But, the car and the road are my friends.

And THEN. I get really irritated when I think about selling my car. I’m 35 years old! I should be able to keep a friggin car! It’s not a Porche! I’m not a kid! And after 6 years of living in Boston without a car, you know what happened? I got depressed. The city felt closed-in and smothering. I took commuter rail trains to get out of town, but you know what? Trains depress me. Okay? So I want to keep my car.

I already agree with you. I’m insane.

So my irritation is with the amount of money I’m making. It’s not enough. I like my job. My coworkers are great. My boss is a peach. The work is not too hard. I don’t want to leave my job. I can trim my budget and scrape to save a tiny little bit each month. I’d be “okay” on a day-to-day basis. But if SHIT HAPPENED, like if my arm got cut off, or the cat ate an entire sock, or I got electrocuted by my computer, I’d be screwed. Did I mention that my anxiety is not rational?

I am thinking of projects I can work on that would generate income. Freelance graphic design. Web projects. Writing projects. This is where I want to take my career anyway. I’m excited to move in that direction. So I’m going to try to start doing these things on the side. And also at this point, I’ll crochet scarves and iPod cozies to make some extra cash. I don’t know if you know this, but crocheting is just another form of Satan worship. It’s true. Ask your Gramma.

I was in the grocery store the other day because I NEED cream for my coffee (this is a non-negotiable expense.) As I waited to check out, the line was being held up by an older woman in a motorized wheelchair. She had her items rung up and was fishing through her wallet. When the total came up, she asked to remove some items. The cashier began picking through the bags and pulling things out. Everyone in the line groaned. A bag of grapefruit. An tin of biscuit mix. Other old lady stuff.

I was tired. I hadn’t slept well for days because of noisy dickweed neighbors, my insane circus act cat, and my own tossing and turning because I’m friggin ANXIOUS. I was a wee bit impatient.

But it’s also disturbing to watch someone have to put groceries back once they realize how much money it is. Especially older people. It’s groceries, not diamond rings. The woman in the wheelchair was trying to decide what to put back. I ache when I witness that sort of struggle.

The cashier was digging through the bags and pulling items out. There was no way of telling how long this process was going to go take. I had already waited a long time. And my stuff was on the conveyor belt. People behind me began looking to escape to other lines.

I did this mostly out of impatience, but I stepped up and paid for the woman’s groceries. I told the cashier to put everything back. The woman in the wheelchair protested. She was hunkered down and couldn’t really turn to face me. The cashier rang everything up. It was $9.26. I might be strapped for cash, but I’m able-bodied, and I’m not THAT strapped.

As the woman in the wheelchair rolled away, she turned to look back at me and I waved. She nodded and was on her way. I wondered if I embarrassed her.

The cashier, covered in tattoos, said, “That was really nice of you.”

I said, “It’s sad to see people have to put back groceries. Especially someone older.”

The cashier said, “She still had money in her wallet.”

Huh. Maybe I’m presumptuous. Maybe I embarrassed myself. I said, “Yes, well perhaps she needed that money for something else.”

She said, “Either way, it was nice of you. We all need help sometimes.”

Indeed. It may seem like I am relating this story because I just made a deposit in my karma bank. But I did it for primarily selfish reasons. If I hadn’t paid for her groceries, I would have AGONIZED about it later. And I would have replayed the situation in my head over and over, wondering about the old woman in the wheelchair and if I should have done something.

And you know what? I’m having enough trouble sleeping already.


  1. Is there any chance you’re over-doing the caffeine? Don’t sell your car. You LOVE that car. That’s what immediately popped into my head when I read the line that you were thinking about selling it. We just need to find you a higher paying job.

  2. You get the Gold Star for Generosity today.

    (Yeah, okay, so I trained as a kindergarden teacher, but still, gold stars are AWESOME.)

  3. You do indeed get a gold star. You did something most people wouldn’t think to do. A lot of people would just stand there all fidgety and embarrassed for themselves because they see someone in trouble and their minds are making up excuses as to why they shouldn’t help and so on.

    Well done!

    Have you ever tried Valerian root? It calms me on anxious days and helps me sleep through the night.

  4. Aw, thanks guys.

    Diane, selling the car is an absolute last resort. If I sold my car I’d be anxious AND crabby.

    Mary Sue, I did not get enough gold stars as a kid. I’ll take them now. :-)

    Diesel, I haven’t tried Valerian root, but if I do, I’m quite likely to write all about it on the internet. Right now I’m using “Yellow Tail Shiraz.”

  5. Valerian root is quite effective, but it is rather stinky. You need to keep the pill bottle in an airtight jar or it will make your whole cabinet smell like feet.

    Y’know, everybody’s feeling the pinch these days, my friend. Inflation’s up, and the job market’s down. So for what it’s worth, you’re not alone. We all feel you.

    The best thing to do if you can’t land more income is to pay serious attention to those monthly expenses and trim the unnecessary shit. I know that occasionally we will think, “wait, I’m in my 30’s now, I shouldn’t have to do this shit!”, but you know what? We do. For now, we just do.

    And here’s another way of looking at things: your cash flow may not be as good up there, but your lifestyle has jumped by leaps and bounds. I’d say that’s a reasonable price to pay. Just wait out this bad economy and you’ll be even better than you were before.

    And kudos for the charity moment too! That’s always good for a sound night of sleep, eh?

  6. You did good. And the karma will come back to repay you when you most need it.

    Or maybe when you could just use an extra hug.

  7. What do you do for a job? We are looking for Interaction/User Experience Designers.

  8. If your anxiousness is anything like mine (and it certainly sounds like it is) I’m not sure if valerian will work for sleep. I have some success with a thing called “Simply Sleep”. I don’t take a full dose, because I’m too nervous that I will over sleep, but 1 pill will get me about 5 hours of sleep without being groggy in the a.m.

    p.s. I am really enjoying your blog!

  9. Meredith says:

    I took valerian root as a liquid in water. It did taste the way feet smell. Is that really worth it?

  10. Thanks for reading, Dana!

    Chris, I can TOTALLY do that, what ever that is.

  11. someone told me kava kava works for anxiety/sleeping, so i tried it and nothing happened.

    and even though you paid for her groceries mostly out of impatience, the fact that you PAID FOR HER GROCERIES ALMOST MADE ME CRY BECAUSE THAT IS REALLY REALLY NICE. no one is really really nice anymore it seems, and things like this restore my faith in humanity. you know?

  12. I did the carless thing in Portland for almost 17 years here in Portland (1989 to 2006) before Jennifer and I dated, and then became husband and wife. It’s easy to do around here with public transit as good as it is here.

    I’m impressed with your help with the woman in the grocery line. While you didn’t have to do that, simply doing it is an extremely impressive gesture, and one of the cool things about Portland folk here. We step in to help when needed..

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