Odd Job: Participating in a research study on reaction times
Just past Harvard Square, Massachusetts Avenue forks twice in the span of ten seconds. I have driven this stretch a thousand times. I know these forks confound my GPS. And yet, just like always, I make the wrong turn, sending me away from my destination in Cambridge and towards Somerville– a different city altogether that probably owes half its population to people who were trying to get to Cambridge and took a wrong turn somewhere along the way. As I realize my mistake, I let loose a level of violent swearing and rage that most Bostonians reserve for Republicans and Bobby Valentine.
After about ten minutes of wrong turns and shouting “Fuck everything,” I arrive at one of Harvard Campus’ many boringly-named buildings for my 1:00 research study. As I step out of my car, into the parking lot, I have a weird feeling of deja vu. I have been at this building for a research study before. I got lost and swore a lot on the way last time too.
I meet the girl administering the study, and we walk into the lobby. “Just to warn you, the elevator’s been acting crazy lately,” she explains nonchalantly as we board the elevator. “Hopefully, nothing goes wrong.”
The doors close.
As I contemplate the different possible manifestations of the phrase “The elevator’s been acting crazy lately, hopefully nothing goes wrong,” she makes mindless chit-chat.
“Are you a student?” She asks. I have had this same inane conversation before about 500 different studies at this point. They always ask if I’m a student. I don’t know if it’s because I look young (the positive interpretation) or because most college graduates aren’t free at 1:00 on a random Tuesday and so desperate for cash that they would drive forty minutes for a two-hour study that pays $20 (the more realistic interpretation).
We walk into the room, and it dawns on me that I haven’t just been in this parking lot, in this building, having this conversation before. I’ve actually done this exact study before. Eight months ago.
Before we begin, she asks a series of questions meant to gauge to what extent I am or am not depressed. The hypothesis of their study is that people who are suicidal or depressed have slower reaction times than people who are not. It is possible that Harvard has run out of things to study.
I answer the questions, barely even paying attention. No I don’t have an eating disorder. No I don’t have thoughts of suicide. Yes, I feel happy.
But somewhere along the way, I hear her ask, “Do you ever feel like you’re going nowhere in life?” And I pause for a moment.
I’ve always felt like I was going somewhere. Like I was scraping by in the moment, but someday it would all be worth it. I would become a full-time actor or poker player or writer and be my own boss. And those years waiting tables and doing shit work would be worth it. Lately, I haven’t felt that way. I’ve felt like maybe this temporary rut isn’t so temporary.
Yes. I answer.
Because this is a research study, she must keep asking the same question twenty different ways.
Have you felt like you were going nowhere in the last three months?
Over the last three months, I’ve been writing a lot less. I feel gross when I don’t write. Like workout nuts feel when they skip the gym. I’ve done this before. Been in a groove with my writing and feeling awesome. Then suddenly stopped for no apparent reason and felt miserable. You may say, well then why not just start writing again? And you are of course right and I of course agree and I have no idea why I don’t. I only know that, like the aforementioned guy who misses the gym a few times when he knows he should go, I haven’t been doing it.
Have you felt like you were going nowhere in the last month?
Before I started this blog, I worked one job I loved 15-20 hours a week. It paid well and I got it into my head that by combining that with these odd jobs and some thrifty spending, I could survive financially, avoid the hours of a full-time job, and spend that extra time focusing on my writing. That led to some of the most stressful months of my life. Months of paying whatever bills I could then hoping I got my next paycheck before they cut off my phone service. Living off Ramen and pasta.
That led to me picking up other part-time gigs. When I met people and they asked me what I did for a living, I got used to picking whichever I thought they would be most interested to hear, because the full list was just too long. If I ever answered fully, the list would look something like this: I host trivia games at bars and restaurants, I work at an after-school program, I perform in a dinner-theater troupe, I write columns for zug.com, I play poker, I participate in market research studies, and I do random things to earn money for my blog called Odd Jobs. I really enjoy everything on that list, but it hasn’t left the time for writing that I so wanted in the first place. I want to quit one of these jobs. Scale back how many hours I work so I can focus on what matters to me. But I do this all the time too. When I work a full-time job, I wish I worked fewer hours. When I quit that job and go somewhere with fewer hours, I end up broke and wishing I worked more hours.
Do you feel excited about the direction you are going in?
Part of why I started this site was to do new things. To get away from the boredom and repetition of the 9-to-5 world. But the research studies and the random errands aren’t fun. And they’ve started to blend together. More and more, I feel like I’m doing the same thing over and over. Hell, I have literally done this study before.
Do you feel excited about where you will be five years from now?
Go fuck yourself.
After the extensive questionnaire comes a series of mindless tasks that my brain tunes out as they pass by slowly, like scenes in a boring movie. When it’s all over, she gives me a $20 bill. We both say thank you and nice meeting you. Then I leave.
As I crawl through traffic on my way home, I think about the same things I have thought about at many other points in my life. I am happy when I write, why am I not writing? I want to quit my job. I always quit my job then suddenly realize that I need a job. I am tired of always feeling like this.
I feel like I’m driving down Massachusetts Avenue. I’ve been here a thousand times before, and I always make the wrong turn.
EDITOR’S NOTE. NOT JUST THE BORING STUFF THAT I PUT AFTER EVERY COLUMN.
I have been working on a draft of this column for the last week and a half, and during that time, I have debated whether or not to post it. Because it feels insanely self-indulgent, boring and unimportant. But as I’ve worked on it, something funny has happened. The feelings of frustration and directionlessness have started to dissolve.
It’s possible that I feel better, in part, because writing is cathartic. But I know myself and I know that it is something else. It’s that working on this column has gotten me writing everyday again. And whether or not I’m writing has a radical impact on my mood. I am so happy when I do it. So sad when I don’t. I knew before this study that part of why I had been so unhappy and feeling so lost was because I wasn’t writing, yet, I couldn’t sit down and do it. I don’t know why. I only know that this experience– being forced to confront the fact that I felt lost combined with having something inside me that I had to get down on paper– made me start writing again. And that, in turn, has made me happy again. Focused again.
This experience and this piece have helped me to realize a couple of things about myself that I knew all along and yet didn’t know. And it is the reason I will be making several very important changes over the next couple of months. They are not all things I can talk about in this public of a forum, but I know they are the correct choices for me. And in a few months, when the dust settles, I will share them here.
One change I can share is that I’m going to be writing a lot more. I am hoping to replace my current column for zug.com with a different one that will be a better fit for my writing. I won’t say much about it, except that if you enjoy the Odd Jobs blog, I think you’re going to enjoy this too. If it does indeed launch, over the next few months, I will alternate every week between posting a column for zug and posting a column for my site. If the column does not launch then I will be posting a lot more here. Either way, it feels damn good to be writing again.
I started off debating whether or not to post this because it felt unimportant, boring, and self-indulgent. I have decided to post it because it may well be the most important column I’ve written yet. So I hope it wasn’t boring, and thank you for indulging me.
OKAY NOW HERE’S THE STANDARD BORING STUFF
In some but not all articles, names or identifying characteristics or individual lines of dialogue have been changed to protect identities or because remembering exactly how things happened is hard. But in every case, an effort was made to maintain the integrity of these events that did indeed actually happen.
Do you feel life would be easier if you didn’t have to check my site or twitter or facebook to see if I had new content up?
If so, how lazy are you? Well then I have good news, you can sign up for some of these handy dandy mailing lists so that you’ll just get a letter in your inbox whenever I do something new:
Want to be notified when new Jonathan Krieger content is available? Then join the mailing lists below that best fit your needs.
In order to be subscribed, you must click the confirmation link in the e-mail you will receive. If you don't see one, check your spam folder.
Powered by WPNewsman
If you want to read more Odd Jobs posts, click here.