5 Stages of Commuting: From Denial to Knitting

sockThis is where you end up. Knitting a sock, on a train, wondering if people think you're nuts.

When we first moved to our suburban town, I worried about the length of my new commute. I even tested out the trip before we moved. My husband picked me up at the train station in our potential hometown so I could see how long and painful my new commute might be. The average American supposedly commutes 28 minutes, one-way, to work. My new commute was going to be two to three times that.

It was long. It was painful. And I had the bad luck to conduct my experiment in the middle of a three-day rainstorm. Everyone said the trains were thrown off- schedule by any bad weather, so I figured my "normal" sunny-day commute would be acceptable.

It was, if barely. Then we had kids. Suddenly, every damn second of my life was triple-booked, and I could not believe I was spending nearly three hours a day, five days a week, in an enforced state of idleness. I thought my head would explode. I was so frustrated I would come home in tears once or twice a week.

And I learned that just as there are five stages of grief, there are five stages of commuting.

1. Denial You figure that really, the commute's not that long. You sincerely believe you'll be able to grab a nap or read the paper, and next thing you know, you'll be at work. Wrong.

2. Working If you're going to be on the train for, say, an hour, well, that's two hours of work a day, right? After about a month you're even more fried than usual, and you can't figure out why. It occurs to you that, oddly, humans need some downtime.

3. Reading This works for some people. It did not work for me. I could read the paper, but I'd finish and still have a good half hour on the train. Between the various announcements and people yakking on their cell phones, I found it impossible to immerse myself in a book. I switched to the much-quieter bus, but reading on the bus gave me motion sickness. I tried every popular magazine, but couldn't bring myself to care all that much about fashion, makeup, cooking or, God forbid, celebrities. The New Yorker sustained me for a little while. (Note: This is when it really hit home that there is almost zero smart, enjoyable content for women out there. It's no coincidence that Connie and I started One Thing New not long after).

4. Desperation I asked my boss if I could work from home one day a week. He said no. Then I had kids, and I asked again. When he said, "Well, I don't want to seem inflexible, but..." I cut him off and said, "Thanks, Jim!" and started working from home on Wednesdays. I mean, at this point, I was ready to go insane. My plan was to keep asking until he agreed or until he fired me, which, by then, would not have bothered me too much. I was pretty sure unemployed people didn't have to commute.

5. Knitting Working from home one day a week was a big help, but that still left four days of commuting. I had learned to crochet as a kid, and a friend recently had a baby. I thought I'd try something new and knit a baby sweater, and took the sweater-in-progress on the train. Paydirt. Knitting is repetitive, calming my antsy, somewhat compulsive tendencies and helping me relax. At the same time, it's creative. Every now and then it gets a bit complicated, and I engage my brain. Best, it does not feel like a waste of time. It feels productive, and doesn't fry my brain! Yes, I could buy a baby gift for a fraction of the time and money it takes to make one, but then I'd be a weepy commuting lunatic, which doesn't seem like progress.

This fall, Hurricane Sandy blasted my commute. First it was impossible, then a pain in the neck, and now it's downright surreal. The subway stations were flooded, rail cars and tracks were damaged, and somehow, I'm still supposed to get to the office. At first, FEMA provided buses to ferries that would go across the Hudson. The drivers, unfamiliar with the area, promptly got lost, turning a 40-minute drive into a 90-minute ordeal.

Then I tried driving to Newark and taking the PATH train (like a subway), but on the way home the PATH station was so crowded it required four police officers to keep order. So not fun. Then the parking lot attendants in Newark couldn't find my car. The trains that are running again have been overcrowded and delayed, and my commute, usually an hour and fifteen minutes, is now more than two hours.

And I found myself going through the five stages all over again, even though now, I only commute two days a week. I attempted to work, but four extra hours of work each day? See "head explode, " above. I knew I couldn't read a novel, and actually picked up a copy of Vogue. No good.

Then, about two weeks ago, I happened to walk by a very lovely, very high-end yarn shop. Even though I haven't knit in ages, I stopped in just to feed my brain some beautiful colors and soothing textures. I thought about my damn commute, and the fact that no one is even trying to predict when train service will be fully restored.

One night, the woman next to me on the train asked what I was doing. I said, "Well, I'm kind of knitting a sock, but mostly it's a device to keep me from going nuts during this commute." I think she saw I had those crazy eyes. She said she used to knit herself. As she played with her phone and tried to stay amused, I think she got it. Next time I see her, she'll be knitting a sock. We all will. Trust me. --Kimberly Weisul

image of sock-in-progress -- yes, that's my sock -- courtesy of Kimberly Weisul

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