I’ve vacillated between selling my car immediately and keeping it until I run it into the ground approximately 500 times in the past couple years. It’s a 2004 Chevrolet Aveo I bought in 2013 with 7,400 miles from a 92-year-old couple who I can only assume drove it to the grocery store and back. I got it for $4,800 which, at the time felt like over extravagance. I was in grad school, living primarily on student loans supplemented by a very part-time job. But I needed a car for school so I could get to my practicum schools and eventual internship. You might interject here and say, “well, you didn’t need one. Buses exist.” But believe me when I tell you I have a longstanding history of getting lost on public transportation. If I wanted to have any semblance of dependability at my schools, this was a need.
It's a weird looking car – a sky blue hatchback that looks like a European minivan shrunk in the wash. It never felt incredibly safe, more like a glorified go-kart, but it ended up being a pretty reliable, economic car. And with the mileage being so low, I had the advantage of having any problems well documented on car forums, making preemptive repairs or instructions for DIY work that much easier. But in the past couple years I’ve gotten tired of trying to figure out repairs, needing to shout over the road noise on the freeway, and bracing myself for potholes thanks to the worn-out original shocks. Also, my father-in-law was selling his plug-in hybrid so opportunity was knocking.
So in December I took the plunge. Kaitlyn is our resident salesperson because when I see garbage she sees $150 on Facebook Marketplace. I arbitrarily thought my car was worth about $800 (it’s a gut thing) and would’ve felt great with $1,000. But she researched (including Kelley Blue Book!) and to my shocked and sheepish dismay, she posted it for $3,200.
Our friends are going to see this. They’re going to take one look and immediately judge us for how much we think it’s worth.
Well that may have happened (we can only assume the worst) but it certainly wasn’t the universal response. Kaitlyn posted the car one evening and messages came POURING in. One awkward test drive and 24 hours later and Little Blue had a new owner.
It was exciting and a relief. But even still, I don’t like change in any form. I suddenly had a rekindling attachment and a surge of doubts. It’s frivolous. It’s been like an anti-lemon. What a noble little car! I’m clearly making a huge financial mistake.
My new car is great, said mostly with confidence but also a hint of self-reassurance. It has state of the art features like automatic locks and windows and a rear trunk deeper than a Costco box of protein shakes. Bluetooth! Heated seats! But with all change comes a certain amount of skepticism. And I’ve traded an 18-year-old car for a 10-year-old car so it doesn’t mean it’s free of problems. Granted, right now they’re less “problems” and more “making the car suitable for Kim.” Like, the passenger door had a creak that only took one time for me to open to know I couldn’t abide. It needed immediate attention.
I attempted WD40 first which helped 0%. So I turned to the internet where posters on Chevrolet forums told me it was the door check (the part of the door hinge that keeps the door from opening up too wide) and the new part was $25. Two YouTube videos later and I was 80% confident I could do it. It was enough to buy the part and give it a go.
I’m motivated enough by wanting to save money and also filled with an endless belief in “how hard can it be?” that I regularly embark on DIY projects with nothing but a YouTube video. I’d say I’m successful about 2/3 of the time. And I always seem to follow the same cycle: Confidence, What was that step again?, Profanity, What have I done?, and then sometimes to the glorious Breakthrough and Success. And it’s not necessarily linear – sometimes the inner three steps get stuck in what feels like a never-ending loop.
“Okay, but if you know that’s the cycle, why do you keep taking on these projects?” Answer: Frustration Amnesia, or the blurring, shrinking, or downright forgetting of the fateful time between Confidence and Success. Time to amnesia is directly proportional to the length of frustration cycle - the longer the frustration, the longer the recovery - but once it sets in, I'm good to go!
My only hang up with this one particular repair was that it required taking off the interior door panel which I did with a repair on the Aveo. While I had been successful, it ended up needing to be redone by a professional only a couple months later so the bill really cut into the amnesia effect. But, I reasoned, it was at a time in my life when I was still gathering tools (I had hammered on the back of an IKEA bookshelf with a dumbbell) so I made the level of difficulty harder than it needed to be. This time will be totally different, I concluded.
The YouTube videos averaged about 5 minutes so naturally it took me an hour. The more significant statistic though is that it took a mere 30 minutes to get from Profanity to “Well that wasn’t so bad”, which honestly is record speed. The sweet relief of a silent door opening really helped move things along.
So yes! I’m ready for the next thing!
And for now, that next thing is trying to figure out the solution to my blinker problem. For those of you who don’t have a constant barrage of sensory sensitivities, this probably won’t make sense, but I’ll do my best to explain it anyway. I’m talking about the turn signal indicator, the blinker lever, that thing that's on the left side of the steering wheel column. The blinker lever functionally works exactly as it should – it moves up and down, turns on the blinker, and turns the headlights off and on. For most people it’s totally regular and not at all noteworthy. For me, though. . . many a late night has been spent researching how to change it. See, it just takes a little too much pressure to move up and down. Like, you press down and you think you should’ve moved it but it takes one more effort to get to the abrupt, unsatisfying, clunk. What’s more, the end of the lever isn’t rounded enough to feel…I don’t know…ergonomic? Not that the pinky really takes a beating when pushing down the turn signal but there’s just something about it that’s off for me. It’s noticeable. As in, every time I use it, I think about it. And we use blinkers a lot, y’all.
“Why don’t you replace it with an aftermarket blinker?” offered Kaitlyn, who just so happens to own a car with the perfect blinker lever (why are these things wasted on the unappreciative?!).
“If you can believe it,” I said, “There isn’t a thriving market of people looking for a different Chevrolet blinker design. I’ve checked.”
And really, I hate to say it friends, but that one’s on you.
I’m addicted to solitaire. Yes, as in the computer gaming smash hit that I’ll forever associate with my grandparents and a beige Windows PC circa 1994. Except unlike a PC, it’s a decision, not a default, to put solitaire on your phone. There was a day (admittedly one I don’t precisely remember) where I thought, “You know what I’m missing in my life? What my phone really needs?” and then actively followed through. If I only I'd known how much time it would mysteriously absorb.
Let's be real, solitaire isn’t the most thrilling of games. It’s the same cards, same objective, same level of difficulty. I’m sure the app developers recognized that, so they manufactured complexity by building in “levels” based solely on quantity of games played. And unlike the 90s variety, the app doesn’t ask you if you’d like to play again; they adopted the Netflix mindset to start the next thing 5 seconds before the first thing is actually over.
I say all this to try to justify why I sometimes get lost in playing. There’s something about simplicity that’s kind of nice – black on red, red on black, sorting and organizing in chronological order. It’s the perfect amount of cognitive load - minimal enough to multi-task yet just enough to keep an illusion of intellectual stimulation. I mean, you can have success in 3 minutes or less and the cards throw a party when you win! No one’s doing that in real life. And the brain doesn’t seem to discriminate between Video Game Wins and Real-Life Wins - either way you get a boost of dopamine and feel like you’ve done something meaningful. Why would I ever do the dishes when I can sit on the couch and also feel success?
Oh but let's not forget what time of year it is - the magical month of January. The time of year that marks the beginning of a new me, a TRANSFORMED me, a non-lazy-willing-to-sacrifice-and-be-uncomfortable me. January 1st is the day I change out one calendar with another and am filled with the motivation to forever more be my best self.
It's true, though, that January is a character-defining month, but it's less about the goals you make and more about your response to the concept of goals in general. January is when we start drawing lines in the sand and sort ourselves into one of four categories: those who make New Year’s resolutions, those who loudly refuse to make resolutions like goals are an assault on humanity, those who collectively groan but half-heartedly commit to change, and those who solely invest energy in trying to come up a unique quip about how goals will be broken in two weeks. I think I’m somewhere in the third camp, unable to help myself from making goals but also an established record of accomplishing only a few.
I was listening to Glennon Doyle’s podcast We Can Do Hard Things and she put it the best of any Resolution Commentator. Instead of setting goals, she simply asked, “What’s some old shit you’re considering letting go of and what’s some new shit that you’re considering trying?”
She lured me in with the word consider. That’s the level of commitment I can get behind. Thinking about change – the Video Game Win of behavioral psychology.
We’ll start with the obligatory consideration we all believe I need to make: just delete the app, yo. There. Verbalized and immediately placed on the Maybe Later But Probably Never shelf because *plot twist* this isn’t actually about solitaire.
Where my mind went next feels a lot more meaningful but also infinitely harder. It diverges from my typical goals where I can easily track success and wanders into the realm of shifting paradigms. Really, it’s just a bunch of questions I rarely make space for.
What if, and stay with me here, I embrace mediocrity? Like, full on just said, "Yes! You're performing mildly okay! Great job!" What if I just accepted the could-be-better and the half-effort? Or, what if I acknowledge that .1% is greater than 0% and, this last part is revolutionary, actually let that apply to me?
See, I have this ongoing struggle with setting unrealistic expectations and then stopping before I start so I don’t embarrass myself with the work in progress. Productivity paralysis is made even worse by society’s constant escalation of success. Don’t even show up unless you have some dramatic before and after pics. That video? Not worth uploading unless it’ll make you a national treasure. And fall in line behind the independently wealthy with ten streams of passive income. There's success and then there's internet-inflated success. Keep up.
But what if I just let the result go? The amount of weight lost, the job title, the number of books read -- what if just the doing is enough instead? This is somehow starting to feel like a Dr. Seuss poem but let me tell you, the idea itself is freeing. It’s surprisingly (dare I say?) motivating. Most of all, it feels like a relief.
Don’t get me wrong, this isn't some magically defining moment – that To Do list of expectations is still prominently on my desk and I’m still, you know, me. I don’t suddenly look at all my shortcomings with grace, applaud every effort, or feel proud of just showing up. And a part of me that I don’t really want to acknowledge just looks at the thought experiment as a means to an end rather than the end itself. You know, the old bait-and-switch from “just do anything” to “it must be absolutely perfect".
For now, though, I’m going to choose to lean into the semantics of the goal – just “consider”. Outside of writing this post, I’m guessing that lasted a solid 15 minutes which is at least 5 sacrificed games of solitaire so I’d say I totally nailed it. And that means I already have my first 2023 Real Life Win. Cue the flying cards.
All school assignment instructions have one common denominator: include your name. As soon as I learned this in elementary school, it was the first thing I did when I got a worksheet or pulled out a fresh sheet of lined paper. My diligence was fueled partly by my people-pleasing, rule-following nature and partly by the fear of having to make the walk of shame in response to a teacher calling out, “Whose paper is this?” My hand gravitated automatically to the top right corner (why does it move to the left in high school?) and I took my time as I pressed a little too hard onto the paper. K-I-M-B-E-R-L-Y. It was my given name, my legal name, the one that always showed up on attendance sheets and the laminated name cards placed on my desk at the beginning of each year. It’s how I was taught to spell my name and though most people who know me have always called me Kim, I never shortened it in writing. Maybe it was the court scene in Miracle on 34th Street when I heard the phrase, “Do you swear to tell the whole truth and nothing but the truth?” for the first time, or maybe it was the children’s song we sang in church on Sunday that repeats the phrase, “Choose the right,” over and over, but somehow I got it stuck in my mind that it was dishonest to just write Kim.
Except I hated the name Kimberly. Kimberly was the name my Grandma Lowe put on my birthday cards, a consistent reminder that she was too far away to really know me. Kimberly felt unfamiliar, a misnomer I couldn’t quite put my finger on. It just didn’t feel like me. But I never corrected people when they said Kimberly. Even when teachers asked, “Do you prefer to go by Kimberly or Kim?” at the beginning of the school year, my response was always a quick, “It doesn’t matter.” I never considered I could suggest it on my own – never realizing the irony that this time I actually was lying. Eventually, I learned I could respond with, “I prefer to go by Kim,” but it still wasn’t until high school that I gained enough confidence to put it on school assignments. Gradually, though, Kimberly became a name I used only when I when I flew on airplanes or filled out my taxes.
I was in college when I had a sudden realization. I could change my first name when I get married. I’ll have to change my last name anyway so I could just change my first name too. At the time, I was thinking I would marry a man and would, of course, change my last name. There was a nagging guilty feeling about changing my first name though. I was worried about offending my parents. While only a variation, it still felt like a rejection of the name they had carefully chosen for me. I worried they would interpret it as a reflection of their parenting, or worse, of negative feelings towards them (which I didn’t have). My inner five-year-old self seemed to be reminding me it was wrong.
When I married Kaitlyn, it was much less of a given which last name we would take. It was important to me that we have the same last name, but how did we choose between the two? Ultimately, it came down to practicality. My parents hadn’t given me a middle name, always intending for my last name to become my middle. It also felt like just the nudge I needed to finally change my first name. “I’ll always be Kim Lowe as a writer, though,” I said. And Kaitlyn quickly nodded in acceptance.
As anyone who has changed their name knows, it’s nothing but a big ol’ pain. I made a list of all the many places I needed to change it, leaving off the five million stores that have suckered me into giving my name, email, favorite color, and birthdate of my unborn first child to just check out of the store. I started with the most important, the social security office, and went on my lunch break (oh the optimism). I came prepared with a purple folder of every possible piece of identification I could need, and the necessary forms already filled out – I wasn’t going through this process again. I walked in, grabbed a number, and took a seat in the small waiting room. I looked up at the monitor displaying the current line number, 288, then glanced down at the small tab of paper I held: 289. Yes! I thought. I got lucky.
But I think we all know where this is going. I scrolled through my phone, believing it wouldn’t take long but also wanting to send the clear message that I was very busy and please don’t talk to me. I crossed and uncrossed my legs, mildly thinking about the variety of people sitting in the waiting room, wondering what each of their reasons were for coming in. Eventually the numbers on the screen shifted as a voice announced the next person. “Number 14!” they called. The hell is this numbering system? I thought, before realizing different sets of numbers were assigned to each window. Okay, okay. Still only one person ahead of me, I reassured myself.
An hour and a half later all hope drained to utter annoyance. What can possibly take this long? As I sat there debating the maximum time my lunch break could be, they finally called my number. My folder and I were ready.
“So, you’re changing your last name and your middle name,” the worker said. It wasn’t a question.
“And my first name,” I added.
“Can’t,” she said, without looking up.
“You can’t change your first name without a court order,” she said simply, stamping one of the papers before placing it to the side. She said it with finality and complete disengagement. I didn’t need to ask any other questions.
I left feeling dumb for not knowing the requirement for a court order. I assumed it would be easy, that I would be able to choose what I wanted to be called (how dare I?) and the hurdle of a court order felt insurmountable. I can’t appear in front of a judge. I don’t want to go to court. Maybe it’s not worth it after all.
Feeling defeated, I talked my fears through with Kaitlyn. “I have a coworker who just changed their name,” she said. “They said you can fill out all the paperwork online and just submit a court fee.”
For someone who thrives on exclusively using chat for customer support, this was a dream come true. While the filing fee, totaling over $100, wasn’t exactly how I planned to spend money, it felt like nothing compared to the anxiety of needing to defend my name in a court of law (I’m no Kris Kringle). I filled out the paperwork, submitted it online, and waited in anticipation, still somewhat skeptical I would be able to get off that easy.
But from that point forward, it really was that easy. I got the notarized letter in the mail, authorizing the name change (thank you, Oregon). My second trip to the social security office was much quicker than the first, and the dominoes started to fall for changing it in other places – the DMV, the bank, my insurance.
It was a small change, seemingly inconsequential for everyone else but me. In fact, several people said in response, “Oh, I didn’t even know your full name was Kimberly”. Yet there was a power in shedding the unnecessary letters of my name, of asserting my preferences, unprompted. My name matches how I feel, how I think about myself. I don’t have to answer the question about my name preference anymore. I already have it.