Sunday, January 13, 2013

Going Boxless

     In a boldly eccentric move, Spartacus and I have decided to leave our Christmas tree up all year long. This decision came about Friday night, as we were standing in line for some ice cream. As I perused the list of flavors, trying to decide between Maple Bacon Brittle and Pumpkin, I sighed while mentioning that we needed to dismantle the tree over the weekend, wondering aloud why we really needed to take it down in the first place. Reverberating simultaneously, "Let's leave it up!", we high-fived each other, laughing as if we were really getting away with something. "Who says every day can't be Christmas?" Pausing for a moment to revel in our joint disregard for conformity, we returned to the uber-serious business of flavor determination. Heath Butterscotch or Double Chocolate Chip? Fortunately for the people standing behind us, we were only joking about requesting to sample of each of the 20 flavors.
     As soon as we got home, I turned on the tree. The poor thing been sitting there, ignored and unilluminated for the past week, and we found ourselves admiring how flicking a switch not only restored its luminous splendor, but the warmly inviting ambience we'd both been missing. Basking in its glow, we felt like a couple of kids on Christmas morning. One doesn't have to be religious to appreciate the spirit of Christmas; in fact, our lack of religion actually seems to enhance it. Personally, I've never understood society's proscription on joy. Isn't everyday life cause enough for celebration?
     Not surprisingly, the decision to make our Christmas tree a permanent fixture has drawn a miscellany of support and criticism. After posting a funny blurb about it on Facebook, which featured a photo of our tree, I received comments ranging from "Yay!" and "Best idea I've heard all year!" to "Are you too busy to take it down?" and "Surely you jest?! Take the damn thing down!" My take on this issue is pretty simple. It's only when people believe there's a box to think inside or outside of that something as benign as a year 'round Christmas tree becomes problematic. Society seems to have a lot of things backwards. If only it condemned the "work makes one free" mentality as readily as it does the idea that "money can't buy happiness", life out of balance would be the exception, not the rule.
     Spartacus's current job in IT is a perfect example of the utter madness of convention. His company provides credit, debit and check processing for ISOs (independent sales organizations), acquirers, and merchants. About a year ago, shortly after he'd started working there, there was a catastrophic security breach, the aftermath of which the company is still attempting to recover from. Globally, millions of Visa credit cards were affected. Visa threatened to drop its account unless the company implemented various measures to increase its security, one of which mandated replacing every piece of network hardware before January of 2013. Although the networking department had no responsibility in the breach, they've gotten hammered the hardest. For the last 11 months, he and his peers have been burdened with the mind-boggling logistics of replacing network hardware across the globe, in addition to their normal 50+ hour workweeks of maintaining the network that's already in place. For months, the FBI swarmed the place, engendering an even more heightened state of job-related paranoia.
     As a tier four senior network engineer, there are three levels of support below Spartacus that should be intercepting calls and troubleshooting routine problems. He should never be called outside normal working hours unless the data center is on fire. But, "should" is now more a matter of convenience than convention, e.g. although he's not being compensated for it, Spartacus should be immediately available 24/7. At the expense of his personal life, he should make himself convenient to corporate whim. His cell phone is as intrusive as a tumor, a real sickness. We can't even walk our dogs on the weekend without being interrupted by requests for Spartacus to join a conference bridge. I'm dead serious. Yesterday, no sooner than we'd started down the street with Simon and Lilly, all of us ready to enjoy the sultry 70 degree January afternoon, he got called. I've asked him what he thought would happen if he turned off his phone. He says he'd get a warning or two, along with a flurry of uptight emails, and then, he'd get fired. The crazy thing is that the rest of his colleagues seem to love the insanity of working around the clock; there's one brown-nosing guy in the department who actually offered to cancel his family's holiday cruise, presumably so he'd be recognized by his boss as particularly industrious. How the ability to swipe one's credit card resembles a matter of life and death is just beyond me. Thank goodness, Spartacus is interviewing for a new job.
     I went to see "Les Miserables" yesterday evening with an anesthetist girlfriend of mine. Afterward, we stood outside talking about the movie's various themes, namely how the unconditional love demonstrated by the Bishop of Digne toward Jean Valjean, a misanthropic ex-convict who'd been imprisoned for 19 years for stealing bread to feed his family, transformed him into the embodiment of compassion, and how his intense hatred for society, which arose from being so unjustly sentenced, was offset by his even deeper love of humanity. Our conversation turned to the years we spent, missing out on life because of work. It made me think of this quote by Victor Hugo: "A soul for a piece of bread. Misery makes the offer; society accepts." Fortunately, neither of us were shy about raging against the machine, and our much-cherished down time with those we love is proof that certain attitudes in society are battles worth fighting. Along those lines, I am really proud of Spartacus for being honest about why he couldn't participate in that conference call. "I'm out walking my dogs right now, I can't hear a thing, and I don't have access to a computer. I'll call you back when I get home." Click. Convention, neatly defied. Before hanging up, one guy kept urging Spartacus to walk him through some trouble-shooting anyway; apparently, he doesn't grasp that there is life outside of work. Jeez! Isn't it something how perennial Christmas trees and free time and even walking one's dogs can be perceived as rages against the machine or everyday expressions of holiday spirit, depending on the existence of a metaphorical box? Who says we need a box in the first place? Life is much more fun when you're going boxless.

"When you don't believe in Christmas Day, every day is Christmas Day."--Marty Rubin aka nothingprofound. Aphorism of the Day

P.S. I ended up having both the Maple Bacon Brittle AND the Pumpkin...a fabulous duo! :-)
P.P.S. We decided we'll remove the Christmas ornaments and figure out some cool decorations for the rest of the year. Or maybe, au naturale is the way to go?


31 comments:

  1. I say kudos to keeping the tree up. It's a beautiful sight with such wonderful, warm glow. As for being avaialable 24/7 for work, that just stinks. Having cell phones, the internet, etc. is great in many ways. But it also becomes intrusive. People are too accessible these days. Glad you established those boundaries.

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    1. I've decided I'll remove the Christmas decorations and figure out something else cool to do with the tree during the rest of the year. I agree, we have become way too accessible. People have to have a life outside of work, but those boundaries have become increasingly more blurry. Everyone has their limits, I suppose, but it sure feels good to say, "No more!"

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  2. Many years ago, I planted our Christmas tree in the garden after the festivities. It was 20 feet high by the time we moved to another house! However, now that I live in Hong Kong, a Christmas tree somehow seems inappropriate (and Chinese New Year is more fun anyway).

    On the subject of balancing work with a personal life, my experience is that employers will take advantage of employees who are paid a salary rather than a wage that is tied to the number of hours actually worked. This is why, in my last job before retiring, I worked freelance and could therefore decide when to work and when to do what I wanted to do.

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    1. When I was growing up, my father became rather fond of live Christmas trees, all of which were badly misshapen. He'd plant them after the Epiphany...I thought it was a lovely way of keeping the spirit alive throughout the year. You're exactly right about salaried vs. hourly wage workers being taken advantage of. People in that position are even more afraid to say, "No." Fortunately for my husband, IT jobs abound, so maybe it's only a matter of finding the best fit.

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  3. I like the idea of a year round tree. There was a man in our neighborhood who delivered live trees in pots...and then came by and picked them up. Supposedly you can reserve the same tree for next year. I think I'll do that when the time comes again. I'm a firm believer in going boxless. No one should ever have to live by others rules...or be available 24/7. Great post. Made me think about all the conforming things that I can drop!

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    1. That's a terrific idea, Annie. I miss having a real tree, especially the way it makes the house smell, but the pre-lit fake ones now are so realistic and low-maintenance that I couldn't making the switch. RE: being available 24/7, that was the definition of my last hospital-based job, and after a year and a half of those dreadful 24 hour call shifts, I went a little cuckoo. The money just wasn't worth it. I found a job doing outpatient anesthesia with no call, no evenings or nights, no holidays, and no weekends. It's as close to a perfect fit as one can get in this field.

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  4. Ah, so you don't have a real Christmas tree then? That would explain this madness. :)

    My only observation is that familiarity breeds contempt. As much as we hate taking down the decorations, the thrill in putting them up again and transforming the house more than makes up for that.

    Next you'll be expecting anniversary celebrations every day! :)

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    1. Fake trees nowadays look so realistic, and being pre-lit is a real bonus. I do miss the smell of a real tree, though. Anniversary celebrations every day?!...wonder if Spartacus would go for that idea, too?

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  5. And as for the work business, society has gone nuts. I refuse to take a crackberry from work, but then my job allows that. We have very high personnel turnover in our support departments for the very reason that it ruins personal lives.

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    1. Surprisingly, only one person has left my husband's company, and it is a guy that he worked with for about 15 years at a previous job. This guy is actively recruiting Spartacus to come work with him for an Atlanta-based company called Rocket Science that develops transactional apps, like MailChimp. Keep your fingers crossed!

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  6. Hooray for the tree staying up all year long.
    Love the idea and may the Christmas Spirit live in your household as well as in your hearts each time you look upon your tree!

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    1. I'm excited about it, Angie. We've got SO much empty space in this loft, and the tree adds nice height and ambience to the living area. Just have to come up with some alternative way of decorating it.

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  7. I'm not sure why anyone would have a problem with you keeping a Christmas tree up all year anyway. After all, they don't live with you, don't have to see it in their face everyday, and I don't know of any regulations surrounding having to take it down - not to mention repercussions if you don't 'comply'. Unless they are referring to superstition etc.. and that's neither here nor there. Have your own way Helena.

    Gosh, Spartacus is really in a tight spot there. Some of these companies have no regard for family life, they literally think you are there to serve them and you've got nothing else in life to do. I don't know why some of them even have contracts? If you go outside 'your contract' you get fired. If they go outside of 'your contract' and you don't abide - you get fired anyway. I do hope he finds something that he's happy doing whilst at the same time is able to spend quality time with his family. Good on him for not taking the conference call.

    It's good to go boxless. It's like a dog being let off the leash to run free for miles. Great post again Helena.

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    1. The issue with the Christmas tree reminds me of a scene from the movie, "Midnight Express," in which mentally ill prisoners are shuffling around a large column clockwise, and Billy (the protagonist) starts circling it counter-clockwise. It drove them all even more mad. Spartacus has a very good job prospect at a young Atlanta-based company; should be interviewing this week. The joy being boxless and leashless brings is good evidence that any kind of "less" is usually more.

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  8. I'm not sure why anyone would have a problem with you keeping a Christmas tree up all year anyway. After all, they don't live with you, don't have to see it in their face everyday, and I don't know of any regulations surrounding having to take it down - not to mention repercussions if you don't 'comply'. Unless they are referring to superstition etc.. and that's neither here nor there. Have your own way Helena.

    Gosh, Spartacus is really in a tight spot there. Some of these companies have no regard for family life, they literally think you are there to serve them and you've got nothing else in life to do. I don't know why some of them even have contracts? If you go outside 'your contract' you get fired. If they go outside of 'your contract' and you don't abide - you get fired anyway. I do hope he finds something that he's happy doing whilst at the same time is able to spend quality time with his family. Good on him for not taking the conference call.

    It's good to go boxless. It's like a dog being let off the leash to run free for miles. Great post again Helena.

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  9. I think it is so befitting of you and Sparty to leave the tree up year round. I think its natural beauty would suffice, as lighting itself sets a cool mood on its own.

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    1. It's definitely "us." Since it's raining cats and dogs here today, I'm gonna take all the Christmas stuff down, and see how it looks, au naturale.

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  10. I know a few people that have multiple christmas trees during xmas and each one has a theme. It would be neat to leave one up, and decorate it for each and every holiday.

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    1. That'd be fun, especially in a household where there are children. Kids love stuff like that!

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  11. people are funny, Kris,so stuck on certain conventional ways fo doing things. It's so easy to shock them. When I tell people I put water in my cereal instead of milk, they act as I've committed some crime against propriety and decency. You'd think I just spat on the flag. As for work, I've always been too jealous of my free time and personal life to do a whole lot of it. I've always followed Aesop's advice: "Better to starve free than eat well in chains."

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    1. Now, I've heard of people mixing orange juice with their milk, but water is a first! Makes sense, though. I completely agree with you and Aesop about free time.

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  12. Yes, we can put christmas tree up all year around. We do whatever we like to do.
    I guess workaholic really is caused by their job insecurity. I had that experience when I worked in game company, my lead artist seemed to suggest I better live in office...
    Nice touch on the movie. I have not watched it but the book was my all time favorite. I think Hugo really created an ideal model of morality, which may or may not fit the reality. I agree, that "...certain attitudes in society are battles worth fighting".

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    1. Good for you for living out of the office, Yunyi! Your artistic talents are being much better used in teaching your students.

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  13. I don't know about the tree up all year for me personally. My mother does it, yet it isn't an actual christmas tree, but she has it lit year round, perhaps decorated seasonally most of the time. It sits in a dark corner and serves the purpose of "lamp" for the most part. Yielding to societal convention leads to having a box. I would like to say I don't have a box, but I do, sometimes I venture out of it but ultimately find myself having to conform to society even when I don't agree with it. It might be different if I didn't still have children at home, perhaps one day I will get to test that theory.

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    1. Even without ornaments, the tree looks great. It adds height and such a nice glow. Yielding to social convention can also mean just pretending you have a box :-)

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  14. I love "boldly eccentric" moves, Kris! Who says Christmas trees can’t be up all year. Yes to disregard for conformity! So cool that both you and Spartacus decided that together at the same time. If I could, I’d keep my tree up just for the pretty lights at night. I agree that society has so many things backwards. I have brother-in-law in IT and he gets called all the time even on his personal time (my sister is not pleased!), not as bad but similar to what happens to Spartaucs. Good for him on his honesty (and it was so logical too), and good luck to him on his interview.

    I really want to see “Les Miserables.” Hope we get to do it soon. Btw, Pumpkin ice cream AND Maple Bacon Brittle ice cream, yum!

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    1. Spartacus has an interview Monday...I am SO hoping he'll get the new job. Go see Les Mis...you won't be disappointed!!!! And yes, that ice cream combo was to die for!

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  15. Enjoy your tree as much and in any way you want. Good for you for embracing what makes you happy versus what "fits int the box." And good for Spartacus for knowing what matters most and striving to achieve it.

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  16. Hi. I'd like to let you know that I'm a fully paid-up member of the Dinosaurs Club. Requirements for membership are NO mobiles NO watches NO latest gimmicks. Yet I'm never late and I always have a great time. Sounds like you might be a prospective member?

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