June 22, 2012

Life is Binary, Accept or Deny

Apparently, I’ve been thinking about life and how to not feel like you’re caught in a riptide recently.  After the last *counts on fingers* three years, it would be easy for me to be a very bitter person.  I mean, after deciding I was done with an emotionally unfulfilling marriage, there was some serious upheaval to look forward to.  We had to file chapter 13 bankruptcy, which means 5 years of garnishments and having a financial nanny watching over us.  There was the actual divorce so that we could start our lives over.  Last but not least, there was selling the house.  Once the ex and his girlfriend moved out, it took almost a year to the day of constant cleaning, showings, fighting with the bank, and waiting to get be rid of it.

Since closing on the sale, I’ve moved twice, had two dogs with incontinence issues at separate times, and found the gas in my new apartment shut off for three weeks while my landlord made repairs.  I’m frustrated, broke, treading water, and have three years left to go before my case is discharged.  If I wanted to be, I don’t think anybody would blame me if I was a bitter, nasty recluse, hating the world from afar.  It would be easy.  The thing is, that’s not the road for me.

I am entirely honest when I say that these have been the greatest years of my life.  Nothing has made me feel more alive than my accomplishments.  Nothing has made me more determined than to realize that I was the only person I could trust with cutting through the red tape.  Nothing has felt better than knowing that now, when I get home at night, the only needs I need to meet are my own, and my dog’s. Nothing has cemented my own self-confidence than seeing that even in the face of adversity, I won't freeze, back down, or give in to feeling like a victim.  In the end, I am all I need.  And in a strangely selfish way, it's the best way to be ready for whatever, and whoever's next.

I got here, to this exact point in space and time because life didn’t catch me in a whirlpool.  Yes, it has been turbulent, but the difference is in the thinking.  My path wasn’t a series of events that swept me along, it was a succession of decisions that propelled me forward.  I’ve seen many people who are mired in their own problems; either stuck because they can’t see a way out, or feeding on the emotional energy of others to sustain them.  I get analysis paralysis myself, so I understand being bogged down momentarily.  The point is, being in mud up to your knees is a pit stop, not a permanent residence.  

Let’s take the natural gas fiasco of 2012 for example.  May 23rd, the gas company gets a call from my downstairs neighbor that she smells gas.  Around midnight, they dispatched a tech to diagnose the problem.  What they discover is that there was a leak in my furnace that was bad enough to turn off my service until the landlord makes the repair.  They left what they called a red tag on the furnace room door and told my neighbor that she’d have to contact the landlord to notify them about the problem.  If you're paying attention, you'll notice the two people who needed to know were not notified.  I didn't get a post it note on my door, a letter in the mail, or a phone call the next day.  It was as if nothing had happened.

It took me three days to realize something was up.  I went to roast some veggies for dinner and had no stove.  That was on the Monday that Memorial Day was observed, so it took another day to figure out that there was a padlock on my meter.  Sadly, that discovery came about long after the gas company's call center closed.  So, it took till the next morning to talk to someone about what was going on.

Meanwhile, my downstairs neighbor had forgotten about the notice, and never let my landlord know  about what had happened.  This comedy of errors came to a head on Wed, May 30th.  By then, my gas service had been shut off for almost a week, and I’m just at that point figuring out what a cluster I’m dealing with.

It would have been easy to let my complaining about the situation be the end of it.  Because, let’s be honest, I did plenty of that.  I was frustrated, and wanted to get things resolved a helluva lot faster than was happening.  The difference was, I made a conscious decision to do something above and beyond just whining.  I was presented with a choice of whether I was going to accept the hand I was dealt, or if I was going to make my own rain.  I chose a rhumba as my rain dance.

I called customer service the next day and found out what had happened.  I wasn’t pleased with the fact that they’d not notified the two people who were directly affected by their actions.   I asked to speak with someone who could change their policy.  That took several volleys of phone calls, but eventually I got to speak with the crew foreman.  Through logic and polite discussion, I think we were able to come to an agreement that in the future, at least the affected customer should be made aware, even if they weren’t the one to call in the problem.  (Their logic was, it was 2:00 AM, and they didn’t think shutting off my gas would affect me since I didn’t need my heat.  They didn’t realize that I had a gas stove and was unable to cook my meals while I was waiting for repairs.)  I understand that being woken up at that hour is an inconvenience, but it’s less so than 2 weeks worth of crock pot meals and takeout.  And besides, I bought some fancy brats on sale over the weekend and was really excited about making them!

I also, in that time, called my landlord and informed him of what was going on.  The sooner he's aware, the sooner he could get working on the problem.  In theory, anyway.  After an entire week went by and nothing had been done, my frustrations reached Defcon 3.  I called a private HVAC company to ask them what was required to get my service restored because I didn’t feel like my landlord was taking my complaints seriously.  They were able to give me an understanding of what would need to be done, and how long it would take.  In the end, there was no benefit to calling in my own outside repair service as the gas company wouldn’t unlock my meter on the weekend anyway.

So, I made a pest out of myself by frequently asking for my landlord for updates.  I wasn’t constantly on the phone with him, but I did use various mediums to keep my problem in the forefront.  Finally, on Friday, June 8th, I came home to discover that the lock on my meter was gone.  I called the gas company and they came out, switched on my service, and relit my pilot lights on the stove.   I was quite literally, cooking with gas again.

I tell this story as a sort of parable.  I’m not advocating making a pest of yourself.  Nor am I saying that every endeavor requires my direct improvement or involvement.  I’m not that egotistical.  What I am saying, however, is that it was a choice to accept the situation and wallow, or to reject it and find a solution.  I just felt that this story was a good example of how you can allow life to run over you, or you can turn it into a series of decisions.    If I had any advice to give, it would be that good, bad, or indifferent, absolutely everything you do is a choice.  It’s up to you to exercise it.

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