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“Ease” in the kitchen

14 May

I loved this piece I read this weekend from the chef Yotam Ottolenghi about the fine line between “ease” and “easy” in cooking. I just came off a weekend full of food prep, baking, and cooking that completely exhausted me. Nothing I did was particularly difficult or strenuous – I used a cupcake recipe that called for doctoring boxed cake mix; I did a grilled luau skewer that I have done a handful of times before; and I made a warm green bean and potato salad that is the essence of easy. But the experience felt anything but easy.

There were some extenuating circumstances – an afternoon beer with friends quickly turned into an entire evening and then dinner out. Suddenly we were grocery shopping at 9pm – I finished the cupcakes sometime close to midnight on Saturday. Sunday’s cooking experience suffered from overly-optimistic estimations of time-needed, as well as a kitchen that, due to a sudden heat wave and no a/c, felt approximately as hot as the surface of the sun. Sweaty, stressed, and exhausted is no way to show up to a family dinner.

When planning my cooking this weekend, I didn’t foresee quite this experience. I picked recipes that were simple, mostly recipes I’d made before. I was careful not to take on too much (I thought), leaving Kendall and his brother to prep the entire brunch for their mother’s day event (save those cupcakes). I even anticipated the heat wave somewhat – seeing the temperature for the weekend, I decided to bake at night and to use the grill for the entrée. But I still needed to use the stove top for 20 or 30 minutes Sunday afternoon, and that was more torturous than I anticipated.

Even though the recipes were easy and mostly familiar, there was still a lot of time involved, and a lot of chopping and mincing and other prep. And although I had made these before, I hadn’t made them enough to be free from referencing the recipe again and again. Lastly, they weren’t timed terribly well.

Having that experience this weekend and then reading this article got me thinking about what cooking with ease means to me.

It means:

  • Cooking from memory or by taste
    • This is one of the reasons I love cooking pasta dishes. It’s a basic recipe structure – boil noodles, make sauce, possibly bake – that is endlessly variable and often involves ingredients I always have on hand: onion, garlic, olive oil, broth, flour, cheese, wine, etc. It is also usually on the table in under an hour (often within 20-30 minutes).
    • This is also why, time-intensive as it is, making our family recipe for enchiladas always feels easy to me. I know it by heart and, so, can get right into the nitty-gritty of it. I also trust myself with this recipe – I know exactly what needs to happen and in what order – and that goes a long way toward being comfortable in the kitchen.
  • Cooking with confidence
    • This often comes from that above-referenced deep familiarity with a particular dish or recipe, but sometimes I feel like it is also just a state of mind that you are sometimes in and sometimes out of. I can cook confidently with even unfamiliar and jargon-y recipes if I’m in the right head space – if, for example, I am relishing the chance to explore in that moment, or if I am savoring the novelty of the experience.
    • Along the same lines, cooking with familiar ingredients or techniques – even if it’s an unfamiliar recipe – can help keep me at ease. That’s part of the beauty of learning to cook – it’s a skill that keeps giving because everything stacks and builds and transfers. Once you learn a technique, there are any number of completely different recipes to apply it to.
  • Cooking in a vacuum
    • Any time I have to cook on a schedule, for an event, because people will be there at 6pm – I’m stressed, no matter how simple the food. Having to work within a finite amount of time compounded with wanting to impress with my cooking can be an awful combination for me. I suspect this is somewhat of a learning curve and may yet get better as I learn to time the cooking of my various dishes better, and learn which dishes are reliably great (for me to cook) for these kinds of gatherings.
    • My favorite way to cook is on a whim, when I’m in the mood, when no commitments are pressing. I love to start cooking with no agenda as to when dinner will be on the table, nothing to dictate that other than my own hunger (which can be temporarily appeased with bites of cheese or other ingredients here and there while I cook). I like getting off work, going to the store, and wandering around with the vaguest idea of what I want to cook – what meat looks good right now or is on sale? Do I have garlic or should I buy some? (Answer: you always have garlic, stop buying more garlic). But I also like getting the yen to cook something new, finding a recipe online or in one of my cookbooks, and then making my list.
  • Knowing when to get weird and knowing your limits
    • Similarly, I try not to get too weird unless I have time. And energy. And the right general mindset to where, if everything goes to shit, I will be ok.
    • I love to bake, but I’m a pretty basic baker. There are a lot of more advanced techniques that I have either tried and decided to never attempt again, or have just not yet tried. A long time ago I decided making puff pastry from scratch was not worth it to me personally – I will just buy it. I haven’t delved into 3+ layered or tiered cakes yet (and may never). I am still a sub par frost-er. Knowing all this impacts which recipes I choose to bake from, when.
    • Likewise, I often have limits specific to that day, to that mindset, to that situation. Am I normally totally willing and able to make a from-scratch cheese sauce for my mac n cheese? Yes. But do I also have a simpler recipe in my back pocket for when I don’t feel up to that for whatever reason? Also yes.

Bottom-line, when I want to be cooking I love cooking. Inevitably, there are times when you’re cooking and it seemed like a good idea yesterday but now that you’re in it, you’d rather not be. There are times when you just have to feed yourself and cooking becomes more of a chore than an entertainment. There are times when you bite off more than you can chew (pardon the pun) and cooking that you had been looking forward to becomes such a challenge that it’s no longer fun. I don’t think all fun cooking is necessarily easy – it’s more about whether your expectations match up with reality. If you expect it to be difficult and it is that’s not as much of a problem as when you expect it to be simple and it isn’t.

Cooking and writing are the only two areas where I reliably experience flow and output often (but not always!) matches effort. So, although both can be arduous and even frustrating, I love them dearly nonetheless. Sometimes the simplest stuff isn’t the easiest, nor the most beloved.

Real Talk – but not TOO real

11 May

 

Revisiting a favorite article from last year (which you should also read) about emotional labor, I was struck with the thought: how did this article go down at home? How did her husband feel about essentially being an unsympathetic subject in her piece? I don’t mean to say I’m disapproving or super concerned about it, I’m just genuinely curious.

I’ve been a writer nearly my whole life (no one has yet paid me for it, but that doesn’t make it less true). And, as evidenced in most of what is on this blog, a lot of my writing has focused around my own experiences. I am fascinated by the personal essay, by memoir and creative nonfiction. Blogs are ideal places from which to shout out into the void. You hope someone is reading, you hope someone is getting something out of it – but, in the end, it isn’t really for other people – it’s for you. (Although, hi, welcome, please come back!)

I struggled a lot in my marriage, which was also my first truly long-term, adult relationship. And I started a now defunct blog to write about my experiences. I shared my blog posts on Facebook, too. The project was for me, but it was also for others who might be going through similar experiences. I was seeking camaraderie and community and I wanted to put into words what I suspected many others also were feeling. Many of the posts were benign glimpses into our particular brand of marriage, but others asked big questions and many shared personal, even intimate, details of our lives.

My husband struggled with my writing. You could tell he was trying to be supportive, but wished I wasn’t so public about everything. A few times we got in heated discussions or fights because I had written something unflattering about him (or that he perceived as unflattering) and posted it on the blog. Other times I wrote openly about my innermost feelings, including thoughts I had not yet even expressed directly to him, but that were in some ways about him. During the later disintegration of our marriage, I came to understand how, not the blog itself, but the model of communication (or lack thereof) that it was a symptom of was fatally flawed.

I’ve come to understand the importance of certain kinds of secrets; the importance of privacy, of building a wall between your relationship and the outside world, to protect it. It’s a fine line that I still struggle to walk. I am an over-sharer by nature – I am an open book: ask me a question, any question, and I will answer honestly. I love a good, deep conversation – I love nothing more than getting into the nitty-gritty of relationships and love and life. And I love to talk. It’s both one of my assets (I’m good at it) and one my biggest flaws (because I don’t always love to listen quite as much).

Telling someone who loves to talk that they probably shouldn’t talk about that to everyone is a hard sell. Likewise, telling someone who loves to talk about Big Social Issues that they shouldn’t talk about how much emotional labor they do, how little housework their partner does, how they do money with their spouse – in short, how their own experiences inform their understanding of these issues – is also a hard sell. But I haven’t yet figured out how to publicly say “my partner is bad at x, y, z” without making said partner feel bad. It turns out that simply saying “he’s bad at this, but it’s not his fault” or “he’s bad at this, but I’m bad at this other thing” didn’t work great.

Don’t get me wrong – I understand why they don’t love this. If you wrote something about me pointing out my real or perceived flaws and shared it with all our friends and also a bunch of strangers, it would piss me off, regardless of how you couch it. I get the truth of that, but it leaves unresolved the question: how do you write about important things that matter to you, while incorporating your own personal experiences, without pissing off the people in those stories?

One of my favorite writers, Anne Lamott, has this saying: “you own everything that happened to you. Tell your stories. If people wanted you to write warmly about them, they should have behaved better.” And that has pretty much been my credo, for a long time. But it makes a basic assumption that the people in the stories who behaved badly objectively behaved badly. What if instead of writing about someone’s objectively awful behavior, you’re writing about how you feel about their well-intentioned but poorly executed behavior? Or what if you’re just wrong? Or what if your spouse doesn’t appreciate being used as Exhibit A in your feminist crusade for egalitarianism? I strongly believe I should be able to write about these kinds of things, but I’ve learned to moderate who else to include and how much to include them.

I’ve also learned to keep more of what I write private, to try to differentiate between what is essentially a journal entry and what is appropriate for public consumption, especially when it comes to writing about my relationship. In general, I just write about my relationship less now. It sucks for my ex-husband that he had to be the one to show me this without being the one who reaps any benefits from it later, but I guess he can at least rest easy that other men are no longer subjected to my tyranny-of-oversharing to quite the same degree.

Because let’s be real, I am always going to overshare. I am always going to want to talk about this stuff, and to want to use examples from my own life. But I’m also older and wiser, and I try to write more kindly. I try to use more nuance. I don’t exactly sugarcoat, but I’m gentler. I go easy. Because we’re all here with our own “big anxious brains and over-sensitive souls”* and I don’t want to contribute to anyone else’s misery, least of all my partner’s. So, my short answer to that question – the how do you write about stuff that happened to you that involves other people – is: carefully.

Just because something is true, just because it provides context or bolsters your argument, doesn’t mean it needs to be shared. I try not to write angry and if I do, I put it away and come back to it later when I’m not angry so I can make sure it isn’t unnecessarily mean. I aim not to lie in my writing, by omission or otherwise, but simply to be more forgiving, to assume the best, and to not try to ascribe motives or feelings to other people whose motives and feelings I can have no real knowledge of. That this is so wholly different from how I used to write about my then-marriage tells you a lot about how much I’ve matured and learned, and also about how fiercely I want to protect my current relationship.

I see the value now in ways I never did before of keeping some things to myself, and of keeping some things “just for us”. I still vent my frustrations in conversations with girlfriends, and I still use personal experience to illustrate advice I give during those kinds of conversations. But there are things I shared 3 or 4 years ago about my current partner, before these lessons really sunk in, that I wish I hadn’t – and that helps remind me to moderate what I share now. The secret is to get real without getting too real.

You learn pretty quickly as a young woman that when all that your friends hear about your partner is bad, they (logically) come to not really like that partner for you, or understand why you stay. In the same way, you learn that once you voice real disapproval of a friend’s partner, it will never be forgotten (and may never be forgiven). You learn how to tread carefully, in both respects. That I had learned this lesson with my friends long before I understood it should be applied to some degree in my romantic relationships as well says a lot about my own emotional immaturity and how long it took me to get where I am now. I still get mad or frustrated, I still share things I might later regret, but it’s way less frequent and at least now I feel bad when it happens. I’ll take incremental progress and small victories any day.

*I read that somewhere a couple years ago and I loved it so much as a description that I’ve stolen it, but I can’t now remember where it comes from! Aah

Believe us.

22 Nov

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how men treat women. Obviously, a bevy of sexual harassment accusations have been all over the news recently. It’s been genuinely confusing and mystifying (but also gratifying) to see these stories suddenly given wall-to-wall coverage, to see at least some people finally facing consequences for their actions. It’s also brought out a lot of what is ugly about this society – it’s proven how systemic, endemic – how central – male dominance over women is in the way our society functions. It’s also brought out an untold number of men fretting over the possibility of false accusations. There are elements of this that make us all uncomfortable – it’s not just a fear of the innocent getting swept up with the guilty, it’s also about highly personal definitions of what constitutes sexual harassment or assault, and it’s about a reckoning we are all having about what exactly the consequences should be for the accused versus the proven or even the convicted.

Although false accusations of rape, for instance, make up between just 2-10% of all reported rapes (depending on how you define a false accusation or unfounded claim), many people treat all claims of rape, sexual assault, and harassment that come from women as highly suspect. Let’s be clear, it’s okay to be skeptical of claims until they are proven – but it doesn’t follow that we need immediately and forcefully disbelieve every woman coming forward. In any criminal case or even just public accusation, you give your benefit of the doubt to someone – to the victim, to the accused, to the police or prosecutors (the State) – and then you wait and see if that is proven out. All I am asking of men, of society at large, is to give your benefit of the doubt to the victim – in this case it means believing women.

I’ll tell you why you should believe women (which doubles for why false accusations are much lower in reality than they are often purported to be). In cases such as these, what would a woman’s motivation be for lying? In the few cases we’ve known to be proven false, it has typically been vengeance/hatred or money/notoriety, it has also on many occasions been tied to mental illness of some form on the part of the victim. How many women do you know in your personal acquaintance who might act this way, for any of these reasons? Assuming most of you are decent men who hang out with decent people in general I am going to guess this number is low to nonexistent. So, first, extrapolate that out to the general population and you can see how low the incidence of false accusations of sexual harassment, assault, or rape should be. But this is purely anecdotal.

Second, let’s look at the consequences not just of false accusations but of any accusation. The victim will have to recount the story over and over again – this is an obvious source of trauma for a real victim and an equally obvious potential for being found out for a false victim. The victim may have to undergo physical examinations that are highly invasive and answer questions that are deeply personal. Socially and sometimes professionally, victims may experience shaming, ostracization, or even retaliation depending on who the accused is and the venue the accusation is made in (what if you are accusing your partner, a good friend, your boss, a well-liked coworker, a public figure?)

For all this, what might the victim get in return? Rape kits go untested for decades. Out of every 1000 rapes, only 310 are reported to police for many of the reasons stated above. Of those, 57 reports lead to arrest, 11 cases get referred to prosecutors, 7 cases will lead to a felony conviction, and 6 rapists will be incarcerated. If we assume the motivation for reporting an abuser is to a.) get some measure of justice for yourself and hold him accountable and b.) stop him from doing it again to you or at all (to someone else), then we can see how ineffective reporting is. If reporting is a pain in the ass to start, brings trauma, and potentially alienates you from your friends, family, coworkers, etc., AND 303 times out of 310 results in NO conviction, one can imagine how few women would go to such lengths with false accusations, especially considering the further consequences in store for them if they are found out.

Now it’s true these numbers only refer to people who report the crime to the police. Even if we remove the potential for an invasive physical examination, an accuser who goes public is still subject to multiple rounds of questioning from both sympathetic and unsympathetic sources and experiences the same (or, in some cases, worse) social backlash as a victim who has reported the crime to the police. In short, it is safe to assume a vast majority of these accusations are true solely on the basis of the damage done to the accuser by speaking out. Even when they may remain anonymous, they still witness the backlash.

All of this still leaves the question: if we can all, at least, agree that 2-10% of false accusations are out there, what do we do about that? My answer stays mostly the same: trust multiple women. If multiple women have come out with similar accusations about one person, it’s safe to assume they are true. There isn’t some kind of cabal of women plotting to take down famous and notable men the world over using false accusations of sexual misdeeds. First of all, up until a month ago, that would have been a really bad plan as, historically, accusations of sexual harassment haven’t led to many consequences for men in positions of power. Bill Clinton was impeached for lying, Clarence Thomas was confirmed and still sits on the supreme court, Harvey Weinstein only just recently fell from grace as Hollywood’s IT producer after years of settling and intimidating his way to silent victims. For chrissakes, our PRESIDENT has had multiple credible accusations of sexual harassment and even rape thrown at him over many years. If this is supposed to be some grand conspiracy, it’s a piss-poor one.

More than false accusations, I’m concerned about what constitutes bad behavior and what level of bad behavior merits what severity of consequences – and who gets to make those decisions. If we are, at this moment, finally holding men to account for egregious actions, are we also holding them accountable for the smaller, every day indecencies? Because that’s a long fucking list and this is going to take awhile. It’s like, are we going after the big fish or these little betas, too? Generally, I think the hope is that you go after the big fish as a way to start to change the culture – but that minutiae at the bottom is the hardest part to change, those guys are, in some ways, the toughest to take down – because they are every guy. Every dude I know has made a poor attempt at a joke, a lame pass, a rude comment, an unwanted advance or unwelcome touch, oftentimes “innocently” and obliviously. I don’t even want to “take them down”, I just want that light bulb to go off – I want them to “get” it, and then I want them to stop – and then, further, I want them to police the men around them to behave better.

Should men like Al Franken be held accountable in the same manner or to the same degree as men like Harvey Weinstein? I think most of us, even his accusers, would probably say no. Not, “he should suffer no consequences whatsoever”, but, rather, “he should suffer less severe consequences”. In the same way that there are different punishments and sentences for people convicted of snatching a lady’s purse versus people convicted of defrauding an entire company, there should be varying degrees of punishment for public figures accused of harassment or sexual misconduct. But because of the nature of justice in these cases (nearly nonexistent from the legal system and almost entirely taking place, now, in the public square), the punishment is near universal: a tarnishing or loss of prestige or reputation, and, loss of your job, livelihood, or electability. This punishment is both too much and not near enough, given the wide range of types of accusations.

And then there’s a whole ‘nother Pandora’s box we haven’t even opened yet which is the question about how your actions in your personal life, or that happened 10, 20, 30 years ago should affect your career now. I’m not even gonna fuck around with dudes that used their professional positions or capacities to gain access to women or to silence them, or harassed or abused women they worked with – those dudes can just go straight to hell, do not pass go, do not collect $200. They deserve every professional consequence and then some, even when it happened many years ago. But what of the guys who “privately” harassed women, who abused their wives at home? What makes you unfit, and for what? I might not think that guy is qualified or fit to be a senior statesman, but a mechanic? Maybe – like, it has no bearing on his ability to fix my car (although, if known to me, it would certainly  affect my willingness to give him my business). And, yet, if we only stop sexual harassment and abuse when it’s done by public figures in positions of power, what does that do for the millions of everyday women harassed and abused by the men in their own lives? Does it change behaviors in any meaningful way? Does it change social norms and mores? Does it make harassment and abuse unacceptable at every level? Ultimately, I think that’s the hope here, but I sometimes feel it is naive.

This cultural moment is about exposure, awareness, and justice. Bringing famous and powerful men to account for their past actions is a way to get everyone to recognize the sheer massive scale of the harassment and abuse women (and others) face. It’s a moment of reckoning for individual men, and for our nation. But it is also a primal scream from women who have for too long been dismissed, silenced, diminished, and excluded. And you will hear us, now.

The solution, to me, is very clear: we need more women in power. We need more women in power so that our managers and CEOS and committee heads and judges believe us, take our accusations seriously, and act quickly. This is not to say women are infallible or perfect or that men cannot, in time, grow this capacity. The simple reason women are more likely to believe women, at this point in time, is because we have all been there before – how many men can (or will) say the same? Aside from decisive leadership from the top, women need to be in power to remove these problematic men from power – to take their place. Again, women are people and they have faults, too. Just like men, some women are great leaders and others are not. But women, as a group, haven’t held power in the same ways or for as long as men – we’re still so reverent of just the ability to hold power, we don’t typically abuse it. We don’t want to lead so we can take advantage the same way men have for millenia – but we want to gain the advantages we’ve never had while toppling many of the systems and individual men who have poisoned the well for so long. I don’t believe women are somehow naturally or genetically better suited to leadership (I also don’t believe this of men), I just think because of the privilege men have exercised for so long, we have reached a point where men are more likely to abuse their power than women.

Unfortunately people in general, of either gender, are more likely to protect their assets over their people (to protect their “stars” over their peons) – this is something that needs to be addressed separately. No one person should be untouchable and financial considerations for companies should be separated as much as possible from the decision-making process when considering whether or not to take action upon hearing credible sexual harassment or assault allegations.

But for more women to be in power, we need more women willing to lead. And that means we need to remove institutional and societal barriers to women’s advancement. In a world with paid maternity leave (with job security while on maternity leave); with low-cost daycare; with partners who do their fair share of the emotional labor and domestic work; with bosses that take us seriously when we make allegations of harassment; with men who aren’t allowed to stay in power when they’ve abused it; with men who are willing and able to mentor us; with more women in the position to do so, instead; without a “boy’s club” atmosphere at the upper echelons of power – this is the world in which women will not have to face nearly insurmountable challenges to get to the top – where, in short, their path will be as easy or as hard as it is for men now – where the playing field will finally be even.

And (surprise twist!) this is the great work of feminism – not to place women over men, but to put them on even ground with men, to give them even odds. I don’t actually wonder that so many men are so antagonistic toward feminism because it seeks to remove them from power when the power is given for no other reason than their sex and all the advantages and privileges afforded them because of it. Fairness is not in the best interests of those who maintain a strangle hold on power not just because of ability or hard work but through the sheer luck of one Y chromosome and the years of power structures built up around the basic assumption that men were superior. If we expect anything to change for women reporting sexual harassment and assault, we need to create the world in which those events are the exception, not the rule – and creating that world requires unseating men from their supremacy over us all.

 

Peaks and Valleys

10 Apr

Psst…I did a maybe-weird thing where I recorded this for the more audibly-inclined of you. Have a listen:

 

Always searching for the next thing.

If I’m too busy, I think what I am missing is free time. If I have too much free time, I think I must be missing opportunities, or not making as much money as I could be. If I’m bored, I must need a larger social network, more to do. If I’m stretched thin socially, I must refocus in on the friends and events that really matter. If I’m just hanging out with those friends, I’m missing so many other interesting people. I don’t hang out with my family enough, but if we spend a weekend hanging out with both sides of our families, it’s time I could have used more productively elsewhere.

I eternally feel that I am missing something, but it also always feels like it is just around the bend, just out of reach, right around the corner, any second now.

Sometimes it’s difficult to realize how far I’ve come, how many of those corners I’ve turned, how much has changed. It’s awe-some when I ponder it for any amount of time, but then it’s also discouraging because you look at all that progress and ask yourself: do I feel better? Am I content now? Am I done?

Part of the problem is in thinking there is such a thing as “done” – we’re always growing and learning and striving, right? But it is similarly dangerous to think that we must always be in motion – to always be asking “what next?”

I’ve come around to this new conclusion: if you’re never bored, I pity you. If it’s never enough, I’m so sorry. It’s such a burden, I know, because I have been that person (I still am that person on my bad days). Part of the great work of growing up for me has been and continues to be becoming okay with being okay. Not great, not fantastic, but not awful, not bad – just okay.

At work and in life we are told we need to work hard, we need to be the best, ace the tests, climb the mountains and then find another, higher mountain to climb after that. Goals are good, ambition is grand. But you have to rest, there are peaks and there are valleys – and it does you no good, when you are in a valley, to spend the whole time longing to be on the mountain again. There are always more mountains, and there are always more valleys – both serve different purposes, and both are necessary.

I’m in a valley in my life right now. By all accounts and outward appearances, things are good. Some days it feels really good. But then I remember I’m in the valley and I get sad – I wonder if it will stretch on forever, maybe there are no more mountains for me. What I am trying to do these days is enjoy the valley – valley’s are lush and verdant, they have a different climate than the mountain peak, they’re gentler and quieter and calmer – or, at least, they have the potential to be, if you let them. The hardest part of the valley is when you are in the shadow just after or before a mountain – when you still remember what it was like being on the peak, and then again when you feel you’ve almost forgotten and you’re compelled to feel it all over again – when that next mountain is just staring you right in the face.

The other thing is, I don’t know about you, but my mountains and valleys don’t usually look like this:

even peaks

They look more like this:

bigger peaks

Each time I meet and surpass a goal, a new, taller, tougher one rises up before me. It casts longer shadows, the valleys get narrower – pretty soon I’m in a valley that is all shadow, no light. That’s sort of what I feel is happening right now for me – I’m just trudging through this dark valley, maybe I’m even at the very first tiny incline of the base of the mountain, but, Jesus, that peak is so freaking far away and I’ve already been climbing for a while.

In times like these, it’s easy to forget: most people don’t live on the mountaintop. It’s inhospitable, unsustainable. Sure, a select few make their homes there – but most of us choose the valley, most of us, let’s be honest, can only handle the valley. And that knowledge – that this is where we are best suited to be, that it’s maybe all we can do – can sometimes makes us feel lesser. I often feel lesser for not being a mountain dweller, as it were.

If you’ve ever known you could do more, but decided not to for your own health, sanity, peace, etc. you’ve probably experienced this sensation. Same if you’ve ever been in the midst of doing more, like you’re 3/4ths up the mountain, and you decide you don’t want to summit the peak after all – maybe it’s too hard, maybe it’s just too hard RIGHT NOW. Maybe you’ll come back to it, maybe you never will.

If you’re me, you’ve done the half-summiting thing before and you’ve spent the last 10 years being mad at yourself for not reaching the top of that particular peak while simultaneously knowing you made the best decision, the right decision. There are few things more painful in life than making the right decision but knowing all along that you wish you could have done it differently, all the same – these are the decisions that haunt you, forever.

So, anyway, you’ve done the half-summiting thing before and you REALLY don’t want to it again because you’ve been there, you’ve done that: it wasn’t pleasant and you still think of it often. I don’t want to set myself up for another regret. I have so few true regrets in this life (I’m not counting regretful pizza orders). I strive to regret as little as possible – but the ones I do have are big, and they eat me up inside and I guess that’s the price you pay for living so unapologetically the rest of the time.

ANYWAY, I’m trying to get myself to a place where not just “the valleys are nice” and “I could live in the valley” but also “it’s okay to fail”. It’s okay to come back down to the valley without even having reached the peak. I struggle, as so many of us do, with walking that fine line between being kind to yourself, forgiving yourself, giving yourself room to make mistakes – and – letting yourself off the hook TOO easily, letting fear keep you from things, justifying what shouldn’t be justified. In this mindset, on this razor-thin margin, it’s hard to know: am I scared or am I right? And the problem is, sometimes it’s both – just like before, where you can regret something you know was good for you.

Ugh, I’m sorry to be speaking in these riddles and metaphors, but I find them helpful to process what I’m going through and maybe they help you, too. But putting it bluntly (and thereby erasing much of it’s magic): I work too much, I have no time to myself, and I don’t know how to solve the problem because the obvious solutions (quitting one thing or another) are not appealing for various reasons, the foremost of which is that I haven’t met the goals I once set for myself. I feel like I’m trying to choose between a life in the valley and a life climbing the mountain. I don’t feel like the peak is within reach, I don’t even really want to go there. So it begs the question: why keep climbing? But, for so much of my life, I have defined myself and I have existed for the climb. I have found the climb in itself purposeful, useful, meaningful. If I’m not climbing, who even am I?

 

Unplugged

3 Jan

Upon opening my personal email this morning, I realized I somehow went the entire weekend – since Thurs actually – without checking it. No wonder this weekend had been so lovely and restorative, even though I worked both Sat and Sun! It’s crazy to me what a difference simply unplugging for a bit (intentional or not) can make.

I was on Facebook a bit this weekend, but not often (due to the aforementioned work), and on Monday I had the day off work and finally got the opportunity to use a gift certificate given to me a year and half ago to go to Loyly, a local Swedish-style sauna and spa. When I left, it took me a full 30 minutes before checking my phone – which may not seem like much to most of you, but is basically a lifetime for me. Like, it’s a miracle that I didn’t once in those 30 minutes think about my phone.

I am one of those people who (unfortunately) wakes and immediately checks my phone. It sits on the desk in front of me during my work day, I am attached to it in-between clients at the salon (and also partially because of my salon booking needs), and then you’d think I’d put it aside once home, but I tend to use that time to check Facebook and browse Pinterest and do my crosswords before bed. So, my phone and me pretty much = inseparable, for both legitimate and not-so-legitimate reasons. I read a post somewhere recently by someone who was committing for the new year to putting their phone on Do Not Disturb after 6pm each day. What a lovely idea. I could never.

That being said, I would like to be less attached to it – to wean myself off a bit. Maybe two years ago I moved to having it on vibrate and silent almost all the time to save myself from incessant dinging. Last year, I turned off all notifications for Facebook, and changed my settings so that most other notifications were just the little number in the corner of the app as opposed to a pop-up. These seem to be such small changes, but they have made a difference just in that I have to think “hey, I want to check that” instead of having it thrust upon me every 10 minutes or so.

Still, the pull to check everything, all the time, is pretty irresistible. I’ve heard it compared to a lab rat who keeps pressing the button for the treat – even if the actual treat only comes intermittently. And that is how it feels sometimes, particularly with Facebook. The very nature of the beast is that you get the puppy videos and the cat gifs and your friend’s new baby, but you also get the depressing Donald Trump news and the terrorist attacks and police shootings. It is like reading the world’s weirdest newspaper – some odd mix of People magazine, The New York Times, and, like, a fancy cat calendar.

When I manage to stay away for a bit, indeed, I feel an odd mix of less informed but also less stressed, but also less – hmmm – amused, and possibly more bored. It’s a weird mix of positives and negatives in much the same way paying attention to Facebook is a weird mix of positives and negatives. So you can see how it’s easy to be compelled to just go ahead and stay engaged with it.

So, here are the three things I’ll be trying out to help replicate my restful and stress-free experience this weekend, more often:

  1. All yesterday, I hardly glanced at my phone until much later in the evening, and I didn’t feel like I missed much – in fact, the opposite was true, I felt like I gained something instead: mental and emotional space. It sounds kind of the opposite of what you’d think, but I’m trying to only look at Facebook during work. Haha. I have some time between clients for that, but not much time/ability during my day job – so you see the appeal. There’s guaranteed time to get it in pretty much daily, but, most days, not much time. On the other hand, I’m going to “let” myself look at Pinterest and Instagram “after hours”, since overall those are much more pleasant and consistent social media experiences that aren’t as mentally and emotionally exhausting. I want to be intentional about what brings me joy – and what doesn’t.
  2. I’m also going to try not to be on my phone when waiting. I’ve been doing this intermittently for a while now, but I want to refocus on it. Like when waiting for a friend at a bar or waiting for an appointment at the doctor – it will free up more mind-space to just look around, observe the world, people-watch. I think even picking up a magazine or newspaper is preferable to Facebook at this point – at least you know what you’re getting if you choose Real Simple or The Washington Post. When I was at the spa, I couldn’t have my phone on me (obviously) while in the sauna, etc. and the enforced stillness and thoughtfulness was restorative.
  3. I’m getting an alarm clock. Between notifications, messages, being up later than needed staring at it, and just, my cat knocking my phone off the bedside table when she’s being a real beez – it’d be great to just not even have it in the same room with me while I’m sleeping. You know, when my sister-in-law is close to giving birth, the next time Nana’s in the hospital – on those occasions I can easily bring it in with me, but otherwise I think somewhere near my purse will work just fine. It does make you start to think an actual home phone might be nice for unexpected emergencies…what is this?! 1990?! Anyway, I’m going to try it regardless (without the home phone, for now).

In what ways will you strive to be more unplugged this year?

 

 

 

 

 

Good things in 2016

29 Dec

Kendall and I got in the stupidest spat last night. Just after reading news of Debbie Reynold’s passing one day after her daughter, Carrie Fisher’s, death, I was lamenting what a garbage year 2016 has been. He pointed out that celebrity deaths don’t affect him much and implied they shouldn’t affect me so much. I tried to articulate that, while I’m not personally affected by them (I didn’t know any of these people), they have been like a shit cherry on top of a dumpster-fire year. Anyway, the world’s dumbest fight escalated from there before we both got over it and went to bed, but it got me thinking about how often I have talked about what a shit year 2016 was and the degree to which that is or is not true.

David Bowie, Prince, George Michael. I didn’t know any of these men. I knew their music and their public personas. But their loss is especially stinging because of their gender and sexuality fluidity. At this particular time in America and in the world at large, we need big public personas like theirs, voices like theirs, more than ever – to lose them all this year in particular felt like adding insult to injury because so much of what has happened politically this year has felt like a retaliation for loosening social mores and expanding values. They’ve been some of the most public champions for living loud and proud in their various ways and we lost them all this year, the same year living loud and proud in your weirdness just became that much more dangerous. So, yea, their deaths have affected me more than they might otherwise.

Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds. Daughter then mother, within one day of each other – the mother saying she is “ready to join” her daughter. That is just a sad story, I don’t care who they are. And every sad story I read as we march toward the end of the year just makes my load heavier to carry. Look, it’s been a rough year. Even if my chosen candidate had won the election, the election year was bruising. Things were said, lines were crossed, that made me feel uncomfortable and unsafe in my country and worried for humanity’s future. And then that guy WON. I can’t speak for Kendall, but I imagine a lot of his points last night amounted to an argument that you can’t carry all of that – you can’t let that stuff affect you to the point where you declare it a shit year because of one election, or umpteen celebrity deaths.

I do see his point, but I think there is also a danger in not engaging – especially with the political. You can’t Ostrich your way through the world, sticking your head in the sand at every sign of discomfort. You have to be aware, you have to fight – you have to use your voice, now more than ever. But it is exhausting. We’re not the first ones to realize this. Audre Lorde’s famous quote has recently been making the rounds, as we all come to grips with where we’ve landed: “Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare”. Activists the world over can speak to the need to care for yourself so that you can bring your best abilities to the fight ahead, so that you can be your best self and so you have the energy to serve others, or to serve the cause.

Immediately after the election results came in this year, I told Kendall: “I am just going to focus on my little family – that is where I will find my refuge”. While it is true that I come back to the well of family and my relationship again and again to replenish myself and find comfort, it was really wishful thinking. Thinking I could somehow turn this “off” – that I could ignore the reality of our new world order. I can’t. I’m very upset, and afraid, and unsure of what to do next, and I think about it constantly. All of this is to say, I’m here today to try, for a short while, to take Kendall’s advice, and to think about something else: namely, all the good things in 2016.

First, and foremost, there is my relationship with Kendall. We entered our third year of dating – we took an amazing trip to San Francisco and Monterey – we moved into a house. I love his family, and he loves mine. We are raising our little cat, Weaslebee, together, and going through the Harry Potter movies again. He helps me stay sane when everything else in my world feels like it’s spinning out 100 miles per minute.

Also, equally important, is my supportive family. My mom is my rock, my nephew is the sweetest joy, Noah and Annette’s place is my home away from home and this coming year they’ll be giving me another nephew or niece to adore. I even got to see my dad this Christmas – it was a great visit.

My work has been challenging this year – I’m still trying to figure it all out, and work means so much to me, it’s a piece of my identity. So that has been fraught, but still – I’m getting a raise in the new year. My coworker’s are all lovely. I have new challenges coming my way, and I’m excited to take them on.

I, finally, this year took concrete steps to improve my health. Late last year I got my pre-diabetes diagnosis and now they’ve downgraded that – I am no longer considered pre-diabetic! I’ve lost some weight, and my skinny jeans fit again. I still have a lot of work to do to re-wire my eating habits, but I feel like I’m on the right path.

And, I still have all the small joys I’ve always had: hot baths by candlelight, doing crosswords in bed, my weekly vanilla latte, belting out songs in the car, cooking, writing and journaling, Monday trivia night with the girls, monthly Cookbook Club meetings, and occasional game nights, amongst many other wonderful things.

Finally, I have intention. This coming year for me is all about stepping out of auto-pilot. I’ve been working so much for so long, and I’ve lost track of why or what it’s getting me – note I sometimes don’t even think I’m working hard, just a lot. I know there’s no end point – there’s no such thing as “figuring it all out” – but I’m excited to figure out a better direction (or just, a direction at all!). I saw this quote the other day and it will be my mantra for this year: “You can be intentional about your direction without knowing your final destination”.

What are your good things in 2016?

 

 

 

What makes a good person?

16 Nov

I have been dwelling a lot lately on the people I know and love who voted for Trump. I was, in the immediate aftermath, angry at them – even the ones I already suspected would vote for him. It was sort of fine that they were voting for him back when I thought he didn’t have a chance of winning. Don’t get me wrong, it was disappointing – but I just felt like it was a difference of opinion and that it would gain me little to argue with them about it or try to actually change their minds – my way, the way of progress, the way of the future, was going to win. As those who have been reading lately will know, I now regret my hands-off approach. I wish I had engaged them better, and more often. I vow to do better moving forward.

But I’m left, now, with my feelings toward them. The anger has faded a little, I am mostly just disappointed, in the way a parent might be disappointed when the child they thought they raised better acts out in unexpected and distressing ways. I thought I knew who they were.

I thought they were “good Christians”, and I thought that really meant something to them. Each time another Trump incident went viral, I thought “this is the one – this is the thing that will change their minds about supporting him, they have to see now”. I assumed that, in the end, his bigotry, his immaturity, his sexism – and, just, how woefully underprepared he was – I thought all of this would come clear and ultimately would stop them from being able to cast a vote for him. Or, rather, I hoped for it. Because, let’s face it – I had already seen in their rationalizations that they had the capacity to ignore the worst facets of Trump. I just hoped that their better selves would carry the day. I am deeply disappointed that didn’t happen. But when you talk to many of these people, they feel the same about my support for Hillary – how could I gloss over x, y, and z (nevermind that x and y aren’t true, and z doesn’t begin to compare to Trump’s alphabet of problems)?! Surveying our cultural differences right now is to look out across a deep, wide canyon that seems unbridgeable – it is so easy to lose hope.

These votes for Trump have forced me to acknowledge things about people I like that are hard to acknowledge:

  1. They have different ideas of fairness and equity than I do. They believe we all start off at the same spot and then where you take yourself is up to you – where they acknowledge that some people start worse off, they believe if those people just work hard they can overcome it. Maybe they don’t believe racism and sexism and classism are institutionalized, or that certain people are disadvantaged from the word ‘go’ for no other reason than the color of their skin or the set of genitals they were born with.
  2. When they saw Trump mock a disabled reporter, or heard him call Mexicans rapists, or talk about grabbing women by the pussy they, at best, didn’t see those as deal-breakers. Why weren’t those deal-breakers for them? Because they aren’t disabled, aren’t Mexican, haven’t been sexually assaulted? Maybe they even thought some of it was kind of funny or true? I have no way, really, of knowing. I know these people don’t have bad intentions, but I also see what they have been able to overlook. How could they overlook those things?
  3. They want fundamentally different things for our country than I do, and they have a lot of company in that (but, importantly, not a majority). Maybe they think marriage should be between 1 man and 1 woman. Maybe they think abortion should be illegal. We may disagree on the social issues – but larger than that, we disagree on the fundamental question of whether our country should be open or closed, for others or for ourselves, global or local. We have different ideas about how we should be taxed, about how the government should spend money, and about what kind of laws we should have all based around that simple axis: open or closed, for others or for ourselves, global or local.
  4. They may not be good people, even though they are nice people.

This last point brings me to the real meat of this post today.

They may not be good people, even though they are nice people.

That is the thought that has been occupying my mind lately – because I haven’t really decided if it’s true. I don’t know what it means to be a good person, but I keep reaching for some general definition. I am reaching for a definition that defies categorization – that defies politics and religion. I think maybe the word I am reaching for is actually “ethical”.

And under that definition, which essentially can be described as “right” or “moral” behavior, I don’t know what matters – intent or result. Because the result is that a racist, misogynist demagogue has just been elected to our nation’s highest office. And the intent in their vote was, indeed, to elect him. But was it to elect a racist, misogynist demagogue? Or was it to elect someone they thought would better serve their interests and world view? If it was the the latter, does it matter? If you voted for a racist, misogynist despite his racism and misogyny are you morally superior to those who voted for him because of it? I think the answer is yes, but only just – because, you see, the result is the same.

“But,” my little lamb brain keeps bleating, “but, these people are nice people. They are kind people. They do things! They volunteer at soup kitchens. They serve at church. They treat their employees well, and hold their friends close. They raise big-hearted children who are also kind and nice and do good deeds.” Does all of that get thrown in the garbage because of one vote? Or even because of a lifetime of votes?

I don’t have an answer. It’s not a rhetorical question. What do you think?

Here is some further reading, all articles I read in the last several days that help illuminate my thought process:

This piece by Jamelle Bouie who essentially falls on the side of arguing that intent doesn’t matter. “There is No Such Thing as a Good Trump Voter”

Elizabeth Gratten argues similarly that “the decent white woman who voted for trump does not exist”.

This New York Times piece about women who voted for Trump is a great humanizer.

And, lastly, I like to read the National Review from time to time, even though I can find many things with which to object, because the articles are well-written, arguments are well-reasoned, and it gives me insight into how people who think differently than I do feel about particular issues. This piece is about the appointment of Steve Bannon as Trump’s chief strategist. There is much to pick at and disagree with, but ultimately I am encouraged that leading conservatives are also concerned with the appointment and voice their opinion that, regardless of his own beliefs, his pandering to the alt-right is cause enough of concern. Here again we see that interplay between intent and result.